Tag Archives: deep engagement

In the Land of Possibilities

 

Education is facing some important questions and exploring ways that ensure our students have the very best chance to be successful in the world and the society that lays ahead–a world we can’t even begin to imagine.

One of the questions we need to ask is if the present curriculum, the way it is presently constructed, is serving our teachers and our students well?  Or, is there some ways that we can construct, organize and imagine curriculum so that it allows for the flexibility and choice that better meets the needs of teachers and students?  Perhaps, it is time to transform curriculum and organize and construct it in a way that allows teachers to better teach to students’ needs and shape curriculum to better fit the contexts of their community.  Perhaps curriculum might not only support students in developing the important skills, processes and competencies but also fully encourage them to delve into and explore their passions.

We are all wondering what the changes and transformation to curriculum in B.C. might look like?  While students were lining up to head back into class the first day of school, we at the Head Office were learning about some of the possibilities. Pat Horstead, Assistant Superintendent, and on the Ministry of Education’s Curriculum Advisory Team, was presenting the overarching conceptual framework and “big ideas” behind these changes.  Her slideshare below provides a solid overview.

 

One of the first key ideas that Pat was clear about is that we are working “In the Land of Possibilities.” These changes are being explored, discussed, modified and adapted constantly as input and feedback is provided by many academics, teachers, principals, district staff and parents. It is about creating the possible and the ideal and making it real for both students and teachers.  Many of us are aware it is a work in progress as at least five of Surrey’s Helping Teachers were in Victoria for several days with different teams during the summer working on exploring possibilities and ways to better capture the important big ideas of their disciplines: Math, Science, Physical Education, Health and Career and Fine Arts curriculum. When they arrived back to work in September these teachers were excited about the curriculum changes and thrilled to be playing a key role in providing their expertise and input into the future direction of B.C.’s curriculum transformation. We look forward to entering the land of possibilities.

You can find out more about these changes in the document, Innovation: Transforming Curriculum and Assessment.

Thank you to Pat Horstead, Assistant Superintendent, for her contributions and editorial assistance with this post.

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…

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. 

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.

The Prezi Party

My calendar was pretty full but the teacher was strategic. She sent me an email invitation with an embedded video of her three students inviting me to their party. There I was, face-to-face with three girls. It was pretty hard to look them in the eye and think of saying no. I was also curious to find out what these students thought of using prezi as a tool to demonstrate their learning.  Thus, this past week I ended up in the library at Green Timbers Elementary with Mrs. Thiessen’s grade 3 class.

As a member of district staff, it was actually a bit of treat to be back in a school setting and see the excited faces and keen enthusiasm of these students. (Yes, sometimes I really miss being a principal). And Mrs. Thiessen knows how to organize a party. There was finger food, cake, punch and medals for all of the students at the end of the presentation. She made sure she had invited special guests so the students had an authentic audience as well.  You can watch a video of her party here. There were many things that impressed me about the party; here are a few observations:

1. The students designed their own rubric to assess their learning. The rubric included the things that these students felt were important. They wanted to make sure that: they stayed on topic, they included captions, the information reflected their learning, they used appropriate grammar and punctuation and that they demonstrated the ability to embed videos and pictures in their presentation. Finally, they tried to add some “cool factor” for a special effect. By helping design the rubric, the students were owning their learning.

2. The students had learned a new tool. I have never made a prezi and I could see that they clearly had a few things to teach me.  I was also amazed at their versatility using prezi for being in grade 3. Two of the invited guests also have children in grade 3. We noted that our own children have only had the opportunity to use computers in their schools to do typing and math games. It was nice to see these students using technology creatively to support their learning.

3. This tool gave students the opportunity to represent their learning in a variety of ways. Each presentation was different and you could not tell who was learning disabled, gifted or simply a struggling learner.  As one student shared:

 4. The students were deeply engaged in their learning. At the end of each of their presentations they reflected on their experience and what they thought about learning in this fashion.

This Integrated Media Literacy Project was a joint initiative with the Education Department of Vancouver’s Pacific Cinematheque.  They are a non-profit charitable organization that focuses on teaching the creative, critical and pedagogical aspects of digital media production, media literacy and film education.  They provided a trained facilitator, Adelle Cabral, to help the students learn about Web 2.0 tools. The students chose prezi as the tool they most wanted to investigate. The students, the teacher, the parents, and guests enjoyed the opportunity to see the students present their learning. And as one guest described it, “Talk about personalized localized learning. Now these students really know where they live…on this planet.”

The Co-Blogging Writing Experiment

 

The Tunnel in Hidden Valley

Co-blogging with my son for spring break was an experiment. Typically when we go on a really long adventure vacation I would stash drawing and writing journals in the car along with books, games, snacks and toys. As we have camped across Canada as well as to the tip of Baja California, we have designed ways to keep the four boys busy. I have always found it difficult, however, to actually motivate any of the boys to write. They have never been that interested. This time I decided to get a little sneaky about it. I asked my one son if he wanted to do a blog with me about the vacation. I would write from my point of view and then he could write from his perspective. He thought it was a good idea. As well, he was responsible for choosing the blogging platform and designing the layout. I made some suggestions, none of which he followed. He is independent and stubborn, just like his mother. I note that this child has not yet had the opportunity to blog in school. He is in grade eight. When he asked if he could do a blog for one of his classes, his teacher said “No.” She wanted a paper copy of his assignment. So, it made sense that he would blog for us as a family. And what was the result? Here are some observations.

1. He was motivated to write. He actually appeared to be interested in writing.  I did not have to nag him. As a parent, that was wonderful. I’m sure he appreciated it as well. And for me, he was writing. It worked. The technology itself was motivating for him. He has kept written scrapbooks before on trips but this was different.

2. He was writing more than I would normally see. I think it helped that this was just a journal reflection. I was not interested in the quality of his work; I was more interested in having him write.  My son is in French Immersion and research has indicated their writing skills can lag. It was just important to me that he record words on the page (or screen, to be precise).

3 We talked about the act of writing. This conversation was natural in this context and seemingly invisible but important. We talked about how exaggeration can make things more interesting for the reader. We talked about storytelling and the importance of opening and closing lines. We even discussed what makes a good title. As we went, sometimes I could see him make the appropriate changes to his own writing.

4. It was an opportunity to build our relationship. We had a new and different kind of connection. He was excited to review his statistics at the back of the blog. “Mom, did you know someone from Vietnam is reading our blog?” he would announce. Or, “Mom, right now two people in Canada are reading our blog.” Or, “Most of the people reading the blog are using mobile devices. Eighty-two percent are using some kind of Apple device.”  On blogger, there are all sorts of interesting statistics that he could explore and then share with me. Of course, it helped as well when he wrote something that was particularly funny (eg. his suntan lotion entry), that captured our family perfectly and would send me into peals of laughter.

5. He had a chance to experience the “social” aspect of the Internet. Thanks to some kind colleagues, a few people wrote comments in response to his writing. Of course, he was sent an email each time he received a comment. “Mom, did you know someone just commented on my blog.” That is reinforcing!

6. We could share our experience easily with other family and relatives. Again, this allowed us to keep connected. Although we were not face to face with these people, they had a sense of shared experience with our adventures. This, too, builds relationships.

7. It gave us a family record of our trip. As parents, we are committed to making memories with our children. Adventure vacations expand their horizons and our own.

The co-blogger in a slot canyon

Finally, I asked my son for his observations on the co-blogging experiment. Here are his responses:

Mom: What did you like best about co-blogging?

Son: I liked making if funny and seeing the stats.

Mom: Was it easier then keeping a paper journal?

Son: Probably, because I could just delete mistakes; it was more convenient, faster and easier to store. I knew I wouldn’t lose it.

Mom: What did you learn from doing it?

Son: I learned how to write better, how to use technology, how to make things funny, how to exaggerate and be sarcastic and how to use hyperbole.

Mom: How has your writing changed?

Son: I wanted to capture the reader’s interest by the title, the beginning and the ending. I might want to make the ending like a surprise or really funny.

Mom: Would you do it again?

Son: Yes, in fact, we should do it every vacation. You and me co-blog.

You can’t ask for much more from a teenage son!

From my perspective, the co-blogging experiment worked. My son wrote and he enjoyed doing it. The co-blogging adventure made learning meaningful for both of us. The fact that the journal was authentic, that others could read it and interact with him had a big impact on him. I also think the notion of “co-blogging” itself, with his mother, was powerful. And truly, this time out, technology did make the difference.

Postscript: Our family’s exploits are recorded here: ArizonaPhoenix. Comments are most welcome!

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?

Innovative Learning—For Teachers, For Students and For Me

I have the privilege of visiting schools. Once a week I head out for a site visit with Dan Turner, the Director of Information Management Systems (IMS), to the Innovative Learning Designs schools. We send a list of questions out to the principals ahead of time. For example, Where is the integration of technology working well? Do you have any evidence it is impacting student learning? Are you and your students using social media? Is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) happening at your school? If not, help us understand what the barriers might be to encouraging this practice? And, how can you move BYOD forward at your own school? How are you (as administrators) using technology to accelerate your own learning? How are you using your own use of technology to impact your staff? The district has created a potential cadre of digital coaches (technology facilitators, teacher-librarians and administrators) at every school in Surrey. How can you use this cadre to help push practice forward? What are the challenges, if any, from a technical point of view (equipment maintenance, wireless, internet speed, technical support)? Although we send out a list of questions ahead of time, we also let the administrators know that the visit is intended to be a “learning conversation.” They are welcome to invite any staff member to join us or to have us take a tour of classrooms instead. Sometimes the conversations supersede the questions with the exciting stories of staff and student learning.

There are so many things I have learned. I have been amazed at the work of our teachers–their excitement, their enthusiasm and their willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of their own learning. I also have a much greater appreciation for my administrative colleagues. Their leadership, sometimes seemingly silent in the current political context, is still so clearly evident.  Both teachers and administrators are anchored in keeping student learning at the centre. Truly, I am humbled by the work and dedication of both.

1. Teachers are learning.
Although I have only visited about half a dozen schools, already themes seem to be emerging. Here is what I have noticed:
The Hillcrest Elementary grade seven teacher was clear, “It has totally revolutionized how I teach. I am not at the centre. The kids are at the centre.” As she further described it, “Being part of the project has forced us to be accountable for our learning.” “The younger generation has inspired us to play.” And, they are “bringing their world to us.” For many teachers, it has revitalized their passion for learning and their love for teaching.
2. Teachers are learning, together.
We have discovered that teachers are leading the learning. The strength of this teacher-leadership was clear at MJ Norris Elementary. Teachers are sharing their learning in collaborative sessions.  The same is true at other schools. They are meeting afterschool, at lunch or in the morning to explore their questions, together. They are inquiring into their work and how they define their best practice, together. The opportunity to be part of the initiative has created the impetus to ask the key questions, together: What are the learning intentions? What do we want the students to know and do? In what way might the technology help us achieve this? Teachers are owning their own learning as they help their students to own their learning. They are all doing it together.
3. Students are engaged.
At Cindrich Elementary, the students were described as “leaning into” their learning. The intense engagement was “incredible.” “Teachers have not had a single behavior problem.“ The output of students has been remarkable. George Vanier students have been experimenting with Genius Hour (you can read about it on twitter). At Hillcrest Elementary, students have created amazing websites for their Science projects. Perhaps, however, what is most remarkable is that the students, after creating the rubrics for their assignments, have asked to revise their rubrics as they have discovered they no longer describe their learning. The power of assessment and descriptive feedback is clearly at work; student ownership of their learning is profound. At George Vanier Elementary, after the students learned how to create their own websites, one of the students even built a website for his dad’s company. That’s authentic and practical learning that has clearly transferred to the real world!

Although I have only been to one third of the schools involved in this initiative I am already amazed at the learning—for both students and staff—that is taking place. I am not naïve to believe that this is the result of the project, or the result of the technology—it is actually about the passionate commitment of teachers working together to improve student learning.  I am just privileged to be a witness.

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.