Time Well Spent

This past week I had the opportunity to present, share and learn while attending the Riding the Wave Conference in Gimli, Manitoba. Some great learning, coupled with a number of wonderful colleagues, set with the beautiful Gimli backdrop made for an awesome few days. It was time well spent.

During one of the sessions I attended facilitated by Brandon educator, Allison Greig, she shared this video entitled, “The Time you Have (in Jellybeans)”.

I love jelly beans. Red and black ones tend to top my list but it is not the allure of candy that spoke to me about this video. Seeing a visual representation of the average lifespan depicted with jelly beans, and witnessing how quickly they vanish once we start counting them out through the lens of how we spend our time is a powerful analogy. Check it out…

The Time you Have in Jellybeans…Time Spent on Average ( in Days)

28 835 days- the average lifespan

8 477 spent sleeping

1 635 spent eating, drinking or preparing food

3 202 at work

1 099 commuting

2 676 watching tv or its equivalent

1 576 doing chore-like activities

564 caring for the needs of others

671 bathing, grooming etc

721 community activities

That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time….just under 3000 days. What are we choosing to do with that open, flexible time? How can we make the most of it?

Life is short. We never know what’s around the next corner. Time is precious. There are many applicable idioms that encourage us to make the most of the time we do have. Finding what makes us happy, what we love to do, and what we are passionate about can help us fill some of these 3 000 days in a rewarding, meaningful, fulfilling way. If you follow this blog, you know the word in its title “Meraki” means, “the soul, creativity or love you put into something.”. Finding our “Meraki” can help us make those near 3 000 days really count.

As educators, we have the unique opportunity to support our students in learning to value time spent doing things we enjoy from an early age. We have the chance to honour student voice, student choice and student agency by offering students the opportunity to personalize their learning path through student-driven, project-based, inquiry inspired learning in our classrooms. AJ Juliani poses the related question below:

If we did a comparable jelly bean video analogy analyzing the time we spend over the course of these 14 256 hours in schools, what would the break down look like? How many jelly beans would we move out representing compliance driven assignments, busy work or tasks focused on rote memorization of facts? How many jelly beans would be tagged to highly meaningful, and relevant learning? How many jelly beans would involve opportunities that both engage and empower learners?

We need to be intentional in all that we do and ensure that the 14 000 hours our students spend in schools is time well spent.


The Ripple Effect- #Humboldtstrong


The bus crash that took the lives of 16 Canadians on April 6, leaves a nation in mourning. In the aftermath of such a tragedy, my heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims as they navigate the unimaginable. My heart goes out to the billet families and the citizens of Humboldt as they deal with the aftermath of such tragic events. And my heart goes out to the Broncos hockey organization and the greater hockey community as they process this tremendous loss.

When we lose so many in such a sudden and catastrophic way it has a ripple effect, causing repercussions and impact far beyond what one might initially expect. This tragedy was one that broke the heart of a nation and was felt by millions of parents, hockey lovers, and Canadian citizens from coast to coast and beyond. In the wake of such tragedy, it is hard to predict what may hit home with each of us or resonate most, in relation to such a tragic story.

As a teacher, I can’t help but think about how many times I have traveled on a bus with students over the past twenty years and imagine the “what ifs”. And as a teacher, I can’t help but think about losing some of my own students and how heartbreaking that would be. As teachers, our students are part of our lives day in and day out. We often spend hours a day with them and depending on context sometimes we even know them for years. In turn, we share our lives with them and we let them into our hearts. We become a community; a family of sorts. We get to know them and we come to care about them in a special way that stays with us. Teaching is a profession of the heart.

So today my heart also goes out to the many teachers that have been impacted by this tragedy; the teachers and support staff who have worked with the 16 people we lost over the years and the teachers in Horizon School Division in Saskatchewan. My thoughts are also with the many, many students that have sat beside those lost in classrooms over the years and been a part of their “educational families”.

As those affected most by the events of April 6, 2018 continue to pick up the pieces and mourn this tremendous loss, please know that you have the support of a nation behind you. We are all #humboldtstrong.


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Compassion, Creativity & Skill

As always, participating in IMMOOC Season 4 has been a very valuable experience. This week’s prompt of; How are you working to make the world a better place by creating more thoughtful, compassionate, creative, and skilled individuals? really spoke to me. This question in many ways captures what I see as our end goal and ultimate mandate as educators; helping to support our students in becoming the most compassionate, creative and skilled individuals they can be to prepare them for their future.

I am blessed to serve as the Manitoba Affiliate Director for the non-profit organization Destination Imagination. My life and own learning has been deeply enriched since becoming a part of this phenomenon a number of years ago. One of the ways I make the world a better place is by spreading the true joy, creativity and deep learning that is at the core of Destination Imagination. One way I support the development of compassionate, creative and skilled individuals is through this initiative each year.

Last week I watched as 17 teams of over 100 students from throughout Manitoba came together to share and celebrate their learning at the Manitoba Destination Imagination Provincial Tournament. It was event charged with high energy, great enthusiasm, and creative spirit.

DI is the largest creativity program in the world. It is present in over 30 countries, 48 states and at varying levels in provinces across Canada. DI has been around since 1982 with over 2 million participants since and 150 000 annually. It is a leader in inquiry and project-based learning and blends STEM with fine arts and social entrepreneurship. At the end of each summer, DI publishes 6 different challenges and teams of up to 7 students spend the next 9 months trying to come up with the best solution possible. Then students compare their solution to those of others at a tournament with the culmination being the Global Finals in the third week of May where they can compare their solution with those from around the world.

DI gives learners of all ages (primary to university) opportunities to use the creative process to design and manage a project, and gain the skills needed to succeed in our 21st C world. They learn to communicate, collaborate and think both critically and creatively. They learn to problem solve and be novel or flexible in their thinking. As they meet trials and experience failures along the way, they practice perseverance and develop resiliency. They explore, experiment and learn to think outside the box as they imagine, plan, design, create, refine and share their solutions to challenges. They learn empathy, compassion, patience and the art of compromise as they work collaboratively with others. Each team’s solution is unique and presented in an eight-minute performance which showcases the individual skills, strengths, interests and passions of the team members.

Sometimes just the right thing somehow crosses our path at just the right time. Destination Imagination is just that thing for many as it continues to help develop more thoughtful, compassionate, creative, and skilled individuals each year, across the world.

The 4 Es of Innovative Teaching and Learning?

I always appreciate the IMMOOC blog challenge of 300 words or less. For someone a bit wordy like me, it forces me in to streamline and be succinct; useful skills to practice.

This was a recent prompt during an #IMMOOC Twitter chat:

The questions reminded me of some professional learning I have facilitated with the wonderful and talented Nancy Clarke Shippam for her Clinical Services Staff and how we also framed thinking in the way of effective or efficient in regards to considering innovative practice. As we worked with our group of educators they looked at the idea of innovation in education and the work they did through the lens of “new and better” (GCouros). Knowing that something new is only worth doing if it is in fact, new AND improved and in turn makes the learning lives of our students better is always our core. Having cornerstones to consider in making that judgment is helpful

If making a change, trying something new or considering a potentially innovative practice, program or shifting pedagogy, then considering the initiative or change through these one or all of these 4 Es could be helpful:

Effectiveness -how does the innovation improve understanding, deepen thinking, enhance learning and build skills in a way that is better or improved for learners?

Efficiency- how does the innovation potentially save time, resources, or energy. How does it make connections that weren’t there before?

Engagement- how does the innovation create a learning environment that is enjoyable and supports a student’s willingness, need, desire, and interest to participate in, and be successful in the learning process?

Empowerment- how does the innovation create a learning environment that supports students owning their learning, the ability and/or agency to make decisions and implement changes related to their own learning, and/or impacting their own schools, and beyond?

As educators continue to explore innovative teaching and learning in classrooms, schools, and districts, the lens we look through will inevitably shift and change. The 4 Es above are just a few perspectives to consider. Are there others? Thoughts?

The Exploding Box

My daughter Sarah is in grade 9 in a pre IB (International Baccalaureate) program. One of the courses the students have to take in grade 9 in preparation for the IB program is Reading is Thinking. An essential piece the students have focused on during this course is their “Learner Profile”.  The teacher has provided opportunities for them to explore learning styles, their multiple intelligences, strengths and challenges all while also considering it through the lens of the IB Learner Profile characteristics. The teacher also offered the opportunity of an alternate viewpoint having the students watch a video debating the notion of “learning styles” and Sarah and her classmates had to think critically and evaluate their own perspectives on this topic, and in turn defend their position.



Sarah is an insightful, reflective student. She and I have had many rich conversations about her as a learner over the last number of weeks as she has explored this topic. Most recently, she and her classmates were assigned a final project to synthesize their learning in relation to the insights they have gained into themselves as a learner. They were assigned to capture their own personal Learner Profile in whatever format they wished. There were some criteria outlined for the assignment but for the most part, the project was left very open-ended.

Sarah was so excited about this assignment and opportunity. It was the first chance in 10 years of schooling that she had been given free license to share her learning in whatever way she saw fit.  She immediately knew what she was going to do. As of late, my very creative, driven daughter has been very into bullet journaling, sketch noting and hand lettering. Countless trips to Micheals and orders on Amazon for just the right, paper, journals, pens, and embellishments drive this new passion. Recently she came across a new project she wanted to try called an “Exploding Box”; this school assignment was a perfect fit.

Sarah spent hours on the assignment both in planning, designing and constructing her box as well as in thoughtful reflection and conversation around what content she would include.  She planned her profile, found related quotes, measured, built, made adjustments and appreciated every minute of the process. Her “exploding box” turned out beautiful (see above) and when her teacher asked her if she could keep it as an example to share with future classes, Sarah was reluctant to part with it and we created the video above as a compromise.

This wonderful assignment empowered Sarah as a learner like no other ever as. It spoke to her creative, dynamic nature and free spirit. I applaud this teacher who was willing to relinquish much of the control of this unit by offering the students true, authentic choice to produce to show understanding and share their learning.

Realistically, it may be difficult for teachers to offer such personalized learning opportunities to meet all learning outcomes, but creating space for these types of choice driven projects and finding the places and in which they can be a regular part of our students’ learning lives is essential.  Ensuring some time is spent co-creating criteria or rubrics with students would be an important part of the process.

And realistically, it may not be possible to offer such open-ended learning tasks to all students. Some students are still going to need scaffolds.  Some students who may at times struggle with independent tasks or organizational skills may need you to limit their choices to three options (ie. Descriptive writing piece, collage or multimedia presentation) and some students may need your support in planning the steps of the process of whatever they choose. Realistically, our learners are all different. They each have unique, diverse needs, as does Sarah. She needs to be challenged to use her creative thinking, artistic side and driven nature to push herself in new ways that speak to her own unique passions. Assignments like this offer entry points for each student; our independent learners can fly, while others may need more focused support.

When we reframe learning and provide opportunities for more student-driven, learner-centered approaches in the classroom, we provide opportunities to meet the learning needs of all students in new, exciting, engaging and empowering ways! We also support deeper thinking, richer learning, student ownership, and student autonomy. We open a new world of possibilities for our learners and as suggested by Katie Martin, “the opportunity to engage in a worthy challenge can expand one’s horizons and dreams.”

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Shifting Gears

Change is a given. The necessity for continuous change and growth is not only a constant in the realm of education but also in most other areas of life. It is a time of great change in the world around us and as educators, we need to stay focused on innovative practices that support our students for success in their future in these changing times.

When we talk about innovation in education, this is not a new concept. Since the beginning of the school model teachers have constantly strived to find “new and better” (GCouros) ways to improve the learning of their students. In today’s very dynamic context, some teachers may feel uncertain of how to best approach innovative teaching and learning practices.

When we look to the world of work for the top employability skills which are desirable in the employees of today and tomorrow, the same skills top the list over and over again; problem-solving, teamwork, communication skills, creative thinking, risk taking etc. How do we ensure we are best creating innovative learning environments that foster the development of these skills?

Below is a slide I often use in my work with teachers around changing practice from a more passive learner approach to one that is more learner-centred and active. When we put students in the driver’s seat of their own learning and give them more opportunity to solve problems, think in creative ways, work together and share their learning, not only are they more engaged, they are also often empowered to own the learning in a new and powerful way. When we offer an opportunity for voice and choice, we support them as problem solvers and reflective, critical thinkers who take greater responsibility for the direction they go. When we shift gears away from the student as mere consumer and move towards student as creator of their own learning, we inspire more independence and autonomy.


The example above is related to a grade one science unit on the Senses. The worksheet activity on the left, or one similar to it, maybe an example of something teachers do with students to address learning outcomes related to this unit. Although there may be learning intent behind the activity, as well as a time and place for it, there are additional ways teachers could approach the outcomes that inspire deeper learning. Instead of there being just one right answer to which students “comply” we can look too much more engaging activities where there may be many “right” answers and students drive the learning in a more active way.


In the example in the middle of the slide, the students are doing a community scavenger hunt with devices or digital cameras to capture images of things in their school or community that they see, smell, touch, taste and hear. They then use these photos to create a digital presentation about their senses by voicing over the images, “I see a _______”, “I hear a ________” etc. Their final products could be shared with classmates, parents or even beyond on a classroom blog or Twitter. I have done this learning sequence with many groups and it is always well received and very engaging for students.


In the final example on the left students were tasked with looking beyond just the role of the five senses and asked to develop a device to protect one of the five senses. This prompted them to have to think critically about things that might harm a person’s  senses, choose one of these things and design a device that would then offer protection. This learning opportunity offered choice, encouraged voice and empowered students as problem solvers and inventors.

Rethinking tasks and opportunities to engage and empower students through active learning is one entry point into fostering an innovative learning environment in our schools and classrooms.

The students designing the sense protection devices above were encouraged to look beyond the four walls of their classroom to how their thinking could impact the greater world. When we empower learners to explore and learn how to make an impact on the world, we inspire problem solvers and innovators (K Martin) of the future.

Be the Lobster

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In Katie Martin’s new book Learner Centred Innovation, one of the sections is entitled Are Traditions getting in the way of Innovation in Education? This is a question I have thought about a lot. In fact, as a reflective activity, a colleague and I share a Google Doc entitled “100 Things Schools should Stop Doing”. We are at number 54. This “list” and our conversations around it are a continuous work in progress and center on examples of practices both teachers and schools continue to implement that are potentially done merely out of tradition and are no longer effective in today’s educational context.

Traditions are hard to break and humans are creatures of habit. Teachers who may have  been tasked with doing a “ten mark title page” to start a science unit  as student themselves years ago, perhaps now assign their own students the same task without really considering the intent and whether this is the best use of a class period or if there is much deeper and more meaningful way to approach a new topic of learning.

You don’t have to look far into popular culture to see how the traditional notion of “school” is preserved. Movies, tv shows, advertising, and books… all further perpetuate the idea of traditional practices by continuing to depict schools as places of desks in rows, with a teacher at the front of the room lecturing with students carrying around their textbooks/notebooks, and cramming for exams.

When considering how to redesign a culture for learning and innovation in a shifting world and the evolving role of the educator within that, there is much to be considered. One large piece of that is letting go of some of the traditional practices that no longer serve the best interest of students in today’s context. In Learner Focused Innovation, Katie Martin discusses this as the need to “shed” outdated practices and improve teaching and learning. Reading this idea framed around the word “shed” jumped out at me. It reminded me of a metaphor used by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski  who makes a parallel  with lobsters and the need for growth and the effects of change below

Rabbi Twerski suggests: A lobster is a soft mushy animal that lives inside of a rigid shell. That rigid shell does not expand. Well, how can the lobster grow? Well, as the lobster grows that shell becomes very confining the lobster feels itself under pressure and uncomfortable.

So it goes under a rock formation to protect itself from predatory fish, casts off the shell and produces a new one.

Well eventually that shell becomes very uncomfortable as it grows…I think the lobster repeats this numerous times. The stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is that it feels uncomfortable. So, I think, what we have to realize is that times of stress are also times that are signals for growth. And if we use adversity properly, we can grow THROUGH adversity.

Change, growth and taking risks are what keeps life interesting. Yet, in contrast, there is much comfort in doing things the same old way, knowing what to expect and the solace of the “known”. But as suggested by Grace Hopper, The most dangerous phrase in the language is, “we have always done it this way.”

Change is inevitable. Change is necessary. And change is crucial.

Many educators recognize the need for change, but sometimes it can be a daunting task considering where to begin. We must start with being open to change, being willing to take risks and being open to new possibilities. It takes a shift in thinking, a shift in mindset and a willingness to let go of practices we have traditionally done while being open to new ideas, new connections, and new learning.

For a classroom teacher in order for this to happen, it must start with reflecting on what is currently happening in our classroom. There are often things that teachers do with students that are tried and true. We do them because they work and we know they are effective or “best practice” in meeting the learning needs of our students. However, there are often other practices in place that may fall into the category of that’s the way we’ve always done it .

Considering taking a calculated risk and changing something that may fit into this category of #TTWWHADI is the first step. Imagining a better way is necessary and an exciting opportunity! For some, the key may be to start small and not bite off too much at once. The biggest mistake we often make as teachers is to take on too much change at once and end up doing many things superficially and not as well as we could be. Approaching change through the lens of, “ an inch wide and a mile deep” is often most effective in the long run.

This might look like changing the methods in which we present information or material to students. Dave Burgess’ book Teach Like a Pirate; Increase Student Engagement, Transform your Life as an Educator and Boost Student Engagement offers a myriad of suggestions of what he calls “hooks”, or practical ideas for crafting engaging lessons, along with prompting questions to get you thinking about your lesson and units in new ways. Or it might mean reenvisioning the way we teach something by offering students more choice. When we try doing things a little differently and give over some of the control over to our students, we model risk-taking for our learners and feel affirmed by our own stretches. Change begins by choosing ONE classroom-based initiative that pushes us a little out of our comfort zone. We certainly don’t need to change everything but we do need to change ONE thing and build from there. This might be using Lego Story Starter to generate writing ideas, implementing novel engineering instead of our usual Literature Circles, trying out vertical non-permanent surfaces for problem-solving instead of the math text questions or offering flexible seating options for students. Maybe it’s implementing Hour of Code, digitizing our monthly newsletter to parents, or introducing a new powerful app.

When we start small, and build on our successes, in turn, our confidence grows inevitably making it more likely to drive further change. When we endure the discomfort that letting go of traditional or habitual practices can evoke and instead invite change and innovation; we are empowered to continue moving forward. As we see with the lobster it is through shedding or letting go of some of the old and embracing the potential of the new that true change and growth can evolve.

Creative Society

This weekend my daughter went to a three-hour class learning how to use Chalk Paint to refinish furniture. She learned so much and came out with a beautiful distressed chair she had created herself to go along with her new (old) desk for her bedroom. The other “students” in the class were three or even four times her age, yet she fit right in and just threw herself and all of her creative energy into this new learning adventure. I stuck around to see Sarah’s work in progress and so enjoyed my time spent there and meeting Michele and Angie Zubrin, sisters and co-owners of a new Winnipeg business, The Painter’s Cafe.

I loved this sign that was posted in the studio there outlining “the creative loop”. This creative process serves as a succession of steps, the rites of passage and an essential part of all that we do when we create something.

In his book Lifelong Kindergarten, MIT‘s Mitch Resnick suggests that as we have shifted from an industrial society to an information or knowledge society that “the pace of change in the world continues to accelerate. People are confronted with the neverending stream of unknown and uncertain and unpredictable situations, and they need to learn how to come up with creative approaches for dealing with those situations”.  Mitch Resnick refers to this as the “creative society” we are immersed in today. In a time in which creative thinking has become a necessity, it only seems natural that our understanding and insight into what it means to be creative must come more into focus.

John Spencer offers insight into this topic in his Sketchy Video entitled “We Need a Bigger Definition of Creativity”

When you hear the word creative you might think of a painter, or a playwright, or an author, or a photographer, or a filmmaker, or a chef. In other words you might think of people who make things. I think it’s what we mean when we use a label like creative type, but there’s no such thing as a creative type. We are all creative every one of us. We just need a bigger definition of creativity. Yes creativity involves making things but it can also mean mashing up ideas in innovative ways. It can mean thinking differently about data and finding unique solutions to practical problems. It can mean hacking systems and tweaking things in unusual ways it can mean exploring ideas and navigating information until you become an expert curator. It can mean designing systems that empower the creative work of others. It can mean creating change in the world by speaking truth and leading movements and interacting with people. You see each of these creative approaches shape our world in profound ways and the more we see the creativity all around us the more we are able to appreciate the creativity inside ourselves.

John’s definition offers greater insight into what creativity can and does look like but, in a world that demands more and more creative thinking and problem-solving; how do we best prepare our students with this necessary creative and innovative mindset in turn helping them grow into the prepared learners, leaders, citizens, and employees of tomorrow?  How do we best support our students in developing the skills of risk-taking, resilience and reflection necessary to successfully navigate the “creative loop” above, over and over again in a variety of contexts.

Ultimately as schools, our job must be to create a culture that supports exploration and the development of creative thinking.  Mitch Resnick also talks about the barriers that we need to break down in schools in order to ensure forward movement and success in this area;

  •  Barriers across disciplines–  provide more opportunities for integration of math and science and engineering with art and design using an interdisciplinary,  more project-focused approach to learning
  • Barriers across ages –allow children of all ages to learn with and from one another.
  • Barriers across time– provide opportunities for children to work on interest-based projects that take days or weeks or months or even years, rather than trying to constrain projects into a classroom period or a curriculum unit.
  • Barriers across space– integrate activities with school with those at home, at community centers and in the greater community.

In recent times we have seen trends in education supporting the breakdown of these barriers. In a number of classrooms and schools, we see shifts from a one size fits all, passive learner model to a more personalized learning approach that is more active and learner focused. We see some educators embracing a STEM or STEAM multidisciplinary pedagogy and maker focused classroom cultures. We see curricular reform focused less on content and more on competencies; less on siloed subject areas and more on big-picture thinking.

Times are changing but we still have a long way to go. However, as educators, we are not alone in this journey. As the fourth bullet above suggests, preparing kids for the future is a joint effort between home, school, and community. I was reminded of that this weekend in meeting Matt Thomas, Technical Director of the Manitoba Soccer Association.   This individual who has helped mold and develop many players and coaches in his many years supporting soccer organizations across Canada and internationally is a true testament to the powerful role the greater community can have on supporting students in developing the skill set and positive attitude necessary in today’s world. It takes a village….Supporting kids through the “creative loop” is not only necessary in classrooms but also on the soccer field, on the basketball court, in the studio, in the kitchen, in the workshop, within digital contexts and beyond. When we all work together to help our learners become active and successful participants in our “creative society” we all come out ahead!


Playpens & Playgrounds


I love hearing new grandparents talk about their grandchildren. I have had many tell me what a different experience it is from having their own children and how much more they can enjoy the experience being able to slow down the pace and savor every milestone and moment in a different, more thoughtful way. They explain how in contrast to the busy pace of parenthood, how much they enjoy and appreciate watching their grandson or granddaughter just PLAY, explore and learn about the world. Watching young children play is truly a gift.

Albert Einstein once said Play is the highest form of research. Our children learn about their world through play. They get a sense of their own abilities, discover their likes and discern dislikes. They learn both fine and gross motor skills. Through play children imagine alternate universes, create imaginary friends and think the sky’s the limit. They encounter boundaries, push limitations, face fears, and build both confidence and relationships. Play truly is the research and work of childhood. There is much to discovered, experienced and learned while at play.

In Lifelong KIndergarten by Mitch Resnick, he says the following:

If we really want to support kids developing as creative thinkers, we have to focus on play, not as an activity, but as an attitude, a way of engaging with the world, always being ready to try new things, to experiment, to test the boundaries, to take risks. So if you really want to think about kids and learning and play, I think the most important question to ask is how can you help kids develop a playful attitude and a playful approach to everything that they do in the world.

He goes on to describe the work of Marina Bers, a professor from Tufts University, who came up with a powerful metaphor in regards to play, that being the difference between playgrounds and playpens. While they are both designed to support play, they encourage different types of play and ultimately different kinds of learning. A playpen is a more restrictive environment. When a child is in a playpen, they have a limited area to move in which means they have more restricted possibilities to explore. They have a more finite scope of opportunities. On the other hand, in a playground, children have much bigger opportunities to move about, to explore, to discover, to learn about their world and encounter others. When you watch kids on playgrounds you will often see them coming up with their own games, and inventing new possibilities. Playgrounds encourage creative thinking.

So if we want our students to be creative thinkers, how do we ensure our classrooms and schools offer creative opportunities as “playgrounds”?

Don’t get me wrong. There are a time and place for “playpen” type learning in schools. At times students need boundaries and criteria and scaffolds. At times they need instruction and modeling and structure. There are times when students need playpens. However, schools and classrooms also need to give students the chance to learn on the “playground”. At times students need the option to explore and discover and drive their own learning. At times they need opportunities to make decisions, make mistakes and make learning happen their way. Students need opportunities to learn through creative play. They need to play with toys and games. They need to play with materials. They need to play with ideas. And they need to play with others. Students need “playgrounds”. The structure of this playground type, more student-driven learning can take many different formats at different levels, some of which I explored in a blog post earlier this month entitled, Find your Passion.

In the end, today’s students need a balance of both “playpen” and “playground” learning opportunities in order to become the balanced, layered, skillful learners they need to be in our dynamic world. If we want creative thinkers and innovative problem solvers then we must set the stage for these characteristics to flourish. In the wise words, of Kay Redfield Jamison, Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.

Team 109-Building an Innovative, Flexible, Creative Learning Environment

Recently I have been thinking a lot about flexible, innovative learning environments. As the world of work changes, along with the digitization of so many aspects of our day to day life, how are our educational environments also reflecting these shifting times?

I have been participating in the Learning Creative Learning MOOC through MIT looking at the book Lifelong Kindergarten by Mitch Resnick. This week we are focusing on the concept of “Peers” and the collaborative nature of learning. Being asked to consider a specific learning space and how this particular environment supports peer learning

furthers my own thinking around how deeply the design and culture of our learning or work environment drives our thinking and daily experiences.

Designing the Optimal Learning Environment

Today we see more and more innovative workspaces surfacing and the image of the office of the 21st century has shifted. Many companies are doing away with the traditional, rigid and compartmentalized office space of the of 20th century and moving towards more open, collaborative and multifunctional workspaces with hopes that these more open environments foster the teamwork, flexibility and creative thinking employers are looking for in their employees. “Hot desking” in which employees have no set workspace or desk and rotate or use spaces as needed is becoming more and more popular. Digital workspaces are also more prolific. More people work from home and have flexible hours. The importance of well-being at work and the large influence physical workspace has on it, has a strong correlation with developing a positive, effective work environment, employee productivity and performance. How have classrooms in our elementary schools and high schools emulated this same shift in thinking?

In my own school division, more and more teachers are moving away from traditional seating plans and moving to a flexible seating model in their classroom. Shifting from the more traditional model of compliance of the past, where a teacher tells a child where to sit and moving towards more flexible seating and diverse work spaces where students choose the learning space that works best for them, creates an opportunity to honour student voice & choice, encourage collaborative learning with peers and empower students as independent learners. Flexible seating environments vary and offer diverse options in the way of groupings and work spaces. Seating is often diverse (low seating, standing desks, soft spaces, traditional desks, Hoki stools, rockers, stools, carpeted areas etc.) moveable and gathered in small groups to encourage teamwork and collaboration. Teachers aim to create learning spaces that best provide for all types of learning and all types of learners.

The graphic below from Core Education in New Zealand, based on the article Campfires in Cyberspace by David D. Thornburg, encourages teachers to create the metaphoric environments outlined below to best support all different kinds of student learning in their classrooms or within the school as a whole. It is an interesting and valuable exercise to consider what each learning space might look like in our own classrooms, schools or work environments. Even more valuable is considering the impact environment and design has on teaching practice and pedagogy as well as on student learning, achievement and success. How does how we organize our classrooms impact how we structure learning for our students and vice versa; how can the choices we make around teaching and learning drive how we set up our learning environments?

For example a classroom setup with desks in rows facing the front lends itself towards a stand and deliver, lecture format in the of way of classroom instruction and would make it more difficult for students to work collaboratively. Setting up learning environments, while keeping the metaphors above in mind, would allow for all types of teaching and learning methods to take place including; mini-lessons, collaborative work, student creation, small group instruction, independent work, reflection, whole class discussions etc.

A Culture of Trust, Caring and Respect

Mitch Resnick suggests that in developing a positive learning environment we must also look beyond physical space to the essential component of fostering a culture or working/learning environment of trust, caring, and respect. He suggests it is through “collective action” and creating a community of learners who work in a “make it together place” that we can accomplish much more than we can on our own. When we emphasize the social side of learning, work as a team and truly collaborate; we are more likely to take risks, thereby pushing thinking and learning forward. When we feel truly “a part of something” and supported by our peers; true creativity and innovation can flourish.

I am lucky enough to work in a learning environment that is both innovative in its physical design but also in its exemplary supportive and collaborative culture . I have the pleasure of working alongside my officemates (Team 109) when I am not out working with teachers and students in schools. Our team truly exemplifies an environment of respect, caring and trust. We support each other unconditionally. We push each other’s comfort zones and encourage new ideas, new opportunities and new thinking. These are people I trust to always have my back, always tell it like it is and always work together as a team.

Our physical environment supports this collaborative learning model. Our work space includes a variety of areas including; standing desks, a variety of seating options and vertical non-permanent surfaces. We have a lego wall and creative space with numerous maker focused materials to help model innovative teaching and learning materials, while also inspiring creativity . We have a soft seating, “watering hole” type, collaborative area in which the chairs are on wheels for easy re-configuration. A large mounted TV monitor allows us to easily display shared presentations, documents, videos or other resources. We use Google Tools to share our workflow and collaborate constantly. When a teammate has to be away for a scheduled meeting we easily improvise with a Google Hangout and use the shared screen option. For Team 109, the physical environment is a constant work in progress and encourages our supportive, dynamic, collaborative team culture through the creative work we do together.

When considering the workplace as well as a classroom, both the physical design and the culture of our environment are hugely impactful in driving the learning, thinking and work that we do. Knowing this, we must be mindful and strategic in setting up the physical spaces we teach and work in, with intent. We also must ensure we set the stage for collaborative, empowering, valuable teamwork in order for a culture of respect, trust and caring to flourish.