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 :).  

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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 Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

Experiential Learning all the time, why not?

Unlearning in Barbados

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Last semester I taught a course called Human Growth and Development Throughout the Lifespan where we learn about the Physical, Cognitive and Social-Emotional development of human beings from birth to death.  Part of our unlearning in this course was to engage with community as much as possible. So we went into classrooms at the elementary school across the street from us, invited parents and babies to join us for a mini play group in our library, had a BYOG (Bring your own Grandparent) day where the students got to learn about the lives of some of our Grandparents, went to a retirement home as well as worked with an ELD (English Literacy Development) class from WHS.  All of these experiences have been so rich and I love watching the students learn as they DO, I am convinced that they are getting so much more out of this experience then they ever could from listening to me talk about it. One of our most favourite groups to work with over the past few years have been with the General Learning Program from Woodroffe HS.  This program has AMAZING teachers that do AMAZING things with their students. This is how five students and myself ended up unlearning in Barbados!!

In the GLP classes at WHS students learn by doing.  Many people would say, well this is how this population learns and the teachers in this program do a great job at providing these experiences for their students. It has been amazing working with them and seeing them learning as they DO.  In their program students interact with community for almost 90% of their time (if not more) in the program. They volunteer in the community, they take swimming lessons, do bus training, go winter camping, travel internationally, take cooking lesson, connect with the local community colleges, they do coop in various places depending on their capabilities and for many they end up with paid employment as a result.  Everything that they do has purpose.

Currently these students are working on the Duke of Edinburgh Award and are going for their gold medal.  You can check out the award info here.   Jamie Hughson who is one of the teachers in the GLP program is a huge advocate for these students and really challenges them and the people around them to understand that they can do anything. In order to achieve the gold medal the students must travel internationally. As a result Jamie arranged for 20 special needs students and 11 mainstream students to travel to Barbados.

I have been so fortunate to call Jamie a colleague and friend since I started teaching.  .  As a result we have had the opportunity to work together on some pretty amazing things. Jamie has been unlearning with his students for way over a decade and it his program that has inspired a lot of what we do in my classes even though I teach in the mainstream and work with students whose post secondary destinations are very different than his.  This year, what started out as a connection between my Human Development class and the GLP classes learning together turned into an international trip to Barbados….not too bad!!

So here I write this latest blog post from Christ Church Parish in Barbados.  For the past few days we have been learning about the geography and history of this beautiful island, watching history be made with an election that ended in all 30 seats in their parliament won by one party (Barbados Labour Party) and the inauguration of their first ever female Prime Minister (Mia Mottley), eating in the local fish markets and observing the culture, shopping the local markets and exploring the capital of Bridgetown, interacting with new students from different schools and different programs, met children from a local orphanage and brought them presents from Canada and have learned a lot about the GLP program, its teachers, its students and how it works. As we sit and have great discussions about all of these things  I have been thinking, why can’t our mainstream students program mirror that of Jamie’s and his GLP’s? Why can’t what we do at school have more purpose and connection to community? Why can’t our students – all students, no matter where their destination is after school be more involved in the community and do more hands on learning? I am not saying that some class time is not necessary at all, but sitting in desks, 4 periods a day for 75 minutes per class is not right. I have seen this change happen in schools like Iowa BIG and the Met Schools and wonder why this is not happening more?  Why do we need to segregate subjects into 75 minute periods when we could be learning cross curricularly in a way that makes sense to each individual student?

Check out Iowa Big here to see that it can happen!!

Now, I understand that learning in Barbados is not necessarily reality, however I think it is super important to point out how much learning has happened for my students while being here.  It is not the fact that we are in Barbados, but it is about the experience and I believe this can happen anywhere. I wonder if we approached learning in a way where we didn’t say…I have to teach this specific thing in this specific order, rather approach teaching by asking what do you want to learn, and then look to see what skills I (me being the teacher) will need to support you with while you learn it and then look at connecting curriculum / subjects afterwards to see what has been covered.  I asked my students what they think they have learned since being here and then quickly categorized their experiences into areas of study in school. Here is what we came up with…

Working with students with special needs (Human Growth & Development, Leadership)

Harrison’s Caves – SO cool, if you are ever in Barbados you have to go! (Science, Geography, History)

Visit to an Orphanage, meeting and playing with little kids (Human Dev, Social Justice & Equity)

Bus Tour of the Island (Geography, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, Politics)

Election –  first Female Prime Minister was voted in and sworn in – she won ALL 30 seats available in their parliament.  We have had a ton of discussions with Barbadians about this and what it means for their country. (Politics, Economics, Gender Studies)

Oistins Fish Market (Anthropology, World Cultures, Food & Nutrition, Science)

Converting US dollars to Bajan dollars (Maths)

Creating friendships, meeting new people from other countries (Hum Dev, Sociology, Geography, Politics)

This learning experience will be memorable and they have touched on so many different areas of curriculum all in one go.  Now couldn’t we do this in regular school? If you look at models like Iowa Big it is evident that this type of learning is not just for students with special needs, but can benefit everyone no matter where they are going in life.  As the school year winds down, I am already thinking of all the new unlearning that we will be doing next year.

Thanks for unlearning with us in Barbados 🙂

Cheers, R, J, J, H, S, E

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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.