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Posts Tagged ‘Olympics’

Multi Ethnic People Holding The Word Blogging

If five years ago I looked into my crystal ball, I would have said that in 2016, all staff and students would have blogs.  These would be spaces of reflection and also for portfolios.  I would have said that they would be text based, but increasingly have video content.  I would have said that we would be increasingly wired to comment on each other’s work and have gained skills in giving public, constructive feedback and commentary.

While blogging isn’t dead, its fate in the schools of 2016 is not what I envisioned.  It seems like a lot of people have tried blogging, and while some continue the internet is littered with abandoned education blogs.    I would like to agree with fellow educational blogger Martin Weller that “the future of blogging is blogging.”

I have written several times about my experiences during the 2010 Winter Olympics. During the Games I worked with a group of students who served as student reporters covering the action through their blogs.  It was defining for me in my thinking.  I saw students producing content for the real-world, getting immediate feedback and saw the quality of their writing improve as they felt the pressure of writing for a public audience.

My colleague Gary Kern, who joined me on the Olympic project, was the architect of our work in West Vancouver that saw every student get a blog.  And led by Cari Wilson, we got students, classes and schools blogging across the district.  We had blog challenges, and we had adults highlighting student blogs, and we grew the community.

So here is a (somewhat random) collection of things that has happened in the last five years which has led away from all blogging, both for students and the adults in our district:

  • we have moved to collaborative spaces like Google Docs that allow multiple thinking outside the blog format
  • instead of seeing blogs as “home base” for videos, photos etc. we have seen the growth of Instagram and YouTube and sustained presence of Facebook and Twitter which are often used as blogs – social media engagement is fragmented across various platforms.
  • once everyone started writing, people began to comment less and less on other people’s writing
  • the theory was that adults would model how to comment on blogs and then kids would learn and follow – unfortunately adults have been terrible models . . . one only has to look at the number of news sites that have shut comments off because of the immature and often hateful commentary
  • some of our blogging tools we used were cumbersome and have not adapted as quickly as our other digital tools
  • it is hard to sustain momentum – with ‘Hour of Code’, robotics, FreshGrade, Google Docs, there are a lot of digital tools and initiatives looking for our attention

Dean Shareski tweeted, “Blogs are like rock and roll and jazz. A one time popular genre, now a niche.”  Maybe.  We had the boost from the outside this past week working with George Couros, and at least for now, some of the excitement is back.

I no longer say things like ”Everyone needs to have a blog” but I still would hope that people would see the powerful value of owning a digital space of their own.

I love blogging.  It gives me a voice.  It is a place for me to work through ideas.  It is a portfolio. It is my home base.  The jury is still out if others see it the same.

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Fencing 1

Whether by phone, email, or in person, I get a lot pitches about just what it is we need in our schools. Actually, it can be quite overwhelming at times. So, when our District Principal of our Sports Academies said “I had to meet the fencing guys,” well, you can understand my skepticism.

Then, I met Igor Gantsevich, National Fencing Champion, World Cup & Pam American medalist. Now, several months later, there is something amazing happening in our district.  We have had well over 2,000 students exposed to fencing through their PE classes, and in six of our schools out-of-school fencing clubs have started up, with more clubs possible and a district-wide showcase envisioned. And, this may just be the beginning, as Diane Nelson, District Principal of Academy Programs said in a recent North Shore News story, “Our vision is an international academy on the North Shore where students from all over the world would come to train. We hope that students from West Vancouver would funnel into this academy and receive scholarships for Ivy League schools.”

I have never tried fencing.  My total exposure to it, until a few months ago, was watching some of it in Olympic coverage every four years, usually waiting for some other sports coverage, because despite it being part of the Olympic games since 1896, it is not a sport with a rich history in Canada. But Igor, the BC Fencing Association, and former World Champion Vitaly Logvin, and the current President of the international charity For Future of Fencing, are planning to change this.

sidebar-fencingInitially, we envisioned exposing students to fencing through PE classes this year, then looking at club programs next year and maybe an academy in the future.  The timeline is speeding up — with club teams this year and interest from families for academy programming in the near future.  As someone who grew up on hockey and ball sports, it is all quite amazing to see.   When we featured a story on fencing for our district e-news publication Learning Curve, the ‘click rate’ dwarfed everything else in the edition.  So what is going on?  I have some thoughts on this:

  • The fencing instructors are first class. Igor has a wonderful way with students and he has brought in former Olympic medalists to support him with the teaching. Teachers and instructors for these types of programs make the difference.
  • There is a fair bit of equipment involved and the providers have taken care of all of the first class modern equipment for students to use.
  • Although most students had previously never tried fencing, they had seen it at the Olympics or elsewhere, and there is a ‘cool factor’ to try it out.
  • Fencing is a multi-age sport that can be done together with girls and boys; so, it is very inclusive.
  • Since nobody has really practised fencing before, the skill levels are quite similar; when we divide up for soccer or basketball, even at the elementary school level, there can be a massive difference in skill levels which can be discouraging for some students.
  • Fencing attracts a different type of student than would be playing ball sports. As École Cedardale Principal, Michelle LaBounty, pointed out in the North Shore News article — fencing sparks student imagination.  “For students who do a lot of reading, fencing attaches an element of reality to their books,” she said. “It takes them to another time.”
  • The number of young people participating is relatively small in Canada, so the opportunity to compete provincially, nationally or internationally, is a real possibility.
  • While the sport does not have a rich history in Canada, it does in many other places around the world, and our community is very diverse. Many of our families grew up in countries where fencing is part of the culture,

It will be exciting to see what happens next. We want students to be more active and it is exciting how passionate so many of our students have become in such a short time about fencing. When I speak with Igor, he talks about the future Olympians he envisions from our partnership. It is quite incredible.

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Hah! I am doing my best to stay away from blogging, Twitter and the rest of the being “on” 24-7 culture for a few weeks, but I have had a wonderful reminder of what makes what we do as teachers so special, so I am writing a mid-summer post to share with you, what Lisa shared with me.

Lisa is one of the 24 students I had the great pleasure to work with during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. I have blogged on several instances about what a defining experience that was for my teaching career.   It was an experience I shared at TEDxUBC here (the script of my presentation) and here (a reflection that includes the video of the presentation) and also referenced in my post How My Teaching Has Changed, on how the experience has pushed me to expand real world opportunities for students.

With the Summer Olympics starting, I received this email from Lisa this week:

I just finished watching the Opening Ceremonies… what a beautiful sight! No technical difficulties with the cauldron, amazing British music, ethnic outfits during the “March of Nations”, a testament to an English children’s hospital and youth ambassadors running the final stretch of the torch relay. London really nailed it!

In the days leading up to the games, I was frequently thinking of you guys and my whole Students Live experience. I’ve thought about A New Direction and how they’re probably busy attending events, conducting interviews and composing articles. Yesterday, while watching a CTV program on London 2012, they named these Olympic Games “the first Twitter Olympics”. I found that interesting because I distinctly remember the Students Live meeting when we set up our Twitter accounts. I was so unfamiliar with the idea that I remember vividly how confused I was when you showed us a parody video of Twitter. And of course since the 2010 Winter Games, Twitter has grown at an unbelievable pace, but I always enjoy reminding my friends that I was the first to have Twitter! Earlier today, I tweeted this, “The worst part about hosting the Olympic Games in your city is that they will never again even compare. #London2012” and I think it’s safe to say that much of that is thanks to the incredible opportunities I was given through Students Live.
 
I can’t even begin to describe how useful my Students Live experience was when it came to applying for scholarships, filling out supplementary post-secondary applications and much more. Throughout my grade 12 year, there wasn’t an application I submitted that didn’t mention Students Live as one of my proudest accomplishments. On top of that, I often consider Students Live as the most life changing time in my life. That was the first time I had ever branched away from my safe little community and done something that challenged me and pushed my comfort zone a little. After the 2010 Winter Games; however, I have been involved in so many other programs similar to Students Live that continue to challenge me. It is thanks to Students Live that I broke out of my little bubble and branched out to new things. Just before I graduated in June, I had to present a “Presentation of Self” to a panel of teachers, fellow students and community members, and when they asked me what my most life changing experience has been, I’m sure you can predict my answer.

So this is just a little note of gratitude for you all, and to show my appreciation for everything you have done for me. In September, I will be beginning a new chapter of my life as I head out to Halifax to attend Dalhousie University. Even as I leave Vancouver behind, I will always hold those few months in the winter of 2010 close to my heart. I know how much effort you put into making the experience unique for us, and I can tell you that it really was ‘once in a lifetime’.

The relationships I have created through Students Live and Sharing the Dream are also priceless. On Monday night, I went to Emily’s 19th birthday and watched her enjoy her first legal drink! We reminisced about the hockey game we attended together and watching the gold medal game in the Sony store at Pacific Center. I still frequently read Michelle’s blog from her experiences of first year at Bates College and I often chat with Dharra over Facebook.

I logged onto my Blogger account today and I was surprised to see that one of my posts has 622 views, and people are still viewing my blog today. Who would have thought that Singapore would have generated 318 views on my blog, and 55 from Ukraine…

So one last time, I would like to thank you all for everything you did for me and the rest of the Students Live and Sharing the Dream teams.

Enjoy the rest of your summer and GO CANADA GO!

It is the little things that are not so little, like the small gestures and heartfelt “Thank Yous”, that can bring so much joy in our profession.  Thanks Lisa.  It is also so true adults often learn as much or more from the kids we work with as they learn from us. In reading Lisa’s note I am once again reminded that technology done right can (and should) humanize and personalize.

Through Facebook, and likely face-to-face again in the future, I look forward to following Lisa’s next steps.  And, as she says , Go Canada Go!

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Today, I am presenting at the Ontario Public Supervisory Officials’ Association Annual Conference (an equivalent group to the BC Superintendents Association) on their theme of Leading and Energizing Learning.

My presentation includes passages from my Opening Day presentation last fall in West Vancouver, the TEDxUBC presentation in October and a talk on personalized learning I gave in November. It is a wonderful opportunity to highlight some of the current, innovative practices in our district.  It is also about revisiting where we have been over the past 12 months, and an opportunity to begin specifically mapping where we need to go in the next 12.  Hopefully, the presentation will pull together a range of themes I and others in our district have been talking about, writing about and working together on over the year.

While I know sharing the slides of a presentation never really does the presentation justice, here is the slidedeck:

Here are the key messages I want to convey:

  • While we have a very strong system which produces excellent results, the status quo is not an option
  • West Vancouver — with its strong history of private schools — creates a unique set of circumstances different from most other areas of the province
  • We talk a lot about technology, but the first step is to develop learning plans and then we can determine how technology will support these plans
  • We have made tremendous strides with supporting teachers, but a lot more needs to be done
  • The biggest change for us over the next 12 months will be giving students greater ownership of their learning
  • We (as leaders) need to model the way

And, as the title of this post states, it IS about the team and not the tools.  We have an exceptional group of teachers and administrators leading the way in West Vancouver, with a supportive and progressive Board of Education, actively engaged parents, and students who are thirsty for relevant and engaging experiences.

It is truly an honour to tell our story.

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Much is being written this month as we celebrate the first anniversary of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. From tourism to the economy to amateur athletics, various sectors are examining the impact of the Games.

It is also worth considering the effects the Games have had on education in B.C.  I have written about my own participation connected to the 2010 Winter Olympics, and shared some of that in my TEDxUBC presentation.   Looking back, here are some of my reflections of their effect on education: 

1.  To make broad-stroke generalizations across the province would be impossible. Communities that hosted sporting events (Richmond, Vancouver, West Vancouver, Whistler) clearly had more opportunity for engagement in the Games. The Board’s decision to close schools in West Vancouver during the Games is also seen, in retrospect, as a very wise decision — it was almost universally praised by staff and families.  One of the legacies in adjusting the 2010 Spring Vacation calendar is that it has stimulated more discussion over the validity and suitability of non-traditional breaks in school calendars.

  2.  The Games linked social media and schools.  While projects like Students Live were overt in their use of social media, all media outlets leveraged Facebook, Twitter and other social tools.  For many schools in BC, the Olympics were the first event they had ever tracked through social media.  While some classes have used social media to follow world events in Iran, Haiti and elsewhere, the Olympics brought social media into classes — and, in many places, it has stuck.

  3.  The Games created interest and curiosity around sports beyond hockey, soccer, baseball, and basketball.  There is a range of winter sports available that were highlighted during the Games, and schools embraced these with field trips and “school-versions” of them.  Primary students think about participating in luge, speed-skating and snowboard cross now – sports very few kids knew existed two years ago.

  4.  As much as the Olympics had an impact on education, I would suggest the Paralympics had a greater impact.  Give the Canadian Paralympic Committee and the organizers of the Paralympic Games credit — they did an amazing job of getting their message to schools in advance of the Games and engaging students.  Thousands of students were able to attend Paralympic events, and the Paralympic School visits leading up to the Games were powerful learning opportunities.  Students had the opportunity to test-drive Paralympic events, and hear from athletes.  As a result of the Games, young people in many communities have a new understanding of the word “disabilities” and they now recognize that people should not be defined by them.

  5.  The Games forged new relationships. In West Vancouver, they provided an opportunity for students from both public and private schools to work together toward making the Games relevant for all.  That same spirit has students from public and private schools working together again this spring, on a community-wide event for youth.  The Games also created a showcase for student talent — a district choir that came together for the Torch Relay has been replicated, in a slightly different form, for other events in West Vancouver.  The Games brought people together, who would not normally have had the opportunity to connect, and some of those relationships and partnerships have continued on to build to new opportunities.  With the Centennial approaching for the District of West Vancouver and the School District, many are looking to the Olympic experience as a model for engagement and celebration.

  6.  The Games tested the notion of teaching without a binder or textbook.  In some ways, the technology and overall readiness were not prepared for the vision.  One of the criticisms of the 2010 Olympic Education program was that there was no binder like with the 1988 Calgary Games.  The vision was forward thinking – it provided learning resources, lesson ideas, content, and allowed teachers to craft and construct learning with students, and to make meaning of it for themselves. This happened in some places, and elsewhere, it fell flat.  We are clearly moving into an era of fewer text books and more digital content, and I think the model will work better in five years than it did last year.  That said, many districts, with the support of the Canadian Olympic Committee (with excellent resources) and VANOC, created some great learning experiences in class.

  7.  For many students, teachers and classes, Olympic learning is now an ongoing  part of what they do.  Whether it is exposure to a range of winter sports, the use of Olympic athletes as motivational speakers, or the inclusion of resources available from many sources — including the Canadian Olympic Committee — teachers and schools have, in many cases, not treated the Games as a one-time event, but have found ways to weave the lessons and values learned though the Games into their ongoing practice.

8.  At a time when we are often looking to find connections between subjects to promote deeper learning, the 2010 Games modeled that topics including arts, sports, culture, politics and sustainability could all be part of the same conversation. 

  There was a definite concern the Games would go through our community, but that the schools and young people might miss out on the potential opportunities. One year out, not only do people reflect fondly on the experiences of the Games, there are clearly a number of legacies that continue to play out in our schools.

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I had the real pleasure to participate in TEDxUBC on October 23rd.  TEDx events are part of a large and growing TED movement devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading”.

The TEDxUBC team describes their events as:

TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. Our event is called TEDxUBC, where x=independently organized TED event. At our TEDxUBC event, TEDTalks video, passionate, live speakers and entertainers, will combine to spark deep discussion and connection in an amazing small group of 100 leaders, innovators, stakeholders and change agents.

I loved the experience for a number of reasons:

– the format forces presenters to be concise

– the discussions between presentations are valued

– there is a great mix of people from a variety of professions

– the presentations live on through the web

– it is all about ideas

Thanks to the organizers of the TEDxUBC event, it was one of the best PD experiences of my career.  Special kudos to Bret Conkin – a great leader!

The videos of the presentations are being posted to YouTube (search via TEDxUBC tag) on a fairly regular basis.  Lots of great discussion starters.

I had previously posted my script here, but here is my talk on personalized learning:

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I will have quite a bit to say about the entire TEDxUBC experience but I wanted to share my slides and text from my talk today.  Thanks to everyone involved for such an amazing experience.

Thanks to Gary Kern, Andrea Wilson and Deb Podurgiel for your assistance and the entire Students Live team for all the inspiration.

Here are my slides, and below is the text of my talk with the videos:

It is a real pleasure to be here. There is a lot of excitement and anticipation in our province right now regarding education and future possibilities. Often, when I speak, I show provocative videos, talk about the changes we are making and need to make – today is something different.

I am going to share a story today that helps illustrate what I think 21st century learning, or personalized learning, could look like.
A story not about what we could do, or should do, but what we did do.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games were an amazing experience in our city, province and country.

With the Games coming to our city, many in education worried the Games would come through our city and it would be a missed opportunity to engage our students. Along with my colleagues, Audrey Hobbs-Johnston and Gary Kern, and with the support of Christina Adams and the Vancouver Olympic Committee, we created Students Live!

Students Live! was the opportunity for 25 students to be student reporters for the Olympics and Paralympics. Describing the program as a student reporter program does not do justice to what it really was for the students, and for the adults it was an absolutely transformational experience. It was starting with a blank slate and creating from that.

Here is a CBC story that gives a little more on the background of the event:

So, it was an absolutely amazing experience. The students attended events on an almost daily basis, participated side-by-side with international journalists, and experienced the Games in a way that was the envy of all their friends. And this was all great.
What we learned were lessons that transcended a sporting event, or a moment in time.
It started with a competition to select the students. This is not surprising, but as students opted in, there was much greater buy-in. We know when we have an application on a course, the numbers interested usually increases. Students were asked to write a blog post, create a photo journal, or otherwise use web 2.0 to show how and why they would be good reporters for the Olympics.

For most of the close to 80 applicants – this was a new experience. While we often talk about how well-versed students are in technology, in this activity, which targeted those with the greatest technology skills – the act of writing a blog, or otherwise creating digital content for a public audience – was largely new.

What we saw in selecting students, and throughout the entire process, was that good writing and strong communication skills still matter. The tools have changed, but the best writers who captured the biggest audiences, and quickly built huge followings, were those who could communicate, while the weaker writers – no matter how adept they were with the technology struggled. Much is made of technology, and how our text messaging generation sees writing as less important – I actually have never been part of something where it was so evident how important good writing is.

The first day we met with the students we focused on the social media we would use and how we would engage the community with it. A quick survey of the room showed every student had Facebook, with little evidence of any other tool; some had YouTube and Twitter, but not much else. It also became clear that while the students were quite good with technology, they had absolutely no idea how they could leverage technology to build an audience.

While students had friends and connections, they didn’t have the first clue on how to turn these friends into an audience, and then how to grow their audience into influence – they had never contemplated using the tools in this way. This is key – while the students may have been native to technology, many had no idea on how to really use it to build community. Of course, we created what was then called a “Fan Page” – so, this was mid-day on a school day and we challenged them to get 1000 followers.

They were able to do this within hours – all during a school day – you want to believe students are not really on Facebook during the school day.

What the students learned, was how they could get Facebook to work for them – when combined with Twitter and their blog, they had a megaphone to their network.

About face-to-face meetings – we could never have done what we did virtually, if we had not first built community face-to-face. I am more convinced now than ever, online is absolutely best among people who have the context of face-to-face relationships.

So once we started – what happened:

First, it was like an “Ah-ha” moment – mobile technology was a game changer. Those with smartphones had a huge advantage. They could take photos, post to Twitter and Facebook, and just simply connect in real time. The less ability students had to perform all of these functions in the moment, the more they were challenged. And yes, it was reporting, so real time was really key to the project, but what we saw was more than that. Amazingly evident was just how key it was to be able to publish live. Students who had to wait to find wireless internet access fell behind. The other key was video.

The best writers stood out, and photos were great – but those blogs building community all included video. What a great lesson for the classroom and the need to build video into our work.

It was also clear students loved to look at each other’s work – not in the “mine is better than yours” way – but “yours can help make mine better”. It was amazingly non-competitive, but students commented afterwards the biggest impact on improving the quality of their work, was their ability to see other students – other models of what could be done. Everyone commented their work improved because 1) it was public and 2) they could read and learn from each other.

The students also loved publishing for a public audience – they had never really contemplated audience before. What they knew was about was writing for a teacher – now they were writing for an audience, and the better they wrote, and the more interesting their topic, the larger the audience. There were students who had up to 100 comments on a blog post. They combined excellent writing, with leveraging their network, and with a savvy use of social media. In our debrief, students said it was actually frustrating going back to school because they had seen what was possible with real-world learning, publishing for a public audience, building community and they had to return to what school has always been – it felt less relevant than ever.

While it is true the Olympic Games were a unique experience, and it will be difficult to duplicate the experience with less exciting events, the lessons transcend the Games – mobile technology can change learning, good writing still matters, using social media needs to be taught and should not be assumed, networks are essential, and once students get the taste of the real world, it is addictive and they will want to go forward, not back.

The entire experience was also profound for the adults involved. For all of us, the experience felt more like what we have often thought of as a team, and less as a class. Maybe it was because we didn’t have rows of desks, and because we asked more questions than giving answers, or because when the students were stuck we asked one of them to be the project leader and to get a team to solve the problem. It absolutely felt like learning, and it felt like everything we hoped school could and should be – but often it didn’t feel like class – it felt like we were in the flow.

It was reinforced students will build their own networks. Sure, we guide them, support them and stand beside them – but they can build their own networks. They can get 1000 members in a Facebook Group and then figure out how to turn these members into a network, and they can ask “the real world” to assist them, instead of just playing in a simulated world in schools.

I was exhausted! Just because I was not at the front-of-the-room teaching did not mean that it was easy; teaching is still hard. Sometimes as a large group, sometimes as a small group, sometimes one-on-one, all hours of the day and night – we were learning and working together. It was a fundamental change of the role of teacher and student. We were their supports, their adult mentors – but didn’t have the answers. The students found teachers in this project, not blocked out as in a schedule, were more important and necessary.
Adults are amazing. There is a world full of adults who want to help students in all professions, just waiting to be asked.

In reflecting on this, I was reminded of the recent TED Talks by Sugata Mitra, who spoke of the network of grannies waiting to assist. Right now, we have only really engaged a small number of students through work experience in this real-world mentorship, but have found in this project every adult asked was willing to help. Yes, it was the Olympics – but there is an untapped resource waiting for us to engage them.

Finally – the adults were reminded that we need to trust the process. We always want to jump in and solve problems – we are good at that. Sometimes you need to let students work through situations, skin their knee and be there beside them to offer support.

Working with the other teachers and the 25 students was the greatest teaching experience of my life. I saw what I wanted for my kids, and for all kids – real-world learning that takes advantage of the latest in technology – but is not about the technology at all.
In the end, what the students liked the most was they had the permission to play. Actually, this is also what the adults liked to – we would often ask, “Can we do this?” – like we have been trained to always find a way and a reason not to try, not to experiment. We all also loved the freedom, choice and responsibility. While students and adults spent much of our time in the virtual world during the project, these bonds have flowed over into the face-to-face world – and we are all still connected.

We are on the verge of big changes in education; we need to listen to the voices of the students, rethink the roles of teachers, and build systems that create powerful real-world learning opportunities.

Thanks Everyone.

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