Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

It is always interesting to visit schools and pick up on the trends. One can often see ideas that are spreading from one class or one school and quickly to all schools. One of the challenges in a district position is trying to capture the growing areas, and help support them to grow even further – looking at questions around how do we expand these great opportunities to not just some students in some schools but more students in more schools.

Much of the discussion in British Columbia is currently dominated by the refreshed curriculum.  While there are conversations that start about the content – what is the stuff being covered in each subject and each grade, these conversations are often moving to the pedagogy and assessment needed as part of this process.  And when we look deeper at the differences, I see the greatest shift over the  last two years is likely in the work around Aboriginal education.  As I have written here different times in different ways, we see Aboriginal understandings across grades and subjects.

I am always curious to see the words and ideas that are growing.  It was from individual classrooms and schools that ideas around self-regulation, inquiry and digital access have exploded.  I have also written before about the growth of outdoor learning among other trends that are taking hold.  It is sometimes hard to track their growth – it comes from students, teachers, parents and the community and when they stick – they become the new normal.

The two ideas this fall that I would add to the list and I think are just beginning to blossom are coding and robotics.  When I look at the growth plans of staff, or the inquiry questions of our Innovation teams, or listen to the interests of parents, these ideas are coming up more and more.

Coding is not new, and it is part of the ICT 9-12 curriculum.  In part driven by the global Hour of Code initiative, there are efforts to expose all students to the possibilities around coding not just those who select it as a secondary school elective.  More and more we are hearing from students, teachers and parents that we want to engage younger learners with these skills.  Cari Wilson has done a wonderful job leading the Hour of Code initiative in our district – getting into elementary and secondary classrooms.  Given the Star Wars theme this year I am sure students in classrooms and at kitchen tables across our community will be engaging with coding.


It was interesting to read recently that there may be a “significant decline” in IT literacy in our tablet / smartphone era. Given the seemingly continued importance of these skills, projects like Hour of Code may be even more important.  And we are trying to figure out how to move beyond this initial exposure and build in regular opportunities for young people with a passion for this type of learning in their elementary years to engage with activities as part of their school program.

Robotics has a somewhat similar story.

I had the chance to visit several schools in Delhi, India two years ago. And in one particular school, in a community of immense poverty, where the power went out three times while we visited, and nobody reacted as that was typical, where there were sparse resources, there were students building robots.  It was stunning what I saw . . . .


Students were working together building robots.  As the Principal reported, this is the future.

Fast forward ahead to this fall, and I am seeing the same curiosity and excitement around robotics in our schools.  We have had a number of staff working with robotics over the last several years.  It really has been a natural progression from makerspaces, digital access and trying to connect students in relevant ways to our world. This fall Todd Ablett, a past winner of the Prime Minister’s Award  for Teaching Excellence joined our district and he has begun to infect (in a good way) our district with his passion for mechatronics and robotics.  For now he is running a club at West Vancouver Secondary and doing guest lessons with every grade 6 and 7 classroom in the district.  The plan is to continue to grow the program – hopefully into a secondary school Academy Program next fall, and also a grade 6/7 program.  As I watched student-built robots shoot balls across the Board Room at last week’s Board Meeting as everyone in the Gallery took out their phones to record the moment – one could feel the excitement.


The structures are a work in progress but we have an unwavering commitment to ensuring our schools are relevant and connected to the world our kids are participating in – the world that I heard Todd describe where self-driving cars are just the beginning of what the future may hold.  I often wince when asked “what’s new” in our school district.  The truth is most of what we are doing is about going deeper and getting better at what we already do.  We are also trying to keep our eyes open and look around the corner at what is coming next.   If you want to look for two things I think you will hear about and see far more in 2018 than you do in 2015 – I think coding and robotics are good bets.

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With a single tweet, the 83 year-old newspaper in my community disappeared. Of course this is nothing new, it is happening in communities across North America as the newspaper business continues to search for its place in the digital world.


Community newspapers don’t get enough credit for the important role they play with our school system.  They are so often our storytellers.  They tell the narratives of our kids, our teams, our musicals, our art shows, our academic success and our commitment to service.  They also keep us honest and tell our stories of controversies like bus service changes or school closures , budget decisions and staff misbehaviours.  Community newspapers connect schools to community.  In the district I work, we lost one of our two local newspapers last year with the closing of the North Shore Outlook and now this past week, the community I live in has suffered the same fate with the closing of the Richmond Review.

I have tagged more posts “Change” than anything else on my blog.   I champion change.  And we are seeing this change play out in almost every industry.  It is why, I believe, sometimes change in education is so hard.  With so much change in our world, people often hold onto the traditions of school hoping that at least they will stay the same – romanticizing the world we used to have.  And I kind of get it – we are all in favour of change, expect for the things we don’t want to change.  Some of the change feels more like loss.

The Richmond Review felt like more than a community newspaper.  I remember the excitement growing up seeing my name in the paper for something to do with school or sports.  It was great moments of pride for kids and families if their name was in the newspaper.    While I will read the Vancouver Province, Vancouver Sun and Globe & Mail on an almost daily basis, I would read the community newspapers where I lived and worked cover to cover – I would love seeing stories of people I knew or better understanding the views of those I lived and worked with.

Over the years I developed wonderful relationships with several people who worked at the Richmond Review.  In particular Sports Editor Don Fennell became a friend.  I first spoke to him as a high school student, and then probably hundreds of times over the twenty-six years he spent at the paper.  Whether we hadn’t spoken since last week or last year, he had that great ability of picking up a conversation and making one feel so comfortable.  I love his quote in the final edition of the paper, “I don’t like good-byes; I love Richmond.”  Don and the others at the paper made the community better.

Of course earlier this year when a deal was announced that saw the other local paper the Richmond News and the Richmond Review come under one owner – it was clear something was going to change.  This story has been repeated across North America.  And while I might be a little jaded thinking how unfair it was to kill-off an 83 year-old community paper with two days notice in the middle of summer, it doesn’t change the fact that despite the greatest efforts newspapers have been unable to transition into a viable economic model in the new digital world.  Surviving, not thriving describes most of the local newspaper that continue.

But this blog is largely about education and what does this change have to do with education?  Actually a lot!

If teachers, coaches, principals, schools and school districts need yet another reason why they need to be storytellers in the digital age this is it.  Local newspapers have long been our storytellers and these stories are important.  We need to tell them.  It is not enough for our websites to be information rich, they need to be rich in stories of the people.  If the North Shore Outlook and Richmond Review are not around to tell stories of our great young soccer players, or the high school performance of Grease, or the students going to Africa to build a school we need to tell these stories.

So, you want another reason to start a blog or change your website?  We can no longer rely on the traditional community media to tell our stories.  And people still want to hear these stories.  We need to tell them.

We need to write, photograph and video what is happening in our schools and then bring it to people’s attention.  Kids still want to see their names in the newspaper – we just need to figure out what that looks like in our world.

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I have been teaching in a couple high school classrooms recently, and I have been reminded that students on small hand-held internet devices can be distracted and distracting.  I am being intentional in not using the word phone.  For almost all of us, the devices we call phones are primarily used for other functions.  I know for me, the phone is maybe the fifth or sixth most popular use for my small internet device.    I don’t think the discussion is about phones vs. tablets vs. laptops rather it is about what functions are best done with what size of device.

For more than a decade I have been advocating students bringing internet-ready devices into the classroom.    I have said things like, “phones are great, if that is all students have, they should bring them.”   And this is still true.

I have also regularly said, “If students have a phone and can’t afford a laptop, their families should really consider making a different (better) decision that could benefit the child’s learning.”  I know families have invested in phones for a variety of reasons and safety is a reason I often hear.  Well, get a cheap phone for emergencies and take that money for the iPhone contract, and invest in a laptop or tablet.

Back to my recent reminders.  I will focus on one particular class of grade 11 and 12 students I was working with.  We were having a discussion around leadership in the digital age.  And I have to be honest, the students on their small devices were driving me crazy!   I could see the students were distracted, and in turn, this was very distracting for me and others.  They were texting away with students in the room and outside the room, only periodically engaging in the lesson.  Now, I know it is partly my fault.  If my lesson was more engaging, the students would not have been so easily distracted.  I also could have done a better job of classroom management.  I also know that in our efforts around students bringing their own devices, the journey has not, nor will not, be linear in terms of how students use devices in their classrooms – we are in shifting times.

At our District Parent Advisory Council Meeting this past week we had a great discussion around technology that included a high school teacher and a grade 10 student.  As the student reminded us, “When kids are on their phones they are usually not doing school work.”  Heck, when adults are on their phones it is more likely for social rather than business.  I have always been a believer in the key role of adults to model technology use and it is hard to suggest kids just need to behave differently when so often we see parents busy checking their Facebook or Twitter feeds.    The power of devices in school is usually around what is possible to create, and with the small handheld devices, in schools they are almost exclusively consumption devices or texting machines.

So, the advice of the last decade does stand – that any internet device that gets you in the game is good.  But it is also true that some devices are better than others and we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking devices like iPhones are changing learning.  I am a bit “old school” and like to type on a keyboard so my advice when asked about what one should get for their child is probably a laptop, or a tablet with a keyboard.  More and more other specs matter less, and work lives in the cloud – it is about getting to the internet.

And what else was I reminded in teaching classes where all students have technology; technology does not making teaching easier, but it does make it very different.

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Welcome to my final blog post of 2014, and what has become an annual tradition — My “Top 3″ lists for the year. Previous Top 3 lists for 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here). Hopefully, you will find a link or video or some other information you may not have seen over the past 12 months. The “Top 3” is more about starting discussions and sharing than ranking and sorting.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have generated the most traffic this year:

1.  Teacher

2.  Trying to Understand the Fencing Phenomenon

3.  Taking Back Halloween

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts I have started and really want to finish:

1.  How and Why High School Sports are Dying

2.  What Schools Can Learn from the Transformation in Public Libraries

3.  Early Academic Specialization

Top 3 regularly used Edu words that show you are from BC:

1.  “networks” like the Network of Inquiry and Innovation

2.  “competencies” like the Core Competencies that are part of the draft curriculum

3.  “principles” like the First Peoples Principles of Learning

Top 3 TEDx Videos from WestVancouverED (that you may not have seen):

1.  Getting Beyond “No” – Judy Halbert

2.  The Creative Destruction of Education – Punit Dhillon

3.  The Power of ummmm . . .  – Kath Murdoch

Top 3 Education Stories people will be talking about in BC in 2015:

1.  Communicating Student Learning, — or what most people call report cards, will continue to be a growing topic with more BC districts looking for alternatives, particularly at the pre-Grade 8 level

2.  The Graduation Program DRAFT curriculum was posted for K-9 and despite being very different from past models, was met with general support. There will likely be far more debate on this as the focus shifts to Grades 10 to 12, and the traditional schooling model of senior grades is challenged.

3.  Aboriginal Education — What separates the changes in education in BC from most other jurisdictions in the world is that BC is embracing Aboriginal principles in its changes. The First Peoples Principles of Learning (PDF) are reflected in so much of the current BC work.

Top 3 BC Superintendent Bloggers I didn’t tell you about last year:

1.  Monica Pamer – Superintendent of Schools, Richmond

2.  Kevin Kaardal – Superintendent of Schools, Burnaby

3.  Mark Thiessen – Superintendent of Schools, Cariboo Chilcotin

Top 3 Thinkers from outside British Columbia who are currently influencing work in BC:

1.  Yong Zhao (you will likely hear much more about him in 2015)

2.  Dean Shareski (you won’t see him as a keynote at a big conference, but he is connected to the powerful digital network in BC)

3.  Stuart Shanker (Mr. Self-Reg himself)

Top 3 Videos that have a link between school, sports and overcoming adversity:

1.E360 – Catching Kayla, is one of the most powerful stories I have ever seen

2.  High School Basketball Player Passes Ball  (okay, so it is from 2013, but I didn’t see it until this year)

3.  One handed player gets a shot at college basketball

Top 3 Things I am going to stop doing because they seem hypocritical:

1.  Sitting in on a session of 500 people for professional development, and listening to someone speak about the need for personalization

2.  Accepting comments that suggest there is some debate whether technology is part of the future for modern learners

3.   Giving my kids ‘high-fives’ when they get a happy-face sticker on their worksheets (okay, that doesn’t really happen now)

Top 3 Non-education people I started following on Twitter:

1.  Stephen Colbert

2.  Chris Rock

3.  Tweet of God

Top 3 BCers I started following on Twitter:

1.  Paul Bae /You Suck Sir  — if you follow him on Twitter, do yourself a favour and subscribe to his blog!

2.  Keith Baldrey —  he gets Twitter and the mix of professional / personal and serious / funny

3.  Roberto Luongo — I know he is not really from BC anymore, but he is one of the few athletes I follow

Top 3 Things I learned from my blog this year:

1.  The digital community is an incredibly caring community that will rally around people they barely know

2.  Commenting is down but reading is up

3.  I’m getting more comfortable and more at ease with being more personal

Thanks to everyone who continue with me on this journey and the many new people who have engaged with me this year. I continue to love the opportunity blogging gives me to work out ideas, challenge ideas and serve as a living portfolio. I look forward to another great year together in 2015.

Chris Kennedy

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The idea of affiliation in education is shifting.  While we still connect to traditional structures by role (unions, associations, etc.) and by where we work (schools, districts, etc.) the digital world is challenging these traditional associations as being paramount and this may be necessary to build the coalition to bring about the shifts many are looking for in our education system.  I am convinced that we need a third point of reference to bring about education transformation.

In the BC context, transformation will never take hold if it is seen to belong to the Ministry of Education, the BC Teachers Federation, the BC Superintendents, BC Principals, or any one district.  We do need another space where people from all groups can come together and work together.  What does this look like?  For a couple of decades we have seen the power of how the Network of Performance Based Schools in BC has been an amazing influence over what happens in classrooms.  The group is not seen as being owned by anyone or any group — the group belongs to the group and it is guided by the work.  Somehow, we need something similar given the larger shifts currently happening in education in BC.

And, I am thinking about this idea of affiliation because of my participation this past week in Ignite Your Passion for Discovery — the brain child of Dean Shareski. Last Wednesday night about eighty-five people, passionate about education, gathered at Relish GastroPub & Bar from 7 to 10 pm to talk about passion in education. There were 14 presenters who had exactly five minutes (20 slides/15 seconds each ) to share their passion.  In between presentations there were exchanges for great networking.  You could walk around the room, and it had a greater sense of community and was more connected than any staff meeting I have ever been a part of.  Almost everyone knew each other from Twitter  — some had met in person, but for many it was a first meeting.  This is the new world of affiliation — people connected not by role, not by location, but by passion.  It is these types of coalitions that are going to bring about shifts and change in education.  People were inspired and also reminded they are not alone — others are trying to do similar things.  The digital space is still so young, but what I saw were people picking up their digital relationships face-to-face and then were almost eager to get home and continue digitally; the digital and the face-to-face interactions had each enhanced the quality, depth and care of the connections.

Our profession will not be mandated into meeting the needs of modern learners but the power of networks and new thinking around affiliation can help diffuse the work.

I had the real pleasure of being one of the speakers last Wednesday.  I have shared by slides and the video of my presentation below.  This will give you a sense of the event.  My presentation is based on a blog post that I wrote a couple of years ago about swimming.

Slides (thanks to Bob Frid who took many of the amazing photos I used):


Video (thanks Craig Cantlie for videoing the event):

I had recently attended a conference – the kind where a ballroom of people listen to a keynote for an hour – and do that over and over.  Comparing the two events I know which was more influential in moving the conversation forward.  We need to find new ways to affiliate – more Ignites, more TEDx Events, more EdCamps.  The future of changing education is through networks.

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern would be impressed — this post is somewhat a blog post about a blog post about blogging.

I had a recent email exchange with Janet Steffenhagen (Janet is the former Education Reporter with the Vancouver Sun and currently blogs for the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC)) about the state of educational blogging. She had been planning to highlight BC Superintendents blogging and noticed there seemed to be fewer blogging today than three years ago. I offered some of my thoughts in her post, Blogging Challenges for Superintendents, and listed below:

Blogging is hard. You have to dedicate time on a regular basis to writing and it is not part of a traditional pattern for most people. It is also just hard to “put yourself out there”.
– There is uncertainty about what to write. Some Superintendents use it as a journal (like Monica Pamer in Richmond) to tell stories; others use it more for district news (like John Lewis in North Vancouver). There is no one right answer, but it is hard to determine “what” the Superintendent should write about. I have always tried to be broad – some of what I write is what I see in our district, some is what I think about education trends and some is future-focused in areas that may not be directly linked to education.
– If you don’t have an audience, it can be discouraging. With so many people joining the blogging community, it can be hard to gain an audience. While the role of Superintendent will immediately get some traffic, the numbers may be small to start. One has to see blogging as at least as much about the personal reflection to find it fulfilling.
– If you blog and don’t participate in the digital community, you likely won’t stick around. I would see some people blog but would not follow this up by engaging via Twitter or even responding (or soliciting) comments on the blog. The community is part of the power. Some who blog are really just writing newsletters online.
– The job action. I think it was hard to figure out just what to say during the strike, and very few district leaders blogged. The few who were engaged in social media often got targeted as the face of BCPSEA (B.C. Public School Employers’ Association) and at times the government, so may have thought there was no need to put themselves through that unnecessary backlash. For those new to the community – even in senior district roles – this can be intimidating. Nobody likes to be publicly criticized.

Shortly after this email exchange, I read a new article from Will Richardson, Eight New Attributes of Modern Educational Leaders. Will argues, “A new breed of educational leader is emerging from all parts of the globe. It’s a leader that fully understands the fundamental challenges to traditional teaching and learning that the new interconnected, networked world is creating. It’s a leader that also sees the amazing opportunities that abundant access to information, people, and technologies is bringing to all of our learning lives.”  Will sees the eight attributes of modern educational leaders as being:

1. They are connected to and engaged in online networks.
2. They are makers with (and without) technology.
3. They are innovators and support innovation.
4. They are models for learning both online and off.
5. They see curriculum as strategy.
6. They facilitate an “ever-evolving” vision for teaching and learning in their schools, with (or without) technology.
7. They are literate in modern contexts.
8. They know “learning is the work.”

It was a timely reminder from Will, and as much as I was giving Janet a series of reasons why leaders might not engage in modern learning, Will reminds us that it is our responsibility to be engaged — so I think it is not about any particular role like a superintendent, principal or teacher — we all need to be modern learners. No excuses.

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Photo - Rob Newell

Photo – Rob Newell

Personalized learning has become one of those terms that can often elicit eye-rolls in a crowd of educators – so used and overused that it has been a word used synonymously with almost all current educational reforms.  As I have joked, there are very few pushing for de-personalized learning.  I have written a number of times on the topic, including specifically here in the fall of 2010, when I tried to wrestle with a definition.

This past week as part of a feature in the North Shore Outlook I was extensively quoted on what I see with personalized learning and just what it means.  Here is the text:

Not all kids learn the same way. Traditional education hasn’t always had space to address these differences, but now the West Vancouver School District is looking to change that.  It’s using personalized learning to shift the emphasis from traditional learning to an  inquiry-based system that focuses on learning  how to learn.
Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools for the district, has been at the forefront of the push towards personalized learning for the last five years.

Things are changing so quickly that the key facts to know right now just won’t be the same in five years,” says Kennedy.  “The topics will be different. The content will be stale.” Rather than teach facts that will likely be obsolete in short order, the district is focusing instead on teaching students how to learn, rather than what to learn, in order to encourage them to continue learning far beyond their time at school.  “Knowledge has become so easily accessible it changes the dynamic between teachers and students,” says Kennedy.

“In a more traditional classroom, students might take notes or answer questions at the end of the chapter. In an inquiry-based classroom… They start with an overarching theme, question or challenge and go from there – this encourages ownership, exploration and curiosity.” Kennedy adds that this approach often results in powerful demonstrations of learning in the form of projects, productions and exhibitions that show real sophistication.

Part of personalized learning includes different types of learning environments and opportunities for students.  Technology is a big part of that. All schools  in the district have wi-fi and teachers are provided with mobile devices to use in one-to one learning environments.  Students are encouraged to bring their own devices, however, the district also provides devices for children who can’t afford their own or have forgotten theirs at home.  But there are also other changes in classroom design, such as offering different work station options or the ability to opt-into an outdoor class rather than an indoor one.

“Personalized learning is about giving students more control – more choice – over what they’re learning, how they’re learning it, even when they’re learning… so students feel it’s more theirs,” says Kennedy. “It’s also important for students to know what they’re working on, how they are doing, and what they need to do
next to improve.”  “It changes the students to being more the owner of the learning experience. The teacher spends more time guiding, rather than directing, learning.”

Parents also have a key role to play in the district’s approach to learning. Educators hope that parents will have conversations with their children to discover what types of learning approaches work best for them so that teachers can address each child’s specific learning needs.

The district is already seeing success with the new model. “We have a long history of very successful students,” says Kennedy. “We’re finding that some students that might not have been as engaged are finding this approach more appealing. In some classrooms students are coming up with their own questions.”

Still a work in progress, but it is important to continue to talk about the future we are trying to create and put depth behind the terms we are using so often.

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