Showing posts with label 21st Century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 21st Century. Show all posts

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Greenwood's Grade 7 Climate Change Revolution

Recently, Grade 7 students completed a unit of work focused on gaining a better understanding of the key issues related to climate change. 

Having watched the documentary Revolution by acclaimed Toronto filmmaker Rob Stewart, students were tasked with orchestrating a public awareness campaign focused on an environmental issue of their choice. The aim of this task was to raise the environmental consciousness of the students, as well as develop their ability to learn, interpret and synthesize geographical information and data.

Students were challenged to select one of the global issues presented in the film, choosing from:

  • Climate change
  • Deforestation
  • Overfishing
  • Ocean acidification
  • Saving human life
Once they had made their selection, students had to conduct further research on their topic and then generate a public awareness campaign using a minimum of three communication outlets.

This project was differentiated based on students’ interest. Students were then able to further personalize their project by choosing the manner in which they communicated their message. While all students had to demonstrate the ability to explain the concept of sustainability and defend their point of view, they were able to show this in a number of ways. Some students created visual advertisements and others redesigned the poster for Revolution to reflect a focus on their issue.

For a period of time surrounding the project, the Greenwood community was made aware of these issues while students lobbied for support through petitions and utilized their social media accounts to spread the word online. Students also contacted politicians across Ontario directly to share their concerns. They even received a response from the Office of the Prime Minister, thanking the students from Greenwood for their intelligent communication about their environmental concerns.

Ultimately, the Grade 7 students developed their ability to locate and record geographical information and present and defend a point of view. They not only improved their awareness of environmental sustainability, but also raised the consciousness of the Greenwood community in regards to these important issues.

As climate change looks likely to impact future generations more significantly than previous generations, this foray into social activism (with support from Mr. Harper himself, no less!) was a valuable exercise that will hopefully encourage the students to engage further, as active global citizens.

Samuel Clark
Teacher, Social Studies, Health & Physical Education

Friday, 31 October 2014

Computer Literacy Skills Both Stretch and Support Student Learning

Grade 7 and 8 students at Greenwood participate in a Grade 9 course titled Information and Communication Technology in Business (informally referred to by staff and students as BTT) which gives them the opportunity to reach ahead and develop skills they will use in their other courses. BTT teacher Sarah Thornton discusses how this personalized, independent course helps students gain valuable skills in communications, technology, planning and organization.

Students complete the BTT course independently over two years (with fifty percent of the course completed in Grade 7 and the remaining fifty percent in Grade 8), which is both valuable and challenging. To scaffold this effort, there is a BTT coordinator appointed to the Grade 7 and 8 programs respectively. The coordinator oversees the BTT co-curricular periods that are supervised by each student's Adviser, marks assignments, and tracks and reports individual student credit accumulation to students, Advisers and parents. The personalized support provided by the individual Adviser and the oversight of the coordinator ensure that the students are able to set and meet clear goals so that they can achieve the credit in the most efficient and organized way possible.

The enrichment that Greenwood students gain by participating in the BTT course is twofold. Firstly, they are able to demonstrate the mastery over communication technology and online organization necessary to be successful in Greenwood's innovative technological environment. Moreover, participating in the course challenges and further develops students' executive functioning skills, as they are required to take responsibility for their work in a course that exists beyond the walls of their physical classrooms.

In this way, their participation in the course encourages perseverance. It teaches them how to implement and execute strategic plans, as they negotiate their way through the personalized assignment options. It provides an opportunity for Advisers and the BTT coordinators to coach the students on how to choose the best and most effective way to navigate an assignment or topic. Finally, the BTT course challenges students to maintain a clear organizational system that allows them to balance the homework and assignments required to complete the BTT course in a timely manner.

Grade 7 and 8 students benefit in both the long and short term by participating in a BTT course. This course prepares them to be successful throughout their high school careers, by giving them freedom of choice to personalize their schedules and perform to their best, as well as equipping them with critical technological skills. It also allows them, with the support of their Advisers and the BTT coordinators, to practice and apply executive functioning skills that will allow them to be successful in their current courses and beyond.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Minerva: The University of the Future?

Critics of contemporary North American education often claim that it’s driven by flavor-of- the-month thinking. Not surprisingly, personalized learning has been described by these same critics as the latest educational fad. As followers or occasional readers of this blog realize, we take exception to such criticism, as personalized learning is at the heart of our educational approach here at Greenwood.

Consequently, it was refreshing to read this month’s cover story in The Atlantic, “The Future of College?” and learn that other educators are not content with the preservation of the status quo. The article by Graeme Wood, a graduate of Harvard, focuses on Minerva, a small for-profit university that has established itself in San Francisco. What makes Minerva unique is its use of an online learning platform, which uses technology to re-imagine the traditional university lectures and seminar.

The strength of the online platform is that it forces students to engage actively and be accountable for their learning. By using this technology, professors can simultaneously communicate with each student. Unlike the traditional seminar, there is no opportunity to sit back and let others do the work, nor is there the typical stand-and-deliver lecture in which the professor does almost all the work. Professors use the online platform to group students to debate topics and gauge learning through pop quizzes. After experiencing one of these 45-minute seminars, which Wood describes as “good, but exhausting,” he observes that Minerva’s seminar platform “will challenge professors to stop thinking they’re using technology just because they lecture with PowerPoint.”

One other benefit of this approach is that it forces professors to think more carefully about how they teach. Rather than seeing teaching as an art and a science, the leaders of Minerva believe teaching is “a science and a science.” In other words, effective teaching is dependent upon student learning. Lesson design is rooted in research related to retention and engagement. Ongoing assessment, which is a key element of personalized learning, is used to group students effectively and to support remediation.

Though Minerva makes no claims about personalizing education, their efforts at reinventing the traditional university model bear some similarities. Rather than educating large numbers of students in a cost-effective manner (which is why lecture halls exist at universities), they instead are focused intently on individual learning. The entrepreneurs of Minerva are also leveraging technology to make this possible.

It is reassuring to know that our use of blended learning and other aspects of personalized learning at Greenwood are preparing our students to be able adapt successfully to the inevitable changes that are happening or will soon take place in the world of higher education.

Allan Hardy

Monday, 9 June 2014

Thinking Differently to Meet Students' Needs

Two years ago, I posted “Reinventing the High School Experience,” which reflected upon one educator’s claim about the need for high schools to “revolutionize” themselves. As the postings on this blog over the past two years demonstrate, Greenwood has made great strides in this direction.

Here are some of the highlights:
  • 15 high school courses, ranging from Grade 9 to 12, are now delivered using a blended learning model. Using this approach has allowed students to learn at their own pace and freed up class time for more individualized and small group learning. 
  • Non-blended courses continue to leverage new types of learning technology, such as Oxford Next and The Academic Zone, which enable students to customize their learning. 
  • 6 Grade 7-10 subjects are now scheduled in a block format, which enables flexible grouping based on readiness or interest within a grade cohort. 
  • Our Grade 7-8 Arts program has introduced a major/minor approach where students can specialize in one or two of our four arts electives. 
  • 75% of our teachers now use Hapara on a regular basis. Use of this Google tool allows teachers an overall snapshot of individual student learning. 
  • We have re-modeled two classrooms to create one flexible learning space, equipped with state-of-the art technology and furniture.

Ann Marie Kee, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools, recently observed that independent schools are often reluctant innovators. I am proud to be leading a team of educators that have the expertise and courage to think differently about high school and how it can be improved to better meet the needs of our students.

Allan Hardy

Monday, 28 April 2014

Exploring Programming Possibilities in Computer Science

How are games made? How do programs work? How does an animation work? How does a computer know how to solve problems? Computer science and math teacher Will Truong explains how Greenwood's computer science program helps students tackle these tricky questions.

Students learn the basic ideas behind programming by
working with Scratch, which allows users to program
 theirown interactive stories, games and animations.
When students enroll in computer science at Greenwood, they come from a variety of backgrounds. A few students have some programming experience, some have a great understanding of hardware and most have little to no programming experience.

Students in Grade 11 computer science first learn the basic ideas behind programming using Scratch (view some of the projects here) and then move onto more formal programming using Python.

The challenge isn’t working with students of varying skill - this is surprisingly easy to manage. The challenge as the classroom teacher is to avoid guiding students towards how I would write a program.  Instead, I work with the students on their own ideas and help them to develop a solution based on those ideas.

In class, students learn the fundamental skills through videos and class discussions. Students are also encouraged to work with each other and possibly find other resources. It's not uncommon for students to find their own websites and discussion forums to help with the ideas they're working on. This often leads to great discussion between students and helps them to develop their own programming style.

Computer science is always evolving - new programming languages, new environments to work in, and new advances in technology all contribute to this evolution. Because of this, it's important that students learn how to seek solutions and how to approach problems. Developing these skills in an individualized manner is an important part of learning how to effectively navigate a new language within the computer science classroom.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Design Thinking in the Classroom

Success in the 21st century is not just about what you know – it's about what you can do with that knowledge. Leslie McBeth explains how her Green Industries course encourages students to be resourceful, resilient problem solvers who are ready to take on any challenge. 

In a recent New York Times article, Learning to Think Outside the Box, Laura Pappano demonstrates a growing need in the workplace for creative thinkers  individuals who can develop innovative solutions to problems that others might not even recognize as a problem. Similarly, in another New York Times article, Tony Wagner, Expert In Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, argues:

Building a working farm – in the middle of
Canadian winter – requires Green Industries
students to be independent thinkers, while
working collaboratively to overcome obstacles.
“The capacity to innovate  the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think  to ask the right questions  and to take initiative.’ ”

These articles caught my attention as they speak to one of my primary goals as a teacher of Green Industries: To develop students who are resourceful, resilient problem solvers, confident in their own personal strengths and intelligence. I hope to create a classroom where learning becomes not only about what the students know, but what they can do with that knowledge.

Teaching Transferrable Skills

As part of the project-based focus of the Grade 11 Green Industries course, students undertake a challenge that teaches transferrable design thinking skills while simultaneously requiring them to apply their knowledge about the environmental impact of the agricultural industry, the importance of local food sources and food security.

The project starts with a challenge: In order to address food security and sustainability, students must build a working farm to grow their own food  in the dead of the Canadian winter. The process then unfolds over several weeks as follows:

  • The project starts with several small design-thinking and problem-solving challenges as warm-up activities at the start of each class. 
  • Next, the students complete research into various soil-based and hydroponic gardening systems, factors that affect plant growth, the specific needs of different plants, lighting and watering techniques and appropriate fertilizers. 
  • Then, with the help of an Industrial Designer who visits the classroom, they learn about various problem-solving approaches and start designing their gardens. 
  • From here, students build their designs. This prototyping phase of the design process requires on-the-spot quick thinking, innovation and resourcefulness to complete. From cutting up recycled hockey sticks to drip systems that flood the classroom, this phase is often busy, noisy and messy!
  • When they have a working farm, students create a marketing campaign to sell their farm system during a “Dragon’s Den” style competition.This requires them to explain why consumers should want to grow their own food, recalling information they learned about sustainability and food security earlier in the year. 
  • Finally, students round out the design process by reflecting on their work. This part is very important as it allows students to understand and explain why they were successful or where they failed, synthesizing information and making recommendations for future changes to their prototypes. 

This project challenges the students to be independent thinkers, while also working collaboratively to overcome obstacles, and no two solutions to the problem are ever the same. Students are required to view the problem from many angles and to place themselves in the shoes of various professions, from designer to builder to farmer to businessperson. I also encourage students to make mistakes – there is no “right” answer and no prescribed method for solving the problem. Students are graded on their process, not just the product, so if all of their plants die they can still be successful by reflecting on the process.

Developing a Culture of Creative Thinking

Although it is unlikely that many of my students will go on to be farmers later in life, the goal of this project is to develop a culture of creative thinking in the students. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, “creating” is the highest order of intellectual behaviour in student learning. Through a focus on problem solving and design thinking in the Green Industries classroom, students are able to move beyond remembering, understanding and even analyzing to create their own ideas and solutions. In the 21st century, young people need to be able to transform information in the face of ambiguity and create disruptive innovations in addition to knowing the “right” answer.

To follow the Green Industries students in their quests to grow organic food indoors, visit the Green Industries Blog, Greenwood Green

Monday, 16 December 2013

235 Years Old and Still Innovating

Throughout the past several months, a number of our classroom teachers have used this personalized learning blog to share examples of Greenwood’s progressive approach to teaching and learning. There are several common threads within these examples of personalized learning:
  1. Teachers use student readiness and interests to develop learning activities.
  2. Technology is used as a tool to facilitate and enhance learning.
  3. As much as possible, learning is linked with real-life applications.
I was pleased to read recently that the oldest and one of the most prestigious prep schools in the US—Phillips Academy Andover—has adopted a similar approach to educational innovation. Throughout its long history, Andover has spearheaded the implementation of initiatives such as Outward Bound, Advanced Placement Testing, and community outreach. More recently they have introduced Connected Learning as a way of engaging teachers in the development of new pedagogy.

As described on the Andover website, Connected Learning is a research-based model of learning that maintains successful traditional standards and introduces new ways of doing things that tap into the potential created by globalization and technology.” As in Greenwood’s introduction of blended learning, Andover also faced concerns about technology replacing teachers in the classroom and that all teaching would be done using technology.

However, John Palfrey, Head of School at Andover, believes that programs like Connected Learning will help teachers shift from the traditional role of dispensing information, to guiding students to turn information into knowledge and apply it to real-life situations. In a manner similar to that being used at Greenwood, Andover is using its year-long professional development program to have teachers work together to develop examples of Connected Learning. Andover is also exploring the online approach to learning used by the Khan Academy to see how it may influence their approach to Connected Learning.

Palfrey’s hope is that Andover will be a centre of excellence that serves as model for other educational institutions and leads the way in the transformation of education. We have similar aspirations at Greenwood and look forward to sharing more examples of personalized learning with readers in the months ahead.

Allan Hardy

Many postsecondary institutions, such as Queen's University and U of T, have also recognized the value of personalized learning - and specifically, blended learning - for enhancing student learning and engagement. An increasing number are making this approach a part of their postsecondary program. On February 4, Greenwood will host a panel discussion, featuring blended learning experts, on what this approach looks like at the postsecondary level. Click here to learn more and to RSVP.

Monday, 15 April 2013

U.S. Department of Education Focuses on Personalized Learning

It was interesting to read that the U.S. Dept. of Education selected personalized learning as the focus of this year’s Race to the Top grants. The department is giving the district winners $400 million in federal grants to help spur the redesign of the classroom experience for students. As Michele McNeil notes in Education Week (March 27, 2013), “many of these districts are embracing the philosophy that learning isn’t defined by time spent in the classroom, but by mastery of a particular subject or lesson.”

Districts applying for the grants had to define how they would use the funds to create a more personalized learning environment using “21st-century learning tools to customize instruction to the needs of individual students.” According to Michael Horn, co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, the Race to the Top grants will “elevate student-centric learning onto the radar.”

Several of the approved projects are similar to things being done here at Greenwood. $20 million was awarded to a New York State district to support the transition to blended learning. The development of e-portfolios and programs to track personalized learning appeared in several of the selected projects, as did the use of individualized goal setting and digital learning platforms and dashboards, tools which are currently being deployed in our redesigned student adviser program. 

Several of the district coordinators who were interviewed note that the ultimate goal of these personalized learning initiatives is to have students truly own and be responsible for their own learning and to have teachers rethink the way instruction happens within the classroom.

Allan Hardy

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Blended Learning Beyond Greenwood

As an alumna of Queen’s University, I recently received their annual appeal in the mail.  Each year the appeal tells alumni about an initiative that needs support in hopes of generating interest and thus donations from its alumni.  The appeal this year described the blended learning initiative that has begun in undergraduate courses at Queen’s.

As I read the appeal, I was pleased to see that Queen’s approach to blended learning is similar to ours at Greenwood.  Their  focus is to use technology to enrich the classroom experience.  They emphasize that redesigning courses into the blended learning model is not meant to be a cost-saving measure, but a way of using resources more effectively.  This will allow more contact with the instructor even in high-demand courses.

The reasons given by Queen’s University for moving some courses to a blended learning approach reinforces that we are moving in the right direction with our academic program at Greenwood.  Similar to Greenwood, Queen’s is using a blended approach  to increase student engagement and create a learning environment that is interactive and dynamic.  Additionally, we both recognize that a blended approach is the future direction of teaching and learning.

Heather Thomas
Director of Personalized Learning

Thursday, 21 March 2013

2.0 Schools: Learning in the 21st Century

One of Canada’s most influential voices on the future of digital technology is Don Tapscott. The author of numerous books and articles on this topic, Tapscott has long been an admirer of Greenwood’s use of learning technology. In Growing Up Digital (2009), he referred to Greenwood as an excellent example of a “2.0 school.” Tapscott defines a 2.0 school as one which prioritizes learning over teaching, customization over a one-size fits all approach, and interactive learning over the broadcasting of information.

More recently, Tapscott was featured in a Globe and Mail interview in which he reiterated the need for schools and universities to work harder to transform themselves into 2.0 schools. According to Tapscott, “we have the best model of learning that 17th-century technology can provide.” For education to equip students to participate fully in the 21st century, Tapscott argues that schools must “use technology to free up instructors from transmitting information to curating customized learning experiences,” and have “learning occur through software programs, small group discussion and projects.”

One of the oft-expressed concerns about moving schools in this direction is that it will minimize the importance of the teacher or professor. However, Tapscott disputes this assumption. Instead, instructors will have greater opportunities to “listen and converse with students” and accordingly, will be better able to “tailor the education to their students’ individual learning styles.” This goal can be accomplished, according to Tapscott, by allowing computers “to provide instruction for anything that requires a right or wrong answer.”

Much of what he outlines in the article resonates with Greenwood’s current approach to personalized learning. Our blended learning approach allows students to use online resources to direct their learning and collaborate in both face-to-face and virtual media. Our use of Hapara in our student adviser program provides advisers with genuine opportunities to customize classroom programming for individual students. I am sure that if Don Tapscott were to revisit Greenwood, he would be impressed by how far we have come with digital learning since his earlier visit to our school seven years ago.

Our use of Hapara in our student adviser program provides advisers with genuine opportunities to customize classroom programming for individual students.

On a closing note, a recent editorial in The New York Times endorsed the use of blended or hybrid learning. Columbia University’s Community College Research Center released a study which tracked the results of 7 million students enrolled in online courses and concluded that students in these courses were more “likely to fail or withdraw than those in traditional classes.” However, the Centre also found that students “in classes that blended online instruction with a face-to-face component performed as well academically as those in traditional classes.” This result was attributed to students’ need for engagement with their teachers.

Allan Hardy

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Putting Imagination Back Into Education

Earlier this year, I read that Coca-Cola has launched “Freestyle” vending machines throughout the GTA. Unlike a typical vending drink machine which dispenses a particular brand in a can or bottle, this new machine offers more than 100 Coke-owned soft drinks and allows users to mix a variety of flavours. According to Shane Grant, a vice president at Coca-Cola, these machines are “the new normal for consumers” and a response to the belief that “everything is becoming more personalized.” The move towards customization is “the next big thing” in marketing, notes Frank Piller, a professor at MIT’s Technology Design Lab.

As Susan Krashinksy of The Globe and Mail indicates in her column “Adhocracy,” the expectation of a personalized experience is a logical progression for young consumers raised on Facebook and iTunes. Want a unique-looking sports shoe? Log on to NikeID and you can create one. Ditto if you would like to design your own trench coat: Burberry can help you with that.

At this point, I imagine readers are asking what marketing has to do with education. Our students are capable of exerting their influence in both the real and digital worlds. Increasingly, they expect the same of their educational experiences. There is no doubt that the traditional one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and learning in high school is one of the reasons why a high proportion of students fail to engage fully with the process or disengage entirely, as too often their individual learning needs are ignored or optimized.

Fortunately, the timely intersection of new technologies, research on how we learn, and teacher development offers the hope of personalizing the educational experience. As Christensen, Johnson and Horn explain in their groundbreaking work Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, personalized learning, an approach that truly meets the needs of individual learners, is what will drive the reformation of education in the 21st century.

Coin-operated vending machines were first used in the 19th century. Since then they have become increasingly sophisticated, as evidenced by Coca-Cola’s “Freestyle” machine. Regrettably, the same arc of innovation is not true of education. Personalized education, which offers students vital input to how they learn, offers the hope of addressing this lack of imagination.

Allan Hardy

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Future of Education

I read with great interest the Globe and Mail’s recent series on “The Future of Education.” Much of what was discussed in the series aligns with our school’s educational approach and why we started this blog. As the writers of the articles note, the future of education “means going beyond a patchwork of gadgets,” and “moving away from teacher-led content delivery to an emphasis on personalized learning.”

While the Globe series focused primarily on the classroom, our vision of personalized learning at Greenwood goes beyond the classroom. We see what happens outside of the classroom as a vital part of a student’s education. This approach is typically referred to as the education of the whole person.

At Greenwood, personalized learning encompasses the development of character beyond the intellectual component traditionally associated with classroom learning. By engaging in service learning activities outside the classroom, students develop moral and ethical character. By participating in a drama or musical production or by playing on an athletic team, students develop vital elements of performance character.

Our goal is to develop a broader view of personalized learning and develop students as learners and citizens. For all of its advantages, the virtual world encourages a form of isolation that can be detrimental to young adults; consequently, schools have a vital role to play in the development of interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, perhaps more so than in any previous generation of high school students.

Allan Hardy

Friday, 4 November 2011

Why a blog about personalized learning?

Much has been written about the future of education and how schools must adapt to meet the needs of a future that is evolving rapidly. Sir Ken Robinson has perhaps been the most eloquent (and entertaining) voice in this regard. Our hope in starting this blog is to narrow the focus of this dialogue and talk specifically about how schools can move away from the traditional, one-size-fits-all, industrial model that Robinson and others reference to a more customized approach to education.

At Greenwood, we refer to our customized approach as personalized learning. I believe the term was first used by David Hargreaves in the U.K. More recently, the Ministry of Education in British Columbia announced its new personalized learning plan. Like educators in B.C. and educators throughout the world, we are interested in looking at why the “what, how, when and where” aspects of learning need to change to meet the needs of all students, but more importantly, to fully prepare students to thrive in the so-called new world order.

Other members of our teaching staff will be contributing to this blog and sharing how they are using personalized learning in their classes. Our hope is that educators and non-educators with an interest in the future will join the dialogue and build a global community of educators dedicated to a new way of thinking.

Allan Hardy