Exploring Educational Change with Educators in Vancouver, British Columbia

Educational change is an exciting topic with he promise of many pro-active, positive changes in educational systems around the world.  I am working with secondary teachers at Royal Bridge Education Group in Coquitlam today.  We will be engaging in learning about educational change and responding to the ideas using strategies and tools to engage learners in other contexts.  I will be encouraging participants to set up a Twitter Account and respond to the ideas and the strategies and tools on a Twitterchat @CarrieFroese #edchat #edchange #bcedchat with a corresponding A(nswer)1 if a Q(uestion)1 is asked.   It would be great if interested blog readers also participated.

I will be providing front-end loading about educational change, in both global and British Columbia contexts.

Enter provide your feedback in our TwitterChat @CarrieFroese #edchange #edchat

In our discussions of educational change, I will be focusing on the following thinkers and content from a number of sources.  The following links provide some extension materials to supplement materials presented in class and to provoke deep thinking. 

BC Ministry of Education

Explore Educational Change in British Columbia: 

■BC Ministry of Education Website   https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/

■Content Area Material K-12   https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/

■Existing and New Curriculum Comparison https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/sites/curriculum.gov.bc.ca/files/pdf/curriculum-comparison-guide.pdf

I love this Search Tool – Big Ideas / Content/ Curricular Competencies / Subjects / Integration  Take some time to explore the possibilities

https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum/search

Carol Dweck – Mindset

Michael Fullan

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser / NOIIE_BC

Spiral of Learning by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser

Judy and Linda speaking from Barcelona.  A great overview and discussion in 20-30 minutes.

http://www.debats.cat/en/debates/spiral-inquiry-tool-educational-transformation

Laura Tait 

First Nations Principles of Learning

Inquire2Empower  The Indigenous Voice carriefroese.wordpress.com

 

John Hattie and Helen Timperley

Making learning visible with John Hattie – Know Thy Impact

The Research of John Hattie

In 2009 Professor John Hattie published Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. This groundbreaking book synthesized the findings from 800 meta-analysis of 50,000 research studies involving more than 150 million students and it built a story about the power of teachers and of feedback, and constructed a model of learning and understanding by pointing out what works best in improving student learning outcomes.

Since then, John Hattie has continued to collect and aggregate meta-analyses to the Visible Learning database. His latest dataset synthesizes more than 1,600 meta-analyses of more than 95,000 studies involving more than 300 million students. This is the world’s largest evidence base into what works best in schools to improve learning.

Download the full 250+ Influences Chart here.

https://www.visiblelearningplus.com/content/research-john-hattie

Feedback: The communication of praise, criticism, and advice with an article about ‘Feedback in schools’.

The Power of Feedback – A PowToon explaining the ideas of John Hattie and Helen Timperley with respect to providing feedback to learners.

 

David Istance /The OECD – The 7 Principles of Learning

OECD – Centre for Educational Research and Innovation – The Nature of Learning (2010) – Using Research to Inspire Practice, Edited by Hanna Dumont, David Istance and Francisco Benavides / Practitioner’s Guide (2012)

http://www.oecd.org/education/ceri/50300814.pdf

7+3 Chart

http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/content/download/80599/660652/file/Seven%20le

Sherri Stephens-Carter – The Five Whys

A variety of strategies, processes and tools will be used to prompt learner engagement with the materials and support collaborative practices in class.  They may include the following.  We will be discussing the possible teaching applications for these strategies, tools, and processes.   All ideas are welcomed @CarrieFroese #edchat #edchange

#Blogging

#Carousel

Checklist for #VisibleLearning Inside

#GalleryWalk

#InfinityLearningMap  Infinity Learning Maps  are a practical in-road into the science of learning-how-to-learn. The approach provides a tool for teachers to support students to draw a picture of how they see the interactions surrounding their learning.  http://infinitylearn.org/infinity-maps-2/

#Jigsaw

#Kahoot

#KWL – Know Wonder Learn – Donna Ogle – 1986

#PetchaKutcha

#Sli.do

#SpiralsofInquiry

#TenMinuteWrite

#TheFiveWhys – Japanese tool

#ThinkPairShare – a collaborative teaching strategy developed by Frank Lyman of the University of Maryland in 1981

#ThreeStepProcessforChange #Fullan

#Twitter

#TwitterChat

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Another School Playground – DONE!

 

I arrived at one Vancouver school as administrator and was surprised that there was only one large climbing web for all of the students.  The old wooden playground had already deteriorated and been removed long ago.   The provincial government allowed applications from casino funds to be directed towards building school playgrounds.  The Parent Advisory Committee was on the hook to do fundraising to raise most of the funds.  It was a difficult neighbourhood to fundraise.  Caring was plentiful.  Cash was not.  The PAC president, Sirtaj Ali, led the charge.  Wednesday pizza day, casino funds and donations over the course of 7 years went towards two phases of the playground installation.  Save-On Foods took on the community build of the second phase as a team building activity for staff.  They arrived with huge numbers, a wealth of enthusiasm, bagged lunches for all of us and for the most part were finished in one day.

The kids, staff, VSB Grounds department and particularly the PAC were heavily involved in this project.  We met.  We strategized.  We involved the staff and students in making recommendations, voting on the mock up from the Playground company they preferred and even the colours.  And we celebrated when it was finally done.  The fitness circuit built into it was a favourite with students, teachers and community members.

I was transferred to a new school site.  As the daughter of a neurosurgeon, I grew up to be wary of safety infractions.  As a very conscientious principal at a new school, I was on high alert for things that needed to be taken care of.  My background knowledge with playgrounds helped me quickly identify, the playground needed some care.  Some pieces just didn’t work.  Regularly there was something else that was broken or falling apart.  The process in the Vancouver School Board is to submit a SCHOOL DUDE for required work.  This would send create the work order that would be submitted to the appropriate department without remaining on hold on the telephone.  Great system.  The people in the VSB Grounds Department are great.  My Operating Engineer, Lin Low, and I would discuss the problems, tape off the NO PLAY zone and I would the submit the School Dude.  Geoff Pearmain and the VSB Grounds crew did everything they could to try to repair the existing structure.

The playground was only ten years old but the PAC of the day had decided to go with a friend that built playgrounds.  Shortly after the company was out of business, parts were unavailable and issues began to emerge.  For this reason, the VSB now requires that four suppliers are approved with strong track records for quality and enduring reputation.  The final straw  for the playground came in May of my first year at the school when a chunk of rotting wood fell out of swing bridge, compromising the integrity of the entire bridge and access to the other structures.  It also triggered a full safety inspection that concluded that the entire structure would need to be condemned.

This was not a surprise to me but an anticipated eventuality.  My sister lives in Texas.  One of their good friends sued her and her husband when their son hurt his leg on the slide in their backyard at a birthday party.  I well understand the safety risk for students and the litigiousness of our North American context.  If it wasn’t safe, I wanted it down.  Students were quite pragmatic about the need to get a new playground and readily shifted their attention to what they would like to see in a new playground.  One of the PAC parents went into high gear looking for funding options.

The provincial landscape had also shifted around funding school playgrounds.   The Provincial Government allocated three years of funding to alleviate Parent Advisory Committees from the responsibility of replacing playgrounds and making them more accessible.  This year, the BC government provided funding for 50 new or accessibility upgrades to playgrounds in 34 BC school districts.  The Vancouver School Board was allowed to submit three applications to build playgrounds or make school playgrounds more accessible.  Our school was a natural choice being the only school without a playground.  We were allocated $105,000 and two other sites received funding to make them more accessible.

One of our PAC members, Leah Chapman, worked with me to provide the information required to complete, submit and successfully access a Federal accessibility grant of $14,383.00.  Mona Hassaneen and Ossama Abdel-Hamid were able to access a Benevity Community Impact grant of $1,307.33.   Their employer, Apple Inc., was willing to match their employee donations to an approved recipients as part of this program.  I learned that the VSB has been approved as an acceptable charity and several employers have participated in these grants.  The Hamber Foundation provided a donation for $1000.00 towards the cost of the accessible swing.  Several of the members in our school community also made donations to ensure the playground build included all of the desired elements.  Jen McCutcheon (PAC) and Andrea McEwen (teacher) worked with SwingTime and engaged with the school community to design a playground that would be fun, accessible and designed with our location in the Pacific Spirit Park in mind.

The year without a playground was not as painful as some people feared.  This was partially due to the responsiveness of my Director of Instruction, Aaron Davis, to my request for funding for Community School Team staff at the school twice a week during lunch time.  The CST staff came into the school and worked with my student leaders.  They provided support to these students to develop their capacity to direct younger students to play possibilities and problem solve when conflicts arose.  The CST staff also taught large group games and provided scaffolding for student leaders twice a week on the playground.  They supported children in using the Buddy Bench and provided materials to engage students, including bubbles, chalk and skipping ropes.

The first year I arrived, I had prohibited parking on the Primary soccer field, and had the field reseeded during the summer.  When this field was finally re-opened in fall 2018, the Kindergarten to Grade 3 students were delighted.  Initially they would roll in the grass as well as play soccer on it.  They loved having their own luscious, green, designated space.  I worked out a deal with University Endowment Lands manager, Jonn Braman, to deal with our parking issues during school events and parents eventually got used to the parking prohibition on the field.  Intermediate students had the two upper fields to spread out on.  Soccer was a regular activity.  Baseball, kickball, and other large group games were also very popular.

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It was necessary to create a variety of spaces and activities for students to engage in over the course of the year.  Three things were particularly successful.  One area outside of the lunchroom and library was named The Reading-Writing Garden.  A group of kids met with me to make mobiles to hang from the tree, hang bird feeders, reorganize flower pots, do some replanting and bring books to sit on the rocks or benches and read or write in journals.  This same area was the meeting space for The Bird Buddies.  I posted a poster in the library facing outside, with local birds that we could identify.  When my Nanny Keenan’s opera glasses and my binoculars were in sufficiently high demand, I purchased a set of good quality binoculars.  I taught binocular use and care.  Once trained the students were allowed to take the binoculars beyond The Reading-Writing Garden and see if they could sight birds flying around us in the Pacific Spirit Park.  Eventually I also got rain-proof books from Mountain Equipment Co-op so they could tally the birds they saw.

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Special thanks to my Wild About Vancouver buddy, Megan Zeni @Roomtoplay, I set up a Mud Kitchen.  I am a big fan of twitter for ideas @CarrieFroese.  I had lots of ideas from both Megan, and twitterchats starting in England and Germany.  I happened to share my wild and wonderful plans with Megan at one of our Wild About Vancouver @WildAboutVan planning meetings. Megan’s response:

“Or you could clean out your cupboards and throw the stuff in an old laundry basket and put it out for kids to play with.”

When the portable had been removed from our site during my first year at the school, the staff had made the decision to install an outdoor learning area.  We had more garden boxes built installed and a big circle of twelve stones.  It provided seating for a class of 30 during outdoor learning, lent itself to circle games, teaching Indigenous ways of knowing, and the teaching of directions and time.  Incidently it was also a perfect place for The University Hill Elementary School Mud Kitchen.  The rocks are perfect counter tops and appliances for concoctions of all sorts.  The very favorite items in the Mud Kitchen were the measuring cups, sifters for the sand, spoons and to go coffee cups that have long ago lost their lids.  I could be guaranteed a non-fat low foam latte if I ventured to the Mud Kitchen at recess.  As items went walking, new donations came in.  Wendy Yip, UBC president, Santa Ono’s wife, came for a visit in Spring.  Afterwards we received not only a thank-you card, but also some donations for the Mud Kitchen.  Thanks, Wendy!

In the Vancouver School Board, teachers do not do supervision duty at recess and lunch.  I was fortunate to work with three very experienced playground supervisors.  We met regularly to come up with pre-emptive solutions to emerging issues.  When I was re-assigned to another school this Spring, the prevalent feeling was that we had developed a definite sense of team.  I will certainly miss these ladies and the Education Assistants who were also regularly out on the playground supporting students at recess and lunch.  I’m glad we were part of this journey together.  Although we are delighted to have a playground, I’m sure that many of the other elements introduced will endure and add depth to the outdoor learning of the students.  Hopefully this post will help for those of you asking for some direction when a new playground needs to be built.

 

Universal Design in Learning

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I was privileged to attend Jennifer Katz’s session on Curriculum Implementation Day in Vancouver recently.  She did what only a skilled professional development speaker is able to do.  She breathed life and passion and renewed energy for the work we do.  I love professional development days and curriculum implementation days for just this reason.  It is not teacher preparation time where the focus is on the myriad of daily tasks to be accomplished before going to bed.  It is reflecting on the big picture of what really matters in what we do during the days we spend with our students.  What are the things that our students will remember well into their adult lives?

One aspect of my professional growth plan this year includes working with staff to further implement universal design for learning into the school community.  As Jennifer Katz explains, Universal Design is a term borrowed from architectural design.  It came into vogue in the early 80’s when government was mandating wheelchair accessibility for public buildings.  This was a very expensive process after the fact but it was welcomed by not only people in wheelchairs but also by people pushing strollers or wheeling bags or carts or bikes into buildings.  Buildings and spaces started to be designed to meet mandatory building codes but also provide choices and elements for a wide range of users.

The “L” was added to create the term “UDL” for Universal Design for Learning and emerged as a lens or worldview to physically, emotionally, academically and socially accommodate all of our learners.   The shift allows educators to design the learning environment and programming with diversity in mind.   The original model for UDL was created by CAST at Harvard with a distinctly American context.  Katz has been working with them collaboratively in a Canadian context.  Shelley Moore has provided us with the meaningful graphic of the bowling pins and the reminder that if you want all of the pins to go down, you aim for the edges.  In our lesson design, our planning for those students on the “edges” will allow us to also target those students in the middle.  John Hattie’s well cited research on effect size, bodes well for UDL.  An unusually high effect size of 2.8 is assigned for using the UDL 3 Block Model with struggling readers due to the synthesis of multiple measures.

Ensouling Our Schools – A Universally Designed Framework for Mental Health, Well-being, and Reconciliation by Jennifer Katz is a great read, a wonderful way to invite conversations and an implementation handbook.   It has provided a blueprint for possibilities and her pro-d sessions throughout the district have scaffolded the various options for implementation.  Flexible learning spaces are in place.  Supports and spaces have been designed to assist students to self regulate.  Two types of activity paths are in the halls.  Standing desks and wobbly chairs are physically present.  Many classes provide daily supports such as “Spirit Buddies” to create a welcoming context.  Many lessons are structured to accommodate the wide diversity of learning strengths and needs.  However social and academic inclusion represents an ambitious goal.  Doug Matear, Principal of Student Support Services in the Vancouver School Board, provides a solid goalpost of what we’re aiming for:  “Universal Design for Learning allows all learners to be successful and included in all our lessons.  It provides learning adaptations for all that choose to use them and applies Assessments for Learning principles to foster meaningful and relevant meaning making.”  Cleary this is a process rather than an event.  Fortunately, it is a goal that is supported by the implementation of the new curriculum and assessment in British Columbia, with the emphasis on collaboration and the development of core competencies.

After my very inspiring professional development session with Jennifer Katz, I attended a more utilitarian session and refreshed my learning of the computer system required for ordering and managing inventory.  I got to know a colleague far better in this session as we supported each other.  The instructors of the session anticipated that each person would walk in the door with a different level of comfort with computers and proficiency with the program.  It was designed for everyone in the session to be successful.  Additional staff was available to scaffold participants not on track with the main presentation.   Visuals and hands on opportunities to practice were planned with varying degrees of support.  As a result, everyone walked out the door having learned something at the session.  Nice UDL lesson design!

Next my new buddy from this session and I headed to the annual after-hours mixer with retired colleagues.  To my delight, I was able to visit with my Grade 1 teacher from Queen Mary Elementary School.  When our paths crossed 10 years ago at a function for current and retired administrators, I recognized her eyes instantly.  More amazingly, she recognized my eyes as well, and went on to ask about my mother, Barbara.  In those days, Queen Mary had students who attended from the duplexes for rent by beach, the army barracks and the real estate had not yet sky rocked in the immediate vicinity.  What I remember from Grade 1 is that my teacher had kind and smiling eyes.  Single mothers were few and far between at that time but she also had the same kind and smiling eyes for my mother.  Universal design was not yet in vogue, but she created a learning community where everyone was welcome.  That’s what I remember.

PechaKucha Meets Ignite Meets Edvent

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PechaKucha, Ignite and Edvent presentations have various rules to govern the format. They have one basic elements in common, to engage the audience and communicate a message within a fast paced presentation.

PechaKucha Nights (PKNs) are a Japanese innovation to allow presentations from multiple presenters throughout the night.  20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total) hence the name “PechaKucha” or “chitchat”.  How To Make a Petcha Kutcha is a YouTube “meta-kutcha” created by Marcus Weaver Hightower from The University of North Dakota.  He goes through all of the essential elements to consider, including slide show suggestions in the preparation.   Rosa Fazio @collabtime used Spark Video for her Ignite at The British Columbia Principals’ Vice Principals’ Association Friday Forum which was very powerful.

Ignite sessions are similar.  20 slides are advanced at intervals of 15 seconds for a total 5 minute presentations.  The 1st Ignite took place in Seattle in 2006 and the presentation format has spread exponentially to cities all over the world to multiple disciplines.

EDvents are less formal in form for educators coming together to “chitchat” about educational issues.  The inspirational quality of the 5 minute is presentation is at a premium to stimulate educational discourse between speakers at the event.  There could be one slide,  There could be props.  There could be an adherence to pechakucha or ignite format.  There could be a theme.  I presented on a “Menu for Meaningful Learning” in keeping with the food theme at EDvent 2017 in Burnaby, British Columbia.

The challenge of all of these formats is to remove all of the extraneous detail, to make the message succinct and content engaging.  My first “EDvent” was extremely stressful.  My ability to ad lib by reading the audience was stripped away by the need to follow a well-practiced script to ensure my presentation was coordinated with the timed slides.  It was different from any other presentation I had done, albeit not quite as stressful as my 9th Grade oral report on the tomato plant.  Fortunately I was surrounded by like-minded educators who were proud of me for being brave enough to take the risk.

I have been asked to do another ignite and I’m starting to think about how to improve on my last performance.  I’ve gone to two respected colleagues who have taken the “edvent” to an art form.  Gillian Judson @perfinker responded that a good ignite session “comes from a position of engagement and connects with the heart of the listener.”  Rosa Fazio @collabtime also shared similar wisdom:  “When I write an ignite, my goal is to make a connection between the head and the heart.”   There you have it!  The aspiration to connect and inspire the listener is what dictates the power of the presentation.

On April 17th, I will be attending another Edvent 2018 #tunEDin organized by Gabriel Pillay @GabrielPillay1 with the effervescent enthusiasm of his sister, Rose Pillay @RosePillay1 aka CandyBarQueen.   I am looking forward to connecting with other colleagues in Education, being inspired by the signature EDvent format and to glean helpful hints for my next ignite session.  I hope to see you there.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playful People Learn


“Creativity is intelligence having fun.”  A quote from Albert Einstein that I love.  Fun and play are often referenced as activities of the carefree, frivolous and sometimes careless.  Albert Einstein places it exactly where it needs to be.  Front and centre in learning.  In order to play, you are committing to action.  To participate.  To risk the unfamiliar.  To hypothesize.  To imagine possibilities.  To adjust to the unexpected.  To find humour.  To enjoy.  To appreciate.  To communicate.

I was at a conference recently where the speaker was casting aspersions on blanket statements about the merits of play.  He referenced that play needed to take a specific form in order to result in meaningful learning.  I don’t disagree that play can be structured to meet specific learning outcomes.  Teaching kindergarten was very much about structuring play activities to guide children to learn specific skills or develop background knowledge.  Opportunities were designed to encourage children to ask questions and go about finding the answers.  However this is looking at play from a narrow perspective.

A willingness to be playful is a habit that opens up the world.  It presumes a stance in the world that is positive and open to wonder and to other people.  One of the learning teams at my last school would meet on the balcony on Friday after school to drink a pop, debrief the week and chat about the upcoming weekend.  There was always laughter, a litany of responsibilities and plans for play on the weekend with family and friends.  There was a shared belief that those “play” opportunities were an important part of how we experience new things and open ourselves up to getting to know people and come back to school refreshed.

At times I bemoan the fact that middle school students stay late after school to congregate around their handheld devices.  I regularly prompt them to go play outside.  Yet, when I step back, they are collaborating on best strategies to use in the game or mediating turn taking.  When my nephews explained their fascination with the world of Minecraft, I finally came to the realization that higher order thinking skills were at play.  They were engrossed in the possibilities before them.  They were not focussing on the academics preferred by educators but they were learning things that mattered to them.

Roy Lichtenstein – Girl with Ball – 1961
Assuming a playful stance is engaging in structured play activities and more.  It reflects a belief that having sense of curiosity and engagement and wonder and appreciation of successes along the way allows us explore new pathways to learning.  Show me someone who is playful and I’ll show you a learner.  I’ll show you someone who is having fun!

Wild About Vancouver

HumpDayHighlight:  This featured blog post is intended to explore classroom practices and possibilities, including books and units of study.

Hump Day Highlight #3:  Wild About Vancouver

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As I reported in an earlier blog post on Outdoor Learning (Dec. 2015), Dr. Hart Banack, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC, has been heading up  Wild About Vancouver in an effort to encourage teachers and students to take advantage of the opportunities to participate in the outdoor classroom.  UBC students prepared a document for our school detailing green spaces in the community and several possible outdoor learning activities and connections with the redesigned curriculum.

Our Tecumseh team  is growing in numbers and enthusiasm.   To date it includes John Mullan, David Thompson- Community (CST) team coordinator, Tara Perkins -CST Programmer, Aman Akilari – UBC volunteer, CST volunteers from David Thompson, Division 11 students, Division 1 students, Mrs. Jang- Grade 3 teacher, Ms. Pearce – Grade 7 teacher and myself.  Wild About Vancouver is scheduled for April 16-22, 2016 and will provide dozens of free, outdoor-focused activities around Earth Day 2016.  Our team is working together to provide two, or possibly three events during Earth Week.  The idea is to share our learning with others.  Hopefully this will result in the recipients creating their own idea to share with others within their school community and perhaps even during Wild About Vancouver 2017.  The diffusion model works best when learners are engaged in their learning so we are working hard to create learning activities that will be fun as well as educational.

imageJohn Mullan has a well developed collection of outdoor learning books.  Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages by Joseph Cornell has been particularly helpful in designing activities using the flow learning sequence: Stage 1 – Awaken enthusiasm; Stage 2 – Focus Attention;  Offer Direct Experience;  Stage 4 – Share inspiration.  The Vancouver Kidsbooks team also have a plethora of good books that can be purchased. International Literacy Association Members on staff also secured a grant to integrate literacy activities in the outdoor classroom through ReadingBC (BC chapter of the International Literacy Association).  This money allowed us to purchase some resources, compasses, tarps, buggy cords, rope and waterproof notebooks from Mountainimage Equipment Coop.  Great things to do Outside 365 Awesome Outdoor Activities has lots of ideas to pursue in the classroom, during after school programs and during home time.  Ideas are percolating and we are excited about the possibilities for our Wild About Vancouver sessions.  Students and adults are busy brainstorming.

If you are interested in the outdoor classroom, check out the link to Wild About Vancouver and design your own activity to share or attend.  We live in Vancouver – filled with sand, sea, mountains, lakes and plenty of liquid sunshine to guarantee green spaces!  It’s guaranteed to be wild!

Why Do I Lead?

imageIt is a hectic time of year but pretty much every month in the school year is shrouded in busyness.  Getting back to school, meeting reporting deadlines, getting ready of special assemblies, celebrations and project presentations with the overarching goal of meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of our students.  In administration, you add yet another layer to the busyness.   During our recent career day sponsored by the Spirit Committee, one of the students chose “Vice Principal” as their dream job.  Of course, it begged the question.  Why?  The response was true enough: I smile a lot and laugh at my own jokes.  I spend most of the days just talking to kids and teachers and parents and people who fix stuff in the school.  I get to play everyday.  I have a whistle and lots of keys.  I get to do fun things like building the playground and garden boxes. I make rules and get to talk on the PA. What more could you want in a dream job?

I recently became part of the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP).  George Couros suggested the blog topic:  Why Do I Lead?  It has pushed me to reflect on the various types of leadership that I have experienced as a student, a teacher, a parent and an administrator.  My first memory of  leadership was in Grade 7 at David Lloyd George Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was running to be team captain.   I was nervous beyond belief to be up on the stage giving a speech and facing the possibility of a humiliating defeat.  My eyes flickered up from my shaking cue cards to see the front rows of primary students cheering.  Those little people believed I could be their leader.    Getting elected was thrilling but the biggest takeaway for me as a kid was that big people and little people believed my ideas mattered and wanted to talk about them with me.  My takeaway as an adult is that I want everyone in our school communities to have that experience.

Subsequent activities that I have chosen, or been co-oped to lead, have been things I have been heavily invested in, such as social justice, my children, my students and professional development.  Leaderships skills were not a precursor to assuming the leadership roles for me but were more of a by-product of the experiences themselves. Every leadership role has been a risk taking venture.  The learning has come with the grand successes or the abysmal failures or the things to consider for a later date.  Each leadership opportunity has connected me with people who pushed my thinking, made me laugh, tried my patience and allowed me to see things from a different perspective.  Each opportunity helped me to grow personally and professionally.

There are many opportunities for leadership when you work in a school.  Throughout my career, I assumed a variety of leadership roles in sports, BC teacher Federation PSA, LSA’s, professional associations and committees while teaching at the elementary school, middle school and university level.  When I was seconded to Simon Fraser University as a faculty associate, my realm of leadership possibilities broadened.  In the Faculty Associate role, I worked in several school districts with student teachers in a Kindergarten to Grade 12 module.  It provided the opportunity to engage in conversations with many administrators about their role and experience many school cultures.  The multifaceted challenges in the role of the administrator in developing a learning community was intriguing.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of strong school administrators who challenged the status quo and supported teachers with innovative teaching practices. What they all had in common was the willingness to support and trust the initiatives proposed by staff members.   We are fortunate in British Columbia to have a strong public school system.  We are also in a time of unprecedented change that requires that educators have the confidence and support structures in place to cope with the advances in technology and shifts in parenting, society and curricular expectations.  School administrators play an integral role in creating and envisioning an environment that supports the intellectual, human, and social and career development of all students.    This requires their personal investment identifying the possibilities open to us as educators.   It is inspiring to work in community to develop the background knowledge and skills required to provide the scaffolding for school communities to meet with success in the challenges of change.  Richard Gerver (2014) highlights the work of Professor Guy Claxton (2002) and his definition of the 4 R’s of Learning Power as Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity.  I lead because I want to be part of a network that supports teachers, support staff, parents and community partners in providing the very best kick at the can for our students to graduate with the background knowledge, skills, creativity, and confidence to fearlessly embrace the possibilities in their future.

 

 

TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation

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One question brought 3500 Vancouverites from all walks of life together on a rainy day.   The tone in Roger’s Arena morphed from captive to zen to electric depending on the speaker and the message. Technology provided an interactive component to solicit opinions of the group, artist renditions accompanying performances, illustrations of speaker’s points and the opportunity to tweet(#TEDxVan) and show that history can be interesting with Sam Sullivan’s videos. Continue reading “TedxVancouver Starts the Conversation”