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,