Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dear Teacher Applicant

This is the time of year when I start to look at hiring potential teachers for next year.  So to  those teachers that we will be interviewing, I share with you the following questions to consider and reflect upon:

  1. During the interview, demonstrate (don't just tell us) how you have, or how you intend to use various forms of assessment to assist your students in their learning.  Please be informed that we have a school grading policy that emphasizes assessment as tool for learning, rather than stick for measuring.
  2. A core value at our school is that students come to us with a multitude of gifts, talents and blessings.  Demonstrate how you have, or how you intend, to engage the diverse group of learners who will look to you for inspiration, guidance and passion.  
  3. At our school we are obsessed with answering one, basic and fundamental question - "how do we respond when students don't learn?"  With this in mind, how do you see yourself engaging with our Pyramid of Interventions?
  4. Given the variety of talents, interests and passions of our students, we provide a multitude of experiences for them both inside and outside the classroom.  It is expected that teachers get involved in the extra-curricular life of the school.  How will you enrich our extra-curricular programs for our students? 
  5. In an information and knowledge rich world, how have you, or how do you intend to add meaning and a depth of understanding and relevance for your students?  
  6. Demonstrate how you have, or how you intend use technology (e.g. web 2.0 tools) to assist your students in being more engaged, to create and to collaborate?  
  7. We value  and nourish our teachers as learners and collaborators.  Please describe what current professional learning you are engaged in.  You might want to share what medium you are using to keep this learning current and engaging for yourself.
  8. Demonstrate how you look beyond a "students can't" attitude.
  9. Demonstrate how you are an innovative teacher.  Don't be afraid to tell us about something you tried and failed at.  Tell us what you learned from that experience.
  10. Within our school's "Ethos of Us", demonstrate how you have, or how you intend, in some cases, "get out of the way of students" and, in other situations, "hold your students hands".  Within this context, demonstrate how you have, or how you intend build confidence in each of your students.
  11. Paint of picture of yourself as a "soul builder" of students.  As a Catholic School we have a profound mission that goes beyond just teaching curriculum.  Each of the students in your care, at any given time is "loving something, fighting something or losing something" (Mike Patin) .  Again, demonstrate how you have, or how you intend to nurture and build each every precious soul in your care.
  12. Parents are the first educators of their children.   They do the best they can.  Demonstrate how you have, or how you intend to engage and communicate with parents, to assist you, in the educating of their child.
This list is not meant to scare or intimidate and we certainly don't expect perfection.  We do however, expect all our teachers to embrace best practice, to share in the mission and vision of our school and to see our students as  gifts.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

20% Time - Learning Update

This year we have modeled some of our pro-d on Google's 20% time.  You can read the details here.

Throughout this process, participants have been asked to "share their learning" in a Google Doc.   Some of the self directed and self chosen areas of inquiry include: Literacy Instruction, Personalized Learning, Technology Integration, Student Motivation and Problem Based Learning.  

I am convinced that professional learning which is learner driven, job embedded and meaningful to the day to day work that teachers do, will have the biggest impact on the intrinsic motivation of teachers and have the best chance of increasing student engagement and achievement.

As we approach the mid-way point in the year I thought I would share some the insights and discoveries from  each of the learning teams:   

Literacy Team
Based on some hard data (the RAD Test) a decision was made to focus on reading strategies for our grade 8 students. The team hopes see improvement in the students comprehension and analysis skills.

Each team member has selected an instructional strategy from the Developing Readers Resource focused on reading strategies, and implement this in their grade 8 course.
  • English – unpacking text, prediction, reading between lines will be a focus, although the English department felt that they already focus on reading strategies within their courses.
  • Social Studies – Use the SQ4R, outline notes and focus on teaching students how to use a textbook 
  • Science – SQ4R will be used and students will be taught how to use their textbooks
  • Math – will focus on teaching students strategies or reading word problems. They will also review how to use their textbooks. 
  • French – will review features of the textbook and also use KWL
Personalized Learning Team
Ministry Document: Personalized Learning in BC
Latest Ministry Document: Students Must be at the Centre of Learning

Big Picture View:
  • That all students are part of a larger community and how do they fit into this community
  • Previously learning was compartmentalized and the document suggests that we open doors or break down walls so that students can learn in a more holistic manner in order to make learning more meaningful...a movement towards interdisciplinary approach
  • The document begins with the need to develop competency in reading, writing and numeracy skills....from an early age
  • These are ongoing skills that need to be focused on throughout students’ education and at the same time personalized learning will help students build an array of other skills...”a shift from what you know to what you can do”
  • As teachers we need to un-pack these skills then apply them to individual students so that they can apply these skills to their learning (contextualized learning)
  • This change will have to begin with empowering teachers have the autonomy to be experts – not to be bound by documents
Technology Integration
Covered topics
  • email migration preview
  • student emails and setting up class distribution lists
  • using Twitter
  • connecting laptops via USB to HDMI
  • using to create free class websites 
  • Poll Everywhere (
  • Online file folders
Future Learning
  • Online file folders 
  • Google Docs 
  • Calendar use and sharing 
  • QR Codes - Video resources onto text
  • Clarification of cloud, what it is (theory)
  • How to scan resources - 
  • How to use the copier to turn pages into PDFs. 
  • How to turn PDFs into editable text.
  • This is particularly useful to modifying exams and handouts where the original computer file is not availble.
  • Presentation Resources for Teachers and Kids (The Paperless Un-Poster)
    • - easy alternative to paper posters
    • - analytics integration for tracking views... potential for newsletter
Student Motivation
The primary realization so far - student motivation is complex and involves a large number of factors, very few of which are under our control!

The team has settled on a two pronged approach: a review of the current literature and a student survey of the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that motivate them. For the lit review, we’re reading Tuned Out, by Karen Hume and Drive by Daniel Pink. Hume’s work is focused on education and motivational issues in secondary school, while Pink deals with the business world and increasing productivity. We think that both will offer useful perspectives.

The student survey is in the design phase. The Entrepreneurship 12 class is drafting questions designed to elicit both what students self-report as motivational and the factors that actually do “push” them to achieve. Additionally, a future survey will poll teachers for their ideas on what motivates students. A comparison of all three data sets should be of interest to staff.

Problem Based Learning
Most teachers apply some of the PBL concepts on a daily basis its quite difficult to do it consistently and requires quite a bit of planning. There is also a misconception that PBL is the same as discovery learning. Unlike discovery learning, in PBL there should be extremely focused lesson objects and the expectation should still be for students to meet course PLOs.

The basics of Problem Based Learning involve 4 key features:
1) Students work in small groups
2) They are given a complex, real world problem they need to solve
3) They are provided with resources to find the answers
4) Teachers act as facilitators or guides rather than direct instructors

To work within these parameters and still meet all the curricular requirements was quite difficult. In particular I needed to ensure that students still got the required mathematical practice since this accounts for the bulk of what they do in Physics. Selecting an appropriate problem was probably the most difficult task. For the unit on Kinematics the problem the students were given was to design and plan a mission to Mars. For research resources I’ve been allowing students to bring lab tops, smart phones or other electronic resources to class and using the internet. At first I was worried that they would be off task, but I’ve been absolutely amazed with both the quality and quantity of their work. Right now I have about 8 different lessons planned; without going into too much detail I’ve included the first one which dealt with displacement & distance.
Sample - Trajectory to Mars Problem
How far away is Mars? What path will the space craft take to get to Mars?
When determining how far objects are in outer space (or anywhere) there are two important measurements: How far you move and how far you move from your starting location. (These are not always the same measurement!)
Some final thoughts
I have been amazed at the level of enthusiasm and engagement that our staff has displayed.  I cannot, yet (or ever),  quantify through quantitative data if student performance or engagement has improved as a result of this initiative.  I can, however, qualitatively guarantee that teachers have been highly motivated to learn something new in an effort to ultimately help our students become more engaged in their learning.  That's enough for me!

I am looking forward to our "Sharing Our Learning Day" in April, when each team will have the opportunity to share their discoveries and lead a discussion on a particular topic!