Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Creating a Learning Adventure for Teachers

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct..." Carl Jung
Our professional learning focus for this school year has been STRETCH; exploring how we can creatively differentiate teaching and learning to ensure all students reach their potential. We've spent much time discussing what this might look like in our inquiry-based programme and the role technology plays in the development of engaging, relevant and challenging learning experiences for our students. Throughout the year we have had opportunities to discuss these ideas, even arranging for all staff to take a week long course on gifted education and higher order thinking. As we began planning for our latest pedagogical development day, we knew we wanted to create learning experiences for our teachers that would put many of the ideas previously discussed into action.

I had recently read a post by Carl Hooker about Making Learning Fun Again - Even for Adults on Edutopia. In it he describes the concept of 'Interactive Learning Challenges' that he used at a learning festival (as opposed to a conference) to replace the traditional lecture driven sessions. These challenges promote collaborative problem solving, creative and critical thinking, as well as authentic integration of technology - a perfect fit for what we are striving to illustrate for our staff development day.

Using this model, we planned our day as a learning adventure. We created a series of open-ended challenges that staff teams would have a set amount of time to solve. Each challenge had an element of technology embedded, either as an optional extension or a core component. The week before the development day, we had all participants identify their comfort level with technology integration on a continuum and this information helped us with the creation of the teams. We wanted people to have an opportunity to collaborate with members of staff they do not normally have a chance to work with in order to continue building relationships and potential curricular connections.

On the big day we all came together to highlight the aims of the development day and share the logistics. We structured the time at each challenge to mimic our typical school day, asking teams to allow for group reflection at the conclusion of each task. The teams of 4 were unveiled, given a 'tool kit' with an iPad and a digital camera and set out to find their starting place by locating and scanning their unique QR code.

It was an exciting day and action-packed day. Teams had a great deal of fun, as well as moments of frustration, but the genuine problem-solving and authentic integration of technology was clearly evident. It was a day of learning. It was a day of Stretch - trying new things and leaving our comfort zones, as can be seen in the tweets shared during the challenges throughout the day.

When we asked the teachers for feedback about this new approach to staff development the responses were very positive.
"It was an enjoyable day.  The group I was put in allowed me to get to know two members of staff who I didn't know very well yet and had not worked with.
"...the Twitter idea was fun and it was interesting to see other group's photo and thoughts through the day.
"I think had we not been prompted by a guided reflection it would have been dropped all together and on least one occasion our reflection from the previous task help in the next.
"I liked the format of the day a lot. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with people I don't always get to collaborate with and to be challenged to think creatively. It was very intense!"
More importantly, the experience of our Interactive Learning Challenges has prompted teachers to consider their own practice and thus, will have an impact on students' learning.
"I will allow the students to spend more time reflecting and time to think."   
"[I have] more sympathy for students who are not in comfort zone but will actually insist more on them finding out for selves as very good for you if a little painful.
"I will think about the timing of activities and about the expectations we place on students to quickly switch from one activity to another.
"Try to use more technology, in more creative ways in my teaching."
If you are considering a new approach to your next professional development day, I would whole-heartedly encourage you to give this a try. It may have taken a great deal of time to create our learning adventure, but the rewards are well worth the effort.


Friday, March 06, 2015

The Third Teacher: Creating effective spaces for learning

"In brief, the environment consists of those conditions that promote or hinder, stimulate or inhibit, the characteristic activities of a living being." ~ John Dewey
I have always valued the creation learning spaces that best suit the needs of students and a community of learners. I remember when I first began teaching, sitting in my empty classroom in August and imagining what the room might become. In those early days, these decisions were usually made by me, but as I became more experienced, student voice became a critical piece of the design process for our classroom. I came to realise, however, that our conversations were still chained by the traditional reality of our space. Our classroom was still a single room filled with the stuff of schools - student desks, chairs, boards, bookshelves and so on. While much can be done within such a space - I know my students certainly felt good about the rooms we had created for learning and we all accomplished a great deal - I can't help but feel a bit stuck. How can we re-invent schools without changing (drastically) the structure of the building itself? How can we leave classrooms as they were 50 years ago and think that this arrangement still meets the needs of learners today?

Seeking ways to redesign my current learning space, I began to investigate possibilities. I am most impressed by the Maker Movement (a blog post for another day!) and believe that such an approach best supports inquiry-based learning.
Exploring how we might create this type of learning environment for our Primary students led me to the book, The Third Teacher: 79 Ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. The opening quote spoke to me:
The child starting kindergarten this fall will graduate in the third decade of the 21st century. All we can know about the world she will step into is that it will have challenges and opportunities beyond what we can imagine today, problems and possibilities that will demand creativity and ingenuity, responsibility and compassion. Whether this year's kindergarten student will merely survive or positively thrive in the decades to come depends in large measure in the experiences she has in school. Those experiences will be shaped by adults, by peers, and ultimately by places, by the physical environments where she does her learning. United in the conviction that environment is our children's third teacher, we can begin anew a vital mission: designing today's schools for tomorrow's world.
After reading this book I am firmly committed to making a change to the space I have some control over - the primary computer room. I am setting out on a journey to transform this room; to build a safe place that will promote student innovation, allow for tinkering and time for reflective design thinking. As I enlist the support of colleagues, I will be sharing the ideas from The Third Teacher and The Maker Movement Manifesto.