Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

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

Screenshot 2019-03-17 at 5.16.33 PM

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.

Screenshot 2019-03-14 at 8.24.43 AM

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.

Screenshot 2019-03-14 at 8.49.08 AMScreenshot 2019-03-14 at 8.48.44 AM

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

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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

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?

What do you need for experiential learning to happen? Community partners, open minds and creative timetabling.

experiential learning cycle

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/job/passport/CommunityConnected_ExperientialLearningEng.pdf

I am super excited to be teaching a new course next school year.  It is called Child Development and Gerontology. The course itself is great, but what I am really excited about is the fact that it is going to be a dual credit course.  That means that I get the same students for an entire afternoon!! Wooo Hooo!!

Why am I so excited you may ask??  Well I have been trying for years to build a more experiential hands on approach to learning and it has been tough.  It is really hard to go anywhere when you are limited to 75 mins. It is pretty tough to create community connections unless they come to you.  But now we will have a whole afternoon to connect and experience, I am so PUMPED!!

I will, however continue to teach 4 sections of regular Social Sciences in 75 minute blocks.  I will continue to try and provide an experiential experience for all of my students by arranging doable field trips (to our local elementary school across the street), baby groups with local parents, visits with seniors, guest speakers, BYOG (Bring Your Own Grandparent) and a new one BYOGS (guest speaker) but the reality is they are still not getting their hands dirty and jumping into the community.  

So….I will continue to fight to make all of my courses experiential, but in the meantime I will work with what I have got in my dual credit course next year.  This is what I am thinking about doing….I’d love to hear any other ideas if you are doing something like this already!!

Dual Credit TOJ4C / IDC4O Child Development and Gerontology

My goal is to expose all of my students to as many careers / experiences with community partners that are willing to connect.  We would likely visit these places for the first three weeks or so of the course. My hope would be to have the students interact and get hands on experience in those first three weeks.  So far I have connected with an elementary school, WHS General Learning Program and a retirement home. I am have a few other feelers out there right now. From there the students would choose where they would like to work.  If a student wants to spend their whole time with one group that is fine but if other students would like to try working with different groups than we will set up mini placements.

Week 1 – Learn about the Inquiry Process, Social Media.

Week 2 & 3 – In small groups go out and meet and work with community partners.

Week 4 – Set up personalized schedules and get into working out in the community and start to look for problems to solve.  (Mentors and teachers may need to help with this).

 Week 5 – See below – I foresee a mix of in class to work on inquiry, solution and reflection and out of class hands on work.
Task # 1 Inquiry – Research & Social Media

Next steps would be for my students to work within those community organizations and complete an inquiry.  After spending time at their placement, they would come up with a question / problem that they want to get an answer for and they would work on getting the answers by completing primary research while at the placement and secondary research while at school.  The purpose of this task would be for them to learn research skills, get hands on experience and at the end they would share what they had learned from the inquiry process with their peers and the world via Social Media. They will be required to chronicle their learning via at least one social media platform: Instagram, Twitter, blog, podcast, vlog or anything they want.  I am toying with the idea of having all them create Linkedin accounts to start connecting and showcasing what they are doing.

Task # 2 – Find a Solution using Design Thinking & Implement it

content_designthinking

Stanford d.school Design Thinking Process

With the problem that they looked at in Inquiry # 1 students will come back to class and work through the design thinking process to try and come up with a solution to the problem.  I am not 100 % sure what this is going to look like – it may well be very different for each student. Some problems may take the entire semester to work through, while others may be more simple and not take as long to solve.  My hope is that they will be able to implement their solutions. I’m not sure how this will go, but I am excited to try it out. I am sure there will be some ups and downs, but that is how I roll…..

Task # 3 Showcase, Network, Resume & Linkedin

At the end of the semester we will invite important people to showcase what we have done and share the solutions that came up with and hopefully implemented.  We will share our successes and failures and more importantly our growth. This showcase will also work as a networking opportunity for students. They will be able to make more community connections…it’s not about what you know but about who you know, right Don Wettrick?  Their final task will be to create or update their resume and Linkedin profiles with their experience from the course. Who knows what the will have created to fix a problem, what I do know is that the experience is going to the most valuable asset to employers.

Concerns

And of course there are all the concerns that are floating around in my head…how will I assess them?  How will I keep track of all of them?  How will I support 24 students personalized learning?  What if students don’t show up?  What if we let down our mentors?  What if they don’t come up with a solution?   My philosophy is to forge ahead and deal with it as it comes.  I will have a plan before we get started but I know that I will need to be flexible, that is how life works.

This summer I have meetings lined up to connect with community members that are interested in participating in this experiential learning experiment.  If you know anyone or are interested in participating please let me know 🙂

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers,

R

Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

Are exams relevant anymore?

Today’s classroom        vs    Today’s workplace

If 21st Century Competency Skills are leaning towards the 4Cs should we get rid of exams?

At the end of each course in Ontario high schools students have to complete a summative task that is worth approximately 30% of their final mark.  Traditionally this included a culminating task for the course and a final exam. Up until about four years ago I abided by this summative task and had my students complete a traditional summative and exam.  However, unknowingly to me, my unlearning journey had begun and we made a shift from traditional tasks to more reflective tasks in the traditional model. My students still did their summative and exam but it became a time for reflection that was assessed on their ability to do just that – not what they knew about the course material. Fortunately for me a few years ago teachers were given the greenlight to use their professional judgement and decide what we saw fit for a summative task for our courses. As I continued to unlearn I didn’t think that testing my students on the course content really worked well with what academics were suggesting were 21st century competency skills The 4Cs: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.  Many will argue that if we don’t test and give students exams they will not be prepared for University – I call BS on that.  I argue that if we teach the students skills and to be lifelong learners they will be able to do anything, including taking tests if they have to.  So last year we scrapped the exam completely and moved onto what we call Exit Outcome reflections and the Social Science Fair instead of a traditional exam. For those interested I will explain what we do below :).  

21st-Century-Skills-4-Cs-graphic

Summative Task Part I – Course Reflection

In the first part of the summative task students reflect on their experience in the course (what they are proud of, what they learned, favourite experience, challenges and failures) and the OCDSB Exit Outcomes.  The Exit Outcomes are five characteristics (Collaborative, Globally Aware, Goal-oriented, Innovative/Creative, Resilient) and five skills (Academically Diverse, Critical Thinkers, Digitally Fluent, Effective Communicators, Ethical Decision-makers) that our board is trying to develop in every student. They are expected to provide examples from course material, experiences and from their personal research to showcase all of the above.  They are assessed on their ability to truly reflect and provide examples. I love reading their reflections, to me this is way more valuable than having them write an exam on only course material. It gives them an opportunity to understand the process and really look at the importance of these skills. I know that ever since we have started to define and understand these characteristics and skills in our classroom it has made me think about how I am working on them as well.  It really gives the students an understanding of WHY we are doing what we are doing and hopefully trickles out of our classroom into their daily lives as well. Students can reflect any way that they want. This past semester I had written responses, mind maps, vlogs and podcasts – I am open to any way they see fit. Below are some examples of the amazing and honest answers from the reflections.
First year unlearners

I failed big time in this course, but I failed forward and I learned a lot more than I thought I would. I learned that it’s ok to fail and its ok to not succeed in everything as long as you learn from it and fix it for next time. I learned that it’s ok to put yourself out there even if people don’t answer which is something that I had a lot of trouble with. I was very scared to reach out and ask for help because there is always the risk of failure and the fact that they might not answer but that is ok.   (KO)

My biggest takeaway from the inquiries was that everyone needs help, the level of help will differ from person to person but so will the ability to ask. People all over the world need help, whether that be because they are hungry, homeless or just need to start a conversation. I also learned that even as grade 10 students we can still make a difference. Obviously we won’t be able to end homelessness overnight but just becoming educated on the subject is a start too changing the issue. (EA)

Through the semester I also learned a lot about who I am as a learner and how hard it is for me to learn independently. I’ve had to learn how to unlearn and while trying to do that I learned a lot about myself and how difficult I found it to focus and stay on task. I’ve learned how talkative I can be and how mark oriented I am and that affected my overall performance but it did help me self reflect in learn new things about myself. (MSS)

Second year unlearners

I will continue to be a moonshot thinker by continuing to believe that nothing is out of reach, to think outside of the box, and to not be afraid to try out new things, because doing all of these things will result in growth. I will choose to be bothered by problems so that I can one day find a solution to the problem. By doing this, I might one day be able to accomplish something that will change the world, because if I believe that I can make it happen, then it will happen. (KV)

 
Third year unlearners

It has been a challenge to unlearn, we are used to learning in one way but now we are asked to do it differently.  I am a bookworm and I like to follow rules and in here we are breaking them and bending them. (ME)
To say it’s been a wild ride would be an understatement, I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to take over six of Mrs. Chambers classes. My first class was grade 10 history when I started out I was just your average student, I knew how to work the system; you give me the work, tell me how you want it done and I’ll get it done just as you asked. The school system had killed any and all creativity inside of me. One day, Mrs. Chambers posed the question “What do you want to learn?” I had no idea how to respond to a question as absurd as that. Impressed at her perseverance and determination; she had finally cracked me. It was a long process filled with more failures than success. I needed to learn how to unlearn. The student I was in that grade 10 history is a completely different student you see today. I don’t need to be told what and how to learn, I have my own ideas, passions and goals for my education. Since beginning this process I have had the opportunity to be able to share my story of how I learned to unlearn with other educators. While speaking to them more often than not I am asked “What about the days you don’t do any work?” I respond with not everyday can be a great day, there are days I am motivated and others where I can’t bring myself to do any work, but it is the exact same if I were to be in a regular classroom. You could give a worksheet and if it’s a day where I’m unmotivated odds are that worksheet is going in my bag and won’t see the light of day until the end of year when I clean out my bag. There have been so many ups and downs and I’m grateful for every up and every down as it has allowed me to grow as a person and only better myself. I think one of the biggest challenges for everyone is not giving up. It’s so easy to quit when things don’t go your way, to give in to the people who want to see you fail. Fail 8 times, get up 9. We are a great group of individuals; each motivated to accomplish a variety of different goals and Mrs. Chambers has been there the entire time, guiding us and shaping us to be successful.  (RM)

 
Summative Task Part II – Social Science Fair

In the second part of the summative task students are asked to come up with a conversation piece that represents their journey throughout the semester that they will present at a drop in style Social Science Fair.  The class invited prominent people from the community, our board, parents and pretty much anyone who would listen to them. The guidelines are fairly open but it is suggested that they incorporate the Exit Outcomes, their inquiries / research, course content, genius hour and class activities – ultimately anything they would like to showcase and explain to anyone who comes to see them.  The only mandatory rule is that they are NOT allowed to do anything traditional like a poster or a powerpoint. We have done this for the last year and half and it has been amazing.

While an exam is a good way to see what students know about a course, I truly believe that giving the students a place to reflect and showcase their learning is of equal importance if not more than an exam.   It allows them to connect with the community, it is a place for students to have a voice and be heard, to share their passions, to share their failures and successes, to get a chance to explain something more than once so that get it right, to engage in meaningful conversations and finally to network.  At our first Social Science Fair one of my students was offered a summer position with the local councilor and another was approached to do some work in social media.

Here are few things that the students had to say about it:

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I think it was really cool to be able to show adults that teenagers are more than just lazy and that when we’re actually interested in something we will come up with amazing ideas.

The fair was awesome! I talked to a lot of people and informed a lot of people about what we learned and how we incorporated the exit outcomes. My favourite part was seeing everybody else’s summative and seeing my peers interacts with others. I learned that there are a lot of people who care about what high school children have to say.

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I really enjoyed it, it was an eye-opening experience none like anything I’ve ever been to before. My favourite part was seeing how interested some guests were in what I had to say. I learnt a lot, it made me better at communicated my ideas since I received feedback and gots lot of practice.

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I really enjoyed the Inquiry fair. I thought that everyone did a good job, lots of cool projects. My favourite part was when I got to meet the mayor and talked to him about my school. But I’d say my favourite part was when I got a job offer with Jan Harder. I was talking to her about my plans next year going into urban planning and she told me that she was the chair of the planning committee for the city of Ottawa. She gave me her contact information and told me that she could probably get me a job next summer in the planning department at the city of Ottawa.

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I think that it went really well, at first it was a little difficult to really communicate what I wanted to say but then after a few attempts and practice rounds it went well. Something that I found was that people were actually interested in what I had to say which really surprised me a lot! Once I started talking, people were getting really excited and engaged about what I had to say and they were really interested in what I learned. I think that my favorite part of the social science fair is the fact that I was able to showcase all that I have learned and the things that I have gotten out of this course into one big project and the fact that I could share it with the community instead of just our classroom and some random people on social media. I thought it was a good way to learn how to communicate your ideas and thoughts out in an interesting and innovative way that will engage people in the community.

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I was super nervous about having to talk to people, and show my summative to all these adults (especially Jim Watson). I think it was because I think of ALL adults as my superiors and they’re smarter, and what if I mess up, and look stupid. (STRESS) But once I started talking it got a lot easier and It just flowed . But overall I actually enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. I think I could say that I learned that putting yourself out there a little bit is always hard, but it’s gratifying as well, because people were very impressed with my work and gave me a lot of compliments (which was nice). I also learned not to stress out as much because even if you make mistakes people are understanding and it’s not the end of the world (even when you mess up your words in front of the mayor). The people that came and listened really seemed genuinely interested in my summative and asked some really good questions, and I enjoyed looking at other peoples projects.
Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

 

R

Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

“My biggest issue through school is that I’ve never been interested in what I’m learning.”

Disengaged Students

I have had the pleasure of teaching Sean for the past two years.  Sean is very bright and probably one of the most interesting students I have ever taught. If you have been following this blog you will know that I have been trying to change my classroom so that it allows for everyone to find their passion and then connect it to the course curriculum. For most students finding that passion is a struggle, because they have never been asked, but once they go through the unlearning process it gets easier and easier. Sean is one of the lucky ones, he has found a passion already and is doing amazing things with it. Sean is an entrepreneur and at a very early age he began learning about dirt bikes and other recreational vehicles, he figured out how they run and how to fix them.  He then started buying old bikes, fixing them and then flipping them for a profit. How many of us could say that we were making a profit when we were 7 years old?? Here is the problem…..Sean hates school, has never felt all that smart and his skills outside of the classroom have never really been recognized. This drives me crazy, here you have a kid who has learned to learn on his own, taken it upon himself to start up a little business and feels unworthy to his counterparts at school for 6 hours of the day.  Are you kidding me???

So….over the past 2 years Sean and I have been working together to figure out how he can feel good about himself while in the confines of the school.  He was able to promote eating locally (he has a lot of friends who are farmers), advocate and make people aware of the stigma around going to college (University and College are viewed very differently in Canada – University being the one held in high regard) and more recently he is working on writing a blog about his views on education and how it needs to change.  He wrote and published his first post a few days ago and I had goosebumps. The post has only been out for a couple of days and I am not sure that he realizes the impact he is having on all those other students who feel the same way as him. I have already had students come to me and say that his post was amazing and that they really connected with it….this is, in my opinion why we need to unlearn how we do school.

I asked Sean and his Mother if I could feature his post on my blog and they said yes!! Please read his post below and follow his blog The Fault in Our Education for the rest of the semester – he says he’s got lots more where that came from.  

He and students like him are why I am on this unlearning crusade.  There are more out there then we realize.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

Sean Swayze

My  name is Sean Swayze and I’ve disliked school as long as I remember, School for me has never been something I looked forward to or enjoyed. I grew up in Arnprior, Ontario and attended a public school named AJ Charbonneau. Through public school I was always a pretty average student, I never did exceedingly well but I wasn’t necessarily struggling either. My biggest issue through school is that I’ve never been interested in what I’m learning. Most of the time as I sat in class, my teacher would talk about math or history and I’d be sitting at the back most likely zoned out thinking about Dirt bikes or searching kijiji on my phone as I hid it under my desk. I Guess I never really cared about school, I only did what I had to in order to get through with good enough marks that my parents wouldn’t give me a hard time. I guess I struggled to find the will within myself to put in all the extra effort in order to get an “A” in class. In my mind I just never saw the bigger picture about how memorizing the elements of the periodic table would help me later on in life. The things that really mattered to me were the skills that I learned outside of school. I always had a drive to learn more about dirt bikes and small engines. My parents would make fun of me as it would be almost all I’d talk about, whether it was riding with my friends after school or begging them to lend me money for new parts. No matter what it was I’d make sure no one else got a word in at the dinner table.

My dad had bought me my first dirt bike on my 7th birthday, I can still remember it perfectly. As I started to ride it became my addiction and even if it meant doing laps around my lawn for hours it didn’t matter to me. But then i’d run into problems, My bike would breakdown or something would happen and I wouldn’t be able to ride for days or sometimes weeks. I am, and always have been a very impatient person. I couldn’t handle waiting on dealers to fix my bike and the repairs would get really expensive. I started to want to fix the bike by myself but my dad had no mechanical skills so I decided i’d teach myself. It definitely didn’t happen overnight but now after almost ten years of riding I know the parts of a dirt bike inside and out. It turns out that mechanics was something that came quite easily to me and I really enjoyed it.

Now here I am in grade 11, a student who still doesn’t understand why I’m here day after day. Now I’m not saying school is completely pointless, I’ve definitely learned a few things through my years of school, such as if you don’t show up for class both your teachers and parents will most likely be mad at you. But in all seriousness a student like me who has a different skill set does not have the opportunity to thrive in the education system that we have established today. Just because our skills are not recognized by the way our education system evaluates us it means we are graded poorly and made to feel of a lesser value. In reality we are just as smart but it’s a different type of smart. I have a friend who struggles to read and write, he has always hated school and often wonders why he is there too. By other students he is told he is dumb, yet he can rebuild a motor on his own, he knows how to weld and he has great mechanical abilities, some of the students who are getting extremely good grades struggle to turn a wrench let alone change the oil in their vehicle.

I believe that our education system does fit for some people, they learn the skills that they will need for their future but our students need more options. A student like me who has a different set of skills needs a way to develop those skills and focus on them earlier in their education. I have done so much work that I’ve had no interest in and because of that I’ve felt like I wasted my time, so many of those things I will never use in life, instead I could have been using that time to instead focus and develop the skills that I have strengths in and prepare for my future. This would give me a better opportunity to succeed in what I want to do. Right now in my second semester I have become pretty careless with my education. Summer is just around the corner and I only have a few weeks left until I can go back to grinding out shifts at work and spending every spare minute working on my truck or dirt bike. School has become so seemingly pointless to me that I usually don’t even bring a backpack to school anymore. I took co-op in the morning as a chance for me to get out of a regular classroom and to actually get a taste for what it’s like in the trade. After co-op I come back to school for my final two classes. And to be honest when I’m here it’s not always that terrible but my school day is 7 hours in total. Not to mention the hour drive here, so in total I’m spending 9 hours of my life 5 times a week just to be here. Every week when I look back on what I’ve learned school seems so inefficient to me, 45 hours of my time or more has been spent either here, or getting here and I just feel like there are so many other things that my time could have been better spent on.

Thanks for reading, I now have to leave as I have a dirt bike to buy.

Please follow Sean’s blog here The Fault in Our Education.

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