The Significance of a Student Summit

For the past two years, I’ve worked closely with the EdTech Team to organize Student Summits for the Superior North Catholic District School Board. At the Summits, students learn about Google Apps: Drive, Docs, Slides, Forms, etc. Both Summits have been amazing – each year there is a dynamic buzz in the air at the end of the day. Here is some actual feedback from our student attendees (spelling and grammar errors included…I think they help to express the students’ enthusiasm…haha):

πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! awesome – Grade 6 student

I liked how everybody was helping each other. – Grade 6 student

That was awesome keep it going. I loved all of it you guys are the best keep looking at my post they might just explode your eyes! I went to this last year it was awesome. You guys rock and you da boom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Β -Grade 5 student

I REALLY loved the summit. I would go there again if there’s another Summit. – Grade 6 student

It is pretty evident that our students enjoyed the Summit. But Student Summits aren’t JUST about our students learning about some cool apps. There is something much larger at play. If you are an Ontario educator, you may recognize this graphic:

IMG_2083*Please note that there are other MSAC graphics that have been created since then, but this one resonates the most with me. I love it so much that for my birthday a few years ago, my friend and colleague @kfilane had a giant one printed for me. As you can see from the above photo, it’s still on display in my office.

It was created by a MSAC (The Minister’s Student Advisory Council) a few years ago. Let me re-phrase: It was created by a graphic designer who listened to the students in MSAC discuss their ideas of what education should be like. At the very heart of the graphic is the idea that STUDENTS ARE PARTNERS IN THEIR EDUCATION.

You’d probably be hard-pressed to find an educator who would disagree with the idea of students being partners in their education. But what’s great about the Student Summit is that it is a tangible example.

A few years ago our board was in a dilemma: We piloted Google Apps in 4 of our classes, and the student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Great news! However, when we tried to get teachers to learn about GAFE, we had very little enthusiasm. Not such great news…

SIDENOTE: I DO NOT blame teachers for not voluntary jumping into MORE professional learning. This was in the Spring. We all know how it feels to be a classroom teacher in the Spring; the last thing you want to do is to be out of your classroom to learn about something new.

How could we move forward with GAFE (and honour student voice), without waiting for teacher readiness? How was it fair that the majority of our students weren’t accessing these tools simply because the majority of our teachers didn’t want to learn about them? (again, not their fault…they just didn’t know how GAFE had any educational value at the time).

Then I thought, why wait for the teachers to learn the tools? Students are just as capable of learning how to use the apps! One quick email to the EdTech Team and the first-ever Student Summit was a go!

The Summit turned professional learning upside down and inside out: teachers and students attended sessions and learned TOGETHER. When the Summit was over, and they went back to their schools, students were able to say, β€œCan we try using Google Docs for this?” Their knowledge of the tools no longer depended on their teachers.

At our second Summit this November, some of our students actually facilitated breakout sessions. Let that sink in: Students in Grades 5-8 stood up in front of a bunch of strangers (including people their own age and some adults), and taught others about Google Apps.

Are there still classrooms where Google Apps aren’t being used? Definitely. Are some students still at a disadvantage because of teacher readiness? I’m sure of it. But I can confidently say that we are much further than we ever would have been if we didn’t go this route.

Events like the Student Summits are significant because they convey this message: We are all learners. It doesn’t matter what your β€œtitle” is in a school: student, teacher, or even principal – we are partners in education because we learn from one another.

***If you are interested in hosting a Google Summit with the EdTech Team, the person who you should contact is Michelle Armstrong ( – she is AMAZING! If you have any questions about how SNCDSB organized our events, feel free to reach out πŸ™‚



Why I Love GAFE: The Custom Webstore

There are many reasons why I have a love affair with Google Apps for Education. One of them is the ability to control which apps and extensions our students can add to Chrome. We do this in two ways:

  1. We push out certain apps/extensions to all students. These automatically get installed; students don’t need to go to the Webstore. This method is great for the apps/extensions that you want all students to have access to.
  2. We have a custom Chrome Webstore for students. When our students click on the Webstore app, they are brought to a store that has whitelisted apps/extensions (approved by the board). This method is useful for apps/extensions that are beneficial, but not all students need/want.Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 2.03.19 PM

The apps and extensions that we’ve pushed out and added to the Webstore are the ONLY apps/extensions that students can add. Keep in mind that Superior North Catholic is a K-8 school board, and that we are not BYOD (we provide Chromebooks for all of our Grade 5-8 students). Your board may choose to go a different route with respect to students and the Chrome Webstore.

Our staff, on the other hand, have free range in the Chrome Webstore; we do not limit their access. If a teacher finds an app/extension that they want their students to have access to, we have a process in place for them to make the request: They fill out a Google form (and I’ve set it so that I get email notifications anytime a new response is submitted), and I take a look at the app/extension.* If the reviews are good, then I head over to the Admin panel and add it to our list of approved apps/extensions and also add it to the custom Chrome Webstore. This setup allows us to filter student access to the webstore, while also providing teachers the opportunity to add things to the list.

*The Google form to request an app/extension exists in a managed bookmarks folder that gets pushed out to all staff members. Expect a post about managed bookmarks coming soon!

Here is a list of approved apps and extensions at SNCDSB.