Saturday, December 21, 2013

Using Garage Band in Language Arts/English

We recently showcased Garage Band to our 21C teams and it is incredible.  Our friendly neighbourhood Computers in the Classroom Consultant (who taught everyone how to use it wonderfully), cited the fact that at the height of their career, The Beatles had equipment that could only mix 4 tracks, while the free version of Garage Band allows the creator to use 16!!

And though the main focus was on music creation, I couldn't help but wear my Literacy hat to think about  how you could use Garage Band in Language Arts (Ontario).  The Oral Communication strand is all about speaking for a specific purpose and audience and the Reading strand speaks to "reading fluency."

Struggling readers continue to be struggling readers because they don't practice.  They don't practice because they don't enjoy reading.  My daughter is a perfect example.  She is my reluctant reader.  She would rather scrub toilets than read anything.

When we were preparing for the presentation, I asked her to recite a stanza of a poem for me and to help me put it to music.  She absolutely refused until she realized I was talking about Garage Band and then, low and behold, she rehearsed a poem by Langston Hughes and recorded and re-recorded probably close to a dozen times.  I was amazed!  And that's when it hit me, kids would practice their reading fluency and oral communication skills without complaint if we had them do it in this context.

Other ideas for using Garage Band for Literacy and Language Arts:

-turn a story into a radio play
-retell an Aboriginal tale or a short story
-create a prayer to music
-teach rhythm and rhyme using the free instruments
-have a poetry slam-- partners or triads mix poems with music around the same theme
-use for student self-assessment of oral skills

Our Math consultant immediately thought about using Garage Band for fractions...

Like many tech tools out there, their original purpose can be re-purposed in the classroom to amazing results!

When I explored the internet for other ideas, I found this great post by  @edapps that showcases some great ideas for using Garage Band in Classrooms.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Real Power of Technology: Authentic learning experiences

Today, teachers have opportunities to connect with experts in a way that we have never been able to do before.

I had the pleasure of participating in a NFB virtual conversation between a Mr. Rob Cannone's grade 6 class, David Suzuki--Canadian Environmentalist, and Adam van Koeverden--Olympic kayaking gold medalist, as they discussed water conservation and sustainability.  The students had previously posed and recorded  their questions and were selected to ask their question to the panel.

I walked in just as the webcast began.  The students were riveted--they didn't even seem to mind that this was all happening while their peers were out for lunch recess.  At first, as they sat there listening for several minutes, I thought, wow, this isn't very student-centered...The students basically listened to the various questions and answers posed by a number of elementary and secondary schools from across Canada.  

But when it was time to ask their question, I noticed the students move forward a little more and hold their collective breath as their class rep read their question.  And then lean in further to catch what David Suzuki said in response.  At the end of the webinar, Mr. Cannone asked them to record their big ideas and additional questions on Today's Meet and then I saw magic happen.  

The class came alive!  

They had caught every single word!  When I asked a few students about the experience they were enthusiastic and thoughtful.  Their answers showed an excellent connection to the Science curriculum and the big idea of water conservation and sustainability.

At the end of the webcast, David Suzuki posed a challenge to students to take action.  He suggested they "think globally and act locally," "celebrate water," "create an awareness campaign", etc...  When Rob and I debriefed after the lesson, he was really excited about where this might take his class moving forward.

You can call it project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, the connected classroom...  I call it powerful and engaging.  

Bravo @Mr_RCannone and all of the terrific and innovative teachers like him who use their PLNs and connections to make learning meaningful for kids.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

PD Gets A Bad Wrap: 8 characteristics of Effective PD

I had a great conversation with a group of educators a few weeks ago about education technology and something a young teacher said struck me.  It is the same feeling I get sometimes when I read Twitter posts about how people feel that they are not really benefiting from PD.  Though I definitely agree that traditional PD falls short of the mark,  I don't agree that all PD is dictatorial and/or useless.  I also think there are some amazing teachers working in School Districts and they are trying to yield positive change from the inside out.

I think that PD can be be effective if it is learner-centred.  Here are 8 characteristics of PD that have made for successful learning in our District.

1.  Collaboration 

Where possible, include more than one Department in the planning and facilitating of a workshop or session. For our 21C sessions for example, I brought my Secondary Literacy lens to the table.  My super-fantastic team members?  Special Education technician, Computers in the Classroom Consultant, IT Manager, Superintendent of Curriculum.  Though it was sometimes hard to meet in the middle, we challenged each other, grounded each other, and learned from each other--this teamwork really helped to make the sessions awesome.  We also used Google Presentation and shared our game-plan with Consultants from other Departments, a few teachers, and Senior Admin.  Though this level of collaboration isn't always possible, it is definitely a good idea to get another perspective whenever possible.  We also recognize that we have brilliant educators with valuable insights to share.  Whenever possible, we plan to pull these "experts" in and collaborate with them as well.

2.  Knowing what you are trying to accomplish

When planning, be sure to articulate your learning goals and continue to check to ensure that you are meeting these throughout the session.  People appreciate knowing what they are going to learn and feeling like they accomplished something in the end.

3.  Knowing your audience and honouring their knowledge

Prior to running a PD session, find out who your audience is and what they want out of the session.   We sent out a short survey so we knew what prior knowledge teachers were bringing with them.  We also asked teachers what they were hoping to learn which helped to inform the direction of our sessions. Every morning, we would review the responses, anticipate issues and decide how we needed to modify the topic, our approach, or our pace.

4.  Differentiating Instruction

After you learn about your audience, ensure there are different entry points for various skill levels. Just like in a classroom, a teacher should provide adequate challenge and support, so too, should a PD session offer that same support and challenge.  If possible, groups can break out based on skill, subject, or age (of students).  We ensured that where there were teachers who already had student examples of the tech tool we were showcasing, got to share their expertise.  We also got these participants to help us support new learners.  In future sessions, we will empower these individuals to lead sessions.

5.  Providing a forum for feedback and questions

A simple backchannel like Todays Meet is a great way to encourage questions and the sharing of ideas.  This provides an opportunity for teachers to share their knowledge and ideas and seek understanding for questions that come up.  We try to answer all of the questions posed on Today's Meet at some point during the session.  We also had a hashtag for Twitter questions and ideas and of course had post-it notes handy just in case someone wasn't quite ready for the technology (note--even though we offered the choice, no one used a yellow post-it note--yay!)

6.  Making it hands-on and practical

If we would like our teachers to create opportunities for rich dialogue in a student-centred learning environment, then this approach needs to be modelled in our own PD sessions.  In our full day session, teachers engaged in conversation, critical thinking, and created and shared a movie trailer that consolidated their learning.  We provided open questions for discussion, resources, and "mini-demonstrations" throughout the day, but the time we spent at the front of the room talking or presenting was minimal.  We also built in time to share ideas for practical classroom implementation.

7.  Providing opportunities to consolidate learning

Reflecting on big ideas and new learning is an important step in consolidating understanding.  Wherever possible, give the opportunity to share and plan based on the day's learning--build it into the session time.     If teachers aren't given time to reflect, share, and plan for possible implementation at the end of the session, it is unlikely that they will find the time to do this later.

8.  Following up and Providing opportunities to go deeper

If there are lingering questions, be sure to answer them.  Provide a place (we use a Google Site) where teachers can get a copy of the resources and materials shared and where they can get additional information AND contribute ideas themselves.  Opportunities to go deeper through co-planning and co-teaching certainly help with implementation of ideas in the classroom.   We provided a mechanism for teams within schools to pursue their own inquiries (Student Learning Proposals) which may or may not be facilitated by Central staff.

Hmmm....this list can easily read:  8 Characteristics of Effective Teaching.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Misunderstandings between a 1999 and 2020 Teacher

1999 Teacher vs 2020 Teacher

So I get that this video is about showing how learning English has been made simpler by the use of technology, and before people send me nasty notes about how I need to lighten up, consider the context, etc...I just think this is the perfect opportunity to clear up what I think are a few misunderstanding about the role of techology in our classrooms today.

The title is a complete misnomer.  If all we are doing today (and in 2020) is using technology to find things on the web, we are still using 19th Century pedagogy and 21st century technology.

A 2020 teacher has to be the one who asks the right question at the right time, given an understanding of the students' learning style and prior knowledge.  A 2020 teacher has to connect students to other students for a common goal, as well as tap into a real and relevant audience.

Here are some sample questions for BLOUSE (as in the example above):

What material would you recommend that (insert a real company name here) should use  to produce blouses?  Consider cost and environmental sustainability. 

In which era would the blouse have been the most comfortable and affordable? Why?

In what country would you set up a blouse-making factory?  Why is this the most viable choice?

What advertising technique would work most effectively to sell blouses?  Create a campaign using this technique.

The topic of "Blouses" is never one I would pick, of course...but at least these provide multiple access points and allow for critical thinking.  Students could use technology to research, connect with people in the field, and create and present their ideas.

I really like this video about the role of teacher questioning:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why we can't stop talking about Digital Citizenship

Just the other day, I heard about two Toronto Firefighters who were suspended for making inappropriate comments on Twitter.  As I embark upon a year-long journey with a team of colleagues to integrate technology into their classrooms, I have lots of questions about when, where and how we teach kids to use technology ethically and responsibly.  What I do know, is that kids need to remember that who they are online needs to reflect who they are in person.

I do believe that it is EVERYONE's responsibility to teach kids in the context of any technology being introduced.  BUT (in Ontario anyway) unlike Financial Literacy which must be included in every subject at every level, there is no official mandate for teachers to include Digital Literacy or Citizenship in their curriculum.  Though that may be on the horizon, many teachers are trying to juggle many things and may often assume it's being covered elsewhere.

I have recently put together a list of Digital Citizenship Resources that have been shared with me on Twitter that you are welcome to revise for your own purposes.  Please add any resources you may find valuable as well!

I have also created this short Video based on the poster above which was shared with me on Pintrest.  It was my first go at Animoto and though next time I'll have to adjust my picture sizes, it was a quick way to get my ideas across!

For further reading, my colleague @DClaphamK12 has put together this ScoopIt page.

Digital Citizenship is NOT old news!  We need to keep talking about it every day!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

CONNECT 2013 Reflections and Big Ideas

It's been a full week since the Connect 2013 conference in Niagara Falls and I am just now sifting through the big ideas and new learning.  Though I was unable to attend every session--they were all so good--I really feel that what I did attend had a positive impact on my thinking and the collective thinking of our YCDSB team.

Funny story. The first day of the conference, a fellow (new Twitter acquaintance Mitch Champagne)  asked if I could take his picture with the Twitter Eductator-celebs Alec and George Couros and I quite literally forgot how to use an ipad to take pictures.  Here is the pic I took.  I felt so stupid, that I sent them a message explaining that I really was tech savvy. 

I think one of the great things about attending the conference (apart from meeting dynamic speakers) is the fact that my online Twitter community--educators I respect and "follow" literally came to life; in addition, I connected with many new educators from across the province.   The time spent with my own colleagues (and our adopted colleague from Bishop Strachan) was filled with passionate conversations, the sharing of ideas, and strategic planning sessions.  We wondered why we were so exhausted at the end of each day!

Here is a brief overview of the sessions I attended:

Blog as Portfolio

George Couros  Parkland County, Alberta (@gcouros)

 I was originally slotted to go to a session called Literacy and Technology which I'm sure would have been excellent, but I ran into George Couros in the hotel lobby en route to the conference and he was quite convincing that I should attend his session instead.  After the ipad debacle, I thought I might redeem myself.   I am certainly glad I did.  Two (of many) big ideas about blogging I took away from his presentation:
1.  We owe it to our students to help them create a positive online presence to take with them into the world.
2.  Educational leaders need to blog not just to share our insights and experiences so others might benefit, but more importantly, so that we consolidate our own learning through reflection.

Here's his digital portfolio project.

Seven Degrees of Connectedness 

Rodd Lucier  Komoka, Ontario (@thecleversheep)

I had met Rodd at the TCDSB 21st Century Learning launch and had great conversations there.  His session really reinforced the idea that we need to foster our professional connections and learning networks.

Dynamic Assessment

Zoe Branigan-Pipe Hamilton, Ontario (@zbpipe)

Using Minecraft, Urban Planning for Project based Learning.
Having students monitor their own projects

Take your Classroom Global!

Taking IT Global (@takingitglobal)

Connecting educators to other educators and issues. 

Paul Yip @darthgooglemac Connect 2013 Recap and Reflections

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Voicethread in the Classroom

Since I first discovered Voicethread a few years ago, I've been trying to introduce it to teachers in my Board.  Why?  The Growing Success document (Ontario policy on Assessement and Evaluation) has a pronounced emphasis on Assessment FOR Learning.  That means, that we need to find a variety of ways for teachers to assess student learning to inform instruction. Voicethread provides three (free) ways for students to respond to you and to one another:  text, audio, video.   Even after learning about new, awesome tools, Voicethread is still my favourite.

So often, we try one tool and have it quickly replaced by another with better features. Voicethread works for our students in applied courses and with ESL learners. Quite frankly, it would work well for any learner.

This is a tool that is NOT a passing fad. 

Because it's been around for a while, there are so many ideas already out there for using Voicethread.  Check out this shared document called 25 Ways to Use Voicethread in the Classroom  and a collaborative effort posted by Richard Byrne: 100 Ways to Use Voicethread in the Classroom.  Collette Cassinelli has a great slideshare presentation about the advantages of using Voicethread to collaborate and create--check it out on the sidebar.  There is also a Wikispace dedicated to Voicethread which has hundreds of shared projects.  The Browse pages within Voicethread itself provide a wonderful cross-section of examples.  Their virtual Guides are useful and easy to follow.

Voicethread for ESL students 

I have been co-planning and co-teaching with an ESL teacher.  The students were very shy at first, but appreciated the fact that they could re-record their voices until they were happy with how they sounded.

First, we explicitly taught the kids the features of Voicethread using a sample Voicethread.  There are a variety on the website.   What we really wanted, was for this very small class to fee CONNECTED to other students in the Board.  We created an Introduction to Voicethread VT which would allow for students across our school board to connect with one another.  Here is a copy of what this looks like.  The actual VT has only been shared within our classes.

We also spent some time talking about what online posts (oral or written) should look like (net-etiquette) which is an absolute MUST.

The students are enjoying the tool so much that the teacher has since created two other lessons using Voicethread, and for their CPT, students will create a Voicethread portfolio.  Can't wait to see what that looks like!

What are some media messages about women and what can we do about them? 

The lesson explores a variety of texts that show negative media messages and focuses on a poem.  Students are then encouraged to write a letter to a company to express their opinion about the negative media messages they are sending.  The Voicethread provided us with the opportunity to gauge whether or not students understood how to interpret meda texts and how effectively they were making inferences.

What is it like to be homeless?

This lesson explores a poem by Dionne Brand and the Voicethread consolidates students' understanding of imagery.  The Voicethread itself uses a poem  by Raymond Souster.

Lesson and link to Voicethread

"What are the environmental costs of a sinking ship?"

This Voicethread, explores the Costa Concordia cruiseship accident and what the potential for further tourist exploration in the Arctic might mean.  Though this was never actually taught as a lesson, it is an example of how we can use current events as a springboard for discussion.


The possibilities are endless.

Using Voicethread for Professional Development

Professional Development has moved towards virtual platforms such as Adobe Connect as a cost-saving measure.  School Boards, quite simply, cannot afford to release teachers as often as might be warranted. 
A viable alternative for collaboration and sharing can be the use of Voicethread.  Voicethread provides a medium whereby participants can share ideas, as well as provide feedback; in a more personalized approach.

There are many ideas already out there for using Voicethread for PD.  Check out the Support Resource available for reference.  Kristen Swansen co-created a Voicethread about using Twitter in Education.  There is a Wiki for Education, created by Colette Cassinelli which has many examples of this as well--this collaborative Wiki is a great place to share your own ideas as well.
I have used Voicethread in two different ways for Professional Development:
  •  sharing lessons planned 
  • collecting feedback

Sharing Lessons

When a group of educators got together to share the resources we had created, we did so at the end of the year which meant that many teachers couldn't attend. 
When sharing, have the teacher speak into a microphone and thus record the ideas in the teacher's own voice.  Then, when the link is shared, particpants feel like they were there.
Here is an example of what that looks like: 
PLC Sharing

Getting Feedback

Teachers are so busy!  For this reason, asking teachers for feedback on our Professional Learning Cycle happened virtually.  Teachers could record their ideas, observations, and wonderings from the comfort of their own workroom.
Here's an example of what that looks like:
PLC Feedback

If you are interested in the PLC model, here's an example of what that looks like in our Board:  Prezi

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Growth Mindsets: The proof is in the classroom.

I'm sure by now every person working at the system level as I do has read, highlighted, and committed certain parts of Dweck's article about Fixed and Growth Mindsets to memory. After all, it's not new and frankly, it's not rocket-science right?
Fundamental to the work I've been doing this year has been to convince students that they CAN become better readers and learners.  The bigger challenge:  to convince teachers to raise their expectations and believe that their students can rise to the occasion. Fostering a growth mindset sometimes feels like an impossible task.

I've seen the breakthroughs happen in one classroom in particular.  A high school English teacher and I set out to work with a group of students in a grade 9 applied class.  These are students with ranging abilities, many of whom with special education needs.

We shared with the students our belief that as they practice the various reading strategies in class, that they would indeed become better readers.  We started with content that the students would enjoy, "Is technology making our lives better or worse?"  We ensured that every lesson afforded students the opportunity to talk to one another and to interact with text.  We also allowed them to use their smartphones (surveys, look up information).  We stood back and said, "Tell me more" and "Mmm, that's interesting, what do the rest of you think about that?", instead of jumping in with the answers.

And daily we would ask them:  "How did this  help you to understand the text you were reading?"

The result?  Students were actively engaged.  They were asking probing and thoughtful questions.  They were talking about what they were reading.  They were making connections.  They showed us how much prior knowledge they had.

I'm anxiously awaiting to see the response to our survey question: "Are you a better reader today than you were at the beginning of the semester." I'm willing to bet that the majority of them will say yes. 

Sadly, I've not really seen this happen in too many places.  Students come in feeling like they are putting in their time.  Teachers try to cope with the varying levels in the class by reducing the challenge, by offering low level activities--don't misunderstand, I did this as well--it was all well-intentioned.

It's really up to all of us to ensure that teachers and students alike see intelligence as something that can be nurtured every day.

Eduardo Biceno has a great TED talk about this topic as well.

Though the real challenge here is having those courageous conversations with teachers who say, "My level 2's" or "My Applieds"  or "I can do that with my Academics, but there's no way my Applieds can do that".  The other challenge is to provide support for students' learning needs without watering down the content.

There is no greater feeling than when theory turns into action and meaningful learning--for everyone involved!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Webinar: Do it right or Don't Bother!

In the past two days, I've taken part in two separate Adobe Connect/webinar sessions administered by two unrelated educational organizations.  In theory, it's brilliant isn't it?  I don't need to travel somewhere to participate in a face-to-face session.  The organizations are modelling virtual collaboration which is one of the hallmarks of 21st Century Learning.  What could be better?

How about the actual session???

If the point is to share reams of handouts, links, and resources, then how about sharing your Evernote or Livebinder with me?  Heck go old-school and e-mail me the powerpoint and/or resources so I can peruse them at my leisure.  Don't rush through the content allowing a  two-second (yes, literally, one host said, "talk for two or three seconds") to two-minute opportunity for discussion before plowing through the rest of it.

After the session, my colleagues and I felt equally frustrated.  We decided to be constructive and brainstormed guidelines for an effective webinar:
  • If you are going to allott time for discussion, make it more than 2 minutes;
  • Slides should not exceed 20 (and should definitely not hit 60!!);
  • Multi-modal interaction including chat pods, audio responses, surveys, and text responses will keep participants engaged;
  • If you are going to ask participants to share ideas, spend some time exploring these or going deeper rather than moving directly to the next slide;
  • Include an alternate (earlier) time for people who are new to Adobe connect who may encounter technical difficulties so the rest of us aren't waiting around listening to static;
  • pre-determine who your particpants will be and revise accordingly.  i.e. if the participants are primarily participating on their own, allowing 10 minutes for a group discussion might not be the best idea;
  • Don't just transfer a face-to-face presentation to a virtual presentation--it's a different medium and so it requires differentiation.
I know that in my role I will be obliged to participate in many more of these sessions--I just wish that hosts would use a little more foresight, planning, and common sense!! 

Thankfully though, no one will notice if I am making a grocery list, strategizing the next move in my Scrabble game, or tweeting while the slides keep on moving in front of me.