Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ms. Tanja's Mad Minute

I promised myself that I would blog more this year and yet I am once again falling behind even though I am constantly jotting down notes for posts... So here at least one quick idea that I shared with some of my new students during the past week. Everyone totally loved it. I am calling it the MAD MINUTE or Ms. Tanja's Mad Minute. This is how it works:

I select a couple of favorite books for various reading levels (I started this week with about eight books), set an online egg timer to 60 seconds, and then try within this time to recommend as many books as possible by just saying one or two catchy phrases about each book. Students interested in a book simply raise their hand and I pass the book on to them. It is fast and furious and so much fun! I have now invited students to take up the Mad Minute challenge by sharing some of their favorite books and hope that some time soon I will have my first volunteer.

In case you are wondering what titles I chose for my first Mad Minutes, here the list of titles (so far I did the Mad Minute with my two fourth grade and two fifth grade classes):

Grades 5:

The London Eye Mystery; Stormbreaker; The Strange Case of Origami Yoda; The Butterfly Lion; The Magician’s Elephant; The City of Ember; The Wanderer;

The Homework Machine, Kensuke’s Kingdom, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Willoughbys, The End of the Beginning, Chasing Vermeer, The Magician’s Elephant, Hoot;

Grades 4:
The Lemonade War; Ida B.; The Spiderwick Chronicles; Riding Freedom; The Tale of Desperaux; Kensuke’s Kingdom; The Magic Paintbrush; 

First Apple, The Sleeping Sword; Ida B.; The Magic Paintbrush; Spiderwick Chronicles; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane; The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester; Akimbo and the Crocodile Man.

Monday, August 20, 2012

New Beginnings

After almost 19 years of Ghana, 5 years of them as Primary School Librarian at Lincoln Community School, I moved to Hong Kong to take on the same role at Hong Kong Academy. It's been almost three weeks - an amazing three weeks - since we arrived in Hong Kong but today was my first actual day with students. I didn't get much sleep last night, wondering (and worrying) how my first classes would be. Would the students like me? Would they participate voluntarily? Would classroom management be an issue? I couldn't believe how nervous I was. And yet, everything went well. The children were just wonderful, curious to get to know me and excited about being in the library. I wish I could have spend more time with them.

New beginnings are truly exciting and there is so much to be excited about, for example:
- getting to know and working with new students and fellow educators
- sharing with new colleagues ideas and suggestions for learning engagements that have worked well in the past
- seeing and working with a different Programme of Inquiry (POI)
- exploring a new library collection
- being involved in the design of a brand-new library as the school is currently building a new campus
- sharing the library with an experienced, knowledgeable and passionate fellow librarian
- and, of course, living in Hong Kong aka Library Wonderland!

But of course, new beginnings can also be overwhelming and worrying. My major concerns are related to the introduction of a partly flexible schedule (we will maintain a 30min fixed library time with a focus on literature appreciation; information literacy skills will be integrated into the UOIs and scheduled on a flexible basis) even though I am totally convinced that this is the right approach:
- will classroom teachers be supportive of the new model?
- will we be able to cover all relevant skills within the school year?
- will the 30min weekly fixed time be sufficient to introduce students to a wide variety of literature while giving them enough time to chose their own books?

The first couple of days, and in particular the fact that one grade-level has already scheduled additional time in the library, have made me very hopeful. Exciting times, new beginnings, new adventures - and lots of new sharing and learning to look forward to!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Inquire Within: Teachers as Inquirers

Inquire Within is a fabulous blog dedicated to inquiry-based learning. Brought to life by Edna Sackson, educators from around the globe share experiences from their classroom or library. It's one of the few blogs I follow closely, never missing a post. Today I wrote a post myself about the professional development at the elementary division of my school, Lincoln Community School. I will cross-post it here but hope you are going to check out Inquire Within as well.

Teachers as Inquirers – Reflections from a Learner

It was back in October 2011 that I shared a post titled More About Teachers as Inquirers, introducing a fabulous PD opportunity (Teachers Are Inquirers) organized by the Learning Council at my school, Lincoln Community School, Accra. We, the elementary teachers, were embarking on a unit of inquiry with the Central Idea “Inquiry is the pedagogical approach used across the curriculum”. In the meantime, we have completed our “official” inquiry (but then there is never really an end to inquiry, right?) and I want to share a bit more with you about the process and outcome.

As part of the Technology Inquiry Group, I looked into how iPads can be used to support struggling and reluctant readers. Enthusiastic about the topic, I jumped right into the Finding Out phase, reading how iPads were used by other schools and libraries and what apps they recommended. But then I had my first important lesson: while I was discovering excellent resources around iPads in education in general, I suddenly realized that I had lost sight of my main inquiry and found myself completely confused. Fortunately, my facilitator Sarah Pickles and the guiding questions for each phase of the inquiry model helped me to get back on track. It made me realize what an important role the teacher/facilitator plays during inquiry, helping the learner to stay on track by constantly reconnecting to the Central Idea.

I felt very much back on track as I was sorting out what I had discovered and made sense of what I was learning at the same time. I realized that most probably the most powerful element in the use of iPads with struggling readers is that they turn reading from a task into a fun activity. Of course, there are several features within the apps that support the reader in various ways, e.g. reading the text or individual words out loud. I began to wonder how I could best put my learning into practice.

These new tensions and wonderings provided the basis for the Going Further phase during which I tried to find additional answers and put some of my new knowledge into practice. However, I had to make a change to my original plan since the first opportunity I got to use the iPad with readers was with a group of confident KG students for whom this would provide an extension of their reading experience. The idea came from their teacher Miranda Rose (she is one of the facilitators of this PD inquiry and her reflections are available on this blog under “Teachers as Inquirers – Reflections from a Facilitator”). Until this point, I had never considered that iPads could be as beneficial to high-performing readers as well as to those struggling.

While Drawing Conclusions, I not only summarized my findings regarding the use of iPads with readers but also my experiences in going through an inquiry cycle as a learner. I think these were the really powerful outcomes of this learning experience for me, gaining a better understanding of my role as a facilitator while experiencing the challenges the learner is faced with. I therefore want to share all of them with you as I recorded them on my wiki page (by the way, the wiki page also represents my summative assessment):

  • There never seems to be enough time to get everything done, that we would like to do.
  • Answers always create new questions and it's okay that the inquiry somehow never ends.
  • It's important to keep the fluidity of the inquiry cycle in mind, there are no strict boundaries between the individual stages (I have experienced that sometimes I am finding it challenging to say exactly on what phase I am, e.g. is it already Sorting out or still Finding out etc.).
  • The role of the facilitator is extremely important in keeping the learner on track/on task and re-connecting to the Central Idea constantly.
  • No matter how big or small the initial question or wondering, the inquiry process can always be applied. Often we go through the process without being aware of it.
  • Inquiry requires personal initiative and engagement - you can’t expect that everything gets done in the allocated time. Thinking about students, wouldn't the ideal be that they follow up in their own time too?
You can read more about my journey through this inquiry cycle on Tanja’s Page of our Technology wiki.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

iPads in the Classroom

On Monday, January 9, LCS is having a professional development day under the motto "Teachers Teaching Teachers". With my colleague Rhona, I will be hosting a one-hour session on iPads in the classroom. The main idea is to get teachers excited about exploring the use of our school iPads in their classroom, by giving a few examples of what you can do with an iPad. Below is the list of apps we will introduce before teachers will get an opportunity to explore some of them independently. Which apps would you have added to this list?

You can read…


… or let someone read to you!

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

You can write


You can present


You can explain


You can search/look up

WordBook XL

National Geographic World Atlas

You can explore

Science 360

WB This Day in History

You can practice

Everyday Math (Beat the Computer)

You can create…

Artwork: 123 sculpt, ZenBrush

Photography: Skitch, WordFoto

Music: GarageBand

Movies: iMovie, Film Director

Cartoons/Comics: Toontastic, ComicBook

Poems: Poetry Creator

Books: BookCreator

(… and in case the power goes off, you have an emergency light source through Free Candle ;) )