Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

Continuing to Unlearn

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

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

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

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

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

Cheers, R

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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 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

 

Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

The art of letting go…how I transitioned to a Student Centred Classroom

letting-go

We have all heard the latest buzzwords in education: differentiation, inquiry, innovation and creation and more recently student centred.  In discussion with colleagues it is evident that many teachers would like to try a more student centred classroom, but feel that there are many barriers in the way and just not quite sure how to go about doing it.  Over the past five years, I have been on a journey of figuring out how to let go. These are some of the frequently asked questions and concerns that I get when talking to other teachers about moving toward a student centred classroom.

Class size

When you have a class of 25 – 30 students how do you track what they are doing if they are all doing different things?

How do you cover all of the curriculum?

If I don’t have every student cover all of the curriculum I am not doing my job.

Don’t you feel out of control?

I struggle with this one all the time, I think it is in every teacher’s nature to want to be in control.  If I give up control of my classroom what is going to happen in my classroom? If I don’t tell them what to do they, they won’t do anything!  How do you get them to work, how do you keep them on track?

Grades

If I have to put marks on a report card I have to have a way to gather a grade, how do I mark 30 different things?

Permission

Do I have the permission of my administrator and parents to try this out?  What will be the backlash if it doesn’t work?
All of the above are legitimate concerns and I struggle with most of them daily. In this post, I would like to share with you how I have worked with and against a lot of these concerns to create a student centred classroom.

We need to get over our fears and jump in!

As you may have noticed in my previous posts, I am on a mission to change the way we do things in education.  I have gone to many workshops, heard people speak, watched TED Talks, read articles, joined twitter chat groups and come to the conclusion that I just have to do it.  While the above barriers exist I have decided that I need to get over my fears and just try some stuff out.

I often have discussions with colleagues about what a student centred classroom looks like.  A lot of them want to try it but are concerned that nothing will get done. I have to agree with them when they say this.  By the time students are in grade 12, they have spent 14 years being told to sit down, be quiet and wait for instructions. If all of a sudden you ask them the questions,  what do you want to learn, how do you want to learn it and what will you do once you have gathered your information, they will not know how to answer this and when given time to do this they will do nothing, mostly because they are lost not because they don’t want to do things.  Self-regulation needs to be scaffolded and introduced at a young age. A perfect example of where this is happening is at Blue Sky School in Kanata, ON.  At BSS they are completely student centred and are teaching students as young as ten years old to drive their own learning.

I recently came across this sketchnote by Trevor Mackenzie entitled Types of Student Inquiry from his book Inquiry Mindset.  It is a great representation of what I have been doing in my classes, as I have gradually let go of control and put into the student’s hands.

inquiry steps

 

What I have found is that the gradual steps to independence and autonomy in the classroom are necessary.  What I am doing is by no means perfect but this is what I have found works.

In grade 10 and 11 I follow the outline that I posted in How do I incorporate inquiry, innovation and all that other stuff they want me to bring into my classroom?  Students have the freedom to choose issues that they are passionate about and then they follow our Inquiry steps outlined below.

Grade 10 & 11 syllabus for this semester:

  1. Inquiry # 1 – Goal Create awareness
  2. Inquiry # 2 – Goal same as above + create a Solution
  3. Action Plan – What do you want to learn, how would you like to learn it, what will you do with the information once you have learned it?  (NEW THIS SEMESTER FOR GR 10s)
  4. Twitter
  5. Genius Hour
  6. Social Science Fair

Inquiry Steps:

  • Choose a current issue – something that you are passionate about, could be passionate about, that you are already involved in, etc.
  • Learn about the current issue and become an advocate for it.
  • Create a media piece to gain attention, followers etc. post it – over and over and over to get traction
  • Use the Social Scientific Method to research your issue in relation to your course material.
  • Campaign:  As you research tweet out, and at people who care about your issue – connect with organizations and classmates. Try to get on the twitter pyramid.
  • Ultimate Goal – get noticed, get your message out there, create a solution – do something that matters.
  • Assessment – students are assessed on a biweekly basis via Twitter, each student reflects at the end of each inquiry and gives themselves next steps for their next one.

After my grade 10s and 11s go through the inquiry process twice we are going try out something that has very few rules to test out their ability to go solo with me as their support.   They will be asked the question what do you want to learn, how do you want to go about learning it and once you’ve learned it what will you DO with the information. From there they sit with a mentor and map out an action plan that we write on the walls.  I tried this out with my grade 11s and 12s last semester and the things that came from it were amazing!! I have to admit that while this was happening last semester I felt totally out of control and really felt that nothing was happening, but when the students shared what they had done I was blown away.

So, for this semester I decided that we would run the entire grade 12 World Issues course by giving students choice in everything that they do. At the beginning of the course I brought in about 10 – 15 different people from different organizations to tell us about issues that are faced worldwide.  We watched documentaries and had discussions. They followed organizations and people that related to the course and built a network on Twitter. Then they were asked what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn it and what will they do with the information once they have learned about it. It has taken almost 1.5 months to sort out what everyone was doing, but I think we are on track now.  Each student in my class has filled out a project sheet that has at least 6 items on it which are the things that they will complete by the end of the semester. Some examples include, two students have chosen to lead things that they like doing in other classes such as debates or watching documentaries that relate to the course curriculum, we sit down with a calendar and map out what days those will happen, the other students in the class can participate in them if they want to but can choose to opt out of them if they wish.  Another student would like us to do yoga as a class (she is researching mental health), and has asked her yoga instructor to come in and lead a class, again this gets put on the class calendar. Other examples are visiting and working with the elderly in a retirement home, organizing a day for some of us to go to a food centre to cook and freeze meals for their clients, rallying and organizing students and teachers to give blood, bringing in dogs to class for some pet therapy, starting a #nostraw movement, leading discussions, working with Blue Sky School students and so many other things! What I struggle with and have been working on is how to keep everyone organized and on track.  One of the things that the students are expected to do each day when they come to class is to look at the calendar and see what is happening. If there is a group activity, as mentioned before they can opt in or out, they then have to use a sheet that we adapted from Blue Sky School and they have to map out their route for the class. They have to indicate specifically what they will work on and check it off as they go. We keep track of their project list, a calendar for each of them and their daily route maps in a binder for both of us to access. The hope is that when it comes time to reflect on their progress they can refer back to what they said they were going to do and see if they actually did it.

Sorry for the uber long paragraph, I am taking a breath now.  This is just a snip-it of what I am trying out and it is ever evolving.  I am happy to share anything that I have mentioned above. I apologize if it is hard to follow, my description is exactly like my classroom, controlled chaos.  Let me know if you want to know more and we can connect!!

If you are interested, I plan to outline in more detail how we use Social Media, how we cover curriculum and how we come up with grades in future posts.

Thanks for reading!!

R

Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

My Students do work even though I don’t give them marks…SAY WHAT???

Image result for say what?

In my last post, How do I incorporate inquiry, innovation and all that other stuff they want me to bring into my classroom? I outlined what I do in my classes.  Over the next few posts, I intended to dig a little deeper into each of the different things outlined. The first one I am going to look at is:

Enlighten them!!  I teach them about unlearning, about what is wrong with the current system and show them that we need to change in order to prepare them for the real world.  This prepares them for their unlearning process.

After many discussions with colleagues, I have concluded that some teachers are reluctant to stray away from the norm in their classrooms because they are concerned about what the administration and parents will think. They are also concerned that if the focus is not on marks, then students will not do anything.  I often get the question, what kind of pushback do you get from the admin and parents and my answer is simple….none. I am pretty transparent with both admin and parents about what I am doing. At the beginning of the semester, I send an email to parents outlining my teaching philosophy as well as what we will be doing and why.  While I am sure there are some parents that are questioning it at home, I have only heard positive things so far. Another question I often get is what about the students? How do they respond to this? Do they even complete anything?

Starting  my Students on an Unlearning Journey

As mentioned in my previous post What Exactly is Unlearning,  The unlearning movement involves what Peter Hutton describes as ‘“ new ways to think in the face of established practices.”’ So for the first week of the course, I  take my students on that journey so that they can think differently about what school is when they are in my classroom. I use the following PowerPoint to discuss all of these things.

Click here to view my powerpoint Welcome to HPA Social Sciences

My goal in doing this is to open their eyes and get them to see that it is necessary for all of us to unlearn. Yesterday I told my classes that I was writing this post and asked them for their initial reaction to that week-long enlightenment session and the start of the class. Here are some of the reactions I got:

“I was confused, I was waiting for it to turn into a normal class where there are assignments, readings, tests, notes etc.”.

“I was worried about how I would get my marks and how I could do well”.

“I was afraid that I would never break out of the structured way of being taught”.

“I saw that this was a new atmosphere, all other classes have structure, this class is different – even the physical set up of the room is different”.

“How am I going to get marks?”

“I was super uncomfortable”.

“In the beginning, I saw independence as a chance to do nothing and then saw it as an opportunity to learn things that I wanted.”

“I still gravitated to school like topics and assignments, I didn’t know how to do something that I was passionate about”.

“Confusion – ya always, because it was different because I didn’t know what I was doing, lack of structure – it was the first time I was told that you can do your own thing.”

“I thought it was sick, I thought, I am actually going to get to try and do things that I want to do”. (FYI sick = good)

“It is hard for me – I like things that are right or wrong, yes and no, black and white.”

“No guidelines scares me…..”

“FINALLY, someone who will teach this way! I have been waiting for someone to teach this way since I was in elementary school”.

“I thought it was interesting and exciting.”

“Agreed with it.”

“Agreed that education system is outdated.”

“I do what the teachers tell me to do and you told me to learn things on my own so that is what I am going to do.”

You can see that I have two different types of students (actually, there are three but I will talk about that group in another post, these are the ones that have totally checked out of school altogether).  The first group is reluctant, confused and unsure about the class.  The second group is excited and ready to go. The second group buys in quite easily, but still needs to go through the unlearning process. Whereas, the first group needs a lot more encouragement and proof that they will still be able to get the grades that they want. The unlearning process is hard for them because they have mastered the current process and are motivated by marks.  These students are the toughest to win over, but every semester I have a handful of them that I successfully break!! Meet Britney below as she talks about her unlearning journey.

Britney is an amazing young lady who does really well in school.  She has taken three of my classes and found each one tough to navigate through. This is a video of her at our Social Science Fair explaining her journey from last semester.

 

So there you have it, don’t get me wrong, my classroom is by no means perfect AT ALL.  However, I have support from my admin, the parents and after a little time in my classroom the students as well.

Thanks for joining us on our unlearning journey.  I hope you will join us!

Cheers,

R

P.S. My students assess themselves through reflections, I am still tied to giving out grades at midterm and the end of the semester.  I will discuss this further in another post.

Posted in Why Unlearn?

What exactly is Unlearning?

unlearn a toffer

In my first few posts I have tried to explain what I feel is wrong with our current education system, and hopefully I have got some of your attention.  I truly believe that society, teachers, parents and students need to unlearn the current system, but what exactly is unlearning? Before we can define unlearning, we will need to define what it is that we need to unlearn, school, the role of teacher and student.  

What does it mean to be a teacher?

In a traditional sense it means that they are the keeper of knowledge, they are the ones that tell students what they need to know and how to learn it.  This was a great model for the industrial age and maybe for a couple of centuries to follow. But it is outdated, and does not prepare students for the world that they will live in.   In Peter Gamwell’s book Wonderwall, he suggests that we live in an age of complexity, that we no longer need to spit out carbon copies of students who know the same stuff. Don Wettrick points out that in a few years 40% of jobs will be made up by the “Gig” economy, and that students will need to be able to solve problems by being innovative and creative.

“A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors.”  (techtarget.com)

What does it mean to be a student?

For the past 200 years students have been consumers of knowledge.  They learn whatever they are being taught and then regurgitate it to prove that they know it. Usually they have very little control over what they learn and how they learn it.

Some responses to the need for change.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of initiatives to change student engagement throughout my teaching career.  Even though there are things that still resemble the industrial revolution (bells and rows) teachers are doing amazing things to deliver content in a more engaging way. We’ve learned about different types of learners and implemented better ways for these students to learn (kinesthetic, audio, visual etc), we’ve used differentiated instruction, classrooms have been equipped with the latest technology such as smart boards, ipads, chromebooks and more recently we have been implementing more inquiry into our classes.  This is all a great start, and some of these methods should remain, but it is not enough, we need to redefine the traditional student / teacher roles as well as the definition of the traditional classroom. The classroom walls need to come down. We need to wipe the slate clean and start fresh so that our schools resemble the world in which our students will be living.  Students need to become creators rather than consumers and teachers need to become mentors / facilitators.

So what exactly is unlearning?

I enjoy change, actually I thrive on it.  I have never taught a class the same way more than once.  I am constantly looking for some way to change things up and do a better job.  I reflect on what went right and what didn’t and work from there. I’d say most teachers do this, but they continue to change their lessons / assignments in a more traditional way. As mentioned in previous posts, I have been inspired by many progressive educators who are saying enough is enough, things have got change. So I have jumped on the unlearning bandwagon and am challenging the traditional definitions of education, classroom, teacher and student.   

The unlearning movement involves what Peter Hutton describes as ‘“new ways to think in the face of established practices.”’ (Flanagan) This concept is hard to achieve in our current system as most teachers feel overwhelmed with limitations  and barriers that include lack of time to unlearn, covering curriculum, class sizes,  lack of technology, behaviour problems and the need to provide marks, to name a few. However some leaders are recognizing that it needs to happen. Recently I have been reading about Peter Hutton, head of Beaver Country Day School and Marga Biller, project director of Harvard’s Learning Innovations Laboratory, and how they are taking a whole school approach and putting their teachers through the unlearning process.  Biller points out that, ‘”We’ve all gone to workshops and seminars and learned from a class,” she said. “We go there, gain skills, change mindsets, we get very excited, and then we head back to work and things get in the way. And then we wonder why change isn’t taking place.” She said often what stands in the way of implementing change is the inability to see things beyond what they’ve always been in the past.” (Flanagan)  These two organizations are going to work together to challenge what has always been by using a process where they will change mindsets, habits and build trust.

While I know it is not realistic for every school to stop everything and put their staff and students through the unlearning process, I would like to show you that it can be done.

In my next few posts, I plan to outline my unlearning journey from traditional teacher to an unlearned teacher.  I hope you will continue to read, ask questions and maybe try to do a little unlearning of your own.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

For more reading on Beaver Country Day School and Harvard’s LILA see below.

Almeida, Debora. “Should Students Be Learning or Unlearning? – The Boston Globe.”BostonGlobe.com, 21 Oct. 2016, http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/west/2016/10/21/should-students-learning-unlearning/uvpDTMsdvuYtkXjNtUrRFN/story.html.

Flanagan, Linda. “Why ‘Unlearning’ Old Habits Is An Essential Step For Innovation | MindShift | KQED News.” KQED, 23 June 2017, http://www.kqed.org/mindshift/48480/why-unlearning-old-habits-is-an-essential-step-for-innovation.
“Learning Innovations Laboratory.” Learning Innovations Laboratory | Project Zero, http://www.pz.harvard.edu/projects/learning-innovations-laboratory.

“What Is Gig Economy? – Definition from WhatIs.com.” WhatIs.com, May 2016, whatis.techtarget.com/definition/gig-economy.

 

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Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

A Students Perspective on why we NEED to unlearn our current system.

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Student X reads more books in a week than most adults do in a year.  He’s read Sapiens, Homo Deus , Superintelligence , Breakfast of Champions, Einstein: His Life & Universe, The Odyssey, The Stranger, Personal Power Through Awareness, Vagabonding and Thinking Fast and Slow in the past year just to name a few.  Everyday he enlightens us with something new that he has learned.  He has taught me and his classmates so much about so many different topics, he has lent me his books (I have only got through one of them) and he constantly makes connections to course material,  and get this,  in conversation with him he tells me that, “I have never felt smart in school”…..WHAT??
Meet Cameron Lamoureux, a grade 12 student who I have had the opportunity to coach and teach over the last three years.  In the first two years that I knew him, Cam’s teachers (including myself) would describe him as a very smart, and capable student who was not working to his full potential.  Cam is an extremely intelligent and insightful young man.  Below is a video interview and a post from his blog camlam.blog where he shares his views on our current system.  If this doesn’t get you to think twice about our need to unlearn, I’m not sure what will.

 

Learning to Learn

From the moment we start school, we are taught to play. There is certainly a lot of benefit to play. Although, the older we become the less we do it, we lose connection with our own interests and become distracted by material factors such as money or a new promotion. Our minds and bodies become less of a priority while we focus on larger goals for the well-being of others.

All of this playing teaches us something extremely valuable that traditional education does not. It teaches us to learn the way that we do best. Whether that be with our eyes, hands or ears.  Don’t get me wrong, I love standardized testing as much as the next guy. However, I am a firm believer in the power that each and every one of us possess to create change and add value to our world. Our everyday experiences are what make up our lives and in order to create the most meaning within those moments we must learn how we learn. Not as a society. As a human being. What is the best way for you to intake information. How do you learn? What factors contribute to your knowledge? These are questions that traditional schooling never answers. We are given a foundation of knowledge to memorize and regurgitate. The majority won’t even be given the opportunity to look inwardly for answers. Others may fall behind and give up on the learning process completely. Learning how to teach yourself any information  you desire to learn is a priceless tool that most people will never truly master or take advantage of. All because we are shrouded from the answers throughout our childhood. As I stroll through my path down the traditional school system, I’ve come to realize a lot. We are definitely not given all the answers, despite the fact that we occasionally think we’ve memorized them all. The only answer we need is in the questions.

CamLam

You can visit and follow Cam’s blog on mindfulness, learning and productivity at camlam.blog, you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for reading 🙂

R

Citations

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“Student Voice.” Ontario Ministry of Education, 22 Dec. 2017, http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/students/speakup/preMSAC.html.