Thursday, 23 March 2017

Exploring MindMaps

I'm hoping that some of you who are far more tech savvy than I can weigh in with some helpful hints and suggestions.  Please!

My final assignment in my current online course is to create a mind map for a three chapter document that will be created as the culmination of my doctorate studies.  First, I had to decide what program to use to create the mind map.

I started with Popplet which was suggested by someone who had done this assignment last year.  I had used it just a few weeks ago with a group of Grade 3 students so I had heard of it.  It is visually very appealing and easy to use.  It was easy to insert images which helped reduce the text-heavy appearance of some samples I had seen.  But two major problems:  one, it kept crashing and it would take FOREVER to log back in. Instead it just spun and spun and spun.  Someone suggested I try a different browser and that helped.  It gave me no end of troubles in Safari but worked fine in Chrome.  But secondly, you can't add hyperlinks.  This was a deal breaker for me.

So I tried downloaded the free 30 day trial to try Inspiration.  I had used Kidspiration with students about 15 years ago when I was a learning support teacher and had fond memories of this program.  Again it was user friendly - easy to create the mind map, easy to insert graphics and you can insert hyperlinks.  But, quite frankly, I thought it was ugly.  It looked old and dated.  I'm sure that had I taken even more time and played with it longer maybe I could have made it more visually appealing but Popplet had spoiled me.  Popplet created mind maps that  looked good automatically, so I knew there had to be something better out there.

On to iMindMaps and another free 30 day trial.  It has lots of options but frankly by this time I had used up an entire morning and I really just wanted to get going so I picked out a template I liked and got started.  It looks good, it's easy to use and you can add images, hyperlinks and notes quickly.  I'm sure you can do lots of other things with it as there seems to be an infinite number of buttons and drop down menus.  Some day when I have more time, I'll explore all of those but right now I just want to finish my assignment on time.

So I've finished the mind maps for Chapter 1 and 2 and I'm hoping to finish Chapter 3 soon. But now what?  My free 30 day trial runs out shortly and then what?  It won't let me save it as anything else so in 30 days I have to pay up or lose access to my work?  I can't print it out - it's too tiny.  I've tried zooming in on sections but it's still small and it would take a whole day to zoom, cut, paste, etc.   I appreciate that this task has helped me to think about my work differently and notice connections that I hadn't seen before.  But is there a way to create a more useable document than this finished product?  Those of you who use mind maps, how do you move on from a digital format?  Or do you?

Some of my colleagues in this same class are using other programs.  One is using Popplet and has had problems with freezing and lost work.  One is using Prezi, and another abandoned the idea of electronics after spending a day exploring different programs and is using coloured pencils and paper.  I think in the future I would probably use mind maps again to help organize my work but I'm still a linear sequential, list making girl at heart.

Chapter 1 & 2 done; Chapter 3 in progress

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Resources for World Down Syndrome Day

Today people across the world will be wearing their mismatched colourful socks to celebrate Rock Your Socks for World Down Syndrome Day.  Rock Your Socks is held on the 21st day of the 3rd month because the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome leads to Down Syndrome.  

So wear your brightest, craziest, mismatched socks today  and post your pictures on social media!!!! When someone asks "Why are you wearing those socks?" you'll have the perfect opening to tell them that March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day and that you are celebrating all the great things that people with Down Syndrome can do, as well as helping to advocate for inclusion and respect.

#worlddownsyndromeday #wdsd2017 #rockyoursocks

Children's Picture Books about Down Syndrome

World Down Syndrome Day

Happy Soul Project - Facebook

Chasing Hazel blog - who announced yesterday that they are starting a foundation located in Windsor/Essex County

Friday, 10 March 2017

Self-regulation and Procrastination

Inspired by my amazing colleagues, I decided to write a professional learning book based on a journal article I wrote last year and began the process with a book proposal to a publisher during Christmas Break.  This is part of my One Word Challenge - to stretch myself out of my comfort zone.

I submitted the proposal and the publisher was interested.  They requested a draft chapter by March 20.  I wrote the first draft by mid-February and sent it to two of my colleagues for their input. I respect both of them as educators and writers, and I knew they would give me the honest truth.  They sent me their suggestions and I got right to work on revisions.  Within a short time, I had revised everything except one section - about two paragraphs.

And that's when the procrastination started......

After a few days of diligently working away at revisions, I came to a screeching halt.  I moved my work down to the dining room table so I couldn't avoid seeing it all day, every day, but I kept avoiding those last two paragraphs.

Then I saw this on Twitter:

and I had an aha! moment.  How could I reframe my writing and more specifically my procrastination through a self-reg lens?  Why was I procrastinating?  It seemed to be causing stress but was it also a way of avoiding stress?

The last section I had to revise was about teacher self-efficacy.  One of my reviewers has just published a book on teacher self-efficacy.  So who am I to write about that when she's written a whole book?   I've read some articles and understand the theory behind it, but obviously she knows more than I do and I should probably just stop before I reveal my inferior knowledge to everyone.  I think there was a bit of imposter syndrome happening for me.

And secondly, once that section was done it would be time to submit this draft chapter to the publisher for peer review and committee consideration.  Maybe they'll say 'yes' and then I'll have to revise and revise again for this chapter PLUS I'll have to write the rest of the chapters.  Or, maybe they'll say 'no' and that will be so disappointing.  So by not finishing this draft chapter, I may have been trying to avoid the anxiety of clicking submit.

This self-reg lens helped me to understand why I was procrastinating. Instead of beating myself up for my lack of willpower and self-control, which I had been doing for days, I understood the reasons for the procrastination.  And once I did, I was able to finish the revisions in one night.

This morning, I mustered my courage and clicked send.  Draft chapter one is on it's way out into the publishing world for consideration and review, and hopefully, acceptance.  And best of all, I get my dining room table back!

I put the leaf in but still managed to cover the entire surface.
Luckily no one else was home this week.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Building Relationships and Connections with Students

Megan Valois' blog post about 'being a cheerleader' for your students really made me think about what this can look like for teachers in primary and kindergarten.   It also reminded me of similar situations and connections I've had with students in the past.

One year I had a grade 3 student who really enjoyed playing the 'bad guy' in a production of The Balloon Tree that we did for an assembly.  He loved it so much that he asked his parents if he could join a local children's drama group and got a small part in their production of 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.'  One day he came up to me during class and said, "Miss, I get two free tickets for my play and I want to give one to you because you are the one who put me in our class play and that's how I found out I really like acting.  Will you come?'    How could I say no to an invitation like that!  Just about made me cry!

At the time, I was commuting about 40 minutes to work each way, so on the Saturday of the play I drove back into the city and my daughter and I attended his performance. He was so excited that we were there and I was so excited to see him having so much fun.

Another time, a student asked me if I would come to her very first skating competition.  I said to have her mom or dad send me the information, and if I could be there I would come.  Her mom called me the next day, apologizing.  "You don't need to come.  I know you must be busy."  I told her I'd be happy to come as long as they were comfortable with me being there.  Once again, I drove my daughters into the city and we went to Stephanie's skating competition.  I still got to spend time with my kids, they got to meet one of my students, and Stephanie and her family were happy to see us.

And my own girls still remember Miss Dianne, their child care teacher, who invited all the children from the child care to attend her big church wedding.  There was a special section, right up at the very front, where all the kids and their families sat and after the wedding she took a huge group photo with all of them.

In addition to the importance of building relationships with our students, I think taking time to celebrate their achievements, to show an interest in the things that they are passionate about and to share our own passions helps to build relationships with families and with the community.  When we attend a child's award ceremony, or play, or game, we represent all teachers.  We remind everyone that teachers CARE about kids.  The next time someone is 'trash talking' teachers - telling everyone how easy we have it with our 9 am to 3 pm day and summers off - maybe they'll remember a teacher in a cold arena watching their child skate or cheering on the basketball team from the sidelines and they'll know that we care.

These are just a few examples from my own experience.  How do you build relationships and connections with your students, family and community?

Here are some resources about making connections with students:

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Children using Nature for Self-regulation in Urban Environments

Late last week I retweeted and commented on this photo from a kindergarten teacher.  It seemed to resonate with people as they retweeted, liked and shared it.  The original tweet showed a kindergarten student engaged in play with her shadow, trying out different poses on a beautiful sunny February day.

As I was walking down by the riverfront enjoying the unusually warm weather this weekend, I got to thinking about how much I enjoy using nature to help me stay calm.  Even though I live in the city on a very small lot with almost no yard, I can easily walk to a nearby park or head down to the riverfront to destress.

I enjoy reading other teachers' blogs where they talk about heading to the forests, streams and other natural areas near their schools with their students.  But as I walked along, with busy traffic on one side and green grass and the river on the other side, I wondered about our students in our highly urban schools with small playgrounds, often with lots of asphalt and very little green space.  How can we help these students, who are often living in stressful environments, to connect with nature and use nature to self-regulate?  

Certainly the student in the tweet above seems to be engaged in nature play even though there is no greenery in sight.

One of my favourite inner city nature lessons with kindergarten and primary students was to go outside and read "It Looked Like Spilt Milk" by Charles Shaw and then have the students find a comfy spot to lay down, look at the clouds in the sky and invite them to talk with someone nearby about what they saw.  This was an activity they could return to later, on their own or with a classmate,  and I found it was one way that students could find a way to engage in quiet solitary play even in a busy outdoor environment.

One blog I read listed a range of benefits to nature play including:

* Greater physical activity (4)
* Greater mental health and emotional regulation (4)
* Improvements in motor skills (4)
* Healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels (5)
* Being more fit and lean (6)
* Have stronger immune systems (6)
* Have more active imaginations (6)
* Play better with other children (6)

Children who help in school gardens improve in scientific learning and have healthier eating habits! (4)  Just contacting nature (like seeing trees out your window) can reduce stress and lead to fewer illnesses. (2) (see references below)

How can we help students in highly urban schools connect with nature?  Here are some overhead photos of some of urban schools for your inspiration:

A former elementary school (now closed)

A newer downtown school

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Value in Responding

Another of Doug Peterson's posts on Off The Record got me thinking this week - I love that about online connections!  He wrote about the power of commenting on blogs:

Most certainly, there are values and connections to be had with replies.  The original blogger extends her reach and makes new and important connections when people comment.  The blogger may realize that they absolutely have nailed a concept, they may find that there are other ways at looking at a topic, or they might be convinced that they were completely wrong.  Without that feedback, the blogger might just go through life thinking they know everything about everything.
Constructive thoughts continue and extend the conversation and can make new connections.  There are many folks who don’t blog for whatever reason and that’s their choice.  But, if they’re reading other blogs, they can do their own mini-blog by sharing their thoughts.
My first blog was a travel blog when I was living in Argentina.  I started it because my mom and dad weren't on Facebook and it was a way to connect with them and share my adventures.  It turned out to be a great way to deal with some of the stress of living in a country where I didn't speak the language and didn't always understand the culture.  I wasn't expecting any comments, but it was a bonus when they happened.
But this blog is different.  Writing is a way that I can get all the ideas and thoughts that are spinning around in my head down on 'paper' where I can see them and think about them.   And I wonder what other people are thinking about the same topics.  So when I started blogging here, I often ended each blog with a few prompting questions - hoping for a response.  But as Doug notes, people are busy and there is just so much content to read with Twitter and Facebook providing links to so many articles and blogs.  Or they would respond to the link on Twitter or Facebook, not on the blog itself.

For my part, I don't always respond to blogs that I read unless an idea really resonates with me or provokes my thinking.  Recently I responded to Bill Ferguson's Recommendations Follow Up Post where he said he thought every new teacher should be required to get a masters degree within five years of graduating from teachers' college.  By doing so, I could let him know just a few of the many reasons I disagree with that recommendation, and then he was able to respond and let me know his rationale for recommending this idea.  
What about you?  Do you comment on blogs? Twitter? Facebook?  Are you more comfortable commenting when you know the person 'in real life' as opposed to only virtually?  

Lisa Cranston

6 days ago  -  Shared publicly 

I disagree with the suggestion that every new teacher should have their masters degree in five years after beginning teaching. Many new teachers are still struggling with student loans, in addition to their extracurricular activities at school and starting young families. They may not have the time, energy or money to spend on a masters degree. I know many new teachers who have part time jobs on the weekend and after school to supplement their salary so graduate school is not feasible for everyone. However, I do think all teachers need to continue learning but that learning could be AQ courses, professional conferences or reading professional journals. Just like students learning through inquiry based on their interests, teachers should also be able to follow their professional curiosities.
In my own situation, I finished my masters degree in 2001, 16 years after teachers college.
I agree wholeheartedly with many of your other recommendations and have worked for many years supporting teachers in using a student-inquiry based approach to teaching. Once teachers see the engagement and motivation students have for inquiry, they never want to go back to the old 'sage on the stage' model again.
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Hi Lisa,
Thank you for your reply. In my research about what makes the countries at the top of the PISA list stay there I found that some require their staff to have a masters before they begin a teaching career. While explanations as to why varied the consensus was that as professionals and thought of as equal to doctors and lawyers that they need to be better qualified. These countries have a strong respect for teachers and the qualifications are justified to maintain this respect. There was also some thought given towards the idea that there was a stronger correlation between having a masters and being more committed towards education. In some of the countries they choose the students in high school from their interests and marks and give them all the support they need to be successful.
Personally I think the social work connections in schools is more important as issues that arise can be dealt with before they become full grown problems.
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Monday, 20 February 2017

20 Must Follow Twitter Feeds

I joined Twitter back in 2008 after attending a workshop where it was promoted as a tool for connecting with other educators. But I wasn't hooked.  I used it for a few weeks and mostly connected with a few other teachers in our board who were using it.  After a month or two, I had drifted away from twitter and didn't use it at all.

Fast forward to Spring 2016, and I decided Twitter another try.  Several colleagues had mentioned that they were finding it a useful tool for professional learning and networking.  I began to follow more educators, groups and organizations that were addressing issues that resonated with me.  And, after following others for awhile, I began posting interesting literacy and mathematics learning that I observed when I was in classrooms.

My big 'aha' moment came when I was live tweeting from the ETFO Learning Math in the Early Years conference in May 2016.  Educators from all over began retweeting and commenting on my posts.  I found myself thinking about which were the most salient 'nuggets' from each presentation to tweet?  What was a tidbit worth sharing that would spark conversation or inspire someone to try something new in their classroom?   It was a different way for me to process my learning at each session. 

This morning, I came across The Edadvocate's List of 20 Must-Follow K-12 Education Twitter Feeds.  Take a look - you might find some that pique your interest!

Then while exploring on their website, I found their List of 20 Must Follow Early Childhood Education Twitter Feeds.  I saw some familiar names, but also some new feeds to add to my list. 

I'm sure that there are lots of great people I could be following but I'm trying to keep it manageable.  How does it work for those of you who are following thousands of people?  How do you keep up with all the tweets?