Friday, November 5, 2010

I think Robert Frost was almost a 21st Century thinker....

The masterpeice by Robert Frost: The Road not taken:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
and having perhaps the better claim
because it was grassy and wanted wear;
though as for that, the passing there
had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
in leaves no feet had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference
I read this... then watch this:

I am starting to think, that its not the road less taken, or even the road he didn't take...but instead, its the infinite possibilities ahead of us. I love being a learner in the 21st Century!!!

I think the poem should start and end:

Infinite roads diverge, then converge in a yellow wood... and I finally found one (or forty) that worked for me!

Monday, October 25, 2010

When the model for the delivery of Professional Development gets in the way...

Over this last week, I had the opportunity to be a part of three consecutive Professional Development Days. Each one was very different from the other...

Day 1: Presenter: Ruth Sutton - Best Teaching Practices, 4 Schools and approx. 300+ teachers in Heritage Woods Secondary Gymnasium.
Pros - Expert in the Field, Engaging, 3-4 good points about how to help students assess their own work
Cons - Huge group of people with varying levels of interest and background in the subject area, no differentiation of learning, barrage of information with little or no time for process.

Day 2: Presenter: Jeremy Brown (me) - Streamlining Online Involvement using Twitter and Google Reader #risdeprod. 13 people in a small room at Riverside Secondary.
Pros - Small group, great collaboration, chunked learning, lots of play time
Cons - Small group, how do you get more people involved? How do you keep that collaboration going?

Day 3: Presenter (multiple including Chris Kennedy) - TedxUBC - Fast Forward Education approx 100 people at UBC on Robson. 
Pros - short talks (20 minutes), high level presenters who are experts in a field, collaboration among physical and virtual participants 
Cons - Overload of information, no time to question or plan, little time to process that much information, only decaf coffee left after first break! 

Somewhere mixed in among these three days is the power behind Professional Development. Each of these days has a piece of the puzzle –pre-learning, experts leading, small targeted groups, collaboration & clearly defined, attainable goals. 

How I would Fix a Pro-D day for everyone:

1.       Prep it up – You need to get your staff together on the same page. Start a study group! Every Wednesday morning before school, bring donuts and coffee, order some books and talk about what you just read! Try The Big Picture by Dennis Littky, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell or Something from Fullen/Hargraves or DeFour.

2.       Experts - We still need experts in the field to teach/lead us. What we don't need, is an expert talking at us for 5 hours. We need the background, research and then some guidance where to go next or how to apply it to practice. Don't talk longer than 1 1/2 hours...MAX! If you are speaking longer than that you have lost a majority of your audience. Would you ever lecture a class for that long? Experts/Presenters need to start leading by example.

3.       Small Targeted Groups (this is the big one) - We all know that we can get lost in a crowd. There is little or no accountability and it is way too easy to get off task. When you have a small, targeted group, you have a group of individuals who are at the same level of interest/ability level. When I am teaching Chemistry and a group of students are struggling with a concept, I bring them up to the board as a group. I don't understand why we don't do this type of targeted instruction with teachers. Michelle Ciolfitto, from Heritage Woods Secondary, does this amazing activity with highlighters. As she walks by a student, she will use one of three highlighters to mark a student’s work. 

a.       If they have mastered the concept that they are working on, they get a yellow tag (happy).
b.      If they almost have the concept they get a pink mark (I think [pink] I got it) and continue to work on it with others until they have mastery.
c.       If they really don't get it, they get a blue mark and they can work in a small group with her.

Simple, good instructional techniques that work with adults and kids. Group people by ability and interest and you can focus your resources where they are needed.

4.       Collaboration “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford.  Every principal will tell you, after a staff meeting, that teachers the worst audience in the world (well almost… a group of principals is even worse). We yearn to collaborate but so rarely get the chance.  During a Pro-D day, have your teachers tweet about their experiences, thoughts, and impressions as it happens. Have a twitter search tag like #rsideprod and collaborate. Bring those discussions to your next staff meeting or study group.

5.       Defined and Attainable Goals for the day: Write some “I can” or “I understand” statements. For my day, I did “I can tweet, use hashtags and create a PLN”. I had 3 others, and by the end of the day, it gave some structure to the day and clarified the goals. I think the pictures say it all.

Even though this post has nothing to do with the content of the Pro-D, I find that is seldom the problem. The structure in which we deliver it needs to be reformed and changed because it is getting in the way of good instruction. These are my thoughts…what are yours?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Being a Young Turk (despite not being that young)

In the early 20th century, when Turkey was moving towards secular constitutional republic, a group of progressive thinkers emerged: The Young Turks. They were modernists, reformists and opposed to the status quo. In modern times, it is often used to describe those of us who are unsatisfied being a follower, those who want to lead by example and seek success on our own terms.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his Young Turks

On Friday, I was at a Pro-D with the two PoCo Secondary Schools, Riverside and Terry Fox. I felt like cattle, in a room with 140 other teachers and administration. There was no sense of individual learning. It was the sage on stage...sit down and listen...

The goal was to talk about progressive 21st century assessment (grading). Things like: no more zeros, no penalization for late work and not grading homework (not revolutionary stuff I know).
Pro-D at Fox

 That was one of the problems, while I got two or three new ideas out of the session, I didn't get enough new material to challenge me. I could have been on twitter in #edchat for 5 minutes and gotten 100X more.

But what really irked me, more than anything else, was how the material was presented. 5 1/2 hours of being talked at (about differentiated learning of all things) is not good for anyone. Daniel Pink said it best...a good talk has 3 components "Levity, Brevity and Repetition. This presentation simply had a lot of words put together and spread over a morning and afternoon. How can someone talk about 21st century learning then do something like that? It's the same old, "do as I say, not as I do" approach and I am sick of it. I put my hand up 3 times to challenge him on ideas and he never acknowledged me...are you kidding me? Do you know who I am? I'm Jeremy Brown and I'm kind of a big deal!

I am done. I refuse to put up with anymore lousy, half-baked presentations. I want my Pro-D to be meaningful, not just two parts of it. I want my Pro-D to be personal, tailored to my needs as a teacher. Am I needing in terms of formative assessment? I don't think so... I do need to learn about good assessment techniques though (which is where I should have spent 5 hours).

We should demand more of our Pro-D. But on the flip side, we should demand more of ourselves and each other. Thats's one of the things I did agree with the presenter about... We as teachers need to take responsibility for our our own learning and that of the children we teach. We need to be more progressive, challenge the status quo and stop sitting on our laurels. Some of us forget that school is not about employing teachers...its about kids learning.

Ataturk (the great father of the Turkish Republic) said "Teachers are the one and only people who save nations". But we have the responsibility to push nations, the populace and ourselves...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why am I such a better learner now?

So whats the secret to turn someone on to learning? For me, it started late...

I am a goal driven, hyperactive, excitable and sometimes grumpy individual. I love to learn now, I'll spend an entire night on Wikipedia, opening tabs going from one article to another. Where did this enthusiasm for learning come from? I never loved school (although I loved some of my teachers - a huge shout out to Mr. Carrillo and Mrs. Barnes), I picked up way more by walking through the forest with my Oma (grandma) than I did in the classroom. 

I struggled in school, there is no news in that. I failed almost all my classes in grade 9 and while at the time I blamed everyone else but myself, it was my fault. I was a lazy, uninspired and disengaged (did I mention lazy) kid. What changed? Well...the glib answer is not much. There had to be a point somewhere along the way when I started to love to learn.

I can imagine my junior high teachers would be horrified to find out that I am now a colleague. Maybe thats the point the point of this post... sometimes we give up too early on kids. We write them off as dumb or lazy when they are just late bloomers.

I work with amazing colleagues but some of them have never failed a course in their lives or even gotten a B. Many were top of their class and valedictorians of their graduating classes. They can inspire and lead their classes like generals but often struggle to understand why a student has such a difficulty picking up a simple topic or misbehaves. I think I get it more than others because I was that kid. I was the one who never handed his homework, sat at the back of the room, goofed off, etc...

From that experience I made a list of ways to help kids like me be more successful and learn to love to learn:

  1. Make multiple connections: The more people I connected to, the better I did. Older students, tutors, peers, teachers, parents, etc...
  2. Talk to me about stuff I love and connect it to what you teach
  3. Use technology to engage me: Make my learning non-linear...allow me to explore links and connections
  4. Be passionate - You'll carry me away with a story and make me cry to Charlotte's Web if you do a good Wilbur!
  5. Just acknowledge my existence - If you do one thing, Say hi to kids like me in the hallways. That one piece made all the difference in the word.
So how do I learn now?
  1.  Like I said, I use Wikipedia for non linear links (books are too binding)
  2. I use Twitter (@jbsd43) to connect to people all over the globe: Students, teachers, researchers and parents 
  3. I am driven by other exciting educators who passionately make their case for learning
  4. I say say hi to kids and try to make their day as good as they made mine.(not really about learning but creating the relationship so learning is easier.)
I know these things have been said a thousand times before and its nothing new but until its contextualized, i'll never learn it :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

School Teacher Vs. Classroom Teacher

This year more than most, I have noticed the clear difference between a school teacher and a classroom teacher. George Couros' amazing blog post What makes a master teacher really got me thinking ...and the more I thought it, the more I saw it. On September 3rd, I saw teachers coming in on their days off to help with the grade 9 preview day... Michelle Burton, Teri Bates, Sue Kilpatrick, Laura Epp, Ron "the Man" Haselhan and so many others. These are school teachers... they don't teach subject or curriculum, they teach students. Beyond that, they teach every student in the school and that to me is a powerful thing.

We are so blessed at Riverside to have so many teachers willing to give up their time for each other and the kids. Every time Bryan Gee walks down the hallways, he says hi to ever kid he knows and a lot he doesn't! :) He makes 1000s of connections each time he goes to the office.
Bryan Gee, Oregon 2009

Every time Gary Horton (@ghorton) photocopies, he takes the extra minute to refill the paper in both photocopiers. That seems like such a stupid, little thing, but I appreciate it so much and this spirit of giving and volunteering is passed down the kids.
Riverside's Giving Tree

When I think about why I want to be a school teacher, I remember John Wooden's talk at TED. He talked about it the best when he said "Why do I teach? ...Where else could I be with such splendid company"

Monday, August 30, 2010

Digital Immersion Year 2 part 1 (sounds like a Mel Brooke's Film!)

Well...1 week left and it's starting to have that smell in the air... I always get excited a this time of year.

As I get ready to start the 2nd year of Digital Immersion at Riverside, I think I have more questions than the first. Gary Horton (@ghorton) and I have pledge to go entirely paperless this semester for Sci 9 and Sci 10 DI. That is going to be hard...but I think liberating at the same time. Office Live is going to make this a lot easier with kids being able to see and edit Word documents online and we will still use SharePoint as our starting ground.

Beyond that, I plan on using Blogger, Wikispaces and Elluminate as my base applications for teaching the BC Science 9 curriculum.

My real worry comes around Summative assessment and good online testing tools. I am planing on using a bunch of collaborative tools for projects, etc... but I still need a good one on one test as part of the package. Anyone have an idea?

Going to start off with these videos...they are always good...

Monday, August 16, 2010

My goals for the upcoming year!

I don't think I have ever sat down and laid out my goals for the upcoming year. But there is a first time for everything! Okay, here goes!

  1. Use more integrated resources in my everyday lessons
  2. Do more labs
  3. Do a better job communicating with parents...and not just the bad stuff. I want to call up a parent to say "your kid did a great job!"
  4. Know more kids in my school.
  5. Go to more school sports and support my students
  6. Be passionate about more stuff
I can put a number besides #'s 1-5. How do I measure my passion though...maybe I should just say "have more fun". Not that having more fun isn't subjective as well :)

I'll keep this updated as the year goes :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Elluminate - I was trepidacious but...

I have really enjoyed using Elluminate to communicate with kids. I found that the kids who never speak in class, talk over Elluminate channels. At COL summer school we have been using LearnNowBC's version 8, so I don't know much about version 10, but so far its been sweet! I am still a rookie btw and I haven't used all the interactive pieces...

Things I really like:
  • Having a virtual community
  • Being able to share with each other
  • Using a slideshow allows you to keep a linear lesson (I tend to go off on tangents)
  • The ability to open up discussion rooms
Things I wish/hope it will/does have in the newest version
  • Secure Login for students - so we know who is who in the class
  • Attendance tracker - with a tinme stamp to see who comes in and who leaves
  • An activity monitor to see how much time they are working within a breakout room
I still need to get comfortable with students controlling the mic, chat and whiteboard but I think that will come with experience. I will use this for sure with my digital immersion class next semester and I have already attended a virtual conference (yeah yeah...get with the times, I know).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What I think makes a good admin.

I'm just a lowly teacher, but I have had my share of great administrators over the years. They all have a few things in common:
  1. Understand the link between joy, teaching and learning
  2. Let their staff take risks
  3. Give support to all teachers even the ones who just need a pat on the back or a "great job"
  4. Make a staff cohesive - they push innovators help those who need it
  5. Make Professional Development (or we can just saying learning) central to every action
  6. Make the hard descisions, which you might not agree with, but respect because they have put in the time
  7. Communication (and they don't waste your time on unimportant things
  8. All the small stuff that you don't see (good admin have systems)
  9. Have the ability to predict and respond to issues in a timely manner
  10. Have a sense of humour and keep an even keel
  11. Is a school principal - go to plays, games, classes, treat all staff members as important school leaders
  12. Is still a teacher - they lead study groups with their staff, teach classes, tutor kids (How many times have I seen my admin poke their head over a study carrel to help a student with a math problem)
For me, a great principal (or vice principal) will remove obstacles for teaching and learning. It's almost like Barrie Bennett's invisible discipline from "Classroom Management - a caring approach", you don't know that the structures are in place because everything just works.

-Jeremy (they call me Browner) Brown