Struggling


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Jenny Kaczorowski

Is it a natural consequence, following an intense and engaging experience, to feel a bit of a “drop off”?

I spent the weekend at the ConnectEd Conference in Calgary, and it was a very exciting but also a bit taxing. I helped facilitate a couple sessions and spoke briefly at the reception, which required some focused preparation, I attended a number of great sessions and I spent some time connecting with colleagues from my school. The learning was constant and considerable, and the planning (and dreaming) my co-workers and I did had my head spinning.

When I returned to work, I felt a bit off. I was still vibrating from all of the learning, and while I shared some of the highlights with some members of our staff, it seemed like I couldn’t satisfy my desire to connect and learn the same way I had for the three days at the conference.  When I went home I went on Twitter, connected with a few people, and wrote a blog post, but it still didn’t seem enough.

Today when I went to work, I was spent the entire morning working independently, in my office with the door closed. I was starting to tackle some of the timetabling for next year and the task required a quiet environment and a great deal of focus. In the afternoon, I popped on Twitter a couple times, had a great meeting with a couple people from my division, and an intriguing meeting of our school’s Design Team after school, but it wasn’t enough. I even had a colleague text me this evening to check and see if I was ok, which meant my struggles were clearly visible to others.

I went for a drive tonight to clear my head. I know that part of it is a number of important projects I need to take care of before the end of school, and I am sure that is common to many people this time of year. The issue I kept coming back to though is the struggle of trying to recapture that high of being engaged, excited, and actively participating in learning. Like some kind of learning junkie, I have been looking for my fix. I guess that is the only downside of being at such a great conference, leaving all of that learning and returning to the routines of daily work.

What do you do when you return from a conference? Do you ever feel like the firehose has dwindled to just a drip, and do you find returning a little difficult? Has anyone else ever felt the way I do? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what life is like for you after a great conference or learning experience.     

Give Someone A Push


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by SlikSvelte

 

Wow. Just spent an engaging and energizing weekend at the ConnectEd Conference at the Calgary Science School. What a fantastic experience, connecting with so many amazing educators and learning so much. It was so great to put so many faces to names, or twitter handles for that matter. People I have learned so much from for the past few years, connected  with so often on Twitter, and there they were to share great face to face conversations. It was a great conference and an awesome experience.

 

It brought me back to the meeting I had with George Couros three years ago, in his office at Forest Green Elementary. Over the course of the hour, we signed me up for Twitter, created a Skype account and he introduced me to WordPress. George tried to explain to me the importance and power of being connected, and while I thought I got it, it took a year or so before it all really sunk in. That day changed the course of my career, and I am so thankful for that push that George gave me.

 

I try to honor that push George gave me by helping others get connected. While I met many connected educators at the conference, I met a handful who were not so connected. Either they weren’t on twitter or they hadn’t started to share much yet. Talking with those educators, I was amazed at the work they were doing in their schools and dumbfounded when they told me they had never thought of sharing their stories. I want to tell you about a couple in particular.

 

Skinner

Mike Skinner is a Principal from Burns Lake, BC who I had the chance to have multiple conversations with over the course of the weekend. Mike is a passionate guy who wants to push education forward in his school. He told me about a project that his school does called the Alternative Arts Festival (See highlights here at their Facebook Page), a day of school dedicated to students sharing work they had produced. I was amazed that Mike hadn’t been sharing this with others, as I am sure so many would feel the same way I did when he told me about it – What a great idea! Mike is on Twitter, but I tried to urge him to get into blogging, as his Alternative Arts Festival is an idea that needs to be shared.

 

sashaSasha Wise is a Gr. 1/2 Teacher in Richmond, BC who I had the chance to speak with during breakfast at ConnectEd Canada. It didn’t take long talking to Sasha to know she was a teacher who really enjoyed bringing great learning experiences to her young students. She was telling me about this project she worked on with her students where they researched an animal, recorded their presentations on the Explain Everything app on iPads and created a life size drawing of their animal. She told me about how a student who before had been shy and quiet came out of his shell during the project. The entire story was inspiring and the activity sounded like such an amazing experience for students in Gr. 1 & 2.

 

Mike and Sasha are two bright Educators with so much to share. As they told me their stories, I thought of all the different people who would appreciate being able to hear them. I found I couldn’t help myself and I let both know how important it was that they find a way to let others hear about the amazing work they were doing. Sometimes being connected is a start, but in Sasha and Mike’s situation, sharing was just as important a message to send. Whether they wanted it or not, I tried to give them a little push.

 

The conference provided an opportunity for me to meet Sasha and Mike, but we all interact with educators daily in our halls and around our divisions. Is there someone that you know that hasn’t really jumped in to the world of Twitter or Social Media and seen the potential of a Professional Learning Network that stretches far beyond the walls of their school? Is there someone that could use a little push to share the great work they do? Give someone a little push the next time the opportunity presents itself, especially if there was someone that pushed you.

 

Innovation Week Day 5 – Taking Flight


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Andy.Schultz

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

I have always loved this quote. In conversation with George Couros at our Innovation Week wrap up he talked about the scene in the Matrix with the Red and Blue pill. Both are fitting, I find mine a little more eloquent though.

But I’ll come back to that…

Yesterday was our final day of our Innovation Week. We finished the week with an Open House, with each individual or group set up at tables to show case their work to the rest of the school and to the parents and members of the community that attended. It was a really great couple of hours with students proudly displaying their projects, walking each passer by through each component, and eagerly explaining the step-by-step processes that took place to complete them. For these students, they became the star of the show, as the people walked around to see just what they had done. It felt great to see that our project was able to make celebrities out of learners.

After the Open House we finished with an assembly just for the students involved in Innovation Week. We rode our Principal in on a hovercraft built by three Gr. 9 students (trust me, there will be a post about these three young men and their project). We had a selected number of groups come up and show their projects, and gave them the microphone to talk about their experiences during the week. There were many cheers and a great deal of excitement, especially when our Principal let them know that there would be another Innovation Week coming sometime this school year.

While there are things we will do differently, we were very pleased with the event (see post from our happy Principal here). I think a lot of great learning came out of this week for us as a staff and we have a lot of sharing and reflecting to do when we return from the break.

Which brings me back to my conversation with George…

As we walked around the Open House, we talked about the impact the event would have on our students. George talked about how after an event like this, any type of “old school” lesson just wasn’t going to cut it for these kids anymore. I have to agree, and I believe our next step is to pursue ways for us to implement Innovation-style activities into our day to day teaching. Whether it is in a one hour class, over the course of a unit or in a week long project, ensuring that students have a chance to choose what they study, how they do their work, or what they produce, will foster the innovative learning we are hoping for.

I would hope that if you are reading this and you have an Innovation activity that you have used or read about that you would share it here, or if you have ideas or tips for our next Innovation Week those would be great as well. Josh Stumpenhorst, the creator of Innovation Day, and Matt Bebbington, who ran his own Innovation Day in England, both helped me a great deal in bringing Innovation Week to our staff and students, and we would love to help anyone else looking to run a similar event. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of the details further. There will be more Innovation Week posts to come, as there is so much more to reflect on and discuss, but as for the week recaps, that’s a wrap.

 

Innovation Week Day 3 & 4

Wow. What an amazing four days it has been. New learning experiences for students that are bound to be ones they won’t soon forget. Novel opportunities for students to be successful, and proud of their accomplishments. Positive, growth-provoking interactions between student – teacher, student – student and student – community where learning was the end goal and motivation was never in question.

I believe the biggest reason why this week has been so successful is because it has provided so many of the goals that we strive for in our teaching throughout the year, only those goals have happened almost completely without a great deal of teacher involvement, input or design. So often we strive for a learning experience that will provide our students with choice, challenge and curiosity. We try to provide opportunities for all of our students to enjoy success. We work so hard to meet our students at their level, and then do our best to help them improve and grow. Innovation Week has done some or all of these things for a number of our students.

As I said in the previous post, I will try to write about all of these topics and more in the coming weeks, as we break down the week and reflect on all aspects of the project. For now I want to continue along the lines of providing ideas on how this could be done in other buildings, and discuss some of the issues we dealt with during the week.

Flexibility

As the week progressed, some students finished their projects earlier then they had planned. Other students had difficulty with staying focused and on task for such a lengthy period of time. In a couple instances, groups decided to scrap their projects. The way we decided to tackle this was by being flexible with individual student needs. Students were able to go back to their classes for a short period of time, for the entire morning or afternoon or even for the rest of the day and then allowed to return to their project at a later time. Some students left their Innovation Week projects and helped other groups, attended their gym classes, or wrote tests their classes were having. Doing a project for the first time with 260 students ranging from Grades 5 to 9, we expected there would be some of these challenges. The key of course was having flexible staff who were able to handle the flow of students in and out of their classes while still maintaining a positive learning environment for those students who were not taking part in Innovation Week.

Lack of Assistance in Certain Areas

Specifically technology. We have a pretty dynamic staff, and while we are lucky to have a few teachers who excel in the arts, a couple teachers who are great with hands-on type mechanical work, and a number of staff who know their way around a computer and an iPad, we were still short with help a lot of the time. It didn’t take long for us to realize that in many cases, the best helpers were the students themselves. We quickly identified who was good with certain devices or software, who had recorded music before, who had built and launched rockes before, and those students were enlisted to help other students. They did it willingly, and certainly drew a sense of pride from being the “expert”. I think if any school were to do an Innovation Week style event, identifying “In-house Experts” would be a good way to bolster your assistant numbers and to give those students a chance to be the teacher to others.

Opportunity to Connect with Community

We didn’t do enough when it came to this… really, I didn’t do enough. A colleague, who also happens to be one of our Learning Coaches in the building, suggested this project would have been a good opportunity to connect with “Experts” in our community, even if it meant taking the students TO THEM. In a couple instances we did that, with a group heading to a bakery to learn and ask questions for their baking project, and other groups that had people come into the building to help them. What we should have done was make “Outside Experts” a component of the proposal process. With enough time, every student could find someone to meet with, either at their place of work, in our school, over Skype or at worst over the phone. Connecting our students to resources outside of their day to day lives would be a valuable learning experience for when they encounter issues in adulthood, either at their job or at home.

 

Tomorrow we have the students present their projects in an Open House-style setting, and we will see how many of them were able to create projects they are proud of. Day 5 will be a big day, and one I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about when its over.

If you are reading this and you have any questions or comments, please leave them. While we would love to help other schools do this, we are also already starting to plan Innovation Week #2 and we would love input on how to make the next one even better for our students.

Innovation Week Day 1 & 2

Photo 12

Well two days are in the books. I’m tired, but it’s a good tired. We started the week off strong and the wave of energy and enthusiasm continues. We can only hope that the kids and the staff can keep it rolling.

When it comes to writing about our Innovation Week project its one of those rare times when I have an overly abundant number of ideas I could write about. I could tell you about the way the staff of our school have done such an amazing job of inspiring and motivating our students’ learning regardless of the certain mental and physical fatigue all us educators feel in the last week before the holiday. I could tell you about the amazing engagement and excitement coming from our students, the outstanding depth and magnitude of their projects and the way they are pulling together, helping each other out and working as one large and effective learning community. I could also write about how initiatives like Innovation Week, and so many others like it, are the antidote to the status quo and the way forward if we are truly going to help our system break free from the old model of prescribed curriculum and standardized tests. I could write about all of those wonderful topics (and probably will at some time) but in these posts I really just want to give you an idea of how we are making Innovation Week work, and how you might improve on it and run your own in your building.

Managing The Space

When all was said and done we had nearly 260 of our 540 students involved in Innovation Week, which meant we needed half the classrooms as well as the use of some of our more specific work spaces (Gymnasium, Foods Room, Flex Lab). We also needed to ensure we had adequate work spaces for the students who did not take part in the week. Because our staff was so behind the project, they were very flexible with giving up their spaces and sharing the responsibilities of supervising students. We decided to group the students by the theme of their projects and to a limited degree by grade level. We have Building Rooms, Performing Arts Rooms, a Writing Room, a Cooking Room, Tech Rooms, a Display Room, a Sewing/Craft Room, a Research Area, as well as a few other targeted work spaces. Students start their days in this room (following a daily opening assembly) but are not limited to working in these spaces. They are, however, responsible to the supervising teacher in their workspace and keep that teacher informed on where they are choosing to work. There have been some difficulties to overcome including creating a supervising schedule of teachers (we made sure everyone was a part of Innovation Week for at least one day) and creating a gym schedule (to create prep time for teachers and provide physical activity for the students in regular classes) but so far it has seemed to work. I think the keys to making this work in a building are obviously the support and flexibility of the staff, as well as being comfortable with the learning becoming a bit geographically messy.

Photo 6

Sewing Room

Photo 7

Writing Room

Photo 9

Display Room

Photo 10

Display Room

Optimizing The Impact

It is important to us that the students are getting the most out of this learning experience, so to try to ensure we were having them capture part of their own learning process we purchased everyone of them an Innovation Week Journal. In this journal, students will reflect throughout the day on what went well, what was difficult, and how the learning process evolved throughout the week. Because the supervising teachers in each Innovation Work Space, we are also having the teachers provide constructive feedback and thought provoking questions in the student journals. This gives the teacher coming into the room the next day an idea of what feedback has been given so far and how they can help the students with their projects. On Day 1 we found the reflections to be a little on the light side in some instances, so we provided some writing prompts at the end of the day to better provide direction for our students on what they could be reflecting on.

Opening Assemblies/Community Focus

Each day, we are starting with an assembly to get the ball rolling. We have shared videos on innovation and creativity to inspire our students for the day. We have gone over house keeping issues such as break times, safety and shared use of technology. We have talked about how Innovation Day began, and what the idea behind it was all about. These assemblies have been very useful in our first two days for a couple reasons. One being that this is our first Innovation Week and issues have been popping up throughout the first two days, and this gives us the ability to talk about these issues with all 260 students at once rather than trying to do PA announcements or spreading the word room to room. The other reason is that we have been able to get a bit of a community feel to develop. The students in the assembly are all there for Innovation Week and there seems to be a shared pride in that. When we started the first day, they cheered at being told it was “time to get started”. Today when we asked everyone to think about their fellow Innovation Week participants and share the technology in our building, we noticed a much smoother day when it came to sharing the Laptops, Desktops and iPads.

 

I haven’t had as much time as I had hoped to get into classrooms and see the projects, speak to the students and teachers and really get a feel for how each persons experience was going. I am going to try to get to more classrooms tomorrow, and document more of the week. When this is done I hope we will have a great deal of video to share as well.

For now, I will leave you with a plea to please disregard any typos, spelling mistakes or poor writing in this post, I am going to go ahead with it without the usual proofreading and re-writing. More will come, hopefully separate reflections from Days 3, 4 and 5 and hopefully with a bit more care and attention. Its 11:30pm and my wonderful experiences of the past two days have worn me ragged. I need sleep.

 

Why School? – Book Review

“This isn’t about delivery. In a word, its about discovery”

I recently read Why School? by Will Richardson, a great book looking towards the future of education and I thought I would put together a quick review of my thoughts on it. If you are anything like me, you are hoping that we are on the precipice of major change in education. I am hoping that we can break free from many of the traditions we have continued for far too long. Of course I am not bright enough to point us in the right direction, but I am ready and waiting to be a foot soldier for the cause.

This book does a lot to inspire more foot soldiers like me to take up the cause of meaningful school reform. In the past few years I have gone from believing in a prescribed curriculum, to believing we need to have a more freeing minimalized curriculum, to the point now where I wonder (often to myself for fear of being dismissed as going to far) if we need a curriculum at all. This book definitely validated the idea, and provides a great deal of the “why” behind a change in this direction.

Here is a run down of some of the major themes of the book along with some quotes from these sections.

Abundance vs. Scarcity

One of the big ideas of this book is the competing views of abundance vs. scarcity. Will talks about how the Internet has changed the way we need to look at the availability of information and learning:

 “In a nutshell, here’s what happened during the last 15 years with regard to information, knowledge, teachers, learning, and getting an education. Thanks to the Internet and the technologies we use to access it, we’ve moved from a world where all of these were relatively scarce to one where they’re absolutely abundant.”

This change in access has an obvious impact on our education system and what we should be aspiring towards. Will provides a quote from Michael Wesch, a professor at Kansas State University, on what this abundance should look like:

“ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous information, ubiquitous networks, at unlimited speed, about everything, everywhere, from anywhere, on all kinds of devices that make it ridiculously easy to connect, organize, share, collect, collaborate and publish.”

While we are not at the point that Michael Wesch talks about, it is important to keep in mind all the advantages this new age of abundance provides us. In a chapter called “The Upside”, Will comments on what this type of access can do for education.

“But consider the incredible upsides for learning and education if we have that access – and if we know what to do with it. We have an amazing array of tools we can use to create and share beautiful, meaningful, important works with global audiences. We have vast opportunities to connect and learn from and with authors, scientists, journalists, explorers, artists, athletes and many others. We have immense storehouses of primary-source information that we can literally carry in our pockets. This new landscape transforms our ability to work together to change the world for the better. And don’t forget that all of this has happened in little over a decade.”

“Better” vs. Another Way

So with this new world of abundance, Will talks about two ways it can be used to move forward. One being to simply use this abundance to keep doing what we are doing but BETTER. He talks about how corporate and political influence point to this being the way forward.

“They see schools as places where technology is increasingly a tool to better deliver content, where a growing emphasis on passing a test becomes a business proposition, one tied to competing against other countries, schools, classrooms, teachers, and students. In this view, we focus on the easiest parts of the learning interaction – information acquisition, basic skills, a bit of critical thinking, analysis – accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored. Learning is relegated to the quantifiable: that which is easy to rank and compare.”

In this chapter Will ends with a great point and question, one that should be fundamental to our thinking and help us push against the perpetuating models of traditional education delivery.

“This, then, is what schools look like to those who see abundant content and connections through the “let’s deliver the old curriculum through new tools” lens of reform. It’s old wine – or, in this case, old thinking about education – in new bottles. How does this serve our kids at this moment of abundance?”

It’s in Will’s words about “Another Way” of change that this book really inspires and motivates me to push for change.

“There is a second narrative, however, that presents a much different vision for what schools can and must become in this moment of huge change. This vision is being co-created by thousands of educators around the world, who recognize a different future for their students and understand deeply how technology and the Web can enhance learning, both in and out of the classroom. This isn’t about delivery. In a word, its about discovery.”

“This narrative focuses on preparing students to be learners, above all, who can successfully wield the abundance at their fingertips. It’s a kind of schooling that prepares students for the world they will live in, not the one in which most of us grew up.”

“The emphasis shifts from content mastery to learning mastery”

Will doesn’t try to make it all sound wonderful and easy though. He is clear that there will be difficulties as we try to change what we do while still trying to be accountable to our stakeholders.

“There lies the tension. This second path is simply not as easy to quantify as the first. Developing creativity, persistence, and the skills for patient problem solving, B.S.-detecting, and collaborating may now be more important than knowing the key dates and battles of the Civil War (after all, those answers are just a few taps on our phone away), but they’re all much more difficult to assign a score to.”

Assessment

While re-thinking what we teach, how we teach, and the learning experiences we provide for our students, Will also addresses the idea of changing the way we assess our students. 

“Education author Jay Cross, says that ‘knowledge is moving from the individual to the individual and his contacts’… It’s not what I know, it’s what we know. And my reality is that I would suddenly become much dumber if you told me I had to disconnect when seeking answers or solving problems… Remaking assessments starts with this: stop asking questions on tests that can be answered by a Google search. Or, if you have to ask them, let kids use their technology to answer them.”

“In other words, let’s scrap open-book tests, zoom past open-phone tests asking Googleable questions, and advance to open-network tests that measure not just if kids answer a question well, but how literate they are at discerning good information from bad and tapping into the experts and networks that can inform those answers. This is how they’ll take the reali life information and knowledge tests that come their way, and it would tell us much more about our children’s preparedness for a world of abundance.”

“Let’s also shift our assessments of students’ mastery to ones that examine mastery in action. Performance-based assessments, where students actually have to do something with what they know, tell us volumes more about their readiness for life than bubble sheets or contrived essays.”

Rethinking Teaching

The last third of the book focuses on how we can change our teaching to better fit with this new world of abundance. Will presents 6 strategies to follow when it comes to unlearning and relearning our practices.

1. Share everything

“We can raise the teaching profession by sharing what works, by taking the best of what we do and hanging it on the virtual wall. Many would argue that it is now the duty of teachers to do so.”

2. Discover, don’t deliver, the curriculum

“…we have to move away from telling kids what to learn, and when and how to learn it. We have to stop not only because it drives away any passion our children have for learning, but alos because – especially now, when curriculum is everywhere – it’s not a very effective way of going about our business. When you think of how we learn once we leave school, developing our own paths to learning the things we want to, why wouldn’t we let kids do that in the classroom?”

“Teachers need to be great at asking questions and astute at managing the different paths to learning each child creates. They must guide students to pursue projects of value and help them connect their interests to the required standards. And they have to be participants and models in the learning process.”

3.  Talk to strangers

“The reality is that the kids in our schools will interact and learn with strangers online on a regular basis throughout their lives. “

4. Be a master learner

“If we’re to develop learners who can make sense of the whole library, we must already be able to do that ourselves. In other words, the adults in the room need to be learners first and teachers second.”

“People who model their own learning process, connect to other learners as a regular part of their day, and learn continuously around the things they have a passion for.”

“And they have to exhibit the dispositions that will sustain their learning: persistence, empathy, passion, sharing, collaboration, creativity, and curiousity. Most important, they have to be willing to learn with my children.”

5.  Do real work for real audiences

“I’d rather know that my kids were creating something of meaning, value and I hope, beauty for people other than just their teachers, and that those creations had the opportunity to live in the world. That they were thinking hard about audience. That they were learning how to network and collaborate with others. That they were developing ‘proficiency with the tools of technology’, learning to ‘design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes’, and becoming literate in the process.”

6. Transfer the power

“If we expect our kids to be able to own their own learning, find their own teachers, create their own classrooms, and find other students to learn with, then we need to make sure they have opportunities to do these things in school.”

“Don’t teach my child science; instead, teach my child how to learn science – or history or math or music. With as many resources as they have available to them today (not to mention what they’ll have tomorrow), kids had better know how.”

As I have said, I have been ready to be a part of change in education, but I have never felt like I knew exactly where to go, what to do or how to do it. I am not suggesting that this book is a “How-To” guide to instantly changing education systems all over the world, but I do believe it gets us asking the right questions and reflecting on the right parts of our practices.

Some people may read this and say that this is a book of ideas and not enough in the way of practical guidance. To me, this argument always puzzles me, because anything new has to start as an idea before it can be implemented. Some people will read this and argue that the change is too radical given the restraints of our system. To me, I wonder how people could keep plodding along knowing that there is a better way to serve our students. When it comes to leadership and change, we should always make our decisions based on principles. The guiding principle in education should be “What is the right thing to do for our students?”. What Will’s book tells us is that a monumental change to our education system will be difficult, but it is most definitely the right thing for our students.

I hope you will spend the $1.99 to download this book and sit down and read it with an open and reflective mind. Take what is said and weigh it against what you believe is right for our students, and how your practices assist your students to learn. Then, if this book inspires you, share it, and join the conversation. We are lucky to be working in a profession at the most exciting time to be in this profession. Let’s embrace the change and see just how great we can make our schools for our students.