Summertime Reads from the LEARN Team

Photo by Link Hoang on Unsplash

As the on-going reflections and corrections of the 2017-2018 school year begin to swirl furiously in your brain, LEARN wishes to support you in turning essays into chilly cocktails, exams into sunny porches, book reports into BBQ delights and science projects into LEARN’s summertime reads recommendations. Summer vacation is no longer a tunnel dream, not simply a postcard on your desk to escape into, no longer a fictitious date on your personal calendar. It’s ok to start dreaming, fantasizing, planning, and of course relaxing – you made it! We hope you enjoy our reading recommendations for the summer of 2018.

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Elizabeth Alloul – ESL Special Project

Innovators Mindset by George Kouros

George Kouros was a keynote speaker at the SPEAQ 2017 ESL convention in Laval, and gave an inspiring presentation on being an innovative educator-that I missed!

Who is George and what is he writing about?  I finally acquired his book, The Innovator’s Mindset, it is a book that teaches, inspires, and motivates the reader to help create a culture of innovation.

Next stop, his blog!  Happy summer!!

Kerry Cule – Online Teacher

Mandolin for Dummies

A few years ago, I started to teach myself how to play the mandolin. I have found that playing music increases my concentration, improves my coordination, and boosts my mood. While I’m no dummy, I’m looking forward to expanding my skill-set and learning a few new chords this summer!

Dianne Conrod – Principal, Virtual Campus

Canadian Gardener’s Guide
Lorraine Johnson, Ed.

Two of my favourite summer pastimes are reading and gardening, so it’s only natural that these two activities would overlap in the form of a gardening book. We have a lot of trees on our property, so I refer most often to the sections related to shade plants. This guide is a helpful reference for beginners and more seasoned gardeners alike and the colourful photos are inspiring!

Christine Truesdale – Director, Pedagogical Services

Broad Band
by Claire L. Evans

Broad Band, The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet weaves the history of the women who were the first ‘computers’, whose mental labour bore the original information technology and who “elevated the rudimentary operation of computing machines into an art called programming.” Author Claire L. Evans begins the story at the turn of the 20th C, when early use of the term ‘computer’ signified a job (mostly done by women), not a machine, and works her way through to the 1990’s, when cyberfeminists used the Internet as a platform for creativity and artistic expression. From Ada Lovelace, to Grace Hopper, to Brenda Laurel, these women were guided by their focus on the user, rather than the technology. Ultimately, they gave the machines their language and never lost sight of what should be the computer’s central purpose – to enrich our lives.

Julie Paré – Conseillère pédagogique

NAUFRAGE by Biz

J’ai toujours aimé les mots, la poésie et la musique de Loco Locass, un groupe de hip-hop québécois formé de Biz, Batlam et Chafiik. Pour les amateurs de hockey et du Canadien de Montréal, vous avez surement déjà entendu leur chanson Le but. Cet été, j’ai décidé de retrouver la plume de Biz en lisant son quatrième roman Naufrage.

 

Michael J. Canuel Ed.D. – CEO

When by Daniel H. Pink

As the title suggests it deals with time, but more specifically, timing. Pink posits that when to do something and when not to is really a science and that knowing “when” to do something greatly influences outcomes. Not surprising until he starts to point out certain everyday realities and the value of recognizing patterns. When best to exercise, study, sleep, retire, collaborate, engage in critical reflection? An easy but enjoyable read.

 

Paul Rombaugh – Consultant

 

The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

My summer read takes me back to the 16th century, to “La Florida” and that familiar story of conquest, but from the perspective of an unfamiliar voice. The Moor’s Account by Moroccan-American novelist Laila Lalami, is a retelling of the failed Narváez expedition of 1527. Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico, was one of only four survivors from the journey. A slave, his version was forever silenced in the testimonies of the others. Lalami’s fictional rendition gives voice to the experience of possibly the first Black explorer to visit the Americas, and through his lens to voices of the indigenous people who resisted them all.

Mary Stewart, Ph.D. Managing Editor, LEARNing Landscapes

 

I just picked up a bag of 18 French language books at a garage sale for five dollars, so I’ll be reading to my two year-old granddaughter this summer. Rose is already comfortable in French, and I’ll get to practice reading at a level suitable to me. Best of all, we’ll be snuggling together!

Audrey McLaren – Online Teacher

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
by Kathleen Rooney

is the life story of the title character. Lillian reminds me of Rosalind Russell’s character in His Girl Friday, except there’s no Cary Grant –  there’s only Lillian and the many characters she encounters in her New-York-writer career path. Also, there’s poetry.

Michael Clarke – Pedagogical Assistant

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

When my executive director asked me to include the book “Between the World and Me” in our public library, I pounced on it. I was immediately convinced of his incisive views on racial politics in America and bookmarked the book for this summer. Now, I can’t wait to read how his fears, misgivings, and hopes from just a few years ago so I can compare them daily to America’s ongoing identity crisis.

 

Kristine Thibault – Coordinator of Online Learning, Virtual Campus

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

I wasn’t sure how to take it when I received this book for my birthday from one of my dear colleagues (you know who you are!) 🙂 I can honestly admit to NOT being a self-help book kind of girl, but Jen Sincero’s straight shooting, hilarious style has kept me reading on. The author delivers many truth bombs that had me reflecting on the unhealthy/unhelpful ways our thinking can sabotage our lives. So far, this read is funny, insightful, motivating and self-validating. Thanks for the gift!
Louise-Gilles Lalonde – Systems Administrator

Words of the Huron by John Steckley

Despite having been studied and documented extensively since the 17th century, the Wendat language has almost disappeared in Quebec, with only a handful of native speakers still alive today. Initiatives are now being taken to revive and promote Wendat inside and outside the Wendake reserve. This book is one of the reference material used in classes for learning the vocabulary, syntax and cultural context of the Wendat language. Sehiatonhchotrahk!

Chris Colley – Consultant

Lifelong Kindergarten by Mitchel Resnick

I love to play, I love to learn through playing. Lifelong Kindergarten explores how all deep learning stems from play, engagement, discovery, creativity, excitement, freedom to explore, choice… kinda like being in kindergarten for life. Mitch Resnick’s position is that education should be built on Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play!  This book explains how…

Rosie Himo – Administrative Assistant

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

The Danes claim to be the happiest nation on earth in terms of education, childcare, taxes and food. Read the book to find out if you agree and how we (as Canadians) compare to their living standards. The book is available for your reading pleasure in our LEARN library.

Sylwia Bielec – Consultant, blog editor

The Future is History by Masha Gessen

Come for the clever wordplay, stay for the unsettling glimpse of a culture at once so unlike our own, and at the same time terrifyingly close. As Russia appears more and more often in the world news, I thought I would try to learn more about this powerhouse country who holds none of our truths to be self-evident. A looking-glass kind of book, where you find yourself not knowing what you knew in the first place.

 

And on that note, have a great summer. I think we’ve all earned a little light at the end of this 2017-2018 tunnel!

 

Supporting the (Online) Student as Individual

This year, I had the opportunity to work directly and almost daily with the online teaching team at LEARN. My job: to facilitate and guide (heaven help them!) the design, development and delivery of our new Self-Paced Blended Learning courses. I joke because although I’ve worked in the field for well over 20 years, I’m still a relative newbie compared to some of the incredible veteran educators with whom I collaborate. And, although I never had any real contact with our online students, through our teaching team, I feel that I know them.

The student was at the heart of almost every discussion we had about learning (online). The teachers talked about the students who needed more support and preferred meeting in our one-on-one teaching platform, or via email, or even Twitter; those who loved to use Desmos, Geogebra and VoiceThread; those who participated more actively in forums and reflection activities; the ones who needed learning materials to be provided at a more accelerated pace; and the special few who insisted on staying connected and on top of their studies… in the bush… during goose hunting season!

What we were essentially exploring and allowing to drive our pedagogical model and practice was the idea of personalization. How could we vary our instruction to effectively reach and teach as many students as possible? Not a new idea… but not an easy one. It takes a group of responsive/dedicated/innovative teachers, a supportive/forward-thinking administration, and an organizational culture that embraces the student and his/her success as its raison d’être.

Two weeks ago, we surveyed this year’s online cohort about their experience as learners. We asked what the students perceived as the advantages of learning in an online, blended environment, and whether they felt that their individual learning needs had been met. Below is a representative sampling of their responses, grouped by a few of the core elements of personalization, which speak to how all learning can be designed to support individual needs, preferences, aspirations and backgrounds.


Pacing & Flexibility:

We can re-watch classes, do things at your own pace and do more practice questions.

There are many resources readily available to students all the time. In self-paced, you can also take topics at your own pace (within reason). If I struggle with one specific topic, I can take a bit more time on it, while I go through topics I understand more quickly.

You get to work at your own pace, doing the work when you have time instead of cramming everything in one night.

No matter what time of day, I don’t need be in school to ask questions, and when I do, it is made sure that I understand everything.

 I find the teachers are more available to help and there are a lot more resources to help the students.

 I think the advantages of taking an online course are the flexibility in our schedules and learning to organize and motivate ourselves to do the work on time.

 My online teachers are very flexible when it comes to helping, I find that they make themselves available at nearly anytime if we need it. For instance, we can ask them a question through Twitter after class time and it won’t be long before we get a reply.

 You can move through the class at your own pace and re-watch the class at home if needed.

 The online class allows me to have an opportunity to take classes that are not offered at my school. It has helped my understanding in my course and I think I am improving because of it.

 No snow days! No sick days! It’s one of the most convenient things ever, being able to continue to go to class even if we’re stuck at home. It’s also so much easier to catch up on missed work, what with VTs and archived classes.


Varied Instructional Approaches/Tools:

Having access to all of the resources to help learn/study at any second.

The slides in class and the VoiceThreads help me a lot because I’d say that I’m a visual learner

 As a more kinaesthetic learner I’ve found some of the stuff hard as it can be very visual/auditory based and my teachers have worked with me to find a way of learning that helps me understand everything.

 My teacher has helped me every time I’ve asked. She’s been really good to adjust for us and host tutoring sessions to enrich our learning. She is also very consistent which is important as an online teacher and she allows for learning and understanding before switching topics.

 Well I’m a visual learner, if I see it once or twice, I usually get a good grasp on a concept. So, if the class shows a visual example of how to do it (which online math seems to do quite often) I usually get it. And the teacher was there to support me if I am struggling at a certain concept, or if I have a question I’d like answered, I always get a good answer.

 I’ve always taken into account the organization of online classes. Compared to my in-school classes, I find that every class/test/homework is planned out in advance and we’re provided with overviews that are always followed. The recordings are also a great advantage, being able to re-watch a class or watch one you were absent for is extremely useful. Online classes also present us with many online tools and get us familiar with computer-oriented working.

 As a student coming from a school where I’ve had the same teachers since pre-k, it is super refreshing to have new teachers. Also, you get the opportunity to take courses required for certain college programs.

 I think one advantage would be the flipped classes, because it allows us to work with the teacher during classes, and learn at home through VT’s (VoiceThreads).

 The teachers explain super well, and provide many resources that help a lot. If there is something I don’t understand, the teacher will take the time to help and make sure we can succeed.

 The VoiceThreads really supported my needs. I’m able to hear how we do things which allows me to understand that much more. When in class, the board allows me to visualize everything we’re doing and that way I can learn a lot more information than if we did this without it. I love how the teacher always explains it in full and always makes sure you understand entirely.

 Online you can do cool stuff like online project slideshows and the use programs on Zenlive that make it more active for both students and teachers.

 Flipped classroom! When done correctly, like with online math, flipped classroom is the greatest way to learn! I can press pause on what the teacher is saying, take notes, and take time to understand. The way flipped classroom is, it’s easier to understand and to learn, easier to digest the information spewed at a fast rate. It gives more freedom, allows all of us to learn in our own ways. 


Opportunities for Student Voice & Agency:

Although this is a harder course, I get to choose when, where, why, and how I learn. This is very special, and what makes online classes so important.

 In an online class you can be more open to ask questions if you’re a shy person since you aren’t face to face with other students and you can message your teachers questions anytime you have one even if you aren’t in class.

 Online math is one of the most comfortable ways to learn. No need for social anxiety, as no one’s there in person. No need to have to tell others to shut up and let you focus, as you don’t have to listen to anyone if you don’t want to. I can focus solely on the teacher and the material. I can relax and learn. Though it is advanced, difficult, and sometimes taxing, online math is very flexible and freeing. A lot more responsibility with time management, but that’s okay.

 It teaches independence and how to take charge of your own studies.

 I can be more responsible as a student, and there are tons of tools to help learn stuff. The flipped classes are also more effective, learning in VT’s and applying it in class.

 It helps you grow as a student independently and teaches you to manage your time wisely. It also helps you familiarize yourself with technology that’s used in the workforce.

Somehow, it’s a more personal form of learning, more tailored to each student’s needs because we, the students, have more control over how we learn.

 

The Student Meeting (one-on-one support):

Weekly meetings keep us on track and they are available almost all the time when we need them.

 If I ever have any difficulty, my teacher is always available by email and meeting weekly helps to ensure that I’m understanding the material and keeping up with my work. I’ve loved working through LEARN online this year for chemistry and honestly wish I was doing more of my classes online!

 I was struggling near the middle of the year and we’ve had a few discussions about it, which helped set me back on track.

 My teacher has been great she always makes sure I understand the concept of our lessons and always makes sure I’m doing the best work I can. She wants me to succeed at the highest level I can.

 Whenever I felt stressed she was always there to answer my questions. If I didn’t understand a question she would make a VT for me or meet with me in Zenlive. She made tutoring accessible for me. Gave me extra help when I needed it. If I couldn’t attend my usual class she would let me come to another class.

 In my opinion, incredibly, online teachers are so much more present, so much more connected with their students, than offline teachers.

 I have had a lot of online time with the teacher and it has helped me improve in math quite a bit. I am very proud of my work!

 

I would be negligent if I didn’t mention the learner who, as an individual, simply feels more comfortable working face-to-face, with peers and teacher in the same room. Of LEARN’s online students this year, approximately 8% suggested that they would have preferred to take their course(s) at their own school, with a teacher who was physically present. Online learning, however blended, innovative or personalized, is not for everyone. And, although technology can certainly facilitate key aspects of personalized learning, we can see from our students’ responses (and my colleague Audrey McLaren’s two-part blog post) that the human touch, be it online or in person, remains equally, if not more important in this mix.

Kristine Thibeault
Coordinator of Online Learning, Virtual Campus
LEARN

Teacher Reflections on LEARN’s Self-Paced Blended Learning Year 1

This is Part 2 of a two-part post. You can read the first part here.

My last post described the creation stages and final product of our first year in what we called the Self-Paced Blended Learning project. This post is a compilation of the reflections on the experience from the teacher point of view, so even though I use the pronoun “I”, I’m speaking on behalf of the teaching staff.

The Creation Stage:

Simply put, this stage was a huge amount of work, and required some dedicated time through holidays, just to meet the deadlines. But the benefits far outweighed that.

I had thought it would be a simple matter to take all of the digital content we’d all created over the years for our own courses (yes, we create our own and we have SO MUCH STUFF) and rearrange it all in one online space, in a visually appealing and easy-to-understand way. Hilarious. Adorable even.

When you have to add in context – those crucial bits of text that make it possible for a student aged 15-ish to keep motivated, to understand what to do, when to do it, where to put their work, and know that a real human being cares whether or not they are ok, you quickly discover all kinds of holes. You also discover just how much just-in-time on-the-spot teaching and spontaneous learning happens during the live class! We all ended up creating many new resources to make the Self-Paced experience as close as possible to the Real-Time one.

At this point it is clear that even if no one had taken the SPBL course, this process would’ve nevertheless ended up benefiting everyone – in the short term and the long term:

  • Because of the SPBL deadlines, I was prepared and ready for my Real-Time classes an entire month ahead, which I had NEVER been in my entire career. That was a double-edged sword, mind you, because it freed my mind to come up with lots more spontaneous ideas during class, which in turn meant more SPBL stuff to include in the weekly meetings… not a vicious cycle, but a self-perpetuating one!
  • As I mentioned before, a lot of holes got filled even for my Real-Time students. They benefited from much more thorough and frequent checks-for-understanding, as well as new and better VoiceThreads that otherwise wouldn’t have been made, at least not all in one year.
  • Writing those Introduction & Why Are We Learning This? blurbs at the beginning of each unit gave me a deeper appreciation for the content. I’ve never been comfortable answering “When are we ever going to use this?” with “On the final exam”, but neither have I ever given the question much deep thought. It made me appreciate how these things fit into the bigger picture. I should have been doing this all along.
  • The big picture – I had never had the opportunity to look at the whole course in one spot before, and as it took shape over the year, many connections between topics were suddenly revealed to me. Orthogonal vectors & trigonometric points. Hyperbolas and rational functions. The linear thread through EVERYTHING – every single kind of equation we learn how to solve gets turned into some kind of linear equation! Who knew?
  • Also big picture, but for next year: The yearly overview makes it easy to schedule certain routines, like “Always, Sometimes, or Never?” or “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” on a regular basis, instead of whenever I happened to have the presence of mind to think of it.


The Weekly Student Meetings:

Everything that happened in a meeting could also have happened in a real- time class, but it’s very different in a one-on-one. Put a student in a class of 20-30 people, in which the teacher says “How are you today?” Then put that same student in a one-on-one meeting with the same teacher asking the exact same thing, and those words will have a profoundly different impact. Words sound entirely different, indeed the message they convey IS entirely different, when you know they are directed at you and only you.

You might think that the amount of time the SPBL students spent on their own made the format rather impersonal and bereft of human interaction, but the exact opposite was true. First of all, in our weekly meetings, we’re going over one person’s work, focusing on exactly what they and only they need, as opposed to the usual showing of all the solutions to everyone, regardless of what kind of results they got.

Moreover, the one-on-one meetings make it impossible to hide, impossible to not make your personality known. By contrast, in an online synchronous class, where there is no body language to colour everything you say, it’s the relatively rare student whose personality is accurately and fully transmitted to the other people online. Obviously, the teacher is an expert at that, but most students would rather remain as invisible as possible, choosing to text their comments rather than use their microphone. Of course this is not even remotely possible in the weekly meetings. It was nice to not be the only one using their voice for a change.

The agenda for each meeting was set by the teacher, and even though there were plenty of opportunities for the student to add his or her own items, it felt rather teacher-driven. Since SP students are required to be more active participants in these one-on-one sessions, we’re hoping next year they will be the ones driving the meetings.

The meetings, along with the friendly tone of the blurbs and instructions scattered throughout Sakai, were hopefully enough to make the whole experience human for our inaugural students. It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to complete a course that only involves automated interactions, in which no one is invested emotionally or even intellectually. Teenagers especially need to know someone cares about their success, even if they themselves get discouraged and lose motivation.

The Overall Experience:

I was excited about this project when we first started talking about it, then when we were in the thick of it I got a bit discouraged, because it really seemed at one point like the content was too complex to be covered in an almost exclusively asynchronous way. I turned a corner about halfway through the year, when I began making actual slides for my meetings, and when the students started settling into the routine. It really helped when they did well in their midterms (as well or better than my Real-Time students). That was when it stopped feeling like an experiment and started to feel like an exciting new direction for LEARN. As is always the case with everything LEARN does, it all comes down to the students.

If it works for them, we’re in.