Tag Archives: 21st century learning

The Best & The Worst of Times


IMG_2545
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surreal.

_______________________________________________________

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

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.

21st Century Learners: Activating & Facilitating the Passions of Students

Student:  What is binary code?
Mr. Hong:  I want you to find out for tomorrow and explain it to the class.
This student showed up the next day, explained what he learned to the class, and had completed his first homework assignment of the year in what else, but binary code.  The assignment was to create his own name card for his desk.      

Teaching and learning have evolved.  As a teacher, my role is not to regurgitate my knowledge and expect students to comprehend or even remember it.  My job, as a teacher of the 21st century, is to activate and facilitate the passions of my students and to provide them with the skills required to become proficient and independent learners.

The motto that my students live by is sprawled across the banner of our class website. It is based on the pillars of 21st Century Learning: Communication/Collaboration, Critical thinking and Creativity/Innovation.

Communication/Collaboration: Our blog-based site created a social network for students and amassed a hit count of just under 45,000 hits by the end of the 2012 school year.  This large number of hits resulted from my students posting daily comments on our daily blog/planner, and also from the massive personal learning network (PLN) that is available to teachers via social media streams such as twitter and Facebook.  In addition to their regular blog posts, each student in my class created their own ‘Learning Journeys/E-folio’  to showcase some of the work they were proud of.  All of this built up their confidence, and by the end of the year, students were independently displaying their passions with minimal guidance (click here).


Students learned through clear learning intentions, student generated criteria, deep questioning, self and peer assessment/feedback and self-reflections.  The assessment for learning practices allowed students to take ownership of their learning and ultimately enabled them to articulate what they had learned. Social media integration, such as blog sites, allow students to learn from one another at any time from any place on earth.  Social media is a major component of modern literacy and the power of it needs to be harnessed by more educators.

By accessing the global collection of information that is the Internet, my  students are able to broaden their horizons and expand their cultural knowledge, while at the same time experiencing just how small the world has become.

Many Hillcrest students recently participated in the Global Read Aloud and blogged with classes from across North America. This deepened their understanding of concepts discussed in the novel, as well, it also deepened their understanding of how easy it is to learn from and communicate with students from around the world.

Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: Technology has empowered my students to do what students before them were unable to do. My students often tell me their older siblings are unable to do what they have been doing.  My students are able to find relevant and reliable research very quickly and easily through modern research methods.  They can easily distinguish between what is important and what is irrelevant. In reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy, they are able to reach the higher levels of synthesis and analysis.

Creativity/Innovation: My students are able to create complex graphs through the use of spreadsheets and by inputting different formulas.  They are able to create professional-looking and interactive presentations using various forms of media. Some examples include engaging movies, Prezi presentations, their own music through GarageBand, professional looking photographs using their mobile devices and graphic editing software such as Instagram and Pixlr to enhance their images.  By the end of the year, the students were so creative and there was a great deal of cross-curricular learning taking place.


Students were using what they learned in art class , in other subjects such as science (see the desert tortoise and eco-systems.  Some students drew all their images by hand, and then digitally enhanced their drawings by using graphic design sites such as Fotoflexer.com, Pixlr.net, and Sumo.fm.

Literacy and learning have taken on a whole new shape and form.  It is not simply a matter of being able to read a book and being able to answer questions.  Diving into inquiry and drawing connections between different concepts and worldly issues is a necessity in today’s society. Literacy, as it needs to be understood today, goes far beyond traditional modes of thinking, teaching, and learning.

This guest post was written by Ryan Hong (@RyanJHong), Grade 6/7 teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School in Surrey School District (#36).  Author’s Note: I am lucky to be able to work with a great staff at Hillcrest Elementary.  I have learned much from each and every teacher I work with.  We work collaboratively and each of us brings our unique passions to the table.  I teach a Grade 6/7 combined class and work with 4 other teachers who do the same.  I am also very lucky to work with a progressive and supportive administrator who sees value in teaching students the skills that will enable students to own their learning!  I have much respect for Yrsa Jensen, Anne-Marie Middleton, Linda Wilson, Alison VanWermeskerken, and Natasha Findlay.  We model the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning and are dedicated professionals.    

 

The end of wonder and the age of whatever

I had the great fortune to be with the Surrey management team at a presentation by Michael Wesch. I have viewed his The Machine is Us/ing Us many times and I had no idea that this was the guy who made the video. That was a pleasant surprise as I simply love the style and the messages that he brings. The next great piece was that I enjoy watching presentations by ethnographers or specialists in culture. For whatever reason, they seem to be in-tune with audiences, they care and it shows. Michael was a fun and inspiring presenter. I laughed, I learned, and I left with good questions in my mind.

Good company, good food, good presenter – so what did I hear as the main messages that fine morning? This post is simply a reflection on what I heard, what it meant for me in my work and life and perhaps to generate a bit of dialogue with others.

The big thing that stuck with me was his challenge to “how do we get students to a permanent state of wonder”? A place he called “investigative wonder” – simply wanting to know more. Something I would call a voracious pursuit of knowledge. How might we instill that in children?

He went from there to talk about students who have that state of wonder and how they see a myriad of tools at their disposal. Those without wonder just see tools as distraction and entertainment. This was a key message he gave around technology in that he seemed to say that without that permanent sense of wonder, we will only look for technologies with all their capabilities, as simply items to entertain us.

Michael said that if you want to know if students have this sense of wonder – then look at the questions they ask. Wonder emerges when you:
· Quest
· Embrace vulnerability, and
· Invite connections.

This description reminded me of something I wrote a while ago that described great teachers. I wanted to go back, write some more and talk about how, in some way, great teachers helped inculcate a sense of wonder in their students. They did it by just they above list….they quested with you. They were “along for the ride”. They embraced their own vulnerabilities as teachers and then they invited connections with students that were more than just connections with content. These connections were about relationships, wonder, and a journey together.

The next piece I got from Michael was about how we express ourselves through interactions. This was a very strong connection for me in that this rang true. We all work with people every day and the only reality we have is perception of who we are as colleagues and leaders. This struck a chord for me in that I thought that the act of writing, even blogging, isn’t just communication or professional development – it is identity work.

Michael views media not just as tools. He talked of how media mediate relationships and how we connect with each other. Media and the medium itself are far more significant than just a tool. This was interesting in that we so often hear that “technology is just a tool” – he would disagree or at the very least want to extend this dramatically.

He argues that forms of media could open things up to us but they do not always. Forms of media could open us up to things but do they? He talked of the decline in empathy and the danger that technology can permit us to NOT:
· Quest
· Embrace vulnerability
· Invite connections

We looked at how we need to get messages to our children/students about who we expect them to be. He was concerned that our tools are shaping us in ways we have not yet fully appreciated.

When he created the video A Vision of Students Today, he asked students about their views on education. They said that to learn is to acquire information. They did not see beyond to a capacity for critical thinking. They had a very narrow view of learning and this surprised him. He was hoping to find more and to help his students reach out.

We then were shown fantastic examples of students using technology to go beyond, to create, to make connections, and to make a difference. Michael feels that the first really good start to an educational experience is having a burning question, something that sticks in people’s minds. We need projects that grab students, use simulations, games, other techniques to build engagement. There were great examples shared of real problems, designed with a community and leveraged by technology. Even those students who once isolated themselves, like Hunter Browning found that we need the knowledge that others hold. We need to reach out, to collaborate, to innovate together.

In the end, I took two main things from Michael:

· People are longing for the power of “us” – opportunities to reach out, to collaborate, share, and celebrate together. He said he didn’t make his video go viral, millions of people did. Everyone should celebrate this.

· Technology is not a tool – it is so much more because of its incredible power to leverage collaboration and connections. It can be used to quest, to embrace vulnerability and to make connections, but the real power is in using this ability to resolve real-world problems that start with a great question and a sense of wonder.

In the end, I thought back to that age old question of the great teachers I had. I have my list, as others do and I’ve described them in many ways. I think the bottom line is that no matter who they were, they helped instilled a sense of wonder in me. What a gift that we should look for in every teacher and in every child.

Special thanks to Jordan Tinney, Deputy Superintendent of Vancouver, for this guest post. Jordan will be joining Surrey Schools in August as the new Deputy Superintendent. 

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!

 

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.

The Paradox of Work & Joy

I just want time to do my one life well.
Ann Voskamp


What does it mean for me to set my sights upon the coming year? My commitment as an educator, whether teacher, principal or Director, has always been to make a difference from where I stand. I do not want to wait for some better opportunity, for some day when the grass is greener or when I can be on the other side where the pastures are more fertile. I want to make the difference now. It is never a tomorrow ideal. We choose each and every day to make a difference regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Regardless. No excuses. No second chances. No waiting for a better day. Or, dare I say it, a peaceful political context. Or a less toxic work site. Or when relationships are better. Whatever the circumstance, real leadership digs deep, strategizes, pursues alternative courses of action, and finds a way toward the better future.  Real leadership does not let the vision go stale. No excuses. Real leadership creates opportunities for others to flourish and become the best they can be…as educators, as students, as colleagues. For me, it is all about leadership. My leadership. The leadership of those around me.

I want to create an environment where others can excel at what they do. I want to give people the support they need to do their best learning. When educators are learning they become excited about their new understanding and it becomes contagious, an enthusiasm that spreads to others. I believe that means creating opportunities for teachers to be inventive, to experiment, to create and to play with their teaching. (And, yes, I said play). Being engaged in our work is just as important for us as it is for our students.

If we look at the ideas of Daniel Pink (Drive), Martin Seligman (Flourish), and Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (Flow), the same threads are woven through their writing. Daniel Pink talks about autonomy, mastery and purpose as being key to motivation. In Seligman’s theory of well-being, he refers to positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning (purpose) and accomplishment as being central in allowing people to flourish. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) goes as far as to say this:

It does not seem to be true that work necessarily needs to be unpleasant. It may always have to be hard, or at least harder than doing nothing at all. But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life.

While some may find his notion of work and joy paradoxical; it doesn’t have to be so. It is about defining your purpose, and pursuing it with passion. We can do that in an organizational context. We find the match between our personal passions and the organization’s goals. It is what creates organizational health, a place where people want to come to work, want to do their best, and want to make a difference. I think that when teachers are given the opportunity to focus on their learning, refine their craft, ultimately students benefit.

What will be my focus? What do I want to do? And you? What will be your focus? Will it be a year of excuses? Waiting for a better time? Or will you make a difference each and every day?

The Real Flip: Where Students do the Math

Bill Gates dismisses it – this belief that children can construct their own understanding of mathematics. Many educators disagree.

John Van de Walle’s student-centred approach? Marilyn Burns’ insight into how children learn math? The rationale in the WNCP curriculum? The beliefs of the BCAMT? Gates would dismiss them all.

More importantly to me, he would dismiss the successes that Surrey teachers and students experience when teachers let go and give students a chance to do the math. “Letting go” does not mean students are left to discover the Pythagorean Theorem on their own. The role of the constructivist teacher is to get students mentally ready to work on a task, listen, provide hints, and facilitate discussion.

Instead, Gates supports the Khan Academy and the flipped classroom model. In this model, students watch a video at home so that they can get one-on-one homework help at school. Sometimes, flipping proponents claim that this model frees the teacher up to have students do real problem solving. With all the press that the flipped classroom is getting, there is surprisingly little anecdotal evidence of this actually happening.

Gates, Khan, and others have missed the point. Problem solving isn’t something you do after you have learned a concept. That’s practice. Students should solve problems not to apply but to learn new mathematics. The flipped classroom model removes teachers from the most important part of teaching – the introduction of new concepts.

Suppose the proverbial teacher across the hall doesn’t buy in to “all that constructivist stuff” and is considering flipping his or her classroom. Here are three questions that I would ask:

1. Does teaching = telling? (See how I made that a math question?)

I understand if the general public views teaching as simply delivering content, it’s probably what they experienced as learners. Teaching, like real estate, is one of those careers that everyone thinks they can do. I guess I expect my fellow educators to know better. I thought we no longer viewed children as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. I thought we were moving away from seeing curriculum as topics to “get through.” I thought we were moving towards an emphasis on the mathematical processes. Earning badges online seems like a giant step backwards to me.

2. When you are explaining a new concept, is the interaction between you and your students important?

I have a confession to make. For most of my career, I have used a teacher-centred approach. Still, even in this traditional lecture format, students were given opportunities to ask me clarifying questions or check their understanding with a neighbour. I was able to pick up on subtle non-verbal cues and adapt my lesson on the fly. Throughout my career, all of my attempts to improve my teaching have me moving towards a more student-centred approach, not searching for a more efficient way to deliver a lecture.

3. How does replacing a one-size-fits-all lecture with a one-size-fits-all video meet the needs of all of your students?

 Flipping proponents exclaim, “Kids can pause and rewind videos! They can watch them over and over again!” Yeah. But it’s still the same video. This reminds me of the time I was lost in Naples. I asked a local for directions to the train station. He patiently repeated, in Italian, the directions to me several times. I was still lost. Last year, Dr. Marian Small spoke with almost 100 secondary math teachers from Surrey about differentiating instruction. Surrey teachers are beginning to use her two core strategies: open questions and parallel tasks. The ultimate goal of differentiation is to meet the varied learning needs of all students, not to have students complete a series of videos at their own pace.

My final objection to the flipped model is that it is being held up as revolutionary. Assigning a video lecture for homework, and then working on 1 to 49 odd in class instead of watching a lecture in class, and then working on 1 to 49 odd for homework should not be considered a revolution in math education. (If this flip did result in higher scores on standardized tests, does it matter?) We know that real change is difficult. Flipping a classroom isn’t – all that is needed is a tablet PC.

I would like to redefine what flipping a classroom means. My idea of a flipped classroom would be one in which students, not the teacher, are doing the math. Instead of teacher-created videos, the tools of my flipped classroom would be chart paper, felt markers, and sticky notes.

Technology will also play a role. In Surrey, secondary science/math teacher Blair Miller uses video, in the style of Dan Meyer, to ask engaging questions. His students use Vernier Video Physics, an iPad app, to analyze functions. His students interact with dynamic applets that he has created using GeoGebra.

These are effective uses of technology. This is a revolution that I can get behind.

 
Special thanks to Numeracy Helping Teacher Chris Hunter for this post. You can visit his blog at http://reflectionsinthewhy.wordpress.com/ or reach him at @chrisHunter36.

Want to learn more? Chris recommends the following:

• The Wrath Against Khan: Why Some Educators Are Questioning Khan Academy by Audrey Watters
• Khan Academy and the Mythical Math Cure by Sylvia Martinez
• Khan Academy: My Final Remarks by Frank Noschese
• Khan Academy Does Not Constitute an Education Revolution, but I’ll Tell You What Does by Steve Miranda
• Khan Academy Is Not the Progressive Model You Are Looking For by Tom Barrett
• It’s a Video Library, Not a Revolution by Diana Senechal
• Content Delivered, Captain. Full Speed Ahead by SD36 Helping Teacher Amy Newman

Ipads: Six weeks in the classroom

How are the iPads being used in our district? I sit on the District Technology Advisory Committee (DTAC), which makes key decisions about directions in technology. The Superintendent posed the question and I needed to find the answer. We have twelve schools in the Innovative Learning Designs (Digital Focus) pilot. I did a quick email survey of the principals. The responses represent the perspective of the principals of the schools–as seen from their vantage point. At the time of the survey, we were just six weeks into the school year.

1. Are the mobile devices being used on a regular basis (defined as 3 to 5 times a week)? If so, please give a short description of how. If not please indicate why?

The devices were being used regularly in 11 out of the 12 schools. In some schools, such as Frank Hurt Secondary, the students were using them daily. At Johnston Heights, the iPads were also being used daily by the students in the 21st Century Learning Module. These students use them in an integrated program of studies that includes SS 11, Math 11, English 11 and Theatre/Leadership. At a site visit to this school, the principal made the opening statement, “ The teachers say they can never go back.”  The teachers’ experience of teaching, using an integrated curriculum and collaborating as a team, has totally changed their teaching.  The teachers’ experience is not a result of the iPads, but the technology has created a leverage point for change in the design and delivery of student learning. As Sheila Hammond explained, “It is having a huge impact on all the teachers involved in the project. The iPads are the technology tool, but the integration of curriculum and collaboration time is having a more significant impact. The iPads have broadened the teacher’s perspective on teaching for the 21st century.” Thanks to Rob Killawee, JH Vice-Principal for preparing the following video.

Each of our elementary schools uses the iPads differently, depending on the educational focus of the school team. For George Vanier Elementary, the iPads are being used with the younger primary students and special needs individuals. At Hillcrest Elementary, the intermediate students are using them to create personal collages while one of the classes is embarking on a personal inquiry project.

2. What impact do you perceive it is having on teacher practice (your personal perspective)?

The iPads are creating an opportunity for teachers to engage in “professional dialogue and sharing.” Antonio Vendramin reflected, “It’s definitely getting people to think about alternative approaches—effective and transformative integration rather than simply doing the same activity but with a different tool. The project has also enhanced discussion and collaboration, since there are no true experts, and we are all venturing into unchartered territory. There is much to be learned from everyone.” Another principal concluded that, “Teachers are working and learning together.”

3. What impact do you think it is having on student learning (your personal perspective)?

One principal described the iPads as “absolutely motivating.” The same theme came from many other schools with students identified as “very excited and eager to use these devices.”  One principal noted, “It is forcing them to think and act differently.”  Another principal analyzed it this way,  “This technology allows many points of access. The children ‘satellite’ their discoveries and bring each other (and their teacher along as they discover new and engaging ways to demonstrate their learning…”

Throughout the comments, the themes that emerged were increased teacher collaboration, teacher exploration and student engagement.  The project design, along with the iPads, were creating an opportunity for individuals—both students and teachers—to explore learning in new ways. For only six weeks into the school year, the journey has been pretty amazing.

Ramping up innovation: Leading Learning

The culture of YES!  Chris Kennedy’s turn of phrase resonates with innovative leaders.  He has, in a simple way uttered words that override the formal part of the school organization.  The word YES opens doors and minds and feels like an exhilarating call from the informal side of the organization where innovative ideas are sparked—this energy is seductive.

YES attracts, multiplies and creates a critical following and it is the work of the leader to navigate, not only the spirit of the new direction but to keep the “spark” of the idea ignited carefully leading through the dangerous waters of the formal system.

The formal system does not intend to dampen the spark but in reality is designed with checks, balances, regulation, and particularly in education, is built to withstand a critical and unfriendly public.

NO is louder than the YES. The noise is deafening, wearing and can numb best intentions. In addition the formal system has its gatekeepers whom lurk in doorways. Once again it is not their intention to stop innovation but they have learned it is safer to abide by the rules. It is our relationship with the gatekeepers that exhaust our efforts.

What are our answers?  How can leaders sustain the energy to continue to push upstream?  Could we also find a champion like a Chris Kennedy who can help us find a simple and magical turn of phrase and lead us through the dangerous waters while keeping the spark alive!  Tall order!  Are you our champion?

Thank you to Dr. Donna VanSant for contributing this guest post. Donna (@vansantd) is a former Surrey Helping Teacher and is currently a Facilitator/Coach with Healthy Ventures.