Unplug’d 2011: The Change We Need

It is clear that many significant and long-lasting effects will result from Unplug’d 2011: Canadian Education Summit 2011.

Chapter 1: The Change We Need

However, one of the early and tangible products to emerge from Unplug’d 2011 will be a multiple-format publication, “Why ________ Matters.”   Comprised of a series of short essays written by unplug’d delegates, the book shares the unique perspectives of each participant, and gives a compelling voice to educators from across Canada.

The first chapter is titled, “The Change We Need.”  I had the wonderful pleasure of working together with 5 other Canadian educators on this section of the book. Together with Lorna Costantini (St. Catherines), Darren Kuropatwa (Winnipeg), Shelley Wright (Moose Jaw), Jaclyn Caulder (Penetanguishene), and Chris Harbeck (Winnipeg), we collaborated to produce this first chapter, which releases this week. My contribution, entitled “Why Self-Direction Matters,” appears within (as PDF) (ePub).

To accompany each chapter release, groups selected one personal narrative to illustrate the chapter’s chosen theme. Our group was unanimous in selecting Shelley Wright’s piece, “Why Social Justice Matters.” Her story appears below. I encourage you to listen to Shelley as she tells a story of remarkable student-led engagement.

Isn’t that an amazing example of learners engaged in a real-world task? Wow. Shelley’s students’ project truly exemplifies The Change We Need.

Subsequent chapters of “Why _________ Matters” will be released online according to the following schedule:

Chapter 2: Voices and Choices  week of August 22nd
Chapter 3: Shift Disturbing week of August 29th
Chapter 4: I Wonder  week of September 5th
Chapter 5: Creating Conditions for Change  week of September 12th
Chapter 6: Empowering Self – Empowering Others week of September 19th

Print copies of the publication will be available this fall.

Conversations about Unplug’d: Canadian Education Summit 2011 2

Unplugd 2011

Unplugd 2011

by Andrew Forgrave and Kim Crawford

This past weekend, 37 connected educators from across Canada gathered in Toronto for the Unplug’d: Canadian Education Summit 2011. While we shared a few initial hours getting to meet one-another face-to-face within the relative comforts of the Toronto Westin Harbour Castle hotel, after a few hours sleep, we boarded an Ontario Northlands train to South River, Ontario. From there we travelled 22 kilometres into the bush to the Northern Edge Algonquin resort. Off-the-grid (solar power only), and no Internet.

Unplugd11: Journey

The Journey to Unplugd11

The purpose of the summit was to allow us to gather and explore present-day issues and themes within education. Each of us came from various backgrounds in education, prepared to share and discuss an important-to-us element in education. The resulting work will be shared over the course of the next few weeks. But the relationships that were made, extended, and strengthened have a wonderful potential to take the Unplug’d 2011 experience even further.

Unplugd11: Conversations

Conversations at Unplugd11

Over the the next while, Kim and I will be reflecting on this amazing experience. Won’t you join in the conversation?

First Topic:
Unplugging to Connect (publishes Friday, August 12th)

Kim’s unplugd11 photos on Flickr
Andy’s unplugd11 photos on Flickr

New Tech Comes To Education … Slowly, But Surely 1

I’ll be honest up front — this won’t be an overly long post. For one, I’m not sitting at my desk/keyboard in my comfy office chair. For two, I’m writing this post on my iPhone, via the oh-so-wonderful WordPress app [get it], which let’s you do such magic. And for three, you may infer from the timestamp on this post and from the subsequent (yet to be written) paragraph What I Should Be Doing Now — instead of this. [For another reference to What I Should Be Doing — check out Should Be Sleeping ]

Google Doc on iPhone

Rather than go off on a tangent about a recent conversation concerning teenagers sleeping with their cell phones, I’m simply going to state that I decided to undertake a bit of bedtime reading this evening (morning) before firing up aSleep [get it] and heading off to Dreamland. And given that my grade partner and I are planning on meeting tomorrow to discuss the essays which our respective classes of grade 7s are currently working on, I figured I’d take a look at some of the work that my students shared with me earlier today (yesterday). And so I simply fired up Safari on my iPhone, logged into my class’ GoogleDocs site, and started reading. Shared with me, you see, not by printing out a piece of paper which I would have had to have carried home and had sitting here within reach, but rather shared with me electronically. And, in a number of instances, shared with me electronically from the students’ homes, after school, as they each completed working on their writing according to their own timeline!

Now I realize, for some, this won’t come as a grand revelation. As previously discussed, Yes, The Future IS Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed. But, for all my years of forays into the intersection of technology and education, I’m still finding the combined capabilities of these converged/juxtaposed technologies to be all quite magical. Adding to the realization that I can read my students from-their-home submitted work from-my-home on my phone, came the complementary acknowledgment that I could also blog about it, including an image of a doc (note, too, that I have removed the student name — on the iPhone — using a simple iPhone app called iRetouch [get it]) without leaving the extreme comfort of my current reading location/posture.

Providing feedback on the writing will need to wait for morning, when I can access the full editing capabilities of the full Browser interface. But the reality is that New Tech IS coming to education — and that is a good thing. Granted, at this point, it’s my personal iPhone and the setup-by-me Google Apps site that’s bringing this future a bit closer. But my principal is supportive of this direction, and is actively working to get us a half-dozen Netbooks to further allow our students to collaborate in new ways. So the Slowly, But Surely is happening. And other pieces will fall (or be contrived to fall) into place.

What does it take to help these changes come about? Some research. Keeping an ear to the ground. Trying to see new evolutions and how they might help learners (and educators) go about the wonder of learning in better ways. Finding support. Collaborating. Championing innovation. Persevering. Not settling for the Status Quo. Pushing the Envelope. Reflective Practice. Beginner’s Eyes. Yada Yada Yada.

[Appended: Being Willing To Try. Being Willing To Do. (Yoda Yoda Yoda)]

I’m conscious that I would prefer to have some inline hyperlinks up above for a couple things, and that I’ll place them below for expediency, along with the pic (auto appended by the WordPress app). I’d also likely apply a but of text formatting, were I writing this full-bore at my desk. But it’s time to launch aSleep. Good night.     NOTE: Dec. 16th, 2009.  This post was enhanced (links added, bit of text formatting) via desktop/keyboard.

iRetouch app

aSleep app

The Future is Already Here 7

DougPeteTweetDeckThe Future is Already Here … it’s just not very evenly distributed.
William Gibson

Listen to the NPR Interview Nov 30, 1999

Ontario educator Doug Peterson (@dougpete on Twitter) sent out a tweet yesterday morning which immediately caught my attention, “Just blogged: Great opportunity for Ontario Teachers. Yesterday, the Ministry of Education announced …”

A short link through to Doug’s Off the Record blog had me reading about the immediate availability of a new piece of OSAPAC-licensed software for use in Ontario publicly-funded schools, Bitstrips for Schools.  The Ontario Ministry of Education, supported by the direction of OSAPAC, had finalized licensing arrangements to procure a modified-for-education version of the existing Bitstrips, and was announcing that the augmented site was ready-for-access by Ontario teachers and students. Not only would the modified version provide an “education-friendly” environment, but it would also include an easy-to-use management framework.

Here’s my first attempt with the software (with a small measure of editorializing thrown in for spice):


So, as referenced in piece above, shortly after reading Doug’s post, I was on the Bitstrips For Schools site. Within mere moments, I had activated my account, created a class grouping, and set up my student accounts. (The registration page included a drop down selector for school district, and then school — it then validated against my district email account. Easy Peasy.)

And it is in this ease-of-access that I find a profound potential.

The ease with which Ontario teachers can access this new software application, with all of its attendant student-collaboration potential, is unheard of in my experience  for an OSAPAC release. (Certainly the local implementation of Gizmos, for example (another OSAPAC-licensed web-app) — and the attendant user codes — have yet to make their way out into our schools from the district office. Not sure what’s up with that.) Granted, some teachers may require some support and/or training to make use of this software. Finding an appropriate curriculum context will also be important for others. But there’s no doubt in my mind that students will take to this with ease. The fact that it requires NO installation or subsequent technical support on the part of district IT departments, however, really strikes my fancy. And the ability for students to access the web-app from home, bodes well for where we need to be going. As an initial case-study, I see this as a wonderful indication of what is potentially to come. If the easy registration of teacher accounts and subordinate student accounts (as established via OSAPAC/EDU) works in this application, then it paves the way for OSAPAC and the Ministry of Education to employ the same strategy in rolling out other web/cloud-based applications. The sooner, the better. A provincially-licensed blogging or writing process tool, anyone?

Granted, this may run the risk of being potentially perceived by some as a bit of a challenge to local district edicts/policies — if they’re not already onboard — but I hope not. After all, the times, they are a’ changing. With eLearning providing education directly to some students in their homes already, we all need to be looking forward and embracing the aspects of educational technology that can truly work to empower learners and educators alike.

As for the Gibson quote, there’s no doubt that the uneven distribution of the future remains a significant issue for us all to wrestle with.

But I,  for one, applaud OSAPAC and the Ministry for their vision in taking this step forward. This act clearly demonstrates the potential for a more even distribution of the future moving forward …  🙂

What are your thoughts?  Is this a good way for OSAPAC and the Ministry to keep moving?

Obama's Back-to-School Address 2


US President Obama

On Tuesday, September 8th, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama will address his nation’s schoolchildren, with a message of encouragement and challenge. The speech will be broadcast on cSpan and streamed live on the Internet, starting at 12:00 noon and timed to run for around 18 minutes.
And you would not believe the controversy that has arisen in The States as a result.

Note that the word “Some” should be judiciously applied to each and every one of the statements above! Suffice to say, the very fact that there is considerable discussion around the “banning” of Obama’s speech in the first place has many educators in dismay.

canada-flagFirst, a disclaimer. I am a Canadian educator, teaching in a middle school in Ontario, Canada. Are you surprised to know that I intend to screen the speech and discuss it with my students grade 7 students on Tuesday? Why, you might ask?

I guess on one hand, I figure it’s going to be a good speach, dynamically delivered, and intended for an audience pretty much congruent with my own students. And I don’t think the border between our two countries will change the context for my students too significantly, do you? After all, learners are learners. And I’m sure we’ll be more than capable of unpacking any specific-to-The-States rhetoric and applying our own Canadian view.

But why do I really see this as an activity worthy of devoting an hour (or maybe an afternoon) for my grade 7 students? Because I believe that our children need to see, hear, discuss, and learn in an environment shaped by effective leadership. They need to respond to the challenge of learning.

So what makes Obama and his speech a good candidate for such a learning opportunity?

1) Delivery: Obama’s reputatation as a dynamic speaker preceeds him.
2) Audience: Obama is addressing students directly, with a message intended to speak to their context.
3) Message: Obama’s message will encourage grade school students (K-12) to set goals, work hard, and persevere. The importance of personal responsibility, and the need to take their education very seriously will be key messages. Sounds valuable.
4) Reputation: Obama has set a very valued precedent with his annual Fathers’ Day efforts. He is on record for several years now in advocating for fathers to “Step Up” and take greater responsibility for their children. (Watch Obama’s  2008 Fathers’ Day speech.) To me, this seems like formal leadership incarnate: setting an important challenge, encouraging others to follow.

(A quick review of Tuesday’s Speech Notes, posted online a day before the address, show that Obama is not side-stepping or sugar-coating this very present and pressing reality of modern society. In his speech to schoolchildren, he speaks directly about his own childhood and absentee father, and of the many challenges that students must also learn to overcome. Powerful words. Powerful encouragement.)

5) Position: Obama is the elected leader of our neighbour to the south. With that endorsement comes considerable status, and his actions and influences do affect us in our country. Makes sense to listen.

Now, as to the consternation in the US:

Audacity of HopeThe considerable debate seems to arise from partisan concerns within the different camps of the American political scene. One of the first themes Obama addresses in his most recent book, The Audacity of Hope ( … oh yeah, he’s also written books, too …) is that of the historically partisan nature of American politics. Were Congress and the Senate to do a better job at transcending those party lines, far more energy could be positively focussed on making things work better. (When I see our own Canadian Members of Parliament shouting across the floor of the House of Commons at one another during Question Period, I shudder. Don’t you? We expect more from our elected representatives.) And so, in this instance, when Conservatives in the US have come out on record against Obama’s plan to address schoolchidren, one has to wonder what might be so concerning in the speech as to draw out such ire. Truth be told, there’s not much in the speech that anyone could find offense with. But some politicians, or district administrators, and even parents are concerned enough as to suggest that the speech be blocked, firewalled, or edited out of the school day. Avoided, for the potential disruption it may bring.

I think the key take-away here is the significant demonstration of overt leadership (NO c on that overt) that Obama is making here — this is a key role that some (not all) heads-of-state are highly respected for. The world doesn’t get high-quality orators coincident within every single world leader. Some operate less visibly and can go for days or weeks without significant press coverage or sound bite opportunities. Some just haven’t crafted their skills in delivery to such extent.

But Obama here seems to be going for more than just the sound bite. Here, in this context, he’s talking to the children. In the speech proper, he references other audiences/contexts where he has pleaded for responsible action and careful thought. And maybe this is what has some folks up in arms — the potential power inherent in the words of a dynamic and charismatic speaker. And maybe some are concerned that his words and delivery just might be able to achieve some success where NCLB hasn’t.

One can think of the moon landing speech given by JFK and the vision resulting in the decade-long drive to put man on the moon — a leader speaking and galvanizing a nation.

One can think of the powerful Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream” oratory that brought about powerful change in the history of the United States.

Sometimes, leaders need to “step up” and lead. Lead by speaking their mind in a powerful and dynamic manner, making decisions, setting goals, encouraging collaboration. Sometimes, this can come as a challenge to the status quo. Seems to me that winning the presidency presents Obama with both the opportunity and the responsibility to work to effect that change.

Here are a few concepts I’ll leave you with. They resonate with the tensions that may exist within many educators this weekend, catalyzed by the Obama Speech controversy.

  • Power and authority.
  • Firewalls, Gatekeepers, and Censorship.
  • Professional Responsibility and Decision Making.
  • Parenting.
  • Personal Responsibility.
  • Participatory Citizenship.
  • Indoctrination? or Leadership?

As educators, we need our learners to be able to successfully discuss and deal with these tensions. Hopefully their parents, their community leaders, and their governments can let them, and learn to do the same.

And always, we need to remember that demonstrating leadership is a critically important part of being an educator.

Here’s where I’ll be tuning in Tuesday at 12:00 noon EDT.

Collaborating and Leading to Promote a Shared Vision 2

Establishing a vision to work towards is an important component of implementing and achieving positive movement forward. Without a vision, it can be all to easy to spend a lot of time doing a lot of things that don’t colletively contribute to anything. Without a shared vision, it can be truly difficult to “get all the ducks marching in the same direction,” or difficult to marshal and deploy the appropriate resources. And without a clear, shared vision, it can be difficult for stakeholders to have a sense what you’re all about, whether it is of any value to them, and close to impossible for them to know whether you’re achieving any success with it at all.

“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”
— Alvin Toffler

MoreThanWordsCanSayI recall my very first “new teacher induction meeting,” all those years ago (19, I think), when the then-Director of Education for the district assembled all of the new hires together during the last week of August (right about now, say) and welcomed us with a visionary and passionate speech about the careers upon which we were about to embark. I remember remarking at the time that he was one of the most eloquent and dynamic speakers I had ever heard, and was conscious at the time of his powerful use of metaphor and careful, poet’s choice of words in crafting his talk. I was impressed to the point that I was motivated to go up and speak with him when the session ended. (Imagine that, a new teacher, approaching the Director of Education on the first day of induction — and yet, why not?). Our conversation continued from the meeting room along the hallway, and concluded at his office, where he picked up a recently released book of essays on literacy from his desk and offered it to me to take away and use with my students. Imagine that. Welcome, and here’s a Vision, and here’s a Book of Inspiration.

“Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
— Mark Twain

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
— John Quincy Adams

Fast forward a bit, say three or four years later. Back then (in the olden days, before a goodly number of our Professional Activity days were removed by government decree in the mid-nineties) we used to have a designated “Federation Day,” which was a once-a-year opportunity for ALL of the teachers in the district to assemble in one spot for a day of teacher-provided sharing and self-selected workshops. I recall this one particular day, because yet again, the Director of Education (different director, mind) took the opportunity to speak to all of the assembled teachers (I’ll say perhaps 1 300 at the time). The wonderful impact upon me was again to reinforce that we, as a massed collective, newer and experienced teachers alike, were all working together to achieve a common vision. Again, powerful, motivating and, I think, important.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.”
— Benjamin Disraeli

DistrictAddressShortly thereafter we lost close to half of our PA days, and (regardless of that) never since have we had an opportunity to assemble as a whole district group to hear the Director speak and feel that common bond of pulling together with a shared and enumerated vision. The Director still has an address each August for the school administrators and central office staff, but it’s by invitation only, and the closest we get to it is the chance to download a narrated Powerpoint slide deck. Maybe this year’s address will be video recorded and posted for all to view, but somehow, something is lost without the face-to-face oration, without that opportunity to physically gather together and participate, and without that serendipitous moment to maybe have a chat with the Director.

So then

  • Is this the norm within education organizations today?
  • Is the collaborative development and sharing of a “big picture” direction part of your experience?
  • How do you draw strength, support, and validation for the mission that you take to your classroom and your students?
  • From whence comes your vision?