As podcasters ourselves, we have learned a lot and see a lot of value in podcasting for the classroom. That said, for those not in podcasting, the idea of creating one with students can seem daunting; there are so many tools, and the starting point isn’t always that clear. That’s where we step in! Podcasting really isn’t that scary, and can be simple to do in the classroom.
We will help you to understand why podcasts are great for the classroom, and how you can get started.
Believe it or not, podcasting is a fantastic way to get students talking, and is a natural scaffold to the writing process. Here are some of our top reasons to introduce podcasting with your students:
As a bonus, it’s easy to get started. Podcasts don’t require much in the way of equipment. These days, almost all students have access to a cell phone or a device that can be used to capture audio.
Podcasting isn’t as complicated as you might think. There are four main phases in the podcasting process: Identify, plan, record, and share.
Here are some simple and free recording tools to consider:
The above tools are a great starting point for any skill level. They are simple to use and only require a student to click on record, and then click stop when they are done. The web-based tools will then give you the option to download the mp3 file.
If you have access, here are some additional tools to consider:
4. Share This doesn’t have to be public; it can be as simple as curating each student’s work on a collaborative slide deck (think PowerPoint or Google Slides), or simply sharing a folder that houses all of the audio files (Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, etc.) with the class.
That being said, you may want to build toward creating a podcast that can be shared with a wider audience, such as your school community. Building in an authentic audience can help to create buy-in and motivation for students.
Podcasting is likely a new concept for your students, so it is important to scaffold the process as much as possible so that students can experience success with this new modality.
As a teacher, your first step should be to expose your students to the podcasting format. There are so many student-friendly podcasts, so a simple search should provide a wealth of options (See Student-Friendly Podcasts for some suggestions). While listening together, you can then identify the different components, such as an intro, an outro, and the different segment structures.
From there, identify what skills you want your students to demonstrate in their podcast. This is a totally new format for most students, so be sure to provide a planner, a template, and a means of brainstorming ideas either independently or as a class. This is also a time to help support students with skills such as pronunciation, language, and communication in general. This may be an uncomfortable format for many students at first, so they will need time to practise and get used to podcasting.
If students want to interview a guest, it is important to go over questioning techniques, question formation, and interview etiquette. You might consider offering a set of question starters or stems to scaffold the question creation process. A quick internet search will help you find lots of ideas to get started.
Podcasting doesn’t have to be an immediate or short-term goal. It is possible to scaffold it in such a way that you help your students to build the skills over a longer period of time, with the end goal of producing their own podcast by the end of the semester or term.
As with all things web-based, it is extremely important to consider the privacy and protection of student data when sharing the podcast. Make sure that you check with your administration, get permission from parents or guardians, and also review Board policies to ensure that you are not potentially putting students at risk.
First published in Education Canada, September 2022
The EduGals Podcast E050: Podcasting in the Classroom https://edugals.com/podcasting-in-the-classroom-e050
The EduGals Podcast E083: Leveraging Audio in the Classroom https://edugals.com/leveraging-audio-in-the-classroom-e083
Blog Post: Student-Created Podcasts Made Easy with Screencastify https://edugals.com/student-created-podcasts-made-easy-with-screencastify
Over the past two years, teachers have had to shift and change their teaching practices due to the worldwide pandemic. This has caused us to re-evaluate the traditional teaching methods that we have been using in the classroom. Instead, we have shifted to instructional practices that are more differentiated, and that attempt to meet the needs of all of our students.
As we shift away from traditional classroom practices, one strategy that has shown a lot of promising results is the use of short, teacher-created instructional videos. When instructional videos are teacher-created and personal, they can also foster digital relationships with our students.
There are many reasons why this practice has shown so much promise. Here is a breakdown of some of the benefits to teachers, as well as students.
The first step is to determine your learning goals. Go back to your curriculum, figure out which skills you want to target, and plan backwards from there. You want to make sure that your learning goals are very specific, and will allow you to chunk them out into short videos of approximately five to six minutes. This means that one curriculum expectation might turn out to be a series of several videos and that’s OK!
In terms of which tools to use, it is completely up to you! If your board or district has rules around the tools you are permitted to use, then be sure to consult that list. If not, then there are a variety of options available – choose one that you are comfortable with, and that fits your purpose. There’s no need to get fancy or to try out a new or complicated program.
Plan out the structure of your video. Start by deciding if you’ll be doing a presentation, using a whiteboard tool, or demonstrating something in a classroom. For subjects with practical components, such as labs or tech courses, it might make more sense to outline the steps of a procedure instead, so that you can physically demonstrate that skill in the video. Either way, you’ll want to make sure that you have a clear picture of the outline of your video structure before you hit record.
Once you have an outline in place, you will then want to create the visual component that you will use for that lesson. It can be a PowerPoint or Slides deck, a more complex Prezi presentation, your LMS, or even a physical lab set up with materials. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but whatever you choose, make sure you minimize the amount of text that you are using – too much text can be extremely difficult or cognitively overwhelming for many students. You should also try to find images that pair well with the text you are presenting; this will help students to make more meaningful connections to your lesson.
If using Slides or PowerPoint, you should also consider using transitions or animations to help chunk out the different steps or concepts that students need to know. This will allow students to focus on one thing at a time, instead of reading ahead and possibly missing out on an important concept.
First published in Education Canada, March 2022
Possible recording tools to use:
Possible tools to add interactive elements:
G. Forsythe, licensed by CC BY NC SA 2.0
*Click on the image to view full-screen
There’s no return to pre-pandemic teaching. We must accept the reality that the need for flexibility is endemic in the K–12 education system.
Without question, teachers, educational administrators, staff, and learners have been run through the gauntlet since the pandemic created sudden and massive shifts to how we teach. These shifts were executed without preparation, without supports, and – for many – while also juggling family commitments while working from home. It makes sense that, through fatigue and frustration, some may want to return to pre-pandemic teaching as quickly as possible. However, in looking at how we will teach in a post-pandemic world, we must examine the privileges and biases that existed in the pre-pandemic school system and resist perpetuating them. We have an incredible opportunity to transform our systems and our practices.
In this article, I’ll review the intersection between pedagogy, modality (i.e. online or face-to-face), and access, explore commonly held biases, and argue that the K–12 sector needs to stay the course – not in repeating how things were done during the pandemic, but in iterating to new and improved ways that support teachers, learners, and educational staff in offering a more socially just and equitable school system.
As we shift back into a post-pandemic era, how can we teach in a way that ensures access and flexibility for all learners? We were able to pivot an entire system on short notice. Surely, we can embrace inclusion and human rights so as not to abandon those who still remain marginalized and require flexibility when we return.
Ultimately, whenever we pick a modality, we marginalize a learner. When we choose to offer face-to-face-only classes with rigid schedules, we fail to support learners who require flexibility – whether it is to self-regulate and control anxiety or their response to trauma by not being in a classroom a full five days a week, or to get relief from a two-hour commute to the nearest school. Many learners require frequent medical appointments or recovery time for health issues, while others require flexibility for family travel or sport programs. In contrast, when we choose to offer online programs, we may assume the learner has access to the internet at home or the technology to access the course. The design might also require significant parental support, which may not be possible. Which learner has the right to be served within their local community school? Why does one learner get supported in their local context, while the other is asked to leave their community?
Ultimately, we need to support all modalities to implement an inclusive and socially just education system. How we do it requires careful consideration, so it is not burdening the teacher to be a full-time, in-person teacher, while also engaged in online synchronous and asynchronous activities. Both modes can be designed and delivered well, but require some reorganization of roles within a school or district. For example, British Columbia’s School District 69 Qualicum Restart Plan (n.d.) for the 2020/21 school year, hired three teachers assigned to two classrooms in elementary (offering both in-person and remote learning) and cross-enrolled secondary learners in both their home school and the district’s online learning programs. This district supported and retained learners, when other districts forced them into home schooling or out-of-district online programs.
We were able to pivot an entire system on short notice. Surely, we can embrace inclusion and human rights so as not to abandon those who still remain marginalized and require flexibility when we return.
Choosing not to engage technology or not to engage different modes of access results in exclusion for many learners. There are also other considerations, however, such as the loss of funding to a school or district, and loss of teacher jobs, which happens when learners leave a school or district in favour of homeschooling or an online school with a higher teacher-student ratio.
And they do leave. BCEdAccess, an organization serving families of learners with disabilities, released 2020 study findings that support the need for flexibility. In 2021, they documented family intentions to leave the system and found that 67.5% of 453 respondents’ children attended in-person public school in the 2019/20 year. That number dropped to 43.9% in the 2020/21 post-pandemic school year. During the same period, they reported that enrolment increased in other schooling alternatives, with the most frequent being:
Both during and pre-pandemic, many students have been pushed out of their local catchment schools and into homeschooling or online programs that are often out of district or private. By not providing flexible and online designs within schools, we are essentially defunding the public school system, reducing teacher jobs, and abandoning learners who need access to education and inclusion in their community school. The irony is that not providing adequate funding and online designs may have cost the system more in accumulated losses. While the indirect impact on the greater economy is hard to measure, learner exclusion from school has a severe impact on working parents – most often mothers – and sometimes results in loss of employment. We need to address systemic gender inequity in how we design both our workplaces and our schools.
For more on the landscape of merging modalities, see my EDUCAUSE Review article (Irvine, 2020a).
Since online learning emerged decades ago out of text-based asynchronous learning, we have a historical bias to address: namely, that online learning is passive while face-to-face learning is rich and dynamic. It is key, however, to separate the pedagogy from the modality. The pedagogy applied within a mode will determine whether the learning experience is dynamic or passive (see Figure 1).
A growing body of research concludes that one learning mode is not necessarily better than the other. The no-significant difference phenomenon is well documented, and the famous Clark vs. Kozma debate on whether media impacts learning is distilled in a blog post by elementary vice-principal, Emily Miller. Clark and Feldon (2014) conclude that “studies comparing the learning benefits of different media are a waste of resources.” Instead, they argue, what’s needed is “many more research and evaluation studies focused on the use of media to improve student access to instructional programs and to reduce the cost of learning” (p. 153). (See Open Educational Resources.)
Integrating technology-based education can also reduce the cost of learning. This cost savings can be realized through shared services and resource creation by both teachers and learners through Creative Commons licenses. Open licensing empowers sharing and remixing to suit local contexts, and can also reduce costs by averting the purchase of corporate for-profit resources. The post-secondary sector has begun embracing open educational resources (OER) to lower textbook costs for students – $20 million in 2020 in B.C. alone (BCcampus). Moving beyond open textbooks into OER-enabled pedagogy (Wiley, 2017) can help K–12 discover, reuse, remix, and co-create Canadian and locally developed resources.
We also need to recognize that learners hold different preferences about modality. In my study of preservice teachers enrolled in a core teacher education course offered in multi-access format, with a required synchronous component, learners varied widely when ranking their preferred modality (Irvine et al., 2013). After having taken the course, the rank order across participants was:
Note that the lowest-ranked modes were the binaries of face-to-face and online learning. Most learners preferred a more flexible mix of the two. Various factors influence one’s preference or need for modality (e.g. need for geographic relocation, physical and mental health, length of commute, caregiving, prior experience with different modes, etc.) and preferences may differ across contexts and time periods. If those needs do not match the rigid scheduling of K–12 community schools, it puts additional stress on the student to adapt.
Unfortunately, in many K–12 online schools, it is the opposite extreme: learners are often able to enroll continuously throughout the year and follow different paces asynchronously through learning modules, which results in additional stress for the teacher and potentially poor scaffolding or community-building for the learner. There needs to be a compromise, with a proper needs assessment study of both learners and teachers.
We need to ask ourselves why the learners in many online classes do not have the same opportunities as their face-to-face peers in terms of class ratio, design, relational learning, and supports. It is important to address the modality bias that exists around supports required for both online and face-to-face learning. For example, we can and should build inquiry-based learning strategies into our online offerings. We need approaches that focus more on the learner and on co-creating the curriculum, as opposed to course shells literally purchased from a company in Texas. Regardless of mode, the role of the teacher and the conditions around class sizes and supports are the same. Quality learning, whether face-to-face or online, is built around relationships and care-centred approaches for the learner.
Moving beyond the haphazard “emergency remote teaching” era and embracing the integration of technology and online modes will take a concerted effort, through professional development, to advance the digital, networked, and open literacies of teachers and administrators. Inclusion requires technology as a pillar, which means all teachers must foster ways to support learner voice, choice, and access through technology. Furthermore, a deeper understanding is needed to develop a critical lens of digital pedagogy, so as not to fall deep into the pervasive “tech ninja” or “corporate-certified educator” approach. For too long, the K–12 sector has been the target of corporate integration and has perpetuated exclusion. To address this, the Open/Technology in Education, Society, and Scholarship Association (OTESSA), a new Canada-based academic and professional association, was formed to drive research, innovation in practice, and advocacy. In its 2021 federal pre-budget submission, it recently advocated for better supports for both K–12 and post-secondary in the areas of digital, online, and open education.
Technology presents rich options for inclusion, but discernment is required, for example, in order to mitigate corporate interests in education (Gilliard, 2018); navigate issues around learner privacy, consent, and data ownership; develop and implement rich online learning strategies and technologies; and identify protections needed to address inequities experienced by marginalized learners (e.g. digital redlining). Not everyone experiences the internet in the same way. Some learners may depend on it for expression of learner voice, when speaking in the physical classroom is not possible (see Figure 2). Some require advocacy to access technology, while others need protection from online harassment. It is no longer appropriate for a teacher to decide not to learn how to incorporate technology, nor is it appropriate for districts or governments not to implement supports for teachers.
Learning about technology can be a stressful experience. However, practica are similarly stressful experiences for pre-service teachers, with experiences of failure throughout – yet these challenges during face-to-face teaching do not deter most early career educators from continuing. In fact, failure is expected, and these teachers are encouraged to find supports as they learn and iterate in their practice. With forays into technology integration and exploring online modes, teachers and administrators need to work through challenges to discover practices that work best in their context and for their learners. What we do know is that face-to-face classes cannot simply be transferred online; they need to be adapted. As educators, we need to continue experiencing and learning from failures, reflecting and iterating, regardless of modality, and with proper supports.
In my 2019 offering of a multi-access course with a cohort of 25 MEd learners, I received 5/5 teaching evaluations – but I have been iterating my approaches since 2007. I was fortunate to teach my Educational Technology MEd cohort again in July 2020, after the learners had been through an incredibly stressful spring with the pivot. Many were eager to reflect on their pivot teaching experiences and determine how to return to school in the fall with new designs and solutions. After having this chance to reflect and read relevant research, the cohort co-created a website that shared remote teaching resources that they developed to assist others (Remote Teaching Resources, n.d.). Teachers are the key to shifts in our education system, but they cannot do it alone.
While it varies by school district and province, modality bias continues in that many online schools are seen as a cash cow for a district. In many collective agreements, there is weak language around the protection of online teachers compared to bricks-and-mortar ones, and this in turn weakens supports for learners. Many of the online schools I have visited use asynchronous learning only, continuous enrolment, and large class sizes, compared to local in-person schools. If we truly want an equitable school system, we need to start by providing online learners the same class sizes and the same access to dynamic pedagogical approaches. If we want to break the bias against online schooling as passive, then we need to stop perpetuating the mechanisms that make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is my strong belief that our K–12 school system needs to move toward embedding online learning within local catchment schools to support inclusion and flexibility, and to ensure equal standards are provided to online learners in terms of class sizes and supports. This may also ensure that when learners experience times when they need flexibility, they can be supported without leaving the public system. All too often, once they leave, they are unlikely to return. As a result of full inclusion, more teacher positions will be retained to be there for the learners.
THE INTERSECTION between technology and education is complex and requires an informed and nuanced approach. We cannot return to pre-pandemic teaching, because all of our stakeholders have been changed by the pandemic. It’s time to check our individual and systemic biases and take steps to correct the inequities – and never go back.
Photo credit: Adobe Stock
This is part of the first edition of Education Canada, powered by voicEd radio, a cross-platform professional learning experience.
BCcampus. (2020, October 31). $20 million in 2020. https://bccampus.ca/2020/10/31/20-million-in-2020
BCEdAccess. (2020, August 18). Survey results show need for clarity and flexibility in #BCED fall plans. https://bcedaccess.com/2020/08/18/survey-results-2
BCEdAccess. (2021). Considering leaving the system. https://bcedaccess.com/2021/07/02/report
Clark, R. E., & Feldon, D. F. (2014). Ten common but questionable principles of multimedia. In R. E. Mayer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139547369
Gilliard, C. (2018). How ed tech is exploiting students. Chronicle of Higher Education, 64(31), 1–1.
Irvine, V. (2020a). The landscape of merging modalities. EDUCAUSE Review, 55(4). https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/10/the-landscape-of-merging-modalities
Irvine et al. (2013). Realigning higher education for the 21st-century learner through multi-access learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2). https://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no2/irvine_0613.htm
Mayer, R. E. (Ed.) (2014). The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139547369
Miller, E. (2019, September 17). Clark vs. Kozma – media and learning. MISSMILLERSLEARNNGJOURNEY. https://missmillerslearningjourney.opened.ca/2019/09/17/clark-vs-kozma-media-and-learning
National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements. (2019). No significant difference. https://detaresearch.org/research-support/no-significant-difference
OTESSA. (2021, August 9). Sharing our OTESSA federal pre-budget submission. https://otessa.org/news/sharing-our-otessa-federal-pre-budget-submission
Remote Teaching Resources. (n.d.). About. https://edtechuvic.ca/remoteteaching
School District 69 Qualicum. (n.d.). Restart Plan. https://web.archive.org/web/20200924133657/https://www.sd69.bc.ca/Lists/Announcements/Attachments/385/SD69%20Restart%20Plan%20with%20UPDATED%20COVID-19%20Health%20and%20Safety%20Guidelines%20-%20September%203%202020.pdf
Wiley, D. (2017, May 2). OER-enabled pedagogy. Improved Learning. https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/5009
If there is anything that we have learned over the course of COVID-19 and the constant shifting from in-person to remote, etc., it’s the importance of a positive classroom community. This is established when all students feel valued, safe, and represented in their classroom, and students are actively taking risks and making mistakes.
Every classroom is going to look different, because every teacher and student group is different; what works for one educator is not going to be the same for others – and that’s OK! It’s important to reflect on your strengths and what you bring to your own classroom, and build from there.
In an ideal world, face-to-face interactions are a key component to building community; students get to see and interact with their teacher and peers, and become comfortable in the classroom setting. The strategies we share below are meant to provide ideas on how you can leverage tech tools to support this class bonding.
Please remember that building community is not a one-and-done activity; it takes real effort and continuous commitment to build and foster positive relationships throughout the course of the school year.
Why is community so important? Classroom community is a fundamental building block upon which everything is based. Positive relationships foster safe, inclusive, and effective learning environments.
First, a positive community encourages communication. Communication allows students to get comfortable with their peers, to build friendships, and to gain confidence using their voice in the classroom. It also allows students and teachers to communicate more openly about expectations, struggles, and how to improve.
From there, community leads to more effective collaboration. This is a skill that is important for students in all courses, but will also be important for their future.
Community also supports social and emotional learning. It’s important for students to build healthy attitudes toward their self-identity, to learn how to manage their emotions and behaviours, and to develop a sense of empathy for themselves and others.
Finally, one of the most important reasons for building community is the creation of a safe and inclusive learning environment. By recognizing milestones and highlighting the many cultures and strengths in their classrooms, educators can create a space where students feel valued and able to share their ideas, their learning, etc., without feeling judged or ridiculed by their peers or teacher.
Now let’s talk about technology tools that you can use to support community building in your classroom. No matter which tools you choose, consider tools that allow students to see and/or hear you and each other. This helps students to connect with you as their teacher, and with their peers. Think of the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” – when you include yourself in a video, students can see facial expressions and hear intonation, without having to interpret that from text only.
Be sure to protect students and their identities. Check privacy policies, and try to avoid having students use tools that gather a lot of personal data. If your board has rules about technology use for students, make sure that you are verifying each tool to ensure students are protected.
Please note that there are many different tools that are quite similar. We have included tools that we use regularly.
You can record a combination of voice, screen, and/or webcam. Tools include Screencastify, Loom, Explain Everything, Screencast-o-matic, and WeVideo.
These tools allow you to record audio notes in Google Workspace (Docs, Slides, Forms, Gmail) and beyond. You can achieve this with Mote and Google Read&Write’s Voice Comment feature.
Real-time messaging apps are more similar to the way that students communicate in real life. Tools include Remind, Slack, Discord, Google Chat or the chat feature built into your LMS.
These are collaborative tools that can be leveraged in the classroom. Examples of these tools are Microsoft (Office) 365 (Word, PowerPoint) and Google Workspace (Docs, Slides, Drawings).
These tools can be used to gather information. Surveys can be created using a variety of tools, such as Microsoft Forms, Survey Monkey, and Google Forms.
This is a great tool for collaborating in real time. Similar tools include: Google Jamboard, whiteboard.fi, whiteboard.chat, as well as the Microsoft Whiteboard.
Video conferencing tools have become a staple in virtual classrooms. Take advantage of additional features within these tools such as polls, Q&A, and breakout rooms to build your classroom community.
An LMS is a centralized hub where students can access content, submit assignments, and more. Examples of an LMS are: Google Classroom, Brightspace by D2L, Schoology, Canvas, etc.
As you start off your school year, remember that community building does not happen overnight. Teachers must continue to make an effort throughout the course or school year to ensure that all students feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. Taking just a few minutes every day can lead to positive student outcomes, as well as stronger and more positive student-teacher relationships.
First published in Education Canada, September 2021
This department is generously sponsored by IPEVO
Over the past two decades, classroom assessment for formative purposes has taken centre stage in curriculum policies, assessment standards, and professional learning conversations across Canada. Educators have increasingly embraced and implemented formative assessment approaches under the umbrella of assessment for learning. This endorsement of formative assessment is unsurprising as it has been shown to improve student achievement, metacognition, and motivation (Hattie, 2013) and to aid in promoting more equitable outcomes for lower-achieving students (Black & Wiliam, 2009). As a result, assessment is now more integrated within teaching and learning in Canadian classrooms than ever before, fostering an assessment culture that prioritizes ongoing feedback and the growth mindset (Shepard, 2019).
In this article, we ask: Is the ongoing pandemic and related disruptions to Canadian education threatening the positive assessment culture we’ve worked so hard to create? Classroom teachers have been thrust into online or blended learning contexts, often with little notice and preparation, forcing them to reimagine and transform their instructional and assessment practices in real time. While summative assessment remains a required component of schooling, many teachers are challenged by how to adapt formative assessment practices for online and blended learning contexts. With screens now interfacing so much of our interactions with students, the teaching profession faces pressing questions such as: How can we effectively engage assessment for learning with our students when learning is mediated by technology? How do we maintain the spirit of formative assessment when we don’t “see” or “hear” our students as much as we used to, if at all? and How do we avoid reverting to an emphasis on summative assessment in our online and blended classrooms?
Indeed, emerging research confirms these concerns. A recent report by Doucet and his colleagues (2020) highlights five key assessment-related challenges currently experienced by educators around the world:
While there is cause for optimism that these global challenges in K–12 education will dissipate, it is likely that current conditions will persist for some time and that elements of online or blended learning will take on greater precedence in future classrooms. As we collectively pivot and adapt our approaches to assessment in online and blended learning contexts, it is critical that classroom teachers, school and system leaders, policymakers, researchers, and teacher educators come together to rethink how we assess in online and blended K–12 learning. The changes we make now will not only serve our current students but also inform how we integrate technology in assessment after the pandemic subsides. In this vein, we offer three foundational tenets to help us move forward together to continue to foster a productive assessment culture – whether in online, blended, or face-to-face classrooms.
In rethinking how we assess online, it is essential to remember that we need not start from scratch. Instead, we can look beyond the surface of tried-and-true assessments to their underlying first principles and focus on: the learning we need to assess from our students (purpose), how students may demonstrate their learning (process), and what it is that we might do with that assessment information (use). In keeping an assessment’s purpose, process, and use top of mind, we are better positioned to incorporate technological tools that enable the assessment – whether in a face-to-face, blended, or online learning context. For instance, technology has now made it easy to capture how an idea or a product has evolved over time. Students can save multiple iterations of their work easily and with minimal burden, and easily share their work with others for feedback. Adopting these new technological options serves to strengthen the validity of the assessment by generating richer and more numerous observations of the learning, allowing for better triangulation of student assessment data. While there is no shortage of technological tools and applications that support assessment for learning in K–12 learning – which can be overwhelming in and of itself – emphasizing first principles allows us to confidently select the tool that best aligns with our assessment’s purpose, process, and use.
The shift to online and blended learning has created new professional challenges for educators and led to new stresses for students and families. Now more than ever, we must keep students’ needs, interests, and well-being at the centre of all teaching and assessment activities. Whether face-to-face, blended, or online, we can use assessment for learning to build relationships with our students and support their sense of inclusion. Leveraging one of the greatest strengths of assessment for learning – its capacity to build community – is essential in this time of prolonged isolation. Engaging students in peer feedback processes through group work, collaborative problem-solving activities, breakout rooms, or discussion boards can be a productive place to start. In addition, ongoing teacher-student conversations provide opportunities to celebrate successes, provide feedback, and show our students care and compassion. This supports not only their growth as learners but also their development as individuals. Further, allowing multiple opportunities for students to engage in self-assessment and reflection can serve to support their self-regulation and mental health. And importantly, aside from providing feedback on learning itself, assessment for learning can enable teachers’ ongoing communication with students and their parents/guardians to ensure students have access to the necessary infrastructure to support their learning and address potential equity or social-emotional issues students might be facing.
As we experience and reflect on the sudden and widespread shift to online and blended classrooms, we must continue to learn together about how assessment supports our teaching and our students’ learning and well-being. In the decade prior to the pandemic, educators were increasingly exploring and using various new technologies in the classroom to support teaching, learning, and assessment. However, the pandemic has forced our hand as a profession, requiring widespread adoption of technology in all aspects of our teaching practice, including assessment (Doucet et al., 2020). So, while systematic professional learning about assessment was already essential prior to 2020, the global pandemic has magnified the need to help classroom teachers develop new strategies and leverage technology to support both formative and summative assessment in online and blended contexts. As a result, it is critical that educators across classrooms, schools, boards, regions, and provinces engage in various forms of professional learning and inquiry – whether through self-directed learning, collaborative professional inquiry, professional webinars, social media networks, or formal coursework. We are all learning at a rapid pace that has been forced upon us by circumstances beyond our control, but we can use this opportunity to grow and develop as individuals and as a profession. We particularly encourage a system-wide approach to professional learning within boards and engagement with online professional learning networks such as the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network1 (CAfLN) so that educators may generate relevant and appropriate insights to their local contexts.
While education is constantly evolving and changing, the global pandemic has intensified the need to adapt how we teach and assess our students to better support their learning, development, and well-being. As a profession, we have been forced to change, expand, and redefine the assessments we were doing face to face into online and blended learning contexts. We must acknowledge the steep learning curve we are experiencing as a profession and prioritize open and honest communication among all stakeholders involved – students, teachers, school leaders, system leaders, policymakers, parents/guardians, other professionals, researchers, and teacher educators. We must also pause to celebrate our successes and progress to date in forging new territory in K–12 assessment amid a challenging time. Moreover, we must continue to allocate time, resources, and supports as we continue to learn and grow in our understanding and practice of assessment.
The pandemic has altered many things in our world, but it has not eradicated what we know about the value and importance of assessment for learning and our shared desire to sustain a productive assessment culture in schools and classrooms. Nor has it changed the spirit of assessment, which is captured by the etymology of the word assess itself: to “sit beside” our learners and support their learning. At the end of the day, we need to continue to come together as an education community to use research-based practices to collectively navigate online assessment and promote a positive assessment culture that transcends context.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21, 5–31.
Doucet, A., Netolicky, D., Timmers, K., et al. (2020). Thinking about pedagogy in an unfolding pandemic: An independent report on approaches to distance learning during COVID19 school closures to inform Education International and UNESCO. Education International.
Hattie, J. (2013). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.
Shepard, L. (2019). Classroom assessment to support teaching and learning. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 683(1), 183–200.
Digital technologies have taken a more prominent role in Canadian classrooms in recent years, but COVID-19 has pushed technology centre stage, requiring educators and students to strengthen their digital skills and potentially reconsider their traditional roles.
In April of 2021, the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) released a new study, 21st Century Digital Skills: Competencies, innovations and curriculum in Canada, which examines, among other things, the top technical and human skills (or “soft skills”) required by educators and students.
As the 2020/21 school year winds down and planning for the fall begins, uncertainty remains around the vaccine rollout and the coming term. What will the coming school year like? A return to in-class instruction, remote learning, or a mixture of both (hybrid learning)? What is certain is that the demand for digital skills will continue to grow.
When used skillfully as part of an educator’s toolkit, edtech possesses the ability to strengthen student engagement while encouraging academic success. The rise of technology in classrooms is surfacing new pedagogical best practices that encourage better collaboration, improved interactivity, and greater flexibility for educators and their students. These methods and their accompanying skills are likely to have long-lasting implications for educators who have adopted both in-class and online teaching responsibilities.
The 21st Century Digital Skills report, which draws on a series of interviews from subject matter experts across Canada, highlights the changing role of the K–12 educator to that of a “facilitator” of learning, which is a fundamental departure from the long-standing “sage on the stage” paradigm. As indicated by interview respondents, educational technologies have quickened the pace of this transition while also challenging outdated policies surrounding the use of cell phones and other technologies in the classroom.
This shift calls on educators to cultivate new technical skills, but it also requires strong “human skills.” Study interviewees also noted that human skills (which was preferred to the term “soft skills,” and includes critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability) are not vulnerable to the impacts of automation, artificial intelligence, or technology obsolescence.
These skills and competencies are reaching new and more nuanced levels as technology deepens considerations around, for example, critical thinking and media literacy. As one educator in the study stated:
With summer approaching, teachers who are interested in improving their technical skills can take advantage of a wide array of online courses in digital technologies, which include media literacy.
An analysis of study interviews identified the following list of both technical and human skills, ranked in descending order by frequency of mentions:
Digital literacy Typically refers to competency in using core technologies (this can range from the use of search engines, office productivity software, basic operating system functions, up to database usage, coding, and computational thinking) and involves the ability to find, evaluate, create, and share content online. As the world increasingly adopts digital technologies, higher standards of digital literacy are needed to fully participate. Educators can work to improve their digital literacy through various available online training resources, by participating on various platforms, and as part of professional learning communities.
Information/media literacy This involves understanding how and why a media message is constructed – as well as its impact. In addition to accessing media and information, there is also the need to be able to analyze it critically, evaluate different media, and to ultimately be able to use it effectively. Educators can find a variety of media literacy resources, curriculum guides, lesson plans, and video tutorials through provincial teaching accreditation bodies (e.g. Ontario College of Teachers) teacher associations, individual school boards or online at places such as mediasmarts.ca.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) fluency and awareness As teachers are increasingly required to use LMS environments such as Moodle and D2L to deliver teaching materials, receive assignments, and communicate with students and parents, it is crucial they feel comfortable navigating this software. In addition to training provided by school districts, there are professional development conferences, web tutorials, and online courses through Coursera or edX.
Digital engagement Although “engagement” is typically understood to be linked to interpersonal communication, this term was often used by the educators we interviewed in discussing retention rates and maintaining student attention while using learning management systems or social media platforms such as Tik Tok, Snapchat, etc. It is not necessary for educators to become avid users of these social media platforms, but it is helpful for them to have an awareness of these growing trends and how they fit into the larger digital ecosystem.
Data and analytics competencies Digitization has greatly increased the amount of data available to decision makers, and this leads to increased interest in the use of analytics to make better “evidence-based decisions” and identify patterns that were not previously apparent. This is definitely the case in business and government, but it is also increasingly relevant in education. Increasingly, learning management systems are integrating data analytics for personalized learning insights as well as data dashboards (Gunawardena, 2017). There is a growing field of data analytics training at postsecondary institutions as well as online courses for classroom teachers.1
Technology use in the classroom today varies greatly among educators, their schools, regions, and even provinces, but best practices have emerged. Study interviewees and education experts have highlighted the following:
While digital skills and new technology tools are important – and teachers need to receive both training and support to effectively work with these technologies – the subject experts consulted for ICTC’s 21st Century Digital Skills study noted that digital tools are part of a much larger educational transition. In this evolution, educators facilitate student development based on their individual needs and interests to help keep pace with a rapidly changing world.
First published in Education Canada, June 2021
The 21st Century Digital Skills report also includes a focus on educator training and support, an exploration of the top technical, academic, and human skills required of K–12 students, and examples of innovative technologies being leveraged in Canadian classrooms. https://bit.ly/3tC7mM5
1 See, for example, www.edx.org/course/analytics-for-the-classroom-teacher
Gunawardena, A. (2017). Brief survey of analytics in K12 and higher education. International Journal on Innovations in Online Education. doi: 10.1615/IntJInnovOnlineEdu.v1.i1.80
This department is generously sponsored by IPEVO
Students who are digitally literate know how to use computers and the Internet to find, read, organize, and critically analyze information, to compose digital texts such as infographics, blogs, or videos for a range of purposes using a range of applications, and to participate ethically on social media platforms and in other networked spaces using multiple modes such as text, image, sound, or hashtags. Teachers and parents play a crucial role in helping young people to develop the foundational digital skills and social practices that enable them to become critical readers, writers, and participants in a complex world where digital technologies shape how we think, understand and interact.
As children learn to recognize, decode and print the letters of the alphabet, they can also learn to recognize and type letters on keyboards, use digital applications to listen to and interact with e-books, use audio recording applications to record and share their ideas, and use block-coding platforms (e.g., SCRATCH) to design commands that computers can read. Young children require developmentally appropriate opportunities to make meanings with and through all of the technologies that will shape their literacies practices in life.
Creative collaboration sets the stage for students to think beyond the consumption of digital information as they negotiate and solve complex problems using a range of digital tools. For example, co-creating a digital video on a topic of social importance might require students to use cloud-based writing platforms for storyboarding, digital video cameras for recording, data management practices for organizing files, digital editing software, and online video sharing platforms with permissions set according to privacy needs. Through collaboration and peer review, students learn what it means to create, curate, and disseminate their work as active participants in networked cultures.
When searching the Internet for information, students who adopt an evaluative stance, and who read across information sources in order to compare facts, arguments, and perspectives (also called lateral reading) tend to construct more accurate understandings of topics. To develop an evaluative stance, students need opportunities to judge the relative trustworthiness of information sources using indicators such as context, author identity and credentials, point of view, evidence of funding, text genre, modality, use of emotional triggers, how the information circulates via social media and whether information can be verified. Students also benefit when they have to justify their trustworthiness rankings, through debate, with peers and when their parents and teachers model critical evaluation practices by thinking aloud as they make judgments about information.
Just as learning to read and write printed texts requires explicit instruction over many years with many types of text, and for many communicative purposes, learning to become digitally literate requires similar support. Even though people sometimes think children are born “just knowing” how to use digital tools, research has dispelled this myth. Even highly educated young adults who grew up using the Internet are susceptible to fake news, and may not know how to solve complex problems using computers. Given the importance of global digital networks to nearly every aspect of life today, prioritizing digital literacies teaching and learning in every grade and in every subject area at school is important so that students learn foundational digital reading, composition and participation practices from an early age.
Just a year ago, educators found themselves scrambling to prepare and deliver all-digital, all-remote teaching. It was often chaotic. Sometimes frustrating. And it’s taken time for educators and students alike to adapt and keep adapting as the situation evolves.
Teachers have long dealt with the challenge of keeping students engaged and on-task in face-to-face learning environments, but now, in fully remote and hybrid ones, the engagement challenge is even more significant.
The good news is there are tools that can help.
Digital pens and tablets have long been used for creative work, such as illustration and photo editing, and in animation houses, industrial design studios, and creative agencies. In the past several months, educators have discovered that Wacom digital pen tablets and displays can help them enhance both remote and in-class instruction in ways that engage students and inspire collaboration.
Teachers know how important it is to keep students’ attention and explain concepts and ideas ‘in the moment.’ It’s hard to use a mouse, trackpad, and keyboard to write out mathematical and scientific formulas, make simple sketches and diagrams or annotate assignments. But all that changes with the addition of a pen tablet or display. Plug a Wacom into your computer, and you’ll instantly regain the ability to work freely by hand, just like you do in the classroom.
Here are just some of the many ways educators are using pen tablets to turn shared screens into compelling instruction:
These days, video plays a key role in making remote and hybrid learning successful in one of two primary ways; either by recording classroom sessions for students to review after class, or adapting a “flipped classroom” approach, and producing short instructional videos for students to review before class. For students who have limited access to live lessons, these video-based resources can help them keep up with schoolwork. Using a pen tablet for creating instructional videos gives teachers the ability to write or draw, so students can see the steps they’re taking as they work through a problem or activity… just as they would on a whiteboard or chalkboard in class.
In remote and hybrid learning environments, students often struggle with long texts. With instructional videos, teachers can use a pen tablet to create short and engaging visual lessons that give students ample opportunities to pause, reflect, rewind and review so that they can master concepts more easily.
While great teaching is an art, using a digital pen tablet to teach doesn’t require any artistic ability. A pen tablet is a tool that can free teachers to demonstrate more effectively, answer questions and dig into complex concepts in a way that feels natural and familiar and helps keep students engaged, participating, and collaborating. In addition to the tablet hardware itself, Wacom has included five bonus education software applications with its Wacom Intuos pen tablets and Wacom One pen display to make it easier for educators to integrate pen tablet tools into instruction.
Educators who purchase Wacom One pen displays or Wacom Intuos pen tablets will get free three-month professional subscriptions to five remote-ready apps:
The Wacom eLearning Blog features articles, videos, and tutorials developed by teachers to give educators ideas about enriching remote and hybrid instruction. Learn about best practices for creating flipped classroom resources, and discover tips for creating engaging student videos and instructional presentations. Along with these resources, recorded educator-to-educator webinars, and eLearning
Getting Started videos and tutorials are available for on-demand viewing here.
Digital pen and tablet solutions can help make remote, hybrid, and traditional onsite teaching and learning easier to create and deliver and will help make instruction more engaging for students across the curriculum. Wacom also provides institutional pricing and support for schools and universities interested in equipping faculty and students with distance learning tools. Contact us for more information and pricing discounts.
For years, one of the most common questions that I heard as an educational technology trainer, speaker, and coach was “I’m a math teacher. How can I use edtech in my class?”
I had lots of answers that I was excited about. I advocated for Desmos activities, Flipgrid topics for sharing strategies, spreadsheets for investigating patterns, and more. One thing that was always tough, though, was actually entering mathematical representations into digital spaces. Some spaces were built for it, like Desmos, and some spaces had a pen tool, like Flipgrid, but others were not set up well for it, like Google Docs, Slides, and Forms.
Until EquatIO® came along. With its “Make math digital” tagline, Texthelp’s tool gave teachers and students the ability to easily enter equations and graphs into Docs, Slides, Forms, and more. At that time, there were quite a few math and science teachers who were very excited about the capabilities that EquatIO gave them. They enjoyed using them to create content, activities, and assignments for their students. And, for some of them, they even had their students use EquatIO to respond or create content of their own.
From my observations, some math teachers may have thought that EquatIO was a misspelling of equation. Until early 2020, that is. When math classes, along with all of the other classes in schools, moved online, educators needed a way to create, as EquatIO calls it, “Make math digital.”
And I think that EquatIO is one tool that they should consider to support their digital math instruction.
EquatIO–which is free for teachers–has 8 main features that I’d like to share with you. The first 5 relate to entering math and science expressions into digital spaces. Let’s look at those first.
Entering Math and Science Expressions with EquatIO
Check out these input options in the EduGIF below and then read on to learn more about each.
Note that while this EduGIF shows EquatIO being used in Google Forms, it also works in Slides, Docs, Sheets, and Drawings, as well as Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Office 365 applications.
As you can see above, the equation editor lets you type in words, numbers, letters, and symbols which it then turns into equations or expressions.
If you don’t know what LaTeX is (yes, that’s the way it’s really capitalized), don’t worry: that’s why EquatIO exists. You’ve been able to use LaTeX to enter mathematical expressions for decades, but most educators, myself included, didn’t (and don’t) know how. And that’s okay, because EquatIO gives us a bunch of other options. But if you know how to use LaTeX, EquatIO has that for ya, too.
You draw a pi symbol, EquatIO turns it into π. You draw a square root, EquatIO turns it into √ . Cube roots, arcs, absolute values, Greek symbols, and logic symbols, too! You draw the math, EquatIO turns it into digital math!
You say pi, EquatIO turns it into π. You say square root, EquatIO turns it into √ . Yup! You say the math, EquatIO turns it into digital math!
You can also use your mobile device to prepare, capture, or create your mathematical expressions! Just access the EquatIO site from your mobile device with your normal EquatIO account and you’ll be able to use speech input, handwriting recognition, or even the camera to send content–as text or images–straight to your computer! You can learn more about this feature here.
What else can you do with EquatIO?
EquatIO has more to offer to your math or science classroom than just a set of awesome modes for entering expressions and equations. Let’s check out the other features:
You’re most likely familiar with the Desmos graphing calculator. Along with their scientific calculator, it is “used annually by over 40 million teachers and students around the world.” They are “built into the majority of U.S. state-level assessments and digital college entrance exams” and a number of other assessments. (desmos.com/testing) Well, it’s built into EquatIO, too. Want to give your students a graph to answer questions about? Want to give them an equation and ask them to pick the correct graph from a set of choices? Want them to respond to a question with a graphical representation? You can do it all using the Graph Editor in EquatIO. Enter your equation and then insert the graph right into your Forms, Docs, Slides, or Sheets!
If you know much about the folks who make EquatIO–Texthelp–this feature probably comes as no surprise to you. On Texthelp’s homepage it says “We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential” and they continue, “We believe in digital inclusion – where life stage, visual impairment, dyslexia or dis/ability aren’t barriers to the online opportunities that others enjoy.” So, yeah, Universal Design for Learning and accessibility are pretty central to their mission. Actually, they’ve even matched the features in EquatIO to the UDL Framework!
Actually, I first became aware of Texthelp through their literacy software Read&Write, which is commonly used for text-to-speech and other features that make text more accessible for all learners. And why stop at making text accessible? Why not make math accessible, too? So they did! The Screenshot Reader in EquatIO can turn equations and expressions into “accessible math, which will automatically be read aloud” (source). You can learn more about it and see how it works here.
So, it’s great that EquatIO makes it easier to put mathematical and science representations into tools that aren’t built with math or science in mind (like Slides, Docs, and Forms). But even once those quadratic functions and graphs of trig functions are added in, the tools still aren’t quite right for doing math and exploring math. That’s where mathspace comes in.
EquatIO mathspace takes the tools that we covered above and puts them into a collaborative workspace for exploring math and science. Whether you’re teaching math digitally because of the pandemic or you just see the value in using certain digital tools in in-person classrooms, you’ll love the education-focused features in mathspace: assignments, feedback, collaboration, and more.
Orginally published by Jake Miller
For years, I thought I was checking all the “global education” boxes. Committed to diversity, building global competencies, and supporting my students to seek out different perspectives and viewpoints, I was set on making sure my young students were preparing for a world that would require them to work and live as global citizens. We placed emphasis on reading about cultures different from our own. We learned about holidays and customs of people in distant lands. Daily language practice included English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese. As early adopters with technology, we aimed to make connections to global issues and current events around such topics as the environment and human rights.
Then, around 2010, I realized that though I had been checking boxes, my instructional to-do list as a global educator needed to move students beyond simply learning about the people and issues of our world to a new level of action.
The Four Domains of Global Competence offered by the Asia Society (2005) (See Figure 1) showed me that globally competent students need the knowledge and skills to:
Figure 1 : Four Domains of Global Competence
The first three domains – that was where I was existing. Take action – that was where we needed to go.
Looking back, I would say that was the first defining moment that changed my course as a global educator. The next was in 2015, when I met the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The Sustainable Development Goals are humanity’s to-do list for a sustainable planet, a roadmap for a better future.” – United Nations Office at Geneva
The 17 Global Goals that our world together agreed to reach by 2030 cover critical topics such as life on land, climate action, gender equality, clean water, and food security. We in education even have our very own Global Goal in SDG 4: Quality Education. As I explored the SDGs, I started to see how we as educators can fit into this global conversation and universal call to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve the lives of all people.
Over the years, I have gathered with like-minded educators from all over the world who are also committed to bringing the SDGs to our classrooms and schools. Mobilized as a professional learning network and coming together in collaborative spaces such as Twitter and with projects such as the Goals Project (www.goalsproject.org), we see education as one of the greatest paths to achieving the SDGs, with teachers and students working together in solidarity and with purpose.
The start of TeachSDGs, now a community of more than 50,000 international educators taking action for the Global Goals, really came from the idea that the goals could be the roadmap for teachers seeking new ways of teaching and learning.
I remember sitting with my global education friends Alice McKim of New Brunswick, and Amy Rosenstein of New York and thinking together that the goals were what we had been searching for – the bridge to connect the work happening in classrooms out to the world and to industry. For us, the goals became the entry point into how we as teachers, along with our students, could join the conversation and have a “seat at the table” – be it in New York City at the UN headquarters or at the level of local policy or projects. The Global Goals, in our minds, laid out the plan and also the pathways into the work.
After being tasked by the UN to organize as a Global Goals Task Force, we knew we needed to move beyond being a handful of North American educators. We set out to invite in our global colleagues, many of whom we had never met and only knew from social media. We did what we knew best – we created a hashtag (#TeachSDGs) and a simple website (TeachSDGs.org), and we got to work. Soon after, we went from being a few educators to 17 to now tens of thousands, all working for this shared purpose – to support and empower students and teachers to take action for people and the planet through the work of the SDGs. And now that we have entered this Decade of Action, with less than ten years left until 2030, we are all operating with urgency and a clear vision of what we can do to help.
So why the Global Goals? Why now? We seem to be at a pivotal moment in education. We are seeing students rise up as activists to inspire and create needed change based on their viewpoints and the needs of our world; we as citizens of planet Earth are tackling climate change and combating human rights violations and global pandemics; we are seeing new technologies change the way we live and work at just the time when we are also prioritizing the human part of living and working, with emphasis on social-emotional learning, well-being, empathy, and design thinking. We as educators have been on the front lines of the change – seeing the shift as it occurs and pivoting and advancing right along with it.
The Sustainable Development Goals bring opportunity. They bring hope and a guide to get us there. Within classrooms, I see how the goals allow for collaboration and interdisciplinary work. Just as the goals are for everyone, everywhere, they also see no boundaries within curricula, allowing us to cross content areas and work as teams toward a common purpose. The Global Goals are the sciences and the arts; they are language and humanities. They are our history and our future, and for us as teachers, they can be the “today” of our teachings.
After several years of our work in building awareness of the goals, we started to hear teachers saying, “Now we see the ‘why,’ but what about the ‘how’?” In 2019, I was inspired by one of my former university students, who shared with me a project she did with teachers around the ABCs. If a project around 26 letters of the alphabet could work, I thought, why not build one around the 17 SDGs? I decided to see if teachers from the TeachSDGs community might be interested in joining me for a short project on the goals.
Once again, I created a name (Goals Project), a hashtag (#GoalsProject), and a free website (www.goalsproject.org), and started to share it on Twitter. My original stretch goal was finding 16 other classes. Within weeks, more than 350 people had asked to join, and in that first year of our Goals Project we had nearly 2,000 classrooms participate. The 2021 Goals Project kicked off on January 25, welcoming in nearly 3,000 classrooms from more than 120 countries. Students aged three–20 are joining in to take on the SDGs in a six-week project of solutions. For us, it is a space for exploring of ideas and building hope for a better planet as stewards for the environment and for the goodwill of people.
For educators ready to dive into the Global Goals today, here are five tips and then a listing of top resources designed to help K–12 educators take action on the SDGs in classrooms.
Print out and post the SDG Poster or the individual Global Goals: http://bit.ly/SDGposter
The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World (UN, 2019) suggests SDG actions you and your students can take from your couch, your home, your community, and your work/school: http://bit.ly/LazyPersonsGuideSDGs
Download and share infographics, GIFs, and translations for inspiring action in your school and community: http://bit.ly/SDGinfographics
Create your deck of action cards with the 170 Daily Actions to Transform our World resource from the UN Office at Geneva: http://bit.ly/170actioncards
Download the annual World’s Largest Lesson and access videos, printables, and other resources from http://bit.ly/worldslargestlessonSDGs
Do you work with students ages 4–8? The Explorers for the Global Goals lessons are a great place for you to start. Learn more at: http://bit.ly/SDGexplorers
Gamify learning with the Go Goals! SDG Board Game for Children offered in 21 languages. https://go-goals.org
Help end hunger by playing the Freerice online learning game by the World Food Program. For every correct answer, five grains of rice will be donated to people in need of food. http://bit.ly/playfreerice
Connect with thousands of educators from around the world who teach the Global Goals in their classrooms. Visit www.teachsdgs.org and follow the #TeachSDGs conversation on social media.
Join the annual Goals Project to be a part of a six-week online experience to learn about the goals and collaborate with classrooms from more than 120 countries. Visit www.goalsproject.org and follow #GoalsProject on social media.
Check out all the events and international days on the SDGs Planning Calendar: http://bit.ly/SDGcalendar
Banner Photo: Adobe Stock
The spring of 2020 will be described as “unthinkable” in our future textbooks. Grocery shelves were emptied, parks banned, classrooms closed, and businesses boarded. The world as we understood it was paused. But through the challenges, perspectives started to change and priorities shifted. Despite the fact that we were physically separated from one another, we came to a common understanding: that the “busy” of our lives was a glorification of exhaustion, discontent, and fear.
Teachers, with no classrooms to teach in, found themselves having to transition into digital educational spaces. My position was a little different. I was an online educator long before the days of COVID-19. However, the forced isolation led me to re-evaluate my own professional practice, in order to answer the many questions that were coming forward at that point. I was forced to reflect. In doing so, I realized that I needed to translate digital learning into an authentic and valuable experience for my students, and I needed to shift my own mindset about online practices, opportunities, and capabilities. We needed to come together, not just for academic success, but for our well-being as a group.
I thought I knew all there was to know about online teaching. It was my specialty, after all. However, despite my familiarity with the platform, I never fully understood or appreciated its potential benefits. Initially, its service for me was as a connector for learning and one-to-one Q and A. Honesty is key here, and as an online teacher, I will frankly admit that prior to the pandemic, I was quite resistant to online interaction. I believed the benefits of face-to-face connection could not be replicated through a screen, nor were they reliable enough in that context for professional practice. When it was necessary, I used it sparingly and in short intervals, as we were instructed to do by our administration. It felt forced and cold.
However, circumstances of these past months allowed for time to understand the potential and value of online learning. It was my bridge to students who, otherwise, would not be able to continue their studies. My mindset shifted. Mediums such as Google Meets and Zoom helped to alleviate the feelings of isolation. I scheduled meetings multiple times each week, with no filters, and no staging of my table or background. I let the clutter of home and the sound of my toddlers’ Netflix cartoons be part of my presence. In order for this to feel authentic and genuine, I had to first be an example of that for my students. Slowly, as both my students and I became comfortable with the process, I was able to answer their academic questions, but also ask about the pictures on their wall or the scenery at their cottages, and have them giggle with me at the many cups of pretend coffee my daughter would pour me while interrupting my lesson: “Mommy needs more coffee?!”
In the absence of physical contact, technology allowed me to build relationships – and those relationships extended beyond our scheduled times. Students informed me that there were others in the class who were struggling with the course because of issues like Internet connection, transportation, and accessibility. I made the taboo move of passing along my personal number (GASP – I know, but I did it!) to have those students reach out to me. I would make the arrangements necessary to ensure they had support in completing their tasks, and/or resources beyond their academics, if needed. I arranged phone conferences, created live docs through shared Google drives to provide immediate feedback, and when necessary, reached out to my administration to send paper copies of the material through the post for the students in more remote areas. I sent text reminders when I could to those who needed the extra push.
I found that trust could be established through the monitors, not in spite of them. I began to approach this platform with a newfound appreciation for its ability to cradle interconnection and create a new dimension of teacher/student relationships.
I know each teacher’s practice and experience will be different, whether online or in the classroom. However, I have come to three key factors that were instrumental in making the online experience successful and fun!
Let’s also admit that despite its benefits, online teaching is hard! As e-learning teachers, we must combat the inconsistencies of attendance and daily logins, missed assignments, and students’ overall struggle with time management and motivation to engage with a screen for their academic benefit rather than social pleasures. We have worked very hard to do this, and continue to do so, to help our students find success within themselves, regardless of the unexpected circumstances they may find themselves in.
Our learning does not end when we become teachers. As we transfer our binders and printed lessons onto digital platforms, and blend our classrooms into interactive and accessible hubs, we need to embrace a new vision of what an educator can be. It is not the end of the role, but rather a transformation of it, which we get to be part of. Change is inevitable and remains one of the only constants – but our growth is an optional component.
Photo: Adobe Stock
First published in Education Canada, January 2021
Schools can meet the challenge of climate change in different ways. Here are two outstanding – but very different – examples.
This federal election saw a not-so-subtle shift, as climate change and the environment became key priorities for Canadians. Faced with increasingly unpredictable weather, fears Canada will not meet its global commitments on carbon reduction, and a strong youth movement, public awareness and concern for climate has never been more palpable.
Youth have been at the centre of this shift, driven in part by Greta Thunberg’s climate strikes which have galvanized young and old around the world.
In Canada, schools are also part of the discussion. From curriculum and programming that explore climate change and human impact on the environment, to physical changes that promote energy efficiency, waste reduction and student health, Canadian schools are meeting the challenge of a changing climate in unique ways.
École Curé-Paquin elementary school in Saint-Eustache, Quebec will open its doors to more than 350 students this winter. The new facility was the first project in the province to receive the Zero Carbon Building – Design certification from the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).
“Creative and bold initiatives are needed to counter the effects of climate change.”
The certification means that École Curé-Paquin is designed to achieve zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with building operations. The school was part of a pilot project for the Zero Carbon Building Standard, which puts significant focus on carbon emissions in building design and performance.
For the Commission scolaire de la Seigneurie-des-Mille-Îles (CSSMI), the pursuit of the Zero Carbon Building Standard1 aligns with its belief in investing in sustainable buildings and contributing to the reduction of GHGs. The school board saw the pilot project as a flagship initiative that will potentially inspire other schools across the province. “Creative and bold initiatives are needed to counter the effects of climate change,” said Paule Fortier, President of CSSMI. “I am happy that our organization is making this environmentally responsible gesture through the construction of this school for the generations of tomorrow.”
Several decisions were made to improve energy efficiency and the school environment. For example, École Curé-Paquin uses geothermal exchange using heat generated from the earth for 100 percent of its heating and cooling needs. The school also installed photovoltaic or solar panels on the gym roof with a capacity of 27 kilowatts and sensor-controlled LED lighting, which helps reduce total energy use and daytime energy demand.
An enhanced building envelope limits hot or cool air loss, while the design optimizes natural daylight and ventilation for healthier (and more alert) students.
Research compiled by the U.S.-based Center for Green Schools has found that poor ventilation can result in more missed school days due to respiratory infections, increased incidence of sick building syndrome,2 and increased school nurse visits for respiratory problems. Further, a 2013 study found a direct link between classrooms that have more daylight and improved test scores.
The school board’s goal was to create a comfortable learning environment and to provide an exemplary building for students that could also be used as a learning tool. A screen in the school broadcasts the school’s daily energy consumption and production, including the energy produced via solar panels. In Science class, students learn how GHGs can be reduced using technologies found in the school.
While École Curé-Paquin’s zero-carbon design is a focus for their sustainability efforts, other schools are focusing on curriculum and programming to help students understand the importance of climate change, the environment, and their role in helping to protect the natural world.
W.D. Ferris Elementary is one such school. Through the curriculum, the 500 students of this Richmond B.C. K-7 school are exposed to environmentalism, with programs designed to help them save energy, decrease waste and water use, and improve transportation and indoor air quality.
Teacher and environmental steward Kevin Lyseng credits the students for many of the program ideas that form the basis for the school’s environmental focus. “Caring about self, others and the environment is what we do,” he explained. “We also benefit from the continued support of the Richmond School District.”
“To reduce food waste, the school reversed the lunch schedule, so students can play before eating, resulting in a 95 percent reduction in food waste.”
Depending on the class, students participate in various programs, from raising Coho salmon, growing grapes or participating in regular audits of energy use and waste levels. These audits help shape activities that have had a significant impact on the school. Switching to six-bin waste collection has helped divert waste by 80 percent since 2007 by separating general waste from organics, plastics, paper, glass and metals. Their seasonal energy-saving informational programs have also helped to reduce electricity use by two percent – despite adding to the school’s plug load.
To reduce food waste, the school reversed the lunch schedule, so students can play before eating. This made the students more likely to eat their lunch, contributing to a 95 percent reduction in food waste. They’ve even piloted a flexible packaging project for the city of Richmond and are working with their hot lunch provider to address single-use plastics.
The school encourages active transportation to and from the school with walk-to-school and learn-to-bike programs. These programs help with student fitness, reduce air pollution, and limit traffic around the school – resulting in improved safety.
In the school, they minimize carpet and chalk use and use Ph-neutral cleaners which are less likely to cause eye or skin irritation. Classrooms are scent-free, with low-VOC (low-odour) paints and furnishings to keep the air quality high. Classroom air filters are replaced monthly and for classes with students that have severe allergies, HEPA filters are used because they remove common allergens like dust or pet dander.
This small school’s big success in pursuing a path of sustainability in its programming and approach to learning was recognized with the title of “Greenest School in Canada 2019” by the CaGBC. Principal Diane Steele said the school was honoured to be have been chosen for this award, but was quick to highlight the efforts of all schools committing to sustainability.
“We also want to acknowledge the hard work done by students and staff daily in schools across Canada to educate their communities about environmental stewardship,” she said. “We encourage all schools to inspire green-minded change in their communities.”
W.D. Ferris continues to spread its message to its broader community. Students and teachers have been involved in the Great Canadian Shoreline cleanup since 2007 and they regularly host district-wide ECO-Cafés, where green leaders meet to share successes and challenges. In this way, Ferris Elementary gives back to the community by encouraging others to reduce their ecological footprint.
The Canada Green Building Council is a not-for-profit, national organization that has been working since 2002 to advance green building and sustainable community development practices in Canada.
CaGBC and the Canada Coalition for Green Schools host the “Greenest School in Canada” competition, which recognizes schools that are weaving sustainability education into their curriculum and bringing programs and activities to students that encourage awareness about the environment.
Learn more at www.cagbc.org/greenestschool
Photos : from Mark Hutchinson
First published in Education Canada, March 2020
1 The Zero Carbon Building Standard is a Canadian-made standard and certification that assesses the carbon balance of a building – when there are no carbon emissions associated with operations, it has achieved zero carbon.
2 Sick Building Syndrome is used to describe cases in which building occupants experience adverse health effects potentially linked to the time they spend in the building.
These are common areas of need listed in Individual Education Plans. Yet figuring out how to address them is often a source of frustration for students, parents, and teachers alike. I leverage Google apps to support those areas of need and empower students with disabilities.
Many students with special needs struggle to articulate or even recall what they did in class. For parents, logging in to my Google Classroom from their child’s account allows them to help because they can see exactly what is happening in class.
A parent of one of my students explained to me, “It is the only way I can track what he has or hasn’t done. I can ensure assignments are handed in, rather than putting the work in his binder and hoping he remembers to hand it in the next day.”
Adding the Resource teacher or Educational Assistant to the Classroom further enhances collaboration and student success.
Inclusive education requires teachers to differentiate instruction based on student readiness, ability, and interest. With Classroom, I assign different versions of an assignment or quiz to certain students in the same class. Only the version that is assigned to a particular student will show up in their Classroom Stream.
Most students can write and listen, but struggle to do both simultaneously. For many students, such as those with dysgraphia, taking notes during class is a fruitless exercise. I reduce cognitive load for everyone in my class by uploading all course materials into Classroom so that students have digital copies of all notes. Students can refer to the notes during class, and again afterwards for repetition and review.
“It is fun and it reduces my stress.”
I use a simple yet empowering tool called Voice Typing to unlock the potential in those students.
This assistive technology can be found in the Tools drop-down menu in Google Docs and Slides. Students simply press the microphone icon and then speak into a headset to dictate their ideas. When I receive their work, I’m confident that I’m actually evaluating their true understanding of a concept, not just their ability to write about it.
Self-esteem, motivation, engagement, and achievement all increase dramatically as students dictate a page of text in the time it would take them to write or type a couple of sentences.
When I asked about the impact that Voice Typing has had on her written output, one of my students smiled and proudly said, “It helps me get my work completed faster,” while her classmate added that “it is fun and it reduces my stress.”
In my paperless classroom, assignments do not end up in the black hole at the bottom of a backpack. All course materials are accessible online on any device, at school and at home.
I do still provide the option of paper handouts for some things.
I do this because not every student has access to technology or Internet at home. Providing multiple means of representation addresses this equity issue and is a principle of Universal Design for Learning.
In Google Classroom, content is organized by topic and tasks are automatically added to a to-do list arranged by course and due date. This adds structure and routine, which decreases student anxiety. When students finish a task, they can turn in their work through my Classroom anytime, anywhere. This reduces barriers for students with executive functioning disabilities and allows me to provide timely descriptive feedback.
Google Drive has become the new binder. But an unorganized Drive is the electronic equivalent of a pile of crumpled papers at the bottom of a backpack.
So I take a little time to coach my students to effectively organize their digital binder:
One of my students succinctly described the benefits of his digital binder, saying “I know where all my work is, and it is saved there automatically.” No more lost work.
First published in Education Canada, March 2020
Canada has been experiencing a shortage in skilled trades workers for several decades – from jobs like plumbers, auto mechanics, and construction workers, to hairstylists, estheticians, bakers, and many more. Historically, schools have favoured academic courses (i.e. learning concepts from textbooks) over vocational courses (i.e. hands-on training for specific jobs). For example, in the late 1800s in Ontario, working-class boys had to learn the rules of the factory and, by the late 1960s, vocational programs had gained a reputation as a dumping ground for low-achieving students. While high schools today are providing more opportunities for students to explore different career options, both schools and Canadian society still have a long way to go in moving away from seeing the skilled trades as “low status” jobs.
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A rich and meaningful vocational education requires parents and teachers to help students see how school and work are complementary, and that “good jobs” take a variety of forms. One way of closing the gap between academic courses and vocational courses is by having all students participate in hands-on learning opportunities, including community service projects that can have real impact. Teachers, school administrators, employers, and community organizations all have important roles to play in encouraging students to learn “about” and “through” work, rather than simply “for” work.
Most provinces have high school apprenticeship programs, so check Ministry of Education websites. Below are some websites in Alberta and Ontario.
Careers is a charitable, industry sponsored organization that works with schools to connect students to employers in apprenticeship and other occupations.
The Aspen Foundation for Labour Education is dedicated to providing citizens with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that empower them to contribute fully to a healthy, just, and democratic workplace, community, and society through participation in labour and social justice initiatives.
Dual credit is where students participate in apprenticeship training and postsecondary courses, earning credits that count towards both their high school diploma and their postsecondary diploma, degree or apprenticeship certification.
Akkerman, S. and Bakker, A. (2011) Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Journal of Educational Research, 81(2): 132-169. CBC. (2019, May 15). Skilled trades workers wooing youth as shortage looms. Accessible from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/skilled-trade-exhibit-targets-youth-1.5135521 Hager, P. and Hyland, T. (2003). Vocational education and training. Education: Book Chapters. Paper 5. Retrieved December 2014. Accessible from: http://digitalcommons.bolton.ac.uk/ed_chapters/5 Hunter, J. (2013, October 27). B.C. eyes boosting trades in curriculum overhaul. Globe and Mail. Accessed online December 2014. Accessible from: Lazerson, M. & Dunn, T. (1977). Schools and the work crisis: Vocationalism in Canadian education. In H. Stevenson & D. Wilson (Eds.), Precepts, policy and process: Perspectives on contemporary Canadian education. (pp. 285-303) London: Alexander Blake Associates. Taylor, A. (2016). Vocational education in Canada. Toronto, Oxford. Young, M. (1998) The curriculum of the future: from the “new sociology of education” to a critical theory of learning. London: Falmer.
Akkerman, S. and Bakker, A. (2011) Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Journal of Educational Research, 81(2): 132-169.
CBC. (2019, May 15). Skilled trades workers wooing youth as shortage looms. Accessible from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/skilled-trade-exhibit-targets-youth-1.5135521
Hager, P. and Hyland, T. (2003). Vocational education and training. Education: Book Chapters. Paper 5. Retrieved December 2014. Accessible from: http://digitalcommons.bolton.ac.uk/ed_chapters/5
Hunter, J. (2013, October 27). B.C. eyes boosting trades in curriculum overhaul. Globe and Mail. Accessed online December 2014. Accessible from:
Lazerson, M. & Dunn, T. (1977). Schools and the work crisis: Vocationalism in Canadian education. In H. Stevenson & D. Wilson (Eds.), Precepts, policy and process: Perspectives on contemporary Canadian education. (pp. 285-303) London: Alexander Blake Associates.
Taylor, A. (2016). Vocational education in Canada. Toronto, Oxford.
Young, M. (1998) The curriculum of the future: from the “new sociology of education” to a critical theory of learning. London: Falmer.
STEM occupations continue to grow steadily, and degree holders in these fields have higher incomes than those in non-STEM/STEAM fields. These academic disciplines play an essential role in sustaining the economy because they produce critical thinkers, improve literacy in science and empower generation after generation of innovators.
Access to the best educational supplies helps educators teach the STEM/STEAM curriculum in a way that’s fun and engaging. The Staples Business Advantage team has compiled a list of seven innovative educational products to consider adding to your classroom for the best STEM/STEAM experience.
The BBC micro:bit is available to families, clubs and schools in the United States and Canada. The goal of the BBC Foundation’s effort to distribute this device is to ensure 2 million elementary and middle school students in these two countries own one by 2020. The tool helps children learn coding and critical thinking.
The micro:bit is programmable. It’s about the same size as a credit card and comes with 25 LEDs to display basic text and images. It also has multiple sensors and Bluetooth connectivity so it can connect to other devices. Students can program the micro:bit using Scratch, the widely used, block-based coding language. Alternatively, users can also code on the device using Microsoft MakeCode, which lets them switch between text-based and block-based coding.
VR Learn is a multipurpose K-12 educational virtual reality headset. The headset comes with a controller and an accompanying mobile device. It’s available for math, physics, chemistry and biology. Teachers can adapt the educational models for any curriculum or language and include interactive activities such as simulations, exercises, tasks, 360-degrees animations and 3D models. VR Learn also provides teachers with a classroom management app and smart analytics.
pi-top built the first do-it-yourself laptop that uses Raspberry Pi and runs a native operating system known as pi-topOS. The operating system lets schools from any location use a cloud-based ecosystem to increase the efficiency of their computer science teaching. As a result, children get access to the tools they need to learn relevant computer-related skills.
The vision of pi-topOS is to democratize coding by making it readily available to anyone willing to learn. Not only is this product affordable, but it’s also easy to upgrade. It promises to drive a global transformation of STEAM education. Here’s a brief video about pi-topOS that explains its capabilities.
Soundtrap is a collaborative online learning tool that lets teachers use podcasts and music to follow a STEAM curriculum. Users operate in the Walled Garden — a secure, closed environment that Soundtrap keeps sandboxed from the rest of the internet. Teachers can use this tool to create and oversee groups within a class, the whole school, or multiple schools or classes as they work on projects collaboratively.
Dremel desktop 3D printer, built specifically for STEAM curriculum around K-12 Next Generation Science Standards. The company offers a comprehensive educational solution that includes software, hardware and a vast index of 3D printing curricula.
In addition, Dremel desktop 3D printer gives many schools a chance to take part in its ambassador program, where educators can share their knowledge of 3D printing and their innovations around the successful use of 3D printing technology for teaching.
Pai Technology developed the Augie Robot to support teachers’ efforts to use augmented reality for STEAM education. The robot brings together the worlds of coding and robotics. Students can use Augie to learn how to write sequences in programs. The robot also equips learners with technology skills by gamifying augmented reality to create a unique and engaging learning environment.
Children in early childhood and students in the elementary grades are the primary beneficiaries of Augie, which is a product of the latest technology and research from experts in child development. Students use Augie to discover coding by controlling several movements the robot makes. They can also create movies using the video function.
The Cornell University College of Engineering built the collaborative social network CollabSpace to support the widespread maker movement. The resource is available for free to students who want to learn technological topics such as programming, autonomous vehicles, robotics, 3D printing, rocketry, circuit boards and sustainability.
Students can meet on the platform and learn through sharing their projects and skills, getting suggestions from other students and seeking assistance from students, faculty and alumni from Cornell. Many students don’t have access to after-school clubs and mentors, so CollabSpace aims to provide an alternative community to encourage and support students who want to thrive in STEM/STEAM fields.
These and other STEM/STEAM educational tools can help teachers get kids excited about learning subjects in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts.
Staples Business Advantage Canada are experts in educational supplies and have assisted several schools with implementing STEM and STEAM projects. Having associated with several technology suppliers in the industry, they are your ultimate solution to high-quality STEM and STEAM supplies. From STEM robotic kits to educational supplies that are essential to the classrooms, Staples Business Advantage has them all. Sign up today to connect with one of their experts.
Does formative feedback always have to take written form? The author’s experiment with “one take” audio/video feedback met with a very positive student response.
Providing students with clear and personalized feedback that moves student learning forward can be tricky. Last term I experimented with using technology as a medium for student feedback in an undergraduate education class. In one class assignment, I asked students to provide their reflections on learning by drawing on our class readings and responding to question prompts designed to guide and provoke thinking. I did not specify the format or medium to use for the reflection, nor did the students ask about the format. I only provided a rubric with criteria to use as a guide for the reflections. Not surprisingly, the majority of students submitted reflections using textual evidence in a standard essay-style format. I responded to each student providing formative feedback, with no grades and only using written commentary related to the criteria for the assignment.
When it came time for a second reflection of learning, I requested students use a different medium than the one used for their first submission. For most, that meant moving away from their original written format. I noticed students were a bit anxious about this request and after some class discussion and a reminder that I would provide only formative feedback (no grade), students seemed okay with accepting this challenge and creating a reflection using a different format.
I also emphasized that it was not necessary to create an edited, polished version and I encouraged “one-take” productions. Many of the students chose to use audio and video formats to submit their second reflections. I also challenged myself to prepare formative feedback in a corresponding format. So, if a student submitted a podcast reflection, then I offered my formative feedback in an audio response. If a student submitted a video reflection, then I offered formative feedback in a video response. As I was reviewing student work, I found it helpful to make some jot notes of the key points I wanted to include in my feedback. Then I recorded my feedback as a one-take production and tried to keep it brief. I didn’t worry about the background and I didn’t edit or refine the recording before returning it to the student.
Time and technical issues are always noted as challenges when using technology in the classroom. It took me a similar amount of time to prepare one-take productions for feedback in audio or video format as it did in written format. I used the built-in features in the Learning Management System (LMS) to prepare my feedback and then return it to each student. However, the students used a variety of different programs to prepare their submissions, as I did not limit them to using built-in LMS features. I encouraged students to use programs or apps easily accessible on their own devices. I will admit that in a couple of instances I had to work through some technical issues to open the files, which added some extra time to the process for both the students and myself. I also asked students if they had any issues in accessing my feedback and they indicated they were easily able to open my feedback files, regardless of the type of device they were using to access the LMS.
I found that providing feedback using one-take productions can promote personalization and improve the clarity of feedback. Students shared with me how they appreciated hearing my voice and tone with the commentary. I also noted there was less room for misunderstanding the feedback. Here’s what one of my students shared with me after submitting a podcast reflection and receiving my audio feedback:
“Thank you for your comments on my podcast. I really liked receiving your audio feedback for this reflection. Hearing your voice and tone made it feel more personal, so it was nice to hear. I know we had discussed early in the year (which feels like forever ago) that written feedback can sometimes be read mistakenly, so I really see the value in audio feedback now. I think this is something I would use in my future classroom, especially at the elementary level. Also, the quality of your audio was great. Very clear! Thank you for using a different method for feedback, it was great!”1
This reflection from a teacher candidate demonstrates an appreciation for one-take productions and an interest in using this approach with future students. I offer the following tips to anyone interested in providing students with feedback using one-take productions:
First published in Education Canada, June 2019
1 Personal Communication October 17, 2018 with Gabrielle Gilbert-Murray. Permission was granted to use the quote for this article.
An interdisciplinary unit on robotics built conceptual understanding of math through authentic problem solving, introduced students to programming, and even encompassed Social Studies and Language Arts.
Adam Quirante and Daniel Walsh were participants in the University of Calgary mandatory STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education course, which focuses on building conceptual understanding of mathematics through authentic problem solving, building and programming robots, and integrating STEM approaches into classroom practice. In their first year, Adam and Daniel entered their four-week Field Experience where they were partnered with practicing teachers who were excited about exploring STEM practices and mindsets in their classrooms. Adam and Daniel took up the challenge of a STEM interdisciplinary unit of study titled “The Great Race.”
Stepping into our first teaching assignment, we were both eager and motivated to teach a Grade 3 robotics unit. Similar to our expectations for the Grade 3 students, it was a chance for us to “play” with creating a STEM-based learning experience and shape STEM teacher identities.
In Week 1, we began the lesson by using the projector and the robotics software to give real-time demonstrations on identifying the programming blocks (or functions) responsible for movement, sounds, and displays. This was a guided inquiry experience where we asked students questions about how to navigate the software and adjusted certain variables pertaining to certain functions (e.g. What should we do if we want to move the robot forward, then turn? How can we adjust the speed? How would we make the robot “smile” as it turned?). These conversations were important to formatively assess where students were in their understanding of programming and robotics, while scaffolding the skills that would allow them to succeed.
As in our own learning experience with robotics, we agreed that students would benefit most by having hands-on experience, such as programming simple functions and using rulers to measure the differences in distance travelled in rotations and seconds. Once students analyzed the distance for one rotation, they discovered that they could just multiply that number by the amount of rotations to create a larger distance.
Next, students completed a checklist of functions, which required them to make turns, create sounds and displays, move in a circle, and maneuver around a group-made obstacle. The checklist was created in a way that did not dictate exactly how final programming should look. For example, students could design and define what “maneuvering” around an object looked like. Having this choice increased students’ engagement, allowed for multiple answers and encouraged them to think BIG.
With our Week 1 lesson, we were beginning to see the power that robotics has for STEM concepts such as spatial reasoning, pattern recognition and algorithm design.
In Week 2 we transitioned into learning how to program and operate sensors in conjunction with the basic operations learned in the previous week. As in Week 1, we led students through a guided inquiry about how to operate and manipulate the ultrasonic sensor and light sensor, which requires the introduction of an element of programming known as loops. Loops are sequences of programming that continuously repeat until a particular condition or criteria is met – thus stopping the loop. Therefore, a sensor can be the decisive factor that ends the programmed loop and, if programmed to do so, moves on to carry out another set of programming.
In order to ensure students truly understood the relation between loops and sensors, we provided two examples. The first was repeatedly playing a song on a personal device. When we asked students how to do this, they responded by saying “press the repeat button.” We then compared this to a loop because, just like a song on “repeat,” the chosen programming would continuously repeat itself. Secondly, we asked students “how would we stop the song, or loop, from repeating itself?” Suggestions such as pressing stop, shutting repeat off, or pressing next, were all perfect examples of conditions or criteria that ultimately ended the song or loop.
To more closely examine the role of sensors with loops, we had students volunteer to imagine themselves as robots and demonstrate a sample presented on the SmartBoard. To do this, we first explained to the students that the sensors on a robot can be compared to our human senses. In particular, the ultrasonic sensor and light sensor act similarly to our own eyes in perceiving distance and level of light, respectively. This was highly effective for students because it is a relevant, personal analogy. The success of this comparison was shown when selected students were able to effortlessly demonstrate the loop sequence projected on the software (e.g. move forward until you (or the robot) is 60 cm from the wall). Ensuring that students had various models and conceptualizations of loops and sensors was crucial to their success in the following activities.
During the first part of Week 2, students were exploring how to program the distance at which a loop would be terminated to either stop or perform any additional programming. Wanting to make the connection with programming in creating games, we had students create a game where the robot spins in a circle and all group members move together slowly towards the robot. When a group member is the first to be within a specified programmed distance, the robot would move toward them. Having students take the position of a “programmer” both motivated students and gave them an appreciation for the programming involved in the electronics they encounter in their daily lives.
In the latter half of the activity, students explored how to operate the light sensor in conjunction with programming with loops. Students were given pieces of black paper to use as the signal to stop or end a loop. Although we encouraged students to use trial and error during the activity, the light sensor activities were difficult to complete because of the nature of the sensors themselves. Light sensors operate based on a programmed sensitivity to the amount of, or lack of, light. In addition, the light sensor itself can either produce or not produce light. All these factors led to many groups’ robots not functioning properly despite having the correct programming in place. Given the discouragement that students encountered with this task, we had students come together as a class to address these factors. This discussion helped students move along because they became conscious of the factors that may affect their programming.
Exploring sensors and loops further demonstrated how integrated robotics is with mathematical concepts. Once again, there was the potential for students to learn or demonstrate measurement, estimation, and increasing and decreasing values. In addition, the group work fostered attitudes such as responsibility and willingness to work with others.
The Great Race is the hallmark of our robotics unit as it demonstrates how robotics encompasses an interdisciplinary approach. The unit included Social Studies and Language Arts. The Great Race was a challenge where students programmed their robots to “visit” Peru, Tunisia, India and Ukraine. While there, students performed a robotics obstacle/task that was associated with each given country. For example, they programmed their robot to trace the outline of the Tunisian Flag and to trace the outline of a giant psyanky egg in the Ukraine. As they completed each leg of the race, they received an “award” for completing the task: an envelope containing interesting facts about the country. Students felt accomplished and motivated to complete each activity, while learning about their world.
Following the completion of The Great Race, the students reflected on what it would be like to be a robot and the importance of robotics in our world. Students who were reluctant to engage in Social Studies and Language Arts were successful in these wrap-up activities. Most importantly, this allowed for students to reflect on their own learning, which we believe impacted their overall conceptual understanding.
To conclude the unit, we assessed students’ individual programming skills. Students had the opportunity to choose one of three assessment activities, the first of which was creating a program that included basic robotic functions that addressed the goals and objectives of the unit. Two additional options offered “intermediate” and “expert” challenges, and some students excelled at these. Every student met the expectations or went above. Having multiple entry points allowed for all students to succeed.
Our robotics unit showcased students’ innate inquisitiveness, curiosity and problem-solving ability and provided them with a rich, engaging, authentic learning experience. STEM is and will be everywhere in our world. Therefore, we strive to incorporate an interdisciplinary approach at every opportunity to prepare all students for the demands of our world.
Photo: Mary Kate MacIsaac / Werklund School of Education
First published in Education Canada, June 2019
Wi-Fi on school buses is a growing trend in the US, and is starting to appear in Canada. This article takes a careful look at both the potential benefits, especially for rural and lower-income students, and drawbacks.
Wi-Fi in schools in Canada has become a top priority, with many school boards ensuring all of their schools have Wi-Fi access. Teachers are increasingly relying on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), where students are expected to work and collaborate within an online space. With the increase in the usage of such technologies, we are beginning to witness a “digital divide” between students with reliable Internet access at home, and students without it. Often, students living in rural areas only have access to connectivity that provides basic web browsing and email functions at best, and cannot efficiently stream a YouTube video or reliably upload an email attachment. Coupled with the fact that rural students are often bused long distances, and have to spend up to two hours a day or more sitting idle on a school bus, rural students may be at risk of falling behind peers who live close to school resources, simply because of where they live. Consequently, some school boards are now turning to Wi-Fi on school buses in an effort to make their school network mobile.
Particularly in the U.S., the buzz around Wi-Fi on school buses has increased, thanks in part to Google’s recent April announcement of their “Rolling Study Hall” program. This program is putting free Wi-Fi on buses in 11 states and providing those students with free Chromebooks. Along with this buzz, there have been a number of success stories related to school bus Wi-Fi. In Kansas, one educator commented positively on a class field trip to a creek, where the Wi-Fi that the bus provided allowed the students to collect data and submit written reports during the field trip before getting back to school. Similarly, in Coachella Valley, in the southern California Desert, solar-powered buses provided free Internet to low-income students who have no Internet access in their remote trailer park communities. Anecdotally, schools in Coachella Valley have seen their graduation rate increase from 70 to 80 percent during the years the buses offered Wi-Fi (2012 to 2015). The adoption of Wi-Fi on buses in the U.S. is about to explode.
Success stories are also being reported in Canada: In Alberta, bus drivers reported a decrease in behavioural problems on school buses with Wi-Fi, presumably because students interacted with each other less. In Guelph, Ontario, Wellington-Dufferin Student Transportation Services (STWDSTS) has implemented Wi-Fi on 12 of their school buses, serving students with both short and long bus rides; some of these students spend up to three hours a day on the school bus. STWDSTS have reported that all of their students appreciate and use the Wi-Fi extensively, and that parents are now demanding Wi-Fi on all school buses, even on shorter, primarily urban routes. This school board also highlighted that their implementation of school bus Wi-Fi has been sustained because of the collective efforts of the board, school administration, and teachers. They vigorously promoted school bus Wi-Fi, and held professional development for teachers to re-conceptualize how to design homework, or “buswork,” as it is now called. All buswork can be completed during the duration of a student’s bus ride, so as not to put rural students at a disadvantage compared to those who do not need to be bused.
In tandem with these apparent successes, some questions have yet to be answered. Cyberbullying – already an urgent issue – could increase if students in an under-supervised environment gain under-supervised Wi-Fi access. Any Internet supervision would at best be done remotely, because school bus drivers certainly cannot monitor students’ online behaviours in real time while driving a bus. This leads to another dilemma: Is it fair to expect students to complete homework on school buses, and to conceptualize school buses as a mobile classroom? Is it fair to capitalize on this part of students’ time after school? If so, what about the ergonomics of sitting crouched over the device, and the students who will surely be carsick should they stare at a screen during their whole ride home?
In an industry that has seen very little modernization in terms of the passenger experience, Wi-Fi on school buses may transform millions of students’ educational experiences. Initial indications are suggesting it is for the better, but we need more time and research to truly make a valid assessment.
Original illustration: iStock
First published in Education Canada, March 2019
To effectively teach with technology, educators have been expected to set boundaries for appropriate use, help establish guidelines for inappropriate content, and guide students in how to take responsibility for their actions in networked environments. If we look at how education has traditionally supported the ability to form, communicate and exchange ideas, we know that opening and engaging in dialogue about sensitive topics is an ideal first step. But in digital citizenship education, we still find headlines, community advocates, school districts and parent groups who are continually sourcing evidence of misuse of emerging technologies to argue for a “ban and limitation” approach when crafting policies for digital citizenship and the online participation of students.
After almost two decades of evolving Internet and social media education, educators have to recognize that a fear-mongering approach to aspects of digital citizenship is not beneficial for students who are already fully engrossed online. Instead, a practical approach, rooted in classroom experiences with the realities and concerns of Internet communications, can foster students’ understanding of healthy Internet uses.
Ask young adults if their student experiences between 2000 to 2012 included digital citizenship lessons and whether they were invited to have their voices heard, or if they had an educator who was willing to meet them on their level with tech use in the classroom. More often than not, young adults will say that the majority of their digital citizenship lessons involved being told rules of proper use and how to be safe online, with a primary focus on being aware of predators and threats. Few will report discussing consent or the production of online content.
One difficulty with this primary focus on appropriate use is that the Internet does not acknowledge boundaries structured on guidelines for appropriate or inappropriate; it is a free-for-all that students will explore online despite attempts to block content or websites. The norms of technology and Internet use are incredibly malleable. Being open to the online interests of students helps educators identify where students have found their voice through the Internet, and what they have been exposed to. Students bring their online experiences into the classroom. In a paradoxical conflict of “too much, too soon,” educators today are often addressing themes of the Internet with students as they arise. While the themes can range from video gaming, online interactions, accessing pornography, or peer conflict, the experiences of youth online become conversations because of current and emerging Internet trends.
Educators have an unenviable task of addressing the Internet experiences that their students bring to their attention. An educator who recognizes that in a networked society, controlling the Internet is not about blocking content but about being prepared to address the content experienced and disclosed by students, will be better prepared than the educator who dismisses these experiences as “bad use of the Internet.”
We do need to establish norms of behaviour concerning technology use and Internet participation, and this definition has to work within the evolving classroom. Using technology skills in a social studies class must be approached differently than in a science class, but a similar foundation of participation and responsible sourcing of information is vital for student success. For teachers, the goal of digital citizenship education should be establishing a culture of appropriate use, as defined by the student voice and expanding outward to the networked online communities that students share.
For primary teachers, this means potentially introducing expectations of use of tech that may conflict with what students have experienced at home. In intermediate education, the challenge becomes one of providing learning opportunities that engage students in a different way from the communication app, video game, or meme that is currently popular. We know that students in middle-school experience a variety of Internet content that would make most parents at the parent council meeting cringe. Guidance in class may be the oversight desperately needed and discussing the media themes and content accessed can help guide students towards more appropriate Internet usage as students progress to secondary school.
In secondary education, how can educators support students’ understanding of how appropriate versus inappropriate use of the Internet is defined – especially when the measuring stick continues to move in each micro-generation of use? Secondary students live in a world where they see any number of examples of “inappropriate use”: mainstream celebrities display their excesses online while YouTubers and streamers on Twitch push boundaries. Perhaps most importantly, the world of social media politics is now on the radar of students, who see that elections have become littered with allegations of fake news without context, voters cast votes solely based on information sourced from social media, and even an elected President ignores the barriers of so-called “appropriate use” of social media with total disregard for traditional decorum or consequences.
Preparing students for the realities of the connected world is critically important. The 21st century learner needs educators who are aware of the importance of providing digital citizenship support to students at all grade levels and within all subjects. This includes dialogues on how the Internet influences learning and community participation, and a recognition that the Internet allows us to see one another and connect around the planet. It is imperative that learners think critically about not only how the technology helps to bring us together, but how much it can separate us.
It is vital to help students recognize the positive opportunities that exist as they demonstrate their online participation as networked citizens, and to see how their online interests fit into their educational experiences. Examples of digital citizenship can be incorporated into many lesson plans.
For an example of positive video game use, check out students in British Columbia who play online video games in an eSports tour. These students, competing professionally playing video games, earn more than a teenager could ever make working at a fast food restaurant. Where health and wellness dialogues may support kids who feel isolated, share the story of a student in Texas who inspires others daily by sharing photographs of their skin without makeup, to increase positive support for those coping with debilitating cystic acne. Imagine a student who wakes in the morning feeling like they are the only person in the world with a skin problem; they only have to turn to their smartphone for an emotional, visual, and community-driven support system that lets them know they are not alone and things are going to be okay.
With hundreds of positive and negative examples of how the Internet and technology use impacts children, digital citizenship lessons have to not only support learners in their online endeavours from classroom to classroom, but expand to the family home, to extra-curricular activities, and everywhere the Internet takes them along their education and communication path. Digital citizenship education should not be just an introductory concept or policy delivered at the beginning of the school year to establish expectations for learning; it should be a continual classroom pedagogy that extends to the home, with students leading the charge.
First published in Education Canada, December 2018
How do young people use their cellphones to “speak back to political structures that were previously out of reach?” Casey Burkholder’s work with youth and cellphilming reveals how “young people are engaging in politics constantly, on and offline.”
A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with a colleague who was complaining about his niece. “She never looks up from her phone,” he said. “When I was her age, I knew things about the world. I could fix things. I talked to people. I made eye contact with adults. I listened to adults when they spoke. Kids today don’t do anything. They just take selfies and make videos and text.”
I paused a moment and then said, “When I was her age, adults were lamenting that kids wore too much black, played with gender in disruptive ways, sulked too much, were generally depressed and didn’t work hard or appreciate what they were given.”
He laughed, and said, “Maybe…” in a condescending way.
I continued, “Look, young people are engaging in politics constantly, on and offline. If anything, researchers are acknowledging the vast stores of knowledge and ways of being in the world that youth communicate. In my own work, young people use their cellphones to speak back to political structures that were previously out of reach. I promise you, the kids are alright.”
“Yeah, but what are they actually DOING?” he responded.
I let this comment sit a moment, sighed, and changed the subject.
This interaction stuck with me for the weeks that followed. What is it, I wondered, about young people that previous generations find so threatening or impenetrable? Maybe it’s just that their ways of seeing, engaging with, speaking back and responding to the world is unfamiliar. And all that unfamiliarity is distressing.
Academics like danah boyd,1 David Buckingham and Rebecca Willett,2 Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang3 have been writing about young people and the ways they engage and resist politically for some time now. Buckingham and Willett, for example, suggest that young people constantly make political decisions in their daily lives, from the things that they eat and the music they listen to, to the things that they wear. danah boyd explored the ways that young people create agentic communities and networks online. Tuck and Yang argue that the ways that young people resist can both uphold and confront inequities in society. Within this work on young people’s activism, political engagement, and media-making practices, I see opportunities to work with young people’s ways of knowing and documenting the world in order to speak back to these prescriptive and homogenizing discourses about youth. An example of these prescriptive and homogenizing discourses? Kids don’t do anything. Kids are always on their phones. Kids don’t. Kids just. And so on.
In my research, teaching, and activist practices, I work with cellphilming as a research methodology – where participants create short cellphone videos responding to particular prompts or community concerns in order to share (in my work, primarily) young people’s ways of knowing. In my doctoral research undertaken at McGill, I worked with my former junior high school students from 2008-2010 – ethnic minority young people who were living, studying, and working in Hong Kong. We created cellphilms about their sense of identity, belonging, and civic engagement practices in 2015, directly following Hong Kong’s youth-led Umbrella Revolution.4 For example, Katrina and Ann’s cellphilm, “Who Am I in Hong Kong?” makes visual the ways that they identify as Filipina-Hong Kongers, who were born and have grown up in the city, and who also experience feelings of otherness in the larger community. Sabi and Yuna’s “Ethnic Minorities in Hong Kong” depict the ways in which ethnic minorities interact with Chinese people in public spaces, and the ways these interactions influence their sense of belonging as Nepali-Hong Kongers. Through these youth-produced cellphilms, I learned to see the ways that formalized, segregated schooling structures made students feel isolated in the larger community, but also that school served as a space where these ethnic minority young people created agentic communities that resisted feelings of isolation. We have shared these cellphilms through YouTube, on a group-controlled channel called We Are Hong Kong Too. Our Google+ description reads, “This is a sharing space for a cellphone video-making project exploring space, self, belonging and civic engagement with ethnic minority young people in Hong Kong. We hope to foster dialogue and encourage reflection about what it means to live, work, study, and grow in Hong Kong.”
Even three years after we had originally produced and uploaded the videos, new audiences are continuing to engage with the ideas and the cellphilms. This online space is an important example of civic engagement – demonstrating one way that young people can get together to speak back to the things that are written and said about them in their community. The We Are HK Too project continues on YouTube, through Facebook and other social media spaces, and its lessons have continued to inspire my own research practices.
Right now, I’m working on a project with young people in Wolastoqiyik territory – Fredericton, New Brunswick – called Think/Film/Screen/Change. This project is multidisciplinary, and looks to understand more about gender, identity, youth civic engagement and do-it-yourself (DIY) media-making in the context of Atlantic Canada. I’m working with young people aged 12-17. We’re going to make cellphilms to address community issues that matter to young people across the gender spectrum, committed to creating safer spaces for queer, trans, and gender non-binary young people.
The main focus of the Think/Film/Screen/Change project is to research with young people in Atlantic Canada by refocusing their everyday media-making practices – those selfies and videos and texts my colleague was so worked up about – to address youth-identified pressing social issues in this territory, including gender-based violence, poverty, water and food security, among other issues. These are the issues that these young people are talking about and these are some ways that they are engaging with activism and political engagement in their on and offline lives already.
The Think/Film/Screen/Change project seeks to understand a couple of key questions: 1) How might cellphilming deliver complex understandings of social issues and centre community experiences from participants’ perspectives? 2) How might these young people engage the public in community issues that matter to them through participatory exhibiting (e.g. organizing cellphilm screenings in community centres) and archiving practices (e.g. sharing and saving the cellphilms in online spaces, like social media sites)? Through the creation of cellphilms and an archive of these visual texts, the project will include the participants in media production and dissemination over time.
With the creation of cellphilms and sharing these texts in a participatory digital archive on YouTube, the research aims to create spaces for youth to “screen truth to power,”5 in response to traditional media that tends to exclude, other, or commercialize youth perspectives. The study is also innovative in that it aims to develop a participatory approach to the archiving of research participants’ cellphilms through YouTube, where each participant will have the password to a shared public channel. This practice will advance the development of participatory archiving practices in visual research, and deepen an understanding of what sustained and ongoing informed consent means in research. In particular, the study aims to highlight the rights of participants themselves to have control over their visual productions. Through the nuanced example of the participatory archive of cellphilms that will be co-managed by participants on YouTube, the project will provide a critical understanding of gendered and dissenting acts of citizenship through the example of youth media production as participatory political engagement. The results of the research will reach audiences both within and beyond the academy, and in so doing influence methods and practice with implications for youth-led policy-making.
The Think/Film/Screen/Change research aims to provide a critical understanding of gendered acts of civic engagement in Atlantic Canada through the example of youth media production as participatory political engagement,6 aided by the creation of a participatory archive of cellphilms on YouTube and girl-led public screening events. Speaking to the field of civic engagement, the study aims to provide a complex example of the ways in which young people’s civic engagement is affected by their intersectional realities. I envision the youth-produced cellphilms as an opportunity to speak back to structural inequalities and homogeneous discourses that seek to smother youth civic engagement. At the same time, as Tuck and Yang have argued, the findings from the study may also illuminate the ways in which young people assert themselves as civic actors, including ways that uphold structural inequalities and dominant discourses.
Each of these civic acts – even those that uphold structural inequalities and dominant discourses – in the process of the Think/Film/Screen/Change research will be examples of youth political engagement. It is political to get together to talk about pressing issues for youth in this territory. It is political to identify challenges and potential solutions to these issues by and for youth. It is political to create short cellphilm texts to share with other community members. It is political to organize community screenings. It is political to think about what should happen to these cellphilms over time, and to identify future audiences to share the cellphilms with. In each step of the research process, young people will be enacting civic engagement.
I would also argue that in their existing media making practices – those selfies and videos and texts and the things they like and they share (their own set of citation practices) – young people are being and enacting political engagement. To echo what Carol Hanisch7 said so powerfully in 1969, “the personal is political.” The personal remains political in 2018.
And so, I am writing this piece to speak not only to my colleague, but to others who work, live and interact with young people, and also to those who engage with youth only peripherally. When young people are homogenized through statements like, “Kids today don’t do anything. They just take selfies and make videos and text,” we deny them their intersectional, heterogeneous lived experiences. We refuse to acknowledge their ways of seeing, documenting, representing, and speaking back to the world. We suggest that our ways are inherently more valuable and appropriate. But I think, in making these assertions, we are making a big mistake and missing so much of what young people are thinking, saying, responding to and doing. All of this leads me to one sincere conclusion: the kids are alright.
Cellphilms from the Hong Kong project can be viewed on You Tube: “We Are Hong Kong Too.”
Photo: Courtesy “We Are Hong Kong Too”
First published in Education Canada, December 2018
1 danah boyd, It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014).
2 David Buckingham and Rebecca Willet, Digital Generations: Children, young people, and the new media (New York, NY: Routledge, 2013).
3 Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, Youth Resistance Research and Theories of Change (New York, NY: Routledge, 2014).
4 The youth-led Umbrella Revolution occurred between September and December 2014, when citizens of Hong Kong occupied key commercial districts to protest the lack of democratic freedoms in relation to the 2017 Chief Executive Election. The movement’s name emerged from protestors’ use of umbrellas to block police-deployed tear gas. It is important to note that conversations about Hong Kong, democracy, and political autonomy from Mainland China continue to be expressed in the public realm, both online and offline, four years following the beginning of the Occupy Central movement – which blossomed into the Umbrella Revolution.
5 Svetla Turnin and Ezra Winton, Screening Truth to Power: A reader on documentary activism (Montreal, QC: Cinema Politica, 2014).
6 Henry Jenkins, S. Shresthova, et al., By Any Media Necessary: The new youth activism (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2016).
7 Carol Hanisch, “The Personal is Political,” in Radical Feminism: A documentary reader,edited by Barbara A. Crow (New York: New York University Press, 2000).