Planning a WOW! Experience

Soon the hallways and classrooms will be bustling with the first day chaos of students returning to school.  Some kindergartners will be crying and clinging to their parents, and some parents will be crying and clinging to their kindergartners.  Elementary students will be vying for their teacher’s attention so they can tell them all about their summer.  Junior high school students will be trying to act cool and nonchalant, but will be secretly shaking in their new shoes.  The start of a new school year is always a time of excitement and anxiety for students. Will I make friends?  Will school suck?  Will the teachers like me?

This lead me to think of how we, as a staff, could create a positive experience for all of our students when they walk through our doors.  What could we do to make our students’ first day back awesome?  I found an answer staring me in the face when I read a blog by Michael Hyatt on the “How of Wow.”  He poses five questions for businesses to ask themselves in order to create a Wow! experience for their customers.  All I had to do was change customers to students:

1. What is the experience we want to change into a WOW?

– The first days of school.

2. How will the students feel as a result of the experience?  What specific outcomes do we want to create?

– Every student will feel welcomed and valued and hopeful about the upcoming year.

3. What specific expectations does the typical student bring to the first days of school?

– This is where it can get fuzzy.  Basically, students fall into one of five broad categories. One, this student will walk into your classroom, sit down, and faceplant on his desk and stay there all year, if you let him.  Two, this student will use school as a back-up to social media.  When she is not talking with her besties, she will occasionally look up, glance around, and then get back to her next status update.  Three, this student will swagger into the room, slump at his desk, one arm slung across the back of the seat.  He will look like he is daring you to teach him anything.  Four, this student will quietly slip into the room, make no noise in the hopes that he or she can slide through the year unnoticed. And lastly, there is the dream student.  This student will be bright and cheery, pen at the ready, and eager to do your will.  

4. What does failing to provide a positive experience for students on their first day look like?

– No fuzziness here.  For teachers, not smiling, not greeting students, being grumpy would certainly fail to provide a positive first day .  For students, these kinds of behaviour will keep the faceplanter, and everybody else, planted.  

5. What does exceeding students’ expectations for the first day look like?

-Smiling and greeting students at the door, calling them by name, asking about their summer, introducing yourself to new students, making sure they know where to go, complimenting students, answering questions willingly, planning engaging activities, showing enthusiasm, checking in with new students throughout the day.  These are the behaviours that just might put a gleam of hope in Faceplanter, Social Butterfly, Dare You, and Quiet As a Mouse.  Eager Cheery may flash a real smile of delight.  And this is what we need to create for our students on their first day back.

So, when our staff meets over the next couple of days, we will be sitting down and deliberately planning how we are going to WOW! our students on their first day back.

But, I’m also thinking that these five questions can be used to turn many experiences into a Wow! one.  First date, birthday party, vacation, the report your boss wants, the assignment you have to do, the blog you want to write, the art you want to sell…

What experience would you like to turn into a WOW?  What was one of your WOW! experiences?  What were some of the things that created that WOW! experience?

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Artificial Intelligence and Snuggling

Did you know that Google built an artificially intelligent computer that defeated the world champion in Go, a game that is considered much more complex than chess? And programmers did not explicitly ‘teach’ the computer the game. Instead it used the human brain’s neural networks as a model for the program.  It let the computer ‘learn’ the game from a series of databases on hundreds of thousands of games played and then from playing millions of games against itself.

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Pixabay , CC0 Public Domain

The article went on to explore how artificial intelligence could impact education, how it could become a student’s “lifelong learning companion”, following the student throughout her entire school life and into her career:

“Like an imaginary friend, learning companions would accompany students — asking questions, providing encouragement, offering suggestions and connections to resources, helping you talk through difficulties. Over time, the companion would “learn” what you know, what interests you, and what kind of learner you are.”

Being a teacher, my first thought was that these computers could potentially replace my job, and I wanted to go into defense mode.  But it is hard to argue against the advancements being made in technology, and I suspect that our job descriptions are going to need revising in the not-so-distant future.  What that will ultimately look like is up for speculation. Perhaps, as the article states, that might involve teaching social-emotional skills or “the exchanges that occur only between people.”  However, that too, is hard for me to envision.  What would that involve?

Then, one day I was driving in my car and listening to talk show on CBC Radio, I heard about a woman in New York who used to give out hugs on street corners.  She found she was making about $80 an hour.  So she decided to start a business in snuggling.  Yes, that’s right: snuggling, not smuggling.  Her business is thriving; in fact, she’s had to hire employees in order to keep up with demand.  Clients can hire snugglers for anywhere from an hour to overnight.  And no, apparently she is not offering any type of escort service; it is non-sexual with strict rules about what is allowed, what the snuggling positions are, what clients can wear, and the like.

As I was listening, I remembered wondering what a job teaching “the exchanges that occur only between people” might look like in a world with life-long learning companions, and I thought, “Oh.”  And I didn’t know whether to feel comforted or discouraged.

 

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Same Essay. Same Rubric. Different Marks.

Marking student writing can be challenging.  It’s not like there is one right answer like there is in math.  So it is understandable that there is some variability in marks when we assess student writing.  But, how much variability is acceptable?  When does it become unacceptable?  Those were some of the questions I had after reading two research papers that explored that question.  The conclusions were quite surprising and disconcerting.  I was taking one of our district’s Leadership in Assessment courses at the time, so I decided to do one of my projects on what that looked like in our district.  What I found out was disconcerting and challenging.

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I sent packages out to several different schools asking the Grade 9 L.A. teachers to mark the same 5-paragraph essay using Alberta Education’s Gr. 9 Language Arts Provincial Achievement Test rubric.  I also asked the teachers to comment on it as they would on their own students’ work and to fill in a short questionnaire.  The questionnaire asked them a few questions like how long they had been teaching grade 9 L.A., had they marked Gr 9 P.A.T.s for Alberta Education before and when, and the socioeconomic status of their school.

Once I had analyzed the results of the marked essays that were returned, I sat back and realized we are not doing a good job of assessing students’ written work.  The teacher-awarded marks ranged from 60% to 85%., from a “C”  to an “A”. Not very consistent, as were some of the teacher comments.  For instance, one teacher wrote “great quote to open up your essay” while another wrote “it’s better to start with your own words”.   These results were not what I had hoped.

But what was startling about the range of marks and comments was the experience level of the teachers who marked the essays.  Teachers with ten or more years experience teaching L.A. and who had not marked for Alberta Education’s Gr. 9 Language Arts Provincial Achievement Tests were more likely to award marks on the high end or the low end of the range.  The teacher with ten or more year’s experience and who had recently marked with Alberta Education was the one who assessed the essay closer to the actual mark, as did the teachers with 5 year’s experience.  Socioeconomic status of the schools did not seem to play a role in the awarding of marks.

We need to provide students with reliable and consistent grading and with reliable and consistent grading criteria.  Both within schools and across schools.  Based on the results of this research, we are not doing this very well.  And that is our challenge.

However, we can meet this challenge.  Teachers need to start having conversations with students and each other about what good writing looks like, not just in English Language Arts but in Social Studies position papers and Science lab reports.  Students and teachers need to establish criteria that makes for good writing.  Teachers need to collaboratively mark student writing and continue the conversation about what good writing looks like. Teachers need to have a variety of examples of student writing in order to guide the writing process and the marking.  These are some of the things we can do to help minimize the variability in marks.

Providing valid, reliable, and consistent assessment of student writing and learning starts with teachers actively collaborating about what it is students need to learn and actively collaborating in assessing it.  These are best practices that have a powerful affect on the bottom line in our business: increased student achievement.

What might be some other things teachers can do to work towards consistent grading practices?

If you would like to read the complete research report, email me for a copy.
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Should a Child be Charged With Child Pornography?

One thing about Teacher’s Convention is the opportunity to catch up with former colleagues and to meet new colleagues who work outside your district.  Usually the conversations are about how things are going at each other’s schools.  One conversation in particular left me with a lot of questions and very few answers.

This teacher found herself dealing with a situation that is, unfortunately, becoming all too common in our society today.  How it is being dealt with is, unfortunately, haphazard and inconsistent.

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CC Public Domain v.4 Flickr, Laura Crossett

 

A young teenage boy, 13-14 years old, sets up an anonymous instant messaging account and sends a request for a naked picture to a young teenage girl who is also 13-14 years old. Young girl willingly complies and sends a topless selfie that self-destructs after 2-3 seconds. Young teenage boy asks for another one.  Young teenage girl complies again, only this time young teenage boy is ready.  He screen captures the selfie before it disappears.  He asks for another one and soon he has a couple of pictures stored on his phone.

And what does he do?  Takes his phone and the pictures to school the next day and shows his friends.  A couple of them ask him to forward the pictures to them.  A couple of them freak out and tell the teacher who must then report it to the principal.  The principal must then talk to the students and, of course, the students’ parents.

When the dust has settled, the teen boy is expelled from school, the teen girl is suspended for three days, another student is also suspended for receiving them on his device.  A couple of others won’t admit to receiving or sending them, and any evidence is floating around cyber-space somewhere.  The parents of the young girl are pressing charges against the boy, and he is facing child pornography charges.

I wonder, though, are these are meaningful consequences?  Do they teach the students anything? Is the young boy really a perpetrator and the young girl a victim?  Or, are there two perpetrators or two victims?   I suspect there are 2 victims, each of their own immaturity.

Is this really child pornography?  Or, is it today’s online version of a young teenage boy finding a Playboy magazine and showing it to his friends?  Does this situation truly warrant charges that will haunt this young boy for the rest of his life?  Or, are the charges being sought by the young girl’s family an attempt to save face?

And, what about the young girl?  She is athletic, earns good grades in school, and is from a good home.  She willingly sent topless selfies of herself to an anonymous account.  What is her responsibility in all this?   Does expelling the boy and pressing charges against him teach this young girl that she is not responsible for her actions?  Where does the responsibility lie?  More importantly, what are meaningful consequences?  Ones that will help teach these children to make better choices.

Incidences like these, unfortunately, are a down side to our instantly connected world. One that our society and justice system has not kept up with.  And neither have many parents.

What do you think?  How should we be dealing with this type of behaviour with our teens?

 

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Starting From a Place of Understanding

One of the sessions I went to during our recent Teacher’s Convention was a panel discussion about trends in education.  There were four panelists, a former premier and minister of education, an ATA executive officer and adjunct professor of Education at the U. of A., an NDP candidate and former Edmonton Public School Board chair, and an award-winning journalist and author at a local newspaper.

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Steven Shorrock, Flickr, CC v.4

The journalist had been very vocal in criticizing the new math curriculum and discovery or inquiry-based learning.  His columns had irritated me with his claims that drill-n-kill, sit-n-git, emphasis on standardized testing style of teaching was what was needed in elementary and junior high.  What did he know?

I went there with the intent to prove to myself that he had very little credibility other than a media platform that enabled him to spout his uninformed opinions.  Or so I thought.

As I was listening to his story, though, I felt my defensiveness and righteousness begin to slip away.  I realized that it was his experiences as a parent and the schools his children attended that influenced his thinking.  Just as it is with all of us.  It is our experiences that shape who we are.  I was reminded once again of the wisdom behind “Seek first to understand” as Steven Covey wrote.

I’m thankful for the reminder.  I still don’t agree with some of his ideas, but a better understanding lets me listen from a place of openness, curiosity, and willingness. That’s a far better place to engage in a debate or discussion than in being defensive or righteous.

I’m also thankful for people who force us to look at public policy, corporate ideology, or personal beliefs from different sides.  We need critical questioning, constructive criticism, and respectful debate to help keep us from bubble wrapping ourselves in confirmation biases and echo chambers.

 

Posted in Education, Personal Growth, Social Consciousness | Tagged | 2 Comments

Cyber-bullying Meets Restorative Justice

Recently, I had an opportunity to lead in a restorative justice session.  A student had sent out inappropriate emails to several other students.  And, the emails had been sent out using another student’s email account and password that he had found. Thankfully, our IT department was able to track down who had sent the offending emails.

C.C. Free Images.Com photo ID 1198063

As part of the consequences, we felt that the offender should sit down and face his victims. At first, though, we weren’t sure if this was an appropriate avenue of discipline. Would this cause more problems than solve them?  What repercussions might we face from the larger community?  After debating the issue, we decided to pursue it for several reasons:

1. It would quell rumors.

2. It would give the victims the chance to speak to their aggressor about the impact it had on them.

3. The victims would see that the offender was being held accountable for his actions.

4. It would send a strong message that cyber-bullying and using technology inappropriately would not be tolerated.

5. It would, hopefully, help the offender see and feel the impact of his actions.

As one who had argued for restorative justice, I was a little nervous going into this because I wasn’t sure how it would play out.  Would students remain respectful?  Would the offender?  Would the process deteriorate into finger-pointing and angry accusations?

So once we had assembled everybody, we outlined the process of going around the circle so that all participants would have the opportunity to speak to the offender.  We also talked about the right to be angry and the responsibility to stay respectful in the face of our anger.  And then we began.

I was so impressed with how the students conducted themselves.  Granted, there were three adults in the circle to guide the process, but the students were amazing.  Not only did they speak respectfully, they asked the offender some powerful, difficult questions about his actions.  One wanted to know how a friend to could do this to another friend.  Another about being picked on since grade one and feeling betrayed once again.  An another about how the offender could find what he wrote funny.  But mostly they wanted to know why. Why them. Why those hurtful words.

I’m not certain they got all the answers they were looking for, but I am certain that they welcomed the opportunity to confront the offender and let him know how his behaviour impacted them.  And everybody understands that the offender has a tough job ahead of him if he wants to regain their respect and trust.  But I know that they will let him if he chooses to do so.

After experiencing this process, I am confident that it was the right thing to do.  It gave the victims a chance to confront their aggressor and call him on his actions.  More importantly, perhaps, it forced the accused to come out from behind the anonymity of his computer screen and deal with his actions and his victims face to face.

What might you have done to discipline the student?  Do you feel restorative justice was the right thing to do in this case?

 

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Our “Bring Your Own Device” is a Success!

Last spring I approached my principal and assistant principal about having our junior high students bring their own devices to school.  Our student population was growing, most of the junior high classes were in portables away from the main building, and our computer lab was very busy.  Getting timely access to technology was becoming very challenging. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) could solve many of our problems.

Mobile Together BYOD

After getting approval, I sat down with our tech lead and together we hammered out a ‘press release’ and acceptable use policy.  We leaned on the expertise of our District IT specialists.  We debated about letting students bring a device of their choosing or requiring them to bring a Chromebook as we use Google Apps For Education. In the end, we recommended that students bring a Chromebook, but we allowed students to bring any device that could run Google apps efficiently and have sufficient battery power.  If money was an issue, we would make sure that the student would have access to a device through our existing inventory.

In May, we sent the press release to all parents of the grades 6 to 8 students and posted it on our school’s communication site.  Students needed to bring a device to school in the fall as part of their school supplies. Then we waited for the calls, concerns, and questions. Surprisingly, there were very few.

September came and most of our students brought their devices.  Some had ordered a device online and were waiting for it to arrive.  We provided a device for them until theirs arrived.  A few families were unable to afford a device, so we are lending those students one of the school’s devices.

Students are bringing in a variety of devices, from iPhones to laptops.  While we have had a few issues, there hasn’t been anything that we haven’t been able to handle.  Best of all, students willingly help each other troubleshooting issues.

At a recent meeting, we were discussing what made BYOD a success.  Some of us thought it was because many of our families could afford the devices or already had them.  (We are not in a high socio-economic area, but neither are we inner city).  Others thought that it was because many of our parents place a high value on education.  (Our population is about 65% E.L.L.)

While that is certainly true, I also think that a few other factors contributed to it as well. One is that students are free to choose what device they can use. Another is that we offer choice in the classroom.  We have textbooks for those who prefer to use them in conjunction with the device.  And, teachers are comfortable using technology and sharing new discoveries with each other.  In addition, we are switching our assignments as we go along and not pressuring each other to have it all done at once.

Another factor has been our tech lead.  She teaches Social Studies and has had a set of netbooks in her portable for awhile.  The textbook has been online since January 2014, and she puts many of her assignments online.  So students are very familiar with the process, and parents have been able to see the benefits.

We are still in the honeymoon stage of this, but so far we have been able to address the issues that have come up.  The benefits, though, have been immense.

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What the Heck is a Startup Weekend, and How Did I Ever End Up in One??

That’s me in the picture, with all those handsome young men!  How did I end up there, you ask?  Well, it all started with a couple of friends of mine who somehow seem to persuade me into doing things that are several zones outside my comfort zone.

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3rd place team at Startup Weekend Calgary, February 2014

One such journey last February took me to Calgary’s Mount Royal University.  I was listening to one-minute pitches by several individuals who were all hoping to win the audience’s favour.  This was my very first Startup Weekend.  A weekend where you spend 54 hours working to launch a startup:

“Beginning with open mic pitches on Friday, attendees bring their best ideas and inspire others to join their team. Over Saturday and Sunday teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, practicing LEAN Startup Methodologies and building a minimal viable product. On Sunday evening teams demo their prototypes and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts.” (website: http://startupweekend.org/about/). And win prizes!

I had no idea what I was getting into when I registered for this event.  The registration form asked me whether I was attending as someone with a startup idea (nope, didn’t have one); coder/programmer (What?? certainly wasn’t one of those); marketer (Haha! the only selling I do is trying to get students to do their homework); businessperson (does balancing my chequebook count?).  There was no “I have no idea what I’m doing” button, so I pressed the businessperson button.  That seemed the least fraudulent.

After the voting was finished on the Friday night, everyone began forming teams.  I thought I would just wander around throughout the weekend and get a sense of what the teams were doing.  That also seemed the safest as I still wasn’t sure what I could contribute.  But, Stephanie, one of my persuader friends, would not let that happen.  I ended up on a team and, for the rest of the weekend, I was plunged in the world of designing, validating, building, and marketing a startup.

When Sunday night came, teams presented their business plans and prototypes. Guess what?  We came in 3rd!  What a sense of accomplishment that was.  My teammates had done an awesome job with their business and tech skills.  And I like to think my market validation skills and question framing abilities played a small but valuable role in our success. Talking and writing are two things I know:)

I left Calgary on Sunday night for the long drive home to Edmonton.  I thought the drive would be tiring.  It wasn’t.  The weekend replayed in my mind and how incredible the whole experience was.  I learned a lot about the fascinating world of startups and entrepreneurship and how this fits so well into Inspiring Education and 21st century learning.

Now I am playing a small part in organizing one for education.  This one has 2 tracks: one for adults with an idea for improving education in some way, and one for students of all ages with an idea to launch.  It’s an great opportunity for educators, students, developers, marketers, managers, and anybody who is curious and enthusiastic.  No experience required!

To find out more or to register for this event, click on the link below:

http://www.up.co/communities/canada/calgary/startup-weekend/4292

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Cursor and Curiouser Round 2!

In June, our grade 7, 8, and 9 students wrapped up a second running of the Cursor and Curiouser project (I first posted about it here last year), and what a round it was.  We’ve had some successes and challenges along the way, but it’s always so rewarding when students discover or showcase the hidden talents they have.  This is especially so with some of our more introverted or struggling students.

Curious Quote

Cursor and Curiouser is our version of Genius Hour where students chose a topic that they are curious about and want to explore.  There were two requirements: they had to be working on it during the allotted class times and have some sort of project to show at the end of it.  We started in January, and students had about 2 classes per month until the end of the school year.  We used a KWHL chart to track progress and determine next steps.

The list of projects the students chose were as varied as they were: creating video games, communities on Minecraft, duct tape wallets and jackets, pencil sketches, pointillism, perler bead art, feather dresses; building and testing remote-control cars, airplanes, plastic spoon lampshades; learning to play the guitar; recording their own music; choreographing their own dances; cosplay, and many more.

About 3 weeks before their projects were due, students had to decide whether or not they wanted to assess their projects formatively or summatively.  The discussion the students had was awesome!  Arguments like: How can we be assessed on curiosity?  How does being marked on presentation skills align with our curiosity?  What if we are weak on presentation skills? Why should that affect our curiosity mark?

And then their counter-arguments: We spent a lot of time on this, so we should count this for marks. We should count it; maybe it could boost our marks.  If we don’t count it for marks, people won’t take it seriously, and they’ll slack off.  All thoughtful and sound arguments.  In the end, they voted, by a small margin, for formative assessment.

When the students were making their in-class presentations, I had some doubts about how well a few students used their time.  But, after their in-class presentations and their ‘Show and Share’ with all the other junior highs, I had them do a reflection piece on their projects: How well did they use their class time for this? What were they most proud of? What did they learn about themselves as they were working on this?

Once again, they were awesome!  They felt they used class time effectively about 80% of the time, but that they used a lot of home time to work on their projects.  Repeatedly, they wrote about how proud they were of their projects, about the importance of planning first and getting the materials ahead of time, about not giving up in the face of frustration, how things can look easy but aren’t, about figuring out how to divide the work when they were working at home, about how this has given them confidence to face other challenges.

Was this a 100% success? No, but the few who didn’t buy into the project felt the pressure of their peers during the in-class presentations and Show and Share. All of these students (except one who wanted to do ‘regular work’) asked for a second chance to do the project next year.

Will we do this project a third time?  Yes, with some minor changes.  It’s great to see students diving into their curiosity and taking risks.  And to see them discover more about themselves.

What do you think of projects like this?  How well do they contribute to student learning?

If you someone who might enjoy reading this, please feel free to forward the link to him or her.  I always appreciate you sharing my blog!

 

 

 

 

 

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Time to Stop Devaluing the McDonald’s Fry Cook

Last week I marked my students’ Grade 9 Provincial Achievement Tests.  This year’s assignment was to write about the importance of learning in a person’s life.  As I was marking them, I became a little worried and had to sit back and reflect on my “persuasive tactics.”

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FreeDigitalPhotos.net, Photo by mrpruen, CC License

Many students wrote about the need for learning so they could get good jobs and earn more money and be more successful.  That they didn’t want to be “stuck working at McDonald’s” for the rest of their lives.  I hate to admit it, but I have used that phrase with my students, especially when I’m trying to convince them of the importance of education. I think I need to stop that because I’m sending the wrong message.

When I devalue these types of jobs, what am I saying about the people who do work in them?  What about the person who is working part-time to help make ends meet?   The mom and dad who left their home country in search of a better life for their family?  Or when their new country won’t recognize their accreditation, and they are forced to work wherever they can find a job?  What am I saying to the young person who takes the job to gain experience or to earn money to help take some financial pressure off mom and dad?

Maybe if we stopped devaluing these jobs and allowed them dignity in their work, that would help address some of the high turnover rates.  (As would paying them a decent wage, but that is for a whole other post)  When we pull up to the take-out window for our morning coffee or egg sandwich, we need them.

I am changing the way I talk to students about education and success.  I am no longer saying, “If you don’t take your education seriously, you’ll end up working at McDonald’s for the rest of your life?  Is that what you want?”  Ouch!  Even as I write this, I’m asking myself, “You seriously said that?”  Because what if they choose to?  What if they work their way up the ranks?  What’s wrong with that?

So I’m starting to talk to them about the importance of education and learning.  That if we take our education seriously and keep learning, we’ll have more choices about what we could do for a living.  And that being able to have choices about what we do for a living is the key to success and happiness.  And, yes, I’ll take fries with that.

What do you think?  How do you try to motivate our youth to get an education?  Are you guilty of using the “stuck working at McDonald’s” tactic?

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