It turns out that staff at Douglas Park School are far too busy and much too modest to share all the great things taking place at Regina’s newly-opened public school. As an instructional consultant assigned to Douglas Park and 9 other public schools, I have one of the best seats in the house to witness teaching and learning in action. During my visit to Douglas Park yesterday, it occurred to me that maybe I should be helping to tell part of the story at this school. I have therefore decided to post very quick blog entries from time to time to keep folks informed.
To set the context, you might want to do some quick background research about the school, which opened in September 2012. Check out this feature on CBC.ca.
So here’s what I saw yesterday, in just a few short minutes:
- Grades 3-5 meeting as a learning community to preview the week together and set context for learning activities. They also did some problem-solving around improving some behaviours on the playground and set goals. It looked and sounded as though students are looking forward to the Remembrance Day ceremony on Thursday.
- Three teachers using a team-teaching approach in a one of the larger flexible learning spaces. One took the lead while the others supported learners in a number of ways.
- Innovative use of a flexible learning space by quickly modifying some adaptive furniture. This allowed a large group of students to meet for a carpet meeting and then quickly return to seating arrangements to engage in small group and independent work. The transition was fluid and seamless.
- Technology integration to support learning
- Teachers using their collaboration rooms to discuss instructional strategies and to brainstorm interventions and supports for students.
- School-based administrators visible and involved.
More to come……
A small group of students at Coronation Park School in Regina has formed an e-journalism team! The team has decided to use a myriad of digital technologies to keep their local community informed about all the neat things going on in their school.
The team’s first task will be to write an article recounting a recent event. They will use iGo (Google Apps for Education) as a productivity suite to help them help each other through sharing and collaboration. They will later incorporate other multimedia, including podcasts, videos, etc.
Late Friday evening, I was happy to learn that students were spending their night working on the articles in iGo. You know middle years students are engaged when they spend their weekend fine-tuning an essay. The appeal for learners in this case is that they are publishing to a global audience using the same tools and techniques as an expert in the given field. Also, when you can situate learning outcomes within a context recognized and understood by students, you’ll likely have better engagement.
In the future, I’ll post some entries featuring the work of these students.
If you are starting to question whether what you’re doing with your students is indeed an inquiry-based project (as opposed to topical research), why not use a rubric to help in your assessment and reflection? I found an amazing rubric at the Galileo Educational Network Association. Download it, and keep a copy close by for reference before, during, and after your learning experience. Better yet, use it in collaboration with a colleague!
And, don’t stop there! Galileo.org is an outstanding support “dedicated to improving student, teacher and leaders learning through creating and researching 21st century learning environments.”
I work for the most amazing school division in the country, if not the world. One of the many reasons I can’t imagine working anywhere other than Regina Public Schools is the fact that, as a division, we value on-going professional learning all in an effort to improve learning opportunities for students. My latest opportunity to learn occurred this month in the form of site visitations to three well-known high schools in the city of Philadelphia. Joined by four awesome colleagues, we set out to see first-hand the strategies, practices, attitudes, and beliefs being used to meet the needs of a variety of learners.
What follows is hardly a detailed review of my visit to each of the three schools. Rather, as my limited time permits, my goal is to quickly share some of the synthesized main themes and discoveries I made during my stay in the city of brotherly love. A full review of each individual school would not be appropriate given the limited time we spent at each.
To set the context, here are the three schools we had the pleasure of touring:
Big Idea 1: The Importance of a Strong Advisory/Mentorship Program as the Foundation for Student Success
The title says it all. At all three high schools I visited both staff and students spoke to the power of the relationships. Student success, it would seem, can only be realized when underpinned by strong bonds forged between adults and youth. These tight relationships were easily observable by paying attention to the interactions taking place between people. Students described that their desire to feel cared for needed to be fulfilled before even thinking about participating in the learning process. Adults in the building recounted times when they spent their personal time outside of school hours to attend sporting and cultural events featuring their students, and even the odd visit to a student’s home to lend support or to connect with parents and caregivers. I got the impression that professionals in each of the three schools were committed to an unremitting, relentless pursuit of student success, and this extended far further than academic success.
Big Idea 2: If Learning Involves the Real World, You Probably Shouldn’t Always, You Know, Be in the School.
What a novel concept. Real world learning through community internship placements and service learning are an integral part of the learning experience at the schools we visited. This is not an additive to their studies at school. In fact, skills and knowledge gleaned from students’ internships created the foundation for the project-based learning completed back at the school under the guidance of teaching professionals and other adult mentors. Interestingly, at at least one of the schools, students often sought out and arranged their own interest-based internships in the community to which they reported several times per week. Experiential learning also occurred outside the internships through inquiry-driven field trips and community partnerships with local museums and places of higher learning. Guess learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum after all.
Big Idea 3: Teachers should be careful designers of learning experiences underpinned by learner-centred pedagogy.
“We teach children first, not subjects. We will leave the transmission of content up to university professors” said one of the professionals during an afternoon visit. Another teacher shared his model for carefully and collaboratively designing learning experiences that would later be reviewed and scored by colleagues before being tested on a group of learners in the school. We saw essential questions and learning values affixed to classroom walls, needed of course to help drive the inquiry and project-based learning at the schools. The role of technology in learning was also clearly articulated by our hosts at two of the schools. Both saw technology as a tool within the learning design, not as the focus itself. The idea here is that solid pedagogy should be foundation, not laptops, tablets, and interactive white boards. One of the school’s principals, however, shared with us that technology itself can be a catalyst for pedagogical change, a point countered at another school we visited. Lastly, we saw a great deal of integration of subject matter as opposed to content being taught in silos.
Big Idea 4: Some Folks Love Data Collected From Standardized Tests; Others Love Learners and Learning.
I’ve been a member of the Alan November fan club for many years! I was fortunate enough to be in attendance yesterday when Alan November delivered a keynote at The Seventeenth National Congress on Rural Education. My luck only continued when I joined Mr. November and representatives from SETA for a facilitated discussion regarding a new strategic direction for technology in the province of Saskatchewan. While it isn’t my place to share specific details of the plan or Mr. November’s recommendations, I do want to comment briefly on some of his ideas that really resonate with me and that I’m willing to explore more closely in my role as instructional consultant.
- Building capacity through the use of students as mentors. The idea here is that students could be trained as technology guides and then go back to support or train teachers in the classroom. This is the second time I’ve heard this idea recently. My initial reaction was to question whether or not students could possibly be trained in such a manner that would result in them gaining the skills and knowledge required to assist a teacher with what is really quite a complicated task. Effectively integrating technology into teaching and learning is after all not an easy task at all. There are intimate connections between technology and learning that can only be understood after significant training and practice. After mulling it over, however, I am willing to select a few key technologies and a few students to at least attempt this idea to see what kind of results I will get back. Mr. November did provide one resource that might help me out in doing this: Generation YES. Oh, and by the way, where is the voice of our students in your technology plan?
- Every teacher and student needs to have a global voice and each classroom should become a hub for global publishing. Agreed! I’ve known this for sometime and I encourage my own children to do the same outside of school as well. I would like to say that the use of digital technologies to publish student work is widespread in my division; however, a visit to a some school websites would clearly prove me wrong. Where and why are we hiding all the world-class, creative, and mind-blowing learning that is going on in our schools? I do believe we have the means required to publish these masterpieces and I don’t see why we aren’t doing more of it. I’m going make a concerted effort to model how easy publishing online can be using many user-friendly tools. These same tools can be and should be used to give our students a global voice, so I’d be hitting two birds with one stone
- The importance of web literacy. According to Mr. November, we should be focusing less on technology and more on information when contemplating a strategic plan for learning in this province. Point well-taken, and I’m left contemplating how I’m going to go about supporting teachers to gain the knowledge and skills required to help students learn critical thinking skills for web literacy. There is no shortage in resources to which I can turn here. In fact, I will likely start with Mr. November’s book Web Literacy for Educators.
Powerpoint can quickly turn into Powerpointlessness if not used correctly. Check out these 5 quick and easy presentation applications.
1. Prezi Make your presentations pan and zoom with this online application. Import media, collaborate, and present online and offline. Mobile App also available.
2. Animoto Create stunning video slideshows. Turn your photos, video clips, and music into stunning video masterpieces to share with everyone. Fast, free, and shockingly easy!
3. Xtranormal Go viral in style with this online application that allows you to make animated movies within minutes.
4. Voicethread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to navigate slides and leave comments in 5 ways – using voice (with a mic or telephone), text, audio file, or video (via a webcam). Share a VoiceThread with friends, students, and colleagues for them to record comments too.
5. Glogster Combine images, video, music, photos and audio to create mulitmedia pages. Embed into any webpage.
If you must use powerpoint, please try this!
Take a few minutes to watch Matt’s animated movie on fractions in the real world! Matt and his fellow grade nine classmates were asked to think about the value and importance of having knowledge and skills related to fractions. The students were then charged with the task of writing a persuasive script involving two characters, and then using Xtranormal.com to create a short movie.Literacy, technology, critical thinking, and numeracy all rolled into one for this learning experience!
Impressive job, Matt. Thanks for sharing your work with the world!
By the way, did you know grade nines at Balfour Collegiate also did an Xtranormal project involving Exponents? They were even featured on the Xtranormal blog. All the “power” to them!