Posts Tagged With: Elementary School

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

At Heart, I’m Still A Teacher

All of us who move into district leadership positions must remember that we are still teachers.

This past Friday I visited 4 schools in our district to present on Library Learning Commons. It was a busy and exciting day as I raced from school to school sharing my message and trying to convince teachers that an effort to bring our libraries into the 21st century was a worthwhile endeavour. These were the first 4 of 7 schools I’ll be working with as part of our district wide pilot. I recently blogged about our plans here.

In the days leading up to my presentations I made myself conscious of the fact that this could easily be seen by our already stretched teachers as one more thing being preached about from my soap box in central office. So, I decided to prepare a presentation showcasing projects that could be experimented with in the Learning Commons and possibly used to support the work they are already doing with their students. Using examples from my previous work as a teaching administrator, I tried to highlight projects that build important competencies and provide a platform for authentic literacy. I wanted them to see these projects as an “instead of” and not an “in addition to.”

Here are the projects I shared:

Grade 6 Iroquois Confederacy Webpage – Grade 6 students worked with their teacher to design, build, edit, and manage a webpage that covered their Social Studies unit on the Iroquois Confederacy. Students researched and created content over time and eventually completed this amazing resource that can now be shared with others. http://iroquois6gle.weebly.com

Public Service Announcements –  Grade 6 students used iPads and iMovie to create Public Service Announcements as part of their unit on the Charter of Rights. They were then uploaded to the teachers YouTube account and played on the Smartboard in the Learning Commons for all to see.

100 Word Challenge – Grade 4 students participated in the 100 Word Challenge, a website that provides some guaranteed comments on student blog posts. Pay particular attention to the comment towards the bottom where Cait connected with a class in Galway, Ireland.

Bullying Rants – Grade 5 students wrote and recorded rants about bullying in school, using their Kidblog accounts and the Audioboo App. Not only did they write from their heart, they also spoke with great passion and emotion.

Digital Stories – Grade 3 students created digital story books using Storybird, recorded themselves reading it, and then embedded it all into their blog. You can press play and then follow along with the book.

About Me – Grade 1 students created an Animoto  to tell their classmates (and perhaps even the rest of the world) about themselves.

Digital Portfolio –  Grade 6 students maintained a personal blog throughout the year, building a portfolio of their work.

Sharing these personal learning experiences and offering support seemed to go a long way. A number of teachers have already contacted me with questions about how to try some of the ideas I shared. We as leaders often see the value in moving toward something before our teachers do. Before moving themselves, our teachers need to see and understand the small practical steps that will get them there. I hope to find the right balance between the two.

My best chance of doing so is to never forget…

At heart, I’m still a teacher.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Question

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.

Hypothesis

Yes, when given the opportunity students will amaze us.

Materials

  • 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.

Procedure

  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.

Observations

  • 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.

Conclusion

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)

21st-century-1entejd[1]

Enough said.

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

Principals – Try Team Teaching

“What better way to model learning and pedagogy than to actually teach?”

This quote comes from an excellent article written in 2010 by , a school principal in British Columbia and key member of my PLN. The article, titled Principals ARE Teachers, suggests that school leaders need to find ways to cut down on managerial type tasks and spend more time actually teaching. In his case, teaching also provided him with the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from the excellent teachers in his school. “True leadership”, he says, “happens in the classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds; management happens in our offices.”

I think most principals agree with this statement and would welcome the opportunity to spend more time as the instructional leader of their school. The problem, of course, is that increasing responsibilities and limited resourses stretches principals in many different directions, making it difficult to place an emphasis on any one aspect of their school leadership role. Below, for example, are the areas in which principals are expected to provide effective leadership in the province of Alberta.

Full version – principal quality standard 

1. Fostering Effective Relationships
2. Embodying Visionary Leadership
3. Leading a Learning Community
4. Providing Instructional Leadership
5. Developing and Facilitating Leadership
6. Managing School Operations and Resources
7. Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

Most princiapls who teach, I suspect, don’t really do so for the reasons Chris speaks of above. I have always taught since becoming a principal 14 years ago, but mostly as a budgetary measure in order to provide prep time for my teachers. I’ve enjoyed teaching subjects like Phys. Ed., Health, Religion, Library, and Guided Reading but have definitely fallen short in the areas of co-planning and collaboration. It always felt more like managing resources than it did instructional leadership.

Well this year things have changed. I’m team teaching. This, I think, is the best growth as an instructional leader I have ever experienced. Here’s how it works. Each class, along with their teacher, joins me in our Library/Media Centre for a 45 minute block of what I like to call “21st Century Learning Time.” I work with the teacher to plan, carry out and assess the projects completed in each block. Each project addresses learner outcomes from a variety of subject areas. The teacher and I both bring something to the table. I bring my passion for technology integration and 21st century competencies and they bring their expertise and knowledge of their grade level curriculum. It’s a win for me because I’m gaining a much better understanding of curriculum, pedagogy, and teaching styles. It’s a win for the teachers because they transfer many of the tools and strategies to their daily practice. And most importantly, it’s a win for the students because they are better engaged in their learning. Often, the 45 minute periods turn into an hour or more. Some of the Web 2.0 tools introduced includ iMovie, Storybird, Glogster, Tagxedo, Twitter, Voki, Audioboo, Kidblog, and Skype.

If you’re a principal reading this I’m sure you’re thinking about time. Teaching, and all the important activities that go along with it, takes time. Time that must be shared with all the other responsibilities required of a school administrator. Well, I’d ask you to consider this – how many of the 7 areas of effective leadership listed above do you think I’ve addressed by team teaching this year?

Categories: Capacity Building | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

And So Test Prep Season Begins

This past week parent/teacher conferences were held at our school. It was an opportunity for teachers and students to share the many engaging learning experiences they’ve been involved in this year. This interactive timeline outlines some of them. I am so proud of my teachers for trying a variety of new approaches in order to engage our learners in a more relevant way. It’s exciting to walk around the school and see teaching and learning as I never have before.

Awhile back I wrote a post called Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation? There, I argued that our provinces oversized curriculum is getting in the way of teachers trying to dig deeper into key learner outcomes through real world, authentic learning experiences. In order to get everything “covered” by the end of the year they have no choice but to skim the surface of important outcomes so students will at least have touched on everything. As we all know, that means staying at the lower end of Blooms Taxonomy. And if you’re a grade 3, 6 or 9 teacher with Provincial Achievement Tests staring you in the face, that ups the ante even more.

So with the final term underway at our elementary school, the grade 3 and 6 teachers are starting to prep for the test. Our superintendent @cdsmeaton has always told us that the PATs should not affect our teaching practice. “I am a staunch believer”, he tells us, “that a focus on excellent teaching will lead to excellent results, no matter how it’s measured.” I tell them the same thing. But it doesn’t quite play out that way in the mind of the individual teacher. PATs, existing as they are, leave teachers with a strong sense of responsibility to prepare their students to write them; and as long as the tests are administered in such a way that has very little to do with the type of learning teachers are being called upon to engage in, there will be a bit of an exit from engaging learning around this time every year.

Heres what I’m getting at:

Below is a question from the 2009 Grade 6 Social Studies PAT: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

EquityThe assignment below took place earlier this year at my school, addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Equity vs Equality

Teacher Blog Post to Students

Student Response

Student Response

And yet another project addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Here is another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

Simile

The assignment below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Rachels Simile Post

Yet another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

Reading Response

The blog post below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Michelle Reading Response

Many would say that my teachers should continue with these engaging and authentic learning experiences and the PATS will take care of themselves. The problem is that it takes time; much more time than is left over once the curriculum gets “covered.” Time that will now be needed to skim the surface, to prep for the test, to write the test, and to deal with a great deal of unneeded stress.

Is it fair to ask teachers and students to do both?

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Reflecting on Digital Literacy

In an effort to support my teachers in reflecting more deeply on their practice I’ve been using this teacher self-assessment tool since September. It is based on our provinces Teacher Quality Standard (TQS), which applies to teacher certification, professional development, supervision and evaluation, and which is supported by descriptors of selected knowledge, skills and attributes (KSAs) appropriate to teachers at different stages of their careers. We believe the tool is an excellent reference point for teachers to self-assess, reflect on, and engage in a professional conversation about their practice. So we set time aside in our monthly staff meetings to do just that. In small groups, the month’s KSA and it’s elements are discussed and in doing so strengths and areas for growth are identified. As part of our school improvement plan, teams of teachers are then offered release time to complete capacity building projects and improve current practice. 

We focus on one KSA at a time, as to not make the process overwhelming for our teachers. I’m acutely aware of the many important responsibilities competing for their attention each and every day. But this is important. If teachers are going to be expected to keep pace with the ever-changing education landscape, they must be given the time to review, discuss, and reflect on their current practice. Reflection, in my opinion, is underrated; and when combined with safe, respectful professional conversation with peers, is the single most important activity in support of continual growth.

digital_literacy[1]

Looking at the TQS you will notice that the KSAs relate to competencies that have always been important in teaching. Things like the ability to plan effectively, an understanding of curriculum, solid classroom management, and relationship building. And, of course these will continue to be important in the future. What appears to be missing, unfortunately, is that whole area of digital literacy. The TQS, which guides teacher practice, has yet to be updated to include digital literacy.

So for the month of February our teachers have been reflecting on digital literacy and to what degree it’s been present in their daily practice. The tool below (click on it to see the entire tool) has been guiding their reflection. At next weeks staff meeting, when we come together for our monthly professional conversation, I hope my teachers identify the need to place a great deal of emphasis on this going forward. 

CLICK TO SEE COMPLETE TOOL

CLICK TO SEE COMPLETE TOOL

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 13 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

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

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