21st Century Learning – It’s All About Making Connections

21st Century Learning – It’s All About Making Connections

Director of 21st C Learning – As I sit and observe our first SAIT Dual Credit Management 200 class, with learners from RVS, CBE, and via WebX from Prairie Rose and High Prairie school jurisdictions, I reflect and concur with the SAIT Academic Chair that ‘this isn’t education as we once knew it. It is amazing and humbling to facilitate the experience for high school students to take a post-secondary business course, in a face-to-face as well as distance setting. These participating students are navigating this new course, and key to successful 21C learning in this circumstance is ‘making connections’. In this case, it is students from four RVS high schools engaging with students from a multitude of other schools taking advantage of this post-secondary opportunity delivered in a blended learning format. It is simple to point to this as an example of 21C learning and I think it’s important to consider that it’s also what we do EVERYDAY that is 21C learning.

While we focus education in 2017 on connecting curriculum and competencies such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, cultural and global citizenship, managing information, creativity and innovation and personal growth and well-being, we have not lost sight of the educational foundations of literacy and numeracy. RVS is aligned with Alberta Education’s focus on literacy and numeracy and we are elevating the conversation around these fundamental skills, and how they connect with the identified 21C competencies in our work. As the Director of 21C Learning for the past six months, it has been fascinating for me to observe the intersections of the work that professionals are undertaking in their day-to-day work, preparing students to be successful in their next steps – whether in the realm of school, work, or service to others. Collaboration and connections between professionals in schools and within the Learning Department have expanded understanding and supports for staff and students in all schools; in our own learning, we are extending our understanding of design thinking, planning, and trans-disciplinary work.

One thing has been crystal clear in the learning and teaching in this role – we are ALL learners and regardless of one’s job, whether it is as a student, teacher, support staff, principal, bus driver, secretary, tech assistant, director or caretaker, it is imperative that we take responsibility for shaping our individual growth plans to suit our own learning needs. Being part of a design cohort, participating in a book club, engaging in an online course, attending a conference, collaboratively planning with peers, are all meaningful and worthy learning endeavours. Our learning becomes even more relevant to us when we are authentically engaging in our study – in my own case, learning more about design thinking by taking an online course and then using that to plan sessions with and for others. This has extended my comfort zone and helped to keep me current pedagogically. I relish the opportunity to be a learner and to be able to connect with and assist others in their respective learning journeys.  As professionals in education in 2017, it is certainly exciting times and we can truly say, ‘there is never a dull moment’, as we tackle the dynamic landscape that is ‘school’ where connections between people, pedagogy, and curriculum in our work are made.

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.

Girls in Technology!

Girls in Technology!

RVS Learning Specialist – Friday November 18th was a fantastic day at the Education Centre in RVS! There were BB-8 robots whizzing around the room, bots making art, virtual reality rollercoaster trips, coding, and paper airplanes that could carry cargo.

Teachers and students from around our jurisdiction met to discuss the lack of girls and young women represented in STEAM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in our schools. Even though it is 2016, statistics show that girls and boys are still choosing career paths that they feel are “gender appropriate”. Participants of the day were able to talk with young women to hear what it’s like to be a woman in STEAM in the real world. We spoke with Stephanie Campbell, an engineer at Google, who has found herself in meetings with 50 people and has been the only female in the room. That doesn’t stop her from innovating and creating incredible things. Maddie and Kedra from the WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) program at the U of C talked about supporting women in programs that have been traditionally dominated by men. Our RVS girls asked great questions like “What did you like to do when you were my age?” and “What advice would you give your younger self?” The girls came away with the knowledge that if you are curious and fascinated by STEAM, don’t be discouraged if you aren’t an expert. You will be successful if you know how to learn.

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It warmed the cockles of my heart to see a grade 3 girl struggle with getting her paper airplane to carry popsicles. She redesigned her plane several times and made a lot of test flights. By the end of the day it flew 3 metres, while carrying 10 popsicle sticks! She told me the secret was to make sure the sticks were even on each side. Another girl made an art-bot that drew circles. Her design was based on a toboggan because she thought sleds are slippery and she wanted her art bot to slide around the page, instead of vibrate or jump.

20161118_133044What the adults in the room came away with is that girls are inventors, designers and creators. When certain pressures or influences are removed, such as competitiveness, and they are just allowed to play, they will use iterative processes to make innovative creations. None of the girls gave up on things, even when they were frustrated. A certain secretary who couldn’t get her art bot to work, took it back to her desk to keep redesigning. Over lunch people near her work station could hear it buzzing. She was thrilled with her accomplishment and showed me her bot generated art.

Teachers and students are pushing ahead in the coming weeks to implement projects, clubs and initiatives that will encourage more girls in STEAM. Ask around your school to see what you are doing to support girls. The problems of today and the future will be solved by people in STEAM. Let’s make sure that we are providing opportunities for everyone to be exposed to STEAM at young ages, so they can discover if that is what they are interested in, without the background noise of what is “gender appropriate”.

 

 

The Hour of Code is for Everyone!

The Hour of Code is for Everyone!

RVS Learning Specialist – Every year during Computer Science Week millions of students participate in an Hour of Code in their schools. Join Rocky View Schools and other schools around the world in the Hour of Code December 5 – 11th, 2016. This event is free and is suitable for K-12. Register your class or your whole school at https://hourofcode.com/ca   Use #rvsedcodes to tweet!

Coding, or computer programming, is what makes it possible for us to tell a computer what to do. Any application or function on your computer or your phone or tablet is a code someone created especially to run on your device. A calendar appointment pops up on your phone? Someone coded that. Your computer launches a program for you to watch a video? That was coded too. Learning to code is a little like learning a new language – in fact, it is considered a literacy. We know now that everyone can code. #EveryoneCanCodeswift-playground

Many begin with visual coding (using graphical images) for younger children and move into block coding (a form of visual coding) and then into textual coding languages such as Scratch, Swift and Java. Don’t be hesitant to try the visual coding – it helps builds the foundation for the others and it’s fun too!

Even our kindergarten and early elementary students can learn to code with the many websites and apps available and you do not need a robot or other device to learn. Lightbot is great for students just beginning to code while older students can use the code.org website with coding games such as Minecraft, Star Wars and Frozen.
Scratch is another website designed to help students learn to code (requires sign-in but teachers can create a class account or students can go directly to Create). Apple developed Swift Playground so if you have a newer iPad you can download this free app and the accompanying Anyone Can Code and Swift Playground guides from iBooks. They also just released a new Hour of Code Challenge in the App store and this Facilitator Guide.

There are many more free resources available to support teachers and students, whether they have years of experience or none at all. Contact your RVS Learning Specialists – Technology for more information.

Building Our Students Futures!

Building Our Students Futures!

Building Futures Teacher – “It’s not about the house!” It is what I say to visitors all the time about the Building Futures program, where 34 grade 10 students spend the whole school year in a double garage working side-by-side with McKee Homes amazing sub-contractors to build beautiful homes, all while learning their core classes. If it is not about introducing students to the construction industry, then what is it about?

img_4698My partner teacher, Erica Rozema, and I are in the pursuit of creating learning experiences that matter, ones that try to help build a student’s future. Connecting students to their community has been a major component of this pursuit over the years. Students have been involved in putting on their own fundraising events, they built and set-up little free libraries in Airdrie, donated a book barn to the Airdrie Recycling Center and helped set up the Airdrie Festival of Lights – all in the name of giving back to their community.

This continuous pursuit to connect our students to their community is a driving factor in what we think makes learning experiences matter. Connecting with other humans from all different backgrounds, connecting to the place you live, connecting to ideas that impact our world, connecting to experiences that bring students a sense that they belong. I do admit one of the better “connections” we offer students is the experience of learning to belong in building a most basic need, a home. The construction journey is just one of the learning experiences we have created. We have other learning experiences that have connected students to starting a business, a challenge to create the staging and sales write-up of the homes, re-designing urban spaces, creating a marketing plan for an innovative program and building a solar-powered tiny house. These experiences are because of local experts whom we connected with in the Airdrie community who shared their expertise and feedback with our students.

img_5917Building our student’s futures means that we keep pushing ourselves as teachers to connect learning beyond our “classroom”. It means that we push ourselves to connect learning to people who want to share their knowledge with our students. It means we want to push ourselves to connect learning to a student’s sense of place and allowing them to see themselves as contributors to their community. It means that we push ourselves to connect learning to having students fall in love with the world around them. It means we push ourselves to connect learning so that our students, at the end of the school year, can say “it is not about the house, it is about connecting!”

 


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