LearnEast 2.0.11 – Parent Perspective of 21C

There’s an excellent learning event underway for NB educators in Fredericton this week. LearnEast 2.0.11, a high quality, low cost event attended by 200 keen teachers from around the province, has been organized by Bryan Facey (@Faceyman) and Jeff Whipple (@jeffwhipple) of District 18 and Jay Colpitts (@JayColpitts) of District 14.  I was happy to be asked to sit on a panel this afternoon and discuss my views (a parent’s perspective) on 21C and virtual learning opportunities for NB students.

In advocating for 21C and virtual spaces I outlined three areas where our modern tools can significantly improve our public education system.  Acknowledging that 21C type learning doesn’t require a tech-rich environment, I commented that tech tools and the internet do however enable us to make so many more connections that strengthen the role of public education.

1) Connecting students to their passions – our modern tools allow us to make personalized learning possible.  We can go beyond differentiated instruction, beyond ability grouping and reach out and touch the passions of every student of every ability in every school.

2) Connecting parents to the learning in classrooms – be it through inviting comments on a student/class blog, contributing ideas to a school wiki or skyping in from the office to provide real-world perspective on a discussion in the classroom – technology allows parents to interact with the learning in schools that goes far beyond reading comments on a report card or signing off a homework sheet.

3) Connecting the community to the school and the school to the world – the role of public education can be enhanced significantly by building connections between our local resources and our schools as well as by linking our schools to other communities around the world.  Many teachers have utilized local/global partners to enhance classroom learning, but the ability to do this virtually expands our capability tremendously and really enables us to authenticate public education as a community building institution.

I summarized my contribution by paraphrasing Stephen Downes (@downes) and encouraging the group to embrace a system where students do not have an education provided for them, but one that empowers students to build an education for themselves.

Unplug’d 2011

It has been a week since I returned from the most uplifting professional/personal development event I have ever participated in – Unplug’d 2011.

In the week that has gone by I’ve immersed myself in the afterglow of the event through sharing with the Uplug’d crew on twitter and flickr and even occasionally on ds106 radio.  I have made sure to read all of the reflection blog posts that I’ve come across and I have spent a lot of time pondering the event and what it means for me.

I learned so much about the people behind the pixels during the three days we were unplugged. The time and opportunity to share stories, songs and food led to a deeper connection which makes their work in all facets of education so much more real and inspiring.

I learned that very different people gathered from this incredibly large country can come together and work collaboratively.  I learned that everyone has a story to tell and it is okay if telling your story makes you vulnerable.

I learned that while reflection is an important component of learning, real growth in learning comes from turning reflection into action.  Thinking about something and writing about something are good – but acting on those thoughts and words leads to real growth and real learning.

When one is the ‘official spokesperson’ for a public education organization it is important to be clear when you are expressing your own personal beliefs.  I have never hesitated to promote 21C learning as it is a component of my District‘s focus on the future, nor have I been shy about increasing parent involvement and student voice in our system.  But most times I stop short of openly advocating for the transformative change I believe New Brunswick should be pursuing – and that just isn’t good enough for a ‘change agent’.

So now what?  It is time for me to take the next step – to push publish on this piece and begin to find ways to express my beliefs through actions and to inspire more citizens to get involved in shaping the future of public education in N.B..

I encourage you to read the Preface and Chapter One of “Why _______ Matters” and share with me your thoughts.

Change the Tools

originally posted at: http://wp.me/p12hAn-89

Remember when you begged your mother to spend the extra money on the super-duper-deluxe package of your official high school grad photo?  I do.  It wasn’t enough to have 12 or 15 of the wallet-sized photos, I needed at least 48.  Remember when you looked for the least smudgy ball point pen you could find in order to write personal messages to each and every person to whom you gave one of those photos?  I do.  As I recall, we began to share these forced-smile, ridiculous background, did-I-really-wear-that-haircut photo wonders in junior high. I think the first sheet Mom popped for came with 9 photos, just enough to share with best friends and a few cousins. Each year my pleading for “just one more sheet” grew as the size of my circle of friends grew. I’m a sentimental person, but I bet I’m not the only one from the class of 1983 who still has a pile of these in a box buried in the basement.

My children have never, ever asked me to purchase a sheet of these wallet-sized photos, not once, not even the minis!  They watch as I decide how many to buy and who to send them to at Christmas time, but they’ve never once seemed interested in partaking in this photo-exchange process that I’ve tried to explain to them.  Seems it just doesn’t happen anymore.  But then why would it?  Our children are able to carry with them hundreds of photos of their friends, pictures they’ve taken themselves, pictures that will likely never be printed on photo paper. They have cellphones, iPods and digital cameras. They don’t need to write promises to stay in touch, while trying not to smear blue ink all over the place.  They have Facebook, Flickr and glogster to share photos with remember-when phrases.

The tools of memory-making have changed and the tools of knowledge-making are changing too.

Those of us passionate about shifting our education system to a model such as NB3-21C agree that the competencies we want to empower our children with: critical thinking and creative problem solving, collaboration, communication, personal development and self-awareness, and global citizenship, are not “21st century” ideas.  These learning goals have been taught by teachers, for many years, in many ways that did not require the internet. But while the goals themselves are not new, many of the tools most suited to facilitating mastery of these competencies in a networked knowledge economy are indeed 21st century tools.

The learning environment outlined in the NB3-21C Strategy Document would allow our students to communicate and collaborate across the street and across the globe.  Using netbooks and other technology tools, students will be able to personalize their learning path exploring topics of interest to them and finding others with similar interests. Multimedia publishing, video conferencing, shared authoring, and the development of  peer networks through social networking applications will bring added engagement to the curriculum. One-to-one access at the high school level will enable students across the province to explore subject areas previously unavailable in rural or small schools. This 3 year plan would eventually see all K-5 classrooms with clusters of netbooks as well as interactive whiteboards and FM sound systems, and all students in grades 6-12 would have 1:1 access to netbook computers.

So yes we can “teach” students how to learn, to communicate by reading and writing, to share ideas with their classmates, to be aware of world issues with pencils, paper and textbooks. But imagine what they can learn if we allow them to use the tools they already have locked in their backpacks, or give them access to the tools we use in our homes and workplaces. It is time to empower students in their learning journeys – it is time to put the tools in their hands.

NB3 21C – Why I Embrace the Shift

originally posted at: http://wp.me/p12hAn-5M

As a parent I have hopes and dreams for my children.  I want to see them exploring the world with open eyes. I want them to be literate and numerate enough to pursue any passion they discover, to follow any path that looks inviting and to contribute to whatever society they chose to live in. I want them to be optimistic, but at the same time skeptical. I want them to be creative, communicative, collaborative and compassionate. Our education system as it has operated in the 9 years I’ve been involved has given them some of this – some days, some projects, some experiences, some teachers, sometimes – but not enough.  I want more.

Two years ago I read this post by David Warlick and I began a blog post of my own (unfinished until now) with the title “Maybe Someday”.  The passage that resonated with me was this:

“Conservatism and conformity necessitate control, and the spirit and the affect of Web 2.0 are to democratize control and make it personal.  When teachers are released from district managed portals, and allowed to shape their own personal learning networks, when they are granted a voice and ear to a global conversation about education, when students begin to take a more active role in affecting the “what” and “how” of their own learning, then education changes, and the barriers between the “classroom” and “world” start to disappear.”

I knew a few educators who were working in this way – making global connections, using web tools, helping students develop their own PLNs (personal learning networks), but I wasn’t optimistic that my children would benefit from this personal approach to learning. Time passed, and my blogging efforts gave way to other things.

And then, a spark of hope.  Just over a year ago I was invited to participate in the N.B. Department of Education’s 21st Century Learning Advisory Committee.  The mandate of this Committee is to assist the Department in developing 21C competencies and to review research and consultation findings with the goal of shifting our system to a model of 21C learning.

I have witnessed such great openness to new ideas by the professionals involved in the Committee and the officials at the Department.  The NB3 21C Consultation Document outlines a number of shift elements that will help us move our system from pockets of 21C learning to systemwide innovation and exploration.

I no longer say “maybe someday” because that day is here NOW and it is exciting to be a part of.

What is my demographic?

I’ve just completed an online survey for the Canadian Education Association. The survey is being conducted to gather information on their publication Education Canada.  I enjoy the work of both the Association and their magazine and I do hope they make the move to a greater online presence.  Most of the questions are what you would expect, but I was completely surprised by one of their demographic inquiries. Here is the question (along with my answers):


I would love to see some crosstabs from that survey data!  Go take the survey – you could win an iPod nano (I know, I know – they should have made it a Touch instead).

A New Approach

The new year brings a new direction for Tools of Engagement.  I want to write more about my own use of technology and social networks and explore how to encourage others to be a part of this movement.  While I enjoy exploring how parents can be more involved in public education by using web tools, I haven’t been able to sustain my writing on this one topic.  So I plan to open things up, get more personal, and push my own thinking in new directions.

One of my first new things to try is a “photo a day” project on Flickr.  Last year I caught glimpses of these projects from some of the edtech bloggers I enjoy.  Over the past week I’ve had the chance to catch some of their retrospectives.  (For inspiration please see: Dean Shareski, Alec Couros, D’Arcy Norman or Stephen Downes. Warning: viewing 366 photos takes time, so get yourself a cup of tea and choose one to enjoy).  It is amazing how you pick up on the change of seasons, the growth of children, the passage of time and the essence of love.

There are various 365 projects on Flickr, but I’ve joined the 2009/365 photos group as it has many members I already consider part of my personal learning network.  Plus, I like the rules they’ve established:

It doesn’t matter what you shoot, or what equipment you use – just that you shoot one photograph each and every day. You don’t have to post them all here – it’s not meant to be a report card or audit tool – but please feel free to share them here.

While I haven’t been able to write a blog post everyday, I hope to manage to click a picture.  I know from the experience of others that it’s not as easy as it sounds, but I believe forcing myself to find something to capture everyday will help me to focus on those small things in each and everday to be thankful for. Pictures can be of anything – big, small, poignant or simply pleasant.  I’ve got my kids permission to occassionally use photos of them as long as I don’t use anything they don’t like.  They don’t yet understand the “why” of this project, but I hope they will “get it” by the end of the year.  Of course I always have my cats to turn to when the kids get shy! (Click here for a link to my photostream.)


Finch and Boo

2009 will be a year devoted to personal learning: learning to be a better photographer, learning more about WordPress (*sigh* i.e. embedding widgets so that they work), learning how to blog “well”, learning how to use a Mac, you get the idea.  I plan to use our 21C tools to engage myself and hopefully learn how to engage others as well.  Most of all, 2009 will be about learning to live more consciously, conscientiously and connected. 


Death of Education, Dawn of Learning

The K12 Online Conference has begun with a pre-conference presentation by Stephen Heppell. This intimate presentation is summed up with the idea that we are seeing the “death of education and the dawn of learning”. A thoughful beginning to this year’s conference.

My take away thoughts are that we must continue to be as optimistic as Stephen Heppell and believe that these are indeed exciting days to be involved in public education.  The opportunities for education as community, as mutuality, as democracy are here – it is up to “us” to embrace the tools, we cannot wait for “them” to find us.

While the K12 Online Conference is mainly aimed at educators, parents might be interested in taking in Lorna Costantini and Matt Montagne’s presentation, scheduled for October 31. There are 40 presentations to access over the next 2 weeks – there is sure to be something for everyone.

Assignment: Reflections on CCK08

Sometime during the lazy days of summer I decided it was a good idea to enrol in an online course titled “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” that was being discussed in the edtech community.  I knew when I signed up that the course would go far beyond my current intellectual curiosity, but as it was billed as something you could do as much or as little of as you wanted, and it would be a way to increase my use of some online tools, I decided to jump in anyway.

One of the first tasks was to introduce ourselves in the moodle forum. I wrote the following about my goals for the course:

I will consider myself successful if I gain the knowledge and confidence to express to those I have the ability to influence why technology is important to all of us involved in education – students, teachers, parents and administrators. I will consider this course successful if it empowers the participants through our connections, collaboration and creativity. 

Post to moodle – easy. Contribute to the google map of participants – also easy (although someone moved my pin from Hanwell to Minto…?…hmmm).  I read most of the pre-course material and felt prepared going into week 1. And then – Monday morning – OMG.  Rather than get right into the readings I decided to read some of the participant bios and discussions to try to find some people like me to connect with (a major component of a course on Connectivism is making some connections).

Two hours later (the time I had allotted to work on CCK08), and I was lost in debates about epistemology, scepticism, technorealism, communism, constructivism,…I read a lot, but I learned little. But I didn’t give up – having learned my lesson I began the next day with readings. I’m glad I did because of passages like these:

Connectivism finds its roots in the climate of abundance, rapid change, diverse information sources and perspectives, and the critical need to find a way to filter and make sense of the chaos (George Siemens, link)

Previous conceptions of learning rested heavily on information and knowledge acquisition. The fundamental need of learning in our society has changed. Due to rapid growth of knowledge, the act of learning has shifted from acquisition to assimilation, from understanding of individual elements to comprehending an entire space and, thereby, understanding how elements connect. (George Siemens, link)

 This I understand, and more importantly I believe. So on I go.


The current issue of Educational Leadership has an article that I felt had the right ring to it for the beginning of a new school year – it is titled “Joy in School” (Stephen Wolk) (click here for a TinyURL link). The article has little reference to technology or web tools, but it goes straight to the heart of what learning should be – JOYFUL.

Wolk remarks:

“If the experience of “doing school” destroys children’s spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition, have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?”

He goes on to explore 11 ways that educators can integrate JOY into the classroom, including: Give Students Choice, Take Time to Tinker, Get Outside, and Show Off Student Work, and he make an important distrinction between joy and fun.   

Many of the ideas are simple and in fact I’ve seen many examples in local schools, but the impact we could have by integrating 9, 10 or all 11 of the ideas would be wonderful to see.

vision in a cloud

Recently I had the opportunity to briefly address around 900 teachers in the school District where I serve as an Education Council member.  The primary purpose of District Councils in New Brunswick is to set the overall vision and goals that are in turn operationalized by District Staff.  We are beginning a new 4 year term and will be undertaking a great deal of strategic planning in the next few months – finding a common focus, revisiting mission statements, goals and strategies, and reinvigorating our education plan. 

While I was officially at the event to bring greetings on behalf of the Council, I decided to take the opportunity to invite teachers to get involved in our strategic planning. I thought it best to give them an example of what the future could look like.  I described for them one vision of the future referenced in the OECD’s excellent document Schooling for Tomorrow, which I referenced in the post “The school is dead…Long live the school“. (Hence the prevalence of the word “scenario” in the above cloud). 

I’ve played around with various Wordle clouds since finding this tool several months ago, and I’ve read some interesting points of view as edtech bloggers have played with the tool and debated the educational value of it. This is the first time I’ve used it to really analyze a piece of my writing for content and I have the following observations:

  • Wordle is a lot of fun. I enjoy playing with the fonts, colours and other alterable aspects.
  • But it can be more than fun.  Finding the right combinations to convey the message you want is a good exercise. I chose the above cloud for the separation it created for the word “learning” – it was the central focus of my remarks and I like how it floats on its own.
  • It is amazing how many different words one can say in a few minutes. Too many words can be distracting from the message so I cut this cloud down to the top 100 words.
  • I created this wordle cloud after the fact, but there is great potential to use the tool ahead of time to help me shape the message I want to convey. 
  • I use the word “really” much too often. 

There are a lot of people playing around with Wordle – try it for yourself and check out the gallery.  It is a great little tool – for work and for play.