Success! Integrating Technology and Building Capacity

Just as I hit “send” on an email containing my report for our schools’ ICT Integration Capacity Building Project I came across George Couros’ post. He writes passionately about using differentiated instruction when running PD in the area of technology integration. In the magic of pefect timing, my report had just become a rambling to the same effect. I realized as I sent off my report that the “Please add any comments or suggestions” section was longer than the report itself.

Our school board has a few strong visionaries in the area of ICT Integration. They created a project this year that brought together one lead from each secondary school (16 secondary schools). We each then were able to apply for a project in the area of $2000 for release time to integrate technology and build capacity within each school.

This project started well right from the beginning. The organizers recognized the individuality of each school right off the top. Many schools did projects similar to what George described in his post, but with smaller groups. Many used ABEL accounts and had a group of teachers working on using Moodle to support their classes. In almost all cases a group of teachers got together and supported each other in implementing the same technology.

At PSS we decided that there wasn’t one technology that worked for every teacher. Our goal was to build a culture where different teachers are all using different technologies. Whatever works for them. The building capacity part comes in the sharing and making sure we know what each other are doing. This creates multiple “masters” of different technologies within our building.

Below is a modified version of my report (boring budget taken out). Being able to use this budget to differentiate our experiences has created such a positive feeling around integrating technology in our school. Definitely a step in the right direction. Next year we will connect it more solidly to specific learning goals or achievement goals.

** In some browsers, the following SCRIBD document does not show properly. If not, you can access the word file here:

ICT Integration Capacity Building Project Report Modified

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.

Evernote to track students?

Before Easter break I attended a session with admin and teachers from my board run by Will Richardson. I’ve been using Evernote for a few months now to keep track of projects. It works really well for me. As Will was demonstrating Evernote to a very engaged room I got an email about a student I work with. The Internet was wonky at the hotel and even my tethering was poor due to limited reception. I could not access the database our school board uses to monitor and track student success. I threw my notes into Evernote without thinking about it. I’ve never done this before for student notes. I work with students-at-risk for in a variety of ways. I track report cards and see who we need to work with, I receive referrals from teachers, I work one-on-one with some students, I organize independent courses for some and credit salvage or recovery for others. Until last week, all those lists and notes were in separate places. Nothing connected them. 

Last week when finally getting around to doing the action required by me to support this student, I tried something. I linked in the students information from the database into Evernote. I brought in his credit recovery assignments and forms. I dragged over a presentation he made on Creative Commons. I took a quick picture of his counselors business card and put it in Evernote. Being the geek that I am, I emailed the only other Student Success Teacher I know who might “get this”. Rodd Lucier’s (aka thecleversheep) response was “I see it as a data rich scrapbook”. Exactly!

So, to track my meetings, credit recovery, parent contacts, remedial support and student work with students at risk I am now using Evernote. I have created a notebook titled “Student Notes” and each student gets their own note. By tagging each note with key words I can sort and search them by grade, withdrawn, independent courses, credit recovery or IEP.

I wonder, has anyone else used Evernote or any other good tools for tracking students?

When Worlds Collide

I’m not much of a TV person and don’t have cable, but I recall being told about a Seinfeld episode years ago where one of the characters describes how having his relationship world and friend world collide is dangerous. I think my two education worlds have collided, and I’m thinking it’s not such a bad thing!
I’m a student success teacher. I spend a lot of my time working with “at-risk” students who don’t always find our ways of teaching and the structure of school a good fit. I also spend a large chunk of my time working with teachers in professional learning groups implementing new technologies and teaching strategies. Up until TEDxOntarioEd I was only making very vague connections between these two parts of my job. I could see the correlation between good teaching/assessment strategies to less students showing up in my office for “student success” work, but never thought much beyond that. The final TEDxOntarioEd talk was by a student who reminded me of those I’ve seen many times in my office with various stories. Every student has a story. School doesn’t work for all. Nothing works “for all”. Student success embodies individuality. As I was listening to Tim speak, I realized that I was using my “student success” brain to listen, not my ICT integration brain.
I felt like I was at one of our student success meetings where we regularly bring students in to speak of their barriers to education and what made a difference. I realized at that moment the similarities between integrating technology into education and student success. Teachers who are immersed in either one often share the following qualities.
     1. Creativity
     2. Put some control into students hands
     3. Focus on the “big ideas” or expectations opposed to the specific
     4. Take risks, not afraid of making mistakes while learning and trying new things
     5. Differentiate learning and assessments to best fit students needs
     6. Foster skill development in students like problem-solving and self-advocacy
It took me a long time to get here, but there we go. Teachers succeeding in both these areas embrace change. They often have “outside of education” experience (in industry, business or other) and often made bad students themselves, therefore wanting more options for their students.
So…. how do we bottle it? 

Respecting my elders. From slide rules to apps.

Society is changing. FAST. Students are changing. FAST. Education is changing. SLOWLY. Many experienced teachers often get a bad reputation for their inertia. Teaching the same way they did 20 years ago. I was sitting at friday evening social hour with some colleagues yesterday when I overheard something that made me think. Two teachers (great friends) spoke of using a slide rule in math. This thought stunned me for a minute. How could someone say these teachers don’t adapt to change? They’ve adapted from slide rules to calculators to graphic calculators to computers to web applications to portable devices with apps. Hmmmm….  they now do their attendance online, are my Facebook friends, do online reporting and help me create “make up” assignments for credit recovery when a student fails their course. So, yes, some things like teaching strategies, classroom set up and how we assess take a long time to change (especially when there is very little leadership to support, model or encourage this change), BUT look at some of the fundamental changes many, many teachers have adapted to. We should always begin by acknowledging that which has been done well. I often think so far outside of the box that I am annoying to many. My principal even jokes (I think its a joke) and hides under her desk when I have that look in my eye of a new idea. Rarely do I stop and reflect on all the positive changes that have been made. Sure, we stop and celebrate successes along the way, but I’d like to take this moment to give kudos to educators who have taught for 20 years and adapted to many, many changes in education. This doesn’t mean i’ll stop pushing the boundaries with new ideas, new technologies and new theories (and annoying the heck out of you), but I do sincerely recognize the major adaptability and changes you have seen and excelled at in education. Students greatly benefit from an experienced teachers knowledge, wisdom and well, experience. No technology or teaching theory or blog could replace that experience. I think this message often gets lost in the shuffle. 

Social services and schools as partners

How does your school support students who have unique living conditions? Our school has recently made some excellent partnerships with community agencies that I’d like to discuss.

I doubt the situation is unique to Penetanguishene, and would hazard a guess that it’s province wide. We continuously run into a similar situation with some of our 16 and 17 year-old students. They have nowhere to live. For various reasons their parents cannot care for them, or are non-existent and children’s aid cannot place them or even work with them at that age (they are short beds for their little guys as it is). 

Laurie (Child & Youth Worker) and I recently sat in on a community meeting designed to work towards ending homelessness. We explained our concern with the gap between children’s aid support and becoming an adult. Representatives from all around the community sat at the table (YMCA, Ontario Works, LEAP, Salvation Army, churches, etc.). All agreed the need was widespread. This resulted in the creation of a sub-committee with the first task of determining how widespread the issue is (how many homeless students, non-attending school age students and couch-surfers). While this will take time, I am extremely happy to be working towards some potential solutions. 

This morning Wendy, a Caseworker with Ontario Works programs for the County of Simcoe Social Services Division volunteered came into the school to explain the whole process to Laurie and I. Much to my surprise four other educators pointed out that they would like to have been invited. They all promised to not hold a grudge as long as I share what I’ve learned with them. ? The guidance counselors, special education teachers, vice principal and attendance counselors were all interested in how the system works. This on its own demonstrates a need for community agencies like Social Services and the schools to communicate more often. 

Here is a summary of what I’ve learned:

  • There are two main social service programs
    • Temporary care – for those living with other people (example: grandparents)
    • Ontario Works – for those living independently with a mandate to develop employable skills
  • The monthly money provided in all social service programs is for rent and food ONLY. No other costs are covered with the exception of medical and dental coverage.
  • Temporary care provides approximately $200/month to cover food expenses and also includes medical and dental benefits. There are some one-time “community set up” funds that can be applied for (example: to cover the costs of a bed). In this case the caregiver also gets the child tax credit for the child.
  • Ontario Works is more complicated. Youth (under 18) need to find a trustee who is an adult that the cheques are written to, who then disburse the funds and hopefully teach some budgeting skills.
  • Students often show up for Ontario Works appointments with a trustee who will also be the landlord (ex. Friends, boyfriend, girlfriends parent). This is NOT a good idea because if something happens to a relationship in this case the student loses their trustee and place to live. Their entire support system comes crashing down.
  • Caseworkers will call the parents to check up on the living situation and use a “reasonableness” scale to determine if the student qualifies. If the parents say that the student CAN live with them, they are asked questions about what would be required. If they state that the student cannot live with them they are then asked what they can contribute to the students living expenses. Sometimes parents give some money from the child tax (which they should not really be receiving if the kid is not living there, but that is between them and the CRA – the Caseworker will always point this out). Parents submit a financial form to determine how much they can pay (it is sometime zero).
  • A trustee MAY be asked to speak with the parent to ask for money to support the student. Very rarely will the situation go right to court. Because the process takes years and these students are almost 18, it never actually makes it to court.
  • Every month the trustee gets the cheque for the student along with an income reporting card (to be filled out and returned with attendance report from the school) and a drug benefit card.
  • This money is in no way taxable income for the trustee – it is money for the student. The trustee position is voluntary.
  • The max amount of assistance is around $585 ($221 for food and the rest is for rent). Room and board rates are a bit different at a max of $400/month for room and board with a $60 allowance for incidentals (deodorant, hygiene, etc.)
  • If the student is pregnant or a mother, under 18 and without a high school diploma they are signed up for the LEAP program automatically. This program has a SIGNIFICANT amount more support, both financial and personal.
  • To access Ontario Works the student needs to call a local phone number (in our area the head office is in Midhurst). From there they make an appointment at the appropriate office to go in person.
  • From a landlords point of view, rent is taxable but room and board is not.
  • Biggest barriers to getting assistance for youth is having an appropriate trustee and place to live. Student must also be a FULL TIME student, which provides some barriers.
  • Income from a part-time job is deducted from benefits at 100% for the first 3 months on Ontario Works and at 50% from four months onwards.
  • If you do the math Ontario Works “pays” $4.18 per hou
    r (at $585 for 140 hours of full-time work). If minimum wage is just above $9.00 the job would bring in $1280 per month with full time hours. Even 20 hours a month would result in $630. Even if a student is only eligible for $2 of Ontario Works funding per month (because they earn money through part-time work) they still get the drug card and medical benefits.

After this very informative meeting my head spins at the knowledge of how difficult it is for some of these students. I also see many opportunities for teachers and schools to support these students. I see an opportunity to be a trustee for a student as a possibility. I think it needs to be looked at in a case-by-case situation, but is doable in some cases.

Schools can also play a role in making “full-time” education more accessible. We can offer many different versions of creative programming that allow the student to be “full-time’ and still meet all of their needs (and the schools).

I also see an opportunity to continue working with the local subcommittee working on creating solutions. These solutions might include media campaigns to alert the general population to the need for supportive homes, working with local church populations to identify some potential opportunities before the emergencies arise or even acquiring property and funding to run boarding house type situations.

I’d LOVE to know how other communities and schools are dealing with these situations and your thoughts on how social services and schools can work together.

It’s scary where a bowl of soup can lead

It’s scary where a bowl of soup can lead. In the fall of 2008 a colleague and I decided we needed a bowl of fresh-made soup at a local establishment. What started as an innocent conversation about literacy and the OSSLT (grade 10 literacy test in Ontario that is required for graduation), turned into a flurry of excitement and a stack of notes on napkins. We were discussing the amount of untapped potential in students that just isn’t activated by the literacy test. The majority of our students that do not pass the test, only miss the mark by a few points. Unfortunately, these students often do not connect the literacy test to their lives and therefore do not put in a 100% effort. If only we could tap into that potential…
We decided that we would like to create a 1-day symposium for our grade 10 students that would help them see the connection between literacy, the OSSLT and their lives. The result was the first annual reaLITy symposium hosted at PSS. Our first task was to secure our keynote speaker. I called an acquaintance from my previous life in Moosonee, Joseph Boyden. He was generous enough to agree to spend the day with us. Even with the increased demand on his time after winning the Giller Prize, he volunteered his time with us for the day.
We included breakout sessions by local radio hosts, cartoonists, bookstore owners, activists, sports analysts, journalists, blogger/wiki’ers, authors, etc. Each session involved the presenter describing their careers/experiences and how literacy is connected. A literacy test activity was connected to each one. Students chose their workshops, had name-tags and were treated like adults. It was a great day.
This year our 2nd annual reaLITy day is on Friday March 26th and we have author Ojibwe Drew Hayden Taylor as our keynote. The community has once again stepped up and running a variety of workshops for us.
Our school does the other general OSSLT prep activities like a diagnostic OSSLT in the fall for grade 9 and 10 students, prep activities in grade 10 english classes, prep activities in all grade 10 classes during the week before the test and an after-school “TIPS” prep program.
I am NOT a literacy person – meaning my background is in biomedical science. Before student success I taught bio and science. Recently though, i’ve been co-ordinating a PLC that focuses on literacy activities and am slowly learning. I’d like to know what type of creative literacy activities are done in other schools? I will not turn this into a rant about my feelings towards the OSSLT test and how it is used, but recognizing the need for students to be literate, am interested in what other types of creative activities are going on out there!
Press about reaLILTy:

Even the playing field

In Canada we pride ourselves on universal education and health care. Both of which have faults but are fundamentally excellent programs. As a student success teacher I often work with students whose situations break my heart on a daily basis. Ontario has “universal” education. My question is that while all students have the same physical access to education, do they all have the same emotional and mental access to education? I think not. This disparity is often fed by poverty. While not always the case, some students can’t “access” education due to other traumas, events or abuse, the root is often poverty. Without their basic needs being met, they simply do not have the emotional and mental readiness to learn. By the time they reach high school they have had the benefits of every possible support (elementary schools are amazing, caring places), but feel that they always need extra help, may have a low confidence in their own learning ability and inevitably have some learning gaps. 

What message do we send our children when we let them remain without proper shelter, food and supports? We assume the cycle can be broken with education. This may be true, but students living in poverty don’t have the same access to this universal education and so the cycle often continues. Ontario’s per-pupil funding is nothing to be proud of on the world scale. 

Our school board is embarking on a very exciting new adventure. The networks will be opened up to all devices. With education funding as it is and declining enrollment, we simply cannot afford to keep up with every new technology in every school. The solution? Allow students to bring in their own laptops, netbooks and handhelds. Many already have these devices at home. We ask students to have graphing calculators for university prep math. Why not spend a bit more for a computer that will provide access to online graphing applications in addition to word processing, social media and research? Will “computer or handheld” simply be on the list of school supplies in the near future?
I am very, very proud to be part of this school board. Their new ICT Strategic Plan demonstrates leadership in murky waters, innovation and forward thinking. I get extremely excited at the possibilities that will open up to us over the next few years. My one concern? How will this affect our students living in poverty? We will of course still have computers in schools and therefore in the beginning this impact will be minimal. 

The transition to using this technology fully will take time. Especially when not all students have access to high speed Internet at home. In our school particularly, we have students living in the “beaches” where high speed Internet is not yet easily accessible. Again, the school board has taken great strides and partnered with ISPs to expand areas of high-speed access to include these areas.
We need ways to even the playing field. Whether the “field” is emotional and mental readiness to learn or access to technology, it needs to be accessible to ALL STUDENTS. The gap does not need to be widened any further.

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