Oh oh. I’ve been to another conference….

 From the EdTech Summit, Toronto, March 4/5 2014

BYOD, MOOC, MDM, DRMS.  Greek to me, or geek to me?  My two days at the EdTech Summit in Toronto were interesting, enlightening, engaging and useful.  Here is an overview of the sessions that resonated with me from a pedagogical stand point.  I have tried to capture the application to our environment as well some key links to resources.

Session:  ‘Teaching Naked’ – Moving Technology out of your Classroom to Deliver Campus Value and to Change Minds.  (a blended learning approach)

Jose Bowen, Dean of Arts at South Methodist University and author of Teaching Naked, spoke about teaching ‘naked’, face to face, as the greatest value to students and to student learning.  Technology can be used to enhance the time teachers have with students face to face.  Bowen advocates for teachers to embrace new technologies and methods to enhance learning and to spark dialogues.  His presentation featured strategies he uses for motivating teachers and students.  Learning is about change.  Technology is a tool, not a strategy.  He argues that if the teacher is a content provider, your value goes down; whereas, if you are a motivator teaching kids to think, your value goes up.

The ‘Teaching Naked’ Cycle:  Start by connecting with students online – email students (GroupMe) for first exposure to material (entry point);  Post content online for first exposure (reading/video/assignment);  Give an exam to focus (low stakes);  Writing to reflect;  use class time to challenge learning(http://reacting.barnard.edu/) and to maximize f2f time;  eCommunication to reinforce;  cognitive wrapper to self-regulate (www.Socrative.com)

He referenced his use of the Khan Academy and the use of YouTube (Charlemagne – Call me “Blondie’, A Capella Science – Bohemian Gravity and EdX for the purpose of challenging students to be critical of what they see online. He reaches out to students using podcasts and an app called GroupMe.

One interesting resource he referenced is Merlot, a multi-media education resource for learning and teaching online.  He emphasized the power of games (not gaming).  He uses games to encourage risk and failure in the form of low-stakes assessment.  Socrative is a good example.

Session:  How to Position Technology as a Powerful Enabler for 21st Century Education.  Peel District School Board.  (Secondary Flipped Pilot Study)

Peel is the second largest district in Canada.  It has rolled out a comprehensive technology platform for 155,000 students in 230 schools and 15,000 staff.  Mark Keating, Chief Information Officer, said that the plan anticipated the demand for bandwidth in a ubiquitous wireless environment to support 165,000 users including a BYOD umbrella.  They provided sufficient bandwidth to handle this by projecting 5 years out.  They have had no bandwidth issues.

In secondary schools, they undertook a pilot program with Flipped Classrooms by inviting schools to participate in the pilot designed to promote innovation and creativity.  Five schools took up the challenge under the guidance of Jan Courtin, Superintendent of Education.  They went to Clintondale High School in Troy, Michigan to learn from Greg Green in his flipped school.  50 teachers received training and support.  They became the local experts.  They did a ‘speed dating’ Pro D with other teachers upon return.

Session:  Measuring Efficacy.  Efficacy Framework – A practical approach to improving outcomes for learners.  Dr. Tania Sterling, Pearson Canada.

Efficacy is the measureable impact on improving someone’s life through learning.  In education we roll   out projects with little understanding of how our combined efforts have changed practices at the classroom level.  Educators know what we want to do and where we want to go, yet we don’t have a way to measure our progress towards getting there.  Pearson has developed an efficacy framework to predict if efforts will achieve the desired outcomes.  http://efficacy.pearson.com

Session:  Critical Thinking by Design – how teachers measure progress in students thoughts and reasoning. 

This pilot project is created in Montreal to engage at-risk grade 9 students to change the learning experiences for kids.  With a focus on communication, critical thinking, creative thinking and collaboration, students helped design and create a flexible learning space where they worked on their authentic learning projects.  Flexible structures include T-walls for collaborative workspaces and flip top table.  The students designed and built the furniture.   Assessment for all work is based on critical thinking questions.

A key question raised at the centre of the project: Is empathy at the centre of my design??  Chris Davis’ ‘Powerful Learning Practices’ turns Bloom’s taxonomy on its head.

Session:  Making Sense of MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses exist in abundance from many prominent institutions.  The completion of these courses is notoriously low:  http://mfeldstein.com/the-most-thorough-summary-to-date-of-mooc-completion-rates/.  A good look at MOOCs is found at TEDx MOOCs: http://www.ted.com/talks/anant_agarwal_why_massively_open_online_courses_still_matter.html

Session:  The Learning Intelligence Fabric.  Big Data.  (Koroluk, Saskatoon)

This session presented a thoughtful examination of the move from traditional indicators of student achievement to new measures or key indicatorsTraditional data modeling is about date for informing instruction and intervention to support traditional learning environments. (standardized assessments, grades, attendance, outcomes-based assessment)  In the era of competency and skills-based learning we are experiencing a shift to Learning Analytics.  Rich data now consists of:

  • New taxonomies for big data:
  • Intelligence engines – algorithms
  • Enhanced interfaces – data aggregation
  • Robust – dynamic data centre

Key resources:  Knewton Adaptive Learning Infrastructure.  http://www.knewton.com.

Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conferences http://lak14indy.wordpress.com.

Session:  Intuit Education Program  (FREE STUFF)

Intuit Education is offering complimentary software accounting and tax software to schools and districts.  This is a response to the demand for practical financial literacy.  Intuit will provide Quickbooks online and Profile Premier Suite for tax prep and personal financial management.

Educator Registration application:  www.intuit.ca/education featuring the fundamentals of accounting with real world applications.

The End:  Well that was fun.  I came away knowing much more about blended learning, MOOCs, BYODs and the like – and that was my goal.  I’m ready.  PS.  I never met a geek I didn’t like.

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Secondary Leaders Showcase Best Practices

February 2014

How do you know when classroom practices are changing?  How do you know when the impact of leadership reaches the classroom level?  These are important questions that serve as the focus for the work of secondary administrative leaders in Abbotsford this year.

Leadership behaviours influence student achievement when the leader understands and promotes practices that have leverage with student achievement.  There is no ‘silver bullet’ in education that magically transforms teaching and mystically improves student achievement.  Rather, the research says that when schools strategically work on research-based initiatives that do support student learning, the combined effect will lead to an improvement in student achievement across the board.

Secondary school leaders have begun conversations in their schools around six areas of inquiry over the past two years.  The six areas – assessment practices, inquiry-based learning, teacher collaboration, blended learning, social/emotional learning for grade 9 and choice programs (careers and academies) are topics of conversation in all of our secondary schools.  In some cases, considerable time, effort and money has been invested to expose our teachers to new practices.  The return on the investment has been impressive so far as there is compelling evidence that classroom practices are changing.  One conversation or one conference, however, does not a system change make!  Time, persistence, patience, and drive will make the difference over time.  And this will take some time.

On February 4, secondary leaders met with teachers who showcased their work in areas of teacher collaboration, assessment practices and inquiry-based learning.  We heard from teachers at Abby, Bateman and ATSS about the value of collaboration time.  They like the opportunity to meet and to discuss their work with students.  They reported that they are learning a great deal about more effective ways to collaborate on some of the best practices they are learning.  Pam Van Kleek said, ‘This is the most powerful innovation in my 30+ years of teaching.’

Jeff Ritchie (Math) and Sara Bacon (Science) modelled their approaches to assessment.  Both have moved away from ‘everything counts’ to outcomes count.  They have replaced completing tasks (homework, assignments) with attaining outcomes.  Interestingly, in both cases, grading is replaced by evidence of learning.  In Jeff’s case, the only mark he ’officially’ assigns is the final mark.  Students in his class have replaced competing for a grade with attainment of the concept.  As Jeff stated, ‘The mark, 85% or 90% is not as important to me as is the knowledge that the student has demonstrated learning.’  Sara has allowed herself to move away from highly structured final examinations.  Increasingly, her senior science students engage in demonstrations of learning in a variety of interesting and creative ways.

Nora Apelt and Reena Dhillon showcased their inquiry approach to Socials 10 on First Nations and the federal government.  Using a project-based design that they learned at the PBL Institute, these teachers engaged their classes in learning some otherwise ‘dense’ material in collaborative, research-focused, student teams that addressed the guiding questions.  Both teachers reported a lot of trial and error as they ‘bumped’ along the new curriculum design.  However, with support from Michelle Middleton of the Curriculum Department, they agreed that the learning was deeper and more engaging for all students.  Interestingly, they noted that the most reluctant learners were most engaged!!

We came away from the showcase with a greater understanding of the importance of this work in our classrooms and for the benefits it has for our students.  We also recognized that these teachers are representative of a growing group of teachers across the district who are engaged in transforming secondary classroom culture.  It is our intention to have the networks of best practice grow in all of our schools, and we look forward to next year when secondary schools will engage in a common pro-d day that explores assessment and inquiry.  Now, that will be fun!

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Leading by Learning

At our annual secondary leaders’ retreat, school superintendent Kevin Godden reminded the secondary leadership team that our role as engaged leaders is to push, to prod, to ask provocative questions and to cause learning through professional interaction with teachers who in turn provide high-quality, engaging learning experiences for our students in all classrooms.  If students, when asked, can tell you what they are doing in class, why they are doing it, and how it helps them do something important in life – then you are talking to a student in a great learning environment!


Over 2200 years ago Chinese Emperor Qin had his artisans create over 8000 terracotta soldiers to accompany him into the afterlife.  The clay soliders, their weapons and horses (clay of course) lay buried until 1974.  Since then the excavation of Qin’s army has been a wonder of the world. Archeologists who re-assembled the soldiers, most badly smashed and damaged by time, have discovered that each of the life-sized soldiers has individual facial features, hairstyle and regalia.  No two are the same. Qin’s military ranks though frozen in time, like our classrooms, are places filled with individuals with varying needs, interests and dispositions.

Creating schools where every classroom is an opportunity for students to engage in creativity, literacy, project management, personal responsibility, teamwork and collaborative skills is the proper work of the learning leader.  Reforming a school’s culture to create these conditions is difficult work requiring a bold and creative vision – not to mention thick skin.

Jay Pankratz, principal of Yale Secondary School, is working with his staff on ‘Planting Seeds for a Cultural Revolution’ using ideas from Ken Robinson (‘How to escape education’s Death Valley’), Douglas Thomas (‘A new culture of learning’) and Alfie Kohn (grades), Jay and his team are creating a culture in classrooms for deeper learning, creativity, curiosity and personalization.  Jay is creating a survey that will be reviewed with his teachers to check the pulse of student engagement in the Yale classroom culture.

Jinder Sarowa, principal of Robert Bateman Secondary School, and his team are working with teachers who in John Hattie‘s words “are the most important ingredient for having the greatest impact on student engagement and learning.”  Increasingly, teachers at Bateman are active learners and practitioners of effective assessment, inquiry approaches to learning and teacher collaboration.  Jinder’s team has developed a spreadsheet to gather information on evidence of broad implementation of high-yield strategies in classrooms around the school.

Greg Sharpe, principal of Rick Hansen Secondary and his team, are actively engaging teachers in new and engaging approaches to summative assessment.  Many teachers have moved away from their dependency on the Scantron machine and from the two hour high stakes paper and pencil exam as their primary source of knowing student learning.  Some teachers at Hansen are using the final two weeks of the semester to provide time for student demonstrations of learning in a variety of subject areas.  English teachers, for example, are using portfolios and student-led conferences.  The Calculus 12 teacher gives students opportunities to demonstrate their learning through alternative means rather than the traditional paper and pencil exam.  One student create a video of a speeding car, winding its way through twisting turns only to skid off the road!  The Question:  Would the car strike the cluster of trees just off the road, or miss them and avoid catastrophe?  The answer is revealed through a dramatic and humourous blend of mathematical calculations, video and pop culture.   (Greg is happy to share the video and others upon request: greg_sharpe@sd34.bc.ca)

David DeWit, principal of Bakerview Centre for Learning, showed numerous examples of ways teachers have engaged students in their learning at Bakerview, our district alternate school.  The teachers have made a concerted effort to find ways to personalize the learning experience for each student and to find ways to re-connect otherwise reluctant students.  Students are engaged in the community in work experience with the City of Abbotsford Parks and Recreation Department where they participate in community enhancement projects.  Through a partnership with a local service provider, students receive valuable job skills in the Bladerunners program in such things as fork lift operation and other employment skills.  Teachers, as well,  have developed highly engaging curriculum options for students by engaging them in real-life problems by designing and developing such things as vegetable gardens, aquaponics systems and cookbooks.

‘Leaders are responsible for building the capacity in individuals, teams and organizations to be leaders and learners.’  (When educators learn, students learn, Hirsch and Killion, PDK March 2009)  Douglas Reeves describes the conditions that enable individuals and teams to design approaches for creating effective schools and to improved student achievement in the Leadership for Learning Framework. (The learning leader, ASCD 2008)  Principals in ‘Leading schools’ understand the antecedents to excellence and enjoy the high levels of student achievement that come as a result of deliberate and strategic innovation.

Our collective task as secondary leaders is to learn about and to implement the ‘antecedents to excellence’ in our schools.  As learners, we will understand the leadership behaviours that are associated with improved schools and increased student achievement. Kathleen Cotton (2003), Robert Marzano (2009) and Vivian Robinson (2007) describe the behaviours of leaders that impact student outcomes.  Our secondary leaders will learn from this research and translate this to action in our schools.

The body of work in which we engage ourselves this year will focus on initiatives that will transform our learning cultures.  School leadership teams will continue investigation of assessment, inquiry, collaboration, social-emotional learning, choice and personalization knowing that each is a defensible part of a learning culture that will impact student success.  Together, we will go deeper then wider.

It is a joy to work with dedicated professionals.  Our secondary leaders are committed to their personal learning and to their team learning.  As a result, our kids and our teachers are in good hands!

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Demonstrations of Learning – Changing Summative Assessment

My previous blog post highlighted the reflections of a student at Rick Hansen Secondary School in Aviation 12 who gave a compelling reflection of her learning in Mr. Newton’s Physics class.  I was struck by the final assessment given for the course.  I mean how else could you assess an aviation course other that to fly a plane?  Easier said than done?   Here is the description of her final exam:  For our final exam, using our flight plan we had to fly from Abbotsford Airport (CYXX) to Nanaimo (CYCD) in a Cessna 172 simulator. Going into the exam, I was nervous and fearful of not preparing myself enough.  However, the course itself had prepared me for this exam without even me realizing it. The exam was not based on “book-knowledge” although it may be helpful to some extent, but it encouraged you to use your natural ability to fly and common sense to put it simply.

Increasingly, teachers in Abbotsford  are are stepping away from their know worlds – the comfort and safety of paper and pencil examinations.  (I do not oppose the rigour of well constructed exams by the way) Many teachers in traditionally academic content subject areas are having students demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways beyond the crunching of the Scantron machine.  Our superintendent, Kevin Godden has recently posted a two part blog on assessment, and he, too, challenges educators to “allow ourselves to step out of that cozy space for a moment, (so that) we may see the benefits of assessing and reporting in such a way that is most advantageous for the learner.”

I came across yet another great example of a secondary teacher who has applied her assessment literacy to enhance the summative assessment process.  In a recent tweet, Sarah Bacon, senior science teacher at Robert Bateman Secondary School (@Rockteacher50), posts the reflections of a senior student in the Sustainable Studies class.  Considering the many options Ms. Bacon has to gather evidence of student learning, I think you will agree that this video clip is a compelling artifact of this student’s deep learning.

What are the benefits of assessing students in this manner?  I would love to hear your stories.

Thank you Abbotsford educators for moving ahead in our exploration of compelling assessment practices that engage learners.

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In Her Words. Aviation 12 – an engaged, relevant classroom.

Ian Newton came late to teaching.  After a career in engineering and aviation, Ian found a new calling in the classroom at Rick Hansen Secondary School in Abbotsford, BC.  He teaches Physics, where he has turned his love of flight and his passion for reaching kids into a new course, Aviation 12. 

Ian has embraced the challenge of the BC Ed Plan and the Abbotsford School District’s Strategic Plan to engage and to make relevant both the content the delivery of his curriculum.  He is part of a network of Abbotsford educators who collaborate on inquiry in the classroom. Ian and others have been to such places as High Tech High, Project-Based Learning training with the Buck Institute and Calgary School of Science.  Under the guidance of principal, Greg Sharpe,  Director of Curriculum, Julie Rousseau  and along with District Helping Teacher, Michelle Middleton, teachers have begun to transform secondary classrooms.

At the end of semester one, Ian had each student submit a reflection on Aviation 12.  The text of one reflection follows.  Had I been asked to do a reflection on my senior physics class in 1970, I would have written about placing a sheet of 3 ringed paper between two stacked beakers and then blowing across the surface of the paper.  Magically and mystifyingly the surface of the paper rose!  What the…..?  ‘That’s how airplanes fly’, pronounced my beaming teacher. ‘Now let’s move on the chapter 6………’  Interesting, yes.  Engaging, no.  Here are the words of grade 12 student, Christine Tran, reflecting on the same material but in a 21st Century classroom!


            This class was nothing short from phenomenal.  Coming into this course, I knew very little about planes and how they are created other than that they were large fixed-wing aircraft for transporting passengers and cargo.  Whether it was learning about how the plane functions to how it is structured from a manufacturers point of view, this course was nothing but insightful.  The Aviation program consisted of numerous activities such as field trips to Boeing Fields, Coastal Pacific, Conair, Chinook Helicopters, and even our very own Abbotsford Airport.  At Boeing Fields in Seattle, I learned that constructing a 747 Dreamlifter and a 787 Dreamliner is a lot more complex than I had originally thought. The orchestration of the aircrafts used is called the assembly line process.  Assembly lines are designed for sequential organization of workers, tools, as well as machines, and parts.  This process is beneficial in a way that it is efficient, uses relatively less skilled labour, produces consistent results, and there is a much lower cost in mass production allowing the creation of several at a time.  Mass production involves building copies of a product in a quick and efficient manner, using assembly line techniques to send partially complete products to workers who each work on an individual step, rather than having a single worker work on a whole product from start to finish.  At Coastal Pacific, we experienced sitting in the pilot’s seat of a Cessna 172, a four-seat, single-engine, high-wing fixed-wing aircraft in which have been built more than any other aircraft. Then, we got front row seats to the view from the control tower while witnessing the air traffic controller in action assisting the landings and take-offs of aircrafts. At Conair, I had the opportunity to be inside a water bomber as well as be one of the first few people to see a new and improved upcoming design.  Afterwards, at Chinook Helicopters I met one of the first women in the world to obtain a helicopters license. Meeting her was not only honourable, but inspirational in a sense that not only males can be pilots but females like myself have the same credentials and are just as capable of becoming pilots.

Furthermore, everyone got to know each other as a whole and work on numerous projects together in this class making it a collaborative effort and allowing us to learn how to work as a team.  This skill is helpful in any aspect of Aviation; flying alongside a co-pilot or building the exclusive 787 Dreamliner with a team of people at Boeing Fields.  Projects that we engaged in include designing a wing and also building a semi-monocoque plane.  The purpose of the wing design project was to learn the different types and parts to the wings of an aircraft and be able to design a wing that demonstrates lift.  Throughout this wing project, I learned how the camber, leading edge, and trailing edge all contribute to creating lift in the wing just by the way it is shaped.  I gained knowledge of many new and interesting principles and ideas about lift. Some of which include Daniel Bernoulli’s Principle, the lift equation, and why air flow is important.  During the construction of the wing section, my partner and I made three model wings.  Each differently shaped and moulded.  What we learned through our design is that we never quite generated the lift we desired on each wing.  After thinking about the concept for a while we came up with two problems we had with each wing.  The first problem being that there was not enough camber, and inefficient camber resulted in a wing with a great deal of drag.  To solve this problem we made a deeper camber into one of the wings, and the lift seemed to improve a little.  The other problem was that we made our wing tails lower, which consequently caused more drag, and to fix that problem we cut some of the end part of the wing off and only then did our wings generate further lift.  Our final project was to construct a semi-monocoque plane that will not only fly for duration of time but also lift off on its own without any sort of fuelled engines attached.  This project challenged us to use our critical thinking skills and continuously make adjustments in order to improve the take-off and produce the smoothest flight possible.  Several adjustments had to be made such as the roughness and placement of our wings because if the wings were too far forward the plane would nose-dive due to the amount of weight at the front, with a forward CG (centre of gravity), our tail was producing a downwards force to balance the nose, but if the wings were too far moved rearwards that the centre of gravity fell behind our centre of life the tail then needed to generate “upwards” lift to keep the nose from pitching up, and that caused in the nose of the plane rising more and becoming slower as it needed to work harder. Then there was the length of our elastic that acted as “the motor” when we realized that the shorter the elastic the less likely it is to get tangled during take-off, and also the addition of baby oil in which decreased the friction to allow better movement.  Overall both projects gave us an opportunity to experience firsthand the sort of work aircraft engineers have, while encouraging us to problem solve and improve results of both projects through trial and error.  Before taking this course, never would I have imagined myself capable of producing such structures that are scale models of what engineers themselves manufacture.

            Another aspect to the course was learning how to read TAFs and METARs which are the most popular formats in the world for the transmission of weather data.  They are weather reports predominantly used by pilots in fulfillment of a part of a pre-flight weather briefing, and by meteorologists, who use aggregated METAR information to assist in weather forecasting.  Strangely, I found decoding METARs and TAFs the most enjoyable part because it felt like I was learning another language, the language that pilots use.  We also learned how to use various different tools such as an E6B to determine fuel required, magnetic headings, estimated time it would take to arrive to a destination, and airspeed.  Furthermore, I found how useful a pilot’s operating handbook is to determine weight and balance calculations and just basic instructions before flight.  All of these tools had ultimately prepared us for the single task of being able to create a flight plan for our final examination. Our flight plan had to be composed of take-off and landing distances, take-off briefing, weight and balance calculations, a navigation log, and a progress log.  This really tested our knowledge and tied everything that we had learned in the course together.

            For our final exam, using our flight plan we had to fly from Abbotsford Airport (CYXX) to Nanaimo (CYCD) in a Cessna 172 simulator. Going into the exam, I was nervous and fearful of not preparing myself enough.  However, the course itself had prepared me for this exam without even me realizing it. The exam was not based on “book-knowledge” although it may be helpful to some extent, but it encouraged you to use your natural ability to fly and common sense to put it simply. So as much as I studied, I wouldn’t have succeeded during my exam if I didn’t understand the general concepts learned in class that no book could ever teach me the same way.  The most challenging part of the flight was how sensitive the simulators controls were to every movement you made.  Overall, flying was nowhere near as challenging to landing due to the lack of visibility of the runway from afar and being able to angle yourself in preparation to land square onto the runway.  Timing was everything, the timing to decrease your speed as well as lower your altitude before approaching the runway.

What I loved most about this course however is that the instructor was what made this course enjoyable.  It wasn’t about the percentage we received in class, but the learning experience as a whole.  He had innovative teaching tactics as he ensured that our success was not based on our grades, but rather gave us an opportunity to grow and learn far beyond the curriculum and attain knowledge that was not taught by him, but taught by ourselves through experience.  The people I met through this Aviation course, as well as the places I would have not been able to go to without this course is not indescribable in words. These memories will be what I will cherish forever, and the skills that I have developed with everything I’ve learned are nothing that I could have achieved on my own. This course has opened numerous paths and provided great insight for me as a person keen to knowledge.  The exploration of all the various perspectives brought me to realize that I may have an interest and desire to work as an aircraft manufacturer as well as reinforced the drive to attain a career in Aviation.  I have been exposed a number of career paths in Aviation that include but aren’t limited to; Aviation Law, Commercial Pilot, Sports Pilot, Maintenance, Engineering, Airport Management, Manufacture and Design, Flight Instruction, and Air Traffic Control. Whether it involves working for the Boeing Company, becoming a Commercial Pilot, or even perhaps an Air Traffic Controller – I am intrigued by the different aspects of Aviation that I have come to understand aside from just becoming a pilot.

Hey, Ian.  I think you are onto something here.

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Lessons from China

I had the pleasure of visiting schools in Shandong province in China in early September as part of a launch of a new program with our partner school, Gaomi No 1 High School.  Specifically, I visited with grade 10 Chinese students who are enrolled in the International Program in their school.  These kids will complete their Chinese studies next year then come to Abbotsford to complete their Dogwood Graduation Diplomas.  There is great aniticipation among the parents and students who are preparng for this magnificent opportunity.

On September 3, I attended the opening day ceremony of the school and participated in a wonderful celebration with the principal, teachers, parents and about 1000 kids to launch the program!  Funny how the hopes and dreams of youth are universal.  I discovered or perhaps rediscovered this, when a 15 year old girl selected by her classmates spoke to the assembly in flawless English about her aspirations and those of her peers.

Taking her lead from Martin Luther King, she addressed us with her dreams.  ‘I have a dream that one day I will have a Canadian teacher. I have a dream that one day I will learn in a Canadian school.  I have a dream that one day I will be able to graduate from a Canadian university.  I have a dream that one day I will be part of a global program that promotes a better world!’  And, ‘I believe that our generation will make a difference by learning and working together in the spirit of cooperation and understanding.’

How many times around the world on the opening day of school did young people express their hopes for their generation?  I know I witnessed something I had never expected in a place I had never imagined.  I am heartened that after 36 years in this business, that my faith in youth has never diminished and that youth continue to inspire and hearten me.  I hadn’t expected to be reminded of this, and I’m glad that I was.  My year is off to a great start.

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Personalizing High Schools

I recently attended ASCD Spring Conference in Philadelphia.  My session was the two day Pre-Conference on Personalizing High School put on by Joe Di Martino author of Personalizing the high school experience for each student, ASCD, 2008.  He has also just released a second book, The personalized high school – making learning count for adolescents, ASCD, 2012.  Joe is the founder and president of the Centre for Secondary School Redesign (CSSR)  This is a particularly good site for those seeking direction with school reform.

At the outset, each of the participants was given the profile of a student to consider.  In my case, the student was an immigrant, very bright, limited language (ELL), quite out going.  I was asked to consider a student from my context at home and to put this student at the centre of all of my conversations over the course of the two days.  This was a powerful way for me to think of the unique circumstances of my student as I considered ways to personalize his learning experience.  I chose a student from Abbotsford Collegiate as my model.  He is a senior student, an international student, quite out going and very bright.

The session began with a hilarious look at a Saturday Night Live clip by Father Guido Sarducci and the 5 Minute University.  You won’t want to miss this one.  It’s a great reminder of what we take away from school when all we do is memorize content and regurgitate afterwards; and, it sets the stage nicely for a conversation about creating learning experiences and environments that personalize and engage learners.

The presentation focused on the what of personalizing as well as the how.  I sat with a superintendent from New York State, a principal from Stetler, Alberta and 3 teachers from a middle school in Maine.  Over the two days we shared many insights on our journeys.  For the most part, the table partners were starting the journey towards personalizing their schools.  We all shared various challenges with change in our work places.  Those in non or less unionized environments were able to tell stories about changes they had made or were contemplating.  Those in less flexible environments told of difficulties moving forward with even the simplest of initiatives.  However, the overall tone of the conversations was one of optimism given the commitment to learn more about creating even better learning places for kids.

Transforming high school culture.  We worked through models of change in school structure and culture: from a Traditional industrial model of schooling; to a Transitional, teacher-centred model to a Transformational, student-centred model for schools.  In order to create more flexible and responsive teaching and learning environments.  This impacts every aspect of how we organized schools:

A.  Stucture:  Untracking schools, creating flexible block schedules, anytime anywhere learning, advisories.

B.  Ownership for Learning and Development:  advocating for the whole child, community focus, self-direction, student-led goverance, student exhibitions, teacher learning teams, collaborative inquiry among teachers, parents as partners, community collaboration.

C.  Pedagogy: learning designed for each student, learner profiles, inquiry based instruction, performance assessments, teacher as advisor/coach/facilitator, technology assisted learning.

D. Assessment:  to facilitate learning, assessment as learning, personalized performances, reports as descriptions of proficiency and multiple pathways to graduation.

E.  Leadership:  common compelling vision, focus on student achievement, admin as servant leaders / models of accountability, leadership development opportunities, collaboration with staff and students, union as partners.

Our task was to consider our progress in each area of the continua towards personalizing our schools.  Not surprisingly, many of us were at the beginning of our journeys.  I was pleasantly surprised by the work being done at William E. Hay Composite High School in Stetler Alberta.  The princpal, Nobert Baharally, and his team have been working with Joe at CSSR for a few years.  His staff has visited successful sites to examine best practices around North America. Norbert explained how he had empowered his staff to learn about the changes that would transform the school for kids and teachers and how the teachers had made it their own.  The school is doing some really great work with advisories, flex time, block scheduling, assessment by outcomes, ZAP (zeroes not permitted), student voice, student choice, extended learning opportunities and more.  It is worth a visit to the school webpage.  Norbert also quantifies the research associated with each initiative to give substance and credibility to the work of the school.  It was both refreshing and encouraging to learn of the good work being done by a passionate leader.

The road ahead is bumpy one.  There are a million and one obstacles or hurdles that might set us back.  But the road to personalizing our secondary schools is the right one.  In my own district I see many examples of schools that in small ways are taking on the challenge.  At WJ Mouat Secondary School in Abbotsford, BC, the school has embarked on character education not as a program, but as a philosophy.  Next year, the school wants to pilot new locally developed curriculum on character education  with the grade 9’s.  What a great place to start!!  In a previous post, I gave my vision for grade 9 largely in response to the work of Charles Leadbeater in his 21st Century Schools document.  The grade 9 year is a transition year in so many ways and where better to focus your energy than in engaging the most vulnerable age group in the school. 

In closing, I want to share one last resource I came across this week.  A fellow Tweeter, Karen Steffensen mentioned my blog in her own blog site ‘Spaces for Innovations’.  It was here I came across another good site where the school is 100% personalized. Check out Big Picture Learning and discover the 10 tenets of Big Picture Learning in alternative education sites.  This is a movement that has truly transformed the learning for each and every student.

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