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.
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.
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.
What 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”.
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. #EveryoneCanCode
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. Lightbotis great for students just beginning to code while older students can use the code.org website with coding games such as Minecraft, Star Warsand 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 Playgroundso 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 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?
My 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.
Building 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!”
Superintendent of Schools – Last week the Board hosted their fall joint meeting with trustees and school councils. In addition to trustees, about 70 people were in attendance with a combination of division administrators, school administrators and school council representatives. The two-hour event included a casual pizza supper and information about resources for school council leaders and information about the ward boundary review, but the main focus was about the Alberta curriculum development currently underway.
Two Directors from Alberta Learning walked the group through a 75-minute presentation mostly focused on the “why” and the “how” of the curriculum development project. Looking around the room the group was nodding appropriately and when we had table talk opportunities there was plenty of discussion. We had bursts of questions/comments at certain points. When talking about the development process a couple key question were asked – “How are students being involved in this process that will impact them?” and “Have you talked to recent graduates about their thoughts about what they needed to learn?” These questions resonated with people and a conversation spun-off about when and how that could occur.
About 60 minutes through the presentation a parent made a comment that really hit home with me. The parent stated (very politely) that most of what had be presented did not really make any sense to her. Some other parents quickly vocalized similar sentiments. My mind raced through the previous 60 minutes as I tried to process her comment. I came to the realization that the talk was too much about the “why” and the “how” whereas parents in this room were more concerned about the “what” this means for their children. The talk had acronyms that parents did not know; it talked a lot about the technical components of the development process, which potentially really did not matter to parents; and a six-year timeline to build curriculum just does not make sense to many people. There was a hunger to talk about how and when the eventual curriculum would be implemented.
I walked away from the event with a reminder that we need to make sure that when talking to parents we avoid the edu-jargon that dominates our language. We consistently make assumptions about terminology that we use in our business is known to everyone. We need to focus on how whatever we are talking about impacts their children. Like everyone, we all want our kids to be successful, get what they need and have every opportunity available to them when they finished our system. We need to listen to what parents want for their children. People generally trust public education, but need to know that their kids will get what they need in the end. Maybe, for parents, curriculum development is like making sausages – we don’t need to know about how it is made, but just that it is good.