Talking Technology Tools

I am currently working with a team of teachers in my school, Tecumseh Elementary, on a Technology pilot project: PROFESSIONALS INVESTIGATING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES WITH TECHNOLOGY. Our tools include 20 iPads for classroom use, 3 iPads for Resource teacher use, 5 desktop computers in the library and apple TV. Have we gotten over talking tools yet? No so much.

We are immersed in the grand quest to learn about logistics of the technology use- all of the possible Apps and a myriad of questions.   Although we are all familiar with iPhones, iPads, and/or Apple computers, the technology is not intuitive. We have all committed to attend the after school technology sessions where we are introduced to the educational possibilities and provided with tech support. The sessions are a challenge due to the significant range in background knowledge in technology of all of the groups and individuals attending.

All four of us involved in PILOT at Tecumseh agreed that we would start with teaching responsible use of the iPads to our students, who range in age from 5-12 years old. One of the teachers created an agreement to be signed by students and parents and posted on the iPad cart. What are really interesting are our various approaches after that point.

I assigned each student a number and an iPad and gave students the opportunity to explore. When one student had discovered something interesting, I stopped the group and showed them what a specific student had done and asked how many other kids knew how to do it. (Note to self – Figure out how to use the Apple TV so I can do a better job of this sharing with a group.) Students became the teachers/mentors for other students wanting to try. Lots of dialogue. Lots of engagement.

My first assignment started with a goal of focusing my Grade 3/4 students on observing the change of seasons and creating a book using Book Creator that included:

  • The ideas from the sense poetry we had just created by webbing in our “Thinking Books” (I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I fell… Stems are used to collect ideas, create an image, remove stems for finished poem)
  • 6 of the 12 photographs taken with the iPad when we did our “Sensing Fall” walk around the school (art work) and playground (signs of fall)
  • Book cover with a title, author / poet and 6 pages minimum.

As I was handing out the iPads, several students went to Drawing Pad to record the Book title, their name and start to decorate the cover of their books. We decided as a group that this was a great idea and the criteria would also include the use of Drawing Page to create the book cover.

My Grade 4 students who came from Tecumseh Annex and Moberly Elementary used Book Creator last year, so as students needed help adding pages, pictures or audio-clips, they came to me or one of the “teachers”.  This way we avoided the wait time of line-ups or everyone stopping to step through the process at the same time.

One problem some students encountered was the fact that their initial writing had ideas that were not matched with the pictures they took on our sense walk. It became an option to download photos from Internet to match the text. The storage room in the classroom became the “sound room” to add the audio-clips.  Lots of time was spent reading and re-doing the clips to ensure the sound clips sounded “good” (  Good was defined as reading with expression).

Finished products emerged over the course of several sessions (3-6) with the iPad.   What was surprising was the huge difference in the books including:

  • Poetry books with one line of poetry per page and one picture
  • An entire poem per page with a picture
  • Several pictures on a page, text on another page
  • A sentence with an observation (using the original stems) on a page with a picture
  • A fact about the picture on the page
  • One book that had nothing to do with the change of seasons, our sense poetry or the pictures we took. (The student let me know that he erased that book because he wanted to write about something else and all of the illustrations were done in drawing pad.)

Assignment #1 and reflections on a whole bunch of new questions including but not limited to:

  • Naturally stimulating oral language in English Language Learners
  • Apps to develop fluency in writing
  • Vocabulary development
  • How to set up Showbie for saving work for viewing at home and on different tools
  • Commenting on work electronically with “electronic post it notes”
  • Creating book trailers
  • Using Keynote
  • note taking for research – pen and paper vs. online

This is what I love about education – Always so much to learn. Always someone who wants to have the conversation about the learning.

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Dr. Gregory Cahete Speaks at UBC Longhouse

As alumni of UBC, I was pleased to receive the invite to attend Dr. Gregory Cahete’s talk:  Indigenous Community in a 21st Century World: The Re-Emergence of Indigenous Community Education.  I have been a fan of Dr. Cahete (professor of Education at the University of New Mexico for the past 18 years), since I read Look To The Mountain (1994) while I was a Faculty Associate at Simon Fraser University.  Cajete grew up surrounded by four sacred mountains.  In Cahete’s own words, “the Elders of the community would often admonish youngsters to “Look to the Mountain” and this metaphor has come to reflect his contemporary philosophy for indigenous education.  Elders prompted younger people to “take their thinking to a higher level-as if on top of a mountain.”  Cajete’s book  has been a call to consider what is important in teaching and learning to make schools relevant to our Aboriginal learners.  It described the American Indian perspective that the reflection of the past is necessary in order for Aboriginal people to build their futures.

Cajete and his Taos Pueblo people represent 1000 years of community in New Mexico.  The claim of all Aboriginal people is that they belong to enduring communities.   The community has been a human process constructed to provide a perception of belonging that supports a sense of identity in context.   In turn, it supports individual acceptance, agreement on core values, respect, accountability, reciprocity, efficacy and a move towards or away from function.  Dr. Cahete uses the metaphor of  “all kernels of the same corn cob” to describe the essence of unity and diversity within the building of community.  The tragedy of colonization was the breakdown of community, the dehumanization, isolation and the subsequent political and spiritual fragmentation.  His advice in the recreation of the cultural economies around an Indigenous paradigm necessitates:

  •             Learning history
  •             Research into principles of Indigenous ways of sustainability
  •             Collaboration and cooperation
  •             Ecological integrity
  •             Sustainable orientation
  •             Revitalization of a vision and purpose
  •             Cultural integration
  •             Respect for all
  •             Engaging participation in community

Cahete emphasizes that building community requires work and facilitates the perpetuation of Aboriginal people.  There is a exciting indigeneous revitalization in visual art and dance relationships and a beginning of science relationships.  Cahete’s background as a biologist has stimulated an interest in reclaiming traditional forms of science and building processes of revitalization to recreate sustainable, indigenous communities.  He advocates adhering to the Iroquois maxim by thinking seven generations ahead and implementing the traditional environmental and cultural knowledge unique to a group of people which has served to sustain through generations of living within a distinct bioregion.  Evolving indigenous methodologies include deep dialogue, deep listening and deep reflective conversation built on the tradition of the talking stick.  Indigenous people explored questions, problems and issues that were important in this way and they were witnesses by community to ensure  accountability.  The biggest challenges is the current paradigm with an overemphasis on individualism rather than the good of the community.

As we rethink ways in which to support Aboriginal students, Cahete provides much to consider.  What are the indigenous teachings and ways of being from the past that can help us recreate respectful and vibrant learning communities for our Aboriginal students?  What is the learning and teaching required to create the pathway toward environmental sustainability and integrated, supportive communities?  How can the process of acknowledging past injustices be refocused on future revitalization?  All questions worth talking, listening and reflecting on.  Good talk!

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The Art of Mentorship

I have been very fortunate to have four mentors who have been instrumental in helping my to define my values as an educator. They gave me opportunities, asked questions, and provided me the positive reinforcement to engage in change at key junctures of my career. They did not set out to fit me into a mold of how they wanted me to be.   Each of these people continue to demonstrate genuine interest in other people, a thirst to learn, and know how to laugh.

Jack Corbett was my very first principal when I was hired as a teacher in Abbotsford.   As an unemployed teacher after graduation, I worked at Spare Time Fun Centre in David Lloyd Elementary School (where I attended gr.3-7), completed a diploma program in English Education at UBC and longed for my own classroom. I was delighted to finally be hired to teach Grade 2 in Abbotsford (SD 34), where I had done my practicum. I was embraced the staff at Dormick Park Primary School. Jack had infinite respect for the staff and the momentum we created with our enthusiasm. When we came to him with an idea, Jack responded with all the support he had in his power to provide. When we did the egg drop to teach scientific method, he enlisted his friend with the helicopter to drop the eggs. He supported our efforts with the Writing Process and brought in the primary consultant, Jacquie Taylor, to support us when we showed interest in reading strategies. He covered our classes so we could observe in each other’s classes and create our binder of reading strategies with adaptations that was worthy of publication.

Jack also loved to engage in the discussion. He would attend professional development with staff and we would have great staff room discussions. He invited me to my first staff trek to a LOMCIRA (Lower Mainland Council of the International Reading Association) Meeting at Schou Centre in Burnaby, which would become a foundational part of my personal professional development. We regularly engaged in practical and philosophical discussions. Classes had been divided into homogeneous groups. Basal readers were used by the teacher before me. Standardized tests were used to measure student achievement in reading. We would discuss these issues, leave articles in each other’s boxes, and continued the debate. Jack also demonstrated that changing your mind reflected learning not being wrong. I was given the opportunity to fine tune my ideas through discussion and research and the support to try new practices in my classroom to test my ideas.

I started teaching in Coquitlam (SD 43) after giving birth to my son so I’d be closer to home. I chaired the Primary Association and had many opportunities for rich professional development through BCTF and the district and to teach at a variety of grades in a number professional capacities.  Maureen Dockendorf put out a call for teachers interested in doing action / teacher research. I had completed my MA in reading doing qualitative research with my kindergarten students to explore repeated readings.   However Maureen was able to use her extensive background with inquiry learning to model how to refine our own questions within our current classroom context and develop an action plan to guide our professional development We met in school after hours and learned collaboratively through the inquiry process. Her passion for the process, willingness to engage in the dialogue and ask questions was invaluable. The process of reporting out was not only a sharing of our learning but an opportunity to ask questions of our colleagues and consider possible applications of their learning. Her mentorship empowered me to take risks in my learning and to make changes in my classroom based on personal research, classroom data and the things I knew to be true.

Bruce Carabine hired me as team leader of Student Services when SD 43 was given a Ministry grant to renovate Hillcrest Elementary School and reopen as Hillcrest Middle School.   When you walked through the door of the school or met him in the community, you could always expect the same warmth and respect from this principal, whether you were a student, parent, colleague, trades person or superintendent.   He does a wicked session on developing memory using a variety of skills which he regularly demonstrates by remembering EVERYONE’S name. Bruce lived the concept of distributed leadership. The leadership of students, custodial staff, teachers, special education assistants, team leaders and trades people was recognized and responded to with equal appreciation. To use his analogy, he “conducted the orchestra of capable leaders”.   He invited input into decisions and would defer to the will of the group and the vice principal, Mrs. McTavish (who was actually a mannequin designated with this responsibility by staff ). We laughed a lot and learned a lot.

Gary Little was on the committee that hired me as a vice principal in Vancouver (SD39). In the interview, he wanted to see the professional portfolio I had assembled as a faculty associate, and expressed genuine interest in my prior teaching and learning experiences in other districts, and through my participation in The International Reading Association and Amnesty International.  Cecil Scott, a building engineer at one of my schools, told me the story of Gary joining him at lunch several times just to chat, before he finally discovered he was actually the new principal of the secondary school. I was fortunate to have Gary as an Area supervisor in my first assignment as a vice principal in the VSB. Gary is an avid reader and we had good conversations about books, school goals, and personal goals. He was instrumental during these conversations and VP meetings in pushing my thinking. What were are my non-negotiables? Was this an issue I want to die on the mountain for? He helped me to define professional goals from the stance of an administrator and define measurement tools to make the process personally meaningful, as well as demonstrate professional accountability.

Recently on Facebook, there has been a “feeling the gratitude” movement that has been embraced by several of my friends. Perhaps I’m riding the wave J I feel very grateful for having crossed paths with these people. However it also speaks more generally as to how people grow and learn. I really appreciate that these mentors have helped to crystalize some of the things that are near and dear to my heart. When we treat people like they have come to the table with things of value to share and the encouragement to take risks in their learning, ask questions and pursue answers, we create a climate for learning and unbridled possibility. I aspire to approach all of my students, parents, colleagues, family and friends like this.  Thank you Jack, Maureen, Bruce and Gary.