Tag Archives: ipads

All Canadian Surrey Schools: The Apple of Apple’s i

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The prestigious award for Apple Distinguished Program is finally coming to Canada and has landed in Surrey. The Social Studies iPad E-text Project is an exciting innovation and an important part of a larger radical social movement happening in Surrey (#sd36learns). The teacher-led grassroots initiative is the forerunner program through which this recognition was achieved. The Social Studies 11 course provided the impetus for both students and teachers to “jump-start” learning through technology. Specifically, the course prepares students for their lives as Canadian citizens and their roles and responsibilities as members of the international community. It seems more than appropriate that the first district award for the Apple Distinguished Program in Canada is awarded to an initiative that encounters the Canadian experience. An honor indeed!

The Leap

The Social Studies iPad and E-text Project was a bold step. A key aspect of the initiative was that it was grassroots, driven and led by Social Studies teachers and department heads. The teacher-led innovation placed the iPad and the E-text technology tools directly into the hands of the students and teachers. Students were given the iPad, in part, to create digital content to showcase their learning.  This initiative is unique in that it provides digital tools and digital resources to students to meet the needs of the newly emerging curriculum in BC (BC Ministry documents).

Educators felt that the opportunity to incorporate technology with the curriculum would greatly enhance collaborative inquiry, student engagement and also help move instruction closer to the practices of personalized learning.    

Teachers and their students took a leap. They acted with courage capturing an opportunity to change traditional ways of learning in the Social Studies classroom. The learning curve was steep and the journey was not always easy.

ADP Award-compressed7

The Pull

Steeped in Surrey tradition, helping teachers (teacher leaders) navigate not only the classroom but also the middle space bringing administrators, teachers and students together transforming education. An integral part of the project was providing support to all participating schools by a team of district helping teachers. This team as part of the Surrey Schools’ Education Services hosted boot camps for all teachers using the iPad. Through cutting edge practice they “pulled” the schoolhouse beyond traditional literacies toward closer examination of personalized learning, improving student/teacher learning and enhancing student/teacher engagement.

Surrey’s deliberate, multifaceted approach to staff development and the provision of innovative technologies has fostered networks of educators committed to purposefully exploring new ways to improve student learning and extending their professional repertoires. Teachers, students, administrators, and staff mobilize their school communities aligning effective use of technology for learning with the shared vision of transforming education. The intense investment “pulls” the community of learners together and fans the fire of innovation.

The Champion

Who are the champions? “It is all of those people that are out there trying things out, they’re on twitter, the ones who are excited about learning, period. They are always wondering and doing something different.”
Karen Steffensen, Assistant Superintendent

ADP Award-compressed1JB Mahli, Social Studies Helping Teacher, championed the project. Through his thoughtful and credible leadership he piloted the project in his own Social Studies 11 classroom. As Social Studies Helping Teacher he modelled innovative practice and advocated for new approaches. His actions invigorated all those involved creating an environment where everyone could voice ideas and benefit from collective wisdom. From start to finish JB was an inspired steward for the project. One teacher said, “While I do believe that my teaching practice has changed because of the introduction of the iPad having a helping teacher who has also been talking about using problem and inquiry-based instruction, as well as critical thinking and historical thinking, is important as well.”

The Impact

Partway through the project important questions were posed. Was this project making a difference to student learning, student engagement and was it moving pedagogy closer to personalized learning practices? Was it meeting school district priorities? Has there been an impact?

The online survey gathered information of teacher’s and student’s perceptions specific to utilization of the iPad and E-text focusing in three key areas: student learning, student engagement, and the shift in instructional practices toward personalized learning. In addition, open-ended questions were asked about strengths, weaknesses of the program as well as suggestions for improvement. At this stage of the project it was important to provide some data around the impact of the project for moving practice forward.

Results indicated there were positive changes in the way that both students and teachers experienced Social Studies 11.  All teachers described changes in their pedagogy, which they felt, were directly related to the impact of Social Studies iPad & E-text project.

Significant Shifts in Instructional Practices

  • Shift in pedagogy away from content coverage to teachers being facilitators of learning and advocates of student created content.
  • Teachers shifted away from a task-oriented classroom to a learning and experiential orientated classroom.
  • Teachers centered their instructional practices on meeting the needs of students by using iPad, Apple TV and other tools to engage students.
  • Students felt encouraged by their teachers to demonstrate their learning in a way that meets students’ needs and choice.
  • More instructional time was dedicated to student interacting and sharing with one another using the iPad.
  • Teachers took the lead in instructional design and have created iTunesU courses to increase the amount of Canadian content available and to provide a platform to learn by inquiry in an interactive way.
  • Most profound change among teachers was the shift from simply covering information in the classroom to creating, curating and sharing content.


iTunes U SS 11

Radical? Contagious?

Word spread. In hindsight it seems that the initiative was like a contagion. More and more teachers and administrators wanted to “act” on the opportunity. In this case the project used learning with technology as a lever with the overriding vision to transform education. It is the growth in numbers of participants, the depth of learning and the changed behaviour of participants that signal a radical movement.

Surrey School District transforms education by creating a radical social movement of educators committed to altering their practice in order to deepen student learning. This uses a form of leadership that focuses on exponential rather than incremental change by creating networks of field-based educators committed to sharing their practice and spreading the change to others. It is about distributed leadership so that it is not the central person at the board office that owns or dictates the vision of transforming learning but the professionals in the field who own it. This vision for the iPad E-text project proved to be realistic and achievable.

All along the way the project exemplified qualities and characteristics that closely align with Apple Distinguished Program best practices. Leaders have been strategic in ensuring all stakeholders have a voice in the direction of the project and have had an opportunity to learn, play and share their successes and challenges. The project has been robust and resilient evolving to meet the needs of diverse learners. In the words of Apple “the project demonstrated an innovative and compelling learning environment that engaged students and provided tangible evidence of academic accomplishment.”

The Social Studies iPad E-text project is the recipient of the Apple Distinguished Program award and is in reality, a Canadian first.

 

Final from Willi - Distinguished_Program_Blk_1ln_sm

 

Apple Distinguished Program

Recognized by Apple as a distinguished program for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence.

Note from Elisa Carlson:
Guest post is by Dr. Donna VanSant (@vansantd) of Healthy Ventures, some edits are mine. Thank you to former Social Studies Helping Teacher JB Mahli (currently Vice-Principal at Semiahmoo Secondary School) for leading this project. Thanks to Information & Media Literacy Helping Teachers, Kevin Amboe, Orwell Kowalyshyn and Lisa Domeier for providing inspiration and support along the way. Our appreciation goes to the Social Studies Department Heads and Social Studies teachers in the district for diving into the project. Surrey truly has amazing teachers! Thanks to the unseen but essential support of Gloria Morton (Manager, Learning Resources) and Dan Turner (Director, Information Management Systems) who managed all the technical pieces so the magic could happen.

iStory-Telling

“The truth about story telling is… that’s all we are.”  Dean Shareski

We live in our stories. There is power in telling our stories and sharing them with others. This video celebrates the learning that took place in the Surrey School District during Year One of our Innovative Learning Designs Project. The focus for the video was to explore how we, as educators, might facilitate and transform the story-telling skills of our students through the integration of technology in the classroom.

As Lisa Domeier de Suarez (former Teacher Librarian Helping Teacher) visited the various pilot schools and talked to the students and teachers involved she discovered the myriad ways students were using technology to tell their stories.  Ms. Domeier de Suarez noted the wide range of age groups and ability level able to participate in these projects.  The students readily embraced the possibilities and transformative directions made possible by the use of various technological tools and by being connected with the outside world through web publishing.

Students of all ages and ability levels were able to create: eBooks, movies, animations, stop-motion movies, demonstration videos — even alternative ‘histories’ of civilization — to tell their stories and share these stories with the rest of the world.

The response of those involved was overwhelmingly positive.  These story-telling projects were opening doors for students to share themselves with the world and each other in new and exciting ways.  There was a palpable sense in those interviewed that they were just beginning to discover the possibilities available; where this could go in the future was anyone’s guess.

Note: Thank you to Chris Walton, LST Teacher, for writing this guest post. This video features the reflections of several of our students along with Fraser Heights Vice Principal, Denton Muir, and SD 36 teachers:  Lynda Dyck, Barbara Feltham, Lara Hayward, John Kelly, Jessica Pelat, Narinder Walia, Chris Walton and Jody Wilson.  Thanks to, Lisa Domier de Suarez and Forrest Smith, for creating this video snapshot of Year One of our learning journey. This video premiered as part of an #sd36learn workshop at ISTE last year.

For more on story telling in the 21st Century see this slideshare by Dean Shareski:

http://www.slideshare.net/shareski

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…

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.

iPads: A Bolt or a Lever for Authentic Learning?

Yesterday I attended my first webinar. I probably shouldn’t admit that but it is true. There are other first experiences that I’m hoping to have before my summer is over. I consider this my summer to play with technology. I registered for this particular ASCD webinar because it was focused on using the iPad as a production tool for authentic learning. I wanted to compare what the speaker had to say with the direction we have been moving as a district. We have been repeating the mantra, in various forms: it’s about the learning and not about the technology. Mike Fisher, the presenter, opened with:

Fisher referenced Alan November’s book Empowering Students with Technology (2009) for his discussion on using technology as a production tool in education. November describes automating–using technology to bolt on top of existing educational practices–as limiting. Fisher’s example was using the Smartboard as a traditional blackboard rather than using it as an opportunity to change instructional practices. The goal would be to move from automating to using technology for informating or amplifying. November explains,

You get very different results when you informate. The real revolution is information and communication, not technology. Let go of the word technology. If you focus on it, then you’ll just do what you’re already doing.

Amplifying is the idea of publishing or broadcasting your work. When you think about using technology for informating or amplifying, it it similiar to Bernajean Porter’s notion of using technology to transform learning. It empowers students to use the tool to access information and engage in the creation of a new product. Fisher emphasized the need to shift to student-centered work; the student is the producer rather than consumer. To make this happen learners need ample opportunities with authentic tasks in alternative instructional contexts. The pieces fit together.

So how can the ipads be catalysts for this pegagogical shift? He talked about apps that provide students with the opportunity to be creative. For example, ShowMe is an app that allows student to make their own simple videos adding audio and text. He also gave an example of Easy Chart, an app students use to create bar, line, pie and sidebar charts. He gave a quick demonstration of Comic Life for the iPad. Many teachers in our district are familiar with this software on the Mac and now it is conveniently available as an app. iMovie was the last app that he walked us through. Again, we use this as well and it is a great app on the iPad. He then provided a list of other suggested apps, including Dragon Dictation, Corkboard, Doodle Buddy, MindMap Creator, and Storykit.

When it came to resources, the item he identified as most useful for teachers was Livebinders. Unlike google, it’s a curated search where you get the information that is most relevant to your needs as an educator. If you search iPads in Livebinders you can find lots of folders with excellent information. The folders are rated with stars and the number of users so you have a sense of the popularity of the information inside the folder. Check out Mike Fisher’s folder as a good example. When I attended the CUE conference last spring, Livebinders was also named as a key resource. I suggest you bookmark it.

As we move forward with the iPad technology, it will be important to remember, it can be a powerful tool to leverage student learning. It is teachers, however, who will make the difference. We can simply bolt the iPad onto what we already do OR we can look at it as a lever to unleash constructivism-teaching strategies. Bolt or lever–what will you choose?

Innovate with students at heart

What does it mean to be part of an innovative project? To innovate is to behave in ways that are contrary to the norm. Innovation is the creation of something new from experimentation and study. The Innovative Learning Designs Project is an opportunity for teachers to experiment with their teaching in the context of the 21st century. This project allows teams of teachers to explore new ways of teaching that take advantage of digital tools and the “screenager” mindset. How can we create the best teaching and learning experiences for students? What instructional innovations have the greatest impact on student engagement and learning? What conditions will allow students to take greater ownership of their own learning? As educators, where will our own learning be in this two-year journey?

I have to say I was particularly impressed with the applications we received for this project and the depth of thought invested in developing school action plans. I learned a great deal that I want to share here.

The most powerful tool we have is our brains.  Scherer (2011) emphasizes, “Engagement isn’t a focus on entertainment; it is about brain activity. Is each student’s brain fully engaged?” Teachers were clear that the project was not about the regurgitation of facts but the opportunity for students (and teachers) to transform their thinking by creating new knowledge and understanding. We leverage technology on the digital highway to stretch student thinking. Technology, “…does not drive the learning—the learning intentions come first.” Technology enhances those learning intentions but it is the thinking that is central to improved learning.

It is not about the i-candy (ie, the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch). One school summed it up this way: “From the perspective of the school and the research team members, it is critically important that everyone understands what this research project with the integration of the iPads CANNOT become. The iPads will NOT be used as toys, entertainment devices or as distractions from the learning tasks in the classroom.” And the researchers could not have been more clear that their focus is on improving student learning. How will they do that? By engaging their learners in the four C’s of 21st century learning: communication, critical thinking and problem-solving, creativity and innovation, and collaboration.

Student thinking and learning has shifted. For example, “Students today are texting, emailing, tweeting, face booking, blogging, video chatting, and playing realistic games with others across the country or across the world for extended periods of time. They are familiar with receiving instant, real time action and updates.” Teachers in the project recognize they, “need to explore ways to use students’ digital knowledge to enhance learning, and to use these tools to motivate students.”  When we understand their world, we can hijack their digital interests for our own learning objectives.

Finally, teachers make a fundamental difference in the lives of students. The work of teachers is critical. A good teacher can take an activity or lesson and make it a powerful learning experience.  But it is not just about what a good teacher does with lesson design–it is also about the relationship between student and teacher. For those students that struggle and have disengaged from the system, a thoughtful, caring teacher that understands their world—in this case, a new digital world–can have a powerful impact. No matter how much we innovate in this project, when we keep students at the center of our work and in the centre of our hearts, it is then that we will make the difference.