The Makerspace Movement

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Makerspace, or focusing on a “maker mindset,” involves learning and spaces where students gather to create, invent, and learn. Makerspaces are often found in libraries or other common areas in a school. They are also set up regularly in classrooms and flexible in their design or use.

Ultimately, a maker culture focuses on design and opportunities that both engage and empower students. This creative learning can vary greatly and may include both high tech and low tech examples such as;

  • writing a fairytale using Lego Story Starter
  • coding using an input/output device such as Makey Makey
  • designing 3D imagery with a 3D printer
  • creating a stop motion animation using an app such as Smoovie
  • inventing something brand new from “take-a-parts” or cardboard.
  • composing a song to show understanding of a concept
  • producing a movie using green screen and a platform such as iMovie
  • working collaboratively with a team to build a bridge; as long as possible, in a limited amount of time, using a finite amount of materials
  • creating a beautiful piece of art using a variety of mediums
  • designing a campaign to solve a school-based issue or concern
  • recreating the setting of a novel in Minecraft Edu
  • building a replica of a famous structure

Establishing a making mindset in schools provides for endless possibilities all built upon imagination, creation, collaboration and innovation in an engaging learning environment.

The idea of students as creators is nothing new. Classrooms, libraries, art rooms, dance studios, theaters, band rooms, and industrial arts labs have served as “makerspaces” for our students at varying degrees and in a number of different ways for many, many years. But what is new is the urgency to ensure that our present day classrooms invite a making culture and that moving forward all classrooms shift from a passive learner model to one where students are at the centre in a stance of active learning. This is essential as we strive to meet the diverse needs of our learners in our ever changing world. We know we need to change our focus and our approach in order to meet our learners’ needs and the demands of our society. We need to support our students in becoming the globally aware, creative, adaptive, resilient, digitally fluent, flexible thinkers necessary in today’s reality. Initiating programming that prioritizes students as makers is one opportunity to do so.

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Makerspace is not about a “space” and it is not about “stuff”:  it is about a “making mindset”.  A focus on ‘making” pushes past the traditional structure of student as consumer of information. It is a culture focused on student as creator. It is about ideas. It is about the joy and exhilaration of putting something new into the world and the rich learning that goes with the experience of doing so.

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Makerspace is not about a one size fits all model where all learners are doing the same thing: it is about honouring our students as individuals, differentiating our approaches and valuing the opportunity and structure of having kids learning and doing different things at different times.

Makerspace is not about being stuck in the perspective of “that’s the way we have always done it” such as following traditional instructional structures. It is about shifting that lecture, that worksheet, that textbook assignment or those end of chapter questions to learning opportunities that are more active, more student-focused, and more creation driven. It is about flipping those traditional approaches and opening the door to creativity, critical thinking and problem solving for our students early on and giving students the opportunity to learn THROUGH the creative process.

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Makerspace is not about “sage on the stage” or teacher as the imparter of all knowledge: it is about the teacher as facilitator, “guide on the side” and coach, ultimately putting students in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

Makerspace is not about learning fitting neatly into subject areas and prescribed learning outcomes: it is about offering our students a number of possibilities, putting the appropriate materials and opportunities in their reach, and helping them make the connections.

With a strong basis in the theory of Constructivism (Vygotsky & Piaget), Constructionism (Papert) and Inquiry-based learning, hands-on learning such as makerspace initiatives offer students unique learning opportunities in which they can construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. Using a Makerspace model allows a student to ask questions, find ways to answer those questions and carve their own path while producing something to demonstrate their new learning. Teachers can not only step back into more of a role as facilitators or coaches but quite often as learners themselves.

Supporting our students in developing a maker mindset also gives learners the chance to develop a special skill set that is so necessary in today’s world. These skills include critical & creative thinking, project management, flexibility, agility, innovation, risk taking, and resilience. Giving our students more opportunities to create builds essential skills and competencies which are embedded throughout the curriculum. Learning focuses less on specific content related outcomes and more on drivers of learning, and key essential skills.

We can look to 4 key pillars that serve as foundational pieces of a learning environment that emphasize students as creators:

  • 4 C, Competency focused, Deep Learning – a focus on Critical & Creative Thinking, Communication and Collaboration
  • The Design Thinking Process – steps in a process which students use that has universal application, regardless of what they are creating (bridge, sculpture, poem, tower, campaign, animation etc.)

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  • Reflection & Metacognition – reflective practice gives students the opportunity to think deeply and reflect upon their own thinking, doing and learning and plan for next steps.
  • Personalized, active, inquiry-based learning – students’ individual strengths, interests, skills, driving questions and passions direct their own learning experiences

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When we personalize learning opportunities, let students take initiative and focus on building knowledge through creation instead of only consumption we support learning for ALL. We can look to the example of the Ecole Victoria Albert Learning Commons Makerspace for inspiration. It recently received an Honourable Mention for the CEA Ken Spencer Innovation Award and is a flagship for makerspace development for both Winnipeg School Division and the province of Manitoba as a whole. Vic Al’s diverse community of learners has benefited greatly from the makerspace in their school building. This dual track school of 400 has a high mobility rate and one of the largest newcomer populations in the city Winnipeg. About 70% of the school’s students are EAL and 25% are First Nations. They received 60 Syrian Refugees in 2016 alone.

Renee Sanguin, Inquiry & Innovation Support Teacher at Victoria Albert School explains, “The programming at Victoria Albert School promotes access to learning which is deep, inclusive, equitable and empowering for all. It opens doors for learners in a very personalized and experiential learning environment. The foundational tenets of deep learning driven by Makerspace have transformed the school from a traditional teacher-directed model to one where students are at the heart of all planning and learning. The focus is on “learning skills” that will prepare students for the future of change that is their reality.

The Victoria Albert initiative is an example of a transformative learning environment aimed to help support and prepare our learners with the modern literacies, skills, competencies and attitudes necessary for students today.” (Sanguin, 2016)

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When we focus on learning through the creative process we can approach curriculum and learning outcomes in an innovative way. We can support numeracy by making connections to problem-solving, computational thinking and reasoning. Through coding, robotics and game-based learning students are able to utilize a number of math skills in relevant and engaging platforms. Students also can practice and consolidate a number of math concepts and applications in meaningful contexts while estimating, measuring, building, revising, constructing and applying numerous math skills in real world situations.

In the way of literacy, the possibilities are endless. Using Lego students can build a beginning, middle, and end and incorporate all elements of a story in this unique medium before capturing their story with images, text, and written or oral documentation. Students can ask questions to drive their learning and then find answers by researching, interviewing, reading, viewing and listening. Students have opportunities regularly to capture their work and the steps they have taken through procedure writing.

Learners read instructions. They write instructions. They draw diagrams. They label parts. They storyboard, write scripts, perform and do retakes. They reflect deeply through writing, sketch noting, video or apps such as Adobe Spark or Seesaw. They network and connect through social media, digital portfolios, video conferencing, blogging and more. In a making context, the visible learning that takes place in the way of literacy learning and beyond is endless.

When we offer students opportunities in our schools and classrooms to learn through making, inventing and creating we promote student ownership, student agency and developing autonomous, self-directed learners. It is an opportunity for students to manage their own personalized learning in an active, student-driven, empowering environment. It is a chance to support deeper thinking and foster curiosity with minds-on, hands-on tinkering, and constructing. Makerspaces or promoting having a “making mindset” is a powerful learning opportunity for our 21st C learners as they become creators, critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, communicators and most importantly life-long learners.

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The Meaning of Meraki

fullsizerenderA year ago almost to the day, I wrote my first post on this blog, The Meaning of Meraki, shortly after being acquainted with the word itself. Fitting, that this month I received the necklace above from my family, who had it specially made for my birthday, recognizing what this word has come to mean to me.

Meraki…the soul, creativity or love you put into something. The essence of yourself you put into your work.  

I am not sure I can truly explain or articulate my love affair with this word.  It just is.  I love what it means and what it stands for.  I love the way it looks on a page.  I love how it found its way to me. I love that it is of Greek origin and it is one of those words that has no direct translation in English. I love that since being introduced to it I have found many other fascinating untranslatable words, some examples you can read about here. I love that I think about it often.  I love that I have witnessed what I deem as real life examples of the word’s essence in people who are obviously passionate about their jobs, their hobbies, and their life, which have included; artists, athletes, musicians, inventors, chefs, students, and educators I have encountered over the past year.

It is a blessing and gift to find passion, joy, reward, and love in what we do and how we spend our time. This past weekend, I came across another great example of this in reading  Shelley Moore’s book One Without the Other: Stories of Unity Through Diversity and Inclusion. This book is a must read for all educators.  It explores how inclusive education can increase the learning and life chances of all students.  After reading the book and looking further into some of Shelley’s work online, one thing that becomes quickly apparent is her strong experience base and her true passion for children and education.  She is a master storyteller who appears to leave much of her heart and soul in all that she does.  She has most certainly found her meraki, and through her work, shares her voice to inspire that in others.  

In the book, Shelley Moore, suggests a definition of inclusion in which there is no “other”. Instead, she states, “ We are diverse, all of us. We all have strengths, we all have stretches and we all need to get better at something. The difference in teaching to diversity, however, is that we don’t start with our deficits, we start with our strengths.”

Imagine the possibilities if we organized our students by strengths instead of most schools’ traditional model of deficits. Imagine the possibilities if we supported our students in their quest to find their passions and fuel their interests. Imagine if schools were places that relentlessly sparked the inspiring artists, scientists, engineers, musicians, poets, designers, inventors and makers in our midst with regular opportunities for creation and exploration.  Imagine the possibilities if we gave learners the opportunity to explore these interests using a student driven, personalized learning approach that honoured voice, choice, and autonomy. Imagine if innovative programs like High Tech High and inquiry/interest based initiatives like Genius Hour were the norm in our schools and not the exception. And imagine the possibilities if ultimately, as educators we served as guides in supporting our learners in finding their own sense of meraki.

This week I received a gift; a beautiful piece of jewelry, envisioned by my 13-year-old daughter capturing a word, a concept really, that means a lot to me.  However, the real potential gift is the realization of the meraki that lies within all of us.  

 

Paradigm Shift to Personalized Learning

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This tweet resonates with me for many reasons….it brings forth big ideas related to personalized, student-driven learning as well as learner engagement, empowerment, and agency. We know in the realm of education, these are topics on the minds of many.

We also know that our contemporary learners are vastly different than previous generations.  They are far more diverse, as are their needs. We know we need to change our focus and our approach in order to meet their changing needs and the demands of our society.  Past practices, and only focusing on filling our learners’ minds with knowledge, are no longer enough. We need to support our students in becoming the globally aware, creative, adaptive, resilient, digitally fluent, flexible thinkers necessary in today’s reality. We know that the extensive research, knowledge, and experience we now have access to must drive the changes necessary to not only better meet the dynamic needs of our students but also our society as a whole.  

We also know that many of the students presently in schools are disengaged.  They struggle to see the relevance of much of the content they are learning and to connect it to their current context.  Traditional classroom practices leave them disinterested and simply going through the motions. We can look to the Canadian Education Association’s (CEA) initiative on this topic, entitled What did you do in school today?  It has shed much light on the topic of engagement in schools with its survey results from over 60,000 students investigating how student engagement impacts academic outcomes, instructional challenge, and intellectual engagement.

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These wise words from Maya Angelou, seem fitting. “When you know better, you do better.” We now do know better, but often following through with the action or the “doing” part is easier said than done. In order, to see the true paradigm shift needed to transform educational practices and support our students in becoming dynamic learners, a number of changes will need to happen.

First, we will need to see less of a focus in our classrooms on content related outcomes, and more emphasis put on the skills and competencies our students need to be successful.  This includes critical and creative thinking, collaboration, communication, along with a myriad of personal and social attitudes and skills around such things as; global awareness, empathy, reflection, risk-taking, resilience, and self-regulation. We see examples of curricular reform happening both internationally and nationally with BC leading the way with their recent  Redesigned Curriculum.   The curriculum models a shift in perspective which highlights the same 6 Core Competencies supporting pedagogy and practice throughout the grades from K-12.  Big Ideas drive a focus for each subject area, with a stronger emphasis on Curricular Competencies and a reduced number of Content related outcomes at each grade.  

Second, as suggested in the Tweet by Jason Hubbard above, we need to ensure that classrooms are in fact, “their classrooms”, that is our students’ classrooms driven in many ways by their interests, strengths, and needs. Moving towards a model of teacher as mentor and facilitator of learning is essential. It is only through a more personalized, student-driven learning approach, that we will see our learners engaged in their learning and invested in their education.

There are a number of schools we can look to as models.  High Tech High being one of the most well known.  At High Tech High schools, a strong emphasis is put on personalization.  These schools practice a learner-centered, inclusive approach that supports and challenges each student individually. Students have the opportunity to pursue their passions through projects and reflect deeply on their learning.  The focus integrates hands-on inquiry across multiple disciplines, engages students in work that is meaningful and connects learning to their community and world. High Tech High teachers work together to design curriculum and projects, not only with colleagues but with their students as “design partners”.There are a number of other schools or programs that have parallel approaches; some Canadian examples include SAIL (Surrey Academy of Innovative Learning), Inquiry Hub in Coquitlam, Connect Charter in Calgary and the PROPEL program in Winnipeg. In visiting all of these personalized, inquiry-driven programs one thing is evident, the students there are not only actively involved and engaged in their work, they are driving their own learning.

Last week, I attended one of the PROPEL program’s final presentation celebration events.  I witnessed four high school students share a half hour presentation on the personal learning project that represented much of their learning for the semester.  PROPEL uses an integrated approach to curriculum and students receive a Transactional English credit, a Technologies credit and an Electives credit related to their area of pursuit, a model feasible for many high schools. The students take coursework in the other core subjects in the alternate semester.

At this particular final presentation evening, one student shared her perspectives on creating music videos and her own YouTube channel to share her amazing songwriting and singing talents.  One student described her deep, reflective learning journey in all of the work placements she had organized for herself over the five months,  ranging from apprenticing as a mechanic, to implementing art therapy with people with developmental disabilities, to working in a dental office. The next student described how he had found his potential life path by working on his own film and delving into the filmmaking world through acoustic engineering.  And the final student reflected on a two-year project he had been working on first designing a 3D model of a warming hut and then constructing it.  His creation is now accessible to thousands of Winnipeggers on the skating trails at The Forks Market.

These four students were eloquent and impassioned in describing their learning journeys.  They could not have been more invested.  One of them, Seah Kohli, the creator of the warming hut, summed it up as he spoke about how valuable the experiences at PROPEL had been for him as a learner.  He suggested that programs and approaches to teaching and learning such as PROPEL are “the future of education”.  We can only hope that he is right and that all of our students’ school careers include learning as powerful and meaningful as the PROPEL experience was for these ones.  

Over the past few years, I have been involved with implementing an experiential learning initiative through Winnipeg School Division’s STEAM Centres. I have seen firsthand the power personalized learning opportunities and a flexible learning environment can have on developing autonomy, confidence and agency in young learners.

The WSD STEAM program is offered to students in grades 4-6, across the division’s elementary schools and is built on four key pillars; the 4 C competencies, the design thinking process, reflection, and, strength based learning. After taking part in a variety of learning experiences related to Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics such as coding, design, instant challenges, game based learning, and other creation, makerspace type learning, students spend time exploring areas of strength and interest.  The program uses a very hands-on, inquiry based, active learning focus and students are highly engaged and successful. Further to this, we now see many other K-6 schools across our division, adopting this type of STEAM centred learning approach through practices such as makerspace, challenge learning or Genius Hour initiatives, and it is exciting to see this elementary movement growing.

We can look to the examples above to help drive change and guide us towards a more competency focused, personalized approach for our learners, but the reality is that these schools and programs were in fact designed and created with this exact purpose, mindset and intent in mind from day one. With that in mind, they may not face many of the same challenges that is the reality for all other established public schools.  Moving towards programming such as this within the realities and contexts of our current school systems as a whole is a bigger challenge.  In Will Richardson’s and Bruce Dixon’s 10 Principles for Schools for Modern Learning they suggest,  “Today, truly transformative change at a systems level in pre-existing schools is very difficult to find. It’s easier to build a new school than to change an old one.” In our current context in many schools, we see pockets of innovative practice and student driven approaches being used by teachers, but finding examples of where this may be happening school wide is tough.  This may be the reality for a variety of reasons. Challenges may arise when teachers don’t have support and big picture understanding from the administrators in their building. Or on the flip side, in other situations learning leaders in schools are faced with resistance from teachers who are reluctant to let go of traditional methods which place students as passive learners, or still focus solely on content.  It’s complicated.  It is imperative that these changes occur and are supported at all levels and by all stakeholders.

There is much to do and at times this work will be messy and wrought with many stumbling blocks, barriers, and failures. The most worthwhile endeavors are rarely easy. Change is hard. A shift in paradigm involves a fundamental evolution in approach and often challenges much of what many believe and assume to be true.  There is no one clear path, no magic formula, no silver bullet moving forward.  But moving forward in this direction is not optional.  

We owe it not only our youth but to society as a whole, to offer an education that best prepares our students for the future that is their reality.  We owe it to our students to find the best ways to support building the essential knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed today in a meaningful, and engaging context. We owe it to our students to facilitate learning opportunities that are active, student driven, authentic and personalized.  Ultimately, we owe it to our students to ensure our classrooms are in fact “their classrooms”.

 

Time to Breakout!

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From time to time we see popular culture take an educational spin and translate into some sort of activity or practice in schools.  However, I don’t ever recall an example quite as powerful as the escape room phenomenon and the classroom application known as Breakout EDU.  Over the holidays, I spent some time getting acquainted with how Breakout EDU works using my own children and their friends as guinea pigs. They LOVED it!

If you aren’t familiar with this learning opportunity here is a big picture explanation from the Breakout EDU website and the creators themselves, Breakout EDU creates ultra-engaging learning games for people of all ages. Games (Breakouts) teach teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, and troubleshooting by presenting participants with challenges that ignite their natural drive to problem-solve.

Breakouts are perfect for classrooms, staff trainings, dinner parties, and at home with the family! At the end of a Breakout, your players will be eager for the next! Speciality K-12 Breakouts can be used to teach core academic subjects including math, science, history, language arts and have embedded standards that apply problem-solving strategies within a real world OR collaborative context.

With the purchase of a Breakout kit, you’re able to play countless Breakouts. Each kit comes with a collection of locks, hidden contraptions, timers, keys, and other “diversion hardware” that can be used to play the Breakout challenges available from the store.  Currently, all the games in the game directory are free!”

Or check out this video.

We live in a dynamic, rapidly changing world.  As educators, we constantly must strive to meet the unique and unprecedented learning needs of our students in the midst of these changing times. In 2015, The Economist Intelligence Unit (the world leader in global business intelligence) completed a study focusing on preparing our students for the future, and what skills that reality will demand.  After surveying respondents from countless industries, business sectors and fields of education from countries around the world, the study showed that organizations felt the top five critical skills for employees today are: problem-solving, teamwork, communication, critical thinking and creativity.  

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Over the past two years, I have been working with teachers, and ultimately students, in my school division in Winnipeg, to support the development of these 21st-century skills.  One of the most successful strategies teachers have found and embraced in supporting learning in this area is through the use of Instant Challenges. This term comes from a program called Destination Imagination, which is a challenge program in which students learn and experience the creative process while fostering their creativity, curiosity and courage.

The purpose of an instant challenge is to put a team of students and their collaborative problem-solving abilities, creativity, and teamwork to the test in a short, time-driven situation.  The challenges are either task or performance based and have teams involved in doing anything from building a structure, to designing a catapult, to performing an infomercial for a new ice cream flavour they invented, to creating a new constellation and sharing a skit about how it got its name. Through this challenge based learning, teams must plan collaboratively, assess the use of available materials, apply strong time management skills, often utilize performance abilities, and work well as a team, under tight time constraints.

Instant challenges have been embraced by the educators I work with.  Classroom teachers are using them across grade levels, and throughout the disciplines. Adult learners are taking part in them regularly at staff meetings and professional learning days. Educators see the true value these motivating activities offer their students related to critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, risk-taking and building resilience. Check out this document for further explanation and resources around Instant Challenges.

So what’s the connection to Breakout EDU?  The way I see it, this approach to learning uses a similar skillset and methodology to Instant Challenges in an engaging, dynamic and extremely fun way. Students work together to crack codes, solve problems, decipher locks, untangle riddles, think critically and collaborate to “breakout” (in reality they are actually “breaking in” to the box but you get the idea).  Teachers can find ready made, Breakout scenarios online linked to many curricular areas and outcomes, or create their own to meet their students’ needs and interests.  A next step could also be to offer students the enriching opportunity to create their own Breakout EDU challenges for their classmates to solve.

Educators can purchase a ready to go Breakout EDU kit here, complete with the lockable boxes, hasp, hint cards, invisible ink pen, UV flashlight and a variety of locks.  This purchase also gives teachers access to a code and all of Breakout’s ready made scenarios and resources.  Some schools are choosing to create their own similar kits by purchasing the locks and other materials online through companies such as Amazon or at local hardware stores. Educators can also find hundreds of Breakout EDU related resources on platforms such as Pinterest.  And check out this teacher created resource from Lynne Herr explaining how to run Breakout EDU with one box for a whole class. The possibilities are endless!

In addition to supporting and developing 21st Century skills and competencies in students,  Breakout EDU can also involve solving math problems in context.  It uses reading, writing, and word study in meaningful, hands-on ways.  It promotes students asking questions and investigating answers to knowledge and content related outcomes in motivating, relevant situations.

Breakout uses an integrated, multidisciplinary approach through which all students can find an entry point.  Kids love a challenge. They enjoy finding answers to difficult questions and riddles. They relish in a  good mystery and they embrace the idea of the “hunt”.  Breakout EDU checks all of these boxes as a learning opportunity and authentically engages students in their learning. As educators, we are constantly searching for innovative and appealing ways to motivate our students.  Here is an opportunity to breakout and try something new and exciting!

Building Digital Leaders

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If you aren’t familiar with Black Mirror it is a British television anthology series, currently on Netflix, that features speculative fiction that focuses on modern society, and the often unanticipated consequences of new technologies. It is thought provoking, highly relevant in today’s rapidly changing world, and definitely worth checking out.

It has left me  thinking a lot about the unchartered waters our youth, their parents and their teachers must navigate as part of the digital age that is our reality. This is something I consider constantly in the work I do but it is also a focus in supporting my very own “digital natives”, that being my eleven and thirteen year olds at home  My kids use Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly and YouTube regularly, therefore so do I. I make a point of it.  How can I best support them if I don’t understand these platforms myself? At home, we have open, specific and continuous conversations about social media etiquette, on-line responsibilities and the idea of developing a positive digital footprint. I follow them, I encourage my own friends to keep an eye out and I check their accounts regularly. Perhaps, based on my line of work I am the exception, not the norm. What role are most parents taking in the digital lives of their children?  

Like with any new learning, kids need practice.  They need modeling.  They need feedback.  They need guidance and support.  Not surprisingly my two have made mistakes along the way.  This seems inevitable as they make their way through this “training wheel phase”. I am grateful for these hiccups, as it gives us the opportunity to have real, contextual and meaningful conversations around what it looks like to be a responsible digital citizen.  I would much rather have them make these mistakes right now at age 11 in a scaffolded, protected setting, then at age 18. We see it time and time again.  One photo…one offensive remark…one case of bad judgement…one mistake… and a life is changed forever.   We don’t have to look far to find examples of people making bad choices in a digital context for the world to see. We don’t have to look far to find examples of people using digital platforms to spread negativity, hostility and hate. Sure, a handful of these may be kids, but for the most part these people are adults.  How do we break this cycle? As parents, how do we best support our children in becoming responsible digital citizens?  What role do, can and should schools play in this pressing and critical issue?

Digital citizenship is most frequently defined as “ the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use”.  The term is used in many contexts and may hold a variety of meanings to many, however the image below captures the nine elements most frequently associated with the term.

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In today’s world is being a “digital citizen” even setting the bar high enough?  It is difficult to argue with the fact that each of the nine elements are important.  Following guidelines to keep us safe and healthy, being responsible, becoming digitally “literate”- these are all essential and support the status quo. But are these nine elements the best we can aspire to for our students?

In his work, George Couros, talks a lot about the notion of Digital Leadership and “how we need to push our students to make a change in their world and highlight how social media can give them an opportunity that we never were given as students.  Just being “citizens” online is the average; kids already exist online.  We should be pushing for much more than this.”  

He defines Digital Leadership as…“Using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others… http://sumo.ly/cpJu

We see examples of the youth of today harnessing the power of our digital world for good. In this post entitled, “Focusing on What Students Can Do”  George Couros says, “What I try to do is share stories of students who are making a difference right now! Like this teen who created the “Sit With Us” app, to help students find welcoming students to join during lunch. Or the 9 year old, “Little Miss Flint”, becoming a voice of a city and educating people about the water crisis in her city of Flint, Michigan.  Both of these young people are not waiting to become the leaders of tomorrow; they are grabbing these opportunities today. Our goal as educators should be that these stories are not the exception, but the norm. By raising the bar and our expectations for our students, we are more likely to get there than by simply telling them what they should not do.”

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There is much work to do. Work that must be done in collaboration. We must come together as families, as educators, as schools, and as communities to empower our learners to make good choices, daily in their digital world. This is our call to action.

Moving forward, how do help create a generation of not only digital citizens but “digital leaders”? How do we encourage, train and support today’s learners to rise above taking the power and reach of today’s digital world to slander, damage, embarrass, ostracize, hurt and bully others and instead use it as an opportunity to connect, share, celebrate, support, empower and learn from with one another?

In order to move our learners as digital citizens towards digital leaders we need to support them in moving from a passive stance to a place of action.  In moving towards a place of active digital leadership our youth need to develop the following skills and attitudes:

Autonomy

A digitally autonomous learner has a strong understanding of how the choices they make influence themselves and others, and are able to consider a variety of perspectives. They are self-determined learners that take responsibility for their own online decision making, independently.

Communicative, collaborative, critical, creative (4C) Mindset

The learner uses technology  regularly to communicate, and collaborate with people beyond their immediate environment in positive ways. Building these networked, learning communities builds communicative skills, shared connections and a global perspective.

In an online world the learner has continuous opportunities to actively use critical thinking skills including; conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating the information coming at them. The learner must employ these skills regularly and skillfully when making choices online.

Pushing past, the more passive role of a digital citizen as consumer, a digital creator regularly puts new content into the world and extends the creator’s own positive digital footprint.

Contemporary Lifelong Learning

In today’s dynamic, rapidly changing world our contemporary lifelong learner must be committed to the continuous development and improvement of the knowledge and skills needed to be a dedicated digital citizen and leader.

Next Steps…

How do we best support learners in navigating this online world and working towards being not only digital citizens but digital leaders? Like with any new learning, children need practice.  They need modeling.  They need feedback.  They need guidance and support.  In Kayla Delzer’s blog post “Three Reasons Students Should Own Your Classroom Twitter & Instagram Accounts” she outlines how she uses  a “gradual release of responsibility to systematically turn the ‘social media reins” over to her grade 2 students.” We need more teachers like Kayla, modeling positive use of social media to celebrate and share the work of young students. We need classroom teachers having regular conversations about current events related to the topic of the online world.  We need more schools where the “THINK” poster outlining things to consider before you post online, is just as prolific as a poster related to reading strategies or math problem solving steps.

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I often hear pushback from teachers who say that schools have enough to do in teaching kids the content areas, literacy, numeracy etc. and that there is already too much on their plates.  The reality is that schools in fact,  are  in the business of teaching the whole child.  We historically and continuously support students in social, emotional, physical, and cognitive areas.   We teach pro-social skills, time management, citizenship, drug education, nutrition, human sexuality/reproduction, teamwork, mindfulness and the list goes on.  And in fact, information technology and the ethics and responsibility that it go along with it are nothing new to schools’ mandates. And while programs like MediaSmarts, Kids in the Know etc. may be valuable but they are not enough.  Where we need to see the shift is away from specific, canned programs that teach digital citizenship, internet safety, acceptable use etc. as skills in isolation in separate lessons out of context, and instead model real world, authentic digital leadership within the walls of our classrooms.  Many or most of our students own devices and the the reality is that these devices are a highly influential component of their world.  This issue isn’t going away.  This is our call to action. We must empower our learners with the skills, attitudes and direction necessary to lead in our digital world. We need to get to a point where we no longer need to use the world “digital”, before citizenship and leadership and it is merely engrained in the essence of all we do.

As classroom teachers, we have no choice but to dive into the world of connected learning.  For many, this may be uncomfortable, For many, this may be terrifying. New learning often is. But today’s reality is that technology and mobile devices are the equivalent to the pencil of days past. We must embrace opportunities for networked learning both for ourselves and our students.  When we choose to model the use of social media from the classroom for sharing and collaborating online, WITH our students starting at a young age, we normalize the positive, intended use of these platforms.  It becomes how we do business.  When we choose to give our learners the opportunity to blog or create digital portfolios at a young age and we model the responsibilities that come along with this, we help prepare them for the world that IS their present as well as their future.

These are unprecedented times.  These are times of change.  These are times for action. Moving forward, it is essential that we come together as a community of learners to best support and empower our digital learners.

Moving Learning Forward

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In early December, I had the privilege of attending the Learning Forward Conference in beautiful British Columbia.  This was my first experience at this learning association’s international conference and it did not disappoint. With the stunning backdrop of the Coast mountains, waterfront area and downtown Vancouver skyline, educators from across Canada, the US and international representatives came together to share, collaborate and learn. Find below some highlights of the rich connections I made in sessions throughout the week. For a further glimpse into my learning for the week visit this Storify.

A highlight of the conference was the time I spent going deeper into the work of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert.  Their work around the Spirals of Inquiry (Spiral of Inquiry: For Equity and Quality) involves a process looking at these 6 steps:

  • Scanning
  • Focusing
  • Developing a Hunch
  • New Professional Learning
  • Taking Action
  • Checking

Spirals of Inquiry has been on my radar over the past year, but spending time with its creators looking strategically at how  schools can take this collaborative, inquiry-oriented, evidence-based approach to teaching and learning was very beneficial. We looked closely at the concept of HARD goals to centralize our focus, as well as grounding inquiry in the key principles that shape deep, meaningful learning including the First Peoples Principles of Learning, and the OECD Nature of Learning- 7 Principles of Learning. 

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We also closely considered the three questions that should drive all that we do:

  • What’s going on for our learners?
  • How do we know?
  • Why does this matter?  .  

The Spirals of Inquiry framework has the potential to be a hugely impactful resource in helping educators to determine strategies for shifting thinking and practice within schools while developing a sense of collective and collaborative professional agency.

A second session, I attended related to this work (Inquiring Professionals: Activating Learning and Changing Lives) involved numerous BC public school districts sharing their experiences along the following question: “In what ways do district strategic initiatives in inquiry based learning act as catalysts for moving learning forward and enhancing student success?” The practical stories, examples and overall learning journeys shared by these many districts helped to anchor and ground the collaborative professional inquiry work within many real and meaningful contexts.  For further examples of how the Spirals of Inquiry and Networks of Inquiry and Innovation support collaborative professional inquiry visit these case studies.

Some of my biggest takeaways from my time spent with the passionate educators connected to the Spirals of Inquiry and related professional inquiry initiatives is the commitment to always placing the learner at the centre and the necessity of these key statements:

  • ALL learners should develop an understanding of and respect for an Indigenous worldview
  • ALL learners should be able to name two adults in their building that think they as an individual will achieve success in life and can explain how they know 
  • ALL learners should leave school more curious than when they arrive
  • EVERY learner should cross the stage with dignity, purpose and options

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In recent times, Learning Forward commissioned and supported a study of professional learning across Canada. The release of the results coincided with the 2016 Annual Conference in Vancouver leading to exciting opportunities for reflection and discussion. Lead researcher, Carol Campbell, Associate Professor of Leadership and Educational Change at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE),unveiled the findings of this extensive research study on  Monday at the conference.  In the final report entitled; The State of Educator Professional Learning in Canada she shared definitive findings and important considerations related to educational professional learning in the areas of;

  • Quality content
  • Learning design & implementation
  • Support & Sustainability

For a more in depth look at the findings of the study and how to promote the tenets of quality professional learning in individual school contexts visit the full report here.

Screen Shot 2016-12-19 at 7.31.38 PM.pngAs a follow up to the findings and as a response for a need for support in these areas, Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves, who keynoted at the conference offered  a “Call to Action: Bringing the Profession Back In” .In this call to action, building on the Canada study, Fullan and Hargreaves outline an argument for meaningful professional learning and development. They use the following questions to guide their insights and recommendations around professional learning and development (PLD).

  • What is the essence of PLD?
  • Why do advocates keep making a flawed case for PLD?
  • How are critics making a misdirected case against PLD?
  • What’s the symbiosis (mutual benefit) between students and their teachers in terms of their learning, well-being, and development?
  • How do we understand and underscore the importance of the individual and the collective aspects of PLD?
  • How do we build a culture of professional capital — our call to action?

They conclude with actions for teachers, systems, and Canada to take to establish a culture of collaborative professionalism.

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One of the true highlights of the week for me was a session facilitated by Brad Ermerling, and Genevieve Graf-Ermerling entitled, Teaching Between Desks for Deeper Learning. The presenters introduced the notion of “ Kikan Shido”,  a specific term used by educators in Japan, describing the teaching that takes place during critical “between-the desk” opportunities in classrooms. They described how teachers around the world spend hours of class time each week roving between desks, tables or other student work spaces during student activities, group projects, pair work, or individual practice. They shared research and video examples from Japan and the U.S. and explained the power of “Kikan Shido” for facilitating deeper learning using the processes of:

  • monitoring student activity
  • guiding student activity
  • organizing materials
  • physical set-up
  • engaging in social talk

One of the major shifts in teacher thinking and facilitating during these, “between the desks” teaching and learning opportunities is changing the focus from answering questions to asking deep, rich questions, as well as being more thoughtful in planning key questions ahead of time.

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Another interesting session of note was one entitled, Hacking Leadership: A Disturbing Guide facilitated by Antonia Issa Lahera and Kendall Zoller. This full day session examined the many dimensions of leadership, considering implications for both the heart and mind, as well as what role relationships, values and beliefs play in both leadership and implementing change.  It looked to supporting a process for creating innovations within any organization by gaining a foundation in communicative intelligence and adaptivity so that people within any educational realm can lead and grow.

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One foundational piece used as a framework for empowering leaders was the 5 elements for Adaptive Leadership (The Practice of Adaptive Leadership – by Heifetz and Grashaw):

  •  From the balcony- having empathy, stepping back , shifting perspectives from being inside to viewing from the outside
  • Think politically- how to be in service of both citizen and state, the skill of building alliances or relationships with people you may not necessarily agree with, who may oppose our beliefs, build relationships where needed
  • Orchestrate conflict- the goal is not to have conflict, but it is a reality when we are challenging values and beliefs. How can we be mindful in the heat of the moment? How can we use strategies like “third point” to reach our goals?
  • Give the work back -the importance of developing and challenging people, making people slightly uncomfortable but within their capabilities, or comfortable and pushing them in other ways, giving others opportunities to grow
  • Hold steady- what is it that you believe in that you are prepared to stand firm on and not waver from? what happens when values conflict?

We also looked closely at  DThinking from the Institute of Design at Stanford.  This design thinking process is a step by step, interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, that begins with the lens of empathizing, and can be used to approach a myriad of challenges.

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We explored the importance of having “communicative intelligence”, and establishing rapport  before anything else with people. We also examined the 7 Essential Abilities of Effective Presenters.

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The session was dynamic, and layered, as is effective leadership.  It offered many and varied perspectives around the forces, processes and considerations necessary in leading innovation and change. These words from the presenters summarize it best…. 

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The final and powerful keynote to the conference was by Denise Augustine, a District Principal of Aboriginal Education from the Cowichan Valley in BC. Denise shared stories from her family including her grandmother’s struggles in residential schools and her own journey as a learner and educator.  She invited us to imagine an education system that values diversity, inspires innovation and embraces success and achievement for ALL learners. Denise discussed how in order for there to be a transformation in education we must recognize the gifts each learner brings, and nurture those gifts. We must  know the  assumptions and biases we hold with us and learn from each other.  We must make space for our educators to show up with passion, love, and a drive to continue to improve education for all children. And we must empower each one of the learners in our care to become collaborative, creative, courageous, critically thinking, problem solvers.  

It was a wonderful ending to an amazing, enriching week of learning!

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“I Am Standing….”

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This year Winnipeg School Division is excited to have educational leader, and author of The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros once again working closely with our staff.  Now in its second year, one of the key pieces of this initiative involves extensive work with two Innovative Teaching and Learning Leaders (ITLLs) from each school. A guiding question in our work continues to be “How do we move from ‘pockets of innovation’ to a ‘culture of innovation’ within our schools?”(Couros, 2015)  For further information about the scope of the project visit these two previous posts.

One of the major components of the ITLL project has involved the participants developing a reflective blog and their own personal, digital portfolio, outlined here. As we embark into year two and continue this blogging journey, our ITLLs are now invited to write a targeted post reflecting on a new professional book added to the project this year, the inspiring and practical, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. As a group, we are using this book to focus conversations on practical ways to embed innovative and creative practice in our classrooms.  

In my previous post, I discuss one of Dave Burgess’ provocative questions of “Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?” and how it was a meaningful exercise for me to give some thought to my own “stand out lessons”.  

In my mind these are the lessons or a sequence of lessons that are dear to my heart. They are the activities that keep me up at night in anticipation, that have me jumping out of bed in the morning to get to, and that have become refined works of art over the years.  As teachers, many of us have units, lessons, and activities we do with our students that we are the MOST proud of, that we know are highly effective and engage our students in superlative ways. An important skill for any educator is reflecting regularly on our practice, building on our strengths, recognizing our challenges and planning our next steps.  

The pirate’s question about “lessons we could sell tickets for” can offer us a lens to start or continue this good work. However, for some reflecting on their own practice through this narrow focus may be challenging. Some teachers’ strengths may not be articulated through exploration of a single lesson or a series of lessons, but instead in other ways such as, in the relationships they build with students or flexibility in meeting individual student needs.

Either way, this thinking and the inspiring work of both George Couros and Dave Burgess help us to frame the first reflective blog post assignment for the Innovative Teaching and Learning Leaders this year. The ITLLs are tasked with:

Describe and reflect upon a lesson or learning opportunity you have offered your students that “you could sell tickets for”.

Or

Thinking about your own learning through the ITLL initiative and the newest addition of Teach Like a Pirate, describe and reflect upon skills, strategies and practices you use to ensure student success, increase engagement/empowerment and  boost creativity in your own classroom or school.

As I first read TLAP this summer, I recall connecting to a number of the suggestions made and activities outlined. The costumes and dramatic pieces may not necessarily be in my wheelhouse but as a former Inquiry Support Teacher and Language Arts teacher for 16 years, the use of artifacts, music, images, technology, personalized learning and a number of the other “hooks” were things I could relate to place to in my own teaching.

And so I offer an example of my own series of learning experiences along a writing theme that I did with students that I can potentially consider through the lens of “a  lesson I could sell tickets for”.

One of my favourite learning sequences to teach in Language Arts is on descriptive writing.  In my mind I call this focus my “I am standing…” writing pieces.  

I have used a variation of these lessons over a span of many years and with students in grades 4-8. The intent of these lessons is for students  to practice describing something so that a picture is formed in their reader’s mind. It aims to capture an event, person, place or thing in such a way that it makes the writing more engaging and interesting by paying close attention to the details using all of the five senses.

I always begin by modeling for the students.  I choose one scene or location and I bring in a number of sensory artifacts into the classroom to replicate this scene.  The Lake as a setting is a good starting point for me.  This has varied over the years but may include:  a tub of cold water, sand, reeds, a tree branch, an evergreen or fresh rain scented candle, a fan, a life jacket, a paddle, a turtle shell, images, sound effects of water lapping or loons calling etc. As the students engage in this sensory experience of  “the lake” I ask them to record words, images and thoughts that came to mind, using the five senses.  This might be on chart paper, post it notes, or digitally on an App such as Popplet. At times they have used the List Group Label strategy to further extend this brainstorming.

Next, I share my own writing piece about the lake, or model this writing in front of them- I Do (Routman- Optimal Learning Model).  See here for an example.  I ask the students to look for evidence of each of the five senses being explored, examples of adjectives and adverbs being used, and the use of literary devices. There are many outcomes that can be reviewed within this form of writing.

We wrap up the day’s events by making a list of other possible settings or scenes we could explore in a similar way. Typically the students come up many…city centre, park, beach, ocean, farm, prairie field, blizzard, campfire, bakery, amusement park, circus, concert, forrest, sporting event, airport, mountains…to name a few.

For our next class, I set up more sensory stations along these themes.  I have images on most of the scenes in a file. I have collected a number of related artifacts along these scenes in a plastic tub I pull out each year and I gather others from nature.  I find sound effects online such as; crowds cheering, ocean waves, crickets, and a campfire crackling.  Others are conveniently on my Conair Sound Machine.  I bring in popcorn, marshmallows, baked goods or other tasty treats where applicable. While exploring the sensory stations, the students use this graphic organizer or a digital variation to record their observations using each of their five senses.

After, spending some time exploring the stations and recording our thoughts, we regroup as a class and choose one of the settings to do as a shared writing piece –We Do. Here is an example of a shared descriptive writing piece we wrote as a class on a Fall scene at the park.

The final class, the students choose their own scene or setting to write their own descriptive piece on –You Do.  They have the option of using the graphic organizer as a pre-writing sheet and we review the criteria for the descriptive piece of writing.  They work through all stages of the writing process.

The beautiful writing that comes out of this often amazes me! Some years, the students take their imagery filled, descriptive writing pieces a step further by completing watercolour paintings to go alongside, or they use an App such as Adobe Voice to visually represent their lovely language using images and their spoken words.

This series of lessons has traditionally produced some of the best writing my students do all year.  During these lessons they seem to thrive on the hands on, sensory nature of the work. The scaffolded, collaborative piece of working together before completing their own writing, ensures a high degree of success for all learners.