Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

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

inquiryclassroom

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.

motivational-Quote-on-obstacles-doubters-mistake-hardwork

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.  

research-roadblocks-hero

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 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

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

Image result for say what?

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