Posts tagged 21st Century Classroom
Dessert vs. Main Course
This week, The Shift is learning about Project Based Learning with the Buck Institute.   We are diving into what it might look like to coach other teachers as they embark on their own PBL journey.  A big part of what we’ve explored so far revolves around helping teachers feel comfortable and supported in trying something new.  Your first step into PBL doesn’t have to be perfect, and any teacher needs to accept that some failure might happen. Being transparent with your students about your own learning helps!

Our biggest takeaway so far is an anecdote describing the difference between giving your class a “project” vs engaging in “project based learning”.  Typically, a project is something that is assigned to a class after the learning has happened. The amount of new learning that happens during the project is minimal and the students are generally regurgitating what they already know.  A project is like dessert.

Project Based Learning, on the other hand, IS the learning.  A teacher poses a problem or driving question to the class and lets students explore that problem in their own way.  Learning and teaching happens throughout, depending on student needs. Sometimes there is whole class instruction, sometimes the learning is done with smaller groups, sometimes it is teacher driven and sometimes student driven.  In the end students have, individually or in groups, created products that demonstrate their deeper learning around the original problem. As teachers get more comfortable facilitating this type of learning, it is often the students who pose their own problems or questions to be explored.  Project Based Learning, done well, is like the main course of a great meal...and we are hungry!


Actual #pblcanada footage
Innovation Journey
WI Dick Middle School in Milton is on an Innovation Journey.  Inside their school they had a large, open area called “The Mall” that was used for Quality Daily Fitness breaks.  Really, the space was being misused and ended up collecting large amounts of garbage throughout the day. As well, WI Dick Middle School had an aging Mac Lab that, while used, didn’t do much to promote creativity or collaboration among students.  The staff identified that they wanted to make improvements to how these learning spaces were utilized. Not to spoil anything, but they were more than successful!



The Mall has since become an extended classroom that teachers can use for group work, combined classes or breakout space.  It has been furnished with flexible seating, whiteboards, a dedicated chromebook cart and other supplies to drive collaboration.  But really, the repurposing of The Mall was a side show compared to what we were about to witness in the old Mac Lab, now rebranded as the “Innovation Lab”. To set up this space, science teacher Mark Maunder has taken the tired, aging computer lab and has transformed it into a dynamic, student centred space where they tackle design thinking projects, learn to empathize, build, code and solve creative problems.



There have been many times when we have had the good fortune of witnessing the energy of empowered students in our travels into schools around Halton, like the Learning Commons at JT Tuck, and Ms. DiGiantomasso’s Grade 8 math classroom at Aldershot. The Innovation Lab at WI Dick Middle School exuded that same level of kinetic energy!  This space is a great example of structure creating behaviour. In this case, by focusing on students creating in teams, and guiding them through the design process, Mark has set the conditions for empowered learning to take place in the room. He reflected on how some of the students that have had difficulty engaging in some other areas of school have found a safe space here where they are engaged, interested and valued.



The space itself has been thoughtfully designed to be flexible, inviting and dynamic.  Students work on whiteboard tables that are able to lift up and store vertically with ease.  The tables allow for risk-free ideation and much like the Thinking Classroom framework, allow students to work vertically.  There were some lost cost design solutions as well including LEGO donated by the community, and some repurposed cork boards and other reinvented materials.   They demonstrated how creating a space like this can also involve solutions don’t necessarily always break the bank.

One of the reasons for success in this project, which is still very much framed as a pedagogical experiment is the presence of The 3 Ps of Innovation (Permission, policy, protection) that nurtures the conditions to allow this new venture to happen.  Mark was given open permission to create this space and program with the focus on learning skills and soft skills as outcomes, rather than specific curricular outcomes and grades.  Mark has noticed that there are many more opportunities for fluid pairings with other subject teachers as needed to cover curriculum. This repurposing of space has worked because Principal Christine Bejjany gave teachers the permission to launch, with the policy and protection to try, fail and learn with a focus placed on learning skills as allowed a flexibility to the project to exist.

In future, the hope is to find ways of bringing this type of learning into all spaces, using maker carts and a design thinking framework in other classes and in other courses.  The insight and the forethought into scaling up is both exciting for the school and welcome that the space fits into a greater plan of change within the priorities of the school.


World Creativity and Innovation Day

Did you know that this Saturday is World Creativity and Innovation Day?
Halton wants to celebrate this day on Friday, April 20th.  

Look around your building for examples of innovative teaching practices, students showing off their own creativity, or just something interesting that resonates with you.   Tweet out your observations and pictures using the hashtag #HDSBInnovates. We want to know what is happening in your building!


Answers from High Tech High
We were sent to High Tech High and the Deeper Learning Conference with questions, and we brought back a heap of answers.

You can read our on the ground impression here after Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 of the conference.

Before we headed to the conference we also asked others who had seen the documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” to provide us with their own questions.  We tried as best we could to answer them, splitting the work up between our Principal Nicholas Varricchio and ourselves.  You can read our answers here. If you haven’t seen the film, and would like to, you can still see the film here.



And of course, if what you’ve read about our visit sparks new questions, feel free to leave us something in the comments
Growing into Innovation
Tony Churchill is a Principal at Harrison Public School. He is working with staff at his school on promoting a growth mindset in students through design thinking challenges. He is our very first contributor to the Shift from the perspective of a school principal.


One school’s journey towards innovative thinking...

“So, what is innovation or innovative thinking? How do we foster it...promote it? Once we start to see it, how do we get comfortable with assessing and reporting on it? How do we cover all the curriculum and allow students time to explore without worrying about this lost teaching and learning time?”

These were some of the questions that staff on our leadership team and I worked through last year. The reason: I was the new principal and during the first PD day as I got to know everyone, I took the staff through a process...to draw and write about their ideal school. As we worked through the process, similar themes emerged and we narrowed things down toward the beginnings of a school vision statement. One that aligned with Halton’s vision and captured the pieces of all contributing staff members from that PD day’s session.

“In Harrison Public School’s safe and inclusive community, learners’ voices will be valued in order to engage all learners in authentic learning environments, promoting both collaborative and independent innovative thinking, fostered through a growth mindset.”

Meanwhile, my own professional learning at the time was also focused on innovation. I was working hard to effectively use Twitter to grow my own PLC (Professional Learning Community) and reading Couros’ book and blog, Innovator’s Mindset. As I had sat there reading, book in one hand and cell phone in the other, I began to follow different people he mentioned on Twitter and watched various TED Talks and YouTube videos. What they were talking about made sense to me and spoke to the learning environment I would want to come to each day.


From the vision statement we co-created, it seemed natural to me to begin with “innovative thinking, fostered through a growth mindset.” I had also been following Carol Dweck and her work, reading Growth Mindset, the New Psychology of Success. So, with the leadership team, we divided into smaller teams to begin to develop staff PD about both these areas...innovation and growth mindset.

Providing release time and resources, these staff members were then able to develop learning sessions that were informative and hands on. I said that I wanted the full staff to have the same working definition of these parts of our vision statement. I wanted them to see the power of reinforcing the right skills in the right ways and to see the increased engagement of our students while completing projects that promoted innovative thinking.


Conveniently, we arrived at the start of our work with the new Kindergarten program being released and with one of the four frames, being assessed via pedagogical documentation, entitled Problem Solving and Innovation. So we had kindergarten staff digging into what this meant and they were able to share this perspective/learning around this frame with the grade 1 - 5 teachers.

While we had the leadership team exploring these ideas of innovation and growth mindset, I introduced them to John Spencer and his design challenges. These are some fun, non tech projects that anyone could do with their students. I was reading the “Launch Cycle" and had shared it with a couple of staff members. I wanted to begin to get the idea of a structure to design challenges and the richness of the process work students were involved in. At this point, we had only been looking at the obvious connections to Learning Skills when students were completing design challenges and I wanted to gently move staff along in their understanding of the full potential of these projects.



Staff were getting excited by positive student responses to our design challenges. They were looking for more and wondering what else we could do. I shared the Global Day of Design website with the leadership team. We decided to take this on and decided that our Spring Parent night would also focus on parents and children completing design challenges together. Staff agreed, while working in the rooms that evening, to make efforts to explicitly speak about the learning skills that were developed while completing these challenges. They also worked at promoting growth mindset language throughout the evening. As well as design challenges, we opened up the library’s makerspace resources and had families cycle through so students could teach their parents how to use these activities (students had been taught throughout the year how to properly use these so they could easily shine as they showcased their learning with their parents). The evening was a success...the highest attendance in a long time and not one exit pass, completed by parents, had a concern or suggestion on what to do differently next time!

Where is this going?  I am not 100% sure. I want to be clear it is not just about having FUN even though having fun is important. Teachers still struggle with how this fits in with everything else we are looking at during a school day, month or year. I wonder next about how to bridge the work to be done around assessment and reporting with the design challenges being completed in the classrooms. I think there is learning to be done around pedagogical documentation, beyond the kindergarten classrooms. I think richer assessment, cross curricular connections, reporting, descriptive feedback and relevant next steps are waiting to be discovered in the work we are entering into. These 21st Century learning skills are not just the new eduspeak. It is an exciting time to be a “guide on the ride” with the students in our classrooms.

I think it is always interesting, upon reflection, the many steps we, as a school, have gone through in our journey towards developing an understanding of this thing called innovation. It may appear to the reader that the steps were each planned and sequential and perhaps one lead to another. Having gone through this, I know it did not happen that way. I had a hope that teachers would embrace a vision statement they created. I had an interest in what the idea of “innovation” was all about and wanted to have a group of teachers that had a common understanding...how do we do something better than how it was done before? We dig in...we try things...we watch and listen...we provide opportunities...we stand back...we celebrate...celebrate the process, the mistakes, the questions that get answered and the unanswered questions...we enjoy the journey...as it happens and continues to happen!

I will try and visit again, to see where year two brings us.

~Tony Churchill




Deeper Learning Is...
That’s the prompt we were asked to think about during day one of the 2018 Deeper Learning Conference.  We were expecting to learn about Project Based Learning and High Tech High when we signed up for this conference.  We were caught off guard by the tone of the day. High Tech High played second fiddle to a much bigger idea, Deeper Learning.

The day started with 1200 educators in the High Tech High forum, with a salsa band playing energetic Latin-influenced grooves.  When they started to cover “Descpacito” and educators cut loose and started dancing, Jamie asked “is this Woodstock for teachers?”.  There was definitely an energy and buzz right from the beginning of the day.

So what is Deeper Learning?

Deeper Learning is...modelling the growth we want to see in our students.  Carlos R. Moreno, in his Keynote, stated that “Vulnerability is a part of good pedagogy”.  If we believe in teaching students the soft skills that they need to be successful in life, we have to model our own risk taking and willingness to be open and honest.  “We, as educators, need to be brave enough to share our own stories.”

Deeper Learning is…teaching our students to be competent.  There is a model to Deeper Learning and at its core lies six competencies.  65% of the jobs that today’s students will have haven’t been invented yet.  Armed with these competencies, students will be better equipped to work and learn in the world that is changing exponentially.




Deeper Learning is…a path to equity. Lindsay Hill said in her keynote that the system of school has been created using historical structures, put in place throughout our history to keep certain groups oppressed.” “We need to think about critical consciousness, racial equity, gender equity, classism, we need to talk about all of the ‘isms’ in our systems if we are TRULY about deeper learning.” The more we can talk about our biases, the more we can be the educators our young people need and deserve.



Deeper Learning is...trying something new, taking faith that the outcome may be unclear, but that growth and deeper learning as educators is guaranteed.  Michelle Clark, Co-Director of the Share Your Learning Campaign encouraged everyone to push out beyond their comfort zone.  As educators we were encouraged to leave our comfort zone, and to try something new.


Democratic Education

Deeper Learning is...giving students agency over their own education.  As Michelle said in her introduction, “We don’t give students voice, they already have one.  We just decentralize our leadership roles so that they can try them on to see the leaders they will become.  Many educators are attending this conference because they want to make school different. Gia Truong spoke about equity and how we can help our students feel like they belong.  If we can agree that we don’t like the story of school, perhaps it is time to change the storyteller.  Giving students more voice in their education is one way to do this.



Deeper Learning is...Beautiful work. Ron Berger, of Austin’s Butterfly fame, talked about the power of beautiful work: work that is not necessarily visually beautiful, but work that is made of actions in service of, actions of passion, actions of equity, of social justice.  Social Justice is needs to be at the core of the curriculum.

Deeper Learning is...evolving.  We are floored by how full our brains feel.  Both of us are looking forward to learning more tomorrow and refining our own personal definition of what Deeper Learning is.
Wonder Walks
This semester, interested teachers in Halton were able to apply for funding for projects that explored Innovation.  That is, projects that will improve a Process, Product or Understanding.




All in all, 49 applications were received with 18 of those projects receiving funding.  Matt and I have been busy trying to connect with as many groups as possible with the intention of blogging about what we’ve learned.  However, we’ve found that many of the groups want to talk about their learning in their own words.


Kelly Bourassa is a Grade One teacher at Brant Hills Public School.  She’s working with her elementary school colleagues at Norton and MacMillan Public Schools on peer to peer collaboration around open ended inquiry projects.


Finding innovation Outdoors


Every Friday morning my class goes on a ‘Wonder Walk’ in the forest near our school. It is my students’ favorite part of the week. The children are free to explore and commune with nature, some for the very first time. When I first ventured outside the classroom I had a plan, an agenda of what we were going to do in the woods. I felt that I was not doing my job if I didn’t assign them a task or a focus for their learning.


Over time I have watched the students as they discover this space and I have learned that to encourage creative minds and innovative ideas, you often need to abandon the lesson plan. You need to trust the innate sense of wonder and imagination that children have and let them lead the way to innovative ideas.  During their exploratory play they work cooperatively to build structures, create games and toys, and find treasures. The students are mindful, they self-regulate and cooperate. They make observations about the environment that lead to some amazing wonderings about the world. This is where I find my purpose as a teacher. I listen to their conversations and prompt further inquiry and discussion. This journey has allowed me to shift my teaching approach. I realized that I can cover curriculum expectations and encourage the development of global competencies through these authentic interactions.




We are beginning to recognize the importance of teaching transferable skills in order to meet the needs of the 21st century learner. This is going to require moving away from the current structured program and incorporate time in the weekly schedule for practicing interest based inquiry. Long journeys begin with small steps, perhaps in the forest.

~ Kelly Bourassa
Questions for High Tech High
Over the past year, many Halton teachers have been given the opportunity to watch the documentary Most Likely to Succeed.  Some of us watched it at evening screenings at various schools. Some schools screened the film during their Professional Development days.  Others have been given the opportunity to watch the film on their own.


If you haven’t seen it yet, Most Likely to Succeed follows a group of Grade Nine students as they attend their first year school at High Tech High, a school that focuses on Project Based Learning in San Diego.

The Staircase to Nowhere Project

If you teach in the Halton District School Board, you can find instructions on how to watch the full documentary here.  If you don’t work for our board, there are ways to screen a copy in your school or board.  It’s worth it!

We have lots of questions about how High Tech High delivers its curriculum.  We are fortunate to be attend the Deeper Learning Conference at the school next week and hope to get our questions answered.  If you have seen the documentary and have some questions that you’d like answered, please feel free to add them to this document.

We look forward to getting some answers!
Teaching Creativity

Amanda Williams-Yeagers has written a number of guest blog posts on the Shift. She is also leading the HDSB Empower Book Talk.

Jordie Burton has also written a guest blog post on the Shift. He is an Art Educator passionate about creativity and design thinking. Amanda and Jordie have teamed up with other HDSB educators to use an innovation grant to delve into teaching creativity and design thinking in our schools.

Sir Ken Robinson begins his famous 2006 Ted talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” by speaking about the evidence and the range of human creativity. He also begins by talking about the uncertainty of the future. The irony of this, is that this brilliant talk took place twelve years ago.

Today we are still wondering what the future will look like and we are still hoping to prepare our students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. We are also curious about the range and extent of human creativity:


What is the definition of creativity? What environment is conducive to creativity for learners? How can we create an environment that nurtures rather than undermines creativity? How can we support our learners to become comfortable with making mistakes?

Sir Ken continues to say that one of the greatest issues in education is that we educate people out of creativity. He captures this when he says that students,

“have become frightened of being wrong. We stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”

While recognizing that this was said twelve years ago, we are left wondering if this is something that still exists in education today. In fact, we have a number of questions about creativity that are grounding our inquiry. We are using a design thinking approach to ask the questions, “How can we improve students ability to learn to be creative?” “How can we empower students to identify themselves as creative?” and “How can we change a single story of student’s self-image to the untold story of limitless potential?”



Our first investigation has led us to investigate a broader definition of the concept of creativity. The organization Creativity at Work defines creativity as “the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality” and that if you have ideas but do not act on them, you are imaginative, not creative. Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind says that creativity is “giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing” or as Hugh Howey says “Seeing something that doesn’t exist and then making it so,”. While we continue to work on our broad definition of the concept of creativity, that application of the topic is what matters to us the most.

So, we are putting it out there and asking other educators to support us in our journey and we have lots of questions! We are exploring the idea that creativity has some core elements that can be shared, taught and built. What is the best way to bring that into a classroom? If we want our students to graduate with the ability to think creatively, how do we achieve this? What does teaching “creatively” look like? Are there examples of lessons that explicitly teach creativity? How do we convince our students that everyone has the potential to be creative? 

If you have any ideas, and are willing to help us with our inquiry, please complete this survey and help us by sharing your experiences. We don’t need you to have all of the answers (we don’t either!) we just want you to help us by coming along for the ride.



And with that we leave you with this:


“Creativity is as important now as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”

-Sir Ken Robinson


Empowerment
Amanda Williams-Yeagers is a Librarian Glitterarian who works at John T Tuck Public School in Burlington.  We asked her what it means to be empowered as a learner and she turned around and wrote a guest blog on the topic.

Empowerment. This word is being talked about more and more in the world of education.  John Spencer, talks about the shift from compliance to engagement to empowerment- where students are in charge of how they learn.  When I think about how big that word really is, I feel two things: excited and overwhelmed.
Excited at the possibilities of where education in the 21st century is headed, and overwhelmed at the challenges faced by educators in order to get our students to that place where they feel “empowered.”  When I think about what “empower” means to me, I think about students engaging in self-directed learning; those moments where the curriculum is there, but there is a certain magic that is happening because students are in charge of what they are doing.  They have chosen a topic of interest, a way to represent their thinking, and they have come up with a solution to one of the world’s problems. Maybe even a solution we haven’t thought of yet.  Students feel empowered because teachers are no longer the gate-keepers of knowledge, but rather the facilitator or guide along for the ride on a very exciting journey.


A grade 5 student shares her self- directed prototype of a tunnel to withstand earthquakes in Seattle.

In writing this blog post, I decided to consult some of the many people within Halton and beyond who inspire me. The more I talked to people, the more I built on that feeling of excitement!  I began by asking students and teachers in Halton about what empowerment means to them. A grade eight student at my school told me that:

Being a student who’s empowered means confidence, and knowing there’s a place for you where you don’t have to stress or worry because if you’re empowered at school, you can be empowered anywhere.  Being empowered at school means having a voice and being able to speak up for what you believe in.”  

This was incredible insight for a thirteen year old, but what really resonated with me was that she identified feeling empowered at school meant that she could be empowered anywhere.   I thought about how significant our role as educators is in preparing kids for their lives outside of school.  Have we considered the ripple effect of student choice and voice in their education?

Some educators I spoke to about empowerment described “creating a passion within them to find any means to further their curiosity of learning...” while others described “motivating others to achieve their own personal greatness.”  Some educators believed that the journey of empowering students was parallel to their own empowerment as educators.  Almost all of the people I spoke to discussed building capacity and a willingness to take risks as a necessary part of the journey. There are so many educators around us who are encouraging our students to take risks and empowering our students.

A “wonder wall" documenting one of the learning journeys taken by Emily Horner’s grade 6 class
Emily Horner, a grade six teacher at PL Robertson, empowers students by making their thinking visible and engaging them in knowledge building through big ideas as part of their daily practice.  The students document their questions on the “Wonder Wall” and extend their understanding through their own investigations. The way their learning journey is captured is incredible!  
Christine Vanderwal, a grade 7 teacher at Hawthorne Village Public School empowers students by focusing on the idea that everyone has a story.  By supporting the value of the individual within the class community, and an emphasis on Truth and Reconciliation, students feel that everyone has a voice, and that everyone is valued. Not only does Christine give students a chance to demonstrate their understanding in a variety of ways, she gives students opportunities like “Genius Hour,” so that students learn about their interests, and how they can best represent their ideas.  Christine’s self-reflection as an educator fuels her journey to inspire and empower her students.

Everyone has a story in Christine Vanderwal’s grade 7 class, leaving each student feeling valued and empowered. 


Perhaps one of the most influential people I spoke to was Peter Skillen, author of The Construction Zone blog. Peter agrees that we should be engaging students in their areas of interest, giving students choices, engaging them in their preferred learning style, and engaging them in the assessment process. He argues that while these are all part of the empowerment process, he says that we need a more holistic approach.  He questions whether educators who desire students to be “21st century learners” are 21st century learners themselves.  And perhaps his most poignant ongoing statement is that he feels we need to “educate, not subjugate.” Perhaps we as educators need to shift our beliefs about students as empty vessels that we need to fill up, to the idea that they are naturally curious and capable of complex thinking.
All of this investigation, while valuable, has led me to that other feeling I mentioned- the unmistakable feeling of being overwhelmed.  We all want to be the best educators that we can be.  There are so many resources, theories, PD sessions, and conferences available to us.  And that’s when I realized that the best way to dissect any of this is to talk to colleagues. Sometimes, I think it’s so easy to get lost in the shuffle of “best practice” or “best resource” or even just the “daily grind” with our students, that we miss the collaborative piece with our peers that can make us better.

Last summer I stumbled upon John Spencer and A.J. Juliani’s book, “Empower.”  I liked how easy it was to read, that the authors gave personal examples and that they were encouraging educators to make mistakes. (All too often we forget to give ourselves permission to get it wrong!)  I wanted the chance to talk to other people about this book - what it was about, and how we could change things for our students, without fear of getting it wrong or making mistakes.  I wanted different perspectives from high school and elementary.  The more voices, the more valuable the conversation would be. I wanted the chance for us to learn from each other’s experiences.

And that is how the HDSB Empower Book Study came to be. It’s not too late to join the discussion. We meet virtually every Thursday night from 8-9 pm. You can connect via our website or email me (williamsyea@hdsb.ca) if you have any questions.  

John Spencer says that “When students learn to make sense of their world, they become the people who will transform it.” If that’s not reason enough to empower our kids, I don’t know what is.

~ Amanda Williams-Yeagers





Reimagining the Final 30%
Jamie Reimagines Exams

A few years ago I got frustrated with traditional exams.  They were not exciting.  They were not a celebration of student learning.  It wasn’t a showcase of a semester of hard work.  It was a stressful slugfest for our students to regurgitate a semester's worth of learning in an arbitrarily short amount of time.  I realized I didn’t like my traditional exam because it was filled with questions, curriculum and content that I thought was the most important.  In a classroom where student voice is valued, I didn’t think this was an appropriate send off to my students.  I wanted to know what they found to be the most important components of my course.  I wanted to know what they learned, without having to force them down one defined path.

So I mixed it up.  Last year I gave my Advanced Functions students a choice.  They could complete a traditional final exam or they could complete a more open ended exam.  I called it the “Modern Exam”.

I allowed my students to change their minds up to the moment the exam was put in front of them.  I spent lots of time leading up to the final exam coaching each student about the choice they wanted to make.  I provided lots of review, study tips and time to prepare.  In the end, about a third of my class chose to attempt the Modern Exam.  This year, I’m providing this choice again and seeing about 50% of my students choose to try the more open ended exam.

The results don’t disappoint me either.

Matt Reimagines Final Performance Tasks

In our Art classes, we were also growing tired of our final performance task in grade 9 art.  The results of project that we had designed and used the last few years ticked all the boxes, it was safe, and well, a little formulaic.  It didn’t provide room for students to flex their creative muscle and lean on their strengths as creators.  So as part of a final 30% pilot, we redesigned the final performance task.  We called the project “Not-A-Box”, a reference to the imaginative children’s book by Antoinette Portis.  Our aim was to provide some structure and boundaries at the beginning of the project, by requiring students to choose two aspects of our learning from the art course.  The other requirement was that the students were provided with a cardboard box.  They had to re-imagine the box into an art piece and they had to use the entire box to do so.   The results were creative, and incredibly widely varied.  It was great to see students pulling this project in different directions.  There was healthy creative friction for some as they worked through what direction they wanted to take their work.  This is the first iteration of this project, so we will tweak and improve the project for the upcoming semester.

Both of us liked how the “Modern Exam” and “Not-a-Box” allowed students to access their own strengths.  Students had to be pretty self-reflective and look back on their own experiences in our courses.  In both our math and art courses we need to get better at supporting students as they explore their own choices in how they show us what they know.  We like that we are moving away from a teacher-student model to a model that more reflects mentorship.

If you had the ability, what would you change about your Final 30% Tasks?
Cycling Back to the Beginning
It’s the last week before the holiday break.  When I teach grade nine math my goal is to always wrap up the teaching of curriculum before the break.  I do this for two reasons.  First, so that we can spend two weeks engaging in review activities to help prepare for the final exam, which in this case is the EQAO.  The second reason is so that we can play around with a final performance task that is a bit more open than usual.

I had no idea if this plan would hold up now that our grade nine course team was trying a blend of project based learning.  When I step back and think about what our team has accomplished over these four months, I’m pretty pleased.  We started the semester with a question that was very loosely defined, “Can we teach Grade Nine Math using projects?”.  We took a risk and dove in.

After playing with Barbie Bungee, Dandy Candies and some intentionally frustrating algebra problems we decided on our next focus:  We wanted to use ratios to help drive home with the class the need for more formal algebra.

A respectable ratio
We started with an activity that asks students “What is the ideal Mullet Ratio?”  This is an activity that I first saw via Jon Orr on twitter but I’ve come to learn has travelled to us from Matt Vaudrey in California.  In this activity students are asked to determine what is the ideal length of “party” to “business” in a mullet.  It’s silly, students laugh, then they start debating, and then they calculate to justify if their opinions are correct.  The two days we spent on this activity were hilarious.


Of course, we needed a suitable project to go along with ratios.  We know from past experience that there are often challenging ratio problems on the Grade 9 EQAO.  The team wanted to spend time working on different ratio problems in order to set our students up for success in January.  We decided on introducing the class to Nana’s Chocolate Milk, another three act task by Dan Meyer.

We adapted things slightly to allow for students to complete a formal project.  We asked our students to find their favourite recipe and then intentionally mess it up. They then had to “fix” their recipe and prove to us that they ingredients were still in the same ratio.  We even asked them to think back on their work with linear relationships and create some graphs and equations for their recipe.

Bacon is ALWAYS the denominator


This one impressed me
After the students finished with “Nana’s Favourite Recipe” we realized that we needed to dive into the Analytic Geometry strands of the curriculum.  We spent a good two weeks doing some formal instruction with our classes as this is probably the most formal component of the course.  At the end of the two weeks we challenged our classes to create their own drawing in Desmos to show off what they have learned.  We asked for drawings with 8 different lines, since that’s all our classes knew how to do with equations.  We were surprised by the level of depth our students went to.  One boy in my class asked me how to draw curved lines.  When I wouldn’t tell him, he didn’t give up, rather he did some research on his own and then shared his knowledge with the class.  



We have spent the past week trying up any loose ends or curriculum expectations that we did not quite cover.  For the final two days before the break we will ask our students to play with cup stacking, running a project that is heavily influenced by Alex Overwijk and his Thinking Classroom.  By the end of the week students will have created models of different cup stacking strategies, analysed them and extrapolated from their data.

That's some good cup stacking!


What came out of our experiment has been an unintentionally spiralled course.  Algebra and abstraction skills became what we dialed down on but we didn’t spend all that much time on the details.  Our students felt the need for the mathematics, asking for more efficient ways to do things.  When we presented the cup stacking activity to them they were already searching for ways to create equations and models.  

There were many days where the students led the class, posing interesting questions and then answering them.  The teachers became facilitators of great discussions, parachuting in on different groups when they needed assistance or a push to go a bit deeper with their learning.  Some days were great, other days were disasters.  On the bad days, the team would go back to the drawing board, talking about what we could do better in order to help students uncover the curriculum.  We tried something new and learned a lot in the process.  I can’t wait to do it again next semester.