Friday, March 18, 2011

Reading Across State Lines-Florida and Iowa (Part 2)

During my first couple of years teaching, I remember a veteran teacher stressing the importance of staying flexible in this job. This Thursday with virtual literature circles was a prime example of why that principle is important. Since my 5th grade students only attend Gifted once a week we could only meet with the 5th graders in Iowa on Thursday. However, both schools have schedules we have to compete with and things come up. This week we had to deal with the fact that Iowa had a play that was being presented during their reading blocks. So what we did was hold both book talks (video conferences) simultaneously, but in different rooms to divide the sound. We had attempted to hold them at the same time and same room a couple of weeks ago, but that made it difficult to hear. Holding them in different rooms solved the sound issue, but created a few others. Since I could not leave my students alone to video conference with Ms. Hill I had to come up with a place on campus that was fairly quiet and had an adult near by so my students had supervision. With that, I asked our nurse and nurse’s assistant if my students could use this clinic for their meeting on Do the Funky Pickle. We have used the clinic for recording podcast and creating video clips in the past and these two ladies are always willing to help us out. Our later video conference was scheduled during a high traffic time in the clinic so I asked a pre-k teacher and a parent of one of the students if they could hold the video conference in her room. She too could not have been more accommodating. I am so lucky to work with a group of people who see the value of what we do and are so willing to help out. This solution did allow us to hear much better and helped keep students on task. Being off task had not been a huge issue for either group, but it did cut down on the momentary distractions we were experiencing in both groups.

Another observation, I had was that the conversations during the video conferences are becoming much more in depth. The students at first seemed willing to just share their job for the week and the conversations were a bit flat. However, as we get to know each other and make our way through the books I am watching the students interactions with each other and these books deepen. My student have been seeking time at lunch, at dismissal or just stopping by my room to discuss what is going on with the characters in their book. These brief interaction are playing a role in the video conferences as well. Rather than just sitting and listening to one student after another present their work they are now asking questions, commenting on the work presented and/or asking others to explain their thinking. One of my biggest joys, as an educator, is watching students take hold of not just what they are learning, but the learning process itself.

With that said, I believe that learning does take place in the process, but that is not without thought towards standards and benchmarks. In our laboratory, we build in as many cross curriculum learning standards into an activity as possible. As we make our way through these
virtual literature circles, with our friends from Iowa, we are honing skills on the following list of standards: NETS Standards, Florida Framework for Gifted Students K-12 and Grade 5 Sunshine State Standards for Language Arts. Due to the amount of standards covered with this project and the students' engagement level this endeavor has been an amazing use of class time. I can't wait to see where the rest of our journey will take us. To our friends in Iowa, we will see see you all on Thursday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My ADE Application Experience

About a week ago the ADE invitations went out and sadly I did not receive one. Honestly, I knew going in that the competition was tough and that it was a long shot. I had seen many incredible videos on You Tube and I was impressed by them. Then after the announcement went out there was a lot of chatter on Twitter and blogs, which I found interesting. Others gave the benefits of being recognized by Apple, adding thee letters behind their names and the training offered to ADEs for being their reasons for applying. Which I couldn't argue that those things would have been wonderful, but that was not my reason for applying. With that said, I was feeling reflective this week so looked at my application again. Truth is, I had no plans of broadcasting the fact that I had indeed applied and was not chosen. However, after reviewing my application I realize that I did want to share a thought that appeared both in the last paragraph of the written portion of my application and the last couple lines in my video.

So for what it is worth here they are:

“I am passionate about the role Apple Technology has played (and will play) in our laboratory and beyond. I also feel honored to have met either face to face or virtually several members of the ADE community. These individuals have taught me a great deal while encouraging me along the way and I’ve felt so bless to have them in my life. With that said, I would like to thank Apple for both building such a community and empowering its members to reach out to other educators to impact even more classrooms. It is truly my hope to join this community continue the work that has already begun.”

Finally, Congratulations to the ADE Class of 2011 and for all the ADEs in my PLN thanks for all the learning. YOU ALL ROCK!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reading Across State Lines-Florida and Iowa (Part 1)

This fall, during Rock Our World, Oneco’s Gifted Program's fifth graders spoke with Gina Hill’s fifth graders from Aquin Catholic Elementary School in Cascade, Iowa. While the students were chatting we noticed that they seemed to enjoy discussing literature. Right in the middle of this chat Ms. Hill and I discussed doing some sort of book project this spring. Then in early January Ms. Hill and I began to think through and plan things using email and Facebook. Both of use had dealt with Literature Circles in the past and shared the same vision. We did spend some time sharing different components of these circles and we were very similar. However, we had many questions that needed to be answered first. What were the reading levels of our individual students? Which books had already been devoured by our students? With those things considered, we threw several novels around and we finally decided on Do the Funky Pickle by Jerry Spenilli and The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. After the books were chosen, we decided that Ms. Hill would take most of the responsibilities for Do the Funky Pickle and my job would be to work with the students reading Homer P. Figg.

The next set of questions that needed to be answered had to do with that technology tools would server our needs best. Due to our experiences with Rock Our World we both had video conferencing capabilities. So how we would communicate synchronously was easy to answer. However, how the kids would receive and turn in assignments to a teacher thousands of miles away? How will the necessary asynchronous communication take place? We discussed several tools to preform these tasks, but ultimately ended up deciding on Moodle, the online course management system. I have a developed a few courses in the past using Moodle and are housed on my county's server. However, I needed to ask permission and for help from our Instructional Technology Department. We needed for Ms. Hill to be able to help create the course and for her students to also be enrolled in our Moodle. Lucky for me, they have always been very supportive and helpful when it comes to my endeavors. Since the Moodle was new to Ms. Hill, she took upon herself to visit and learn what she could from there. Between her investigation, a brief how to document I sent and a twenty minute iChat session we were up and running.

Then on Thursday, February 24th we began with some activities to build background knowledge for each book and we had set up to conducted video conferences. We attempted to hold them on two different computers in each of classrooms at the same time. We thought we would use Skype for one and iChat for the other. Through that experience we learned a few things. First, that although the kids were engaged the focused having these conferences happen simultaneously caused issues with being able to hear clearly. There was the need to keep asking students to repeat things, which we felt was wasting time. So we decide to divide them the next time. Along with that, for some reason we were struggling to keep the audio feed with our connection through Skype. We would lose the audio on one end, have to hang up and call back. We decided not to try to figure out why and that we would just be using iChat from now on.

For Week 2, we had a bit of a problem with our video conference schedule. The Oneco Gifted 5th grader only meet on Thursdays and the students in Iowa were being forced to go skiing Thursday, March 3. However, through the use of technology we did our best to keep the kids connected. On Wednesday, March 2nd Ms. Hill video taped her Do the Funky Pickle
book talk, while I iChatted and recorded the Iowa book talk for Homer P. Then I video taped Oneco’s book talks on Thursday. Finally, we uploaded them into the Moodle for the other group to watch.

As for the Moodle the students seem to have adjusted very quickly to how things work and it is giving them some much needed experience with online course format. Another wonderful thing about Moodle, is that it can be edited and added to with ease when a need arise. For instance, we just added a text chat feature for our use during our next video conferencing session. This way while one group is iChatting the other group can also be engaged in a synchronous activity. Personally, I can not wait to see how that works out.

Overall, this whole experience has been amazing so far. Ms. Hill and her students from Iowa have been incredible and we appreciate the fact that they have been willing to take this adventure with us. Please stay tuned for further post on this adventure.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Science with Tasmania

About this time last Spring I applied and was accepted The Global Collaboration Project Rock Our World and through this project we have meet the most amazing people throughout the globe. At the core of Rock Our World is video conferencing. Which at the time was fairly new to not just the Oneco's Gifted Program, but to our school and county as well. I am so grateful for the experiences we have had with ROW and feel blessed that some of those we have meet along the way continue to interact with us on a regular basis.

One of those we have been lucky enough to stay in contact with is Liz Mason and her family from Hobart, Tasmania. We met Liz during last Spring’s Round of ROW and one night while on her school holiday Ms. Mason was nice enough to stay up to about midnight to meet with my third graders to tell them a bit about Tasmania.

After ROW InTOONational this fall, some of us got to talking how we did not want the video conferencing to end and somewhere in the mist of these conversations Ms. Mason and I set up a time for us to meet again. Like before, she stayed up to all hours to meet with us, but this time she was not alone her teenage daughters Amy and Hana joined in on the fun. Our first chat with Ms. Mason and her daughters involved my fifth grader students and covered a variety of topics. Amy and Hana were an absolute delight and seemed to enjoy our discussion on television shows, junk food and Florida’s Amusement Parks. Oprah had just visited Australia and they were also interested in discussing the various things they had seen during those episode. While my Florida students also enjoyed discussing television and junk food. Along with hearing about Tasmanian wild life.

That chat was so much fun when the Mason family asked if we wanted to do a science experiment via Skype we jumped at the chance. This endeavor brought about some fun little challenges. At first, we need to do a bit of research on the list of ingredients that were needed due to some of the names being different in each country. For instance, in Tasmania Powdered Sugar is called Icing Sugar and Baking Powder is Bicarbonate soda. Along with that we had to order a couple of the items from Amazon, which was not a big deal. Except it did mean that we had to readjust our plans and move the experiment back a week. However, for us all that meant was that now my third graders would have the pleasure to visiting and getting to know Ms. Mason and Hana some.

Finally, the day came for the experiment and the stage was set for the following: