Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Things are taking off

So this is a bit of word play to lead into a post about “piloting” a few technology initiatives in our board.
Whenever I write an email to the system, I always think no one will respond:) However it is amazing to see that many dedicated teachers will a) step up to earn something new, b) be willing to learn alongside their students, c) let me join them and get in on the action, d) give their time in tech clubs, and more. Here is a summary of what’s flying this spring.
We had one Grade 7-12 school go ahead last fall and thanks to them the momentum has spread to 5 schools. All the new schools are K-8, and students participating are from grade 6-8. They are attending Hackergal learning sessions on their recesses and getting ready for the national Hackathon on May 2. Last week, I ran into two teachers and a parent, all from different schools, all talking about how enthusiastic the girls are, and expressing gratitude for the opportunity.
App Inventor
Wow! This was all new for me. Back in December I reached out to one of our CS teachers for a suggestion for a Grade 8 student who wanted to build a very specific app idea for Science Fair. Flash forward four months: the student learned AI, Anne learned AI, we did some de-bugging together. Right before the student took Gold at the regional fair and earned a spot at Canada Wide. I absolutely love this platform and believe it fills a "missing link" between Scratch and high school CS courses. Challenging and engaging - a winning combination!
Coding and Computational Thinking and Pedagogical Documentation in K
We are part way through a series of seven workshops for our K teams of teachers and ECEs. I am so thrilled to be able to introduce these concepts, and to see how natural it is for educators to make the connections between BeeBot activities, unplugged coding, and the K program goals.
Minecraft Education Edition
We have had some hiccups with this one, mostly firewall related. I have been a facilitator at one school, and beyond the enthusiasm for participating, I have observed a significant improvement in what we would have simply called behaviour in the past. Now I can frame this in terms of global competencies. There is no doubt in my mind that the increasing levels of respect have been prompted by building cooperatively in Minecraft. There have been great examples of collaboration, communication, creativity and more. In four weeks our group has doubled in size by earning the right to attend, and participants have significantly reduced conflict by working together.
Makey Makey
Everyone loves Makey Makey and our pilot classes are no exception. For me the main excitement comes from the growing awareness, that has evolved naturally, of a makerspace mindset. This is new to our board and not yet broadly promoted. I was so excited to be in a class where students had gone home unprompted over a weekend and built a joystick, surprising their teacher with a request to test it on a Makey Makey. She hid her surprise well, and just told them to give it a try. They were rockstars to their peers when it worked perfectly, and were able to give me a great explanation of their structure.
The same two teachers who volunteered for Makey Makey and invited me into their classes are going to move forward with our new Micro:Bits later this spring.
Coding Quest Arcade
Not a pilot – but an expansion. We have few more schools on board this year and our big celebration is approaching fast. We also piloted Coding Trek with our primary classes this year, and the students were whizzes at learning Scratch Jr. (See previous post).

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A $50 Million Gift Horse

This is one gift horse that needs its teeth examined!
Here is my letter to the Minister of Innovation regarding the recent CanCODE announcement of $50 million for coding...

Dear Minister,

Although I am delighted to see that you have dedicated funds to teaching coding in our schools, I am troubled by the model that has been chosen.
First and foremost, the reliance on optional participation via third-party providers continues an existing situation which is basically inequitable.

In my professional reading, several times in the last five years or so I have noted a round of observations and comments on:
·      Not enough young women in technology,
·      Not enough computer science (CS) teachers in Ontario,
·      Most teachers’ colleges are no longer training CS teachers,
·      Teacher candidates are not choosing CS as a teachable.
·      High school CS and engineering courses are not offered province wide.

Your program does not address most of the above root problems, which are fundamental to building computer programming knowledge and capacity in Ontario and Canada over the long term.

Meanwhile (dates and numbers on employee shortages seem to vary a bit), by 2019 or 2020, there will be 180,000 or 200,000 technology jobs going unfilled in Canada due to a lack of qualified workers. Not to mention many times that south of the border.

In my job as a TELT Contact (Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching), I work in many different schools. So, my comments are really just based on our board. But I imagine they apply to other locations in Ontario and Canada.
·      In perhaps half of our schools, classes will participate in Hour of Code as a one-time event.
·      A handful of teachers are integrating coding by participating in The Learning Partnership’s Coding Trek and Coding Quest.
·      A number of schools and local community groups are involved with First Lego League, but fewer than half.
·      In terms of pedagogical discussion, most teachers have not had any training in coding and/or computational thinking and/or curriculum integration.
·      As a result, most teachers are not confident in bringing coding into their programs.
·      Most would not be aware of existing ministry of education or third-party resources.

I believe our board’s small educational technology team has been very pro-active, responding to requests and enthusiastically promoting coding opportunities as they arise. However, it troubles me that in Ontario in 2018:
·      A student’s access to this learning is unstructured and completely tied to the private/personal initiative of specific teachers (or schools or boards).
·      There is no continuum of study for students who wish to grow over the course of 12 years in our schools.
·      Third-party providers are doing the vast majority of training, at the request or initiative of specific teachers, schools or boards (eg. Fair Choice, The Learning Partnership, First Lego, Logics Academy), because there is no formal path forward for training and supporting our existing teachers.
·      The ministry of education has some resources but they are not widely known.

Instead, I think it is time to see these skills embedded in a systemic way in our provincial and national education world.

Otherwise, it becomes an issue of equity. A student has to have the good fortune of attending a class, or school or board, that contracts for this type of learning. Or be located where these organizations are active. If either of these conditions are not present, the student loses out.

As well, I don’t think you can begin to compare the benefits and outcomes of the following two scenarios:
a)    A student and/or teacher participates in Hour of Code and attends several coding or robotics workshops. Once a year, a unit of math or science involves these skills.
b)    A student and/or teacher is able to integrate coding and robotics into a wide range of course content in elementary, and also has access to CS and engineering courses in high school.
Personally, I believe that only option B is acceptable in this day and age.

To simply allocate millions of dollars to this same third-party model seems like a missed opportunity to me. I had been hoping for an approach that fully integrated teacher training and support with the existing Ontario curriculum, which offers so many opportunities to do this. And why not take advantage of the network of ongoing programs in TELO (Technology Enabled Learning Ontario) and other branches of the Ontario ministry of education that are already interested in these matters and committed to supporting us with innovation, technology and pedagogy initiatives?

I also feel that the reliance on third-party providers is insulting to teachers. It implies that the current cohort of educators is unable to carry out this work, with training and support. This sure is a lot of money going to the private sector to, in essence, take over a huge and vitally important area of 21st century teaching. Further, it perpetuates the myth that only “experts” can code or teach coding. This could not be further from the truth. We need a confident, forward-thinking cohort of teachers, and by that, I mean all of them. It is literally the future of our province and our country.

By coincidence, I wrote a blog post about this last week: Unfortunately, today’s announcement does not resolve most of my concerns.

I am wondering if in the implementation of this program, you can create formal links with the provincial ministries of education that will more effectively and equitably engage our schools in this endeavour?

Anne Shillolo

PS Please note that the views expressed in this email are mine, and don’t reflect those of my employer.

And a further question to Ontario Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris:

I am wondering if it is possible for your ministry to leverage aspects of the implementation of this program, creating links with the federal program and their service-providers that will more effectively and equitably engage our schools in this endeavour?