Recently I have read a lot about critical friends, especially in articles and books by Stephen Brookfield, Arthur Kosta
, Bena Kallick
, Sandy Schuck
. And I love the idea--someone who you agree to sit down with on a regular basis so that you are able to examine your practice through another lens. Great idea!
But it had me thinking about the people with whom I do this anyway. They aren't formal critical friends, per se, as we have not made any formal agreement or set any rules/expectations/time frame from which to operate. However, I would like to suggest that these informal critical friends are just as important as the formal critical friend relationship.
Who are these informal critical friends? They are the people that we talk to about education on a regular basis. We may not have regular meeting times but we get together for coffee or dinner and talk about what is new and exciting in our classrooms and in education in general. It's the teacher down the hall who you go and visit after school to celebrate with because you are bursting with excitement about a successful lesson. Or, for many of us, the teacher down that virtual hallway (twitter).
Being a connected educator has enabled me to experience the perks of a critical friend without even really knowing it. As I move forward I would like to explore the benefits of a more formal critical friend relationship (anyone with experience in teacher education want to sign up for that?), but I already know that that will never replace the energy I get from all of you, my friends and colleagues with whom I discuss learning, education, passion, and life.
Thank you. All of you.
Another critical friend, Antonio Vendramin (@vendram1n
He is my former principal and has pushed my thinking and learning further than anyone else I can think of. I became a different kind of learner and teacher because of him and his mentorship. Thank you Antonio.Here he is pushing me out of my comfort zone again.
Another place where I feel like I have a group of critical friends is on twitter. On twitter, I have met so many people that help push my thinking forward. Like Denise Krebs (@mrsdkrebs). Denise inspires me all of time! More than she knows. Here we are together in person. Denise drove up to Surrey, BC in the Spring of '13 and it was so wonderful meeting her and her wonderful family in person! I love twitter, but there is something really special about talking to a person face to face!
And of course, I cannot leave out Hugh McDonald (@hughtheteacher
), probably my closest critical friend! I have learned so much from, and with this guy! I miss teaching with you, buddy.
I could go on and on listing people who have taught me so much and who are such important informal critical friends, because there are so many! But I will stop here as it is time for me to check out who is presenting next at #RSCON4 (http://www.futureofeducation.com/)
. Check out the link to find another way to get connected!
And again, thank you all for being my critical friends.
How do you get feedback on your teaching/practice/thoughts/ideas? Do you have a critical friend? Is it a formal relationship, with arranged meeting times? Or more informal, like the ones I have described? I would love to hear about them! And again, if there is anyone working in teacher education who wants to arrange some sort of formal critical friendship, please let me know!
I am so excited to announce that I have just launched a new website: geniushour.ca
After talking with Hugh McDonald
the other day, we decided it would be great to have a place online where Genius Hour (or 20% time, innovation week, etc) teachers could cross-blog their stories and share in one space! A place where the Genius Hour community can come together to share our stories and adventures.
And so, I bring you geniushour.ca
Please check it out, comment on the stories from our contributors, and consider becoming a contributor by sharing your story/blog entry! We would love to have you!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to become a contributor!
My visits to
The Inquiry HUB School in Coquitlam,
the Inquiry 8 Class @ Fraser Heights Secondary in Surrey,
Earlier this year I blogged about the power of visiting other classrooms and schools
. Well, since then I have had the opportunity to go on even more classroom visits and I just have to blog about it again! There are so many amazing educators out there and they are doing amazing things in their classrooms! Let me tell you about some of them:
The iHub Inquiry School
. Have you heard of this place? They are a tiny
secondary school in Coquitlam that is doing some big
things! In their words, it is "an innovative, technology driven, full-time program which allows them to pursue their own learning questions by shaping their educational experience around their interests instead of structured classes". Sounds like a full time Genius Hour
program to me...I knew I was going to love it...and I did!
We (I was visiting with Jesse McLean
who organized the trip and was kind enough to invite me along) started the morning with a student-led tour of the school. The 3 girls were great! They clearly explained the school's culture and Jesse and I were very impressed with the vocabulary they used to describe their learning. The students went on to explain that they were in the middle of an Inquiry project on Urban Gardening. These amazing 9th graders were planning a school garden, as well as a program that would teach primary students how to garden as well. It was so inspiring to hear them talk about their learning.
Our tour guides pose with some of their seedlings
An important experience, the girls explained, was one that took place early on in the school year. Their teachers set up an inquiry project for all of them to do, and made sure that their were opportunities throughout for the students to fail. Yes, FAIL. I almost cheered! I have been trying all year to get my students comfortable with the learning process and the obstacles that they will face. But my students struggle with this notion. They prefer things to be clear, and for all experiences to be problem-free. We are still working toward being okay with ambiguity and taking risks with our learning. I was really happy that the girls shared this experience with me. Something to borrow for sure! After some time with the students, we sat down to chat with VP, David Truss
. David, thank you so much for taking the time to explain your program to us! We have so much to learn from what you are doing.***Major Takeway***
Inquiry needs to be introduced, modeled and scaffolded for the students. It pays to take the time to do it right!
Some of the brainstorming that decorated the walls of the school
After lunch, Jesse and I headed to Fraser Heights Secondary
(back in my School District 36
). We wanted to visit Jess Pelat
and Parm Brar
because they are running a cross-curricular inquiry program with their grade 8s. Basically, they teach English, Social Studies, Math and Science to the same group of students by doing inquiry projects. So neat! I love the idea of keeping those kids together as a cohort for all of their subjects. And I also appreciated the emphasis on cross-curricular projects, something Hugh McDonald
(my teaching partner) and I have been experimenting a lot with this year.
Jess and Parm, thank you so much for opening up your classroom to us!***Major Takeway***
Cross-curricular works! But that doesn't mean you should feel guilty about teaching some stand-alone math lessons, because that is important too.
A few weeks later I had the opportunity to check out a few more schools. This time they were elementary schools...a little bit more familiar! First, I spent some time with Trish Miller
and Chris Gauvin
at Martha Currie. I just loved seeing how they were doing Genius Hour! It is so great to just watch expert teachers do their thing! I was so impressed with Trish's students and their projects! The purpose of my visit to Trish's class was to help her young students get started with blogging, and we did...her adorable grade 3s and 4s took to kidblog immediately! But while there I was reminded at how important a sense of community is. Trish cares so much about her students, and it is immediately obvious. There is such a sense of community and care in her classroom! It is evident in the way she decorates her room (beautiful baskets of supplies, and student work displayed), in the way she teaches (science through hands on activities such as making a fruit salad while examining the various types of seeds in fruit) and the way she involves her students in the decision making (I watched the students make the decisions about their Genius Hour iMovie). I am so glad that I got to visit!
I was also really eager to hear about the gardening project that Chris' students were starting. His class is trying to figure out how to start an urban garden of their own! These young 5th and 6th graders were sawing wood, taking measurements and building their own garden out of old pallets. Reminded me a little of the wikiseat project
we are doing at my school. I just love these hands on activities that make math (measurement, angles, etc) come alive, and are also just perfect examples of authentic learning!
Community and relationship-building is key.
Other types of building (with a saw, hammer and nails) are also awesome!
Next up was a quick visit to Robyn Thiessen
's class at Green Timbers. Robyn is the Queen of making global connections! I was so impressed with how her grade 3/4 students conducted themselves during a Mystery Skype call. Her students were engaged and on task as they tried to guess where in the world the other class was.
Have you tried Mystery Skype with your class yet? If not, you definitely want to consider it! Students learn about world geography in the most exciting way! Check out 6th chat
and 4th chat
Below, is a video that Hugh made of our students during a recent mystery skype call.
I need to allow my students to make more global connections. Check out Robyn's mystery skype map below! Her students are learning so much about the world by skyping with people from all over!
Picture by Robyn Thiessen https://twitter.com/RobynThiessen/status/332894971126509569/photo/1
I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to visit colleagues from in and out of district. None of this would be possible without the connections I have made through twitter. Having a supportive PLN is amazing. Visiting them to learn through observation and conversation is even more amazing!
The question that The Openspokes Fellowship
is tackling this week is: How do you learn best?
I loved watching everyone's videos. It was a wonderful reminder of the fact that everyone learns differently and we have to honour that, and be mindful of the diverse ways in which we all learn when we plan for our students.
You can subsribe to the Fellowship and join in on the conversation here
My weekly vlog:
So, how do you learn best? I'd love to from you!
Last week, Lindsey Own
(Seattle teacher) spent the day visiting my classroom. You can read about her experience on her very thoughtfully written blog here
. Lindsey was very impressed with the overall feeling at our school and asked me how we got this way? I wasn't, and still am not, sure how to answer that question. Was it the amazing leadership of the administration? The fact that we have so many amazing teacher-leaders at our school who model innovation and are not afraid to take risks/embrace change? All of the above? None of the above?
Honestly, I cannot say for sure what it is, but she is right. Our school is fantastic and is involved in all kinds of interesting and innovative projects. And I think a lot of it has to do with the support of a caring, curious, and innovative administrative staff who model life long learning. And I am referring to the leaders in our school, and even beyond, at a district level.
At our school:
- Students took part in a Entrepreneur Fair and carefully thought of a sales idea, crafted a business plan, and then made and sold products for a profit.
- Students are invited to use classroom and school space in a non-traditional manner. There are alternate seating spaces in classrooms and our Library Learning Commons. Students are often found tucked into corners of the hallways as they seek out quiet corners to record their voices for various projects.
- Students are given an hour each week to learn about their passions and wonders during Genius Hour. They form their own inquiry questions and share their learning and/or creations with their classmates and online.
- Students are given authentic tasks. Ex. the choice to cook for their family for homework, instead of writing spelling sentences.
- Kindergarteners regularly use iPads for digital storytelling and more.
- Students reflect on their learning regularly through the use of blogs and ePortfolios. They then share their learning with their parents, peers and the whole world! This gives students an authentic audience for their writing.
- Students learn about other communites and connect with other classrooms through Mystery Skypes.
- Students interview and learn from experts through skype sessions with adults who work in the field that students are interested in.
- Students learn through cross-curricular Project Based Learning
- Primary students are learning about farming by growing their own potatoes.
- Students create movies about topics they are passionate about in hopes of creating real change in the world.
- Students are using the 4 Cs and creating their own wikiseats.
And I am sure there are some other unique, amazing projects in the works that I have forgotten to mention.
Clearly, I work with amazing educators who embrace 21st century learning. But to go back to Lindsey's question again, how did we get to this? My thoughts:
- We work with a principal (Antonio Vendramin) who is obviously an enthusiastic, life-long learner himself. It makes an amazing difference because his enthusiasm and involvement in projects sets the tone for an innovative school culture which then further supports the climate of learning, exploring and innovation at all levels within the school. We know that we have his support when we bring up new project ideas and sometimes it is even him that comes to us with the cool project ideas (like the wikiseat project).
- Teachers here are learners too! We are all looking to improve our practice and are constantly striving to give our students the best learning opportunities.
- District leadership: I feel so fortunate to work in a school district that values and celebrates the process of learning (not just the content of the prescribed learning outcomes). They support our growth by providing teachers in Surrey with great opportunities like after school professional development workshops, the digital learners dinner series (where we get together for a nice dinner at the local golf course and listen to some amazing key note speakers), encouraging communication and collaboration by displaying the backchannel #sd36learn at all district events, etc.
- Which brings me to social media: Many of our staff (administrators included) have an online PLN and we learn so much from them and are always sharing what we have learned with each other. I think this is important as it pushes us forward. We are all learning alongside our students everyday. That is huge.
- BYOD: We allow students to bring their own devices, and we supplement the rest of the class with the the schools iPads, iPod touches, macbooks, etc. Not every class has adopted this policy yet, but I think most have and that truly allows us opportunities that we wouldn't have otherwise.
- Combined Grades: We have a lot of combined classrooms (note I didn't call them splits) which I think encourages collaboration between students, as well as between staff. We have huge grade group teams! Which is fantastic...you know the old saying 'two heads are better than one'...well, we have even more than two! So there is always someone with a great idea!
I am so fortunate to work with such innovative and inspiring educators every single day!
Thank you all.
I wonder what else I am overlooking?
What do you think supports the culture of innovation?
What are some of the best attributes of your school?
Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to spend the day with my new twitter friend, Lindsey Own,
in her school in Seattle, Washington. Lindsey and I met on twitter a little while ago and had chatted a bit about Genius Hour
. She told me that she loves visiting other schools and asked if she could come up to mine during her Spring Break. Of course I said yes, and told her how much I loved visiting other schools as well. And so I asked if I could visit hers during my Spring Break (thank goodness we have different breaks so we could make this happen).
@LindseyOwn and I in front of her school
If you haven't done this before, you need to try it! It is a wonderful opportunity! You learn so much just by observing and chatting with a different set of teachers. I have been lucky enough to have been able to visit other classrooms several times over the years.
@LindseyOwn playing a game with her students
One of Lindsey's students picked me up from the front office and brought me to her classroom and this is the scene that I walked in on. Lindsey and a group of her students playing a card game together. They were chatting and laughing and having a great time. At first, I was confused...what on earth was going on? This was science class? I sat at the side and just watched and realized that it was still before the first period bell. The children were just warming up for their day. At Lindsey's school the kids are encouraged to show up 10 minutes before the bell to touch base with their homeroom teacher and get warmed up for their day. Lindsey uses this time to check in with her students and make a personal connection. I couldn't stop smiling. What a wonderful start to their day!
After chatting with Lindsey and touring the school (which included watching the K students get in their daily physical activity by having a little morning dance...so cute), I checked out a math class that is using video games to teach. Now at first I thought that meant gamification
(which I do not know a lot about, but it involves a lot of external rewards, which I try to avoid in my classroom), but I quickly learned that was not what she was doing at all. Teaching through games is different. The video game she was using, Anti-chamber
, is built on problem solving, which related directly to the unit of study in her math class. Students were engaged, on task and learning. Very cool.
A student playing Anti-chamber
After math, I checked out a few other classes, and then ended my day back in Lindsey's science class where they were working on their Science Symposium (like a Science Fair without ribbons). I was drawn to the windows in her classroom as they had post-it notes all over them. I asked her about them, and she explained how they began their science inquiry unit with a discussion about deep questions. They looked at google-able questions and questions that required more in-depth analysis and which would make a better science project.
This is something I also spend a great deal of time on with my students. Not only in Science class, but also in Language Arts, when we ask our students to ask meaningful questions of the texts that we read. We don't want our students asking surface level questions that they can easily look up the answer to, but rather we want them to dig deeper and come up with questions that require deep thought, critical thinking, and perhaps experimentation to solve.
I loved this post-it note activity and it is definitely something I am going to 'steal' from my visit. And that is what is so wonderful about these, as Lindsey puts it, "cross-pollination" visits...we can step into someone else's world, look at their classroom and units and 'steal' brilliant ideas.
When we are beginner teachers, we are told to "beg, borrow and steal" lesson plans from our colleagues. But I worry that once we gain experience, too many people stop this practice because their filing cabinets are now full of ideas and they don't have to 'shop around' anymore. But then we risk losing something so incredible...that conversation with our colleagues, both in and out of our own schools.
I love visiting...I love wandering the halls of my own school and checking out what everyone is doing and I love visiting other schools. Thank goodness for spring break, professional development days, and a principal who will cover my class so that I get these opportunities. Thank goodness for twitter, youtube, blogs, pinterest and all the other online platforms I use to connect with other educators.
Thank you Lindsey and everyone at your lovely school for inviting me into your precious learning space. I can't wait for you to visit my school!
This blog entry was inspired by Ben Wilkoff
's vlog below. I watched it a few weeks ago and have been thinking about it since.
Ben talks about how lucky he feels when he is within a school and he mentions those "moments when you hear someone say aha!
" Those moments really are amazing! I feel so lucky to be with the learners in my class and in my school, especially when I am a part of those aha
moments. It truly is amazing to watch someone learn something new, to see that look in their eyes when the connection is made, when they have created something new, or when they are proud of themselves for a job well done.
Take a look at Ben's vlog:
"Those moments are real". What a great line, Ben. They are real. Real and amazing and sometimes we get so used to them we forget to stop and treasure them. We need to take pause in those moments though, and really recognize how wonderful they are.
I LOVE being a teacher and I LOVE being in school...spending time with children and helping them find their passions, explore their wonders is...well, it is just amazing! I am so grateful.
A few weeks ago, I found out that I was successful in my application to be an FA at Simon Fraser University. I am so excited to spend time with pre-service teachers and am looking forward to the new experience, but I do worry that I will miss being in my own elementary school. I will miss being with my little group of 10-12 year olds when they get their first blog comment from outside of Canada, when they begin their first Genius Hour
project or when they discover the strategy that works for them in Math.
My secondment starts in August and so I will have to soak in every moment with my students until then! Thank you for this vlog post, Ben. It is a good reminder to treasure our experiences in school and to remember that we are indeed fortunate to be able to work with these amazing, inspiring young minds.
So, in response to Ben's original question: "I feel lucky to be within a school. Do you?" The answer is YES! And thank goodness I will still be in and out of schools regularly with my new position!
Why do you feel lucky when you are in a school?
Every couple of weeks, we get a new topic with #etmooc a recent one was about the meaning behind the buzz words like digital literacy, media literacy...you know what I mean...
I thought a lot about it...what does it mean to me? And is it important? And why?
And I realized that my whole transformation as an educator is because of my digital literacy. Two years ago I began a quest to improve as an educator. I wanted to take my teaching to the next level. I thought that meant integrating technology and so that is what I aimed to do...I was going to be a fabulous teacher because I was going to do all kinds of awesome, techy things with my class! I signed up for twitter
, registered for the ITDA
program at SFU
and started this blog. And amazing things happened. I became more digitally literate, but more importantly, I met all of YOU -- I became a connected educator.
And so, I think what I have come to realize, is that it is not digital literacy that makes us better and stronger educators (people?) but it is the amazing connections that we can now make because of our digital literacy that is really more important.
Image by Abode of Chaos – Thierry Ehrmann
So, should I change the name of my blog?
About two years ago when I started this blog, I meant for it to be a journal of some sort about the things I was learning to do in my graduate diploma course, ITDA, at SFU. I was determined to figure out how to integrate tech in meaningful ways and wanted to document my journey. Hence the title, "Integrating Technology: My Journey". Well once I started the program and started analyzing my practise to see where tech needed to/could be integrated, I actually began an amazing journey
which didn't only involve integrating tech, but rather I started truly reflecting on my practise and looking at WHY I was teaching the way that I was. And I was examining everything!! It wasn't just about integrating tech anymore...it became much, much more.
I started thinking about student centred and project based learning. I completely changed my math, science and social studies program in order to make them more hands on.
I fell in love with Genius Hour and Passion Based Learning and now offer my students an hour each week in which they can learn about anything they want.
I partnered up with Hugh McDonald
and we took down a wall in our school (one of those sliding ones, no hammers needed) so that we could team teach all the time!
We got rid of individual desks and were lucky enough to have our school get round tables for us so that our students could collaborate on everything.
With the support of our principal, we brought in alternate learning spaces and set up a couch area and bean bag area, giving students choice about where they wanted to learn.
We cut our boring spelling program and now teach it as needed.
I gave complete control of my the bulliten boards to my students. They own their learning and their learning space now.
And we haven't even got to the technology integration yet!!! Which has been fabulous
(students are able to create amazing projects using iPads, we blog, we have ePortfolios, twitter, and so much more...the tech has been fantastic! But certainly not everything.
I started this journey thinking that all I needed was to learn about some great apps...but it turns out my journey has been much, much more than that. And I am so thankful and I look forward to where the journey will take me next...so it is about my journey...but more than just tech.
So, should I change the name of my blog? Hmm...