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


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.


Final from Willi - Distinguished_Program_Blk_1ln_sm


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



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.


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:
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)

Tensions in the Landscape 2a
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

“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

The Pilot: Communicating Student Learning

“The formative assessment process is lightning in a bottle. It costs nothing. You can put it to work for every grade level and every subject during every minute of every school day. This powerful learning process enhances the learning of those who are already excelling; jump starts and sustains learners who are smoldering with potential, and increases student achievement for all students.”            

 Moss & Brookhart, 2009

For a few weeks recently, news from our district was making a splash across local and national newspapers, radio and TV. Headlines (click on title to locate) read:

iStock_000034178866Small• Getting rid of letter grades? Pass or Fail
• B.C.’s Educational Reforms are running into Resistance
• Passing on Letter Grades: The Tradition or the Alternative?
• Dozens more Surrey Schools ‘scrapping’ letter grades.
• Surrey School District extends its ‘No Letter Grades’ program

Even our Superintendent, Jordan Tinney was featured on CBC National Radio (you can find it here). In response to the flood of attention, he also wrote a blog post on the topic: What do letter grades actually mean? (click here). Behind the scenes, what were the district, schools, and teachers doing?

As with most innovative projects in Surrey, an invitation was extended to interested elementary principals and teachers to participate in exploring more effective ways to communicate student learning. Volunteers were asked to consider if they were ready to engage in examining this notion. Participants were given some guidelines to judge whether or not their participation made sense with their current practice of teaching.  We were looking for teachers who were using Assessment for Learning practices, engaged in innovative teaching and learning, using performance standards and committed to the ongoing communication and involvement of their parents.

There were also some clear criteria for participation. The principals had to be willing to engage and support the pilot, there needed to be a parent communication plan (on-going, prior to reporting, at reporting time and post reporting) that would seek input and feedback from them. As well, teachers understood we were still required to use three formal reports and two informal reports as per the current regulation. We expected that in some schools, there might only be one or two teachers interested in volunteering for the pilot. If so, they were required to ensure that their process and their reporting times aligned with the rest of the school. The pilot teachers needed to be willing to develop and use an alternative template, to address all key areas of learning on the template (Literacy, Numeracy, Social Responsibility) and reflect the Core Competencies as they spoke to specific content areas (eg. critical thinking in Social Studies). We asked them to explore alternate ways of communicating achievement levels, to ensure documentation of student learning would be kept in the student file and to share their communication plan, implementation plan and template with the district. As a district, we would provide support (see slideshare below) through creating networking opportunities with other schools and assistance from District Helping Teachers.

When we extended this invitation in October we did not anticipate that five schools would jump into the opportunity for first term. David Brankin Elementary, George Vanier Elementary, Bear Creek Park Elementary, Sunrise Ridge Elementary and Rosemary Heights Elementary all rose to the occasion. In each of these schools, at least one teacher or a larger group (and in one case a whole school), began examining their assessment practices and thinking about the best way to provide parents, and their students, with meaningful feedback. As we prepare for a second term report, another twenty schools (again, not whole schools but at least one teacher at each school) volunteered to join the journey. As a district, we did not mandate a particular template or direct teachers in how the “report card” needed to be designed. We let teachers consider the possibilities using their professional expertise within the guidelines we provided. We felt that hands-on exploration would lead to some authentic, novel, and differentiated ways of viewing the challenge. We continued to focus on “the why;” the ultimate purpose for communicating student learning was to improve student learning. Finally, our intention was to provide our feedback to the Ministry of Education.

Each of the schools involved have developed very different ideas about what might work best for their parents. For some teachers, they completely redesigned the template to fit with the current changes in curriculum. Another school is exploring the question, “How might we provide parents with a digital window into their child’s learning?” using a beta Web 2.0 tool being co-developed with our freshgrade partners. And, another school is not altering the current standard district template but adding to it by providing parents with an additional report that includes students’ self-assessments, including their suggestions to their own parents about how their parents could better support their learning!

Permanent Marker with Check ListWhat can I tell you about the journey so far? As teachers recently shared at a meeting jam-packed with 90 educators: “this pilot gives us permission to do what we have already been doing,” “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity my whole career,” and “It has really turned our whole school focus on to what assessment for learning really looks like.” Confining student learning to a summary of a simple check box, and a few generic comments, is no longer the standard. Teachers are engaged in providing rich, descriptive feedback and students are developing ownership of their learning as they too add their own self-assessments. As a form of job-embedded professional development, it has teachers examining key questions about their practice in the context of what really matters for student learning. Our former Superintendent Mike McKay often challenged us, “When will what we know, change what we do?”  For us in Surrey, we continue to take up that challenge.

Author’s Note: The Elementary Communicating Student Pilot was designed by a committee of district staff, including: Karen Steffensen, Pat Horstead, and Christy Northway, all Area Superintendents, Karen Alvarez, District Principal of Early Learning and Literacy and myself. Thank you to all of them for their creative input into developing this pilot. It is still a work in progress. Thank you to Jordan Tinney, our Superintendent, for supporting this innovative adventure. Stay tuned as we share information about our Secondary Pilot soon.

The Curse of Eleven: Getting our Homework Done

Peek a boo
Tag. I’m it. Worst yet—I’ve succumbed to the dreaded virtual chain letter. I’m late to the party so I am hoping there will be no curse that lands on my family and me if I haven’t completed this on time. The rules: Tell 11 interesting facts about yourself and respond to 11 questions posted by your PLN friend (mine are from Sheila Morissette—are they still your friend if they tag you?) and tag 11 “friends” with new questions.

Eleven Interesting Facts about Me:

1. I grew up in Nelson, B.C.

2. We have a tradition for the letter “E”. My parent’s names were Ernie and Esme (Underhill). My brothers and sisters are: Elena, Eldon, Eve, Erik, Elyn, and me (Elisa). My husband goes by the name John but his first name is Erland. His dad’s name was Erland and his mom’s name was Emma. Our children all have “E” names: Elliott, Ethan, Elijah and Ellis.

3. I killed a bear. Really. Not quite with my own hands. Almost. The car killed the bear.

4. The best birthday present ever: My oldest son was born on my birthday.

5. I did grade 4 and 5 in one year.

6. When we were touring Rome we were robbed of all of our possessions, everything but what we were wearing.

7. I love Eggs Benedict. And, I am particularly fond of breakfast. Period.

8. I have a weakness for popcorn popped in a real pot on the stove. With butter. And salt. Several times a week. Really. I am going to take a break and make it right now.

9. I cut the hair of all the males in my house. Except for my husband. He has some standards.

10. I had to canoe across a moonlit lake to dig up a treasure chest hidden on the beach; it contained my engagement ring.

11. Sometimes I like to do fun and crazy things and try to get others to do them with me. Life is too short to be boring. We need to live a little outrageously every now and again.

The Eleven Questions Given to Me:

1.What are you reading now?

Like right now? This v•e•r•y moment? Like one thing? That thought makes me panic. I am never truly reading just one thing. I have just finished Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge by Henry Cloud. The book really gave me an opportunity to reflect on my own practice and things that I wasn’t doing well and needed to do differently. I have just cracked the cover to Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail by Larry Osborne and I am re-reading (because I didn’t learn enough the first time) 8 Things We Hate About I.T.: How to Move Beyond the Frustrations to Form a New Partnership with IT written by Chief Technology Officer Susan Cramm. Her book is written for people like me to help us understand IT in organizations. In between those books, I am reading Sunday Brunch: Simple, Delicious Recipes for Leisurely Mornings (see number 7 above). Oh, and I sometimes read books recommended by my children ages 7, 10 15, and 17.  Should I stop now?

2. How do you stay current in your field?

I read books (see above). I talk to people. I attend conferences. I visit schools. I hunt down important topics on the Internet. I follow the blogs of thought-leaders. Sometimes I make my way to Chapters, Trinity Western University, UBC or Regent College bookstores to check out the lastest books attached to course syllabi in areas of interest. I most recently stopped at the Seattle Pacific University bookstore and snapped up Nancy Duarte’s Resonate.

3. Are you a camper or a hotel person? (Sheila Morissette loves camping.)


If there is a rattlesnake, I will find it.

If there is a rattlesnake, I will find it.

Camping? Is that what you do in a tent with four boys for every year of your married life? Is that what I did with my parents for every year while I lived at home? I can’t actually say I love camping but I do love adventure travel. If it requires a tent, and the adventure is worth it, I will take it on. I’ve camped across Canada to Newfoundland and back via the U.S. I’ve camped thirty consecutive days to the tip of the Baja Peninsula pitching tents on the best beaches around. I have tented the Grand Circle Route and seen sunrise and sunset painted in the skies. I have camped B.C.’s best: canoeing the Bowron Lake Chain, hiking the West Coast Trail, kayaking the Broken Group Islands, and running the Juan de Fuca Marina Trail solo. In between, we have explored many State, Provincial and National Parks as well. Hotels? I will do that too. In fact, sometimes I put my foot down and insist on it. Too many times camping, practically stepping on a rattlesnake in the desert, and I am ready for a real bed, crisp sheets, and walls between the outside world and me.

4.  What is the next conference you plan to attend?

I will be at the 4th Annual Summit on Education Technology for K-12 Schools, Universities and Colleges in Toronto.  I am presenting this session: Surrey School District: Create a Radical Social Movement to Shift Pedagogy and Deepen Learning with Technology.

5. What excites you about the New Year ahead?

Saying “No” to some things so that I can focus on the work that truly matters. “No” means “Yes” to other important priorities.

6.  Who introduced you to twitter and blogging?

I think it was Orwell Kowalyshyn (@kowalyshyn), our District’s Information Media Literacy Helping Teacher, who introduced me to the topic, Chris Kennedy (@chrkennedy), Superintendent of West Vancouver, helped me to see it in a leadership context and Dan Turner (@dj_turner), CIO for Surrey, who almost called me a hypocrite for having technology in my portfolio and no first hand experience with social media. Finally, my ah-ha moment came when Heidi Gable (@HGG), a consultant for our district, installed Tweetdeck on my laptop and explained the all-powerful use of #hashtags.

7.  Who would you most like to have dinner with?

My husband.

8. What inspires you?

Beauty, design, that which is unique, carefully crafted words, and crazy ideas.

Relax on a beach, anywhere.

Relax on a beach, anywhere.

9.  What do you do to relax?

A simple candle lit bath is good, a hard run on a trail, biking out River Road but, truly, a trip to a fantastic beach, some brilliant sun and a chance to do completely nothing is the absolute ticket.


10. Name a couple of bloggers who inspire you.

I find the stories from many, many of our own school district (#sd36learn) educators particularly inspiring because they are putting ideas into action (Think about the many new Learning Commons websites, genius hour applications, and inquiry-based learning).

11. What are you working on that excites you?

Transforming education. Creating a culture of innovation. Shifting teacher practice. Creating space for teachers to learn from each other. Providing opportunity for students to be engaged deeply in their learning.

Phew! I am done. And now I pass the virtual homework challenge on to my colleagues and possible “friends”. Tag—you are it!

Lisa Domeier de Suarez, T-L and IML Helping Teacher, @librarymall
Chris Hunter, Numeracy Helping Teacher, @chrishunter36
Kevin Amboe, IML Helping Teacher, @amboe_k
Chris Walton, LST Helping Teacher, @ipadtestkitchen
JB Mahli, SS Helping Teacher, @JB_Mahli
Hugh McDonald, elementary teacher, @hughtheteacher
Sheila Hammond, Principal, @sgmhammond
Karen Steffensen, Assistant Superintendent, @kstef2
Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, @jordantinney
Dan Turner, Chief Information Officer, @dj_turner
Brian Kuhn, Chief Information Officer, @bkuhn

No curses provided (although we may no longer be “friends”). See your super-challenging, thought-provoking and provocative questions below:

Your Homework–The Eleven New Questions:

1. What is your favorite piece of music and why?
2. What would your ideal gourmet dinner be?
3. Who are the three people that have mentored, coached or encouraged you the most throughout your career and how have they done so?
4. What do you prefer to do in your leisure time? (choose three)
5. Name your favorite fiction and non-fiction book. Why?
6. Who challenges (helps you to be better at what you do) you the most in your work? Elaborate.
7. If you could choose a colour that best described your personality, what would it be? Explain.
8. What drives you crazy?
9. If you could change one thing in the education system, what would it be?
10. What was the most important thing you will do today (work-related)? What is the most important thing you will do tomorrow (work-related)?
11. What part of your work are you most passionate about? Why?

My Top Three List for 2013 (with Apologies to Chris Kennedy)

Linus: ‘I guess it’s wrong to be worried about tomorrow, maybe we should only worry about today?’

Charlie Brown: ‘No, that’s giving up: I’m hoping that yesterday will get better!’

    Charles Schultz

I am inspired, yet again, by Chris Kennedy who leads the way with the Culture of Yes post wrapping up the “Top 3” for 2013 (click here). This is his tradition and he has blogged about this annually in 2012, 2011, and 2010.  He is a wonderful writer, brilliant thinker and inspiring leader. I tried to follow in his footsteps last year but wandered off the trail. You can see this in my own “Top 3” post last year (read here).  So here I am again trying to do some sort of penance, searching for some answers, scrambling for the profound in the midst of the profane.

My Top 3 Blog Posts:

Once I remembered my password (oh, my sorely neglected blog), I was able to log in and to check out my most popular posts from this past year. There weren’t a lot of posts to choose from but these three had a few more hits (nothing viral to jump up and down about):

1. Transforming Education: Creating a Radical Social Movement (transcript of my ConnectEd Calgary keynote provided here) .
2. Guiding Principles: What do we believe? (the foundation for our work described here)
3. Getting Under Your Skin: a review of Seth Godin’s book

Three Good Ideas That Spread Across our District:

1. Genius Hour: Time given to students to explore their own passions and share them with others that begins a transformational learning journey for students and teachers. When will Denise, Gallit and Joy publish their book?
2. Kiva: Classrooms are micro lending as little as $25 around the world to help alleviate poverty. This is an authentic opportunity for students to learn about personal and social responsibility. Thanks to @plugusin for getting us started.
3. Innovation Week: Inspired by Jesse McLean (@jmclean77) from Parkland School Division in Alberta, other schools and classrooms are beginning to try this concept in our own backyard (see Fraser Heights story).

Three New Promising Pilots:

1. Communicating Student Learning: Interested teachers across the district are engaged in creating an alternative to the standard reporting process and template (might just be my next blog post). Sample templates and resources were shared via the #sd36learn hashtag and internally through our site.
2. Assessment Empowering Learners: Team leaders from eight schools being trained in deep formative assessment practices and facilitating inquiry groups at their own schools. The model developed is based on Dylan William’s work and includes a digital component connected to @freshgrade.
3. Tech4Learning: Existing school inquiry plans are examined to see how learning can be digitally enhanced to ensure the most effective use of technology for student learning. Only schools with substandard technology are eligible. As well, school teams respond to the question: How does your plan connect to the new B.C. Ministry of Education curriculum transformation and assessment document?

Three Great Books:

Books I am trying to read, should read, have started, half way through, want to finish, or have definitely finished:
1. Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Professional Practice (recommended by Assistant Superintendent Karen Steffensen (@kstef2)).
2. Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge (the word “boundaries” grabbed me but now the content has me reading it with my pink highlighter in hand—I have much to learn here).
3. Embedded Formative Assessment (being read by many, many teachers in our district). 

Things I Read that Mattered:

I was actually tired of the same old, same old leadership “stuff.” Instead, I nourished my soul by reading the newly translated 2 million Korean bestseller, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. I escaped into literature to find some normal in the midst of what sometimes seemed an abnormal world. Reading kept me focused and gave me a place to hide (see next list). I love the well-placed word. 

Three Things I Didn’t Want to Know and I Am Not Going to Talk About:

1. The Untidy Business of Dying
2. The Slow Death March of Alzheimer’s Disease (my dad)
3. The Crippling Impact of Parkinson’s Disease (my mom)

Events that Challenged by Thinking:

1. Calgary ConnectEd Conference: Calgary was all about the brilliant transformative teaching demonstrated at the Calgary Science School and the cadre of radical educators determined to change their classrooms, their schools and, ultimately, the education world.  Relationships, connection, deep learning and fun—it was all found there.
2. IBM Executive Briefing: At the IBM conference I had a chance to get away (I needed it—see above list) and I found out about the “Treasure Wild Ducks” concept.  If IBM can do it; so can we. I am a wild duck and when treasured I do my best work (see post here).
3. Visit to Mooresville, North Carolina (ISTE award winning district):  Mooresville is described as the “best” school district in America (see here). North Carolina was an unexpected surprise; I learn so much from going other places–it informs my practice, challenges my thinking, and pushes me to do better work.  It was a privilege to be able to talk to district leaders, visit schools, ask principals questions, and peek into classrooms. I came back motivated to be much more aggressive about the work I do.  I began asking myself the questions: What truly is transformative learning? How do we define it? If we have district priorities, do we see evidence of them in individual classrooms? How can we support exponential, rather than incremental, change? Where can we take more risk? How can we best design strategies to create a domino effect? Where is the tipping point?

Tech-Related Projects that were Fun:

1. There’s An App for That!: Read the news article to see how we are changing the way we communicate with parents. It was fascinating to participate in the development of the SchoolLink app and see how business companies work in moving from idea to product. You can find it in the iTunes store (check it out here)
2. Connecting Staff: Giving feedback on the visual redesign of Version 2 (Sharepoint 2013 upgrade). Design is an area of personal interest and having the opportunity to provide input to make something more attractive was fascinating. The new look and functionality launches at the end of January.
3. An Unusual Partnership: Collaborating with @freshgrade to see if there is a way to capture snapshots of learning and provide descriptive feedback in digital form. Speaking as a mother of four boys in school: When will I as a parent be able to have a 24/7 window into my child’s learning? 

Provocative Quotes that Need Action:

1. “What if we just jumped off the cliff and no longer bought textbooks?” queried Jordan Tinney, the new Superintendent of Surrey Schools who blogs here.
2. “We need moonshot thinking,” explained Orwell Kowalyshyn, Information & Media Literacy Helping Teacher in Surrey Schools on the process of moving from incremental to exponential system change.
3.  “Are we looking for a killer app or do we have a killer pedagogy?” adapted from a conversation with David Vandergugten, Director of Instruction with the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows School District.

Ricocheting in my Brain:

1. Priorities: “Before you try to come up with ways to stretch the clock and make more time, it’s important to figure out if the time you already have is being used to its greatest potential—that is, are you doing the right work?” Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack.
2. Technology Technical Support: “Teachers teach: IT makes tech invisible. That’s how the magic happens.”
3. Relationships: “The greatest tool we have at our disposal is the power of conversation.” Peter Shaw

My Disappointments:

1. ConnectEDBC– The Aspen/Follett System (am I allowed to say that?)
2. Content Management Systems
3. Learning Platforms
Instead of The Race to the Top it is The Race for the Best Digital Platform. Most of these, however, are focused on traditional learning, recording of data and reporting out. They do not seem to match up with the B. C. Ministry of Education’s new transformational curriculum.  Sigh.

Not Much of a Top Three, Is it?

There is a time for everything. 
I think 2013 was my worst year ever. Finding a Top 3 was a struggle. I am reminded of this timeless passage from Ecclesiates:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

The good news is that 2014 is on the horizon. I am ready. Look out. 

Next year will be better—I know it.

It will be a time to dance.