Thursday, August 31, 2017

Don't Be A Wolf!

This year, we had the idea to do a "homegrown, local, keynote extravaganza" as the launch to this year's summer institute, ReFresh, which was held yesterday.
Several of us, from our own board, volunteered to speak briefly, with a personal slant, on the topic of Collective Efficacy. John Hattie has identified this attribute as the one with the single highest effect factor, and we wanted to focus on several aspects of Collective Efficacy, based on a recent book by Jenni Donohoo. Below are my remarks...

Good morning everyone! My name is Anne Shillolo and I am the TELT contact for the east and west, and a program coordinator. My topic, as part of our amazing local keynote extravaganza, is Culture of Collaboration – Focus on Instructional Improvement.
Let’s begin with a look at me, early in my career. As an aside, this is probably the first known selfie of me. But I could just as easily have depicted myself as this:
I totally admit that I was a lone wolf. Uh, next, I was going to say, raise your hand if … but I won’t:) Because, I know this room is filled with people who harbour a small part of themselves that totally loves the independence of the job. We take pride in the work we put into our program, into making personal connections with individual students in order to learn how they learn, our intense work to do our absolute best by each and every student we teach.
So over the years, there certainly have been some changes for me, and not just the picture! Looking back, I can easily pinpoint two projects that turned me in a 180 as far as my approach and beliefs.
My first experience where I felt that I was truly working as part of the team was about 10 years ago, as a member of a TLLP project on blogging. I was sort of the project leader. This was because I had approximately five minutes of experience with blogging. I had responded to someone’s blog - once. So as you can imagine we were all more or less on an equal footing!
However, what changed my outlook as a lone wolf for once and for all was the fact that TLLP paid for our group to meet once a month. This helped us learn together, share our questions, brainstorm about solutions, and come up with creative ideas for the use of our amazing school blog. People became comfortable with the collaboration that was going on. It helped us take some very big strides forward with educational technology. And by spring, other teachers in the building were asking for access to our blog site, to incorporate these activities into their own practice, because they could see both the pedagogical value of what we were doing and the level of student engagement. PAUSE In hindsight however, I can really see that we were at a disadvantage by not knowing the CI structure.
But, a few years later the next big project that we undertook at our school was a killer CI, if I do say so! Of course, it was not perfect, as it was our first one. But it was truly memorable for all of us. For me, once again it was the availability of release time for co-planning and a timetable that accommodated co-teaching that made all the difference. As well, because the focus was on writing, and the room was full of very experienced writing teachers, the exchange of ideas from a planning, teaching and assessment perspective was tremendous. With all that insight, based on years of experience, we also had a strong sense of our goal and what an improvement in student achievement would look like. Our discussions were certainly not framed in an academic sense by the concept of "collective efficacy – culture of collaboration focused on instructional improvement," but that is exactly what we were doing, and, to me, why the project was so meaningful.
So, in conclusion, I challenge you all to kiss your inner wolf goodbye. I also challenge you to do better than I did. Ten years have gone by since that first TLLP and we can all benefit from what we have learned during that time. Be more intentional than we were. Gather more data. Join many professional learning communities, both in person and online. But above all, each year, value your school-based colleagues and dream big - together!


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Parkway Cycling Adventure

Memories of a summer bike trip… I was inspired to find this older piece and post it after reading my friend Jane’s amazing saga of her and her husband’s cross-Canada cycle adventure.

There comes a time in every parent-child relationship when, despite a residual bond, not to mention good manners, the secret, mutual response to any proposed activity is, “Borrrring.” The mom suggests a nice cross-country ski outing – boring, thinks the kid. The 12-year-old suggests the hottest summer movie – all his friends loved it – boring, the adult is sure.

I felt I was up to the annual summer vacation challenge, and proposed an overnight bicycle trip. We would camp at Landon Bay, just east of Gananoque, Ontario, near the start of the Thousand Islands Parkway, leave our stuff in the tent or locked in the car, and cruise down the bike path that follows the St. Lawrence River almost to Brockville, about 35 kilometres away.

It was the pre-Internet days! I felt knew a bit about the area from reading a brochure about the cruise boat out of Gananoque. By the late 1800’s, the river had been a popular destination for visitors and those who built summer homes in the area. I envisioned a series of tourist camps and motels where we could stay overnight, before heading back the following morning. The idea was met with guarded enthusiasm by my son Tom.

On Day 1, we crawled out of the tent, had breakfast and set out. My bike would not fit in the back of my Nissan Micra circa 1988, so I had borrowed my brother-in-law’s Rocky Mountain model. It was so heavy I couldn’t even hold it up to get on by myself.

While I regularly did research for a living, I certainly came up short when planning our excursion. Although I didn’t realize the extent of my folly for a couple of hours.

The first leg of the trip was painless. It was a hot, sunny morning, and we were traveling light. Tom wore a small backpack containing pyjamas, toothbrushes, and a change of clothes for each of us. This trip pre-dated the current obsession with hydration, and accordingly I had a bike pack containing my wallet and keys, plus a few peanut butter sandwiches, some kiwi fruit and four drinking boxes. In fact, I think the water bottle had not yet been invented.

The bicycle path follows a utility right of way and is a spectacular ride. You get to stay right beside the river, gliding through people’s front yards, alongside farms and through long, tranquil stretches of fields and wetlands. I had imagined being able to stop periodically to rest or buy Popsicles, maybe grab a drink of water, and sure enough the variety store in Ivy Lea appeared ahead at the bottom of a nice, breezy hill about an hour into our ride. I should have seen that first hill as an omen.

As we carried on, I was astounded to discover that a bike trail adjacent to a huge river would have so many long hills of various pitches. It was grim. Tom began to keep score, Hills 4, Mom 2. If I had to dismount and walk in order to reach the peak, er, crest, I lost. It was clear that the rugged Canadian Shield reaches way down south in this part of Ontario, with fingers pointing straight at the St. Lawrence, creating a proper challenge for cyclists.

Gearing up and down, I pedaled along enthusiastically, taking in the scenery, watching for herons in the river’s coves and trying to keep up with Tom. I had begun the vacation with a case of viral laryngitis that was hanging on, and it was hard to make myself heard if we got too far apart. I had given Tom a bit of a talk about keeping within sight of each other, and checking every so often to see how the other person was doing. OK, he was 12, and ignored every word I said.

The kilometers rolled by, and the lactic acid in my legs seemed to be staying at bay, but I began to get a bit worried. I had pictured most of southern Ontario as built-up, commercialized and infested with tourists from here and the States. Instead, what I found was mile after mile of pristine and peaceful scenery, the indigo blue of the river, the heady perfume of millions of wildflowers, the trill of blackbirds, and the perfect summer sky above. No other people, very few cars.

About half way to Brockville, the land on the river side of the highway gave way to St. Lawrence Islands National Park –  shoreline, plus 21 islands, Canada’s smallest national park. Bathrooms, yes, concession stands, no. Hmmm. We had some more sandwiches and carried on.

Shortly before reaching the parklands, we had passed a beautiful resort called Caiger’s Country Inn. That’s more like it, I thought as we cruised by. I was sure we’d have our pick of accommodations long before we got to the end of the trail.

Suddenly we were there. Excited at reaching our goal, we took pictures of each other standing in front of the sign and forced ourselves to turn the bikes around. In the total absence of hotels, motels, cabins or camps, it was back to Caiger’s for us. Our saddle sores were torturing us, and we sang the “Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’” song from City Slickers. Billy Crystal sure had it right. A little ride or two along the boardwalk in Toronto, or from home to work a few kilometers away, had done little to prepare me for the wilds of the St. Lawrence parkway.

I had reached the low point. I’d thought turning back at Brockville was the worst, but I was wrong. Now, the sun was blazing down, there wasn’t a tree in sight and even more worrying, neither was my son. We were part way though a long and deserted section of the Parkway, and ahead of me lay the eastern rise of Hill 12. I croaked miserably to see if Tom could hear me. What a joke. He was probably already lying by the pool at Caiger’s. What could I do? I took off and tried to get a bit of a run at the hill. I don’t know if it was the vision of the pool or the thought of a couple of cold beverages on the patio overlooking the St. Lawrence, but I carried on. After a while, I came upon Tom, lounging under a tree, and feeling righteous about actually waiting for me.

A short while later, we wheeled our bikes up to the lodge office, and parked them. I grabbed my wallet and we went in to book a room. Naturally, we got chatting to the woman at the front desk about our day. As we were about to leave, with the room key in hand, she added, “I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you two really smell…” I was mortified. Well, it had been a hot day. But then she continued, “Fantastic! Grass, sweet hay and flowers, whatever you’ve been riding though, it’s in your clothes or something.” We had a bit of a laugh and then headed for the pool and patio.

Caiger’s more than lived up to our fantasy. Beautiful river view, heron on site, wonderful food. We didn’t realize how luck we’d been until we set out to replicate our trip two years later – this time with reservations. We had to try four different days before we could book a room.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Two beautiful 12-acre properties

Well it was a long process... but our severances and re-zoning are finally complete! Here are the two listings, one with a small house and two garages, and one vacant.
Property with house
Vacant land

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Coding To Illuminate the Curriculum

Imagine a corporate PD event, seven hours long, where less than 20 minutes is spent using the company’s product, Swift Playgrounds.
Imagine exploring the impact of coding on learning, without actually coding.
Imagine finally understanding the role of computational thinking across the curriculum.
That’s the investment in coding in elementary and secondary schools that Apple made this past week. The Swift Playgrounds Early Adopter Summit was held Wednesday, May 3 at MaRS in Toronto.
For several years, I had been working hard to integrate coding activities into my science, geography and media classes, and then more recently to support other teachers with the same goals. We have used Scratch and other block coding, and also had huge amounts of fun with robots ranging from BeeBots, to Dash and Dot and Sphero, to the power of Lego EV3s. This fall I welcomed the addition of Swift Playgrounds to the coding landscape, as it is in my opinion by far the best computer science learning course around.
This fall also marked the online publication of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Coding in Elementary resource. This corresponds with my original approach, providing dozens of Scratch (online) and unplugged coding projects across numerous different areas of the curriculum.
I felt that I and others were really making headway in answering the question: with no coding curriculum (a la Britain, BC, Nova Scotia), how do Ontario teachers bring this essential new skill into their classes? I strongly believe that there is now a wealth of resources, guidance and professional community support for anyone to do this.
However, this week’s Apple event extended my thinking in ways I would not have imagined. In conjunction with Future Design School, we spent the day learning about process design, design thinking, and approaching our chosen aspects of the Ontario curriculum to incorporate computational thinking.
We also took advantage of Apple’s Learn to Code 1 & 2 Teacher Guide (available as a free iBook). The Guide is organized to follow the Swift Playgrounds course, moving through Commands, Debugging, Functions, Loops, Conditional Code and more. Each section of the Teacher Guide includes: Introduction, Activities, Practice in Swift Playgrounds, Reflection and Journal. The Activities are mostly unplugged, so that children can physically experience or act out the coding concepts.
It is easy to see how this is a great method of teaching coding. Apple sees this goal as a “social imperative, part of good citizenship. Code is all around us. We must empower all kids to understand how things work… Become more resilient, a better problem solver.”
But even more valuable for me was the exploration of links between coding, design thinking and all areas of the curriculum. As our Ontario documents are being re-written, they include more expectations that involve meta-cognition, choice, analysis and deeper thinking. Speaking personally, I find this quite challenging to teach. But I found the combination of coding, design thinking, and the Teacher Guide fulfilled what FDS speakers referred to as, “computational thinking coupled with human imagination.” It allowed me to envision ways to fully immerse myself and my students in the curriculum.
When it came time for us to consolidate our own learning and start building a unit, many in the room chose math and science topics. However, I was already exploring several pathways within Grade 8 Reading and Writing. I was also inspired by one FDS teacher who showcased a grade 5 social studies unit.
I landed upon Grade 8 Writing overall expectation 1, “generate, gather, and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience.
I then selected some specific expectations:
1.1 identify the topic, purpose, and audience for more complex writing
1.2 generate ideas about more challenging topics and identify those most appropriate
to the purpose
1.3 gather information to support ideas for writing, using a variety of strategies and a wide range of print and electronic
As a teacher, I felt I always short-changed the very first step: identify the topic, purpose and audience. As well, I don’t think I let my students spend enough time investigating needs of audiences and characteristics of writing forms. I don’t think we ever spent much time talking about why some forms might be more suited to certain audiences.
I think that beginning with an Activity from the Teacher Guide (De-bugging, Functions, etc.), followed by hand-on practice in Swift Playgrounds would be a concrete and analogous way to lead into these discussions about audiences for writing, and writing forms.
By Grade 8, many students have become a bit jaded about their capabilities. There has been much discussion about concepts such as growth mindset and resiliency in math, and the same needs exist in our English courses. I think using Swift Playgrounds would be a great way to launch students along a pathway to success in any course, and to do justice to the richness inherent in the curriculum.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

#notabookstudy Week 1

I was very keen to be a part of this project for any number of reasons. Well, 10 to be precise!
In addition to knowing I would learn more about the work of Cathy Fosnot and how it relates to our goals in Ontario and Near North DSB math classrooms, I was fascinated to learn more about building a community of learners online.

I am always telling people that I learned most of what I know about tech-enabled learning and teaching from colleagues I met on Twitter. I have also had an all-purpose blog, that I contribute to in fits and starts, for several years. More recently, I have friended quite a few teacher friends in the virtual world of Facebook. I had explored on the fringes of the #ossemooc project as well.
But when Donna Fry started promoting #notabookstudy, I knew I wanted to try to become a part of it. It all boiled down to those 10 reasons!

For a variety of circumstances, I had to watch Week 1 from the sidelines. But now I am geared up for Week 2, and have my own reading done. My next blog post will address one of Cathy Fosnot’s questions – to the best of my ability.
But the new learning for me has been huge – VoiceEd Radio, trying to support participating bloggers by commenting on their thoughtful posts, not to mention Fosnot’s work itself.
I can’t help thinking of the potential for our #notabookstudy online community in light of our board’s new work with George Couros. Will my local colleagues take the plunge into the Twitterverse? If yes, might they be open to further online collaboration and learning.

I am very much looking forward to these possibilities.