Pedagogy 2.0

Image from the IDEO “Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators“.

Sometimes we look all over the world for innovation, only to find it in our own backyard. A learning project in Maple Ridge takes students into a new world where mobile technology is invited into the classroom, and even provided by the district, and where the answers are not known ahead of time. On January 16th Surrey educators got to hear Dave Vandergugten (Deputy Superintendent of School District 42) describe their inquiry based learning project in which students were provided with iPods and laptops on a one to one basis as learning devices. It’s one approach to developing 21st century learning projects when we are drawing on 20th century experience.

To see mobile technology as a benefit instead of a distraction requires a shift in pedagogy. When Google is at our students fingertips, the need for learning that is “ungooglable” is heightened. In Vandergugten’s project, teachers developed an inquiry model that uses technology as a natural tool in the students’ work. Sometimes the mobile technology was used to focus attention, at other times to provide individualized feedback faster than the teacher alone, and at still others technology supported research, student led collaboration and the presentation of results. In all of this work the technology was not a source for “the answers”, but instead it was an extension that helped students learn – an extension of their teacher, their knowledge or their collaboration.

If you have the time to read through the anchor rubric, you may notice that the skills students learn are similar to those involved in planning a business startup, managing a project, or engaging in scientific research. They require higher order thinking skills. They integrate student learning rather than fragment it. It seems that sometimes in traditional education students learn information they can repeat on tests and assignments, and which is forgotten not long after it is learned. In the Maple Ridge project students understood their work in depth, and could use the knowledge and skill long after that particular assignment was complete.

What we are ultimately describing here is good teaching, good teaching that makes full use of current learning tools, engages with the world students will be living in, and tries to provide them with skills to be effective and successful in a changing society.


Inquiry Project

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Posted in Education

Who is leading the change (response)?

This is a response to Ms. Hammond’s most recent post, entitled “Who is leading the change?”.

Reading Ms. Hammond’s post raises an interesting issue. Even in our 21st century learning program (also written about here), some of our students, the “digital natives” who are highly engaged in using technology in other aspects of their life, will still ask their teachers if they can do school work with paper and book in the traditional way. Why do students who enthusiastically dive into the coolest devices and social networking experiences shy away from using that technology at school?

It may be that students see their teachers embracing the previous generation of technology – television, film – but being awkward and afraid of new technology – mobile devices and user generated content. Teachers often direct students to shut off mobile technology so that they are not distracted by texting or internet. User generated content may not fit in the classroom because it is seen as playful and divergent. Classroom work may be contrasted as rigorous and focused on a correct answer. The two don’t appear to be compatible, as if the playground is being turned into a graded assignment. But we can help students a recognize that the devices they carry in their pockets are more than just a playground; they are key features of their present world that affect them profoundly.

The trap for those of us who are “digital immigrants” is to be either stuck in fear and nostalgia, or to be overly optimistic about the power of technology. If we want to be effective we need to find a middle way where we are open about the effects of technology on us as well as learning to use it to our advantage. As adults we recognize that the world is changing, and we need to take our wisdom with us.

Who is leading the change? Neither we nor our students are in control of the change happening in the world around us. But it is the educators who lead what happens in schools. Mobile devices and user generated content represent a huge opportunity to increase the precision and frequency of formative feedback on student performance, to develop critical thinking using real world, real time examples, and to increase student and teacher engagement in learning. We can open the door, and invite the present in on educational terms, or hold it closed, and maintain a world in school that is increasingly disconnected from the wider world our students (and we ourselves) live in.


Posted in Education

Something old, something new…


Artwork – Music Castle by Colin Thompson

In looking at current thinking in education, we often focus on only new ideas. But great learning designs are not always the newest ones. When we talk about 21st Century Learning we are talking about changing our focus from teaching and assessment that is focused on individual learning and recall of knowledge, to a focus on collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving. Knowledge and skill are needed as a base, but they are not the end goal of the learning process.

With this shift in mind, it is helpful to look at existing teaching methods that focus on collaboration and performance (and group performance) – coaching and conducting. In many endeavours in life and careers, successful group performance is the goal. In band, for example, the student must put in the individual time and effort to develop skill with the instrument, but what lifts the individual performance to a high level is the group performance. This requirement to bring one’s individual skill to a group project, such that everyone must contribute, is a powerful learning design. .

This learning design can be pushed further with the addition of student choice and creativity. Last year at one of our band concerts a small group of students from jazz band performed an original arrangement that was the result of hours and days of hard, creative collaborative work with each other and their teacher mentors. The results were professional and powerful. The learning those students experienced was very different from the usual classroom experience, and probably much more influential in their development. They will carry that learning with them when they leave high school.

This year the band and the choir performed their Christmas concert, both breaking new ground and having a lot of seasonal fun. The pieces they performed, including the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah (1741), and Karl Orff’s Carmina Burana (1936) are forms of music that require a collaborative process. These works have been around for a long time, but they still influence our listening and thinking. As we are heading into the holiday season, take a little time to listen to the performances of the band and choir, reflect on the learning that must take place in order for that performance to happen, and consider the contrast with individual oriented learning designs.

Better still, just enjoy the music.




Posted in Education

Learning Empowered by Technology


A glance at the student’s desk tells it all: scissors, ruler, paper, textbook, iPod. All the basic learning tools. The students come into class and take their seats, the iPod untouched until the teacher gives direction.

Several years ago, Joe Morelock’s school district (10 schools) of Canby, Oregon, went out on a limb and bought all the students in the third grade an iPod for classroom use. The focus of the iPod project was improving literacy. You might wonder how a music listening device would help literacy, but the results were impressive (read them at Joe Morelock presented at SD36’s Digital Discovery Series.

Electronic devices can have a variety of educational purposes, and in Canby these devices were used to provide students with individualized feedback on their learning, so that they knew immediately if they were performing the skills correctly, and could make immediate corrections.

A device also links students to the vast ocean of knowledge and interaction of the internet. This link, rather than the device itself, is what matters. In a few years the iPods bought by the Canby School District will be obsolete, but the skill of finding, evaluating, using, and contributing to knowledge will be in demand with whatever new device comes along. As my colleague, Cynthia Weldon, tweeted on #SD36Learn “Devices don’t replace books, scissors, and paper. They augment them. They link kids to the world and let them share learning.”

Learners today, whether they are children, youth or adults are approaching learning differently than in the past. Below are four key elements of the way we learn today, elements that technology can facilitate in the classroom:

  • information on demand
  • social connection
  • immediate response
  • individualized feedback

What is the value of a pencil and paper test of recall of facts, when five seconds after the test is collected a Google search will provide more information than the test could require? What is the value of an individual assessment when employers are looking for graduates who can work together to achieve a goal? What is the value of having 29 students wait while one puts up their hand for the teacher to confirm or correct their response? What is the value of all students proceeding at the same pace when some already understand the concept and others are missing essential knowledge foundations?

The interesting thing about these questions is that while only one references technology directly (Google), they have all become important at least indirectly because of technological change. As educators, finding ways to lead students in new ways of learning that we are only just understanding ourselves is one of our great contemporary challenges.

Posted in Education

21st Century Learning


“The function of schooling is not to enable students to do better in school. The function of schooling is to enable students to do better in life. What students learn in school ought to exceed in relevance the limits of the school’s program.” – Elliot Eisner

The 21st Century Learning Project is a new program this year at Johnston Heights that is attempting to teach students in a way that recognizes that our future will not be like our past. It recognizes that more and more for our graduates, whether they leave JH to go on to university, college, technical training, or directly into the workforce, most work is done as part of a team, that collaborative and critical thinking skills are required, and that high quality online skills will give you an edge.

Today’s and tomorrow’s students need more than a resume. They need what English teacher Kelli O’Malley describes as “a professional digital presence”. Anyone can update their Facebook with the events of their weekend. An employer in the knowledge economy will be more impressed with a student whose understanding of digital communication has been developed through thoughtful guided practice in the use of blogs, twitter, and other professional online tools. In this project students also gain practical skill with new technology, the iPad, provided by the school district for student use (for more on iPads in this project and others around the District, read the blog of Elisa Carlson, Director of Instruction for Educational Services).

Students sitting in a class often ask, “What will we ever use this for?”. Students in the 21st Century Learning Projectare finding out, as they apply statistical analysis from their Math course to their Social Studies unit on government to analyze votes in the legislature. Then they go on a field trip to Victoria to observe government in action. The costs for this and other field trips are paid for in part through fundraising initiatives the students develop through the Leadership portion of the course. Are they learning the relevance of the course material? Definitely! This integration of the four courses is one of the key aspects of the 21st Century Learning Project.

The content that students are learning is the same as that of their peers. What is different is the process, and the process really matters here. Students learn to work together when they’re given quality instruction on how groups function well, the opportunity to practice, feedback from their teachers and mentors, and then time to practice again. Better still, they get to observe their teachers working together. This modeling and practice of key 21st Century skills of collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving is one of the strengths of this program, and the ultimate goal is to help our students engage more with their learning, with a view not just to improving school achievement, but to improving life achievement as well.

To hear directly from the teachers and students about the 21st Century Learning Project, click the video link below. Also be sure to read their blog at

More posts will follow about this program and 21st century learning in general at this blog.

Posted in Education

Room for risk taking?

Four big screens dominate the front of the room, and it’s a large room, packed with round tables surrounded by intense conversation. The screens hold images from the presentation by David Warlick ( on the middle screens, and the side screens are filled with lines of text each bulleted with a photo. The lines of text are individual comments from the participants posted on Twitter to #sd36learn during the presentation as responses to Mr. Warlick’s ideas, observations and questions. Mr. Warlick challenged our group with ideas about how the new media that surrounds us is changing us, and what these changes mean in education.

One particular idea stuck with me. David referred to the failure of plans from the previous decade to use video games as a means of teaching. But then he turned to discussing the educational mode of video games, and here’s where things got interesting. In video games, the mode of learning is failure. No one reads the manual on a game and then follows it precisely in order to get through the first time. Instead, you learn the basic controls, and then try it out. The first time through, your character usually dies quite quickly. But with each subsequent play of the game, you develop knowledge and skill in the game environment that allows you to play more successfully, until you reach the goals that the game sets. Thus, having the freedom to fail without real life consequences produces success.

So what if we turn this idea to education? School has sometimes been a place where students do not have the freedom to fail. Every assignment counts. There is pressure to succeed all the time. If you don’t know the right answer, you don’t put your hand up. The result is an environment where students don’t relax enough to learn enough. Students ask, “Will this be on the test?” because school has taught them that the test is what matters, rather than the experience of learning. Of course, as teachers this is not what we want. Most of us are teachers because we enjoy learning ourselves, and we want to share that enjoyment. So here, one of the ways to bring the joy of learning into the classroom is to design learning experiences where failure is not just accepted, it’s expected.

The assessments still matter, and excellence matters still more. We need to know definitively what the students have learned. Students need the confidence gained from succeeding on rigorous evaluations. But the process matters too. 21st century skills such as creativity and critical thinking are developed when the learning experiences allow more than one right answer and reward risk taking rather than discourage it. If we teach students that there some learning processes in school that accept failure without the risk of embarrassment or academic consequence, then students may learn to relax and enjoy learning a little more. Better still, they may actually learn more when the system accepts risk taking as well as demonstrated knowledge. After all, we can’t develop a workforce and citizenry that can take risks and think creatively unless we give them the chance to practice.


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Konnichi-wa Johnston Heights!

The song was written in Scotland years ago.  The twenty five singers stand on a stage in the cafeteria of an inner city school on the west coast of Canada.  Their ancestry is mostly Chinese and Filipino, though most were born in Canada.  Half of the audience has just gotten off a bus, students from a private school in Japan on  a five day tour of  highlights in BC and the Rockies.  The other faces watching  have ancestry all over the world, but again, the majority were born in Canada.

Our students absolutely love this event.  The Japanese students clap and cheer for the school choir as they wrap up “Loch Lomond”, they roar with appreciation when I speak a few words of Japanese in my introduction, or when my students present their speeches.  But the best part is the cross cultural pairs .  After the welcoming ceremony each Japanese student is paired with a Canadian student to guide them on a tour of the school, to  go to class together and share lunch hour.  Our students have been doing this cultural visit enough years that even before I tell them of the gift exchanging etiquette, they are already planning what they will give to their new Japanese friend.  They walk to meet their partner with a combination of excitement and shyness, thinking, “Will they like me?  Is my gift appropriate? Will we be able to talk?”.

The pairs quickly settle in to their tours and disappear into hallways and classrooms.  Pairs start to clump into larger groups, and break off again.  They are carrying each other’s gifts, talking excitedly, or walking quietly together.  When the bell rings, they go to class together, relaxed and ready to learn more about each other.

At the end of the day every has what they hoped for.  The Japanese students have been able to experience a Canadian classroom and show off some aspects of their own culture, my students have been able to experience a little of the Japanese culture that fascinates so many of them, and the Japanese school staff  have been welcomed and given the chance to discuss education with a peer from across the world.

Posted in Education

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