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 Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

“My biggest issue through school is that I’ve never been interested in what I’m learning.”

Disengaged Students

I have had the pleasure of teaching Sean for the past two years.  Sean is very bright and probably one of the most interesting students I have ever taught. If you have been following this blog you will know that I have been trying to change my classroom so that it allows for everyone to find their passion and then connect it to the course curriculum. For most students finding that passion is a struggle, because they have never been asked, but once they go through the unlearning process it gets easier and easier. Sean is one of the lucky ones, he has found a passion already and is doing amazing things with it. Sean is an entrepreneur and at a very early age he began learning about dirt bikes and other recreational vehicles, he figured out how they run and how to fix them.  He then started buying old bikes, fixing them and then flipping them for a profit. How many of us could say that we were making a profit when we were 7 years old?? Here is the problem…..Sean hates school, has never felt all that smart and his skills outside of the classroom have never really been recognized. This drives me crazy, here you have a kid who has learned to learn on his own, taken it upon himself to start up a little business and feels unworthy to his counterparts at school for 6 hours of the day.  Are you kidding me???

So….over the past 2 years Sean and I have been working together to figure out how he can feel good about himself while in the confines of the school.  He was able to promote eating locally (he has a lot of friends who are farmers), advocate and make people aware of the stigma around going to college (University and College are viewed very differently in Canada – University being the one held in high regard) and more recently he is working on writing a blog about his views on education and how it needs to change.  He wrote and published his first post a few days ago and I had goosebumps. The post has only been out for a couple of days and I am not sure that he realizes the impact he is having on all those other students who feel the same way as him. I have already had students come to me and say that his post was amazing and that they really connected with it….this is, in my opinion why we need to unlearn how we do school.

I asked Sean and his Mother if I could feature his post on my blog and they said yes!! Please read his post below and follow his blog The Fault in Our Education for the rest of the semester – he says he’s got lots more where that came from.  

He and students like him are why I am on this unlearning crusade.  There are more out there then we realize.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

Sean Swayze

My  name is Sean Swayze and I’ve disliked school as long as I remember, School for me has never been something I looked forward to or enjoyed. I grew up in Arnprior, Ontario and attended a public school named AJ Charbonneau. Through public school I was always a pretty average student, I never did exceedingly well but I wasn’t necessarily struggling either. My biggest issue through school is that I’ve never been interested in what I’m learning. Most of the time as I sat in class, my teacher would talk about math or history and I’d be sitting at the back most likely zoned out thinking about Dirt bikes or searching kijiji on my phone as I hid it under my desk. I Guess I never really cared about school, I only did what I had to in order to get through with good enough marks that my parents wouldn’t give me a hard time. I guess I struggled to find the will within myself to put in all the extra effort in order to get an “A” in class. In my mind I just never saw the bigger picture about how memorizing the elements of the periodic table would help me later on in life. The things that really mattered to me were the skills that I learned outside of school. I always had a drive to learn more about dirt bikes and small engines. My parents would make fun of me as it would be almost all I’d talk about, whether it was riding with my friends after school or begging them to lend me money for new parts. No matter what it was I’d make sure no one else got a word in at the dinner table.

My dad had bought me my first dirt bike on my 7th birthday, I can still remember it perfectly. As I started to ride it became my addiction and even if it meant doing laps around my lawn for hours it didn’t matter to me. But then i’d run into problems, My bike would breakdown or something would happen and I wouldn’t be able to ride for days or sometimes weeks. I am, and always have been a very impatient person. I couldn’t handle waiting on dealers to fix my bike and the repairs would get really expensive. I started to want to fix the bike by myself but my dad had no mechanical skills so I decided i’d teach myself. It definitely didn’t happen overnight but now after almost ten years of riding I know the parts of a dirt bike inside and out. It turns out that mechanics was something that came quite easily to me and I really enjoyed it.

Now here I am in grade 11, a student who still doesn’t understand why I’m here day after day. Now I’m not saying school is completely pointless, I’ve definitely learned a few things through my years of school, such as if you don’t show up for class both your teachers and parents will most likely be mad at you. But in all seriousness a student like me who has a different skill set does not have the opportunity to thrive in the education system that we have established today. Just because our skills are not recognized by the way our education system evaluates us it means we are graded poorly and made to feel of a lesser value. In reality we are just as smart but it’s a different type of smart. I have a friend who struggles to read and write, he has always hated school and often wonders why he is there too. By other students he is told he is dumb, yet he can rebuild a motor on his own, he knows how to weld and he has great mechanical abilities, some of the students who are getting extremely good grades struggle to turn a wrench let alone change the oil in their vehicle.

I believe that our education system does fit for some people, they learn the skills that they will need for their future but our students need more options. A student like me who has a different set of skills needs a way to develop those skills and focus on them earlier in their education. I have done so much work that I’ve had no interest in and because of that I’ve felt like I wasted my time, so many of those things I will never use in life, instead I could have been using that time to instead focus and develop the skills that I have strengths in and prepare for my future. This would give me a better opportunity to succeed in what I want to do. Right now in my second semester I have become pretty careless with my education. Summer is just around the corner and I only have a few weeks left until I can go back to grinding out shifts at work and spending every spare minute working on my truck or dirt bike. School has become so seemingly pointless to me that I usually don’t even bring a backpack to school anymore. I took co-op in the morning as a chance for me to get out of a regular classroom and to actually get a taste for what it’s like in the trade. After co-op I come back to school for my final two classes. And to be honest when I’m here it’s not always that terrible but my school day is 7 hours in total. Not to mention the hour drive here, so in total I’m spending 9 hours of my life 5 times a week just to be here. Every week when I look back on what I’ve learned school seems so inefficient to me, 45 hours of my time or more has been spent either here, or getting here and I just feel like there are so many other things that my time could have been better spent on.

Thanks for reading, I now have to leave as I have a dirt bike to buy.

Please follow Sean’s blog here The Fault in Our Education.

Posted in Why Unlearn?

Why not Alternative Options for All?

Alternative-option

It is my understanding that alternative schools are for students who have not been successful in mainstream for various reasons.  I think these schools along with the Ontario Student Success programs are fantastic for the students that they serve. But my question is why can’t we have alternative classes / programs for all students in every school?  I am sure there are funding issues as I know that the alternative sites and the Student Success programs have a much lower student to teacher ratio, but if we had alternative programs in every HS then wouldn’t the need for alternative and Student Success classes be minimized?

This to me is another way that we need to unlearn how school is done.  I am a dreamer and have a vision for school, but am also realistic and know that this will take time.  Students, teachers, administrators, parents and society as a whole have an idea about what school is. Students should show up to classes on time, ready to work, be quiet, wait for instruction, change classes when the bells ring and eat in the allotted time.  They should work hard, especially in the maths and sciences because they are most important, they shouldn’t challenge their teachers, and if it is not in the curriculum there isn’t time to cover it.

Alternative programs focus on the following:

“Students who attend an alternate program are seeking an alternative to the traditional high school setting with a different delivery model. Alternate programs offer students an opportunity to learn at their own pace. Students work on one course at a time, and are able to complete six or more courses in an academic year. The focus is on student directed learning. Student progress is monitored closely and students are held accountable for their work.” (Elizabeth Wynwood Alternative School)

How can we make this happen in mainstream???

I would say ¼ of our students come to school motivated to work, ready to learn and eager to get good grades. These students are engaged inside and outside of the classroom and will be successful in life because they value learning and honestly love the way that they are taught and school in general.  The second ¼ are motivated by marks, they want to be successful and do what they are told. They are smart and have figured out the system, they are compliant and do what needs to be done to earn their mark and move on, I would argue that not a whole lot of lifelong learning goes on for these students.  The third ¼ are doing what they need to do to get by, they are not causing problems but are super disengaged, they get good enough grades to keep their teachers and parents off their backs but are so checked out that they have really learned nothing at all. And the last ¼ are our at risk students. Many of these students suffer from mental health issues, family issues and / or learning difficulties. They have often had horrible experiences in school and have given up and don’t see the value in school.  There is definitely very little learning happening for this group, other than school is not a fun place to be 😦

So if ¾ of a schools population is only motivated by marks, are disengaged or have written off school completely, shouldn’t we be unlearning what happens in our schools?

Part of my vision or argument is that there should be “alternative” programs in every school.  I am not suggesting that all 3/4s of a schools population needs to be in an alternative program or that it should be the only way things are taught, but what if ¾ of the population had the option to do their schooling alternatively?  

Currently students who wish to attend an alternative program have to fit a certain criteria to be put on a waitlist (to me this is saying something about traditional schooling, just sayin’).  What if the criteria was altered a little bit so that those who really need it can get in and those who want it can get in as well?

I often have these conversations with my students and it is really interesting to get their perspectives.  I asked them if they had the option to be in an alternative program for their four years in HS, would they do it? All of these students have been in my class that is somewhat of an alternative program so they have experience with both.  I indicated what group my students and feel like they fall into at the end of their quotes. Here are some of their thoughts.

Yes I would. It would be nice to feel like you are headed in the right direction on a daily basis- I think a lot of kids (or at least me) feel like were just going to school everyday and that our careers are another chapter in life. I actually feel like I’m passing time and days are just going by as I sit in class and complete the work assigned. Part of that is very easy and comfortable, but to me personally it’s also very uncomfortable- it makes me feel like I’m wasting time every single day and that I should be taking it upon myself to start my own career in my spare time so that I actually have something going for me when I’m done high school. I think to have more respect for our own education we need to feel like something is actively happening in an area that we are interested in. If the alternative program was an option and students were choosing to be in it- everyone would be surrounded by people that have a passion to be learning in that different way. If you are surrounded by people who care and want to make change or are actively motivated than you become more focused and motivated.” Gr 11 student (disengaged group)

“I’m not sure if I’d be able to attend a school like that. I believe I’m so used to the traditional way of learning I’d be frustrated with everything. I usually like a lot of organization and when people tell me exactly what to do. But on the other hand, I really like the way your class is and the ideas behind the blue sky school. If my parents permitted it, I might give it a shot.” Gr 11 student (compliant group)

“I’d prefer a combo because on days when you’re just not feeling it, traditional style forces you to hear what teachers have to say. I’d like interest lead as well because it’s more fun and in the end I learn more!” Gr 10 student (compliant group)

“I’d be fully interested in attending a school like that for my four years, as long as I would get the same sort of high school experience. I’d embrace a schooling system like this because I think that I can excel and learn more than in a regular school.” Gr 11 student (compliant group)

“I would like to mention that our schooling is designed for auditory and visual learners. No doubt about it. We are told we have to become those types of learners instead of finding a method or developing a program for kinesthetics  learners which would increase performance overall as a community.” Gr 10 student (compliant group)

“Yeah definitely. If I had the chance to completely re-do high school and focus on my own education I’d get the chance to discover the things that I’m passionate about. It seems like something students going into gr9 aren’t able to do but that’s only because we aren’t given the option to learn about what truly interests us. One of the biggest things that students need nowadays is a network. Putting us into school for 4-8 years as we develop as adults leaves us unable to grow our professional network within the community.” Gr 12 student (disengaged group)

While these students all fit into different groups, I think it is evident that they would be interested in having the option within their own school as none of them would qualify for an alternative program right now.

So, I am going to continue to unlearn, continue to teach my students to unlearn, continue to inform parents about other possibilities and keep trying out new things in the classroom to give my students an alternative option.  But I would love for someday this to be the norm. To end on a positive note, I am super excited that next year my school will be offering a new dual credit course where the students will have more time to unlearn with me. It is not happening until second semester 2019, but my brain is already full of ideas.  It is proof that change is coming!!

Does your school offer an alternative program within a mainstream HS?  If so, I would love to hear all about it. Please connect with me 🙂

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, R

 

Posted in Why Unlearn?

Teach Skills not Content

skills

A few years ago I found a list of essential life skills that I wanted my students to use as their curriculum in my classroom.  We decided that we would use the course material to work on those essential skills – you can see them below. For the life of me I can not find the site that I borrowed these from.  It was definitely somewhere in the UK…sorry!!

Learning to Learn

  • Self Directed Learning skills
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Right mindset
  • Emotional resilience
  • Grit

Learning to Think

  • Independence & creative thinking
  • Innovative problem solving
  • Judicious decision making

Learning to Listen & Tell

  • Narrative skills
  • Persuasive skills
 

Learning to Collaborate

  • Empathy
  • Accepting diversity
  • Teamwork

Learning to Earn & Give

  • Financial literacy
  • Philanthropy

Learning to Be

  • Self awareness
  • Pursuit of goals larger than own interest

Little did I know that our board already had something called EXIT OUTCOMES.  I found a lot of overlap with the essential life skills that we had been focusing on. Now we use the combination of the two as our curriculum.

exit outcomes
I want my students to be ok with failing and willing to take risks, learn to be able to learn on their own, to be self-motivated and self-regulated, confident, feel valued, motivated and excited for their next chapter.  I want them to leave with a set of essential life skills that no matter what content they learned they will have the ability to be successful in anything that they want to pursue. They may not all take the same path in getting there, but I want to know that they will have the ability to get there because of this toolbox of skills that they possess.

Just in Time learning vs Just in Case Learning

I listened to Sergio Marrero: Just In Time Learning or Just In Case? on Don Wettricks StartedUp podcast a month or so ago and was intrigued.  Marrero talks about College in the US and how he feels that there is a need for a post secondary option that focuses on Just in Time Learning rather than Just in Case learning.  He suggests that a lot of traditional Colleges focus on the concept of teaching students what they might need in the future rather than what they need right now. I would argue that this is the same for our elementary and high schools.  It has been the teachers job to prepare students for their next steps, in elementary school they teach a lot of just in case you need this in high school, in high school we teach just in case you might need this in post secondary and beyond.  But is it time to get rid of this model? Rather than sitting through classes that bore some students to death, why can’t we work on the skills that the students will need later in life by finding out what students are interested in learning right now and connecting curriculum to that?  I am trying this out in my Social Science classes but, the question that I have been pondering is how do we do that in all subject areas, is it even possible? As mentioned I teach in the Social Sciences and any time I have this conversation with people it is always, that is great and I can see how that works in the Social Sciences, but it would never work in Maths or Science.  I am on a mission to prove that teaching skills over content can happen in any class. What I want to figure out is what set of skills would someone need in order to pursue something that they did not go to school for. For example if I wanted to be an engineer but did not take maths and sciences in high school or university what set of skills would I need to eventually become an engineer?

I have often wonder where my set of tools came from.  I can hypothesize that first and foremost they come from home, some genetic, other activities and experiences that I was exposed to over my lifetime and finally school.  I am so fortunate to have been brought up in a household with two amazing parents who were great role models for me. My mother is a retired elementary school teacher who was so passionate about everything that she did at school, she is a true leader.  She ran anti bullying programs, worked with inner city kids and modeled perseverance and lifelong learning when she worked on her degree by taking night school all while raising a family and working full time. My father was the GM of a Steel Mill who from day one instilled in his girls that they would be strong, confident and independent.  He never treated us like “girls” and taught us to throw a baseball, drive a boat and understand how to fix things if we were stranded, meet deadlines and always be on time. He modeled confidence, compassion and empathy and was there for us when ever we needed him. I also played competitive volleyball for an organization that was coached by Catholic School Teachers.  While volleyball was important to them, the way we conducted ourselves in public and with each other was one of their top priorities. Sport taught me perseverance, good health, teamwork and collaboration. My teammates were like my sisters and we learned so much together. We travelled a lot and learned a lot of life skills while on the road. We learned about philanthropy and giving back. I know for a fact that the time spent with this group is a huge part of who I am today. As for school,  I would say that I definitely learned how to read and write, numeracy and how to interact with teachers and peers. However, I find it hard to figure out what about who I am today is a result of my schooling. I would argue – not all that much.

In my fourth year of University I worked at the GAP and H & R Block as a receptionist. While I was working at H & R Block I learned a lot about tax preparation. As exciting as that sounds, I decided to take the course that would allow me to prepare taxes.  I have a degree in history with a minor in geography. One would think that I would need some sort of math or accounting background to do this but I didn’t and I was still able to successfully complete the course and prepare some taxes – this would be a case for some just in time learning.  

Skip ahead a year, after I finished university I decided to take some time off before going to teachers college to enjoy life and work. I ended up getting a job as a receptionist at an accounting firm.  I worked here for about a year. While I was there my bosses approached me and asked me what my future plans were. I told them that I wanted to be a teacher and was hoping to go to teachers college. It was pretty tough to get into teachers college at the time so I wasn’t sure I would get in.   They sat me down and asked me if I would be interested in getting into accounting. While I was flattered, I knew that working in an office was not for me. But, what I am wondering is this – if I had all the tools needed to learn something that was not related to what I learned in school would I be able to do it?  In my experience I think yes. If I really wanted to become an accountant, I could have pursued this because I would have been motivated, confident and would learn what I needed to learn in order to make it happen. I wouldn’t have used much from my just in case learning, but I would have to pull from the skills from my tool box.  Now the question is, can all people do this if they are equipped with the right tools before heading out into the “real world”?

I am curious to hear people’s thoughts on this.  How much of who I am today and what I am capable of comes from my just in case learning in high school when I was very disengaged???

Thanks again for reading 🙂

Cheers, R

 

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

 

Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Creating an Authentic Audience, using Social Media in the Classroom

twitter

If students had the ability to connect and share with real live people around the world on a daily basis what might they think? We tried it out and this what they had to say about it.

“I like how it helps me learn/acquire information in an interesting way. For once I look forward to class!”

“Using Twitter in the classroom unlocks a whole new way of interacting with your peers, sharing what you’re learning instead of summarizing it in a report, and using this platform to make and inspire change in the world, big or small.”

“Gives us the chance to showcase our learning and connect with real people in our field of study.”

“What I like about using Twitter in the classroom is I get to connect with people I otherwise would not get to. I also enjoy being globally aware and using Twitter gives me that opportunity.”

Read below to see how over the years I have incorporated Social Media into my classroom.

Twitter used to replace paper…

I started using Twitter in my classroom in about 2011.  I had my students create accounts and pretend that they were historical characters.  They had to tweet as if they were living in the time period. I wanted my students to learn how to use a 21st-century tool all the while covering the history curriculum.  I would say that it was successful and the students did a good job getting into character and tweeting out interesting stuff as their historical character. This was great, but it wasn’t real or authentic.  It was a great starting point for my students and me to learn about Twitter, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that I was just replacing paper or a discussion rather than really teaching my students how to use Twitter properly.

Twitter as a platform to act in place of paper, but starting to evolve into collaboration, becoming globally aware and connecting to the outside world.

Skip ahead a couple of years, between 2013 – 2016 I came across two different blog articles and heard a keynote speaker that inspired me to change what we were doing with Twitter.  I realized that we needed to learn how to use Twitter to achieve an authentic audience, rather than just use it to replace the way we used to do things.

Any Miah – Social Media as a Research Tool

Early on, Andy inspired me to use Twitter with my students to connect with the world and get up to date research right from the horse’s mouth.  To this day I still use the quote from this 2013 article on Social Media to show how we can use it.

“These days, I receive more invitations to speak and collaborate via Facebook & LinkedIn today than I do by email. I’d even go as far as to say that email is moribund. I mean, really, who has time to read all the emails they receive, let alone reply to them? I find more resources through Pinterest and Google Scholar than I do via my library. I meet more people with whom I share common research interests through Twitter than I ever did at academic conferences. I co-author and edit university documents in Google Drive saving hours of time spent sharing versions of drafts, sometimes working in real time on one document with over 10 people. I am also one of those people who has switched from Endnote to Mendeley, preferring the convenience of a multi-platform application, which I can install onto my home machines as well, without having to go through university IT.

What about journals or conferences, I hear you ask? Are these not still primary vehicles of research development? Certainly, they remain important, but the point is that they are each increasingly being delivered by social media as well. Furthermore, we can digest a lot more content because of these platforms, if we use them well. I no longer visit journal websites or bother with email alerts about new issues. Instead, the RSS feeds of journals go straight into my social media environments, as soon as they are published. The content comes to me, saving hours of search time.”  Andy Miah

Adam Schoenbart – How to Use Social Media in the Classroom

I came across Adam’s blog The Schoenblog via Edutopia when I was trying to figure out how to use Social Media in the classroom.  His post “WHY I WANT MY STUDENTS USING SOCIAL MEDIA: REASON #1 – COMMUNITY”, really helped me figure out how I would implement the use of Twitter in my classroom.  On another note, Adam’s blog inspired me to write my blog, I really liked that he showcased his successes and failures when trying out new things.  You should really check it out if you are looking for some inspiration.

Kevin Honeycutt – Authentic Audience

In 2016 I went to a conference held by our board and Kevin Honeycutt was the keynote speaker.  I loved everything about his presentation, he was engaging, entertaining and more importantly had a super important message – we need to make things authentic for our students.  He stood up at the front of the room using his Godium that was created for him by students. He gave students a real problem and they came up with a solution, built it and now he uses it everywhere he goes.  Listening to and meeting Kevin has changed my teaching practice and has inspired me to try so many different things. In relation to social media, it really made me think about how we could use it to really find a voice for students and how they could complete things that had purpose.

Community Connections – Michaela Milligan and Elle Mills

So I did some research on my own to figure out how we could use Twitter in a more authentic way. As a result, Twitter in our classroom evolved into: students following each other, following organizations that related to the courses that they were taking, tweeting about everything that they were learning and reaching out and trying to get their message out there (but I really didn’t know how to do this – it was all trial and error).  My students and I have worked together on trying to figure a lot of this out. On the recommendation of my students, we even invited Youtuber Elle of the Mills into the classroom to tell us about how she was able to jump from 10,000 subscribers to 30,000 in less than a month (She has 1.2 million subscribers now). While I don’t necessarily agree with some of the content that she posts, she was very professional and helped us out a ton. We also reached out to a former student who is taking a degree in Fine Arts with a minor in Social Media at Ryerson University (Yes this degree exists and it is SO cool).  Michaela Milligan has come in twice now to share everything that she has learned in her program about Social Media and took the time to critique what we were doing.  I am forever grateful for coming into my class when she comes home to visit her family.

Skyfall Blue – Fadi Ghaby, Social Media expert

Halfway through last semester, I felt like we were still not using Twitter in our classroom to its full capacity.  I contemplated taking a course on Social Media from our local community college to learn more, but I just didn’t have the time.  So instead I emailed about 30 different social media marketing companies in Ottawa and asked if anyone was up for giving us some free advice on how we could use Social Media to its full potential.  I had one response Fadi Ghabi from Skyfall Blue who came to our rescue.  Fadi came in and analyzed what we were doing, gave us some suggestions on how we could maximize our Twitter usage and explained to us the who, what, where, why and how of Social Media.  We have been so very fortunate to have had him back a second time this year and his continued support via Twitter. Fadi even had us trending in Ottawa on the day that he came to visit and introduced us to local influencers Twenty York Street and Canadian Blog House who have been graciously supporting my students throughout the year.

Now in our classroom we use Twitter to create networks, to find up to date research, to connect with professionals, to publish work, to advocate on behalf of different organizations, to share information about the course, to follow the news and accounts that relate to our curriculum, to show our audience that we are real people, to fundraise and most importantly to have an authentic audience.

You can follow our class hashtags to see what the students are up to at Grade 10 Canadian History  #jmsshpa10, The Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology #jmsshpa11 and World Issues  #jmsshp12.

If you have any questions about what or how we are using Twitter please do not hesitate to contact me!

Thanks for reading 🙂

R