Posted in Classroom Examples, Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

All the headaches of our passion based classroom were all worth it in the end, I highly recommend trying it out.

End of the Semester Social Science Fair

 

 

Kobe chats with Ottawa’s Mayor The Honourable Jim Watson about the ingredients in his homemade bread that relate to his experience in the course,  local Municipal Councillor Jan Harder and Darrell Bartraw President of Barrhaven Community Association learns about the DIFD game and how important that was to Chantelle, Reporter from the Barrhaven Independent Charlie Senack learns about Rajan and his unlearning journey over the last two years, Principal J. Offord learns about how the fruit combined in a juicer represents Lucas’ journey throughout the course and Melody from Empties for Paws comes to support her girls who helped her raise money for local animals in need.

On Tuesday January 22, 2019 my three classes hosted a Social Science Fair at our school. We invited parents, people from the community and board officials. The week before the fair the students spent five days working individually and with their classmates to find ways to connect their projects, their classmates projects course experiences and personal experiences to their respective curriculum. They reflected on our OCDSB Exit Outcomes (soft skills) and gave me feedback on what they liked, what they didn’t like and any suggestions that they might have to make the course run smoother next time.  On the day of the fair, students were asked to bring in a conversation piece for the showcase. These were the only guidelines they had:

  1.  Create something that will allow you to talk about what you want to talk about.
  2.  Don’t do something you would traditionally do in school.
  3.  Don’t create something that will just end up in the garbage.

To get an idea of what types of conversation pieces they brought in and what they talked about check out the video below.

As always, I was blown away by each and everyone of my students.  I got to overhear many of the conversations that they were having with the community member and I was amazed by what they had to say.  The feedback that we received from the community was amazing.

It was a pleasure to speak to all your students today.  They showed so much enthusiasm for their work and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them as they described what they had done.President Barrhaven Community Organization

I’ve now subscribed to several student blogs, youtube channels and podcasts – love that infectious energy!  The students pitched with excitement; they were passionate, and they were very grateful for the outside-of-the-box experience you facilitated. Thanks for the invite, and congratulations on such an exciting event.  And- maybe it’s odd to say this- but one of the most compelling parts of the event for me was listening to students talk about why some of their projects did not work out. I loved seeing them share vulnerabilities and engaging in positive risk-taking!”  OCDSB Vice Principal

“...an absolute pleasure to spend time talking with your students and seeing first-hand the impact of your authentic approach to learning.  So impressive how well they articulated their learning – and their unique story. I left the event so inspired – and have been sharing it since with colleagues…”  OCDSB Principal

My favorite part was how honest they were about their failures. They weren’t ashamed at all. That’s where, if you ask me, the real learning happens. It was awesome to hear how they bounced back and understood that making mistakes is not what defines their character.”  OCDSB Teacher

Thank you Rebecca for a wonderful lunch hour talking to thoughtful, insightful students who were enjoying their learning.  I was so inspired by them.”, “I was struck by how much of most conversations with the students revealed that the way the class was run mirrored Indigenous pedagogy.” OCDSB Instructional Coach

The most consistent thing I heard from the students afterwards was “it was so nice to share what we did with people who really cared about what we had to say.”  If that isn’t providing an authentic audience, I don’t know what is.

Over the last 3 months I have been busy preparing for my new two credit course that I will be teaching next semester (I get to have my students for a full afternoon).  It is going to be another experiment but I am SO pumped for it. Keep following along if you are interested in seeing more of our unlearning journey.

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?

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