Creating a Culture of Innovation

photo 3 update

As a school Principal, I often think about the actions we take and structures we create that provide the greatest impact on student learning and engagement.  In other words, if every school and educator implemented the best designs for formative assessment (assessment that drives learning) and summative assessment (assessment of learning), would we have an educational system that is the very best for each child?  How does an extensive toolkit of instructional strategies to engage students ensure that student learning has been achieved to a higher degree?  Can we motivate children if we do not have the quality of relationship with them that will allow our students to be guided by the educators or adults who teach them?  How much influence does our ability to manage our classrooms have on minimizing distractions in class or reducing transition times between activities to maximize learning and on-task behaviour?  How much do our own personalities and learning styles influence the way we teach and therefore the quality of learning our students experience in our classes?  At the core of everything we do as educators, how do our own belief systems, personal circumstances, cultures, and values influence the learning experience of our students?

There have been numerous studies in the field of education to try and deconstruct many of these questions with the hope of narrowing in on the number one thing we should do as educators to influence student achievement.  However, we know that student achievement is not the single indicator of a child’s success in life.  In fact, there is sufficient research that provides evidence that a person’s social and emotional well-being is more important to a child’s future opportunities than a child’s intellectual well-being.  The Ministry of Education in British Columbia is looking at our education system closely and attempting to address some of the challenges we have with our current model for educating children.  How do we ensure high expectations and quality teaching/learning without standardized assessments, such as final exams?  What are the competencies that most benefit students as they learn particular curriculum content?  How do we provide feedback to children and parents that gives our learners and their support systems more insight into their growth and development over time?  Our current system tells us that our child may be getting a “B” in class, but what does this really mean and how does this provide us with direction on where to focus our resources?  At what stages of development should learning change from reflexive or automatic, such as the syntax for reading, arithmetic, and writing and move to more reflective learning in which we want our students to critically think about solutions that may be more open-ended and abstract.  At what stages should learning be more directed by the teacher and when should the learning be more independent and driven by the student?

Rather than write a lengthy response to each of the questions above, I will focus my writing for this blog entry on what I believe to be the critical component that sits at the root of all of these questions.  While I recognize that assessment, instructional strategies, classroom management, personalities, and learning styles are critical to the effectiveness of any class setting, I believe that systemic effectiveness (success throughout an entire school, district, or province) needs to take into account the culture in which we operate.  My experiences have taught me that there is a readiness or willingness on the part of educators to deepen their effectiveness in the areas I’ve mentioned above when they feel that they are part of a culture that values risk taking, play, and innovation.  More importantly though is that this culture tolerates failure with the recognition that this is the nature of learning and we will become more effective over time.  This culture celebrates collaboration and teamwork as well as trust, care, and support for one another.  The culture is one in which we can be honest, but not personal, critical, but not pessimistic, solution oriented, but not pathological.

This culture takes time to develop and it starts with our leaders.  Our leaders must give permission to play, create, innovate, and take risks.  They must be seen as risk takers and innovators themselves.  Strategically, we know that small wins increase our willingness to take more risks and greater risks.  We learn to see that small wins and especially our failures teach us important things to move us forward.  We know that data or evidence is important in helping us determine what a successful innovation would look like and whether the innovation is worth keeping.  Furthermore, we value innovation within the context of coherence….the innovations are connected to the goals or vision of our school.

Approximately three months ago, I had the privilege to meet with Brian Coupland, the Director of Innovation for Staples.  He is an interesting man with extensive experiences consulting with many of the top companies across North America.  I was inspired by a comment he made to me during our meeting.  He asked me how much failure I would be willing to accept as a school leader that values innovation.  Immediately, my mind raced.  In the world of social sciences and educating young minds, how much failure is acceptable and can this failure have detrimental effects on our children?  How might we manage failure in order to limit or mitigate risk?  He then told me that most very successful companies will accept that only 10-20% of their innovations are successful, because they also know that these successes are what enable corporations to thrive and surpass organizations who take a much more cautious approach.  There is a realization on the part of the leaders in these companies that applied learning comes from failure and that failure is part of an iterative process towards success.  The approach to innovation is often pragmatic and thoughtful.  It involves small scale experimentation or trials with feedback and possible upscaling until there is enough evidence that the innovation is worthy of large scale implementation.  While this approach may take more time to implement, it inherently manages the risk.  In many ways, this has been our approach to moving to a 1:1 Bring Your Own Device Model for all our current grade 9 students.  We started with pilots, learned about what worked and didn’t work.  We upscaled to our current grade nines and are recognizing where we are seeing successes and where we need to make refinements.  We will work towards a large scale implementation that will be school wide by 2016.  The reality is that organizations must continually innovate within a culture of risk taking, failure, and learning.  Organizations who do the same thing day in and day out will eventually fall behind because someone else out there is creating better ideas, better products, and better services.  In this global market, it does not take long for a consumer to go elsewhere, especially in a digital world where the choices are endless and accessible.

In many ways, schools are no different.  With on-line schools and open boundaries, parents are often looking for the type of education that they believe will fit best for their child.  When we look at the number of international students studying in Canada and around the world, we realize that parents are not only willing to change schools within a district or between districts, but they are also willing to send their children to a different country in pursuit of a better education.  As a parent, my children are my greatest investment and I am willing to do whatever I can to give them the best chances for a successful life.  I think about this when reflecting on what we need to do at Riverside to ensure that our learners are prepared for a future of unknown possibilities and that this world is so much more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  And while learning outcomes in our courses are important to me, it is even more important that we create a culture that explicitly and implicitly tells our learners we want them to play, create, innovate, be curious, and be inspired.  We are developing a next generation of innovators and problem solvers to tackle some of the greatest challenges our world has ever faced and this requires a mindshift in the way we educate our children.  If we are not developing a culture which promotes and supports innovation and creativity, I believe we are stifling the strengths and desires within each child and educator to see the possibilities and successes which lie ahead.  And in a world of unknowns, this to me is critical.  As Michael Fullen once said, “Everyone wants to be part of a success story.”  Build the culture and the success will come.

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Implementing a Large Scale Digital 1:1 Learning Environment

1 to 1

Firstly, I want to take a moment to welcome all the new families and students to Riverside Secondary School.  This blog is one of my communication tools for you, educators, and other professionals who are interested in the changing world of education.  I hope you find it informative and interesting.  My hope is to share with you some of the things we are currently doing at Riverside, as well as our ideas and plans for the future.

I have written in the past on our intention to move to a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model, enabling us to have a digital 1:1 learning environment.  We are now in our fourth week of implementing this model with our 345 grade nine students, making this a large upscaling project from the pilots we ran last year.

I would like to share what we have learned and experienced in these first four weeks as I believe it will provide the insight and guidance for schools considering a multi-platform, BYOD model.  I also want to emphasize that while there is plenty of troubleshooting that is required to get something like this off the ground, there is a signficant support system for staff and students.  This support we have provided is in the way of District and Site Based IT (network monitoring, access, and troubleshooting, creation of Virtual Classrooms with teacher in service, Creation of Office 365 accounts and in-service for all students and staff, Thursday tech talks to address specific tech issues with staff), classroom support through a full-time LIF position that is shared between two teachers (provide technical support in the classroom for staff and students, collaborate with staff on integrating technology to support and enhance learning, ensure effective transitioning for grade nine students), a teacher site contact who is available for one block per day to provide further technical support to staff and students, and weekly team meetings to address challenges and share successes.

There are two key components to our BYOD model.  The first is in developing a level of digital proficiency so that students and teachers are able to use their devices effectively to do simple tasks, such as accessing our network, Office 365 accounts, and content on Virtual Classrooms (teacher web-site), downloading pdfs, annotating or typing on pdfs, saving pdfs to Skydrive, creating documents in Office 365 and other apps, sharing documents, embedding code, creating blogs and wiki spaces, and creating a file management system in the cloud.  Our experience in the pilots have suggested that this process will take 4-6 weeks for all staff and students to feel a level of comfort and proficiency in these areas.  At four weeks in, we are seeing that the majority of staff and students have addressed the technical components and are transitioning to the second key component of our BYOD model.

The second key component of our BYOD model is how we utilize the technology to enhance student learning.  Our staff are developing lessons and units that promote creativity, collaboration, problem solving, media fluency, and research.

21st century fluency

Furthermore, we are utilizing opportunities that integrate technology with developing digital citizens who understand how to protect privacy, create and publish, build social networks, and act ethically.

technology use

Over the next few months, I intend to share stories of the exciting work our staff our doing with students to further engage them in the learning process and deepen their thinking about the curriculum in which they are uncovering.  This team of educators is very innovative, adaptable, flexible, and determined.  They get motivated by challenges, enjoy collaborating with their colleagues, and recognize that the possibilities are endless for integrating the technology to make learning more relevant to students.  My point in sharing this is that a culture of risk-taking, collaboration, commitment, and innovation is critical for any school choosing to journey down this path.  This culture must get supported by a strong and flexible IT team, solid IT infrastructure, a supportive and collegial network to handle all the troubleshooting that is needed, and coherent vision for what we are trying to accomplish with the technology.

In a recent professional day, I asked our team of grade 9 teachers what is currently working in our digital environment.  Here is a summary of what they said:

  • Students are troubleshooting, sharing ideas, and helping one another with their devices.  It is building competency for students across the different device platforms in the classroom.
  • Friday has become a day to free up students from the curriculum by focusing on play, creativity, innovation, and sharing.  We are using this as an opportunity to learn from one another, collaborate, and explore different tools.
  • Students have more voice into what they are learning and how they are learning it.  They have some investment into the teacher’s Virtual Classroom.  They submit viral videos for their classmates to see.  It draws them into our web-site and gives them an opportunity to contribute to the class in a different way.
  • The support from IT, LIF teachers, and colleagues has been very helpful in building capacity and alleviating anxiety.
  • It is helpful to quickly see what students are producing.  We can get work sent to us digitally anytime, from anywhere so that we can see how the students are doing.  It’s nice to have a digital copy of what students have produced.  We can imagine an archive of student work over their high school years that will show progress in learning and thinking.
  • Opening and saving documents through Adobe Pro 9 before uploading to our Virtual Classrooms is great so that students can open these documents to annotate or type on them on any device.
  • Student Services has a better idea of what we are all doing in our classrooms because they can go to our Virtual Classrooms to see what the students are learning.
  • Students have become leaders with the technology.  This has enabled some students to shine who would not normally get recognized.
  • No more large, heavy textbooks.
  • Wikis and blogs minimize the need to submit emails to teachers because these can be run through RSS feeds into readers for the teacher.
  • Students are developing a toolbox or backpack of digital tools to assist them with their learning.

So, what have been some of the challenges we’ve experience so far?  Well, the truth is, in a BYOD model, we have several different types of devices in a classroom and they all operate differently, making some things frustrating for staff and students.  Currently, 87% of students have brought a tablet device, while 13% brought a laptop.  Laptops are fairly simple to navigate in that they typically have a hard drive which allows for easy file management, storage, and workflow.  However, most laptops do not have touch screens, nor do they allow students to write on them.  For most laptops, the app world is not available.  Where things get very interesting is with the devices.  We have students who have brought in Samsungs (Notes and Tabs), Ipads, Surfaces, Asus, and other types of tablets.  Each one of these devices has different apps available through the app store and operates differently depending on the operating system.  Some devices can open up PDFs enabling students to write on them, while other devices cannot without the PDF first being opened and saved through Adobe Pro 9.  We also noticed that some devices easily integrate with Skydrive (cloud storage) in Office 365 and others…not so much.  File management is not so simple as storage is in the cloud.  Some browsers easily communicate with our Virtual Classrooms to download documents and other browsers do not.  We (staff and students) have found solutions to many of the challenges we’ve encountered, but it has certainly added a level of complexity to the classroom that didn’t exist before.  We are in the process of surveying our students to ensure that they are all able to navigate the technical components that are needed to move forward with their learning.  Our LIF teachers will provide 1:1 support to those students who are still struggling with certain components of their devices.

I am very pleased with the progress of this project so far.  While there are still some challenges to work through, I am impressed by the level of engagement and  learning that is occurring so early on in this initiative.  These students are well on their way to creating a positive digital footprint that they will carry with them to future employment and education opportunities.

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Building a Compassionate and Caring Community

heart

This past September, the staff at Riverside identified two key focus areas for the school. Upon reflection of our vision, and working from our strengths, we felt that our identity is in a large part based on our desire to innovate and our obligation to care for one another.  While it is one thing to identify areas of focus, it is another to develop common understanding, school wide strategies, and plans for implementation.

My intent in this blog is to highlight the start of our journey as we work towards further developing a caring and compassionate community.  Although there are many things we do in schools to build belonging, connectedness, and relationships, we tend not to be as explicit about developing mental health or social and emotional well-being.  Yet, many of the challenges we deal with in secondary schools related to bullying, substance use, or chronic absenteeism connect in some way with concerns around mental health or social and emotional well-being (SEL).  For this reason, our staff have made mental health and SEL the topics for our initial discussions toward achieving a caring and compassionate community.

On May 17th, our staff engaged in a professional day organized by our pro-d committee that targeted our goal of building a caring and compassionate community. The probing questions for the day were:

1. What do we understand about mental illnesses/health?

2. How does mental health impact student learning?

3. How do we support students with mental illnesses?

4. How do we promote positive mental health for our students and ourselves?

We started the day with a powerful presentation by Elizabeth Bancroft, one of our teachers and three of our students who shared their speeches from our recent Spoken Word Festival.  The student speeches eloquently identified the struggles with mental health issues such as cutting and suicide.  They reminded us of the day-to-day struggles that some of our students experience.  We admire the courage and resiliency of our students; the belief that perseverance will bring them better days ahead, yet we can’t help but wonder if there is anything more we could do to assist them through the most difficult times.  As educators, we feel compelled to support our students, care for them, and help them see the possibilities that may exist down the road.  However, mental illness has the potential to interfere with a child and family’s hopes and dreams, sometimes with very little warning.  With statistics indicating that 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness, there is a very real possibility that our children or their friends will experience some very difficult personal struggles.

Building a caring and compassionate community means that we create opportunities for students and staff to talk about mental health.  Specifically, we should be able to speak openly about mental illness, the challenges associated with these illnesses, how to respond when someone is experiencing a mental illness, and what we can do to improve our mental health.  We talk about living a balanced life, but we do little to model or teach this to our children.  Our children occupy their minds with so many thoughts that they want to share, yet they worry about being judged for these thoughts or feelings.  They don’t want to disappoint or scare us.  Being effective at helping children understand mental health means that we become better at listening to what they are saying…and what is not being said.  Our children can tell us a lot by their silence and non-verbal cues.

Creating a culture of trust and openness in which students are willing to share their thoughts and feelings takes time.  While I would like to believe that by the very nature of our position as educators, children should automatically trust us, I know that this is not the case.  Youth are cautious when it comes to relationships with adults.  They want to trust us, but they need to know that we are trust “worthy”.  In order to build a culture of care and compassion, we must value and create a trusting school environment that is:

  • Safe
  • Caring
  • Well managed
  • Participatory

The rich discussions and conversations that we have with children can only happen once students believe that the environment allows them to expose their vulnerabilities, without persecution or judgement.  Once our actions are reflected in the environment we seek to create, students will begin to accept the guidance, coaching, and teaching necessary for them to look within.  What does it mean for a child to look within, to better understand themselves within the context of a group or community?  How do our children develop effective and healthy preventative and responsive systems to deal with stress?

In a recent workshop with Miriam Miller, a researcher at UBC working with the Social and Emotional Learning Framework (Visit http://casel.org/ for more information), she discussed the importance of teaching students to be competent in the areas of:

  • Self management
  • Self awareness
  • Responsible decision-making (social responsibility)
  • Relationship skills
  • Social awareness

SEL-Competencies-249x300

She indicated that when social and emotional learning is taught explicitly in schools, we see improvements to social emotional skills, improved attitudes about self, peers, and school, improved classroom behaviour, and 11% gains in achievement.  Furthermore, there is a decrease in conduct issues, aggressive behaviour, and emotional distress (anxiety and depression).  There is signficant benefit in working with our children to be proficient within the SEL framework, both to students and the culture of schools.

In order for us to understand the social and emotional health of our school, we have started to gather data from our grade 9 students in conjunction with Miriam Miller to look at factors such as sense of belonging, relationships, collective efficacy, pro-social behaviours, social responsibility, and bullying.  This data will assist us with the conversations and actions to better support the well-being of our students.  Moreover, the health and well-being of our students is reflected in the health and well-being of our schools and communities.  I am looking forward to the results of this study as they will be helpful in determining our next steps in achieving our goal of building a caring and compassionate community.

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Riverside Partners with Samsung to Launch Samsung School

A couple of blog posts ago, I shared the results of one of our 1:1 pilots we ran in semester 1. In that post, I also indicated that we were going to start another pilot, but I would share the details of that pilot at a later date. Well, I am finally able to say that Riverside is the first school in Canada to partner with Samsung and launch Samsung School. We have been working with Samsung School in a physics 11 class since the end of January 2013. While we have played with numerous devices and ecosystems over the past several years, what Samsung School does is offer a management solution that brings seamless integration and convergence to a safe and secure environment.

In our pilot, we have been using 31 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1’s, a 65 inch digital e-Board, dedicated server, and Samsung School software. What I like about Samsung School is that it is designed around an ecosystem that recognizes the importance of collaboration. Students can share screens with each other or the teacher. The teacher has the ability to view any student’s screen from the teacher’s device to see how students are doing and what they are working on. The teacher is also able to interact with that student via his or her device with the simple touch of a button. With the touch of another button, that student is able to project what is on his or her screen to the main e-Board for everyone else to see. This means that a teacher is able to respond faster to a student who may be struggling or off task, as well as promote a classroom culture where students become teachers and experts. Imagine the quiet or not so quiet student who takes their seat at the back of the classroom, hoping to “hide” from the teacher in order to cover up any difficulties they may have. Now, the teacher is able to recognize when this particular student needs immediate support and provide this support in a very non-intrusive way. The solution also builds in a polling feature. There are many apps that do this, but this feature is built into the software. Again, what I like is that students are able to be more honest about what they do and don’t understand than in the traditional classroom where a teacher may ask for hands or thumbs up. The software also allows teachers to create and post quizzes or tests, push out content, notifications or messages to the entire class, lock screens, bring in relevant apps, track attendance, and keep a markbook. In essence, the solution is bringing what many of us are doing with several different pieces of third party software into one location.

Samsung has thought about the solution from both the teaching and learning perspectives. While the solution is focussed on building an interactive classroom that is efficient (intended to accelerate learning) and secure (a fairly enclosed ecosystem so no worries about FOIPPA), it also takes in mind the importance of immediate feedback, increased student responsibility, and increased ability of the teacher to monitor what students are doing with their devices during the times that students are assigned to their Samsung School Class. What I also appreciate about Samsung School is that it still enables teachers and students to move beyond the software into the full capability of the Galaxy Note where students can access further apps, expand their research, utilize social media, create and publish content, Skype with peers and experts, and take advantage of the S-Pen technology, which is the best stylus and app I have seen on the market. In this 1:1 environment, students are able to take their learning beyond the classroom to any space, any time, in a variety of ways. From the screen casting apps, to share understanding of solutions or ideas, to the documentation of learning through video, photo, or other digital recordings, we are better able to gain insights into the thinking and learning process of our students. We are no longer as interested in the final product as we are about the journey to the destination. This is exciting as it enables us to be better at identifying misconceptions, typical content or skill areas where students often struggle, or recognizing the depth and breadth of a child’s understanding.

Riverside will be moving to a 1:1 environment for all grade nines next year. Currently, we have a team of approximately 18 teachers who will lead this initiative. This group meets weekly to share ideas regarding digital fluencies, content development, infrastructure and device fluency, security, assessment, and teaching/learning strategies that will reshape our current mindset for how we educate children. The knowledge we are gaining from our pilots, research, and experiences will assist us in ensuring that we deliver a learning experience to students that is engaging, enriching, exciting, and authentic. Our challenge is to prepare our students for a future filled with possibilities and opportunities that do not yet exist. In speaking with a group of students at Riverside, President and CEO of Samsung Canada, HT Kim, said, “We are looking for those who are unique, different, creative. We want people who can innovate.” As Will Richardson says in his recent article in Educational Leadership (Vol. 70, No. 6), “Learning is now truly participatory in real-world contexts…where learners outside school walls can converse, create, and publish authentic, meaningful, beautiful work.” In this educational setting, the walls are blurred as learning happens everywhere at any time with anyone, teachers are learners, learners are teachers, learning is about inquiry, and collaboration is the norm. This is an incredible time to be an educator and a learner.

Riverside will begin a series of Open Houses to share what we have learned about Samsung School. Anyone interested in attending one of these sessions can rsvp to a.rogers@samsung.com or aciolfitto@sd43.bc.ca. The demo days are scheduled for April 9, April 30, and May 29. Space is limited. All seats have been filled for April 9th, but we are now taking registrations for the other two sessions. I hope you can join teacher, Deb Nordheimer, myself, Adam Rogers from Samsung, and some of our wonderful students involved in this pilot!

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Report Cards…How Meaningful is this feedback?

big-red-A+-report-card

Do report cards provide parents and students with meaningful feedback that enables them to improve their learning, personal development, and overall achievement? We have recently started discussions with staff regarding the feedback provided to students and parents with our report cards. The discussions have been precipitated by questions regarding how effective this feedback is with respect to enhancing student learning, having clarity on learning outcomes understood, and the character traits that contribute to the overall success of students in their classes. Furthermore, we have questioned what it means to a parent or student when we tell them they have a “B” or a “C” in a course. While we may not have a choice in providing letter grades (this is a Ministry requirement), we do have a say in the type of information we might supplement with these letter grades to provide insight into how a child can improve and how we (parents, child, teacher) might support the learning. Moreover, when we provide information on work habits, how does a “G”, “S”, or “N” give parents enough insight into their child’s curiousity, zest, social intelligence, self-control, grit, gratitude, or optimism (Character traits identified in “How Children Succeed” by author Paul Tough). How might we assess and provide feedback on these traits? How are these traits influenced by culture, gender, societal or family circumstances such as poverty, mental health, or relocation?

The Ontario Ministry of Education has been working with some interesting reporting practices with respect to Life Skills and Work Habits. The document presents a fairly clear idea of what skills they believe are important for student success and development. For the full document, visit their web-site at:

www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growsuccess.pdf

Page 11 of this document outlines the sample behaviours associated with the Learning Skills and Work Habits so that students have a better understanding of what is important when we talk about Responsibility, Organization, Independent Work, Collaboration, Initiative, and Self-Regulation.

Learning Skills and Work Habits

It is important that if we value these traits that lead to employment, academic success, and personal success, then we must find ways to develop these traits in our children and provide them with feedback so that they can improve. More importantly though, it’s essential to depersonalize the feedback given to students so that they focus not on the ways they might define their identity, but on the characteristics that contribute to their identity. In other words, when a child receives a “C” in a course, they often interpret this as, “I am a C Student”, as if to say that I am average or mediocre. This interpretation often leads to the development of their identity. In a recent workshop with Damian Cooper, an expert on assessment, he introduced a tool (Tomlinson, 2001) that can be used for teachers when differentiating work in a classroom. I found this tool intriguing in that it uses a scale, much like a toggle switch for a volume control knob, to indicate where a child may be functioning on a spectrum. While the intent of this tool is for creating differentiated lessons in a mixed or diverse classroom, I believe the structure of it

Differentiation

may be useful as an assessment tool. We could imagine changing the headings for each scale and the actual indicators so that they reflect character traits, work habits, or learning skills. What I like is that it is easy to use and easy to understand. It helps me see where my child is on a spectrum and, if combined with descriptors, I might get more insight into how my child could improve. My point here, is that regardless of whether or not we use some version of these tools above, we need to find feedback mechanisms that are easy enough for teachers to use, given the number of students they teach, and effective enough for parents and students to understand how to improve.

More recently, I have been intrigued by the Reggio schools, specifically in the ways that student learning is documented. At a workshop this year with Mara Krechevsky, Director of the Making Learning Visible Project, she presented on how we use documentation to extend and deepen learning. Projects are organized for learning groups in which documentation becomes the process used to reflect feedback on demonstrated learning (observations, recordings, interpretations, and sharing through media). This type of documentation not only shows what students accomplished, but it provides insight into the thinking behind what they accomplished. We can see through recordings the ways that they are analyzing a problem or offering possible solutions. In some ways, this is like taking a screencast of a student working through a math problem. Students are responsible for finding ways to document and communicate what they learned. They must determine what is important to share with others, why, and how. They must also see this documentation process as an opportunity to deepen the learning of others. Teachers and students in these classrooms recognize that each child has unique skills and abilities. In fact, children with special needs in these classrooms are referred to as children with special rights. The language in essence says that we are all different and that the adaptation we may require is a right, not some kind of subjective or debatable intervention. With the technology we now have, I believe that we have tremendous opportunity for gaining valuable documentation and examination into the thinking and learning of students. Perhaps, this is even more powerful than any feedback we may provide on a report card.

I’m looking forward to seeing the next phase of our report card here at Riverside. While there are structures that will act as barriers (such as the reporting requirements in BCESIS, post-secondary requirements that still require a percentage), I believe there is a desire to improve the learning and achievement of our students. Feel free to share with us your report card stories or thoughts as we move forward with our revisions.

Posted in Assessment/Feedback | 3 Comments

Learning With iPads

ipad

Last spring, we began to prepare for a 1:1 iPad project in our science coop program. We were fortunate to receive a career transitions grant by our district which enabled us to purchase vernier lab probes and iPads, with the goal of developing employability skills in the sciences. At the same time, we also purchased another 30 iPads to provide us with a class set and to experiment with this technology in student services, languages, mathematics, English, and social studies. Implementation of these devices occurred this semester, and I felt that since we are nearing the end of this semester, I would share what we have learned. For the purposes of space and time, I will limit this blog to what we have learned in science coop. I also feel that this 1:1 environment enabled us to focus more on the learning done by students rather than the teaching done by teachers. That said, I don’t believe technology should be implemented without a plan to build teaching capacity. As such, we developed a learning team to meet on Fridays during lunch for all the teachers involved in piloting iPads at Riverside. The team was lead by Jeremy Brown, our lead teacher for Technology Programs and Digital Immersion.

The Science Coop Program is designed for students contemplating a career in a science related field. Students learn as a cohort for a semester studying Chemistry 11, Physics 11, Math Pre-calculus 11, and Work Experience 12. We have two enthusiastic and experienced teachers for this program who are willing to try new things, place students into practicums in the field, and work collaboratively to enrich the learning and love of science in their students. Deb Nordheimer and Heidy Tilsner are dynamic, passionate, and content area specialists. They relate well to students and believe in the importance of team. They were the perfect candidates for this iPad pilot.

During the course of this pilot, Deb and Heidy would ask for feedback from their students about what was working and what was not. They would also share with us their observations of the students. I had the opportunity to interview the students just before the winter break, so I will share with you what the students told me and their teachers.

What the students liked about using the iPads:   thumbs-up

  • Easy to use, fast, portable
  • Like not carrying around multiple texts…no more heavy backpacks
  • Great for walking or busing
  • Good for math and science
  • If they had trouble with a question at home, they often used FaceTime. they liked that they could pause it, get step by step help, but still know they were connected with their peer for further assistance.
  • Did more learning, especially with math because could easily get help from peers
  • Felt like they were more connected. Learning became 24/7. They utilized each other more for help. They talk more together. They could also fit more people at a table because iPads are small, so there is little desk clutter.
  • Easy to help others
  • Transition initially hard from paper/pencil to digital, but liked it after…easier to work with
  • Can be very organized. No papers to lose.
  • Like having everything in one device. Easy to study when you are going places. Students would mention getting a few questions or some reading done on the way to a hockey practice or on the bus ride home.
  • Full of resources..Google, YouTube, peers, other experts, social media…they could get an answer in 5 minutes
  • Better for labs, projects, video, photos…more ability to create and produce work that is professional looking or more personalized
  • Fast to turn on and get using

What they didn’t like about the iPads:thumbs-down

  • Upad still has some glitches…emailing problematic…PDF copyright (Upad is the app students most often used to read PDFs and write on them. Student workbooks and teacher noted were imported into Upad.)
  • Upad took long to load in colour
  • If they incorrectly entered their Password into the iPad 4 times, the device would reset and they would lose their work.
  • Need to back up devices to protect created content
  • Can be distracting because they have access to a lot more, such as games and social media
  • Don’t like typing on it…takes more time than a regular keyboard
  • Saving and accessing work in Dropbox is a bit cumbersome
  • Need some instruction on the protective cases because they can break if you fold them in a certain position
  • Problem updating apps that were installed centrally by Randie Shen, our IT specialist who oversaw the back end of this pilot. Devices needed to go back to Randie to update those apps although students could also install other apps they wanted.
  • The Show Me app, used for screen casting, wasn’t working initially, so it was faster to take screen shots and email
  • Need more places to charge iPads if students forgot to charge them at home
  • The on-line test in physics crashed. Students are worried that if this happens, they may lose their work. This occurred when the wireless crashed.
  • Can be awkward to write. Interestingly almost all students went out and purchased their own stylus.
  • Wish there was a split screen…don’t like flipping back and forth between apps or documents.
  • Zooming in and out is sometimes cumbersome when wanting to use a workbook. Takes more time than reading and writing on a hardcopy page.

What the teachers noticed about students using the iPads:eye

  • High level of engagement
  • Better projects…more creative, personalized, and professional
  • More peer support
  • More teaching done by the students

learning_pyramid

  • High Success Rate
    • 23 of 29 students in Chemistry 11 received an ‘A’ or ‘B’.  No marks below a ‘C’.
    • 21 of 29 students in Math Pre-Calculus 11 received an ‘A’ or ‘B’.  No marks below a ‘C’.
    • 25 out of 29 students in Physics 11 received an ‘A’ or ‘B’.  No marks below a ‘C’.
  • Better lab write-ups, better tools for graphing
  • More depth to conversations with respect to curriculum and more divergent thinking
  • Students rarely got stuck on homework
  • Very collaborative culture since students supported one another regularly in and out of class

Types of activities experienced with iPads in Science Coop:

  • Use of Twitter to share “Aha” moments, questions, or enjoyable lessons.
  • Screencasting to provide tutoring and homework support to each other
  • Facetime/Skype interactions with peers and experts in the field
  • Book Creator to synthesize learning from courses
  • Creation of Videos and digital scrapbooks to journal, document work experience, or provide evidence of learning
  • Presentations
  • Remediation
  • Research, information gathering (such as youtube, google, internet)
  • Digital tests with video embeds
  • Messaging and Email
  • Creation of positive digital footprint

While there is still much more to learn with regards to the use of technology as tools for production and consumption, I am optimistic about the results of this pilot.  The positive outcomes from this project tend to revolve around the learning process and culture, such as better relationships, divergent thinking, better ability to create and produce, and increased engagement.  Conversely, the negative outcomes revolve around the technology itself, such as glitchy apps, workflow, or the network.  While these are issues that need addressing, there are solutions to them.  Some of these solutions will occur without any work on our part, such as apps and operating systems getting updated or invented.  Networks will go down occasionally, but this occurs more rarely than it used to in the past.  We know that fibre optic upgrades are soon on their way which will also increase the speed of data transfer and reliability.  With over 10,000 IP addresses and full Wi-Fi coverage throughout the building, a staff that has been building capacity around the use of technology for learning, and a price point for devices that makes technology more affordable, we are near that pivotal moment to make the leap to a 1:1 learning environment.

Before we take this next step here at Riverside, we will explore one more project.  This next one however, will be with a different device.  We will launch this pilot in February and share more with you at that time.  What I can share with you for now is that we are fortunate to be the first school in Canada chosen to participate in this pilot.  Stay tuned….

Posted in Technology | 1 Comment

It’s Not Fair!

it's not fair

We often get sidetracked in education with discussions about what is fair. Is it fair if one student has more time than another to write a test? Is it fair if one child gets to submit an assignment late and still gets full marks? Is it fair that one child who can afford a tutor gets the extra assistance at home? We are faced with many questions about fairness and our responses often lie in our own personal circumstances, what we perceive to be advantages and disadvantages, and the pressures of obtaining opportunities in a competitive future.

In the world of Student Services, we know that there are students who come to school with needs that make learning more challenging. Whether these needs revolve around a child’s sensory system (ie. difficulty hearing or seeing), attentional system (ie. difficulty focusing and filtering distractions), emotional system (ie. difficulty dealing with trauma or socio-emotional issues), learning system (ie. difficulty processing information, using working memory), or movement system (ie. difficulty taking action with fine or gross motor skills), we know that each child comes to school with circumstances that will affect their ability to succeed in school. In this system where we are trying to determine what is fair, we tend to have inherent bias towards the kinds of “abilities” we believe warrant special attention. For example, there are few people who would argue that a child with Downes Syndrome should not receive supports that would assist him or her with accessing curriculum and enhancing learning. Visibly, when looking at this child, there is something on the surface that tells us that we must take that extra time to understand him or her. However, we tend not to recognize the challenges for those children who have needs that are invisible. For example, children who struggle with written output or memory difficulties, or the students with high functioning autism, look like typical children on the outside. As a result, we are inclined to treat them like other “typical” children in the way we teach, assess, and support them.

Would we prevent a child who has difficulty seeing, the option of wearing glasses? Would we allow children the use of a wheelchair if they were not able to use their legs? Is it reasonable that all children, regardless of their needs, must learn at the same rate, in the same way, and be assessed with the same tools? How much might we expect from a child with diverse needs? How much can we push a child to succeed? When a child is not engaging in school, how do we know if this is the result of the child’s challenging circumstances versus their attitude or physiology?

We are now seeing more opportunities in education for all children to learn in ways that are more supportive and unique to their needs. We have locally developed courses in which students will receive differentiated assignments (responsive teaching to the unique needs of students) that are appropriate to their abilities. Further, in any given class, teachers tend to offer adaptations (supports) for students, such as additional time on tests or assignments, alternate settings for those with anxiety, technology for communication, and learning strategies to address memory or output. When assessing students, I’m seeing more teachers move away from the traditional tests and quizzes to assessing orally, through presentations (public speaking, debates, screen casts, blogs, wikis), using rubrics (charts to indicate levels of understanding), and performance tasks (hands-on skills, lab work). When using tests and quizzes, some teachers are now embedding video and sound clips that make the tests more engaging and relevant. Quizzes are typically used formatively, meaning they are there to provide feedback on what students still need to work on and what a teacher still needs to teach. Quiz scores are often no longer counted in the overall marks of a student because our final evaluation should reflect what a child understands by the end of a course or unit, not what they were learning during the course or unit. In other words, everything that a child is learning during a unit is part of the practice. The final assessment or the key assessments in a unit are the game and it is the game that gets reported on.

A week ago, I joined five of our teachers on a workshop about assessment. We talked about finding ways to make learning resemble the real world. We heard about interesting analogies that question the validity of 50% or percents at all. Is it acceptable to “pass” a course such as automotive with 50%? Would we accept a mechanic who completed a brake job at 50% or a doctor who peformed heart surgery at 50%? When is 50% really not a “pass” and how do we engage students to strive for much more than 50%? What kind of feedback is meaningful to parents and students? How is this feedback reflective of all learners?

While I have yet to find the perfect educational system, I believe we are at a time when teachers are trying to push the envelope of not, what is fair, but what is right for each child. We know that what works for one child, may not work for another, just as what is motivating for one student, may be discouraging for another. We struggle with how to do what is right for each child within the context of multiple children (a class)? The solutions are not always simple, nor are they always realistic. However, what is exciting is that our staff continue to make teaching and learning their number one priority. We continually experiment with finding ways to improve student engagement, achievement, and overall success for ALL students.

Posted in Assessment/Feedback | 1 Comment