Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tyler’s Loving School in 2016

Michael, Tyler’s older brother by a year, is teasing him about how much he likes school.  Tyler attends Centennial High School as a grade 9 student while Michael, in grade 10, is learning 100% online from home.  Michael had some difficulties “fitting in” at high school so he and his parents decided that this would be best for him.  Tyler on the other hand is loving grade 9 in his new school.  Tyler’s younger sister Stephanie also loves school and in particular her amazing grade 2 teacher.  Stephanie likes to call him“Ty”.

Centennial is a brand new school designed and built for the future.  Back in 2010, a vision for Centennial was developed to create a school that would best serve the needs of students over the next 50 years rather than the past.  It is designed to have many small learning communities of about 150 students in multiple grades and content areas.  In a school of 1400, it still has a small “family” feel to it.  Most learning is cross-curricular and project based.  Every student has an individualized learning plan (ILP) and a learning facilitator to guide and support them.

Tyler shrugs off Michael’s teasing, pats Stephanie’s head, grabs his backpack, says “goodbye mom” and runs out the door to go to school.

It’s a crisp morning in late October so Tyler quickly walks the 1 km to Centennial.  Along the way, he communicates with a few friends using his mobile device.  He speaks freely with the device, giving it instructions to retrieve and send messages.  At one point a message from his learning facilitator arrives.  Ty stops to bring up a 3D holographic video of his learning facilitator and they carry out a “face to face” chat about last night’s learning activities (aka homework).

When Tyler arrives, he sees a group of his friends and joins them.  They talk excitedly about their current projects.  Tyler and 6 other students have scheduled the looking glass in their learning community today to connect with students in Australia to share and discuss what their ideas and research on preventing flood disasters.

First stop for Tyler and his team mates is the Learning Commons.  They grab a nutritional drink (they’re too young for a Starbucks iStock_000011759967XSmallcoffee although they ask), sync up a few “books” to their learning slates, and settle in on some couches where they confirm each other’s responsibilities for their Disasters project and what they each will be doing during the looking glass hour.  With their learning slates, they logon to their school provided digital learning spaces, post updates of what they will be doing today so their learning facilitators are informed and able to assist.  When Tyler’s friend Michelle enters her digital learning space, she see a “happy birthday” notice, including 3D video and holograph messages, from 20 or so of her friends, the principal, her learning facilitator, and her parents.  Her day is now shaping up to be just that much better…

The kids hustle off to their learning community and join the other 140 or so students for 10 minutes to hear a live 3D video message from the Superintendent of Schools wishing them a great week.  Tyler has an opportunity to invite the Superintendent to drop by for their looking glass interaction to which she agrees and then it’s time for the students to get working on their projects.

Ty and his team head over to the looking glass that they’ve reserved for the next hour.  They sync up their learning slates to the looking glass so that they are able to push and share their work via the glass with the Australian kids once they’re online.  Ty motions to the glass, which looks like any normal window, and activates its digital nature.  The glass comes to life as a digital interactive surface and acknowledges Ty and his team mates.  “Do you want me to contact the other participants Mr. Tyler”, the glass says.  Ty says “yes please”.  When Ty scheduled the glass, he provided all the pertinent details needed by the glass to coordinate the activities and participants.  The glass proceeded to connect in the Australian kids and the two groups make their introductions, each seeing the other in life size form.  Meanwhile the Superintendent connects in from her office and pushes the looking glass image (she can also see the kids) up on her office wall in life size to enjoy while she works on preparing for an upcoming leadership meeting.

The Australians share a story of a flood disaster that occurred early in 2011.  Through vivid video, statistics, news stories, and personal anecdotes of how this event affected them and their family, Tyler’s team is fully up to speed.  Of course Tyler and his team had researched this earlier while at home using the Internet and even saw some of the same clips iStock_000011819618XSmalland stories.  But having it shared live by kids their own age in this way really impacted Tyler and his team mates.  The students on both sides of the world take turns sharing their research and ideas, pushing pictures, 3D models, and data from their learning slates through the looking glass, each seeing the same things.  Together, they manipulate the images, video, and data directly on the looking glass surface to analyze their work.  They converse and share, and then they wrap up with deciding next steps, new task assignments, and scheduling their next looking glass appointment.  One of them agrees to create a wiki on their learning space and invite the others, including the Australians, in to share their notes and learning products over the next few days.  Before signing off, the Superintendent congratulates both groups of students on a very interesting and useful exchange of information and ideas.  She also signs up for weekly learning updates from this team’s project space as their project is of personal interest to her.

While they were working, various learning coaches (aka teachers) came by to participate with them, to provide adult insight, advice, and also, to learn from the students.  At other times, the learning coaches provide lectures on specific content areas, processes, etc. that students sign up or or arrange for.  Most work is self-directed but each student’s learning facilitator is co-responsible with the students in their success along with their parents.  Students learn the required mathematics, writing, communication, history, science, art, music, and physical education content, and skills as they work through projects.  They learn to work collaboratively, to understand that inter-dependence increases all of their learning and understanding collectively far greater than self-sufficiency or independent learning and work.

Tyler is tired but thoroughly satisfied when his school-based learning day ends (there is no bell or required ending time).  He decides to take the evening off and that tomorrow he will work online and remotely at home through his digital learning space connecting withiStock_000011562895XSmall other students, learning coaches, and of course his learning facilitator as needed throughout the day.  Sometimes he just likes working in his room and with live 3D video it almost feels like he and his team mates are really together regardless of where they are.  He wonders what school might look like in 2020 for his sister Stephanie.  Maybe he’ll get some other students to work on a design project together for a new 2020 middle school and submit their work to the Superintendent for her consideration…

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Student Voices

In my work a lot of what I do is consult with groups to get input on new ideas and thoughts on proposed changes.  It wasn’t my normal practice to approach students for their input.  This year has been different…  In the fall I spoke to our Student Leadership Council (SLC), about 50 grade 6-12 student representing their schools.  I talked to them about technology and how I believe it will impact them in their lives.  But, what I consulted them on specifically was their thoughts on being digitally responsible.

It is interesting to try to figure out the best way to consult with students.  I wanted them to take the questions I asked them back to their schools and to meet with other students to bring back a broad representative input.  Initially I asked them to respond to a blog post I wrote for them – Thoughts on being Digitally Responsible thinking “hey, they’re comfortable with these tools, a blog is a great way to get input”.  Well, it didn’t work out that way – to be honest I think the way I framed the task was confusing for them.  I should have been far more clear and made the task simpler.  But, recently a couple of students have posted some thoughtful comments… 

SLC Student Spaces input 001I approached the SLC executive again this month to ask if I could speak to the full SLC again.  I wanted to follow up on the previous task and ask them if they could provide their school’s input, in what ever form they collected it, to me by February.  I also wanted to have them brainstorm input into a new idea I’m playing with, called Student SpacesSLC Student Spaces input 002This time I just used a blog post as a reference for them to pre-read then I used time in their SLC meeting for table group brainstorming – I asked them to have a recorder at each table and to respond to these questions:

  • If you had a Student Space, list up to five features and capabilities you believe it must have (think of Internet tools you use now like Facebook, a blog, Google docs, Windows Live, etc.)?
  • If you had a Student Space, list up to five concerns or issues you see with the idea?
  • In what ways might a Student Space help you to complete school assignments (think about it being a choice you would have, not a direction from your teacher)?
  • List up to five of your favourite Internet sites / tools that you think are useful for supporting or completing your school assignments and indicate why and how they are useful.

This worked very well.  I have input from a dozen tables or so.  I’m looking forward to compiling their input and using it to influence our efforts to support student learning in a digital environment.

Light bulbNotes from SLC and the Riverside Secondary digital immersion grade 9 students are now available here.

In addition to consulting with the students on the SLC, I met with a

Riverside DI9 class organizing to post input to student spaces
grade 9 class and asked them the same questions.  They organized into groups of 3 or 4 and wrote their responses live as comments on the Student Spaces blog post (these students all happen to have laptops).  There are eight responses posted with really good input.
Cassidy’s digital backpack and favourite tools for learning

While with these grade 9’s, I took the opportunity to interview a few students about their Digital Backpacks which tied in nicely with the fourth Student Spaces question (above).  I am impressed with how easily, without preparation or prompting, kids are able to share their opinions on important topics. 

Tryston’s digital backpack and favourite tools for learning
I think that we adults often think kids are just facebooking, texting, messaging, and consuming youtube video.  But, when given the opportunity, they do use digital tools to support themselves as students not just socializers and consumers. 

For me, the experience of tapping into student voices has been quite rewarding.  I think that those of us working at the District level in education should make a concerted effort to engage students and tap into their thinking and ideas about our work.  We can learn so much from them and it will help us make what we do, better!

I’d love to hear from you, your stories about tapping into student voices for your work.  Perhaps you’d like to share them with us here…

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Self-sufficient or Inter-dependent?

I’ve been thinking a lot about our complex world lately and how our education system does or doesn’t match what we need.  There’s a lot of buzz about the need to support 21st century or personalized learning.  Although there isn’t necessary consensus on what that means or entails, my impression is that most people recognize that our world is quite different today and is rapidly changing and our education system should adapt accordingly.  Education hasn’t necessarily evolved and transformed fast enough to fully match our world’s needs.  I’ve written before about complexity (Education for an automated future or Complexity is Everywhere) and I am in awe of our potential. 

I’m reading a couple of excellent books right now that are quite fascinating.  One is Macrowikinomics by Don Tapscott and the other The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley (thank-you @lisarinkThe Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolvese for loaning this one to me).  macrowikiI’m 39% through Macrowikinomics on my iPad and at p. 41 of Rational Optimist (traditional book).  Sidebar: the more I read non-fiction on my iPad, the more I really appreciate it, the ability to highlight and take notes which sync up to my kindle account on Amazon is huge.

Think for moment about what I just wrote about the iPad.  Can any one person explain in complete detail how that works?  How about one piece, say how the iPad works to support touch to enable highlighting, note taking, and how the Kindle app works at a programmatic level to support that and send it to Amazon for my use later.  There are literally millions of details and millions of people ultimately involved in creating the iPad and the Amazon Kindle service.  No one person can explain or do all that is required to make this possible.  People are incredibly inter-dependent today!

Matt Ridley provides some very thought provoking examples in his book comparing “the simple life” that some people today may long for where people were very self-sufficient.  But, he builds a solid case for how inter-dependence creates prosperity and growth while self-sufficiency creates persistent poverty.  This story from Matt’s book serves to illustrate the difficulty of being self-sufficient.

“In 2009, an artist named Thomas Thwaites set out to make his own toaster, of the sort that he could buy from a shop for about $8.  He needed only a few raw materials: iron, copper, nickel, plastic and mica (an insulating mineral around which the heating elements are wrapped).  But even to get these he found almost impossible.  Iron is made from iron ore, which he could probably mine, but how was he to build a sufficiently hot furnace without electric bellow?  (He cheated and used a microwave oven).  Plastic is made from oil, which he could not easily drill for himself, let alone refine.  And so on.  More to the point, the project took months, cost a lot of money and resulted in an inferior product.  Yet to buy a $8 toaster would cost him less than an hour’s work at the minimum wage. … [This] illustrates the magic of specialisation and exchange: thousands of people, none of them motivated by the desire to do Thwaites a favour, have come together to make it possible for him to acquire a toaster for a trivial sum of money.”, p.34

My iPad and Amazon Kindle example, if broken down into the raw material and inputs necessary to produce them, would be overwhelmingly detailed and complex.  Impossible for a world filled with self-sufficient (autonomous) people to ever produce!

When you look back in history and trace out how people lived, there is very little complexity for 1000’s of years. People, other than kings or rulers, lived very self-sufficient simple and very difficult and poor lives.  Most of their time and other resources (which were few) went into acquiring or maintaining simple food, shelter, clothing and not much else.  But examine the past 500 years, the past century, past 50 years, past 20 years, etc. and a trend is clear from self-sufficiency to inter-dependence which has raised the standard of living for more people in our world then anything ever before.  Yes, we still have very poor people and we need to figure out how to raise their quality of life but this will only be possible through inter-dependence.

Think about Gutenberg’s first printing press in 1440.  Before the press, monks and others labored their entire lives copying texts and only a few privileged persons were allowed to benefit from this work.  Post-Gutenberg saw knowledge spread and explode, slowly at first, but instantaneously today through blogs, tweets, wikis, and other means. 

“nothing could stop the deep changes prompted by the printing press, and ultimately every institution in society was challenged.”, Macrowikinomics (loc. 543)

Chris Anderson of TED fame talks here about accelerated innovation through video and claims this could be as significant as the invention of print.

Perhaps Chris will be right.  In my own experience, I have found video to be a powerful tool for story telling.  I often use it to record what I observe in classrooms and then share these stories through presentations or my blog.  Video does have a way of connecting people to events and also bringing the event to others in ways not possible with mere text.

Think about self-sufficiency and inter-dependence in an teaching context.  Should teachers work autonomously and in isolation from each other?  Or, should they be learning, sharing, and working together through rich experiences within professional learning communities.  Should teachers be creating and sharing their lesson materials, assessments, their ideas, openly and freely for the benefit of others outside their classrooms?  What do you think this would do to the growth of learning?

“Printing gave humanity the written word. The Web makes everyone a publisher. Printing enabled the distribution of knowledge. The Web provides a platform for networking human minds. Printing allowed people to know. The Web enables people to collaborate and to learn collectively”, Macrowikinomics (loc. 566)

What about students?  Should they be learning and working on assignments independently or required to collaborate and share to achieve results?  Should individual student success be dependent on their inter-dependent work? Should the definition of cheating be reexamined in the context of required sharing and collaborating?

“our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions”, Macrowikinomics (loc. 2895)

“real learning begins when students leave the lecture hall and start discussing and internalizing what was just said”, Macrowikinomics (loc. 2899)

“Students who studied in groups were more engaged in their studies, were better prepared for class, and learned significantly more than students who worked on their own”, Macrowikinomics (loc. 2903)

Add technology to the learning environment and we can create the potential to accelerate learning.

“For example, imagine, as a student, that you could not only read about what it is like to be a scientist, an architect, an artist, an entrepreneur, or an engineer, but also collaborate with fellow students in a safe virtual environment to recreate that experience for yourself”, Macrowikinomics (loc. 2907)

“one of the surprising advantages of staging experiences in virtual worlds is that students tend to drop many of the inhibitions that might have otherwise prevented them from participating fully in a real-world classroom”, Macrowikinomics (loc. 2921)

“Immersive experiences and group learning are two key elements of the new pedagogy”, Macrowikinomics (loc. 2939)

History suggests that interdependent learning and work leads to far greater progress and achievement than the alternative.  Think again about the toaster example.  People all around the world are working for you, when you buy a toaster.  You can not achieve this on your own.  Walk into a grocery store and think about all the food products and conveniences you can purchase (for very little money) – you do not have the ability to produce these on your own.

“Culture is sticky.  Old habit and old ways of working die hard.”, Macrowikinomics (loc. 515).

I believe that our education system has serve us extremely well.  We have passionate and capable teachers helping kids learn every day.  They are doing an amazing job otherwise how would we have created the complex world we have today?

Education is one of the last public institutions that hasn’t yet been substantially disrupted by technology and rapid change.  I believe it is an inevitable outcome of accelerated change driven by technology.  But now is the time for those involved in the education system to be involved in its disruption, to ensure it adapts to our times and is adaptable as required by a society and world that is rapidly changing and being disrupted, in this century.  In this way, we may yet reach our full potential.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

One person at a time

There is a lot of writing about “change” and how to make it happen and become the new normal.  Digital Technology has certainly become the prime mover of change in our modern age.  It causes significant disruption to what we know, what we are hope ave and change waycomfortable with, with the status quo – it often makes us uncomfortable.  Change can make us think that what we’re doing now isn’t good enough.  It’s difficult…

In my role leading the technology portfolio in our School District, I have the opportunity to envision and test the potential of a change in technology, to create the change, and to help people join in with the change.  My last post, Why?, talks about being more purposeful in how I spend my time.  I would extend that to being more purposeful in what changes to pursue and accept – there are too many possibilities to consider and we need to be strategic in what we choose.

I responded to a tweet by Chris Kennedy last fall asking about how we make change happen.  My response was

”One student, one teacher, one parent, one school at a time”

curious lamb in springOften people need to see how the change can benefit them before they are willing to embrace it.  People are curious about new things and ways.  It may seem to be slow and expensive to bring change one person at a time but what happens after a slow beginning is that an accepted change will go viral as “believers” in the change tell two friends and so on and so on…  Most people are really good followers once they see their friends going in a particular direction.

I had the privilege last week Thursday of facilitating a imageTwitter workshop for District managers.  We covered a variety of pieces to this but I think answering the questions "why twitter and what it’s for or not for” is a key first step:

  • To connect with like minded or different minded people around the world
  • It is not a replacement for texting, emailing, or phoning, it is additional to it
  • To share quotes, ideas with your network
  • To ask questions of your network
  • To share websites you find interesting or useful
  • If you blog, to promote your blog posts
  • To learn about and discover interesting / useful websites and blog posts
  • To learn from interesting people around the world

I also helped the group with the mechanics of setting it up, following each other, finding others to follow, how to decide who to follow, etc. in a safe hands-on experience.  You can follow them too…

Also, last Friday I had the privilege of leading a blogging workshop for some school principals that are on a learning team I’m iStock_000008508482XSmallfacilitating.  We spent some time answering the question “why blog”.  Then, I had the group work independently on writing a short description of what their blog will be about, derive some possible blog names from that, and write their public bio.  This was a fairly difficult piece of work but so important for them to really connect with what blogging for them will be all about.  Not all of these principals were ready for blogging yet.  Readiness is key for a change to take root.

People will be ready for a change at different paces.  I think it truly is one person at a time.  One more person I helped last week with blogging was Tom Grant, our Superintendent.  He’s been blogging about leadership using our District’s staff portal.  I encouraged him last fall to think about taking his blog outside the District to share his thinking with “the world” and with our District.  Last week Thursday he went live with a new blog site, Thinking about Leadership.  Drop by his blog and join him in helpful leadership conversations.

I have read recently that perhaps we should refer to change as growth.  Change then is really the difference between here and there, between the current state and a future state.  It is the growth one experiences along the way.  Growth might resonate better then “change”.  It’s exciting for me to see people grow while embracing change.  Upon reflection, the change often doesn’t seem to be as difficult as originally suspected...

Monday, January 3, 2011


A new year arrives and many of us are contemplating what the future will bring our way.  Some people make resolutions, often broken soon after.  Although I’m not into new years resolutions, I think it is good to think, plan, and engage in the future… today.

“Some people make things happen, some watch things happen, while others wonder what has happened”

Who do you want to become, what do you want to be different, better, and what are you going to do about it?  I encourage you to read this guest post over at George Couros’s blog The Principal of Change.  The author, Lesley Cameron, talks about trying new things, taking risks, with technology in her classroom.  She references a short clip “Two questions that can change your life” from Daniel Pink.  “What is your sentence?” is a powerful question to ask oneself.  Drive talks a lot about what motivates us and suggests that intrinsic (internal) motivation is a powerful force.  For me I think two sentences would be needed, one for my personal and a second for my professional life.  I need to think about this some more but perhaps this could fit for the second one…

“Through technology, he enabled new and better ways of working and learning.”

A second question is posed in the video, “Was I better today than yesterday?”  Imagine asking yourself the second question at the end of each day and being able to answer it “yes”.  That would be a powerful statement.

I have been thinking about what I need to do in 2011 to make a positive difference for the people I work with and for.  Like most of you I have a lot of projects, meetings, tasks, planning, presenting to take care of.  But, I would like to better focus how I use my time and do all I can to make it purposeful, to help my sentence come true, to answer “yes” to “Was I better today than yesterday?”  I need to ask “why” more often.  Why invest my time in “X”, why invest money in “Y”, or why introduce or support new technology “Z”.

Dave Truss’ latest post Question Everything poses a list of interesting questions those in the education space could ask themselves.  iStock_000004311434XSmallIn general I think it is right to question, everything, especially given the scarcity of our resources of both time, materials, and money.  I know that in my work I need to be more consistent in doing this.  In leading a technology portfolio, it’s easy to be seduced into “upgrading”, “adding new”, etc., just because or because people want the latest thing, etc.  But, I think we, I, need to get better at asking “why?” and people need to be more willing to provide the answer.  We need to be able to attach a value statement to what we invest in.  For each proposed “new” I think a value statement could be developed for the current model and proposed alternates.  Also, what is being undone by introducing the new – what will be given up?  What increased benefit is expected from the current state relative to the proposed new?

For me, there are three significant and I believe, high value, initiatives this year that do rise to the top.  Number one is improving our School District’s network that connects our schools and District together and to the Internet.  It is in serious need of investment and improvement.  The Tri-City News reported on the presentations I provided to our Board last fall:

If this initiative is of interest, you can read the business proposal here and view the final presentation to the Board here.  The value statement is fairly straightforward: either we invest and improve the network or we put the brakes on and begin to scale back our use of technology used for learning, teaching, and work.  We do value technology already for these purposes – perhaps we will have to question those values if we are unable to improve our network…

Secondly, it is time to upgrade and expand the capabilities of our my43 learning and work platform.  I wrote about one aspect of this in Student Spaces (I would love your input there).  my43, beginning in 2007, has evolved into a core digital platform for our District where it is “a virtual environment designed to transform the learning and work in our District” (our value statement).  You may wonder “why not just use Google Docs, a Ning, a Moodle site, WikiSpaces, or a Wordpress site?”  Excellent question.  I argue the value of a both-and approach in my post about Student Spaces and again would love others to weigh in with their thoughts there.  Furthermore, the challenge is to figure out how to best weave the excellent free external learning spaces together with secure and safe spaces in my43 to create a seamless experience for students, teachers, principals, and parents.

And thirdly, we are embarking on a Print Strategy initiative where “printing is not meant to be convenient”.  This short presentation, given to our senior executive last year, outlines the idea.  This will involve replacing 100’s of aging printers, copiers, scanners, and fax machines with multi-function machines placed strategically within schools and District buildings.  It could involve significant reduction of the existing number of machines used to print (less convenient printing and copying) in favor of scanning (more convenient and capable).  It will involve restricting the purchase or “donation” of high cost (to operate) printers or copiers.  Our intentions are, our value proposal is, to reduce paper and electricity consumption and reduce our contribution to the carbon problem.

I intend to be increasingly thoughtful about and intentional with the value our work adds for students, teachers, principals, staff, and parents this year.  I hope that I can say at the end of each day “I was better today than yesterday”…  I hope you can too.