Wild About Vancouver

HumpDayHighlight:  This featured blog post is intended to explore classroom practices and possibilities, including books and units of study.

Hump Day Highlight #3:  Wild About Vancouver

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As I reported in an earlier blog post on Outdoor Learning (Dec. 2015), Dr. Hart Banack, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC, has been heading up  Wild About Vancouver in an effort to encourage teachers and students to take advantage of the opportunities to participate in the outdoor classroom.  UBC students prepared a document for our school detailing green spaces in the community and several possible outdoor learning activities and connections with the redesigned curriculum.

Our Tecumseh team  is growing in numbers and enthusiasm.   To date it includes John Mullan, David Thompson- Community (CST) team coordinator, Tara Perkins -CST Programmer, Aman Akilari – UBC volunteer, CST volunteers from David Thompson, Division 11 students, Division 1 students, Mrs. Jang- Grade 3 teacher, Ms. Pearce – Grade 7 teacher and myself.  Wild About Vancouver is scheduled for April 16-22, 2016 and will provide dozens of free, outdoor-focused activities around Earth Day 2016.  Our team is working together to provide two, or possibly three events during Earth Week.  The idea is to share our learning with others.  Hopefully this will result in the recipients creating their own idea to share with others within their school community and perhaps even during Wild About Vancouver 2017.  The diffusion model works best when learners are engaged in their learning so we are working hard to create learning activities that will be fun as well as educational.

imageJohn Mullan has a well developed collection of outdoor learning books.  Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages by Joseph Cornell has been particularly helpful in designing activities using the flow learning sequence: Stage 1 – Awaken enthusiasm; Stage 2 – Focus Attention;  Offer Direct Experience;  Stage 4 – Share inspiration.  The Vancouver Kidsbooks team also have a plethora of good books that can be purchased. International Literacy Association Members on staff also secured a grant to integrate literacy activities in the outdoor classroom through ReadingBC (BC chapter of the International Literacy Association).  This money allowed us to purchase some resources, compasses, tarps, buggy cords, rope and waterproof notebooks from Mountainimage Equipment Coop.  Great things to do Outside 365 Awesome Outdoor Activities has lots of ideas to pursue in the classroom, during after school programs and during home time.  Ideas are percolating and we are excited about the possibilities for our Wild About Vancouver sessions.  Students and adults are busy brainstorming.

If you are interested in the outdoor classroom, check out the link to Wild About Vancouver and design your own activity to share or attend.  We live in Vancouver – filled with sand, sea, mountains, lakes and plenty of liquid sunshine to guarantee green spaces!  It’s guaranteed to be wild!

Why Do I Lead?

imageIt is a hectic time of year but pretty much every month in the school year is shrouded in busyness.  Getting back to school, meeting reporting deadlines, getting ready of special assemblies, celebrations and project presentations with the overarching goal of meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of our students.  In administration, you add yet another layer to the busyness.   During our recent career day sponsored by the Spirit Committee, one of the students chose “Vice Principal” as their dream job.  Of course, it begged the question.  Why?  The response was true enough: I smile a lot and laugh at my own jokes.  I spend most of the days just talking to kids and teachers and parents and people who fix stuff in the school.  I get to play everyday.  I have a whistle and lots of keys.  I get to do fun things like building the playground and garden boxes. I make rules and get to talk on the PA. What more could you want in a dream job?

I recently became part of the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP).  George Couros suggested the blog topic:  Why Do I Lead?  It has pushed me to reflect on the various types of leadership that I have experienced as a student, a teacher, a parent and an administrator.  My first memory of  leadership was in Grade 7 at David Lloyd George Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was running to be team captain.   I was nervous beyond belief to be up on the stage giving a speech and facing the possibility of a humiliating defeat.  My eyes flickered up from my shaking cue cards to see the front rows of primary students cheering.  Those little people believed I could be their leader.    Getting elected was thrilling but the biggest takeaway for me as a kid was that big people and little people believed my ideas mattered and wanted to talk about them with me.  My takeaway as an adult is that I want everyone in our school communities to have that experience.

Subsequent activities that I have chosen, or been co-oped to lead, have been things I have been heavily invested in, such as social justice, my children, my students and professional development.  Leaderships skills were not a precursor to assuming the leadership roles for me but were more of a by-product of the experiences themselves. Every leadership role has been a risk taking venture.  The learning has come with the grand successes or the abysmal failures or the things to consider for a later date.  Each leadership opportunity has connected me with people who pushed my thinking, made me laugh, tried my patience and allowed me to see things from a different perspective.  Each opportunity helped me to grow personally and professionally.

There are many opportunities for leadership when you work in a school.  Throughout my career, I assumed a variety of leadership roles in sports, BC teacher Federation PSA, LSA’s, professional associations and committees while teaching at the elementary school, middle school and university level.  When I was seconded to Simon Fraser University as a faculty associate, my realm of leadership possibilities broadened.  In the Faculty Associate role, I worked in several school districts with student teachers in a Kindergarten to Grade 12 module.  It provided the opportunity to engage in conversations with many administrators about their role and experience many school cultures.  The multifaceted challenges in the role of the administrator in developing a learning community was intriguing.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of strong school administrators who challenged the status quo and supported teachers with innovative teaching practices. What they all had in common was the willingness to support and trust the initiatives proposed by staff members.   We are fortunate in British Columbia to have a strong public school system.  We are also in a time of unprecedented change that requires that educators have the confidence and support structures in place to cope with the advances in technology and shifts in parenting, society and curricular expectations.  School administrators play an integral role in creating and envisioning an environment that supports the intellectual, human, and social and career development of all students.    This requires their personal investment identifying the possibilities open to us as educators.   It is inspiring to work in community to develop the background knowledge and skills required to provide the scaffolding for school communities to meet with success in the challenges of change.  Richard Gerver (2014) highlights the work of Professor Guy Claxton (2002) and his definition of the 4 R’s of Learning Power as Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity.  I lead because I want to be part of a network that supports teachers, support staff, parents and community partners in providing the very best kick at the can for our students to graduate with the background knowledge, skills, creativity, and confidence to fearlessly embrace the possibilities in their future.

 

 

TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation

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One question brought 3500 Vancouverites from all walks of life together on a rainy day.   The tone in Roger’s Arena morphed from captive to zen to electric depending on the speaker and the message. Technology provided an interactive component to solicit opinions of the group, artist renditions accompanying performances, illustrations of speaker’s points and the opportunity to tweet(#TEDxVan) and show that history can be interesting with Sam Sullivan’s videos. Continue reading “TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation”

The Couros Brothers Inspire Educators

 

Alec Couros referencing George Couros at Whistler Conference 2015 for VSB Admin

It is fairly common to hear couples that speak on the same topic at conferences.  It is less common to have siblings pursuing and presenting on the same area of study.  This year I had the good fortune to hear both of the Couros brothers speak.  Although I follow both of them on Twitter, @gcouros @courosa, read their blogs (The Principal Change by George and Open Thinking by Alec),  face to face contact is still best case scenario for me.  George Couros came to speak with Jordan Tinney at a PDK Vancouver (UBC Chapter) dinner meeting: ” Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning:  Leadership and Learning in a Changing World “. He awed the Vancouver, B.C. audience with his forward thinking about the mindset of innovator’s (2015, The Innovator’s Mindset:  Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity 2015 release) and implementation of a wide variety of progressive tools and strategies to stimulate curiosity and make learning visible, including various digital portfolios.  This was the first PDK- UBC Chapter meeting where people were tweeting from outside the room.  Interest in the topic and his 92.2 K Twitter following were undoubtedly part of the reason.  When I learned his big brother, Alec Couros, would be joining Vancouver administrators in Whistler for our Fall Conference, I was not sure what to expect.  His job as a professor at the University of Regina indicated ivory tower, but his 94.7 K Twitter following, tweets and blog posts indicated something more dynamic.

To my delight, his session was every bit as engaging and informative as his brother’s session with Jordan Tinney in Spring.  The session started providing a theoretical frame as to why educators need to establish an online presence and be the authors of their own story.  He also spoke to our responsibility to define respectful discourse on the internet and teach our students about appropriate posting before any damage is done.   Then he emerged into a whole range of ways to engage our students in their own learning using technology and available APPS.  Dr. Couros provided opportunities for online engagement via a Twitterchat and references so we could go back and play with new tools at a later date.  Educators with varying degrees of comfort with technology and differences of  background knowledge on social media walked out of the room excited about their new learning and with a manageable path they could navigate.

Both of the Couros brothers were able to inspire their audience with not just an openness to change but an excitement about the potential of change.   Their willingness to “boldly go where no “one” has gone before” (Do I need to cite Star Trek?) is energizing for some.  That is not to say that people who embrace change are not without fear.  With any change in life, there is risk.  Continuing on the “tried and true” path is the safest route and perhaps shields us from possible criticism for the questions we can’t answer or for not getting it “right” the first time around.  However as reflective practitioners, our role is to identify what we do well and what we could do better.  How do  we welcome and better facilitate the learning of our students with diverse cultural and linguistic profiles? With varied academic strengths and needs?  With questions we can’t answer?  With varied mental health?  With varied trust in the school system?  With delight in the experiences and energy our students bring into the classroom?  The Couros brothers were both able to shed some light on the possibilities.  They also provided the encouragement, background knowledge and manageable steps to keep us moving forward, not just for the sake of change, but for our students who will need to navigate in a world quite foreign to the one we grew up in.  Thank you, gentlemen 🙂

 

 

Making iMovie Magic

Thanks to SD38 and their SummerTech Institute at Westwind Elementary School, I’m inspired and ready to start to another year of tech learning with Tecumseh students.  In my role as Vice Principal, I am enrolling a Grade 3 class and teaching computer skills to Grade 5-7 students this year.  Last year I dipped my toe into using iMovie on the iPad with students. Students in Grade 3 and 4 had no difficulty learning to take and edit photos, plan video clips, insert audio clips, airdrop and use templates to make their movies more effective.  We made movies for a variety of purposes:

  • A way of showcasing Remembrance Day art in the school to the Last Post

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  • Highlighting some of the items not always easy to share during student led conferences such as friends in class,

gymnastics skills and presenting practised, low pressure oral readings of text to parents.

  • Event sharing including student interviews about using BookCreator for content area projects and presenting at the                          Celebration of Learning

Video Jedi, Dylan, from the Apple store did a great session on making iMovies in Richmond last week.  3 steps to make a movie

1.  Import

2.  Create

3.  Share

Sounds pretty basic.  I do find the process is easier on the iPad than on the computer but that could be because I’m more familiar with it.  Dylan’s best advice was to BE ORGANIZED.  The events folder is a good idea to hold content such as pictures, videos, voice-overs and other audio clips.  The entire Apple team was very helpful and invaluable for their trouble shooting.

A fantastic online discovery has been the iMovie Trailer Planners.  It provides the structure to help students storyboard their movies with fillable PDF’s for all 14 trailer templates that are included in iMovie for iPad, iPhone and the iPod touch.  The planning sheet helps students to decide the appropriate trailer for the content and mood of the material being shared.  The results are very professional looking and the limited amount of text requires careful selection of images.  The sample of The Giver demonstrates how effectively the trailers can be used to demonstrate understanding of texts.  Certainly a more engaging project than the book reports that I did in school.  Virginia Bowden used the narrative trailer to have her gifted students to do autobiographies last year.  Even the 4th graders came up with impressive results.

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I am looking forward to sharing this material with VSB Teacher Librarians at their Kick-off/ Orientation / Speed Geeking event.  It’s exciting that so many teacher librarians in the Vancouver School Board are enthusiastic about using technology to engage Kindergarten to Grade 12 students.  I’m also excited about continuing the learning and discovery of possibilities with students and colleagues this year.

One Word One Ethos

Gabriel and Rose Pillay pull off another stellar event for educators At Moderne Burger on Broadway.  One Word. An Ignite Night with a bit of a twist. Created by twitter or popularized by it? Not too sure. Participants are the presenters. An Educational Paradigm. A personal philosophy. All good as long as you can nail it down to one word and explain it in 120 seconds or less.  I didn’t quite get mine out in the 2 minute time frame so here it is.

Initially choosing one word seemed to be impossible. Then it was abundantly clear to me that there really was only one word. Some of my most amazing learning has come out of doing things that terrified me:

  • Travelling by myself
  • Doing a French Immersion Program at Laval when my French was SO bad
  • Going to my first interview for a teaching position in a peach suit when everyone else in the waiting room was wearing black
  • My first speech in a professional capacity at a retirement function
  • Changing grades
  • Changing schools
  • Giving birth
  • Defending my thesis
  • Doing a mini triathlon
  • Changing school districts
  • Interviews
  • Ziplining upside down
  • Going to teach in China for the summer
  • Doing my first online meeting with Distributed Learning Administrators

The list could go. Both personally and professionally, it’s the stretch that pushes me to the thrill of new learning. I suppose we all fall into comfortable spaces where we feel safe and successful.  Venturing out of that comfort zone risks failure.   I have discovered that the definition of failure is largely a set up dependent on my own expectations of myself.  The sting of failure may be personally humiliating. The embarrassment daunting. The injustice palpable. However the advantage of experiencing failure is you realize that it won’t kill you.

The advantage of the risk is that you push yourself to do something that you never quite imagined.  I loved the first school I worked at in Abbotsford. A little primary school with a tight knit staff that worked closely on literacy initiatives and song experience games, hands on Science and supported each other personally. When I left that school for the first 6 months, my friend’s husband would say “Dormick Park”, and I’d cry on cue. However I also learned that with every change to a bigger fish pond, I learned new things personally and professionally. Teaching in China taught me to pay more attention to cultural differences and a healthy respect for my students struggling to learn English.  Entering the world of technology taught me very quickly that I needed to move beyond texting “y” for “yes”. “N” for “No” and “P” for “Phone me right now.” I don’t get bored. I just try something new. Today – One Word Burger.  I wish the same kind of risk taking and the same thrill of new learning for my colleagues and my students.  My word – RISK.

Teams were pulled up the the mic to present together. Clarity was for those of us with names starting with “C”.  Sense of team was foraged quickly!  Fun event.  The only thing I’d do differently would be to hold people to the 2 minute time limit.  Perhaps a big horn or my hand bell 🙂  Great group of people.  Great collection of ideas.  Great burgers and milkshakes – Thanks Moderne Burger!

ProD Inspiration

Professional reading on the topic of professional development largely espouses the view that much of professional development for educators is not worth the time or money. Large-scale conferences or filling the room with a speaker does not serve the attendees in the room. This has not been my experience. I am a whole-hearted enthusiast of professional development in a variety of forms largely because I’ve experienced the direct benefit.

I have actively engaged in “teacher research” or “reflective practice” or “inquiry based practice”, since it was introduced to me under the label of “qualitative research” at Simon Fraser University in pursuit of my MA. I was in my Kindergarten class, creating a body of research with my questions and my students. Maureen Dockendorf popularized this process for wide-spread participation of teachers in Coquitlam.  Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s work and subsequent book, Spirals of Inquiry (2013), has continued to provide a philosophical frame and structure for educators to find answers to their questions while maintaining a focus on student learning. There is no limit to the power of asking questions, focusing on our classrooms and engaging in a conversation with colleagues about our practice and the implications for student learning.

Implicit in the asking of big questions, is the quest to find the answers. That doesn’t just happen in the microcosm of our classrooms. Some of my recent questions have come out of the work with the Grade 3/4 class I enroll on Monday and Tuesdays and my computer classes with intermediate students.   I’m working with a small group of colleagues trying to integrate digital technology into our practice to develop language proficiency and extend thinking skills. Our inquiry group has been supported by Audrey Van Alstyn and the VSB PILOT initiative – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology.  We have had access to planning time, regular practical instruction, discussion of pedagogy and the SAMR model with Dr. Reuben Puentedura, the support of literacy mentors in our classrooms and the opportunity to learn from others involved in PILOT via Speed Geeking and The Digital Fair.   The learning curve has been steep, and at times daunting, but always exciting. However the learning does not happen in a vacuum. We are constantly drawing on the background knowledge and ideas of specialists in the field.

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Much of my thinking has percolated on the ideas from professional reading, professional development and the subsequent conversations in person and via social media. I am energized by professional development and I have been involved in many different forms. I would like to discuss the impact of three professional development opportunities that would meet the criteria for a stand and delivery professional development.   Even though interaction is built into the presentations, according to popular research, it would render this style of professional development as obsolete.

LEARNING AND THE BRAIN CONFERENCE (May 2014):

The research on the plasticity of the brain opened up interesting conversation with my father, a retired neurosurgeon and fueled a fascination with the implications for education. When faced with the opportunity to attend a Brain Research Conference in New York, I jumped.  The power of neuroscientists and educators coming together to define best practice is probably one of the most powerful opportunities at our disposal today. Yes, I was one who lined up to have my purchases signed by the “rock stars” of educational research. And yes, then I proceeded to read the books and look for connections with my practice and applications in my educational context.  I have even participated in the follow-up monthly online chats.

INTERNATIONAL READING (NOW LITERACY) ASSOCIATION (July 2014):

I first became involved in The International Reading Association as a beginning teacher in Abbotsford. Level of involvement fluctuated throughout the years, but my role, as a literacy teacher and learner remained constant and the International Reading Association has always been the “go to” place for practical application of educational research. The International Reading (now Literacy) Association Leadership Convention in Tampa, Florida brought together literacy leaders from North America and beyond to share our work with our provincial /state and local literacy councils. I attended in my capacity as the Provincial Coordinator interested in supporting research based literacy teaching.  The connections made with colleagues of like mind has provided a bank or ideas and support to continue with my work in literacy learning and leadership.

PHI DELTA KAPPA – UBC CHAPTER

My involvement in PDK has come out of a love of the cross-pollination that comes from engaging in conversation about educational leadership with people engaged in a variety of education contexts, from a range of school boards and educational institutions. PDK is a professional organization that is founded on the premise of research, generally organizing 3-4 dinner meetings and featuring a speaker or panel to discuss an area of interest to our members. In April (2015), George Couros and Jordan Tinney presented a session: Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning: Leadership & Learning in a Changing World. The room was filled to capacity within the week and the waiting list started to grow. Tinney and Couros engaged participants in a discussion of the possibilities for innovation that exist in the educational context in B.C. to engage and empower students as well as teachers, utilize social media and create digital portfolios to document student learning.   They created electricity in the room. Ideas were also processed via twitter (#PDKedchat )during the presentation and allowed people outside the room to participate as well.

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In each of these contexts, people of like mind and a growth mindset flocked to sessions to discuss the ideas and make sense of the presentation in light of their own educational context. The conversations would continue long after the actual presentations within professional networks, in blogs and via twitter. The connections with other professional development was be processed, questioned, discussed, embraced, dismissed or implemented in hybrid form.

James Paul Gee presented a talk called: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Literacy at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York in May 2014. I was inspired and had a template to build my understanding of what digital literacy needed to look like in my context. At a breakfast meeting in Tampa with Marcie Craig Post, the Executive Director of International Literacy Association, the discussion continued about the need to provide students not only with the scaffolding so they can learn to talk, read and develop thinking skills but the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively for literacy development. Tinney and Couros pushed the card with the possibilities for implementation of meaningful assessment and evaluation practices.

When presentations resonate with educators, the conversation continues. Listening to a presentation brings a depth of understanding that doesn’t always come from reading the book, a blog or a twitter post. When people I respect recommend titles of books, I read them or at least aspire to read them! When they ask a question that captures my attention, I think about it. Perhaps I use it to frame my next inquiry project.  I have been lucky to have many opportunities to learn new ideas, consolidate old ones and ask questions. I’ve had the good fortune to listen to amazing professionals with breadth of background knowledge and experiences. They stood, they delivered, they engaged the audience and made me think.   I left the room with new tools, more questions, a sense of efficacy and the inspiration to act. I strongly believe the appetite for this mode of professional development is not going away anytime soon. It represents one necessary part of my professional development appetite.

Innovation Brewing Everywhere

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A two week Spring Break provided a good excuse to go see how my daughter was doing in Spain.  I spent a big chunk of time en route, in the Newark Airport.  Innovation is alive and well and celebrated in Newark Airport.  All the restaurants had iPad menues where you placed your order and paid before you ever saw your server or the food.  #MakeThingsBetter was advertised widely and aimed to popularize the notion that the energy industry is committed to better energy in the oil, natural gas and solar energy sectors.   “Innovation brewing everywhere”.

In Spain, Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia speaks to the quest to innovate, that has existed throughout history.  Gaudi started work in 1884 on this “modern cathedral”, knowing that he would never see it completed but with the quest to work out the architectural challenges he had been wrestling with throughout his lifetime.  The innovation is celebrated inside and outside of Spain and funded largely by the Catholic community and the tourists who flock to stare in awe at the magnificence.

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The quest to innovate is alive in every area of life.  The Michelin star chefs strive to create the most delectable pintxos for the Spanish and tourists to enjoy on a nightly basis.  It is well worth the quest to have a glass of wine and the house “pintxo” specialty and then move on to the next spot.  The quest to innovate feeds the Michelin star chef and the quest to discover “perfection in two bites” feeds the consumer.  Medical science has cured the cancer that took Terry Fox’s life.  Planes can travel at speeds that break the sound barrier.

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Innovation  is wholeheartedly embraced in education by some educators and students alike.  The potential of doing something better captures many imaginations.  They say that change is difficult because in schools because people walk into the classroom and proceed to teach exactly as they were taught as children.  Yet, there are also those educators who do not want to replicate their own experiences, see the spark of enthusiasm or the blind faith in success in their students’ eyes.   That keeps the momentum moving towards the potential for something more or something better in our schools.  Social media allows people of like mind to connect and inspire the ability to move forward.  Jordan Tinney and George Couros are two of those people who engage online and provide the inspiration to consider the rationale and potential pathways for reaching towards new possibilities with technology.  I’m thrilled to be able to continue the conversation in person at the next PDK dinner meeting on April 22, 2015 at the Arbutus Club in Vancouver.

Stay tuned to #pdkedchat on April 22nd to participate in the Twitter conversation.

Expanding Possibilities For Kids

My son just presented his final project to showcase his skills (Bridge Fine Goods/ Nocturnal Workshop) at the 2015 Fashion Show at the River Rock Theatre in Richmond, B.C.  This is the culminating requirement for his degree in fashion design at Kwantlin Polytechnic University.  His line is impressive, even beyond the expectations of his very proud mother.  The questions I always get: “Was he always an artsy kid?”

What people are actually asking is…Was he a quietly creative, artistic child who spent hours drawing and sewing and traveling with the band.  “Well, no.”    Although I pushed the card with piano lessons, then school band and finally his choice of guitar, he was not a fan of practicing.  Once he was beyond middle school, there were a myriad of other things to fight about so I let them go.  He didn’t take great pride in his art portfolio or any of his academic work at school.  He did as little as he could and then achieved the required grades for university entrance by studying for high stakes final exams with considerable encouragement (oh, yeah…big pressure) from parents and teachers.

He was a rough and tumble little guy with a well developed vocabulary who wanted to play.  As a toddler he would run and jump off the end of the couch and expect you to catch him.  He did trials riding and jumped off rocks and cars and won the Jr. Test of Metal in Squamish.  He would build ramps in the yard until they were deemed unsafe by his parents.  Then they moved into Mundy Park so we could not easily witness and condemn their bike parks.  I finally broke down and bought him a cell phone that got reception in the middle of the park so he could dial 911 if necessary.  He morphed into downhill riding at Whistler and all I could do was insist on full body armour for him and his father.  YouTubes of him snowboarding stopped my heart.   Shovels disappeared from the shed and were left on the mountain during ramp building expeditions.    He swam with the Sharks and played soccer but preferred individual sports.

Now if you were to ask if he was creative, the answer is  yes.   He loved drawing, painting, clay, and drama programs at Place des Arts in Mallairdville and community rec programs.  When we traveled, he would sit down with his sister and draw Michelangelo’s David in Florence or the leaning tower in Pisa. He liked symphony presentations at the Burnaby Arts Centre and Disney on Ice.  He loved earning the project badges for Cubs and Scouts and Wednesday became his cooking night.  He loved mandatory explorations classes (cooking, sewing, woodwork) when he got to middle school.  In sewing classes with Mrs. Shanty Toolsie-Warsnup, she awarded him the coveted “Lead Foot Award’ and he would “sew a straight line for hire” until he got caught.  Routine visits to see family in California, included outlet shopping.  If his designer wear restricted his movement when biking, he’d pick apart the seams and resew it so it was more comfortable.   He loved thinking through the logistics of woodwork and got lots of support for his projects.  Construction after secondary school wasn’t unanticipated.  Taking his sewing machine when visiting his aunt in Rome was unanticipated.  So was the decision to study fashion design in Milan.

In our culture, it seems like we are so focused on looking for talent and feeding it.  “Being the best” or “A Winner” has become a mantra for even very young children.  Some of the best parenting advise I got when my kids were in school was from Chris Kelly, superintendent of VSB at the time.  I was bemoaning the cost of all the trips we were funding for our daughter:  Soccer in Vegas; School Leadership in Ottawa; Cheer in Florida.  He laughed and said, “You’ll never regret the opportunities you give your kids in helping them to figure out who they are going to be.”  I think that is the point.  It’s about the WHO you are going to be, not the WHAT.  As a school system and society in general, our goal needs should be to give our children opportunities in and out of school to open up the possibilities for who they will become.  That doesn’t mean just the jobs they will pursue, but the paths that will engender relationships and interests.   Broad exposure rather than limited opportunity allows for the possibilities to be endless…and in some cases far beyond what we had ever imagined 🙂

Lit Circles Meet iPad Revisited

My grade 3/4 students were given a new assignment posted on Showbie.  I love being able to post the text and then add the voice note.  The assignment was inspired by the article “Literature Circles Go Digital” by Karen Bromley , and her several grad students at Binghamton University in New York, ” in the November 2014 edition of The Reading Teacher (Vol.68 Issue 3).

I’ve have usually framed four roles for Literature Circles: Discussion Director to encourage global understanding of the text; Word Wizard to focus the reader on vocabulary; Friend of a Character to encourage a focus on characterization in the novel; and Connector to activate background knowledge and relate to the text. Each reader would prepare for one role for the literature circle. The next time, he/she prepared a different roles until all roles have been experienced.

Karen Bromley et al, offered a greater range of roles to their students:  Discussion Director (3 thinking questions); Illustrator (picture, diagram or graphic organizer with at least 5 words as labels to show something that happened); Investigator (Find information about the story, setting, author, illustrator or something important); Literary Luminary (funny, favorite, powerful, or special parts to read aloud); Mapmaker (create an action map or diagram that shows plot or describes setting); Connector (connections between the book and the outside world); Vocabulary Enricher (find interesting or unfamiliar words and find the meanings in a dictionary); and Summarizer (Write a paragraph or make a list that is a brief summary or overview of the main ideas and events in the story).

Leila Khodarahmi, my teaching partner (Wednesday to Friday) has worked extensively with our Grade 3/4 students using R5 strategies to respond to text.  I have worked with students (Monday, Tuesday) on developing their ability to express themselves in the writing process.  My expectation was that with the motivation of the technology, they would be excited about generating a response that was thoughtful and perhaps even “better” than what I would generally receive in a typical response log.  My goal was to prepare students for small group discussion by completing tasks to deepen their comprehension.   The technology allowed them to quickly generate a response that took a small piece of the text and generate a response, that may or may not have involved critical thinking skills.  For example,

Response 1:  Literary Luminator

Text is cut and pasted into BookCreator.  The student reads the text aloud and downloads pictures.  Their is no rationale for why the piece was selected  or why it is important to the global understanding of the text.

Response 2:  Illustrator

The student draws a picture on Draw and Tell.  The audio is used to briefly describe the picture.

Response 3:  Discussion Director

The student uses WORD to write three questions about the text.

Response 4:  Connector

There is one phrase written on BookCreator loosely referencing a personal connection with the book.

Response 5:  Vocabulary Enricher

Several unfamiliar words are listed with dictionary definitions and downloaded pictures.

During the literature circles, the responses on the iPad were presented to the group and students were impressed with the features of the technology but the responses did not generate discussion.  The response was generally “easy, peasy, done”.   I prompted students to share their thinking and make connections to the text.  It wasn’t clear whether all of the students had read all of the text or understood it.

My intention was to utilize technology to achieve a greater amount of engagement in the task which I hoped would result in a higher level of critical thinking and understanding of the text.  This was not the case.  Students took the path of least resistance to do the minimal amount of work to fulfill the assignment.  They reported they liked doing responses this way because “It was really easy” and “It was SO fast.”  It did not reflect an understanding of the text or an engagement in the task.  They were proud of their responses because the technology included audio or pictures that they could use the technology to get the work done and they thought were pretty impressive.  The focus was using the technology rather than understanding the text.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura and Dr. James Paul Gee have both given me a good starting point for reflection.  I have heard Dr. Puentedura speak on the SAMR model twice.  Although the academic description was interesting, it was having Dr. Puentedura working through the possibilities of applying the SAMR ladder to a series of lessons that I had completed, that was most thought provoking.  Essentially I had not redesigned the literature circles with the technology in mind.  Although students were familiar with the APPS and with responding to text, their focus was on completing the assignment.  I had simply substituted written response with APPS.

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Dr. James Paul Gee has done a lot of writing and presenting about creating smarter students through digital literacy.  Gee discusses the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively.   Obviously I need to provide more scaffolding for students to learn about creating meaning in the digital world.  The question is how?

What are the applications that will require my students to use technology to create meaning in complex and thoughtful ways?

What will allow them to create connections with others to help them in finding the answers to their questions or ask new questions?

Are my expectations of digital technology based on the best responses that I was able to cox out of my most responsive students during Lit Circle?

The process of learning continues…