Posted in Why Unlearn?

Gas to Electric

habits

Last year I bought a new car.  I was driving a large SUV and wanted to find a car that was better for the environment and cheaper on gas – I live out in the country and do a lot of driving.  I really wanted a Tesla, but I didn’t buy one, here is why:

  1. Expensive
  2. Concerned about charging stations – if I wanted to travel from Ottawa to Hamilton (where all my family lives) I would have to stop at least once to recharge which would take at least 45 minutes and I usually don’t stop along the way.
  3. Limited infrastructure  – charging stations, concerns about charging it at home and at work etc.
  4. The fear of the unknown – I’ve only owned gas fueled cars before

I know that driving an electric car is where I need to go next, but when I bought my last car I wasn’t ready to make the change.  Ultimately, if I am going to drive an electric car I will have to change what I know about driving I will have to change my habits, I will have to unlearn what I know about owning a vehicle.  When it is time for the next vehicle, I will be ready.

In education we have a similar situation.  Many people see the need for change, but have not wrapped their heads around or come to terms with how to make the change from gas to electric or teacher lead / grade driven to student lead / reflective practice.

Five years ago I decided enough was enough and I made that transition from gas to electric in my classroom.  I went from the teacher telling the students what and how to learn to a facilitator that provides a framework, suggestions, guidance and support to students.  

As a gas fueled teacher I was the one always in control.  I had my students learning what I thought was the most important.  I had all my students complete all the same assignments and learn all the same things.  I assessed my students all the same way and I focused mostly on the content of the course rather than on skills.  

As an electric fueled facilitator I now expose my students to different issues / organizations, professions in the field that we are studying,  I let my students passions / interests drive their learning, I help connect them with community, I challenge them to get out of their comfort zones, I support them in creating networks that will help them now and in the future. I help my students find their passions and help provide them with skills that will allow them to pursue those passions all while obtaining credits.  My role is to coach them in their learning and to help them reflect and learn from what they do in the classroom. I have given up a lot of the control.

It has taken me five years to get to where I am, I get that it takes time to make the shift. Throughout my journey I have had many conversations with curious educators who want to make the shift. I have had the opportunity to share what I am doing at a few conferences and PD Days and the most frequently asked comment / question is usually, I love what you are doing, but how do I make this happen?  What I have found is this can’t be answered in a 50 minute session or over coffee.  Therefore, I am excited to announce that I am in the process of creating an online course / workshop to help guide educators looking to make the shift, but just don’t know where to start.  It is still in the infancy stage but for those who enrol, it will be a place to learn and understand your own why, a place to network with other educators and finally a place to brainstorm and reimagine your classroom. 

Who’s ready to make the shift from gas to electric?

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, R 🙂

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Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Dreams do come true if you persevere, my vision of an experiential passion based classroom have come true.

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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.

  • Student Driven
  • Exit Outcomes (Essential Life Skills)
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • Technology
  • Entrepreneurial Mindset
  • Social Media
  • 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:

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

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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.

Screenshot 2019-03-14 at 8.42.57 AM

 

Wednesday

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.

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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.
  • Sean who wrote The Fault in our Education blog is going to accompany me to talk to a large group of teachers about his thoughts on education.
  • 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!!

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

PBL in Action

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

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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.

 

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