Reframing 2018

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I’m am writing this blog post as a series of questions but it is actually a reframing of my New Year’s Resolutions.  I am undaunted by the fact that I have been writing the same resolutions using different words  and forms for many years.  To believe that we cannot become better is to admit defeat.  Like my mother, I am an eternal optimist.  Although things did not always turn out as planned or hoped for or prayed for – she put steadfast belief that people could become their best selves, as did all three of my grandmothers.  Strong women that worked with deliberate intention.

I have German and Scottish roots and perhaps because of that,  a well developed work ethic.   I also have a creative mind and need for little sleep, so the possibilities in life are endless.    Unfortunately time is not.  I continue to struggle with the limits of a 24 hour day.  In the past, it has been all about creating work / life balance.  My colleague, Brian Kuhn, frames that best as “working to live” as opposed to living to work.  However at times, my life has become frenetic in trying to get things done.  My first question is how can I discipline myself to work less and maintain balance?

The quest to balance body/ mind / spirit has often been in the “life outside of work” end of the teeter totter and “work” on the opposite end.  Because there is a plethora of competing demands and imminent needs everyday in my job,  during the school year the teeter totter is most often is grounded in the problem solving and minutia on the work side.  The natural school break times do allow me to refocus priorities, replenish my energy reserves and reframe my next go in the elusive quest for balance.  This seems to be the times I play catch up with creative possibilities, physical and spiritual wellness.

Yes, these are the times of the “ultimate oxymoron” –  the power relax.  Although laughter is a key part of my stress management at work and enjoyment of life, it isn’t enough.  My latest and greatest power relax is the salt float.  My cousin in Cairo is right, it’s not the Dead Sea.  It is 90 minutes of floating in highly concentrated salt water, all by myself in the ocean room of the pristine Halsa Spa in Kits.  Like being a noodle in soup.  My preference is no sound and no light but ambient sound and the blue light and the pod option, work too.  Reading, yoga, cardio activity (walking/ hiking, biking, skiing / boarding, swimming, golfing ), sunshine when possible, good wine and socializing with people I enjoy – all build up my depleted energy reserves.  How do I maintain the balance to maintain long term energy reserves?

Over time I have been changing my perception of balance to be more of a teeter totter with triangular seats on either end.  How can I carve out the time and place to meet physical, spiritual and intellectual needs at work and maintain enough energy to create the same balance at home?   The goal is to avoid the frenetic pace I maintain at work and then collapse in front of the News, Murdoch Mysteries and Modern Family.

My school is right beside the Pacific Spirit Park and Acadia Beach and most classes regularly engage in outdoor learning.  All but the most torrential days are outdoor days during recess and lunch.  The school is less than 20 minutes from four golf courses.  I can ride my bike to school in 40 minutes or less, depending how energetic I am on the big hill.  My husband and I live right beside the beach and already walk to shop, see movies, eat out or go to church.  How can I extend that to get enough exercise at home and work to maintain a healthy perspective and body?

My work first as a teacher, then a teaching vice principal and now as a principal have afforded me many opportunities to participate in rich face to face opportunities for professional learning.  Participation in social media has added another layer to access information and connect with people online.  Blogging has incorporated more depth to personal reflection because it is public and invites further conversation.  The many challenges of implementing curriculum change and adapting to societal change creates stress and possibility in all school communities.  My current school has students speaking 34 different home languages in addition to English.  Some students live in the area, others commute and some will return to their home countries when they have learned English or when their parents finish their studies at The University of British Columbia.  How can I incorporate the voices and needs and desired directions of our staff, students, parents and community partners with national, provincial, district and community school team directions?

For me, spiritual wellness requires times of quiet reflection or a pause button to stop and be grateful for the people and events unfolding around you.  What matters most doesn’t fit on a To Do list with time limits or happen with a perpetual open door policy.  Although I participate and grow from participation in organized religion, spiritual wellness is bigger than participation in church activity.  Church can be a conduit to spiritual wellness and empathy but unfortunately, I have seen it also used as a weapon to control or justify entitlement and hurtful actions.  Fortunately I live in one of the most diverse and profoundly beautiful areas of the world.  A walk in the neighbourhood takes my husband and I to the beach, skiing and hiking takes us to the mountains, wine tasting in the interior of BC takes us to the desert, golf takes us to the park, and a walk just beyond the school grounds takes us to the forest.  I believe that nature feeds the soul because it speaks the natural beauty and diverse forms of life that surrounds us.  On a very foggy late afternoon in December, I was working in my office and happened to look up just in time to see a bald eagle descending down on the playground to scoop up it’s prey.  My question is how can I hit the pause button and look up more often?

My goal throughout 2018 is to go about answering my questions.  One of my ideas to encourage sharing of ideas is a tea time on the first Friday of the month from 9:15 – 10:15 am at my school.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  My student leaders will be providing school tours and talking about their learning at the same time.  Good luck with your reframing in 2018.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

Kids Asking Questions

Inquiry is a natural response of a young child to life.  When my son and daughter were young, I remember the exhaustion of trying to keep them safe in the midst of it.  My son was a bold explorer, scaling rocks to butt heads with young goats in Stanley Park, blazing trails in Mundy Park on his bike and on Grouse Mountain with his snowboard.  My daughter was a fearless follower of her brother’s careful instruction to crawl out of the crib and keep up with her older brother in new adventures everywhere they went.  Clogged drains were explained away as doing Science and our family repertoire of good stories are plentiful and filled with laughter of past and present exploits.  Both kids have emerged into adults who continue to question and explore new pathways to make discoveries.

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My question as a administrator is much the same as when my kids were young.  How can we support children in continuing the habit of asking questions and developing strategies to find the answers to their questions?  I’m not thinking so much of school completion and continuing on to post-secondary, which may be a by-product, but the intrinsic reward that comes with the discovery.  “Eureka!” is always followed by an exclamation point for good reason.  There is an excitement that comes with discovery about something you care about. I want children to maintain the same level of engagement that they enter kindergarten with.  I believe everyone should teach kindergarten at some point, if even for a day.  The questions come hard and fast and “no I won’t answer it for you even if you are pulling on my sweater”.  In kindergarten, the challenge isn’t getting children to ask questions, it is teaching them ways to discover their own their own answers.

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My pathway to discovering the power of inquiry to engage learners was through my own professional development.  Maureen Dockendorf, who has been instrumental in the inclusion of inquiry curriculum in British Columbia, invited me to an inquiry group early on in my career.  Each member in the inquiry group went through the process of defining a question of professional interest, refined it and came up with a plan to discover possibilities.  We were responsible for reporting back to the group so reflection of our learning was an integral part of the process.  The inquiry led me to ask my students about their learning.  It made me a better teacher by creating a high level of engagement and a relationship with students that went beyond interest in their lives to develop relationship and enhance learning.  It helped me to invest in students as learners and helping them to learn strategies to learn throughout their lives.  Yes, lifelong learning has become a buzz word but the essence is developing a population that is interested and invested in their work and their life.

I recently had a group of students in the gym for a Camp Read event.  Yes, reading on floating islands of mats with no shoes on is still exciting.  We chatted about inquiry and I put out a banner for students to record their questions..  These were some of them.

Why is the ocean so full?

Why do people go to school to learn?

What was the first moon landing like?

Why is a slug “nature’s hotdog”?

What are “nature’s french fries”?

Why did the first mushroom decide to grow?

How do plants start?

What was the first food on earth?

Why do birds and bats fly into Ms. Froese’s window that faces north?

Why do dogs chase cats?

Why did the sun start?

How do birds fly?

Why don’t some people respect other people?

Was there outer space before the Big Bang?

How was gravity made?

Why does earth have air but other planets don’t?

Are ghosts real?

How was the first iPad made?

How do we grow?

How come some animals started living like people?

Why are there seasons?

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Finding the answer to each question lends itself to a great opportunity for personal learning.  It is also an opportunity to develop the core competencies and content goals in the New British Columbia Curriculum.  Although the framing and publication of the B.C. curriculum is new, the research and implementation of these practices are not.   Linda Kaser, Judy Halbert and Helen Timperley explain the essence of educational change in British Columbia, Canada with finesse:  “((I)nnovation floats on a sea of inquiry and curiosity is a driver for change.” (2014 CSE – A framework for transforming learning in schools:  Innovation and the spiral of inquiry ).  This is what has enabled British Columbia to emerge as a leader in educational practices and achievement worldwide.

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!

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?

Circle of Courage Reframed

Artwork by The Douglas Fir Pod (Learning Community)

Norma Rose Point School is a Kindergarten to Grade 8 School that opened 3 years ago on the original site of University Hill Secondary on the University Endowment Lands of the University of British Columbia.  The School in located on Musqueam ancestral lands and named after reknowned Musqueam Elder and educational leader, Norma “Rose” Point.  Students are organized into nine learning communities of two to five classes of students.  Students and staff are encouraged to ask questions, work collaboratively and share their learning with peers.

The articulation of the First People’s Principles by FNESC, the surrounding land, the significance of the signing of the Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement with the Vancouver School Board and the new curriculum in B.C. has opened our minds to learning about and embracing Indigenous ways of knowing.  Indigenous cultures demonstrated one of the earliest expressions of democratic structures of governance by problem solving and making decisions in circles that gave equal voice and power to all people in the group.  That is what we strive to do at Rose Point School.

Martin Brokenleg has been inspirational in Indigenous, as well as educational spheres.   His Circle of Courage  was initially framed as a model of positive youth development in the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk, co-authored by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve Van Bockern.

As explained in the link, “The model integrates Native American philosophies of child-rearing, the heritage of early pioneers in education and youth work, and contemporary resilience research. Brokenleg et al. identify belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity as basic growth needs of all children to thrive.” (Brokenleg et al.)  It has served as the basis for framing the Code of Conduct at Norma Rose Point Elementary School.   

Students are challenged to think of their unique qualities and “voice” they bring to the group, as well as their responsibility to maintain the safety and nurturing aspect of the community.  Indigenous symbols that are meaningful in Coast Salish Culture are used to represent the big ideas presented in the Norma Rose Point (aka NRP) Circle of Courage.  Belonging is central to the definition of Community and symbolized by bear.  Kindness is used to put the focus on generousness of giving of self rather than goods and is symbolized by the whale.  Independence is symbolized by the dragonfly and represents our ability to take responsibility for our learning and actions.  The beaver represents taking responsibility for attaining goals to maintain health, curiosity and lifelong learning.

I came to Norma Rose Point as Vice Principal in January.  Of course this role includes many discussions about the whole gamut of choices made by students.  The beauty of the NRP Circle of Courage is it changes the conversation.  Students are able to reflect on who they are and the choices they are making and their commitment to the community. Discussion of restorative justice frames the process.  The goal is to help students apply the Circle of Courage to their lives in and out of school throughout their lives.

ADDENDUM NOTE:  For a powerful description of the First People’s Principles of Learning, check out Laura Tait.  Her explanantion with pictures and stories of her family is inspirational.

 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.