Monday, December 12, 2011

Engaging the Senses in Learning

Students in Ms. Morrison's Psychology 11 class have recently studied a unit on the 'brain'. Students entered the unit of study with various levels of prior knowledge about the brain and its functions, so it was important for students to have opportunities to engage in learning at their own level.  The unit was designed so students would actively engage their senses throughout their learning and decide on how to best demonstrate their learning to an authentic audience . The idea was that 'engaging the senses would engage the learner.'

Students created 'neural cookies', where they were invited to create neurons out of edible bits.

Students also participated in a 'neural dance' where they learned and rehearsed  the parts and functions of the brain.  In the days that followed, students could be heard singing and seen re-enacting parts of the dance as they recalled the parts of the brain.

'Brain surgery' quickly followed. Using an orange to represent the brain, students attached and embedded materials such as straws, candies, etc to represent the different parts of the brain.

Students then assessed their own understanding of the brain's lobes, areas and functions by using an interactive online program featuring a drag and drop tool.

Students' interests then shifted to the effects of drugs on the brain.  Students chose a specific drug to research and designed their own way to present their findings in a manner that could be understood by their classmates and other students.  The students seen below researched the effects of heroin on the brain and baked their own 'brain cake' to represent a healthy brain and a heroin-addicted brain.

The students also created a Prezi, 'Heroin: Chasing the Dragon" to help educate youth about the dangers of heroin.

These examples demonstrate what students are capable of when allowed the opportunity to be creative, set their own directions and take ownership of their learning. In the video below you can listen to the students reflect on their own learning process.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Global Partners in Learning: Edcamp Delta & Edcamp Santiago

Back in April, I helped organize and participated at Edcamp Vancouver. I found it to be such an engaging networking and learning experience that in the days that followed I couldn’t help but rave to others about my experience. You can read my reflections here.

When I spoke with Jonathan Kung (@coolpuddytat) and Nancy Gordon (@ngg37), both of whom participated at Edcamp Vancouver, we felt that the unconference model of professional development is something that our colleagues in Delta would be interested in and could benefit from.  We quickly invited a few others, including Mark Douangchanh (@markdouangchanh) to join our planning committee and there we had it…Edcamp Delta was born!

We quickly realized that the real work lay ahead!

We needed to…

Our next questions were “Who will sign up?” and “Will we actually be able to attract enough participants to allow for rich discussion?”  In the weeks and months since then our questions have been answered. Over 110 people have signed up to attend Edcamp Delta. The majority of registrants are from the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland areas of British Columbia, but we also have people signed up who are from Prince George, Cariboo-Chilcotin and as far away as Pakistan. Seeing these registrations come in confirmed for us that the word is getting out amongst educators.

We needed to get the word out to our partner groups!

We promoted Edcamp Delta to the Delta Youth Advisory Council (DYAC) and to leadership students at various schools. We spoke to District Parent Advisory Committee (DPAC) members and to various school Parent Advisory Committees (PAC). The result is we are seeing a healthy number of parents and a growing number of students register.

We have global partners?

As we continued to promote our event on Twitter we learned that there are three other Edcamp events (Edcamp Santiago, Edcamp San Diego & Edcamp Coquitlam) planned for the same day. 

After reading numerous tweets from @EdcampSantiago, I was able to strike up a Twitter conversation with Thomas Baker (@profesortbaker), one of the planners of Edcamp Santiago. It was clear we share the same goal of bringing together people from around the world who have a passion for education to share their ideas and perspectives. We know that participants at Edcamp Delta and Edcamp Santiago can interact quite easily through Twitter. We also know that a live connection could be very powerful. In the days that followed, Thomas introduced me to his co-planners Damian Rivlin and Kyria Finardi and we all began to brainstorm how we might be able to connect our events. LiveStream? Ustream? Video Conference? Skype? Google Hangout?  After corresponding back and forth through email, late last week my co-planners Nancy Gordon, Jonathan Kung, Mark Douangchanh and I spoke live with Thomas Baker via Skype.  What an awesome experience it was to connect with someone across the globe! (This will be the subject of a future blog post.)

We agreed that…
·      Participants in both countries will love the idea of connecting globally with other Edcamp participants.
·      Live interactive conversation will be the most engaging.
·      Participants will be interested to learn about the successes and challenges in education that others are experiencing in other parts of the world.
·      Networked participants such as those people who choose to attend an Edcamp will want to continue the conversations and sharing beyond the event.

So, how are we planning to connect our Edcamps?

To the best of our knowledge we are going to attempt something unique in the brief history of Edcamps. And this is what makes it so exciting!
Each Edcamp is going to randomly select 4 or 5 volunteers to compose a discussion panel. In keeping with the unconference philosophy, each panel will be composed of people with a variety of perspectives and experiences in education. The intention is for randomly selected people to discuss their perspectives, not for ‘experts’ to share their research and beliefs. The topic of the discussion will be ‘Successes and Challenges in Education’. During the first of two global Skype sessions, the panel in Santiago, Chile will share their successes and challenges with and answer questions from participants in British Columbia, Canada. During the second global Skype session, the roles will be reversed. We anticipate there will be many questions, comments and some unbelievable stories shared! 

Continuing the conversations…

Each Edcamp will be setting up Skype connections that allow participants to have 1:1 conversations that stem from the Global Sessions or a Twitter conversation earlier in the day. We will also be creating a collaborative document where participants at both Edcamps can provide their names and interests. We hope that this enables Edcampers to connect locally and globally with people of similar interests long after Edcamp Delta and Edcamp Santiago conclude.

So with all of these opportunities available at Edcamp Delta and Edcamp Santiago, if you are a student, parent, educator or simply possess a passion for education, I strongly encourage you to sign up for FREE for one of these events on Jan 14, 2012!

Monday, October 31, 2011

What's missing in a mark...

Imagine one of your students sees a mark at the top of an assignment you've returned to him/her. The student may gain a general idea of his/her performance. The student may react with a comment such as "I did ok. I guess it wasn't too hard.", "That was sooooo hard. I didn't have a clue what I was doing!" or  "It was easy!"

While the mark may be an overall indicator of the student's performance, the mark will not...
  • identify WHAT the student can improve upon.
  • indicate HOW the student can improve.
In order for a student to know what to improve on and how to improve his/her work, descriptive feedback is necessary. Descriptive feedback, either verbal or written, supports the learning process because it is formative in nature. It enables a student to apply his/her efforts into improving specific skills and knowledge before proceeding with subsequent learning.
  • increase the student's intrinsic motivation towards learning.
Unfortunately, marks are too often used to extrinsically motivate students to comply with the teacher's directions. Most students will complete satisfactory work but many of them appear to lack passion for their learning. Years of completing work has stolen the joy out of learning. A small number of students complete exceptional work, but even for some of these students the goal is to achieve the highest mark possible rather than to satisfy their curiosity and thirst for knowledge.

Our goal should be to foster curiosity and a love of learning that leads to deep knowledge and understanding. To support this, we should be helping students identify what and how they can improve their learning.

So before the next time you choose to assign a mark to student work, I urge you to ask yourself the question, "How will this mark support student learning?"

Monday, October 10, 2011

If at first you don't succeed...

"If at first you don't succeed..." I think all of you know how this phrase continues. At some point in time as children, we all heard our parents tell us to "try, try again." At school, we often find ourselves  saying, 'Just give it another shot', 'Keep trying and you'll improve', 'Just stick with it and you'll make it happen' and 'Even if it's late, it's still important you do the work'. We say these words to inspire students to perservere at whatever challenge, goal or task it is that lies in front of them. By saying these phrases we acknowledge that students don't always learn things the first time, that they will make mistakes and most importantly, that with continued practice they will improve their learning. We also make these statements because we believe the work is important to student learning and therefore, insist that students complete the work.

So this leads me to my big question. Do your classroom practices support these ideas?
  • Do you allow students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning or do you allow for only one opportunity, forcing them to learn concepts by a certain time?
  • Do you provide opportunities for students to make and learn from their mistakes or do you punish students for taking risks and making mistakes, leading to the erosion of student confidence?
  • Do you incent students to continue practicing in an effort to improve their skills or do you shut the door to practice by penalizing students for not learning on time?
  • Do your insist that the completion of work is more important than its timely submission?

Consider your assessment practices...
  • Do you assign a mark of zero when a student fails to complete work on time?
If so, regardless of whether a student didn't understand how to complete the work or the student didn't bother to do the work, you have likely put an end to the learning. A zero signifies a sense of finality and as such, when a student receives a zero, he/she sees no reason to complete the work. That means that the student who didn't understand how to complete the assignment is being punished for not understanding or learning 'on time'. And the student who was lazy or forgot to complete the assignment is being let off the hook. He/she now has an excuse for not completing the work...a zero!

Assigning a zero for work not submitted on time also implies that you place greater value on the timely submission of work than the thoughtful completion of work. Basically, the questions you should ask yourself are 'Is it better for a student to complete work but hand it in late, or not complete the work at all?' and 'Is it better for a student to put effort into their work and submit it late, or hastily complete the work and hand it in on time?' If the work you have assigned is important to student learning, I believe that the timely submission of work, while ideal, is less important than ensuring students actually complete the work to the best of their ability and advance their learning.

  • Do you deduct marks for late work?
If so, you are using 'carrots' and 'sticks' in attempt to alter behavior. The threat of having marks deducted for failing to submit work on time may create enough pressure that some students complete the work when they might not have in absence of the threat. These threats might provide extrinsic motivation for students who are quite capable, understand the course content and are 'marks-driven'.  They may force themselves   to rush and finish their work, but they likely won't submit their highest quality work and won't be maximizing their learning. Now consider the struggling students and slower learners.  The threat of a late penalty may crank up the pressure they feel, but it isn't likely to alter their behavior.  Even if they have the best of intentions to complete their work on time, their lack of understanding may prevent them from doing so.

  • What is your balance between formative and summative assessment?

Do you mark everything that students do?

If so, you tend to emphasize summative assessment.
Summative assessment should be used to inform others, primarily parents, about the learning progress their children have made. It takes place after learning has occurred, at the end of a learning cycle. (T. Schimmer)

Do you offer lots of descriptive feedback instead of marking most things?

If so, you tend to emphasize formative assessment.
Formative assessment occurs when students are in the process of learning and the feedback they receive allows them to make improvements prior to a summative assessment.  The purpose of formative assessment is to inform students and teachers about students' learning progress and should be used by teachers to plan the next steps in instruction. (T. Schimmer)

Marks may make students do more, but marks won't make students do things better! 
Whatever the reason, many educators have fallen into the trap of thinking that everything a student does must count for marks. As a result, students are driven by marks instead of driven by learning. If our goal is for students to comply by handing in work, then extrinsic motivation such as marks might result in some success. But if our goal is for students to be thoughtful about the work they do and maximize their learning, then offering feedback and creating opportunities for improvement  are critical. Work can still be important and students will still complete work even if a mark isn't attached to it. Students require the opportunity to practice developing and refining new skills and interacting with new content without the pressure of being graded. The focus for students and teachers should be on learning rather than accruing marks. Instead of penalizing students for incomplete and incorrect work, teachers should focus on supporting students and offering them descriptive feedback that will help students move their learning forward.

So, as you reflect on how your students are performing, I urge you to consider whether your practices encourage or discourage students from 'trying again if at first they don't succeed'!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup

In schools, we often talk with students about environmental responsibility. Considering the vast consumption that characterizes global society today, it is important that we each do our part to preserve the world we live in.  In fact, we should be trying to leave our environment in better shape for others in the future.

I'm encouraged by the efforts last week of a group of Pacers who modeled for our community, their respect and care for the environment.

A group of 40 students and teachers from Delta Secondary participated in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. During the course of a couple of hours one afternoon, the team of students led by Ms. Huff and Ms. Gunning managed to collect over 20 pounds of garbage! As incredible as this sounds, the fact that most items that they collected were quite small makes the accomplishment even more amazing!

The following comments were written by Charles, a Grade 11 student who participated in the cleanup.

Why did I do the shore line cleanup? I did the shoreline cleanup because the rest of the year it seems like I can go throughout my life carefree of environment stress. I don’t have to worry about what’s happening to the rain forest or what’s going on in the gulf. Not to say that the rest of the year the environment gets put on the back burner. I still recycle and compost and turn off the lights when I’m not using them. But by doing the shoreline cleanup, I feel that I don’t have stress the same way and I know that I’m still making a difference. So if there’s one day a year that I can go out and make sure that my local environment stays clean then yes, I’ll take an hour of my life to make sure that it’s still there when my kids get there. 
It was nice to walk along the shore and be that close to nature with friends, and I loved weaving between logs looking for trash.  I was a little disappointed that I didn't find more garbage but also relieved. I felt that we made a huge difference and I was happy to help out.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vision 2020: Transformation in Delta Schools

Last spring, the Delta School District completed an ambitious process of developing an inclusive and inspiring vision of the future. The process included visioning exercises at each school and a number of district events, during which students, parents, support staff, teachers and administrators participated in engaging conversations around learning. Beginning with an appreciative inquiry process, we celebrated our successes in order to reveal the answers to three very important questions.

Why do we exist? (Purpose & Mission)

What truly matter in everything we do? (Core Values)

In our boldest vision and most fantastic dream of the future, what do we want to do and be? 

(Dream Vision)

The process created a sense of belonging for school district and reminded us of the importance of working together as we work towards our bold vision. 

As a result of our collaborative efforts, WE now share the bold and inspiring vision of 'becoming a leading district for innovative teaching and learning' and are ready to embark on the challenge of creating new realities in educational change. 

Below, is a short video capturing some of the conversations that we are having with students across the district as we move forward in our quest to realize our bold vision of the future for Delta schools.

Friday, August 5, 2011

10 Reasons You Should Attend an Edcamp!

1. You are a student, parent, educator or someone who is passionate about education.
2. Hierarchies do not exist at an Edcamp. Regardless of his or her perspective, each participant's ideas and contributions are equally respected.
3. You are interested in learning about and sharing innovative ideas and practices in education.
4. You'd like to ask a question, share your learning or initiate discussion about a particular topic related to education.
5. You enjoy professional learning and want to broaden/deepen your perspectives about education.
6. You propose, vote for and attend session topics that you are most interested in.
7. You enjoy talking with others who are passionate about education, most of whom you don't regularly interact with or may have never met before.
8. You enjoy connecting with other participants through the use of social media.
9. You enjoy participating in pro-d experiences. There are no stand and deliver lecture presentations.
10. Edcamps strive to be free for all participants.

Edcamp Delta will be held on Saturday January 14th at Delta Secondary School.

More information about Edcamp Delta can be found at or by emailing Aaron Akune (

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Exercising Professional Judgment

Back in late May I had the opportunity to attend a workshop by Tom Schimmer (@tomchimmer). The topic of his workshop, Assessment and Grading followed his book entitled 10 Things from Assessment to Grading.  Tom’s presentation has further motivated me to discuss assessment and grading with some of my colleagues.  What follows are some of the thoughts that have been percolating in my mind as a result of Tom’s workshop and my conversations with colleagues.

We all know that teaching is the furthest thing from a linear process. Although we’ve been handed the responsibility of helping our students achieve a multitude of learning targets, we have not been provided a predetermined script or set sequence of steps that ensure our students reach these goals. Each of our students learns in a different way and at a different rate. They bring different strengths and challenges to our classrooms each day. These are just some of the factors that we do our best to account for whenever we work with our students. As we assess our students, reflect on classroom situations and the outcomes of various teaching and learning strategies, we are constantly exercising professional judgment. We then do our best to design learning opportunities that best meet the needs of each of our students. It’s an imprecise science to say the least, but the adjustments and adaptations we make become pretty intuitive.

What allows us to exercise our judgment and make decisions that we believe are in the best interest of our students is professional autonomy. It provides us the opportunity to go faster, slower, deeper and explore learning strategies that we believe will best support student learning. It allows us to design our classroom assessments that we believe will best inform us about our students' learning.

Accompanying the flexibility that is afforded to us through our professional autonomy are the responsibilities associated with exercising professional judgment. This includes the ongoing assessment of our students’ progress towards learning outcomes. Some of this may be summative in nature but much of it will be formative. Classroom observations, dialogue with students, learning tasks and tests provide us snapshots at different points in time that allow us the opportunity to provide descriptive feedback to our students.  What gets tricky is when we must translate our ongoing assessments into grades. 

Is a child exceeding expectations? meeting expectations? minimally meeting expectations? or not meeting expectations? Drawing the distinction between these categories can be challenging. What is his or her current level of achievement? Assigning a grade that takes into account the improvements that a student has made throughout the course of a grading period can be quite challenging.

Again, the process of assigning grades is not a perfect science.  It relies on our professional judgment.  There is a temptation to rely on our gradebook, average scores from the grading period and simply convert them to a grade. This 'seems' like the most objective way of arriving at a grade for each student but in actuality contributes to inaccurate grading. It creates the 'perception' that we are ignoring any form of bias when in fact the whole process of assessment and grading relies on our judgment.  Who designs the assignments and tests? Who assesses student performance on these assessments? We do. 

And when it comes to accurate grading we must ask ourselves even more questions. 

Have we allowed our students to practice without penalty? 

Does our grading practice ensure that we aren’t penalizing students when they 
haven’t learned something by an arbitrary date we selected? 

Does the assigned grade recognize a student’s growth over time? 

Do the grades we assign reflect student learning and student learning only? 

Have we ignored the influence of student behaviours and work habits when assigning grades? 

After all, whether or not a student is pleasant, helpful and hardworking or unhappy, disruptive and lazy should not factor into our assessment of his or her progress towards learning targets.

It’s clear that the process of assigning grades is much less about ‘translating’ our assessments into grades and much more about ‘interpreting’ our collection of assessment data and exercising our professional judgment when assigning grades. This means having the courage to say to a student isn't ready to move forward when the numbers and percentages say he/she should. It also means having the courage to say a student is ready to move forward when the numbers and percentages say he/she shouldn't. 

This is just a small window into some of the considerations we need to account for in the complex process of assessment and grading. It’s safe to say that these are important processes that require extensive thought and have significant implications for our students.  I welcome your comments, feedback and experiences as I continue to dive deeper into these topics.

Monday, May 2, 2011

United by Commonalities or Divided by Differences?

The Vancouver Canucks pursuit of the Stanley cup is something that more than just the players are interested in. People are wearing jerseys, t-shirts and hats. Cars drive by with flags attached to their windows, buses display the words 'Go Canucks Go' and talk shows are constantly discussing the team. What is most obvious around the school is how much conversation both staff and students are engaging in about the Canucks. And I can only imagine the level of conversation will intensify as fans rally around the team's growing success. The beauty is that for the duration of the Canucks playoff run fans put aside their differences, cheer together and support one another's excitement!

As educators, we come to school each day with the best interest of our students in mind.  We see the importance of student learning and we set out to create the best possible learning environment for all students.  However, each of us also has unique personal experiences, perspectives and philosophies that influence our beliefs about what is most important for students to learn, why they should be learning it and how best for them to learn.

In other words, while we share some underlying common values and mission, we also have our differences.  Our small differences in thinking can be viewed as a diversity of creative ideas that exist within a supportive, collaborative culture united by a common mission and initiatives.  On the other hand, our differences in thinking can be magnified, lead to divisions within us that constantly cause our initiatives to fail and prevent us from making progress towards our mission.

So, what are you and your colleagues doing to unite around commonalities?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jumping on, Jumping off!

Ok, so it is playoff time in the city of Vancouver. The Vancouver Canucks are amidst the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Truth or not, the fans of Vancouver have often been described as bandwagon fans. Apparently, we jump on board when things are going well and jump off as soon as the tide turns against us. Those of you who follow NHL Hockey know that the Canucks won the first three games of their playoff series to jump out to a 3-0 series lead. All over the city, I heard talk of a four-game sweep, questions about who the Canucks might face in round 2, accolades being tossed around about the stellar play of goalie Roberto Luongo, the defensive play of Ryan Kesler and the offensive contributions of such a deep defensive core. Everything seemed so rosy and the Canucks were gaining new fans each day!

Well low and behold, the past three games have not gone the same way. Chicago dominated play in Games 4 & 5, found a way to win Game 6 and have shifted the momentum in their favor heading into the deciding Game 7. The talk of the town is now Roberto Luongo's poor play, Ryan Kesler's lack of offensive contributions and whether coach and player changes are necessary if the Canucks completely collapse.  Many of those so-called 'fans' have quickly become skeptics.

So, compare bandwagon hockey fans to educators' responses to new initiatives in education.  New initiatives are brought back to schools all the time.  Think of the last time you brought back a fresh idea from a workshop, conference or conversation with other educators.  Hearing the benefits and gains experienced by others, you probably got quite excited about the possibilities of implementing the idea in your school or classroom.  Your excitement likely caught the attention of some of your colleagues and they probably demonstrated their interest in the initiative by asking you for more details.  Exciting times, right? A chance to really push forward with something innovative, right? Full of enthusiasm, you probably started implementing it in your teaching and crafting plans for getting others on board.

Sometimes initiatives stick and become part of your regular repertoire of skills and strategies that you draw on from time to time.  Other times, you experiment with limited success, your excitement fades and gradually the initiatives fall into your 'black hole' of passing educational fads.  Each of us has our own 'black hole' of passing educational fads, full of strategies that might have worked for others but for some reason just didn't work us.  Sadly, when we allow our enthusiasm to drop off and we no longer push forward with new ideas, we default back to doing things the way we have in the past...sigh, the status quo.

Staying on board and pushing forward with new ideas is never easy.  You need to remain committed to its implementation even when you aren't met with immediate success.  You need to challenge yourself to build upon your successes, and reflect rather than be critical of your failures.  You must be willing to defend the merits of your ideas and acknowledge the need to improve upon its limitations. And more than anything, you must continue to envision where the initiative will take you, your colleagues and your students once you successfully implement it.

I have jumped on board with Assessment for Learning, Professional Learning Communities, Professional Learning Networks, Personalized Learning and Technology Integration.  Although I know it won't always be easy and at times I may face adversity as I move forward with these ideas, I am committed to staying on board and advancing these ideas for myself and with others.

I challenge you (in your next blog or tweet) to define the initiatives you are jumping on board with and to not jump off the bandwagon!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Edcamp Vancouver: Power of the unconference

@gmbondi said "Edcamp - best pro-d I've been a part of"

@SheilaSpeaking said "Hope that #edcampvan has been the start of something huge!"

@Stephen_Hurley said "There was something very cool about meeting PLN and others at #edcampvan Conversations longer and richer" and "One of the impressive things about #edcampvan was the fact that participants seemed to arrive and depart energized"

@teachingtammy said "I have never been so engaged with a PD session as I am today"

@tangomanfromqc said "Had a great time at #edcampvan! Dreamed about AFL, Social Media, Web 2.0 tools and alternative ed all last night!"

@thornquill said "You know it was a good day when the ideas are still spurring discussion hours after the unconference"

This past Saturday, over 80 people, including students, parents, teachers and administrators gathered at John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver for the first-ever Edcamp Vancouver.  Edcamp Vancouver followed the 'unconference' format that has been growing in popularity throughout North America.

Unlike traditional conferences, there were no advertised keynote speakers who were known to be 'experts' in their particular field.  Rather, participants elected to attend Edcamp Vancouver in anticipation of engaging in rich and meaningful discussion about topics of their choosing.

The morning began with individuals proposing potential session topics to a bulletin board.  Participants indicated their interest in topics by writing their names on sticky notes and posting them to proposed topics.  During this process, participants mingled and engaged in conversations that ultimately led to additional topics being proposed.  As a greater number of participants demonstrated their interest in a topic, the topic was shifted to the main schedule board. After 45 minutes of mingling, informal conversations, session proposals and voting, 16 session topics were identified. Four sessions took place during each of four-45 minute sessions. Topics included Social Media 101, Assessment for Learning, What Professional Development should look like, Communication between Stakeholders, Bringing TED Talks to Schools, Envisioning New Models, Motivating Students from a Distance, Creating Online Learning Communities, Beginning Teacher Support, Inquiry-Based Learning, Creating eBooks, Moving away from Letter Grades, Awards Ceremonies, Differentiated Instruction, Moving English and Language Arts into the 21st Century and Math Collaborators.

Sessions started with a mini-presentation, a question, a problem, a solution or discussion topic and were designed to initiate deep, rich discussion between participants. Participants were highly engaged and most participants contributed during each session. In many cases, sessions continued beyond the scheduled time and smaller conversations were struck between participants during the breaks. Hierarchical relationships were not present at all.  Participants of all ranges of experience and backgrounds shared freely and openly with one another.  Although each person's perspectives and ideas were respected and embraced, the conversations that ensued were not examples of 'groupthink'. Ideas, opinions and perspectives were challenged by others, but done so in a manner that encouraged deeper reflection.  All the while, there was an active Twitter backchannel occurring, with many participants (myself included) contributing their thoughts and ideas using the hashtag #edccampvan.

In each of the sessions that I facilitated and participated in, I took away important questions to reflect on, ideas to think about and initiatives that I'd like to develop more fully at a school level. The sessions are proving to be a catalyst to ensuing conversations that I will have with my immediate colleagues and with my PLN.

What was different about the day? One difference was obvious from the instant the doors opened and the first person walked in. Participants began the day with enthusiasm and energy. Everyone appeared genuinely excited to connect with each other. In many cases, the event provided the opportunity for people to meet face-to-face for the first time with many of the individuals they knew previously only in a virtual world through Twitter.

Another difference is that because lengthy presentations were discouraged and discussion was encouraged, a much higher level of interest and engagement was evident than I have typically seen from people during 'stand and deliver' presentations.  Further evidence of the new connections that people established and the high level of engagement was that at lunch time many individuals sat with people they did not know before the day began.  I am a great example of this, as I ate with and talked with a small group of educators who I had met during the previous session on Supporting New Teachers.

Despite all of the positives I have noted I believe there is still a place for traditional professional learning models.  We can all benefit from hearing 'experts' speak from time to time.  The value of the unconference comes when we have the opportunity to share with one another what we have learned from the 'experts' and how we have attempted to apply what we have learned.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Julia Clark (@learnbyliving), Bernie Soong (@bsoong), Blair Miller (@millerblair), Darren Yung (@penphoe), Kate Henderson (@ScienceWorldTr), Heidi Hass Gable (@hhg), Grant Frend (@grantfrend), Peter Newbury (@polarisdotca), Elsbeth Wissink (@elswis) and David Wees (@davidwees) for making it such an enjoyable experience to organize the event with them.  Thanks also to hosts Gino Bondi (@gmbondi), Dustin Keller (@solitaryvox) and Zhi Su (@zzsu). Based on the positive feedback and the conversations about possible future unconferences that have been taking place days after the event, it's clear that Edcamp Vancouver was a successful experiment.  I look forward to participating in future 'unconference' events and being involved in the planning for Edcamp Vancouver 2012!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kids Just Aren't Like They Used to Be

Do you recognize these 'kids'? Yes, the 'New Kids on the Block'!
They aren't so 'new' anymore are they?

As you chuckle at the photo above, I'm sure you're thinking "Kids just aren't like they used be!"

I'm going to guess that you've heard this comment many times before. Teaching colleagues, parents and employers have all made this comment. Unfortunately, when I hear this comment it often implies a negative connotation about kids or some notion of disbelief about a kid's actions. As much as I hate to admit it, I am guilty of having made similar comments out of frustration in the past.

But, think about the statement for a moment. Not only is the statement true, but seriously, shouldn't it be? And even more importantly, shouldn't we hope that the statement is true?

The kids of today are growing up in a world that is considerably different than it was 10, 15, 20 or more years ago.  Their 'past' is shorter and different than the 'past' of the previous generation.  The world that has influenced their values, beliefs, principles and actions is considerably different than the world that shaped the thinking of the generation before them.  So, shouldn't we expect that 'kids just aren't like they used to be'?

The fact that 'kids just aren't like they used to be' is what drives forward progress.  They move us beyond the status quo and ensure that the world is constantly changing. Some argue that as a result of growing technologies the world is changing at a greater rate than it ever has in the past. Their fresh ideas and new ways of doing things challenge conventional wisdom.  As they expand their knowledge, gain real-world experience and combine this with new perspectives, they often contribute to the development of innovative ideas and solutions that make our lives easier and better.  It is hard to argue that advances in technology, medicine and even learning aren't contributing positively to society. However, these innovative ideas, while undeniably positive, often create emerging local and global challenges. But who better to adapt to these challenges and design solutions than the next generation of kids, who they themselves think and act differently than the generation before them.

So why is it that when we say 'kids just aren't like they used to be' we often do expressing our frustration and disbelief about them.  Is is because we are struggling to understand them? Is is because we are resisting change and unwilling to accept their new perspectives?  Consider this the next time you're about to utter the words 'kids just aren't like they used to be'.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Why are we learning this?


"Why are we learning this? Do we have to do it this way?"

We have all heard our students ask these kinds of questions.  I know I have.  Sometimes they ask these questions immediately at the start of a lesson and other times they ask well into a lesson. As educators, we should know why we're asking our students to learn certain topics and we should also have reasons why we've asked students to apply certain learning strategies.  (Of course, the answer of "because you'll need to know how to do it this way for next year" isn't a solid rationale.) So, assuming you have thought things through and have solid reasons for doing what you do and how you do it and your students are still asking these questions, please take the time to clarify with your students the learning intention and why you're asking them to approach their learning in a certain way.

On the other hand, if you struggle to answer these questions on some days, I urge you to consider reframing the questions as...

Is what your students are learning relevant to them in their daily lives?
Is how your students are learning relevant to them in their daily lives?

The reason I am raising this subject is because recently, I have heard many people (educators and non-educators included) question what and how students are learning at school.  I have found there to be quite a diverse range of perspectives. Some people believe strongly that education should focus strongly on advancing the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.  They value the same 'hard' skills that were emphasized when they were in high school and that have likely contributed to much of their success to date.  On the other hand, there are others who believe that in addition to the traditional basics, students must develop the 'soft' skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity in order to be successful in the future.

In order to assess whether 'what' students are learning and 'how' students are learning is relevant to their daily lives, I believe we must clarify the answers to some important questions.

  • What basic fundamental knowledge and skills are crucial for our students to develop?
  • What knowledge and skills are gaining increasing importance as society progresses in the 21st Century? 
  • What methods of learning support the development of this knowledge and skills?
  • What types of environments, structures and experiences contribute to the most relevant and applicable learning for students?
In an effort to answer some of these questions, I will reflect on the professional learning experiences I have been a part of throughout my career as an educator that have stood out in positive ways.
  • I was hooked from the start and excited to learn more about a specific topic.
  • Options were available and I was able to choose a topic or workshop I was most interested in.
  • I was grouped amongst others in a way that encouraged discussion.
  • Questions were framed in a manner that invited participants to share their perspectives and ideas.
  • As a collective group, we constructed meaning around new ideas.
  • I engaged in conversations that challenged my ideas, perspectives and philosophies.
  • I acquired skills and knowledge that I could apply to my current and future practice.
Compare this to the high school classroom of today.  If we were to ask students which factors contribute to their best learning experiences, they would likely identify many, if not all of the same points listed above.

So, I urge you to consider the following questions as you reflect on the relevance of 'what' and 'how' your students are learning.
  • Why am I asking my students to learn what I'm asking them to?
  • Is my students' learning relevant and meaningful to their current lives?
  • Why have I chosen the teaching/learning strategies I'm using to help my students learn?
  • Do my students have input and choice in what and how they learn?
  • Are my students learning by collaborating to actively construct new meaning?   
One thing is clear, 'what' and 'how' our students should be learning is not static.  As the world changes, different skills and knowledge are required.  Undoubtedly, in his blog post 'The Future of Learning', the ideas that Scott McLeod (@mcleod) suggests we should consider when trying to improve the relevance of 'how' our students are learning were not ideas that we would have considered 10 years ago.

So for now I will leave you with two challenges...

If 'what' your students are learning isn't relevant, either contextualize their learning so it is made relevant or don't ask them to learn it.

And if 'how' your students are learning isn't relevant, change how you are asking them to learn so the skills they are applying are relevant.