LC5 Made The Front Page!

Our learning community’s partnership and visit with our local Spruce Grove Public Library to introduce our students to their brand new Innovation Lab was featured in the Spruce Grove Examiner this week.

Here is the article written by reporter Karen Haynes:

Ella Morrison didn’t seem shy as she belted out the lyrics to her favourite songs during a tour of the Spruce Grove Library’s Innovation Lab on Jan. 16. Morrison was using the library’s GarageBand technology to record her voice. - Karen Haynes, Reporter/Examiner

Ella Morrison didn’t seem shy as she belted out the lyrics to her favourite songs during a tour of the Spruce Grove Library’s Innovation Lab on Jan. 16. Morrison was using the library’s GarageBand technology to record her voice. – Karen Haynes, Reporter/Examiner

The Spruce Grove Public Library’s (SGPL) Innovation Lab is open for business and students from Greystone Centennial Middle School know first hand just how cool this library addition really is.

From Jan. 13 to 16, Grade 5 students from the Spruce Grove school toured the library’s Innovation Lab, testing its virtual reality program, Lego robotics, GarageBand software, 3D printer and circuitry systems.

“Libraries are not just about books anymore and they haven’t been for a long time,” said Leanne Myggland-Carter of the SGPL.

“We are a community hub — for many ages and stages in life… We have intergenerational learning going on. Kids come with their parents and grandparents, and they are helping each other. It’s a community based learning space,” she said.

Dana Ariss, a Grade 5 teacher from Greystone said the partnership between the library and the school was a prime opportunity for students to learn about the technology and resources that are available to them.

And it perfectly complemented the school’s recently completed Innovation Week, which finished right before the Christmas break.

“It was such a valuable experience for the students to see what there is. For them to have one-on-one building time, creation time and play (time), that’s where they construct their own knowledge. To give that to our students is something that is an absolute must,” Ariss said.

From Dec. 15 to 19, Greystone students participated in their fifth Innovation Week. For four days, students are challenged to question, investigate, process and create a final project in an area of deep interest to them.

“They go through the design making process. It helps students to have an understanding of themselves as learners and how to share their learning,” Ariss said.

Focusing on some of Alberta Education’s cross-curricular competencies — knowing how to learn, think critically, how to identify and solve complex problems, and how to create something innovative — students started their projects by zeroing in on what they are passionate about.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of dedication and perseverance these kids demonstrate. It’s something that is important to them,” because they take ownership of their projects, she added.

The projects included sewing, clay animation, creating special effects and make-up art for film, robotics, stop motion, caricature drawing, and others with a focus on engineering, horticulture and baking.

“The main focus is not just on the final project but also on the process: how did they get to this point; what did they learn; where did they fail; and how did they learn from the problems they faced.”

Greystone Centennial Middle School will host its sixth Innovation Week in the spring of 2015. At the end of the week, parents will be welcome to visit the school and see what the students have accomplished.

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2014 – My Year Of Change & Growth

The start of a new adventure!

The start of a new adventure!

This reflection will be framed in a different format than my usual posts. This is just how I feel I can accurately reflect on the year that has passed as it contained such force and fundamental change that I have compartmentalized most of it by time frames.

January – February 2014

I felt it…that feeling in the pit of your stomach that digs away at you. It whispers quietly at first, but it quickly becomes so loud that you have to listen: “Dana, you need a change.” I loved my school, my co-workers, my district and most of all my incredible group of students who had been my little family for three consecutive years. I remember first meeting them in January of 2012 as they were told they would have a new teacher and a brand new classroom. They had been in a combined grade one-two and extra funding had come up enough to hire a full time teacher for them. There I stood in their old room and watched as each one came up to me, introduced themselves by name and told me their favourite colour. I still remember their anxious faces and their half-smiles as I walked with them down the hall to what would become our new room. “THIS IS OURS??” they exclaimed with joy and squeals as the doors to their new home opened. I nodded yes and in that exhilarating moment, I knew in my heart that I also had found my home.

So when that whispering feeling of change started coming around, I panicked. Ignorance is bliss as they say and so I ignored it.

March – April 2014

I knew that no matter what was to come in the future, my students and I were to be separated at the end of this school year as they moved on up to grade five. I went into full “make the most of every moment” mode and these months brought us so much innovation, creativity, inquiry and excitement in learning. I did my absolute best to ignore that feeling to the point where I wasn’t doing much beyond working. I planned, I connected, I shared, I communicated, I read, I tweeted, I moderated, I presented, I travelled to conferences, I blogged and I taught and learned with my all of my heart for and with my students. These were the most exhilarating moments of teaching I have experienced (all of which have been documented in my blog and our Twitter account Miss Ariss’ Class). I poured my entire being into teaching and making every minute count. However, that feeling of change didn’t go away and it was wearing me down as the days went on. I learned that no matter how hard you want to run from the feelings that scare you, it is often those that need to be felt and addressed. I finally stopped and really evaluated what I wanted and needed:  Leadership mentors, group collaborations, constructive feedback loops for growth, opportunities for larger impacts on educational change, learning PD for my own growth and a more permanent home-base both professionally and personally

Change was happening and that feeling became so loud within that I finally started listening. Sometimes in life, things happen for reasons beyond our control but when we look back upon them, we often see the real meaning and the learning that can occur from them if we have the right attitude. As much as I loved everything about my career, I knew in my heart that my time in my little community, where I felt the safest and happiest I have ever felt, was ending. I could continue to ignore my personal and professional needs for growth and stay in my comfort zone or embrace that feeling and move forward into uncharted change. Those who know me well….know how this story will end.

May – July 2014

I can only describe these months as an absolute blur. Somewhere between full-time teaching, numerous educational conferences, presentations and travelling….I found the courage to listen to my heart. I took a huge leap of faith and accepted a new position at an incredible middle school a few hours away. Many would call me crazy for leaving a permanent teaching position, but they would not know who I am and what teaching truly means to me. Its not about positions, status, rank or authority; for me, teaching is about continuous growth and learning. To truly be an effective educator, I needed to continually embrace the difficult situations and decisions in my life and learn from them in order to grow and develop into who I am as a person which has a direct affect on my teaching, because I teach from my heart. I cannot remain in my zones of comfort and expect my levels of teaching to grow. I needed to widen my experiences in order to become the educator I need to be for every student that I have the privilege of working with.

I make this sound as if it was easy when in reality, this truly was the single most difficult decision of my life. I had built a safety net and it was never harder to accept the truth that nothing in life ever stays the same. I became almost paralyzed with fear; I was so afraid of losing the only family I had come to known, so afraid of moving away from everything that I had built and created, so afraid of what was to come, that I completely became focused on the impact failure could have on me by making this decision. I forgot how much I would champion making mistakes and learning from them to my students, but the difference was that we had built a safe environment for failing. I didn’t feel so safe as my entire life depended on succeeding with this decision I had made. I turned to the safety of my closest friends and family, who rallied alongside me and supported me in every way imaginable. By July 1st, I was living in a new home, in a new city and preparing for a new school, new colleagues and my first group of “new” students in three years. That is a lot of NEW and it happened within a span of barely two months. This was that feeling in the pit of my stomach realized: Change.

August 2014

Questions, questions, questions swirling in my mind all the time!

Where is our room?

Who do I contact for this?

Where can I find?

Will I connect with a new group of students?

Will I make an impact on their lives?

Will my colleagues accept and welcome me?

Can I really do this? Oh wait… I AM DOING THIS!

September 2014 – December 2014

When I first started this reflection I didn’t fully grasp or realize the amount of learning accomplished during the final half of 2014 until I started looking at the photos I had taken. I have grown immensely both personally and professionally in these past few months by being active in my new community and surroundings, by embracing the uncomfortable, by being honest and open about my strengths, strong passions and areas of growth but most of all in my own self-confidence as an educator.

I found myself surrounded by communities of support, expertise and varied experiences in an environment prime for growth. This is what I had hoped for and I knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey, but I have never been one for easy. I have come from close to 5 years of independent teaching in small rural schools. I have always planned, coordinated and constructed all of my own materials, units, and assessments based on my own student needs and most recently, students with whom I had looped with for three years and knew like family. I now was in a team of six grade five educators collaborating together on the learning for our students, in a school almost seven times the size of my previous.

A few of my fun-loving colleauges!

A few of my fun-loving colleauges!

Reflecting on the start of the school year, I see now that underestimated the transition into this. It has been years since I needed to share who I was, my true self, with other educators, as when working within a small district everyone knows everyone. My other collaborations have been with educators who follow me on Twitter or read my blog and have a strong sense of who I am. The individuals within my comfort zone, who are my rocks, all know my deep passion for learning, know how excited I get at the thought of planning a unit with my students and finding those connections for them, know that I am honest, genuine and will ask a lot of questions because I have a need to know the why behind everything I bring into my classroom, but that mostly I care…about everything and everyone all the time.

I learned that when working within a large group, fostering a relationship beyond work is essential for the dynamics because once everyone truly knows one another a foundation of trust and an environment where vulnerability is welcomed can be built, however that this also takes time. Effective collaboration doesn’t happen overnight, it needs to be built step by step by each individual party. My sheer optimism and strong will to ensuring meaningful things happen despite obstacles, is who I am however this is something that is shown over time through sincerity and action. I am learning how to communicate my passions, thoughts and ideas outside of my comfort zone and am pushing myself to hear (not just listen) and understand more and more.

Our LC5B!

Our LC5B!

These few months also taught me about the power of student connection and relationships. I had worried whether I would be able to connect with a brand new group, but as the weeks went on I started receiving hugs, drawings, jokes, stories from home, open discussions about their lives and genuine interest in mine, shared laughter and that feeling of knowing these are the amazing kids I am so lucky to know and work with every day. I love the community we have built and will continue to grow.

We are a family and their words mean so much to me!

We are a family and their words mean so much to me!

Just a few weeks ago, I decided to surprise my previous students by attending their Christmas Concert at my old school. I snuck into the dark auditorium hoping to grab a seat when one of them noticed me from behind the stage. Within a few seconds, they all popped out from behind the stage and began furiously waving to me. I can’t begin to describe that moment, but a lot of tears were involved. The kids I am honoured to meet and work with throughout my career are what make being an educator the most  meaningful to me.

Learning and sharing...always!

Learning and sharing…always!

This term also brought forth a lot of Professional Development and new projects which I am so honoured to have been a part of. Collaborating with other PSD70 educators on the first ever #EdCampPSD70 and co-keynoting the opening with Kelli Holden in the presence of so many incredible colleagues was truly humbling. Kelli and I reconnected again in November to present at ATLE on the use of SKYPE in the classroom.

I was also honoured to be asked to present an IGNITE session by Dean Shareski, who ever so kindly arranged the presentations to start alphabetically which in turn had me presenting first. This required me to dig deep into who I truly am as an educator and helped build my confidence in sharing that with the larger community of educators. Despite the nerves, it was an absolutely thrilling experience where in five minutes I shared my passion for education and spent the evening learning about the passions of others.

I was introduced this term to many new forms of PD focused on #MakerSpaces and #MakerEd, which I had implemented in my previous teachings but never had the opportunity to dig deeper into. From a Saturday road trip to Calgary with my AP and three other teaching colleagues to attend a one day MakerFaire to an ERLC hosted MakerSpace session where I connected with local librarians on the new creation of Innovation Labs in our city. I am so excited to share these experiences with the kids as they completed their first Innovation Week projects in December and will be visiting the labs in January. Not to mention continued collaborations and discussions surrounding Alberta’s Curriculum Redesign which I am currently a part of the committee for my new district in working on the competencies in learning.

In remaining true to myself and constantly having a need to learn and absorb, I along with my #Cdnedchat team continued our weekly collaborations continued and our chat is livelier than ever on Monday evenings! I also jumped in to three separate book clubs with Google Hangout reflections with various educators within my school and across the world to expand my learning and push my mind further. One of the book clubs focused on Leadership through being a part of my district’s Exploring Leadership committee.

Present – 2015 and beyond

My biggest take aways from 2014 have been to always listen to your heart, no matter how scared you are, and that how change is viewed depends solely on how you approach it. Is it an adventure filled with learning opportunities or will you view it as something horrible and choose comfort?

I learned how to truly be vulnerable and to rely on others when I need to. To not be afraid to say I need help or I don’t understand this can you show me. Reach out to others and in doing so, you open the lines of communication and make your connections just that much stronger.

I was reminded by my own inner fear and worries that we all face insecurities, hardships and stress. Our job isn’t to add to that, but to lift it off of one another. Be kind to all, especially the ones who may seem to have a hard exterior because somewhere down their path of life their experiences helped to shape that. Our students may come to school with brave faces, but they are looking to us to create the safety of an environment conducive to learning, just as we need in our own professional lives.

So what does 2015 have in store for me? I won’t even venture a guess, but I certainly hope my years continue to provide me with continued learning opportunities, strong supportive networks and a deeper understanding of my purpose as an educator.

You Really Changed My Life In Learning

IMG_2344

Given to me by one of my students in February.

This has been a monumental year of both personal and professional growth, which has made this the most difficult post for me to write so far. However, I took it as a sign as to its importance, and after many drafts, its come together.

Exactly one year ago, June 2012, I was elated. I had earned my permanent teaching contract after continuous movement and was ecstatic at the reality that the fall would bring my own classroom from beginning of the year to the end. No more leaving classrooms mid-year or transfers to new schools, I would finally have a home and enjoy watching the growth of my students for a complete year.

What I came to learn that summer was that life rarely goes as we plan it to. What I hadn’t seen coming was the complete dissolution of my home life as I knew it, right as the school year began. Instead of joy and elation, I was consumed with grief, immense pain and bewilderment at the current state of events unfolding around me. Yet, I knew I had 21 beautiful, eager and excited students depending on me and needing me to be their guide and leader for the year. I had worked so hard pursuing my dream of teaching and I was bound and determined not to allow anything to stop me from enjoying it.

I set aside everything in my life that was not working and focused on what was, on the good. I was immediately surrounded by my family, friends and amazing colleagues. I knew that with their support, anything was possible and so I set off to make it the best year my students and I would ever have. It was going to be one to remember, and I wanted it to be remembered for the positives that were created.

During the most difficult of times, I thought of my students even more so than I usually do. How many of them struggle with hardships? How many of them have to confront issues that are overwhelming to them? How many of them need just one person who loves and supports them on a daily basis to make it through? Don’t we all? As an adult, life difficulties can present unimaginable obstacles and so my thoughts were with those students who I have met over the years whose lives were in constant turmoil. I thought of their perseverance, their dedication and their strength and just how amazed I was and still am at their accomplishments, despite the obstacles. I was going to make it, and I was going to do it for them.

I set about to make each and every day full of fun and learning. We laughed more this year than in any of my previous teaching years. I let go of the what ifs and should bes and allowed the learning to happen through inquiry, play and choice. I learned more and more about each of my student’s passions and lives. I supported them in their learning and little did they know it, but they were also helping me to learn and grow into not only a better teacher, but a better, stronger, braver me.

One of my students anonymously placed the note in the photo above on my desk in February. I was moved to tears knowing that I was affecting their lives in positive ways. This was all I ever wanted, to be able to instil a love of learning in my students.

We accomplished so many amazing things this year. We experimented, we failed, we succeeded, we persevered, we connected, we grew and most importantly we laughed.

Through adversity comes strength. This year I learned that the power to define my life is in my hands. This was something I had always believed and reinforced with my students, but it took a life re-direction for me to truly experience it. The amount of personal change and growth this year has also propelled me into significant professional changes. My passion for writing, reading, researching, experimenting and technology had been re-ignited. I feel as if I’m on the cusp of so many amazing experiences and this is just the start!

So, as this year has come to an end, to my students I say:

“No, Thank YOU… because YOU changed MY life in learning.”

The Power of Change

The one room Fort Assiniboine Old School House.

The Fort Assiniboine Old School House

The concept of change is something that many of us struggle with. It’s not so much what is changing, but the process that it brings forth, the uncertainties, insecurities and potential for error. However, change is a constant in life, and if embraced wholeheartedly, it brings great growth.

This past year has been one filled with an immense amount of change, both personal and professional. Its allowed for a lot of reflection on my current practices, my passions and where I see myself and my future as an educator. The changes are allowing me to grow into the educator I’ve always envisioned myself to be and to push through the boundaries I had inadvertently placed in my own path.

I’m a quiet observer, always taking in information and reconfiguring it to construct my own meaning, but I am quick to action when everything starts coming together. This year is when everything started clicking and changing around me. I have started to grow my PLN (Personal Learning Network) and the speed at which I am making connections with educators all around the world is astounding. Through the power of Twitter, I have made invaluable connections for not only myself but my students. Dedicated and passionate educators who I can collaborate with and share ideas, thoughts and visions. Its allowed me to see that we are all changing and growing together; education thrives with change.

This has resonated in my classroom and with my students who seek authentic forms of connection as much as we all do. I’ve connected them with not only one another but the world through blogging and the use of Twitter in our classroom. They are expressing their thoughts, concerns and hopes through their writing and its reaching an audience that never existed to them. They’ve met students from other provinces and countries through Skype, related their learning to national movements on Twitter, watched a science experiment live in space via web-cast, engaged in a Google doodle competition and even tweeted with their local favourite nesting goose. Its made school real and meaningful and its only just the beginning. Together we are changing the concept of what true learning is and how its applied outside of the classroom.

I took the cover photo above this week while at our local museum’s one room school house. I sat in the desk of teachers before me, who could have never imagined the wealth of knowledge and endless opportunities and possibilities that lay before us now as educators. I was in awe at the challenges they faced and how they grew through them. We only have to open the door for change and embrace the new to grow to our highest potential.

I’m excited for our future and what we will say about education 10, 20, 50 years from now.