In Memory of Anna Dewdney

My house is mourning a favorite children’s author – Anna Dewdney.  Her Llama Llama books are some of our favorites in our library and when we got word of her passing, we were all very sad.  Her obituary ended with, “She requested that in lieu of a funeral service that people read to a child instead.” How appropriate and absolutely beautiful.

Morgan, my 7-year-old daughter, thought so too.  That night, she decided that Ms. Dewdney’s books were on the docket for bedtime ‘tine (shortened from routine because at one time, one of our girls struggled with the word in its entirety and shortened it). During the story time section of our routine we were reading Llama Llama Made At Mama. I had a quick thought to record Morgan reading.  I had my phone on me (sadly, this is typical as my phone is my crutch and addiction), I opened my Soundtrap app, entered the Studio and pushed the record button. 4 minutes later, voi! I added a couple of beats at the beginning/end and had Morgan listen to it. Her face lit up and chest puffed out when she heard the recording.  She was proud, happy and excited.  All the things we want for our children, students, learners.

I’ve since passed the recording on via Twitter, text to Grandma and Grandpa, email to her teacher and now this blog post. Here’s my takeaway:

Personal Connection + Ownership + Authentic Audience = Awesomeness

Give it a listen (there may or may not be little sister Cameron asking, “to see da pitchores” around minute 1:25).  Thank you, Anna, for inspiring me and my family today and future days. Rest in peace.

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Close to the Close

Passage, court, place, lane, path, arcade, walk, wynd, steps, yard, terrace, close…all of these are other words that can be used for alley in the United Kingdom. I heart the UK-especially Scotland-for this and many other reasons. My husband, Tim, and I fell in love with these passageways in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, when we first visited in 2010. We recently returned from our third trip and while there, managed to take a picture in front of each close on the Royal Mile. These small areas between roughly 400 year-old buildings pull at our heartstrings and we both feel a sense of magical unworldliness.  We had made a vow to explore each one in their entirety during this last trip, even if that included a bit of trespassing!  We found 70 but if we missed one, please tell us…we will immediately start plans for a return trip to capture the close. We would not want our collection incomplete!

 

Click here to view these pictures larger

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Let It Go

I am Meredith: Mother of Cameron & Morgan, Creature Who Carries Purse and She Who Sings Orders…you can imagine that Frozen’s Let It Go has not escaped my house. Rather, it moved in, does not pay rent and does not appear to be leaving. However, these three words have resurfaced and this time, I am the vocalist. Below are a series of pictures from the South Second Street Lego Saga.

IMG_3885Picture 1: My OCD attempt to make order. All legos were separated by color and placed
into drawers. Big, ugly, plastic organizer was stored in the closet.

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Picture 2: Inevitably, the legos ended up like this and one of my
baking sheets was consumed by the closet (I did not bake for 13 months).

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Picture 3: One of the many creations that were hiding in the closet. First clue
I needed to stop suffocating their creativity by keeping it closet-bound and provide an accessible, convenient building environment.

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Picture 4: Fifteen minutes after relocation and drawer dumping.
Surprisingly, the mixing of colored blocks was very satisfying visually
and audibly to this left-brainer.

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Picture 5: My favorite. This is where I found them the next morning and have since been playing
here for hours.  Note: check out my youngest, rockin’ the bed head.

Simply put: Let It Go, Mom.

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364 Days Ago

“You need to start blogging.” These wise words, casually mentioned to me last summer, helped kickstart my documentation of an amazing year that has been filled with gains, losses, surprises and most of all – pushed me to reflect on my work (something I am finding is absolutely imperative to the learning process). Thank you Scott for mentioning it nonchalantly last year at ISTE on our walk to the MLTS screening. Thank you Tim for reading my drafts and providing very helpful feedback (you are so smart).  And thank you subscribers for reading my two cents every so often.

On June 26th, 2015 I bought msmeredithallen.org, subscribed to WordPress (a program I have spent countless hours you-tubing tutorials and learning more code I care to admit) and started my blogging adventure.  Originally I thought my blogging would be for others (naive thought – I know!) but blogging turned into something beautiful for me.  It is now a meditative exercise (although, like most exercise regimens, my consistency and discipline could be improved;-). I highly recommend this exercise and would encourage all educators to have students blogging about what is happening in the classroom, their process throughout a project, their reading journal, whatever – expand outside the spiral notebook or Friday Folder. As a mother of two elementary kids, please. Please digitize more – less paper in my house would be fantastic and I would love to share my children’s gains, losses, surprises, etc. with family and friends electronically.

One lesson learned fairly quickly – if you want people to read what you write, you need to promote your posts. The avenue in which I promoted depended on who my intended audience was.  I am sure the social media promenade will eventually change to some other awesome program(s) but for now I use Facebook for more personal posts and Twitter for professional posts. And then there are the posts that have never left draft form…and never will.  They are equally important (albeit one might argue more important) but not to be shared publicly. What I am getting at: I could do whatever I wanted in whatever way I needed. It is the beauty of creating original works. I own my writing….it only took 33 years to figure that out. Ouch.

364 days ago I started something that should have been encouraged, cultivated and fostered 10,585 days ago. One might argue that the technology was not available for teachers and students 10,585 days ago.  Ok, I will give them that but lack of technological opportunity does not apply to the here and now.

Ready? Set? Blog.

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A Dedication

This blog post is dedicated to the 2015-2016 Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency Technology Innovation Team.

From my first tweet, I have had a team – my tribe – as a support system through my transformation from a classroom teacher to an instructional technology consultant. In addition to being a general resource for my many, many questions, they truly inspire me. This tribe always strives to #makeitbetter. Their patience with my naivety and ignorance to this new world has been unending. My tribe enveloped me from the beginning and their virtual arms of support are felt every day.

I’d like to give a quick shout-out to these amazing people.

First there’s Scott, alphabetical by last name but also because he’s been my leader. He believes in me, trusts me, guides me, coaches me and shows me possibility. Scott is leaving us for Colorado (Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Colorado-Denver) but what an impact he’s had on my path and to the education system in Iowa.

Julie would be up next, my “official” AEA-assigned mentor;-) So much more than that. From our first hotel stay together at #ISTE2015, I was impressed by her vast knowledge of educational practices, past and present as well as her keen ability to coach. Textbook definition of mentor is: a person that advises…Julie has done that and then some by enriching our discussions with her deep expertise in such a way that is suitable and helpful to my situation and practices.

Now I would like to talk about Erin…oh, Erin, I will miss you next year (she, too, is leaving the team to explore the path of Instructional Leadership)….she is always so loving and caring, arms (and heart) open for a hug. Erin impresses and inspires daily with her ability to transform written and spoken word into poetry, exquisite word choice that when put together is true beauty. Paired with her awesome ideas on lesson redesign, I could honestly listen to or read her work all day.

Last, but definitely not least is Leslie. CSPAN Fellow, IA Social Studies Teacher of the Year, PBS Innovator, ASCD Emerging Leader, NSBA 20 To Watch, ISTE Emerging Leader…..enough said? No. She’s thoughtful and insightful. Leslie has been my “unofficial” AEA mentor with all things logistical and practical, a role that I’m sure is fairly thankless (“Leslie, what is appropriate to wear to this/that? Leslie, who is this person and what do I need to know about them? Leslie, what are your thoughts on….”) The latter question being the one that I have gotten fascinating responses. She sees potential, articulates her vision exceptionally and always considers the real-world application.

One might think our tribe is dwindling but these wonderful souls will always be connected and unbroken. States and contracts might divide us but my heart will always feel warm and full when I reflect on our work together this past year. Love to you all.

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“Saved the Day”

I put this title in quotations because 6 people think I saved their day from 4,057 miles away….Instead, I did what any high school (maybe even middle school) student could, would, and should do if given the access and reason.

Back story: Meet my parents – Robin and Steve.  My mom is a retired English teacher and my dad is a farmer that will never retire. In 2011 they went on their first international trip to the UK.  That was the first of many.  My role has been their travel agent, something I quite enjoy.  I get to surf the Internet for cool B&B’s, make reservations, map out pretty and practical routes and then live vicariously through them via their agenda and Facebook posts.  They just returned from their 5th trip, (this time going with 4 friends) which I had the pleasure of planning.

Break to: SUPERMAN JUMPS OUT OF THE PHONE BOOTH!!!  Or, rather, Meredith answers a panicked FaceTime call over the noon hour.

Robin: “Meredith, we have a problem. This B&B only has one room available for tomorrow night, we need three!” (First thought, uh-oh I messed up…mom assured me not, their mixup, blah, blah….second thought, maps.google.com).
Me: “Hang on mom, we’ll get it figured out – no worries.”
Robin: “Steve, look how cute she is when she’s concentrating.” (Remember, this was FaceTime, I was on a mission and these are my parents)
Me: “Mother. ” You get the idea of how the rest of the conversation might have went between a daughter and her parents…

Fast-forward 15 minutes: I had done a quick online search of the area they were traveling, found the desired route for their next booked B&B (taking into consideration the roads my dad felt comfortable driving on), split the difference of mileage (based on how much drive time they wanted to get done the next day), clicked my favorite “Hotels Nearby” button, cross-referenced that list with tripadvisor.com (over 320 million user reviews of anything travel related-seriously, check it out), found two possible B&B contenders, viewed their respective websites, read reviews, made a decision, called the winner (using my computer I’ll have you know) and made the reservation with a very nice English-accented woman named Vanessa, whom the traveling party met the next day and adored!

Did  I remember the date of the signing of Magna Carta?  No. (June 19, 1215)
Did I remember the name of the current Prime Minister? No. (David Cameron)
Did I do a crazy algebraic equation to get my mileage? Nope.

What I did do was:

  • Apply critical reading and thinking strategies.
  • Determine importance of information and its relevance to essential questions.
  • Separate information and ideas into component parts.
  • Make inferences, identify trends, and interpret data.
  • Separate information and ideas into component parts.
  • Exercise flexibility in information seeking and collaborated with peers.

In shorter terms, I analyzed, evaluated, interpreted, and inferred. All wonderful, great skills we want our bright, 21st century learners to be practicing and applying. I used what resources I had to solve a problem, a real problem. It wasn’t rocket science and it wasn’t fancy-dancy Academia stuff but those 15 minutes of clicking and surfing “saved the day” for 6 people on vacation. It put their minds at ease and I played a role with that, which makes me feel good.  

I want students to feel good about the work they are doing in schools. Are they helping someone or something? Are they solving a a real problem? What work are they doing in school to be part of a solution? What are you doing to be part of a solution?

 

 

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Playing With Circuitry

Math and Science were not my strong subjects in school. I gravitated more towards English, Social Studies and, of course, Band. Why do certain subjects resonate more with some students than others? Multiple intelligences, right vs. left brain dominance, disengaging or un-relatable instruction? Any, all, and other factors probably play a mix of roles with children leaning toward particular subjects throughout their schooling. Regardless, I do consider myself a life-long learner and have had some amazing opportunities to do just that through my position as an Instructional Technology Consultant for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency.

One such opportunity to learn has been through recent circuitry “toys” and the amazing and incredible process of making the light light up or the fan to whir.  My first experience was with littleBits (more to come on that later) at TICL last June and the list grows every day.  I decided to offer a quick synopsis of each one I have had contact with so far.  I tried to list them in a chronological order by grade level but quickly realized that one “toy” can be easily adaptable to a wide range of ages, depending on the activity/learning goal.  Here goes…

  • littleBits – These Bits snap together with magnets, no soldering, no wiring, no programming.  Color coded (Blue=power, Green=output, Pink=input, Orange=expands) modules lend for hours of exploration and limitless possibilities.
  • Snap Circuits – These components snap together instead of magnetize. Color coded as well but create circuit boards just like the ones found in electronic devices.  The sets come with a project manual but the real fun comes when the user gets comfortable enough to deviate from the manual and make their own creations.
  • Makey Makey – This video [2:12] captures the Makey Makey capabilities much better than I could – super cool.
  • Squishy Circuits – Using two different doughs (which the user gets to make!) as circuit building materials to connect the components (buzzer, LEDs, motor). Engineering students from the University of St. Thomas started this program and include lots of videos for classroom use here.
    • Ages: “Allows kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics.”
    • Classroom Ideas
  • Arduino – A bit different than the above mentioned but still requires a shout out. This is an open-source prototyping platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software (I even managed to get the light to light up!) Users can study the hardware to understand how it works and make changes to it. The company encourages users to share under their Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License.
    • Ages:”The 10 year old me would have been all over this!”
    • Classroom Ideas

It’s not about the “toy”…tool, program, app, whatever. It’s about the magic that happens when a student is allowed the freedom to explore, create, problem-solve, make something work, and relate it to the real world.

First step teachers: eliminate that worksheet activity you have done every year that’s getting stale. Instead, have your students “play” with a “toy.” I recommend having your students reflect, document their learning/failing process and celebrate by sharing their learning/failing through your school website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc.

Enjoy the mind shift I promise you will witness and experience!

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Working Together ~ Achieving Success

The Laurens-Marathon School District has always been proud of “Working Together to Achieve Success” and Friday’s first elementary MakerDay was a wonderful example of their building motto.  After months of planning, preparing, compiling community donations of supplies and organizing helpers & volunteers, the day went off fabulously. I can’t say that there weren’t hiccups but as a whole, the day was very positive. Student engagement was near 100% and learning was at a high.

What would one see if they walked the halls that day?

  • Students jabbering – lots of it. (“Did you see what happened when I did this?! Where do you think the marble will go if I do this?”)
  • Students are NOT sitting in desks in rows. They might be sprawled on the floor, in groups, running to keep up with their Sphero or jumping up and down in celebration (“My tower didn’t topple! My engineered car worked! Woo-hoo, my chariot can carry my Lego-guy!”).
  • Creating, lots and lots of creating (cutting, pasting, attaching, coloring, drawing, coding, the list goes on…)
  • The teacher is NOT at the front of the room lecturing. Instead he/she is off to the side, providing support and asking the important questions.
  • Students are asking questions AND teachers are asking questions.
  • Students were in groups, collaborating, Working Together.
  • Smiles – happy students and happy teachers.

It was a beautiful thing.  Success?  I think so.

Not on Twitter but want to see images and videos of the day? Click here for our Storify!

 

 

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The Stage Has Been Set

The stage at Laurens-Marathon Elementary has been set, well – almost. On March 4th they will “attempt” their first MakerDay and the stage in the Old Gym, or Gymnatorium as some have referenced it over the years, will be transformed into….? What? We don’t know! That’s the beauty of a makerspace. Teachers, parents and community members have donated countless supplies and their own time for this opportunity for the students of Laurens-Marathon. It has been an amazing outpour of very needed love and support after a couple of very rough years of budget cuts and staff reductions.

Kurti, Kurti and Fleming stated it best in a feature article for the Teacher Librarian: The Journal for School Library Professionals: “The maker movement in education is built upon the foundation of constructionism, which is the philosophy of hands-on learning through building things. Thus maker education is a branch of constructivist philosophy that views learning as a highly personal endeavor requiring the student, rather than the teacher, to initiate the learning process. In this philosophy of learning, teachers act as a guide for inquiry-based approaches to the development of knowledge and thinking processes. Upon reflection, it is natural to believe that the learner should initiate learning, as it is physically impossible for any teacher to mechanically rearrange and reinforce the physical neuronal pathways developed in the brain during the learning process.”

Wish us luck and if you are in the area of Laurens, Iowa on March 4th, there will be an Open House from 3:30-5:30 that will display…..? What? We don’t know! (I also couldn’t NOT give a plug for our local Pool Committee that has aligned a pancake fundraiser supper in the school lunch room that night as well – support our students and community in one shot!)

Stay tuned – I will be sure to post all the Laurens-Marathon Elementary making throughout the day #LMChargers and #plaea.

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Makeys, Coding, Arduinos OH MY!

I was recently invited to participate in the North Union High School J-Term experience as a guest (really, I was just the AEA lady that brought some fun tech toys to play with:-).  What an absolute wonderful place to be during these freezing, dark days of January!  During these past 2 weeks, the halls were abuzz with work, students were engaged in passion projects and office referrals are almost non-existent.

The stop-“regular”-school-for-two-weeks-and-do-something-innovative experiences are catching. Some schools opt to have the experience as a May-Term, some have transitioned to incorporating 2 experiences/year and some schools have yet to be enlightened. The rigorous learning that is happening at NU during J-Term is Project-Based Learning (PBL). Driving questions are explored which lead to innovative teaching & learning, thus creating a personalized learning experience for all students involved.  I have attempted my first Storify below to capture just a glimpse of some of the magic.

 

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