Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘inquiry’

links

This past week I participated in the  Network of Inquiry and Innovation (NOII) Symposium:  Stories of Change: Pictures of Possibility.  My presentation was entitled Innovation That Sticks – Real Examples from Real Schools.  I think we can easily get caught up in the theoretical of what schools could be and fail to recognize the shifts occurring right in front of us.  In our district (and I know of others), teachers and administrators are finding new ways to connect to students.  The experiences for our students are quite different from even five years ago.

One notion that seemed to particularly resonate with those in attendance was my latest thinking around scaling.  I openly admitted, over the last seven years in West Vancouver, I have often considered the idea of “scaling” — how do we take an idea from one school, which is clearly making a difference for learners, and replicate it in our other schools?  The following two slides from the presentation reflect my most recent thinking on this:

innovation 1

 

innovation 2

 

I have moved away from the language of “scaling our work,” to “networking our work.”  We are not trying to create ‘sameness’ in our classes and schools; rather, we are trying to support the good work in one site by connecting it to the good work in another.  I have written before about the power of networks in West Vancouver and British Columbia and I believe this is one of the characteristics that differentiates B.C. education from so many other regions — it is the connection across schools, districts, levels and disciplines — all focused on improving student learning.

So, rather than seeking to scale work, our focus is on diffusion.  At some point, there are so many connections with the ‘new’ they become the ‘normal’.  We are seeing this with our inquiry work in West Vancouver on all levels — we have teachers embracing the PYP / MYP International Baccalaureate approach; others, use the Spirals of Inquiry as a basis of their work, while others use Understanding by Design to ground their approach. They are all taking similar approaches to learning and connecting to each other as inquiry-based learning has taken hold in all of our schools. The learners are as diverse as the learning, and while I know some would appreciate the simplicity of  “just doing it all one way” we are finding huge power in the autonomy of teachers and schools as part of the new learning network.

The work of innovation in our schools is not a program, it is not something we can announce, proclaim or implement.  It is an ongoing shift to adjust our system to meet the needs of students in a way that is reflective of the world they are living in.  The power of networks — connecting people and ideas as part of a community — is key to our story of success in West Vancouver.

The full slide deck from my presentation is below (if you receive this post via email you will have to open it in the site to view):

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryancastro/7173268957/sizes/o/in/photolist-bVSSWZ-fJqRfi-a1sSda-9KdtBC-fy1AoN-fxMLSe-fxMLKn-fy38no-bDSM2G-8hNLpS-eKLJtb-djtEZU-8SJard-7EZiaB-9GFFe3-9fF3g3-9sWooL-adTFgG-8i9k54-8hj2rQ-7Q9yvp-f9vGuT-9K1mD5-dMnjmT-9ftzZn-faSLEA-a18XQ3-f6aURR-ahHjzp-b6e6yn-fCkUhd-fJcBoT-7S17Jy-c8JYSh-92jyb1-akePs1-7EUbry-9urCyQ-9eTkEV-ftBX9a-9akv5F-e8VuCk-fBogyL-agC1ae-eK7XV3-9PGFUF-7AsWvc-a6ZFyp-aM3UTz-dcNmiR/

Credit:  Troy Ancas

It is early days yet and we are still in the honeymoon phase of the school year. Rested and inspired over the summer break, students, staff and parents return with new goals and big ambitions.  It is a great time of year to be in our schools, and over the past few weeks I have spent from a few minutes to a few hours in each of them. And, what I have noticed, while there is not a lot strikingly new, there are practices which have evolved over the last few years that have become ingrained and with an increasing depth to the work.

I have written often about the interplay between inquiry, self-regulation and digital access.  And, when I visit a school now I see elements of all three in action.  They are reflected in school plans, but more importantly, they are seen in the classrooms — and not just a couple of classrooms.

I have talked with several elementary teachers about their planning on units of inquiry.  Last year, while they may have done one each term, teachers are refining these units and adding a second unit to each term this year.  The language they use around inquiry is also more precise — a common language across grades and schools.

Not five years ago, self-regulation was a foreign concept to me. Now, I walk into schools and see teachers working on breathing exercises with students; libraries equipped with a variety of spaces to meet the needs of different learners, and classroom work focussing on students to assist them in feeling calm and alert for learning.  I wrote about our district’s work this past February toward a district-coordinated effort with two of our lead schools connecting to a national network of schools and districts.

However, it is digital access that has seen the most profound change. Thanks to a Board of Education-initiated budget plan, our Grades four-to-12 classrooms have been modernized with projectors, and each teacher has been given a mobile device of their choice (iPad, PC Laptop, PC Tablet or MacBook).  In addition to this, many classrooms have adopted bring-your-own-device programs with some school-wide.

But, I barely notice this because it has become less of an activity — when I walk into a classroom I don’t see 25 students staring at laptop screens; some are working on their device, others with pen-and-paper, and still others working with a combination of tools — it is absolutely true that the technology is becoming more invisible.  We are getting better and more comfortable with it.

Of course, saying “there is nothing new” doesn’t make for a good story.  We crave “new” in education. The most frequently asked question of me, starting in the summer through to September is “what is new / different / special / cutting-edge in West Vancouver this year?”  My response comes back to what I said three years ago as I was becoming Superintendent:

 I know in many places gimmicks are quite fashionable — a particular program or approach that will be the be-all and end-all. We hear this a lot from the United States as they talk about No Child Left Behind . . . if only we all just did Smart Reading, or all had laptops, or used EBS, or played first and then ate lunch, or had a particular bell schedule, then our system would move forward and students would graduate in even greater numbers.  These are all worthy and can be powerful initiatives, but there are no magic bullets.  It is the hard work in the classrooms everyday — the mix of science and art; teachers taking what they know about what works, combining this with their skills, and building relationships with their students . . .

Of course, there is “new”. There are new courses, new programs, new facility upgrades, but while it doesn’t make for a good story my survey of our district shows we have sustained a focussed purpose on a small number of key areas. I see a mix of school, district and ministry directions interwoven in our work; for example, schools with an arts focus and an emphasis on inquiry fostering personalized learning for their students.

In a recent post I suggested this might be the Year of the Report Card.  My early year visits indicate this is also the year we probe, explore and go deeper with the work we have started around inquiry, self-regulation and digital access.

Read Full Post »

Learners First Like many other school and district leadership teams we marked our “official” beginning last week.  For more than a decade this second last week of summer has been my  start to the new school year.  There are many ways to structure this time.  We have been very clear in West Vancouver that we focus ourselves as learners first.

A recent post from Dennis Sparks resonated with me:

In learning-oriented school cultures, everyone is viewed as both a teacher and a learner. In such cultures, hierarchic distinctions between student, teacher, and administrator are minimized as the school community focuses on the continuous improvement of teaching, learning, and relationships. In that sense, the study of teaching is also the study of learning and of leadership.

It is easy to focus on the business of our work – there is a lot of business that needs to be covered.  Topics like:  staffing, collective bargaining, student enrolment, September paperwork and accounting practices can consume all of our time.  We have made it clear that we will always focus on being learners first. So, just what does that look like?

Our school and district leaders spent last Thursday on Bowen Island (Bowen Island is part of the West Vancouver School District).  Three administrators Scott Slater, Craig Cantlie and Matt Trask took the lead in guiding our learning. The first part of the day allowed us to explore Bowen Island.  We got a taste of what students in Bowen Island’s Outside45 program get to experience – learning beyond the classroom.  A solid reminder of the power of place-based experiences. Bowen1 The second part of the day saw us experiencing Sugata Mitra’s Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) model – looking at power – what it is and who has it.  We worked out way through the SOLE Toolkit in groups. The SOLE model was new to me – and is a really simple model of investigation that works for schools and also could be done by kids and families at home. Bowen2 Bowen3

We left with a great reminder of the power of place based learning and a reminder of the nature that surrounds us in our district and also with a simple student-led inquiry model that we can share with others. And importantly – we connected as learners first.

Read Full Post »

SoI.indd

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have been at the forefront of teaching and learning in British Columbia for decades.  I have written previously about their work with the Network of Performance Based Schools (now the Network of Inquiry and Innovation).  Their latest book Spirals of Inquiry For equity and quality is a welcoming book; it takes us from where we are and invites us on a team journey. Halbert and Kaser have a wonderful way of bringing us aboard and to become part of their team – “We have had the privilege of working together on system transformation for a number of years.  We have experienced the joy of teamwork and the support that comes from facing challenges with a trusted learning partner.  Inquiry is not a solitary pursuit.  Meeting the needs of all learners is simply too big a task for any one leader, teacher, school or district to attempt alone.”

I have taken a stab at defining inquiry in my post All About Inquiry; I referenced the work of the Galileo Educational Network and in reviewing previous posts realize that I have made reference to inquiry in one out of every five posts written.  Inquiry is THE buzz word in education, but while there is opportunity there are also drawbacks that can be attributed to one word used so often, by so many, in so many circumstances.  There is general agreement we want more inquiry (the anti-inquiry movement is quite quiet), but exactly what this is and means is not clear. Although the work  Halbert and Kaser describe is hard work, their approach is straight forward.  I find it far more accessible than other frameworks and they provide structure without recipe.

Halbert and Kaser encourage us to start our investigation into inquiry with four key questions that “help move our thinking from a preoccupation with content coverage, to a focus on what learners are actually experiencing with the learning we are designing for, or with, them”:

  • Can you name two people in this school / setting who believe that you can be a success in life?
  • Where are you going with your learning?
  • How are you doing with your learning?
  • Where are you going next with your learning?

They move into their spiral approach, quoting Madame Gertrude de Stael, “The human mind always makes progress – but it is a progress in spirals.”  Halbert and Kaser focus their spirals around several key questions continually coming back to the first:

  • What is going on for our learners?
  • What does our focus need to be?
  • What is leading to this situation?
  • How and where can we learn more about what to do?
  • What will we do differently?
  • Have we made enough of a difference?

While I researched the book to better understand the process of student inquiry, it reminded me that we, as teachers, need to be committed to the same efforts with our own learning.

Halbert and Kaser have created a book with useful approaches to both student and adult inquiry; more importantly, they validate the work in British Columbia, link the efforts they describe with existing practices in districts across the province, and do not  hit us with a stick if we are not all doing it yet.  I would argue this book should be a must read for all new teachers, and for educators with decades of experience, it is a reminder that we are all part of a big team, who need each other and that our students need us, for as Halbert and Kaser conclude, “Let’s stick together and stick with this work until every BC learner does indeed cross the stage with dignity, purpose and options.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE

Spirals of Inquiry is available through the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association for $20 (all proceeds support innovative and inquiring schools).

Chris Wejr and I are hosting a Twitter conversation on Sunday, May 26th at 8 pm Pacific.  We will be joined by the authors, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, and hopefully many others who would like to explore Spirals of Inquiry.  If you are interested in following along the hashtag will be #inqbc.

Read Full Post »

I wrote a post earlier this year which described the changes in my own teaching in How My Teaching Has Changed.  Last week, I was reminded of this post in a conversation with a parent of a Grade 6 student at Bowen Island Community School.  Her son is part of outside45 — a Bowen Island-based environmental education program for Grade 6 and 7  students blending learning in the classroom with frequent experiences in natural and built environments on-and-off the island.  The mother spoke about how excited her son is with school; how he has no idea what he is actually doing is learning, but he does spend the day studying science by exploring the diversity of life within ecosystems rather than reading about them, and a lot more different from the way science is traditionally covered. Rather than reading about science in a book, or even simulating experiences in a classroom, he and his class were engaging in “real-real” learning –connecting real science to real life.

This story, however, is part of a larger signature at Bowen Island Community School.  I use the term “signature”, as Bowen Island is not about creating a choice school, it is “the school” on Bowen Island.  It is about connecting to the community, and defining a ‘signature’ that is both reflective of its place, the school, and the district community.  There are clear elements of  inquiry, self-regulation and digital literacy in the programs on Bowen Island, but they look different from other sites in the district.  One common theme, throughout the school, is that of sustainability.  The outside45 program is part of this, but the school has also recently built an Outdoor Learning Classroom and has opened the school up to field experiences for other schools through its “From Our Forest to Our Seas” opportunity (click here for more details).

Bowen Island is unique, and at the same time it is part of something much bigger currently developing in education.  Its ‘signature’ is that of inquiry and looks through a lens of the environment and sustainability, that takes self-regulation and links it to restorative justice and the development of social-emotional learning, and takes digital literacy and blends it through curriculum.  While the program is unique to Bowen’s community, there are similar conversation elsewhere in the district.  At Gleneagles Ch’axáý Elementary, it is the arts that is a common lens for inquiry; at West Bay Elementary, it is the Primary Years IB framework, and at Caulfeild, it is the iDEC program that links inquiry to technology and a series of “soft skills”.  AND, it is not only occurring in West Vancouver.  The outside45 Program in itself  is proving to be powerful, and the linking of students to their physical world can be seen in other corners of the province from the Environmental School Project in Maple Ridge, to the Ecological Education Program on Saturna Island, to the Nature Kindergarten Program in Sooke.

Bowen Island Community School epitomizes the notion that you don’t have to be sick to get better.  The school has deepened in connections to the community, evolved its programs to build on relevance on engagement, and is continuing to search for ways to meet the needs of the families in the community.  They have also taken the themes that link schools across the district and brought them to life at their school.  Some are waiting for an implementation plan for personalized learning in our province — at Bowen Island Community School, and at all of our other sites, people aren’t waiting — they are bringing personalized learning to life now.

I am looking forward to being on Bowen Island this Wednesday night (October 17) to speak on the topic, “What Our Kids Need – A Look at Innovation in Education on Bowen Island and Beyondand being part of their community dinner. 

Bowen Island Community School is an example of how to evolve to meet the changing needs of our kids and our world.

Read Full Post »

There is a very interesting dynamic between two of the strongest trends for K-12 education — connecting to the earth and connecting to the digital world. Though these two ideas appear to run counter to one another, they can also coexist, and they do work together in the evolution of the education system.

I have covered digital connections on many occasions — from my presentation at TEDx, a post on Classrooms of the Near Future, and a reflection on How My Teaching has Changed.  In West Vancouver, throughout  British Columbia, and across the world, there have been  fascinating examples of technology infused practice and the evolution of learning with technology to simply learn (with technology ever-present and creating these experiences for students).

I have also written about the intensification of inquiry and self-regulation — two other key theme areas we are seeing in our schools.  However, there is another topic that is not receiving as much attention, but should, and that is the increase in curriculum and programs toward connecting to the earth.  Over the last 20 years, there has been a steady growth of student-driven environmental clubs, school-wide efforts around sustainability, and the proliferation of school gardens. But, there is also much going on beyond these largely co-curricular or extra-curricular opportunities.

On Bowen Island, the Bowen Island Community School is launching Outside45 — a choice program for Grade 6 and 7 students.  Principal Jennifer Pardee, and Vice-Principal Scott Slater, describe the program as a “new district academy that will complement our school’s vision in terms of environmental education and inquiry-based learning by blending learning in the classroom with frequent experiences in the community and natural environment.”

When the program was announced in the fall, there was always the question of enrollment, and it ended up being oversubscribed for its first year.  While it stands alone in the best of current thinking around learning with meaningful connections to the outdoors, it is also part of a larger vision around sustainability at the school.

At the other end of the district, West Vancouver Secondary School has seen the growth of the Sustainable Resources / Urban Agriculture course. Led  by Gordon Trousdell, the West Vancouver campus is now home to two bee hives.  The course is also a draw because of its off-hour scheduling, and has attracted students from the other two secondary schools.  Steve Rauh (here) blogged about the course earlier in the year and it was also featured in the North Shore News.  The course takes concepts from the science classroom and brings them to life for students who pursue passions in real world experiences.

Photo credit:  Gordon Trousdell

Of course, these programs are not unique to West Vancouver — there are several others we have looked at for guidance:  Saturna Ecological Education Centre (Gulf Islands School district), Nature Kindergarten (Sooke School district), and the place-based Environmental School Project (Maple Ridge School district). All programs are unique — yet similar —  including place-based learning, inquiry, imagination, and experiential learning.

But, returning to my theory; while the trends appear to run counter to one another — the programs exploring the digital landscape, and those connecting more deeply to the earth and ecology — are actually bouncing off some very similar themes. So, connected schools like the Calgary Science School have found ways to marry the commitment of both in the same environment.

I am often pressed about the future of schooling, and I always come back to the themes of digital literacy, inquiry, self-regulation and the strong belief that schools are key gathering places in the community and are not going away.  I will also say, I see a new trend in education emerging as we connect to the digital space and to the earth. I am hopeful we will find thoughtful ways to link the two.

Read Full Post »

It is easy to talk about what could be, what should be and what other people could do.  Instead, I would like to share what I have done, and what we are trying to do, as we engage in and embrace this learning evolution.

I began my career trying to emulate the teachers I remembered most, and through the stories I remembered from my school experiences.  The teacher was mixing content, stories and weaving a narrative. While hardly an actor, there was something about the performance of teaching I really did enjoy. I would organize the desks in a circle, and while this was great for students to engage with each other, it also gave me centre stage.  I was very focussed on the lesson plan and activities in the classroom.  I saw myself as the expert, and it was up to me and the textbook to help students understand the content. Now, here is a true confession — I loved being the ‘sage on the stage’. In my Social Studies and English classes I would often retell the stories my memorable teachers had told me.

As I became more comfortable, I tried to allow students more of an opportunity to tell their stories.  I worked to create situations where students could simulate the real world.  In History class this might have been a United Nations role-play lesson, or reviewing a series of case studies in Law class. Students loved the examples drawn from the “real world”.  In Law, we would study cases making headlines in the news, and other Social Studies’ classes leant themselves ideally to current events.  I loved the relevance that came from these lessons, as well as the engagement.  Combining my lectures with hands-on activities, like putting Louis Riel on trial, led to an even richer teaching and learning experience.

More recently, I have tried to not only simulate the real world, but give students opportunities in the real world. I often describe it in simple terms as moving to real-real, instead of fake-real (mock trials, case studies etc). My most concrete example of this is one I have shared previously (here) and presented at TEDxUBC:

Lately, I have seen many other wonderful examples of real world teaching. Delta District Principal, Neil Stephenson, shared a number of stories from his experience in Calgary, including this one (here) where Grade 9 students visited local universities in Calgary to convince young voters to go to the polls in their 2010 Civic Election. In our district, there are also many wonderful examples, like the Cypress Park students who participated in real world inquiry around clean water (link to video).  Another example is Larry Rosenstock, who presented twice  last month challenging the audience with the power of his work at High Tech High in San Diego (link to video).  And, although challenging, this push to real world inquiry is very exciting; when given the chance, learners love to engage in the world, and not only to be told about what’s going on in the world or through role simulation.

It is simplistic to think one method of teaching can replace another, and it is disrespectful to conclude there haven’t been wonderful real-real examples in our schools for hundreds of years.  But the move to personalized learning, the focus on “the 7 C’s”, and the power of technology to allow us to do things not possible before, have really changed the dynamics.

There is no doubt, when working with students or adults, all three experiences will come into play. There is a time for a teacher to be on stage, a time for learners to simulate the experiences of the world, and a time for learners to be part of the real world.  The irony is not lost on me that I often present a lecture in a teacher-centric approach to adults championing the value of teacher guided/facilitated learning.  And, if you saw the video attached to my last post, it was very much in the “sage on the stage” tradition.

I went into teaching, in part, to replicate the experience I had from the very best teachers in my school.  As our world changes, and notions of student engagement change, it is challenging to teach students and adults in ways that run counter to much of what I experienced growing up. This, for me,  is one of the great challenges of the profession today — adjusting the practices at the core of who I am as a teacher to better engage students for a world that is not the one of my youth.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,034 other followers