What can you see?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

After joining the "Twitterverse" at the end of last year, I have been overwhelmed and completely inspired by the other educators who I have connected with. Not only does this type of social media represent a "digital staffroom" for those in education, but it is such a springboard to gain new insights, build connections, and share our learning around the world!

In particular, Angie Harrison, a Kindergarten teacher from Lake Simcoe Public School, had a brilliant idea on her blog that I thought our class could be a part of! She states, "Ever wonder what other teachers or children see when they look out their windows?" Her philosophy behind this question is to give our students an opportunity to gain an understanding of the world around them and broaden their perspectives that other children may see different things in their backyards. With this in mind, her Kindergarten class and teaching team created a digital book that illustrates and documents all that they see in their schoolyard.

So here's what we did! In order to get our students' "minds-on" to this notion of "what can we see out of our classroom window?," we decided to share Mrs. Harrison's Kindergarten Class' video and see if our students could make any connections to the similarities and differences between our schoolyard and theirs. Here is what they had to say:

"We don't have a pond or a farm in our schoolyard." - I.D.
"We have a soccer field but ours looks different." - J.S. (SK)
"We don't have bull rushes like Mrs. Harrison's class." - I.D.
"We have a basketball net!" - W.V.
"We see many trees in our park." - T.B.
"We have bushes too!" - V.D.
"We have trees." - A.M.
"We have a playground too." - R.L.
"We have a fence around our playground like they do." - W.F.
"We have lots of leaves on our trees too." - L.D.
"We can see a park." - R.F.
"We have a parking lot too with lots of cars." - L.D.

Our students' responses were amazing and their excitement and enthusiasm to create our own class book to show Mrs. Harrison's class was evident so we didn't waste any time getting them outside and calling out all that they saw! With cameras in hand, Ms. Theis and I took a ton of photographs to which we have compiled into our own digital class book! 

Our hope is to continue to connect with Mrs. Harrison's Kindergarten class and hopefully host some SKYPE sessions whereby our students can have the opportunity to talk about, listen, and learn from other students in another community. Who knows? Perhaps we can even make connections to another school from around the world? Stay tuned! 

Let's Play! Now Let's Document!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Friday, I had the absolute pleasure of being invited to co-present at the ECOO 2012 Conference! This conference was being held from October 24-26th at the Parkway Sheraton Hotel and Conference Centre and over 1500 educators across the three days attended. This was a true celebration of learning since each session throughout the conference was dedicated to learning, teaching, creating, collaborating and sharing experiences and expertise!

The session that my mentor, Tania Sterling, and I presented on was entitled "Let's Play! Now Let's Document!" and its focus was around three big ideas and areas of professional inquiry:

How can we leverage technology to capture learning?
How can we use assessment data to inform practice?
How does technology support home-school connections?

In order to summarize our initial thinking when tackling the area of assessment in FDK and how we could best utilize technology to make it meaningful, we turned to the curriculum document. After pulling out the key words that we felt connected technology to support and enhance pedagogical documentation and student learning, we decided to make a Wordle to capture our thinking:

We were completely overwhelmed by the number of participants who came to our session and actively participated with insightful questions and thoughtful connections to their own classrooms. Moreover, we were excited to see that quite a few of our participants were not actually in an FDK classroom but were rather intrigued with how they can trickle technology upstream across the grades! This was an amazing learning moment for us, since we truly valued and appreciated the ideas being shared from different grade perspectives. We had incredible feedback after our session which assured us that we gave our audience the opportunity to leave our session "thinking" about their programs and how they can integrate technology to document authentic learning experiences in their classrooms. 

I was absolutely honoured to be a part of such an event and look forward to many more opportunities to share my learning in the future! Thank you to my Administrator, Greg Collins, for supporting me in this journey, to my mentor Tania for continuing to inspire me, and to my amazing DECE, Heidi Theis, for being a wonderful partner and staying open-minded to all technology we have been exploring in our classroom! 

A Very Big Thank You

Friday, October 12, 2012

Welcome to our classroom
Words cannot even begin to describe the overwhelming sense of support, celebration and appreciation during last night's Open House/Meet the Teacher Night. Both my DECE and I, as well as my fellow grade partners (@mel4education and her DECE), were ecstatic with how the evening unfolded. Mrs. Abalos (my wonderful and talented grade partner) sums it up nicely when saying, "the most precious gift that was given was the smiles on our students' faces and witnessing their sense of pride and accomplishment for their learning."

The Welcome table full of treats to start the evening and our
incredible Family Board with words of encouragement for
our students from their families!

From a scavenger hunt with Tim Horton's coffee and treats to a slideshow and Guest Book for parents to write a message in to our class, one of the most memorable events of the evening was watching our Family Board come to life. After seeing this wonderful idea in action during our dear friend Joanne Babalis' Open House last year, we knew we had to try it but design it in our own way. Thank you Joanne for the amazing idea and we give you full credit for what is an incredible way of celebrating our students' families within our classrooms.

Our new floating branch with student-created
leaf transparencies was an eye-catcher! 
Our class truly enjoyed reading all of the
thoughtful comments! Thank you!
Leafsnap was a hit! Students LOVED showing
their parents how to use it!
Our newly updated Art Gallery containing Cloud, Sunflower,
and Rain inspired works by our students! 
Students sharing their portfolios with their parents!
To our parents, colleagues and administration, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continued support with all that we do! Our students have helped make our classroom a beautiful place to learn and grow and we truly look forward to all that's in store throughout our journey!

Ms. Schmidt & Ms. Theis 

Leafsnap Scientists

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

With the start of the fall season, our class has noticed lots of changes in our environment. From the weather getting cooler to flowers no longer blooming, our students have become very observant when witnessing the change in season. In particular, our class has been taken by the changing leaves as seen on the trees around our community.

In order to closely examine this change in nature, we decided to take our class on a "Leaf Hunt." Last week, our class took a walk around our community to collect leaves of different shapes, sizes, and colours to be brought back and showcased in our classroom "leaf bin" (formally known as a our "Water/Sand" table). Once back in the classroom, we laid out a large white sheet donated by one of our parents and scattered our collected leaves on top. To begin our discussion, we asked our students what they noticed about all the leaves in front of them. Here are some of their responses:

"A red leaf!" - R.F.
"I see yellow and green leaves." - L.D.
"Small and big!" - R.L.
"Pointy leaves." - S.M.
"Maple leaf shaped leaves." - L.D.
"A line on a leaf!" - A.M.
"A naked leaf!" - E.S.

(Each student then chose one leaf out of our pile to examine it closely). 

"What do you see?" - Ms. Schmidt
"I see braids." - I.D.
"I see a yellow line on a red leaf." - S.M.
"I see lines that go one way, in the middle, and then the other way." - L.D.
"I see pointy parts on my leaf." - J.S.
"There are holes in the middle of my leaf!" - I.D.
"Spots!" - S.M.
"I see yellow lines in an orange leaf." - J.S.

Throughout the week, we used our "Leaf Bin" to explore leaves using different materials: our hands, magnifying glasses, plastic bugs (which our students authentically sorted based on their colour and matching each bug to the same coloured leaf), and tweezers. We have also been working on examining leaves using our senses and in particular, creating leaf outlines using wire. Not only has this been a wonderful exercise to build fine motor skills, but the students continue to enjoy replicating the shapes of different leaves using different wires (e.g. different thicknesses).

Our proudest learning moment so far occurred today when we introduced an amazing iPad app called Leafsnap! This app allows you to scan any leaf (laying on top of a white background) and it uses visual recognition software to identify what tree the leaf came from! It's incredible! It can go as far as locating the tree in your community and elaborating on its species using high-resolution images.

To make this learning opportunity meaningful and purposeful for our students interest and inquiry on leaves, we wanted to provide them with the tools to craft their own knowledge. With just a brief modelled lesson, the first small group of students were able to single-handedly manipulate, navigate, and control the use of the iPad and gather their information pertaining to their selected leaf. It was amazing to see them take control of their learning and take pride in their found results! Now that we've introduced this learning tool to a small group of students, we plan to appoint them as "leaders" within the classroom with a special job of assisting their peers throughout their own leaf discoveries!

Below are some of the work samples created by the first group of Leafsnap scientists! Several students even felt inspired to write their very own "Leaf Books" - what more could you ask for?

Authentic, meaningful and purposeful learning at work and play!

 A Leaf Book - By L.D.
I am going to make a book. A leaf was falling. It had lines. It just fell and it landed on the ground! 
A boy had another leaf! Ok. A Leaf. This leaf fell on the tree and it fell on the tree again and on the street! And on the DIRT!! It had spikes on the side ok. Now it fell on the car! Now it had a fall on the sidewalk. Now it fell on me! I just had lots of fun ok. Yes I love trees!

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Introducing Elements of Art: The Line

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

To build upon last year's community of artists, we wanted to instill a love of creativity, expression, and innovation in our students early on in the year. To begin, we introduced a basic element of art: the line.  We noticed a strong interest in lines when our students were drawing, writing, or constructing at various centres throughout the classroom. Initially, and to get our students' "minds on" to this concept, we talked about lines we see in our world. By investigating our classroom, we discovered many lines around us; on the ceiling, on the floor, on the wall, on the shelves, and all around us! Every time a student found a line, he/she was asked to describe it. Surprisingly, our students came up with amazing vocabulary. Lines found were described as: thin, think, straight, wiggly, zigzag, broken, dotted, wavy, scribbled, crossing, horizontal, and vertical! One student in particular shouted out: "It's a hopping, happy line!" - I.D.


Intended as an exercise in visualization and a kinesthetic approach to line drawing, the students were then asked to close their eyes as we played classical music in the background. Once the music stopped, they were individually provided with a marker and large paper to which they were asked to draw their emotional responses to the music that they just heard. With the music back on, they recorded what they saw and felt in their minds.

At first there was a lot of giggling, but after the initial excitement it became very quiet in the classroom! All of the students became deeply engaged in the activity while listening to Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." We immediately found a temporary space to display everybody's work and we began an introductory exercise in art criticism. We asked our students to take a "sitting gallery walk" and observe the work of their peers. Next, we asked them what kinds of lines they saw and they discovered when two lines met, that they became a shape! Finally, everybody shared their work in front of the group and talked about what they liked most about their work.

This simple exercise demonstrates how important art experiences are for children. They play an important role in a child's physical, emotional, and cognitive development while also tying in perfectly to the curriculum. The students were able to express emotions, experienced autonomy and built self-confidence during this experience. In the past few weeks, our class has engaged in many more creative experiences. From printing with lines, marble-painting, working with weaving frames and elastics, popsicle sticks and more, our students have truly enjoyed creating different line designs!

Food for thought: Next time you venture into the outdoors, a supermarket, your home, or even your backyard, see what kind of lines you can find!

Thanks to my amazing DECE, Heidi Theis, for planning, implementing and documenting such a wonderful activity! Looking forward to seeing where "lines" take us!

    Paintlounge: Art and Lattés

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    My inspiration for this post comes from Joanne Babalis who introduced me to one of York Region's newest and most unique places to explore and create art! With various canvas sizes, an acrylic paint bar, tools, aprons, and several idea books, Paintlounge offers a new concept called social painting! As stated on their website, we want you to discover how fun and relaxing painting can be, even if you haven't touched art since grade school! The atmosphere is absolutely wonderful! Music playing in the background, a cafe in the middle that offers hot and cold speciality drinks and tasty desserts, and knowledgeable staff that share ideas and techniques - what more could you ask for to feel inspired?

    That being said, I couldn't resist jumping on the opportunity to call up some of my closest girlfriends and plan a Friday night painting party! With some anxiety around "what to paint," my girlfriends had no problem feeling inspired once we arrived!

    For me, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to create a piece of artwork that I could bring in and share with our class! With my inspiration being clouds, I was inspired by the work of Canadian artist Maya Budan ( and in particular, her piece entitled "One Cloud." Not only does her work connect to our class' current exploration of lines in art, but her interpretation of a cloud was fascinating - I couldn't resist!

    Maya describes her inspiration for this painting on her blog: "I'm exploring the way clouds interact with the sky. Sometimes the cloud seems separate from the sky and sometimes it is clearly just an extension of it." 

    With this in mind, I hope my interpretation of Maya's work will provoke our students to continue to engage with our Cloud inquiry from an art perspective and beyond. For my girlfriends, I hope they continue to feel inspired and join me the next time I venture back to Paintlounge to explore my creative side again!

    In the coming weeks, we hope to use my painting as a catalyst to pull together other artistic representations of clouds through a class "Cloud Book," exploring transparencies with student's quotes about their cloud, plasticine, and our own acrylic canvases to paint on! We also hope to create our very own model of a cloud to hang in our classroom! There is certainly lots to look forward to!

    As for my girlfriends, it's safe to say that they all left Paintlounge on Friday night feeling invigorated, relaxed, proud, and inspired! A Friday night success! As for Monday morning, I couldn't wait to share my experience with Ms. Theis (DECE - @h_theis), Mrs. Abalos (@mel4education), my Principal Mr. Collins (@gregcollins2010) and most importantly my students. I have yet to show them my painting so I'm really looking forward to seeing their reactions and hearing their comments! Who knows? Maybe Lorna Jackson P.S. will create their very own Paintlounge for students? It's in the stay tuned!

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