Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Connect. Collaborate. Risk. Innovate.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

A Day of Open Doors and Building Trust- Teacher Drop in Day

          I've said it again and again- I am blessed to work alongside an inspiring group of teachers and administrators. With their support, on December 10th, Learning Partners brought to fruition what began as a mere glimmer of an idea, to entice Sullivan Heights teachers to continue to move towards adopting a culture of open doors, trust and collaboration. Just one of several initiatives supported by our Learning Partners Department, a district Action Research grant, and a school goal "to develop strategies and opportunities for teachers to have more effective cross curricular and inter departmental collaboration", "Teacher Drop in Day" was conceived as a strategy to allow teachers the rare opportunity to visit their colleagues' classrooms, as a method to discover and share teaching resources and strategies.

"Teacher Drop in Day" Eve- Host posters ready to go up outside classrooms.

          With over 20 teachers volunteering to host and/or visit on December 10th, the concern was that numerous release days would be required to provide TOC coverage for classes. But with most teachers volunteering to visit classes before and after their teaching day began, (Sullivan Heights operates on an extended day) or during their prep periods, ultimately only one TOC was required.
          As with all new initiatives, as the day approached, excitement, and yes, some anxiety began to build. For many experienced teachers, actively welcoming an adult into their classroom while they are teaching is a unique and somewhat daunting experience. As well, for visiting teachers, entering a colleagues' classroom "domain" can be somewhat intimidating. It requires a certain level of trust.
          Having signed up as a "Host" myself for the first period of the day, by 8:45am I had four teachers from various subject areas and my Principal all come to visit my English 8 class. Both my students, and myself were thrilled to have an opportunity to share information about the day's "Musical Poetry" lesson with our visitors as they wandered about the classroom, asking questions and speaking to students about what they were doing.
          Period 2 was my first opportunity to "visit". I began with Geography 12, moved on to Physics 11, French 10, Sociology 12, Math 9 and finally Foods 11/12. Each and every classroom door was wide open, and each and every teacher welcomed me into their classroom, taking the time to provide some context for the various lessons they were engaged in teaching. Many of "my" English students were curious, and pleased to have an opportunity to share their learning from another subject area with me. After bemoaning the fact that they were only in the prepping stages of baking in the Foods 11/12 classroom, one of my students promised that he would bring me some pie to sample the following day. True to his word, he showed up the next day to English 12 with two freshly baked pies. When I emailed the Foods 11/12 teacher to thank her for allowing the student to do so, she remarked that it was entirely his idea and that she considered it a "random act of admiration" on the part of the student. I love my job.

Foods 11/12 Sweet Potato Marshmallow Pie.
Math 9 Learning to calculate scale.

          Period 3 and 4 consisted of me once again hosting fellow teachers in my English 11 and 12 classes. I don't tend to think of myself as an "isolated" teacher, but ultimately, we do spend the majority of our day confined to our classrooms. The opportunity to share with each visiting teacher was an invigorating and inspiring experience. The other interesting dynamic was my students' curiosity about "Teacher Drop in Day". I explained that teachers rarely get the chance to leave their classrooms and observe other teachers teach, and that while we love spending the majority of our time with our students, we also need to continue to grow and learn ourselves.  One of my grade 12 students asked, "So, teachers get lonely?"
          With my teaching day concluded after period 4, I once again had the opportunity to visit during period 5. Trekking out to "Portable Land" I was able to visit a Pre-Calculus 11 and a French 10 classroom. Unfortunately, due to the somewhat "remote" location and inclement weather, these teachers had the fewest visitors. Definitely something that needs to be remedied for our next "Teacher Drop in Day". My final stop for the day was a Social Studies 10 classroom where students were learning about the Canadian Railway system. The teacher had set up various "stations" (pun intended) for the students to move through. Again, each teacher enthusiastically welcomed me into their room, and shared their unique and diverse lessons with me.
An "authentic" train whistle.

          While we are still in the process of collecting specific teacher feedback and data related to Host and Visitor experiences during "Teacher Drop in Day", early indications are that it was a positive and rewarding day for most. Like any new initiative, there are certainly some challenges to overcome, but with the overwhelming majority of respondents indicating that they would like to participate in an additional "Teacher Drop in Day" second semester, our hope is that this is the beginning of a long standing tradition at Sullivan Heights, and that it may perhaps even spread to other schools in the district. Ultimately, our goal is to encourage more and more teachers to "open their doors", creating a climate of collaboration and trust. Perfectly summed up in this teacher's tweet:
           "Had so many wonderful visitors for #TeacherDropinDay. My door is ALWAYS open (even when closed). Every day is a Drop in Day."
Sharing our "Teacher Drop in Day" experiences via Twitter.
More sharing via Twitter.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Through a Parent's Eyes

          In the midst of preparing an "Ignite" presentation on my passion of "Collaboration and Connectivity" for a district session in January, I began to think back on my earliest, most profound and inspiring professional development experiences. Interestingly, I quickly realized that it wasn't a conversation with a colleague, or an article by an educational leader that I identified as most impactful, it was the conversations and daily interactions with my 11 year old son, Ben.

My Inspiration!
           Apparently, it can be difficult having an English teacher as a mother, or so I've been told. Apparently, having someone proofread your Math homework can be annoying. One evening as I sat reading the paper at the dining room table while Ben was pushing through a particularly gruelling session of seemingly unending homework, I let out a frustrated sigh. Ben looked at me with scorn in his eyes and remarked,
          "Hey, I don't know what you're sighing about. It's me that has to do all of this homework!"
          And of course, he was right. But I was reminded of how intensely I wanted Ben to have a positive and enriching educational experience, and I felt strongly that completing hours of homework was in no way reinforcing the intrinsic love of learning that I had hoped to instil in my son.
          This, and numerous other experiences, is how my 11 year old son helped to shape my philosophy on education. On a daily basis, I remind myself when I look out at the sea of faces in my classroom, that these students are someone's son or daughter, and that their parents have the same hopes and aspirations for their child as I do for mine. This profound insight informs ever element of my teaching, from lesson planning, to assessment, to daily interactions in the hallways. However, I find that keeping this thought forefront in my mind is most important on those occasions when a discipline issue may arise. I consciously consider, how would I want Ben to be treated in a similar situation? How would I want him to be spoken to by his teacher? How would I want him to feel about himself at the end of the conversation?
           Don't get me wrong, this isn't always easy when a teenager is doing their very best to "push your buttons", but in those moments,  I believe it is even more important to remember, this is someone's child. Ultimately,
                                  I strive to be the kind of teacher that I want for my own child.
  I see my students not through a teacher's eyes, but through a parent's.
I want my students to know that I care.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Creating a Culture of Collaboration: Overcoming Teacher Isolation

          Teaching is difficult. Teaching in isolation is even more difficult. Strange to think that in a profession where one is constantly surrounded by hundreds of students and teachers, that isolation is even an issue. But after years of accommodating challenging and diverse learning needs, holding numerous meetings with parents, slogging through endless marking and adapting to shifting curriculum, many teachers choose to simply close their doors in an attempt to restore some semblance of order and control to their domain- their classroom. Unfortunately, behind those closed doors, teachers may become increasingly detached, dissatisfied and stagnant.
          In an attempt to decrease teacher isolation, one of the goals of Learning Partners, Sullivan Heights school based mentoring program, is to provide our colleagues, both new and experienced, with an opportunity to "open their doors". Even though Sullivan Heights is already an amazingly collaborative and friendly school, at a recent Pro D event, some teachers expressed a sense of frustration that within the constraints of our extended bell schedule, it was becoming increasingly difficult to find the time to meet with fellow teachers and to get a sense of what they were doing in their classrooms. After all, just as as we encourage our students to learn from each other, teachers can also gain inspiration, knowledge, and support from each other.
Sullivan Heights numerous "strengths"- but teacher isolation is still a factor.

          With this in mind, the Learning Partners program is in the process of facilitating a school wide "Teacher Drop in Day" on December 10th. On this day, through a combination of release and prep time, interested teachers will be able to "drop in" on various classrooms throughout the school. Likewise, host teachers have volunteered to "open their doors" to encourage their colleagues to visit and check out the many creative and innovative activities that are occurring in their classrooms. This is a unique opportunity as many of us haven't had the chance to see another teacher teach since our practicums. I must admit, I was somewhat hesitant as I sent out the initial email asking for the names of people who would be interested in hosting and/or visiting. But almost immediately, I began to receive multiple emails from teachers who were excited both by the prospect of being able to get a glimpse inside someone else's classrooms and also by the opportunity to share their teaching practices. My list of hosts and visitors continues to grow! As Learning Partners continues to plan and prepare for "Teacher Drop in Day", our hope is that even more teachers will volunteer to "open their doors", not just on this day, but throughout the school year, perhaps in some small way decreasing the overwhelming sense of isolation that can be so pervasive in the teaching profession.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Students as Teacher and the Reciprocal Nature of Learning

          It's 7:00pm and I just received an email from one of my grade 8 students. She is working at home on her e-portfolio, creating a digital artifact that demonstrates her understanding of the learning outcomes for our short story unit. This is something that I ask students to complete at the culmination of each unit, in addition to their other e-writing submissions. It is a challenging task. It requires that students review the various skills and content that we have covered throughout the unit, create an artifact that is an example of the components that they feel that they have mastered, and then complete a reflection that explains the connection between the artifact(s) and their learning, as well as identify which aspects they feel that they need to continue to work on in future units. I provide a few examples in an attempt to clarify the process, but stress that students are free to include any type of artifact, as long as they can make the connection to their learning.
          In her email, the student wanted to know if she could create and embed a slide show which incorporates a visual of Harry Potter as an example of protagonist, and a youtube video that demonstrates various types of conflict. Several fabulous things about this. One, she took the initiative to email me to clarify an activity. Two, she created something that demonstrates her learning in a creative and unique manner. When I think back to what I was like in grade 8, I'm fairly certain that I was not nearly as mature and involved in my learning.
          This email is yet another example of how much my students teach me on a daily basis. Today,  my students taught me that:
1. Taking a screen shot of an image on an iPad when using Book Creator is much more efficient than copying pictures.
2. Using head phones while recording voices on an iPad allows for greater sound clarity.
3. Some of the best stories are not written down. (One of my students wanted to know if he could use a story that he has been told by a family member as part of our "Adapted Fairy Tale, Myth or Legend" Book Creator activity. He was concerned because he wasn't sure that it was a "real" story if it wasn't from a book.)
4. When provided with some basis skills, teenagers can quite successfully resolve some challenging conflicts.

My focus recently, as team leader of the Sullivan Heights Learning Partners program, has been on how much we can learn from our colleagues. Today, I am taking a moment to marvel and celebrate how much I am constantly learning from my amazingly diverse, talented and sharing students.

English 8 students writing and recording adapted fairy tales, myths and legends using Book Creator App.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Best Laid Plans: E-Portfolios and a Lesson in Perseverance

          About mid way through the 2012-13 school year, I resolved to integrate e-portfolios into my English classrooms the following year. This resolution was made after observing a grade 12 student lob their paper portfolio into the nearest recycling bin after five months of ongoing writing, revision and reflection. This wasn't the first time that I had witnessed this "end of the semester portfolio tossing"ritual. This bothered me on several levels. My environmentalist self bemoaned the loss of trees and paper. I have no desire to single handedly support the British Columbian forestry industry. My teacher self worried that I had not created a process that was valued by students, evidenced by the clear lack of sentimental attachment to the end product.
          Inspired by teachers who touted the benefits e-portfolios, I began to research various formats and methods. In June, I arranged to meet a colleague from another school who had been successfully using e-portfolios in his French Immersion classes for several years. He generously shared his resources and his time to provide me with an overview of the process. From that point, I began to scour twitter and various educational blogs and sites for resources and tips. Having used webnode for years for my teaching website, I decided to stick with a format that I was familiar with. Finally, I was given the encouraging news that a class set of PC laptops would be available to ensure that I could devote class time on a weekly basis to the creation and development of e-portfolios in the form of individual student websites. With all of the pieces of the puzzle in place, I was ready to integrate e-portfolios into all of my English classes. Or so I thought.
         Reality soon set in during the early weeks of September. Logistically, collecting over one hundred internet parent permission forms from students in the first week of school was challenging, to say the least. Amidst the usual chaos of school start up, I now had now added an extra level of stress and aggravation. Miraculously, I was able to collect the majority of the permission forms by the second week of school, prior to our first e-portfolio block. Only a handful of students needed some gentle reminders, and additional copies, before they too returned their permission forms.
          With parental approval in hand, and an introductory lesson in Digital Citizenship, I casually sauntered down the hall to fetch the newly acquired laptops, filled with confidence and anticipation. Challenge number two. The cart that stores the PC laptops weighs a million pounds (okay, hyperbole, but not far off) and I couldn't actually physically roll it up to the ramp that led to my room. No weakling, I had to quickly enlist the help of nearby students, who took pity on the "poor teacher" and helped me lug the beast of a cart up the ramp. Anticipating possible technical challenges, I had requested that  a couple of "techie" students meet me at my room to facilitate the distribution of computers with my first class, thirty English 8 students.
          Challenge number three. Many of the students had difficulty logging in despite being provided with their district usernames and emails. For several of those who were able to successfully log in, their laptops immediately began to cycle through numerous updates. About half way through the class, only three students had made their way to to begin the relatively straight forward process of creating their website. Unfortunately, as more students began to access they were unable to create their sites. Frustrated and disheartened, it was time to begin the rather arduous process of collecting and storing the bulky laptops and their cords in the cart. With assistance, this took about fifteen minutes of valuable class time.
          Later that day, after having repeated a similar process with two more of my classes, English 11 and 12,  I contacted webnode to determine the problem. Apparently, with numerous students accessing the site from the same server, we were perceived as "hackers" and locked out. The problem was quickly rectified by webnode "white listing" our district email address. Those few who still struggled with logging in created Weebly sites. What I couldn't fix, however, was the  physical challenge of maneuvering the gigantic cart. It wouldn't always be feasible to enlist the help of bystanders. And so, I determined that although there were fewer Mac laptops available in our second cart, at least I was able to transport them easily, and the students did not have to go through the additional step of logging in.
          Week three of e-portfolis and finally, the majority of my students had successfully created a personal website that would reflect their goals and learning journey in English. We were still juggling laptops between students to compensate for fewer Macs, but most were able to begin to personalize their websites, record their learning goals and complete their first few writing submissions. This past week I was able to record and hyperlink each student site in a Word document so that I can quickly and easily follow their progress throughout the semester. My intention is that students will share their e-portfolios with me during an interview at the end of the semester. During this interview, they will have an opportunity to reflect on their successes and challenges, and share why they included various digital artifacts along with their writing submissions. These artifacts are intended to demonstrate key learning outcomes from each unit.
English 12 students immersed in their writing. Success at last!

          So rather than a lesson on how to create e-porfolios, the real lesson for both my students and myself, was how to persevere despite numerous challenges and obstacles. I am under no misconception that it will be smoother sailing for the remainder of the year, but with the continued support of my colleagues (thanks for listening to all my gripes and moaning) and my amazingly patient students (thanks for not throwing in the towel after the first disastrous day), my hope is by integrating e-portfolios to supplement in-class writing, my students will have something that will extend and enhance their writing experience, that they can take pride in, and that they can share with friends and family for years to come.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

And We're Off!

          How is it possible that we are entering the third week of September? Where did those first two weeks go? If you're anything like me, they flew by in hazy blur of class lists, new faces, seating charts, writing samples, library orientations, laptops, staff meetings, committee meetings, and if you're lucky, an opportunity to actually sit down with your colleagues once or twice to eat lunch and catch up.
          Amidst all of the chaos and excitement of school start up, I am very conscious of two things: Firstly, how are my students coping? Many times over the past two weeks, as I looked out at a sea of anxious grade 8 faces, or sleepy grade 11 and 12 faces, I marvelled at how well they were balancing the numerous demands and challenges of orienting themselves to a new schedule and a multitude of new rules and expectations. To me, my school and my classroom are like a second home, but to many of my students, especially those who are new arrivals, it must seem like a overwhelming wave of blank faces, mysterious rooms and undecipherable locker combinations. And yet somehow they cope. In fact by the end of week two, the air of sometimes overwhelming anxiety of those first few days had eased considerably. For my grade 8s, I felt a mini celebration of their new found ability to navigate crowded hallways of roughly 1400 students, was most definitely in order. 

Nothing says "Congratulations for surviving the first week of high school" like timbits!

          My second concern was, how are the teachers who are new to my school managing? If I was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, how were teachers who didn't know where to find paper for photocopying, who didn't know the names of the secretaries, or who didn't know know how to use a document reader, managing to keep up with the unending demands of a new school year? Fortunately, in the same way that my school is blessed with friendly and welcoming students, we also have an amazingly supportive and welcoming staff. From our office staff, to our administrators, I can't help but be proud of the way that new teachers and support staff are gradually oriented to our school. With the additional support of individual departments and our Learning Partners team members, my hope is that teachers who are new to our school, much like our students, have also been able to transition in the last two weeks from slightly anxious and befuddled, to increasingly more confident and calm. 
          With most of the paperwork and confusion of the first two weeks out of the way, I am able to start focussing more on the diverse learning needs of my students. That sea of anxious and tired faces has begun to take shape, with individual student personalities and abilities pushing to the forefront. At times, it can still be overwhelming. To get a sense of the range of abilities and learning needs of my students, it is important to collect and read through numerous writing samples and activities. That takes time. Time that I don't have during the school day!
Not a bad place to do a little marking!
As well, I must admit that attempting to facilitate the creation of e-portfolios for the first time with close to a hundred students with numerous technology challenges and sweltering heat certainly tested my patience a bit, but by week three,  my students are already demonstrating a wide range of new found skills and abilities.
English 8 "Wanted" posters for "The Monkey's Paw".
          My goals for the 2013-14 school year?
1. Integrate e-portfolios into all of my classes to supplement and enhance in class writing. 
2. Skype with authors to extend a love of books and reading beyond the walls of my classroom. 
3. Continue to evolve and integrate our new Learning Partners program into our school community. 
4. Apply for an Action Research Grant that supports an exploration of methods to encourage the participation of experienced teachers, in addition to new teachers, in our Learning Partners program and by extension, strive to support innovative teaching practices and increased collaboration and collegiality. 
5. Make my classroom a haven for those students who need a safe place to eat lunch and hang out.
6. Make time in my day to sit down and eat lunch with an amazing group of teachers.

          Will my school year be a sprint, a marathon, or an easy jog? Most likely, a combination of all three. But in any case, "we're off"!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

"Back to School" Dreams and Other Teacher Quirks

          Ask any teacher around this time of year, and most will reveal that an interesting phenomena sets in during these dog days of summer -- the "Back to School" dream. In some cases, these manifest as somewhat bizarre, often disjointed visions of desks and textbooks, marking and highlighters. But in other instances, these night time reminders of what is to come, take the form of anxiety tinged, pulse racing, night terrors. Interestingly, through speaking to my colleagues, I have discovered that the occurrence of such dreams seem as common amongst veteran teachers as with those who may be embarking on their first teaching assignment.
          Why do these night time disturbances occur one may ask? I would suggest that it speaks to the enormous obligation that most teachers feel to provide the most fulfilling, the most rewarding educational experience to their students that they possibly can. I know for myself, having spent a good chunk of the summer engaging in professional development and following the numerous educational twitter feeds and hashtags, I am eager to implement new initiatives and practices into my classroom come September. Having visited my school yesterday to set up my classroom and to photocopy and organize materials, I discovered several of my colleagues who were engaged in similar activities. With only a week and a half until the start of the school year, it seems that our teacher brains are in full swing with a seemingly non-stop stream of questions, ideas and concerns. How can I ensure that my grade 8s feel comfortable and welcomed on the first day of school? What can I do to help my grade 12s prepare for graduation? It is really possible to successfully oversee e-portfolios and conduct exit interviews for close to one hundred students?
          In the same way that the first back to school commercial in mid July filled us with scorn, those same commercials towards the end of August now result in a growing sense of excitement and anticipation for the year ahead. Similar to our students, many teachers are out purchasing that special pen or back to school outfit. So whether your night time disturbances take the form of pleasant visions of stickers and smiling faces, or more disturbing images of looming grim faced students and towering stacks of marking, rest assured that they stem from the same place -- a desire to do our very best for our kids. I wish you all a rewarding and successful 2013-14 school year!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Using iBooks Author: Reflecting on the Evolution of the "Book"

          As part of my ongoing work creating an English 8 course for iTunes University, I began the process of constructing an e-book entitled, Literature Circles: Reigniting a Passion for Reading in the Secondary Classroom, that synthesizes the various activities, projects and rubrics that I have compiled over the years for a Literature Circles unit. This process has caused me to reflect on how the essential concept of the "book" has evolved exponentially with the advent of e-books and new digital mediums. Using the Mac App iBooks Author, I am able to compile a huge range of materials, from basic Word documents, to YouTube videos. Within iBooks Author, and through the complimentary service Bookry, there are seemingly endless interactive widgets available.
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of my  e-book on Literature Circles.

          Coincidentally, while I was in the midst of this process, the CBC radio show Ideas ran the episode, "Opening The Book" which examines the ongoing evolution of the book:

"The book has stayed pretty much the same for over 500 years: a bunch of paper pages between covers. It's been both finite and easily grasped. But our digitally-connected world is forcing us to re-imagine what books could be."

          As I listened to this episode, I thought about my students, and how different their concept of a book might be from mine. I see myself as fairly traditional in that although I do read the occasional e-book, I still yearn for the old "pages between a cover" hard copy version. I love the look of books, I love the smell of books and I love to own books. My over flowing book shelves are a testament to this. But at the same time, both professionally and personally, I have been moving towards integrating digital modes of writing and reading. Inspired by my own foray into the world of blogging, I plan to implement e-portfolios and student websites into my English classes this September to supplement the more traditional "pen and paper" writing that continues to be a necessary component of the class, given that majority of my students are still required to write the paper version, rather than the e-version of the English 10 and 12 Provincial Exam.
Using iBooks Author, I am able to insert YouTube clips of my students' iMovie Trailers for their novels.
          Interestingly, as I compiled my e-book on Literature Circles, I included possible suggestions for high interest novels, and referenced ISBN numbers for hard copy versions. Only in hindsight did I see the irony. Despite immersing myself in new digital mediums, I am still clearly biased in my perception of what constitutes a book. My experience of reading still largely involves the concrete, tangible experience of holding a paperback or hard cover book in my hands, flipping over a page and folding over the edge to mark my spot. My students' experience of reading will be something quite different. It may involve the ability and indeed, the expectation, to be able interact with the text in ways that I am only beginning to understand.
          As I continue to create my iTunes U course for English 8, linking websites, videos, podcasts, blogs, ibooks and Apps, my own perception of what constitutes a learning resource must continue to evolve and expand in order to best serve my students. And so, the overflowing bookshelves in every room of my house and classroom, have now extended to the virtual bookshelf on my iPad.
                                        I may need to get more memory on my next device.

Excerpt from Chapter 3 of my e-book on Literature Circles.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Collaborating with Apple Canada: Creating iTunes University Courses

Before: Pristine Agenda
After: Numerous scribbled notes!
     Typically, as teachers, we are bombarded with a wide variety of prospects for professional development. But recently, one of these numerous emails caught my eye: an opportunity, along with some of my Surrey School District colleagues, to collaborate with Apple Canada to create a course for iTunes University. And so, for the past two days, I have been immersed in learning an entirely new skill set. My experience on Day 1 was analogous to the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In other words, the learning didn't initially come easy!

     Overwhelmed and befuddled by the immensity of the task at hand, I couldn't quite wrap my head around the wealth of technical and detailed information that was being presented by the immensely talented and helpful Apple support staff. However, as endless resources and procedures were rattled off, I gradually began to digest and process the information. We were carefully led through the steps to first register as an iTunes U instructor, creating a profile and description of our course. For me, English 8. Then, we began to familiarize ourselves with the features of the iTunes U Course Manager.
     By the end of Day 1, I had begun to construct an Outline for my course, first in a Word Document and then eventually transferring this information onto the Course Manager site. Ultimately, the goal is to link valuable digital resources to each aspect of the Course Outline. As well, each aspect must connect to a specific Prescribed Learning Outcome. Speaking for myself, it has been a good many years since I have taken a close look at the PLOs for Language Arts.
      By Day 2, what began as an insurmountable task, became an exciting and somewhat addicting scavenger hunt for resources and materials to support my course. Luckily, having already begun the journey of integrating digital learning into my classes this year, I had experimented with various Apps, such as iMovie, iBooks, iBook Author, Puppet Pals and Book Creator. I am supplementing these resources with links to sites such as and Quizlet as well as with my own activities and assignments. Fuelled by good food, much coffee and the support of my colleagues, I managed to complete a good chunk of my course by the end of Day 2, and even loaded a preview of my course onto my iTunes U book shelf. What a great feeling of accomplishment!
The lounge at Apple Canada in Richmond.
     I will have the opportunity to meet again, for two additional days, towards the end of August with Apple and Surrey District staff to trouble shoot any issues and continue to build my course. The intention is to submit it for approval and publication on iTunes U by the end of September. Despite the immense amount of work that needs to be done between now and then, I am grateful that through this collaborative Pro D opportunity, I am well on my way to developing a new and exciting set of skills that will not only be of benefit to my students, but ultimately to teachers and students worldwide!
My colleagues hard at work on Day 2.
Below is a video that provides an overview of my English 8 iTunes U course:

Monday, 17 June 2013

Shifting into Summer- And the Learning Continues

As we near the end of the school year, I find myself filled with conflicting emotions; exhaustion from hours of marking and tutorials, relief that I have, for the most part, guided my students towards the successful completion of their class, and finally, joyful anticipation of the summer months ahead.

My students also seem to be experiencing a range of emotions. The grade 12s are feeling anxious about final exams and post-secondary acceptance, nostalgic about their five years of high school coming to a close, and excited about the new experiences and challenges that lay ahead. However, many of my younger students are most definitely less ambivilent, unequivocally overjoyed to be transitioning into summer vacation. Even those who may have summer school in their future, have resigned themselves to four weeks of study before their "freedom" begins.

For myself, professionally, it has been a year of new opportunities and challenges. But just like my students, I am ready for a rest. I have, however, made the decision to participate in an exciting summer Pro D opportunity, collaborating with Apple Canada, along with several of my colleagues, to create courses for iTunes University. When I initially heard of the opportunity, I was immediately intrigued. The chance to partner with Apple Canada provides a unique learning experience for me. So you can imagine my surprise when I shared my excitement with my family. Their response was along the lines of,

"So, you are going to work. For free. In the summer?!"

I suppose to some individuals who do not work within the teaching profession, this may be a foreign concept, but I would argue that many teachers are inherently curious, and generally seek out learning opportunities wherever, and whenever they may be. For me, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. And don't worry, when the learning is done, there is a hammock with my name on it, beside a tranquil lake, on Texada Island.

Have a wonderful summer!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 31 May 2013

The Technology Generation Gap: Introducing iMovie to English 12 students

          I think we assume that all teenagers are inherently tech-saavy. Recently, after having successfully integrated iMovie into a component of an English 8 project for the novel The Outsiders, I set out to do the same for my English 12 class as we embarked on a culminating activity for William Shakespeare's Hamlet. When I asked the class how many of them were familiar with iMovie, a solitary student raised their hand. When I had previously asked the same of my English 8 class, the majority of students raised their hands. What a difference a few year makes...the grade 8s had begun their technology immersion in Elementary school, while the grade 12s were still relative newcomers.
         Having established some confidence in the "user friendly" nature of the iMovie App through previous experimentation, I was fairly certain that with relatively little technical instruction, my grade 12 students would quickly become proficient. Introducing iMovie trailers to my students was akin to watching a four year old opening presents on Christmas morning. Exclamations of "Wow!"and, "That's soooo cool!"echoed through the classroom. After some time to experiment and familiarize themselves with the basic functions of the App, within two class periods, students had scripted, filmed and uploaded their Hamlet iMovie trailers to my teacher YouTube account. And so, within a relatively short period of time, I was able to successfully bridge the "Technology Generation Gap" between my grade 8 and my grade 12 students.
          Hamlet iMovie Trailer samples:

Monday, 27 May 2013

Sullivan Heights Technology Innovation Grant- A Time For Reflection

          As we near the end of the school year, and by extension the end of our Technology Innovation Grant, I was recently interviewed by one of the teachers who was instrumental in applying for, and gathering evidence in support of the grant, including evidence of innovative technologies and/or teaching practices that Sullivan Heights teachers have integrated into their classrooms.
          I must admit, I was initially quite hesitant to engage in the interview process, especially as it was being recorded for inclusion in a larger presentation. And quite honestly, my first thought was,
          "I don't really think I've done that much this year..."
          I cautioned Nicole that I hadn't prepared anything specifically for the interview, and that as it was 7:20am, I wasn't sure how animated and/or coherent I would actually be. Much to my surprise, however, as Nicole led me through a series of questions on topics ranging from my use of webnode, to Twitter, to iPad Apps, to emailing parents and students through Mastergrade, and embarking on student led conferences, the interview was over before I knew it. With a distinct feeling of relief and confidence in the power of Nicole's editing capabilities, I didn't give the process any further thought.
          Until, that is, Nicole sent me the youtube link to my interview. And quite honestly, my first thought was,
          "Holy cow, I've done a lot this year!"
          As teachers, we don't really get much "down time" to meaningfully reflect on our teaching practices. And we certainly don't often have individuals who are interested enough that they want to interview us about them! Although I did initially feel somewhat self conscious and awkward, probably much in the same way my students do when I ask them to reflect on their learning, I am now very thankful to have been "forced" to reflect on the professional growth and learning opportunities that I have given this year. Although this blog offers me an opportunity to examine and comment on various activities and experiences, I don't often take the opportunity to read back over my entries once they have been posted.
           This interview process afforded me the insight that my participation in the sd36 Digital Learning Series and my various technology initiatives in support of our Technology Innovation Grant have empowered me, and by extension my students,  in ways that I couldn't have imagined in September. Having now been provided with a much needed opportunity to look back over a year of change, challenge and innovation, I can look ahead to further learning, exploration and growth for the 2013-14 school year.      

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Facilitating Oral Language- Decreasing Student Anxiety with Book Creator

          Statistics claim that people have a greater fear of public speaking than of death. Combine this inherent fear with an increasing dependence on digital communication, and I see many of my students struggling to meet even basic oral language learning outcomes. Recently, as part of a combined public speaking/myths, legends and fairy tales English 8 unit, I encouraged my students to begin by finding a story that sparked their interest, whether it was a traditional Grimm Brothers fairy tale, or a legend or myth specific to a particular culture. I then challenged them to create an adapted version of their chosen text using the App Book Creator. Working individually, or collaborating with a partner, they first had to determine the significant events of the original story. Then making use of this condensed summary, they began to create their adapted version. Book Creator allows users to create text, import pictures and most importantly for the purpose of developing oral language skills, record voice. I narrowed their focus and asked my students to concentrate on vocal expression, pacing and volume as they took turns recording their voices to accompany the text they wrote. With iPads in hand, they set off to quiet corners of the school to record their text and craft their adapted stories. As always, I cautioned them to keep a close eye on their iPads, and the clock to ensure that they were back in the classroom before the bell. Occasionally I would make the rounds of the school grounds to touch base with various students to ensure that all was going smoothly and to answer any questions they might have. And honestly, they had a blast writing their text, choosing pictures, picking font styles and colours, and trying out various character voices. They also enjoyed the freedom of being able to work anywhere on the school grounds rather than being confined to my classroom.
          The process of creating their books took two full classes, and once they were complete, it was time to share. Students are able to save their books into iBooks or DropBox, but we used Apple TV, so that they were able to project their books using the LCD projector, onto the classroom screen and play their recorded voices from their iPads. The magic of Apple TV is that students were able to "present" from their desks, eliminating the anxiety filled experience of standing in front of their classmates (don't get me wrong, we will move towards that by the end of the unit). As well, it seemed that my students felt much less self conscious about their expressive and dramatic readings as they were collaberating with a friend, or working individually, while they were recording their voices. Even students who were generally reserved and somewhat self-conscious in class, were able to read with amazing feeling and expression.
          An outcome that was expecially rewarding was that one of my students, who is on the autism spectrum and a relatively new reader, was able to work alongside his SEA to record himself reading and then "present" his book with greater ease and confidence. He read with fluency and expression. As someone who I know dreads standing in front of the class, he suddenly found himself on an even playing field, able to share his work in a safe and comfortalble setting. Technology is his "thing" and Book Creator enabled and empowered him to share his work using a medium that he excelled in.
Students presenting adapted version of Cinderella using Book Creator and Apple TV.

Students presenting adapted version of Little Red Riding Hood using Book Creator and Apple TV.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Projects-- Thinking "Outsiders" the Box

          On April 18th I was fortunate to once again attend a Surrey School's "Digital Learning" session, part of a series of six that I have participated in this year. Entitled "Creating a Culture of Inquiry", Neil Stephenson, District Principal of Innovation and Inquiry in Delta, spoke of the incredible potential of technology to impact student learning. Prior to Neil's presentation, teachers from Kwantlen Park Secondary and Woodward Hill Elementary shared some amazingly innovative and creative teaching practices that they have worked to integrate at their respective schools. Woodward Hill played a video capturing some of their practices that brought many in the room to tears. One imactful lesson that I came away with from all three of these presentations, is that as "experienced" teachers we can sometimes fall into a comfortable, somewhat complacent routine, and that if I am feeling too comfortable in my classroom, it probably means I'm not taking enough "risks" with my teaching.
          For every teacher, those "risks" may manifest differently, but I think it is vital that we strive to push ourselves to move out of that comfortable, safe, and yes, mostly effective place we may occasionally find ourselves in after we have graduated from the "survival mode"mentality that many new teachers experience. I challenged myself to do exactly that...
         Nearing the end of our English 8 unit for the novel The Outsiders, (a classic, and still highly relevant piece of literature encompassing various topics including gang violence, conflict resolution, abuse, and family) I began to construct a project that would challenge my students to demonstrate various and specific learning outcomes for the unit. I reviewed several past projects, and to be honest, they were pretty darn good. But, they were also pretty darn "safe". And so, I began to revise and rework. Ultimately, I envisioned a project where the end product was the choice of the student. I began by thinking about what learning I wanted them to demonstrate, and worked backwards. The challenge was to devise a rubric that could encompass any varied, diverse and creative project that my talented English 8s could dream up! I decided that students should be able to demonstrate an awareness and understanding of significant events, characters, literary terms, themes and issues from the novel.
          With the final assessment completed, I began to create the actual project sheet. As I'm quite familiar with the various learning needs in my classroom, I felt that it was important to offer some concrete suggestions in addition to providing the freedom of choice for my students, and so I offered three options; a newspaper, an iMovie trailer, or a product of their choice. They also were able to choose whether they wanted to work independently, or collaborate with a partner, or within a group. For some of my students, offering only the third "choice" option could be overwhelming and daunting. They prefer to have some basic guidelines, and then add to those minimum requirements in a creative and unique manner. I also wanted to ensure that only those students who were familiar with iMovie chose that option. After all, I am an English, not a Technology teacher, and my intent was not to assess them on how well they use technology, but on how well they could demonstrate their understanding of the novel.
          So where does the idea of necessary "risk" enter in? After handing out and explaining the parameters of the project, I made arrangements to book our library and iPads to facilitate the range of projects indicated by my students after they were given an opportunity to brainstorm various ideas. We met on the specified day, I ensured that everyone had a sense of what they were doing, and then I stepped back and got out of their way!
          At times, I had only a vague idea of where my students were. At times, they had rather expensive iPads in their possession AND I only had a vague idea of where my students were! Some were in the library using the computers to format newspapers, some were collaborating in groups designing board games, some were outside recording voices for Puppet Pals, and some were up on the sports field covered in dirt and fake blood recording "rumbles" for iMovie trailers. As an individual who is occasionally described as a tad controlling, this was a bit anxiety causing! But, ultimately, I trust my "kids" and they all returned at the agreed upon time with their technology intact. I did occasionally set out on scouting missions to "spy" on my students (old habits die hard!) and what did I see? Students having an awesome time demonstrating learning. And does it really get any better than that? With this and other projects, I am challenging myself to think "Outsiders" the box.

Project rubric for The Outsiders

Project Sheet that includes a range of choice.
And then, get out of their way! Students working outside to record voices using Puppet Pals App.
Students working in Library designing Outsiders board game.

Students working outside creating iMovie trailers for the novel. I didn't include the photo of the student covered in fake blood, and very real dirt after filming the "rumble"!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

"Teachers as Learning Partners"- Moving into Mentorship

          Today I was the student. At various times throughout the day I felt anxious, I felt awkward, I felt uncertain and I felt inadequate. I also felt empowered, excited and energized to embark on a new journey which will allow me to apply some of my new found knowledge in "real life" scenarios. Hmmm...probably quite similar to how many of my students feel on any given day...
          Aside from the numerous new skills and practices that I was introduced to today, I think perhaps one of the most valuable lessons was the reminder of what it feels like to be the student, to ask the questions, to come to a place of understanding after struggling with new content, new vocabulary and new contexts. The opportunity to engage in ongoing professional development as a teacher not only serves to provide valuable skills, but to remind us what it's like to be on the other side of the desk. Four years out from completing my Masters of Arts in English, I had almost forgotten the exhilaration and yes, exhaustion, that comes from intensive learning.
          Now briefly to the content of my learning experience. Sullivan Heights is embarking on a pilot Peer Mentoring program, "Teachers As Learning Partners". This will provide both new and experienced teachers a framework in which they are able to collaborate with colleagues in a supportive, confidential and non-evaluative manner. I was gifted with an opportunity to spend the day with a diverse and dedicated group of teachers and facilitators who are all excited at the prospect of implementing this new model. Together we hope to establish a mentorship model that provides teachers with a new resource. Through a reciprocal, dynamic and evolving process, we seek to provide colleagues with a range of tools and supports that allows for ongoing growth. Mentors and mentees alike will be learning together as we embark on this new and exciting initiative!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Shifting from Leader to Guide-Venturing into Student Led Conferencing

        For the first time in years, I was told that I did not have to hold parent/teacher interviews! I met this proclamation with eager excitement and barely contained joy. Why, you may ask? Because for the first time in years, the teachers at my school were given the opportunity to hold student led conferences. I know, my elementary school colleagues are saying, and so what? But by the time students reach high school, student led conferences have become distant, somewhat nostalgic tinged memories.
         In recent years, I have become increasingly frustrated by the rather institutional, assembly line nature of some parent/teacher nights. Traditionally, I am situated amongst a sea of teachers in a large gym, strategically positioned behind the safe barrier of a table, with two chairs placed on the opposing side.  At the appointed time, anxious parents are allowed to stream in and scan the room attempting to successfully locate their child's teachers. Some parents have mastered the process, and may send an envoy to wait in one teacher line up, while they wait in another. From my position, I see an endless line of parents, desperate to make it to the front of the line before the allotted time expires. 
        When they do make it to the front of the line, invariably they ask, "How is my child doing?" What they are really saying is, "What mark are they getting?" On rare occasions, the aforementioned child accompanies the parent, and I make a desperate attempt to engage all parties in a meaningful conversation about learning outcomes and specific goals for the course. These conversations are short, by necessity, as those next in line begin to shift and nudge forward in an attempt to make contact. By the end of the evening, I was feeling exhausted and disheartened by what felt like a largely futile attempt to engage with parents and students in an authentic and meaningful way.
         And so, it was with great excitement and anticipation that I welcomed the prospect of venturing into a new format. With a son in grade 5, I am familiar with the process and format of student led conferences. Our new administrator arranged a meeting with those teachers who expressed an interest, and a letter was composed to inform parents. I began the process of speaking to each of my classes about my intention, and in most cases, students seemed amazingly accepting of this "new"
approach. New to me of course, but not to them. Why is it that we feel that elementary school
students are mature and responsible enough to speak to their parents about their learning successes and goals, but that somehow, teenagers are not?
          In preparation for the conferences, I asked my students, in English 8, 11, 12 and Advanced Placement to choose two activities that they were proud of, and that they viewed as successes, and two activities that provided a challenge and that were examples of skills that they are continuing to work on. These ranged from informal journals, to art work on the classroom walls, to formal synthesis essays in their Writing Portfolios. With an hour in total  allocated to each grade, we were no longer constrained to brief, often ineffective conversations. On the appointed day, as the first parents and students arrived, I felt for the first time in years that I was going to have an opportunity to facilitate meaningful dialogues. Don't get me wrong, both students and parents were nervous. With my door open, a parent would peek their head in, and after an enthusiastic welcome, would hesitantly  venture in. Students were sometimes reluctant to direct their parents toward journals, or projects, and I had to occasionally step in as "guide" and initiate the conversation. You see, I think that this may not be a conversation that a lot of parents are having with their teenagers.
            "Mom, this is an essay that I'm really proud of because I worked on including some descriptive vocabulary." 
            "Dad, I presented this poster to my class and I was really nervous about trying to make eye 
           And yes, some parents wanted to know about marks. But as I am in regular email contact with all of my parents and students, I simply reminded them that this night was about their child's progress and goals, and not about their mark. At times, I had several parents, students and siblings (and supportive administrators) milling about my room, and engaged in conversation. I felt happy and
 comfortable and energized even after a 12 hour day. I know that the implementation of student led conferences will be a learning process for students, parents and teachers alike, but I can assure those who are willing to venture down this path, it is a journey well worth taking!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Empowering Students in 140 Characters or Less

      For several years now, I have been privileged to co-sponsor the Sullivan Heights Global Issues Club. Our initiatives, stemming from the diverse interests of our members, range from awareness campaigns relating to various social issues and environmental concerns, to fund raising drives in order to support local and international charitable organizations. As a club that operates within the sometimes frustratingly short lunch period, we have often struggled to connect and collaborate with our members beyond this time period. And so, last year in addition to creating a email contact list for our members, I began using twitter to bring awareness and information not only to our club members, but equally importantly, to our larger school community, and beyond.
      The impact of my decision to extend my twitter use beyond my subject area was immediate and profound. One of my first steps was to create a hash tag based on our Global Issues slogan and t-shirt design, Sullivan Cares. And thus #sullicares was born. With an ever expanding student population, I believe that effective communication is vital to provide a sense of belonging and connectivity, not only amongst our students, but also within our staff. I would argue that an additional layer of communication has been added to Sullivan Heights with the increasing popularity of twitter use in all areas of our school. Now, in addition to submitting daily announcements, it has become part of my daily routine to craft precisely worded, concise "tweets" in order to convey vital information, to raise awareness, and to motivate and inspire our student body.
        Today, the Sullivan Heights Global Issues Club hosted presenters from the Free the Children "Give Where You Live" Speaking Tour. Close to 800 students filled our theatre and normally, this highly motivational and inspiring message would be confined within those walls, but today I was able to immediately witness the ripple effect of the presentation through the "tweets" of my colleagues and our students. It was a powerful and impactful moment for me.
       And so, for the sceptics who bemoan the seemingly limited platform that twitter  provides, is it possible to empower and engage our youth in 140 characters or less? My unequivocal response is, yes! Through twitter, our Global Issues club can effectively demonstrate to our school, to our community and to our world that indeed, #sullicares!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Communicating and Connecting in the 21st Century Classroom

          With the start of a new semester, it is only natural for teachers and students alike to be reeling from the onslaught of new information, new schedules and new faces. This semester I am gifted with a diverse range of classes, including Advanced Placement English Literature, English 12, Leadership Coop English 11 and English 8. Add to that a  lively group of Discovery 8 students and a Global Issues Club that welcomes all grade levels.
           Somewhat to my amazement, however, I have discovered that this range of courses has not depleted my energy. It has, in fact, revitalized and further inspired me to expand and extend my teaching practice to meet the varied needs and interests of my students. I must admit though, that I feel a tad chameleon-like. As each new group of students crosses the boundary from hall to classroom, I find myself shifting and adjusting my approach and my persona ever so slightly to mirror the energy and interests of my students. This constant state of flux is what I love about the profession of teaching. After 15 years of teaching, I am still learning, still growing, and yes, still making some mistakes. I am fortunate to work amongst an amazingly dedicated and supportive community of teachers and administrators who have encouraged me to continue to integrate new technologies and techniques into my English classroom.
             The creation of my website, and my entry into the twitter-verse several years ago, allows me to extend my teaching beyond the walls of my classroom, and as such I am often communicating with my students, and with their parents outside of school hours. Just yesterday, I received a politely worded inquiry from one of my English 8 students, which allowed me to clarify instructions for an activity that she was working on at home. I have successfully collected email contacts from 100% of my students and many also follow me on twitter. These additional methods of communicating with my students have served to further strengthen and enhance the daily interactions that we have in the classroom. And so, just a few weeks into 2nd semester, I am feeling more energized and more connected than ever. Better still, I have early indications that on most days, my students are feeling
much the same!