Reggio Inspiring Classrooms in British Columbia

I am part of a group of educators in the Vancouver School Board, considering various inquiries about aspects of Reggio Emilia inspired practice.  We came together with other like-minded educators in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia to participate in a school visit to Opal School in Portland, Oregon during our Spring 2018 vacation.  Ninety British Columbia teachers converged on the Portland Museum where this model of Reggio inspired educational practice is housed.  We had three days of intensive presentation, observation, engagement, reflection and discussion.  In trying to make sense of the myriad of perceptions and information, I sought out books.  Fortunately, Portland is also home to my new favourite place – Powell Books.  This bookstore of all bookstores, takes up an entire city block, has new and used titles and is staffed with knowledgeable readers.  I found what I needed for the learning to continue.

Reggio Emelia Classrooms started in Northern Italy just after World War II in an effort by educators, parents and the municipal government to “produce a reintegrated child, capable of constructing his or her own powers of thinking through the synthesis of all the expressive, communicative and expressive languages.” (C. Edwards, L. Gandina, G.E. Foreman, eds. 1993, p.305).   Essentially people came together in the belief that providing rich experiences grounded in basic human rights for children from 0-6 years old was the best strategy to prevent another emergence of fascism.  Building connections and respectful relationships between child, parent, teacher and the community was a foundational premise.  Although it is widely accepted that it is not possible to transport educational ideas intact from one culture to a totally different context, there are ways to implement certain principles and ideas inspired by the Reggio experience.

Loris Malaguzzi, the father of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education,  developed a metaphor that is very instructive in understanding the Reggio approach.  His premise is that the relationship between the teacher and the student is much like throwing a ball, or as Vygotsky framed it, providing “scaffolds” to support young learners.  The teacher must be able to listen and catch the ball thrown by the child, then toss it back in a way to extend the learning and maintain the motivation of the child to continue the game, aka for the child to continue to ask and answer the questions he or she cares about.

An exhibit toured the United States in 1987 called “The Hundred Languages of Children”  that provided the context and the educational process of the Reggio Emilia schools with a display and explanation of photographs, samples of children’s paintings, drawings, collage, constructive structures and explanatory scripts and panels.  In 1996, editors Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman brought together a collection of essays and perspectives by influential thinkers and educators in what has become “a bible” of Reggio Emilia thought in a must-read book called The Hundred Languages of Children:  The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education.   The “hundred languages of children” refers to the multiple ways that young children grapple with their questions and create meaning, including drawing with various media (crayons, coloured pencils, pastels, charcoals, sticks…) on various surfaces (paper, glass, sand…), painting, plasticine, clay, murals, photographs, plays, skits, water, mud, wood, mirrors, light table and … , as well as with oral language.  As Malaguzzi emphasizes “(t)he wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences” (p. 73).   Malaguzzi likened setting up the atelier, or space, for stimulating and meaningful centres of activity, to the setting up of ‘market stalls” where customers look for the wares that interest them, make selections and use them for their own purposes.  With familiarity exploring the materials, comes the possibility of them being used as a tool for communication.

In Reggio Emilia schools, students are encouraged to ask questions and set up investigations or projects to find answers.  “(T)he actual theme or content of the project is not as important as the process of children thinking, feeling, working, and progressing together with others.” (p 194)  However there are some general guidelines and principles in Reggio project work (p.210)

  1. Groups of 5 or less activate the most intense learning and exchange of ideas
  2.  Establish and maintain reciprocity / a sense of “WE”
  3. Graphic and verbal exploration
  4. Teachers work collaboratively to develop the project questions, comments and interests of the children involved
  5. Ample time for students to come up with their own questions and their own solutions
  6. Bring the knowledge and experience of the small group back to the other children and adults in the school.

The educators at Reggio Emilia schools invest heavily in documenting student work.  This documentation may include recordings, observations, transcriptions of children’s dialogue and photographs of key moments.  One of the purposes is to reflect back the learning process back to young children to help develop their meta-cognitive thinking.  In addition, the “systematic documentation allows each teacher to become the producer of research, that is someone who generates new ideas about curriculum and learning, rather than being merely a “consumer of certainty and tradition.” (p. 157)  Regular meeting and discussions happen between teachers to assist in selecting documentation for display to parents, program planning and problem solving.   Intellectual conflict is valued and understood as the engine of all growth in Reggio for both teachers and students.  “Children’s work (drawings, verbal transcripts, symbol making) is incorporated into the classrooms and school hallways by means of large and dramatic displays, and reflects the serious attention adults pay to children’s ideas and activities.” (Lillian Katz, 1990, p.217)

Reggio Inspired Opal School is both a private pre-school with two classrooms and publicly funded Kindergarten to Grade 5 Charter School with four classrooms.  It represents an “ecosystem” or a Reggio inspired approach to learning based on the core belief that each child is capable, competent, creative, and filled with skills we need in the world.  There was a very respectful way in which adults talked and interacted with students.  They took the time to slow down the interaction with the purpose of trying to understand the child’s perspective and helping the child to ask the questions and come up with a plan to understand.

The school has a long wait list and entrance is determined by a lottery.  It is extremely well funded and provides students with a wide range of materials to express their learning and many large professionally prepared samples of documentation.  We were invited to be observers or listeners in the “ecosystem” and to look for examples of playful inquiry in the four  K- Grade 5 classrooms, as well as adopt a willingness to be transformed.  Popsicle sticks at the door controlled the number of observers in the room to keep disruption of the learning environment to a minimum.

The day started with a Morning Meeting time.  Project work was introduced with a provocation, a stimulating event, question or activity to motivate students to consider the topic.  Explore time or project work provided the opportunities for collaboration.  Students generally worked in small groups exploring a topic while one of the two teachers was transcribing discourse on a laptop computer.  There is no library, cafeteria or gym in the museum so the classrooms, playground and museum grounds need to fulfill these purposes.

All of the activity in the school has a learning intention to guide attention.  “Intention setting keeps educators from getting too far ahead or falling behind the students” according to Opal School staff (March 2018).  Learning in not theme based.  The emphasis is on learning to learn, developing empathy and agency rather than learning content about the topic.  It is a particularly strong model for developing project based learning with a proclivity to action.  Students are encouraged to explore big questions that will motivate learning over time.  Topics included:

  • Impact of plastic water bottles on the environment
  • Refugee Crisis
  • Culture of Hate
  • March Against Guns in Schools
  • Contributing to the Vietnam exhibit in the Museum about Tet

Reggio Emilia Inspiration for Schools in British Columbia: 

Although Reggio programs were designed for children from birth to 6 years, many of the principles holds true for older school aged students to be nurtured in the same supportive context by educators, parents and community partners.  Many educators have embraced many of the principles and philosophies of Reggio Emilia Schools and they can be found in the New Curriculum in British Columbia.  Yet, there are other aspects to consider as well.

  1. Student Centered Learning:  I love the quote by Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the program in Reggio Emilia: ” We wanted to recognize the right of each child to be a protagonist and the need to sustain each child’s spontaneous curiosity at a high level”. (p. 45)   Viewing the child as competent and capable of learning is a large step away from the notion of the child as a “tabula rasa” or empty vessel.
  2. Inquiry:  We can develop schools that encourage students to ask complex questions, plan investigations, and believe in themselves as capable and competent learners, even when faced with cognitive dis-equalibrium.
  3. Acknowledging the Role of Conflict:  Reggio philosophy acknowledges the role of conflict in coming up with the best solutions.  Students are encouraged to disagree, debate and problem solve independently.  Teacher discussion is much the same with problem solving involving listening to all of the viewpoints presented.  Deference to authority has not had any place in Reggio philosophy due to the WWII experience.   I believe students and educators would benefit from more rigorous debate, lively exchange of ideas and problem solving opportunities.  Decisions should be based on clear thinking not alliances.
  4. Learning Intentions:  As we are dealing with school aged children, there is a curriculum that we as educators are responsible for covering with our students.  Using provocations to engage students in a topic and teaching students to set a learning intention has benefits to both motivation to learn, making connections and considering a direction to pursue.
  5. Multiple ways to explore questions and communicate learning:  In many ways our curriculum in British Columbia is doing just that.  Inquiry is encouraged but the variety of ways to communicate not yet fully understood.  An atelier (studio / lab) for exploration may not be a reality in schools in British Columbia, but the exposure and ability to explore questions using a variety of media is possible.  In many of our schools, the accessibility of parks, beaches, forests and farm land provide access to materials not often readily available in urban settings.  That being said, the funding to allow exploration of a wide range of artistic expressions would open up amazing possibilities.
  6. Communicating Student Learning:    I believe the new ways of reporting to parents is continuing to be a positive development in nurturing relationship with students, parents, educators and community partners.  Reporting from teachers continues to be important but one avenue of communicating student learning to parents.  Mandatory student led conferences indicate the importance of student voice in learning.    Parents are also frequently invited into informal events which allow them to gain greater insight into the learning process of their child.  Large displays which documents student learning in diverse ways and sharing project outcomes and actions also brings a better understanding of the role of play and inquiry in the learning process.
  7. Documentation to develop Meta-cognitive Skills:  Teachers currently use a variety of means to document student learning.  However the documentation is frequently used for assessment purposes.  There would be real benefit in putting a greater emphasis on using documentation as a tool to help students develop their metacognitive thinking skills.
  8. Professional Development:  As John Dewey put it, educators are called to adopt a stance of “learning to learn”.  Educators are involved in daily conducting of systematic research on daily classroom work for professional development, curriculum planning and teacher development.  The obvious benefits of this process make it very worthwhile to facilitate common prep times in schools to allow teachers to meet for these purposes.
  9. Designing schools to facilitate collaboration:  In Italy, there is high value placed on art and aesthetics.  Historically, designing public spaces includes not only the aesthetic but the priority of facilitating social interaction.  Our schools need to be designed or transformed into spaces and places to invite collaboration and indicate that we put high value on the education of our students.
  10. Creating Mutually Beneficial Community Partnerships:  Creating the Opal School in the Portland Museum opens up a range of options to consider.  Young Opal students were able to contribute to the curated Museum display teaching about the Tet celebration in Vietnam.  What a powerful way to demonstrate the power of the inquiry project to the students, parents, community partners and the public.  No wonder there is such a long waiting list to attend.
Advertisements

Reconciling Assessment & Reporting Practices with the New Curriculum in British Columbia

The implementation of the New Curriculum in British Columbia has garnered a lot of attention throughout the world.  Our population is made up of Canadians, immigrants and refugees from many different places, with many different schooling traditions.  In my little school of only 328 students, we have 34 home languages.  Yet what we are doing to prepare our students for the demands of the 21st Century is bringing good results.

img_2007

Students are encouraged to ask the key questions laid out so effectively by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in The Spirals of Inquiry.

  • Where am I now in my learning?
  • Where am I going next?
  • What do I need to get there?

Suzanne Hoffman, Superintendent, Learning Transformation, Ministry of Education emphasizes the significance of “unveiling the hidden curriculum” by deliberately teaching and assessing core competencies.  Deliberate instruction and reflection of  communication, thinking and personal / social responsibility skills have the power to transform lives of our students (SAHoffman, Nov. 15, 2017).  Mandatory self assessment demonstrates that core competencies are important enough to be measured and help students to learn about themselves as learners, to develop the skills required for collaboration and to supports the creation meaningful goals.

Aside from the students themselves, teachers have the most significant impact on the students in their classrooms.   Teachers in British Columbia have a high level of professionalism.  They  are well educated and have regular access to professional development and opportunities for collaboration.  As John A.C. Hattie aptly states in Visible Learning for Teachers:  Maximizing Impact on Learning ” (2013)  “…those teachers who are students of their own impact, are the teachers who are the most influential in raising students’ achievement.”    By making learning intentions explicit, teachers help their students to learn intended learning outcomes, as well as the strategies of how to learn.   The development of scoring rubrics with students or  a review of criteria prior to assignments or marking, helps students to understand expectations and plan their time.  The challenge for teachers is to determine those strategies and practices that will enable students to ask complex questions, problem solve, work collaboratively and persevere to find answers and discover future possibilities.

In the new curriculum students are given far more responsibility for their own learning.  One rationale is to improve student engagement in school.  Another is to create students who will be able to respond to the demands of the 21st century.  My son works as a designer in Lululemon’s “Whitespace” with engineers, scientists and technologists.  Beyond the frosted glass and carded access, he is researching how clothes impact physical performance and the mental and emotional perception of athletic ability.  The goal is to respond to trends, create markets and tailor sports clothing for 4-10 years down the road.  To our amazement as his parents, the childhood fascination with lego, trials riding, downhill riding, skiing, snowboarding and the construction of death defying jumps were the things that provided some of the rudimentary learning required for the job.  We can’t predict all of the jobs in the future, but the new curriculum sets out to enable students to ask and respond to tough questions and learn through engagement in the things they find fascinating.    Students are now responsible for assuming responsibility for their learning, engaging with peers to learn cooperatively and participating in evaluating their progress.

In the not so distant past, teachers aspired to be a fountain of knowledge and rushed in to speed up the process of answering questions or finishing explanations expeditiously.  Jon Saphier,  recently featured in a Webinar sponsored by Corwin (Nov. 13, 2017), suggested three ways to make learning visible and deeper:  Turn and talk.  Explain. Restate.  In the new Curriculum, we want students to take the time to think about difficult problems, to be comfortable being stuck, to engage in dialogue, to ask peers to explain their thinking, and to persevere until they discover their answers.

 

The shift from summative to formative assessment is necessary to assist students in this new role.  In order for our students to take more responsibility for their learning, they require ongoing feedback embedded in their daily instruction.  The focus is not on one letter grade but movement along a continuum to demonstrate growth in student learning.  The initial response was the development of paper based portfolios that allowed students to self select items to demonstrate learning outcomes.  The accessibility of technology has added several other layers and possibilities with the addition of pictures, videos and attachments with comment.

The Surrey School District has been using FreshGrade for the past four years to facilitate the collection of online portfolios to provide what Sir Ken Robinson calls “a continuous glimpse into each child’s progress that parents and students can share”.  It is one of the possible online applications that BC teachers like for the ease of use by young children and the inclusion of BC Performance standards.  The VSB is currently exploring how Office365 can be used in conjunction with various applications to fascilitate learning, store and showcase student work from entry in Kindergarten to graduation in Grade 12.  All school districts in British Columbia are developing reporting directives for implementation in September 2018 that will mesh with the new curriculum.

 

 

image3-e1510716101970.jpg

Reporting has always included the aspect of what students are able to do, the areas that require future attention and the ways of supporting students.  The opportunities introduced by implementation of the new curriculum in British Columbia are the source of many conversations with colleagues, students and parents about how our system in British Columbia can become even better.  Let the learning continue…

Formal assessments continue to play a role in providing feedback about students and  Provincial assessments , National and International assessments provide a snapshot of student performance in key areas and, over time, can help to monitor key outcomes of B.C.’s education system.

From the Ministry of Education Website:

B.C. students participate in three types of large-scale assessment:

  • Classroom Assessment is an integral part of the instructional process and can serve as meaningful sources of information about student learning.
  • Provincial Assessments:
  • National and international assessments measure reading, math and science skills of B.C. students. Various age ranges participate and student achievement levels are compared with other provinces or countries.

Fascination with the Brain

Walking along Jericho Beach as a little girl, this piece of wood screamed “brain” to me.  This was long before the fascination with the brain had extended beyond neuroscientists and doctors, to psychologists, to educators, to anyone aging and fearing cognitive decline.  The brain held secrets that were not readily apparent to the naked eye.  It was the also the basis of the best bonding with my neurosurgeon father.

Dr. Peter Dyck is not a man who relished talk of feelings, hopes, dreams, aspirations or divergent opinions.  However he has always been an example of the consummate learner.  He survived war times in Germany.  When he was 12 years old, he was sponsored to come to Canada with his mother and siblings by his uncle in Alberta.  He learned English and excelled in school.  He ended up working on his step-fathers farm in Abbotsford while attending school.  When a cow would die, he did not shed a tear.  He would dissect it behind the barn.   My aunt boiled many a chicken bones so he could reassemble them.  When I would go on rounds with him during summer visits to Los Angeles, the nurses would run when they heard his footsteps.  He was demanding of staff and took patient care very seriously.  Dad became fascinated with the possibility of destroying, rather than removing a brain tumour by using a local anaesthetic and a three dimensional C/T scanner to avoid the trauma of opening the skull.  Radioactive material in a small tube was targeted through a tiny hole in the skull into the centre of the brain tumour.  The concentration used would result in the radioactivity reaching only the tumour cells.  A team was formed including him as the neurosurgeon, Armand Bouzaglou, the radiation oncologist and Livia Bohman, the radiologist, to travel to Germany in 1981 to study the technique for stereotactic isotope implantation with Professor Fritz Mundinger at the University of Freiburg.   This technique was brought back to the USA and his first book about it’s success in avoiding the trauma of a full craniotomy was dedicated to the patients whose hope against overwhelming odds brought about this endeavour.

Not even neuroscientists agree on the inner workings of the brain.  However asking a question and our attitude seem to be the key components informing our brain and resulting in amazing accomplishments and sometimes survival.  Viktor Frankl’s answer to his question, “Why do I need to survive?” allowed him to walk out of Auschwitz and go on to develop his theory of logotherapy, write his influential book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and help many people find a way to cope with the challenges in their lives.   Norman Doidge details many examples of therapies that have allowed the brain to heal in ways that are still outside of mainstream medical practice in The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of  Neuroplasticity .  John J. Ratey, MD, in his book SPARK – The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, provides a compelling argument as to why exercise is integral to our ability to cope with stress, learn, as well as maintain good mental and physical health.  The brain is central in all facets of our lives yet understanding how it works is still somewhat elusive.

Educators, such as Eric Jensen started to focus educators’s attention on Teaching with the Brain in Mind  in the 90’s.  Educators are now seriously considering the implications of what neuroplasticity means in the classroom.  Previously held conceptions about the limits of some learners no longer apply, and standardized testing has become one indicator of specific learning strengths and weaknesses, but not an accurate measure of future success.    Perhaps the greatest outcome has been talking to children about how their brain works and how they learn best.   This puts the responsibility and joy learning with the child and allows them to move beyond just looking for a good mark on an assignment.  Giving children the capacity to talk about the connections they are making in their learning and providing numerous opportunities to share their ideas and discoveries, opens up the possibilities to ask new questions and see their peers, teachers and parents as partners in a collaborative process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complexity Theory: Collaboration in Schools

I listened to a great TedTalk today (Zurich, Switzerland 2013) by Nicholas Perony called ” Puppies! Now that I’ve got your attention, complexity theory.”  Perony studies animals to understand how they maintain individualized stable social relationships over long periods of time.  Complex social systems in the animal kingdom are identified and broken down into interacting parts based on simple rules with emergent properties.  He grabs our attention with the picture of puppies pinwheeling around a bowl with the sole purpose of accessing the milk.  The dance is deconstructed to identify the one rule – get the milk.  Bats demonstrate simple association rules that result in complex social structures.  Meerkats teach us about the basis for their complex social hierarchy.  Animals show extraordinary complexity that allows them to adapt and respond.  Simplicity becomes complexity that ultimately emerges as resiliency.

Perony acknowledges that the more complex the machine, the more likely something unexpected will go wrong.  What could be more complex than a school community?  Particularly a school community at the end of the school year.   In days gone by or in strict hierarchical systems, perhaps decision making was easier because one person determined the direction.  Ultimately the stress came from the fact that the decisions didn’t reflect the needs of the diverse elements of the school community.

Perony identifies collaboration as an example of a complex system.   We aspire to a democratic process that best reflects the voices at the table and the needs in the school community.  The first time I participated in an Aboriginal Talking Circle, I was itching with impatience as everyone took the time they needed to express their thoughts.  What I have learned over the years is that I just need to be more patient.  Giving people the opportunity to voice their thoughts and provide the opportunity to participate in the decision making process allows us to all walk together on a common path.  With the end of the school year comes celebrations, reporting, ceremonies, transitions, staffing for the next year and planning for September.  All demand time that is in too short supply and requires collaboration.   If we try to break down collaboration to simple rules, does it increase our resiliency?  I can identify two simple rules that I believe facilitate the longevity of positive collaborative relationships.  1.  Respectfully listen to other people’s ideas.  2.  Be willing to change your mind based on what you’ve heard.

What would are your simple rules be to maintain longevity of positive collaborative relationships?  How do you go about defining them in your decision making structures?

 Beyond Routine

I have never been a creature of habit.  When things get to be too predictable, I get an anxious feeling that life is passing me by.  Perhaps this is the reason that eduction has been such a good fit for me.  Change and new learning are always afoot!  Meeting new people, changing grade levels, attending professional development and navigating through the politics of the time provide food for thought and a landscape to navigate that takes all of my personal and professional resources.  The quest for me is to maintain a larger perspective of what really matters and not get sucked into the vortex of ever increasing demands.


I work hard and play hard.  A good friend of mine use to marvel that one hot tub after I arrived at “The Secret Garden”, her B&B on Bowen Island, and I had geared down from “10” to a happy “2”.   This Spring Break, my play opportunity, aka Spring Break, has taken me to Vietnam for a much anticipated visit with my darling daughter.  We have escaped the humidity of Hanoi and are now settled in a little piece of tropical paradise in Phu Quoc.  One day on our secluded little beach with hammocks, a few kayaks for our use and a good book and I have officially geared down to a “2”.  I suspect the relaxation speed corresponds directly with the lush greenery surrounding us.  All that O2!  Although I must confess I pulled my hammock away from those green coconuts overhead on the beach with a remaining vestige of control.


My daughter, Larkyn, and her boyfriend, Justin, are both teaching in Vietnam at ILA, International Language Academy.  It has a carefully delineated program to ensure standardization in English language instruction in institutions around the world.  Yesterday Justin started to tell me about this new thing, PBL, that was being introduced into the courses with the higher level students.   The Project Based Learning is technology based and facilitates collaboration, communication and problem solving between students.  Students for the first time have the power to choose interest areas to pursue and develop vocabulary around those interests.

I taught practicing teachers at the Bureau of Education in Fuyang for two summer sessions in 2008 and 2009.  I worked with four other educators from Coquitlam, British Columbia, teaching educators English and ways to engage students in learning.  It was an amazing opportunity for personal learning.  I gained a much better understanding of my students from China and the challenges facing the educators in China trying to implement practices that were bringing such strong results in the Western World.  Rote learning was not just a philosophical position but a way to manage behaviour  and safety in classes of 50 or more students.  Teaching students how to write tests determined their ability to further their education, access opportunities and care for family.

Project based learning is an exciting possibility for implementing change in school systems.  My principal, Rosa Fazio, is off to China this Spring Break, to inspire educators with the ways teachers are using technology and student interest to inspire profound learning at the Kindergarten to Grade 8 level at Norma Rose Point.  There is part of me that is excited to go back to school after break to discuss what we have learned over the holidays.  Yes, I’m sitting with my coffee in  a little piece of paradise feeling very grateful to be an educator.

 

 

 

Exploring in the Digital Media Studio

I had the opportunity to spend the morning in the Digital Lab at Norma Rose Point School with middle school students yesterday.  There are just those days when just being in a buzzing room of completely engaged students fills my heart with an amazing sense of how much of a privilege it is to be an educator in this time and place in history.  We are part of unprecedented change and possibility in the school system.

Adrienne Wood is our Digital Media specialist.  Middle School students come to her for a three month rotation in the Digital Media Studio for 3 periods per week.  At this time they are exposed to a variety of applications on the computers / iPads and Maker Space using Raspberry Pi.  The teacher provides a link with the goals and expectations of this exploratory class. Students are required to complete ten projects in groups of three.  Each project is done with different group members to give students experience collaborating with a variety of people with a variety of approaches to the project work.

Yesterday students entered the Studio with a clear sense of what they needed to accomplish.  Students quickly broke off into groups to focus on completing their projects using:

3D design using Ignite

Raspberry Pi


Coding using Scratch or Codecademy

Ignition to learn about Digital Literacy and Responsibility

Comic Life

Stop Motion

Challenges included a broken wire on the Raspberry Pi, connectivity issues and the inability to edit existing work for the 3D designs but…  the kids had a plan of what needed to happen next.  They used a variety of strategies to problem solve, including the people in the room and online help. It was not enough to break anyone’s stride.  I think of my response when learning new technologies and the exasperation.  In some cases, students experiencing insurmountable issues shifted their attention to helping other students in the group with the realization that specific things would need to happen before they could get on with the project.  The only prompt from the teacher required was a reminder to save their work to OneDrive before the end of the class.

A room full of Grade 6 students are well on their way to establishing the skills that will be an integral part of their lives.  They will have a variety of ways to pursue their own interests and a full toolbox to pursue job opportunities.  The opportunities provided in this class have been orchestrated by a curious educator who is willing to take risks in her own learning to enable her students to engage with technology in purposeful learning.

The energy in the room is palpable.

 

 

 

Spaces to Think

In January, I was transferred to Norma Rose Point School, located beside The University of British Columbia.  My route to work now takes me along the same path I trekked along 4th Avenue with my older sister and the neighbourhood kids to Queen Mary Elementary School.  The one day that I biked to NRP, confirmed that my perception as a five year old was correct in assessing that it was a REALLY big hill to get to Queen Mary Elementary School.  The daily drive along memory lane has also precipitated reflections on my early school memories in the Kindergarten house at Queen Mary.

Mrs. Hicks “lived” in the very welcoming Kindergarten house, an outbuilding of Queen Mary Elementary School and was immune to the dominant “cells and bells” of the Ford model of design.  It had big spaces to gather, a piano with a big oval rug for singing time, a cuckoo clock to ponder the notion of time and lots of stations to build, create and experience integrated learning.  I clearly remember mastering tying on the Fisher Price big shoe with laces and being able to predict how many times the bird would say cuckoo before it hit the hour.   Outside the ocean was close by and the forest provided endless building materials for recess and lunch projects, although it may have “officially” been out of bounds.  I do remember a hole in the fence.   It was a safe and happy place to explore that had some of the comforts of home and the collaborative possibility of friends.

 

Norma Rose Point is a rebuild on the site where University Hill Secondary School use to be.  The only thing that remains from the original school is the gym, which was impressive back in the day.  The visioning process for Rose Point School was led by FNI (Fielding Nair International)  and they consulted with the design architects,  Think Space.   It has allowed for a collaborative, iterative experience and celebrates that the school is on Musqueam ancestral lands and a perfect conduit to facilitate understanding of indigenous ways of knowing.  The building itself embodies the shift in school design.  For me it has pushed the question – How does site design impact learning opportunities?

When you walk into Rose Point School, the welcoming and friendly tone of the school is evident.  While it is delightful, it is something I have experienced in several schools in the three districts I have worked in as an educator.  It directly correlates with the strength of the relationships that the caring adults in the building have developed with the students.  What is unique in the school, is  the wide open spaces, natural light and beauty and the variety of spaces and places and ways that students are engaged in learning and their willingness to talk about it.  The school mantra of “learners at the centre” is clearly understood by the students.  They understand that teachers are their to support them in their learning journey rather than to simply rank them on what they are able to memorize and regurgitate on a test.


In his book Blueprint for Tomorrow:  Redesigning Schools for Student-Centered Learning (2014), Prakash Nair shares the ethos that well-designed school buildings can be a catalyst for pedagogical change.   I suspect that when educators have embraced a child centered pedagogy which capitalizes on social learning practices and integration across disciplines, the site allows the collaborative practice and the learning to flourish.  That being said, there is no doubt that the brilliance of architectural design companies like ThinkSpace and FNI has been the willingness to identify current educational priorities and allow them to take form in amazing educational facilities. NRI has designed educational buildings in 47 countries across 6 continents, which speaks to the reach of the profound global shifts in education which are responsive to the needs of the learner.

Norma Rose Point School is in the enviable position of having both the educators and site which represent the same vision for learners.  Rosa Fazio, the principal of the school, frames the vision with the OECD’s Principles of Innovative Learning.  As you move through the building, you are able to see students working in several different configurations.  Sometimes they are in small groups or independently developing fluency in basic literacy and numeracy skills. Sometimes they are in collaborative groups developing a project concept or problem solving around an issue.  Nair outlines 20 Modalities of learning, and you can identify all of them as you move through both the K-5 and middle (6-8) school wings of the school on any given day.


As a 5 year old, I experienced an environment with comfortable and diversified spaces for taking risks in my learning.  My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hicks, understood the importance of creating a welcoming environment and planning for diversified opportunities, places and groupings to facilitate student learning.  Perhaps everything I needed to know I did learn in Kindergarten.  So glad this philosophy has permeated not only mainstream educational philosophy but also school design.

NOTE:  The Language of School Design:  Design Patterns for 21st Century School by Nair, Fielding and Lackney (2013) was also excellent reading to clarify current thinking around school design.