A showcase is an occasion or celebration at R.I.S.E Academy that takes place at the end of each semester. In comparison, in traditional school exams are provided before the conclusion of the semester, whereas at R.I.S.E Academy, students are given the chance to showcase their work (passion projects) to their family, friends, R.I.S.E. employees, and community members. For roughly 5-10 minutes, students are divided into breakout rooms where they can explain their projects and guests are able to ask questions and learn more about their projects. This gives students a sense of empowerment and is an alternative, less stressful way of evaluating success when compared to the stress of succeeding or failing tests. For example; one student is currently working on creating a new course for R.I.S.E. The modules he created are about different topics Another student was interested in the effects that covid has had on individuals physical/mental wellbeing. That being said, this encouraged her to pursue a career path in sports psychology. These showcase events allow students to share what they are passionate about and how they have incorporated this into their courses with R.I.S.E.
Another benefit of these showcase events is that doing so teaches them how to communicate in front of a crowd, which is a valuable career skill. They prepare content for public presentations and develop their communication skills via practice. Furthermore, students are asked questions throughout the showcase which helps them develop critical thinking skills.
Ultimately, the showcase is empowering and gives guests the opportunity to learn more about the difference between traditional school and R.I.S.E Academy. In addition, they learn about topics that they don’t teach in school such as; mental health, socializing & networking. In fact, at R.I.S.E Academy, students get the chance to do some research about those topics, learn more about them, and teach it to others. R.I.S.E Academy’s mission is to level the field for historically underprivileged students by reducing and eliminating the discriminatory structures that are built within the standard school education concept. This showcase event is helping with this.
Reynah is a grade 12 student at Woodroffe High School, who has launched a passion project in hopes of connecting students with Indigenious youth. She began her journey with R.I.S.E Academy as a student in the summer and continued in the fall. As part of R.I.S.E. Academy, she had to complete a passion project, which is when she chose to assist Indigenous youth living in the North, which is very meaningful to her and is a population of people she wants to continue working with in the future. Her project is titled “Compel North”, and it is for non-Indigenous and Indigenous youth to develop a bond through emails and photos, and it is an incredible way to get to know more youth in Canada, relate, and learn about their differences and resemblances. Through Reynah’s research, she became connected with a teacher in the North, Miss Connell. Reynah learned that many students in the North do not have access to proper hygiene products and clothes, which is unfortunate and saddening. She mentions that clothes and hygiene products should be a necessity not a luxury. For example, young women often struggle to afford feminine hygiene products (ie. pads and tampons). She was drawn to this idea and she decided to start a gofundme page to raise money for this school to help young women access these necessary items.
Furthermore, Reynah is helping people understand the difference between necessities and luxuries. Relating back to our feminine hygiene products example, tampons are a necessity; thus, feminine hygiene is a crucial issue that must be prioritized. If neglected, feminine hygiene can lead to the discovery of a host of diseases. Both health and social considerations necessitate good personal cleanliness. It comprises keeping hands, head, and body clean to prevent germs and illness from spreading. What constitutes a decent personal hygiene routine? Rinsing, dental hygiene, showering, sanitary clothing, and so on… which is why they need access to these proper hygiene products such as; soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and toilet paper.
The funds Reynah is collecting also go towards clothes that can help provide insulation from the cold or heat, as well as act as a hygienic shield, keeping contagious and hazardous items away from the body. Due to the extreme cold weather that Northern Canada experiences, it is crucial that these youth have access to adequate warm, winter clothing. Clothing also protects them from the sun’s harmful rays. Therefore, the students in the north need to have access to the proper clothing that ultimately protects them from extreme weather conditions.
Well it has been quite some time since I last posted, I have been a little busy. Between May 19, 2020 (my last post) and now a lot has changed. In a nutshell, I took a leave without pay from my job and opened up a Not-for-Profit, virtual, alternative high school called R.I.S.E. (Reach Inspire Soar Empower) Academy and it has been quite the ride. Between September 2020 and today we moved from a very small team of me a student teacher a few part time staff and some volunteers to a team of Board of Directors, a Principal / Facilitator (me), two full time facilitators, one math / science specialist, two Social Work students, Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Manager, three student teachers, 5 + volunteers and soon to be 10 + student interns. Last year were were able to have youth accumulate 95 credits between September and July and this year we are projected to have youth accumulate 200 credits by the end of July.
The goal of R.I.S.E. is to provide students a learning experience that compliments their public school or homeschooling experience. We want to find ways to take the “system” out of learning and recognize, celebrate and utilize their individual passions, strengths and motivators. Below is a breakdown on how the program works.
Last year we partnered with Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI) and received our very first grant from the Ottawa Community Foundation. MHI exists to build affordable housing that helps fix Ottawa’s housing crisis and gets at-risk people into secure, safe homes. This first grant allowed us us to provide free programming to 18 youth in their neighbourhoods. Next we partnered with Rideau Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre where we received a grant from Ontario Teacher Insurance Plan, here we created a summer pilot Entrepreneurship program where we had 7 youth start businesses and work on a credit. Our partnership with MHI and RRCRC continued into this year where we once again received funding from Ottawa Community Foundation and more recently a grant from the Rideau Hall Foundation. In total we will be able to provide free programming to 100 youth between September 2021 and June 2023.
We are always working on new partnerships, stay tuned for our latest connections!!
Youth Services Bureau Interns
In the fall we connected with Youth Service Bureau where we were able to support at-risk youth by hiring young people to give them meaningful employment and learning experiences. We hired our first group of 4 interns in January and it has been amazing. These youth not only have meaningful employment at R.I.S.E., but those who are high school aged are also working on credits that go towards their O.S.S.D. So far we have a Video Editors, Social Media and Community Outreach workers and Blog writer.
Our blog writer intern has been working hard over the last few months to learn the ins and outs of blog writing and what R.I.S.E. is all about. Please stay tuned for some updates from her, she will be chronicling what has been going on.
With a new school year comes another year of professional learning. I am super lucky to be a part of a group of teachers at my school who are embarking on a second year of unlearning together. Last year my Principal, myself and four other teachers met almost every three weeks to talk about school and the need for change. We had some really great discussion, some disagreements and some aha moments. It was amazing to have a safe place to share ideas and not feel judged. Amazing things happened in classrooms as a result of our time together. If you are interested in seeing / reading about some of the other teachers experiences / unlearning journeys you can check out The Stoppels Show blog or Jess Packer-Quinnel on Twitter and Liz Coolen on Instagram.
This year I am privileged to continue working with the group above, but am also lucky to get to work with a new group of teachers who are interested in learning more about community based learning. There has been a huge push in our board to make learning more experiential so this year our professional learning teams are called the XLPLT (experiential professional learning team).
We had our first meeting a week ago to talk about what the XLPLT was all about. My Principal went over what we did last year and what we hope to do this year. He asked me and the others from last year’s team to talk a little bit about what we are doing in my classes. We also spoke about the journey that the teachers in our PLT took to get to where they are today. It really made me reflect on my past PD experiences and what is necessary to let go of in order to completely change up your practice.
I have done a lot of PD over the past 17 years. I worked on a PLT that focused on critical thinking, I worked on a PLT that looked at engagement of at risk students, I participated in lesson studies and I attended numerous workshops on how to make my lessons better. All of these have been very important in my growth as a teacher. I learned a lot by working with my colleagues and found great ways to change up lessons and to embed critical thinking and engagement into my practice. However, what they didn’t really look at was the structure of the traditional education system and how it is outdated, systemically racist, focused on preparing students for a work world that doesn’t exist anymore and not preparing our students for their future.
In this years XLPLT we are obviously interested in finding ways to have our students become critical thinkers and engaged, but more importantly we are more excited about how to change up our classrooms so that they reflect the modern world. So, what are the things that a teacher needs to do in order to make this happen? Below is what I have come up with.
Understand why this change needs to happen – more specifically understanding your WHY for doing it.
Let go of control.
See students as partners. Give them a say in what and how they learn.
Realize that learning can happen differently than what we know school to be – and value that learning just as much.
Let go of hierarchy and grades – see the brilliance in everyone.
Embrace failures, reflect and learn from them.
Connect learning to community.
Focus on teaching / using 21st century technology.
Have students become creators rather than consumers.
This is not an easy task, but by looking at the work that they are doing at Beaver County Day School in Massachusetts, it is possible. Check it out here Why ‘Unlearning’ Old Habits Is An Essential Step For Innovation However, closer to home it is evident that it is possible too. After about 8 months of working together on our Unlearning PLT I interviewed the team on what unlearning meant to them. Here are their answers.
So, what will it take for you to make the change, what is your WHY?
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)
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?
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.
Exit Outcomes (Essential Life Skills)
UN Sustainable Development Goals
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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:
Create something that will allow you to talk about what you want to talk about.
Don’t do something you would traditionally do in school.
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.
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?
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.
Over the next few weeks my hope is to share some of my students projects with you. I will share the good, the bad and the ugly. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at any point throughout 🙂
Puzzle Masters 5K Family Walk & Run in support of Autism and Children at Risk
Last weekend I got to take part in one of the student lead projects as a volunteer. I supported these students for the last month and half by asking questions, providing some suggestions and helping them connect with people when they needed an adult. In their class there are approximately 10 groups working on projects as well. This means that over the last month and a half the received 10 % of my attention and that was it. In a month and half three grade 11 students organized a 5K race to raise money and awareness for Autism. Check out the video below to get an overview of the day. It was amazing.
Dany K Kutz for Kids, Healthy Lifestyle and Peer Mentoring
With his permission I’d like to introduce you to Dany. I have taught Dany for the last three years and finally this year he had his aha moment. He and his partners have taken things that they are interested in outside of school and have brought it to the classroom. He is in two of my classes and currently has three projects on the go.
Dany cuts his friends hair at home for $, he is cutting hair at school for $10 a cut with all proceeds going to Jumpstart Canada.
Dany loves working out and talking nutrition. He has started an Instagram account with his partner and they are motivating their followers to be active and to eat right.
Dany is Lebanese and can speak Arabic. When he was in grade 10 we worked with a group of students who were newcomers to Canada (many who speak Arabic). Dany really enjoyed working with them. Dany reached out to the teacher that we had worked with and is now volunteering in her class once or twice a week.
This is what Dany has to say about what he has been doing.