Thursday, January 15, 2015

Little Miss Kindergarten Goes to University

Well it's been two months since my last post, and a LOT has happened. My best friend and #1 collaborative partner, Leah Obach, and I worked with our K and Grade 2 classes to host a a fantastic Kids Who Code Code-a-thon for Hour of Code on Friday, December 12. Watch our movie here and visit Leah's classroom blog for the full report (she's definitely been the star blogger lately).

So what has been keeping me so busy lately? Well, an exciting new challenge came my way at the end of November when I was offered a position as a sessional instructor at my alma mater, Brandon University. Since completing my Master of Education degree in 2009 and hosting a number of student teachers, it's always been in the back of my mind that I would love to teach pre-service teachers at the university level. I was surprised and thrilled when I was asked to teach The Multi-Level Classroom (early years) in the Faculty of Education for the winter term! It works perfectly with my schedule, as the course is offered after school on Mondays and Wednesdays. My school staff was so supportive and presented me with these beautiful flowers (sadly the florist couldn't spell professor...)
Online research, reading potential textbooks, professional literature, and Manitoba Education documents consumed my Christmas holidays, leading to "first day of university" nightmares that rivaled my worst bad dreams before returning to kindergarten every fall! A few tools helped me to develop my course outline: Survey Monkey to assess my students' prior knowledge and prioritize their needs and Google Forms to collect their contact/social media information. After consultation with Leah and three former student teachers, I finally had a workable course outline!

And the transition to university has gone pretty smoothly (and I have an office. So excited.). Although I've done a lot of work with teachers in collaborative projects and professional learning sessions, I've never worked with a consistent group over a period of time and I definitely felt a bit nervous as my first class was about to begin. So here's what I've learned and the tools that have made a big difference in my first two weeks!
I've been surprised and happy to discover that...
-my kindergarten kids are fascinated by the fact that I teach "big kids" two days a week after school. They insisted on seeing their pictures on the SMART Board and learning all about them.
-in turn, my "big kids" always listen eagerly (or at least patiently) to my tales from kindergarten each day. I think my course has more authenticity as everything has been road-tested in a real classroom already.
-kindergarten and university complement each other nicely. My kindergarten kids actually planned the discovery learning activities for my university class on the topic (see picture below), based on their favourite ones. They expected feedback and photographs (via Twitter and Instagram) the next day to see how it went with the big kids. I'm also excited that I can open my classroom door to my university students so they can try their activities and strategies with my kindergarten learners.
-good teaching is good teaching, regardless of the age of the learner. Enthusiasm, age-appropriate humour, well-planned learning activities that incorporate student interest and real-world connections, and showing that you value every learner in your classroom are best practices across the board. Being available to your students outside of class (or their parents in a K setting) and providing timely feedback go a long way too!

Tools that make a difference:
Wikispaces for Education: I just couldn't deal with Moodle, passwords, and the fact that the information would not be available to students after the course, so a wiki seemed like a good choice.
Microsoft Educator Network: it's always my one-stop shop for great tools, connections, and professional learning. I'm strongly encouraging all my students to create accounts and access the monthly EduCast webinar series. Several already have and I was so proud of them!
Microsoft One Drive: perfect for storing all my course materials for convenient access regardless of where I am, and easily sharing and posting them online.
Skype: as I said to my university students, it's that one tool I just can't get over. It's perfect for bringing the expertise of my colleagues from around the world into my university classroom. And our first Skype call with Connie Lowe (kindergarten teacher from Winnipeg) on discovery learning was a huge success!

Today's Meet: it's a simple back channel that's super easy to use and provides a transcript at the end. For our first Skype call, we ran a back channel. Two students followed the back channel and asked everyone's questions (positioned in front of the SMART Board in the picture above) while another two students sent tweets.
Twitter: and where would we be without Twitter? I was surprised that my students weren't confident Twitter users yet--in fact, some were outright skeptics. But after participating in classroom Twitter chats, submitting and sharing assignments, and tweeting during and after the Skype call, I think the tide is turning! We have our own class hashtag #BUmlc that is really fun to follow and encourages a larger conversation with my colleagues who follow it. I've also made participation in a real Twitter chat such as #kinderchat or #mbedchat a choice asssignment; I'm a strong believer in teachers taking responsibility for their own professional learning.
Wordle: it's an oldie but a goodie, and allowed my students to present their understandings of multi-level education in an attractive visual
Remind: this app lets me send one text that reaches all my students. I sometimes worry that I'm overusing it, but it's great for sending reminders and updates about classes and guest speakers!
Haiku Deck: I used Haiku Deck to create a slide deck to introduce myself to the students. Their first assignment was to use this tool to develop a presentation all about themselves for their upcoming student teaching placement--great for building community and establishing rapport!
QR Code Scanner: my favourite apps are Qrafter and i-nigma. We use QR codes for different purposes, but on the first day of class, it allowed students to scan a QR code and easily add me to their contacts.
SMART Notebook software: I've used this software on a daily basis since 2008, and I still rely on it heavily. My students are eager to learn how I create learning experiences, so I try to show them step by step so they can replicate it in their future classrooms.

With careful preparation, leveraging some wonderful human resources (you know who you are), and terrific ICT tools to support learning, teaching university has been an energizing and exciting new experience. So stay tuned for my continuing adventures in kindergarten and the faculty of education...with my little kids AND my big ones too!


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  2. We are so fortunate to have you teaching here, Devon. I see great things happen whenever I pass in the hall - I want to stop and peak in! I also love that you are using all this tech - it reinforces the things I did and you get them using the tools and seeing how they CAN work in younger years! I hope you can do more for us in the future!
    (PS -next step: get to work on that Ph.D.!)

  3. Thanks for the feedback Mike! It is my pleasure to build on the great work you've already done with them :) Loving university so far!