Tag Archives: 21st century

A Window into Learning

We’re trying to boil it down to what do parents really want and need to know about a child’s progress in school? How can we give parents a window into class?…We believe traditional report cards are highly ineffective in communicating to parents where their children are in learning. If we can communicate this learning routinely to parents, then we see the need for report cards and the stamp of letter grade going way down.”

Dr. Jordan Tinney, Superintendent, CNN

A Window into a Child's Learning

Surrey Schools has initiated a project – Communicating Student Learning (CSL) – to evolve its student assessment practice and tools reflective of emerging educational philosophy and the Ministry of Education’s direction. Two district explorations have been launched – paper and electronic – to assess various potential assessment approaches, tools and implementation strategies that will ultimately become district best practice. This post is focused on our electronic trial—Making Learning Visible.

Background

For over a decade, Surrey’s elementary schools have been using a standard report card, designed by several school principals using Filemaker Pro. The report card is a list of grade specific Prescribed Learning Outcomes where student progress is indicated using a rating scale[1] and/or letter grades. Limited room on the report card exists for teachers to provide a summary of a student’s learning, often noting what the student has been doing well, in addition to potential areas for improvement. These report cards are distributed three times throughout the school year. Our practice represents a significant misalignment with what we know about Assessment and with the Ministry of Education’s new direction.

The Ministry of Education’s new Curriculum Transformation and Assessment,[2] Communicating Student Learning (Reporting) document states:

“Aligning curriculum, assessment, evaluation and communicating student learning approaches will be key in these transformation efforts. To date, consultations regarding communicating student learning have resulted in the following recommendations:

  • Shift from ‘reporting’ to ‘communicating student learning.’
  • Support meaningful communication between teachers, parents and learners.
  • Report on core competencies and key areas of learning.
  • Focus on learning standards (curricular competencies and content/concepts) in areas of learning (subjects).
  • Enable ongoing communication (with provincial guidelines and supports).
  • Maintain formal, written summative reports at key times in the year.
  • Use clear performance standards-based language.
  • Move toward meaningful descriptions/collections/demonstrations of student learning.”

The Ministry recommendations provide a foundation and guiding principles for our new direction.

In the spring of 2013, Surrey Schools officially initiated its exploration of evolving its practices and tools related to communicating student learning. The project is being guided by a District team of Learning Partners[3], with support from District Senior Leadership. Unofficially, the district had already been exploring other ways of documenting student learning electronically with a small group of teachers from across the district as we began to formulate a new vision for reporting practice. As we felt there was a serious disconnect between our current reporting practices and the Ministry’s new direction, we wanted to align our practice with a new vision.

Surrey School’s Vision

Our vision for long-term change resulting from this project is captured in this simple vision statement:

Making Learning Visible: Transforming learning through assessment.

Surrey School’s Electronic Assessment Goal

Our goal is to provide parents with a 24/7 virtual window into their child’s learning to encourage more active parent understanding and involvement as well as ensuring timely responses and intervention in order to maximize student learning.

  • Provide teachers with a better reporting process to communicate student learning.
  • Provide an opportunity to collect authentic snapshots of learning (audio, video and published blogs), to provide descriptive feedback and to enrich the parent communication experience.
  • Provide an electronic space for a three-way conversation (students, teachers and parents) about learning intentions, achievement and next steps in a child’s learning journey.
  • Students are actively involved in their learning through their own capacity to choose, share and reflect on the most important artifacts that illustrate their learning.
  • Provide an electronic option for teachers to collect evidence on a child’s progress and demonstrate growth over time.
  • Capitalize on the analytic capacity of technology to curate information and resources to provide timely learning support for students, teachers and parents.
  • Provide leadership in setting direction for the future implementation of the MOE curriculum transformation as it pertains to Communicating Student Learning (formerly referred to as Reporting).

The Project Plan

Integral to this process is the invitation to explore the use of formative assessment using an inquiry approach in the context of digital documentation. We asked teachers to commit to working as a collaborative team to explore inquiry questions on “reporting:” How can digital documentation and digital tools impact teachers and student learning? How can formative assessment and the continuous growth of students be communicated in a digital format that provides authentic examples? The investigation represents small teams of teachers across the district in both elementary and secondary schools committed to this action research. The project is ongoing.

Regardless of the tool or template, teachers are asked to communicate on key areas addressing literacy, numeracy, and social responsibility reflected through the lens of the core competencies (Thinking, Communicating, Personal & Social Responsibility) and including the content areas (eg. critical thinking in Social Studies).

About the Tool

The software selected for the Making Learning Visible pilot is FreshGrade, developed by a BC-based company. FreshGrade is a Web 2.0 tool that supports teachers (and students) in capturing student learning, creating a digital portfolio, providing feedback to students and communicating student learning to parents.

The tool can also assist in supporting personalized learning by analyzing student activity and achievement. The tool can potentially access curated resources and can prompt teachers on the next steps, based on an analysis of student data and recommend learning resources matched to individual student needs. Not all of these features are turned on in the program but are included as part of the roadmap. The program is designed to change the way assessment is understood and practiced, save teacher time in data collection and provide a much more robust window into a child’s learning. The FreshGrade tool provides a digital platform that takes advantage of technology to collect, assess, share and communicate student learning. In our partnership arrangement, the use of this tool allows the district to “own” the student data and ensure we can have some measure of control over the information. Teachers have been working with the company providing feedback for over two years now.

Outside of the project, there are teachers who have independently started using FreshGrade. This simple act of engaging with the platform, investigating and “playing” with the tool, is an important part of the innovation movement and confirming teacher interest and support of the tool’s application. We fundamentally believe that if the experience and product is effective that teachers will be drawn to its use.

Our findings our guided by the experience of actual practitioners—our teachers—the professional experts in the field. As they explore, we learn. As Antonio Vendramin, Principal of Cambridge Elementary describes, “More and more as I hear teachers reflect on MLV, the more I hear that this is beginning a transformation in assessment and pedagogy. Teachers are asking critical questions regarding learning evidence that is collected, what it reveals, and how it connects with learning intentions. Fundamentally, teachers are beginning to look at collected evidence and asking, ‘Where is the learning?’

Looking Forward

Elements by Lindsey Sterling: Used with permission, educational purposes only.

The district, as part of this CSL project, is undertaking this inquiry – Making Learning Visible – to explore whether digital documentation of student learning could become a new standard. Our teachers are at the front edge of transforming education through their practice. They are the champions. These teachers believe there is a better way to communicate student learning that aligns with our understanding and research. The district is taking steps to explore what is possible. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” We are creating a new model, because, truly, now is the time.

Note: This post is adapted from an Executive Briefing Report prepared last spring for Senior Team and co-authored by Dan Turner (@dj_turner), Director of Information Management Services, and Elisa Carlson (@emscarlson), Director of Instruction with the assistance of Marilyn Marchment of big think communications (www.bigthink.ca). Excerpts and videos are from the most recent presentation at the B.C. School Superintendent’s Conference (2014). For a complete view of the original Elements video, see here. This article is also cross-posted at wickedproblems.ca.

 

[1] Approaching Expectations, Minimally Meeting Expectations, Meeting Expectations, Exceeding Expectations.
[2] Ministry of Education: Curriculum Transformation and Assessment (curriculum.gov.bc.ca/assessment).
[3] Pat Horstead, Karen Steffensen and Elisa Carlson.

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.

 

What does digital literacy look like?

 

The conversation with The Vancouver Sun reporter went something like this: How does your district definite digital literacy? Few people seemed to have a clear definition of what it means.  No one seems to be nailing it down. Most districts are merely teaching students how to use software and hardware. I hear that perhaps Surrey is doing something different. Can you tell me how it looks in Surrey?

The reporter’s reference was the Canadian MediaSmarts website where you can find a definition of media literacy and a useful chart. There are a multitude of definitions and terms used to try and describe the notion of media or digital literacy. You can find a good article about it here.

What anchors our work on digital literacy?
We have talked about the skills required to be twenty-first century readers and writers, using the definition from the National Council of English Teachers (2008).  See here.  This gives us a frame that clearly places learning at the centre. We want teachers to think about the use of technology in this context.

How has it changed the learning?

Our focus is to find ways to ensure our use of technology transforms learning for students.  We want students engaging in learning activities that are fundamentally different from what they were able to do before the introduction of technology. Here a Grade 6/7 teacher at Hillcrest Elementary describes what it looks like in her classroom:

Digital literacy in my classroom is not about an event; rather it is an integrated component of the planning and delivery of the curriculum. Digital literacy is embedded into the learning for all my students.

This past year when we were designing a unit for science the grade 6/7 teachers wanted to ensure students used critical thinking skills, creativity, and that they had choice in their learning. To do this it was decided to have each student create a website for other students to use from around the world. Doing so incorporated many of the skills that we know are essential for success in the 21st century. Critical thinking was used in researching and synthesizing information, as well as determining credible resources. Creativity was important in how the websites were designed, laid out, navigated. Media literacy was developed so students could incorporate different forms of media into their websites from images, to links, to videos. Collaboration was essential for success. Students valued each other’s opinions, accepting feedback on content and design, and utilized those students who became the ‘experts’ in the technology field pushing each other’s learning every step of the way. Finally, motivation and self-regulation were needed to ensure that each student was able to complete a website that they were proud to share with the global community. Students would spend many hours outside of the given time to ensure their websites were well thought-out, informative and creative.

Digital literacy was, and is, embedded into the learning of the class; it was not a separate subject. For our students to be ready for the future…the skills needed for students to be successful must be an integral part of their day-to-day learning.

Anne-Marie Middleton

 There are teachers in Surrey, and all over the world, that are using technology to change the way we teach and how students learn.  As we seek to understand, define, and teach digital literacy, we all become learners—teachers and students—navigating this new digital highway together.

Thanks to Anne-Marie Middleton (@AnneMidd) for sharing a window into her classroom. Hillcrest is one of the Innovative Learning Designs schools (Phase 1) in the Surrey School District (#SD 36). She works collaboratively with Ryan Hong (@RyanJHong), another great teacher at Hillcrest.

 

Who Owns the Learning?

In too many cases, we bolt new technologies on top of current learning tools in the standard learning environment, which effectively means we give our kids a thousand-dollar pencil.


Alan November

In Alan November’s new book, he asks the crucial question: Who Owns the Learning?  This well-designed title intentionally creates some cognitive dissonance for us as educators. Who does own the learning? Have you asked yourself that question? Whether we are teachers, principals, district consultants or district administrators: Who owns the learning?  How would you answer that?

Alan November then goes on to describe how we can prepare students for success in the Digital Age. He has two central ideas: students need ownership in the learning and they must have purposeful work.  It is no different for students than for us as educators. He cites Daniel Pink’s work in Drive as key to understanding how this motivates all of us to do high quality work.

November uses the analogy of a farm to create a model for changing education. In the old days, children were required to participate in meaningful work that contributed to the family’s success. He suggests that we need to think of the classroom as a Digital Learning Farm. This requires using technology to change the nature of the roles and relationships between educators and students. He gives three first steps to get started:
1. Increase the autonomy of students.
2. Publish student work to a global audience.
3. Create a community of contribution within the classroom.

For students to own their learning, they need important student jobs that are meaningful and prepare them for success in the future. He outlines four key roles for students: tutorial designers, student scribes, student researchers, and global communicators/collaborators. As teachers create the learning environments where students can flourish in these new roles, students become contributors to the curriculum, engaging in problem-solving, critical thinking and global communication. This is the new Digital Learning Farm.

He is clear that, “Simply adding technology—the thousand-dollar pencil—to the current highly prescribed school culture won’t help very much.” It is the changed roles and relationships that are paramount. Central to this, from my perspective as well, is the power of the teacher in creating these learning conditions. It is the teacher who designs these powerful learning opportunities. As he emphasizes, the role of teacher as guide, mentor, facilitator, and instructor has never been quite as critical in shifting the learning. It is the teacher who shows students how “to use information and communication technologies to innovate, solve problems, create, and be globally connected. “

Who owns the learning? It is a question worth asking.

Thanks to Amy Newman (@amnewish) who recommended this book. Schools in the Innovative Learning Designs project have been sent a copy of this book along with The Connected Educator. Antonio Vendramin, Principal at George Vanier,  also writes about Alan  November here

 

The Year of Wonder: Riding the Wave of Learning

My staff describe it as a “year of wonder.” Sometimes we call it a tsunami and just want to ride the wave without crashing. Other times we refer to it as a fire beginning to flame across the district. We consider it as seeding pockets of innovation we want to take root and spread organically as connected and rooted networks. We liken it to Leadbeater’s “radical social movement.” The Global Educational Leaders program, refers to this as a strategy of diffusion. These are all metaphors to help us understand our work. Supporting teachers in their own learning is central for me. When teachers are passionately engaged in their learning (and when I am passionately engaged in my learning), it spills over to the students. It transforms us all. So just what were the pieces in this “year of wonder?”

 Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 1)
A year ago we announced the 18 schools that were awarded grants as part of the Innovative Learning Designs schools (ILD), Phase 1. I started my blog for this purpose. These grants provided a set of iPads (this was our first push to go mobile and begin to encourage BYOD) along with open wireless (this was start of getting our Board to fund Open Wireless across the district) for each school. The grant, however, was focused on learning and not hardware or wireless. I write about it here.

The Engaging the Digital Learner Series
We realized that as educators we needed to find a way to engage our learners. We designed a series open to both Administrators and Teachers entitled Engaging the Digital Learner. We managed to have four evening sessions in the midst of job action that were truly amazing. We had Chris Kennedy, David Warlick, David Vandergugten and Joe Morelock keynote this series. You can read about it here.  Again, the series exceeded our expectations and we had fabulous feedback. Teachers were hungry for this kind of inspiration and information. We kept the groups at the same tables throughout the series in the hopes that some key contacts would be made and that it might spawn other organic connections across the district. And, it did.

The Digital Discovery Series
This series ran parallel to the one above. We provided iPads to all administrators. The Superintendent and Deputy were key in making that happen. Part of the decision to do this was because some administrators were not interested in or providing much leadership in the area of digital integration in the schools. We needed to find a way to capture their interest and educate them to become technology leaders. We also wanted them to use it to encourage their own professional learning It led to the launch of our three-part dinner Digital Discovery Series (George Couros spoke at one, Alec Couros spoke at the other and Bryan Hughes did the first one as a bootcamp). Details are here. Our district hadn’t done anything like this in a long time and the administrators were very appreciative. We had tons of excellent feedback on this initiative.

Cadres of Digital Champions
We created Cadres of Digital Champions (a team of three educators at every school). We provided iPads to every Teacher-Librarian and Technology Contact at every school so they could join forces with Administrators in providing some interest in digital literacy.  We were, however, limited by job action in how this manifested itself. We also left it up to the schools and these teams to determine how, and if, they chose to work together. It was about creating the opportunity should others choose to step into it. Find out about it here.

Core Digital Coaches
From the above group, we asked for volunteers that wanted to become a core team of Digital Coaches to provide support to their larger group. Remember, we are a very large school district. There are 124 schools in our district so that meant we had 124 Technology Contacts, close to 100 potential Teacher Librarians and over 225 Administrators.  When we requested volunteers we were overwhelmed with interest. We picked sixty people (20 admin, 20 T-Ls, 20 Tech Contacts, 20 Administrators) to be our core team of Digital Coaches. They are supposed to support and help mentor the others. In return, we provided them with advance training and opportunities to be involved in other initiatives. We also see them as our way of keeping our ears open to the needs of the field, consulting them for key advice along the way.

“Movers & Shakers” 
We are starting a “movers & shakers” group. We planned this last spring but couldn’t activate it during job action. These are the teachers providing leadership in the area of technology across our district that are not necessarily involved in any projects. Digital Coaches and Cadre members are intentionally excluded from this group. We looked for teachers that were providing school and/or district leadership in the area of digital integration. We wanted teachers that were making active use of social media to spread ideas about best practice. Our purpose is to recognize, acknowledge and provide them support. We also want them, in return, to continue to provide leadership and mentor others. This is a mixed group of forty teachers. Our first initiative is to bring them together for a session with George Couros.

Teacher Librarians Navigating the Digital Space:
We are encouraging our T-Ls to become Digital Impressarios. We are also now receiving applications from at least 12 librarians who want to move further along the spectrum into becoming a Learning Commons.  Many of them are already doing this. We are just finding a way to provide them with additional support. The interested T-L’s have submitted applications and will be announced mid-June. Next year they will meet together and explore what it means to be a learning commons in our context. They will define this work together. Lisa Domeier (@librarymall) and Sarah Guilmant-Smith, have been the key Teacher-Librarian Helping Teachers behind this work.

Out of Their Heads:
We have two Fine Arts schools in our district that our now jointly collaborating on a project. You can read more about the project and its anchoring philosophies at their website. Amy Newman (@amnewish), District Helping Teacher, was instrumental in its development.

Making Thinking Visible:
We have 9 teachers (across schools) that are part of an innovative, one-to-one project called Making Thinking Visible. This is a different project in that the teachers were hand-picked for being excellent teachers but most of them were not necessarily engaged in the digital space (except for one of them—Karen Lirenman). We want to see what happens when outstanding teachers begin to add technology to their practice….There is no website for that project. It is still in its infancy.  We refer to it as a “field study.” Christy Northway, District Principal (Literacy and Early Learning) is working with these teams.

Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 2):
We just announced another 40 elementary schools as part of ILD, Phase 2. We are scaling up our very first initiative. We refined our application process to make sure we were more explicit about our district’s guiding framework (collaborative inquiry, assessment, differentiated instruction). We also anchored it in twenty-first century literacy and kept it school–based and teacher driven. The applications submitted were amazing. You can read about it here.

E-text Project:
We also wanted to dip our toe into the digital realm and make some shifts from print to digital resources. While we are not necessarily fans of e-texts (they are still in their infancy), we felt we might leverage this to shift practice. JB Mahli (@JB_mahli), Social Studies Helping Teacher, initiated this project. We have a video about it embedded in the blog post.

We have also promoted the use of twitter as a way of furthering conversations about best practice. This is the purpose of the #sd36learn hashtag. You can read about my own personal journey with twitter here. The post was just published in the BCPVPA provincial journal that goes out to all BC administrators in our province.

There are many, many other creative projects that come out of the Education Services department that are also innovative: The Numeracy Project, the Early Numeracy Project, the Secondary Focus project, etc. For this post, I have just described the key ones that have a digital component.

How have others viewed these initiatives? Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), IML Helping Teacher, described this past year this way, “While an incredible challenge with being a bargaining year and essentially work to rule most of the year, we also moved this district further forward in inquiry, innovation and collaboration than I have seen in the past 8 years doing this position.”

Amy Newman, Research & Asssessment Helping Teacher, describes her own journey, “on a personal note, involvement in some of the technology innovations has moved me from an interested bystander to an active engaged and eager participant- hooked on twitter, excited to be blogging and working with teachers on these blogs, as well as sharing all kinds of learning with teachers at all levels. I actively seek out and curate new ideas apps and strategies related to learning through technology and it has transformed my thinking, my learning and shifted my mindset.”

And as Kevin reflects, “the pace of inquiry, innovation, and collaboration was like a river rushing through a canyon. I am hoping that we can either find a back eddy to rest or that we reach the delta. This has been an energizing year, but I don’t think the pace is sustainable.” We are seeking ways as District staff to support this work in a way that continues to build capacity at the school level. If we have met our diffusion strategy successfully, we will soon be able to step back and let the work that launched itself go viral of its own accord.

 

Thank you to George Couros (@gcouros) for prompting this post. He requested a summary of what we were doing in our district. After he read it, he asked that it be made public for others to access.

Thanks to the whole team of amazing Helping Teachers who have created and supported this new work.

Thanks to the IMS Department (and @dj_turner) for allowing us to ride this tsunami.

And some stats compliments of their department: Surrey School District has 124 schools, 4,000+ teachers, 70,000 students, 8,000 laptops(mac/pc), 11,000 desktops(mac/pc), almost 4,500 iPads, 60 IT professionals, 25+ Helping Teachers,  and daily priceless moments…

Innovative Learning: School-Based Exploration

The real problem is not adding technology to the current organization of the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning.

Alan November

Last week we announced the forty elementary schools that were awarded our Innovative Learning Designs Grant (ILD, Phase 2) for the upcoming school year. The ILD project is an opportunity for teachers to explore how to best prepare students for the future. The National Council of Teachers of English (2008) defined twenty-first century readers and writers as those that need to:
•  Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
•  Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
•  Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
•  Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
•  Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
•  Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments These specific needs set the context for our challenge. How do we move forward to equip our students with these skills, fluencies and understandings to navigate their future? Schools in the project have the opportunity to explore that very question.

The Learning Design project provides an opportunity for educators to work together over a two-year period to create transformative learning experiences for their students. Using an inquiry approach, school teams will design an instructional plan that is built upon the foundational elements that best support student learning. These include:

  • Learning tasks that are authentic (e.g. project and problem-based), relevant and cross-curricular
  • Assessment that is ongoing, performance-based, equitable and guides instruction;
  • Constructivist instructional models that engage students in inquiry
  • Diverse learning needs are met with differentiated content, process and product
  • Collaborative learning opportunities that are incorporated into both physical and virtual spaces
  • Use of technology as a learning tool
  • Creative and critical thinking skills are pervasive across all curricular area
  • Students are able to influence and actively participate in shaping their learning.

The following questions were used to help guide school conversations as staff explored what the project might mean for their school:

  • Where are we now, and what would we like our story to be?
  • What promising practices or initiatives do we currently have in our school that guide our work? What is their impact on student learning? Upon what evidence do we base our decisions?
  • How might we reshape, redesign or rethink existing structures to further engage and sustain students in learning?

 Schools that indicated an interest in being part of the project made a commitment to work together within some guiding principles.

  1. Collaborative Inquiry:
    •  Creating a collaborative team that is engaged, over a two-year timeline, in inquiry into critical questions about teaching and learning using key research and sharing reflections on evidence of student learning
    •  Sharing out to a wider audience at the end of each school year
  1. Instructional Design:
    •  Designing a wide variety of differentiated, student-centered learning activities which integrate technology
    •  Using ongoing formative assessment of student needs to inform the action plan
    •  Using summative assessment periodically throughout the two-year plan to determine the effectiveness of the innovations and to set future directions
  1. Structural Support:
    •  School team dedicating a non-instructional day to supporting the project
    •  School team members meeting regularly to reflect, debrief, and plan next steps
    •  School team members networking with other schools involved in the project to share successes and challenges

The project is grounded in collaborative inquiry and is teacher-driven and school-based. No school project will look the same. Each school and the staff that embark on this journey will be exploring this future through their collaborative lens. We look forward to the shared learning!

Special thanks to the Surrey School District Helping Teachers who wrote the original grant and its revised versions. This post is based on that grant application.

Meeting the shift head on!

In 2007, then Deputy Superintendent of Surrey Schools, Peter Drescher, asked a poignant question to a room full of teachers: What will we do when students arrive to class with hand held devices that have answers to all the questions we ask them?  This question has stayed with me for some time now.  As a tech junky I was excited about this question; however, as a teacher I was quickly apprehensive at the same time.  Do we embrace technology and deal with the distractions that can come along with it or do we simply create policies to ban it?  Do we let students use cell phones in class?  The answer is clear and unavoidable, we must embrace technology as a tool in the classroom or we risk becoming stuck in a century quickly becoming obsolete.

The global village we live in is entrenched in the newest and most revolutionary technological advances, which are happening at a breakneck speed.  As we speak, students are already arriving to class with electronic devices that have capabilities to access the internet.  In Surrey, secondary schools are leading the movement to work within this paradigm shift.  All secondary schools in Surrey have upgraded and open wireless access to the internet.  This was a massive and expensive undertaking by our school district but necessary to meet the needs of students and teachers today.  The stage has been set to answer Peter Drescher’s question.   Across the school district, students and teachers now have equal and open access to a wealth of information at their fingertips.  But, the question still remains.  What do we as instructional leaders and teachers do when students arrive with the internet and a wealth of information in their hands?

As a Helping Teacher for Social Studies I hoped to address this question and tap into this newly available infrastructure while providing support, guidance and advocacy to Social Studies teachers and students to meet the new paradigm shift.  In Surrey schools, many social studies teachers are leading the way and creating exciting opportunities for students to tap into the information highway and use technology as a lever for engagement, personalization, and creativity.  With a team of department heads we were able to see the innovative work being done by one teacher in particular, Michael Moloney, Johnston Heights Secondary Social Studies Department Head, and his students around iPads and the new version of the Social Studies 11 electronic textbook Counterpoints.  The e-text and the available applications on the iPad were working magic in his classroom.  After seeing the potential of such technology and the shift necessary in instruction, the next step was to form a group or coalition of schools ready to take this innovative use of technology and step into the 21st century classroom.  With the help of Social Studies Department Heads, a proposal was submitted for a pilot for five secondary schools to each receive one class set of iPads along with e-text subscriptions for each student involved in the pilot.  Teachers participating in the pilot were also given their own iPad.

The realization that with these tools students can move beyond the four walls of the classroom and connect themselves with stories, data, and other forms of information on the world-wide-web was too enticing to ignore.  There is a definite shift in pedagogy when using iPads as a tool and a lever in classrooms.  Teachers are pushed by students to design lessons tailored to discussion, projects, assignments, and assessments that cannot be “Googled”.  Project-based learning and differentiated instruction are quickly becoming the norm for these social studies classrooms as students use voice-over technology and other applications to showcase their creativity.  A student with a passion for hockey uses a blog to write about how the history of the NHL connects to topics in class such as, the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, World War 2, and the Cold War period.  Another student created a blog about her passion of fashion and the connection to WW2 (changes to the roles of a Geisha in Japan) and other units in her course.  The lists goes on to music, inventions, soccer, boating, and much more.  But the key to this personalization and creativity is technology and a teachers understanding of how this shift in pedagogy improves student learning.

The transformation thus far has been dramatic and challenging.  These social studies teachers and students are at the forefront of the paradigm shift.  They have one foot in the door and with the tools available in the classroom they are ready to shift to a classroom where students:
• are learning to be self-motivated by curiosity,
• using technology as an educational tool rather than a distraction,
• altering and marking up a textbook to make the curriculum come to life, and
• understanding how their skills, strengths, and creativity will shape the projects and assignments they design in class.

We are still in the early stages of this innovation but make no mistake the train for shifting classrooms to the 21st century is moving full steam ahead in many social studies classrooms in Surrey.  There is no going back.

JB Mahli, District Social Studies Helping Teacher and Social Studies Department Head at Princess Margaret Secondary, wrote this post. Lisa Domeier de Suarez, Teacher-Librarian Helping Teacher, and Forrest Smith, filmmaker extraordinaire, prepared the video for us. Thank you to both of them for bringing forward the ideas to make this happen!

 

A Movement for Radical Social Innovation

Think of yourselves as a movement not attached
to the union or the government.
Charles Leadbeater

I was fortunate to attend the BC School Superintendent’s Winter Conference along with over 425 other attendees. I heard from Charles Leadbeater, Larry Rosenstock, John Abbott, Geoge Abbott and Bruce Beairsto. It was Charles Leadbeater’s comments, however, that were the most provocative. His presentation was called Innovation at Scale: Strategies for Radical Social Innovation. I also heard him speak at a CoastMetro session earlier in the morning. There were 150 people, including teachers and parents, in attendance at that morning event. Some key thoughts from all three of his sessions resonated for me.

Your vantage point determines what you can see…” was the opening slide. Our own organizational and system blinders often insulate us. Much like horses, we keep our focus away from the crowds and anything that might distract us from our purpose. He encouraged us to take ourselves out of education and have conversations about innovation with others. When we are consumed by racing down our own tracks, we fail to see what is happening around the world. Education and innovation look different elsewhere. The conversations with others in other professions, in other fields, in other business, and in other places, can enrich our own understanding. As tweeted by Cale Birk, “When we innovate, need to look sideways at other fields. We are too protected in our Ed cloistered life.” A wider vantage point, as we consciously and intentionally remove our blinders, allows us to create a more compelling and urgent vision. Leadbeater emphasized, “Just doing more isn’t enough. You have to do more, better and different. It is the different that is key.” It is strikingly different elsewhere.

See yourselves as mobilizers of the community rather than administrators of the system,” urged Leadbeater. He challenged us to move beyond pockets of innovation to transforming the whole field. He proceeded to ask us, “How do we increase this community’s capacity to learn?” How do we create large-scale system change? What are the tools at our disposal? Radical social innovation is most successful when it is a movement connected to a committed community that is driven by a compelling vision. Think of yourselves as a movement and not a system. We are the mobilizers of that community.  Who is leading this transformation? Our movement will be educators in the field that are engaged in shifting their pedagogy and collaborating with other educators in this pursuit.

People have to be pulled to innovation. You have to craft activities that draw people to innovate.” Are we doing that in our district? Your district? Who is crafting these activities that will draw educators—administrators and teachers alike—into the movement? Are we creating a pull to a new way of leading? Teaching? Learning? It isn’t about a push; it is about a pull because it is connected to a meaningful, authentic, moral purpose. We are creating a future for our own children. My son in kindergarten loves school. His favorite activity is “centre time.” My son in grade 3 loves math and gym. My two oldest boys, however, in grade 8 and 10, have “mixed emotions” about school and sometimes find it “boring.” The love for learning that characterizes young children—needs to be replicated for all students. Who will do that for my two oldest? Must we wait until it is too late for them?

Leadbeater made reference to the C’s in Innovation. These are composed as a series of questions, causing us to reflect on our own leadership practice.

Crisis: Is there a crisis–a sense of urgency for this change?

Curiosity: Have we created a space for educators to be curious and explore?

Connections: Are we working in combination with others? Are we creating connections with others, with ideas, with the past and the future?

Conversations: Are we having a conversation with others about this? Who is in the conversation? Who is hosting it? Where do we have our best conversations?

Challenge: Are we prepared to challenge ideas, ask stupid question, pursue useful deviants, and support the move to the future?

Commitment: And have we (that would be both you and me) made a commitment?—“You don’t learn to swim standing on the side of the pool.”

Co-creation: Can we co-create? Are we open to innovating for, with and by others? Who can you adopt? Who do you follow? And who is following you?

The C’s allow us to think strategically about our efforts.

I had the privilege of attending a powerful conference with world-class speakers. For that I am deeply grateful. But along with that privilege comes the responsibility to do something with the knowledge I have gained. If it doesn’t change my practice, then it has merely been a fascinating, titillating but somewhat empty intellectual exercise. That simply isn’t good enough for me. I want to create the movement. Are we creating mere pockets of innovation or can we scale it up to a radical social movement? I am committed to jumping in the pool. Will you join me?

From Teacher-Librarian to Digital Literacy Impresarios

The Teacher Librarians’ role in our district is evolving and expanding in the digital landscape and they need an innovative tool as educator leaders to push professional practice forward. The iPad is a learning and creation tool that will help Teacher Librarians to promote innovative teaching and learning in their schools. TLs, in collaboration with staff, directly contribute to more relevant, engaging learning experiences for students.

Seth Godin calls librarians “a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user”. He goes on to state that the future of librarians is as “producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario”. In Surrey, we have already embraced the dual notion of a librarian as teacher and now we need to expand this role as an impresario of digital information and a foreman in information construction.

As we move towards the library as a learning commons, a “full-service learning, research, and project space” (EDUCAUSE 2011), Teacher Librarians need innovative tools to help them do their best work in serving students and teachers. The library needs to be, as David Warlick states, a “making commons” where students learn how to construct their learning and share it with others. Teacher Librarians are the perfect fit for sharing best teaching practice as that is what they do all day, share and connect people with information, whether it be the right book, teaching strategy or district database.

What would an iPad in the library look like?

  • Personal learning and communication tool with the idea that TLs become advocates for innovative technology use at the school level
  • Promotional device to promote the ethical creation and consumption of digital resources such ebooks, epubs, and district databases
  • Students create ibooks, comics, graphic novels and movies about books they are reading to promote literacy in the school and community
  • Students Skype directly to authors and local and international experts
  • The Teacher Librarian becomes one of the go-to-people in the school to promote innovative teaching and learning
  • The library more than ever becomes a space where educators come to learn, experiment and create new ideas
  • If a Teacher Librarian works at more than one site, the iPad travels with her or him. When Teacher Librarian leaves the district, s/he gives the iPad to their replacement.

For the first time, as David Warlick stated in our Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series, we are preparing students for a future that we can’t describe. What will a traditional story time in the library look like in the future? Perhaps, Teacher Librarians will read an interactive ebook to students via AppleTV and hand the iPad to a student to read or to share their own ebook with their classmates and community. Educators and students are now not mere passive consumers of information but participants in the creation of information. As Edutopia technology journalist Audrey Watters states, “After all, the library isn’t just a collection of books. It’s a crucial digital / community / free / open / public learning space.”

Written by Lisa Domeier de Suarez (@librarymall), a School District #36 Helping Teacher whose portfolio includes Teacher-Librarians and Information Media Literacy. Excerpt from concept paper prepared for the T-L initiative taking place in our district.

Works Cited
EDUCASE. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/Resources/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAbouttheMo/22714
Godin, S. (2011, May 16) The future of the library. Retrieved from http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/05/the-future-of-the-library.html
 Watters, A. (2011, December 7). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.hackeducation.com/2011/12/07/top-ed-tech-trends-of-2011-the-digital-library/

To Gel or Not to Gel

Some days I just want a really good gel pen and a brand, spanking-new journal notebook. Those are the days when I am tired of hearing about, talking about, and learning about technology. It can all be a bit overwhelming. I think some of the people that tweet and blog have some genetic predisposition to using technology. I do not. I have to work at it. And, for me, it is frustrating. It seems that things never actually behave the way I want them to. I will give you an example. I wanted to create the background to my Twitter profile. I read about it in a book. I tried to follow the directions and three hours later (on a Saturday mind you) I gave up. I paid $4.99 on my Mastercard to get it to behave. I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted to do it myself.

Okay, another story. So I decided it would be a good thing to follow some of the people in my district who were blogging. As a Director of Instruction, with technology in my portfolio, that seems important for me to do. And frankly, some of these people are posting great material (see Peter Johnston). Unfortunately, what happens is I often miss their new posts. In order to get these posts, I need to subscribe to their blog (if they have included that feature). I was finding it cumbersome to subscribe to blogs as it clutters up my mailbox, which is already protesting over too many emails (and, frankly, I like a clean email inbox, too). So I decided to learn about Google Reader. I put all the blog URLs into Google Reader so I could then create an RSS feed to my Flipboard on my ipad (I may not even be using those terms right in that last sentence!). Now, I love my Flipboard. It helps me manage the flow of information. And, at a quick glance, it allows me to get all the information I need, whether it is catching up on twitter or following blogs.

Of course, this is not the end of the story. I wanted to create a summary paper of all the recent posts that educational leaders in Surrey schools were creating. I felt it would encourage others and they might realize their colleagues are also posting good information. I have seen others do this through paper.li or summify.  This seemed like a reasonable goal. I googled the directions, watched a video, read some FAQ—all of which I found very time-consuming. In the end, I created a paper for the #sd36learn hashtag. That was not my goal but it gave me a chance to practice. I still haven’t created the summary paper of Surrey blogs but I am waiting to see if summify will fit the bill. Actually, I tried summify but it isn’t working as I hoped. The gracious people behind it responded to my tweet for help and gave me additional instructions. Unfortunately, it isn’t generating what I had envisioned.  I will have to find some other tool (another day, when I am not feeling so overwhelmed).

Which all brings me to a point. (You were beginning to wonder, I bet.) I am not the only one that finds it laborious to use technology. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is the most rewarding part of my job.  However, some of us are just challenged. Yes, technically challenged. And I guess that is why it is important for us to pay attention to the learning needs, styles and interests of our colleagues. It works best for me when someone actually shows me what to do (just in time, when I want and need to learn). Then I need them to watch me try to do it myself. I describe this as hand-over-hand (and, please, do not do it for me because if your hands are on the device, I am not learning). Then, they need to release me to do it on my own.  That works best for me.  And, personally, l would like them to check back with me later because my brain feels overstuffed and in between I actually sometimes forget how to do things.

We need to keep this in mind as we provide support to educators. They need to do it themselves, we need to provide the right tool for the their purpose, they need just-in-time training and we need to continue the gradual release of responsibility (with plenty of patience). Remember, those of you reading this post probably have a natural attraction towards technology. We need you to help those of us that don’t. And, finally, please be patient with our learning or we might just throw in the towel and return to our gel pens.