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.


Barely Breathing

Update on my #LearningProject

I am going to propose this Learning Project Plan in a similar fashion to how some of my students propose their Genius Hour projects, with a rationale, a guiding question, an initial resource list, and a learning target.

My project is on mindfulness and meditation.

Rationale: My husband calls is “busy brain”. He can immediately tell by my body language how present I am. I can feel myself constantly trying to untangle problems, plan for upcoming events, and worry about things that may or may not happen. I have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep at night as I think my random thoughts. I have difficulty sustaining attention on one thing for too long, as I become increasingly aware of my enormous “to do” list.

My husband, who has known me for almost 18 years, tells me that this is a learned behavior and it is fairly new to me. He actually thinks that it might have developed on the job. Working with 30 Middle School students means that my attention is always needed. No matter how well my students learn to collaborate or network with each other, there is still a need for me to be available, “on”. As I meet with one student, there are still 3 others with their hands up, an amazing learning event happening between a small group in the corner that needs to be recorded in some way, an awareness of the clock, and CONSTANT interruptions (bell, announcements, fire drill, broken technology). I enjoy my days with my students, and I often get back more than I give, but I don’t think that I let go of being “on” when my students go home for the day. My thoughts race. My heart races. My mind wanders from one unfinished idea to the next.

My students are participating the in the #onelittleword challenge as a New Year’s Resolution this year. My #onelittleword for this year is “Balance”. I think that giving myself time to meditate, reflect, and learn to be mindful would help me to find balance in many areas of my life.






I teach mindfulness and Self-Regulation in the classroom. I am actually quite proud of how my students are able to think about their needs in relation to attending a fairly structured school. Students spend time thinking about how their body feels in various situations during the day and learn to make any needed adjustments to feel better if needed. I feel like I can share ideas and help support others in their path to mindfulness, but I don’t actually embrace any of the ideas that would support me in my own needs. I am wondering if this is a case of those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach???

Guiding Question: What elements of mindfulness and meditation will help me to develop more peace of mind, support a more balanced and healthy lifestyle, and teach me to live in the moment?

Initial List of Resources:

This should get me started. I haven’t even skimmed Youtube yet!

My Learning Target: This is a personal learning experience that will be subjectively evaluated through my own reflections. I am hoping to note an improvement in my mood, energy levels, ability to respond to stress, sleep patterns and a calmer mind.

This is a lot to ask in 12 weeks! I believe that this will take longer than 50-100 hours to be transformative. I will take this initial time to find resources, to find what works for me, and to practice regularly. I am hoping that I can develop habits and routines that will serve me long after this course has ended.

I will share out my learning through regular blog posts where I evaluate my response to the tools I am using, new tools I have found, an overall summary of daily check ins (I am wondering if I need to create a simple rubric for self-evaluation?), sharing out new knowledge, and a reflection on areas of improvement or need. The Wii Fit game has a great meditation and yoga section that I can also use to test my stillness and breathing. I have only mastered keeping the candle lit once time!

Other ideas to keep focused and to get support might be to reach out through Twitter and this blog for help and ideas.

Hanging with the #pdppposseRC

I was excited to connect with @mlleballen and the #pdppposse from #edci336 through BlueJeans on January 22 to chat Middle School book clubs. I was surprised by the number of people in attendance – a great group to meet!

I feel like I must first start by apologizing for the number of interruptions on my end – it was my prep block, but a closed classroom door actually means “welcome, come on in!” in Middle School!

I had an opportunity to hear about the books that everyone else was reading, and I got to add a couple of titles to my “must read” list. I discussed a few books that I often suggest to my readers for Literature Circles or Book Clubs, or just as great reads. I may have left a few titles off of my rapid-fire list (thanks your patience, #pdpposseRC!). Here are some of my favourite titles:

Walk Two Moons – Sharon Creech

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie – Jordan Sonnenblick

Elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevin

Schooled – Gordan Korman

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda – Tom Angleberger

Pig Boy – Vicki Grant

Out of my Mind – Sharon Draper

A Mango Shaped Space – Wendy Mass

The Thief Lord – Cornelia Funke

Some of my favourite authors for Middle School readers are on that list: Wendy Mass, Sharon Creech, Gordan Korman and Jordan Sonnenblick.

Some of the group had heard about using Orca Currents as a resource for high-interest, low-vocabulary reads. Pig Boy is an Orca Currents selection, and I usually offer at least two choices. (My other favourite is Daredevil Club by Pam Withers) I love Orca Currents books, and even my keenest readers are drawn to them. My suggestion is to pre-read any Orca book before recommending it to a student reader, as some of the content can be a tad explicit!

One of my favourite resources for learning about great books and authors is Twitter. Great hashtags to follow include #nerdybookclub, #GRA (Global Read Aloud), #titletalk and #TLchat.

I have participated in the Global Read Aloud for the last two years. Last year we read “Out of My Mind” and this year we are reading two books from the list. During the actual #GRA15, we read “One for the Murphys” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. It was amazing! My students tweeted to many other classes and the author herself often responded to us. We will be reading “Fourteenth Goldfish” by Jennifer Holm, which was another #GRA15 option, starting in the beginning of February. This book ties in well with #geniushour, inspiring wonder, innovation and determination. The Global Read Aloud project only happens once a year, but I usually read aloud to my Middle School students year round. I think that it is important to share quality literature with your students, to model reading fluency, to share how I think a I read a book, and to explore the tangents, the imaginary worlds, and the emotions that a well-written book elicit. Sometimes I plan attached activities for my read aloud, but often I choose to read/listen/discuss a great book for the love of reading. Make time for it!

Thank you for including me in your meeting, #pdppposse! I enjoyed the chat. Many of my happiest moments teaching have been when a reluctant reader FINALLY finds a book that they truly love. I loved seeing the dedication you are all putting into creating reading magic in your own classrooms. I am looking forward to hearing more about your journeys and adventures!

Turning the Tables

Like any Masters course, our EDCI 569 course has several assignment components to it. The second assignment is causing me the most sleepless moments currently. We have been given the choice between an inquiry into some facet of digital learning, taking on a 50-100 hour open learning project, or participating/evaluating a MOOC.

I am least interested in the MOOC, because I’ve already tried them. I like and dislike the same feature: the anonymity. You can hide in the massive-ness, but you can also be lonely in it. I felt like I did a good job “listening”, but my very little voice was indistinguishable from the others. MOOCs generally remind me of the huge auditorium-style lectures in my early University days. Your voice gets heard when you break off into little groups for labs, but the professor has no idea if you even showed up for the main lectures. You could learn the content in other ways and sleep in instead.

My conundrum is between choosing the Open Learning or an inquiry into digital learning. I feel like the Digital Learning option will encourage me to explore more dynamic resources related to my Lit Review for EDCI 515, and will provide me with a richness and depth that I may otherwise overlook. But, the lure of learning anything that I want to learn and sharing out the process continues to be a siren call.

I started Genius Hour in my classroom in October 2013, and it was inspiring to see what huge projects my students tackled. I learned so many new things as my students acquired new knowledge and shared it out on their blogs and in class discussions/presentations. I collaborated with a student on learning a new piece of technology in our class, and shared out my learning as well. Several students were overwhelmed as they faced the buffet of learning options and took weeks to decide on a topic. That is where I am right now: I have a huge brainstorm web on a poster behind my desk where I am brainstorming what I would like to learn. This is my next Genius Hour learning project, and thinking that it could possibly fit in with my Masters is an exciting idea! However, I have questions before I commit:

  • What about collaboration? Can this learning project be completed in pairs or small groups? Most 20% Time or Genius Hour teachers encourage their learners to collaborate, to work together to extend thinking and challenge each other.
  • Can it truly be any topic? Does it have to have a tangible product at the end? I have limited my wish list down to 3-4 ideas, but one does not have an actual end product, only growth over time.
  • How do I decide….??? Too many topics to choose from!!

What would you learn if you could choose any topic? How would you reach out to find support to pursue and celebrate your passions? Who would be your cheerleaders in this project?

The decision is coming soon. Stay tuned!

Sharing Student Blogging

I met with several colleagues today to discuss student blogging. I believe that student blogging is a great tool for Multimedia learning where the student becomes the curator and author of an educational experience. Last year was my first year hosting public student blogs, and I have been speaking about the game-changing nature of having students write for audiences beyond the classroom. We experienced exciting connections and global interactions that ignited a passion for exchanging ideas with others and writing for authentic purposes.

Today I spoke of the “Getting Started” portion of student blogs. I shared my rationale for hosting blogs and why I chose to have my students write publicly last year. I had previously hosted a private wiki for my students, where each child had their own space and as class we co-curated or shared common pages as well. This was a great little private gathering place that contributed to a positive sense of community and became a valuable resource. But, since our population was limited to our classroom, the conversation could only extend a short distance.

I shared several blogging tools and the teachers discussed their own purposes for student blogging. The biggest question was “What do you do with the child that won’t blog?” Because it happens! When the teachers thought about the question being asked of them, they all discovered a certain level of discomfort in being told that they must write publicly. One teacher suggested encouraging the use of a shared paper notebook for some students to write their blog posts in and seeking feedback or comments from other students, possibly even students from beyond their own classroom.

After discussing parent permissions and FOIPPA we moved on to initial starting activities. My favourite launch for blogging is asking my students to create paper blogs – an idea shared by Pernille Ripp. My goals for the paper blog experience is to show my students the idea of writing becoming public – viewable by anyone;IMG_1081 and also the idea of using comments to engage in conversation. After the paper blogs are written by the students, they are posted onto the student’s lockers. We leave them up for several days encouraging students and guests to read each and every blog post. Students are given a stack of sticky notes to write comments on the paper blogs. We read several online blogs and comments and look for comments that create more dialogue. We called those comments “open” comments because they opened a discussion. “Closed” comments were comments that stopped a conversation or were difficult to reply to. Students were asked to write open comments, and “post” their sticky notes on the lockers with the blogs. Students were excited to be receiving comments and wanted to reply, so they learned about nesting their notes, or attaching their replies to the original comments so that the conversation could be read easily. The blogs were left up for about a week afterwards, and guests and students were welcome to continue commenting.

We discussed how the students might choose to use their blogs and what content they may want to include, such as images, stories, reflections or classroom
IMG_0864assignments. It becomes a personal platform for learning and sharing out. I shared one of my favourite quotes “Consuming content takes you places. Creating content lets you to take others with you” via @sjunkins.

I believe that blogging becomes a great Mulimedia learning tool for our students because it can grow into a personalized learning tool and a platform from which to spring into new conversations with other interested parties on topics that may not be traditionally emphasized in our schools. Blogging bridges the learning at home/learning at school divide by opening a window between the two spaces. Students can share their knowledge on a variety of topics that may not otherwise come up. Blogging will also enable more students to share their learning in a manner that connects closely with their learning process. If they learned with Multimedia sources, it will be easy for students to not only credit these sources, but link out to share these resources for other interested learners. Using a blog as a reflective tool, a curation tool and a tool for discussion relates closely to Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning. A student blog can be a place to share out useful sources of information and it can also be a place where students make sense of the information that they are curating. This can be a collaborative effort, where they filter, organize and make meaning of new information through their conversations and posts. Blogging has been a great tool for #geniushour in my classroom, as students could reflect openly and seek help and guidance when they were taking initial steps on new topics.

I am excited that more classrooms will be blogging in my school this year! #geniushour has a strong foothold in our school and it will interesting to learn from these students as they engage in their inquiries.

Reflective Teaching – Day 23

Te@chThought‘s Day 23 Challenge is: “Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

I am not sure if using a single way to involve the community can meet the criteria of being meaningful. Involving the community requires offering multiple access points into your classroom. It was a difficult process for me to be comfortable welcoming other adults into the daily routine of classroom teaching. I still get stage fright! It can be scary to invite others in and possibly face criticism. But, the flip side of having an open door policy means that you also welcome the exchange of information both ways. Instead of criticism, more often helpful suggestions or ideas are offered by guests. Sharing out ideas and experiences helps to form connections with experts, other classrooms and new voices for our learners to hear.

So, in the spirit of involving others in day to day life:

  • we tweet from a classroom Twitter account. We use hashtags to organize our thinking and to connect to others. We proudly share our learning and our questions. A new term this year is “WOW” – Worthy Of the World: moments to share out.
  • we blog. Students can write on any topic, seeking support, guidance, feedback and connections from around the world. Twitter helps facilitate and amplify our student voices by sharing blog post links.
  • I’ve always had a class wiki, but this year I am trying a general classroom blog. I am hoping that the authorship of this blog will shift and become a student perspective/sharing out.
  • we invite in guests or travel out to visit new learning sites. We learn from experts and venture out on adventures together!
  • student work is shared out in the school newsletter.
  • we attend conferences, or participate on committees – students are welcome to share their voices at some conferences or at the Board Office, and our learners play a key role on some committees at school.
  • we participate in Global Projects, reminding the learners how small our world is. This Autumn we will be participating in Global Read Aloud and Dot Day to begin our year and we will once again embark on Genius Hour.

Providing opportunities to connect or windows into the learning our students are doing is important. Forming connections between home and school is vital to extend the learning that happens in both environments. Encouraging students to embrace feedback from more than one source as they explore and learn will also grant our learners access to a greater wealth of information, ideas and opinions.

Reflective Teaching – Day 21

Te@chThought‘s Day 21 Challenge is: “Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

I have many hobbies and interests that I share with my learners! I hope that they feel comfortable bringing their interests to share as well. This can stem from the fun of #geniushour, or can come out of conversations as we build relationships.

The interests that I’ve shared include:

  • reading
  • Making sock monkeys
  • being outside
  • playing
  • hiking
  • raising and caring for animals
  • running
  • pretty shoes
  • developing my skills as a tea connoisseur
  • eating
  • baking
  • technology
  • science
  • games
  • writing

Every year begins with meeting all of the student in my pod, even the students that I will not directly be teaching. I share the stories of my life, hoping to provide some insight into Mrs. James as a human. The goal in our Middle School is to provide as many adult advocates for each learner as possible. Having visible, shared interests is one way to connect with our learners.