Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

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

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

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

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

Starting  my Students on an Unlearning Journey

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

Click here to view my powerpoint Welcome to HPA Social Sciences

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

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

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

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

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

“How am I going to get marks?”

“I was super uncomfortable”.

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

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

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

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

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

“No guidelines scares me…..”

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

“I thought it was interesting and exciting.”

“Agreed with it.”

“Agreed that education system is outdated.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

Cheers,

R

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

Posted in Classroom Examples

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

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

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

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

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

How my courses work

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

Grade 10 & 11 syllabus for the semester:

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

 Inquiry Steps:

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

 

Grade 12s

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

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

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

Cheers,

R