One positive change that could emerge from the COVID-19 global pandemic is the change in how we do our work. People working at home have been exposed to a whole new reality. To work, it is not necessary to be sitting in front of a computer 24/7. Flexibility in work schedules is allowing people to schedule their days to attend to physical and mental health, as well as get the work done.
On the common deck of my condo in Kits, my neighbour has run a power cord from the hall and set up the laptop screen to increase visibility of the screen. He asks if I’m okay with his choice of music. He is studying to be a pilot. Sometimes I find him on the deck working as a personal trainer with one of his clients. He has taught me that to explore angles on the laptop screen and shade it with a shirt to create a visor in order to increase screen visibility. When I tilt back my reclining chair back, I can see the screen as well as the ocean and the mountains.
Down at Jericho Beach, I watch as the young women beside me tentatively step into the ocean and quickly decide it is just too chilly today. The phone rings, and one of the young women shifts gears. She effectively negotiates her business call and makes the commitment to draw up a proposal and have it to her client tomorrow. As she chats, her friend takes out her computer and gets some work done. There are no hurt feelings or resentment for not giving her friend her undivided attention. The social contract allows and expects these disruptions.
I frequently give my son a hard time for not giving his father and I his undivided attention when he comes for dinner or for a bike ride. And yet, at the same time I’m incredibly proud at how well he is doing with his business. Clients around the world are paying the bills, manufacturing product or ready to work collaboratively. Communication cannot be limited to a 9-5 context if you are being responsive to needs. The phone rings or the text comes through and my son seamlessly slides into business mode, negotiates the call and rejoins us.
My cousin has an office job. Working at home started when COVID-19 hit Vancouver in Spring. It has just been extended until January. She has adjusted to the reality that some days includes far more work that other. She always meets the expectations of what needs to be done in a day. For the employer, no work space, office furniture, phones, supplies or daily cleaning are required. The employer has got to have noted the obvious benefits of reduced costs.
In British Columbia, schools were closed after Spring Break to everyone but principals, vice principals, operating engineers and trades people. I went into my office first thing in the morning, stood at my desk for hours on end, absorbing all of the new information possible, attending online meetings, planning and problem solving. I turned my head to pick up the phone and left my office to attend to very specific tasks. The intense stress exacerbated the muscle strain. Two things happened to change things up for me. Nearly all meetings were online so there was less need to dress in my regular work attire. We were also given direction to leave the school by 3:30 pm to allow the deep cleaning of the school. This allowed me to ride my bike to school and get some exercise, and some perspective as I rode home along the seawall. Some phone calls I navigated en-route, and people got use to some huffing and puffing when I reached hills. Sometimes I just stopped to focus on the situation. I also stopped to do video-tweets for the students at my school. It was a refreshing and much needed break. I was still available for work.
Initially I thought perhaps Millennials were just better at pivoting during this new reality than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers. And yet Alex Neve, Canadian Human Rights Activist and Secretary General of Amnesty International, popped up on Facebook with his office set-up in the forest. It seems to be that people with their own businesses or more job autonomy have been the blade runners in defining these new realities. Granted some jobs lend themselves to more flexibility. When schools opened on a voluntary and part time basis in British Columbia in June, educators certainly needed to be onsite more frequently. However in July when I was facilitating a course for BCPVPA, I transitioned to a work space in my dining room. Now I have expanded my options. The side deck or front deck in the shade with the birds, or the common deck with the mountains, ocean and sunshine are working just fine. This could be the upside of COVID-19
There is no teacher like direct experience to engage the head and heart in the process of learning. Data about students becoming less curious as they move through the school system, is heart-breaking. It begs the question – Why? When my children were preschoolers, the day revolved around playing in the backyard, discovering new backyards of playmates and going to the park. On sunny days they were dressed in clothing to protect sensitive skin and exposed bits were slathered with sunscreen. Other days included sweaters or “muddy buddies” or rubber boots or snowsuits. Bottom line, those preschoolers were going outside for an adventure filled with fresh air and exercise and access to the wonders of the natural world around them. Awe, curiosity, delight and question upon question were the standard of the day.
Richard Louv (2006) raised the alarm about our students who are increasingly demonstrating a “nature deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods. The nature deficit is something being experienced on a much bigger scale. Baby boomers are perhaps the last generation to be pushed out the door to “Go play outside and be home by dinner”. Accessible hand-held technology, less green space and a heightened sense of fear fed by the media, keeps adults as well as children inside with repercussions for engagement with nature, physical fitness and mental health. Some doctors are writing park prescriptions to assist patients in dealing with depression, high blood pressure and stress. Groups like Wild About Vancouver, have initiatives to encourage people of all ages to get outside and get active. The Japanese started a movement called “Shrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” in the 1980’s to improve physical and mental health. It has taken the world by storm. Regular “forest bathing” opportunities were scheduled in Vancouver’s 400 hectare rainforest, Stanley Park, this summer and many other forested parks with around the world because going outdoors, looking, listening and breathing needs to be taught.
Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity and the learning that comes with it. The first time I saw a “Bear in the Area” sign in our local park when we moved to Coquitlam a suburb of Vancouver, I did the research to find out what I needed to know. I went online, got books to share with my family, and talked to neighbours and friends and even the police officer sitting doing his notes in the parking lot. Sailing, biking, skiing, snowboarding and hiking, all come with required background knowledge and a skill set to keep yourself safe. Every time we try something new, we learn.
The Child and Nature Alliance is astute in pointing out that the best way to get children outside, is to go with them. My husband and I now have adult children. However since their pre-school years, some of our best memories and best laughs are beach, park, biking and ski/snowboard adventures or the times just after, like reading Harry Potter aloud with hot chocolate by a fire. Of course, developing relationship during outdoor activities necessitates putting the phone away and giving your family and friends your undivided attention.
Experience – first hand knowledge – experiential learning, multi-sensory opportunities, unstructured times, emotional connection
“American kids devote more than seven hours daily to staring at screens, replacing reality with virtual alternatives” (Sampson, 2015, p.5). As with the advent of any technology, humans benefit from the advanced development of their prefrontal cortex, and the thinking skills to decide how best to utilize the technology. I am a huge fan of using phones, iPads and computers as tools to access information and communicate learning to a wider audience. When I’m outdoors, I use the camera on my cell phone and my iPad to focus my attention and capture things I find interesting or beautiful or memorable or that I want to explore more later. However just as I was instructed to turn off the television and go play outside as a little girl, parents and educators need to assume responsibility for the amount of screen time they allow for the children in their care to growth and lead healthy lives.
Germany is well-known developing a love of the outdoors. I remember hiking with my family in Schliersee. We were so proud of our stellar progress upwards on our hike, when we rounded the corner and not only had someone been there, but they had installed a bench. Britain is also well known for a population that engages outdoors. The British outdoor kindergarten movement is growing. Italy is known for the Reggio Emilio discovery based school movement. There is widespread recognition that children benefit from learning outdoors in the places they know well. It is outdoors that they can access the materials, solve problems and feed the curiosity that form the basis for important learning. This is the reality of place based learning.
The outdoor classroom does not close because it’s raining. I have recently adopted the slogan I learned from Scott D. Sampson’s book, How To Raise a Wild Child (2015): “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” The rain in Vancouver does present different opportunities for learning. while extending our understanding and appreciation what is is to live in a temperate rainforest. When my daughter was 6 years old, we were travelling in Venice. The rain started to fall and everyone ran for shelter. Our family was quite delighted with the break from the heat and we splashed puddles down the centre of the street. My little Vancouverite looked up at me, smiled and said “Oh, Mommy. It smells like home.” This is what the poet W.D. Auden (1947) must have been referring to when he coined the word “topophilia” which translates to a “love of place” to describe the bonds people form with the places where they live. When you care about the place you live, both your heart and mind are open to the lessons they provide. This necessitates outside experiences.
Mentoring – side by side exploration, mentors listen more than they talk, observe closely, inspire curiosity, “pull” stories from their mentees by asking questions that push the limits of awareness and knowledge
I have been fortunate to be a teacher in British Columbia. Teaching in Abbotsford meant the farm was in close proximity to learn about mammals, and the smell of manure in the air impacted learning about food systems. In Coquitlam, spawning salmon at the end of a playground provided input for learning about life cycles and perseverance. My current school is located in the Pacific Spirit Park. Teachers are able to take students into the forest to discover more about the “wood wide web” and The Hidden Life of Trees, to the beaver dam to learn about our history and science, and down the beach to investigate yet another habitat. My previous school was not surrounded by untouched wilderness, but it was there that we were able to follow the newly released butterflies to discover one of the best butterfly gardens I have ever seen cultivated by a local resident with a green thumb. The best weather forecasters were the students who had learned to go outside and use all of their senses to make observations. Those students had well-developed background knowledge about clouds and could tell you about the best weather APPS. In all of these school contexts, what makes the biggest difference to student learning is the skillful mentoring of educators. The questions they ask, and the student questions they reflect back to the group, helps students to hone their observation skills and risk asking questions about the things that matter to them personally. The innovators who have mirrored nature in their products have spent time outside studying, observing, hypothesizing and experimenting.
3. Understanding — ponder and learn about big understandings before mastery of discrete pieces of factual knowledge
When I was in elementary school, I had a teacher who closed the curtains when anything particularly interesting was happening outside. It could have been a first snowfall, a heavy downpour or the clouds dropping down to make the mountains nearly invisible. Her intention was to eliminate distraction. She was a conscientious teacher who was committed to our learning. It was not an effective strategy for me. All of my attention was directed to what was happening outside and why. My imagination took me far away from the lessons of the day. I would have a story worked out by the time recess and anxiously focused on the grand opening of the curtains.
Scott Sampson talks about using the power of learning from Indigenous culture that is grounded in nature and creation stories told from the perspective of animals, plants and landforms. He uses the term “Going Coyote” to reference using “the trickster coyote of Indigenous lore (creator with magical powers as a transformer, shape shifter, hiding in plain sight) to inspire caring and empathy for nature. “The Coyote Club” at our school is grounded in active outdoor learning experiences that provide a model for respecting self, others and the environment. It is embraced indoors and outdoors on a continuous basis.
By pre-school age, students have developed inquisitive minds and a skill set to find answers. Children don’t need to be taught to ask questions. They need to know that their questions matter. They need to know that engaging in the world around them is what good learners do. We want our children to continue to be inquisitive and identify the possibilities, to make observations, connection and ask new questions when they are outdoors as well as indoors at school. Our challenge as educators is to redefine ways to feed the inquisitiveness of children coming into school while we broaden their opportunities to access information, to work collaboratively and to hone skills to find answers. The outdoors provides not only an opportunity for physical activity but an opportunity for incredible cross curricular learning and mental health. This is a place to observe and ask questions and learn through play. To make connections with book learning. To use technology to document and access new knowledge. It is a place to be in awe and celebrate curiosity.
For ideas to engage children in nature activities, online information and lesson plans, please see:
PechaKucha, Ignite and Edvent presentations have various rules to govern the format. They have one basic elements in common, to engage the audience and communicate a message within a fast paced presentation.
PechaKucha Nights (PKNs) are a Japanese innovation to allow presentations from multiple presenters throughout the night. 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total) hence the name “PechaKucha” or “chitchat”. How To Make a Petcha Kutcha is a YouTube “meta-kutcha” created by Marcus Weaver Hightower from The University of North Dakota. He goes through all of the essential elements to consider, including slide show suggestions in the preparation. Rosa Fazio @collabtime used Spark Video for her Ignite at The British Columbia Principals’ Vice Principals’ Association Friday Forum which was very powerful.
Ignite sessions are similar. 20 slides are advanced at intervals of 15 seconds for a total 5 minute presentations. The 1st Ignite took place in Seattle in 2006 and the presentation format has spread exponentially to cities all over the world to multiple disciplines.
EDvents are less formal in form for educators coming together to “chitchat” about educational issues. The inspirational quality of the 5 minute is presentation is at a premium to stimulate educational discourse between speakers at the event. There could be one slide, There could be props. There could be an adherence to pechakucha or ignite format. There could be a theme. I presented on a “Menu for Meaningful Learning” in keeping with the food theme at EDvent 2017 in Burnaby, British Columbia.
The challenge of all of these formats is to remove all of the extraneous detail, to make the message succinct and content engaging. My first “EDvent” was extremely stressful. My ability to ad lib by reading the audience was stripped away by the need to follow a well-practiced script to ensure my presentation was coordinated with the timed slides. It was different from any other presentation I had done, albeit not quite as stressful as my 9th Grade oral report on the tomato plant. Fortunately I was surrounded by like-minded educators who were proud of me for being brave enough to take the risk.
I have been asked to do another ignite and I’m starting to think about how to improve on my last performance. I’ve gone to two respected colleagues who have taken the “edvent” to an art form. Gillian Judson @perfinker responded that a good ignite session “comes from a position of engagement and connects with the heart of the listener.” Rosa Fazio @collabtime also shared similar wisdom: “When I write an ignite, my goal is to make a connection between the head and the heart.” There you have it! The aspiration to connect and inspire the listener is what dictates the power of the presentation.
On April 17th, I will be attending another Edvent 2018 #tunEDin organized by Gabriel Pillay @GabrielPillay1 with the effervescent enthusiasm of his sister, Rose Pillay @RosePillay1 aka CandyBarQueen. I am looking forward to connecting with other colleagues in Education, being inspired by the signature EDvent format and to glean helpful hints for my next ignite session. I hope to see you there.
Earth Day has become an established part of the school calendar. Every school district and most schools focuses on taking care of the environment in one capacity or another. In some cases, the focus remains on garbage pickup and recycling. In some cases, it extends to gardening efforts, going outside for Physical Education and composting. I believe that our real task as educators is to nurture an appreciation of the outdoors to prevent the disconnect with nature that many of our students are experiencing, particularly in urban contexts.
Most children naturally experience the physical benefit from outdoor activity. Some children readily participate in community building experiences with peers. All children benefit from scaffolded experiences to develop their curiosity, creativity, problem solving and mindfulness during outdoor learning experiences. For educators with diverse background experiences outdoors, teachable moments and connections to curriculum unfold seamlessly. At our school, the Grade 6 YMCA Camp Elphinstone experience, has been an important way of broadening student perspective of outdoor learning opportunities available to them. The expansion of recycling and organics in all VSB schools, the BC Fresh Fruit and Veggies program, the B.C. Milk Program for K-Gr2 students, bringing the cows to the school and exploration of food sources have all helped students to make connections between nature and their lives.
One challenges is that educators in urban contexts do not always have the background experiences to use the outdoor classroom as a basis for developing cross curricular competencies on a daily basis. As school communities, we need to tease out the resources that are readily available to us. Dr. Hartley Banack ,of Wild About Vancouver, has been instrumental in helping us to engage our students in meaningful learning experiences. Spearheading the Wild About Vancouver Festival has been a labour of love to broaden the accessibility of outdoor learning possibilities to urban dwellers in Vancouver. With the stellar effort of his team, Wild About Vancouver was able to coordinate 65 events, hosted by 48 organizations. Students at Tecumseh Main and Tecumseh Annex experienced nature through games, shelter building and developing their observation skills during the festival. Hopefully this is an event that only continues to grow and increase our personal health, community building, mindfulness and experiential learning throughout the year.
Dr. Banack is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at UBC. He works tirelessly with students at U.B.C. to develop the skill set to engage students in experiential learning outdoors. Alison Nasato and Alli Tufaro are two students in the Social and Emotional Learning cohort at UBC with Professor Claire Rushton. Their coursework with Dr. Banack and Claire Rushton has been inspirational. They have been engaged in inquiry projects exploring curricular integrations of outdoor learning within a SEL framework during their practicum experiences in Surrey, B.C. This type of learning has the potential to impact how we engage students as the redesigned curriculum unfolds in British Columbia.
The Outdoor Einsteins has been an offering at Tecumseh Elementary for all three of terms of after school programming by the David Thompson Community School Team. CST School coordinator, Tara Perkins, has worked hard with student program facilitators from David Thompson Secondary School and volunteers to implement the program. A grant from ReadingBC (BC Council of International Literacy Association) allowed her to develop the literacy aspects of the program. A eureka moment for many of our students and parents has been that you can even have fun outside, even when it’s raining. Appropriate clothing, hot chocolate, student made shelters, giant umbrellas, Write in the Rain books and inspired activities have kept kids excited about participating and lining up to register each term.
Another source of inspiration I recently happened upon on Twitter in the 30X30 challenge sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation. The goal is 30 minutes outside for 30 days in May. What a fun way to engage our school communities! Follow us @Tecumseh39 to see what we’re up to in our school community. Let us know if you have other ideas on ways to learn in the outdoor classroom.
Embracing the outdoors as an avenue for learning in not always easy sell when you live in a temperate rainforest. The sun, the sand and the sea are celebrated in Vancouver and our claim to being “the very best” place to live is assumed. Last week I was heading outside with a group of students for DPA- the 30 minutes minimum of daily physical activity at schools in British Columbia. An indignant 8 year Amy, popped her hand in the air and responded with “Ms. Froese, don’t you know it’s cold out there?”
The challenge in some schools is ensuring that students are dressed appropriately for the weather. Perhaps the bigger challenge is the notion that we need to somehow escape the weather. How do we help our students to embrace the notion of the outdoor classroom at all times of the year?
Dr. Hart Banack, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC, has been heading up Wild About Vancouver in an effort to encourage teachers and students to take advantage of the opportunities to participate in outdoor learning. This year Wild About Vancouver is scheduled for April 16-22, 2016 and will provide dozens of free, outdoor-focused activities. Last week educators from seven schools came together in Vancouver. In exchange for agreeing to host a Wild About Vancouver event (big or small), Hart Banack worked with his students at the University of British Columbia to develop plans tailored to each school to support outdoor learning in the school community. The area was surveyed for parks and other opportunities and activities to incorporate outdoor learning into curriculum using a thematic approach to integrating outdoor education into the “big ideas” of the new curriculum and provincial learning outcomes. Administrators and teachers from public and private elementary sites were excited to see the plans and share about the things happening at their schools. We heard about “outdoor Kindergarten” and whole day expeditions to Jericho Beach Park, rain or shine, where students adopted a square meter to observe changes or made footprints using overhead film to consider the impact of a “step”.
I walked away anxious to share some of the ideas with my staff and Community School Team members. Tara Perkins, CST Programmer, and John Mullan, CST Coordinator, from the David Thompson Community School Team have been working with me on ways to include outdoor learning into after school programs at our school. The student volunteers from David Thompson Secondary worked with Tara to include the “Outdoor Einsteins” in our programming this fall. I came back excited to discuss ways we could continue the program throughout the winter programming. The current program is culminating this Friday with students going outside to actually try out the fire starter kits they have made. This is a learning opportunity often reserved for students participating in the Scouting and Girl Guiding organizations. And yes, that brings up another aspect of outdoor learning: What are the risks worth taking?
Throughout my career, I have coached sports, sponsored the ski/snowboard club, taken kids to camp with swimming and canoeing, on biking fieldtrips to Steveston and to the beach. The reality is that these activities do not provide the same protected environment as the classroom. However many students do not have these experiences unless they do them at school. These activities are frequently game changers for our students. You can see it in kids eyes when there world has just expanded to include a whole new range of options for learning and living. It brings me right back to that Christmas in Grade 3 when I got the lime green bike with the daisy banana seat and the monkey bar handles. The world expanded. I was empowered. To be a child of the 70’s with a new freedom to explore possibilities 🙂
For Amy, the game changer was going outside and realizing that on that cold, crisp day, the sun was in the eastern part of the sky and the moon was in the western part of the sky and that it wasn’t such a bad idea to go out after all.
It is fairly common to hear couples that speak on the same topic at conferences. It is less common to have siblings pursuing and presenting on the same area of study. This year I had the good fortune to hear both of the Couros brothers speak. Although I follow both of them on Twitter, @gcouros @courosa, read their blogs (The Principal Change by George and Open Thinking by Alec), face to face contact is still best case scenario for me. George Couros came to speak with Jordan Tinney at a PDK Vancouver (UBC Chapter) dinner meeting: ” Report Cards and Communicating Student Learning: Leadership and Learning in a Changing World “. He awed the Vancouver, B.C. audience with his forward thinking about the mindset of innovator’s (2015, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity 2015 release) and implementation of a wide variety of progressive tools and strategies to stimulate curiosity and make learning visible, including various digital portfolios. This was the first PDK- UBC Chapter meeting where people were tweeting from outside the room. Interest in the topic and his 92.2 K Twitter following were undoubtedly part of the reason. When I learned his big brother, Alec Couros, would be joining Vancouver administrators in Whistler for our Fall Conference, I was not sure what to expect. His job as a professor at the University of Regina indicated ivory tower, but his 94.7 K Twitter following, tweets and blog posts indicated something more dynamic.
To my delight, his session was every bit as engaging and informative as his brother’s session with Jordan Tinney in Spring. The session started providing a theoretical frame as to why educators need to establish an online presence and be the authors of their own story. He also spoke to our responsibility to define respectful discourse on the internet and teach our students about appropriate posting before any damage is done. Then he emerged into a whole range of ways to engage our students in their own learning using technology and available APPS. Dr. Couros provided opportunities for online engagement via a Twitterchat and references so we could go back and play with new tools at a later date. Educators with varying degrees of comfort with technology and differences of background knowledge on social media walked out of the room excited about their new learning and with a manageable path they could navigate.
Both of the Couros brothers were able to inspire their audience with not just an openness to change but an excitement about the potential of change. Their willingness to “boldly go where no “one” has gone before” (Do I need to cite Star Trek?) is energizing for some. That is not to say that people who embrace change are not without fear. With any change in life, there is risk. Continuing on the “tried and true” path is the safest route and perhaps shields us from possible criticism for the questions we can’t answer or for not getting it “right” the first time around. However as reflective practitioners, our role is to identify what we do well and what we could do better. How do we welcome and better facilitate the learning of our students with diverse cultural and linguistic profiles? With varied academic strengths and needs? With questions we can’t answer? With varied mental health? With varied trust in the school system? With delight in the experiences and energy our students bring into the classroom? The Couros brothers were both able to shed some light on the possibilities. They also provided the encouragement, background knowledge and manageable steps to keep us moving forward, not just for the sake of change, but for our students who will need to navigate in a world quite foreign to the one we grew up in. Thank you, gentlemen 🙂
A two week Spring Break provided a good excuse to go see how my daughter was doing in Spain. I spent a big chunk of time en route, in the Newark Airport. Innovation is alive and well and celebrated in Newark Airport. All the restaurants had iPad menues where you placed your order and paid before you ever saw your server or the food. #MakeThingsBetter was advertised widely and aimed to popularize the notion that the energy industry is committed to better energy in the oil, natural gas and solar energy sectors. “Innovation brewing everywhere”.
In Spain, Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia speaks to the quest to innovate, that has existed throughout history. Gaudi started work in 1884 on this “modern cathedral”, knowing that he would never see it completed but with the quest to work out the architectural challenges he had been wrestling with throughout his lifetime. The innovation is celebrated inside and outside of Spain and funded largely by the Catholic community and the tourists who flock to stare in awe at the magnificence.
The quest to innovate is alive in every area of life. The Michelin star chefs strive to create the most delectable pintxos for the Spanish and tourists to enjoy on a nightly basis. It is well worth the quest to have a glass of wine and the house “pintxo” specialty and then move on to the next spot. The quest to innovate feeds the Michelin star chef and the quest to discover “perfection in two bites” feeds the consumer. Medical science has cured the cancer that took Terry Fox’s life. Planes can travel at speeds that break the sound barrier.
Innovation is wholeheartedly embraced in education by some educators and students alike. The potential of doing something better captures many imaginations. They say that change is difficult because in schools because people walk into the classroom and proceed to teach exactly as they were taught as children. Yet, there are also those educators who do not want to replicate their own experiences, see the spark of enthusiasm or the blind faith in success in their students’ eyes. That keeps the momentum moving towards the potential for something more or something better in our schools. Social media allows people of like mind to connect and inspire the ability to move forward. Jordan Tinney and George Couros are two of those people who engage online and provide the inspiration to consider the rationale and potential pathways for reaching towards new possibilities with technology. I’m thrilled to be able to continue the conversation in person at the next PDK dinner meeting on April 22, 2015 at the Arbutus Club in Vancouver.
Stay tuned to #pdkedchat on April 22nd to participate in the Twitter conversation.
Student led conferences with a twist this year. Joanne Carlton, our VSB iMentor was fortunately available to come to the classroom to guide our learning in Division 11. She has a considerable amount of background knowledge in literacy instruction and technology. As luck would have it, Zhi Su, the VSB iMovie expert was also available to come as well. We had planned in advance of their arrival so we could make the best use of their time. The previous week, I has attended a session for teachers and administrators participating the iPad Cart inquiry with my inquiry colleagues. Although I’ve had some experience with iMovie, the facilitators broke down the process so that we were able to take photos and a short videoclip, then add voice and a music track. Very impressive for an after school professional development session. I posted the assignment for students (the list of photos and videoclips for students to collect) on the Showbie APP and explained the purpose with a voice note. Most of the kids are now able to log onto their Showbie account independently. With student led conferences on the horizon, my Grade 3/4 class were excited about sharing the Winter theme books they had created with their photos from the playground, their winter sense poetry, downloaded images and audioclips. However I decided to tap student interest in the iPad technology and allow my Grade 3 and 4 students to use the iPads to demonstrate and talk about their learning this term with their parents. Many parents at the first conferences of the year had expressed they wanted their children to spend less time using technology. I very much wanted them to understand the importance of being deliberate with time spent on screens. Students had each collected:
a photo of himself or herself
a photo with the friends he/she particularly works well with in class
a videoclip of himself/herself doing gymnastics
a videoclip of himself/herself reading a favorite passage from the book he/she was currently reading
a photo of a piece of writing from his/her Thinking Book or Writing Book
a photo of the the province/territory or Aboriginal group he/she is researching
Zhi took the leadership of stepping the students through the process. The first thing he did was show them how to pull up the picture of himself or herself and write their name on it. Students learned to share group photos via airdrop, add music and shorten video-clips. Many of our students attend Chinese School and decided that their Chinese calligraphy had to be part of their iMovie. The more proficient students in the class have been teaching the others Chinese writing to create Lunar New Year cards to deliver to the mostly Asian business owners down Victoria Drive on February 19th. Many students were proud to share their skill with their parents. We had lots of adults in the room helping the students and inquiring about their learning. However the sharing between students was readily apparent. If one student in a working group had music, then it was likely all of them did. Myles LOVED the ability to airdrop and single handedly taught most of the class. Jason, a big ‘”Frozen” fan downloaded an image from the movie as the final frame of his movie with the caption “Bye”. One group of students downloaded applause for their iMovies. The process was not without it’s glitches. However everyone had a movie and one more way to open up the conversation about their learning with his/her parents. Fortunately Henry emerged as our Grade 3 techno-wizard in the process of getting everyone ready for conferences once the mentors were gone. He became the expert on downloading from iMovie to Showbie so we could share the iPads with our other inquiry classes on conference days. Parents were simply amazed at how smart their children are and how much they have learned. As the teacher, the iMovies helped me to learn about my students and determine some of the focus areas for learning. The possibilities are endless and exciting!
Four teachers at Tecumseh Elementary committed to working together on PILOT. Our job was to engage in an inquiry using technology with our students. We were provided with an iPad cart with 20 iPads for class use, 3 iPads for use of Resource teachers, 5 desktop computers in the library and Apple TV.
Students and parents in all of the classes were taught about iPad care and signed a use agreement. For much of the term, teachers explored the technology with their classes with a focus on the tools. We had general discussions about developing writing and thinking skills but specific definition of an inquiry question was vague and the focus was how do you…
It was once we started to share what we were doing that our learning intentions became more defined. On teacher had started writing a Seasons Book with her Kindergarten students using Book Creator. Marion Collins started working with her Grade 6 students using keynote and Book Creator.
Virginia Bowden continued the work she had started with Kidblog with the Gifted students attending pull out Gifted programming in the district, used iMovie to have students create trailers on themselves and Prezi to develop research skills.
I continued the word I was doing with the Gifted students (in the district Multi-age Cluster class) during computer prep to develop their own blog on Kidblog and focused on having my Gr 3/4 class use Raz-Kids to support home reading and Book Creator to develop writing skills and explored search engines to answer questions.
Initially the focus was on learning how to use the tools and it looked like each of us were taking some very different directions. We narrowed the common elements down to the focus that each of us had taken in developing literacy skills.
Our discussion and questions were great:
How can we develop fluency in writing?
Adding pages encourages younger or less proficient writers to extend their writing. What about older and more proficient writers?
Does a lack of a keyboard limit the amount that students write?
Are templates available for report writing in Book Creator?
Is Book Creator more conducive to writing picture or poetry books?
Is the best way to teach note taking still having students write phrases with facts on paper; outlining / sort facts into groups, and creating their own paragraphs?
Are library books still the best way to match ELL students with reading material at their own level?
How can we get students to question the source of the information they read online? Hear on media or read in books?
Does using iPads break down gender barriers in oral communication?
Does adding sound clips lend itself to developing expressive reading skills?
Our inquiry question is still broad enough to let us pursue our individual interests but narrow enough to focus our discussion on how we are using the tools to support the language development of our English Language learners. Our intention is to make observations and reflect on the ways that technology is being used in our classrooms to develop oral language skills, reading skills, writing skills and the ability to represent ideas in visual formats. We have a general direction. The thinking and focusing continues. We’ll keep you posted.