Posts tagged risk taking
Community Building From Day One
A new school year always brings changes.  For us, that change is the fact that we’ve been released to work on the Shift full time for this year.  For the past year and a half we’ve been teaching two classes in the morning and then working on sharing innovative HDSB stories for one period each in the afternoon.  This was a great set up for us, as it allowed us to keep a foot in the classroom and field test some of the interesting things we’ve been hearing about. It was also challenging, as our ability to travel and meet with other innovators was somewhat limited.

On Tuesday, the first day of class, we used our extra time to visit two schools to see how they start building a community with their students from day one.  We know that a safe and inclusive community is key to creating a school where innovation can thrive. We’ve also learned that community is something that needs to be built continuously.




Iroquois Ridge High School invited us in to see how the first few hours of the first school day works to build community right out of the gate.  Grade Nines are welcomed by the Grade 11 and 12 students on the school’s Link Crew, new students in Grades Ten to Twelve are welcomed by a welcoming team called Ridge United, new staff are brought on board and even parents get a small taste of what high school is like. It was great to see how they made sure to foster a welcoming atmosphere to all newcomers to the Ridge community, not just the grade 9s.

We then dropped in on Irma Coulson Public School which, on first view, looked to be in the middle of some sort of high energy festival.  We could see the back field as we walked in the front door and assumed that the by volume of noise and intensity of activity that a concert was going on.  Nope...it was just recess. We really are out of our element when it comes to the daily routines of elementary school. We were pleasantly surprised when the Kindergarten teachers spoke about how quickly their “kindies” had stopped crying once their parents left (who were probably crying more than their children were!).



That’s when it struck us just how scary the new school year can be.  For students new to a building, or school in general, where they don’t know anyone, don’t understand or the norms and routines or what is expected of them, the new school year can be filled with uncertainty.  It’s this reason that makes the work teachers, students and everyone in the building do to build community so important. When a new student is able to start the school year on solid ground, with a positive, welcoming experience, they are able to feed off that positive energy to be more engaged, more excited, and ultimately, achieve better in school.

Curriculum is important, teaching and learning is important, but as we’ve seen students will grow more if they can exist in a school or classroom where positive community is built intentionally every day. If you are interested, check out some community building activities we posted last year on the blog.  But don’t just listen to us!  Check out the work that Iroquois Ridge and Irma Coulson staff and students started on day one of the school year.



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




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!
“We really don’t have a plan”
"We really don't have a plan". That is the spirit of risk taking and experimentation that Sylvonna Brennan and Andrea De Mendonca took when launching into the unknown and piloting “Engology”, an integrated Grade 11 English and Biology course this past fall. You may have seen their article in the Toronto Star. We were interested in digging a little deeper to get an understanding into the conditions that allowed this great combined credit course launch and where it will go from here. 

The basics of their integrated course are easy to understand. Students were offered an English/Biology package of courses in the afternoon. Topics from both sets of curriculum were woven together and both teachers worked closely on creating a coherent experience for students.

Both Sylvonna and Andrea were open to admitting that they were working alongside their students in this new adventure. Many times during the semester they empowered their students to advocate for how they wanted the courses to progress. There were times when the students would push back on topics or evaluations that they did not like and the teachers valued that student voice. 
Rethinking Reading Lists in Engology
Both teachers expected to attract the high achievers in their building to the integrated program. However, in practice this isn’t what happened. Their program attracted the dreamers at their school. It attracted students who wanted to take a risk and try something new and because of that, the cohort of students who joined them were the right kids for the course.

The community in the room grew organically over the semester as students had their beliefs about the Engology credit tested. Many thought it was going to be a bird course and they were soon proved wrong. The course was different, but not easier. Students and teachers noticed a strengthening of their “soft skills” as they were asked to think critically and communicate often about what they were learning.

Communicating understanding in new ways
This lead to a culture of risk taking in the Engology classroom. It’s easy to write a test and put down what you know and then forget about it. It’s a lot hard to communicate your understanding in different ways, to apply it, to write stories that weave the science curriculum into english. Students got comfortable with failure because they had embraced a spirit of iteration. They tried, failed and then learned.

For their parts, Sylvonna and Andrea are learning from their successes and failures too. Both are excited to teach the course again in the next school year. They are hopeful that student interest will allow the program to be run in both semesters. Sylvonna dreams about outfitting her classroom with furniture that will help promote discussion in a more relaxed atmosphere. Andrea is looking forward to finding ways to highlight how biology and science are represented in the media. She is dreaming about an assignment where students critique a film or tv show and talk about how science is glorified or misrepresented.
The creation of the Engology course was a project eight years in the making. Much of the day to day planning was done informally, in the hallways between periods. Sylvonna and Andrea exemplify why, when embarking on a creative or innovative act like this pairing of courses, you need to just launch into it, without a complete plan. It is through the lived experience of creating every day that that the magic happens.

What have you dreamed big about? What’s your eight year project that you wish you could try? We’d love to know!
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.
Making Us Believers
Words matter to Amanda Williams, which is why she calls herself a Glitterarian who works in a Learning Commons, rather than a Librarian who works in a Library.  She isn’t happy with compliant students who learn passively.  Her interests lie in engaging students so that they can be empowered by their own learning.
The "Loose Parts" area ready to be used 

How does she do this?  Well, we’re not sure if Amanda is an expert in Feng Shui or not, be we immediately felt comfortable and welcome when we walked into the Learning Commons at John T. Tuck Public School.  Amanda is a passionate advocate for Maker Education and she has transformed the school library into a Makerspace (just don’t call it a Library, it’s a Learning Commons).  It was quiet in the space, so we had a chance to sit down and chat about what Maker Education could offer to students.  Amanda spoke with passion about how grade 3 students were asked to construct models of shelters that could withstand extreme weather and environmental conditions.  By doing this, they were learning about current World events and uncovering the curriculum related to Strong and Stable Structures and Forces Causing Movement.


Jack proudly showing off his hamster house
As it turned out, that quiet space was merely the “calm before the storm”.  Suddenly, it was second break, and the doors of the Learning Commons opened to a wave of students eager to MAKE.  To say that the students were sprinting into the room would be an understatement.  You see, it was “Maker Club” and students in grade 6 had access to the various stations: a Lego wall, a stop motion animation station, a “loose parts” maker area, and a “Makey Makey” station.  There was a station where students were making and playing with slime, a group of students creating their own film using the green screen and a station of students that were constructing their designs out of cardboard, including some complex hamster houses.  The energy and focus of these students was through the roof.  We thought to ourselves, “what if students approached school with this level of enthusiasm?”  Students bee-lined to the area that they knew they wanted to work and got down to business of making with furious abandon.  It truly was a sight to behold.  One grade 6 student and future CEO talked to us about her slime business on ETSY, where she was making and selling all types of slime.  The level of confidence and drive in this young entrepreneur was thoroughly impressive.  
Going crazy for slime!

Creating with "Makey Makey"
We will be honest, before visiting
with Amanda, neither of us really understood what a “Makerspace” meant.  Now, after spending an afternoon in her Learning Commons and enjoying her presentation at the HDSB Innovation Conference on October 28th, we are believers!  Maker Education is a tool that empowers students to actively discover and create as a means to uncover the curriculum.  It is an inversion of how traditional education is usually delivered.  Problems are posed to students, they iterate through a series of failures or even small successes, until they find themselves asking questions that drive the learning.  Makerspaces create the headache that makes students want the curriculum aspirin.  


In a Makerspace, even though the “product” is the final assessment, the process to create that product is valued more.  When learning, students create a product, the teacher observes the process and has a conversation with the students about their project.  Suggestions for improvement are offered, which allows the students a chance to go back and improve their product.  This leads to more observations and conversations and improvements.  The learning is cyclical, not linear.  Done well, the lines between Student and Teacher blur and the classroom becomes filled with Mentors and Facilitators.




Why would you want to explore creating a Makerspace of your own?  Because students who work in a Makerspace create and explore their own knowledge.  They have greater room to be independent and creative.  They will learn the benefit of being iterative in their work, of trying, failing and learning.  Makerspaces are not high tech or low tech, rather they are anywhere in between.

But what Makerspaces really provide is a safe community where students are encouraged to take risks and fail as a part of their own learning.  When we visited the Learning Commons we were overjoyed to have young students explain to us what exactly each ingredient in a Slime recipe will change.  We watched a student prototype and then build a play structure for his hamster.  We were hypnotized by the students working on the LEGO wall as they constructed a track for a marble run.  
Adding on to the LEGO wall to build a working marble run
There is so much more to Makerspaces and Maker Education than we can cover in this post.  When I participated in Amanda’s session at the HDSB Innovation Conference, I was overwhelmed with the task of building “something that does something.”





And yet, creating something in the ten minutes we were given left me with a huge feeling of accomplishment.  I can only imagine how students feel when they take something from their imagination and make it real.  






We still have questions that we’d like to explore with Amanda and we hope that after reading this, you do too.  If you’ve ever wanted to create your own Makerspace, leave us a comment.  If there is enough interest in learning more, perhaps we can make something happen (Google Hangout?  Release time?).  If you have questions, send Amanda an email.  She’s thought out her space well and has lots of advice to teachers who are new to the Maker-scene!
Ignite the Spark
Last year, Halton was able to send 25 teachers to the 2017 OAME Conference.  There was lots of good learning and discussions during the three day conference.  What many realized was that there wasn’t much of a secondary conversation after the conference.  People were inspired, but what was lacking was a way to share that inspiration with other teachers in the board.

Enter Janet Juby and Laura Gatey, who were inspired enough to propose a Halton Mini-Conference in order to promote sharing.  Part of this mini-conference was a series of Ignite talks.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept, participants get 20 slides that auto advance after 15 seconds, giving you five minutes to speak about one topic.




Constructing an Ignite talk is a challenge, as you are forced to be very purposeful with what you decide to share.  I spent my five minutes speaking about Risk Taking and why I think encouraging our students to be risk takers is so important.


I was much more inspired by the other nine Ignite speakers.  I was left with a list of things I want to learn more about.


Tammy Knetchel validated my feelings about Interleaving and Spiralling.  She made me wonder what Interleaving might look like in other subject areas.


Erin Kinsella spoke about the need for Wellness in our classrooms.  The more I explore the ideas of Wellness, the more I see it is linked closely to Community Building.


Stephanie Briggs shared a story about her teaching philosophy and her desire to convince others that thinking is always greater than memorizing.


Lindsay Kueh nailed a talk about coding in math classrooms.  She made me want to diver back into coding and find ways to incorporate it into my classrooms.


Sheri Hill asked us why we are so excited about Fridays and asked how we can use play to engage our classrooms.


Todd Malarczuk encouraged us to jump on and off the various educational bandwagons at will.  Find the things that work for you, leave the other things behind and grow your own personal pedagogy.


Virginia Houston told the group about having students build their own Escape Room and show off their own learning by creating something.


Aaron Neal speaking for Michael Szarka, who was absent due to illness, stepped in and improvised a talk from Michael’s slides.  He did a great job convincing us that it’s ok to ask What If?


Matt Coleman joined the math world for a day and talked how we can gain longer periods of time with our students by Hacking the School Day.


What I really loved about the Ignite talks was how everyone focussed on personal inspiration, the teacher’s journey, their philosophy, their “why”, and not necessarily a strategy.   Passion was on display all day long!
From Why to Barbie Bungee
Back when I started down this ever Shifting road, I learned that good Innovation starts with identifying a WHY.  Why might I want to let students access technology in class?  Why is building a positive classroom culture so important?  I spent the summer thinking about the direction I wanted to take my classes this semester and why I wanted to take them that way.  Neil deGrasse Tyson summed up my thinking pretty well.



I’ve noticed that try as I might, the students I encounter lack a spirit of creativity.  It seems that many times they would prefer to be presented with the answer rather than seek out an answer on their own.  Thinking is difficult.  Many students say they enjoy learning, but that the stress of grades and assessments turn passion into anxiety.


I want to change that.


In May, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Ontario Association of Mathematics Educators (OAME) annual conference in Kingston.  I saw lots of great pedagogy that has been put into action and enjoyed many great conversations about how we can move our practice forward.  I felt empowered to try something new and with the course team at my school, we decided to forge ahead with some project based learning in our Grade 9 Academic Math classes.


The course team decided to start with a week of community building, because nothing pumps the brakes harder on curiosity than a week of prerequisite skills worksheets followed by a quiz.  We had fun and laughed by playing team pictionary on our first day of class.  We did some problem solving activities around the game Skyscrapers.  We debated how tasty a banana really is by playing around with Desmos Pomegraphit.  We ended the week by playing Battleship and talking about situations when plotting points might be important.


All in all, in four days we didn’t do much traditional math but the class was primed for our first project, Barbie Bungee.  This is a project that has made the rounds with math teachers for years.  I had heard about it, but never had the chance to try it with a class of my own.


The premise is simple: tie an elastic around Barbie’s legs, drop her, measure how far she drops, add an elastic and repeat.  Then figure out how many elastics are needed for a very high drop and try to get Barbie as close to the ground as possible.


On Day 1 we started with a Desmos Activity followed by a teaser video of some Barbie’s not having much fun.  




We polled the class with various questions: What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  Doing this allowed us to slowly introduce the project and steer the class into asking the real questions:  What makes the “best” Barbie Bungee?  We ended class by defining the “best” bungee as being the one that takes Barbie as close to the ground as possible without physically touching the ground.


On Day 2 we pushed forward by asking students to sketch what a relationship between the number of elastics and the distance Barbie falls might look like.  This prompted some good discussion on what we expected to happen with our Barbies as we added more elastics.  Then it was time for the actual challenge to start.  Without leaving the classroom, students had to build bungee cords for their dolls so that they could be safely dropped from the top of the doorframe.  It was a bit of a disaster, but the teaching team expected that.  Our students hadn’t really been shown the tools to be successful at this activity.  We were, to borrow a phrase, “creating a headache” so that students would feel the need for the math.





After watching our students attempt this initial challenge with no real plans, we pushed pause on Day 3 and did a more formal type of lesson.  We reminded our students about Scatter Plots, and discussed some ways they could use this concept to help them with their Barbies.


No Barbies were harmed...
Given this knowledge, we started Day 4 with a better plan.  Students knew to start small, measure the distance Barbie falls with one band, then two bands, then three and try to find a pattern.  We wanted our students predicting, given that we had not yet told them the real height of our Bungee Jump.  By the end of the period all groups were ready to test their Barbies and were told that the drop on the last day of this activity would be 520cm, or 5.2 meters, or two stories.


Day 5 was the big day, a time to test our students calculations in the real world.  There was a lot of excitement and smiles.  Perhaps not surprisingly, there wasn’t much anxiety.  This was, for all intents and purposes, a test of the students work and knowledge over the past week, yet none of our students approached it this way.  They were eager to have their Barbie’s jump, and disappointed when we told them they couldn’t refine their bungee cord after their failure.  And there were many failures.  

The point of this project wasn’t really to build the “best” Barbie Bungee.  The point was to get kids excited about math class, to get them to think about math class, and to let them have some fun in math class.





At the end of the week the students had learned a lot by doing.  They’ve explored scatter plots, collected data, and made informal lines of best fit.  They were assigned to visibly random groups at the beginning of the week and met people they wouldn’t have otherwise worked with.  


Could my class do well on a formal test about scatter plots and lines of best fit?  Probably not at this point in the course, but this is why I reject testing as a sound form of evaluation.  When a student completes a test and fails, what have they learned?  When students dropped their Barbie’s and they hit the floor, what have they learned?  I’d argue that students that have iterated their way through the bungee jump project have learned much more from their own failures than those who fail a test.  From my point of view we brought some joy into our curriculum and lets students learn through a bit of discovery.  It’s working for us so far!

So that’s my why, what’s yours?
Getting Ready For September 5th


Here we go, all set for another year playing this game called school!  Some of you undoubtedly have spent some time last week preparing for students’ arrival on Tuesday, some of you unpacking after moving schools, or perhaps arriving at your first school.



It is a time of transition, beginnings and reflection:  how are we going to do better this year?  



If you are like us, the inevitable nervous butterflies are settling in.  Imagine how our students must be feeling, especially if they are transition into a new school.



So while you are getting ready for September 5th, here are some challenges we’d like you to consider completing before the first day of school.


  • Sign up for Twitter!  Sit back a listen for a bit, search for some hashtags, follow some cool people.  Join the conversation when you feel like you have something to say, or just participate by watching.
  • Participate in the Observe Me challenge!  Make a sign for your classroom door and invite other teachers into your classroom.  The best way for us to do a better job in our schools is to share what we do with each other.
  • Consider shadowing a student or two for a day.  Talk to your admin team about getting some release time to see what it feels like to be a student for a day.  


The best way we can get better and have fun doing so is to open our doors, talk, share, experiment and play.  If we have fun, that is a great way to ensure our students will too.





Square Pegs and Round Holes
First, as we learn about our platform for blogging we’ve come across some shortcomings.  We often embed videos in our posts.  If you are reading this post in an email update, you can’t see the video.  It’s worth it to click through to the actual blog to see all of the content we add.  We’d hate for you to miss something.

Second, this post is deviating from our norm a little bit.  I’m (Jamie) offering up some of my opinions and I’m probably being a bit more direct than I usually am.  As always, we welcome feedback in our comments.  Discussion is good.

This was an interesting week for me, as I came across several unrelated things that really got me thinking.  While unrelated, I think they go hand in hand.

The first was the short animated film Alike, which was shown to Matt and I when we were talking about iteration with Wendy Spence, Sarah Alexander, and Kelly-Ann Cameron. Do take a few minutes to watch, if you can.  It is an outstanding video, one that will stick with you.  Trust me!



We started our talk about iteration by discussing how children develop.  Think about a child learning to walk, it’s all risk taking and failure and trying again and failing until suddenly they get it right.  Then it's on to running, same process.  Throwing a ball.  Riding a bike.  Dancing.  Singing.  Playing.  Drawing.  Try, fail and learn over and over again.  Then the child gets to Kindergarten and they play and explore, a lot.  They are trying and failing, a lot.  For the most part, children thrive in this environment.  It’s how they’ve learned for all their lives so far.  However, something changes when children graduate from Kindergarten, and that change is reflected in the graphic that was shared with me by Jeff Catania.

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I think we’ve all noticed that as children move through school, their enthusiasm decreases.  Their desire to be risk takers and explore new ideas decreases.  School becomes something to dread.  That’s on us.  By the time a student enters Grade 9 they have spent over 10,000 hours in school.  Long enough, according to Malcolm Gladwell, to achieve mastery in a field like learning.  However, what we’ve probably noticed is that for each hour that goes by, they enjoy their time less. The educational system is leading students down this road, so what is causing this drain of joyful learning and risk taking out of our students?  I don’t have answers, but I do have suspicions.

Which leads to some data I had a chance to read over this past week.  Earlier in the school year, secondary teachers in Halton were invited to participate in a voluntary survey regarding their attitudes surrounding Final 30% tasks and whether we should be returning those tasks to students.  The thing that struck me about this survey was that many teachers felt it wasn’t worth it to return a student's final exam or final performance task.  The reasons were varied, but many centered around the fact that “students only care about their marks”, or that students wouldn’t learn anything from reviewing what they did wrong.

My feelings about final exams are no secret.

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So if teachers don’t think students will learn anything from their final exam and looking at what they did wrong, why are we all still so hung up on giving a final exam?  Are we really happy with classrooms filled with students who only care about their final mark?  Aren’t we all trying to create young adults who want to learn for learning's sake?  For me, the implication is clear.  We are a part of a system that is its own worst enemy. As players in this system can we hack the system to break out of this cycle?  Is there something we can be doing about this?  The film Alike, the decrease in school enjoyment, our attitudes about exams are all symptoms of the same disease.

We place too much value on testing and marks and if students are ready for the next level.  Students are square pegs, school is a round hole, and when a peg comes along that doesn’t fit, we shave down the edges and force it through.  Then we keep doing that, over and over again.  Every time we do that, our students enjoy school less.

So why can’t we just make the hole bigger?  Why can’t we find ways to offer rewarding projects, individualized for each student, that hopefully more people would find value in?

You can read the survey data here and draw your own conclusions about final 30% tasks.  We’d love to hear what your takeaways are.

The Case for Risk Taking

The end is in sight; can you feel it?  A few weeks of hard work, then that dock/porch/yoga mat is calling your name.  A well deserved rest after a year of teaching, engaging, ...and shifting.  June is also a great time to take stock of how the year went, think about our “good to greats” and start to imagine a little bit about next year.  

The year is still fresh in our heads and we have a good vantage point to think forward at this point of the year.  During this process, we invite you to think about how you can take a risk next year.  These could be risks that you take in how you lead a class, a course, or building culture in your school.  This could be how to set the framework for encouraging your students to take their own greater risks in their learning.  It is a fun time to start thinking BIG, because the BIG is buffered by some serious summer YOU time first.  Here is The Case for Risk Taking.