Empowered Learners


 Some rights reserved by Ken Whytock

Our school has adopted the ISTE standards for teachers and students. I talked to a colleague yesterday about the idea of empowered learner.  We’ve focused on this from a digital literacy point of view, and as a teacher, I try to focus on this in my class as well.

As DLCs, we’ve tried to change how our PD works. We wanted the choice to come from teachers rather than from administration.  We believe that everyone basically knows what they are good at, and should have some understanding of where to go.  A member of our team has created a list of basic competencies we expect all teachers to have.  It is up to them to go through the list and see if they know or don’t know what is needed (if they don’t know we have videos provided through Lynda to help them, or we are around to help people to address specific needs.

Not all teachers like this model, we are preparing something for the people who are beyond the core competencies and have already received their google, apple teacher or whatever. We are planning on doing a blogging group. We are focused on this as an empowered learning opportunity, we are co-learning, we all lead, we all follow, we all learn together. I’m really looking forward to this aspect for my own personal learning.

Finally (for now I guess) in the classroom my students are being constantly encouraged to take control of their own learning.  Today we did a simcity 2000 activity. I wanted to focus on two things. My explicit lesson was how do we build a city, my implicit lesson was how do we problem solve.  Students didn’t read how to play and were very bothered, they got frustrated, couldn’t build power plants and had a hard time working on any thing, their cities never were constructed.  I called them to the learning area and we discussed some of the problems we faced.  So then I asked, “So, what did you do to solve these problems?”.  They all asked me to solve their problems for them.  We brought up again what it meant to be a learner, and how we learn best.  Even using the internet for a game they couldn’t think of using it to solve their problems.  I explained to them how I worked through the same problems on my own.  It took some time, but so much of learning does.  In the end, my students have a better understanding of how to start solving problems, and next time our cities will hopefully be much more interesting.

By embracing the empowered learning standard we’ve had some great opportunities to authentically learn, and work with our students and colleagues.

When are things actually private

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 Some rights reserved by nitot

It’s been interesting this year talking to students and other teachers about what is private, and how things are private. 

One of my teachers wants to share more of her work.  She is doing pretty interesting things and wants feedback and ways to share her knowledge.  She is however afraid that her ex will follow her, and she doesn’t want anything to do with him.  She’s worried about what it means to go public and if sharing is actually worth the stress of knowing he is still watching.  I totally get that, I mean, it’s obvious (at times) to see who is watching and when, but if you go public it can be hard to stop specific people from accessing. My wondering is how important is it, I mean as long as there is no harassment, who really cares and if there is harassment we can block and go to the police, however, she feels much safer not publishing. 
One of my students email was “hacked” he was telling people about his personal account, and someone accessed it and sent some not nice email. I guess firstly I don’t believe it was hacked, but if it was, that’s an interesting story, we keep using the common sense media image where we protect our private information, but that is difficult for younger students. 
My wondering most of this week is, as we continue to be more connected we are less private, and I don’t know if we are teaching how to actually be safe to students, or how to live safely in a very connected world. 

Focusing different

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I was reading this article the other day and really liked the idea of “other focus” when on screens. 

There is a lot of talk about screen time and how it may be damaging or even may be good, but I think we often think just about the person who is consuming the screen time and how spending time on screens effects them.  
Like most things we need to look at the broader impact.  How does this effect our relationships, the environment, what is the broader systemic impact? I want to start focusing on this with students, start talking about different options for interactions, and how to keep things positive. 

Physical vs. Virtual

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At a conference last weekend I had some fun with google cardboard, we could go places we couldn’t go on our own, I saw the surface of Mars and went to different museums.  As a virtual opportunity (aside from some initial discomfort) it was pretty great.  Interestingly enough though the presentation I was leading was on environmental education.

My goal was to get people outside with their students. Often as teachers we don’t give students enough time to think about who they are and where they are.  This can deeply affect their understanding of themselves and others. I want students to be more present in the “real” world.  But I was at a tech conference, so I had to think deeply about the effects of virtual manipulatives.

In maths, or language, how can we harness the power of the virtual world to connect students. When using math manipulatives is there a difference between virtual and physical for learning? All these questions were popping up.

With a colleague we decided to start up a podcast, and this is going to be our first dive into it.  What is the difference and does it matter to understanding? I’m not sure we have answers, but it will be interesting to talk about.


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For +COETAIL most of my community involvement has been focused on #enviroed.  Since I’m merging the tech and environment.  We talk every Thursday, which is pretty amazing, well Thursday for me Wednesday night for everyone else.  Here is one of my favourite chats , mainly because it focuses specifically on tech and 21st century skills in environmental education.

As a group we explore what each other are doing, ask each other questions to get specifics, I’ve worked with two other teachers on their specific research project, and have asked a couple of teachers to work with me on my coetail project. 

I’ve been trying to merge these two for awhile

+Nicki Hambleton has helped me out a ton too. We talk often in person. We bounce ideas off each other with pizza and wine (even if we shouldn’t always be eating it).  It’s great for us (well me definitely) to be able to see reactions and just check in on and get checked in on.  This personally has been one of the most valuable tools for me, not that Nicki is a tool.  But she has directed me towards other people like Kerri-Lee and Dave, and has directed me towards Cognitive Coaching where I met up with other coetailers as well.  

Mostly I feel like I’ve moved beyond just messing around, I’ve built part of my community (especially with #enviroed).  Connectivism is a real thing in my life.  I’m building on my connections, sand still reaching out for others.  
It’s been a great journey so far, and I’m looking forward to even more in the last month.

Thinking about community


As an edtech coach, and an environmental educator, I find that most of my conversations happen with people who I think are in my community.

So, I wonder… who am I missing, who am I marginalizing, am I really growing as an educator? 
I hope so, but anyway, it’s a wonder.   A crazy busy week, well two weeks, but working hard on my enviroed project. 
It’s funny because I always want to push kids to go further, but so often I let teachers feel comfortable.  If we learn from being uncomfortable am I making it difficult for my colleagues. 
Not much to write today, just want to write so I don’t forget to keep in the loop.  Next blog post will be about the project.

Listening to collaborate

 Some rights reserved by rick

We’ve started our project about connecting students, seems okay so far, but we noticed something, we rarely listen.  Before we went online, we started sharing our migration stories, what that meant to us, but no one really listened to the other stories.

One of the worries teachers have about incorporating technology (and one of mine as well) is how much it speeds things up.  We need to slow down in elementary, and really think about why and how we interact with each other.  
It got our whole class thinking about what does it mean to listen.  We threw words around like “focus”, “pay attention”, “look at the person”, and other kinds of things.  We couldn’t really define what those things looked like though.  After some discussions and some personal blogging about listening some of the students had some great ideas.  One student though about using only one or two tabs, that would keep her focused on the task at hand.  One other student talked about the importance of finishing her work, and waiting until we finished.  
We transferred these ideas over to “real” life.  By keeping only one tab open, we’re only thinking about one thing (the conversation).  By finishing your work before moving on, we’re going to wait until the person is finished before we think about responding.  Some abstract ideas for sure, but we’re focusing on listening first. 
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks. For research we’re learning to skim and scan, there are more opportunities to look at how to finish more books rather than re-read or read deeply. So much of what we’re doing is encouraging students to speed up, then we get frustrated when they don’t stop and listen to us.  I really think we need to slow down.  

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Modelling this is going to be important for sure.  How do we listen to our students, what does it mean to be a teacher, especially in a connectivist world?  Lots of wonderings this week as we move forward. 
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Course 3 – Final Project

There were a lot of interesting options for our final project. However, I had a quick chat with Scott over twitter and we talked about what we were thinking. He suggested, and I agreed that Visual Literacy needed to be the core of what we taught, but we still strongly believed in Connectivism.  We wanted to create connections in our students, so it wasn’t just us telling them about the importance of design methods, it was their peers.  So, I chose a grade 3 class I work with frequently and he picked his grade 6 class and our goal was to have our students create presentations and then comment on each others looking specifically at CRAP design principles.

I started off by teaching my students about the PARC design methods

The following week I worked with them on colour ideas

The plan was to share one of their previous final projects on their blog and then talk about some of the design methods they recognized, and how they would use their new knowledge to create a better product.  The incentive for them was, they were going to be connected to a school in KL that would talk about how they saw the design methods being used.

The students were very enthusiastic, they took pictures of their work and posted it, they started to talk about how their work was following some of the design principles, and how they would improve.  They noticed quickly that a lot of the design methods built on their knowledge of reading non-fiction texts. By placing the information boxes near their images they had proximity, but it was a text-feature they were used to.  Most of the students ended up talking about colour (and using colour) to describe how they were feeling.

We had some decent work being done by the grade 3s, and I was ready to share with Scott.  However, time was running out (because of school vacation) so the comments didn’t reach each other in time for the students to see them before this post.

We ran into some other difficulties as well.  Our grade 3 students are in a “walled garden”.  So when I checked their work (I could see it), however Scott’s students could not. When I get back to school I hope to fix this as much as I can (either by hosting the images on my drive, or what I’m not sure).  But this made me think about our tech goal of having digital portfolios and how in grade 3, parents won’t be able to see or share the images (which is an important part of visual literacy).

Our students (Scott’s and mine from the conversations we had) didn’t seem to understand as much as we were hoping.  Part of that, I think, has to do with the lack of visual literacy being taught at our schools currently.  This is something I have already brought up with my EdTech Director, and my principals, and I am working on teaching it to students when I can.  But in order for our students to fully understand how images are being used on them (I’m not sure how else to phrase that) they need to start creating meaningful images themselves.  This was our first attempt at looking at CRAP methods, and it looked like it was a first attempt.  Hopefully when they get back to school and see the comments from the other students in Scott’s school they will think about their work a little more deeply.

The big win for me (even though it hasn’t happened yet) was the comments from the other school.  I feel that visual literacy is really important, but Scott and I both think that connecting students can bring forth powerful change.  So, these comments, I hope will inspire my students to take their image creation seriously, and think about why they make things, and how they make things.

I enjoyed working with Scott, it was easy and I feel our values are pretty aligned, I’m looking forward to using this connection more, not just as part of COETAIL, but beyond.