Monday, August 24, 2015

Standing for Principles or Shooting Myself in the Foot

This is a challenging post for me to write. Let me begin it with a tweet.

Now let me rewind further back to fill in the blanks that led me to this position.

Back in 2014, Microsoft bought Mojang and Minecraft. As usual, my colleague and GBL guru Liam O'Donnell was ahead of the pack. He wrote this post lamenting the action. At first, I didn't understand the concern. Like a blow that doesn't develop into a bruise after time has passed, it began to impact me.

I am very cautious about corporate involvement in education. It's why I prefer the ECOO conference over the Connect conference in Niagara Falls. When I was younger, I didn't see the difference between a conference organized by a volunteer, non-profit group with business sponsors and a conference run by businesses. Talking with people like Liam and Tim King and Peter Skillen helped me realize the difference. The true purpose becomes a bit muddy when large companies join the party - it's to help student learning but it also involves selling a product.

Many groups have shown interest in the work that GamingEdus has done since 2011. Although I was initially flattered that this included organizations connected with Microsoft, I was reluctant to agree to assist in any way. It didn't feel "right". It felt like I was selling out. I don't want to be a shill or a drone, preaching the Minecraft gospel under a Microsoft banner. I didn't want the "company-approved Minecraft expert" badge. The more Microsoft became involved in Minecraft matters, the less I wanted to continue to offer workshops on the topic, or promote our server. The members of GamingEdus have provided free professional learning for years on our Professional Play server, but it was big news when Microsoft announced their big version. At ECOO, our Minecraft LAN party was an evening adventure of anarchy. No longer.

One of my colleagues was surprised at my negative attitude. "This is your chance to share with a bigger audience. You can share your message as you travel spreading theirs." (This is a paraphrase of our conversation.) The sad thing is, I couldn't and wouldn't be able to stay true to our message if I were to be Microsoft-sponsored speaker. You can't obey two masters. GBL isn't just about Minecraft. It's about student choice and voice, and acknowledging game culture and school culture. It's about pursuing your passion, be it making maps or executing explosions. It's about play, and discovering in ways you want instead of a forced tutorial. It's community. The Microsoft-Minecraft machine doesn't appear to be like this for me.

I don't want to exaggerate, but I've been experiencing a version of the stages of grief once I realized that Minecraft as I knew it has changed.
1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance
At first, I doubted that the corporate acquisition would affect me. Nothing would change. But it did. Every time I see a tweet promoting the Minecraft extension to Windows 10 or Minecraft toys sitting the local mall's Microsoft kiosk, I was forced to realize that it was different. Then, I was ticked off. I was offended when I heard that Microsoft wanted to send "experts" to come and talk to my school board about how to use Minecraft in the classroom. (Kudos to certain board personnel that realized that we had in-house expertise as well as external sources.) I was furious that people who knew and loved the game less than I did were now the idols that others admired. My bargaining stage was brief: Could I possibly still offer a workshop or two as long as it was local? What if talking about Minecraft can get me to Saskatchewan, the last province I need to visit? Our TLLP could remain at arms-length from the new developments, right? I'm firmly in the fourth stage right now - I've spent five years touting a game and a philosophy I believe in, exploring more via my GBL PLN, and it's the end of an era.

I'm not going to burn all my kids' Minecraft shirts, or forbid it from being played in the house. On the contrary, my son's 13th birthday party will probably be Minecraft-related, so that his friends in the U.S. that he plays with on the GamingEdus server can attend with his other pals. I'll still write for the GamingEdus website. If Ontario teachers are not in a work-to-rule position in the fall, I'll continue to run a Minecraft Club for my students, and offer Minecraft as one of many tools for students to use to support their understanding and learning. Heck, when I have free time, I'll jump on the GamingEdus server and do some leisurely virtual fishing. I just cannot promote the game as I once did to other educators. Just before I finished writing this final paragraph, I searched for the hashtag #minecraft on Twitter, and the results were dominated by Edutopia articles and teacher workshops. This authentic game has been co-opted and I can't leech the fun or the cash out of it like others hope to do.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The New Victorians

This train of thought began with a book I read, and decolletage. In this YA novel, set in the 1800s, it was fashionable and acceptable for women to show off their cleavage in a way that the later generation (the Victorians) would find shocking and immodest. My husband and I had a great conversation about shifting public moral standards and a few incidents that followed the discussion made me realize that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In what seems like today's "anything goes" society, there are still some taboo topics, especially in schools.


Please, please, PLEASE do not let this paragraph suggest that I am a card-carrying member of the NRA, or that I am a fan of firearms. Just read my examples to understand why I feel that sometimes we go overboard with our actions.
  • There is a teacher at my school who forbids her students from saying the word "gun". They aren't allowed to say it at all. If they need to reference it, they have to spell it.
  • There have also been many cases of schools suspending students for infractions relating to guns that appear to be over-reactions: chewing food into gun shapes, pointing hands like a gun, and even refusing to use a student's sign-language name because part of it resembles a gun shape. 
  • When I first started to incorporate Minecraft into my school program, the first concern that arose was about the level of violence and it always seemed to comfort some adults when I'd say "there are no guns in Minecraft".
  • I didn't even realize that in my neighbourhood, there is a program that encourages youth to hand in any sort of weaponry to the police station in exchange for a more "appropriate" toy - and this includes the brightly coloured, plastic super-soakers (which are no longer called "water guns" on the packages). (Note: I couldn't find a reference to this in Toronto and linked to an American example instead.) 
  • My daughter's cosplay outfit is challenging to assemble this year, as Fan Expo Canada regulations state that people in costume cannot bring replica guns with them, and her character of choice this year is Zoe from the zombie shooter game Left 4 Dead. I totally understand the reason for the rules - no one wants someone with a real gun to enter a crowded space and start shooting - but my girl's desire for attention to detail is just going to have to live with an absent and/or inaccurate weapon accessory for her costume.
Usually it's difficult for me to articulate how my views and opinions are formed, but on this subject I can point to a specific book that I read while in teachers' college that made a huge impact on my attitude towards children's violent play. Who's Calling the Shots by Nancy Carlsson-Page and Diane Levin provided a great balance for me in terms of dealing with students. 


Once again, I'm not a tobacco lobbyist, but I think that our zeal to exterminate smoking has lead to some fascinating situations.
  • In a graphic novel that describes the space race in the 1960s, the author was under a great deal of pressure to exclude scenes of the scientists smoking as they worked.
  • My students in the past had some difficulty making their health comics with digital tools of their choice because he fantastic kids' online tool, Bitstrips for Schools, does not have cigarettes as objects to be added to any scenes.
  • Popeye candy sticks used to be candy cigarettes but changed their name so they wouldn't encourage children to smoke.
  • Santa Claus rarely appears in any illustrations smoking his pipe anymore.
Smoking is a nasty habit with significant health risks for smokers and people exposed to second-hand smoke. It's just, amusing I guess can be the word, to see how enthusiastic some can become in our goal to exterminate the practice, to the extent that historical smoking needs to be "whitewashed".

I myself am not 100% clear of the purpose of my mini-rant - maybe it's a knee-jerk reaction to folks who claim that a particular object or practice will lead to the ruin of society as we know it (e.g. comic books, watching TV, playing video games, shaving, dressing in certain ways, etc.) Whatever my rationale might be, I think it's important to be able to have conversations about these "taboo topics" because that can lead to increased understanding. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Downsizing south of the border

I'm on vacation with my family right now. We're staying with my mother-in-law (MIL), who is a teacher in Maryland. Every year around this time, I have some sort of related reflection for my blog. Last year, it was comparing Canadian education to American eating establishments. The year before, it was Maryland's tax-free week for buying back to school items.

This year's theme is downsizing. My MIL has changed grades and rooms, even though I suspect she is coming close to the end of her teaching career. (This will be her 29th year of teaching.) Her assignment for 2015-16 is teaching pre-K (our version of Junior Kindergarten). Although it will be a big change, she's looking forward to several aspects, like the absence of standardized tests (because they start in Grade 1 here) and the extra adult support combined with the class size cap (with no more than 20 students and both a para-educator and volunteer parent with her at all times). It has been a real challenge for her to limit the amount of supplies, books, toys, puzzles and other resources she wants to purchase. She is accustomed to buying what she needs for her class. We've been helping her set up her classroom and clean her basement. She's accumulated a LOT of things over her many years of teaching that she no longer needs. We have twelve boxes to take to the used book store and an ungodly amount of garbage bags of items destined for Goodwill. I'm doing my part by taking a large collection of Lego back with me to use in my STEM / Makerspace area of my Library Learning Commons.

New carpet, courtesy of her school.

Her class reading nook - 95% her own purchases.

It's hard to downsize in education - and I'm not talking about the terrible downsizing of teaching staff due to reduced enrollment, or cut budgets that are still supposed to provide the most up-to-date technology. I like buying and bringing back new trinkets and decorations to incorporate into my class. Here in the United States, their "teacher stores" are plentiful and glorious - filled with gorgeous posters, activities and teacher treasures. This time around, I couldn't resist getting a new bulletin board border set, a marble construction set, some cute castanets for teaching kindergarten music, a bigger timer while I was there. I didn't really NEED all these things. After all, less can be more. It's better for students to create the resources, isn't it? After all, the all-kindergarten school in TDSB deliberately discouraged pre-bought posters and built rooms with white walls so the focus would be on student art. They have resources, but are particular about what kind they obtained. How much of these things do we really need? I remember reading this article on teaching overseas from ETFO Voice magazine. A quote from Shamim Murji resonates when I think about what we "need" to teach:
We take for granted the resources we have in Canada. I remember sitting in my classroom the first day of September, after my project in Liberia. I was grateful for the roof over my head and the windows in my classroom.” It is a common refrain that the PO experience changes the way you look at the educational environment.
 There is an exception to bucking the materialistic trend by minimizing - downsizing a library collection, a.k.a. weeding, always has to be accompanied by accumulating new books. There are new titles, by new authors, waiting to be discovered and it would be a shame that some writers aren't discovered because "I have enough books already". While I'm here in America, I'm reading for the Canadian Children's Book Centre "Best Books for Kids and Teens". There are some great new books that my students will really enjoy.Excluding books, I'll try harder to simplify my professional life and not fill it with objects that I will need to give away when I get close to retirement - but chances are I'll still be bringing back a little something special each summer after visits to Lakeshore Resources.

(I'll try to add some photos to this post after we do some more cleaning.)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Why Attendance (Could Be) Everything

Yes, yes, another blog post about my summer school experience. I've been scrap booking all my summer school photos into my annual teaching photo album, so it's given me a visual reminder of all we've accomplished. My amazing crew of eleven superstar students were absolutely delightful to be with for our time together. The time was brief, and not just because we only had four weeks.

This was the first year that I had significant attendance issues. The rules are quite clear: if a student misses three consecutive days of summer school, they are demitted, because they have been absent for a large portion of instruction time. The key word here is "consecutive". I actually had to digitally insert one of my students into the class photo because we only had 1.5 days where every single student on my class list was present.

There are a lot of factors involved with student attendance, and many of them are out of the control of my wonderful 8-year-olds. Some had religious obligations. Others had medical appointments. Still more families had long weekend vacations planned. For families not close by, there were transportation arrangements to be made. Another had an unexpected family emergency and could not complete the last week of school at all.

The majority of my students wanted to go to summer school. They (and their families) made Herculean efforts to come, even if it meant they were only there for a short portion of the day. I tried very hard, as I mentioned in my early July post to give adequate time for assignments. I didn't want to penalize anyone for extenuating circumstances. I also didn't want the students who were there for every single day of summer school (... let's be truthful - one student) to feel like we were in a "holding pattern", waiting or stalling for others to catch up so we could move on to new challenges.

The title of this blog post sounds a bit alarmist. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit. The student that was there every day built at least six items during #lmmss3; the student that missed the most time created two. Who am I to say that the student who missed at least nine days did not get as much of a benefit as did the student who attended all eighteen days?  Yet, how much more rich of an experience could it have been if the student was around? It's not just about the work; it's about the time spent ... tinkering in the Creation Quadrant or talking with new friends about their latest discovery on Webkinz. (My clever students discovered that good virtual money could be made by answering academic questions on Quizzy's Corner, but they preferred to go mining and sell their gems to Arte Fact in the Curio Shop. They also found that by buying new Webkinz themselves, they could increase their virtual bank accounts dramatically.)

As I did some lazy research into the topic prior to clicking the publish button on this post, I found an article about an area in the UK that forbids absences during the school year due to family vacations and actually levies fines on those who insist on pulling their children out. I hesitate to institute such strong measures. After all, learning can happen anywhere, not just between school walls. It's just that summer school is a shortened time, so I/we feel the absences much more than during a typical school year (18 vs approximately 190 days). I know for myself that there were several post-assessment math interviews that I couldn't conduct because the student wasn't around for me to chat with them and use that particular tool to measure their success by comparing results to their pre-assessment math interview. Poor attendance has some serious consequences for school and jobs. I hope there are things we can do to minimize the "damage" and that my click-bait title is more hyperbole than anything else.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Saluting a Stellar Staff

Summer school is over but the thoughts and feelings are still buzzing through my brain. As I see it, there were eleven reasons I enjoyed the experience so much this year - not my eleven students (although they played a HUGE part), but the eleven staff members I worked with in July. I was pretty surprised when I realized how many of these incredible educators were LTOs - they are so talented that it's a shame they aren't permanently in a classroom. I didn't have time to write thank you cards, so this is my way of showing my appreciation. To my beloved summer school staff: take these words and use them on your Teacher Performance Appraisal forms or Annual Learning Plans or on your resumes. Know you are all admired and appreciated. Although I could use an entire dictionary's worth of words to describe every one of them, I thought I'd challenge myself by selecting two  significant adjectives to summarize their awesomeness. (I tried to do just one but it was too hard.)

Kristen Matus is enthusiastic and organized.

Mrs. Matus taught Grade 1 at #lmmss and threw herself into the Lucy Maud STEM program with relish. She uses Pinterest like a pro and has promised to tutor me on the untold delights this site has for educators. Her room was outstanding - how clever is it to make your learning station signs and laminate them *together* so you don't have to spend time searching for all the letters to spell things out? She had her Grade 1s doing some pretty complex things, like cars, egg drops, and solar ovens. Despite her accomplishments, she's modest and doesn't like a big fuss made over her (which got severely tested when we got her a cake for her birthday).

The matching outfit trend begins with these folks!
(Photo taken by another on June 30)
Getting her birthday cheesecake (blame the photographer for the unflattering shot)
(Photo taken Day 11) 
Kwame Djan is approachable and positive.

Mr. Djan usually teaches at another local school but this July was Mrs. Matus' grade team partner in Grade 1. I originally thought that Mr. Djan taught at Lucy Maud, based on all the waves and high-fives he received from students as they lined up at the beginning of the day, but that's just him. Kwame provided the entire staff with the Engineering Design Process visuals that we all used in our hall and class displays, and stressed to us that we were free to alter it in whatever ways we wished. Another modest soul, when I complimented Mr. Djan on his great hand-made balances and charts outside his room, he gave full credit to his teaching buddy across the hall, Mrs. Matus. One of the parents of my students works as a lunchroom supervisor at Mr. Djan's regular school and she made sure to visit his class during our STEM Walk Share Fair - that's the kind of rapport he generates with others. 
Mr. Djan grew hair on the last day!
(Photo taken Day 18)
Mr. Djan, marking my students as they taught his class 3 Ball Pass
(Photo from Day 7)
Donielle Norville is creative and cheerful.

Ms. Norville ran an "Angry Bird" themed classroom for summer school and it was a big success. I really wish I had more time to spend in her classroom. Thankfully, I had her website and her tweets to give me a glimpse of the events, and she even invited me to participate in her class' adults vs students IRL Angry Birds challenge. It was a brilliant combination of STEM fundamentals (Science and Engineering with creating stable structures that would be hard to knock down, with an extra Math component of calculating points attached to blocks to determine winners). It was clear that she was having just as much fun as her students. Even on the last day, Ms. Norville decorated her classroom with Angry Birds balloons as part of their pizza party they earned by having the highest percentage of parent visitors during our STEM Walk Share Fair. I can totally understand why so many parents would want to visit her class in person!

Ms. Norville, (far right) watches us take aim
(Photo taken Day 14)
All together under the bower on "Green Day"
(Photo taken by another, July 16 )

Gary Fitzpatrick is flexible and calm.

I have been lucky enough to work with Mr. Fitzpatrick for every single year I've been doing summer school, but this year I was able to work in closer proximity, and it improved my practice. The Grade 3 team gathered in his room on our planning day to wrap the Webkinz presents and the synergy was flowing as we brainstormed all sorts of math connections to the initial task. I'd sneak into Gary's room so I could admire his daily agenda printed on the white board and his comprehensive success criteria he developed with his students. I'm sure he probably got sick and tired of my students interrupting his class to ask for the scale or more supplies, but he didn't let it faze him. I had a chance to surreptitiously watch Mr. Fitzpatrick teach and I liked the soft-spoken way he interacted with his students, supporting and guiding them. When plans changed unexpectedly, and when we were in danger of being amalgamated, Mr. Fitzpatrick never lost his cool.  

Grabbing yet ANOTHER balloon from the ceiling
(Photo taken Day 16)
Mr. Fitzpatrick helps the students use the hot glue guns
(Photo taken Day 16)
Kiefer James is collaborative and personable.

When students buy you presents after just having them for four weeks, you can bet you've made an impression on them. Mr. James was just that sort of teacher. He was the most recent to join our summer school team and he was a great addition. He shared his ideas and resources willingly, even making it easier on us by doing the photocopying in advance for us - how considerate is that? We enjoyed working together so much that on a couple of days, we combined our classes. He was the brains behind our "Operation Webkinz Submerge" multi-class bulletin board and it turned out magnificently. He had to take public transit to get to our school and would often stay as late as 6:00 p.m. working - no slacking off during summer school for that teacher! Mr. James is also one of the most polite individuals I've ever met, and was extremely good-natured when I began to respond to his "Excuse me Miss"s with "Yes Sir"s.

Teaching kids at the carpet
(Photo taken Day 11)

Filling up balloons for eager students
(Photo taken Day 16)
Rob Reyes is patient and eager.

Still waters run deep. Mr. Reyes may seem very quiet but he's bursting with good ideas and zany plans. He was the teacher that suggested our final outfit for summer school (Halloween costumes). He can handle tedious jobs that drive mere mortal men insane - I saw him sorting wires and cords to ensure everything was back in place from his Grade 4-5 robotics adventures and I worked alongside him as he repaired the computer lab. I am really excited that he will be teaching at my regular school in the fall. As a Digital Lead Leader, he will be a breath of fresh air, with new ideas to try with our students. 
On "Purple Day" (Photo taken Day 14)
Teresa Allan is connected and innovative.

Ms. Allan is another "summer school regular" that continues to amaze me. Teresa is constantly examining her program to make it more engaging, more hands-on, and more chock-full-of-learning. This year's innovation was her brilliant idea to invite guest teachers, colleagues that she knows from various endeavors, to come into her class to help with instruction. That kept the content fresh and exciting. In addition, Teresa single-handedly arranged an optional presentation for interested teachers about the Jade Robots from Mimetics Canada. I went from "I don't have the brains or understanding to do this at my school" to "Hey, this is fun ... and possible!" That's what good teachers do, and Teresa is definitely a good teacher. I thought she had been teaching for ages, but her expertise outweighs the amount of years she's been teaching. She's reflective about all sorts of things and widens my perspectives when we are able to squeeze time together to talk.

With David Hann (& co.) after a day of soldering
(Photo taken Day 14)
Go Canada Go!
(Photo taken Day 9) 
Jamile Garraway is thoughtful and giving.

I owe Mr. Garraway a lot. There was a student in my class that could not go out for recess because she had a cast and needed to avoid the stairs. I had recess duty twice a week and Mr. Garraway willingly gave up his free time at recess to supervise her. Mr. Garraway is also wise and never talks down to students, regardless of age or ability. When my class toured his during the STEM Walk Share Fair, he prompted the creation of probing questions. He had them consider the "big idea" as part of all the coding video games - that we should not be passive consumers, but active creators. As he said, "If Flappy Birds frustrated you, make your own game. You can do it." His thoughtfulness extended to his teaching practices - I regret not taking a photo of one of the charts in his room articulating what it truly meant to be engaged and on-task. It took a relatively abstract idea and grounded it in the visible and audible. He was good at giving compliments, in person and online through his website and newly created Twitter account. Lucy Maud is lucky that they get to keep him at the school in the fall. 

Explaining to my students before they enter for a visit
(Photo taken Day 17)
Wearing the "STEM @ Lucy Maud Rocks" shirts
(Photo taken Day 17)

Francis Ngo is energetic and encouraging.

Much has been written about the amazing (yet humble) Mr. Ngo. Although he does not seek the limelight, the spotlight inevitably falls on him because of his effervescent personality. His mind goes a kilometer a minute, with suggestions and possibilities. He is a natural leader that people automatically turn to when we need to take action. He had a long wish list of items to make his summer school program one to remember, and the students certainly got a lot out of their time with him. They adored him so much that I heard them complain bitterly when he took ill one day and had to have a supply teacher replace him. Always smiling, never condescending, Mr. Ngo made our coordinated outfits an inclusive activity that bonded the staff together. He also answered all our tech questions without making people feel dumb and sought creative solutions to irritating problems. He definitely turns "lemons into lemonade".

"Stripe Day" was a thing
(Photo taken Day 10)
Real men wear pink
(Photo taken by another, July 2)
Mythili Thedchanamoorthy is helpful and understanding.

Mrs. Thedchanamoorthy was our site coach but so much more. Need supplies? She was there with resources you didn't even realize you required. Cheerleader? She noticed all the neat things happening in different classes and tried her best to accommodate so that other teachers could share in the discoveries. Advocate? She would go out of her way to ensure teachers felt appreciated and comfortable. Ever reassuring, Mrs. Thedchanamoorthy was a frequent and welcome visitor to our class. She showed her appreciation of the work conducted in classes often, through words and actions. The "Helium Tank Affair" was a perfect example of how much of her time and treasure Mythili invested in #lmmss. She researched the most affordable rental place, used her own money to obtain a tank, and was even willing to swallow a trumped-up damage charge. (I'm glad she didn't have to do so!) Although she herself is a Robotics / STEM expert, she always told us that she learned so much from all of us on staff. 

Mythili takes a photo of one of my students mid-build.
(Photo from Day 4)
Ms. T provides acetate upon request & my student measures it
(Photo from Day 7)

Liz Holder is supportive and honest. 

Ms. Holder was our principal and I've always felt that she was truly interested in what was going on from day to day in my classroom. When one of my students asked if the current students could keep the extra Webkinz we had (due to enrollment shortages), I had him write up a proposal and see the principal. She turned down his request but took the time to write a detailed explanation that indicated that she took his suggestion seriously. Ms. Holder's serious demeanor belies a good heart and keen mind. 

Ms. Holder takes aim at the box wall
(Photo taken Day 14)
Not in the picture, but behind the camera, capturing the LMMSS staff
(Photo taken July 9) 
I should also mention our great Office Administrator, Triune and our fabulous and patient caretakers, Steve and Mark. They were also part of the great team. One of my students went on Twitter to see the posts about summer school, and he told me "I saw all the pictures. It looks like you and the teachers are having a lot of fun." We did. Check the four tweet samples below (that featured the other "clothing themes") or check the #lmmss or #lmmss3 hashtag to get multiple perspectives of all the learning we shared. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hard Questions and Second Chances

In inquiry learning, questions are genuine and open-ended. In summer school this year, some of them are also incredibly challenging, not just for the students but for me as well!

1) How do you measure wetness?

2) How can you get a structure to float AND sink? (i.e. How can you transform a boat into a submarine?)

3) How much helium can fit into a typical party balloon? How many balloons are we going to need to be able to get our contraptions to get off the ground?

This uncertainty has been a lot of fun, believe it or not. Sure, we try to search for answers with our digital tools and they help, sometimes. Occasionally the actual answer is too sophisticated for me to comprehend or for me to teach my 8 year-old students. We theorize. We estimate. We hypothesize and then test out our ideas.

Our waterproof outfits - which did the best job?

Four of our boats - only a few were converted to subs.

Sometimes our ideas don't always come to fruition in the way we'd like, which leads me to the second part of this week's reflection. With very few exceptions, the vast majority of our assignments have multiple opportunities for "do-overs". The final grade isn't final until the students indicate that it is. I really like how some of my students have started to put sticky notes on pages in their notebooks that they'd like me to take another look at, because they've read my initial feedback and made some adjustments that they think will improve their work. Often, they are right, and their newer thoughts result in adjusted (and higher) grades.

One student was really determined to get his submarine to go all the way underwater without getting his Webkinz inside soaked. He must have rebuilt his invention at least four times, if not more. He discovered early on to put a proxy for his Webkinz pet in his prototype, because "failure" meant that his toy got wet. (He took it home to dry, but poor BullsEye still has a bit of an odor to him.)

Student "Pa" measuring and cutting the plastic for his sub
Prototype #2 - sank very well, but still wet inside

Prototype #1 - too unstable & porous = wet Webkinz!

I really wish that I could do this (explore really challenging questions and provide multiple opportunities to re-assess tasks after providing feedback) more often in my regular school program. The hard question for me will be to figure out how to do it when I'm a prep delivery teacher with limited time with classes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Different Paces at LMMSS3

My summer school students are a terrific bunch of kids. Even though it's a small class, we still have a diverse range of abilities, interests, and talents. What I'm noticing the most this year is the huge differences in how quickly students complete jobs. This has nothing to do with rushing ahead or with struggling with a task. We only have four weeks, a.k.a. 19 days, (and report cards are due on Day 13) so we cram a lot of learning and a lot of activities into our brief time together. I don't want the work to be onerous, so I ensure that there's plenty of time for students to complete assignments and projects. However, I have some who have just finished their first project (creating a bed for their Webkinz pet) last Friday (at the expense of some of their other tasks). On the other end of the spectrum, I have students who, not only have completed all projects, they've re-done them to improve their results AND created new inventions. Thank goodness for the Creation Quadrant, but even with this self-directed, hands-on building centre, some of those speedy workers were eager for my attention and another challenge.

Our Work Completion chart keeps them organized & honest (photo taken Day 3)

A student built, revised & improved this car as well as his required boat & bed!

I decided to offer an exclusive task, available only to the students who had completed all the assigned work and had already built at least one new, not-assigned device using all stages of the Engineering Design Process. The task is for the students to create some armor for themselves, using only one type of adhesive and one type of material. The protected participants will then take water guns outside and engage in a water fight for a specific time and will then determine which armor did the best job of keeping the wearer dry. I debated with myself long and hard about whether or not I should tell the other students about this opportunity the others had. I'm still uncertain if I should let the other students see the results of the "Extra Challenge". I don't want students to feel bad about working at their own pace. I don't want students to hurry through their assignments so they can have a chance to do what the others are doing. On the other hand, might I be creating a two-tiered system? Should all discussions be public and not secretive or private? To solve my dilemma, I may take one of my common approaches: ask my colleagues and ask the students themselves. Let's see what they say.