Tag Archives: engaging the digital learner

Celebrate the Tribe

 

Tribe Seth Godin Quote 2Me: I have a crazy idea. You would be perfect. Would you consider doing something to honour #sd36learn teachers and their innovation as a community? If I needed you, would you consider doing an Ignite?

Dean: Yes and yes.

Me: The idea is that your Ignite would thank all the teachers in the district for being innovative and recognize the #sd36learn COMMUNITY.
Think about it…..
You are all about joy.
It is a fit for you.
This is our last night of the series so I wanted it to be celebratory. You could honour people. I tried to organize a flash mob and video but have run out of time. I wanted: youtube.com/watch?v=mytLRy…

Dean: I’ll figure something out.

Me: Not a mention of district staff. Just about celebrating the wonderful work. About learning. About sharing. About joy.

Dean: Whatever you need…

Me: Hope you are good. Looking forward to connecting tomorrow. I hope I haven’t made you feel pressured.

Dean: Nope. I like a good challenge. Hope you’ll like it. Nothing fancy but celebrates your tribe.

Me: Perfect. I like that: Celebrates your tribe. That is exactly what it is….

Honoured to have you in the room to do it. Can’t think of a better person. You know, understand and build community (tribe).

Thanks to Dean for sharing the joy of the #sd36learn tribe!

And that wasn’t all. We continued to celebrate as teachers and students shared the joy of the learning journey.

See Lisa Domeier de Suarez, known affectionately as @librarymall, share her joy of the “Maker Space.”

In case you don’t know, it was Lisa, with her colleagues, that gave birth to the #sd36learn hashtag four years ago after being inspired at ISTE. You can see the Birth of a Hashtag slideshare here (pretty great slides!):

Our district is forging ahead with changing structures, places, tools and ways of learning, all by intentional design. The educators in our very own backyard who are experimenting and putting it into action are our inspiration. Jennifer Jenkins, Sarah Amyotte, Dolkar McBride, and Edward Ewacha, a teaching team from Earl Marriott Secondary School shared their Ignite: StEMs- Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning. Seeing our own educators in the unfinished journey of innovation, and the willingness to share it with their colleagues, is what others find inspiring. So glad they came to the evening to share!

Arjin and Taziya, grade 6 students from Pacific Heights Elementary shared how Students Taking Charge of Their Learning has changed “school” for them. Special thanks go to first-year teacher Danielle Peters for creating the conditions for these learners to flourish. Their confidence, enthusiasm, passion and ownership of their learning is really quite amazing.

Our keynote speaker, Lance Rougeaux, challenged our thinking with his presentation: STEMulating Minds Want to Know and Do. He helped us redefine our thinking about STEM and what it means now in 2015.

 We had a wonderful evening with the #sd36learn tribe, both those inside and outside our organization. Thank you to all for learning with us and sharing the journey together. Seth Godin captures it best in the title of his book: Tribes: We need you to lead us.

 

Author’s Note: Special thanks to all our Igniters! Thanks to Dean Shareski for letting me share excerpts from our Direct Messages over Twitter.

Igniting the Passion: Celebrating Our Learning

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“People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation.”
Joshua Heschel

Celebration is a choice: we choose to appreciate and value something that we feel is significant. It is an opportunity we create to acknowledge, appreciate and extend gratitude for the good things that are being done in schools–by both students and teachers. We are fortunate to be in a district where we can engage in new learning and transform education to better meet the needs of our learners. A collective of 300 educators gathered together to mark the occasion.

What is it that we are doing well? How do others see us? We asked some people both inside and outside our district this question.  How might they describe our district or what does meant to be part of our district? Their responses can be found here:

During the evening we had several presenters share with us their passion through the form of five minute Ignite presentations. Participants were limited to 20  slides that automatically moved every 15 seconds . The purpose is expressed in the motto, “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” We had the opportunity to learn from our peers and to engage in thoughtful conversations about our learning. Facilitators guided table groups around key questions that examined both our thinking on the presentation as well as how the topic might affect our future behaviour and teaching practice.  Thanks you to Robynn Thiessen, Sally Song, Shauna Nero, Antonio Vendramin, Karen Steffensen, and Jordan Tinney for sharing their passion. You can enjoy their live-streamed stories here.

We ended the evening with a video montage of students, teachers, administrators and out-of-district guests to help us with our celebration.

Author’s Note: Thank you to Helping Teachers @amboe_k, @shelagh09, @librarymall, @kowalyshyn, @ipadtestkitchen and Sarah Guilmant-Smith for planning and organizing the evening and supporting our projects. Thank you to Donna VanSant and Forrest Smith for their assistance with the videos.

 

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.”

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.

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.

Creating Fire

Tonight we launched our Digital Discovery Series.  This is a three-part series that focuses on helping leaders understand their role in moving student learning forward in a digital age. Our three key themes are Using Mobile Devices, 21st Century Learning and Social Media. We had 220 educators in the room.

What did the evening look like? Our Superintendent Mike McKay gave an opening address and then Bryan Hughes, a Teacher-Librarian and Apple Distinguished Educator kicked off the series. He focused on showing us what you could do with an iPad.  For my part, the messaging included this quote from Gord Holden. It’s a long quote but it resonated for me.

 Technology IS just a tool, like a stick. Many new technological developments made sticks more effective as a weapon (barbs, bows, attachments, etc, but as long as the stick was still being used to harm other people, I would argue that there was nothing truly transformational about the technology. But when sticks became a way to create fire, THAT was innovative and progressive. I would argue the same could be said of modern technology. Replacing the product of the printing press with an ebook is arguably more effective, but not transformational. I fear that a LOT of effort and satisfaction is being gained by taking words, reformatting them into a digital space, and thinking the job has been done. Please, at best one is taking a club and making it into a mace. There is nothing transformational about this, so please stop using this word until it is applicable. The use of words is of course valuable as a means of transmitting knowledge that cannot be gained otherwise. Methodology-wise, it is the poor cousin though to what might otherwise be learned through experiencing. Granted, there are numerous situations where this might be the only reasonable avenue, but folks, with today’s technology, much of what we want students to learn can be experienced by them virtually. To turn away from this, to dismiss it, to let one’s fear of this become a paralysis that prevents pursuing the possibilities is to abrogate our responsibility to exploit the best possible means of supporting student learning. Behind this door are miracles waiting to happen, open the doors of education while the students are still willing to knock on it. Until you do, technology will remain a tool, but not a progressive or transformational one.

During dinner the table groups focused on discussing the two questions: What does technology look like in your school? How might you use technology as a lever to transform instruction and impact student learning? If you want to see how the evening went, you can refer to our district’s twitter hashtag #sd36learn. A table of secondary school principals tweeted this: @sheilamoris: Table 4 says best workshop in 10 years! Digital discovery series #sd36learn

Sharon Cohen, our Deputy Superintendent, brought the evening to a thoughtful close. She challenged us to think about what one thing, with one colleague, we might be able to do within one week, to stretch our digital learning. Many people at the tables made a commitment to do that. We look forward to the learning that will take place before our next session. And as people walked out the door, we handed them a QR code and instructions for what to do with it. You can find it here: http://transformingstudentlearning.wikispaces.com/

Have fun!

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.