Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

Operation Project Based Classroom, how do I stay on top of all of these different projects???

project based learning

So we are two months in and we have been hard at work trying to change the world…project by project.  We have had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures. I have had days where I am so excited to share what is happening in our classroom with anyone who will listen and then there are days that I drive home ready to burst into tears because I feel so out of control.  At the end of every project my students are asked to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what they learned from the process. When I feel like crying I do what I ask my students to do and reflect. I take what I have learned from what we have been doing and try to find ways to make it better.  I love what my students are doing, I believe in what we are doing, but I often struggle to find a way to feel in control. Managing a project based classroom is probably my biggest challenge right now. I am by no means an expert at all, in this post I will outline how I am trying to keep it all together.

Taking my cue from Don Wettrick’s blueprint in Pure Genius we embarked on our project based learning by looking for issues around the school that the students could find solutions for.  The kids were super excited and had some really great ideas. As mentioned above we had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures.

Project Development Cycle

When working on our projects my students go through five steps from start to finish.

  1. Brainstorm projects and write up a proposal.
  2. Work on project until completion date.
  3. Reflect on the project.
  4. Negotiate mark with teacher.
  5. Start Over

Proposal

They are required to complete a proposal that includes:

  1. The issue that they will be exploring / coming up with a solution.
  2. Step by Step instructions that includes a completion date and mini goals to get there.
  3. At least 3 curriculum expectations that they will be covering as they complete the project.
  4. How many points their project is worth.

The proposal has been a lifesaver and pain in the ass all at the same time.  Once the proposals are complete they are what keep the students on track and give them guidance.  It makes them accountable and really helps them to stay motivated (for the most part). However, getting the proposals completed is tough.  Since the students have never mapped out their own learning before they require a lot of guidance and help. It is really hard for me to give each person / group the attention that they need.  There is one of me and 30 of them!! So I have recruited some former students, friends of mine who work from home, our former VP who is now retired and a set of Grandparents to come in and help me with this process.   This has been a huge help, especially in the brainstorming stage.

Another challenge I have found with the proposals is that since the students all started their projects at the same time most students were finishing up their first projects all at once.  This meant that I was having to negotiate / conference with students when they finished but then they required help to get started on their next project proposal. This was very overwhelming for me and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it!!  But we all powered through and got them all going on a second project. I am finding now that we are at the mid way mark, most students have such different deadlines it makes it so much easier. I have the ability to negotiate with only a few groups a week as well as helping those who need it on their next proposal or those who need help on the projects that they are working on.  

Once the proposals were completed and approved, the students got going on their projects. It was a lot of running from group to group to group but other than being tired at the end the day it was manageable.  I was able to move around and support students with their projects. However, where it became unmanageable was trying to figure out who was finishing up, who needed to work on their reflection, who needed to negotiate and who was starting the process all over again.  I had my students sharing their proposals with me in google classroom and was attempting to keep track of all of them there. I found this very difficult so I decided to use the board below to keep myself and the students updated on who was at each stage. For a couple of weeks I fixed this board up every morning and then would go over it at the beginning of each class.  I found it very helpful for me for a bit and just recently found it hard to stay on top of. I have now abandoned this method and am trying out a new tracking method.

Work - reflect- negotiate - brianstorm

I have moved from electronically looking at the proposals to having the students fill out a project list (they add their projects to it as they go), I ask that they hand write or print out a copy of their proposal and I have created a file folder for each student to keep track of all of their projects.  Now when they get a proposal approved a copy of it goes into that folder and I put what the project is, how much the project is worth, and when it will be completed into a spreadsheet. I have new whiteboards with every student on it with their project and dates and I will update my whiteboards probably once every two weeks or so.

human dev

My next step is to create a google form that I think I will fill out once the proposal is approved.  I am hoping that this will provide me with a spreadsheet where I can sort the students and keep track of each of their projects etc, we will see how that goes.

We are very much in a trial by error /  learn by failure situation in my classroom.  If you have a PBL classroom and have any suggestions I am SO open to any help you might give.

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, R 🙂

Picture
“School District of Ashland.” Project Based Learning Schools (3rd – 12th Grade) / Project Based Learning, Ashland Elementary Charter School, http://www.ashland.k12.wi.us/Page/1290.
Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour, Why Unlearn?

Overcoming obstacles when transitioning to a passion based classroom.

motivational-Quote-on-obstacles-doubters-mistake-hardwork

The countdown is on here in Ottawa and we will head back to school in T-minus 1 week. I am super excited to get back into the classroom as I am feeling relaxed and recharged after some time away from school and have enjoyed some amazing family time and travel throughout the summer.  I have also been reflecting on the past school year, reading books such as A More Beautiful Question, Social Leadia, Code Breaker, The Wonderwall and Pure Genius, listening to podcasts, chatting with like minded people, connecting with community people and organizations that we will be working with in the fall and have been wrapping my head around what next years classes will look like.  

research-roadblocks-hero

Although I am excited and feel rejuvenated I am still anticipating a few roadblocks / obstacles in my unlearning journey. Some obstacles I have already dealt with, while I am sure there will be new ones that pop up as we go.  Below are three of the most frequently asked questions I get about transitioning into a passion based / inquiry classroom.  If you are not sure about the unlearning that is happening in our classroom you can check out some of my earlier posts that outline our journey.

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

Students are suffocating and we need to do something about it.

How do I incorporate inquiry, innovation and all that other stuff they want me to bring into my classroom?

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

Creating an Authentic Audience, using Social Media in the Classroom

 

FAQ

 

Does your Admin support this type of learning?

YES!!  I would argue that most administrators have jumped on this bandwagon and are looking for teachers to take risks and try out new things.  They too are unlearning and figuring out how to support these types of classrooms. I have found that communication is key in getting support of your administrators.  Explain to them the what, why and how of your vision and I can guarantee that they will be on board.

Roadblock: Board policies – Some of the biggest issues that I have faced when trying to change things up are understanding all the board policies, rules and regulations and staying on top of paperwork.   The unlearning process can be tough and these rules can be a huge deterrent for teachers, as most are rule followers. Experiential learning can be tough when there are all kinds of hoops to jump through.  Also as a teacher it is often tough to stay on top of all of the paperwork during the school year.

Suggestion:  Obviously there are rules that cannot be broken, but having an open dialogue about some of the archaic rules and regulations can help in finding ways to work within them.  When it comes to paperwork, work with whoever is in charge of field trips and get them to help you with it at the beginning of the school year. I am super lucky to have an administrator who helps me with it all 🙂  I am hoping to get as much paperwork completed before school starts so that it can be sent home right away, get it collected and let the hands on learning begin.

How do you get Students to buy in?

At the beginning of the course I spend an entire week with my new students in grade 10 (I have taught most of my grade 11s and 12s before so I will have an altered version of this) having them go through an “unlearning” process.  Instead of going through a course syllabus we discuss things like skills and characteristics employers are looking for in their new employees, the changing world that they live in that requires a more entrepreneurship and philanthropic mentality, we discuss creativity and innovation and look at how school has conditioned them not to think or be creative and finally we discuss the fact that society has failed them in convincing them that failure is a bad thing.  We watch TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson (Creativity & Innovation), Angela Duckworth (GRIT) , Carol Dweck (Growth Mindset) and I tell them that FAILURE is expected in my classes. We talk about assessment and how it has prevented learning for the sake of learning but “learning” for a grade. We discuss that the process is what we will be focusing on rather than the product. We talk about the need for them to network and learn how to use Social Media in a meaningful way.  

Roadblock: By the end of the week I would have to say that I have a quarter of the students who are super pumped, half of the class that are a little confused but intrigued by this new method and then there is the last quarter who have been very successful in school and are very weary and still ask me, so how do I get a 90 % + in this course?

Suggestion:  Keep reiterating the importance of process to all students especially the ones who just want to know what they have to do to get the 90%.  Eventually they will understand that if they take a step back and try and figure out what they are interested in and passionate about the 90s will come.

How do you get Parents to buy in?

At the beginning of the semester I send an email to all of my students parents introducing myself, explaining what we will be doing over the semester and following it up with my teaching philosophy.  My introductory email is intended to have parents “unlearn” how school works and understand that in order to support their child in their learning they will need to “relearn” the way things work. I continue to email parents about once a month about what is happening in the class so that they can continue to support their children.  The students are all on Twitter so they should be able to follow what is happening and I share everything that we are doing via Twitter as well.

Roadblock:  Even though most parents are supportive of what we are doing, they are still very concerned about the mark.  I get where they are coming from, because unfortunately as of right now that is what will get their children into University or College.  

Suggestion: Again, I really believe that the more you dialogue with parents, the more they will jump on board. If students are working on passion based projects, it is inevitable that everyone’s “marks” will be great!!

I am NOT an expert, just a teacher trying to model risk taking, trying things out, failing and learning from each failure.  I am happy to share the good the bad and the ugly and love chatting with others about what they are doing.  

Thanks for unlearning with us.

Cheers, 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.

Posted in Why Unlearn?

Teach Skills not Content

skills

A few years ago I found a list of essential life skills that I wanted my students to use as their curriculum in my classroom.  We decided that we would use the course material to work on those essential skills – you can see them below. For the life of me I can not find the site that I borrowed these from.  It was definitely somewhere in the UK…sorry!!

Learning to Learn

  • Self Directed Learning skills
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Right mindset
  • Emotional resilience
  • Grit

Learning to Think

  • Independence & creative thinking
  • Innovative problem solving
  • Judicious decision making

Learning to Listen & Tell

  • Narrative skills
  • Persuasive skills
 

Learning to Collaborate

  • Empathy
  • Accepting diversity
  • Teamwork

Learning to Earn & Give

  • Financial literacy
  • Philanthropy

Learning to Be

  • Self awareness
  • Pursuit of goals larger than own interest

Little did I know that our board already had something called EXIT OUTCOMES.  I found a lot of overlap with the essential life skills that we had been focusing on. Now we use the combination of the two as our curriculum.

exit outcomes
I want my students to be ok with failing and willing to take risks, learn to be able to learn on their own, to be self-motivated and self-regulated, confident, feel valued, motivated and excited for their next chapter.  I want them to leave with a set of essential life skills that no matter what content they learned they will have the ability to be successful in anything that they want to pursue. They may not all take the same path in getting there, but I want to know that they will have the ability to get there because of this toolbox of skills that they possess.

Just in Time learning vs Just in Case Learning

I listened to Sergio Marrero: Just In Time Learning or Just In Case? on Don Wettricks StartedUp podcast a month or so ago and was intrigued.  Marrero talks about College in the US and how he feels that there is a need for a post secondary option that focuses on Just in Time Learning rather than Just in Case learning.  He suggests that a lot of traditional Colleges focus on the concept of teaching students what they might need in the future rather than what they need right now. I would argue that this is the same for our elementary and high schools.  It has been the teachers job to prepare students for their next steps, in elementary school they teach a lot of just in case you need this in high school, in high school we teach just in case you might need this in post secondary and beyond.  But is it time to get rid of this model? Rather than sitting through classes that bore some students to death, why can’t we work on the skills that the students will need later in life by finding out what students are interested in learning right now and connecting curriculum to that?  I am trying this out in my Social Science classes but, the question that I have been pondering is how do we do that in all subject areas, is it even possible? As mentioned I teach in the Social Sciences and any time I have this conversation with people it is always, that is great and I can see how that works in the Social Sciences, but it would never work in Maths or Science.  I am on a mission to prove that teaching skills over content can happen in any class. What I want to figure out is what set of skills would someone need in order to pursue something that they did not go to school for. For example if I wanted to be an engineer but did not take maths and sciences in high school or university what set of skills would I need to eventually become an engineer?

I have often wonder where my set of tools came from.  I can hypothesize that first and foremost they come from home, some genetic, other activities and experiences that I was exposed to over my lifetime and finally school.  I am so fortunate to have been brought up in a household with two amazing parents who were great role models for me. My mother is a retired elementary school teacher who was so passionate about everything that she did at school, she is a true leader.  She ran anti bullying programs, worked with inner city kids and modeled perseverance and lifelong learning when she worked on her degree by taking night school all while raising a family and working full time. My father was the GM of a Steel Mill who from day one instilled in his girls that they would be strong, confident and independent.  He never treated us like “girls” and taught us to throw a baseball, drive a boat and understand how to fix things if we were stranded, meet deadlines and always be on time. He modeled confidence, compassion and empathy and was there for us when ever we needed him. I also played competitive volleyball for an organization that was coached by Catholic School Teachers.  While volleyball was important to them, the way we conducted ourselves in public and with each other was one of their top priorities. Sport taught me perseverance, good health, teamwork and collaboration. My teammates were like my sisters and we learned so much together. We travelled a lot and learned a lot of life skills while on the road. We learned about philanthropy and giving back. I know for a fact that the time spent with this group is a huge part of who I am today. As for school,  I would say that I definitely learned how to read and write, numeracy and how to interact with teachers and peers. However, I find it hard to figure out what about who I am today is a result of my schooling. I would argue – not all that much.

In my fourth year of University I worked at the GAP and H & R Block as a receptionist. While I was working at H & R Block I learned a lot about tax preparation. As exciting as that sounds, I decided to take the course that would allow me to prepare taxes.  I have a degree in history with a minor in geography. One would think that I would need some sort of math or accounting background to do this but I didn’t and I was still able to successfully complete the course and prepare some taxes – this would be a case for some just in time learning.  

Skip ahead a year, after I finished university I decided to take some time off before going to teachers college to enjoy life and work. I ended up getting a job as a receptionist at an accounting firm.  I worked here for about a year. While I was there my bosses approached me and asked me what my future plans were. I told them that I wanted to be a teacher and was hoping to go to teachers college. It was pretty tough to get into teachers college at the time so I wasn’t sure I would get in.   They sat me down and asked me if I would be interested in getting into accounting. While I was flattered, I knew that working in an office was not for me. But, what I am wondering is this – if I had all the tools needed to learn something that was not related to what I learned in school would I be able to do it?  In my experience I think yes. If I really wanted to become an accountant, I could have pursued this because I would have been motivated, confident and would learn what I needed to learn in order to make it happen. I wouldn’t have used much from my just in case learning, but I would have to pull from the skills from my tool box.  Now the question is, can all people do this if they are equipped with the right tools before heading out into the “real world”?

I am curious to hear people’s thoughts on this.  How much of who I am today and what I am capable of comes from my just in case learning in high school when I was very disengaged???

Thanks again for reading 🙂

Cheers, R

 

Posted in Classroom Examples

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Unlearning.

learning from failure
At the end of last semester, we tried something new out in our classroom. I wanted to give the students the opportunity to really own their learning.  I asked them, what do you want to learn, how do you want to learn it and once you have acquired the knowledge what will you do with it?  We sat down, created action plans and wrote them up on the wall. They were given two weeks to work on it and I checked in with them every few days to see where they were at and helped coach them if they needed it.  During the process, I was convinced that they were doing absolutely NOTHING and I was very uncomfortable. BUT to my surprise on the show and tell day they amazed me with what they had done. We had a workshop on the stock market, a TED Talk comedy routine and some really great discussions.  As a result, I was super excited for what this meant for my next semester class. I decided that my new class would look like this…

Grade 12 University World Issues

GOALS – Over the semester I hope that they will learn – self regulation, self-motivation, time management, empathy, resilience, perseverance, communication skills, self-advocacy, project management, social media skills, exposure to Sustainable Development Goal’s, doing things with purpose, passion.

Over the entire semester, they are to work on six things in total.  Some of them were non-negotiable but 4 / 6 of them were up to them.  The goal would be that we would have one – two days a week for students who wanted to lead discussions or debates.  The other days would be work periods or field trips and/or activities. The expectation was that they would work on all of their chosen individual/group projects over the semester.  They were expected to tweet about what they were doing on a regular basis so that I can see what they were working on and reflect on their connections to the SDG’s via a google form. Below was the initial layout for the course.

  1. Bring in as many guests as possible to expose students to issues related to the SDG’s
  2. Watch documentaries to fill in the gaps
  3. Create Action plans that would evolve over the semester
  4. Create a project list that included 6 projects:
    1. Action Plan
    2. Twitter
    3. Genius Hour
    4. Social Science Fair
    5. Other
    6. Other

At the beginning of the semester, I was super pumped and ready to try this out.  I was feeling confident and was ready. We started out by bringing all sorts of guests in, watching documentaries and learning all about World Issues…# 1 on my list was checked off = success.  Then it was time to get going on the next part of my plan. I sat with each student and we created an action plan for them using the same questions as above: What do you want to learn, how are you going to learn it and once you have learned it what will you do with the information.  Once again success and check……So then it was time to let go and let them learn…..this is when it got really uncomfortable for me as a teacher. Here are some of the issues and concerns that we are working on as we make our way through the semester

1. Students are lacking in their ability to self-regulate, can be unmotivated and are doing nothing.

This one is the toughest one yet.  There are days where students are doing nothing because they have so much freedom or are not quite sure what their next steps are.  There are very few students that have the confidence or ability to do stuff on their own. I have an amazing class and have got to know my students really well – each one of them is capable of amazing things, but why can’t they do it without the constant support of the teacher?  Even though I am always on edge and struggle with the fact they are not doing anything, I think they need to be given the opportunity to fail and recognize what and how they can do better. In my opinion, once they achieve success on their own this will build their confidence and hopefully inspire them to take more initiative the next time.

2. There is only one of me and 24  of them – how do I support each of them?

In my student’s defence, I totally get that sometimes they do need me.  This is also another huge struggle that I have. If we are to allow for personalized learning, it is so important that we have enough coaches and mentors in the room for students to bounce their ideas off of and give them the permission that they need to move forward.  My goal for next year is to open up my classroom to as many student teachers as possible and volunteers and assign mentors and coaches to each student.

3. How am I going to keep track of all of them?

This is by far the area that  I have failed the most at.  This continues to be a work in progress.  First and foremost I use Twitter, it has been a great way for me to see what they are doing as well as engage them in discussion related to the curriculum.  This has been my most successful way of tracking each of them but still has its limits. I have also tried putting them into groups so that we can chat about all of their projects and work on giving each other advice, this worked well for many of them.  For some reason, I have stopped doing this and am realizing that I should continue this. I have had students fill out reflections twice in the first half of the semester and have realized that they need to be doing this more often so that they can really look at what they have or haven’t done. And finally, I try to have meetings with students as much as I can to help keep them on track and give suggestions on what they are doing. This part of the unlearning process is very messy and I am often extremely frustrated. Today we started a new form of tracking in journals, they are going to answer weekly questions that look at what they did the past week and what they are going to do the next week…fingers crossed this one works out!! 

4. How am I going to mark this?

As mentioned the most successful thing that I use for tracking is Twitter.  At the beginning of the course, I showed them the Twitter expectations (rubric) and we created a Twitter checklist for them.  I try to give them feedback on their Twitter feed weekly – biweekly and give them a mark according to the rubric. I have also started assessing their reflections.  The most important part of all of this for me is the process. I want to see that they are setting goals, following through and reflecting on the successes and failures.  We have a reflection rubric that I used for the first part of the semester and I will continue to use it more frequently for the second half of the semester when looking through their journals.

On the flip side here are the amazing things that are happening as a result of letting them do what they want to do.  

Two students are arranging to get people to the blood bank to donate blood.

One student visited and participated in a community cooking session.  Inspired by this he raised over $200 for the Parkdale Food Centre and we are headed there next week to cook together and package the food to stock their freezers.

Five students have paired up with Blue Sky School to work with students who are middle school age on their projects.

Two students are leading monthly debates about different world issues.

About half the class has signed up to lead discussions related to the SDG’s.

Two students are figuring out how to start a podcast and have recorded their first episode on gender inequality in sport.

We have a yoga instructor coming in to lead our class as a result of one the students looking at Mental Health.

We have started a weekly podcast which has really made them step up and has given me another place to hear about what they are working on.

So there are nights that I question what I am doing, there are days where I lose my cool in class and there are many times I want to give up.  But I am dedicated and passionate about making this change so I will do as I preach, I will fail, learn and get better.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Cheers, R

 

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