Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Full steam ahead with STEAM based learning

STEAM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. Before there was STEAM, there was “STEM”. The “A” was added later based on the idea that, through the integration of arts with other disciplines, students who have not been traditionally as engaged in math and science are able to build confidence and be exposed to new opportunities in these areas that support their learning across the curriculum. I would also propose the opposite idea is true, that “STEAM” activities facilitate opportunities for students who are interested in maths and sciences to have an accessible entry point to the arts.

Striving for deep learning means creating an infrastructure during activities that requires students to think, question, create and take ownership of their learning. STEAM also helps highlight the real life application of skills. For example, “design challenge” STEAM activities require students to work together to create a product that meets certain criteria, giving them a practical purpose. In fulfilling this requirement, they also have the opportunity to communicate with peers, ask questions, imagine possibilities, plan collaboratively and improve their design in a cycle of learning. They also learn that failure and improvement are a part of learning…a valuable life lesson!

At the end of the day, we all want our students to be happy, well-rounded, engaged learners that have the skills required to support them in their journey through life. STEAM activities are one of many paths that can be used to facilitate this goal.

Happy STEAM-ing!
As a provocation, students were shown pictures and videos of bubble blowing and asked to find the math, science and art. Then, with a goal of learning to use technological problem-solving skills to design, build, and test a device that involves interactions between liquids and solids, students were asked to create a device that would allow them to make the largest bubble possible.  
Jackson Pollock Meets STEAM
Students participated in a shared reading of the book, “The Most Magnificent Thing” which illustrates the process of failure, re-evaluation, re-planning and trying again.  They were then asked to create a device that launches their pompom to hit the target.  Once the designs were completed, the students were then told that they would be dipping their pompoms in paint prior to launching, thereby creating a Jackson Pollock-esque work of art!  
Hallow-STEAM Plastic Bag Monsters
Prior to making their creations, students watched a video about the detrimental effects of discarded plastic bags on the environment. Their task was to use the bags and a fan to create a monster that moves, writing a message on the monster that they want to share with the world!  

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Student Tech Teams: Using our Best Resurces

Student technology teams are a powerful co-curricular activity that I’m excited to see happening in more and more SCDSB schools. These teams support the goals of enhancing student leadership as well as supporting the development of deep learning skills around technology for the entire school community. Through student technology teams,  students assist their peers and teachers with technology (hardware, software, online tools and apps). 
Depending on the needs and resources of each particular school, these teams can play a variety of different roles including:
  • Assisting in classrooms in specific areas of technology (as simple as logging in or as complex as learning to use a new device)
  • Creating technology-related ‘how to’ videos, tutorials or blogs
  • Hosting ‘lunch and learns’ on specific topics for staff or students
  • Hosting parent information nights
  • Creating engaging video announcements for the school community (instead of traditional announcements over the PA)
  • Community outreach such as partnering with seniors, the library or a community living group
  • Providing ‘helpdesk’ support for staff
  • Participating in ‘tech buddies’ (think reading buddies with younger students but with tech instead of books)
The possibilities are only limited by the imagination of the students…meaning they are endless!
Student tech leadership teams stand out from more traditional school activities because they are of equal benefit to both staff and students. When it comes to technology, the students who often know more than the adults really are our best resources!
For student participants, as well as providing the opportunity to develop specific skills related to technology, tech team activities also develop all of the crucial life skills that we call the 6 C’s (character education, citizenship, communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity). I have seen tech teams engage students who were previously not connected to leadership opportunities within the school, helping them find their voice, become involved and connected to the school in a meaningful and intrinsically rewarding way.
The benefits are also great for other students in the school. Tech teams can create a learning culture in schools where students  see that learning happens all through the day, not just during class. It also involves all stakeholders. Learning isn’t just something that is bestowed upon students, it is active and involves staff as co-learners. When students see their teachers learning alongside them, they feel safe trying new things as well. Most of all, student love to learn from their peers and what better way to engage students than by encouraging these opportunities!
Lastly, we can’t  forget about the benefits to staff. Through student leaders, teachers who are not as tech savvy can also have a non-threatening entry point to learning in this area. Additionally, when a student invites a staff member to attend professional learning about something important to them that they have planned and facilitated, staff are motivated to attend and acknowledge their student’s work, all while learning themselves.  
Below are the links to some of the presentations that I have co-facilitated on this topic:
Let me leave  you with a quote that I feel summarizes the power of student technology leadership teams in schools. “It is not about the technology; it’s about sharing knowledge and information, communicating efficiently, building learning communities and creating a culture of professionalism in schools.” – Marion Ginapolis

Monday, 17 August 2015

"Choose One Thing"

The rate of change related to developments in technology is overwhelming.  In order to encourage staff (as well as myself) to not become too overwhelmed with rapidly evolving tech trends, for the past 3 years I have asked staff to "try one thing".  What I mean by this is, at the beginning of each school year, I ask that each staff member set a goal for the year around deeply exploring a single technology tool that they would like to utilize effectively and really invest their time learning to use it well.  This does not mean that they shouldn't explore other tools, just that they should persist over a period of time becoming as much as an "expert" as they can in the use of a particular tool.  I also believe that is important to frame the instruction to "choose one thing" with encouragement to first determine what their goal is.  Once an individual has a clear goal, they can then begin to explore tools that may be suitable to achieve it and make strategic decisions, rather than jumping on the latest edu-bandwagon. 

I also try to model what I ask of my staff.  For me, three years ago, my "one thing" was Twitter, last year it was Google Docs and this school year it will be blogging.  All of my personal learning goals have stemmed from the larger goal of communication, specifically around making broader connections, publicly sharing learning, modelling my own learning as well as challenging my personal beliefs.  

In the past, I have experimented with blogging for our SCDSB site, Sharing Simcoe as well as for the #SCDSBTTOG blog.  Now, I have created my own blog and it is my goal to find my voice and share meaningfully via the platform of blogging.  

This school year, I participated in many discussions around blogging and digital portfolios with teachers and realized just how many choices between various platforms are available.  Like other tech tools,  there are so many options that can easily become overwhelming.  I am in the process of creating this spreadsheet to share which I'm hoping will assist others in choosing the format that is right for them. It is very much a work in progress and I would appreciate feedback. 

Whether blogging is your "one thing" or whether it is something else, I would encourage you to think about your goal, choose the tool that you want to "go deep" with this year and dive into the school year with this goal in mind.   Happy learning! 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

We have to stop pretending... #makeschooldifferent

A couple of weeks ago I was challenged by Amy Szerminska to think about the following...

See Amy's 5 things here.

I am finally getting around to writing my thoughts, better late than never!

We have to stop pretending...

1) That student well-being can be nurtured effectively without regularly and intentionally addressing the well-being of the greater school community. I believe that nurturing well-being should be embedded in all that we do, in every subject, in the decisions that we make and in our interactions with others.   Well-being and healthy decision making is not something to simply teach in health class or during Children's Mental Health Week. In planning to address mental health and well-being, schools need to be pro-active and look at the well-being of students, staff, families and communities as interrelated components. These groups do not function independently from each other and all of those voices need to be "at the table" in wellness planning. Schools are hubs of their communities and are a perfect venue to be used to support community, and therefore student well-being.

2) That textbooks are essential. They're not, they are just a familiar tool for educators. I would even venture to say that sometimes they are counterproductive to some of the skills we want to develop in our students, particularly older textbooks that we have in schools.

3) That using technology at a "substitution" level is something educators don't need to move  beyond.  Use of technology is not something that needs to be checked off a "to do list". The use of technology for technology's sake where it is used as a direct substitute with no functional change is an important component of technology use to help accomplish specific tasks.  An example of this is when classes use a computer for word processing, in which case  the computer is simply turned into a $1000 pencil.  This is certainly a reasonable use of technology, but we need to move beyond it to the augmentation, modification and redefinition of tasks through the use of technology. This involves using the right tool for the task and using technological tools to improve, redesign, or reinvent new tasks that would previously be impossible without the use of technology.   This also involves educators taking risks and trying new things...technology changes so quickly, we can't wait for P.D. Our student's don't wait for P.D.  We need to learn alongside them in this area.

4) The physical set up of most schools is the most conducive environment for learning. Lets face it, the classroom set up of most schools is not physically comfortable. Think about it, when you go home at night, do you pull up one of the blue plastic chairs we have in our classrooms to sit for a couple hours and work or read? If you're like me, you may work on a couch or have options of different work areas, depending on the task. I love to see the concept "learning happening everywhere" being nurtured in schools, particularly in our FDK classes.

5) Engagement = learning. We need to look beyond whether students are engaged to determine how students are constructing new knowledge from activities.

What are your 5 things? #makeschooldifferent

Monday, 9 March 2015

Making Change in Education: We are better together

Today, I participated in professional learning with students, staff and parents.  More and more over the last year, I have facilitated and participated in this model of learning.  Although, depending on the topic,  it is not always appropriate, I find that I learn so much out of these rich discussions where multiple perspectives are represented in the dialogue...we truly are better together.    

Our topic today, “For the Love of Learning”, set the stage for discussion on learning and assessment practices.  We talked about how our current educational practices were established as norms during the industrial revolution and how this is an exciting time of change where educators are moving away from those outdated practices.  In the words of one of our wise students today, “we are able to do way more now than back then.”  At our school, the “6 C’s” of 21st century learning; citizenship, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, character education, creativity (and we often add “choice and voice” as a 7th C) are the underlying consideration in all that we do.  
Our opening activity today involved introducing ourselves and briefly discussing a favourite school memory.  At the end of the activity, we discussed the commonalities between our favourite memories...they all involved hands on, engaging active learning, not the time we got 83% on a test.   This brings me to my next points, as our teaching changes, so must our assessment, and as in any process where change is being made, it is best done with all voices at the table.  

I love this photo that illustrates the concept of “messy learning”.  

When we work through problems, as opposed to setting a structured beginning and end to learning, learners (and I say learners because it may be students, parents or staff that are in this role) will likely encounter roadblocks, problem solve, unlearn misconceptions, relearn, work through failures, experience frustration and excitement.  It is a far more complex process, however, in my opinion, a far more authentic and valuable process.  

A key component in this process involves feedback.  We discussed the concept of “feedback” vs. “feed forward”.  Looking at the two photos below.  In the older version of a report card, marks and comments are given, but with no suggestions or opportunity to make improvements.  Isn't that is what learning is all about?  In the second picture (a single point rubric), you will notice that there are no grades, but lots of excellent feedback based on a clearly defined learning goal and success criteria.  In the second example, it is clear what the student is expected to know/learn/do, what learning they have demonstrated and where they need to improve. Which is the more valuable assessment tool?

An area that I have noticed can often be challenging for teachers is not around giving feedback, but more about insuring that it is meaningful and acted upon by students. A great next step in this area that we discussed today is to give feedback in the form of a question. When you do this, students interact with the feedback and become naturally engaged in the process.

As an administrator, the concept of using effective feedback as a high yield strategy to support student achievement is an area that I will continue to explore through this process, both as a learner and as a leader within my school community. If you have a great example of feedback methods that you are using, I encourage you to share to #SCDSBttog   We truly are better together!  

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Rethinking Assessment: An Administrators Perspective

I recently led a book study on Carol Dweck's "Mindset" that created a lot of discussion around assessment, feedback and the mixed messaging that staff are feeling about priorities at this time. With the current focus on innovative instructional practices, my goal is to investigate how assessment can be better aligned with 21st Century instruction to promote student achievement while meeting provincial requirements. 

One of my goals for students is to help them develop independent problem solving ability and a love of the process of persevering through challenges.  
The research of Alfie Kohn suggests that there are three consistent effects of giving students grades:

1) When focusing on grades instead of growth, the learning diminishes.
2) In order to be "successful", students come to avoid taking risks and choose easier tasks. 
3) Students think in a more superficial fashion and do not retain information. This reminds me of when, as a student, I would do well on a spelling tests, but would forget the correct spelling of most of the words within a few days.  

As a school administrator, I have the unique opportunity see what feedback and assessment look like in multiple classrooms each and every day.   I look forward to co-learning as we explore this topic together through the #scdsbTTOG inquiry! 

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