An Interview with Angela Harrison

Angela Harrison (@TechieAng on Twitter) is one of those personalities on Twitter that you come across and immediately want to invite her to be part of your learning.  She shares some of the more consistently interesting and insightful messages that you’ll come across.  You’ll also find that she blogs quite consistently about Literacy and literacy activities at Expanding teaching, exploring technology.

She was one of those people that I “knew” long before I met her!  I did have an opportunity to learn around a table with her last summer and was impressed with her passion for kids and for learning.  She’s currently a kindergarten teacher but has always brought technology into her classrooms at all grades she’s taught so it comes as no surprise when you come across interesting ideas from her blog.

Just before the ECOO (Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) Conference, Angie had blogged about a project idea that she wanted to do with her class.  It was called “What can you see?“ and was based upon an experience that she had the previous year when her Grade 3 class Skyped with another in Alaska.   Her kids were intrigued, I’m sure with the class, but more with what they saw behind the class – a volcano!  This led her to put together a project entitled “What can you see?” where she’s hoping to bring other schools to the table sharing what they see from their classroom windows.

I read about it on her blog and thought that it was genius.  There are so many “big projects” that people start and never finish.  It seems to me that you could enter this at any level and scaffold it to anything you want it to be.  As Master of Ceremonies, when I opened the ECOO Conference, I tried to focus on things that were not easily done at the time of the first ECOO Conference 33 years ago, and gave a little shoutout to this project.  I had hoped that Angie would have been in the audience and made some instant connections.

Angie was good enough to sit down for an interview about her class and this project and I hope that this just might reach out to other classrooms looking for some regional, national, or international connections.  Read more here.  What can you see?

Doug:  Thank you for the opportunity to interview you, Angie.  From your bio, you indicate that you are an Apple Distinguished Educator.  What does that mean?  Does it give you a leg up on others when it comes to projects like this?

Angie:  I am honored to be recognized by Apple as a Distinguished Educator. I’m part of the Class of 2011. Through this designation, I continue to be an advocate, an advisor, an author and an ambassador for innovation in technology in education. I am very fortunate to be a part of a global personal learning network of Apple Distinguished Educators. There is a separate secure site for ADEs in which we share our blog posts and interact on projects.

The “What can you see?” project was tweeted out to my own personal learning network on Twitter and I included the hashtags #ECOO12, #kinderyr and #kinderchat. I was hoping to involve kindergarten teachers to join in and share what they see in their school yards. I didn’t actively pursue my ADE colleagues initially.. I reached out to Kindergarten teachers in my board and within my regular learning network. After viewing several books from within our own school board with similar school yards,  I realized I needed to reach out and bring in a global view. I contacted one of my fellow ADEs who I had met this last summer at a Global Institute. I asked Arturo to ask his kinder colleagues if they would participate. He put me in touch with a few teachers in his school and now we have a view of a school yard in Mexico. The Apple Distinguished Educator title certainly helped me expand the project to include Mexico. I will also try to reach out and ask a few more colleagues to assist me. However, most of the connections have been made through my regular interactions on Twitter. Thanks for the suggestion, I will go onto the ADE site and post an invitation. I appreciate how your questions help me see things clearer.

Doug:  You also indicate that you are also a  Literacy@School Learning Centre Classroom teacher.  What does that mean?

Angie:  In our board we have a team that has selected teachers who are willing to innovate and share their instructional practices. Teachers are part of a network of learners who open their classrooms for observational visits from other teachers and administrators who wish to view a literacy block. Visits are centrally booked and include a specific focus question for the visit. The visit includes a pre visit, a visit and a post visit discussion surrounding literacy instruction. These learning centre classrooms are funded at the board level and provide additional technology for the classrooms. There are also Proof of Concept projects that run in Literacy@School classrooms. I am fortunate that I have been a part of an iPad Proof of Concept project for primary learners. My classroom is rich in resources and therefore I feel I need to make my own learning as transparent as possible.

Doug:  When you started the What Can You See project, did you have any sense as to whether or not it would take off?

Angie:  I felt my personal learning network was strong and I knew there were a few key people that would participate in the project. I anticipated a handful of schools would participate in a creating a story. I had no idea that a few of my colleagues in my own board would welcome this opportunity and document it and expand it to include their school communities. Now, students are making their own booklets at home and bringing them into the school to share. I would love to see families creating books/movies while on vacation and sharing them with the classes. I never thought this project would turn into a parent engagement piece. I also didn’t imagine the way the project has cross pollinated. I imagined classes sharing with me, I didn’t anticipate that all of the classes would then be eager to share with each other. Teachers are showing initiative and organizing their own SKYPE calls with each other. I don’t have to facilitate it, I provide the Twitter contact information, the link to the Dropbox file or the link to the blog and they do the rest. I am so pleased to see how teachers are interacting and using this project as a springboard to lead to other projects and connections. This project has proven to me that teachers want to engage with other schools but they need a spark and a place to share and learn.

Doug:  How did you publicize it?  Just on your blog?

Angie:  I posted on my blog, tweeted out invitations and talked to some colleagues in my board. It wasn’t hard to get people interested. The most difficult part is coordinating the time zones and busy schedules for the sharing of the books.

Doug:  Last night while we were Twittering, Jocelyn Schmidt shared some of the work that her class did towards the project.  http://ljpskindergartenteam.blogspot.ca/2012/12/i-made-my-own-what-can-you-see-book.html
What did you think of that?

Angie:  As I mentioned earlier, I had no idea this would lead to parent engagement. I looked at the project as a way to expand my students’ view of the world. One of the Kindergarten Big Ideas in our Curriculum is “Children are connected to others and contribute to their world.” page 52 The Full-Day Learning-Kindergarten Program.

Doug:  How many classrooms are involved in the project so far?

Angie:  So far seven different schools are involved in the project with a promise of more schools joining us in the new year.

Doug:  What would you say is the most consistent thing that students are seeing?

Angie:  The students have recognized that all schools have a playground structure and play area. They also see trees and soccer fields in each of the school’s books. My students have recently taken notice that many of the books have birds’ nests and they have asked the classes via SKYPE what type of birds they see in their school yard.

Doug:  What would you say is the most bizarre thing that students are reporting?

Angie:   My students were shocked to learn that the school in Mexico had a guard in a structure outside the school. This was not something anyone had anticipated and the students had a hard time understanding why a guard was needed at a school. In our local schools the children are used to seeing crossing-guards but not actual guards who protect schools.

Doug:  Are your students excited about the connections that they’re making?  How are they keeping track of them?  Does it enable them to make connections to their own situation?

Angie:  In our classroom, we have been tracking the similarities and differences between our school and another school. We do one SMART Notebook page comparing the two schools. This simple format has helped the students make direct connections to our community. The repetition has been extremely valuable. Now students are making connections when we read picture books, informational texts and charts. I did not set out to teach ‘making connections’. I set out to widen their world in an authentic manner. This project taught the students to be critical thinkers as they view movies/books and other texts. Now connections are automatically coming out while we discuss new topics and read new information.

Doug:  Now, we know that everything that’s done in the classroom needs to address Curriculum Expectations.  What are you addressing with this project?

Angie: As I mentioned previously, the big idea for Social Development is “Children are connected to others and contribute to their world.” An overall expectation in social development is “demonstrate an understanding of the diversity in individuals, families, schools and the wider community.” This project ties all of those things together. Today one of my students ask if any of the students in Vancouver, British Columbia celebrated Hanukkah because we were reading books about Hanukkah. Earlier in the week, a grade one french immersion class read aloud their school yard book in French. The students were able to gain an appreciation for another language and gain exposure about the possibility of attending french immersion in grade one. Last week, they learned that the students in Mexico spoke both spanish and english. I definitely see a respect for diversity developing in my students. Children are also working on their communication skills. Page 72 of our program states the big idea is “Children are effective communicators.” This project has helped us begin to understand the difference between a question and a comment. The students practice their questions and have learned they need to speak clearly and effectively during a SKYPE call. They also have learned how to give compliments to the classes they talk to via SKYPE. It is truly amazing to see these young children stand confidently and ask their important questions.

Doug:  If someone is just finding out about it now, is it too late to join?  How long will the project run?  You’ve posted an update here:  What can you see- Part Two

Angie:  It’s never too late to join in. I would love to see ‘What can you see?” over the course of the different seasons. I also hope we have more schools with greater diversity participate in the coming months. I am also hoping we have families and educators join in and share what they see. Doug, perhaps, you could do a “What can you see?” book about a walk with your dog?

Doug:  That just might happen.  Great idea.

Doug: What can you share about Colin Harris’ participation in the project?

Angie:  Colin was my initial springboard for the idea. We spoke in late August about ways to connect our classes and this idea formed. He is a great listener and I also learn from my conversations with him. He often helps me germinate ideas.

I’m still waiting for his class to jump in with their book.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share some insights about the project, Angie.  Hopefully, people have a better understanding of what it was all about.  You might even get some more participants!  

I am so impressed how you and your students are going far beyond the original premise.  What a great opportunity for the students.

All the best to you and your family for the Holidays.

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4 thoughts on “An Interview with Angela Harrison

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