Posts tagged try fail learn
Knowledge Building

Bijan Nagji is an elementary teacher at Viola Desmond Public School. He has 19 years experience as an educator in the Halton District School Board. His favourite thing to hear in a school is ”sure let’s give it a try!”.  His least favourite thing to hear is “I can’t do this, it’s too hard” and “This is just a new education fad”. He is passionate about student voice, empowering students and building a strong classroom and school community.  This is his first contribution to the Shift Blog.

The idea of Knowledge Building came across my radar in the middle of the 2017 school year. Ms. Hanmer, one of the Vice Principals at our school, dropped by my classroom to introduce me to a document.  Being open minded, I glanced at it and said “Sure, I’ll take a look”. I put it on my teacher's desk (I still had one then). Life got busy, you know how THAT goes!  And so, despite best intentions, it stayed there. As I reflect on this, I can still hear that voice inside my head saying “knowledge?” and thinking “why, isn’t that a low level thinking skill?”

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Later in the school year, I heard that the Halton District School Board announced that there were some grants available from the Ministry of Education to innovate (what a different time that was!) and try new ways of learning in the classroom. The idea of trying something new, something different sounded good to me! They were looking for proposals around how to teach the New Global Competencies. Knowing that there had been discussion that the Global Competencies were planned to replace our Learning Skills in our Provincial Report Cards, I figured, hey, why not apply? So, a group of us got together and wrote up what sounded pretty impressive (to me, anyway) proposal. Thanks Ms. Horner!

We decided to use the funding to see if we can teach junior students skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.  Little did I know that it would take me into perhaps one of the best and most gratifying professional endeavours to this day. Using The Knowledge Building pedagogy was a part of that proposal and our proposal was successful! That’s when I started to look into that document, dig a little deeper and get some sense of what knowledge building really was! I learned then that it was about students “identifying problems of understanding”, creating theories about those problems, acknowledging and respecting idea diversity and then collaborating together and focussing on idea improvement! Curious yet? Check it out here!

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Sometimes as educators it’s easy to stay the course and do what we already do. Risk taking and stepping outside our own comfort zone is not natural at times. It can be challenging and even difficult. It is great to find a like-minded team, willing to play and experiment with new ideas.   We took some of its theories, principles and ideologies and attempted to apply them into our classroom. We started slowly and looked at big ideas and concepts across all curricular areas and incorporated Knowledge Building within them. Some basic KB scaffolds such as “My Theory is”, “I wonder…”, “I still need to understand…” “Building onto this idea…”, “This theory does not explain…”, “Putting our knowledge together…” were introduced to students and we jumped right into using KB circles. When students seemed to have mastered some of these, we increased the scaffolds we were using, changed a few and even created some of our own. One of the topics we explored in our circles was the teenager girl Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun from Saudi Arabia and how she had been welcomed into Canada as a refugee, after fleeing from her family and country.

It soon occurred to me that our grade 5 students were engaged, respectful and actually sounded like empowered students and learners having a respectful conversation.  In short, they sounded like adults! Reflecting on this, I think that may have been my aha moment!

As part of the grant process, we brought in some experts to our school to dig deeper into how we could use Knowledge Building to teach some of the Global competencies.

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That’s when we were introduced to the Knowledge Forum! The Knowledge Forum is an online software tool used to help support Knowledge Building communities. Students have the opportunity to collaborate online with one another in this platform and build on the ideas of one another in order to focus on idea improvement

It seemed so complex at first, and a bit intimidating too! But, we gave it a go. What an exciting tool!

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We continued to take risks, play, fail and eventually learn! Oh yes, there were lots of failures along the way. Really, the kids figured out things quicker than me! They were quick to figure out how to post their comments, how to reply and add to a post and even how to attach relevant documents that supported their ideas and theories.  Even at age 10, they are so tech savvy and intuitive!

I was particularly fascinated by the analytics tool in the Knowledge Forum platform. We continued playing and exploring with the students and realized that there was invaluable data that it gave us! I liked that it allowed the silent, more reserved students to have a voice! Not only that, but students and teachers had data about peer to peer collaboration.

Students were looking at their collaboration as a class community and came to the realization that many of them were only collaborating with their friends, as this was the most comfortable for them. This opened the door for great discussion and discourse in our room about what collaboration looked like in the real world. Slowly, we started noticing a change and more authentic interactions with others. But wait, if the goal is idea improvement, we still had a long way to go! Another emerging trend came to the forefront. Students seemed to be really good at creating and stating their own theories, but not as good at building on the ideas of others or putting ideas together.

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Knowledge Building is now a way of life in our classroom. If you are an educator, administrator, a policy maker, I have this to say, give this a go. Try, Fail, Learn, Try Again! The way I see it, whether you are an expert or just beginning to dabble with teaching pedagogies such as project based learning, the maker movement, Inquiry based learning, integrative thinking, design thinking or any other classroom practice, they really all fall under this one umbrella of Knowledge Building! So, no, it’s not an add on! Give it a go! I have no doubt that in the end the winners will be our students and our future generation!

Why Escape Rooms?

Being able to work in a classroom of our own at Milton District High School is a bit of a blessing for us.  Turning this space into our own demonstration classroom is a bit of a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want a blank slate to play in?  We realized quickly that we were going to be slowed down a bit by factors that were beyond our control. The room needs to be able to demonstrate a wide variety of uses for multiple subject areas and pathways all while being functional for secondary or elementary students and teachers.

The first step we took in our space was to measure the walls and order whiteboards.  We like to work vertically and from our experience, so do students. Once the install is complete the demonstration room will have space for 17 to 20 student groups to work.  Unfortunately the delivery and install could take up to a month.

Step two was to find some furniture vendors who would be willing to work with us in outfitting the room with functional, flexible furniture.  We got really lucky on this one, as plenty of retailers wanted the opportunity to play with us. You can look forward to furniture as a vehicle to change pedagogy in a future post.  Again though, the downside is that scheduling the meetings, delivery and install takes time.

So we were expecting to have about a month of time where our demonstration space would be a blank slate.  Yet we had a few goals we wanted to meet, such as getting to know some of the Milton District staff and students.  We also had this funky display case attached to the room that could be accessed by a lockable door.

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“That would be a cool feature in an escape room…”, we thought.

This was quickly followed by, “We should turn this into an escape room!”  We might have high fived. This was innovation. We had a product, the demonstration room, that we wanted to improve in the short term.  At the same time we wanted to improve our understanding of the school community itself.

We put together a package of sorts for interested classes, based around a YouTube video we saw that discussed the skills that are required to be successful in an escape room.  We wanted to go a bit deeper than the video, linking the skills used in an escape room to our own Learning Skills and Global Competencies. Our idea was to show the video, have the students complete a Breakout Edu escape room, then debrief their success or failure by linking back to their own individual learning skills.  

We did become a victim of our own success.  We offered up 25 time slots for classes to participate in the escape room, of which, 19 ended up being filled.  We didn’t initially plan for what to do when a student repeated our room. In fact, we only expect to run the same room several times, so we wouldn’t even mix up the puzzles.  In the short term, we thought that the one or two “repeats” could help us watch their class for good examples of team communication. We would then lean on these students to help guide our debrief with their class.

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This worked well, for two days, then disaster as a Grade 9 class arrived at the escape room with fully half of the students attending for the third time.  On the fly between periods we printed out the puzzles for a brand new escape room and quickly set the room up. This wasn’t super ideal, as we had not really tested the room ourselves and in the end the room itself was a great deal more challenging than our first puzzle.  To this date, no one successfully solved that second room.

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Another challenge we faced was facilitating the debrief at the end of the room.  Several classes took close to the full 45 minutes to escape. Add the travel time and our intro activity and were we pretty much at the end of our period with the students.  So while we wanted to have a rich discussion with each class, we found ourselves more often congratulating them and then sending them on their way with some homework. Most often, “Think about how good communication and teamwork skills can help you in real life”.  Again, not quite what we were picturing when we decided to run with escape rooms.

That being said, lots of good came from our two week experiment.  We met lots of students from all grades and pathways. We also got to meet a fair number of teachers.  This is important to us, as we believe that intentionally building community in authentic ways is important on the first day of school, the second day of school and every day after too.  So we hope that those classes who participated in an escape room did notice a shift in their own community. We saw it happen in a few cases, where a class would arrive dragging their heels and asking “What’s the point of this?”, only to leave smiling and laughing.  

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We are coming to realize how important a sense of play is to school communities.  People should feel that it is fun to be learning. This doesn’t mean that the activities are all fluff and candy and certainly it wouldn’t make sense to do an escape room every day with your students.  But if we can find authentic ways to make students and staff feel excited about coming to school to learn together, that’s a big win. So tell us, what do you do to make students feel excited about learning?

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.


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.
What Does Success Look Like?
Matt and I are fast approaching our one year anniversary in this role.  When we started, last February, with the roughest of plans.  We were going to demonstrate how the Halton District School Board is building a shared culture of Innovation.  How we did that was left, for the most part, up to us.  No pressure.

We both really wanted to create our own Podcast, but some advice from Phil Davison and Cindy Cosentino led us to believe that it might be better to start with a Blog first.  So we dove in, blogging and then eventually launching our “Case For Innovation…” video series, followed by a few Calls to Action.  We’ve Shifted at The Barn, we’ve presented at conferences both inside and outside Halton, we’ve been vulnerable and silly.  In short, we’ve tried our best to put our own individual learning on display.



Matt and I have a lot of fun in this role.  We have a very fluid “to-do” list that gets pretty fuzzy around the edges.  With lots of balls in the air it’s sometimes tough to judge if we are making progress.  Most days we spend our afternoons together talking about what to post next, or perhaps we plan an upcoming visit to a classroom.  We worry about how to create more secondary conversations, both on and off the blog.

Matt turned to me the other day and asked, “If we keep doing this, what does success look like in three years?”

To say I was shook up would be an understatement, because I don’t know what our success might look like.  Many subscribers to our blog and lots of views on our videos would be nice, but that in an of itself doesn’t make us successful.  

We’ve learned that Innovation is a process that leads to improvements to a product, process or understanding.  

Given that definition of Innovation and that you are here reading this blog because (hopefully) you want to improve something in your practice, I’m curious what success might look like to you?  If you follow along with us for the next little while, what would your success criteria be?  How would you know if you shifted your practice?

In the end, my own personal success criteria is a moving target and I’m ok with that.  I want to Make School Different and in three years time I’ll be happy if I can look back and see that change.  I’d also be alright with us making a podcast or two.
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!
Why the heck did I do that?
“Why the heck did I DO that?”  


Have you ever found yourself asking that question after teaching a lesson?  I did, a week or so ago.  I delivered a classic “powerpoint”, with teenager eyes glazing over but I’m powering forward and getting through my slides because “that is the lesson”.  Immediately after finishing the period, I realized I messed up. Students had probably retained 5% of the information that I just talked at them about.  This stung a little, especially since what I just did flew in the face of my current “WHY” as a teacher.


One iteration of the creative process we are playing with.
Let me back up and give you a bit of context.  I’m an art and photography teacher and my colleagues and I are really pushing hard to reimagine the creative process.
WHY are we doing this?  We are finding that when students’ experiment within the creative process and are not evaluated, they engage more in the risk taking and truly embrace their creativity.  Being set up as an experiment, students are taking pictures while genuinely curious about how the shot will turn out, not because the teacher expects something specific to happen.  We ask students to take LOTS of photos.  With curiosity driven outcomes, not mark driven outcomes; where failure has no real consequences and is only a learning tool to encourage students to try again, our classes have been a lot more free in their willingness to try creative experiments.  We are responding to Sir Ken Robinson in our own way and trying to right a wrong.


In photography, we have been working on using a series of active daily shooting challenges to get students out and experimenting.  The goal is this: by getting students to experiment and create with cameras in their hand FIRST before we get into the technical specifics of the camera, this will set the stage for students to uncover the curriculum, not the teacher covering the curriculum.  The challenges work around an idea or a technique, each day uncovering a different aspect of the topic.  I have got to say, these challenges have been going really well; the class gets into a groove, knowing that each day, we will be directing our focus to something different.  It is kind of like a Photography Workout of the Day (WOD).  These Shooting Challenges aren’t evaluated, so students are given permission to fail.  At the end of the week, students select their Photo of the Week, share and post it, and talk about what worked and why.  The emphasis each day is on shooting TONS, being encouraged to play, try weird things and to share with each other, with no expectation that “Today is the day you make a good image”.  The Photo of the Week is a tool for pause and reflection, to look back at those weird experiments and pull out something interesting.


Which brings me back to me messing up last week.  I had just spent the week prior structuring the course to allow for student centred discovery of the material, why did I decide to cap off the learning with some teacher focused “chalk talk”?  At the time, I figured that the students needed to know all the specifics, so I had better give it to them.  I only realized that I had messed up when I saw those glazed eyes. This was definitely the wrong approach.  So I was determined to improve the next week, when we would be tackling a different subject: shutter speed.


The following week, the class started to uncover the next topic in the same way, daily shooting challenges.  Lots of fun, lots of experimenting.  

To cap off the learning, students again choose their “Photo of the Week”, and instead of me talking at them about the ins and outs of shutter speed, I pulled inspiration from a sketchnote created by Laura Wheeler in a tweet I had seen a day before:




I randomized groups by picking playing cards, put up large paper on the walls of the room, and gave students key words for students to group and arrange in a way that made sense to them.  Then I floated and watched as the students started to pull together their learning on their own terms.  I encouraged them to access the information posted to Google Classroom and to Google Search other terms or techniques they were unsure of.  It was great to see students debating and discussing how to lay out their mind map and making connections to their learning in the past week.  What they were putting up on their mind map wasn’t always correct, but that was an opportunity to clarify and start a discussion.  
Students spent their time discussing, mapping and organizing their understanding


What I took away from the last couple weeks in photography class, was that TRY, FAIL, LEARN isn’t just for the students.  As teachers, we need to be more comfortable failing, reflecting and sharing.  Its great to share our amazing home runs on social media and it is also important to talk about when things DIDN’T go as planned.  Let’s open up our classroom, talk to others, share our experiments (failed or successful) with other teachers and let’s start to talk openly about our practice, warts and all, because if we do, we will become more creative and more dynamic in our classrooms and in our schools.  So how about you?  Can you think of when a lesson, a unit, a project went seriously sideways?   How did you pivot and save the lesson, or what did you do differently next time?