Friday, April 27, 2012

Mr. C meets Livescribe

I recently discovered and learned about smartpens thanks to Aviva Dunsiger (@Grade1) and Zoe Branigan-Pipe (@zbpipe). I consider them to be master tech-integrating educators who find the time to share their amazing work on Twitter and a website called Live Learning with Livescribe. Since discovering the 'smartpen' - which is a pen that records audio and links it to what you write - I have spent some time communicating with Aviva to really understand how this type of technology works and the impact it can have in a classroom.

Thanks to both of these ladies, I finally felt comfortable to take the risk and get my own smartpen. I have the 2GB Echo Smartpen and I am really excited at its potential for my students and myself. After reading this article I decided to use the pen for a guided reading session with one of my students. I asked one of my students to choose a book close to her reading level and read to me. She chose "Pooh's Hero Party" and here is the text and audio of what occurred: 

brought to you by Livescribe

This was such an exciting experience for my student and myself. Before she read to me I asked her why she chose the book, what she thought it was about, and whether she had ever read any other books about the main character - Winnie the Pooh. Looking back, I wish I had taken notes/audio of that brief discussion. You have just experienced some of what occurred during her reading, which is what normally occurs when I meet with a student for such an activity. What happened after her reading is where the smartpen assisted both of us.

When she stopped reading and I stopped taking notes I reviewed my notes with her. You see, when you touch the words on the Liverscribe dot paper the audio that was recorded when I wrote that word will begin to play so that you can hear what was said when that word was written. POWERFUL! My student and I reviewed the connection, prediction, re-reading, self-correcting, retell, recommendation, and favourite part together. The audio served as a wonderful way for her to engage in reflecting on her reading but it also allowed her to think about her thinking. We spent some time talking about the word 'proudly' which she decoded as 'probably'. Once she heard the audio of that error she asked if she could go back into the book and find that section. She couldn't believe that she had made such an error! She then told me that the word looked like probably (visual miscue) and that it made sense for her to call it probably (meaning miscue). I then talked to her about how awesome it was for me to hear/see her re-read text to make sense of it and self-correct. We talked about what she did well and what she needed to work on.

Although this was the first use of the smart pen with one of my students, I am impressed. For my student, it allowed her to hear herself read - which rarely, if ever, happens. As she heard herself, she could identify the reading strategies she had been taught, what she did well, and what she needed to work on. She also had the opportunity to engage in meta-cognition. It seemed a lot easier for her to talk about what she was thinking at the time when she read the particular text that she was listening to.

For myself, the audio/text connection allowed me to engage in a more precise assessment of/for student learning and my descriptive feedback to the student was a lot richer. The ability to playback what was said when I wrote certain text was as helpful to me as it was to my student. Moreover, the ability to share this experience with her parents is available to me as well as being able to store this session on my computer. I can see the advantages of this technological tool for teaching and learning. 

Having has some time to reflect on this experience, I have questions like: How would this work with a lower-level struggling reader? Would it be as beneficial to them? How much time would I be spending on uploading data from the pen to the computer? Would I be able to keep up with it? Would I be able to roll this into my guided reading component of Language literacy instruction? Can I find the time to do this will all my guided reading groups the way I did with this one student?

Don't get me wrong, I am not discouraged. I am simply thinking out loud - it helps me. Have you/do you use a smartpen with your students? Did this blog post raise any questions/comments/concerns with you? I would love your feedback - I welcome it!   

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

21st Century Fluencies without the High Tech

2012 Regional Skills Canada Competition.

House Hippo. Do YOU have one?

I recently created a lesson around media literacy and critical thinking for the AQ course that I am taking. The lesson that I created had to incorporate an appropriate video to engage my students in being critical of what they were viewing. The most important point of the lesson was to teach the students that every form of media should be viewed critically and to be aware of this online and in print.

I THOUGHT that I had spent quality time teaching my students how to be critical thinkers, but I was incorrect. I want to share with you what I did with my students and what they showed me. I will tell you 'up-front', I am quite pleased with the results of this lesson.

I showed them the following commercial, but only until the 47 second mark.

I asked them if they believe that this House Hippo exists. None of them had heard of the House Hippo but most of them believed that they had one at home! I told them that I looked at my house and could not find one or any trace of one. I explained that we needed to “go deep” about this topic to figure out what this House Hippo commercial is all about. I told them that they need to be critical about this to figure out what is going on - to prove or disprove if the house hippo is real or not – to make sense of it.

I told them that we needed to create a Critical Thinking Anchor Chart to guide us in "going deeper". This is what I thought we would create:

Critical Thinking Strategies Anchor Chart
  • Used to guide you in how to be a critical thinker

1. Ask Questions – How did the Hippo’s get into the house?

2. Evidence – Does the video tell us where we can find more information? What evidence do they provide viewers with?

3. Research - Where will you look for evidence outside of the video? What technology will you use?

4. Emotion – Don’t let emotions in, good or bad (“I would love a house hippo!”). Be objective and stay focused on your task.

Evaluate – make a decision about what you think based on the first 3 critical thinking strategies

This is what we actually created:
not the best picture....sorry

After our chart was complete I showed them the graphic organizer I created to assist them in thinking critically. I put the students into groups and then set them free. Part of this lesson required technology integration - so I made the classroom computer and laptop available to the students as one way to do research for their assignment. With my guidance they both of the computers were used.
Here is an example of how the graphic organizer was used to assist the students:
Sample 1 Part 1

Sample 1 Part 2

The graphic organizer kept the students focused, and trust me, they totally wanted to let their 'emotions' take over. It was exciting to see the looks on their faces the moment they realized, using the critical thinking strategies, that there was no such thing as a House Hippo and that the commercial was created to teach students to think critically about the media they are exposed to. Some of the students were sad that they would not have the opportunity to discover their House Hippo and some were sad that such a commercial was made to trick them.

The most rewarding part of this experience has been the discussions that have come from the lesson. A handful of my students told me that they were going to pay closer attention when watching commercials on television. Some come in to class in the morning and want to talk about what they saw on television and whether they believe it is true or not based on the critical thinking strategies we used to make sense of the House Hippo commercial. Mission accomplished (I think)!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Eportfolios: A Place to Call our Own

I recently read an article entitled 'A Place to Call Our Own: Personal, online learning spaces through eportfolios', as part of the AQ course I am enrolled in. I really enjoyed reading the article because creating an eportfolio has been on my mind as something that I really need to work on. Simply recording what I have accomplished and what I am currently working on doesn't seem to be helpful anymore. I have been taking more digital pictures of my work and student work, spending more time creating lessons/templates for the interactive white board, and recently started experimenting with capturing audio of student thinking. All of these things lend themselves well to the eportfolio format.

One issue I had with the article is that it didn't provide me with or guide me to any links that would demonstrate a decent eportfolio. In my mind, I picture a simple website where I can house my digital pictures/videos/audio/text. I found a site that gives further information regarding efolios. That site led me to some decent examples. I also discovered a website called Wix, it is a site that allows you to build your own website. They have lots of templates for a variety of different purposes. God willing, I will be able to create my own eportfolio sooner rather than later.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Reason to Celebrate

In the first post of 'The Digital Citizen' blog you were invited to join us in our endeavour to assist our special needs students, specifically autistic students, using iPads and iPod Touches. Barrday Corporation started us off, quite handsomely, buy providing us with the funds to purchase the technology for the initiative we proposed to them. Having the devices to support our learners in an innovative way was a huge first step. We decided to take it to another level by submitting a proposal application to the Ministry of Education to be part of their Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) for Experienced Teachers in order to professionally and financially support our initiative. Please bear with me as I take you through the TLLP application process - it is one of the reasons for the title of this blog post - Reason to Celebrate.

taken from

The first part of the process involved receiving our Principal's blessing. I'm not trying to make light of this part of the process but our Administrator has been and continues to be a pivotal part of this project - it is safe to say that NONE of this would be happening without the leadership and support that he has and continues to provide us with.

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After the school Principal signs off on the proposal application it is sent to the Director of Education to be reviewed at the Board level. Unlike the first part, there is no back-and-forth discussion around the ideas and energy that inspires one to complete such an application. The Board level team reviews the applications sent to the Director and are then permitted to send two applications to the Ministry of Education. When we found out that the Board level team had chosen our application to move to the next level we were quite honoured and humbled. This alone was a significant moment for us.

taken from

Once the Ministry receives the application proposals they have a team that reviews them and then decides which ones to fund. Obviously the Ministry receives a lot of applications. If every Board in Ontario sends them two applications then the Ministry could be looking at 144 applications! Long story short, the Ministry approved our application! Words can't really explain how we felt when we received the news. We are pleased and excited that our Board and the Ministry see value in our initiative and the impact it can have on our students.

taken from

Our project, entitled "The us of Apple iPad's and iPod Touches to enhance the learning of Autistic students", seeks to use the above mentioned devices to provide Autistic students with technology that will meet their learning needs and facilitate their demonstration of knowledge and skills. We believe that touch technology devices are examples of up to date and innovative technology that special needs students can use to improve their motivation and learning. We also believe that these devices should result in differentiated instruction for Autistic students that meet their academic and sensory needs.

We have lots of reasons to celebrate and we are looking forward to many more reasons to celebrate as we progress through our TLLP.

taken from

Sunday, April 1, 2012

TEDx Waterloo 2012

On March 21st I was fortuante enough to be part of the audience at TEDx Waterloo at the Centre in the Square. I was joined by two of my colleagues, Kellie Grant and Micheal Redfearn. Kellie teaches grade 7 & 8 at Our Lady of Fatima and Micheal is the Board's ICT Consultant. You may have heard of TEDtalks - if you haven't, I urge you to visit the TED site where you can watch riveting talks by remarkable people.

From left to right: Rolland Chdiac, Michael Redfearn, & Kellie Grant

"TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences -- the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer -- TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize." (

TED started out with the focus being Technology, Entertainment, and Design but has since branched out into Education, Creativity, and Innovation. As an avid viewer of the TEDtalks videos I am constantly moved by the ideas I am exposed to. As an audience member I was in complete awe as I listened to a fantastic group of people and their ideas/experiences. One of the amazing speakers was Mathew Ho, a Grade 12 student at Agincourt Collegiate Institute in Toronto, who is one of the two teens who sent a Canadian Lego man into space and video taped it - for fun! Here is the video:

Matthew's message (from my perspective) was about not limiting yourself in what you do or what you want to do. Matthew has said “I have given up on trying to find my niche, and rather accepted the fact that there are just so many interesting things in this world, it would be futile to focus on just one.” Matthew is just one example of the many inspirational speakers that day but what really impressed me about him is the fact that he is still in high school. His talk reminds me that anything is possible. As an educator, this is very important to me. It brings me back to the core of why I teach and the power within all of us to excel within certain facets of life. Matthew Ho reminds me that the students we work with are sponges that soak up what we say and the experiences that we provide them with. I am re-energized and re-focussed about what I do with my students. Aside from the fact that he is still a high school student, the technology he used to do what he did is remarkable. Cell phone GPS, Video Camera, Weather Balloon, etc - all common technology today and cost less than $500 to do. Talk about being a digital native. As my students and I continue to use technology as a tool for their learning I can only hope that they transfer the skills that they are learning in class to make their lives easier and more fun as they get older and progress in our society.

Another highlight of my day was being interview by Michael regarding my insights around the main theme of this year’s TEDxWaterloo event ‘Dis Connected’ and how it relates to my students’ lives. Michael has been kind enough to provide me with the audio of that interview, enjoy!

If you are not able to play the audio I have provided, please head over to Michael's blog to check it out (at the bottom of his post write after the end of his text).