Talk about Action Research.
Mark Carbone, Chief Information Officer of Information Technology Services for the Waterloo Region Schools in Ontario, is taking that seriously.
After much discussion with representatives from a local group of business folks, the School Board has decided to move ahead with a pilot program called Futures Forum for seven of its schools.

The Back Story

Two years ago, Mark and several Board members met with the Communitech people to discuss what schools could do to prepare their students for the workplace. What they found were traits we’ve all been talking about: collaboration, flexibility, ability to work independently and more.
Mark and his Board knew they needed to do something.
“But, what’s the something?” they pondered, quickly realizing that doing this in one classroom or one school would not have the impact they wanted.
“We needed to be aggressive,” said Mark. “And I won that argument. We decided to do seven schools right off the bat.”
The goal, he said, was to be creative in a secondary environment, and to create something that could be replicated anywhere without too much of a financial strain on anyone.
“Ultimately, we wanted to change what happens in our schools,” he said.

The Plan

The plan, which has just been put into place this semester, was to take a combination of credit courses and offer them in blocks taught by one teacher. The focus would be on helping students learn the very skills the Board had identified as essential, and enabling the teachers to use their class to teach them.
Those teachers are part of the Canadian cohort this year, so they’ve been learning, sharing, and collaborating online with others for several months. The school system also offered additional help in getting those teachers ready to work collaboratively with students and teachers in the various schools.
So how’s it working?
“I am excited,” said Mark. “So far, so good.”
His team wants to know how the students will be different after this experience.
“We will do our own action research. We want to collect data around levels of student engagement: how did they feel about inquiry based program, how did they feel about being in a cohort with groups from other schools?” This research will form the basis of whether they can push this throughout the school system.
But Mark is optimistic already.
“We wanted to do something aggressive and potentially change the way we do business in our secondary schools. It’s already happening,” he said.
In addition to the teams of teachers, the Board added a team of librarians. Their work is evident here on this online portal of information.

The Future

With all online tools open and available, Mark is already seeing innovative uses of Facebook among the teaches and students.
“We’re getting a million hits a day on Facebook,” he said. “Teachers are using it for content, sharing discussions, and as part of the work with digital citizenship.”
Only a few weeks into this, Mark is excited about the potential. And he’s excited about getting into the classrooms soon to talk to the students.
“We’ll let this play out a little,” he said, “but we are anticipating great things.”

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Susan Carter Morgan

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