Thursday, 21 May 2015

Using the SAMR Model to Determine Technology Use

If you aren't familiar with the SAMR model, it's a fairly basic method of determining how we are using technology at an educational level. There's a visual and a brief description below:
SAMR + Hype Cycle - HiRes by tim.klapdor, on Flickr
image by @timklapdor
So as an example, if you are having students learn about multiplication and want to move away from worksheets...

  • Substitution would occur when you have students complete a multiple choice worksheet online
  • Augmentation would occur when you have students play a multiplication review game online
  • Modification would occur when you have students play a game that adapts to each student, presenting them with appropriate challenge levels.
  • Redefinition would occur when students work together with another classroom over Skype to develop online lessons to share with one another and teach the concept.
As the graphic shows, disillusionment tends to set in with the earlier two concepts, where we are using technology only at its most basic level. Now, that doesn't mean we should never use technology for substitution or augmentation, only that there are some basic things to consider to help us determine when and how to use technology.

Step One: Determine what level the proposed activity is at

Some questions to help you determine what level you're at:
  1. Could you do the exact same lesson without technology? If so, you're working at substitution.
  2. If you changed the activity just a tiny bit, could you do it without technology? For example, if you're playing a multiplication game, are there similar board or card games? If so, you're working at augmentation.
  3. Is the activity something that would be difficult to do without technology, but possible? In the example above, you could give each child a multiplication quiz, analyze the quizzes, and develop lessons structured for each individual based on the results -- but it's sure easier to have the technology handle it. If so, you're at modification. 
  4. Is the activity something that would be almost impossible to complete without technology? In the example above, you have students using the internet and tools to utterly revolutionize their thinking about a concept. This is redefinition.
Step Two: Determine why you're using technology

If you're at modification or redefinition, it will probably be pretty obvious why you're using the tech. If you're at the first two levels, you might have to think it through.

Although redefinition is kind of the holy grail of technology use in education, it's not going to work for every single topic. I know there are some teachers who will argue that you should never use technology for substitution. I disagree -- I think that as long as you understand why you're using technology in this way, it's perfectly acceptable. If your answer to "why" is "because my students stay focused longer when I give them an iPad than when I give them a worksheet," that's perfectly fine. As long as you're aware that you're using technology at a very basic level, if you can dictate to yourself why you've made that choice, it's not a problem.

That said...

Step Three: Determine if technology really is the best option

If you're working at one of the first two levels, do consider whether you're just using technology for technology's sake. There's a reason that trough of disillusionment slips in at the tail end of augmentation. If you've never used technology in your classroom and you start, your students will definitely be engaged -- at first. But as they realize this is just the same thing in a new hat, their engagement will slip dramatically.

In addition, consider whether the technology really does offer an equal opportunity to offline activities. Would your students benefit more from something with hands-on manipulatives? Or just the chance to disconnect from their devices and connect with another student?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with occasionally using technology for substitution, but I think that we as teachers need to be mindful about our practice and the reasons for what we're doing. 

Question of the Day:
How often does your tech use get to redefinition?

My goal is for 75% of my technology use to fit into the categories of modification or redefinition. Like project based learning, I find that redefinition often involves more complex units of study that I might not be willing to undertake just for a simple concept or review, so I'm perfectly happy if I hit modification in those instances. 

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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Things That Rock About Teaching

Let's face it: as teachers, we sometimes have a tendency to focus on the negative. Some of this is just complaining about work -- everyone does it, and it's pretty harmless. But sometimes it gets extreme, to the point that people start to view teachers as constantly complaining. I have a theory about this: I think teachers emphasize the negative aspects of our jobs because there are so many people constantly telling us how easy we have it as highly paid babysitters. Emphasizing the negative and difficult parts of our work is a way of counteracting this image.

But it can start to get to us -- make us focus on the parts of our job that aren't so awesome, and make us forget why we started in the first place. Make us bitter, in fact. That's why lately, I've been trying to think about the things I love about teaching and what inspired me to sign up in the first place (and guess what? Summer vacation didn't even make the list!).

The Best Things About Being a Teacher

1. The opportunity to change lives for the better

There aren't a lot of jobs where your literal and only goal is to help young minds expand and grow. We are entrusted with guiding children through some of the hardest parts of lives -- whether it's forming that first letter, having a deep discussion about politics, or just listening while they talk about problems at home. Every child who walks through our doors trusts us to help them and guide them, and although that can be frightening, it's also a massive blessing.

2. The freedom to create and experiment

I have lots of friends who go to work every day and spend eight hours doing as they're told. Teaching is nothing like that. Teaching not only allows but encourages creativity and trying new things. This is one of the only professions where if you're still doing things exactly the same way you did two years ago, you're doing it wrong. I love having the freedom to explore new ideas and try them out with my students.

3. You forge deep personal connections

Over eleven years of teaching, more than 350 kids have filtered through my homeroom (not to mention all the students I've interacted with in other capacities). Some of these kids have left deep and lasting impressions on me, to the point where I still frequently think of them today. Even those who touched me in a lighter way left their mark. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to foster personal connections with incredible people -- both students and fellow professionals -- and it's easy to take that for granted.

4. Waiting for the "A-HA!" moment

Is there anything quite like the "a-ha!" moment? You know the one: when you've been sitting with Sally for forty five minutes, patiently explaining that no, it's not that five times five is twenty five THIS time, it's ALWAYS twenty five, and suddenly her eyes light up? And the next thing you know, she's explaining the concept to you, her face gleaming with excitement because she finally gets it? Yeah. That one.

5. The privilege of watching personalities develop

This is it -- my all time, number one, FAVORITE thing about teaching. I love to watch a kid become an individual. It might be something simple -- a six year old's fascination with dolphins and sudden desire to read every book in the library about marine life, or a ten year old who suddenly discovers that they're good at resolving arguments among their friends, or a sixteen year old who decides they're going to become a mechanic. The point is that I get to be present for so many of these moments of discovery, where something just connects with a student in a way it hadn't before. For most people, they'll only ever see a few people (their own children, and maybe a few close friends) hit those moments. Teachers see it all the time, every day. That's an amazing and awesome privilege.

Question of the Day:
What one thing makes you love teaching?

It's so hard to narrow it down to one, but number five above is probably what gets me out of bed on the dreary mornings. How about you?

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Monday, 4 May 2015

How a Twitter Troll Reminded Me Of What Matters

This week, I let myself get drawn into an argument with a troll on Twitter.

Actually, I don't think she was a troll. Trolls say things just for a reaction; I'm sorry to say that I suspect this girl meant everything she said. I won't repost her tweets here for two reasons: one, I like to think she'll change her tune at some point in the future, and two, I've blocked her. But basically, she argued that everyone has the same opportunities, whether they're born rich or poor. She responded to my disagreement with some caps lock swearing, twisted my argument around, set up a few straw men, and then got to her main point:

The rich are rich because they worked harder than the rest of us.

So what spurred all of this stupidity, and what does it have to do with teaching? 

It all started with the Alberta election -- specifically with five CEOs who proclaimed that if Albertans elected any party other than the current ruling party (the one who offers them plenty of tax breaks), well, they'd just have to make up their profits by refusing to donate to children's hospitals.

Needless to say, many people were pretty annoyed with this line of (I hesitate to even call it) reasoning. Not this young woman, though. No, from her perspective, these CEOs worked hard to get where they are, and we all had the same opportunities and could be where they are if we just worked a little harder.

And you know what? That makes me angry.

It makes me angry on behalf of the sixteen year old student who works thirty hours a week to support his family and tries to find time to study on the side.

It makes me angry on behalf of the eight year old who hasn't had breakfast and "forgot" her lunch.

It makes me angry on behalf of the kid with the learning disability who, no matter how hard he tries, just can't seem to make those marks on the page come together and form words.

It makes me angry on behalf of my autistic sister, and my family who struggles to support her and themselves by working 60 hours a week well past retirement age.

And more than angry, it makes me realize how utterly privileged we are to even have the time and ability to have this conversation. It makes me realize that as a teacher, even if these aren't issues I commonly face in my own school, I need to make noise on behalf of my colleagues who can't teach math because they're too busy trying to make sure their students are safe and fed. It makes me realize that so many of us start from a place of privilege that we'll never realize how lucky we truly are.

As teachers, we have a responsibility to stand up and be the voice of those who are silent, who are struggling. It's a good reminder -- even if it took a troll to teach it.

Question of the Day:
How can we speak up for those with no voice?

Me to We has definitely been the best way for me of doing this, and of raising awareness among my own students in the process. If you've never checked out this awesome movement, I encourage you to do it!

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Ten Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers

No matter what age you teach, you'll find yourself faced with reluctant readers. These kids are incredibly frustrating, because they're not only the ones who struggle with reading, but the ones who actively hate it. They'll do anything other than read, whether that's creating a disruption, staring into space, or constantly heading to the bathroom.

While I'm not an expert at getting kids to read, I have found some helpful strategies over the year to encourage them to get reading. Here are ten strategies for reluctant readers.

1. Electronic books

For some kids, just putting an iPad in their hands makes the difference between boredom and engagement. It's not a hard thing to do, and the instant access to perks like dictionaries can be very helpful.

2. Use graphic novels

We're past the days where comics were considered for the illiterate. There are tons of excellent graphic novels full of interesting stories, deep themes, and intricate storytelling. Whether your kids are reading Amazing Spider Man, Bone, or something you consider more "literary," graphic novels can be brilliant for kids who don't like books. 

3. Interactive fiction

Interactive fiction is the online equivalent of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. It's like a puzzle wrapped in a story, and many kids who aren't interested in passive reading will find the added user engagement of IF extremely useful.

4. Humor

Everyone loves to laugh. Reluctant readers are often willing to engage in the effort of decoding text if there's enough of a payoff -- and in this case, that means a big laugh. I direct a lot of my kids to Gordon Korman's I Want To Go Home, which is full of sports and humor.

5. Target their intersts

If you can figure out what interests your kids, it's much easier to get them reading. Lots of reluctant readers will insist there aren't any books they like, so find out their favorite movie, video game, or sport instead. From there, try to find books that link to those topics.

6. Balance fiction with nonfiction

I read an article years ago (no idea of the source) that pointed out that most fiction is purchased by women, and most nonfiction by men. It then said that since most elementary teachers are women, there's a tendency to stock our classrooms with primarily fiction. Since reading that article, I've made a concentrated effort to have more nonfiction in my classroom -- especially books of funny facts and world records, which always seem to be a hit.

7. Don't level your classroom books

I know, I know -- leveling makes it easy for everyone to pick the book that's perfect for them. It also makes it really obvious which kids is always picking from the easy pile, and kids are really self-conscious about this. One of my students asked if he could make a construction paper cover for his book so no one knew that he was reading an "easy" book. The more you can remove that social pressure, the better.

8. Read out loud

When kids see you reading, and enjoying reading, it encourages them to do the same. My rule is, I never read the kids a book I don't love, and I try to vary genre as much as possible.

9. Stock your classroom with books

It seems obvious, but no classroom should be without books. Shelves and shelves of books, all kinds and types, and available to the kids whenever they want them.

10. Look for books with dynamic text

The Geronimo Stilton books are great for this: books full of bright colors, fancy writing, and interesting text. Online books often have this, too, especially when there's an augmented reality component (and there are some very cool books, such as Popar Princess).

Figuring out what is causing the reluctance is a key to engaging reluctant readers, but once you've done that, these are some great ways to encourage kids to keep reading!

Question of the Day:
How do you engage reluctant readers?

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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Changing the World Through Silence

At our school, each grade does a yearly mission project, a way to raise money, awareness, or service for a cause our students and staff believe in. Those mission projects vary widely from class to class and year to year. We've seen really cool things, like students working at the food bank or running a cake auction to raise money for charity. And since our school has a Me to We club, we have also done a number of activities with Free the Children.

For the last few years, the grade 6s have done We Are Silent. Simply, put, this involves students taking a twenty four hour vow of silence. They collect pledge money for each hour they remain silent, which we then donate to the Malala Fund and/or Free the Children.

At first, we locked onto this as a fun, simple activity we could use to raise some money and help our students learn about global issues. But it has turned out to be so much more. If you've ever considered doing an activity like this, I can't recommend it enough. Here are a few of the things our students have learned from participating in this amazing activity...

1. When you don't have a voice, things get unfair in a hurry. At our school, we put up posters and ask the other classes to put up a tally mark if they "catch" the grade 6s speaking. Of course, the system isn't fair at all: some kids put up tallies just for fun, and often ten kids will all hear the same student slip up, resulting in ten tallies for one mistake. And then the grade 6s go to complain... and discover that they can't. They are being persecuted, with no way to speak for themselves. They get to experience, in a small way, the frustration so many people around the world have for their daily reality.

2. People victimize the silent. This was an unforeseen thing that came out of the activity: younger students would follow the grade 6s around on the playground, harassing them and trying to make them speak. When the grade 6s finally snapped something at them, they would cheer and run off to make a tally on the chart. This gave us a great chance to speak to the whole school about bullying. When you saw someone silent being victimized, how did you respond? Did you join in? Walk away? Or stand up for the people who don't have a voice of their own?

3. It raises as much awareness as anything else. When you can't speak for a day, everyone wants to know why. Several of the grade 6s actually made up little explanation cards this year, which they've been handing out to people who ask why they're not talking. It's a great way to draw attention to the situations faced by those without voices, both at home and around the world.

4. The kids will never forget it. We can talk all we want about issues of bullying, clean water, education... but most of it is so far outside the reality of western privilege that students will never fully understand it. We Are Silent gives them -- in a real but contained and manageable way -- the experience of victimization and powerlessness. It's not something they forget about quickly, and it's a frame of reference when they have these discussions in the future.

5. This one's a bit off the mark, but... let me tell you, we get more work done today than any other day of the year! Without talking to distract them, the kids throw themselves into their schoolwork. I try to use this as a finish up day because you wouldn't believe the work that happens.

In the end, I really think this is the most powerful mission project we've been involved in. Students have a powerful learning experience, raise money to help others, and provoke conversations among their classmates, peers, and families. If you're trying to think of a way to make some of these issues real for your students, this is the way to go.

Question of the Day:
How do you make issues that don't personally affect your students seem real?

I'm a huge fan of object lessons and games. We Are Silent is one such activity, but other good ones are just about anything from Oxfam and the String Game.

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Free Project Based Learning Unit on Provincial Government

I've been working on a project based learning unit on provincial government for the province of Alberta, and I think it's ready to share! This year, for the first time, my grade 6s will not be able to go to the legislature building in Edmonton. Ironically enough, the virtual tour of the legislature building will not run on the computers at our school without crashing them, so I was forced to come up with an alternative method of exploring provincial government and still giving the kids the experience they had on our legislature tours.

Many of the powerpoint presentations in this project are adapted from those found on Icivics, an amazing but very American-centered website that I highly recommend you explore. Credit for these is given individually.

A Project Based Around the Alberta Provincial Government

In keeping with the ideals of project based learning, the driving question for this unit is "Should uniforms be required in schools?" The basic project calendar is here.


Introduce the driving question. Ideally, it would be good to catch kids' attention before this with some discussion of school uniforms. I did this by reading them Eric Walters' book Branded, which has awesome links to issues of social justice and fair trade, as well.

Day one introduces students to the idea of political parties and asks them to take a generalized quiz (VERY generalized) to divide them into one of three parties: NDP, PC, or Liberal. Based on the answers to the quiz, you will divide your students into three political parties. The presentation that accompanies this activity can be found here.

The largest group of students will form the government. This group will later be responsible for introducing the bill requiring students to wear uniforms.


Day two covers some basic information students will need to know about how the provincial government operates. Unfortunately, this lesson includes some videos I do not have copyright to release, only to use, and therefore can not include in this file. However, the worksheet that goes with them can be found here, and contains all of the details students will need, whether they find them from a video or a textbook.


Today discusses how to argue using an adapted iCivics powerpoint presentation called So You Think You Can Argue. My adapted for Alberta version is found here. The original is online here. This is a fairly long presentation and may take more than one day to go through, but has a lot of great stuff to allow for interactivity among students. Encourage students to take notes on persuasive writing.


Today's lesson is on how a bill becomes a law, and uses a cartoon strip from the Alberta Legislature's website, the original of which can be found here. The powerpoint presentation is found here.

From this point on, the project uses the mock legislature script from the Alberta Legislature website. You can download the script here. However, I don't use it exactly as written, because I want the students to have the experience of actually arguing the law, not just reading from a script. It is, however, useful for format.

At the end of this lesson, I remind students that they may not agree with the idea of uniforms, but they are required to support their party (or vice versa). Students then begin researching the idea of school uniforms from either a positive perspective (for the party in power, which is drafting a bill and will need this worksheet) or a negative perspective (for the opposition parties, which will need this worksheet).


Depending on your students, you may need to give them an extra day here to work on the sheets from before.

Today is day one in the legislature. Use the Alberta script for format, and this powerpoint to guide students through the process. Allow students to discuss freely before voting on the bill. Since all MLAs will, of course, vote with their party, you will pass the bill to the next reading (unless you have a minority government -- in which case you may need to convince two parties to join forces).


No Rambling Allowed, today's powerpoint, is adapted from the iCivics presentation, the original of which can be found here. The version I created is online here. Students should work in their groups to create idea webs about what they've learned about uniforms so far -- both their own ideas and those of their opponents in the legislature.


Select a group of students to be on the committee of the whole (about 5 govt members and 5 opposition). Students selected to be on the committee can make changes to the proposed bill while the rest do some last minute research to make sure they are ready for the final debate. There is a short powerpoint to guide them through this, which you can find here.


Today students will produce an assessment piece, a written report explaining what they've learned and why it's important. The powerpoint that goes with this can be found here. Students must convince their party leaders that this should be a free vote, with each MLA allowed to vote according to their constituents' beliefs rather than their party's. Here is the rubric to go with the report.


Students continue to work on their written reports.

Success! Students have convinced party leaders to allow a free vote. Use the script as a guide for format and allow students to freely debate the bill before voting. If the bill is passed -- give it Royal Assent. If the bill is not passed -- go through the process of Royal Assent so they still get an understanding of it. The powerpoint to accompany today's process can be found here.

And that's it! Students have successfully passed -- or voted down -- the Alberta School Uniform Act.

Question of the Day:
Do you design your own PBL units, or find them online?

I use a lot of resources I find online, but I rarely find a fully made unit that exactly meets my needs. So while I don't design from scratch, I do tend to design most of my own units.

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Monday, 23 March 2015

Five Alternatives to Powerpoint for Presentations in Education

Death by Powerpoint (a phrase my principal picked up at a recent conference) is a real and dangerous threat in education. In my classroom, it's more like death by Smart Notebook -- but in honesty, if you're using Smart Notebook the same way you use Powerpoint (ie, not taking advantage of its interactive features), it's six of one... you know the rest.

The thing is that Powerpoint and its ilk are useful. There are many times when you want to just get some information across, and Powerpoint provides a quick, easy way to provide a visual backdrop to your lecture. If you want to see why this can be a danger, though, you don't have to look much further than your own classroom (or, failing that, mine). When students have to present something to the class, Powerpoint is their go-to option -- usually involving reading a series of slides to their classmates as everyone slowly sinks into a stupor.

That's why it's important to show the students that there's more than one way to present information. I'm not saying never use Powerpoint again -- only that it's a great idea to explore the options and alternatives. With that in mind, here are five alternatives to powerpoint for using in presentations in education, both for teachers and students.

The one downfall of most of these applications is that, as with many web based programs, you do need an account to use them and save your work. That said, it's not too hard to make a single classroom account if you don't want to sign each student up individually. 

Five Alternatives to Powerpoint

Haiku Deck is a lot of fun and creates visually compelling presentations simply and for free. My favorite thing about it in terms of student use: it simplifies the process. We've all seen student Powerpoint presentations with blocks and blocks of copied and pasted text -- try that in Haiku Deck, and it shrinks the text too small to read. Similarly, there are no animations, eliminating those presentations short on content but long on bells and whistles (seventeen gifs of dogs fading in to the sound of applause). 

Prezi should maybe be number one, as it's the presentation alternative people seem to love the most. And make no mistake, Prezi is cool. Kids love it: it zips and zooms in and out, looking very slick and dynamic. But while Prezi is a fun tool, it can be difficult to master, and younger students (as well as some adults) would definitely find it a frustrating experience, which pushes it to number two on my list. 

Powtoon is a neat app for creating short animated presentations. Free accounts limit you to five minute presentations (which is not such a bad thing given how long student presentations tend to go, anyway), but you can pay to upgrade to a different account. An educator account will mean students don't need an email address to sign in. Once videos are complete, they can be uploaded to YouTube, a functionality students love. This is less of a direct presentation tool and more of a video maker, but serves a very similar purpose. 

Google Slides is basically online Powerpoint with one huge and important difference: it has the ability to be collaborative. You can set up a presentation and have each student contribute their own slide, or work to edit one another's presentations, or work in groups. The multi-user aspect of Google Slides makes it an incredibly powerful presentation tool for modern educators. is another Powerpoint-esque presentation tool. You can create public presentations with a free account and private ones by upgrading to a paid account. It functions very similarly to Powerpoint, but it can be nice to have your presentations stored in the cloud so that students (and teachers!) can access them from home. In addition, there are some nice bells and whistles on that make it useful for educators and older students. 

Question of the Day:
What's your go-to presentation software? Are you still using Powerpoint?

For myself, I do rely on Powerpoint quite often. It's quick, accessible, and easy to use. I'm trying to branch out into other programs, though, and I've used Knowmia quite frequently to create classroom videos, as well as programs like those mentioned above.

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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

10 People You Should Be Following On Twitter

Once again I'm rounding up some of my newest tweeps -- teachers (and other great educational blogs, personalities, and speakers) who are awesome to follow on Twitter. These are the folks who always have interesting articles and resources, and they're too valuable to ignore!

Darcy Moore tweets about education, politics, ed tech, and a variety of other subjects in a helpful and interesting way. 

Chris Smeaton is the superintendent of my own district. He tweets thoughtfully and introspectively about the changing face of education in the 21st century. 

Audrey Watters tweets in a lighthearted and informative way. She talks about Ed tech and always has so something to add to a conversation. 

Even if you can't get to the annual ISTE conference, you can keep up with the latest in Ed tech with information from ISTE!

5. Classic Pics

OK, this isn't about education -- but it is educational! Classic Pics posts historical photographs (such as an angry policewoman chasing skinny dippers, or the shadow of a vaporized person shortly after the atomic bomb fell in Japan). It can be an invaluable resource for story starters and history classes.

6. Vicki Davis (aka Cool Cat Teacher)

Vicki Davis is full of ideas. She has tons of followers and for a good reason: she's always got something interesting and innovative on the go.

7. Alec Couros

Alec Couros tweets about ed tech and more. He retweets a lot of interesting stats and articles, too, making him an all around good follow!

8. Matthew Farber

Matthew Farber tweets mostly about gamification and games based learning. He's a great resource for game ideas and articles about using games in teaching.

9. Jen Deyenberg

Jen Deyenberg is another great teacher who tweets about ed tech and its uses in the classroom. She's a prolific tweeter with a lot of excellent stuff to say.

10. Amy Smith

Amy Smith tweets about teaching, life, and art. She contributes frequently and intelligently to online conversations.

Whether you're just starting out on Twitter or a seasoned user, these are some of the best educators (and educator resources) to follow!

And of course, you can always connect with me (@missrithenay) if you like what I do here!

Question of the Day:
Who were the first people you followed on Twitter?

I use Twitter 90% for professional reasons, so my first follows were almost all coworkers! 

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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Power of a Story

Have you ever noticed how many professional speakers start their talks with a story? Or, put another way -- how much more interested your students are in watching a movie than an informational video? Either way, it's the same thing that draws us in: the power of story.

The need for this kind of narrative is deeply embedded in humanity. We'll impose it even when there's no narrative to speak of, creating our own stories with lightning speed on an almost subconscious level. This applies even to those who don't think of themselves as creative or natural storytellers: among their own friends and family, they're more than happy to share stories of their lives, and they can create a narrative out of random shapes as easily as anyone else. 

The point is that as human beings, we have deep psychological ties to story. And that makes it an incredibly powerful teaching tool. Here are some ideas for using story in your own classroom to capture students' attention and create optimal situations for learning. 

1. Use literature

There are so many ways to link literature to curriculum! For example, I like to start reading Eric Walters' book Branded to my class in advance of our social studies units on provincial law and global citizenship. It gives us a common frame of reference for both our discussion of how a bill about school uniforms could become a law and a consideration of global issues such as sweatshop labour. Here are some other books with lots of curricular links:

One Grain of Rice
The Dear Canada series
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table
If the World Were A Village
Duck! Rabbit!

2. Use stories to help with memorization

Having trouble with basic multiplication tables, for example? Have students put them into a story. Here's an example:

Two-day, two friends went walking in Twotonium, a town where everything is done in twos. No one dares step outside without their partner. When the two friends rounded a corner, they met another group, which brought them up to four. They raced across the town for the Twotonium double sided canoe race, a sight not to be missed. There they hopped into their double canoe, but their two sisters met them and wanted to race, too. That made six: far too many for the race. What to do? Fortunately a pair of brothers happened along. Now they had four groups of two, so all eight of them hopped into the canoes!

That's just a silly little example, but putting things into the context of a story can help with memorization immensely.

3. Frame your class around a story

I've talked before about Cognosco, the fictional kingdom my classroom is set in. My students follow a loose story throughout the year, one I'm always trying to further develop and link. When they arrive in September, they learn that a local prophet has foreseen a coming disaster, and they have all been invited to enter training in preparation. In October, the disaster strikes when the king is kidnapped by the neighboring kingdom of Ignarus. Much of what we do takes place in this narrative framework as we advance closer to Ignarus in hopes of rescuing the king. This is a work in progress, but it does seem to capture students' attention and make them take notice!

Question of the Day:
How do you use stories in your classroom?

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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

How to Classroom Blog With Students

More and more teachers are creating classroom blogs with students, and it's not hard to see why. Blogging is a great way to engage kids in writing. Here in Alberta, where we are still giving students standardized tests on creative writing, I would much prefer to see my students write a blog entry than the current procedure of writing a newspaper article -- it's far more relevant to their daily experience, and kids of any age enjoy the idea of writing for publication.

That said, blogging with kids does present its own unique challenges. Here are some -- and how to overcome them!

1. What program should I use for blogging?

You really can't go wrong with Kidblog. It has several nice features that make it particularly appealing to a classroom setting, such as the ability to set comments so that the teacher has to approve them, or the ability to limit your classroom privacy settings so that only people who are signed in can access your students' blogs. You can also turn these privacy settings off, leading to a flexible and convenient setup.

If for some reason you don't want to use Kidblog, I also use Blogger to make a classroom blog. This is a whole class blog, and my students all use the same google email address to sign into it. I use this for a whole class journal. If you have Google for education, or your students each have their own gmail address, you could use Blogger for individual blogs as well. Here is a link to our class reflection blog, and if you would like to connect with us, come visit us on Kidblog as well -- students would love to hear from you!

2. How can I justify spending class time blogging when we should be working on creative writing or essay writing?

You can write pretty much anything on a blog that you would write in a notebook -- it's just in a public forum, which can be a very powerful incentive for many students. They can comment on one another's work, giving you an excellent forum for group editing.

3. What if students use blogging as an excuse to write in text talk or the like?

Yup, that happens. It particularly happens in grade 6. I try to circumvent it by spending some time looking at high quality blogs written by other young writers, but I did hit a point where I just had to say, all right: if your blog post is not at least ten sentences, and that means that it contains capitals and periods, I will delete it. I'm not having students publish blogs that simply say "ya i lov hockey its so grate go flames."

On the other hand, if parents are accessing those blogs, it can give them a very quick and ready picture of what their students are writing in class!

4. What is the value of investing time in blogging?

There are a lot of things that make blogging valuable. Just a few include:

  • The opportunity to read one another's writing and comment on it
  • A ready audience for your writing
  • A more engaging form of writing (hand them technology and they're suddenly on board!)
  • A place to collect a writing portfolio readily and easily
  • A way to continue writing throughout their school careers
  • Easy access to student writing for parents and community members
Really, the list goes on and on. And blogging is quite easy: Kidblog takes minutes to set up, and is free. So if you've never tried blogging with your students, why not give it a shot now?

Question of the Day:
What makes you read a teaching blog?

For me, this is all about utility. I love humorous stories and I easily get sucked into jokes and irony, but if I'm going to keep checking a blog regularly, it has to be because it provides me with practical and interesting ideas to use in my classroom.

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