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 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?

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

Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

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

help

About 3 months ago I came across Don Wetterick’s podcast called StartedUp on Twitter.  He had on a teacher from Virginia named Nate Green who was talking about using social media in his classroom.  I instantly connected with Don’s message as well as Nate’s.  That day I listened to the podcast a second time and decided to contact Nate to see if we could chat about what he was doing in his classroom.  Nate was amazing and offered to chat via google hangout.  It was amazing to connect with someone so like minded.  You should check out him out on Twitter and take a look at his blog Social Media in Education.

Over the past few months, I have listened to Don’s podcast religiously and when new podcasts were not released I went back and listened to ones from the previous year.  One message that was consistent with Don and all of his guests was that education needs to change.  I have learned and continue to learn so much from his guests.  One guest in particular really got my attention. Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate was interviewed by Don in I believe December of 2017.  He talked about his book and publishing company, which I found fascinating you should listen to it here.  BUT, what Dave said that really stuck with me was this….there are kids in our classes that are suffocating and they need help.  If you are a teacher who believes that you are doing something to save these students it is your duty and obligation to share it.  I was one of those students in high school, I am fighting for those students and I got into teaching to save them, therefore I think I have some suggestions and I want to share it!!

Inspired by listening to Dave Burgess’s interview with Don Wettrick I decided to email / DM Don and tell him all about all of the amazing things that my students were doing.  Within twenty minutes he messaged me back and asked if I wanted to be on his podcast….I was thrilled and obviously jumped at the chance.  I have been reluctant to share this podcast with others, but have just recently finished the book Poke the Box by Seth Godin (recommended to me by Cameron author of A Students Perspective on Why we need to Unlearn) and have decided to listen to his manifesto.  In it, Godin suggests that those who want to be initiators need to have a pick me mentality.  You can no longer wait for others to promote your ideas, you need to make it happen yourself.  So, please listen to the podcast below, I am pretty proud of my students and the message that we are trying to spread.  Thank you Don Wettrick for inviting me and my students to be a part of your podcast, it was an honour.

Thanks for reading and listening!

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?

what-can-i-do

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

Posted in Why Unlearn?

What exactly is Unlearning?

unlearn a toffer

In my first few posts I have tried to explain what I feel is wrong with our current education system, and hopefully I have got some of your attention.  I truly believe that society, teachers, parents and students need to unlearn the current system, but what exactly is unlearning? Before we can define unlearning, we will need to define what it is that we need to unlearn, school, the role of teacher and student.  

What does it mean to be a teacher?

In a traditional sense it means that they are the keeper of knowledge, they are the ones that tell students what they need to know and how to learn it.  This was a great model for the industrial age and maybe for a couple of centuries to follow. But it is outdated, and does not prepare students for the world that they will live in.   In Peter Gamwell’s book Wonderwall, he suggests that we live in an age of complexity, that we no longer need to spit out carbon copies of students who know the same stuff. Don Wettrick points out that in a few years 40% of jobs will be made up by the “Gig” economy, and that students will need to be able to solve problems by being innovative and creative.

“A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.”  (techtarget.com)

What does it mean to be a student?

For the past 200 years students have been consumers of knowledge.  They learn whatever they are being taught and then regurgitate it to prove that they know it. Usually they have very little control over what they learn and how they learn it.

Some responses to the need for change.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of initiatives to change student engagement throughout my teaching career.  Even though there are things that still resemble the industrial revolution (bells and rows) teachers are doing amazing things to deliver content in a more engaging way. We’ve learned about different types of learners and implemented better ways for these students to learn (kinesthetic, audio, visual etc), we’ve used differentiated instruction, classrooms have been equipped with the latest technology such as smart boards, ipads, chromebooks and more recently we have been implementing more inquiry into our classes.  This is all a great start, and some of these methods should remain, but it is not enough, we need to redefine the traditional student / teacher roles as well as the definition of the traditional classroom. The classroom walls need to come down. We need to wipe the slate clean and start fresh so that our schools resemble the world in which our students will be living.  Students need to become creators rather than consumers and teachers need to become mentors / facilitators.

So what exactly is unlearning?

I enjoy change, actually I thrive on it.  I have never taught a class the same way more than once.  I am constantly looking for some way to change things up and do a better job.  I reflect on what went right and what didn’t and work from there. I’d say most teachers do this, but they continue to change their lessons / assignments in a more traditional way. As mentioned in previous posts, I have been inspired by many progressive educators who are saying enough is enough, things have got change. So I have jumped on the unlearning bandwagon and am challenging the traditional definitions of education, classroom, teacher and student.   

The unlearning movement involves what Peter Hutton describes as ‘“new ways to think in the face of established practices.”’ (Flanagan) This concept is hard to achieve in our current system as most teachers feel overwhelmed with limitations  and barriers that include lack of time to unlearn, covering curriculum, class sizes,  lack of technology, behaviour problems and the need to provide marks, to name a few. However some leaders are recognizing that it needs to happen. Recently I have been reading about Peter Hutton, head of Beaver Country Day School and Marga Biller, project director of Harvard’s Learning Innovations Laboratory, and how they are taking a whole school approach and putting their teachers through the unlearning process.  Biller points out that, ‘”We’ve all gone to workshops and seminars and learned from a class,” she said. “We go there, gain skills, change mindsets, we get very excited, and then we head back to work and things get in the way. And then we wonder why change isn’t taking place.” She said often what stands in the way of implementing change is the inability to see things beyond what they’ve always been in the past.” (Flanagan)  These two organizations are going to work together to challenge what has always been by using a process where they will change mindsets, habits and build trust.

While I know it is not realistic for every school to stop everything and put their staff and students through the unlearning process, I would like to show you that it can be done.

In my next few posts, I plan to outline my unlearning journey from traditional teacher to an unlearned teacher.  I hope you will continue to read, ask questions and maybe try to do a little unlearning of your own.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

For more reading on Beaver Country Day School and Harvard’s LILA see below.

Almeida, Debora. “Should Students Be Learning or Unlearning? – The Boston Globe.”BostonGlobe.com, 21 Oct. 2016, http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/west/2016/10/21/should-students-learning-unlearning/uvpDTMsdvuYtkXjNtUrRFN/story.html.

Flanagan, Linda. “Why ‘Unlearning’ Old Habits Is An Essential Step For Innovation | MindShift | KQED News.” KQED, 23 June 2017, http://www.kqed.org/mindshift/48480/why-unlearning-old-habits-is-an-essential-step-for-innovation.
“Learning Innovations Laboratory.” Learning Innovations Laboratory | Project Zero, http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/learning-innovations-laboratory.

“What Is Gig Economy? – Definition from WhatIs.com.” WhatIs.com, May 2016, whatis.techtarget.com/definition/gig-economy.

 

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Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

A Students Perspective on why we NEED to unlearn our current system.

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Student X reads more books in a week than most adults do in a year.  He’s read Sapiens, Homo Deus , Superintelligence , Breakfast of Champions, Einstein: His Life & Universe, The Odyssey, The Stranger, Personal Power Through Awareness, Vagabonding and Thinking Fast and Slow in the past year just to name a few.  Everyday he enlightens us with something new that he has learned.  He has taught me and his classmates so much about so many different topics, he has lent me his books (I have only got through one of them) and he constantly makes connections to course material,  and get this,  in conversation with him he tells me that, “I have never felt smart in school”…..WHAT??
Meet Cameron Lamoureux, a grade 12 student who I have had the opportunity to coach and teach over the last three years.  In the first two years that I knew him, Cam’s teachers (including myself) would describe him as a very smart, and capable student who was not working to his full potential.  Cam is an extremely intelligent and insightful young man.  Below is a video interview and a post from his blog camlam.blog where he shares his views on our current system.  If this doesn’t get you to think twice about our need to unlearn, I’m not sure what will.

 

Learning to Learn

From the moment we start school, we are taught to play. There is certainly a lot of benefit to play. Although, the older we become the less we do it, we lose connection with our own interests and become distracted by material factors such as money or a new promotion. Our minds and bodies become less of a priority while we focus on larger goals for the well-being of others.

All of this playing teaches us something extremely valuable that traditional education does not. It teaches us to learn the way that we do best. Whether that be with our eyes, hands or ears.  Don’t get me wrong, I love standardized testing as much as the next guy. However, I am a firm believer in the power that each and every one of us possess to create change and add value to our world. Our everyday experiences are what make up our lives and in order to create the most meaning within those moments we must learn how we learn. Not as a society. As a human being. What is the best way for you to intake information. How do you learn? What factors contribute to your knowledge? These are questions that traditional schooling never answers. We are given a foundation of knowledge to memorize and regurgitate. The majority won’t even be given the opportunity to look inwardly for answers. Others may fall behind and give up on the learning process completely. Learning how to teach yourself any information  you desire to learn is a priceless tool that most people will never truly master or take advantage of. All because we are shrouded from the answers throughout our childhood. As I stroll through my path down the traditional school system, I’ve come to realize a lot. We are definitely not given all the answers, despite the fact that we occasionally think we’ve memorized them all. The only answer we need is in the questions.

CamLam

You can visit and follow Cam’s blog on mindfulness, learning and productivity at camlam.blog, you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

Citations

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“Student Voice.” Ontario Ministry of Education, 22 Dec. 2017, http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/students/speakup/preMSAC.html.

Posted in Why Unlearn?

Unlearn With Us

learn unlearn relearn

Unlearn With Us

Sir Ken Robinson, Peter Gamwell, Angela Duckworth, Alan November, Andy Miah, Adam Schoenbart, George Curous, A.J Juliani, Carol Dweck, Daniel Pink, Elon Musk and more recently Don Wettrick and Nate Green, and schools such as The Independent ProjectBlue Sky School here in Ottawa, The Met School Model and Iowa BIG to name a few, have all inspired me in one way or another that change in education needs to happen and that it is happening.  My journey of “unlearning” began the moment I watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”.   I was hooked and continued to seek others in the educational field who have a similar message and I haven’t looked back since.  I started my unlearning journey and just had to take my students with me.  Unlearning is scary and can feel lonely at times.  Often times after teachers are introduced to the big ideas from someone like Sir Ken the general feeling is that it all sounds great, but HOW can we incorporate creativity into an allotted time period, with specific curriculum, all while preparing our students for postsecondary education?   My hope is that this blog will become a place where teachers and students can see the unlearning process.  I plan to share the successes and failures in our unlearning journey to hopefully help others take the risk and be a part of this educational crusade!!  

Please come and unlearn with us!

R

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” — Pablo Picasso