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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

For much of my life I have heard of the pending demise of movie theatres.  First, it was the video tape, then DVDs and more recently it has been the explosion of online viewing options.  So, who would go to the movie theater and pay $15 to watch a movie when they can watch one online anywhere they want.  Well as we have learned, the answer is a lot of people.  I am apparently one of the few people who has not seen Avengers:  End Game.  As of writing this, it has made over $2 billion in theatres!  Not bad considering theatres were supposed to be relics of the past by now.

I think of the changes they have made in connection to the changes made in schools.  I actually think we have some things in common.  Throughout my teaching career, I have often heard from prophets of the future say that schools are going to go the way of the dinosaur – for many of the same reasons I have heard for movie theatres.  In short, technology would make schools as we know them out-of-date.

So just how have schools and movie theatres evolved in the last few decades to be as relevant and important now as ever.

They are more than just about the content. Go to the movies, and the movie is just part of the experience.  Movie theatres are full amusement complexes with food courts, arcades and a range of other activities.  And schools and classes are more than just the course material.  If schools were just teachers reading material and students copying material – this could be easily replaced, but they are engaging places where students connect with information.  The course material is actually just a small part of what makes up school.  So while you can replace the delivery method of school material – that does not replace school.

They both create experiences you cannot create at home through a screen. I grew up going to movie theatres that had small screens, not-so comfortable seats and your snack choice of 1. popcorn or 2. popcorn with butter .  Go now, and you have seats that recline, 4D films, and theatres that are like your living room on steroids.  Again, they built an experience that would not be possible anywhere else.  And in schools, classes are inquiry focused and more personalized.  We have moved away from the factory model that could easily be sent through computer wires to something that is far more connected.   In the past, schools would sometimes operate in ways that could easily be automated, but no longer is that ever the case.

There is something about gathering together in the community.  With both movies and learning, we sometimes underestimate the power of the shared experience.  There is something about going with your friends to see a movie together – in an increasingly disconnected world, this is a common intersection.  And similarly schools provide that community gathering place.  While in many parts of our life we connect digitally, schools allow us to learn together and have shared experiences.  And while the experiences are different than a generation ago – the importance of the shared experience is still as critical as it is today.

The comparison of the transformation of movie theatres and schools is not a perfect one.  It is interesting to see how they have both managed to stay incredibly relevant.  And while we can watch movies in so many ways now, or access learning anywhere or anytime, the institutions are still strong.

So no Avengers for me, but I will definitely be in line on December 19th for Star Wars!

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The much discussed US college cheating scam “Operation Varsity Blues” that has seen 50 people charged with various crimes has really stuck with me, as well it seems with people across North America. Of course the story has a movie-like crazy scheme storyline filled with celebrities and other powerful families.  It is the kind of story we love – it makes for great television.

For me, hearing the story I kept thinking, really this is a thing? I admit to being one of the more naive and trusting people but I struggle to believe these kind of activities really take place in our world. The media have been full of “hot takes” on the issue, but I want to look at a different slice of the story.  I have been thinking a lot about what the cheaters did in relation to the notions of abundance and scarcity in education.

I continue to hear comments that degrees are less important than they used to be.  In the modern world, we have moved from a time of scarcity to abundance in education.  While it definitely has some implications for K-12, the notion is most often used when we look at post-secondary.  In the past, with a limited number of spaces in post-secondary we were in an information-scarce time with acceptance to university/college being the way to access the information.  If you didn’t get to college or into the class, you couldn’t access the material or acquire the knowledge.  Now, in the age of abundance, we have a tsunami of new technologies creating access to any content you want.  You want to access the best lectures from the finest institutions in the world, you can likely do this all for free.  The cheerleaders of this change see this as opening up education to millions of people left around the world left out in the past.  And there are numerous stories of people picking up content online and this leading to dramatic changes in their life opportunities. Perhaps the era of credentialing being the key driver for so many professions in our world is ending?

Then last week in a lecture I attended there was a discussion about the dramatic differences that exist today, and increasingly so, of the different salaries and unemployment rates for those who have high school, college or professional degrees.  The data shows that more than ever (at least in the United States) the more education you have, the more money you will make, on average, and the less likely you will find yourself unemployed.  I am struck by these seemingly competing messages – in the modern world you don’t need the piece of paper anymore for the degree and in the era of abundance you can have access to all the content online and gain the skills that others pay thousands of dollars to receive BUT at the same time, the piece of paper may be more valuable than ever as an indicator of how successful you will be professionally.

So how does this relate to the cheating scam?  I am struck that so many seemingly very smart and successful people would spend so much money and put themselves and their families at risk to try to “hack” the old system and find their way to the top in the scarcity model.  If it is true, that it matters less where one goes to school, and the degrees that one has and matters more what one knows, the competencies they exhibit and how they apply their knowledge (and this doesn’t have to be through school) – then these 30+ families sure risked a lot for something that really doesn’t matter as much anymore.

And I realize it is far more complicated than this.  I am sure there are numerous status-related motivations why some of these people did what they did and it was not just about them deciding trying to criminally bypass the old model.  Perhaps for them education scarcity was a better bet than embracing a modern notion of educational abundance for their children.

I am a little less naive than I was a week ago about people but still have no clearer idea on what the future of learning and credentialing beyond grade 12 will look like going forward.  Will elite universities continue to be places that people will apparently be willing to lie, cheat and steal to attend or will the era of abundance mean that we no longer value the elite university credentials the same way we have for many generations?

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I have lost track of an exact number but I am well over 50 classes visited this fall. I wrote before about my goal to not just do a walk through, but have some sustained time in classrooms.  And there have been amazing takeaways from the classes I have visited.  One visit, now a few weeks ago that I continue to think about was my visit to the robotics program at West Vancouver Secondary.  I first wrote about robotics just over 3-years ago (HERE) as our then new Robotics teacher was taking his show on the road to various elementary schools sharing his passion about robotics.

Flash forward to today and the robotics program is booming.  This past weekend we had 33 teams competing in a competitive robotics tournament, and we have grown from an after school club to an at-capacity high school academy and a jam-packed elementary program.  This post, though, is not about the success of the robotics program by the numbers, it is about the hour I spent in the robotics area and what I saw.

The students were dialed in like nothing I have seen before in school.  It was crazy.  There were two rooms full of students across the hall from one another, with two teachers and every student was fully engaged.  Here are some of the specifics:

  • Students arrived early to maximize their time
  • I am pretty sure the high school students had phones and other electronic devices but I did not see one student using electronics off-task
  • Students were working largely in groups, and called on other students if they were stuck or needed some expertise
  • Part-way through there was a class (team) meeting and the students largely ran the session as they discussed the most recent competition and the upcoming schedule
  • Much is made of the notion of “flow” – every student I spoke with and observed seemed to be in this zone
  • Students I spoke with said they would regularly choose to stay until up to 8 PM Monday to Thursday to continue to work on their robots
  • There was a sense of individual and team pride – they were working for themselves and they were part of something much bigger and had responsibilities to this larger team

I often get asked, What does student engagement look like?  It looks like 60 students working together with teacher support on short-term and long-term goals.  It was crazy.  And the photos I have included in the post only do it partial justice.  When people say that students today just do what they are told, lack initiative, are micro-managed by their parents and are not gaining real world skills – I call BS.   I have so many great examples that tell me something different, and anyone who has seen our robotics students in action know the kids are going to be OK.

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For me it was Alan November.

When I look at which speaker I saw who finally got through to me and made me think differently about teaching and learning, it would be Alan November. It was 2004, and the web 2.0 world was coming alive.

I have seen hundreds of speakers who suggested I needed to think differently but for some reason on that fall day at the Terry Fox Theatre in Port Coquitlam, Alan November got me thinking in new ways and I never looked back.

I have written on some similar shifts I have made – like My Aha Moment when I took what I heard from Alan November and brought it into my practice and My Own Watershed Moments when I reflected on influential conferences, people and presentations on my thinking.

The short version of what I remember from the November talk of 14 years ago, is that we need to have students own their own learning (He would ask, “Who owns the learning?”), and some of the new technology tools can help do this in ways we had only dreamed about before.  Of course, he also had some great hooks, I am sure I am not the only one who remembers him showing Dog Island, The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus among other sites around information literacy.

So, why on that particular day, did that talk change my thinking?  I think it is because:

  1.  I was already thinking about things differently but needed someone to help me pull the ideas together
  2. I felt confident in my job, and ready to move beyond “just getting by” to be open to new ideas
  3. There was a culture in the District I worked that was open to new ideas
  4.  I could see how the conversation in education fit into a larger shift in the world beyond school
  5. Some speakers just hook you in.

Several of us looked back on this event and referred to it as the “November Awakening” in Coquitlam.   This was the right event at the right time.   Of course, we never change our thinking based on a 2-hour-talk, but sometimes we can look back on certain sessions that really helped pull our thinking together.

So, who was it for you?  If you had to identify one speaker you heard who changed how you think about your practice who would it be?  What was it about that speaker on that day that led to a change of thinking?

 

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Just what does a superintendent do?

It is a question that I have tried to tackle a number of times in this blog over the last several years.  The job is a bit what you make of it – as the finest colleagues I know often spend their time very differently.  What is true, like so many other professions, it is changing as the world around us rapidly changes.

I recently read the book,  BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships and Empower Learning from Trish Rubin and Eric Sheninger.  While their notion of “branding” in education brings me some discomfort, they make a powerful case for leaders being the chief storytellers.  It is something I have written about before, that particularly in a world without as many newspapers and other traditional media, those in schools and districts need to more clearly and publicly tell our stories.

Their book talks about not just telling stories, but creating them.  It also pulls research from a range of thinkers outside of education and helps us see what is possible applying the work inside our system.

And just after reading this book, I watched a story about former President Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.  The speech which earned him the title “Explainer in Chief” for his detailed explanation, in ways that were accessible to a wide audience, of policy directions – with clear easy to understand arguments.  It reminded me of the important role superintendents need to play when it comes to education direction and policy.  We bring the detail to the broader direction that our political leaders set.

I think when we are at our best, superintendents do what Rubin and Sheninger outline, and tell our stories, but we also have they key role of making policy directions understandable to politicians, staff and parents.  As the key conduit between government and the system, the superintendent has to be the pipeline helping the two sides connect and build consensus.

Young Zhao says, “Define yourself before being defined.”  We need to tell our stories, embrace the new tools and possibilities and still have the details so we can perform the roles of storyteller and explainer-in-chief when it comes to learning.

 

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Photo Credit: Mauricio Chandia

I wrote last month about Breaking the Gender Divide – Imagining a New Way to Organize Youth Sports where I shared the script for the recent TEDx presentation I gave with my daughter Liz.  In the spirit of TED, it is intended to be a discussion starter.  Issues of gender and sports are ones that should be given more attention.  I have had the honour of some previous TEDx Talks, but this was particularly special getting to share the stage with my oldest daughter and pursue a topic that is interesting to both of us.

The videos have just been posted, and I want to again thank Craig Cantlie and entire TEDxWestVancouverED team (there are so many great Talks on the website).  They host a first class event, and the videos from past events have, in many cases, been viewed tens of thousands of times – which is a wonderful legacy for these events.

Here is our talk:

If you are interested in other sports related TED Talks, TED has compiled a list of 31 of the most provocative.  My all-time favourite TED talk, on any topic, by John Wooden speaking about The difference between winning and succeeding, is among the recommendations.

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How do we effectively help students harness the benefits of our digital world, while easing the negative effects of technology and making sure that children are equipped with important foundational skills like reading, writing and math? This question is often top of mind for those concerned about the impact of technology on students, particularly in our district, where we continue to lead on the adoption of digital tools for the classroom.

There are two prominent issues around technology that I hear concerns about, and we have also seen these same issues play out in the news on a regular basis. One is related to the content to which young people are potentially exposed, and the other has to do with too much screen time. I’ll take these two in order to address some aspects of both.

Internet Content

Many people believe that we can and should filter out the worst of the internet, and certainly, the provincial government and district technology teams spend time ensuring that accessible sites within our network are safe and educational. But in the real world, always-on access is a very real issue, and students participate in the digital conversation beyond our walls. Just as you wouldn’t send a child to walk to school without instructions and some certainty that they understand and can handle the risks, students need to harness the skills that allow them to use technology responsibly, safely and ethically.

Neither teaching nor parenting is an easy job, and most everyone would agree that it would be irresponsible to leave the role of responsible technology use up to a software package. In a similar vein, blanket internet blocks do not work, partly because students are very adept at getting around such restrictions and then sharing that information with their peers. In an era of fake news and alternate facts, the best defense is to guide and lead the conversation on digital citizenship, so that students can safely and successfully navigate the digital landscape at all times.

This is not a ‘one and we’re done situation’. Our teacher-librarians from every school, already this year, have had a special session on digital citizenship, since these specialized teachers play a key role in literacy and research. We use a common language and have a consistent approach around the district. Responsible Use is addressed. Using sources like Media Smarts our schools teach kids:

• how to recognize false content on-line
• how to make privacy decisions on-line
• about cyberbullying
• about excessive internet use

In West Vancouver, students learn how to find and validate sources and use the vast promise of technology to design, produce, collaborate and demonstrate their learning. This is a vital skill, and parents and educators who share concerns about student well-being and success should embrace the promise and the challenges that technology in education brings. Fear of the unknown is certainly a factor in some quarters, but for those unfamiliar with technology, or the policies and best practices in place, there are resources that can help.

Time Spent on Devices

There is no doubt that everyone is spending more time on their devices, and if it’s purely about consuming rather than creating, that can become a problem. Like I am sure many of you, I am concerned about the mindless consumption of so many (kids and adults) in our world. But the solution is to invest more time in areas like intelligent consumption, rather than resort to punitive measures.

At school, before we implemented bring your own device across all of our schools, we spent considerable time developing the skills of our staff, with a heavy focus on our role as ‘digital citizenship leaders’ – teaching the basics of online ethics, intelligent consumption, intellectual property, online safety and ‘netiquette’. Doing this well means less time spent policing the use of devices and more time getting the most out of what technology can help us do. As opposed to mere passive consumption and entertainment, we ask students to create, produce artifacts, collaborate and demonstrate their learning. They will be doing even more of this as we continue to implement the Applied Design Skills and Technologies curriculum at higher grades.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ITSE) is an excellent resource on technology in schools, and is referenced frequently in our district. The “standards for students” are very helpful, as the document establishes several principles, one of which includes the need to teach good digital citizenship. Schools, in partnership with parents, are doing precisely this work. The aim is to have students “recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical”.

Schools often require that students unplug and/or close their cases. One example of this in action is what West Bay Elementary School has done by creating “phone lockers” so that students can use them when they will be used for learning, and store them safely at other times. At the same time, we value the importance of face-to-face time and focus heavily on other areas of literacy and basic foundational skills – like math lessons in the forest, reading stories to younger students and encouraging the use of our public libraries.

As to what parents choose to do when children are not in our classrooms, our district innovation support leader, Cari Wilson, mentions a number of great resources, along with several age appropriate tips for leading digital literacy in her recent blog post.

Once students go to secondary school, I believe they need to have greater ownership over these decisions. This can be hard, for us in schools, and for parents at home. On the home front, I think it is crucial that parents act as good models for the use of technology.

With four school aged-children myself, these are conversations that are not just part of my work life, but also my home life. For us, we have a series of rules at home, and they apply to both adults and children:

• no cell phones in the bedrooms so we don’t get distracted at night
• we uninstall some Apps during vacation or other times to limit distractions
• we talk about which Apps we will put on our devices – and which ones we won’t
• we don’t talk about getting phones until at least in high school

Excessive consumption is a tough pattern to break, once it’s set in. But it is up to each of us to model and guide the young people in our care, and we urge every parent to take an active leadership role.

Conclusions

I am amazed at the work students are creating, that we could not have even imagined a few years ago. I see students building and programming robots, creating videos they share with the world, and digitally connecting across the district and around the globe. I also think there will be far more technology in our schools (and our lives) in 10 years than there is today. We have a responsibility to see that as technologies shift, we find ways to use it, and not be used by it.

Thanks to West Vancouver Communications Director Bev Pausche who assisted with this post.  A similar version of this post was also published on our District website.

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