Another MOOC … not finished.

Not finishing MOOCs is starting to become a habit with me.  I tend to start strong and then falter in the last leg of the race.  This time it was the Scratch Creative Computing Online Workshop.  Life just got in the way.  Still I made it to week 4 (of a six week course) and learned lots.  I won’t get a finishing certificate but I do want to celebrate the learning that happened, so embedded below is my Design Notebook and a couple of the Scratch projects I am quite proud of.

Sir Ken Quotes

Despite it’s US-centric message I enjoyed this Sir Ken Robinson TED talk.  My favourite quotes:

“There are three principles on which human life flourishes and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to to labour and most students have to endure:

  • Human beings are naturally diverse
  • Humans are naturally curious
  • Human life is inherently creative”

“Science and Math are necessary but not sufficient.”

“If you sit kids down hour after hour doing low grade clerical work don’t be surprised if they start to fidget.”

“The arts are important because they speak to parts of children’s being that are otherwise untouched.”

“Curiosity is the engine of achievement.”

“Teaching is a creative profession.  Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery system.”

“In the end education is about learning.  If there is no learning going on, there is no education going on.”

“In the place of curiosity we have a culture of compliance.”

“Professional development is not a cost, it’s an investment.”

“Education is not a mechanical system, it’s a human system.  It’s about people.  People who either do want to learn, or don’t want to learn.”

“The real role of leadership in education should not be command and control, the real role is to create a climate of possibility.”

Narrating my learning/questions

Another #etmooc vlog response to Scott Haseu’s latest post.  Upon reflection this one is more about questions than answers and I forgot to comment on Scott’s point regarding how we could be using recognition to encourage learning in our classrooms.  I think that this is a place where technology can be really powerful.  I have seen math classes where students record their thinking using flip cameras and share it later at the front of the class; MathTrain is another example of the power of technology to recognise and celebrate learning.  I am still waiting to get an iPad with the Educreations app in my classroom.  I think it could be an excellent way for students to demonstrate learning and be recognised for it.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

For the first time in many years my family got on a plane and flew somewhere else for Christmas.  As a result I managed to read a book from cover to cover while flying to and from our destination, something I never get to do in my regular hectic life.  The book I chose was ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You‘ by Cal Newport.  I first heard about this book from Steve Hargadon’s Future Of Education podcast series, and was fascinated by the premise that encouraging people to follow their passion is bad advice.  In a nutshell the book argues that:

Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion.

I found the book fascinating because it not only rejected the passion hypothesis, but replaced it with a set of very distinct, actionable ideas that could be used to inform my classroom practice.

Over the holidays I mentioned this book to anyone that cared to listen and almost everyone had a knee jerk, ‘that can’t be right’, reaction.  It seems that the idea of following your passion is so ingrained in all of us that we find it hard to let go.  So I thought I would spend a few minutes trying to unpack this idea.  The book argues that passion ‘as a noun’ can be dangerous because not everyone has a passion that can be turned into a career.  This does not mean that passion is not important, only that it shouldn’t get center stage.  Instead, Cal argues, everyone should approach whatever they choose to do passionately (an adverb), but what we choose to do isn’t as important as how we choose to do it.  In other words,

Working right trumps finding the right work.

Cal argues that the key to a a happy work life is to build what he calls ‘career capital’, and the way to do this is to approach your occupation with a craftsman mindset.  To illustrate this mindset he tells the tale of a guitar player who is constantly pushing his abilites and practicing at the boundary of what he is capable of, and by doing this he is well on his way to being a master of his craft.  This focus on stretching your ability and receiving immediate feedback is what Cal calls the craftsman mindset and it is different from the passion mindset because:

The craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.

The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital. This is why it trumps the passion mindset if your goal is to create work you love.

This argument really makes sense to me, and has certainly played out in my own life.  By investing time and energy into becoming good at something you then build ‘career capital’ that you can leverage to take more control of your own working life.  Of course it makes sense to focus your energies in a direction that has interest to you and that you have some talent for, but if the case studies in the book are to be believed, this is less important than approaching every task with a passionate craftsman like attitude.

It helps to think about skill acquisition like a freight train: Getting it started requires a huge application of effort, but changing its track once it’s moving is easy.

In the examples in the book ‘it is a lifetime accumulation of deliberate practice that again and again ends up explaining excellence’.  And if one of the roles of schools is to inspire excellence and prepare our students to have happy working lives, then maybe we need to be doing more to promote the craftsman frame of mind.  The problem is that:

Deliberate practice is often the opposite of enjoyable.  If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

This has got me wondering how we can structure school so it does a better job encouraging the craftsman frame of mind (given that the process is not inherently enjoyable).  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Assessment and reporting has to change.  Students are not going to want to focus on the process of getting better if they are continually judged and compared on where they are in this process.  A reporting system that celebrates the process of improving has a better chance of supporting the development of a craftsman like attitude.
  • It is unreasonable to expect students to approach everything they do in school with this sort of attitude.  Maybe schools should expect all students to pick one or two things that they are interested in becoming really good at, so they can develop the habits of mind necessary for ‘working right’. The Inquiry Hub is an interesting model that seems to be doing something similar to this.
  • Schools can do a better job supporting students with the Approaches to Learning needed to deliberately practice something and work through the unenjoyable parts.
  • We need to be careful about trying to make all of school fun, if it comes at the expense of rigor and an understanding of the effort and application needed to truly become good at something.

We value what we measure

I’m waiting for the tire place to finish putting new snow tires on my car. My belly is full and I am well caffeinated, and I feel like writing. The past two weeks have been really satisfying and a lot of really good stuff has happened at my school. After lot of hard work we have rolled our new revised report card formats from K to 6. My involvement has been with the grade 6 report which we started re-thinking last spring.

‘You value what you measure’ is the thought that has been bouncing around my brain for the past 6 months. We initially set out to re-design our grade 6 report card so that our reporting was more in line with our IB assessment procedures. When we first started the process my main aim was to include more information about the criteria and descriptors that we use in the classroom to assess learning. What I learned is that when you start to change what you measure, you open the proverbial ‘can of worms’.

We started the process by looking at other school’s IB report card formats and eventually settled on one that we liked. Once we created our own draft version and tried filling it out we started having other conversations. We realised that we could do better than a 5 point effort scale. Using the IB’s excellent Approaches to Learning articulation as a guide we parsed ‘effort’ into three more specific and measurable attributes: approach to learning, organisation (self and time management) and engagement in learning activities. With that done we realised that we needed words to describe student progress in these areas that emphasized progress and room for growth, not the impression of a static judgement. We borrowed the words extending, applying, developing and emerging from our school’s IB Primary Years Program.

Next we revisited our descriptors for each of the Approaches to Learning. I was amazed at how many iterations of this process it took to really drill down to useful descriptors that could be used to give students and parents useful information to act on. I am quite proud of what we produced, but also know that as we start to use it in the classroom it will end up undergoing more modifications. Which is as it should be.

Probably the most important and exciting part of our new report card is that we are moving away from an emphasis on cruching all the nuanced complexity of learning down into a single letter or number. Instead each teacher is reporting out on student’s progress as measured against the variety of IB criteria that we use in our classrooms. Initially my enthusiasm for this initiative was all about getting away from our student’s obsession with the magical cut off mark that defines them as either an A or B student. As we progressed with our report redesign however, I started to realise something more magical. By reporting using criteria and descriptors we were shifting the report card from a box that we were putting our students into, towards being a tool for describing the process of their learning; a guide to help them (and their parents) understand where they are now, and where they need to go next with their learning.

Changing what we are measuring is also changing the conversations we are having. The conversations are now about the criteria and indicators that we are using to describe learning. Are they clear? Do they describe what we want them to describe? Do the students understand them? How do we collect good evidence to use for making judgements about student learning? How can we craft learning experiences that allow students to demonstrate sophisticated levels of understanding?

So we now have an exciting new report and a very useful set of modified criteria to inform our student’s learning and our conversations with parents. But more importantly, we are having all the difficult, challenging and exciting conversations that we need to have to meet the needs of our students in this constantly changing and evolving time that we live in.

Photo by Ben(Falcifer) on Flickr


Thoughts on teaching internet search skills

A blog post by @jutecht called “Why schools are failing by not teaching search” has really got me thinking.  I agree completely with Jeff’s post and I know that he has put his money where his mouth is by sharing a number of useful lesson plans for teaching search to primary, middle and upper grades.  The thing is I don’t think that lesson plans by themselves are going to cut it.  I have been teaching search lesson plans for quite a few years in my technology classes and am constantly frustrated by how little transference there is from my class to my student’s other classes.  I think we need to approach the teaching of search more like we approach the teaching of any fundamental skill: the skill needs to be broken down into it’s component parts, each part needs to be taught until the student reaches competency and then the student needs lots of chances to practice.

This summer I tried to complete the Google Power Search course.  I didn’t quite finish (that’s another story) but I did have an AHA moment.  Up until the course I had been teaching internet searching as a set of tools for finding the right answer.  In the Google course I started to realise that Google sees search as a process, not an outcome.  I used to think that if I could just get my students to type in the correct keywords they would find what they were looking for (which very rarely worked for good questions).  After the course I realised that I need to be teaching my students how to start a search, interpret the results and then search a bit more, interpret the results etc.   This made me realise there was a host of other skills my students needed that I wasn’t teaching.

I thought I was on to something but wasn’t sure where to go with it when I stumbled upon Google’s search education resources.  I cannot say enough good things about this set of resources.  Not only did the lesson plans scaffold the skills I wanted to teach really well, they also provided a good collection of questions (taken from A Google A Day) for my students to try answering (there was one problem with this question set that I discuss at the end of this post).

The first lesson taught my students how to parse a question to turn it from a research question into a query.  I love these words.  Using the unfamiliar word ‘parse’ made my students stop and take notice: ‘hey, that’s a weird word, maybe it’s a new skills that I need to learn.’  Distinguishing between ‘research question’ and ‘query’ helped them realise that they needed to think deeper about their question than just typing it into the Google search box.  The best part, however, was this really concrete set of instructions for parsing a question:

  • Circle key words
  • Underline “maybe” words, offer synonyms or replacement terms
  • Add missing words
  • Ignore unnecessary words

Brilliant.  With these steps I had concrete skills I could teach and measure.  Here is one of the worksheets I developed to check my students understanding: Search Terms Assignment.

Some of the other skills that I think it is important we teach and assess include: understanding a URL and interpreting search results; using quotes to group words together; using the minus sign to filter out unwanted results; and using ctrl-f to find words on a page.  I think it’s also worth mentioning that Sweet Search with the YoLink plugin is a much better way to access Google search results, but that’s another blog post (here is a quick video I made when I discovered Sweet Search in case anyone is interested).

The next step is to really to assess these skills.  In my case at least, I have been guilty of teaching some skills but not assessing them in any meaningful way.  This year I tried screen casting and was pleasantly surprised.  With tools like Screen-cast-o-matic available there is no reason why any student with an internet enabled computer shouldn’t be able to make a quick recording of themselves demonstrating the skills they have been taught and sharing it with their teacher and class.  With my students I went a step further and asked them to find a question to answer in their screencast that would allow them to demonstrate three of the search skills they had been taught.  Some of their work was outstanding and I will try and share it once I have their permission.


An aside: I mentioned earlier that there was one problem with the Google A Day questions; the problem is that the day after the question in posted someone puts the answer online along with the entire question.  This means that if a student does type in the question they will get the right answer most of the time, which sort of undermines the point of the lesson.  This is an important sticking point with the idea of doing a better job teaching search, we need lots of good questions.  I occurred to me tonight that this is something that could be crowd sourced, but I think that’s a topic to explore at a later date.

EdCamp Leadership BC: notes and reflections

“Change doesn't happen when you introduce new technology, it happens when you introduce new behaviours.”

For me this quote by Clay Shirky really sums up my experiences at EdCamp Leadership BC today. I sat in on three sessions: the first was a free wheeling conversation on creating a collaborative culture facilitated by @braddo; the second was on fostering creativity and innovation; and the third was a student facilitated conversation on how students can encourage teachers to incorporate more technology in their classrooms. Interestingly in two of these three sessions we started talking about technology and finished discussing behaviours.

This was my first EdCamp experience and it was not disappointing. Besides the excellent conversations and chance to extend my thinking I finally got to meet folks like @datruss and @hhg in person, as well as reconnect with other friends and colleagues.

My session notes are below:

Creating a Collaborative Culture

Brad started by stating that education was becoming an emergent culture and then laid out some specifics about emergent cultures (all supported by his excellent slides made with the Paper app). Some of these conditions included:

  • we don't know the initial conditions and mistakenly say that outcomes validate initial conditions.
  • To manage change we need to have lots and lots of conversations. This means we need systems in place to facilitate these conversations.
  • Brad shared the Innovation Adoption Curve – innovators, early adopters, pragmatists, conservatives, sceptics. It is important to approach each group differently, but that nobody is allowed to opt out
  • The adoption curve is 4-5 years wide, which means the sceptics will be trying the new technology 4-5 years after the early adopters give it a try. The adoption curve will also look different in each situation, it is local in nature.
  • The Elephant Analogy was introduced as a way to think about how do school structures influence behaviour? In this analogy school admin is the rider trying to steer the elephant, the elephant is the emotional load of the school (parents, students, teachers) and the path is what the elephant walks down. In this analogy what we can control is the path, so “shape the path”. One example of how we are shaped by the path is our marking system which goes from top down, which assumes students are all somewhere less than perfect. If it was bottom up it would better reflect the learning process which is all about building skills up.
  • Love this quote, almost tweeted it: “Cheaters would make awesome CEOs.” They maximise their use of resources.
  • To create a culture of collaboration you need: vision; ROI (if I automate something does that free someone else up to do something else); scale: “are changes scalable”; flex; fun.
  • Brad suggests you need a boundary holder for the emergent culture; someone who manages the influences on the culture.

Here are few thoughts/ notes from the discussion that followed:

  • The discussion should really be about teacher engagement, which is tied to trust.
  • How to shift parents? Families play a larger role. Shifting students will help shift parents? If they can articulate their learning.
  • Technology and Social Media tools have a place for helping teachers and students do the mundane things more efficiently, so there is more time for the important stuff.
  • Shift needs to happen with teacher training; we are still graduating teachers trying to do same thing in old ways.
  • Change is a constant. How do you educate for change.
  • Prep time is not collaboration time; need to treat them separately and plan for each.

Creating Innovative Learning Environments

This session challenged me. Partially because it was facilitated by a non-educator. It is funny how I am programmed to be wary of advice and ideas from non-educators. I also wasn't shy about pushing back and being the voice of the curmudgeon teacher that has to implement the big idea in their classroom, not just talk about it. As it turns out pushing back was the best thing I could have done because it challenged me and I could almost feel the cognitive dissonance pushing me to a new place in my thinking. The session was really about the need for educators to tap into the expertise all around them in regards to being creative and innovative, and I have to admit interacting with a non educator about these ideas was very enriching. I am still not sure what conclusions I have reached other than recognising that it is important to think about structures and process in schools/institutions that can stimulate creativity and innovation.

A few of my notes (my comments in brackets):

  • What can we learn from Ideo?
  • Creativity and innovation comes from doing.
  • Need to create environment that allows for interaction between diverse groups. (What does this look like in the classroom?)
  • Biggest changes come from when people naturally weave themselves together.
  • Recommended resource: Tina Seelig – “what I knew when I was 20”
  • The most innovative places look else where for inspiration.
  • Creativity is taking what you already know and connect with something someone else has already achieved and extending it out.
  • Do you treat new situation like you are a traveller – do you go into a situation asking “if I was on holiday how would I be looking at this?” On holiday become in tune, become present. (How do you help kids be present? Are you asking them to be a traveller? Blogs? Online connections?
  • Creativity and innovation happens when there is tension and dissonance, and strong relationships that can handle difficult conversations amicably.

21st Century Teaching and Learning with Technology

This session was packed. The conversation was facilitated by a Delta High School student and I have not seen many adults facilitate a conversation as skilfully. The topic of how to encourage more teachers to use technology was fast and furious and very well represented on twitter. I tried to find a few of my favourite tweets, here are a couple of them:



K12 Online Conference 2012: Notes

Digital ID Project: A platform for learning, sharing, remixing and teaching digital citizenship

Google speakers before they come to your class. Great way to weave discussion of digital footprints into classroom.
Whose responsibility is it to teach digital citizenship? Obviously everyone, but in many cases it is relegated to the computer teacher.
Recommend Common Sense Media resources.
Writing good emails as a 5th grade lesson is highlighted. I like that she focuses on digital writing as just as extension of her writing curriculum.
Followed up by another teacher teaching how to leave a good blog post and how to comment on a post.
I like this: “Good digital citizenship needs good digital writing”
A cross curricular approach gives students many chances to practice their skills in different contexts.

Digital ID project started in 2011 and organises resources on digital citizenship around 4 focii: Stepping Up; Building Identities; Boundaries; Online Privacy.

  • Includes sample scope and sequence chart
  • They have included assessment tools. This is something that is often missing from a lot of these resources.
  • The interactive glossary of Digital Citizenship terms includes audio reading of the word and accompanying video resources to account for all reading levels.
  • They see Digital ID as a collaborative platform for students and teachers to help build the resource.
  • Digital Citizenship PSA challenge: students have 90 seconds to educate other students on what it means to be a good digital citizen.
  • “Students teaching students is a powerful model.”

Also includes Digital Citizenship policy recommendations for administrators

  • Start your DC implementation plan early in the year
  • Document student progress
  • Document the impact of your DC program
  • Create a checklist of your implementation program
  • Proudly showcase best DC practices at your site

“It will truly take a village to make sure that the Digital Citizenship crosswalks are maintained and that every adult on campus is a skilled crossing guard.”

I _____, therefore IB.

This week I got wear my new MYP Coordinator hat. In particular I had the opportunity to run a 2 hour workshop with teachers before school started. After some discussion with my friend and senior school principal @smarshall575 we decided we wanted the workshop to be both an overview of the big ideas that make up the IB program, and a way to solicit feedback from teachers regarding what they wanted to spend time on this year. I was helped immensely in planning this workshop by my twitter network who shared an awesome playlist of MYP related videos (@amichetti) and pointed me towards the IB’s Opening Classroom Doors resources (@martinj09).

To start the workshop we watched the video below called “Building an Airplane in Flight”. When I first watched this video it occured to me that trying to improve and change our teaching practice during the school year is a little like building an airplane in flight. While we struggle with new assessment practices and try to build inquiry into our units we are also trying to cover curriculum, deal with classroom management issues and all the other stuff that makes a teacher’s day so busy. We are like the guy strapped to the outside of the flying plane trying to bolt on the siding; we know it’s important but it sometimes takes real effort to make it happen.

Next I wrote “I ______, therefore IB.” on the board. This was inspired by a T-Shirt worn by @lkneisz the day before that said “I think, therefore IB.” It had occured to me on my bike ride to school that you could replace the word think with lots of other words or phrases, and that is what we did as we watched a number of other videos. The first one we watched was the newest IB Learner Profile videowhich I think did a really nice job summarising the IB’s mission statement and how the Learner Profiles fit into this mission. Following the video we brainstormed words and phrases that could fill in the blanks.We followed a similar process while watching a series of videos on how an IB Science unit called “How fast is too fast” went from the planning stages, to the teaching stage and through to the assessment. Once we had a number of different ideas on the board we all took 3 sticky notes and voted for the three that we each felt were the most relevant to us. Part of the end result looked something like this:

For this year we chose to focus on: vertical articulation between the Diploma program and the Middle Years program; assessment; and inquiry. It was an exciting start to what is shaping up to be a great year.

First thoughts on a web search curriculum

(I tried posting this to my Posterous blog as a work in progress but something wasn’t working.  So I am posting it here instead.)

Working through the Google Power search lessons has started me thinking about what an effective, inquiry based approach to teaching search might look like.  Here is what I have so far:

The paradigm shift for me is that search is about refining your ideas based on what ‘clues’ each set of search results has in them.  This is very different from the way I tried to teach search in the past which was all about trying to get less websites listed in the results, or to get the answer as the top result (as opposed to the third one).  So with that in mind my students need to think of themselves as Search Detectives, drilling down through the results and using the clues to refine their ideas.

To practice this we need questions.  I have been trying to decide if I have time to come up with a set of really good, open ended questions that students can investigate, and then I realised that these questions should come from the students.  Sounds good, but without proper coaching students will default to questions with one right answer; the kind that can be found by typing in the question only.

So, it seems to me that the start of a search curriculum should be an investigation on what makes a good question. Maybe co-create a ‘good question’ rubric with the students and then put them in groups and have them try to come up with good questions.  One of the criteria should be that you can’t find the answer by just typing in the question.  As we are an IB MYP school I can see the Areas of Interaction being used to focus these questions.

The important part that I like here is that if students get good at recognising the difference between a simple questions and an complicated, open ended question then they can be more nuanced in how they approach search.  They can make decisions about whether it is a question that they can just type into the search box, or one that they need to use more advanced techniques to solve.