Category Archives: personalized learning

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!


We are just scratching the surface: Panorama Park

Guest Post: Lucky Kalair, Grade 6/7 Teacher at Panorama Park Elementary

Panorama Park’s Innovative Learning Design Story: A continuing journey of reflecting and sharing….
we are just scratching the surface.


Context: School with a population of 350 students, high ELL
Prior to ILD:
• slow wireless connection, limited experience with iPads, only a couple of DocCams, no ATV, MacBooks…

Post ILD: updated wireless connection, 40 iPads, updated MacBook cart,
5 ATVs, majority of classrooms have DocCams,…

Inquiry Question: How will focusing on digital storytelling and the implementation of WEB 2.0 tools increase student engagement and increase student communication skills?

As a result of the ILD project, the teaching practices of teachers have changed and enabled us to focus on student-directed learning. The ILD project has promoted greater reflecting, sharing, and co-learning with our students; we have focused on creating learning environments that are student centered with learning as the focus.  The technology has complemented the learning piece and has helped to increase student engagement and increase student communication skills.

Some of the things that happened at our school as a result of the ILD project include:

1. Transformative teaching/learning
• reflecting, questioning, sharing, exploring, experimenting, designing, and creating–>we are all learners–> co-learners
• moving from paper/pencil–>multimedia – voice, sound, visuals
• inquiry based –>uncovering curriculum–>more content choice-
• scaffolding and modelling thinking/learning–>adjusting our teaching/learning
• focusing on the process of learning
• engaged learners – student centered learning environment
• making thinking visible –>technology complements the learning
• empowering students–>greater student choice/voice/input
• partnership with students – reciprocal teaching – third space

2. Connecting/Collaborating/Sharing: Co-learning/Connecting with  students
• Digital Storytelling – iMovie trailers, KeyNote, PowerPoint, Book Creator, Popplet, Puppet Pals, ….
• WEB 2.0 Tools – Weebly – student web pages, teacher web pages, blogging, Glogster, Kidblog, iPadlet, Today’s Meet, Prezi, Skype, Twitter, PLN, publishing work on YouTube
• reflecting using blogging
• shift in learning/teaching–>student centered – they own their learning
• becoming co-creators, co-designers, co-architects of learning
• exploring ePorfolios –>documenting progression of learning
• presenting/sharing…communicating

3. Focus on: Differentiated Learning
• more voice/choice to represent learning – visuals, pictures, recording voice
• greater student ownership–>greater student motivation
• power of choice = students working at their level
• empowering students – building self-confidence

4. Personalized Learning: (‘How to use technology to enhance and magnify learning…’ – Neil Stephenson)
• increases student motivation and accountabiity
• how students want to learn, what they want to learn, how they represent their learning, how they share their learning
• Genius Hour, iMovie trailers…learning is relevant and meaningful and the technology piece complements the learning
• more content choice –>caliber of work improves–>shift in learning

5.  Assessment for Learning – AFL
•embedded in the learning process –>ePortfolios – the process of learning
•giving students opportunities to share and create using multiple options
•reflecting, self-reflections, peer feedback…blogging, collaborating, and discussing summative assessment …ePortfolios=progression of learning
• student-teacher conferences/presentations

6. ILD Team:
• blogs for reflecting/sharing —>3 teachers
• Twitter – #sd36learn #panopanthers –> 5 team members contributing
• share at staff mtgs, ILD mtgs – informal/formal, assemblies, pro-d

7. Next Year:
• building student ePortfolios – exploring Evernote, Google Docs,..
• Skype projects, global connections,…
• Blogging – Weebly/Kidblog •expanding Twitter PLN •staff mentoring
• student tech leaders as mentors for staff
• pro-d  •visiting other classes/schools   •PBL ….authentic learning
• conferencing/sharing with other classrooms/schools

8. Other Highlights and accomplishments in our first year of ILD:
• focusing on digital storytelling including: creating, designing, and sharing
• buddy activities
• students planning and discussing – reflecting, questioning, and exploring
• using manipulatives and technololgy
• Glogster – multiple options for sharing learning
• Genius Hour – Inquiry Learning – Wonder Qs – choice and voice
• creating iMovie Trailers – composing and sharing
• using Web 2.0 to collaborate ideas and content
• peers learning from peers – excited to explore blogging to represent their thinking and learning
• communicating with parents and peers – creating class and student web pages
• enhancing learning with Prezi
• students, teachers, and parents collaborating
• representing learning in a variety of ways
• brainstorming on Padlet
• participating in a Webinar – building, discussing, and creating together
• Skyping about careers
• using critical thinking skills
• creating simple digital portfolios using Weebly, exploring Kidblog
• self-reflection and self-assessment….peer feedback
• empowering students – learning together
• building confidence and self-esteem
• providing instant, descriptive, and specific feedback
• Many of our students would ask:
     • When can we start the next Genius Hour project?
     • Could we stay in at recess to finish our work?
     • Could I do an extra project?
     • Could we use the iPad or MacBook?
     • Could we make an iMovie trailer? Keynote?

During our first Webinar/Skype activity on careers, many grade seven students stayed in at recess to continue working on this activity. During LST, students were excited and motivated to track their reading speed. Students are asking about when can they blog next, excited about providing/receiving feedback from their peers. These are just a few examples of how some of our students became intrinsically motivated to learn new concepts. Again, learning was the focus with students being at the center, while the technology enriched the learning experience. Since teachers and students are co-learning together, there is positive energy being created and that is promoting collaboration, creativity, inspiration, and sharing.

Whether it be digital storytelling or Web 2.0 activities, students have confidently, eagerly, and successfully showcased their learning, with emphasis on: choice, voice, and collaboration.  With increased opportunities for ‘choice’ in a student-centered learning environment, it is evident there is greater student participation, ownership for learning, and increased levels of engagement and motivation. This is exactly what Shelley Wright@wrightsroom focused on at the second Engaging the Digital learner series presentation.

A student-centered learning environment has enabled our students to improve: fluency skills, confidence, speaking, and writing skills. By giving students choices and opportunities to share their learning using a wide array of multi-media apps and platforms – iMovie, Popplet, Educreations, Keynote, Class weebly webpage, Explain Everything, and Kidbog, engagement levels increased. This helped to enhance student responsibility and accountability for their learning.

The learning curve has been steep for many of us; however, it is because of our Innovative Learning Designs inquiry project that we have seen the above outlined accomplishments. Wow – amazing that none of this would have happened without ILD! Reflecting back, it amazes me that we had no comprehension of any of the above at the beginning of the inquiry process in September. ILD has had a tremendous  impact on the learning of our teachers and students at Panorama Park. It has been a wonderful learning journey for all of us, and we look forward to continuing to enrich and enhance our learning experiences next year as co-learners with our students and each other.

Below is a video clip that we shared at our ILD sharing session: Snapshots of staff and students, at Panorama Park, co-learning about Digital Storytelling and using WEB 2.0 tools.

On behalf of Panorama Park’s ILD team, I would like to sincerely thank Elisa Carlson and the IMS team for supporting, guiding, and inspiring us on this fabulous learning journey. You are an amazing team – thank you!!

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.


“The truth about story telling is… that’s all we are.”  Dean Shareski

We live in our stories. There is power in telling our stories and sharing them with others. This video celebrates the learning that took place in the Surrey School District during Year One of our Innovative Learning Designs Project. The focus for the video was to explore how we, as educators, might facilitate and transform the story-telling skills of our students through the integration of technology in the classroom.

As Lisa Domeier de Suarez (former Teacher Librarian Helping Teacher) visited the various pilot schools and talked to the students and teachers involved she discovered the myriad ways students were using technology to tell their stories.  Ms. Domeier de Suarez noted the wide range of age groups and ability level able to participate in these projects.  The students readily embraced the possibilities and transformative directions made possible by the use of various technological tools and by being connected with the outside world through web publishing.

Students of all ages and ability levels were able to create: eBooks, movies, animations, stop-motion movies, demonstration videos — even alternative ‘histories’ of civilization — to tell their stories and share these stories with the rest of the world.

The response of those involved was overwhelmingly positive.  These story-telling projects were opening doors for students to share themselves with the world and each other in new and exciting ways.  There was a palpable sense in those interviewed that they were just beginning to discover the possibilities available; where this could go in the future was anyone’s guess.

Note: Thank you to Chris Walton, LST Teacher, for writing this guest post. This video features the reflections of several of our students along with Fraser Heights Vice Principal, Denton Muir, and SD 36 teachers:  Lynda Dyck, Barbara Feltham, Lara Hayward, John Kelly, Jessica Pelat, Narinder Walia, Chris Walton and Jody Wilson.  Thanks to, Lisa Domier de Suarez and Forrest Smith, for creating this video snapshot of Year One of our learning journey. This video premiered as part of an #sd36learn workshop at ISTE last year.

For more on story telling in the 21st Century see this slideshare by Dean Shareski:

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.

Our Participant Driven Unconference

“It’s all about passion. If you are bored teaching what you are teaching, change.”

There were awkward moments. Like when we were just starting the morning and an educator whispered to me, “This is out of my comfort zone.” Things that are new and different from our regular experience can be uncomfortable. This is true. There were also amazing moments. The dialogue was rich, diverse, challenging and informative.  Teachers described heir journey. They spoke about their practice and how it was changing. People shared their challenges, the struggles and joys of teaching, and their hopes for their students. And people connected to the stories and to each other because it is about the relationships.

Last month our district organized our second-ever EdCamp Unconference. We invited teams from forty of our Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 2) schools. About 150 attended and when I asked at the start of the morning how many had ever attended an EdCamp, only four people (one of which was me), put up their hand. EdCamp is referred to as an “unconference.” It is a structure for “promoting organic, participant–driven professional development.” (See here). You can find out more about it on Wikipedia.

I think this video captures some of the spirit of the day:

Surrey Ed Camp 2013 from paul langereis on Vimeo.

For me what was powerful were the words of Catherine Berron, Principal of Riverdale Elementary, when she said, “And what I really liked was the fact that people felt comfortable enough to share where they were at in the journey.  There was a certain level of trust and I think it tells a lot about who we are in the district that we can have that conversation.”

Let’s keep the conversation going.

Special thanks to Helping Teachers Kevin Amboe, Orwell Kowalyshyn, Ross Powell, Sarah Guilmant-Smith and Iain Fischer for their work in organizing the event. Thank you to Paul Langereis for putting together the movie for us.


Social Studies 11—Exploring Learning Through Technology

How do we know if what we are doing is making a difference? When we invest time, money and resources in projects, what are we hoping for as an outcome? How will we know if we have achieved it? We must never stop asking key questions: Have we chosen the right priorities? Is what we are doing working? If it isn’t working, are we prepared to acknowledge that fact and adjust our plans accordingly? How do we learn as an organization if we do not take the time to reflect on our work?

A year ago we launched a Social Studies 11 e-text project (you can read about it here). As JB Mahli, SS Helping Teacher (@JB_Mahli), explains it, “A key aspect of the pilot is the fact it is a grassroots initiative, driven and led by Social Studies teachers and department heads.” The purpose of the project was two fold: to explore putting our feet in the digital e-text waters and to see how the use of technology might provide an opportunity to reconsider “traditional” teaching practices. We did not just drop e-texts and iPads into classrooms. The teachers were also supported with key staff development opportunities, from bootcamp on the one hand, to exploring ideas around historical thinking and inquiry-based learning, on the other hand.  The teachers also looked at assessment practices and how to differentiate instruction or personalize learning. As we had rolled out a small pilot in phase 1, and added additional schools in phase 2, the timing was good to collect some feedback from teachers and students before we moved into Phase 3.

What did we want to know? Three things formed the crux of our query: Were students more engaged in their learning? Was student achievement increasing? Were we creating opportunities for students to personalize their learning? We set up a simple on-line survey and sent it out to the Department Heads. We wanted to know what was working well and what needed to be reconsidered before moving forward.

Our results (see here) provided us with a window into the experience from the teacher’s perspective.  Questions ranged from asking about student ownership and control, student ability to remix content and express historical ideas, to the student’s ability to represent their own thinking through their own lens.

Overall, teachers were candid in their responses. There was definitely a strong theme about the impact on student interest. One teacher wrote,

Engagement, engagement, engagement. Students were far more engaged in class content with the use of the iPad. This engagement provided more energy in the room and that allowed a more positive attitude toward all areas of the class. The iPad leads to more student centered activity, more trust, higher order thinking activities and more ownership over their learning.

Another teacher tempered his response with, “I am not sure if the level of thinking is improving…just the resources to investigate essential questions and inquiry projects is greater” to “Yes, I believe it has improved [student learning]. Students have shown their understanding by creating iMovies and other videos where they are the creators and ‘narrators’ of their story. The evidence of improved student learning is the portfolio of student created work.” Not all comments were glowing, one teacher felt the impact on student learning was “inconclusive at this time” and another indicated, “I would need more time to adequately determine this.” We need to be mindful that some of this technology is new to teachers as well and the learning curve can be steep. Time to learn together was identified as important.

The use of technology was strategically embedded in learning about effective instructional practices. We were clear that an iPad in the hands of a student was not the solution to a better classroom. The focus was on teaching and learning; it is the teacher that makes the difference. One teacher summarized this succinctly:

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 iPad and a helping teacher has been essential if the district socials department is going to have any change in pedagogy away from content coverage.

The challenge of moving from content coverage to uncovering the content was seen as an important shift.

We repeated the survey (with a few student-friendly adjustments) with a small sample of students that were participating in the program from across the participating schools. The full results can be found in the prezi here.

An executive summary of both surveys is also available here. This, too, is fascinating and captures the key ideas that emerged.

Perhaps, for me, the most fascinating theme that emerged was that “All teachers described changes in their pedagogy which they felt were directly related to the impact of the Social studies iPad and E-text pilot.” At the end of the day, it is about teaching and learning. We provided support and learning for teachers to reflect together on their practice and create richer opportunities for student learning—perhaps we accomplished our goal after all.

Thank you to JB Mahli (Social Studies Helping Teacher, @JB_Mahli) and Dr. Donna VanSant (@vansantd) for their work in designing the survey instrument. Thank you to the many Social Studies teachers and students that were willing to complete the survey and be candid about their experiences. The project was supported with rich professional development opportunities (including workshops with @shareski, @neilstephenson, @JB_Mahli and @Iain_Fisher that focused on themes around Inquiry-Based Learning, Historical Thinking, Critical Thinking, Assessment and Differentiated Instruction). The E-text in question was the Pearson Counterpoints 2nd Edition.

Learning: Just so-oh, pedestrian

What am I learning? Well, the magic fairy didn’t appear; I had no personal tutor over the holidays and my fantasy did not materialize (see post here). I did, however, have a commitment to myself that I would try and PLAY with my learning. I wanted to have time to just “fiddle” and learn some new things. I didn’t want to read a manual (really, spare me) nor any detailed instructions but I was desperate enough to resort to checking out a couple of how-to videos. Then I launched in. For many of you, this list will be just so-oh, pedestrian. But for me it represents pushing my learning curve from where I am now. Some of these are things I wanted to do last summer, but just didn’t get to.  These are small steps, new learning, pushing the boundaries and wanting to understand the multitude of ways and contexts in which professional learning can take place. This is my gig. I think I have a responsibility to dive in.

1. About.Me
One of our Engaging the Digital Learner speakers (I can’t remember who: Dean Shareski? Shelley Wright? George Couros?) said we should really go to this website and grab our name, reserve our spot before someone else did. I was inspired by Ryan Hong’s page and breathed deep seeing Karen Lirenman’s background, however, I could only muster some picture of me with no lipstick riding the trails in Kelowna. Forgive the no lipstick. I am a tomboy at the best of times. And the picture brings back memories of being physical. That is what I love to do. is really just one page on the web that is a visual resume. Think of it as a web-based business card that cuts to the quick about what counts for you. Most of the pages are absolutely stunning (convince me that they did not have professional photographers!).

2. Pinterest
I am not a Martha Stewart kind of person. I do not scrapbook. I had no interest in ever using this particular tool. I actually read that women predominantly use this web tool, which was simply not motivating for me.  However, I decided that I should learn it too, because, here was a place I could keep interesting pictures and quotes. I am fascinated by design, by beautiful pictures and by visual arresting images. I also collect thoughtful quotes. I have files of them…at home, at school. Here was a way to do the same thing electronically. So, I now have an account. Not a big deal. Pretty simple. But what really clinched it was that “Pin it” bookmark on the top of my tool bar. It is just so easy to “pin it.” I have just started so I don’t have many things pinned but you are welcome to check it out here. I do have to say there are some weird things about it. Like, now I have a bunch of friends. I am following people I didn’t know I was following and suddenly people are following me. Let’s be clear, these aren’t real friends but I can live with this as I explore it.

3. A Virtual Book Study:
It was a simple suggestion from a former Helping Teacher (@amnewish). “I am going to do this book study. I thought you might like to try it too.” I am now signed up for the ISTE SIGAdmin discussion of World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students (by Yong Zhao). I have never really been in a book study group and certainly have never done one on-line. I just thought maybe it was time to change that. I have signed up and now will be participating through a CourseSite by Blackboard. That will be new to me too.

4. Google+
During the holiday Tia Henriksen (@TiaHenriksen) sent me an invitation to join Google+. I just thought, “Oh no, please, something else to learn.” Yes, that was my first reaction. But then I thought maybe I should jump in anyway and add it to my list. My 16 year old advised me it was a waste of time. He proceeded to lecture me on how Google + did not live up to all it was promised to be. He explained it received a lot of hype at the beginning but it has faded now. My 16 year old knows everything. I won’t tell you my response back to him. I am now in Google+. My circles are pretty sad but you are welcome to connect with me. We are in the age of connection and I need all the help I can get! I’m not really sure I understand it but perhaps the purpose will become clearer as I forge ahead with it. Is Google+ doing anything for you?

5. Diigo
This was the web tool I really was most interested in learning. Over vacation, I spent a few days in my office cleaning up paperwork and culling files. What I discovered was the many fascinating articles I had read about technology prior to launching our original Innovative Learning Designs projects. Buried deep in those files, I had the articles from Maine, from the Rocky Point school district, from Joe Morelock in Oregon and from Chicago as well. At a recent meeting with Apple representatives, they referenced these places. I had forgotten. Orwell Kowalyshyn (@kowalyshyn) gave me many of these references over two years ago. These districts had informed the development of our own projects. I wanted a way to file these articles electronically so I could have them. I’m in diigo now. I have just started but remember, the first step is the hardest one!

6. For Future Learning:
I did go back to visit my LinkedIn account. I still can’t figure out the advantage of being in there. I am not looking for a job, I don’t need any more relationships (I have enough challenges managing the ones I do have), and I haven’t found any of the discussions useful yet. I also find it a strange thing to invite or connect with people. It seems, I don’t know, just kind of bold. Awkward. I find the same true about Google+. It seems like saying, “I have no friends. Will you be mine?”

There are many more things I need to learn. Some of these things I did because I want to redesign my blog (Shhh! It’s a secret). I have a plan. I have sketched it out. This was part of my learning curve before I get to the redesign.

Did this seem pedestrian to you? Do you have something new you learned? Did it feel like “playing?” And is there some other tool you think I should have learned? Let me know.

The author still wonders, given the multitude of Web 2.0 tools “out there,” what makes the most sense for people such as her? If you were not prone to adopting technology easily, what would be the top five you would recommend as useful to others? Why? She would have liked to have a list (partially vetted by the Teacher-Librarian experts of the digital-highway) to know what would really make the best use of her time.


My Top Three List for 2012 (with apologies to Chris Kennedy)

Ahhh…I too have drafted a top three list. Thank you to Chris Kennedy (@chrkennedy) for inspiring this post but sincere apologies as well. As you can see, my categories are a bit different. Unlike Chris, this list does not represent a long tradition but a spontaneous moment of reflection. I am still drowning from “drinking from the firehose” but will endeavour to mark some important moments in the past year. I must say, however, it is a struggle to remember the past year. Hasn’t it rushed by in a blur? What did I really learn? Why can’t I be as reflective, profound and wise as others to nail down the most salient features of my year of learning? Here is my half-hearted and whimsical attempt at some of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Books I should have read and didn’t (see photo):

1. Finnish Lessons
2. Fierce Conversations
3. Where Good Ideas Come From
I started them, I caressed the covers, I read the author’s bios and skimmed the introductions with the fond thought that I might read them, write a review and post it in my blog. Alas, I read the intro, maybe a chapter or two, but I did not read them. They did not hold my attention but I’m sure they are all great books.


Books I did read that were really worth it:
1. Why School? by Will Richardson
2. Inquiry: A District Wide Approach to Staff and Student Learning
3. The Connected Educator
Why School? was fabulous. I bought copies for all my Innovative Learning Designs schools. Inquiry is a book all senior leadership staff should read. What does it mean for members of leadership team to engage in inquiry? Do we share that inquiry with others? Where are we on the learning journey? How can inquiry permeate the organization system-wide? The Connected Educator I read poolside last year during spring break while my personal pool-boy delivered bottled water and pistachio nuts. The four boys (ages 16, 13, 8 & 5) were chained to digital devices in the motel room so I could have a moment of peace and quiet. No wonder I loved the book.

Pro-D Events I wish I attended but didn’t:
1. Learning Forward
2. Workshop: How to write regular posts that others want to read
3. A private boot camp on technology designed just for me (so much to learn, so little time)
I should go to a Learning Forward conference because I have never been and because this is the central focus of my work as a Director of Instruction. I want to go but have not yet made it a priority. As for writing posts, is there any way to make this easy? What a struggle. I hope to write a post weekly but if I manage to get two done a month I am grateful. Writing is hard work. Finally, I want my own boot camp. Someone could walk me through the things I want to learn (this would be personalized learning at its best). And they could show me, hand over hand, just what I need to do. I watch, I do. Repeat (because I forget easy). I wouldn’t have to read a manual or watch a video. It would be face-to-face. This is a totally selfish fantasy. We all need to have at least one.

Professional Development Events I attended and loved (and not necessarily in this order):
1. ISTE 2012
2. Connected Ed Canada Conference 
3. Apple Educational Leaders’ Institute (an invite only event)
These events were about learning and people. Those were my highlights. I love learning and sharing or talking about it with others. It wasn’t just the sessions, it was the in between conversations, walks, discussions, and dinners as well. I was inspired. I was rejuvenated. I was refreshed.  I wanted more.

Things I should have taught my four boys but didn’t:
1. Using technology to create rather than consume (that’s why they need teachers)
2. Creating ibooks rather than playing Minecraft, Travian or Flow
3. Solving inter-personal problems with your brothers (there must be an app for that)

Most Rewarding:
1. Working with teachers
2. Learning
3. System change/innovation
I really like working with teachers. I love learning. I am fascinated by system change. End story. Full stop.

Things I hate:
1. Sitting still in long meetings (I just have to fidget with something)
2. Paper & more paper (Where should it get filed? Is there no respect for trees?)
3. My calendar (For my secretary, it’s a dirty word)
These are the reasons we call “work” “work”.

Best Personal Activities:
1. Starting running, again
2. Family boot camp in Arizona (mountain-biking, hiking, running, weights)
3. Outdoor adventures
Work is sedentary. I need to be physical. Work generally takes place inside offices and meeting rooms. I crave the outdoors.

Best Non-Educational Reading:
1. The Sharper the Knife the Less you Cry: Love, Laugher and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School
2. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks
3. Childrens’ Books (too many of them to choose)

Favorite Treats (indulge when inbox is overflowing):
1. Ms. Vickie’s chips (preferably with dip)
2. Starbucks, especially when someone else is treating (Can you say skinny Caramel Macchiato?)
3. Chocolate covered nuts

Worst Things in my World:
1. Being injured, again
2. Sleep deprivation
3. Workload

Things that make me smile:
1. Outrageous videos (don’t some days just feel like this?)

2. People that make me laugh
3. My children (occasionally)

Things I can’t control:
1. Other people
2. Budgets
3. School Act

Things I can control:
1. Creating space for teachers to experiment with their learning
2. Designing opportunities for innovation
3. Connecting learners together

It was a crazy year. I had lots of fun. I loved making things happen and pushing the envelope of innovation. If it has made a difference for students, for teachers, then there is some gratification. Thanks for being with me (and putting up with me) on my outrageous learning journey!