Moving towards authentic learning….slowly.

In 1982 Alberta introduced the Achievement Testing Program for grades 3, 6, and 9, and in 1984 reinstated the Diploma Examinations Program at grade 12 as one requirement for high school graduation.

For 30 plus years, the province of Alberta has been running Provincial Achievement Test and Diploma Examinations. What have we created in the province? Teachers that teach to the test, students not excited about gearing up for these exams, and a public that may or may not believe that these tests actually improve their child’s learning.

The purpose of the Achievement Testing Program is to• determine if students are learning what they are expected to learn• report to Albertans how well students have achieved provincial standards at given points in their schooling

• assist schools, authorities, and the province in monitoring and improving student learning

Source: General Information Bulletin 2012-2013, Alberta Government

The Grade 12 Diploma Examinations Program, established in 1984, has three main purposes: • to certify the level of individual student achievement in selected Grade 12 courses• to ensure that province-wide standards of achievement are maintained

• to report individual and group results

Source: General Information Bulletin 2012-2013, Alberta Government

In schools, we are pushing for authentic learning experiences. Authentic learning typically focuses on real-world, complex problems and their solutions, using role-playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies, and participation in  communities of practice. The learning environments are moving to a multidisciplinary approach.

Learning researchers (Reeves, T. C., Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. ,2002) created a paper-  Authentic activities and online learning.  They have distilled the essence of the authentic learning experience down to 10 design elements, providing educators with a useful checklist that can be adapted to any subject matter domain.

1. Real-world relevance: Authentic activities match the real-world tasks of professionals in practice as nearly as possible. Learning rises to the level of authenticity when it asks students to work actively with abstract concepts, facts, and formulae inside a realistic—and highly social—context mimicking “the ordinary practices of the [disciplinary] culture.”

2. Ill-defined problem: Challenges cannot be solved easily by the application of an existing algorithm; instead, authentic activities are relatively undefined and open to multiple interpretations, requiring students to identify for themselves the tasks and subtasks needed to complete the major task.

3. Sustained investigation: Problems cannot be solved in a matter of minutes or even hours. Instead, authentic activities comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time, requiring significant investment of time and intellectual resources.

4. Multiple sources and perspectives: Learners are not given a list of resources. Authentic activities provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, using a variety of resources, and requires students to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information in the process.

5. Collaboration: Success is not achievable by an individual learner working alone. Authentic activities make collaboration integral to the task, both within the course and in the real world.

6. Reflection (metacognition): Authentic activities enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning, both individually and as a team or community.

7. Interdisciplinary perspective: Relevance is not confined to a single domain or subject matter specialization. Instead, authentic activities have consequences that extend beyond a particular discipline, encouraging students to adopt diverse roles and think in interdisciplinary terms.

8. Integrated assessment: Assessment is not merely summative in authentic activities but is woven seamlessly into the major task in a manner that reflects real-world evaluation processes.

9. Polished products: Conclusions are not merely exercises or substeps in preparation for something else. Authentic activities culminate in the creation of a whole product, valuable in its own right.

10. Multiple interpretations and outcomes: Rather than yielding a single correct answer obtained by the application of rules and procedures, authentic activities allow for diverse interpretations and competing solutions.

 SO, HOW DO PROVINCIAL ACHIEVEMENT TESTS AND DIPLOMA EXAMS HELP WITH AUTHENTIC LEARNING?

IT DOES NOT HELP OUR STUDENTS! IT IS TIME TO CHANGE OUR CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT IN OUR PRACTICE TO MAKE OUR STUDENTS BETTER LIFE LONG LEARNERS.

Authentic learning is happening all over the province, but standardize tests are limiting the progess. Here is a link to help the province and teachers be better assessers of authentic learning. It is a toolbox created by Jon Mueller.

I hope over time we see the cancelization of our provincial exams, a narrower curriculum with the ability to have more authentic learning, and better measurement of student performance. As our superintendent Chris Smeaton (@cdsmeaton) says “This type of learningrequires a shift from content focused to competency based. Knowledge is no longer sacredly held by only the adults in the school. It is readily available and easily accessible. Learning for tomorrow is about creating citizens and developing character.”

Digital Citizenship or Citizenship

Why in education do we create so many new buzz words? Today I am picking on the phrase “Digital Citizenship“.

For this post I am inspired by the words of Dr. Phil McRae. He is an Executive Staff Officer with the Alberta  Teachers’ Association and Adjunct Professor within the Faculty  of Education at the University of Alberta. He stated “We don’t have digital citizenship, we have citizens living in a digital age.” This is true, we have citizens and we are required to teach them a number of important skills in schools. Where does the term digital citizenship fall in terms of educating the youth?

Basically teachers are expected to infuse the following topics into our busy curriculum. (PS I have added links below that you can educate yourself and students about various topics.)

Digital Conduct
Digital Footprint
Digital Relationships
Digital Health and Well-being
Digital Law
Digital Financial Literacy
CYBER SAFETY
CYBER BULLYING

Last time, I looked at the Alberta Curriculum, we still have Information and Communication Technology (ICT) outcomes that teacher should be covering. This is wonderful, but this Alberta document is getting dated, as it was published in 2003. Teacher want and need resources and direction.

So, can we just teach GOOD CITIZENSHIP.

  • Personal Conduct
  • The footprint we leave
  • Healthy Relationships through any medium
  • Health and Well Being on all levels
  • Law in respect to a students age
  • Literacy at all level (digital, financial, etc.)
  • Safety in any format for any child
  • Bullying (because it will still happen at the school and online.)

So where do we teach these topics now, because for our students this is their world?  Social Studies, Health, or do we infuse it into all subjects.

At what grades, levels or divisions should we be teaching various topics?

HERE IS A WONDERFUL LINK THAT WE ARE PROMOTING IN OUR DISTRICT TO HELP TEACHERS, STUDENTS AND PARENTS UNTIL IT IS INFUSED INTO OUR CURRICULUM.

Thank you to Carmen Larsen for creating, sharing and promoting this resource. Please add to it to help us educate students and ourselves. Also this reinforces the idea that we need to be promoting student engagement in our classrooms!

Congratulations to Karin Goble for completing her thesis… another super resource for 21st Century Learning and Student Engagement. This is another topic for another time….but you can see why the two are closely related!

What can YOU do to promote change in education?

What can you do as an educator to support change in education and teaching? Below are some ideas that you can try tomorrow.

1. Try a lesson where students are given the outcomes and they prove their learning to you.
2. Get out of your classroom and go watch a fellow colleague in your school district.
3. Blog or Skype with another class in another country.
4. Start a blog as a reflective tool.
5. Let some students teach you a new program or app. Here are a 100 great apps.
6. Push for paperless reporting of assessment or paperless assignments.
7. Teach a lesson through social media.
8. Innovation = Connections, so make as many connections through social networks.
9. Change the physical space in your classroom or school to promote collaboration of students.
10. Watch some videos on 21st education. Check out this link.
11. Use technology to improve literacy.
12. Follow a new hashtag on twitter. Here are 20 to start with.

Hopefully this helps you with some small steps towards change. Try one, I encourage you!

‘This bridge will take you halfway there- the last few steps you will have to take yourself.’ Shel Siverstein

Education stuck in a RUT?

Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If that’s the case, I’m pretty sure we’re all guilty of occasional bouts of insanity.

Our education system in Alberta is tied to our broad program of studies and provincial achievement test (PAT)/diploma exam results. It is stuck in a rut. Teachers work hard to cover the entire curriculum and cover all the outcomes. The outcomes are too broad and lack engaging depth. Actually, the outcomes can be engaging, but many teachers feel pressured to rush through each outcome instead of exploring them with students. To add insult to injury, schools are measured based on PAT performance in a section of an accountability pillar. Basically, a report to demostrate how well each school authority is doing. I am not sure this is the best way to help change our education system (but this is an entirely different topic).

Greg Miller (Principal of a Pre-K to grade 6 elementary school) posted these comments on his blog that he has heard from teachers. ”I barely have time to cover the curriculum as it is” or “how is this going to prepare my kids for the standardized tests” or “the technology doesn’t work right half the time.”  Unfortunately, those individuals usually choose to stick with the comfort of what they’re already doing. Well stated Greg. The scary issue is, as educational leaders, sometimes we hear this too often. So how do we change this? How do we get out of the rut?

1. Help teachers with more of their own time! Build in common time to learn. How do we expect teachers to grow and improve? We must allow them to work together and share ideas.  We are not going to quickly change the structure of the day, so we need to change what teachers can do within the day. This is supported by http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NugRZGDbPFU. We need to build calendars and professional development days that can support this innovation.

2. Give students choice on how to improve their learning. Check out what Noa Gutow-Ellis has to say

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnDrBzxTZGk&feature=youtu.be

Or, give students a Fed Ex Day or Innovation Day. These 4th grade students took the concept of Fed Ex Day and made it their own with an Innovation Day – one day to work on whatever they choose, to just create and invent.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wt9D4MxQfbc

3. Leaders must limit the number of new initiatives coming into the school and keep only the initiatives that relate to the school/board and the teacher professional growth plans. If you work with your staff on these initiatives with honest and open dialogue, then you might have some tangible change that will benefit students. The curriculum redesign might be one of those catalysts of change.  Here is the explanation from Alberta Education:

 As we look for new, more effective and efficient ways to develop future provincial curriculum for K-12, one model we will be using is prototyping. Alberta Education will be posting a Request for Proposals (RFP) in the new year to invite school jurisdictions, Francophone Regional authorities and charter schools to take the lead and form partnerships at the local level and submit proposals. The proposals will be focused on beginning the development of new, competency-focused programs of study for K-12 subjects (mathematics, sciences, social studies, language arts, wellness education, and arts education) and to identify and/or develop classroom-based assessment and learning and teaching resources. Our Curriculum developers will be going out to the field and informed by research, will be working with the successful RFP applicants. Together we will co-create this new curriculum.

This sounds great; we might need to provide some release time for this to work or maybe some Fed Ex Days for teachers! Or, maybe let students sit in on our curriculum redesign project. Could you imagine a competency-based education that matches the education to the student? That might get us out of the RUT!

Professional Learning Network or Student Learning Network or Both?

We have heard the buzz for years that we need to make learning authentic for our students. Maina (2004) states, authentic learning “involves increasing motivation and enthusiasm, helping learners to make decisions concerning their learning, as well as identifying non-traditional ways learning is enhanced and accounting for such learning” (p. 7).

So how do we do this with our current students? Here is an exercise I like to do with student teachers and myself as a self-check. Print off a class list and place a check next to a student that you connect with. Not just a question and answer connection, but an authentic connection with meaningful dialogue in or out of class. You might notice that the students who are not doing well in class are missing checks next to their names. My point here is we must make a connection in class before we can push the envelope to help build their global connections to learning.

connected students

Connectivism is a theory that works much the same way the internet works, with knowledge not in one central location, but more of a network with information being shared by a collection of ‘nodes’. We need to help students, and students need to help teachers find these nodes. Nodes could be people, institutions, movements, and/or organizations. Therefore to develop knowledge, you must develop a network for yourself and teach your students to develop their own learning network. They will also share knowledge back with you.

Take the internet for a great example; it is a large, super collection of knowledge. We teach our student and ourselves to sift through this collection of knowledge with a critical eye. As we develop these skills we will teach these similar skills to students. The 21st century learner needs to learn the skills on how to access the information they specifically need.

We need to look at the definition of Connectivism. George Siemens, who is considered as the precursor of Connectivism defines his theory as a learning theory for the digital age (Siemens, 2004).  Simply put, it is a learning theory that is based on the idea that knowledge exists in the world rather than simply in someone’s brain. Connectivism defines learning as a continual process which occurs in different settings including communities of practice, personal networks and in the workplace. Siemens has defined the following principles of Connectivism:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up–to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision making is itself a learning process.
  • Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. (Siemens, 2004).

Since connectivism relies on sharing, any form of technology that allows for sharing could be utilized to make connections between people and ideas. Cellphones, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and wikis could all be used to convey knowledge. We need to build our own professional learning network (PLN) to help our students build their own student learning network (SLN). I made up the SLN acronym, because we love them in education!

So if you are interested in expanding your professional learning network (PLN) or helping your student learning network (SLN), here’s a directory of some of the best connectivity tools:

Category Value Examples and Guides
Social Networking Keeping up with personal, more   social contacts like friends, family, and former students Facebook,   Myspace, Google   Circles
Microblogging Populated with educators from   around the world who share best practices and resources in short bursts Twitter
Professional Profiles Find other professionals and   experts in your field LinkedIn,
Wikis Community-monitored sites that can   function as websites or for group organization and projects Wikispaces,   pbwiki, wetpaint  
Blogs Great sources of information such   as classroom best practices as well as personal opinions; Blogs monitor the   heartbeat of new trends in education and the commenting back and forth leads   to many great ideas and relationships WordPress,   Blogger, Typepad,   Edublogs,Kidblog
RSS Reader RSS means “Real Simple   Syndication” – an RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with many   of your favorite blogs, all in one place
(see this video ‘RSS in Plain English’)
Netvibes,   (My   Netvibes), PageFlakes,   Google   Reader
Nings Communities of people interested   in similar topics, with forums and messaging Classroom   2.0, Future   of Education, Ning
Social Bookmarking Share bookmarks with others, see   what others are bookmarking; you can join groups and get email updates on new   bookmarks Diigo,   Diigo Groups,   Delicious
Webinars Live, on-line presentations or   conferences, with real-time chat, hosted by experts on specific topics; Great   way to learn about new things and to meet new people Classroom   2.0 Live!, EdTechTalk   Live, Elluminate
Backchanneling of conferences When there are neat (and   expensive) conferences that you can’t attend, follow conversations and links   about the highlights Twitter   search latest acronym of conferences

So in summary, connect with your students, build those relationships, connect with your PLN and help students create a their own SLN. This will help boost your connectivism and authentic learning in your classroom.

networked_teacher

Maina, F. W. (2004). Authentic learning: Perspectives from contemporary educators [Editorial]. Journal of Authentic Learning, 1(1), 1-8. Retrieved from http://www.oswego.edu/academics/colleges_and_departments/education/jal/vol1no1/maina.pdf

Siemens, G. (2004). A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm