Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Dreams do come true if you persevere, my vision of an experiential passion based classroom have come true.

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As mentioned in many of my previous posts my desire for change in education was sparked by my own educational experience and my introduction to trailblazers such as Sir Ken Robinson, and closer to home Dr. Peter Gamwell.  They have been fighting the good fight for years (in a time when it was even more controversial than today) and paved the way for today’s educators to start making some changes.

I am motivated to make change for my students, but even more so for my daughters in grade 1 and 6.  I am on a mission to change the way we do school and have been experimenting within our current system to make some of these changes happen.  As a part of my experiment, over the past 10 years I have been busy researching about different learning environments and different ways of doing things that reflect our ever changing modern world.  

In 2014 some colleagues and I went to visit Westmount High School in Hamilton Ontario who are one of eight schools that belong to the Canadian Coalition of Self-Directed Learning.  

I have read articles and watched videos about places like the Independent School, The MET, Iowa BIG and High Tech High.

I have learned to use Twitter to connect with others out there and have become a part of a Professional Learning Network that I never knew existed.  I learn so much from this network, whether it is seeing what they are talking about on their blogs, podcasts or vlogs, joining in Twitter chats / discussions or meeting up for virtual hangouts with educators from around the world.  I get so much energy and strength from these people.

Every year the research has inspired me to try something new in my classroom.  Each year I slowly let go of the traditional and move to a more modern style of teaching. However, there have been huge obstacles. Working in our archaic system can be challenging, but this semester some of my visions are starting to come true.

My vision starts to come true: Experiential, community connected and passion project based learning in action.

At the beginning of February my students and I embarked on a new journey of experiential learning with our new two credit course that the ministry calls Child Development and Gerontology TOJ4C paired with IDC4O.   We have altered the name to The Experiential Passion Based Study of Child Development and Gerontology.  All my research and the experimenting with my other classes has lead to this course.  I have learned what works and what doesn’t work, what some of the obstacles are and how to overcome them.  Over the 10 years of trial and error this is what I hope to have as our focus in the classroom.

  • Student Driven
  • Exit Outcomes (Essential Life Skills)
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Technology
  • Entrepreneurial Mindset
  • Social Media
  • Authentic Audience and Community Connections
  • Course Content as a vessel to work on all of the above

Now that we are a month and half into the course we are starting to get into the swing of things.  Generally this is what a week looks like:

Monday

The first ½ of class is dedicated to “Monday Meetings” here we get into randomly selected small groups, play a silly ice breaker game and then we have a very informal discussion about “course” related stuff.  We talk about what has been going on with their projects, we talk about issues that they might be having, the students support each other in solving those problems or brainstorming for new projects. They discuss the outings that they had in the previous weeks,  they share where they went and what they did, what they liked and what they didn’t like. And finally each student fills out a weekly form that helps them plan for the week. They jot down what they are going to work on, where they are going each day (because we are out in the community a lot) anything I need to know about their week and how they are feeling.  I am supported by our Student Success Teacher and our former VP (she’s retired) to help run these meetings. I am SO fortunate to have the support of these amazing ladies to make this happen!! We will refer to them as mentors from here on in.

*Nerdy Teacher Alert* I’ve learned how to use a chrome extension called DocAppender and it has been a game changer for keeping me and my students organized in a PBL classroom.  Message me if you want to know more and I will tell you about it!!  

During the second part of Monday’s class we have a guest come in from the field of Child Development and Gerontology.  These guests give students a look into different careers but also to hear about different issues that they may want to get involved with.  So far we have had amazing people come into our classroom to talk about topics such as: Elder Abuse, Children on the Autism Spectrum, Adult programs for people with cognitive disabilities and an amazing Social Entrepreneur Lindsay Barr who has set up an organization called World Changing Kids (WCK).  

So far we have had two students get hired to work in a one to one Autism program and another one is working with WCK’s on a podcast.  My goal is to provide the students with some inspiration for projects and connections to the community by having these guests in.

Tuesday

Our whole class goes to Woodroffe HS to work with their Junior GLP class.  This group of students are between the ages of 14 – 16 and have a variety of intellectual disabilities. They are in a specialized program called the General Learning Program.  Every Tuesday we meet up with the students to support them in their learning. For our first two meetups we have worked on building trust and relationships between the two groups of students.  Below is what one of my students had to say after their first meetup.

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Our last visit started our first “structured” learning experience together.  We started a 3 day workshop (given over three weeks of Tuesday’s) by Parkdale Food Centre on how to become solutionaries.  We will continue these workshops when we return after the break.

 

Again, I am hoping to provide my students exposure to different career paths, meeting new people and potentially ideas for their passion projects.  So far we have a group of two students who are interested in spending more time within the Woodroffe HS General Learning Program and they have paired up with the Senior GLP class and will be joining them on outings every Friday.

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Wednesday

I have arranged for my students to rotate (every three weeks they change placements) around six different places.  In their rotation there are three different retirement homes right in our community and three different elementary classrooms (grade 1 EFI, grade ⅔ English and a grade 5 English) at the elementary school across the street.  We have been through one full rotation and started their second rotation the week before the break. These placements are hopefully giving them more exposure to different careers, but also an opportunity to learn about who they like to work with and who they do not.  Just like our connection with the WHS GLP group I had hoped to find more ways to inspire my students to organically find real world problems that they might want to try and solve. Like Don Wettrick I want my students to become “seekers and peekers rather than moaner and groaners”.

So, I got goosebumps when one of the groups came to me and said….

When the guest from NROC came in and talked to us about Elder Abuse she mentioned that one of the biggest issues for seniors is isolation, and when we visited the retirement home we really noticed that this was a problem.  So, we want to do something that will bring people together.

After brainstorming with one of the mentors about what they could do they came up with the “Mapping our Roots” Project.  The girls set up with the activities coordinator for them to have a slot on the weekly calendar. They went in for an hour after school one day, explained their project to any resident interested in listening / participating and then they chatted with the residents, asked them their names and where they were born.  They compiled all the information, bought a map and other items and brought it back to the retirement home at the end of the week. See what they had to say about it below.

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Another group is in the process of setting up a learn to curl activity for the grade 5 class that they visited.  These two girls took something that they are very passionate about and are working on sharing their passion with others.

Thursday and Friday

These two days are Passion Project days.  This is where the students choose projects related to the course that they will work on.  The project criteria follows Don Wettricks rule of three. Are you passionate about it, will you acquire new skills as you work on it and how will this project benefit others.  There is a lot of brainstorming and planning that happens for these projects. Once they have figured out what they want to do they must create a project proposal. In their proposal they have to create a detailed step by step process with short term goals (including dates) along with a final due date.  They have to connect course curriculum to their project and then they have to have it looked over and signed off by myself or any of the community mentors. Examples of some of the projects have been mentioned above. The projects are definitely not limited to working with people that we have worked with as a class.  Some students have come up with some really amazing things after a lot of brainstorming and soul searching. Some of these include:

  • Podcasting with Grandma and Grandpa.
  • Q & A style youtube channel about what it means to be a Muslim teenage girl in Canada.
  • Sean who wrote The Fault in our Education blog is going to accompany me to talk to a large group of teachers about his thoughts on education.
  • Organize a toy drive for two different organizations.
  • Working with Grandma to wash and style wigs for cancer patients.
  • Making students in our school aware that we have a gender neutral bathroom.
  • Creating a diversity calendar.
  • Creating a presentation on body positivity for middle school aged girls and going out into our community middle school and giving the presentation.
  • Selling clothes on Instagram to raise money for a charity.

The students are asked to chronicle their learning on social media everyday and then rap the week up with a weekly blog, vlog or podcast. (You can check us out at our class hashtag #TOJ4C). As well throughout the course they will complete quarterly reflections. They completed their first reflection right before we headed out on the break. I haven’t had the opportunity to go through all of them but if you are interested in hearing what two of the students have to say click below.

I am so pleased with how this course has unfolded.  There are so many things that I have dreamed about for my students that are now becoming a reality.  Don’t get me wrong there are still obstacles and keeping everyone motivated is not always easy. But, if I had given up on this 10 year long experiment when I hit roadblocks, this course would not exist.  So if you are trying new things out and feel like it’s not working, keep going, don’t give up because you are making a difference even if you feel like there are always obstacles, perseverance will get you where you want to be!!

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

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Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

How do you assess authentic learning?

authetic assessment

Picture from https://abdao.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/traditional-vs-authentic-assessment/

While I don’t think that we really can or should formally assess authentic learning, we still work in a system that requires it.  So here is what I am doing until things change….

The third week of summer is here and I have had some time to unwind and I am starting to relax and reflect on the last school year.  As crazy as this may sound I have already started to think about how we will do things next year. I am a huge advocate of authentic learning and have been trying to spread these ideas via this blog, on Twitter and by talking to anyone who is interested in listening to me!!  I am super excited about the connections that I have made this summer for next school year with Woodroffe HS GLP classes, VIVA Barrhaven Retirement home, Ontario Early Years, CHEO and Barrhaven Kids Spreading Kindness. As mentioned in many other posts, I want to provide my students the opportunity to figure out what they are passionate about, to learn how to learn (on their own), to become more digitally literate, to become creators rather than consumers, to become more globally aware and connected, to be entrepreneurial minded, to focus on the process rather than the final product and to build resilience by learning that failure is good and essential to everything we do in life.  A month or so ago my students were interviewed by CBC.  In the article they were able to share their thoughts about our classroom, it was super exciting.  Since then, I have been fortunate to connect with educators who are interested in finding out what we are doing.  I am SO happy to share it with them, everyone listens intently and has lots of questions but the most consistent question that I get is how do you assess your students?  
So, how do you assess authentic learning?

I have some answers, but this is still very much trial and error in our classroom.  Assessing authentic learning is tricky because in the “Real World” or every day life assessment looks very different than in school.  It is super hard to mirror real life assessment when you have to come up with a grade. I believe that our current way of assessing is very outdated, but unfortunately it is still a part of our reality.  So until things change, below are some examples of what I have been trying out in my classes.

Informal, one on one discussions

Throughout the semester I am constantly having discussions with students about what they are working on.  We discuss successes, failures and I am able to support them one on one which is awesome. However, sometimes there is not enough of me to go around.  I am working on getting volunteers / mentors into the classroom to help me with this. By doing this I keep a running tally in my head of where students are at and how they are doing.  There is no formal assessment here, but rather feedback – this is in my opinion more reflective of the real world. I have been fortunate over the past couple of years to have peer teachers in my class (grade 11 & 12 students who have been through my classes already).  They have been super helpful!!

Formal / Informal assessment Twitter Feedback

On a weekly / biweekly basis students receive feedback on their Twitter feed based on the checklist below.  Twitter is where they share all of their learning. I give them feedback to make sure that they are staying on top of things.  This gives me the opportunity to get to everyone when I haven’t been able to have a one on one discussion with everyone.

Twitter Checklist

  • Follow organizations that relate to the course material.  Build your network.
  • Retweet / Quote articles from these organizations – what are your thoughts on it?  What do you think people should know about this article / Video / picture etc.
  • Follow Twitter Accounts of things that you are interested in outside in your real life.
  • Tweet about things that are happening in your life inside and outside of our class.
  • Tweet about things happening in class.
  • Organically interact with your classmates. Comment on things that you think are interesting, ask questions, chat appropriately back and forth.
  • Tweet about what you are working on.
  • Ask questions to professionals to help with research.
  • Connect with people who care about your issue by tweeting at them.
  • Make people aware of the issue that you are looking at.
  • Use Hashtags to connect with others who care about the issue that you are looking at.
  • Get noticed and attempt to make a difference.

Informal / Formal Assessment – Reflection

Throughout anything that we work on the students are informally reflecting on what they have been doing via Twitter.  Each day students are given questions that they have to answer and share with the class. These are not assessed. However, at the end of everything that we do the students are asked to reflect on the process on whatever has just been completed.  It could be an awareness campaign, Genius Hour or their Social Science Fair. I have been working on a rubric that assesses their ability to really be honest and reflect on what they did and didn’t do well and what their next steps are. This is where the majority of their marks come from.  I wouldn’t say this has been perfected but I am going to continue with this next year.

While I think the above is working pretty good, there is always room for improvement. Below is where I hope to take the focus of assessment in our classroom.
Next Steps….

DItSM PyramidPicture courtesy of Nate Green

I have been SO fortunate to have connected with Nate Green who is a technology integration and information specialist at Flint Hill School in Oakton Virginia.  I first heard Nate on Don Wettrick’s StartedUp Podcast and immediately contacted him.  Nate teaches a course called “Passion Based Learning Through Social Media” and when I heard him talk about it on the podcast I knew I needed to talk to him.  I have jumped right into changing the way we do things in our classroom but have struggled with the whole assessment piece. Nate was kind enough to share how he was doing things.  He really focuses on moving students from passive learners to creators and curators and eventually leaders. I plan to use his pyramid seen below to help guide students through the course and for assessment.  I am thinking that the pyramid will coincide with our 4 Levels. I do however, believe that the pyramid / assessment piece will look different for the different grades. I am still mulling this over. I am open to suggestions if anyone has any!!

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers,

R

 

Posted in Why Unlearn?

What do you need for experiential learning to happen? Community partners, open minds and creative timetabling.

experiential learning cycle

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/job/passport/CommunityConnected_ExperientialLearningEng.pdf

I am super excited to be teaching a new course next school year.  It is called Child Development and Gerontology. The course itself is great, but what I am really excited about is the fact that it is going to be a dual credit course.  That means that I get the same students for an entire afternoon!! Wooo Hooo!!

Why am I so excited you may ask??  Well I have been trying for years to build a more experiential hands on approach to learning and it has been tough.  It is really hard to go anywhere when you are limited to 75 mins. It is pretty tough to create community connections unless they come to you.  But now we will have a whole afternoon to connect and experience, I am so PUMPED!!

I will, however continue to teach 4 sections of regular Social Sciences in 75 minute blocks.  I will continue to try and provide an experiential experience for all of my students by arranging doable field trips (to our local elementary school across the street), baby groups with local parents, visits with seniors, guest speakers, BYOG (Bring Your Own Grandparent) and a new one BYOGS (guest speaker) but the reality is they are still not getting their hands dirty and jumping into the community.  

So….I will continue to fight to make all of my courses experiential, but in the meantime I will work with what I have got in my dual credit course next year.  This is what I am thinking about doing….I’d love to hear any other ideas if you are doing something like this already!!

Dual Credit TOJ4C / IDC4O Child Development and Gerontology

My goal is to expose all of my students to as many careers / experiences with community partners that are willing to connect.  We would likely visit these places for the first three weeks or so of the course. My hope would be to have the students interact and get hands on experience in those first three weeks.  So far I have connected with an elementary school, WHS General Learning Program and a retirement home. I am have a few other feelers out there right now. From there the students would choose where they would like to work.  If a student wants to spend their whole time with one group that is fine but if other students would like to try working with different groups than we will set up mini placements.

Week 1 – Learn about the Inquiry Process, Social Media.

Week 2 & 3 – In small groups go out and meet and work with community partners.

Week 4 – Set up personalized schedules and get into working out in the community and start to look for problems to solve.  (Mentors and teachers may need to help with this).

 Week 5 – See below – I foresee a mix of in class to work on inquiry, solution and reflection and out of class hands on work.
Task # 1 Inquiry – Research & Social Media

Next steps would be for my students to work within those community organizations and complete an inquiry.  After spending time at their placement, they would come up with a question / problem that they want to get an answer for and they would work on getting the answers by completing primary research while at the placement and secondary research while at school.  The purpose of this task would be for them to learn research skills, get hands on experience and at the end they would share what they had learned from the inquiry process with their peers and the world via Social Media. They will be required to chronicle their learning via at least one social media platform: Instagram, Twitter, blog, podcast, vlog or anything they want.  I am toying with the idea of having all them create Linkedin accounts to start connecting and showcasing what they are doing.

Task # 2 – Find a Solution using Design Thinking & Implement it

content_designthinking

Stanford d.school Design Thinking Process

With the problem that they looked at in Inquiry # 1 students will come back to class and work through the design thinking process to try and come up with a solution to the problem.  I am not 100 % sure what this is going to look like – it may well be very different for each student. Some problems may take the entire semester to work through, while others may be more simple and not take as long to solve.  My hope is that they will be able to implement their solutions. I’m not sure how this will go, but I am excited to try it out. I am sure there will be some ups and downs, but that is how I roll…..

Task # 3 Showcase, Network, Resume & Linkedin

At the end of the semester we will invite important people to showcase what we have done and share the solutions that came up with and hopefully implemented.  We will share our successes and failures and more importantly our growth. This showcase will also work as a networking opportunity for students. They will be able to make more community connections…it’s not about what you know but about who you know, right Don Wettrick?  Their final task will be to create or update their resume and Linkedin profiles with their experience from the course. Who knows what the will have created to fix a problem, what I do know is that the experience is going to the most valuable asset to employers.

Concerns

And of course there are all the concerns that are floating around in my head…how will I assess them?  How will I keep track of all of them?  How will I support 24 students personalized learning?  What if students don’t show up?  What if we let down our mentors?  What if they don’t come up with a solution?   My philosophy is to forge ahead and deal with it as it comes.  I will have a plan before we get started but I know that I will need to be flexible, that is how life works.

This summer I have meetings lined up to connect with community members that are interested in participating in this experiential learning experiment.  If you know anyone or are interested in participating please let me know 🙂

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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