Learning something new everyday!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Should there be screen time in the classroom?

This is a question that has been coming to my mind often this year and I keep pushing it to the back and continue on. It is not that I want to ignore it, I believe this is a valid question and one that I debate in my own home as well as the classroom, but I am not sure there is just one answer.  I was reminded last week by Bill Ferriter as he spoke at a district workshop, that using the tools available to us (what many refer to as technology today) should be about good teaching and what is best for students.  I try to be cognizant of this as I plan lessons and provide my students choices (to some extent) in the activities they do, ways they show their learning,  and where they work/who they work with. It is not about creating lessons for the latest tech tool, but rather which tool will best support the learning and connections of my students.

My students are 6 years old. They are energetic (13 boys / 7 girls). They are active. They can be loud. They are creative. They are impatient. They are sweet. They are demanding. They love to learn! They deserve to be provided the opportunity to learn in a way that is best for each of them in each circumstance. Often, but not always this involves using a screen of some sort.

  • We practice letter formation on the iPads, but we also practice on personal white boards and paper

  • We listen to authors and illustrators tell about their trades online, again we also look at paper books and have real authors/illustrators visit (though usually only once per year as it can be difficult to arrange)

  • We communicate with other classes to share our learning on google hangout and Skype. We have also used the 'snail mail' to communicate and arranged a face to face visit at our school with a couple other grade one classes from our district.

  • We share our learning and tell our story on our own blogs. Yes, this takes a commitment of time for grade ones to learn keyboarding and build the skills to navigate the blogging platform, but students help each other out of necessity (and a desire to share their story). Read hear about my first experience with Kidblog last year. We are currently loving the Draw&Tell app for the flexibility to add photo and voice at the same time. Students also have paper writing books that they record their thoughts in.  

  • We teach each other how to use the new tools whether they are digital or otherwise.

  • We use manipulatives to build and explore mathematical relationships and then students can record their learning on the iPads.

  • We use drawing apps to create art, but we also use a lot of paint, play dough, plasticicene, paper and glue, fabric etc.

I believe the answer is different for every classroom and each teacher and each student. It is about balance and choice. It is about knowing your students. It is about taking risks and learning along side students. It is exploring. It is asking questions. It is using the tools available to you.  There are many screens in my classroom, but I am always questioning the purpose of using them.

I would love to hear your opinions on the issue of screens.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Is it meaningful?

This post is more about the questions I am mulling over in my mind right now, than it is about sharing my learning....

A few nights ago I attended the third event in the "Engaging The Digital Learner: Going Deeper" series. There were a couple of teachers from my district sharing ways that technology is improving teaching, sharing, and assessment in their classrooms.Thanks @M1chelGagnon and Brette Galy. I  enjoy hearing about the great things happening in classrooms around me and am inspired to be creative and share as well things that are happening in my school. Later in the evening we were inspired and challenged by Bill Ferriter as he spoke about Teaching the igeneration. 


I believe my students are actively involved and engaged in my room most of the day (maybe most of the day is not good enough?),  but I wonder if being engaged and actively participating is "it".  Can I rest easy knowing that engaged learning is happening in my room?

  • Does the learning meet the curriculum expectations?
  • Are the activities meaningful? Does it matter if the snowman has 2 or 3 or 4 body parts? Is it meaningful to talk about snowmen in winter if there is no snow on the ground?
  • Is it important for 6 yr olds to use technology?
  • Is blogging actually creating an authentic global audience for my students?
  • Is giving my students access to iPads, (even in a centre style as we have 5 iPads in our room) increasing their screen time, beneficial?
  • Is having a word wall the best use of space?
  • Are my guided reading sessions truly targeted individual instruction?
Yes, these are some of the experiences currently going on in my grade one room and yes my mind is spinning with justifications and alternatives. I can answer yes to these questions and tell you my thinking, but am willing to hear suggestions for improving my "best practices".  Some of the games, crafts and apps we use/do may seem frivolous at first glance, but they all have a greater purpose. I am working at making this purpose better known to my students.

I am also thinking of how to 'build a bridge' as Bill said, between what they know about digital tools and how to use these tools for better learning. Many of my students use their tech tools at home for gaming, a few of them are beginning to blog and comment from home as well. We use many more tools in the classroom on a daily basis, but I struggle to ensure it is not about the novelty of the tool, but about the best tool for the job.  

The challenge I was left with on Wednesday evening -  Is It Meaningful? - is an important responsibility to keep at the forefront of my ongoing planning.