Inclusive Education

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 38,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation, ETMOOC, Human Resources, Inclusive Education | Tags: | 1 Comment

Learning Commons – It’s Not An Add On

In the coming weeks I will be working with 7 pilot schools in my district to begin a shift away from the traditional use of the school library and toward a Learning Commons model. I’ve been asked by our Superintendent to explore this area because I completed action research on this very topic a couple years ago and made the shift in my own school at the time.  Wikipedia defines a Learning Commons as follows:

Learning commons, also known as scholars’ commons, information commons or digital commons, are educational spaces, similar to libraries and classrooms that share space for information technology, remote or online education, tutoring, collaboration, content creation, meetings and reading or study.[1][2] Learning commons are increasingly popular in academic and research libraries, and some public and school libraries have now adopted the model.[3] Architecture, furnishings and physical organization are particularly important to the character of a learning commons, as spaces are often designed to be rearranged by users according to their needs.

Furthermore, Educause, a nonprofit community of IT leaders and professionals, provides us with their vision of what these spaces might look like:

The village green, or “common,” was traditionally a place to graze livestock, stage a festival, or meet neighbours. This concept of social utility underlies the philosophy of the modern learning commons, which is a flexible environment built to accommodate multiple learning activities. Designing—or redesigning—a commons starts with an analysis of student needs and the kind of work they will be doing.


slide-6-728So my goal is to bring principals, librarians and teachers on board in such a way that they see the shift to a Learning Commons not as an add on, but rather as a way to support the initiatives that are already underway in our district. It is my belief that the Learning Commons can be used as the 5th corner of each teachers classroom as they continue to build their capacity in carrying out the districts two big initiatives, Balanced Literacy and Differentiated Instruction. If you look at the list above and to the left, what better place than the Learning Commons to move these initiatives forward.

So our Learning Commons journey has been unfolding something like this:

  1. In late August, at our first principal’s meeting of the year I presented on Learning Commons and Steve Clark, a specialist from Calgary spoke to us via Skype.
  2. At the beginning of October, interested principals were asked to complete this Library Commons Pilot Proposal.
  3. All 7 schools who submitted proposals joined the pilot and the principals and librarians will now gather to participate in a 3 part Learning Commons webinar.
  4. I will be providing a short presentation on Learning Commons to our local School Board in late October.
  5. I will be visiting each of the 7 schools by mid November and presenting to the staff on what a Learning Commons shift might look like and engaging them in conversation about the benefits of moving forward.

It is my hope that our school communities will see the value in transforming these beautiful learning spaces in the heart of their schools so that the needs of todays learners can be better served. I believe a Learning Commons model and philosophy will not only support our learners in more relevant and engaging ways, it will also provide our teachers with another option as they consider new approaches to teaching and learning in this ever-changing time.

I’ll leave you with this reflective quote taken from a literature review written by Judith Sykes of the Digital Design and Resource Authorization Branch with Alberta Education:

“The hallmark of a school library in the 21st century is not its collections, its systems, its technology, its staffing, its buildings, BUT its actions and evidences that show that it makes a real difference to student learning, that it contributes in tangible and significant ways to the development of … meaning making and constructing knowledge. (Todd 2001, p. 4)”

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s About the Person, Not the Stuff

Last week, I joined over 500 administrators, teachers and support staff for an opening gathering in my new school district where we were treated to a wonderful day with David Wells, the Co-Director of the Department of Formation with the Plymouth Diocese in Southwest England.

Among other things, David reminded us of the importance of relationship, understanding, and hope as we begin another year with our students. “One day”, he said, “Each of us will realize that the little things in life were the big things.” His message challenged the notion that education is a linear process and that the children in front of us can be bulk processed through the system. Instead, he spent the day sharing inspiring stories about what we already know, that our work in schools is all about the people – not the stuff.

Three statements made by David really resonated with me and I encourage anyone involved in a child’s education to reflect on them before things get too busy this year. I’ve included some questions that might assist you with the process.

“If you want to teach children, make sure you listen to their music.”

  1. Do I make an effort to get to know my students and their families on a personal level?
  2. Is my classroom a welcoming place for children from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds?
  3. How often do I give my students a voice in their learning?
  4. Am I trying to engage my students in a way that is relevant to them?

“The children in front of you are far more interested in you than they are in what you teach.”

  1. Have I shared my own story with my students?
  2. Do I apologize to my students when I should?
  3. Do I laugh with my students on a regular basis?
  4. Are my students comfortable coming to me for help, with school work and on a personal level?

“The most important things you do are not testable, measurable or recordable.

  1. Do I encourage my students to explore their own passions?
  2. Have I built a classroom environment where students can take risks, fail, and then try again?
  3. Am I acutely aware of my students’ basic personal needs?
  4. Are my students given opportunities to collaborate, be creative, and think critically?

It’s too bad the current culture of education is fixed so heavily on results. I think we get lost in our work at times and forget that the process of learning is far more important than the product of learning. It is in the process where lasting learning really takes place. This year, as we come face to face with our students let’s remember these powerful words by David Wells.

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

The Great Promise of High School Redesign

Over the past couple of years our province has made some very bold moves in an attempt to bring the vision of Inspiring Education to life. The goal is to transform our education system so that 20 years from now it will have produced young adults who are Engaged Thinkers and Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit. This is a colossal task and a number of initiatives have already been introduced to move schools in this direction. They include a new Education Act, a new Framework for Student Learning a new Ministerial Order on Student Learning, a movement away from Provincial Achievement Tests, a Curriculum Redesign initiative, and High School Redesign. Each of these look really good on paper but we all know how difficult it is to put them into practice, especially in a system that has been fixed in its traditional model for generations.

logo2Take High School Redesign for example. We are calling upon our high schools (and teachers) to be institutions of learning for everyone, not just places where success is identified by an ability to memorize information and satisfactorily complete high stakes exams. Some of the cornerstones of this new approach will include mastery learning, a rigorous and relevant curriculum, personalization, flexible learning environments, meaningful relationships, home and community involvement, and buildings that are welcoming, caring, respectful, and safe. Students in these redesigned high schools will have the opportunity to experience success (and failure) in the ways they learn best and explore topics they are passionate about. Do you think it’s actually possible to get all stake holders on board for something like this? Teachers will need to build a great deal of capacity in order to approach their role in a way very different from how they were trained. Parents, especially those who have experienced successful lives, will need to support a departure from a model of education that worked just fine for them. Institutions of higher learning will need to place more of an emphasis on soft skills with their entrance requirements and themselves reconsider what a relevant post secondary experience should look like. The greater community will have to be willing to partner with schools in ways they never have before. This is going to be really tough.

Well, my friend Sheldon Steele is the Vice Principal of a high school in Fort St. John, British Columbia that appears to be flipping the traditional model upside down already. Students at the “Energetic Learning Campus” are engaged in a great deal of personalization through an innovative project based learning design. This short video about the school is definitely worth the watch.

When I met with Sheldon to learn more about this redesigned high school model, his excitement and enthusiasm for what was going on there was electric. Although apprehensive at first, parents are now 100% on board with the school because the most important stake holders, the students, are highly engaged and love the personalized and flexible learning available to them.

And you don’t need to look far to see more pockets of innovation happening elsewhere. Another great example is The Independent Project, which started in 2011 at Monument Mountain Regional High School, a public school in Massachusetts. There, students are exploring their own questions in each subject area and then teaching peers about their newly discovered area of expertise.

There’s only one problem with these forward thinking learning models. The examples I’ve discovered stop just short of a complete departure from what used to be. The Energetic Learning Campus sends its students back to the traditional building and the traditional model for grade 12 so they can be better positioned to meet graduation requirements in their final year. The Independent Project is a pilot and has only made room for 8 students in its inaugural year. New learning models like these are considered to be risky (and some would say irresponsible) by mainstream thinking, making it difficult for them to take root.

To me, these trail blazers provide great hope and promise for our children. Education leaders need to be continuously looking out over the horizon for relevant ways to engage todays learner. This should be non-negotiable.

I am patiently looking forward to the day when the vision of high school redesign in Alberta becomes mainstream thinking. I wonder how long that will take.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Parents Said No to the Test

Two months ago, before Alberta Education announced that the province will be phasing out grade 3, 6 and 9 Provincial Achievement Tests, I was approached by a couple of parents at my school. Initially, I wasn’t sure how to respond to their question. They wanted to know if what they had heard was true. “As parents, do we have the right”, they asked, “to excuse our children from writing provincial achievement tests.” I’ve known the answer to this question for years but quite honestly have been reluctant to openly share it with parents. The odd time a parent had asked me about “excusing their child” I’ve encouraged them not to “for the good of the school.” A great deal of emphasis has been placed on Provincial Achievement Tests as the primary measure of student and school success in our province and each time we excuse a student it negatively reflects the overall school and jurisdictional results. The idea has always been to get as many students writing as possible. I applaud our superintendent Chris Smeaton for encouraging educators to maintain a focus on learning and student engagement instead of PATs. “Excellent learning is the important thing”, he says, “then the assessments will take care of themselves.” He has blogged about Provincial Achievement Tests here and here.


What’s not really known is that parents can excuse their student from writing the tests; and it’s written right there on the Alberta Education website. The problem is that it’s like solving the Rubik’s Cube to find it, and there’s an unwritten rule that school leaders should refrain from engaging in that kind of conversation with parents. My fellow blogger Joe Bower has written about this.

So as I was standing there with these two parents contemplating an answer, this question kept racing through my mind, “Should I be concerned about my school results or should I be working with parents to determine what’s in the best educational interest of their child?” So, after what seemed like forever I answered and a lengthy and engaging conversation ensued…

Here is a short description provided by Alberta Education about the Provincial Achievement Testing Program:


(This year we had 52 grade 3 and 6 students in our English stream eligible to write provincial achievement tests. More than half of those students had been approved for some sort of accommodation – reader, scribe, and/or extra time. A great number of them were reading well below grade level and some were English Language Learners. Most of those students would be forced to take hours’ worth of standardized tests in a format mostly foreign to them throughout the school year.)

…the day after our conversation the two parents mentioned above presented me with a letter excusing their children from participating in the Provincial Achievement Testing program this year. Not only did they feel their decision was adequately informed, they also knew their children’s teachers would provide them with other forms of evidence that the curriculum would be effectively assessed as had been the case throughout the year.

The next day 3 more parents dropped off letters excusing their children from writing as well. Apparently, parents started having the achievement test discussion with one another and the word was travelling fast. By the end of the week almost half of the 52 students had been excused by their parents.

As parents approached me for advice I did what my role as school principal calls for me to do. I assisted each parent in making an informed decision for their child. I directed them to the Alberta Education website, encouraging them to review the Achievement Tests link on the Parents Page. I shared the Framework for Student Learning which outlines the future direction for education in our province and demonstrates the need for a more relevant form of assessment for today’s learners. I even encouraged them to speak with other parents who were also struggling with the decision about what to do. It was not my role to decide for them, rather to arm them with as much information as possible in making the decision for themselves (and their child). A few common questions surfaced, like “If they don’t write will it affect their mark in any way” and “If they don’t write will it affect their placement next year.” The only answer I could give was no. Another reoccurring comment was, “I never knew I had a choice.”

When all was said and done the parents said no to the test – all 52 of them. Each and every one provided me with signed consent excusing their child from writing the 2012-13 Provincial Achievement Tests.

And in place of the PATs the students experienced some amazing learning:

Genius Hour Proposal – idea borrowed from Kirsten Tschofen (@KirstenTP) and her blog post at SOMEWHERE FROM HERE

Genius Hour Animoto Clip

Categories: Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Our Grade 2 App Smackdown – An Experiment.

According to Cybrary Man’s Educational Websites (@cybraryman1), “a Smackdown or Show and Tell is a sharing of websites, tools or teaching tricks that you have found to be great to use.  You are given 2 minutes to present the tool to the group.”

Recently, we held an App Smackdown during grade two 21st Century Learning time. Our students have been using iPads for nearly two years now so I thought it would be a good idea to give them an opportunity to show me what they knew. The idea of a “Smackdown” has been used at teacher conferences and EDCAMPs so why not experiment with the concept with young students. Heres the experiment.


With little time to prep, are seven-year old students capable of effectively selecting an educational App from a list and effectively presenting it to peers.


Yes, when given the opportunity students will amaze us.


  • iPad for each student
  • Apps on each iPad
  • Apple TV
  • Comfortable furniture
  • Front seat for presenter

Background Research

Students have been using the iPads for two years in a variety of ways, using a variety of Apps.


  1. Students take an iPad, sit in a comfortable spot, and start playing to warm up.
  2. Teacher explains what an App Smackdown is.
  3. Teacher explains and demonstrates the “face down” rule; which means when the teacher says “face down”, students place their iPad on the floor face down and pay attention to the student up front. As an option, you can tell them that they will lose the iPad if they don’t follow this rule. I guarantee that will work. 🙂
  4. Teacher explains and demonstrates how to take control of the Apple TV with an iPad.
  5. Teacher explains to students that once an App has been demonstrated, it can no longer be used by others.
  6. First student is called up to the front seat, takes control of the Apple TV, and the teacher says, “face down.” The student selects any App they want, explains how it works, and demonstrates its use. They also answer any questions that might be asked by peers or the teacher. This should take no longer than 2 minutes. When finished, the presenting student relinquishes control of the Apple TV.
  7. Teacher tells students to pick up iPads and continue to “play.” They are reminded that the App that was just presented can no longer be used.
  8. After about 2-3 minutes, the next student is called up.
  9. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until all students have had a turn or as long as time permits.
A Grade 2 student describes the Pottery App to his classmates.

A Grade 2 student describes the Pottery App to his classmates.


  • Engagement levels were extremely high.
  • Students were happy to experiment with Apps that were new to them.
  • If the presenting student had any troubles explaining anything about an App, there was a lot of expertise in the room.
  • The students were perfectly behaved.
  • Even the shy students appeared confident because they could use the Apple TV to demonstrate instead of just sitting there and talking.


It was amazing to watch as each student not only selected an App that no one else did, but presented it with great confidence and pride. Everyone, including yours truely, learned something new about the Apps on our school iPads. It was a highly engaging activity that I would recommend to others. Give it a try.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Try A Mystery Skype. Here’s Why.

If you’ve never tried a Mystery Skype with your class, you should. It’s a highly engaging way to build important competencies in your students. A Mystery Skype is just a simple guessing game at first sight, but it’s really so much more. Two classrooms arrange to connect with each other using Skype, and then take turns asking yes/no questions to try to discover each other’s exact location. It’s a great way to make an initial connection that may lead to further collaborative learning projects. Our students have participated in several Mystery Skypes this year, all of which have been easily arranged through my Twitter PLN. Here’s one from last month:


Take a look at the jobs students take on during a Mystery Skype. Then look at the competencies they are building and ask yourself why you shouldn’t give this a try. 

Greeters say hello and share cool facts about the class without giving away the location. (Leadership, Social Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Global Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Question Askers ask the questions and are the voice of the classroom. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Creativity, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Question Answerers answer the questions after consulting with others. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Think Tank sits in a group and figures out the clues based on the information they receive. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Google Mappers use Google maps to piece together clues and narrow down the location. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Global Awareness, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Atlas Mappers use atlases to assist the Google mappers. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Global Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Clue Keepers work closely with askers and answerers to help guide them in developing questions. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Global Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Runners run from group to group relaying important information. (Collaboration, Leadership, Decision Making, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Photographers take pictures during the call to share at a later date. (Leadership, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Tweeters share real-time play-by-play of the event on a class Twitter account. (Leadership, Critical Thinking, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Videographers take video during the call to share at a later date. (Leadership, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Communication, Digital Literacy, Self-Direction)

Entertainers share jokes, songs, etc. during a lull in the action. (Collaboration, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)

Closers end the call in a nice manner after one class has guessed the location of the other. (Leadership, Decision Making, Creativity and Innovation, Social Awareness, Global Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Communication, Self-Direction)


Enough said.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Community Engagement, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Apparently My School Sucks

The annual Fraser Institute elementary school rankings were released over the weekend and my school placed 547th out of 649. On their 10 point rating scale we scored 4.3, which apparently means that we failed.

My school, which comprises a vibrant and culturally rich population of students, includes 15% English Language Learners, 26%  with supported learning programs, 25% with a First Nations Metis and Inuit background, and 47% in the French Immersion stream. We provide breakfast and lunch to about 50 students every day, waive school fees for a number of families, and regularly bring interpreters in for parent/teacher conferences.  

The Fraser Institute describes themselves as an organization that uses “objective, publicly available data to rank and compare schools.” In other words, the schools with the highest average marks on our provinces Grade 3 and 6 Provincial Achievement Tests are ranked at the top. Although not supported by the Education Ministry, the results are heavily published and lure parents into believing that some schools are better than others merely because students did a superior job of completing a standardized bubble test.

Last October, like all schools in Alberta,  we received our Accountability Pillar Report Card and our PAT results were our best ever. Not only did we have a 100% participation rate (the province is around 90%) but 84.2% of tests written received the “acceptable standard.” The provincial average was 79.1%. For us, this was a huge accomplishment because first of all we never usually pay much attention to the PATs, and secondly we have never surpassed the provincial average, let alone by over 5 percentage points. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves right up until this past Saturday when we were quickly brought back to reality. The reason, by the way, why we come out so low on the Fraser Institute Report is because they rank based on average test score and not percentage of tests passed. Many of our students passed the test but not by a lot. It’s the Fraser Institutes spin on the numbers. You can take a look at our report card below:

Report Card

So what about all those “other things” that are not taken into consideration by the Fraser Institute? You know, things like providing a safe and caring learning environment where all students are cherished and achieve their potential. Things like parental involvement and citizenship. Things like continual school improvement and relevant student engagement. What about providing an inclucive learning environment that meets the needs of every student? My teachers work as an amazing collaborative team every day to not only teach the curriculum, but also to build in their students the qualities of ethical and active 21st century citizenship. It’s unfortunate that much of this goes unnoticed because of the work of right-libertarian think tanks like the Fraser Institute. 

This timeline and this short video outlines the many initiatives that make my school so amazing. I invite you to take a look. This stuff can’t be measured on a standardized test. If it could, I’m sure we’d be a bit better than 547th.  

So I want to say this to those who work so tirelessly to collect and disaggregate the PAT data in such a way that leaves out much of what really counts in our schools today. What sucks is the percieved importance placed on these tests and your reports.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Listen To Me – I Can Read

audioboo_logo[1]We’ve had the Audioboo App on our school iPads for a while now. It’s a great podcasting tool because you can easily record student’s voices and the recording automatically uploads to the Audioboo website where you can manage all your “Boos” and embed them wherever you want. If you don’t have iPads, you can do it all, right from your PC as well. Here, for example, is a recording of a student teacher giving a testimonial after completing an internship at our school. Recently, the concept of recording students reading books came across my Twitter stream. This was not the first time I heard about the high yield strategy of providing children with the opportunity to listen to themselves read. This has been found to improve confidence, fluency and comprehension as the article indicated. So last week, after being reminded of this, we introduced two new activities at our school, one with grade 5 and the other with grade 1. Grade 5 – The students had already been involved in the 100 Word Challenge, a weekly creative writing activity for children 16 and under. Each week a prompt is given, which can be a picture or a series of individual words and the children can use up to 100 words to write a creative piece. In our case, grade 4, 5 and 6 students complete their writing on Microsoft Word, post it on their blog and then link it to the 100 Word Challenge blog. They receive some excellent comments from teachers and students around the world and may be selected as part of the weekly showcase of excellent writing. Here’s where the podcasting comes in. Starting last week the students have been voice recording their written entries. We have been embedding the Audioboo recording into their blog post along with the written piece. The students really enjoy hearing their voice and will be able to monitor their own progress as they add more entries to their blogs throughout the year. Here are a couple of examples: Alexis and her story about a dark stormy night in New York City and Tyler writing about a poor bird. Grade 1 – If you want to see what pride looks like, just watch the face of a grade 1 student as they listen to themself read. Last week,CB276635-5691-4882-A165-60847A63D7A7-229-0000003ADC57D570[1] before returning their library books we voice recorded them reading their book. Then, we assisted them in embedding the recording in a Kidblog post. After sending the posts out through our school Twitter feed, a teacher and her students from Texas left a bunch of comments. What a powerful affirmation for our students. Here is Kayla reading Frog and Toad are Friends and Lemuel reading Nicky Upstairs and Down. I encourage you to take a look at the comments they have already recieved. They can’t wait to hear themselves read again next week. We are looking forward to discovering more ways to incorporate voice recording into the literacy activities at our school. If the way in which our students are engaged in the process is any indication, I suspect more teachers will give it a try.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, ETMOOC, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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