Matt and I listen to a lot of podcasts. I’ve recently gotten into a podcast called Gen Pop - A Pop Culture Podcast and I really enjoy the podcasts created by Bald Move around the television and movies I like to consume. Matt’s go to podcasts are 99% Invisible, a podcast about design and The Art of Education, which is a podcast about art education (of all things).
No judgement on this next statement please, but I’ve recently started playing Dungeons and Dragons with a small group of friends. I enjoy playing board games and I try to use this passion as much as I can in my teaching. Dungeons and Dragons was something I’ve always wanted to do in my youth but I could never find a group of others to play with. Plus, when I was younger there was always a sort of stigma attached to certain types of games. Now that I’m older...well, game on!
Jamie on the weekends...
So obviously I fell down the rabbit hole, as one does when they pick up a new hobby they enjoy. I wanted to know as much as I could about D&D in as little as time as possible. I came across another podcast, dedicated to D&D called Dragon Talk. Now, I’m not about to dive into the ins and outs of the game. Certainly this blog is not going to become...that. However, listening to the most recent Dragon Talk on my drive in, I was confronted with a conversation about video rental stores and the following quote:
“My kids will probably never walk into a blockbuster and rent a video...but they still pick up a book every day”
I was struck by the relationship between this quote and the concept of vintage innovation that was discussed during the Innovator’s Mindset meetup. No one rents videos anymore because technology has pushed us past the need to rent videos. Or did society pull us beyond that need? Either way, that particular technology is dying out. But in a world where any book can be digitized and published on a screen, we still reach for the physical copy.
Being an innovative educator functions this way as well. We need to be thoughtful enough to reach for the right tool at the right time. Sometime that tool is digital, sometime its physical. Sometimes it is a new strategy, sometimes it’s old. Sometimes you want to binge watch your favourite TV show while eating raw cookie dough and sometimes you really just need a good book.
As we mentioned in a previous post, this year the Halton District School Board has gone to the movies. Keeping with this theme, last Monday the board went back to class. Two hundred staff from the board spent their Monday evening watching a video discussion on the first chapter of the Innovator’s Mindset and participating in a live chat as part of a massively open online course. It was fun seeing so many colleagues participating in professional development outside of the normal working day. It was especially great for us because the conversations revolved around innovation and how it applies to the classroom.
In addition to some reading and thinking, participants in this MOOC have been asked to respond to the video chat with a blog post. Well, here is what we thought about the discussion on Monday night.
1. What do you see as the purpose of education? Why might innovation be crucial in education?
Man, George, talk about starting with a whopper of a question! The purpose of education is to prepare for life in society. The thing is, what a productive life in society looks like is rapidly changing. Employers are increasingly looking for innovators, with flexible, creative thinking, to drive their projects forward. Our education system needs to catch up to this new reality. How can we not only innovate as teachers, but also train our students to become their own innovators. The purpose of education is NOT to prepare students for university. That is not everyone’s destination. Also, which university are we preparing students for? The one we went to, or the one you went to, or another one? Is each one the same? Of course not. So, education should be preparing students for whatever life might put in their past. Resilience, perseverance, critical thinking, soft skills that make a big difference.
“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.” How are you embracing change to spur innovation in your own context?
Well, for us, The Shift means finding ways to create dialogue and build and reinforce a culture of sharing in the our board. Sharing isn’t really new for us and it certainly isn’t new for our board. What we are trying to do is find better, more efficient ways for all teachers in our board to connect and share their ideas. We are diving headlong into that! The huge change for us are the all of the extras and unknowns. We’ve dipped our toes into video making and editing and are looking ahead to starting a podcast down the line. All this is very fun and very much out of our comfort zone.
If you started a school from scratch, what would you see as necessary, and what would you take out from what we currently do?
Having a set of guiding principles or a founding framework is the most important thing. A well articulated vision of what the school could be or wants to be makes all of the other work easier. It would be interesting to build a school where community is at the very core of how it functions. Schools do a pretty good job of this but there is always room for improvement. When we think of the total community of a school we wonder about how to foster and build student engagement and also, equally importantly, staff engagement in the community. It is important to find opportunities to celebrate, reflect and play in order to create engaged, energized humans who are willing to take risks. It would be great to see genius hours for all members of the community built into the school day.
All cards on the table, we would take out grading, in favour of some sort of pass/fail system with some sort of demonstration of mastery built in. Obviously we would need to be giving students lots of descriptive feedback in real time. We don’t want to squash students creativity by assigning a mark to it (that one is for you Sir Ken!)
Obviously a change like that would require a major reset on so many aspects of school culture and teaching. We think it’s time for that change! A Shift to put a renewed focus on allowing students to follow their passions, helping students discover what on Earth their passions might be and teachers in mentorship roles who are along for the ride sounds pretty idyllic (wide-eyed optimist you say?). Hey, we being asked to dream here, aren’t we?
4. Your choice from the book on the YouTube Live session.
One little bit that we particularly latched on to from the YouTube live session was the notion of advocating for Vintage Innovation. AJ Juliani, John Spencer and George Couros were mentioning old ideas, perhaps repurposed for the 21st century learner in mind. They Socratic Seminar (which was highlighted also in the Most Likely To Succeed Film), building with Duct Tape and Cardboard, and Sketchbooking (sing, art teacher hearts, sing!).
Caine's Arcade and the Power of Innovative Use of Cardboard
credit: Susan Murtaugh
On the topic of sketchbooks, fellow art teachers Jordie Burton, Toge Heersink and myself sat down with at least one of us (Hint: It wasn’t Jamie) last month with Meredith White, professor of Photography at Sheridan, and she talked about how their photography students are using sketchbooks to catalogue, ideate, and get inspired in their practice. In an age of Pinterest, Flipboard and Tumblr, the humble sketchbook has a powerful place in helping the brain to work creatively. There is something about the physical writing, pasting and sketching of ideas that are core to the creative process. Innovating is not about ipads and smart boards, it is about problem solving and improving practice, and there are so many successful “vintage” tools at our disposal that we can use for this. This is something that can make innovating a less daunting task too, when we can say “Hey! I’ve used that before.” as an entry point to innovate in our classrooms. As long as we are pushing to know the “WHY”? - What is old can be new again if it has an authentic improvement in mind. How about you? Do you use any "vintage innovation" in your class? Comment below.
I spent last Friday morning presenting with Joanne Eliuk at the Canadian Safe Schools Network 20/20 Conference. This conference, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Safe Schools Network had a focus on Technology and Digital Citizenship, Diversity and Inclusion and Health & Wellness. While we were identified as being a workshop that fit into the "Technology and Digital Citizenship" focus, what keeps being reinforced the more we dialogue with educators is that these practices are all interconnected. It all comes down to the relationship we develop with our students and how that relationship can help students learn and grow that creates a 21st century classroom.
Joanne and I gave a presentation on The 21st Century Classroom. This was a presentation we’ve given before at Halton’s Innovation and Technology Symposium in the fall. At that time, our presentation highlighted our own “Ten Easy Steps” and then some points within those steps for an educator to consider.
This time, Joanne and I decided to take away the points from our presentation and just provide the steps. We did this for a few reasons; we wanted a more informal presentation, we were hoping for more discussion, we wanted to be able to field questions more easily. However, the biggest reason we changed our format was because we believe that there are big picture philosophies that go into a 21st Century classroom but also that the way each teacher dives into those philosophies is different. Again, as in our classrooms, what we noticed is that the more you allow people to explore their own ideas, the more our understanding grows as well.
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has different ways they can effect change in their classrooms or schools. What works for me might not always work for someone else, and vice versa. Once you peel back the day to day strategies that are used and look at the deeper thinking that goes into a 21st Century Classroom, you’ll see aspects of our “easy steps”.
So what do we identify as the steps needed to make a 21st Century Classroom?
Make the classroom student centered
Create an environment that is invitational
Teach students how to take responsibility
Ask students to be reflective
Have a culture that promotes inquiry
Make the learning adaptive
Have assessment that is performance based
Make your assessment transparent
Mentor your students
On Friday, we intentionally put technology last, because technology is the least important thing in a 21st Century classroom. Technology alone doesn’t make a classroom innovative. Technology is a tool that should be used to improve student outcomes in your classroom. It is not a magic bullet. No amount of iPads or Smartboards or Kahoots will make a difference if the other 9 ingredients in a 21st Century Classroom aren’t being addressed.
Joanne and I enjoyed the conversations that our presentation sparked. It was interesting to hear so many other perspectives, especially from teachers in the elementary panel. I found it fascinating to realize how interconnected the steps for a 21st Century classroom are. We spoke about mentoring many times before finally coming to that step in our presentation. Many participants spoke of the need to build a positive relationship with their students which ties in well with student centered, invitational classrooms.
In the end, we spent a lot of time talking about what a classroom “looks” like and what it “sounds” like. I think the biggest challenge comes down to understanding what it “feels” like to be in our classrooms. If students feel welcome, included, listened to, empowered and respected that is when true learning happens. If you are thinking, “My classroom feels like it needs some Chromebooks...”, you might be missing the point.
Notice, no technology
For anyone getting ready to join the Innovators Mindset book club, the look fors that George Couros identifies link up well with the steps Joanne and I spoke about.
I might be paraphrasing...
Creating a 21st Century Classroom of your own doesn’t have to be hard. Really, it’s been the 21st Century for seventeen years. If you want to make your own 21st Century Classroom, just find a classroom and walk in. Maybe we should re-title our presentation to “How to Create a Classroom”. In the spirit of Open, if you are passionate about creating a 21st Century Classroom of your own, feel free to use our presentation and adapt it for your own building.
Let’s put all the cards on the table before we get into our book list. When we say “reading”, what we really mean is “what pages do we look at after putting the kids to bed”. It’s hard to fit in reading, for professional growth or for fun into a day that is full of work and family. And yet, we try, as we imagine most of you do to.
Given the nature of this project, reading for professional growth has become more important to us. For sure we still try to find the time to read for pleasure but that time is shrinking as we get closer to launching The Shift. Certainly, if we are going to be the conduit through which innovative teaching practices are shared we better have some evidence to fall back on.
We both started by reading Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. This book was the basis for the companion documentary Most Likely to Succeed, which was screened twice last semester in our board. The documentary itself was attended by over 500 Halton staff and prompted many great conversations in our schools. The film was even shown to students from Milton District High School. The book itself asks, among other things, how should classrooms be changing to reflect the skills needed to be successful in the 21st Century.
We have also moved on to the book Open, by David Price. Open wonders how we’ll work, live and learn in the future. How can our schools evolve in a world where many companies give away their products for free? Likewise, sharing in the 21st century seems to becoming the norm so how can our classrooms and professional relationships reflect that? Certainly we can continue to teach using our current model, which is formal (pre-determined time and place), linear (follows a curriculum) and transmitted one way (teacher to student). Open imagines an education system where learning is social and knowledge is gained as the task or project demands.
At least one of us is reading Burn Math Class (Hint: It’s not Matt). The author, Jason Wilkes,
describes a reordering of the math curriculum where students start with addition and subtraction and create their own mathematical facts based on experimentation and failure. At its core, the novel stresses removing the emphasis on memorization of procedures and instead have students construct methods that make sense to them.
Being a wide-eyed fan of his TED brilliant talks, we have picked up Sir Ken Robinson's Creative
Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that Transforming Education. As we are looking to SHIFT education at HDSB, the promise of direct call to action in this book has brought this one to the top of the "next read" list.
Traditional Grades School. Neither of us have opened the cover yet but we can’t wait to dive in. Both of us struggle with the question “What is this worth?” or “Is this getting marked?”. Hacking Assessment is about shifting everyone's thinking away from grades. School should be about the learning, not about the number attached to that learning. We can’t wait to start this one!
It is important to remember that no one book or idea is the magic bullet for our schools. Rather, the synthesis of ideas is important, especially when each individual educator thinks about their strengths and areas for growth. Reflection, as always, is important. We can picture a classroom where project based learning is the norm, each student is learning something different so that they can be successful on their own project and the curriculum is delivered in a way that makes sense to each individual student. More than that, each student engages in the classroom not because it is worth a mark but because they want to learn that material. We aren’t there yet, but we are working on it.
Want to learn with us? Consider joining Innovators Mindset, a book club with a twist! If you are an employee of the HDSB you can join in the discussion and get a free copy of the book. Over the course of five evenings the book will be discussed online. Participate from the comfort of your own home, or meet up with friends and collaborate as a group.
We look forward to participating in the conversation.