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Archive for April, 2013

562px-Lighthouse_Lighthouse_Park (1)

I want to check back in and share some of the work going on in West Vancouver.  I last blogged about Some West Van Stories in November.

Director of Instruction Lynne Tomlinson got a boost for her most recent post on our district arts showcase – The Lighthouse Festival – when Sir Ken Robinson shared the post with his 167,000 Twitter followers.  Lynne highlighted the diversity within the arts at our schools:

The festival is indicative of the many programs offered in our district.  The variety of the performances provides a rich schedule of entertaining events as each teacher’s program is unique and highlights different aspects of performing arts.  We have enjoyed performances including: spoken word, theatre, choir, soloist, band, pop musical, flash mob and varied dance.

And she concluded, “This is public education at its finest.” – So true! It is great to expose the larger community to the great work in our schools, and give our students the opportunity to share their work with the “real world”.

Fellow Director of Instruction, Gary Kern, recently shared some of the initial feedback around our 1:1 Action Research.  There has been the good, the challenging and also the surprising.  Included on the surprising list from teachers:

  • It surprises me that people feel that students having 1:1 access to technological devices at any time at school is anything but to be expected. Many have their own iPads, or iPods in their backpacks. At home, although they often must share devices with other family members, all of my students have access to technology almost anytime.
  • How fast it is to find information (instant) when we are discussing things in-class
  • How much having google images supports our ability to “see” what we are learning
  • How many options exist/how many things we can DO with technology to show what we know or find things out
  • For educators too, tech opens up endless teaching and learning opportunities that far-outweigh the frustration of slow Internet, missing chargers, and access denied messages!
  • I was surprised when a teacher said, how can the students take notes from my lesson if they are ‘playing’ with their devices.  I figure the students take snaps and vids when they need to. A paradigm shift needs to be made here.
  • It surprises me that children think that computers are smarter than they are. When they figure out that they are in fact in the driver’s seat of these powerful tools and that the sky is the limit, they begin to see and think over the rainbow!

Sticking with technology, Caulfeild parent Andrea Benton wrote a guest post on Principal Brad Lund’s blog sharing her thinking as to why she supports and encourages the use of technology in their school.  Her post inserts itself into the discussion of what is the right balance in elementary school.  She argues:

Some people believe that technology shouldn’t be in schools. For me, this is short-sighted.  Schools shouldn’t be teaching for today but should be educating students for the jobs of tomorrow. This includes project management, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and collaboration. Technology is here to stay and it is only getting more complicated.

Hollyburn Principal Val Brady recently used her blog to nicely outline the WHYs and the WHATs to writing in elementary school.  Her useful post looked at the purpose of writing and what has been changing:

The philosophical underpinnings of teaching writing have shifted over the years. Developing student skills in writing is still important, but engaging students in writing for real purposes leads to joy in writing and at the same time develops communication skills that will serve students a lifetime.  Whether students put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, engaging in writing for real purposes gives voice and structure and develops thinking ability.

For West Bay Vice-Principal Tara Zielinski, a lot of focus in her class has been on Exhibition - the final stage of the PYP experience for grade 7′s:

In one sense, it’s a rite of passage.  However, after having both participated in and led Exhibition for five years now, I know it is so much more.  There have been and will be moments when our students feel like I did on the zip-line platform – fearful, intimidated, and adverse to things they have not yet faced.  Writing a Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry over and over demands resiliency.  Collaboration requires reflection and metacognition. Interviewing experts takes organization and calls for effective questioning skills.  However, each year it is one of the most rewarding components of my job to observe and support our learners as they integrate the essential elements of the PYP and more than six weeks of intense erudition into a final presentation.

At Pauline Johnson, they have just been through the student-led conferences, and Principal-designate Chantal Trudeau shared her thinking around their power:

The student-led conference is a wonderful opportunity for the students themselves to take ownership of their learning and to show their parents and guests what they have learned over the course of a term. Students invariably feel pride in what they have accomplished. They feel independent, confident and important as they read their favorite stories, lead their parents in the calendar routine, show science experiments or Social Studies projects.  Research shows that student-led conferences is a method that better helps students improve their learning, improve parent engagement, and get higher learning results for our students

Ridgeview grade 7 teacher Cari Wilson shared the story of her students inspirational meeting with Molly Burke:

One of the big privileges that comes with being in Grade 7 is the ability to join your school’s “Me to We” group. Last week many students in School District 45 joined thousands and thousands of other students in Me to We’s “I am Silent” day. It is a day of silent protest and solidarity, designed to bring awareness to the plight of the millions of children worldwide who are not listened to. The children who have no voice.

This year, on the day before “I am Silent” day, 5 lucky Grade 6 and 7 Ridgeview students got a chance to meet Molly Burke, a remarkable young Canadian who although blind has found her voice and is using it to inspire young people.

And finally,  also with a large serving of inspiration, West Vancouver Secondary Principal Steve Rauh had his blog taken over by John Galvani a grade 12 student in a wheel chair:

I am John Galvani, I am 17 and I am in a wheelchair. For my Global Education class I organized for wheelchairs to come to my school. I wanted to spread awareness and education about what my life is like in a wheelchair by giving my class the experience of being in a wheelchair for the day.

I contacted BC Wheelchair Basketball Association and arranged for them to deliver 10 wheelchairs on April 10. Ten students volunteered to be in a wheelchair.  They went to their classes, recess, lunch and some even went to P.E.!

We should do this for all grades so that they can see and feel the challenges that people in wheelchairs go through everyday.

Lately I have been seeing a lot of what I do as being the amplifier of good ideas – whether that is done face-to-face or in the digital world, my job is to tell our good stories and connect and network them to others.    And, there are lots of good ideas to share!

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iwonI want to share a struggle.

I have written before about ‘candy for rewards’ in the classroom – A Candy for Your Thoughts?, and my challenge with this is on a couple of levels: first, unhealthy, sugar-filled treats are seen as a reward for doing things correctly, being good, or essentially is giving prizes for (good) behaviour.  I have also written a piece on my struggles with book clubs rewarding students based on the volume of books they read – I Blame You Twitter. I have seen students (and my own children)  intentionally select easy books to ‘win’ and perpetuate the notion that reading is something that needs to be incentivized.  I have been well  indoctrinated by Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink and others who raise the concern flag over rewards, and passionate Canadian edu-bloggers like Joe Bower and Chris Wejr who have regularly challenged the use of rewards in school.

I can remember rewards working for me in school.  I struggled with reading, but I recall a reading-fundraiser to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society where family and friends sponsored me to read books and if I hit a certain number (I think it was 20 books) I got a certificate — I read for those months like I have never read before.  I also can remember engaging in social responsibility initiatives like raising money for prominent and worthy charities, knowing that if I reached a certain level I would get a free Frisbee or Yo-Yo.  But, shouldn’t I have read because of the pleasure of reading? Shouldn’t I have engaged in charity to support the community?  I’m not entirely sure I would have done either with such fervor if it were not for the incentives.  And, I’m also not sure if I would have studied so diligently every Thursday night for the Friday spelling test if I didn’t know a star on the board, at the front of the class, was on the line each week.

I am currently pulling together a presentation for the upcoming TEDxWestVancouverED around my parenting wishes for my own kids’ schooling.  I keep coming back to this idea that I want learning to be the prize for them.

I wish that I could say that I was more intrinsically motivated.  And, keeping the learning as the prize makes perfect sense in theory, and is a worthy goal, but for me it has always been an ongoing struggle.

Are others sharing this same challenge?

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ted_logo

The TED conferences have recently been in the local news with their announcement about the global conference moving to Vancouver and Whistler in 2014, but TEDxMania IS coming to West Vancouver this May. Of course, since June 2006, when Sir Ken Robinson spoke at TED on creativity, the education world has been captivated with TED.  Since then, TED videos have become integral to classrooms and to our professional learning.

And since then, an off-shoot from the TED conferences — the TEDx events — has been created:

“Created in the spirit of TED’s mission, ‘ideas worth spreading,’ the TEDx program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis.”

I have had the opportunity to speak at a TEDx (UBC), where I shared my story of working with students during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. I really loved the event format because speakers had to be concise with their presentation within an 18-minute time limit. The format also lent itself to participant discussion between presentations, with a good mix of ideas from people in a wide-range of fields and with different perspectives; it was live-streamed on the web and afterward archived on YouTube, and it was focused on ideas. Talks from that day, like the one Barry MacDonald gave on Boy Smarts, I reference to this day. I was also so impressed with those who volunteered to organize the event because it is a huge undertaking, but a wonderful service for the community.

That said, two groups in West Vancouver have caught the TEDx bug and are setting up for an exciting May:

TEDxWestVancouverED comes from the dedication of four thoughtful and passionate West Vancouver teachers – Craig Cantlie, Cari Wilson, Brooke Moore and Garth Thomson. The event, first hatched at an EdCamp in Delta last fall, is focussed on the future of education and asking some big questions, sharing ideas, and inspiration. Their event, at the Kay Meek Centre on May 11, will celebrate and also challenge – it is the very best of our profession. I am honoured that I have been asked to speak, and I am busily trying to recast a previous blog post on Some of My Parenting Wishes into a TED-worthy presentation.

The second event is TEDxKids@Ambleside, also at the Kay Meek Centre, on Friday, May 17 (for many BC schools this is a professional development day). Focused on curiosity and wonder, and led by the ever-dynamic, Grade 7 student, Qayam (also the event’s curator and founder), it is taking on real shape. The event is also supported by a team of students who would rival any organizing committee in their dedication, focus and execution. It is a thrill to be a support for these students, seeing the event gel, watching them solicit sponsors, weed through speaker candidates, promote via social media and turn a concept and idea into a solid event. Currently, the organizing committee is in the final days of accepting speakers, and has already filled more than 50% of participant seating for the day. The event is truly by the kids, for the kids and will feature some amazingly powerful young speakers.

The power of TED is the engagement that takes place on the day of the event, but it is also what Sir Ken and others have shown – the spreading of good ideas and the sharing of videos that emerge to give these ideas legs. Hopefully, many in my network will be able to attend one or both of the upcoming events, either in person or virtually “full of good ideas worth sharing.”

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penguin

In nearly all of the conversations around educational transformation, we all agree we need do a better job connecting to parents and involving them in the process.  And without a doubt, “we” probably are doing a much better job now than even a few years ago, partially because of the boom in digital sharing with teachers, administrators, parents and others, as well as becoming increasingly transparent with their experiences and learning.

While I like to think most posts I write have some interest for parents, I have focused several posts specifically toward parents.  One post I wrote in September 2010 covered Ten Things Every Parent Can Do, including:

Being a kid shouldn’t be about beating the competition. And being a parent shouldn’t be about producing a winner by enrolling them in a busy regiment of “enhancement” activities. Let your children play, stumble and find their own way, at least some of the time.

Another post, An Insider’s Guide to Parenting, focussed on advice from our then Board,Vice-Chair (and now Chair) Cindy Dekker, including her thoughts on school work:

- let your kids fail, and let them do it at a young age so they learn what they need to do to improve

- sometimes, when they forget their lunch, they need to solve the problem on their own

- help facilitate studying, but don’t do their homework for them

- don’t close any doors — encourage your kids to take a range of courses

- don’t be so worried about the “right” school, all schools are great

This past fall, I wrote a more personal post, Some of My Parenting Wishes for this Year, where I wrote about a number of topics, including what really matters when it comes to their teachers:

Just take good care of them, help them adjust socially. And, be memorable like all of my elementary teachers were. I can point to at least one way each of my elementary teachers made a difference in my life — from my love of Bruce Springsteen to my interest in storytelling.  All of our kids mention when their teachers ask about their lives outside of school, whether it is about family, sports or other interests. These little things are really the big things for our kids about school.

This summary is also a preface to a new resource I would like to highlight from Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon — Raising Modern Learners.   I have recently subscribed to this blog and newsletter, and I encourage parents to do same.   As a parent of four, the oldest three already in the public education system, I have often stressed my selfish interests to see schooling change.  This new effort from Richardson and Dixon moves the conversation forward with fellow parents.

What I particularly like about this blog is that it is not about cheerleading — it tackles real issues.  The first story I read was about parents deciding to opt out of standardized tests.  While state testing was described as part of the American model of teacher evaluation, something that is not seen in BC,  it was a good read about a challenging issue.  For a variety of reasons, some political, some for simplicity, we take on serious topics in education in a very black and white fashion; at least, from what I have seen so far, Richardson and Dixon are approaching issues with more questions than definitive answers.

There are wonderful resources available in support of parents as their children grow through a changing, learning landscape.  I know so many parent leaders I have connected with online who are passionate about learning and sharing their learning about education, hopefully resources like Richardson and Dixon will assist in that conversation and in doing a better job of connecting with parents, education transformation and sustained and ongoing engagement.

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DECADE Calendar

Recently, there has been a lot of attention given to setting school calendars.  I have written about the interest in year-round schooling currently being explored in many Metro Vancouver School Districts.  And, Maple Ridge’s Kanaka Creek,  is often referenced for its three-month on, one-month off model. While just a few weeks ago it looked like all districts were going to move to a fairly standard calendar for next year, I am pleased to announce a new initiative I will be championing, starting today –  BC’s (and perhaps North America’s) first Quadrennial-Round School System.

The Quadrennial-Round (four-year calendar) School System, employs the best of what we know about year-round schooling and extends that learning further.  This calendar model is quite simple with students attending school on a three-year continuous basis, after which they have a  full year off.  The Quadrennial-Round calendar would have a total of four cycles.  Students would go to school Grades 1-3, take a year off; then attend Grades 4-6, with another year off, and so on for Grades 7-9 with a year off before moving to the graduation program and Grades 10-12.

Why a Quadrennial-Round School System?

  • we know students can have learning losses in the summer. These are eliminated since students would attend school for three years at a time — no Christmas, Spring or Summer breaks
  • the system naturally divides the primary, intermediate, junior and graduation programs, and gives students enough recovery time between grade levels
  • if students fall behind, they have an entire year to catch up
  • it gives families who are considering having more than one child some options – like having them three years apart so that their children are off together, or having them closer together, ensuring their children never have to share breaks and the stresses that come with this
  • some families plan big vacations that eat into school time, with this calendar option, they will be able to plan six-month vacations and still have the other half-year for an even longer break
  • there is a lot of research on the need for students to be bored, and to be okaywith it;  having a 12-month break gives them a lot of time to be bored
  • it will lead to an increase in facility efficiencies, they will be used for 12 months and, at any point, 25% of students will be on their sabbatical year, meaning less demand on the schools
  • if year-round schooling is good for learning, this is bound to be great

Of course, there will be questions about the substantiveness of the research. The system was originally adopted from a model in Sweden. It actually has its origins in the British Agricultural Revolution when they rotated wheat, barley, turnips and clover over a four-year cycle.  With this, we take the best of what we know about crops, and apply it to kids (they both grow, don’t they?).  According to Swedish Professor Loof Lirpa, they have run the Quadrennial-Round system successfully for a number of years.  In my work with him, he is also suggesting that within the Quadrennial-Round system, we have a day-round system, where students are schooled on eight-hour shifts, further increasing learning efficiencies by utilizing all 24 hours of the day, in addition to addressing the unique needs of teenage learners who are often already awake half the night. But, I think for now we’ll just go with the four-year calendar with the option to revisit the day-round system in the fourth year off of the calendar for the next round of grades.

We have been preparing to launch this very new calendar initiative for several months, but were worried other districts might scoop us — we do like to be first! If other districts had adopted a year-round school system, our calendar promotion and advertising  would have been “Year-Round Schooling is Good but Quadrennial-Round Schooling is Four Times Better!”

We are looking for volunteers to step forward and pilot this initiative, and it is appropriate that I launch this today, as it was exactly one year ago today, I launched my FLOG. So, from this point forward, all information on our Quadrennial-Round School System calendar option will be shared through my FLOG and associated public floggings.

I always appreciate the keen reader interest of the Culture of Yes,  and I am hopeful that many of you will step forward to bring the best of school calendars to BC, as well as to North America. Finally, I hope your first day of April is as good as mine!

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