DI Students meet George Abbott (Minister of Education)

Digital Immersion Students with George Abbott

It was an honour to meet our new Minister of Education, George Abbott, and present our Digital Immersion program to members of the Ministry and the Vancouver Board of Education. The DI students did a job of explaining how learning has changed for them aligned with technology as well as the positive experiences associated with the program.

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Environmental Sustainability Project

The Digital Immersion Grade 8’s and I are building a Environmental Sustainability Project in partnership with the City of Vancouver, Apple Canada, and Cisco Systems.

We are very excited about the technology, but beyond the technology and the new tools (iPads) is the very real and fulfilling work of making a difference. This is how we should be teaching our students and helping them explore potential careers and interests through meaningful work. The City of Vancouver has an excellent reputation around the world as a green city. What we aim to do is either take something that already exist and make it better or better yet invent something new that we can call our own. Possibly an initiative that can be realized with a little time and a lot of hard work.

So far, I am loving the new cart, but getting apps on to 30 iPads is proving to be quite a labour intensive and time consuming task. I think Apple can do better with an Education version of iTunes or perhaps a third-party plugin that will allow for mass simultaneous syncs.

As a side note,  I love the Find My iPhone app. I can track every iPad through GPS and a map. If iPads go missing or is misplaced, I can track it and send a message and/or lock it out and/or wipe the data. This feature is available through MobileMe Free Account and is available for iPhones, iPod Touch, and iPads. I am going to invent a game for this feature. Now all the iPads need is a camera so I can use QR Codes.

Scripting Bold Questions about the Future

On Monday, November 29th, I attended a PDK dinner meeting with eight other John Oliver Staff.  The topic: “Internet Connectivity, Personalization, and Engagement in Learning.”  I was intrigued from the outset because even though I am an edtech geek, I believe that technology is not the driver, but with effective use – it definitely becomes the enabler: the enabler and an essential building block that allows us to move beyond the physical walls of school and the 8:00-3:00 o’clock paradigm mentioned by Gino Bondi in his most recent post. I also believe that our educational processes and products need to be re-examined to reflect the exponential growth in technology and the speed with which information is now accessed and synthesized.

So, as I entered the Arbutus Club on that cold, damp Monday evening, I asked myself,who doesn’t want personalization for their child? Who wouldn’t want a system that would help their child maximize their potential and realize their hopes and aspirations?

Chris Kennedy spoke of the power of technology (the need to educate and model the use of technology for students) and the power that comes in sharing ideas through effective writing.  In tying the issue of writing with the fact that “video is a game changer,” Chris’ view was consistent with Jason Ohler’s perspective on digital storytelling: good screen writing or scripting is an essential part of video and further reinforces the need for learners to be good communicators in any medium. The question though is this: how do we ask educators who are neither tech savvy nor technology integrators to accept a different representation/demonstration of learning and acquired mastery? Who is going to teach digital citizenship and participation aligned with technological skills and affordance? Where does it fit in to the curriculum, and when does it need to be taught?

Janice Unwin talked about creating meaningful relationships and enabling learners, teachers and students to use ‘what is available’ to support learning. What struck a chord with me was her attitude: although she readily admitted that technology was not her forte, she stressed the importance of giving technology ‘a try’ and measuring the affordance in terms of its worth and benefits to teaching and learning.

Steve Cardwell spoke about many topics that were consistent with the current literature on personalization and 21st Century Learning. What stuck for me was his concept of student engagement and allowing all to learn through social media because this is the medium of choice for our current learners. It is useless to fight it and in the end it is about learning and engagement and not the technology. Teach to where students are at and help them move beyond superficial learning and immediate gratification to deeper learning and deeper experiences through a sustained, supported and rigorous educational plan.

Now, what if we redefined how we delivered this “educational plan?” What if we put that teacher and his/her lesson on video and asked students to watch it for homework? Students would now come to the lesson with the background knowledge and requisite questions, so that class time would be about real ‘hands on’ learning and analysis. Take it one step further: video record the hands-on work, review it, reflect upon it and blog it for discussion – deep learning and deep experiences that extends beyond the classroom.

In videoing and posting his lessons, this is what our Science Department Head, Lester Leung, does in his Chemistry classes. To me, this is teaching and learning in the 21st century context. Lester is not teaching technology, but rather leveraging technology to support and enhance the curriculum while engaging students with their medium of choice. Does it have to be personalized? I don’t know, but what if you took it even further and found a professional to help mentor students who are interested in pursuing a career in a specific field or perhaps indentify experts to follow through social media like Twitter to keep students abreast of current developments and research (partnerships with post-secondary institutions and corporations are more important now than ever)?

Take this issue of personalization and attach it to our own professional development. What if we all collaborated, used our collective expertise and created content around our passions?  What if we housed that content on a LMS and stored it on servers in the cloud where students could access and interact with digital learning objects on demand? Subsequently, what if we asked students to create digital artifacts to represent their learning in a variety of mediumsWhat if we took those artifacts and shared them with the public through an ePortfolio to be assessed and evaluated by a larger audience?

It seems radical, but is it really? Look at YouTube and marvel at the level of creativity and effort put into some of the works. What is their motivation? How do we harness that energy, enthusiasm and engagement?

What if teachers maintained connections and relationships through the use of ICT and leveraged technology to create time for F2F interaction for the four deeps mentioned by Steve Cardwell?

What if, what if, what if.

I have three children of my own and when I envisioned the John Oliver Digital Immersion Program, I asked myself what model would I want for my own children and that is what I set out to create.  Should we be teaching irrelevant curriculum or teaching in the context of the world we live in? The urgency for change is real and my motivation rests in my belief that my children are entering an educational system that it is not as great as it should or could be. I believe that true personalization is at its best when the learners have a strong foundation in literacy and numeracy in addition to being self-directed and self-motivated (in reference to Alan November). Give students the confidence and skills required to become life-long learners and help them become independent thinkers by showing and modeling for them how to access credible information, critically reflect upon it and create something personal, meaningful, and worthwhile. So, yes to more personalization; yes to project-based, problem-based, inquiry-based, and student-centered learning; yes to ensuring that a personalization framework ensures equity, equality and personal growth for all.

Off to Victoria for the BCSSA Conference

Very excited and honored to have the opportunity to go to Victoria for the BCSSA conference. With me are four students who will participate in the discussions around 21st century learning, personalized learning and the future of public school education in British Columbia.

A couple of my students will be video podcasting their thoughts and ideas surrounding their experience and the discussions that took place in their round table facilitated by experts and district superintendents. At the end they will offer a reflection that will summarize the two day event and give their take from a young high school student’s perspective.