Sunday, October 28, 2012

Technology and Engagement (Part 1)

After an invigorating but tiring RASA Retreat last weekend, I made it a point this week to see what is going on in our school.  I consider myself a good communicator and engage in many valuable conversations with staff and students about the things they are doing, but despite my attempts, I often find myself wanting to be in classes more, so this week, I made it my number one priority. 
Some of the things I wanted to observe, following much discussion about the BCEd Plan, 21st Century Learning and Skills and reading several education books (which I will review in a future post), are the levels of Student Engagement and the Use of Technology to enhance teaching and learning in our schools.  These things are often portrayed as lacking in our education system.  

While I agree with many of the suggestions for how educators can help improve the system, sometimes I find myself frustrated that teachers are not being given enough credit for already doing many of the things being discussed.  Two of the 5 components of the BCEd Plan are "Quality Teaching and Learning" and "Learning Empowered by Technology".  In the past three days, I have had the opportunity to get into several classes, both by invitation and sometimes just "popping in", and have seen some amazing student engagement demonstrating quality teaching and learning and some phenomenal efforts to enhance learning through the use of technology.  In this post, I will focus on the technology aspect of what has been happening at Burnett Secondary.

One of our Senior Chemistry teachers, Mr. Robbie Kailley, came to me awhile ago expressing some interest in pursuing the "Flipped Classroom" model.  He found some very affordable technology (a tablet and headset with a microphone-about $90 at Best Buy), and tried augmenting his lessons with examples that could be posted to his website.  These videos would reinforce things that were discussed in class, or would introduce new topics for future lessons.  While Mr. Kailley has admitted that the production of such videos is front-end heavy, he has enjoyed making them, and the students are finding them extremely valuable.  Just one of the many Chemistry 11 examples that he has posted to his website for students to review can be found here.
Much of what Mr. Kailley is trying to replicate is offered through the Khan Academy, which is a free, Internet-based educational service.  There is quite a buzz about the Academy, both positive and negative, but one thing that can not be denied is that a review video that students can access on their own time, and can watch as many times as needed, can reinforce much of the concept that is trying to be learned.  While the Khan Academy can not, in my opinion, replace the valuable interaction between a teacher, his/her classmates and a student, it does allow for repeated review of certain concepts.  This alone can help students who learn in different ways or at different rates.
An added bonus is that Mr. Kailley has been willing to take on a leadership role piloting this type of work, and is now sharing his efforts with other staff.  He has presented at Educational Facilitator meetings, worked alongside staff testing other products and will be leading a tutorial session for teachers at an upcoming Pro-D day.

Not one to assume things are good, Mr. Kailley has also decided to survey one of his classes to get some feedback about whether or not the videos are beneficial.  The class of 28 students responded as follows:
  • 21 people watched
  • 20 found it helpful (1 said "not yet")
  • all of them want more videos
  • 8 think it would help in math/physics
Some comments were:
  • The video helped because in class we do not have enough time to do other examples, so it is a good review.
  • Helpful since it is audio and visual combined
  • It helped me a lot because I wasn't here for the class when we covered this, and after I watched the video, I understood it.  I could visually see how to do it, while pausing and replaying the video.
  • Good to see more examples!
  • This gives me more time to understand the lessons.
  • It wasn't too fast and just like the explanation that was given in class.
  • It helps me understand more when I am at home and don't know how to do the homework.
  • I could review the videos before I come to ask you questions.
Another teacher I spoke with this week was teaching her Math 11 classes about parabolas, and using her iPad decided to film some staff (myself included) shooting three pointers.  Using an app she found called Explain Everything, Ms. Sara Haave was able to embed the basketball video inside a white screen that she could type or write on to make notes and explain the concept she was trying to teach.  The class was provided formulae and notes regarding distance, time and height, and then she paused the video.  Ms. Haave asked her students, based upon what they had seen and the calculations they had made, "Would the shot go in?".  The level of engagement and enjoyment from the students and the teacher was astounding.  The real-life example of the concept made the lesson more engaging and the use of technology helped keep the students focused and curious.  Another by-product of this work is the excitement the teacher has about what she is doing.  Ms. Haave is excited to try new things, and is sharing her experiments with teachers across disciplines, as evidenced by a conversation I witnessed between her and a Senior English teacher just down the hall. 
One other tech-related class that I had the chance to get into this week was a Science 10 class where I had been invited to share information about technology tools that students could access for their upcoming Biomes presentations.  Following some staff meetings where I had used things like Prezi and Animoto, Ms. Sam Jessa has started playing with those programs.  While I am sure she could have led her students through a discussions about how to augment presentations using these tools, she invited me to come and speak with her class.  I relish these opportunities, because I do miss the regular interactions with students.  I jumped at the offer, and spent about 30 minutes in a couple of classes looking at Animoto, Prezi and Glogster as presentation aides.  Many students were already aware of the sites, and were able to add to my understanding of how to best use the tools.  I hope that the technology will help add to their presentations and make them more engaging for the presenters and their audiences.  More important than my lesson, however, was the chance to interact with students and have them see me as a human and a teacher.

I was very impressed with the efforts being made, the levels of student learning and engagement occurring as well as the excitement the staff had to test these technological tools in their classrooms.  We have had staff sharing these practices with each other at Professional Development days, in Educational Facilitator Meetings and in staffroom discussions.  The energy and excitement that changes like these are creating is beneficial to both staff and students.  While technology is only a tool, observing the discussion and sharing of ideas and practices reaffirms for me that we have exceptional teachers who are trying new things and making the learning environments for their students more engaging.  Thank you for all your efforts.  Do not think they go unappreciated, by your students, their parents or me.
In an upcoming post, I will be writing about some of the extremely engaging lessons that I had the opportunity to observe that had nothing to do with technology....


  1. Nice post, Jason.
    Two years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a small conference at the CEA where the discussion focused on bringing innovative practice in education to scale. Since, I've noticed a growing collaborative culture as more educators are sharing their ideas via social media, and in effect opening up their classrooms to reflective inquiry.

    I think "pockets of excellence" are expanding as the profession looks to improve learner engagement and prepare these same learners for an unknown future. Yet technology has effectively changed the game, stripping the teacher from the traditional role as curator of knowledge and challenging us to re-invent the profession to one which is focused less on content delivery and more focused on the learner. The stories that you and others share seem to indicate less urgency for revolution as the lead teachers in our schools begin to figure it all out.

    You have obviously developed a tremendous trust within your school to create a learning culture. Thank you for sharing and keep up the inspiring work.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Terry.

    I agree that the "pockets of excellence" are expanding, and doing so rapidly. The changes are indeed already taking place, so, as you have indicated, we do not require a "revolution", but a continued push to share and grow the innovative practices that are becoming more the norm.

    I can't take any credit for the fantastic learning culture that is our school, that belongs to the staff and students who are here. I, do however, feel very proud and privileged to work where I do, and am sure the staff and students feel the same way.

    Schools across BC and all of Canada are doing work along the same lines. We need to continue to share and celebrate the people leading the way.



  3. Jason,

    Its great to get direct reports from the classroom like this to complement all the speculation and suggestion that is more typical in the discussion of Technology. On the well-known scale of Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition ( these examples probably rank as Augmentation but they reveal teachers whose quest is sure to move them even further as they discover how the strategy they have adopted changes the learning experience, adapt their instruction to that and then try something even more transformative.

    What would be interesting to hear about is how the basic pedagogy changes when such technological strategies are added and whether this results in improved learning for some or all students (beyond the enthusiasm that I am sure results for most from trying something new). If it does, it might be interesting to consider why (again, looking beyond the immediate effect of the novelty factor). Is intellectual engagement deepened (beyond academic engagement as defined by the CEA)? For all or just for some and, if so, why those ones? etc.

    It sounds like there is lots going on in your school, lots to think about and lots to learn. I look forward to hearing more about it.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Bruce.

    I agree that the early steps are more Augmentation than anything else, but, like you, I think this stage leads to other, perhaps more significant change down the road.

    I can not yet speak for how the technology tools have changed basic pedagogic practice, but I can say that the conversations about what can now be done, coupled with the on-going conversations about assessment are causing teachers to look at doing things differently.

    There is lots going on here, and we continue to encourage reflective practice. I am very excited by the willingness the staff and students have to try new things in hopes of making the learning experience of our students more meaningful.


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