Educating With Technology: Changes for the Better

Food for Thought, Info, Professional Development, Reflection 7 Comments »

After 60 years in the classroom as a student, teacher, and K-12 Educational Technology Consultant, I have seen many changes. I maintain that the changes, particularly as they relate to the infusion of technology into K-12 classrooms, have improved the lives of both students and teachers.

I plan to address how technology has changed and improved education over the years. First, I want to make sure that the reader is aware of what drives educators. Regardless of whether a teacher uses the latest technology or the more traditional blackboard, I believe that what matters most, can best be described in Kathy Davis’ quotation:

Teacher Feature #3 - Kathy Davis 300 x 225

Since the child is the most important ingredient in the educational process, I thought that I would use the letters in the word “child” as an acrostic technique to frame my thoughts regarding educational change.

C is for: Computer Science & Change

I began my teaching career in 1967 teaching Grade 7 & 8 students Mathematics. In those days, my only form of technology was a spirit duplicator, a hand-cranked calculator, and my slide rule that I used to determine report card marks. I must admit that when I taught Mathematics, I assumed that all students solved problems using the same strategies and algorithms that I used and taught.

A few years later, I proposed teaching Computer Science to Grade 11 & 12 students. In those days, my Grade 11 & 12 students either used a school keypunch or pencil-marked optical cards to create a program on a deck of cards. I maintain that they were better programmers than today’s student because they only had “one run per day”. In other words, they flow-charted, traced their code extremely thoroughly, and assembled their program(s) into elastic-enclosed decks of cards which I drove out to the university each evening and ran through the U of M mainframe. The next day my Computer Science students would be waiting eagerly at my classroom door at 8:00 a.m. when I arrived. I would distribute their print-outs wrapped around each program deck of cards. There would be those who whooped with delight if their program ran successfully and printed out the correct answers. Others would frown as they carefully searched their print-out for the easy-to-spot syntax errors or the more challenging coding flaws in logic. It was while teaching programming to high school students that I had a real epiphany or change.

Teaching students Computer Science ... brought about four important changes in my teaching:

I remember reviewing an assignment and noting that while most students solved this one particular problem using the same logic that I would use, there was one student who tried a different approach. Although his print-out provided the correct answer, he took a rather unique approach in his logic. Perhaps it wasn’t the most efficient program because he used more lines of code but the important thing was that his coding showcased for me that not everyone thinks the same. In teaching junior high Mathematics, I had always assumed that all of my students would problem solve using the same algorithms or steps that I demonstrated and taught. Furthermore, I was quite proud that no Mathematics students could ever stump me and that I could solve every problem in the textbook to arrive at the correct result displayed in the answer key.

Teaching students Computer Science, and how to program computers, brought about four important changes in my teaching:

  1. The revelation that not everyone solved problems using the same methods or steps that I used;
  2. No longer did I feel as confident in always being able to solve all programming problems using the framework or existing coding proposed by each, and every student;
  3. Teaching programming helped me realize that I was no longer the “gatekeeper of knowledge” and that students often learned so much from their friends; and
  4. I learned how important it was for me to be able to say “I don’t know …”, but I always quickly followed this remark by stating “… but, when you figure it out, please show me.”

I have to agree with Steve Jobs who stated “Everybody should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think”.

 

H is for: Help, Hand-outs & Hardware

Teaching a brand-new school initiated Computer Science course in the early 1970’s had its challenges. Unfortunately there was no one from your own school to mentor you in computer-related problems. Rather, you had to search out others who were, like you, introducing Computer Science to their Grade 11 and 12 students. Long before the Internet, we had to phone one another or meet face-to-face to gain help and share resources. Whenever I used the school’s ditto machine to duplicate Computer Science hand-outs, tests, or resource pages, I always ran off 10 extra copies. Each of these copies was carefully filed into a large manila envelope addressed to another educator in our city or province that was also teaching Computer Science. When the envelopes were filled, I would “snail mail” my resources out to my 10 Computer Science colleagues. I eagerly looked forward to the arrival of similar “hard copy” resources that I could modify and share with my students. Long before the acronym “PLN” became popular, we thrived and survived thanks to a willingness to support and share with one another.

In the late 70’s, the Apple II, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 microcomputers entered the market place. I bought my own Commodore PET 4032 with its cassette tape drive on which I stored programs. Within a year, I purchased a Commodore dual floppy disk drive to speed up access and to improve reliability. Undoubtedly, lower prices and increased storage capacity have dramatically changed over the past 30 years. For example, my first package of 10 Dysan 5.25” diskettes cost me $70. In other words, in those days, I had to pay $7 for a mere 170 KB of diskette storage space. Today by comparison, one can buy an 8 GB USB flash drive for the same $7 which can store the equivalent of 49,344 of my old Dysan floppy diskettes. Furthermore, today’s cloud storage has become very inexpensive with Flickr, for example, offering new users one free terrabyte of data storage. To put this in perspective, this free offer of storage capacity compares to the equivalent of 6,316,128 of my Commodore PET diskettes. Storage capacity and hardware improvements have definitely improved immeasurably over the past 30 years and with it improved ease of use for today’s educators and students.

 

I is for: Internet, Initiatives & Innovation

During the 80’s and early 90’s, my home and work computers were used in isolation. During those years, most of my computer use consisted of exploring computer assisted learning software, creating word-processed documents, managing databases, and manipulating spreadsheets. With the Internet came connection to other like-minded individuals and the excitement in education exploded as we learned and shared electronically. As access speeds increased, so did our capabilities.

When I first became the Educational Technology Consultant for the Winnipeg School Division in September 1981, I realized that I would be challenged to keep current with this technological explosion and to inform educators and students in our 80+ schools. To facilitate such sharing, in October 1984, I created a monthly educational newsletter called Bits and Bytes. In October 95, I started sharing my newsletter on the Internet as well as continuing to distribute it to each school through a limited number of printed copies. Teachers were delighted when this newsletter appeared on the world-wide-web as now many more readers could gain access to this resource. Furthermore, many teachers liked the fact that they now could quickly search my “Bits and Bytes” web site to find information rather than have to visit their school’s library and flip through past archived hard copies. Although “Bits and Bytes” is no longer available on our school division server, the Internet distribution undoubtedly facilitated the ease of sharing of information and resources during the majority of this newsletter’s 23 year existence.

In the fall of 1995, as the Internet and the Netscape web browser were evolving, Rod Brown and I came up with an innovative plan to run a “Let’s Get Connected” contest in the Winnipeg School Division. Schools were challenged to demonstrate how their staff and students were collaborating as they used technology to enhance learning. This innovative contest was scheduled in May 1996 and I asked other Computer Education Consultants, from nearby school divisions, to help judge the creative applications. These adjudicators were so impressed with the concept, that Richard Burkett, a Computer Education Consultant from the River East School Division, and I teamed up to expand this initiative to schools throughout our entire province. The goal of all “Let’s Get Connected” activities was to “connect” teachers and students in learning opportunities using technology. Not only did the Minister of Education declare May 12-16, 1997 as “Let’s Get Connected Week”, we also encouraged educators to design 32 innovative technology-related activities that engaged students. Through Internet connectivity with other innovative educators, we were proud to be able to facilitate a “Let’s Get Connected” learning adventure for four years in succession.

Without the Internet, the following powerful and inspirational initiative would not have blossomed.  Laura Stockman, a ten year old girl, decided to save her December’s daily allowance of $1.00 to donate to a worthy charity on Christmas day in honour of her recently deceased grandfather. I (@bkmetcalfe) shared Laura’s story in a blog post entitled How to Make a Difference in December. Chris Harbeck (@charbeck), a dedicated middle school colleague in the Winnipeg School Division, shared this idea with his students and challenged other educators and students to do the same. Chris’ UnPlug’d 2011 video entitled Why Digital Citizenship Matters celebrates how Laura’s initial idea caught on with his students. Three years later, thanks to Internet connectivity, I was enrolled in an innovative Digital Storytelling (DS106) open, online course. Our instructor, Alan Levine (@cogdog), challenged us to create a video describing an unexpected positive outcome after sharing something openly online. My Sharing is Caring video describes Laura’s inspirational story and how Internet connectivity facilitated the sharing of this inspiring initiative.

Clarence Fisher (@glassbeed) of Snow Lake, Manitoba and Heather Durnin (@hdurnin) of Wingham, Ontario have embraced the Internet and demonstrated innovative teaching with technology. Although these two middle school teachers and their classes live in two different provinces and are separated by 2700 kilometers, they have effectively used the Internet and social media tools such as Google Docs, Twitter, Skype, virtual bulletin boards and WordPress blogs to build a caring community of learners. The Idea Hive is where the collaboration between the students in the two different schools occurs and their powerful online learning takes place. Using different technologies, these two educators continue to explore innovative ideas and exciting ways to engage their students.

Undoubtedly the Internet has facilitated easy communication, so that educators and their students can benefit from the innovative ideas and resources that are shared by both master teachers and master learners.

 

L is for: Literacy with ICT & Leveraged Learning

In 2006, after much research and working closely with educators throughout the province, the Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth produced a state-of-the-art model entitled Literacy with ICT Across the Curriculum.

“Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) means thinking critically and creatively, about information and about communication, as citizens of the global community, while using ICT responsibly and ethically.”

The inquiry-based LwICT developmental continuum continues to be updated with many resources including the LwICT teacher handbook, parent handbook, posters, and web-based support.

This remarkable initiative continues to foster dramatic learning opportunities in Manitoba classrooms as teachers infuse technology to engage students on their journey to becoming responsible digital citizens.

Today, “just in time”, real-world, learning is the key. The Internet, together with its various social media applications makes learning so much easier. Not only can teachers search for and share engaging lesson activities but educators can also get inspired. No longer does one need to travel to expensive conferences to hear well-respected individuals.  Rather, one can stay at home in one’s pyjamas and become inspired by watching TED Talks presentations. Certainly one can learn from amazing presentations like Sir Ken Robinson’s How schools kill creativity. Similarly, Matt Henderson (@Henderson204), a high school teacher in Winnipeg, also presents his inquiry-based teaching model at the TEDxManitoba. Matt’s passion for inspiring and engaging his students is aptly shared through his powerful Teaching Ourselves to Last Forever presentation. Educators are encouraged to examine the powerful and creative conversations of the learning communities that Matt facilitates by visiting his Henderson Hallway blog.

Andy McKiel (@amckiel) has been an amazing catalyst to foster learning. As an active executive member of the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators (ManACE) and the provincial BYTE Conference, Andy has created and archived a multitude of online learning resources. Undoubtedly, one of his most exciting learning opportunities was the week he spent in Churchill, Manitoba studying polar bears. Working with scientists, Andy learned many important aspects about polar bears and their habitat which he shared with students and teachers world-wide via his blog Chilling with Nanuq.

Moving from bears to birds, we find Andy active tweeting (@amckiel). To facilitate learning amongst Manitoba educators, Andy has been collecting the Twitter “handles” of Manitoba teachers. He then uses the Paper.li content curation service to collect daily tweets of Manitoba educators and display them in The Manitoba-educators Daily. If you want to find out what Manitoba educators are tweeting, you need to investigate Andy’s online newspaper.

With Twitter becoming so popular, three Manitoba teachers, decided to create a process by which educators could use this social networking tool to connect and chat about topics of interest. Zoe Bettess (@ZBettess) from Thompson teamed up with Winnipeg educators Georgette Nairn (@GeorgetteNairn) and Tanis Thiessen (@tjthiessen) to organize the “Manitoba Education Chat” (#MBedchat).  Every Wednesday night from 9:00 – 10:00 CST, interested educators filter tweets using the hashtag #MBedchat and provide answers to five questions related to the evening’s topic. Past chats have focused on our provincial SAGE Conference, the new Manitoba report card, the connected classroom, picture book month, and sharing strategies to support EAL students. All tweets are archived on the Manitoba Ed Chat blog so that others may learn. This #MBedchat educational chat provides great learning opportunities as ideas are shared and connections are made between like-minded educators. I encourage readers to sign up for Twitter, explore tutorials, utilize an interface like HootSuite, TweetChat, TweetDeck or another client which allows tweets to be displayed in columns, and join in the learning and fun.

For years, John Evans (@joevans) has been a prominent sharer of educational ideas and resources. In fact, his Why Sharing Matters video, in which he uses an apple basket metaphor as a measure of teacher wellness, imparts a powerful message to us all. John starts each weekday by rising early and sharing a wealth of educational ideas and resources through Twitter. Not only does he distribute educational information through his The Tech News Daily online newspaper, he also uses the Scoop-it online publishing tool to curate news, reviews, and resources which he shares through his online iPads in Education. However, John is perhaps known by more educators as the champion behind MAPLE – the MAnitoba Professional Learning Environment (MAPLE). This new Manitoba Education social networking service can be used to connect Manitoba educators to each other, to curriculum content, and to a variety of professional learning opportunities. This unique endeavour will provide Manitoba educators with new ways to connect with their curriculum, communicate, collaborate and learn.

 

D is for: Devices & Dedicated Dynamos

Lately there has been much discussion over the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) initiative. Starting in 2010, Dakota Collegiate, in the Louis Riel School Division, was one of the first schools in Winnipeg to facilitate this endeavour. As one of the school leaders, Roy Norris (@Roy_Norris) teaches English in a 1:1 environment where each student brings his/her own technological device to school to enhance his/her learning. When visiting Roy’s class, I was astounded by the variety of devices that the students in the classroom were using. Some had Mac laptops, other classmates were using Windows netbooks, while others were connecting wirelessly using smart phones or tablets. My initial two thoughts were …Wouldn’t it be simpler, if all students in the class had the exact same device; and, as a teacher, is Roy expected to know everything about how each of these different devices work? From observation and discussion, it was clear that Roy empowered his students and encouraged them to collaborate to find solutions to both technical as well as subject-related problems. Furthermore, despite the variety of technology employed by his students, it was evident that they were all engaged in the learning process.

Some of you might wonder “what changes when every student has a computer in class?” To investigate such opportunities and challenges, I invite you to explore Roy’s wiki where he reflects and shares his thoughtful insights into his teaching in a dynamic BYOD classroom.

The leadership team in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division implemented a division-wide initiative to place devices into the hands of all K-12 students. The school division purchased about 3000 iPads which were distributed to every student in grades 6, 7 and 8. Students in lower grades will share 6 – 8 iPads in each classroom, while the senior high students will be encouraged to bring their own device from home. Undoubtedly the digital learning team of Andy McKiel (@amckiel), Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa), and Joan Badger (@jbadger) were extremely busy implementing this well thought-out plan.

As one would expect, the leadership team conducted a number of workshops and one-on-one mentoring to help teachers implement their school division’s Digital Learning Project’s 5C’s of: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Citizenship. However, I was impressed with the attention to detail with other tasks that needed to be addressed. Right from the start, the middle school parents were informed of this iPad 1-to-1 initiative through a Learning in the Digital World presentation. Additionally, a Parent Information Page was created on the divisional web site to further inform parents about Technology Acceptable Use Policies, Creating an Apple ID, the iPad Take Home Agreement, and Caution Fees.

Other school divisions in Winnipeg, and throughout the province, are watching to see how this Learning with an iPad endeavour progresses and the benefits that these devices bring to the domain of learning.

The previous two references demonstrate what can be accomplished on both a school-wide and a division-wide basis when devices are introduced to each student. With such wide-spread support and effort, one would expect success. However, it is equally important to showcase the work and effort of individual teachers who encourage their students to learn in new and exciting ways. I have selected innovative ideas from Early, Middle and Senior Years environments to demonstrate how dedicated and dynamic educators can inspire and engage students.

What innovative learning can be implemented in two Early Years’ classrooms with the acquisition of two iPod Touches? Erin Clarke (@erinbrie) and Jeff Hoeppner (@bluebomber6), of the River East Transcona School Division, applied to the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators (ManACE) for a grant. Their application was supported with a rather creative Haiku video. These two teachers created a monthly Instagram challenge which presented a different word or theme each day. Teachers, students, and classrooms from across Manitoba (and beyond) shared their creative photos based on the theme of the day. Their #eduphotoaday blog traces their innovative journey as well as shares useful tips on photo apps, or important considerations such as Public vs. Private Instagram. Their November challenge was particularly interesting as they attempted to improve students’ picture taking by using daily prompts associated with photography such as “rule of thirds”, “birds-eye view”, and “reflection”. Erin and Herb, together with their students, demonstrate how technological devices used with dedicated dynamos can bring about engaged learning.

At the Middle Years level, Miles MacFarlane (@milesmac), from the Seven Oaks School Division, encourages his students through innovative ideas and projects. His students are engaged learning History as they create ancient civilizations using the Minecraft program. Furthermore, Miles’ blog entries and comment conversations are a powerful learning resource. Miles is the consummate blogger. Regardless of whether he is sharing his parenting thoughts in TeacherDad or his teaching journey through his Miles’ Tomes blog, his learning is transparent and genuine. How many educators do you know who would risk sharing online their Annual Reflection on Learning for all to see and comment upon?

This past June, Miles organized the first EduCamp – Winnipeg which was an “un-conference” where participants planned their day and learned and shared ideas and resources in an open environment. Not only does he have a busy teaching day, Miles is also engaged in online graduate work at George Washington University. Sharing his instructional workshop package for delivering a Creating a Twitter PLN definitely helps other educators “make connections with a global professional community using Twitter”. Although Miles and his family will be shortly leaving our province for a teacher exchange in Australia, we know he will continue to share with us through his Teacher Exchange blog. With Internet access, educators like Miles, can connect and share world-wide.

Phil Taylor (@ptaylorsjr), a Senior Years’ teacher at St. John’s-Ravencourt School, has always been one to share. Not content to only focus on sharing through his Learning Technologies blog, Phil is passionate about micro-blogging through Twitter. He uses a variety of applications to curate and distribute resources through such channels as Phil’s Learning Technology News, Trending Ed Tech News or his RebelMouse feed.

To facilitate and share learning, Phil created the SJR Learners wiki. For the past two years, Phil has been exploring Google’s 20% time concept with his students. Others may know this initiative as Genius Hour where students are given a portion of school time to explore, with the help of technology, any area of interest to themselves. As Phil states, it is remarkable to witness the time and effort that students will invest when focusing on an area in which they are passionate.

Like his students, Phil is passionate about sharing with fellow educators. As an early adopter of the Diigo personal information management system, Phil maintains and publically shares nine Diigo lists ranging from Android, Google Drive/Docs – Resources, Student Digital Footprint Guidelines, to Tablets in Education. However, the one which resonates most for me is his list of bookmarks shared in Building a PLN. I believe the key to survival in today’s fast-paced teaching environment is for educators to get connected and share through a Personal Learning Network or PLN. I have attempted to address the power and potential of a PLN in my own blog post entitled My PLN: A Teacher’s Treasure.

PLN-Get Connected

Having showcased dedicated Manitoba teachers in the Early, Middle and Senior Years areas, I thought I should finish with a brief look at the contributions of a Manitoba educational curriculum coordinator. Knowing that this last section focuses on the acrostic “D-words”, many readers might suggest that it would be a true oversight, if I did not include “Darren”.

Over the years, Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa) has been an inspiration for many educators looking for ways to integrate technology and improve student engagement and learning. Undoubtedly his scribe post, which he developed with his high school Mathematics students, continues to be an innovative learning process. Those unfamiliar with the background and benefits of this endeavour are encouraged to listen to Alan November’s interview of Darren about the specifics in Student Scribes 1, Student Scribes 2, and Student Scribes 3.

As a founding convener of the K12 Online Conference, Darren has provided educators world-wide with an opportunity to participate, share, and learn together. Darren is a well-respected international keynote speaker who is a dedicated, sharing, professional. Not content to research and keep his learning private, he shares his creativity and new-found knowledge with everyone. With more than 1000 slides displayed through Slideshare, Darren continues to enlighten educators with the wealth of powerful ideas and resources. For example, some of his creativity includes:

Lately Darren has shifted sharing his thoughts and ideas on his A Difference blog to a new video blog mechanism. He has now uploaded and shared more than 100 #WhileWalking YouTube videos where he poses questions and shares his thoughts about improving education in short, articulate video messages.

Clay Shirky states that “The change we are in the middle of isn’t minor, and it isn’t optional.”  Darren realizes this and does everything in his power to help educators adapt to this change.

In closing, it is obvious that changes in education have increased dramatically in my 40 year educational career. However, teachers today have so many more ways of connecting and sharing resources with other like-minded educators.

The key, I believe, is connectivity! Teachers today, who want to connect effectively with their students, must connect with other educators.

Connect or be Side-lined

One way that educators can improve is to examine the wealth of information that is being shared by these Manitoba educators. Take time to learn about your colleagues and investigate the related hyperlinks that I have identified. I purposely have listed each one’s Twitter “handle” in brackets following their names. For example, if you were to enter into a Google search field “Twitter @bkmetcalfe” (without quotes), regardless of whether you subscribed to Twitter or not, you would be presented with the particular educator’s real name and Twitter profile. In many cases, you would learn a bit about the educator and possibly gain access through a hyperlink to his/her blog. Below this information, one can see the number of tweets s/he has generated, the number of individuals s/he follows, together with the number of individuals following the particular educator. In addition, you would be able to scan the past tweets shared by this educator and gain a sense as to whether you might benefit from the information s/he was sharing.

Regardless of where you are in your journey to use of technology to enhance learning, it is important to remember that it is the “Child” that should always be your focus. Perhaps this final acrostic might summarize this post:

C onnections

H elp

I ndividuals

L earn

D ifferently

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits:

- Flickr – Creative Commons image “A hundred years from now …”  by Brian Metcalfe
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/5200425803/

- Flickr – Creative Commons image “Get Connected!” by Paco Paco
http://www.flickr.com/photos/metaweb/4345676181/

- Flickr – Creative Commons image “Expand your Global Connections” by Langwitches
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/langwitches/5119205490/

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Hour of Code – For those who are 6 to 106!

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Computer Science Education Week is Dec 9-15, 2013. An “Hour of Code” is an amazing event in which educators are encouraged to spend one hour, during next week, introducing aspects of computer coding to their students.

This learning opportunity is a “one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify ‘code’ and show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, an innovator.” Teachers are encouraged to explore the wealth of ideas, tutorials, and resources provided on the “Hour of Code 2013″ web site.

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There are an incredible variety of  step-by-step, self-guided, tutorials that are provided for both students and teachers. Not only are these innovative tutorials designed to run through computer browsers, on smartphones, or on tablets; some of the “coding” activities require no computer at all. Should you have any concerns, they are probably addressed in the “Hour of Code – Frequently Asked Questions”.

No experience in computer coding for either teachers or students is necessary. All that is required is for teachers to be risk-takers and learn along with their students. I recommend that all teachers practice saying three most important words … “I don’t know” but quickly follow-up with … “but when you figure it out, please teach me”. Other experienced educators suggest advising students to “Ask three … before me!” to reduce the pressure to try to answer all questions. This may appear to some educators to be a “cop-out”, but it reinforces that no one knows all the answers and that true learning is a collaborative effort. Furthermore, a student’s self-worth is dramatically increased, whenever s/he can teach an adult.

So I encourage you to take an hour next week and have fun, learning to “code” with your students.

Sorry, I have to run now and figure out how to navigate that darn “Angry Bird” through that puzzle.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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ManACE Seed Grant Program – 2014

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As a Manitoba K-12 educator, could you use an extra $900.00? Is there an initiative, supported by technology, that you would like to explore or enhance? If so, you would be wise to investigate the Manitoba Association for Computing Educators (ManACE) “Seed Grant”.

Seed Grants #1 - 400x300

The available grant categories for 2014 include:

  • Two $900 grants awarded to K-4 teachers
  • Two $900 grants awarded to grades 5-8 teachers
  • Two $900 grants awarded to grades 9-12 teachers
  • Two $900 grants awarded to school-based projects that administrators, resource, and/or teachers might apply.

If you could use funding to purchase hardware, software and/or professional development, I encourage you to explore the ManACE Seed Grant brochure and application form. The application deadline is February 21, 2014, so it gives you ample time to decide on a project and involve students in your “digital pitch” presentation which comprises 30% of your grant evaluation.

To better appreciate the creativity and innovative ideas that have been submitted by students and educators in past, investigate past Seed Grant winning proposals. These eight projects can be found by scrolling down to the 2013-dated Seed Grant video submissions.

So “plant a seed and watch it grow!”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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Teacher Feature #33 – What was war?

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Today’s “Teacher Feature” focuses on remembering. I have been reflecting on which moments in my life have left me with an indelible memory. For me, there are important images that come to life such as when I first met my wife, being present at the births of our sons, certain classroom “teachable moments”, outstanding family get-togethers, and images linked to various vacations.

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Teacher Feature #33 – Eve Merriam – November, 2013

Today’s remix was inspired by an unforgettable memory that I had while cycling through Holland. Although this experience happened more than 43 years ago, it left me an important memory and message that seems fitting to share with readers prior to November 11th. I encourage readers to view my YouTube video entitled “Are two minutes, too much, to ask?” to learn about my most unforgettable experience.

 [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77TKyIU02gM]

What will you be doing … this 11th month, 11th day, 11th hour?

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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Teacher Feature #32 – Assessment Today

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As an educator who taught junior and senior high students (Grades 7-12) Mathematics and Computer Science, I was proud of my assessment strategies. The percentage mark that appeared on each of my student’s report cards was extremely precise. In fact, it was so accurate that I never had any difficulty explaining to parents the mathematical formula that I used to determine each grade.

Teacher Feature-32 -Irmeli  Halinen

Teacher Feature #32 – Irmeli Halinen – October, 2013

However over the years, K-12 assessment has moved from my somewhat analytic procedure to a more anecdotal process to better capture the essence of the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses.

One of my past serendipitous learning opportunities, led me via Twitter to Joe Bower’s thought-provoking blog “for the love of learning”, which was subtitled “Assessment is not a spreadsheet — it’s a conversation”. I was so impressed with this assessment quotation, that I emailed Joe asking who was the originator of this powerful idea. He replied that he had heard this awesome statement from Irmeli Halinen who was Head of Curriculum Development for the Finnish National Board of Education. For more background, Joe recommended I read his blog post entitled “Irmeli Halinen on Finnish Curriculum”.

As I was writing this post and reviewing Joe’s blog, I was once again, by chance, exposed to a powerful assessment question entitled “Who Will Pack Your Parachute?” by Cherra-Lynne Olthof.  For those, like me, who used to feel so confident with our formula-driven, assessment procedures, this parachute packing anaolgy might causes us to think differently. Do you not agree?

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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Photos, Passion, and Pedagogy

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This past summer I attended a funeral. When one reaches their retirement years, it seems only natural to attend more funerals of friends and loved-ones.

However, as friends of his grandparents, my wife and I attended the funeral of a 19 year old youth. Scott Wachal left his family and friends much too early but he also left me with an important message.

Lense for an Eye

Scott’s unique talents and creativity were demonstrated by the wealth of memories shared through objects in the vestibule of the church together with the inspirational video tribute. Regardless of whether it was his violin that he played as a 9 year old busker, or his Irish dancing tap shoes, or his skate-boarding and free-style skiing tricks, it was his creative images, sketches, and photographs that caught my eye.

I believe that Scott’s view of life was influenced greatly by what he observed and what he captured in his photos. In fact, the following assignment, which was shared in his Order of Service, reinforced in me the importance of pictures:

8   Describe an event or idea that has become very influential on your life.

When I was in the sixth grade, my grandpa passed away due to liver cancer. My grandpa loved me deeply and I loved him back, however I didn’t see him all that often and I wasn’t super close with him.

I remember at his funeral, and throughout the following years, hearing endless stories and memories about my grandpa. Everyone has such positive things to say about him, and there was so much about him that i never knew. I remember feeling really sad that I hadn’t spent more time with him and really appreciated all his good qualities.

I think my feelings of regret and sadness after my grandpa’s death have sparked a need inside me to take in as much as I can from the people around me. I carry my camera around with me everywhere, trying to capture my friends and family living and breathing to the fullest extent. I pay greater attention to the character of a person and try to appreciate all aspects of their personality.

~ Scott Wachal

True … not everyone has the same passion for capturing life through a camera as Scott, but I do believe that all students today can learn much more about life when they view the world through a camera lens.

Today it seems that more and more students have access to a digital camera or smartphone. Although a past Panasonic ad campaign declared that “If it has a ring tone, it’s not a camera”, most students would disagree. Having immediate access to these pocket-sized, picture-taking devices allows one to capture many unique and serendipitous moments.

The question that remains is … “How can we, as educators, help students express their creativity through their photos?”

To help readers, I have a arranged below a variety of resources to help engage students in taking and sharing creative photos:

  • Darren Kuropatwa’s SlideShare entitled “Don’t Just Shoot” – Although today’s  students have the opportunity to take more pictures, they still need to understand what makes a photo look really good.

[slideshare id=18474541&doc=dontjustshoot-130409083404-phpapp02]

[http://www.slideshare.net/dkuropatwa/dont-just-shoot]

All educators are encouraged to review, download, and share this presentation which illustrates “five photographic composition techniques: the rule of thirds, framing, fill the frame, lines and forced perspective.”

  • Basics of Photography: The Complete Guide Want an extensive resource on how a digital camera works, its automatic and manual settings, together with composition and editing tips? If so, check out this online Lifehacker night school resource.
  • DS106 – Daily Create – Photography Archives – Educators may want to stimulate students to take a creative photo each day or once a week and share them with the class. The DS106 Digital Storytelling course includes a number of creative prompts to engage students in taking pictures from different perspectives.
  • Ideas For Using The Digital Camera In The Primary Classroom – This SlideShare resource, of 17 frames, includes such innovative ideas as “What am I?”, digital portrait flip-book, and images taken from an ant’s perspective. Each activity displays an important “WALT” (We Are Learning Today) prompt.
  • The Digital Camera in Education – This site focuses on how the digital cameras in today’s mobile phones can be integrated into the educational process.
  • Image with a Message – Rather than have students search online for a Creative Commons image, challenge students to use a camera to capture their own background photo to which their favourite quotation is added.
  • Small World Pictures – Innovative ideas in both the blog post and comments that demonstrate how interesting images can be created by introducing small (HO gauge) figures into the picture.
  • Using Pictures to Create Rubrics – Although this “Picture Rubric”  is shared as a primary assessment tool, this strategy can be applied to many subjects at different grade levels.
  • Digital Photography Rubric – This extensive Word (.doc) file provides a detailed photography project rubric to provide students with important feedback on original images.
  • Photography Rubric – This PDF document was used by the Markville Secondary School’s yearbook team to help students improve on their photography techniques and documentation.

In closing, I began this post with an “eye-catching” photo created by Rachel Chapman. Not only does this manipulated image capture my imagination, it also reminds me of the important proverb that Scott Wachal believed in … “Beauty is in the ‘eye’ of the beholder”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits: – Flickr – Creative Commons image “Look at us through the lens of a camera…” by Rachel Chapman
– http://www.flickr.com/photos/63697491@N00/2235381210/

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Teacher Feature #31 – Ask Questions To Learn

Food for Thought, Professional Development, Teacher Feature No Comments »

Today’s “Teacher Feature” remix has a special connection for me. I have been lucky throughout my educational career, both as a student and as a teacher, to have usually felt confident enough to ask questions if I did not understand. For some students, this can be a challenging task. However, with human knowledge currently doubling every 13 months and, with IBM predicting in the next couple of years, knowledge will double every 12 hours, it will be impossible to know even a small amount of all the answers.

Ask Questions to Learn

Teacher Feature #31 – Chinese Proverb – September, 2013

Although I am able to increase my knowledge and tap into vast resources of information on the Internet, it is still my friends and colleagues in my Personal Learning Network (PLN) who help me find meaningful answers to my questions.

As teachers we should foster collaborative activities in our classrooms to encourage students to ask questions and learn as much as possible from their classmates.

Perhaps Bruce Lee said it best … “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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I’m “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

DS106, Food for Thought, Professional Development, Social Networking No Comments »

Over the past two years, I have been inspired by the creative activities, sharing, and reflective feedback of members of an important learning community. Digital Storytelling (or DS106) is a free, open online course hosted at the University of Mary Washington. It is an unique learning environment. One may join and leave whenever one wants while becoming engaged in learning to “tell digital stories” through more than 400 creative assignments and related components.

For example, today’s “Daily Create” #541 challenged participants to “Draw something abstract out of straight lines.”

My creation below, requires one to “read between the lines”:

PLN-TDC541

This design reflects, in many ways, the actions of my personal learning network or PLN. Like the straight-line components, my network and support team works in the background with little fanfare. In fact, “They make me look good!” Through a variety of social networking apps (including old-fashioned email), they recommend and reflect on new ideas while renewing my passion for learning and sharing in K-12 education.

As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To all my PLN “giants”, be they students, teachers, family, or friends, I thank you all for caring and sharing.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits: – Flickr – Creative Commons image “Standing on the shoulders of giants”
by Brian Metcalfe
– http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/9195860670/

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Teacher Feature #30 – Focus on the Future

Food for Thought, Reflection, Teacher Feature 2 Comments »

As the Canadian school year officially draws to a close today, I thought I’d take time to reflect on the future.

The Future - Yogi Berra

Teacher Feature #30 – Yogi Berra – June, 2013

To help readers understand my “future perspective”, I thought I’d share the process I use to create my monthly “Teacher Feature”. My procedure is based on an activity I created called “Image with a Message“. I maintain a list of thought-provoking, educationally-related quotations. Whenever I wish to create a “Teacher Feature” image, I choose an appropriate quotation. Next, I use the Flickr advanced search process to select a Creative Commons-licensed image which gives one permission to “modify, adapt, or build upon”. After downloading the appropriate image, I insert it into PowerPoint, add the quotation and Flickr URL credit line, and save the resulting slide as a “Teacher Feature” image.

While searching my list for an applicable June “Teacher Feature” quotation, I thought that Yogi Berra’s statement about the future seemed fitting. In particular, the future of education has changed dramatically over the years as technology and the Internet resources have impacted on students and staff.

When I began teaching Grades 7 & 8 Mathematics, the future was so much simpler. As a new  teacher, I could focus exclusively on curriculum. For me, there were fewer non-classroom-related issues. By comparison, today’s teachers have to worry about a plethora of responsibilities and are often forced to teach a multitude of different subjects to a wide variety of student needs.

True, I did “network” and share resources and ideas with other Mathematics-teaching colleagues in our school. However, with the introduction of technology, the Internet, email, blogs and a host of social media apps, teachers today can “connect” with teachers within their same school with the same ease as like-minded teachers throughout the world.

Without a doubt, I believe the key to survival of overworked educators is to belong to a supportive Personal Learning Network (PLN). To better understand what my PLN means to me, I encourage readers to peruse my earlier post entitled “My PLN: A Teacher’s Resource“. In fact, it was a serendipitous sharing opportunity that motivated me to write about the power of joining a PLN to be better prepared for the future.

As you recall, I had already selected Yogi Berra’s quotation “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Normally, I would have proceeded to the advanced Flickr search to find an image that I could use to enhance the quotation. However, I first happened to check a series of tweets of individuals and educators that I follow on Twitter.

In scanning my tweet feeds, I was intrigued by the following “Cloud busting” message shared by Darren Kuropatwa. Darren is a talented Curriculum Coordinator for Digital Learning with the St. James Assiniboia School Division. When I clicked on the link in Darren’s tweet, his creative Instagram image was displayed.

Darren Kuropatwa Tweet

Darren’s innovative image of clouds, viewed through a pair of glasses, was a perfect image to complement Yogi Berra’s quote about the future. So, it was Darren’s sharing of his creative image, that motivated me to write this June’s “Teacher Feature”.

Below his innovative image of clouds viewed through a pair of glasses, Darren asks viewers “What do you see?” ….

I see educators connecting and sharing resources so that the future with technology can be an exciting place where students and teachers learn together.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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The Importance of Intangible Talents

Food for Thought, Professional Development, Reflection No Comments »

As the end of the school year fast approaches, teachers start to focus on final assessment. Too often, in the teaching profession, both educators and their students measure progress by “the almighty mark”. Today, I want to reflect on the importance of viewing students more holistically and suggesting that both teachers and students work through an assessment process that gives important consideration to the intangible qualities that we all have.

assessing

The idea of focusing on this important theme was indeed a collaborative family endeavour. It started with our younger son who is working as a computer engineer in an American software development company. He recently told me how his colleagues were saddened to learn that one of their engineering team members was “poached” by another firm. Apparently this happens frequently in the IT industry, where technical skills are in high demand and companies regularly entice perspective employees from other firms.

When this individual approached his management team, indicating that he had a “better offer” with another firm, a decision was made to let him go. The remaining staff members were disappointed that management did not appear to negotiate to keep him. Rather than focus exclusively on his talents in programming, they overlooked (in the eyes of his colleagues) the important intangible qualities that this person demonstrated. Rather than just being friends with his team-members in the programming section, he had important social qualities that allowed him to mix equally-well with individuals in all departments within the company. Furthermore, he was the catalyst that organized activities for all company members on weekends and outside regular work hours. Our son felt that this individual’s social endeavours, which fostered a special camaraderie and support for colleagues both at work as well as after-hours, had a very positive spin on the way many of the employees functioned and that the company benefited indirectly from this supportive intangible quality.

When I discussed this situation with our elder son, who is in a management position with a local Winnipeg firm, he said that it is very important to be aware of the “intangibles” that all people bring to the work environment. As educators, we know how we welcome the support of those who light up the room with their presence, willingly share suggestions, tips and resources and are always there to support us.

Let me illustrate the importance of intangibles by showcasing the unique activities that Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield demonstrated during his recent visit to the International Space Station (ISS) from December 19, 2012 to May 13, 2013. Although I believe that Commander Hadfield is an outstanding astronaut, I’m sure there were others who could have acted as commander and carried out related duties in a responsible fashion. However, in my mind, it was the extra “intangibles” that Chris Hadfield demonstrated that make him such an outstanding ambassador for the space program. For a start, Forbes described  Hadfield as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth”. With over 930,000 Twitter followers as of May 2013, together with his innovative YouTube videos, Hadfield was welcomed into conversations around many dinner tables. Whether Hadfield was providing insights into his duties Controlling the ISS, or the more personal daily hygienic routines of How To Brush Your Teeth in Space, or the challenges of using The Space Toilet, he shared information through amazing videos in a relaxed, informative manner with which we all could identify.

As an educator, I was particularly engaged in learning as Hadfield shared his “space experiment videos” which often answered questions posed by students. Although they ranged from the more simplistic How do you use Math in Space? to those involving the effects of zero gravity such as Can you cry in Space? or What happens when you wring out a wet wash cloth in Space?, Hadfield engaged his YouTube audience members through his short and informative videos. The culmination of Hadfield’s intangible talents were demonstrated in the following innovative “space to earth” musical collaboration with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Gleeks singing “I.S.S. – Is Somebody Singing”:

Chris Hadfield and Barenaked Ladies: I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvAnfi8WpVE

Undoubtedly, the collaborative endeavour shown in this video is literally “out of this world”. Yet Hadfield continued to push the envelope and engaged close to a million students from across Canada and around the world to help him simultaneously sing “Is Somebody Singing” as part of the Music Monday initiative.

Obviously, Hadfield’s skills and talents were developed over a lifetime. However, we as teachers, need to be cognizant of the hidden “intangible talents” of all our students. To illustrate this process, I turn to experiences that my wife, who taught elementary children for 32 years, has shared with me. Like many educators, that I have had the privilege to work with, she was an extremely dedicated teacher. However, in my mind, her greatest “intangible talent” was her ability to foster self-worth and confidence within all her students. Students in her classes knew they were part of an important classroom family, where inclusion was reinforced on a daily basis. Rather than focus exclusively on “marks”, she made certain that her Special Needs students knew that they were indeed “special” and that they all had hidden talents that others needed to appreciate.

When preparing to write this blog post, I was discussing with my sister my belief that all students have “intangibles” that teachers need to recognize. After mentioning my wife’s passion for finding the hidden talents in her students, it was my sister who asked if I had ever heard the message about “Johnny the Bagger”?

When I admitted that I was unaware of this story, she suggested I search the Internet to learn how a young man was able to use his “intangible talents” to foster goodwill and develop a sense of community.

The following true story is told by Barbara Glanz:

A few years ago, I was hired by a large supermarket chain to lead a customer service program – to build customer loyalty.

During my speech I said, “Every one of you can make a difference and create memories for your customers that will motivate them to come back. How? Put your personal signature on the job.

Think about something you can do for your customer to make them feel special – a memory that will make them come back.”

About a month after I had spoken, I received a call from a nineteen year-old bagger named Johnny.

He proudly informed me that he was a Down Syndrome individual and told me his story.

“I liked what you talked about!” he said, “but at first I didn’t think I could do anything special for our customers.

After all, I’m just a bagger.

“Then I had an idea!” Johnny said.

“Every night after work, I’d come home and find a thought for the day.”

“If I can’t find a saying I like,” he added, “I just think one up!”

When Johnny had a good “Thought for the Day”, his dad helped him set it up on the computer and print multiple copies.

Johnny cut out each quote and signed his name on the back. Then he’d bring them to work the next day.

“When I finished bagging someone’s groceries, I put my thought for the day in their bag and say, Thanks for shopping with us.”

It touched me to think that this young man – with a job most people would say is not important – had made it important by creating precious memories for all his customers.

A month later the store manager called me…

“You won’t believe what happened. When I was making my rounds today, I found Johnny’s checkout line was three times longer than anyone else’s!

It went all the way down the frozen food aisle. So I quickly announced, ‘We need more cashiers; get more lanes open!’ as I tried to get people to change lanes. But no one would move.

They said, ‘No, it’s okay – we want to be in Johnny’s lane – we want his ‘Thought for the Day.’”

The store manager continued, “It was a joy to watch Johnny delight the customers.”

“I got a lump in my throat when one woman said, ‘I used to shop at your store once a week, but now I come in every time I go by, because I want to get Johnny’s ‘Thought for the Day.’”

A few months later, the manager called me again…

Johnny has transformed our store.

Now when the floral department has a broken flower or unused corsage, they find an elderly woman or a little girl and pin it on them.”

Everyone’s having a lot of fun creating memories.

Our customers are talking about us… they’re coming back, and bringing their friends.

A wonderful spirit of service spread throughout the entire store… and all because Johnny chose to make a difference!

Johnny’s idea wasn’t nearly as innovative as it was loving. It came from the heart – it was real. That’s what touched his customers, his peers… and those who read this story.

Great service comes from the heart…

Will you be a Johnny today?

In summary, I encourage educators to pay particular attention to their students and to seek out and identify the powerful “intangible talents” that each student has. Furthermore, by modelling your own “intangibles”, be it your positive outlook, your compassion, your energy, your sense of humour, your ability to focus on assets rather than disabilities, your support of colleagues, or your gift of being a good listener, you will demonstrate to your students how an individual can be recognized as much more than a good teacher … namely, a great teacher.

Lastly, I feel that it is so very important that I acknowledge the “intangible talents” of my immediate family, who have provided me with the important ideas and insights that I have shared with you.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits: – Flickr – Creative Commons image “Today I am mostly …” by Danny Nicholson
– http://www.flickr.com/photos/dannynic/6924278976/

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