Keeping it fresh.

As of the end of February, it is apparent to no one in Ontario that Spring is just around the corner. Judging by the blankets of snow and recent school bus cancellations, winter continues to disrupt and annoy us with the same creative sadism as a government hell-bent on destroying public education. Despite the stark reality of a manufactured education crisis and a real climate crisis, I know that Spring is coming soon. I saw a spider. Photograph by Will Gourley

Isn’t it wonderful? Putting ONGov’s systemic affronteries aside, my heart lept at the sight of a spider. On a normal day seeing one is something exciting to behold, but this opportunity came after nearly 3 days of snow, several white-knuckled commutes, and bone chilling winds. It was a sign of hope that most of winter’s worst weather would be over, well at least statistically.

It signified that Spring was on almost here because, in my own amateur scientific way, I have observed, over several years, that spiders usually emerge around my house again when winter is almost over. Usually. My returning guest got me energized and thinking about how to channel that into the classroom?

2020 has blessed me with a number of ups and downs in my professional life as an educator. It has brought me immense joy on a daily basis in the classroom, but also sadness and grief in light of tragic events that have happened to our learning community. You see, not all lessons and outcomes are going to be good. The opportunity to share the struggles and successes with students helps create a deeper appreciation of the learning process. By admitting when things got tough meant more to them and my colleagues than any veneer of perfection I could ever hope to put on.

My January post was meant to share my personal struggles in hopes of encouraging dialog among educators and to show the benefits of releasing some of the emotional weight that many of us carry inside. I wondered whether I could use my catharsis as a catalyst for our learning spaces? How could I make it fresh and keep it fresh for my students and self?

Never one to shy away from doing something differently, I quickly began working through new ways for students to interact with their learning, for demonstrating their understandings, to collaborate with each other, and to dig deeper into opportunities rarely afforded by traditional transmission and texts teaching.

Here’s what we worked on;

In Math, I remain committed to “no text book math lessons” as much as possible. Using YouCubedPeterLiljedahlMath RecessWaterloo POTWCEMC, and Khan Academy. My students love working on problems together, they argue, iterate, communicate, and solve problems. We make Math a social activity instead of a game of one upping each another.

Another change this year is having Wipebooks for students to use. They have added another dimension to our learning by enabling vertical approaches to Math problems. This has students out of their seats, standing, thinking, and  solving. They can also wander from group to group to see the different approaches being used to answer questions. This has led to some excellent discussions and growth.

Recently, I also started adding Quizizz tasks to our Google Classroom. These fun quizzes allow you to make memes for correct and incorrect responses. I find this format a great way to have students continue to work on concepts taught in prior months.

Becoming a strong group facilitator using Character Lab Playbooks and a co-constructed success criteria. Genius Hour – personal inquiry projects where every student becomes the class expert in their subject. I have shared this one before, but it was for a different class at the time. Besides, it’s a perrenial favourite and my students have asked to do it again already.

In Language, we remain very fond of TED Talks. I now find myself creating reading response tasks with posts from the TED Blog. Another tool that it is being brought back discussion and digital citizenship is Padlet. Our recent work focused around an assignment inspirted by my friend and colleague Tim Bradford  that read;

“In the past and present, people have always treated each other fairly.” Agree or disagree

Students had to create a 30 + word response to the statement and then respond to each other. The depth of understanding from them was very encouraging. It was also nice to see how they kept each other in check when it came to appropriate responses and use of technology. Here are 2 of their responses of the entire class who thoughtfully disagreed;

To add a lot of fun to my instructional week, is my grade 3 FI Music class where my students recently wrapped up creating their own identity raps in French, complete with backbeats from Groove Pizza. Once their shyness subsided, they were excited to present their hard work. It was also fun to see how they incorporated the lessons we had about how to beatbox from Nicole Paris and about the notes and rhythms we covered in Term 1.

In all of this, the focus was on hands on and collaborative experiences intended to engage and deliver the learning. Although much can go wrong, there is so much that can go right when you commit to keeping it fresh. I know that the next 4 months will bring more of the same and I am excited to try new things with my students. Looking forward to introducing Flipgrid, podcasting, and sketchnoting already to keep it fresh. Bring on Spring!

Have you tried something new that you would like to share? Mention it in the comment section and include a link if you can. Thanks for reading.

Define and defying (smart) device use

photo by sik-life CC0
photo by sik-life CC0

There’s more to Modern Learning than delivering lessons on to smartphones.
There’s more to Modern Learning than having a paperless class.
There’s more to Modern Learning because there just is…
And I’m fine with that because there is more to Modern Learning.
So much so, that we are seeing more and more educators trying to define it even if others seem to be defying it.

Walk into a K- 8 classroom and you’ll most likely see students and teachers using smartphones, tablets, MS desktops, Apples, and Chromebooks. Perhaps they’re inquiring about a recent lesson, or digging deeper into a passion project during Genius Hour? Maybe the whole class is playing Kahoot with their French teacher?

From a distance it looks amazing. I have been the teacher who has witnessed all of the above and I’ll throw in a Google Classroom, TED Ed Lessons, Padlet, and raise you a Twitter. Can you hear the government types and administrators applauding and patting themselves on the back for allowing it to happen. However the applause should be for the educators who have led the charge to implement Modern Learning into their spaces. They are willing to take risks, try new things, and make mistakes to reach their Modern Learners. Teachers are in the trenches of learning everyday and understand the what, why, and how of their classrooms.

Outside looking in

To outsiders, visions of devices and technology in every hand sum up their understandings of modern learning. A cynic may equate Modern Learning as simply a shift from text books and worksheets to students completing digital versions of the same old thing.

Keep in mind, “Modern learning” is not limited to tech use alone, but will be for this post. Technology in the hands of educators and learners has now become the conduit through which learning takes place. When modern tools and passionate instruction are paired, learning becomes more relevant and engaging to students. Imagine being able to ask a question and have time to search for the answer immediately with only a few keystrokes and clicks?

“Technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces, so in education, technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.”                  Jørgen MORTENSEN

Board wide access to WiFi means more and more students are taking notes during lessons using the technology at their fingertips. At the same time, teachers are gathering evidence of learning too.  And, still others are watching a cool cat video or streaming music? It’s all possible in the modern learning classroom. However, as many educators have already discovered, the use of smartphones can be a friend and foe in the classroom and comes with a few caveats. Modern Learning

A smart device is a tool in the learning toolbox not a cure all. It is not the only one and as such should never be relied upon for a quick fix or for ushering in the ‘educational renaissance’. Consider what Jason Lodge writes,

Enhancing education is a complex, wicked problem because learning and teaching are multifaceted phenomena, involving biological, technological, psychological, social, economic and pedagogical factors.

Reading this provides little comfort to my understanding of Modern Learning. In fact it leads me deeper down the rabbit hole in pursuit of understanding it better. Despite the wonder promised by all of this technology, students are still engaging with it far more often to connect and communicate rather than curate, create, and collaborate on content.

True story time

The other day I observed a grade 6 student using a device at an inappropriate time. As I approached, she quickly hid it(an iPhone 6+). Like a phablet that size can be hidden. I asked what she was so consumed by on her device that she was defying school policy? She shared it was a fan site for Ariana Grande.

Not the worst use of WiFi by a student, but off topic to be sure. After a few more questions I asked her to explain to me what she liked about Ariana Grande. We chatted about the March For Our Lives rally and about her performance. The convo continued and I got to know more about the student rather than defaulting to a YOU SHOULD KNOW BETTER moment, followed by the standard lecture on appropriate use of technology.

Maybe this approach can be considered as Modern Learning too. If not, we can call it Modern Pedagogy that builds relationships and connections before asking students to fall into curricular compliance without context. Maybe Modern Learning has to be willing to defy convention?

By taking the time to discover her interests, some barriers were taken down. It was only afterwards that I suggested that classtime was intended for curriculum, and that I would suggest a Genius Hour activity in the near future where she could combine learning with her personal interest in Ms Grande – all the while helping other students discover, scratch, and share their own intellectual itches.

Another approach

At other schools, students are now required to lock their smartphones away for the learning day as an effort to reduce misuse and device distractions. What the link did not mention was that the school probably has students on computers or tablets as part of the instructional space. Anyone who has booked a computer cart or lab knows that students can become as easily distracted by these tools too.

So what ends up happening are these absolutes and dictums from class to class and school to school. It is obvious that some teachers are more open to embrace this more easily than others. Perhaps it is an admin or system issue, but there does not appear to be a consistent policy about device useage in schools. The dissonance in all of this for me is that we ask our students to innovate, we give them the most amazing and powerful learning/communication devices on the planet and then expect them to be able to put them aside to listen to a lesson that is being pulled from a text book or source older than they are. In other cases, students are creating multi-modal masterpieces of identity and ingenuity.

How about engaging and empowering them to use their devices for everything that is possible, trusting them to make good decisions, and having them create the criteria for use in classrooms? At the same time, educators can model appropriate use by sharing documents, links, updates, and evidence of learning via Twitter or class web sites.

The technology is not going away. The when, where, why, and how it will be used needs some defining so that students are not seen as defying school when they use their devices. Then maybe Modern Learning can be more than just more with technology.

Extra Fuel for your Modern Learning fire;