Posts Tagged With: student engagement

Sunday Morning Asynchronous Learning

This quick post is intended to highlight the power of Twitter as a way to draw a diverse group of passionate educators together around an educational topic.

This morning, just before 9 a.m. a teacher in our district posted the following Tweet:

Within seconds educators throughout our District joined the conversation in a wonderful asynchronous learning session that lasted more than an hour.

Asynchronous Learning

From Wikipedia,
Asynchronous learning is a student-centered teaching method that uses online learning resources to facilitate information sharing outside the constraints of time and place among a network of people.

This is the beauty of Twitter and other forms of social media. These platforms allow individuals to join in when they want, where they want, and how they want. The reason for sharing this particular conversation is to demonstrate the diversity of individuals who have an interest in the topic of “Play.” This was our group this morning:

Trevor Prichard – High School teacher involved in Long Term Athletic Development

Danielle Dressaire – Grade 1 teacher in a rural school

Sue Miller – Pre-Kindergarten Instructor

Chantelle Napier – Early Learning Lead Teacher

Collin Dillon – High School Math and Physical Education Teacher

Greg Miller – Assistant Superintendent with the District

Tim Bedley – Co-founder of Global School Play Day

I often tell others they are missing out on an amazing professional conversation if they haven’t yet discovered Twitter. Click the Storify link below to see an example of what I’m talking about. You can also follow our District hashtag at #GPCSD.

Storify on Play.

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

What Do We Do With What We’ve Got?

Recently I attended the Apple Education Leadership Institute in Toronto where school system leaders from throughout our country and around the world gathered to network and share innovative and forward thinking educational practices. The highlight for me was hearing from Apple’s Vice President of Education, John Couch, who not only has grown Apple Education to a $9 billion per year business, but was a close friend of Steve Jobs and assisted in programming the first ever MacIntosh software. Sitting next to him was pretty cool. Even though part of Couch’s keynote address was about how the “Apple Ecosystem” is the best way forward for education worldwide, it was nice to hear him talk about his 4 year old grandson and how worried his family is as he begins his education career next year. Couch spoke a lot about the kind of teacher we need if our schools are going to remain relevant in the years to come. As an individual directly involved in human resources in my District his words resonated with me as it is my responsibility to secure the most capable, forward thinking and innovative teachers for our students.

As the conference continued there were a number of break out sessions to choose from (mostly led by teachers and school leaders who are transforming learning using Apple products) and I became increasingly aware of the single most important qualification each of them held. There was no reference to B. Ed., M. Ed. or Ph. D. after their names. Instead each held the highly sought after qualification known as ADE or Apple Distinguished Educator. To date there are approximately 2000 ADEs worldwide, each of whom “is recognized for doing amazing things with Apple technology in and out of the classroom.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that each of the presenters are doing some wonderful work with students but as I travelled home I began thinking about the teachers I know who are also engaging their students in new and exciting ways. And they are using a variety of tools to do so, not just iPads, Apps and Apple TVs. I would never take anything away from an individual who wants to become an ADE or a Google Certified Teacher (or receive any other additional certifications for that matter) because anything we can do to build our capacity in meeting the needs of today’s learner is important. But I would challenge each of us to take a close look at this wonderful graphic via Jeff Dunn and ask ourselves if our practice is in alignment with these characteristics.

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In my opinion our work is less about what we have and more about what we do with what we have. If we are not a risk taker, collaborator, adaptor, learner, and visionary does it really matter what our qualifications are. I know many teachers who are highly qualified but are unwilling to risk new things to move their practice forward. At the same time I watch with great pride as some of our newest teachers push the envelope every day. Today, every teacher has a responsibility to learn and then to act on what they learn.

My colleague George Couros writes this excellent article on what it is to be a Master Teacher. The 10 qualities he puts forward are more about competencies and processes and less about products and outcomes. This would support the idea that you have never ‘arrived’ at becoming a Master Teacher. Instead, you are always on your way to getting there. The best teachers already know this.

There are many opportunities for teachers to improve their practice through wonderful platforms like Apple and Google. Along with this, embarking on post graduate studies has become more accessible than ever. This, however, is my question and my challenge to you; What are you doing with ‘what you’ve got?’

 

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Capacity Building, 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

Set Yourself Up For Failure in 2014

Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable IMG_0469to change.”

So with this in mind I would like to recommend that you set yourself up for failure this year. Setting yourself up for failure doesn’t mean accepting failure. To me, it means taking a risk and trying something new. It means moving away from something you’ve been doing the same way for a long time. It means going out on a limb and getting out of your comfort zone. It means opening yourself up to all the wonderful possibilities that exist.

As educators we find ourselves in this exciting time of rapid change. We need to adapt to that change. There is no better time than now to commit to doing something that might just fail. You may have to go back to the drawing board and try it a second time. It might not work out the way you had hoped the second time either. But you have to try. You owe it to your students and to yourself. Print off this contract, sign it, and attach it to the wall near your desk:

image-1

 

Want some ideas? I suggest you try one or more of these:

  1. Project-based Learning.
  2. Flip your lessons.
  3. Allow your students to use their devices for learning.
  4. Blog with your students.
  5. Try a Mystery Skype.
  6. Set up a class Twitter account.
  7. Collaborate with a teacher in a different school. (or even a different country)
  8. Incorporate more peer and self assessment.
  9. Start student digital portfolios.
  10. GAFE.

So what are you waiting for? When you walk back into your classroom in 2014, commit to pushing your practice to new heights. Pick somethingIMG_0206 new and innovative and give it a try. Set yourself up for failure and watch yourself grow. You won’t regret it.

Happy New Year!

 

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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

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

It’s About the Person, Not the Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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