Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Active Learning is a HOOT!

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What is Active Learning?

According to Cengage Learning active learning is defined as follows:
Active learning is a teaching strategy used in many classrooms today. In active learning, the student constructs learning — often in collaboration with other students. The teacher becomes a facilitator of learning rather than a giver of knowledge. Active learning is a student-centered approach.
A student centered approach provides a learning environment that allows the student to help shape their own experiences through discussion, cooperative learning, discovery learning, inquiry learning, games and independent study.  Depending on the age group you teach, some of these experiences are more appropriate than others.

Active Learning at Work

I am taking a class at Dominican University called Integrating Technology into Programming, Services, and Instruction.  During our last class we prepared a presentation on a active learning project that the 4th grade students at John C. Coonley School in Chicago completed.  

 LinkFirst, the 4th grade class individually voted on their favorite learning style. The visual learners was the most favorable by far. Second, the students used the Coonley Cougars Code of Ethics ~ Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Safe as their project and wanted to visually represent what each code of ethics would look like. After brainstorming ideas, the students collaborated and made a PicCollage of their ideas on each code.  The project was successful and from the Technology Specialists blog post, it looked like the students were engaged and enjoyed the project.
Image Source: Blog

Then, our instructor put us to the test, she gave us an active learning assignment to come up with a presentation about the Code of Ethics project and once complete, talk about it with the entire technology class.

I was paired with another first grade teacher. We reviewed the materials online and tried to understand the project, the Apps, and Prezi, which all were new to us.  Amanda and I submitted our presentation on the project.  We felt the students did a great job with the assignment and it was a great example of active learning.  We did have some questions on what the final product looked like and it would have been nice to see the students collaborating.  But I came away from the project wondering how I could do the same project in my classroom.

My Turn to Try it...

I love the saying from the Teton Lakota Indians: Tell me and I'll listen. Show me and I'll understand. Involve me and I'll learn.  

Image Source: Personal School Collection
In my opinion, integrating active learning into the established curriculum needs to start small.  I taught a unit on Weather, which had twelve lessons. I picked one lesson and planned the integration of active learning and technology. I decided it would be best if the students could see that their shadows changed based on the time of day and prove the theory that the Earth is rotating. I believe in collaboration, so the students each had a partner. They traced each other's shadow three times during the day: 8:30 am, 12:00 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. Also, the students used their iPads to take a picture of their partner's shadow at each visit. Afterwards, the students uploaded their pictures of their shadows into Book Creator and talked about the sun's location, the changes in size and shape, and location of their shadow at each time period. Much to their surprise, the shadow not only moved, but changed size and shape based on where they sun was located. In the final books, the students talked about each shadow picture and describing the changes taking place. This was a very successful learning experience for all. They enjoyed the project and learned about the Earth's rotation in the simplest form.

Teaching Tips & Tricks for Active Learning

I found the CTE resource below to be very helpful in starting active learning in my classroom. Here are some tips to get you started in your classroom:

  • Become familiar with a few active learning techniques.  See link for ideas. 
  • Choose one or two techniques and modify them so that they address learning goals in your class. 
  • Use activities to draw attention to issues and content you feel are most critical.
  • Establish rules of conduct and civility to encourage appropriate participation.
  • Introduce the activity and explain the learning benefit.
  • Control the time cost by giving students a time limit to complete the task.

  • Stop the activity and debrief. Call on a few students or groups of students to share their thoughts and tie them in to the next steps of your lesson.
  • Consider using classroom technology to facilitate active learning activities.

Before you know it, you too will find that Active Learning is a Hoot!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Owl About the Teacher

Image Source: Personal Collection

Every day is a winding road...

Hi, I am Diana Neilson! I live in River Forest, Illinois which is 13 miles outside of Chicago. I was born and raised in Downers Grove and have lived downtown, in Oak Park and now reside in River Forest.

I have a long and winding road to to where I am now. I went to college to become a graphic designer. I graduated during a recession and the only position I could find was in marketing.  I loved it! I spent 10 years planning and executing marketing plans for the banking and bookstore industries. My positions exposed me to media, internet, and print buying.  I ran a team of account representatives, media buyers and creatives.  We were on the cutting edge of the internet era, and my company was launching its first web store.  Hard to believe I am that old!  

Life, as I knew it, quickly changed when I found out I was expecting twins.  This was fabulous news for my husband and me, but really put a cramp in my ability to travel to see my clients. I ended up making the decision to resign my position, four months after the twins were born, to be a full-time mom.

Image Source: Personal
I spent the next 11 years at home with them.  They were the best and luckiest years of my life. We had a blast going to the zoo, park, museums, music class, and playdates. They grew up with a community of twin friends and remain close to those families still to this day.  

During my time at home, I was a freelance graphic designer for many local businesses and obtained my real estate license.  My husband and I also rehab homes in the area and having my license allows me to buy and sell properties without paying major commissions to brokers.  To date, we are still purchasing, repairing, and selling whenever possible.

When my children entered elementary school, I started volunteering in the school and eventually became a substitute teacher in District 90.  I enjoyed my time so much in the classroom, I decided to return to school to earn my Master of Arts in Teaching from Concordia University. I graduated from the program in May of 2011.

Image Source & Link to Website
That August, I became a permanent substitute in kindergarten at Hatch Elementary in Oak Park.  I worked in a classroom for a teacher who was undergoing chemotherapy. She would teach Monday through Wednesday and I would cover for her Thursday through the following Wednesday.  We repeated this pattern until her treatments were completed in December.  After that opportunity, I was asked to stay for another long term maternity substitute position in second grade.  Hatch was my new home away from and I was so excited to be there. The following fall, I had another opportunity to teach first grade at Hatch. I was so appreciative of the opportunities I had there and the wonderful staff and community that supports Hatch school and their teachers.

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In the Spring of 2013, I had to leave my first grade position, because I was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed time to undergo surgery and treatments.  I spent a year trying to get back to my old self.  My goal was to be able to walk in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in June of 2014.  I made my goal to walk 39.3 miles with a team of nine friends. We celebrated our achievement and my recovery together.

Image Source: District 90
In the summer of 2014, I had the chance to interview at Lincoln School in River Forest, the school where my children attended and where I spent several years as a substitute teacher. I was offered the first grade position, and this year I am starting my third year at Lincoln.  In 2015, we won the National Blue Ribbon Award, it was a special time at Lincoln and I am so proud to be a part of an amazing school with exceptional educators. 
Image Source: Personal

"Owl Be First" will be my first blog outside my website.  If you have seen my classroom you would know it is owl themed. In first grade we like to be wise and ask a lot of "who" questions.  The owl is a cute and happy symbol that all my first graders enjoy.

So, the winding road continues as I advance my knowledge of technology with the help of my teenagers keeping me up on all the latest apps and advances.  Over the next couple of years, I hope to continue to take courses in technology and work toward a specialist degree.

Over the next couple of years, I look forward to seeing where the road will take me.