How far we’ve come – building capacity

I’m feeling very reflective today. Sorry. 

I was working with our teacher librarian who also teaches an extended french history course. We spent some time together last week discussing how we can help students improve their research skills. We talked about helping students become better at judging the quality of websites. About 10 years ago, in another life, I worked on a variety of medical research projects mostly in the area of gastroenterology. A doctor picked up on my “geekiness” and had me do a few small projects relating to technology. One was working with Paediatricians to determine how ready they were for switching to online resources, databases and patient medical files. Another was judging the quality of websites providing patients with information about digestive disorders. Since then I have made some assumptions on when and where the skill of judging information on the web was taught. This history teacher/french teacher/librarian explained how amazed she is when she gets students in grade 11 and they work on their first research project and are asked to use criteria to judge information on the web before completing the project. They often make comments such as “I’ve never thought of that before”. This gap is something that likely needs to be filled in somewhat earlier, perhaps even before high school? In the past we focused on literacy, numeracy and then content subjects. Digital literacy is not always taught explicitly.

We make a lot of assumptions as teachers, or at least I have. Like the time as a new science teacher I asked my students to “research” a topic and found that they did not really know what that meant or how to start. Or, the other time when I asked for an essay about a topic in biology – I again assumed that they had this skill. I’m not sure who I expected to have shown this to my grade 9 and 11s? Perhaps I expected them to magically “know it”? Naive on my part to say the least.

This teacher and I brainstormed some ways to ensure every student coming into our school learns how to judge information on the web. One solution included using a common template for grade 9s to evaluate websites. She based it on this website:

Over the past week she has created some excellent slide shows/presentations of photos from historical sites using Creative Commons material and sourcing properly. Part of her lesson was to show the students previous presentations that she had made where material was NOT sourced properly and compared it to her new presentation. A class discussion formed around the fact that if a teacher has been plagiarizing, surely students have been too. Examples of things they’ve created that were not sourced properly were brainstormed.

Today we uploaded the presentation file to google docs and got it all set up for her class to collaboratively add their own pictures of historical sites and add to it. All the while they will be learning about Creative Commons, how to find material, how to source material and how to licence their own work. The enthusiasm from this teacher was contagious today and I got so excited about the progress we’ve seen this year. We are really reaching the “building capacity” part of integrating technology here at PSS. Teachers have spent this year integrating a wide variety of free technologies into their classroom across a wide variety of subject areas. It is now at the stage where staff members are saying “I’d like to try that”, or, “oh, i’d like to do what so-and-so did this year with my class next year”.

I’m excited, pumped and optimistic. These technologies aren’t being used for the sake of using the technology. They are being used to reach the learning goals in creative, engaging and collaborative ways focused on problem solving and communication. I’m all in!

Kudos to the risk-taking staff at PSS who have taken risks trying the following:

   * using Edmodo to create a social aspect to class
   * blogging using Weebly – starting with the simple assignment of embedding a youtube video (gasp!) and writing a paragraph about why they like the video
   * using voice thread to display and reflect on work
   * using skype to communicate with other classes
   * using a Moodle to allow flexibility in timetabling for Peer Tutoring class
   * using wikis for short story unit and peer collaboration
   * incorporating Creative Commons into their creations
   * using Google Docs
   * creating animations and videos online
   * using Facebook to create belonging amongst incoming Grade 9s
   * using Twitter for tweeting our morning announcements
   * using CPS clickers/response systems and the awkward software for diagnostic and review

There are some big changes coming in our board within the next few years. Starting in the fall there is a plan to provide every teacher with a mini-laptop and projector in every room. We are one of the first schools and should be getting ours in the fall. We will be moving towards the ultimate goal of being paperless. This will start with online attendance (we piloted this year) and schedules and memos coming electronically instead of flooding our mailboxes. With projectors in every room we will have access to resources we had to plan and book ahead in the past.

The other even more exciting change coming to us will be the opening up of the wi-fi networks. Hopefully in the fall the networks will be opened up to all staff to use any device and by January students will be allowed on as well. This will bring a whole new host of challenges to the classroom including the need to differentiate, take-risks and be flexible like we’ve never been required to in the past. I think the staff here are well on their way to embracing the mind-set needed to support 21st century learners. It will be tough and I look forward to facing the challenges with these risk-taking colleagues.