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!

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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.

Blogging for Thinking – Reboot

As you may remember from the earlier Blogging for Thinking post, Virginia Bowden and I started our inquiry project in February of this year with two groups of students identified as gifted. These students were participating in two different district programs at an elementary school in Vancouver. Our quest was to use blogging as a means to develop writing skills and critical thinking skills in our students. We posted this entry on the Kidblog sites we had each created to guide our classes.

***** Blogging for Thinking Post on Kidsblog *****

Technology is a tool just like a pencil or pen. We are using blogging as a tool for two reasons. Kidblog allows your teacher to adjust the security settings so only your classmates, parents and teachers can read and respond to your blog. It allows you to creatively personalize your space and learn about blogging before you start posting in a public space. Blogging is also one way to develop and extend your thinking through writing by reflecting on your learning in and out of the classroom. Because you are not able to use your facial expressions or other body language to communicate, your words must clearly express your ideas. You also have the task of using your creativity and language to grab the interest of your audience.

Throughout your learning, we are using the following questions from Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser (Spirals of Learning 2013) to keep us moving forward.

  1. What am I learning?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. Where am I going next with my learning?

We will be using the following a rubric based on the article “Responding to the imperatives of learning in the 21st Century” (The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2011) to evaluate your progress.

  1. Developing Self-regulated learning: The goal is for you to be able to say: “I am in charge of my learning and motivated to carry out my work in personally responsible, self-reflective ways and to exercise reasoned judgment to meet my goals”.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

I depend on others for almost all

decisions about what,

how and when I learn; I follow the teacher’s directions but I don’t add my own thoughts, ideas or interpretations.

I demonstrate personal

responsibility to take charge of what, how and when I learn but I need the teacher to provide specific options to choose from.

I exercise thoughtfully

informed judgments in the pursuit of agreed-upon targets and self assess my work according to teacher provided rubrics..

I put a lot of thought and planning into setting goals and a plan to reach them.   I self evaluate how my learning is going and where I want to go next.

 

  1. Developing my Thinking Skills: The goal is to develop your critical thinking skills. The word “critical” does not mean finding fault in this case. It means that you are not just “parroting back” information, but demonstrating proficiency by making connections, analyzing evidence, and making judgments.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

I report back what I heard, did, or read during class or out of school learning experiences.

I report back what I heard, did, or read. I make connections between my learning experiences at school or home.

I consistently describe my learning and express why my learning matters. I understand where I am going next with my learning and come up with an efficient and effective plan of action.

I understand the value of my learning and where I want to go next with my learning.   My plan, conclusions & opinions are based on careful analysis of my experiences and a variety of evidence.

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The Blogging for Thinking post reflected how I had come to use blogging in my professional practice.   To post information. An online newsletter. When I started the process of developing personal blogs with my students, I shared several blogs with a range of purposes. We discussed the intent of the blog. The existence or non-existence of “voice”. Establishing credibility as an author? The theme holding together the blog entries. The role or comments in pushing thinking or shutting it down.   Great conversations ensued with students who were adept online.

It was no surprise that the writers in my class and those students with clearly defined passions, immediately took to blogging. Some students played around with a variety of ideas before settling on a theme for his/her personal blog. Some students decided in their self evaluation that they didn’t really see the purpose of the assignment until they saw where some of their peers had gone with their blogs.

As Virginia and I shared student blog entries with each other, our hearts palpitated with powerful pieces of student writing. Not only did these blogs reflect well-developed background knowledge, they demonstrated an ability to skillfully use language to convey a message that mattered, as well as an ability to engage the peers who were able to view the blog.

In the midst of reflecting on blogs of our students, I could hear Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s voices in my head with the mantra…What are you learning? Why does it matter?…What next?…   Add Jim Gee to the mix with the challenge to consider our responsibility to provide “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring to our students to guide them beyond “the entertainment only “ aspect of the digital world. Add the discussions of the expanded definition of literacy at The International Reading Association Leadership Conference took place in Florida this July.   I certainly had the front end loading to write many, many blog entries.

Meredith Kezar catapulted me into the world of blogging 5 years ago by providing an example of what it could look like. She insisted I delve into her blog and showed me the possibilities for my upcoming trip to China. I was on my way to teach English and BC methodology to Chinese teachers in Fuyang. I started a travel blog to keep very specific groups of friends and family up to date on my adventures. It was fun to write, had strong “voice” and I got lots of positive reinforcement.   Many of the blogs that I have done since then have been a way of sharing information with a specific audience. More or less a group send without the hassle. However it had stopped there.

My vague goal this summer was to write widely. Stephen King’s book hit home with the need to be disciplined about carving out time to write.   I always think of Margaret Atwood and the dentist sitting beside her at an awards dinner saying “When I retire, I’m gong to become a writer” and her hitting back with “Oh, really. When I retire, I’m going to become a dentist.” My summer goal was to focus my attention of both personal and professional writing as a way to live life.

Art Markham’s work has been a good reminder about how the brain forms new habits. Where my journal writing often happened on the beach or in a café, my disciplined focus on writing required early mornings at home with no distractions.   I decided to use blogging as the tool to develop my background knowledge of digital media and develop my professional writing.   I stepped away from the blogs that I had used to share information with a tightly defined audience. I reframed three previously established blogs to explore unique purposes.

The blog that I had developed as The Provincial Coordinator of BC Literacy Council of The International Reading Association (BCLCIRA) became Inquire2Empower  CarrieFroese.wordpress.com Initially I started it when I became Provincial Coordinator, of The BC Literacy Council. The purpose was to create community with literacy educators who were International Reading Association members. It is now emerging into a tool not only to provide information, but also to engage a wide range of educators in asking questions and reflecting on learning. It put the onus on me to engage in regular reflective process about my reading, writing, perspectives, conversations and invite feedback.   It was empowering to have Art Markham responding to my comments on his book and learning about creating “unanticipated community”. It’s interesting to learn which issues and ideas resonate with other people. How does this inform the professional offerings we offer through BCLCIRA and PDK in Vancouver?

My Hobbit travel journal came to with me on my first 6 week trek to Europe when I was 17 years old. It is filled with descriptions of what we ate and drank. Some things don’t change. My seriousindulgences.wordpress.com blog reflects that enduring fascination with food and drink. Entries come naturally and much of the writing has been done at Kit’s pool between laps, on the beach, in hotel rooms or in cafes. It has really pushed the development of my technical knowledge about digital media: Format; mobile posting to Facebook; Posting to Pages as opposed to timelines; Twitter; Instacollage; Pinterest… Because I like to travel, eat out and go wine tasting, posts are frequent. This lends itself to considering timing and frequency of posts to reach a vaguely defined audience. So much to learn about the how to’s and why’s and really’s?

I have been on the board of directors for Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society of British Columbia www.wartoystopeaceart.com for many years. Susan Ruzic, Sandy Murray and myself set up a blog cultureofpeace4kids.wordpress.com site last year. Our intention was to create a dynamic site that allows multiple people to post projects and publicize funding for peace art projects with children.   My summer goal has been to develop a standard for posts that will invite active participation to report projects funded by PC2 (Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children), keep our eyes open for ideas for other possible projects and perhaps attract funding.   Although this site has the least activity, it does open the possibility of redefining how the board functions and invites participation from others in a noble causeJ

As my holidays come to a close, I feel energized by my summer learning. Although blogging is defined as public due to the nature of the audience, the actual writing and subsequent growth is extremely personal. This spring, Virginia and I were trying to teach our students to apply and develop their writing skills and critical thinking skills. That is just what I did as I carved out time for regular reflective practice, wrote for a larger audience and broadened my perspective on the possibilities of social media. The PDK professional development with Chris Kennedy and crew, the journey of literacy practitioners to expand the definition of literacy, the quest of neuroscientists working with educators to bring new understanding of learning, all came together for some very powerful personal professional development.