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I Am Them

For the first time since finishing my Masters Degree in 1999 I am back in the student world. In January I began a doctorate program with eighteen colleagues from my district and around the province. It is so interesting going into the modern student world I have been seeing as a teacher and administrator over the last two decades. There are probably a lot of future blog posts in the work and the reflection of my experiences.

For now, I want to talk about my first two major assignments and my feedback on my feedback.   These are both fairly large written assignments – done in a group of three (I really like the ability to collaborate – a post for another time).  We submitted the first one, and a few days later one of my partners texted the others of us in the group to let us know our paper was marked.  I think the text was something like, “Paper is back .  A-“.  Well, that was a bit disappointing, like an A- is an OK letter grade and we all have some paper-writing rust, all just getting back into writing after a long time on the other side of assignments with our students.  My partners then said that there was a lot of feedback on the paper.  I think to their somewhat surprise and disappointment I said something like “We got an A-. Time to move on.  I am not going to read the feedback.”  And perhaps to partially prove a point, I haven’t read any of the feedback on the paper.  I heard it was very good.  The professor raised a number of issues and questions for our consideration.  And I know he may be reading this blog, and I know I am supposed to be a mature learner, but I didn’t read the feedback – I had my grade, A-.  And that was OK, and I was moving on to the next assignment.

Push ahead to our second assignment. Same professor.  We got it back today.  There was no letter grade on it.  He gave some kind comments that we were well on our way and he offered a lot of feedback, questions, suggestions, and provocations throughout the paper.  I have read the comments three times already and re-read the paper at least as many times.  I am sure I will spend several hours seeing how I can incorporate the thoughts into an improved paper.  I see some ways it definitely can be better.  My mind is just so different without the letter grade on the assignment.  I know at some point there will be a letter grade on the assignment and as our professor says, “deadlines are your friends.”  And in that way, I guess marks are as well.  They do signal conclusion.

Now, for all inside education this little experience I have had will not come as a surprise.  For the last twenty years (and longer) we have been talking of the power of feedback and the challenges associated with grades on papers.  This links to the movement away from grades at younger ages.  It is interesting to experience it myself.   Feedback is an invitation to a conversation and to improvement and grades (even if accompanied by the same level and quality of feedback) is an end point.

Thinking of our students, and what they have told me about feedback and grades, as I said in the title, I am them.

West Vancouver continues to take pride in offering the most innovative programming in the country to meet today’s learning and preparing them for the future. We are pleased to announce the launch of the Belvedere Learning Academy. This unique program for grades 4-9 students is a complete re-think on the modern school experience.  While much has been made about the competing ideologies in recent years of Back to Basics vs. 21st Century Learning, we are changing the debate with our new program.   We are bringing back the era of Garbage Pail Kids Stickers, boys playing shirts and skins in PE and leveled readers for all.

If you look around at leaders across North America one thing that is true is that an increasingly high percentage of them went to school during the 1980s.  This period of time, is in many ways the intellectual and cultural high point of the last 100 years.  We think today’s learners don’t need seats in rows and pencil and paper based learning of the Back to Basics 1950s nor the modern learning with all the fandangled technology of the 21st century – they need, what many of us had – an immersive 1980’s experience.  And everything at the Belvedere Learning Academy will be 1980s.  As the kids say, it is going to be gnarly!

Why Belvedere?

We start with the name.  The Belvedere Learning Academy (BLA for short) is named for Mr. Belvedere, one of the many 1980s situation comedies that reflected life in North America.  Mr. Belvedere was a posh British butler who moved in with the Owens family in Pittsburgh to assist the family on a weekly basis in solving their problems.   Students today don’t understand that this is how problems in the 1980s were often solved – by your British butler.  The photo of Mr. Belvedere at the front of the school will be a constant reminder of our purpose.  We could have named the program for one of the more popular 1980s shows – the Family Ties Learning Centre or the Facts of Life Institute, but we think the BLA is more appropriate – Mr. Belvedere was never that popular, but it hung around and was OK, the kind of show you would watch if your only other choices were Cagney & Lacey or a repeat of Riptide – that is the kind of program we want to create.

School Uniforms

Unlike the Back to Basics schools which have strict uniform requirements, the BLA will have a philosophy.  We think all students need to dress for the time.  It is the expectation of big hair for the students, both boys and girls.  Key clothing students should buy before enrolling include:  Reebok pump high tops, spandex, leg warmers, high wasted acid wash jeans, cut-off sweatshirts and lots of neon.  The dress code will extend to the staff.  You will be able to identify all male staff at the BLA as they will be wearing Miami Vice suits each day and the females will be wearing Dynasty-like shoulder pads, even their tshirts will have them, just like in the 80’s.

Technology

Yes, we will use technology.  We will use 1980s technology.  The Academy will be equipped with 8 Apple 2e machines in the library.  This will allow students to regularly play Lemonade Stand and Oregon Trail.  Not wanting to lose sight of the current trend of computer coding we will also expose all students to Apple Logo programming – the triangular turtle is back!  And yes, we will be a one-to-one device school – all students will be expected to have a Little Professor and bring it with them daily to school. For our secondary students we encourage the very stylish Casio watch calculator which we hope doesn’t slip off while we practice our Rubik Cube drills.

Curriculum

Most lessons will involve students copying information off of the overhead projector, and then sharing it back with the teacher through some zany-joke filled worksheet and end of unit scantron tests.  Since the school will have 2 video players and 25″ televisions on rolling carts that play both VHS and BETA we will also include a number of key programs in the curriculum.  For example, for science we will use episodes of That’s Incredible (but please as Cathy Lee Crosby reminds us – Don’t try this at home) and in our unit on communities in Social Studies we will use Real People episodes.  Having Sarah Purcell and Byron Allen coming through the screen – they will be like extra teachers in the room.

In PE there will be a lot of parachutes and cosom hockey.  As a treat, the gymnastics equipment will come for 5 weeks during which time students can climb ropes to the ceiling, vault like Mary-Lou Retton and perfect their Bart Conner rings routine (acing their iron cross will only help the students with their flexed arm hang test).  And yes, the fitness badges are back – so practice your shuttle run.  Not to lose sight of current efforts around cross cultural understanding, in PE during the professional wrestling unit and when for example, we are instructing on the Camel Clutch, this will be an opportunity to delve into the background for the Iron Sheik and his feud with Hulk Hogan and the good vs. evil struggles that exist around the world.  We are particularly excited about this unit as it will be an opportunity to take our uniforms to the next level – totally tubular!

Evaluation

Two words will define our model – speed and awards.  How fast can you complete an assignment?  There is a math sample just below for you to practice.  And awards – there will be stickers, lots of stickers!  We will also post all the grades so the weaker students better understand they are weaker, thus wanting to improve.  Now before you enroll, time yourself on this worksheet:

 

Hot Lunch Program

The modern hot lunch program, we all can agree, is out of control.  Students at BLA will be asked to bring their lunch box daily, along with their Super Socco drink.  As a reminder these lunch boxes will help define their class status, so please stick to Superman, My Little Pony, Evil Knievel, Knight Rider or other socially acceptable ones.  On the last Friday of each month will be Hot Dog Day.  This will be a huge production at the school.  Parents will be expected to come in to boil wieners in the kitchen attached to the gym.  The menu will be simple:  hot dogs for everyone, then you select plain or chocolate milk and glazed or jelly donuts.  That’s it.  To borrow a quote from our current politics, we are going to make hot dog day great again!

 

Recess

We do expect students to get outside at recess, maybe shoot some hockey cards or play with their He-Man and She-Ra figures.  They will not be allowed to have their Sony Walkmans on the field, and are asked to keep them in the cloakroom.  Also a reminder that students are not to have their sticker collections out – save trading your scratch-and-sniff stickers for after school.

Final Sales Pitch

We all know that everything was better in the 1980s.  So, stop just telling your kids about it and send them to the BLA so they can live it and become as successful as you!

Today’s announcement is the latest in the long line of innovative actions from our school district.  Here is the list of those from recent years:

In 2012 I launched my FLOG.

In 2013 I made the announcement of Quadrennial Round Schooling.

In 2014 we formalized our System of Student Power Rankings.

In 2015 we created our Rock, Paper, Scissors Academy.

In 2016 we introduced the Drone Homework Delivery System.

In 2017 we introduced the Donald J. Trump Elementary School of Winning.

In 2018 we announced the construction of Soak City Elementary.

We look forward to bringing you all back to the 80s and I hope you are enjoying today as much as me!

 

The much discussed US college cheating scam “Operation Varsity Blues” that has seen 50 people charged with various crimes has really stuck with me, as well it seems with people across North America. Of course the story has a movie-like crazy scheme storyline filled with celebrities and other powerful families.  It is the kind of story we love – it makes for great television.

For me, hearing the story I kept thinking, really this is a thing? I admit to being one of the more naive and trusting people but I struggle to believe these kind of activities really take place in our world. The media have been full of “hot takes” on the issue, but I want to look at a different slice of the story.  I have been thinking a lot about what the cheaters did in relation to the notions of abundance and scarcity in education.

I continue to hear comments that degrees are less important than they used to be.  In the modern world, we have moved from a time of scarcity to abundance in education.  While it definitely has some implications for K-12, the notion is most often used when we look at post-secondary.  In the past, with a limited number of spaces in post-secondary we were in an information-scarce time with acceptance to university/college being the way to access the information.  If you didn’t get to college or into the class, you couldn’t access the material or acquire the knowledge.  Now, in the age of abundance, we have a tsunami of new technologies creating access to any content you want.  You want to access the best lectures from the finest institutions in the world, you can likely do this all for free.  The cheerleaders of this change see this as opening up education to millions of people left around the world left out in the past.  And there are numerous stories of people picking up content online and this leading to dramatic changes in their life opportunities. Perhaps the era of credentialing being the key driver for so many professions in our world is ending?

Then last week in a lecture I attended there was a discussion about the dramatic differences that exist today, and increasingly so, of the different salaries and unemployment rates for those who have high school, college or professional degrees.  The data shows that more than ever (at least in the United States) the more education you have, the more money you will make, on average, and the less likely you will find yourself unemployed.  I am struck by these seemingly competing messages – in the modern world you don’t need the piece of paper anymore for the degree and in the era of abundance you can have access to all the content online and gain the skills that others pay thousands of dollars to receive BUT at the same time, the piece of paper may be more valuable than ever as an indicator of how successful you will be professionally.

So how does this relate to the cheating scam?  I am struck that so many seemingly very smart and successful people would spend so much money and put themselves and their families at risk to try to “hack” the old system and find their way to the top in the scarcity model.  If it is true, that it matters less where one goes to school, and the degrees that one has and matters more what one knows, the competencies they exhibit and how they apply their knowledge (and this doesn’t have to be through school) – then these 30+ families sure risked a lot for something that really doesn’t matter as much anymore.

And I realize it is far more complicated than this.  I am sure there are numerous status-related motivations why some of these people did what they did and it was not just about them deciding trying to criminally bypass the old model.  Perhaps for them education scarcity was a better bet than embracing a modern notion of educational abundance for their children.

I am a little less naive than I was a week ago about people but still have no clearer idea on what the future of learning and credentialing beyond grade 12 will look like going forward.  Will elite universities continue to be places that people will apparently be willing to lie, cheat and steal to attend or will the era of abundance mean that we no longer value the elite university credentials the same way we have for many generations?

I am pretty competitive. It is a short list of things I won’t try to turn into some sort of contest.  I don’t just like to run, I like to race. And while I like getting steps with my FitBit, I also really like seeing how I am doing against my friends who have the same device. I could easily go on, the list is long.  And while I like winning, I really like the act of competing.  I find it motivating.

Since I think competition is so great in so many areas, why am I so lukewarm on letter grades – particularly with our younger learners.  And why have I written multiple posts criticizing the Fraser Institute and their use of school assessment data to rank schools?  If my FitBit rankings encourage me to walk more, shouldn’t the Fraser Institute rankings encourage our students to perform better?

A recent conversation with Dean Shareski helped me bring some of this into focus.  As I look at the competitions I like, they are all ones that I have voluntarily joined to participate.  I think a key piece for me is this explicit commitment to participate.

All my favourite competitions are ones where those of us involved joined, not ones we were forced into.  I am good with competitive team sports, with their scoring and winning as the participants knew what they signed up for.  And for those who don’t want to compete, they don’t sign up.  The way my brain is wired, I think everyone must want to compete about just about everything, but I do know this isn’t true.  I was struck by a recent post by my colleague Maureen Lee who wrote that she found her FitBit was actually hurting her fitness so she has taken it off.  I think it is crucial to recognize that competition is a motivator for some people in some instances but this is far from universal.  And I realize it is not always healthy for motivation to be so extrinsic- I am the person who now doesn’t want to get off the couch when my FitBit is charging, thinking of any steps as wasted steps.

It is this volunteering piece that leads to some of my struggles with the Fraser Institute and our ranking and sorting in schools.  The Fraser Institute has a narrow slice of criteria (a few province-wide assessments) and applies blanket rankings to all schools in the province on these results.  The schools don’t sign up to participate.  It is not that inner-city schools are saying, “this year let’s compete in our writing tests with some of the elite private schools in the province”.  It takes no acknowledgement that different schools may have a different focus or goals, and are all starting from very different places.

Similarly, students working through learning their math or language arts are not asking to be put on a common scale with their age-similar peers and have their results posted in the class (I know this happens very rarely now) or stamped with a grade that says little about what they need to improve but says a lot about how they currently stack-up with others around them.  This is particularly true at younger ages.  I wonder how a 10 year-old bringing home a report card with C’s thinks – when did I sign up for this?  We know better.

It is not easy to reconcile how we can both embrace and champion competition and also question its necessity.   Perhaps we need to ask the hard question –  why exactly are we competing in something that really is a personal journey?   At least for now I am going to see how this new criteria fits – I am all for competition that I signed up for.   And to all you FitBitt-ers on my Friends list – I am coming for you!

My One Word (2019)

This is the 4th year of my “One Word” Tradition.  In 2016 I wrote about Hungry and then in 2017 my first post of the year was dedicated to Hope.  I feel both words were ones that were good ones for the times they were written.  In looking at 2017, it was a year of hope with shifts in education and a new provincial government.  When it came to the world of teaching and learning, it was hope realized.  Last year I wrote about what I described as my desperate need in my work for Relevance.

So what about 2019?

This year my word is Delight.  I have actually tested a few different words.  I wrote partial blog posts on Optimism and Enjoy.  Then a teacher colleague of mine Spencer Capier shared a Jessica Lahey article, Teaching, Just Like Performing Magic.   The article which shared Teller‘s (of famed Penn and Teller) view on education really resonated with me around my hopes for this year.

I loved the argument from Teller talking about his early teaching days:

 “I’m 5’8” and was about 160 pounds those days, so I was not the kind of person who could walk into a room of rowdy kids and [they] would just pay attention to me. What I have, however, is delight. I get excited about things. That is at the root of what you want out of a teacher; a delight in what the subject is, in the operation. That’s what affects students.”

Delight.  What a great word.  Kind of a new twist on the ideas of my friend and colleague Dean Shareski and his commitment to joy.

This is what I want for myself this year.  I want to continue to get excited about things.  It does come back to the Culture of Yes notion, the idea that we default to yes.  And this is really about getting excited about what others are excited about, and then getting others excited about what you are excited about.  And delight is such a great word.  Not one we use too often. For me to be full of delight, it is about showing up, bringing energy and being constantly curious.  I know in the adult world, whether at work or home we often think we should hide our glee.  Like it is kind of childish.  I know that is how I felt as a beginning teacher, new principal and rookie superintendent.  But our outward excitement is actually so often important.

I think of my super-talented colleague Diane Nelson who runs our academies.  She is always excited.  Her excitement is almost exhausting for those of us who work with her.  She does amazing things, and builds incredible programs.  And when we think she is finally done, she creates another.  It is this glee, excitement and delight I want to show more of in all aspects of my life this year.

I love this further idea from Teller expressed in the article:

Teller argued, the teacher has a duty to engage, to create romance that can transform apathy into interest, and, if a teacher does her job well, a sort of transference of enthusiasm from teacher to student takes place. The best teachers, Teller contended, find a way to teach content while keeping students interested. “If you don’t have both astonishment and content, you have either a technical exercise or you have a lecture.”

And just as Teller speaks of doing this at the classroom level, nothing changes when we think of the work we do at the district level.  As we continue to teach and learn – some astonishment and content pulled together can go a long way!

So in personal life and my professional – I am looking for a year of delight.  If you see me, keep me honest with it!

Welcome to my final blog post of 2018.  While perhaps not as iconic as the various year-end lists we read at this time of year, this is my 9th annual “Top 3” List. (My favourite list was always the Siskel and Ebert Top 10 Movie Lists. I am dating myself but their year-end show on Sneak Previews on PBS was the best!)

Previous Top 3 lists for:  2017 (here) 2016 (here) 2015 (here) 2014 (here) 2013 (here) 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).

As per usual, I will try to take up topics you probably don’t see covered by other year-end “Best of” lists and my topics do change from year to year:

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have generated the most traffic this year:

  1.  Soak City Elementary Announced
  2. The Problem With Basketball
  3. They Will Keep Coming Until They Don’t

Not sure how I should take it that I write dozens of posts on education, and my most popular one is an April Fools post and my second my popular one is on basketball.  Maybe I should stick to comedy and sports.

Top 3 Places I saw Paul Simon perform:

  1. Queens, New York –  outdoors for his final concert on his Farewell Tour
  2. Las Vegas, Nevada – a great weekend getaway (thought the enthusiasm of the crowd at the concert was a bit disappointing)
  3.  Portland, Oregon –  best memory was him forgetting a line and penalizing himself by playing 59th Street Bridge (he hates the song but the crowd loved it)

Top 3 Things I got to do when I wasn’t at work:

  1. Visit New York City – It was only for 3 days, but it was my first time.  In addition to Paul (above) we got to Hamilton and a Yankees game.
  2. BC Summer Games – I got to go with my younger son and his teammates to Cowichan for the Games.  It is like a mini-Olympics.  And if nothing else, three nights sleeping on a school classroom floor is something you will remember.
  3.  Chicago -80 basketball courts and about 800 teams competing in the Convention Centre at the NIKE Tournament of Champions.  An absolutely incredible event.

Top 3 Things I got to do when I was at work:

  1. Visit classrooms –  The past few months have been amazing for me. I have been in well over 50 classrooms and not just for the 2 minute walk-through but generally for some real sustained visits, often up to an hour. I wrote earlier about this HERE.  It has given me great insight into the learning in our classes, the changing nature of how our teachers are approaching their classes and the visits have offered a reminder of just how much has changed in recent years – the classroom looks very different from a decade ago.
  2. Launch new programs –  I love how our district is always on the cutting edge with developing programs to meet the changing needs of the world, and the passions of our students. A few new opportunities for students this year included an AP Environmental Science Program that takes place in an actual science research facility, a Computer Animation Program that partners with the faculty from Capilano University and gives students a first glance at post-secondary in this area and a Table Tennis Academy which I saw first hand last month and was so incredibly impressed by the quality of instruction and the inclusivity of the program.
  3.  Add great people to the team –  The people are key to any organization.  So much credit for the success of West Vancouver Schools needs to go to our Human Resources staff and school administrators for their excellent attraction and hiring of such outstanding teachers and support staff.  I am fortunate to be in on the hiring of many of our management staff.  I love it when we can add people to our team that make our group stronger, more diverse and I am surrounded by people who I know make me and our team better.  We were able to do this again this past year, adding Trevor Kolkea a super talented principal from Coquitlam to our team, and recently luring Ian Kennedy back to West Vancouver.  He will start as Director of Instruction in March.  Having Alex Campbell and Jamie Ross as key members of our team and all the expertise they bring to our district was also a great opportunity for us.

Top 3 Somewhat Odd Ongoing Streaks I am proud of:

  1. 5 years  of at least 10,000 steps a day according to my FitBit
  2.  300 days as a full vegetarian (the previous 18 months my meat intake was limited to fish)
  3.  9 years of at least 20 blog posts a year on Culture of Yes

Top 3 Quick Takes I have about students based on all of the visits:

  1. They don’t care about SOGI as “an issue”.  While a small vocal group made a lot of news during the School Board elections this fall, it is something students don’t care about.  They are so passed this an issue – the adults could learn something from the kids here.
  2.   Cell phone use has not gone crazy.  I keep hearing stories in the media about how students are on their cell phones all the time.  I have spent hundreds of hours in classrooms this fall and can say it is not true.  Each of our high schools has some sensible guidelines and routines around their use, and I saw students engaged in their lessons.  It is the parents at school games, concerts and elsewhere who seem to have the much stronger addictions.
  3.   They are excited but cautious about “changes” in education.  We have engaged students around the new Career Education programs and they are genuinely excited that the system will be better built around their needs and their voices have been included in the design.  That said, they see themselves as having “figured out” the current system, so they are nervous about changes to the system and how they might negatively affect them and their post-secondary goals.

Top 3 Celebrity Stories about people I work with:

  1. Martina Seo – A dynamic Foods Teachers from West Vancouver Secondary was a breakout star on the most recent season of Amazing Race Canada.  For all of us who know Martina we would agree she is perfect for reality television.
  2. Sean Nosek –  The guy in the office next to me published an absolutely amazing book this past year on Vancouver street artist Ken Foster.  It is the “coolest coffee table book ever”.
  3.  Bryn Hammett –  I found out still story by luck.  I was visiting Bryn’s Math 9/10 class (photo above) and he was doing a problem based on his recent trail race.  He finished only 8 places behind Daniel and Henrik Sedin in the 25 km race in Whistler.  Super impressive!

Top 3 TED Talks that I liked which my colleague Julia shared with me (love how she shares good stuff):

  1.  Confessions of a recovering micromanager

2.   Why You Should Treat the Tech You Use at work Like a Colleague

3.  Why Being Respectful to Your Coworkers is good for business

Top 3 People I think really make the case for the transformation in B.C.’s education system:

  1. David Burns –  I heard David  (photo to the right below) speak three times in 2018 on how his institution (KPU) is working with the K-12 transformation and making changes themselves.  It is all the more powerful when post-secondary schools are supporting the shifts K-12.  And for West Vancouver readers – he is speaking at our PD Day in January!
  2. Kris MagnussonKris, like David, has extra weight to his words since he is the Dean of Education at SFU.  His longtime efforts around career education have really come to life in the grad program changes.
  3.  Jan Unwin – Jan is the undisputed champion of the K-12 transformation in British Columbia.  This is a title she inherited from Rod Allen, and over the last five years has been unwavering in her passion and commitment to helping be sure the ideas became reality.

Top 3 Courses / Programs I would take in West Vancouver Schools if I was a student:

  1. Environmental Sciences Academy – Doing real science with real scientists and it is held at at the Centre for Aquaculture and Environmental Research (CAER) and under the leadership of Tom Harding – so much good going for it!
  2. FAST (First Aid Swim Training) – All of the programs that students take to become a lifeguard are built into an every afternoon program in West Vancouver offered by Rockridge teacher Dave Dickinson.  You get school credentialing and probably more importantly all the outside credentials as well.
  3.  YELL (Young Entrepreneurship and Leadership Launchpad) – This is another great example of doing real world work.  I have written about the program several times (like HERE) in the past, and the Jo-Anne McKee taught program continues to draw great speakers and mentors.  I had the pleasure of sitting in this fall with Anthony Beyrouti speaking to the students about going from being a local North Shore high school student to running one of the fastest growing businesses in BC in a few short years.

Top 3 Ways I am going to push myself professionally in 2019:

  1. Start my doctorate –  Classes start in January.  This will be my first time really being a student since I finished my Master`s Degree in 1999.  I am doing it with a few current and former colleagues which will make it all the better.
  2. More real visits –  The class visits over the last few months, whether to observe, participate or teach have been so rewarding.  I am looking to doing more in the new year.
  3. Focus on assessment –  Somewhere between all the discussions about curriculum and reporting we have lost some of the attention on assessment.  With curriculum fully in-place and reporting templates and structures confirmed, there will be more time to talk about the really important topic of assessment in the coming year.

Top 3 Things People Will be Talking About in B.C’s education system next year:

  1. University Admissions –  This has been a hot topic this past year, and will continue into 2019.  With the changes to K-12, how will post-secondary school change their admissions requirements.  And it is not just in response to K-12, many institutions are talking about their beliefs that they need to find better ways to select students who have the best chance to be successful.
  2. What Needs to Change Next – I can`t go to a meeting without someone talking about another aspect of schooling that needs to change, now that other changes have been made.  From exams, to reporting to calendars, there are numerous comments that for change X to be fully realized, Y and Z need to change as well.
  3.  Bargaining –  On the political side, teacher bargaining will likely occupy a fair bit of the mainstream education news for 2019.

As always, I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and engage with me through the blog.   I love having a portfolio of my thinking – it often reminds me how much my thinking has changed over time and the process (and stress) of writing and publishing still brings me great joy.  All the best for a wonderful 2019!

Chris

The classroom. We can all picture it. The desks, the boards at the front, the cupboard at the back. Asked to draw a classroom almost all of us would have a similar sketch.

As I have visited numerous classes not held in traditional classrooms this fall I have been struck how different they feel.  Just the act of moving a class away from a traditional classroom creates such a different feeling.  And the act of learning away from school is very powerful.  And there can be many factors at play, but in each of the more than 15 classes I have visited not in rooms in schools, I have found all the students to be universally engaged in their experiences.

I have been struck by how students rise to the level of their location.  In visiting the Environmental Science students who meet at the Centre for Aquaculture & Environmental Research (Federal Government site) the students climb to the level of the real scientists. The students are doing real work, alongside professionals doing real work.  Often schools can feel quite simulated, with the efforts to emulate real world work, but the location helps the work and the students rise up to think and work differently.

I am also struck by the various sports and arts academy programs how a more focused environment can be so helpful.  Whether it was field hockey on the turf, baseball in the batting cages, or dance and ballet in the community studio there is just a different feeling when you are in the community.  It feels more natural.  Students seem more focused.

We often talk about the power of field trips, work experience and other constructs we have to get students out beyond the traditional classrooms, to rub shoulders with professionals in their area of study and gain “real world” experiences.  And when you speak with graduates, it is very often these opportunities they remember.

Of course it is not possible for all schooling to take place outside of traditional classes but giving more students more of these kind of experiences is a really positive move.  All of the sudden we no longer solely equate learning with classrooms.  Learning is more about experiences with teachers and fellow students in a variety of settings.