Getting Focused

Since coming back from the amazing ISTE conference in Philly, ideas have been flying around in my brain!  Blog writing always helps me bring some focus to that tornado of ideas, so here is my "rough draft" of what I'd like to focus my energies on this coming year with my 5th graders.  These changes also stem from the reading I've been doing lately on brain research, specifically Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina (who gave an awesome keynote at ISTE).  So here goes:

  • Structure my reading program using Reader's Workshop, specifically following Laura Candler's new step-by-step manual which I have been following through its development as a member of  her Yahoo membership group!  Very excited about this because the mini-lessons fit nicely with what brain researchers suggest about providing new learning concepts in short, repetitive bursts.  There are so many wonderful web 2.0 tools that I'll be able to incorporate in the small group rotations (we call them Reefs in our classroom) to go along with the mini-lessons!

  • Structure my math program using the "Flipping the Classroom" concept.  I am excited about the idea of my students watching the math instruction during their homework time, and then having the entire class time to work with their small groups on relevant hands-on activities and practice of the concept.  I plan to include some collaborative discussion using Edmodo to go along with the videos each night.  I think that will provide even greater motivation for the kids to watch the short lesson, knowing they will be involved in some pre-class discussions about the math topic prior to getting back together in the classroom.  This strategy also seems to be supported by the brain tips suggested by Dr. Medina.  He says that students who relate their new information to others (rehearsal) as soon as possible after first exposure take the first steps in moving that information toward successful long term retention.  The sleep that follows, usually shortly after homework for many of my kids, may also help to get those neurons forging the correct pathways.  And then when we get to spend the entire math block "playing" with that new math information?  I'm hoping it will be very beneficial to the kids!

  • Incorporate more Geography!  There is no reason for a fifth grade student to ask if Canada is a state (yes, one did last year).  In our global, flat world, our kids need to have a sense of their place in it!  And to know that, you have to know the difference between states, countries, and continents!  With tools like Google Earth there is no reason for my students not to leave my classroom with geographical literacy!  I'm still trying to develop a strategic plan to do this.  Any suggestions would be appreciated!  Remember we are a laptop classroom, so really, the sky is the limit!

  • Greater Blogging opportunities! Brain research also indicates that my students need more time to "digest" and reflect on their new learning.  Although I plan to incorporate many non-tech ways to do this, I want to have my kids use their blogs more often and in more of our subjects.  Last year we used Kidblog, which we all LOVED!  We mainly used it to blog about our independent reading books.  We commented on each others and got lots of great comments from other students and teachers!  I want to expand this program to have the kids reflect on a lot more of their learning; kind of a digital think, pair, share!

  • Use LiveBinders for student digital portfolios.  My kids have kept the beginnings of digital portfolios using Wikispaces the past few years, but this year I really want to grow this idea into something that we will actually use during parent/teacher/student conferences.  LiveBinders seems to be the perfect tool to organize this into a visual portfolio that will be easy for my students to create, organize, and share.  I am excited to have them develop a learning product portfolio that they can be proud of at the end of the year!

So these are the main changes I hope to focus on this year.  I plan to continue using a class wiki as the hub of our daily 1:1 events and adventures, but the list above will be major changes to our classroom!  I'm excited to get planning!  Please feel free to comment with your suggestions!
5 Responses
  1. Mick Sweeney Says:

    Hi Kim,

    I really like your Math Program idea. I have heard of the 'flipping the classroom' concept on twitter, but don't really know a great deal about it. It sounds very interesting and engaging, I'm sure the students will love it! Being a student teacher I'm really keen to hear how it goes for you.

    I couldn't agree more with you in terms of Geography. It drives me nuts when students think Sydney is the capital of Australia!

    On a teaching round, I saw a classroom with a big poster of the world pinned up on the wall, attached to the posted with string lines were articles from the newspapers 'World' section. The string lines pointed to where in the world the article was talking about. The teacher would collect articles all week and update the poster with the new articles weekly. Was a great tool for Geography and Issues. I loved it and will hopefully use it myself one day!

    Thanks for the great post!
    Think I will hit the subscribe button on my Google reader :)


  2. kcollazo Says:

    Thank you, Mick! I love the idea about incorporating a map and the world events. Since we are a laptop classroom I could easily incorporate the skills needed to read online newspapers, and maybe a class Google map! I appreciate your comments!

  3. Amy Straus Says:

    Hi Kim,
    Way to go on making the move to Reading Workshop -- I love the workshop style and would have a hard time going back out of it, if I ever have to! My favorite parts of a RW/WW style is the ability to differentiate, empower students, and see authentic reading by students!

    Have you tried Mystery Skype? I'm hoping to do it next year and I think it would be GREAT for a geography tie in...we could even collaborate between our classes!

    Best of luck with your new initiatives -- can't wait to hear how they go!

  4. Mick Sweeney Says:

    No problem Kim.

    Linking world events to a something like Google Earth would be great!

  5. kcollazo Says:

    Thanks for your comments!
    I am very excited about moving to the Reading Workshop method for the very reasons you mention! I might be in touch for some advice! : )
    I have heard about the Mystery Skype and was interested in participating as well! Our class would love to collaborate this year, let's keep in touch!