Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lessons from a Cardboard Challenge

Maze Prototype - this group went on to time students and track record on the big day!

Bowling Prototype - this group went on to craft a bowling game large enough for one person to sit inside and return bowling balls

Ring Toss Prototype - This group went on to build a very large ring toss game. It was great to see the way the worked through deciding the best tossing distance for their primary and intermediate peers. 
Ball Toss Protoype - In their arcade model this group fashioned a ball catch/ return shoot in behind their game. Fanstastic work!

Global...Cardboard...Challenge! It's amazing the excitement that can be generated by three words on your class calendar. The excitement only grew as the day approached. Its now been about two weeks since the event, and the lessons learned are still fresh on our minds. The excitement over its success has not faded*.

I've really enjoyed hearing the way students reflected the build up: the launch, meeting Caine (through his YouTube videos), the ideation process, prototyping, these aspects of the process have been cited again and again by students as significant points in their learning journey. One student even described the commotion at the cardboard pile as something from "The Hunger Games". I smiled and cringed all at the same time!

Teamwork. It's truly a pleasure hearing students describe the joy they found in working with a classmate - and they didn't even get to choose which one ;) One group that stands out in my
mind too is a pair that struggled to see eye to eye. We weren't sure the duo would last until the main event, but in our last afternoon of building, when the pressure was really on, they made it happen. Decisions were made, tasks were accomplished, and laughs were shared as they tested their final product!

Craftsmanship. I think the lessons learned are evident in student's ideas about where they could go next. Many students discussed strength and stability as lacking in their initial structures, but they weren't at all defeated by these challenges. Repairs on the day of our event were minor - almost every group had accurately gauged the strength that would be required to sustain hours of play; and furthermore, students finished wanting to take on bigger more elaborate building challenges. Fantastic!

*I am still being approached by parents who speak of what this challenge inspired in their kids. The number of cardboard creations in our community has risen exponentially ;)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Year End Presentation of Learning

Its the end of the 2013/2014 school year and our students are excited to be putting together "Presentations of Learning". We've asked that they use the three "Core Competencies" in BCs draft curriculum to anchor their presentations and tell stories of their learning with respect to these three competencies. Here's my own Presentation of Learning.

Artifacts and Examples Shared:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Curiosity, Connection, and Creation

It's been exciting to have had the chance to partner with other Teachers this year as they explore Project Based Learning and Inquiry Learning. The enthusiasm around these approaches is growing locally and globally, and BC is poised to realize their benefit more fully in the near future with a draft curriculum currently being unveiled. One of the biggest hurdles I find Teachers up against, though, is the impression that new curriculum and new techniques are in opposition to current practice. I disagree. I see deeper learning as the best of our current best practice, and want to embrace PBL, IBL, and a "big idea" driven curriculum as a means to get there.

As I chat with other Educators about Student Learning it's my goal to celebrate the best aspects of the way we do Teaching and Learning. In terms of attitude I like to focus on that of curiosity. In terms of the process of learning I think we can sum it up as making connections.  As the result of learning, in my mind, we want some form of creation. I feel these themes, and variations of then are the cornerstones of Project Based Learning (PBL), Inquiry Based Learning, Problem Based Learning (PrBL) and Passion Based Learning initiatives like Genius Hour.
I see curiosity as the attitude of learning. What I really appreciate about the question driven nature of approaches like PBL, PrBL and IBL is the use of a question both to focus a project or unit of study, and to keep the learner in a state of curiosity. I believe if we can teach students to ask good questions they will be better equip to think critically and find good answers. We will also set learners up to run with "big ideas" and conduct deep inquiry to fully explore them. So how do we cultivate curiosity? CC image
Learning gains momentum as connections are made. Connections to experience, to self, to others, to community, to cultures, to points of view, the connections we make as learners keep us engaged and pull us deeper into our learning experiences. We all make connections all the time. But, do we make enough connections in our daily learning with out students? Do we use a connection as an initial hook, or as a driver? Personally I want to be able to anchor all student learning on ideas my students can relate to. Our students should be asking "when are we going to use this?". We should have answers we feel good about. Big ideas should support us all by setting up connections that are real and relevant. PBL and IBL wrap units of study on an idea or a group of interconnected ideas, encouraging connections throughout the process.
Don't we all love looking back on our accomplishments? Don't we all love it when we can see our learning by what we've produced? Seeing the way students conduct themselves when sharing their learning is one of the things I enjoy most about PBL. Students feel good about their learning when they have something to show for it, and especially when they have something they have created that has value. How can we leverage culminating products to deepen the learning experience? Doesn't it make sense to do so?

Curiousity, connection, and creation - that's my big idea nutshell. What's yours? How have you embraced "big ideas", or how do you plan on doing so?


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Synergy in Inquiry - a sharing of Experiences and Resources for Inquiry Education in BC

mind mapping software
How do we get students owning their learning? Doesn't that question burn on the minds and hearts of all Educators?

Through my work in a Project Based Learning (PBL) program and as a PBL and Student Inquiry Resource Teacher I have come to put a high value on Inquiry as a vehicle by which to get students owning their learning. I have also come to see more clearly the work that it takes to cultivate Inquiry skills. Students need opportunity to explore, to ask, and to create in a risk free classroom environment. Students and Teachers also need a common language for Inquiry learning that reflects the messy, organic nature of learning. The language we use to describe learning becomes powerful when students begin to better understand themselves as learners through it. I want to be able to use a learning language with my students that reflects the way they learn through their life interests and passions, not just academics.

Recently I've had the opportunity to get a close look at a couple emerging resources for BC Educators: the draft curriculum, and the Smarter Science inquiry framework. What I'm seeing is a beautiful pairing of tools to support classroom teachers in getting students owning their learning. The smarter science framework aims to use science inquiry to teach inquiry skills - a skill set analogous to the competencies BC is drafting in its new curriculum. I'm curious to see where the overlap is with the two as well, and have begun that work in an open doc here (

Personally I have also seen the interconnectedness of quality learning and quality relationships in the classroom. In order to gain comfort and efficacy in new ways of learning we as Educators need to be able to explore the risks and benefits with the learners we're working with. The environment needs to be one of trust; an environment that embraces mistakes as part of the learning process, and an environment that embraces the iterative nature of learning. While this framework illustrates a Kindergarten to Grade 9 progression in Inquiry skills I believe its crucial that we scaffold the Inquiry experience for each new group of learners we work with to ensure that we create a common language and experience together.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

And flip...

I've progressed into flipping all my Math classes, and I'm loving it. Yesterday was roll out with a group of Grade 8's and it was slick. Students were learning comfortably and in a way that suited them individually - some in groups, some in pairs, some in desks, some sitting on the floor. There were groups asking lots of questions throughout the lesson, there were groups cruising quite comfortably on their own with a few check ins, and there were groups pushing through the lesson, practice, and into deeper learning. One goal is for more to get to the deep learning - today one group was investigating the mathematical relationship between the height a ball is dropped from and the height of its first bounce. I was freed up to roam, chat, probe, and guide, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The day wasn't hiccup free - I did pull a few students into the hall for casual conversations, but I felt the freedom to do so knowing the rest of the class was engaged in their own learning. In addition, our hallway conversation was about how we can learn together better - a conversation I am glad to have with learners any day of the week.

This recent flip was not the beginning of my journey, and it has not been a solo effort at all. I think my first forays into flipped lessons were in the context of teaching process skills in digital media applications. I found screen capture videos so much more effective then a one-size-fits-all demo for these purposes. Slowly the tool crept into my Math as I started using it with applications like GeoGebra (which I'd love to do more of). Next I started flipping whole lessons for Teaching partners to deliver in an Island modeling project that involved ratio, rate, and scale. It was around this time I started really digging into the ways members of my PLN we're flipping their classrooms (most noteably Jerry Bleecker @Mr_Bleecker and Graham Johnson @Math_Johnson). This was followed by flipped lessons for a split class of Math 9 and Math 9 B students. This venture has been really enjoyable in that its pushed me to access and make available tools to help students visualize and experience the Math online. When I have time my lesson prep includes searches with like "interactive", "applet" or "manipulative" to see how I can make the math more real for students. Sometimes its with an online example, or resource.

I'm feeling very positive about the change in the way I'm teaching Math, and I look forward to improving the effectiveness with which I leverage video lessons in class. I have seen already the way it enables me to guide my students more. I've also seen the efficiency we gain in class, and am hoping to use that to slowly introduce more and more problems, applied tasks, and deeper learning opportunities in Math.

What's your experience with flipped lessons? What do you see as the potential benefits and pitfalls for your students?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Learning Together: Feedback and Critique

As I grow and learn with PBL my assessment practices evolve too. I was excited to share my learning at a recent regional Professional Development conference. Here are the slides from that presentation:

For me one of the biggest take-aways as I've pushed to blend good assessment practices with PBL as that strong peer assessment allows us to really "activate learners as resources for one another" (an idea Dylan Wiliam really got me thinking about). If students are getting deep with their questions to their peers then they can really push one another's thinking. How powerful is that!

The second big lesson in PBL based assessment, and really throughout classroom teaching, is that structure and routine are so important. The assessment based application of that in my classroom is critique protocols like this one from BIE. We actually distinguish between "clarifying" and "probing" questions in that clarifying is for us the audience, and probing is to push the thinking of the presenter. Questions first, before giving feedback is so key here in that it forces us to really consider the presenter and their dilemma and try our best to help them on their way with our feedback. Our tendency is to want to jump in with feedback and comments, but its so much more valuable to listen, clarify, and probe before we get thinking about feedback.

Its been great learning about feedback and critique with my students, and its helping our learning very step of the way. What forms of assessment are you using in your classroom? How do you vary your assessment practices with different tasks? What does assessment look like when there are different products being created by different groups or individuals?

We've been given a common language, now let's create unique experiences

Text from the Creative Thinking Profiles
Text from the Communication Profiles
Text from the Positive Personal and Cultural Identity Profiles
What do we want our learners to be? What do we want out learners to be able to do? Is that your definition of 21st Century Skills? Is there more?

The BC ministry of education recently posted competency profiles describing and illustrating growing capacity for communication, creative thinking, and positive personal and cultural identity. In my mind this is the beginning of a formal definition of 21st Century skills in BC. Does it fit what we want for our learners? Will it be of use in our classrooms, and how? It's up to us to answer these questions together, and it's up to us to leverage this common language to enrich core experiences and shape new experiences for the learners we work with. 

What will this look like for you?