Maureen Wilson, from Hamilton, Ontario shares her experiences at the Women’s March of Washington
We had to be ready to change our pre-planned lesson…Students wanted to talk about what was happening in the world. The following posts describes why we altered our plan and shares the alternate lesson!
Critical literacies involve people using language to exercise power, to enhance everyday life in schools and communities, and to question practices of privilege and injustice. (Comber, 2017)
Flag at Dr. Davey school is half mast to pay respect to victims at Mosque shooting
Huge events unfolded across the world over the past two weeks which prompted our teaching team to change a “pre-planned lesson” to focus on current issues of Social Activism – locally and globally. On January 20th, Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration took place. The next day, January 21st, together, over 60 countries – men, women, and children, joined in solidarity to March for human rights – “The Women’s March on Washington” was declared the largest global protest – ever. Then, on January 28th a Mosque in Quebec, Canada was brutally attacked and many innocent people were killed. January 30th – Thousands join together to show support and to honour the victims of the Mosque shooting.
Knowledge Circle at Enrichment Centre
It is difficult for the most well-rounded, emotionally and socially strong of people to handle the immense mix of emotions resulting from these events. Regardless of your point of view of Trump (or the platform), or if you are a woman or Muslim – we are all impacted – not just by injustice, hate and fear – but also by the joy, and relief that comes with solidarity and community actions. We are affected by the conflicting and confusing media.
Our young people are especially affected.
People in positions of respect and power have made accusations about journalists not being truthful and Journalists have made accusations of people in power not being truthful to the people. The idea of “fake news” has been spread across the inter-webs like wildfire. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds are overwhelmed with political posts and emotions are high.
After watching the powerful poem by Royce Mann, we started our INQUIRY through a discussion of “Privilege and Power”.
The following lesson is an overview of how we approached these topics as an Inquiry:
We started with the “Big Idea/Inquiry Question”:
How can global events impact local/community action and local/community events impact Global action?
What is my lens when approaching these issues?
How am I privileged?
What does it mean to be “in Solidarity?”
We shared the “Culminating task” what will students do by end of lesson?:
Complete a Blog post that focuses on an idea or concept that uses the Women’s March on Washington as a prompt. Write through an optimistic lens, utilize a variety of media and provide questions for further thinking/discussion
Create a short podcast that focuses on one aspect of Social Justice and Solidarity and the impact of positive activism.
Create a video that uses a specific lens/perspective showcasing the positive aspects of humanity, people, and social activism.
We used the Curriculum Standards as a guide:
Critical Literacy: Opportunities to relate knowledge and skills in language learning to wider contexts, both across the curriculum and in the world beyond the school, motivate students to learn and to become lifelong learners. (The Ontario Curriculum, Language, p. 12)
Students must be able to differentiate between fact and opinion; evaluate the credibility of sources; recognize bias; be attuned to discriminatory portrayals of individuals and groups, including women and minorities; and question depictions of violence and crime. (The Ontario Curriculum, Language, p.13)
Reading – Point of View identify the point of view presented in texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts; give evidence of any biases they may contain; and suggest other possible perspectives (e.g., determine whether an author’s choice of voices to include seems justified and suggest how the meaning would change if different voices were chosen) (The Ontario Curriculum, Language, Grade Seven, p.128)
Point of View – Demonstrate understanding that different media texts reflect different points of view
Making Inferences/ Interpreting Messages -Interpret increasingly complex or difficult media texts, using overt and implied messages as evidence for their interpretations
We made connection to UN Sustainable Development Goals:
Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.
Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.
Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.
We invited community members to join our class and share their experiences:
Mary-Louise Pigott shares her experience attending the March on Washington
Reconciliation should include a commitment to bringing in the Indigenous World Views as part of the learning process. I ask, ‘Would recognizing that we are already moving in this direction be a valuable part of the healing process for Indigenous populations?’
Many traditional methods of teaching are being challenged, and now, in Canada (and elsewhere), we have begun to adopt some of the very philosophies and principles (of course, with different names, definition and labels) that were once removed from our First Peoples when they were forced to attend Residential Schools.
Canada has made a strong commitment toward Truth and Reconciliation in respect to First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI). This is especially important in our Education Systems because these ‘Truths’ have not always been explicitly (or implicitly) taught to children and thus, the inequities perpetuated. Reconciliation, as we know, is a process of restoring relationships or by making views and beliefs compatible with one another. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report in 2015, Canada was faced with recognition of the injustices experienced by the First Nations peoples when they were forced to attend Residential Schools. This is especially important for schools and how we guide our learners today in their journey through this process.
Prior to these children attending these schools, what was education/learning like for them? Did they learn through Inquiry and discovery? Did children and adults learn through experiences? How was learning and connected to the earth around them? Did empathy play a role? What was the role of making and creating in the learning process? Was balance in life important? How did Storytelling impact learning and was it multi-generational ? What about Environmental Education? Family Connections? Community involvement and relations? Was there focus on spirituality and mindfulness?
“Traditional education allowed children to begin the process of observing from the time they are in their takinaakan and learn by participating as soon as they are able; traditional life was ruled by the principle of production from each according to his ability and distribution to each according to his need. (Red Lake, Heritage Centre, Virtual Museam)
Consider the approaches we are using in Education in the 21st Century –
*Inquiry approaches are about wondering, discovering and experiencing the world. This approach is being adapted instead of what is seen as ‘traditional’ teaching.
*Learning can happen at HOME with the family (Blended learning, online learning,Family Involvement, Travel, Discovery, Experiential)
*Education programs include explicit teaching of Environment Education and we emphasize human impact on the earth. Schools are connecting learning to outside environments through the use of natural playgrounds, green walls/roofs and gardens, celebration of the earth
*There is more emphasis on Primary Sources and Storytelling (using digital media and internet for world wide connections, learning from elders, learning from each other, accessing networks to connect to remote areas)
*Mindfulness is a practice seen as good for students mental health and overall well-being and is being adopted as part of the school program. According to Tobin Hart (2014), Long dormant in education, the natural capacity for contemplation balances and enriches the analytic. It has the potential to enhance performance, character, and depth of the student’s experience. Perhaps most important, the contemplative helps to return the transformative power of wonder, intimacy, and presence in daily learning and daily living.
*Teachers are incorporating lessons about life balance and mental health, nutrition and physical health as part of our daily curriculum which includes looking at non-traditional ways of healing and medicine. Here is one example of how we are incorporating Food and Nutrition into the classroom, not as a separate curriculum topic, but in a holistic way, as part of the learning process.
*The term “Maker” is being expanded to include approaches to learning that enhance and develop hands-on skills, inquiry and learning through play or through doing, problem solving and creating
*While the Teacher is still valued as “facilitator” we are emphasizing community and collaboration as a better way to teach and learn.
As I reflect on each of these “new” approaches in education – I am drawn to my knowledge of history and the Indigenous cultures. Are the above approaches to teaching and learning are at the core, inspired from many First Nations Cultures?
While it is true that each Aboriginal group has different ways to express its values and traditions, there are similar themes that are prevalent in each group. As noted in a recent publication from Alberta,‘ Our Words, Our Ways, 2016, these common “worldview” threads that run through many First Nations cultures are sometimes referred to as ‘foundational worldviews’.
In this report by Alberta Education (2016), there are many examples that connect these world principles in the classrooms, both with indigenous and non-indigenous students. I am not an expert in understanding these principles at a depth in which they are intended, but I can confidently explain how these connect to learning and how classrooms can use these principles (whether they know it or not) as a guiding program strategy.
Take a GLIMPS into a classroom that uses the following approaches to guide teaching and learning…
What do you see?
Espousing a holistic perspective and that knowledge is holistic
Cross-Curricular and integrated disciplines are more prevalent, as demonstrated by the structures of classroom schedules (less rotary, more time spent in one classroom with one teacher, combining topics into projects). Further, an inquiry approach to teaching is seen as the best way to engage students in real world issues, social justice and global issues. Most recently, classrooms are adapting “Mindful” practices and are emphasizing that when knowledge and learning is approached in a holistic way, students gain a better sense of self and a stronger self-esteem.
Recognizing the interconnectedness of all living things
There is a strong emphasis on critical literacy, inquiry and using world (local and global) issues and big ideas in the classroom. In fact, the new Ontario Social Studies/Geography and History documents emphasis a connection to real world issues which leads to studies about how land, animals and food are interconnected, the impact of global warming on our health, how oil extraction is impacting the earth, how the use of pesticides are impacting Bee populations. There is an emphasis on teaching students to relate curriculum topics and subject matter associated with History, Geography, Social Studies, Sciences and the ARTS to present day issues.
Having a strong connection to the land and community
We are inter-connected more than ever before not just due to the internet, but because collaboration and communication are seen as vital components of learning and living in the 21st Century. This allows us to communicate and share with our communities whether urban or rural. There is more emphasis on eating throughout the school day, on health, and on making different food choices. Schools are using the United Nations Goals to guide teaching and learning.
Inclusion of Environment and dynamic nature of the world in lessons and learning.
Environmental Education is now weaved through all areas of the curriculum. Some schools are participating in community gardening initiatives, community food organizations and local markets are partnering with classrooms as a way to help students to see their connection to the land.
Strength in “power with.”
As noted in the Our Words, Our Ways Document, In Aboriginal cultures, worldviews reflect “power with,” rather than “power over.” The image for this concept is a circle, and all living things are viewed as equal within the circle. “Power with” is a dialogue, where everyone stands on the ground, face to face – leadership and learning is “distributed”.
How does this look in the classroom today?
Explained in the Our words, Our ways Document (2016):
Learn from the students about how they learn best. Work in genuine collaboration with them to determine the approaches that are most effective.
Involve students when making decisions about the classroom. Provide opportunities for developing their skills so that they become effective at making real decisions about things that matter. Work toward consensus.
Invite older or stronger students to mentor younger or less able students. Find ways to reverse the process, e.g., find a skill that a younger student could mentor in an older student. • Welcome and validate parent input into decision making about their child’s education. Treat them as full partners in the collaboration that is essential for supporting their child’s learning.
While it isn’t often identified as such, it appears to be these very foundational worldviews that are influencing Education in the 21st Century, especially in how our classrooms are designed and curriculum is taught. There are many examples of classrooms and schools from across the globe transforming their spaces into environments that resemble home, enriched places for art and beauty, quiet spaces that embrace comfort and individuality, community and collaboration stations, connection to the outdoors and balance of life.
Curriculum, more and more, is being taught holistically with an integrative approach and disciplines being taught together. Inquiry, design thinking, experiential and project based are approaches that are recognized as strong methods to engage and teach students of today.
Are we recognizing that the very principles that are shaping how we are creating the 21st Century Makerspace learning environments are those same principles that have guided the indigenous peoples for centuries, the very principles and values that were taken from them when traditional school was created.
Example lesson that espouses the Indigenous Worldviews and Principals
What does a ball of yarn, a quilt, a Makespace, the Honey Bee, a podcast, Green Smoothie and a Minecraft Museum all have in common?
The following is an example Inquiry Lesson that infuses Maker Space, Collaborative tools, Inquiry and Design thinking, including Minecraft. We facilitated this lesson at the Enrichment and Innovation Centre in our Grade Six Journalism Program, for Gifted Students.
This Video is the lesson consolidation. Everything is connected. “How Wolves Change Rivers”.
We ask: Is Interconnectedness essential for our survival?
*How does the interconnectedness of anything change its course or direction in life?
*What does it mean to depend on someone or something?
*Will the disappearance of the honey bee impact human life at the local to international level? In what ways?
*How can we strengthen our own connectedness to the earth? To each other?
Social Studies: People and Environments, Political and Physical Regions of Canada (Ontario Curriculum)For More Detailed Curriculum follow this link
Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 13:Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Pre-Lesson and Critical Literacy/Inquiry
To begin, we would use a “Flipped” approach. First, students would be given a task to investigate content related to the local and global issue of disappearing bees. Students explore, find, read,watch/listen and discover information related to why honey bees are disappearing. Second, students are asked to bring a leafy green vegetable and a fruit (and any type of super food such as chia or hemp). Contributing means feeling part of something and recognizing the value you bring in- your importance. This piece is vital. It strengthens community and builds trust.
Room Design, Bulletin Boards and Relevant Activities (Self-Directed Activities)
Kitchen (connection back to home/family)
Mock kitchen is created. Vegetables are displayed along with a nutritional information focus; Students would also share in a Tea Circle Discussion upon arrival (as they do most days); The kitchen would also have an assortment of plants (especially those with obvious pollen); A variety of honey types would be on display for students to explore the texture and taste and begin to make personal connections to the topic.
There is also a worm compost bin (vermi composting) to maintain the importance of connections and emphasize the value balancing what we take and give back to the earth.-Flowering plants on display for students to explore with microscope; A variety of informational videos available.
Living Room Area (literacy)
Word wall and activities; Knitting/crochet activities (in shape of honeycomb; Sewing (creating a beehive pattern activity); A variety of books, magazines, newspapers and literature
Collaborative puzzle for hands-on activities (an explicit way to demonstrate the connectedness of each individual piece and its necessity for the whole); A display that demonstrates facts and data, along with inquiry questions; A map display showing areas that are impacted; Honey Comb is be available to help students learn about the geometry of the Bee Hive and how the HoneyComb is made.
Maker and Art Space
Students will have access to lego; Sewing Machine Activities; 3D printer; Programming activities (using scratch to program geometric shapes);Green Screen applications; Pencil Sketching, Math and GeometryDesigning
With a cup of tea, the lesson will begin around the “Kitchen Table” where we will feel, touch, smell and taste some of the fruits and veggies that will go into the Smoothies. We will discuss how the veggies change their attributes and nutritional impacts when the are paired with one another (i.e., vitamin C with Iron). As a group we begin asking questions about what we know and don’t know about the vegetables, their interconnections to each other as well as to the earth. We will ask, what would happen if they weren’t available?
Here, we would begin our inquiry.
Following our Tea Circle, students will begin an independent exploratory activity where they will participate in a ‘shared’ Google Document and contribute to collaborative inquiry. (Here, a link is created by opening the document to anyone with link to make the process efficient.) Students contribute to information search focusing solely on the specific foods they brought in (or assigned to) and make explicit connections to nutrients. They use the information to create recipes that focus on a certain need or ailment.
We would later use this activity to make the connection that healthy foods are a necessity in our lives and begin the inquiry of WHY so many people continue to suffer obesity and health problems – relating this to our connections to the people and world around us.
We would discuss Nutrition in the context of wealth and poverty and further explore the Global Goals.
We would connect this to the biodiversity of our planet and examine the impact – the cause and effects of loss and gain. Students would see the chain reaction of how a honey bee can impact the lives of humans, food and climate change, and the impact this has for Ontario Farmers, Trade relations and cost of food. This article would provide a context: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/food-and-our-planet/food-and-climate-change/
Students would discover that this loss would perpetuate poverty and would lead to a health crisis since our most valuable resources (as they’ve discover) are only accessible to people who can afford the high costs.
Minds-on & Hands-On
Together: Students begin the day, together in a large circle (this process helps students understand the impact of being connected and interconnected). Students are encouraged to be mindful of the fact that they all share in the moment, the day. One by one, students pass a ball of yarn while celebrating and sharing one connection (a team, a family, a friend, a book…). They form a web of direct and indirect connections and would learn that they can be impacted indirectly when the yarn is yanked or dropped by anyone in the circle, even those that aren’t directly linked.
compare this to our connections to our planet, to other living organism, to the foods we eat, to others – near and far.
bring this realization of interconnectedness back to the Big Idea (Is interconnectedness essential for our survival?)
Individual: Students are given time to explore hands-on activities provided throughout the classroom – all that demonstrate concepts of interconnectedness. This can be done at the start of class (when they arrive, or throughout the class as time allows.
knitting, crocheting (co-creating a quilt)
Circuits and Programming activities
(Assessment Opportunity – Teacher/Student time)
Inquiry – Student Driven:
As a class, students create a COLLABORATIVE book that identifies a variety of topics/issues involving the plight of the honey bees and the interconnectedness of the environment and humans. Together, students create a list of issues involving the disappearing bees ( focus on trade, farmers crops, use of pesticides, GMO’s, cause and effect on environment…). Upon completion, each of the Inquiries will be posted.
List of topics will focus on specific learning curriculum expectations
*connections between natural environment, employment, jobs and consumer (relating to bees)
*Jobs, land and organizations dependent on survival of bees
*Impact and connection of environment effects and land use (cause and effect)
*Environmental issues at an international scale and its impact on Canada
In partners or individually, students are given a full period (or more) to research and discuss the topic of their choice, but always relating it back to the inquiry topic of the Honey Bee and its interconnected value to the world.
Staying engaged… feeding the body and soul…
*Note – Throughout “Worktime”, students will have an opportunity to make SMOOTHIES based on their recipes and ingredients (from earlier activity). During this small group time, students will be asked to share how the ingredients and the nutrients are directly connected to their inquiry topic. AT this time, we will make connections back to the land and its impact on farming and then back to the consumer.
(Assessment Opportunity – Teacher/Student time)
Product (Culminating) – What are students working to create/produce?
*Podcast – Students learn to use Audacity and begin exploring podcasting techniques. As part of Interconnectivity, students use SKYPE to discuss Podcasting techniques with an expet in podcasting -Rodd Lucier.. Students are given examples and podcasting techniques -how to express voice, to conduct an interview, to use voice to convey a message, etc. Students will create a podcast interview, informational podcast or a skit.
*Blog – Students upload their podcast to their blog along with a blog describing the topic and inquiry question.Students have a prior knowledge of blogging. They will be reminded to use more than one medium in their blog and to end their blog with an inquiry question.
*Collaborative Book – Students will contribute to a Collaborative book using OneNote or Google Drive
Students will add their information to the WHOLE class creation using Google Drive or OneNote, thus demonstrating and participating in a connected activity
*MinecraftEDU – Students will design their solution or their information topic in a collaborative world. Here students will design a collaborative museum, where they will add their information through design and interactivity.
Learning criteria will be established with the students. As a group we will discuss some of these expectations:
Research and Information produced must contain local and international data that explains a topic.
Students address connections to themselves as well as looking at connections at a large scale (consumer, poverty, land use)
Students will ask relevant and critical questions as part of their research
Students recognize the impact that the topic has at a larger scale and discuss reasons for this
Students use appropriate vocabulary
Students recommend solutions
*describe some major connections between features of the natural environment and the type of employment that is available in a region, with reference to two or more municipal regions in Ontario
* “Why are some jobs dependent on the seasons?” “What are some of the jobs that are connected to forests, lakes, and rivers? What sorts of jobs are connected to agricultural land use?”
*gather and organize a variety of data and information on the environmental effects of different land and/or resource use and measures taken to reduce the negative impact of that use
*evaluate evidence and draw conclusions about issues related to the impact of natural resource extraction/harvesting and/or use around the world
*communicate the results of their inquiries using appropriate vocabulary (e.g., non-renewable, renewable, flow resources; extraction; sustainability; deforestation; fossil fuels; aquifer) and formats appropriate for specific audiences
*explain why some environmental issues are of international importance and require the participation of other regions of the world, along with that of Canada, if they are to be effectively addressed
I am excited, thrilled and honoured to be given the opportunity to present some of my experiences as a Teacher and Researcher, in particular how and why I am using Minecraft in my Maker/Learning Space. I look forward to meeting, sharing and collaborating with the many innovative and curious educators that will be attending ISTE and hopefully attending my session on:
A couple of days ago, I read a couple tweets from a teacher that was voicing thoughts about being labelled as a “Minecraft” teacher, rather than an Innovative teacher that uses many engaging and creative tools including Minecraft. I looked back through the Twitterverse, but couldn’t find the tweets again.
First, I think that any teacher, leader or principal that is labelled a Minecraft teacher should be EXTREMELY proud. Bring it ON! Think about it. You are being labelled as a teacher that is creative, open-minded, collaborative and willing to use tools and methods that are engaging and encourage students to venture into ARTS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING and MATH! Not to mention, using a tool that lends itself well to having students THINK, REACT and ADAPT to certain situations. And to further the point, you are using a tool that is Universally Designed and doesn’t restrict students that have literacy barriers or language barriers.
So, if people see you as a MINECRAFT TEACHER, then I suggest you thank them. Maybe they just don’t understand what a compliment they gave you!
I find myself thinking more and more about the assumptions that are made about teachers that research, share, blog and reflect on specific technology tools they use as part of the learning and teaching process. In fact, sharing specific examples about the tool or program on Social Media can have an interesting result since the context isn’t always obvious and assumptions get made about the teacher. For example, The Minecraft Teacher, The Smartboard Teacher, The Livescribe Teacher, The Google Teacher, The iPad Teacher…… You get the point.
But who cares? I am certain that I’ve been labelled a certain “kind” of teacher. I suppose it depends on who and from when. Today, I might be considered the “Minecraft Teacher”. I delivered several Smartboard workshops for my District about 10 years ago, so back then, I was the “Smartboard Teacher”. About 8 years ago, I started using blogging platforms with my students, so those who know me then, might consider me the Blogging teacher, or the Skyping teacher since we used Skype so often. A couple of years later, I began incorporating tools that were Universally Designed, such as audio amplification systems. I used the Front Row system and had a microphone around my neck most of the day. Yes, for a while, I was the Front Row teacher. And then, there was the iPad. My iPad ‘ONE” was the only iPad in the school (of 700) for 2 years. This single iPad labelled me as the iPad expert. In 2006, my students were using Scratch and Robotics and even for a short while, I was seen as the Programming Teacher. Then, there was the Livescribe. Another action research project that had me integrate the tool in ways that I still find myself attached to, especially around assessment. Recently, I’ve been investigating and integrating a variety of Microsoft tools into the classroom. Maybe that makes me a “Microsoft” teacher too.
Doesn’t it seem like the technology tools and innovations that we blog and tweet about seemed to override everything else we do as teachers? as leaders? as learners?
Do we take the time to sift through our assumptions, to get to know the person and understand why they use the tools or methods they do? Why the “act” the way they do on Social Media? Who are they really?
I now use all of these tools or program as part of the teaching and learning process, depending on the situation, the student and the context. Those of have taken the time to know me, know that I am NOT an expert, but am willing to try out as many tools as possible in hopes that I can reach my students in a way that supports higher order thinking, inquiry, and depth.
My classroom focuses on collaboration and inquiry, not technology, not Minecraft, not Livescirbe, not Smartboard, not Coding, not Google, not robotics… (you get the point). I am good with the many labels that are attached to my name and I’m even good with the fact that I have probably used these tools for “Subtitution” (SAMR) on occasion. But…I used them and I continue to learn.
Back to the “Minecraft teacher “ and for all the “Minecraft teachers” out there, be proud of your label, because you ROCK. You are taking risks, trying new things, engaging your students and putting yourself out there to be scrutinized and judged…and still, you do it. Remember, it is most often due to the ignorance or lack of understanding of you and your practice that results in the LABEL, not you!
I wonder, what ASSUMPTIONS, based on interactions in Social Media, about educators, leaders or others in your network, do you have?
Problems that Matter… Where our Inquiry Started…and never ended.
“Inquiry” seems is a hot topic in education today (although it certainly isn’t a new concept). Facilitating a true inquiry can be a challenge when students are strapped to a schedule, a curriculum or even when being assessed or monitored for their performance. It is a challenge when the classroom environment doesn’t allow for exploration or choice. Inquiry can be challenging because it isn’t predictable and it means taking risks, not knowing how long it will take and not always having the final answer.
Where I co-teach with Beth Carey at the “Enrichment and Innovation Centre” (geared for Gifted Students at the HWDSB), these stipulations do not exist. A few things are important to note about our program and its uniqueness compared to a “traditional” classroom setting. First, our schedule is completely flexible. We do not have periods or subjects, there are no bell interruptions, no set lunch, no duty and no specific transition other than when to arrive and when to leave. We do not have specific seating or teaching areas.This is key because this schedule and environment allows us the time and flexibility to fully and completely immerse ourselves (teachers and students) into topics and let our natural curiosity take over. It should also be noted, that we do not start each lesson with “how it will be assessed”, but instead we leave this open-ended and students drive their own assessment through constant feedback and dialogue. With support, students monitor their own thinking and we (and they) adapt as needed.
That is what happened today.
While we don’t have ‘Subjects”, we do use Big Idea questions to drive a topic. Today, for instance, we started with this question: How can LOCAL and GLOBAL citizens impact the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? Of course, this led to further questions: Are we working on Problems that Matter? In order to understand a problem (or perceived problem) do we need to try to live or experience that problem ourselves? What is the role in FAILURE to help us guide innovations? Of course, this is also very tightly connected to the History, Geography and Social Studies Curriculum (as well as Language, Science and Arts).
For the most part, students participated in an INQUIRY focus around the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the role of NGO’s, NPO’s and everything in between. Students collaboratively investigated and researched local and global initiatives and co-created a series of inquiry questions to help them develop their own humanitarian initiative. They had to first understand the topic and what exists already (and why). They c0-created a book to share a few of their ‘passions’ and what they deem as “important”.
Students created inspiring ideas. Seriously.
One group presented their idea, “Teen Teachers” , an idea that resembled something like a Khan Academy, except teens could join this website as ‘teachers’ or ‘students’ and learn together, as they wanted, when they wanted and what they wanted. This idea was so popular that a few other students began side conversations about how they might market this, how this could be part of their “Individual Education Plans”. Another group proposed a topic around Mental Health and Teens and suggested an organization that encouraged teens to use their musical talents, in hospitals or nursing homes, as a way to help those suffering from Mental Health disabilities. They suggested (hypothesized) that playing music for others could help the performer as much as it could help the audience.
Another group shared an inquiry that they eventually named, “Pretty in Pink”. Similar to the “Neighbourhood Watch” initiative, this organization would encourage neighbourhoods to train, talk, discuss and learn about issues relating to Women Safety. Residents, after being trained, would get a sign/logo to post in their front window, a way to show solidarity and support and let Teens in trouble know they had somewhere safe to go.
Another group spent the afternoon learning about local farmers only to find out they had more questions then answers. Why do local products tend to cost more then imported products? Why are local farmers not supported more in schools? How can local farmers reach out to the urban communities? This group decided to form a initiative to promote local, organic and non-gmo foods and to use a crowd-sourced donation effort to bring costs down.
As the students collaborated, their inquiries led to further inquires and more questions. The flexibility of our day (as I noted, we do not have specified periods, recess or lunch) allowed us to veer off topic when our questions guided us in different directions. At some points, students became entrenched in their work, even when they recognized it wasn’t leading to their final outcome. The fact that we didn’t fixate on an “assessment agenda” or “evaluative criteria” freed students from the need to perform. For instance, a couple of students found themselves immersed in the Raspberri Pi’s (small computers), eventually changing their inquiry topic completely. I could write an entire chapter on the amount of problems these students had to tackle in order to get the Raspberri Pi’s running (we don’t have an ethernet internet connection). They recognized that these small computers, priced under $50.00 could solve problems relating to lack of technology access.
At one point, we found our Sustainable Garden group with their heads in the Worm Compost (literally) which soon became a big excitement, as student after student had to observe, touch, smell and watch these little creature do their magic (and we found thousands of little baby worms, which was very exciting). “Black- Gold or Magic Soil is what we use in our classroom garden,” we tell the students. “The worms eat our fresh fruit and vegetables and then do their job”. The students were fascinated which led to more questions about how this could be an initiative in parts of the world where fresh food wasn’t always accessible.
Back to our initial inquiry. Problems that Matter.
We designed our learning space with a little Kindergarden and a little Starbucks – Here is how it happened:
In June 2014, we were informed that we would be moving to an empty/unused classroom at Holbrook School (HWDSB). We were also informed that our proposal for new technology was granted which included 1:1 computers, projector, interactive whiteboard, doc camera (microscope), tablets, 3D printer, and NXT Robotics. Regardless of the fact that we were at the mercy of the physical space and size, including windows, electricity and lighting, we were absolutely pumped to design our “dream” classroom space that was Universal for all learners.
From the onset, we wanted a space that not only engaged students to be active participants in their own learning, but also a place where all learners could feel comfortable, safe and part of a community.
We would create an environment that felt completely different from a “traditional” classroom and yet was full of big ideas, information, tools and learning, and of course, with full guidance from a variety of educators. There would be a mix of exploration, hands-on learning and inquiry, but with a ‘bistro’ or ‘coffee shop’ feeling. We would end each day with a cup of tea and a group circle to ensure that every single student would be seen, heard and valued. Community would be vital to making this work.
This space would be where students or adults could sit around and table talk, listen and create ideas together – to be active learners and leaders. In this space, students wouldn’t be judged and wouldn’t place judgement on others, but instead, would welcome differences and offer support, skills and talent whenever needed. This space, in some way, would speak to every single student and would welcome all abilities.
We would respect the quiet learners but would also encourage team and cooperative learning in variety of ways, including game-based learning, through the ARTs and infused with technology and design.
Above all, we would centre our program around Social Justice and local/global issues. This learning environment would match our beliefs and values about how students learn best and would reflect the changing nature of learning (and teaching).
In the room, there would be strong emphasis on Critical Literacy. Inquiry questions and Big Ideas would provide focus for exploration of Millenium Goals (United Nations) and for both guided and self-directed learning. A writing and podcast centre would provide resources such as Livescribe Pens, Journals (for co-written topics) and a variety of choices for students to write, draw and share at their level and interest.
The room design would recognizes the need for quiet and individuality when learning, and so, we would design a small and separate space for “chilling” – one that resembles a most cozy living room (lamp, curtains, carpet, couch and books). It would be a goal to ensure that even the most “anxious” learner could find a place where he/she felt comfortable to engage in inquiry.
Our space would speak to our strong belief, that Health and Fitness are what “Matters Most”. We would plant a small herb garden, healing plants, and provide literature dedicated to healthy living, including fitness, balance, and mental health. We would practise and model an environmentalist approach to living through recycling and composting. Maintaining a worm composting system teaches students how to create fertile soil and to learn what it means to be self-sustaining.
The entrance of the room would demonstrate that the ARTS would define our space, not technology. We would use the giant wall space to create a Green Screen for video productions and storytelling and we would reserve a large section of the space for Visual Arts. We would ensure that music was available for listening or playing. We envisioned students gathering around a shared space to compose, play and create.
We would reserve one side of the room for group laptops, ipads and an apple TV for sharing. Close by would be the 3D Makerbot printer along with tablets and computers allocated specifically for design and engineering. We would use creative programs like Minecraft, Tinkercad, Lego NXT Sketchpad, Spore and Portal2 (to name a few) to engage students in design concepts as well as provide opportunity for them to co-create.
It would be incredible to create a space for our students to tinker, take things apart and build. If space allowed, we would dedicate an area for lego and whatever building materials we could get our hands on. We hope to teach “maker skills” like cooking, and knitting.
We would combine our Science and Math spaces which allowed for personalized exploration. We would set up manipulatives, both physical and virtual to help engage students in real world problems, including city planning. The interactive Smartboard would be used solely for student led activities and would always have Google Earth and current news sites up in the background. We would infuse other technology with the interactive smartboard including a Ladybug Document Camera so our students could examine the world around them – in detail.
We would recognize the need for clarity in voice and listening and would use a classroom amplification system. Students and teachers could share, speak and be heard – effortlessly.
Our physical space would be blended with an online space. Students would have access to online learning (E-Learning). We could post information, offer feedback and provide opportunity for rich discussions, even when students were not present. We could use collaborative tools like Office 365, Google Documents, Mindomo and Voice Thread (to name a few) to share work and allow for natural and engaging extensions. We would further use or connectivity to reach out to leaders, learners and experts around the world, to network, share and make connections.
We were truly given the opportunity of a lifetime – to create a universally designed learning space that modeled changing teaching and learning practices.
We would honour this goal: to open our space for all learners – of all ages and abilities, to respect difference and to recognize that learning and teaching are in a constant state of flux. Here, we will create a classroom environment that would be used as a demonstration for others that are also seeking ways to enrich their own program through inquiry and project based learning spaces.
The purpose of this lesson is to inspire and engage students to use creative and critical thinking skills to make decisions and designs that impact an urban area. This cross-curricular approach to Design Thinking, allows students the freedom to use and connect their inquires to real examples. The activity is intended for group or collaborative learning and uses a combination of whole class and small group facilitation with access to a variety of tools. The final product is a Design and proposal of a chosen Urban Landscape in their own community. Minecraft (and lego) are ideal platforms for students to use resources and tools collaborative to display their concepts. The example lesson (below) was facilitated with a group of 7th and 8th Graders in the Gifted Program at HWDSB.
Design Thinking – How are Urban Landscapes changing to meet the needs of people and communities of the present and future?
Throughout their schooling, our students learn why cities are built along waterways. Most Social Studies (History, Geography) curriculums emphasize the impact of Early Settlements and Explorers at the turn of the 19th Century. Students learn about industrialization and as they move along in grades and age, they begin to make connections between the age of industrialization, globalization, communities, Social Justice and Environment. Our learners have and will make strong connections about how the age of industrialization has impacted them and the world around them. Eventually, they will use this knowledge to move forward and apply 21st Century technologies to make change and adaptations to the world around them.
The picture here is Hamilton, Ontario, situated on the Western part of Lake Ontario (across from Toronto, South of Niagara Falls). The area at the bottom of the picture display the industries and factories that gave Hamilton it’s nick name – Steel Town. Over the last few years, many of these factories have downsized, been bought out, or have shut down.
This is a REAL example that IMPACTS my students. It is their community, their city, their economy. They need to feel compelled and INSPIRED to care, to understand why this single example connects to people and events around the world.
Ask the Learners to think Big: How can old technologies and industries be transformed to meet the needs of today..and the future? WHY does it matter?
In most big cities, there are areas just like Hamilton where the industries that occupy the space are changing in scale and nature. Many are approaching the end of their time. This is an excellent opportunity to have students explore, investigate and make real world connections. Who knows, maybe one of their ideas and concepts will become a reality.
Ask them to think BIGGER.
What makes a good city? Why?
What is the difference between demolishing and restoring?
How are cities changing or how should they change to meet the needs of a growing population?
Invite students to make GLOBAL Connections – In this short and compelling talk Kent Larson gives many examples of how cities and industries are changing to meet the needs of the future.
Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city gives some examples that apply to the now and the future….
Bring it back to a local example and invite students to share potential ideas, concerns and insights from those shared by Larson. Are the innovations realistic? Doable? Possible? How do the ideas and theories from other communities impact our community?
http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/2029/return_to_barton-tiffany “The Carr/Curran “vision” was presented to planning committee councillors in the late summer of 2012 and was greeted politely if not enthusiastically.”
Invite students to explore examples from other local areas. Examples that are real and possible. Here is one from Hamilton’s Neighbour – Toronto.The Cherry Beach area, along the Toronto Waterfront that seems to only be used by locals. Paths, and parks boarder along industries and along the waterfront.
Invite students to share the many examples of how land and space can be restored to attract people and improve communities. This picture is an example of bike and pedestrian paths that were added behind roads, beside roads, on the side of factories and even along old rail lines, eventually leading to the Beaches area of Toronto.
1) In pairs or groups, continue to investigate the history and examples of urban redevelopment both locally and globally.
2)Draw, Sketch and Discuss alternatives to the land.
3) Co-create and build the land in the Minecraft and/or LEGO Environment – Flat Land (collaborative server).
4) Using a shared Document, presentation style, ADD a captured screen shot of the proposed concept/design.
Student using Minecraft to create representations of learning
I asked my students this question. How do you acquire knowledge? 95% said – Books and Youtube/Internet (the other way around, actually). About 5 % said Teachers. Ouch. As I write this post, my son sits across the table watching a video/story about Minecraft World. He tells me that this is how he “learns how to craft”. My other son reads Reddit threads to learn/improve his skills on Java.
Matt Henderson asked me to think about and share my opinions of the following question:
How do people acquire knowledge and how can teachers facilitate this process effectively?
My quick answer- books.
I can’t help but think about the Printing Press of the 1400’s and forward. I am quite certain that when books and newspapers were made readily available to more people, the ability to learn and acquire knowledge must have grown exponentially. No doubt, the Printing Press changed the world.
Then we added an audio medium (although I know it was audio way before that, when people just told stories), when the radio (early 1900’s) was invented and the audience got even bigger. Not to mention, those who couldn’t read for whatever reason, suddenly had an opportunity – a freeing opportunity – to listen and learn. Again, a fine example of extending knowledge and information to a broader context. There is no doubt, the radio changed the world.
Then, a few decades later came the Television. There are still people alive today that can talk about how both, the TV and Radio changed their lives. With all these methods of information delivery (books, text, audio, video), the message was still based on a certain perspective, value or point of view. This, we know, can (and did) cause enormous suffrage.
How we acquire and interact with information changed yet again, introducing another medium. Along with the internet, we have portable ‘vehicles’ or ‘vessels’ that can share information, not just in print, but now, in combination with audio, video and text. And to take it further, we can change, edit, create and re-create the information in pairs, teams, groups, classrooms and communities regardless of our space or location.
With this said, I change my previous answer. How I acquire information and “knowledge” is no longer dependent on a single source or text, but on my ability to gather a variety of ideas, opinions, and research that are ever changing and then employ collaborative and ongoing change. It also depends on a burning question or an inquiry that I simply MUST know. Quite honestly, it is inspiring and empowering to find my own answers and exciting to know that my answers lead to more ideas, more information and more knowledge.
Admittedly, I am slightly frustrated that so many our school systems continue to teach students based on the model invented by Printed Press. Or, that we continue to drive information and knowledge that is based on a single point of view (picked by a publisher). Our textbooks, content standards and even our standardized tests are often outsourced regardless of the fact that communication technologies can bring in access to information…to people…to communities all over the world.
As teachers, we need to embrace the idea of blended learning and the use of a variety of technologies and mediums. Online, there are communities and resources where students can engage in rich discussions, problem based tasks, authentic inquires – but with a variety of supports and mediums. While in-class, students and teachers can share meaningful discussions and can use their understanding of the entire person (voice, body language, eye-contact, physical /mental health) to guide needs and next steps. Teachers can coach students through thoughtful and provoking questions and as a way to get them to think more deeply about the topic, to want to learn and find more.
Again, Matt asks me to reflect on how I personally acquire knowledge and foster acquisition in my learning environment.
I can look up and learn in any format that I need and self-evaluate until I am certain that I fully understand the skill or drill. I am no longer at the mercy of that single, all knowing, knowledge possessing teacher/leader. My resource pool has grown from the single textbook or course article to many many many sources and people, primary and secondary – including my students! I have become more critical of information and resources which has led me to think more deeply and reflect more authentically.
I recently wrote an article that discusses the dichotomies of Assessment in Education and I think this relates well to this topic, probably because in education we are consistently finding ways to Assess if and how our students have acquired knowledge and yet, the dichotomy of how students are acquiring knowledge in their “real” lives is quite different then their experiences at school with learning.
“There is no reason that students today need to feel isolated or trapped by assessment. Learners can access facts and information in a variety of ways – if we let them.
Teachers can provide assessment and feedback in multiple of ways. Students can apply their learning to creative and real world situations – if we trust them. They can show their learning in audio and visual formats – if we show them. They can use online tools to review and master new skills and can collaborate or discuss ideas anytime and from anywhere – if we encourage them.
Educators today, can access professional development, current information, networks of learners and online tools in ways that didn’t exist even a decade ago. The assessment barrier is only a reality – if we let it be.
Student: I am easily distracted from the work I have to do.Teacher: What are you distracted by?Student: Stuff like the latest article about the Redstone update in Minecraft <that allows you to use the concept of electricity, pistons, electrical flow, breakers) or by the book that is screaming my name, or distracted by the story that I’m co-writing with my friend <the one I want to publish>, or by the new world I’m creating in Minecraft that allows collaborators to co-build and discuss in real time or by the new mode that I’m creating and why the Java Script isn’t working…….Teacher thinking: How can the distractions become the learning focus? Would this then eliminate the distraction?
One student writes,
“I was shocked when I found out how much I was self directing my learning, about a voxel platform called Minecraft. I learned almost everything there is to know about Minecraft, and I was shocked to find out that I found it all out through <a concept called> self directed learning. I learned it all through tutorials, Wikis, and finding stuff out just by fooling around in game.” http://dwtim24.edublogs.org/
As a teacher of a special education classroom (Gifted Education), my prime directive is not to teach content, but to teach my students to recognize their own learning needs, to advocate and then to reflect on what works or doesn’t. It is to have them ask, ‘What do I need?” instead of “How can I meet your expectations”? It is my hope that these students can begin to see the difference between education and schooling and between teaching and learning. Ultimately, it is so that my students can drive their own learning and understand the structures that they need in place in order to be successful.
With the concepts and examples of Flipped Classrooms, Khan Academies’ (and the like), Massively Online Open Courses (MOOC), and variety of online courses such as Harvard Open Online Courses or MIT Open Courseware, the structures and tools are available for learners to access whatever content they need in order to solve the problem or complete the project they have in front of them. Therefor, my role as teacher is clearly redefined.
I showed my students the video, “If Students Designed their own Classrooms” and asked them to think about how this could relate to their own learning. I wondered how they conceptualized the concept of self-directed learning. Initially, they didn’t see a connection to themselves. Why would they?
Students at this age still need structure, guidance and ongoing support and feedback. These students have been faced with teacher directed lessons, schedules, and goals. The concept of Inquiry (in the classroom) is somewhat foreign and like any skill or knowledge based lesson the students need scaffolding and monitoring each step of the way.
A student of mine wrote the following piece. Alexander is a student that hasn’t had success (as he explains) with traditional teaching methods and has felt disengaged for much of his schooling. After watching the video he felt inspired (even optimistic) that, in some instances, our system can create learning environments that are based on choice, interest and passion and can be driven by the student. Alexander asked me to post his thoughts where others can hear his voice.
Kids go to school to learn, right? To expand what they know? Then why do teachers decide what the students learn? What if they already know it? What if they are ahead, or behind? The student will know that better than the teacher. They know what they know. They know how to most easily do it. The student knows how they learn. So let them learn that way. Let the student choose how to learn, and what to learn, because THEY KNOW. Each needs to learn their own thing, their own way. Each needs different work, and, sometimes, special attention. So let them learn. School is a learning environment, not a teaching one. How would an adult answer a tough question? Look it up. So let kids do that too if they want. Let them do projects, or paragraphs, or a diorama, or even a model in Minecraft! If they want to do it, then they probably do it better that way. If they say that they know that already, then teach them something new! A teacher’s role should be to help learning, not to tell kids to do something. I skipped science today because we had to do stuff on circuits that I knew in grade two!!! I came to school to learn, and I wasn’t learning anything except how to be bored, which I learned enough of in grades two to five (in grade one it was still mostly games). As I said, people come to school to learn. SO LET THEM.
What works for me?
RELATIONSHIP – In order to implement this approach of teaching there has to be a significant understanding of who the student is as a learner. We take a significant amount of time reflecting on how to communicate what we know, how to reflect on how we know it, and how to synthesize what is next.
BLENDED LEARNING – Each day, I provide individual tasks via Edmodo or Google Docs. Students will either choose a goal or be assigned one to work on. The Blended Learning structure allows students to access his/her individual plans and to communicate with teacher. It also allows for parents to be involved. Uploading plans and activities ahead of time has also been effective!
TOOLS – I try to provide time for students to explore and learn how to navigate the tools (ie: Khan Academy, Math apps) and let them pick out the activity or app that interests them to share with the class. The “Resources” section in the classroom is important.
TIME – Provide enough time to allow students to work on a given task. It often takes them 10 minutes to get going on a task. This time for “small chat” is important – like it is for adult learners.
FEEDBACK – Ensure students aren’t just ‘doing the work’ but that there is a purpose. Give feedback to each group, or individual. I find myself walking around the room, prompting, checking, and reassuring.
DIFFERENTIATION – Allow students to use the tools or apps they want rather than assigning. Some may use Educreations, while others are using the Livescribe. The marker and chart method works too, although the students always upload what they’ve done to Edmodo or Evernote.
INDIVIDUAL EDUCATION PLANS – I print out their IEP’s and allow them do fill it in or comment/edit what I have already done. This is significant in helping them recognize that they have a VOICE. We do this several times a year and then hang them up on clipboards.