Lights, Camera, Action Plan!

When you break it down, my action plan can be summed up with this: Restructure Comm Tech to provide more and better opportunities for personalization and project-based learning.

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It’s amazing how simple it can seem when you break it down to its essence, isn’t it? Even too obvious?  And yet it’s incredible  the amount of design thinking that went into realizing what was the right question to ask.

The power of Design Thinking.

The power of Design Thinking.

 

For my Action Plan blog post, I am going to elaborate on the points in my slide deck. (Having studied Presentation Zen with my class this year, I can’t bring myself to write paragraphs on my slide deck, and yet my ideas require some explanation.)

Takeaways

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#1) You can’t do it alone (and why would you want to?)

Developing my professional network through Cohort 21 and on Twitter has been one of the single greatest parts of this experience for me. I’d heard over and over about developing a PLN and how it can be useful, but until I really learned how to use Twitter effectively, I had no idea how valuable it could be. I also learned that I really enjoyed blogging, and I can’t even begin to explain how excited I got every time I got a notification of a new comment! That feeling of being connected to other educators who are dedicated to improving their practice and who want to help you grow is a powerful thing.

#2) It’s going to take time (and probably more than you think.)

When you think big, you have to realize that you’re not going to be able to change everything instantaneously. I know that it is going to take me a couple of years to completely reorganize my course, and I recognize that it would be foolhardy to attempt massive changes without testing my ideas out on a smaller scale. That’s what this year has been for me: one of determining the problem that I want to solve, learning some strategies, ideas, and techniques for doing it, and trying out a new model of instruction. This summer, I will work on expanding that model, with the eventual goal of completely revamping my Comm Tech course. Baby steps!

#3) It’s not going to be easy (but the challenge will make it and you better in the end.)

This entire process has been super challenging, and finding the time to devote to it has been difficult. However, not once have I regretted taking the time to really reflect on my practice.

Trying out new instructional models in my classroom was not met with resounding applause, either. There were students who resisted taking responsibility for their learning, and who preferred for me to teach in the traditional manner. I don’t expect it to go totally smoothly as I continue to integrate design thinking, project-based learning and blended learning in my class, but I am confident that students will begin to see the value of it, and maybe even begin to embrace it! (A glimmer of hope: I spoke to a group of prospective students at our Academic Fair a couple of months ago and talked about my vision for the course: a structure wherein students would choose their interests and pursue them independently, curating resources along the way. A student came to me last week and told me that he’d already begun the process as he thinks the scope of the animation project he wants to do is bigger than he’ll be able to complete in a single school year!)

Next steps

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#1) Continue to learn about Design Thinking, Project-based learning, and blended learning

I’m currently reading Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner and Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming by Ellen Lupton, and I have all sorts of articles on these topics bookmarked, waiting to be read. My summer reading list is a mile long!

#2) Continue to leverage my new toolbox and networks to keep learning and growing.

I plan to keep blogging about my teaching and learning. While my posts may not be as focussed on my Action Plan as they have been this year, I do love having a space to put my ideas and questions out there, so I won’t be logging off anytime soon.

#3) Redesign Unit 1 to cover more core competencies and teach basic technical skills.

As I mentioned in my last blog post (read it here if you missed it), my initial foray into independent learning yielded some good insights. I realized that there were several things that I needed to teach explicitly in order for students to be successful, so I plan to rewrite my first unit to incorporate more of those basic skills. Examples of these would include instruction on how to manage files, how to create a YouTube playlist, and some sort of activity that emphasizes the importance of following step-by-step instructions carefully. In order to really let students drive their own learning, I will also have to cover some more general technical skills in the first unit, as well.  As an example, this year, we learned how to work our digital SLR cameras for taking photos in our photography unit, and we learned how to switch to video in our video production unit. I plan to incorporate basic technical aspects of the cameras, for both photography and video, in Unit 1 next year. That way, students will have a baseline toolkit that they will be able to draw upon whether they choose to focus on photography or video.

This year, I used a traditional test to assess students’ understanding of photography and camera basics.  A practical, hands-on test to end the first unit would be a much more effective way to ensure students have the skills they need before moving on. (It was really ridiculous, actually. I had a question on the test: “Explain one of the three ways you can change your ISO on the camera.” Do I really care if they can explain it? Wouldn’t it be so much easier just to have them show me?!) I wonder if I was worried about not having a written record of students’ work to justify the grade they achieved. But looking back on it now, I can’t believe I thought that was a good test question!

#4) Curate lists of basic resources for every area of study as a starting point for student learning.

I want to be able to provide students with a starting point for each possible area of study. Chances are, not everyone will come to class on the first day knowing what elements of Comm Tech they want to pursue. Putting together a set of resources that students will be able to use to get a taste of the possibilities that await them will be one of my projects for this summer. And I can make it more fun for myself by trying out new ways of presenting those resources. Hyperdoc? YouTube video with cards? See more ideas here in Google’s Education Training Centre unit on Designing Interactive Curricula. The possibilities are endless!

Final Thoughts on the End of the Beginning

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The Cohort 21 experience for me, this year, has been one of recognizing the value of going through these sometimes-challenging stages of questioning to arrive at the right questions. In so many ways, it was a version of what I want to see happening in my classroom – students discovering what they’re most interested in learning and solving, and then seeking out resources, support, and coaching to make it happen.

Never before have I spent so much time thinking about the challenges in my teaching and how to improve as a teacher. Like many others have mentioned in their final blog posts, I am not ready for this experience to be over and I am not going to let it end after April 22. This really is the end of the beginning for me. I’m not going anywhere and I hope that you will continue to follow my story here!

On my Action Plan presentation:

Huge thanks are due to @mrathier and @ecunningham whose beautiful Action Plan presentations (see Melissa’s here and see Emily’s here) inspired the design and format of my presentation. I loved Melissa’s use of an infographic style, which inspired me to try out Piktochart, and Emily’s simple format. Taking a cue from what I want my own students to do, I chose to learn something new rather than stick with what I already knew I could do easily. Lifelong learning, ftw!

Click here to view the full presentation.

Taking the first step toward personalizing learning

Although it’s possible that I haven’t yet articulated it as such, my action plan is centred around the idea of implementing project-based and personalized learning in my Grade 11 Communications Technology class. I realized after our third face-to-face session in January that my plan of attack was a bit misguided (see “Keeping the cart behind the horse”). While revamping my entire course for this academic year would not be possible at that stage in the year, I decided to take some small steps to try out a version of personalized learning for the tail end of our unit on Graphic Design.

This year was the first time that TGJ3M was offered at CDS, and I wasn’t sure how the timing would work out. My plan was to structure it as a survey-type course, offering units in basic technology skills, photography, graphic design, video & audio production, and social media. The graphic design unit had a lot of elements, including technology instruction in Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Muse; partway through it, the plan was to introduce the ISU – a large, self-directed project where students would use some of the tools they’d learned to create a media campaign. As most teachers quickly find out, even when they’ve taught a course more than once, the school year seems to disappear before your eyes. Before you know it, exams are looming and you’re not where you’d planned and hoped to be. Comm Tech was no different for me. We’d barely scratched the surface of InDesign and we were already getting late in the year.

How did it get so late so soon?

As frustrating as it seemed at first, it turned out that this was a gift from the Cohort21 gods, who must have known that I needed to stop thinking about my action plan in terms of next year, and do something now to implement it. I still needed to cover Muse and Illustrator, but there was no way that, in the time we had, students could learn both with enough depth to actually create something with them. Enter the personalization bit: after being introduced to the concept of the ISU, students needed to choose which program would serve them best for their end-of-year project. Muse would be for the wannabe web designers, whose media campaign would include a website, and Illustrator would be for those who wanted to create a logo as part of their campaign. We watched introductory videos for both, and then students were off to the races.

Self-Directed Learning Module

In the weeks leading up to what I came to call the Self-Directed Learning Module, I explored the extensive collections of short, simple how-to videos found on adobe.com, copying video URLs and descriptions to two separate hyperdocs (hyperdocs defined). I divided each module into three sections: Getting Started (short, basic introductory videos for the key tools for each program), Assessment for Learning (a series of videos with sample files for students to create either a logo or a website along with the videos), and Independent Learning (a section for students to seek out resources that answer their burning questions or teach them additional tools). For each video, students were to take detailed notes to look back on for reference. Each section was followed by a reflection and a learning skills self-assessment.

You can view each document here:

Adobe Illustrator Self-Directed Learning Module

Adobe Muse Self-Directed Learning Module

I knew they were long documents so I tried to make use of some of the tools in Docs to make it easier to navigate. I created bookmarks for each section and made a footer with links to each bookmark. Just recently, Docs also introduced the new “Outline” feature, which recognizes your headings and uses the grey space beside your doc to create a “smart” table of contents.

Learning skills are something that I don’t keep track of as much as I should; I had students complete a self-assessment of their learning skills three times throughout the process, and my final assessment at the conclusion of the module included my take on their work habits and learning skills. (Needless to say, students’ perceptions of how hard they’re working often differed from my own!)

Students had to reflect upon their learning skills and work habits after each section of the module. (Click the image to view the entire Self-Assessment form.)

Students had to reflect upon their learning skills and work habits after each section of the module. (Click the image to view the entire Self-Assessment form.)

The final time they completed the self-assessment, I used advanced Google Forms tools (“Go to page based on answer”) to have students provide the basic information required for a Certificate of Completion, and used the Add-on Form Publisher to automatically generate a certificate and email it to students. I liked the idea of incorporating the idea of badging into the process, and it also made it easier for me to see exactly which students had fully completed the module.

A custom, automated certificate brought in a "badging" element to the module.

A custom, automated certificate brought in a “badging” element to the module.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

One of the challenges I identified in the first step of the action plan process was that I was beginning to find it difficult to stay far enough ahead of the students to feel like the expert. Although I knew my way around Illustrator and Muse, this self-directed learning module was a perfect opportunity for me to learn along with the students. I gave myself homework, and I went through the video-watching and note-taking process just as the students did. Knowing exactly what was in the videos made me a better resource for my class – I faced some of the same difficulties they did, and my background knowledge of the software could help to fill in the blanks where the videos did not cover something. I was able to use my notes as an example for students, as I found that many of them didn’t really know how to take effective notes (I saw a lot of video summaries in place of notes).  

I was able to use my notes as an example for students; I don't know if they've ever had much explicit instruction on how to take effective notes.

I was able to use my notes as an example for students; I’m not sure if they’ve ever had much explicit instruction on how to take effective notes.

During class, I used the time to respond to student questions and go through their documents, making comments on their notes and reflections: How could you take better notes to help you remember a process more effectively? Could practicing with the software as you watch help you to retain things better? What do you do when a video doesn’t explain something thoroughly?

Challenges

This process was certainly not all roses. Trying to keep students on track and using their class time effectively was a challenge. I had a hard time balancing the “independent work time” with my desire for students to act as resources for one another and try to problem-solve together (in my class, at least, this often quickly devolves into social time). I found it frustrating that despite writing what I thought were crystal-clear instructions, students seemed not to read them. I spent most of the class periods responding to questions whose answers were contained either within the document or within the videos or webpages. Part of the intent for this module was for students to recognize the vast network of resources available to them when they wanted to learn something, and my hope was that they would try to find an answer before turning to me. I’d love to hear some ideas about how to help students work towards greater independence and resilience in the face of setbacks. I want to create a culture of independence and problem-solving in my classroom next year – does anyone have any activities that I could use to start the year off on the right foot?

 

Conclusion

Despite the challenges and frustration, I believe that this was a valuable experience both for me and for my students. It was awesome to see some students embrace the freedom of working at their own pace, and I could tell that they enjoyed having the freedom to choose what to learn. I was able to spend more time supporting and facilitating individual student learning and answering questions, and less time trying to deliver content to a large group. My biggest takeaways are to keep instructions simple, and next time I might divide the three sections into three separate documents, with a clearer structure (part 1, part 2, part 3 as opposed to my three randomly-named sections). Does anyone have any other feedback or ideas for making this a more successful experience for all?

My action plan goal will remain to work towards a completely revamped course for next year with a personalized structure based on larger projects. In the meantime, however, I will take some of the lessons learned from this experience to support my students as they work on their ISUs.

Be better than you were yesterday: words to live by

Back in the groove again. It didn’t take long, did it? March Break is already a distant memory, and for me, it seemed like the benefits of the break, and the feeling of being rested and caught up, were quickly swept away with the first bell last Tuesday. That said, despite the third term busyness, I haven’t been able to get one particular thought out of my head. After my last blog post (which I wrote before passing my Google Certified Educator Level 2 exam!), I’ve been thinking about submitting a proposal to present at one of the GAFE Summits (London, ON – May 28-29).

The Summit I attended last year in Lachine, Quebec was my first real exposure to the wonder of possibilities that Google Apps provide, and that experience has really shaped me – both as a teacher, and as a learner. I had been to inspiring conferences before, but never before had the learning that I had done actually make an immediate and continued difference in my teaching. All of a sudden, I felt like I just wanted to learn more and more. I became what I thought might be annoyingly preachy about the benefits of using Google Docs over the expensive and proprietary Word or Pages (“One version rather than multiple files that you email back and forth to yourself!” “No more lost USB keys!” “Gone are the days of not being able to open up other people’s’ files because you don’t have the software!”).

"Revision history" according to Microsoft Word.

“Revision history” according to Microsoft Word.

I and my colleague Melissa began the transition of moving all of our library resources to Google Docs, and we started making Google Tools an integral part of the research process workflow that we would teach to students.

Do you know the power of the force "Make-a-copy" in Google Docs? A game-changer when you're providing templates for students!

Do you know the power of the force “Make-a-copy” in Google Docs? A game-changer when you’re providing templates for students!

 

And the learning continues. In addition to achieving Level 2 in the certification process, over the Break I committed to eliminating Microsoft Outlook as my email client and jumping in to Gmail with both feet, even for my work email. I asked IT to forward all of my email to my school-provided Google account, I researched inbox management strategies, and I got to Inbox Zero. I have been working on fine-tuning my workflow to ensure that my email does not get out of control like it once did. With filters, labels, and multiple inboxes, I am already seeing a big difference in how I interact with the massive amounts of email that we tend to receive on a daily basis.

In any case, I am doubtful that I need to continue to convince you that I am wholly convinced about the merits of Google Apps for Education. (I’m sure that I will write another blog post or two about other tools that I love!) But when Leslie suggested in a comment on my last post that I apply to present at a Google Summit, I was stoked. It is a professional goal of mine to do something like that, and to be able to provide even one person with the same spark that was lit in me last year would be an incredible experience.

As I worked through possible topic ideas, however, doubts began to creep in. Who am I to think that I could possibly be good enough to present at a Summit?! I’d heard of colleagues leaving a session mumbling about how it wasn’t that great, or how they wished they’d attended a different session – what if that was MY session they were leaving? Or, even worse, what if nobody came at all? Could I fill a full hour with inspiring demonstrations and ideas? Could I answer people’s questions sufficiently? And, ridiculously, what would I even write in my bio?

I’m not writing this to get assurances about my worth or value in the comments – please don’t provide anything of the sort! I’m just exploring the sneaky nature of our self-doubt, which I know our students face daily as well. If we want to be learners along with our students, we need to be willing to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable as well. If we want to improve, we need to do things that are hard! Despite the awkward grammatical structure of this quote, it is one that I think is appropriate here:

https://pixabay.com/en/foggy-fog-forest-trees-foliage-1081915/

Although this quote is all over the internet, I couldn’t find the original source. Image from Pixabay.

Here’s where I would love to hear your comments, though. Below are a couple of possibilities I’m weighing for a presentation proposal. I’d love some feedback. Would sessions such as these interest you? Why or why not? Could I word these summaries more effectively? Can you think of ways in which I could improve the overall appeal of the sessions?

Possibility #1: Growing Success with Google Forms: Improving assessment and the feedback cycle

Ontario’s Growing Success document/philosophy emphasizes descriptive feedback of student achievement and regular and ongoing tracking of learning skills and habits, but it can be overwhelming to keep up with this in practice. Do you find it difficult to provide sufficient and timely descriptive feedback to students? Do you find yourself scribbling notes about learning skills in this notebook, on this Post-it, and on that random sheet of paper? How do you keep yourself organized and your students engaged in the feedback cycle?
Come to this session to explore the use of Forms and Add-Ons to help to streamline your assessment and evaluation practices. Learn how to create a simple form to track learning skills and work habits and how to apply filters in Sheets to sort your data. See how to use AutoCrat or Form Publisher to populate a custom rubric with achievement levels and your feedback. Explore how DocAppender can help you to create a single location for a students’ assessment so that you can create a two-way feedback loop.

Possibility #2 (far less developed): Personalizing Learning with Hyperdocs

With an increasing emphasis on personalized learning in schools, explore how you can enable your students to pursue their own interests and learn at their own pace using Google Apps. I will share my recent experience with implementing a self-directed learning module in my classroom, making the most of existing online tutorials, the power of hyperlinks and bookmarks, and the feedback/conversation tools in Google Docs to allow students to take charge of their own learning experience.

If you’ve been to a Google Summit, were there areas you thought were lacking? What would be the topic of the presentation that you’d like to see?