I have never been a creature of habit. When things get to be too predictable, I get an anxious feeling that life is passing me by. Perhaps this is the reason that eduction has been such a good fit for me. Change and new learning are always afoot! Meeting new people, changing grade levels, attending professional development and navigating through the politics of the time provide food for thought and a landscape to navigate that takes all of my personal and professional resources. The quest for me is to maintain a larger perspective of what really matters and not get sucked into the vortex of ever increasing demands.
I work hard and play hard. A good friend of mine use to marvel that one hot tub after I arrived at “The Secret Garden”, her B&B on Bowen Island, and I had geared down from “10” to a happy “2”. This Spring Break, my play opportunity, aka Spring Break, has taken me to Vietnam for a much anticipated visit with my darling daughter. We have escaped the humidity of Hanoi and are now settled in a little piece of tropical paradise in Phu Quoc. One day on our secluded little beach with hammocks, a few kayaks for our use and a good book and I have officially geared down to a “2”. I suspect the relaxation speed corresponds directly with the lush greenery surrounding us. All that O2! Although I must confess I pulled my hammock away from those green coconuts overhead on the beach with a remaining vestige of control.
My daughter, Larkyn, and her boyfriend, Justin, are both teaching in Vietnam at ILA, International Language Academy. It has a carefully delineated program to ensure standardization in English language instruction in institutions around the world. Yesterday Justin started to tell me about this new thing, PBL, that was being introduced into the courses with the higher level students. The Project Based Learning is technology based and facilitates collaboration, communication and problem solving between students. Students for the first time have the power to choose interest areas to pursue and develop vocabulary around those interests.
I taught practicing teachers at the Bureau of Education in Fuyang for two summer sessions in 2008 and 2009. I worked with four other educators from Coquitlam, British Columbia, teaching educators English and ways to engage students in learning. It was an amazing opportunity for personal learning. I gained a much better understanding of my students from China and the challenges facing the educators in China trying to implement practices that were bringing such strong results in the Western World. Rote learning was not just a philosophical position but a way to manage behaviour and safety in classes of 50 or more students. Teaching students how to write tests determined their ability to further their education, access opportunities and care for family.
Project based learning is an exciting possibility for implementing change in school systems. My principal, Rosa Fazio, is off to China this Spring Break, to inspire educators with the ways teachers are using technology and student interest to inspire profound learning at the Kindergarten to Grade 8 level at Norma Rose Point. There is part of me that is excited to go back to school after break to discuss what we have learned over the holidays. Yes, I’m sitting with my coffee in a little piece of paradise feeling very grateful to be an educator.
It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015. Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis. Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety. They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.
This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia. With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada. With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.
Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board. Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts. Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home. They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style. Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.
In my quest to extend my background knowledge of technology, I have immersed myself in learning using my computer, my iPad, my iPhone and even my FitBit. Experiences with distance learning, the PILOT (Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology) inquiry with my staff, providing PREP for teachers in the computer lab at our school and participating in professional learning with colleagues online has kept me “plugged in” on a regular basis. At some times, my iPhone seems to have become an extension of my arm. Although I’ve made a concerted effort to take technology breaks, they are generally brief and not enough to direct my thinking elsewhere. This Spring Break that changed.
My husband and I went to Cuba for the first time. My homework revealed that internet access was not only expensive but it was unreliable. I also didn’t realize how safe Cuba was so I locked up all my technology and left it at home. My husband brought a tablet and his HTC android. The HTC did not take good pictures and the tablet was too big to be easily accessible so my vacation was largely without tech toys.
After a brief period of “disconnection withdrawal”, I was just fine not being online. Being in the tropics certainly makes the process of exhaling and relaxing happen easily. This is particularly the case when no one can get hold of you. I did miss the iPhone camera. It made me realize how often I snap photos of information rather than writing it down. Snapping photos also often helps me to record memories, create artistic photos to share and remember great writing ideas. I was delighted when I got home and had my iPhone camera accessible when I spotted the father eagle guarding the Kits Point nest. I snapped the pic and while I was looking down at it, he took flight and I missed it. I found myself wishing I had left the phone at home.
The merits of taking a technology break and enjoying the moment and the people you are with has obvious benefits. What I have found most surprising is the effort required to reconnect after the technology break. Communicating online requires the same investment as any face to face relationship. You need to devote the time in order to experience any kind of reciprocity. The real value of the break for me was the pause to re-evaluate the avenues that are most worthwhile to engage both online and offline. Strategic use rather than conditioned response is my new goal for tech use.
This is the question posed by Dean Shareski for the Ignite Your Passion for Discovery Vancouver 2016 event. I’m looking forward to hearing the 5 minute / twenty slide presentations and checking out the venue, Relish The Pub. Yet the best thing about this event is that it invites you to tap into your own curiosity and ask your own questions. It also provides a room full of the kind of people who want to have those kinds of conversations and to build their network of like-minded people.
I am curious about the outdoor play / technology use balance. I grew up in Vancouver with a plethora of outdoor activities and in an age where a key around my neck was status and the parental mantra was “Be home before it’s dark”. I spent a lot of time engaged in outdoor play as did all the kids in the neighbourhood. Cherry blossom showers. Trampolines. Puddles. Trees. Scrub. Kick the Can. Fishing. Bikes. The list of things that drew us outdoors was endless, as was the learning once we were there. It also cultivated an interest in engaging new challenges like biking to the top of Queen Elizabeth Park, getting back home along the shore at the beach before the tide came in, and later learning how to ski and paddle canoes, swim across big stretches and hike up mountains.
We are in different times where media stories of crime and danger surround parents and intensify the concerns over safety of the children in our care. Now, there is also a pressure to schedule children every advantage perceived to be needed for future success. In some cases, parents did not grow up in the culture of outdoor play and do not understand the merits. There is also the addictive edge of technology that can easily suck up hours. I find myself lost in a myriad of tasks on my iPad and iPhone and computer and deviations from the required tasks that consumes hours if I don’t make a concerted effort to look away from the screen.
I love the possibilities that technology holds for our children. Third graders can use kid friendly search engines like KidRex, take notes on Drawing Pad, generate original text illuminated with sound clips and pictures on BookCreator. The learning is profound, as is the product that they can proudly teach real audiences about their topic. I believe that using technology as a tool in education has exciting possibilities for implementing the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia and engaging kids in their learning.
I’m curious about how we help our students navigate the path towards the balance of what seem like competing priorities. The balance between screen time and outdoor play is one aspect, but it also goes beyond that. It is the balance between participating in active sports outside and taking the time to observe and reflect on nature and what is happening around us when we’re outdoors. It is engaging in playing handheld or other games for enjoyment and using technology as a tool to access new learning or convey new learning. It may be using technology outdoors to spotlight outdoor learning or make a powerful statement through nature. Technology and outdoor activity offer possibilities for learning and distraction and socialization that are important and engaging. How do we help adults and kids to realize that outdoor learning / play and technology learning / play both have a role in the healthy development and in preparing our children to live healthy, happy and productive lives?
I can’t wait to discuss it at the Ignite Night tonight. Perhaps, I’ll see you there.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
Student led conferences with a twist this year. Joanne Carlton, our VSB iMentor was fortunately available to come to the classroom to guide our learning in Division 11. She has a considerable amount of background knowledge in literacy instruction and technology. As luck would have it, Zhi Su, the VSB iMovie expert was also available to come as well. We had planned in advance of their arrival so we could make the best use of their time. The previous week, I has attended a session for teachers and administrators participating the iPad Cart inquiry with my inquiry colleagues. Although I’ve had some experience with iMovie, the facilitators broke down the process so that we were able to take photos and a short videoclip, then add voice and a music track. Very impressive for an after school professional development session. I posted the assignment for students (the list of photos and videoclips for students to collect) on the Showbie APP and explained the purpose with a voice note. Most of the kids are now able to log onto their Showbie account independently. With student led conferences on the horizon, my Grade 3/4 class were excited about sharing the Winter theme books they had created with their photos from the playground, their winter sense poetry, downloaded images and audioclips. However I decided to tap student interest in the iPad technology and allow my Grade 3 and 4 students to use the iPads to demonstrate and talk about their learning this term with their parents. Many parents at the first conferences of the year had expressed they wanted their children to spend less time using technology. I very much wanted them to understand the importance of being deliberate with time spent on screens. Students had each collected:
a photo of himself or herself
a photo with the friends he/she particularly works well with in class
a videoclip of himself/herself doing gymnastics
a videoclip of himself/herself reading a favorite passage from the book he/she was currently reading
a photo of a piece of writing from his/her Thinking Book or Writing Book
a photo of the the province/territory or Aboriginal group he/she is researching
Zhi took the leadership of stepping the students through the process. The first thing he did was show them how to pull up the picture of himself or herself and write their name on it. Students learned to share group photos via airdrop, add music and shorten video-clips. Many of our students attend Chinese School and decided that their Chinese calligraphy had to be part of their iMovie. The more proficient students in the class have been teaching the others Chinese writing to create Lunar New Year cards to deliver to the mostly Asian business owners down Victoria Drive on February 19th. Many students were proud to share their skill with their parents. We had lots of adults in the room helping the students and inquiring about their learning. However the sharing between students was readily apparent. If one student in a working group had music, then it was likely all of them did. Myles LOVED the ability to airdrop and single handedly taught most of the class. Jason, a big ‘”Frozen” fan downloaded an image from the movie as the final frame of his movie with the caption “Bye”. One group of students downloaded applause for their iMovies. The process was not without it’s glitches. However everyone had a movie and one more way to open up the conversation about their learning with his/her parents. Fortunately Henry emerged as our Grade 3 techno-wizard in the process of getting everyone ready for conferences once the mentors were gone. He became the expert on downloading from iMovie to Showbie so we could share the iPads with our other inquiry classes on conference days. Parents were simply amazed at how smart their children are and how much they have learned. As the teacher, the iMovies helped me to learn about my students and determine some of the focus areas for learning. The possibilities are endless and exciting!