Friday, 3 February 2017

The Value of Digital Portfolios

Once upon a time, portfolios were used mainly by individuals in the world of visual arts and design. These individuals were required to keep a collection of work samples to show potential clients and employers. In recent years, fields outside of the arts have seen the value in building personal portfolios, including education.
Image result for ePortfolios

There are many types of portfolios; some are used to house a collection of artifacts, much like a scrapbook, that represent an individual. A student’s portfolio may contain examples of their writing, artwork, video-recorded presentations, and photographs. Portfolios, as educational archives, are lovely and, if collected over an extended amount of time, allow the child to see how they have progressed from year to year through the quality of the products they have created.

But a good digital portfolio, or ePortfolio, must be more than just a collection of products. A valuable ePortfolio must be about the process of those products and a reflection that links the product to acquired skills and knowledge. Not only is it a good thing to see how something we produce, such as a short story, improves from year to year, it is also necessary to track our thinking about the story’s development and how we implement writing strategies in more sophisticated ways as we mature.

Not only can ePortfolios allow us to reflect on the learning process, they can help students record their own learner portraits. At the Middle School, students undergo a number of metacognitive exercises and strengths-based assessments. Student ePortfolios are broken down into three pages: My Learning, My Leading, My Serving. Students are encouraged to upload the results of these assessments into their, “My Learning” page in order that they may begin to connect their strengths with their learning and success.

Students not only reflect on their academic endeavours, they reflect on their participation in service opportunities and leadership opportunities so that their ePortfolios reflect the whole child. In years to come, ePortfolios at SMUS may also house learner pathways which is a structured and supported process undertaken by an individual to [not only] reflect on their own learning performance, and/or achievement [but] to plan [and make choices about] their personal and educational development” (Jackson, 2001).

To learn more about digital portfolios, here is a recent article by Edutopia that’s worth the read.  

My Favourite Educational Tool of the Year

Image result for edu breakoutIf you haven't heard of BreakoutEDU yet, let me be the first to tell you, this educational tool is like no other. BreakoutEDU is a platform for immersive learning games. According to the website, "[the] games teach critical thinking, teamwork, complex problem solving, and can be used in all content areas. It is the brainchild of James Sanders. I first met James at a GAFE Summit, held at Oak Bay High School, in Victoria, BC. I signed up for his breakout session and had no clue what to expect.
I entered a classroom with about a dozen other teachers. James welcomed us and informed us that we had about an hour to break into a box. Easy enough, right? The box sat at the front of the room and was sealed with four different types of locks. He let us know that clues and codes were placed around the room and we would need to work together to crack the codes to "breakout".

People were slow to get started, a little uneasy with what we were doing and insecure about getting it wrong. But eventually, a brave soul noticed a smaller box with a padlock and suggested that we'd need to get into the smaller box in order to get into the box with the four locks. Then, another noticed a sign with hieroglyphics that seemed to be out of place. One by one, each person began to get up, move around, ask questions, and attempt to crack codes. We broke into the box with only seconds to spare.

It was one of the most interactive, effective professional development activities I've ever been a part of it and I ordered a kit to use in my classroom. I have used it on several occasions, most often as an entry event to prime students for a new unit of study. But more often than not, I use it before any collaborative project.

It's a great way to put your students through a challenging simulation and see what qualities each student demonstrates while under "pressure". After numerous breakouts, there are always a few students who take over, some who quietly observe, others who work alone, and of course, those who spend their time distracting others or giving up from frustration. It lends itself to great debrief conversations with reflective questions such as, "So, who were you in that exercise and how does that compare to how you normally behave in a group? What worked well and what was tricky?"

I recommend the BreakoutEDU kits to any teacher who is searching for an effective, engaging, challenging way to teach collaboration.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Too Much Help Can Hinder

Parents are constantly asking me, "What's my role as a parent and how much help do I need to give to my son/daughter when it comes to their education?" There's no one-size-fits-all answer and most certainly it varies, depending on the developmental stage of the child. However, when it comes to middle school age children, I strongly advocate that this is the stage where parents need to take a big step back.

I recently read a blog post by Amy Carney, who is so "on point" with her advice to parents of teens, I just had to share it. The article is entitled, Stop Doing These 8 Things for Your Teen This School Year. The gist of the article is that teens need to learn to take care of themselves and that it's okay they learn the hard way. For example, she says we need to stop dropping off forgotten items. As a teacher, I overhear kids calling home asking for forgotten lunches, homework, P.E. strip, permission forms, and other miscellaneous items on a daily basis. If, as parents, we always come to the rescue, how do our kids ever feel the reality pinch of being disorganized, forgetful, or just plain ol' lazy?

I love this text she posts in her article. It's the perfect response to a child's request to drop off a forgotten math book. I urge anyone with teens to read this article or to share with friends that do.

The Digital Detox Experiment

I recently conducted a social experiment with a dozen students of mine. We locked our cell phones away for the weekend in an effort to "digitally detox."

I wish I had recorded the reactions of my students when I first pitched the idea. I was met with anxious, panic, wide-eyed, disbelief. No joke. It was like watching the five stages of grief in time-lapse: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance; however, not all students reached the final stage. The excuses as to why certain students couldn't participate came rolling in. "What if my parents need to text me?" "What if I get stuck somewhere?" How will I keep in touch with friends?" "I need it for homework."

It was clear to me at that moment: CELL PHONES ARE BECOMING AN ADDICTION.

The whole idea to digitally detox came about because of three programs I watched online in the course of a week (insert acknowledgment of irony here). These three programs resulted in the perfect mental storm. Firstly, I had been watching, Black Mirror, a series that explores "techno-paranoia [and] is a contemporary reworking of "The Twilight Zone" with stories that tap into the collective unease about the modern world." Quite frankly, this show freaks me out. The episode that really sent me over the edge followed the life of a girl who begins to downward spiral as she loses her popularity or "likes" after a number of unfortunate social interactions. It takes place in a world where every social interaction gets digitally rated by the people we come across. Everyone has the same app on their phone and immediately following a transaction such as buying coffee, or even bumping into an old friend, individuals take out their phones, point them at one another and give them a rating using the app. It got me thinking, Instagram is about four degrees of separation from this app.

The next program was a documentary called, Minimalism. Simply put, it documents the lives of people who have chosen to live simply. It wasn't necessarily about disconnecting from our digital world, more so, the idea to de-clutter our lives and live with less. The film talks about getting out of the proverbial rat-race and how we've been brainwashed to believe that if you aren't consuming at an exponential rate, you are not successful. They challenge the notion of what success looks like. I couldn't help but make the mental connection that social media perpetuates the notion that success is a big house full of stuff from Pottery Barn. This led me to wonder what the long term effect of voyeurism via social media will be. I'm not too sure, but I know I'm nervous.

The final bullet was a viral video that came across my Facebook feed . It was an interview with Simon Sinek, speaking about, what he terms as, The Millenial Paradox. He talks about the addiction of cell phones and compares it to substance abuse. He also speaks about how we are having trouble developing deeper human connections these days as we become increasingly dependent on our devices.  

I began to reflect on my personal dependence of my phone and how often I mindlessly scroll through the same three apps to pass the time. I then began to think about my students, having grown up as digital natives and future generations of people who, will not only be digital natives themselves, but will be raised by parents who have never known a digital free world. I began to think about a digital-free world and if the pendulum will ever swing back to a time before devices. Hence, the idea for a device-free weekend was born. I wanted my students to know what it was like. I wanted them to experience boredom, the need for landlines, and life without Google, YouTube, or Netflix.

The school that I work for published an article outlining the social experiment and documented some student reflections. My students talk candidly about their cell phone tendencies and reliance.

“I learned that I am pretty reliant on technology, especially when I’m bored,” Devon says. “It opened my eyes to how much I can do, instead of just scrolling through stuff on my phone.”

You can click here to read the full article.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

If Given the Chance, What Do You Ask your Guru?

Image result for summit at the pierWhen the story first came across my Facebook feed that Sir Ken Robinson was going to be speaking in Victoria, I was dubious. The Facebook post told of a conference that was being held called, Summit at the Pier, and Sir Ken was going to be the keynote speaker. Within seconds, I was on the Summit's webpage signing up as a volunteer, sending in my bio, professing my willingness to do anything just to have the chance to be in close proximity to the man that changed everything for me.

I watched my very first TED Talk about six years ago. It was delivered by a man that asked some tough questions about what the current school system is doing to our kids. He suggested that schools were killing creativity and as I listened to him speak, I had to admit, he was right.

Sir Ken Robinson's words changed the way I teach. Because of him, I teach creativity with intention. I offer a personalized approach to meeting student needs. I use the inquiry process with every lesson and I encourage my students to find their passion and feed it.  I have learned more from him through his books, interviews, and talks than I have from any university course or professional development. And now, I get to be in the same room as him! I'm not joking when I say I'd rather meet Sir Robinson than Santa.

He is the keynote speaker at Summit at the Pier, a student leadership conference being held on October 1-2. The conference is for students from grades 9-12...no adults! I have the awesome privilege of being a facilitator at the conference and therefore, will have the chance to hear him speak. For the adults that are dying to hear from him, the organizers of the Summit are hosting a brunch and fireside chat with the man of the hour in a more intimate setting. Tickets to this event are being snatched up quickly. I will also be attending the brunch and I am buzzing with excitement.

Not often does one get to meet their role model. If given the chance, I'd love to ask him a question. But here's the snag, what do I ask? If it were a one on one, I'd be firing questions at him like a machine gun. However, I will be competing with dozens of other keeners that will bite, slash, and claw their way to get that chance to exchange a few words with their guru (or maybe that's just me...I can be feisty). So, I need to think carefully. I may only have one shot at this and it needs to be good. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

If You Build It, They Will Come

Does workspace impact creativity, innovation and productivity? Google, Facebook, Samsung and a number of other major companies believe so. In fact, last year that explained how these companies are restructuring their office spaces. In the article new research argues there is a direct link between space and performance, and companies such as Facebook are responding. After reading this article, I wanted to learn more.

My wonderings led me to a book called, Make Space. This book is full of great ideas and advice on how to set up space for creative collaboration in a number of organizations. The book’s foreward was written by David Kelley, who started a company called IDEO. IDEO is an innovation and design firm that uses a design-based approach to help organizations. In his foreward, he writes, “Regardless of whether it’s a classroom or the offices of a billion-dollar company, space is something to think of as an instrument for innovation and collaboration. It’s not an initial, given condition, something that should be accepted as is. Space is a valuable tool that can help you create deep and meaningful [work].”  
This got me thinking: if space is linked to production, how can I change my classroom to optimize creativity and collaboration? What can I do to my space to spark the imagination of my students and get them excited to try something new?

I thought about changing the seating, the art on the walls, the layout. But these changes didn’t seem big or bold enough. Then I started thinking about what would get my students pumped about being in the classroom (besides having a classroom puppy, that is). The idea of building a video broadcasting booth crossed my mind. My students love to make films and be filmed. Was this too ambitious? Could we make it work?

I pitched the idea to my school's director, who gave the project the green light. Then I put the idea out to students. I asked them to join me in this ambitious task of researching how we could accomplish such a job. Eight brave students jumped at the chance.
We first met and brainstormed what we wanted the space to look like. We found images online of other DIY broadcasting booths and began to make a list of necessary equipment. Olivier offered to compile a list of all the technical equipment we’d need. He worked on it for three solid days, researching consumer reports and prices.
Once we had our equipment list together, we submitted a proposal to our amazingly supportive Parents’ Auxiliary to request funding. Within a few short weeks, we received approval for our request and we were on our way.

Orders for cameras, lighting, audio mixers and microphones have gone out. My group of eight is anxious for the arrival of all the equipment so we can finally begin to use the space. These students also presented at a recent assembly about all the uses for the space, such as recording podcasts, filming videos, creating stop motion animation, conducting interviews, creating news broadcasts, recording video blogs and using green screen technology.

During her assembly presentation, Devon called the broadcasting booth, “A space built by students, for students.” And that is exactly what it is. It is a space that was created so will come; they will come and be creative, imaginative and innovative.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Giving Students Voice and Choice

The year is 1986. I take my seat in Mr. Tipper’s grade six class and wait patiently. Mr. Tipper rises from his desk and begins to tell us that we’re about to begin an exciting new lesson. Did he say exciting? Yes!

He goes on to say, as part of our study of geography, we are each going to choose a country and write a report on the country and it’s major geographic features. He shows us a few excellent examples of reports that have been submitted by students over the past several years.

My excitement wanes. As I browse through the faded reports, I begin to think to myself, “But I’d like to create a travel brochure.” I can already see the front cover of my brochure and anticipate the trip to the public library to sign out a few books. I raise my hand and ask, “Mr. Tipper, can we do something other than a report?”

“No, we’re doing a report for this project,” was his quick response.

“Not even a travel brochure?” I asked, thinking surely, he would see the brilliance of my idea and allow my request.

“Nope, not this time. Maybe we’ll have time to do a fun project like that later on in the year,” he countered.

“But why?” I asked, knowing I was now crossing the line from keen to cheeky.

Mr. Tipper sighed, exasperated, and responded with, “It’s because this is how it’s always been done.”

Right. No wait. Wrong! I can’t do a brochure because it’s not what we’ve always done? Even in my 11-year old head, that didn’t sit well. I completed my report a week later. I’m not sure what I learned, I can’t even remember what country I chose to write about. And perhaps the reason was because I wasn’t able to show my learning in a way that I wanted to; in a way that got me excited about the material I was learning; in a way that allowed me to work within my strengths.

The year is 2015. Grade 7 students enter into their math class to be presented with a math menu, where they are able to choose from a selection of activities to demonstrate their understanding of math review concepts (Click here to view)

Students enter their Humanities classes and get the opportunity to show their understanding of the platforms of Canada’s federal political parties in a way that allows them to use their strengths, be it visual, oral, technological, or written expression (Click here to view)
Students are able to have a say in everything from what leadership opportunities they want to be a part of throughout the year, to what outdoor education trips they’ll participate in at year-end.

I'm lucky enough to work for a school that aims to provide students with opportunities for Voice and Choice. Teachers and students all know that we learn in a variety of ways and likewise, express our understanding in different ways. As my school moves toward a more personalized learning approach to programming, we realize that empowering students to make choices based on interests and strengths motivates students to dig deeper. We want our students to love learning, to be inquisitive, to question, wonder, overcome challenges, and figure it out. These are the traits that will carry our students through high school, university and life.  

1986 is long gone, and so should be, the methods of that era. We are in a new age. Students are no longer seen as vessels that sit in our classes awaiting content that is passed down from teachers. Students and teachers learn together. How we learn takes precedence over what we learn and it is my belief that students should have a voice and choice in how that looks.