Sunday, 4 December 2011

Parent Engagement in the RCDSB

Renfrew County District School Board (RCDSB) principals and Parents’ Council representatives shared ideas on how to provide the best education possible to students in Renfrew County.
The RCDSB Parent Involvement Committee (PIC) hosted the Wednesday, Nov. 30  Director’s Forum at Fellowes High School.
All RCDSB principals and many representatives from the various school councils in the county were on hand at the meeting.
PIC Chair Shari Kosowan talked of the progress of the RCDSB PIC, which was formed even before these committees were mandated as a requirement of boards by the provincial government.
“We’ve had quite an expansion and we’re really excited about that,” said Kosowan who has been a PIC member for the last seven years.The group has grown from five members to 17.Kosowan said the objectives of PIC are “parent engagement, parent involvement and student success.”The formal part of the evening began with a panel discussion on the question, “What does Parent Involvement or Engagement mean to you?” First year PIC member teacher Scott Buffam spoke of the importance of parent involvement.  He has been with RCDSB for 12 years and has been a student success teacher for the last seven years.
“I’ve been looking for the magic bullet,” he said. “There is no easy solution to have our kids buy into the program.”He said relationships “with students and parents” are the most important part of the connection. “Parents play a key role in a child’s education.”Board Trustee Wendy Hewitt was the next speaker on the panel and she said her life as a parent is what led her to seek the trustee position.“You’re always asking your children questions about their social and academic life,” she said. “You don’t want to do everything for your child, but you want to make sure you are not doing so much in your life that you don’t have time for your children.”
After the panel presentation, Kosowan led a powerpoint presentation on the five stages of school council development review.  She was followed by Craig Myers, Vice-Principal of RCIS who showed a brief clip of a Ken Leithwood video on “Utilizing Research to Support Student Success.  
Following the video, a table discussion on best practices used by councils to support student achievement and parent engagement took place.
Article written by Jake Davies, Communications Coordinator, RCDSB

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Mobile Learning for 21st Century: iPods and iPads as Personal Assistive Devices

Mobile Learning for 21st Century: iPods and iPads as Personal Assistive Devices

As one of the breakout workshops on November 18, 2011, Michael Kerr of the Sagonaska Demonstration School (a provincial school for students for with learning disabilities) presented to a group of RCDSB secondary teachers regarding how his students are using their iPods and iPads as assistive devices. Kerr noted that only five percent of written documents are in braille so students with restricted vision are using such applications as ABC Prizmo or Dragon to flip any written text into an audio version. Kerr demonstrated the use of Dragon Dictation to flip a student’s oral story or essay into text format. Kerr pointed out that teachers can have free websites on google and demonstrated the use of google documents to survey students. Kerr shared a large number of free apps that students can use to assist them in their learning and pointed out that in his experience the iPad is currently the best piece of technology for utilizing the thousands of available apps. He also noted that there is a large collection of audio books available on Apple  iTunes. Teachers in attendance were very excited about the prospect of their students being able to use some of these assistive devices and apps. It was noted that the RCDSB is currently deploying technology to ensure two wifi areas in each of its schools and has several pilot projects running involving the use of iPads.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Teaching for Critical Thinking: A professional development focus in the RCDSB

Teaching for Critical Thinking: A professional development focus in the RCDSB

Had a great session on Friday with Garfield Gini-Newman at the Inquiring Minds Professional Development Day. Gini-Newman shared with RCDSB secondary teachers regarding the importance of fostering critical thinking skills and offered lots of tips to help do this. He noted that today’s students are smarter than ever, great at using many technologies to access information and he shared why educators need to help these students be able to appropriately filter information to make assessments and judgements against various criteria. A few of the tips mentioned include:

Ask students to rank facts according to impact rather than just list;

Teach content in a manner that engages students in making assessments;

Write questions that require students to make a judgement;

Teach students the difference between an informed judgement and a preference;

Teach students about the vocabulary of critical thinking such as evaluate, infer, and analyse;

Use problem-based learning;

Make your subject a “doing” subject;

Put questions of inquiry at the start of the unit as opposed to a culminating question;

Put the occasional false statement in your presentation and have students select the false statement from a list and defend their choices; and

Teach students to use the Richler Scale of Significance to write about impact.

These are just some of the tips provided by Gini-Newman and discussed by the teachers in terms of how educators can create a community of thinkers. All in all, Gini-Newman made a positive contribution to the theme of learning through collaboration. He also spoke very favourably regarding the student use of smartphones, that he referred to as powerful computers, and encouraged teachers to permit students to use their technologies in the class to engage in the learning. Gini-Newman easily engaged the teachers in the dialogue and I would give him the two thumbs up as the keynote speaker for this exciting day of learning at the RCDSB!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

What does Exemplary 21st Century Teaching Look Like?

Given the focus of my blog entries, it goes without saying that today’s exemplary teacher will have a capacity with using technology to engage students in learning that involves critical thinking, collaborative problem-solving, creativity, inquiry and media literacy. Finding ways to have students use iPads, iPods, smart phones, blogs, wikis and such social media as twitter and facebook will be indicative of teachers who are in touch with the reality of today’s students and their global perspective.

But in our enthusiasm for everything that is tech, we have to be careful not to overlook the many other practices that define a professional teacher in the 21st Century. Today’s teacher works with the big ideas of an integrated curriculum and establishes learning goals that align with the curriculum and allow the students to work on authentic tasks. These tasks will involve inquiry and the use of higher order thinking skills. Days of working through a textbook are replaced with a project-based approach.  Rich learning tasks that support literacy and numeracy are developed and include differentiated instruction to allow multiple points for students to engage in the learning, with particular attention being paid to students who have special needs. The teacher is skilled at making instruction personalized and precise. The teacher scaffolds the instruction going from modelled and shared to guided and independent demonstrations of learning. A variety of kinds of assessments are used to ensure all students are able to demonstrate their learning in ways suited to them. The teacher uses such assessment tools as rubrics, anchor charts and exemplars to help students be able to articulate the success criteria for the learning goals. There is a gradual release of responsibility as students become more independent with the learning tasks and more capable of self-assessment. Diagnostic assessments are used to be precise about a student’s level of proficiency with various skills and competencies for the learning goals, and students receive precise, descriptive and timely feedback in order to bump up the quality of their work. The teacher provides multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know and can do. Further diagnostic assessments are used to determine if the selected instructional strategies are having the desired impact on student achievement. Interventions are initiated in cases where students are stuck. Teachers work collaboratively to both design such assessment tasks, and to analyze the student work for clues as to the instructional refinements needed. Working with student achievement data is an integral part of the planning for student success in a culture of high expectations for each student. And all of this very skilled and busy work happens in a respectful and caring environment, again crafted by the teacher who ensures ample opportunity for student voice in these activities. Students and their parents will need to see that the teacher cares about each student and their own dreams and aspirations before there is any appreciation for the teacher’s technical skills. These are some of the practices you would see from an exemplary 21st Century professional teacher who would also be engaging parents in the academic and character development of their children. Please feel free to comment on additional best practices one would see 21st Century teachers doing on a regular basis!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Ipads as assistive devices for students who are autistic

Really interesting presentation at school board committees this week by IT Leader Stephen Blok and Special Class Teacher Kaia Paddock pertaining to the use of Ipads by special needs students. The presentation included part of a 60 minutes clip showing autistic students being highly communicative using the Ipad touch as well as special needs students in Paddocks Ipad pilot project using the Ipad to work collaboratively. In the dialogue that followed it was noted that the same apps that the students are using on the Ipad are also available on the Iphones and students are now asking about using these assistive devices on their smart phones. This is very exciting given the lower costs of smart phones puts these assistive applications in the hands of large numbers of today's students. The RCDSB is expected to have wireless guest login areas in each school during the current year and we are expecting many more exciting projects ahead that will see students using the latest technologies to engage in the learning process!

Thanks to Steve and Kaia for their vision and willingness to share their experiences with the trustees and senior staff!

Shifting to 21st Century Thinking

Shifting to 21st Century Thinking

RCDSB Principals Embracing Twitter for Professional Development

Social Media and Educational Leadership

As shared at ACES last week, social media is revolutionizing the way learning happens. Not only do the various social media venues offer unprecedented learner collaboration, but it also provides powerful screening of thousands of articles, videos, blogs, etc, to bring the leaders professional development to a whole new level. We have recently had 16 of our administrators start their twitter accounts. Lets all get on board and lead by example as we encourage our teachers to take full advantage of the learning opportunities social media is bringing to our students. It has never been easier to access best practices! It’s an exciting time to be in education!

Looking for some exciting dialogue in the weeks and months ahead pertaining to the great professional development and learning regarding the use of social media in learning. Very proud of our administrators who are expanding their own professional learning via social media!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

21st Century Education

There are lots of views about how education and schools will change in this new century. As much as there is comfort in sticking with what you have had success with in the past, educators around the world will need to embrace technology and embed digital learning in their teaching if schools and classes are to remain relevant in the this new digital era. Just like slates and blackboards have been replaced with whiteboards and laptops, texts and notebooks are currently being replaced with kendels, netbooks and ipads. The forward looking educator is embracing digital learning and preparing young learners to use these interactive tools to access up to the minute knowledge, and collaborate with other learners and educators around the globe. This unprecedented access to anything on the planet puts today's learners in a position to think bigger than ever and breaks down many of the social and cultural barriers to innovation that have somewhat constrained earlier generations of students. As we head into this  new century, it is a time of great optimism and opportunity for those of us blessed to be working with our 21st Century Learners.

If you have an exciting digital learning project happening in your class, school, district or cyber community feel free to share on my blog. Looking forward to any posts that helps build enthusiasm for the great things happening in the world of digital learning today.

Dennis Jenkins, Superintendent of Education, Renfrew County District School Board, Ontario, Canada