Where Is The Learning?

Originally published April 24, 2016 on CambridgeLearns.

img_5149Cambridge Elementary is two years into a journey of documenting and sharing student learning electronically through digital portfolios. One very important thing that this process has done is essentially reflect back to the viewer a clear picture of the learning that is (and sometimes isn’t) taking place. The documentation forces one to ask the very important question, “Where is the learning?”

In the work I do daily, I have the opportunity to visit many classrooms. These visits allow me to not only connect with and support students and staff, they give me the opportunity to have a strong sense of the learning taking place. Like when I visit digital portfolios, my class visits always take me to the same question, “Where is the learning?” And when I talk about learning, it’s important to know that I don’t just look at specific curriculum connections, but also the development of core competencies and “soft” skills.

A phenomenon that has stormed into Cambridge and many other schools throughout SurreySchools this year is 3-D design and printing. Everyone seems interested in the possibilities of this new technology and students are spending hours of their own time at home designing and testing items. As students become more proficient with their design, we gradually grow closer to the point where they begin to think of how they can harness the power of 3-D design and printing to actually solve real-world problems. We know students everywhere are doing this already! A great example of this is a wonderful project completed by outstanding local Teacher-Librarian Anna Crosland and the students over at my previous school, Georges Vanier, who used 3-D design to create and print braille tags for doors to help a visually impaired student navigate safely from place to place within the school. Read more about this work here!

One teacher in particular at Cambridge Elementary, Peter Beale, has demonstrated a genuine passion for learning about 3-D design and printing and has opened up this new world of learning to his students. Recently, they were given the opportunity to reflect back on their 3-D experiences and they were encouraged to go back to the all important question, “Where is the learning?” Sure we knew students were engaged and had a great time designing and printing their objects, but could they articulate their learning?

Kiera, a Grade 6 student shared:

3D objects designed and printed by a Cambridge learner
3D objects designed and printed by a Cambridge learner

“I created a 3D model of the Eiffel Tower. Later on I added two more towers like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Seattle Space Needle. You might be wondering how I made the Seattle Space Needle, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Eiffel Tower. Well, I searched up tinkercad models of these towers to try and find the right shapes. Somehow I was able to create these towers. I was pretty impressed myself.

Creating the Eiffel Tower wasn’t easy. I really didn’t know what shape to use for the base, until I started experimenting till I finally found it. I really only needed to use 3 shapes. Pyramids, Cubes, and the shape called a Round Roof. Once I was done, I thought it turned out pretty good but I thought I needed more things. You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t add the criss cross like the real Eiffel Tower in Paris. I tried making it but it was complicated. Some things would pop out and it just looked like a big mess.

Now the Space Needle was a different story. It was the hardest one. It took me days just to find the right shapes. I had to combine shapes just to have the right shape. I also searched up a model of the Space Needle and tried to make my Space Needle like theirs. The base wasn’t that hard until I got to the point where there were details that were almost impossible to figure out how to make. In the end, I was able to make it and I was proud of my self.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was probably the easiest one to make. I didn’t really need to search up a model of it from tinkercad cause somehow I was able to just experiment with a bunch of shapes and create the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I duplicated a lot of things and didn’t add much detail as the real one does. I was really happy on how it turned out.

Notice the powerful language…

  • I created
  • I searched
  • I really didn’t know
  • I started experimenting
  • I thought I needed more things
  • I had to combine shapes

mistakesThis learning story talks about critical thinking and problem-solving, not knowing and searching, trying again in the face of failure, and most importantly that mistakes help us learn. The student above communicates clearly where the learning is!

So if you were wondering if students actually learn anything in the process of 3-D design and printing, this student helps us respond to this question with a resounding “Yes.”

Digital Portfolios … Moving Beyond The Glorified Scrapbook

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Surrey Schools Superintendent, Dr. Jordan Tinney, CNN Interview, 2014

Co-authored with Kelli Vogstad.

Inquiry is a dynamic and emergent process that can foster a culture of collaborative learning with teachers working together to consider, explore, and reflect on issues and approaches related to shared questions and intentions. It has been said that when educators make their own discoveries, they become energized by the desire to inquire more deeply and to learn more broadly. You actually get the opportunity to not only ask questions, but also to delve deeply into these questions.

We think it would be safe to say that in the culture of openness, sharing, and genuine curiosity fostered in Surrey Schools, the process of inquiry has led some teachers into a state of dissonance. Dissonance, results as teachers pause and take a step out of their practice and become increasingly reflective. Teachers have called into question much of what they have always done in schools, and careful reflection and discussion, has led them to make responsive changes in practice as they work to better meet the needs of their students. We suspect teachers throughout the district continue to experience this so-called dissonance, and the unrest it has caused has resulted in thoughtful exploration around many topics, one in particular, communicating student learning.

We began by asking . . .

  • What does exemplary communicating regarding student learning look like?
  • Do our current tools and strategies adequately communicate the rich learning taking place in our classrooms?
  • Do parents have the information they need to be the supporters of student learning that we want them to be?
  • Do we hear the voice of students?

For the first time, we were equipped with the tools to create digital portfolios with learning evidence in the form of descriptive feedback, images, audio and video. Imagine giving parents the opportunity to see and hear their children in class engaged in activities that demonstrate their learning in almost real time. Parents can now be invited to look into their children’s classrooms, access activities, and see what their children are learning on their own time and schedules. No longer do they have to wait for the parent-teacher interviews, products to be brought home, or report cards. Teachers now had the tools to make this all happen.

But learning is messy; inquiry is a journey, and most journeys have bumps in the road. With digital tools in hand, it became easy for teachers to collect artifacts…too easy! Many digital portfolios became “media dumping grounds” and “glorified scrapbooks”. In the beginning, it was new and exciting. Parents loved to see their children smiling into the cameras, a beautiful piece of artwork, or a polished published story. As teachers began to question their collections and reflect on the goal behind digital portfolios, they asked themselves: How are we communicating student learning? It became clear that parents didn’t need more, they needed better.

Transformation calls for us to move past simple replication with technology. As our inquiry into communicating student learning continued, teachers had to ask themselves: Were they using these tools to document, show, change, and improve student learning? We had to move beyond the technology, and focus on the pedagogy and what we were really communicating to parents. If you take a picture of a spelling test and send that to a parent does anything really change? Can we justify sending an image of a student simply posing with some artwork which he or she created? If anything, this is a recipe for infuriating parents. As parents ourselves we’d be asking some pointed questions:

  • Really, you spent $500 on an iPad for a teacher so that they could send me a photo of a spelling test?
  • The artwork is great, but can you tell me why they created it and what they were supposed to learn?
  • Why don’t I hear my son or daughter reflecting on what they learned?

It would be easy to be disappointed, to point the finger at technology, to make excuses, but the road forward is not paved with excuses. Rather, it is time to leverage the connections we have with teachers and to harness some of the exceptional exemplars we know exist. These exemplars are created and chosen by asking simple but serious questions whenever artifacts are collected and shared with parents.

Where is the learning?

If we describe learning as a change in behaviour (“I couldn’t do this before and now I can”, or “I used to do this but now I do this”, or “I used to think this but now I don’t because…”) we begin to think critically about what we capture and share. What we document should show what kids know, understand, and can do. What is captured and shared should show a child’s learning over time, changes and growth in his or her ability to communicate, think, and build his or her capacities of self as a learner.

Here are some examples of teachers and students talking about changes in behaviour:

Students making learning visible by explaining their thinking:

Students reflecting on their work over time:

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Students engaged in conversations about their learning:

What is worth sharing?

Parents know their children best. Often times, parents are able to share with teachers, what their children can do. We believe parents want to know how their children are changing, both in how they act and how they think. Parents also want to support their children at home. We can help parents provide better support by showing and communicating to them not only WHAT their children are learning, but WHY. At the same time, if we provide the criteria behind what is shown in the portfolio so students and parents both know what “good” looks like we can help move parents to deeper understandings of the “whys” behind the learning tasks. And, to go further, if we include descriptive feedback prior to summative assessments we can provide parents with meaningful data they can use to assist in the intervention process.

Here are some examples of teachers sharing this kind of valuable information:

Explaining to parents how they can support their children’s learning:

Sharing criteria and exemplars with parents:

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Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 3.35.50 PM

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Explaining to parents WHAT students are learning and WHY:

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How much should we share?

When teachers suddenly found themselves with the ability to easily capture evidence with their devices, they thought they had to capture everything. Not only did this inundate parents, it overwhelmed teachers. We didn’t collect and share everything before; why start now? How much we collect and share is a discussion we are currently engaged in. For us, it comes back to Jordan Tinney’s quote cited at the start of our post, “We’re trying to boil it down to what do parents really want and need to know…”

True, different parents want different things, but we believe all parents want to know if their children are learning and progressing. They want to know if their children are having difficulty and struggling in their learning. They want to know what the teacher is doing and what they as parents can do at home to help their children be more successful. And mostly, parents want to know that their children are cared for, safe and respected, and liked by others. Through thoughtful digital portfolio collections, parents can be reassured that the teacher really understands and knows their child and is helping them learn and succeed.

As we continue this journey of inquiry into communicating student learning, we have become connected in our desire to improve our understandings and practices and to continue to reflect on what we know, what we do, and how this relates to student learning. We are ready for more dissonance and more questions as we develop better and more meaningful ways to help students learn so we indeed have the data and documents to capture and collect and share with parents. This is our challenge!

Practice and Publicity

Much is said these days about “digital footprints”. If people Google you (and they probably do), what do they find and what does it say about you? Who controls that?

wersm-Your-Digital-Footprint-Online-Reputation-Breakdown

Image by We Are Social Media

I am motivated to write this post by a question I heard one Principal ask another of a particular staff member who was a prolific tweeter, blogger, and social media extraordinaire. The one Principal asked, “Gosh, is Steve (not the teacher’s real name) really as good as he seems on Twitter?” The other Principal simply gave a look. The look spoke volumes! There was an obvious disconnect between what this teacher did and what this teacher said.

I’ve also had many people share with me that it drives them crazy when some administrators and teachers seem to use social media to “toot their own horn”.

While the reality is that not everything an educator shares via social media “matches” their practice, I believe that it is healthy to share. Teachers need to share what they are experimenting with in their classrooms. Principals need to share what they are experimenting with in their schools. This sharing helps others learn because it encourages them to reflect on their own beliefs and practice. Most people are apprehensive to share because they fear how this sharing will be perceived or that they don’t have anything significant to share. Sharing takes courage because you open yourself up to the world and to the possibility that someone may disagree with your ideas or views. But, whenever I speak to anyone about the possibility of tweeting or blogging about something, I simply share the message from Derek Sivers’ awesome video, Obvious to you. Amazing to others:

“We’re clearly a bad judge of our own creations. We should just put it out and let the world decide.”

In this sharing though, I think it’s important to be as honest as possible and to not only share what goes really well, but also that which does not go as planned. I screw up a lot – ask anyone! What comes to mind as I sit here typing:

  • I remember my very first MysterySkype with a class from Missouri. I really wanted students to do well so of all things … we talked about Missouri; where is was in the U.S., that it was land-locked… Uh, this is a MYSTERY Skype – students aren’t supposed to know where the other class is from!!! Embarrassing, but I learned. I’ve since done many MysterySkype sessions and helped others with them as well.
  • I remember participating in the WikiSeat project and designing and building my own chair. Once I was done, it was hideous. I wrote a blog about going through this process and having to start all over again: Read that blog here. It’s not always easy to publicly talk about mistakes, but in the end I was happy that I didn’t settle for my first attempt; it clearly wasn’t the best I could do.
  • During a recent Year-End assembly, the video I worked on for hours froze halfway through because I rendered it at the highest possible resolution, resulting in a file over 2 GB that my computer could not handle. This was not a private failure. There were over 700 students, staff, and parents, watching as I tried in vain to get this movie to run. I later rendered the movie at a lower resolution that played fine on my computer. I invited anyone interested to come down to the gym and watch the whole movie. Again, my first attempt was unsuccessful, but in persevering I succeeded.

Many people talk about mistakes and failure and how we should embrace these experiences because they lead to new learning and understanding. We expect it from our students, but do we “put ourselves out there” in a similar way? Do we make ourselves vulnerable? Do we really embrace failure as a vehicle for learning?

FullSizeRender 4While it’s true that practice does not always match publicity, it’s also true that it’s up to the world as an audience to take from digital footprints what they deem true and valuable, and to enter into respectful, dialogue when they disagree with someone’s view. Sharing, however, should always be encouraged because risk leads to growth, we all have something of value to share, and we are better collectively than we are on our own.

Layers

“Layers… Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers… 
You get it? We both have layers!”

-Shrek

IMG_7264I’m a lucky person!

I consider myself lucky for many reasons. Among these reasons are my health, the family I am part of, and the work I do in schools that allows me to make a positive difference every day. What more could I ask?

Most people who know me would also say that I am fairly laid back and that not too much bothers me. For the most part, I think that’s true.

I’ve been sitting on this blog topic for some time and it’s only until quite recently that my wonderful admin partner, Kelli Vogstad (@KelliVogstad), encouraged me to express my thoughts. So, here I go.

I sometimes feel misunderstood and it bothers me! There, I said it.

You see, I have been with the same school district for over 20 years and I have come to be quite “typecast” in that time. In case you didn’t know, many consider me to be a “techie”, as in I like to use computers, iPads, sound equipment, and so on. While I can’t argue this, it bothers me to be considered so one-dimensional. Don’t get me wrong, I think if leveraged properly and integrated thoughtfully, technology can most definitely have a positive impact on student learning.

But, here’s where I reveal a layer of myself most people wouldn’t expect…

I also believe that technology is not THE answer. Using technology to simply replicate what we’ve always done in classrooms, is a waste of valuable funding and doesn’t significantly move student learning forward. Technology cannot save bad teaching or poorly designed learning experiences!
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Obviously, issues in education have layers too!

The fact is, my love of technology is just one aspect of who I am. Like Ogres and everyone else in this world, I do have layers. That’s what makes us all special and unique.

As I write this, I wonder if we sometimes overlook the uniqueness of those we work and learn with everyday.  Do we look at people and issues through a narrow lens and generalize? Are we blind to the layers below the surface? What thoughts come to mind when you consider the following statements:

Male vs. Females students?

Primary vs. Intermediate teachers?

Novice vs. Experienced teachers?

Loud vs. Quiet classrooms?

Siblings of a student you’ve had in your class before?

A student’s socioeconomic background?

Appearance?

This list could go on and on. The point is, many of us have become so busy, we often don’t spend the time needed to do important things well. In schools, we feel pressure to “cover curriculum” so we hop from lesson to lesson and unit to unit without digging deep into meaningful learning.  In working with students, do we follow Dr. Gabor Mate’s advice and “collect” students before we direct them?

We can only do this if we are truly committed to teaching kids first… and subjects second!

How do we welcome students each day?

How do we welcome students who arrive late?

How much do we know about each of our students and do we care?

Do we work hard enough to uncover and appreciate the layers in those we work and learn with everyday?

Innovation Week – Unchartered Territory

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gvInnovationWeekTo me, being innovative doesn’t just mean making things different, but making things better! Given this,  I think our first Innovation Week at Georges Vanier Elementary would meet the criteria for being innovative. Our Innovation Week took place from December 9 – 13, 2013, and was inspired first by witnessing Genius Hour in many classrooms in our school, then by hearing about Jesse McLean‘s experience with his own Innovation Week at Greystone Centennial Middle School in Parkland School Division in Spruce Grove, Alberta. What prompted us further was hearing about Innovation Week over at Fraser Heights Secondary in Surrey.

Discussions started with staff members who embraced the idea, then we began to advertise to students. I have to say that as much as we tried to explain what Innovation Week was (though not really being too sure ourselves), I’m not certain students actually understood what they were signing up for or what they were missing. Some took their application, filled it out as best as they could, while others opted out and decided to wait and see what Innovation Week would look like.

We had a total of 75 students from Grade 3-7 participate. I was neither surprised or disappointed by that number as I didn’t really know how the event would evolve. What I do know is that since there were not enough students participating to collapse other classes to thereby free up teachers, I was alone with the group much of the time. Special thanks for our EA staff who came in to assist and to the many teachers who stopped in to look and ask questions, all on their free time. I even had a teacher who retired last year, Liane Jagger, come and assist for three days. What a great help!

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Innovation Week projects included:

  • Developing an app.
  • Website development.
  • Remote control car modification.
  • Creating a document camera.
  • Building a Minecraft server.
  • A jewelry holder.
  • Christmas crafts.
  • A new and improved chair.
  • A rolling storage container with built-in iPod charger.
  • Modifying a Snickers Bar.
  • A new breakfast cereal.
  • (Just to name a few).

So how was learning improved? Over the course of the week, students:

  • Were engaged in personally relevant learning.
  • Adjusted their initial plans based on the challenges they were having.
  • Became increasingly independent.
  • Confirmed that they made good choices regarding learning partners or realized that the choices they made regarding partners did not help them in their learning.
  • Reflected on the competencies they were developing and demonstrating.
  • Were inspired daily by videos about creativity and innovation. One favourite was Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From below.
  • Were on-task and continued to work without direct adult supervision.
  • Developed ideas for future Innovation Week Events.
  • Were extremely proud on of their learning on presentation day, sharing their projects with peers, teachers, and parents.

Most impressive to me was the curiosity of students who chose not to participate in our initial Innovation Week. These students were often out in the hallway, peering inquisitively at the work begin done inside the gym, asking to come in and see what was happening. But most rewarding to me was the response I received when I asked the group involved in Innovation Week, “Would you participate again?” They emphatically said, “YES!”

As an aside, other innovative ideas that were popping up around the school while Innovation Week took place in the gym.  In Ashley Henderson and Matt White’s classes, students participated in Learn a New Skill week and, like the students participating in Innovation Week, were initially taken aback when given the opportunity to make their own decisions about their learning, but later embraced the freedom of the experience. Skills students decided to focus on included:  juggling, learning card, magic and coin tricks, stop motion animation, duct tape purses, and optical illusions. While in Francoise Rempel and Hugh McDonald‘s classes, students spent time everyday working to create Rube-Goldberg Machines.  I had the chance to visit on the last day and were students ever challenged and engaged!

2013 ended in a very positive way at our school and I look forward to working with our wonderful staff  and community to further explore ways to innovate in order to further engage our learners and bring genuine enthusiasm to the work they do.

What innovative ideas are swirling around in your head?  Are you ready to share them and put them into action?

What’s Different Now?

photo-116Colleagues from my school and I are days away from a sharing session at which we will share our Innovation Learning Designs (ILD) journey with other schools. It has been a journey, but like most journeys, I don’t foresee an actual final destination. How can I? One of my greatest realizations now is that two short years ago we could not have foreseen where we are today, nor can we foresee where we will be in another two years. I often joke about the fact that when our initial ILD proposal was written, no one on our team had ever touched an iPad, let alone worked in a wireless environment. How could we possibly predict where we would go. That’s why it was fascinating to meet with members of our team and answer a question like:

What’s Different Now?

You’d think the place to start would be to discuss the obvious things we are seeing our students doing. What’s different now? Students are:

  • Documenting and reflecting on their learning via ePorfolios
  • Following passions and determining what and how they learn during Genius Hour
  • Writing in and out of the classroom, in and out of class time,  for authentic purposes through their eBooks and blogs
  • Developing questioning skills and learning about the world around them during MysterySkype sessions
  • Bringing their own devices so that research and publishing resources are at their fingertips
  • Fulfilling their need to socially connect with peers around the world through projects such as Global Read-aloud, Postcard Exchange, and blog commenting
  • Creating, building, and sharing furniture as part of the WikiSeat project

Yes, things have changed for students. No, I could not have predicted these changes just two short years ago.

But, something surprising happened along the way. Many of our teachers transformed – as did their practice. Before technology impacted students, it first opened doors to our teachers. What came through the doors forced many on staff to think critically about what they were doing, encouraged them to share the already great things going on in their classes, and exposed them to what I consider to be the only source of high quality, on-going professional development. Quite frankly, none of the rich activities listed above were taking place prior to the floodgates opening. When I say floodgates, what I really mean is the combination of…

Wireless + iPads + Twitter +Connection

…and I attribute all of this to the ILD process. Historically, hardware replacement was based on the premise of having so many machines for so many students and replacing it every so many years. Frankly, this method was flawed. Successful implementation (which was present only in pockets around the District prior to ILD) was dependent on who your admin was and who was on staff. Mostly, hardware was given to schools with most asking the question, “Now what?” ILD forced schools to come together, work collaboratively, and develop a plan based on learning that could be supported with technology. It had never been done this way! The fact that teams committed to professional development and sharing further strengthens the process. So has ILD been successful? I dare anyone to say it has not. There is a tremendous amount of evidence to support this:

Part of the Surrey contingent at #ConnectEDca
Part of the Surrey contingent at #ConnectEDca
  • Over 30 educators from Surrey attended the recent #ConnectEDca conference in Calgary. That’s over 10% of attendees. There is an obvious thirst for learning and sharing.
  • I have NEVER been connected to more administrators and educators as I am today. These people both validate and make me question what I do.
  • Home-School Communication has been enhanced. Parents are reading the school blog and following our school Twitter feed. At a recent parent event I shared the Vanier News (our school blog) and asked how many parents had visited the site. I was amazed when probably 75% of parents put their hands up!
  • Teachers are venturing off (virtually and physically) to other schools and bringing back innovative practice. There is definitely a “cross-pollination” of ideas taking place.
  • Teachers are increasingly open to change and new ideas now that the world of teaching and learning has been opened to them.
  • Teachers are becoming increasingly reflective via blogging. It is now cool to reflect, blog, and share.
  • Teachers are CONNECTED!
  • Since there is technology in each room, it has become “invisible” with the focus being on authentic learning experiences.

photo-115So as I look back and look ahead, I am amazed and excited. Amazed at the growth that has taken place in our students. They are excited about learning. Many arrive early most mornings. A teacher who recently had her students start blogging (which was a HUGE leap for this teacher) shared excitedly with me one morning that many of her students wrote a blog the previous evening, even though it was not assigned. Students writing?  Because they want to? How could this be? It’s happening!

I am excited because teachers are now not only excited about their student’s learning, but their own learning as well. The most significant aspect of our ILD journey has been, and will continue to be, the growth in the adults in our building. For truly when teachers become co-learners with students and are open to risk-take with opportunities that promote innovation, creativity, and doing authentic work, then the journey will be a grand one for all.

I look forward to the continuation of this learning trek…

I would like to personally thank Elisa Carlson for her drive, determination, and support in moving so many educators forward in the Surrey School District. She was the first one to give me the confidence to share my views, learning, and understanding.

Elisa, thank you for valuing those around you and for asking the difficult questions that needed to be asked!

Creativity Takes A Seat

photo-56I feel compelled to write about an upcoming project at my school. Compelled not only because I am extremely excited to be involved in the project, but also because I want to spread the word and hopefully have more students in Canada participate. Months ago, I came across a tweet regarding the WikiSeat project – essentially an opportunity for students to do the meaningful, hands-on, creative work of making a functional chair given only a “catalyst“. After much discussion back and forth and with much support from WikiSeat founders Nic and Aleric, educators Sean Wheeler and Jared Nichol, and several departments in Surrey Schools, our learning journey begins.

A few weeks ago, the catalysts arrived and my mind has been working overtime since. I’ve been having on-going conversations with teachers on staff and now we are at the point of introducing the project to our students. We’ve quickly realized that we are going to be doing as much problem-solving and learning as our students…and that’s VERY exciting! Questions we are mulling include:

  • How do we best promote creativity? How much do we let student struggle?
  • How much information do we actually share with students? Do we tell them they are ‘supposed’ to make a chair or do we leave the project open-ended? In other words, how much steering do we do?
  • Do we leave it to students to supply (all) their own materials?
  • How do we ensure student safety given they will need to use tools at some point in their work?
  • How will students document and share their learning?
  • Where will students do their work?
  • What will the showcase at the project’s conclusion look like?
The Catalyst!
The Catalyst!

Essentially, being WikiSeat rookies, we don’t know what we don’t know. But what I do know is given our staff’s openness to innovation and foray into Genius Hour, I’m confident the seeds of the WikiSeat project have landed on fertile ground. I hope you follow us on our journey!

CUE in Review: Charting A Course Forward

“Our kids will spend the rest of their lives in the future.
Are we getting them ready?”

-Kevin Honeycutt

Blog co-written by John Horstead, Don Chila, and Antonio Vendramin.

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Sir Ken Robinson

Attending the CUE conference this year was a valuable experience in many ways, beginning with Sir Ken Robinson’s keynote “Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative”.  Together with close to 4000 educators, we applauded, laughed, and were inspired by his blend of personal experience and transformative thinking.   One of his quotes particularly resonated with us: “Human talents are very much like natural resources in the ground…and they don’t always manifest themselves without the right conditions.” Throughout the rest of the sessions we kept coming back to the question of whether schools are providing the necessary conditions for authentic learning and creativity to flourish.

Technology doesn’t have a separate role in the transformation of education; it is central and inseparable. Journeying through airports, hotel environments, and the conference, it was impossible to ignore the connectedness of our society.   The access to information, the ability to communicate anywhere with virtually anyone, and multiple ways to share were all prominent observations. Instinctively, we believe that thoughtful integration of technology into teaching and learning can serve to not only motivate and engage students, but to allow students to do REAL learning doing work that matters. To go further, we may be able to address Chris Lehmann’s (@chrislehmann) question from a recent visit to Surrey Schools: “Why does school stink for so many kids?”

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As we traveled from session to session, many thoughts and questions crept into our consciousness.

Screen shot 2013-03-21 at 7.22.21 PMHow do we separate the NOISE from what is truly important? These are the questions, factors, opportunities, roadblocks, challenges that educational leaders grapple with as we work with staff to move students forward in a time of change that is unprecedented in its accelerated pace.

What implications does a  ‘Bring your own device’ (BYOD) policy have for a school in terms of bandwidth, equity, privacy, acceptable use, and impact on student learning?  It’s interesting to note here that it was very evident at a premier conference like CUE, the bandwidth was not sufficient to support the number of learners present.  Beyond this, are the adults in our schools, as a team, committed to safely and effectively guiding learners in information and technology-rich environments?

Screen shot 2013-03-29 at 11.46.44 AMWhat practices do we see evident in the classrooms at our schools and are these practices innovative and transformative?  Are teachers and students actually doing work that matters to them, and are we simply calling practice “innovative” because technology is involved?

It was encouraging to interact with numerous educators from across North America and engage in conversations that reaffirmed that the direction we are heading in is both necessary and rewarding… Or as our BC Ed plan states “The World has changed…the way we educate our children should too.”

We must keep pace with the revolution.  Analysis-paralysis has been a limiting factor for too long.  Ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice.  Modeling best practice and innovation, supporting and encouraging risk-taking, and being lead learners will be a good place to start. Learners, and the world they live in, are changing and so must we.   Relationships, together with high quality, personalized instruction will always be at the heart of optimal learning.  The challenge now is leveraging technology to make learning personally relevant to students.

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Kevin Honeycutt

Like Sir Ken Robinson’s opening, Kevin Honeycutt’s closing keynote was both stirring and inspirational. He cut to our true purpose and that is the job of forming meaningful relationships with those at the centre of all we do – students!



Immigrants and Natives (Of the Digital Variety)

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Image: A. Vendramin

Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) recently visited the Surrey School District and I had the chance to both chat with and listen to him. During his session and in a blog he subsequently wrote, he expressed his distain for the terms digital native and digital immigrant. I hadn’t given the terms much consideration until he shared his thoughts. The term digital native, he argued, gives kids today way too much credit when it comes to the use of technology, whereas the term digital immigrant not only sells educators short but also underestimates their role in technology integration in schools. Bill adds that, “…we hang our students out to dry every time that we make blanket assumptions about their ability to grow without us simply because they don’t need owner’s manuals to figure out how to use the new gadgets flooding the marketplace every year.”

In his blog titled Is Embracing Digital Learning a Moral Issue for Educators?, Wesley Fryer (@wfryer) grapples with the issue of the teacher’s role in the use of social media and digital tools in classrooms. He suggested that, “The teachers who teach my own children TODAY who aren’t embracing the uses of digital media in various forms are doing them a disservice, because they are inadequately preparing them for today as well as the world of tomorrow.” He also wondered out loud if the following passage should be excluded from his next eBook:

While there have been and will continue to inevitably be older teachers who will retire from education rather than learn “new ways” of teaching and learning in the digital information landscape, that choice is not a moral one for those of us who choose to remain twenty-first century educators.

Recalling the many times over the past few years I have worked with students on issues involving the use (and more often misuse) of technology and social media, I too have started to question the role adults, both educators and parents, play in guiding students through the rich, but complex world of social media. If the students of today were truly digital natives, they would not only use technology appropriately and in innovate ways, but they would also more consistently demonstrate the same social skills online that they do face to face. The reality is, many kids don’t do either of these!

Even further, I would suggest that as educators, steering clear of, or avoiding social media and digital tools altogether because of the fears or insecurities we may have, essentially amounts to negligence. If a child reported abuse, would we not make the necessary phone call? If a child showed up at school hungry every day and never brought a lunch, would we not find a way to feed them? And if a student were experiencing serious learning challenges, would we not do everything possible to provide them with support?

Despite our personal opinions about whether or not students should be utilizing technology and social media, the truth is THEY ARE. While many of our students make wise choices about their use of social media, inappropriate use can and does lead to difficult and sometimes dangerous situations. I feel strongly that it’s our responsibility as educators to provide them with not only appropriate and authentic ways to integrate social media and technology into learning, but to share the vast knowledge we have regarding responsible and thoughtful decision-making and social interaction.

Truly, there is much we can learn from students and much students can learn from us. Surrey Schools Deputy Superintendent Jordan Tinney (@jordantinney) succinctly tweeted, “Teachers build a bridge between what students know about the tools & what we know about good teaching.” The key certainly is capitalizing on the strengths of all learners – both teachers AND students.

Picture 8As educators and parents, we have the opportunity before us to leverage the power of connectedness via social media. In doing so, we will more effectively engage learners who are becoming increasingly difficult to engage.

What are your thoughts regarding students, education, and the use of social media and digital tools?

Focus Day 2012 Musings

I spent Surrey Schools Focus Day 2012, February 10, taking in a presentation from David Warlick. It was a great opportunity to not only connect with colleagues, but to also stay on the cutting edge of IT and its role in education.

My musings about the day…

…David’s introduction was great. He talked about “Black Swans” – instantaneous transactions by computers in the stock market. I sat there thinking, “Where is he going with this?” Turns out David makes a point of sharing something at each workshop that he had just learned. He does this to illustrate that we must continue to learn – to evolve – to be master learners…not just master teachers. Such modeling is crucial if we wish our students to be life-long learners as well.

…We need to prepare students for an ever changing world – one that does not yet exist.  We need to prepare students for THEIR future, not OUR future! Got me thinking about Facebook…or Twitter…or any of these relatively new phenomena.  If you asked your students even ten years ago what they wanted to do when they got older, none would have responded, “I want to work for Facebook” because it didn’t yet exist. David also talked about ‘BG’ – before Google.  What did people do before Google?  They either sought another information source or continued to wonder!

…Social connectedness is a priority. If you work with kids, you already know this. David used an interesting analogy – he called this need to be socially connected to an “invisible alien tentacle”.  If they walk in our classes and we tell them to sit down and be quiet, we essentially prevent this connectedness and “chop off this alien tentacle”.

…His belief (and mine) -we can’t help but learn when we are connected to many other people…all the time!  Our role in this? We need to look to the edge – the cutting edge – and become “edge-dwellers”.  Our students are already there. Students today don’t have a “ceiling” or limit to information – they live in an information rich, abundant, digital, connected world…a world difficult to contain. Kids expect to access and control information. If we are going to exist there with them, we can’t expect to hold them back. Rather, we need to prepare them for the ever changing world – or as David states,  “prepare our kids with wings”.

Effective learning…inspires personal investment, provokes conversation, and promote responsiveness from the learner.

Thank you David for the countless examples of how quickly our world is changing and how seamlessly our kids are adapting to these changes. I left the session with a renewed conviction that we do our students a disservice if we disregard the pace of change, their learning preferences, and the role of social connectedness in teaching and learning.