Tag Archives: teachers

The Prezi Party

My calendar was pretty full but the teacher was strategic. She sent me an email invitation with an embedded video of her three students inviting me to their party. There I was, face-to-face with three girls. It was pretty hard to look them in the eye and think of saying no. I was also curious to find out what these students thought of using prezi as a tool to demonstrate their learning.  Thus, this past week I ended up in the library at Green Timbers Elementary with Mrs. Thiessen’s grade 3 class.

As a member of district staff, it was actually a bit of treat to be back in a school setting and see the excited faces and keen enthusiasm of these students. (Yes, sometimes I really miss being a principal). And Mrs. Thiessen knows how to organize a party. There was finger food, cake, punch and medals for all of the students at the end of the presentation. She made sure she had invited special guests so the students had an authentic audience as well.  You can watch a video of her party here. There were many things that impressed me about the party; here are a few observations:

1. The students designed their own rubric to assess their learning. The rubric included the things that these students felt were important. They wanted to make sure that: they stayed on topic, they included captions, the information reflected their learning, they used appropriate grammar and punctuation and that they demonstrated the ability to embed videos and pictures in their presentation. Finally, they tried to add some “cool factor” for a special effect. By helping design the rubric, the students were owning their learning.

2. The students had learned a new tool. I have never made a prezi and I could see that they clearly had a few things to teach me.  I was also amazed at their versatility using prezi for being in grade 3. Two of the invited guests also have children in grade 3. We noted that our own children have only had the opportunity to use computers in their schools to do typing and math games. It was nice to see these students using technology creatively to support their learning.

3. This tool gave students the opportunity to represent their learning in a variety of ways. Each presentation was different and you could not tell who was learning disabled, gifted or simply a struggling learner.  As one student shared:

 4. The students were deeply engaged in their learning. At the end of each of their presentations they reflected on their experience and what they thought about learning in this fashion.

This Integrated Media Literacy Project was a joint initiative with the Education Department of Vancouver’s Pacific Cinematheque.  They are a non-profit charitable organization that focuses on teaching the creative, critical and pedagogical aspects of digital media production, media literacy and film education.  They provided a trained facilitator, Adelle Cabral, to help the students learn about Web 2.0 tools. The students chose prezi as the tool they most wanted to investigate. The students, the teacher, the parents, and guests enjoyed the opportunity to see the students present their learning. And as one guest described it, “Talk about personalized localized learning. Now these students really know where they live…on this planet.”

Innovative Learning—For Teachers, For Students and For Me

I have the privilege of visiting schools. Once a week I head out for a site visit with Dan Turner, the Director of Information Management Systems (IMS), to the Innovative Learning Designs schools. We send a list of questions out to the principals ahead of time. For example, Where is the integration of technology working well? Do you have any evidence it is impacting student learning? Are you and your students using social media? Is BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) happening at your school? If not, help us understand what the barriers might be to encouraging this practice? And, how can you move BYOD forward at your own school? How are you (as administrators) using technology to accelerate your own learning? How are you using your own use of technology to impact your staff? The district has created a potential cadre of digital coaches (technology facilitators, teacher-librarians and administrators) at every school in Surrey. How can you use this cadre to help push practice forward? What are the challenges, if any, from a technical point of view (equipment maintenance, wireless, internet speed, technical support)? Although we send out a list of questions ahead of time, we also let the administrators know that the visit is intended to be a “learning conversation.” They are welcome to invite any staff member to join us or to have us take a tour of classrooms instead. Sometimes the conversations supersede the questions with the exciting stories of staff and student learning.

There are so many things I have learned. I have been amazed at the work of our teachers–their excitement, their enthusiasm and their willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of their own learning. I also have a much greater appreciation for my administrative colleagues. Their leadership, sometimes seemingly silent in the current political context, is still so clearly evident.  Both teachers and administrators are anchored in keeping student learning at the centre. Truly, I am humbled by the work and dedication of both.

1. Teachers are learning.
Although I have only visited about half a dozen schools, already themes seem to be emerging. Here is what I have noticed:
The Hillcrest Elementary grade seven teacher was clear, “It has totally revolutionized how I teach. I am not at the centre. The kids are at the centre.” As she further described it, “Being part of the project has forced us to be accountable for our learning.” “The younger generation has inspired us to play.” And, they are “bringing their world to us.” For many teachers, it has revitalized their passion for learning and their love for teaching.
2. Teachers are learning, together.
We have discovered that teachers are leading the learning. The strength of this teacher-leadership was clear at MJ Norris Elementary. Teachers are sharing their learning in collaborative sessions.  The same is true at other schools. They are meeting afterschool, at lunch or in the morning to explore their questions, together. They are inquiring into their work and how they define their best practice, together. The opportunity to be part of the initiative has created the impetus to ask the key questions, together: What are the learning intentions? What do we want the students to know and do? In what way might the technology help us achieve this? Teachers are owning their own learning as they help their students to own their learning. They are all doing it together.
3. Students are engaged.
At Cindrich Elementary, the students were described as “leaning into” their learning. The intense engagement was “incredible.” “Teachers have not had a single behavior problem.“ The output of students has been remarkable. George Vanier students have been experimenting with Genius Hour (you can read about it on twitter). At Hillcrest Elementary, students have created amazing websites for their Science projects. Perhaps, however, what is most remarkable is that the students, after creating the rubrics for their assignments, have asked to revise their rubrics as they have discovered they no longer describe their learning. The power of assessment and descriptive feedback is clearly at work; student ownership of their learning is profound. At George Vanier Elementary, after the students learned how to create their own websites, one of the students even built a website for his dad’s company. That’s authentic and practical learning that has clearly transferred to the real world!

Although I have only been to one third of the schools involved in this initiative I am already amazed at the learning—for both students and staff—that is taking place. I am not naïve to believe that this is the result of the project, or the result of the technology—it is actually about the passionate commitment of teachers working together to improve student learning.  I am just privileged to be a witness.

From Teacher-Librarian to Digital Literacy Impresarios

The Teacher Librarians’ role in our district is evolving and expanding in the digital landscape and they need an innovative tool as educator leaders to push professional practice forward. The iPad is a learning and creation tool that will help Teacher Librarians to promote innovative teaching and learning in their schools. TLs, in collaboration with staff, directly contribute to more relevant, engaging learning experiences for students.

Seth Godin calls librarians “a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user”. He goes on to state that the future of librarians is as “producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario”. In Surrey, we have already embraced the dual notion of a librarian as teacher and now we need to expand this role as an impresario of digital information and a foreman in information construction.

As we move towards the library as a learning commons, a “full-service learning, research, and project space” (EDUCAUSE 2011), Teacher Librarians need innovative tools to help them do their best work in serving students and teachers. The library needs to be, as David Warlick states, a “making commons” where students learn how to construct their learning and share it with others. Teacher Librarians are the perfect fit for sharing best teaching practice as that is what they do all day, share and connect people with information, whether it be the right book, teaching strategy or district database.

What would an iPad in the library look like?

  • Personal learning and communication tool with the idea that TLs become advocates for innovative technology use at the school level
  • Promotional device to promote the ethical creation and consumption of digital resources such ebooks, epubs, and district databases
  • Students create ibooks, comics, graphic novels and movies about books they are reading to promote literacy in the school and community
  • Students Skype directly to authors and local and international experts
  • The Teacher Librarian becomes one of the go-to-people in the school to promote innovative teaching and learning
  • The library more than ever becomes a space where educators come to learn, experiment and create new ideas
  • If a Teacher Librarian works at more than one site, the iPad travels with her or him. When Teacher Librarian leaves the district, s/he gives the iPad to their replacement.

For the first time, as David Warlick stated in our Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series, we are preparing students for a future that we can’t describe. What will a traditional story time in the library look like in the future? Perhaps, Teacher Librarians will read an interactive ebook to students via AppleTV and hand the iPad to a student to read or to share their own ebook with their classmates and community. Educators and students are now not mere passive consumers of information but participants in the creation of information. As Edutopia technology journalist Audrey Watters states, “After all, the library isn’t just a collection of books. It’s a crucial digital / community / free / open / public learning space.”

Written by Lisa Domeier de Suarez (@librarymall), a School District #36 Helping Teacher whose portfolio includes Teacher-Librarians and Information Media Literacy. Excerpt from concept paper prepared for the T-L initiative taking place in our district.

Works Cited
EDUCASE. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/Resources/7ThingsYouShouldKnowAbouttheMo/22714
Godin, S. (2011, May 16) The future of the library. Retrieved from http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/05/the-future-of-the-library.html
 Watters, A. (2011, December 7). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.hackeducation.com/2011/12/07/top-ed-tech-trends-of-2011-the-digital-library/

To Gel or Not to Gel

Some days I just want a really good gel pen and a brand, spanking-new journal notebook. Those are the days when I am tired of hearing about, talking about, and learning about technology. It can all be a bit overwhelming. I think some of the people that tweet and blog have some genetic predisposition to using technology. I do not. I have to work at it. And, for me, it is frustrating. It seems that things never actually behave the way I want them to. I will give you an example. I wanted to create the background to my Twitter profile. I read about it in a book. I tried to follow the directions and three hours later (on a Saturday mind you) I gave up. I paid $4.99 on my Mastercard to get it to behave. I didn’t want to do it that way. I wanted to do it myself.

Okay, another story. So I decided it would be a good thing to follow some of the people in my district who were blogging. As a Director of Instruction, with technology in my portfolio, that seems important for me to do. And frankly, some of these people are posting great material (see Peter Johnston). Unfortunately, what happens is I often miss their new posts. In order to get these posts, I need to subscribe to their blog (if they have included that feature). I was finding it cumbersome to subscribe to blogs as it clutters up my mailbox, which is already protesting over too many emails (and, frankly, I like a clean email inbox, too). So I decided to learn about Google Reader. I put all the blog URLs into Google Reader so I could then create an RSS feed to my Flipboard on my ipad (I may not even be using those terms right in that last sentence!). Now, I love my Flipboard. It helps me manage the flow of information. And, at a quick glance, it allows me to get all the information I need, whether it is catching up on twitter or following blogs.

Of course, this is not the end of the story. I wanted to create a summary paper of all the recent posts that educational leaders in Surrey schools were creating. I felt it would encourage others and they might realize their colleagues are also posting good information. I have seen others do this through paper.li or summify.  This seemed like a reasonable goal. I googled the directions, watched a video, read some FAQ—all of which I found very time-consuming. In the end, I created a paper for the #sd36learn hashtag. That was not my goal but it gave me a chance to practice. I still haven’t created the summary paper of Surrey blogs but I am waiting to see if summify will fit the bill. Actually, I tried summify but it isn’t working as I hoped. The gracious people behind it responded to my tweet for help and gave me additional instructions. Unfortunately, it isn’t generating what I had envisioned.  I will have to find some other tool (another day, when I am not feeling so overwhelmed).

Which all brings me to a point. (You were beginning to wonder, I bet.) I am not the only one that finds it laborious to use technology. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is the most rewarding part of my job.  However, some of us are just challenged. Yes, technically challenged. And I guess that is why it is important for us to pay attention to the learning needs, styles and interests of our colleagues. It works best for me when someone actually shows me what to do (just in time, when I want and need to learn). Then I need them to watch me try to do it myself. I describe this as hand-over-hand (and, please, do not do it for me because if your hands are on the device, I am not learning). Then, they need to release me to do it on my own.  That works best for me.  And, personally, l would like them to check back with me later because my brain feels overstuffed and in between I actually sometimes forget how to do things.

We need to keep this in mind as we provide support to educators. They need to do it themselves, we need to provide the right tool for the their purpose, they need just-in-time training and we need to continue the gradual release of responsibility (with plenty of patience). Remember, those of you reading this post probably have a natural attraction towards technology. We need you to help those of us that don’t. And, finally, please be patient with our learning or we might just throw in the towel and return to our gel pens.

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.

Can we strategize innovation? A teacher responds

“Yes, we can strategize.  It is an uphill battle as it does require going against the status quo (or at least much of the current status quo).
I believe we are moving in that direction and there are two forces that are allowing this move.
1.  We are modelling permission to fail.  Exploring next practices won’t land on the promising practice the first time.  One of my best teaching examples of this was working with a project having students create persuasive videos.  They did all the planning, scripting, and recording to a video camera.  The last stage was to turn it into a newscast with iMovie.  The computers were not cooperating so we tried for 2 blocks and then abandoned the plan.  While they were disappointed, all of the learning goals had already been met.
2.  Removing hurdles and empowering innovation.  The directions we have moved in the District have a strong flavour of removing hurdles.  At the same time, we are providing technology opportunities to explore new technology.  We have provided loaner equipment for several years.  My experience is that once schools dig in and see personally the potential in the classroom, it is just a matter of getting the resources that live in the school to allow further innovation.  One of the best moves from the Maine 1 to 1 laptop project was to provide teachers the laptops 1 year before the students.  In Surrey we have used a similar model by providing the iPads to teachers 4 months before schools.
Can we strategize innovation? Yes.
Are we strategizing innovation? Yes.
Does strategizing require continuous energy to keep it in motion? Yes.
Is the work worth it? Yes.
Has a portion of the status quo moved? Yes.”
The above is a guest post from Kevin Amboe (@amboe_k), Information Media Literacy Helping Teacher with School District #36. He writes in response to the question in an earlier post that asked the question: Can we strategize innovation?

 

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?

Social Media: Busting Down Schoolhouse Doors

Someone laughed at me the other day. Two consultants sent by the Ministry of Education were interviewing several of us about technology, infrastructure, and personalized learning (whatever that means—although I do note they were asking us to define it). I made a statement about Social Media and a colleague jokingly mocked me for my expertise given that I have been on Twitter since April 26th.  That’s almost two months and I think it should count for something! However, now I want to set the record straight. I am not quite the neophyte that everyone assumes. Since I’m desperately trying to catch up, I stumbled on this historical fact in The Social Media Marketing Book (selected by me for its short text and many graphics). Social networking began in the mid-eighties with the introduction of electronic bulletin board systems (BBS). And that’s when I remembered. I was in my first or second year of teaching at D.W. Poppy Secondary when I hooked up my Social Studies 9 class with a class from Prince of Wales Secondary. Our students were engaged in an electronic discussion.  And even back then, I remember that challenge of trying to design questions to encourage student thinking rather than a frivolous exchange of information. The Prince of Wales teacher at the time was doing some very innovative things and, I believe, went on to win what might have been a Premier’s Teacher of Excellence award.

Here we are almost two decades later (yes, I’m dating myself) and it is interesting how sophisticated Social Networking has become. Twitter is totally different that the BBS I remember. No amber text on a black background. The flexibility and ease of use is remarkable. I like how I can choose to retrieve the information most relevant to me. It is only recently that I have found Twitter to be of any value. I feel like I have scored when I find a link that takes me to a really provocative read. I want my thinking stretched. It is becoming, for me, a form of professional development. It is about my learning.

And, I suppose, that’s it. It’s about the learning: for me, for teachers, and for students. And just like two decades ago, it can be a frivolous exchange or a chance to sharpen our thinking. So it’s about the thinking too. It’s all in how we, as educators, take advantage of it. The back cover on the book encourages the reader to take “advantage of social media for your business or organization.” How do we harness it for schools and for students?  I know teachers are using it—I’ve read about it on Twitter and in blogs. Perhaps, it’s really about busting down the schoolhouse doors. Whether it’s Twitter or some other form of Social Media, we can market it for our own purposes. So the learning can take place anywhere, any time, any place.

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.