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.

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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.

Lens of a Learner

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IMMOOC- Week 3 Blog Prompt….What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?

 Despite thinking about this prompt all week, I have been struggling to find the right reflective piece to blog about. However, on the eve of taking part in a highly anticipated day of learning with AJ Juliani tomorrow, it dawned on me.

One thing that has changed so much for me over the last few years is how I engage as a professional learner. Becoming a NETWORKED, connected educator over the last number of years has been a game changer for me.

Then..

In years past when attending professional learning sessions put on by colleagues or at conferences, I would take copious notes, capturing the content of the session, as well as the thoughts and connections I was making. In the end, I am not sure how effective or impactful those strategies were for me as learner. I don’t recall going back to all of those notes very often, as when I did I often found they hadn’t in the end really captured what I was looking for.

Now…

Now, when I attend PD, I regularly use Twitter. I often capture some of my biggest takeaways in the form of a Tweet and using this platform I often engage with the presenter as well as other participants. This process is dynamic, engaging and furthers both collaboration and learning. If there is something a presenter says that really resonates with me, I capture it graphically as well, using something like Quote Creator etc. What often makes the PD and my entry points even richer yet,  is the fact that I have often already made a connection to the presenter and his or her work either via Twitter or his or her blog etc. This too helps to enrich and extend the valuable learning I do as a participant.

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I can’t tell you how many times I have used the Twitter Advanced Search to seek out something I have Tweeted from a conference or presentation. I also use Storify to capture and archive a number of Tweets related to a presenter, conference or specific focus. For example after spending 4 days taking part in an amazing PD opportunity at the Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver last December, I captured many of my Tweets and those of others using Storify. Or I regularly created a Storify to celebrate all of the Tweeting and reflection that would happen in my school division, when George Couros came to work with our school division staff for a week at a time like seen here. The process of creating a Storify as well as having it as a resource to come back to over and over again is very powerful.

I also often blog after taking part in valuable professional learning. Blogging helps me unpack my new learning in a deeper way. Reflecting on where I am at and where I am going is what pushes my thinking forward. Doing this in a public way makes me even more cognizant and accountable for my reflective practice.

Similarly, I now do all of these exact same things when reading a professional book. Being a NETWORKED educator has immensely changed that process for the better as well. Having the ability to engage with an author while reading his or her work, using the means of Tweeting to converse with them, and reviewing their extended work online, extends my own learning once again. Blogging about this author’s work while reflecting and documenting my thinking helps me carve my own learning path or next steps moving forward.

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As a professional learner, shifting from my more PASSIVE STANCE of the past, to a position of being a much more connected, engaged member of a professional LEARNING NETWORK has been hugely impactful for me.  Keeping in mind innovative shifts in education and the larger context,  I will continue to embrace continued change, and growth as a learner, moving forward! 

You Are Here…

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Last summer, after returning from a two-week road trip out West with my family, I wrote a post called Roadmap to Learning.  I am a firm believer that travel is the best education, and that it builds a unique perspective, empathy, insight and open mindedness that is difficult to form to the same extent any other way. We learn from experience…Learning happens everywhere. In keeping with tradition, I am writing this post to once again document the rich learning and reflecting I have done this summer through my travels. Our travels tell a story.

This summer, I was lucky enough to visit New York for the first time, with one of my most favourite people and dearest of friends for four days, before heading to New Jersey for a three-day educational conference and then spending an afternoon exploring Philadelphia with two lovely ladies, before flying out!

Shortly after returning home, we left on a two-week family vacation out East making our way through Ontario and Quebec. Busy!

I share some of the highlights of these journeys below through the lens of some big picture observations and snapshots of what I learned (these are not deep musings or earth shattering content by any means 😉 but lighter in nature). But my travels are also documented through my treasured MUGS!

Yes, I admit it. I have in recent times purchased my fair share of the Starbucks You Are Here Collection mugs.

I am not the collector type. In truth, I am a bit of a minimalist. I don’t like trinkets, or knickknacks or baubles and such. I wouldn’t dream of bringing home a magnet, or spoon, or ashtray (do they still make those??), or key chain, or tacky t-shirt from the places I visit. However, this past spring when the Starbucks, You are Here Collection of mugs crossed my path, I was all in. I do like coffee. I do love Starbucks. And these mugs were anything but tacky. My first purchases were Vancouver and Tennessee. After this summer, a few more now fill my kitchen cupboards as a daily reminder of the wonderful memories made in the places I have been lucky enough to visit.

So here goes….

NEW YORK CITY

 

Highlights: Visits to the Empire State Building, Times Square, Bryant Park, Grand Central Station, The Highline, Rockefeller at Night, The Statue of Liberty, the New York Public Library, Central Park including a tour from an informative, entertaining pedicab driver, Magnolia Bakery, and the Sugar Factory for lunch. A walk down Fifth Avenue & Wall Street, as well as through Tribeca, Soho, the Meatpacking district, and Happy Hour in Greenwich Village. Seeing Kinky Boots on Broadway. Using the subway. Bagels and pizza.

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I learned…

  • All of the amazing things I had heard about NYC over the years were true…and then some! It is big and vibrant and diverse and alive and beautiful in a way that is so unique and exhilarating.
  • The Brooklyn Bridge is much longer than you think and much more stunning
  • The infamous NYC places you see in the movies are much smaller in person than they seem on tv
  • Grand Central Station is more than just a train station and has a culture all of its own
  • The banana pudding and cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery really are that good!
  • Broadway is all it’s cracked up to be and Hamilton tickets truly are hard to come by!
  • New Yorkers are friendly, helpful and welcoming.
  • There is a reason people go back to NYC over and over again!

TORONTO

Highlights: Visits to the Ripley’s Aquarium, CN Tower, Canada’s Wonderland, the Downtown Waterfront, Eaton Centre, The Hockey Hall of Fame and taking in a Blue Jays game.

 

I learned…

  • Toronto truly is busy and big and has way too much traffic!!
  • Seeing the Toronto Blue Jays play LIVE is so AWESOME!!!
  • Canada’s Wonderland is VERY busy and lined up in the summer
  • Toronto’s Waterfront is very lovely
  • Ontario’s Emergency Room wait times are reasonable (Nate’s chest pains turned out to be a strained muscle…phew!)

 

NIAGARA FALLS

Highlights: Seeing Niagara Falls both during the day and at night lit up, fireworks over the Falls, Journey Behind the Falls, Hornblower Niagara Cruise, Niagara’s Fury (4D show, telling story of the Falls creation), White Water Walk, Clifton Hill Street of Fun

I learned…

  • The Niagara Falls are truly remarkable, powerfully breathtaking, stunning and a must see for everyone!
  • I am not one to do all the tours, guided things, red busses etc, but in Niagara Falls seeing the Falls from all perspectives is well worth it. Get the Adventurer Pass and visit one of the kiosks to set up your times when you get there. Use the WeGo busses for everything.
  • It is actually possible for breakfast for 4 to cost $109 (even with a coupon) at IHOP (it’s true!)

OTTAWA

 

 Sidenote: Our Nation’s capital does NOT have its own You Are Here mug. Seriously! I have no idea how Starbucks determines these things. (Hence the Canada one).

Highlights: Visit to Parliament Hill, Changing of the Guard Ceremony, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guided tour of Centre Block, Northern Lights Sound and Light Night Show on the Hill, Byward Market, Calypso Water Park

I learned…

  • Ottawa remains one of my favourite cities in Canada. I like the size and the feeling of it, but it’s more than that. Being a Canadian citizen is one of my greatest blessings. I am always very patriotic, but there is something so special to me about being in our Nation’s capital.
  • The Northern Lights: Sound & Light show projected onto the Parliament Building each evening in the summer is incredibly well done; informative, beautiful and moving.
  • Parliament Hill is about to undertake a ten-year renovation during which it will be closed to the public for tours and visitors.
  • Calypso Water Park is an exceptional water park a half an hour outside of Ottawa. It has tons of awesome slides, and is clean, has minimal line ups and reasonably priced. Wisconsin Dells fans…this waterpark is a must visit!
  • Always take note or a picture of where you parked and make sure you don’t count on those little business cards outside elevators in parking garages. Apparently, it is possible for 6 tourists to lose their car and then a kid for over an hour in a hot, low ceiling, stuffy parking garage! Yikes! 😉

MONTREAL

 

Highlights: exploring Old Montreal, tour of downtown, city view from Mont Royal Park, Jarry’s Diner, Voiles en Voiles Aerial Course in Old Port, crepes, gelato

I learned..

  • Old Montreal is lovely.
  • Wheelchairs and cobblestones are not a good match.
  • My French comes back when I need it.
  • Montreal is a very big, very busy city.
  • Although, big sandwiches filled with red meat are NOT really my thing, trying a Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich is a must (definitely has the Philly Cheesesteak beat…I tried that in July!).
  • Ropes courses never cease to amaze me. They are such an awesome way for kids (and adults too) to practice risk taking, perseverance, and problem-solving all while participating in an intense physical activity.

QUEBEC CITY

 

Highlights: exploring Old Quebec including; Quartier Petit-Champlain, The Citadel, Plains of Abraham, Place Royale, Chateau Frontenac, Place d’Armes and Rue Saint Jean. Visits to Ile d’Orleans, Parc de la Chute-Montmorency, views of the St Lawrence. More crepes. More gelato.

 

I learned…

  • There is no such thing as too much gelato!
  • Seeing my children enjoy and appreciate the true beauty and wonder that is Canada is a gift, especially watching them share in that with my own parents!
  • Old Quebec is an absolute gem and I cannot believe it took me 43 years to see this Canadian treasure.. There are no words to describe the beauty, history and feeling that lies there. It is truly incredible and my favourite part of the 2017 Cornwell Canadian Adventures!

So…. if any of you reading this are from Vancouver Island, Calgary, Edmonton or New Jersey (places I have visited over the past year but missed the cups for)…and you are willing to help a girl out….I’ll send you my mailing address and a cheque if you’ll send me a cup! 🙂

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The Makerspace Movement

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Makerspace, or focusing on a “maker mindset,” involves learning and spaces where students gather to create, invent, and learn. Makerspaces are often found in libraries or other common areas in a school. They are also set up regularly in classrooms and flexible in their design or use.

Ultimately, a maker culture focuses on design and opportunities that both engage and empower students. This creative learning can vary greatly and may include both high tech and low tech examples such as;

  • writing a fairytale using Lego Story Starter
  • coding using an input/output device such as Makey Makey
  • designing 3D imagery with a 3D printer
  • creating a stop motion animation using an app such as Smoovie
  • inventing something brand new from “take-a-parts” or cardboard.
  • composing a song to show understanding of a concept
  • producing a movie using green screen and a platform such as iMovie
  • working collaboratively with a team to build a bridge; as long as possible, in a limited amount of time, using a finite amount of materials
  • creating a beautiful piece of art using a variety of mediums
  • designing a campaign to solve a school-based issue or concern
  • recreating the setting of a novel in Minecraft Edu
  • building a replica of a famous structure

Establishing a making mindset in schools provides for endless possibilities all built upon imagination, creation, collaboration and innovation in an engaging learning environment.

The idea of students as creators is nothing new. Classrooms, libraries, art rooms, dance studios, theaters, band rooms, and industrial arts labs have served as “makerspaces” for our students at varying degrees and in a number of different ways for many, many years. But what is new is the urgency to ensure that our present day classrooms invite a making culture and that moving forward all classrooms shift from a passive learner model to one where students are at the centre in a stance of active learning. This is essential as we strive to meet the diverse needs of our learners in our ever changing world. We know we need to change our focus and our approach in order to meet our learners’ needs and the demands of our society. We need to support our students in becoming the globally aware, creative, adaptive, resilient, digitally fluent, flexible thinkers necessary in today’s reality. Initiating programming that prioritizes students as makers is one opportunity to do so.

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Makerspace is not about a “space” and it is not about “stuff”:  it is about a “making mindset”.  A focus on ‘making” pushes past the traditional structure of student as consumer of information. It is a culture focused on student as creator. It is about ideas. It is about the joy and exhilaration of putting something new into the world and the rich learning that goes with the experience of doing so.

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Makerspace is not about a one size fits all model where all learners are doing the same thing: it is about honouring our students as individuals, differentiating our approaches and valuing the opportunity and structure of having kids learning and doing different things at different times.

Makerspace is not about being stuck in the perspective of “that’s the way we have always done it” such as following traditional instructional structures. It is about shifting that lecture, that worksheet, that textbook assignment or those end of chapter questions to learning opportunities that are more active, more student-focused, and more creation driven. It is about flipping those traditional approaches and opening the door to creativity, critical thinking and problem solving for our students early on and giving students the opportunity to learn THROUGH the creative process.

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Makerspace is not about “sage on the stage” or teacher as the imparter of all knowledge: it is about the teacher as facilitator, “guide on the side” and coach, ultimately putting students in the driver’s seat of their own learning.

Makerspace is not about learning fitting neatly into subject areas and prescribed learning outcomes: it is about offering our students a number of possibilities, putting the appropriate materials and opportunities in their reach, and helping them make the connections.

With a strong basis in the theory of Constructivism (Vygotsky & Piaget), Constructionism (Papert) and Inquiry-based learning, hands-on learning such as makerspace initiatives offer students unique learning opportunities in which they can construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences. Using a Makerspace model allows a student to ask questions, find ways to answer those questions and carve their own path while producing something to demonstrate their new learning. Teachers can not only step back into more of a role as facilitators or coaches but quite often as learners themselves.

Supporting our students in developing a maker mindset also gives learners the chance to develop a special skill set that is so necessary in today’s world. These skills include critical & creative thinking, project management, flexibility, agility, innovation, risk taking, and resilience. Giving our students more opportunities to create builds essential skills and competencies which are embedded throughout the curriculum. Learning focuses less on specific content related outcomes and more on drivers of learning, and key essential skills.

We can look to 4 key pillars that serve as foundational pieces of a learning environment that emphasize students as creators:

  • 4 C, Competency focused, Deep Learning – a focus on Critical & Creative Thinking, Communication and Collaboration
  • The Design Thinking Process – steps in a process which students use that has universal application, regardless of what they are creating (bridge, sculpture, poem, tower, campaign, animation etc.)

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  • Reflection & Metacognition – reflective practice gives students the opportunity to think deeply and reflect upon their own thinking, doing and learning and plan for next steps.
  • Personalized, active, inquiry-based learning – students’ individual strengths, interests, skills, driving questions and passions direct their own learning experiences

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When we personalize learning opportunities, let students take initiative and focus on building knowledge through creation instead of only consumption we support learning for ALL. We can look to the example of the Ecole Victoria Albert Learning Commons Makerspace for inspiration. It recently received an Honourable Mention for the CEA Ken Spencer Innovation Award and is a flagship for makerspace development for both Winnipeg School Division and the province of Manitoba as a whole. Vic Al’s diverse community of learners has benefited greatly from the makerspace in their school building. This dual track school of 400 has a high mobility rate and one of the largest newcomer populations in the city Winnipeg. About 70% of the school’s students are EAL and 25% are First Nations. They received 60 Syrian Refugees in 2016 alone.

Renee Sanguin, Inquiry & Innovation Support Teacher at Victoria Albert School explains, “The programming at Victoria Albert School promotes access to learning which is deep, inclusive, equitable and empowering for all. It opens doors for learners in a very personalized and experiential learning environment. The foundational tenets of deep learning driven by Makerspace have transformed the school from a traditional teacher-directed model to one where students are at the heart of all planning and learning. The focus is on “learning skills” that will prepare students for the future of change that is their reality.

The Victoria Albert initiative is an example of a transformative learning environment aimed to help support and prepare our learners with the modern literacies, skills, competencies and attitudes necessary for students today.” (Sanguin, 2016)

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When we focus on learning through the creative process we can approach curriculum and learning outcomes in an innovative way. We can support numeracy by making connections to problem-solving, computational thinking and reasoning. Through coding, robotics and game-based learning students are able to utilize a number of math skills in relevant and engaging platforms. Students also can practice and consolidate a number of math concepts and applications in meaningful contexts while estimating, measuring, building, revising, constructing and applying numerous math skills in real world situations.

In the way of literacy, the possibilities are endless. Using Lego students can build a beginning, middle, and end and incorporate all elements of a story in this unique medium before capturing their story with images, text, and written or oral documentation. Students can ask questions to drive their learning and then find answers by researching, interviewing, reading, viewing and listening. Students have opportunities regularly to capture their work and the steps they have taken through procedure writing.

Learners read instructions. They write instructions. They draw diagrams. They label parts. They storyboard, write scripts, perform and do retakes. They reflect deeply through writing, sketch noting, video or apps such as Adobe Spark or Seesaw. They network and connect through social media, digital portfolios, video conferencing, blogging and more. In a making context, the visible learning that takes place in the way of literacy learning and beyond is endless.

When we offer students opportunities in our schools and classrooms to learn through making, inventing and creating we promote student ownership, student agency and developing autonomous, self-directed learners. It is an opportunity for students to manage their own personalized learning in an active, student-driven, empowering environment. It is a chance to support deeper thinking and foster curiosity with minds-on, hands-on tinkering, and constructing. Makerspaces or promoting having a “making mindset” is a powerful learning opportunity for our 21st C learners as they become creators, critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, communicators and most importantly life-long learners.

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“I Am Standing….”

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This year Winnipeg School Division is excited to have educational leader, and author of The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros once again working closely with our staff.  Now in its second year, one of the key pieces of this initiative involves extensive work with two Innovative Teaching and Learning Leaders (ITLLs) from each school. A guiding question in our work continues to be “How do we move from ‘pockets of innovation’ to a ‘culture of innovation’ within our schools?”(Couros, 2015)  For further information about the scope of the project visit these two previous posts.

One of the major components of the ITLL project has involved the participants developing a reflective blog and their own personal, digital portfolio, outlined here. As we embark into year two and continue this blogging journey, our ITLLs are now invited to write a targeted post reflecting on a new professional book added to the project this year, the inspiring and practical, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. As a group, we are using this book to focus conversations on practical ways to embed innovative and creative practice in our classrooms.  

In my previous post, I discuss one of Dave Burgess’ provocative questions of “Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?” and how it was a meaningful exercise for me to give some thought to my own “stand out lessons”.  

In my mind these are the lessons or a sequence of lessons that are dear to my heart. They are the activities that keep me up at night in anticipation, that have me jumping out of bed in the morning to get to, and that have become refined works of art over the years.  As teachers, many of us have units, lessons, and activities we do with our students that we are the MOST proud of, that we know are highly effective and engage our students in superlative ways. An important skill for any educator is reflecting regularly on our practice, building on our strengths, recognizing our challenges and planning our next steps.  

The pirate’s question about “lessons we could sell tickets for” can offer us a lens to start or continue this good work. However, for some reflecting on their own practice through this narrow focus may be challenging. Some teachers’ strengths may not be articulated through exploration of a single lesson or a series of lessons, but instead in other ways such as, in the relationships they build with students or flexibility in meeting individual student needs.

Either way, this thinking and the inspiring work of both George Couros and Dave Burgess help us to frame the first reflective blog post assignment for the Innovative Teaching and Learning Leaders this year. The ITLLs are tasked with:

Describe and reflect upon a lesson or learning opportunity you have offered your students that “you could sell tickets for”.

Or

Thinking about your own learning through the ITLL initiative and the newest addition of Teach Like a Pirate, describe and reflect upon skills, strategies and practices you use to ensure student success, increase engagement/empowerment and  boost creativity in your own classroom or school.

As I first read TLAP this summer, I recall connecting to a number of the suggestions made and activities outlined. The costumes and dramatic pieces may not necessarily be in my wheelhouse but as a former Inquiry Support Teacher and Language Arts teacher for 16 years, the use of artifacts, music, images, technology, personalized learning and a number of the other “hooks” were things I could relate to place to in my own teaching.

And so I offer an example of my own series of learning experiences along a writing theme that I did with students that I can potentially consider through the lens of “a  lesson I could sell tickets for”.

One of my favourite learning sequences to teach in Language Arts is on descriptive writing.  In my mind I call this focus my “I am standing…” writing pieces.  

I have used a variation of these lessons over a span of many years and with students in grades 4-8. The intent of these lessons is for students  to practice describing something so that a picture is formed in their reader’s mind. It aims to capture an event, person, place or thing in such a way that it makes the writing more engaging and interesting by paying close attention to the details using all of the five senses.

I always begin by modeling for the students.  I choose one scene or location and I bring in a number of sensory artifacts into the classroom to replicate this scene.  The Lake as a setting is a good starting point for me.  This has varied over the years but may include:  a tub of cold water, sand, reeds, a tree branch, an evergreen or fresh rain scented candle, a fan, a life jacket, a paddle, a turtle shell, images, sound effects of water lapping or loons calling etc. As the students engage in this sensory experience of  “the lake” I ask them to record words, images and thoughts that came to mind, using the five senses.  This might be on chart paper, post it notes, or digitally on an App such as Popplet. At times they have used the List Group Label strategy to further extend this brainstorming.

Next, I share my own writing piece about the lake, or model this writing in front of them- I Do (Routman- Optimal Learning Model).  See here for an example.  I ask the students to look for evidence of each of the five senses being explored, examples of adjectives and adverbs being used, and the use of literary devices. There are many outcomes that can be reviewed within this form of writing.

We wrap up the day’s events by making a list of other possible settings or scenes we could explore in a similar way. Typically the students come up many…city centre, park, beach, ocean, farm, prairie field, blizzard, campfire, bakery, amusement park, circus, concert, forrest, sporting event, airport, mountains…to name a few.

For our next class, I set up more sensory stations along these themes.  I have images on most of the scenes in a file. I have collected a number of related artifacts along these scenes in a plastic tub I pull out each year and I gather others from nature.  I find sound effects online such as; crowds cheering, ocean waves, crickets, and a campfire crackling.  Others are conveniently on my Conair Sound Machine.  I bring in popcorn, marshmallows, baked goods or other tasty treats where applicable. While exploring the sensory stations, the students use this graphic organizer or a digital variation to record their observations using each of their five senses.

After, spending some time exploring the stations and recording our thoughts, we regroup as a class and choose one of the settings to do as a shared writing piece –We Do. Here is an example of a shared descriptive writing piece we wrote as a class on a Fall scene at the park.

The final class, the students choose their own scene or setting to write their own descriptive piece on –You Do.  They have the option of using the graphic organizer as a pre-writing sheet and we review the criteria for the descriptive piece of writing.  They work through all stages of the writing process.

The beautiful writing that comes out of this often amazes me! Some years, the students take their imagery filled, descriptive writing pieces a step further by completing watercolour paintings to go alongside, or they use an App such as Adobe Voice to visually represent their lovely language using images and their spoken words.

This series of lessons has traditionally produced some of the best writing my students do all year.  During these lessons they seem to thrive on the hands on, sensory nature of the work. The scaffolded, collaborative piece of working together before completing their own writing, ensures a high degree of success for all learners.

Effective Action

quiet reflection

In past posts I have outlined the extensive work George Couros is doing with us in Winnipeg School Divison.  On May 9th he returned to lead 2 inspiring sessions that encouraged all to reflect, share and be learners themselves in the area of innovation in education. He shared insight into The Innovator’s Mindset and how each of these characteristics can support positive change in driving learning in our schools.  He focused on the importance of relationships, making connections and learning together. He reminded us how innovative teachers and teaching can be transformative in not only engaging our students but empowering them as learners.  It was an inspirational time and a momentous occasion for WSD, as all 2500 educators came together over the course of the day.

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In the continued work George Couros is also doing with the WSD Innovative Teaching & Learning Leaders (ITLLs) from each school, the week also brought a new initiative.  Building on the collaborative reflective blog project they had started in March, this time the ITLL’s began their own own personal, online portfolio.  You can read more about that project on George Couros’ blog post, The Power of the Process. The ITLL’s embraced this new challenge and ran with it. You can see the beginnings of their work here on the WSD: Educational Blogs from Our Community site. Framed around the WSD Principles of Learning , these teachers began the important work of representing themselves as learners in their own personal learning portfolio, using this online forum. The ITLLs have used their blogging to explore topics such as;  what innovation looks like and could look like in their current reality as a teacher, the use of social media in classrooms and as a professional learning network, student as creator vs. consumer, barriers to innovative practice, flexible seating, personalized learning opportunities and the natural integration of technology into core subject areas to name a few. Each of their reflections is anchored in connections to the Principles of Learning.  The digital portfolio is meant to be a place of reflection and the intention if for it to serve as both a growth, and showcase portfolio down the road.

Why? Well, if we are going to ask our students to be reflective and put themselves in a learning stance, we need to model that thinking.  If we are going to one day encourage our students to share their work in their own online portfolio, in turn contributing to their positive digital footprint…we as educators, need to intimately understand that process first. We need to lead by example for the students we serve, for our colleagues and for our ourselves as we reflect and continuously push our own thinking and doing, moving forward to do the best we can for our learners.

Peter Drucker said, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action”. Change can only occur with action. Valuable and effective change can only prevail with thoughtful reflection on that action. For our ITLLs this is an opportunity to take that quiet reflection and give it a voice.

The WSD ITLLs have done an exemplary job throughout both the collaborative blog and portfolio building processes.  As their portfolios take shape, each page is as unique and creative as are each of them as individuals.  Of course they are dabbling with learning all the practical pieces and how to’s in Edublogs… how to change their themes, how to add pages, how to embed their Twitter feed, how to tag, categorize and insert media. But more importantly they are exploring how to best utilize this platform and their posts to celebrate successes, voice frustrations and challenges, pose questions, collaborate, share their voice and experience learning from a learners’ lens.

Their posts are open, honest and reflective and run a gamut of sentiments (vulnerability, humour, frustration, joy etc.) as they reflect on their own learning moving forward. Not only are the ITLLs expressive and resourceful in the types of topics they share about, but they are also original and creative in how they choose to share. Check out just a few of the many examples listed below:

  • Stefane Gautron uses a French song and a heartfelt exploration in his reflection entitled “My Love Affair with Twitter“.
  • Veronique Bedard uses a Videoscribe to explore the topic of: Innovation in Education
  • Dillon McMahon outlines the recent journey he has embarked on in the way of classroom design and environment.
  • Devon King uses a video introduction to welcome us to his portfolio site.
  • Leigh Brown explains how one tweet/idea can turn into an inspiring project with students.
  • Jeremy Midford takes on the challenge of blogging regularly to explore “The Struggle of Innovation”.

One thing that has become clear throughout this project and our work with George Couros is that there are many, many wonderful and innovative things worth celebrating currently happening in WSD.  As more and more educators share their own learning as well as that of their students, whether it be through professional learning opportunities such as this, or through Social Media including Twitter and this blog initiative, we can’t help but be inspired by the continued possibilities moving forward and learn from each other in a networked way.  The guiding question of this project, and our work with George has always been… “How do we move from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation?” As our pockets continue to grow, one can only be hugely inspired by the limitless possibilities ahead, as we work together to improve learning for all students!