Tag Archives: innovative learning designs

Innovative Learning Designs: MakerSpaces Project

Photo Credit: fotologic via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: fotologic via Compfightcc


Changes in educational possibility arise as new media 
alter the ways of knowing and the opportunities for participating in the creation of knowledge.
         Robbie McClintock

 

The Invitation to Maker Space

Robotic hand gather cube 3d. Artificial intelligence. Isolated oOne key to transformation in education is helping students reimagine what is possible. Students who imagine printing structures they designed are participating in the same learning as Boeing engineers who design and print commercial airline parts. Hugh Herr, who lost both of his legs in an accident, has worked with MIT to design and produce bionic legs that can run, climb and dance.  We live in a time where almost anything is possible.

The MakerSpace movement recaptures the concept of “experimental play.”  The central thesis is that students should engage in tinkering and ‘Making’ because these are powerful ways to participate, share and learn. MakerSpaces are not limited to physical space but share the ideals of making, tinkering, collaborating and inventing. In our district we seeded the opportunity (via a grant process) for students and educators to grow ‘Maker’ mindsets and integrate those mindsets into learning, both within and outside the school environment.

We invited teachers on a journey to make, invent, create, imagine, share, collaborate, investigate, explore, wonder, inquire, iterate, inspire and learn. These new literacies set the context for our challenge. How do we move forward to equip our students with ‘Maker’ mindsets; to support their development of the skills, fluencies and understandings that will influence their futures?

Bringing Maker Spaces to the School Community

Photo Credit: Marco Buonvino via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Marco Buonvino via Compfight cc

Using an inquiry approach, we asked school teams (triads) to design an instructional plan that is built upon foundational elements that best support student learning.  The team’s inquiry would falls under the umbrella of “How does ‘Making’ impact student learning of specific learning intentions?” or “How does ‘Making’ impact students as learners?”

Adopting new ways to explore and learn takes time so we invited educators to envision ‘Making’ as part of ongoing learning.  To reduce the impact of the “one-more-project syndrome,” these teams were asked to consider three questions:
• What can we do differently to meet the current learning outcomes?
• What are we doing that we can drop or stop doing to explore the potential to meet other learning outcomes?
• How does making / tinkering impact students overall learning experiences?

Important Note:  The process of ‘Making’ and the celebration of the resulting end products are exciting in themselves; however, the core mindset of the ‘Maker’ movement is ongoing investigation and discovery. Gary Stager recommends a pedagogical strategy of “…and then?” to view ‘finished projects’ as part of a continuum of interesting ideas, and as iterations, not discrete end products.

What is included in our Maker Spaces Grant?

School teams applied for one of the three age appropriate kits provided by our department, Education Services.  Each kit provided has been researched and developed by the IML team with recommendations from the field. We advised schools that they may wish to supplement their learning journey with additional, school-based resources.

Our sample kits look as follows:
2426457410_d7e06498a0
Kit 1 (Recommended K-3): Squishy Circuits (Basic Electronics), Resource Books, Construction / Building Kits, Basic Tools
Kit 2 (Recommended grades 3-5): Little Bits (Electronics), Resource Books, Construction / Building Kits, Makey Makey (interactive software / electronics), Hand Tools
Kit 3 (Recommended grades 5 – 8): Little Bits (Electronics), Resource Books, Construction / Building Kits, Makey Makey (interactive software / electronics), Hand Tools,  Arduino (Intermediate programming computer components)
Kit 4 (Recommended grades 8 – 10): Resource Books, Construction / Building Kits, Makey Makey (interactive software / electronics), Hand Tools, Arduino (Intermediate programming computer components), Raspberry Pi (Micro computer programming)

Teams were invited to discuss their students’ needs, and to identify the preferred kit on their application.

What else at schools can be used to support ‘Making’?

Making activities can be done virtually as well as in the physical.  While our grant includes specific devices, tools, and resources, there are many existing devices, tools and resources within schools which support additional ‘Maker’ activities:
• 3D creation – TinkerCAD, Google SketchUp, 123D Sculp
• Movie Making – iMovie, Explain Everything
• Construction – Lego, Blocks
• Programming – Scratch, Dreamweaver, Wikispaces

Instructional Design:

What did we ask the school team to commit to?
• Plan and implement a variety of differentiated, student-centered, learning activities which integrate “Making”;
• Use ongoing formative assessment of student needs to drive inquiry;
• Demonstrate that Maker projects – process, product, reflection – directly connect to the Core Competencies (thinking, communicating, personal and social responsibility). 

In addition to our Innovative Learning Designs Makerspace grant opportunity, we are also providing Mini-Maker kits to all interested Teacher-Librarians and Information Media Contacts in each of our schools. We want to ensure that we had champions that were willing and interested in exploring the Makerspaces concept.  We also recognized that teachers need time to play and investigate concepts with their colleagues alongside their students. We see these teacher-leaders as facilitating that process in their school community.

In our district, we have called the month of May #makermay as we look at ways of learning more about inventing, tinkering, playing, designing, creating and more.  As we learn, so do our students.

Post Notes: This project was conceived and this post written by a team of Helping Teachers, including: @amboe_k, @shelagh09, @kowalyshyn, @librarymall, @ipadtestkitchen and Sarah Guilmant-Smith. Thanks to @chris_gauvin for providing field-based advice as well. These people are worth following. Thanks to Sylvia Libow Martinez (guest presenter at our Igniting the Passion dinner series) for inspiring our learning.

Igniting the Passion: Celebrating Our Learning

iStock_000014927638Small
“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.

 

James Ardiel Elementary: Our ILD Journey


Guest Post
:
Thank you to Iram Khan, the Vice-Principal at James Ardiel Elementary school for sharing their school’s Innovative Learning Designs journey.

James Ardiel had an eye opening and inspiring year. At the end of the last school year we were ecstatic to hear that we were one of the Surrey schools who were successful at a proposal for an Innovative Learning Design (ILD) Grant. Our principal and a few staff members proposed that we would work on the following question: How can the use of digital technology assist students designated with special needs in their attitude/engagement in learning and their academic achievement?

As we were putting in our order for the new school year, I have to admit our excitement moved towards all the iPads were going to get. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on all those babies!

At first it was all about the technology pieces, the iPads, projectors and wifi. I myself entered a huge learning curve of being thrown into the steps involved in the technicalities of maintenance, tracking and distribution. In particular, the lists of recommended apps were thrown at us from everywhere; all the possibilities were overwhelming.

Right from the beginning we were advised to be thoughtful about the apps that we bought. We struggled with the excitement, and installed apps that sounded great. Eventually, though, we agreed that if the app did not help with creating, collaborating, communicating, or developing critical thinking skills we would think twice about uploading it… Even if it was free!

Then, something magical happened. Because of the nature of the technology and the inspiring professional development the district provided, we were able to just let go and our students stepped up to the challenge. We could feel that our students understood the importance and the privilege they were being given… that this was not “normal”. They did not want to disappoint, they wanted to prove to us that we made the right decision to let go. Believe me, this was a really difficult thing for us to do especially since a Kindergarten class was involved. What if they break something, what if they mess it up, what if they are silly and get off task, what if they behave inappropriately online? The more I heard and stated “student led learning… it’s all about the students”, it became a mantra. Everything our tech team decided on came from this philosophy.

We were there to facilitate 21st century learning and it was exhilarating for our students and us. Some highlights were students participating in project based learning, genius hour, blogging, class websites and mystery Skype.

Another indirect result of the ILD grant was collaboration. The grant encouraged us to collaborate with other staff members and students. Teachers directly involved with the grant offered assistance to those who wanted to introduce the new technologies to their classes. Students collaborated with each other and reached out to other students beyond their fellow classmates. Students and teachers reached out to experts around to world to help them in their learning. The library became a “learning commons”.

Which brings us to the ILD grant celebration project. Of course, the tech team teachers could not do it… we handed it over to our students to show us how the ILD grant changed their learning this year. Plus, they knew how to use the creative apps better than us!

A small group of girls were chosen to produce the iMovie below. They took pride in what they were doing, and understood how important it was. As I made myself a fly on the wall, I heard them discussing criteria for students that would be able to speak on behalf of the school, what parts to cut out of people’s responses, what the audience would like to hear, etc. One questions in particular I loved was; “Well you know everyone thinks he’s cute, but all he is talking about is Angry Birds and Star Wars. What does that have to do with school and how the grant changed his learning?”

Here was critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity all working together! This project was just one example of the many that occurred throughout the year. So, did the use of digital technology assist students designated with special needs in their attitude/engagement in learning and their academic achievement? YES, but it clearly went beyond this group of students!

It has been an amazing year due to the ILD grant. It definitely has been a catalyst for all of us to reflect on the way we teach and the way students’ learn. We can’t wait for the next school year, when we can just hit the ground running.

Enjoy our iMovie!

 

We are just scratching the surface: Panorama Park

Guest Post: Lucky Kalair, Grade 6/7 Teacher at Panorama Park Elementary

Panorama Park’s Innovative Learning Design Story: A continuing journey of reflecting and sharing….
we are just scratching the surface.

 

Context: School with a population of 350 students, high ELL
Prior to ILD:
• slow wireless connection, limited experience with iPads, only a couple of DocCams, no ATV, MacBooks…

Post ILD: updated wireless connection, 40 iPads, updated MacBook cart,
5 ATVs, majority of classrooms have DocCams,…

Inquiry Question: How will focusing on digital storytelling and the implementation of WEB 2.0 tools increase student engagement and increase student communication skills?

As a result of the ILD project, the teaching practices of teachers have changed and enabled us to focus on student-directed learning. The ILD project has promoted greater reflecting, sharing, and co-learning with our students; we have focused on creating learning environments that are student centered with learning as the focus.  The technology has complemented the learning piece and has helped to increase student engagement and increase student communication skills.

Some of the things that happened at our school as a result of the ILD project include:

1. Transformative teaching/learning
• reflecting, questioning, sharing, exploring, experimenting, designing, and creating–>we are all learners–> co-learners
• moving from paper/pencil–>multimedia – voice, sound, visuals
• inquiry based –>uncovering curriculum–>more content choice-
• scaffolding and modelling thinking/learning–>adjusting our teaching/learning
• focusing on the process of learning
• engaged learners – student centered learning environment
• making thinking visible –>technology complements the learning
• empowering students–>greater student choice/voice/input
• partnership with students – reciprocal teaching – third space

2. Connecting/Collaborating/Sharing: Co-learning/Connecting with  students
• Digital Storytelling – iMovie trailers, KeyNote, PowerPoint, Book Creator, Popplet, Puppet Pals, ….
• WEB 2.0 Tools – Weebly – student web pages, teacher web pages, blogging, Glogster, Kidblog, iPadlet, Today’s Meet, Prezi, Skype, Twitter, PLN, publishing work on YouTube
• reflecting using blogging
• shift in learning/teaching–>student centered – they own their learning
• becoming co-creators, co-designers, co-architects of learning
• exploring ePorfolios –>documenting progression of learning
• presenting/sharing…communicating

3. Focus on: Differentiated Learning
• more voice/choice to represent learning – visuals, pictures, recording voice
• greater student ownership–>greater student motivation
• power of choice = students working at their level
• empowering students – building self-confidence

4. Personalized Learning: (‘How to use technology to enhance and magnify learning…’ – Neil Stephenson)
• increases student motivation and accountabiity
• how students want to learn, what they want to learn, how they represent their learning, how they share their learning
• Genius Hour, iMovie trailers…learning is relevant and meaningful and the technology piece complements the learning
• more content choice –>caliber of work improves–>shift in learning

5.  Assessment for Learning – AFL
•embedded in the learning process –>ePortfolios – the process of learning
•giving students opportunities to share and create using multiple options
•reflecting, self-reflections, peer feedback…blogging, collaborating, and discussing summative assessment …ePortfolios=progression of learning
• student-teacher conferences/presentations

6. ILD Team:
• blogs for reflecting/sharing —>3 teachers
• Twitter – #sd36learn #panopanthers –> 5 team members contributing
• share at staff mtgs, ILD mtgs – informal/formal, assemblies, pro-d

7. Next Year:
• building student ePortfolios – exploring Evernote, Google Docs,..
• Skype projects, global connections,…
• Blogging – Weebly/Kidblog •expanding Twitter PLN •staff mentoring
• student tech leaders as mentors for staff
• pro-d  •visiting other classes/schools   •PBL ….authentic learning
• conferencing/sharing with other classrooms/schools

8. Other Highlights and accomplishments in our first year of ILD:
• focusing on digital storytelling including: creating, designing, and sharing
• buddy activities
• students planning and discussing – reflecting, questioning, and exploring
• using manipulatives and technololgy
• Glogster – multiple options for sharing learning
• Genius Hour – Inquiry Learning – Wonder Qs – choice and voice
• creating iMovie Trailers – composing and sharing
• using Web 2.0 to collaborate ideas and content
• peers learning from peers – excited to explore blogging to represent their thinking and learning
• communicating with parents and peers – creating class and student web pages
• enhancing learning with Prezi
• students, teachers, and parents collaborating
• representing learning in a variety of ways
• brainstorming on Padlet
• participating in a Webinar – building, discussing, and creating together
• Skyping about careers
• using critical thinking skills
• creating simple digital portfolios using Weebly, exploring Kidblog
• self-reflection and self-assessment….peer feedback
• empowering students – learning together
• building confidence and self-esteem
• providing instant, descriptive, and specific feedback
• Many of our students would ask:
     • When can we start the next Genius Hour project?
     • Could we stay in at recess to finish our work?
     • Could I do an extra project?
     • Could we use the iPad or MacBook?
     • Could we make an iMovie trailer? Keynote?

During our first Webinar/Skype activity on careers, many grade seven students stayed in at recess to continue working on this activity. During LST, students were excited and motivated to track their reading speed. Students are asking about when can they blog next, excited about providing/receiving feedback from their peers. These are just a few examples of how some of our students became intrinsically motivated to learn new concepts. Again, learning was the focus with students being at the center, while the technology enriched the learning experience. Since teachers and students are co-learning together, there is positive energy being created and that is promoting collaboration, creativity, inspiration, and sharing.

Whether it be digital storytelling or Web 2.0 activities, students have confidently, eagerly, and successfully showcased their learning, with emphasis on: choice, voice, and collaboration.  With increased opportunities for ‘choice’ in a student-centered learning environment, it is evident there is greater student participation, ownership for learning, and increased levels of engagement and motivation. This is exactly what Shelley Wright@wrightsroom focused on at the second Engaging the Digital learner series presentation.

A student-centered learning environment has enabled our students to improve: fluency skills, confidence, speaking, and writing skills. By giving students choices and opportunities to share their learning using a wide array of multi-media apps and platforms – iMovie, Popplet, Educreations, Keynote, Class weebly webpage, Explain Everything, and Kidbog, engagement levels increased. This helped to enhance student responsibility and accountability for their learning.

The learning curve has been steep for many of us; however, it is because of our Innovative Learning Designs inquiry project that we have seen the above outlined accomplishments. Wow – amazing that none of this would have happened without ILD! Reflecting back, it amazes me that we had no comprehension of any of the above at the beginning of the inquiry process in September. ILD has had a tremendous  impact on the learning of our teachers and students at Panorama Park. It has been a wonderful learning journey for all of us, and we look forward to continuing to enrich and enhance our learning experiences next year as co-learners with our students and each other.

Below is a video clip that we shared at our ILD sharing session: Snapshots of staff and students, at Panorama Park, co-learning about Digital Storytelling and using WEB 2.0 tools.

On behalf of Panorama Park’s ILD team, I would like to sincerely thank Elisa Carlson and the IMS team for supporting, guiding, and inspiring us on this fabulous learning journey. You are an amazing team – thank you!!

Guiding Principles: What do we believe?

What do we believe? We have some guiding principles that have anchored our digital learning journey as a district. Our vision has grown and is best represented through our Digital Learning Principles. Below is a short form of the “baker’s dozen,” a series of  belief statements that guide our work. These principles, outlined in the district strategic technology plan, grew over time. The principles are grounded in research about good teaching and learning.

1. Begin with a learning plan
We abolished the district’s traditional hardware replacement strategy and replaced it with a learning-centered strategy. Schools have to provide a forward-thinking, smart learning plan through an application process to ensure schools have the commitment and readiness to move learning and teaching forward in their schools. No grounded plan means no hardware.

2. The learning plan anchored in twenty-first century pedagogy
Key priorities for learning are identified at the outset: authentic learning tasks, descriptive feedback, inquiry learning, differentiated instruction, critical thinking skills, virtual and face-to-face collaboration, student voice and choice, and technology as a tool. The impact on transforming pedagogy? “It has totally revolutionized how I teach. I am not at the centre. The kids are at the centre,” explains Anne-Marie Middleton, Grade 7 Teacher at Hillcrest Elementary.

3. Action grounded in collaborative inquiry
Each application is team-focused and anchored in a job-embedded model of collaborative inquiry. Teams of teachers are engaged in studying meaningful questions about student learning and their own practice. Teachers own their own learning.

4. Evidence of student learning required
The district expects schools to share their organizational and individual learning and that of their students. Participants are required to report out using a flexible template to tell their story of learning.  These digital stories provide the inspiration, advice and resources for other schools also embarking on a digital learning journey.

5. Learning focus for all
While students are at the centre of our raison d’etre, we recognize that in organizations everyone is a learner and that we are all co-learners together: students, teachers, support staff, and administrators can equally share in the learning journey.

6. Empower teacher exploration months before student deployment
Teachers need time to experiment and play. Teachers need time to learn. We provide both devices and opportunity for staff development. Foundational idea: “Professional development is the hallmark of every successful technology implementation,” outlined in  the report commissioned by the National Coalition for Technology in Education & Training.

 7. Teacher-led, teacher-driven and centralized to the school house
The district is not dictating the direction. Schools, and teachers, decide their learning needs based on their school context. The result and our experience, we have gone from push to pull.  As educator Fraser Speirs declares: “I am no longer pushing technology at teachers. They are demanding this technology in their classrooms.”

8. Linking staff development opportunities across the system
Many educators are involved in two-year inquiry projects which include release time as well as a commitment to on-going learning with colleagues at their schools. Educators also have the opportunity to attend an inspiring dinner series with thought leaders in the field of educational technology, as well as after school workshops on topics as diverse as digital storytelling and moviemaking. In all cases, we focus on the learning, and not the tool.

9. Transformative practice shared and promoted via social media
We created our own hashtag: #sd36learn. We promote it and encourage the educators to keep the focus on learning, best practice, sharing resources and building connections. We acknowledge the words of Daniel Pink on the power of social media: “…the deepest, most enduring impact of social media might be on learning.”

10. Intentionally encouraging a radical social movement
Our goal is transforming education. Our diffusion strategy is creating networks of educators committed to creating the best learning conditions for students. As educators take risks, explore, experiment and play with their practice, we want to support their efforts. Creating a tipping point is key: “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior… you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured,”  underscores Malcolm Gladwell.

11. Multiple projects/people supporting the same ideals all across district
We intentionally create a culture of innovation in practice by seeding pockets of innovation all across the district. Whether it is an Innovative Learning Designs project, a Learning Commons transformation, Making Thinking Visible, Out of Their Heads or a SS11 e-text initiative, they are all opportunities to focus teachers on shifting pedagogy to better embrace the ideals of curriculum transformation.

12. Mobile learning + the new electricity
Based on the key trends identified in The Horizons Report, we made a decision to focus on mobile devices. That decision meant that providing a quality wireless solution together with upgrading Internet links were top priorities for all our schools. We want to create opportunities for students to learn on any device, anytime, anywhere.

13. Education requirements leading technological shifts
Whatever technological changes are taking place around the world, we know the needs of learning should set direction for how technology is provided. All technology decisions are to be made in service of the needs of learners and educators.

Thanks to the many educators in our Innovative Learning Designs projects that contributed to our learning. Thanks as well to the members of the three focus groups that responded to our questions as we explored ideas such as: what works well, what needs improvement, where to next? Your insights enable us to move forward on the continuous improvement journey. The guiding principles themselves were developed and refined by a team: Helping Teachers Orwell Kowalyshyn (@kowalyshyn), Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), Lisa Domeier (@librarymall), IT Director Dan Turner (@dj_turner) and myself.

Our Participant Driven Unconference

“It’s all about passion. If you are bored teaching what you are teaching, change.”
Teacher

There were awkward moments. Like when we were just starting the morning and an educator whispered to me, “This is out of my comfort zone.” Things that are new and different from our regular experience can be uncomfortable. This is true. There were also amazing moments. The dialogue was rich, diverse, challenging and informative.  Teachers described heir journey. They spoke about their practice and how it was changing. People shared their challenges, the struggles and joys of teaching, and their hopes for their students. And people connected to the stories and to each other because it is about the relationships.

Last month our district organized our second-ever EdCamp Unconference. We invited teams from forty of our Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 2) schools. About 150 attended and when I asked at the start of the morning how many had ever attended an EdCamp, only four people (one of which was me), put up their hand. EdCamp is referred to as an “unconference.” It is a structure for “promoting organic, participant–driven professional development.” (See here). You can find out more about it on Wikipedia.

I think this video captures some of the spirit of the day:

Surrey Ed Camp 2013 from paul langereis on Vimeo.

For me what was powerful were the words of Catherine Berron, Principal of Riverdale Elementary, when she said, “And what I really liked was the fact that people felt comfortable enough to share where they were at in the journey.  There was a certain level of trust and I think it tells a lot about who we are in the district that we can have that conversation.”

Let’s keep the conversation going.

Special thanks to Helping Teachers Kevin Amboe, Orwell Kowalyshyn, Ross Powell, Sarah Guilmant-Smith and Iain Fischer for their work in organizing the event. Thank you to Paul Langereis for putting together the movie for us.

 

Reflection: The Vehicle for Continuous Improvement

Reflection can help deal with ambiguity, stress and change. In our work, we often have to cope with new, unique problems we have not met before. The ability to reflect is essential to recognising and confronting the uncertainly we feel as we try to deal with these problems.

All this means that reflection is not a bland or innocuous process—it is central to becoming a powerful, critical professional who is prepared to challenge the way things are done.

Quality Improvement Agency for Lifelong Learning

This past week was mind-bending in a multitude of ways. Our district was fortunate to have Bill Ferriter from North Carolina present as part of our Engaging the Digital Learner Series: Going Deeper. Bill encouraged teachers to be innovative with their practice and to ask students to do work that truly matters. Bill challenged us to create highly engaged learning spaces to meet the needs of the iGeneration. The impact of his message on the audience of 280educators was electrifying. Even our district’s twitter feed was working overtime as educators responded to the session, sharing their learning in the room.

For me, there was an ironic juxtaposition between encouraging educators to push the boundaries of their practice, connecting students to others around the world to solve real and meaningful problems while simultaneously pausing to examine our practice in the light of Internet safety and privacy issues.  The timing was coincidental but we (Dan Turner, Director of IMS and myself) had invited Alec Couros to come to our district to examine our practices and give us advice on the work we are doing. Alec is a well-regarded Professor of Education Technology at the University of Saskatchewan, a sought-after presenter, and a thought leader on navigating the digital highway (see here). Together, we are looking at important questions, such as:

  • What does governing a progressive, innovative, digital, 24/7, 21st century learning environment look like?
  • How can we create safe, collaborative environments for student and staff to personalize their learning while maximizing the use of Web 2.0 tools?
  • How can we navigate the risks successfully?
  • What are the checks and balances we need moving forward as a district?
  • What safeguards need to be in place to ensure the “walled garden” provides safe opportunities for students to become responsible digital citizens?
  • Conversely, outside of the “walled garden,” what safeguards need to be in place to ensure students become responsible digital citizens?

If the world is indeed our classroom–we can now see and almost touch it through technology–we need to ensure we are preparing students to navigate the digital landscape both safely and successfully.  We also want to make sure that we are using technology for meaningful work and not for mere digital entertainment.

Alec Couros was collecting data on this visit. We were approaching the questions and our dilemma through a case study analysis. We arranged for him to visit some lead schools and teachers (George Vanier Elementary, Johnston Heights Secondary and Bonaccord Elementary) to find out how their students were engaging in the digital space and what safeguards were in place. We want to find a way to put systems into place to ensure ALL of our schools are engaging in best practices navigating the new digital frontier.  We did not want to select schools where we knew they were doing it “right” but schools where they were stretching the boundaries of their practice. We also had Alec interview selected individuals (Helping Teachers, IMS staff and Senior leaders) that could provide him with a snapshot of the burning issues or concerns that arise when you release students and teachers to learn using 21st century ideals.

I was fortunate enough to attend many of these interviews. Teachers and administrators described what the students in their classes and schools were doing. Teachers are providing amazing learning experiences for students. The dialogue was rich. The conversations frank. Dilemmas were discussed and potential solutions explored.  Not all of the questions were comfortable for us. Sometimes we need to be a little uncomfortable. It provides us with the motivation to change. When you invite an expert in, there is a large measure of vulnerability that goes along with that. The learning for all of us at the table was valuable and thought provoking.

For me personally, having someone examine our work in the district was a reflective exercise on my leadership. I had the “should have” experience. I should have communicated more. I should have provided more guidance. I should have demonstrated more leadership when I knew things needed to be done. I should have spent more time doing XX. I should have delegated other duties and made these ones a priority. I should have spoken up at critical meetings. Why didn’t I insist that some of these matters were important and we needed to find agreement and resolution as a district?  If principals and teachers do not know or have the information they need to ensure students are educated appropriately, we in district positions bear that responsibility. Clearly, I should have carved out time to stop and think about the work on a larger scale rather than rush from meeting to meeting to attend the urgent as opposed to that which is truly important. “For many practitioners, doing swallows up learning” (see Joy Amulya, italics mine). I needed more of a reflective pause to determine what really mattered.

Of course, I have excuses. I could make lists of them. At the end of the day, however, the responsibility for guiding the educators in our district rests on my shoulders as a Director of Instructor with Technology in my portfolio. I share that responsibly with other Senior Leaders but, for the most part, the buck stops at my doorstep. Having had the opportunity for some sleep, some family distraction, some unrelated reading, a longish run in the fresh air, a late afternoon nap—I can now step back and see it more objectively. Dissonance and a “should have” experience is not such a bad thing; it will motivate me to ensure we come out at the other end in the best possible position we can be in. Even the Wikipedia entry on Reflective Practice notes, “In particular, people in leadership positions have a tremendous development opportunity if they engage in reflective practice” (italics mine).

At the end of Alec’s time with us, he will prepare a white paper (of sorts) and we will have recommendations to help move us forward. I look forward to benefiting from his expertise (and of those he interviewed). We hope it is a document that other districts might find valuable as well. Our goal is to continue to be innovative, providing rich learning opportunities for students and teachers that make sense for our generation of learners. We do this is the context of continuous improvement. As we engage in “deeper forms of reflection, it becomes possible to identify learning edges, those questions or issues that an individual or group is seeking to understand in order to advance their work” (see Amulya).  I want to be on the learning edge to push the boundaries of what we can do in education. We engage in reflective practice as a form of purposeful learning (see Amulya). It drives us to action and is the vehicle for continuous improvement. I look forward to the journey.

Extreme Learning: Extreme Influence


Karen Lirenmans is an extreme learner. This is not much different from how she trains. We rode our bikes out to the tip of River Road and back again. It was on the way back and in the last five minutes of our 90-minute ride that she dropped me.  I was actually stunned. I had forgotten she had completed five Ironmans. She is unassuming in her endurance and remarkable in her tenacity. She brings the same intensity to her learning and her teaching. Perhaps what is most remarkable about Karen, however, is the measure of influence she is having across North America. Tucked away in the corner of Bonnacord Elementary School in Surrey, B.C., she spends her days teaching six year olds. This is her first love. She cares passionately and deeply about her students.  She is determined to see them be successful. By night she shares her stories, her struggles and her passion for learning and her students around the globe.

Karen is focused on good instruction. She only recently fell into using technology. Initially, she didn’t even have an iPad. She borrowed the district’s loaner iPod set for a short time.  Seeing her intensity for integrating technology, my team found a way to get her one iPad. That was how it started. We smuggled her into an Apple Canada Bootcamp at the Richmond Headquarters with a secondary school staff so she could get some intensive hands-on instruction. From that small beginning she has since been catapulted into the limelight as an oft-requested presenter, speaker and writer.  She has even been asked to write a book. Her post about Using One iPad in the Classroom (click here) went viral, receiving over 7600 hits.  She has written for the International Reading Association on three separate occasions (click here).  She has written for Kidblog as well (click here). Her podcast is featured here.  Her upcoming webinar is scheduled December 8th and you can register here. She just became a DEN Star (see what that means here). Besides her prolific popularity in the digital world, she is frequently asked to present after school workshops or pro-d sessions in our district. She is one of our district’s Innovators (also referred to as a “mover & shaker”) as well as a Digital Coach. She is now involved in an Innovative Learning Designs Project (Phase 2) at her school as well as the district’s Making Thinking Visible (one-to-one literacy pilot). She is recently became part of a joint initiative between the district and the union focused on Teacher Inquiry.

In her words:

In July 2011, I joined twitter and almost immediately became a connected educator learning from some amazing global educators.  Seeing the potential of being a connected educator, I felt it was important for my students to be connected learners too.  We set up a class blog where we shared our learning with the world (over 20,000 hits).  My students were given their own individual blogs to write for a global audience.  We regularly visited class blogs, and left comments and responded to the comments that left for us.  We skyped, and face timed with classes in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Illinois, sharing our learning with them while learning from them too.  We took part in twitter chats with other classes, and even started our own hash tag where we shared secrets about Santa with the world.   We learned how to draw a comic character from a student in Ontario through a video his teacher had.  We connected globally and learned from students around the world.  In addition we were involved in several global projects including Quad Blogging, Full of Beans Project, and a Flat Classroom Pilot Project.  We worked collaboratively with many other classes in the Flat Classroom project. While my students learned from me, their teacher, they also learned from one another and from children and teachers around the world.  We were true global learners. Oh and did I mention, my students were only in grade one.

Karen continues to push her own learning, to create connected opportunities for her students and to share her thinking around the globe. Few would know we have a teacher like this hidden in our own backyard. A women of extremes, whether she is training for an Ironman, pursuing her own learning, teaching her students or influencing the educators around her and across the globe—clearly, she is transforming the way we learn and teach.

Karen Lirenman teaches at Bonnacord Elementary School in Surrey, British Columbia. She has taught for over 20 years. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @KLirenman. She is a regular contributor to #1stchat.

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.    

 

Genius Hour: Exploring Your Passion

Who owns the learning? The students! Who’s working harder, and enjoying it? The students!                                                                                                        –Joy Kirr

Sometimes we have experts right in our own backyard and don’t necessarily realize it. Gallit Zvi is one of those teacher-leaders. She is creating a path for her students to pursue their interests. Her students own their learning. Gallit is actively engaged in promoting passion-based learning via the use of Genius Hour.  Gallit didn’t invent Genius Hour but is one of the lead-teachers in North America that is encouraging it. The credit for Genius Hour can be shared with others such as Denise Krebs (@MrsKrebs), Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers), Daniel Pink (author of Drive, @DanielPink) and many others.

Gallit Zvi (@gallit_z) is a grade five teacher at George Vanier Elementary School. Her school is one of the Innovative Learning Designs (Phase 1) schools in our district. Gallit’s teaching practice has been transformed by her beliefs about student learning.  Gallit shares her experiences with teachers in our district and around the world through her use of social media and blogging. She is a resource person for many other people. She writes eloquently about Genius Hour here. Moreover, she also created a wiki of helpful resources and links.

Foundational to Gallit’s teaching practice is her own beliefs about education and her role within it.

I believe it is my job to teach students to be creative, critical and inquisitive thinkers. Technology allows me to do this in a transformative way. This aligns with the BC Ed Plan, which states that as educators, our role has shifted from ‘being the primary source of content to focus[ing] on helping students learn how to learn.’  In order to achieve this I am a supporter of passion based learning through Genius Hour.  Genius Hour is an opportunity for students to choose what they want to learn about, by creating their own inquiry project.

Gallit makes use of technology with her students as well.  Her students have created ePortfolios, “in which they documented their own learning and showcased the work they were most proud of.” She writes about the experience here and shares the next steps in her own learning. Her students are very comfortable using technology to communicate as they blog and tweet regularly from their class account.  Her students also use all sorts of technology, from cameras to “their own devices, this was important to me, as I recognize it is important for students to learn how to utilize their own technology, when learning, responsibly.”

Gallit describes it herself in her own post, “because of Genius Hour I am a changed teacher forever.  I no longer need to be in control of all of the learning. I have learned that it is okay, and actually highly beneficial, to step back and allow the learning to happen.”

Thanks to Gallit Zvi for sharing her learning with me. I also want to acknowledge her teaching colleague (Hugh McDonald, @hughtheteacher) and her principal (Antonio Vendramin, @vendram1n) for their support of her learning. Gallit helps moderate a #geniushour twitter chat held once a month. The next one is Wed., Nov. 7th at 6 pm PST.