Oh yeah! Canada

In January, I blogged/lamented that students had lost their gratitude for learning (if this sounds strange, you have to read about the situation to understand). The awesome news: Simplified Map of CanadaCanada has brought back the ‘Thank You.’ This unit has fallen into place perfectly. For the first time all year I feel like our PLC is contributing with equal enthusiasm. The test aligns smoothly with the learning (or vice versa). Students and teachers enjoy the daily lessons. The modified content has challenged and included students to the perfect extent. This unit is enriched by a relatable unit essential question. “How does WHERE you live influence HOW you live?” The students could provide factual answers before we began (I have evidence of this since I asked), but the quality and detail of the responses increased as we moved through the lessons.  I am reflecting on many of the activities we accomplished this year in class for the Canada Unit so the success can (hopefully) be duplicated next year.

A big shift was the emphasis on Canadian culture. As a PLC we created a massive annotated list of links and resources for cultural tidbits on a variety of topics. YouTube was my best friend for an entire weekend as I searched relentlessly for the perfect video clips, and in the process watched what felt like a hundred, three minute videos. There were some treasure troves with multiple videos, like the background stories from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics or CANADA Explore | Explorez or Statistics Canada. General news segments were useful for concise, visually appealing reports on topics like immigration, changes in citizenship laws, and environmental issues. There were so many great choices; it is a shame that some districts block YouTube. Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.03.32 PMTwo non-video resources for Canadian history/cultural elements were Canadian Geographic and Canada’s History for Kids. The second source had a section called ‘History Gets Graphic‘ which are short graphic novels detailing parts of Canadian history. 

Another way I presented visuals was by layering elements with Thinglink. This is a tool I had not used much, but after the success with the GeoTerms and the Cool Buildings of Canada, I will find additional ways to utilize it in the future. The only disadvantage is the lack of display on an iOS device. Since I have a BYOT/iPad Mini mixed classroom, students could only view the information from my laptop in small groups.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 2.52.20 PMThe series of lessons would have been stale if it was not spiced up by culture. The lesson formula roughly included reading a short passage about one of the topics (population, language, climate, architecture, and economic activity) and taking notes. Students had the option of where to take notes. Many of them selected Google Slides. I had created a master template and they just had to make their own copy. Other students preferred paper. There was no reason a student had to be forced to take them one way or another. This is a slightly altered opinion. Up until last year I wanted a paperless classroom, but there is nothing wrong with students knowing their own strengths and weaknesses and a couple choosing to write on paper. An extra tree might perish, but an extra mind is flourishing.

After the notes, they would apply what they learned from the textbook and a Google search to a fictional letter. The premise of the letter was their family moved to Canada and they had to write to a friend or extended family member to tell them about the new location. Canada Letter IntroThe vast majority of the students are loving the creative freedom of the letter and ask if we are going to add to it when they walk in the room. I almost felt bad on days we ran out of time. As a class we had a great conversation about reliable search results on Google and the fact that there is so much learning beyond the textbook and even teacher knowledge. I do not know what type of events take place in [city, province], but there were lists with suggestions of the top things to do with families or newspaper articles about local events. I could point to the population density map for conversations about ecumene in Canada, but can not list the individual town populations. Google can.

Canada Letter PromptsA change from last year is how I presented the letter. Instead of just requiring students to provide information from each of the five categories, I posted questions for them to answer. The first set of questions (A.) to answer made the location more tangible. It was not just a name on a map; it had character or at least a human/physical characteristic. I had students pick a province first then zoom in on either Google Maps or the generic iOS maps to select a city. Last year students got lost by zooming in on the wilderness and not finding any listed civilization. Next year I want to show the maps with themes of amusing town names (from Canadian Geographic) before having the students pick their ‘new home.’ Canada Letter HouseThis year I formally added the house element. Last year finding a dream house for sale was a spontaneous addition for the few students who finished really early. Now it is part of the assignment, and the students are loving this while secretly learning about the style of houses and the cost of living. My favorite is the students who change the backstory of their letter to match the house – like finding a beautiful house with a large greenhouse and making that their parents’ fictional profession. The house adds a conversational point why some small houses seem so expensive or why there are limited options in certain towns. The personalized conversations with one or two students connects the learning with their interests, which only have a positive outcome. I feel that they are harnessing the genuine engagement and inteqrest into deeper understanding. They are asking lots of questions about diverse topics. I hope the understanding translates on the assessment next week.

Another big shift by necessity this year was adapting and modifying the content for students with widely varying learning abilities.  Our planning team brainstormed ways to modify writing in this heavily written unit. Clicker Sentences was suggested. I have loved the implementation of this app. It started with me writing sentences about the content – similar to the notes all the students would be taking themselves. Those sentences were transferred to the app. Now the student can easily access the content and share with classmates. The student has been successful putting together the teacher created sentences, listening to them being read back, and then reading them aloud on their own.  This has been exciting to observe. The only downfall is the price of the app, Clicker Sentences costs $30.99. Do I think it has been worth it? Yes. Would my answer change if I had to pay for the app? Also, yes.

To provide all the students real-world connections to Canada, we read current event articles about Canada. My class frequently uses Newsela for reading current events because the website automatically provides five different reading level of the same article. That means all the students can participate and read the same stories, without struggling or being bored, with the content level. I searched “Canada” and picked a series of stories that I shared through a Google Doc (bit.ly/CanadianNews). The students noticed that most of the stories related to people affecting the environment. This connected back to a prior topic with the Five Themes of Geography and Human-Environment Interaction. I appreciated that I found real articles about topics that were being mentioned in the textbook, like the oil boom in Alberta and the Polar Bears in Canada. Since the students were provided choice with what to read, I did not hear any complaining about having to read, and some students asked for more time to read additional articles.

The last infusion of technology has been a series of websites and apps that have provided review as needed: Tap Quiz World, Quizlet, Zondle, and Canada Memory Matching Game. Before the unit test, I will create a Kahoot review game, because that is a student favorite. Wow, that felt like a long ramble, but I am confident I can duplicate the activities and be successful next year.

About Lisa Butler

Middle school geography teacher, tech trainer, Flocabulary MC, Nearpod PioNear, and Edcamp Hershey Founder. I have embraced the power of purposeful technology and am creative with their application. If I am not doing something with ed or tech, I am probably reading children's books, baking with a toddler sidekick, running around, or dreaming of traveling.
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