Posted in Classroom Examples, 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

 

Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

How do you assess authentic learning?

authetic assessment

Picture from https://abdao.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/traditional-vs-authentic-assessment/

While I don’t think that we really can or should formally assess authentic learning, we still work in a system that requires it.  So here is what I am doing until things change….

The third week of summer is here and I have had some time to unwind and I am starting to relax and reflect on the last school year.  As crazy as this may sound I have already started to think about how we will do things next year. I am a huge advocate of authentic learning and have been trying to spread these ideas via this blog, on Twitter and by talking to anyone who is interested in listening to me!!  I am super excited about the connections that I have made this summer for next school year with Woodroffe HS GLP classes, VIVA Barrhaven Retirement home, Ontario Early Years, CHEO and Barrhaven Kids Spreading Kindness. As mentioned in many other posts, I want to provide my students the opportunity to figure out what they are passionate about, to learn how to learn (on their own), to become more digitally literate, to become creators rather than consumers, to become more globally aware and connected, to be entrepreneurial minded, to focus on the process rather than the final product and to build resilience by learning that failure is good and essential to everything we do in life.  A month or so ago my students were interviewed by CBC.  In the article they were able to share their thoughts about our classroom, it was super exciting.  Since then, I have been fortunate to connect with educators who are interested in finding out what we are doing.  I am SO happy to share it with them, everyone listens intently and has lots of questions but the most consistent question that I get is how do you assess your students?  
So, how do you assess authentic learning?

I have some answers, but this is still very much trial and error in our classroom.  Assessing authentic learning is tricky because in the “Real World” or every day life assessment looks very different than in school.  It is super hard to mirror real life assessment when you have to come up with a grade. I believe that our current way of assessing is very outdated, but unfortunately it is still a part of our reality.  So until things change, below are some examples of what I have been trying out in my classes.

Informal, one on one discussions

Throughout the semester I am constantly having discussions with students about what they are working on.  We discuss successes, failures and I am able to support them one on one which is awesome. However, sometimes there is not enough of me to go around.  I am working on getting volunteers / mentors into the classroom to help me with this. By doing this I keep a running tally in my head of where students are at and how they are doing.  There is no formal assessment here, but rather feedback – this is in my opinion more reflective of the real world. I have been fortunate over the past couple of years to have peer teachers in my class (grade 11 & 12 students who have been through my classes already).  They have been super helpful!!

Formal / Informal assessment Twitter Feedback

On a weekly / biweekly basis students receive feedback on their Twitter feed based on the checklist below.  Twitter is where they share all of their learning. I give them feedback to make sure that they are staying on top of things.  This gives me the opportunity to get to everyone when I haven’t been able to have a one on one discussion with everyone.

Twitter Checklist

  • Follow organizations that relate to the course material.  Build your network.
  • Retweet / Quote articles from these organizations – what are your thoughts on it?  What do you think people should know about this article / Video / picture etc.
  • Follow Twitter Accounts of things that you are interested in outside in your real life.
  • Tweet about things that are happening in your life inside and outside of our class.
  • Tweet about things happening in class.
  • Organically interact with your classmates. Comment on things that you think are interesting, ask questions, chat appropriately back and forth.
  • Tweet about what you are working on.
  • Ask questions to professionals to help with research.
  • Connect with people who care about your issue by tweeting at them.
  • Make people aware of the issue that you are looking at.
  • Use Hashtags to connect with others who care about the issue that you are looking at.
  • Get noticed and attempt to make a difference.

Informal / Formal Assessment – Reflection

Throughout anything that we work on the students are informally reflecting on what they have been doing via Twitter.  Each day students are given questions that they have to answer and share with the class. These are not assessed. However, at the end of everything that we do the students are asked to reflect on the process on whatever has just been completed.  It could be an awareness campaign, Genius Hour or their Social Science Fair. I have been working on a rubric that assesses their ability to really be honest and reflect on what they did and didn’t do well and what their next steps are. This is where the majority of their marks come from.  I wouldn’t say this has been perfected but I am going to continue with this next year.

While I think the above is working pretty good, there is always room for improvement. Below is where I hope to take the focus of assessment in our classroom.
Next Steps….

DItSM PyramidPicture courtesy of Nate Green

I have been SO fortunate to have connected with Nate Green who is a technology integration and information specialist at Flint Hill School in Oakton Virginia.  I first heard Nate on Don Wettrick’s StartedUp Podcast and immediately contacted him.  Nate teaches a course called “Passion Based Learning Through Social Media” and when I heard him talk about it on the podcast I knew I needed to talk to him.  I have jumped right into changing the way we do things in our classroom but have struggled with the whole assessment piece. Nate was kind enough to share how he was doing things.  He really focuses on moving students from passive learners to creators and curators and eventually leaders. I plan to use his pyramid seen below to help guide students through the course and for assessment.  I am thinking that the pyramid will coincide with our 4 Levels. I do however, believe that the pyramid / assessment piece will look different for the different grades. I am still mulling this over. I am open to suggestions if anyone has any!!

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers,

R

 

Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Are exams relevant anymore?

Today’s classroom        vs    Today’s workplace

If 21st Century Competency Skills are leaning towards the 4Cs should we get rid of exams?

At the end of each course in Ontario high schools students have to complete a summative task that is worth approximately 30% of their final mark.  Traditionally this included a culminating task for the course and a final exam. Up until about four years ago I abided by this summative task and had my students complete a traditional summative and exam.  However, unknowingly to me, my unlearning journey had begun and we made a shift from traditional tasks to more reflective tasks in the traditional model. My students still did their summative and exam but it became a time for reflection that was assessed on their ability to do just that – not what they knew about the course material. Fortunately for me a few years ago teachers were given the greenlight to use their professional judgement and decide what we saw fit for a summative task for our courses. As I continued to unlearn I didn’t think that testing my students on the course content really worked well with what academics were suggesting were 21st century competency skills The 4Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.  Many will argue that if we don’t test and give students exams they will not be prepared for University – I call BS on that.  I argue that if we teach the students skills and to be lifelong learners they will be able to do anything, including taking tests if they have to.  So last year we scrapped the exam completely and moved onto what we call Exit Outcome reflections and the Social Science Fair instead of a traditional exam. For those interested I will explain what we do below :).  

21st-Century-Skills-4-Cs-graphic

Summative Task Part I – Course Reflection

In the first part of the summative task students reflect on their experience in the course (what they are proud of, what they learned, favourite experience, challenges and failures) and the OCDSB Exit Outcomes.  The Exit Outcomes are five characteristics (Collaborative, Globally Aware, Goal-oriented, Innovative/Creative, Resilient) and five skills (Academically Diverse, Critical Thinkers, Digitally Fluent, Effective Communicators, Ethical Decision-makers) that our board is trying to develop in every student. They are expected to provide examples from course material, experiences and from their personal research to showcase all of the above.  They are assessed on their ability to truly reflect and provide examples. I love reading their reflections, to me this is way more valuable than having them write an exam on only course material. It gives them an opportunity to understand the process and really look at the importance of these skills. I know that ever since we have started to define and understand these characteristics and skills in our classroom it has made me think about how I am working on them as well.  It really gives the students an understanding of WHY we are doing what we are doing and hopefully trickles out of our classroom into their daily lives as well. Students can reflect any way that they want. This past semester I had written responses, mind maps, vlogs and podcasts – I am open to any way they see fit. Below are some examples of the amazing and honest answers from the reflections.
First year unlearners

I failed big time in this course, but I failed forward and I learned a lot more than I thought I would. I learned that it’s ok to fail and its ok to not succeed in everything as long as you learn from it and fix it for next time. I learned that it’s ok to put yourself out there even if people don’t answer which is something that I had a lot of trouble with. I was very scared to reach out and ask for help because there is always the risk of failure and the fact that they might not answer but that is ok.   (KO)

My biggest takeaway from the inquiries was that everyone needs help, the level of help will differ from person to person but so will the ability to ask. People all over the world need help, whether that be because they are hungry, homeless or just need to start a conversation. I also learned that even as grade 10 students we can still make a difference. Obviously we won’t be able to end homelessness overnight but just becoming educated on the subject is a start too changing the issue. (EA)

Through the semester I also learned a lot about who I am as a learner and how hard it is for me to learn independently. I’ve had to learn how to unlearn and while trying to do that I learned a lot about myself and how difficult I found it to focus and stay on task. I’ve learned how talkative I can be and how mark oriented I am and that affected my overall performance but it did help me self reflect in learn new things about myself. (MSS)

Second year unlearners

I will continue to be a moonshot thinker by continuing to believe that nothing is out of reach, to think outside of the box, and to not be afraid to try out new things, because doing all of these things will result in growth. I will choose to be bothered by problems so that I can one day find a solution to the problem. By doing this, I might one day be able to accomplish something that will change the world, because if I believe that I can make it happen, then it will happen. (KV)

 
Third year unlearners

It has been a challenge to unlearn, we are used to learning in one way but now we are asked to do it differently.  I am a bookworm and I like to follow rules and in here we are breaking them and bending them. (ME)
To say it’s been a wild ride would be an understatement, I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to take over six of Mrs. Chambers classes. My first class was grade 10 history when I started out I was just your average student, I knew how to work the system; you give me the work, tell me how you want it done and I’ll get it done just as you asked. The school system had killed any and all creativity inside of me. One day, Mrs. Chambers posed the question “What do you want to learn?” I had no idea how to respond to a question as absurd as that. Impressed at her perseverance and determination; she had finally cracked me. It was a long process filled with more failures than success. I needed to learn how to unlearn. The student I was in that grade 10 history is a completely different student you see today. I don’t need to be told what and how to learn, I have my own ideas, passions and goals for my education. Since beginning this process I have had the opportunity to be able to share my story of how I learned to unlearn with other educators. While speaking to them more often than not I am asked “What about the days you don’t do any work?” I respond with not everyday can be a great day, there are days I am motivated and others where I can’t bring myself to do any work, but it is the exact same if I were to be in a regular classroom. You could give a worksheet and if it’s a day where I’m unmotivated odds are that worksheet is going in my bag and won’t see the light of day until the end of year when I clean out my bag. There have been so many ups and downs and I’m grateful for every up and every down as it has allowed me to grow as a person and only better myself. I think one of the biggest challenges for everyone is not giving up. It’s so easy to quit when things don’t go your way, to give in to the people who want to see you fail. Fail 8 times, get up 9. We are a great group of individuals; each motivated to accomplish a variety of different goals and Mrs. Chambers has been there the entire time, guiding us and shaping us to be successful.  (RM)

 
Summative Task Part II – Social Science Fair

In the second part of the summative task students are asked to come up with a conversation piece that represents their journey throughout the semester that they will present at a drop in style Social Science Fair.  The class invited prominent people from the community, our board, parents and pretty much anyone who would listen to them. The guidelines are fairly open but it is suggested that they incorporate the Exit Outcomes, their inquiries / research, course content, genius hour and class activities – ultimately anything they would like to showcase and explain to anyone who comes to see them.  The only mandatory rule is that they are NOT allowed to do anything traditional like a poster or a powerpoint. We have done this for the last year and half and it has been amazing.

While an exam is a good way to see what students know about a course, I truly believe that giving the students a place to reflect and showcase their learning is of equal importance if not more than an exam.   It allows them to connect with the community, it is a place for students to have a voice and be heard, to share their passions, to share their failures and successes, to get a chance to explain something more than once so that get it right, to engage in meaningful conversations and finally to network.  At our first Social Science Fair one of my students was offered a summer position with the local councilor and another was approached to do some work in social media.

Here are few things that the students had to say about it:

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I think it was really cool to be able to show adults that teenagers are more than just lazy and that when we’re actually interested in something we will come up with amazing ideas.

The fair was awesome! I talked to a lot of people and informed a lot of people about what we learned and how we incorporated the exit outcomes. My favourite part was seeing everybody else’s summative and seeing my peers interacts with others. I learned that there are a lot of people who care about what high school children have to say.

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I really enjoyed it, it was an eye-opening experience none like anything I’ve ever been to before. My favourite part was seeing how interested some guests were in what I had to say. I learnt a lot, it made me better at communicated my ideas since I received feedback and gots lot of practice.

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I really enjoyed the Inquiry fair. I thought that everyone did a good job, lots of cool projects. My favourite part was when I got to meet the mayor and talked to him about my school. But I’d say my favourite part was when I got a job offer with Jan Harder. I was talking to her about my plans next year going into urban planning and she told me that she was the chair of the planning committee for the city of Ottawa. She gave me her contact information and told me that she could probably get me a job next summer in the planning department at the city of Ottawa.

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I think that it went really well, at first it was a little difficult to really communicate what I wanted to say but then after a few attempts and practice rounds it went well. Something that I found was that people were actually interested in what I had to say which really surprised me a lot! Once I started talking, people were getting really excited and engaged about what I had to say and they were really interested in what I learned. I think that my favorite part of the social science fair is the fact that I was able to showcase all that I have learned and the things that I have gotten out of this course into one big project and the fact that I could share it with the community instead of just our classroom and some random people on social media. I thought it was a good way to learn how to communicate your ideas and thoughts out in an interesting and innovative way that will engage people in the community.

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I was super nervous about having to talk to people, and show my summative to all these adults (especially Jim Watson). I think it was because I think of ALL adults as my superiors and they’re smarter, and what if I mess up, and look stupid. (STRESS) But once I started talking it got a lot easier and It just flowed . But overall I actually enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. I think I could say that I learned that putting yourself out there a little bit is always hard, but it’s gratifying as well, because people were very impressed with my work and gave me a lot of compliments (which was nice). I also learned not to stress out as much because even if you make mistakes people are understanding and it’s not the end of the world (even when you mess up your words in front of the mayor). The people that came and listened really seemed genuinely interested in my summative and asked some really good questions, and I enjoyed looking at other peoples projects.
Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

 

R

Posted in Classroom Examples

Congrats, Good Luck and Thank You to my HPA Social Science Fam Jam :)

dr seuss oh the places you ll go quote Pretty Pictures Oh the places you ll go " Lightworkers

I started teaching in the High Performance Athlete program at John McCrae SS in Ottawa four years ago.  The group of students who are graduating this year were just starting out in grade 9 that same year. I didn’t get to meet them until they were in grade 10 and fortunately for me many of them kept coming back for more every year.  Almost every student that is currently in my grade 12 class has had at least 2 classes with me, some have even taken up to 5 and one student has topped out at 5 classes plus 1 as my peer teacher. Some might argue that this is not healthy and sometimes I think we are more like family than teacher / student (which has its pros and cons).  Don’t get me wrong, all of the students that I have taught over the years hold a special place in my heart, but this group of students have played a huge role in my unlearning journey and have been champs about it. On our last podcast the students and I discussed the evolution of the classroom over the past three years and it was really cool hearing their thoughts on how it has all gone.  Before, during and after all the courses my students voiced their opinions on how we did things and then we worked together and changed stuff for the next semester or year.

This is what they have endured over the last three years….

In grade 10 history we started out with a combination of traditional school and choice. We sort of started to use Twitter and we tried out passion projects. The class was inspired by the Independent Project.  They still listened to me lecture, wrote essays, tests, created powerpoints and prezi’s…..but that was still not enough (at least in my mind). We then moved to the inquiry method of teaching. At the beginning of each unit we would learn the material. For example we would spend the first week – week and half learning about the first ¼ of the 20th century in Canada.  They would do online activities, watch movies fill in charts to make sure we covered the different parts of the curriculum and listen to me lecture. After that, they could research anything that related to the unit as long as they hit certain checkpoints in their research.  There were guidelines that dictated what and how they could research but in the end they could display their learning however they wanted to. We started to use Twitter more often for research purposes. They were expected to ask questions to professionals to help with their research so that they could get real up to date information from professionals in their field of study.  This was good but I kept reading and following other educators out there and looking at the skills that they would require for our world today. I came across a list of Essential Life Skills that a school in the UK was using and decided to make that they focus of our classroom. We would use the course curriculum as a vessel to work on the Essential Life Skills. Little did I know that our board had created something very similar called Exit Outcomes which have become the focus now.  So we continued the inquiry process but added a few guidelines and took some away. Now students were expected to find an issue in our community, world, their lives – pretty much anywhere and they were to become aware and advocate for that issue. They were expected to research according to their curriculum and create awareness, solutions and campaign. We did this for a while and it was very successful, but by the time they got to grade 12 or their 3rd – 5th course with me it was time for more change.  So we continued with the inquiry but tried out a new project where we connected with community members and tried to solve real problems for them. We invited a Social Media expert into the classroom and continued to learn how to use Twitter in a professional manner, this past year they were expected to tweet daily, ask questions to experts, find hashtags to tweet info at, tweet at others who were fighting for the same cause, start movements and chronicle their learning. We continued with Genius Hour (we made it into Genius Week) and learned new skills.  And finally we left the structured inquiry process – I would say they had mastered it or were bored of it and decided that it was time for a new challenge…… this lead us to the free-for-all that became our World Issues class this past semester. Students were exposed to curriculum at the beginning of the course for about 3 weeks and then they were expected to have 5 projects on the go at all times. The difference between the inquiry and any other class was that they were left to figure out (with the support of me) what they projects were……this was an interesting semester.  Lots of highs and lots of lows.

It has been a journey and I could not have done it without these students.  I am super proud and excited to see them embark on the next chapter in their lives, but am super sad to see them leave.  So from the bottom of my heart I thank each and everyone of you. Congrats, Good Luck and THANK YOU 🙂
Meagan – thank you for powering through and not giving up, even when you wanted to. Thank you for sharing your experiences with others and promoting dogs in school. Thank you for showing up early and helping make the GLP day a great one. Thank you for letting me know when you were having a bad day, that means so much for you to share that and let me in:)  You are awesome!!

Emily- thank you for being so positive and making a huge impact in people’s lives. Thank you for jumping into to the madness that is my classroom and helping raise awareness for the LBGQT community, your passion is amazing and I can’t wait to see where that takes you.

Graham – Thank you for your honesty, your humour and your outside of the box thinking. It has been a pleasure and an honour to watch you grow and work with a personality similar to my own. We are two peas in a pod.

Lauren – Thank you for your positivity and hard work. Your contribution to the WHS breakfast program will not be forgotten. Thanks for supporting JD when he was new to my class….LOL

Kyle – Thank you for your quiet but important contribution to the class. Thank you for jumping into Genius Hour with your painting. You are super talented! Keep doing those cannonballs.

Danny – oh Danny….thank you for being honest and trying to work on some of your flaws.  It has been an honour to work with you and watch you grow. I will never forget your presentation on The Wealthy Barber and for taking the initiative to get people from class to the retirement home.  You are good and you are smart – so go out and show everyone that!

Raeleigh – Thank you for taking six classes with me in three years. It is going to be wired not seeing you every day. You have been an integral part of this unlearning process, thank you for giving your input and being a great listener. You don’t need any hand holding any more!

Will A – Thank you for being the one that I could count on in that grade 10 class!!  Thanks for taking the leap and trying out coding as your passion project. Thanks for connecting us with your Dad who has been an amazing resource throughout the years.

Dylan – Thank you for going to the beat of your own drum.  While there were times when I wanted to strangle you I applaud you in your ability to embrace your own style of learning.  I look forward to seeing what you accomplish over the years. Maybe you will finally be able to get Elon Musk to our classroom??

Paul – Thank you for your lighthearted ways and your charm.  Your personality lights up a room and can save the day or drive me crazy!!  It has been a pleasure having you in 5 of my classes even though you spent a year in Kingston!!  

Willem – Thank you for your honesty in the way that you approach school.  You have been a huge part of what and how we have approached things in our classroom.  Thank you for being so polite and considerate of the people around you…well maybe not “the boys”, but everyone else!

Mitch – Thank you for your quiet yet insightful views about how we did school.  Thanks for putting up with Paul for 4 entire classes. I am pretty sure pop it for prevention is going to go viral soon!

Serron – Thank you for being a part of my class in grade 10 and again in grade 12.  It meant the world to me and your friends that you were unofficially a part of our grade 11 class last year as well.  Thank you for your humour (most of the time), and your honesty about school. Good luck wherever life takes you 🙂

Owen – Thank you for all of your honesty and input in shaping this classroom.  You have been a huge supporter and have given such important constructive criticism over the last three years.  Good luck in postsecondary, I can’t wait to hear all about your van and how you traveled North America.

Mac – Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the class.  It was amazing to watch you during Genius Hour last year when you had the drive to learn as many card tricks as possible.  I hope you take that drive with you in life and continue to find what you are passionate about. I will have to say I won’t miss the discussions about bodily functions….

Mollie – Thank you so much for all your hard work, leadership and brainstorming in my class and as my peer teacher.  You have played a huge role in how this class has worked and I couldn’t have done this without all of your feedback and support.  

Morgan – Thank you for being in my grade 10 history class.  Your hard work in my class did not go unnoticed. We have missed you this past year.  I won’t ever forget our amazing trip to the War Museum and Difenbunker!!

Matthew – Thank you for being such a positive person all the time.  Your smile lights up the room each and every day. Thank you for finding the things that you are passionate about and going with it.  I will never forget your scrapbook that you made in grade 10 as well as your love of sports stats.

Brayden – Thank you for taking a risk and joining our class this past year.  Thank you for being open minded and trying out a new way of learning. You may have been uncomfortable at times but I am super proud of you for getting out of your comfort zone.  

Cameron – Thank you for taking a risk and putting yourself out there.  Thank you for coming into class each day for two years and enlightening me with everything that you read.  Thank you for inspiring me to start this blog. You have made me a better teacher.

Dana – Thank you for your quirky personality and willingness to put yourself out there.  Thank you for focusing on an issue that is taboo and getting a message out there that is so important.  Hopefully you Graham and Cam will come back for some brainstorming sessions with my new classes next year!

Anastasia – Thank you for being honest and jumping into this new way of learning this year.  Thank you for being so engaged in discussions and debates. Thank you for taking a risk and joining us on the podcast – that was your place to shine!!

Katherine & Fiona – I am not sure why but you two seem to have come as a package.  I couldn’t have been more lucky to have had you two land in my classes this year. Your openness and enthusiasm for the way we have done things year has been so refreshing.  You came in and embraced it right from the get go and have been huge advocates for a change in education. Fiona….find that book it needs to be published!!

Clay – Thank you for your jumping in and doing all kinds of things that you hadn’t done before.  It has been a pleasure watching you break out of your comfort zone and engage in so many different activities this semester.  You have truly embodied taking risks and putting yourself out there and I truly appreciate that.

Mia – Thank you for your entrepreneurial spirit.  It was a pleasure having you in the class last year and to see you work so well outside of the box.  I can’t wait to hear about all the amazing adventures you have. Don’t ever stop singing, you have the voice of an angel 🙂

Brady – Thank you for your honesty and feedback on the way school is and the way were doing things.  I appreciate your open dialogue and I look forward to seeing what you accomplish after HS.

Katrina – It has been so weird not having you in my classes this year.  Thank you for your hard work and contributions to so many worthy causes over the three classes that you took with me.  I will never forget the selfie video and your work on homelessness last year.

Hannah – Thank you for your keen interest in helping others especially animals.  I know you have had a tough go the last little while and I appreciate your hard work and perseverance in this course and the previous courses.  I will never forget how excited you get once you get an idea, it was always fun to watch the light bulb go off!

Odessa – Thank you for your sweet smile and willingness to try out this new way of learning.  I know it was a struggle in the beginning but I am so happy that you were able to lead us in some mindfulness and for sharing this with your classmates.

Anika – Thank you for taking as many courses with me as possible…even if you were in Florida, or Slovenia or Serbia or wherever you were.  Thank you for staying on top of things and jumping right back in as soon as you were home. I love your tenacity after you have returned to get back into things in full force.

Hunter – Thank you for sharing your passion for mental health and getting your message out there last year.  Your message was important and really hit home with many people. Thank you for being a great role model for younger girls in showing them that just because you are girl doesn’t mean you can’t play LAX with the boys.

Brooke – Thank you for your honesty and perseverance throughout last year.  Your ability to stay on top of things and keep a smile on your face was and is amazing.  Thanks for the chats in Ms Rusch’s room, I will miss those!!

Justin – Thank you for buckling down when needed.  While it is hard to separate yourself from the boys all the time I am impressed with your ability to hunker down when necessary.  Thank you for diving in this semester and raising money and awareness for the Parkdale Food Centre. You have set the bar high for those who will follow and for that I thank you.

Nicole and Thomas – Thank you for being my first group of HPA students and the true Guinea Pigs.  Those first couple of years went by so quickly but I will never forget the two of you and how you jumped in with this new way of learning.  Thank you Nicole for enlightening us about health and exercise – I am hope you still create that bike we talked about. And Thomas thank you for all of your enlightening and passion filled talks about mental health the school system – those will never be forgotten.

Quote Oh The Places You Ll Go Oh The Places Youll Go Quotes For Graduation Quotesgram

Congrats, Good Luck and Thank You from the bottom of my heart!

Mrs C 🙂

 

Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Are your teachers compliant, engaged or empowered?

 

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Today I came across this Twitter post from Disrupted and it made me think not only about my students but about teachers as well.  Could we parallel some of these statements for administrators and their teachers? Should we ask principals and senior staff these same questions?  Are your teachers compliant, engaged or empowered? Over my fifteen years of teaching I have been so fortunate to work with administrators who have provided an environment to make me feel empowered.  This in turn has allowed me to take risks and try new things. But sadly, I feel like many teachers do not feel this same way and I wonder why?  Is it because they, like our students are afraid to fail?  Do they not feel as though they work in an environment where failure is an option?  As I was writing this post I coincidentally came across a post by George Couros who suggested that “We can’t ask teachers to be innovative in their practice while administrators do the same thing they have always done.”  

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If change is really going to happen the whole system needs to wrap their heads around how to make it happen, especially at the higher level.  If an administrator creates an environment to make the “extraordinary happen” (The Wonderwall, Peter Gamwell) than teachers will feel empowered to step out of the box and try new things, just as our students will when we provide a safe learning environment.

When I started this blog I really wanted it to be a place where I share the good, the bad and the ugly of risk taking in the classroom.  So, I would like to share with you something that I tried this year that was good, bad and ugly all at the same time. I also think it is important to note that it would not have happened if I didn’t feel safe enough and empowered to try it out.  Last summer I came across an article about Iowa BIG, I read about it and was super stoked about the hands on, mentor lead and community connections that it entailed (see video below). I delved further in and decided that I was going to try a mini version of this in my grade 11 and 12 classes.

From my understanding, Iowa BIG’s program is a high school program where they are connected with community partners for part of the students day.  They have a location / warehouse for students where they work with community mentors who come in on a regular basis. At the beginning of the semester, the community partners come into the school and pitch problems that they would like help with.  It seems to me that they are problems within their organization that they have been trying to solve but are looking for some new ideas / solutions to the problems. The students get to choose who and what project that they work for and on. But before they choose and commit they have to make sure that they will be able to cover certain curricula while working on it.

So fortunately or unfortunately for my students I decided to try it out on a smaller scale. So I put a call out to the community and some friends and asked them to come into my classroom and pitch a problem that they have.   Each of the mentors came in and gave a short presentation about what they do and what the problem was that they wanted solved. The students then chose which mentor that they hoped to work with and I tried as hard as possible to give them either their top one or two choice. As the project got underway the mentors came in and worked with students, they decided roles and brainstormed as to what they were going to do. The students were really excited about this and couldn’t wait to get started.  The mentors continued to come in about once a month for the semester. We had the following different projects going on:

Dr. Franco Vincelli Chiropractor / Active Health Institute Clinic Owner had a group of students working on how to maximize the use of social media for clinic exposure.

Lisa Ricciuti Holistic Nutritionist / Owner of Integellient Eats had a large group of students who were tasked with finding out how to use social media for her business, research better packaging and creating a youtube channel.

Jamie Hughson General Learning Program Teacher had students working on providing learning opportunities for his students to work on financial literacy and social skills.

Stacey MacLellan Owner / Plato’s Closet Barrhaven had students working on trying to reach more of the local Barrhaven high schools.

Liz Rusch Student Success Teacher had students working on researching and redesigning the learning space for the students success room at out school.

Rich King Artist (and our Principal) had students trying to figure out different ways to sell his art.

As mentioned, when I pitched the project to the students they were super excited to connect with community members and get some real world experience.   And in the beginning, when the mentors came in and worked with the students things were amazing – the students were engaged and felt like there was real purpose…..but once the mentors left the students felt that it was hard to stay motivated.  When we had work periods it was apparent that they still felt that they were still in school and working on a traditional project. It was evident that in order to make this successful the students needed to be actively engaged in the community business or organization.  The reality was that we were limited to a 75 minute class, the students couldn’t leave the class to go and work with their mentor and it wasn’t realistic for me to ask our community mentors to come in on a more regular basis.  Some of the other failures were that the groups were too big so each student didn’t really feel as though they had a role in some groups and not every student got to work with the mentors that they really wanted to.   As for successes, all of our mentors were amazing, they were patient, gave up their free time to support my students and jumped in with this crazy idea 100%.  I can’t thank you enough for trying this out.  Everyone should get their aches and pains taken care of at Active Health Institute, pick up some granola or a smoothie from Intelligent Eats, shop at Plato’s Closet Barrhaven (seriously I have got some amazing things since connecting with them) donate to the WHS GLP program and the JMSS Student Success program and pick up a print from Rich King’s amazing paintings – all links above 🙂

In the end many of the students did create solutions for their mentors, some were quite successful while others were not so much.  In the end we had two groups provide suggestions to their mentors on social media use, a video for youtube was created, we had a very successful event with the GLP’s, the student success classroom was painted and parent council gave them $500 after they gave a small presentation to them, a photo shoot and contest was run to promote Plato’s Closet and some very scary phone calls were made to art studios to find out how to sell art.

BUT…the most important part of this entire experience is what I am going to do with the information that I have learned.  I will be reviewing my failures and my successes, the feedback from students and mentors and implementing it for a second time to see how it goes.  

I am so so fortunate to work in an environment where failure is an option. I have had so many administrators who have said yes to all of my crazy ideas (Thank you Karen Gledhill, Kevin Bush, Renald Cousineau, Tom Schultz and currently Rich King as well as Superintendents Peter Gamwell and Shawn Lehman and finally Director Jennifer Adams).  I think more teachers need to realize that most administrators are on board with trying out new things.  And for those administrators who are not quite there yet, if you want teachers to try new things you need to create the same type of environment that we are being asked to create for our students to feel empowered, a safe place to take risks and fail if need be.

My daughter is a hockey player so there’s often a lot of discussion about resilience and perseverance in our home and my husband likes to quote Wayne Gretzky when he said “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take”. I am going to keep taking shots and trying new things even if I fail so that I can make my classroom a more authentic and empowering place for my students.

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂 

R

 

Posted in Classroom Examples

Experiential Learning all the time, why not?

Unlearning in Barbados

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Last semester I taught a course called Human Growth and Development Throughout the Lifespan where we learn about the Physical, Cognitive and Social-Emotional development of human beings from birth to death.  Part of our unlearning in this course was to engage with community as much as possible. So we went into classrooms at the elementary school across the street from us, invited parents and babies to join us for a mini play group in our library, had a BYOG (Bring your own Grandparent) day where the students got to learn about the lives of some of our Grandparents, went to a retirement home as well as worked with an ELD (English Literacy Development) class from WHS.  All of these experiences have been so rich and I love watching the students learn as they DO, I am convinced that they are getting so much more out of this experience then they ever could from listening to me talk about it. One of our most favourite groups to work with over the past few years have been with the General Learning Program from Woodroffe HS.  This program has AMAZING teachers that do AMAZING things with their students. This is how five students and myself ended up unlearning in Barbados!!

In the GLP classes at WHS students learn by doing.  Many people would say, well this is how this population learns and the teachers in this program do a great job at providing these experiences for their students. It has been amazing working with them and seeing them learning as they DO.  In their program students interact with community for almost 90% of their time (if not more) in the program. They volunteer in the community, they take swimming lessons, do bus training, go winter camping, travel internationally, take cooking lesson, connect with the local community colleges, they do coop in various places depending on their capabilities and for many they end up with paid employment as a result.  Everything that they do has purpose.

Currently these students are working on the Duke of Edinburgh Award and are going for their gold medal.  You can check out the award info here.   Jamie Hughson who is one of the teachers in the GLP program is a huge advocate for these students and really challenges them and the people around them to understand that they can do anything. In order to achieve the gold medal the students must travel internationally. As a result Jamie arranged for 20 special needs students and 11 mainstream students to travel to Barbados.

I have been so fortunate to call Jamie a colleague and friend since I started teaching.  .  As a result we have had the opportunity to work together on some pretty amazing things. Jamie has been unlearning with his students for way over a decade and it his program that has inspired a lot of what we do in my classes even though I teach in the mainstream and work with students whose post secondary destinations are very different than his.  This year, what started out as a connection between my Human Development class and the GLP classes learning together turned into an international trip to Barbados….not too bad!!

So here I write this latest blog post from Christ Church Parish in Barbados.  For the past few days we have been learning about the geography and history of this beautiful island, watching history be made with an election that ended in all 30 seats in their parliament won by one party (Barbados Labour Party) and the inauguration of their first ever female Prime Minister (Mia Mottley), eating in the local fish markets and observing the culture, shopping the local markets and exploring the capital of Bridgetown, interacting with new students from different schools and different programs, met children from a local orphanage and brought them presents from Canada and have learned a lot about the GLP program, its teachers, its students and how it works. As we sit and have great discussions about all of these things  I have been thinking, why can’t our mainstream students program mirror that of Jamie’s and his GLP’s? Why can’t what we do at school have more purpose and connection to community? Why can’t our students – all students, no matter where their destination is after school be more involved in the community and do more hands on learning? I am not saying that some class time is not necessary at all, but sitting in desks, 4 periods a day for 75 minutes per class is not right. I have seen this change happen in schools like Iowa BIG and the Met Schools and wonder why this is not happening more?  Why do we need to segregate subjects into 75 minute periods when we could be learning cross curricularly in a way that makes sense to each individual student?

Check out Iowa Big here to see that it can happen!!

Now, I understand that learning in Barbados is not necessarily reality, however I think it is super important to point out how much learning has happened for my students while being here.  It is not the fact that we are in Barbados, but it is about the experience and I believe this can happen anywhere. I wonder if we approached learning in a way where we didn’t say…I have to teach this specific thing in this specific order, rather approach teaching by asking what do you want to learn, and then look to see what skills I (me being the teacher) will need to support you with while you learn it and then look at connecting curriculum / subjects afterwards to see what has been covered.  I asked my students what they think they have learned since being here and then quickly categorized their experiences into areas of study in school. Here is what we came up with…

Working with students with special needs (Human Growth & Development, Leadership)

Harrison’s Caves – SO cool, if you are ever in Barbados you have to go! (Science, Geography, History)

Visit to an Orphanage, meeting and playing with little kids (Human Dev, Social Justice & Equity)

Bus Tour of the Island (Geography, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, Politics)

Election –  first Female Prime Minister was voted in and sworn in – she won ALL 30 seats available in their parliament.  We have had a ton of discussions with Barbadians about this and what it means for their country. (Politics, Economics, Gender Studies)

Oistins Fish Market (Anthropology, World Cultures, Food & Nutrition, Science)

Converting US dollars to Bajan dollars (Maths)

Creating friendships, meeting new people from other countries (Hum Dev, Sociology, Geography, Politics)

This learning experience will be memorable and they have touched on so many different areas of curriculum all in one go.  Now couldn’t we do this in regular school? If you look at models like Iowa Big it is evident that this type of learning is not just for students with special needs, but can benefit everyone no matter where they are going in life.  As the school year winds down, I am already thinking of all the new unlearning that we will be doing next year.

Thanks for unlearning with us in Barbados 🙂

Cheers, R, J, J, H, S, E

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Posted in Classroom Examples

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Unlearning.

learning from failure
At the end of last semester, we tried something new out in our classroom. I wanted to give the students the opportunity to really own their learning.  I asked them, what do you want to learn, how do you want to learn it and once you have acquired the knowledge what will you do with it?  We sat down, created action plans and wrote them up on the wall. They were given two weeks to work on it and I checked in with them every few days to see where they were at and helped coach them if they needed it.  During the process, I was convinced that they were doing absolutely NOTHING and I was very uncomfortable. BUT to my surprise on the show and tell day they amazed me with what they had done. We had a workshop on the stock market, a TED Talk comedy routine and some really great discussions.  As a result, I was super excited for what this meant for my next semester class. I decided that my new class would look like this…

Grade 12 University World Issues

GOALS – Over the semester I hope that they will learn – self regulation, self-motivation, time management, empathy, resilience, perseverance, communication skills, self-advocacy, project management, social media skills, exposure to Sustainable Development Goal’s, doing things with purpose, passion.

Over the entire semester, they are to work on six things in total.  Some of them were non-negotiable but 4 / 6 of them were up to them.  The goal would be that we would have one – two days a week for students who wanted to lead discussions or debates.  The other days would be work periods or field trips and/or activities. The expectation was that they would work on all of their chosen individual/group projects over the semester.  They were expected to tweet about what they were doing on a regular basis so that I can see what they were working on and reflect on their connections to the SDG’s via a google form. Below was the initial layout for the course.

  1. Bring in as many guests as possible to expose students to issues related to the SDG’s
  2. Watch documentaries to fill in the gaps
  3. Create Action plans that would evolve over the semester
  4. Create a project list that included 6 projects:
    1. Action Plan
    2. Twitter
    3. Genius Hour
    4. Social Science Fair
    5. Other
    6. Other

At the beginning of the semester, I was super pumped and ready to try this out.  I was feeling confident and was ready. We started out by bringing all sorts of guests in, watching documentaries and learning all about World Issues…# 1 on my list was checked off = success.  Then it was time to get going on the next part of my plan. I sat with each student and we created an action plan for them using the same questions as above: What do you want to learn, how are you going to learn it and once you have learned it what will you do with the information.  Once again success and check……So then it was time to let go and let them learn…..this is when it got really uncomfortable for me as a teacher. Here are some of the issues and concerns that we are working on as we make our way through the semester

1. Students are lacking in their ability to self-regulate, can be unmotivated and are doing nothing.

This one is the toughest one yet.  There are days where students are doing nothing because they have so much freedom or are not quite sure what their next steps are.  There are very few students that have the confidence or ability to do stuff on their own. I have an amazing class and have got to know my students really well – each one of them is capable of amazing things, but why can’t they do it without the constant support of the teacher?  Even though I am always on edge and struggle with the fact they are not doing anything, I think they need to be given the opportunity to fail and recognize what and how they can do better. In my opinion, once they achieve success on their own this will build their confidence and hopefully inspire them to take more initiative the next time.

2. There is only one of me and 24  of them – how do I support each of them?

In my student’s defence, I totally get that sometimes they do need me.  This is also another huge struggle that I have. If we are to allow for personalized learning, it is so important that we have enough coaches and mentors in the room for students to bounce their ideas off of and give them the permission that they need to move forward.  My goal for next year is to open up my classroom to as many student teachers as possible and volunteers and assign mentors and coaches to each student.

3. How am I going to keep track of all of them?

This is by far the area that  I have failed the most at.  This continues to be a work in progress.  First and foremost I use Twitter, it has been a great way for me to see what they are doing as well as engage them in discussion related to the curriculum.  This has been my most successful way of tracking each of them but still has its limits. I have also tried putting them into groups so that we can chat about all of their projects and work on giving each other advice, this worked well for many of them.  For some reason, I have stopped doing this and am realizing that I should continue this. I have had students fill out reflections twice in the first half of the semester and have realized that they need to be doing this more often so that they can really look at what they have or haven’t done. And finally, I try to have meetings with students as much as I can to help keep them on track and give suggestions on what they are doing. This part of the unlearning process is very messy and I am often extremely frustrated. Today we started a new form of tracking in journals, they are going to answer weekly questions that look at what they did the past week and what they are going to do the next week…fingers crossed this one works out!! 

4. How am I going to mark this?

As mentioned the most successful thing that I use for tracking is Twitter.  At the beginning of the course, I showed them the Twitter expectations (rubric) and we created a Twitter checklist for them.  I try to give them feedback on their Twitter feed weekly – biweekly and give them a mark according to the rubric. I have also started assessing their reflections.  The most important part of all of this for me is the process. I want to see that they are setting goals, following through and reflecting on the successes and failures.  We have a reflection rubric that I used for the first part of the semester and I will continue to use it more frequently for the second half of the semester when looking through their journals.

On the flip side here are the amazing things that are happening as a result of letting them do what they want to do.  

Two students are arranging to get people to the blood bank to donate blood.

One student visited and participated in a community cooking session.  Inspired by this he raised over $200 for the Parkdale Food Centre and we are headed there next week to cook together and package the food to stock their freezers.

Five students have paired up with Blue Sky School to work with students who are middle school age on their projects.

Two students are leading monthly debates about different world issues.

About half the class has signed up to lead discussions related to the SDG’s.

Two students are figuring out how to start a podcast and have recorded their first episode on gender inequality in sport.

We have a yoga instructor coming in to lead our class as a result of one the students looking at Mental Health.

We have started a weekly podcast which has really made them step up and has given me another place to hear about what they are working on.

So there are nights that I question what I am doing, there are days where I lose my cool in class and there are many times I want to give up.  But I am dedicated and passionate about making this change so I will do as I preach, I will fail, learn and get better.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Cheers, R