Adding joy to my to do list

Oh joy where have you gone? I must admit that lately I have struggled with finding joy in my learning. Learning has become a list of looming deadlines and an endless list of things to read and write about. Listening to Dean Shareski, speak to my UVic Masters class, last Thursday night reminded me that joy needs to be central to our learning and that taking time to reflect on what brings joy is an important part of the learning process. Reading Alfie Kohn’s post Feel bad education-The Cult of Rigor and the Loss of Joy helped me realize how far sideways things have gone in our schools. The attainment of joy is often seen as interfering with real learning. Laughter is seen as a sign of misbehaviour and enthusiastic chatter and movement is viewed as a lack of control on the teacher’s part. I admit that sometimes there is a fine line between joy and complete off task silliness. As a grade 1 teacher, I am lucky to be teaching children who are new enough to the system to still be joyful. Their natural inclination is to be thrilled with learning something new. They will often break out in spontaneous song or dance at the sheer joy of discovery. Their faces light up in glee when they finally finish that story they have spent days working on. They do a happy dance when they persevere through a math problem and figure it out. Of course, not all learning can be joyful. There is nothing exciting or new about practicing printing which is an important skill that must be developed through repetition. I also realize that my students find joy in different things. Some love to read others to write and some to build. I think the trick is to value joy in our classrooms. Not to seek it constantly or berate ourselves if it is not there but to value and recognize it when it appears. To be ready to set aside the lesson plan and go with the flow. To identify those unscripted moments that build community within the classroom. There is nothing like a shared laugh to bring students closer together. We value collaboration and community – is shared joy not a great way to get there naturally? Why is it that as children go through our school system they seem to lose their joy and creativity? Sir Ken Robinson gave a powerful Ted-talk exploring this topic. Why do we continue to educate students in a factory model when innately we know it isn’t right?

As I was writing this post my husband came into the room and asked if I wanted to go to the beach to watch the sun rise. My first inclination was 1. to be annoyed by the disruption when I was on a roll and 2. to say no as I had too much to do. Luckily, I came to my senses quickly and  recognized the irony in refusing a beautiful morning with my husband because I needed to finish writing a blog about ‘joy’. Taking the break on a frosty morning to listen to the seagulls calling, watch the fishing boats go out and experience the beauty of a calm, sunny morning at the beach brought me more joy than writing a thousand blogs. I realized that making time for joy should be a priority both in my life and in my classroom. How many times have I missed out on a joyful opportunity because I was just too busy or it wasn’t the right time? I resolve to add joy to my to do list. Not as a specific activity or time but as a constant presence and reminder to watch for it, to nurture and encourage it, in my family and my students. Thank you Dean for reminding me that joy isn’t superfluous but rather a much-needed and valued part of a good life.

IMG_2785The view I almost missed.


WordPress learning project Update #7

Tried something new this week to update on my learning project. A presentation tool called emaze. Similar to Prezi but with many ready made templates available. I found it fairly easy to use but was frustrated with the lack of flexibility. I created my presentation and then wanted to change the template but was unable to do so without starting over. The tool allows the user to import pictures and video very easily but does not have an audio feature which would have been nice. It also was not easy to import into WordPress as the embed code did not work. I would be interested to hear from anyone who uses this in the classroom to hear of other practical uses.

The power of children

I was so excited when I found out that Sylvia Martinez was going to be talking to our Tiegrad cohort. I had just stumbled upon her work the week before while doing research for my lit review. My research question involves how to bring the Reggio Emilia Approach up the grades. The Reggio Emilia Approach to learning originates in a tiny town in Italy but has been hailed as  one of the best educational philosophies in the world by Newsweek. It embraces the ideal that children are competent learners who should have a strong say in the direction of their learning. The Reggio approach states that:

  • Children must be able to learn through hands on experiences using their all of their senses
  • Children learn best through a project based approach
  • Children must have control of their learning
  • Children must be given ample opportunities to express themselves

While researching articles for my lit review I came across the Maker Movement and was immediately struck by the parallels between the two approaches. The Maker Culture according to Wikipedia

” emphasizes learning-through-doing (constructivism) in a social environment. Maker culture emphasizes informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning motivated by fun and self-fulfillment.[2] ”

I began searching the literature to see who else was researching the parallels and the implications for bringing Reggio up the grades in the 21st century. I found Gary Stager and his Digital Reggio philosophy, did a little dance for joy, and was immediately hooked. This Summer there is a Summer Institute put on by Constructing Modern Knowledge that  is committed to making connections between child-centered learning theories and the creative construction of knowledge with computers. It is so exciting to see the blending of theories that value child-centered learning, an inquiry, project based approach and technology!

I am now hard at work finding articles to support creating a Reggio inspired Maker space at my school. I will be moving up to Gr. 3 next year and can’t wait to use my Reggio background in a new and exciting way that will also incorporate digital technologies for my students. Listening to Sylvia talking about all the opportunities and technologies of the Maker Movement was truly inspiring and has me all fired up! I would love to connect with anyone else interested in creating a hands-on maker space in their class or anyone who is already trying this out.

The following Ted talk by Adora Svitak ties in so well to the constructivist philosophy of learning and really helps to celebrate the power of the inherent wisdom of children.

“The Best Schools in the World”
2 December 1991

Using Coggle as a Media Tool for Teachers

Jane and I created the following screencast of a media tool called Coggle that we have been experimenting with at school. I currently use it to collaboratively plan upcoming units with my teaching partner and recently used it to map out my research focus. I enjoy the ease of use and the simplicity of the image it creates. Sometimes simple really is better. Please watch the video below for our step by step review of it. Let me know if you can think of any other uses for it.

Haiku Deck Learning Project Update #6

This week I thought I would try something new to blog about my Learning Project Update. I discovered Haiku Deck while looking for different presentation formats. It is simple to use, has a huge library of images and transforms boring content into something rather pretty. I definitely enjoyed putting the presentation together more than I enjoy simply writing. Finding images to match my thoughts added a layer of metacognition and reflection. Let me know what you think of it. I’m wondering what other uses there could be for Haiku Deck in primary classes. Perhaps a bank of images for digital storytelling….

What is a story?

After hearing Alan Levine (@cogdog) as a guest presenter in our EDCI569 course this past week I have found myself reflecting on mIMG_1784y own teaching. The focus of his presentation was on digital storytelling and the myriad of ways in which students can ‘tell’ a story. I am currently immersed in teaching a Grade 1 fairy tale unit and am trying to reconcile Alan’s forward thinking, innovative ideas with my current lessons which are teaching students the ‘correct’ way to write a story. The BC Grade 1 outcomes state that students need to know that stories include characters, settings, problems and solutions. I like to use a unit on fairy tales to explore storytelling and writing. One of the first lessons I do is to ask the students “what is a fairy tale?” We divide our class books into piles of yes, no, maybe and have great debates and conversations regarding the genre. The student responses are always interesting and are often based on the latest Disney movie. My 6 year old students are convinced that ‘Rapunzel’ the story was based on ‘Tangled’ the movie rather than the other way around. When we begin to explore the historical basis on fairy tales and add the element of medieval times students begin to see the importance of oral traditions and the timeless power of language. Learning about jesters and minstrels has helped them to see that stories can be told in many different forms. Students who have difficulty writing will often amaze me by standing up and singing a story, others will act out a tale with puppets, or dance a story.  I have tried this year to offer more story telling options such as having the students build a story using materials, paint a story, mime a story. We have a classroom full of costumes to retell and act out stories. Using apps such as Puppet Pals,  Story Creator and Stop Animation has allowed technology to provide another vehicle for their ideas. We are now beginning to write our stories and I can already feel some of the magic leaving. The strong writers will be fine but it is the students with the wonderful imaginations who struggle to print that I worry about. How can I help them learn the necessary skills of printing and story structure without squashing the joy of the story? Currently I try to separate aspects of writing into different areas because at this age it is impossible to do it all at the same time. So we focus on beautiful printing in our printing books, and practice our best spelling in our spelling books. We also have writer’s visual notebooks for drawing our ideas about stories and  journals for printing our ideas. I will conference with students individually as they are writing to work on editing and coherence but am careful to pick only one or two things at a time. Alan helped to reinforce for me that there is no one way to tell a story. I am thankful for that reminder as I sit down to write my report cards. Yes Johnny’s letters go off the lines, and his punctuation is non-existent, but boy can he tell a good story.

WordPress Bootcamp Update #5

After returning from a much needed family weekend getaway up in Parksville I have renewed appreciation for the flexibility and personalization of online learning. As part of my EDCI 591 learning project, I had enrolled in an open learning WordPress Bootcamp that started on Saturday and runs until Wednesday. It wasn’t until Monday that I was able to sit down and review the class materials but was immediately  impressed with the amount of support available and with the organization of the course. The class has a google+ site, a twitter hashtag #edtechopen and a website. Activities are archived and allow participants to engage at their own time.
WordPress bootcamp. Retrieved from website:
The main page is well organized and is easy to navigate. I am pleased to see that the initial contact allows people to introduce themselves and explain why they are taking the course. There are not a huge number of students (only 13 in the introduction forum) which actually makes me feel better and worse both at the same time. I am happy to not be interacting with thousands of strangers but apprehensive that now someone will have time to read and respond to my posts. I might not get away with lurking on this one….
The first activity is a discussion about the relevance of blogging. Why should we blog? It is an interactive session with participants providing links to valuable resources and articles and explaining their reasons for wanting to learn more. I am fascinated by the range of professions using blogging and the variety of responses. I immediately have an entire afternoon of links to search and read on the subject of blogging. I am also impressed with the contributions of instructor Lisa Read. She provides a personal view of blogging with her own examples given. The openness an honesty of her posts is inspiring. I realize that by providing personal anecdotes and stories to her students she has provided a connection point, an opening to get to know her, not as just a teacher but as a daughter, mother, citizen. Too often we hold back the very information that could draw people close to us by putting on a facade that fits the situation. I am still struggling with embracing and building my digital identity but thanks to Lisa realize that allowing myself some freedom and humanity while blogging will help to build a more meaningful PLN. Sometimes you need to give a little in order to receive.
I highly recommend you drop in and look around the course site, if not for this course then for future offerings.
Blogging Links provided by John Goldsmith

Change is difficult Update #4

I must admit that I am not loving WordPress yet. I have spent many hours pouring over a multitude of help sites but I have found them all to be very text and jargon heavy. I am really missing the simplicity and ease of my old Weebly. I miss the simple visual icons and the ease of importing pictures. I miss the bright colours and happy feel of my old blog. My WordPress site feels very proper, very prescribed. I still feel that it controls me rather than the other way around. It’s like an old school teacher with rows of desks having me fill in endless worksheets. Weebly felt more like a supportive educator, providing enough scaffolding to provide skills, but then stepping back and allowing time for exploration and play. I felt successful on Weebly and managed to create an interesting site with multiple pages in little time. WordPress feels like working with an annoying office manager who thinks that saying “Beep, beep, boop” whenever I attempt a new post is helping me somehow. The urban dictionary defines it as a way to describe a geek or nerd. What is with that! Some sort of computer geek humour taunting us useless minions. I need to hold myself back from ‘bopping’ the screen. I am aware that my own incompetence is probably causing most of my frustration and that with time WordPress will (I’m told) prove to be much more useful. With that in mind I thought I should recap the week.

images-3License: CC0 Public Domain / Free for commercial use / No attribution required

New things learned: (very short, despite hours put in)

– A category is like a table of contents for your blog. You should have no more than 1-2 categories per post

– A tag represents an index for your blog and allows people to search by keyword

-I have learned how to insert a poll (This week I am searching for reasons that people like WordPress..)

– I can track the usage of my site and see where people are visiting from- I like the map feature

-I have experimented with a variety of themes and explored many options for users, tools and settings. (I’m not yet ready to do much with them but I know they are there.)

-Have learned to link words to urls.

-I read a blog post by Mardelle that stated she isn’t a fan of WordPress either (feel much better)

Frustrations I have had this week: (very long, despite hours put in)

-Every time I do something to my site a new window appears on my screen- results in confusion trying to figure out which is the latest window.

-My sidebar is repeated on the front page of my blog-no idea why

-Trying to insert pictures takes me to a media library- I have no pictures in my media library and am trying to figure out how to put some there.

-Despite all the ‘helpful’ sites out there I have yet to find one that emulates or comes close to having tech support at my side using simple, comforting language (I need a cloud granny!)

-I have an unknown feed error on my page that I need to remove

-Just realized that when I post a draft of a blog just to see what it looks like, and then delete it, it automatically tweets it out- aah! (Have just found the preview button to avoid this in the future)

-Have lost my title and don’t know why. It appears in my draft but not in final post.

-Too many words everywhere I look. Give me some pictures people!

-I’m starting to feel like the Bridget Jones of blogging 😦

All in all a rather frustrating experience. I’m beginning to wish that I had tried yoga as a project as working on my blog is not helping me manage my stress levels. I am going to walk away and go put some steps on my Fitbit- a much more satisfying endeavour!

Digital Identity and the neighbours


Creative commons  A British neighbourhood watch sign by unisouth is licensed under CC by 3.0

Over the last few weeks I have had an opportunity to reflect on my digital identity and to think about how I manage the information that I put out into the world. I must admit that I am still mostly at the lurking stage and often second guess myself as to what I want to put out to the world. As a rather private person, raised in a stiff upper lip British household it is not natural to draw attention to myself. “What would the neighbours think?” was a common line used in my childhood to describe any behaviour that seemed out of the norm. The idea being that you don’t want to stand out, that only brash and egotistical individuals constantly tell everyone what they are doing or thinking. With this in mind, I approached Twitter with deep skepticism and trepidation. It is a very vulnerable feeling putting your thoughts into cyberspace. I have often wondered how to overcome this reluctance, as try as I might, it is hard to reframe years of thinking.

As my group of followers grows, and begins to include experts in many areas, it becomes even more intimidating to put my thoughts permanently into cyberspace. Trying to decide on the persona of my account is also a concern. Do I want my employers to read the same things as my friends? Do my Masters colleagues need to know personal details or should I stick to informative articles? I know that some people have multiple accounts, but the idea of managing even more information in even more places is too much for me at this stage. I like Google Plus for its ability to put people in different circles. Why can’t Twitter do that?

In order to improve my identity I have so far changed my profile on Twitter, tried to check it and post daily. I have combed through the followers of people I admire and have found new people and new hashtags to follow. I am trying to set aside time each day to check feeds, post comments, and add to conversations. I am still more comfortable retweeting interesting articles and tweets than creating my own so my personal goal for this week is to try to post more original content- pictures from my class, ideas I think are important…. Who cares what the neighbours think!

A recent retweet on @_valeriei- Does Posting More Content Lead to More Engagement? New report tracks 2 years of data: made me think that perhaps the neighbours are so overwhelmed with their own data that they don’t really notice or care. Perhaps the key is not to create a giant PLN but instead a manageable one in which I feel supported and listened to and can make meaningful contributions that lead to active engagement.

WordPress- Work in Progress Update #3

So I have bowed to public pressure (and expert opinion)  and left my Weebly behind in order to branch out into new and supposedly better places. I have spent the last couple of weeks reflected on my digital identity and have found it somewhat lacking in inspiration, focus and pizzaz. I have some experience with WordPress from a previous university course but it ended badly with the entire site being frozen and then completely disappearing. Months of work gone in a single poof! Not good for someone who wrote directly on the blog and didn’t back anything up. In despair I fell back on a Weebly blog, as I already own and maintain a classroom site. But, having been challenged, I am now a little more savvy and ready to get back into the game.
First step was signing up for a free WordPress account. No problem. Next step, picking a theme. Usually I just scroll around for something that looks nice (preferably in my favourite colour- blue) and try to copy it, but this time I took the time to read the WordPress tutorial and boy have I been missing important information. According to the tutorial before choosing a pretty picture it is important to consider:
Time and Energy
“Pick a theme that says you.” suggests the tutorial. Wow, I could take a lifetime trying to figure that out! Who am I? A wife, mother, teacher, student. Do I want to appear hip and cool or teachery and clever? I have different identities for different parts of my life. Do I need more than one blog or do I create a hybrid entity that encompasses bits of me? The site recommends looking at existing blogs to find one to emulate. I quickly lose track of time and find myself engrossed in an endless range of witty, pointless and highly entertaining sites out there. You really can write about just about anything! My favourite part though was reading the blog titles. They were all catchy and aimed at getting your attention like “Truth and Cake” “Highly Irritable” “Harmless Drudgery” or my personal favourite “Aging Gracefully My Ass”.
After going a bit cross-eyed after looking at all my options I decide to bite the bullet and pick something knowing that if don’t like it I have the option to change later. Wilson  is listed as a “clean, simple and bold theme”. A tad boring perhaps but simplicity is appealing at this point. I feel bold just having made a choice – perhaps my theme is working already. Now for the customizations. One good thing about going for the free version is that choices are limited. Colours are set unless I want to upgrade and pay. I continue reading but start to glaze over at all the details.  I have now been on the computer for over an hour and only have a blank blog with a bad title. Decide to switch to the “Get Going Fast: A Checklist” page. The fact that the page exists tells me that I am not the only one with a life.
To tell the truth, it is a bit overwhelming to suddenly realize how little you know about a topic. The funny thing is,  some of my colleagues at school think I am rather tech savvy because I have a class blog and use Twitter. I am beginning to feel like a fraud and a wannabe. I realize that I have very surface level knowledge and that I need to invest a lot more time and energy into really understanding what a WordPress blog can offer. So please don’t laugh at my new site with the sidebar containing features I still have no idea about.
Stay tuned. I am planning on adding a few new features every week. It currently feels like a block of stone full of potential just waiting to be discovered…
Update: I have discovered the perfect MOOC- A WordPress Boot camp offered by that promises to teach me:
WordPress basics and how to create more than “just another Blog” and creating a website with more. Share links, connect networks, manage themes, styles, widgets and plugins– and have a rich discussion about all the ways this tool can be leveraged for personal, professional and educational uses.
P.S I love the proofreading button I just found