Posted in Classroom Examples

My Students do work even though I don’t give them marks…SAY WHAT???

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In my last post, How do I incorporate inquiry, innovation and all that other stuff they want me to bring into my classroom? I outlined what I do in my classes.  Over the next few posts, I intended to dig a little deeper into each of the different things outlined. The first one I am going to look at is:

Enlighten them!!  I teach them about unlearning, about what is wrong with the current system and show them that we need to change in order to prepare them for the real world.  This prepares them for their unlearning process.

After many discussions with colleagues, I have concluded that some teachers are reluctant to stray away from the norm in their classrooms because they are concerned about what the administration and parents will think. They are also concerned that if the focus is not on marks, then students will not do anything.  I often get the question, what kind of pushback do you get from the admin and parents and my answer is simple….none. I am pretty transparent with both admin and parents about what I am doing. At the beginning of the semester, I send an email to parents outlining my teaching philosophy as well as what we will be doing and why.  While I am sure there are some parents that are questioning it at home, I have only heard positive things so far. Another question I often get is what about the students? How do they respond to this? Do they even complete anything?

Starting  my Students on an Unlearning Journey

As mentioned in my previous post What Exactly is Unlearning,  The unlearning movement involves what Peter Hutton describes as ‘“ new ways to think in the face of established practices.”’ So for the first week of the course, I  take my students on that journey so that they can think differently about what school is when they are in my classroom. I use the following PowerPoint to discuss all of these things.

Click here to view my powerpoint Welcome to HPA Social Sciences

My goal in doing this is to open their eyes and get them to see that it is necessary for all of us to unlearn. Yesterday I told my classes that I was writing this post and asked them for their initial reaction to that week-long enlightenment session and the start of the class. Here are some of the reactions I got:

“I was confused, I was waiting for it to turn into a normal class where there are assignments, readings, tests, notes etc.”.

“I was worried about how I would get my marks and how I could do well”.

“I was afraid that I would never break out of the structured way of being taught”.

“I saw that this was a new atmosphere, all other classes have structure, this class is different – even the physical set up of the room is different”.

“How am I going to get marks?”

“I was super uncomfortable”.

“In the beginning, I saw independence as a chance to do nothing and then saw it as an opportunity to learn things that I wanted.”

“I still gravitated to school like topics and assignments, I didn’t know how to do something that I was passionate about”.

“Confusion – ya always, because it was different because I didn’t know what I was doing, lack of structure – it was the first time I was told that you can do your own thing.”

“I thought it was sick, I thought, I am actually going to get to try and do things that I want to do”. (FYI sick = good)

“It is hard for me – I like things that are right or wrong, yes and no, black and white.”

“No guidelines scares me…..”

“FINALLY, someone who will teach this way! I have been waiting for someone to teach this way since I was in elementary school”.

“I thought it was interesting and exciting.”

“Agreed with it.”

“Agreed that education system is outdated.”

“I do what the teachers tell me to do and you told me to learn things on my own so that is what I am going to do.”

You can see that I have two different types of students (actually, there are three but I will talk about that group in another post, these are the ones that have totally checked out of school altogether).  The first group is reluctant, confused and unsure about the class.  The second group is excited and ready to go. The second group buys in quite easily, but still needs to go through the unlearning process. Whereas, the first group needs a lot more encouragement and proof that they will still be able to get the grades that they want. The unlearning process is hard for them because they have mastered the current process and are motivated by marks.  These students are the toughest to win over, but every semester I have a handful of them that I successfully break!! Meet Britney below as she talks about her unlearning journey.

Britney is an amazing young lady who does really well in school.  She has taken three of my classes and found each one tough to navigate through. This is a video of her at our Social Science Fair explaining her journey from last semester.

 

So there you have it, don’t get me wrong, my classroom is by no means perfect AT ALL.  However, I have support from my admin, the parents and after a little time in my classroom the students as well.

Thanks for joining us on our unlearning journey.  I hope you will join us!

Cheers,

R

P.S. My students assess themselves through reflections, I am still tied to giving out grades at midterm and the end of the semester.  I will discuss this further in another post.

Posted in Classroom Examples

How do I incorporate inquiry, innovation and all that other stuff they want me to bring into my classroom?

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We have all been to a conference or listened to a speaker that has inspired us to do things differently in our classroom, but when we get back to school the reality of curriculum, class sizes and marks get in our way…right?  As well, there has been a ton of discussion about the fact that education needs to change, but when discussing this with teachers who are interested, often the question is how do I do that? In my next few posts I would like to share with those who are interested in what I am doing to change the way we do things.  Maybe you are interested but just not quite sure where to start.  To be honest, I have taken bits and pieces from all kinds of amazing educators to make my classroom more innovative and authentic, but still my own, and I would like to share that with anyone who is interested.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions along the way 🙂

 Inquiry, Student Choice and Passion where it all came from….

I came across this video about 5 years ago and I knew I had to do something like this in my classroom.  I started by teaching my students in a very traditional way about a particular unit. For example World War II in history or Anthropology or a certain age group in the Human Growth and Development and then I would let the students choose a topic that they were interested in.  We would use the Social Scientific Research Method to learn about it and then at the end of the “Inquiry” they would be asked to showcase what they had learned in any way that they wanted. I created one rubric that would that would assess all projects. It was great, it allowed students to choose the topics that they really want to look into, but my students were still very much in school mode when they finished their inquiries and what I was hoping for was not really being achieved.  Yes, they got to choose what they wanted to learn, but we just continued to complete projects like we would have before. So I continued to read about what others out there were doing and we added to the process. As of right now the steps that I have taken are below.  It has evolved so much that I plan to describe each step below in its own blog post.  

  1. Enlighten them!!  I teach them about unlearning, about what is wrong with the current system and show them that we need to change in order to prepare them for the real world.  This prepares them for their unlearning process.
  2. Social Media:  Teach them about the power of Social Media – create twitter accounts for them to use throughout the semester.
  3. Curriculum:  Expose students to course curriculum in the first two weeks of the course.
  4. Self Direction:  Teach them how to complete the inquiry process (See steps below).
  5. Model:  Practice one together.  
  6. Gor For it!!  For the semester: complete inquiries and action plans, genius hour, field trips, connect with real people, invite guests in, raise awareness, try and go viral, make a difference, learn with purpose.
  7. Assessment:  Reflect on the process.
  8. Showcase it:  At the end of the semester each student is asked to attend our Social Science Fair where they showcase what they have learned and connect their process to our OCDSB Exit Outcomes (Essential Life Skills).  We invite people from the community such as the Mayor, Councillors, Parents, Grandparents – our goal is to get Justin Trudeau and the media to make it out to our next one!!

How my courses work

Below is the course layout that I have used over the last couple of years no matter what class I was teaching.  Each time I come across something new I try to incorporate it into what I am doing, therefore the classes are always evolving.  

Grade 10 & 11 syllabus for the semester:

  1. Inquiry # 1 – Goal Create awareness
  2. Inquiry # 2 – Goal same as above + create a Solution
  3. Action Plan – What do you want to learn, how would you like to learn it, what will you do with the information once you have learned it?
  4. Twitter
  5. Genius Hour
  6. Social Science Fair

 Inquiry Steps:

  • Choose a current issue – something that you are passionate about, could be passionate about, that you are already involved in, etc.
  • Learn about the current issue and become and advocate for it.
  • Create a media piece to gain attention, followers etc. post it – over and over and over to get tracktion
  • Use the Social Scientific Method to research your issue in relation to your course material.
  • Campaign:  As you research tweet out, and at people who care about your issue – connect with organizations and classmates. Try to get on the twitter pyramid.
  • Ultimate Goal – get noticed, get your message out there, create a solution – do something that matters.
  • Assessment – students are assessed on a biweekly basis via twitter, each student reflects at the end of each inquiry and give themselves next steps for their next one.

 

Grade 12s

  1. Action Plan – What do you want to learn, how do you want to learn it and what will you DO once you have learned it?
  2. Group Action Plan
  3. Weekly Discussions
  4. Social Media
  5. Barrhaven BIG
  6. Genius Hour
  7. Other
  8. Social Science Fair

In the grade 12 class the students get a lot more freedom and choice.  Most students that I have in my classes have gone through at least one class in grade 10 or 11 with me and have started their unlearning process.  I will go into more detail in a later post.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing and learning from all of you!!

Cheers,

R

Posted in Why Unlearn?

What exactly is Unlearning?

unlearn a toffer

In my first few posts I have tried to explain what I feel is wrong with our current education system, and hopefully I have got some of your attention.  I truly believe that society, teachers, parents and students need to unlearn the current system, but what exactly is unlearning? Before we can define unlearning, we will need to define what it is that we need to unlearn, school, the role of teacher and student.  

What does it mean to be a teacher?

In a traditional sense it means that they are the keeper of knowledge, they are the ones that tell students what they need to know and how to learn it.  This was a great model for the industrial age and maybe for a couple of centuries to follow. But it is outdated, and does not prepare students for the world that they will live in.   In Peter Gamwell’s book Wonderwall, he suggests that we live in an age of complexity, that we no longer need to spit out carbon copies of students who know the same stuff. Don Wettrick points out that in a few years 40% of jobs will be made up by the “Gig” economy, and that students will need to be able to solve problems by being innovative and creative.

“A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.”  (techtarget.com)

What does it mean to be a student?

For the past 200 years students have been consumers of knowledge.  They learn whatever they are being taught and then regurgitate it to prove that they know it. Usually they have very little control over what they learn and how they learn it.

Some responses to the need for change.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of initiatives to change student engagement throughout my teaching career.  Even though there are things that still resemble the industrial revolution (bells and rows) teachers are doing amazing things to deliver content in a more engaging way. We’ve learned about different types of learners and implemented better ways for these students to learn (kinesthetic, audio, visual etc), we’ve used differentiated instruction, classrooms have been equipped with the latest technology such as smart boards, ipads, chromebooks and more recently we have been implementing more inquiry into our classes.  This is all a great start, and some of these methods should remain, but it is not enough, we need to redefine the traditional student / teacher roles as well as the definition of the traditional classroom. The classroom walls need to come down. We need to wipe the slate clean and start fresh so that our schools resemble the world in which our students will be living.  Students need to become creators rather than consumers and teachers need to become mentors / facilitators.

So what exactly is unlearning?

I enjoy change, actually I thrive on it.  I have never taught a class the same way more than once.  I am constantly looking for some way to change things up and do a better job.  I reflect on what went right and what didn’t and work from there. I’d say most teachers do this, but they continue to change their lessons / assignments in a more traditional way. As mentioned in previous posts, I have been inspired by many progressive educators who are saying enough is enough, things have got change. So I have jumped on the unlearning bandwagon and am challenging the traditional definitions of education, classroom, teacher and student.   

The unlearning movement involves what Peter Hutton describes as ‘“new ways to think in the face of established practices.”’ (Flanagan) This concept is hard to achieve in our current system as most teachers feel overwhelmed with limitations  and barriers that include lack of time to unlearn, covering curriculum, class sizes,  lack of technology, behaviour problems and the need to provide marks, to name a few. However some leaders are recognizing that it needs to happen. Recently I have been reading about Peter Hutton, head of Beaver Country Day School and Marga Biller, project director of Harvard’s Learning Innovations Laboratory, and how they are taking a whole school approach and putting their teachers through the unlearning process.  Biller points out that, ‘”We’ve all gone to workshops and seminars and learned from a class,” she said. “We go there, gain skills, change mindsets, we get very excited, and then we head back to work and things get in the way. And then we wonder why change isn’t taking place.” She said often what stands in the way of implementing change is the inability to see things beyond what they’ve always been in the past.” (Flanagan)  These two organizations are going to work together to challenge what has always been by using a process where they will change mindsets, habits and build trust.

While I know it is not realistic for every school to stop everything and put their staff and students through the unlearning process, I would like to show you that it can be done.

In my next few posts, I plan to outline my unlearning journey from traditional teacher to an unlearned teacher.  I hope you will continue to read, ask questions and maybe try to do a little unlearning of your own.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

For more reading on Beaver Country Day School and Harvard’s LILA see below.

Almeida, Debora. “Should Students Be Learning or Unlearning? – The Boston Globe.”BostonGlobe.com, 21 Oct. 2016, http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/west/2016/10/21/should-students-learning-unlearning/uvpDTMsdvuYtkXjNtUrRFN/story.html.

Flanagan, Linda. “Why ‘Unlearning’ Old Habits Is An Essential Step For Innovation | MindShift | KQED News.” KQED, 23 June 2017, http://www.kqed.org/mindshift/48480/why-unlearning-old-habits-is-an-essential-step-for-innovation.
“Learning Innovations Laboratory.” Learning Innovations Laboratory | Project Zero, http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/learning-innovations-laboratory.

“What Is Gig Economy? – Definition from WhatIs.com.” WhatIs.com, May 2016, whatis.techtarget.com/definition/gig-economy.

 

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Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

A Students Perspective on why we NEED to unlearn our current system.

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Student X reads more books in a week than most adults do in a year.  He’s read Sapiens, Homo Deus , Superintelligence , Breakfast of Champions, Einstein: His Life & Universe, The Odyssey, The Stranger, Personal Power Through Awareness, Vagabonding and Thinking Fast and Slow in the past year just to name a few.  Everyday he enlightens us with something new that he has learned.  He has taught me and his classmates so much about so many different topics, he has lent me his books (I have only got through one of them) and he constantly makes connections to course material,  and get this,  in conversation with him he tells me that, “I have never felt smart in school”…..WHAT??
Meet Cameron Lamoureux, a grade 12 student who I have had the opportunity to coach and teach over the last three years.  In the first two years that I knew him, Cam’s teachers (including myself) would describe him as a very smart, and capable student who was not working to his full potential.  Cam is an extremely intelligent and insightful young man.  Below is a video interview and a post from his blog camlam.blog where he shares his views on our current system.  If this doesn’t get you to think twice about our need to unlearn, I’m not sure what will.

 

Learning to Learn

From the moment we start school, we are taught to play. There is certainly a lot of benefit to play. Although, the older we become the less we do it, we lose connection with our own interests and become distracted by material factors such as money or a new promotion. Our minds and bodies become less of a priority while we focus on larger goals for the well-being of others.

All of this playing teaches us something extremely valuable that traditional education does not. It teaches us to learn the way that we do best. Whether that be with our eyes, hands or ears.  Don’t get me wrong, I love standardized testing as much as the next guy. However, I am a firm believer in the power that each and every one of us possess to create change and add value to our world. Our everyday experiences are what make up our lives and in order to create the most meaning within those moments we must learn how we learn. Not as a society. As a human being. What is the best way for you to intake information. How do you learn? What factors contribute to your knowledge? These are questions that traditional schooling never answers. We are given a foundation of knowledge to memorize and regurgitate. The majority won’t even be given the opportunity to look inwardly for answers. Others may fall behind and give up on the learning process completely. Learning how to teach yourself any information  you desire to learn is a priceless tool that most people will never truly master or take advantage of. All because we are shrouded from the answers throughout our childhood. As I stroll through my path down the traditional school system, I’ve come to realize a lot. We are definitely not given all the answers, despite the fact that we occasionally think we’ve memorized them all. The only answer we need is in the questions.

CamLam

You can visit and follow Cam’s blog on mindfulness, learning and productivity at camlam.blog, you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

Citations

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“Student Voice.” Ontario Ministry of Education, 22 Dec. 2017, http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/students/speakup/preMSAC.html.