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Posts Tagged ‘personalized’


In an earlier post, Parents as Participants, the initial impetus came from A Vision for 21st Century Education, a document released last December that made the argument — the roles of students, teachers and parents need to change as our education system evolves. Over the past two months, each of our schools has considered what “parents as participants” to improve student learning would look like in their schools, and meetings have been held with students, staff and parents.

Here are some of the common themes and suggestions that have emerged:

  • Share expertise with class / school (guest speaker)
  • Volunteer (in class or with extra-curricular)
  • Engage with newsletters / websites / blogs / planners, etc.
  • Show interest in your child’s work and answer their questions (help but don’t do the work)
  • Give your child descriptive feedback
  • Build relationships with teachers and other adults at school
  • Educate yourself on the changing classroom (and rethink what you know about school)
  • Encourage healthy behaviours at home (eating, sleeping, time management, boundary setting)
  • Jump in with technology alongside your child
  • Extend the learning outside of class hours (family trips, extension activities, etc.)
  • Model that you are a learner, for your child
  • Communicate regularly with school
  • Value the administrators’, teachers’ and staffs’ professional roles in your child’s school
  • Help set learning goals for your child (co-planners)
  • Foster independence

Here is one particularly clever and thoughtful summary from Bowen Island Community School. Thanks to Jennifer Pardee (Principal) and Scott Slater (Vice-Principal) for sharing it:

In thinking about “Parent as Participant” we were thinking of a performance which had:

1.   Parent on Stage, Modelling

  • Model an interest in school by reading Newsletters, Website, Twitterfeeds, etc.
  • Model Lifelong Learning by sharing with students what they are learning themselves and perhaps
    doing their own readings about topics in school
    Model Citizenship by joining PAC or volunteering in other ways
  • Share expertise with classes

2.   Rehearsal, Coach

  • Answer questions about homework and discuss ‘big ideas’ of learning
  • Show interest in both the process of creating and the creation itself
  • Remember that it is the student’s performance and that while the parent can help, it is they who have to be able to perform alone

3.   Parent in Audience, Child on Stage (stage = assignment/authentic transfer task) Audience

  • Stay in your seat and give them some space
  • Read what your child writes, clap for it, make the writing/reading experience a performance with the accountability a performance entails

4.   Backstage / Connector

  • After the performance, give more descriptive feedback than simple applause: what did they do well, what do they think they need to work on to get better, what will they do differently next time.
  • What connections can be made between the show/learning, and other aspects of experience?
  • Ask child, what can you do now? Where can you go next?

5.   Next Show: Facilitator

  • If the child knows where they want to go next, help them — family field trips, etc.

Idea: for parents to take time in their busy lives to be deliberate as coaches and models for their children; to explain to them not just how they support learning and the school in general, but why, and in doing so impress the point of the importance of education and the need for numerous influences on learning.

This is an important conversation we look forward to continuing, and we would like you to help continue the conversation.


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Right or wrong, the word “coalition” carries with it sinister connotations these days in our run-up to the May 2nd Federal Election, but taken to its true definition, the concept of a coalition has enormous potential for all of us connecting here in the digital space. I feel part of a digital community that has dozens of regular contributors and, from time to time, swells to hundreds and even thousands of people who are passionate about education.

Speaking from the standpoint of my own learning network, we are an eclectic mix. We are students, teachers, school-based administrators, district administrators, elected officials, ministry personnel, parents and others in the community. The core group of my network is based in British Columbia, but it also draws on expertise from across Canada and around the world. Within the group are some who are very connected to formal structures of influence (union leadership, parent council chairs, etc.), yet it also includes others who provide valued insights from the viewpoint of unrelated fields. Our group has both public and private school staff working side-by-side to improve our system. We also have the attention of traditional media outlets which follow our thoughts and discussions. We are quite a group!

Nevertheless, as we have all mused about the system over the last several months, I realize how much we do have in common in our thinking. While we disagree around the edges of some issues, we have much more that unites us than divides us.

So, I have been wondering:

How do we move from being a connected network to becoming a group of influence?

How can we aggregate our thinking in a way that has influence in the larger community?

A couple posts related to this have struck me lately. I loved reading the inaugural post from 4 moms 1 dream; a great example of a grass-roots movement to help rethink schooling. I was also struck by Jason Leslie’s recent post where he pondered  the kind of education he wants for his children. Pretty exciting stuff.

I do worry, at times, that the digital space tends to reassure the engaged and converted rather than expanding and recruiting new input for our group.

Of course, there are efforts to do just what I am writing about. This summer, I am planning to participate in  Unplug’d – The Canadian Education Summit which examines this issue from a Canadian perspective. Many reading this will also likely be attending Edcamp Vancouver which is a great bypass of traditional structures and hierarchies.

I just think there is more we can be doing to take advantage of our group on a provincial or more local stage. We have all the traditional partners represented in our community, we are supported by outside experts and we are passionate and committed to a great system.

So, instead of waiting for someone else to produce something that we respond to, how can we take the lead?

I don’t think we realize how powerful our digital coalition is or can be.

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We have spent a lot of time in our district considering what digital literacy should look like at the primary level.  To its credit, DreamBox Learning has received strong reviews and many awards.  It is also one of the first digital tools, I have seen, which introduces students to learning in a digital environment, while offering ongoing and constructive feedback; it also includes a school-home connection — a key focus in our use of technology in the younger grades. Currently, 10 of our elementary schools are piloting the program.

We have had some success with a home-reading program that I wrote about earlier here, and DreamBox has similar potential with its school and home licensing components.

What I like about it so far:

  • the program adapts to the student’s abilities — so students can be working in the same classroom, but at their own level
  • it allows students to work through and solve problems — offering them assistance as they need it
  • real-time assessment for teachers (and for parents — if enabled for home use) is included; a recent addition of a program component allows for school-wide overviews — a great way to identify areas of focus in a school
  • students report the learning is fun — it is not about just taking math equations and putting them online; it is all built around digital manipulatives
  • students can spend 30 minutes working with the program in school, and then supplement this at home (or not)

What it doesn’t do:

  • DreamBox does not “replace” math and numeracy instruction
  • it is linked, but is not an exact match to curriculum

I have worked with it at home with my three oldest children, and the results have been impressive — it has given learning focus to some of their screen time, and they have become more confident in numeracy and solving problems in multiple ways.  In addition, as a parent, I have received feedback in ways I have never before with my kids’ learning, and this feedback has given me ideas for extension activities I can do with my kids.

As we make decisions for the fall, it will be interesting to hear the reactions of students, teachers and parents on the program’s value and the role they see DreamBox Learning playing.  In the marriage of personalized learning and technology, I think adaptive learning platforms — like that on display with DreamBox Learning — will become increasingly important.

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Over the last five years, opening a conversation with a provocative video has been a common approach in discussions regarding the need to evolve our K-12 education system.  The Did You Know? approach — in which we show a five-minute video and use it at a springboard for conversation — often soaks up the first 15 or 20 minutes of a meeting.  There are a lot of wonderful videos —  Justin Tarte recently compiled a great list of twenty-seven of these videos — great for staff workshops, parent meetings, or any other sessions  as a conversation starter on education.

I find myself using the video approach less often these days. The videos still do make a strong case for change, but most people get this now and want the specifics on what we can do. In April, I plan to open several meetings with a new video that tackles the issue of reform from what we have learned about our brain.

From our board office staff meetings, meeting with all administrators, to several PAC meetings I am scheduled to attend, I will be using Born to Learn, which is described as ” the first animation in a fascinating series aimed to provide easy-access to the exciting new discoveries constantly being made about how humans learn!”

The video comes from the 21st Century Learning initiative, resident to John Abbott, and it is often referenced around the personalized learning discussion in BC.

After showing the video, I will be looking at the following points for discussion:

  • What stands out?
  • What are the key messages for parents of young children and early childhood educators?
  • How does the “earthquake in the brain” manifest itself in our schools?  How do we respond?  How could we respond differently/better?
  • How do we honour risk-taking from the upper intermediate grades through graduation?  How do we stifle it?
  • How should what we have learned about the brain (from this video and other research) change our structures/approaches with students in early learning? in their teenage years?

I am interested in what others think of the video, and how it might be used it in their contexts.

Of course, these 15-minute conversation teasers — where we use a video to spur on discussion, may help to shift thinking, but are most valuable when followed up with concrete action.  I know many people I work with will say, “Great, we know this.”  So, why don’t we do a better job to match what we do to what we know?

The video is clearly part of a larger initiative and is linked to a new website Born to Learn (it is going live on March 28th — after this post’s publication date). Whatever the “New” looks like in education and schooling, it needs to be absolutely in sync with the latest developments in evolving our understanding of brain research and how we learn.

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Earlier this week, I had the chance to spend an hour with Catherine Walton’s Grade 11 and 12 Peer Helping class at West Vancouver Secondary.   We spent the hour discussing the current state of schooling and the potential of social media.

The first activity was having the students write down everything they could remember from Grade 6. In the discussion that followed students realized that not one of them had written about content covered, but reflected on their feelings and connections. They wrote about the teachers they loved, the friends who were in their class, the activities they participated in and the fun they had.

The conversation moved to describing their current school experiences.  They wrote about their anxieties and fears about university; the challenges of getting good grades, and the complexities of navigating the system to find the right courses to land them in the right universities.  It was actually a bit depressing — few students had positive comments about their current experiences.

So, naturally, the conversation flowed to what could be done different now, in their schooling, to bring back some of those strong, positive feelings they associated with in Grade 6?  I left the conversation feeling that while they were nervous and anxious, the only thing we could do worse, right now, is to change the system.  These students have figured it out — they have binders full of notes; they know how to study for exams, and they are completely fluent in the entrance requirements for universities across the continent.

When pushed for what they would change, they spoke of schooling that placed less emphasis on homework, “It shouldn’t be for marks, it is practice”.  The students liked the idea of their texts being digital, but, almost to a person, they did not feel ready to replace their paper binders with a digital equivalent. While they are interested in using technology, they are frustrated with the different systems they need to spend time figuring out, and that take away time from their subject area.  They have mastered the system — so, change the way for the kids who follow, just don’t change anything now for them.

And what about social media?  The only time students had uploaded a video to YouTube was for school projects, and beyond Facebook, the use of social media was very spotty.  They did report Facebook was an excellent learning support — a place to get help with homework and promote school events.

And finally, what about e-mail?  Please, only teachers send them e-mails — even their parents know to text them.

Having done a similar exercise with Grade 6 and 7 students several weeks ago, it was interesting to see how much more open these younger students were to changing the learning model.

At least, given this small sample of Grade 11 and 12 students, they want to be sure there are no changes late in the game to a system they have spent 13 years mastering.

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I am often challenged by discussions about “21st century skills” or “personalized learning” as they are often quite theoretical.  The audience is provoked by videos documenting the changing world outside of school, and we make lists of the skills we want from our graduates in our ever-changing world.  There is usually head-nodding approval of the skills we want going forward.

These conversations do have value and it is important to continue to show the longterm vision of where we see the path of learning and schooling going in the years ahead.

We also need to get to the hard work of making the ideas concrete.

Another challenge of the sessions, is that we often use them to highlight the one student, one teacher, one parent, one principal modelling a new way — and lament how we seem unable to have these ideas spill out into other settings.  Usually we get to a point, and someone says, “this is great, but how is it scalable?”

So, we need to begin to define baselines we all can commit to on the journey.

There is no one particular document I see as the textbook for where we are going, but in West Vancouver, we are using A Vision for 21st Century Education as a starting place for conversations.

And this past week, in meeting with our elementary principals, we took on the challenge of addressing what many see as the most challenging suggestion in the document — the changing roles for parents.

In a section entitled “Shifting Roles” the document suggests three:

• From Passive Student to Active Learner

• From Parent as Supporter to Parent as Participant

• From Teacher as Lecturer to Teacher as Guide

Here is how the changing role for parents is described:

The increased role of the parent also has to be acknowledged. With greater information availability, parents can be more involved with their children’s education progress, overcoming challenges, and supporting learning outcomes. They can learn more quickly and more intimately what their child is doing at school. They can help guide decisions and more rapidly respond to challenges.

Technology allows far more access to the student’s progress than the periodic report cards and parent teacher interviews of today. Parents are already beginning to expect greater feedback than in the past.

Furthermore, parents have to recognise their educational role outside the classroom. A student’s out of school learning is critical. “Students only spend 14% of their time at school. Indeed, learning is an inherent part of everyday life: each new experience, at home, at work, or during leisure time, may throw up a challenge, a problem to be solved, or a possibility of an improved future state.”

While we envision a stronger role for parents, we are aware that not all students have the family support structures that will allow such involvement. BC needs all of its students to have the best possible opportunity and any implementation of this vision should take such issues into consideration. The system must be structured in such a way that those who face societal barriers such as being single parents or immigrant parents are able to participate to the degree they are able while the system incorporates the support structures necessary to ensure the students get the support they need.

There are lots of people who needed to be brought into the conversation, but we started to draft out what a five-month, one-year and three-year action plan would look like if we wanted to shift parents as supporters to parents as participants in our elementary schools (we also agreed not to say — “we are already doing that”).

Before the end of June we should:

– communicate the vision around “parents as participants”

– use blogs, newsletters and other media to engage staff, students and parents in a discussion about what this would look like

– schools develop their own vision for parents as participants in their schools

– communicate specific examples and rationale to parents about the key role they play in their education

– working sessions for staffs as to how best to encourage parent involvement in learning rather than just volunteer work

– input from parents through a survey to help design plans for next year

By the end of the 2011-12 school year we should:

– use September Curriculum Night for discussion and feedback

– create school/staff action plans in school grade-alike groupings using feedback from end-of-year surveys

– continue throughout the year, on a monthly basis, to highlight the importance of parent participation using various communication tools: website, meetings, email, twitter, etc.

By the end of the 2013-14 school year we should:

– consider big changes to structures that provide myriad opportunities for parents to share their expertise and passion — this needs to be intentional, purposeful and ongoing

– develop ongoing Community Forum dialogues , surveys, and other systemic structures to find out how best to involve parents in learning

– explore different models for schooling (alternate schools, self-paced, etc) where parents could be true partners in the learning — different kind of choice than what we have typically focussed on around programs (French Immersion, Montessori, etc.)

So, that is our start, just our first thinking after one meeting.  We are committed to going deeper with this work, and moving from vision to action.  We have lots to do.  Our next steps include working with other staff and parents to make sense of this very complex notion.  It is also clear, while this is a specific focus on one of the “shifting roles”, it has a major impact on the roles of students and educators (tangible thoughts on these changes will be in future posts).

We are very curious what others are thinking as they look at how we embrace shifting roles in our system.  We would love others to help fill in the gaps as we move forward with designing our plans.

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In a previous post, I discussed my hope that the report from the Premier’s Technology Council on A Vision for 21st Century Learning would lead to conversations around the province.  My real goal is that the discussions go much deeper than the one report; rather, we have sustained, meaningful conversations about k-12 education focussed on ideas.  I want to come back to this, with some more hopes.  Here are some guidelines I hope these conversations and, really, all conversations we have about school reform, follow:

  • If you want to participate, you have to put your name to ideas — we have way too many people, particularly in the digital space — posting anonymously. We need to say “this is not okay”.  Everyone is welcome to participate — but put a name and face to be part of the conversation.
  • There is value for ideas from inside the system (students, teachers, parents) as well as ideas from outside the system — it is really the ideas that matter.
  • We agree there is no such thing as good guys and bad guys when it comes to education.  That is the old way — education is far too important to cast some in white hats and others in black hats.
  • We need to avoid saying “We can’t do X until ____ (fill in government, universities etc.) does Y”.
  • We don’t use “We are already doing it” as a reason to end the conversation.  While it may be true we are already doing it (fill in the progressive educational idea), we are usually not doing it consistently, in ways that we can assess how successful “it” is, throughout the system.
  • We act with urgency (we see how quickly changes are happening around us) but not urgently (where changes are not fully discussed, and people are not fully engaged).

The optimism and curiosity that comes through in so much being written, right now, is very exciting.   Hopefully, 2011 will be a year we find new ways to look at education, and use digital space to have big conversations about big ideas, and we move forward from ideas to action.

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If I had one wish, with the release of  A Vision for 21st Century Education produced by the Premier’s Council on Technology, it is that these ideas find their way into conversations in every home in the province and, in turn, ripple into larger conversations in communities, schools and school districts.

A core challenge for British Columbia — being one of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world — is that it is difficult to make the case, or build the urgency, for change.  That said, the people I talk to — students, teachers, or parents — largely agree with the big ideas out of this latest government report, which mirror recent educational reform blueprints in progressive jurisdictions around the world.

Who doesn’t want their kids to leave with these skills and attributes?

  • Functional Numeracy and Literacy
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Technological Literacy
  • Communications and Media Literacy
  • Collaboration and Teamwork
  • Personal Organization
  • Motivation, Self-Regulation and Adaptability
  • Ethics, Civic Responsibility, Cross-Cultural Awareness Skills

These nine attributes begin to make concrete — what is often very difficult to describe — the 21st century learner.

The paper is a potential roadmap, signalling the necessary transformations:

  • From Learning Information to Learning to Learn
  • From Data to Discovery
  • From One Size Fits All to Tailored Learning
  • From Testing to Assess to Assessing to Learn
  • From Classroom Learning to Lifelong Learning Transformation

This list is quite reassuring. All teachers, schools and districts, can look at this list and say, “We ARE doing this”.  And, we are doing more of it than we were five years ago.  And, given where much of our current professional development is invested right now, we are going to be gaining the skills to do more of it over the next five years.

Finally, the new roles described, seem to fall nicely out of the previous two lists.  If we focus on the skills and attributes described, and de-emphasize content, then continue to invest in what is described as “key transformations,” new roles will evolve:

  • From Passive Student to Active Learner
  • From Parent as Supporter to Parent as Participant
  • From Teacher as Lecturer to Teacher as Guide Shifting

And what about the technology?  Technology, done right, can help make this happen in ways not possible without it, in what the report describes as, “the components of the system”:

  • A flexible educational path with project-based or integrated learning
  • A blended system that employs classrooms and technology
  • Technology to access learning objects and teaching tools
  • Open access to information systems for content and decision-making
  • Constant feedback and assessment to allow students, parents and teachers, to adjust, and to meet challenges or accommodate progress

Much of the immediate analysis of the report, from the Premier’s Technology Council, focussed on why we can’t do it.  When we move through to implementation, we quickly drive up the “Yeah, buts”.  But, without a doubt, there are changes which could be made by others, who could help this report become a reality.  There is also much we can do.  We should use this document, and many of the supporting resources it references, to start, and continue conversations.

Some of the questions I would like us to consider, include:

Is this what we want and need for our students?

What are the examples we currently see in our classrooms, schools and districts, of what is described?

What needs to change with curriculum and assessment to bring these ideas to life?

What can we learn from other high-performing jurisdictions — whether they are Finland and Singapore, Ontario and Alberta, or our neighbouring school districts — to guide what we do?

How can a district support students and teachers on this journey?

What can we do now?

And, I know there will be many more.

I am looking forward to these and many similar conversations in West Vancouver, in the New Year.

Please take the time to read this report.

Full Disclosure:  I was a “Roundtable Participant” in the development of the PTC document.

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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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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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