Talking With My Kids

Talking With My Kids

Superintendent of Schools – Like many families, my family is a very busy family with everyone hustling to different events. In the fall and winter my family is consumed with hockey. Hockey practices, games, skating on the pond, skating treadmill appointment, hockey fundraising activities, getting skates sharpened, weekend tournaments, checking out the latest gear, spring hockey tryouts, etc. The same can be said for most families, but you can substitute soccer, basketball, dance, swimming, piano, language learning, skiing, dirt biking, 4-H, sledding, etc. for hockey.

It is challenging because it seems like all activities are asking youngsters and families to commit to only one activity. Specialization is commonplace and the days of kids playing multiple sports, while skiing recreationally and learning the piano are gone. Now that said, we are guilty as we allow ourselves and kids to get sucked up into the vortex of hockey in the fall & winter and baseball in the spring & summer.

Despite the busy schedule, we try and make the time to eat together most evenings. It remains the best opportunity for us to have conversations, check in with each other, and see what else is going on in our lives. I’ve recently engaged in another opportunity for discussions with the boys, the captive audience hockey road trip.

As we have two boys typically heading off in different directions for hockey, we have to divide and conquer. Both of the last two weekends I’ve been out of town with one of the boys at different hockey tournaments / away games. The drive to and from the event provided me the opportunity to talk with my boys. My car is the low-tech vehicle in the family, so there is no TV, videos, satellite radio, Xbox and Wi-Fi to distract us. This past weekend we listened to a story on CBC about the US election and it spurred a great conversation about democracy, political organizing, voter turnout, media, and more. We would not have had that conversation if not traveling in a car for an extended period. The previous weekend, as we drove down Hwy 2, it was talking about ranching, which neither my youngest nor I know much about. We were engaged in a conversation based on what we saw while driving. It was a place-conscious inquiry project where we just talked and on a few occasions had my son open up my phone to find out some information that furthered the conversation. Visiting towns that are new to us provides more opportunity to talk about what industries are in that town and why, the age of the hockey rink, and why it is where it is, how we develop an appreciation for things that are different and so much more.

We are fortunate that friends of ours always volunteer to drive their kid and their kid’s friends to and from events. The kids are older and often it means going out on a Saturday night at 11 pm (or later) to pick up a group of kids. I asked them why they do it and they told me, just like my hockey road trips, it creates an opportunity to talk and learn about what is going on in their kids’ lives and the lives of their friends. No need to stalk their Instagram account or SnapChats, the kids talk in the car. The adult can ask questions and while their own child typically rolls their eyes, other kids in the car will chime in and respond. They describe it as a direct pipeline into the lives of their kids.

So, the next time you are heading out to drive the kids somewhere, take the long route, turn off the radio (or put it on CBC), pretend you forgot the phone charger, and see where the conversation takes you.

Greg

Appreciating Our RVS Family

Appreciating Our RVS Family

christmas_freelargeSuperintendent of Schools – As the holiday season rapidly approaches I want to take a moment to share my appreciation for the fantastic people that make up Rocky View Schools. I have gained my appreciation by travelling throughout RVS and chatting informally with people, watching the countless tweets showcasing the great things going on in schools, attending community and school events, visiting schools, quiet conversations with students, observing the efforts of our staff, and living in a community within RVS.

What do I see? People who care, people who go above and beyond, people making a positive difference in our communities and with our youth. Whether it is a secretary, teacher, grounds person, education assistant, assistant principal, HR recruiter, afternoon caretaker, community volunteer coach, school tech and countless others – I see people who dedicate themselves to serve others. That is just how we roll in RVS. It is in serving others that we get our greatest rewards.

Our RVS team consistently puts others first. I see staff put students and their families ahead of themselves. I see the products of countless volunteer hours donated to make our schools an amazing place for learning, as well as a warm, welcoming and inclusive environment. I see our staff helping students contribute back to our communities and to the world. I smile with pride when I see our kids volunteering, raising funds for those less fortunate, finding their voice to identify injustice, and/or celebrating all that is right in the world. In most cases, it is with staff’s leadership, guidance, and support that the students are able to demonstrate their own leadership in our global society. Our staff models what it means to serve others.

As we reach the winter break, I want to say “thank you” to our entire RVS family. You make a difference in the lives of children, their families, your colleagues, and your communities. Thank you for all that you do. Thank you for welcoming me back into the RVS family with such kindness and concern for my family. Please be safe over the holiday, take the time to recharge your own batteries and try and do something for yourself and your family over the break.

Greg

Connected Learning = A Whole New World!

Connected Learning = A Whole New World!

RVS Teacher, Langdon School – Students from Langdon School recently had the opportunity to learn Japanese from a group of students in Honolulu, Hawaii. This wonderful opportunity was facilitated by Verena Roberts, a Technology Specialist with Rocky View Schools, and partner teacher Melvina Kurashige of the Mid-Pacific Institute. Interestingly, this connected learning opportunity began through our conversations on Twitter.

I had initially made some assumptions regarding this experience. I had assumed that it would be interesting and engaging for students to connect with peers from another country. I also had assumed that the work presented by students would be of a high quality, as they were presenting to a genuine audience. What actually occurred far exceeded my expectations; and that takes us back to 1998…

Before Instagram, and Twitter, and Facebook, and even MSN Messenger, there was ICQ Chat. I remember a classmate in high school telling me about this new program. He mentioned something along the lines of “yeah, this program is so cool, you can add your friends and talk to a bunch of people all at the same time”.

My initial reaction was disbelief. Was it truly possible to connect with multiple friends online at the same time? I eagerly rushed home and began using ICQ. To this day, I vividly remember the telltale “uh-oh” sound which accompanied an incoming message. At the time, I didn’t think of ICQ as a way of learning. I thought of it simply as a means of communication.

As I reflect upon this as an educator, it becomes clear that, although I was communicating with others, I also was learning about others. I would learn the score of the basketball game that night, or what one of my friends had for supper (Doreen Rowe’s Lasagna is fantastic, by the way). What fascinates me about this process as an educator, is that as technology has advanced, so has the ability to connect with others.

What if students were eager to rush to class, just as I had rushed home, to connect with and learn about others? What if students asked genuine questions to their peers in another country regarding their lives? What if these simple connections could break through barriers and help students to develop empathy for one another? What if this act of connecting could be a simple, yet effective method, as educators, to help students to genuinely understand and celebrate our differences and similarities???

…back to 2016. When my students connected recently with the Hawaiian students via a Google Hangout, many of these questions were answered. Watching students become more globally aware, while learning new content, has opened my perspective regarding connected learning. Students were learning content while also learning about one another. In this sense, they were more than just globally aware, they were entering a whole new world that involved becoming active global citizens, one step at a time.

The next step for my students in the connected learning journey involves the creation of Science games. The games will be shared with students in other countries as a genuine audience. This project has been supported by a community of practitioners through the Gamifi_ED2 project. Working with such a knowledgeable and supportive team is highly beneficial in supporting our students. I look forward to continued connected learning opportunities where students will connect with their peers internationally.

School Attendance Tracking: It Shouldn’t Be Rocket Science

School Attendance Tracking: It Shouldn’t Be Rocket Science

Project Lead for Attendance Innovation Campaign – Recent North American studies report that approximately 10-15 percent of students demonstrate problematic absenteeism and, if these prevalence rates are accurate for Alberta, over 100,000 students would be placed at significant risk for academic underachievement, high school drop-out, incarceration, and mental health difficulties. Further, students who experience chronic stressors, such as socioeconomic disadvantage, are placed at an even greater risk for school absenteeism, and represent a specific population who benefits greatly from early intervention. The potential size of this issue within Alberta highlights the need for efficient and effective attendance data tracking, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that occur at the individual school level and can be compiled for divisional and provincial review.

Across Canada, school authorities differ in their practices surrounding the collection, monitoring, and evaluation of attendance and tardiness data. These differences are unique to provinces and school divisions because each party places different emphasis on the importance of school attendance and have different technological capacities. Despite these differences, however, attendance and tardiness should not be complicated behaviour to gather accurately because they are some of the clearest outcomes we can examine in schools – presence, absence, or tardy. Unfortunately, great variability exists between school boards, schools, and classrooms in how this data is collected and the accuracy of entered information. Attempts to track and evaluate student attendance and tardiness at a provincial, division, or school level often fail before they have even started because of this issue.

Tracking school attendance should not be rocket science and the Attendance Innovation Campaign has created a draft framework that school divisions can employ to standardize their processes and increase the accuracy and meaningfulness of collected data. We are requesting input on this draft document and hope everyone can join the attendance conversation. To obtain a copy of this framework, please click here.

For more information about the Attendance Innovation Campaign and to obtain access to useful educational resources, please click here.

PISA Day 2016

PISA Day 2016

Superintendent of Schools – Today the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2015 administration of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a two-hour standardized test that attempts to assess the competencies of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science. It is administered in 70+ countries / regions. This version of the assessment focused mostly on science but also measure literacy and mathematics as well.

PISA is not without controversy. Canada and Alberta traditionally has done quite well on the tests and these results are often cited by jurisdictions around the world where results are strong. It is often one of the measurements used to compare provinces and countries. In Alberta, the government states that “Alberta participates in international studies of achievement, along with other provinces and countries. These include: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).”

Recently the Alberta Teacher Association voted to urge the Minister of Education to withdraw participation in PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS. Here is some background on the issue as described by the ATA:

“The PISA ideology accepts that economic imperatives, growth and competitiveness are the primary aims of schooling, and assures that student achievement in math and science are used as the key indicators of the future economic health for a region or society. It fails to recognize that the role of education is much broader and includes (among a host of other responsibilities) the nurturing of social cohesion in rapidly changing complex societies, passing on our diverse cultural heritage and the promotion of civic engagement and citizenship.

The real issues affecting society at this historical moment are the rise of societal inequalities, the need for greater social cohesion among polarized perspectives, and the collective actions necessary to combat climate change and its impact on local and global economies.”

Canadian students are doing well on these international measures. We remain a very high performing system across the globe. Alberta continues to be a strong performer and the results demonstrate there is no need to panic. In science, Alberta (if it was its own country) would be the 2nd highest performing jurisdiction in the world. Our reading and math results are strong too. Reading remains very high overall and our math results continue to tell the story that we have work to do in that area. In science, overall, performance for girls and boys were equal which is good. In reading girls outperformed boys and in math the boys outperformed girls.

We need to empower and support our classroom teachers continue to provide effective classroom practice to improve overall student achievement, including aspects that are never tested on tests like PISA, PIRLS or TIMMS. Yes, literacy and numeracy and science are important but so are the arts, wellness, social studies, along with competencies such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, citizenship, wide variety of literacies, etc. Truth be told, I’ve never hired anyone based on their PISA score, grade point average, or IQ test.

A number of countries have made PISA results the end-all and be-all. Students are subjected to repeated test preparation sessions and “drill and practice” to try and move up or maintain PISA results. In the end, is that the type of schooling we want for our leaners? I say “no”. We need our youth to be able to learn throughout their life and take on challenges that do not even exist today. They need a strong foundation of literacy and numeracy skills but it needs to extend well beyond just that.

In my humble opinion – our professional teachers, who know our students best, are in the best position to assess the achievement of students and support them on their own learning journey. Observations, reflections and classroom based assessments really tell the story. When we make learning real, engaging and visible it answers the questions about the effectiveness of our classrooms.

For more about the Canadian results see – http://www.cmec.ca/Publications/Lists/Publications/Attachments/365/Book_PISA2015_EN_Dec5.pdf

Greg