Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Authentic Learning Experiences

“Authentic learning experiences” would have to be the result of starting our classroom blog on January 29th: http://weallbeelong.blogspot.com/ . Currently I am using our blog to showcase students’ work and classroom activities. We have created digital stories, digital story retells, examples of cause/effect and problem/solution and posted these to our blog. We also use Audioboo at the end of each day to recap the day or explain a new concept. We have our Audioboos linked to our Twitter account. Our Twitter account is on our blog. All of our work is ‘out there’ for the world to see! In fact we have a cluster map that shows when visitors view our blog. How has that affected my students?

My students have become aware that their work is now viewable by a much greater audience. (Prior to this our work was viewed by whoever was strolling through the school hallway, and cared to look at the wall outside of our room.) My students work diligently as they write what they want to say in their story retells. As they work, one sees with clarity writing being used as a tool for communication and not as an end in itself. In fact writing and revisions happen quickly and accurately to aid the students in clear audio recordings. I love that students reread their writing, determine what they left out, inserting a carat to add this word or that thought. Their writing and oral communication transforms into an authentic learning experience.

As I mentioned we are using a cluster map on our blog to determine who is visiting us. We keep a world map and a map of the USA in front of our room. When we have a visitor from a new state or country we mark this off on our map. This experience has produced wonderful discussions about the differences between a state and a country. The students are becoming familiar with the location of various states and countries. Another authentic learning experience coming from the use of our blog!

I am looking forward to witnessing a continuation of authentic learning experiences through our classroom blog! I would love to hear how your classroom blog has transformed your class!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Audioboo and First Grade

(Life has been busy, and I have not blogged in many months.  Our school has switched to the Common Core Standards and Understanding By Design lesson plans.  I am also back in school, but enough excuses!)

I am trying to develop meaningful and authentic experiences of using Web 2.0 tools for my students.  My principal introduced me to Audioboo.  Audioboo allows my students to make an audio recording which I can link to our first grade Twitter account.   For the past few days we have recorded daily highlights. At the end of the day my students tell me what they felt was the best part of the day or something interesting that they learned.  We compose a message together, and then one student creates an Audioboo.  I invited our parents to follow us on Twitter and to comment on our “boos”.   I want my students to see how their ideas elicit responses from others.   While we have only been “booing” for three days, we have not received any twitter comments. I want to have my students create more interactive boos which will engage their audience and create response.

I also think that after a little more modeling I will turn the process over to the students.  Perhaps I will have once person direct the conversation, another person write the “boo”, and a third person record the boo.  This will give the student’s more ownership over the process.   I am looking forward to see how this experience helps us to grow as readers, writers and speakers.  I'll let you know!

Monday, June 6, 2011

What Can First Grade Teach the Harvard Business Review?

What can the “Harvard Business Review”  learn from first grade?  Maybe a lot! 
     One of my favorite blogs to read is the “Harvard Business Review”.   I enjoy reading about the 21st century skills that are valued in the business world, as this is the world that my students will one day enter.   I want my students to be prepared.  A couple weeks ago I read Adam Richardson’s “Collaboration is a Team Sport and You Need to Warm Up” on the Harvard Business Review blog and carefully considered the following comment:

But there are barriers to collaboration, many of which exist even before somebody arrives for their first day of work. In the US, our education system is largely focused on individual efforts, and team work is not actively taught in the classroom even at the graduate level. 

Richardson elaborates and says that collaboration does not just happen but goes through a “warm-up” process first by creating a personable atmosphere of trust and relationship building.  
As I read this I had to laugh, clearly Richardson has not been in an elementary school lately!

      In my first grade I value, encourage and teach collaboration.   In the beginning of our school year we work on creating and building a learning community based on trust and respect.  .  I use strategies like Think-Pair –Share, team discussions, partner reading to encourage repectful listening and sharing.  Throughout the year students collaborate on reading extension activities, creating power points, using centers, SMARTboard and SMART table.  In math students are put in small groups to engage in and solve real-life problems.  Nothing gives me greater than pleasure than listening to students plan strategies and try to come to a consensus.  Our room is set up to support collaboration.  Desks are arranged to make teams/tables.  Students also work collaboratively in centers around the room.  This fall we are looking forward to removing desks and replacing them with tables in order to further support an environment of collaboration.   

      I know my classroom is similar to many other classrooms that teach and encourage collaboration.   I have to wonder about Richardson’s comment. When will the business world see the results of the collaboration found in our grade schools?  I see our educational system as encouraging a collaborative spirit.  What are your thoughts?  How do you encourage collaboration in your classroom? 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is It Passion-Based Learning?

What was more interesting today. . .
A first grade ‘expert’ standing alongside of an interactive whiteboard  guiding the audience through a presentation on African wild dogs, pointing to maps depicting the dogs habitat, discussing the need for this carnivorous animal to have jagged fangs, while pointing to a picture of its sharp teeth.   
Or maybe. . .
A first grade audience engrossed in their classmates’ presentations on endangered animals, processing information, making connections to prior learning experiences, recalling their own research on whales and asking “Do white spotted dolphins have blubber too?” 
Or perhaps. . .
The teacher sitting in the back of the room listening to her young experts, assisting by tapping the forward button on the power point presentation in case it should stick.  

Today was a wonderful day as my first grade students presented their power point presentation on endangered animals to their class.  They demonstrated leadership and pride beyond first grade as the spoke with authority about their research, and discussed each image in the power point.   The whole process that led to this culminating event was very educational for me.   My students were very engaged from the time they began their research to the time the presented their power point.  They even asked on several days if they could come up after lunch recess to work on their power point. 
As I reflect on the process, I find myself asking:  What kept them engaged? Was it completing research?   Working on the computer?   Creating the power point?  Searching for images?  Sharing with their classmates?  Leading a question and answer session?  I have to think it was the whole process.   The students selected an endangered animal and became the expert.  The animal became “theirs” and the desire to share what was “theirs” with classmates was sincere.   Is this what passion-based learning looks like in first grade?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Passion Based Learning in First Grade

I just read Wes Fryer’s “Passion, Learning and Innovation”.  I loved his question: "Is your curriculum wide enough that it can provide room for students to connect with, deepen their knowledge of and share topics about which they are passionate?Much of what we read in education today deals with passion-based learning, allowing students to explore topics that they are passionate about.  In my own classroom experience, I have learned that passion-based learning increases student engagement.

A topic of interest with one of my guided reading groups this year has been animals/wildlife. I capitalized on this topic in this group by finding reading material about wild life.  My students wanted to delve further into the animal life that they were introduced to by completing more research.  They wanted to share the information with their classmates.  We worked together on creating Power Point presentations.  The experience allowed the students to develop many skills:  main idea/details, organization, story boarding, relating pictures with details, public speaking, power point etiquette and collaboration.  A couple of students created their power point presentations at home.  Their enthusiasm spread throughout the class.  Soon all of my reading groups wanted to do similar work.  This week one of my groups has completed research and a power point on endangered animals.  Each student selected an endangered animal to become “the expert” on.  They incorporated a way to help protect the endangered animal. 

This experience has been very exciting and educational for me!  This upcoming year I will spend more time with passion based learning by learning what my students are passionate about and incorporating that into my planning!

How are you using passion based learning in your class?  I love to hear ideas (especially in the primary grades)!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Guide on the Side

“Mrs. Long are the boys in the story brothers or are they friends?”  .  I had my first grade students ‘partner reading’ a story, when two of my students posed this question to me during our whole group reading time.  My objective was to explore problem and solution in the story, but I set my plans aside and asked, “What do you think?”  The two girls had different opinions and cited different examples in the book.  I suggested that they ask their classmates their opinion.  The girls eagerly went to the front of the room with their book in hand, posing the question to their classmates.   What followed was a lively, intelligent and engaging discussion.  The students in the class were fully engaged, books opened and pages turning to look at each others examples.  My students listened to their classmates’ viewpoints and offered their own.  (My only job in this discussion was to let go of my plans and remind the students that all opinions should be supported by an example and a page number.)  As I sat in the back of the room recording their ideas on my laptop, I had to smile.  My students were so taken up in the discussion, that they hardly knew I was present.   I thought this is what it means to be the “guide on the side and not the sage on the stage”.
As I reflect on this powerful experience, I have to ask myself what elements come into play?  What caused this example of student engagement?   First, I believe my students felt comfortable taking a risk.  The two students who led the discussion were at ease standing before their classmates and leading a discussion.  (I have to add that one of the girls would have nothing to do with being in the front of the class in the beginning of the year!) The rest of the class felt safe and supported expressing their opinions.   Second, I believe the students had grown accustomed and confident in solving problems on their own.   They realized that they did not need me to answer their questions.  Finally, rules and behaviors for respectful listening and speaking were modeled often throughout the year.

As I continue to reflect on student engagement in this blog, I believe that creating an environment where students feel comfortable and safe to take risks is essential. I also find  helping students to discover their ability to answer their own questions and solve their own problems to be equally important.  Finally, I believe the teacher should act as a guide encouraging students to become independent learners.