#MSFTIncludEd; The Future…

Well, its that time again…I was hoping some inspirational would have occurred to launch into this blog from the Olympics, but something else caught my eye a bit…the Florida School Shooting….inspirational, I think not, sad? Yes, could have been prevented? Without a shadow of doubt! So, #Launching (this will be explained in a bit) into the future I see Microsoft at the forefront of things.

Currently I am a huge supporter with Microsoft; I see so many valued, inclusive aspects into programs, applications and whatnot for diversity in learning and accessibility / inclusive education. When I find something I love, I get behind it and help, support, promote it as much as I can! There was a recent blog posting from another key Team / Company; Fair Chance Learning shared on Twitter;

Yes, an oldie but definitely good! This article explains 5 key things assistive technology can do for kids;

  1. Gives kids confidence (Text-to-Speech / Spell Checking etc…)
  2. Students can better reach potential (Voice Synthesizers etc…)
  3. It can help them become more independent (Speech Recognition and LiveScribe pens)

#MSFTIncludEd (Present) Inclusion

So, being that we are working within February a fantastic month for inclusive education as we also have the accessibility / inclusiveness embedded within the 2018 Olympic Winter Games too. I was watching the new on TV this morning and Tom Renney (Hockey Canada’s President) and he was congratulating and setting up for the announcement of Canada’s Sledge Hockey Team heavily favored to win this year in the Olympics!

I was very humbled and honored to be Canadian in that moment as family, friends and people from from around our Great Nation celebrated and honored our representatives in a sport near and dear to my heart in hockey! Our Country speaks volumes to accessibility and feature of inclusiveness from coast to coast!

So, with that I now lead into my months exploration into exclusiveness….last week I reflected upon the past in my blog http://sites.granderie.ca/jarcher/2018/02/04/146/

This posting is on a current situation occurring within my classroom….actually two as I am having trouble deciding upon which would be best to share. So, let start with my friend ‘R’….whom is on an IEP functioning in a low grade 1-2 grade level in reading and writing. Very few sight words are easily recognized within print, which makes decoding extremely difficult when he sounds words letter by letter, as blends and whatnot do not work well for him too. Therefore, we regrouped and really focused on his comprehension strategies, as technology now can read aloud for him, while using classroom tablets and now his own personal device using Office Lens (with OCR scanning capabilities) OneNote Learning Tools and now even Word. His comprehension skills will be something he will require now and also in the future.

R has become very proficient at utilizing Office Len and OneNote….handouts, worksheets are independently scanned inserted within a Classroom OneNote student section where R then dives into the Learning Tools features to have his document / reading / article (which ever it is) read aloud. He then is able to highlight and control what sentences are being read, paragraph by paragraph, question by question and then using voice dictation inserts his answers to questions as if there was no need for an IEP or previously required scribes to complete any given task. Seems intense, yet with a fair amount of training, re-training, failures, re-builds, and finally complete and utter happiness being able to fully independently do all this on his own….R can now partake in literature circles, classroom discussions and book clubs! R typically kept to himself and was really shy I think because he couldn’t partake before and be one within his class without requiring direct one to one assistance to complete anything. As we know this is far from ideal in grade 6, therefore self confidence and self-esteem has drastically changed and altered….he was also a frequent behaviour problem as well, mostly because he couldn’t partake and instead of being identified as unable or in kids minds ‘stupid’ he choose to act out.

Now, this fella is a big part of our classroom. His simple BYOD cell phone, which ONLY has access to Wifi allows him to be immersed and involved in all classroom inquiries and activities….actually a sought out partner by many as his friends love the ease of access to information his phone can now provide him with. His skills in OneNote with Learning Tools have now been transferred into Word with the Immersive Tools now within those as well….even better that they are also in Apps now too! This guy used to wear a hood over his head within the classroom, not confident at all, shy very quiet. Now after walking within the classroom, he pulls his hood off….this is the ONLY sign I need to see after all the hard work put in with R this year! Successful, proud teaching moment each day when he walks to our door with his hood on, but pulls it off once seating within the classroom! Yahoo

Now my other friend; D. Again an IEP student for reading and writing. I tried hard to lump D and R together into the same mix using the same tools but D was not taking to things as easily and eagerly as R, so I did what all great teachers do…..regrouped…walked away thinking, watching and learning this guys interests and found it in technological aspects in Coding with Micro:bits and also Minecraft….be patient on this one as I try to explain.

Starting with Micro:bits D found an extreme love and fascination with these cool little devices instantly (actually asking to write an interest talk on Micro:bits), which was fantastic as he avoided writing tasks before! Best part…..he wrote his talk within the programming and used the Micro:bits LEDs to share his messages….with simple ‘when A pressed…’ he had it display ‘this’ or ‘when B pressed….’; it displayed ‘that’….(all written out….edited and spell checked as I said we CANNOT show and share errors on this awesome devices). He also dived deeper into the programming, adding in his voice which read his written script he wrote out and recorded. D programmed his Micro:bit ‘When tilted left / right / up / down / shaked’ to say various things he learned about it during research with another web based tool he used on his SEA equipment; Microsoft Edge. Edge allowed him to screen shot, read within the browser, highlight key points he liked and copy / paste into a new word doc….which then using the immersive reader read his script to him in one ear while he then repeated it into the Micro:bits Coding. D also used alligator clips and attached them to ear buds for his audience….one at a time (myself and a few friends). This is one of two events I want to share about this guy!

Second one; Minecraft. We tried a Terry Fox ‘Point of View’ writing task, which was slightly painful for D! Pencil and paper are not his strengths, his writing is legible and spelling is good, but he has no interest in it. So, one day I had a fantastic Skype Lesson / Meeting with Katja Borregaard whom showed us how to use blackboards, NVP’s, Portfolios, Selfies and so much more. D walked away from this Skype lesson excited! He was not 100% sure on how to do some of the things Katja shared so we explored them that week together. Gathered a few Minecraft Masters (expert students) whom taught both myself and D how to using and incorporate them into his world.

D went to work one day, math was coming up (a BIG strength of his and he always eagerly looks forward to math) and D came up to me and asked if he could keep writing  and skip math that day. Now, my first thought was no, but I was also taken back upon the request that he wanted to keep writing! So, I thought what the heck! He is strong enough in math to miss one, so for S&%$s and giggles, I let him go at it……so thankful I did! D not only wrote from Terry Fox’ point of view but mapped out his route in Minecraft with signs of roads and a few highlights along the route for big events. Along the way Terry NVPs told his POV of the run….the thoughts and feelings, anxieties, hopes, fears and pain. I have to also mention this….of the grade 5/6’s (some of whom are gifted), D’s work was within the top 5 for this given assignment. Now being the rather ‘odd’ teacher that I am not providing grades, my feedback and conference with him brought tears to my eyes and his as well! He was ecstatic too…..now my troubles with D is trying to get him to try other things outside Minecraft….as you can imagine being autistic is difficult enough!! (I know eh….I wanted to share that earlier but I thought the impact would be more powerful now).

So, my ‘Present’ Accessibility / Inclusive Ed blog posting concludes….I am working on parents a bit to share more from these actual events, however being individuals whom struggled with the education system, its not quite a leap they are able to take at this time.

Next week I dive into the future of accessibility / inclusiveness in education…I cannot wait to watch and see if I can pull in some Olympic Magic into that posting….I always love the closing ceremony, especially when the torch / flame is passed to ‘The Youth of the World’ to meet again in four years….fitting I believe as a walking in point!

Until then, looking forward to hearing more from others!

#MSFTInclusED Reflection Upon the Past with Inclusive Ed.

February is one of my favourite months of the year, report cards go out…get a little relief and some new units, inquiries, experiments and whatnot going within the classroom. Just that first rejuvenation, and or breath of new fresh air is a relief….not to mention the days get a little longer as the sun begins to go down a little later in the evening as well!

This year its a little more so pleasant as I begin reflecting and thinking about what Microsoft Canada is promoting and getting behind with its #MSFTInclusEd program http://bit.ly/2BURpp7, Which you can check out here. So, thinking ahead throughout the month I want to make the #Inclusive Education piece prominent as an educator it is so key and so important. Therefore I was thinking a reflection upon the past, present, future and finally a final reflection during the four weeks of February, based upon Inclusive Ed and Accessibility for students.

Before I jump into my first reflection piece from the past I want to briefly share a blog posting by Luara McKenna on edutopia.org (which is a fantastic sight for educators to read, reflect and think). Here is the link shared by my friend Brian Aspinall; http://bit.ly/2BTIxjK

based on ‘Will Letter Grade Survive’? I know, I know at first thought you are probably thinking how does this apply to Inclusive Ed…well here it comes. Within the blog it indicates; “Competency-based education is a growing movement driven by educators and communities focused on ensuring that students have the knowledge they need to flourish in the global economy” and an executive officer indicating that; “The future of jobs and the workforce will demand a new set of skills, and students capacity to solve complex problems for an unknown future will be essential” which if anyone whom knows me I totally agree! This is why I love the computational thinking and coding movement as it exemplifies and provides a fantastic means for students to begin using, working with and learning new 21st competencies (which can be found here http://bit.ly/2nnuOxv)

As Laura indicated within her blog; “Grading systems right now are demoralizing and is designed to produce winners or losers” and that; “The purpose of education is not to sort kids – its to grow kids…..but with grade, teachers turn into judges”. My theory has always been student first, recently in the past two years I have adapted my professional pedagogy to provide feedback and not grades. That is not to say I do not grade students; I do but they need not to know the final grade, they read into the feedback. The only time they see a grade is IF parents let them see their report cards; which I strongly encourage parents not to do, only provide feedback as well. Now, my leap into the past for the #MSFTInclusEd piece….(I may sound like a leap into something else but keep reading please).

I remember one of my very first experiences in education in a very difficult classroom of Mixed Exceptionalities (anything from behaviour to Learning Disabled, MID, Developmentally Delayed, Austism etc…the list goes on and on) also grades 4 to 8. This was an eye opening experience for me, but the beginning of when and why I used my Masters Thesis; Education for ALL using Technology.

So, now my case study; I remember one unit we dived into like it was yesterday. We were investigating the future and jobs students wished they could and would consider doing. One lady was really struggling, which caught me off guard a bit as most kids love the fun police, fire fighter, doctor, vet type jobs….but she couldn’t decide. She was caught in a moral dilemma, as her grandmother, mother and elder sister all were unable to perform in school due to minor intellectual struggles and could not obtain a highschool diploma nor ever hold a job. They all receive government assistance to live and this girls ultimately said I will never amount to anything, therefore I will just do what my family has done in the past.

Yikes, heart dropped, then broke and I really struggled with the notion of early defeat and not an ounce of hope. It was my mission from that point onward to make the possibility of an education hopeful for this student.

Jumping into the inclusive education pieces years ago is a bit of a struggle as we did not have the many resources and applications that Microsoft O365 suite now offers use, but there was technology….simple things such as word and the ability to spell check was key. We also used Dragon Voice Dictation to place thoughts, feelings and brainstorming ideas on paper (as she could barely write a 4-5 word sentence in grade 4). These two simple tools became her go to’s, however she was reluctant at first, but lots and lots and lots of persistence from me, she began to use them daily! She actually started training others within the class in the same manner that she was with me. She started to obtain a voice within herself, begun advocating with other teachers during ‘integration’ periods for gym / health and science. They seen a new ‘student’ then what they previously knew.

These two simple yet powerful tools to provide her with the ability to be included eventually lead her to a 90% inclusion by the end of the first school year with me in regular classes….the other 10% was always a check in with myself and my EA’s at the time. The inclusiveness became empowering and this girls self-confidence, self-esteem and even the way she walked altered drastically. I remember asking her at the end of the year what she wanted to do as a job when she grew up; the answer was instant…..so many things! She went on and on for five minutes and then stopped….and said much more then before Christmas eh?!!? Enough said….

Now going back to the notion of grades. This particular student was obsessed and so driven by past failures and told she was / would never amount to anything…..it was ingrained within her! She was instilled and thoroughly believed there was no hope for her! So, my question is why define kids by a grade…..what are we actually doing by giving kids an actual letter or numerical value!?!? Nothing but problems….it was demoralizing for this girl and designed her to be a consistent loser. We need to dive into the unique abilities of each student within our rooms, provide them with the means of becoming inclusive dispite struggles and or issues they may have…..empower and be that person for them!

My goal has always been to be that teacher; I remember Mrs Kinnear, Mr. McAurther, Ms Field and all the things they did for me when I struggled as an IEP student myself. I spent most of the time in the resource room. Becoming that teacher allowed me to meet the needs of all my students; and in this case got me an invite to grade 8 graduation even though I left the school two years before. Watching her strut across the stage with her certificate was awesome especially seeing the smile on her face….best part was she told me she was going to be integrated into regular classes in highschool when she started in the fall because SHE requested it and proved to her teachers whom advocated on her behalf too!

The power of Inclusion is remarkable! It can make a significant difference in peoples lives…I am looking forward to this Spring….it will be this gal’s final year in HS, I am hopeful, wishing I get that call again to see the ear to ear grin as she gets her diploma this time around proving to her family and others, but mostly to herself that hard work pays off and that SHE CAN amount to anything she sets her mind too!!

Thanks for listening!