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?

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

letting-go

We have all heard the latest buzzwords in education: differentiation, inquiry, innovation and creation and more recently student centred.  In discussion with colleagues it is evident that many teachers would like to try a more student centred classroom, but feel that there are many barriers in the way and just not quite sure how to go about doing it.  Over the past five years, I have been on a journey of figuring out how to let go. These are some of the frequently asked questions and concerns that I get when talking to other teachers about moving toward a student centred classroom.

Class size

When you have a class of 25 – 30 students how do you track what they are doing if they are all doing different things?

How do you cover all of the curriculum?

If I don’t have every student cover all of the curriculum I am not doing my job.

Don’t you feel out of control?

I struggle with this one all the time, I think it is in every teacher’s nature to want to be in control.  If I give up control of my classroom what is going to happen in my classroom? If I don’t tell them what to do they, they won’t do anything!  How do you get them to work, how do you keep them on track?

Grades

If I have to put marks on a report card I have to have a way to gather a grade, how do I mark 30 different things?

Permission

Do I have the permission of my administrator and parents to try this out?  What will be the backlash if it doesn’t work?
All of the above are legitimate concerns and I struggle with most of them daily. In this post, I would like to share with you how I have worked with and against a lot of these concerns to create a student centred classroom.

We need to get over our fears and jump in!

As you may have noticed in my previous posts, I am on a mission to change the way we do things in education.  I have gone to many workshops, heard people speak, watched TED Talks, read articles, joined twitter chat groups and come to the conclusion that I just have to do it.  While the above barriers exist I have decided that I need to get over my fears and just try some stuff out.

I often have discussions with colleagues about what a student centred classroom looks like.  A lot of them want to try it but are concerned that nothing will get done. I have to agree with them when they say this.  By the time students are in grade 12, they have spent 14 years being told to sit down, be quiet and wait for instructions. If all of a sudden you ask them the questions,  what do you want to learn, how do you want to learn it and what will you do once you have gathered your information, they will not know how to answer this and when given time to do this they will do nothing, mostly because they are lost not because they don’t want to do things.  Self-regulation needs to be scaffolded and introduced at a young age. A perfect example of where this is happening is at Blue Sky School in Kanata, ON.  At BSS they are completely student centred and are teaching students as young as ten years old to drive their own learning.

I recently came across this sketchnote by Trevor Mackenzie entitled Types of Student Inquiry from his book Inquiry Mindset.  It is a great representation of what I have been doing in my classes, as I have gradually let go of control and put into the student’s hands.

inquiry steps

 

What I have found is that the gradual steps to independence and autonomy in the classroom are necessary.  What I am doing is by no means perfect but this is what I have found works.

In grade 10 and 11 I follow the outline that I posted in How do I incorporate inquiry, innovation and all that other stuff they want me to bring into my classroom?  Students have the freedom to choose issues that they are passionate about and then they follow our Inquiry steps outlined below.

Grade 10 & 11 syllabus for this 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?  (NEW THIS SEMESTER FOR GR 10s)
  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 an advocate for it.
  • Create a media piece to gain attention, followers etc. post it – over and over and over to get traction
  • 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 gives themselves next steps for their next one.

After my grade 10s and 11s go through the inquiry process twice we are going try out something that has very few rules to test out their ability to go solo with me as their support.   They will be asked the question what do you want to learn, how do you want to go about learning it and once you’ve learned it what will you DO with the information. From there they sit with a mentor and map out an action plan that we write on the walls.  I tried this out with my grade 11s and 12s last semester and the things that came from it were amazing!! I have to admit that while this was happening last semester I felt totally out of control and really felt that nothing was happening, but when the students shared what they had done I was blown away.

So, for this semester I decided that we would run the entire grade 12 World Issues course by giving students choice in everything that they do. At the beginning of the course I brought in about 10 – 15 different people from different organizations to tell us about issues that are faced worldwide.  We watched documentaries and had discussions. They followed organizations and people that related to the course and built a network on Twitter. Then they were asked what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn it and what will they do with the information once they have learned about it. It has taken almost 1.5 months to sort out what everyone was doing, but I think we are on track now.  Each student in my class has filled out a project sheet that has at least 6 items on it which are the things that they will complete by the end of the semester. Some examples include, two students have chosen to lead things that they like doing in other classes such as debates or watching documentaries that relate to the course curriculum, we sit down with a calendar and map out what days those will happen, the other students in the class can participate in them if they want to but can choose to opt out of them if they wish.  Another student would like us to do yoga as a class (she is researching mental health), and has asked her yoga instructor to come in and lead a class, again this gets put on the class calendar. Other examples are visiting and working with the elderly in a retirement home, organizing a day for some of us to go to a food centre to cook and freeze meals for their clients, rallying and organizing students and teachers to give blood, bringing in dogs to class for some pet therapy, starting a #nostraw movement, leading discussions, working with Blue Sky School students and so many other things! What I struggle with and have been working on is how to keep everyone organized and on track.  One of the things that the students are expected to do each day when they come to class is to look at the calendar and see what is happening. If there is a group activity, as mentioned before they can opt in or out, they then have to use a sheet that we adapted from Blue Sky School and they have to map out their route for the class. They have to indicate specifically what they will work on and check it off as they go. We keep track of their project list, a calendar for each of them and their daily route maps in a binder for both of us to access. The hope is that when it comes time to reflect on their progress they can refer back to what they said they were going to do and see if they actually did it.

Sorry for the uber long paragraph, I am taking a breath now.  This is just a snip-it of what I am trying out and it is ever evolving.  I am happy to share anything that I have mentioned above. I apologize if it is hard to follow, my description is exactly like my classroom, controlled chaos.  Let me know if you want to know more and we can connect!!

If you are interested, I plan to outline in more detail how we use Social Media, how we cover curriculum and how we come up with grades in future posts.

Thanks for reading!!

R