Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Christmas Concerts...Good Pedagogy?


It's hard to determine the value of the annual Christmas Concert at elementary schools.  If you go by the stress level of the staff at this time of year, it certainly gives you reason for pause.  If you gauge their importance by the beaming smiles of the parents as their child graces the stage, it is easy to see why they continue to take place.

Given that there are no curriculum requirements around a concert and the fact that the preparation of such an undertaking actually takes a significant amount of class time and school organization, it is fair to pose the question:  Is this good pedagogy?

While it is not the only way to promote school community and school connectedness in general, events such as these do play a part in the sense of belonging a student and his/her parents have in their school.  Much of the research we have seen recently around the link between school connectedness and academic success certainly suggests that we must pay attention to this aspect of school life.  

Laura MacKay, from the nursing program at UBC, goes even further and establishes the link between school connectedness and student health.

It has also been noted that in the adolescent years, it becomes even more important for these opportunities to exist.  Unfortunately, this is often the stage in our school systems where they diminish.  In addition to school events and positive relationships between students and teachers, researchers have outlined other criteria that are critical to school connectedness.

Below is a summary of this research under the umbrella of the Wingspread Research Group:

Wingspread Declaration on School Connections

Students are more likely to succeed when they feel connected to school. School connection is the belief by students that adults in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals. The critical requirements for feeling connected include students' experiencing
  • High academic expectations and rigor coupled with support for learning.
  • Positive adult/student relationships.
  • Physical and emotional safety.
Increasing the number of students connected to school is likely to influence critical accountability measures, such as
  • Academic performance.
  • Incidents of fighting, bullying, or vandalism.
  • Absenteeism.
  • School completion rates.
Strong scientific evidence demonstrates that increased student connection to school promotes
  • Motivation.
  • Classroom engagement.
  • Improved school attendance.
These three factors in turn increase academic achievement. These findings apply across racial, ethnic, and income groups.

One thing to remember is that the traditional Christmas Concert is not the only school community event that can take place at this time of year.  Many schools have opted for a concert every other year and a family dance/crafts night in-between.  This recognition of the balance between the school community and staff burnout is absolutely critical.

Thanks to all school personnel for their hard work at this time of year.


Monday, 3 December 2012

The Leaning Assessment of PISA

I suppose I always imagined that the PISA test leaned towards a very narrow reflection of academic-type students in wealthy countries.  This past month at the #BCSSA conference, I had the opportunity to listen to Andreas Schleicher of the OECD describe a much more potent and universal tool that goes well beyond the numbers.  While it may sound simple to say, the tool and the OECD remind us that the way we design and value our education system truly makes a difference for all students, regardless of their background. Here is a relatively brief RSA animated video (12 minutes) that gives a great overview of it's nature and purpose:

I didn't realize, for example, that in addition to the actual test that focuses on reading, math and science, there is also a questionnaire that queries everything from the learning relationship with the teacher to the cultural and socio-economic background of the student.  Because this information is aggregated into a macro view of an educational jurisdiction or country, no personal information is revealed.  Nevertheless, a very rich tapestry of information is created that allows educational systems to see how they are servicing ALL students.

In the 2 minute video below, Andreas Schleicher gives an update on some of the trends in education in 2012:

What I find very interesting is that we sometimes need to reflect on the macro view of education in order to remind ourselves of our moral imperative.  Andreas describes this well when he refers to education as a "lever for equity" (Schleicher, 2012).  While there are certainly some factors such as parent education level and the number of books at home for pre-schoolers that have an effect on a child's future success, there is not a single variable that absolutely precludes a disadvantaged student from achieving high levels of success.  We might also assume that the countries who spend the most on education see the best results.  This is not the case:

"The data also shows that there is little correlation between spending and student achievement. This is true for both per pupil spending, and for a nation's wealth. Many high-achieving nations spend proportionately less on education than other countries who have lower rankings. In the United States, there is a higher correlation between socio-economic context and student achievement, but there are very notable exceptions of students who succeed on PISA and in life, against the odds. This is good news for poorer communities and nations." (Schleicher, 2010).

At our own district level, we have been meeting with schools over the past couple of months to look at the results of their students on the district literacy assessment from May, 2012.  We have been able to drill down to groups and individual students, such as First Nations and Learning Disabled and we are seeing data that reflect the complex nature of the PISA assessment.

For example, the overall results of First Nations and Learning Disabled students for comprehension is low overall yet we see anomalies in various schools.  In some cases, there is no difference between the various groups - which is astounding.

The questions remain: what can we learn from these schools/countries?  What are they doing that is effective?  How do they get their disadvantaged students to succeed?  

The research continues...Have a great week,

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

3-Legged Stools...and Relationships

In recent weeks, I've listened to Dr. Scott Miller and John Abbott both use the analogy of the 3-legged stool to discuss their fields.  In Dr. Miller's case, it was in the context of therapy, while in Abbott's case, it was in relation to our education system.

First of all, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between them.  Consider these points from Dr. Miller as he outlined various research facts from the field of therapy/counseling:

*  80% of a counselor's caseload involves clients who are basically being managed and for whom there is no discernible effect

*  On the issue of why people did not seek the services of a counselor, a lack of confidence in the outcome of the service accounted for 78% of the responses

*  Technique makes the smallest difference in the outcome

*  For the clients that are positively affected by treatment (13%), the following factors were measured: 
  •  Model and technique of treatment  - 8%
  •  Allegiance factors - that is the practitioner's belief in what they are doing - 20%-30%
  •  Alliance factors - that is the relationship and dynamics between the therapist and client - 30%-60%
Here's a video of Scott Miller talking about measuring the alliance/relationship with clients and an app that they have put out on it:

"We have known for years...that the relationship between the client, the consumer, and the provider of care is predictive of outcome.  We also know that if consumers are asked, and able to provide feedback about the nature of the alliance, positive and negative, that those consumers are much more likely to stay until they achieve a good outcome in treatment and we have better outcomes as a result." (Miller, 2006).  

Miller uses a 3-legged stool to show how an alliance is established with a client:
   In other words, the alliance between the therapist and client is through a positive relationship, based on knowing and discussing the preferences of the client - not the preferences of the therapist

 John Abbott also uses a 3-legged stool based on Relationships to describe a healthy educational partnership:

It is that balance between competency and caring that both professions require in order to best serve their clients/students.  I suspect the current paradigm is that the "smartest" practitioner must be the best teacher/therapist - while the research clearly points to the aforementioned balance.

Here's a video from Abbott's "Born to Learn" website that demonstrates learning from the perspective of the student"

In my mind, there are two ways to establish an alliance with students:  Get to know them and incorporate their input.

Have a great week,

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Telling Stories : Pedagogical Narrations

"So that's what reflective practice looks like!"  

This is what I found myself saying last spring when I attended a workshop called "Investigating Quality" at the ECEBC conference in Richmond.  I was watching Kim Atkinson and Danielle Davis demonstrate a practice called "pedagogical narration" whereby they openly describe a moment in their practice among peers.

More specifically, the educator tells a story - often accompanied by images of the child/children - among colleagues who then ask questions or make comments about the story.  This is not a problem-solving process.  It is a pure reflection that is articulated and discussed among colleagues to gain insight into children as well as how we interact with them.  It is about finding the questions, not the answers.  This kind of practice is strongly supported in the BC Eearly Learning Framework.

In my teacher training year, the term "reflective practitioner" was understood to be a solitary process that was very general in nature.  While useful, this practice does not engender the synergy and connections that arise from a collaborative reflection that has a structure to it and that is borne out of observation.

"Being in the moment", being present enough to truly "notice" what is happening around you takes practice - and lots of it.  How many people do you know who can truly live in the moment?

After that workshop in Richmond, I approached Kim and Danielle and asked if they would be interested in coming to Fort St. John - and they were!  This conversation led to a workshop that we attended last week with several community ECE colleagues as well as Kindergarten teachers and district staff.  Most importantly, it has led to the development of a collaborative group that is meeting several times this year and sharing their pedagogical narrations.  

Kim and Danielle come from ECE backgrounds and have teamed up under an initiative called "Images of Learning Project" where they present this narrative approach to viewing children as "co-constructors" of knowledge.

One of the most important elements that I took away from our workshop with them last week was the concept that young children are not the citizens of the future, they are "citizens now" - competent individuals that don't simply follow our linear understanding of them.

Great workshop.  Have a great week.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Illusory Average Student

Why change?  This is one of the first questions that needs to be dealt with when introducing a different approach to instructional design.  Simply talking about the diversity of students, developing technologies, social media, etc. is not good enough.  What assessment/data are we looking at?

In my view, there are three key data points that are compelling us to move forward on innovative instructional design strategies such as Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Universal Design for Learning.  The first data set is the graduation rate of our students - particularly among our First Nations and Learning Disabled students.  The second (and related) set is the transition rates between grades 9-12 where we lose a significant number of our students.  The third piece of information - the one that is the subject of this blog - is the proliferation of "alternate" programs in middle and secondary school.  

This is not to say that there is not a role for "specialized" approaches for groups of students who are not being successful.  However, they are not addressing the main issue of our students becoming disengaged from their "regular" classroom.  

I believe the root cause of this growing trend lies in designing our instruction based on what Dr. Rose refers to as the "illusory average student".  This short video encapsulates his view:

Since neuroscience has proven that how we learn is as unique as our fingerprint, should we not plan instruction and learning that takes into account our "multiple intelligences"(Gardner)?  The first network in the Universal Design for Learning model is "Multiple Means of Representation".  The checkpoints in this network guide us to establish access to learning that relays the information or concept in multiple ways: 

This should not be interpreted as 30 different lesson plans for a class but rather proactively planned lessons that, over the course of a unit, utilize several approaches to the representation of information and concepts.

One idea that we looked at last week when we talked about how to engage students in a unit on the political spectrum was to have students physically form a line based on various opinions so that there was a kinesthetic connection to their learning.  While this may seem like a minor modification, it may hook 2 or 3 students that would have otherwise disconnected from the lesson as soon as the overhead projector was turned on.

Have a great week,

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Education Transformation: Does Our Message Have Traction?

The image below really struck a chord with me this week:

As educational leaders, I wonder sometimes how removed we are from practices in the classroom.  A revving engine sounds powerful and makes lots of noise but unless you've engaged the clutch, nobody's going anywhere. 

Our district has encouraged the use of technology in the classroom as a tool for improving student success as well as providing pathways to personalized learning.  I was very encouraged, therefore, to see my 11-year old son grab my computer last night, login to his classroom through his school webpage and pull up his blogging assignment.  The class list and blogging template is provided through Kidblog.

There were several aspects of this task that are worth considering:

1.  The blogging platform is free,  easy to organize for the teacher and works seamlessly within the school web page.
2.  It took a few seconds to get to his blog and yet his name and work are protected within a virtual classroom environment
3.  As a French Immersion student, he wrote it in French
4.  He could accomplish the task using any computer or smart phone

I guess the message did have traction.

Have a great week,

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Education Transformation : Breaking the Chains of Causality

Welcome Back!  The theme for my blogs this year will be how, in practical terms, we can move towards Education Transformation.  This is a significant departure from Education Improvement.

First of all, however, there is a tremendous obstacle that often stands in the way of innovation and transformation.  It is like a magnet that constantly pulls us back to the status quo.  This obstacle is encapsulated in the expression, "This is the way we've always done it".  The fact that basically all citizens have the same shared educational experience, makes it that much more difficult to imagine an alternate practice and vision.

In his theory on personality traits,  Carl Jung would describe this type of human motivation as "causality" - that is, driven by past experiences.  At the other end of the spectrum, he also presents the concept of "teleology", wherein we are motivated by future expectations.  Clearly, our education system is firmly rooted in causality.  

Click on image for reference information
Old habits are hard to break.  I recently spoke to one of our school staffs about how we need to switch from WHAT we teach to WHO we teach.  Initial assessments on academic ability as well as conducting interest surveys and building a class community, are key elements that precede and promote effective instructional design and planning.  As I stated in my very first post, knowing your students is the cornerstone.  

As we move towards educational transformation and become motivated by future expectations, it is certainly going to feel uncomfortable.  Having the collective profile of a given group of students drive our planning and direction, entails giving up a certain amount of control and predictability.  Welcome to the world in which we live...

Have a great week,

Monday, 21 May 2012

Educational "Playlists" for our students

Imagine if learning looked like the most current playlist on your iPod.  Imagine that, like the "Genius" application on iTunes, that playlist adapted to your latest interests and input.  This is the concept behind the "customization of learning" as proposed by Tom Vander Ark in the above video.  Tom and others are exploring the possibilities of a truly personalized learning environment based on personalized digital learning.

It is their view that technology tools have finally reached the stage where they are truly accessible on devices such as tablets, for the masses.  They have piloted school environments such as the School of One where a student enters a learning space, checks the screen for his name and then sees the customized plan for that day that includes online learning as well as "Socratic seminars" and project-based learning

It seems to me that we live in a time when the sophistication of customization - particularly in an online environment - drives our daily life experiences.  Even as I compose emails throughout the day, I've noticed how the advertisements that have become completely ubiquitous on every platform, are tailored to my personal interests.  The adware highlights key words that I use throughout the day and pulls up advertisements that would most likely interest me. 

In fact, the concept is hardly new but continues to be a powerful tool for engaging people.  Think of the information gathered through all the various loyalty programs that we use - from grocery shopping to travel -  and how that information drives the consumer experience.

In the same way, as educational leaders, don't we want to be equally potent in how we engage our learners?  Fortunately, the BC Education Plan recognizes this and has engaged leaders and learners around the province to "scale up" the many smaller initiatives that seem to take place in isolation.

One technology tool that seems to effectively create interest-based playlists is Mentor Mob.  I'll leave you with their short video that explains this very cool tool.  Have a great week,


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Creating a Learner Profile for Personalized Learning

In my very first blog, I discussed student profiles as the cornerstone for shifting education from teaching curriculum to teaching students.

This concept is worth mentioning again, particularly in the context of Personalized Learning and Universal Design for Learning.  There are 2 specific tools I would like to share that are easy to implement in the first couple of weeks of school and that would provide the basis for Instructional Planning.  First of all, here is a graphic that reflects my thinking around planning for student success:

The first tool is a Multiple Intelligences Survey (Gardner) - of which there are many you can find online.  This particular one would allow students to fill it out and graph their results.  This of course would also make a great math activity!  The results could then be compiled into a class profile that shows the overall predominate strengths of the class.  Here's an example of an individual's results:

The second tool is based on Sternberg's Inventory of Analytical, Creative and Practical domains.  This is a well-recognized tool that fits well with the Multiple Intelligences survey.

This Power Point presentation introduces the "Student Profile Card" and the inventories that go along with it.  It serves as a powerful tool for ongoing assessment and lesson planning for the teacher. 
There are many Learning Styles that are present in any given classroom.  The more time we take to assess these styles and have our students involved in the process, the better prepared we are to Personalize the learning for our learners.

Have a great week,


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Personalized Learning: Kony 2012

Well-Crafted Documentary + Social Media = Ignition

Michael Moore has got to be jealous...  When he produced "Bowling for Columbine" in 2002,  the first version of what would eventually become Facebook was still a year away from being invented by 18 year-old Mark Zuckerberg.  Twitter was four years away.  "Going viral" was still thought of as a medical term.   Kony 2012 was viewed by 55 million people in less than a week.  It's following continues to grow. It was the "perfect storm" of a popular cause with good film making and an even better social media strategy that targeted celebrities and policy makers. 

When I think about the goal of Social Responsibility in our district, I believe we need to empower our students to develop similar skills for local or international issues - particularly the skills to create a good documentary.  Unfortunately, documentary film-making has often been the purview of fringe or political organizations, relegated to late-night TV.

The art of documentary film-making is a very personal and creative experience.  There is hardly a better example of Personalized Learning as the director/student reveals an issue literally through their lens.   It also reminds us that being passionate about something is the ultimate motivation.  In British Columbia, there is the occasional film competition that gets sent out to schools such as the one to produce a commercial to stop drunk-driving as well as the BC Student Film Festival held each year at Capilano University.  Recently, a few students from our district - SD60 - created a promotional video on the Energetic Learning Campus that demonstrates a lot of style and creativity:

Nevertheless, I believe the art of documentary film-making can be better developed in the North.  What is particularly encouraging is that it no longer requires highly specialized equipment and complex software.  A student could make one with their smartphone.  And as far as distribution goes, the students are already experts: it's called Social Media...

Until we develop a broad range of expertise in our region, there are some training opportunities in larger centers for both students and teachers.  One in particular that I attended a few years ago is the Gulf Islands Film and Television School - G.I.F.T.S.  Here is an example of a short documentary made this past summer by some high school students in the lower mainland.  It is called "ME" and is about acceptance of who we are:

The session I attended was over the course of a weekend but there are a variety of courses and time commitments that can fit any schedule and there are bursaries/scholarships available.

Rather than talk about Social Responsibility with our students, how about we let them take over.

Have a great week,

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Minecraft: Personalized Learning

In reflecting on what examples/explanations we have of personalized learning, I thought of how engaged/obsessed my boys were with the game Minecraft.  I have seen them play but what I found particularly interesting was the premise of the game on this review website:

Minecraft's premise is incredibly simple. Dropped into a hostile world of blocky graphics, you use the tools at your disposal to create. Every surface and object in the world can be manipulated, harvested and combined in countless ways to create building materials, tools, mechanisms, and gadgets. You can join with other players or reign alone in your pixellated kingdom. 

The reviewer continues with a quote from the creator of Minecraft - Markus "Notch" Persson (same website):

"If something ever doesn't feel fun, I'll remove it. I believe that I can combine enough fun, accessibility and building blocks for this game to be a huge melting pot of emergent gameplay."  

I couldn't help but see how compelling an example this was of personalized learning.  I also wondered if the current educational environment resembles "a hostile world of blocky graphics"!  I am not an advocate of video games but I know there are things we can learn from their success, particularly for our boys, who have been falling behind for years.  The first thing that struck me was that, as in most video games, "YOU" are the driver/creator/leader/main character.  In other words the perspective that counts is the one seen through the eyes of the player/learner.

This reminds me of a recent report I just read by Kathleen McClaskey (@khmmc) and Barbara Bray (@bbray) that outlines the differences between personalized, differentiated and individualized learning.   Here again, they explained that in personalized learning, the emphasis is on the input from the learner whereas in the other two paradigms, the emphasis is on what the teacher does.  Here is the chart:
The second concept of Minecraft that stood out for me was the myriad of tools a player/learner could access and manipulate in order to create and make sense of their world.  I have previously blogged about the importance of a personal toolkit for the teachers and the students.  How diverse is the toolkit we provide our students and teachers?  Are they adaptable? The good news here is the exponential growth of TechEd tools that we an access for free.

Finally, to "create" is a fundamental element in both Minecraft and Education.  I just finished attending the ArtStarts showcase in Vancouver and was reminded once again of the congruous relationship between the arts and personalized learning.  Whether you reference Gardners' multiple intellegences or Rosenstock's work around project-based learning, the arts are the ultimate vehicle to student engagement and success.

Education is not meant to be entertainment but there's no reason why it can't be fun!

Have a great week,

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Scaling Personalized Learning: Share your metaphor

What metaphor would you use to describe personalized learning?

I was reminded of the power of metaphors this past weekend at the #BCSSA12 conference in Vancouver on Innovation and Personalized Learning. Charles Leadbeater drew on the metaphors of wine labels and football (soccer) - themes which are part of our universal psyche. As we visualized the differences between the didactic nature of the French wine-labeling system vs the "barbaric" accessible nature of the Australian wine-labeling system, we reflected on what this meant in the current educational context. The insular jargon-filled world that is BC Education is surely more accurately represented by French wine labels - understood by the few and inaccessible to the many.

We also reflected on the concept of"total football", first introduced by the Dutchman Johan Cruyff, which transformed the game in the 70's. The concept was that a player would train to be skilled in any position and the roles were therefore fluid. In education, this would entail a roving leadership model that allowed for students, teachers, administrators and the community to weave in an out of roles in the learning process.

As we continue the conversation on how to "scale" personalized learning in BC - that is make it the rule rather than the exception - we need to be able to use a common language and vision for what it could look like. As I've mentioned in previous blogs, the Universal Design for Learning framework enables a teacher to plan for personalized learning but what is the story or image that we can use to dialogue with colleagues?

One image that comes to mind for me is a painting palette. Consider the 2 images below. One contains your primary colors while the other reflects all the shades that can be created from those colors. There are certain "primary" elements that make up the educational experience of a student - core courses, field trips, school activities, etc. - but what combination and quantity of these elements reflects the shade that is most appealing to each student? Surely the image of all the various shades more accurately represents the mosaic of students' interests and abilities in our school system.  Furthermore, we could consider that there are primary characteristics that make up the nature of each child but it is a complex combination of these characteristics that give him/her their individuality:

I invite you to share your metaphor on Twitter with the following hashtag: #PLmetaphor

 I'll leave you this week with a Charles Leadbeater video on innovation in education.  Have a great week.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

UDL: Engagement and Prophecy

The theologian Ronald Rolheiser stated that "to be prophetic is to be able to describe the present" (2011). 

What motivates our students?  What tools do they use to communicate?  What does society expect of them? How do we prepare them to be contributing citizens?  As educational leaders in a digital world, I sense we are further outside of our comfort zone than ever before in trying to answer these questions.  This is disconcerting when we are supposed to be leading the way.

The consultation process of the BC Education Plan  helps address these shortcomings and most importantly engages a particular group of stakeholders who are far more prophetic than we are - the students.  By putting into motion this process with our youth, the Ministry of Education is leading by example and challenging the rest of us to "let go of the rope" - as described by superintendent Larry Espe in his latest blog.  This direction also recognizes the latest brain research that proves how diverse the learning journey is for each individual.   Engaging the students in an educational setting in a variety of ways is one of the cornerstones of the Universal Design for Learning framework:

A failure to be prophetic - to be able to realize what is happening around us - prevents us from taking action and articulating a vision for the future.  In his book "The 5th Discipline" Peter Senge uses the metaphor of the boiled frog to describe this phenomenon (2006 - 2nd ed):

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.

 Describing what is and what could be, is not only our mission, it is the basic structure for great oratory that has inspired people time and again.  I was fascinated with a recent Ted Talk given by Nancy Duarte that reveals this structure in a comparison between speeches by Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King.  I'll leave you with this structure - and talk - have a great week,

Monday, 6 February 2012

Epigenetics: The Science of Hope

At the 2012 Conference on the Early Years this past weekend in Vancouver, we learned many things but nothing quite as astounding as the new science of Epigenetics. Dr. Tom Boyce from the UBC institution HELP (Human Early Learning Partnership), outlined a phenominal new approach to the age old rivalry of Nature vs Nurture. While this science is in its infancy, the implications will ripple through society in a few short years. Here is a brief introduction by Dr. Boyce:

Because our genes and our environment actually interact at a molecular and chemical level, we can say that the line between child and context has become blurred (Boyce, 2012)

First of all, a couple of salient, if not discouraging statistics that remind us of the strong relationship between childhood trauma and challenges in later life:

* 50% of adult mental illnesses can be rooted in the first 5 years of childhood (Grienenberg)
* Even after controlling for IQ, high school dropout rates can be traced back to the quality of care a 3.5 year old child received - at 77% accuracy (Sroufe, 2012).

The science behind these statistics is now being borne out by studies that show how synaptic connections are impeded by trauma or toxic stress - especially in the early years.

Nevertheless, the HOPEFUL part is that through the science of Epigenetics, we are beginning to learn how the right kinds of environmental/social interventions can actually re-alter and re-compose some of these connections and processes.  Furthermore, while our genetic makeup is determined at the moment of conception - including some predispositions for anti-social behaviour -  how this DNA is "unpacked" and chemically massaged depends on our ongoing social context - both positive and negative.

In other words, Trauma at an early age does not have to mean a life sentence of societal challenges.  Of course we knew that certain programs and interventions made a difference but now we have the science to back it up and need to pursue the research that shows which interventions make the biggest difference - on a molecular level.
Click here for reference website

Once again, the successful approaches that are being developed for children that have experienced trauma, are approaches that benefit ALL students.  This is the UDL mantra.

Have a great week,

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Science Fairs are UDL, Personalized Learning

As we continue to search for ways to frame personalized learning in British Columbia, we can point to some practices that have been around for a long time - notably the Science Fair.  Rather than pitting the philosophies of revolution vs evolution in our education system, I believe it is crucial to recognize what currently exists as excellent practice in personalized learning.  This approach is very much in line with the appreciative inquiry model which encourages a focus on what is going well.

 The "Science Fair Project", which normally hits the students around grade 4, is heavily anticipated and dreaded at the same time.  Anticipated by the students and dreaded by the parents!  There is something very cool and exciting about the concept of "experimentation" - something which we don't  encourage enough in our students nor in ourselves as educators.  The Science Fair project is one of those rare activities that encourages risk, the use of materials other than paper and pen, the mixing of all kinds of household products and an absolute freedom in pursuing an idea.  Sounds enticing doesn't it!?  It sure does if you're in grade 4!

Certainly, it creates anxiety:  It's messy, takes longer than a scheduled block, involves the participation of parents and community, entails public speaking, demands collaboration and creates a lot of "stuff" that doesn't fit in a locker.  In other words, many of the elements that are critical for the 21C learner.

As a parent of four children, I have now been through at least a dozen various science experiments that have met with varied levels of success.  I know what it's like rushing around to find an appropriate backboard that fulfills the very stringent  science fair requirements.  We all say we want to be more involved in our children's education but the science fair project demands it.  This is a good thing.  It doesn't mean we do the work for the child but we support them, listen to them practice their presentation and cart their stuff around when necessary.  Once you have seen the excitement on their faces and the motivation they display, it is all worthwhile.

The Science Fair project is an excellent example of "independent study" - a term we use in describing a personalized learning framework.  The picture below demonstrates how much time we currently allocate to this kind of study in the BC Education system:

Here is a model of what we would like to see in the future:

These slides come from the BC Ministry of Education and reinforce the value and necessity of independent study - much of which could be manifested in a science fair or heritage fair project approach.  We are very fortunate in our district to have a group of committed educators that ensure our Regional Science Fair is well-organized and exciting.  The event and follow-up visits to the National Science Fair have spawned life-long interest and opportunities for many of our students.

Finally, it is clear to see how well a science fair project fits in the Universal Design for Learning framework through Multiple means of Representation, Multiple means of Action and Expression and Multiple means of Engagement:

Universal Design for Learning

Have a great week,


Sunday, 8 January 2012

French Immersion and the Tower of Babel

Here is the audio of this blog:

Bonjour! C'est difficile d'imaginer un citoyen instruit qui ne parle pas une deuxième ou même une troisième langue.

One of the greatest gifts I received and pursued throughout my K-12 education as well as in university studies was the acquisition of other languages.  Once fluent in French, learning Spanish and Italian was so much more accessible.  It led to my career as a French teacher and administrator but just as importantly, it enhanced my educational and personal life experience.  Travel, meeting new people, learning new cultures and appreciating diversity:  all these experiences were were made possible and were so much more meaningful when carried out in a multilingual context. 

UBC’s former President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr Martha Piper, recently spoke of 5 ways to foster creativity and global citizenship:

1)  A Commitment to Languages
2)  Integrate Humanities and the Arts into Curriculum
3)  Embed Global Citizenship
4)  Embrace Community Service Learning
5)  Build Unique Environments

It was affirming to see that her first suggestion was on language learning - particularly as we gear up for French Immersion registration in our district for next year.  As a program of choice, it enables families to continue their child's education in a unique way.  This philosophy and approach is very much in line with the UDL principles I have espoused in previous blogs.  While the French Immersion experience and journey does not work out for everyone, it is a successful BC program that enriches the lives of many of our students. 

While we have other language programs, including of course FSL, the immersion environment is by far, the most effective way to learn another language.  In addition to the enhanced communication skills that are acquired in French Immersion, there is also research that demonstrates that students are "building brain matter" by learning a second language.  Here is the Rationale of the BC Ministry of Education around the programming of French Immersion:

The Ministry recognizes that French Immersion programming benefits the cognitive and social development of students, as well as their opportunities for career advancement. Research demonstrates that students who successfully complete a French Immersion program attain functional bilingualism while doing as well as, or better than, their unilingual peers in the content areas of curriculum, including English Language Arts.

We have already shrunk the world significantly with the advent of personal technology and social media.  Contrary to the biblical purpose of the Tower of Babel, however, we are not constructing a global educational community in opposition of a greater power but rather to bring our students to greater heights of enlightenment and global citizenship.  
Turris Babel from Athanasius Kircher

Below is a humorous look at the Tower of Babel on Youtube.  It is put forward by a translation company... 

Have a great week,


Monday, 2 January 2012

Achieving...or Becoming? Janus and the Educated Citizen

Here is the audio of this blog:

The "2-faced" god Janus

The Roman god Janus was depicted with two faces, not for his social shortcomings but rather his ability to see both the past and the future simultaneously.  He represents transition, change and progression.  His name of course, is also the origin of our first month of the year.

It seemed fitting to start this year's reflection contemplating this image and concept not only because of the date but especially because of the transitions we are currently undergoing in BC towards a 21C learner.

As I look back at some of the blogs and conversations this past Fall, one that struck me as particularly interesting and relevant is, "The Educated Citizen - Do We Have it Right" - a blog put out by Chris Kennedy , superintendent of West Vancouver School District, in early December.  It refers to to a description of the Educated Citizen put out by Statement of Education Policy OrderThe Educated Citizen, in 1989 and is worth reiterating here:

To this end, schools in the province assist in the development of citizens who are:
• thoughtful, able to learn and to think critically, and who can communicate information from a broad knowledge base;
• creative, flexible, self-motivated and who have a positive self-image;
• capable of making independent decisions;
• skilled and who can contribute to society generally, including the world of work;
• productive, who gain satisfaction through achievement and who strive for physical well-being;
• cooperative, principled and respectful of others regardless of differences;
• aware of the rights and prepared to exercise the responsibilities of an individual within the family, the community, Canada, and the world.

I was struck by two things when I saw this list; 1.  How closely it is aligned with the 21C skill set that we have been discussing - particularly around creativity, collaboration and communication, 2.  It is less about a student achieving goals than it is about a student becoming an educated, ethical and productive citizen.

Unfortunately, this prescient description back in 1989 did not translate into curricular outcomes based on what a student can become but rather what knowledge he/she can recite from various topics. In our current digital age, the 21C learner has this knowledge literally at his/her fingertips and therefore we must move beyond the memorisation paradigm.

Like Janus, we need to look to the past to recognize and retain our best practices and thinking - such as the 1989 Statement of Education Policy Order.  As we look to the future however, we must be able to transform that description into a new vision that reflects the digital age in which we live and one that puts the emphasis on the so-called "soft skills" of the 21 C learner.

In my opinion, the diagram below from the Alberta Ministry of Education depicts quite well the framework for that vision.

Have a great week,