Engaged Teens = Responsible Teens

I just got an email from a student. The student was set to teach class for me tomorrow. Its a learning strategies class and he has some SERIOUS skillz in using OneNote for organizing his entire life. I asked him if he would show the class how he uses OneNote for organizing all his notes, web clippings, codes for all our class accounts (he’s more organized than I am!), etc.

Not only did he agree,  but he went home and over a few days planned everything. He looked into how OneNote works on devices other than the one he has (we are BYOD, so we have many different devices in the classroom). He downloaded .exe files of OneNote onto USB sticks so we didn’t have to waste time downloading. He highlighted the tools that make school easier. He requested using the SMART Projector and my Wacom tablet to demonstrate. He requested an iPad on site to demonstrate.

The email I just received was the equivalent of a teacher calling in sick. The student has an appointment tomorrow and was worried about missing class, so we rebooked. This student is more responsible than many University students. At times I worry he is more responsible than I am… 🙂

Resource: iPad as a Teaching Device

Most money spent on iPads in education is spent on purchasing LEARNING devices. iPads for student use in class. This is where the biggest impact on learning can happen. However, many teachers are getting their hands on iPads for teaching that they can personalize and set up for themselves. While this most directly impacts teaching, it can have great impacts on student learning as well.

Link to resource: http://bit.ly/teachingiPad 

Using Scratch in Digital Learning Strategies

We needed something to get our class back working together as a cohesive unit today. Yesterday we had an amazingly awful run of things trying to get text-to-speech tools installed and running on all students devices. It was chaotic, crazy and frustrating for many of us.

We had planned on starting with Scratch next Monday, but needed something exciting and fun to end the week on a positive note. Wow, did that plan work!

Scratch is a tool created by MIT that allows youth to create animations, videos, games, etc. while developing some skills required for coding. Over the past few years Scratch has moved to a web-based platform that runs in the browser. This means my students could access it from any device except iPads. Lucky for us, their teacher is a bit geeky and always has an extra Chromebook kicking around. In learning strategies we are using Scratch to address the following learning goals:

  • Practice skills required to learn new things.
  • Develop critical thinking skills required to troubleshoot when things don’t go as planned. What can you do when something doesn’t work?
  • Develop collaboration skills. Students can build together, learn new features from each other, build on each others code.
  • Practice critiquing each others work and providing effective feedback for improvement.
  • Reflect on what it means to have “grit” or resiliency. How do we respond and feel when things don’t go as planned?
  • Develop skills for creativity and innovation. How can you make this piece of work even better?
  • Provide context and practice of some literacy skills. We will be keeping design journals as we go.
  • Provide context for reflection on learning skills.
  • Provide a real virtual community to practice and demonstrate our digital citizenship skills in. These skills will include appropriate communication, sharing our work, remixing others work while providing credit.
We had great conversations about “the Grandma rule” (don’t post anything online that you don’t want Granny to see). We also talked about the skills required to troubleshoot when technology goes wrong and what it means to tinker and figure things out on our own.
During the initial exploration period, students explored previously created Scratch projects and started to create their own unplanned projects.  Unrestricted exploration. Their reflection was based on brainstorming things they could create. As I walked around class, I heard the following from students;
  • “how did you do that?”
  • “here! come see this!”
  • “Wow, did you know that you can… ?”
  • “ok, so what if you did this and I did this… “
  • “urrrrrggggg, why can’t I get this to work? Ok, lets try this…”
  • “I just made the coolest thing, come here and I’ll show you how I did it”
  • “so, how did the person make that game? Here, we can look at the code. Does it make sense?”
Todays class was the most engaged I have seen my students by far. It was also the most collaborative they have been, with exception of previous “directed” group work. Meaning, they were all up and learning over each others computer screens, helping each other out and interacting with each other.
Mission accomplished. A great end to the week. Next week we’ll each find a feature to share with classmates.

Is it not common sense? School culture and Fullan’s Six Secrets of Change

This summer I found myself reading (or rather, listening to the audiobook) Fullan’s Six Secrets of Change. As I was mowing the lawn, or driving, or walking the dog to this book, my mind kept making connections to the change in our school culture over the past year as we moved into 1:1 BYOD Blended Learning (every Grade 9 brings a laptop or tablet to school).

The shift in culture in the school has many factors most certainly. However, if you look at the shift in professional development over the past year you can see connections to each of Fullan’s secrets. I think this is just common sense?


Love your employees

    • about empowering, not running over or beating into submission
    • investing in teachers (our school was saturated with teacher-directed learning and release time for that)
    • believe in teachers, set high standards
    • empathy for the complication of change by all coaches, resource teachers and administrators

Connect Peers With Purpose

    • all groups looking at assessment and feedback through BYOD to support creativity, communication, critical thinking, collaboration
    • focus might be different for different groups, but all working on common purpose, for example:
      • TLLP team (interdisciplinary)
      • department teams (subject-specific)
      • SSI (math)

Capacity Building Prevails

    • creating the environment where it is ok to try new things, fail, and improve
    • tinkering becomes the norm
    • asking for an “extra set of hands” becomes the norm
    • still work to do, but we are certainly improving the culture – teachers asking others to come in while they “tried something new” to help troubleshoot and problem solve
    • non-judgemental

Learning is the Work

    • not focused on the digital tools, but focused on developing the attitude, skills and beliefs to become a life-long learner in the 21st Century
    • proven by our TLLP survey (teachers self-identified their biggest growth being in “modelling 21st century learning”)

Transparency Rules

    • survey pre and post, based on ISTE standards for teachers (teachers said that their biggest need was creating assessments and so that is where we focus next)

Systems Learn

    • can’t revolve everything around individual leaders, need to focus on the school as a whole
    • focus on developing many leaders
    • sharing encouraged at every staff mtg,
    • focus on distributed leadership, pairing teachers up to other teachers to share
    • my job as TLLP leader, became more about connecting others than trying to help everyone myself
    • humility and openness to change. we changed course many times

Reflections after the first week – Blended Learning

We survived. We survived our first week in a 1:1 BYOD Blended Learning initiative. All of our grade 9’s brought their own devices (laptop or tablet with a keyboard). It was a chaotic, hectic, crazy week for sure. I would say for many teachers we got “less” done this week in terms of student work, but that we are further ahead in setting up the culture of our classes. The student work I have seen appears to be very creative and collaborative so far (animations about acceptable use, digital collages, collaborative brainstorming,  digital or paper timelines of life plans).

I have a learning strategies class that is mostly boys. It is the nicest, kindest group of young adults I have ever met. Just fabulous. I had the opportunity to call the parents of these students yesterday and tell them how wonderful our first week was and I could hear the relief in the parents voices. The exasperated, large sigh of “thank you” coming from the other end of the phone. We often forget how stressful the first week of high school is for the support system behind our grade 9’s as well. Teenage boys are often poor communicators when asked “how was your day?”. “Fine” can often be the extent of the response. Parents can sometimes struggle to really get a grasp on how their students are adjusting to high school.

On Thursday I asked my class if they would be open to accepting a request from the life skills language teacher (Mrs. Fernandez), to use our class as “communication buddies” on Friday. Her class had been practicing some communication skills and were practicing introducing themselves to people and asking how others were doing. My class enthusiastically responded that YES! they would love to work with the life skills class.

It was a quick activity on Friday. The class came in for about 10 minutes. Students worked at tables with a few of my students and one life skills student who directed the conversation. My class yet again proved that they are the kindest, gentlest, most thoughtful, caring group of students I have ever met. There was respect dripping from the classroom.

This activity really had me considering what “blended learning” is. It certainly had me comparing what would have been lost in a purely eLearning course. Face-to-face social interactions are so very important in the development of teens. Throughout our course we will be doing many activities around diversity and differences. Today they demonstrated the skills of recognizing strengths in those with differences to ourselves in a face-to-face environment. I was very proud of my students’ leadership. As we build on the theme throughout the semester, we will take these skills and blend them into online environments as well. These environments will include open social media conversations, closed environments where classes from around the world are collaborating and video conferencing with people around the world.

Surviving the First Days of 1:1 BYOD Blended Learning

We have officially survived the first two days of having all our Grade 9s bringing in their own tablets or laptops. We have set up those who didn’t have devices with refurbished laptops. We have troubleshooted connection issues. I think all but a few are officially connected.

I am fascinated with the culture of the school. Every teacher I’ve spoken to has done something very different in these two days compared to previous first days back. That in itself is exciting for me. Students are excited and feel special. Teachers are getting used to things going wrong and modelling problem-solving skills to their students.

This week I’ve seen teachScreen Shot 2014-09-03 at 5.14.21 PMer Jen Lachapelle have her students create a padlet on the first day about what they think of when hear the word math. It provided a great base for an honest, deep conversation on the first day. Her class has also done some online polling and discussions.

A couple teachers have had their class doing interactive polls on the first day as a way to get to know each other. Leslie’s class were creating padlets about their partners strengths and interests. Google Classroom and D2L have been used in many classrooms to host discussions and share resources.

More than anything I’ve noticed a great culture in the school. For our school this move has huge implications for equity. We have a huge variety of devices being brought in by students. The devices we loaned out from the school are not marked in any way and can be set up to personally suit a student. I have seen no bullying or issues about types of devices. No one cares.  Best of all, students with SEA (special education equipment) appear to be much more willing to use their devices. Everyone has a device. All students will be taught how to use different tools to support their learning. No longer does a student with SEA equipment stand out any differently.

From a teachers point of view, I am at ease knowing that all my students have access to technology. All my students can develop the skills they need to work and learn in todays world.