Find your Passion

In the book Lifelong Kindergarten, written by learning expert Mitch Resnick he suggests that the rest of school (even the rest of life) should be more like kindergarten. The main premise is the book is the idea that in order to thrive in today’s dynamic world, people of all ages must learn to think and act creatively —and the best way to do that is by focusing more on imagining, creating, playing, sharing, and reflecting, just as children do in traditional kindergartens. The book is structured around the four P’s: Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play and the important role each plays in cultivating creativity.

This is a book that speaks to me from beginning to end. If you know me or have read any of my previous blog posts, you know that the second P-passion, is a topic I am personally “passionate” about, so much so that it inspired the name of my blog, “The Meaning of Meraki”. Meraki is a Greek word defined as “the soul or creativity you put into something; the essence of yourself you put into the work you do.” Although there is not quite a direct English translation of the word “meraki”, the closest we can get is the word PASSION. Leading a life filled with meraki or passion is a gift.

Definition-Passion: a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept or a strong enthusiasm or interest.

If you know any kindergarteners, you can speak to the often unbridled enthusiasm they bring to all that they do. They are passionate about their learning; engaged, curious, and eager. Yet we know as students move up the grades this initial enthusiasm and interest in school often diminish. Research shows that as children advance through the grades engagement levels decrease significantly. The 2015 Gallup Student Poll, Engaged Today, Ready for Tomorrow defines engagement as student “involvement in and enthusiasm for school”. After surveying over 900 000 US students the study shows engagement levels steadily drop as students move from Grades 5-12. The poll indicates that while over 75% of 5th graders are engaged in school, this numbers steadily drops to 34% of students being engaged in their learning by the 12th grade. The Canadian Education Association (CEA) 2011 study looking at intellectual, social and institutional engagement in schools entitled, “What did you do at school today?” shows similar trends. These decreasing levels of engagement tell us something has to shift. How do move schools towards a culture in which students maintain a similar interest and passion for learning that they enter with in Kindergarten?

Quote by George Couros

One of the ultimate goals of schools is to prepare students for their future and the world of work. Starting in their early days of high school students begin to make choices that may determine their life path. They choose electives, course levels and vocational programs that may come to influence or determine whether or not they go to post-secondary education, whether or not they finish high school and what direction life may take them. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t. But what if this were different.

Imagine if schools were places where starting from an early age, students were regularly given opportunities to discover and uncover their interests, skills, strengths, and passions….

In the book Lifelong Kindergarten, Mitch Resnick, creates a spin-off of a Ben Franklin quote to make his own suggestion, “An investment in interest always pays off with the best knowledge”.

When we invest in our students and give them time to be creative and the opportunity to uncover their passions and interests, we allow them the chance to develop insight and knowledge about themselves, and we allow them the opportunity to invest in their own future.

Imagine if all schools honoured more student voice and choice when structuring learning opportunities and learning was, in turn, more personalized, active, student-driven and gave students the chance to explore something they may ultimately become passionate about.

Fortunately, we are seeing more and more schools implement models honouring this approach and fulfilling our students’ need for more choice and voice in their learning throughout the grades. Check out examples of some of these inspiring educators and schools below:

  • Genius Hour/ Maker Initiatives

More and more classrooms at varying levels utilize a Genius Hour kind of format which allows students time to explore their own passions through maker space or project-based learning initiatives which encourage creativity and student-driven learning in the classroom. Sue McFarlane Penner, a teacher in Winnipeg, Manitoba, uses a variation of this approach with her grade 1,2,3 multiage class. Her students develop “Workshops” on topics they are passionate about ranging from basketball to piano, to chess, to video making and in turn her students teach other students about their passions, including their older Grade 5/6 Learning Buddies. Not only do students have the opportunity to research and share their learning about something they are passionate about, they also learn presentation skills, communication skills and build confidence as young learners.

Some places structure more personalized learning options for students to explore interests and passions using a school-based model.

  • Ecole Garden Grove School IDEAS Initiative

Ecole Garden Grove School also in Winnipeg offers a school-wide initiative called I.D.E.A.S which stands for Innovative Design Exploration Activity Stations. IDEAS provides students in grades 3-6 with the opportunity to explore personalized learning opportunities. It is a chance for all students and staff to have fun, while discovering, learning about, & creating new things. All learners have the opportunity to design, create, work together, try new challenges, take risks, fail and try again, all while building community and connections with students and teachers they may have never had the chance to work with before.

IDEAS is scheduled in for two one hour slots, twice weekly and each block typically lasts for 4 weeks. Past focuses in IDEAS sessions have been on: Robotics, drama, pottery, electronics, clothing design/sewing, woodworking, coding, Lego 2.0, geocaching, comic book design, scrapbooking (Cricut), Little Bits, audio sound engineering, outdoor education, claymation/digital animation, magic, quilting, tinkering, photography, space/rocket science, batik, culinary arts etc.

Workshops are determined based on student and staff interest. Staff plan and prep for their activity stations, students choose their top interests using Google Forms, groups are made and workshops begin. Reflection is an integral and critical part of the IDEAS initiative. Students are asked to reflect on their learning stations each session through the foundational educational tenets of the initiative including; 4 C learning (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication), having an innovative mindset and design thinking.

This innovative initiative encourages both staff and students to step outside their comfort zone, try something new and potentially find areas they are passionate about. It has been embraced and highly valued by all stakeholders and also maintains great community support.

Lake Trail Middle School Electives and Flex/Quest Time

Similarly, Lake Trail Middle School in Courtenay, BC offers personalized learning opportunities for its grade 8-9 students through electives and what is scheduled as Flex or Quest Time. The staff was surveyed and asked to create courses they thought would be meaningful for students and that fit their own personal skill sets. These electives (46 in total) range from the more typical options found in middle school settings related to athletics, art, music, foods, woodworking and textiles to a wide variety of more personalized options including: African & Aboriginal Drumming, Art Installation, Film, Audio Engineering, Global Foods, Gender Equity Alliance, Marine Biology, The Music Business, Cooking with Fire, Coding, and Community Leadership/Engagement to name a few.

The Flex or Quest component scheduled into timetables gives students the opportunity to explore an independent project that they are passionate about that may or may not be connected to their chosen electives. To start the year teachers scaffold the thinking, planning and requisite skills needed to support this sort of individualized student work, and they serve as mentors as the work continues. Students are also connected with further mentors, if applicable, within the greater community.

The teachers at Lake Trail were encouraged to expand their own learning and model risk-taking by imagining the possibilities, building on their own strengths or interests, teaching something they may have never taught before and facilitating learning using methods that were new to them. Through this expansion of available electives and increased exploration time, students were offered an abundance of personalized options, encouraged to take risks, explored new interests and developed a new valuable skill set as independent learners!

In many ways, the 2 examples above may seem parallel to personalized learning initiatives such as Genius Hour, passion projects or Inquiry time, because they are. However, often those types of learning opportunities take place in certain classrooms and are driven by individual teachers. School-wide initiatives such as these two examples ensure empowering, personalized learning is in place for ALL students, develop common understanding across classrooms, and builds on independent skills throughout the grades in a school.

  • We can also look to examples of entire school philosophies making bold shifts away from traditional models of teaching and learning and reinventing what school can look like:

Schools like High Tech High, Connect Charter, Big Picture Learning Schools, The Pacific School of Inquiry & Innovation, PROPEL and countless, countless others are imagining the possibilities and turning their innovative visions into realities as they look to alternative approaches to; school organization, programming, meeting standards and curriculum, assessment, and reporting . These types of initiatives all have one thing in common; a more student-focused approach to learning.

There is much to be learned from the schools above and the plenty more like them. However, there are also many examples of schools and classrooms still stuck in very traditional, teacher driven, merely content focused models of teaching and learning. As suggested by Mitch Resnick, “finding the right balance between freedom and structure is the key to creating a fertile environment for creative learning”. We owe it to our students to find this balance. We owe it to our students to create learning environments where deep learning, and passion thrive. We owe it to our students to provide rich learning opportunities that allow them as individuals to explore and discover where their interests, strengths, and passions thrive. These learning environments may look similar to the ones outlined above, they may be an iteration of something parallel or they may be something brand new. The possibilities are endless and may vary greatly depending on the level, the learning context, and the learners themselves. Yet, ultimately all classrooms and/or schools need to find an entry point to ensuring both choice and voice are honoured for students in the form of engaging and empowering personalized learning options, in some way. Our students may not be passionate about everything in school, but they should be passionate about something. As teachers it is our job to help them discover their “something”.

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It’s All About the Process

 

Learning Creative Learning LIFELONG KINDERGARTEN MOOC

Week 2 Prompt: The Creative Learning Spiral is a way to think about the creative process. How would you describe or draw your own creative learning process?

 

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Creative Learning Spiral

I have always been a firm believer in the power of a process. Students need scaffolds to support their learning. They need structures and guidance to keep them on track and help them to be successful. Learning processes such as steps for problem-solving, the scientific method, the writing process, inquiry process or creative process are all examples of ways we can best support our students and their learning.

In recent years, I have done a lot of work with teachers and students using the design thinking process below. Design thinking is another example of a creative process that has universal, ubiquitous application regardless of what learners are creating, whether it be building a sculpture, designing a bridge, coding an animation, writing a poem, animating a game, composing a song or painting a picture.

Creation is a powerful way to put students in the center of their learning and design thinking is a framework to support students in that creative process, serving as a guide to approach any task, challenge or problem. It is a way to approach curriculum, standards and learning outcomes across the disciplines in meaningful ways.

Design Thinking can involve both short-term and long-term projects. It can end in an idea, an initiative or a product. It can involve both high tech and low tech supplies. It can be analog or digital, involving a pencil or a device. The possibilities are endless…

Identifying steps and using a process for design can help guide students through a creative problem-solving process and supports student learning in the areas of literacy, numeracy and the content areas in an engaging, empowering way. Design thinking can support learning across all curricular areas and promotes an interdisciplinary approach.

Identify → Imagine → Plan → Design → Refine → Share

←Reflect→

 

When we give our students regular opportunities to use a Design Thinking Process to solve a problem, to face a challenge or approach a task, it just becomes the way they do business. It develops a problem-solving skill set and mindset that will serve them well moving forward. Students are given an opportunity to be self-starters who in the end learn how to think, and how to learn. The creative process helps makes learning more visible each and every step of the way.

Childhood Objects

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Learning Creative Learning LIFELONG KINDERGARTEN MOOC

I love this line in the early pages of Lifelong Kindergarten by Mitch Resnick:

My nomination for the greatest invention of the previous thousand years? Kindergarten.

I loved Kindergarten. I still do. When I visit any school, my favourite place to visit is and always will be KINDERGARTEN. Kindergarten is a place of wonder, joy and endless possibility. The most challenging part is holding onto these important qualities as we make our way through the grades in school.

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KINDERGARTEN……CHILDHOOD.….PLAY.….LEARN

The Week One prompt for the LCL MOOC says the following:

Think about an object from your childhood that interested and influenced you. What was special about it? How did it affect the way you think and learn?

My own objects from my childhood quickly came to mind. As a child, I loved my Fisher Price Little People.  My favorites were the castle and the schoolhouse. Still today, these objects sit in a box on the top shelf of my garage, played with by own own children and now awaiting the next set of imaginative child minds and hands.

I spent countless hours playing with this castle and schoolhouse, the furniture and the many “people”. This is where I first took on the role of mother and the first inklings of Shauna the teacher came to life. These toys were so special to me as they offered endless possibilities; no two rounds of play looked the same- one day the castle was battling a snowstorm, the next a burglary and then the next, the scene of a wedding. One day I may have enacted a day of school in the schoolhouse and the next it may have been a shelter during a tornado. The Little People offered opportunities for both reenacting reality and prompting make-believe. These toys were where the magic happened. They opened up a world of possibilities for me as a child and promoted imaginative play like no other. These toys helped develop my creative, imaginative side and the collaborative play I did with others brings back fond memories.

It warmed my heart to see my own children play with these toys in their early years and we added many Little People sets to these as they grew. We have also added to the boxes of these toys in storage; these are childhood objects worth hanging on to!

 

The Art & Science of Innovation

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In mid-November George Couros wrote a blog post entitled, “How do you focus on being innovative while still teaching the curriculum?”, which also prompted the powerful quote above.  

The curriculum tells you “what”, not “how”. The “how” is the artistry in education.

This post prompted A LOT of rich dialogue among educators with literally thousands of retweets, and replies. In it George Couros goes on to explore a common perception or perhaps misconception of educators around teaching and innovation, that the curriculum is on one side of the spectrum, and innovation is on the opposite side. He goes on to suggest:

What I try to get people to understand is that how we teach the curriculum, often, is the innovation.

As educators, we often don’t have a lot of control over the “what”. We have student learning outcomes to plan for, formative assessment to consider, and reporting mandates to meet. One might look at these pieces as “the science” that drives our role as educators.  But in preparing for our work with students, we do have a lot more control over the “how”.  That is where the artistry comes in. We may not have a whole lot of say into “what” learning outcomes we need to focus on with our students, but we do have a lot more say into “how” we are going to get them there and the learning opportunities we provide to set the stage. That is where we can often be more creative in our approaches.

Realistically, even the “how” can be fairly prescribed for some educators in some contexts with particular program initiatives and mandates.  As suggested later in George Couros’ blog post, teachers must learn to #innovatewithinthebox.  If it feels like much of our time with students is highly prescribed by things that are out of control then we will need to make the small amount of flexible learning time we do have really count! We all have boundaries, policies and hurdles to work around. The creative problem solving we use to power through and work around these obstacles is once again where the true artistry comes in. We must focus on what is important.

Innovative teaching and learning is about always looking for a better way to do things. It  is about upping the ante with our students and ensuring we are offering them the most meaningful, enriching and empowering learning opportunities possible that meet their needs as individual learners.  Innovative teaching and learning is about moving away from a one size fits all model of instruction that often puts students in the place of passive learner. It is about finding more frequent opportunities for students to be active learners in turn building the skill sets necessary in today’s shifting context.

Innovation in education is about looking closely at “the how” we do business.  One might argue that even more importantly it is first and foremost about “the why”, but that’s for another post…stay tuned! The chart below offers some specific examples as ideas to shift “the how” from a more traditional approach of the past to a more innovative, student centred, creation driven approach moving forward.

           SHIFTING” THE HOW”→Innovative Approaches

Student as Passive Learner

Student as Active Learner or “CREATOR”

Students read assigned chapters of a novel, and do end of chapter questions

or

The teacher reads a picture book, class discusses the protagonist’s problem and predicts solutions that might occur later in the story

Novel or Picture Book Engineering

  • STEP 1-  Student or class reads the book
  • STEP 2- Student creates a character sketch or profile
  • STEP 3- Student identifies a problem or goal the character faces
  • STEP 4- Student ideates 3-5 solutions for the character’s problem
  • STEP 5 – Student chooses one and creates a prototype
The teacher provides information information on an Ancient Society in a lecture format. Students read sections in a textbook and answer questions in their notebooks. Students are given some guiding questions to investigate on an Ancient Society. In groups they determine an area of interest and decide on what they are going to create to show understanding of their topic (3 D model, video, art pieces, skit etc)  They present their learning  to the class.
The teacher does a 4o minute lesson on the board on a math topic. Students are assigned 20 textbook questions as homework. Students are given a math topic to investigate after the teacher does an introduction. They are tasked with watching videos from a list of resources (i.e. Khan Academy) to build understanding then given a handful of problems to solve. They are asked to show their thinking and create their own video using an app like Explain Everything or another screencasting tool.
The teacher shows videos and demonstrates different types of simple machines. The class discusses examples. Students do worksheets on simple machines.At the end of the unit there is a test. Students ask questions about and then investigate simple machines. As a group, they are tasked with designing a Rube Goldberg machine to complete a simple task, that includes 3 simple machines, which they must explain in their video documenting their learning.
Research Project- students are assigned a topic to investigate, given a list of questions to answer and told what format they must present in. Genius Hour- students are invited to take on a project of their own choosing based on their own individual questions, interests, and/or strengths. With guidance they plan all elements of their own learning focus.
Teacher scribes the story of a reluctant writer during Writer’s Workshop after the teacher has done a mini lesson on parts of a story . Student uses Lego Story Starter to build a beginning, middle and end of story. Student takes pictures of lego scenes using an iPad and inputs the pictures into an app such as Adobe Spark.  Student tells his or her story orally to go with pictures and creates a video in minutes.

There will always be a time and place for teachers to use a more lecture-style format, offer mini-lessons, and use direct teaching, but in today’s changing world we know that our students also need more than that.  Innovative teaching and learning is about finding a balance that offers our students more regular opportunity to play an active role in their own learning.  When we open our minds in regards to “the how”, and imagine the possibilities, we can drive innovative change in our own practice. That is where the artistry comes in and that is where innovation begins.

John Spencer- Creativity & Innovation through Design Thinking

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After seeing AJ Juliani present this past fall, and working with George Couros over the past few years (AJ & John’s IMPress publisher), being part of a day of professional learning with John Spencer this past week felt like a somewhat of a trifecta of sorts. How blessed our WSD educators were to learn alongside this incredibly creative, genuine and insightful educator!

Spending the day with John Spencer is truly inspiring! As he worked through each of the phases of the LAUNCH cycle, exploring the teaching, learning and considerations at each phase, his authentic classroom perspective and tremendous depth of knowledge, caring and experience around using student-driven, creation-based, empowering learning was very apparent. John is the real deal. His overall message around the importance of celebrating creativity, the necessity of student voice and the significance of empowering our learners in today’s shifting world rings true.

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Throughout the session John worked through the design thinking framework, while also exploring touching on keeping equity in mind, as well as multidisciplinary connections for design in all content areas.  Participants also had the opportunity to experience the LAUNCH cycle as a group as they invented their own sport or game.  The joy, laughter, and learning in the room was incredible.  Be sure to check out their creations in the STORIFY below.

John Spencer…thanks for an amazing and empowering day of learning!

 

Cornwell Chronicle…2017-A Year in Review

Well, 2017 was a heck of a year on our homefront. Although I am not sorry to see it go, the writer in me feels the need to reflect on the challenges, adventures and things to celebrate it brought us through some sort of process of documentation. Thank you to Sue McFarlane Penner, a dear friend and one of my true gifts of 2017. Her inspiring Thanksgiving Family Gratitude letters helped me recognize the importance of capturing all that life brings us as a family through the power of words.

https://sway.com/s/YoWTpCuyVjQO7VDP/embed

Finding a Place in the Sun

Many of you may be familiar with the powerful image featured below or one of its countless variations.

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Originally created by Craig Froehle, a business professor from Ohio back in 2012, the image has seen many, many iterations over the past five years. To read more about this graphic’s  journey check out The Evolution of an Accidental Meme: How one little graphic became shared and adapted by millions.

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  Artist: Angus Maguire Commissioned by: Interaction Institute for Social Change in 2016

I am a person who often thinks “in metaphors”.  After I came across the original image years ago, it stayed with me. When I was planning for my grade 5-8 ELA students or co-planning with teachers in my role as an inquiry support teacher the image often came back to me….What were the “crates” or scaffolds I would need to put in place for each of my students to ensure they each had equitable access to the learning we were doing? How could I differentiate the learning for my students to ensure everyone would find success?

These supports took many different forms over the years including; reading materials at a variety of levels, assistive technologies such as voice to text programs, alternate assignments, student choice and much, much more.  These supports looked like building trust, building on a students’ strengths, building connections and building relationships. These supports were always about discovering each individual learners’ needs and then discovering the best fit, adjustment or adaptation necessary to make each student most successful.

In my current position, my role has shifted over the last number of years to work more closely with adult learners and the thinking and importance of finding the scaffolds necessary to meet the individual needs of learners to ensure equitable access to learning and success still rings true.

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Image from (State Dept./Doug Thompson)

When I recently came across this variation of the first image pictured above it struck a chord with me. The powerful notion of equity coupled with the beautiful image of growth and facing the sun seemed a perfect fit.  Isn’t that what learning is? Continued growth? And isn’t that what we want for our students? To thrive and feel the warmth of the sun?

In today’s context we know our contemporary learners are vastly different than previous generations.  Our students are far more diverse, as are their needs. It is becoming more and more evident that as educators, we must change our focus and our approach in order to meet our students’ changing needs and the demands of our society. Merely differentiating programming to meet the needs of students is no longer enough and maintains a teacher-centric approach. In order to ensure equity and success for ALL students, we must also find space for a more learner-centric, personalized learning model in our classrooms and in our schools. (You can further explore this topic in a previous blog post entitled Paradigm Shift to Personalized Learning. ) Yet, as the role of teacher shifts and changes in many places from one of the owner of the knowledge to one of facilitator or coach, our learners have never needed us more.  

Our students need us to help them develop the skills, competencies and building blocks necessary to take responsibility for driving their own learning and thinking for themselves.  They need us to offer opportunities to connect their individual interests, talents, passions, and aspirations to the learning they are doing in their classrooms. And they need us to guide them as they become active participants in moving their learning forward through questioning, deep thinking, reflection, and goal setting.

Once again the amount of guidance students will need will vary from individual to individual. Some of our more independent self-starters may need less support.  While others may need our help in modeling learning behaviours, asking the right questions, accessing the right resources, documenting their learning and planning for next steps. As with anything, personalized learning opportunities will vary from class to class, school to school and district to district. Finding the right balance between teacher directed instruction and student-driven learning will also vary depending on individual contexts external pressures and other variables. However, finding a place for students to direct their own learning in some fashion must become a priority in order to develop the problem solving, capable thinkers and autonomous learners today’s world requires.

As the role of schools shifts and curricular reform spreads the pinnacle role of teacher remains the same; ensuring equitable opportunity for ALL students to learn, grow and find success, ultimately preparing them for the future. In doing so we can support all learners in finding their place in the sun.

 

Just Remember

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In November of 2002, I had the opportunity to attend the Teacher’s Institute on Parliamentary Democracy in Ottawa for a week. Aside, from being amazing professional development and the fact that I met incredible people from across Canada, it brought me to our nation’s capital, a city I never visited before. The patriotic Canadian in me loved Ottawa.

But nothing could have prepared me for the true beauty and intensity of experiencing a Remembrance Day service at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity and I think it is something all Canadians should experience once in their lifetime. I was in awe of the thousands of people who lined the streets nearby, the parade of hundreds of pipers and war Veterans marching in and the unparalleled sense of respect that surrounded us. A visit to the Canadian War Museum that afternoon gave me the opportunity to meet firsthand then, one of the few remaining World War 1 veterans at 101 years old. He has since passed. I was privileged enough to be staying at the Lord Elgin Hotel across from Confederation Square. By that evening as we packed up to head home the image of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier covered in a sea of red poppies was breathtaking and is forever etched in my memory.

Since then I have had a strong conviction to work even harder to help students gain insight into the true significance of Remembrance Day. As a parent, I also tried to ensure that my children began to understand and appreciate the great sacrifice of our Veterans, from a very early age.

It is a topic I have given a lot of thought to….that is how to best discuss the subject of Remembrance Day with kids. No one wants to talk to their little ones about war, guns, and death, but what I have come to realize is that we sometimes don’t give them enough credit. As kids get older and more mature, so too should our conversations. Also, our conversations need to focus less on content, that being facts, dates, locations, and statistics but the stories of war; the loss, the emotions, the impact, and the sacrifice.

And when we do so; when we frame our lessons and our student learning around the STORY and through a lens of EMPATHY  kids are ultimately far more invested in the topic. They want to know more. Our focus and conversations around this are hopefully not just a “one-off” before our school assembly once a year but should instead be much more impactful than that and include deeper thinking and reflection.

Here are a few resources I have collected over the years to help facilitate and promote inquiry, questioning, critical thinking and conversations around this topic through an empathetic lens.

The resources listed below include videos, texts, artifacts and images and then the variety of strategies used to respond through questioning, critical thinking, reflection, and discussions. Many of the strategies that can be used to support student response come from two excellent resources including:

Resources for Remembering

Videos

The first number of videos are ones I have used for our school Remembrance Day service over the years but can also be used in classrooms to activate thinking. Some of the ones listed toward the end could be used with further, more specific intent in mind.

Shawn Hlookoff -Soldier

The Trews-Highway of Heroes

George Canyon-I Want You to Live

Global TV Soldier Cries

Standing Strong and True (For Tomorrow),- an all-star Canadian country single

Bell Poppy Commercial (powerful- lead to conversations focused on being empathetic, taking action)

Remembrance Day Ad- war through time (great for timeline)

Veterans Affairs- learning videos (content focus)

A good “go-to” strategy for videos is RVL- Read, View, Listen from Q Tasks.

Text

One text resource that can be used with students in the middle years is the newspaper a lot of schools order through Veteran Affairs. In fact, Veteran Affairs Canada has a multitude of resources teachers can order in advance each year.

Two strategies that work well with this newspaper and other expository texts related to war and Remembrance Day online or in books are the QAR strategy or Fact React.

In the way of fiction Feather and Fools by Mem Fox I have found to be an excellent picture book to help discuss the topic of war with younger children.

For older students, the picture book Faithful Elephants is the thought provoking story of elephants in a zoo in Japan during World War 2.

Images

Pictures are a great source to stimulate thinking and conversations. Veteran Affairs has an Image Gallery and each year Veteran Affairs Canada produces a poster with powerful images which schools can order. They also have all of the past posters archived here and I have used the past year’s posters to set up picture response inquiry stations for students to work through. Practical strategies for responding to images are Step In, Step Out from Q Tasks or from Making Thinking Visible; Step Inside or See Think Wonder.

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Artifacts

Seeing and touching actual artifacts from history is an excellent entry point for our students to be able to relate and understand more deeply. I taught at a school in the North End of Winnipeg for 10 years and we were lucky enough to be located near the Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives . Each year I would have the organization send over artifacts and or we would have the students visit the museum.

Veteran Affairs also has also begun a Borrow a Boot Project in recent years. Also, try asking students to bring in war-related artifacts, surprisingly over the years my students have brought in quite a few to share. My own children have also had the opportunity to bring in their great grandfather’s war medals we have at home and this was a very meaningful opportunity for them.

There are many rich learning opportunities to explore with our students through inquiry around the topics of our Canadian Veterans and Remembrance Day.

As the years pass and many of our Veterans do as well, it becomes more and more essential that we give our children the knowledge and understanding needed to ensure remembrance in future generations.

Honouring the Process

Week 6 IMMOOC Blog Prompt #1… give a shout out to 3 other blog posts that you have read from other participants.

Love it! I have really appreciated reading the blog posts of fellow #IMMOOCers over the last number of weeks! Here are a few that have stood out for me.


Blog Post 1- The ‘Not So” Secret Ingredient

Carolyn Cormier-@ccormier_edu

Brave Pedagogy

This was one of the first blog posts I read as part of IMMOOC and it has stayed with me. Everything about it felt right and familiar from the start. The post eloquently highlights the importance of empathy as being the “glue” or “magic sauce” that holds everything together and is as the driving force in all that we do. Carolyn goes on to explore why empathy is “the most important ingredient in our classrooms and our lives.”

Photo: https://bravepedagogy.com/2017/10/05/the-not-so-secret-ingredient/

Carolyn then offers insight into how to foster a classroom environment that values empathy:

  1. Listen. Let’s truly listen to our students; our colleagues who share a difference in opinions; our leaders who hold different viewpoints. Listen for understanding and discuss with patience and love.
  2. Ask questions. We can’t know what something is like without probing and pondering the scenarios of which we have had no experience. Ask questions and then actively listen to the responses.
  3. Identify biases. Provide opportunity to recognize biases that exist in ourselves and our students. Model and encourage self reflection as a way to confront these biases.

 

In today’s context, it is essential that we create a culture that builds empathy in our classrooms and in all that we do. This “not so” secret ingredient is key to recognizing biases, giving us perspective and shaping our ability to truly understand the feelings of another. As Carolyn suggests, “let’s make building empathy in ourselves and others the focus of our work here on Earth. Doing so will create an environment where the other 7 innovative mindset characteristics can thrive”.


 

Blog Post 2: Reflection Isn’t for Wimps

Ashley Helms –@ash_helms

ashleyhelms.com- I’m Still Learning

In this post, Ashley shares the many entry points to reflection and some of the challenges we face as educators when it comes to reflective practice. She states, “What is true every time, is that it (reflection) is different every time, and I have to be open to the reflective process. I am committed to being reflective-in my practice, in my parenting, in my relationships, in my life. What I know…is that I don’t have all the answers and I am not going to get it all right-but I am still learning…

I couldn’t agree more. We must remain committed to the cause, and vigilant in our pursuit of meaningful reflection.

I have been thinking a lot about reflection as of late and considering why it is such a challenge for both students and educators. I truly appreciated the many metaphors Ashley used to unpack the forever shifting reality of reflection as well as its necessity.

Photo from: https://ashleyhelms.com/2017/10/16/reflection-isnt-for-wimps/


Blog Post 3: When Strengths and Passions Collide

Jullian Schulte-@JillianSchulte

Lead, Learn,Grow- On a mission to share and inspire greatness in all of us.

Approaching learning using a strengths-based model, has always been a foundational piece of my own philosophy as an educator and a topic near to my heart. In her post, Jullian suggests that as a learner she is at her best when her strengths and passions collide. She created this matrix exploring this notion:

Photo: https://jillianschulte.com/2017/10/23/when-strengths-and-passions-collide-immooc/

She makes this statement; “I created this to remind myself that just because adults or kids are good at something, does not necessarily mean that they are passionate about it.” This statement really resonated with me.

Strength ≠ Passion

Just because our students are good at something does not guarantee they are passionate about it. Just because our students demonstrate an aptitude or skill, does not mean they enjoy the process. For example, just because a student is a brilliant mathematician, does not necessarily translate into him or her wanting to spend countless hours doing more math formulas. For these students, their interests or passions may lie in something completely different or unrelated.

Interesting…. now it seems so obvious, yet I hadn’t really thought about it in such simple terms before. Seeing it laid out in the matrix and later as the equation I made above, left me thinking. Supporting our students as they build skills, and strengths are essential but so is giving students the opportunity to explore their individual interests, and passions, keeping in mind all of these pieces may not, and possibly even should not always align. Thank you to Jullian for the visual reminder and thought provoking post.

“The Relentless Principal”

If you haven’t seen the video entitled The Tattooed, Skater Principal Making School Fun Again, it’s worth a watch. It was recently featured on Freethink which shares stories of people thinking differently and making a difference.

 

This is the summary that accompanies the video:

Hamish Brewer, a tattooed, skateboarding principal in Northern Virginia isn’t your normal principal. Hamish is a born motivator, constantly calling on his students to “Be Relentless.” The New Zealander with an infectious energy served as principal of Occoquan Elementary, a school serving a large low-income and immigrant community.

His unique leadership approach turned Occoquan from a struggling school with sagging test scores into one of the best schools in the state. Now, he’s in his first year at a new school, tasked with spearheading the same transformation he led at Occoquan. Can he replicate his remarkable success at Fred Lynn Middle School?

Hamish Brewer is exciting to watch. His enthusiasm is contagious. His energy is unparalleled and the vision of change he brings to a school building and culture is inspiring. However, the reality is that every leader is NOT Hamish Brewer. Many principals may not possess his larger than life personality and comfort level in front of an audience on a mic. Some administrators may not have his easy way with the kids or huge sense of humour. Many will certainly not be skilled as on a skateboard or with a spray can of paint, as he is :).  However, although those pieces have undeniably contributed to Hamish Brewer’s success in transforming the schools he leads, this is not what struck me most. What stood out for me was his relentless pursuit to do the best for kids in a quest for his school to be amazing. It was instead his relentless commitment to changing the game, and being an educational disruptor. And it was his relentless focus on changing the narrative of school, away from “archaic educational processes” towards making learning more authentic and relevant. The word relentless is one he uses regularly with students and it is a prominent fixture all over the walls of the school.

The word relentless resonates.

In his book The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros talks about “relentless restlessness”, a term suggested by Pixar’s Brad Bird as a phenomenon that serves to spread and sustain excellence in an organization. George suggests that it is this “relentless restlessness that will serve our students well and empower educators as learners”. We must be relentless in our pursuit of innovative teaching and learning that improves the lives of our students.

In a blog post summarizing and reflecting on The Innovator’s Mindset, Gerald Fussell a principal from Vancouver Island, focuses further on the idea of “relentless restlessness” with the following statement:

Hamish Brewer’s relentless restlessness shines through in; his passionate devotion to innovation and the learners in his school, his commitment to the constant evolution of student learning, and ultimately his success as a leader. His innovative, creative approach to meeting the diverse needs of his students is to be commended, however it is his relentless vision and commitment which we must emulate.   We look forward to hearing about Part Two  of Hamish Brewer’s adventures as he moves on to Fred Lynn Middle School!