So what makes technology go from bad to good for learning?

Last week I worked with a staff on technology for learning. We opened the morning this question:

“What is something you notice that is bad about using technology in the classroom” This of course raises all the classic negative responses about time, cost, our over saturated media rich society,  distraction, how it is not dependable, etc… We talked around how technology shouldn’t be used all day, and how tech has the ability to isolate.  We talked on how technology can take time away from each other and our surroundings.

Then we followed up with another questions “What is something you notice that is good about using technology in the classroom”. What came out of this brainstorm was how technology provides flexibility, access to resources and spaces, and helps capture process, document learning, and make thinking and learning and research visible.  In fact, depending on how technology can be used, it can connect us more with each other, drive deeper face to face interaction, and connect us with the environment.

In George Couros fantastic book “The Innovator’s Mindset” he has a chapter titled Powerful Learning is First, Technology Second where he writes that “immersing ourselves in the learning process will give us a much better understanding of the opportunities technology bring to our students.” Technology is just a tool and learning is the focus. I would extend this thinking to say that when learning is at a focal point and when the technology “just works”, then the technology can become invisible. I think that is the end goal of IT departments, to make the technology just work and it is our job to make it invisible. So how do we make the use of technology become a non event and just part of our learning?
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Our final question for the morning was “So what makes technology go from bad to good in learning”. In groups they brainstormed some big themes to how we can all move forward with our technology use for learning. Together we ended with the need to develop a shared vision that building culture, that acknowledges the challenges and paves a path that we can all collectively explore. What became apparent to me is that a menu of offerings was needed to facilitate the kind of learning that everyone can engage in.  I want our staffs to feel that they are all part of a learning culture that is moving forward that can continuously invite others along the way.

 

 

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Learning Structures

I have a lot of conversations with schools and staff about building teacher confidence and capacity using technology for learning in classrooms.  Technology is coming at us so swiftly in society, at such an alarming rate that everyone is just trying to keep up. No one wants to feel like they are on a hamster wheel, so I can see why some may just simply step aside.  And yet interestingly, most of my work is actually to help staff slow down and ask the big questions of why long before the how and what  of using technology for learning (Simon Sinek). What has felt to most successful moving forward as a group when we collectively and honestly come Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 2.58.57 PMtogether and ask “What do we believe as educators, what is important and what matters”. If we can rally as a group on these questions, then the integration of the iPad or Chrome tool, or whatever technology, all suddenly can come into a lens that either fits or not.

For example, what is most important to me in my learning environment is relationship and community. If I don’t feel like the technology reinforces those two pieces out of the gate, then they have no place in my classroom.  If I facilitate any technology and it doesn’t build into the relationship or contribute to the community of learning, then I take a step back and reflect. The use of technology requires a balance, a craft, to meaningfully use it for learning.

Ken Andrews, Principal and Monterey Middle School, made reference to this quote for me last week:IMG_3185

“I’ve yet to see a school where the learning curves of youngsters are off the chart upward while the learning curves of the adult are off the chart downward, or a school where the learning curves of the adults were steep upward and those of the students were not. Teachers and students go hand in hand as learners- or they don’t go at all” ( Barth, 2011)

So what does a school feel like when both staff and students are walking hand in hand in learning? And how do we build in structures to facilitate, support and allow risk-taking for learning? I reflect on the many schools and talented teachers in our schools. Primarily my work is to celebrate the talented teachers doing incredible things in our schools. But I am also look at the structures we have in place to share, celebrate, and empower all our learners. From what I can tell it needs to be a cornucopia of menu offerings that meets teachers where they are at, removes as many barriers as possible, while simultaneously allowing for as many entry points as possible. It is the structures that allow each teacher to feel like they have something to offer, lead, share, and reflect on the learning process. And as a primary goal, the structures need to build into the relationships and learning community as a whole.

That’s all for now, but please feel free to contribute your ideas in the comments below.

 

My BC #GAFESummit Thinking

It was an incredible experience to be part of the GAFE Summit in Victoria. I remember sitting in the theatre, (after finally getting through the tech troubles, boy that was an awful way to start, tech sweats are the worst!)  and thinking that I was a part of making this whole thing happen. There was couple pieces that I kept front and centre through all the planning and coordinating: how was this building community and how was this going to be a resource for all levels of learners. IMG_9883The EdTechTeam did an incredible job, as they always do, at providing brilliant and accessible speakers. The design, accessibility, and range  of the workshops was great, and atmosphere was fun, exciting, flexible and smooth. I am still looking through the sessions from the GAFE summit and extending my own learning –Victoria GAFE Summit Nov 2015.

As attendees at the Summit asked where I look for GAFE resources, I honestly responded with “have you looked at other GAFE Summits?”. I have found that knowing that other educators have presented and built the resources, it gives a level of credibility and therefore good value for my time – (Montreal GAFE Summit Dec 2015 and Calgary GAFE Summit Aug 2015)  The amazing part is they continue to be available as resources for us as we grow, and GAFE Summits continue to happen. The sharing is incredible!

I was so happy to hear both keynotes Brad Ovenell-Carter and Neil Stephenson to frame the days. They both have a strong focus on learning, relationship,  love, trust, and thinking. I have reflected on the idea of why I requested both of them to keynote.  I had seen them and met them before. I trusted them with the audience here in Victoria. It again showed me that there is more value in who we know and not simply just what we know. Everything starts in relationship.  I will never forget the moment that Brad asked us all to pull out paper/pencil and draw to kick off a tech conference. There was immediately chatter, arms reaching, and then even community building. “Who has a pen…anyone?” and “I have one to lend!”.  It was so important to dispel the misconception that tech is the be all end all for learning. It was all so memorable. Thinking, and its process, can incorporate all kinds of tools and mediums. Neil hit me strongest when he talked about how the word “work” is said 80% more often then the word “learning” in our classrooms. He callenged us with this question: How do we develop a culture of learning and not a culture of work?  I am still thinking about how I can remove the word ‘work’ from my vocabulary when working with students.

I found myself looking back at my own tweets to reflect on my own biggest take aways. Typically, my inspiration is translated right into sharing about it. I have begun to use twitter for this immediate output, where I can share it out in the moment and then even collect it later for my own memory. It is much more difficult for me to blog about it, but blogging is in the same vein for me – to sharewith others. Here are just a few of my favorite take sways. 

“Honoring the process of learning by posting it on the walls, instead of products, build a culture of thinking” @Neilstephenson #gafesummit

Another highlight to the GAFE Summit was hosting the “Google For Education Playgrounds” sessions. The framing was to take time to process and dive into the tools that we have heard and make the tools our own. I learned so much facilitating this room – hitting walls, troubles, and successes with teachers. Each session ended with a sharing, both verbally and digitally on a shared Google Slide, on what was learned/explored/discovered. Each session I picked up new tools attached to teaching/learning, along with a few great contacts. It was powerful.

There is more to this, but I will leave it here for now. Feel free to contribute to my thinking in the comments.

“So what do you want to be when you grow up?”

It was an interaction that I had with a student that has held with me all week. I had the pleasure of capturing an all day conference for grade 8 girls about careers and the choices involved. One student shared with me how so many people ask her “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and how she has no idea what to say. I tried to talk to her about how she doesn’t need to know but we couldn’t get much further in the moments conversation. The conference highlighted several women working in various careers to show the various possibilities that are available to young girls. I ended up thinking about how it would be so hard to identify with the various career options in the world before you know who you are as a person. I thought about the word ‘career’, and heard what it meant to the group of grade 8 girls. I walked away from the day thinking about what career means to me, and it was a much bigger word than when the day first started out.

IMG_4301It was later in the day that I had a inspired and powerful conversation with Claire Clark a career educator from the University of Victoria. We talked about how we want to avoid having girls reverse engineer themselves and their identity to fit into a career. Instead, she said, so articulate and powerfully, “we want to have them focus on recognizing who they are, and their core values, and how they can engage and align with those values in their everyday lives.” This brief conversation left me both stunned and excited. I want students to believe in themselves and know themselves long before they chose their careers. Yet at the same time, schools sit students in front of desks and tests that essentially open or close doors for them in life, all while our students are trying to figure themselves out. It is no wonder we have such high anxiety rates in schools where pressures are palatable and students hit depression when their identify is wrapped in text scores.

So as I think about our classrooms, I am thinking about not just the tools accessible, but also the end in mind. Is the end in mind a career? Hopefully the focus of today’s classroom, and all our learning, is on the process of self-discovery, and not merely a career. So what do I want to be when I grow up? Well, I am want to be empathic, wise, generous, faithful, and kind. I want to listen and help and encourage people.

There is more to this, but I will leave it here for now. Feel free to contribute to my thinking in the comments.

Who owns the #digcit conversation?

Digital Citizenship has certainly been a hot topic of conversation over the last few years for me. It is a huge topic, filled with landmines from all different kinds of angles. What has become apparent to me is that in order to move forward, the conversation needs to broaden to not just include Principals/Vice-Principals and teachers, but parents and students as well. The conversation needs to occur before a classroom or school begins the journey into BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and discussed continuously throughout the process. The conversation does not have a specific start or ending place, or nailing any particular set of elements. It is a complex, evolving, and even mysterious topic many folks.

So what does Digital Citizenship look like?

Wrong Answers: A top down policy, an isolated course, a ‘one size fits all’ with just do’s and don’ts focused on control and consequence, and a set-in-stone static topic.

Right Answers: Involving everyone (parents, students, teacher, admin), building it similar to a core competency (see – New BC Curriculum Competencies as a reference) throughout the days, ranging in entry points for all learners, asking questions as a community, developing self-regulation with use, accessing positive digital leadership opportunities, and articulating a dynamic and responsive spectrum.

Ultimately, in both the digital and non-digital world, a good citizen carries the respect for oneself and others, who strives to continue the pursuit what this looks like within a community. As we strive to empower good citizens in our schools, I hope the conversation around digital citizenship in as integrated throughout our classrooms and schools as citizenship. But this can look and feel differently depending on the student, teacher, school, course, and grade level. What matters to me is that we are talking about it. I have connected with a colleague Aaron Maxwell extensively on the topic. He is the Vice-Principal at Arbutus Global Middle School and has started the conversation with his staff, students, and parents. One part of the conversation is with Grade 6 students in advisory. He has begun by asking these 3 questions: “What is citizenship?”, “What is digital?” and then “What is digital citizenship?”. Interestingly, the many responses have overwhelmingly been steeped with community, respect, and belonging.   The most important part about all of it is that he is starting with asking questions. Students are given the opportunity to share their understandings, their opinions are valued, and the topic is explored using their words from the start of the process. It is not the school board, or school, or the millions of resources that own the topic. It is the classroom. And it is through conversation. 

There is more to this, but I will leave it here for now. Feel free to contribute to my thinking in the comments.

Building a Deeper Tool Chest

I am in constant conversation with educators around what a “21st century classroom” should look like, and more specifically, what technology should be available in it. Well first of all, I have begun to drop the term “21st C.” off anything (classroom, learning, teaching, literacy, etc), because the term doesn’t make much sense to me anymore. Perhaps is made more sense 15 years ago, when people were looking for a fresh, new, clean and clear big educational transformation. But to me, the term now feels dead. Now, there is some regret here, because I did naively title my Grad project “21st Century Literacies: An iPad Educational Resource” a few year ago.  But like many grad projects, as I finished it, it immediately became obsolete to me. I had moved on already from it in my own thinking. My project became a fence post in my own learning journey and I needed to submit it and move on. But the most interesting part to me about it was that I didn’t move on from the learning from within the project. A wise teacher friend of mine gave me council in the middle of my grad work. He told me to not try and change the world with my project. He then reflected on his own, and even said to me that he felt like he had completed a dozen or so equivalent “grad projects” in his career. His grad studies helped build his skills to go further in his own thinking and learning.

As I extend the thought to how we help equip our students for their next learning experience, I think about what tools are we offering them to learn on in schools. The focus of my grad project was using iPads in Elementary. It was specific to a tool at a specific grade range. But my learning didn’t stop there.  In today’s classroom (to replace 21st C. classroom), I see many tech tools floating around. Schools have desktops, laptops, iPads, androids, cell phones, Chrombooks, etc. All all of them do different things and continually come out with new capabilities. It now has become to me that we clearly moved on from this scenario:

compliance

This was the goal of IT departments not too long ago. It was a huge task to have every machine work as expected, and replicated at every seat. But I feel like we have move completely away from these 1:1 initiatives.  I am pointing learners and schools to focus on the learning outcomes,  the learning culture,  and the learning community of the classroom. Then allow the learning environment and its technology needs for the right learning tools to become more apparent. We need to move away from technology as an initiative and toward it becoming an integral part of learning.  We also need to move away from technology as the “be all end all” tool in the class. Not every student needs to have the same tool, at the same time, for the same amount of time. And to that end, perhaps the pencil and sticky notes have a place in a students learning too.  I see how various tools, digital or not, can swim around in a classroom seamlessly when the learning culture and community are at the focus. What is most important is that we provide today’s classroom with choice and possibilities for learners to own their own learning to then take it to their own next learning experience. There is more to this, but I will leave it here for now. Feel free to contribute to my thinking in the comments.

#EdCampVic

Wow, what a couple of days. A ton of hard work from many people brought over 400 passionate educators together to have community around what is best for our learners in schools.

I feel supported, inspired and challenged all at the same time this week. I am still checking up on tweets from the hashtag #viclead from yesterday’s sessions with George Couros on “Leading Innovative Change” as well as the hashtag #edcampvic from last night and today’s 2nd annual EdCampVic . One big take away I came out with from the day is the idea that “Less is More”. And this may sound simple, but it is incredibly hard to resist collecting and sharing all the different ways to use new tools in new ways in classrooms.  I see so much inspiration, across such a spectrum in our 40+ K-12 schools in SD61. I am a yes-man at heart, where I aim to provide resources and support for as many folks as possible. But as I respond more and more to questions about specific tools, devices, platforms, services, etc, I am beginning to feel run ragged. But more importantly, I feel like I am then overwhelming teachers with various solutions. I want to start more quickly and delicately asking “why”? Because to be honest, if I am able to support every teacher with every direction they want to go, how am I building capacity? Am I helping educators go deeper? After George’s talk, I heard loud and clear that in order to support innovation in schools, I need to narrow my focus.  This requires a balance of being too prescriptive and limited, which actually can limit innovation, and the building of capacity, community, and ability to go deeper with learners. At a time where resource is limited, and time is limited, I feel completely inspired and hopeful that the solutions to our biggest barriers are in our schools and classrooms already with learners. The solutions are within reach. There are educators and students willing to step into something new and embrace change. There is a readiness and a community for momentum.

Another piece that has hit me was a statement from George last night at our EdCamp Launch.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsIt is now a choice I make to not share my take aways, or ahas. Blogging has always been my weakness, something to work on, and something that requires way more energy than you might think. But I am interacting with educators daily where I am asking the same thing from them. I am asking them to enter into new spaces using technology to reach learners. So I need to walk to talk and step out. So here I am.  Lets do it together.

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