Friday, 24 January 2014

Blackout Poetry

Doodle Buddy app
We enjoy teaching poetry with our students because we learn more about them as writers and thinkers. Sometimes we are surprised by students when they reveal perspectives, through their poetry, that we have not seen from them before. Many of our students look forward to poetry because it gives them the opportunity to write in a format shorter than paragraphs and essays.

Sometimes poetry can be challenging because we push them to use figurative language, descriptive phrases and powerful vocabulary to describe their experiences. For those students, I like teaching blackout poetry, a type of found poetry, because they do not have to write the poem themselves or from their own experience.

Created on the iPad using Doodle Buddy
The idea is to create a poem by selecting interesting and descriptive words or phrases in newspaper or magazine articles, books or websites. Then the rest of the words or phrases on the page are blacked out, or coloured over in some way, to highlight the chosen words. I begin by modelling how to create a blackout poem by using a newspaper article, and through the gradual release model we work toward the students creating their own.

Last year when I taught blackout poetry we used the camera in the iPads to take photos book pages, then Doodle Buddy, a drawing app, to choose words and create the blackout artwork.

This year we used Doodle Buddy again to create a draft of the poem, but the students decided that they wanted to complete the final product by hand. We have used iPads for several projects this year and they wanted a change and a chance to do go beyond what they could do artistically on the iPad.

As with last year, they took a photo of a page from a book and circled words and phrases. Using the iPads for their draft only gave them a chance to edit freely without having to erase on the hardcopy, thereby creating pencil marks and smudges. Once they felt ready and had conferenced with me, they were free to doodle and create on the copied page. The iPad allowed us to reduce the amount of photocopying necessary because students could try many different pages until the found one that worked for them.
Blackout poem draft on the iPad using Doodle Buddy

Their final poems were all brief, with few lines in their stanzas, but many contained depth in the meaning or message.

Others were more simple or basic, but the students created interesting designs and patterns that are visually appealing.

This is always an enjoyable and creative project and the students like the art component. As you can see from the samples, their blackouts can go from merely interesting design, to images that relate to the meaning of their chosen words.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

WinterTech 2014

Tonight we presented at our district's WinterTech 2014 technology conference. There were a variety of sessions including using screen casting apps, twitter tips, using Book Creator, iMovie, and simple Smart Board creation for resource.

Our session was about how we use iPads in our intermediate classroom. 

We shared how we use a variety of apps and student samples for each, as well as tips and tricks that we've learned on our two year iPad journey. 

The apps we shared:
  • Drawing Box
  • Popplet Lite
  • Doodle Buddy
  • Skitch
  • Haiku Deck
  • Using and creating QR Codes
  • Audioboo
  • Book Creator
  • Voice Thread
  • 30 Hands
  • NFB Pix Stop

Some take aways from our presentation:
  • teach creative apps that can be used in many curricular areas
  • start small: pick one app and have students become "app experts" by using the app in several subject areas
  • don't overload on apps: maybe focus on three or four apps for the year
  • avoid subject specific apps that are game focussed as they have a limited use (and we don't use iPads for "free time"- our iPad work is project and criteria based)
  • don't give up when tech issues arise, as they always do
  • ask for help: have a tech buddy or expert 

We plan on writing posts on all of the apps listed above, including student samples and extension of the ideas, we just need some time to do so. This is a very new blog and our heads are full of everything that we want to share!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Snow Day Math

It doesn't snow very often here on the west coast of Canada. In fact, some winters we have no snow, so when it does it is a big deal. One Monday this past December we looked out the window during grade six math class (the grade six students from our class and another grade 5/6 class) to see snow flakes falling from the sky. I might as well have said that the students had won the lottery for all the cheering and excitement. I could either try to refocus them on the planned math lesson, or join them in their enthusiasm.

I opted for the latter and told the students to go outside for a few minutes to play. I figured they'd get cold and be happy to come back in. I was amazed at the fun they were having with barely any snow on the ground, so I decided to weave some math into the fun. 

In groups students had to make the biggest snowball they could, and I said there would be prizes. They used rulers to scrape any snow they could off the ground and make it into a ball. This was a difficult task as it wasn't good packing snow.

Once everyone's fingers were frozen we came back inside with the snowballs. Students brainstormed all the ways we might determine which was the biggest snowball, and the problems with each method. Some wanted to weigh the snowballs, and we discussed how some might be more dense than others because of packing tightly. Other students wanted to measure the height and width of the snowballs, but I pointed out how some were irregularly shaped and not spheres.

Then we talked about volume and how that might be a good measure of the largest snowball. Again, the irregularly shaped balls and how this would not work. However, because I did not want to leave the class to go to the science storage room to get a scale, we decided to attempt to calculate the volume of the snowballs.
First we googled the formula for volume of a sphere and wrote it on the board. Some of the more advanced students examined the formula to determine what we would need to calculate the volume. We would have no accurate way of determining the radius of our snowballs, so we decided to estimate as best we could by measuring the height of each snowball (understanding that they were somewhat irregularly shaped) and using this as diameter. 

Once we halved the diameter to arrive at the radius we worked our way through the formula together on the front whiteboard. Many students were not familiar with multiplying fractions, Pi or exponents, so they had a steep learning curve, but the stronger students helped walk us through the process. 

We did this for the top three snowballs and came up with an approximate tie between two. By this time the snowballs were starting to melt so I let the students go back outside and throw their snowballs. This was their favourite part, of course!

As luck would have it, a couple of weeks later we had a large dump of snow on the last day of school before the winter break, so we had another big play outside in the snow. This time we skipped the math!

iPad Class Instruction Essentials

When we embarked upon our technology journey, we realized very quickly that we would require a projector. There are numerous posts on the internet about how to use only one iPad in a classroom, but we knew that if we wanted the iPad to be in integral part of our teaching, and in fact change the way we teach, we would need a projector. We wanted the iPads to increase discussion and sharing and make our students' education be more collaborative and we needed a projector to not only model for our students but also for our students to share their ideas and amazing creativity.

There are two projectors at our school; one in the computer lab and one housed in the library on a moveable cart. We didn't want to be limited to specific times to use the projector, however, so together we purchased a projector for our exclusive classroom use. I imagine that some of the ways we use the projector is similar to some ways SmartBoards can be used in classrooms. Another option we could have used is Apple TV; however, with our resources the projector was the most cost effective option at the time. We also appreciate the portability of the projector.

Along with the projector we require adaptors for our iPads to connect to the projector. As Joanna's iPad is a slightly newer model to mine, we each have our own adapter.

Various Ways We Use the Projector:

  • In discussions, if we need to fill in gaps in student background knowledge by researching a topic or image on the internet, we do not have to book the computer lab. We can find out immediately what we want to know. In our large school we only have one regularly scheduled computer lab block, which is not practical for this kind of inquiry. An example of this is when we were reading about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We googled images of the garbage patch and its location. 
  • Students can share their projects and work with the whole class easily. For a French project students took a photo of their labeled winter scene, and with their work projected to the screen, they read their phrases and sentences aloud to the class. 

  • I have used the World Atlas app from National Geographic projected onto the screen to show the locations when doing current events, instead of the traditional globe that every classroom seems to have. To show the whole class a location using the globe I have to walk around the room and point with my finger. With the app projected for the whole class, I can manipulate the digital globe to find locations and everyone can follow along at one, which enables a richer discussion. 
  • We use the projector to model how to use a new app, and then once students are working, we use it to share the unique ways they use the app with the rest of the class.

  • I have shown on line videos related to current news events. For example, during Typhoon Haiyan I showed videos of the destruction caused by the typhoon on 

  • When studying Connecting with Nature, a unit from the David Suzuki Foundation, we learned about the importance of pollinators and the threats they face. To bring pollinators to life for the students we watched a TED Talk by Louie Schwartzberg, The Hidden Beauty of Pollination

The ways to use a projector are really only limited by the imagination, and I can't see teaching now without the use of one. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Welcome To Our Journey

We decided to begin documenting our learning journey together, as teaching job share partners and friends, in October, 2013, when we were in the midst of parent-student conferencing, because we never seem to do things in half measures. This photo was taken because we thought it was funny how similar we are. Without planning, we each wore a scarf, jacket, and exactly the same pants and flats!

We have been sharing a class since returning from maternity leave with our oldest children (we have six between us). Each of us brings different strengths to the class, and yet our philosophy of education and our view of child development and relationships is very similar.

We believe in pushing ourselves to try the current ideas and ways of teaching because we do not like being stuck in a rut. It is because of this that we decided, after a particularly stimulating professional development workshop, to embark upon becoming more tech savvy as people and teachers.

Both of us purchased our own iPads and a shared projector for our exclusive classroom use to complement the ten iPads that our school had at the time. Although it is possible to use iPads in the classroom without a projector or multiple iPads for student use, we felt that it was necessary for meaningful learning. We can model how to use apps, project individual student work on iPads for class sharing, view websites and on line videos for content areas and current events.

Since beginning this journey our school, with grants and PAC fundraising, has purchased 30 iPads and 25 iPad minis, which has increased our opportunities to learn and create with iPads.

Together we have also begun the Mind Up program from the Hawn Foundation, which aims to give children the tools to calm themselves so optimal learning may occur. The lessons in the program give them the ability to engage in mindful breathing, and knowledge of how their brain functions so they understand the science behind what they are doing when they practice mindful breathing.

We have also made a commitment to be mindful of our environmental impact as teachers. Schools can create a great deal of waste, and consume a great deal of energy. We strive to reduce the amount of photocopying we do and reduce the amount of paper our students consume. We have found iPads to be very useful with this goal, as students can do things like taking screen shots of webpages to highlight and take notes, rather than photocopying for student use. Many of our students have joined our Eco Team, which is working to promote energy savings and waste reduction. This year our class is also part of a gardening program which has been headed by Ian Lai of the Terra Nova Sharing Farm.

Join us as we share our learning journey…