Reggio Inspiring Classrooms in British Columbia

I am part of a group of educators in the Vancouver School Board, considering various inquiries about aspects of Reggio Emilia inspired practice.  We came together with other like-minded educators in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia to participate in a school visit to Opal School in Portland, Oregon during our Spring 2018 vacation.  Ninety British Columbia teachers converged on the Portland Museum where this model of Reggio inspired educational practice is housed.  We had three days of intensive presentation, observation, engagement, reflection and discussion.  In trying to make sense of the myriad of perceptions and information, I sought out books.  Fortunately, Portland is also home to my new favourite place – Powell Books.  This bookstore of all bookstores, takes up an entire city block, has new and used titles and is staffed with knowledgeable readers.  I found what I needed for the learning to continue.

Reggio Emelia Classrooms started in Northern Italy just after World War II in an effort by educators, parents and the municipal government to “produce a reintegrated child, capable of constructing his or her own powers of thinking through the synthesis of all the expressive, communicative and expressive languages.” (C. Edwards, L. Gandina, G.E. Foreman, eds. 1993, p.305).   Essentially people came together in the belief that providing rich experiences grounded in basic human rights for children from 0-6 years old was the best strategy to prevent another emergence of fascism.  Building connections and respectful relationships between child, parent, teacher and the community was a foundational premise.  Although it is widely accepted that it is not possible to transport educational ideas intact from one culture to a totally different context, there are ways to implement certain principles and ideas inspired by the Reggio experience.

Loris Malaguzzi, the father of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education,  developed a metaphor that is very instructive in understanding the Reggio approach.  His premise is that the relationship between the teacher and the student is much like throwing a ball, or as Vygotsky framed it, providing “scaffolds” to support young learners.  The teacher must be able to listen and catch the ball thrown by the child, then toss it back in a way to extend the learning and maintain the motivation of the child to continue the game, aka for the child to continue to ask and answer the questions he or she cares about.

An exhibit toured the United States in 1987 called “The Hundred Languages of Children”  that provided the context and the educational process of the Reggio Emilia schools with a display and explanation of photographs, samples of children’s paintings, drawings, collage, constructive structures and explanatory scripts and panels.  In 1996, editors Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman brought together a collection of essays and perspectives by influential thinkers and educators in what has become “a bible” of Reggio Emilia thought in a must-read book called The Hundred Languages of Children:  The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education.   The “hundred languages of children” refers to the multiple ways that young children grapple with their questions and create meaning, including drawing with various media (crayons, coloured pencils, pastels, charcoals, sticks…) on various surfaces (paper, glass, sand…), painting, plasticine, clay, murals, photographs, plays, skits, water, mud, wood, mirrors, light table and … , as well as with oral language.  As Malaguzzi emphasizes “(t)he wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences” (p. 73).   Malaguzzi likened setting up the atelier, or space, for stimulating and meaningful centres of activity, to the setting up of ‘market stalls” where customers look for the wares that interest them, make selections and use them for their own purposes.  With familiarity exploring the materials, comes the possibility of them being used as a tool for communication.

In Reggio Emilia schools, students are encouraged to ask questions and set up investigations or projects to find answers.  “(T)he actual theme or content of the project is not as important as the process of children thinking, feeling, working, and progressing together with others.” (p 194)  However there are some general guidelines and principles in Reggio project work (p.210)

  1. Groups of 5 or less activate the most intense learning and exchange of ideas
  2.  Establish and maintain reciprocity / a sense of “WE”
  3. Graphic and verbal exploration
  4. Teachers work collaboratively to develop the project questions, comments and interests of the children involved
  5. Ample time for students to come up with their own questions and their own solutions
  6. Bring the knowledge and experience of the small group back to the other children and adults in the school.

The educators at Reggio Emilia schools invest heavily in documenting student work.  This documentation may include recordings, observations, transcriptions of children’s dialogue and photographs of key moments.  One of the purposes is to reflect back the learning process back to young children to help develop their meta-cognitive thinking.  In addition, the “systematic documentation allows each teacher to become the producer of research, that is someone who generates new ideas about curriculum and learning, rather than being merely a “consumer of certainty and tradition.” (p. 157)  Regular meeting and discussions happen between teachers to assist in selecting documentation for display to parents, program planning and problem solving.   Intellectual conflict is valued and understood as the engine of all growth in Reggio for both teachers and students.  “Children’s work (drawings, verbal transcripts, symbol making) is incorporated into the classrooms and school hallways by means of large and dramatic displays, and reflects the serious attention adults pay to children’s ideas and activities.” (Lillian Katz, 1990, p.217)

Reggio Inspired Opal School is both a private pre-school with two classrooms and publicly funded Kindergarten to Grade 5 Charter School with four classrooms.  It represents an “ecosystem” or a Reggio inspired approach to learning based on the core belief that each child is capable, competent, creative, and filled with skills we need in the world.  There was a very respectful way in which adults talked and interacted with students.  They took the time to slow down the interaction with the purpose of trying to understand the child’s perspective and helping the child to ask the questions and come up with a plan to understand.

The school has a long wait list and entrance is determined by a lottery.  It is extremely well funded and provides students with a wide range of materials to express their learning and many large professionally prepared samples of documentation.  We were invited to be observers or listeners in the “ecosystem” and to look for examples of playful inquiry in the four  K- Grade 5 classrooms, as well as adopt a willingness to be transformed.  Popsicle sticks at the door controlled the number of observers in the room to keep disruption of the learning environment to a minimum.

The day started with a Morning Meeting time.  Project work was introduced with a provocation, a stimulating event, question or activity to motivate students to consider the topic.  Explore time or project work provided the opportunities for collaboration.  Students generally worked in small groups exploring a topic while one of the two teachers was transcribing discourse on a laptop computer.  There is no library, cafeteria or gym in the museum so the classrooms, playground and museum grounds need to fulfill these purposes.

All of the activity in the school has a learning intention to guide attention.  “Intention setting keeps educators from getting too far ahead or falling behind the students” according to Opal School staff (March 2018).  Learning in not theme based.  The emphasis is on learning to learn, developing empathy and agency rather than learning content about the topic.  It is a particularly strong model for developing project based learning with a proclivity to action.  Students are encouraged to explore big questions that will motivate learning over time.  Topics included:

  • Impact of plastic water bottles on the environment
  • Refugee Crisis
  • Culture of Hate
  • March Against Guns in Schools
  • Contributing to the Vietnam exhibit in the Museum about Tet

Reggio Emilia Inspiration for Schools in British Columbia: 

Although Reggio programs were designed for children from birth to 6 years, many of the principles holds true for older school aged students to be nurtured in the same supportive context by educators, parents and community partners.  Many educators have embraced many of the principles and philosophies of Reggio Emilia Schools and they can be found in the New Curriculum in British Columbia.  Yet, there are other aspects to consider as well.

  1. Student Centered Learning:  I love the quote by Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the program in Reggio Emilia: ” We wanted to recognize the right of each child to be a protagonist and the need to sustain each child’s spontaneous curiosity at a high level”. (p. 45)   Viewing the child as competent and capable of learning is a large step away from the notion of the child as a “tabula rasa” or empty vessel.
  2. Inquiry:  We can develop schools that encourage students to ask complex questions, plan investigations, and believe in themselves as capable and competent learners, even when faced with cognitive dis-equalibrium.
  3. Acknowledging the Role of Conflict:  Reggio philosophy acknowledges the role of conflict in coming up with the best solutions.  Students are encouraged to disagree, debate and problem solve independently.  Teacher discussion is much the same with problem solving involving listening to all of the viewpoints presented.  Deference to authority has not had any place in Reggio philosophy due to the WWII experience.   I believe students and educators would benefit from more rigorous debate, lively exchange of ideas and problem solving opportunities.  Decisions should be based on clear thinking not alliances.
  4. Learning Intentions:  As we are dealing with school aged children, there is a curriculum that we as educators are responsible for covering with our students.  Using provocations to engage students in a topic and teaching students to set a learning intention has benefits to both motivation to learn, making connections and considering a direction to pursue.
  5. Multiple ways to explore questions and communicate learning:  In many ways our curriculum in British Columbia is doing just that.  Inquiry is encouraged but the variety of ways to communicate not yet fully understood.  An atelier (studio / lab) for exploration may not be a reality in schools in British Columbia, but the exposure and ability to explore questions using a variety of media is possible.  In many of our schools, the accessibility of parks, beaches, forests and farm land provide access to materials not often readily available in urban settings.  That being said, the funding to allow exploration of a wide range of artistic expressions would open up amazing possibilities.
  6. Communicating Student Learning:    I believe the new ways of reporting to parents is continuing to be a positive development in nurturing relationship with students, parents, educators and community partners.  Reporting from teachers continues to be important but one avenue of communicating student learning to parents.  Mandatory student led conferences indicate the importance of student voice in learning.    Parents are also frequently invited into informal events which allow them to gain greater insight into the learning process of their child.  Large displays which documents student learning in diverse ways and sharing project outcomes and actions also brings a better understanding of the role of play and inquiry in the learning process.
  7. Documentation to develop Meta-cognitive Skills:  Teachers currently use a variety of means to document student learning.  However the documentation is frequently used for assessment purposes.  There would be real benefit in putting a greater emphasis on using documentation as a tool to help students develop their metacognitive thinking skills.
  8. Professional Development:  As John Dewey put it, educators are called to adopt a stance of “learning to learn”.  Educators are involved in daily conducting of systematic research on daily classroom work for professional development, curriculum planning and teacher development.  The obvious benefits of this process make it very worthwhile to facilitate common prep times in schools to allow teachers to meet for these purposes.
  9. Designing schools to facilitate collaboration:  In Italy, there is high value placed on art and aesthetics.  Historically, designing public spaces includes not only the aesthetic but the priority of facilitating social interaction.  Our schools need to be designed or transformed into spaces and places to invite collaboration and indicate that we put high value on the education of our students.
  10. Creating Mutually Beneficial Community Partnerships:  Creating the Opal School in the Portland Museum opens up a range of options to consider.  Young Opal students were able to contribute to the curated Museum display teaching about the Tet celebration in Vietnam.  What a powerful way to demonstrate the power of the inquiry project to the students, parents, community partners and the public.  No wonder there is such a long waiting list to attend.
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Kids Asking Questions

Inquiry is a natural response of a young child to life.  When my son and daughter were young, I remember the exhaustion of trying to keep them safe in the midst of it.  My son was a bold explorer, scaling rocks to butt heads with young goats in Stanley Park, blazing trails in Mundy Park on his bike and on Grouse Mountain with his snowboard.  My daughter was a fearless follower of her brother’s careful instruction to crawl out of the crib and keep up with her older brother in new adventures everywhere they went.  Clogged drains were explained away as doing Science and our family repertoire of good stories are plentiful and filled with laughter of past and present exploits.  Both kids have emerged into adults who continue to question and explore new pathways to make discoveries.

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My question as a administrator is much the same as when my kids were young.  How can we support children in continuing the habit of asking questions and developing strategies to find the answers to their questions?  I’m not thinking so much of school completion and continuing on to post-secondary, which may be a by-product, but the intrinsic reward that comes with the discovery.  “Eureka!” is always followed by an exclamation point for good reason.  There is an excitement that comes with discovery about something you care about. I want children to maintain the same level of engagement that they enter kindergarten with.  I believe everyone should teach kindergarten at some point, if even for a day.  The questions come hard and fast and “no I won’t answer it for you even if you are pulling on my sweater”.  In kindergarten, the challenge isn’t getting children to ask questions, it is teaching them ways to discover their own their own answers.

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My pathway to discovering the power of inquiry to engage learners was through my own professional development.  Maureen Dockendorf, who has been instrumental in the inclusion of inquiry curriculum in British Columbia, invited me to an inquiry group early on in my career.  Each member in the inquiry group went through the process of defining a question of professional interest, refined it and came up with a plan to discover possibilities.  We were responsible for reporting back to the group so reflection of our learning was an integral part of the process.  The inquiry led me to ask my students about their learning.  It made me a better teacher by creating a high level of engagement and a relationship with students that went beyond interest in their lives to develop relationship and enhance learning.  It helped me to invest in students as learners and helping them to learn strategies to learn throughout their lives.  Yes, lifelong learning has become a buzz word but the essence is developing a population that is interested and invested in their work and their life.

I recently had a group of students in the gym for a Camp Read event.  Yes, reading on floating islands of mats with no shoes on is still exciting.  We chatted about inquiry and I put out a banner for students to record their questions..  These were some of them.

Why is the ocean so full?

Why do people go to school to learn?

What was the first moon landing like?

Why is a slug “nature’s hotdog”?

What are “nature’s french fries”?

Why did the first mushroom decide to grow?

How do plants start?

What was the first food on earth?

Why do birds and bats fly into Ms. Froese’s window that faces north?

Why do dogs chase cats?

Why did the sun start?

How do birds fly?

Why don’t some people respect other people?

Was there outer space before the Big Bang?

How was gravity made?

Why does earth have air but other planets don’t?

Are ghosts real?

How was the first iPad made?

How do we grow?

How come some animals started living like people?

Why are there seasons?

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Finding the answer to each question lends itself to a great opportunity for personal learning.  It is also an opportunity to develop the core competencies and content goals in the New British Columbia Curriculum.  Although the framing and publication of the B.C. curriculum is new, the research and implementation of these practices are not.   Linda Kaser, Judy Halbert and Helen Timperley explain the essence of educational change in British Columbia, Canada with finesse:  “((I)nnovation floats on a sea of inquiry and curiosity is a driver for change.” (2014 CSE – A framework for transforming learning in schools:  Innovation and the spiral of inquiry ).  This is what has enabled British Columbia to emerge as a leader in educational practices and achievement worldwide.

Fascination with the Brain

Walking along Jericho Beach as a little girl, this piece of wood screamed “brain” to me.  This was long before the fascination with the brain had extended beyond neuroscientists and doctors, to psychologists, to educators, to anyone aging and fearing cognitive decline.  The brain held secrets that were not readily apparent to the naked eye.  It was the also the basis of the best bonding with my neurosurgeon father.

Dr. Peter Dyck is not a man who relished talk of feelings, hopes, dreams, aspirations or divergent opinions.  However he has always been an example of the consummate learner.  He survived war times in Germany.  When he was 12 years old, he was sponsored to come to Canada with his mother and siblings by his uncle in Alberta.  He learned English and excelled in school.  He ended up working on his step-fathers farm in Abbotsford while attending school.  When a cow would die, he did not shed a tear.  He would dissect it behind the barn.   My aunt boiled many a chicken bones so he could reassemble them.  When I would go on rounds with him during summer visits to Los Angeles, the nurses would run when they heard his footsteps.  He was demanding of staff and took patient care very seriously.  Dad became fascinated with the possibility of destroying, rather than removing a brain tumour by using a local anaesthetic and a three dimensional C/T scanner to avoid the trauma of opening the skull.  Radioactive material in a small tube was targeted through a tiny hole in the skull into the centre of the brain tumour.  The concentration used would result in the radioactivity reaching only the tumour cells.  A team was formed including him as the neurosurgeon, Armand Bouzaglou, the radiation oncologist and Livia Bohman, the radiologist, to travel to Germany in 1981 to study the technique for stereotactic isotope implantation with Professor Fritz Mundinger at the University of Freiburg.   This technique was brought back to the USA and his first book about it’s success in avoiding the trauma of a full craniotomy was dedicated to the patients whose hope against overwhelming odds brought about this endeavour.

Not even neuroscientists agree on the inner workings of the brain.  However asking a question and our attitude seem to be the key components informing our brain and resulting in amazing accomplishments and sometimes survival.  Viktor Frankl’s answer to his question, “Why do I need to survive?” allowed him to walk out of Auschwitz and go on to develop his theory of logotherapy, write his influential book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and help many people find a way to cope with the challenges in their lives.   Norman Doidge details many examples of therapies that have allowed the brain to heal in ways that are still outside of mainstream medical practice in The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of  Neuroplasticity .  John J. Ratey, MD, in his book SPARK – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, provides a compelling argument as to why exercise is integral to our ability to cope with stress, learn, as well as maintain good mental and physical health.  The brain is central in all facets of our lives yet understanding how it works is still somewhat elusive.

Educators, such as Eric Jensen started to focus educators’s attention on Teaching with the Brain in Mind  in the 90’s.  Educators are now seriously considering the implications of what neuroplasticity means in the classroom.  Previously held conceptions about the limits of some learners no longer apply, and standardized testing has become one indicator of specific learning strengths and weaknesses, but not an accurate measure of future success.    Perhaps the greatest outcome has been talking to children about how their brain works and how they learn best.   This puts the responsibility and joy learning with the child and allows them to move beyond just looking for a good mark on an assignment.  Giving children the capacity to talk about the connections they are making in their learning and providing numerous opportunities to share their ideas and discoveries, opens up the possibilities to ask new questions and see their peers, teachers and parents as partners in a collaborative process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine

imageInvestigating Our Practice Conference in the Faculty of Education on Saturday, May 14th.  The day was filled with poster presentations, talks and interactive experiences by undergraduates, grad students, faculty and alumni.  It was particularly exciting to see the level of engagement of the student giving up their very sunny Vancouver Saturday to consider a range of ideas and questions.  For those of you who are not Vancouverites, when the sun comes out in full glory, we go outside – never quite certain how long it will be around.

I had the pleasure of presenting The Outdoor Classroom:  Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine with Claire Rushton, Alli Tufaro and Ali Nasato.        We were pulled together by a common interest in the opportunity provided by outdoor learning.  This one interest was able to pull together so many elements that have been embraced as key ideas in the Redesigned Curriculum in British Columbia, such as:

  • The social emotional benefits of engaging with nature
  • The natural way in which we can engage students in practicing and understanding the First Nations Principles of Learning, including:
    • experiential learning
    • patience and time required for learning
    • exploring one’s identity
    • everyone and everything has a story
    • history matters
    • there are consequences to our actions
  • Ways to engage students in cross curricular learning opportunities
  • Connecting classroom lessons to the larger world
  • Using resources in the classroom to answer our questions about observations made outdoors
  • Reporting back about the things we care about to authentic audiences

Of course, the list goes on.  Another interesting aspect of our collaborative group was the power of inquiry in developing our professional practice as educators throughout different stages of our careers.  Both student teachers have found a way to focus their  professional learning throughout the practicum experience.  Claire Rushton, as the coordinator of the Social Emotional Learning cohort has used the outdoors to bring  Richard Louv’s work to life and introduce the power of “nature … as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life..” by integrating the experiences in nature to frame discussions of social – emotional learning. I have engaged in a personal inquiry of how to use iPad APPS  (photos, Drawing Pad, Book Creator, Twitter) as a way to access information, document and share outdoor learning.  I’ve also been able to support the staff I interact with on a regular basis in their own inquiries.  Inquiry, as framed by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in Spirals of Inquiry, has provided a framework for beginning teachers as well as a school administrator and university instructor.  The learning has fuelled more questions and future inquiries.

 

I very much hope our collaboration continues…perhaps after the frenetic pace of the end of practicum, final observations and reports and end of year demands and celebrations!

Moving Beyond Earth Day

 


Earth Day has become an established part of the school calendar.  Every school district and most schools  focuses on taking care of the environment in one capacity or another. In some cases, the focus remains on garbage pickup and recycling.  In some cases,  it extends to gardening efforts, going outside for Physical Education and composting.   I believe that our real task as educators is to nurture an appreciation of the outdoors to prevent the disconnect with nature that many of our students are experiencing, particularly in urban contexts.

Most children naturally experience the physical benefit from outdoor activity.  Some children readily participate in community building experiences with peers.  All children benefit from scaffolded experiences to develop their curiosity, creativity, problem solving and mindfulness during outdoor learning experiences.  For educators with diverse background experiences outdoors, teachable moments and connections to curriculum unfold seamlessly.  At our school, the Grade 6 YMCA Camp Elphinstone experience, has been an important way of broadening student perspective of outdoor learning opportunities available to them.  The expansion of recycling and organics in all VSB schools, the BC Fresh Fruit and Veggies program, the B.C. Milk Program for K-Gr2 students, bringing the cows to the school and exploration of food sources have all helped students to make connections between nature and their lives.

  One challenges is that educators in urban contexts do not always have the background experiences to use the outdoor classroom as a basis for developing cross curricular competencies on a daily basis.  As school communities, we need to tease out the resources that are readily available to us.   Dr. Hartley Banack ,of Wild About Vancouver, has been instrumental in helping us to engage our students in meaningful learning experiences.  Spearheading the Wild About Vancouver Festival has been a labour of love to broaden the accessibility of outdoor learning possibilities to urban dwellers in Vancouver.  With the stellar effort of his team, Wild About Vancouver was able to coordinate 65 events, hosted by 48 organizations.  Students at Tecumseh Main and Tecumseh Annex experienced nature through games, shelter building and developing their observation skills during the festival.  Hopefully this is an event that only continues to grow and increase our personal health, community building, mindfulness and experiential learning throughout the year.

Dr. Banack is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at UBC.  He works tirelessly with students at U.B.C. to develop the skill set to engage students in experiential learning outdoors.  Alison Nasato and Alli Tufaro are two students in the Social and Emotional Learning cohort at UBC with Professor Claire Rushton.  Their coursework with Dr. Banack and Claire Rushton has been inspirational.  They have been engaged in inquiry projects exploring curricular integrations of outdoor learning within a SEL framework during their practicum experiences in Surrey, B.C.   This type of learning has the potential to impact how we engage students as the redesigned curriculum unfolds in British Columbia.



The Outdoor Einsteins has been an offering at Tecumseh Elementary for all three of terms of after school programming by the David Thompson Community School Team. CST School coordinator, Tara Perkins, has worked hard with student program facilitators from David Thompson Secondary School and volunteers to implement the program.  A grant from ReadingBC (BC Council of International Literacy Association) allowed her to develop the literacy aspects of the program. A eureka moment for many of our students and parents has been that you can even have fun outside, even when it’s raining.  Appropriate clothing, hot chocolate, student made shelters, giant umbrellas, Write in the Rain books and inspired activities have kept kids excited about participating and lining up to register each term.

Another source of inspiration I recently happened upon on Twitter in the 30X30 challenge sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation.  The goal is 30 minutes outside for 30 days in May.  What a fun way to engage our school communities!  Follow us @Tecumseh39 to see what we’re up to in our school community.  Let us know if you have other ideas on ways to learn in the outdoor classroom.

Pursuing the Organized Mind

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I have been described as a fast processor, divergent thinker, creative, the Tasmanian Devil (cartoon version) on speed and masterful multi-tasker.  I have also been informed my desk is too messy, my purse too full and my overstuffed bags should not be carried back and forth from home to school.  This being the case, I have engaged in a lifelong pursuit of the ultimate organizational system to allow me to expedite and coordinate family demands, professional responsibilities, social schedules, travel plans and provide the time to allow me to read, write, exercise, get outside and to sleep.  This Christmas, Santa, in his infinite wisdom, put Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, in my stocking.

Daniel J. Levitin takes the reader not so much on a tour of the evolution of the brain, but the evolution of the demands on the brain.  This book includes but moves beyond the typical self-help shelf about how to find keys and remember names. This book is neuroscience meets cognitive psychology.  It is exceptionally well researched and provides the information about the workings of the brain that provides important considerations such as time, relaxation, focus, sleep and engagement to organize aspects of home, social and the business life.

Levitin brings to light the objections raised to the proliferation of books by 15th century intellectuals:  The concern was “…people would stop talking to each other, burying themselves in books, polluting their minds with useless, fatuous ideas.” (p.15)  Our concerns have shifted with what to do with our addiction to internet, cell phones and social media.  New technologies are not to be dismissed, but considered in light of what we are gaining, what we are losing and how to best use them for our purposes.  The primary consideration is the working of the prefrontal cortex and the ways that we can focus our attentional systems and assist our memory system in coping with the demands being made on them.

Strategies are suggested to organize our world so we don’t get lost in the endless pursuit of keys and cell phones.  Bayesian probability models are explored through use of the fourfold table which sheds a whole new light on taking control of health related decisions.  I am committed to only multi-task the minutia that does not require focused thinking.  I will continue to call my Dad en route to the gym and unload the dishwasher while I make coffee, add to the grocery list and listen to Ted Talks.  The shift is that I will jot down ideas and things to do on index cards (to be sorted, categorized and completed later) and close the door in order to focus on tasks requiring more focussed thinking and to maximize my creativity.  Yet, the biggest take-away for me is making decisions about how I use time and organize based on information about how the brain works.  Levitin has been able to provide the information required to take control over the barrage of information that is tossed our direction on a regular basis.  I recently signed up for a two week online blogging class provided compliments of WordPress.  I have been able to sift through the myriad of ideas and incorporate the tools that externalize memory and are conducive to focusing my attentional system.  The mark of a great book for me is that it creeps into your thoughts and discussions long after it’s been read.  Great book!

What Matters Most?

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Santa chose a winner with the book selection for my stocking this year,   Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis.  This  Giller prize winner is a quick, enjoyable read with prompts pondering of the big questions of life.  Apollo and Hermes make a bet that given human intelligence, any animal would be even more unhappy than humans at death.  Fifteen dogs in a Toronto veterinary clinic are gifted or cursed, depending on your perspective, with human consciousness.

The responses to the change in their lives brings reactions in the dogs that we are all quite familiar with…

fear of change, clinging to a notion of “old ways” that results in an adherence to a bastardized version of the past, embracing change, efforts to adapt, a quest to communicate, formation of alliances, fear of differences, plotting, selfishness, brutality, subjugation, revenge, jealousy, love, betrayal, loyalty, hope, loss…

In the lead up to the season of New Year’s Resolutions, it begs the question, what matters most?  How do we lead life in a way that maintains the integrity of our core beliefs?  Just a few more days to figure that out.

 

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”

PILOT – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities with Technology

Four teachers at Tecumseh Elementary committed to working together on PILOT. Our job was to engage in an inquiry using technology with our students. We were provided with an iPad cart with 20 iPads for class use, 3 iPads for use of Resource teachers, 5 desktop computers in the library and Apple TV.

Students and parents in all of the classes were taught about iPad care and signed a use agreement.  For much of the term, teachers explored the technology with their classes with a focus on the tools. We had general discussions about developing writing and thinking skills but specific definition of an inquiry question was vague and the focus was how do you…

It was once we started to share what we were doing that our learning intentions became more defined. On teacher had started writing a Seasons Book with her Kindergarten students using Book Creator. Marion Collins started working with her Grade 6 students using keynote and Book Creator.

Virginia Bowden continued the work she had started with Kidblog with the Gifted students attending pull out Gifted programming in the district, used iMovie to have students create trailers on themselves and Prezi to develop research skills.

I continued the word I was doing with the Gifted students (in the district Multi-age Cluster class) during computer prep to develop their own blog on Kidblog and focused on having my Gr 3/4 class use Raz-Kids to support home reading and Book Creator to develop writing skills and explored search engines to answer questions.

Initially the focus was on learning how to use the tools and it looked like each of us were taking some very different directions. We narrowed the common elements down to the focus that each of us had taken in developing literacy skills.

Our discussion and questions were great:

  • How can we develop fluency in writing?
  • Adding pages encourages younger or less proficient writers to extend their writing. What about older and more proficient writers?
  • Does a lack of a keyboard limit the amount that students write?
  • Are templates available for report writing in Book Creator?
  • Is Book Creator more conducive to writing picture or poetry books?
  • Is the best way to teach note taking still having students write phrases with facts on paper; outlining / sort facts into groups, and creating their own paragraphs?
  • Are library books still the best way to match ELL students with reading material at their own level?
  • How can we get students to question the source of the information they read online? Hear on media or read in books?
  • Does using iPads break down gender barriers in oral communication?
  • Does adding sound clips lend itself to developing expressive reading skills?

Our inquiry question is still broad enough to let us pursue our individual interests but narrow enough to focus our discussion on how we are using the tools to support the language development of our English Language learners. Our intention is to make observations and reflect on the ways that technology is being used in our classrooms to develop oral language skills, reading skills, writing skills and the ability to represent ideas in visual formats. We have a general direction. The thinking and focusing continues. We’ll keep you posted.

Embracing Questions and Moving Forward

The October, Provincial Professional Development Day in BC has become more of a Professional Development weekend.  Sessions start Thursday night and continue on through the weekend to make the most of the opportunity for participants from across the province to develop background knowledge, pursue passions and work collaboratively with like minded people.  The BC Principals and Vice Principals Associations, Individual District Administrator groups, BCTF Provincial Specialist Associations, Local Associations, UBC and a whole host of other organizations and  provided a plethora of options for educators to improve their professional practice. Implicit in coming together to work and learn collaboratively is the desire to improve our classroom/school practices and better meet the needs of a diverse population of students.

I went to a great session by Andrew Schofield , a Vancouver Administrator, on Saturday morning at a professional development conference for administrators in Vancouver Board of Education.   He was working with a staff in the 1990’s in South Africa, as they grappled with the significant shifts in government and societal changes, while still under the huge pressures of 70% unemployment and rampant health challenges.  His presentation focused on reflecting on our own responses to change, as well as trying to understand the responses of colleagues in the midst of change.  While some people find change exciting and others meet it with skepticism, everyone needs to cope with patterns and expectations outside of what has been established as the norm.  It’s hard.  Yet, despite it being a risk taking venture, educators all over the province regularly engage in change, motivated by government initiatives, needs of students and personal desire to do something better.

This Monday, the professional development continued at my school and the focus was inquiry.    As frequently happens with educators after prod days, I was anxious to try out some of the things that I had learned.   I used some of the activities that Andrew introduced as icebreakers to start off the session and  encourage reflection on the nature of change.  Simple activities like folding hands and legs and arms in a familiar way and then shifting to an unfamiliar ways resulted in a good laugh and some great reflection.   Seamless, familiar, automatic movements were shifted to unfamiliar actions requiring  deliberate cognitive engagement.  It was awkward and uncomfortable.  The discussion continued with the reflection on the preferences for the chocolates or skittles or jujubes (which also involved favorite colours) in bowls on the centre of the table.  Decisions were deliberate and automatic and not up for discussion.  This was a great way to move into working in inquiry teams with a diverse group of peoples with a little more patience and understanding of the approaches, reactions and unspoken assumptions of group members.

Teachers engaged in rich discussion about the nature of inquiry, the types of questions to consider, and their interests.  We have using Spirals of Inquiry (2013) by Halbert and Kaser to frame our discussions on inquiry.  Some groups shared questions and thoughts arising out of recent prod sessions and others shared learning coming out of previous inquiries.  One group had focused their attention on giving students a greater range of choice when doing project based learning.  We were fortunate to have Barb McBride, the district Reading Recovery Teacher Leader attending our prod.  She shared her work with Maureen Dockendorf, Faye Brownlie, Judy Halbert, Linda Kaiser and other inspirational educators to facilitate the inquiry process in British Columbia.  Her work with three teachers in our school has resulted in an inquiry group focusing on supporting the most vulnerable students in their early literacy development.  Another group of teachers talked about the recent session they had attended with educators across the district to define questions about how we can use technology to increase student engagement and learning .  Another group told about the conference cosponsored by NITEP and BCTF at the UBC longhouse.  They were considering how to apply their learning to create a better sense of belonging and understanding of Aboriginal ways of knowing at the school.  One teacher introduced us to Apple tv and an app she had recently purchased for scheduling, organization and record keeping.    It was certainly one of those days when I’m left in awe of the intelligence, commitment and tenacity of teachers in the quest to be lifelong learners.  This is the work that I find not only inspiring but energizing.