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One Best Thing

Discover how to keep parents informed, connect globally and link to your curriculum. This One Best Thing leads your primary classroom students through the creation of a learning network on Twitter.

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Connect, Collaborate and Create with Twitter in the Classroom

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of ETFO Voice.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Need an Authentic Audience for Math? Use Twitter

For the past couple of weeks my 2nd graders have been learning about data management.  This past week they have learned about collecting data through surveys, how to create bar graphs and how to analyze the data they have received.  For their culminating activity I asked them to create a question about "favorites."  Once they had their question, I had them tweet it out on our classroom Twitter account (@mrswideensclass).  I then retweeted the questions on my professional Twitter account to try to get enough responses for them to collect their data.  After two days, we had about 10 questions that had a sufficient amount of responses.  The next step was for the children to find their questions on twitter and tally the results.

After the student tallied the responses they created a bar graph to show the data.  I then had the students take pictures of their work and had them use Pic Collage to show their work.  We did this because we try to respond to everyone that has responded to our class on Twitter.  My class wanted to share their results with the people that answered their survey.  After my students created an image in Pic Collage they saved it to the camera roll and responded to everyone that took their survey with the picture of the results and a quick message.

First, I want to thank our PLN for responding to the questions.  The children were so excited to see all of the results.  What a fantastic and different way to collect surveys that are real and authentic.  It is also a fantastic piece of assessment that my students enjoyed, were engaged and eager to complete. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Students Show their Thinking with the Drawing Pad App

Today in our quest to find more out about habitats.  We discussed that there are different types of habitats.  I thought we would get through all of the habitats in one literacy block.  Boy was I wrong!  

We first went over our first essential question which is:
What is a habitat?
Students were able to articulate that it is where an animal lives and that a habitat needs 4 things for animals to survive:

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. Shelter
  4. Space

I then introduced the students to the idea that there are different habitats and different sets of animals live in each habitat. We talked about the five major habitats, e.g. arctic, desert, ocean (coral reef or tide pool), rainforest, and savanna.

I then wrote the following questions on the board:
  1. What types of animals live in the arctic habitat?
  2. What kinds of plants?
  3. What colours do you see?
  4. What does the landscape look like?
Ultimately, I wanted students to understand that each habitat contains certain characteristics.

I then handed out the iPads and told my students that they could draw and annotate a picture of an arctic habitat with the information they learn from the video clip I was going to show them.  I then showed a video from brainpopjr about arctic habitats.  We actually watched it twice, once to watch it, then I played it a second time as they finished their pictures.  When they were finished their picture, they saved it to the camera roll and  published it to their blogs.   

Here are two examples:

Due to how long this activity took, my teaching partner and I have decided to break the kids into groups and give each group a different habitat to learn about tomorrow.  (brainpopjr has 6 different habitat videos)  We will then have the groups create something to show their learning on the habitat they research and share it with the class.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Using Padlet to Introduce the RAN Graphic Organizer

We are starting a new Inquiry Unit on Animals and we are in the  "Immersion phase" of the inquiry circle.  Which means, I am inviting curiosity, teaching background knowledge, and inviting students to wonder about different animals.

One of the things that I want my students to include in their Inquiry learning is what their animals habitat is.  I also wanted to introduce them to a new graphic organizer called the RAN strategy, which stands for Reading and Analyzing Nonfiction.

A RAN chart is a lot like a KWL chart.  However, the students start with prior knowledge then after reading or watching something about the topic they move their sticky to a new column based on if their information was right or if it was a misconception.   The chart also still contains a New learning column as well as a Wonderings column.

I took a screen shot of part of a RAN chart and used it as the background to the padlet wall. See what a padlet wall is here.   I then chirped the url of the padlet to the students iPads and had them fill in what they thought the word habitat meant. See what chirp is here.

We then watched the following habitat video and I had students fill in the the New Learning column.

After we watched the video clip we went back to the What I think I know column and moved those notes to either the Confirmed or the Misconception column.  Here is what our padlet wall looks like now:

If you would like to see the padlet live the link is

Tomorrow I will be giving students a piece of writing on habitats at their reading level.  I will have my students use the RAN strategy using sticky notes and a graphic organizer.

Here is a link to some RAN graphic organizers I found from Marianna Kiva's website if you wanted to try it out in your own class.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Worksheets Are NOT Part Of How My Students Show Their Learning

This past Saturday I was fortunate to listen to George Couros speak at EdCampSWO.  One thing he spoke about that really resonated with me was how his niece has pages and pages of homework to do each night.  As I looked at the picture of his niece, I responded with this tweet:

I am not a fan of worksheets or homework.  I think reading is the most important homework for my students and my own children.  

My students just finished their inquiry projects about bats.  We created the list above just a few weeks ago before my students chose how to show all of their research and learning.  I find when you give your students the choice on how to show their learning you get better projects and happy and engaged children.

I am going to share some of their projects, however, I also want you to know that I feel that the process is much more important than the product.  I don't correct their spelling or have them redo their posters if there is incorrect information.  This is THEIR work, not mine.  We talk about the content and feedback after they present.  I am always amazed on how much they know about their inquiry when they get the chance to present.  It is always far more than what is in their book or on their poster.

Presenting usually takes two days.  I split the class in half.  Half the class stands by their projects, presents their information and answers questions.  While the other half of the class listens, asks questions and takes notes on new information they learn.

Here are a few of the projects that were shared on bats:


A book created on Book Creator


Board Game

These projects not only cover science and literacy curriculum but also are rich learning tasks that promote critical thinking, presentation skills and self-confidence.  I am positive that worksheets and huge amounts of homework do not.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Not your Traditional Classroom, Not your Traditional Teacher

Our classroom at times looks chaotic, messy and noisy.  Well, it looks this way MOST of the time.  Visitors to our school have different reactions.   Just last week we had a visitor into our school that spent some time in my classroom and the 5/6 classroom.  She was a retired principal, worked for the ministry, and had been in and seen many classrooms throughout her career.  When we debriefed at lunch, she said, "I don't know if I could do it how you all do it  everyday."  Our classroom is a buzz of excitement and engagement everyday, a lot of the time you may not even see my teaching partner or myself because we might be sitting on the couch giving feedback to a student, or in a corner on the carpet with a small group reteaching a math concept or at a table listening intently to a group of students trying to figure out their next steps in their inquiry project.  I assure you that this chaotic  looking way of teaching is not only working in our classroom, our students are excelling in our classroom.  Next time you walk by and assume that we have no control over our class, come in, sit, watch and talk to the students.  You will be pleasantly surprised what you will see and hear from the buzz in our classroom.
I am not a traditional teacher and I am proud of that.

I don't have a fancy mark book.
I don't make cute worksheets.
I don't teach from a textbook.
I don't teach in themes.
I don't use technology to say I use it.
I don't have my students in rows or even desks.
I don't have perfect bulletin boards that I have bought from a teacher store and plastered all over my classroom.
I don't have a quiet classroom.

I do teach my students to colour out of the lines.
I do encourage collaboration.
I do a lot of one to one or small group instruction.
I do let my students sit at tables, lay on floors, and sit on comfy couches.  (Why do students have to be uncomfortable to learn?)
I do have sticky notes, Evernote spreadsheets, shared google docs with comments, grades and next steps for my students.
I do know my students, I know their strengths, weaknesses, what sports they play and what motivates them.
I do use technology in ways that are innovative, engaging and different.
I do care about the learning journey more than the pretty final product.
I do give my students choice, in who they want to work with, what they learn about and how they learn it.

I don't have a quiet, pretty and neat traditional classroom.  I have a student centered classroom that promotes creativity, individuality, problem solving and collaboration.

I do what I feel is best for the students I teach.  I strive to be the teacher I would want my own children to have.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Making Math Meaningful and Fun

We all know that when kids are having fun, they are happy, excited and engaged.  I see many math classes with students sitting quietly listening to the teacher bark at them at the front of the room with all the kids staring blankly out the window with their boring text book open on their desk.  Does this sound familiar to you?  I had to share what we have been doing this week in math and hopefully it will inspire you to add a bit of fun into your math routine.  We are currently learning different adding strategies, this is what we have been up to:


Related Facts:

Students created number trains with linking blocks.  I had students sit in a circle as I poured out hundreds of linking blocks onto the carpet.  I would yell a number and partners had to make as many number trains as they could that equaled the number that I yelled out.

Students then were given a number and had to make as many number trains as they could that equaled the number I gave them.  When they finished their trains they took a picture and tweeted it out.


Students learned about fact families.  Pairs of students were given an iPad task card to complete a task and were instructed to put it on their blog when they were finished.  

Download here
Here is a completed sample using the app Draw and Tell instead of Explain Everything:


I took the students outside for a quick game of "Even Steven and Odd Todd"  I wrote Odd on one wall with sidewalk chalk and the opposite wall with Even.  I then placed chalk at both walls.  I had my students stand in the middle and I called a number.  They had to yell out, "Even Steven" or "Odd Todd" depending on the number I called out.  When they got to the correct wall they used the chalk to record the number on the wall.

We then headed indoors to learn about the strategy of doubles plus one.  We did a quick whole class lesson and then I gave students an odd number of counters.   I asked my students to circle the doubles and leave one left over.  I also asked them to create a number sentence to go with their picture.

When you create thoughtful tasks for your students to do that combine movement, manipulatives, collaboration and fun you will always have students asking, "When do we have math?'

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Beginning Of The School Year Was Not So Easy This Year.

As our forty students came into our room the first day of school, we had many new faces. Thirty one new faces to be exact. This was different than I was use to. I had been teaching the same children for four years. I began as their junior kindergarten teacher, had a maternity leave, returned in first grade, the following year taught a 1/2 split then last year taught a 2/3 split. I LOVED having the same children year after year. There were always minor changes and new faces, however the bulk of the students were the same. I definitely got used to this. In September we just picked up where we had left off the previous June. The children knew me and the classroom expectations and I knew their weaknesses, their strengths, their families, their favourite books, which sports they liked etc. We were a family.

This year, my core group moved on to grade 4 while I stayed back to teach a 2/3 split. I knew it was time to let them go and I knew that they needed to have a different teacher with a different perspective and had different strengths and weaknesses.

I forgot how hard it was to get a new group of children that you hardly knew. I forgot that they didn't know what Wonder Workshop was when they came in, that they weren't use to not having a seating chart, that they didn't know how to properly handle the iPads or know how to log onto their blogs. I forgot how hard it was in September with a new class. My teaching partner and I had to adjust our way of doing things to accommodate all of our new students. We had to reassess what our plans were for the first few weeks of school. We needed to spend time getting to know our students and they needed to get to know us.

We are now into our fourth week of school and we have a lot of learning to do, but we have also accomplished so much!  We are collaborating, we are learning how to wonder and how to begin an open inquiry.  We are learning about schema and how to use the iPads to capture our thinking.  We are Tweeting and even created our first blog post today! 

I may have forgotten how hard a new class is in September, but I also had forgotten what all of the "firsts" felt like.  There have been many "firsts" in these past few weeks:

  • Using iPads for learning
  • Using Twitter (and in math!)
  • Given a special Thinking Book
  • Going outside to spark our wonders and curiosity.
  • Given a bug catcher that you can actually bring back to class to observe things you caught! (even a toad!)
We do have 31 new faces....but we are having a great time learning about each other, getting to know each other and discovering new things together.  We now have 31 more children to engage and motivate, to teach and learn from, and that is a gift.