Tag Archives: Hillcrest Elementary

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

What does digital literacy look like?

 

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

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

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

How has it changed the learning?

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

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

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

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

Anne-Marie Middleton

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

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

 

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.