Posted in Classroom Examples

Another Year and The Unlearning Continues

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We are now a month into school and I am feeling like I need to write.  It has been a busy three months since I last posted. Two months of summer and a month of start up.  This summer I took a stab at trying to be an entrepreneur. I offered an online course to teachers who were interested in learning to unlearn.  We had a very small cohort, but overall I think it went well. I really enjoyed working with the teachers and I really hope they got something out of it.  I hope to continue with these courses – there will be a few tweaks to this summer’s course but I am hoping to relaunch later in the fall. Stay tuned if you are interested.  

Now that we are back at school we are full on into a passion project based classroom.  I am currently teaching grade 11 Intro to Anthro, Psych and Soc, grade 12 Human Growth and Development and grade 12 World Issues.  We spent the first two – three weeks learning about the course material, getting ourselves organized with all the tools / housekeeping items we will need (twitter, research skills, google classroom, excursion forms etc) and we listened to guests talk about their passions, about different not for profit organizations and about what it means to be a social entrepreneur.   Now the students are in the process of creating their passion projects for the semester, it is chaos and I love it.  

Throughout every semester I keep a running document of things to change for the next year.  Before this years start up I went back to those documents, looked at what went well last year and what needed to change and made some tweaks to this years structure.  After teaching the dual credit course I realized that having specific days for specific tasks brought back some of the structure into the classroom that I seemed to be missing.  Therefore this year this is what our day to day looks like.

Mondays – Get Organized

  • Twitter Time – prompt to help them stay on top of tweeting
  • Fill out weekly planners
  • Create a weekly update via a vlog, blog or podcast
  • Class announcements and sharing

Tuesdays – Content Day 

  • These days are reserved for lessons and guest related to the curriculum
  • Research Days – work on research for their issue that relates to the curriculum
  • Tweet about what you learned

Wednesdays – Community Outreach

  • Twitter Time – prompt to help them stay on top of tweeting
  • For my grade 11s we are working with a group of students in the General Learning Program who are going to visit us every other Wednesday for the semester.
  • For my grade 12s students can go out into the community and do a placement that is related to our course.
  • Grade 12s class podcast – run by students.

Thursdays & Fridays – Passion Project Days

  • Twitter Time – prompt to help them stay on top of tweeting
  • These two days are to be scheduled by the students.  Many of them are out working in the community, having meetings and phone calls.

Since I have about 95% of the same students in my grade 12 classes that I had last year, it has been an adjustment for them.  They were used to a little more freedom, but are learning to follow the day to day. My grade 11s don’t know any different and seem to have settled just fine into it.  Overall I am super excited for the semester – there are some really cool projects that the students are working on already. Follow us @MrsRChambers and  #jmsshpa11 & #jmsshpa12 if you want to see what they are all up to.

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Rebecca

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Posted in Why Unlearn?

Why not more Destreaming?

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In the Ontario high school system we stream students in grade 9 and 10 into either academic / applied or locally developed and in grade 11 and 12 into either university / college or workplace / essential designated courses.  When we stream our students, we create an “us” versus “them” mentality. We (school system, parents, society, students) create a hierarchy, which in turn makes students who are not at the top feel that they are not smart or not good enough.  Why are we ok with this?

This past semester I had the opportunity to work with students who have many different post secondary destinations.  Some will go off to the workplace right from high school, some will come back for another year, some will take a gap year, some will go to college and some to university.  As a result my class became a de-streamed classroom and it was amazing.

Destreaming is often a bad word at the high school level.  In the traditional method of teaching (the way it has always been done), teachers find it a necessity to work with a group of students who are similar in ability, who are working on the same content and assignments and who are all capable of working at the same pace.  However, if we shake things up in the classroom and personalize learning, find out who our students are, what their strengths and weaknesses are the destreamed classroom can happen.

What happens when you destream a classroom?

When you put a wide range of abilities and strengths in a classroom, so many amazing things can happen.  The incredible things that I witnessed this semester are proof that when you provide personalized learning, have students recognize their strengths and weaknesses and work to those strengths, extraordinary things will happen.  

A.N.D. (Abilities NOT Disabilities)

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Over the semester my class teamed up with another class at Woodroffe high school.  Both of our classes had a wide range of abilities in it. My class was a grade 12 destreamed class, who were studying child development and gerontology and the other class was a Junior General Learning Program.  Together we created a social enterprise called A.N.D. We focused on everyone’s strengths and worked as a group to raise over $400 and spread awareness about different cognitive disabilities. They had booths around the city, they made compost bags and fire starters to sell by donation, they made friendship bracelets and friendship beads to hand out and they spoke to younger students about the importance of kindness.  Each person in both classes contributed in the best way that they could. The different roles included:

  • Creating a logo
  • Creating a brochure
  • Creating a twitter page
  • Creating a website
  • Creating a video
  • reaching out to community
  • Making the compost bags
  • Making the Fire starters
  • Making the friendship bracelets and pins
  • Giving a presentation
  • Creating slideshow for the presentation
  • Organizing booths at malls, outside of stores and at City Hall
  • Talking to people at the booths


Focus on growth vs comparing students

If we look at each student as an individual and celebrate their strengths and weaknesses everyone can be successful.  For example, in my classroom each student comes to the table with different skills and abilities. Each student learns in a different way and should be allowed to flourish no matter what way that it is.  My philosophy is to focus on the growth of each student rather than comparing them to others in the classroom. In order to achieve this, there is a lot of ground work that needs to be laid for students to buy in.  The students who have not been successful in school still struggle with this, even though it allows them to feel good about who they are and what they can accomplish. Unfortunately, they have always been made to feel that they are not good enough because the do not fit the one size fits all “school” model and have always felt inferior to those who have had success in school.  On the other hand it is just as difficult for the students who have done well in school. They struggle with not being at the top, their identity depends on it and are not ready to move over and let those “below” them have success. When we are able to break that cycle and celebrate everyone’s strengths magic happens.

The goal for me and the students is to look at where they are at the beginning of the course and track their growth.  All students can learn about child development and gerontology in their own personalized way. I can meet them where they are, figure out what skills and abilities they bring to the table, where they want to go in life and see how we can work on and refine the necessary skills that they will need.  For example, for one student, just coming to class and being a part of something might be where they are at right now. They may need time to build the confidence that was stripped of them over the years of feeling inadequate in school. If they are able to show up on a regular basis, participate and even do some work, then they have been successful and have grown. Whereas, another student may come to the table with a whole different set of skills. They may know that they want to go off to post secondary and will require certain skills once they are there. They can do projects that push them further in their own growth and work on skills that will allow them to be successful in their future. Both of these students can have success, it is not compared, it is about personal growth.

If we were to get rid of labels and hierarchies we will create an equal playing field for everyone.  For some reason some people are not ok with this, it challenges their idea of what has always been and some how demeans their own value.  I would argue that three quarters of our students / society have felt this way in school at one time or another, so why do we continue to value only a quarter of our population?

Thanks for unlearning with me 🙂

Cheers, Rebecca

Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Going gradeless but are we really?

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For two months these girls worked their butts off organizing a charity girls versus boys hockey game in connection with the Ottawa based DIFD organization that raises awareness about teen suicide and mental health.  They set a goal, connected with people all throughout Ottawa, worked with a teacher mentor, created a plan, raised awareness, raised money and brought our school community together, it was amazing. As you can tell by the video these girls were motivated to do something that was important to them, something that related to their everyday lives, something that they were passionate about, something for themselves and their community.  Everything about this project really embodied what I had hoped to have happen in our passion project based classroom. They worked on a project that they loved, they acquired so many new skills as they worked on it and they benefited people other than themselves all while learning about course curriculum and our OCDSB Exit Outcomes. And never once was I asked “are we getting marks for this?”, they did it even though there were no grades attached, just points.  When asked at the end of the project if grades ever crossed their minds this is what they had to say.

“For me no never I just loved what I was doing and wanted to give it everything I had because I really cared about the cause.”

“To be honest, in the first project in your class it did all the time, but working on the DIFD project it never even crossed my mind. It must of been because I loved what I was doing.”

“I didn’t even remember we were getting marked I was just excited to do it!”

“For me marks didn’t matter for any of the projects I just wanted to make a difference or an impact on someone’s life”

“For me doing this project wasn’t about marks it was to get the message out there especially around our school and it was also a fun experience to create something that has such a big impact on all of our lives and just looking in the stands during the game and Madison saying “we did this” was such a amazing feeling that we were making a difference.”

BUT, we are back in portable 10 after a great holiday break and things are starting to wind down for the semester.  We now have two weeks left and we are using the time to reflect and to get ready for our Social Science Fair showcase.  Over the semester the students were exposed to the course curriculum, asked to create and implement their own projects where they would accumulate points, they were asked to chronicle their work via social media with daily posts and weekly vlogs, podcasts or blogs and to reflect monthly on the different projects that they had been working on.  For an entire semester and for some over the last three years I have begged and pleaded with them not to talk about grades. I wanted them to find their passion and I wanted that to drive what they did in our classroom. I didn’t want grades to be the incentive for completing tasks. And I would say that for the most part we have been successful at not focusing on the grades, however the reality is I have to put a mark on their report card at the end of the semester and I hate it.

Over the last few days I have been working away at making sure that I have all the students projects in my spreadsheet as well as the points that they have accumulated.  I have had discussions with the students to make sure that we are both on the same page and have an understanding of how many points they have accumulated and what grade that it equates to.  I love having the opportunity to talk to the students about what they have accomplished, their failures and what they learned from it all. This to me is more valuable than a report card mark and generic comments.  But in the end I still have to come up with a grade, so am I really going gradeless?

While I am frustrated at this point in the semester, I need to remind myself that I am doing my best to do what I can inside the box that is our education system. I will focus on all the amazing things that my students did because they wanted to, not the ones that were still just trying to get a grade.

I am very curious as to how others have gone gradeless in a system where it is still mandatory to place a mark on a report at the end of the semester?

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

Continuing to Unlearn

The countdown is on and we are T-7 school days left until the much needed Christmas Holidays.  We are working really hard to stay motivated – students and teachers alike. We have had a lot of time to be working on our projects in all of my classes which gives me the opportunity to chat with all the different groups and see where they are at and what they need from me.  This can be exhausting but very uplifting at the same time. Today in my grade 11 class I did what I normally do and made my way around the classroom checking in on all the projects to see where they are at and if they needed any help. After a bit I decided to just sit back and observe the class.  To most onlookers they would have seen a bunch of teens lounging and laughing either on their phones or engaging in light hearted conversation. But what I heard and saw was this: two girls researching on their phones looking for schools around Canada to connect with to start a pen pal program, two other students yelling across the room trying to get people to sign up for a potluck that they are organizing for the class and the GLPs (students with disabilities) that we work with once a week, another two talking about how they can get their gender stereotype podcast out and redefining roles within their group, students discussing their former projects, some students just having a discussion about what…I am not quite sure, another one watching YouTube clips, one studying for a bio test, another one working on putting together tweets to make people aware of OI and finally another group brainstorming / chatting / procrastinating about their next project.  What I also didn’t see but trusted was happening was three other groups that were out of the classroom, one group was vlogging about their progress, another one was in another portable recording a song and the last group was working in the school painting a poster for their big event that is happening this Friday.

Below is what our classroom looks like, it is not just within the four walls of portable 10, it is everywhere and anywhere!
Our PBL classroom is not traditional so it should not look traditional.

Part of my internal struggle in our PBL classroom is that I have been conditioned along with everyone else in society to believe that school looks like: students following instructions, everyone working on the same projects with the same deadlines and of course being productive for the entire 60 – 75 minutes a day that they are in each of their classes.  I have to continually remind myself that if I micro manage them and am continuously telling them what to do they will never learn the skills of self regulation and time management. I continue to listen to podcasts, watch videos, read articles and have conversations with people out in the real world about how this generation lacks in every “soft” skill that exists.  I am happy to be the wiser person in the room to remind them every now and then to get going, but ultimately they need to learn to be motivated, to stay on task and to get stuff done. They need to have the opportunity to fail and learn from those failures so that they can learn coping mechanisms for when things don’t go their way. They need to be able to set goals, create steps to achieve those goals and have control over how they implement them on their own.  They need time to chat and brainstorm for their next projects so that they can learn patience and truly figure out what they want to work on.

I would have to say that I struggle everyday with the idea that I am allowing my students too much freedom and that they aren’t doing school “properly”.  However, when you as the “teacher” can unlearn what we have all been conditioned to believe school is, it is liberating for both you and your students.

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R