Friday, March 11, 2016

Curriculum Unlocked

As you are probably aware, the BC Ministry of Education has released a bold new set of curriculum documents.  What I have found is that the reduced number of curriculum outcomes has 'unlocked' the possibilities in the classroom.  There is now more time and flexibility to focus on topics that best interest students and teachers.

Competencies Matter
What I find most striking is that they have separated the curriculum topics and the processes of learning.  Competencies are the new skills and processes of learning that are highlighted in the new curriculum.  As teachers, we know that there are special skills that the best students already have.  What is excellent in this curriculum revision, is that by making the competencies overt, we can help all students improve in the areas of communication, thinking and personal and social skills.  Taking the communication competency as an example, there are now eight levels of communication that students can identify with and improve on.  They range from profile one where students identify with 'I statements' such as 'I can respond to peers' up to profile 8 where students communicate with statements like 'I seek consensus and focus on collective results'.  What I really like is that the profiles are linked to specific age or grades of students but provide a continuum that students work through.

I really like this quote from the Ministry of Education website, "British Columbia’s curriculum is being redesigned to respond to the demanding world our students are entering.  Transformation in curriculum will help teachers create learning environments that are both engaging and personalized for students. At the heart of British Columbia’s redesigned curriculum are core competencies, essential learning and literacy and numeracy foundations."

Opportunities for Inquiry
There are many ways in which teachers can use the inquiry model of learning to with our students.  Once they students have an overview into the content of the big ideas, they can then spend time further wondering about related topics that matter most to them.

Inquiry has become a core process for learning and part of the lexicon of how I approach my instructional planning.  I would encourage other teachers to consider how they offer inquiry opportunities for their students.

Connect, Wonder, Share
Here is a process of student learning that highlights the key aspects and opportunities in the revised curriculum.
Connect: Students make personal connections to their peers and to the curriculum. 
Wonder:  Student then wonder and investigate through a process of inquiry to topics that most interest them. 

Share: Student design ways to make learning visible.  I'm a huge fan of student portfolios of learning over time.  This year I'm trying out the tool FreshGrade.  So far I've had nothing but positive feedback from parents and students.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Social Media and Teens: Advice for Parents



For anyone with a teenager at home, they know that social media is a big part of their daily routine.  Here are some things to consider when discussing the use of social media.
  1. It is important for parents to be part of their son's/daughter's social media platforms.  Follow them to see what they post but avoid interfering. 
  2. Ask your son or daughter to share who they are talking to online.  It is a reasonable request to have them only chat and interact with people they know in person.
  3. Remind them that anything they post online is part of their digital footprint.  Once something is posted, it is out of their control.
  4. Busy teens need and want time to connect with their friends.  Social media is how they accomplish this.
  5. Teens feel a lot of pressure online.  Encourage an open dialogue with your son or daughter would feel comfortable to get your support when needed.
  6. Keep it positive.  Remind your son or daughter that written posts can easily be taken out of context and be hurtful to others.  The best way to avoid hurt feelings is to only post comments that are positive and encouraging.


This article is adapted from Edutopia's article looking at a Digital Youth Think Tank where teens were asked to share their experiences with social media.  See the article: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/10-teen-digital-media-takeaways-matt-levinson

I'm interested to get comments and ideas from other parents.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

BC's New Curriculum - a plan for the middle years

Introduction

As you might have heard, the BC Ministry of Education is in the process of revising the curriculum for all students from grades K-12.  As you can imagine this was a huge undertaking and not without its challenges.
Our local school context is that we have a middle school organized into teams.  Each team has students in grades 6 to 8.  Our goal was to find a way to spread the key concepts over three years and connect science and social studies along with the competencies which include personal and social, communication and thinking skills.

Key Features of Draft Plan

The plan that is shared below is designed to bring together the curricular and learning compentencies.  Teachers will be able to use this a one-page visual guide to assist with planning lessons.  The socials and science plans run in parallel to make is easier for teachers to plan integrated units, teach with themes and big ideas. You'll also notice that the rows below the 'concepts and content' incorporate our school community priorities.

BYOD and Technology Integration - we are a 'Bring Your Own Device' school and most (80%+) of our students have a digital device on a daily basis.  We have adopted two initiatives for this year: FreshGrade student portfolios and Microsoft Office 365 as our collaboration and communication space.

Environmental Connections - the school has an amazing natural setting surrounding the school so it is appropriate to find ways each year to integrate environmental science into the curriculum.  For example this year we will look at the science concepts around survival needs of organisms through the study and observation of our local ecosystem with includes several major, salmon bearing streams.

Sharing of a Draft Plan

Thanks to Barb Buczewski for kicking off this process being willing to share with other teachers.

Feel free to share the plan with others that would find it useful.

Science years ABC plan

Comments and Suggestions?

I fully accept that this draft is a work in progress and revisions are needed.  My hope is by sharing, others will do the same and together we can find ways to engage all our students!  Leave a comment below to join the conversation.

~James

Monday, February 23, 2015

Improving How Your Children Use Technology for Education


Do you ever have conversations with your adolescent child about what they did at school and get little or no information?  It is possible that when you ask them about what they are doing with their personal technology at school you may get even less information.  This might be because children perceive adults of 'not knowing how to use technology'.  While it may be true that children are very capable at tasks like gaming and instant messaging, there are lots that we as adults can offer them.

One of the frameworks that is provided by the BC Ministry of Education is called the ICTI Performance Standards.  This stands for Information and Communication Technology Integration.
"The ICTI Performance Standards focus on four aspects of how students use information and communications technology to gather, organize, and present information and to analyse and interpret information. The emphasis is not on information sources or software applications associated with specific technologies but on the student’s representation of their learning and the steps they used to construct their knowledge."

Here are some questions to consider asking your son or daughter on their use of personal technology at school.  These examples fall under the heading of collecting information and resources.
  • How do you make decisions on how to select the best tool to use?  When is it better to find a print resource or digital resource?
  • How do you know if the information you have selected is accurate and appropriate for the lesson or task at school?
  • Can to work with other students to socially gather and construct information such as surveys or mind-maps?

Consider supporting your son or daughter to help identify their strengths in these performance standards and ways in which they can practice and improve their achievement. 

The ICTi Performance Standards website can be found: http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/perf_stands/icti


Feel free to share ideas/thoughts/comments below!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Thoughts on the Proposed BC Curriculum Revision


Here are some thoughts and ideas connected to the proposed changes to the BC curriculum.  https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca

Practices that I value as a middle school educator:

  • Integrated learning of multiple subjects and topics
  • Co-teaching and planning using common preparation time with other educators
  • Outdoors and environmental education with an emphasis on active scientific work
  • Technology infused learning: digital environments that expand learning beyond the pencil and paper and beyond our the classroom walls
  • Flexible timetables and schedules that allow the learning to continue across long blocks of time
  • Reconfigurable learning spaces.  IE the classroom, a double classroom, hallways and meeting spaces for various group sizes
  • Inquiry based learning using the framework by the BCTLA called the ‘Points of Inquiry’
  • Math instruction that is hands on and strengths student core competencies
  • Taking time to create and foster a learning environment that meets the social and emotional needs of young adolescents
  • Having a students and teacher shared responsibility for assessment/planning/learning (personalized learning)

What I Like about the revision:

  • That the curriculum overview is one page for easy scanning
  • That there are BIG ideas for teachers to connect to themes at the school-level
  • 3-way alignment of competencies/curriculum/assessment

Don’t like:

  • Science proposed curriculum is far from complete.  The dramatic moment of topics between the various grades needs a re-mapping between the current and proposed curriculum.  
  • Science curriculum needs to have connection to environmental themes. 
  • Science is missing outdoor education opportunities
  • The heavy emphasis on mixtures (grade 6), mixtures and substances (grade 7).  Seems to have a connection to BC’s new industries of LNG and pipelines but would like to see more natural science
  • That a revision of Math curriculum that takes us away from WNCP 2007 protocol will isolate BC teacher from the excellent resources used in other provinces. From the curriculum site: “While the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol K–9 curriculum (WNCP, 2007) remains an important resource, it has been aligned with the goals of the curriculum transformation, making it concept-based and competency driven.”
  • Assessment information on Ministry site is too vague to understand what is being proposed.  Can we get concrete examples of report cards to understand what parents would see related to the process of their son/daughter?

What is Missing:

  • Digital literacy and digital citizenship are key issues of 21st century learning and should be stand-alone competencies.  There is some integration of technology into Identity and Communication Competencies.
  • Resources to support the implementation of the curriculum.  Doesn’t need to be a traditional textbook but teachers shouldn’t have to be content creators.  We need ‘Lit Kits’ that match the outcomes with material written at the appropriate reading level of our students.
  • Cross-grade ideas.  IE. How to implement this proposed curriculum in a blended 6/7/8 classroom or team that many teachers now find themselves.
  • SD43 issue: implementing a new curriculum without staff development department educators.  Without support there is too much onus on classroom teachers to figure it out on their own.

This blog post is meant as the beginning of a discussion.  I'm looking forward to new thinking on this curriculum revision and hope to gain new insight through feedback.  Leave a comment below.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Inquiry

smallThe reason I do inquiry in the classroom is for the students.  I know is seems obvious but implementing inquiry has taken lots of time and planning but the results and positive feedback from students has made it all worthwhile.

Here are things to consider along with your first classroom inquiry:

Why do you want to try Inquiry? 

When planning your first inquiry be sure to ask yourself what it is that you want to achieve and how you will know it is successful.  This is an important first step that is easy to overlook.

Collaborate

Find another teacher (or two) to join you on this journey.  At a middle school we are fortunate to have a common team preparation time to meet and plan on a weekly basis.  Inquiry is such a dynamic process that requires tweaks and check-ins with students and co-teachers to keep everything on track.

Make time

Inquiry is interdisciplinary by definition so you need to find time and lots of it for you and the students to get lost in the process.  When inquiry is going well it is extremely engaging for the students and they will likely be able saying, “we need more time to ______”.  While this is a good thing for teachers to hear, it requires time to be set aside to allow for this expansion.

If you only have a small amount of time then consider just a few classes where a new unit is started with a thoughtful question to engage and hook the attention of students.

Consider the role of technology

Technology can play a powerful and engaging role at all stages of the inquiry from mind-mapping, collaborating to presenting.  It can also be very distracting for students.  Decide on a role for the technology that is meaningful.

Pick a BIG idea

Last year our team used the theme “What would happen if everyone cared?”  There are obvious ties to social justice and the environment that connected students to their own personal inquiry topics with both historical and current events.

A broad theme can then be used to tie together the curricular connections to the subject outcomes.  We like to talk about teaching Social Studies or Science through Inquiry.

Scaffold the process

Students needs support all along the way to be successful with Inquiry.  It is easy for them to pick such a large inquiry project that they get lost in the process.  Have constant check-ins with various graphic organizers so that you and they know how they are doing.

We also used a process of designing 12 ‘mini-courses’ for students to learn more about themselves as learners and about inquiry itself.  These included: learner profile, Bloom’s taxonomy, Myer Briggs personality, learner style, multiple intelligences and more.  We felt that having this foundation of knowledge about inquiry would help students throughout the process.

Choose a single model and stick to it.

Our team decided to use the framework offered by the BC Teacher-Librarians called the ‘Points of Inquiry’.  There are so many great models out there that it can be confusing.  Having a single source really simplifies the process when designing the inquiry.  Other sources to further explore include: Alberta Education “Focus on Inquiry” [pdf], Mindshift Blog, BIE (Project Based Learning) or Edutopia.

Share!

I’m happy to share any resources that were created through the process.  Let me know what you what to know more about!

Thoughts and Comments

I’m sure there are glaring omissions and suggestions from other teachers.  I’d be interested in learning from others.  Post your comments here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Back to School Laptop guide

As a parent and a teacher it is difficult to ignore the annual ‘back-to-school’ shopping ads.  One item that may be on your shopping list is a laptop.  While this might be one of the more expensive items on the list, it is important to make a decision that ends up with a tool that lasts several years.


creative commons photo

Here is my guide to choosing well.  Each item on this list is further explained below.

  • What type of device or laptop?
  • Cost
  • Battery Life
  • Weigh and Size
  • Software

Laptop or ‘Device’??

If you are considering good educational technology for the student in your family then the first choice is on the platform that suits your son or daughter.  While an iPad tablet my have the appeal, a laptop is the most effective tool for school.  More about this can be found in thisa rticle from Dave Truss, an administrator in our district: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/byol-vs-byod

As hybrid device that I tested in my classroom for the last few months is a Google Chromebook.  While Chromebooks can’t run all software and websites, the students really liked them and the cost is under $300.

Cost

I’ll state the obvious.  It should be as cheap as possible.  While the specifications that include processor, memory and storage always lead you to spend more, this doesn’t make it better for learning.  Any basic laptop purchased in the last two years will meet the needs of our students.  There are lots of 14 inch screen laptops in the $400-$500 range at our local retailers.

Battery Life

Charging a machine at school isn’t practical or safe.  Long extension cords around a classroom can be dangerous.  Find a machine with a 5+ hour battery life and the student can work at their desk all day.

Weight and Size

Light, small computers fit comfortable into lockers and backpacks to travel between home and school.  Also a smaller screen and laptop better fits on our small student desks beside a textbook or notes.  The less that hangs off the edge the less likely it is to get bumped to the floor.

Software

Almost all software titles can be found online or for free.  The one exception is Microsoft Office suite of tools.  More about software from a previous post.

More information

Here is an article with good point on what you need and, more importantly, what you DON'T need to spend money on.  It is by Alex Cocilova at PC World. http://www.pcworld.com/article/229929/how-to-buy-a-laptop-for-college.html

This article suggests 10 great student laptops.  It also includes good criteria to consider.  Via Mashable http://mashable.com/2013/07/29/back-to-school-laptops/ 

Thoughts/Comments/Suggestions – feel free to leave them below.

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