Posts Tagged With: First Order Change

Drawing a Line in the Sand

According to Wikipedia “a line in the sand” is a metaphor with two similar meanings:

The first meaning is of a point (physical, decisional, etc.) beyond which one will proceed no further.
The second meaning is that of a point beyond which, once the decision to go beyond it is made, the decision and its resulting consequences are permanently decided and irreversible.line-300x202

On a recent trip to Toronto I was fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to Dr. John Malloy, Director of Education at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. Dr. Malloy gave an enthusiastic accounting of the 1-to-1 iPad initiative currently playing out in his Districts’ 100 plus schools. In the initial year of a five-year plan they have placed iPads in the hands of every student in seven elementary schools, in one secondary school, and in the assistive technology used in two other secondary schools. If the roll out goes according to plan, every student will have the full time use of an iPad by 2019. The plan, titled “Transforming Learning Everywhere”, is strongly supported by their School Board and will be resourced heavily through ongoing teacher professional development, adequate wireless bandwidth in every school, and a team of individuals to support and maintain all aspects of the project. Wow!

Then Dr. Malloy shared what I thought was the most brilliant part of the entire initiative. He used the metaphor of “a line in the sand” to describe the plan they had to reduce paper in schools throughout the District. As more iPads are deployed, more paper will be removed. “If we are going to continue to provide access to the old way of doing things”, he said, “how are we going to get our teachers to buy into something new? We can’t afford both.” By 2019 Hamilton-Wentworth will be 95% paperless. This is written into the strategic plan.

Here is the problem that exists most everywhere. All too often School Districts continue to allow outdated practices to exist at the same time they introduce something new.Unknown When this happens many teachers simply opt out of risking the new practice and retreat to what is most comfortable to them. For system leaders, resources are scarce so if they aren’t able to build a coalition of the willing, real change rarely occurs.

I think everyone can agree that the Education landscape is changing more rapidly than ever before. Our students were born into a different world than we were. They learn differently and will require a very different set of skills in today’s society and workplace. Transforming pedagogy should not be an option but rather a requirement of all teachers. All available resources should be used, not on maintaining the old, but on building the new.

We need more leaders who, like Dr. Malloy, are not afraid to draw that line in the sand.

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

What Can We Learn From A Swiss Watch?

I’ve always thought we can learn a lot from a great story of the past. My father always told me that by doing so we can avoid making the same mistakes ourselves. I can remember him reading me stories and then asking what I learned from them and what I would have done differently.

So with that in mind I want to recommend a great story to read if you are an educator today. It’s the story of the history of the Swiss watch making industry. It can be found all over the web if you’re interested in a longer version. Here goes:

In the 1940’s the Swiss watch industry enjoyed a well-protected monopoly. The industry prospered in the absence of any real competition. Thus, prior to the 1970s, Switzerland held 50% of the world watch market.

In 1969 when Seiko unveiled the first quartz watch, the Swiss watch manufacturing industry was a mature industry with a centuries-old global market and deeply entrenched patterns of manufacturing, marketing and sales. Switzerland chose to remain focused on traditional mechanical watches, while the majority of world watch production embraced the new technology.

Despite these dramatic advancements, the Swiss hesitated in embracing quartz watches. At the time Swiss mechanical watches dominated world markets. From their position of market strength, and with a national watch industry organized broadly and deeply to foster mechanical watches, many in Switzerland thought that moving into electronic watches was unnecessary.

Others, outside of Switzerland, however, saw the advantage and further developed the technology, and by 1978 quartz watches overtook mechanical watches in popularity, plunging the Swiss watch industry into crisis. This period of time was marked by a lack of innovation in Switzerland at the same time that the watch making industries of other nations were taking full advantage of emerging technologies.

As a result of the economic turmoil that ensued, many once profitable and famous Swiss watch houses disappeared. The period of time completely upset the Swiss watch industry both economically and psychologically. During the 1970s and early 1980s, technological advances resulted in a massive reduction in the size of the Swiss watch industry. By 1988 Swiss watch employment fell from 90,000 to 28,000 thus crippling the Swiss economy.

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2012 Market Share Compared to 50% in 1970 http://www.wthejournal.com/images/pages/EN_Graph_1.jpg

In looking at the history of Swiss watchmaking, it’s clear that by not responding to the electronic revolution, it nearly lost the industry completely. Initially, companies were slow to embrace quartz technology, but many companies eventually realized it was the key to their survival and to the industry as a whole. In 1997, Swiss production of finished watches was 33 million pieces, with 30 million being quartz analog, and the rest mechanical. By finally embracing the change, albeit late, the industry has partially recovered, employing 56,000 in 2012.

Education, I believe, is facing a similar crisis today. Technological advances and globalization are changing society as we know it and Education holds the responsibility of preparing our young people for this new era. If we wait too long, and remain focused on traditional methods as the Swiss watch makers did, a great number of students will exit high school early or complete high school unprepared for todays workforce. Our work as educators will only remain relevant if we adapt with the changing times.

Please read this story carefully and start pushing yourself if you are not already doing so. Let’s learn from this great story of the past and not make the same mistakes.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Desktop is Dead…

Last week, while standing in my school district’s Boardroom talking to a colleague, my attention was drawn to a small table in the corner of the room. There, sharing a space with a landline telephone and a traditional analog wall clock, was the desktop computer we hadn’t used for months. It was as though these innovative tools of the past were gathering to remember their glory days and to commiserate about their rapid fall from grace and loss of relevance.

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This past September an Apple TV was installed, which effectively ended any need for the Dell computer and Smartboard. Instead, those who use the space for meetings and PD carry smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices that pretty much gives them everything they need. This little corner of the room has simply gone unnoticed.

This gets me thinking about how fast the world of learning has changed. In just a few years mobile devices have taken over as the primary means to communicate, but also as the preferred method to perform a variety of other necessary daily tasks. Would you not agree that we have come to rely heavily on our devices in both our professional and personal lives to research, organize, remind, compute, and play? We’re now at a point where young adults can’t even remember a time before technology. And school aged children can barely remember a time before mobile technology.

The New Media Consortium, in their 2013 Horizon Report has identified mobile learning as a trend entering the mainstream in education within the next year:

“After years of anticipation, mobile learning is positioned for near-term and widespread adoption in schools. Tablets, smartphones, and mobile apps have become too capable, too ubiquitous, and too useful to ignore, and their distribution defies traditional patterns of adoption, both by consumers, where even economically disadvantaged families find ways to make use of mobile technology, and in schools, where the tide of opinion has dramatically shifted when it comes to mobiles in schools. At the end of 2012, the mobile market consisted of over 6.5 billion accounts…”

It’s encouraging to see a movement toward the use of mobile technology in schools recently. From 1-to-1 initiatives to students being permitted to use their own devices; from the dismantling of traditional computer labs to the creation of Learning Commons’ with carts of laptops and tablets. It seems as though the education landscape is starting to shift, and more and more teachers are engaging their students with the tools of today.

As educators we have an important role to play in building life long learners who can use mobile technology to learn any time, any place, and in a variety of ways. We have the responsibility to prepare them for a world where that will be the norm.

The king is dead! Long live the king!

The desktop is dead! Long live mobile learning!

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | 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.

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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:

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(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

Alberta’s New MO on Student Learning

On May 6, 2013, with little or no fanfare, ministerial order #001/2013 (Student Learning) was signed by Alberta Education Minister, Jeff Johnson; bringing into full force all aspects of Inspiring Education and repealing a very dated ministerial order #004/98 (Goals and Standards Applicable to the Provision of Basic Education in Alberta). It was last updated on February 10, 1998.

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A ministerial order is a decision made by a minister that does not require the approval of cabinet, or the Lieutenant Governor in Council. The power to issue a MO is typically written into an individual piece of legislation, and the MO itself must make reference to the authorizing legislation. MOs have the force of law. Unlike orders in council, ministerial orders are not automatically made public in Alberta. It is not clear why: given that they have the force of law, it seems they should be.

So how many Albertans know this new ministerial order has come into effect? How many know that the goal of this ministerial order is to ensure that all students achieve an extensive list of outcomes that will enable them to be contributing members of 21st century society? How many know that this order is in stark contrast to what was previously expected of the educated Albertan? This is big and it seems to have slipped in virtually unnoticed.

For awhile now I’ve been urging my teachers to familiarize themselves with documents such as the Framework for Student Learning and this ATA Transformation Document – A Great School For All, both of which align with the new vision for our education system. I’ve even suggested that they would be positioning themselves well going forward by referring to these documents when planning, teaching, learning, and assessing. “You’ll be ahead of the wave”, I’ve told them, “if you start making small changes now.”

I wonder how ministerial order #001/2013 will play out in the weeks and months to come. It looks really good on paper. It’s easy to write it down on paper; a bit more difficult to infuse it into daily practice, especially when curriculum, PATs and DIPs remain the same.

What an exciting time to be involved in education.

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

Placing Teacher Interns – Lets Get It Right

My school jurisdiction is lucky enough to be located near a university that houses one of the most highly regarded teacher training programs in the country. Throughout the year, on what seems like a continual basis, we welcome undergraduates into our school at various points on their road to becoming our next generation of teachers. Here is an overview of the internship program:

Education 2500 students receive an orientation to the teaching profession by spending 60 hours (20 mornings) in a classroom. During this they function in a role that is similar to a teacher assistant.

Professional Semester I (PS I) students begin their first official practicum after being admitted to the Faculty of Education and completing some required courses. In the PS I practicum interns are assigned to a classroom for approximately 125 hours (5 weeks).

Professional Semester II (PS II) students have completed more on-campus courses and are assigned to a classroom for approximately 150 hours (6 weeks).

Professional Semester III (PS III) students complete a final15-week full semester teaching internship that not only prepares them as a teacher, it helps them to begin nurturing the kind of professional relationships that will benefit them, their career and the students they will teach.

It’s comforting to know that our teacher training facilities are providing such a diverse offering of practicums for those who hope to undertake such important work. And most likely it is in the day-to-day experiences of each internship, and not during theory classes, that individuals discern whether or not teaching is for them. Over the years I’ve watched with great pride as young pre-service teachers polish skills and take flight. At the same time, I’ve had to be involved in the challenging and difficult work of steering struggling interns in a direction other than teaching. More often than not, the relationship between the mentor teacher and intern determines the success of the practium.

Here’s how intern teachers are assigned to mentors:

  1. In the spring interested teachers complete a Student Teacher/Intern Request and, if interested in a PSIII intern, are expected to include a professional development plan for the time they are not involved in teaching themselves.
  2. The form is passed onto the school principal for a signature.
  3. The form is forwarded to the Superintendent of Schools for a signature. (I’m happy to say that our superintendent expects to see first-rate PD plans or will send it back to be re-written)
  4. The form is sent to the Faculty of Education at the University to be reviewed at the time interns are being assigned.
  5. When a suitable match is identified, representatives of the Faculty of Education contact the school principal for approval.
  6. If approved by the school principal, the mentor teacher is contacted and a match is made.
  7. During the internship the mentor teacher and the intern carry out individual PD projects during their non-teaching time.

I’ve often wondered what, other than a certain amount of experience, qualifies a teacher to become a mentor. At times, the process ofimagesCAMIDX0I selection seems more like a right of passage than anything else. If you’ve been around the longest, you get the intern.

If we want our pre-service teachers to be prepared for teaching in the 21st century, shouldn’t we be matching them up with the most forward thinking, cutting edge teachers we can find? Perhaps interns should be assigned this way:

  1. School administrators should identify their most engaging and innovative 21st century teachers. (Years of experience should not be a factor)
  2. These teachers should be approached and encouraged to become mentors.
  3. Mentors and interns should work collaboratively to select an area of focus from this Framework for Student Learning.
  4. Collaborative action research on their area of focus should be carried out throughout the internship.
  5. As a team, the mentor and intern should apply their new learning in daily practice, engaging in ongoing reflection and professional conversation.

Transformation of our education system will not occur unless we place our teachers in the middle of the process. In my opinion, the mentor/intern relationship is a good place to start.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Throw It All – Some Will Stick

Big snow came to our city last week and the students at my school basked in their glory. There’s something about kids playing in newly fallen snow that makes us all smile. They go all out; jumping, diving and rolling in it with this renewed sense of reckless abandon. They risk everything, as though nothing can stop them from their mission of utilizing every last ounce of the fluffy white stuff. Like Ken Robinson says, they are in their element.

As principal, my job of course, is to make sure all this fun fits within the guidelines of our school rules and consequence those that step over that line. So on Friday afternoon I walked throughout the school grounds to make sure all was right with the world. As the bell sounded and students were entering the school I took one last glance around and saw this.

Snow thrown against the wall.

Some snow got stuck on the wall

It appeared as though some students thought it was a good idea to hold target practice on a wall and I was taken back to my own childhood when my friends and I did the exact same thing. We loved throwing the snow at a target and then being able to see that some of it stuck. We always knew how close we were to our desired target because some of it, not all, would be left there to see.

This gets me thinking about my work as a principal who desperately wants to move my school forward to better engage todays learners. It’s easy to get discouraged when I introduce what I think is a forward thinking idea and not everyone feels the same way. As a matter of fact, many of the ideas I put out there fall flat on their face. Each teacher, it seems, has their own reason why they feel they can or can’t entertain the latest initiative, proposal, or suggestion.

I had an excellent conversation with my grade 4 and 5 teachers a few days ago. I met with them to introduce the 100 Word Challenge, a weekly creative writing activity for children where a prompt is given and they can use up to 100 words to write a creative piece. It is then posted on a class blog and linked to the 100 Word Challenge blog, where others from around the world comment on the entry. I thought this was a great idea as the teachers were looking for better ways to utilized their Kidblog accounts and this was the perfect platform to do just that.

During the conversation I made a point to let them know (as I always do) that there was no pressure to use the website – “My job”, I said, “is to bring these things to your attention and you should decide if its something you see of value to you and your students.” Then, one of the teachers said something very interesting. “Does that mean”, he said with a chuckle, “that if we don’t see its value you’ll meet with us again next week to share something else?” To that I smiled and answered “Yes, I will do that even if you see the value in this activity.” By the way, this time they saw the value and all of them are giving the 100 Word Challenge a try.

By now my teachers know that I share a lot but force very little. Isn’t that our job as learning leaders – looking out over the horizon and introducing our teachers to all the new things to consider? Shouldn’t we lead by example? Like the children’s approach to a blanket of newly fallen snow, shouldn’t we be taking it all in and sharing it all out?

If we throw it all – some will surely stick.

Categories: Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

With Physical Environment – Ready, Fire, Aim

Transform the physical environment of your school first; then go about the task of figuring out how to use it to better engage students.

That’s what we did at our school; first with the library/media center and then with classrooms and other learning spaces. And it seems to be paying dividends as I watch students and staff slowly begin to interact with the cafe style library learning commons, beanbag chair listening room, round table garage, and collaborative tables that have replaced desks in classrooms. At first it appeared that our teachers were not sure exactly how to use all the new furniture for learning. As a matter of fact, a few of them even went so far as to suggest that we sell off “all this stuff” and return to desks because that would be easier. “We can’t”, I said, “because I’ve given over 200 desks away. We don’t have them anymore.” But now, just a month and a half into the new school year, the teachers are coming to terms with everything and most importantly, the students love it.

There has been a pretty good appetite for change at our school for awhile now; so don’t get me wrong. A lot of research went in to the idea of redesigning our learning environment to better meet the needs of today’s learner. We all understood and saw the need to do this. The problem was that there was much hesitation and uncertainty once we got to the point of actually going from thinking about it to moving on it. So I went back to a quote from Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, where he suggests that “the leaders’ role is to provide their constituents with a track to run on and then get out of the way and let them run.” I decided to provide them with a track. I went ahead and made the call on this one. Sometimes a leader has to move on the big idea and then figure everything out on the journey. With strong support from administration and a collaborative, risk-taking culture in place, you will probably figure things out. Today, it looks like we are doing just that. 

I believe that’s what they mean by ready, fire, aim.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Need to Disagree Better

We’ve all done it.  The moment someone retweets our thoughts, we head straight  to their profile and click the follow button.  Why not?  They obviously like the way we think and that’s good for our ego and self-esteem.  If we follow them, and they follow us we will have one more person entrenching us in our way of thinking.

As a matter of fact, teachers in most schools tend to connect and work with colleagues who see the world through the same eyes as them.  It’s so much easier to collaborate with others who are on the same page.  Even when hiring, leaders look for individuals who are going to fit the best with their philosophy and way of thinking.  In general, human beings don’t like to openly disagree with the ideas of others. There just seems to be too much work involved with it, and more often than not it leads to some level of conflict.  Why engage in conflict when it can be avoided?  If things go wrong it also may affect our standing within our school or organization.  So most of us go through our careers never giving ourselves the opportunity to learn from people who might challenge our way of thinking.

It’s my opinion that this kind of thinking supports the status quo and will slow us down significantly in efforts to transform education.  Not only do we need to do a better job of connecting with those who see things differently, we also need to approach conflict not as a roadblock but as working toward a solution.  We must listen to the ideas of others and be prepared to change our minds.  When approached in this manner, spirited collaboration can produce some of the most creative and innovative solutions and ideas.

Last week, at my opening staff gathering  I shared this Ted Talk by Margaret Heffernan called Dare to Disagree.  In the conversation that followed, all agreed that if our collaborative efforts are to make a real difference, we need to be more willing to disagree and bring conflict into our processes.  All agreed to make this effort in the year that lies ahead.

I encourage each of you in my PLN to engage, both online and in person, with passionate and caring individuals who challenge your way of thinking every day; and even with a few that think the same way as you.

Categories: Capacity Building, Community Engagement, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Who’s Teaching Who?

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

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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

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