How Might We Start a School?

For those of you unfamiliar with the brainstorming and iterative process known as Design Thinking, one of its most beneficial takeaways comes in the formation of what is called a HOW MIGHT WE question. This simple but profoundly empathetic injunction really gets the creative juices flowing; it can help to organize an action plan, kickstart an entrepreneurial endeavour, or overhaul a stale vision, allowing everyone involved—from the financial team to the end product user—to imagine new possibilities in solving tough challenges and addressing needs. What started as an esoteric creative process amongst designers and engineers, eventually made its way to Stanford University education research and into the popular imagination. Shows like Netflix’s ABSTRACT, showcase the influential power design has as an integrative discipline, continuously pushing the boundaries between art and science, psychology and business, math and philosophy.

What we’ve found is that kids are especially good at following the critical and creative stages of a Design Thinking process (it mirrors their natural curiosity and hands-on experimenting instinct); perhaps why the Design Thinking mindset has particularly benefitted inquiry-based approaches, PBL, Makerspace, and STEM or STEAM prototyping programs in school systems around the world.

For educators, Design Thinking is an especially powerful tool for professional development (Cohort21 spends the bulk of its workshop facilitation on an action plan based around this process) because our world has changed so rapidly in the past few decades, the importance of innovation in education has risen to become a top priority in both public and private systems. Simply put, schools can’t afford to disengage the next generation of students into what should be their human right: a profound sense of discovery through the power of learning. We know this personalized discovery process is no longer served by traditional factory models, over-stuffed classrooms, and out-dated academic achievement-only environments. It is up to every single teacher, administrator, and education system to recognize the various disconnects in their models and redesign unique and sustainable ways to improve. Innovate or die, as the saying goes.

A HOW MIGHT WE question has at its root, all the ingredients needed to establish an environment of inventiveness and openness. The question HOW is a practical extension of WHY and forces the dreamer into more utilitarian ways of problem solving, through constraint. The MIGHT ensures this is an iterative process, of countless prototyping and drafts, of formative experimentation that, yes, may indeed lead to failure (or new ways of looking at the same old!). There is resilience in MIGHT, adaptability in MIGHT, but also a positive desire and hope for change. Finally, there is the necessary WE. Collaboration and diverse perspectives are key to any successful venture. Empathizing with your end user ensures an ability to radically alter, if need be, the purpose and outcome of the change itself. If an idea is sometimes referred to as a “baby”, than it truly takes a village to innovate one.

Which brings me to my current challenge. I’ve co-founded a school named SiTE (Situated in Transformative Environments): a Montessori high school in Dundas, Ontario. Thankfully, my co-founder, Tony Evans, 18 years ago established an unbelievable community of progressive parents and self-directed children through his two other high-fidelity Montessori schools, Dundas Valley Montessori School, and Strata Montessori Adolescent School. Why Dundas? Here is one reason:

As with any new venture that is already up and running (10 courageous students started learning with me on September 3), we don’t have the luxury of prolonged research and development phase—we are iterating on the fly! At a recent international adolescent Montessori workshop (AMI/NAMTA) I attended in North Carolina, I was reminded just how bold an endeavour SiTE Schools is when out of a group of 100 Montessori educators, only one other school had extended their program to encompass Grade 10, 11, and 12 (Academy of Thought & Industry). In fact, when I researched Canadian Montessori high schools in the Our Kids website,  I found only a half-dozen schools even attempting to tackle the senior secondary years in an authentic Montessori-style, and all of them are operating from an actual building! Have I got your attention yet?

Here is a highlight reel of the many many HOW MIGHT WE questions I’m wrestling with as I venture upon the greatest challenge of my professional career:

  • How might we create an adolescent Montessori micro-school without a traditional bricks & mortar building?
  • How might we use our unique small-town environment as flexible learning spaces that enhance subject mastery?
  • How might we partner with local business, galleries, Universities, to co-create real-world projects?
  • How might we reimagine the idea of teenagers and community for the 21st century?
  • How might we create a flexible timetable that starts at 10:00 and revolves around opportunities for outdoor and experiential learning?
  • How might we create a “quest-like” block course calendar where students immerse themselves in single subject areas for a concentrated period of time?
  • How might the daily timetable be self-directed?
  • How might we create a school of experience instead of a school of compliance?
  • How might we bring dignity to adolescence?
  • How might we enhance student initiative through purposeful work and meaningful context?
  • How might we track students or take attendance when the entire community is your campus?
  • How might we establish a tuition that is equitable and competitive?
  • How might we teach all three senior levels (Gr 10, 11, 12) at the same time?
  • How might we have one teacher to curate all subject material and use a team of experts to facilitate skill-building?
  • How might we turn every single assignment into either a group or independent inquiry project?
  • How might we create a “living curriculum” based on the personal interests of each student and the changing needs of the community?
  • How might we co-construct curriculum with students and still achieve ministry expectations?
  • How might we use socratic seminar (discussion and debate) for every lesson?
  • How might we use ONE single-point rubric to assess ALL assignments within a course?
  • How might we use an ongoing standards-based gradeless assessment?
  • How might we becomes guides instead of teachers, curators instead of facilitators, advisors instead of mentors?
  • How might we market the school with full parent/student participation?

If any of these questions relate to areas of interest you are currently considering developing in your school, let’s talk. Please consider your sphere of influence (Garth will talk about this at our 2nd F2F). I am grateful to be tackling the teaching opportunity of a lifetime and am ready and willing to be the guinea pig for all manner of educational innovation and disruption.

But I can’t do it alone. Nor do I need to.

Cohort21, developed 8 years ago as a CISOntario  incubator for 21st century PD, is a vibrant community of innovative educators who have greatly helped me these past four years develop into the disruptor I feel I was destined to be. @gnichols has mentored me through some profound life changes, guiding me towards embracing the positive inventiveness he demonstrates daily at Havergal College. @jmedved is a beacon of innovation, always rethinking the HOW from his York School perch. @ckirsh has pushed me to question ethical choices and even challenged my MIGHT to join her podcast. @gvogt is my doppelgänger, a fellow poet of pedagogy in a sea of disruptive potential. No other person could have helped steward the Discovery Day initiative at Rosseau Lake College, making it even more engaging and sustainable. @lmcbeth is the queen of Design Thinking and through her work with the Future Design School has greatly shaped how I view education and entrepreneurship. @lbettencourt and @adamcaplan will trial anything tech in the most transparent of ways, sharing as they fail forward. @nblair is my spirit guide when it comes to questioning the status quo—no one does it better or with more grace.

There are more. Too many to mention here. Past facilitators, current coaches, former colleagues, and alumni galore. Cohort21 has a treasure trove of action plans at your disposal to pillage and plunder as you formulate your own powerful HOW MIGHT WE. Make sure to steal like an artist.

Folks, this is your village, this is your WE.

Let’s Put Education In Its Place

Place-based Education and the Montessori Method combine to create a new micro-school for adolescents capable of saving humanity. (12 min. read)

 

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot)

Imagine you’ve somehow attached hot-air balloons to your current school (yes, just like in the Pixar film UP—the only cartoon yet to make me cry!) and lifted it high into the air to move locations, depositing the entire building intact onto another section of the city you find yourself teaching in. Now I want you to ask yourself a series of simple questions: Would this make a difference to how the school functions? Would the community around you notice or care? Would your staff or students have to radically rethink what it is they do every day? If the answer is no then your school has not yet fully immersed itself in place-based education.

In a 2017 paper, associate professor Gregory A. Smith from Lewis & Clark College in the U.S., states: “At the heart of place-based education is the belief that children of any age are capable of making significant contributions to the lives of others, and that as they do so, their desire to learn and belief in their own capacity to be change agents increase. When place-based education is effectively implemented, both students and communities benefit, and their teachers often encounter a renewed sense of professional and civic satisfaction.”

I chanced upon the pedagogy of place-based education through the online blog, Getting Smart  and found a multitude of resources around the subject (including this brilliant overview PDF download here). At the time I was working for a private outdoor education high school in northern Ontario as their academic director. They were looking for strategic ways to improve community connections while at the same time taking full advantage of a unique and abundant natural locale. Place-based education was just one of many deeper learning innovations that took hold of my imagination that year, but it planted seeds in me which would eventually lead to my current position as co-founder of an adolescent Montessori school in Dundas, Ontario, called SiTE (Situated in Transformative Environments).

In a traditional Montessori school, the learning environment represents far more than what recent educators refer to as the Third Teacher —it is in fact the only teacher! The teacher in a Montessori setting takes a necessary step back and becomes a guide on the side, observing the spontaneous inquiry of the child within what Maria called the prepared environment. The role of the guide is to simply stay out of the way of the curious child, to carefully follow their lead, trace their concentrated pursuit in completing tasks called jobs (Montessori takes the concept of purposeful “work” very seriously). Far from this being a free-for-all of competing self-interests, or even a more contemporary station-rotation of differing interests, what Montessori engineered—as a response to over a decade of scientific observation of children—are the carefully curated sensorial materials which enable learning to be an experience of freedom within limits; flowing and flowering throughout the room these children discover manipulatives in all subject areas that develop knowledge from the hand through the heart to the head. And that order is of the highest importance! If you’ve ever taught children, at any age—and let’s face it, the same can be said of most adults—you know they (we/you!) can only ever truly learn anything by doing.

Scientific observation then has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. (Maria Montessori, Education For A New World)

Anyone who has ever seen video of a Montessori class in full “work-mode” is astonished both at the level of quiet concentration displayed by such active kids and the autonomous engagement each and every child gives to practical life activities. What Dr. Montessori uncovered over 100 years ago in Italy was nothing short of a hidden miracle to solve the problems of education, both then and now: the central role of the student in directing their own learning, the application of real-world contexts to achieve authentic engagement, the capability of youth to concentrate on challenging tasks well beyond their years through mixed-aged mentorship, and perhaps most vital of all, properly curated learning spaces, which cause the brain to light-up and the body to grow-up. In Italian, the word Maria used for this preparatory space was ambiente, which is closer in meaning to the word ambience than the English translation, environment; also light years different from our more prosaic modern eduterm, “learning space”; ambiente speaks to the aesthetic and atmospheric balance needed for a space to inspire and motivate. In Montessori, there is a place for everything and everything has its place.

So what happens when you transfer a foundation-years interior design revolution to a dynamic and variable high school setting? What constitutes the prepared environment in an adolescent Montessori school, or what Maria called the 3rd Plane of Development, where teenagers are similar to toddlers only in so far as theres’ is a mental/emotional growth instead of a physical one? Teenagers from age 15-18 are in the stage of becoming social newborns. What happens when you don’t have as much control over the stationary environment as elementary or Casa teachers do to facilitate this social/emotional (SEL) need? What if your classroom is, say, located on a farm with animals instead of desks, or, in my case, if you don’t have a set classroom at all.

The answer for me and my co-founder, Tony Evans (Director of both DVMS and Strata Montessori, a middle-school actually located in the woods, with chickens), was in combining the values of an adolescent Montessori experiential learning model—which has at its core a greater expectation of community integration, service opportunities, and personal responsibility—with the place-based ethos of maximizing local learning spaces, leveraging project-based initiatives, and achieving mastery of relevant real-world skills. SiTE Schools was born from this idea to provide purposeful work in meaningful contexts to adolescents deserving autonomy. I believe in this hybridization so much it informed the basis of the SiTE values model which begins with the appreciation of PLACE, before moving on to PURPOSE, PERSISTENCE, and finally, PERSPECTIVE. This has become our 4P’s version of the hand-heart-head Montessori motto. Progressive educators call the transformative concept of creating a curriculum from locally relevant surroundings, place-based learning. Psychologists use the term situated cognition, a theory that argues all knowledge is situated in activity, bound by social, cultural, and physical contexts. I simply call it the only way to provide dignity and initiative for teenagers in the 21st-century!

After having taught in public schools in Australia for 7 years and private schools in Canada for over 4 years, I now find myself in the unique position of disrupting education through the development of a high school (Grade 10-12) that doesn’t have a building. Instead, the community is our campus. The real inspiration, however, for a school-without-walls comes not from a thesis but from the vibrant town our school is located in and I call home, the hidden Ontario gem known as Dundas. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the escarpment, with over 100 waterfalls, botanical gardens, conservation areas and the Bruce Trail, Dundas is a pristine valley town which is older than Hamilton. It has a modern Historical Museum, a Carnegie Gallery, professional art and dance schools, a thriving public library, dozens of successful small businesses, and is literally down the road from McMaster University. In other words, this is the perfect place to create a “prepared environment” for adolescents who are craving a tertiary preparatory experience, one that lets them roam widely and safely, with real responsibilities extended beyond the classroom walls and into the community at large. How else can we expect teenagers to know how to be responsible in their lives or take ownership over their future decisions of study and work if they’ve never been given the opportunity to test this out in the real world?

Every year millions of youngsters need to decide what to study in college. This is a very important and difficult decision. You are under pressure from your parents, your friends, and your teachers, who have different interests and opinions. You also have your own fears and fantasies to deal with… It is particularly difficult to make a wise decision because you do not really know what it takes to succeed in different professions, and you don’t necessarily have a realistic image of your own strengths and weaknesses. (Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century)

Already SiTE has leveraged local learning opportunities by conducting civics meetings at the Town Hall with working and retired politicians, pitch sessions with volunteer boards for securing the possibility of managing a Winter Market, brainstorm sessions with the Museum to co-create an exhibit for Remembrance Day, service opportunities with the Down Syndrome Association of Hamilton (DSAH), and countless more experiences yet to come (including invasive species extraction, local watershed research, entrepreneurial media mentoring, AI lab experience, small press publishing, etc.). Traditional schools have access to these practical life lessons, and certainly teach the subject-specific knowledge components in the classroom, but often relegate the skills exposure to a single field trip, with all the administrative bureaucracy that goes along with having to travel and organize large amounts of students. Never mind having to assess learning outcomes at the same time! This is why I believe summative assessment is still so dominant in schools today—because it is easy to administer and control! The agility of a small school embedded in a community means that our response to changing events and flexibility in hosting experts is amplified. With one or two guides in close proximity to the same group of students all day, diagnosing learning skills, discovering gaps in knowledge, and mentoring interpersonal wellbeing becomes a matter of course and not something that has to fit into a manufactured Flex Time. Instead of traditional academics suffering at the expense of innovative approaches, a smaller, mobile, one-room-school-house of vertical integration ensures a level of modelling and interdisciplinary learning that is virtually impossible to duplicate in a regular school setting. Deeper learning and assessment on this scale can happen anytime, and anywhere. I say this after only four weeks of curating SiTE’s first term of curriculum, and the difference to me is already profound.

SiTE Students at Dundas Town Hall

SiTE Students at Dundas Town Hall

This is by no measure a new approach to education. American charter schools have been experimenting with place-based, public museum-based, or corporation sponsored lab-schools for well over two decades, and community-based schools are as old as culture allows, many rural areas knowing no different. In the current Canadian education system, however, there is less choice in the market for parents and students looking for a more affordable alternative to the private system yet still providing progressive value-based programming; values which a pluralistic public system, nobly aligned as it is in creating a common standardized experience, just can’t afford to give. While technology is helping to bridge the gaps (social, economic, gender, race, etc.) in many instances, allowing remote areas to participate in best-practice, online or blended courses have increasingly become the norm for high school students everywhere. The loss of face-to-face mentoring and modelling in place of virtual adaptive learning is happening in real-time and on our watch. Although no one can predict the long term positive or negative results of such a paradigm shift in education, we can point to rising levels of anxiety, depression, bullying, and screen addiction in youth as possible consequences of these decisions. I have personally seen teenagers completely disaffected and disillusioned by online learning tools which in many cases are producing the desired diagnostic feedback improvements administrators covet but are not making learning any more relevant or remembered by the user. Too often the edtech reports focus on what is to be gained rather than what is simultaneously being lost by the software. In the scenario I’m presenting, what’s lost is not only a personal connection to the teacher but a sense of shared continuity with the local culture, landscape, and historical heritage of community. It’s clear the challenges of the modern world will not be addressed by technology alone.

At a time when most public school class sizes are vastly exceeding the ability of teachers to differentiate and personalize their learning, and many private schools are shielding themselves economically from urbanization through infrastructure capital campaigns, what adolescents are craving most is a way to reconnect with the real-world. This is so well considered a current need in education that a high number of schools have included the development of 21st-Century Competencies or real-world skills in their strategic plans and mission statements. And yet, most attempts to innovate within the confines of the traditional box seems to create an opposite-yet-equal desire for teenagers to leave the box by any means necessary. Where is the “real-world” in a school setting? This unsurprisingly results in a rise in old-school truancy and new-school digital escape into social media or gaming through mobile phones, where anything is more interesting because it is happening far away from the predictable here and now. The government solution: ban mobile phones! Instead of investigating the source of disengagement into distraction, it becomes more efficient to police a sensitive area of adolescent identity (remember, social newborns!) instead of teaching them the responsible and ethical use of technology at this crucial stage. At SiTE Schools our phones are used for the purposes they were intended: the amplification of inquiry or creativity, recording of observed experience for reflection purposes, and facilitation of practical life (communication, bus schedules, reminders, GPS locators, etc.).

A corollary argument can be found in the representation of so-called “snow-plow” or “helicopter” parenting. As a way to respond to this tsunami of over-protection, schools once again have tried to adopt effective rhetoric around the 21st-century values of resilience, grit, adaptability and flexibility. At the same time, however, greater emphasis in teaching and learning (UDL principles) has been placed on the creation of exemplars, explicit step-by-step instructions, detailed rubrics and scaffolded assignments, to prevent (or avoid!) the burden of not reaching every child at their educational level and potentially upsetting the very parents who are so concerned their child is losing the ability to think for themselves in the first place. We see this pattern repeated in post-secondary institutions where professors are noticing a lack of initiative in Millennials towards independence and critical thinking, even in disciplines where this skill is paramount. What lies unstated here, of course, is the responsibility these same institutions have in creating dependancy around those very structures which many adolescents feel as yet another top-down method of alleviating their responsibility, pushing further away the necessity of practicing adult autonomy and all of its inborn “failures”.

If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s (sic) future. (Maria Montessori)

Finally, amalgamation of mid-sized public schools and provincial cut-backs have created an education clot in most urban areas where the average school-size hovers around 1500 students. Considering the human capacity to have meaningful social relationships maxes out around 150, a 10% increase in forced connectivity can produce a detrimental experience of community. Private schools, although being able to fundamentally reduce class sizes, nevertheless compete on a growth advancement model, increasing their schools admissions by fundraising for more property real-estate. No amount of Harry Potter-style co-curricular House activity can improve the quality or experience of community when the spectre of anonymity becomes the default setting for the vast majority of students who can’t be bothered to be involved in branded events and become more adept at hiding than participating. This may me negligible for the toddler or elementary child, or even the middle-school student whose experience of the world tends to keep them within the boundaries of their perceived social sphere. The adolescent, however, becomes acutely aware of the discontent and distance between themselves and others on a hyper-scale. High school peer cliques is one thing to observe, but sensing the us-and-them gulf between students and teachers and teachers and administration and administration and staff and staff from the school and the school from the community itself is quite another. What sort of model for society are we building for our youth if we don’t value all perspectives as equal in a shared environment? How can these perspectives ever be united in a hierarchal system that doesn’t truly represent the real-world? Where are the babies? Where are the elderly? Where is the life all around that informs us of our interconnectedness?

In most respects, there is nothing new about place-based education. It is an attempt to reclaim elements of the learning processes most children encountered before the invention of schools. Throughout most of humanity’s tenancy on this planet, children learned directly from their own experience in the places and communities where they lived. They explored their world with peers, imitated the activities of adults, participated in cultural and religious ceremonies, and listened to the conversations and stories of their families and neighbours. Most of this learning was informal, although at important transition points such as puberty, initiation rites provided them with more direct forms of instruction about community understandings regarding the world and adult responsibilities. In this way, children grew into competent and contributing members of their society, able to care for themselves and for others in ways that sustained the community of which they were a part. This outcome with its focus on both individual and social sustainability is also the goal of place-based education. (Gregory A. Smith)

To be fair, many schools around the world are doing exceptional jobs creating unique cultures all their own. Some schools are blessed with rich locations that embrace all the diverse opportunities on offer and students involve themselves in real-world experiences through co-op, co-curriculars, and the innovative practices of progressive teachers keeping things relevant. Alumni in both public and private schools speak of a togetherness and camaraderie for their former alma mater that sometimes even transcends the actual felt memory of such a place. Traditionally, this has been good enough to provide a sense of community-in-training for citizens, which has trickled into the civilizing process of negotiating work/family life outside of schooling. In today’s world, however, where connectivity with millions has likewise also produced a feeling of anonymity by the millions, the loss of the real local in favour of the digital global has become an epidemic.

Unfortunately, teaching kids to embrace the unknown and to keep their mental balance is far more difficult than teaching them an equation in physics or the causes of the First World War. You cannot learn resilience by reading a book or listening to a lecture. The teachers themselves usually lack the mental flexibility that the twenty-first century demands, for they themselves are the product of the old educational system. (Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century)

The challenges are immense, and by no means has SiTE Schools’ hybrid iteration solved the main issue here, which is the ability to scale an authentic experiential program on a mass level without dismantling the current Canadian education system at its roots. Radically repurposing the intention of high school from a conveyor belt of standardization serving post-secondary admissions to a network of highly effective individualized learning nodes serving individuals and communities will take time, if it happens at all. This brand of social justice schooling might remain elitist by virtue of its minimalist alternative design. In 1995, David Tyack and Larry Cuban of Stanford University, coined the term “grammar of schooling” to characterize the long-lasting and unchanging core elements of schooling. Many of their arguments were persuasive to those educators who witnessed decades of alternative pedagogies result in little more than utopian promises. Unlike the universal aspects of language acquisition, however, schooling has continually adapted to its changing socio-political context. It still has four wheels and an engine, yes, but that engine is becoming fusion instead of combustible, and those wheels will soon drive themselves.

I do know this: reimagining education is the job of everyone involved in education. It’s not just the teachers but the students and parents who are experiencing first-hand the stagnation of systems which may not be adapting to our complex world and may be rendered useless if climate change predictions become a reality or AI technology shifts the very fabric of our future notions of the workforce. Bringing innovation to any and every aspect of your practice as a teacher ensures the possibility for new and exciting outcomes to occur. This possibility brings dignity and engagement to adolescents as they become participants of the greater change they already feel on the inside and intuit in the rapidly evolving world around them. Aspects of place-based education can act as an antidote to the alienation and apathy felt by teenagers and increase not only their intrinsic motivation towards learning, but also their self-worth as part of a larger community.

Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war. (Maria Montessori)

So go ahead and pop those balloons already. Land safely in your own backyard and view it again through fresh eyes. We need 1000 crazy ideas to improve this world and education is just one place to start. We don’t know where or who these ideas will come from next. Perhaps a student you currently teach will become inspired by your relentless pursuit of the new. Remember, Charles Darwin lived in the same small village (Shrewsbury) most of his life, spending only four years abroad, travelling on the HMS Beagle around the world and to the Galapagos islands where he imagined an entirely new concept for humanity through the careful observation and experience of place.

Follow me on twitter @EBDaigle
Follow SiTE Schools on twitter @sitedundas or on Facebook @siteschools
References

Harari, N. Yuval. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, London. Jonathon Cape. 2018

Montessori, Maria. Education for a New World: The Montessori Series. Clio. 1989

Smith, A. Gregory. Place-Based Education. Lewis & Clark College. Oxford University Press. 2017

Education is Like the Car

One of the most common criticisms we hear from teachers is usually voiced at the time they are being confronted with yet another change to their teaching and learning practice. This is the critique that any new initiative, edtech or life skills or otherwise, is really just the same old idea coming around again, repackaged with 21st-century buzzwords. Especially if you’ve been teaching for some time or work in a school that is culturally risk averse, there is a certain sense of deja-vu with most pedagogical “innovations”. Been there, done that, never getting that weekend back! Anyone remember Wikis or Zines? Constant provincial ministry mandates and ongoing administrator classroom strategies don’t seem to help abate this trend towards the cynical.

The frustration is real. It’s the metaphor that lacks.

I’ve found an easier way to view innovation in education. Through the allegory of the car. Yes, not much has changed since the discovery that four wheels can get us places faster. The horse drawn carriage was replaced by the internal combustion engine. Henry Ford’s Model T ushered the motor vehicle into the age of mass production. Tesla now has record sales for the electric car. Still just four wheels. Isn’t it just the same thing over and over again, repackaged?

If, however, you pause to consider how many small yet crucial design elements have added to and improved this basic human transport need; from removing coachmen and allowing passengers to drive themselves, to safety measures such as the seatbelt and airbags, environmental pushes towards cleaner exhaust, greater mileage, winter tires, internal navigation systems, and now, automated self-driving vehicles.

The factory model of education may still be the most efficient way to instruct large populations of students, but education has come a long way since the single room school house. How we design and run these “factories” makes all the difference to how we see and conduct ourselves as teachers and the experience of open mindedness and curiosity we model for each student. Every educational theory and teaching trend, from Dewey to Vygotsky, from Montessori to Gardner, from Fullan to Hattie, Duckworth to Cain, all of them add incremental yet vital elements to our dynamic pedagogical toolbox, as well as providing fundamental progress to this noble profession.

So hold your head high at the next staff meeting. Avoid the temptation to slide into your default setting. Think of how YouTube is really just like the seat warmer in your car.

Like Spinning Plates

As an English teacher I’m always looking for the apt metaphor, that one-of-a-kind allegory which will once and for all, 100% no-questions-asked-put-your-hands-down-please definitively define what it is we do, day-in and day-out, as 21st century educators. I believe this one comes close.

The reasons why I like the visual synecdoche of the plate spinner may surprise you. In my heart, I know this is the healthiest model to explain why teachers need to give themselves a break, before they break themselves. And more often than you might think.

In talking with a colleague recently, the age-old adage of teachers not having enough TIME reared its perennial head. If it’s not TIME than it’s surely RESOURCES; (un-PC trigger warning alert!) the two twin towers of educational stress and anxiety.

But if we simply re-framed what we do as already impossible, perhaps then (only then) glimpses of the possible and profound would peek through. If politics is the art of the possible, then teaching is the impossible art!

If we divide teaching and learning into four ready-made components, they might be:

  • Curriculum Design
  • Instruction
  • Assessment & Evaluation
  • Reporting

If you think of these as the 4 plates we are constantly spinning, then you would be forgiven for thinking teachers have it easy, perhaps even under control. But, we know, like all good magic tricks, control is an illusion. The reality is there are spinning plates underneath these 4 plates, and more spinning plates under those– turtles on top of turtles, all the way to spinning infinity (R.I.P. Stephen Hawking).

The secret thus becomes this: in order to survive the greatest show on earth that is our noble profession, we can only spin ONE PLATE AT A TIME!!!

Yep. That’s it. Sarcastically sublime. Not as memorable as “with great power comes great responsibility” (R.I.P. Stan Lee), but nonetheless, reflective respite.

In other words, if you are concentrating on updating or improving strategies with your Instructional practice this year, you can let your other plates wobble for a little while. If- as I am doing this year- you find yourself with an opportunity and willing department, to radically change how you approach Assessment & Evaluation, than your Reporting might just not produce those wonderful bon mots you have so carefully curated and copy-and-pasted in previous times.

We set our own priorities, then we define personal best practice by them. If we don’t measure up to this exponential diagnostic quagmire, we imagine our plates have smashed and we have failed. We also unfairly project this best practice onto our colleagues and schools and when we do this we are guaranteed to find discrepancy- you see, we are all spinning different plates! This discrepancy may lead to stress and anxiety if used as performance comparison, especially as school mandates and department initiatives pile up, distracting you from your default-setting favourite plate; you know, the one you have the most control over so you spend all of your time spinning because if anyone noticed that your other plates were not spinning (or, gulp, missing) they might not see you as that grand wizard teacher anymore.

What we need to remind ourselves of, when everything is spinning, we can only control that which tasks our immediate concern or is in our sphere of influence. From there we can decide which plate to spin next, which one deserves the most attention, AND, most importantly when it comes to innovation and cultivating a growth mindset, which one we haven’t spun in a while.

Who are the expert spinners I look up to? @gnichols, @jmedved, @lmcbeth, @adamcaplan, @nblair@gvogt, @ckirsh, @lbettencourt, @ddoucet, @timrollwagen, @amacrae, @lmustard, @amaingot, @lfarooq, @dmonson, @shelleythomas, @vboomgaardt, @tfaucher, @lmitchell, @mmoore, @ljensen, @mneale, @egelleny

Wow, that’s a lot of sturdy plates!

UPDATE

Here is a handy graphic to help you prioritize. Turns out it was invented by former U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower!

 

 

 

One-Stop-Shop for Innovation Research

Rosseau Lake College’s inquiry-based and experiential learning initiative, DISCOVERY DAYS, like all truly great things, rests on the shoulders of giants. I was inspired by the following schools and articles and perhaps you might be too.

DESIGN TIME RESEARCH (Inquiry-Based Learning)

JOURNAL/ BLOG

LINK

SUMMARY QUOTES

Professionally Speaking Self-Directed Learning In other words, explains principal Patricia Coburn, OCT, students set their own learning goals, follow a personalized program and work and learn in an environment that enables them to actively pursue self-directed learning.
Flow Blog Self-Directed Learning & Exam Scores Students’ success on the IB DP exams became the measure against which SDL time was evaluated. In that very first year of SDL time students’ DP exam averages exceeded the results of all previous years.
Getting Smart Integrated Curriculum Repko (2009) and others have asserted that interdisciplinary instruction fosters advances in cognitive ability and gains in the ability to recognize bias, think critically, tolerate ambiguity, acknowledge and appreciate ethical concerns.
Carleton College Interdisciplinary Learning Engaging students and helping them to develop knowledge, insights, problem solving skills, self-confidence, self-efficacy, and a passion for learning are common goals that educators bring to the classroom, and interdisciplinary instruction and exploration promotes realization of these objectives.
Corwin Connect PBL & Direct Instruction My argument here is that if we utilize effective direct instruction in the PBL/PrBL classroom specifically in situations where students are building knowledge and skill then we may substantially mitigate the limiting effect of the method as it relates to learning.

List of Schools Adopting Similar DESIGN TIME Initiatives:

Canadian Coalition of Self-Directed Learning

Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School in Toronto has been pioneering student-directed learning for the past 20 years.

SEED Alternative School

SEED, in Toronto, is North America’s oldest public alternative school specializing in self-directed learning.

High Tech High (U.S.)*

The exemplar of Project-Based Learning in action, this innovative school in San Diego was featured in Tony Wagner’s book and subsequent documentary film, Most Likely to Succeed.

Lindsay Unified Public Schools (U.S)*

The district personalizes learning by giving students a performance-based model that lets students progress after they demonstrate mastery. School days are split between self-directed learning and teacher-led instruction. District teachers are called “learning facilitators,” and even during teacher-led instruction, students can choose from various assignments and learning experiences.

Taylor County School District (U.S.)*

District leaders realized that “one size fits all” doesn’t work when it comes to student learning. Now, teachers and students work together to create individualized learning plans based on students’ needs, interests and goals. The approach includes project-based learning, self-based learning, online learning, and peer-led instruction.

JFK Eagle Academy (U.S.)*

The school developed a program focused on Socratic seminars and leadership development, because teachers and school leaders believe students benefit from inquiry, critical thinking and problem-solving. Students work at their own pace toward college and career readiness.

LINC High School (U.S.)*

School administrators believe every student can be a leader, and student agency, leadership and character education is an important part of the school’s philosophy. Classes aren’t organized into traditional subjects, but instead are grouped into 30-day “learning modules” that integrate various subjects and let students explore local, national and international issues through research and critical thinking.

The Putney School (U.S.)

“Our semi-annual Project Weeks challenge students to dive deep into something they have learned in their academic coursework, make it personal, and mobilize it creatively. While we focus on research and process, the results are incredible… Project Weeks are all about mobilizing knowledge: connecting disciplines, digging through deeper ideas, and applying what one has learned.”

*https://www.eschoolnews.com/2017/02/16/personalized-learning-action/2/?all

FLEX TIME RESEARCH (Skills-Based Learning)

JOURNAL/ BLOG

LINK

SUMMARY QUOTES

20Time.org Passion Projects 20Time projects allow students to track their learning growth, which supercharges intrinsic motivation. Way more effective than grades and other carrots and sticks.
Genius Hour Journal Genius Hour The search-engine giant, Google, allows its engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any pet project that they want.  The idea is very simple.  Allow people to work on something that interests them, and productivity will go up.
20 Time in Education Blog 20% Time Daniel Pink asks what drives us. Sir Ken Robinson asks us to inspire creativity in our students. The latest in education is asking us to teach our students to create their own questions, do their own research, and form their own conclusions with their learning. Why? The world is a collaborative, communicative place and it is the world of online tools that has made it this way. Our students’ workplaces will be places with teams at tables, not individuals in cubicles. They will be asked to be innovative and create the next tool, not to push bureaucratic paper. We must teach them how to think on their own without being told what to do. We need to teach them to be autonomous learners. Only one who can guide his own learning can effectively contribute to a team.
ASCD The Genius of Design Despite its exciting beginning, that first Genius Hour project more than 10 years ago actually failed on many levels. I provided too much structure in areas where students needed more freedom and agency. I didn’t provide enough scaffolding in areas where they lacked necessary skills. I failed to anticipate some of the social and emotional challenges of giving students the freedom to learn what they wanted to learn.

Still, even with all of these mistakes, something was different. My students were empowered to take their learning in their own direction.

Ontario Ministry of Education 21st Century Competencies Researchers acknowledge that the need to engage in problem-solving and critical and creative thinking has “always been at the core of learning and innovation” (Trilling & Fadel, 2009, p. 50). What’s new in the 21st century is the call for education systems to emphasize and develop these competencies in explicit and intentional ways through deliberate changes in curriculum design and pedagogical practice. The goal of these changes is to prepare students to solve messy, complex problems – including problems we don’t yet know about – associated with living in a competitive, globally connected, and technologically intensive world.
Brookings Skills Movement Across Education Around the world education systems are increasingly inclusive of a broad range of skills in curricula to prepare students for the complex challenges of this century.
World Economic Forum Future Job Skills Five years from now, over one-third of skills (35%) that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed.
World Economic Forum Jobs are Changing What is clear is that interpersonal skills are unlikely to be rendered obsolete by technological innovation or economic disruptions. In a changing workforce, it’s having a strong foundation in these versatile, cross-functional skills that allows people to successfully pivot.
Quartz What Skills do Kids Need to Thrive New research from the Sutton Trust, a British foundation focused on social mobility, finds that 88% of young people, 94% of employers, and 97% of teachers say these so-called life skills are as or more important than academic qualifications.

List of Schools Adopting Similar FLEX TIME Initiatives:

Rothesay Netherwood – New Brunswick (Genius Hour & Disrupted)

The only independent school in New Brunswick, Rothesay has adopted numerous innovations to give their students voice-and-choice over passions and interests. Most recently they have empathized with students by creating assessment blocks in which only specific subject areas are able to administer summative assessment one at a time. This aims to help students and teachers work smarter at not overwhelming and overstuffing the learning. 

The York School – Toronto (Genius Hour)

A pioneer in technology integration, this Toronto independent school has paved the way for diverse Passion Projects across grade levels.

Holy Trinity School – Richmond Hill, Toronto (Flex Time)

This middle and senior school initiative gives students weekly choice over which activities or tutorials will best help them succeed.

Hillfield Strathallan College – Hamilton (Flex Time)

A wide-reaching whole-school initiative in which one hour per day is organized around student academic needs, well-being activities, and PBL guidance. Students choose where they should be and what they should learn.

ACTIVE TIME RESEARCH (Experiential Learning)

JOURNAL/ BLOG

LINK

SUMMARY QUOTES

Getting Smart Social Emotional Learning Research The statement that “Social, emotional, and cognitive competencies can be taught and developed throughout childhood, adolescence, and beyond,” certainly underscores Carol Dweck’s work around growth mindset. In short, we aren’t simply born with or without SEL traits; rather, they can be taught and shaped throughout our experiences.
Global Digital Citizen Foundation 5 Ways Outdoor Education Can Prepare our Students for the Future Outdoor Education can be widely defined, but generally is a form of experiential organised learning that occurs in an outdoor setting and typically involves “journey-based experiences in which students participate in a variety of adventurous, memorable challenges.” This style of learning has various benefits, from cultivating the relevant emotional intelligence needed for effective leadership, to develop the confidence and competence needed to persevere in stressful situations.

List of Schools Adopting Similar ACTIVE TIME Initiatives:

Havergal College (Day 9 Initiative)

The mission for Day 9 is to align the school’s values and mission through curated, co-created experiences with faculty and students. Day 9s are opportunities to deepen and extend learning.

University and College Information

JOURNAL/ BLOG

LINK

SUMMARY QUOTES

Stanford Social Innovation Review Education is Changing There is therefore no doubt about where education is going, but there is a great deal of uncertainty concerning how to get there, and, importantly, how to measure progress along the way.
Harvard Graduate School (College Admissions) Turning the Tide … high school students often perceive colleges as simply valuing their achievements, not their responsibility for others and their communities.
TES Independent School Pupils Feel More Prepared for University One of the suggestions for students is reminding themselves what “independent learning” means to ensure they are prepared for an environment where there is less direct hands-on teaching support.
NAIS Mastery Transcript Consortium In other words, many students do not learn about the world in school; instead, they learn about a teacher’s preferences, a test’s likeliest questions, and their own ability or inability to master a system that doesn’t place their growth first.
Innovative Post-Secondary Institutions Minerva Schools Minerva focuses on developing your abilities to think critically and creatively, to communicate effectively, and to work well with others. These aspects of your education are far more important than simply memorizing facts and concepts because they provide a set of practical and adaptable skills, together with an understanding of how to apply them in the world.
Innovative Post-Secondary Institutions Quest University Canada Each student is required to take between one and four experiential blocks as part of his or her academic program. These blocks are designed to meet each student’s academic and career interests and can include varied experiences,

LIST OF FURTHER RESOURCES

Alexander, C & McKean, M. (2017, October 22). The Problem of Youth Unemployment: Predicting the Changing Future of Work. Globe & Mail. Retrieved from https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/the-problem-of-youth-unemployment-predicting-the-changing-future-of-work/article

Berger, R. (2017, October 25). The Importance of Academic Courage. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/importance-academic-courage?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

Buck Institute for Education (2017). What is Project Based Learning (PBL)? Retrieved from https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl

Engelbert, C. & Hagel, J. (2017, July 31) Radically open: Tom Friedman on jobs, learning, and the future of work. Deloitte Review (21) Retrieved from journal https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/deloitte-review/issue-21/tom-friedman-interview-jobs-learning-future-of-work.html?id=dup-us-en:2sm:3tw:4dup_gl:5eng:6dup

Fullan, M. (2014, January). A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning. Retrieved from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/3897.Rich_Seam_web.pdf

Furedi, F. (2016, June 26). Schools Need to Encourage Students out of their Comfort Zone so they can Adapt to University. TES. Retrieved from https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/schools-need-encourage-students-out-their-comfort-zone-so-they-can

Hoover, E. (2017, November 1) What Colleges Want in an Applicant (Everything). New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/01/education/edlife/what-college-admissions-wants.html

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2016, Fall). 21st Century Competencies: Foundation Document for Discussion. Retrieved from http://www.edugains.ca/resources21CL/About21stCentury/21CL_21stCenturyCompetencies.pdf

Prevette, S. (2017, May). Creating Future Designers: It Starts in the Classroom. Policy Magazine. Retrieved from http://policymagazine.ca/pdf/26/PolicyMagazineMayJune-2017-Prevette.pdf

Kaechele, M. (2017, February 2). Scaffolding the PBL Shift. [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.bie.org/blog/scaffolding_the_pbl_shift

Lacavera, A. (2017, October 26). We Need to Stop Coddling our Kids if we want Canada to Become a Nation of Entrepreneurs. Globe & Mail. Retrieved from https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-growth/we-need-to-stop-coddling-our-kids-if-we-want-canada-to-become-a-nation-of-entrepreneurs/article

Lichtman, G. (2014) #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education. New Jersey: Jossey-Bass.

Repko, A. (2009). Assessing Interdisciplinary Learning Outcomes. Retrieved from https://oakland.edu/Assets/upload/docs/AIS/Assessing_Interdisiplinary_Learning_Outcomes_(Allen_F._Repko).pdf

Schafer, D. & Yamasaki, K. (2017). Designing Creative Collaboration School Spaces. Building Dialogue. Retrieved from https://crej.com/news/designing-creative-collaboration-school-spaces/

Schneider, J. (2017) What Makes a Great School. Usable Knowledge. [Web log post] Retrieved from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/10/what-makes-great-school

Swartz, K. (2006, October 4) Why a School’s Master Schedule is a Powerful Enabler of Change. Mind Shift. Retrieved from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/10/24/why-a-schools-master-schedule-is-a-powerful-enabler-of-change/

Terada, Y. (2017, September 20). Why Students Forget – and What You Can Do About It. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/why-students-forget-and-what-you-can-do-about-it?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

Tormala, A. (2016, October 24). Discomfort, Growth, and Innovation. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/discomfort-growth-and-innovation-alyssa-tormala

Trilling, B. & Fadel, C. (2009) 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. Jossey-Bass: New Jersey

Wagner, T. & Dintersmith, T. (2015, August 18). Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. Scribner. Retrieved from http://www.tonywagner.com/most-likely-to-succeed-preparing-our-kids-for-the-innovation-era/

Walls, J. (2017, November 2). York U Bringing Together New Maker Space in Markham. York University Media Relations. Retrieved from http://news.yorku.ca/2017/11/02/york-u-bringing-together-innovators-and-entrepreneurs-in-new-maker-space-in-markham/?

Wiggins, G. & Mctighe, J. (2011). Understanding by Design: Framework. ASCD. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/siteASCD/publications/UbD_WhitePaper0312.pdf

DISCOVERY DAYS: A Work in Progress

PROGRESS REPORT

EARLY FEEDBACK (Day 6 of 12)

The initial six weeks of Rosseau Lake College’s DISCOVERY DAYS have had a mixed reception amongst a small percentage of students and parents. Early criticism came from our Grade 12 class who felt this type of “experimental” learning would interrupt their academic goals of achieving high marks for post-secondary applications. They initially preferred the old system of teacher-developed ISU’s (Independent Study Units) or CT’s (Culminating Tasks) delivered in the last two weeks of a course. DISCOVERY DAYS’ longer timelines gave some students increased stress.

Much of this student-created survey can be interpreted as resistance to change and aversion to risk, especially with those students who have succeeded at the “game of school”. Now that the rules are changing, the development of new skills in previously untested areas is uncomfortable.

A small percentage of dissension has come from traditional analytical learners who feel classroom instruction has been diminished and therefore their opportunities to obtain important information in knowledge-based subjects such as Science and Math compromised.

The academic team sat down with students to listen to their voices and concerns and develop workable solutions. One such solution involved the creation of a “University Preparation” club, for senior students, to run during the Winter Term Active Time block. Facilitated by Math and Science teachers, this period will be used for a multitude of senior academic purposes: individual study, tutorials, catch-up classes, guest lecturers, and post-secondary application workshops.

As well as surveying the students on their level of engagement, we also asked the faculty to assess our progress with individual DISCOVERY DAY initiatives. Again, the results were not surprising given how different and unstructured these days can initially feel. Learning Spaces are still not being recognized or utilized by students as differing to their classroom function. Many students are drawn to spaces because of friendship groups rather than project needs. The Discovery Projects themselves are open-ended and some facilitators find it challenging as to how to help motivate students or link ideas to finished products.

What does success look like?

As quantitative achievement data has yet to be calculated (realistically, we will have to measure this with a longitudinal study over numerous years), we have only anecdotal responses and engagement surveys to gauge initial reception. Active Time has already been received positively by the majority of students who tend to learn in this manner.

For most students, success with Design Time and Flex Time may look something like appreciation of new skills learned and broader knowledge shared. Often times general academic acceptance is retroactive and only given credence after the fact or in the case of individual recognition.

For teachers, success will be in the form of professional development, sharing exciting and innovative ideas around the concept of facilitation.

For me, success already looks like this:

Our entire student body is involved in Project-Based Learning and has developed “How Might We… ?” questions. Added to that, more than half of the students have fully integrated questions that cross most or all of their subject areas.

One definitive measure RLC will be searching for, however, is the quality of the projects themselves. Deep learning experiences should lead to more original and interesting end products. It remains to be seen if the grade-oriented Discovery Projects or the fuelled-by-interests Passion Projects will produce that much-lauded exemplar. In either case, successful projects will be shared and displayed for present and future students of RLC to gain inspiration for continued discoveries.

SUMMARY CONCLUSION

 

A desire to see what students can do with their hands inspired a recent change at one of the world’s most renowned campuses. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (motto: “Mens et manus,” Latin for “Mind and hand”) now gives applicants the option of submitting a Maker Portfolio to show their “technical creativity.”

Applicants can send images, a short video and a PDF that shed light on a project they’ve undertaken — clothing they’ve made, apps they’ve designed, cakes they’ve baked, furniture they’ve built, chainmail they’ve woven. M.I.T. also asks students to explain what the project meant to them, as well as how much help they got. A panel of faculty members and alumni reviews the portfolios.

– Eric Hoover (Education Life), New York Times, November 1, 2017

Post-secondary needs have changed. Universities and colleges are starting to require evidence of 21st-Century skill development as part of their application process. Technology, especially developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI), ensures that many jobs will soon become automated, forcing greater reliance on those humanistic attributes that can’t be easily “Googled”.

Despite some resistance to this change at all levels of education (teachers, students, parents, board members) there is sufficient evidence to suggest the tide has already turned and those schools not incorporating at least some aspects of these learning modalities will quickly find themselves behind the times.

The DISCOVERY DAYS model is perfectly suited for smaller independent schools looking for ways to innovate teaching and learning within a traditional framework.

Benefits of a Discovery Day ‘Inquiry & Experiential’ Program:

  • Student autonomy helps foster resiliency
  • Cross-curricular projects help develop critical thinking skills
  • Longer time-scale for projects helps promote self-management
  • Interweaving direct instruction during the week helps students make authentic connections to their project as it unfolds
  • Passion projects help produce engagement and intrinsic motivation
  • Vertical integration helps foster mentorship and collaboration
  • Club creation helps promote entrepreneurship
  • Outdoor Learning helps promote mindfulness and environmental awareness

10 Next Steps

  1. Ongoing communication with all stakeholders (parents, community, board, CIS Ontario, CAIS, media)
  2. Targeted communication with students regarding weekly objectives (via Discovery Board, Google Classroom, Instagram, assembly announcements)
  3. Co-construction of assessment rubrics and templates for (discovery & passion) projects
  4. Further facilitator training (action plans) for teachers
  5. Observation, feedback, and support for teachers in new facilitator role
  6. Individual budgetary line items for various Discovery Day expenses
  7. Booking of whole-school activities and upcoming guest speakers (spring)
  8. Building of NEW Makerspaces (Tinkering Space & Music Recording Studio)
  9. Planning of Discovery Fair with Mastery Badges (https://credly.com/badge-builder)
  10. Planning and scripting of DISCOVERY DAYS marketing video (spring)

How Might We Discover our Inner Facilitator?

FACILITATOR DEVELOPMENT

“The goal of education has changed from the transfer of knowledge to the inculcation of wisdom” (Lichtman, 2014). Teachers have recently embraced the notion that direct instruction limits the effectiveness of knowledge transmission, as all students have personalized learning styles. The idea that a teacher should no longer be a “sage on the stage”, but rather a “guide on the side”, has meant a progressive reworking in the definition and purpose of this noble profession.

To help understand the various professional roles needed for teachers at Rosseau Lake College to conduct their challenging and multifaceted jobs, the faculty brainstormed and decided on four distinct responsibilities: Instructor, Facilitator, Mentor, and Coach.

The concept of a facilitator makes sense in a highly digitized information age in which teachers support student inquiry instead of merely delivering content.

This past August, teaching faculty at RLC dove deeply into facilitator training as we engaged in a two-day intensive workshop from the Toronto-based Future Design School headed by, you guessed it, Cohort21’s very own @lmcbeth! The effectiveness of this Design Thinking (DT) course entitled, “Hack Your Curriculum” led to further developments of our new DISCOVERY DAYS model—namely the opportunity for integrated “How Might We…?” (HMW) questions across subject areas. Our new facilitation skills had its first real challenge: a new model of curriculum delivery.

INTEGRATED PROJECT-BASED LEARNING

“How Might We…?” (HMW) questions are at the heart of the Design Process, a structured inquiry method for defining and prototyping projects, based on cultivating empathy for an end user. Each HMW question leads the student on a collaborative quest to discover more specific applications for their project. At Rosseau Lake College, we call thse Discovery Projects:

The Design Thinking (DT) method, first piloted in educational use at Stanford University (IDEO Stanford Design School) is a catalyst for creative action within the larger independent Project-Based Learning (PBL) practice. The Gold Standard PBL model was developed by the Buck Institute (BIE) and outlines the key components of administering this self-learning method.

BIE defines project-based learning as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge” (Buck Institute for Education, 2017).

In order to deliver a powerful inquiry-based program that increases student-autonomy and collaboration at every stage of the Discovery Projects, aspects of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) as used by the Right Question Institute (RQI) are also incorporated:

  • Ask as many questions as you can
  • Do not stop to discuss, judge or answer the questions
  • Write down every question exactly as stated
  • Change any statement into a question

By focussing on questions as the driver of curiosity and learning, it is understood that students will take ownership of their Discovery Projects through voice-and-choice while building links to real-world connections through their growing reflective knowledge. This ultimate inquiry method—as frustrating as it can be to those students used to learning in more traditional rote ways—also builds resilience by promoting an open mind to differing possibilities, including the possibility of failure.

Multiple-choice tests communicate nothing about school climate, student engagement, the development of citizenship skills, student social and emotional health, or critical thinking. School quality is multidimensional. 

Jack Schneider is an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross and the director of research for the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment.

Teachers at RLC saw an opportunity for DISCOVERY DAYS to develop new professional skills as facilitators. As this is a whole-school initiative and incorporates up to 30% of each student’s summative marks, why not facilitate students towards combining ideas for their Discovery Projects. Cross-curricular learning at the high school level is often difficult to organize. Subject teachers rarely teach complementary units and assessment of these projects takes extra collegial meetings that rarely happen. This is unfortunate, given how important it is for students to view all knowledge areas as vital and connected.

The key aspect of DISCOVERY DAYS is the prospect of students being able to complete one or two integrated projects instead of four separate ones.

For this first round of DISCOVERY DAYS, students chose from preselected HMW questions for each of their subjects. They were then guided by facilitators to develop partially-integrated HMW questions that combined curriculum outcomes from at least two subject areas. The bold students challenged themselves to create a fully-integrated HMW question that covered all subject expectations.

Students begin to take part in defining learning goals, connecting the learning to their own interests and aspirations and becoming more active observers and guides to their own and to their peers’ learning and progress. Deep learning tasks build upon the foundation of the new learning partnerships. They challenge students to construct knowledge and begin to use their ideas in the real world. In the process, they develop key skills and the experience of doing ‘knowledge work’ in ways that develop tenacity, grit, and the proactive dispositions that pave the way to flourishing futures. (Fullan, 2014)

Facilitation in the technology age is a relatively new professional skill that deserves more opportunities and support for teachers to practice and develop in their classrooms. Project-based learning is a natural opportunity to ask deeper questions of students and share in big ideas while fostering real-world connections. As learning becomes more autonomous and adaptive, important skillsets and mindsets such as modelling, encouragement, discernment, and inspiration become vital transmission tools for new flexible learning spaces that aren’t conducive to “chalk and talk”. Facilitation differs from regular instruction and coaching in that on the surface it looks like nothing is happening. Underneath, however…

Radically Open

 

There are times when writing a response is the appropriate action… and times when reading appropriate action is the right response. That’s a fancy English teachers way of saying I haven’t had much time to write anything this month, but here is one of the best articles I’ve read in a while about the future of education, jobs, and being open to change:

https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/deloitte-review/issue-21/tom-friedman-interview-jobs-learning-future-of-work.html?id=dup-us-en:2sm:3tw:4dup_gl:5eng:6dup