Monday, June 10, 2019

Success is Relative

When I found out that I was transferring to the school I am currently at, I was told that my skill set (integration of technology and building relationships) was going to be a really good thing for the students at the school. With the end of the school year approaching fast, I have been reflecting on and processing what I was told.

I have always been a firm believer in meeting my students where they are at and helping them build and grow based on the skills and attitudes they demonstrate to me. No two classes are the same so why would I expect to engage in the same "recipe" I may have used with the last class? Every group helps me set a customized path for them and I have to say that I am really proud of where my students started this year and where they will end. Let me explain.

The school I work at has a large population of newcomers to Canada. In my classroom alone the majority of the class is made up of students that have not been in Canada very long. Just today I was looking around the room as the students were working and was fascinated with the cultural diversity. There are students in my class from Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Isreal, to name a few locations. English is not their first language and as they are learning to speak, read, and write English they have been open to building positive relationships with me and their classmates and have been open to the use of technology to learn and demonstrate their learning.

Some of the things I have introduced them to has blown their minds. 3D printing, virtual reality, coding, Google Drive, and the use of audio/video are examples of things I have introduced them to for the experience and for them to consider as options to help them with their learning and their demonstration of learning.

The introduction and integration of the technology I have mentioned above has come differently than any other class I have worked with. My experience at this school has required me to teach in a way that I have never experienced before. It's hard to explain the shift but it was a necessary one. The student make up of the class in front of me is largely made up of ELLs, students with special needs, and "neurotypical" students. I have worked in a variety of schools in a variety of locations and none of my prior experiences come close to what I have been experiencing this school year. Having said that, it has been a special year and has been a good change for me for a variety of reasons.

My focus with this class was to build relationships and learn how to "reach" them so they would learn and achieve. The integration of tech took a backseat because It didn't feel like it was appropriate to engage in the way I have done so in the past. As I learned how to teach the students in my class this year, and built good relationships with them, I started to feel more comfortable taking risks with my learning which led me to start introducing them to learning that would require them to take risks. Together, we have been able to engage in some pretty awesome stuff. Those experiences have only strengthened relationships and led to more risk taking with our learning.

I had a moment late last week which has led me to this blog post. As I was conferencing with a few students, I looked up and saw the following:

1) students talking about the Father's Day gifts that the 3D printer was printing,
2) students working on a writing activity using Google Slides,
3) students discussing the YouTube video that we would create for our Math coach,
4) students speaking in English and their home languages as they worked on the items I mentioned above.

Success is relative. It looks different depending on your circumstances. I can say, with full confidence, that this group has found success this school year.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Lend a Helping Hand: Kids helping other Kids

I became interested in 3D printing about 6 years ago when one of my grade 2 students told me about an idea she had. She was writing about and drawing pictures of a Leperchaun trap. She said that she could see it in her mind. She wanted to create a prototype that she could hold in her hands. It was that conversation that got me thinking about design and creation using 3 dimensional technology.

Two years after that conversation I had a 3D printer in my grade 4 classroom. It tuned out to be an amazing year of learning! We documented our journey - you can read all about it at I remember hearing about 3D printed prosthetics back then and I tried to connect with people so that my students could help out but we had no luck. I thought it would be a great social justice project for my students but it wasn't meant to be.

Fast forward to this school year (three years later) where I stumbled upon Valerie Perez's twitter account (@3rdgrade_STEAM) which led me to "Enabling the Furture" (@Enablethefuture): a global network of volunteers using 3D printers to provide people with prosthetic hands. I checked the website out and learned about the great work that Enabling the Future is doing. I brought it to my student's attention and told them what my students and I tried to do years ago. They thought it would be a great learning experience to try and print a test prosthetic so we started our learning journey.

One of the first things we had to do is figure out which hand to print. Once we made our decision, I started looking for the files to print so we could start putting the hand together. I had difficulty finding files that were compatible with our printer so I reached out to Doug Braden (Chief Technology Officer at Inksmith) to ask for help - and he did!! After a couple of days of printing we were happy to share with our twitter followers.

The day after the above tweet, we had the hand assembled and my students wanted to share a little bit about our journey.

After pushing this out we got some responses. All of them were complementary but one of them really got me thinking. I was asked how I am convincing people that primary students did this?

My class and I are doing this together. Parts of the project are more appropriate for me to deal with rather than the students. Having said that, I don't feel that I need to convince anyone of anything. I talked a little bit about this on a podcast, you can hear my response to the question here:

The work we are doing is much deeper than printing parts and putting them together. Of course, that part of this project is necessary but it isn't where I would like to spend our focus. My hope is that the students remember our work as a service to others, the importance of learning (especially the hard parts that we have to overcome), and that they don't need to wait to make a difference in this world. Using the technology we have at our hands, we can help other kids and hopefully lend them a hand.