Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sharing Our Learning - The Sequel

This year marks the second year of our personalized professional development initiative at our school called Building Experts which is based on Google's 20% time.

One of the critical aspects of this initiative is the requirement for teachers to share results of their inquiry or learning with their colleagues.  This requirement to share is the fuel that keeps the learning relevant and focused.

Like last year, we will once again be hosting a full day of "Sharing Our Learning".

Unlike last year, the focus of inquiry and conversations has shifted slightly.  Take a look at what our teachers are exploring in their practice as teachers and are willing to share this year:

Sharing Our Learning  - Part 2 (2013)

Inquiry Based/Problem  Based Learning - this group of teachers have explored and experimented with aspects of PBL in their classrooms.  They will share successes and frustrations.  This group will also be making a recommendation to the staff, in light of the pending curriculum changes in BC, to adopt PBL within a cross-curricular model of delivery - this is should be very exciting

Literacy Across the Curriculum - this group will be sharing "hands on" teaching strategies that will assist all teachers, regardless of their curricular area, in teaching particular literacy skills to their students.

Digital Literacy  - Under the leadership of our "tech-brarian", this group will update the staff on the school based digital literacy curriculum (scope and sequence) that is being developed.  This curriculum will identify the who, what, how and why of digital literacy at St. Pat's.

Motivating Students - find out the results of a what our students are saying about what motivates them and how that can inform your practice as a teacher.

Creating Wikis - this group of teachers will share how they effectively used class wikis with students

Assessment with Polling Software - find out how to use web based polling software to get important "real time" feedback from your students.

On-line Resources and Apps - this session will assist teachers in using many of digital tools that are readily available to them (Google Apps, collaborative file sharing) to enhance collaboration and learning.

New this year, we have created a website - STP Learns  - as a repository for the respective learning teams to drop resources for all to access.

I am once again looking forward to our Sharing Our Learning Day - a day where relevant  job embedded, passion driven learning is shared for the benefit of all!

If you are in Vancouver on April 19th and want to join us - feel free to drop me a note!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Creating the Conditions to Unlearn

I was recently asked "What is the purpose of education?" by someone in my PLN (@carmela_ianni)

In response, I shared the quote (above) from futurist Alvin Toffler.

Carmela's question and subsequent twitter chat lead me to reflect on the idea of "unlearning"

What does it mean to "unlearn" and what should we "unlearn"?

The world is full of examples of  once regarded "truths" that needed to be "unlearned": Pluto as a planet, doctors "unlearning" to use a scalpel to preform certain surgeries, world is not flat, etc.  In fact, a review of the scientific discoveries for 2012 reveal laundry list of some recent "unlearning" in the science community.

How about in education?  I wonder, for example, how effective have we been in implementing what the science community has "unlearned" in terms of how the human brain learns into today's classrooms and schools? (you may want to check out Born to Learn for easily accessible videos and information on brain-based learning)

Nonetheless, when I look around I do see some "unlearning" in education when it comes to pedagogy.  For example:
  • Many teachers are starting to use classroom assessments as more than just a measuring stick of learning.  
  • More teachers and schools are starting question how they recognize and engage students by relying on the science of what truly motivates us as human beings.  
  • Because of the research, many teachers are looking to implement aspects of meta-cognition in their classrooms.  
  • Many teachers are realizing that the Internet is redefining their role as the sole content provider in their classrooms.
  • Many are seeing the need for our children to become more than just vessels of facts and information but rather critical thinkers, collaborators and creators.    
I am, however, starting to wonder, beyond my social media echo chamber, if we are truly approaching a tipping point in educational reform.  Have all stakeholders "bought in"?  Are some stakeholders still unwilling to "unlearn" - wanting instead to maintain what has been in place for decades?

The more I reflect upon the idea of "unlearning", Toffler's sentiments are less about the specifics of what needs to be unlearned (we will continue to uncover new truths that discredit old truths) and more about the mindset that comes with the ability to unlearn.

For example when we unlearn something it requires us to be vulnerable to our own fallibility.

It requires us to be wrong

It requires us to collaborate and be open to others' thoughts and opinions

It requires us to be to critical thinkers and push the limits of our preconceived ideas.

It requires us to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes".

It requires to move beyond the limitations of "I" and move towards the power of "we"

It requires us to persevere in our thinking and our efforts - without threat of humiliation or being labelled stupid

It requires to move beyond superficial knowledge and move toward deep understanding.

Perhaps if we want to see some of the educational reforms that come with "unlearning", we need to start creating the conditions for "unlearning" for many of our educational partners

Still figuring it out.....

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Your Learning Sandbox or Ours?

Regular readers of this blog know that our school has embraced BYOD as an approach to integrating technology in our day to day teaching and learning.  We are learning lots of valuable lessons along the way.

Recently I have had many conversations with various people about creating a common "digital learning sandbox" for our teachers and students.

As it stands today we have some commonality  - for example a common file sharing system for staff and students, common school email for staff and students and other aspects of both Google Apps and Microsoft's 365.

But as of yet, we have not felt the need to deploy one mandated digital platform for all our students.

Instead we have allowed the "digital learning sand box" to grow organically and in a personalized manner.

For now students and teachers choose which platform is best for them.

Increasingly I can see some limitations to this.

As more and more teachers start asking students to demonstrate their learning in a digital space I worry that managing this information will be difficult for both teachers and students.


What if every teacher gives every student the choice to choose a platform that works for them - starting in grade 8.  A student can maintain a digital space/portfolio that is relevant to them and is fully transferable once they graduate.

Recently a few teachers shared with me some student projects that had been completed.  Students were given the ability to choose a digital platform - many/most chose platforms that they had already established for personal use and made the crossover to "school use"  (eg. Facebook, Tumblr, Blogger or Wordpress, etc.).  It should be noted that some students made the perfect-ably acceptable choice to produce a "traditional" paper product.

As we continue to shine a necessary spotlight on the digital citizenship of our students (and staff) I can't help but think of how effective it is to have students freely choosing to broaden their vision of how digital spaces can be used.  By inviting teachers and peers into their these digital spaces as a means to document learning, can serve to broaden the vision and raise the bar on digital citizenship..  

Another benefit, as I see it, is that it can mitigate the "school life" vs. "real life" crisis that exists in so many schools today.

Of course there are many other legalities and specifics that need to be considered in this conversations.     And who knows, we may move toward inviting all students into one big school learning sandbox.   But in the meantime I am intrigued by how we are organically allowing students to learn and demonstrate that learning in their own digital sandbox.

Any thoughts or advice?