George Couros and Building Relationships

Today I had the pleasure of attending a board workshop given by George Couros. At first I was apprehensive about attending. I follow him on Twitter, which is to say I have a certain perspective of him. His posts are filled with intelligent academic ideas, thoughtful questions/wonderings, enlightening perspective and a high dose of feel good messages.It is this final aspect that had me questioning whether or not this was going to be just another interesting learning opportunity filled with an ‘overdose of positive energy’ devoid of authentic learning. I AM EXCITED TO SAY THAT I WAS WRONG!

George’s message of ‘cultural innovation’ where engagement (a major buzz word at our board) is seen as a lower level goal resonated throughout the room from the beginning of his presentation. He deftly described how empowerment should be our ultimate goal, not just for students but for all members of our board. While this seems like a simple statement, we as educators spend so much time focusing on what we need (students achieving ministry goals) we forget to give them what they need. One question I was left with today (from George) was how much of what we are doing is best for kids and how much is covering our own butts? This one will require further reflection on both a classroom and school wide scale.

Rarely do I find people who predominantly agree with my philosophy of education (or so it feels like). Question practices, decisions and the dreaded ‘tradition’ regardless of who espousing it should be the norm. People in education so often cling to tradition like a lifeboat on the Titanic, it makes me want to grab a violin and play to their death…or worse to their own irrelevance. We need to seriously examine and question our practices. Keep what is relevant and working and replace the rest with the riches of our new world (new technologies, expanding base of relationships and new ways of showing our thinking).

Here is a collection of what I found to be George’s strongest messages for those of you who were not able to be at MEC today.

-Relationships are the key to everything

-School = compliance…how do we break that cycle

-Technology does not equal engagement. A computer to taken notes is a very expensive pencil

-We need to tools relevant to kids (technology) to cultivate empowerment

-would you want to be a student in your class…if not reflect and change

-kids need to be producers and creators of things

-Literate-Adaptive-Transformative (similar to the SAMR model)

-Schools should be using the same tools to teach that students are using at home (youtube, e-mail, twitter etc.)

-Digital portfolios are not simply a collection of work now, but provide students the opportunity to build skills for their futures and in the process create their digital footprint

I could go on but this blog is turning into an essay.

I would like to end by thanking George for sharing his ideas and his thinking with us today. It is rare to hear someone in his position speak so freely and honestly about how our education systems need to change. It is also refreshing to attend a meeting of educators where I felt like my views, opinions and beliefs were truly aligned with the presenter. While I may be a little less emotional or interested in heart tugging videos than George or the majority of my colleagues, I felt validated as an educator today. You can’t put a price on that.

My goal tomorrow is to make my students feel the same way.

MJ

I Wonder…Student Driven Inquiry Learning

Recently friends of mine have begun a new Twitter account called @AllinResource. They are hoping to create a network of educators who are willing to share low-prep, accessible, cross-curricular resources that students actually like!

As educators we are all looking for that. This is my first addition to their new enterprise. My students love the project. We had our entire school come to visit the projects and my class taught them about what they learned. It was some of the best learning we did all year.

Projects included: learning card tricks, building a penny board, building a fishing lure, making a bow and arrow, making a boomerang, taking apart and cleaning a carburetor just to name a few.

I hope your students enjoy this project as much as mine did.

Good luck with the new account (John and Mike)

The formatting is a problem. I have included the assignment, feedback form and rubric. If anyone wants the originals please feel free to contact me at my twitter account.

 

                                                                                                     

Name:__________________

                                                              I WONDER…

           Have you ever wondered how they get the caramel inside the Caramilk bar? Me too!! Well here is your chance to explore the unknown. Your can impress family, friends and classmates with your knowledge of the world. You may wish to learn a new skill (juggling, magic tricks) or making or building a fishing lure, skateboard etc. BE CREATIVE! and HAVE FUN!  

You must:

 1)    Choose a topic, something you do not know or want to know more about

2)   Clear your topic with your teacher

3)   Develop 5 – 10 questions to help guide your research or learning

4)   Research the topic (using the organizer provided)

5)   Develop a presentation, demonstration, anything you can think of to share your findings about your topic. Be as creative as possible!

6)   Our class will share our work with the rest school.

 

 

                                     I Wonder Success Criteria

 

Knowledge of Content

£   Using correct form to share information                 (poster, PowerPoint, procedural, narrative, report, recap)

£   Provides critical information on the topic, to improve audience understanding

Understanding of Content/Form

£   Uses proper format based on form chosen

 

Thinking

£   Clearly organized information

£   Logically organized information

£   Developed with the audience in mind               (complexity and steps)

Communication

£   Use of clear language to explain ideas(especially steps involved in a process)

£   Conventions (spelling)

£   Effective use of visuals/diagrams to demonstrate steps

Application

£   Provides examples to improve personal understanding and that of the audience

£   Use of success criteria to assess and improve work

£   Reflection of what you have done to learn a new skill or develop your understanding

 

 1st Star

 

Next Step:

How to BUMP IT UP!

 

 

 

                                                    I Wonder Rubric

 

 

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level

Knowledge & Content

(e.g. concepts; ideas; opinions; relationships among facts, ideas, concepts, themes)

Demonstrates

limited understanding

of content and provides little detail to support topic

Demonstrates

some understanding

of content and provides some detail to support topic

Demonstrates

considerable

understanding

of content and provides strong detail to support topic

Demonstrates

thorough understanding

of content and provides exceptional detail to support topic

 

Thinking

(e.g. planning, generating ideas, gathering information, analysis, forming conclusions etc. )

Displays little planning and organization of information.

 

Results in limited development of the topic.

 

Displays some planning and organization of information.

 

Results in a basic development of the topic.

 

Displays substantial planning and organization of information.

 

Results in extensive development of the topic.

 

Displays exceptional planning and organization of information.

 

Results in a thorough development of the topic.

 

 

Communication

(e.g. presentation techniques, conventions, organization etc.)

Organizes ideas

and uses conventions,

vocabulary with

limited

effectiveness

 

Limited use of creativity and a hook to attract audience to presentation

 

Organizes ideas

and uses conventions,

vocabulary with

some

effectiveness

 

Some evidence of creativity and a hook to attract audience to presentation

 

Organizes ideas

and uses conventions,

vocabulary with

considerable

effectiveness

 

Effective use of creativity and a hook to attract audience to presentation

 

Organizes ideas

and uses conventions,

vocabulary with

a high degree

effectiveness

 

Highly effective use of creativity and a hook to attract audience to presentation

 

 

Application

(e.g., writing process, critical/creative analysis, critical literacy, metacognition,)

Uses critical/

creative thinking

processes

with limited

effectiveness

Uses critical/

creative thinking

processes

with some

effectiveness

Uses critical/

creative thinking

processes with

considerable

effectiveness

Uses critical/

creative thinking

processes with a high degree of effectiveness

 

 

Student Name:

 

 

 

 

TOTAL

 

 

 

 

 

A Second Chance…Time to Remove My Shackles

How many of you have finished a school year wishing you could have the year over again? Our job is so unlike most others. How many carpenters wish they could rebuild a house? Well, if one of them built your home, you may want to get out of there as fast as possible!

For us, there is no one strategy, no one big idea, no one framework that will ensure success. If you follow current building codes and construction plans your structure will nearly always be sound and successful. It is one exciting and ubiquitously frustrating reality of being a teacher. No one plan works all of the time.

This year (my 9th as a teacher) was both a success and failure in many ways. So much so that is has left me seriously questioning the structure, goals, organization, and future of our school system and my practice in particular. Every summer I take time to reflect on my craft and choose an area or two in which to learn more about to improve my practice. This year however I am finding that one or two areas is not enough.

I am fundamentally frustrated by the rigid nature of our bureaucratic school system and the narrow minded view of what we do as educators. I continue to follow dynamic, independent educators on Twitter and yearn to push my classroom further from the norm. The old school view is no longer good enough.

Using technology, personal learning opportunities and talking with my students, I should be able to make the educational experience much more relevant for my students and useful to their future selves.

The more I reflect, the more I realize I have allowed others in our system to limit my actions. No longer will I be talked into submission by the naysayers and fear-mongers. By limiting my own actions and suppressing my own ideas and beliefs I have shackled myself to the conformists views of the education system. This ends now!

I feel more liberated than ever before. I can’t wait for September. I am about to become the Frank Sinatra of teachers…hell I am going to do it MY WAY!

I alone have the key! Next year I will get a second chance with my class from this past year. Everyone deserves a second chance…I will not waste mine.

Students are too Smart for False Authentic Learning Tasks: I Need Your Help

As the school year comes to an end it is to take stock of the successes, failures, shining moments and heart breaking letdowns. One thing I can honestly say about education is that it is NEVER boring. While students may sometimes feel bored with what they must learn (i.e. polyhedrons) and teachers question what they are forced to teach (making polyhedrons meaningful to a 12 year old???), we do however get to experience authentic learning with our students. 

After spending the past 3 days in Toronto, Ontario with 50 grade 7/8 students I again see what education could be. Interacting with real people outside of our (falsely) insulated classroom walls is critically important. What is a teacher to do? The ridiculous size of the Ontario Curriculum Documents precludes most teachers from taking the time to provide their students with real life learning. Unfortunately we have tricked ourselves into thinking that authentic learning tasks are ones which mirror real life situations. 

The reality is that students are too smart to be tricked into fully engaging in tasks that are simply fake. Yes they may mirror real world situations but they are NOT REAL. Do we as adults give our best effort when engaged in meetings and situations that are not real? It takes more time, effort, creativity, money, and technology to provide REAL AUTHENTIC LEARNING TASKS for students. It also takes less curriculum being forced upon educators from above, less bureaucracy (hoops) for educators to jump through, and less time spent justifying that I am doing my job and more time spent on actually doing my job.

Next year…I want my students too feel that what they spent their time, energy and effort on was real, and not something I as an educator have developed to resemble the real world. 

This may only be a dream, but it is mine.

It may end up being yet another false authentic learning task, but I don’t want it to be.

If you have any real authentic learning tasks that you have completed with your students I would love to hear about them. I am looking for creative, interesting ideas I can try and share with others.

Happy teaching

Technology in Education: The Sexual Education of the 1980’s

No, this blog is not what you think it is about!

As a teacher who is working to responsibly integrate new technologies into my classroom as a means of engaging my students and affording them the opportunity learn real world skills, I am frustrated with those who continue to live in fear of it. I am not a social networker. I still do not have a Facebook account, I do not Snapchat and I do not spend hours a week sharing my life story with people from my past whom I was not friends with in high school. After an inspiring workshop given by @kevinhoneycutt, he helped me re-evaluate my opposition to social media. His message of learning to use it for practical (even educational) purposes helped me overcome my general angst toward the often ridiculous nature of social media (this is just my opinion of course).

It has been inspiring these past few months to share ideas, read posts, gather ideas to improve my practice. I would like to take a moment to thank all of those people who openly share their ideas and experiences. This past week at my school (I am a grade 6/7/8 teacher in a rural school in Ontario, Canada), I was discussing my plan to create a classroom twitter account next year so that my students can share their ideas and work with the world. In the process I will model for and with them how to use this technology to better your life and the life of others around you. My colleague expressed how this was a bad idea and that I should not do this.

This stance was thinly veiled in a cloak personal concern. It was explained to me that parents may not be happy with this and I should make sure I am protected. While I agree the safety of my students and self are of paramount importance, that is not a good enough reason to not do it. If one were to read between the lines it was quite obvious that the warning was about not taking a chance of causing difficulty for the school, not for me personally. My response to my colleagues reply was that if we are worried about using Twitter as a teaching tool as it may cause problems…that is the greatest argument in favour of using it! Too many of my students have Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat accounts which they use with reckless abandonment and little or no reflective thought. I have taught my students about internet safety. We have even had a local police officer in the cyber crimes division in to speak with the students, yet based on what I have seen and been told it has clearly not sunk in.

I equate this mentality of fear regarding technology in schools to the introduction of sexual health education in elementary schools several decades ago. Many felt sexual health should be taught at home. These students are too young to learn about this! Learning about sex will make them have sex younger! Well guess what, learning about sexual health has not resulted in kids have sex at younger ages, rather it has resulted in kids having safer sex. Which has also directly related to a drop in teen pregnancy rates. 

Anyone who is reading this is most likely one of the converted. You are probably introducing your students to new technologies all the time, and most importantly working with them to learn to use it safely and responsibly. I ask all of you…do not let those who wish to live in a culture of fear regarding technology in our classrooms win. Rather take the lead yourself and show them what your students can do, when working together with a responsible adult.

Introducing Twitter in the classroom will not give our students viruses…rather it will help them practice safe technology usage and limit dangerous behaviours on-line. 

 

In Praise of Middle Schools

Currently I am a grade 6/7/8 teacher in a K-8 elementary school. Our entire school has less than 100 students (we are a small rural school). While this affords us many benefits: such as a family atmosphere, whole staff collaboration and an ability to build a relationship with every student, it does also have several significant drawbacks. Classes are most often prescribed in advance offering little chance for students who may need a break from one another to get it. It also provides no opportunity for grade level collaboration between colleagues and students within our building as there is only one classroom with each grade (although technology such as Google Drive and Adobe Connect have allowed us to collaborate with students from other schools which has been great!!).

But perhaps the single greatest flaw in this K-8 system is the administration and expectations placed on students and staff in a school which has students ranging from 5 years of age to 14. With increasing work hours, broken families, increased curricular expectations and social responsibilities, schools have been left to pick up the slack as the modern family breaks down. It has become extremely difficulty for parents to keep their jobs, raise their kids, keep up with technology, provide extracurricular opportunities and learning opportunities on a consistent basis. 

While school (some with vigor and some begrudgingly) take on these extra responsibilities we are left with teachers and admin who are stretched to limit. Nowhere is this more apparent than the 25 committees and 5 new board initiatives each school must adhere to on a yearly basis, to ensure that every aspect of the child’s life is addresses (or at least covered) by the school. Safe and Caring, health and nutrition, QDPA, and on and on and on…

The challenge continues that in a K-8 schools the needs of the students at each end of the spectrum are drastically different. Schools are built on a hierarchy of antiquated rules which often defy logic and common sense. How can we move into the 21st Century by creating rules that are applied in the same way to kids who are 14 years old and 5 years old? This makes no sense! I have taught gr. 7/8 for nearly 10 years now and nothing frustrates me more than how grade 7/8 students are treated like little kids. They are not! They are at an extremely difficult point in their development…trying to figure our who they are and who they want to be. 

Too often they are treated little kids, and then adults and admin are perplexed when their actions emulate those younger students. If we treat them little kids they will act that way! Often I run into difficulty when I fundamentally disagree with a ridiculous rule and openly choose not to enforce it. When I show trust and confidence in them, they most often reward that trust. Unfortunately many administrators and teacher only focus on the negative or silly actions…Hey folks (read about brain development 101…this is what they are programmed to do!).

My hope is that boards of education will change this out dated model.Create middle schools where students in grade 6-8 can cast of the shackles of our past education system and micromanaging administrators, and allow them to live, learn, create, search and yes make mistakes with a little more freedom. Until we are willing to trust them, work with them, and give up our need for control, I fear our grade 6/7/8 students will continue to rebel against the insanity that is K-8 schools. 

We need to give them a place where they feel like they are welcome.

We need to build an environment where they are valued and surround them with their peers. 

They need us to build them a home.

Middle School.

Inspired by a Stranger

I have been an educator for 10 years now. Those who know me would say that I am a critical thinker, who loves to teach and work with kids but has little time for the bureaucratic nature of education. My passion is trying to make positive connections with them, to help them see their potential and work with them to achieve it. I have little time for sentimentality or those in the profession who ‘drink the Kool-aid’ and consistently see their vocation as being above all others in importance.

Recently I met a student, a boy I did not know before and to be honest do not know really well. In the short time I spent with him (in my role as an educator) I learned about a boy who struggles with an extremely complicated life, but also has a gentle  nature and outstanding courage. At first, I had difficulty seeing the complex puzzle that is this kid. As I talked with him I was filled with questions. How can a person be both gentle, positive, courageous, and engaged in harming behavior at the same time? How can a person seemingly be so private and reserved yet openly honest and relaxed when discussing his personal challenges, with a couple of people he does not intimately know? I have been grappling with these question for days.

Rarely am I blind sided by a student. I generally am able to break down barriers with my students and create positive relationships that set the tone for learning and sharing together in my classroom. I am one who loves my work, enjoys my school relationships but tries to keep a professional divide between my work and my home. Much of my home life is spent focusing on my wonderful wife and two great kids.

This week however I am having difficulty accepting the fact that I will not have further contact with this student (as he is not one of mine). His honesty and ability to smile when sharing such difficult information has left me shaken, amazed, humbled, confused, saddened, worried, astonished, and INSPIRED.

I am inspired by the trust he showed in us by telling us the truth.

I am inspired by the courage he has shown to make the difficult personal decisions he has made – to be true to himself. When making different decisions may have been easier.

I am inspired by the way he is not hiding from others – when many others (perhaps even myself) would relent to outside pressures.

I am inspired by him.

I hope that I get the chance to see him again, I also hope to have the courage to tell him all of these things.

Is a 21st Century Education Possible in a 19th Century System

Our current education system is entering a time of great promise and change. We are presently on the precipice of the next great leap in educational reorganization and learning…or the continuance of what is quickly becoming a tired antiquated system. All social media forms (which currently house some of our best thinkers) are filled with passionate, dedicated people sharing their beliefs, successes, reflections and visions for a better academic tomorrow. We (as I would like to be counted among them) are experiencing small to moderate successes and sharing those stories with all of our education brethren.

As many of us work passionately to use the system to find new resources to take risks implementing modern strategies, technologies, theories and pedagogical ideals which go against the dominant (popular) thinking, I am left wondering if we can truly be successful as educators in developing 21st Century Learners from the civil war which currently exists in public education.

On a daily basis I express to my students the joy of making mistakes and learning from them. We have collaborated with students from other schools using Google Docs to improve our ability to work together from a distance and create individual passion for learning and sharing information.  To engage in this type of learning, to develop a relationship with someone you have only ever seen over Adobe Connect meetings takes courage,  personal drive and a whole host of academic ans social skills. But most of all it takes time…the one precious resource we are seriously lacking.

I am not proposing that we lengthen the school day or year in an effort to create artificial time. Rather, we as professional educators need be given more freedom to spend extra time on those learning opportunities that will provide the most benefit to our students, the type of learning  they will carrying with them outside of the classroom and into their future lives.

One way to assist teachers in making learning more meaningful for students is to change the current rules regarding report cards. While the vast majority of educators agree that report cards themselves are a poor way to educate parents about their child’s academic and social progress (read more about feedback by @tbed63  and listen to  @BAMRadioNetwork ), many boards and ministries of education have yet to accept this. The expectations placed on teachers to report on so many areas of the curriculum (with a letter or numerical grades) each term often results in teacher scrambling to ‘teach’ enough material to fill a prescribed number of academic boxes.

These two ideals run counter to one another, I will attempt to clarify here. Teachers often and up ‘speed teaching’ parts of a bulging curriculum in an effort to satisfy a numerical requirement for educational hierarchies. Authentic learning tasks, using technology to expand the classroom, in an effort to allow students to develop 21st Century Skills, takes time. In fact it may significantly run over the 2 week time period you had allotted for Skypeing with Chris Hadfield, reading and responding to blogs and posts written by NASA and assisting your students to choose an aspect of space or space exploration they are passionate about and complete an inquiry project with the ultimate goal of sharing what they have learned with their peers.

It is asinine to think that students and educators are best served by the outdated 19th Century educational system whereby a certain number of ‘boxes’ needed to be filled by the end of term 1, term 2 and term 3. Educators need to be free to assess the needs of their own class and program/plan accordingly. To be forced to report on a specific number of subject (each with numerous strands) each term is far to rigid for creative teaching and passionate learning.

It is time to command a change! As professionals we should not be forced to cover a prescribed set of material each term which in no way takes the needs and passions of different learners and teachers from individual schools into account. This often leads to rushing through material for the express purpose of filling a box on an outdated tool (report cards).

If we are going to teach material, lets do it for the right reasons. Do it because it has some value to the students. Do it in a time frame that respects the material, the learner and the educator.  Do it for your student who works with you every day. In the end…he/she is the one who matters most.