There Are Some Things Technology Will Never Replace.

“Dad, I want to play scramble” requested Eva, my eight year old daughter.

“You want to play what?”

“Scramble. I want to play scramble” she said again.

“What’s scramble?” I asked, wondering if it was a tag game or some sort of online game she’d heard about at school.

“You know, scramble, where you spell words”

“Oh, Scrabble” I said.

“Yes, Scrabble, I want to play Scrabble” she pleaded.

I’m not sure where she’d heard of or seen Scrabble, but she was adamant that we would play the game that night. After supper was done and the dishes were cleared away, Eva found the Scrabble game at the bottom of our board game pile. She opened the box, set out the board, gave one tile holder to me and kept one for herself. Then she asked, “what do we do?” Wanting to make sure her first Scrabble experience was a fun one, I decided we’d play without keeping score, just focusing on creating words. We each picked 7 tiles and the game was on. I invited her to start the game and as she sat staring at her letters she told me she didn’t know if she could spell a word. Just as I was about to help her, she sat up with excitement and said, “I got one, I got one!” Slowly she set out the tiles one by one. T E A.

Smiling, she retrieved three tiles from the bag and the game was officially on. Back and forth we went building words. She would struggle with a few rules of the game, placing tiles where they shouldn’t be, but overall she caught on very quickly. I was so proud. Growing up, Scrabble was a staple on a Saturday or Sunday night in the Mellesmoen house. My mom still has the tattered old box with the faded board and well worn letters. Along with Scrabble were other games, like Stock Ticker, Cribbage, Rummy, Yahtzee, and Crokinole. As I reflect on the games we played as a family, I cannot help but think of the basic academic skills I was building (to this day I’m a whiz at adding to 15 because of the numerous Cribbage matches). The game of Scrabble with Eva reminded me of how wonderful that game is for not only a person’s spelling and vocabulary, but for one’s numeracy as well (for you Scrabblers, what is Q U I Z worth if it lands on a triple word score?).

In a time defined by YouTube, Netflix, Fortnight, and other online forms of entertainment, there is something to be said about sitting down across the table from someone for a good, old fashioned board game. Please, do not misinterpret what I’m saying, my children love their technology, and I am very guilty of hiring the electronic babysitter on several occasions. But it is important to remember the impact of games like Scrabble.

This makes me think about the time honored traditions that go into our craft as educators. With all of the technology at our finger tips, one might be tempted to simply log on and then step back while the kids learn online. Thankfully I have not seen this happening at our school, rather I am seeing you use technology as a tool. I am seeing:

  • Kindergarten kids dancing and singing along to the video on the SmartBoard, learning all about letters and numbers
  • Teachers helping kids share their learning with their families via See-Saw, FreshGrade, and Class DoJo
  • Students accessing teacher made tutorials on YouTube to learn about certain drafting skills they may have missed while they were away from the school
  • Adults Tweeting out images that celebrate learning
  • Teachers ‘dipping their toes’ into the world of 3D printing
  • Teachers using random group generators to group students for cooperative learning activities
  • Students making movies to share their thinking
  • Teachers thinking about ways to use Rosetta Stone to help students who are reluctant to speak in class learn about communication skills
  • Teachers using online simulators to help kids visualize the impact of heat and pressure on gases
  • Teachers wanting to Skype with authors and other classes

I am seeing technology being used as a tool to support you as a teacher, not replace you as a teacher. Reading MPSC and looking at the new graphic (here), the word technology appears a grand total of zero times, and (if you count the telescope as a piece of technology) appears only once in the graphic. It is clear that deep learning does not depend on technology, rather technology can be used along with many other tools to help create opportunities for deep learning. What counts is you, the artist. You combine your passion for learning with your deep knowledge of curriculum with your skills as a facilitator of learning, all to create an experience for your students, and you do this multiple times every day!

Of course technology is a reality, and we all know how it can be used to help us in our craft. As you think about the work you are doing and how it fits with our school goal (every adult at Waldheim School will develop a deep and thorough understanding of every child they work with as a learner) how does technology support this? Thinking about our current focus on assessing the whole student, how has technology supported your work?

Our devices will continue to evolve, becoming ‘smarter’, faster, and more affordable. Advances in technology will continue at a break-neck pace, threatening to leave aging adults (like myself) in the dust if we choose to be left behind. Innovations and creations that one can only imagine will soon be a reality, however, just as there will always be a need for side-by-side learning, I truly believe there will always be a place for a good old game of scramble.

Here’s what is on the horizon for this week:

Monday:

  • crazy sock day
  • we are excited to welcome a group of teachers from Blaine Lake to learn alongside Shantel & Brittney
  • all teacher staff learning meeting (agenda) after school (Jade, can we use your room?)

Tuesday:

  • Taco in a bag (7-12)
  • Nike vs. Adidas day

Wednesday:

  • wacky hat day

Thursday:

  • Taco in a bag (K-6)
  • Disney day

Friday:

  • 1-6 progress reports sent home
  • Raider pride day

As always, create a great week!

 

 318 total views

The Power of an Audience

Sometimes, when I least expect it, I catch myself thinking about learning and this happened today while I was preparing supper. As I was tending to the pots on the stove, my oldest son was practicing the piano. The song he was practicing at first sounded vaguely familiar, however once he started playing it with a little more confidence it occurred to me he was playing my wife’s favorite Christmas carol, Little Drummer Boy. Stopping and starting, he really struggled with the song. He knew how it should sound, for he had heard it numerous times in the past, and he also knew what he was playing was just not quite right. The notes were off. He would mess up the timing. He would lose his place. And he would growl with frustration. One thing that is important to understand is that my son has inherited his father’s short fuse. When I get frustrated or angry it’s not a pretty sight, and if I’m trying to complete a task and I end up in this zone, the only thing I can do is walk away and try to reset. I could sense Bobby was heading this direction, so I asked why he was practicing this song with such intensity.

His answer reminded me of a powerful tool we have as educators, audience.

Bobby told me his motivation for practicing was that he wanted to perform this song at his auntie Susan’s house this Christmas season. One of our family’s Christmas traditions has been to gather around the piano and sing carols. I recall Christmas sing-a-longs many years ago at my grandparent’s home in Carrot River, and as young child I loved to hear my aunts, uncles, and grandparents sing together. I’m so happy that my children have had the opportunity to be part of this experience, even if their dad does not sing along (I’ve come to accept that my musical talents are pretty much restricted to playing the radio). I’m even more excited that Bobby now wants to have more prominent role in this and actually play the piano to lead one of the carols.

This is why he is practicing over, and over, and over. This is why he is getting better and better. He is learning.

He is learning so he can perform for an audience. This makes me think of how often our students are asked to ‘perform’ for an audience. I recall asking students to complete learning tasks as a classroom teacher, and at times their hearts were just not in it, however, if I asked them to create something for a learning fair that involved other classes or parents, they would always be a little more diligent. This also makes me think of ‘performances’ I’ve seen in our school in the past, such as:

  • the grade 1 class singing at the Remembrance Day ceremony
  • the grade 7 science fair
  • the genius hour presentations at parent/teacher conferences
  • Life Transitions learning fairs
  • math cafe
  • readers cafe
  • writers cafe
  • assemblies
  • plays

These are many things that you may have also seen in your school in the past. There are also some other very cool ‘performances’ I’ve seen that create an opportunity for students to present to an audience.

  • the IA teacher lets his students know their projects will be shared online via Instagram (check it out here)
  • a geography teacher inviting his students to present their tourism ideas to two other adults instead of just presenting their ideas to the class or the teacher
  • the journalism teacher asking her students to seek real sponsorship from businesses in town to support the school yearbook
  • the Psychology teacher challenging her students to create real learning activities that will be taught to the Kindergarten class
  • the senior ELA teacher inviting the kindergarten class to hear his students’ If you give a                             stories (for example, If you give a panda a crayon)

In all of these cases (and there are more) the students know that the audience will not just be the teacher or their classmates. They know it will be a more diverse set of eyes and ears, and because of that their pride kicks in, and they usually put in a greater effort.

Obviously not every learning activity can be set up for an audience, but, are there ways to invite students to share their learning with more people than just their peers or the teacher? I’ve seen an increase in the use of online sharing tools, like See-Saw, Class Dojo, and FreshGrade. What else can you do? There is Facebook Live, Twitter, and YouTube. Of course with online sharing comes other factors teachers must consider. Some families do not want their children sharing online, but are there ways to share processes and products without sharing faces and names? If we want our students to work towards mastery and deep learning, how can we occasionally use the power of an audience to accomplish this? I’ve seen it in our school, I’d love to hear other ideas, so please comment below.

And as far as The Little Drummer Boy, I’m expecting to hear an awful lot of it over the next few weeks!

 1,186 total views

Don’t Be Afraid Like I Was

What a fun weekend! On Saturday I took Eva and Maggie to my sister’s as we gathered with some aunties, uncles, and cousins. It was especially nice to see my aunt Lisa and her daughter Carrie who flew up from the United States to spend some time with my mom. I don’t get to see aunt Lisa and her family nearly as much as I’d like, but this weekend was fun. One of the best parts of the day was watching the kids creating Christmas decorations at the table. My mom had bought some paint and traditional ornaments and the kids went to work painting them a wide variety of colors. I’m sure they will be wonderful additions to the tree this year.

Just a fraction of the whole crew.

There was a lot of ‘creating’ this weekend, along with the ornaments, there were snow forts and Lego creations being constructed. What I noticed as the kids were working with paint, snow, and plastic bricks, was that there was a varying degree of choice. As they painted, they had the freedom to use any combination of the many colors that were available to them, and while there were the traditional red Santa suits, and green wreaths, some of the angels and stars were quite a sight. Similar to the painting, while the kids were creating their forts, they were free to let their imagination be the architects. The kids knew there were several rules that had to be followed, for example, Charlie learned the hard way that stacking the larger blocks on the smaller ones leads to unstable walls. Finally, as they put their Lego sets together, the kids made sure they closely followed the instructions, frequently referring to the picture of the race car they were slowly creating. So, while each activity brought with it a varying degree of freedom of creativity, all three activities were thoroughly enjoyed. There was such a depth of engagement that in all three instances the kids had to be convinced to leave the fun for birthday cake, supper, and bed time baths.

Given the current work we are doing to deepen our understanding of assessment, you may be wondering what sort of rubric I created for each activity. You may wonder if all of the kids earned 3’s or 4’s and you may be curious about the feedback I gave to the kids during our conference time. Of course you know this is all ‘tongue in cheek’, as there was no summative assessment, nor was there a piece of paper fixed to the forts commenting on the lack of symmetry or clear disregard for proper fort building codes.

But there was assessment going on

As the girls painted they chatted with each other asking what they thought of their color choices. There were a lot of comments like, “oh, I like that” and “why don’t you try this color”. Similarly, as Bobby and Charlie worked away in the front yard, I could hear Charlie asking Bobby for help, and as they were building, Bobby would reassure Charlie with comments like “hey buddy, that looks cool” and “no Charlie, it will work better if you make this edge flat”. Finally, as the boys built their Lego cars, they were continually assessing their work by referring to the picture of what the finished product should look like. This self and peer assessment went on, partly because I knew enough to stay out of the way and keep my opinions to myself.

Too often as a teacher, I was afraid to turn the assessment over to the students. I always felt I had to be the one to judge their work and what eventually happened was that my students struggled when I asked them to do any sort of self assessment. Too often they were trying to figure out what I would say, rather than focusing on what they had learned during the process. As I visit classrooms I am always in awe with how simple you all make it look. Whether it’s how Dwayne intentionally sets his kids in pairs for their math work so they can help each other with their formative assessment, or how Katharine has her kids turn and talk several times during their independent work time, or how Ellen allows her students to take a few moments prior to writing her math and science tests to connect with a classmate to ease their anxiety, this great assessment work is happening in our building.

As you continue to work through Katie White’s book, keep thinking about how you are building meaningful self assessment into your already engaging lessons. Keep thinking about how you can empower students to take part in meaningful self assessment so you are not making the same mistakes I made. Keep thinking about how you can capture and share the meaningful self assessment that is happening in your lessons. Keep thinking about how you can build optimism and self-esteem by using ‘soft-edged’ self assessment.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • 9-12 staff meeting (agenda sent out Friday), please commit to having chapters 3 & 4 read as it will guide much of our discussion after school
  • Bruce away (pm) for classroom environment committee work

Tuesday:

  • student vaccination (please refer to Corinne’s email from last week)

Wednesday:

  • classroom visits (listening to students self assess)

Thursday:

  • classroom visits (listening to students self assess)
  • potential pep rally for sr. boys volleyball team as they qualified for Provincials

Friday:

  • classroom visits (listening to students self assess)

As always, create a great week!

 283 total views

Is It Just an Illusion?

 

I’ve always loved optical illusions, the way you think you see one thing, when really it’s just a trick your eyes are playing on you. Magicians use it all the time, and for me, there is nothing better than seeing an illusion, knowing that what I just saw could not have really happened. Yet I saw it, with my own eyes, and I have no clue how the performer pulled off the feat. Of course, if something can trick the mind, you can bet that there is an advertising firm looking for ways to leverage that into increased sales.

Do you see the hidden symbol?

The power of illusions had me thinking about what our students see on a daily basis in our school. I believe every adult in our building has the same underlying belief that our kids are worth the effort that this job takes. I see it when you stay after school to help kids learn, I see it when you lead an extra-cur program, I see it when you allow students to push your floor cleaner, I see it when you sit beside a student and ask, “how are you doing”, I see it when you stop in the hallway and listen to kids, I see it when you spend hours before and after school planning and co-planning, I see it when you Tweet about the amazing things happening in your room.

Do the kids see it?

Do the kids see how much you care, or are their eyes playing tricks on them? Ellen and I were speaking with her pre-calculus 30 class last week about the reason she is setting the bar so high for them. It’s not to show them how smart she is, and how they could never attain the level of mastery over mathematics that she has. No, it’s because she knows the vast majority of those students in her room will be moving on to post-secondary institutions and she wants them to be as ready as possible. Do the kids see that she cares, or are their eyes and ears playing tricks on them, seeing a teacher that is making things tough for them. I’m sure many of them understand why she is doing what she is, but what about those who are tricked by the illusion?

The kids I really wonder about are those who think their teacher does not care about them. Some kids may be under the illusion that, in their teachers eyes, they are not really that special. Are you okay with that? Are you okay with a student in your class thinking you don’t really care about them? If you are not okay with that (and I’m assuming you’re not) how do you make sure they are getting the real message, and not the illusion? In his article, Dr. Ken Shore writes,

A student’s self-esteem has a significant impact on almost everything she does — on the way she engages in activities, deals with challenges, and interacts with others. Self-esteem also can have a marked effect on academic performance. Low self-esteem can lessen a student’s desire to learn, her ability to focus, and her willingness to take risks. Positive self-esteem, on the other hand, is one of the building blocks of school success; it provides a firm foundation for learning.

-Dr. Ken Shore

If there is a correlation between a student’s self-esteem and their willingness to engage in learning, who would not want to take advantage of that? If we all want the best for our kids, what possible reason would there be that we would ignore the importance of self-esteem? I’m not so naive to think that alone we can completely repair all the damage a student’s self-esteem may have experienced over their career as a student. But, that does not mean we don’t have a role to play. Do we want to be the people who strengthen the illusion, or do we want to be the one’s that slowly chip away at the false narrative?

I think we have a tremendous opportunity right now, given the hard work we are engaging in as it relates to assessment. In a recent tweet, Katie White (@KatieWhite426says,

Assessment processes have to leave our learners with optimism. They have to see how assessment leads to growth and success. How might we shift our assessment decisions to make this happen?

-Katie White

It’s not too great of a leap to think that an optimistic student is one who will develop the ability to repair a fractured self-esteem. How are you using assessment to help fill our students with optimism, thus helping them see how much you care? This makes me think about how Briane is doing this with her WorkPlace Math 10 class. She has developed different ways of assessing that still hold students accountable to the curriculum, but so with a softer edge (to borrow a line).

As you approach the new week, I’d invite you to think of ways to let every student know you care about them, and believe in them. I came across this video, and love looks on the kids’ faces as their teachers tell them how much they care.

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • Holiday

Tuesday:

  • K – 8 Staff Meeting

Wednesday:

  • Gym closed (am only)
  • Fire drill (we’ll have a close look at the forecast first)

Thursday:

  • EAs and Corinne in Vancouver (Zones of Regulation work)
  • Bruce & Jesse will be taking on EA roles on Thursday

Friday:

  • Bruce away all day

As always, create a great week!

 633 total views

My Students are Fixing Me

A beautiful house on a park-like yard. Plenty of food in the fridge and new clothes hanging in the closet. Yearly family vacations spent fishing, water skiing, and eating ice-cream. Huge Christmas celebrations with plenty of presents for everyone. Numerous family gatherings featuring games and rousing sing-a-longs around the old family piano. The security of a loving family together every night and then always there in the morning.

This was my life growing up in small-town Saskatchewan. Norman Rockwell himself could not have painted a better picture of life in the Mellesmoen home. It was a house filled with love and laughter.

So why was it so difficult for me to navigate life as a high school student? Why was the mental mirror in my head always reflecting something akin to a fun-house freak, rather than the happy kid in those sepia-tinted pictures I now see in mom’s photo albums? When the soundtrack for my life should have sounded like Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds (Don’t Worry About a Thing), why did it sound like some depressing, sad song, sung by a broken soul? Why was it so darn tough growing up?

I thought about that today after I was blessed to have a deep, uninterrupted conversation with a group of grade 12 students who were on their spare, sitting in the hall discussing life. You see, I’m a nosy principal, and the kids have gotten somewhat used to me asking how things are going. They have also developed a great deal of patience when faced with, what I think, is a great sense of humor and wonderful puns and jokes. I’ll never understand how they don’t find humor in questions like, “how else would the cells in our bodies communicate if not by cell phone?”

This conversation was not about jokes though. We talked a lot about the real struggle people face growing up in a world shared through social media. We talked about the way kids put on a brave face every day, when inside sometimes they just want to scream. We talked about kids who hurt other kids, and how they must be feeling. We talked about life.

As I sat there, I could not help but think about how confident I am in our leaders of tomorrow. I felt like these kids are going to be more than just okay. I could see and hear in them a desire to make the world, even if it’s just that world around them right now, a better place. I know as my career slowly moves along, one day, I will be on the sidelines watching as the next generation leads the way. I’m confident they will do a great job of taking care of those who have come before them.

If…..

They will take up the charge if we remind them that the reflection from their inner mirror is not always telling them the truth. They will lead the way if we make sure the radio in their soul is tuned to the right station, not the one playing songs of false lyrics. They will take care of us tomorrow if we take care of them today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why my path has guided me where I am today. How did a person who dreaded school so much, and felt so lost and alone for so many days at school end up back in the exact same environment? You would think I would have done anything to avoid school after the experiences I had growing up. But I didn’t. I believe I am where I am today for two reasons. The first is a dream.

I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will do so with their head held high. I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will do so with a belief that they have something to contribute. I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will do so with the belief that they are part of a loving family. I have a dream that every student who walks through the doors of our school will be able to share their voice without fear. I know we are not there yet, and I know I can’t do it alone, for there are times when it seems like a mountain too big to climb. Our school is made up of close to 400 students and over 25 caring adults, and it will take every one of us, working together, to actualize this dream.

That’s one reason why my path has lead me back.

Here’s the second reason.

School broke part of me as a youth. Not intentionally, nor was it the sole culprit, but it was part of the reason. For years I struggled with self-doubt, and the residue of those feelings still show themselves even to this day. For example, as I write this, part of me is scoffing at myself, saying, “oh Bruce, people will think you are so full of yourself for writing this”. Here is the second reason I believe my path has lead me back; healing. I am finding that the more I work with these incredible students, the more I am healing. Those pieces that were broken in my youth are being put back together by our incredible kids.

This is where you come in. Whether you are a teacher, an EA, a parent, a cousin, a neighbor, a director, a custodian, a grandparent, a coach; you have a role. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, ask how their day is going. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, ask them for advice. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, allow them to help you. The next time you see a leader of tomorrow, stop, and with a smile, listen. They will take care of you tomorrow if you take care of them today.

My gosh, who would have thought my students would be fixing me!

 415 total views

Feedback Makes Us All Better

I’ve always loved music and that love of music has never been restricted to just one genre. I enjoy country, jazz, pop, rock, blues, soul, reggae, classical, and yes, even rap music. To me, it’s not the genre, it’s the song. One of the bands I really enjoyed in my youth, and still do to this day, is Queen. They have a unique sound that was defined by the iconic voice of lead singer, Freddie Mercury. While they are one of my favorite bands, some of their songs do not strike a chord with me, like Another One Bites the Dust, or, ironically, Bohemian Rhapsody. It is ironic because that is the title of the movie documenting the evolution of the band, and it is the recording of that song that is such a pivotal moment in the arc of the story. In one of the most touching scenes in the movie, Mercury shares with his band mates the reason he feels their band is so successful: feedback. He talks about their greatness as a result of their ability to collaborate and to push each other to be one of the best bands of all time (#52 of the top 100 artists of all time according to Rolling Stone Magazine).

I thought about this scene as I was reading Softening the Edges this weekend. The author (@KatieWhite426 ) invites us to think about the importance of feedback as part of our formative assessment practices. In the movie, Mercury talks about how feedback helped create beautiful music. In her book, White talks about how feedback helps create beautiful learning. She quotes John Hattie, who says,

The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement is feedback. The simplest prescription for improving education must be ‘dollops of feedback’

I like the term dollops of feedback. Phrasing it in such a way allows us easier entry points for our feedback, simply because we are doing so in dollops. I think about how Shantel offers dollops of feedback during her LLI time as she invites students to ponder things. I think  about how Krisinda offers dollops of feedback as she invites her students to ‘taste the soup’ in Home Ec class. I think about how Steve offers dollops of feedback as he engages in conversations with students who are thinking about why Saskatchewan has the highest teen smoking rate in Canada. I think about how Glen offers dollops of feedback as he stands beside a grade 9 girl who is turning a piece of wood on the lathe. I think about how Ellen has adopted a “thinking classroom” based on her work with Peter Liljedahl (@pgliljedahl) and how she offers dollops of feedback through the questions she asks her students as a response to their own questions. I think about the dollops of feedback Corinne shares with students who seek her guidance on a daily basis as she offers a quiet ear and a few timely questions. I think about the dollops of feedback Leah offers Sam through their work together as cooperating teacher and intern as Leah asks questions that allow Sam to formulate answers for herself versus simply telling her what to do. 

So many terrific examples of the dollops of feedback I saw just last week alone.

As you head into the week, I’d invite you to think about what Katie White writes in chapters 3 & 4, especially in the area of formative assessmentAs you approach your work this week I wonder how you’d answer questions like:

  • what did I learn about my students last week that will have an impact on how I teach them this week?
  • if there was only one learning goal that I had to accomplish this week with my students, what would that goal be, and how would I know if every student achieved it?
  • which student(s) have not benefited from the gift of feedback lately, and how will I make sure I have a learning conversation with them?

Heading into this week, I am going to use those three questions to help guide my thinking. What did I learn last week about leadership that will impact how I lead this week? What is the one leadership goal I get to accomplish this week? Who have I not engaged with in learning conversation, and how will I ensure I do so this week?

Here’s what is on the horizon this week:

Monday:

  • K – 4 Staff Meeting (please have chapters 3 & 4 completed. See agenda for information)
  • Classroom visits to work on the one big goal for the week

Tuesday:

  • Bruce & Jesse away at ALT meeting

Wednesday:

  • Classroom visits to work on the one big goal for the week

Thursday:

  • Remembrance Day ceremony
  • 7 – 12 Progress Reports sent home

Friday:

  • Teacher Preparation Day

As  always, create a great week!

 289 total views