Parent Connections

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With the world of today, parents are finding it increasingly more difficult to connect with the school community and classroom teachers.  One would think that with the increased usage of technology, parents would feel more connected vs. less.  Although some parents may receive upwards of 3-5 emails per week from their student’s teacher–others feel left in the dark in regards to how their child is faring.  Obviously, there are significant differences in parent communication when you look across the span of different age groups (elementary, middle and secondary)–with a notable drop in parent involvement as students draw nearer to graduation.  So, what is the answer?  To determine the answer, we first must identify the end goal.

Is it to have more parents present in the building (PAC, events, etc.)?

Is it to have parents feel more involved, nay, BE more involved in daily classroom learning (via home checks, emails, etc.)?

I would argue that both goals are important, at all levels of education.  There are certainly more opportunities at the younger grades for parents to be involved than at the secondary level; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is impossible.  Taking the time to invite parents to interact with the school is the first step in creating bridges between classroom and home; however, inviting multiple times is often required for parents who are busy and have limited options for school participation.

Three key ways to encourage parent involvement:

  1. Keep them informed.  How can a parent be involved if they are not informed of what is happening around school?  If a child isn’t overly forthcoming with school-related news, parents should have another access point for important dates, going-ons, etc.  For some schools, a weekly newsletter or blog has been useful for keeping parents “in the loop,” especially when items such as report cards, field trips or assemblies is concerned.
  2. Offer multiple opportunities to get them in the building.  While parent-teacher interviews are a standard way for parents to be included in student learning, there are many other avenues to have parents visit a school, even a secondary school! First, hold events at times that are typically available for working parents, such as open house evenings, performances, etc.  Second, offer more than the typical events that parent attend (sports, theatre, band), such as Fine Art/Applied Skill open houses, Social Studies project presentations or family-friendly language plays are just a few suggestions!
  3. Keep inviting them.  If turn out is lower than expected, keep inviting parents.  If they can’t attend the first event, it doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t attend the next.  Making sure parents really know schools want them to be a part of their child’s education is vital to seeing more participation and presence at the school.

Overall, having parents feel included in their child’s education will lead to them being more involved, more invested and more likely to encourage their student to be more engaged with their learning.  School community should be a symbiotic triad between staff, students and parents.  All three working together leads to better education for students, and that is of course, what we are here for.

 

 

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Substance over Technology: Tools, Tasks & Takeways

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Is technology a stumbling block for you?  Does a lack of internet connection ruin your day?

There are two extremes to technology use in the classroom; with a full range in between.  On the one hand, there are teachers who utilize technology tools because they feel that it is the ‘thing to do.’  They are creating Powerpoints instead of overheads, using YouTube Videos in lieu of VHS.  They have embraced technology as far as they feel comfortable.  If you mention blogging, or hashtags, they bear a panicked look–hoping beyond hope they can retire before anyone notices their Smart Board is covered in dust.  On the other hand, there are teachers who have plunged classrooms into the deep end of the technological pool.  Every day they use something technology-based with their students.  They’ve logged hours upon hours on the in-school COWS, and have a ‘app’ for everything.  They use so much technology, students are beginning to forget how to write with pen and paper.  Both of these extremes exist; fortunately, the majority of teachers fall somewhere in the middle.

substanceovertechnologyTechnology doesn’t need to be the centre of your classroom.  It also doesn’t need to be a pain in the you-know-what.  Think of technology in two ways: as a teaching tool, and as a learning tool. By combining both tools, you should be able to create a dynamic and modern learning environment for your students, where technology makes tasks easier, and takeaways more magical.

Never feel pressured to teach with technology, 100% of the time.  For example, does it make more sense to use a tablet for notes in math than an old-fashion overhead? Of course! Notes can be reused and saved, rather than erased…plus, no more overhead pen all over your hands!  Technology as a teaching tool can make your classroom a better place for not only your students, but for you as a teacher.  How you incorporate it is up to you, and I encourage you to find new ways to give notes and lessons, be it through presentation software, or perhaps Skyping with an expert.  You don’t need to use it all the time, but at least find way to use it sometimes, and always for the betterment of student learning rather than for the sake of technology.  Technology tools should make daily or weekly tasks, like notes, easier and more engaging.  When technology is used as a learning tool, students are given the opportunity to learn new technology, but how to use technology as a tool rather than a toy (see HERE for a post about that).  When there is sound, pedagogical reasoning behind using technology as a learning tool when it comes to students, good things happen.  When students use technology to explore, to engage and to demonstrate their learning, the takeway factor is magic.   Don’t be afraid to discontinue the use of technology if it isn’t positively impacting learning in your classroom or if students aren’t yet ready to use it for learning.  Find another way, another tool, that does work for your students.

And above all, when using technology in your classroom–for teaching or otherwise–make sure that what you are doing has substance.  Make sure that you are utilizing technology as a tool for learning, that the tool hasn’t taken over the teaching.  Remember: Substance should always win over technology.

Learning Technology: What Kids Should Know

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Every vocation is different, and each requires its own unique training, whether you are a doctor or plumber, teacher or graphic designer.  Not every career requires coding skills, or skills related to difficult computer technology usage.  Not every career requires typing skills or research skills.  Daily life; however, is a little different.  Lately, colleagues and I have entered into conversation surrounding what students REALLY need to know when it comes to computers, once they leave our academic nest to the next step of their lives.

team-523239_960_720A lot of discussion about students and technology seems to be geared towards what skills they required when they enter the workforce, but I would argue that any and every job
(for the most part) will and should offer specific training for the technology required of its skilled workers.  Universities and colleges offer beginner computers courses, and other introductory courses that are vital to specific careers.  I don’t believe that we need to necessarily prepare students for specific careers in the K-12 system (unless of course they are enrolled in those amazing apprenticeship programs!), but rather prepare them for a lifetime of learning, of critical and creative thinking, and of social responsibility.  I feel strongly that BC’s new curriculum, specifically the Core Competencies, truly embody what a BC graduate should have in their toolkit when they leave our system for the workforce or into post-secondary training.  Should students know how to use technology?  Absolutely.  They should know how to use it responsibly, how not to spend 20 hours a day playing games, how to be respectful, how to be appropriate.

Students should also know how to use storage programs, like Google Docs, or iCloud…or, as simple as it seems: adding an attachment to an email.  Students don’t need to know Photoshop, or how to make games.  They don’t need to know Minecraft, or how to make websites.  They need to know how to critical examine content found online, how to cull through the millions of hits from Google for real, factual information.  They don’t need to know how to code robots, they need to know how to express their opinions and be good digital citizens.  I am not saying that students SHOULDN’T be using photoshop, or making games, or learning robotics–I’m saying that it’s important not to get caught up in those things without considering what real skills our graduates should be leaving our doors with.

 

 

Coding, Curriculum and the Classroom

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1108_classroom_tech_630x420Have you heard the news about “coding in the classroom” as a part of British Columbia’s new curriculum?  If you are a parent or a teacher of a student in K-12, this news should have caught your attention.  As a Computer Science teacher, I want to reassure everyone that coding, at any grade-level, is possible (even without years and years of teacher training!).

Coding is different than programming.  Programming is intensive, time-consuming and tedious.  It is infinitely more complex than coding.  Coding is about having an understanding of how certain programming languages function, and then using those languages to create something, be it a game, function or otherwise.  The great news is that there are TONS of awesome resources available for a variety of age groups to help them learn to code.  ALL of these resources require technology, which unfortunately is not readily available to every student, in every classroom.

(Unless, of course, we are all going to be the subjects of some technology windfall!)

This is what you need to know about teaching coding: coding is all about “cause and effect,” and about “variables.”  For example, if A happens, then B happens.  If I press this button, the light goes on.  Variables work the same way, but with more options.  Choices are A and B, and depending on what option is selected, either C or D will occur.  You don’t need to have a computer or iPad to teach these ideas to students.  Coding is also about critical and creative thinking.  Students who know how to code should also know how to be innovative and how to problem solve.

Coding is also cross-curricular.  It can be used to demonstrate mathematic concepts, to teach storytelling, even for physical education purposes (my students and their robots get a lot of exercise!).  In British Columbia’s new curriculum model, there is a place for coding. It is by far one of the most powerful 21st century learning/teaching tools we have available–as intimidating as it might seem–and it is time to learn how to use it for the sake of our students.

Want to hear the good news?  It won’t be nearly as complicated as programming the VCR.

In the next few weeks, I will take the time to post resources and options for teachers interested in learning more about coding in their classrooms, with a variety of platforms, to demonstrate that coding can be accessible to all classrooms, despite whatever technologies are available to utilize.  

Digital Projects

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Digital Projects are a great way to help learners achieve core 21st century learning competencies. Just what should you consider before planning on utilizing a digital project in your classroom?

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 3.49.54 PMTo plan digital projects, there are two main things that should be considered:

Class Outcomes: Individual and group “take-aways,” impacts on classroom atmosphere and future benefits of the digital project.

Curricular Outcomes: The new curriculum makes digital projects a perfect way to incorporate key competencies into student learning.

Questions to ask when planning Digital Projects:

1. What benefits should students derive from this project?

2. What types of skills and abilities are most important to achieve?

3. What degree of challenge should the “digital” element of this project impose upon students?

Want more?  Click here: DIGITAL PROJECTS: 21ST CENTURY READY