Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Going gradeless but are we really?

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For two months these girls worked their butts off organizing a charity girls versus boys hockey game in connection with the Ottawa based DIFD organization that raises awareness about teen suicide and mental health.  They set a goal, connected with people all throughout Ottawa, worked with a teacher mentor, created a plan, raised awareness, raised money and brought our school community together, it was amazing. As you can tell by the video these girls were motivated to do something that was important to them, something that related to their everyday lives, something that they were passionate about, something for themselves and their community.  Everything about this project really embodied what I had hoped to have happen in our passion project based classroom. They worked on a project that they loved, they acquired so many new skills as they worked on it and they benefited people other than themselves all while learning about course curriculum and our OCDSB Exit Outcomes. And never once was I asked “are we getting marks for this?”, they did it even though there were no grades attached, just points.  When asked at the end of the project if grades ever crossed their minds this is what they had to say.

“For me no never I just loved what I was doing and wanted to give it everything I had because I really cared about the cause.”

“To be honest, in the first project in your class it did all the time, but working on the DIFD project it never even crossed my mind. It must of been because I loved what I was doing.”

“I didn’t even remember we were getting marked I was just excited to do it!”

“For me marks didn’t matter for any of the projects I just wanted to make a difference or an impact on someone’s life”

“For me doing this project wasn’t about marks it was to get the message out there especially around our school and it was also a fun experience to create something that has such a big impact on all of our lives and just looking in the stands during the game and Madison saying “we did this” was such a amazing feeling that we were making a difference.”

BUT, we are back in portable 10 after a great holiday break and things are starting to wind down for the semester.  We now have two weeks left and we are using the time to reflect and to get ready for our Social Science Fair showcase.  Over the semester the students were exposed to the course curriculum, asked to create and implement their own projects where they would accumulate points, they were asked to chronicle their work via social media with daily posts and weekly vlogs, podcasts or blogs and to reflect monthly on the different projects that they had been working on.  For an entire semester and for some over the last three years I have begged and pleaded with them not to talk about grades. I wanted them to find their passion and I wanted that to drive what they did in our classroom. I didn’t want grades to be the incentive for completing tasks. And I would say that for the most part we have been successful at not focusing on the grades, however the reality is I have to put a mark on their report card at the end of the semester and I hate it.

Over the last few days I have been working away at making sure that I have all the students projects in my spreadsheet as well as the points that they have accumulated.  I have had discussions with the students to make sure that we are both on the same page and have an understanding of how many points they have accumulated and what grade that it equates to.  I love having the opportunity to talk to the students about what they have accomplished, their failures and what they learned from it all. This to me is more valuable than a report card mark and generic comments.  But in the end I still have to come up with a grade, so am I really going gradeless?

While I am frustrated at this point in the semester, I need to remind myself that I am doing my best to do what I can inside the box that is our education system. I will focus on all the amazing things that my students did because they wanted to, not the ones that were still just trying to get a grade.

I am very curious as to how others have gone gradeless in a system where it is still mandatory to place a mark on a report at the end of the semester?

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

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Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

Continuing to Unlearn

The countdown is on and we are T-7 school days left until the much needed Christmas Holidays.  We are working really hard to stay motivated – students and teachers alike. We have had a lot of time to be working on our projects in all of my classes which gives me the opportunity to chat with all the different groups and see where they are at and what they need from me.  This can be exhausting but very uplifting at the same time. Today in my grade 11 class I did what I normally do and made my way around the classroom checking in on all the projects to see where they are at and if they needed any help. After a bit I decided to just sit back and observe the class.  To most onlookers they would have seen a bunch of teens lounging and laughing either on their phones or engaging in light hearted conversation. But what I heard and saw was this: two girls researching on their phones looking for schools around Canada to connect with to start a pen pal program, two other students yelling across the room trying to get people to sign up for a potluck that they are organizing for the class and the GLPs (students with disabilities) that we work with once a week, another two talking about how they can get their gender stereotype podcast out and redefining roles within their group, students discussing their former projects, some students just having a discussion about what…I am not quite sure, another one watching YouTube clips, one studying for a bio test, another one working on putting together tweets to make people aware of OI and finally another group brainstorming / chatting / procrastinating about their next project.  What I also didn’t see but trusted was happening was three other groups that were out of the classroom, one group was vlogging about their progress, another one was in another portable recording a song and the last group was working in the school painting a poster for their big event that is happening this Friday.

Below is what our classroom looks like, it is not just within the four walls of portable 10, it is everywhere and anywhere!
Our PBL classroom is not traditional so it should not look traditional.

Part of my internal struggle in our PBL classroom is that I have been conditioned along with everyone else in society to believe that school looks like: students following instructions, everyone working on the same projects with the same deadlines and of course being productive for the entire 60 – 75 minutes a day that they are in each of their classes.  I have to continually remind myself that if I micro manage them and am continuously telling them what to do they will never learn the skills of self regulation and time management. I continue to listen to podcasts, watch videos, read articles and have conversations with people out in the real world about how this generation lacks in every “soft” skill that exists.  I am happy to be the wiser person in the room to remind them every now and then to get going, but ultimately they need to learn to be motivated, to stay on task and to get stuff done. They need to have the opportunity to fail and learn from those failures so that they can learn coping mechanisms for when things don’t go their way. They need to be able to set goals, create steps to achieve those goals and have control over how they implement them on their own.  They need time to chat and brainstorm for their next projects so that they can learn patience and truly figure out what they want to work on.

I would have to say that I struggle everyday with the idea that I am allowing my students too much freedom and that they aren’t doing school “properly”.  However, when you as the “teacher” can unlearn what we have all been conditioned to believe school is, it is liberating for both you and your students.

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

I feel so out of control, but it is so worth it.

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There have been amazing things happening in my passion project based classroom, but there are also things that don’t go so well.   As the teacher / facilitator of a project based classroom I constantly struggle to feel like I have control of my classroom. Everyday I feel pulled in so many directions.  My students fill out proposals that have completion dates, we file them away in their individual files and we input them into a database that connects to a calendar and I feel like I have finally found a system that will allow me to keep track of all the projects.  However, I still go home feeling like I have failed somehow or someone. Every period I am on, I try to talk to those who are working on projects and need support, I try to talk to those who are finished their projects and are reflecting and negotiating points, I try to talk to the ones who are brainstorming their next project and I try to talk to the ones that need some motivation.  At the end of day I am exhausted and feel that I haven’t done enough to get to everyone. I feel teacher guilt that some students weren’t working on anything. It is hard when you don’t see or are not able to manage all the behind the scenes.

Feeling out of control sucks, but I have to continue to remind myself that it is important that I don’t talk to all students all the time.  The whole point of a student lead class is to teach them to become more independent. I want them to learn to manage their time. I want them to fail (so that they can learn from it), and I want to provide a safe place for them to do this.  I have to remind myself that they get out of it what they put into it.

When I am feeling out of control I check out their twitter feeds, vlogs, blogs and podcasts and I am usually blown away with what I never knew they were working on. These updates are crucial to a project based classroom.  It is from these posts that I usually find out that they have done way more than I thought they had.  It is at this point that I talk myself through my feelings of inadequacy, guilt and lack of control and am reminded that it is all worth it.  You can check out some of the things that make it worth it in my previous post PBL in Action or below.  You can also follow along with us @ #jmsshpa11 #jmsshpahhg #jmsshpacgw on twitter.

Screenshot 2018-11-24 at 12.52.27 PM

 

 

For anyone thinking about trying this out you need to be prepared to be uncomfortable, it sucks but it is so worth it.

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

PBL in Action

Over the next few weeks my hope is to share some of my students projects with you.  I will share the good, the bad and the ugly.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at any point throughout 🙂

Puzzle Masters 5K Family Walk & Run in support of Autism and Children at Risk

Last weekend I got to take part in one of the student lead projects as a volunteer.  I supported these students for the last month and half by asking questions, providing some suggestions and helping them connect with people when they needed an adult.  In their class there are approximately 10 groups working on projects as well. This means that over the last month and a half the received 10 % of my attention and that was it.  In a month and half three grade 11 students organized a 5K race to raise money and awareness for Autism. Check out the video below to get an overview of the day. It was amazing.

 

Dany K Kutz for Kids, Healthy Lifestyle and Peer Mentoring

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With his permission I’d like to introduce you to Dany.  I have taught Dany for the last three years and finally this year he had his aha moment.  He and his partners have taken things that they are interested in outside of school and have brought it to the classroom. He is in two of my classes and currently has three projects on the go.  

Dany cuts his friends hair at home for $, he is cutting hair at school for $10 a cut with all proceeds going to Jumpstart Canada.

Dany loves working out and talking nutrition. He has started an Instagram account with his partner and they are motivating their followers to be active and to eat right.

Dany is Lebanese and can speak Arabic.  When he was in grade 10 we worked with a group of students who were newcomers to Canada (many who speak Arabic).  Dany really enjoyed working with them. Dany reached out to the teacher that we had worked with and is now volunteering in her class once or twice a week.  

This is what Dany has to say about what he has been doing.

 

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂  

Cheers, R

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

Operation Project Based Classroom, how do I stay on top of all of these different projects???

project based learning

So we are two months in and we have been hard at work trying to change the world…project by project.  We have had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures. I have had days where I am so excited to share what is happening in our classroom with anyone who will listen and then there are days that I drive home ready to burst into tears because I feel so out of control.  At the end of every project my students are asked to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what they learned from the process. When I feel like crying I do what I ask my students to do and reflect. I take what I have learned from what we have been doing and try to find ways to make it better.  I love what my students are doing, I believe in what we are doing, but I often struggle to find a way to feel in control. Managing a project based classroom is probably my biggest challenge right now. I am by no means an expert at all, in this post I will outline how I am trying to keep it all together.

Taking my cue from Don Wettrick’s blueprint in Pure Genius we embarked on our project based learning by looking for issues around the school that the students could find solutions for.  The kids were super excited and had some really great ideas. As mentioned above we had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures.

Project Development Cycle

When working on our projects my students go through five steps from start to finish.

  1. Brainstorm projects and write up a proposal.
  2. Work on project until completion date.
  3. Reflect on the project.
  4. Negotiate mark with teacher.
  5. Start Over

Proposal

They are required to complete a proposal that includes:

  1. The issue that they will be exploring / coming up with a solution.
  2. Step by Step instructions that includes a completion date and mini goals to get there.
  3. At least 3 curriculum expectations that they will be covering as they complete the project.
  4. How many points their project is worth.

The proposal has been a lifesaver and pain in the ass all at the same time.  Once the proposals are complete they are what keep the students on track and give them guidance.  It makes them accountable and really helps them to stay motivated (for the most part). However, getting the proposals completed is tough.  Since the students have never mapped out their own learning before they require a lot of guidance and help. It is really hard for me to give each person / group the attention that they need.  There is one of me and 30 of them!! So I have recruited some former students, friends of mine who work from home, our former VP who is now retired and a set of Grandparents to come in and help me with this process.   This has been a huge help, especially in the brainstorming stage.

Another challenge I have found with the proposals is that since the students all started their projects at the same time most students were finishing up their first projects all at once.  This meant that I was having to negotiate / conference with students when they finished but then they required help to get started on their next project proposal. This was very overwhelming for me and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it!!  But we all powered through and got them all going on a second project. I am finding now that we are at the mid way mark, most students have such different deadlines it makes it so much easier. I have the ability to negotiate with only a few groups a week as well as helping those who need it on their next proposal or those who need help on the projects that they are working on.  

Once the proposals were completed and approved, the students got going on their projects. It was a lot of running from group to group to group but other than being tired at the end the day it was manageable.  I was able to move around and support students with their projects. However, where it became unmanageable was trying to figure out who was finishing up, who needed to work on their reflection, who needed to negotiate and who was starting the process all over again.  I had my students sharing their proposals with me in google classroom and was attempting to keep track of all of them there. I found this very difficult so I decided to use the board below to keep myself and the students updated on who was at each stage. For a couple of weeks I fixed this board up every morning and then would go over it at the beginning of each class.  I found it very helpful for me for a bit and just recently found it hard to stay on top of. I have now abandoned this method and am trying out a new tracking method.

Work - reflect- negotiate - brianstorm

I have moved from electronically looking at the proposals to having the students fill out a project list (they add their projects to it as they go), I ask that they hand write or print out a copy of their proposal and I have created a file folder for each student to keep track of all of their projects.  Now when they get a proposal approved a copy of it goes into that folder and I put what the project is, how much the project is worth, and when it will be completed into a spreadsheet. I have new whiteboards with every student on it with their project and dates and I will update my whiteboards probably once every two weeks or so.

human dev

My next step is to create a google form that I think I will fill out once the proposal is approved.  I am hoping that this will provide me with a spreadsheet where I can sort the students and keep track of each of their projects etc, we will see how that goes.

We are very much in a trial by error /  learn by failure situation in my classroom.  If you have a PBL classroom and have any suggestions I am SO open to any help you might give.

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, R 🙂

Picture
“School District of Ashland.” Project Based Learning Schools (3rd – 12th Grade) / Project Based Learning, Ashland Elementary Charter School, http://www.ashland.k12.wi.us/Page/1290.
Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

I’ve gone 100% passion based projects this semester….oh my what have I done!?!?

try fail learn repeat

So if you have been reading my blog you will know that Don Wettrick has been a huge inspiration for me and my students.  After listening to his podcast for almost a year, I decided it would be a good idea to read his book Pure Genius over the summer. Not surprising, it was exactly what I needed.  Rewind to last year and you will understand why.

Over the past five years I have truly transitioned from a traditional classroom to a more student led inquiry based classroom.  We have followed an inquiry process where students used the Social Scientific Research Method to research a current issue, become an advocate for it – make their classmates, their parents and the world aware of the issue, research it according to the course that they were in, create media pieces and showcase everything that they were doing via Twitter.  I am super fortunate to teach a lot of the same students in grade 10 history then in grade 11 Intro to Anthro, Psych and Soc and then get them for grade 12 Human Growth and development and grade 12 World Issues. For the past few years, I have used the Inquiry Model in all of my classes. The grade 10s take a bit to get to used to it and the grade 11s usually love it.  However, what I was finding was that the grade 12s were bored of that process and needed more. Last fall, I spent time volunteering at Blue Sky School in Kanata (Experimental Prototype School) where they allow the students passions to lead their learning. I was very fortunate to watch this process and wanted to try out a similar model in my classroom.  So, at the end of semester one I gave my grade 12s some more freedom in their learning and I asked them to create their own projects that were prompted by three questions:

  1. What do you want to learn?
  2. How do you want to learn it?
  3. Once you have learned it what will you do with the information?

Since most of these students had already spent at least two courses with me they didn’t struggle like most students when they were asked what they wanted to learn.  They really embraced the idea and jumped into their projects without hesitation. When they were done we had a little show and tell at the end. They showcased what they learned in a variety of ways.  We had a lesson on Artificial Intelligence a workshop on finance, a TED talk style presentation on humour and some small discussions. In my opinion it was a success.

Riding out that high I decided, as I do, to jump right in and  I attempted to go completely project based with my grade 12s the following semester.  I went in a blazin’ with a trial and error mentality and we had some really amazing things happen, but we also had a whole lot of nothing happening. To be completely honest it was a bit of a gong show.

After a semester of trying this out and a lot of reflection I realized  that I just couldn’t figure out the right kind of structure to support the students.  I was looking for answers to the following questions:

  1. How do I keep track of 25 students doing all kinds of different projects.
  2. How do I get students to stay on task?
  3. How do I get them to follow through on what they want to do?
  4. How much freedom do I give them in creating their projects?
  5. How do I support 25 students as they work on different projects?

We tried so many different things / ways to answer the above questions.  Originally we tried out some of the methods they were using at Blue Sky School such as their metaphor of driving their own bus and creating road maps each day but unfortunately they did not work for us.  We tried journal writing, goals on twitter, google forms, step by step instructions on the wall, calendars, reflections and binders with their projects listed.  By the end of the semester I was exhausted and felt defeated as I never really felt that I was able to get a handle on a student led project based classroom. For the entire semester I was searching for a play book to help me out but I couldn’t seem to find anything…..UNTIL I came across exactly what I was looking for in Don’s book.

I have met some amazing teachers via Twitter and this summer was talking to Eryka Desroisers from Quebec (host of the podcast In a Teacher’s Shoes) and she asked if I had read Don’s book.  We were discussing the upcoming school year and I was telling her my dilemma from the previous school year.  I told her that I had been racking my brain and resources for ways to get a handle on this type of classroom and she pulled out Don’s book and read a part to me that she thought would be helpful.  After we finished out Google Hangout session I immediately downloaded Pure Genius onto my Kindle and read it in about two days. I had almost given up on the idea of running my class like I did last semester and was going to revert back to the inquiry model until I found Don’s blueprint for an innovation class.

So, this semester I am teaching grade 11 Intro to Anthro, Psych and Soc and grade 12 Human Growth and Development and World Issues and we are 100% project based.  What I learned from last year was that the students required more help than I could provide them, they needed deadlines, they needed to be working on one project at a time, they needed a value placed on their projects and they needed to show progress on a regular basis.  It was like I hit the jackpot when I found Don’s blueprint. I immediately started to wrap my head around how I would use it in my classroom and adapted it accordingly. I created guidelines for the projects that my students would create. You can see them here if you are interested.

In the last month we have been busy learning how to be a 100% student led project based classroom.  For the first couple of weeks we learned about the course content and curriculum so that they had an understanding of what they needed to connect their projects to.  We then went over the guidelines. As recommended by Don, my students were encouraged to start out with a small project around the school. The students assembled their teams and started the proposal process.  I realized that this planning stage was one of the biggest downfalls to last year’s success. One of the issues last year was that there was only one of me and 25 of them so it was really tough to give each student the attention that they needed.  As a result the emphasis on a good plan was not there. So this year I made it my mission to make sure that no one started their projects before they had laid out step by step what they were going to do. As well I reached out to some friends and former students and asked if they would come in and help me with the brainstorming and planning process, this was as a huge help.  Getting through this process was intense, stressful and a learning curve for both myself and my students but totally worth it.

Now some of my students have been through their first projects, reflected and negotiated their points and are now moving on to their next project.   Below are videos that showcase what has been happening in our classroom. You can also see what they have been doing via their vlogs / blogs and podcasts at our class hashtags #jmsshpa11 #jmsshpahhg  #jmsshpacgw

This is a video that I took of my grade 12 World Issue class describing the projects that they are working on.

These are two girls from the World Issues class who are combating garbage in our hallways.  Check out their journey.

This is a group of grade 11 girls who wanted to brighten up some classrooms and engage some friends from a General Learning program.  This is their final vlog.

So far things have been going well, not perfect, but pretty good.  However, there are days where I wonder if I made the right decision to go 100% project based.   I do know that I love watching my students taking risks, making things happen and feeling like they have a voice.  I will therefore put my insecurities aside and soldier on.

I am always looking for others who are interested in chatting about this type of stuff – so if that is you please reach out and let’s connect!!

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

Stay tuned for more examples and thoughts as we move throughout the semester.

 

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

Overcoming obstacles when transitioning to a passion based classroom.

motivational-Quote-on-obstacles-doubters-mistake-hardwork

The countdown is on here in Ottawa and we will head back to school in T-minus 1 week. I am super excited to get back into the classroom as I am feeling relaxed and recharged after some time away from school and have enjoyed some amazing family time and travel throughout the summer.  I have also been reflecting on the past school year, reading books such as A More Beautiful Question, Social Leadia, Code Breaker, The Wonderwall and Pure Genius, listening to podcasts, chatting with like minded people, connecting with community people and organizations that we will be working with in the fall and have been wrapping my head around what next years classes will look like.  

research-roadblocks-hero

Although I am excited and feel rejuvenated I am still anticipating a few roadblocks / obstacles in my unlearning journey. Some obstacles I have already dealt with, while I am sure there will be new ones that pop up as we go.  Below are three of the most frequently asked questions I get about transitioning into a passion based / inquiry classroom.  If you are not sure about the unlearning that is happening in our classroom you can check out some of my earlier posts that outline our journey.

The art of letting go…how I transitioned to a Student Centred Classroom

Students are suffocating and we need to do something about it.

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

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

Creating an Authentic Audience, using Social Media in the Classroom

 

FAQ

 

Does your Admin support this type of learning?

YES!!  I would argue that most administrators have jumped on this bandwagon and are looking for teachers to take risks and try out new things.  They too are unlearning and figuring out how to support these types of classrooms. I have found that communication is key in getting support of your administrators.  Explain to them the what, why and how of your vision and I can guarantee that they will be on board.

Roadblock: Board policies – Some of the biggest issues that I have faced when trying to change things up are understanding all the board policies, rules and regulations and staying on top of paperwork.   The unlearning process can be tough and these rules can be a huge deterrent for teachers, as most are rule followers. Experiential learning can be tough when there are all kinds of hoops to jump through.  Also as a teacher it is often tough to stay on top of all of the paperwork during the school year.

Suggestion:  Obviously there are rules that cannot be broken, but having an open dialogue about some of the archaic rules and regulations can help in finding ways to work within them.  When it comes to paperwork, work with whoever is in charge of field trips and get them to help you with it at the beginning of the school year. I am super lucky to have an administrator who helps me with it all 🙂  I am hoping to get as much paperwork completed before school starts so that it can be sent home right away, get it collected and let the hands on learning begin.

How do you get Students to buy in?

At the beginning of the course I spend an entire week with my new students in grade 10 (I have taught most of my grade 11s and 12s before so I will have an altered version of this) having them go through an “unlearning” process.  Instead of going through a course syllabus we discuss things like skills and characteristics employers are looking for in their new employees, the changing world that they live in that requires a more entrepreneurship and philanthropic mentality, we discuss creativity and innovation and look at how school has conditioned them not to think or be creative and finally we discuss the fact that society has failed them in convincing them that failure is a bad thing.  We watch TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson (Creativity & Innovation), Angela Duckworth (GRIT) , Carol Dweck (Growth Mindset) and I tell them that FAILURE is expected in my classes. We talk about assessment and how it has prevented learning for the sake of learning but “learning” for a grade. We discuss that the process is what we will be focusing on rather than the product. We talk about the need for them to network and learn how to use Social Media in a meaningful way.  

Roadblock: By the end of the week I would have to say that I have a quarter of the students who are super pumped, half of the class that are a little confused but intrigued by this new method and then there is the last quarter who have been very successful in school and are very weary and still ask me, so how do I get a 90 % + in this course?

Suggestion:  Keep reiterating the importance of process to all students especially the ones who just want to know what they have to do to get the 90%.  Eventually they will understand that if they take a step back and try and figure out what they are interested in and passionate about the 90s will come.

How do you get Parents to buy in?

At the beginning of the semester I send an email to all of my students parents introducing myself, explaining what we will be doing over the semester and following it up with my teaching philosophy.  My introductory email is intended to have parents “unlearn” how school works and understand that in order to support their child in their learning they will need to “relearn” the way things work. I continue to email parents about once a month about what is happening in the class so that they can continue to support their children.  The students are all on Twitter so they should be able to follow what is happening and I share everything that we are doing via Twitter as well.

Roadblock:  Even though most parents are supportive of what we are doing, they are still very concerned about the mark.  I get where they are coming from, because unfortunately as of right now that is what will get their children into University or College.  

Suggestion: Again, I really believe that the more you dialogue with parents, the more they will jump on board. If students are working on passion based projects, it is inevitable that everyone’s “marks” will be great!!

I am NOT an expert, just a teacher trying to model risk taking, trying things out, failing and learning from each failure.  I am happy to share the good the bad and the ugly and love chatting with others about what they are doing.  

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, R