Category Archives: change

Don’t Wait! Innovate!

We hear a lot these days about the idea of INNOVATION. Not to be confused with invention, innovation means to improve upon, to make things better.
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How do you connect to innovation in your practice?screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-7-35-33-pm

Jennifer Kranenburg is a teacher from Ontario whose story is an inspirational example of how creative educators, focused on responding to student interest and curiosity, can innovate the curriculum to be relevant and engaging and to solve real world problems.  If you take 20 or so minutes to watch her TedX talk, you’ll see how she does an amazing job embracing Ontario’s global competencies.

Jennifer thinks about how students can contribute as global citizens, and from that thinking emerges other valuable elements – the rich learning the students need just in time to solve the problems they want to solve. I’ve probably missed a few things, but here are some of the elements that I’m seeing as I watch – what would you add to the list that stood out for you?

  • critical  thinking
  • innovation
  • caring
  • co-learning; student-student, teacher-student, and teachers and students together with community partners
  • collaboration within school and with experts
  • communication within class and with the world
  • creativity and problem-solving
  • technologies that enable deeper learning, but aren’t the primary focus
  • authentic assessment
  • global citizenship and sustainability

Students are learning how to learn, how to serve others, and how to empower themselves to make positive changes to their world!

What do you notice as you watch?  In what ways do you resonate with Jennifer as an educational innovator? What are the powerful ideas that she strives to amplify in her classroom?  What about you?

If we want our students to be innovative, as usual, maybe we should start with ourselves first.  Before we ask for a more prescriptive curriculum (adding coding, for instance, as a contemporary example), maybe we should just find out where it connects and GO FOR IT!

To find our more about Jennifer’s classroom, check out her online spaces:

https://twitter.com/jennkranenburg

Ms Kranenburg’s Classroom Blog

Peter Skillen and I were absolutely thrilled to have Jennifer at Minds On Media at BIT16 Conference this year – Check out Jennifer’s Story

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YPALS – Youth Helping Youth at the YMCA

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Peter Skillen and I had the pleasure of attending a working group session at the YMCA of Greater Toronto led by Candy Chow (YPALS Coordinator – ‎YMCA of Greater Toronto) and Nina Arcon (YPALS Specialist at YMCA of Greater Toronto). … Continue reading

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Automated Ordering Comes to McDonalds

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We hear lots about the outsourcing of jobs to computers and last week I walked right into it at a McDonald’s restaurant. 

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Think Tank: Transforming the learning experience

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This week I had the honour to be invited to contribute to a panel of amazing people at the recent Think Tank session from CECCE, one of Ontario’s French School Boards, along with well known thinkers about transforming educational environments.  … Continue reading

Our Learning Commons gets a maker space addition!

In a few days, I’m taking on a new role with a secondment to the Ministry of Ontario in the 21st Century Learning Unit.  I’m feeling bittersweet about the new role; sad to be leaving my school and all of the wonderful students, teachers and parents I’ve come to know in my short time aIMG_0787s a VP, but excited about a new challenge and ready to embrace a new adventure!

Luckily for me, I get to continue to support my school’s newly acquired grant from Future Shop, where we’ve received almost $20000 to enhance student learning with innovative technologies.

Our shopping is almost complete, and I’m planning on chronicling  our journey as we move forward, starting with a little piece of the grant proposal as follows, and sharing our plan of action over the next 8 weeks.

Our students want to become producers, not just consumers of media, and participate as 21st century learners in a world that is creative, collaborative and global. We want students to access tools that allow participation as global citizens, demonstrations of learning through the creation of shareable multimedia projects, and engaging in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programming through projects that are possible with robust technology tools.  Innovative practice with a STEM focus in elementary schools means that students see themselves as idea-makers, planners, designers and builders. We’ve found that our Chromebooks allow us easy ways to collaborate and share files, but this is not enough.  We need tools like laptops, programming software, peripherals for multimedia creation, and Ministry licensed digital resources in order to leverage more of the powerful applications that computers afford us.

Currently, our library is a traditional space holding books and 20 desktop computers in a lab setting.  Our teacher librarian has begun to turn our space into a creative Learning Commons that promotes flexible purposes for learning, and we need mobile devices available to all students, at all times, to be truly transformative for student learning.  Our Learning Commons has the infrastructure to manage this with our efficient wifi throughout the school and a small room attached to the larger space that is the perfect solution to a technology enhanced maker space and multimedia production studio.

STEM initiatives such as the one we are proposing provide an engaging way for students to connect to the curriculum in the areas of math, science, and technology, as well as support the Ontario Ministry’s focus on inquiry based learning and leveraging the power of intentional play to advance learning.  With this grant we can transform this space to include learning, invention, play, creation and innovation and we see it growing from the basic elements we’ve requested to a creative play and invention space that is responsive to the needs, interests and abilities of our students at different age levels.

We are so grateful that Future Shop saw our vision and chose us to be grant recipients so that we can make this happen!

The technology requested in this grant will allow students to develop:

  • skills and experience in creation with multi-media tools (e.g., podcasting, websites, videos, presentations, music)
  • skills and experience in using Logo programming languages (i.e., Scratch, Turtle Art (both free) and MicroWorlds which is included in the proposal, as well as ProBots and BeeBots)
  • hands-on experience using programmable materials (i.e., Little Bits construction tools along with Arduino and Sphero Balls)
  • an understanding of manufacturing and design elements using software that will transpose student designs into 3D artefacts using the 3D printer

Inviting Family Voice: Crowdsourcing For Remembrance Day

I remember hearing Annie Kidder from People for Education talking about parent engagement a couple of years ago. She was cautioning the educators in the room to look beyond the obvious in terms of parent engagement.  We often think parent engagement means that the parents actually need to show up at the school for events.  This idea stuck with me…parent engagement can mean so many other things: helping your child come to school ready to learn, reading the correspondence the school sends out in order to stay informed, participating in fundraisers, responding to requests that might be made for occasional volunteering…all sorts of things, many that might not even take place in the school building or during school hours.  Not every parent can be present during school hours, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be engaged in school life along with their children!  As a working parent of two children myself, I looked for ways to contribute and do my part to support and understand the school, but it couldn’t happen during the school day.

So, when my principal and I were chatting about our Remembrance Day assembly and how we could bring student voice to the process and make the Remembrance more relevant to our students who are in Grades K- 6, I was thinking back to those comments from Annie Kidder and thought about using technology to help out.  Here’s what we came up with to make this work!

First, I created a google slideshow and added a title slide and my example slide to model the process.  Then, I created a screencast to show parents and students how to collaborate and add their slide about their family members who may serve or have served in the armed forces in Canada or other countries.  I used my favourite quick and easy screencasting tool, Screen-cast-o-matic, and then uploaded it here on YouTube.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 5.07.22 PMI shared the plan with staff and mentioned that I had never tried this but wanted to give it a go. I also mentioned what might go wrong, and that I had a Plan B to try and prevent any issues that I was anticipating could create any wrinkles.

It was pretty exciting when I saw the first slide come in yesterday from a family, and it continues to grow!  I wonder how many will contribute?  We’ll know at the end of the day Monday.  These will be read by students at the assembly as we share it with our whole school, and shared out later on our school website.

One of the things I’m working on as a new administrator through the Ontario Leadership Framework, is modeling some risk-taking for staff and letting them know that I’m okay with them trying new things even though they might not always work.  We all need to try new things and they might not always work perfectly, but that’s part of learning!  Another focus is increasing student voice in our school and building relationships with our parent community, both things I hope will be nurtured by making this small effort to reach out and include our families in our celebrations at school.

UPDATE! This was a huge success! We had 38 slides contributed which I thought was a great result from a first attempt,  and the students loved hearing their names and their families mentioned.   I wonder how this crowdsourcing approach could be used in other areas?

Thank You Annie Fetter: How strangers can get us started and friends can cement the change

This post was first published on August 11, 2014 for voicEd.ca

As teachers, we don’t always know our impact unless our students come back and share with us.  Similarly, as global teacher learners, we don’t always know the people that we reach and the positive impact we might have on the growth of other educators.  This year, I’d like to start by thanking Annie Fetter, someone whom I’ve never met face-to-face, for the positive impact she’s had on my growth this year, and for the rich discussions that she’s prompted me to have with educators within my PLN and with the teachers I work with back in Guelph.

This is the video that got things started for me in May of 2013.  It’s an Ignite Session from a Math conference where Annie shows how she uses a Noticing and Wondering strategy when teaching Math.  It was shared on Twitter by one of my mentors, Mary-Kay Goindi.

Mary-Kay and I spent some time talking about this video and then the ideas began to percolate as we went about our year.  As I watched it several times, I began to love the elegance of Annie’s message.  This strategy makes thinking visible, both to students and to teachers; what another learner notices can be really helpful to us as thinkers, and we don’t always ask students to articulate this internal noticing.  It’s really inclusive, in that no value judgements are made, only observations.  When teachers ask,  “What makes you say/think that?” instead of, “Why?” students are encouraged to provide evidence, rationale and further information to describe their own thinking, something so powerful as a formative tool in order to know what next steps for a learner might be.  So simple, and yet, so powerful!

At a subsequent event, the Waterloo Region Edcamp in February,  I was in a session with another one of my mentors, Peter Skillen, and as part of the discussion I was sharing one of my problems of practice, that of finding strategies that help with the synthesizing of ideas that students are gathering during the inquiry process, something that Peter and I have discussed at length as we try to share our knowledge of PBL and knowledge building, often with teachers who are new to the process.  It’s the part of the process that we often see is missing in inquiry projects today, and the part that I find most challenging.   I have my toolkit of strategies, but I wanted to learn more from this group of teachers gathered at EdCamp.  Luckily for us, a teacher from a nearby private school spoke up, (I’m sorry that I can’t remember her name) and shared that she had been using some of the Project Zero strategies for this purpose.  Excellent!  Peter and I had heard about Project Zero from Howard Gardner himself several years earlier at a conference, but I hadn’t followed up by really delving into the routines they had developed.  I’d also enjoyed reading Making Learning Whole, by David Perkins, but had not yet made the connection!

This led the 3 of us (MK, Peter and me) to spend some time sharing, digesting, and discussing the book Making Thinking Visible and trying 10999036the Thinking Routines presented therein in order to help students and teachers with rich and focused thinking in the classroom.  They fit very well with our thinking about inquiry-based approaches like Knowledge Building, and, in fact, they were not necessarily brand new to us, but provided a new lens, another look, in order to go deeper in our own professional learning.  Indeed, they include a version of Annie Fetter’s Noticing and Wondering, called ‘See Think Wonder’, although I think I’ll still stick with the simplicity of her version at certain times!  A couple of new learning experiences, supported by wonderful dialogue, led to a positive change in my practice over the course of about a year or so.

I’m about to start in a Vice-Principal role next September and in looking back at how Annie’s video led to positive change for my learning, I’m reminded that sometimes our virtual teachers plant a seed that gets slowly nourished by those colleagues we trust in our professional learning community.  This is exactly what Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall propose in their wonderful book, The Connected Educator when they suggest that the combination of Professional Learning Communities (f2f), Communities of Practice, and Personal Learning Networks lead us to powerful new kinds of 21st century professional learning.

For me, Annie planted a seed that took about a year to grow into positive change, thanks to the support of wonderful colleagues!