Have you ever just paused in the middle of your hectic and over-scheduled life for just one single moment to assess if you are pursuing what truly makes you happy? Lets suppose you did just that, would you even know the answer?
Ask a child that very same question and most can tell you what makes them happy without hesitation and not only that, but they actively pursue those things. The questions then become: Are they being provided with adequate time and opportunity to do so, and what about those who may not know?
Over the summer, as I thought about this upcoming school year, I wanted to introduce a free-form of inquiry-based learning. My students have always been the driving force behind the learning in our classroom, but it focused directly on a specific curricular outcome and I wanted to go beyond that this year. I wanted for my students to ask the deep questions and to explore them as they wished. What is it that makes them happy? What are the things that they want to learn about and understand? After-all, school is about learning, experimenting and creation right?
With assistance and inspiration from my Twitter PLN, the work of JoyKirr with Genius Hour, Josh Stumpenhorst with Innovation Day, Jesse McLean with Innovation Week and AJ Juliani with 20% Time in the classroom, I set out to find what would work best for my group. If you’ve not heard of these or are still in process of finding out more information, I highly encourage you to read about the incredible possibilities that these educators are providing for their students. There are amazing things happening in Education and it starts with providing students with the opportunity to have control over and own their learning.
On the very first day of school, we gathered together on our carpet and had a discussion about what we love to do and why. I’m lucky enough to have looped grades with my current group of students and since we’ve been together for two going on three years, we have built a deep trust with one another. At first, their answers were focused on school subjects, then they branched out to after-school activities and then realizing that I was still asking, their answers became more in-depth. I asked them if they were provided with time in school to build, create or learn about anything, what would they like to do? You could have heard a pin-drop at that moment. I watched with amazement as they pondered the possibilities and then the excitement took over and the real conversations started happening.
We are now into week three and they have begun their research. Some students are still learning to question what really motivates and drives them, what they are really passionate about. While others have delved right in, moving full-force towards their projects. Students who weren’t eager readers were asking to go to the library at recess to get more books or go online to find out more. They are reading, organizing, collecting, planning, discussing and collaborating. One student was so engaged with her cake decorating book that she baked and decorated the cake in that photo above after-school and brought in for me the next day!
What are they wanting to learn about or create? The answers really blew me away and I’ve known my group for a while. What I had anticipated they would want to do, was nowhere near what they have chosen so far. They have come up with the following completely on their own:
1. Build a running buggy – They have already located a lawnmower engine!
2. Discover the difference between butter and margarine by baking and creating a website to document their findings
3. Learning to sew
4. Exploring how SpongeBob was created and animation
5. How truck engine motors operate
6. All about horses
7. What does a Marine Biologist do and discover
My goal is to aid and assist in any way that I can. I am hoping to enlist the help of the local high school and possibly collaborate with the Mechanics and Foods educators and bring our students together to get some of their projects off the ground. I have connections in the automotive industry with my previous career and a Skype session or two with mechanical engineers is on the list as well. I’m going to continue to facilitate as many connections as possible this year to assist them.
We also had the failure conversation, especially for the few who have never thought they could create something. We learned that it’s the process and the journey that matters most and that what they start out with may not be what they end with and that’s ok. We talked about how this is something that extends outside of school; that they can create and learn everyday.
They are beginning to make the important connections and starting to ask the deeper questions. I am amazed already at the direction they are going and tell them everyday: ”You are a genius and the world needs your contribution!” – the wonderful Angela Maiers .
On August 20th and 21st, a handful of us from PHRD went to an ERLC session called "Using Technologies to Support Literacy for All Students". The conference focused on five tools: text to speech, speech recognition, word prediction, visual mapping, and symbol writing. I was impressed with the way the tools could help students and easily become such a regular part of any classroom for any student who would want to use the tools. I then thought of students that I have taught in the past who struggled in school, no matter how hard they worked, and found the required assignments extremely frustrating and emotionally draining. At the conference, we saw videos of real students from real public schools using these tools and exemplars showing the improvement in their work. The results for me were indisputable. These tools are a great way to help those students who are capable of learning the content, skills, and other fun stuff that we want them to learn, yet their ‘invisible disabilities’ have prevented them in the past. I love how reading and writing do not have to interfere with a student’s understanding of math, science, social, or any other subject any more with these assistive technologies.
In my excitement and enthusiasm, I was discussing what I learned at the conference with another teacher. This teacher listened to me, although I could tell there was plenty of skepticism. After I told stories of the videos we saw of real students using text to speech and speech recognition, the teacher I was talking to asked me, “Okay, fine. But will these students ever actually learn to read and write?!?”
My answer, after a brief pause: “Nope. They won’t ever learn how to read. Of course not. That’s why they need these technologies.”
I think we can’t get caught up on making sure these types of students learn how to read and write. We have to realize something simple – some of our students are not going to learn how to read or write the way that we've been teaching them and this can have disastrous consequences on their schooling performance and emotional experiences. I don’t mean to say that these students cannot read or write at all. They are simply not going to be able to read and write the traditional way, at grade level or at a place where we wish they could be. Through the use of these technologies, we can begin to eliminate barriers and overcome the ‘invisible disabilities’ that are holding these students back and help level the playing field for all students.
I should note that through more conversation, the teacher I was talking with now understands the use of these technologies and appreciates their use in our classrooms.
Pembina Hills has purchased Word Q and Speak Q, which have the tools of text-to-speech, speech recognition, and word prediction. We look forward to rolling out these assistive technologies throughout the upcoming school year!
This blog and resources website has been developed through the work of various AISI coaches in PHRD. The lead collaborative teachers for the 2015/2016 school year, Cheryl Frose, Christine Quong and Tammy Tkachuk will continue to update this site. If you have resources you would like to share or would like to contribute to the blog, please contact us.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License.