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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Will Richardson’s blog was one of the very first educational blogs I followed.  For close to a decade I have been reading, learning and engaging with Will.  As a school principal at Riverside Secondary, I would regularly send out links to staff from his previous blog (here), and I continue to follow his current blog here.  I have also referenced his book on Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms as a staff study group book.  Along with Alan November, Chris Lehman, Dean Shareski and a few others, he has profoundly influenced my thinking around the possibility of learning and schooling in the future. With this background, I was naturally interested in reading Will’s latest book, Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere.

Rather than as a collection of new ideas, I think most BC educators (and generally across Canada) would see this as a synthesis of many of the conversations educators are now having about the transformation of the education system.  Richardson pushes hard on assessment — a topic currently very much in vogue in BC — with many taking a critical look at class, school and provincial assessments, and more toward less “grading” at the elementary level, and less time and energy sorting and ranking students for post secondary at the high school level.   I would argue while there are elements which would pertain to the Canadian education system, whether it be on assessment, teaching, or a range of other areas he challenges, these concerns are not as profound as what he sees happening in the United States.

For me, I think his book helps to further emphasize that Canada and the United States are moving further apart, and not closer together, in education. While Canada has moved to a post-standardized world, and concepts around personalization, this does not seem so true south of the border.  Without a doubt,  they are some similarities, but these are far less similar now than a decade ago, and are on a path to becoming even less so in the future.  There are conversations, though, looking at transformation happening with educators (and largely through social media) that need to move to the mainstream.

In his section on “New School” Richardson lays out six key themes for educators and the system:

  • Share everything (or at least something)
  • Discover, don’t deliver, the curriculum
  • Talk to strangers
  • Be a master learner
  • Do real work for real audiences
  • Transfer the power

He builds the case around ‘urgency’.  It is one I have previously described as The Urgency of Our Own Kids.  We truly can’t wait 10 or 20 years to engage in the conversation of what learning and schooling can/should look like — this would be too late; too late for our own kids and the decisions they will have to make to set the education course in the next window of time.  Agree or disagree with the book’s premise, it is an important conversation to engage in as educators, parents, students and the community.  Richardson concludes, “Just imagine the learners they could become if we made these skills [using technology to solve real problems and think independently] the focus of our work; if, instead of passing the test, we made those ever-more important skills of networking, inquiry, creation, sharing, unlearning, and relearning the answer to the ‘why school’ question.  Imagine what our kids could become if we helped them take full advantage of all they have available to them for learning.”

For more of a backgrounder on Will (and his book), his recent TEDxMelbourne presentation nicely summarizes some of the key ideas of the book:


If you are interested in reading the book, please consider spending the $2.99 to buy it (here).  Also, a group of us will be discussing the ideas he has raised and are going to try a Twitter book club, this Tuesday, September 25th, 8:00 p.m. PST.  You can follow along using the hashtag #whyschool.

THANK YOU – to all who participated in the conversation.  Please continue to use #whyschool to keep the conversation going.  We will try this again next month with another book to push our thinking.  What a great turnout of people passionate about education.  Thanks to Chris Wejr – here is a link to more than 400 of the comments on the #whyschool chat.

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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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There is a very interesting dynamic between two of the strongest trends for K-12 education — connecting to the earth and connecting to the digital world. Though these two ideas appear to run counter to one another, they can also coexist, and they do work together in the evolution of the education system.

I have covered digital connections on many occasions — from my presentation at TEDx, a post on Classrooms of the Near Future, and a reflection on How My Teaching has Changed.  In West Vancouver, throughout  British Columbia, and across the world, there have been  fascinating examples of technology infused practice and the evolution of learning with technology to simply learn (with technology ever-present and creating these experiences for students).

I have also written about the intensification of inquiry and self-regulation — two other key theme areas we are seeing in our schools.  However, there is another topic that is not receiving as much attention, but should, and that is the increase in curriculum and programs toward connecting to the earth.  Over the last 20 years, there has been a steady growth of student-driven environmental clubs, school-wide efforts around sustainability, and the proliferation of school gardens. But, there is also much going on beyond these largely co-curricular or extra-curricular opportunities.

On Bowen Island, the Bowen Island Community School is launching Outside45 — a choice program for Grade 6 and 7 students.  Principal Jennifer Pardee, and Vice-Principal Scott Slater, describe the program as a “new district academy that will complement our school’s vision in terms of environmental education and inquiry-based learning by blending learning in the classroom with frequent experiences in the community and natural environment.”

When the program was announced in the fall, there was always the question of enrollment, and it ended up being oversubscribed for its first year.  While it stands alone in the best of current thinking around learning with meaningful connections to the outdoors, it is also part of a larger vision around sustainability at the school.

At the other end of the district, West Vancouver Secondary School has seen the growth of the Sustainable Resources / Urban Agriculture course. Led  by Gordon Trousdell, the West Vancouver campus is now home to two bee hives.  The course is also a draw because of its off-hour scheduling, and has attracted students from the other two secondary schools.  Steve Rauh (here) blogged about the course earlier in the year and it was also featured in the North Shore News.  The course takes concepts from the science classroom and brings them to life for students who pursue passions in real world experiences.

Photo credit:  Gordon Trousdell

Of course, these programs are not unique to West Vancouver — there are several others we have looked at for guidance:  Saturna Ecological Education Centre (Gulf Islands School district), Nature Kindergarten (Sooke School district), and the place-based Environmental School Project (Maple Ridge School district). All programs are unique — yet similar —  including place-based learning, inquiry, imagination, and experiential learning.

But, returning to my theory; while the trends appear to run counter to one another — the programs exploring the digital landscape, and those connecting more deeply to the earth and ecology — are actually bouncing off some very similar themes. So, connected schools like the Calgary Science School have found ways to marry the commitment of both in the same environment.

I am often pressed about the future of schooling, and I always come back to the themes of digital literacy, inquiry, self-regulation and the strong belief that schools are key gathering places in the community and are not going away.  I will also say, I see a new trend in education emerging as we connect to the digital space and to the earth. I am hopeful we will find thoughtful ways to link the two.

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I feel like a Twitter veteran with my five-year subscription anniversary coming up on March 23.  And yet, in recent weeks, I have been disillusioned with Twitter — it must be the growing pains of social media.  While the current labour unrest in BC has, at times, brought out  thoughtful discord, too often, as discussions have moved to Twitter, it has brought out name calling, anonymous accounts, idea trashing, and inappropriate language.  Too often, adults have used the power of social media in ways we would never want our kids to.  Too often, I see one of the great powers of social media for educators being misused, instead of fostering its ability to role model for students how we engage in ethical and thoughtful ways.

So, with that said, I stand by the comment that I often make — that learning through social media, and Twitter in particular, has been a most powerful and inspirational learning.   Here is a slide I often include in my presentations describing Twitter:

A recent article by Max Cooke:  Twitter and Canadian Educators,  from the Canadian Education Association, nicely captured the use and potential for Twitter:

An emerging group of leaders in Canadian education has attracted thousands of followers. They’ve made Twitter an extension of their lives, delivering twenty or more tweets a day that can include, for example, links to media articles, research, new ideas from education bloggers, or to their own, or simply a personal thought. At their best, edu-tweeters are adeptly leveraging Twitter to brand themselves, to reinvent teacher PD, and perhaps to accelerate the transformation of our Canadian education systems. Twitter is being used to extend formal PD conferences beyond their venue to followers on Twitter in real time; it’s facilitating informal discussions (“unconferences”) among educators with common interests; it’s allowing best practices to “go viral” on the Internet; and it’s allowing innovative classroom teachers to challenge the status quo.

In his article, Cooke included a list of 30 Canadian Educators to assist new users as they begin to explore Twitter. One of the key ideas about Twitter is to follow a diverse group of people to avoid the ‘echo chamber’ effect. I, personally, have found it very useful to follow a group of people with local, BC, Canadian and International content, and even a few for humour (how else do I explain why I follow @peeweeherman), and I am often asked by new users, who to follow?  My suggestion is you start by following one person, look at who they follow, and build your interest and list from there.  I found Cooke’s list of Canadian edu-tweeters to be very helpful, and it gave me a few great, new people to follow as well.

So, whether you are a new or experienced user, and having been inspired by Cooke’s article, here are 40 BC edu-tweeters I would start with as you look at who to follow.  I understand there are several thousand BC educators now using Twitter, so this list is only a small sample of the connections available. While almost all organizations have corporate accounts, I find following and engaging with people to be much more satisfying. My only rules in creating this list were (and are) that people are directly related to K-12 education, and not in West Vancouver (the West Van tweeters are all great and I encourage you to follow them from this list here).

Aaron Mueller, Secondary Online Teacher, Vancouver

Al Smith – Teacher-Librarian, Kelowna

Brian Kuhn – Technology Leader, Coquitlam

Bruce Beairsto – Adjunct Professor, Simon Fraser University

Cale Birk – Secondary School Principal, Kamloops

Carrie Gelson – Elementary School Teacher, Vancouver

Chris Wejr – Elementary School Principal, Agassiz

Darcy Mullin – Elementary School Principal, Summerland

David Truss – Vice-Principal, Coquitlam

David Wees – IB Math and Science Teacher, Vancouver

Elisa Carlson – Director of Instruction, Surrey

Errin Gregory – Elementary Teacher, Gold Trail

George Abbott – BC Minister of Education

Gino Bondi – Secondary Principal, Vancouver

Glen Hansman – 2nd Vice-President, BC Teachers Federation

Gregg Ferrie – Director of Technology, Saanich

Heather Daily – Teacher-Librarian, Coquitlam

Hugh McDonald – Elementary School Teacher, Surrey

Jacob Martens – Secondary Science Teacher, Vancouver

Janet Steffenhagen – Education Reporter for the Vancouver Sun

Johnny Bevacqua – School Principal, Vancouver

Karen Lirenman, Elementary School Teacher, Surrey

Kelley Inden – Secondary Humanities Teacher, Nechako Lakes

Larry Espe – Superintendent, Peace River North

Peter Vogel – ICT / Physics Teacher, Vancouver

Mike McKay – Superintendent, Surrey

Moira Ekdahl – Teacher-Librarian, Vancouver

Neil Stephenson – District Principal of Innovation and Inquiry, Delta

Paige MacFarlane – Assistant-Deputy Minister, BC Ministry of Education

Patti Bacchus – Board Chair, Vancouver School Board

Ron Sherman – Elementary Principal, Kootenay lakes

Robert Genaille – Teacher, Fraser-Cascade

Sheila Morissette – Secondary Principal, Surrey

Silas White – Board Chair, Sunshine Coast

Stephen Petrucci – Director of Instruction, Peace River North

Steve Cardwell – Superintendent, Vancouver

Tamara Malloff – Teacher-Librarian, Kootenay Lakes

Terry Ainge – Secondary Principal, Delta

Tia Henriksen – Elementary Vice-Principal, Surrey

Valerie Irvine – Educational Technology Professor, University of Victoria

Looking through my list of who I follow, and checking in on their accounts, has been a good process and an excellent reminder of the passion and curiosity so many BC educators have and are sharing in digital space.  It was interesting to see how different districts were represented — I could have found at least another dozen from Surrey for example (like @rwd01 and @bobneuf ) but tried to share a more provincial picture.  This list should not be looked at as a Best of list (this is relative), but rather a starting point for new users, or users with more experience looking to broaden their conversations. To be sure, even as I go through my list, I know I have missed a number of awesome BC educators I learn with and from on a regular basis.

So, what of the powers of this social media tool? It is the ideas, not role or geography that matter.  And, hopefully, this small slice of my network can help you grow your network.

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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.

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My apologies up front if this comes across as part blog-post, part infomercial.

I am really looking forward to being part of the upcoming symposium: Targeting Technology for Maximum Student Benefit, to be presented by the Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy at Simon Fraser University.

While much has been bandied about around technology relating to the BC Education Plan, we’ve only just touched the surface. So far, much of the conversation and views expressed have taken quite a simplistic approach;  the conversation has fractured on the one side to notions of embracing personal devices as forward steps to a privatized or American-style public education system, and on the other of charging ahead noting that increased digitization of schooling is inevitable.

The SFU session on February 9th will (hopefully) allow for deeper discussions. Coquitlam Technology Leader, Brian Kuhn, and I have been each given an hour in the morning to respond to the following imagined scenario:

Imagine that you have a budget to support the educational use of technology in a school district that has previously constructed all the necessary technical infrastructure, but has not yet introduced a plan for the use of technology to support learning. Your budget is one-third of what you would require to do all that you feel would be effective given the rate at which staff and students can learn to effectively employ technology.

 Provide a way of thinking about the broad array of potential uses of technology in education, including a conceptual  overview of the options that you believe have been shown to be most important for improving student outcomes through ‘personalizing’ their learning in ways suggested by the BC Education Plan.

Describe how you would use the resources at your disposal over a 5-year period to initiate technology use in a way that would maximize both immediate and eventual benefit for students in a sustainable and generative fashion. Include a rationale for what you choose to do, and to defer.

It is an interesting and challenging scenario, and I am committed to pushing out some thinking, as well as to sharing some thoughts on the future (or perhaps, the lack thereof) of online learning, and a road-map embracing personally owned devices while ensuring equity, and how, using Michael’s Fullan’s words “We ensure we have the right drivers for this change”.

And, personally, as much as I think there is a list of things we could or should do, I also believe there is a list of things we need to stop doing, or not start doing, to keep our focus clear and on student learning as our goal. 

We need to commit our focus on Grades 4 – 10, to focus on a space for learning that allows for personalization, to have expectations for leadership from our administrators and librarians,  to have our learning leaders become our digital learning leaders and integrate, integrate, integrate with the arts, as well as throughout the curriculum.  

On the flip side, we need to take a critical look at the future of distributive learning, to not allow technology to solely report to the business side of our organizations, to be cautious and not go slate (iPad) crazy, and to be wary of digital ‘drill and kill’ or the ‘shiny new thing’ syndrome and, to  not get stuck in the endless loop of technology strategy planning sessions.

Following our responses and participant discussion, Kris Magnusson, SFU Dean of Education, will also have a chance to share his thinking on the above scenario, which will then lead into panel discussions.

I understand from Bruce Beairsto, who has organized the event, there are about 170 people who have signed-up including teachers, administrators, parents, trustees and other educators, leaving only space for about 10 more registrations.  You can find out more about the event from Bruce (here) or register directly (here).

Of course, you can also participate online via Twitter at #bcedsfu.

The simple idea of learning empowered by technology is not so simple.  The more opportunities we have to engage, challenge, press on, pushback, and move forward to some common thinking, the better it is for our system.

UPDATE – JANUARY 23RD – THIS EVENT IS NOW SOLD OUT!  MORE TO COME ON MY BLOG AND FOLLOW IT ON TWITTER AT #bcedsfu

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To varying degrees, the three most common elements I am hearing right now around new and evolving instructional and classroom innovation from teachers and schools involve inquiry, technology and self-regulation. Many school communities are talking about classroom design–what the schools of the future will look like and, for some, the future is now as they look at pedagogy and the spaces required to maximize these visions. There is more, of course, but these elements seem to dominate the conversation that only a year ago was often described as 21st century or personalized learning.  The direction has not changed, but the vision has become more precise, more tangible.

Inquiry

A worry around inquiry is the term’s overuse to describe anything that involves asking a question.  There are a number of definitions as they continue to be refined in different contexts, but I like the one from the Galileo Educational Network that sees it as:

. . .  a dynamic process of being open to wonder and puzzlement and coming to know and understand the world.  As such, it is a stance that pervades all aspects of life and is essential to the way in which knowledge is created. Inquiry is based on the belief that understanding is constructed in the process of people working and conversing together as they pose and solve the problems, make discoveries and rigorously testing the discoveries that arise in the course of shared activity.

Inquiry is a study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. Therefore, inquiry involves serious engagement and investigation and the active creation and testing of new knowledge.

I wrote a full post last spring on inquiry available here.  While the term was previously reserved for the world of International Baccalaureate, it is taking hold, in varying degrees, in all of our schools.

Technology

There is no shortage of work taking place in our district, or other BC jurisdictions around the ethical use of technology to improve student learning and engagement.  Last week,  the Minister of Education, the Honourable George Abbott, listed a five-point plan around educational transformation in British Columbia (here) that  included Learning empowered by Technology as one of the key principles. There is amazing innovation happening with technology in a number of areas in West Vancouver. The work at Caulfeild Elementary is an example of this, and has been interesting to follow as they have launched their Inquiry based Digitally Enhanced Community (IDEC). Principal Brad Lund is writing a regular blog (here) keeping the local and larger community updated on their journey. Following up on the larger journey in our district, the Digital Literacy blog (here) is an excellent up-to-date resource on both the micro and macro efforts around using technology to fuel student learning.

Self-Regulation

Dr. Stuart Shanker has brought self-regulation to the masses. He has been a regular presenter in British Columbia, as mentioned in an earlier post on his work  here, and spent two days in West Vancouver at the beginning of September, that included him speaking to all staff. We are hoping to have him back soon, and have dedicated some time from Moray McLean, one of our occupational therapists, who will support each primary class in our district over this year around work in self-regulation.  Jody Langlois, Director of Student Support Services, has also shared thoughts on this through her blog here.

Beyond all the Shanker momentum, MindUP  is another example on the same theme of self-regulation. What started with training for one school staff  has spread to several, with more training to be scheduled soon. West Bay Elementary Principal, Judy Duncan, recently blogged (here) about her school’s experiences.

The conversations on the elements of inquiry, technology and self-regulation are a marriage of pedagogy and environment. Of course, in a world of increased student ownership and personalization of learning there will likely be more diversity rather than less to what a classroom should look like. Some may question the concept and purpose of the “classroom” itself. And, while this is an interesting conversation, we need tangible shifts we can implement now. As we imagine classrooms for the very near future, it will be interesting to track the place of these three current tenets in their design.

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From my recent Slideshare presentations, I have had a number of questions about what my thinking is about the role of teacher-librarians?  Here is the slide that has generated some discussion on this and the one I use to explain how we, in West Vancouver, are trying to support digital literacy and move forward with inquiry-based learning:

We don’t have the ‘middle layer’ of support for our schools that some districts have; we have no district coordinators, helping teachers, district support teachers or other similar positions that many, particularly larger districts, have to support the work of the teacher and schools.

In part because of size, and in part because of vision, we have made commitments around school-based staffing; thus, we are required to develop a model to support digital literacy and other innovative learning relying on the work in schools with limited outside support.

I call this the “Just in Time” solution, where we have principals and vice-principals who are learning leaders.  Regardless of their technology skills, they know their pedagogy and find ways to connect learning goals to technology and, more importantly, provide leadership around curriculum and assessment.  We have also been overt in recent years with our postings and our hirings — having digital skills is an expectation for new principals and vice-prinicpals. They are our first circle of support, and we need to continue to support them to lead the learning (including digital learning).

Teacher-librarians are our second circle of support.  In a recent interview with Dr. Paul Shaker on Your Education Matters, I said that as we move forward “teacher librarians are more important than ever.”   My experience has been that next to the principal, the teacher-librarian is often key in moving the learning agenda forward.  In schools that are moving forward, it is very often the teacher-librarian, working side-by-side with teachers on staff, who find new ways of working with students.

The third ring of the “Just-in-Time” solution is key staff members; they are formal leaders like secondary curriculum coordinators, or informal leaders who have an influence on staff, who are able to help in the moment to support digital literacy.  Teachers cannot wait for a workshop in six weeks, when they are stuck now; they rely on our network of staff — formal leaders, teacher-librarians, and key teacher leaders — all working together.

I saw the power of the teacher-librarian working with Gordon Powell (click on his name to check out his great blog), when I began my teaching career at McRoberts Secondary in Richmond, and then later in Port Coquitlam, as Principal at Riverside Secondary working with Sue Kilpatrick and Ron Haselhan, who simply “got it” in their roles supporting and working with teachers and students.  I am hardly an expert on teacher-librarians, but I have now seen first-hand — in three school districts — the important leadership role they play.

My thanks to Moira Ekdahl, a teacher-librarian from Vancouver and a recent winner of the CLA Angela Thacker Memorial Award who, in her recent post here, did a much more articulate job of pulling together my thoughts around teacher-librarians.  On the topic of library transformation, the BC Teacher Librarians Association have a wonderful document: The Points of Inquiry.

As we lament that little change has taken place, or how slow the change has been, many teacher-librarians have transformed what they do to stay relevant and ahead of the curve.  We have many who are seeing their roles, as Seth Godin does, “as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario” (Later, in this post, Seth stole my line about librarians being more important than ever).

Finally, one more place worth reading on the topic is Gino Bondi, Principal at John Oliver in Vancouver, and the work they are doing on a Learning Commons.  Thanks to Gino and Moira, Building a Learning Commons, is now on my summer reading list.

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If,  in the era of Facebook and Google, IBM has lost some of its “cool” in recent years, the 100-year-old company (check out this great video celebrating its Centennial) has redeemed itself with WATSON – the Jeopardy winning computer.

This past week, I had the opportunity to listen to four of the top IBM researchers muse about the world of 2050.  They admit, like many of us in education also do, it is difficult to event plan five years out, but Don Eigler, Spike Narayan, Dr. Winfried Wilicke,  and Thomas Zimmerman did identify some interesting trends.  While there was some talk of flying cars (maybe not quite the Jetsons), the continual growth and change in the movement of data, the requirements of energy in a world that will need to be sustainability-focussed with water being the new oil, I was struck by the idea of synthetic immortality — and just what it might mean for schools.

The idea of synthetic immortality was put forward by Thomas Zimmerman, whose Data Glove invention sold over one million units in the field of Virtual Reality. Zimmerman was also named California Volunteer of the Year in 2009 for his science-enrichment work in schools.  The idea of synthetic immortality is that, since we are creating and posting so much digital content about ourselves and others — and this is only increasing (apparently some people are now basically digitally documenting every hour of their life), in the future — we will be able to pull all of this data together and, even after someone dies, create an avatar that someone could interview and engage with.  This will sure change book reports.  You want to interview a former Prime Minister, you can just call up the synthetic version of that person.  With all the digital content, it is not something I had considered — our perpetuity beyond our lives.  A good deal has been written about managing social media after one dies, like this recent New York Times article and this one in Time but not, at least from what I have seen, about how this could all be aggregated together to virtualize someone.

While it is difficult to even get my head around what schooling and learning should and could look like for my kids over the next 10 years, it is interesting to hear people predict what it could look like for my kids’ kids.

One final connection on this topic, if you haven’t seen this video, A Day Made of Glass — Made Possible by Corning, do take a look at it. It is an interesting window into the future:

The subject does make some of our current conversations around the edges of change seem quite small, given what is likely coming soon.

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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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