TEDx West Vancouver Ed – The Heart of the Matter

I had the great privilege of attending TEDxWestVancouverED Rethinking Education yesterday (Saturday, September 26, 2015). After several talks, my friend, West Vancouver Schools colleague, and TEDx Curator Craig Cantlie invited the audience to determine what the essence of the day was; in other words, among the very diverse talks,what was (or were) the key theme(s)?

Jeff Hemmett’s talk resonated with me greatly. Jeff spoke about the similarity between classrooms and business start-ups. He shared that in a fast-changing world, a start-up’s culture is extremely important: the culture needs to be one that encourages creative and nimble thinking so as to not just keep up with change, but create change.

Not just keep up with change, create change.

Education systems are often criticized for not changing quickly enough and while incredibly innovative projects are alive and well all over West Vancouver Schools and in districts across BC and Canada, innovative practice and new ideas are not the only examples of keeping up with change but creating it.

Part way through the day, the TED Talk from space scientist Will Marshall (below) was shared. In it, a group of scientists created a satellite the size of a shoebox that could be deployed far more easily and cheaply and therefore in greater quantities than the massive satellites that came before them, all with comparable or superior performance in capturing images of the earth.

The technology was amazing but what was most impressive was the selfless spirit of the scientists: their goal is to give universal access to all of the data that is collected from the satellites to assess climate change and monitor the health of the earth through daily images.

Aristotle’s famous quotation, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,” came to mind.

As I listened to more and more TEDx talks, it became increasingly obvious that the heart of most ideas shared was to make the world a better place: for individual learners, society generally, and the planet we depend on. For example, Walter Mustapich spoke about helping boys through the Boys Club, Starleigh Grass about reconciliation, Kristi Blakeway about learning the stories of homeless people, helping them reunite with family members and demonstrating care for people who are often craving connection.

Character education is a critical element in all school experience where an attitude of care for self, others and the more than human world is taught, either deliberately through programs such as Roots of Empathy, or indirectly, constantly and unavoidably through the cultures of classrooms, schools and school districts. This part of education is invaluable and timeless and fundamental to school systems not just keeping up with change, but creating it.

Jeff Hemmett noted the world’s most important startup is the classroom. Culture matters.

So, in our ever-changing world, educators must be innovative. At the same time, we must maintain our commitment to long-understood beliefs in the importance of caring classrooms. Rethinking education is always helpful both to recognize what needs to change (and change to what!) and to understand what lessons remain the same. TEDxWestVancoverED was helpful for both.

Further Reading:

For a wonderful argument on the merit’s of character education, see Bruce Beairsto’s article “Saving Spaceship Earth,” here.

What is new in BC’s New Curriclum

This post was originally published on the BICS Blog.

It has been said, “The only constant in life is change.”

That statement certainly holds true in education, perhaps now more than ever.

Last week, BICS Vice-Principal Laura Magrath and I spoke to parents about BC’s New Curriculum as part of our BICS Open House. Our staff has been learning about and working with what until recently has been termed the “Draft Curriculum” for two years and I have been sharing information with our BICS PAC and writing blog posts on the topic since November 2013. But the “Draft” stamp has recently been removed from the curriculum and it is now referred to as the New Curriculum so we felt it was a particularly important time to share aspects of the New Curriculum with parents; particularly three important changes.

This post summarizes some of the key messages of that presentation. For the 2015-2016 school year, both the “old curriculum” and New Curriculum are usable documents. In 2016-2017, what is taught in Kindergarten to Grade 9 classrooms will be based on the New Curriculum only.

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For purposes of explanation, the curriculum can be divided in two parts:

1. What students understand and know à this is termed Content in the New Curriculum

2. What students can do à this is termed Core Competencies and Curricular Competencies in the New Curriculum

 

Three Key Changes

1. Content – What Students Understand And Know à Start with the big picture.

The “old curriculum” was organized by themed learning outcomes. For some time, teachers who have taught with an inquiry-based approach to learning have tried to discern the essence of the learning outcomes. Teachers would find themselves asking, What’s the big idea here? Beyond facts and figures, what is the concept or understanding that students will take away from this unit of study that they can apply to future learning situations?Big_Ideas

The New Curriculum starts with the big picture. Ideas and theories are presented as Big Ideas and from there the content, which is used to develop an understanding of the Big Ideas, is articulated. As suggested by the name, Big Ideas are greater than what can be covered in one subject in one grade. So, many Big Ideas are repeated throughout many grade levels as students develop more sophisticated understandings of theories and ideas.

2. Competencies – What students can do à Competencies are key.

While all people need a level of general knowledge to understand themselves, others and the world, knowledge is easily lost; skills less so. For example, most people likely have forgotten many of the facts, figures and ideas they learned in Grades 1 and 2, the age when they were learning to read. But people don’t forget how to read.

2015-03-19_0946In the New Curriculum, Competencies are key. The content, while still worthy in its own right, is a vehicle to develop two types of competency.

The first type of competency are the Core Competencies – Communication, Thinking and Personal and Social. The Core Competencies are not subject or grade specific. It is thought any learning activity can demonstrate and develop some or each of the competencies. As learning is a lifelong endeavour, the competency continuum is also lifelong.

The second type of competency is Curricular Competencies. These are subject specific skills; for example in Science, Questioning and Prediction as well as Planning and Conducting experiments, are curricular competencies

3. Communicating – How Student Learning is Communicated

As part of our transition to the new curriculum, in terms two and three of the 2014-2015 School Year, many BICS teachers used language from the Core Competencies in their opening comments. However, the report card looked identical to previous terms and did not reflect the changes that have been made to the curriculum. Kindergarten and Grade 4 reports will look very different in 2015-2016 offering space for Core Competency and Curricular Competency assessments. Further, as reflecting on learning is essential, there is space on the new reports for student voice and reflections. Further information will be shared by Director of Instruction for West Vancouver Schools Lynne Tomlinson regarding a change of reporting for Kindergarten and Grade 4 students in 2015-2016, and a change for all elementary school students in 2016-2017.

While this curriculum signals a major change in BC education, it is also a response to the innovative work being done in classrooms across BC including BICS. The Curriculum will support the work we started long ago – inquiry, self-regulation and critical thinking – and also push us to examine and evolve in other areas of practice. Change truly is the only constant in life, and so to in education.

Preparing Students for Anything

This post was originally published on the BICS Blog.

It is not easy to predict the future.

BC’s School Act asserts, “the purpose of the British Columbia school system is to enable all learners to become literate, to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.”

It is very possible to determine what skills and attitudes are needed in society now. What is more difficult is predicting the skills and attitudes needed for society many years from now.

One example:  How will people use technology? I have some concerns with the amount of screen time for children and adults who often disengage from their immediate environment  and instead connect online with others. Will people tire of staring into the screen and will there be a major pendulum swing back to living in the immediate world: less Wii baseball, more baseball, less online messages, more phone calls, less Guitar Hero, more guitar. Or, will technology become even more engaging, entertaining and successful at connecting people to others?

Will the ecological imperative to consume less impede access to technology? Instead of buying electronic goods and other items, will people need to not just buy locally but also build locally and grow locally? Will gardening skills, carpentry skills, sewing skills etc., trump all others? Should these skills be prioritized in schools?

These are all very challenging questions that as an educator, I can’t answer and fortunately don’t need to. Even if the future was predictable, human interests and possibilities are so diverse that there is no singular future we could possibly prepare students for. There may be some similarities, but “the future” will look different for everyone.

It is therefore impossible to prepare students for everything so we must prepare students for anything. What that means is that the most important role of a school is to increase students’ capacities as learners so that whatever the future looks like, they will have the literacy and numeracy skills, problem solving skills and most importantly the motivation and confidence, to learn whatever is needed.

In speaking with a colleague recently, I shared my puzzlement at the current trend of teaching coding to elementary school children. Coding seemed like a waste of time: I figured by the time students would actually need coding skills, the coding system students were learning would be replaced so what was the point? He shared that while his students are encouraged to code really what he was encouraging was problem solving.  I understood what he meant:  I’ve taught students to use PowerPoint, a program that may very well not exist by the time students are giving presentations for work, but I was not really teaching PowerPoint, I was teaching how to summarize and how to present – timeless, transferable skills like problem solving.

It is a relief to know as an educator of students entering a quickly changing world of immense diversity and possibility, that it is not my role to prepare students for everything but instead help prepare students for anything.  We do not know what a student’s lifelong learning journey will look like, but we do know that there are core skills and attitudes that must be identified and developed in students to build their capacities as learners so that whatever the conditions of the world they live in and whatever diverse passions they pursue, they can adapt – which is to learn.

In British Columbia, the “core skills and attitudes” students need have been identified and articulated as Core Competencies as part of British Columbia’s draft curriculum. When students learn coding, PowerPoint, or gardening, they will be developing core competencies. The competencies are helpful in virtually all settings and while perhaps nothing is change-proof, the Competencies should stand the test of time for they increase a person’s capacity as a learner which increases a person’s capacity to adapt.  I will write about the competencies and what they look like at BICS throughout the school year. These competencies, including students feeling inspired and confident to make use of them, are at the heart of what we do: preparing students to be learners, helping prepare students for anything.