Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

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

try fail learn repeat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

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

 

Posted in Classroom Examples, 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