In this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teachers from Halton Catholic District School Board’s St. Mary Catholic Elementary School in Oakville and their project: “Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century Collaborative Inquiry.”
Before Grade 6 teacher Maureen Asselin and her colleagues at St. Mary Catholic Elementary School set out on their 2013/2014 Teacher Learning and Leadership Program journey, they knew that in order to teach 21stCentury learners, change needed to happen.
As technology changes, opportunities to support learning can change. Asselin and her team decided that instead of reacting to the change, maybe it was best to flow and create along with it. To do that, they knew they needed to learn a lot more about the technology available, how they could use it, and how it can be applied in the classroom to support learning.
To begin their learning journey, the Grades 5-8 teachers developed their TLLP project “Digital Citizenship in the 21st Century Collaborative Inquiry.”
The goal of the project was to introduce teachers and students to a blended learning environment and increase student engagement in language and math through the use of iPads and apps.
At St. Mary, the teachers decided to use Collaborative Inquiry to start their project.
Collaborative Inquiry work is local and specific to the school. The teachers took it as an opportunity to work alongside one another and the students, and learn together within a blended learning environment.
The Collaborative Inquiry process begins with curiosity, and that curiosity shapes an inquiry question. At St. Mary, the teachers created a Collaborative Inquiry question with two prongs:
- How will increased access to technologies and digital tools improve students’ critical literacy skills and digital fluency?
- How will increased access to new technologies and digital tools improve student engagement and learning across the curriculum?
The Project Implementation:
The team had a set of professional learning goals for the project. These were:
- share effectiveness of collaborative learning models;
- promote 21st century learning opportunities;
- promote successful teamwork;
- share successes and challenges and see them as growth opportunities;
- share available professional learning opportunities to support learning and development;
- use the technology to further the learning and shift from traditional front of the classroom teacher to facilitator.
The hope was that during this journey of learning, analysis and adaptation, the teachers would be armed with the knowledge and tools needed to answer their Collaborative Inquiry question and see improved engagement in their students.
In addition, this project was always guided by the idea that the teachers would be learning alongside the students, and they would adapt and change together. It would not be a linear process and there were many entry points for others to help the teachers and students meet their project goals.
The project began by focusing on the following:
- Where the learner (both teacher & student) is now?
- Where the learner (both teacher & student) is going?
- What does the learner (both teacher & student) need to get there?
In September, the Grades 5-8 classes spent time discussing how they were currently using technology both inside and outside of the classroom in order to establish a starting point. Teachers and students also co-created success criteria on the use of technology both inside and outside the classroom.
All Ontario teachers and students have access to Desire2Learn Learning Suite to explore and practice blended learning. Asselin was elated to discover how quickly her students, herself and the other teachers adapted to the platform and the use of blended learning.
Also, throughout the year, the team brought in experts to help themselves and their students learn more about how technology could help them meet their blended learning goals.
“Blended learning has transformed my teaching practice especially in regards to success criteria, on-going feedback and assessment,” says Asselin.
During parent/teacher interview nights, Asselin and her team showcased digital tools and the online classroom for the families so that parents could learn more about blended learning and how it was being practised at the school.
The Impact of Nurturing a Blended Learning Environment:
“I think it is preparing my students for more than I could have hoped for,” says Asselin. “They are thinking more critically and able to problem solve in ways I had not imagined in a grade 6 classroom. We are moving forward with students becoming digital leaders.”
The students have become excited about what they are learning. For instance, students attended a two-hour course on iMovie at the Apple store and quickly got to work shooting and editing their own iMovies detailing their blended learning journey. The iMovies were then submitted to the “Give Respect, Get Respect” contest run by the Halton Regional Police Service.
Students have also become more engaged presenters of their knowledge by using applications like Prezi (which also hones organizational skills in a fun way).
“The students have a purpose for their learning and it shows in all that they have created since,” Asselin says proudly.
In addition to the technical knowledge, the data proved there was an overall impact. EQAO assessment results showed a 10 percent increase in students meeting the provincial standard in reading, a 15 percent increase in students meeting the standard in writing, and a 13 percent increase of students meeting the standard in math.
The team measured student engagement by monitoring logins to the blended learning course. Many students did their work early and most were meeting their deadlines. Also, in the Junior Division, a survey showed students gave online classroom instruction an 8.5 out of 10 in terms of relevance.
The impact of the project travelled to the younger grades. Kindergarten teacher Teresa Russo-Rocha, who was using iPads and the Smartboard in her classroom, says it really enhanced student learning because students could see the learning come alive. For her, the technology was a beneficial addition to Russo-Rocha’s hands-on and explorative play-based classroom.
- shared the effectiveness of collaborative learning models.
- attended and presented their findings at On The Rise K-12 and at CONNECT2015.
- promoted successful teamwork within HCDSB schools and across the 4 regions (Oakville, Burlington, Milton and Halton Hills).
- shared successes and challenges.
- provided recommendations on professional learning and resources available to support learning.
Susan Brady, a 2013/2014 TLLP cohort and Grade 6 teacher, met Asselin’s group while attending CONNECT2015. The work done at St. Mary, and that of other groups, inspired her to bring blended learning to her classroom.
“21st Century learning is about choice and being able to choose the best tools for learning,” Brady says. She now has moved toward using Google classroom and creating a classroom with alternative seating to meet a variety of learning styles and needs.
Tips for Teachers New to Blended Learning:
The journey toward a complete blended learning classroom was not without hiccups. Asselin offers these tips to overcome these hiccups for teachers wishing to explore blended learning:
- When using blended learning and digital tools, start slow. Pick a topic you are comfortable with and start there.
- Technology does not always cooperate. Always have a backup plan.
- Monitor student work. Set up office hours on-line for questions and discussions.
- Support of administration is beneficial.
- It does not mean more work, but rather a different way of doing work. Open your eyes and hearts to the possibilities!
- Allow time for your teachers to meet with other blended learning teachers. Working as a team brings all voices and ideas to the table.