Tag Archives: schools

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.

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?

Apps & Twitter for my Superintendent

“I love it already.” Those were the words of my Superintendent as we introduced him to Flipboard on his new iPad2 this morning. He continued to download more apps from our list, smiling as he tested each one. Orwell Kowalyshyn, District Helping Teacher, created a list of apps specifically for Administrators. We had used Twitter to get recommendations from those in the field. We weren’t sure what to expect in return; it was a bit of an experiment. We wanted to know: What are the best apps for a superintendent?.  And, whom should a superintendent follow on Twitter?  Of course, I have a small group of followers, and probably the best gift they gave to me was to retweet it out to their own lists. Some of the people following me have over 2,000 followers. That’s the amazing power of Twitter. Then the suggestions came chirping back in and I wondered what the etiquette for Twitter should be. Was I supposed to respond and thank them each individually? My opportunity to thank them is through my blog (thanks @HHG et al.). What I ended up getting back in return were some very helpful suggestions; not just for my Superintendent, but for me as well.

The ideas for apps were great. Some I have on my iPad and some I will now get. The tweets looked like this: Flipboard, Twitter, TED, Google Earth, Kindle, iBooks, Pages, mobile RSS, 2Do (for his to do list), Evernote, Hoot Suite, Simple Goals, Get it Done, and memefy (just for a laugh).   We didn’t want to overwhelm him so we decided to make a summary list of the “must haves.” The list is broken down into three categories: Information Retrieval, Social Media Connections, and Content Creation and Collaboration Tools. I think anyone in a position of leadership would find the list helpful.

Who to follow? One of the first suggestions was to start local and follow teachers in our own district to get a flavor for what is being exchanged (use hashtag #sd36learn). Right now our hot bed of Tweeters seems to be coming from Sullivan Heights Secondary. Most of the Helping Teachers are on Twitter now too. The rest of the suggestions for whom to follow were mostly those involved in some leadership position or individuals considered thought-leaders: @birklearns, @tomschimmer, @darcymullin, @chrkennedy, @johnnybevacqua, @aakune, @vicit, @gmbondi, @k_timms, @jbellsd60, @remi_collins, @datruss, @larryespe, @GrantFrend, @myrondueck, @bbeairsto, @myphronesis, @sbenwell1, @UMAKADIFF, @MrWejr, @davidwees, @russeltarr, @cyberjohn07, and @missnoor28 . Of those individual recommendations, I was only following about six of them. I have now fixed that! Chris Kennedy, West Vancouver Superintendent also gave a summary list of BCSSA colleagues that he could follow.

I have to say, I was very appreciative of those twitter colleagues that responded to my request. The Internet is flooded with information. I don’t want to get swept up in the tsunami. I am looking for help to navigate efficiently through the water, for the sake of my learning and that of others. For me, that is what makes twitter great. My learning is accelerated from the wisdom of those in the field. Special thanks to Orwell for taking that information and giving us the key essentials. Our session with the superintendent was supposed to be only an hour. The tutorial took one and a half hours. I already have an iPad but I learned so much sitting at the table with Orwell. After we left, the Superintendent even tracked us down in the parking lot. “Orwell, just one more question,” he called out. I think it was a hit!