Monday, August 30, 2010

It's a dog's life when it comes to playing fetch

When you read a book like Marley and Me, watch At The End Of My Leash or an episode of The Dog Whisperer, you feel pretty good as a dog owner.  My dog would never snarl like that.  My dog would never relieve himself in the house like that.  My dog would never treat me like a sled and drag me off of my feet like that!

When a game of fetch with your dog consists of throwing the ball, having the dog run the ball down, run back to you, walk with you back to the ball and wait for you to throw it again, you do feel like a failure in dog training.  Glacier's sheer energy and apparent enjoyment for chasing the ball would seem to indicate that he enjoys this game a lot.  We used to work at playing fetch in the backyard but the space is somewhat constrained and he is a big boy (80 lbs, but quite lean and tall).  We actually had it going but the balls often ended up in the plants that I have spent a lot of time planting and taking care of, and his frame was not really conducive to the health of the plants.  I gave up playing fetch in the backyard because it was starting to look like an elephant had trampled all of the blossoming flowers.

We have gone to the dog park and tried it there. No dice.  Throw a toy in the house and he goes and gets it no problem and brings it back.  Why in the house and not outside despite the fact that he seems to enjoy chasing the ball?  It is just like when we took him to obedience classes and he was the star of the class (granted in 2/3 classes there were only 2 dogs and in the other there were only 3 dogs).  He learned every trick very quickly and aced his evaluations.  Sit, down, stay, come, roll over, bang, leave it, take it, boundary, through, over...  No problem in the class, outside where squirrels roam, leaves fly, dogs sniff and flies fly, no dice.  I have no answer why everything works in the house but not outside.  It might have something to do with the fact that when he is off leash you can almost picture him saying "See you sucker!"

The lake is the other place we pretend to play fetch.  This game is much more interesting.  I throw his Kong into the water which he happily swims out to get. That is unless another dog happens to be swimming in that general direction.  When this happens he just turns around and wanders off.  If the other dog does not go and get it then usually he is back in the water in a few minutes and goes and gets it.  Part of this adventure gets interesting should anything happen in the water while he is in it.  Should a duck swim nearby he will let go of the Kong and go and chase the duck, eventually give up, and go and retrieve the Kong.  Should he see a stick, it is roughly 50/50 whether or not he will release the Kong and grab the stick instead and bring that back, or even better, grab the stick and see if he can grab Kong and stick in his mouth at the same time. This can also happen if another object is thrown in the water.
When he brings it out of the water he will sometimes drop it at my feet but more often than not we start a new game of fetch, he runs off and drops it somewhere and then expects me to go and get it.  I am sure that people out there are saying "Don't go and get it!", but in a dog park if I don't then another dog picks it up and then I have to try and get it back.  See how the game of fetch works.  I have decided that I need to go and see Cesar Milan when he comes to Vancouver.  He might not be drastic TV show worthy but we are both a project in the works.

Mixed Tapes and Mixed Messages

I was talking with a friend the other day about how much music has changed and starting thinking about how music represents the speed of change in technology.  The phonograph was invented sometime in the 1870s and was around for over a hundred years, and many people still swear by their vinyl.  I remember as a kid being given my own Fisher Price turn table and listening to my read-along books, buying Billy Joel, Duran Duran and ABBA albums.  Cassette tapes became more common and then I entered my teen-aged years and mixed-tapes were quite the labour of love.

The amount of time and planning that went into making a mixed tape was insane!  I remember getting all of the cassette tapes out, planning what I wanted to be on that tape, was the tape for me or was it for that someone special...  Fast forwarding, rewinding, cuing, redoing and then dubbing.  While the song was being recorded I would start writing out the song on a sheet of paper in case I had to change the order because I ran out of space on the tape and had to flip it over to the other side.  Once the tape was done there was the matter of writing on the casette tape cover  the song list.  Cd's made the mixed tapes a little easier, but man o man did burning ever make the art of the mixed tape disappear.  Going into iTunes, creating the mix, burning and printing the CD cover took less time then doing one song on a tape.  Now with the iPod I have so many mixes and am not limited by time constraints at all.

I have not bought a single CD since iTunes was launched in Canada.  My time might be off, but basically the record player was around for over 100 years, the tape deck for around 25, cd players are slowly being phased out so they made it about 15 years and now everything is digital (8-track is in there somewhere in the timeline, but I feel as though it went the way of the Betamax videos).  The speed of change is amazing.  I was asking a couple of grade 4s to check out our ghetto blasters and I gave them a cd and a tape.  They looked at the tape with a very puzzled look and asked me, rather sheepishly, how does it work?

The speed of change in computers has not given people the time to adapt, unlike the music players.  There was not really a precursor for people to adjust to.  We got our first computer when I was in grade 6 or 7 and to be able to do a e with an accent required about 6 key strokes before and about the same after.  The dot matrix printer was loud, long and a pain, especially if you wanted to bold or underline.  The floppy disks were the size of the old singles records and loading a program onto the computer required about 7 disks and a lot of patience.  Not many people bothered.

We have many people who have only embraced a part of the power of IT.  Doing searches on the Internet and checking email is the online repertoire for many and using Word is about it.  The generation gap has never been more evident.  Once computer labs were in place we put a specialist in and IT was taught completely separately from other areas.  IT had its own curriculum and prescribed learning outcomes.  There were specific learning outcomes that students were expected to learn and teachers were expected to teach.  ICT took another turn in our province and it was no longer a separate entity on its own, but it was never really announced.  A lot of people were surprised that it no longer stood on its own.  This is where the mixed messages seem to come.

Everywhere I look people are talking about the amazing abilities of students as well as their learning needs.  There are videos being made demonstrating the needs such as the video by New Brunswick , A vision of K-12 students and Education Today and Tomorrow

When ICT was expected to be integrated, where was the push?  In comparison to problem solving in Math, the ICT changes have been rather muted.  When the BC Math curriculum changed to remove problem solving as a separate unit and was instead to be integrated into the day to day teaching there were a couple of key statements added to the Rationale of the Mathematics K-7 2007 IRP (Integrated Resource Package:  )
1) "Numeracy can be defined as the combination of mathematical knowledge, problem solving and communication skills required by all persons to function successfully within our technological world.  Numeracy is more than knowing about numbers and number operations. (British Columbia Association of Mathematics Teachers 1998)
2) "The learning environment should value and respect all students’ experiences and ways of thinking, so that learners are comfortable taking intellectual risks, asking questions and posing conjectures. Students need to explore problem-solving situations in order to develop personal strategies and become mathematically literate. Learners must realize that it is acceptable to solve problems in different ways and that solutions mayvary. Positive learning experiences build self-confidenceand develop attitudes that value learning mathematics."

These two statements and the push by the ministry and districts with pro-d, textbooks and other resources made it clear that it was expected that numeracy was going to be a part of the day to day teaching of math.  The technology component, in my opinion, has not been as clearly stated nor pushed.

The English Language Arts Kindergarten to Grade 7 (2006) IRP states in its introduction that "The development of literacy is a key focus of this curriculum. The rapid expansion in the use of technology and media has expanded the concept of what it is to be literate. Literacy today involves being able to understand and process oral, written, electronic, and multi-media forms of communication. This curriculum acknowledges that students learn and develop at different rates and that the time frame for literacy development will vary."

The Science K to 7 (2005) document states "Diverse experiences in a Science program will provide students with many opportunities to understand their interrelationships among science, technology, and society that will affect their personal lives, their careers, and their future."  The Social Studies K to 7 (2006) has essentially no mention of technology at all.

There is a resource package that is available called Information Technology Resource Document (K – 7) that was published in 1996 and on the very first page states: "This document is available only as a resource for teachers and is not an IRP. Neither is it listed on the Education Program Guide Order. It is still expected that students will gain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes described in this document but it is expected that the teaching and learning will be integrated across all other subject areas. Information and communications technology is a tool to support and enhance student learning. The learning outcomes described in this document should be incorporated into all of the learning students are engaged in.
The K-7 Information Technology resource document can also serve to assist schools and districts with requirements for school and district technology plans."

I am finding that the technology piece is a mixed message.  There are expectations that it will be integrated without a clear direction.  The only document available is something that is 15 years old and not really representative of what can be done today.  Elementary students see a lot of kidpix and typing tutor and the infrastructure, equipment and priorities are as diverse as the students.  Our district has very good IT support, with IT support teachers who are incredibly hard working and have great ideas and resources.  We do have our limitations due to financial constraints, but for the most part the opportunities are there.

The challenge that I see is that there are no clear learning outcomes so some schools are uncertain as to where to start.  If they do not have a person who is comfortable with IT it makes it even more challenging. If the computers are old and slow or the Internet connections are weak, or even worse a combination of both, then the motivation is going to be seriously wanting.  Do we need a scope and sequence?  Do we need a mandate?

The beauty of teacher autonomy is that it offers different ways of presenting the curriculum to the students so that different learning styles are tapped throughout their academic lives.  This allows for greater creativity in the teaching of the outcomes and I feel offers a greater opportunity to make important connections.  The downfall of autonomy is that if it is not prescribed it does not necessarily have to be done.  Is typing out projects on the computer in word or doing a project on PowerPoint sufficient at the elementary level to state that the needs are being met?  How do we make technology a priority when the mandate is a mixed message?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Giving a voice

It started rather simply enough.  There was a 2 for 1 sale of smart boards and I went for it.  My student services teacher is the assistive technology go-to person for the district and she had some great ideas for how it could be used.  What I saw in the student services area amazed me.  We have a largely non-verbal autistic boy who was able to demonstrate his writing and ability to read much more concretely than before.  The whiteboard essentially took away the difficulties with fine motor skills for writing and the verbal part of reading.  Watching him write on the smart board was moving.  We were now able to better see his strengths and abilities and minimize his challenges.  His progress has been amazing.  He is much more communicative than before, and I also feel that he is far less frustrated.  Our SEAs have embraced the technology and now work daily on the smart board with our students.  They have become engaged learners and are enthusiastic when it is time to come down to the student services area.

A staff member who also has an autistic child has been sharing about the transformation that she has seen in her daughter.  She has seen what the smart board and laptops allow some of our students to do.  Her daughter is non-verbal and has struggled to share her knowledge and I believe that seeing the transformation of some of our students she felt more comfortable with technology in the hands of students.  When her daughter was at her Occupational Therapy session she began tracing objects in coffee grinds and then began writing, perfectly.  She had not written previously.  Suddenly three words written by a 9 year old have rarely ever conveyed so much and created such an emotional response.  She wrote to her mother "I love you".  Her mother was amazed that she was able to write all of the family members' names correctly, that her spelling was perfect and that she had a large vocabulary.  Through Facebook over the summer I have been getting updates on her daughter's progress and it is amazing.  She is now sending her mother emails and writing on the computer.  She may still be non-verbal but she has found her voice.

Why is technology so important in schools?  It gives students a voice that they may not have had before.  It gives an opportunity for students who may have been limited in their ability to express themselves a new media in which to convey their knowledge.  It is an opportunity to see not what they cannot do but what they can do and in some instances it can bring you to tears.

If inclusion is to work, then we need to have a greater focus on technology in the classrooms as well.   We need to find resources in order to put laptops or something akin to laptops in the hands of some of our struggling students in order to facilitate their ability to convey their knowledge.  Opportunities such as Tumblebooks, Virtual manipulatives and imovie allow for students to demonstrate their knowledge without being hampered by their reading or writing struggles.  Struggling readers are able to engage in the same books, struggling writers are able to show their math comprehension without pencil and paper and demonstrate their understanding orally through multimedia.  There are resources out there that teachers can access without having to reinvent the wheel for individual children.

We will never know what students are capable of unless we find a way to minimize their weaknesses and harness their strengths.

Eyes in the Back of my head

Why did I choose this for a title?  In part because it felt somewhat appropriate for my role as a principal.  My mother seemed to have the innate ability, even when she was in another room, to know when I was misbehaving.  As I grew older I realized that more often than not it was intuition.  It is funny how you can see a group of kids and by looking at what they are doing make an assumption that they are misbehaving, and more often than not be correct.  The problem is that when you assume incorrectly it can be harmful, particularly when it is a child who has had behaviour incidents in the past and now feels that there is a lack of trust.

I remember walking past a class one time where there was a lot of noise.  Immediately I jumped to the conclusion that there had to be an issue in the class.  When I arrived at the class door I at least had the good sense to observe before stepping in.  What I saw was a dynamically involved class with some absolutely fantastic cooperative learning happening. When I entered the class the students were enthusiastically sharing what they were learning and I thought back to my sponsor teacher's word of advice on noise.  Noise is not necessarily a bad thing, it is all dependent on what the kids are doing.

This brings me back to the eyes in the back of my head.  Too often we jump to conclusions about what the kids are doing.  Just because a student has their iphone out does not necessarily mean that they are not paying attention or distracting others.  It would be great if we could see what they are doing in order to be able to guide them more effectively rather than prejudge them.  I also chose this title because I find myself looking back at what I would have liked to have done differently.  Being a first time principal you are bound to make mistakes, the difference being is that those mistakes are more public.  You look at how you would have done things differently in hindsight. I spend a lot of time reflecting...