Posts Tagged With: digital natives

Ed Reform – What About Parents?

When I think of parents and the degree to which they understand how education is changing, I’m reminded of this quote by American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomski:

IMG_0061Earlier this week I gave a presentation on Learning Commons to parent council chairpersons at a gathering organized by our district’s School Board. We provided the presentation so that parents would better understand our district initiative to bring our school libraries into the 21st century, and by doing so provide our students with a more relevant and engaging learning experience. As I demonstrated how a Learning Commons could be used to flatten the walls of our classrooms, give students more responsibility for their own learning, and encourage creativity and innovation, the parents in attendance seemed to welcome the opportunity to learn more about the changes to their child’s daily experiences in school. I came away from the evening, however, with a sense of concern with the disconnect between what parents think we are doing in our classrooms and what we are actually doing. Most in attendance had never before heard of the ideas I shared in my presentation.

As learning begins taking on a very different look, we have to remember to bring all our stakeholders along with us – especially our parents. As the first educators of their children, we can’t leave them out of loop if we are to make any significant progress with changing the educational experience for our students. Most people resist change when they don’t understand.

Here, I believe, are some of the reasons why we need to make a conscious effort to include parents in our conversations about education reform: 

  1. Most parents can only imagine learning through the lens in which they experienced it themselves.
  2. Most parents are digital immigrants, which makes them nervous about the use of technology and innovative approaches in schools.
  3. Most parents still want to know how their children are doing in relation to everyone else – with a number.
  4. Most parents don’t have the time to be directly involved in their child’s learning.
  5. Most parents turned out just fine with their schooling experience. What was good for them must be good for their children.

…perhaps some helpful ideas:

  1. Organize parent information sessions on a regular basis.
  2. Use the power of technology to share information with parents and collect their input.
  3. Invite parents into your classroom – often.
  4. Hold student-led parent / teacher conferences.
  5. Reassure parents that safety concerns are being addressed.

What are you doing to make sure your parents know what’s happening as things start to change in your classroom?

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

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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

Oh How Things Have Changed – A Reflection

After 21 years as a teacher and administrator there has never been more to consider. As the societal context continues to shift, a focus on appropriate and relevant skill building in an inclusive environment has become an extremely important role of the school. Researchers around the world have identified the need for competencies to be more central in the education of young people if they are to be active participants in an increasingly knowledge-based and globalized society. Competencies enable students to understand their world, engage fully in their education, relate well to others, manage their lives wisely, and contribute positively to their communities. These important competencies include, but are not limited to:

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Creativity and Innovation
Social Responsibility and Cultural, Global and Environmental Awareness
Communication
Digital Literacy
Lifelong Learning, Self-Direction and Personal Management
Collaboration and Leadership

Many people ask why we need a different model of education for the 21st century. Aren’t many of these skills the same ones that have been important throughout history as civilizations moved forward? And do we, only 13 years into the century, really know what skills our students will need for their future? The answer to these questions is that the past few years have seen a very different world than before, especially in the area of globalization, which has been magnified by exponential advances in technology. We have moved from the industrial age to the service age and the students who are now entering our schools will end up in the service sector, having jobs in many different fields over the course of their working lives. While we don’t know what new jobs will emerge, our students will need to be able to learn new things and adapt to new situations as the world continues to change. They will need to innovate and create while employing critical and divergent thinking.

Oh How Things Have Changed

Oh How Things Have Changed

The biggest difference between today’s education and that which went before it is the embedding of the important competencies into the curriculum. A few short years ago teachers didn’t engage in much problem solving or decision-making with their students. Those skills were not seen as important because when students left school and went to work most of them expected to be told what to do – if a problem came up or if a decision had to be made they were expected to take that to someone higher up rather than make it themselves. In today’s world there is more scope for autonomy and decision making at every level – employees are expected to be self-directed and responsible for their own work. This emphasis on autonomy, mastery and purpose leads to more personal satisfaction with our careers, and this, in turn, leads to more motivation and ultimately a better performance. Teaching and learning should reflect this reality.

The competencies listed above were not emphasized in yesterday’s schools. Academic rigor was defined by the “3 R’s” and the coverage of a large amount of content – and knowing this content was more important than understanding it. With information more accessible than ever, students must instead be able to apply previous experiences to new situations. If schools place an emphasis on lifelong learning, students will be better positioned for the world they will enter.
The implications for teachers are tremendous. There is a need to engage students in more inquiry and project-based learning in order to support the development of higher-order thinking skills. There is a need for teaching to be less about the dissemination of information and more about guiding students as they direct their own learning. There is a need for every student, regardless of their limitations, to both learn and demonstrate learning in their own way, at their own pace, and from any location. There is a need to engage students in a way that is relevant to them, supporting (not replacing) strong pedagogy with the tools of technology. All of these are important, however the attitude and mindset of the teacher continues be the greatest indicator of student engagement and success.

Finally, I am a firm believer that teachers must be at the centre of education transformation and not at the outer edge. They have to be given the opportunity to try new approaches and build capacity within a trusting, risk-taking, and collaborative culture. Jurisdiction and school leaders are charged with the responsibility of building a shared vision, values and goals. If this is done through the collective efforts of all stakeholders, the foundation is laid for a community of learners. This foundation is further enhanced over time when the formal leaders consistently allocate resources and make decisions in support of the vision. Given the right conditions, teachers will, as informal leaders, lead the charge toward the kind of schools we want for our children.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Student Voice – Are We Really Listening?

In November 2008 Speak Out – our provinces Student Engagement Initiative was launched. During that time thousands of Junior High and High School students have attended Speak Out Forums, Annual Speak Out Conferences, or been part of the Minister’s Student Advisory Council. They have also been encouraged to share their thoughts through the Speak Out website. In recent years it is quite impressive to look at the wide variety of opportunities students have been given to ‘have a say’ in the how, what, when, where, and why of their schooling. Rarely is there a public consultation on education without students being invited to the discussion table. And they have some excellent, innovative ideas about what leaning should look like. Adults almost always leave these forums agreeing that listening to the students was the most impressive part of the evening. But is anyone really listening?

Isn’t student voice an opportunity for them to share their experiences and ideas in order to help the people who make decisions understand the issues that are important to them, then take action. It seems to me that there is a lot of listening and very little action.

Later this month our grade 6 students will be visiting the Junior High School for an orientation. On that day they will tour the school, meet their grade 7 teachers, and be introduced to the school community. Leading up to that time we have decided to give them an opportunity to write blog posts, asking questions and informing their eventual grade 7 teachers of how they prefer to learn. This year, under the watchful eyes of two amazing teachers, they’ve been exposed to Kidblog, Edmodo, Collaborative Learning, Layered Curriculum, Glogster, Twitter, Skyping, Voki, Email, Moodle, Destiny Quest Library, Student-directed Learning, and a variety of other 21st century tools and competencies. They want to let their next teachers know that this is how they want to learn. They want their voices to be heard. Once their blog posts have been completed we will send the links directly to the Junior High School and await their comments.

I guess the big question is: Will they really listen?

Categories: Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Inclusive Education | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Difficult Struggle of Letting Go

I recently read this post by Will Richardson where he described the bold 21st century transformation of a Nevada charter school as one “…not fully understanding the shift to self-directed, personal learning that technology and the Web support.” He went on to describe true transformation being something that shifts the balance of power to the learner. I fully agree with Mr. Richardson and have recently completed action research on this very topic. I also blogged about student-directed learning a few weeks back.

As the principal of an elementary school I am reminded every day how difficult it is for teachers to let go of control of the learning process. Moving from being the distributer of content to the guider of learning is not that easy for teachers who were trained to ‘deliver curriculum.’ This shift is even harder to understand for elementary school teachers who work with the youngest of our students.

Two weeks ago I found myself in a position where I experienced first hand this struggle of handing over control to the student. As an administrator who teaches grade 4 library I was quite happy with the new experiences I had been exposing my students to. Early in the year I introduced them to our library Twitter account and in turn they were given an opportunity to compose Tweets and respond to other ones. After that I got them blogging through a Kidblog account and write books reviews with our Destiny Quest software, allowing them to share their views beyond the walls of our school. Blogging helped us to connect with a wonderful grade 4 class from Wellford, South Carolina and a face-to-face Skype visit was arranged shortly thereafter. Epals were set up and our students started ongoing conversations with their new global friends. I was on a roll, feeling that through the use of these Web 2.0 tools my students were starting to take charge of their own learning.

Mrs. Witherspoon, the teacher of the class in South Carolina was interested in giving the ePals an opportunity to visit by setting up individual Skype sessions so I jumped at the opportunity and my students started preparing questions in anticipation. Under the watchful eyes of adults at both ends the first two visits went off without a hitch. The level of engagement was amazing and the students themselves led through the entire experience.

Now to my struggle. The next ePal Skype session was arranged between Makayla from our school and Chandra from theirs. On the day it was scheduled I didn’t realize until 45 minutes before it was to start that Makayla was home, not feeling well. I decided to make a quick call to see if Makayla’s mom would consider bringing her to school for the Skype call then take her back home. She informed me that Makayla was upset that she would not be able to Skype with her ePal but was not able to come to the school. She did however suggest that Makayla participate in the Skype call from home as she has her own account. It was then that I experienced first hand this struggle with letting go. Up until now I was directly involved in the learning that came from Twitter, Kidblog and Skype. This was different. I would have to trust that Makayla would be responsible and represent our school appropriately. I would have to trust that she knew what she was doing. I would have to step aside and let my student take charge of this learning experience for herself. It was at that moment that I clearly understood why this shift is so difficult. I decided to let it happen.

In spite of the uncertainty, the uncomfortable feelings, and loss of control I encourage every teacher to take that first step and let it happen. Our students are ready.

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

Who’s Teaching Who?

I’ve been noticing some interesting happenings around my school this year. The long-standing relationship between teachers and

DIGITAL NATIVE

students is starting to change. In a slow way and in small amounts it seems as though there is starting to form a notion that the teacher is not the only source of wisdom, knowledge and information around here. As I walk through the school observing teaching and learning it is not uncommon to see student as teacher and teacher as learner. I believe this is because as teachers risk new approaches they look to these digital natives who have a whole different level of comfort with 21st century learning. Here are a few examples of what I’ve witnessed:

  1. Our grade 2 students were learning about a cool new App called Phototangler. I watched as the teacher started explaining how to use it, step by step. Within seconds students were getting ahead of the teacher so she changed gears and just let them play. They soon started showing her parts of the App that she had not figured out herself.
  2. One class was learning about Twitter. The teacher had recently set up a Twitter account herself and was using the school library account @stmarylibrary to show the students how to connect with others. One particular student was very knowledgeable about Twitter and the teacher allowed her to control the smart board and show the class how it worked. The student explained all about follows, hashtags, and chats and in the end the teacher asked even more questions than the students.
  3. A couple of weeks ago I sent the link to our grade 6 blogs out to my PLN to assist the students in receiving some quality comments. I’ve been very impressed with their posts and wanted to share them with others. Low and behold, a college professor from New York  @SocialAcademic responded to my Tweet, suggesting that perhaps our students could motivate hers to start blogging. In the following days many of her students submitted wonderful comments on our grade 6 blogs. Many of them, we hope, will start blogging as well. 11 year olds showing college students how it’s done. Wow!
  4. Aren from grade 6 has become our resident iPad expert. He knows and understands settings and configurations better than any adult on staff. Whenever we are experiencing a glitch with the iPads he either already knows how to fix it or he figures it out. Of course, our division techie is a bit leery about this. lol       

These digital natives that come to us every day are simply not wired the way we were as students.  We didn’t do much problem solving, decision-making, or leading in our own learning.  Those skills weren’t seen as important because when we left school and went to work most of us expected to be told what to do.  This is no longer the case. In today’s world there is more scope for autonomy and decision-making and our students are naturally put together this way.  We need to be sharing learning with our students, not just delivering it to them. I am happy to see that things appear to be moving in this direction.

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

Give Your Library Books a 90 Degree Turn

Last week we made one small change in our school library/media centre that immediately paid big dividends with student engagement. We’ve been spending the past few months transforming our library to one that better meets the needs of today’s learner, and along the way have been tweeking as we go.

During that time our paper collection has been downsized somewhat. Electronic material is definately increasing but providing a balance is the key. I have found that while our older students prefer electronic devices and reading online books through our Destiny Quest library system, young emerging readers still like to get their hands on books where their tactile senses can take charge. When these students visit the library we usually lay out a few books for them to choose from as it is difficult to navigate the packed shelves. We’ve been looking for a way to provide them with more flexibility and choice

So we decided to give the library a 90 degree turn. Now our younger students can easily browse and have the freedom to make the choices they want. It was neat to watch them the first time they encountered the new set up. The engagement level was amazing.

BEFORE

AFTER

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Keeping Parents in the Educational Transformation Loop

As we continue to transform education we can’t forget to engage our parents, who are digital immigrants having come from the industrial age of education. The transformational conversation must include them as well.  I have heard of some schools hosting technology evenings for parents.  That’s a great idea. Here’s my February message to parents for our school newsletter: 

After 21 years as a teacher and administrator there has never been more to consider. How we educate children appears to be at a “tipping point”, where a focus on appropriate skill building has become extremely important. Researchers around the world have identified the need for competencies to be more central in the education of young people if they are to be active participants in society. Competencies enable students to understand their world, engage fully in their education, relate well to others, manage their lives wisely, and contribute positively to their communities.

 Many people ask why we need a different model of education for the 21st century.  Aren’t many of the skills we are talking about the ones that have been important throughout history? And do we, only 12 years into the century, really know what skills our students will need for their future? The answer to these questions is that the past few years have seen a very different world than before, especially in the area of globalization, which has been encouraged by advances in technology. We have moved from the industrial age to the service age and students who are now entering our schools will end up in the service sector, having jobs in many different fields over the course of their working lives.  While we don’t know what new jobs will emerge, these students will need to be able to learn new things and adapt to new situations as the world continues to change.  They will need to be innovative and creative and will need to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

The big difference between 21st century education and education that went before it is the embedding of these skills into the curriculum.  A few short years ago we didn’t do much problem solving or decision making.  Those skills weren’t seen as important because when we left school we went to work where we were told what to do – and if we had a problem or if a decision had to be made we were expected to take that to someone higher up rather than make it ourselves.  In today’s world there is more scope for autonomy and decision making at every level – we are all expected to be self-directed and responsible for our own work and autonomy, mastery and purpose are the factors that lead to more personal satisfaction with our work and therefore to more motivation and ultimately a better performance.

The 21st century competencies depicted above are not ones that were covered in yesterday’s schools. Academic rigor was defined by the “3 R’s” and the coverage of a large amount of content – and knowing this content was more important than understanding it.  Today content is not so important, as information is changing constantly, so today’s students need the competencies to be able to apply previous experience to new situations and they need the ability to be lifelong learners because they will need to keep learning as the situations they find themselves in change.

Today, schools (and teachers) need to be engaging students in more inquiry and project-based learning. They need to be encouraging students to develop higher-order thinking skills.  They need to be guiding students as they direct their own learning.

Without a doubt technology can be used effectively to promote the building of 21st Century competencies. But just putting an interactive whiteboard into a classroom or giving a student a laptop is not automatically going to bring about the changes in learning that we so obviously need. We need to rethink how students learn and we need to rethink what they are learning.  By ensuring that 21st Century competencies are embedded into all curriculum areas, all teaching, all assessments, and into the professional development teachers receive, our children will have the best chance to be prepared for the society they will enter as adults a few years downs the road.

Categories: Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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