It’s Their Education. Not Mine.

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 Zippo photo credit: liber via photopin cc

As the months have ticked by and my students have slowly grown into the big shoes that Grade 4 holds I have noticed something interesting happening in my classroom. My students absolutely love teaching each other. Now I know this is nothing new but we are currently experiencing a major shift in my room.

It all started earlier this year when one of my students came to me asking when we would be studying the Canadian government. You see, he had heard via the grapevine that it was something that Grade four’s always learned and he couldn’t wait to get started. I let him know that we would be exploring the government in January – February and thought that’s where the matter would end. Well, I was wrong. Almost on a weekly basis after that I was asked when we would be starting and why we couldn’t start sooner. Clearly I had a Canadian government aficionado on my hands.

One day as I was peppered with more questions about what we would be studying I had an idea: would he want to kick off our unit with a presentation? I posed the suggestion to him and he jumped on board but before he started he had two questions for me: 1) What should he do his presentation on? 2) What were we ‘supposed’ to  cover? I pulled out my curriculum document and said: “You have free rein on what you want to present on and here are the topics we are ‘supposed’ to cover. He asked if he could add in extra topics: the privy council, how supreme court judges are nominated and the history of the various positions within parliament. Sure, why not? If it interested him I said and it is within the big topic he could go for it! With a route to follow and a spark of inspiration off he went ready to do his research!

The weeks ticked by and I watched him diligently research and tinker with his presentation. Every now and then I was asked if I could look over his work and perhaps give him another look at the curriculum document. As things starting winding down to winter break I let him know it would be time to present in January once we got back from our break. I could see the excitement and nervousness building. I too was excited to see how this would all pan out.

When the day arrived and as he walked up to the front of the room we both took a deep breath. As he worked through is presentation, I was blown away. The depth and level of research was incredible. Best of all, he spoke at the level of his peers and in terms they would understand. (He even had a full bibliography. Something I had worked hard on with them earlier this year. Yay!) As he wrapped up his peers cheered and clapped. They asked insightful and thoughtful questions. This was the best kick off I could have asked for.

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Fast forward a few weeks and another member of my class approached me. He was wondering when we would be studying rocks and minerals and, if he could do the same as his classmate and kick off our unit for us. Cue a repeat of the same process: careful preparation, curriculum consultation and another presentation that blew me us of the water.

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These two presentations have sparked something in my students. They now know that if they would like to teach each other something they are most welcome to. Since then we have had more presentations on rocks and minerals, birthstones,  star formation, sea life and one of the most in-depth video game analysis I’ve seen. And, just because they can and know how, a group of boys are building a website all about rocks and minerals.

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Now as I sit thinking about the events of the first few months I have begun to realize something. Yes, I have incredible students. And yes they love learning. But like every single student in our classrooms it is their education and not ours. This is their schooling experience and the learning journey of their lives. They deserve to explore their curiosity and follow their interests. With the right tools, freedoms, guidance and empowerment they are the most incredible resource in our room. They can teach each other anything and with me as their guide, I can help make it happen.

 

The trouble with going paperless.

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 Letter Dance  photo credit: rosmary via photopin cc

As the year progresses I am realizing I have a small problem that seems to be getting bigger and nagging on my mind. We are quite privileged to have a classroom set of laptops that we use all the time. We use them for so many things it’s hard to keep track sometimes. We have created many things this past year: Thinglinks for our Science projects, Websites for our Social Studies Projects, Endless Google Docs for our writing and collaboration. The list could go on and on but back to the problem at hand: I don’t know how to proudly show off these pieces of work in my classroom.

We’ve tried printing out our projects to put on the bulletin board but then we lose what makes these tools so awesome and end up with 2D dullness. (Sound! Animation! Video! All gone.) We can display them online but, it still doesn’t help with the classroom/hallway display space. I think I will try QR codes next to the print ups. I will teach the students to link their work to them and hope that people will a) have a device with which to scan with and b) know what a QR code is.

Ideally, I would like an interactive display. Something where a passerby could interact and explore our work on the wall. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just a touch screen display where we can link our work. *Ah a girl can dream*.

How do you display your digital work in your classroom/hallway?

It need not be perfect..

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 Public Order photo credit: Tal Bright via photopin cc

As a teacher it is quite easy to become sucked into the  vortex creative teacher sites that show endless pictures of cutesy bulletin boards and other classroom decorating ideas. You know what I am talking about, images that make you think over spring break you really can and should, collect and convert milk crates into reading chairs. Or a beautiful set of book marks you can create with your kids in a snap. One of the things you will often see online is beautiful bulletin boards that have amazing borders, colour coordinated backgrounds and fancy fonts. Things that seem like they could go up in any store for display. These beautiful exhibitions as lovely as they look, always seem a bit too perfect, too pretty, and dare I say are often lacking something quite important: that touch that lets you know that it really was made by a child in the process of learning.

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As a result, the combination of my strong feelings and only so many hours in a day, my bulletin boards often look,  how do I say this nicely, a little rough around the edges. (Who has time to put up borders and create these elaborate displays?!) They look like kids created them, because well they did. They look like we are using them to learn, because we are, we leave notes on our boards to help connect our learning. Yes we still use store-bought posters but these are used in connection to what we are currently working on. They are works in progress. The work isn’t perfect, it isn’t a competition to see who can produce the most beautiful stuff, it’s our learning and we are proud of it. So next time you ask a child to redo a piece of work for display ask yourself: ‘Does it really need to be perfect?’

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P.S. I should probably add that we do create beautiful pieces that we proudly display. But they all have those distinct marks that a child has made them.