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ECOO13 “Bring IT Together” Check-In

20 Oct

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As we approach the start of this year’s ECOO Conference I’ve noticed that people increasingly want to know who is attending and when.

To help people connect I’ve created a simple form. Enter your attendance info below and it will be entered into a spreadsheet, which anyone  can view  (or scroll through underneath).

Any suggestion for how to improve this, hit me up on twitter (@acampbell99) or in the comments.

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#G2EChat Question 2: Recap (student well being)

29 Sep

On September 28th I invited anyone interested to join me online and participate in the Ministry of Education’s “From Great to Excellent” public consultation process. Over 4 weeks we’ll consider all seven questions, discuss them and prepare something for submission to The Ministry. This is my effort at capturing some of that discussion:

After 30 minutes of discussing question 1 we moved on to question 2:

Early on we recognized that students well-being is critical and an essential foundation for learning:

For student’s to feel well, schools must be places where all students feel accepted:

We recognized that schools are only part of a student’s life, and student well-being can only be served is we are part of a network of caring:

Many of the students in classrooms arrive without basic needs being met:

We think schools needs stronger partnerships to help support student well-being:

After 30 minutes of discussion these were the responses submitted to Question 2.

Here is the complete discussion in its entirety.

#G2EChat Question 1: Recap

29 Sep

On September 28th I invited anyone interested to join me online and participate in the Ministry of Education’s “From Great to Excellent” public consultation process. Over 4 weeks we’ll consider all seven questions, discuss them and prepare something for submission to The Ministry. This is my effort at capturing some of that discussion:

We started our first G2EChat with a restated version of the first question:

The first response identified that learning skills are what students need to be successful, not content knowledge, a thread that was supported throughout the discussion:

We also recognized that there’s a tension between meeting the needs of students now and preparing them for their future:

And that this ‘future’ is increasingly uncertain:

We acknowledged that curriculum needs to support the view that content is really just a vehicle for learning these important learning skills and in Ontario, this change is starting to happen:

But the curriculum needs to continue to evolve to a point where traditional subject divisions are less important than student passion:

After 30 minutes of discussion these were the responses submitted to Question 1.  Here is the complete discussion in its entirety.

From Great To Excellent: An #OntEd Online Consultation

22 Sep

Next Phase

In early June I wrote about Ontario’s ‘secret’ public consultation into education. Well, the summer flew by and now the ‘consultation season’ is well and truly upon us (have you bought your ‘consultation tree’ yet??).

From now until November 15th Ontarians are being encouraged to “…submit ideas and help take our education system – already one of the best in the world – from Great to Excellent.”.  Here’s the Minster’s message about this effort.

In support of this the Ministry of Education has provided a “Community Consultation Kit” to support District School Boards, School Communities and Community Groups and Organizations and help them provide input into Ontario’s education system.

As most of us well know (ok, maybe not the ministry) in 2013 communities aren’t tied to particular geographic locations. Increasingly, 21st century communities arise around ideas and ways of thinking and include people from a variety of geographic locations and walks of life. Precisely the diverse slice of opinions and voices the ministry is asking to hear from and desperately needs.

To this end I will be hosting a series of online events to allow anyone who wishes to join us the chance to discuss The Seven Questions posed for consultation. At the end of these online consultations I’ll submit the main points of the discussion to the ministry through their online submission form.

Here’s how I think this will work. On the dates listed below I’ll host a twitter chat on two of the questions using the hashtag #G2EChat.

  1. September 28th – Questions 1 & 2 (9 am-10 am)
  2. October 5th – Questions 3 & 4  (9 am-10 am)
  3. October 12th – Questions 5 & 6  (9 am-10 am)
  4. October 19th – Questions 7 & wrap-up (9 am-10 am)

The twitterchat will be divided into two 30 minute discussion periods, with the first period devoted to the first question listed and the second period devoted to answering the second question.  I’ll introduce the question and allow some time for reflection and discussion and then for the last 5-10 minutes I’ll ask people to make their final statements for submission.

Obviously these are general guidelines and if there’s a need I’ll modify them. If anyone has other suggestions or a better way to do this please hit me up in the comments or on twitter (@acampbell99).

I got lots of interested responses when I proposed this on twitter so hopefully we’ll get lots of smart people engaged in debate and have some helpful input for the Minster.

The Last Teacher: A Tragedy

24 Aug

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W.H. Auden. Funeral Blues.

I invite the world into my classroom. Student learning should be as relevant to real life as possible, so I use technology, guest speakers, field trips and any other tactic possible to facilitate connections between what happens in the classroom and ‘the real world’.

Making a separation between the world outside the school and what happens inside is an artificial construct. Students arrive in our classrooms with all kinds of baggage (poverty, family dynamics, nutrition, media influences, etc.) that affect their learning. Pretending that our classrooms aren’t part of ‘the real world’ doesn’t help students in their learning or make schools better.

But there are moments when I wish all of this wasn’t true, when I wish our schools were the goldfish bowls we sometimes pretend they are, and the outside world could be kept at arm’s length. That students could find a safe and protective space inside those walls and behind those doors.

Tragedies big and small affect students and classrooms and schools all the time. As a teacher part of my role is to try to help students understand, process and come to some peace with them. Increasing transparency in our world means that younger and younger students become aware of the unpleasantness and pain that living in the world can sometimes mean. It’s hard to make school seem important if students are afraid for their safety.

Last year the ten and eleven year olds in my classroom had many questions about things like The Boston Bombings. I tried to help them understand these difficult issues and make some sense of them by letting them ask questions. Before that it was Newton and poverty and homelessness and disease and on and on. There’s no shortage of ‘big scary issues’ and I could discuss them in the abstract and with personal detachment. I could put aside my own fear and feelings about them and be a sounding board for my students. This is much harder to do when the tragedies affecting students also affect me personally.

I returned from vacation last week to find out that one of my students had died. A wonderful, funny, bright, charming, creative, silly eleven year old girl fell out of a window and died. For the second time in my teaching career I’m the last teacher a student will ever have.

It’s hard to explain how heavily this weighs on me. I try to remember what my last words to her were. Did I make sure she knew how wonderful I thought she was? Did I do all I could to make her last year in school all it could be? Did I spend our time doing things that really mattered?

I also feel a sense of responsibility. As a teacher it’s part of that relationship with a student that we take that on. When students go on and achieve success we feel a sense of shared pride in their accomplishments, that in a way we had a hand in it. In the same way I wonder if I did enough to prevent this tragedy. I know this is irrational but the questions niggle away at the edge of my consciousness.

Some of her classmates came to the visitation for her a couple of days ago. I was repeatedly being pulled out of my own grief and towards trying to help them make sense of what had happened. The awful part about it was that, of course, I had no answers for them, no reassurances. I wanted to reach out them, to connect with them, but I had nothing to say. They already knew the truth.

When we return to school after labour day those students, and many others, will need support and help in dealing with what’s happened. I know that, as their teacher, I’m best placed to give them that support. But I really don’t know where that’s going to come from. How can I help them to understand something that I don’t understand? How can I tell them it’s going to be ok, when I’m not sure it will?

For now, my hope is that simply being there will be enough. That letting them know it will take time, and that if they need support I’ll be there. I plan to be as honest as I can, and admit when there are things I don’t have answers to. I know that both they and I will have other support. I plan on using it, and I hope they will too.

I’ll also keep those questions in the front of my mind as I’m teaching. Do my students know how wonderful I think they are? Am I doing all I can to make this a great experience for them? Am I spending my time doing the things that really matter?

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It Takes A PLN…

22 Aug

It Takes A PLN...

The cool people at Educator Studio (@EducatorStudio) illustrated one of my tweets. I think it looks great!!

Protecting Students From Big Data

18 Jul

Teaching is a form of time travel. Teachers prepare students today but work in the future, giving students what they’ll need years or decades from now. This is an increasingly difficult job, as the rate of change in society makes that future increasingly uncertain.

An emerging issue that will affect students in the future is the role of Big Data. Digital tools are ubiquitous today, as is the use of services we access with those tools. Phones, tablets and laptops would be much less useful without the use of digital services. Searching on Google, researching on Wikipedia, shopping on Amazon or connecting through social media is the interrelated nature of digital devices and applications.

What users sometimes forget is that digital services make money by selling the data they collect about users. Each time a user does something on an application an “event‘ is created. Every website searched for, every person ‘liked’, every retweet, every product purchased is an event and over time they provide a detailed profile of the user’s behaviour, their interests, likes and dislikes. This profile is incredibly valuable as it can be used to predict future behaviour. This is the data that drives Amazon’s recommendations or Facebook’s suggestions of “friends”.

While we don’t know what the future uses of this data will be, we have some examples that are illustrative:

  • In the U.S., the National Security Administration uses Big Data to decide who to place on their anti-terrorist “No-Fly lists”. This has led to many people being incorrectly placed on the list including Sen. Edward Kennedy, a U.S. marine and a nun.
  • Some credit card user had their credit limits lowered not because of their own credit history, but because they shopped at stores that people with poor credit ratings also shopped at.
  • People whose purchase records include plus-sized clothing may be flagged for obesity by health care providers.
  • Netflix uses big data to create shows that it already knows viewers will love by “mining” data on what subscribers watch, when they stop watching, what they fast forward through and what they rewind and watch again.

However Big Data is used in the future, it’s likely it will be used extensively by corporations and government to predict what people will do and make decisions based on those predictions. Educators need to consider what their role is in preparing students for that future.

Some issues to consider and discuss:

  1. Using Digital Tools: Educators have embraced the use of free digital tools in the classroom. Google Apps for Education, Edmodo, KidBlog and many others are popular popular free services. Educators make extensive use of social media to connect with students. All of these services and tools require students to create accounts which allow data to be collected on a student’s behaviour. A student could graduate from high school with fourteen years of ‘events’ (clicks, search results, e-mails, etc.) created through their learning. The implications are significant. Is it ethical for educators to facilitate the collection of data about students by corporations?
  2. “In House” Digital Tools: Some schools or school boards prefer to use “in house” digital tools to retain control of student data. The same questions apply to student data no matter who collects it. Does it belong to the student or the institution? Is the institution free to use student data as it sees fit? Could student data be used to support future programming decisions for students? Could placement of students into streams, programs or access to support be determined in advance by a student’s data profile?
  3. Financial Pressure: My school uses a useful digital tool, created by a large corporation, for which we pay a licensing fee. As part of the licensing fee the corporation retains rights to student data and stores it for us. If we wish to retain our student data we must pay an additional fee and set up our own data server. Given the cost and inconvenience, our student data is kept by the corporation. In an environment of shrinking budgets and financial pressure on schools, large digital corporations have the upper hand. They are offering ‘free’ or low-cost services in return for data and schools and educators are not well positioned to refuse. What are the alternatives to using commercial digital tools in the classroom? Could a cash strapped school or school board use student data as a source of revenue? What is a school’s responsibilities with respect to the personal data of people who are no longer students?

These are difficult questions for educators and there are not many easy answers. Further discussion leading to policy is needed.

Some related blogs:

How do we teach terms of service? by Royan Lee

Royan’s Delema by Tim King

Building a student data infrastructure by Audrey Watters