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

 

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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

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