Tag Archives: e-text

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.

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!