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Relationships, Relationships, Relationships - The Fundamental Building Block for Learning and Leading

-by Garry McKinnon, Superintendent

In a recent conversation with a group of realtors about the challenge of selling a home, a common theme which I have heard many times was reinforced - it's all about location, location, location. If I were to identify one element which is fundamental in all aspects of teaching and leadership I would say that it is all about, relationships, relationships, relationships. In fact, I believe that wherever you see people gathered in work situations, socially and/or their family lives, the ability to establish authentic relationships of mutual respect is the key ingredient. In schools the comment, "you need to reach the child to teach the child" highlights the fundamental importance of relationship building. It is not always easy but you need to find a way to connect with each and every student.

Embodying Visionary Leadership

-By Garry McKinnon, Superintendent

It is interesting to reflect on the nature of visionary leadership as a starting point for dialogue on school leadership. Who would you identify as visionary leaders who have had a significant impact on the world in which we live? When Barack Obama was campaigning for election as President of the United States he generated a great deal of enthusiasm through his passionate articulation of a vision of what could be. He caused people to join him in pursuit of a dream and a commitment to the slogan, "yes we can". He was effective in giving people hope and building confidence in their ability to make a difference. President Obama arguably provides an example of embodying visionary leadership although some of the initial enthusiasm has waned as he addresses the complexities of his challenging mandate.

Leading a Learning Community

-by Garry McKinnon, Superintendent 

The Minister of Learning the Hon. Lyle Oberg, in 2003 following an in-depth process of public consultation accepted a report from the members of Alberta's Commission on Learning entitled, Every Child Learns- Every Child Succeeds which set a new direction for education in Alberta. Most of the 95 recommendations in the report were implemented. Recommendation 13 made reference to requiring every school to operate as a professional learning community dedicated to continued improvement in students' achievement. A Professional Learning Community was described as one in which teachers and school administrators continuously seek and share learning and then act on what they learn.

Providing Instructional Leadership

-by Garry McKinnon, Superintendent

If you were to ask anyone involved in education about the importance of instructional leadership, there is no doubt the response will be that it is critical to the success of any school. If you were to enter into a dialogue with school principals, it is very likely they would all describe themselves as being instructional leaders, but, what exactly is instructional leadership and to what extent is it actually taking place in our schools? We have been exploring this question through a series of informal professional development sessions at the Calgary Science School involving the principal, two assistant principals, the Professional Development and Collaboration Coordinator and myself.

Developing and Facilitating Leadership

Dr. Garry McKinnon

Team Ferbey
As I continue my series of blogs on school leadership with reference to the seven competencies outlined in the Alberta Education Professional Practice Competencies for School Leaders framework, I will highlight the fifth dimension-Developing and Facilitating Leadership. In an earlier blog I made reference to the evolving concept of school leadership, which I described as the Ferby model with reference to Randy Ferby and his Edmonton curling team which has been highly successful at the provincial, national and international level. As Skip of the team, Ferby introduced a new approach to team leadership by having his Third throw the last rocks and encouraging his team members to actively and collaboratively participate in considering various strategies in deciding on the preferred course of action. In the past, the Skip would call the shots and the other team members would not question his/her judgment or share in the leadership role. Similarly, the school principal was seen as the individual in charge whose leadership and decision-making role was unquestioned.

Managing School Operations and Resources

by Garry McKinnon, Superintendent

Several months ago, I made a commitment to share some insights on school leadership based on my experiences in various roles in education through the years, using the Alberta Education Professional Practice Competencies for School Leaders document as a framework. Specifically I made reference to the seven leadership competencies in the document and I continue with some thoughts on the sixth leadership dimension which makes reference to the school leader’s role in managing school operations and resources to ensure a safe, caring and effective learning environment. The descriptors related to this dimension highlight the importance of good planning and organization and the effective management of the physical and financial resources of the school and ensuring the school operations align with legal frameworks such as provincial legislation and policy and jurisdictional policy directives and initiatives. It is emphasized in the document that principles of teaching, learning and student development should guide all management decisions.

Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

Dr. Garry McKinnon

It has been a very challenging and invigorating experience for me to prepare this series of blogs on the Alberta Education Professional Practice Competencies for School Leaders. I have enjoyed the opportunity to share my thoughts on school leadership with the school administrators involved in the Alberta Association of Public Charter schools project on school leadership during this current school year which was funded by Alberta Education. The challenge was to explore school leadership using the Professional Practice Competencies for School Leaders as a framework through a series of workshops, administrator exchanges, personal reflections, and the exchanging of ideas through blogs and informal dialogue.

Student Responses to a Digital Textbook Continued

-by Dave Scott, Grade 8 Humanities

This post is part of a four-part series exploring the curricular potential of digital textbooks or what I am calling "Integrated Inquiry Resources." Read the first blog here for an introduction to the ideas that informed this project as well as the inquiry resource itself. And then a second blog for an outline of the inquiry tasks imbedded in the resource and accompanying student work.
This blog post is a continuation of a previous blog post that reports on findings from an anonymous student survey which sought to document the impact of a specific integrated digital inquiry resource on levels of student engagement and learning.

Student Responses to a Digital Textbook

Over the last week the media has been awash in news stories surrounding Apple’s unveiling of their new iBooks 2 application for the iPad. This free App provides a user-friendly platform allowing anyone with an Apple computer to create their own digital textbook specifically tailored to the educational needs of both their students and their specific subject area.

Digital Textbook Inquiry Tasks for the Renaissance

by Dave Scott

What follows is post number two of a four part series on the curricular potential of digital textbooks. These posts are the result of an action research study I have been involved in as part of a research initiative at Calgary Science School to encourage innovation and reflective practice within an inquiry-based environment.
Recently, there has been much discussion of Apple's free iBook 2 application that allows anyone to create interactive textbooks for the popular iPad tablet. See this article here for details on an application Apple believes is going to revolutionize the textbook market. In working on what I have been referring to as an “Integrated Inquiry Resource” created for a grade 8 Humanities unit on the Renaissance (see this blog post here for the resource itself) over the last year, I too have been trying to create a classroom resource that could leverage the potential of a digital textbook. In the next two blog posts I would like to report on feedback I have received from students as to the curricular potential of the digital resource I created. Let me begin by outlining the inquiry tasks I created within this digital textbook.
Within this resource, I provided among other things, links to short videos on the historical events addressed in the unit, inquiry questions meant to encourage students to think critically and uncover the themes and content connected to specific aspects of the Renaissance, as well as assessment rubrics and accompanying strategies to help students provide sophisticated responses to the inquiry tasks outlined after each section. By undertaking the tremendous work involved in creating a digital textbook from scratch, it was my hope that, through creating opportunities for a flipped classroom (see this article for a full explanation on what this entails), Khan Academy style tutorials, and links to remarkable videos, I could create something that would make the classroom only one site where meaningful learning takes place.
To this end, within the resource I began by trying to provide the context needed to understand the creative flourishing and rebirth of classical (Ancient Greek and Roman) learning that was the Renaissance. Here, I included a chapter outlining some of the major events, from the Golden Age of Ancient Greece to the Fall of Rome on through to the Black Death, to provide the historical background of this age of renewal and rebuilding. Writing in a conversational voice, I accompanied a brief discussion of each period with hyperlinks to short video clips posted on YouTube of various documentaries drawn from sources such as the History Channel and PBS, to help bring these events to life. Noting that the Renaissance can be understood as period of renewal and rebuilding after the ravages of the Black Death, this video on the Bubonic Plague is an example of the kinds of documentary clips I used to help show the impact this event had on Europe. At the end of this section in the digital resource, students were asked to create a historical timeline outlining the historical events covered in this 2,500-year expanse of history. Here is an example of a historical timeline students created:
From here, after providing a series of lectures on the different aspects that make up the event we now call the Italian Renaissance, I had students choose from a list of five characteristics that can describe this time period (i.e., a period of renewal after the ravages of the Black Death, a period of intense artistic activity). Then using the cartoon-making program Pixton, we had students explain this particular characteristic of the Renaissance in this graphic novel style medium. See this Demonstrating Understanding Through Pixton blog post for an explanation of this task, along with the comic below for examples of the kind of work students created:
Students were then asked to choose from a list of 16 developments that led to the Italian Renaissance (i.e., The Crusades, contact with the Islamic World, the fall of the Byzantine Empire) and after a talking to the text note taking exercise, create a SES (state, explain, support) paragraph on their area. After presenting their development to the class, as a culminating final activity, students were asked to use criteria for historical significance and decide which development was the most historically significant for igniting a Renaissance in northern Italy during the 15th and 16th century. As a culminating activity for this section, students were asked to defend their decision in a horseshoe debate format. Here, the emphasis was on developing two arguments as to why your event was significant, developing these ideas, and identifying historical facts to back up your opinion. Unfortunately video footage of the debate was erased, however, here is an example of a student's debate script.
In the final section, we created a series of tasks that, among other things, sought to surface the worldview of key Humanist and Renaissance thinkers. To take one example, after revisiting the concept of Humanism emphasizing that this movement involved the rejection of the medieval obsession with the afterlife at the expense of this life and placed man and his potential at the centre of things, using two superb video clips to bring students deeper into this notion, we asked students the following question:
Drawing on this History Channel video Humanism Triggers the Renaissance, and after watching this Clamation version of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, how do you think Humanist thinkers would have interpreted the symbols in this story meant to contain a hidden meaning?

See this blog post for video footage of what this conversation looked like. Here, rather than just saying the Renaissance involved the revival of Greek learning, I wanted to show this by bringing students into the world that Humanists would have been encountering in reading the ancient classics of Plato and Aristotle. Here is an example of a student response to this question:

Symbol 1: I believe that the Humanists would have interpreted the chains as a barrier holding them back. The barrier is the overpowering belief of God or a supreme being, which is stopping them from moving forward. Due to such an intense belief of God, people would assume that God would give them the inventions, which held them back from taking the initiative to actually do something. Cities and towns would not have been nearly as progressed because people believed that if it were meant to be, God would have made it as such. However, when the belief of humanism became popular, people became motivated to do things on their own and cities became more advanced much sooner. In the video, the cave dweller’s hands are chained back, showing that their belief in God is restricting them from advancing and pushing forward.
Symbol 2: It is my belief that the Humanists would have interpreted the real world outside as reality. Just a glance at the real world would have shown the cave dwellers that they did not need God, or a higher being to control them. People could do things on their own, rely on themselves instead of some mythical being. The real world was representing what the world could be if people believed in themselves, and believed that the individual could be great. In the video, the cave dwellers are unable to see the reality of the world, because they are chained back by the belief of God. I think this is showing that many extreme religionists were unable to open their eyes, and turn around to see the real world.

Geology and the iPad

-by Lisa Nelson, Grade 7 Math/Science

Teaching a group of grade 7s who have used 1:1 Macbook laptops for the past three years and are now part of a 1:1 iPad initiative has been somewhat challenging. The students were slightly discouraged by the limitations of the iPad at the beginning of the school year. It was our goal as a grade 7 team to get students to buy-in to iPads and to note the good things about them.

We started the year with the ‘Planet Earth’ unit in Science. To alleviate some of their frustrations, we decided to give them a project that would showcase some of the positives of iPads and ensure that they had the opportunity for success.

Student Engagement Captivates Me

By Ivy Waite

Student engagement captivates me.

Why is it that certain elements of our culture are able to draw in our students so easily, while others are often ignored? How can teachers take advantage of those things that captivate to engage our students in the classroom? 

We can - if we are willing to think creatively.

During the first term of the school year I had the privilege of teaching the inaugural class of the World@War elective here at CSS. History, of warfare in particular, has always been a very popular topic among my students (mostly male). As a topic that I am also very passionate about, I decided to combine the demand for history with avid interest in popular media representations of the war to give rise to this completely independent, inquiry driven course.

Students were challenged to propose projects that had to be focused on a major conflict from recent human history (500 years), and had to include the following media types as resources:
• Documentary Film
• Period Film (from the time of the conflict, if possible)
• Feature Film
• Variety of online resources (full MLA works cited list required)
• Video Game (Call of Duty series, Battlefield, Minecraft, etc.)

Students worked in small groups (3-4) to determine the focus of their project, and to complete the proposal. It was up to students to decide what the guiding question of a project would be, and to focus on what their essential understandings would have to be in order to answer their question.

The trimester flew by. Every second day my room was filled with students watching films on their laptops with headphones, editing the footage from their own gameplay to use in their documentaries comparing the real Battle of Stalingrad with the campaign challenge from the game Call of Duty World at War, and pouring over research notes on the tactics used throughout the Korean War. Other students chose to take a different direction and looked at genocide in Rwanda, French Revolution, and the history of weaponry throughout the two world wars up to today.

The following video was created by one of my students whose excitement and demonstration of deep understanding were brought about by the possibility of bringing his love of gaming, and historical topics not covered in social studies (but on the History Channel and in Hollywood) into the classroom.

Battle of Stalingrad: Reality vs. Call of Duty World @ War

I was anxious to explore the idea of using popular media to engage students, and during the second term, I decided to again challenged my students to read and review five novel; however, after some serious thought about media literacy, and the realities of what media students are choosing to consume, I decided to allow them to review the campaign story from a video game that they were currently playing or planned to play. The results have been outstanding. Videos expertly pieced together using scenes from the game to support a mature critique of multiple aspects of the game have been entertaining and exceptionally well put together.

The following video is one example of the reviews that have been submitted thus far.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare Three Review

Exemplary learning truly does occur when we incorporate curriculum meaningfully and seek innovative ways to engage our students!!!

For more information on the place of gaming in the classroom, check out this page on my personal blog Creative Craniums: "Learn A Little: Articles to Chew On - Gaming in the 21st Century Classroom".

The Top 10 for Future Teachers

-by Garry McKinnon, Superintendent

I had an interesting experience on January 11 at the University of Calgary when I joined three other superintendent colleagues to share with 350+ Faculty of Education students who are in the last semester of their Bachelor of Education program, some views on the state of education and some advice as they prepare to enter the teaching profession. My role was to represent the charter school perspective.