Tag Archives: student voice

Publishing Makes a Difference

I recently had an opportunity to enjoy a site visit to John Mahood PS,  a WRDSB  K-5 school to see a their technology use in action.

Under the leadership of principal Tracy Tait, the staff has been working hard over the last 3 years to explore new effective ways to utilize technology to enable student learning in new ways, change and improve practice and share their successes.

The traditional lab at the school has been dismantled and the desktops have been redistributed throughout the school.  The mobile technology (iPads and Chromebooks) within the school has been allocated so that each classroom has a minimum of 6 to 8 devices to share among the students.  The lab space is now used as a “tech lounge” – more of a flexible creative work space.

In a site walk through, Tracy commented that she expects staff to integrate mobile technology into the learning environment as part of their daily practice.  I enjoyed observing a couple of classes during silent reading time and seeing that student had a choice in both what they read and HOW they read it: paper based, via iPads or Chromebooks. Talk about a great example of student voice and choice!

The school focus on choice for students is making a noticeable difference.  Several staff commented about technology options providing choice and independence for students.  In some cases, the use of technology created benefits in socialization between students both in and out of class.  In conversation, it was noted that technology use  improves the focus on learning which in turn impacts behaviour in a positive way. In some cases, the use of technology removes frustration when paper and pencil based tasks create an obstacle for students.  The result is increased  participation through differentiated approaches.

This video captures some of the observations and thinking of students and staff at the school.

[youtube http://youtu.be/eEDd5oOwI4k]

Ethan’s Story

Kyle’s Story

Samuel’s Story

Note: The video and story presentations are published with permission.


Digital Citizenship meets SAMR

Setting aside the debate of whether “digital citizenship” should just be “citizenship”,  I think there continues to be a need for  focus on the digital aspect of citizenship as people learn the in and outs of our rapidly evolving digital world.


I enjoyed an opportunity to have an in depth conversation with the WRDSB student senate and trustee  Kathi Smith  last night on this very topic.  The discussion was lively, and a number of important points were made through the evening.

In the end, we landed on digital citizenship (or D.C. as we ended up abbreviating it):

  • is not a “check box” or single event
  • be  embraced and lived
  • must be relevant
  • role modelled by staff and students
  • experienced with real life tools and contexts

There was agreement that action is needed to continue to raise awareness among students in terms of managing your digital profile, understanding what online information about you is actually ‘out there’  and understanding the impact of your choices and actions.

I look forward to meeting with next year’s senate members to explore options to bring the ideas and action items identified into play.

On the drive home,  I was wondering what approaches to teaching, coaching,  mentoring and role modelling digital citizenship would look like if you applied the 4 stages of the SAMR model.   Hmmm.


There it is:  Digital Citizenship meets the SAMR model.

What do you think this might look like?   Wonder with me and share your ideas.


Nurturing Your First Followers

During May,  the Waterloo Region District School Board  held a Digital Learning Symposium involving central staff, teachers, students and guests from the Ontario Ministry of Education and community. The intent of the day, was to bring staff and students together to dig deeper into what is working and what is needed as next steps forward. While the day was a huge success with great interaction and discussion within the various stakeholder groups, there is one aspect of this that I have continued to mull over:   Capacity building, and nurturing first followers.

WRDSB teacher, Scott Kemp, selected this “Starting a Movement” video to show as part of the final session discussion kickoff for the day.

On route to ISTE13, I had some great conversations about this idea with Rebecca Rouse  and  Susan Watt .   While the notion of nurturing first followers could be applied to many situations, we were looking at this from a technology enabled learning perspective.

By the numbers: From a strictly numbers point of view, you could think about: one helps another, two help four, four help eight , 8 > 16 > 32 > 64 > 128 > 256 > 512 > 1024 > 2048 … done. Lets say you already have 100 or so “lead nuturers”, then getting to “done” might only be 4 years (or defined time periods). More aggressively, one might start with one helps 3, 3 help 9, 9 > 27 > 27 > 81 > 243 > 729 >  2187 … done. With the same 100 or so “lead nuturers”, then getting to “done” might only be 3 years (or defined time periods).

These kind of progressive numbers are encouraging when thinking about rolling out a change process. But, there is more to it than just the numbers. In our conversations, we identified a number of critical components to consider in the mix.

  • PD should be a graduated continuum just like learning for students
  • professional practice should provide opportunities to align with the plan, act, assess, reflect learning cycle
  • people need varying amounts of time to reach the ‘ready to mentor’ stage
  • at what point could someone properly nuture a “first follower” in a way that produces the desired learnings, results and in turn prepares the first follower to, in  turn, nuture their own first follower with the needed outcome?
  • many of the components identified are all variables in the mix
  • moving along the technology continuum is, at least at this point in time, optional.

While this process is clearly not just amount the numbers, the thought does stimulate some intrigue and excitement about moving things through the system.  Digging deeply into understanding the nurturing of first followers may well be the key to success. To me, there are some key aspects to achieve.

  • Time is needed to shift thinking.
  • The use of technology needs to considered by default in the planning process. We need to arrive at a point where teachers will internalize the asking of the “how might technology support student learning in ‘this’ situation” without external prompting, noting that need will vary.
  • When this answer is ‘yes’, teachers must  know the framework in which technology should be appropriately used to align with and meet Board/District/system goals. In my context, this means technology enabled learning that aligns with our chosen 5 high yield instructional strategies, the C’s (create, communicate, collaborate, critical questioning, citizenship) and TPack.
  • We continue to promote learning of appropriate technology use for all staff
  • Best practices in the area of technology enabled learning are openly shared
  • Recognition that is is NOT about a particular type of device or application. It is about the best way to support learning and engagement.

An invitation:  What do you think is most important to nurturing a first follower of yours?  Share your thoughts!  Please leave a comment, or send a tweet or email.

Related resources
Digital Learning Symposium Tweet Summary
URL to Starting a Movement

Suggested Reading 
Crossing the Chasm


WRDSB Student Voice

Each year, I look forward to opportunities to interact with our WRDSB students and have conversation about technology, learning and Board plans etc.  My recent meeting with our student trustee group yielded some fantastic discussion, so I thought I would share a few highlights in this forum.

The trustee group submitted some questions ahead of time to create a framework for our discussion.  They were interested to know more about:

  • differentiated access to resources
  • the need for wifi login
  • software licensing
  • ITS department projects for this year and Board directions

After addressing their questions, we opened up the floor to additional questions from the student trustees.  This lead to a wonderful discussion which brought together a number of interconnected ideas.  I was very impressed that students were well aware of the need to manage their privacy online. Through our discussion we extended this to managing one’s online identity and reputation.  I encouraged the students to see how ‘Googlable’ they were. Would their online reputation precede them?  As a self reflection, do they choose to use social media, communication and collaboration tools for positive purposes? – and what might they change in their typical actions? After all, “the net does not forget”.  Digital citizenship is something that must be lived, a way of being. I also took the time to talk about the expectations defined in the WRDSB Responsible Use Procedure.

In the final portion of the meeting, I was given the opportunity to ask the student trustee group questions. I chose to ask one question: Given the changes that have been achieved over the last 4 years ( access to more resources including social media and collaboration tools, wifi in all classrooms, BYOD, improved internet bandwidth etc. ), what has been the impact to their learning?
The students were very frank and open with their responses.  I have captured a few highlights in the list below:
  • extremely positive feedback on the establishment and expansion of the Futures Forum Project
  • learning and engagement is improved through blogging and collaborating online
  • like to be able to use their phones in class – looking up information in the context of a discussion is beneficial
  • excellent class projects through the use of wikis
  • technology affords many forums for peer help
  • social media tools keep students connected and focused, engagement is up
  • web based teacher resources very helpful (blogs, wikis etc.)
  • the 4 any’s: learning anytime, anywhere, anyone and anything
  • easier to work and organize electronically, paper just does not work well
  • online connections (community) is very beneficial
  • use of Facebook groups and web (fan) pages very helpful – easy to connect, collaborate and stay up to date
  • the type of environment we have created helps prepare us (students) for post secondary learning
What Next:
  • continue to promote teachers as risk takers with technology
  • continue to build more capacity for technology use (reduce fears in using technology)
  • encourage teachers to learn from students too
Finally, I was impressed that a number of the students present were aware of the learning strategy of the “flipped classroom”. My sense is that this approach was seen as beneficial in many learning situations. It was hoped the WRDSB teachers were open to exploring the benefits of this approach.
I extend my thanks to the WRDSB student trustee group for such a great conversation about technology enabled learning. I look forward to my next session with group.

Student Voice: A visit to MsJWeir’s Classroom

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Ms. J. Weir’s classroom at WRDSB’s  Southwood S. S. to meet her students and gather some feedback about their online writing project. I was immediately struck by the calm and trusting atmosphere in the classroom. It was obvious that the students were very comfortable in this learning environment — a wonderful tribute to the teacher! The dialogue flowed freely and students were at ease contributing to the conversation.

I posed the following guiding questions to the students to facilitate our discussion regarding the project:

  1. How has writing online changed your learning?
  2. Is writing online what you expected?
  3. What would be the effect of removing the technology?
  4. Describe the pros and cons of back channelling (Today’s Meet and Twitter)
  5. What were the challenges?

The actual discussion happened in a rather free flow manner. I have grouped the responses to follow the question sequence outlined above.

Many students commented about the ability to ‘organize on the fly’ and being ‘in the moment’ when they write online because the process feels more natural.  Capturing ideas and shaping them is much easier electronically. The students also made that point that they felt more ownership for their work.

When asked question 3, the responses were unanimous: removing the technology would be a step backwards, poorer organization, less motivation and anticipated drop in achievement.

In terms of back channelling and online forums, many students commented that the variety of options to contribute to class discussions (Face to Face (F2F), EdmodoToday’s Meet and Twitter) enriched the discussion, drew more students into the conversation(s) and created a much stronger sense of community within the class.  The students all indicated that having the comfort level to participate was a key ingredient to their learning.

In the area of challenges, a few things were identified.  Access to resources is dependent on a wifi connection. We talked about the importance of wifi reliability and high levels of up-time.  I was impressed by the fact that the iPads used for this particular project were set up with a small number of key apps that were aligned with class needs and learning goals.  This was a welcome observation on my part as people often become app focused rather than learning focused. Well done! Students also talked candidly about the need for a level of self discipline. Having wifi enabled devices in the classroom certainly support student learning, and a more personalized component to the learning. Yet, the potential for distraction is still there — it must be managed.

I found this to be an excellent classroom visit. I appreciated the candid conversation with  Ms. J. Weir’s class. The approach to learning in this classroom needs to be shared and replicated.

Related Resources

Ms. J. Weir’s Blog


A Student Voice in K12 Technology Planning

During the 08/09 school year we moved to a new technology planning model. In our old structure we had separate groups to look at administrative and instructional needs. The plans and considerations produced by the two groups did not align and reflected needs and priorities that were often competing. This certainly did not make it easy get projects defined and moving.

The new structure introduces reflects a more integrated team approach, with members representing administrative business areas, elementary and secondary school principals, ICT consultants, learning services members HR and key ITS staff – 13 members in all. We have also adopted a new governance model to prepare and determine priorities at the system levels.

We wanted to add a component to this new structure to include a student voice. Last April we held our first student technology day. The format of the day included teachers and students from a sampling of our secondary schools. The computer contact teacher at each school brought 3 to 5 students with them so that the students outnumbered the adults. We also asked the teachers to select students to reflect male/female balance and a mix of grades.

We set the afternoon up to have discussion on two topics with feedback time from each group. The first discussion topic centred around digital citizenship. The second topic was positioned as a task. We asked students this question: If you could change 2 or 3 things about technology use in our system, what would you change? and why?

I was impressed with the quality of ideas and mature approach in which the students expressed their ideas. The students sent a very clear message about how they felt things should move forward. They recommended:

  • have wireless access in all schools
  • have the ability to use their own equipment in our computing environment
  • make use of cell phones/smart phones as part of the learning environment
  • have access to their files from home

This exercise was a good validation of the discussions of the Technology Steering Committee and you will see project reflecting these needs in our 09/10 project list priorities.

Now I am considering how best to keep a student voice in this process this year and communicate the outcome of last year’s efforts. I would be interested to hear from other people about the approach used in your Boards/jurisdictions so feel free to leave a comment, send a tweet, email or URL.

~ Mark