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

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). This group of about 12 young people are about to launch a blog that will help newcomers to Canada in areas that would help make the transition easier: health care information, customs, laws, education information, etc.

In this digital age, our tools allow us to reach out over time and space in a more non-linear fashion, and that’s exactly what this group is hoping to do.  Their blog will allow people who are preparing their arrival in Canada to begin to investigate their new life before arriving, as well as help those folks who are already here find and explore this source for information.

I was asked to contribute my knowledge about blogging, and especially aspects of Creative Commons that would ensure that this public space wouldn’t be violating any copyright laws.  Similar to my experience with working with teachers, these students had never heard of the Creative Commons.  They weren’t aware of the laws around responsible use of the works of others, or how to license their own content.  Peter and I hear all of the time about how the presence of ‘digital natives’ will mean we no longer have to focus on building capacity for technology use…”they were born with it, they just know it!”  Not our experience. It was so refreshing to work with these smart, amazing, self-directed and community minded young people who were so eager to learn.  They were delighted that we were sharing sites that would give them great content for their school assignments too!

Congratulations to this team of YPALS at the YMCA of Greater Toronto! I can’t wait to see what they come up with and hope that I get invited back again…thanks for the opportunity!

Think Tank: Transforming the learning experience

cecceThis 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.  My ECOO colleague Peter Skillen and I have crossed paths recently with many CECCE educators in attendance at Educon, ISTE and various Ontario events, as well as in my work at the Ministry, so it was wonderful to have a chance to hear more about the deep dive they are taking to transform their system. The school board has been working to fundamentally change their system to serve students, not just in the their academic pursuits, but in their well-being as they grow and develop into engaged, compassionate, learning citizens and @heidisiwak does a great job of capturing their journey here in her blog if you’d like to learn more.  I found it a challenge to decide what I might contribute to this amazing panel,  but was willing to give it a try and participate, and hopefully add something of value to the discussion. Michael Fullan did a wonderful job of finding a way to share all of the voices in a relatively short period of time!fullanpanel

If you search #cecce hashtag, you’ll see many of the tweets that describe the day. Over and over I heard people focused on three critical factors that lead to effective change:

  • First, we have to understand how people (both students and adults) learn.
  • Second, we have design learning environments and experiences around interesting, provoking, and real-life authentic issues.
  • Lastly, we must trust all learners to be partners in their own learning

There were many things to note,  but one thing struck me as especially important and it came from the student trustee on the panel.   There had been lots of talk from the adults in the room about ‘deep learning’, but Matthew really named it when asked about what he wanted from his education.  He said that he wanted learning “that would help him in the rest of his life”.  This stuck me as a specific example of the kind of learning transfer that we talk about when we focus on deep learning.

When we broke into table discussions after the panel, I was interested in following that further and asked Catherine (another student trustee), what kinds of things she felt she was learning at school that she felt would benefit her for ‘the rest of her life’. She mentioned discovering her passion for causes and helping people to learn more about them through events that she has organized through her school.  She mentioned the student government that she’s been involved with, and along the way the teachers who have supported her in developing her strengths, both academically, and through her interests in extra-curricular.  This led our table to a discussion of passion-based learning and how extra-curriculars should not be extra at all, but a part of school life.  In reflecting on that conversation, I realize that in that brief conversation, Catherine named many, if not all, of the competencies that are so much a part of the educator conversations happening to describe 21st century learning: communication skills that evolve as a part of authentic collaboration, creativity and critical thinking in the pursuit of learning and in the sharing of meaningful information to persuade others, the entrepreneurial spirit involved in social action,  and the self-awareness that is required to take risks, understand one’s strengths, and to continue to grow and persevere to accomplish goals.

As we continued our discussion at the table,  the school board members, along with student trustee Catherine, mentioned that joy is important, that relationships are key, and that the partnerships were an important part of making education relevant to our children and youth.  This was palpable in the room throughout the day from the remarks of all of the organizers of the event, and evidenced once again in the thoughtful closing comments from Superintendent Eugénie Congi.  What a great team! Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 5.09.27 PM

I’m excited to hear how this work at CECCE evolves and I thank the organizers for allowing me to be a part of it.  I hope that I am able share this success story across the province so that other boards and students can benefit from their deep thinking and vision for their teachers and students.

On a personal note, I’m excited that I’m able to continue my French language learning and I found the benefit of the simultaneous translation that was provided to me during the event to be amazing!  Merci!

 

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!

 

OTRK12 and Google Summit Learning

My friends Donna Fry and Mark Carbone, co-creators of the #ossemooc  have put out a call for us to share our learning during this month of April and, as always, it takes me a little while to get my posts onto the blog!  Luckily for me, I had two great experiences last week,  one at the #otrk12 conference and one at the #gafesummit in Waterloo.   Starting with Stephen Hurley’s examples of passion-based learning at OTRK12 was wonderful and I enjoyed presenting to the e-learning teachers about creating dynamic virtual discussions and seeing Jaclyn Calder’s presentation about the Grader App for D2L with awesome options for providing differentiated and timely feedback to learners.   It’s wonderful to see what an amazing teacher like Jaclyn does with technology!

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Mark Carbone Opening the #GAFESummit in Waterloo

While I could share all the tips and tricks that I learned at #otrk12 and the #gafesummit,  I think I’d rather share a few observations that I have mulling around and arising from these 2 great learning events.

A principal from my school board approached me at the Google Summit a little distraught that she had perhaps purchased the wrong technology this year. She has provided her teachers and students with a variety of tools like  ipads, laptops, desktops and Chromebooks.  She seemed a little worried that she had made a wrong choice and should have bought more Chromebooks.  I reminded her, that regardless of how ‘feel good and for the cause of all children and teachers everywhere’ this event undoubtedly was, it was also a Google event after all,  and their mission was to make her feel as though Google products were the bomb. Obviously – they succeeded!

I assured her that an effective technology ecology in her school would also include some higher-end media creation tools like her computers and her ipads, and that she’d want to remember that the ability to do some computing with computers is also a really important skill for our students today.  I remember when Nicholas Negroponte from MIT started to predict that ubiquity would be a game changer in our adoption of technology but that rather than getting simpler, as they should over time,  there was this interesting phenomenon with computers called ‘featuritis’ whereby software developers keep the software getting more complex and complicated (bloated and expensive) rather than cheaper.  Google seems to have figured that out.  Make the browser do most of the work, and the machine could remain inexpensive,  although not as robust.   Maybe robust is not what we are looking for in education anyway.  Easy (for teachers)  seems to be the preferred approach when it comes to technology.   I’m not in complete agreement with this, but I’m learning to accept it.   It is what it is.

People often ask me if I think things are suddenly changing, and while I’m hopeful,  I’m still cautious because I’m not sure it’s the technology that has been holding us back.   We’ve been able to connect our students around the world with blogs since about 2005 and with global projects using forums and list serves since the 1980s.  How many of us jumped on board?  We’ve had extremely rich sites sharing how-to’s of authentic learning and Project Based Learning for more than two decades.   Were we on board then?  We have had Ministry Licensed products that allow multimedia creation and assistive technology for our students for another decade or so.  Were we all making use of these?  When I tell people that my students and I were blogging with other classrooms across the world almost 10 years ago now, and we did this by taking turns all throughout the day on two desktop computers,  they sometimes look at me strangely – like they couldn’t imagine doing that without the Chromebook cart rolled down to the classroom or students 1:1 on their own devices.   They complain that there isn’t enough technology, and yet their classroom computer is often sitting silently in the corner reserved for teacher email.  What’s up with that?

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Katina Papulkas’ excellent session on Google for Administrators

Despite my observations, and my confusion about slow progress in educational technology, I refuse to become cynical.  Instead, I’m telling myself that it’s the ubiquity and access that will make the difference this time around.  Now that educators can leap ahead with their own learning through connected networks, they are not bound any longer by the limits of their own school building or in-services for learning…they can connect with and  support each other and learn not only how to use these tools, but what effective use looks like.

I’m reminded that early adopters will always be willing to put in the countless hours that lead them to mastery of technology tools (and other things) if they feel that will  transform their classrooms – that hasn’t changed much since computers were first introduced into classrooms.

Now that we can share our success stories and connect more widely through social media and through networks like the #ossemooc there is no reason to ‘wait for the learning’ – we can just go out and get it!  It was exciting to see so many educators at OTRK12 and GAFE Summit finding their community and learning together!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Footprints

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Online CVs are available from Visual CV

After completing my Principal’s courses this December, I’m now putting together a package that will serve me when an opening might come up in my school district.   I’m connected to a lot of teachers and administrators online, so being very public about how I learn and teach has never been an issue for me – in order to understand being ‘out there’ I had to get out there.   My CV is online, my blog chronicles my personal and professional learning along with my digital footprint, and sharing with social media is just a part of how I go about learning and connecting with others.  Of course, this will be the way that I do business in school leadership, should I be lucky enough to get a chance to do that, but some folks have suggested that they would never put their CV online for all to see.  What about you?

Given all the speaking dates that @gcouros is having these days in Ontario, it sounds like more and more administrators will be joining those of us who are Ontario Connected Learners!  Hurray!  I sure hope so, because although I have many connections online with my PLN, I don’t get the same sense that many administrators in my school district use their connections in quite the same way.  It’s a bit daunting to think that perhaps this might not be viewed as appropriate for administrators from within my school district, but I will stay the course, be brave and find folks like @LeBlancPeter @lisaneale @shannoninottawa and @julie1gast to learn with!  If the role of a vice-principal is to build community, focus on student learning and engagement and nurture a positive 21st century learning environment, I can’t imagine not leveraging the benefits of technology to amplify the possibilities!

Getting At Work/Life Balance

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Photo courtesy of chrisinplymouth on flickr

I remember hearing this famous story about a management professor talking about goals, vision, and the effective management of time. The professor told the story while starting to fill a jar with several large rocks, asking if it were full (to which the audience replied ‘yes’)  and then continuing to fill the jar first with pebbles, then sand, and then water.  Just as the audience thinks the jar is full each time, he continues to add more of the smaller items, letting them fall between the cracks.    What has stayed with me about this story is the idea that we must think about what represents the larger rocks in our lives and get them into the jar first…otherwise we run the risk of filling up our jars with less important albeit time consuming activities.

Easier said than done!

I’ve tried to remember this story when thinking about the balance between work and personal time.   Most of us have to make very conscious choices about maintaining a work/family/personal balance and school leadership is no exception.   There will be daily pressures to lose track of the ‘big rocks’ as other items compete for attention or time.  Taking to heart the ‘people before paper’ recommendation that we’ve heard from several authors and from some of our guests in our course, would be a way that I could set relationship building as one of my larger ‘rocks’.  Using my network of experienced vice-principals and principals will be crucial in gathering advice about setting priorities and creating structures to help with organization.  Networking and professional learning are both a balance challenge for me because I have access to a rich and generous personal learning network online as well as f2f.  This is a wonderful addition to my working and learning life, and with the opportunity to learn 24/7 in both f2f and virtual spaces,  comes the responsibility to make decisions about how much time to devote to learning and how to incorporate fitness, wellness and fun into the mix as well!  Students are also working and learning in virtual as well as f2f spaces and need some awareness of their need to make healthy and balanced choices.

I have to admit that when my sons went off to University, I may have busied myself with getting a new puppy and doing a little too much work —  it was fulfilling and valuable — and therefore a good distraction.  Other Moms or Dads probably take up a new hobby or run a marathon.  I’ve made some conscious choices in the last 6 months to be a little bit more selective in what I’m taking on this next year.  I’ve taken a break from the ECOO Board of Directors and ECOO Conference work  after six years, and I’m making time for some travel as well as getting to the gym more regularly.   It is important to encourage staff to consider their own situations and priorities and make time to talk about the challenges of family, work and personal time.

These final thoughts come to mind as important to remember as a school administrator:

  • Noticing people,  listening, and being visible can be powerful ways to get a sense of how staff are coping with the demands of the job.
  • We are all at different places in our family and personal lives.   Having young families, caring for elders,  or helping friends and/or family are big commitments that might mean contributions to the work place in varied ways at certain times.
  • Staff will be different in their need/desire to socialize and that’s perfectly okay. Providing a variety of options will encourage authentic relationships.
  • There is an ebb and flow to the busy school year that needs to be respected by administrators. Know when to add on, and when to take away.
  • Teachers are nurturers and need reminders to make sure to look after themselves too.
  • Work can be lots of fun!