Archive for November, 2010

Tonight, I have the opportunity to speak at the Phi Delta Kappa – UBC Chapter dinner meeting on the topic of “Internet Connectivity, Personalization, and Engagement in Learning”.  The format has each of the three presenters speaking for between seven and 10 minutes with questions and discussion to follow.  I am on a great panel, with Steve Cardwell, Superintendent of Schools in Vancouver, and Jan Unwin, Superintendent of Schools in Maple Ridge / Pitt Meadows (I didn’t realize she was blogging).

It is a very broad topic, but I am going to focus on five key ideas, considering their impact on both adult and student learning.  These ideas come in large part from my experiences with StudentsLive!, and subsequent dialogue with the students since the program ended.  It is a remix of several other presentations I have recently given.

My “big 5” messages:

mobile technology can change learning

good writing still matters but video is changing the game

using social media needs to be taught

networks are essential

the real world is addictive

The five themes speak to both student learning, and our learning as educators. In fact, I find all five themes are dramatically changing how I learn.

Here is my complete slide deck:

I will update this later with the main ideas from Steve and Jan.

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I have written quite a bit this past week on educators’ professional learning, and how we are experimenting with extending these conversations, using technology to engage more people.  I have also written, here and here, two posts on backchanneling during the recent BCSSA Fall Conference.

There are a couple of more reflections I want to pick up on before moving on:

1. School District borders matter less and less when it comes to professional learning

This really struck me on Monday night.  I came home, went on my computer at about 8:00 and saw a post on Twitter that an online session was starting at 8:15, entitled Blogging First Steps, hosted by Lesley Edwards from North Vancouver.  This is part of the LAN: Learning Is Social series that is coordinated by staff in the North Vancouver School District.  There were 12 of us who participated from a variety of districts.  I don’t know everyone on the elluminate (this tool is available free to B.C. educators) session, but I know there were participants (trustees, administrators, teachers) from North Vancouver, Vancouver, and Coquitlam.  In my just over three-year tenure in the West Vancouver District, on the North Shore, I have not attended a professional development session in North Vancouver.  That said, there was nothing that could have felt more natural than sliding into the session on a Monday night.

We still have lines on the map for School Districts, but when it comes to our professional learning, these are blurry and less, and less, important.  We are finding ways to connect and engage online that has very little to do with geography.

2.  Ideas, not roles are dictating the people I connect with

There are still many traditional structures where we gather in role-alike groups.  There are sessions for teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, the community, and sometimes we bring these groups together.  What I am finding online is that roles are almost inconsequential.  It is the ideas that matter.  I did an interview with Janet Steffenhagen on Monday, and we talked about how technology has really had a dramatic effect on realigning the power structure in education.

I find that I don’t follow topics, I follow interesting people.  I also find that while I am still attracted to voices from afar like Philadelphia Principal, Chris Lehmann, and edu blogger and presenter, Will Richardson, I am increasingly more attracted to local voices who share a somewhat familiar context.

It is always dangerous to make a list, knowing I will miss some key people, but some of those within B.C.’s education system who are influencing my thinking right now include:  David Truss (a Coquitlam principal currently working in China), Chris Wejr (an elementary principal in Aggasiz), Cale Birk (a secondary principal in Kamloops), Brian Kuhn (technology director in Coquitlam), Gino Bondi (a secondary principal in Vancouver), Gordon Powell (coordinator for library and information services in Richmond) and David Wees (a teacher in Vancouver).

I want to finish this post  by coming back to the students, and looking for guidance from my experiences as an adult learner, with how students learn.  I think what I take from this is student learning will continue to be less hierarchical, less about the teacher being the keeper of knowledge, and more about the teacher helping students make sense of content, and connecting them to other experts.  Schools will be less bound to discussions within the walls of a building, and connections will be made across schools, communities and beyond.  School will continue to look less like an activity that happens between nine and three from Monday to Friday.

This is a great time for a transition in how educational professionals learn, and it is this transition that is also changing the game for how our students learn.

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I feel very lucky to Chair the West Vancouver School District Comprehensive School Health Committee.  I have written (here) about this group before and a presentation we heard this fall from the McCreary Centre Society.   Our committee includes students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, the District of West Vancouver and a number of key personnel from Vancouver Coastal Health.  We had another excellent session today and one topic emerged that clearly merits more discussion.

There have been amazing changes in our schools over the last five years when it comes to healthy choices and healthy eating.  The Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in BC Schools have eliminated the sale of unhealthy foods and beverages in schools.  While, from time-to-time, groups need reminders about alternatives to cupcake sales, students in our secondary schools now, will never know a time when vending machines were stocked with Kit Kats and Coca Cola.  We have proudly been leaders with this work, and have exceptionally supportive schools and parents, supported by Kathy Romses, a Community Dietitian with Vancouver Coastal Health, and a provincial leader in the area.

The discussion today focussed on: while we have made great progress with food sales, candy is still widely being used as a reward.  The word “rampant” was used to describe the use of candy as a reward for good work, on-task behaviour, among a host of other reinforcements in classrooms.  The consensus of the group was we need to address this.  Parents are frustrated that while they are promoting healthy choices, some schools are giving mixed messages. The guidelines do speak to selling food items only, so it does seem to send a mixed message.

I think there are a couple of approaches to this.  First, there is the issue of the use of extrinsic motivators with everything we read from respected professionals like Alfie Kohn who argues:

More than 70 studies have found that the more you reward people for doing something, the more they lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. It’s not just that rewards are ineffective over the long haul; it’s that they are actively counterproductive.

There is also the recent thinking of Daniel Pink in Drive, where he writes about what motivates us (this RSA Video below is well worth 11 minutes of your time if you have not seen it):

Even if we don’t look at the issue of motivation, there is the health issue of using candy as a reward.  As Kathy Romses points out, food rewards connect food to mood and encourage rewarding or comforting oneself with food and eating when you’re not hungry; long-term eating patterns are often carried into adulthood; sticky or foods high in sugar cause tooth decay; using unhealthy foods as a reward sends a mixed message about healthy eating.

Okay, great, but what are teachers (and for that matter, parents) suppose to do?  Kathy, as shared in her VCH document, Healthier Rewards, also has a series of suggestions if you are looking for extrinsic non-food rewards.

  • Class or group field trip
  • School supplies (e.g. pencils, pens, marker, post-it notes, white out, bookmark)
  • Certificate of recognition
  • Activity items (e.g. jump rope, Frisbee, ball, hacky sack)
  • Water bottle, tea bags
  • Hair accessories, shoe laces, chap stick, deck of cards, key chain, toothbrush
  • A plant, or a pot and plant seeds
  • Movie passes or recreation centre passes
  • Gift card to bookstore or music store

The healthy schools movement is clearly a journey and we have made some great progress.  Today’s discussion is a good reminder we still have some more important conversations to have in schools, and communities as we promote healthy lifestyles.

* Thanks to Kathy Romses and others on the District Comprehensive School Health Committee for their thoughts that contributed to this post.

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Rather than a summary of Day 2 at the BCSSA Fall Conference, I wanted to go into more detail with what I thought was an outstanding presentation, by Dr. Stuart Shanker, in conversation with Surrey Superintendent of Schools, Mike McKay.

The full presentation is available here.

Some of the big ideas from the presentation:

  • trajectories (one’s path) are largely set by the time the child enters school
  • the child’s capacity for social interaction, symbolic thinking, functional language, problem solving and logical thinking, are largely set before they enter school
  • the foundation for this massive development process is the child’s ability to be calmly focussed and alert – their ability for self-regulation
  • a child is born 6-9 months prematurely
  • If you get a kid in Grade 1 it is difficult to “fix” a child

A great deal of the presentation focussed on the stages of alertness and the key to keeping kids at level 4 — calmly focussed and alert.  This was interesting for the adults in the room, as many thought how often they work with children functioning at levels 5 and 6.


6.  Flooded

5. Hyperalert

4. Calmly focused and alert (optimal learning*)

3. Hypoalert

2. Drowsy

1. Asleep


In Self-Regulation: Calm, Alert, and Learning*, an article published this fall in Canada Education, Dr. Shanker says:

In short, self-regulation serves as a lens for understanding a child, his individual strengths and the areas that need work, and thus as a lens for understanding what we hope to accomplish in our teaching practices.

Dr.  Shanker’s presentation and supporting research emphasized, once again, the need to focus on early childhood education.  If we are going to make a difference, we need to make a difference with our very youngest children.

There are a number of great, supplementary resources on the work of Dr. Shanker, including a short video linked here on brain development.  The slide deck (as referenced above) from the session is also rich with supporting information.

For the interest of everyone in the West Vancouver district reading this blog, both our Board Chair, Mary-Ann Booth, and I are in agreement that we should invite Dr. Shanker to West Vancouver to present.

Thanks to Kelly Spearman, Jennifer Towers, Michelle Wood, Cindy Dekker and Gary Kern who all assisted me with the notes from the presentation

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I have already written here about how successful the unconferencing  (“backchanneling” is probably the more accurate term) was at the BCSSA Fall Conference last week, in Victoria.

Here is the definition of backchannel from Wikipedia:

Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks. The term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe listeners’ behaviours during verbal communication, Victor Yngve 1970.

The term “backchannel” generally refers to online conversation about the topic or the speaker. Occasionally, backchannel provides audience members a chance to fact-check the presentation.

By the end of the conference, over 150 people posted at least once to Twitter with a post tagged #bcssa10 (both from inside and outside the conference); several dozen others also used TodaysMeet to connect (it is hard to be precise since this tool does not require an account), and many more, while not posting, followed along monitoring one or both places.  As I write this post, two days after the conference, posts are still being made tagged to the conference.

Toward the end of the conference, and in e-mails since, I have been asked many variations on the question, how do we replicate this elsewhere?

Here is a collection of thoughts from conference participants, around unconferencing / backchanneling, from this past week:

What the organizers can do:

  • pre-publish the tool(s) being used including the Twitter hashtag (check to be sure the hashtag is not being used by another group)
  • in advance of the conference, use the backchannel as a place to share prereading and help engage those attending, and those who may want to follow the event
  • encourage participants to bring technology and give them permission to participate through social tools
  • identify a moderator (in the classroom, a teacher) to monitor the conversation and help guide it when necessary

What presenters can do:

  • honour the conversations that are taking place virtually – at the BCSSA Conference both Valerie Hannon and Tony Mackay referenced the Twitter and TodaysMeet conversation which gave status to this dialogue
  • encourage groups to post key information to the backchannel during table discussions
  • use the backchannel as a visual in the room during presentations or breaks
  • use the backchannel to help with Q & A sessions
  • have the presenters participate in the tools during breaks
  • use the information on the backchannel to guide the presentation — again, Valerie and Tony did this by taking what was said during the first day to influence what they spoke about on the second day

Other Advice:

  • Pick your tools carefully — if you are doing this with students, consider a tool like TodaysMeet that does not require an account and allows students to hide their full identity and create pseudonyms
  • Start with the goal — there are hundreds of tools available, so consider what it is you want to do and then find a tool to match. If I were to do it again, I would look for 1) a tool that allows threaded conversations 2) a tool that allows collaborative note-taking
  • Model — one of the reasons for adults in education to use the tools is to model their use for students — so be good models with what you say, and how you interact
  • Pick your spots — not every event needs a backchannel

I find following conferences via Twitter to be extremely powerful, and a great way to drop in on events I can’t attend in person.

I am very interested in how we can take this learning and apply it to our work with students.  How can we use tools like Twitter and TodaysMeet to link students in classrooms, schools, districts and across the world to improve their learning?

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I feel like I have gone back in time to my days as a columnist at the Richmond News – news to share and deadlines to meet.  This post will try to capture some of the key points from the first day of the British Columbia School Superintendents Association Fall Conference – Personalized Learning in the 21st Century:  From Vision to Action.

I have framed this post (and its title) on a post I did in early September:  What is Ontario Talking About? which was a summary of some of the key ideas coming out of Ontario’s  Building Blocks for Education:  Whole System Reform Conference (I didn’t actually attend the conference but followed the tweets and saw some of the presentation webcasts).

I will leave the speeches from Education Minister, George Abbott, and Premier Gordon Campbell aside, and focus on some of the big ideas from Valerie Hannon and Tony Mckay, and the three case studies they shared.

The opening session made the case for change.  This included a couple of videos that have been well used in staff meetings in recent months, but are worth seeing, if you haven’t seen them yet.

The first was RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms (if you like this video you can find all the RSA Animate videos here)

The second video was 21st Century Education in New Brunswick

There was also an emphasis on the work in Finland.  Like BC, Finland has a very high achieving system.   Valerie spoke about Finland’s Pedagogy for Tomorrow which is based on work she is doing there, and includes:

  • ubiquitous technology, ubiquitous opportunity?
  • collaborative, social-constructivist learning
  • problem-based instruction
  • progressive inquiry, experimental study
  • peer feedback and peer cooperation

The Finland example (click here for more details on their reform) resonates with me in West Vancouver — a strong system not content with itself.  We have an exemplary public school system in West Vancouver, with amazing results, but like Finland, in order to continue to perform at such a high level, we need to be looking at how we are preparing our students for a changing world.

Other examples shared to push our thinking included:

High Tech High, San Diego (Resources here from Edutopia)

Kunskapsskolan, Sweden

These are 23 secondary schools for students between the ages of 12 and 16, and nine, sixth form schools for 16 to 19 year olds, totalling 10,000 students focussing on personalized learning.  A full description is available here.

What these, and other examples did, including ones from New York and England (interesting key themes for Learning Futures Schools), was to nicely set a context for the global conversations taking place.  They are absolutely different contexts, and it is easy to get caught up in how what is happening in X cannot happen in Y.

Given this base of knowledge, it will be interesting to see how we personalize it in our district conversations tomorrow.

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One notion that stuck with me this morning from Valerie Hannon, a keynote speaker at the BCSSA Fall Conference, was  that education requires disruptive innovation in order to prevent an “institutional bypass.” In another post I will share some of the key points from Valerie and other speakers today, but I want to focus on the conference going on behind the conference and how many of us have bypassed the traditional structure, through disruptive innovation to make meaning at the event.

As I write this post at the end of the first day of the BCSSA Fall Conference, ninety-three different people have tagged posts on Twitter #bcssa10 and tagged close to 1,000 tweets.  At different points today the conference has been a trending topic both in Vancouver and across Canada.  There were more people using Twitter to talk about the future of teaching and learning than to discuss the Canucks or the weather. 

I believe one year ago at this conference there were three  people sharing information on Twitter.  The ninety-three tweeters today included participants in the room, and those who engaged in the conference from many sites around the province and beyond.

In addition to the dialogue on Twitter, there was  a second back-channel conversation happening on TodaysMeet (a great tool for in-class online conversations – no account required).  Several dozen more people used this tool to extend the presentations.

While the conference has looked very similar to the conferences I have become accustomed to since I first attended this event about a decade ago, I think we have found a way, using Valerie Hannon’s notion, to bypass the traditional conference structure.  The presentations were largely stand-and-deliver lectures, but those of us who learn by engaging with others had an amazingly rich un-conference experience. 

Thinking about the change in just one year with how we engage in professional learning, I wonder what these type of events will look like over the next few years.

Some other wins with the un-conferencing:

  • We have exposed dozens of educators in a variety of roles to the power of Twitter as a professional tool
  • We have been able to share our learning with colleagues in our districts who were not able to join us
  • We have collaboratively compiled notes to use after the conference
  • We have modelled cross-role and cross-district learning

We often talk about the need to “go where the kids are”.  Our efforts in engaging in social media to support our learning, is part of this journey.

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