Posts Tagged ‘BC Ed Plan’

I want to pick up on the idea of school on a dial that I introduced in my last blog post – The End of Snow Days?

School for a long time has been something you turn on or off.  School is turned off on the weekends, during Christmas, Spring Break and the summer.  And it is turned on from 9-3 Monday to Friday from September to June.  It is a switch.  The day after Labour Day we turn the switch on and across British Columbia hundreds of thousands of students arrive in buildings joined by tens of thousands of teachers and other staff.

Unlike most jurisdictions in the world, British Columbia did not turn off the switch for in-person schooling when the pandemic hit in the middle of March.  We changed this switch to a dial and introduced five different settings on this dial.  Here is one recent image describing the five stages:

Since spring break, and up until this week we had been in Stage 4.  There were a limited number of students attending school – these were largely the children of Essential Service Workers and vulnerable and special needs students.  The vast majority of students were learning remotely.  This week, we moved to Stage 3 and saw thousands of student returning to schools part-time and on a voluntary basis.

Of course, with it already being June, many are turning their attention to September.  We all would hope to be at Stage 1 – and stay in Stage 1 – but we also need to plan for other eventualities.   So, back to this notion of school as a dial and not a switch.  If we think of it as a dial, if there is a second-wave of Covid-19, we can dial-down the in-person instruction, and if BC continues to plank the curve, we can dial-up the in-person instruction.  The challenge for a school system is how do you design learning and schooling that lets you move between the various stages on a dial and not get caught thinking of it as a switch (models are for another post).

This also raises a larger question about the future of education and the idea of in-person instruction being on a dial. Right now, the dial is being controlled by the virus.  The virus threat is lower in BC, so the dial for in-person instruction goes up.  And this will be the pattern in the short term.

But I have heard from both staff and students that they have found more success with partial remote learning than they were finding in the traditional classroom, particularly at high school.  So post-virus, how might we let students control their own dial? Or staff?  How could we design structures that allowed some students and staff to attend in-person everyday, some only a few days a week, and maybe others vary rarely?  It makes my head hurt – but it is a conversation worth having. 

I think of Alan November’s question that has long inspired me when he speaks of the classroom, “Who owns the learning?”, the teacher or the student,  in the post virus world, I think as we look at structures, we may want to ask, “Who owns the dial?”

More to come . . .

Read Full Post »

With change comes opportunity.

As British Columbia has engaged in a learning transformation over the last decade I have felt the continual tension.   We can either try to do the new thing just like we did the old thing, or see the new thing as an opportunity to think differently.

I have heard some say that inquiry is “what we have always done in our classes” while others have dramatically shifted their classes to increase student choice, voice, and agency under the guise of inquiry.

With curriculum, some argue that it is not really new, it is just the same curriculum organized differently.  Others suggest that the focus around big ideas is a dramatic move away from a focus on volumes of content to one of skills and competencies.

The same conversation has happened in so many areas – is the technology changing the classroom, or is it really just a new “version of pen and paper” as I have heard in some classes.  Is self-regulation about students having greater ownership over their ability to regulate and be in a zone for learning, or is it just new language around getting kids to behave in class?

The revised careers curriculum which sees us move away from Planning 10 and Grad Transitions to Career Life Education and Career Life Connections is another one of these tension points.  And again the same comments have been made.  I have heard they are really just the same courses with new names and that nothing needs to change.

Well, we disagree.

We see this change in Career Education not as a chance to make the new courses fit with what we have always done, but to do things differently.  And this change in Career Education is an opportunity to look differently at time in our schools, and how we use it, and listen to our students.  Beginning in the Fall all of our secondary schools will have new bell schedules that provide students with a 32 minute block of flexible instructional time (FIT) each day.  This will give students time to address the new Career Education competencies and content.  But it will also do more than that.  It will give students something they have continually asked for whenever we survey them – some flexible time as part of their formal school day where they have choice and voice – to complete assignments, collaborate with peers and receive extra help in a particular area.

Our system is very much built on a factory model.  Of course, no one really believes that all students need 120 hours to “learn” any particular course, some need far less and others need far more.  This change begins to recognize these differences.  Some students will need to spend time in math, while others will choose to spend their time in art or working on careers.

We regularly hear from our students (and their parents) of the increased stresses and pressures on today’s learners.  As we have listened to students, parents and staff this year – one comment I heard numerous times really struck me, “Students just need time to breathe.” Again, this is just a small change, but hopefully it will help – and also help the mental well-being of their teachers who can give directed support during the school days, perhaps freeing up some of their lunchtimes and after schools often dedicated to helping students.

FIT is not revolutionary.  Dozens of high schools in the Vancouver area have found ways to build regular flexible time into their schedule.  It is new for us.  And while I know some want us to completely revolutionize the learning structures of school, we continue to look for ways to make real changes that give students greater agency over their own learning.

We could have just tried to do the new things in old ways, but we are seizing the opportunity to do things differently.  As someone who believes in students and their teachers, I am excited for the Fall.

Read Full Post »

solutionThe shifts in the BC curriculum are coming fast. Next fall the “draft” stamp comes off of all curriculum in K-9 across all subject areas. And if the current timelines remain in place, the same will happen one year later for grades 10-12. As I have written here before, the changes have been overwhelmingly well received and the conversations that have come out of them not just about what is covered in school but how it is covered have been outstanding.

As we get close to the September full implementation date, I am nervous that I see some beginning to look for solutions to cover the curriculum.  And just what does that mean?

For many of us growing up, we saw the grade 8 Social Studies curriculum as the Patterns of Civilization textbook.  The Science 10 curriculum was the Science Probe textbook.  I talk to many parents now who believe the Math curriculum in our elementary school is really the Math Makes Sense textbook. The new curriculum does not only shift what we are teaching, and how we are teaching, but also forces us to think differently about resources.  The focus on big ideas, students constructing knowledge and core competencies require different kinds of support resources.  If the era of a single textbook being able to equal a course of study was not yet over, it is now.

We have our second of two days this year dedicated to the implementation of the curriculum this week.  The day will focus on the competencies (communication, thinking and personal and social).   It is a very rich day that schools have planned with teacher leaders at each site leading the work on their staff.  Along with Aboriginal education and resources, the competencies were the number one item that staff across the district have wanted to focus on.  The work in our schools has been exciting and inspiring.  Teachers and administrators are working together looking at all aspects of teaching and learning and what the shifts mean for them, and their students.

As we get closer to September, there will be anxiousness around resources. We need to look to avoid the easy solutions of books or programs that promise to ‘cover’ the curriculum.  There will absolutely need to be new resources over time to support the new content, competencies and inquiry-based focus of the curriculum.  Aboriginal education, in particular, is an area that has not been well covered in previous resources and is embedded across all areas in the refreshed curriculum.

Just as the curriculum has been a process rather than a proclamation over the last several years, so should the work to find resources to support the students, teacher and classroom.  I think we need to think carefully about format – how much digital and how much paper based?  We need to  think about consistency – which resources should be standard across classes and schools?  We need to think of local vs. broad – which resources should be centred on the local community?  We need to think of content vs. process – should the resources be big ideas / inquiry focused or focused on subject content?  And what about professionally produced vs. locally teacher-curated resources?  And do we always need new resources – what do we have now that still works or could be used differently to support student learning?

I see some problem-based experiences that students do to support their learning and I see some other “new”resources that look like the old resources with a fresh coat of paint and where words like inquiry and problem-based learning were sprinkled throughout but little else changed.

And all of this is just the start. The refreshed curriculum is a real chance to also think carefully and differently about the resources we use to support learning.  And we know there is something reassuring when our children bring home backpacks of books – each one representing an area of study.

In our urgency to get up-to-speed with the changes in curriculum we should be thoughtfully looking for resources that help bring learning to life for our students and not ones that cover the new stuff in the older, familiar ways.

As I have said before, exciting times!

Read Full Post »

In my previous post (here) I referenced an upcoming event at SFU, Targeting Technology for Maximum Student Benefit.  To think out loud a bit, as well as to garner some ideas, I want to take a look at a number of issues that need to be unpacked, and to create some models for comment, pushback and refinement. So, the idea is to engage in a larger conversation, but less about the case for change, and more about a tangible idea of what that change might look like.

One of the points raised in the BC Education Plan under Learning with Technology is “The Province will promote the use of technology for both students and educators.”  So, why does the BC Education Plan want to promote the use of technology?  Technology is only the device;  it is access to the benefits of a digitized world where everything is amplified that is the greater goal.  For many, this part of the education plan speaks to moving to one-to-one opportunities.  In the feedback I have seen around this, many have raised concerns over equity, and how one-to-one might further divide our students into have and have-nots, and while most believe technology can help overcome barriers of access and geography, we need to ensure there is some baseline. While it plays out as ‘technology’, what so many want for their children is the benefits of digital learning — relevant, connected, unlimited.

So, given that it seems unlikely that all students will be provided with a similar device (as was done in Maine and has been done in specific grades in BC at different times), what might a model look like that embraces personally owned devices, but would also tackle the  issue of equity for all?

Some underlying background assumptions:

1) If we believe technology is crucial for students moving forward, we need to find a way for all students to have a base level of access.

2)  Many still argue about the merits of technology; however, without question, the world is becoming increasingly digital. Accessing content, communicating, working, learning, and all facets of life are being shaped by the ‘digitization’ of the world.  For our students to thrive in this world, they need to have access AND direction.

3)  All efforts need to be learning efforts; the goal is to increase personalized learning that improves engagement, relevancy, achievement, and the technology is there to support this goal.

3)  Given that it is unlikely any grand plan will come together to support all students and staff with technology, implementation will be incremental.

4)  Simply encouraging students to bring their own devices is not enough, or an effective strategy.  The strategy must be purposeful, supported and unified for both teachers and students.  Failure to do this will leave us with pockets of innovation, and without a sustainable model.

5)  There will be teachers who continue to push the boundaries, who will do amazing and edgy stuff — teachers always have and always will.  But, while this should be encouraged, it shouldn’t be understood as a base expectation.  Not every class needs to be Skyping with students in Europe for their assignments, or producing videos to explain their work (but it’s great in classes that do).

6)  To be clear, one-to-one computing is not the solution to any challenge — it may, though, be part of the answer to going forward.  If we think by placing an Internet appliance in a student’s hands alone will create a more creative, innovative, or more intelligent student we are missing the point.  Like the paper and pen of the last generation, it is the ‘oxygen’ to breathe in a digital world.

So, what might a strategy look like:

1)  It is important to start with either one grade or one school.  While this post covers the technology, there is huge support needed for staff.  This is not a pilot project — this is the first step in a strategy.  The ‘sweet spot’  seems to be between Grades 4 -10. The elementary level is appealing as a starting point because it is one (or very few) teacher(s) interacting with each student, and easier for early success.  Grades 4-10 is also the area where learning strategies can be integrated and cross-curricular, supporting personalized learning strategies.

2)  Teachers need to have the technology in their hands early on to become comfortable with it and before students are using it on a regular basis.  There is also a lot of work to be done to support teachers in adopting pedagogy in this ‘new’ classroom environment.

3)  We need to identify what will make the digital learning ‘sticky’ for classes and schools to enable meaningful and powerful learning; it might be digital writing through a blog, student portfolios, or digital content (e-books/content). It will need to be supported for both teachers and students, and framed around an inquiry-based approach with student ownership and teachers as guides in learning.

4)  A standard about what technology works best is required.  Absolutely, bring what you have, but that strategy is far from perfect. Much can be done with a smartphone, but I am not convinced it is the best device for learning. I still think a small laptop that allows for work production is currently the best device, of course, this is changing with the growth of slates (iPads) and the potential of new devices like ultrabooks.

The really big question, how do we ensure equity?

  • Have students with their own devices bring them. There are more students who have them than we think, and if the case is made that students are benefiting from the learning, more families will invest in the mobile technology for school and home.  If parents can be assured that an investment in Grade 4 will carry their child through for four-to-six years with their learning, many will make this choice.  I am often stunned by families that buy their child a cell phone, but don’t have a computer.  I am also quite comfortable in saying that if they are investing in a cell phone and not a computer there are better options to support their child’s learning.  We need to help guide families with what technology will have the greatest impact in supporting their child’s learning.
  •  Of course, not all students will supply a computer up front, this could range from a few students to the entire class depending on the school or district.  The second option would be a lease-to-own option for students. There are a number of options available with price points around $20 per month.  This picks up on the cell phone argument, and a more affordable device with more value for student learning.  Families could be assured their child would be getting a device that would be ideal for learning for a number of years, and could be used at school and home.
  •  Finally, there are  students that, for many reasons (financial and otherwise) won’t embrace the first two options.  We need to find ways to supply these students with a comparable technology to use at school.  Many schools have class sets of laptops that could be repurposed for this project; in other cases investments will need to be made.  The challenge is that the investments will be uneven (and this is difficult to do) with some schools requiring a greater percentage of investment than others.

The uptake on the first two options will determine the speed at which the program could grow.  There is also a belief (as evidenced) that devices will continue to come down in price over the next few years and the $100 Internet device for schools is hopefully soon at hand.  We can take the approach that laptops may likely be what calculators were for me in senior math, something that I could bring, rent or borrow.

I realize that we are far from coming to terms on the question about whether the future is every student with a device, but I do think many see that as being part of schooling in the not-so-distant future.  If that is true, we need to begin test models.

If we believe this is what we want for all learners in public education, we need to find ways to make sure it is available to all learners.  If we believe that all students should have a level of access, given our economic and political realities, we need to engage and explore ways for this to happen.

Read Full Post »