Just 6 Months!

SiTE Schools Dundas | Class of 2019/20

It was only 6 months ago that Tony Evans and I began casually chatting about the idea of extending his incredible Montessori school program (Dundas Valley Montessori SchoolStrata Montessori) into the upper adolescent years. My simple pitch to him: what if we didn’t need a building?

Look at us now! Two months into our inaugural school year with 10 of the most curious, engaged, ethically-minded, creative, socially responsible, discerning adolescents I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Our place-based education approach to high school has allowed us to integrate with the vibrant community of Dundas, Ontario in a purposeful and positive way; learning spaces have included Dundas Farmers’ MarketDundas Museum and ArchivesCarnegie GalleryGrupetto, Dundas Little TheatreMcMaster University, The Printed Word, Dundas Library, and many more partnerships to evolve. Expert facilitators have included politicians, professors, authors, curators, nutritionists, scientists, entrepreneurs, social-workers, artists, and still more to come.

The Montessori adolescent pedagogy is the most progressive, value-based, developmentally aligned education system I have yet encountered. It allows for maximum flexibility and innovation, authentic student voice and choice, vertical integration, project-based learning, collaborative discussion, real-world experience, outdoor education, gradeless assessment, interdisciplinary mindsets, context-based integrated knowledge, co-construction of outcomes, and a dignified respect for the social/emotional needs of teens. I call it a living curriculum because my main role is to curate a prepared environment, observe the self-directed learning process, and adapt expectations to follow student interests. In other words, I get to help guide their life.

This has been a truly transformative experience for myself, my family, and my teaching career! I have never had so much fun innovating lessons and experimenting with new ideas. I feel so grateful and fortunate to be part of such a supportive community.

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)

Nothing Standard about Standards-Based Assessment

STANDARDS-BASED CURRICULUM CHECKLISTS

A common criticism of PBL is because each student’s end product differs, connections to the ministry of education curriculum objectives suffer. It is often thought even more difficult for teachers to properly assess these types of projects because of this summative difference. This realization led teachers at RLC to develop Standards-Based Curriculum Checklists for our DISCOVERY DAYS inquiry-based projects initiative.

We have encouraged our faculty to choose exactly 50 specific curriculum objectives from the myriad of examples each ministry document gives for knowledge and skill building. Why 50? Because less than that would be difficult to properly cover each learning strand or unit and more than that would be next to impossible to teach within a regularly scheduled semester. As Rosseau Lake College also uses a Level 1-5 Achievement Chart, it is an easy move to create both a quality descriptive rubric, as well as one that could potentially act as the entire grade book in a competency-based system. The final touch with this easy-to-administer standards-based template is a column for reflection upon which both students and teachers can record conversations and observations and link to products. I have used this column as a formative feedback and reflection activity with my Grade 12 English class. Their role was to find examples from previous classroom lectures and activities to satisfy the potential mastery of each skill. Level 5 Mastery can be further enriched by co-constructing criteria around possible 90%+ “gamified” extensions of competencies (eg. real-world connections, ability to teach the material, etc.)

By incorporating student conferences with subject teachers early into the DISCOVERY DAYS schedule, students have the ability to directly link their partial or fully cross-curricular project ideas to specific curriculum objectives. A Google folder carrying the entire faculty’s curriculum checklists allows any student or facilitator the ability to easily locate aspects of a subject area to build projects upon.

This reflective component has so far proved crucial to maintaining academic rigour with PBL and in focussing students Discovery Projects on expected subject outcomes. It also has the added bonus of increasing student autonomy and voice-and-choice around interest areas. Resilience and flexibility have been a by-product of these check-ups as many students have had to “go back to the drawing board” if their culminating project ideas didn’t satisfy enough curriculum outcomes.   

“More than one in 10 (12 percent) students educated at independent schools said they had been inadequately prepared for university. And the most common criticism was that they’d been given over-structured support at school and wanted to be more academically independent.” (Furedi, 2016) 

Big thanks to former Cohort21 alum, Ed Hitchcock @ehitchcock @SciTeacherEd for his initial work in Standards-Based Grading (watch his video here). Also thanks to @egelleny for mentioning him to me in the first place. The Power of Cohort21!

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…

Organized Chaos

 

Nothing ever goes as planned, and that is why we teach.

Think about this statement for a second. Isn’t that what teachers do, don’t we create lesson “plans”? Don’t we try and structure learning so there is proper scaffolding of knowledge and skills in developmentally appropriate methods of transmission? Isn’t this the reason we became educators? Because the world doesn’t make sense and we are here, dammit, to help children make some sense of it!

If I dig deep into the psychology of it all, I would probably find some truth to that. Am I teacher because I secretly want control over aspects of my life I can’t control? Am I a teacher because of something lacking in my own upbringing that I want to correct? Either I was great at school and therefore never left, or I had a learning disability and now want to share my experience so no one has to struggle again.

Maybe you are one of those noble few who was so inspired by a teacher in your life you just had to join the profession, to keep the flame going. Or maybe, like me, you come from a family of teachers and this profession was always going to be the “backup plan”.

No matter the reason, at some point you will have come up against this great irony of education, the perennial bulwark: nothing ever goes as planned! And it affects all of us at some point in our career, whether you are a messy person or a clean person, a cat person or a dog person, a Beatles fan or a Rolling Stones fan. We have all reached that moment of saturation when your To-Do List needs a To-Do List.

All I can say is, thank god we are teachers in the 21st century! Whereas this statement in the recent past would have been swept under any available carpet out of shame (for some reason I’m thinking of those oval cord carpets from the 70’s), now, it is not only par for the course, THIS IS THE VERY DEFINITION OF TEACHING.

The reality of the classroom these days is, there is always something or someone going to undermine all of your carefully crafted secret plans.

Learning to surf the process of discovery, to embrace happy accidents along the way, is a 21st-century skill, for students and teachers alike. Being flexible enough to adapt strategies quickly, resilient enough to hear criticism as constructive feedback, and transparent enough to admit you don’t always know what the end dismount of that wave looks like; these are qualities far more cherished and sought after these days than a perfectly designed syllabus.

I have had the recent experience, as Academic Director at Rosseau Lake College, to witness the joy of disorder first hand. After working tirelessly for the past 18 months on developing our new whole-school, inquiry-based learning initiative called DISCOVERY DAYS, the launch day finally came this past September 29. After spending much of the last year and a half living comfortably in the Simon Sinek “WHY”, I had to shift gears very quickly to consider the Grant Lichtman “HOW”. It’s one thing to imagine what a non-traditional progressive approach to learning might look like— changing timetables, training teachers, building learning spaces, reading books and blogs, edu tweeting— it’s another to organize 100 students and 16 faculty for an entire morning of informative-yet-growth-mindset building activities. And then it rained. Actually, for the purposes of this analogy, it poured. Students were wandering around not knowing exactly where to be, or how to stay dry. Teachers were out of their element, facilitating a group of students that weren’t necessarily their own. The concept of a “How Might We…? question was met with raised eyebrows and blank pages. Some got it, some didn’t. Questions abounded.

But here is the beauty, the cherry on top, my fin de siecle. A crucial part of the Design Thinking process is built upon questions that don’t require answers, which inevitably leads to a foundation of failure. Failure, in fact, is at the very core of modern learning. We must fall down in order to get up. We must make mistakes while we prototype. Our plans must go awry.

Organized chaos, then, is that sweet spot of engagement that every teacher yearns and learns to conduct. When the noise level of your classroom is peaked, not with dissent, but with interest. When the questions just keep coming, not out of desperation but out of curiosity. When technology breaks down and your lo-fi solution produces even greater results because the shared experience is more vital. When co-constructing curriculum with students produces an idea you could never have planned for on your own. When what you have created has become something more than you could have possibly imagined and you know the next crucial step in your journey is letting go.

 

 

 

Multidisciplinary Thinking Begins by Looking at Yourself

 

One of the most common criticisms from high-school teachers, around the topic of cross-curricular implementation, is how hard it is to schedule. Everyone loves the idea of multidisciplinary activities, but other than actual interdisciplinary courses (IDC)— where two or three subjects are mandated to mix and mingle— few schools can boast of regularly achieving this gold standard of 21st century knowledge integration.

Instead of spending last summer trolling ministry websites or updating persistently nagging AQ credentials, or even skimming chapters of the latest guru on innovation and personal branding, I did what I assume most teachers need to do on their off time— I vegged out. Now, becoming a vegetable on my vacation did not mean I stopped thinking about pedagogical approaches to curriculum design, no, no, no (I am, like most lifers, a 24/7 teacher). Far from it. I did what millions of teachers do best– I turned a television show into a future lesson plan!

The show is Netflix’s superb documentary, “Chef’s Table”, which, if you haven’t already had a chance to watch, is an absolute delight of the senses and the spirit. The episode that stood out for me, and got my pedagogical flavours flowing, was the first of Season Two, with the esteemed American chef, Grant Ashatz, showcasing his experimental art project/restaurant, Alinea.

What makes the food that we do at Alinea so interesting on the outside is that we really don’t let ourselves say no to an idea.

What struck me immediately about his imaginative approach to cuisine, was how similar it was to lesson planning. He always starts with a question: In his case, “why do patrons have to eat on plates?”; in my case, “why do multidisciplinary activities have to involve other classes?”

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In designing an ISU for last year’s Grade 12 English class, I wanted to encourage a personalized and multidisciplinary approach by providing choice over what topic of English they wished to involve in their project. Through much discussion and co-construction (and some critical processing of my own) we came to the realization that there were at least 4 major subjects within English (Science, Sociology, Art, and Philosophy). Anyone who has taught Theory of Knowledge in an IB setting should recognize the similar pattern here. What was important to me was the senior students themselves came to this vital conclusion— that all subjects have other subjects within them, that the concept of “subject” is just a label, a way to organize information. From there the “buy-in” was easy, as most students were able to find a comfortable entry point into their project, based on a subject they enjoyed more than English, or were more skilled at. I also encouraged each student to talk to a teacher from the subject area they chose, to further deepen their research. No major rescheduling was necessary.

Grant Ashatz set the culinary world alight by challenging the basic assumptions of fine dining. He saw the simple ritual of eating to be full of potential for awe inspiring moments. Asking yourself the hard, reflective questions regarding your own practice, especially around subject stereotypes, is precisely the path towards innovation all teachers can use to reinvigorate their practice, and all students are waiting to ask. Why do we use textbooks in math? Do English students have to read the entire text? Does learning need to take place inside? Why do we need grades? Would this topic be best learned online? Do I have to write this down, can’t I just tell you?

Sometimes thinking outside the box means gaining inspiration from disciplines other than your own, other than education. Challenge the status quo. Give yourself permission to fail. Set limits to increase your creativity. These are not article links off Edutopia, they are lessons I learned from binge watching Netflix!