Monday, February 28, 2011

Right in our backyards....

One of the changes I've tried in my teaching this year is sharing the stage. Stepping back and allowing my students to learn from experts, family, and even each other has reaped tremendous rewards. The level of engagement and achievement could not be higher! As with anything new, it seems to get easier as the months go by. Our next project has uncovered treasure right in our backyard! The last Shout event, Study the Land, provided ideas for learning about the effects of climate change on the trees. I also came across a lesson plan from the Smithsonian that I was given last summer in Washington, D.C. about plant fossils found in nearby Wyoming. It contains photos of leaf fossils and a graph of the climate change that took place during the time in which they were formed. The Epals website had a link to information about a coal mine and rain forest fossils. Things began to connect and I made a few calls. It turns out that the husband of our physical education teacher is an environmentalist at the coal mine that we can see from our school playground. A call to him confirmed that there have been plant fossils found right here where we live. Some are large fern fossils, too large for him to bring to school, but he is going to gather what he can and pay us a visit. I can't think of a more engaging way for the kids to learn that there used to be a rain forest right where we live! Even better, he is the uncle of one of my students. Equally important, all the kids are aware that our pine forests are dying. You can't drive into the mountains in Colorado without noticing vast areas of reddish orange pine trees. Pine beetles are killing them. We are inviting someone from the National Forest Service to pay us a visit as well, to help us understand what is happening. Apparently the pine beetle problem is also related to global climate change. A lesson from the rain forest of the past, a lesson from the pine forests of the present, and questions about the future of forests here where we live will undoubtedly be interesting and meaningful to my second graders. I won't be teaching any of those lessons. I will facilitate the learning by inviting those who know much more than I. We will all learn together. The focus will be on learning, not on my teaching. The lessons will not be found in a text book or teacher's manual, but I have no doubt that the learning will be powerful and the reflections of the students will last a lifetime.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Full circle...

It was in August of 2009. I had just attended blog and wiki training for the technology team in my district. I had heard of blogs, not of wikis, and had never tried either one. It was all foreign to me and I had no sense of how it would benefit my teaching. I'm sitting here today, reflecting on how that one simple meeting changed my teaching in dramatic ways. In the 19 months that have passed since the meeting, I have created this blog for myself, one for my class , one for individual student use , and a new one for our school . I have created three wikis. One is for my class and two are collaborative wikis for pen pals around the world ( and ) . Along with my dear friend and pen pal partner, Rawya Shatila of Beirut, Lebanon, I became one of the 2010 Epal Ambassadors, won the 2010 Microsoft US Innovative Education Forum, and traveled to Capetown, South Africa to represent my country at the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Education Forum. The learning that has taken place in my professional life since has been like an explosion. My classroom is not, and never will be the same again. All because of a simple technology training session that inspired me to investigate and explore new communication and collaboration possibilities.

This morning I read a wonderful blog by WhatEdSaid called Change isn't easy.... As I read the simple explanation of what we all face in the transformation taking place in education, I couldn't help but look back 19 months to myself before I became aware of what was happening around me. I, in August of 2009, had no idea that I even needed to make changes in my teaching. There are many, many teachers who are still at that place in their profession. Teaching can be an isolated occupation, spent day after day in a classroom with students. There is often little opportunity for contact with other teachers in the building, let alone a chance to build relationships with teachers in other places. Without social networking and high quality staff development no change is even likely to take place! We can't make changes we don't know about and aren't encouraged to make! Last night I found a charming example on Twitter. For 18 years I have been teaching first and second graders in snowy Craig, Colorado. Although I love snow, the thought of months getting a classroom of small children ready for recess in the snow, still makes me shudder. If you have never experience that, just watch this video posted by Mary Ellen Lynch: Dressing in Snow Clothes. The amazing part of the video for me was that for 18 years I have dealt with small children asking me to pull the cuffs of their jackets over the ends of their gloves after they dress. I have continued to tell them that if I took time to pull every cuff over every glove in the class, we would miss recess entirely. It took Twitter, and a very creative small person to show me that there is, indeed, a better way to do it!

Although the initial training that led me on a journey of change in my classroom took place in professional development provided by my district, most of my learning has taken place through interactions outside of work. There is never enough time or money for all the staff development teachers need. Self-directed learning and exploration are key to professional development. Teachers need to take advantage of the multitude of professional learning communities available on the internet. A great book to read is Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning by Marc Prensky.

I called this post "Full Circle...." for a reason. On Thursday, I will be making a presentation to the NW Colorado BOCES. One of the people I will be talking to is the very person who led the training I attended in August of 2009. I can't wait to share with her the result of her efforts that day. It will be an opportunity for me to inspire at least one of the people in that group to embark on the journey I have taken since. Change isn't easy, but the first step has to be awareness that change is taking place.