Students Centered Learning – Example of our latest projects

It is important to me that students are at the center of their own learning, not the teacher. This sounds easy, but when it is facilitated appropriately, I often find that I worry and stress about the students and if they are “actually” learning the content that I am required to teach. I find it hard to give up the control and the temptation to tell them the answers. I am constantly asking myself if they are focused, if they are applying themselves, if they are retaining the information.

As educators we need to reflect upon how we learn best. How do we construct new ideas? New knowledge? Often, we do this by investigating, by discussing, communicating, creating, and of course by teaching others. We often pick topics because that is what interests us, and thus, we are engaged and motivated. That is what I want my students to do. I want them to choose to learn.

The following set of self paced tasks are focused on Canada’s Links with the World (Ontario Provincial Grade Six Curriculum). Students will choose among a variety of topics, levels, and tools to carry out their project. Students will work in groups, in pairs and independently.
I look forward to seeing the products and watching students as they become the teachers.


The first project was an independent project to kick off this mini-unit:

Honesty – Student Perspective

Students face difficult decisions everyday when it comes to acts of honesty.  Students are faced with situations where they are confronted with gossip, lying, cheating, or stealing.  Even as adults, we know that honesty is key to our success in ourselves and our relationships with others.

Please consider sharing this survey with your students to give them a chance to reflect and discuss issues around honesty.
Click here to take survey

Please consider adding to our collaborative book (have your students synthesize pictures and quotes)

Educon2.2 – not just a technology conference….

From the beginning, Educon 2.2 presented by Science Leadership, asserted that it is not a “technology conference”, but a conversation for educators to come together from across the world to talk about strategies, best practices, changes, ideas and concerns relating to education for today and for tomorrow. This post will focus on my experience and how this experience satisfied the Guiding Principals of Educon, that:

– Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members

– Our schools must be about co-creating – together with students – like the 21st Century Citizen,

– Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around

– Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate

– Learning can – and must- be networked (from: Educon, The Axioms)

The idea of Educon, in itself was built on the above ingredients and like chemistry, these Axioms rely on one another for the whole to function.

First – ‘inquiry driven, thoughtful and empowering’. I attended a conversation with Ben Hazzard and Rodd Lucier that was just that: A Field Guide for Change Agents. The main idea for this conversation was, that educators need to build trust with colleagues in order to bring about effective change in our schools. The presentors  asked questions like –  How can we ensure professional discourse effectively considers voices of students, parents and teachers? What is at stake if change agents fail to engage others? Continue reading Educon2.2 – not just a technology conference….

Student blogging, a new form of literacy?

Student Blogging. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a real life Star Trek episode, going where “no ONE has gone before”. Setting up individual blogs for students, is not new, however, allowing access to the outside world is. And it tends to scare people at the thought that someone, somewhere just might read a student blog and might comment. As a result, many schools (maybe yours?) and districts block access to blogs or moderate using a login/username. But the real question that we grapple with is whether or not blogs are improving student learning and if so, how?

First, we need have a clear understanding of blogging and why we are using it for our students.  I am constantly reflecting on the following questions:

  • Is the purpose to improve spelling and grammar?
  • Are we trying to get students to feel more comfortable about writing ‘their’ connections about a topic or issue?
  • Do we want students to read, reflect and comment on a variety of perspectives and point of views?
  • Are we trying to encourage student collaboration?
  • Are we trying to get students to view the world with a more open mind?
  • How about teaching children that blogging is a way to teach others, and thus, also learn from others?
  • Are we encouraging students to share their work and participate in an “open-source” culture?
  • Can blogging help students synthesize their understanding in a written, visual or audio form?

When I review the above questions, I tend to think that the first bullet – to improve spelling and grammar – is a given, but it is not the purpose for blogging. Students blog to get their voices heard and as a result, they edit, then re-edit, then edit again (just like most adults). They are quite aware of the world wide web and they take pride that their work will be added to it. So, no – it is not about the spelling and grammar. It is about the engagement in writing, reading, sharing, collaborating and commenting. It is about the engagement and motivation in sharing your ideas and that what you say might just possibly be read by others.

Think back when you were a kid – you completed an assignment that either went home (up on the fridge), on a bulletin board or back in your desk. You repeated this all year until you took your work home at the end of the school year, it disappeared into some box. For some, this was fine – they would write and read and change the world without any  prompting from anyone, not even a teacher. But for other students, and we all know them, they did not care. They had no reason to care. They struggled. Words did not come easy – and why put all that effort into something when no one would read it anyway? They didn’t see the big picture  (that it was for practice, for learning, that they would need it someday).

Those are the students that we need to focus are attention. Those are the students that will benefit MOST from blogging.

Student motivation and desire to write and read needs purpose and authenticity. When they write for a global audience, they are giving their voice meaning.  I recently asked my students if they would blog as frequently and as passionately as they do if they did not have a global audience, if their blogs were secured to ‘classroom only’. I was surprised by the response (and a little proud) – they replied that they would just copy and paste their blog to a ‘new – personal’ blog, one that can’t be  blocked – one that can’t be moderated (they are aware that I moderate what is posted and I approve comments). I asked my students what I we should do in June when school is over. Should the blog be deleted? They laughed. They didn’t really even understand my question. Why would I delete their blog?

Please share your experiences with student blogging. Why are you blogging with your students? Are their blogs accessible by a wider audience? Is this a new form of literacy or is this simply a new tool?

A few example student blogs:

  • (student talking creative commons)
  • (student talking about creative commons)
  • (student talking about Olympics – concerns)

Consider getting your students involved and commenting these Sixth Grader Blogs as well as sharing your blogs with us.

The video below is by two of my students presenting to teachers about blogging.

Olympics at School….these links will help

Colour the town RED!!!

For the next two weeks our students will be talking about issues that relate specifically to the Olympics.  A few questions to think about:

  • How have the Olympic games strengthened or weakened our relationships with other countries?
  • Does the promotion of sport, strengthen ones values in other areas of life?
  • How does the “Host” of the olympics benefit (or not) from this international sport?
  • Why do we celebrate our nationality so much? Is it important to learn about athletes from the past?
  • How have the Olympic games changed over the years when it comes to fairness, and equity?
  • How does fairness and honesty play into Olympics?

Students will continue to add to a collaborative WIKISPACE which we look forward to contributions from other classrooms

As well, we will be watching the Olympics by going to this site:

CTV Olympics LIVE:

This site will stream in Canada (the other streaming site is NBC, which oly streams in the US)(must download Silverlight)

Olympic Results


Canada Pride video’s

Olympic Ceremony Highlights

Luge Story:

– Students will look into the safety of Olympics, discuss a variety of perspectives about what to do when tragedy strikes.

Olympic Video – poet bursts onto world stage

The Cleversheep talks “Creative Commons”

Should students be putting Creative Commons attributes on their work?

According to a leading educator in the Ontario community, the answer is YES. Rodd Lucier is a teacher – consultant in the Komoka region and is most definately considered an expert in the area of Creative Commons Licenses as it relates to education. That is why I asked him to join my class in a discussion about not only how students can obtain content ethically but also about putting license agreements on their own work – and why.
We had a great discussion, which I captured on audio to summarize the student reflections about Creative Commons:

A few links that Rodd provided for us:
The Cleversheep Blog
Creative Commons Presentation – for educators
Flickr Photos Creative Commons
Creative Commons

Students will create a collaborative digital book using Google Docs to teacher other students about Copyright rules and the Creative Commons. Anyone care to join us, in this endeavor?

Stop Motion – Olympics and the Four Host Nations

This week, students will be exploring a variety of story telling animation and art tools as part of our Olympics and Social Studies Connections Unit. I did a similar unit with a group of primary students last year, resulting in the following video:

For this project, students will have a choice to create a biography of a Canadian Athlete, a Time-Line of a winter sport, or a spotlight about the Vancouver 2010 Host Nations. Students have already had opportunities to conduct research and create an assortment of graphic and text based accounts of sport highlights, athlete highlights and highlights of the Host Nations.

In using Windows Media Maker, we ran into a variety of problems. First, students found it difficult to change the transition times after the picture import. Often, students found that the program crashed during import due to the size of the pictures. They had to use photoshop first to do a batch import and edit the file size. This two step process is unnecessarily and difficult for some students. The use of the chroma key for blue/green screen functionality was not clear for students and required additional downloads or add on’s. Ultimately, the final version of the show was downloaded into my MacBookPro and I used Imovie to create a final product.

For this group of learners, I will use Frames:

  • Ontario has recently purchased the license for Frames – More Info
  • Frames allows easy import of pictures as well as camara hook up
  • Frames has thousands of pictures ready to use
  • Frames allows easy voice integration

As well, I will re-introduce students to an already familiar site called Creative Commons, where they can access pictures, sounds and movie clips and import them directly to Frames.

  • By using creative commons pictures, my students will become familiar of copyright rules and regulations as well as using creative commons attributes for their own work.
  • Students can create Google Searches directly in Creative Commons and will begin to understand the variety of licensing levels and choices that an author can make when publishing work.

How will student upload and store pictures?

For this activity, I will introduce them to Dropbox.  As a student in our district, they receive an email account using First Class. With drop box, I will share a file easily using their email. See example here:

Phlog it!!

We made our first Phlog today from Ipadio App and Iphone. A very easy way of recording a student discussion, radio broadcast. I like how it also has a “Speech to Text” application. I am definitely impressed with the quality of sound, especially when using the Front Row system with it. I look forward to more impromptu broadcasts from our Grade Six Class.

Is this the “Collaboration Generation”?

After returning from Educon2.2, My students (grade six) wanted to know the “most amazing thing I saw”. They know about conferences. They’ve attended conferences. They’ve been Skyped from conferences. They wanting me to “Wow” them. It wasn’t hard, thanks to Jeff Han.

I have had a Smartboard in my classroom for three years now. So have most of my students, who are fortunate enough to attend a Smart Showcase School. These students have become familiar with the terms, “Notebook Software”, “Social media”, “twitter”, “blogging” and “collaboration”. They are used to taking leadership roles and each of them play “teacher” in one way or another. When I showed them the video demonstration (below) of the ‘Multi-touch board, – the students surprised me with their comments. Most have begun writing letters to Mr.Han with their reflections about this tool and how they see this impacting their learning. One student (9 year old) posted her comment last night, here)

Until the rest of our blogs are posted, I am compelled to share with you our discussion. Many of the students indicated that the “Smartboard” is often cumbersome and difficult to use in a group because it allows for one touch only. They want their hands all over the board. Students talked about the “Shadow” cast on our board and that often, they can’t see what they write. They admitted that they are used to the board, and can’t imagine learning without access to a touch screen – but their expectations have increased.

They say they need something that helps them “collaborate better” –