Sunday, 8 December 2013



Blog post comments are great.  They are what the 2.0 in web 2.0 is all about. Elisa Baughman commented on this Project-based Learning post that went into a bit of the history of PBL.  She is working on her Masters of Instructional Technology and had some great questions that I would like to address.  Now there are many Project-based Learning gurus out there.  You can find a list of some great ones (and more of a yellow belt standing up with them) put together by UK's Guardian.  And they would often answer these questions differently.  But here are some of my thoughts, and thoughts of a great teacher from whom I am learning.
1) What would you say are the "must do" items before beginning a PBL?
Now, the way I see it, one could interpret this question in two ways.  First, what kind of atmosphere is necessary for PBL?  Second, what does the setup look like for a particular project?
I have mentioned before that there was a time in the not too distant past when I would steer very clear of any kind of social emotional Pro D.  I just couldn't see the need.  I see it now.  In fact, getting together with my class for a morning meeting has become a great routine.  We pass around the talking stick (it's actually a rather large protractor...but it works) and share about our fears, our dreams, our thoughts.  I would say that fostering an environment of trust is a must-do.  Project-based learning requires students to work well together, take risks, and share what matters to them.  Without a safe classroom culture, growth in these areas would be stifled.
Moreover, it is what is going on with the teacher that is crucial.  Some must-dos: getting used to giving up control, letting students develop their own way of addressing a learning outcome, reflecting on one's own learning.  In fact, self reflection is huge.  I love how Kim Ondrik (of the O-zone in Vernon, BC) describes the road to an effective dynamic.  She says that the teacher must "mine deeply – picking through the strata – uncovering and understanding their own early-life experiences" (from Kim Ondrik's  blog: here)  One's soul must be mined.  Mining is dangerous; but how else can the gems be found.  I like to think that the best learning is better caught than taught and this mining leads to a better person facilitating the learning.  Added to that, the students need to see their teacher as a risk-taker.  If teachers can put themselves out there, the students will be all the more willing to do the same.  Really, the messiness of PBL leads to teacher as chief risk-taker anyways; it's bound to happen.
The Setup
Here is where I am sure that there will be differing opinions--project setup.  In reading over some of Kim Ondrik's criteria sheets, it's like she throws down a gauntlet or something. She calls her projects "challenges" and has these great graphically designed criteria sheets.  Rubrics are provided.  I like to show some kind of inspiring video or have a thoughtful question for our morning meeting.  Either way, a lot of thought into the project is a must-do.  Answer questions like:

- what is the best way to inspire students' creativity on this?
- what kind of group dynamic do I expect?
- how am I going to assess--throughout the project and at the end?
- what does the presentation day look like?

The more thought put in on the front-end, the less scrambling later.  Of course, at some point, the teacher just has to jump in. . .and trust.
2) What "technology" seems to be most helpful when getting students to collaborate?
Well the quick answer to this is: the only technology that is necessary is whatever the student needs to get the job done .  Computer based technologies are not needed but can enhance the collaboration. 

My classroom these days is like a bull's eye.  The centre is a large open area, big enough to circle up for morning meetings.  That area is surrounded by tables: no desks.  Beyond that, I have sinks and power receptacles (not necessarily side by side) and counters to do some of the more messy work on.  Each part facilitates the collaboration aspect.

I also have cyber collaboration space.  This year I have begun to use Edmodo as my learning management system.  I like it because it is truly a social learning system.  Students can ask questions and share online. It also provides a safe environment for students to practice good (and poor) digital citizenship (I talk about that in this post: From Learning Management to Digital Citizenship).  It can help in the collaboration process but is not a must-have.

We also have a class twitter account.  This is useful for accessing other experts out in the world.  Convenient but not crucial.  In my class, students BYOTechnology.  This is helpful, but booking the computer lab is also a possibility. 

Basically, to me, technology isn't a deal breaker.

3) What are some of the most common roadblocks?
I like the word common in that question because I think that it can be the common things that stand in the way.  Platooning schedules, students' timetables, gradebooks: I found that all of these were drawing me back to an old deeply rutted routine.  Questions from colleagues such as "What are you doing in Socials class?" caused me to ask: "Should I go back to having a Socials class."
I am sure the other players: parents, administrators, district directions could be opponents to PBL but that has not been my experience.  More so, it is the internal battle to deliver learning outcomes that draws a teacher away from PBL.  Thoughts like: "If I don't directly tell a student something and test that they can say it back to me, then I haven't really covered the curriculum" are the true roadblocks.
I'll tell you what isn't a roadblock, though: the students.  Most take to this like a raccoon to my garbage cans.  It's like when a kid gets "The Guinness Book of World Records" or a new skateboard or a package of those colourful elastics (rubber bands for those in other countries) in their hand.  The future could be complicated and work needs to be done, but there is nothing stopping them pouring their heart into it.
4) Do teachers run into problems with assessment/grades along the way to report to parents?
They can.  Problem-based learning makes covering curriculum outcomes more trickier and therefore assessments and grading can't be done in the run-of-the-mill way.
That doesn't mean the 21st Century methods can't be used to assess.  I have been using an assessment app called Freshgrade.  This team has been working hard to not only understand the plight of the teacher but also of the Project-based Learning teacher.  Learning outcomes are embedded in the app and projects can not only contain multiple LO's but LO's from different subjects.  Their portfolio view (with quick picture taking capabilities) was an asset  for me this last reporting period.
My last post on the messiness of PBL referred to the need for Assessment For Learning and Assessment As Learning.  PBL beckons for both these types of assessment.  So the assessment is richer.  The depth of learning may lead to less outcomes covered often PBL teachers believe the development of person far outweighs the concern for a missing LO.
I've just touched on some answers to these 4 great questions.  Great questions are, in fact, the backbone of PBL.  I would encourage all (educators especially) to develop the art of questioning, thinking deeply to formulate good, thoughtful, and most of all important questions.

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Problem With Project-based Learning

It's messy. 

It has to be.

My latest PBL: Addressing an Issue
I had no idea where the simple phrase: "Choose an issue that you would like to address and create a plan to deal with it" would go.  It went far.  In my previous post, I mentioned that you know you are doing PBL when the room feels less like a classroom and more like a campaign headquarters.  This project sent us head over heals into campaigning.

I believe it all started when I shared with my students this video: The Pearl of Africa by Chad Boyer.  I invited the students to think about joining with Karine Veldhoen from Niteo to support Niteo's efforts to provide books and share the love of reading with children in Uganda.

That may have been the catalyst to their paradigm shift from 'doing projects for the teacher' to 'doing projects for themselves' to 'doing projects for others'.  Somehow, they got the picture that they actually could do something.  Something real.

They could choose their own issue, something that meant something to them and address it in their own way.

The next thing I know, we are tweeting the mayor, writing proposals, finding email addresses, advertising for a bake sale, and abiding by a groups request to stop all screen-time for two days.

These are the issues my students have been working on:
- raising and sending money to orphanages in Ethiopia
- campaigning to bring back hitting in PeeWee hockey
- supporting Niteo in their efforts to promote reading for pleasure in Uganda
- campaigning for a new community pool
- raising awareness for the endangered leatherback sea turtle
- raising awareness around cancer prevention
- campaigning the need for freedom of expression in art
- campaigning against animal abuse
- raising money to stop world hunger
- addressing the problem of children having too much screen time
- raising awareness of diabetes

Book drives and bake sales, partnering with churches and non-profit organizations--all from three simple words: addressing an issue.

Locus of control
So what do I mean by PBL being messy.  First: students have more control.  More control means they have more opportunities to fail, to make mistakes.  The timeline is theirs, not the teacher's.  One group thought to do a Saturday bake sale outside of the local 711.  I was relieved when they decided to have it instead at school but I needed to be fully prepared to show up that weekend, support them, and spend some money on brownies and iced tea.

The shift in the locus of control, however, is definitely a good thing.  The 'buy-in' is huge.  The students are working "behind my back", out of my purview.  At times my principal has to copy me on the emails she gets from my students as they organize a book drive, or a bake sale to keep me in the loop.  They are excited to be in community and work together.  There is no pulling teeth to get the work done. 

A different kind of assessment
Second: PBL gets away from the "I share, you listen, you demonstrate that you understand" rhythm.  I like rhythm.  I like streamlined methods.  I use the microwave a lot in my culinary pursuits.  Grading a multiple choice Scantron test is much easier than assessing work done on a project to address world hunger. 

PBL, though, has done the great job of beckoning me to reflect on my own assessment practices.  Am I including enough assessment for learning and assessment as learning or is it all just assessment of learning.  PBL naturally leads to assessment for and as learning.  The new community pool proposal needs not to be marked but to be refined.  Hey, I want that pool just as much as the students. . .we need to do a good job here.  And assessment as learning is crucial--self evaluation must be a big component: did we work well as a group?  How can we work better?  How can we improve on our plan of attack for next time.  Even: do brownies sell as well as doughnuts?  How much iced tea should we make for the next sale?

A chance for some dirty looks
Third: The perception might be that no real learning is taking place.  Other students might mock those in the class.  Teachers might disapprove.  Parents might not want it for their kids.

The great results, though, lead to deeper resolve in the process.  So far for me, my journey has been trying, believing, adhering, then sharing.  I'm not deep enough in to be defending.  When that day comes, though, I will be ready.

PBL is unpredictable
A 1994 article in Educational Leadership by Steven Volk entitled Project-based Learning: Pursuits with a Purpose said this:

About three weeks ago, in the safety of my classroom, a tarantula crawled up my arm. Needless to say, it was a unique experience. The tips of the eight hairy legs felt like the pads on the bottom of a dog's paws. The body was soft, with stiff hairs growing at a sharp angle.
And the eyes, well ... there were eight of them.

Volk goes on to describe his grade 5 Project-based classroom.  The tarantula's presence was the result of a student's desire to study spiders.  The student contacted a local biologist who brought the spiders to class.  Anything can happen.

So enter into PBL with wide eyes.  You may find, as Volk did, a tarantula climbing up your arm.  And you might even like it.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Teach old-school: try Project-based Learning

When I began my foray into Project-based Learning, I had one word that I believed was the plumb line for the projects: genuineness.  The projects needed to be real.  Now real projects have gone on in school from the beginning of time: think of the ceramic picture frame you made in elementary school, or the paper towel holder you fashioned in woodwork class.  Students have been fixing cars, building strobe lights, sewing pajamas and making masks in school since forever.

Do these activities fulfill PBLs mantra?  They can.  Learning does happen through the creation and completion of the project.  And genuine useful artifacts are produced.  'Learning through' replaces simply 'learning about'.  Classic PBL, right?

Not necessarily

So then what's different about today's push into PBL?  Is it student choice?  Adding social interaction?  Technology?


Well, then.  What are the standards that PBL needs to abide by?  Where can classic examples be found?  Whose idea was this anyway?  With a little digging, you'll find that Project-based Learning isn't anything new.  In fact, it stems as far back as the end of the First World War.

The word 'project' is perhaps the latest arrival to knock for admittance at the door of educational terminology.  Shall we admit the stranger?
- William Heard Kilpatrick Oct. 12, 1918

picture from the Georgia College web site

William Heard Kilpatrick, a teacher and progressive educational philosopher, uses the term project in the way that Project-based Learning teachers would be proud of and not the watered down word project that covers teacher driven, thrown in the trash when it gets home, creations.

You can find a great biography here.

In his The Project Method: The Use of the Purposeful Act in the Educative Process, Columbia University October 12, 1918, Kilpatrick refers to the idea of a purposeful act as his construct for a meaningful project.  It is a "wholehearted purposeful activity proceeding in a social environment".  He uses the example of a girl sewing a dress:

"Suppose a girl has made a dress. If she did in hearty fashion purpose to make the dress, if she planned it, if she made it herself, then I should say the instance is that of a typical project." (top of p.2)

He posits the purposeful act as a unit of democratic life which he juxtaposes against slave life.

It is equally true that the purposeful act is not the unit of life for the serf or the slave. These poor unfortunates must in the interest of the overmastering system be habituated to act with a minimum of their own purposing and with a maximum of servile acceptance of others’ purposes. In important matters they merely follow plans handed down to them from above, and execute these according to prescribed directions. For them another carries responsibility and upon the results of their labor another passes judgment. No such plan as that here advocated would produce the kind of docility required for their hopeless fate. But it is a democracy which we contemplate and with which we are here concerned. (top of p.3)

Kilpatrick then talks about the difference between two children making kites: one with wholeheartedness of purpose verses one who makes his under direct compulsion.  Not only does he show how the learning is greater for the student whose kite-making is a purposeful act but he shares that:

To the one the teacher is a friend and comrade; to the other, a taskmaster and enemy. (bottom of p.5)

This hundred year old wisdom speaks to the possibility that the picture frame, paper towel holder, car repair, strobe light, PJs, or mask may not adhere to the essence of PBL.  They may not have the student's wholehearted purpose.  My word genuineness may not be the best plumb line for PBL.

So the question is: what is a good plumb line?  Possibly we need to ask ourselves a series of questions as educators to keep our projects purposeful acts?

Here's a start:
Whose idea was this?
Did the student purpose to complete the project?
Were there simply "plans handed down"?
Was the project completed in a social environment?
Who carried the burden of responsibility for completion?
Whose judgement carries the most weight?

Not everything I am doing in the classroom would be considered by Kilpatrick a purposeful act, but when my students work on these kinds of projects, I see the benefits.  When the room feels less like a classroom and more like some kind of campaign headquarters, I know that the projects my students are working on are purposeful acts.  And it pushes me to facilitate even more of these activities with a purpose.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

What they don't tell you about BYOT

Hey.  I like the idea of students bringing their own devices/apps/tech-understanding to class just as much as the next teacher.  Well...more actually.  I like not thinking I have to book the computer lab every day.  I like the back channel going on when I teach.  I like students communicating with each other online, solving problems, sharing knowledge.

And I like the variety of tech each student brings.  But I want to be realistic: a multi-platform environment brings its challenges.

How do I hand in my file?
Where is the text reader on my Surface RT?
In what app should I take my notes, Mr. Robinson?
How does my Android tablet get onto the school's wifi?

These kind of questions are commonplace.  And although I like to have a good healthy portion of "you figure it out" in my classroom, a teacher needs to have a good healthy portion of answers as well.

True multi-platform-ness
Oh how single-minded I have been.  In February, I posted Iphone Utility Apps and shared some of my favourite and most useful Iphone Apps.  I ended the post with:

Notetaking, scanning, printing, accessing files and blogs, and Sharepoint access: all taken care of. So readers. . .what am I missing? 

I know now what I was missing. 

Everything.  Everything for Windows users, everything for Android users.

I was missing the point.

So my penance was to purchase a Google tablet.  (I love having great excuses for tech purchases :))My penance was to spend more time on my Surface RT.   And my penance was to learn more about each platform and share.

So here is a post for BYOT teachers struggling with the plethora of platforms and devices in their classes.

Now, it is not hard to find sites that talk about multiplatform apps.  A great one is here: Apps and Sites That Work on All Devices for BYOT by @Edu_thompson.

But if you are looking for some device-specific help, here is some need-to-know BYOT info.  This post will start with the in's and out's of the Android platform.

Android Devices can be your friends
The Buttons

picture from Engadget found here
Variety being the spice of life and all, you'd think that the many iterations of buttons on Android devices would taste like a Sichuan Hot-Pot.  But for a teacher bleary-eyed from device overwhelm, the sight of a new button configuration might lead to running through the halls like decapitated poultry.  To simplify, there are five main things to look for in your Android device.  Here are three:

Now while the back button can lead to a variety of places it invariably goes...back.  Very important when you find yourself stuck at a dead end.  The home button will take you to your start screen while the Multitasking button will show you what apps are running. These apps can be deactivated typically by flipping them off the screen.  But wait...there's more.
Don't miss this one.
It is the menu button.  It can bring up all sorts of app specific options.  If it feels like you are stuck in an app with no options, look for it.  You might even have a physical button on the device.

And finally there is the search "magnifying glass".  The search looks through apps but can also search through the web. 


Now, Android devices are a plenty and so are their ways to get on the net.  A good tip, though, is whenever you see the 4 bar pie shape, the wireless menu can't be far away.  For instance, a simple tap on the time/WiFi button above will get you to a pop up that will lead to the WiFi settings page.
If that won't work, click on an app that says Settings.  There will be one in the app list.

Managing Files
While each Apple app manages it own files and Windows devices have a unified file system (remnants of the My Computer icon of old), I found that I needed to get an app to help me navigate the Android ecosystem. For me, ES File Manager, is that app. This free Android app is a must. If you want your Android device to access a network and retrieve files this is the first app you should download.  It can be found on both Google Play and Amazon App stores.

Word Processing
Of course your Windows devices have MS Office.  Apple has Pages and Documents to Go but an app that has come to the forefront is Quickoffice. It is a free way to access your Google Drive that has 'open in' functionality--meaning you can create, edit, then open up your docs in other IOS apps.  This is very useful when you employ a learning management system.  For Android, Kingsoft Office Suite is my 'go to' app.  Kingsoft has a free word processing Android app.  Use it in conjunction with the ES File Manager and you can create, edit, manage, and store documents, presentations, and spreadsheets.
Playing Around is Key
Well those are some of the basics: navigation, WiFi access, filing, and word processing.  Because Android devices are so prevalent, it is hard to nail down specific 'step by steps'.  But getting a hang of the commonalities will give you enough knowledge to say your students "you figure it out" with confidence, knowing that in the end, you could help them find what they need...if you wanted.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

From learning management to digital citizenship

We need a starting point.  I believe we need to ask some big questions about digital citizenship, the biggest as educators being:

What actually teaches digital citizenship, and what does not? 
(see how big the question is?)

So here is a bold statement.  It arises out of my understanding of attachment theory, but it also is based in my experience.  I tweeted it out one day just to get some dialogue on my stance:

Do we hand a fishing rod or a soccer ball to ours kids, say get out and learn some skills, and then sit down to watch the Whitecaps game as they walk out the door?  No: our involvement makes the difference.  The neighbourhood kids might know a thing or two about soccer or fishing. . .or Facebook.  But we can't rely on them.  They are just muddling through themselves.  And without our involvement, we'd lose the pleasure of teaching them.

...even if we are muddling through soccer, fishing, or Facebook ourselves

We can't teach skills from afar: cyber etiquette or otherwise.  I want to share some practical ideas about this:

I presented on a learning management system called Edmodo at the CUEBC 2013 conference in Vancouver, BC.  The slides are shared here:

When I started putting together my slides for the CUEBC 2013 Conference, I was very excited to share about Edmodo--a free social learning network that acted as a learning management system.  I thought I'd tack a little digital citizenship on to the back end of it.  As I continued perfecting my slides, I realized that I'd rather have my attendees play and I took out some of the "teaching slides".  I also added some real online Edmodo dialogue that had taken place in my class for discussion at the workshop.

As I looked at the online dialogue, I realized the juxtaposition of the significant with the insignificant.  My sharing about a learning management system seemed so trifling as compared to the sharing about how to deal with the weighty citizenship issues.  I had to re-jig the slides again!

That same day, I stumbled on the Edscape 2013 conference's keynote Saturday morning being live streamed on  George Couros was sharing about and highlighted a young girls blog.  You can find it here: Alyssa's Blog.  Her blog is filled with comments by adults: Uncle Phil, Mrs. Hogg, George Couros.  I realized that this young lady is part of a healthy adult involved community.  She is contributing to the great conversation of learning.  I wasn't surprised when I found out that her father was an educator.

She is learning to be a digital citizen--not just a non-bullyer--but a true contributing citizen of the digital world.  And her online involvement is with many adults who can support and contribute.

Edmodo calls itself a social learning tool.  Sure, I can post assignments and students can hand in their work.  But more than that, they can interact with each other. . .and with me.  If and when the interaction gets out of hand, I intervene.  I say something like this: 

Then in the context of a morning meeting, we can look at what happened.  We can talk about the effects of the improper interactions and we can talk about better ways of dealing with each other.

I believe this process actually teaches students about online behaviour.  It teaches digital citizenship.  And this has led me to my bold statement.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Project-Based Learning for Dummies

It feels like I made a promise.  When I cut up the BC Learning Outcomes, parsed them out into projects, then blogged about it, I set up an expectation.  "Tell me how it goes.", "Keep us updated.", "Make sure you blog about it." was what I heard.


You mean I've got to go through with it?  I have great systems in place.  Math routines.  Class sets of textbooks.  Colleagues to teach my students some courses.  Change?  Really?

As teachers, though, new is nothing new.

And as always, step by step is the way it works for me.  So below are a few steps I took to make my foray into the PBL world.  But first a proviso: I know that simply attaching learning outcomes to projects is not what project-based learning is all about.  I know.  But I had to do something like that to transition from the world of "courses" to the world of genuine-real-life-I-can-learn-something-through-these projects.  Remember, I am the eternal:

So here are a few steps I've taken.

1) Reduce platooning
I now have my students 90% of the week. At first I thought that would be crazy: juggling all those balls in the air?  But with projects, the juggling is easier. And I don't have to keep track of so much from the students in the other classes. So far (it's still September), this is doable.  Having lots of time with the same students has been really important to provide the time needed to work on our projects.  Class has been a lot more free flowing and it has been great not having to change gears every 45 minutes.

2) Read some articles
7 Essentials For Project-Based Learning by John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller
What Project-Based Learning Is - And What It Isn't by Katrina Schwartz
Project-Based Learning: A Short History by Suzie Boss

3) Find a learning network
I've got a couple things going here.  I've been encouraging our staff to communicate more through twitter and we now have a common learning hashtag to follow.  This has increased and deepened the level of collaboration.  And just like there is a buzz you can feel when your students are deeply engaged in what they're doing, there is a buzz when teachers are sharing, collaborating and learning.  I feel that buzz at my school.

Leyton Schnellert with SD43

Also, I am fortunate that my own learning desires have been coupled with my district's.  Leyton Schnellert has been brought in to facilitate our development in "Engaging Learners Through Community and Inquiry in the Middle Years".  Schnellert has expanded our horizons by sharing experiences ranging from participating in simple inquiry activities to observing a full blown PBL class.  Below is Kim Ondrik's class up in Vernon.  It is hard to explain the kind of genuine learning community she has up there (called the O-zone).  Her grade 6/7 students work on real life activities: from tying flies to chopping carrots for needed meals to taking pictures of animals in the nearby wetlands to raking up nearby leaves to taking up roles in the civic council chambers.  Her kids have a voice.  They solve problems.  And they still meet learning outcomes.

Kim Ondrik and the Ozone

4) Jump right in
Project 1: My Perfect Classroom.  I asked my students to find the dimensions of our class and design the perfect classroom.  (Was it wrong to ask them to figure out the floor area of the class in square meters as well? :) )  I bought dollar store tape measurers and asked the students to work in their table groups to find the classroom dimensions.  I made available some instructional videos on finding area of parallelograms and triangles.  After calculating area, students were to design their idea of the perfect learning space.  Though they could be as creative as they wanted, I tried to instill the fact that their ideas could find themselves being played out in real life.  The plans are coming in and I'm interested to see what we can do with all these ideas.

Making wide scale changes isn't easy.  Sometimes, however, the risk not to change is greater than the risk to change.  When faced with great, good just isn't good enough.  I am much happier seeing my students climbing on the counters toting tape measurers, than I am having them regurgitate words on a page.  And I think they're much happier too.

It's a start.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Citizenship! Digital or not.

Before we start talking about digital citizenship, I think we need to talk about just plain old citizenship.  Possibly the problems we have with: "who should be teaching it" and "what should be taught" might be solved better if we take the digital out of citizenship for a moment.  Here is a popular Youtube Video (by xinz57) about it:

It's fast but at the end we get some definitions:

Digital Citizenship is: etiquette, access, responsibility, using the internet effectively, easy to learn, communication, understanding technology, literacy, social media done right, respect, being private, commerce, appropriate use, creating, important, sharing, the future, participating, your internet trail, yours.

(spent enough time pausing and playing cassette tapes to learn guitar licks and love song lyrics in my day. . .this was child's play)

Anyway, the list has that "do the right thing" emphasis: etiquette, responsibility, effectiveness, appropriateness, done right-ness.  Even the ideas like creating and sharing are just the start of what I think we might consider citizenship.  Now, I like the video.  I think I may have even used the video at some point.  But we must go deeper.

Recently, at the fourth #bcedchat, digital citizenship was the topic.  Here is an excerpt:

Though there was the "watch out there is danger out there" and the "thou shalt not's" in terms of piracy, I was very encouraged that I saw some positive citizenship ideas.

What a sad state we would be in if in life we lived by the watch-outs and the do-nots.   Doesn't citizenship include: do something great.  Do something kind.  Do something meaningful.  Sure we can include: do something proper and do something safe; but safe and proper doesn't make the world a better place.  Just makes it properly safe.

I think we know what model citizens are.  Here are some examples: 10-year-old helps catch suspect in theft, receives Citizen Award; 18-year-old who raised money for Islamic Relief Syria Appeal nominated for award.  These students have risen above safety and what is proper.  They've done something caring, something selfless, even put themselves on the line.  That is what true citizenship is; and we know it.  We've seen cities, countries, even the whole world come together to aid when a certain disaster has happened.  So let's not narrow our idea of citizenship when we add the word digital in front of it.

So let's add the digital.  Let's add the digital to what we already know about citizenship.  What is the difference?

Could it be put simply as: extending our reach in doing great, kind and meaningful things with the help of technology?  How is that for a starting point?  Does that definition change how we might instill digital citizenship in our students?  Can digital citizenship really be taught apart from plain old citizenship?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

When fear drives the bus

I wish I could explain the extent to how boneheaded I've been.  I'll try.

It was the first assignment I had given out in a new teaching job: a friendly letter to the teacher.  I required students to type out all the necessary components of a letter: names, addresses, greetings.  And I wanted each student to tell me in this letter about themselves, their family make up, what they like to do.  But I wanted to take the assignment one step further.  No one was going to print this letter out.  No.  We were going paperless.  Each student would upload the letter to my webpage and I would mark the assignment from there.

I was called into the office the next day.  Seems the webpage was an unprotected site.  I had created an online predator's dream: names, addresses, descriptions.  Needless to say the site came down quick, fast and in a hurry and some trees paid the ultimate price for this assignment's submission.

Now this was before we had hand-in boxes and SharePoint levels of access.  It was a time when we were all just figuring things out.

But it scared me.

I was reminded of how I have to tread slowly in my use of technology as I teach.  Maybe my passions were quelled, my excitement abated.  The experience may have even stalled me from the tech immersion direction in which I may have been headed.  Paper just seemed so much...safer.

I am wondering if that feeling, that fear of putting the wrong things out there, is more common than we think.  I have seen student blog sites locked down tighter than Knox.  I have heard Facebook spoken in schools as if it was a dirty word.  And I have known districts to move at a snail's pace when it came to addressing social media and education.

And now you know I can empathize.
Unfortunately, there is another growing fear in Canadian education: FIPPA fear.  FIPPA (Freedom of Information / Protection of Privacy Act), especially in British Columbia, is a tight policy that includes stringent rules around public bodies storing their clients information outside of Canada.

Storage and access must be in Canada

from: Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
[RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 165
Every cloud based service and their dog stores their data outside of Canada.  It's much cheaper and allows some of the smaller companies to even survive.  So that means that Google Apps, Dropbox, Khan Academy, Edmodo, Edublogs, Prezi and pretty much every other educational tech offering are off limits to BCers without parental consent in the prescribed manner.  But even with consent, there seems to be a feeling of: "I gotta watch myself here."

Trepidation may lead to "why bother, it's too complicated."  My experience has been that because of this trepidation, I've had to push myself to move ahead and often I have felt alone in it.  I wonder if there are others out there that feel the same.

"We can do it ourselves" is often the answer to FIPPA.  Is it the best answer?  Are we, the Canadians, leading the world in cutting edge tech offerings for our students?  Now, I am not advocating changes to FIPPA nor am I saying that thoughtfulness when considering the incorporation of tech initiatives in schools is a waste of time.

What I am getting at is that fear shouldn't be behind the wheel.  In fact, if we pull an ostrich-head-sanding maneuver, we're actually being negligent.  Students are signing up for social media sights faster than ipod touch users take to unlocked wifi.  They need guidance.  The discussions about digital citizenship, social media, and learning management systems need to happen.  Districts would do well to walk in the teachers' shoes and ask: "what do you need?" and "how can we make that happen?"  And collaborative mentorship guiding teachers to use technology properly and safely is paramount.  The fear of technology in whatever form it takes can be faced.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Throwing the idea of subjects out the window

It turned out that I got a lot of twitter support for the idea that this picture represents: saying goodbye to subjects.

Here's what I said:

Now I am not totally against subjects per se.  Hey, I like organization just as much as the next guy.  But my heart was begging my mind to look at things differently.  And I needed to do physically what teachers end up doing in their heads.  It all started with this:

For years now, my middle school team has been divvying up the subjects (and therefore divvying up the BC Prescribed Learning Outcomes) and teaching courses to our grade 6's and 7's.  This led to, I believe, an experience of being out of touch: out of touch with what was going on in other classes, and out of touch with the students themselves.  It was the latter that caused us to do things differently this year.  Going to a more project oriented class is a by-product: a by-product that feels right.

So what did I find:
Well two types of projects emerged as I looked through the PLOs and started combining them: term projects and year-long projects.  Here is what grade 7 began to look like: (excuse the goofy titles)

Classroom Meeting
Reading Plus
Anthology Panthology
Blogging Makes Me Happy
Math for Smarties (Math that doesn't fit anywhere else)

Term: (having a beginning and an end)
The Perfect Classroom
I want an Accent
Job Me
More Ancient than My Teacher
The Novel Novel
The Atrocity Project
They Lie!!!
What are the Chances
My Money Making Scheme
Media: It's more than Youtube
My Man/My Gal

These projects included all grade 7 PLO's except for Science and Art and those were left out for school organizational purposes.  They would have fit into this process swimmingly.

Where to go from here:
Really, the students should be doing this kind of organization themselves.  Valerie Irvine (@valerei) jumped on that right away.  Hoping to collaborate with her to make the PLO's accessible to students.

Then they can organize how they want to tackle them themselves...with support.  

Thanks to all who retweeted.

Friday, 19 July 2013

I trust you. You trust me


It's one of the big ideas that has come out of the edtech chats I have been involved in. It has been part of my recent discussions concerning BYOT.  And it has been on my mind.  When you have your students take the world out of their pockets and have that world right there sitting on their desks in class, trust becomes an issue.

Before summer holidays, I surveyed my middle school students.  The benefits of having a big class is that I get a variety of opinions.  I have a great sample size.  And I get a few of those kids that just tell it like it is.  So sometimes rather than asking the adult experts, it is just more helpful to ask the students.  Here is a Wordle from the responses from the students on my survey about trust:

What did I ask?

 Yes everyone, the survey was on paper.  Sorry. 

What was I expecting?

I was thoroughly expecting that the majority of my students didn't feel I trusted them.  With BYOT being new to me, I spent a lot of time walking around, checking up on what was going on.  I felt the relationship I had with my class was strained.  I just plain thought our trust-matters could be better.

And what did they say?

Results of my Informal Trust Survey

Do you feel that your teacher trusts you? 85% said yes
Do you trust that your teacher wants the best for you? 89% said yes
Do you trust that school will help you achieve your goals?  37% said yes

Some highlights:
I was surprised that such a high majority of my students felt I trusted them.  Possibly I have given them what they have never had before: a chance to use their device in the class, a chance to fail and then to try again.  Maybe.

I was pleased that the majority of my students felt I wanted the best for them.  With my teaching co-focus being attachment, having them know that I want the best for them is what the relationship is all about.

Don't think, however, that I have forgotten about those in the minority: those that feel that I don't trust them, those that don't think I want the best for them.  It's not great thinking that some students spend a whole year with me and feel that way.  There's always more work to do.

Their comments:
The most meaningful information from the survey, however, were the comments.  Here are a few of them:

What would cause you to trust your teacher more?

- connect with students more
- do more things (risks)
- if he trusted me more (said twice)
- not to over explain things
- more freedom to do things in class

And what could lead you to becoming more trustworthy?

- if I didn't get in trouble as much (said twice)
- if class were more fun (said twice)
- if you trusted me more

I believe, however, the most poignant answer was the one student who said: "I trust you.  You trust me."  How else can trust be built but by mutuality.  One party takes a risk with another.  It goes well and trust is built.  But trust can't grow one-sided.  Without the other party doing the same, trust plateaus.  So I am hoping to take some more risks next year, and open it up for my students to do the same.  A BYOT classroom without trust is just another computer lab.

On a side note, the fact that only 37% of my students trust that school will help them achieve their goals is not lost on me.  But that is for another post. . .

Friday, 12 July 2013

Top ten meet-ups at ISTE 2013

For me, ISTE13, the biggest educational technology conference in North America, was about meeting the people.  Workshops and keynotes took a back seat to the disruptive meet-ups that I had in the dry heat or AC cool of San Antonio.  But these meetings didn't require me stalking the keynotes or standing by the VIP sections for nods and smiles.  These were the real deals: the educators in the trenches, the innovators who scare up buried resources to make things happen for students, the coordinators who support thousands of teachers ranging from early adopters to email shrugging Luddites.  Below are ten of my best meet-ups and my take on their deal.

The meet:
While grabbing my Surface RT at the Microsoft command centre, a young educator with a twinkle in her eye sat down beside me.  She picked up that I was confused about something and asked me: "What is your burning question?"  I was kinda sorry that I didn't have one.  Through conversation, we discovered that we were both Canadians.  She revealed that she was going to be sharing at the opening Ignite session and that I needed to cheer loudly for her.  I mentioned that I wanted to follow her on Twitter but I didn't have data.  She said "I don't have data either but I just used the code the Microsoft's techs were putting in the Surfaces."  I was instantly impressed.  Who knew she was going to be doing this Ignite (TED-talk-like) presentation in front of 10,000 people.  And she killed it.

Her deal:
She blogs here about Hacking the Classroom, sharing her adventures in transforming education.  It's genuine stuff: she is a true hacker.  She hacked her way into "basically a keynote", karaoke, and several after parties all with a pizazz that showed the she should be there.  She has an amazing and inspiring way of turning things on their head.  She brings out the inner hacker in everyone she meets.  Made me think that anything is possible. 

Now to hacking a pool into my backyard.

The meet:
"hey we should connect, I arrive around 5" "landed, should be settled 5:30ish" were the tweets I received Saturday night at ISTE13.  We had never really talked before.  But in minutes I was about to hang out with someone I had huge respect for.  His current title is the CIO for Vancouver School District.  I knew him from his previous school district and only had a FTF when I attended one of his workshops.  I read his blog regularly though and have connected with him on Twitter.  We had dinner by the river; we visited the Alamo; we cruised the Riverwalk.  All the while I got to pick his brain about the big ideas and the details of technology in education.

His deal:
Very much looking at the big picture.  He both strives to mold and prepare for the future.  Conversation with him inspires ideas about what the future can be like and what the great disruptions and disruptors that have molded our present are.  When I am thinking about "hand in boxes", he's thinking about the future of augmented reality in the classroom.  When I'm pondering a good learning management system, he's wondering how he can form a student "genius bar" for teachers to turn to for advice.  One of his tweets: "Education needs to become a covert operation where learning secretly happens and the kids don't realize it but they love it"

The meet:
My partner in crime all ISTE13 long.  Yet this was the first chance we really got to meet.  He promised me he would introduce me to some great people and he did not disappoint.  And though he got me 1 breakfast, 2 parties, 3 dinners, and a whole wack of karaoke, it was the many connections he helped me make and the inspirational conversations we kept up that made my trip worth it.  With him as a sounding board, we plotted how all of this ISTE learning could work back in SD43.  We're planning some disruption of our own.

His deal:
His blog here is called Gone "Digital" Native.  And it is so aptly named.  For the nearly six years since this guy has started blogging about his dive head first into technological solutions for learning, he has been immersing himself in the business of teaching better through tech.  Whether it is using embed codes to beef up classroom websites, using Google translate to help ESL kids read, using Voicethread to give aboriginal students a more authentic voice, teaching Kandinsky to a computer class, or using Audacity to help LD kids write, he masters the tech and then imparts it to students.  But he is so much more than his tech.  It is the connections he makes with his students that speaks even more loudly.  You'll hear him say: "tell kids they are smart enough", "empower kids to troubleshoot" or "so I decided to ask my students on this. . ."  He really loves what he does and inspires the rest of us to do the same.

The meet:
One's first (first love, first car, first house) is always special.  Well, I stumbled into the edchat world serendipitously and discovered  #byotchat, my first edchat.  It was amazing.  I felt I had found my home.  People there were truly interested in helping this novice get somewhere with his BYOT environment.  And @BYOTNetwork was one of the facilitators.  He helped me start my BYOT class and so getting to meet him for a FTF at ISTE13's blogging cafĂ© was amazing.

His deal:
He's about sharing and connecting.  Even when we met at ISTE he made sure I got connected with yet another edtech person.  He's about taking people from the no-no's of tech in the classroom to Acceptable Use Guidelines, focusing on the 95% of students who are going to do the right thing.  I love his Forsyth County Schools' "I will" approach, as opposed to "You can't": 

And he's about cultivating a learning community of trust--whether on twitter in his #byotchat gathering or in the hundreds of classrooms that he supports.

@dkvandergugten , @LJakes42 , @rorypayment
The meet:
I was excited to meet BCers at ISTE13 more than anyone else.  They know the FIPPA problems we deal with; they're not preoccupied by thinking Common Core, and they share a common need to be able to address and surmount the BC curriculum.  I talk about these three individuals together as they came across as a united team.  The meet was over several dinners and Riverwalk walks; it was great to pick each brain.

Their deal:
I'd like to say that they come from an innovative school district but it would be more accurate to say that they are developing an innovative school district.  I enjoyed hearing about their reading fluency enhancing Ipod touch/Ipad project in particular as it related to my own BYOT classroom.  You can learn about the project here.  I also appreciated their foray into a new report card template which includes pieces such as these: a student inclusive conferencing model, a section on critical thinking, a spot for student self evaluation, and an emphasis on teacher and student coming together to set learning goals.

The meet: Over enchiladas and gelato

His deal:
Introduced to by @jagill, I had a chance to have several motivating conversations with him.  Being a Techsmith employee, you'd think he would be all about Camtasia, SnagIt, and Jing.  Really, the software wasn't the focus, though he knew his stuff.  Through conversation he inspired me to think about teaching better.  And while I was interested in classroom flipping, he prompted me to inquire about. . .inquiry.  He made sure to introduce me to people I had to meet.  One was @ramusallam

His deal:
You have got to see his Ted Talk here.  He's a chemistry teacher whose teaching has been transformed since his operation for a life threatening heart aneurism.  He, like his surgeon, decided on three rules to guide his occupation: curiosity comes first, embrace the mess, practice reflection.  He implores teachers to become cultivators of curiosity and inquiry.  He challenges teachers to confuse and perplex students, bringing out their own natural questions.  What could this look like in an elementary classroom?  What could it look like in middle school?  I'm very inspired to pursue this more.

The meet:
I've got to give credit to this fellow as he was the one who told me about ISTE13.  He was surprised I had never heard about it.  So was I.  But that conversation lead to my attending.  And as Obi Wan says, my "first step into a larger world". Our meet-up almost never happened as the conference wifi problems created time travelling tweet black holes.  By the time I got his message that he was coming to me, I was already where he said he was.  It was very Three's Company-ish. 

His deal:
Though he isn't a teacher, he has a lot of the characteristics of a great one.  He's a connected learner who listens carefully and applies the learning to the next step.  It's formative assessment.  It's crucial whether you are a teacher imparting fraction adding or an entrepreneur teasing out the need and looking to meet it.  He's one of the founders of Freshgrade, an app to aid teachers with student assessment.  The team is using technology and innovation to make assessment meaningful, immediate, and even easy.  It's every teacher's dream and they're working on it!

Many people have asked me what I learned from ISTE13.  It has been hard responding to the question.  To me, learning cannot be disconnected from connection.  I have a hard time sharing a new concept without mentioning a person, an expert, and "inspirator".  Connection, attachment, and learning: is it any surprise that this is where the post ends up.  It's the people that make the learning enjoyable.  As teachers, as parents, as leaders, we can never forget that.    

Friday, 21 June 2013

From Latitude to Latitude: a look at Dell's Latitude 10

Dell's Latitude 10 is as most hybrid's become: not a master as either a tablet or a desktop but a fine solution when wanting to have both in a single package.  I had three weeks with the Dell Latitude 10.  I moved my 6 year old Latitude XT to the side, plopped the dock down, and began kicking the tires. Here are my thoughts:

As a teaching tool
Having a tablet that sported Onenote was awesome.  Where my old fliptop Dell would sit at my desk, rarely carried anywhere, the Latitude came with me around the room. Handy if the connection to the projector failed, but
more importantly it became a teaching tool.

My notes on Onenote became my answer key as I walked around the room giving immediate feedback to the students.  I would write on my virtual paper at students' desks to demonstrate Math concepts.  It was engaging for the students and quick and easy for me.

The docking solution for teaching, however, could use some work in my opinion.  When docked to a digital projector, the tablet screen configured to the dimensions of my projector.  This made the image on the tablet even smaller and in turn harder to work with.

And further thought needs to be put into how teachers draw on the device.  When I teach hooked up to a digital projector, drawing on the screen is paramount.  My old Dell had a screen that flipped around and down to become a tablet to write on. On that old Dell: one instance I am laptopping, in another, I am tableting, writing with a stylus on the screen.

The Latitude 10 has seemed to take a step backwards. I either have to take the tablet off the dock and draw with it flat on the desk then put it back on the dock to project my changes or awkwardly draw on the screen while the tablet remains on the dock.  Neither option is preferred.

Possibly a full sized HDMI slot might allow me to connect the tablet directly to the digital projector.  Without using the dock, I could project my inking while the tablet is flat.  A better solution might be a wireless one: making a bluetooth/wifi connection to a separate AppleTV-like device that is plugged into the projector. Then I could project from anywhere. 

I can see now why Apple boasts about their hardware-software niche.  You can tell the Latitude has a slight struggle with its presentation.  Many times I would be swipe, see nothing happen and question: "Is it me; am I doing something wrong; or is it the machine stalling?"  More than once I had to go back to the old ctr-alt-delete to get things started again.  And it's not easy to do that if the dock, with the keyboard and mouse, is back at school.

Several times the connection with my digital projector had disengaged from the tablet when the tablet returned from sleep. Pulling out the HDMI cord from the projector and putting it back in and/or removing the tablet from the base helped reconnect them.  A bug I would hope would be worked out.  

I also used the Latitude to work on Report Cards.  While editing a large file in Word (over 10 MB), I noticed a quarter second lag. It was close to bad enough that I wanted to power up my desktop and work on that instead.  I muddled through but I reflected that a bit more power would avoid this.

More on Apps
The Windows Store does have a lot of what one might need.  Evernote is there but it is not slick.  It seems that I can't swipe but only use the mouse.  With Evernote, it is a right-click to get to the menu, not a swipe from the right.  Apple users have an "intuition" (taught to them by Apple) about how they think things should work. Apps created for the Windows 8 won't necessarily operate the same.  Microsoft may not put as much emphasis into the creating uniformity as Apple does.

No socrative app, Twitter app works well, simple recording software available, games, the Store seems to be building it's repertoire.

The Metro screen is great.  Live-ish updates were made for People, Twitter, book reader, and mail (though I was only able to get the mail app working with Gmail, and not Outlook) apps. 

Windows 8, like the Latitude, is a hybrid operating system: offering the Metro screen and the desktop. Navigating the two can get a little confusing.  For one, switching back to the Metro screen from the desktop to open an app on the desktop seems clunky but it's the Metro screen where I end up pinning things. 

Speakers are good.  The casing has a comfortable feel to it.  Screen is bright. Very light and portable.

All in all we are looking at a good solution that takes advantage of cloud/server storage.  I couldn't help but want a bit more power but I can see how this might be a handy solution for the day to day of teaching.  The lag when dealing with the large report card files is a deal breaker for me, though.  And I don't see report cards going anywhere any time soon. 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Unmaking of a Bully

My friend adopted internationally.  Hearing the process that led up to that first meeting is exhausting in and of itself.  The interviews, the waiting, the accumulation of documents and dough, the waiting, the disappointments, the waiting, and then finally the 20 hour flight to the very foreign country.  It's like climbing Mount Everest.  And in the same way, the highest of heights is receiving that little one, yet the steps following are just as arduous, requiring just as much care and attention. 


In international adoption, attachment is huge.  Years become literally devoted to creating secure attachment.  The family tries not to go anywhere or have any guests for months.  The child is worn, cobeded, rocked, held, sung to. Limits are put on who can visit, who can feed, who can hold.  The caregivers become physically and emotionally fastened to the child.  And the child learns that when she has a need, the parent will be there to fill it.  Healthy attachment allows the child to trust, to form healthy relationships, and leads to the capacity to care for others.  Without healthy attachment, normal social, emotional, and psychological development can be stunted.  This opens the door to attachment disorder having negative effects on mood, behaviour and relationships.

Gordon Neufeld: "What makes a bully"

Gordon Neufeld who sees the world through attachment eyes addresses bullying in like fashion.  In an hour long session (seen above) called "What Makes a Bully", Neufeld tries to make sense of the bully from the inside out.  He uses a model that explains bullying in regards to instinct and emotion--a model that covers bullying in the vast variety of arenas it can take place.  He first names four prevailing attempts to understand bullying:

4 Prevailing Explanations
- Power thesis - bullying is from an inherent drive for power
- Learned behaviour thesis - bullying is learned and can be unlearned
- Empathy failure thesis - bullies have not been taught to care
- Entitlement thesis - bullies are spoiled

Finding flaw in all these theories, Neufeld looks at bullying with a different lens, the lens of attachment.  His theory: bullying is Alpha instincts gone awry.  He calls it the "Alpha Askew Thesis".  Put very simply (you'll have to watch the video to get the full picture), inherent in humans is the drive to be cared for (dependence) and to care for others (dominance).  Our caring for others includes an alpha instinct (to take control) coupled with a caring instinct (use that control to care for another) .  Individuals can be wounded in a way that devoids the caring instinct from the alpha instinct leaving a deep seated instinct to dominate those seen as weak..

For Neufeld, it is instinctual.  It is deep.  And it stems from an aberration of a healthy attachment reflex where we should be caring for the weak, not exploiting them.  Building them up, not pushing them down.  Fulfilling needs, not creating them.

As a teacher, I am always looking for insight into this phenomenon, a phenomenon that doesn't make any sense to the core of my being.  Bullying.  It's like a different language.  Most of us have to jump outside ourselves to make any sense of it.  We've been teaching against it like crazy.  Not a kid in BC would be unable to tell you four types of bullying.  They love reciting them.  And even with all the "what would you do" scenarios, pink shirt days, and cyber etiquette lessons, it seems as if we haven't made much of a dent.

So if we, even if only for a moment, can agree with Neufeld's idea, what does that mean for teachers?  What would we need to do? What would we need to change?  According to this theory, how can we unmake the bully?  Here are thoughts in waging the war on two fronts:

Relationship work
Every year we "adopt" a new crowd into our care as teachers.  Could our choices in what we do be guided with the attachment choices of the international adoptor?  I am not recommending strapping on the Ergo Carrier and taking our students for a ride.  But should "attachment activities" be the main endeavour in the first weeks of school?  Could students spend focused time with one teacher?  Could activities of trust and reliance be the forefront?

Alpha Instinct work
Then throughout the year, the activities we choose could evoke a caring component that can couple with the alpha component.  Programs such as Roots of Empathy (bringing a baby into class) , buddy reading, singing at the seniors home, and pen (blog) pals could all be strategically carried out.  We could plan our projects with this in mind: never should there be dominance without helping others.  And we could hit this home over and over and over again.

As always, I'm just spit-balling.  But seeing a framework for understanding bullying that tries to explain it in such far reaching and all encompassing terms leads to self-reflection.  And with a phenomenon that is so pervasive and that impacts so many, thought leaders need to spend time working this out and calling for change.  Either way, the question becomes: does what I do make bullies or unmake them?