Love at First Sight: a Journey from Iterator to Innovator


I fell in love at first sight… at first I didn’t think it was my type but the more I explored the deeper I fell, the more I tried to understand it, the more complex the relationship became, and when I didn’t pay it the attention it deserved, it often led to frustration and a feeling that I just wasn’t good enough. What I fell in love with was a problem back in October of 2012.

It was the 1st year of Cohort21 and I was a participant. The problem was and continues to be one that is not easily resolved. For the life of me, I cannot understand how learners can spend 9 years in a foreign language class and still graduate without being competent users of that language. This is where my journey began. I tackled the problem early through the lens of personalized learning. I endeavoured to tackle the problem through flipped learning the grammar, giving students choice in what they engage with, and choice in the direction of their learning.

In the interest of keeping your attention I’ll move forward quickly. The second year, I took a break from Cohort21 and continued to work on the problem. I made changes quickly and reflected constantly, I asked my students what worked and what didn’t, and that led to small victories such as personalized vocabulary lists based on words they wanted to know, based in authentic situations I put them in. We learned how to flirt in French, then used subjunctive tense to make excuses as to why we couldn’t see a movie with the person flirting.

We read and commented online and that led to a few Google Hangouts with francophones – the most memorable with Phillipe Menkoue from Cameroun who spoke to us about social media and teens at his school; here is his blog.

In 2014, I became a facilitator with Cohort21 and had a steep learning curve about design thinking thanks to @lmcbeth whom I just missed the chance to work with at Greenwood as I left in June of 2010 and she started in September. I changed tacts on my action plan as I entered a new role as a Tech Integrator. I shifted my attention to Professional Development and Tech Integration through the lens of TPACK. What I learned along the way was that if it was good for students, it was good for teachers. Teachers wanted choice and personalized approach as well. My two action plans weren’t so different despite looking at different problems.

Fast forward to 2016, my action plan is back to foreign language learning. I am looking at Performance-Based Assessment and Real-Time Feedback thanks to @ehitchcock and his action plan. @lmcbeth gets accepted to #MTV16 for the Google Innovator Academy, after which she nominated me to apply. I applied to the Colorado Academy #COL16 but my idea wasn’t fully fleshed out. I threw my hat in the ring and was denied. My idea was based around the authenticity and choice involved for learning language in a natural way combined with rethinking the bricks and mortar and classroom setup of the schools. This idea took on several iteration and morphed into two separate ones. Currently it evolved into a game based VR adventure that would have students interact and engage with a type of artificial intelligence that would see them completing missions based in authentic situations. If successful, they would unlock the next missions and if not they would return to mission control and review the training required to complete the mission. 

The other idea is engaging learners when their brains are so ripe for learning language; in infants and toddlers. Without getting into too many details because I’m still working out patents and funding, it is a stuffed toy that would allow infants to learn a second language. It was with these two ideas, that I was fortunate enough to be selected to the Google Innovator Academy in Washington D.C. #WDC17 in August 2017. We learned so much, and my project has evolved significantly from the early stages. I am now a part of another cohort of people who are trying to change the face of education as we know it, not so different from my C21 family.

There is no destination so the journey and the learning continues. What I have learned thus far is…

  1. To fail fast and fail early. Don’t be afraid to make small changes and if they fail, don’t abandon them all together, rethink why it failed and iterate.
  2. To fall in love with the problem, because it constantly shifts with each incoming class, new pedagogy introduced, and don’t limit yourself to the first solution that comes to mind.
  3. To share your ideas & surround yourself with the right people. Being a facilitator I’m fortunate to see all of the action plans from year to year and just listen to the amazing ideas that are shared at F2F sessions. Great ideas arise from the collision of other ideasSee video below

More to come about my time in DC at the Google Innovator Academy, A day in the life of a Lakefield College student, and SE2R Feedback Framework via Mark Barnes

3 Replies to “Love at First Sight: a Journey from Iterator to Innovator”

  1. Inspiring Derek! I appreciate knowing this has been a journey that went beyond year 1 in cohort21! Looking forward to hearing more!

  2. You are an inspiring dude @ddoucet. You live exactly where we want our students to live. Your synthesis of your learning creates a beautiful portrait of what so many of us strive for when we talk to our students about a Growth Mindset. I’m tagging @pcobban on this; his reflection about his HMW statement connects strongly to the curiosity you describe above. Perhaps you can say a little more about how you foster the embracement of “failure” in your classroom. I’m sure all of us can describe how debilitating fear can be for our students. It is the enemy of curiosity, inquiry, innovation, rigour… learning!

    Can’t wait to follow your journey through this incredible opportunity that you are not just seizing; you are actively describing it – using it as an opportunity to better know yourself and the idea of learning at large. Amazing.

    • Thanks @gvogt for the kind words and for sharing @pcobban blog, my network is definitely richer with him in it! What I have found in the past is that we really need to explain the shift to students. The more they understand the reasons why I teach the way I do, the more they buy into focussing on progress or product. We work hard to create a safe atmosphere and I try not to overload them with feedback. We focus on a maximum of 3 issues at any given time. @ccarswell and I had great chats about training like an elite athlete, and where I have gotten with that is to do less but to do it better. Revisiting a piece of writing numerous times to build and improve in cycles. Revisiting multiple times risks diminishing engagement so there’s definitely a balance. Those who get it, move on in small learning cohorts based on skill level and those who don’t continue to work until they have a deep understanding of the concepts, vocabulary and expressions needed to perform in a given authentic situation. If French people don’t do it, we don’t do it in class. My biggest challenge is how to get the Ss to learn the skills and have the tools necessary to continue to build their language once they leave school, because it’s frustrating to have them take a foreign language for so many years, only to lose it 2 years after leaving high school. Foreign Language is life-worthy and the benefits are numerous, so let’s make it stick! I’d be curious to know how @vkraus @mlafrance @mneale @kCarlson @Lleys @pmaheshwari @cunningham @sgibson @cbilton @lsulek and of course my mentor and friend @jbibby have been experiencing or doing to deal with this problem? This is a fabulous network of engaged French teachers, we should collaborate more!

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