Real World Learning #IMMOOC

It’s incredible that I have the opportunity to come home from work and dive into professional development while I go on a much needed walk.  I am joining thousands of other educators in George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course.  And already, week # 1 my head is spinning.  But I have to begin somewhere and I have a confession about something I consider really important in my practice as a 1st grade teacher.  I am teaching 6 and 7 year old children how to use social media.   Whew!  I said it.  Those of you who read this blog know that both Alicia and I are passionate about preparing our youngest learners for the real world.   And as I listened to Couros talk about his own experience with people (I’m assuming some of whom were parents, teachers and administrators) telling him that we need to prepare people for the real world, my  brain immediately started thinking about the conversations I’ve had  when I tell people how much my students are learning from twitter.  Usually it sounds like, “Really?”  And then, “In first grade?” And as I get ready to tell them why it’s so important, they have already moved on  and truly aren’t that interested in my purpose.  But I know, first hand, that it’s only just 4 to 5 years from now that most of my students will be given a phone or other digital device and will be sharing  ideas, thoughts, pictures, video’s and more  on social media.  Jut like my own kids did.  So when and with whom does this learning start?

I have two children, both are teenagers.  My daughter is now a sophomore in college and is studying communications.  She called me up last week and told me that she was was working on a project that was going to showcase how I’m educating students how to use this powerful tool.   Yes, I’m a proud mom and I smiled when she said “It’s so important mom, my generation was just thrown into it, we had no idea what we were doing.”  No idea. Just one of the reasons why I think it’s our duty to begin teaching students how to interact online.   And I do believe that this education starts early, at home and in school.    In my classroom it takes just minutes a day to look at our twitter feed. (Usually during snack time)  And then later we will decide what we want to share.  You can follow  my class at @MsMecksClass but just know that we’re getting started a little late this year because the district blocked twitter from my teacher computer- again.  It’s something I have to spend  a few frustrating days- every year- trying to fix.  I explain to a nameless person downtown why I want to use social media and then eventually they decide I can until the next time they block it for reasons unknown. Apparently they don’t see how this applies to the “real world” of education.   But I do and in a couple of weeks my class twitterers will be composing tweets about our day.  I, of course,  will be checking their work before sending it out to the world.  That’s my job, to scaffold this important learning, and hopefully by the time they get those phones they will know what they can and cannot share online.

~Molly

Learning With Our Twitter Buddies

We are very lucky at our school to have a math specialist. Ms. Francisco is known throughout the school as a math lover and this year, she created math challenges that brought her love of math to all students in the school. I am going to link her website complete with all the challenges she created at the bottom of this blog post. I highly recommend checking out her site.

This year, we participated in the primary blogging community and connected with another first grade classroom outside of Toronto. We enjoyed blogging back and forth greatly but what was most impactful in our classroom throughout the year, was our tweets back and forth. One day, we were working on the math challenge as a class and my class tweeted how engaging but hard the challenge was this week. Our buddy classroom instantly tweeted back “What math challenge?” We explained and shared the math challenge site with our buddies for the upcoming week. Usually,we worked on the math challenges on Friday’s however, our buddy classroom began tweeting at us on Monday morning–they were so excited by it and couldn’t wait to share their work! The challenge that week was to design the new gym our school will be building in a few years using 60 cubes/squares on graph paper, taking into account what type space makes a good gym. We quickly got out the cubes, iPads, and graph paper and went to work. What amazed me the most were the thoughtful conversations students were having as they designed. While they quickly realized a long, narrow 3 x 20 gym would not be ideal for many activities, they thought it could be fun do timed sprints in! One other thing we did while we shared our answers with our buddy classroom through twitter, we also projected student work up on the project through AirServer. AirServer is one of the more powerful tools we have access to–showcasing different student thinking/work, drives all of our students to create and produce more. Below are some examples of student work, students collaborating and a picture of the great work displayed up on our AirServer.

 

By using Twitter to share our learning with our buddies and receiving feedback from them, student work was elevated and so was engagement. My students are always excited to work on the math challenge, but when they had another, audience to share their work with, their engaged soared. I am excited to for next year’s math challenges and to share our learning with other authentic audiences through Twitter.

 

Ms. Francisco’s blog complete with math challenges! http://qaeacademic-support.weebly.com/math-challenges.html

 

 

Moonshot Thinking – An Ongoing Lesson in Perseverance, Risk Taking, Connection and Apollo 11

Our school mascot is the explorer.  Our symbol is a rocketship.  So when I first heard the term “moonshot thinking” I was intrigued.  Digital Learning Specialist and Educational Keynote Speaker, Jenny Magiera brought it to my attention last summer as I was following the BLC15 hashtag on twitter.   Mageria challenges all teachers to create a classroom where it’s okay to fail.  It’s her belief and mine too, that mistakes are usually opportunities to try again.  And it’s often these second attempts in learning that push us to take bigger risks, and in the classroom, even a 1st grade classroom, these risks usually lead to deeper more meaningful learning.  

I picked up Brian Floca’s book,  Moonshot – The Flight of Apollo 11 in the fall.  I knew that not only did I have a mentor text for my 1st graders first non fiction unit of study but I also had a book that would inspire my students to ask questions.  After reading Moonshot my 1st graders put many of their questions on sticky notes.  “How do you get to be an astronaut?   Is space travel dangerous?  Do you sleep in space?  How long does it take to get to the moon?”  These questions led to spending a good chunk of our We Wonder Wednesday researching  Neil Armstrong, space travel and the effects of gravity in space. Videos from this historic time helped us learn how to  make meaning of images.  And my students marveled, as together, we watched the grainy, black and white footage of Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the moon.  We even tweeted our questions to Moonshot author, Brian Floca and to our surprise he tweeted back.

  

That connection alone was enough to inspire my students to think big.  They were so proud that the author of our favorite read-a-loud was talking to us.  But even more importantly, at least to me, this book started what is still an ongoing conversation in my classroom. How do we set goals and what does it take to meet them?  Learning is a lifelong adventure and if we want to to accomplish great things, all of us have to try, fail, persist, try again and even repeat many times before we can  reach the the highest of heights.  Moonshot thinking.img_5188

Creating a Professional Learning Network

I love going to conferences–meeting other teachers and education professionals, connecting about a profession we are all passionate about is invigorating. Before I discovered Twitter and grew my own Personal Learning Network (PLN), these conference experiences were isolated to a once or twice a year experiences. And while I love conferences, there are times I find them frustrating as well–we all  know too well the experience of learning so many great things at a conference and the reality of the struggle to apply more than one or two things we learned to our own classrooms.

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I began my own Twitter journey three years ago ( Twitter in the First Grade Classroom) when I created an account for my classroom. I did not however, create a twitter handle for myself until this past year. At first I didn’t understand why I needed two twitter handles-frankly it seemed excessive and time consuming. What I quickly learned was that both served very different purposes. My twitter handle ( @AliciaMISmith) that I use for my PLN allows me to connect with educators all over the world  as well as keep up to date on online resources such as Edutopia and MindShift. Another way that my PLN has dramatically impacted my teaching is through weekly chats specific to first grade. Many Sunday nights at 8pm EST (5pm PST), I log on and participate in #1stchat, a chat dedicated to teaching and learning in the first grade classroom.  During these weekly chats, there is a moderator and a topic that has been selected beforehand. The moderator posts questions and then teachers from all over the country respond hashtagging #1stchat on all of their responses. I use Tweetdeck to help organize and streamline the chats I participate in. Sometimes during these chats, I sit back and watch the conversations without taking an active role, other times I am actively engaged chatting back and forth with other teachers. The thing I love the most about these chats is the energy: each teacher that is participating is choosing to be there and has valuable knowledge to contribute.  I’ve been able to connect with inspiring teachers in a weekly manner from around the country, teachers I most likely wouldn’t have been connected to otherwise.

If you are not yet on Twitter or only have a classroom page, I urge you to create a separate handle for your own PLN. Search hashtags with your grade level and try participating in a chat, feel free to just observe at first. There are many different types of chats happening all the time, find one that fits your own interests and learning goals. Follow other teachers from the chats to help grow your PLN. Creating my own PLN allowed me to take my professional development into my own hands and allowed me to grow and connect with other educators.

–Alicia

Twitter In the First Grade Classroom

Three years ago as I began my journey at a new tech focused school,  I set up a classroom twitter account. Through that whole year I gained 12 followers about half of which were spam twitter accounts. The next year I didn’t touch my classroom twitter account once. A great deal of this was due to my discomfort and misunderstanding of the technology. I wasn’t sure how to use twitter to share anything other than reminders directed towards families.  Last summer I traveled to NYC to be part of the Teachers College Writing conference. TC heavily uses twitter to tweet out quotes, information, articles, the list goes on and on. Bravely, one day I tweeted out a quote that struck a chord with me and hashtagged it #tcrwp and was thrilled when my tweet was retweeted. I began to follow teachers and presenters I met at the conference. From this small twitter interaction, I began to see the value in tweeting out my learning and began to wonder how twitter could be use to share our classroom learning authentically and not just to be used as a way to remind families about early release.

At the beginning of this year, Molly and I made the decision to create two twitter accounts for each of us-one for our class and one for ourselves, our Personal Learning Community (PLN) (we will discuss in a later blog post). Our plan was to have our classes tweet daily with our class twitter handle and hashtag a school tag as well as any other relevant hashtags. We implored others at our school to use the school hashtag so we could tweet back and forth between our classrooms as well as a larger twitter community.

My class quickly got into tweeting and checking our twitter feed for favorites, retweets and tweets back at us from families and other first grade classrooms we were connecting with through various twitter chats. Soon my students began writing the tweets themselves, misspellings and all and using the class twitter handle to share their learning. Almost weekly we participated in a great math chat (#mtgr1). Weekly, a class would tweet out either an open ended answer to a math question or a picture and students would create the math problem with words, pictures and numbers. We tweeted out our work, sharing our learning with all the other first grade classrooms across the county that participated. Each week when we looked at the new math problem, my students immediately began searching for ways to create elaborate math problems to fit the questions. The level of work grew exponentially with each responded tweet we read, first graders love to try to outdo each other and this was a great outlet to do this in. In the coming year, my goal is to find other first grade twitter chats to participate in. How did I search for these chats? With a tweet and a hashtag of course!

–Alicia

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A screenshot of our school’s hashtag featuring Molly’s twitter account. School wide hashtags are a great way to hear what’s going on in your school community.