Category Archives: Inquiry

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.

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.

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.

 

The Pilot: Communicating Student Learning

Lightning
“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.

James Ardiel Elementary: Our ILD Journey


Guest Post
:
Thank you to Iram Khan, the Vice-Principal at James Ardiel Elementary school for sharing their school’s Innovative Learning Designs journey.

James Ardiel had an eye opening and inspiring year. At the end of the last school year we were ecstatic to hear that we were one of the Surrey schools who were successful at a proposal for an Innovative Learning Design (ILD) Grant. Our principal and a few staff members proposed that we would work on the following question: How can the use of digital technology assist students designated with special needs in their attitude/engagement in learning and their academic achievement?

As we were putting in our order for the new school year, I have to admit our excitement moved towards all the iPads were going to get. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on all those babies!

At first it was all about the technology pieces, the iPads, projectors and wifi. I myself entered a huge learning curve of being thrown into the steps involved in the technicalities of maintenance, tracking and distribution. In particular, the lists of recommended apps were thrown at us from everywhere; all the possibilities were overwhelming.

Right from the beginning we were advised to be thoughtful about the apps that we bought. We struggled with the excitement, and installed apps that sounded great. Eventually, though, we agreed that if the app did not help with creating, collaborating, communicating, or developing critical thinking skills we would think twice about uploading it… Even if it was free!

Then, something magical happened. Because of the nature of the technology and the inspiring professional development the district provided, we were able to just let go and our students stepped up to the challenge. We could feel that our students understood the importance and the privilege they were being given… that this was not “normal”. They did not want to disappoint, they wanted to prove to us that we made the right decision to let go. Believe me, this was a really difficult thing for us to do especially since a Kindergarten class was involved. What if they break something, what if they mess it up, what if they are silly and get off task, what if they behave inappropriately online? The more I heard and stated “student led learning… it’s all about the students”, it became a mantra. Everything our tech team decided on came from this philosophy.

We were there to facilitate 21st century learning and it was exhilarating for our students and us. Some highlights were students participating in project based learning, genius hour, blogging, class websites and mystery Skype.

Another indirect result of the ILD grant was collaboration. The grant encouraged us to collaborate with other staff members and students. Teachers directly involved with the grant offered assistance to those who wanted to introduce the new technologies to their classes. Students collaborated with each other and reached out to other students beyond their fellow classmates. Students and teachers reached out to experts around to world to help them in their learning. The library became a “learning commons”.

Which brings us to the ILD grant celebration project. Of course, the tech team teachers could not do it… we handed it over to our students to show us how the ILD grant changed their learning this year. Plus, they knew how to use the creative apps better than us!

A small group of girls were chosen to produce the iMovie below. They took pride in what they were doing, and understood how important it was. As I made myself a fly on the wall, I heard them discussing criteria for students that would be able to speak on behalf of the school, what parts to cut out of people’s responses, what the audience would like to hear, etc. One questions in particular I loved was; “Well you know everyone thinks he’s cute, but all he is talking about is Angry Birds and Star Wars. What does that have to do with school and how the grant changed his learning?”

Here was critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity all working together! This project was just one example of the many that occurred throughout the year. So, did the use of digital technology assist students designated with special needs in their attitude/engagement in learning and their academic achievement? YES, but it clearly went beyond this group of students!

It has been an amazing year due to the ILD grant. It definitely has been a catalyst for all of us to reflect on the way we teach and the way students’ learn. We can’t wait for the next school year, when we can just hit the ground running.

Enjoy our iMovie!

 

Guiding Principles: What do we believe?

What do we believe? We have some guiding principles that have anchored our digital learning journey as a district. Our vision has grown and is best represented through our Digital Learning Principles. Below is a short form of the “baker’s dozen,” a series of  belief statements that guide our work. These principles, outlined in the district strategic technology plan, grew over time. The principles are grounded in research about good teaching and learning.

1. Begin with a learning plan
We abolished the district’s traditional hardware replacement strategy and replaced it with a learning-centered strategy. Schools have to provide a forward-thinking, smart learning plan through an application process to ensure schools have the commitment and readiness to move learning and teaching forward in their schools. No grounded plan means no hardware.

2. The learning plan anchored in twenty-first century pedagogy
Key priorities for learning are identified at the outset: authentic learning tasks, descriptive feedback, inquiry learning, differentiated instruction, critical thinking skills, virtual and face-to-face collaboration, student voice and choice, and technology as a tool. The impact on transforming pedagogy? “It has totally revolutionized how I teach. I am not at the centre. The kids are at the centre,” explains Anne-Marie Middleton, Grade 7 Teacher at Hillcrest Elementary.

3. Action grounded in collaborative inquiry
Each application is team-focused and anchored in a job-embedded model of collaborative inquiry. Teams of teachers are engaged in studying meaningful questions about student learning and their own practice. Teachers own their own learning.

4. Evidence of student learning required
The district expects schools to share their organizational and individual learning and that of their students. Participants are required to report out using a flexible template to tell their story of learning.  These digital stories provide the inspiration, advice and resources for other schools also embarking on a digital learning journey.

5. Learning focus for all
While students are at the centre of our raison d’etre, we recognize that in organizations everyone is a learner and that we are all co-learners together: students, teachers, support staff, and administrators can equally share in the learning journey.

6. Empower teacher exploration months before student deployment
Teachers need time to experiment and play. Teachers need time to learn. We provide both devices and opportunity for staff development. Foundational idea: “Professional development is the hallmark of every successful technology implementation,” outlined in  the report commissioned by the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training.

 7. Teacher-led, teacher-driven and centralized to the school house
The district is not dictating the direction. Schools, and teachers, decide their learning needs based on their school context. The result and our experience, we have gone from push to pull.  As educator Fraser Speirs declares: “I am no longer pushing technology at teachers. They are demanding this technology in their classrooms.”

8. Linking staff development opportunities across the system
Many educators are involved in two-year inquiry projects which include release time as well as a commitment to on-going learning with colleagues at their schools. Educators also have the opportunity to attend an inspiring dinner series with thought leaders in the field of educational technology, as well as after school workshops on topics as diverse as digital storytelling and moviemaking. In all cases, we focus on the learning, and not the tool.

9. Transformative practice shared and promoted via social media
We created our own hashtag: #sd36learn. We promote it and encourage the educators to keep the focus on learning, best practice, sharing resources and building connections. We acknowledge the words of Daniel Pink on the power of social media: “…the deepest, most enduring impact of social media might be on learning.”

10. Intentionally encouraging a radical social movement
Our goal is transforming education. Our diffusion strategy is creating networks of educators committed to creating the best learning conditions for students. As educators take risks, explore, experiment and play with their practice, we want to support their efforts. Creating a tipping point is key: “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior… you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured,”  underscores Malcolm Gladwell.

11. Multiple projects/people supporting the same ideals all across district
We intentionally create a culture of innovation in practice by seeding pockets of innovation all across the district. Whether it is an Innovative Learning Designs project, a Learning Commons transformation, Making Thinking Visible, Out of Their Heads or a SS11 e-text initiative, they are all opportunities to focus teachers on shifting pedagogy to better embrace the ideals of curriculum transformation.

12. Mobile learning + the new electricity
Based on the key trends identified in The Horizons Report, we made a decision to focus on mobile devices. That decision meant that providing a quality wireless solution together with upgrading Internet links were top priorities for all our schools. We want to create opportunities for students to learn on any device, anytime, anywhere.

13. Education requirements leading technological shifts
Whatever technological changes are taking place around the world, we know the needs of learning should set direction for how technology is provided. All technology decisions are to be made in service of the needs of learners and educators.

Thanks to the many educators in our Innovative Learning Designs projects that contributed to our learning. Thanks as well to the members of the three focus groups that responded to our questions as we explored ideas such as: what works well, what needs improvement, where to next? Your insights enable us to move forward on the continuous improvement journey. The guiding principles themselves were developed and refined by a team: Helping Teachers Orwell Kowalyshyn (@kowalyshyn), Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), Lisa Domeier (@librarymall), IT Director Dan Turner (@dj_turner) and myself.

The Story of a School


Guest Post: Jas Kooner, teacher at Woodward Hill Elementary, provides this article. She tells the story of her school and shares the video that premiered at the Engaging the Digital Learner Series. With repeated requests for the video, you can now read their story and watch the video here.

Woodward Hill Elementary is an ordinary school with some typical students learning in some extraordinary ways.  As you walk the hallways, you will find students engaged in audiobooks, writing on blogs, communicating with other classrooms around the world using Skype or Google Hangout and sharing their learning using a variety of ways, whether it is a live drama skit or a Comic Life creation.  Students and teachers are engaged and using the tools they need to further their learning.

It has been a quite the journey to get to here. This journey began before the school was even built.   A lot of thought and discussion went into developing a vision for the school.  Our staff was very pro-active in having input into decisions that were being made by all of the people involved in the construction and furnishing stages of opening a new school.  For example, electrical outlets were placed in the ceilings for LCD projectors and conduit for the wiring in the walls. Classrooms were equipped with large speakers in the ceilings to enhance sound. The PAC contributed by entering the Keg’s Thanks a Million contest and winning $25 0000 to purchase a set of iPads for the school.  Using new technology was part of the vision established for the school.

Once the school opened, there was a steep learning curve for everyone. To be provided with the opportunity to use technology was one thing but to know how to use it was another.  Teachers had to learn independently and with their colleagues how to best use SmartBoards and iPads in their curriculum.  Teachers had to mentor and share their learning with each other.  Everyone soon realized that daily teaching activities were easier because of technology such as the document camera and speakers in the ceiling of each classroom.  Even teachers who were wary of using computers and iPads found the document camera to be an essential part of every day.  Slowly, technology began to transform teaching and learning at Woodward Hill Elementary.

Now, technology is being used as a tool where it fits in naturally for teachers and students. Differentiating learning is made much easier using technology. If a student has difficulty reading content area text, they are using audiobooks.  If a student has difficulty showing their learning by writing their thoughts, they are given the opportunity to use DragonSpeak, or Educreations or any number of other tools where they can share their understanding visually.  Learning Support Teachers (LST) have a set of 10 iPads in their room that kids who need support use without prompting even if it is not their LST designated time.  This puts students in the driver’s seat of their own learning.  They use the tools that help them learn best.

Students who would traditionally have difficulty organizing their work and space seem to thrive using technology.  They can save their work to DropBox in specific folders and find it easily.  Many students with a lack of fine motor skills use technology because they can take pride in the neat and tidy appearance of their work.  This, in turn, boosts their self-confidence as learners and they can see themselves as “successful.”

All of this has happened slowly over time and it is still happening because each teacher is in a different place in his or her own learning. Actually, it has happened in such a way that teachers don’t think that what they are doing is anything special.  We decided we needed to document the journey that our school had been on in a video in order to share our learning with each other and our parent community.  Creating this video was a very eye opening experience.  We had to ask staff to share with us what they were doing in their classrooms and at first there was hardly anybody willing to share.  Everyone thought that what they were doing was very ordinary and not worth sharing.  However, as we stepped into different classrooms to take photos or videos, we were struck by how many teachers were using technology to enhance their students’ learning and how many different ways technology was being used.  As we took video and photos we realized we had more material than we could fit into one video.  We needed to put the pieces of the puzzle together to tell a story, our school story, bringing out some common themes.

Once we had a rough copy of the video we shared it with first a small group and then the staff for the purpose of editing it, so that people could point out spelling mistakes and give input into making it better.  Instead what ended up happening was that everyone wanted to talk about what was happening in the classrooms and share ideas. Sharing the video made for a rich conversation. We learned that conversations about what we do, and sharing, even if we think it’s ordinary can be powerful, like it is here, where we share our school story:


Postscript from Elisa Carlson:  Special thanks to the whole staff who contributed to the video and to Anne Mackie, Principal, for her visionary leadership. Anne reflects… “It has been such a gift to be able to start a new school like this……and then have a year like we have had where the staff are happy, the parents are happy and the students are happy and successful……I think we all feel that we are part of something special.” We wish her all the best as she wraps up her year, her career and forges ahead on her new learning journey. Thanks to the staff, to Jas and Anne, for sharing their story.

High Tech High: A Visual Feast, An Inquiry Journey, A Relational World


Some of the best professional development we can ever do is to visit other schools, classrooms, and teachers. We can do this in our own district and in our own region. Sometimes we are also fortunate to be able to do it further afield. The Kwantlen Park Secondary principal, Rick Breen, and Inter-A teachers, Melanie Skelin and Anthony Jay, joined me to visit two High Tech High (HTH) Schools in San Diego. The tour was a fascinating look at the school, student learning, teacher pedagogy and the principles providing the foundation. There were many things I learned (I could easily write a second post); however, I will touch on five themes here.

1. Learning is a visual feast.

Even the alcove into the washroom is a display space

Everywhere you looked, evidence of student learning was on display. Hallways and classrooms were an explosion of projects, books, models, posters, banners, sculptures, collages, photos and more.  Displays of student work provided a visual feast and a window into the learning. Assignments were accompanied with either an artist’s note or an explanation and the requirements of the project itself. I felt like I had been transported into an art school. I was reliving my own childhood growing up in Nelson, B.C. and following my dad around the Kootenay School of Art where he taught art classes and managed an art gallery. It touched me at the core of my being in a way that only art can. For me, the projects themselves were fascinating and powerful because the visual element was woven into the work. The school felt like it was alive and pulsating with learning.

2. Learning is inquiry-based.

In the elementary school, essential questions were visible on classroom doors, hallway windows and posted beside bulletin boards. The focus of student learning was clear. These questions were woven together by the students in the context of the learning objectives.

Projects are explained and exhibited

Excerpt of student work on exhibit

At the secondary school, we asked, “What’s the curriculum?” The response, “It’s taking risks.” Teachers focus on getting students to be in shape to be learners and to be curious. “Students are motivated because they choose their own path. We ask what they want to know, and what they already know. We are not crushing their souls and their creativity. With project based learning students are very invested in their work and their work becomes a labour of love,” is how Rachel Nichols, a HTH teacher, described the student engagement.

The teacher commitment to project based learning is substantial. New teachers attend a boot camp where they learn about the model and how to collaborate with other staff. They think about projects they might want to try with their students and share their ideas with other staff to find out which teachers might want to team together on the project with them. Teachers meet every week so they can turn their teaching, the learning and the projects on a dime. It’s a culture where everyone is coached and/or coaching someone else. “It is a lot of work to do PBL and make learning more interesting. We are a really committed staff that are passionate about learning.”

3. Learning is relational.

“There is one thing that makes or breaks education for kids, it’s teachers,” declared Jennifer, the HTH Biology Teacher.  The teachers all have advisory groups and they keep the same students for the life of their time at HTH. Some advisory groups meet once a week and others twice a week. There is no typical advisory group. They all are a reflection of the teacher. In some, the grade 12 students lead them. In others, the focus can be on an academic check-in. “We are adhoc parents. Sometimes we know them better than their parents.” And teachers are not just connected to those in their advisory groups. The nature of student learning and the work students produce can be potent, particularly with writing assignments in English. Rachel, an English teacher, stated that, “The intimacy with faculty and students is intense.”

4. Learning is community-based.

The school is committed to creating learning opportunities connected to the community. One of HTH’s guiding principles is to have an Adult World Connection. Projects are authentic, real and deliverable.  Students are involved in internships, field studies and community projects. Visiting professionals contribute to the classroom learning and mentoring relationships are often established with outsiders. When we visited, students were working with a scientist from a local university to collect biological specimens from their home. What were they examining? How is urbanization affecting pollinization in San Diego? All students in grade 12 go out for a six-week internship in their senior year. Prior to the internship they attend workshops to prep, learn about resumes, and even how to shake hands. The internship is the time to do an authentic project on behalf of the hosting organization. The seniors will do a summative presentation at the end of the internship at the intern site itself and other students come to watch. The seniors frequently give presentations to outside audiences and their peers.

 5. Teachers are deeply engaged in their learning.

Foundational beliefs posted on school walls

“I am driven by the very fact that I can do anything I am interested in. Teach to your passions and take risks. I learn 100 times more than the students. It is exhilarating and exhausting here. Somehow keeping the balance is the challenge,” explained Rachel Nichol. When someone asked about burnout, she replied, “I wouldn’t call it burnout here because it is so exciting. People could do a better job of home/life balance but burnout means being bored. We aren’t bored. Like marathoners we need stamina.”

Real projects, real books, on display

When we were touring the school, we were invited to ask questions of any students or staff. I was curious how a student might describe his experience. I interviewed Spencer, one of our gracious student guides, and asked him what three things he liked best about High Tech High. He didn’t hesitate in his response. Most important for him was his relationship with his teachers. Second, the ability to be creative with his schoolwork was key. Third, he loved the ability to choose the work. Spencer was deeply invested in the school, clearly thriving in the environment and finding joy in learning. And truly, isn’t that what we want for all students?

Thank you to the Kwantlen staff for joining me on this venture. Thanks as well to the High Tech High teachers and students for opening their doors to us and providing us a window into their learning.