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Archive for August, 2012

So you have a plan to unveil a school blog page for the start of this academic season. . .

The Eastwood School Blog

Now your question might be:  What is the best way to inform our families that it will be our primary communication portal?

Well, here are a number of strategies you could employ:

  1. Word of Mouth.  Have a few contests where the kids login and answer some questions in the mornings.  The info they need to answer can only come from the blog.  Better yet, have them leave their answers on the blog as a comment and award a few winners each morning for a couple of weeks.  This will wear off eventually so be careful with the carrot at the end of this stick.  You want the reward to attract them to the blog and once there the information has to be rich in order for your visitors (parents and students) to want to come back.
  2. Get a digital club together and make sure the kids are talking the talk.  Have them adorn the hallways with posters.  Make sure there is a Digital Club blog to go with the school blog so that kids are attracted to the work of their counterparts.  Make sure you are embedding Dig. Cit. into your days as someone will test the boundaries and make some faux pas.  That is okay.  It is all about the learning.  Careful…don’t want to scare them away with punishment, on the contrary you want to attract them with learning.
  3. A Facebook and Twitter account with a brand page or school page helps and be sure to link both to your blog.  Facebook will get your blog in parent circles the fastest.
  4. Decide on a strategy ahead of time for dealing with comments.  Moderating comments maybe the best way to go in the interest of preserving everyone’s Digital Footprint.  Better to have a moderated comment to talk with a student about rather than a public one.  After a meaty discussion on Dig. Cit. allow the student to then make the decision about whether the comment need be public or edited.  Interpretation learning is always so rich.  When students and parents see their comments they are empowered to join the conversation.
  5. Use the school sign to advertise the blog address all year!  Order a large banner from the school photographer if you don’t have access to a school sign.  They offer these for free with your yearly contract.
  6. Send a newsletter until January and advertise the blog in every issue on the front.  Let the community know the timelines.
  7. Give the Whys of the Blog: eco-friendly, fiscally responsible, up-to-the-minute, always available, more interactive, read/write, etc.
  8. Keep your posts up to date.  The longer they are stagnant the more readers you lose.  Keep your posts short and tidy.
  9. Don’t be afraid to move beyond information items and include some important stuff on the blog with decisions to be made.  Increase the value of the visit.
  10. Add pictures to all of your posts.  Make sure all consents are up to date and signed! Call parents when you are showcasing or naming a student.  This double redundancy is so appreciated by parents and puts safety and courtesy first.  Adding the Flickr widget is a great help especially when combined with the iPhone app!
  11. Add polls to some of your posts.  Let the community vote on some items.
  12. Add video to some of your posts.  Keep them short and to the point.  (My first couple “From Mr. Cowper’s Desk” were dreadful!  Too long and wordy.)–you need a safe YouTube channel to do this right.
  13. Allow students to contribute writing to the blog.  This increases your word of mouth traffic.
  14. Enable the Post from Email function.  This allows you to update from anywhere with no app required.  Make sure parents can subscribe to the blog via email.
  15. Install the WordPress App on your iPhone.  This way you can quickly and quietly fix spelling errors or delete posts.
  16. Put the blog address everywhere.  Let the community know that this is where the stuff is and if they aren’t reading it they are missing out……not in these words of course…you get the point.
  17. Use tags!  This will help your readers find the blog when they lose the address.  They will lose the address.  Make sure the blog has the school name in the address and make sure you tag with the school name each time.
  18. Change the phone message and have the message state the blog address for the most recent and up to date information and “goings-ons”
  19. Think Multimedia: video, pics and audio.  Audioboo is another great little iPhone app that lets you add real-time conversations and audio from around the school with three clicks!
  20. Add a Clustr-Map widget to the blog to track visitors.
  21. Get the staff Blogging!  The more familiar it is to all stakeholders the more it will “stake a hold!”

I hope these ideas help you increase your communication level with your school community.  Enjoy the analytics that WordPress offers.  This will help you track the most interesting posts and the times that your blog is used the most.

Happy school blogging in 2012-2013 everyone!

If you have other ways that you have increased the school blog use please comment!

Thanks.

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A video that was inspired by @Johnwink90 ‘s 136 character tweet.

On Saturday, July 18, I participated in #satchat.  I had some time while the kids were playing Plants versus Zombies (the “Cowper Game App of the Summer!”).   I had a coffee and my partner was reading beside me.  I figured….why not.  The topic of the day was “Back to School” and leading us was @DCulberhouse.  I knew that the majority of the educators were West Coasties and I was interested in their take on Back to School.  Of course there were many other participants from all over North America.  Until the spammers got ahold of the hashtag things were going great.  Of course the infiltration of spammers has nothing to do with the good people leading or participating in #satchat.  On the contrary.  The fact that we were trending a topic on a Saturday morning across the continent (and warranted the most inappropriate spam) speaks volumes about the quality of the 140 character content.

As @dougpete explains in What does Twitter for PD Mean; Twitter can be a launching pad:


The best learning for me happens when the conversation takes off and doesn’t necessarily stay in the social media.  I like following the links – take me to news reports, research, forums, wikis, and blogs where the meaty stuff resides.  You don’t get the full monty 140 characters at a time but like the library card catalogue, it should be there to tease and inform you about where the good stuff is.

After reading @dougpete’s blog entry and considering many conversations with incredible learning leaders like @kellypower and @globeandtims I continue to rehash the essential question:  Is Twitter a Professional Learning tool?

Well, in this particular instance,:

  1. I participated in the chat on Saturday with a group of like-minded educators passionate about learning and opening the school year (from all over North America).
  2. I learned of a myriad of ways other leaders are handling logistical issues that are ever-present in the first weeks of school.
  3. I grabbed a few nuggets of wisdom that resonated with me.
  4. I learned of many ideas, best practises and innovations for having a successful Back to School Night.
  5. I learned of one Principal (@JohnWink90) making “How To” videos for his parents and community.
  6. I made the committment to “give it a go” (thanks for the lingo @jessmcculloch) myself with an iPad, iMovie and our Eastwood Eagles YouTube account.
  7. I filmed the entire video using my own children and a few adult helpers as “actors” on the very same day.
  8. I then sent the video to three individuals (@avivaloca being one), I have never met face to face, for their perspective and assistance (as well as an administrator in a neighbouring district.)
  9. I also sent the video to two Vice Principals in my district for their perspective and assistance.
  10. Finally I uploaded the video to our school blog and mailed it directly to our faculty (we have some new faces)

I have captured the moment I got the idea with this image:

This endeavour involved professionals, learning, technology tools, acting (doing) and reflecting.  I will undoubtedly get feedback from the community, other school leaders and the kids.  Granted there is not a direct impact on student achievement.  I still believe firmly that the reason I engaged in the entire process was because I am a member of an ever-expanding professional learning network through Twitter.  Again, in this instance the power of social media lead to deeper learning experiences.

For me Twitter has not been the best professional learning I have ever engaged in.  I believe that saying this is hyperbole.  On the contrary I have had some incredibly moving learning experiences with one, two or three people in a room making dialogue over work, learning, dilemmas or successes of our profession.  These are the professional learning experiences that have been the most riveting and influential.  Funny thing is. . . without Twitter I may not have had the opportunity to have these conversations with the likes of those mentioned above (not to mention the 34 #UnPlugd12 -ers from last weekend!).  Twitter has turned me on to some individuals who have led me to question, bolster, appreciate, act on and essentially change my perspective on just about everything I have learned to this point.

Thanks good sir.  I hope it helps our school community this September.  I am going to have some fun filming a trailer for this academic year next!

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The Voyageur

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“Critical consciousness, they say, is anarchic. Others add that critical consciousness may lead to disorder. Some, however, confess: Why deny it? I was afraid of freedom. I am no longer afraid.” Paulo Freire

Last February myself and six teachers (Jr, Int) attended a local highschool PL session on Critical Thinking in the classroom. Garfield Gini-Newman is a Senior Consultant for The Critical Thinking Consortium, TC2, and an adjunct professor at OISE in Toronto, Ontario. While originally challenged by the space to learn in and the seating arrangement I slowly appreciated the value of sitting with 70 other professionals in a fishbowl in the welcome corridor of the high school. Students walked past and watched us listening, talking and learning from behind the glass.

Our reason for entering the room was laid in evidence from 8 years of performance on the grade 6 EQAO assessments (limited level 4 performances), results from our Stretch your Thinking questions of 2010-2012 and most importantly the professional opinions and anecdotal evidence of our expert teachers around students’ abilities with critical thinking. The perception: our students, en masse, have not been able to access level 4 performance tasks. The tasks that largely involve critical analysis, critical thinking and higher order problem solving. We decided as a group that this may not be because our students simply cannot present and perform this way but rather (and more introspectively) that we are not preparing lessons and activities that allow for students to illustrate or possibly access this level of thinking and thus practise the process. We asked the question: Are we using Critical Thinking as a framework for our learning activities?

We came prepared to be critical of ourselves. Each teacher brought with them a lesson or activity that we wanted to “Tweak and Fortify” (Gini-Newmans’s mantra for Critical Thinking prep). Garfield uses the “problematize the content” method to make learning happen in the classroom. He juxtaposes the “correctional method” and the “problematization method.” One stifles learning and thinking and the other instigates it. He calls this whole process “Additive Teaching.”

We began with a picture of Burnaby BC in 1942 and were asked to decide the month, day, and time of day from the evidence we had. We were left with the question, Why should you or should you not give the students the answer to the question posed? Many answers revolved around stopping the thinking, not highlighting the process, undermining the learning and talk, creating winners and losers.

Before coming to today’s event the teachers were sent a form in Google Docs asking questions about student performance, engagement and thinking. Questions also were asked of teacher learning need. Teachers were asked to watch an embedded YouTube clip of Garfield and were asked: Do you want/need more of this learning? The results were clear. We needed to attend the workshop.

Garfield stated a number of times this day, you can do this in your classroom tomorrow. The most practical of his ideas: Stop having students copy from the board or take notes and instead throw four statements on the board and ask them, “Which one of these statements is true and which ones are false?”

One of the watershed quotes Newman threw up on the screen was a poem from T.S.Elliot in 1933 in which he stated: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” He specifically was referencing the role google, apps, iPhones and the lot have played in the classrooms and learning work of the 21st C teacher and student. With the knowledge that the answer is “out there”, instead of inside your head, he challenged all educators in the room to start framing problems and content differently. He challenged each of us to reframe our roles. Of specific practical interest was his work on a PBL matrix. My grade 5/6 teachers used this work to create the framework for a unit on Ancient Civ. the very next week! Garfield provided a 7 step process for designing critical challenges:
1.critique the piece
2.judge the piece
3. Rework the piece
4. Decode the puzzle
5. Design to specs
6. Perform to specs

(One example used was that students not only chose the most important items to carry into the woods with them but them they must rank order them. All this is done on a sea of talk–critical talk)

Garfield started to scare some people when he suggested flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy on its head. “What if we flipped on end the foundations for teaching and learning and made invitations to create products of value or solving meaningful problems the foundations of learning for all children?” He called this being a “little bit provocative.” Newman also juxtaposed Critical Thinking and Inquiry Based Teaching. His goal is to bring these two things together in the classroom and call it Critical Inquiry. As we discussed this process I was drawn to think about and reflect on the work of my Early Years teachers currently. Critical Inquiry is alive and well with 4 and 5 year olds when an adult knows how to probe with questions.

There were strong connections to my teachers’ current work on Visible Learning stemming from the work of John Hattie. Problem Solving teaching only has positive learning effects when students are taught the skills they need to arrive at an answer. He continued to develop these ideas by showing us his Engagement Taxonomy. Garfield asked us to consider: To what degree are the students: Empowered? Challenged? Entertained? On task? Are they asked to be actively involved? Are they required to use a high degree of concentration and committed to the process of learning? All of these questions were digested and discussed at table groups.

The Critical Thinking classroom involves a Community of Thinkers, Critical Challenges and the Teaching and Assessing of Intellectual tools. These tools include: background knowledge, criteria for judgement, critical thinking vocabulary, thinking strategies and habits of mind. This, in essence, is the TC2 Model of Critical Thinking.

Garfield was certain to share his website that houses many free Critical Thinking resources. http://www.tc2.ca is the home of the Thinking Teacher. Also included is the electronic source book. This work stems from Garfield’s work with the Alberta department of Education in which he problematized the social studies curriculum. Thoughtful Books is another resource that highlights mentor texts to engage the learners in thinking critically. Tools for thought requires a subscription in order to use ready made resources for specific topics. Again the lessons are created to build critical thinking skills. The teachers that subscribe to the service can add content from their experience. There is a cost to this material. (Sounds somewhat like the work of Ian Jukes with the 5 Fluencies, http://www.fluency21.com/, if you have not already you need to become a “Commited Sardine!”)

As days and months passed I came across this picture, that was shared on twitter, a couple weeks ago. It reminded me of Garfield’s opener and his critical thinking work. How might you use it?

Garfield’s work brings into question our roles as teachers. He challenges us to look more critically at our own processes. He asks us to “unfreeze” our current systems and free the students thinking. Releasing responsibility is always hard. It is definitely needed in classrooms. Let’s let our children think by provoking them with problems to resolve rather than providing them with answers to remember.

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