Sep 12 2014


The Strength Based IEP – let it work for the Gifted Learner

Filed under Gifted Classroom

The IEP for the Gifted Learner

IMG_8531As a teacher for Gifted and Enriched students, I have spent many hours working with teachers, parents and learners on developing Individual Education Plans (IEP) for Gifted and Enriched learners. The IEP has a clear purpose and its process for development is not a difficult one to grasp. Regardless of school, district, or even country,  the IEP has similar characteristics: To identify the learner’s strengths and weaknesses,  to set measurable goals and objectives, to identify the tools and resources (including people) needed, to identify the strategies needed to achieve the goals and finally, as a team, to commit. Yes, there are subtle differences in language from district to district (modification, accommodation), but the overall purpose and gist of the IEP remains the same: To set our students up for success by ensuring they are getting a fair chance at learning.

It should be easy then. However, with Gifted learners, there is much debate and discussion about the IEP.  In my school district, we use both group testing (all students in Grade Four are given the CCAT test) followed by Individual testing (WISC-IV) and students usually score within the 95th to 99th percentile on these tests in a variety of areas, including overall IQ. Only a very very small portion of children or adults would score in this range (1-2% of the population). This alone, should sound the alarm bells. These students are not in the norm and SHOULD NOT be receiving the same programing as the rest. We would say no different for students who are scoring at the other end of the scale and require significant modifications in their learning. Further, just like within the general population of learners, these students are just as likely to present with a Disability.  Sometimes, the gap between two areas is quite wide…sometimes debilitatingly so.

Strength Based Goals:

Many students who are Gifted may not display obvious areas of “Need”. There is no use in searching for areas of weakness simply so you can put it on the form.  CREATE the goal from there overall strength.  On the other hand, many students who are identified Gifted in one area, may struggle greatly in another area or may have significant learning disabilities.  It is important that the student’s IEP sets goals that are also non-academic, such as social skills, organizational skills and personal and intrapersonal skills, which are often a struggle for Gifted learners.

Student Driven IEP and the PORTFOLIO:

IMG_8446In another post, I shared some strategies on how to involve the students in the IEP process, Here, I emphasis the following and share examples from my own class:

1) Ask for Student Input when developing the IEP. Of course, this would depend on the age group and how you structure the questions and interviews. Around the second week of school, I handed out the IEP’s to the students and had them go through and add, edit, and comment on each of the sections.  Most of them had neither seen or heard of the “IEP” before so it took a bit of time to explain the terms (accommodations, modification, strategies, methods).

2) Meet with the students individually and go through the IEP’s with them explaining how and why this document came to be.  Help them understand their own identification and what they need to best succeed.

During the first month of school students did research on their own exceptionality. Many of the students wrote blogs about what it means to be “Gifted” or as they often see it, “Labelled”. Set aside time for students to continually develop and alter their own programs. Don’t let this be a “one off” lesson. Build this into a weekly plan. Build it around their Learning Skills.

We did this every week with tea.  We tried to discuss one area of need or learning skill. What does it mean to be responsible? How much independence should students have at what age? What is fair and equal when it comes to learning? How do we advocate and ask for feedback?

4) Provide an organized system for students to view and edit their IEP’s as needed.  Of course, since some parts of this document may be highly confidential, the template would need to be altered.

5) When updating the IEP’s each term, send home the “working copy” along with the formal copy to allow the parents and families to see how much student input is valued

This IEP development strategy takes a lot of trust and relationship building to work. Students need to feel safe and free to express their honest feelings and advocate for themselves. One students said to me after reading his IEP (prior to his input), said, “Wow, I sound like an anti-social nerd that has no friends”.

Here are a few  case examples created by Beth Carey and Zoe Branigan-Pipe (although there are many many many more, since the IEP should reflect each individual child). These examples are only meant to provide a starting point to help when creating a “Gifted” IEP.


Student Profile/Achievement: Student has strong academics in all area’s (All 95% or above); in the 99th percentile of  testing. Motivated to learn and always seeking out opportunities, rarely feeling challenged by school. Proficient in reading (more than 3 grades above) and proficient at Math and Science. Strong abilities in Music and Languages.

Annual Goal: Student will use higher order thinking skills to enrich the depth and breadth of grade level learning expectations.

Learning expectation:Student will use divergent thinking skills during classroom learning activities, independent activities and home learning; Student will use convergent thinking skills (bringing together a range of ideas and resources to support a central topic or idea); Student will use critical thinking and questioning skills to enhance depth of thinking

Teaching strategy: Provide opportunities for student to learn what it means to think divergently (research/inquiry project, TedX videos..); Provide a schedule/contract for student (allow, encourage accountability, growth); Support student’s ability to ask questions to/with peers and teachers that encourage others to think deeper about a topic,especially one that focuses on current, local and global issues; Encourage home learning opportunities (use of Khan academy for skill mastery, use of blog, community activism – writing and co-created blogs); Encourage and demonstrate use of mind mapping

Assessment: Student will demonstrate a variety ways to express a skill, concept or idea that is presented to the whole class and will add 2 items in the portfolio each month (self-evaluation); During formal assessments, student  will provide more than one answer, with justification – even when there is a question with a specific answer; Teacher will provide a comment/feedback to student during scheduled teacher conference;  Student will bring home portfolio for parent feedback; Allow students to share the answer orally


Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student consistently exceeds grade expectations in literacy based subjects and has demonstrates strong verbal abilities and expression (99%tile in oral language abilities and verbal comprehension)

Annual GoalStudents will further develop higher-level oral communication skills.

Learning Expectation: Student will use real world topics (shared through portfolio and monitored with teacher) and current events to apply verbal/oral language tools as a way to share and demonstrate learning; Student will investigate, listen  and analyze podcasts of interest (one per month); Student will will use oral language to demonstrate learning, discuss ideas and brainstorm using inquiry based strategies


Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student excels at reading, both fiction (in particular Fantasy Genre)  and non-fiction. Tests indicate strong perceptual reasoning, processing speed and working memory.  Student will read as often as possible and enjoys discussing or debating the content.  Student demonstrates strong comprehension skills and can recall information and facts with ease.

Annual Goal: Students will develop analytical skills in reading using more challenging literature; Student will apply reading strengths to increasing writing (finding new vocabulary and structures)

Learning Expectation: Student will analyze texts by identifying many elements that give the text depth or meaning and will maintain a blog or journal of these elements;  Student will be able to draw conclusion about the author’s work through in-depth analysis, ongoing discussions and comparisons and will maintain a blog or journal of these elements


Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student writes descriptively and uses figurative language expertly as well as above grade level vocabulary and grammar. Report card grades reflect exceptional written assessment. Gifted Assessment report indicates student is in the very superior range in all cognitive areas.

Annual Learning Goal: Student will write in a variety of genres using a blog format and will submit at least 4 publications throughout the year to a pre-approved magazine or blog (provide a real world opportunity); Student will pick 10 new vocabulary words per week and keep a journal of new words.

Learning Expectations: Student  will use poetry and prose to write essays, narratives, and poems and will include figurative language; Student will keep apoetry journal updated weekly; Students will communicate to a wider audience and use reflective and communication skills to respond to others in writing


Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student demonstrates strong abilities in mathematical reasoning, computation and problem solving. Student has strong processing and working memory skills. Gifted Testing and Report Card grades are consistent in demonstrating that student exceeds above grade level in all mathematical subjects which require modification in the depth and breadth of the content.

Annual Learning Goal: Student will complete several projects related to Math (timelines and content determined in a co-created portfolio); Student will complete a self-monitored Math course (using MOOC, or COURSERA); Student will create a Math Blog that highlights interesting Math problems and discoveries that impact the world around him/her

Learning Expectations: Student will blog weekly about math related content; Student will be self-directed in his/her math learning by seeking out problems and investigations that related to a specific area (as determined by student and teacher)


 Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student is disorganized at school and home and frequently does not turn in homework and classroom assignments. Student is easily distracted and has trouble staying on task for more than 10 minutes. Student is easily disengaged at school and often complains of being bored. Student has low processing skills and working memory and needs specific accommodations.

Annual Learning Goals Student will complete class assignments on a timeline co-created with teacher and parent; Student will maintain an organized desk, binder (could be an online shared binder) and “to-do” list, to be checked weekly by teacher

Learning Expectations: Student will use technology tools to aid with scheduling (online calendar, online portfolio such as Onenote, Evernote, Google Drive (and can share with teacher and parent); Students self-organize and  will use to do lists each day; Student will “check-in” with teacher each day to guide on-task work and self-monitor how much he/she has completed; Student will keep a portfolio that includes timelines, lists and checklists and will have this monitored by teacher; Student will use his/her device to take pictures of assignment outlines, homework board, etc


 Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student demonstrates strong leadership skills through on-going involvement in student leadership, clubs, and extracurricular activities. Student demonstrates a strong stance toward social justice including a desire to work in the political arena.

Annual Learning Goals: Student will lead at least TWO events, club or organizations throughout the school year (school based, online or community based); Student will maintain at a leadership blog (choice of topic)

Learning Expectations: Student will read a book about leadership development and will share the overall learning, thought and reflections of the book on his or her blog; Student will register the School as a “We Act School” and be the communication link for the school and will complete the on-line follow up focusing on local and global initiatives.


 Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student has a superb memory for facts and detailed information and has an intense focus on area of interest.  Whatever the class is working on is of no interest to the student.  He/She seems disengaged from school and does not follow classroom routines. Student is unaware of social conventions and lacks social insight.  Can be disruptive in class.  Testing demonstrates student is proficient in all areas of WISC IV.  Student does not see the need to demonstrate this.

Annual Learning Goals: Student will demonstrate knowledge in all areas of curriculum through a variety of self chosen ways; Student will share knowledge of his/her interest with class and engage in conversations about his/her topic; Student will develop  a working knowledge of social conventions and social insights.

Learning Expectations: Student will conference with the teacher to decide on ways to demonstrate knowledge of topics covered in class; Student will develop a organization and communication tool to share with teacher and parent; Student will share topic of interest with class or school through oral or visual presentations, blogs, small group lessons etc.: Student will learn a good variety of of social norms and how to understand specific social situations and feel comfortable in those situations


 Student Profile/Achievement: 

IPRC – Statement of Strengths and Needs indicate that areas of need include: Peer interaction, leadership, additional opportunities to negotiate her own learning outcomes; more stimulation and motivation from peers with similar abilities and interests.

Annual Goal: Student will become more self-aware of her needs as a gifted learner

Learning Expectation/Objective: Student will strengthen social-emotional skills within a variety of context and with a variety of people: Student will participate actively in opportunities to work in groups with like-minded peers;Student will participate in explicit relationship building opportunities using whole group circles and class meeting: Student will use blended learning tools, blogs, e-portfolio and ongoing communication with each other and with  parents.

 

 

One response so far

May 14 2014


The Road Not Taken – Making, Crafting and Constructing Meaning in Minecraft

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The Road Not Taken – Making, Crafting and Constructing Meaning in Minecraft

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 Designing lessons that foster creativity, collaboration and depth in thinking is multifaceted. We need to use tools that provide an opportunity for interaction and collaboration. This includes a method for students to help one another and provide feedback. The context needs to be relatable and flexible. The content, whatever it is, needs to have value and personal connections and it needs to matter -and if it does, it will have depth and purpose. I offer the following as an example.

Summary of Lesson:

Robert_Frost_RoadsAs a whole class, students would create (Yes, actually build )  the poem “A Road Not Taken” using Minecraft as a Medium (using a server). Students would have already discussed the meaning of this poem and there many perspectives. This can be done with any poem. In Minecraft, students would need to compromise, share skills, collaborate and of course problem solve. Importantly, the students would need guidance and support from the teacher, both inside and outside the realm of Minecraft. The chat tool is pretty handy. To add a dimension of “self” to this shared story, students would find an area within the class creation to share a poem or story that they created themselves.

Big Idea: (Current theme is ‘Journalism’)

Journalism and poetry are a perfect mix because together they bring WORDS, VOICE and EMOTION to life. In this activity students would read, write and bring to life a poem through visualization, collaboration and co-construction.

Grade Six Lesson Objectives/Goals ~Relating to Curriculum:

* to use synthesize and infer meaning in texts

* to use make personal connections to a variety of texts

* to participate in discussions by asking questions

* to think critically about a topic, offering a variety of points of view

* to work collaborative in small and large groups offering support and feedback as needed

* to use a variety of tools to enhance the final product and extend learning as needed

* to understand metaphor and analogy in poetry

* to use visualization in reading and writing

* to create, in written form, a poem

* to use creative and collaborative techniques to share, model, and visual literature

Inference, Storytelling, Reflection and Language:

tierna_quoteStudents would be introduced to a variety of quotes. Instead of a teacher led introduction or hook, students would initiate the task. In a collaborative document, they would share a quote that resonates with them and explain why through storytelling and reflection.  (In our case, the quotes were provided and theme based). Here is what they published: “Our Thoughts will Change the World” (Posted with permission). In our example, students used a shared Google Presentation, accessing the link on the classroom blog.

Personal Connections and Critical Thinking

kid_poemIn sticking with the Journalism theme (and now that they have a background), students would create their own poem based on their personal connections to learning. The poems would be shared using a collaborative document, where they would offer feedback and critical questioning and would participate in a discussion that fostered critical thinking and depth of ideas. Eventually, they would take their poem/story and share it on “The Road Not Taken”. Hidden Gifts along the path…

 

Visualization, Metaphor and Analogy

 Students would be introduced to ‘ A Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost. Here, they would engage in discussions around metaphor, analogy, descriptive language, vocabulary…. They would use connections to the real world to visual the poem and would find a variety of ways and perspectives that one might interpret the meaning. They would listen to each other, offer critical though, ask questions and draw conclusions.

Making, Crafting and Constructing Meaning:

Students would use MINECRAFTEDU to: 1) Co-create a visualization of the Frost Poem by adding individual elements of creativity, words and interpretations. Here, students would be each given a section of the poem to place in the collaborative construction; 2) Co-Create, discuss and construct (literally and figuratively) the meaning of their own poem.

In a nutshell, students would have a whole group task to build a visualization of the Robert Frost Poem while also adding in their own poems where they see fit. Layer upon layer upon layer.

When the students go home and tell their parents “We played Minecraft”… you’ll know what they actually did…they delved deep into literature, collaborated, created, problem solved and shared. And they had fun!

2 responses so far

Feb 19 2014


Minecraft and Fractals – a wonderful pair!

Minecraft and Fractals
By: Zoe Branigan-Pipe and Beth Carey

screenshotWe are all familiar with Math Manipulatives and the power of hands-on learning. Minecraft allows students to explore, create, design and problem solve in many dynamic ways. Here is one example of using Big Ideas and Concepts in Math. These concepts, once understood, force learners to use practical math skills in an authentic way.

“Today I learned about fractals the mathematics of nature introduced by Benoct Mandelbrot. Fractals are a repeating pattern in all directions with any shape. Inspired by Ancient Egyptian architecture this fractal is made entirely of gold blocks and glass. Although it is impractical it just shows what minecraft can really do”. -Gwen, Gr. 5 Student

Big Ideas: How does the concepts of fractal geometry link to the elements of design, engineering, and invention of the past and present and guide future decisions?

Overview: Grade Five Gifted students explore the connections and implications that nature has had on Math, Science, Art and Engineering. Using Minecraft as a creative and collaborative tool, students extend their learning of daVinci to explore and create fractals.

Source: Quillan and Makenna

Source: Quillan and Makenna

 

Who has heard of Fractals? Can someone give an easy definition? What are other things that we know of in nature that are fractals? How have fratals impacted our world? How does understanding the science of Fractals help scientist learn about Co2 levels on the planet as a whole? Where else could this idea be used to help the world? What surprised you about Fractals?

 

 

Activity Summary:

1) Background Information: Introduce and discuss the concepts relating to Fractals focusing on the principles of S.T.E.M.
2) Knowledge/Understanding: Show and discuss parts of video: Fractals The Hidden Dimension HD 1080p / Nova Youtube:http://youtu.be/lmxJ1KDR_s0
3) Communication/Thinking: Discuss, identify and list the many math concepts discussed in the video (Geometry, Symmetry, Patterning/Algebra, Problem Solving, Number Sense).
3) Communication/Thinking:Provide examples of assortment of Images that relate to Fractals.
4) Practise: Allow students, individually and/or in partners to draw and design their Fractals on paper
5) Application/Practise: Use FLAT world on Minecraft or Minecraftedu. Have students create their Fractal design in 3D dimension
6) Thinking/Communication: Allow students time to discuss, write and describe their Fractal on Collaborative document.
7) Consolidation/Sharing: Have students take SCREENSHOTS (F2) and copy/paste their screenshots into collaborative document/virtual bulletin board for sharing.

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Jan 28 2014


Design Thinking ~ Make Urban ReDevelopment a Reality in Minecraft

The purpose of this lesson is to inspire and engage students to use creative and critical thinking skills to make decisions and designs that impact an urban area. This cross-curricular approach to Design Thinking, allows students the freedom to use and connect  their inquires to real examples. The activity is intended for group or collaborative learning and uses a combination of whole class and small group facilitation with access to a variety of tools. The final product is a Design and proposal of a chosen Urban Landscape in their own community. Minecraft (and lego) are ideal platforms for students to use resources and tools collaborative to display their concepts.  The example lesson (below)  was facilitated with a group of 7th and 8th Graders in the Gifted Program at HWDSB.

Design Thinking – How are Urban Landscapes changing to meet the needs of people and communities of the present and future?

Throughout their schooling, our students learn why cities are built along waterways. Most Social Studies  (History, Geography) curriculums emphasize the impact of Early Settlements and Explorers at the turn of the 19th Century. Students learn about industrialization and as they move along in grades and age, they begin to make connections between the age of industrialization, globalization, communities, Social Justice and Environment.  Our learners have and will make strong connections about how the age of industrialization has impacted them and the world around them. Eventually, they will use this knowledge to move forward and apply 21st Century technologies to make change and adaptations to the world around them.

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The picture here is Hamilton, Ontario, situated on the Western part of Lake Ontario (across from Toronto, South of Niagara Falls). The area at the bottom of the picture display the industries and factories that gave Hamilton it’s nick name – Steel Town.  Over the last few years, many of these factories have downsized, been bought out, or have shut down.

This is a REAL  example that IMPACTS my students. It is their community, their city, their economy. They need to feel compelled and INSPIRED to care, to understand why this single example connects to people and events around the world.

Ask the Learners to think Big: How can  old technologies and industries be transformed to meet the needs of today..and the future? WHY does it matter?

In most big cities, there are areas just like Hamilton where the industries that occupy the space are changing in scale and nature. Many are approaching the end of their time. This is an excellent opportunity to have students explore, investigate and make real world connections. Who knows, maybe one of their ideas and concepts will become a reality.

Ask them  to think BIGGER.

What makes a good city? Why?

What is the difference between demolishing and restoring?

How are cities changing or how should they change to meet the needs of a growing population?

Invite students to make GLOBAL Connections – In this short and compelling talk Kent Larson gives many examples of how cities and industries are changing to meet the needs of the future.

Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city gives some examples that apply to the now and the future….

Bring it back to a local example and invite students to share potential ideas, concerns and insights from those shared by Larson. Are the innovations realistic? Doable? Possible? How do the ideas and theories from other communities impact our community?

Return to Barton and Tiffany (Hamilton’s Industry Land)

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/2029/return_to_barton-tiffany “The Carr/Curran “vision” was presented to planning committee councillors in the late summer of 2012 and was greeted politely if not enthusiastically.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Invite students to explore examples from other local areas. Examples that are real and possible. Here is one from Hamilton’s Neighbour – Toronto.The Cherry Beach area, along the Toronto Waterfront that seems to only be used by locals. Paths, and parks boarder along industries and along the waterfront.

 

 

 

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Invite students to share the many examples of how land and space can be restored to attract people and improve communities. This picture is an example of bike and pedestrian paths that were added behind roads, beside roads, on the side of factories and even along old rail lines, eventually leading to the Beaches area of Toronto.

 

 

 

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The TASK:

1) In pairs or groups, continue to investigate the history and examples of urban redevelopment both locally and globally.

2)Draw, Sketch and Discuss alternatives to the land.

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3) Co-create and build the land in the Minecraft and/or LEGO Environment – Flat Land (collaborative server).

 

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4) Using a shared Document, presentation style, ADD a captured screen shot of the proposed concept/design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1bMz0s5L1sdf6CHRAVBraqnURGGw3jW03S4GSGCVZga4/edit#slide=id.g2a828f7ba_00

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Jan 28 2014


Do we facilitate 21st Century means of Acquiring Knowledge?

Student using Minecraft to create representations of learning

Student using Minecraft to create representations of learning

I asked my students this question.  How do you acquire knowledge?   95% said – Books and Youtube/Internet (the other way around, actually).   About 5 % said Teachers. Ouch.  As I write this post, my son sits across the table watching a video/story about Minecraft World. He tells me that this is how he “learns how to craft”. My other son reads Reddit threads to learn/improve his skills on Java.

 

 

 

 

Matt Henderson asked me to think about and share my opinions of the following question:

How do people acquire knowledge and how can teachers facilitate this process effectively?

My quick answer- books.

I can’t help but think about the Printing Press of the 1400’s and forward. I am quite certain that when books and newspapers were made readily available to more people, the ability to learn and acquire knowledge must have grown exponentially.  No doubt, the Printing Press changed the world.

Then we added an audio medium  (although I know it was audio way before that, when people just told stories), when the radio (early 1900’s) was invented and the audience got even bigger. Not to mention, those who couldn’t read for whatever reason, suddenly had an opportunity – a freeing opportunity – to listen and learn.  Again, a fine example of extending knowledge and information to a broader context. There is no doubt, the radio changed the world.

Then, a few decades later came the Television. There are still people alive today that can talk about how both, the TV and Radio changed their lives.  With all these methods of information delivery (books, text, audio, video), the message was still based on a certain perspective, value or point of view. This, we know, can (and did) cause enormous suffrage.

How we acquire and interact with information changed yet again, introducing another medium. Along with the internet, we have portable ‘vehicles’ or ‘vessels’ that can share information, not just in print, but now, in combination with audio, video and text. And to take it further, we can change, edit, create and re-create the information in pairs, teams, groups, classrooms and communities regardless of our space or location.

With this said, I change my previous answer. How I acquire information and “knowledge”  is no longer dependent on a single source or text, but on my ability to gather a variety of ideas, opinions, and research that are ever changing and then employ collaborative and ongoing change. It also depends on a burning question or an inquiry that I simply MUST know. Quite honestly, it is inspiring and empowering to find my own answers and exciting to know that my answers lead to more ideas, more information and more knowledge.

Admittedly, I am slightly frustrated that so many our school systems continue to teach students based on the model invented by Printed Press. Or, that we continue to drive information and knowledge that is based on a single point of view (picked by a publisher). Our textbooks, content standards and even our standardized tests are often outsourced regardless of the fact that communication technologies can bring in access to information…to people…to communities all over the world.

As teachers, we need to embrace the idea of blended learning and the use of a variety of technologies and mediums.  Online, there are communities and resources where students can engage in rich discussions, problem based tasks, authentic inquires – but with a variety of supports and mediums. While in-class, students and teachers can share meaningful discussions and can use their understanding of the entire person (voice, body language, eye-contact, physical /mental health) to guide needs and next steps.  Teachers can coach students through thoughtful and provoking questions and as a way to get them to think more deeply about the topic, to want to learn and find more.

Again, Matt asks me to reflect on how I personally acquire knowledge and foster acquisition in my learning environment.

I can look up and learn in any format that I need and self-evaluate until I am certain that I fully understand the skill or drill. I am no longer at the mercy of that single, all knowing, knowledge possessing teacher/leader. My resource pool has grown from the single textbook or course article to many many many sources and people, primary and secondary – including my students!  I have become more critical of information and resources which has led me to think more deeply and reflect more authentically.

I recently wrote an article that discusses the dichotomies of Assessment in Education and I think this relates well to this topic, probably because in education we are consistently finding ways to Assess if and how our students have acquired knowledge and yet, the dichotomy of how students are acquiring knowledge in their “real” lives is quite different then their experiences at school with learning.

The Assessment Barrier – http://www.cea-ace.ca/blog/zoe-branigan-pipe/2013/10/5/assessment-barrier

“There is no reason that students today need to feel isolated or trapped by assessment. Learners can access facts and information in a variety of ways – if we let them.

Teachers can provide assessment and feedback in multiple of ways. Students can apply their learning to creative and real world situations – if we trust them. They can show their learning in audio and visual formats – if we show them. They can use online tools to review and master new skills and can collaborate or discuss ideas anytime and from anywhere – if we encourage them.

Educators today, can access professional development, current information, networks of learners and online tools in ways that didn’t exist even a decade ago. The assessment barrier is only a reality – if we let it be.

3 responses so far

Jan 23 2014


Design Thinking, Teaching and Learning with Minecraft and Lego

Our Class Picture

This lesson was facilitated with Grade Five Gifted Students. This is an example of how to combine a variety of collaborative tools (Collaborative thinking/planning, Blog, Web2.0 Doc, Minecraft) with a hands-on approach to building and designing prototypes that focus on world problems. Minecraftedu, large amount of assorted lego, a class full of engaged students and a teacher/facilitator provided the necessary resources. 

It was incredible to witness the dialogue, creativity and critical thinking as the students explored and designed their ideas into something concrete. 

Inventions

Big Idea: How do past and present inventions impact our world of today?

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This is a sample lesson that can be used at a variety of ages and grades. Because this lesson is based on the concepts around Design Thinking, it is easily adapted to a variety of curriculum and standards (Writing, Oral, Research, Presentation, Media, Social Studies, Digital Citizenship).Students will engage in a workshop involving a problem solving and design process. They will connect their knowledge of inventions as well as the literature/history they are studying (in this case, DaVinci) and will plan, design and co-create inventions that focus around a real-world problems.

 

Students will use a variety of collaborative (face-to-face and online) tools and will be challenged to think creatively. Is this a new invention? What was the inspiration? How will this invention impact the world? Why is it needed? What are the important details that need consideration?

What is the role of collaboration and sharing when designing and creating a concept? How does creativity change when we change the mediums (talking to writing, to drawing, to designing, to building….etc.)

 1) Introduction and Group Discussion (Breaking the ice)

In Circle, have students share and discuss a favourite invention and why. Ask them to think of the problem that the invention solved. Encourage strong open ended questions and descriptive vocabulary. Introduce the “Big Idea” …and discuss.

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Connect the topic “Inventions” to the overall theme of “DaVinci” (relevant in our situation). How did DaVinci get inspired? What triggered his ideas? Were they realistic? Which inventions were meant to solve a problem and why?

2) Mini-Lesson and Task Overview

IMG_0570*Discuss the terms “Concept”; “Concrete”; “Idea” and “Abstract”

*Connecting back to the DaVinci theme, show students TedX video – Robot that flies like a bird http://www.ted.com/talks/a_robot_that_flies_like_a_bird.html

  • How does this invention impact the world?
  • How does this invention impact a single human being?
  • What problem can be solved by this invention and why?

 Share and discuss (whole group, pairs…) the following information: Canadian Inventions http://www.mediatrainingtoronto.com/blog/2013/6/29/50-great-inventions-canada-gave-the-world

IMG_0450Ask students, in partners, to once again think of the above questions as it relates to each invention and then  create “Criteria” that makes a good invention (and post)

  • impact on environment
  • safety
  • medicine and healing
  • social justice
  • realistic, creative
  • positive impact on world

 3) Task, Process, and Sharing →


IMG_0565Students will collaboratively design and build their own invention using inspiration from real-world problems.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 6.47.37 PMThey will (depending on age, post these steps for reference during work time)

 

  1.  in teams, first think of a concept/idea that relates to criteria
  2. draw, discuss and describe their invention
  3. use Minecraftedu – flat world to co-create a model of their invention/idea
  4. return to their drawing and description and edit, change and add as needed
  5. using their plans and model, students will build their invention using lego
  6. Access the collaborative document (in our case this was posted on blog) and add description, picture and screen
  7. Whole class sharing -* In pairs/groups students can give ‘virtual’ tours of their inventions using a shared Minecraft Server

(At some point, demonstrate how to take and retrieve screen shots from Minecraft and insert into Shared Google Presentation)

Congrats to the students who shared in the excitement of writing this collaborative book: 

Extension:

* Persuasive Writing Activity

* Dragon’s Den Type presentation

* Advertisement/Media Literacy

* Science Fiction Story

* Trade Inventions…write and describe about each

* Add on to each other’s inventions

* Descriptive Writing

* Poetry

 

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Dec 30 2013


Resolutions – Finding a new focus – A Year dedicated to a Plant-Based diet

Filed under health and fitness

 

Being Vegan

My top 10 outcomes after one year

zoe

On January 1, 2012 I made a typical New Years Resolution – to exercise more and loose weight.  I also decided that I would run a Marathon (although this was pretty far fetched for me!) Like many people do when setting specific goals, I immersed myself in literature, magazines, movies and podcasts – not only for motivation, but to truly understand the science behind nutrition, fitness and health.  During this year, I adopted a vegetarian diet that included fish and dairy. I moderately exercised and I lost weight (about 20 pounds). In October 2012, I ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon at a time of 4:26. At the time, I didn’t know that this was only the tip of the iceberg of reaching my potential.

 

vegan runner

On January 1, 2013, I decided (along with my husband Brad) to try a Vegan diet. This decision came after reading books (to name a few) by Brendan Brazier (Thrive), Scott Jurek (Eat and Run), Christopher McDougall (Born to Run), Rich Roll (Finding Ultra), all which make clear connections between fitness, running and plant-based diets. I stopped focusing on weight loss and decided to become mindful of my food consumption and exercise. No more processed foods, no more refined sugars, no more saturated or trans fats and oils, no more dairy, cheese, eggs or any animal products including fish. I would decrease salt and sugar intake by 90% and I would begin a new exercise regime that included cycling and swimming. Over the following 12 months, I ran three more marathons and a road race. Both Brad and I would improve our marathon times by more than 25 minutes both achieving personal bests. I also lost 20 more pounds.

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 7.31.00 PM

There is no doubt that the overall benefits to my health decisions out weight the drawbacks by a million to one. I am  healthier, happier and stronger in every way possible.

The hardest part about becoming a vegan was trying to explain it to other people. In some ways, we became social outcasts with friends, colleagues and even our families.  Our awareness of how much our culture revolves around food became heightened. It was often quite stressful trying to respect the decisions of others knowing the harmful effects – the consequences. (like smoking).  It has been difficult trying to share our new knowledge, experience and understanding of this lifestyle with others without seeming like we are preaching or appearing “above” others in some way. This was/is not our intention.

The science and research is clear: Plant-based, low sodium and low sugar diets will not only enhance one’s daily life, but will increase our lifespan and can not only prevent diseases (including cancer), but can reverse diseases that relate to high blood pressure and cholesterol. Diets that are consistently low in processed foods and high in whole foods can enhance brain function, ability to learn, clarity, happiness and physical fitness not to mention energy levels. This comes not only from research and stories from others but from my own changes which have given me a completely new way of looking at life and a deepened understanding of health and fitness. I strive to model these choices to my own children and to my students. I am convinced more than ever before that Fitness and Nutrition Literacy is the most important learning skill and fluency that we can model and teach our children.

We tell our story at: http://plantpoweredpipes.blogspot.com/

BEING VEGAN – “MY TOP 10 LIST” of OUTCOMES AFTER ONE YEAR

#10 Clarity in Thinking about Health Literacy

Deeper understanding and mindfulness of impact that nutrition and fitness has in one’s quality of life. By fully and completely accepting the real and undeniable truth that fitness and nutrition will and can impact every area in life, I have changed how I approach my role as a friend, partner, parent and teacher.

I am sharp and clear about my choices and I stay true to my decisions – those that are based on outcomes, results and research. Together, with Brad, we have changed our thinking about Veganism as ominous or daunting or even as ‘hippy food’, and instead as a focused and mindful lifestyle choice. This has brought us certainty, confidence and the ability to strive for and endure more. No longer are we pressured and lured by a sensation of taste or social pressure, but instead but what we know will impact our well-being and future.

#9 Sound Sleep

With this type of diet, rarely (almost never) do I struggle to sleep (like I once did).  There is less caffeine and sugar in my diet.  There is an level of excitement and satisfaction after getting such sound sleep and the result is beautiful –  clarity and focus and ability to work harder and more efficient each day.

# 8 Positive and stronger Mental Health

My 20’s and 30’s were filled with ups and downs of depression and anxiety. I attribute this to the normal woes of growing up (adult worries, having children, financial struggles, job changes, hormonal). But still, I struggled with self-esteem issues and confidence and worried about pleasing others more than myself.  Adapting a plant-based diet at 40 has dramatically improved my emotional and mental well-being.

I feel happy and content most of the time. I am rarely impacted by hormonal changes and my ability to recognize and manage stress, and balance my life is strong. I believe that educating others about how food and nutrition can impact ones mental health should be a priority.

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 7.31.14 PM#7 Cravings and Food Repertoire

At first, I had cravings. I craved cheese, fish, and of course, chocolate – some of my favourite foods and the most difficulty to give up.  After one year in, my cravings did not go away-  they changed. Now I crave foods that are rich in Chlorophyll – kale, artichoke, cucumber, melon, green onions, and green (ginger) smoothies.

My repertoire of all food has grown exponentially.  I eat more kinds of vegetables and legumes – cooked and prepared in more ways then ever before. I have gained tastes for foods that I didn’t know I had.  I enjoy Mexican, Mediterranean and Asian flavours the most and I have found a true love for pizza, panini’s, and pastas – all without the oils, the salt, and the cheese and yet, delicious.

#6 Stronger nails, skin, hair and eyes

I learned a long time ago, that healthy skin and hair is a great determinant of health. It is the last place that the good (or bad) nutrients show themselves.   Since being a Vegan, those calcium spots have disappeared. My skin is clear. My nails are longer, thicker and stronger and with the exception of a few undesirable grey’s, my hair is shiny, smooth, full and grows rapidly. It almost seems magical. No need for expensive creams here.

#5 Overall Health – No bloating, stomach issues, or heartburn – ever

Since being a dedicated vegan,  I have not had a single stomach ache,  heart burn, or nausia (unless I have accidently come in contact with dairy, meats or shell fish). Even when I leave a meal with that “too full” sort of feeling (yes, I still get there), I recover quickly and rarely feel that ‘tired’ feeling that I once experienced after that big meal.

Even with small bouts of illness (common cold, chest infection), I recover fast. Oddly fast. My body and mind is strong and filled with nutrients that provide immunity and vitamins that help not only prevent illness but speed recovery.

#4 Migraine Headaches

My only prescribed medication was for migraine headaches, which have completely disappeared after adopting a plant-based diet.

#3 Weight Loss

While this wasn’t my main focus for 2013, during the last year, I lost 20 more pounds and yet I eat more often and more food then ever before…and I never ever skip breakfast…ever.

#2 Recovery and Repair

My body’s ability to repair itself is another benefit. Prior to living on a solely plant based diet, I endured injury after injury.  While these injuries where minor ones, they still required recovery time, breaks and physical therapy. But, in the last year, my diet caused my body to endure more and last longer resulting in no injuries and allowed me to push myself to new limits. My body’s recovery speed has completely baffled me. After my last two marathons, I was ready and eager to run again after only a couple of days, unlike in the past where I might feel sluggish or tired and required days (or weeks) to recover. I fully attribute this change to my plant-based diet in which is constantly oxygenating and detoxifying my blood and that which is rich in enzymes and high in amino acids and has natural anti-inflammatory agents.


#1 Physical endurance and fitness

I was not expecting to be as physically strong as I have been in the last year, as a Vegan. This was not an outcome that I predicted that would be so explicit and strong. Prior to 2013, I had never run more than 5km’s at one time. I assumed that my journey toward health and fitness would take more time. But in one year, after a complete change in diet, I have run four Marathons and one 30km road race, all without injury and with fast recovery times. It almost seems like magic.

What is next?

2014 :

Continue to focus on nutrition and fitness and continue to educate others about the power that food can (or can’t) have on personal well-being, including in teaching and learning environments. This means a fully plant-based diet. Continue to blog at:

http://plantpoweredpipes.blogspot.com/

Continue to incorporate this lifestyle into my own philosophy of education, both as a teacher, leader and parent.

I will continue to run. I look forward to the Barcelona Marathon in March and (possibly?) the  New York  Marathon in October. I hope to improve my PB by at least 12 minutes, which will give me a Boston Qualifying time. 

Cross-train to improve swimming and cycling and endeavor to complete a Triathlon (half Ironman) by the end of the year (dare I say).

 

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Dec 03 2013


My Working Memory Deficit (and why I plead to educators to find other ways)

IMG_0136It is logical to conclude that many educators and leaders lead and teach like they were once led and taught. Why not? They were  good at it. They are the one’s that succeeded – the ones that were just fine learning through rigid assessments, text based assignments, memory driven tasks, criterion based and teacher directed/controlled learning with siloed subjects and curriculum. It is perhaps why we continue to hold on, so dearly, to these methods and pedagogies, even in a world where information and knowledge resources are at an abundance and in a variety of mediums.

 

In 2007, I read a post by Scott Mcleod called “What do students need to Memorize”. What resonated me the most was his observation (and perhaps prediction) that the kinds of skills that employers are looking for in years to come, might not be those that were once seen as essential in the industrial age . In fact, Scott’s post gave me a strong sense of solace because I always struggled with the methods and pedagogies used during my own education, as he puts it, “those needed by workers in the industrial age factory line economy”. In many ways, I was forced to adapt to a method of learning that was counter to my learning needs and as a result I became really good at finding accommodations, alternatives and tricks that would one day not only put me ahead, but to help me truly understand those learners that do not ‘fit’ within the confines of academia.

Working memory and processing deficits were barriers for me as a learner, and sometimes they still are. I remember, like it was yesterday, spending hours trying to memorize vocabulary tests only to get half the words correct – every time. Math wasn’t as much of a problem, until I was forced to memorize formulas. That hurt. I never understood why they wouldn’t just give me the formula and let me apply it to something useful. It is why I struggled to read at the same level and pace as my peers, or why I audio recorded every one of the lectures during my post secondary education and graduate studies. To pass my psychology courses, I used to pin “fact sheets” to the walls in every room of our house until the names of certain functions or theories were embedded in my brain. And during my grad studies, it is why I read my text books and journal articles to both my children when they were just infants. It is why I struggled to complete memory fill-in-the-blank type tests and why I hated history, but loved Geography. It is why, as a teacher, I advocated so strongly for a more liberal ‘hand-held’ device policy back in 2002, when my place of employment banned them from all classrooms – my palm pilot offered a dictionary and thesaurus at my finger tips and I learned how to search for facts, words, information on a whim.

No matter how many tests or quizzes I got, no teacher in the world could “cure” or “teach” me to have a better working memory. Think of it as wearing glasses. No matter how many strategies or lectures or videos or lessons you got without the glasses, you still cannot see clearly unless the glasses are on, right? Interestingly, other than at school, I cannot think of a single day that I was discouraged to use any of my self-made accommodations that helped me with memory and spelling. In fact, I learned to think quickly, find information fast, problem solve, and work with others – these were the essential skills that I needed to survive. According to Scott, I might seem quite prepared for the 21st Century! And my lack of quick recall and need for accommodation did not put me at a disadvantage in the real world – only at school.

Now, almost 2014, we continue to have debates around the usefulness of spelling tests or open book math tests. We continue to test kids on their understanding of our courses and place a certain ‘blame’ on them when their grades don’t meet our standard. We continue to teach students in an unnatural environment – that we ourselves could not succeed in given the same circumstances: No internet, no computer/tech devices and constant evaluation. We continue to see classroom technology as “assistive” rather than universal. We continue to confuse memorization with knowledge and knowledge with intelligence.

I implore you to travel back to 2007 and re-read Scott’s post about Memorization. Ask yourself why, 7 years later, we continue to argue this point.  Even better, take a look at the comments and discussion that ensued. Are we ready to accept some of these ideas and thoughts? Are we ready to separate the concepts memory and understanding?

 

 

 

 

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Sep 08 2013


On the Tip of Their Tongue – Use audio for Assessment and Evaluation

IMG_8004 2“________ has not handed in the assignment. Neither has ____________or ____________or ______________. Please have them come to my class and finish their work during lunch hour. ”

“_______  failed the test…..can you give him/her time during class for a rewrite?”

 

“________needs extra time in my class to do his/her work.”

These types of concerns were shared with me (their homeroom teacher), almost daily by other teachers. Let me be clear. I don’t blame those teachers.  When put into a timeframe or constraint (part of their schedule), many of  identified (exceptionality) Gifted students would shut down, move on, or just not finish. Why bother? And so, they would either be graded accordingly, or be given another chance to prove themselves, over and over. But, what I was seeing in the homeroom was often very different from what other teachers were seeing. Why? Were the students being honest in sharing what they really know? Was the assessment designed in a way that allowed them to demonstrate the higher order skills that they are truly capable of? Was the results of the assessment truly accurate of the students ability?

As a teacher in a self-contained gifted classroom, my students would spend the majority of the day in my class. I was responsible for teaching and assessing the core subjects, which included Language, Math, History and Geography.  The other subjects (Music, Drama, Art, Phys-ed/Health, Science) were taught by teachers in a rotary timetable, each for only a small section of the day or week.  There are certainly many pros and cons to this type of schedule for which I will leave for another post. I had more time (then the rotary teachers) to build relationships with my students, which afforded me the opportunity to not only know them well, but to also learn and explore creative ways to assess and evaluate them.

Providing differentiated opportunities to demonstrate their understanding, communication, thinking and application not only made my assessments more authentic, but it gave me more confidence and certainty when providing evaluation or using the assessment to steer or customize my teaching. For many of them (my Gifted students), their thoughts and ideas raced so fast that many tended struggled to translate anything into print of any kind (pencil/pen/computer). The eloquent and creative words and phrases that they wanted to share, examples they wanted to give, ideas they just discovered were there, right there….on the tip of their tongue. That’s it… literally, on the tip of their tongue.

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 9.00.44 PMLet me share a couple of strategies that I would swear by. The information that I would get was from night to day when allowing students to use AUDIO and talk it out. And it is so simple.

1)   My Number #1 assessment strategy was to allow students to share their work in audio format using the Livescribe Pen. (LivewithLivescribe gives many applications: http://livewithlivescribe.edublogs.org/)  Students were all given a small pad of Livescribe Sticky pads and would use the pens available in the classroom to speak their answers instead of focusing on their writing. They were all allowed to provide an audio response in every test (a Universal Designed approach). Students that really needed to use this strategy were more comfortable when all students were given the chance. Funny – they seemed all want to do this, even if they all didn’t really need to.  Audio just made it more clear, more detailed, more personal.  While there are MANY other ways to use this pen to accommodate or differentiate student learning, using this tool to collect assessment data and information might be my favourite.

The beauty of this strategy, is that when used with EVERNOTE, the sticky notes, tests, or assignments were EASILY be added to their portfolio for an audio anecdotal and then shared with the student and parent. Seamless.

It would be inappropriate of me not to mention that I would also carry a sticky pad in my pocket (or on my desk) which I would use for ongoing meetings with students, in audio.  One demonstration question (like an exit card) student can explain, in audio and we both have a copy (the sticky that I give to them and the digital file that I have after plugging in the pen).

IMG_8018 2)   EDUCREATIONS  – ipad app. Hands down, this is one of the best.  demonstration apps. Students could take pictures of their work and then use the app to explain. Students would use the app similarly as the Livescribe pen. Simply add a word or number and speak their mind. Students used this tool to share their math, create presentations, and for creative designs.

 

I look forward to continuing my work with the Gifted Program at the HWDSB as a Gifted Itinerant Teacher. I look forward to learning from others and exploring and sharing the innovative teaching and learning strategies that are happening in so many classrooms. 

 

 

 

 

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Aug 18 2013


Cell Phones in my classroom: I give Permission

This post is in response to the recent Vote by the Teachers Federation Union to Ban Cell phones from the classroom. According to CBC, “The new rules state that mobile devices should be turned off and stored during school hours, unless special permission is given.” Ontario teachers’ union votes to ban cell phones in classrooms

The meeting minutes found here indicates hat Policy Statements, 73.0, Student Use of Personal Electronic Devices in the Classroom, be amended to read: LINK  WHERE did the word BAN come from?  please not use the world ‘BAN’ here?  Could it give the wrong message? How about we advocate for ‘Safe Use’, or ‘Education/Training is needed’ or, ‘Helping students and teachers navigate online tools?

IMG_0290I use cell phones in the classroom.  I also use as much social media, web 2.0 and chat tools with my students as much possible. I have two specific reasons: First, it is these tools that provide assistive technologies and needed accommodations to many students that would/could not otherwise succeed in a system that is meant for the mainstream of learners. Second,  What I’ve come to realize, as both a parent and teacher is that unless these tools are explored, discussed, shared and scrutinized in the classroom by knowledgeable and informed educators – with kids – that THEY (our students) are going to have little opportunity to explicitly learn how to use them effectively, safely and appropriately in the real world.

 

We know that cell phones and similar tools are becoming (or will become) a way of communication in the future. It is for that reason, that  Parents, Educators, Teachers, Instructors, Professors and of course Learners need to step back from the podium of teaching and find ways to integrate, moderate and balance the safe use of these tools instead of banning them.  I wonder, would better training/education about these tools  for the students, parents and teachers be more practical? What if the real problem (or reality) is that the way we are teaching students needs to change?

It wasn’t long ago that the Globe and Mail quoted our Premier (ex), “Telephones and BlackBerrys and the like are conduits for information today, and one of the things we want our students to do is to be well-informed,” Mr. McGuinty said. “And it’s something that we should be looking at in our schools.” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/schools-should-be-open-to-cellphones-in-class-mcguinty/article567928/)

The Horizon Report K-12 also emphasized that such tools are also conduits for learning,

> Mobiles are a category that defies long-term definitions. With more than 1.2 billion new mobile devices produced each year, the pace of innovation in the mobile markets is unprecedented. Mobiles,  especially smartphones and  tablets, enable ubiquitous access to information, social networks, tools for learning and productivity, and hundreds of thousands of custom applications. Mobiles were listed in previous years because they could capture multimedia, access the Internet, or geolocate. Now they are effectively specialized computers for the  palm of your hand,with a huge and growing collection of software tools that make use of their accelerometers, compasses, cameras, microphones, GPS, and  other sensors. http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2011-Horizon-Report-K12.pdf

Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 9.13.58 AMIn the winter of 2011, the Ontario Teacher Federation Publication, “Voice” also showcased and applauded use of cell phones and other devices in the classroom.http://etfovoice.ca/back-issues/2011/V14N2_WINTER_11.pdf “Opening the door to student-owned devices, means facing  the challenge of dealing with a number of computing platforms in our classrooms”, writes David Curruthers, an Ontario classroom teacher.

Further, the June 2013 issue of Professionally Speaking features the latest gadgets and tools that are designed for the classroom, including cell phones.

- Smaller than tablets, smartphones are popular among students. “The kids have them in their pockets,” says Todd Wright, OCT, a curriculum administrator in information communications technology at the York Region DSB. “And some of the screens are bigger than they used to be, so they’re more useful.” But smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy S III and BlackBerry’s Z10 aren’t as powerful as tablets and laptops, which limits the software these hand-held devices can process. Still, users can access hundreds of thousands of apps on iTunes and Google Play. There aren’t as many for BlackBerry and Windows Phone 8 (yet). (source)

Allowing cell phones in my classroom was difficult, but how can I, as an educator put barriers on the very tools that students are using in the real world? Isn’t that my job as a teacher, to prepare them for the world they are living in now and the future?  I had to spend many classroom hours developing trust with my students as well as inviting parents and community into my class often.  This included teaching them social skills when using these tools, appropriate use and balance.  In the end,  it allowed me to step back from that need to ‘control’ the environment in every which way and facilitate a classroom where rich inquiry driven projects could be at the basis of teaching and learning.

A couple of simple ideas:

* Use of QR codes in the classroom

* Integrate Instram – Great opportunity to share and discuss social media practices (privacy issues)

* Interviewing people

* Quiz application

*Internet source (on rare occasions and always with parental permission)

* Safety (on trips)

* Class texting

* Practice Digital Citizenship

*Learn how to monitor and balance use of tools

 http://pinterest.com/zbpipe/cell-phones-in-the-classroom/

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