The Art of Beautiful Storytelling: Storybird

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 Another Summer Day photo credit: @ifatma. via photopin cc

Since January Storybird’s have been all the rage in my classroom. I had not planned it to become an ongoing project in my classroom but once word got out about the beautiful Storybird graphics it has snowballed into a phenomenon in my classroom. I have also introduced it with two students in grade 6 that I tutor and they are also hooked! (You know you’re onto something good when students go home and write on their weekends!)

If you are not familiar with Storybird it’s a website where you can use beautiful artwork to create stories.

Reasons I love it:

– It’s easy to use. Kids just play around with it and get it!

– The artwork is amazing and provides endless writing inspiration.

– It’s a sneaky way to draw in my reluctant writers. They have all given it a try!

– The ease of use and beautiful final product ensures a feeling of success right from the start.

– I can create classes and monitor my students work.

– It’s easy to share and access.

– The stories remain private unless you choose to make them public.

It’s free!

The reasons they love it:

– The artwork provides writing inspiration so it doesn’t feel forced.

– It’s easy to use. They don’t have to be very tech savvy to use it.

– They get their own account. (Always a big deal in grade 4!)

– The artwork is already done so for my students who don’t feel confident in their drawing abilities feel instant success.

– It’s done on the computer – instant motivator.

Student Examples:

Friends By Reann Grade 4 Student

Family By Julia Grade 4 Student

The Little Ghost in the House Together By Arianna Grade 6 Student

Why Collaboration Rocks My World

photo credit: bulliver via photopin cc

This past week I have been thinking a lot about how much I enjoy working collaboratively with other people.  There is something quite special about having people who you can immediately sync with and work on a project together. As I look back at the past couple of years I realize I have been luckily enough to have a number of friends and colleagues who jump  right in when I suggest something seemingly random and we work together smoothly! I have had friends enter business competitions with me,  despite having no business background. I have had another who agreed to run a free educational workshop with me at a local community center even though it was our spring break. It was a great excuse to team teach with a friend and learn from them!

The trend continues….

Last year at a PD session I was given a set of handouts that broke down the math curriculum into easy to understand terms, all the way from grades 1 -6  all in a nice organizational chart. The idea and resource are fantastic, but the problem is it only covers one of the strands in math and as such is incomplete! As time has passed I have decided I wanted to challenge myself to complete the set, but on my own wasn’t sure where to start. As you probably can already guess, I asked a few people if they would be interested in helping me on this side project of mine. Although it is a project outside of the many we have for our education program, I have had a few people agree to help me!

Today me and my good friend Taryn (@TADeroche) finally sat down and started making our way through the curriculum document and working towards completing my incomplete resource. Now as a teacher candidate, the math curriculum can be daunting and scary but it is something we both will have to understand and  use, come our first year teaching jobs. Incase you are wondering the resource is an organizational graphic for each grade with the concepts students should understand and be able to do at the beginning, middle and end of the year. With one glance at a strand you can see the year-long progression within one math strand in the curriculum!

Working together this way allows us to:

  • Discuss and connect concepts as they progress from grade to grade. The changes are sometimes subtle but all require strong foundational understandings.
  • Think about where in our organizational chart we wanted to put each outcome and why. (Because our chart is a progression of skills, figuring out how they build upon one another is key!)
  • Clarify if we didn’t understand what exactly the outcome was talking about.
  • Bounce instructional ideas for own classrooms off one another (Team brainstorming is awesome!)
  • Agree or challenge the other persons point of view. Interacting socially  in this way helps us think about how we want to teach math and why we think so.
  • Grow as friends and professional colleagues.

These are just a few reasons why collaboration truly rocks my world! 

Collaborative partnerships help me connect, discuss, share and think about things and in ways I may have never thought about before! I hope that when I get a classroom full of students that I can help them see the joy that comes from working and learning with others. A classroom that fosters a learning community where collaboration is the norm, seems quite magical and appealing to me!

(We aren’t quite done yet, but rest assured the rest of the project will not disappoint!)

How Social Media is Helping Me Become a Better Teacher

One of the things I love most about being in education field is the ever-changing landscape of the profession. There are always new ideas, theories, resources and lessons being thought up and shared around the world. Two months into my final year of education I decided it was time to start digging deeper into my growth as a professional and move beyond what I was being taught in my academic classes. And so started my journey into the world of educators connecting online.

As I look back on the past few months here is the how the process all began and continues to unfold in my life.

1. Reading blogs by fellow educators.

I did not know the world of education blogs existed until one day a friend in my class mentioned reading a fascinating blog by a teacher. My curiosity was peaked and I could not help but start looking into this online world created by fellow educators. Topics ranged from personal reflections, technology in the classroom and even to a blog about funny moments in the classroom. If you can think of it, there is probably an education blog out there on that topic!

As time passed I collected all the blogs into my Google reader and made an effort to read a few posts a day. Not every post you read is life changing but every now and then one comes across that challenges your thinking as an educator and perhaps makes you stop and question why you do what you do in the . Many posts provide inspiration for new things to do in the classroom (Hour of Wonder Project).

2. Twitter as a Professional Development Tool.

When you tell people you use Twitter on a regular basis, they instantly assume that you are just another one of those people who feels the need to constantly share the inane details of ones life with complete strangers. OH but that version of Twitter couldn’t be farther from the truth when you embrace its power as a professional development tool.

As one would imagine when I first started I was a bit apprehensive  about the very public nature of Twitter. I began read blogs which dispensed  simple starter guidelines for the do’s and don’ts of using the service as an educator and  I took the plunge and joined the social network.

It  was a slow process at first, I chose my Twitter handle then I followed a few people, watched what they said and how they interacted. I learned about the role of #hashtags and started to search them. A hashtag allows anyone to share information related to a  specific topic and to be sure that people who have an interest in that topic are able to read what they have shared. E.g. If I have a math resource to share I may send out a tweet with link and end it with #mathchat to make sure educators in that interest area have access to it. All thanks to Twitter, in a matter of minutes I have been able to gather resources that would have taken me hours if not weeks to gather on my own!

A lightbulb moment was my discovery that there was a hashtag for my first ever SAGE day  this year and that there are other Manitoban educators using the service! I now follow a list by the MTS  which allows me to connect and share with fellow Manitoban educators .

After I realized that there was order to some of the chaos of Twitter I learned that there were weekly discussions based interest group! (Amazing!) My first ever Twitter chat was on #ntchat, a group dedicated to supporting new teachers as they start out in the profession. I have been able to gain insights into matters that I would have otherwise probably never thought about.

I have also been given the opportunity to have a mock interview with a very kind Principal from Saskatchewan (@PrincipalNorth). In the next week or so I will be doing a guest post on a new teacher blog, all thanks to the world of Twitter! As a way to grow my knowledge I have  enrolled in a free online course on the Creative Commons that was tweeted out a few weeks ago! Creative Commons has to do with online copyright culture,  something I am particularly interested in and want to learn more about.  (If you want to join the course for free: Open content licensing for educators, it runs January 23 – 27 2012). 

My exploration into the world of Twitter continues and I look forward to the enjoying spirit of collaboration and support that exists between educators from across the globe.

3. Blogging for Reflection.

Before starting my first practicum block of the 2011 – 2012 school year,  my faculty advisor suggest I try to find a medium where I could reflect on my experiences as an educator. My first reaction was literally “ACK…I can’t do that!”.  But as I thought about it and began reading what other educators were writing on their blogs, I realized that really I could do that!

Writing a first blog post is nerve-wracking and difficult to do. You wonder if you will be judged by what you write, how you write or if people will even read what you write! I write this blog not to change the world, but rather as a means to think about what I am doing as a teacher and what I am thinking about.  It is a medium for me to articulate my thoughts and put the pieces together. The fact that it is open to the world is something I am getting used to but feel is important if I want to give back to fellow educators in some way. As I look back through the list of posts the past few months have produced, it is quite liberating to see my very own learning process in progress!

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So if you are an educator thinking about entering the world of social media, know that although it can be used for evil, the possibilities for it to introduce amazing things into your life are endless!

There are resources and ideas that you would likely have never have found on your own being shared everyday from all corners of the globe. And perhaps best of all there are amazing people  out there who will support you and challenge your thinking on a daily basis!

C.C 70AS3109 By Hawk Takahashi

If you want to read more:

Here’s my earlier blog post about : Twitter for Teachers

Two very topical blog posts that I found on Twitter earlier today:

“Writing a Good Twitter Tweet “ http://jamesmcconville.blogspot.com/2012/01/writing-good-twitter-tweet.html

“Education and Social Media in British Columbia”

http://cultureofyes.ca/2012/01/15/education-and-social-media-in-british-columbia/

How Would a Square Fit into a Triangle?

In December as I was starting to get ready for the looming January job hunt, I started thinking about how to set up a digital portfolio and settled upon a program that I thought would help me showcase my work perfectly. The only problem was that it wouldn’t embed into the site as I wanted it to. Instead of having a picture of the program to click on, it just gave me a hyperlink! Not very aesthetically pleasing at all! I could have easily run to my brother (computer programmer) or the internet to help me solve my problem but instead I decided to give it time and think about it. Although it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind as the days turned into a week and two weeks, I kept brainstorming ways to solve the problem. I had no luck until yesterday when I sat down and a moment of inspiration struck and I tried out my solution and it worked!

Puzzle

C.C. intvgene

This little anecdote about my tech problem solving incident may seem a bit silly but it really got me thinking about how students might need the same space and time to think when they are problem solving. In a classroom there is constantly the pressure of time on our backs. Only so much time is a available for the period, only so much time is allotted for a test and there are only so many days in the school year! If a student needs more time to figure out a problem what happens then? They may look to another student, the teacher or other resources for help. But is this instantaneous answer seeking always the best way to solve a problem? It doesn’t challenge a students thinking but it does help to show them how to solve the problem and perhaps will help them solve a similar problem the next time they encounter one.

But what if like me and they want to take the time to do it themselves? A student may be lucky enough to be given a bit of extra time at the end of a test to give their problem another go or perhaps they could stay in at recess and work on it. Or who knows they may take it home to work on it on their own time. But more than likely the problem will fall by the wayside only to get lost in the blur of the school day and be forgotten about, another brain stretching opportunity lost.

So what does all this mean in practice?

To me it would mean to always keep in mind that on demand is not always best. Although speed is something that will be needed as students grow up, in the early years classroom it is more about developing the skill sets needed to solve problems effectively and accurately. As a teacher I should aim to guide students through the problem solving process and not always give away answers the instant a question is asked. A student who does not instantly get a problem may just need to be given the space and time to think about how to get to the solution. They may need to be shown the appropriate tools or strategies related to the problem.  When teaching I should make time to revisit problems in class, later that day or the next to give students a chance to look at them with a new set of eyes and perhaps have their own lightbulb moments! Problems in life aren’t often so cut and dry that they can be solved instantly but rather they take time to solve. There is nothing quite as satisfying as solving a problem you have struggled with for a long time, self efficacy is a powerful motivator and empowering feeling!

Battle against the desertification
Battle Against the Desertification

C.C. Robbert Van der Steeg

*In the next few weeks I should have my digital portfolio up and running on this site, so keep checking back!*