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.

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.

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)

Discovery Days @ Rosseau Lake College Intro

 

In its 50th anniversary year, Rosseau Lake College has launched a whole-school personalized learning initiative related to our strategic goals and mission: To graduate students with a strong personal brand, through a culture that is rich in discovery. After 18 months of development, faculty and stakeholder brainstorming, surveys and pedagogical research, the team iterated and designed an innovative approach to timetabling and program delivery: DISCOVERY DAYS are non-traditional days of learning (12 Fridays per semester) that support RLC’s unique value proposition— Nature is Our Learning Lab; Discovery is Our Culture.

The three learning components of this timetable change: Design Time, Flex Time, and Active Time.

Together, these three mindset blocks incorporate a variety of current educational theories that foster deep learning while also cultivating personal passions and developing resilience in each student from Grade 7 through Grade 12.

Our Junior School (Grade 7 & 8) work together as a cohort, collaborating on multidisciplinary projects over the entire year. These highly scaffolded immersions into inquiry learning give younger students the necessary tools to continue this method of discovery in future years.

Both Middle School (Grade 9 & 10) and Senior School (Grade 11 & 12) vary in approach only in the number of projects they are required to integrate in a scheduled semester.

Utilizing proven inquiry-based education techniques such as Project-Based Learning (PBL), Design Thinking (DT), Question Formulation Technique (QFT), and balanced within an experiential framework incorporating outdoor and active learning strategies, DISCOVERY DAYS aims to develop a variety of academic and kinaesthetic competencies in an engaging and holistic manner.

Over 50 acres of Muskoka lakefront property.

HISTORY

When Rosseau Lake College was founded in 1967, it was symbolically modelled after two internationally esteemed independent schools: Geelong Grammar School Timbertop Campus in Australia and Gordonstoun in Scotland. Both of these co-educational boarding schools paved the way for experiential and place-based education while maintaining traditional values and academic rigour. Being located outside of urban areas and steeped in outdoor natural environments, both schools challenge conventional learning methods by allowing students an opportunity to experience small community life and learn real-world skills through local service and activity. RLC continues this rich tradition of values-based education in a unique small-community environment with our DISCOVERY DAYS.

Gamifying 21st Century Skills: Part 2

 

FULL DISCLOSURE: (this post was first written, like, months ago, and then not published, and then completely abandoned, and now, in desperation to publish something, published; still not sure on the why, nevertheless working on the how!)

When you blow-up any traditional concept, in education or otherwise, there is always the inherent danger the pieces of your good intentions may become scattered and disconnected from the whole. Another way of saying this is, if you are not careful, you may lose your audience. Or in this case, your student? Or, as Australians are prone to say— the proverbial plot!

In my over ten years of teaching, I have found that educators typically fall into two somewhat contradictory mindsets: those who feel strongly we are preparing students for the harsh realities of the world, and those who believe students are the ones who will create their own brave new world. Did you notice the subtle yet fundamental difference there? One proposes to enrich a generation with the passed-down tools of success, the other prefers to engender resilience through autonomy. I am willing to admit that over the years I have found myself on both sides of this debate. I don’t believe either stance is necessarily the correct one. In fact, I am almost certain you need both of them in order to improve student engagement and achievement, in order to make education relevant again.

In my last post, I began the process of describing the intentions and HMW questions behind my Action Research Plan. To quote George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, who we are perhaps only now recognising will go down in history as the Charles Dickens of the 20th century or at the very least the John D. Rockefeller, “ideas are cheap”. What he meant by this, in spite of his billion-dollar Disney payout, is that anyone can have a good idea, but only the intrepid few can make it past the initial wonder-wall of sticky-note brainstorming and into the deadline-centric prototyping arena.

I am not usually one of those intrepid few. But I know a few people who are, and that has made all the difference.

THOSE NEXT STEPS

There have been plenty. Too many. I should have a pedagogical Fitbit for this.

Let us speed-date our way through this Escher. First, there was the User Feedback. I interviewed a student and a teacher, both of whom would benefit from this initiative. Here are some student thoughts around the why and how of skill development:

At one point I even had a few students on board to create a critical thinking APP. That idea quickly died when we all realised no one knew the first thing about designing an APP. But boy, let me tell you the excitement in the room….

So from those very positive user comments (suggesting I was indeed heading in the right direction) I created a mindmap version of the 7 LIKA Skills which our school has already subscribed to (Self-Management, Thinking, Network & Communication, Teamwork, Learning, Design & Innovation, Information Management). You will notice that a Levelling-Up strategy was initiated with each skill unfolding into a series of 5 increasingly challenging competencies. Not quite the Nintendo-style edtech “game” I had imagined, but nevertheless, something to aspire to. And quite pretty I might add (thank you coggle.it!)

 

Earlier in the year, I adjusted the achievement chart at our school for all subsequent assessments to cater for a Level 5 (instead of 4+, because, hey, it’s Level 5!). I then added Quality Descriptors so that our progress reports became gradeless and work habits could now be labelled as either Beginning, Developing, Deepening, Enhancing, or Mastering.

It made sense, to me at least, for our 21st Century Skills to follow a similar success criteria.

But it wasn’t enough. How would the unpacking of this work in the classroom? Or if not the classroom, where and when would teachers guide students through these 7 skills with 5 Levels each (that’s 35 separate competencies if you’re counting). Most importantly, how would they be assessed?

Then an idea hit me after the last Cohort21 meeting on Mars. The Parlay start-up boys that spoke to our whole group had an interesting functionality on their collaborative online forum— that of endorsement!

I would get the students to track their own skill development and ENDORSE others in the class who had likewise achieved a Level-Up. So that graphic looked like this:

I still needed the teacher to be somewhat accountable for this (without it being onerous) so a class tracking sheet for the teacher was also created. It looked like this:

I then spent too much time thinking about whether or not students would even be motivated to Level-Up on their own. I toyed with the idea that we should perhaps be giving some marks for soft skills, after all, there is a very good argument that all of these can be cultivated through each subject area and often make up a significant component any curriculum document (read your first 15 pages if you don’t believe me). But Should that be 5% of their final mark, 10%?

What if each student in the class started with a baseline 50% and then was given 5% for each skill they obtained and/or each endorsement? They wouldn’t be required to complete all 35 LIKA Skills, just 5 skills and 5 endorsements in order to reach 100%.

It wasn’t until a particularly poignant Google Hangout call with some Cohort21 alumni members that convinced me the road to success is not paved with extrinsic motivation. I couldn’t slide back into marks after having called for their exile! There would have to be another way!

While I was waiting for this other way, I asked our French teacher to get the kids to help them translate our new skills chart into French. It was a cool distraction, and resulted in this:

And so… HERE IS WHERE I AM! This is where my bitumen-paved butt hits gravel…. for a limited time only.

As the teaching faculty at my school and I prepare ourselves for another whole-school initiative (DISCOVERY DAYS, don’t ask, but please, ask?), I decided it was too much, too soon to unleash this particular 21st Century Skills beast on them. I wouldn’t say I’ve shelved it insomuch as I’ve merely back-burnered it for later in the year.

A few ideas that have recently hit me regarding the use and assessment of these skills:

  • perhaps they are used as a way to strengthen abilities for student passion projects instead of assessed by each teacher in their subject areas
  • explicitly taught and tracked by mentors
  • LV 5 badges attached to high school transcript

http://eddesignlab.org/education_design_lab_news/?gclid=Cj0KEQiAqdLDBRDD-b2sv6-i6MsBEiQAkT3wAsqiAdWG5O6EYhKK83e0w8NgfHBZ1pxQUr-jBgRQtKwaAnzj8P8HAQ

REFLECTION

There is another difference I’ve noticed over the years, regarding how teachers conduct themselves in the workplace. There are those teachers who would like to be told exactly what to do, and there are those who work best when left alone to do their own thing. Again, at various points in my career, I’ve found myself on both sides of this professional fence— very often dependent on the workload, one doesn’t always have time to play in the clouds when all you can do most days is survive unscathed.

We are lucky to be engaged in a profession where we are, to a certain degree, responsible only to ourselves, our own individual classrooms, our own knowledge and expertise, our students. I cherish this about teaching. I have also, only just this year, understood the vital importance of networking and collaboration in my reflective practice. Cohort21 is the first time in my professional life I’ve felt this way.

A huge thanks to @ddoucet, @shelleythomas, @jsmith, @brenthurley, @jweening, @egelleny, @timrollwagen, @Think_teach, @jmedved, @lesmcbeth and others I may have failed to mention, for their continued assistance, guidance, ENDORSEMENT, and encouragement.

Finally, a non-baby-boomer PD!  Cohort, you make me feel 21 again!

Gamifying 21st Century Skills: Part 1

 

Cohort21 continues to be a game-changer for me.

Mentally shifting my previous professional teaching experiences, from schools of well-intentioned colleagues, to this collaborative learning hive of like-minded ed-heads, has transformed my teaching practice in ways I have yet to truly reflect on. Except here:

I walked into the last F2F meeting with more than just a head-cold; I also had a head full of ideas and scatterbrain proposals from which to dump on this unsuspecting source of formative feedback junkies. My new role as Academic Lead at Rosseau Lake College has awarded me the freedom to develop areas of interest that “might” just indeed help our school move forward. Of course, almost instantaneously, the dreaded symbolic starting block reared it’s cosmetically challenged head, in oversized, day-glo sky-writing: Where do I begin?

LEVEL 1: THE WHERE

Luckily, our esteemed facilitators (@jmedved & @gnichols) and coaches at Cohort21, are well-versed in the language of stumble, and had problem-solving solutions waiting in the wings (literally, the wings of the York School hallways, used brilliantly as limbic nerve-system galleries of crowd-sourcing). The Design Thinking worksheets, sticky-note brainstorms and timed exercises, provided by @lmcbeth and Future Design School, were also a wonderfully scaffolded entry point into generative thinking, well away from the usual Saturday PD day-dreaming and doodle sessions of my past.

My original intention was to use the Cohort community as supercharged leverage for reimagining and rebooting our Master Schedule— a commitment to change which RLC (Roseau Lake College) is currently highly invested in. The unique process of design-thinking around this challenge, we began as a school last spring; with typical brainstorming results benefiting most from a speculative standpoint, with the not unusual— sometimes confusing and muddling— side effect of losing some staff through endless permutations of opportunity and critique. Ultimately, I concluded, that, as a school, we were already well ahead in unpacking this sticky-note problem— already at the prototyping phase, really (exciting stuff, TBA!)— and this being too specific a challenge, to be used as my Cohort21 action research springboard.

So, as a poet of pedagogy, as an agent of change, an adjunct adaptor of assessment, and as I am wont to do, I revised my original plan. Not changed tactics so much as I lessened the scope of my (ego)concentric circle to focus on another of my whole-school pet passion projects/peeves: 21st Century Skill Development.

1. Essential Skills from Most Likely to Succeed on Vimeo.

LEVEL 2: THE WHY

I’m certainly not the first teacher to notice the writing on the pedagogical wall; the recent paradigm shift in teaching and learning, away from content and towards competencies, has been slowly evolving over the past decade or more (http://www.p21.org/our-work/resources/for-educators#SkillsMaps). The internet is a far better provider of knowledge than any one teacher could ever hope to be. One only need look at the proliferate example of Khan Academy, how its open-source adaptive technology has enabled a whole new generation of students to effectively tech-learn numeric knowledge in a scaffolded way, previously only possible through linear textbook instruction (Khan has naturally set their sites on literacy and grammar as well: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/grammar)

This evolution is a great relief to me, I’ve never been interested in any aspect of teaching that has me churning out cookie-cutter lessons or exacting standardized assessments like a machine; unfortunately, this delicate transition has been an obstacle to some teachers who have, perhaps unconsciously, staked, not only their professional claim, but also their identity around a proven silo of knowledge and/or singular interpretation of curriculum (especially at the secondary school level). I say, let the robots take over all the deductive aspects of school and learning! The computer has already made obsolescence a fact of life in other disciplines such as banking, manufacturing, health, military— why not education? If we, as educators, want to not only stay relevant, but also stay employed in the 21st century, we need to use content to teach skills. We need to become critical and creative facilitators of deeper learning skills and life skills. We need to become Poets of Pedagogy!

LEVEL 3: THE WHAT

After much reflecting and validating (… the Discovery Process…) on a possible teaching problem, and through the integral help of a feedback partner (@vboomgaardt), I finally widdled-down my “mighty” action research question:

How might we gamify 21st century skill development, so students can track their own learning, and teachers can gain meaningful evidence for feedback and reporting?

In order to arrive at this question, I first had to empathize with TWO END USERS in my design problem: both students and teachers. TWO END USERS!?! I think that’s okay, isn’t it? Yes, I think that’s just fine. The students will, of course, be the benefactors of a more streamlined, transparent, credential-focussed, success-driven criteria program around 21st century skill development. The teachers, as well, will need to be able to adapt these competencies and rubrics into their curriculum in ways that deepen and heighten curriculum expectations. If, along the way, we can get all edtech and add an app somewhere in the mix, well, hell, as my grandmother used to say, we’re cookin’ with gas!

Throughout this iterative process, I asked around the cohort to see if other CIS schools had identified “soft skills” as a potential problem worth solving. Similar questions around competencies did indeed exist, however, the conclusion I came to was although every school reported on work habits and had even made inroads into critical and creative thinking, there didn’t seem to be a whole-school system out there for assessing competencies in an intrinsic or adaptive way. It seems to very much still be at the mercy of individual teachers, which doesn’t really signal to the students or parents the importance of this shift in education. One of the simple questions I asked my fellow teachers was this: “What is the difference between a Grade 7 collaboration and a Grade 12 collaboration when it comes to assessing work habits?”. No one was able to give me an answer with any authority or consistency. With this Action Plan, I am to change that.

LEVEL 4: THE HOW

“Curious kids learn how to learn, and how to enjoy it – and that, more than any specific body of knowledge, is what they will need to have in the future. The world is changing so rapidly that by the time a student graduates from university, everything he or she learned may already be headed toward obsolescence. The main thing that students need to know is not what to think but how to think in order to face new challenges and solve new problems.” (p.14)

This is from Amanda Lang’s, The Power of Why. I haven’t read her book, and I probably won’t have time, sadly. Nevertheless, this quote, taken from a MindShift blog about skills education (https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/11/14/why-academic-teaching-doesnt-help-kids-excel-in-life/), resonated with my predicament.

When I arrived at Rosseau Lake College last year, they had already started a transition into a new strategic plan (Future Forward) which I am lucky to help continue to shape this year. One of the hallmarks of this plan is a personalized approach to education, using what we call a PLP (Personalized Learning Profile). Partnering with the learning and development company, LIKA (http://www.lika.ca/home2/), our students are able to approximate their learning preference through a multiple-intelligence, psychometric online test. Simply, this allows each student and teacher to see individual learning strengths and weaknesses as a visual quadrant infographic.

In addition to the PLP, LIKA has recently developed a list of 7 Skills which have already been Ministry approved and will form the foundation of RLC’s 21st Century Competencies.

These skills will be the basis for my Action Plan:

  • Self-Management
  • Teamwork
  • Thinking
  • Networking and Communication
  • Information Management
  • Learning
  • Design and Innovation

Finally, through the crowd-sourcing inspiration stage of our last F2F, I received a heap of ideas, many of them game and tech-related, to help me on my quest.

LEVEL 5: THE WHEN

It’s all happening in Semester 2. I am lucky to have both Junior and Senior Division Curriculum leads to help co-construct criteria around these skills. There is much research to conduct around badge creation, interactive motivator apps, Google Suite apps, JoeZoo, Doc Appender, and LMS systems. As well, I will be interviewing both of my END USERS throughout the process for feedback and suggestions.

A huge thanks to @ddoucet, @shelleythomas, @jsmith, @brenthurley, @jweening, @egelleny, @timrollwagen, and others I may have failed to mention, for their continued assistance, guidance, and encouragement.

To be continued in PART 2.