Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

My best learning experience

A learning experience that has greatly contributed to my growth and success: 

When I was in high school, I struggled to stay engaged in class. I wasn’t a weak student but I wasn’t very interested in school either. School seemed like a place where there were rules, structures and routines that if you followed, you could graduate with very little bother. I didn’t fuss nor did I stand out very much either. I was happy to be another student who “teachers didn’t worry about”.

When I was in grade 10, I began working at the Ontario Science Centre which has drastically impacted my perspective. I learned about educational programming and developing workshops to engage a diverse group of audiences. I learned about presenting and communicating science and how one idea could be presented in a countless number of ways with numerous perspectives. I worked with a phenomenal manager who taught me how to fail, how to learn and to embrace my natural curiousity. This manager always said to us, “it’s by trying hard things that we learn how tough we really are”. She taught about how science is more than just labs, academics and rules; she showed me how science was just a medium to prompt questioning, develop curiousity, and develop genuine relationships to help people learn, beyond the textbook. She planted the seed of one of my biggest passions now—science communication.

In my opinion, the most important Approach to Learning:

  • Focused on effective teamwork and collaboration
  • Differentiated to meet the needs of all learners

A core routine to my classroom is collaboration. Students know that they will more often have in pairs, small groups or even larger groups. This is very intentional because I believe in teaching students skills beyond the science curriculum. I like to encourage communication skills and relationships between students. I think the dynamic and engagement of my classroom creates an atmosphere where individuality is celebrated and students appreciate the variety of personalities and knowledge levels that as my students say, “create our dysfunctional science family.”  My students know that my classroom follows a specific daily routine:

  1. Review 
  2. Activity (pairs or groups)
  3. Synthesis

I took this model from a conference I went to where a teacher was looking at studies and research about how the reflection and use of recall in one’s class develops the brain and deep learning. Without going into the gory details, one thing that stuck with me was that “interleaving helps students achieve deeper learning”.  Check our Dough Rohrer if I’ve convinced you to dig a little deeper.

Another thing I stress is diffrentiation and how we all learn differently. Though my class follows a specific “routine”, my students know that we will look at a variety of ways to review, a variety of ways to do an activity and a variety of ways to do synthesis. This goes back to the idea of celebrating students’ individuality and actively diffrentiating my classroom to support that. I often quote in my class, “good for all, and necessary for some” from the Ministry Document Learning for All.

Images that best captures the essence of my most important ATL: 

2018-2019 School year. A group of my past grade 12 students looking at how to best sample a hypothetical community of organisms. 

2018-2019 School year. A group of my past grade 9 students looking at how to identify physical and chemical properties in a variety of substances.




  1. Cohort 21 Team

    So glad you joined Cohort 21! Looking forward to your posts.

  2. Nicole Blair

    Welcome to Cohort 21, @mlu!

    Thanks for such an engaging first blog post. It was wonderful to read about a learning experience that has contributed to your growth and success. As well, I love that collaboration and differentiation are pivotal in your approach to learning and I look forward to learning from you regarding this approach in the year ahead.

    I am excited to let you know that I will be your Cohort 21 Facilitator this year and that @jbairos, @mwilcox, and @amacrae will be your Cohort 21 Coaches. Together, we will be learning alongside you and supporting your Cohort 21 experience.

    I look forward to seeing your this Saturday, October 5th @ The York School, and can’t for you to experience the captivating energy that is #Cohort21!


  3. Jennifer Bairos

    Hi May,
    I loved reading about how your experience at the Ontario Science Centre shaped your teaching!

  4. Mary-Ellen Wilcox

    I feel like we are soul sisters and I can’t wait to meet you in person. I almost always have my kids working in pairs, or groups and I do a lot of work on teamwork, communication and “soft skills” (that are actually the hard skills to learn). I work with middle school and I love me some good questioning in science class. I can’t wait to learn from you, and learn with you this year.

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