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.

Sea life

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.

 

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Sunshine Blog

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 photo credit: Patrick Brosset via photopin cc

Ah it seems I have caught the sunshine blog post bug. Like many I have been watching it float around on Twitter and have enjoyed reading the posts that have emerged. So here goes my sunshine blog post!

Here is how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

Nominating Blogger (s)

I have been nominated by two people and will give them both a shout out! The first blogger is Dana Ariss @Danaariss. I first ‘met’ Dana on one of the many Twitter chats I take part in. (For the life of me I can’t remember which one).  I got to know Dana better as part of the planning committee for the new #cdnedchat. She is enthusiastic and bubbly person from whom I have learned lots!

The second blogger that nominated me was Jennifer Collette @Jennmarieco. I had the great privilege of working with Jenn last year. We spent the whole year bouncing ideas off of each other, planning and co-teaching together. It was an incredible experience and although we do not work in the same building anymore I find that not much has changed. We still challenge each others thinking, discuss what we are teaching and make each other laugh on a consistent basis. She is a wickedly awesome person!

11 Random Facts

1) I have lived in three countries so far: South Africa, Swaziland and Canada 🙂

2) I am a cat person.

3) Winter is my favourite season.

4) I read a lot of fantasy novels. I am kind of stuck in the genre.

5) I am self-conscious about my writing but blog to help me get better. (It’s working!)

6) It takes me a long time to make a decision. I need to think about things and tend to sit on the fence for a long time.

7) I love salt and vinegar chips.

8) My favourite T.V. show is Star Trek.

9) I don’t really like chocolate or ice cream.

10) I have 3 bachelor degrees and am currently working on my Masters of Education. (Yay learning!)

11) I  am an introvert. I am quiet and like to listen to others speak. I usually only speak in a group once I have thought about my response. I also tend to get stage fright be it in front of  a group of 5 or 100 people.

Questions from Jenn and Dana:

1. Why did you start blogging? I was bored while doing my education degree and wanted to push my thinking further that what my classes were providing. Blogging has helped me think deeply about what, why and how I am teaching. It has really changed my world.

2. What do you love doing the most? Teaching. Nothing makes me happier and feel more challenged.

3.  What is your favourite educational quote? “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

4.  What would you do if you weren’t a teacher? I’d probably be in HR or be a botanist.

5. What do you think makes a great teacher? Someone who is passionate, curious and isn’t willing to accept the status quo.

6.  What is your favourite educational website? Hmmmm tough one… www.theliteracyshed.com. It has great videos and resources!

7.  What is the funniest thing a student ever told you? Tough one. None spring to mind but everyday is filled with laughs when teaching.

8.  What is your favourite movie? The Day After Tomorrow. It’s terrible but I love watching it on cold Winnipeg winter days, makes it feel very doomsday-y

9.  How often do you blog? Anywhere from twice a week to once every three months. It all depends on what is going on and what is on my mind.

10.  Why do you love twitter? I get to talk to many different educators that I would otherwise never have been able to talk to. It’s really opened my world up.

11.  What are you looking forward to in 2014? Getting married to the love of my life 🙂

1. Why teaching? I love learning and helping others learn is one of the most satisfying things on earth. Teaching also challenges me everyday to become better at what I do.

2. Who or what is your  greatest inspiration? Nelson Mandela. He showed my home country the power of forgiveness and the importance of equality.

3. What is one new thing you have tried this year? I applied and successfully presented at a conference. Wohoo!

4. What would your ideal day look like? Sleep until 10am and then teach.

5. Who was the best teacher you ever had and why? I have been blessed with many incredible teachers that there are too many to choose from. Probably my grade 2 teacher Mrs Webster. She was a kind, caring teacher who never raised her voice. She is the reason I promise my students I will never yell at them. (They have noticed that I don’t yell and appreciate it).

6. If you could live anywhere in the world other than where you currently live, where would it be? Probably back in South Africa. There is no place like home.

7.  What is something you are looking forward to in 2014? Becoming a better teacher and learning lots.

8.  Are you an early bird or a night owl? Night owl.

9.  What is your favourite band or music artist? I like Rise Against. It’s pretty good music to write your report cards to.

10. Why Twitter? It opens up your world. Nothing more incredible than having a respectful and insightful conversation on Twitter. It has changed the way I teach.

11. Mac or PC? Android or iPhone? Mac. It all works so nicely together.

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photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

11 Bloggers I want to nominate (In no particular order)

1) Aviva Dunsigner @Avivaloca

2) Maria Popova  @brainpicker

3) Dean Shareski @shareski

4) George Couros @gcouros

5) John Spencer @edrethink

6) Pernille Ripp @Pernilleripp

7) Tanis Thiessen @tjthiessen

8) Darren Kuropatwa @dkuropatwa

9) Hybrid Pedegogy @hybridped (Amazing blog! You must read it!)

10) William Chamberlain @wmchamberlain

11) Mrs T @MissLwbt

11 Questions for your nominees:

1)  If you could teach any grade/age what would it be and why?

2) What would you dream classroom look like?

3) What is the 1 thing you hope your students gain from your teaching?

4) What book would you recommend to a teacher needing some inspiration?

5) Whiteboard & projector or Smartboard?

6) How do you inspire creativity in your students and colleagues?

7) What is the first thing you’d purchase if you won the lottery?

8) What has Twitter and blogging done for your teaching?

9) What is 1 thing we can all do to be better teachers tomorrow?

10)  Best teaching memory.

11) Quiet classroom or noisy classroom? Why?

Learning Spaces and Places: How Do You Build for Community?

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Untitled photo credit: jotaemephoto via photopin cc

It seems I am inspired on my two-year blogaversary (?) to finally hammer out a post I have pondering for a while. That is the thing about blogging. Sometimes I will go weeks and in this case two months without posting anything to doing a number of posts in the same evening. Since mid-July when I was preparing to set up my new classroom home I started thinking about learning spaces and how they foster a sense of community.

One thing I immediately noticed when I entered my new school is the thoughtful design that has been given to all the spaces in the school. There are ample amounts of windows allowing natural light to stream in at all times of the day. Although this is a simple thing it is something that was missing in my last school. The effect that light has on our moods and learning is truly amazing. Another thing that I noticed was that throughout the school there are gathering spaces. These spaces are comfortable places that invite people to take a seat and relax. Gathering spaces naturally help build community. When we gather, we can’t help but talk and connect with others. Something as simple as the assembly room strikes me as a place that builds school community. It is a beautiful room filled with windows that is designed that when the school gathered it really helps everyone feel proud of the place they are in.

When I think about my classroom ( and in fact what I hope that you see when you walk in my room) is a space that promotes learning and community. Although my students each have an old school desk (an honoured and important rite of passage for everyone) their desks are arranged in groups of four. These little groups as all teachers know grow and form a little community as time passes. In a group formation of desks the students can chat and share but still have their own personal space that is solely their own to inhabit. About once a month I change things up and we move our desks into new groups. At the beginning of the year I choose the formation of the groups. As the year progresses the students begin to decide how they want their seating arrangement to look. This often yields interesting formations. Yes, some students really want to be an island for a  short while and others simply love sitting with others.

Our room also has 2 large tables where students can move if they find their group is being too chatty or they simply want another space to work in. The option is there and as long as they are on task, they are welcome to use it. When I set up my room, I made sure to leave some open spaces on the floor (I could have easily filled them up with our desks). These open floor spaces serve as a place for us to gather as a group and as spots for students to work if they so choose. I had to chuckle during our first silent reading time when all my students sat down at their desks to read. At first I was a bit puzzled but then I said “This is your room. You can read anywhere you like.” Something so simple seemed to make them very happy which in turn has makes me happy. There is nothing better than seeing two students stretched out reading side by side with blissful smiles on their faces.

Our classroom walls were quite bare at the start of the year. I see our walls as a space for us to fill with our learning and the work created during our adventures. It has been marvellous to see bits and pieces go up the past few days. I hope in the next while to had the bulletin boards over to the students, for them to choose what we should put up there.

I understand much of school design comes down to economics but I was truly surprised when I immigrated to Canada and saw some of the schools were designed. Many seemed to lack imagination or seemed to be places where optimal learning environments didn’t seem to have entered the school design process. I will say I was blessed to have gone to a beautiful school growing up where it seemed every space had a thoughtful purpose to help students learn. (I will blog about it soon but if you want to see a preview here’s a link to their website: www.Epworth.co.za)

How has your school been built for community?

How do you build for community in your classroom?

If you want to see it. Be it.

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 Humanity, Love, Respect photo credit: B.S. Wise via photopin cc

If you want to see your students be curious and embrace learning do so yourself. If you want your students to be fearless and to take risks in their pursuit of knowledge do so yourself. Share your passion for learning. My students know that I am always reading and trying out new things my classroom.

If you want a community. Create and show it.  It is as simple as saying hello and asking how someones day is going to show that you value community. We talk as a class everyday before school starts. It is our community meeting to show that we care about each other. A time where anything can be brought to the table and shared with each other.

If you want innovation  and ingenuity show them that you are willing to tweak things to make them better. Allow opportunities to try new things and get creative.

If you value reading and want your students to be readers and writers share what you are reading and writing with your class. I often share what I am reading and why I am reading it. The purpose is often different but they know reading is a part of my life. They also know that I blog and that it isn’t easy for me to get my thoughts on ‘paper’ but it again it is a part of my life and makes me a better teacher.

If you want to see joy and happiness take pleasure in what you do, pursue and share your passions.

If you want to see kindess and respect show them in every action you take. Be equitable, show integrity, be kind, be gracious and be humble.

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Earlier this week entered the classroom after lunch clearly excited and inspired by an idea. Once she was given the go ahead she busily started working on her idea. After she had finished she handed me the note above entitled “Why Ms. Bertram is Important”. As I read through it I teared up when I came to the lines ‘You are nice and kind. You are helpful and you show respect.’ The core of my classroom management has always been Respect and Kindness. We spent the first few months of school discussing why these are so important to our community. I model it everyday for my students in every action I take. Those two lines showed me that they see it. They get it. And that makes me proud.