Saturday, December 16, 2017

What I've Learned in the First Term of PhD Studies: Workflow and Wellness

It's hard to believe, but the first term of PhD studies has drawn to a close. As my last blog post indicated, September seemed to crawl as I battled a touch of homesickness, so many firsts, and being brave and by myself. Once I put September behind me, October and November have passed in the blink of an eye. I like to think as a slightly older and wiser PhD student, I've learned a few things in the last couple of months.

Figure Out My Workflow: Researching and Writing Papers

This has been a really hard one for me. The first paper I wrote took me DAYS because I didn't have any steps or strategies in place to help me organize my time, my resources, and my writing process. I'm doing so much better with this now, especially after writing three massive papers all due in the past week. Here's what works for me:
-search for articles and books in Google Scholar
-read abstracts of articles, if that is promising do a quick scan of the article, and determine if  it's useful
-copy the title and author, search them in the UVic library catalogue, then download to my computer into OneDrive files labelled by topic
-at the same time, extract the reference information into Mendeley (a free citation manager tool that has a desktop program, a Google Chrome browser plug-in, a Microsoft plug-in, and an app)
-based on the articles I found, I get a piece of chart paper and make a big concept map of all the ideas I want to include
-structure an outline of my paper and decide on the major themes. I set this up in Microsoft Word, not as the actual paper, but as a place to organize information. The themes continue to evolve throughout this process.
-then I begin to read the articles. Anytime I find anything useful, I copy and paste the text, article title, and page number into the correct section of my outline.
-revisit course materials for anything that links to my paper
-print out my outline (because it's just too hard to switch screens), then spend some time reading all my notes and let it sink in
-then I make a concept map that organizes the first section of my paper, then write the first section of the paper. I repeat this process section by section until all the writing is done, extracting citations from Mendeley as I go (the Microsoft Word plug in makes this very easy)
-write the introduction and discussion/conclusion
-draft the abstract
-let the paper rest for a day or two so I can return to it with fresh eyes
-read the paper and edit, at least two times
-read the paper paying strict attention to APA format, looking things up as necessary in my handbook or online
-ask friends and/or my supervisor to review to give feedback on the flow of the paper, cohesiveness of my thoughts, and sharpness of argument
-take a deep breath and submit, then pour a very large glass of red to celebrate!

Workflow: Organizing Class Materials and Notes

The only tools I need to manage course materials and notes are Microsoft OneNote and OneDrive. I've set up a Doctoral Studies OneNote notebook with sections for each course. Each class, I start a new page in the relevant section with notes. If the professor hands something out or shares a useful diagram, I photograph it and upload it to OneNote. This has worked wonderfully well, and when friends miss notes, it's easy for me to share mine with them. The only thing I might do differently next term is organize my course notes by topic instead of date, as it was sometimes difficult to remember what date we discussed something. As OneNote is a cross-platform tool, I have the app on my iPhone, my Surface, and my laptop. Everything syncs across devices, so I always have everything I need.
Additionally, I organize all articles, course outlines, and handouts in Microsoft OneDrive. I have a folder called Doctoral Studies and a sub-folder for each class. Like OneNote, OneDrive is available on all my devices, and it is really easy to share documents and work collaboratively with my colleagues.

Office 365 is free for educators and includes the tools I rely on so heavily. All you need is an education email address (your school division or university one will work) and you can start using it for free! Learn more here.

Leverage Your Resources

I'm fortunate to be surrounded by amazing friends, colleagues, and mentors, and I know that seeking their support is key to my success. It's sometimes hard to make myself vulnerable and share my work with them because I don't want them to think it's bad. But I know the only way I'll improve is with feedback, and sometimes I can't see my own glaring errors as I've spent so much time working on the paper. Sending my first paper to my supervisor for review was a very hard and scary moment. But her feedback was kind as well as constructive, and I learned a lot.

My best friend Leah and I like to do as much as we can together and we have very similar educational interests. It's a bit harder now, but that's where Skype has been a great tool. We used Skype to review my paper together last weekend; sharing the screen so we could both see the paper at once.

You Won't Survive Without Your Cohort

My department chair at Brandon University advised me that my relationships with the people in my cohort would be critical to my success, and he was absolutely right. On the first day of my first class, I made a new friend, and I've added to that number throughout the term. I took it upon myself to organize a cohort study group and we meet every other Wednesday before one of our classes. I used Microsoft Forms to find a time and location that worked for the most people. Sometimes only a few people show up, but it is an important opportunity to discuss the readings and assignments, ask questions, and listen to each other.
Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people standing
Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people sitting, table and indoor

Take Time for Wellness

Time spent in nature and on my yoga mat kept me sane during the crazy busy-ness of final papers. I keep my yoga mat unrolled by the table where I work, and every hour I stop what I'm doing and spend a few minutes practicing...often just a few cat-cow stretches, downward dog, forward folds, and some twists. Additionally, I take in a studio class most days at One Yoga, Alive Mindbody (barre--my new passion) or Fernwood Yoga Den, and occasionally Moksana and Moksha. Moving my body and focusing on nothing but my breath and intention are so therapeutic for me.  After finishing my a 6000-word paper, I was exhausted and overwhelmed, but thought I should carry on to my next paper. This proved to be a really bad idea as I was unproductive and tearful and incapable of doing anything. I used my Mind Body app to find an upcoming class and headed to Moksha for a 90-minute warm yin class. It was the best thing I could have done, and as my mind and body relaxed in savasana, I was hit with the most fabulous idea ever for structuring my next paper. I left the yoga studio feeling inspired, and went home to write half the paper in one sitting. I got an A+, and I firmly believe that I wouldn't have produced such great work without taking care of myself first.
Image may contain: indoor
Love yoga barre classes at Alive Mindbody!
Most days I visit my nearby beach which is only five minutes away. The fresh ocean air and refreshing breeze always energize and refocus me. There is a great trail that wanders from Willows Beach to Cattle Point that I love to walk along. The beaches are open to dogs beginning in October, so I often get to pat dogs and visit with their owners. Social interaction, animals, and fresh air always make me feel so much better.

And the first term is in the books...
My first term of PhD studies went so much better than I expected... I'm really pleased with my marks, the program and my supervisor are both excellent, and I love my new friends and yoga community. Happy to be back in Manitoba for the holidays, and excited to see what the second term has in store!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The ABCs of My Professional Practice with Video Scribe

I developed this video for an assignment in one of my PhD courses--we were tasked to create a multimedia presentation demonstrating who we are as a practitioner. This was my first time using Video Scribe, and there was a bit of a learning curve. There were lots of helpful YouTube tutorials which really helped. My only complaint about this tool is that the sound track has to be made in one big can't attach narration to individual slides/images. As a result, it took me about ten tries to get my narration...nearly...perfect!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

My PhD Journey Begins: Living and Learning in Victoria, BC

Well here I am in Victoria and it's October. Thank goodness. September was the longest month of my life. Usually, September flies by in a flurry of first days of kindergarten, endless forms to complete for the office, and all the usual "back to routine" stuff. This September was dramatically different as I am currently on leave from Fort La Bosse School Division and my busy and fun kindergarten classroom at Oak Lake Community School. It was a September full of new experiences, first times, and a lot of being brave. And time seemed to crawl.

So what brings me to Victoria? After years of flirting with the idea, I've finally decided to pursue my PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on early childhood education. I researched PhD programs all over Canada, and the best fit for me (complete with a fabulous supervisor and entrance scholarship) was University of Victoria on the west coast of Canada. I've been here for nearly 6 weeks and a lot has happened. Here are some of my thoughts on this new and exciting stage of my life.
On Being a Student
UVic has the most beautiful campus ever, and now that I've figured out most things are contained within the ring road with a huge green space in the middle, I'm navigating my way around campus without Google Maps. There are totem poles everywhere, a lovely fountain in the centre of campus, a gorgeous library, and the amazing First Peoples' House. Finnerty Gardens and Mystic Vale are also part of UVic, and they are beautiful green spaces that I enjoy as often as I can.
It isn't just the campus that's nice--the people in my cohort (the PhD word for the people in your year/program) and my professors are great too. I've already made some new friends in my cohort and organized a study group. And I'm super impressed with the high quality of professors...I'm regularly moved to tears in my curriculum class with Dr. David Blades. I've never met someone who could make curriculum fascinating, engaging, and emotional, but this man certainly can. This week's assignment was to write a story about a time we felt we'd made a difference in education, then reflect on it. Everyone was invited to share their story for last night's class, and it resulted in 11 teachers and a professor tearing up over and over. And this was how he introduced us to the phenomenological approach, which postulates that curriculum is experiential, relationship-based, and transcends the human experience. Wow! My supervisor is amazing as well. Her name is Dr. Jodi Streelasky and she is such a lovely person, and everyone who asks me who my supervisor is assures me that I'm so lucky when I tell them. Take a look at her latest project here.

I'm thriving on immersing myself in being a learner again, but I'm still not confident that I can actually do this. I just keep telling myself to do the work, participate in class, and it will all come together. Fingers crossed! There are so many additional learning opportunities on campus that I'm soaking up too--special lectures with visiting scholars, concerts, and sessions for improving my knowledge base and academic skills. I'm going to as many as I can because it's basically free professional development.

On Being Brave
I've had to be brave a lot lately, and I think that's why the month of September has been so hard. My best friend Leah drove out here with me, so together we navigated the bus system, set up my apartment, and toured around Victoria. But when Leah left, reality hit with a vengeance. I've never lived on my own before, so it's been quite an adjustment. Fortunately my little apartment is working out really well and the people I rent from are very nice.
First meal in the new apartment with Leah
First day on campus at graduate student orientation 

My first day of school probably took the greatest amount of bravery. I was (and still am to some degree) really intimidated of classes at the PhD level. I'm still worried that I'm not smart enough and although I make an effort to participate in class, I never think my comments are as meaningful and intelligent as what other people say, but I can only offer what I know from my own experiences. Just like I'd tell my kindergarten students, I focus on trying my hardest, doing my absolute best, and being myself. And if that's not good enough, then this isn't the right path for me.

Although I've always been a confident driver (not necessarily a good driver, but a reasonably confident one), driving in Victoria is stressful. My built-in GPS in my Jeep loves to take me the most random routes ever, so I constantly have to check with Google Maps. I'm always getting messed up by lanes that turn into turning lanes (or don't) and all the new "no left turns on certain streets" that were added recently and maps haven't caught up. There is also never ANY parking downtown, so I take the bus a lot. Since I never know where I'm going, I have to allow myself lots of time, and as a result I show up everywhere super early (my dad would be proud).

Teaching on-call requires quite a bit of bravery too. Just driving to the school in morning traffic is enough to get my heart pounding. Then the assignment is just like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're going to get. Most of my experiences have been pretty decent, but I had a rough go last week. I've discovered a new love for high school low incidence classrooms (what we'd call a life skills unit in Manitoba) and those are my absolute favourite call outs. Since I have a Master of Education in Special Education, nearly all my call-outs are for learning assistance and special education. Not one kindergarten classroom yet :( Fortunately, the pay is really good (2-3 times what substitute teachers make in Manitoba) and it's nice to be with kids a couple of times a week. I've instituted a new rule: if I teach on call I can go to Starbucks. It's working pretty well.

Victoria and the People
I'd heard from a few people that Victoria was quite a "closed" city that didn't welcome outsiders well, but my experience has been the exact opposite. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, and I chat with people everywhere I go. Yoga has been wonderful, as I meet lots of people in yoga studios and I made some new friends at my yoga teacher training at the end of September. The thing I like best is that when riding the bus, everyone thanks the busdriver when they get off. How charming is that?

Victoria's Yoga Scene
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm here to go to school, not attend yoga classes. It's hard. There are so many amazing yoga studios and events, and I'm less than 2 km from a therapeutic yoga teacher training program. Their restorative training was fantastic in September, and they offer weekend trainings twice a month. But finances and academic commitments dictate that this is something I can only take advantage of once in awhile. I'm also very guilty of wanting to plan my teaching on-call schedule around my favourite yoga classes. I've discovered a new passion--barre classes (especially the ones that blend yoga and/or pilates). I'm spoiled for choice here!
Taking relaxation to a new level at Ajna Yoga restorative training

New Things I've Learned
Anytime you step out of your comfort zone it's a great opportunity to learn new things about yourself. Not that it's always easy or fun, and I know these realizations are really simple. But sometimes you need experiences like these to drive home the most basic lessons.
1) It's a huge privilege to be part of a community. I miss Kenton, my family, my friends, my yoga community, and my school community. I miss people knowing me and caring about me, and I miss knowing and caring about other people too. Although I am making new friends and a place for myself here, I don't really think it's possible to replicate the level of connection and interdependence in Victoria that I've experienced as a lifelong resident of a small town.
2) Having a pet is an amazing gift. I miss my dog and cat SO much. It's not that I miss them more than my family, it's just that I can't text and call them. In six weeks of being away from them, I've learned that having a pet to love and care for is really imperative to my happiness. I ask to pat random dogs and engage in conversation with dog owners at Starbucks, the beach, and on trails just to get a dog fix. I have all these beautiful places to walk and hike and no dog to take with me, and it's so hard.
3) Keeping busy is key. I've always maintained a very busy schedule, and although sometimes I've longed to have fewer commitments, I've found that I don't do well with downtime. Especially when I'm lonely. My PhD workload is demanding, and I try to teach on-call 1.5-2 days per week. Any remaining time I fill with yoga. The busier I am the better I seem to do! Every week I try to do something new and "touristy". So far I've visited Witty's Lagoon, Hatley Castle, Ogden Point, Butchart Gardens, a couple of wineries, Beacon Hill Park, walked the Songhees Walkway, checked out Mile 0, and enjoyed a few beaches. I also went to the symphony in the beautiful Royal Theatre to hear James Ehnes with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. I'm so grateful that my temporary home has so many beautiful sites and new and different things to do.
The stunning legislature buildings and grounds in downtown Victoria
4) Everything is temporary. I tell myself this when I'm feeling homesick or overwhelmed. These feelings are temporary and will pass. This opportunity to live, learn, and practice yoga in Victoria, BC, is temporary too. I try and stay mindful, push myself to try new things and meet new people, and soak up every drop of this amazing, challenging new experience. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ten Tips for Meaningful Play in the Kindergarten/Grade 1 Classroom

Kindergarten teachers agree that their students need time to play each day—60 minutes of free play is a recommendation we often hear. This is supported by countless studies, a statement from Council of Ministers of Education in Canada, and Manitoba Education’s recent document, A Time for Learning, A Time for Joy. But what happens when you teach a multi-age kindergarten and Grade 1 class? You know that your kindergarten kiddos need play and you want to provide a developmentally-appropriate program. And, you recognize that Grade 1 kids need play too, but you don’t feel you can spare the time given the huge demands of literacy and numeracy achievement and reporting. What is a teacher to do without short-changing the kids or missing out on important instructional time? Here are ten tips to inspire you and provide some ideas for your classroom practice.

First of all...change your thinking! 
Opportunities to play WILL support your Grade 1 students' literacy, numeracy, and language development, as well as overall academic achievement. It is NOT time wasted, especially if play-based learning activities are thoughtful, intentional, and responsive to the needs of your learners. I do not spend a lot of time on "formal" reading instruction in kindergarten. Instead, my young learners have many opportunities for rich learning through play, project-based, and inquiry-based learning, where they use language for a purpose. We do spend lots of time developing phonological awareness skills (vitally important), practicing high-frequency words when we are ready, and reading together to access information for projects, but time spent playing contributes to their ability to learn to read. 

Second of all...educate and involve stakeholders.
Keep parents and your administrator informed and explain WHY play-based learning is an essential component of your program. Give them a clear understanding of how it is benefiting children and enhancing their emerging literacy and numeracy skills as well as motor development and social competencies. Post the CMEC Statement on Play-Based Learning in your classroom and send it home to parents at the start of the year. Be clear that there is a rationale behind including play-based learning and it is supported by Manitoba Education and current research. 

Discovery Learning
Start the day with 15-25 minutes of discovery learning tubs or trays—especially the days when your kindergarten students attend. Begin by teaching the routine of hanging up coat and backpack, handing in clipboard/agenda, putting on indoor shoes, then going to a table to explore and interact with the materials. Discovery learning can target literacy, numeracy, art exploration, as well as science and social studies concepts. Some teachers try to have one tub/tray from each curricular area each week for a total of 4-5 tubs/trays. Discovery learning is play-based, hands on, and promotes inquiry. Learn more here and check out these fantastic ideas on Pinterest.

The start of the year is a great time to begin discovery learning with simple fine motor activities to strengthen the hand skills of your learners—very important for the increasing demands for printing we place on Grade 1 students. See this post to learn more about fine motor activities that are open-ended and encourage exploration.  

Once a discovery learning routine is established, activities can become more complex. As a teacher, you can spend the time observing students, capturing evidence of learning through photographs and voice recordings, and taking anecdotal notes. You might choose to position yourself at one discovery tray or roam around the room. I highly recommend Microsoft One Note to organize all that information—create a page for each student, and you’ll have a wealth of data by report card time. Microsoft One Note is available across platforms (app and web-based). 
Maker Stations or Maker Spaces
Making is very much like free play—kids are given choices and opportunities for open-ended exploration, problem-solving, design/creation, and social interaction. Consider introducing maker stations or maker time when you feel your students are ready for it. Ideas include:
-cardboard creations (you could incorporate STEM/STEAM design challenges). It's a great use for recycled materials too. 
-building with a variety of materials such as lego, magna-tiles, blocks, Wedgits, etc. 
-coding and robotics (and if you teach in Park West School Division, you’re very lucky to have Leah Obach as an amazing resource in this area)
-making is an excellent way to meet Grade 1 science outcomes from Cluster 3: Characteristics of Objects and Materials while developing important Cluster 0 skills 
-consider scheduling making in your day or week for a period of time--longer blocks work best to give kids opportunities to really immerse themselves in what they are doing, Also, it can be messy, and I'd rather clean up one big mess once a week than slightly smaller messes every day!
-encourage your emerging writers to photograph what they have made and write about it--maybe by posting to Instagram and captioning it, or printing out the picture, pasting it in their journal, and printing sentences/words/labels. Preserving their creations through photography also helps with the heartbreak of dismantling it!
-learn more here
Making structures with cups is a popular MakerSpace activity
Make literacy and numeracy materials available to support and extend the play.
Provide students with markers, post-it notes, index cards, paper, tape, popsicle sticks, clipboards, dice, and basically anything you can think of to encourage them to use their emerging literacy and numeracy skills. Index cards and popsicle sticks make wonderful signs for a building project or hockey arena, for example. Clipboards and notepads are perfect for taking orders in the classroom restaurant. Pricing objects in a grocery store by printing numbers on sticky notes is wonderful practice.

I always like to provide blank stapled booklets so students can create their own books as a play option. Some kids will spend hours doing just that. Make sure you support them with a very simple word wall and great books to spark their imaginations—the Pigeon books by Mo Willems coupled with some You Tube drawing tutorials of the pigeon and the duckling led to amazing and spontaneous student writing in my K classroom and Leah’s Grade 1 classroom.

In my kindergarten classroom, I have an Independence Station full of materials that the students are free to use independently (after some instruction)--stapler, tape dispenser, pencils, erasers, markers, pens, paper, etc. Having the materials accessible saves you the hassle of kids asking permission and gives them an appropriate level of responsibility. 

Involve students in the development of play activities. 
When it is clear that we need a new dramatic play activity in the classroom (maybe I observe they are bored), the students help me develop a plan for it. Together we brainstorm ideas, sometimes voting on what the new dramatic play activity should be. Voting offers opportunity for graphing, one-to-one correspondence, counting, printing numerals, and comparing.

Once the dramatic play activity is chosen, we use shared writing to draft a list of the supplies we need. This offers a wealth of rich literacy learning:
-how to make a list (writing genre)
-initial, medial, final sounds as we spell words 
-stretching words out to hear sounds
-syllables in words 
-spaces between words
-students can share the pen with the teacher with the teacher printing the more difficult parts (otherwise it takes forever and everyone gets tired of it)

This pizza restaurant was the students' idea and provided many rich opportunities for literacy and numeracy, 
Teach mini-lessons that extend play-based learning.
Once our new dramatic play activity is up and running, I carefully observe my learners to see what teaching I can do to extend the play. For example, if it is a grocery store, we might work together to price items and print numbers for each item. Then we might use pennies or loonies to match one-to-one to represent the price. Sometimes, once items are priced, I'll grab a bunch of grocery items from the store and give one to each child and together we practice counting out the correct number of pennies/loonies/counters to match the number written on it.

If it is a restaurant, we might work together to create menus, captioning pictures of what the restaurant serves. Or, I might teach them how a server would take an order in a restaurant or how a chef would write a recipe. The opportunities are endless and directly linked to kindergarten and Grade 1 outcomes. 

Check out the following examples:
Shopping for Learning 

Observe play carefully and use it to inform your instructional decisions.
-choose one child to observe per session of play
-take notes and collect samples of learning (photographs, voice recordings, etc)
-what do you see? Is there an evident need that could be addressed with a small group literacy/numeracy lesson or a whole-class learning experience?
-do you observe a strong interest that could be developed into a class inquiry or project-based learning? What fascinates your students and what themes emerge repeatedly in their play?

Consider "play planning", especially for your Grade 1 students. 
It's a fantastic literacy activity and develops your students' abilities to develop, record, and follow a plan. I like to add a reflective component as well following play time. Learn more here

And lastly...a pitfall to avoid

Don’t make play available to your Grade 1 students only when they are done their “work”. This results in many of the kids who need play the most being denied precious minutes of learning, and creates a mindset that play is a break from learning/real work. Play is the work of the child and there should be equal access to play for ALL children in your classroom. 
Oh how I LOVE this! I find play so important and will justify an extended recess any day!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Not Just a Book: Outdoor Learning Fosters Early Writing

As we've been exploring outdoor learning, we've been inspired by the book Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis to learn with natural materials. Our student teacher, Kim Williment, planned a fantastic learning experience focused on this book and sticks. All the JK students brought a stick from home, and after reading the book, we explored a variety of math concepts--ordering our sticks by length, using our sticks to measure distance, counting the sticks, and forming numerals with them. Next, the junior kindergarten kiddos were very excited to come up with their own imaginative ideas for their sticks! We used the app Book Creator on our classroom iPads to create our own version of Not a Stick.

Take a look at Not a Sandbox written by the SK class, also inspired by this book.
The SK class decided to write a book about sandboxes as we don't have one on our playground, and we would really like to get one. Together with our student teacher Mrs. Williment, we brainstormed all the creative ways that a sandbox would help us learn and took pictures using an iPad. Next, we uploaded the pictures to Office 365 One Drive (follow this link to get your own free educator/student account) and used SMART Notebook to create a digital book. Next, we exported the pages as JPG files and uploaded them to Mixbook. The exciting thing about using Mixbook is we can embed the final project on our blog and classroom Facebook page and get it professionally printed too! We are sharing this book with our parent advisory council in hopes they will fund our sandbox project. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Walking for Polar Bears, Part 2: The Big Day

With the fundraising well underway and a developing knowledge of climate change, it was time to plan the actual event. We had decided at the project's inception that the walk would take place at Brandon University, as I really wanted to expose my young learners to university at an early age. Also, it made more sense to bus our students to Brandon than make my big kids from BU drive out in separate vehicles. However, no project is without some bumps in the road...

Mrs. Obach and I had a big discussion about whether or not it was reasonable to bus kids to Brandon in a project designed to raise awareness about climate change. Did it make sense to put more vehicles on the road when that was the very thing we were trying to stop? We thought the best way to handle this issue was to take it to our students. Leah's Grade 1 class had an excellent debate using the "tug of war" strategy  and raised many valid points about why we should travel to Brandon. In the end, we decided it was better to take two buses than multiple cars, and the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages.

Early in the project, I had asked Dr. Duncan about using the walking track at BU's Healthy Living Centre. However, the director of the centre felt that 21 big kids, 21 kindergarten kids, and 23 Grade 1 students was just too many to accommodate. What to do? With unpredictable Manitoba weather in a busy city, was walking outside a wise or safe idea? My kindergarten class brainstormed alternative locations, and we called Shoppers Mall Brandon and Keystone Centre. However, it didn't seem like a good use of time to walk in one location then travel to BU for learning activities after. This problem was solved by my big kids at university. They proposed walking around campus, going in and out of buildings to keep warm. This also gave our students a great overview of the entire campus. Problem solved!

In the days leading up to the actual walk, the JKs partnered with my big kids to create a green screen movie using the app Do Ink. My junior kindergarten class had taken a special interest in climate change and developed the understanding that by helping the earth, we also help polar bears. This movie showcased what we can do to slow climate change.

We also participated in a fantastic video call with Mr. Andy McKiel and the Hamiota Grade 1 class. Andy had travelled to Churchill a few years ago with a Discovery Education team to get up close and personal with polar bears. His amazing pictures and interesting information about polar bears absolutely captivated our young learners. Thank you so much for sharing!

Perhaps what was most exciting was the work my big kids did at BU. I wanted these future teachers to gain first-hand knowledge of project-based learning as it is so well-suited to multi-age/multi-level classrooms. They followed the project through all its stages, and then they stepped up to plan the events at BU. We made a list of what tasks needed to be accomplished, and the students worked in groups to complete them. We looked at each task and discussed what curricular outcomes would be met and how students of diverse abilities could be accommodated. I felt it was a real "a ha" moment for a lot of my students as they realized how interdisciplinary and inclusive project-based learning is!

One group was in charge of mapping the route we would take for our polar bear walk. A PDF of the campus and a Microsoft Surface pen was a fantastic tool!
 Another group of big kids developed a schedule for the day.
 Another group was in charge of advertising and contacting the media.
 One group had the brilliant idea that we needed a photo booth! And we also decided that a polar bear mascot for the walk would be amazing!
And finally our big day arrived! It was an amazing day that couldn't have gone better--take a look at our video!
This was one of my all-time favourite projects as it was such a unique collaboration among two classrooms, Brandon University, and World Wildlife Fund Canada. Together we raised $243 for polar bears. Everyone involved saw what a difference we can make when we work together. My young students built knowledge about polar bears and climate change as well as strengthened their early literacy and numeracy skills, and my big kids developed their abilities in a project-based learning approach. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Walking for Polar Bears, Part 1: When Little Kids and Big Kids Collaborate

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that my littles love helping animals. Before Christmas, my JK students planned and executed a fantastic Reindeer Rescue Art and Craft Sale to adopt five reindeer from World Wildlife Fund Canada. And when they returned from Christmas holidays, their interest in and desire to help polar animals hadn't faded one bit. So when I received an email from WWF Canada about an upcoming polar bear walk (founded by a 7 year-old boy a few years ago), I knew without a doubt they'd be interested. What I didn't realize was just how big this project would grow to become and all the stakeholders who would join us!

I knew that my SK students had felt a bit sad when they heard all about the JK's reindeer project from them at daycare, so I decided that both JK and SK classes would be a part of our new polar bear project. The JKs asked the SKs if they would be interested in working on a polar bear walk project, then the SKs decided to Skype Mrs. Obach's Grade 1 class and ask them if they would like to join us too. When this project began in January, I had just started teaching pre-service teachers in the Faculty of Education at Brandon University. My kindergarten students were very interested in my "big kids", so I asked them if we should invite the big kids to help with the project. My JK class made a little video that we shared with my BU students and they agreed to work with us too! My big idea surrounding the project had two components: my little ones would engage in project-based learning to develop important skills, meet curricular outcomes, and make a difference in the world. My university students would monitor the evolution of the project through weekly updates and collaborate with our classes to plan a polar bear walk, increasing their comfort level with project-based learning. It worked beautifully!

The most powerful tool we used for our collaborative project-based learning was Microsoft OneNote (a web and app-based digital binder/notebook tool). With my kindergarten learners offering suggestions for the sections, I created a notebook for us to document and share our learning and plan our polar bear walk.  We shared our OneNote with Mrs. Obach's class and both of us were able to contribute a variety of content--photographs, links to resources, videos, and text. We were able to use the pens on our SMART Boards to print information into the OneNote as well, which was great for our beginning writers. Each day we began our learning by reviewing the facts and resources in the OneNote notebook, and it was a game-changing way for us to collaborate on such a large project. At university, I regularly shared the notebook to show the big kids what was happening in the project and discuss the learning taking place. This was the perfect way to build my big kids' knowledge of project-based learning, and demonstrate how it is such an effective approach for meeting the needs of diverse learners.
As it often is, knowledge construction was a key component of the project. We needed to learn all we could about polar bears, understand what was happening in Canada's north, and find out how we could help them. We read books and watched videos, recording important facts in our OneNote. A video call with Andy McKiel and Mrs. Obach's class was especially enlightening. Mr. McKiel had spent a week in and around Churchill and had a wealth of knowledge and stunning photographs to share with us. As always, Skype was an important tool in our project-based learning. We had regular video calls with Mrs. Obach's class to share our knowledge and plan the walk.
My SK students used Duck Duck Moose's Draw and Tell app to share their emerging understandings of polar bears. Check out the sample below.
As we built understanding about polar bears and the challenges they face, our project splintered in two directions. The JK students were really interested in investigating why the ice is melting, and I was really impressed by their insights. (Why don't we just use cold water and make more ice for polar bears? If the ice is melting, it must be because it is getting hot in the Arctic. Why is it getting hot?) We did some research and learned that garbage and pollution are making "bad air" that is causing the earth to heat up. These higher temperatures are melting the ice. The JK students made the connection that helping the earth helps polar bears! They decided to make a video to encourage others to help the earth to help polar bears. Green Screen by Do Ink and Pixabay were invaluable in creating our video. We included the big kids from BU in our video as well as the SK class, and we used Do Ink to green-screen a variety of copyright-free background images from Pixabay.

The SKs decided to scale up our impact and raise more money and awareness for polar bears. Since time was of the essence, I went with their first idea--let's sell Timbits! We decided to sell two Timbits and a white ribbon pin that people could wear to show their support of polar bears for a toonie. In 20 minutes, we sold out and raised $100 to add to our polar bear walk fundraising! Although this was a quick little activity, we fit in a ton of learning.
-shared writing to draft a letter home to families
-printing signs
-surveying classrooms to find out how many students in each and recording the numerals
-cutting our notes in half, counting the correct amount for each class, and labelling them with the correct number and grade
-using non-standard measurement (cubes) to measure the length of each ribbon
-developing scissor skills as we cut 50 pieces of ribbon
-oral language skills as we worked at our sale
-counting the toonies by 2s and loonies by 1s to see how much money we raised
Throughout this process we planned our walk...which was not without a few challenges! Learn more in a future post.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Teacher Wellness Series, Part 4: What Yoga Teachers Do When They're Sick

Well it finally happened. After 8 years of teaching kindergarten and two years of a daily yoga practice, I have a rock solid immune system and I'm seldom sick. But after a non-stop Christmas season, airport/airplane travel germs, and a 60 degree temperature change returning home from Cuba, the inevitable occurred. Sore throat, runny nose, and just generally feeling yucky. So what do I do when I'm sick to make myself feel better and hopefully recover as quickly as possible?

*Please note that these are my personal wellness practices only and not intended as medical advice. Please do not attempt these yoga poses and practices unless you are already familiar with them and have a regular yoga practice. At all times, listen to your body and do what feels best for you.*

Gentle Yoga Practice
Although I'm not exactly eager to get on my mat, I do know that I'll feel SO much better if I do. It's not the time for a vigorous vinyasa flow practice, but gentle poses held for a minimum of ten breaths make a world of difference to my ability to breathe and think clearly while boosting my energy.

Immune-Boosting and Cold-Fighting Yoga Sequence

Mantra: I've read that chanting in Sanskrit and "OM"ing produce vibrations that loosen mucus in your nose, throat, and lungs to keep everything moving. I begin my practice with the mantra I learned at my first yoga training that invokes bliss, divine consciousness, and truth. Or, calling the sound "OM" several times in a row is equally effective.

Breathing: kapalabhati (skull-shining) breath is a warming breath that cleans out the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system. Follow this link for complete instructions. I usually do four cycles of 25 breaths each.

Joint Mobility Series: in my hatha yoga teacher training, we began every asana practice with a series of movements to warm up all the joints in the body. I usually repeat each movement about ten times in a comfortable seated position on my mat.
1) Raise to chin to ceiling, inhaling up, exhaling down
2) Look over each shoulder (inhaling across, exhaling as you look over your shoulder, torso remains stable)
3) Chin to chest, inhale up to the shoulder, exhale back down to centre. Inhale up to the other shoulder, exhale back to centre. Full neck circles are an option if you have that mobility.
4) Extend arms at shoulder height, palms face the ceiling. Inhale, touch fingertips to tops of shoulders, exhale to extend arms again.
5) Arms circles: can extend arms fully and circle forward, then backward, letting breath flow. Or, you can touch fingertips to the tops of shoulders and point elbows to the front. Draw circles with your elbows, exhaling down and inhaling as you circle back around. Change directions.
6) Gently shake out hands and wrists. Extend arms in front, inhale to make fists. Exhale as you shoot fingers out.
7) Wrist circles, letting breath flow. Change directions.
8) Extend legs long on mat. Contract toes on your inhale breath, extend on your exhale breath.
9) Inhale to point toes to the ceiling. Exhale to point them away from you.
10) Ankles circles, letting breath flow. Change directions.
11) Draw knee into chest on the inhale breath. Kick your leg out on the exhale, completely releasing your leg as you kick. If you have knee problems, support your leg under the knee as you do this. Ten times, each leg.
12) Take legs wide, feet are flexed and toes point to the ceiling. Ground down firmly through sit bones. Inhale to lengthen through the spine, on the exhale circle chest low over your legs and the floor. Change directions.
13) Bring legs into butterfly pose and flutter knees to reduce any tension in the groin.

Helpful Yoga Poses: hold for a minimum of ten breaths
-uttanasana (forward fold). Usually I do half sun salutations, beginning in tadasana, then flowing through upward salute, forward fold, half lift, repeating several times. If you are feeling up to it, work through a few full sun salutations.
-step back to plank, lowering to your belly
-crocodile, sphinx, and cobra, moving from a gentle to more intense backbend.
-bow pose: stretches your neck, chest, stomach, and back. Opening your neck and chest will lead to better breathing. -camel pose: will open up your back and chest even further while clearing out your passageways.-balasana (child's pose)-stretch onto your belly, then roll over onto your back -bridge pose: a mild yet effective way to open your chest, in addition to sending fresh blood to your head. I usually repeat this pose three times with variations, sometimes interlacing my fingers beneath my lower back to enhance chest opening.-wheel pose (if I'm feeling up to it)-apanasana (hug knees to chest)-headstand (salamba sirsasana): one of the most difficult yoga postures, yet it is incredibly energizing and detoxing to let stagnant blood rush from your toes, filter through your heart, and drain into your head.

-balasana (child's pose)
-meditate for a few minutes
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-and don't forget to conclude your yoga practice with a few OMs...inhaling fully through your nose, and releasing your breath as you call the sound "OM" through your mouth

Essential Oils 
I am having a passionate love affair at the moment with all things Saje. I love many of their products (their oil blend Yoga is constantly on the go in my house) and I turn to their cold and flu remedies when I'm down and out. I diffuse their Immunity oil while I sleep to clear my nose, and I also use their Immunity oil roller under my nose, on my temples, across my sinuses, and on the glands in my neck. The smell is soothing and helps to clear my congestion. No one has any issues with fragrance in my classroom, so I diffuse Immunity throughout the day there as well. The kids love my diffuser! Learn more about Saje's cold and flu products here.

Use a Neti Pot
This is an ancient yogic practice that has entered the modern world. Neti pots are available in most pharmacies (such as Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada) and come with packages of salt to which you add distilled lukewarm (or previously boiled) water. Bending over a basin or sink, you pour half the pot through one nostril and let it run through and out the other one. After you've irrigated one nostril, you blow your nose and do ten little puffs of air through each nostril individually and then through both nostrils. Then repeat on the other nostril.

Why use a neti pot?
-it thins out and flushes mucus from the nose
-helpful in treating sinus infections, allergy symptoms, and colds
-it leaves you feeling refreshed and breathing easier
-learn more here

Staying Hydrated
I try my best to push fluids constantly. Lots of lemon water (cold and warm) as well as tea. I'm a big fan of David's Tea all the time, and when I'm sick I turn to their Cold 911 and Throat Rescue teas.

It goes without saying, but lots of rest is key to a speedy recovery. Take care of yourself and consider spending a day at home in bed. And remember, teacher friends--self care is a priority and a necessity--not a luxury--in the work that we do.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reindeer Rescue Wrap Up

Well Christmas might be over, but we still had a few loose ends to tie up in my classroom. On the last day of junior kindergarten before Christmas holidays, we held our Reindeer Rescue Art and Craft Sale. Check out this earlier post to learn all about the project's inception, and take a look at what we accomplished since then!
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We used shared writing to draft letters to our school families to let them know about our upcoming art and craft sale. In our letter, we shared why we were doing this project and how and when they could support it. 
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Great scissor skill development, as well as a mini-lesson on the concept of half. We cut all the notes in half! 
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We visited every classroom in our school. The first time, we asked how many kids were in the classroom. Then we returned to our classroom and counted that many notes, bundling them and printing the grade and number of kids on each bundle. Then we delivered the notes. Such good practice in being brave and knocking on doors, asking questions, the number sequence, 1-1 correspondence, and printing numbers. 
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We were each responsible for doing some advertising. All of us called three people to tell them about the sale!

And finally the big day of the sale arrived. In the morning we set up our classroom and decided who would work at each station. We practiced what we would say to people when they came to our classroom. We made signs for each table so people would know how much everything cost. We did our best to copy the letters and numbers--great visual-motor coordination! 
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This was difficult but we did it! Our signs looked terrific, and our teacher was so proud of us for doing it independently. 
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Ready to sell some crafts!
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These handprint reindeer were very popular items! 
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We asked our families to donate cookies and sweet treats. This was a very popular table and all the JK kiddos wanted to work here! We decided to take turns. 
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Ready for our shoppers to arrive--we are so excited!
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Our sale was busy from the beginning and we sold nearly everything in no time at all!
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We went home with our parents after the sale, and our teacher locked up the money so we could count it after Christmas holidays!
When we counted the money, we discovered that we raised $181.25. Mrs. Caldwell decided to donate a little bit extra for an even $200. 

We visited the WWF website to find out how many reindeer we could help through the symbolic adoption program. We found out that we could adopt FIVE reindeer. We were so excited! We decided to use Skype Audio to call WWF in person and talk to them about our Reindeer Rescue project. We talked to a really nice woman and she congratulated us on our hard work. She said that it was so inspiring to see little kids making such a big difference in the world. Mrs. Caldwell got a bit tearful when she said this! 
And then last week our adoption kits came in the mail! We received five plush reindeer, adoption certificates, information about reindeer, and some nice posters. It was like Christmas all over again!

We are very eager to do some special activities with our reindeer. We might use them as reading buddies or take turns taking them home and photographing their adventures. Stay tuned for our next project--we're learning about other polar animals now and we have some big plans in the works!