My Blog

It seems a little surreal to report that I have completed my Masters of Education.

It is the reason that I started this blog. Blogging was a requirement of many of my courses. I had not blogged on this scale before, however, I do blog with my students. I have blogged personally  (when time permitted) on this platform, but most of my posts were in response to my learning. I enjoyed the times that I reflected upon my practice in my classroom, but I still struggle with sharing my learning so publically. The audience effect is a bit intimidating.

There are pros and cons to blogging as an assignment. The positives: you don’t have to come up with an original topic (one is usually provided for you), the due dates ensure that you actually post your blogs, the assignment keeps you blogging regularly, you have the company of your classmates who are posting on similar topics, and your classmates regularly provide feedback or comments on your posts! The negatives associated with blogging for others: your blog can begin to feel like a chore or assignment, you become so consumed with the topics that you must blog about that it can be difficult to blog just for yourself, and some topics can be challenging to to tackle publicly.

So far, all of the blogging “assignments” that I have posted for my own learners have been optional, as I am sure that some may feel the same way that I do.

The reflection component of blogging is important to me. I may need to find a blogging challenge to get me back in the habit again. Although I’ve completed the work on my Masters project, I am not done learning. I hope to continue to share some of that here.

It’s nice to be back!

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Self-Regulation in Middle School

I am looking for feedback on one of my introductory lesson sequences that I do with my Middle School students to set the tone for self-regulated learning (SRL). I have done some reading on the topics, attended a few lectures, and dabbled with what I have learned. I fear that I may be WAY off, and would appreciate hearing what changes I need to make to help build my understanding of SRL.

I share my goal with my students: that they will be able to be identify what they need. I know that it is VERY general and a little vague, but it truly is my ultimate goal.

I begin by asking them what they already know about Self-Regulation. Many Elementary schools in my district have embraced Self-Regulation as a whole school goal and explore many different strategies to support student learning and success. One local school uses mindful breathing during classes, transitions and at the beginning of every assembly. I know that a resource commonly accessed within my district is Stuart Shanker and his book Calm, Alert, and Learning.

However, even with a great deal of practice and support, the most common answer I receive when I ask my students “What is Self-Regulation?” is “self-control”. Many of my students equate everything that they have learned to be synonymous with learning boundaries and how to behave better in class. Some of the strategies that they have experienced sound more like co-regulating instead of self-regulation: for example, visual aides used by teachers to indicate the “energy” level of the room so that students may see that they need to make changes.

I don’t think that SRL and self-control actually have anything in common. The one piece that I take from Stuart Shanker’s work is actually from the Alert program where the key question is “How does your motor run?” We visualize our bodies as finely tuned engines, and some are running at a nice steady pace, some are almost stalling out, and some are absolutely racing. Knowing glances are shared around the room as we start thinking about how our motors are run, and how the motors of our friends may be running.

We discuss how it looks and feels to be running at “high” speed. Some of the kids share their own experiences: “it’s hard to sit still.” “I can’t sleep at night.” “I am always in trouble for tapping my pencil.” “I count the minutes until gym.” The kindred spirits in the room nod in understanding.

We talk about how it looks and feels to run at “low” speed. Some students share how difficult it is to get out of bed in the mornings. Others say how they almost fall asleep if the teacher talks too long. Some students dread gym. At this point someone always asks if it is normal to have a blend of the two feelings; if it is normal to have high speed and low speed moments all day long? I turn the question back to the group, and we figure out that it is totally normal, almost everyone fluctuates during the day. Some students do run at high speed ALL day, and that is ok too.

We spend a lot of time discussing “Just Right”. Motors that are running too high or too low have difficulty attending, listening and learning. It is a struggle, a battle, a huge effort to learn in that condition. After we figure out what “Just Right” feels like and looks like, we talk a little about how that might be the optimum time and space for learning.

At this point, I notice my students language switching back to words about control and behavior, so I turn the discussion around to me. I drink tea while teaching. I make tea as frequently as I can during the day. The kids know this, the laugh about it, and I receive gifts of tea at Christmas. It’s a lovely thing! I ask my students to reflect on my energy level – do they think that my motor runs “high”, “low” or “just right”? The answer surprises some of them. I constantly feel the need to move. My motor races (hence my EDCI 569 Learning Project – mindfulness and meditation) and I am happiest when I am on the move. I tell them that my tea is my “fidget” and ask them to figure out why. Their answers were beautiful:

  • It’s a warm and soothing hot drink, it probably calms you down
  • You get to take a few minutes to choose exactly which tea you want to drink
  • You get to use your favourite mug, and that gives you something to hold on to
  • You get to walk to the back of the room to boil the kettle, then go back again to pour the water
  • The smell is nice, it probably makes you happy
  • It has a lot of water in it, and water is good for your brain

Their answers are perfect, and some were ideas that I hadn’t even recognized! Making and drinking tea is a solution that works for me when I need to move or regain focus.

After isolating what the need was, we talked about different ways to get the exact same need met. We brainstormed all of the ways we could get our need to move met: running screaming through the halls, dancing on our desk tops, playing the drums, etc. At the end of the list, the realization hit that every single item on the list would get a student in trouble at school. So, why was making tea ok? Two things became apparent: our actions have to be 1.) appropriate for the time and space and, 2.) could not impact other learners negatively.

We spend at least a week (sometimes longer) with small 3-D triangles made out of paper on our desks. These triangles say High, Low, and Just Right. I ask the students to monitor their own energy levels throughout the day, just to increase their own awareness. I also participate in this, using my own triangle. It’s interesting to hear the students discuss their observations with each other: “You look like you are about to fall asleep – you should change to Low.” “Stop kicking my chair – are you feeling High Energy right now?”

The next step of this lesson sequence was for my learners to meet in partners or small groups and create a T-Chart. One side of the T-Chart was “Low” and one was “High”. I asked them to brainstorm lists of what they do when they are feeling low energy or high energy that helps to move them towards feeling “Just Right”. The same activities might appear on both sides of the T-Chart, and the partners did not have to agree on the activities. The whole point was the gather as many ideas as possible.

I collect the lists and look at the ideas. I bring back a list of the most common ideas – at least the ones that won’t get a kid in trouble in school – and we review it together. We circle some of the ideas that we can’t figure out how to fit in at school (issues with supervision or safety), and then we look at what is left. I lead my students in a discussion about our school day: there are basically two main times during a school day: time when someone is speaking (either a teacher, or a student, or partner talk), and time for working or practicing. We create a new T-chart with those two headings and discuss the behaviors relevant to both times. When someone is speaking, it is important to be able to listen, to see the speaker, and to be able to interact with what is being said in some way. During working time, it is important that everyone is able to work.

We take the ideas from the list and sort them into the T-chart. It becomes a series of agreements. When we are done, we realize that the Listening time is most structured. Our class rules become that no one needs to ask permission for the things on the list, everyone has permission to do everything on the list. Everything that is on the Listening side of the T-chart is also pertinent to the Working side of the T-chart.

Our Agreements for this year.

Our Agreements for this year.

Our classroom begins to look differently over time. Students learn that they don’t have to sit down in their desks to listen. They can sit on the floor or stand at the back. They can lay on their bellies to do their Math work. They can take a Yoga break, lift weights, switch activities, chew gum, and knit or crochet. The only expectation is that getting your needs met can’t disrupt the other learners.

This has worked for my students so far. They seem happier, focused and able to identify how they are feeling and what they need to do in order to succeed.

What do I need to change? Am I on the right track?

Don’t You Forget about Us

We’ve completed another #tiegrad term and grown even closer as a cohort of connected educators. We were lucky enough to be learning with Alec Couros this term and he brought with him an outstanding collection of guests. He concluded this term with a touching reconnection to the big ideas of connecting, sharing, learning and relationships. He reminded us that it is not about the tools, but instead about learning. However, we must always be mindful of the influence of our tools.

My big takeaways from this course are:

  • Be a part of the conversation. Hearing Dean Shareski speak to US brought the point emphatically home: there is a moral imperative to share our learning and teaching. You don’t need to judge yourself too harshly and censor yourself before you begin, you can grow and find your voice and your people.
  • Ask questions and reach out.
  • It is way more fun to work together. Get into the global staff room and have a coffee together. We do that in #tiegrad – we organize our own coffee chats and morning get-togethers. We pair up, group up, and work together well.
  • Identity matters. We need to consider our own online identity and help our students develop an identity for themselves.

Areas of strength for me as a connected educator are connecting behind the scenes, joining in on Twitter chats, collaborating and working with others, and contributing on backchannels. Most of my areas of weakness center around my insecurities about sharing my voice and opinion. I’m hesitant to disagree, to rock the “global” boat, and to share my simple ideas. I still hesitate to post every blog or tweet, I have piles of drafts on both sites. Sharing my blog publicly causes me anxiety, because I feel a little safer to be myself, have fun and be a little ridiculous here – believing that no one will read much past the first paragraph… right???

Two goals as I go forward are:

  1. Dean Shareski’s challenge: “Can I find your best work online?” You can find my students’ best work online. They proudly tweet from our class Twitter account and their individual blogs. I share my work and learning, but I don’t think that my best stuff is online yet. Sometimes I haven’t realized that there is value in my work until it gets a response on Twitter! I need to be a little more transparent, or at least celebrate some of my efforts in the classroom. There are things that I am proud of, and it might be worthwhile to share them out.
  2. Rethink my metaphor, a challenge by Alec Couros. I have always seen myself as an amplifier of some sort. I’ve called myself a megaphone, a soapbox, etc, with the vision of being a platform of some sort to raise my students’ voices/works/ideas/creations/energies/etc and help them to find their audience and people.

Inspired by Alec’s sweet goodbye “Don’t forget about me… I will always be your co-learner/collaborator” – sticking the Simple Minds lyrics in most of our minds… I’d like to end with:

We found out that each one of us is a learner, a fitbit all-star, a ukulele rockstar, and a tweeter, a blogger, and part of a family that will extend beyond our #tiegrad years together. We were glad to have you join us, don’t forget us!

Sincerely yours, the #tiegrad cohort (your co-learners, collaborators and co-conspirators)

(oh, we should remix this one for our cohort! Challenge extended…)

 

 

Breathlessly going Forward

Although I have put in the required hours, my learning project is not complete. I have learned a lot, but I am not done. I have learned:

  • Meditation may have medical benefits for people who make it a regular practice, including rewiring the brain, better resilience for stress, immune support, emotional wellness, and improvements in sleep
  • It’s not easy. Meditation is work. Every time. Making time to practice it daily was difficult, and the little voice in your head gets louder if you have a large “to do” list

  • The focus is important – whether it is visualization or focusing on breathing, giving your attention a clear task is the route to training your mind.
  • There are many types of meditation to try. Some are based in theological rituals, others are based on physical practices, and others are based on mindfulness
  • I did not have success with my original goal: improved sleep. However, I noticed that I had less headaches, I was better at self-calming, and I began to personalize less of my challenges
  • For my best learning, I need a blend of online, self-selected content, books to read, and human contact to check in and seek answers to questions
  • Reflecting openly about my new interest has increased my connections and PLN – reflecting regularly has increased my support network and also kept me engaged in my learning
  • Journaling helped me to process my personal learning experiences and growing knowledge base to transition into my more public thinking out loud blog

    Meditating at my local little beach.

    Meditating at my local little beach.

  • A meditation “space” was less important than I thought. I tried meditating in my bedroom, my front porch, in the woods overlooking the beach, as a passenger in the car, while cooking, and even at work
  • I like my new mindfulness! This part is simpler than I thought. I connect with my senses to ground myself in the present. I smell Spring in the air while walking the dogs, I hear my dogs lolloping around me, and I see the diffusion of light as I move through my day
  • There was one component of my chosen app Headspace that I did not have a chance to fully utilize and I believe that it would have added even more of a dynamic experience, based on my time as part of our #tiefit group: the ability to connect with other Headspace buddies. You can encourage each other and cheer one another towards daily practice. I never did find another Headspace partner. That is ok, as it took me 7 months to accept my first FitBit buddy. So, in terms of connecting with other Headspace users, it may still happen over time.
  • The way that the app is gamified (it tracks your “streaks”,
    My run streak from earlier this term.

    My run streak from earlier this term.

    there are incentives for reaching certain milestones, and your progress is represented in multiple ways) encourages you to compete against yourself and ensures that you keep returning.

  • It is actually less about doing a little “something for yourself”, and more about considering the people who will benefit from your ongoing practice of meditation. Focusing more on the benefits that your work will provide to others will make the practice easier, your mind softer and more malleable to the process. Meditation should be done as an act of service, not solely as a treat for yourself. However, your increased calm and self-understanding may lead you to be less critical of yourself and others.

  • Some days are better than others. At first that was difficult and when I re-read my journal I can see how critical I was of my efforts. Now, I realize that it is about the practice. Learning a sport is similar: you attend practices and some days are better than others, but ATTENDING the practice still counts.
  • I have begun to practice some of the strategies and reminders as a new part of my daily ritual. Headspace teaches you to “flash” some of the teachings as often as 5 times a day to ground you in the moment. I have taken some of the lessons to help me ease into sleep on restless nights, or visualize my busy thought traffic as a road that I step further and further away from. I am in the process of owning this new learning!

So, my journey continues. I have paid for a year’s use of this app, I am enjoying the practice, and I feel like I am getting something out of it. I am learning the skills to be more in the moment and to be present in whatever task I am attempting to do. It is actually feeding my sense of gratitude and joy. The guided meditations are working for me, but I hope to try a few more guided mindfulness activities on the move.

Thank you Alec Couros for giving me the opportunity to learn something new and to explore new ways to bring balance into my life. And thank you to my expanded PLN for supporting me along the way with resources, ideas and encouragement.

My mental "clutter" that I sketched out earlier this term as I began this journey.

My mental “clutter” that I sketched out earlier this term as I began this journey.

 

Final Reflection on EDCI 569

Here is our final reflection on EDCI 569, completed as another collaborative project by Jardi – a mixed up mash-up of Jarod Fong and Heidi James. Although we have never met face-to-face, we enjoy working together and appreciate the opportunity to connect over shared work and interests. This is an example of the power technology has to facilitate those connections.

Our project is a video reflection on our term of learning. We began by creating a theme based around one of our Learning Projects: meditation. The rest fell into place: we co-authored the script through a Google Doc and then each did some individual filming. Through Voice Memos we added the audio track together. We checked the final project through BlueJeans, and posted it to YouTube. We called it “Meditating on our Learning”.

Thank you to Alec Couros, Dean Shareski, Alan Levine, Audrey Watters, Sylvia Martinez, Dave Cormier and all of #tiegrad for another amazing term.

Music Credit:

I am a Lucky Girl – Gender in EdTech

We had a guest visit with Audrey Watters on the topic of Gender in Educational Technology. Completing the pre-reading for the night left me with a new vocabulary word: “mansplaining”. I’ve experienced this in a variety of ways in my career but also personally. My husband is very adept at navigating this when a salesperson begins deferring to him when I am the potential customer.

I enjoyed Audrey’s visit with us and her passion for creating an inclusive community online. She is well-researched and has a great sense of humour. As Audrey spoke I reflected on my own journey as a female edtech dabbler.

I think that I have an unfortunate bit of a Pollyanna perspective on gender issues. This comes from a sincere place in my heart, though. I have been a lucky girl. I have also been a stubborn girl. I know that there are huge imbalances between the way women and men are treated. I know that this is true historically, and continues in our present day. I have witnessed and been subject to unfairness that seems to be based on my gender. But, I am a lucky girl. I was raised to believe that I could do anything that I want to do. Being told “no” (whatever the reason I was given) was an invitation to begin negotiations. My parents encouraged and supported my explorations, my curiosities and my passions. I came home muddy, bruised and exhilarated. I pushed boundaries and asked endless questions. And things did not always work out how I had hoped, and when disappointments ensued, my parents were there to answer my new questions, offer the insights that I missed, and to encourage me to dust off and try again.

While Audrey spoke, I actually took a moment to text a quick “Thank you” to my Mom. I’ve loved technology since before my parents brought home our first computer. We used to record audiotape letters to send to my Great Grandma. My parents shared a tape with me where the toddler me was demanding “Heidi do” to set up the taping that day. Dad kept insisting “Daddy do”, and had apparently already “done” setting up the taping, forever capturing my stubborn young self attempting to take charge with technology.

Our Vic 20 later upgraded to a Commodore 64. My parents encouraged my use of this technology and I remember sharing our discoveries about these tools as a family. Print Shop became one of my favourite obsessions, and I created endless streams of dot-matrix brilliance. Looking back now, I can’t believe that my parents didn’t shut me down about wasting printer ink, reams of paper (who needs another banner??!?), or even my time – maybe I should have been doing more homework? My parents ensured that I lived a balanced childhood, and I still carry my love of technology AND my love of the outdoors with me. I should be saying thank you more often. I am a lucky girl.

Audrey’s talk, and my sense of feeling blessed makes me wonder what my role is in supporting others. My road has not always been easy, I have had my ideas belittled, stolen, and claimed by others. I have been asked to feel shame because of my emotional nature. But, I storm on.

(I often cry first, but then I storm on)

How do I stand beside those who are being left out? How do I ask the right questions? Who do I ask? Where do I reach out my hand? I take my parents’ teachings and practice them with my students. I know that they can do anything. How do I extend this mindset beyond my classroom walls?

I am a lucky girl. And I should be doing more to help.

(Thank you, Mom and Dad)

#makered

The #makered movement is a powerful force that is empowering our learners to move from consumers of information/technology/ideas/etc to creators of . . . well, anything! I don’t know when we moved to a Maker mindset, but there have been ripples along the way that fit into this category. For example, Genius Hour has been around for a while now, as has robotics, coding and spaces designed around creation.

As I was listening to Sylvia Martinez, the co-author of Invent to Learn, speak about making and tinkering, I was reminded of the amazing session that Keith Rispin hosted last fall with John Harris.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I am a “one-off” #makered teacher. I create #makered assignments like Rube Goldberg assignments, or encourage “making” in Genius Hour. I create opportunities for making, but I have not created the culture for making in my Middle School classroom.

I used to be a proud #makered teacher. I ran a wild Lego Mindstorms group where my favourite answer to any question was “I don’t know! Let’s find out!” Experiments ran amuck, learning happened, robots evolved and challenges were extended. I loved it! I also had my students flip our learning. Any of my students were welcome to create a tutorial on any topic (currently being learned in our academic life, or beyond!) and post it on our wiki.

How do we create an environment that encourages tinkering, entrepreneurial spirit, and making in Middle School? Is it a matter of having the right “stuff” available? Do we need to build it into the schedule?

My Middle School has cycles of “enrichment” three times a year. I pitched the idea of having school-wide Genius Hour this year take the place of enrichment. Our current enrichment is somewhat teacher-drive: we offer choices to our students, they pick their top three favourites, and get sorted into an activity. I thought about reverse-engineering this process. Teachers would offer “spaces” instead of activities. If your Genius Hour required computers, our two computer labs would be staffed during this time. The library would also be staffed, as would the art room and home ec room. Other spaces would also be opened, such as the gym, music room, and multiple classrooms. Students could self-organize, bring or request the materials that they need. They could change paths as needed. They could change spaces as needed. And, ideally, the teachers would actually be free to explore their own projects too. I don’t know how well this would actually work, but I would love to see it tried.