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How the Ottawa Catholic School Board uses Hāpara for Deep Learning

Explore how the Ottawa Catholic School Board in Ontario, Canada, uses Hāpara tools for Deep Learning and differentiation.
How the Ottawa Catholic School Board uses Hāpara for Deep Learning (X, FB, LI)
How the Ottawa Catholic School Board uses Hāpara for Deep Learning (X, FB, LI)

The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) is a publicly funded school system that is located in Ontario, Canada. The OCSB supports over 48,000 learners across 87 schools. The school board is dedicated to preparing their students academically and for their future outside of school. One of the ways they do this is through a focus on the Deep Learning approach. Digital tools and technology support Deep Learning in the OCSB, including leveraging Hāpara.

Welcoming a diverse population

While religion courses are part of their curriculum, the Ottawa Catholic School Board is an inclusive environment and welcomes all learners. Students do not have to be Catholic in order to attend. Bill Corcoran, Coordinator for Learning Technologies at the OCSB says, “We’re a very progressive board.” He continues, “We are absolutely welcoming, and we serve all those who are in our community.”

The OCSB is a diverse school board, supporting both urban and rural school sites, and they are continuing to grow year after year. There are also large populations of students moving into Ottawa, arriving at their welcome centers. Because of this, the number of languages the school board supports every day has risen dramatically. There are over 4,000 multilingual learners, and more than 100 languages are spoken across the school board.

Why the Ottawa Catholic School Board uses the Deep Learning Framework

The Ottawa Catholic School Board uses the Deep Learning Framework to prepare students with the skills they need to be successful later in life. The board explains to their community, “To prepare your child for the future, they need to be able to do more than memorize facts and figures. They need to create, connect and use information in a variety of creative ways. That’s why every school in the Ottawa Catholic School Board uses a ‘Deep Learning’ approach to education.”

To do this, the OCSB focuses on helping learners develop six global competencies: citizenship, character, communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity.

One of the ways the OCSB develops these skills is by empowering learners to leverage digital tools, moving beyond memorization of facts. Digital tools help students connect to the six global competencies by applying concepts to real-life situations and learning how to be responsible digital citizens.

Olivia Maiorino

St. Francis Xavier High School teacher Olivia Maiorino says, “Deep Learning is making learning relevant. There is so much information at our fingertips today. Deep Learning is engaging with content and seeing how it connects to many different facets within our world and beyond the classroom.”

Bringing Hāpara to the school board

In the OCSB, the goal is to provide equitable access to learning opportunities, which includes access to technology and tools. Devices are purchased centrally and allocated equitably across all schools. BYOD (bring your own device) is prevalent throughout grade levels and encouraged in grades four through six. In grades seven through twelve, it is recommended for learners to purchase a Chromebook when feasible. This allows the school board to narrow the ratio of devices per student and increase access to curriculum and learning. 

The OCSB is a Google Board, and one type of technology that is widely used across the school board is Hāpara. Ten years ago, Rob Long, Coordinator for Learning Technologies, was instrumental in bringing Hāpara to the OCSB. Hāpara helps streamline instructional planning, differentiation, personalization and formative feedback. Further, Hāpara enhances Google Workspace for Education, helping educators quickly share Google files with differentiated groups or the class and provide formative feedback in Google Docs, Slides, Sheets and more from one dashboard. 

Educators in the OCSB primarily use the following Hāpara tools:

  • Hāpara Workspace: A digital platform that brings together the content for a lesson or unit, creating an organized and collaborative space for learners
  • Hāpara Student Dashboard: An online student planner that provides one place for learners to access their assignments and Google Drive files
  • Hāpara Highlights: A tool that gives educators visibility into learners’ progress online

During the COVID-19 pandemic, educators were asked to share their learning materials and activities within Hāpara Workspace for ease of student access and parent/guardian familiarity. This was a smooth transition because many educators had already been using Hāpara for several years. For those educators who needed support, central staff were able to focus their help because schools were using the same tool. 

Heather Bilder, Learning Technology Academic Consultant at the OCSB, says that Workspace is now used widely throughout the school board. Learners are familiar with it because they use it across classes, and the structure and organization of Workspace make it easy for them to navigate.

Heather says that the integration of Hāpara has been intentional. “From the very beginning, our messaging has always been really clear. The objective of this is to support students in making good online choices or good digital citizenship choices. That messaging has always been consistent from [Hāpara] and from within our board.”

She adds that Hāpara has been a huge asset to many OCSB educators because they can use it to share content immediately with learners. For some learners, especially primary learners, navigating a website can be challenging. The features of Hāpara make it much easier for them to access digital content.

Bill explains that it provides learners with the support they need to be successful. For example, consider a learner with an exceptionality who needs help with executive functioning. Hāpara helps them stay organized, whether through Student Dashboard where they see their assignments clearly listed or through Hāpara Workspace where their units or lessons are organized in steps. As reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hāpara Workspace is also the place the OCSB parent/guardian community can visit to support their children. In one organized place, they can find information on learning tasks and timelines and see learning progress. 

Student Dashboard

Leveraging technology to support the six Cs of Deep Learning

Educator Olivia Maiorino says that learners are working on metacognition and making connections between the global competencies, their learning and their lives.

Heather Bilder says, “Collaboration is one of the global competencies that we’re really looking to build and foster in our students. And Workspace just makes that so easy.”

For instance, with just a few clicks, teachers can create groups. Then they can add specific resources, activities and collaborative Google files in Workspace Cards that are only visible to a group.

Braedon Spanton, St. Pius X High School teacher

St. Pius X High School teacher Braedon Spanton says that he mainly uses Hāpara for communication and collaboration and to keep learning organized. He appreciates that he can give students a shared area for their lesson, where they can collaborate on class material.

Olivia notes that Workspace gives learners one digital space to submit different types of tasks that allow them to be creative. They may produce tasks related to citizenship or character, while also practicing communication and critical thinking skills. Currently, her learners are working on a civic action initiative in a Workspace that asks them to find a relevant social issue within their community, propose possible solutions, and create an initiative to contribute to address the root cause. To do this, learners collaborate on group evidence in Workspace Cards.

She also likes that Hāpara makes it easy for communication to happen in the digital classroom. She can email the entire class or a group of learners from one spot without needing to pull up every student’s email. In Highlights, educators can also discreetly send instant messages to learners for positive reinforcement and redirection or open resources directly onto their school devices during the school day to support them.

Differentiation and personalization

Heather Bilder explains that the ability to differentiate instruction within a Workspace is an important feature for educators.

Bill Corcoran says benefits include being able to put learners into purposeful groups and releasing Workspace Cards to groups at specific times during a lesson or unit. Educators can also be creative with the design of the Workspace and how they want students to interact with content and show their learning. 

Educators can include visual prompts in the design of a Workspace to support learning needs as well. For instance, they can add an image to a Workspace Card, increase the font size, use color-coding and add learning content in step-by-step sections. 

An example Workspace educator Olivia Maiorino created

Heather explains that the creativity and flexibility Workspace offers educators is a huge benefit. When she was an elementary teacher, she had several learners working toward modified expectations. In this case, they had one Workspace uniquely created for them with all of their teachers included. It was a game changer for those learners because they didn’t have to visit multiple Workspaces. All of their IEP expectations were clearly outlined in the learning goals found in the Workspace, too. 

Heather says, “Whatever a student needed was all in one place. The ways we’re seeing teachers leverage this tool to support the unique needs of an individual learner is remarkable.”

Natasha Farrugia-Pavan, Assistive Technology Mentor for the OCSB, supports students with their Chrome devices and enabling accessibility options to help with their learning. She and the assistive technology mentors on her team provide support and accommodations in general education classrooms and special education classrooms. 

Often Natasha supports learners one-on-one or in small groups in using assistive tools and accessing resources in Hāpara. She says, “There’s a lot of reluctance with students to use the tools for various reasons. They feel like it makes them look different than their peers.” For instance, they may use a tool that asks them to speak into their device. But Natasha’s goal is for them to realize that assistive technology tools can help them accomplish tasks more efficiently. While these tools are essential for some, they are beneficial for all learners.

Hāpara makes it easy for educators to add assistive technology into Workspace Cards. Her advice is to create differentiated groups in a Workspace and ensure that the content is accessible for each learner. For example, Natasha recommends that learners use OrbitNote alongside PDFs they open in a Workspace Card. OrbitNote is an extension from the Texthelp Read and Write tool that reads PDFs. She also recommends considering the organization of the Workspace and revealing sections one step at a time to help learners with executive functioning challenges.

Creating consistency for learners

There are many students in the OCSB who are transient, registering for a local school in September and then moving locations to a different school a month or two later. Using Hāpara has created consistency for learners because they will likely see it when they move to a new school. 

Natasha also notes that Hāpara can help during instances of teacher shortages. For example, if a teacher is away from the classroom, learners can access a Workspace from their Student Dashboard, without the need to print sheets for a teacher covering the class.

For Olivia, Hāpara is part of the morning routine in her high school classroom. Every resource she shares is placed in a Workspace, including a slide deck of lessons, videos and resources, and complementary tasks. 

Heather Bilder also used Hāpara to create consistency when she was a classroom teacher. “As a high school teacher, I had my entire presentation and any resources that I referenced, accessible to my students at all times. And so preparing for assessments or reviewing concepts before exams, at the end of the semester, everything was there and accessible to them.”

Educator collaboration

Olivia teaches in a unique program at St. Francis Xavier called a “Focus Program” with Kathryn DiGaetano. Learners apply to the program, and once accepted and enrolled, they see the same two teachers across their classes during their tenth grade year. Kathryn teaches classes in the English language, while Olivia teaches French immersion classes. They co-plan instruction for the program and teach the same content to their group in their respective languages.

“There’s a lot of co-teaching, which is a fun dynamic, and we approach Hāpara Workspaces as well from a co-teaching model. A lot of what we do is collaborative,” Olivia says.

To do this, they share a Workspace as co-teachers and create a variety of groups. For instance, if there’s French content, it falls under Olivia’s group. Their learners can work from one Workspace, even though they are in classes with two different teachers. Both teachers create Workspace Cards and update the Workspace together.

“We actually find that having one Workspace that is very organized for the courses in a semester is best because a lot of what we do is cross-curricular. It just makes sense for students to have it in the same space,” explains Olivia. Their learners had three Focus Program courses in the fall that were covered in one Workspace. Now they have a new Workspace for their spring Focus Program courses, keeping their learning content organized and streamlined.

Visibility into learning

Olivia explains that Hāpara Student Dashboard and Workspace is “the hub. It’s the student portal where they can find all of their resources. It’s great. I find it super organized as well. It’s actually taken the place of my agenda.”

She adds that learners love Student Dashboard. “It’s a space where they can see all of their courses and just have one website that they can go through to see what they need to know. They also love being able to see all of their grades in all of their courses in one space.”

The OCSB teachers who use Hāpara Highlights also gain visibility into learners’ progress online to help them build digital citizenship skills, while meeting learners where they are on their digital citizenship path. Braeden Spanton uses Highlights to observe if learners are on task so he can redirect them if needed. He also uses the “Guide browsing” feature to set up focused browsing sessions. This gives learners one set of websites to focus on. He also uses Highlights to quickly push links out to learners’ devices.

Olivia uses Highlights to check in on learners’ current screens and remind them to practice digital citizenship skills during presentations or other learning activities.

An intentional and purposeful leveraging of digital tools

Bill Corcoran and Heather Bilder believe in an intentional and purposeful leveraging of digital tools to support educators and learners in a variety of ways and build capacity at all levels of the system. For instance, Bill explains that OCSB principals submitted their school improvement plans in Workspace, and the school board leadership accessed it there. 

“We made it a hands-on approach so that they could understand what their staff were doing, and therefore, what the students were doing,” he says.

The OCSB also has a professional development team who make PD sessions engaging, exciting and fun. They partner with educators within the board to lead sessions so others can see what they are doing with Hāpara. Many of their PD resources are developed in Workspace, so educators see best practices modelled for them. The team also shares ready-to-go Workspaces so educators can copy them or modify them and bring them into their own practices, making the workflow easy.

Bill says, “These opportunities gave voices to educators within the system to share their best practices. So I think that that made people excited; it seemed applicable. And it’s that low-floor-high-ceiling approach where there’s something for everybody and multiple entry points. So nobody’s feeling that it’s too advanced. It’s really accessible.”

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