Losing Control When Students Take Over.

In previous years we have started school with a week of orientation. We did team building activities, had a huge, crazy scavenger hunt, and had students on a high ropes course. Although we felt those were successful approaches to the start of a new year we decided to do something different this year. So we started by continuing the Water Project that we ended with last year.

The Water Project was our best project ever because of how much ownership the students took of it. But this was a new class of kids whose only connection to the project was seeing it in the hall. How would we get them to buy in?

On the first day of school we brought in two guest speakers from LGROW, a local agency of our city government that works to promote good management practices of the Grand River Watershed. They shared who they were and the needs of their organization. We also did activities to teach students about watersheds and management of them.

Students brainstorming poster designs

Students brainstorming poster designs

By the third day students were looking at local problems and proposing solutions. At the end of the day they selected one of three “realms” to be a part of: Helping LGROW, working on our local campus, or working more broadly on a watershed where they live (our students come from all across the county and live on many different local watersheds that all feed into the Grand River). Once they were in these groups, they broke down into sub groups of things like making professional posters, promotional videos, and designing a social media campaign for LGROW. Other groups are designing a rain garden and a rooftop garden to grow vegetables for our school. They were calling local businesses for information and networking with the culinary and Ag science programs on our campus. The third realm groups are designing projects around their local watershed and some have already brought in water samples.

Student leaders are emerging in all groups. These kids are skilled and passionate about doing these things. One of the really cool things to me is that I had no preconceived ideas of who the leaders would be because I am just trying to learn their names. So I don’t know their academic history, but it feels like all kinds of kids are finding their niche and rising to the challenge. Yesterday one of the members of LGROW came back to school and the students pitched their ideas to him for feedback. He loved them.

This project will be unique for us in that students will work on it every other Friday for two hours for the rest of the year. It will be the first time that we try to sustain a project over time. One of the advantages of this is it gives the students time to do real work and develop relationships with the community and businesses that is just impossible in a 3-4 week timeframe.

Last year ended with students taking over and owning their learning. This year we are starting off with students taking over and owning their learning. I am very excited to see the real work that my students will do this year. Instilling this culture to start the year is so powerful! I am confident that they are going to surprise me this year.

So how do you get students to own their learning? Challenge them with real work for real people for a real purpose. And then quite honestly get out of the way. Teachers are still there to guide, but we must not control the project. One of my strengths is a lack of organization. So I dream big possibilities and give them to students. My lack of planning everything to a T gives the students space to take over and run the project. Sometimes all is takes is less of us so that there can be more of them.

What have you done to let students own their learning this year?

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Adding Ambiguity into the Learning Mix

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by CaptPiper: http://flickr.com/photos/piper/4249136849

One of my goals this year has been to move towards a more student-centred approach. Whether it be reducing the time spent on instruction or providing more meaningful tasks, I have sort to evolve my own practise. Often such conversations open up into talk about choice, authentic projects and placing students at the centre of discussions. However, a particular ingredient that I have added to my cocktail this year has been the focus on ambiguity.
 
Ambiguity can come in many shapes or forms. For me, it maybe leaving a project open for interpretation or providing a task where students are given a space to decide on various elements. In his book on digital literacy, Doug Belshaw wrote a fantastic explanation of ambiguity, influenced largely by William Empson’s book Seven Types of Ambiguity. For me, ambiguity has come in the form of narrative. My focus has been to move the focus away from what to focus on why. Although this feels like a long way from Ewan McIntoshcall for students to find their own problems, it is at least a step towards a space where students can play and explore. I feel that at its origin all learning is ambiguous and messy. The biggest challenge is what we do with this.
 
This year has been a bit topsy turbo in regards to my allotments. I have had the opportunity to teach a wide range of subjects, including music, media studies, literacy intervention and business studies. Some of the challenges I have facilitated have included creating a yearbook and developing a performance based on space, not just content. However, the topic that I found most interesting was the use of 3D shapes with a group of Year 7 Numeracy Extension students.
 
I always find intervention and extension classes interesting. Unlike a traditional classroom where you maybe in charge of implementing the curriculum, I always feel a responsibility to not only provide support based on where students are at, as all teachers should, but also to sustain some sort of connection to what is occurring back in the classroom. Therefore, I always ask the usual teachers if there is anything that they would like me to cover? This term the students had been focusing on shape and measurement, I was therefore asked to explore surface area. 
 
One of the interesting things associated with extension classes is which pedagogical cocktail do you use. I made the decision to provide the students with a beginning, interested in where they would take it. I decided to use measurements associated with houses. So after brainstorming all the different forms of measurement associated with houses, I gave each student a net of a simple model house created using Foldify and asked them to choose a particular form of measurement to focus their investigation. I am going to be honest, I was a little nervous, but isn’t it amazing how with a little faith students can achieve amazing things.
 

 
Although I spoke to the students about surface area, I encouraged them to focus on any problem and said that I would support them with whatever they came up with. Some of the projects that students posed were:
  • how much paint would be needed to repaint the exterior
  • how much glass would be required to replace all the windows
  • how much wood would be required in making a staircase for a second story
  • how many tiles would be required to replace the roof
In addition to the problem, I told the students that they could use any measurements that they liked. If they wanted their house to be twenty meters wide then they needed to consider the height and whether it was still logical based on the model at hand.
 
What was great about all of the different problems was that each of these tasks was just as unfamiliar to me as it was to them. Unlike the situation that often arises in class where the learning at hand is relatively familiar to the teacher providing support and instruction, in handing over some sort of ownership and providing an element of ambiguity, the role of sage is truly compromised. What takes pride of place in such situations is learning.
Although Ewan McIntosh makes the point the challenge of finding a problem is often the first decision taken away from students. I feel that providing the situation for them to develop their own problems is at least a step towards this. To me this is also a step towards what Peter Skillen‘s calls Tinkering-Based Learning, where the focus is on exploration that leads to questions, rather than vice versa.

So what has been an ingredient that you have added to your pedagogical cocktail this year and how has it turned out?
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Project Based Learning: Don’t Start with a Question

End with a Question through Tinkering-Based Learning

Do you have to start project-based learning (PBL) with a question?

(Oh, wait a second! Am I starting this post with a question?)

This is something many people ask. I understand why this is so. Often teachers who are learning about Project Based Learning are encouraged to help students to develop a ‘driving question’ to guide their project. The Buck Institute, for one, suggests that PBL ‘is organized around an open-ended Driving Question’.

Tinkering-Based Learning (TBL)

Tinkering

Awesome graphic: Page by Giulia Forsythe – @grantpotter Tinkering, Learning & The Adjacent Possible

I am going to suggest we consider an alternative I will call TBL – Tinkering-Based Learning.

(Or ‘tinkquiry’ as my colleague Brenda Sherry and I like to call it!)

‘PBL’ is a human-made construct.

As I have said elsewhere, ‘PBL’ is a human-made construct. And, whoever defines it, does so with a bias—from a set of beliefs. Do you think, perhaps, that starting PBL with a question is derived from our deeply engrained western, scientific approach? Or perhaps if we consider PBL to be solely inquiry based, we might think that a question, or formulation of a problem, is most definitely the beginning step?

Don’t get me wrong! I love ‘questioning’. It is important that teachers learn how to question effectively—to ask ‘fat’ questions, to provide ‘wait time’, to ensure that everyone in the class has a chance to think deeply rather than selecting the student that has quickly raised her hand. It is equally important that students learn to generate ‘driving questions’ and not merely ask simple questions. They should be thinking ‘fat’ questions – not ‘skinny’ ones!

…students should learn to generate ‘driving questions…

Nor am I knocking the scientific method – I merely think that is one way of approaching learning and solving problems and becoming an educated person. It has a significant role in education.

However, I don’t think that generating a question is the only way to begin effective project-based learning. It likely depends on your purpose—on your learning goals for the students.

Is writing a poem a project? Is creating a song a project? What about creating a multimedia artifact? Painting a picture? Building a Lego car and making it run? Is building a computer program with Scratch a project? Constructing a paper maché volcano?

…let projects emerge out of play—out of tinkering.

Starting out PBL event in your classroom might begin with a passion, a curiosity, or maybe a wondering. Or maybe it’s just a result of tinkering. Perhaps, projects are sometimes play? Or perhaps projects emerge out of play—out of tinkering?

Flipping PBL

Okay here’s an idea. How about flipping PBL? Instead of starting with the question, why don’t we end with a question? Start with tinkering and encourage the emergence and evolution of fat questions related either to their processes of learning or to the content/subject matter at hand.

Let the goal of your project be to formulate questions.

After all, many say that ‘to question is the answer’. If so, then should kids not come out of excellent project based learning scenarios with great questions? Should the product not be a deep and driving question?

Perhaps these questions are focused on assisting them to develop their metacognitive abilities—to help them understand how they learn, how they approach tasks. Are they linear? Are they ‘multitasking’? Do they like ‘mucking around’? How do they deal with ambiguity? Do they like ‘hands on’ or ‘minds on’? How did that approach work for them? What would they do differently next time?

Perhaps the questions that emerge are related to the content or project artifact.

reflective thinking

Adaptation of the Rolfe Reflective Model: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflective_practice

Reflection is generally considered excellent educational practice and is often included in PBL. I have often used ‘reflection starters’ to assist students in thinking deeply about their learning. You could tailor those reflections to evoke questions.

  • Now I don’t understand…
  • Questions I now have are…
  • A confusion that has come up for me is…

Perhaps they could do a ‘wondering’ – individually or collectively – to reflect on their project.

“I wonder…how the potato production in Prince Edward Island is being impacted by global warming?”

Their responses could then be discussed and crafted into significant questions that may, or may not, be pursued.

Ok. So maybe you are saying to yourself, “I always have kids reflect at the end of a project.” That’s great! It is a significant step and can promote the consolidation of learning and perhaps also the transfer of learning to other domains or problems.

I think it is a superb way to end a project.

Don’t keep the lid on too tight!

I just don’t think you have to start a project with a driving question. Set up a context. Design an environment. Invite playfulness. Encourage tinkering. Nurture curiosity. Don’t keep the lid on too tight!

Tinkering Based Learning may lead to results you never could have predicted!

Share with us an occasion where this has happened in your teaching/learning.

 

First posted at The Construction Zone

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Inquire Within

Has Inquire Within inspired you in the past? Are you hoping for more inspiration in the coming school year?

Then join us and share your ideas. Inspiration doesn’t only come from others. It comes from you.

Yes, that’s right, YOU.

If you are already a contributor, then we look forward to being inspired by you again. If you are not a contributor, but would like to, then please contact me.

It’s not about getting the right answers but rather, asking really good questions.

 

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Inquiry using symbols

Every year when school starts, I have observed how quickly some classes put up the learner profile attributes, attitudes and concepts on the classroom walls.  Up they go, pat pat pat, on the wall followed by a relieved tick against their “things to do” list. Then the “real” learning begins.
As a tuning-in activity for our unit of inquiry on media, I thought of introducing Yang Liu’s representations of two cultures.  Liu’s use of media to stereotype cultures will naturally generate dichotomy of thought and emotions among many. I felt it was the perfect provocation which would pave the way for deeper, conceptual learning.  The use of symbols would create enough intrigue among the students in order to generate curiosity and hopefully, higher order thinking skills.
The students loved the lesson. Every slide of Yang Liu’s “East Meets West” stirred hearts. We spoke of perspective and bias, racism and the unfairness of over-simplifying communities. They realised the power of symbols, (in this case, dots, lines and simple geometric shapes) to convey messages so powerful as to entice exciting discussions about issues related to everyday life.
After immersing ourselves in Liu’s work, I wanted to see how far the students could use their learning to construct meaning and create learner profile representations using symbols and simple colours.
Introducing the work of Liu. Mystery element.
Take a look at what the students came up with.
As I walked around watching them brainstorm and draft their ideas,  it was encouraging to hear them use words such as “stereotype: and “bias” amongst themselves.

 

 

 

 

Path of person not clearly visible, but a powerful representation of Courage.

 

Draft visible in this shot

 

Snipping, measuring

 

Motivation, engagement
I was quite surprised with this one. Yang Liu’s representation of the “Boss” is so similar!!! I had not shown them this slide.

 

Absolutely great way to show this LP attribute!

 

 

The group changed their background after the mess “the black crayon” made. They resolved the problem on their own. A more presentable final work.
IMG_1787 Photo 21-08-14 1 57 06 pm
I thought the lesson was very transdisciplinary in nature. Students had to think about colour, patterns and symmetry. They used various skills which involved listening, speaking, sharing resources, editing, and collaborating. One of those exciting lessons which inspired me to blog.

 

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PROCESS POST: Curiosity is the tap root of innovation and deep learning.

So you never know where curiosity-based research will lead…. Robert Full: The secrets of nature’s grossest creatures channeled into robots.

Observe. Question. Experiment. Associate. Network. (from Innovator’s DNA)

Is your school interested, even peripherally, in nurturing innovators? If so, then have you studied and analyzed how exactly your programs and your people make space and opportunity for your learners to originate their studies and pursuits from their own curiosities?

On balance, are your student learners pursuing more questions posed and originated by the adults and the teachers, by way of the curriculum? What degree of a student’s time (day, week, month, year) is “arranged” by what that student finds curious — and from a point of origin of his or her own initiated observing and questioning? Do you actually examine such statistics about yourself?

Today, when I got home, my wife and partner Anne-Brown told me a story of our boys creating home-made pizzas this afternoon using tortillas, tomato sauce, and some cheese from the fridge. At first it did not taste so great to them, so they added some additional spices and stuff. JT declared, “This is the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.”

Then, the boys proceeded to create a restaurant and menu from their cooking and dining experience. A-B says Jackson wrote out menu items for over half an hour. The boys created a name and a motto and a basic visual feel for their eatery. As she retold the story, she noted, “If I had started by asking Jackson to write for 30 minutes, he would have likely wailed and gnashed teeth. But he wrote for a sold half hour on his menu ideas.”

And I said, “You just summarized in a couple of sentences what my career has been about for the last 10-15 years.” This anecdote showcases a fair amount of what I mean when I ponder school looking more like “real life.”

“You never know where curiosity-based research will lead.”

From observation and questioning, Robert Full’s robotics lab experimented with some pretty amazing robust systems turned mechanical. By associating insect movement specs with robotic possibilities, and by networking with other inquiring seekers, Full may just discover a major breakthrough that uncovers an insight that did not exist before and makes possible a significant impact in prosthetics, transportation, or some other field.

And it likely started with curiosity. Not necessarily an already neatened assignment in a single-domain subject area.

Hmmm. Gotta be a school lesson there, right?!

#ItsAboutLearning

[Cross-posted on It's About Learning]

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I intend to…because…

As teachers we hear questions like this all day long… “Can I work on writing?” “Can I read a book?” “Can I sketch in my art journal?” “Can I use markers?” “Can I go to the library?” “Can I go get a set of headphones?” We, the teachers, are constantly evaluating and making decisions for the students. We are doing all of the work and answering the questions with only part of the information. What if, instead, we taught our students to use,  “I intend to…because…” What difference would it make? Keep reading. It is powerful. “I intend to work on writing because I am almost finished my book and I really want to get it done to show my mom. I’ve been telling her about it every day.” “I intend to read a book because I am really nervous about the swimming competition after school today and reading will calm me down.” “I intend to sketch in my art journal because I want to practice drawing a mouth before I draw the mouth on my portrait. Every time I draw mouths I don’t like them. I need to figure out how to draw them.” “I intend to use markers because the colours will stand out. The light in space is so bright, I think markers will  be better than pastels for this picture.” “I intend to go to the library to get the next book in the series because the librarian told me it just arrived and I am so excited! I’ve been waiting a month for it!” “I intend to get a set of headphones to listen to this video and I don’t want to disturb anyone else. Jack told me that this video had a lot of information about Kepler 186f, and I really want to know more about why it might be habitable.”   “I intend to…because…” is so powerful for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • The students are pro-active and take ownership of their learning, totally engaged
  • The students, not the teacher, think through and assess the reasons why they are choosing to do something
  • The teacher learns a lot about each student as they give their reasons for choosing a learning intention, their reasons are a segue into what they are thinking about and what is important to them
  • The students develop skills of self-management, critical thinking, evaluation, informed choices, and speaking with confidence

I intend to...  “I intend to…” does not give a free ticket to do whatever.  For example, here is a possible scenario: student: “I intend to play this Maths game because it is fun and I like it.” teacher: “Tell me about what you are learning in the game.” student: “I have to answer multiplication questions.” teacher: “Is this a skill that you need to work on some more?” student:”No, I know all the multiplication facts to 100 already! The game is easy! I always win!” teacher: “So tell me about what you are learning in the game.” student: “Hmm. I think I would learn more in the game about division. I still need practice with that.” teacher: “Okay.” If you, the teacher, are not convinced with the intention, probe (and guide) some more… “Tell me more about the learning you will be doing.” “Tell me about your plans to be safe.” “Tell me about your plans to finish the assignment by tomorrow.” “Tell me about your plans to…” “Did you know that you could find out more about X by asking/by reading/by looking at Y?” Asking the students to state their intentions sends the powerful message that we assume they are capable to make learning decisions. (see previous related post here) We can teach our students to take control, contribute their full intellectual capacity and become healthy and happy leaders. What do you intend to do? (This post was inspired by David Marquet in his book Turn the Ship Around!) (All examples of ‘intentions’ above were taken from the students in my Grade 4 class.)

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