Last month, I visited the community of Kashechewan in my new role with Mushkegowuk Council. I had the opportunity to meet two amazing classes, one at Francine J. Wesley Secondary School, and the other at St. Andrew’s Elementary School. These students were natural mappers, problem solvers and critical thinkers as we learned some beginner coding with the Sphero SPRK+, and during a Geo Walk where we captured images of Kashechewan using tablets from the CreeGeo department. The aim of the day was to create a floor map, complete with streets and landmarks, and have Sphero navigate/roll around the community using the programs students built.
Click on the Adobe Spark Page below to take a tour of Kashechewan and see some of the students at work/play!
As holidays approach and 2016 comes to an end, I thought I’d put together a few updates about Walk With Us and thank all WWU supporters for all of the encouragement, expertise, time, energy, and all around #edulove given to us this year.
While there was a focus on learning the different types of technology this year (360′ cameras, working with Google Maps and publishing panospheres to Street View, WalkInto tour building software, Twitter for our social media campaign and Google Classroom’s mobile app for communication purposes), 2017 will bring our Storytelling Series, where we will invite artists, writers, reporters, and other local and not so local storytellers to help inform our digital storytelling.
A couple of years ago, Google Docs commemorated National Novel Writing Month by inviting authors Edan Lepucki, Tope Folarin, and Mike Curato to participate in a short story challenge. The three writers were tasked with writing a short story…on the same Doc…in three different locations…in real time.
The beauty of Google Docs of course is that the same Doc can be shared with multiple people, and with 3 different permissions, depending on the type of activity desired: View, Commenting, and Edit. In this scenario the 3 authors all had Edit rights, and because it is a live document, they could collaborate to write a story together in real time. As their story unfolds, the audience is able to see the developments every step of the way.
The authors were later asked about the process they went through, and all three commented on how they had never before written a story with others in real time. One author mentioned feeling an “incredible rush”, and another stated that they were all “feeding off one another”, and that it was more fun writing in a group than by yourself.
I wanted to recreate this activity, and my vision was to invite my sister Amy Lee Lavoie to collaborate with one of our Timmins, ON area high school students (Max) who loves to write, and has written plays for the schools she has attended on her own time. These plays were performed by students in grades 7 and 8. She is in grade 11. My sister is a playwright based in Vancouver, BC, and I thought it would be an important and memorable exercise for a young writer to engage in a real-time collaboration with an established and incredibly talented (I may be biased but it’s the truth!) playwright. These two would never have had the opportunity to collaborate had it not been for the power of Google Hangouts and Docs (and my hand in the introductions I suppose).
As is sometimes the case, I did run into some technical difficulties. For one, our administrator did not have Google Hangouts on Air (GHOA) enabled. I assumed that because our regular Google Hangouts (GHO) were enabled (we use this platform all the time in our board), that GHOA would be as well. This is not the case! Your Google Admin must enable GHOA through Google +, as we learned here.
Second, even though we were able to enable GHOA in time for the event, it was not working for our student. So, we resorted to a regular GHO and it was still amazing. The only thing is, in regular GHO there is no automatic recording feature. I tried to enlist the help of third-party screencasting software, but it wasn’t meant to be that day!
So, I resorted to the faux-pas of taking pictures and video with my iPhone in an attempt to capture some of the spirit of the activity (I know, I know). Definitely nowhere near the production value of the commercial above, but I WILL try again!
Amy wrote the beginning of the play as a starting point for the activity:
The shared Doc was up, the GHO began, and a frenzy of collaborative writing ensued!
Max, HS Student
Although there may have been some nervousness in the beginning, our student Max quickly got into the flow of writing and soon the two writers were creating a hilarious dialogue together. The two characters in the play, Eric and Thea, were growing sassier with every keystroke. There were no real pauses between writer switches, lots of laughter, and intense concentration throughout the process.
At the end of the call, the two writers weighed in with their thoughts on the collaborative process – Amy in Vancouver, and Max in Timmins.
Amy: I often think of playwriting, or the act of writing, as a solitary thing, but theatre is really a community-based art form. It requires an incredible amount of energy and diverse bodies to bring it into the three-dimensional realm. This exercise brought me back to that feeling of collaboration. And that, to me, is about risk taking, curiosity and imagination. It was so much fun!
Max: It was fun, it was a little stressful at first trying to find my groove and get into it, but it went well though!
The real-time, collaborative process itself was particularly rewarding in that it forced the playwrights to go against their usual instincts in order to follow their co-writer’s lead and move the story along. There was a real sense of connectedness, and it’s a beautiful thing when the writers are 3,782 kilometers away from each other.
It is my hope that I will be able to facilitate more of these collaborative writing opportunities for students through the digital Human Library‘s extensive community of experts, and even via some local writers, to further cultivate a love of writing. I can only imagine the valuable input a teacher could gather from watching collaborative writing unfold – the student’s individual writing process would be apparent, as would the type of writer they typically are (whether they prefer to get their words and ideas onto the Doc and not worry about spelling errors, or if they are the type to fix their errors as they go).
And, it’s fun. 🙂
A huge thank you to Amy and Max for participating in this little experiment with me…let’s do this again soon.
Here are the beginnings of the collaborative play in Google Docs. It’s not finished, as we only had approximately 30 minutes of writing time, but it’s a cliffhanger!
When this idea first hatched, I had been promoting Google My Maps to students and teachers at Bishop Belleau School in Moosonee, Ontario and St. Patrick School in Kapuskasing, Ontario. This app allows students to actually create their own maps for virtually any purpose, and before we played with the app, we started our learning with a question: “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” And it’s funny…you would think that kids would immediately want to navigate to places they may have seen in movies, or have discussed in class, or read about in books. No, the place they most wanted to see is…
Kids want to see their house, the park they play in down the street, their schools – these are the special places in their beloved communities they want to see on this map and show off to visitors (in this case, me).
The thing is, when I showed them how to use Pegman within Street View, they soon realized that they couldn’t drop him anywhere. They asked why he kept jumping back, why they couldn’t see their house, their street, or anywhere in their entire community?
I explained that in order for Pegman to be able to show them these places, he would need to know where to look – the photographers who take these pictures and upload to Google Maps have not yet been to these smaller communities in Northeastern Ontario, therefore Pegman simply can’t see places where pictures have not been taken.
They understood, and one student even said that he would like to become a Google photographer.
I showed them the Street View app, where anyone can take photospheres with an iOS or Android phone (360′ images of a place) to give them an idea of what this type of photography entailed. To upload and publish to Street View, images must adhere to specific quality criteria outlined by Google.
So I began to think: why couldn’t students capture their communities so that they can be represented on Google Maps and Street View like other places in the world?
Fast forward to later in the school year, where a group of high school students created a presentation about the suicide crisis in the Attawapiskat First Nation, Ontario. Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency after 11 people tried to commit suicide in one day. Since last September, over 100 people in the community of 2,000 have attempted suicide. These students bravely stood in front of their school and spoke passionately about their own experiences grappling with issues they have faced, and how they came to overcome these obstacles. The underlying message was one of hope for a brighter future, and to never give up. They wanted to tell their stories, and I wanted to help.
Walk With Us: Affirming the Voices of First Nations Students Through Digital Storytelling
Our project involves using an overlay program called WalkInto, 360′ cameras (Ricoh Theta S) and Google Street View to provide a groundbreaking forum for youth to share stories of their upbringing, culture, and traditions, and to discuss the issues that affect them. We hope to increase awareness of some of the challenges First Nations communities are currently facing, and foster hope in the connections we create in order to spread positive messaging and resilience. This project will teach skills that actively prepare learners for the 21st century, one of our board’s improvement planning priorities, including (but not limited to): critical thinking, communicating ideas, understanding media, working with various technologies, and collaborating in teams. Virtual tours will be submitted to A Kids’ Guide to Canada, a nation-wide project to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.
Professional learning goals we plan to achieve through our project:
Learning and applying digital media skills to transfer to students (spherical imaging, WalkInto overlay program, producing various media works including audio and video recordings)
Collaborating with colleagues, community partners and project partners from around the world via video conferencing
Increasing awareness of the challenges faced by Aboriginal youth in remote northern Ontario communities
Empowering Aboriginal youth with a global platform to share their stories and relay positive messages to other youth
Finding creative ways to deliver the Ontario English curriculum and align it with the Aboriginal perspective with a particular focus on media skills and oral communication
We have amazing partners to help facilitate certain aspects of our project. The co-founders of WalkInto will be planning a Google Hangout (GHO) with the students to teach them how to use the tools to build virtual tours. In addition, they will provide server resources to host the project and WalkInto credits to cover operational costs. A photographer, Neil Cariani from CreativeXistence360, has agreed to facilitate a GHO about spherical imaging and teach students how to operate the Ricoh Theta S camera, and will also lend his expertise with post-processing (Photoshop). These skills will align with the media strand of the English curriculum. These sessions will be held during lunch hours, and we hope to invite community partners from our Native Friendship Centre and Misiway Milopemahtesewin Community Health Centre, Ojibway and Cree Cultural Centre, as well as elders, to talk about storytelling and traditional healing.We will provide the students with a private, online forum (Google Plus community) so that they can communicate with team members throughout the project and share their thoughts as we learn together. Students will also study exemplars of various non-fiction narratives about overcoming adversity to guide them in their own journeys of hope.
This project will provide a space for First Nations youth to share their stories and thereby build their self-confidence and well-being. It will enhance their understanding of a variety of technological tools, which aligns with the 6 C’s of 21C teaching (thinking critically, communicating clearly, working collaboratively, embracing culture, developing creativity, and utilizing connectivity). We hope that students will be engaged in their learning, as they will have a stake in the project, as it is comprised of their personal stories. They will also have the opportunity to reach beyond their community and form real connections with youth, educators/mentors and global partners through the use of technology.
These are some of the resources we plan to use for this project (this can be an ongoing list):
Ricoh Theta S cameras (2) and tripods; smartphones and/or iPads to control the camera’s movements on the tripod
More often than not, in my experience, the people I have reached out to in the world of education have reciprocated to the point where some pretty great things have happened. Transformative, even.
There was that time I cold-tweeted Dr. Leigh Zeitz of the University of Northern Iowa with a link to a research project I conducted. I had adapted and applied his work to a project for my school board about creating collaborative research projects with Google Apps for Education. This led to a Google Hangout where I had the opportunity to talk to someone I may never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise, and he even helped me narrow my focus for a research question I had been working on for one of my courses. I brought this knowledge back to my group, we applied his suggestions and it definitely paid off.
Whenever I have a question about Google Sheets (which is all the time), I tweet to Alice Keeler and she always responds. I’m sure she will tire of me eventually. I tweet to her about other things too.
And back when I was applying to UBC’s MET program, one of my visions was to develop a type of online platform to connect educators to artists. I was working with Virtual Researcher on Call at the time as a classroom teacher, and I asked my contact there if she knew of any such platform in existence. That’s when I first heard about the digital Human Library and Leigh Cassell. I contacted Leigh in September 2014, and long story short, I am now VP for dHL’s Board of Directors and a Library Curator for the site.
This is how things happen, my friends.
So how does using technology to collaborate with others lead to transformative learning?
Harvard University’s Dr. Chris Dede wrote a three-part series for Ontario school and system leaders participating in the Technology and Learning Fund (TLF). His first think piece is entitled “Technologies that Aid Learning Partnerships on Real-World, Authentic Tasks”. In it, he states that “modern digital tools and media now enable the use of deeper learning strategies in schools (Dede, 2014) including:
Connected learning encourages students to confront challenges and pursue opportunities that exist outside of their classrooms and campuses (Ito et al. 2013); and
Collaborative learning enables a team to combine its knowledge and skills in making sense of a complex phenomenon
When educators themselves model connected and collaborative learning practices, they show their students the importance of working together to exchange information and ideas, solve problems and extend the existing task beyond what it is to potentially create something new. This may have never occurred had they kept the learning confined to their own classrooms.
There are numerous video-conferencing platforms educators can choose from (Google Hangouts is a personal favourite, as we are a GAFE school board), and webcams are pretty standard these days, as are projectors – but where do they even start connecting with people?
I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with a wonderfully passionate educator named Sean Robinson. We connected via Leigh Cassell. He asked me to speak with a group of educators at Centennial Secondary School in Coquitlam, BC about my experiences using various services to help connect students to experts in various fields. Here they are:
I spoke about how I had used these websites in classrooms in order to help modify and certainly transform students’ learning experiences in various subject areas. You can read more about it on Sean’s blog here.
If you look at Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s “SAMR” model, a sort of measuring tool for educators to integrate technology into their classrooms, the ultimate goal is to not only enhance but transform student experiences so that it results in higher levels of achievement. This is done through “redefinition”: the technology actually allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.
Here is an example of the SAMR model at work, using my experience with Mr. Cull’s Grade 5/6 classroom in Cobalt, ON and “Exploring by the Seat of your Pants”. Prior to the Google Hangout with adventurers Tarran and Ollie, who would soon kayak the Amazon River, the students thought of questions they would like to ask the pair:
During the Hangout, students had the opportunity to have a conversation with Tarran and Ollie, and would also follow their journey via their website. The students therefore had a stake in their own learning.
There was a follow-up Hangout upon completion of their epic journey, and the same class participated and was able to ask questions to extend their learning.
Here is what the task would look like in each stage of SAMR:
Substitution: Using Google Search to research the Amazon River Run, and Google Docs to type up a report / presentation.
Augmentation: Incorporate interactive multimedia – audio, video, hyperlinks – in the presentation to give more depth and provide a more engaging presentation.
Modification: Create a digital travel brochure for the Amazon River that incorporates multimedia and student created video.
Redefinition: Participate in a Google Hangout with the explorers, provide authentic interviews, follow their journey via the website and then follow up afterwards. Incorporate all artifacts into final product.
If you’ve made it this far, you are awesome.
If you would like to join a Connected Learning Partnership, please click here and get ready to expand your world!
“I like that we go to centers and have fun, and play together as friends.”
“I love that I have a lot of friends here, and we do a lot of activities. I like learning and reading here.”
“I like my teachers and my friends, and I like playing with blocks and Legos.”
“I like to make stuff with my bare hands.”
“I like when my Papa picks me up from school.”
“I like the Legos and the books. It’s fun to read books! I like to play with my teachers and friends too.”
These are just a sampling of the sweet, thoughtful and genuine interviews I conducted with several JK and SK students at the Northeastern Catholic District School Board these past couple of weeks.
Tuesday, January 26th was my Board’s JK Registration day. I was tasked with creating a multimedia presentation showcasing our Kindergarten students, and all of the amazing learning opportunities their teachers provide for them.
The common thread in the conversations with these students was the concept that learning is fun, and also that they love to create, play, and perhaps most importantly, they love their friends, family and teachers. It’s the people who surround them every day who have their best interests at heart, and to help them to realize their potential, who were at the forefront of their minds (and are, every day).
Here is a link to my presentation, and I hope I was able to capture the spirit of these students and the Kindergarten program itself.
Letting go of Kurzweil and Dragon Naturally Speaking and embracing web-based Read&Write…it can be done, but not without a few (minor) hiccups, as is usually the case when implementing any new technology on a large scale.
My Board purchased TextHelp‘s Read&Write Chrome extension (Premium) as a comprehensive assistive technology solution for our students this year. Since we are a Google Apps for Education school board, and the fact that R&W is a fraction of the cost of Kurzweil and Dragon (and less intrusive), it just made sense. Our Google Admin pushed out the extension to all Google users in our board, and the ed tech team then needed to show these users where to find the Read&Write extension, how to allow and authenticate the extension, and provide some training as to how it works.
Part of my job was to devise a roll-out plan for training and implementation, and perhaps more importantly, a philosophy behind this new assistive technology so that our message is consistent and clear. I was chatting with my friend DJ Cunningham of LearnStyle about said philosophy one day, and he basically handed it to me on a platter:
When Read & Write is introduced, it should be promoted as a MAINSTREAM tool, and not as a SPEC ED tool. We want ALL students to use this, as it is helpful for everyone. We do not want to alienate our students in Spec Ed. – DJ Cunningham, LearnStyle
Since R&W is basically a toolbar that appears on webpages, in Google Docs and when working with PDF and ePub files (whenever you activate it by clicking on the purple puzzle piece), it is far less conspicuous than the telltale headsets and laptops designated for one particular group of students. R&W works on any device, and is far more user-friendly than Kurzweil and most certainly Dragon (voice profiles, anyone?).
The tools in each of the 3 toolbars (Docs, webpage and PDF) are useful to ALL students (and teachers!). It also promotes the important idea of taking ownership of HOW each person learns, remembers material, studies, researches and takes notes. When using the various tools, users can determine whether or not the tool is useful to them, depending on how they learn. They can pick and choose the tools they wish to use at their leisure, depending on the actual activity and if/when they need it. Of course, this time for classroom practice needs to be fostered by classroom teachers, following proper training facilitated by an educational technology team.
Our Implementation Strategy:
Work in conjunction with representatives from IT and special education departments to develop training materials for Read&Write, including troubleshooting potential (and actual) issues and creating a Google Slides presentation that can be shared for initial training and future reference
Train our Ed Tech Champions using the Google Slides presentation via Google Hangouts (I conducted 3 separate half-day sessions, working with champs from the Central, North and South regions)
The Ed Tech Champions then facilitated in-class training sessions for Grades 3 and up in their respective schools (I stressed the importance of the sessions being mainly about accessing Read&Write for the first time by ensuring proper Chrome session sign ins, hands-on practice and including as many EA’s in the training as possible)
A Few Hiccups:
Our school board works with Windows laptops, Chromebooks as well as some iPads. Many school boards use a variety of devices, which I think is great! But, we did run into some issues when working with Windows laptops and the fact that teachers/students were not seeing the “purple puzzle piece” in order to start the initial authentication process. Ensuring teachers and students were actually signing into their Chrome browsers, and not just their school Google accounts, needed to be addressed.
Another hiccup when using our Windows laptops: some users could not click on the “Allow” and/or “Accept” buttons to authenticate Read&Write. So, they could see the puzzle piece and click on it, but then the permissions would run too far down the page and they could not actually click to Allow the application! Fortunately, we came across this article from TextHelp to troubleshoot: http://support.texthelp.com/index.php?action=artikel&cat=5&id=244&artlang=en
Accessing Read&Write on an iPad is very different from accessing it on a Chromebook or Windows laptop. It is essentially a keyboard that you have to add under your General Settings, and the functions are certainly more limited. I would suggest simply turning on your Accessibility features under Speech (Speak Screen is great for use with webpages) and use Siri for STT and TTS (if you have iPad 3 or later).
Read&Write sometimes has trouble extracting text from within images when certain materials are scanned and OCR’d (so, mostly PDF files and some webpage content). Now, Kurzweil had difficulty with this too. HOWEVER, there is now a new Screenshot Reader tool in the Read&Write toolbar!
This tool is its own extension, so you have to install it independently from Read&Write. It is essentially a screenshot tool, and when you click on it, your cursor turns into a screenshot capture tool (like a plus sign) where you drag your cursor around the text you want it to capture, let go, and then it reads the content out loud! This is a great solution for image-heavy content. This tool also works with Google Slides and Google Drawings! I’ve tested it out with different types of graphs, as an example, and it reads the content quite well.
I want to share with you a Google Slides presentation we are using for training and reference. I modified, added to and updated it from presentations by Randy Kirsh and Tammy Tkachuk, and they are both credited within the presentation. If you are a GAFE school board and looking into alternative assistive tech solutions, this could help. Feel free to contact me as well if you have any questions.