DISCOVERY DAYS: A Work in Progress

PROGRESS REPORT

EARLY FEEDBACK (Day 6 of 12)

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

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

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

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

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

What does success look like?

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

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

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

For me, success already looks like this:

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

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

SUMMARY CONCLUSION

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Next Steps

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

How Might We Discover our Inner Facilitator?

FACILITATOR DEVELOPMENT

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

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

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

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

INTEGRATED PROJECT-BASED LEARNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How My 19-month Old Inspired Me to Change our Schools Timetable!

As any parent knows, structure and boundaries with a child are vital, not only for development but also for sanity. My beautiful adopted girl, Aletheia, will soon be 20 months old. This past year and a half have been a blur of carefully organized and sectioned “time”. Her Time, Me Time, Work Time, Sleep Time, Eat Time, Bath Time… you get the picture. Interestingly, all of this life stuff was happening around the same time that Rosseau Lake College was developing its new DISCOVERY DAYS inquiry-based and experiential learning initiative. Ironically, a think a few of these terms and conditions from my life slipped into our new student program!

 

What is Design Time?

There are many styles of student inquiry, from highly structured to completely free and autonomous. Each is an entry point into personalized learning which can lead students to be intrinsically motivated, to achieve independently, and to continue ‘lifelong learning’ (Engelbert & Hagel, 2017).

Infographic courtesy of Trevor MacKenzie @trev_mackenzie

The uniqueness of Rosseau Lake College’s inquiry-based academic program, Design Time, rests on the idea that culminating knowledge does not happen in a vacuum, nor does it always happen at the end of a topic, unit, or learning sequence.

“Research shows that students perform better academically when given multiple opportunities to review learning material” (Terada, 2017). Knowledge is constructed and co-constructed through questioning, application, and reflection. It happens in conjunction with a teacher, with peers, and through self-guidance. The education model that was developed from this insight and aligned with our strategic objectives was a simple three-stage process, not dissimilar to the Design Process itself:

Discover. Learn. Adapt.

Instead of spending two weeks at the end of a semester quickly pulling together aspects of a rushed project, students at RLC spend the entire semester following their big idea questions through iterative discovery and prototyping stages. At any point along this process, the student may reach an impasse or gain interest in a similar topic based on their original idea. Just as in real life, they learn to adapt these ideas into new discoveries which then lead to further research and the eventual creation of unique end products.

Students keep track of their Discovery Project process using a standardized Google Doc planner divided into these three stages over the 12 weeks. Updates to the planner and weekly exit cards are expected.

With DISCOVERY DAYS happening every Friday, direct instruction is still able to take place during the week, which enables further linking of knowledge and skills gained from the classroom into the collaborative or self-directed Discovery Project.

What is Flex Time?

Just as the name suggests, Flex Time will be an adjustable component of our Winter Term and will have a variety of purposes. This year, the Flex Time program will be organised using mentor groups working on Passion Projects.

Many schools have opened up their weekly schedule to include time for students to engage in projects that are not marked and instead are aligned with student interests and pursuits. Some popular names for this type of program are Genius Hour or 20Time.

What makes RLC different amongst established independent schools is our small size. Vertical integration happens often and students find friendship groups from all grade levels.

RLC’s mentor program has traditionally been an area where these inter-student relationships grow. This year we hope to strengthen this program further by having mentors and mentees work on Passion Projects together.

As a group, the mentors will facilitate a design process over 14 weeks. Instead of achieving marks, students will be assessed in their development of Future Skills (Teamwork, Information Management, Self-Management, Critical Thinking, Networking, Global Citizenship, etc.) (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016). In the spring, RLC aims to host a Discovery Fair in which the most successful passion projects will be shared with the whole school and badges of Mastery in these essential skills will be awarded.

What is Active Time?

In the Fall and Spring, Rosseau Lake College benefits from its pristine location on the shore of Lake Rosseau in Muskoka. From the outset of its founding, RLC has aligned educational programming towards outdoor experiences. Active Time gives us the occasion for whole school immersion into our rich natural environment.

RLC students canoe Shadow River during Active Time

Requiring our students to experience the diversity of our unique location through swimming, hikes, environmental stewardship, canoe trips, and survival challenges, is a wonderful opportunity to advance the related importance of outdoor activity and well-being in the holistic development of each child.

In the Winter Term, Active Time becomes a block where both teacher-designed and student-designed specialty clubs can take place (Community Club, Boomwhacker Club, Culinary Club, etc). Although the form of these Active Time clubs can vary, the social-emotional aim is always the same: have a goal and learn skills to improve!

 

In the Spring Term, as the winter slowly begins to thaw, we will use Active Time as a space for arts and indigenous-themed events and host guest speakers, local and alumni entrepreneurs who can relate their experiences and run workshops regarding the concept of cultivating a Personal Brand.

I wonder what next great idea will come from my daughter… and yes, her future is so bright, she’s gotta wear shades!

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.

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!