Thursday, 23 March 2017

Openness and Me

Ainsley Marylinn
First let me start off by apologizing and sharing my reason (OK it's an excuse for not having done my blog on time, but I think its a good one!). Last Tuesday we had our second little girl. We named her Ainsley Marilynn and I spent most of my week helping my wife and trying to keep everything running in our lives smoothly. With all that I ran out of time/energy to make sure this blog was done before then next class. Thank you all for the well wishes and congratulations.

When I think about my experiences with open online spaces in the realm of education I have to admit that the only times I have been involved in an open setting would be within the courses designed by Alec and Katia throughout my graduate degree program. I have been involved and I teach in a closed environment for the most part. Occasionally I have ventured out and used my twitter account to ask for advice, or participated in a group designed multi-school activity #eggdrop. But I really haven't ventured out of my safe (closed) settings of Google classroom or URCourses very often.

Through my limited experience of the Ed Tech classes I have found that there is a huge opportunity to learn through an open space. For my personal learning I feel that Working in Open Spaces has broadened my horizons and given me opportunities and connections I would never have had prior to these classes. I also feel that you get what you put in. I have not utilized twitter as much as I have in previous classes and I am noticing my depth of understanding of the concepts we are moving throughout this semester is lacking, I would say that this is because of my inability to spend the time in the open space and interact with my PLN through blogging and twitter that I have worked to set up. I believe that the authenticity of learning is upon the learner at all times, but it is more prevalent within an open course concept. I am a big believer in "you get what you put in" ideology. Within the open learning space, the learner is in control of what they take in, therefore to answer the question of "Is authenticity guaranteed if we open the conversation to the world?" My answer would be yes, depending on you ability to discern between appropriate and authentic information. What I mean by that is, if the information you are receiving from your PLN is substantiated and you trust the information to be true, then yes, your learning is authentic and meaningful.

Within my teaching I look at what is appropriate for students in the middle years (grades 7/8). This is an age where many of the students want to be treated like adults, but are still immature and need to be treated with caution. Currently, I have not opened my classroom up to an open space, yet. I would like to branch out and begin interacting online to help my students learn our science concepts at a deeper level, along with aiding in the extending of the learning for my high achieving students. My number one concern is the safety of my students. Not necessarily the physical safety, but more the mental and digital safety of my students. I feel that I will be able to begin diving into the open learning spaces with my students through the science curriculum because I feel that it will give us the opportunity to connect with experts in the field easily, but also safely. Science is a subject that is generally clear cut at the middle years level and the answers can be found with little opportunity for any prejudice, or negative interaction occurring. I would like to eventually feel confident enough in my ability as a leader in technology within my own classroom that we can begin to branch out and blog/tweet about more social justice issues and become more involved with the more sensitive topics.

Photo Credit: Open Learning
I am fortunate to work in a community where there is a high access to technology and the possibility for interaction within an open course environment is very much available in terms of the hardware/infrastructure side of things. My concerns will come from my administration and the parents of my students. From my administration, they will want to make sure I have thought about the safety of my students and I have thought of how to problem solve a variety of scenarios before I even begin so that when the conversation begins with the parents I am ready to explain the need, purpose and how I am going to ensure the safety of my students. I feel most of my parents will be supportive, but their number one concern will be the safety of their child, and their second concern will be, how I will monitor the online activity to ensure there is learning occurring and it is not a waste of time. There will also be some educating of the parents around why open education is important and will be beneficial for their child.

In terms of how I am going to ensure safety of my students I will teach about digital citizenship with a major focus on the negatives and the dangers around being online, and creating an online identity. Utilizing sources that share information around Teachers Guide to Keeping Students Safe Online with both the students and parents will be a crucial portion of the pre-learning.  I will most likely even host an evening around digital citizenship to share and teach the parents about monitoring their children's online activity and how to openly talk to them about what they are doing online.  

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Discussion Boards.... Useful or just another chat tool?

  • What forms of student/student-instructor interactions will you implement in your course prototype (e.g. LMS forums, chats rooms, Flipgrid, blog comments/pingbacks, hashtags, Google Plus, etc.)? What justification can you provide for choosing these forms of student interaction? What guidelines or assessment practices will you adopt to ensure that interactions are meaningful, supportive, and relevant?

Since I utilize GAFE consistently in my classroom, I feel like having student to student interactions should be happening. But when I think of a discussion board, or a mode of communication other than what I have been doing I become anxious about how this tool will be misused and possibly become another distraction.

From one of our article readings this week I found the "Benefits of Using Online Discussion Boards" to be very clear.
Using a discussion board, a chat room, or any option for the students to interact to help each other, ask questions to better their understanding is a good thing. When starting with GAFE I found that all the comments we linked to an email and my inbox was constantly exploding with comment notifications. Since I was new and did not know how to manage the notifications I put a blanket ban on using the comment box, which has turned into a systematic stoppage of communication between students online.

Photo Credit: Flickr dmeyer302
OOPS! After reading the articles this week I actually facepalmed myself. I found myself reflecting and realizing how I have culled the students learning opportunities by doing this.

When thinking about our course prototype, which we are working in Google Classroom for, I am trying to think of how we can use the "Comment" section of each Assignment/Announcement/Question box to develop a better understanding of the assignment. I am certainly going to have to do some teaching around this within my classroom and I will follow the guidelines set out in the article. As a group we have discussed how we are going to utilize a blogging component to our course to ensure their is continuity between assignments. I think that through both the commenting through the announcements and the blogging our course prototype will be very inclusive and develop a more meaningful understanding of the concepts the students are learning about as they dive into their own research around their chosen topics.

As a group we have also tabled a discussion for adding another layer of communication within our course. We may incorporate a twitter feed along with our Genius Hour Project. I can see the opportunities with this being endless. With the concept of Genius Hour being all about the students interests I wonder how many serendipitous moments can happen like that of Rochelle's love or reading and how it transpired into a lengthy discussion with the author of the books she shared with a class in her building. I can see this happening frequently enough that if you took our Genius Hour Prototype into a full on classroom program you may want to create its' own Twitter account.

Within Schwier's article on Shaping the Metaphor of Communityin Online Learning Environments he shared that
Learners have control over the quality of collaboration that happens online, and if they reject the invitation to elevate their engagement with each other, we will be left with something less—a cohort, not a community (Misanchuk, Anderson, Craner, Eddy and Smith, 2000).
 I think that through using effecting communication tools, such as a safe area within the closed network of Google Classroom, a more open one of a blogging site, such as Edublog, and then an open but controlled (by the teacher) tool such as Twitter the opportunities for learning and collaborating will not only be effective but engaging for the students.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Blended Learning....Why Not?

With my perspective around digital learning, specifically around flipping or blending the learning environment, I thought it would be interesting to look at why I should not. I have stated relentlessly, in the last couple years the multiple reasons for why I should flip/blend my teaching, but I have not every taken the time to find a reason not to. Similar to the other Kyle that's what this week has been about.

After reading a variety of blogs I found the 6 Disadvantages of Blended Learning by Scott Winstead, it had a very strong tone with a great question of why are we:

disrupting the battle-hardened educational system with its solid methodology, academic backup, strong instructor figures, and developed intellectual and psychological bonds, is hardly a wise thing to do.

I had to do some searching to find the origin of a couple of news reports, but the article Meet the Classroom of the Future was well wrote and is found through the NPR site.  This article got some news coverage and had a couple other reports wrote about it.  All in all, these articles broke down the 6 issues of a blended classroom as: Infrastructure,  Mentality, Pace of Advancement/Amount of Learning, Negative Impact on Teacher: Overwork, Negative Impact on Students: Cognitive Load, Plagiarism/Credibility.

Infrastructure is always going to be an issue, whether it is in terms of physical space, or digital one. This is never going to change, and the costs are always going to be there.  My thought on this... Deal with it.  The elected and hired individuals have a responsibility to ensure that the infrastructure is up to code/date.

Mentality is a harder concept to 'solve'.  This is because it deals with individuals perspectives and pedagogy around education and where they value their knowledge and their skill sets.  To overcome this barrier there needs to be an appropriate amount of PD put into place before any technology initiative becomes school/system wide.  Everyone needs to have a modicum of confidence and willingness to take on an initiative such as this.  

Photo Credit: Giulia Forsythe
Pace of Advancement is an interesting concept to have to battle through.  You want to ensure that your class is moving forward, while ensuring that each student is completing and understanding each task.  This in my mind is more of a planning issue with an individual teacher.  The assignments need to be chunked, and broken down so that you can have check ins with students in the face-to-face classes along with the ones who are predominantly online.  I believe as educators we can not allow a student to go days, let alone weeks/multiple assignments or classes without checking in with them in some regard.

Negative Impact on Teacher: Overwork is a big issue, especially in our political climate here in Saskatchewan with negative budgetary issues and scare tactics of prep time, or contracts being dismissed due to re-legislation.  This is a serious issue, but I do not believe it is independent to a teacher engaging in a blended learning environment.  My wife, who teaches with a more traditional classroom approach, brings home more "work" than I do.  While I see it as menial, she explains that it is all about prep and making sure she can use her time in the building for the things that need her full attention, and she would rather bring home the photocopying, cutting, and prep work to do at home.  All the while, I am on my phone checking in on my students and answering questions coming in from my LMS from multiple students about the homework due in the coming days.  

Negative Impact on Students: Cognitive Load is also a big issue, but similar to teachers being overworked, it is not independent to the blended teaching community.  Teachers need to know their students and they need to adapt or expand assignments for individuals who need them.

File:ME 109 Thief.png
Photo Credit: Nina Palay
Plagiarism/Credibility is a constant issue with my classes at the beginning of the year.  Students like to try to trick me, and get away with their assignments being rushed.  I have developed a variety of tools to demonstrate how easy it is for me to prove the students have not done the work in a proper manner.  From demonstrating how Google docs work, to simply copy and pasting sentences into a search bar and finding the documents they are plagiarizing from, or to the more complex ones of I have to search my own files for students work from previous years, but again it is a quick search and i am generally able to show the students, that I recognize when it is not their voice and I can usually prove it.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Learning, Digital Learning, Teaching...

We as educators generally focus on the types of learners we teach and how we need to teach to them through a variety of ways that they will learn best. Through reading Bates article about the pedagogical differences between media I found it interesting that I see a lot of my own preferences within my own teaching. The main section that I found myself aligning with Jenn, that learning through video is probably my top choice. When I look at how I learn, relearn, or inquire into new tasks I always find myself turning to videos. Some of my favorite are usually around how to butcher game, to learning how to properly Sous-vide different foods.

I love to cook and am always trying new meals, appetizers, and techniques. The reason I use video so frequently is because I know I learn from seeing how the professionals do the technique and I try to emulate them. I have a plethora of cookbooks and I love to get my inspirations for flavours from them, but when they are talking about a new technique I almost always find myself searching for a video for confirmation of how to learn the new skill rather than reading about it.

Now through reading the Bates Chapter, and skimming through peoples blogs I am realizing how prevalent text is within many of the videos I use to learn, and that I share with my students when learning. As I was reading Kara's blog I agreed with her comments about how I read, and what I do when I am reading, which is to highlight, jot down notes, and even go to the extend to type notes into a Google Doc to ensure I do not have to rewrite/type information when it comes time to write responses. Therefore I am realizing that even though I may enjoy the video aspect, I do learn most through text.
Flickr: House of Cards

One thing that also made me connect my enjoyment of text is within TV shows (House of Cards is a favourite) and movies now. When someone receives a message the message in some shows, or movies is being overlaid on the screen so we can see who it is from and what the message is. This idea made so much sense to me and I have commented on it a few times as my wife and I watch different shows.

With respect to my own personal learning, I know that one type of learning is never enough. I know that even when I am strictly reading, I do not get enough out of the straight text, so I typically read out loud to help myself keep focused and I know I retain more information when I read aloud to myself. Similarly when listening to an recording of a book, or I am following someone read, I have a hard time not reading as they speak. This is where the love of video comes from. I feel I need to be as engaged as possible. I need multiple stimuli occurring to keep my focus. That may be due to the fact that I should have been diagnosed with some form of squirrel watching/bike riding/need to be active diagnosis, but I also have realized that the more interactive, whether it is physically, or multimedia style of learning is where and how I learn best. One is never enough.

Fig 7.7 from Bates, 2011

As I look at the pedagogical framework from Bates' article I found myself being mostly a connectivist style learner. Most of my learning come from blogs, YouTube, Wikis or straight up Google searches. Where I see my classroom, spans all three of the categories. I feel most of the deep learning comes in the connectivist zone, but we typically work through the objectivist, and constructivist areas in the early and middle portions of the year to get the students ready to be work within their own inquiry based topics.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Critiquing my Math Instruction Tool

For almost all of my math lessons I like to connect a digital lesson to the assignment so those students who miss a class, are sick, or need a refresh at home while they are working on their homework. I use Raffi Kouyoumdjian's videos most of the time.

This week we are working through Volume of Right Rectangular Prisms

I like these because of his interactive Smart Board and he teaches using the formulas very similar to how I expect my students to work through their math problems. I feel that our teaching styles are very similar and make it easy for my students to recall my lesson when they watch his videos.

No looking at critiquing his digital instruction there are things that could be added into his teaching. When talking about quality I feel that the video quality is very good, but the audio can be distracting because you can hear the background sounds of the intercom, occasionally students in the hall, and a constant buzz from something. Certainly the lighting and production quality is not that of a professional video, but in a way I like that it shows he is just a regular classroom teacher who isn't tied to a big company.

Some things I think he could use is to integrate some better sound system, whether that is incorporating a microphone to reduce the background noise or ensuring there are no disruptions when he does his videos. I think he could overlay some graphic onto his video as reminders.

There are some sections within the video that when he is using his smart board the information is behind him and blocked by his body. This is where I think incorporating a Screencast technique may help improve this digital lesson. He could record what he is doing on the smart board, then piece that together with a stop animation tool to ensure nothing gets missed by him accidentally covering up the lesson with his body.

In terms of production difficulty, I do not think this would be hard to create. It seems as if he has used a camera on a tripod and hit record as he does his lesson. Of course he has some sharp cuts with iMovie transitions between 'scenes' to cut down on instruction time. I like that he jumps from one question to the next without showing all the steps it takes to erase the smart board and pull up the next slide or question. I feel this speeds up the lesson and keeps the learning going.

For my use I have found that students and parents appreciate having a video linked to the assignment so they can rewatch/relearn the concept to work on their struggling math concept. Therefore, the impact I have seen on student learning is a positive aspect. Specifically for the early lessons in math units where we look at more of the holistic approach using models and activities to get the learning process started. These lessons frustrate parents, but when they view the lesson, they are then capable at helping or understanding the concept along with their child.

These videos are a valuable tool for me, but I would like to begin creating my own, not only so I have them, but also to have more ownership over my own classroom and material I am distributing. While I have appreciated using Raffi's videos, I would like to incorporate some of my suggestions and develop my own digital teaching lessons around these concepts.

Does anyone have another collection of math videos that are similar they would like to share?

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Critiquing LMS 's

To start off I have to apologize for the lack of activity this week.  Life gets stressful some weeks and for me it's been a long one.... Report cards are easy to blame, but at the same time, life with a toddler, two classes, a very pregnant wife, a mother getting knee replacement surgery, working 2 jobs and the variety of other things that life throws us all any given day has made this week long.  So my apology is to all of my classmates for being tardy with this post and for not reading and commenting the way I should have this week.  

As I read through Audrey Waters article, Beyond the LMS, I was seriously juxtaposed. I understand where she is coming from, especially when it comes to open concept teaching and expanding individual personal learning networks (PLN), but at the same time when I think of my students, whom I am to keep safe, and ensure they learn the required Saskatchewan Curriculum I think that is partly why we use a LMS, vs a more Utopian option that she hints at throughout her post. As much as we are to be evaluating based on specific outcomes and determining whether or not a student is progressing, meeting or exceeding grade level expectations, we also want to develop healthy, positive, forward thinking students who will be ready to enter the big scary world of adulthood without any of the protection of an LMS.

I do think that we want to develop independent thinkers, and people who, when needed are capable of learning information on their own to suit their current needs. To do this though, I do think that we need some sort of structure or a way to manage our priorities. When it is Christmas time, or close to Spring Break, or the end of the year, a teachers life becomes more stressful... Why, because of the irregularity and unstructured nature of those times. We do not want to begin a new unit, in fear of having to reteach the material, or we want to reward the students for working hard, so we plan fun activities that aren't directly tied to curriculum, but are more developed for social interactions.

Now when it comes to the LMS's that we have talked about in class. I am an avid Google Classroom guy, who uses this platform in his classroom on a daily basis. Four years ago, I started using Edmodo and I enjoyed this platform as well. Through researching, I like Schoology mostly because of the options of setting up groups within a given class. Including the learning outcomes within this platform is definitely one of my favorite tools. With it being an American site it doesn't have any of the Canadian standards, let alone Saskatchewan specific, but there is an option to add them into the assignments which is great! The intricacies of the program I am not entirely sure about, but I know if I had to restart, or my school board dropped the GAFE option for us, I would probably switch to Schoology.

Within our class we had the opportunity to look into Canvas. My initial response to Canvas is one of confusion, frustration and a general distaste from attempting to set up a course. I have a variety of material that I have used in the past and when I attempted to upload it I found it was not the right format. Then I looked into importing another persons course through their commons option. I could only view small portions of the units, and I had to download a full unit to look through to determine whether or not I wanted that unit. Having not spent a lot of time on this LMS I would not completely write it off, but given the same amount of time to Schoology I was able to quickly use my already developed files and they were compatible. I am sure once a person is used to searching, and understanding the nuances of Canvas that there are a lot o positives to the platform, but in the hour I spent fumbling around I found it very disjointed.

Let me get back to Edmodo. As I have already used this site, I logged in and began reminiscing about how I used this and where I wanted to take it. I appreciated the familiarity my students had with this platform due to its similarity to Facebook (if your unfamiliar here is a blog about the similarities) and their willingness to give this new 'flipped' classroom a try. I was able to use this to manage the learning in a very transient class, with a huge variety of needs, including K-8 reading levels, variety of students with an assortment of learning needs from dyslexia to low cognitive function to FAS and ADHD. Using this platform helped the students keep track of their assignments and know when things were handed in and what they received for marks. It gave me the opportunity to have the students who had the opportunity to work on more individualize plans and enrich those when needed. There were some issues with this platform. Some were that not all the assignments were as easy to complete due to the nature of the class, ex; math, but there were also the spaces, where they had to be within the application to do their work. There wasn't an option to do the assignment outside of the platform and the collaboration piece was more difficult, at least it was difficult to ensure the students were putting in an equitable amount of work.

This brings me to GAFE, more specifically Google Classroom. I love this platform. Now Alice Keeler wrote a blog about is Google Classroom a LMS or Not? I feel she made some very good points, but at the same time, when referring to back to Audrey Waters post about teaching Beyond the LMS, my question would be does it matter? In terms of how can I manage, yes sorry Audrey but as a middle school teacher I need to manage, my students workload, evidence of learning, and utilize the tools within GAFE to facilitate and check in on my students daily. I love how this platform increases the level of accountability. The main thing I like is that I can create and share documents with students who can then collaborate within that document and then the evidence of who did what is at my fingertips through the document itself. I can quickly see who did what, and who did nothing. Another thing I love about this LMS the closed option that still includes parents information. This was a new addition this school year, where the parents are sent an email daily or weekly (their choice) as to what is going on in the students classes.

Here is a snapshot of what my LMS homepage looks like. From this platform I am able to manage the work for my 106 Science, 28 Math, 26 ELA and Homeroom, along with being involved in our Lion King Musical group. In the past I have also used this platform to run our sport team schedule, games, and practices.

I know I am biased towards GAFE because of my current situation within Regina Public School Board, and I know it is heavily biased towards Google and Pearson, but at the same time, through strong teaching techniques and using inquiry based learning opportunities I am hoping to give my students as well rounded approach to their education as possible. I look forward to reading others blogs about the LMS's they use.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Collaborative Genius Hour

What will it look like?

So this week I took the time to begin looking at what are good qualities of an online learning opportunity or blended class. Kyle shared a post on our Google+ page around 7 Tips to Plan for Effective Blended Learning. This site demonstrated some great tips around the layout and developing questions to guide an educator on how to take a face-to-face unit and adapt it for an online/digital world. I specifically enjoyed the way it was laid out because it doesn't tie you to a specific type of curriculum, only guides you into the forum of what you should be thinking about. Ashley tweeted about another great article on the 6 Essential Tips for Planning an Effective Online Course. This article broke it down to more of a unit based, step by step outline, talking about how to plan, organize, and demonstrate how the expectations should be laid out. These two articles are similar but give a nice perspective that I was able to begin my thought process about where I wanted to go with this assignment of developing an online/blended learning course.

A quick visual of these concepts are put together in an awesome tweet from Jenn
Courtesy of Jenn StewartMitchell

What do I want to do?

So far this week Jorie and I have been working towards creating a group around genius hour. We are excited about creating a program that can be used for multi grade level, and essentially work for a variety of inquiry based concepts.
I am a big fan of inquiry based learning because it gives the students the opportunity to demonstrate their passions and interests in a creative and positive way.  This article on a Davenport Boys High School is a great example of what can happen when we guide students learning in the direction they want to take it.  

Jorie came to me very excited about Genius Hour and how we should/could incorporate this not only into this class but implement it at our school level, while working on a buddy system for our different grade levels (Jorie is a grade 2 and I teach 7/8). Her energy is hard to turn away from so obviously I was on board.

Who else is on board?

Then with a quick question to our Google+ Community, within 12 hours we had a group of 6 people on board for developing modules and an online course around Genius Hour. The group consists of Adam Krammer, Danielle Maley, Jenn Huber, Lorraine Wagner, Jorie Gilroy-Beck and myself. We have already planned our first Zoom meeting and have a collaboration document rolling. We are all very excited to get started on this assignment, I for one and thrilled about the opportunity to create something that I know will be such a valuable tool for me and my colleagues in the future.

Genius Hour?

If you are wondering about what Genius Hour is all about here is a video that gives a quick overview: