The Best & The Worst of Times


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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities

I left on a Wednesday morning flight and it wasn’t until I landed on the tarmac in Ottawa that I received a text message from my oldest saying, “I guess you’ve heard the news.” I hadn’t heard anything as my cellphone was off during the flight. My first thoughts were those of a mother, fearing there had been an accident to someone in the family at home. I quickly searched the news on my phone and found a gunman was in Ottawa. There was more than an accident; a young guard at the National Monument had been shot down. And yes, he had a mother. It was she who had lost her son in a a tragic and senseless shooting. “There is a man who would give his life to keep a life you love beside you,” says Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities.

IMG_2538It was a very surreal and eerie trip. As the chauffeur drove three of us from the airport to the Fairmont Chateau Laurier (right across, and I mean right across, from the War Memorial Monument where the murder had taken place), we noticed that although the city lamps were brightly shining there was hardly anyone on the deserted streets. Stores and restaurants were completely closed and darkened, their neon signs off. The city was in lockdown.

Our hotel was also in lockdown. The doors everywhere were locked, the street taped off with red police tape, police vehicles blocking off streets that were closed, reporters with cameras and microphones staged behind the red tape cordoning the hotel. We could not go in the front or side entrance but police directed us through a back door. Inside the lobby of the hotel and even boarding the elevators were police in bullet proof vests, guns tucked in holsters. At that point there was still rumor of a second gunman. The letter under the hotel door from the manager advised us of the circumstances and asked us to remain inside the hotel. From my room I heard sirens wailing and could see the lights from police cars through my window. The whole situation didn’t seem very Canadian; events like this don’t seem to take place in our quiet and reserved backyard. And for me, locked in the hotel, Ottawa was my backyard.

The next day lockdown was lifted and so we went on the scheduled school tours arranged by those organizing the Canadian Academic Leadership Summit. There were hardly any attendees, however, as almost all of the registrants from the remaining provinces cancelled their flights when the city went into lockdown. Those of us from BC and California had already left on flights and so we did not have the opportunity to cancel. Our gracious hosts, despite the national trauma the day before, continued to open their school doors, classrooms and hearts to us. There is something so normal about being in a school and about having children all in their places.

“It was the best ofWelcome. Turn on your devices. times, it was the worst of times…” In between all that oddness, visiting the schools was more than a pleasant distraction. We spent our morning at Mother Theresa High School and were greeted by student ambassadors that guided us through the school to the Learning Commons. It was there that we joined some staff and students for a First Nations Talking Circle. Led by the school secretary we each had the opportunity to hold the “talking feather” and provide an introduction of ourselves. The talking feather was then rotated to the students immersed in our circle where they each described their personal story of learning at the school.

Brilliant student created bannerUpon completion of the storytelling, the staff guided us through classrooms to ask teachers and students about the learning. In the English class, some students were studying Of Mice and Men and every student was engaged in exploring and learning about the novel in different ways. One student was studying the music of the era and then applying her understanding of the lyrics to explain the cultural background for the story. Another student was creating a movie trailer while a different student was writing an alternate ending. There wasn’t a student in the room completing the same task. Devices were everywhere because at this particular school all students bring a mobile device (iPad) with them. The school has back up devices for those that don’t have their own but basically everyone has a device on their desk. In many rooms, students were using them but in other classes students were engaged in group work or whole class work without accessing technology. The devices didn’t seem really noticeable as students and teachers were simply engaged in the learning process. The school purchases the licenses for the apps that students may want to use and some of the apps have also been created in-house. They also use Google Apps for Education. I did learn that the school does have “sticks” that students can sign out should they require wireless access at home to complete assignments. Overall, there is minimal district tech support provided and trained students are there to give a hand to students and staff.

IMG_2613The Senior Staff at the Ottawa Catholic School Board Office hosted us for lunch and a conversation about their journey moving their district into the 21st century. It was here that we had a chance to learn more about the district’s priorities and strategic plan, their organizational structure and departmental functions and their mode of both independent and interdepartmental governance. The district had made some pretty significant budget decisions that impacted all departments as they looked across their systems to find ways to funnel monies to newly determined priorities, many directly associated with technology.

IMG_2625On our afternoon visit we landed at St. Cecelia Elementary School, nicknamed the “School of the Jetsons.” This newly designed school appeared spacious, open and inviting. The Learning Commons had a completely exposed wall along the central foyer. The only separation was the curved bar with stools where chrome books lay out on counters and tables as options for incoming students. Glancing down the hall you could see groups of students working in “caves,” small alcoves with assorted furniture—comfy chairA corner in the Learning Commons.s, benches, tables—where students were spread out working on different tasks. Classrooms were structured in pods with a shared central area for students together in groups or for independent work. While the school has opportunities for whole group and direct instruction, we had arrived at a time of day when most were involved in individual or group work of their choosing and related to their personal interests. What were students doing? Some were reading in corners together, others were in a group watching a science-related video, others were using math tiles to explore patterns to extend their learning, some were standinA bucket of chrome books in each portable.g and manipulating shapes across a projected Smart board and others playing games, puzzles, or huddled together engrossed in learning conversations. There were chrome books, netbooks, desktops and iPads being used seamlessly throughout the building. They weren’t really noticeable as what was more evident was simply students engrossed in learning.

On Friday it was an intimate crowd of about a dozen of us. I was one of the speakers but it is significantly different when you are only speaking to a small room of people. I guess because it was such a small crowd we had opportunities for great dialogue with some pretty amazing and humorous people. I love learning and I particularly appreciate the opportunity to have a window into the ways and thinking of other districts. I found the goals, direction and plans of the district future-oriented, declarative and provocative. I found the flexible learning of the students inspiring. In between the visits, the lunches and sessions, however, it was the opportunity to engage in a rich dialogue with those from the school and district. The shared stories of their journey to a new future, their ongoing plans and challenges as they pursue creating great environments for learning was encouraging and kindled hope for our future.

I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out…” Charles Dickens.

We flew home late that afternoon as the lights began to shine across the city.

Surreal.

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Note: SpeciaExploring Google Glassesl thanks to our gracious and flexible Ottawa guide, Denise Andre (@deniseandreOCSB), Deputy Director of the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and the inspiring and amazing hosts from Discovery Education who organized the event. Author tries out Googles Glasses compliments of Summit Keynote Hall Davidson (@halldavidson).

Early Numeracy: Mathematicians at Play

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“Problem solving is natural to young children because the world is new to them & they exhibit curiosity, intelligence & flexibility as they face new situations. The challenge … is to build on children’s innate problem-solving inclinations & to preserve & encourage a disposition that values problem solving.”

• Principles & Standards for School Mathematics

 

We want all children to see themselves as confident and competent mathematicians. They need to be able to explore ideas, solve problems and communicate their thinking. Mathematics continues to be a barrier for some struggling learners and we recognize that early intervention is the key to improving outcomes. The Early Numeracy Teacher (ENT) position has been developed to support these learners in the Early Years.

The Early Years are a time for exploring – for play, talk and investigations. Our youngest learners come to understand key concepts through their play. They spontaneously explore mathematical concepts through activities that are engaging and encourage them to think. The ENT works collaboratively with the classroom teacher to scaffold, discuss and develop the students’ deep understanding of important mathematical concepts.

In 2014-15 Early Numeracy Teachers will provide support to kindergarten and grade one students in 13 elementary schools. It is based on a collaborative model between the ENT and classroom teacher to provide in-class, targeted small group instruction, through meaningful engaging activities.

Early Numeracy Teachers are trained in current research and pedagogy on early learning and numeracy, under the guidance of Sandra Ball, one of our district Helping Teachers. They are also trained in the use of assessment tools such as the early numeracy “What Do They Know?” (WDTK). Classroom teachers and Early Numeracy teachers work collaboratively to assess what the students know (a strength based model) and develop instructional strategies to support the learning.

In order to be successful in the early years, students need to demonstrate capacity in three areas of numeracy: subitizing (the instant recognition of a quantity), partitioning or decomposition (the ability to break apart a number and put it back together again), and patterning (the ability to recognize, represent and describe repeating patterns with different attributes). These are the main concepts that the ENT will focus on with our ‘at promise’ students.

Early numeracy support has been provided to schools for three years. Comments from teachers indicate the importance and value this work has had for learners and for their own growth as professionals.

The Perspective of Early Learning Teachers:

“Most importantly I have seen the importance of ‘not teaching the intuitive knowledge out of students’ while developing our young mathematicians. The role allows students the time and space to invent and play with their own strategies, permitting a more flexible rather than rigid approach to numeracy, and they begin to show a more in-tune understanding of math concepts because they were personally involved in the making-meaning process.” 

“It is imperative to ‘catch them when they’re young’.  I have discovered that children as young as kindergarteners can do the work of a mathematician if they are given that mindset. They are most proud of their work when you tell them they are ‘being’ mathematicians and ‘thinking’ like one.  I have learned that there are three basic fundamental concepts that form the foundation which leads to understanding.  By focusing on these three areas, I have found that ‘at promise’ students have the capacity to become confident learners in numeracy.  In the process of ‘doing’ math, they are also developing a positive attitude, bringing much joy and excitement to the tasks as I hear them express:  ‘I’m good at this game, I love Math. It’s so much fun, I wish we could do Math all day.’  I have learned that generally it takes ‘at promise’ students longer to grasp concepts, but when you present the concepts through the use of many different game formats and interesting hands-on manipulatives, they stay actively engaged.   They often surprise you with their thinking and understanding, and I have had the privilege to be present to share in their thinking, see where they are struggling, and to celebrate their successes. …They begin to see relationships between numbers and patterns and they become more flexible in their thinking and problem solving.  Part of my role is to help these students see themselves as capable learners.”

The Perspective of Classroom Teachers:

ENTPic1“Working with the ENT has made me a much more confident math teacher. The program has encouraged us to stay focused on math at certain set times during the week. The students look forward to the hands on/tactile activities and games each week. I love how we can focus on small groups and tackle different learners in different ways. Over the past 2 years we have created so many stations/games for the students to use. They want to go to those stations even when it isn’t math time.”

The Perspective of a Principal:

A principal describes why she felt the early numeracy support was beneficial to her school:
• The ENT develops positive, trusting relationships with staff and students over time
• Students change perception and self-confidence in numeracy and are more positive “Math is fun!”
• Working collaboratively with classroom teachers over time to model best practice and expose highly engaging activities, resources and manipulative strategies for teaching
• There is easier transfer of number sense, patterning, etc. understanding to classroom lessons

The role of the ENT is to work collaboratively to support students who need to build their confidence, competence and disposition of mathematics. The redesigned mathematics curriculum emphasizes problem solving. Just as there is more to literacy than teaching the rules and procedures of language, there is more to numeracy than teaching the rules and procedures of mathematics. Numerate individuals not only “know” mathematics, but also understand it in personally meaningful terms. They feel competent and confident about their ability to draw on the necessary knowledge and apply it in new and relevant ways. The results we have collected over the last few years strongly support the importance of this work for our ‘at promise’ mathematicians.

Note: Karen Alvarez (@_alvarez_k) District Principal (Early Learning, Literacy, Fine Arts) and Sandra Ball (@SandraBall1), our Early Learning Inner City Helping Teacher, co-authored this post. A wealth of resources and examples for supporting Early Learners can be found on Sandra Ball’s website (see here). For more information on Numeracy projects in Surrey Schools, including a program review, check out this tab.

I still want the revolution


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“I still want the revolution. I want things to be different.”

Sharon Jeroski, Horizons Research, MOE Curriculum Transformation Lead


The change and transformation is really not about curriculum. It is actually about how we engage students in learning & what we do in classrooms with our students.

A B.C. Teacher’s feedback on MOE Curriculum Transformation

The opportunity to learn directly from those engaged in the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) curriculum change process is helpful in setting direction for future priorities. Over the past month I have had the opportunity to learn from several of those playing a lead role in the development of the framework, the curriculum and the assessment components. I share here some of their thinking along with a few of their slide decks.

iStock_000018582567XSmallAt the request of the MOE, Pat Horstead, Assistant Superintendent for Surrey gave a workshop on the Curriculum Transformation. Pat has been an integral part of the development of the new curriculum, shepherding advisory groups and providing advice throughout its development. Last fall she completed a partial secondment to work directly on the MOE curriculum framework. She provided participants with an update on where we are today and where to next (see slidedeck below). Pat highlighted the positive feedback from stakeholder groups and the current status of subject-specific curriculum currently in development. She emphasized the need to focus on Formative Assessment and noted that the MOE Assessment Framework was still a work-in-progress. She encouraged districts to develop new structures for learning, to support and create networks of innovation and to encourage curriculum teacher-leaders to create exemplars of transformation in their classrooms. The Ministry is looking for examples of classrooms where teachers are putting the new curriculum into action. The MOE hopes to include video vignettes on their website so others can see how this transformation changes learning and teaching. One of the most significant comments from Pat, and as a teacher noted in the quote at the top of this post, was the reminder that, “this change is not about implementation but about transformation.”

Jan Unwin, Superintendent of Graduation and Transitions, and Larry Espe, Superintendent of Trades and Transitions, both working for the MOE, provided an overview of the direction of the new Graduation program. Jan spoke to the ongoing commitment to quality teaching and learning that is a pillar of what we do as educators. The notion of flexibility and choice has received a renewed emphasis as a reflection of the feedback that came from students themselves. Their three big words: Passion, Purpose and Personalized. Jan was also explicit in identifying the “new game in town—the whole power of technology.” She identified learning empowered by technology as still viewed as one of the key pillars from the BCED Plan.

How will we know how we are doing? A large group of stakeholders (AGPA) is looking at a way to provide provincial assessments that serve schools and districts with useful information. Ultimately the goal is for these assessments to serve teachers and students. Jan spoke to the notion of a renewed role for assessment where it reflects real life and on-going learning rather than an autopsy of findings. She was also clear that “one of the biggest things that needs to change is around reporting.” What was perhaps most encouraging was their reference to a capstone project and the possibilities of a digital portfolio that can provide actual examples of student work to post-secondary institutions and future employers. The slide on a student’s potential Capstone Project, and Jan’s demonstration of how the buttons click to take you to samples of student work in their portfolios, was very impressive (see slides 50-58 specifically). Please remember, though, this is just a draft of possibilities. The MOE remains committed to getting ongoing feedback to help shape this plan.

Larry Espe shared with us this wonderful and inspiring video as part of their joint presentation.

Sharon Jeroski, of Horizon Research, focused on the core competencies. “All of the competency work is happening somewhere in B.C. We need to talk about it a lot. We need to share, share, share.” She described the new B.C. Curriculum Framework as focused on three essential components: Literacy & Numeracy Foundations, Core Competencies, and Essential Concepts & Content for Deeper Learning. It was the core competencies—Thinking, Communicating, Personal & Social Competence, she emphasized as “the glue that holds the whole system together.” Her slide presentation from her recent Surrey visit is included below:

Her central challenge to us all was the question, “What kind of neighbour do you want?” She encouraged us to give our learners the opportunities to develop the competencies that make a good neighbour. We then might be able to join in with Mr. Roger’s and say, “Won’t you be my neighbour?”

Note: Special thanks to Pat Horstead, Jan Unwin, Larry Espe and Sharon Jeroski for sharing their thinking with us and encouraging us on the road to transformation.

All Canadian Surrey Schools: The Apple of Apple’s i

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The prestigious award for Apple Distinguished Program is finally coming to Canada and has landed in Surrey. The Social Studies iPad E-text Project is an exciting innovation and an important part of a larger radical social movement happening in Surrey (#sd36learns). The teacher-led grassroots initiative is the forerunner program through which this recognition was achieved. The Social Studies 11 course provided the impetus for both students and teachers to “jump-start” learning through technology. Specifically, the course prepares students for their lives as Canadian citizens and their roles and responsibilities as members of the international community. It seems more than appropriate that the first district award for the Apple Distinguished Program in Canada is awarded to an initiative that encounters the Canadian experience. An honor indeed!

The Leap

The Social Studies iPad and E-text Project was a bold step. A key aspect of the initiative was that it was grassroots, driven and led by Social Studies teachers and department heads. The teacher-led innovation placed the iPad and the E-text technology tools directly into the hands of the students and teachers. Students were given the iPad, in part, to create digital content to showcase their learning.  This initiative is unique in that it provides digital tools and digital resources to students to meet the needs of the newly emerging curriculum in BC (BC Ministry documents).

Educators felt that the opportunity to incorporate technology with the curriculum would greatly enhance collaborative inquiry, student engagement and also help move instruction closer to the practices of personalized learning.    

Teachers and their students took a leap. They acted with courage capturing an opportunity to change traditional ways of learning in the Social Studies classroom. The learning curve was steep and the journey was not always easy.

ADP Award-compressed7

The Pull

Steeped in Surrey tradition, helping teachers (teacher leaders) navigate not only the classroom but also the middle space bringing administrators, teachers and students together transforming education. An integral part of the project was providing support to all participating schools by a team of district helping teachers. This team as part of the Surrey Schools’ Education Services hosted boot camps for all teachers using the iPad. Through cutting edge practice they “pulled” the schoolhouse beyond traditional literacies toward closer examination of personalized learning, improving student/teacher learning and enhancing student/teacher engagement.

Surrey’s deliberate, multifaceted approach to staff development and the provision of innovative technologies has fostered networks of educators committed to purposefully exploring new ways to improve student learning and extending their professional repertoires. Teachers, students, administrators, and staff mobilize their school communities aligning effective use of technology for learning with the shared vision of transforming education. The intense investment “pulls” the community of learners together and fans the fire of innovation.

The Champion

Who are the champions? “It is all of those people that are out there trying things out, they’re on twitter, the ones who are excited about learning, period. They are always wondering and doing something different.”
Karen Steffensen, Assistant Superintendent

ADP Award-compressed1JB Mahli, Social Studies Helping Teacher, championed the project. Through his thoughtful and credible leadership he piloted the project in his own Social Studies 11 classroom. As Social Studies Helping Teacher he modelled innovative practice and advocated for new approaches. His actions invigorated all those involved creating an environment where everyone could voice ideas and benefit from collective wisdom. From start to finish JB was an inspired steward for the project. One teacher said, “While I do believe that my teaching practice has changed because of the introduction of the iPad having a helping teacher who has also been talking about using problem and inquiry-based instruction, as well as critical thinking and historical thinking, is important as well.”

The Impact

Partway through the project important questions were posed. Was this project making a difference to student learning, student engagement and was it moving pedagogy closer to personalized learning practices? Was it meeting school district priorities? Has there been an impact?

The online survey gathered information of teacher’s and student’s perceptions specific to utilization of the iPad and E-text focusing in three key areas: student learning, student engagement, and the shift in instructional practices toward personalized learning. In addition, open-ended questions were asked about strengths, weaknesses of the program as well as suggestions for improvement. At this stage of the project it was important to provide some data around the impact of the project for moving practice forward.

Results indicated there were positive changes in the way that both students and teachers experienced Social Studies 11.  All teachers described changes in their pedagogy, which they felt, were directly related to the impact of Social Studies iPad & E-text project.

Significant Shifts in Instructional Practices

  • Shift in pedagogy away from content coverage to teachers being facilitators of learning and advocates of student created content.
  • Teachers shifted away from a task-oriented classroom to a learning and experiential orientated classroom.
  • Teachers centered their instructional practices on meeting the needs of students by using iPad, Apple TV and other tools to engage students.
  • Students felt encouraged by their teachers to demonstrate their learning in a way that meets students’ needs and choice.
  • More instructional time was dedicated to student interacting and sharing with one another using the iPad.
  • Teachers took the lead in instructional design and have created iTunesU courses to increase the amount of Canadian content available and to provide a platform to learn by inquiry in an interactive way.
  • Most profound change among teachers was the shift from simply covering information in the classroom to creating, curating and sharing content.


iTunes U SS 11

Radical? Contagious?

Word spread. In hindsight it seems that the initiative was like a contagion. More and more teachers and administrators wanted to “act” on the opportunity. In this case the project used learning with technology as a lever with the overriding vision to transform education. It is the growth in numbers of participants, the depth of learning and the changed behaviour of participants that signal a radical movement.

Surrey School District transforms education by creating a radical social movement of educators committed to altering their practice in order to deepen student learning. This uses a form of leadership that focuses on exponential rather than incremental change by creating networks of field-based educators committed to sharing their practice and spreading the change to others. It is about distributed leadership so that it is not the central person at the board office that owns or dictates the vision of transforming learning but the professionals in the field who own it. This vision for the iPad E-text project proved to be realistic and achievable.

All along the way the project exemplified qualities and characteristics that closely align with Apple Distinguished Program best practices. Leaders have been strategic in ensuring all stakeholders have a voice in the direction of the project and have had an opportunity to learn, play and share their successes and challenges. The project has been robust and resilient evolving to meet the needs of diverse learners. In the words of Apple “the project demonstrated an innovative and compelling learning environment that engaged students and provided tangible evidence of academic accomplishment.”

The Social Studies iPad E-text project is the recipient of the Apple Distinguished Program award and is in reality, a Canadian first.

 

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Apple Distinguished Program

Recognized by Apple as a distinguished program for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence.

Note from Elisa Carlson:
Guest post is by Dr. Donna VanSant (@vansantd) of Healthy Ventures, some edits are mine. Thank you to former Social Studies Helping Teacher JB Mahli (currently Vice-Principal at Semiahmoo Secondary School) for leading this project. Thanks to Information & Media Literacy Helping Teachers, Kevin Amboe, Orwell Kowalyshyn and Lisa Domeier for providing inspiration and support along the way. Our appreciation goes to the Social Studies Department Heads and Social Studies teachers in the district for diving into the project. Surrey truly has amazing teachers! Thanks to the unseen but essential support of Gloria Morton (Manager, Learning Resources) and Dan Turner (Director, Information Management Systems) who managed all the technical pieces so the magic could happen.

Making Space for Change

I recently presented a keynote called Design for Collaborative Learning: Current Trends and Pedagogy,” subtitled “Making Space for Change,” at the B.C. CEFPI Annual Conference of school planners and architects. I was asked to provide a birds-eye view of the new curriculum, talk about it in the context of collaboration and speak to the implications for the design and use of physical space. For those that are interested, here are the presentation slides:

As well, I showed the video clip embedded below. Special thanks to Teacher-Librarian Helping Teacher Lisa Domeier (@librarymall) for creating the video about the Learning Commons as well as connecting me with the fabulous resources for researching the presentation.

Learning Commons Video from lisa domeier on Vimeo.

A Celebration of Life: The End of an Era

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Author’s Note:

This post is the tribute I delivered at the memorial for my parents, Ernest and Esme Underhill, along with a post-tribute reflection.

 

When I think of my mom and dad there are some things that just stick in my head because they are symbols of what it meant to grow up in our family and to be loved by mom and dad.

Given that I am a teacher by trade, I would like to think of this as a brief moment of show and tell. I am going to share four symbolic treasures with you.

North Cowichan-20130505-01681First, I have a fish. Besides the fact that dad loved to fish, mom and dad did other things with fish. I remember when a full size dead salmon floated to shore in front of their house. Dad was just so thrilled because the salmon was in perfect shape. He quickly rescued it to paint it with India ink and proceeded to make beautiful fish prints. It wasn’t just dad that was excited about fish. Mom got in on the act too. My siblings will remember the Easter morning we woke up, sat down for breakfast and almost gulped down our drinks before we realized mom and dad had placed a goldfish in each of my sisters’ glasses and a turtle in each of my brothers’. Mom and dad were always making outrageous, creative memories for us.

IMG_3305Second, I have some boats. Some of you will recognize these because my siblings have these same boats and so do some of the grandchildren. We were given them one Christmas. These are handmade and hand painted boats; you can actually see the portraits of our faces painted into the window of the boat. You could stick a candle in the smokestack or use it for a pencil holder. For me the boats represent my parent’s joy of the ocean, their love of sailing and in the giving of the boats, their inclusive spirit of sharing their joy of life with all of us.

IMG_3308Third, I have a piggy bank. Dad made six piggy banks for his six children and gave them to us one Christmas morning. I find mine quite beautiful (see picture). Each pig was designed differently and no two looked alike. I know some of these piggy banks might be long forgotten and some are broken. I have kept mine hidden away and my own children are not allowed to touch it for fear they might break it. For me this bank represents the riches of growing up with mom and dad. We may not have had a lot of money; however, we were wealthy. They gave us the gift of their resources, their energy, their time, and their money invested in our family as opposed to accumulating treasures for themselves. We were their wealthy fortunes and we are all the richer for it.

IMG_1535Finally, I have my last treasure. This is a metal heart. My siblings will likely remember these as well. One Valentine’s morning we woke to find a heart hooked over the doorknob to our bedroom. Each one of us received this metal heart with our name cut into it. I think this heart is a symbol of mom and dad’s great love for each of us. Mom and dad’s arms were open to all. Their hearts were open to their children, to their grandchildren, to their extended family and to their friends. Their greatest gift to us was indeed their love. We will carry their love in our hearts forever and I know they would want us to pass it on. It is the legacy they leave with us.

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Post-Tribute Reflection: A Legacy of Learning

bay04My parents left us with a legacy of love; however, they also left us with a legacy of learning. How many parents take you to the beach in the summer to make plaster of Paris casts of imprints you have created in the sand? How many drove and camped their tents on the wild shores of Long Beach, Vancouver Island before the Provincial Park was established–like beatniks, barefoot and free, combing the sand for odd-shaped driftwood, sketching and reading books. We never missed a summer of tenting; we loaded the station wagon and escaped to Jasper, or Ensenada, Mexico or the hot shores of Lake Osoyoos. We tracked down used bookstores and stocked up on 10 cent books and comics to read along the way.

stillife01The adventures continued at home. Drinking glasses paraded along the kitchen counter as we mixed chemicals, dangled string from pencils and waited patiently for crystals to form. We made ice candles and devised our own moulds as we layered molten wax to harden into unusual shapes. We hooked rugs of our own design. We carved pumpkins without stencils. We dyed Easter eggs and then used the leftover dye to dip tissue paper, napkins, coffee filters and paper towels in folded shapes to create explosions of colour. If dinner required tin foil we would reuse it and twist it into sculptures at the end of the meal. We wrapped old newspaper and shredded, attached, and bound it into organic sculptures. There were trips to the art school when my dad would prepare an upcoming exhibit; here I could play-act the resident art critic casting my opinion on each piece of art he set out for display.

Weekends were spent driving up the mountain roads in the Kootenays where we would find a creek, sit and sketch or turn over rocks to IMG-20120719-00507examine the periwinkles. Sometimes we ended the afternoon making hamburgers on the hibachi in the great outdoors or headed home for mom’s homemade English scones and tea. Sundays we often gathered around popcorn and watched National Film Board movies in the darkened basement as my dad previewed them for his art classes—these were often avant-garde films about art, artists, modern dance or animated features. Music filled the house: we danced to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and knew all the words to Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song, There’s a Hole in the Bucket, and Jamaican Farewell.

We drew, we painted, we sketched, we molded clay, we walked on beaches, we explored old ghost towns, we hiked, we picked wild huckleberries, we made jam and we wrote stories. Of course, we read. And we read some more. This was not school. This was my home. I grew up in a house of learning. I am deeply grateful.

The Underhill Siblings

The Six Underhill Siblings

Note: After a long, slow descent into Alzheimer’s, my father passed away on December 13th, 2013. My mom, trapped in the grip of Parkinson’s disease, followed him on February 13, 2014 just in time to join him for Valentine’s Day. My parents had been married for a remarkable 67 years. We celebrated their lives on May 9, 2014 on what would have been their 68th wedding anniversary.

 

 

Innovative Learning Designs: MakerSpaces Project

Photo Credit: fotologic via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: fotologic via Compfightcc


Changes in educational possibility arise as new media 
alter the ways of knowing and the opportunities for participating in the creation of knowledge.
         Robbie McClintock

 

The Invitation to Maker Space

Robotic hand gather cube 3d. Artificial intelligence. Isolated oOne key to transformation in education is helping students reimagine what is possible. Students who imagine printing structures they designed are participating in the same learning as Boeing engineers who design and print commercial airline parts. Hugh Herr, who lost both of his legs in an accident, has worked with MIT to design and produce bionic legs that can run, climb and dance.  We live in a time where almost anything is possible.

The MakerSpace movement recaptures the concept of “experimental play.”  The central thesis is that students should engage in tinkering and ‘Making’ because these are powerful ways to participate, share and learn. MakerSpaces are not limited to physical space but share the ideals of making, tinkering, collaborating and inventing. In our district we seeded the opportunity (via a grant process) for students and educators to grow ‘Maker’ mindsets and integrate those mindsets into learning, both within and outside the school environment.

We invited teachers on a journey to make, invent, create, imagine, share, collaborate, investigate, explore, wonder, inquire, iterate, inspire and learn. These new literacies set the context for our challenge. How do we move forward to equip our students with ‘Maker’ mindsets; to support their development of the skills, fluencies and understandings that will influence their futures?

Bringing Maker Spaces to the School Community

Photo Credit: Marco Buonvino via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Marco Buonvino via Compfight cc

Using an inquiry approach, we asked school teams (triads) to design an instructional plan that is built upon foundational elements that best support student learning.  The team’s inquiry would falls under the umbrella of “How does ‘Making’ impact student learning of specific learning intentions?” or “How does ‘Making’ impact students as learners?”

Adopting new ways to explore and learn takes time so we invited educators to envision ‘Making’ as part of ongoing learning.  To reduce the impact of the “one-more-project syndrome,” these teams were asked to consider three questions:
• What can we do differently to meet the current learning outcomes?
• What are we doing that we can drop or stop doing to explore the potential to meet other learning outcomes?
• How does making / tinkering impact students overall learning experiences?

Important Note:  The process of ‘Making’ and the celebration of the resulting end products are exciting in themselves; however, the core mindset of the ‘Maker’ movement is ongoing investigation and discovery. Gary Stager recommends a pedagogical strategy of “…and then?” to view ‘finished projects’ as part of a continuum of interesting ideas, and as iterations, not discrete end products.

What is included in our Maker Spaces Grant?

School teams applied for one of the three age appropriate kits provided by our department, Education Services.  Each kit provided has been researched and developed by the IML team with recommendations from the field. We advised schools that they may wish to supplement their learning journey with additional, school-based resources.

Our sample kits look as follows:
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Kit 1 (Recommended K-3): Squishy Circuits (Basic Electronics), Resource Books, Construction / Building Kits, Basic Tools
Kit 2 (Recommended grades 3-5): Little Bits (Electronics), Resource Books, Construction / Building Kits, Makey Makey (interactive software / electronics), Hand Tools
Kit 3 (Recommended grades 5 – 8): Little Bits (Electronics), Resource Books, Construction / Building Kits, Makey Makey (interactive software / electronics), Hand Tools,  Arduino (Intermediate programming computer components)
Kit 4 (Recommended grades 8 – 10): Resource Books, Construction / Building Kits, Makey Makey (interactive software / electronics), Hand Tools, Arduino (Intermediate programming computer components), Raspberry Pi (Micro computer programming)

Teams were invited to discuss their students’ needs, and to identify the preferred kit on their application.

What else at schools can be used to support ‘Making’?

Making activities can be done virtually as well as in the physical.  While our grant includes specific devices, tools, and resources, there are many existing devices, tools and resources within schools which support additional ‘Maker’ activities:
• 3D creation – TinkerCAD, Google SketchUp, 123D Sculp
• Movie Making – iMovie, Explain Everything
• Construction – Lego, Blocks
• Programming – Scratch, Dreamweaver, Wikispaces

Instructional Design:

What did we ask the school team to commit to?
• Plan and implement a variety of differentiated, student-centered, learning activities which integrate “Making”;
• Use ongoing formative assessment of student needs to drive inquiry;
• Demonstrate that Maker projects – process, product, reflection – directly connect to the Core Competencies (thinking, communicating, personal and social responsibility). 

In addition to our Innovative Learning Designs Makerspace grant opportunity, we are also providing Mini-Maker kits to all interested Teacher-Librarians and Information Media Contacts in each of our schools. We want to ensure that we had champions that were willing and interested in exploring the Makerspaces concept.  We also recognized that teachers need time to play and investigate concepts with their colleagues alongside their students. We see these teacher-leaders as facilitating that process in their school community.

In our district, we have called the month of May #makermay as we look at ways of learning more about inventing, tinkering, playing, designing, creating and more.  As we learn, so do our students.

Post Notes: This project was conceived and this post written by a team of Helping Teachers, including: @amboe_k, @shelagh09, @kowalyshyn, @librarymall, @ipadtestkitchen and Sarah Guilmant-Smith. Thanks to @chris_gauvin for providing field-based advice as well. These people are worth following. Thanks to Sylvia Libow Martinez (guest presenter at our Igniting the Passion dinner series) for inspiring our learning.

The Rock & The Whirlpool: Navigating the Dilemma Dance

Photo Credit: SergioTudela via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: SergioTudela via Compfightcc

It is clear that the challenge lies in the transition zone. This is a risky space. It can be chaotic and confusing with so many different ideas competing for attention. And it can feel an uncomfortable and under-valued place for many professionals.
                                                    .G. Leicester, D. Stewart, K. Bloomer & J. Ewing
 
Book cover Good Copy 2Transforming education requires strategic conversation in navigating the tensions that exist in the transition zone of change.  In Transformative Innovation in Education: a playbook for pragmatic visionaries, the authors distinguish between three systems: the current dominant system, incremental innovation and transformative innovation. They liken it to universal mass education, personalized education and open access education.  Or think of it as: business as usual, pockets of innovation, and radical innovation on the fringe of the system. Most innovation is the simple continuous improvement of existing structures. For truly transformative innovation to take place, the authors believe that we need to move beyond  incremental or pockets of innovation.
 
When we look at the school system, the old and the transformative new are often expressed as clear-cut dichotomies.  These are the tensions we sometimes fail to acknowledge that exist. In order to sustain innovation and move to radical transformation, these frictions must be navigated.

Tensions in the Landscape
(adapted from Transformative Innovation in Education)

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You need to find the sweet spot where you “combine the best of both values.” This is the thinking of Charles Hampden-Turner, a systems theorist that believed “you can have your cake and eat it too. ”When we look at these tensions we often think either/or.  Sometimes we fail to recognize that two opposing systems can have great value in and of themselves.  There is inherent rigidity in the polarity that exists within organizations that are navigating change. “We need to think both/and. That requires a less familiar style of thinking—wrestling with dilemmas.”

Photo Credit: Today is a good day via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Today is a good day via Compfight cc

He generally describes the dilemma as an immovable “hard” rock value on one end and the irresistible force of the “soft” whirlpool on the other end.  The trick is not to hang on to one exclusively but to create a dilemma dance between them. In Transforming Education they describe it, “like tacking a sailing boat against the wind.” You may need to turn from one to the other in order to get to your destination. As you sail your boat or engage in the dance, however, you need to be mindful of five possible end points.

Stick to the rock and you become a dinosaur and die out. Stick to the whirlpool and you come a mythical unicorn. Compromise and you are like the ostrich with your head in the sand. Worse yet, “If you get stuck in the zone of conflict you end up as Dr. Doolittle’s push-me-pull-you.” The goal is to dance to the resolution space in order to soar like an eagle. This is the creative learning and development that happens “outside the box.”

Animals in Transformative Innovation jpeg
Whether the transformative innovation is changing the traditional report cards, implementing new cutting-edge curriculum, or shifting the inherent nature of teaching and learning—a strategic dance through the complexity of the layered dilemmas is required. The authors encourage educators to ask themselves: Who does this impact the most? What is the worst thing that can happen?  Wondering aloud together frees educators to think, feel and act differently in response to the apprehension associated with change. These are strategic conversations that help manage risk.

How can pragmatic visionaries avoid becoming permanently mired in the schism? In the book, the authors suggest avoiding the tension as a simple choice (yes/no) and treat it like a dilemma. To help wrestle with the tension ask the questions:

iStock_000032050524Small• What is the solid and unshakeable value in the current system?
• What is the core value central to the new system?
• Identify some typical compromises that sweep the tension between these values under the carpet.
• Articulate the tensions that can break out into conflict between the rock and the whirlpool.
• “Seek creative resolution:
a) What can the rock offer the whirlpool without compromise?
b) What can the whirlpool offer the rock without compromise?”

Engaging in a conversation about the dilemma between the rock (control and standards) and the whirlpool (freedom of choice) can ensure innovation is grounded in effective practice. Wrestling the tension using the dilemma of the dance metaphor allows us to ask the question: “What ideas do we have to get the very best of both worlds (values)?” Pragmatic visionaries recognize deep conflict and search for ways to navigate through the zones. Whether teaching in the classroom, leading in the schoolhouse or supporting through central office, transformative innovation in education requires us to do just that: this is where 1 + 1 = 3.

~ • • • • • • • ~

Note: Review of Transformative Innovation in Education: a playbook for pragmatic visionaries written by Graham Leicester, Denis Stewart, Keir Bloomer, and Jim Ewing. The authors write about the framework for transformative innovation they have used with schools in Scotland. Guiding educators and schools through thoughtful reflection and careful conversations has empowered these schools to engage in transformative innovation.

Igniting the Passion: Celebrating Our Learning

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“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation.”
Joshua Heschel

Celebration is a choice: we choose to appreciate and value something that we feel is significant. It is an opportunity we create to acknowledge, appreciate and extend gratitude for the good things that are being done in schools–by both students and teachers. We are fortunate to be in a district where we can engage in new learning and transform education to better meet the needs of our learners. A collective of 300 educators gathered together to mark the occasion.

What is it that we are doing well? How do others see us? We asked some people both inside and outside our district this question.  How might they describe our district or what does meant to be part of our district? Their responses can be found here:

During the evening we had several presenters share with us their passion through the form of five minute Ignite presentations. Participants were limited to 20  slides that automatically moved every 15 seconds . The purpose is expressed in the motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” We had the opportunity to learn from our peers and to engage in thoughtful conversations about our learning. Facilitators guided table groups around key questions that examined both our thinking on the presentation as well as how the topic might affect our future behaviour and teaching practice.  Thanks you to Robynn Thiessen, Sally Song, Shauna Nero, Antonio Vendramin, Karen Steffensen, and Jordan Tinney for sharing their passion. You can enjoy their live-streamed stories here.

We ended the evening with a video montage of students, teachers, administrators and out-of-district guests to help us with our celebration.

Author’s Note: Thank you to Helping Teachers @amboe_k, @shelagh09, @librarymall, @kowalyshyn, @ipadtestkitchen and Sarah Guilmant-Smith for planning and organizing the evening and supporting our projects. Thank you to Donna VanSant and Forrest Smith for their assistance with the videos.

 

Designers and Directors of Their Own Learning

 

“Collaborative inquiry that challenges thinking and practice involves people working together in meaningful ways to deepen understanding and challenges what they already know and do.”

S. Katz & L, A. Dack (2012)

iStock_000020925875XSmallWhat does it look like to engage in a journey to explore innovative learning as teachers and students? Chimney Hill Elementary school is an Innovative Learning Designs (ILD) project school. The ILD project started three years ago as a small pilot with 16 schools that were interested in exploring ways to transform student learning. Each school built its own proposal based on some guiding principles such as using formative assessment, collaborative inquiry, project based learning, etcetera. Teacher and student response to the project was overwhelmingly positive and so in Year 2 another 40 schools were added. Then, as additional funding became available, we worked to add yet more schools. The ILD project is now adding the last wave of elementary schools. By the end of the year, 101 elementary schools will be participants in this unique opportunity to transform student learning; Chimney Hill is just one of them.

The ILD projects are expressed differently in each school. One of the goals at Chimney Hill is to use technology to leverage learning in all areas of the curriculum and to increase student engagement. Their learning is tailored to the school context as they engage in collaborative inquiry around their learning questions. In all of the projects, teacher teams use a collaborative approach and authentic inquiry into student learning and teacher practice. Why? We recognize that this approach is regarded as the most effective form of professional development. “The evidence shows that effective professional learning (i.e. that which positively impacts on the learner and the teacher) consists of three basic features: enquiry; reflection and collaborative learning.” (see Harris & Jones).  All of the projects are designed with that understanding, leaving each community of educators to design their own priorities to anchor their learning.

How does a project like this reflect itself in student learning? Are teachers doing anything different? What does it look like at the school? As Principal Chris Baldry explains, “At Chimney Hill we seek to find sustainable ways to use technology to leverage student learning. Our intention is to use technology to transform student learning. Students are using technology to engage themselves in learning in ways that are unconventional, different.” The school has focused on cultivating an inquiry-based mindset where students design and are directors of their own learning.

Paul Langereis, the grade six teacher, has played a pivotal role in encouraging staff participation in the school’s journey. Together with his colleagues, they describe their learning travels:

Student learning has been amplified through the use of the project technology. Whether it is writing and responding to their learning through their blogs, skyping with authentic audiences around the world, or creating their own books, the students are deeply engaged in their learning.  While student engagement is important, the concept of focusing on creation rather than consumption is noticeable as well. Students are analyzing, evaluating, creating, and demonstrating their thinking through the use of technology. Blooms’ taxonomy is turned on its’ head as the thinking becomes both the entry point and primary purpose for learning.

The initial novelty of shiny, new technology fades as teachers begin to embrace the district focus on creation and digital storytelling. Chris Baldy describes it:  “Increasingly, iPads with creation apps such as Explain Everything, Book Creator, Coaches Eye, IMovie etc. are being used by classroom teachers. A grade 5/6 teacher recently used the app Explain Everything to demonstrate their knowledge of decimal fractions. Presentations ranged in time from 5 to 12 minutes.  Sometimes the diagrams and /or narratives of what the students were describing were rambling and unclear, other times they were very cogent. What was interesting watching them was one could see the metacognitive processes at work…Every day, students go to their teacher and ask, first of all, can they show their project and second, and most importantly, can they reopen their project so they can change something…. They realize mistakes have been made.” Self-evaluation, constant improvement, ongoing feedback, formative assessment and engagement are hallmarks of learning for these students.

Cord with knot.The Chimney Hill Innovative Learning Designs journey is two-fold: the teachers are reflecting together on their own practice while the students are engaging in deep learning. The two are in inextricably linked together.


Note from Paul Langereis: The movie  was made for the Surrey School District (SD36) to show how technology has changed students’ learning, and how teachers’ at this school have changed their instruction.  I would like to thank all the teachers, administrators, and students who helped this movie come together.  Without your help I would not have been able to take on this project.  I hope this movie provides viewers with a glimpse into what is happening at our school, and where we are going with the use of technology in the future.  Lastly, I would like to thank Kevin Amboe for this opportunity to showcase our school, and for providing me with a chance to challenge my editing skills!

Find out more about Paul Langereis at http://mrlclass.weebly.com