Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Jerry's Journey - Guest Post

A Guest Post by Jerry Bleecker on Technology for Learning

A little background on Jerry. He is a public secondary teacher who has provided a consistent example of how to embed technology into teaching and learning throughout his career. Jerry is the definition of earnest, and is without guile or agenda beyond the techie curiosity he opens up to his students. His idea of complaining is to politely suggest alternative methods of solving problems and offer to do the work of testing the alternatives himself. He would love to press on with media tablet pilot projects and other interesting "21st century learning" technology and practices that are currently unsupported or even blocked by our school district. He is one of many among principals and teachers that have met barriers while attempting to pursue "learning empowered by technology" -- there are many other stories like this, but they don't often make it out of the staffroom. Why a "wall" exists is a whole other story (and too often the subject of my blog posts!), but as usual Jerry's reaction is to continue articulating a pedagogically sound philosophy. More than just a rant about contexts, Jerry's Journey is an example of how teachers have adapted to the challenge of working in technologically-charged school environment. It is probably fair to point out that there are also bigger fish to fry in public education than the state of technology at the work place -- on a daily basis we deal with kids who are drug addictied, tech addicted, suffering from anxiety, out of shape, ignored by their parents, etc. Technology is just one of the things that occupies our time, but is nonetheless an area that should be very easy for an educational community to get right. And yet, providing progressive options for teachers and administrators who want to venture beyond the "vanilla" has proved elusive, starting from the communication and planning about technology in our district and moving through issues of access and function.

Quite a Journey by Jerry Bleecker
An Army of One (not really, but more about that as we proceed ...)

Hi folks. What's an Army of One you might ask? Well, it's about time I relayed my own story online to illustrate my motives in using educational technology. It's never been about hardware or software, but learning, although that's become obscured as [fellow teacher] Kathy aptly points out in her recent post [on a local Technology Forum]. 

When I started with SD57 in 1998, I was blown away with the inventive and mind-blowing possibilities in using technology to educate kids. From the first PowerPoint Jeopardy game that I created over a long weekend (37+ hours) for Science 8 (with the light-up Jeopardy-style table), I knew what a difference educational technology could make. It was fun and the kids loved it.

So, I applied for and was accepted to the UBC Masters of Education Technology Program and taking a course each semester when I had a prep and over my summers, I learned with some of the finest colleagues and professors I could've hoped for. My Master's Portfolio Projects are located here, complete with a Matrix theme (it was an online degree program and certainly provided a great theme)

When I finished, I had a great conversation with Kerry Firth [former assistant superintendent] who reminded me to apply what I'd learned in the District and give back. Fair enough, I thought. The District supported my degree, paying a portion of my tuition. Following my graduation from the MET Program, I put my experience working with colleagues from all over the world to work here in SD57. Ironically, the amount of collaboration and interaction plummeted around the time of the DTT collapse. Discussions about educational technology and applying best practices digitally were gone. So, I forged on solo.

I put all my efforts into creating eLearning coursework, with the ultimate goal to flip my classroom.

Five years later, the result is two full eLearning courses in Moodle, and the startings of Science 8, and Math 9. This year, I outfitted Biology 11 with screencasts (full session podcasts / lesson videos) that I made on my own personal laptop, home internet access, using my own screencasting software (iShowU), my own USB headset, that I created outside school time, equating to hundreds of hours invested for students.

The Biology 11 course includes an open source digital textbook, all the animations I use in class (from freely available web sources), all the relative YouTube video links for each critter we study. Notes packages & study guides are also available. If students lose materials, replacements are just a click away if needs be. The site includes interactivities, formative assessments - self-scoring quizzes, diagram animations, and more. Working with Rod Carr over the last two years, we've collaboratively created study materials, chapter packages and more from our personal collections. Our collaboration continued even after collaboration time was dropped from the school time table.

In Biology 12, I'm proceeding along the same path as Biology 11. It will take hundreds of hours to bring up Biology 12 to speed with the work done in Biology 11. Recording screencast videos in real time is incredibly involving work. But, it's worth it. Additionally, I'm excited to create ZygoteBody ( interactive lab materials & study guides for the body systems studied in Biology 12. For those of you who haven't checked this out, it's a former Google Project released open source to the web -- an interactive and controllable voyage inside the body. It's an incredible voyage into the greatest free anatomy tool I've had the experience to use. Take it for a spin with an up-to-date version of the Firefox browser or Chrome Web Browser which have the web graphics abilities built-in to run the body-browser natively.

It needs to be noted that I received no funding to build/create these courses, but thank CLA/SD57/District Techs for the Moodle availability and network know-how to empower this. Access to Moodle started with a conversation with Steve Fleck [principal] and went from there. I never received funding to create course work, but kept working anyway -- even when District communications broke down just to see where a project like this could go with enough determination and zeal to see it through. There were no lieu days -- nada -- to create materials or screencasts or populate these courses with all these materials. Again, it's taken years to come this far.

The work was done to forge ahead and create new opportunties & avenues in eLearning. For students who fall ill or travel, I've strived to create an online learning environment with a digital version of myself teaching lessons. It has been a God-send for sports students who travel and can access Moodle via the web. The Senior Girls Volleyball Team watched the lesson videos on the road during their recent trip to Provincials. Cougar Hockey Players have accessed it from hotel rooms.

What else is done to help students using technology? Teachers can use Twitter to communicate. My own roost lies at #biology11 where I send screenshots of the overhead projector / whiteboard, etc. to convey instructions, lab details students might forget or overlook, push out study guides just in case students forget them, share any animations or new materials that I find that can improve their education. Occasionally, I post "Twitter-Bombs" -- questions to students to make them truly think, research, hunt-down information, and report back with eclectic facts about science. My feed lives at

What single request can I make of the District to facilitate / assist?

In one word --> provide access for students in classrooms, not just labs. Labs, while well meaning, are bottle necks in the long-term for access.

Medium to long-term, 1:1 access is the ideal goal. Notably, I can't send students down to the computer lab to partake in the course each class. Unless they bring their own devices (BYOD is a valid approach, but only one facet of access), I can't provide access. I don't have the money to purchase a lab set of iPads or test-drive a set of Google Chromebooks, which run Flash and cost $250 with no maintenance, 7-hour battery life that students can simply nab off a charging cart. It's why I go on and on about Chromebooks, iPad carts and more. These tools are relatively inexpensive and incredibly powerful. All being said, students don't have the necessary equipment to access and take advantage of an eLearning course each day at school. If they did, I could FLIP my classroom and move to the 21st Century Learning model that I always knew I would move toward when I graduated from UBC's Masters of Education Technology Program.

Hey, call it my life's work -- I was always going to do this. It's just been more difficult since discussions stopped. As Glen has stated [in recent local Technology Forum posts], there are incredible pockets of work happening all around SD57. I can only imagine the impact if these pockets were fully empowered to realize the potential of their work. If only it were a bit easier -- & it's why ACCESS to me is such a major issue. I'm always working on the collaborative, constructive, discovery, and learning-style focussed initiatives, but am an army of one. Imagine what an army of many might accomplish under the right conditions.

If you'd like to see my work, feel free to contact me.
Jerry Bleecker


scott said...

I'm just finishing up courses 6&7 in my own UBC MET journey. I'm curious what form my own concerted effort in applying this knowledge will take. When it materializes, what will it will look like? Thank you for sharing this part of your journey.

Thielmann said...

Thanks for the comment. It may not be comfortable for all of us, but we now work in a new communications era that not only enables but expects us to be public about what we do. In other words, a thoughtful online presence is important, and your efforts will be a measure by which students will decide about their own online activity. I hope your MET equips you for this important work.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like your district is totally out to lunch. They aren't supporting their staff very well. I worked with Jerry in the MET program. He did some pretty amazing things on our projects together. It's too bad sd57 doesn't seem to have any vision. Chin up and keep up the good work, Jerry.