Tag Archives: Greystone Centennial Middle School

What do we lose?


“We must never assume that an appeal to the masses represents illiteracy. In fact, it implies a high degree of literacy. And in the new century, that increasingly means visual media.” Stephen Apkon

Greystone Centennial Middle School is hosting their fifth “Innovation Week” (if you want to learn more, connect with Jesse McLean on Twitter), where students suggest things they want to learn, create, make, during the week, and have time to explore and develop.  In the last week before holidays, it is amazing how engaged the learning is within the school.  It is a pretty powerful experience for students and it is a glimpse in what school could look like all of the time, not just  a couple of weeks.  From the work that is happening at the school, I know the experience has shaped and reshaped the learning that is happening year round.

As I walked around looking at what the students were doing, I saw one student using a program that I had never seen before called “Blender” in which he was designing a prototype for a car.  It kind of blew me away to see what he was doing and how he was doing it, because I guessed that no one showed him how to use the software before.  When I asked him how he learned to use it, he just simply replied with one word; “YouTube”.

I was quickly reminded of this Will Richardson quote:

I don’t disagree that a lot of professional development monies are wasted. And truth be told, teachers should be responsible for their own PD now. Kids wouldn’t wait for a blogging workshop. Adults shouldn’t either.

The student wanted to learn about the program, so he went and learned about the program.  This is not in this case, but in so many, whether it is learning how to play an instrument, do a dance, or build something new.  There is a ton of learning opportunities out there, they just might not all be related to the curriculum.  Is our job to teach students how to learn a curriculum, or our students how to learn?  Maybe it is more a combination of both, but more importantly, it is the latter.

I then started to think about how so many schools have blocked sites like YouTube because of all the “distractions” that are on the site.  I admit, I can get lost surfing the web and it is easy to get sucked into something totally different than what you first started looking for, but we lose so much when we take such a robust platform full of information away from our kids.

“Among the more than three billion videos watched each day on sites such as YouTube, there is undoubtedly a lot of garbage. But in what medium is there not?” Stephen Apkon

(As I wrote the above paragraph, I thought about how we have so many books in a library that are simply there for the pleasure of the reading, yet we wouldn’t pull out every novel and replace it with non-fiction, because we see reading is directly correlated to learning, whether it is for the purpose of school or not.  Is there a parallel to the videos we consume as well?)

I know that video sites can become a distraction, not only for kids, but adults as well.  It is rare that there are only positives with any form of technology and I wonder what we lose when we block sites like YouTube (and a myriad of other sites that have a lot to do with learning and maybe not so much to do with school), not only from the perspective of preparing kids for the world we all live in,  but also for the powerful learning that can take place. I can guarantee that if I looked hard enough today, I could have found a student using it and being totally off-task from what they were working on. It is obvious that still exists. But if we looked at sites like YouTube as a library filled with knowledge that we still have to teach our students to navigate, would schools still thinking about banning it from their students?

Ideas Into Action

“Organizations that can access the most brains will win. Its not what you know but how quickly you can access knowledge of others.” Liz Wiseman

There are some really awesome things happening in our schools right now and I just wanted to share some simple ideas that may spark some others.  The interesting part about the work that is happening is that many administrators are looking through social media at what is happening at other schools around the world and implementing them in some fashion within their own schools.  If these educators were not connected, I am not sure that they would be trying these out but they are all very active while also willing to share their work with others both within our division and the entire world.

1. Memorial Composite High School Facebook Page – Facebook is not necessarily an innovative idea nor new to schools, but I was extremely impressed watching the school principal, Shauna Boyce, doing all of the updating and creating of this page, as well as the Memorial Composite Twitter feed.  Now the principal doesn’t have to be the one updating this page, but I know that because of Shauna’s understanding of how this could be used she would encourage and be able to model this for her staff.  Instead of killing innovation because she is scared of “Facebook” (as outlined in this post), Shauna is modelling an effective way she can be using this technology to connect with students.

2. Muir Lake Ninja Program – Adopted from Jeff Utecht’s program that he has run with his own students and shared openly with others, Muir Lake School Assistant Principal Travis McNaughton has implemented this same initiative with the students of his school.  In a kind of a neat way to connect with students, Travis has explained the program:

“Welcome to the Google Apps Ninja Dojo! In JapaneseDojo means “place of the way”. Here you will find your way to becoming a Google Apps Ninja Master.

There are a few Google Apps categories that you must master in order to become a true Google Apps Ninja Master at Muir Lake School. In each category there are four belts to achieve in order to becoming a Master Ninja.”

Kind of neat hey?  The admin team at Muir Lake has effectively used their school blog to connect with parents and share information openly, such as their “Google Chromebooks” initiative.

3. Innovation Week Jesse McLean, as part of the amazing administration team at Greystone Centennial Middle School, is looking to host their first “Innovation Week”, an idea that has been shared by Josh Stumpenhorst and others. As this has been a first time for the school and will be implemented in late December, Jesse is actually looking to endeavour in his own innovative project before the students give it a try.  He has told me that he believes for him to be able to successfully share this with others, he will have to experience it himself to understand both the positives and negatives.  Here is a small snippet of what Jesse is sharing:

“During this week, students will be given the time, space, support and necessary materials to work on a project of their choice. Our hope is to provide students with a meaningful experience that will help develop a passion for learning by giving them the chance to pursue their own learning interests. Similar projects have been run in the United States and England and have been met with great success when it comes to student engagement and impactful learning experiences. The students will not attend their classes during this week, instead they will work in the Innovation Week area for the entirety of their school day. Staff members from our school will be supervising and assisting in the Innovation Week area all week. We are hoping every staff member will get the chance to be in the Innovation Week area for at least one school day. On the morning of final day, we will have each individual/group present their project and give a summary of their learning that occurred during the week.”

It will be great to see what the students will be creating during this week and how it is further implemented on a daily basis at Greystone school.

Although there are some great ideas here, what I am most impressed with is that these individuals and schools are openly and willingly sharing their work as the default.  They are not being asked to put their stuff out there, but are doing it because they know that they can learn from others and others can learn from them.  Innovation is not about technology, but technology does afford us the opportunity to easily and openly share ideas in a way that we were not able to before.

I will end with the quote and image listed below which was continuously stuck in my mind as I wrote this post:

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

Mobile Devices and Mindset; My Visit to Greystone

This morning, I had the opportunity to visit Greystone Centennial Middle School and watch a few classes in action, while also meeting with Principal Carolyn Cameron. It was a great opportunity to see some of the amazing things that are happening in the school, while also reflecting on some of my own learning. Last night I read a wonderful article entitled, “Is Your School A Comfortable Place to Learn“, and with that post in my mind, I looked with a critical eye at the environment that students were in. When I have looked at many classroom or school environments, I am not sure if I would be an effective learner in that space, and this was reiterated in the article:

Essentially, Nair says that if adults demand comfort, why shouldn’t we demand the same for our students? Why subject them to dull schools with hard chairs, bad air, anonymous loud spaces, and enormous meeting rooms? Why not make the schools cheery, clean, quiet (environmentally speaking, not library quiet) with comfortable places to meet on the outside as well?

When looking outside of the classrooms, you see these large common areas, that have an array of seating, for students who prefer different places to learn. It is nice, clean, bright and provides an environment where students could be comfortable in different settings. I think every week when I am at Starbucks that I always prefer sitting at a high table, with a stool, which also gives me the opportunity to stand and read if I need to be. I was always fidgety in class, which did not mean I wasn’t learning, it was more likely that I was uncomfortable. Having a “one size” fits all environment simply does not work. When I was in the classroom, I thought about comfort in a different way. Watching students have hats on, food at their tables, holding mobile devices, the classroom looked a lot different from what I have been accustomed to seeing. I asked one of the teachers about the “hats” which has always been a favourite item on staff meeting agendas, and he shared his own insecurities as a student about his hair in the classroom. I thought a lot about that and how that would negatively affect any students learning. I also thought about how nice it was students were able to eat when they were hungry and not at designated times. From personal experience, if I am sitting in a room with you, and I am hungry, I am not listening to a word you are saying. My mind is in my stomach.

Then I started to look at the mobile devices in the classroom (by the way, all of my notes for this post were written on my iPhone using Evernote). I asked students how many had either an iPhone, iPod, Blackberry, or some type of mobile device and it was basically a 100% within the room. When I asked what the “rules” were for the devices, both teachers in the room basically said that common sense ruled the land. As I am not a big fan of creating policies for everything that could happen in a day at a school, I was so relieved to hear that students were treated on an individual basis. When we create all of these rules, when enforcing them, we become more like police handing out tickets as opposed to teachers working with individual kids. I was quite impressed with how these teachers handled this situation and the kids were so respectful. Treat me with respect, and you are likely to get it back. Seems to be a pretty easy idea.

Now with the mobile devices, I could not honestly say that they were being implemented into the practice of learning as of yet. Many educators have this idea that it is an “all or nothing” idea with these devices, where I really believe that there is a middle step that we have to become comfortable with. Students have to be comfortable having them in their hand before they are going to leverage them for learning. I sat down with one student and asked her if she ever used her iPhone for learning in the classroom and she had said no. I asked her about even the thought of Googling something the teacher was discussing and the idea was not there yet. This actually wasn’t that surprising as, let’s face it, many people do not see an iPod touch for much more than communicating and playing Angry Birds or Zombie games. There has to be a transition. It was nice though that as I was still in the school, Jesse McLean (one of the teachers in the room) sent out a tweet with a visual of a student using his iPhone for learning. There is no way it is going to be used for learning, if it is not even in the classroom in the first place. As I toured a few other classes, I was lucky enough to see a teacher teaching a middle years class (presumably grade 6) the ideas shared in the book Mindset, regarding fixed and growth mindsets. I thought this was absolutely amazing, as there is no way this located anywhere in the Alberta Curriculum, but would definitely be beneficial to all learners. Here is a short summary from a Wikipedia article on the growth mindset:

  1. those with the growth mindset found success in doing their best, in learning and improving,
  2. those with the growth mindset found setbacks motivating because they’re informative and are a wake-up call, and
  3. people with the growth mindset in sports took charge of the processes that bring success and maintain it.
No matter the prescribed curriculum, are these not lessons that are valuable to students not only for their future, but their today?

I really enjoyed my visit at Greystone and seeing some amazing things that are being implemented in the school.  That being said, what I appreciate the most about the school, is that for all of their success, they still know that there is much room to improve and grow.  Is it not easier for our students to embody the growth mindset when the staff and organization embrace that same belief?

Thanks for a great morning!