Sunday, March 20, 2011

If Nothing Ever Changed, There'd Be No Butterflies....My Trip To Merton

If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.

~Author Unknown

Over my spring break, I visited Merton Community School District in Wisconsin for two days. Merton is a school community that I am already very passionate about because of the connections that Van Meter has made between classrooms, students and teachers.

Last fall, teacher Chris Reuter and I met on Twitter after I sent a tweet out looking for special education teachers to connect with. Chris responded saying that he could speak with the special education teachers at Merton and see if they were interested. Later that week I connected with Mark Flynn, superintendent, and Lisa Morowski, elementary technology teacher. We jumped right in and connected several classrooms in different grade levels with fun activities using Web 2.0 and social media.

And that was just the start of something very special between our schools. It wasn't just about the learning taking place. Our connections were also about the relationships and friendships.

I loved what I saw at Merton. The classrooms are full of life spilling out creativity, energy and amazing relationships between the teachers and students. I was invited into each classroom where everyone was so gracious and thankful that I was visiting.

I love how the students at Merton feel comfortable connecting and learning with one another and their teachers. Couches and other comfortable furniture ia a common scene throughout Merton. In Sarah Kasprowicz's 5th and 6th grade classroom the students enjoy sitting on the couch while collaborating about their next group project. This really added to the feel of community within the classrooms.

One of my favorite rooms was Mary Shannon's 5K classroom. Being an artist and in love with creativity, I was in heaven!

The first thing I saw was this amazing sculpture made out of recyclable materials and LOTS of packing tape. A little boy with crazy curly hair told me all about how they built a spaceship and had me look into different tubes or "spy scopes". Right next to this sculture was a cardboard box on the floor. When I was in the room the first day, two kids were in there talking all about constellations and what they had learned. I wanted to stay here all day. And Miss Shannon....amazing herself.

In Chris Reuter's classroom, the 6th graders were watching a video clip about Chernobyl. He told me that they were learning about something else, but when Chernobyl came up in the conversation the lesson took a turn. He quickly found a video on Safari Montage and engaged the students in a backchannel on their netbooks while watching the video. The students were engaged and enjoying the backchannel conversation.

Chris and I have worked together this year in connecting not only his 5th and 6th graders, but other teachers as well. His students are currently working on Voice Threads with the 6th graders at Van Meter. I hope that this relationship between the students continues to grow. Chris, Sarah, Julie Gilbert, and the other 5th and 6th grade teachers at Merton amazed me on how they work together and are bringing rich experiences to their students and community.

The highlight of the two days happened in Catherine McMahon's 4K classroom. Catherine has been connecting with Christa McClintock's kindergarteners at Van Meter throughout the year. My son Hagan is a student in Christa's room and she just happens to also be my cousin. So I have a little bit of a personal connection to these children at Merton as well. I couldn't wait to meet his Merton friends and take a photograph of them holding the gingerbread Hagan had created during their two month, multi-curricular unit Christa and Catherine did this year. (You can read about and see their incredible Gingerbread Tours here.)

As they were playing on the carpet I sat down next to two students and asked them about the basket of iTouches sitting next to their couch. A little girl asked if I wanted to see her use one and I said yes. As she went to get one of the iTouches, two more students went and got them out of the basket too. She came over, sat on my lap and started telling me all about the 100 different apps they have, how they have their very own cart, and the "cool" math game that is her favorite. The boy sitting next to us showed me his favorite game which involved dressing up people in all type of clothes. They could hardly wait to show me what was next.

It only took a few minutes for three more students to join us. Another girl came up and asked if she could play too. The little girl on my lap said, "Sure you can play a matching game with me." She quickly went to that app and they started playing the game together, taking turns and helping one another remember which squares matched.

I have seen Hagan and other children use iTouches before but never in a classroom setting like this. It was evident that they were comfortable and felt successful using the technology. When it was time to come to the Smart Board for a group activity, the students put the iTouches carefully back into the little basket and made sure they were all organized. Two of the girls looked at each other once they were organized and one said, "Bye bye, iTouch." It was priceless.

During these two days I brought ideas and thoughts to Merton. We spoke about change. We spoke about the similarities and differences between our schools. We spoke about 21st century learners and the type of environment we will need to create for them. Not only did I give them ideas for change, they gave me so many ideas too. I cannot wait to go to school on Monday to tell everyone at Van Meter what I learned. This will help us change and grow too.

So as you walk by something beautiful like a clay butterfly, spaceship made out of milk jugs and paper towel rolls, an iTouch in the hand of a five year old, or a student teaching an adult how to edit a movie on their laptop, remember these words once again...

If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies.

Change can bring incredible opportunities to our students, teachers, and communities. Embrace change and look for ways to support and enhance what it brings to your school. From these changes, we will create the spaces and opportunities that our young people need.

Thank you Merton. You are a very special place....with a whole lot of butterflies.