The more the vision of the future changes…

… the more it stays the same. I was talking to a colleague at school yesterday about our NPDL project, and some of the things we are working on. She shared with me video that Pearson Ed has put out called Rey’s Storey: School of Thought – A vision for the future of learning.

As I started watching it, I was struck a memory, so did a quick search and found the video by Apple called Knowledge Navigator, which was their vision of the future. But from 1987. Take a few minutes and watch them both.

So. What do you think? If Apple has the ‘vision of the future’ in 1987, and I don’t really see it as much different from Peason’s ‘vision of the future’ in 2014, what has changed? Have we made any progress toward this vision? I’ve been thinking a lot about barriers to progress in edu and wonder how to move ’em.

Learning as Teachers

We had a PD day today at our school, and we spent some time engaging in self-directed learning. Our VP @scottjohnsonVP gave teachers an opportunity to engage in whatever learning they wanted to. We are piloting a new digital tool called Edsby at our school this semester, and myself and a few other teachers were charged with running a session on getting teachers introduced to it and up and running with their classes.  He also asked each of us to report back to him about what we learned over the morning in whatever it was we chose to do. (This was met with an interesting chorus of groans from some teachers… 🙂 )

My hope was that we’d not do a presentation, but rather that the teachers would just dive in and play in Edsby to learn and figure it out. Interestingly, many were expecting a ‘show me how’ type session. In the end, we pulled Edsby up on a projector and basically did a Q&A for an hour about how to access and use different aspects of the tools. I also sent the VP my reflection for the day which is pasted below. Wondering if others have experienced similar things, and how to best approach the idea of giving teachers autonomy to self-direct their learning. Any comments or experiences to share?

In the introduction to Edsby session, I learned that teachers sometimes need a kick start to learn a new digital tool, but once you cut them loose in the right direction they dive right in, and ask questions and help each other learn in ways that make sense to them. For people who are comfortable with digital tools, they have a shorter learning curve, but still benefit from having someone who can maybe work with them to find answers, even if they don’t know the answers themselves. In the effort to help students become more self-directed learners it is important to recognize that many of us are still used to other ‘experts’ tell us how to do things, and that if we’re going to become better at helping students become self-directed that we may first have to start with helping teachers learn how to self-direct their own learning processes.

Lessons from Lessons

I did something last night that I haven’t done is more than 30 years. I had a guitar lesson. I took a few years of guitar as a kid but gave up on the lessons at some point due to lack of interest on my part. I later picked up the guitar again and taught myself to play, mostly by using magazines with music from bands I wanted to learn.

There’s a lesson there about the nature of motivation in learning, but that’s not what this post is about.

I had an interesting experience with my new guitar teacher yesterday. He was showing me a system and way to learn how to use scales to quickly improvise over different chords. I was able to follow it for the most part, but not as quickly as he was explaining. After a short time, my mind was a blur as I struggled to mentally keep up with what he was showing and explaining. I know that my goal is to take the next week and practice this idea at a much slower pace, but it reminded me of what it feels like to be a learner. In particular, it reminded me what it was like to have a grasp of some information but know that there was large swathes that were passing you by.

Kind of what its like for many of our students on a day to day basis.

It’s good to be reminded what it’s like to be a learner.

This is my job. It’s awesome.

I’m working away on a snow day assessing some student work today. The assignment was to come up examples that explain Newton’s 3 Laws. This is what I received from one student.

Notice how i used three superheroes, and though they may have been marvel ones, that its not because i dislike DC. Also i do poke fun at aquaman, but this is mainly in jest because i do (somewhat) respect him as a hero. Ladies and gents, Newtons laws


Newtons Second Law.

Peter Parker hears that the Rhino is in town. Quickly he finds the nearest convenient storage closet and puts on his costume; Becoming spider man. He then jumps out of the 23rdfloor of the Daily Bugel and shoots strings of web onto miscellaneous objects overhead, his relatively light weight is easily supported by the web. On the way back However he Is carrying Marry Jane on his back. This time the mass that spider man has to carry is greater; and therefore the force of tension on the web is greater.

Newtons first Law.

Deadpool is racing down the streets in a sports car stolen from the King Pin. Unfortunately Deadpool gets distracted by an attractive jogger on the side of the road, and accidentally swerves into a fire-hydrant, bringing his car to an abrupt stop, but since his body was in motion it wanted to stay in the said forward motion, and Deadpool is shoot out of his front windshield, splatting on a nearby building. #seatbeltsforpansies

Newtons Third Law.

Aqua man punches a wall. Since Aquaman obviously doesn’t possess enough strength to break a wall, the force that Aquaman applies on the wall is the same force that the wall applies on Aquaman.

So there’s that. Gives me a good laugh. And it’s a decent understanding of the Laws to boot.

Who are you working for?

Promesse de l'avenirI’ve had this idea in my head for a few weeks now. I was talking to a teacher in our school about a really cool project she was running with her class. She was worried that taking 5 or 6 days out of the semester was too much. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to cover everything. I told her not to think of it that way, as she was replacing some other activities with something far richer and deeper. She still was having trouble thinking of it that way. She said that there are ‘certain things that they need to know for the next level.’

So it got me thinking, who was she talking about? Was she thinking that she had to provide the kids with some specific knowledge or skills that they absolutely needed, or was she thinking about the next course they may take and that if the students seemed to be lacking in something it would reflect upon her as a teacher in the eyes of another teacher?

Then I got thinking about the all-too-common phases that teachers use to ‘motivate’ kids. “You’ll never be able to get away with that in (fill in some upcoming level above current level here).” Or the oft uttered “Why didn’t they teach them this in (fill in some prior grade here).”

Then it struck me. Who do we work for?

Are we working for the kids in front of us, or for the imagined future-teachers that the kids may have? Or are we working for our colleagues in the next grade, or the senior courses in the rooms down the hall?

I submit that if we spent more time worrying about providing quality educational opportunities for the students we have in front of us now, that we’d be better off in both cases. That the students now would learn more and better things, and that the future-teachers will appreciate their skills. For my part, I’ll get over the fact that maybe students haven’t had the chance to master some specific bit of knowledge if they are better learners, and eager to give things a shot in my class.

So, as I thought about it, I’ve decided that I’m no longer going to be concerned what the teachers next year, or any year after that, (university prof’s I’m looking at you!)  may wish for me to do in my class, I’m only going to worry about what the students in my class need, and what will work best for them.

How about you? Are you working for another colleague? Or some imagined future-teacher?

Who says you can’t go home?

Tomorrow marks the start of another school year, and for the first time in 5 years I’m heading back to a classroom. I made the decision last year to not return to my role as a consultant in our school board. There was a few factors that played into the choice, most notably the arrival of Andrew in our family. Other factors included being tired of the distance to get to the office when we had purposefully chosen to build our home 7 years ago in-town. I now have 3.4 km one way to school, when it was 86 km to the board office. Crazy. It feels like I get 2hrs of my life back everyday.

Over the summer, I had more than a few people give me odd reactions to the news that I was returning to a classroom. The most common was to ask me if it was my choice? I’m not sure what I was supposed to answer to that. It was my choice, but is it one that people aren’t expected to make? Do not many folks move from those central board-level positions go back to where they can actually interact with students on a daily basis and, ya know, teach? I know of several who have. Granted, there are others that move on to administration positions as well. But there was enough people who gave me the same reaction, that I noticed it as a trend. Odd.

At any rate, I’m back in the classroom, have a great timetable that I was totally not expecting to get, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the year will bring. Lots of ideas of things to try out in the class are in my head, and I think the biggest thing will be trying to decide how to narrow down those ideas to make it manageable. Small steps to start I suppose, but I’m excited to be getting back to the science classroom. Hopefully my Jedi teaching powers are still intact…

My classroom awaits!

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Clean for a fresh start.

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Andrew and #learning2030

Warning: Tired parent. Rambling ahead! 

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a taping of TVO’s The Agenda at Trent U in Peterborough. They are doing a series focused on education, and this show focused on the use of technology by teachers and students. I was fortunate enough to get to speak a bit during the show and rambled on a bit towards the end of the program. There’s been lots of great discussion around the issues raised, and I hope that this serves to continue to elevate the level of conversation about changes to education in Ontario. TVO has called their series Learning 2030 because a child born last year when they started would be due to graduate high school in 2030

I’ve been considering all the challenges and changes in education a lot these past weeks. Due in no small part to this.

Meet Andrew. Andrew was born this past weekend on March 16th. Andrew has an older sister Anna who is currently in Grade 4 as well. So our family now has doubled our stakes in the value of the Ontario education system. Andrew enters a world where he will never not know about the iPad. Where he will always be able to see his grandparents face to face, even though some of them live 1200 kms away. His world will include video surveillance and real-time tracking and analytics about many aspects of his life. His generation will face challenges that we are still in the process of uncovering, let alone dealing with.

Of immediate concern is the education system that he will be entering shortly. Full day kindergarten awaits him (at the moment anyway, political winds of change notwithstanding). Will it be helpful to him or not? Will Ontario continue its path towards more high-stakes, full-scale testing in the name of ‘improvement’ that can be measured in numbers that make for happy real-estate agents and politicians? Will his teachers continue to be maligned in the pubic sphere by politicians and a populace that think they understand what’s wrong with education and how to ‘fix’ it. Will his education consist of problem-solving, deep thinking and understanding, or will it be a ramped up version of worksheets for a digital age?

As you can sense, I have some questions…   As a teacher, I’m not sure that I see answers that I deem worthy of implementation. I wonder how to do some of the things that I think are required, and look at the whole Titanic-sized system and wonder how we can change the course of the ship. Sometimes I think that the answer is to reboot it completely, and rather than make change in the one we have, to think of ways to re-invent it from the ground up. Of course, there are numerous questions that arise with that, due to the highly politicized nature of education that is funded via public coffers. Everyone deserves a say, and everyone thinks that they deserve to be not only listened to, but obeyed. Democracy works on principles of the value of debate, but not every idea is created equal, or can be implemented.

So what to do? Do we examine the concept of curriculum itself? Change the way we actually produce and write the documents that are meant to guide learning because those documents are predicated on everyone learning the same thing at the same time. Will modern learning look like this? Do we examine the point of schools themselves? Do we examine what it means to be a teacher? Is what happens in a classroom the only thing of value? Do students learn valuable things when we engage them in things that are traditionally ‘extra’-curricular? Does this mean that they are not ‘extra’? Does this mean that things like the workday, job descriptions and pay need to be examined to critically assess whether or not they would actually meet the needs of a learning environment for not just 2013, but off into the future of 2030 and beyond?

Big questions I know, but I’m not sure that we can do anything without asking some of those deep questions. Do I have answers? I’m not sure, I have ideas, but most of the ideas I have seem to require a fundamentally different system that the one we see now. And I’m not sure how to address that.

I do know one thing. As a teacher, I’ve been convinced of the value of open-ended, deep learning that gets beyond a surface approach to curriculum topics, so I will continue to advocate and promote that in my work. As Anna & Andrew’s dad, I’ve got a new sense of urgency. Change takes time, and deep, systemic change takes that much more. We may have been talking about what learning will look like for Ontario students in 2030, but now I’m talking about what learning looks like for my kids. Not just in the future.


2 Interesting Questions

I was asked two very interesting questions today. I needed some time to consider them, and after thinking about it for a while realized that these are the kinds of questions that you could take a LONG time to answer. So I quickly threw some thoughts down. The two questions, and my brief start at answers are below:

1. If you were given the opportunity to develop a Science and Innovation Strategy, what would be included, and how would it be implemented?

Tony Wagner claims in his book Creating Innovators, that essential qualities are curiosity, collaboration, integrative thinking and a bias towards action or experimentation.  He also says that these skills can be taught and nurtured.

So, with that in mind a strategy would have to enable schools to foster that kind of thinking in teachers and students.  It needs to be multi-disciplinary, inquiry based and completely open to take many different directions. The ‘curriculum’ for such a program would be one of skills and attitudes, and not necessarily one of content and knowledge, as in the 21st Century, it becoming more important to be able to DO something with knowledge after you find it, to create NEW knowledge out of old, rather than to spit out 300 years of established facts.  In order to allow this, we may have to consider a new approach to our curriculum and courses, or take the grand leap, and tear down the credit system to one of a mentor or apprenticeship kind of approach where the students learn with each other and teachers.  Practically speaking, many would have to see it in action to understand. There are models of innovative schools around the world that could be drawn from. High Tech High in California, Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia are but two examples that come to mind.

Some things that I’d suggest reading:

Tony Wagner – Creating Innovators
Will Richardson – Why School?
Seth Godin – Stop Stealing Dreams (free download

2. What would a science lab look like, sound like, be like if it was technology enabled? What would be needed? How would it be implemented?

The science lab needs to mirror the reality of science. So that means having access to all the tools of modern science (within reason of course) but computers, network access, some tools like probes etc… But the key is that they activities in the lab need to mirror the actuality of science. I’d be happier seeing real science being done in an inquiry fashion with students asking great questions and not having any tech than I would if they had all the tech in the world and all they did was confirmatory, cookbook lab activities. High school labs need to be places that encourage open-ended problem solving.  Teachers need to be somewhat comfortable with some of the tech, but they need to be more comfortable with the approach.

So? What are your thoughts? What needs to be considered in a Science and Innovation Strategy?


Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’re likely aware that Neil Armstrong has passed away. I have been thinking about this, and two things keep coming into my mind.

1. The moon landings of Armstrong and the others happened 2 years before I was born. It amazes me that we haven’t had events of that positive magnitude in my lifetime, and I wonder what it would take to have that kind of impact on my daughter’s generation, when I myself can’t envision it.

2. How many of us will leave footprints (literal or metaphorical) that will last millions of years?

Something to think about….

Now do I get a seat on the Jedi Council?

What? It’s not THAT kind of Master? Nuts… Oh well.

I finally got the final confirmation that my final paper was finally reviewed and accepted and I now have completed all the requirements for my Masters of Education. Finally.  Get that? It’s D.O.N.E! (does happy dance)

Its a great feeling to know that its fully completely finished after years of work and study. It was a great experience though, and I’m very glad that I did it.  I’m also very glad that its done.

Looks like my research project will be published in the fall as an article on an online education research journal, so I will be editing and condensing much of it. But that can wait till later in the fall. I have some relaxing to do.

If you’re interested, here’s the abstract. 

Understanding the Relationship Between the Personal and Professional Use of Technology by K-12 Educators

Much research has been done around how and why teachers integrate technology into classroom practices. Various factors have been shown to be important including teachers beliefs, attitudes, comfort, knowledge and skills.  This has proven to be a complex mix with the outcome of technology integration depending, in various ways, on all of these factors. A need has emerged for a way to look at this complex mix of variables that takes into account the reasons teachers use technology and the tasks which they complete using technology. This kind of research tool could be used in a variety of ways to analyze these variables. This paper describes the outcomes of a project to develop a multifaceted, domain based survey instrument that looks at the frequency of use and confidence in the use that educators have with various technology tasks, as well as the importance that they place on these tasks for personal and professional use.  The instrument was then tested on a small group of teachers in a school board in Ontario, Canada and the data was analysed to determine if it could be used in broader studies to answer such questions as have been posed in the literature. The results show that the instrument will be valuable in showing how educators’ beliefs are connected to the frequency of use and confidence they have in certain technologies.  It should also be able to determine if those beliefs change over time and if this translates into changes in technology use. It was less clear if the instrument would be useful in determining how educators’ personal and professional use of technology was related and further refinement for this purpose could be considered.

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