Have I had an “ah ha” moment?

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I don’t  know how many times I have posted my frustrations this year about my inability to motivate and encourage my staff to try to integrate more technology into the classrooms in this school.  I have tried a few things, but it took a presentation at a staff meeting that ended with feelings of frustration and anger to make me realize I had to change my techniques.  One of the things I have learned this year as a new administrator, and trust me there have been many, is that my passions are not necessarily other people’s passions. I needed to back up the bulldozer and realize that everyone is not in the same place and I need to respect that.

On the other hand I have had monumental success in the area lately! I decided to apply for a school division technology grant (TIP) this year and sent out an e-mail to see if anyone would be interested in joining me.  What was in it for them was a new Flip Video camera and digital still camera for each of their classrooms, the possibility of learning some new things about assessment in math, and some release time to do it.  I had 4 teachers jump on board and we had a great time.

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Our questions were:

1.  Could we improve student engagement in math by using the cameras?

2.  Could we increase opportunities for teacher assessment through using the cameras?

3.  Could we increase opportunities for student assessment through using the cameras?

The answer was yes, yes and yes!

We had a lot of fun doing the project and we learned a lot.  It had the exact effect on everyone that I wanted and had a few extra effects that I  was hoping would happen and some that I did not anticipate…

  • Other staff in the school were  wishing they would have jumped on board when they saw what we were doing
  • We had the opportunity to share our learning with division staff
  • Another teacher in the school wants to add some more technology into her teaching and has met with me and spent a half a day with the technology consultant discussing possible ways to do that
  • One of the teachers that participated in the action research wants to present our learning at convention in the fall and has taken responsibility for that
  • Three other teachers have agreed to jump on board with another action research grant project I have successfully applied to do in the fall

Wow! What else can I say!  Look what happened when I stopped talking and started walking!

Inquiry Based Learning

I understand the concept of inquiry based learning and see all the benefits, but I seem to be stuck hovering on the edge and not knowing how to jump over the hurdle and land on my feet on the other side.  The whole idea of asking good “rigorous” questions and allowing students to move forward with investigating answers  through various sources,  choosing their own pathways to get there and representing their learning in different ways all makes sense to me.

How do I make sure I am confident enough to know how to help when students need guidance and suggestions on their journey to answer questions?  How do I make sure that I am pushing my thinking beyond the obvious so that I can help them stretch their thinking as well?

As I am looking at various inquiry based learning projects and resource guides for my ECI 834 course, I am still wondering if I am able to support my students quests even with the guides in front of me.

The process of inquiry seems simple enough:

  • Ask questions
  • Investigate solutions
  • Create new knowledge as we investigate
  • Discuss our discoveries
  • Reflecting on new-found knowledge

The questions for me seems to be how to put theory into practice at this point.  I think inquiry is the way to prepare our students for today’s fast paced and fast changing world.  I also feel that they are so lucky to have so much information available to them instantaneously.  It is our job to guide them in using that information.  Inquiry based learning is not a passing phase and the reason I feel that way is because it  makes sense that students taking charge  of their learning and going beyond basic information gathering requires higher level thinking and who can argue with that.  This process is illustrated in the following short and simple video on inquiry based learning.

We spend a lot of time considering and wondering why many of us in education are having difficulty moving from our tried and true methods of teaching  to inquiry, student-based methods of learning.  Let’s face it though, we are not the only ones that struggle with the transition.  We have created learners that are used to being fed and some of them expect to get answers with very little work on their own.  It seems to me that to move toward inquiry learning will take a great deal of effort on the part of both teachers and students.

I don’t think anyone can argue the benefits of this style of learning for our students.  Research and our practical knowledge of learning tells us this would be the better way.  I see every day students sitting in classrooms not really engaged in some of the things they are doing because they are so far away from their personal experience and interests.   I have successfully applied for a Stirling McDowell grant for the next school year so that we can do a project on using web 2.0 tools in middle years social studies to try to improve student engagement.  We are very excited about this, but of course we know that the tools are only part of what we need to do.  We also need to move to the inquiry method of learning so that our students will be engaged in what they are doing and use the web 2.0 tools to help them investigate, create, discuss and reflect on new learning.

Perhaps the best way, as it is in most cases, is to just quit talking about it and jump in and do it!

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”
James Thurber

Venting about my Kia!

I am totally using this opportunity to vent about something in my personal life that has nothing to do with school or courses!  I guess I am allowed to do that once in a while.  I am sorry to those of you that drive a Kia out there and love them, I do mean hate, the word might not be strong enough.

I have had a Kia Sedona van for a few years now.  I won’t even go into this weird trade in thing my father in law does in our family.  We rarely pick out our own vehicle.  He picks out a new one for himself and sells the old one to one of his children.  I know weird, but true!  Really that has nothing to do with why I hate it so much.

I did not start my relationship with hate…as a matter a fact I quite liked it when I got it.  This past winter, however, I thought the brakes felt a bit weird when I was coming home one night after picking my son up from hockey practice.  I went in the house and told my husband he would have to drive me to work the next morning, so that I could get the brakes looked at.  The next morning, my husband hopped in the van and went to back it over the our shop to pick up something and the wheel totally fell off the van!  Yes, you heard me correctly it fell right off and was laying on the ground.  Now even the old clunker I used to drive in university didn’t do that.

Now I could mention that I transported many children in the van only 2 days before.  I was bringing my own 11-year-old son home in the van, only one night before.  Not to mention the times I was coming and going on my own at 110 km.

Kia Canada felt that this was totally normal and since we did not purchase our tires from them, there was nothing that they would do.  That was helpful.

The story does not end there of course, because every time I feel a little shimmy or hear a little noise I am nervous about being near death.

Last Sunday I could all of a sudden feel the van bouncing up and down.  Every little bump on the road sent it into waves of motion, and trust me there are a lot of bumps on the road in Estevan, but that is a topic for another post.  As it turns out my shocks have gone as well as a front ball joint.

I have never driven a vehicle that had so many problems!  My last vehicle was a Toyota Avalon that I drove until it had over 250 000 km and  I never did anything but routine maintenance.  Well, I guess I know that means for me…Toyota here I come!  I only hope I can keep my wheels on until I get there.