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Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Learners First Like many other school and district leadership teams we marked our “official” beginning last week.  For more than a decade this second last week of summer has been my  start to the new school year.  There are many ways to structure this time.  We have been very clear in West Vancouver that we focus ourselves as learners first.

A recent post from Dennis Sparks resonated with me:

In learning-oriented school cultures, everyone is viewed as both a teacher and a learner. In such cultures, hierarchic distinctions between student, teacher, and administrator are minimized as the school community focuses on the continuous improvement of teaching, learning, and relationships. In that sense, the study of teaching is also the study of learning and of leadership.

It is easy to focus on the business of our work – there is a lot of business that needs to be covered.  Topics like:  staffing, collective bargaining, student enrolment, September paperwork and accounting practices can consume all of our time.  We have made it clear that we will always focus on being learners first. So, just what does that look like?

Our school and district leaders spent last Thursday on Bowen Island (Bowen Island is part of the West Vancouver School District).  Three administrators Scott Slater, Craig Cantlie and Matt Trask took the lead in guiding our learning. The first part of the day allowed us to explore Bowen Island.  We got a taste of what students in Bowen Island’s Outside45 program get to experience – learning beyond the classroom.  A solid reminder of the power of place-based experiences. Bowen1 The second part of the day saw us experiencing Sugata Mitra’s Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) model – looking at power – what it is and who has it.  We worked out way through the SOLE Toolkit in groups. The SOLE model was new to me – and is a really simple model of investigation that works for schools and also could be done by kids and families at home. Bowen2 Bowen3

We left with a great reminder of the power of place based learning and a reminder of the nature that surrounds us in our district and also with a simple student-led inquiry model that we can share with others. And importantly – we connected as learners first.

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I wrote a post earlier this year which described the changes in my own teaching in How My Teaching Has Changed.  Last week, I was reminded of this post in a conversation with a parent of a Grade 6 student at Bowen Island Community School.  Her son is part of outside45 — a Bowen Island-based environmental education program for Grade 6 and 7  students blending learning in the classroom with frequent experiences in natural and built environments on-and-off the island.  The mother spoke about how excited her son is with school; how he has no idea what he is actually doing is learning, but he does spend the day studying science by exploring the diversity of life within ecosystems rather than reading about them, and a lot more different from the way science is traditionally covered. Rather than reading about science in a book, or even simulating experiences in a classroom, he and his class were engaging in “real-real” learning –connecting real science to real life.

This story, however, is part of a larger signature at Bowen Island Community School.  I use the term “signature”, as Bowen Island is not about creating a choice school, it is “the school” on Bowen Island.  It is about connecting to the community, and defining a ‘signature’ that is both reflective of its place, the school, and the district community.  There are clear elements of  inquiry, self-regulation and digital literacy in the programs on Bowen Island, but they look different from other sites in the district.  One common theme, throughout the school, is that of sustainability.  The outside45 program is part of this, but the school has also recently built an Outdoor Learning Classroom and has opened the school up to field experiences for other schools through its “From Our Forest to Our Seas” opportunity (click here for more details).

Bowen Island is unique, and at the same time it is part of something much bigger currently developing in education.  Its ‘signature’ is that of inquiry and looks through a lens of the environment and sustainability, that takes self-regulation and links it to restorative justice and the development of social-emotional learning, and takes digital literacy and blends it through curriculum.  While the program is unique to Bowen’s community, there are similar conversation elsewhere in the district.  At Gleneagles Ch’axáý Elementary, it is the arts that is a common lens for inquiry; at West Bay Elementary, it is the Primary Years IB framework, and at Caulfeild, it is the iDEC program that links inquiry to technology and a series of “soft skills”.  AND, it is not only occurring in West Vancouver.  The outside45 Program in itself  is proving to be powerful, and the linking of students to their physical world can be seen in other corners of the province from the Environmental School Project in Maple Ridge, to the Ecological Education Program on Saturna Island, to the Nature Kindergarten Program in Sooke.

Bowen Island Community School epitomizes the notion that you don’t have to be sick to get better.  The school has deepened in connections to the community, evolved its programs to build on relevance on engagement, and is continuing to search for ways to meet the needs of the families in the community.  They have also taken the themes that link schools across the district and brought them to life at their school.  Some are waiting for an implementation plan for personalized learning in our province — at Bowen Island Community School, and at all of our other sites, people aren’t waiting — they are bringing personalized learning to life now.

I am looking forward to being on Bowen Island this Wednesday night (October 17) to speak on the topic, “What Our Kids Need – A Look at Innovation in Education on Bowen Island and Beyondand being part of their community dinner. 

Bowen Island Community School is an example of how to evolve to meet the changing needs of our kids and our world.

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There is a very interesting dynamic between two of the strongest trends for K-12 education — connecting to the earth and connecting to the digital world. Though these two ideas appear to run counter to one another, they can also coexist, and they do work together in the evolution of the education system.

I have covered digital connections on many occasions — from my presentation at TEDx, a post on Classrooms of the Near Future, and a reflection on How My Teaching has Changed.  In West Vancouver, throughout  British Columbia, and across the world, there have been  fascinating examples of technology infused practice and the evolution of learning with technology to simply learn (with technology ever-present and creating these experiences for students).

I have also written about the intensification of inquiry and self-regulation — two other key theme areas we are seeing in our schools.  However, there is another topic that is not receiving as much attention, but should, and that is the increase in curriculum and programs toward connecting to the earth.  Over the last 20 years, there has been a steady growth of student-driven environmental clubs, school-wide efforts around sustainability, and the proliferation of school gardens. But, there is also much going on beyond these largely co-curricular or extra-curricular opportunities.

On Bowen Island, the Bowen Island Community School is launching Outside45 — a choice program for Grade 6 and 7 students.  Principal Jennifer Pardee, and Vice-Principal Scott Slater, describe the program as a “new district academy that will complement our school’s vision in terms of environmental education and inquiry-based learning by blending learning in the classroom with frequent experiences in the community and natural environment.”

When the program was announced in the fall, there was always the question of enrollment, and it ended up being oversubscribed for its first year.  While it stands alone in the best of current thinking around learning with meaningful connections to the outdoors, it is also part of a larger vision around sustainability at the school.

At the other end of the district, West Vancouver Secondary School has seen the growth of the Sustainable Resources / Urban Agriculture course. Led  by Gordon Trousdell, the West Vancouver campus is now home to two bee hives.  The course is also a draw because of its off-hour scheduling, and has attracted students from the other two secondary schools.  Steve Rauh (here) blogged about the course earlier in the year and it was also featured in the North Shore News.  The course takes concepts from the science classroom and brings them to life for students who pursue passions in real world experiences.

Photo credit:  Gordon Trousdell

Of course, these programs are not unique to West Vancouver — there are several others we have looked at for guidance:  Saturna Ecological Education Centre (Gulf Islands School district), Nature Kindergarten (Sooke School district), and the place-based Environmental School Project (Maple Ridge School district). All programs are unique — yet similar —  including place-based learning, inquiry, imagination, and experiential learning.

But, returning to my theory; while the trends appear to run counter to one another — the programs exploring the digital landscape, and those connecting more deeply to the earth and ecology — are actually bouncing off some very similar themes. So, connected schools like the Calgary Science School have found ways to marry the commitment of both in the same environment.

I am often pressed about the future of schooling, and I always come back to the themes of digital literacy, inquiry, self-regulation and the strong belief that schools are key gathering places in the community and are not going away.  I will also say, I see a new trend in education emerging as we connect to the digital space and to the earth. I am hopeful we will find thoughtful ways to link the two.

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If,  in the era of Facebook and Google, IBM has lost some of its “cool” in recent years, the 100-year-old company (check out this great video celebrating its Centennial) has redeemed itself with WATSON – the Jeopardy winning computer.

This past week, I had the opportunity to listen to four of the top IBM researchers muse about the world of 2050.  They admit, like many of us in education also do, it is difficult to event plan five years out, but Don Eigler, Spike Narayan, Dr. Winfried Wilicke,  and Thomas Zimmerman did identify some interesting trends.  While there was some talk of flying cars (maybe not quite the Jetsons), the continual growth and change in the movement of data, the requirements of energy in a world that will need to be sustainability-focussed with water being the new oil, I was struck by the idea of synthetic immortality — and just what it might mean for schools.

The idea of synthetic immortality was put forward by Thomas Zimmerman, whose Data Glove invention sold over one million units in the field of Virtual Reality. Zimmerman was also named California Volunteer of the Year in 2009 for his science-enrichment work in schools.  The idea of synthetic immortality is that, since we are creating and posting so much digital content about ourselves and others — and this is only increasing (apparently some people are now basically digitally documenting every hour of their life), in the future — we will be able to pull all of this data together and, even after someone dies, create an avatar that someone could interview and engage with.  This will sure change book reports.  You want to interview a former Prime Minister, you can just call up the synthetic version of that person.  With all the digital content, it is not something I had considered — our perpetuity beyond our lives.  A good deal has been written about managing social media after one dies, like this recent New York Times article and this one in Time but not, at least from what I have seen, about how this could all be aggregated together to virtualize someone.

While it is difficult to even get my head around what schooling and learning should and could look like for my kids over the next 10 years, it is interesting to hear people predict what it could look like for my kids’ kids.

One final connection on this topic, if you haven’t seen this video, A Day Made of Glass — Made Possible by Corning, do take a look at it. It is an interesting window into the future:

The subject does make some of our current conversations around the edges of change seem quite small, given what is likely coming soon.

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The title of this post is borrowed from a quote I recently saw from Brian Kuhn, the technology leader with the Coquitlam School District.  This quote struck me because 1)  he is right and 2) this is a dramatic change in thinking in just a couple years.

When I spoke at Opening Day for our district in early September, I described how technology, sustainability, and transparency are three themes that are underlying the work we do, and will continue to be very influential for all operations in our district.  Gary Kern, our Principal of Technology and Innovation, in speaking with our Board of Education last week, also emphasized the role of sustainability in his work as he described our district’s technology strategy for this year.  While we don’t want to limit a discussion on sustainability to printing and paper consumption, it is clearly part of our commitment in this area.

Until the past couple of years, our efforts in school districts have been to make printing more convenient.  What started as photocopiers in the office, spread to multiple copiers in schools, then to printers in computer labs to, in some places, printers in most rooms and at many work stations.  The cost of printers came down, and the need for convenience drove changes.  Until coming to West Vancouver three years ago, I had spent the previous decade with a printer on my desk.

The paper tide has been shifting.  While printers have come down in price, we have become increasingly aware of the ink and paper costs that eat-up supply budgets in school districts, and sustainability has moved to the forefront of discussions.  At the same time, technology has allowed us to digitally replicate activities which previously had been limited to being done on paper.

Today our school newsletters have moved to being almost exclusively digital.  Even with a conservative estimate of 30 pages of newsletters sent home with each child in a given year, this savings is over 200,000 sheets of paper.  This year we have also begun to move permission forms to the digital environment.  In addition to the savings in staff time, just at school start-up alone, we are photocopying 30,000 fewer sheets of paper because of this one change.  These changes in our business practices will only continue as our websites continue to evolve as our primary communication tool with our students, parents and community.

As teachers experiment with virtual classrooms, we are seeing more teachers taking advantage of “hand in” boxes that allow students to submit assignments and teachers to assess work without a paper copy ever having to be made.

So, back to the quote that led off this post, “printing will continue to become more inconvenient”.  Over the next few years we will have fewer copiers and fewer printers.  Resources that have been spent on ink and paper can be redirected in schools to other needs.  I suggested on Opening Day that we could reduce our paper consumption by 20% this year.  When we look to hit print on our computer, or use the Xerox, we should be always asking ourselves if we are doing this because we need to do it, or because we have always done it this way.

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