Shifting Needs in a Digital World

 

Recently, Gerald Fussell wrote a blog post examining how our priorities in schools support our students and their diverse, dynamic needs. Based on his thinking around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs using a school lens, and the graphic he created above; he explores the challenges schools face in supporting students through to the Self Actualization phase and how “the many conscious and difficult decisions we need to make along the way require us to be clear in our priorities”.

In a perfect world, all of our students would come to school every day well rested, well fed, clean, healthy, happy, feeling good about themselves and ready to learn. But some of the time, and perhaps for a significant segment of our students, that is not the reality. So yes, schools need to be clear on their priorities and make tough choices in supporting students while making sure their basic and psychological needs are met before we can aspire to assist them with their self-fulfillment needs.

It’s a delicate dance schools must do in supporting students with their varying needs; a balancing act of sorts that comes with great consequence. What complicates this even further is the reality of the very dynamic, digital world our students are growing up in. With a shifting world, comes shifting needs. And along with shifting needs comes a shifting role that schools must take on in order to best prepare students moving forward. We must revisit the graphic above to explore and best support students with their changing needs in our DIGITAL WORLD. In some cases, students get these emerging needs related to our shifting world met at home, but for others, this is not the case for a variety of reasons.

Physiological Needs

Our kids now walk around with a hugely powerful, connected tool at their fingertips. In fact, many of them do not know a time when that wasn’t their reality. What effect does too much, and late-night screen time now have on our students’ basic needs? Are they getting enough sleep? Are they getting enough exercise? What are the long-term implications of staring at a small screen on eyesight or health? What does the effect of unfiltered content have on their developing, impressionable minds?

Ultimately, it comes down to good judgment and finding balance. Our kids need to learn the responsible and safe use of digital devices. They need to learn not only balance but also boundaries. And as parents and educators that means modeling limits and responsible use. What message do we send our kids when we ourselves are not present but instead distracted by the device in our hands, instead of focusing on them? Technology is a tool, and with it comes a means to powerful connectivity and knowledge, but in the end, it does not replace the importance of human interaction, face to face conversations and personal relationships. It is one means, not the only means of connection and interaction. In our homes and in our classrooms we need to strike a healthy balance of opportunities for collaboration, both one on one as well as networking online. Issues around balance are of rising concern. Problematic computer use is a growing social issue which is being debated internationally. “Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) can have huge impacts on people’s lives by causing neurological complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems. Surveys in the United States and Europe have shown alarming prevalence rates between 1.5 and 8.2%.

We need to ensure we are always supporting our children in striking a healthy balance in their lives and doing the same on our own. With the busyness and often plugged in nature of day to day life, at home we need to be cognizant of carving out enough time and demonstrating the importance each day or week of engaging in regular meaningful conversations, participating in a sport, going for a walk, playing a board game, enjoying a hobby, taking a nap, and hanging out with a friend…unplugged. And at school, we need to continue to support our learners in the areas of social-emotional learning, and mental health education in an effort to do our part in ultimately helping them move towards a place of self-regulation.

Also, related to basic needs is the notion of equity. See the graphic below that perhaps ironically, adds a wifi level in as a basic need for today’s generation. In fact, in recent times, the United Nations has declared access to broadband as a basic human right and disconnection from the Internet against International law. Despite some people’s nostalgia for a simpler time, there is one thing that is certain; we are only moving forward. The influence and impact that technology will potentially have on our lives will only continue to change and grow.

So, how can we as schools, best support our students that do not have access to digital tools at home? It is imperative for these students to have access within the school context to give them opportunities to gain the essential digital experience, and skills relevant in the world today. We need to offer them the chance to create, share and build confidence in digital platforms. If we don’t, the learning gap and divide between themselves and their digitally native peers will grow even bigger. As digitalization changes the world of work, and artificial intelligence and automation continually to shift jobs moving forward those more versed with technology will have greater opportunities and the digital divide will only grow bigger for our students with limited access.

Moving forward, students should be able to use a variety of tools to drive their learning; both hi-tech and low-tech. Many schools encourage mobile learning and BYOD environments, in which students may not necessarily USE technology ALL the time but they do have ACCESS to technology as a tool when it is needed, relevant or applicable. In regards to priorities, ensuring equity and addressing the needs for ALL students to have access to technology tools is one area in which schools will need to make changes moving forward. This may involve the reallocation of funds to purchasing mobile devices in schools to support student learning. We also need to offer guidance to our learners with the abundance of information they are continuously inundated with. They need scaffolding and instruction when making decisions about the reliability and validity of information and ultimately how to look at online resources with a critical and evaluative lens.

Safety Needs

Who is helping our kids navigate the messy waters and huge implications for online bullying and digital safety? Most schools do some sort of digital citizenship training such as MediaSmarts to explore important topics such as cyber bullying, online security/privacy, excessive use, intellectual property, online hate, and exploitation etc. In many ways, programs such as this one are very valuable and support students’ understanding and skills around navigating the dangers and pitfalls of the online world, however, these programs are often taught out of context and in isolation as individual lessons or with one-off guest speakers. This is a good start, but we need to also build on this type of programming by using real world, teachable moments while modeling in the classroom context and having conversations about topics based on real-world examples and current events.

We also need, as schools, to support parent understanding around the necessity to be vigilant and tuned into the online presence of their children. Many parents are unaware or ignorant of the potential dangers their children are in while behaving online in ways that are careless or naïve. Many other parents are in the dark to the true extent of their children’s’ online interactions and they may be intimidated by their own lack of expertise in this area.

Also, cyberbullying is an issue that potentially impacts many. It seems today’s youth are much more likely to say just about anything behind the guise and protection of a keyboard. The sharing of personal information online is also a concern. Many school districts host info sessions and bring in “experts” in this field or even law enforcement to share stories and strategies with parents for helping youth stay protected and being proactive online. It is apparent after repeatedly being a part of these initiatives, that no matter what the level, the students, and parents are shocked about how much they don’t know and about how vulnerable their children can be. Many parents are overwhelmed and intimidated by just how much there is to know in the way of awareness, knowledge and skills and the quickly changing landscape of the digital world. Active participation is not optional in this area and as adults, we need to be tuned in and actively work alongside kids in regards to their online presence and strive for more open communication around all things related. Families need our help and guidance as educators in these changing times in doing so.

Some teachers may argue that this is not our job. However, if the ultimate role of schools is to prepare students for a purposeful, successful life which is responsive to their current reality, then schools taking on a larger leadership role, in the area of online safety, skills and responsibility is a must. In fact, the only way to create a generation of informed and educated individuals in this area is for schools to lead the charge and if not us, who? And if not, at what cost?

Love & Belonging Needs

The digital world our learners exist in brings with it a whole new layer of needs and complexities that directly impact their ability to learn in our classrooms each and every day. What modeling and teaching are in place to support the complex dynamics and relational pieces involved in social media?

Today, for many of our students their sense of belonging is directly linked to how many Instagram followers they have, how many views they have generated on their latest YouTube video, or how many likes they have on a recent post. They put a lot of stock into what their profile pic is on their various social media platforms and work hard to ensure they have just the perfect “bio” or Snapchat Story of the day. It is a “selfie” world where kids feel compelled to post only pictures and info featuring their “best self” in their quest for acceptance. Kids can become consumed by checking status updates and the instant gratification and immediate feedback that comes along with online interactions. “Popularity” is often defined by their online image and much social capital is generated by one’s number of followers or friends. In fact, it seems the term “friend” has in some ways become redefined by the social media world and exploration of the meaning of true friendship is something worthy of discussion with young, impressionable minds. For some, being distracted and consumed by online interactions can prompt dissociation from the here and now, and actually impede kids from interacting in ways that are meaningful and productive in their “real” world. For others, the need for love and belonging may be so great that this makes them particularly vulnerable when they look to online interactions that may be unhealthy, unsafe or possibly even lead to addictive behaviour.

Kids are highly invested in their online presence which right or wrong, seems for many to directly correlate to their sense of belonging and acceptance. More than ever we need to have conversations with our students about the dynamics of real authentic relationships and values around friendship, self-worth, and self-image. It is a brand new world out there; and in many ways unchartered territory for a number of adults as well, including many of our school guidance counselors and teachers helping students navigate these times and the far-reaching implications. We need to have conversations with kids about what in fact defines us as learners, and what defines us as people. We also need to offer meaningful and contextual teaching and learning on the topic of guidelines around online behaviour that gives students the experience and practice necessary in a scaffolded setting, so that moving forward they can make the best choices possible, independently.

Esteem Needs

As mentioned above the role the digital world can have on someone’s sense of love and belonging and ultimately their self-esteem and self-image can be complicated, and potentially have negative consequences. However, the digital world can also be hugely empowering and have positive effects when youth are equipped with the right understanding, skill set and experiences as they grow. Our students’ needs in the way of esteem and self-confidence are directly impacted by their sense of love and belonging as well as their success and achievement. How does the online world impact our students’ potential for success as well as their confidence and self-image? When we DO well, we FEEL well. Our students have a variety of entry points that may feed their self-esteem needs. Some excel at academics, others at athletics, well others in the arts or through leadership. The digital arena offers a great opportunity for students to achieve great success in the way of being creators and producers and many are embracing these opportunities. We live in a time where “YouTuber” is now a feasible and authentic job, and where the magnitude of online content being generated every minute is astounding. A phone, tablet, camera or laptop, can serve as a tool to support our learners quest for achievement and success no differently than a paint brush, pencil or soccer ball may have in the past. Whether it be creating how-to videos, exhibiting music recordings, sharing 3-D imaging models, showcasing a digital art portfolio, blogging or vlogging; digital tools can be powerful and productive ways that serve as a great avenue to allow students to explore interests, take risks, and recognize their own potential and capabilities as learners. What our students create informs their identity. In turn, this online identity can also help students create a “digital footprint” to go alongside their increasing positive esteem and image.

In fact, in today’s world, the potential impact of our digital footprint has never been so significant. In recent years we may have spent time talking to kids about the potential negative implications of making one bad choice when it comes to an online presence. In some cases, we may have raised awareness about the potential fall out of posting inappropriate comments or pictures online that could be forever linked to them moving forward and how the Internet is unforgiving in that way. But the conversation around online identity and digital footprint should be bigger than that. In this day and age, it is almost a given that potential employers will Google all applicants for a job before interviewing them. And now it is no longer just enough NOT to find anything negative about an applicant, in fact now, many employers may choose a candidate who has a very positive and substantial online presence above someone who has a non-existent or neutral online presence. Being a positive, contributing, productive creator online is now a 21st C skill employers are looking for and sets students apart.

Self-Actualization

So how do we help our students to embody this 21st C skill set? How do we ensure our students become independent, insightful and actualized as digital learners? We need to support our students in moving to a place of digital leadership in which they are able to make responsible, ethical, productive, end empowered choices, independently, in today’s digital world. George Couros, author of “The Innovator’s Mindset” 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”.

How do we best support our learners in moving into this space of digital leadership?  For today’s youth, becoming a self- actualized digital learner, leader, and citizen means exemplifying and paving the way towards only online positivity, meaningful contributions, and powerful creation. It looks like taking a stand on the hateful, derogatory, and negative comments we often see under many YouTube videos and newspaper columns, and instead of addressing each other with respect. Self-actualization looks like having analytical conversations and debate online without slander and scandal. It looks like making good choices, demonstrating evaluative skills, thinking critically and establishing a positive digital footprint. Self-actualization of today’s youth in our digital world looks like modeling for and guiding future generations, as well as the one before them.

All of this is not something that happens overnight and it is certainly not something that happens without proper support both at home and school. Yet, we still have schools that ban devices. We still have entire districts that block YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and hundreds of websites, choosing to ignore rather than face concerns head on and embrace the opportunities of teachable moments in context. We still have educators that say, “I don’t do social media”, wearing it like a badge of honour. How do we support the evolving needs of our students if we don’t reside in the same world as they do? Social Media is an evolving literacy. Hopefully, we would never say to a student, “I don’t read books”, or “I don’t write” so why or how is social media any different?

There is no question that social media has become a present-day literary competency. How are we as educators helping our students to be safe, responsible, positive, thoughtful and literate in our digital world? Imagine the positive impact schools could have if we began teaching and modeling digital leadership from an early age in classrooms, and it became the norm for our students from the start. Imagine the positive impact schools could have if we empowered our learners from an early age by giving them the opportunity to use digital tools to explore, create, share and connect starting in our primary classrooms and continued building and developing these skills throughout.

Once again, if the ultimate role of schools is to prepare students for a purposeful, successful life which is responsive to their current reality, then schools must take on a much larger leadership role in supporting students with the digital world These are exciting, unprecedented times and along with that constant evolution and change follows the continually shifting needs of our students. And as the needs of our students change so must our mindset, our practices, our approach, and our priorities.

 

 

 

 

#Becauseofschool

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My daughter Sarah is 13 and in grade 8. School has always come easy for her, but in many ways, over the years, it has also left her under challenged and somewhat disengaged.

Sarah is highly creative and driven by somewhat random topics she is passionate about; urban exploration, Paris, cats, art, softball, music, media, photography, social justice and seeing the world. She is an avid reader who devours novels and entire series.  She also loves writing and aspires to publish a book one day. She has an eye for photography, a knack for design, a dramatic flair and a passion for pottery.  However, most of Sarah’s creative side and talents have in fact been developed outside of school.  In The Innovator’s Mindset, written by George Couros, he refers to this concept as students learning and leading “in spite of school” and suggests the need for schools to ensure they are also empowering students to be innovators and creators “because of school” and as part of their school experience.

From an early age, Sarah has often complained about being bored or disinterested in what school has to offer.  She has often questioned the overall relevance of worksheets, workbooks, textbooks, tests, rote assignments and desk in rows. Don’t get me wrong; she is a stellar student and has always been very good at “studenting”, but she has often expressed frustration about what is actually happening within her classroom walls and its application to her future. How many Sarah’s sit in our classrooms feeling similarly?

Sarah has flourished with teachers that honour her creative nature, strengths, interests, and talents by allowing time for student exploration and creation. In those settings, she excels and grows as a learner in many ways. Shouldn’t stimulated, thriving, engaged students be a norm in our schools and serve as the rule, as opposed to the exception?

This week, I was reminded of the power and the potential for joy we offer our students when they are given the opportunity to express themselves in creative and meaningful ways, when I received an envelope in the mail from my daughter. In her Language Arts class, she was tasked with writing a letter to her “hero” and the teacher went the extra mile to send the letters in the mail to the recipients of these letters on behalf of her students. Sarah is a skilled, impassioned and eloquent writer, however, there have been limited times and few assignments offered to her over the years in her school experience, that have allowed her the opportunity to truly show her audience and herself, her true capacity as a writer.  How many potential authors, artists, scientists, engineers, designers, and inventors sit waiting to be given opportunities to shine within our school system? How much talent is left untapped on our watch?

So….I write this post as a reminder to all teachers of the importance of giving our students time to explore their passions, and their strengths when planning and programming. And I share this story as a reminder of the necessity to give our students thoughtful, self-directed, open-ended tasks that allow them to express themselves and explore their creative side. Our students need more regular opportunities to explore, create, learn and grow #becauseofschool.

Dear Mom,

There are two billion mothers in the world. Trust me, I Googled it.  So the odds that I would be blessed with you as my mom were pretty slim.  But somehow, the stars aligned and I was lucky enough to become your daughter. Out of the two billion mothers in the world, I got you. And I am so, so thankful.

I tried to imagine life without you, but then I realized there would be no life. Technically, I wouldn’t have been born, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is, without you, I would have no one to pour my heart out to, to speak my mind to and to share a laugh with.  At my lowest low, you were there, comforting me and giving me a shoulder to cry on.  And at my highest high, you are by my side, your hand in mine. You are my advice giver, “my person” and my rock. And without a rock, I would be completely and utterly lost. You have helped me find my way, find my meaning and find myself.

There is a difference between a house and a home.  A house has walls, windows, doors, and a staircase. But a home, a home can have a heartbeat. Home isn’t so much a place, but a person. You are my home.

Your creativity inspires me every day and your ability to see the best in people makes me proud to be your daughter.  You have taught me to value memories, knowledge, and love before material things and proved to me that I CAN do anything. You were my first friend, my best friend, and my forever friend. We have an unbreakable bond and our hearts are intertwined together forever.

Love,

Sarah

 

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.