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!

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Educon 2.8: Learning about a missed opportunity

I attended Educon 2.8 once again this year, hosted at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  It was great to be in the building once again.  Chris Lehman and Zac Chase provide inspiring leadership and watching this school grow and change has been fantastic.  The school feels more like Ontario schools than other US schools that I hear about, although I must confess that it is the only US school I’ve had the opportunity to visit!

I really enjoyed talking to teachers and parents this year, and spent a fair bit of time asking them questions and loitering in the hallways to get a sense of what was new at the school. You’ll know, if you’ve ever attended Educon, that sessions are about conversations, not presentations, and it’s a place of rich dialogue and networking.

I attended one session that really got me thinking and reflecting on my past practice at school last year as a vice-principal.  It was called The Privileged Voices in Education, facilitated by Audrey Watters @audreywatters and Jose Vilson @TheJLV.  I chose to listen rather than talk. The conversation ran the gamut of sensitive and passionate topics: race, privilege, access, voice, agency, challenges with getting people involved politically, and the fear of corporate interference and what that could mean for students.  There were students, teachers, parents, and administrators in the room.

It’s my nature to begin to shift to action oriented thinking and a few people started to talk about some of the things we CAN do to help give ALL students and parents a voice in education. The issue of our complicity was raised – both from the point of view of those who are silent in their daily lives, and those who don’t even feel privileged enough to join in the conversation — such a complex issue.  We were prompted by Jose toward the end of the session to be reflective about our complicity, and this is when I realized that I had missed an opportunity last year at my school.

Edward Johnson PS received a grant for technology last year, which I’ve written about before. We got the grant because we had a parent on school council who volunteered her time to search out grant opportunities and follow them up.  We also likely got it because I knew what to write, how to phrase that proposal, and could even support the school in the implementation of a great space and make it work.  Our school isn’t a school that is lacking…we have a supportive community of parents, and lucky students who are comfortable and privileged with their opportunities.  I’m suspicious of corporate funding, because I often think it goes where it is NOT needed most, and yet I wanted to support the parents and bring the best to my school and my students.  Was I complicit in adding to the gap between rich and poor schools?

I could have done it differently.  I could have partnered with a school just a few blocks away and done some work to share what I know about writing that proposal with other parents, teachers and administrators. We could have split the money (it wasn’t huge, but $20000 is definitely sizable) and partnered the two schools to be co-learners in this venture.  Was I complicit in promoting gaps between schools that ‘have’ and those that ‘don’t have’? Not intentionally.  Could I have taken action to encourage a partnership that could shed some light on a school in need and help build capacity there?  Yes definitely.

I hope I get another chance to approach this differently another time.

One person in the room provided some interesting insight for people wondering about the intention of corporate support in education realm.  Find out how much they are investing in the grants themselves, and then try to find out how much is spent in marketing the grants.  Interesting….

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

Art Miles Japan — Our successful completion!

BIG congratulations to the Grade 6s and Mme Caudarella from  École Edward Johnson who participated in a Global Project called Art Miles Japan this year.  It is coordinated through the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN.org) and is a fabulous way for students to have a global learning experience.  A teacher is matched with a class from Japan and the classes begin by introducing themselves in the iEARN online forum and through videos that they create.   The two classes then decide on a theme for a mural; in this case it was around the local culture and nature evident in our two countries.

The class from Japan begins the first half of the mural painting, and, once complete, sends it to the class in Canada to finish, which we shared earlier here. What a great opportunity for students to research, collaborate, design, and be creative with a classroom from across the world! Mme Caudarella’s class received the half-finished mural from Japan in January and sent it back just before March Break. Thanks so much to our partner class from Japan for this wonderful collaboration! 🙂

Here are some pictures of the class working on and celebrating the finished mural:

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Making Thinking Visible – Getting started with routines

10999036Making Thinking Visible is based on the work being done at Harvard’s Project Zero and is part of a larger study of Cultures of Thinking about which you can read more here.  The book provides a background about why a thinking focus is important and provides an introduction into the Thinking Routines that are recommended as a way to bring the theory into practice in the classroom.  I’ve found it a nice combination of going deeper into our professional practice as teachers, and practical suggestions that we can implement quickly and reflect upon as we go.  I’m fortunate to be involved with a group of primary teachers at my school who are exploring the text and trying some of the routines as part of their Collaborative Inquiry: How might inquiry-based learning look in a primary French Immersion program?

We’ll be each trying one of the routines from the first section of this book to get us started in discussion at our next PLC meeting, but first I thought I would attempt to briefly summarize the first part of the book.

Here is one of the authors,  Ron Ritchart, explaining why we need a culture of thinking in schools.

In the introduction of Making Thinking Visible the authors ask the question:
What kinds of thinking do you value and want to promote in your classroom?
And, as we look at the kinds of activities in the learning environments we create in schools…
What kind of thinking does this lesson/activity force students to do?
These questions are causing me to look more closely at what happens in my classroom.  I’ve always known that my job as an educator is to create an environment that fosters learning — sounds easy — but in reality, this is a really complex undertaking.  I realize that I can’t ‘make’ someone learn something, rather, the learner needs to be a partner in that process and the definition of ‘learning’ needs to be considered carefully and not be confused with compliance or fleeting knowledge accessible only in certain contexts.  I know that much of learning is unobservable (going on in the head of the learner) and my job is to help make it visible in order to help a learner keep moving forward.
The authors suggest the following activity which would be great for any teacher to try:
 Make a list of all the actions and activities with which your students are engaged in a subject you teach. Now, working from this list, create 3 new lists:
1.  The actions student in your class spend most of their time doing.  What actions account for 75 percent of what students do in your class on a regular basis?
2.  The actions most authentic to the discipline, that is, those things that real scientists, writers, artists, and so on actually do as they go about their work.
3.  The actions you remember doing yourself from a time when you were actively engaged in developing some new understanding of something within the discipline or subject area.
What Is Thinking?
The authors do a really nice job of talking about what they know about thinking, what they have learned about thinking, and what they mean by thinking in the first section of the book.  Although they acknowledge that there are lots of kinds of thinking, they are specifically talking about types of thinking that are particularly useful when we are trying to understand new concepts, ideas, and events  — which is often the kind of thinking we are doing in schools.

They outline 8 thinking ‘MOVES’

  1. Observing closely and describing what’s there
  2. Building explanations and interpretations
  3. Reasoning with evidence
  4. Making connections
  5. Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  6. Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
  7. Wondering and asking questions
  8. Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things

If you’ve ever questioned the way you’ve seen Bloom’s taxonomy used, as I have, you’ll enjoy the critique the authors provide there, but that’s another blog post altogether.

The Thinking Routines

“When we as teachers frame our core activity not as delivering the curriculum to a passive group of students but as engaging students actively with ideas and then uncovering and guiding their thinking about those ideas….(we strive to) make students’ thinking visible through our questioning, listening and documenting so that we can build on and extend that thinking on the way to deeper and richer understanding.”  (p.39)
The authors also describe the power involved when teachers make their own thinking explicit to students and model the high-quality conversations about thinking and ideas that should happen in our classrooms.  Both the idea that students need to be focused on the kinds of thinking that actually occur in world of real mathematicians, scientists, writers, artists etc., and the awareness of the power of co-learning, remind me of the amazing contributions of Seymour Papert in his study of how children learn – it’s no wonder I love their approach in this book!
The 3 categories of structures in Part 2 of the book, which they call routines, are selected for their ability to promote questioning, listening and documentation in these three areas:
  1. Introducing and Exploring Ideas
  2. Synthesizing and Organizing Ideas
  3. Routines for Digging Deeper into Ideas
Our first exploration involves choosing one of the routines in the area of Introducing and Exploring Ideas, trying it with our students and then sharing what we notice and wonder about the process as beginners. I’m choosing Chalk Talk as the routine that I’m bringing to the meeting.  Should be some great sharing and learning!

NEW! Mindomo Mind Mapping for Ontario Learners

OSAPAC has announced the release of a new Mind Mapping tool, called Mindomo, that affords some exciting new possibilities for demonstrations of learning and collaboration.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 9.09.11 AMThis is a web application that students will access through a code that a teacher sets up in an easy process that is attached to their School Board email address.  I’ve had a chance to explore this tool and I love the way that it’s very easy to edit and add media like pictures and youtube videos to enhance student work.  There is also a great presentation mode, which allows students to create a presentation by zooming in on parts of their mind maps.   Templates are also included that provide editable maps in a variety of educational topics.

One of the best features of Mindomo is the fact that students can collaborate on their maps and share them out in many different formats.  Along with this collaborative feature comes a revision history so that collaborators and teachers can see when and how often people are working on their mapping projects — you can even receive notifications to get emails when changes are made to the maps.

No tool is perfect, and Mindomo is continuing to develop and add new features all the time.   There are a couple of limitations I’ve found, and using the following work-arounds has helped:

1) Mindomo does not have an outline view in the same way that you might expect to see in other Graphic Organizers.  You might be used to creating a mind map graphically and then, with the click of a button, seeing a textual representation of your thinking to organize main ideas and supporting details, which students could then use with other writing tools like Google Docs or Word.  With Mindomo, you’ll want to export your map as a .txt file, and then indent, number and add to your text document in a way that suits you.

2) Adding labels to a connector link turns your mind map into a concept map. With Mindomo, you can ‘add a label’ to a connector link when you use floating topics.  There is a quick create option for creating maps efficiently, you just can’t delete the connectors (or relationships) or add labels to them using this mode. Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 10.35.42 AMResources

Folks on the OSAPAC Committee have created a Public Folder where you can go for information about how to get access to Mindomo along with video tutorials to help you get started.  You can access those resources on the OSAPAC Website by clicking the Mindomo button currently on the Home Page or by going directly to the public folder here.

School Improvement Plans Are Everyone’s Business

Making our SIP (School Improvement Plan) come alive!

This year I heard about someone on Twitter who decided to post their Board Improvement Plan in a visible space at school to share with students, parents and the community as you see in the photo below.

SIPAfter hearing this idea via @leblancpeter @tlobaker and @nhamilton647 my Principal, @davidpmarquis, and I have decided to implement this in our school this year with a few additions.

Some big ideas are driving our thinking:

  • a vibrant school is one where everyone is learning
  • digital artefacts allow us to share in new ways
  • administrators should model their efforts to try new things
  • administrators should be helping to ‘tell’ the stories about meaningful learning in which students, staff, parents and community members are engaged
  • making thinking visible helps us to build knowledge as a community
  • constructing artefacts help us to articulate our learning to promote dialogue
  • pedagogical documentation needs to be purposeful

How will we do this?

We plan to post an image of the SIP in our hallway at the front of the school that links to photographs and documentation that will demonstrate our learning goals for the year and plans for school improvement. We’ll need to convert some of our current edu-speak into lingo that makes better sense to parents and students…this will be great!  We’ll take that a step further and create this digitally as well, so that QR codes posted could take visitors to more interactive online spaces like teacher websites, interviews with staff, students and parents, and evidence of our great learning spaces through text and images as well.

In implementing the thinking routines from Making Thinking Visible from Project Zero at Harvard this past year, I’m thinking that many of the routines for synthesis and exploring ideas will fit in perfectly. I will try to post this work in progress as we get going and share our hiccups and successes!

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?

Getting Started with PLCs – A Protocol for Group Collaboration

Our first staff meeting at Edward Johnson was partly about getting to know each other. We have many new staff members (including both administrators), several LTOs (Long Term Occasionals) and a growing FDK (Full Day Kindergarten) team of 14 educators. We are also about to get started choosing areas of interest and people to work with for our professional learning teams — aka — our collaborative teacher inquiry groups. index

Many getting to know you activities include interest inventories, learning style or learning preference surveys that help us get to know ourselves as learners, but we thought it might be important to get to know ourselves as a group, and wonder a bit about our own participation in teams; how do others influence us, and how do we impact the group?  My go-to site for great protocols is the National School Reform Faculty from the Harmony Education Centre, and one that fits really well for this purpose is the Compass Points Activity, its purpose being to understand our preferences in group work.

I’ve used this protocol about 4 times now, very successfully in three f2f sessions and even once trying it online during a Connected Coaching course with PLP Network.  Through the protocol we learn a lot about each other, and we learn a lot about how other people in our groups can strengthen our team and ‘balance’ us out.

The protocol is a four corners activity.  Each teacher identifies him/herself with one of the compass points which describes them best and then joins others in that group for a brief discussion. In general, the four compass points identify some folks who jump right in, some who like to know the big picture, some who like to focus on the details and some who are concerned about interpersonal skills and making sure that all members are heard.

Here are the points that are discussed in each group and then shared out briefly to all:

  • what are the strengths of your style?
  • what are the limitations of your style?
  • what do you want others to know about your style?
  • which of the other styles do you find most difficult to work with and why?

Each group I’ve done this with has had fun and some giggles along the way as we see each group complete the discussion and sharing in a way that suits their style. This time around some teachers noticed that our group was pretty evenly split among the four groups, and that some of their favourite people to work with were actually quite different than them in terms of how they liked to approach group tasks. We learned who liked to jump right in and who liked to see the big picture, who likes to understand the details first and who would want to look after people and make sure that all were heard.  We talked about what our group might find stressful at times as well as the benefits to us of having a diverse team.

My hope is that this activity will build some trust among us as we begin our learning this year, and it has also given us some understanding of our role in group dynamics….both from the point of view of what we need to be effective contributors and what our colleagues need from us!

What ways to you try to build a culture of trust and openness that leads to productive group work in your setting?

 

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!