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Amateur Fossil Hunting

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

— Albert Einstein

Trent River, Vancouver Island - full of magic and mystery.

Trent River, Vancouver Island – full of magic and mystery.

I was blessed to spend an entire day, with my parents, in a place with such beauty … searching for keys to the past. Last year was our very first fossil hunting experience together; an amazing surprise my father had “pulled out of a hat” prior to our Vancouver Island visit with them in August. He knew how much I enjoyed searching for rocks and fossils … and it was an experience that ignited excitement in BOTH of us! Since that amazing day, last August, my Dad has spent hours researching NEW and exciting places to explore … frequently dragging my Mom along with him! Now, I KNOW that this is probably quite LOW on her scale of “things I love to do”, but I know for a FACT that my Mom would do ANYTHING for the two of us … including trekking deep into a river canyon, sitting patiently on rocks while we hunt and pick, handing the “tools of the trade” to us when we discover a “concretion” tucked safely in the shale … yup … she LOVES us!

My Mom is a REAL trooper!

My Mom is a REAL trooper!

Many of the concretions we discovered held very little “concrete” evidence of the life encased within … unless you knew, like we did, that each concretion is the result of a living creature that died and, as it decayed, a chemical reaction occurred to create the special “mud balls” we were finding. *Don’t laugh. That’s about as “scientific” as I can get with THAT explanation!

Once you know what to look for, spotting concretions is the EASY part.

Once you know what to look for, spotting concretions is the EASY part.

It doesn’t take long to figure out what you’re looking for. We found THIS concretion on the river valley floor. The river was VERY low because of an unusually hot, dry summer. MANY of the concretions we locate are in the shale BANKS of the river … but … you can find them EVERYWHERE once you’ve found the right shale bed formations.

Armed with the proper tools for the job, just about ANYTHING is possible.

Armed with the proper tools for the job, just about ANYTHING is possible.

I can’t explain how exciting it is to “find” a mud ball deeply encased in the earth … but, for me, it is such a magical experience to spot one and begin the process of slowly “freeing” it from its cocoon. Using the chisel and the pick? Well … that’s just PART of the magic. While I DON’T know that I could do this for a LIVING, I DEFINITELY know that it is ONE of the passions that make me tick!

THIS particular concretion had me SO excited! Just LOOK at the striations on the righthand side of it.

THIS particular concretion had me SO excited! Just LOOK at the striations on the righthand side of it.

Earlier this year, while scoping out some future spots for us to dig, my Dad found a couple of OTHER fossils that looked like this. We are speculating that they just MIGHT be BONE! The verdict is out until the professionals take a closer look. One can ALWAYS hope!

MOST concretions yield mud balls like these. They most likely contained a soft bodied animal like a jellyfish or a worm.

MOST concretions yield mud balls like these. They most likely contained a soft bodied animal like a jellyfish or a worm.

But, the find of the YEAR goes to my Dad. Actually, in the two years that we have been doing this together … this is the BEST find EVER:

A PERFECT shell. 85 MILLION years old. UNbelievable!

A PERFECT shell. 85 MILLION years old. UNbelievable!

The day certainly WASN’T without its casualties. My Dad, in his quest to unearth a particularly LARGE concretion, whacked his hand not once but … FIVE times with the hammer. He could NOT be stopped, though, and CONTINUED his hunt for several MORE hours! Finally, after a week of swelling and intense bruising, he went to the doctor to see if anything was broken. Wouldn’t you KNOW it? The doctor sent him away with GOOD news AND another potential spot for NEXT year!

This is WELL over a week of healing. His entire hand and arm was swollen and bruised. I CAN'T believe we didn't get a picture when it was twice this size and in TECHNICOLOUR!

This is WELL over a week of healing. His entire hand and arm was swollen and bruised. I CAN’T believe we didn’t get a picture when it was twice this size and in TECHNICOLOUR!

In the BLINK of an eye, the day was over. The scenery … spectacular. The company … even better. The MEMORIES … will be FOREVER etched in my heart and mind. I cannot WAIT to share these specimens with my new Grade Threes. I cannot WAIT until my NEXT adventure with my amazing parents.



I know, in my SOUL, that I need MORE days like this. Days of low tech … armed only with a camera … spent with family … and MAYBE some fossil hunting tools!

“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.”
— Maori proverb

Category:  Teaching and Learning     


For some reason, I’ve hit a DRY spell and haven’t written a personal post in MONTHS. I’m not sure why this is. I LOVE to write. Maybe it’s been a bit of the “busy year” syndrome … with lots of changes, things to do and, sadly, not enough hours in the day. Maybe it was feeling like there wasn’t anything I had to say that wasn’t already being expressed well by someone else. Some years are like that. Whatever it is … Jana, you’ve helped me to find my writing voice today. THANK you!

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. And … there are so many ideas rolling around in my head it’s hard to tame them all. So … this ONE time … I give myself permission to write about it all. I can’t promise that it will leave you with ONE concise thought, as you walk away, but I can promise that you’ll walk away knowing me … just a LITTLE more! For better OR for worse. I JUST needed a LITTLE push, a conversation with @stevewclark about his NEW 53 Pencil, a little sharing of our “creations” with these cool tools and some JOYful INSPIRATION from my twitter friend @janaslindsay this morning! PHEW … thank GOODNESS for my AMAZING PLN.

Near the start of summer I FINALLY decided to give “sketchnoting” a try. Inspired by the AMAZING sketchnotes created by @langwitches and @Braddo over the past few years, and after doing some intensive research on my beloved Macbook Pro, I “borrowed” my husband’s iPad while he was at work one day. It was sitting there BEGGING me to “give it a go”! Now, to be fair, BEFORE you groan, I DID ask permission before I added the app!

Together, my husband and I spent that AWESOME Friday night just “mucking” around doodling side by side on the couch … with a Bamboo stylus we’d raced out and picked up, MINUTES before Best Buy was to close, after quickly deciding that if we were SERIOUS about giving it our BEST shot, fingers just WOULDN’T cut it!

Honestly, my goal was NOT to use this app as a drawing tool. My HOPE was to use it as a way to “tame” some of the professional reading I planned to do while off for the summer. My FIRST goal was to “master” printing as BEAUTIFULLY as @langwitches as I documented my learning and processed my thoughts.

This was playing with Bamboo Paper ... setting my goals! Not good ... but ... FUN!

This was playing with Bamboo Paper … setting my goals! Not good … but … FUN!

And THEN it happened. Oh oh. SO much for my “professional reading” and expanding my neuron connections while exploring the latest research in spelling and meta-cognition. Gulp. My need to “create” and “explore” and actually DRAW kicked in. I LOST myself in my art. THANKS, Grandma!

My mentor. My teacher. My inspiration. I miss her SO much. And … EVERY time I sit down and feel a WAVE of creativity hit me I can feel her WITH me even though it’s been TWELVE years since she passed. Spending my summers with her EVERY year from the time I could barely walk until I hit eighteen, I learned SO much from my amazing Grandma … right down to her LOVE of artistic creation.

Almost Done!

My first real attempt at using 53 Paper. It’s not finished … I see lots of things that still require some work. Playing with this app brought me JOY.

Never, in a MILLION years, did I EVER think “I want my OWN iPad” would come out of my mouth. There. I said it. I LOVE my Mac laptop. I’m on it EVERY day. 53 Paper changed that for me. Not only can I use it to document my learning … I can blend my love of sketching and drawing in with it as well. I have MILES to go before I become proficient. But, I can DEFINITELY tell you that they will be JOYful miles!

This is the start of a sketchnote documenting my learning around some reading I'm doing on the brain. I've used 53 Paper with an actual 53 Pencil ... and ... ALREADY I can see growth in my printing skills!

This is the start of a sketchnote documenting my learning around some reading I’m doing on the brain. I’ve used 53 Paper with an actual 53 Pencil … and … ALREADY I can see growth in my printing skills!

I have a LONG way to go. I DO know that 53 Paper, and its little friend Pencil, and I are going to have a LONG love affair. SORRY, Roger! THANK you for SHARING your iPad!

And, Grandma … I KNOW you’re there. You are there in EVERYTHING that I do. THANK you for being such a HUGE part of who I am and always WILL be. Thank you for your guidance, your LOVE and for being the AMAZING woman you were. (P.S. Your Great-Grandson has your passion for drawing TOO!)

Category:  Teaching and Learning     

The Magic of Math … or … HOW I LOST the Bet!

Math. I remember hating it as a kid. It took actually TEACHING it to have the “lightbulb” turn on for me. I OFTEN tell my students how much I wished I’d learned math the way they get to experience it now. They giggle at that. I LOVE the way we now acknowledge that there are different ways at arriving at an answer and that understanding is key, rather than the memorization of formulas and only using the “teacher’s” strategy for solving math.

I LOVE that math should be a living part of our daily experiences … making meaning, sharing our insights and our personal strategies. When we’re comfortable with ripping numbers apart, because we TRULY understand what they stand for … the door to mental math and confidence begins to open. It’s all about seeing the patterns … and you find math EVERYWHERE. Not just during Math class!

Today, I had an awesome mathematical experience planned for my grade threes. But … we never got there … because … something else even MORE awesome came up “just in conversation”. It involved our classroom blog, which we check every single morning to see how many more HITS we’ve received on the revolver map, since the day before, and if there are any new COUNTRIES to visit.

This Revolver Map has provided us with MANY amazing AND meaningful mathematical experiences!

This Revolver Map has provided us with MANY amazing AND meaningful mathematical experiences!

Some mornings, we use the Revolver Map to count up to the next group of ten, or one hundred … or EVEN the next THOUSAND. Mentally … using what we’ve learned about numbers … in our heads! This morning was a little different. You see, we had a BET … would we reach 20 000 hits by March 7th, or AFTER March 7th.

It began innocently enough! “Can anyone read the 5 digit number on our Revolver Map?” “19 391″Awesome! Hmm. “I wonder how many more hits we need until we get to the next group of a thousand?” “609!” “You BET … how in the WORLD did you figure that out in your head?” “Well, I made 391 into 400 and I knew that 6 more hundreds would take us to the next thousand. But … it’s really 9 more than that because 391 needs 9 more to be 400 so … it has to be 609!” Wow! “You guys are AMAZING! I wonder how many of you still feel like we will REACH that target by March 7th?”

It was interesting to see how they really started to “wonder” … COULD we do it … hmm. Some, including me, guessed yes and SOME guessed NO … not for any REAL reason in particular. And … then … someone said … “I don’t know … that’s like 17 DAYS away!” “How did you figure THAT out?” I LOVED watching the wheels turning. I LOVED listening to the conversations and how this student explained to us that he’d used the calendar. Suddenly, someone piped up … “that means we’re gonna need a WHOLE bunch of hits EACH day!”

We counted 17 tens, using the calendar to keep track. 170. Nope. THAT wasn’t going to work. Not enough. Someone suggested we try by 25s … nope THAT wasn’t going to be enough. What about 100s? No WAY … that was WAY too high! What about 50s? That was WAY too much, TOO! LET’S try 30s! Hmm … not QUITE enough! What about 40? Nope … TOO much! Watching these seven and eight year olds challenge their thinking was truly goosebumpy. After some discussion, someone suggested counting by 35s. Some of us groaned because counting by 35s isn’t as natural as counting by 5s, 10s, 25s or 100s!

We created a chart to keep track … so that we could VISUALIZE what was happening with our numbers as they began to grow. 1 = 35; 2 = 70; 3 = 105 … that all seemed easy enough … we calculated with our partners … we began to rip the numbers apart, (no more “old school” formulas … we were RIPPING the hundreds, tens and ones apart)! 4 = 140 … you get the picture!

Oh my GOODNESS … LOOK at our chart! Does anyone see any PATTERNS? Hey … ALL the numbers in the ONES column end with 0 or 5 … that’s SO cool! Did we see any patterns in the TENS column … nope … not YET! What about the HUNDREDS column? Nope! WAIT … yes we DO! It went 00 111 222 333 444 555 … MAYBE the NEXT hundreds would be 666 … let’s write it down, we can ALWAYS change them if it DOESN’T work out! WOW!

What a MAGICAL moment in learning. A FEW students were even comfortable enough to look at the 3rd day with 35 hits, the 6th day of 35 hits and ACCURATELY calculate what the 9th day with 35 hits would be without doing all the calculations in between!

A look at our blog hits … that’s ALL that it took … to discover MORE number patterns, to rip numbers apart for mental math, to learn more about the passage of time through the calendar, to uncover the magic of a T-chart … AND discover that we  WOULDN’T make 20 000 in 17 days, with 35 hits! But … we’d be very, VERY close and, if some days we had 35 visitors and some days we 36 visitors, it just MIGHT be possible!

WHAT? It’s RECESS? Just WHERE did the time go? Well … that’s a GREAT question for ANOTHER day! I LOVE it when math is lived!

Oh … if you’re WONDERING … I probably DID lose the bet … but … it was WORTH it!

Category:  Teaching and Learning     

Teacher Burnout


Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow”.

- Mary Anne Radmacher

Stress Reduction Kit

 Flickr Creative Commons Photo by programwitch

There have been a LOT of posts about teacher burnout lately. I mean a LOT. It breaks my heart to read these heart-on-sleeve reflections written by people I admire, people who have inspired me daily since tentatively beginning my twitter journey three years ago.

Teaching is a HARD job. It is, contrary to common public opinion, most definitely NOT a 9 to 3:30 profession … WITH summers off. Evenings aren’t free and, true, often your OWN family takes a second seat.

This summer, I spent several days working on a program I use to share curriculum resources, (links, inspiring tid-bits, etc.), with my students and their families. And … then … the system was “upgraded”. All that hard work was gone … in a FLASH. Early in September, muddling through it in the evenings, after teaching all day, the “frustration” was MOUNTING. I will NEVER forget the moment when my youngest son said, “Mom, I like you WAY better when you’re NOT teaching.” Gulp.

I am 100% certain that I am working harder NOW than I did when I first STARTED teaching … 27 years ago. Somehow, it seems more complex. MUCH of it is self-imposed. I am a perfectionist.

While twitter has been a BLESSING in my life, both professionally AND personally, I am CONTINUALLY pushed. CONTINUALLY learning … for myself AND for my students. I’ve learned to “sip more slowly” from the proverbial “firehose” that twitter can sometimes be. There are a LOT of “should”s, tools I would like to explore, things I want to learn. It is SUCH an exciting time to be a learner … but it can ALSO be VERY hard with only SO many hours in a day.

New policies come in. The curriculum, HUGE as it is, changes. Students with special needs, some you’ve never heard of before, enter your room deserving of EVERYTHING you can give them. The HOURS of personal time spent READING, in order to meet the needs of these learners, of EVERY learner, in your daytime family … so that you can be the BEST you can BE for them. Meetings are frequent, committees and Professional Learning Communities are the norm. IPPs, (IEPs), take special attention and a life of their own. Supervision … an expected duty … trains your bladder in ways that no other profession is capable of. ;)

It’s hard to live in the moment. To enjoy the immediacy of what is happening around you. Yes, if you’re wondering, I’ve read Echert Tolle … and STILL I fight to be “in the now”! Because … so often we’re thinking about where we’ve started and where we need to be. Goal setting, planning … sometimes, no … OFTEN, at 3 am. Some moments are better than others. Some DAYS are better than others. And, if the truth be known … some YEARS are better than others.

What keeps me going? My students, the relationships, and the magic of learning. No two days are EVER the same. I LOVE that I can be a Lead Learner in a classroom FULL of curious eight year olds. They keep me young and excited … even through most tough days. For me, this is ENOUGH … for now.

Balancing Act

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Digitalnative

I am striving for balance. Family time, work time, time for me. In teaching, this is a balancing act that challenges ALL of us. I am STILL learning to prioritize … after ALL this time.

I wish I had more answers. I cross my fingers for ALL those amazing teachers out there, struggling. As Angela Maiers would so powerfully tell you … YOU MATTER.

Category:  Teaching and Learning     

What DOES it take to be a COMPETENT writer?


Have you ever sat pondering WHY a student who is a strong READER is NOT a strong writer? Competent, yes, but not “functioning” at the SAME level as their reading skills?

Inventing my own letters.

 Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Mikael Wiman

I have. EVERY year, once the year end achievement results are shared with us. If truth be know, this is not a new phenomenon for me … nor for many of us. I have witnessed this gap, time and time again, over the 27 years I have taught.

So … I decided to do some research to see I could find some articles that would help to EXPLAIN the reasons for WHY writing proficiency often developed at a different rate than reading. I was SURPRISED at how LITTLE seemed to be out there.

Like a pit bull on a QUEST, I decided to put the question to my AMAZING Twitter PLN. It took a bit … but … I was rewarded with several inspiring conversations with people around the globe. That’s what I LOVE about my incredible colleagues on twitter!

It was not surprising, but it was also reassuring, to know that I was not the ONLY one looking for answers:

A variety of thoughts were shared:

It’s funny, because OFTEN children begin to “write” LONG before they begin to read. I experienced this with my OWN children. When Heidi began to talk about thinking about it from the perspective of writing computer code, producing, versus reading on your computer, consuming, the “differences” were becoming clearer. I wondered WHY I was finding SO little research on this common phenomenon.

Cristina Milos said something SO profound that, for me, she truly hit the nail on the head:

How true is that? Inspired, really. I am sure that MANY of us are able to enjoy and “read into” an artistic masterpiece. Painting one, on the other hand, is TRULY out of reach for MOST of us. It was through my inspiring twitter conversation with Cristina that I began to refine my search for documentation that would help to explain this gap and why it is COMMON.

If you are interested in reading MORE about this topic … and some of the reasons WHY writing develops differently than reading, here is some of the awesome reading I’VE been doing lately. Truly, if you’ve EVER wondered … these links are worth the time:

It can take DECADES to become a proficient writer. The metacognition involved is FAR more complex than the skills required to become a proficient reader. Most of us NEVER become published authors … and THEY are in a league of their own! The analogy could be likened to becoming a concert pianist, or violinist. The difference between the amateur and the expert … THOUSANDS of hours of practice.

Personally, I believe the ability to write an INCREDIBLE piece of narrative writing comes from YEARS of LIVING … life experience … something that our eight year olds have YET to do. Can we MODEL? You bet. Can we create classrooms FULL of rich opportunities to write for a variety of reasons? ABSOLUTELY. Can we create SAFE and ACCEPTING learning environments where children and adults ALIKE feel secure in their ability to take risks? To be BRAVE? YOU bet.

My mission? To explore the possibilities of “lessening” this gap. Will it be through more research on meta-cognition? Likely! I am the LEAD learner in my classroom … and … I want the best for EACH of my students, no matter WHERE they are on the learning continuum. Wish me luck!

I wonder:

  • Have you experienced this same gap?
  • Have you found specific techniques which help to strengthen our young learners’ abilities to express themselves effectively through writing?
  • Do you know of any research out there that will help me to FURTHER understand and explain WHY this gap is common?

Category:  Teaching and Learning      Tagged:

Recharged and Ready to GO!

Take Some Time

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by jessicahtam

UNplugging, to recharge, seems counterintuitive in this “plugged in” world. “Have you seen my phone charger?” or “Better plug the computer back in … it’s down to 5% battery!” are common conversation threads heard in our home. It is RARE for me to be away from my computer … from twitter … from my amazing online PLN … for such an extended period of time. I didn’t think I “needed” this down time, but it is apparent that it was EXACTLY what I needed.


Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

We’ve been away for the past two weeks, my family and I. I am amazed by what we were able to fit in during those fourteen wondrous days.


Kayaking with my “youngest” – Vancouver Island Magic!

IMG_6153 (1)

Sitting, surrounded by family, watching the sun set over the ocean in awe.

There is something rejuvenating about hanging out by the water. Actually, I don’t TRULY feel like I’ve had a holiday UNLESS I have spent time at the ocean. Don’t ask me how I ended up in Alberta, so FAR away from the ocean I love … life works in MYSTERIOUS ways! Walks on the beach with my Mom … around the neighbourhood … even a trip to Coombs … to see the goats on the roof! Family time. It doesn’t happen OFTEN enough. Once or twice a year … definitely NOT often enough.

There were MANY highlights on this trip. Making cards with my Mom. Searching the beach for special treasures to glue to these cards. And … a SURPRISE trip, through the Courtenay Museum, to hunt for 85 million year old fossils in the shale beds along the Browns River. A dream come true, for me!


Hunting for ammonite fossils on the Browns River on Vancouver Island.


A “mud ball” … tucked safely in the layers of shale … just WAITING to be discovered!

Prior to arriving at my parent’s house, my Dad had been doing some researching. He knew how much I enjoyed rock hounding and discovering various fossils on the beach. Actually, we share the same passion … something I didn’t realize quite to THIS degree! When he discovered this incredible tour and actual fossil digging opportunity, through the Courtenay Museum, he signed us all up immediately! And, what an AMAZING experience it was! Pat Trask, our paleontologist guide, was FANTASTIC! If you are in the Courtenay area … this is an experience that is worth its weight in gold.

Fossil Tours at Courtenay & District Museum from Courtenay & District Museum on Vimeo.

Sitting in the dirt, with a chisel and small hammer, “sifting” through the layers of shale by the river was PURE heaven. I learned SO much through this process and loved every second of it. We managed to find ammonite, animal “trails”, small shrimp claws … how you would “recognize” these tiny fossils without expert support is beyond me! I had NO idea that you wouldn’t find the ammonites tucked nicely between the layers of shale, just ready to be “plucked out”. Instead … our expert guide, Pat, showed us how to locate the “mud balls” pictured above. The shale would just peel away and, with a little persistence and perspiration, you could eventually arrive at something “rounded” in the shale. Easy to see, once you know what you’re looking for! Working carefully to remove the surrounding shale … an entire mud ball would sometimes magically appear.

If you gently hammered on this mud ball, it would crack open … just like a KINDER surprise … sometimes with a tiny, or NOT so tiny in the case of ammonites, fossil hidden away inside. Not all mud balls produced an actual visible fossil. Some were formed around soft tissue animals, which would “dissolve” over time in it’s 85 million year old cocoon, leaving the mud ball behind as evidence of its existence.


A fossil “kinder surprise” for paleontologists!

I didn’t have this rock or fossil passion as a kid. It took teaching the Grade Three Science Curriculum to push me BEYOND gathering up “pretty” rocks … into a HUGE interest in fossils, rock formation, and actually SEARCHING for fossils. I guess it’s NEVER too late to teach an old dog new tricks! The BEST part, aside from spending some WONDERFUL time with my parents, my Dad is ALREADY passionately scoping the area for NEW places to explore NEXT summer! I CAN’T wait!


My Dad … safely on the ground … still searching!

My ONE regret … not being FAST enough with the camera as my Dad clung, spider-like, to a steep shale cliff and uncovered a RARE ammonite that even excited our GUIDE! I hope that image stays as clearly etched in my memory as the true magic of the day!

Yup. UNplugging was JUST what I needed!

Category:  Teaching and Learning     

Citizenship, Respect and Safety are NOT Lessons to be Checked Off!

“I have no country to fight for: my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.”

~ Eugene V. Debs

172/365  I Want to See the World

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by martinak15

When we first began our blogging journey with eight year olds, two years ago, a HUGE amount of groundwork was laid prior to our very first post. Looking back, those first building blocks seem SO insurmountable … but … we’ve done it, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it! Learning WITH the world has proven to be a POWERFUL way to personalize and DEEPEN our curiosities.

Prior to beginning this “new” way of learning, we spent a great deal of time exploring other class blogs to see all the “possibilities” and to get a sense of our hopes for our new blog. You see, this was a pilot project – the very first classroom blog in our system. We knew that, if it was going to be a success, we needed to be VERY clear about what success would LOOK like!

As I write this post, I see this process much like the steps needed to build a strong, durable, long-lasting structure. There is the “planning stage” … drafting the vision out; it is an extensive AND intensive process that is necessary to ensure a successful project. Next, there’s the building stage … from the ground up.

The foundation, for us, included extensive thought around how we would keep these young students safe. Because this was a pilot project, we were responsible for drafting a permission form for parents so that they were very clear about the blog being available, online, for all the world to see. Some of the information in this consent form included:

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 2.37.54 PM

Once all consent forms were completed and returned, it was time to begin the process of “getting our feet wet” as a class. This included activating background knowledge to see how many students knew what a blog was. It was no surprise, that first year, to see that only one or two students could explain what a blog was. This was because family members had personal blogs! Gathering this information, as a class, allowed some students to share their personal experiences as we moved toward the unknown.

Within the safety of a classroom setting, we began to explore a variety of educational blogs with our young learners. What did they notice? What did they like? What would they change? These first steps, laying a solid foundation together, proved to be valuable learning experiences. It was exciting to listen to their conversations as they explored, and heartening to hear their critiques and compliments as they surfed through a variety of classroom blogs.

We knew immediately, that our blog would NEED to include a “flag counter” and a revolver map … this was a HUGE hit with our learners. They LOVED the idea of collecting flags from around the world and SEEING who was checking our blog out on the revolver map. The visual nature of these two tools helped to foster greater curiosity about the world we all share.

Digital Citizenship and Freedom

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by John Spencer

Safety, both on AND off line, was ALWAYS at the forefront. Blogging with these students provided authentic discussions, lessons and experiences DAILY. What made these lessons AUTHENTIC was the fact that they were not isolated lessons … they were woven in and through our blogging journey each and EVERY time we engaged in learning online.

Early on in our connected learning, we lost ALL our flags. There was HUGE disappointment with students AND adults alike. When I say “lost”, I mean I had to disable the flag counter widget. I was heart broken … but … at the same time I KNEW that I could not have my eight year olds exposed to the “less than appropriate” advertising that would come up if they “clicked” on this widget to learn more about the countries that were visiting us. I actually DREADED having to go into the classroom on Monday morning to tell these excited students what I had done.

After a few tears, and an AMAZING conversation about WHY … we began to “problem solve” together. They fully understood the importance of safety and the responsibility we ALL shared for being safe and thoughtful bloggers … SUCH amazing eight year olds! In the end, I ended up paying for a yearly subscription to our amazing flag counter. It has been worth EVERY penny to continue our learning AND our safety!

he's got the whole world

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by eren

Introducing your students to learning WITH the world, by FLATTENING your classroom walls, requires on-going thoughtfulness about safety and citizenship. These issues have ALWAYS been a part of classroom life … but … now … it ALSO includes how to be safe and responsible while learning ONLINE. I truly believe that the YOUNGER we begin discussing these issues the more personally responsible decisions our children will make for themselves as they get older.

There are SO many wonderful sites available to support these conversations with our learners:

A Simple Guide


Digital Citizenship Livebinder

Digital Citizenship Development Guide (Alberta Education)

Digital Citizenship Resources

Early Learning in a Digital World

Learning Lab

Social Technology and Digital Citizenship

Student Blogging Guidelines

21st Century Learning and Teaching

More 21st Century Learning and Teaching

UpTo12 Learning

These are just a FEW of the amazing resources out there to support going global. What works best, though, is continual discussion, thoughtfulness and reinforcement of these concepts in and THROUGH your daily learning experiences.

ANY time we’re working with learners, there are opportunities for valuable mini lessons:

  • first names only
  • what personal information IS okay to share?
  • how to respond respectfully to comments left behind on your blog
  • how to LEAVE a respectful comment on ANOTHER blog
  • using someone’s photos and ideas fairly, (creative commons attributions) … yes … even eight year olds understand this!
  • how do you know whether to trust a site’s information or not

These are just a FEW of the possibilities for discussion that come up NATURALLY through your connected learning experiences. The goal is to help our learners develop an effective filter between their ears. We won’t always be with them. They WILL go online when adults aren’t around. These tools are NOT going away. We will CONTINUE to learn with the world … so … the SOONER we start with our children, the BETTER. After all … we want them to be SAFE, THOUGHTFUL global citizens … both on AND offline  … and for GRANDMA to be PROUD!

“The most important thing an institution does is not to prepare a student for a career but for a life as a citizen.”

~ Frank Newman

Category:  Teaching and Learning      Tagged: , ,

TRUE Confessions of a “Global Classroom Teacher”!

“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” 
~ Albert Einstein

What follows are my TRUE confessions as a “global classroom teacher”. Oops … did I say that? I meant “reflections”! Ahh … well … maybe this will be a BIT of BOTH!

I have JUST completed my SECOND year in a “flat classroom”. What does THAT mean, you ask? Well, for the past two years, I have been FORTUNATE enough to have been BLESSED with piloting a classroom blog. It came about innocently enough … as a way of sharing the connection we made, the year prior, with an NGO working in Peru. Along with my partner Tannis Emann, who was taking her Masters, we began to delve into some of the amazing classroom learning being shared through Twitter. Suddenly, it struck us … blogging would be a PERFECT way to share our Grade Three learning journey! True confession #1 … prior to that … I had NEVER given blogging a first OR second thought. Yup, you read that right … we were SHOCKED to discover that people had been blogging with their classrooms for YEARS before we tentatively began to wade into the water. I STILL can’t believe that it took me THIS long to discover the POWER of learning with a global audience once you have flattened your classroom walls.

Connecting and learning with the world = engagement + deep powerful learning.

Connecting and learning with the world = engagement + deep powerful learning.
Photo by Global Grade 3s

True confession #2 … it’s not always easy. This is where the “frogs” that @iEARNUSA talks about come in! Often, you have to eat a  LOT of frogs, as @iEARNUSA so aptly says! There will be problems … Skype connections won’t always work, technology will fail. Sometimes your PEOPLE connections aren’t as reliable as one would hope. These are all FANTASTIC learning opportunities for our students. I like to call it “grace under fire”! That’s not to minimize the frustrations this can create, because these issues can ALL cause angst. But, as Einstein so brilliantly stated, “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” With persistence, patience, passion, perseverance AND occasional perspiration, the ENTIRE adventure is absolutely worth it. I will NEVER go back to teaching alone within four walls EVER again. There, I said it. I am a complete and TOTAL advocate for blogging with children. I firmly believe that the YOUNGER they start, the SMARTER they will be … responsible, aware, safe GLOBAL citizens with a CLEAR insight into what it means to be a MEANINGFUL member of the GLOBAL community.

There are SO many incredible books out there to help you learn ABOUT the world ... learning WITH the world DEEPENS that learning. Photo by Global Grade 3s

There are SO many incredible books out there to help you learn ABOUT the world … learning WITH the world DEEPENS that learning.
Photo by Global Grade 3s

After all, connecting and learning with a global audience provides both you AND your students with immediate experts in the field … it’s like a global PLN, (professional learning network), for your classroom. Who WOULDN’T want that? This global connection, whether it’s from comments left on your blog, or people you are Skyping with, can push the learning within your classroom deeper than you could have ever imagined.

True confession #3 … it’s OFTEN messy. Learning IS messy. When you pursue student questions, you connect with experts in the field, you learn … and …  INEVITABLY … you walk away with MORE questions. Talk about personalized, meaningful and engaging learning! FURTHER pursing their questions and curiosities is where the passion, enthusiasm for learning, personalization for your students and deeper understanding comes in. It’s a WIN win situation. Again … who WOULDN’T want that?!?

True confession #4 … time will ALWAYS be an issue. For us, it was finding a balance between the prescribed curriculum mandated by our Province AND pursuing, in depth, our inquiries and global “focus”. From the beginning, it was ALSO important for us to model effective skills for replying to our readers … and … this commitment gained us some faithful and INSPIRING readers who OFTEN pushed our learning even DEEPER. You would be RIGHT if you recognized that THIS commitment ALSO took time. This was truly time WELL spent! Surprisingly, although there was amazing learning shared in each of the posts, even DEEPER learning frequently occurred within the comment section through our interactions with readers!

During these two years, my students and I have been TRULY blessed to interact with and learn from the BRILLIANT Ross Mannell. Although a retired teacher, this AMAZING man frequently leaves comments for children on their classroom blogs. When I say comments, this does NOT do them justice. As a matter of fact, Ross has a SPECIAL blog he writes to provide students with EXTENDED comments. IMAGINE my students’ SURPRISE at reading this extended comment … AND receiving a VERY treasured surprise in the mail … all the WAY from AUSTRALIA! Echidnas have nothing what so EVER to do with our curriculum. But, animals and life cycles sure do, and … you should have SEEN the fingers flying on our iPads, as students conducted FURTHER research on our new echidna! The excitement in discovering MORE about our new class pet, Spike, was palpable!

A SURPRISE pet ... all the way from AUSTRALIA! Photo shared by Ross Mannell

A SURPRISE pet … all the way from AUSTRALIA!
Photo shared by Ross Mannell

Although time will always be an issue … many, MANY skills can be woven in and THROUGH each and EVERY global classroom  and blog post experience. For us, having a global audience … an AUTHENTIC audience … increased our skills AND our desire to write. It was THRILLING to see students begin to develop their voices … and slowly gain command of “reeling the reader in”! Although our blog has primarily focused on issues in Social Studies … Ross has helped us to delve even DEEPER into some of our SCIENCE and MATH curriculum. I am SURE that, because of his thoughtful and detailed replies to us, SOME of these bloggers may EVEN become GEOLOGISTS!

Scree samples from New Zealand ... thanks to Ross!

Scree samples from New Zealand … thanks to Ross!

True confession #5 … it is SO worth it. If you haven’t tried blogging with your students … do! I have NEVER looked back. Instead … I look FORWARD, in GREAT anticipation of where this journey will lead us.

It is NEVER too late to connect your classroom globally. Go on ... GIVE it a try! Photo shared by Global Grade 3

It is NEVER too late to connect your classroom globally. Go on … GIVE it a try!
Photo shared by Global Grade 3

I wonder:

  • what is one of the most POWERFUL lessons you’ve learned through blogging with your students?
  • what are some of YOUR true confessions as a result of becoming a “global classroom teacher”?
  • what advice would you give to someone THINKING about flattening the walls of their classroom?

This blog post has been cross-posted on The Global Classroom Project.

Category:  Teaching and Learning      Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s MOST Important?

There is a WORLD of possibilities for EACH of us … reach for the STARS!
Photo from Global Grade 3s

I am struggling.

I know the teacher I want to be. I strive to be the kind of teacher I would want for my own children. I am a learner and I know I was born to teach. It is HUGE work but, oddly, I bounce into school each and every day, excited for my next adventures with my amazing Grade Threes. We learn a LOT from one another. I CAN’T imagine a MORE rewarding career.

I am a reader and I am always growing. Why am I struggling? I am torn. I am inspired by all that I read through my UNBELIEVABLE twitter PLN. I see ALL the amazing possibilities. There are just NEVER enough hours in the day to truly accomplish everything I would like to experience with my students.

At this point in the year, I know my learners pretty well. They are my “daytime family”. I know where they are as readers, as writers … how comfortable they are with math … but I know them BEYOND where they are “academically”. We share who WE are … what makes us tick, what EXCITES us, what scares us … we’ve developed trusting relationships.

Still, I’m struggling.

Within my classroom is a wide range of abilities and interests. I see them BEYOND their marks and “current functioning”. Some of us are strong mathematicians. It’s just the way we think. Some of us have the gift for writing and can express our written thoughts with ease. Some are readers … I mean AVID readers who LOVE it. And, some of us are incredibly artistic. Some of us are even lucky enough to have it ALL!

It’s report card time. We don’t all FIT into “reading at level O” at this point in the school year. Developmentally, we’re just NOT ready yet. Maybe reading won’t EVER be a strength … but … there are strengths in OTHER areas. Ugh. I HATE giving 2s. I want to BUILD learner confidence … I want to delve DEEPER  into our curiosities … and passions. No matter HOW I weave all the student learner outcomes into our inquiries I ALWAYS have those Provincial Achievement Exams sitting at the back of my brain. But my heart says we’re NOT cookie cutter learners … NONE of us are.

At the end of the year, they’ll have to write a narrative story based on a picture prompt. They’ll probably do okay … most of them … but that writing won’t even BEGIN to compare to the amazing writing they do when they write for their “authentic” global audience on the classroom blog. Already I can hear their voices SHINE through into these pieces.

What’s MOST important? Relationships. Trust. Developing a safe and nurturing learning environment together where it’s GOOD to take risks with our learning.

I struggle with what I know in my heart. Helping students develop an understanding of who they are as learners … their strengths, passions, helping them to SEE that life long learning can be joyful and fulfilling … this is what I strive for … while trying to support their individual learner needs. They are, EACH of them, SO much more than a mark on a piece of paper.

How do I fit it ALL in?

I have a DREAM … I am REACHING for the stars … but … how do I fit it all in? Maybe I need LONGER teaching days … or FEWER student learner outcomes, (although I do see their value), or maybe each grade should last for TWO years … IMAGINE the possibilities with more TIME to fit it ALL in? I do!

I wonder:

  • How do you fit it all in … and find a balance?

Category:  Teaching and Learning      Tagged: , , , ,

The Power of Blogging in a Global Classroom

Photo Shared by Global Grade 3

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

~African Proverb

For the past two years, my students and I have had the life changing opportunity to work closely with a non-government organization, Mosqoy, to help make a difference in the lives of people living in a remote weaving village in Q’enqo Peru. This journey began as a “one time only” video conference with a teacher in our system who was travelling through Peru with his family.

Since then, through providing students with authentic opportunities to ask personalized questions of our experts in the field, via Skype, not only have we deepened our understanding of Peruvian culture, traditions, quality of life and physical land features, we have magically helped to transform a rundown building in Q’enqo into a beautiful, inviting library for this tiny village nestled in the Andes. We have fund-raised to help provide materials, books and furniture for this library. We have been BLESSED to work with our Non-Government Organization (NGO); they have been AMAZING role-models for each and every one of us.

Last year, for the very first time, my class began blogging about this journey with a global audience. Participating in a global education inquiry, which has a solid grounding in our Social Studies curriculum, has been one of the most powerful learning experiences I have had the chance to participate in during my teaching career. Working with our NGO has brought our “textbook learning” to life and broadened our inquiry far beyond student learning objectives and Google searches.

Through blogging, these children have discovered the power of writing for and learning from readers from all over the world. Students have engaged in powerful mathematical experiences beyond curriculum objectives by using mental math to calculate the “number of hits” on our revolver map each day, and through sorting, counting and organizing their fundraising efforts.

Digital citizenship and online safety lessons have occurred naturally as we have contended with spam and less than appropriate advertising on flag counters, all within the safety of the classroom. Life lessons in economics, discovering how much further the Canadian dollar will go in a developing country, and the challenges of “building capacity” … the real world excitements and disappointments of trying to make a difference in a developing country … the sustainability and perseverance required to have this change endure … these are just a FEW of the amazing lessons that our eight year olds discovered.

Perhaps one of the most surprising lessons learned while blogging with my students was the realization that not only are we sharing our learning with our families, we are sharing with the world. And, if you are consistent in replying to the comments left behind on a classroom blog, the learning becomes interactive, personalized and even MORE rewarding than just communicating your discoveries through your posts. Some of the most POWERFUL learning we have experienced has been through the treasured relationships with our readers and the back and forth conversation that develops through the comments and replies. I have learned that it is not ENOUGH to read a “post” … the rich conversations in the comment section is where the “deeper” learning is at!

We have learned compassion, empathy, global awareness and, perhaps even MORE powerful, that you are never too little to make a positive difference in the world. These lessons have been meaningful, invaluable and made possible because of a desire to flatten the walls of the classroom, make learning meaningful and move into the global arena. Global education ROCKS!

Sometimes we are not always LUCKY enough to have a relationship like this develop naturally with an NGO that is interested in continuing a long term relationship. What do you do THEN? If you are interested in learning more about flattening the walls and creating a global classroom for your students, you should DEFINITELY check out the Global Classroom Wiki and the Global Classroom Blog! This learning community is ALL about sharing and mentoring, and there are projects already ON the go to help you get your feet wet or to continue to enrich you and your students’ learning journeys!

I wonder:

  • how are you helping your students to become global citizens?
  • what is the most POWERFUL lesson you’ve learned while flattening the classroom walls with your students?

Category:  Teaching and Learning      Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Spinning with POSSIBILITIES!

 Inspiration doesn't favor those who sit still

Flickr Creative Commons Photo Shared by Scott McLeod

One week in. Into WHAT, you ask? Why, #etmooc, of course! Officially, this amazing “connectivist” MOOC, (massive open online course), hasn’t even REALLY begun – it’s been an “orientation” week, of sorts. Gosh. Topic One doesn’t even begin until MONDAY! Man. If it HASN’T already begun … I can’t WAIT to see what the “official” topics and discussions unveil! ALREADY my head is SPINNING. It’s a GREAT spinning … but SPINNING nonetheless!

So far, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a Blackboard Collaborative ”Welcome and General Orientation”, an #etmooc chat (#etmchat), and ALMOST an HOUR long session with the amazing Sue Waters while she shared her extensive knowledge on BLOGGING! I say “almost” because something came up at school and I didn’t quite make it to the session! RATS! As if THIS wasn’t already inspiring enough … the Google+ community has become a tsunami of sharing, collaboration and support. Everyday, through people’s inspiring posts, I bookmark SEVERAL more tools I want to explore. I don’t know if it’s POSSIBLE, but I WORRY that Google Chrome is going to tell me I have EXCEEDED the CLOUD for BOOKMARK storage!

Being a LERD, I am just SO excited by the possibilities. I ALSO love that SO many of the amazing people I learn with and from through my TWITTER PLN are involved in this #etmooc. It is, on MANY levels, like many of us experience when we first begin our twitter journeys. A LOT like drinking from a “fire hose”. Learning to “filter” and focus on where you are at and what you need at this moment in time is the only way to keep your head ABOVE water … and to NOT become overwhelmed or, worse, give up.

This weekend, I can’t WAIT to explore the first of MANY tools I have already been exposed to through the Google+ community. FIRST up on my list is to play with a tool that Dennis Richards used to share his #etmooc introduction: xtranormal Talk about inspiring AND entertaining!

Poster: Passion

Flickr Creative Commons Photo Shared by Krissy Venosdale

That, and INTENTIONALLY leaving comments on people’s blogs to more actively express my appreciation for the learning! I feel SO blessed that @Courosa, while on sabbatical, has offered SUCH an amazing learning opportunity to the world, along with his incredible “conspirators“! If you haven’t already joined this amazing journey … what are you WAITING for?



Category:  #ETMOOC ,Teaching and Learning      Tagged: , , , ,

First #ETMOOC Thoughts

January 7, 2012:

I am excited, excited, EXCITED! My FIRST #ETMOOC … from START to FINISH! Last year, I was fortunate enough to tag along with Tannis  in some of her classes with Alec Couros while she did her Master’s online. Inspired is an understatement. Her Master’s is what started my TWITTER love and my introduction to the magic of Blackboard Collaborative. Since then, I have had the privilege of experiencing some of the MOST powerful PD with an INCREDIBLE PLN … 24/7 … if I want! I am FOREVER grateful to Tannis!

Twitter Tagxedo
Creative Commons License Photo by MrsDKrebs

I am excited for this new learning adventure and looking forward to expanding my PLN!

Category:  #ETMOOC     

No Longer Walking this Journey ALONE

I just finished a post for the #globalclassroom January chats and thought it would be fun to do as a “celebration” of our year … collectively and individually … as globally connected educators. I was inspired by the #kinderchat tribe, as they sometimes refer to themselves. But … let’s back this up in time just a titch:


Creative Commons License  Photo by Krissy Venosdale

This is my FIRST year of involvement with the #globalclassroom chats.  Honestly … it’s my first FULL year of being inspired, DAILY, by my AMAZING twitter PLN and THAT is how I FOUND the #globalclassroom community! Over that time, I have changed MANY of the preconceived notions I held about SM.

I remember CLEARLY lurking through many twitter chats in the early days, feeling, VERY strongly, the “worry” of presenting myself “professionally” and sharing content with “valuable” educational links. Each tweet was carefully thought out. And, slowly, as confidence grew, I began to invest MORE of ME … still professional … still education focused … and my learning community began to grow. Along with that came the relationships. A shared joke, a favourite song, support during struggles, GREAT resources, INSPIRED reading, connections I never believed were possible … SO much more than I’d EVER expected. Who KNEW?

No matter WHERE you go, or WHAT you’re doing … it ALWAYS boils down to RELATIONSHIPS. The bottom  line is “you GET what you put INTO it”! I am inspired by SO many twitter communities and individuals. It was the camaraderie shared between the #kinderchat tweeps, who share, collaborate, joke, support and work hard at cultivating their relationships, that inspired my post for January’s #globalclassroom chat … a celebration of community, relationships, joyful learning and the journey.

Ignite a Fire

Creative Commons License Photo by Krissy Venosdale

I LOVE that twitter is a place where I have done some of the most AMAZING learning in my teaching career. I feel BLESSED to no longer walk this journey ALONE.

Category:  Teaching and Learning      Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

BE Quiet!

“Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe.”
― Susan Cain

A colleague recently talked with me about a new book she was reading. She had really enjoyed it and thought I might also like to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. Part way through this chat she looked at me with shock when I told her that I considered myself an “introvert”. Somehow, her response surprised me. Don’t get me wrong. I speak up during staff meetings. I eagerly share my ideas during team meetings. I am animated and “outgoing” with my students as we learn together each and every day. I am approachable and work hard to develop meaningful relationships with students, parents and colleagues. Needless to say, I raced right out and purchased Susan Cain’s book THAT night.

This book spoke to me on SO many levels. From personal experience, I could relate to many of the examples Cain shared within the pages of this book. I remember losing marks in school for a “lack of participation” and being terrified of “giving presentations”. As a matter of fact, I EVEN dropped a few COURSES while at university when I saw “oral projects” listed on the syllabus! Guess that’s IT for a Master’s Degree!

My husband lovingly laughs at me and finds it hard to believe because I don’t FEEL this way when I teach! “How can you say you don’t like presenting in front of adults … you’re in a CLASSROOM all day LONG … you CAN’T be afraid of public speaking!” I love the energy I feel in the classroom. I LOVE the interactions with my students and colleagues. But, I recharge when I come home. I like my “quiet down time”. It’s hard to explain. Like Susan’s quote above, it’s the air that I breathe.

Over the years I have given myself permission to express myself in the way I feel MOST comfortable – through writing. Somehow, ideas flow and I feel empowered when I write. Strangely, I even feel more “articulate” when I write. It used to bother me immensely that I couldn’t comfortably stand up and “present” professionally like, say, Sir Ken Robinson, for example! (Ya … I know … that’s setting the bar REALLY high! ;) ) Reading Quiet helped to reinforce, for me, what I knew already intuitively.

Introverts and extroverts reside along a continuum. They appear to be “opposites” and yet there truly IS no black and white … just shades of gray. Some extroverts don’t like public speaking. Some introverts DO! Not all introverts are necessarily shy, either.

I think I’m a weird combination of deeply introverted and very daring. I can feel both those things working.

~Helen Hunt

The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases. 

~Carl Jung

Susan Cain does a beautiful job of melding personal experiences with scientific research. While our society values the power of the extrovert, she makes a powerful case for the need to respect, honour and empower BOTH!  This book is truly worth the read and the ensuing conversations it will provoke:

Like yin and yang, night and day, winter and summer – seemingly opposites … without one there isn’t the other … the world NEEDS extroverts AND introverts. The odds are you are either living with someone on the opposite side of the continuum or you WORK with a few!

Perfect for Each Other Quotes

Flickr photo by Charm 2010

I remember, clearly, receiving an email from my son’s Grade Four teacher. Although he is now 18, the experience is CLEARLY etched in my memory. He had worked for days on a presentation that he was to share that morning. His teacher emailed to say that he had “refused” to stand up and present his “poster”. I requested a phone call so that we could discuss the situation. Now I know that there is a FINE line between advocating for your child and “helicoptering” … but this was a situation my husband and I hoped to resolve by finding a compromise. You see, my oldest is a lot like I was. The teacher provided two options. He could present the next day or he could receive a zero on the presentation mark. We tried for a compromise. Could he present to his teacher alone? Could he choose two or three peers and present in a “safer” way, since he was shy? Nope. No options. Share with the large group or take the zero. A little “frustrated” with the lack of flexibility or sensitivity for personalizing the learning, we presented my son with his options. He chose the zero and we supported his choice. That day, I vowed to never put a student in my care in that situation EVER. (Maybe this is naive, since I teach Grade Three, but it works for me.)

Can you work to CHANGE certain aspects of your personality? ABSOLUTELY. Should you nurture your strengths and USE them to the best of your ability? Without  a DOUBT. As educators AND parents, it is OUR responsibility to help our children and students FIND their strengths, NURTURE their GIFTS and EXPLORE who they are … as learners … as people who have individual gifts to share with the world. After all, we USUALLY find our niche!

This above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
~Hamlet, Shakespeare

I wonder:

  • Do you see yourself as more introverted or extroverted?
  • Have you had to work hard to strengthen an area of “discomfort” such as public speaking? How have you achieved this?
  • How do you nurture your own child’s or students’  ”strengths”?

Category:  Perseverance ,Spirit ,Teaching and Learning      Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Struggles LEAD to Celebrations!


Flickr Photo by m-c

Yesterday was just ONE of those days where it ALL came together! Definitely NOT to be confused with the days that it DOESN’T … and … sadly … THOSE days exist TOO! For example, the day BEFORE our perfectly serendipitous day,  we experienced  a 100% FAILURE rate with our borax crystals! Don’t get me wrong. Experiencing failure is HEALTHY … it helps to develop character and, in a safe and caring environment, it supports the development of curiosity, resilience and perseverance! As one of LAST year’s young bloggers taught us: FAIL = First Attempt In Learning! What a HEALTHY way to LOOK at setbacks!

The morning after mixing our borax crystals, my Grade Threes and I BOUNCED into the classroom to check out our newly formed creations … only to be met with NOTHING! We’d done everything to specification. They looked at me, bewildered. I looked at THEM … bewildered. They asked WHY … MANY of them with quivering bottom lips. Now … I COULD have said, “Well, the borax may have been old … maybe we didn’t stir the solution well enough … maybe the ROOM wasn’t the right TEMPERATURE!” This list could have been extensive. Instead, I answered their WHYs with, “I don’t KNOW … what do YOU think? Let’s TALK about it!”

We sat, some of us quite downhearted, and what these students had to say was simply AMAZING for eight year old children. Maybe we didn’t put enough borax in. Maybe it was too LOUD in here and the vibrations  in the ROOM caused the failure. Maybe the water was too hot … or too COLD. Maybe the JARS were dirty … although several students piped up quickly and said that MIGHT be the case for a FEW of the jars … but ALL of them? We THINK not! Together, we decided that we would try ANOTHER little experiment. We mixed up ONE more jar of borax solution … adding quite a bit more borax … just in CASE it had become “stale”.  Some of us even went home to research just a LITTLE more!

Our TEST worked and we were greeted, the NEXT morning, by a GORGEOUS snowflake crystal. Maybe, since the borax was a year old, it HAD required more in order to saturate the solution! And THIS led us to our “perfect day”!

With MORE borax crystals to make, classroom blog comments to reply to and twenty MILLION other jobs to do … it didn’t LOOK like it was going to be one of those stellar days. Honestly, I didn’t know how I was going to “juggle” everything that needed to be accomplished!

globe in hands

Flickr Photo by Noticelj

That’s when it HIT me.

We’ve been working on our classroom blog for OVER a month now. This would be the PERFECT time to hand over the reigns to see what these awesome STUDENTS would do WITHOUT me guiding their responses to our readers. They’d had TONS of role modelling for crafting an awesome reply to our readers, and I decided that I would focus on helping a group of students with crystals. The rest of the class drafted a response to one of the comments left behind. It was a leap of faith … they hadn’t done it independently yet this year!

I had to bite my tongue as my little group of FIVE mixed their crystals … and I “listened in” on what was happening with the NINETEEN students in the blogging group! Yup. NINETEEN kids … working WITHOUT the teacher … compromising, collaborating, sharing, discussing.  I wanted it to be COMPLETELY their comment … none of my interjections or “leading and supporting”. I REALLY wanted to see what THEY would do!

One young man was the recorder, on the laptop and the smartboard;  he gathered student thoughts and recorded them. I could hear issues such as:

  • okay, how do we START a reply?
  • did we talk about her family’s “sentence”?
  • how do we say it to “reel the reader in” and get them to come BACK to the blog?
  • do you remember how Mrs. Renton makes that HAPPY face at the END of our comments … oh ya … it’s like THIS …
  • how should we END the reply?

You will LAUGH at THIS … the comment left by the parent mentioned “LERD”, and these children discussed, as a group, what a LERD was!!! I couldn’t STOP myself from giggling … although quietly enough that it wouldn’t distract them! ;) This is a group that is PROUD to shout their lerdiness from the ROOFTOPS!!! (Not all … but MANY profess to be LERDS!!!)

My heart SWELLED with pride over how BEAUTIFULLY this little group of students collaborated to craft their FIRST independent reply to a reader!

My tears were WELLING!!! And, if that wasn’t ENOUGH, even MORE magic happened!!!

When I came back to the group and they read their message, (FILLED with pride), the PERSONALIZED mini-lessons … authentic, immediate, and meaningful mini-lessons began:

  • how to right click to check a misspelled word
  • capitals for Mrs.
  • leaving ONE space after a period (as opposed to none)
  • when to use families vs family’s
  • the differences between to, two, and too

Yup. This was TRULY a PROUD teacher moment! They had been internalizing EVERYTHING we had discussed as we crafted meaningful responses to our blog readers as a large group. They had worked through their struggles together. They had collaborated, supported one another, taught one another and risen to the challenge BEYOND my greatest hopes! JUST like the day before when we experienced the disappointing results of our experiment. They rose UP, pushed PAST … and … we ALL grew!

After all, you NEED the rain to appreciate the sun … without the rain there ARE no rainbows! Nope, I wouldn’t trade the struggles for perpetual smooth sailing. It is THROUGH these struggles that we learn and grow!

PS For those of you who are WONDERING … our SECOND attempt at borax crystals met with 98% success! We PERSEVERED and FINALLY achieved 100%. Phew!

Category:  Perseverance ,Teaching and Learning      Tagged: , ,