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.


Math Challenge -Sometimes You Just Have To Start Again

I’m just going to say it , straight out,  Math is hard to teach, even in first grade.  Students seem to love it or hate it – not many fall in between.  You have those kids who struggle and  you have those kids who seem to know everything.  This school year, our schools math specialist started a bi- weekly math challenge.  Just the word challenge seemed to motivate my students and so we did it, regularly, every 2 weeks.  My students did well,  (getting the answers)  but what I did better as a teacher  was to ask ask more questions.  How do you know that’s the right answer?  Could there be a different answer?  Show me your thinking!  So by the time we got to Math Challenge 12 , I was really on auto pilot.  It was the first Monday after spring break and I have to say I grabbed the math challenge  and thought “perfect,  an already planned lesson.  Let’s go! ”  I put the problem on the overhead,  read it, heard my students  say “this will be an easy one” and they grabbed their pencils and went to work.  And then, as usual, I watched my “high” math students finish quickly and one by one the rest finished too. We moved on with our day.   It wasn’t until that afternoon that I went over their work.  And while shocked may  be a bit of an overstatement – it really was close to what I was feeling when I realized that all of my students but two, got the problem wrong.

Hmm.  What did I do wrong?  In my classroom we have spent the year talking about doing our best, persisting through hard tasks and rising to a challenge. The book, A Mindset for Learning by   Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz  has helped my students learn that growing our brains is going to make us more successful in life.  So the next day – this was the morning message that greeted my students. 

But first we would practice a new brain grower-  Resilience, “When you have trouble, you bounce back and try again.”   During this conversation, my students admitted that the challenge was hard and they too were tired after spring break.  They promised to  start again  and when they finished , they would grab the 2nd challenge as well  ( There is always 2 challenges – Level A and Level B) . And of course, they would show their thinking.  This time they grabbed their pencils, math manipulatives  and went to work.   

 And one hour later, students were still working. 

 And by working I mean real work.  The answers didn’t come easy and no one was copying anyone else’s work.  Soon  the students who were struggling the most were working in groups and I got out my phone to ask a few how they were feeling.

Today, I’m looking over their work once again  before sending it on to our Math Specialist.  She will pick a “winner” for our primary and our  3,4,5 students.  

   I believe we proved that we are persistent and resilient in @MsMecksClass even if all that  math thinking comes with a price.   


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.


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.


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!


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.