Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

What are the roles of teachers and students in an inquiry classroom?

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I am currently taking a course where we were asked to define the roles of the teacher and students in an inquiry based classroom…..so I thought I might write a quick post about it.  

Teachers Role

As more and more classrooms are shifting from teacher lead lessons to a more student centred student lead approach, it is evident that the roles of both teacher and student will need to change.  The “sage on the stage” or teacher knows best model is no longer relevant in our ever changing world. By no means does that mean that the teacher no longer has control over what is happening, it is that the teacher is no longer the keeper of all knowledge, as we now have access to anything and everything at our fingertips.  In this type of classroom the teacher needs to learn to let go and become a facilitator / mentor to their students. Teachers need to become the CEO of their classroom with many projects happening under them. In my opinion, in an inquiry classroom a teacher’s role is to:

  • Take Risks – be ok with failure.
  • Expose students to new ideas and issues that are in our world.
  • Provide opportunities for their students outside of the classroom.
  • Help ignite passion within their students.
  • Support their students in finding ways to explore those passions.
  • Help their students learn where and how to find credible information.
  • Support students on learning time management skills.
  • Connect curriculum to their passion projects.
  • Connect students to experts and community members that can support their projects.
  • Model the love of learning and promote lifelong learning.
  • Advocate on behalf of your students.
  • Help students reflect on their learning – what worked, what didn’t and what will you do differently next time?

Students Role

I have slowly moved from a teacher centred classroom, to a teacher / student centred classroom, to a complete student centred passion based classroom over the past 5 years or so.  My grade 12s have been a part of this for the last three years. When trying to think about what the role of the student is, I thought who better to ask then them.  This is what they had to say.

“In your classroom failure is okay and we are allowed to fail and it won’t be a bad thing or effect our marks. It is actually a good thing in this class. We are allowed to talk through all sorts of issues we have in the classroom to figure them out. It’s like everyone is apart of your project and contributes to it even though is just your project. We all like to see each other succeed. We also are allowed to use our phones and computers pretty much all the time without getting in trouble.”

“What became evident in your classroom is that it wasn’t a regular learning system that people have been used to for the last 10 years. We are allowed and encouraged to  delve in to our own minds and reveal are true passions. From there we are granted access to further research upon what we are passionate about in the inquiry process. We are also expected to do more self-directed learning as opposed to the traditional standards of memorize what the teacher says and study for the test. So our role is to become the guide to our own studying. We are encouraged to go on our phones and use twitter and other media devices to help enhance our learning. Whereas, in most traditional classrooms the only time you would be allowed to take out a media device is your computer when taking notes. We are still expected to work hard in both types of classrooms but we are allowed to fail in yours and make mistakes without getting a failing mark. We are also encouraged to talk about our failures over the course and reflect on them (in your classroom), as opposed to failing on a test and never looking at it again and missing that learning opportunity.”

“I find that I can help some less experienced students and I’m able to think bigger when it comes to things that I can do for school work.  We’ve been planning out our project, getting in contact with Parkdale Food Center, and I help other students figure out issues that they want to look at.”

So what I get from these students is that their roles are to:

  • Think big and figure out what they are passionate about.
  • Have an open mind.
  • Take Risks – don’t be afraid to fail.
  • Think creatively.
  • Support one another in their learning.
  • Guide their own learning.
  • Be more self directed.
  • Learn to time manage.
  • Use non traditional ways of researching.
  • Connect with community.
  • Reflect on their learning and learn from successes and failures.

 

If you look at the two lists they are quite similar.  Both teacher and student need to have an open mind, not be afraid of taking risks and failing and to support each other in their learning.

I feel as though I have left a few things out – I would love to add to these lists for future discussions.  Please let me know your thoughts.

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

R

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

Overcoming obstacles when transitioning to a passion based classroom.

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The countdown is on here in Ottawa and we will head back to school in T-minus 1 week. I am super excited to get back into the classroom as I am feeling relaxed and recharged after some time away from school and have enjoyed some amazing family time and travel throughout the summer.  I have also been reflecting on the past school year, reading books such as A More Beautiful Question, Social Leadia, Code Breaker, The Wonderwall and Pure Genius, listening to podcasts, chatting with like minded people, connecting with community people and organizations that we will be working with in the fall and have been wrapping my head around what next years classes will look like.  

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Although I am excited and feel rejuvenated I am still anticipating a few roadblocks / obstacles in my unlearning journey. Some obstacles I have already dealt with, while I am sure there will be new ones that pop up as we go.  Below are three of the most frequently asked questions I get about transitioning into a passion based / inquiry classroom.  If you are not sure about the unlearning that is happening in our classroom you can check out some of my earlier posts that outline our journey.

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

Students are suffocating and we need to do something about it.

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

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

Creating an Authentic Audience, using Social Media in the Classroom

 

FAQ

 

Does your Admin support this type of learning?

YES!!  I would argue that most administrators have jumped on this bandwagon and are looking for teachers to take risks and try out new things.  They too are unlearning and figuring out how to support these types of classrooms. I have found that communication is key in getting support of your administrators.  Explain to them the what, why and how of your vision and I can guarantee that they will be on board.

Roadblock: Board policies – Some of the biggest issues that I have faced when trying to change things up are understanding all the board policies, rules and regulations and staying on top of paperwork.   The unlearning process can be tough and these rules can be a huge deterrent for teachers, as most are rule followers. Experiential learning can be tough when there are all kinds of hoops to jump through.  Also as a teacher it is often tough to stay on top of all of the paperwork during the school year.

Suggestion:  Obviously there are rules that cannot be broken, but having an open dialogue about some of the archaic rules and regulations can help in finding ways to work within them.  When it comes to paperwork, work with whoever is in charge of field trips and get them to help you with it at the beginning of the school year. I am super lucky to have an administrator who helps me with it all 🙂  I am hoping to get as much paperwork completed before school starts so that it can be sent home right away, get it collected and let the hands on learning begin.

How do you get Students to buy in?

At the beginning of the course I spend an entire week with my new students in grade 10 (I have taught most of my grade 11s and 12s before so I will have an altered version of this) having them go through an “unlearning” process.  Instead of going through a course syllabus we discuss things like skills and characteristics employers are looking for in their new employees, the changing world that they live in that requires a more entrepreneurship and philanthropic mentality, we discuss creativity and innovation and look at how school has conditioned them not to think or be creative and finally we discuss the fact that society has failed them in convincing them that failure is a bad thing.  We watch TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson (Creativity & Innovation), Angela Duckworth (GRIT) , Carol Dweck (Growth Mindset) and I tell them that FAILURE is expected in my classes. We talk about assessment and how it has prevented learning for the sake of learning but “learning” for a grade. We discuss that the process is what we will be focusing on rather than the product. We talk about the need for them to network and learn how to use Social Media in a meaningful way.  

Roadblock: By the end of the week I would have to say that I have a quarter of the students who are super pumped, half of the class that are a little confused but intrigued by this new method and then there is the last quarter who have been very successful in school and are very weary and still ask me, so how do I get a 90 % + in this course?

Suggestion:  Keep reiterating the importance of process to all students especially the ones who just want to know what they have to do to get the 90%.  Eventually they will understand that if they take a step back and try and figure out what they are interested in and passionate about the 90s will come.

How do you get Parents to buy in?

At the beginning of the semester I send an email to all of my students parents introducing myself, explaining what we will be doing over the semester and following it up with my teaching philosophy.  My introductory email is intended to have parents “unlearn” how school works and understand that in order to support their child in their learning they will need to “relearn” the way things work. I continue to email parents about once a month about what is happening in the class so that they can continue to support their children.  The students are all on Twitter so they should be able to follow what is happening and I share everything that we are doing via Twitter as well.

Roadblock:  Even though most parents are supportive of what we are doing, they are still very concerned about the mark.  I get where they are coming from, because unfortunately as of right now that is what will get their children into University or College.  

Suggestion: Again, I really believe that the more you dialogue with parents, the more they will jump on board. If students are working on passion based projects, it is inevitable that everyone’s “marks” will be great!!

I am NOT an expert, just a teacher trying to model risk taking, trying things out, failing and learning from each failure.  I am happy to share the good the bad and the ugly and love chatting with others about what they are doing.  

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, R

 

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

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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