Friday, 17 March 2017

IGNITE: Where Ideas Intersect

Innovation guru Steve Jobs believed that random encounters between people were a catalyst for the production of great ideas. So resolute was his conviction, that when he designed a building for Apple, he demanded there only be a single set of staff washrooms to increase the likelyhood of people from all over the building crossing paths and having conversations. (He was eventually overruled by a pregnant woman on his staff). Jobs also believed that great innovation came from the intersection of traditionally separate areas of thinking, and commented that Apple existed at the "intersection of the streets of liberal arts and technology". Likewise, author Steven Johnson in his book "Where Good Ideas Come From" highlights the benefits of shared intellectual and creative spaces. IGNITE sessions are an example of these "creative intersections" where ideas can bump into each other, combine, and evolve.

IGNITE sessions have been happening all over the world and are being used by many school districts.  Thanks to the Network of Inquiry and Innovation conference where we heard a few examples, and to Paul Britton in the Vernon School District who gave us some help, we decided we would give it a try in SD67.  How fortunate for us that we have educators willing to take a risk and give it a try!  No one had put together an IGNITE session before, but 16 brave people have now given it a go.  Each presentation is five minutes, and is built with 20 slides, each one automatically advancing every 15 seconds. 

We have held three sessions now.  We meet in the back room at the Cannery Brewing Co. on Ellis Street in Penticton. Everyone who attends enjoys snacks, cold drinks,  and five or six presentations with an opportunity for engaged discussion between each one.  The typical session runs from 3:30-5:00 and is low key, informal and great fun.

Our theme has been the renewed curriculum – what are you trying that someone else might be interested in?  What has worked… or not worked?  How can we learn together, share ideas, and support each other?

In session one we heard about:  The Power of YET: Growth Mindsets; Teaching Applied Design Skills and Technology in Grade One with building challenges; Inquiry Projects in Law 12; How we can do better for our students of Aboriginal Ancestry; Vertical Math; and what potty training reminded one teacher about the teaching profession.

Session two included:  Inquiry in a grade one class; Cooperative Grading: Authentic assessment; Physical Literacy: being active and how it effects learning and life; Coding; and School, Work and the Power of Metaphor.  

Our latest session included:  The Joy of Co-teaching; Core competencies; Outdoor explorations; Humans of Penticton - a project with English First Peoples 10; Assessing the core competencies.

We have a lot of adult learners in our district – life long learners who are committed to making things better for ALL our students and who are willing to share ideas and help each other out.  We left the sessions so appreciative not just of the talks given but of the educators willing to take a risk and lend a hand as we learn together.

Here are a few examples from our sessions (more to come in the future). 

The Joy of Collaborative Teaching: Janice Moase and Pam Rutten

Applied Design Skills and Technology (Curricular and Core Competencies): Alicia Moura

Friday, 3 March 2017

Adventures in Science: Froguts and Bouncy Castles

Engagement in learning is a huge theme in Through a Different Lens.  How do we help kids understand big ideas and really want to explore those ideas in a meaningful way?  How do we hook them so that they become intrigued and begin to ask their own deep questions?

Here are a couple of 'hooks' into learning that some grade 6 teachers at KVR tried for the last two units in science in the Renewed Curriculum.

Fun with  “Froguts”:  A story of virtual dissection

One of the big ideas in the renewed curriculum for grade 6 science is "Multicellular organisms rely on internal systems to survive, reproduce and interact with their environment."  Students are expected to know the structures and functions of body systems. 

As an introduction to this unit, grade 6 teacher Pam Rutten and learning support teacher Janice Moase  co-taught a number of lessons to hook the kids into this new unit.  They worked Dr. Elizabeth Ormandy from the Animals and Science Policy Institute that is “dedicated to providing education on ethics and alternatives to animals in research”.

Over two days the students used a virtual dissection app on ipads called “Froguts” and were able to dissect a frog.  Dr. Ormandy from UBC, worked with the students through skype to learn how the frogs body systems help it survive.  She used the app to teach  the students about the reproductive system of male and female frogs.  The two sessions were interactive and the kids got to ask Dr. Ormandy questions.

This was a great introduction to the big unit on body systems.  The kids were able to speak with an expert, learn about the ethical treatment of animals in science, and dissect a virtual frog. With the app they learned how to pin the frog, use a scalpel, and remove parts so that they could see other parts.  Half the class dissected a female frog and half the class dissected a male frog and then they compared the systems.

Dr. Ormandy co-planned the lessons with Pam and Janice; and then talked to the students about ethics and science; humane alternatives to dissection, and guided them through the dissection itself.  

App: $6.00 for the app through iTunes
Dr. Ormandy is available and wants  to work with teachers.
For more info. Website:

Forces In Motion

To introduce the big ideas in science 6 the teachers put together a station approach in the gym.   Big Idea:  "Newton’s three laws of motion describe the relationship between force and motion".  
Students are expected to know "the 3 laws of motion, and effects of balanced and unbalanced forces in daily life, also... acceleration, equal and opposite reaction, force of gravity"  

The stations included:  trampoline, bouncy castle, long boards, teeter totter (made by the tech ed teacher), ball throwing, running up and down stairs (bleachers), tightrope, balance beam, skippet.

The students were split into groups and went to various stations with their clipboards to explore the movement and investigate what was causing the it.

As the unit progressed the teachers constantly referred back to the stations.  Where did you experience friction?  or acceleration?  The vocabulary was always explored in context of their experience in the gym… fulcrum, force gravity, momentum, compression.

Hard to tell who is having more fun… the teachers or the students.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Quick and Creative Collaboration

The introduction of B.C.'s revised curriculum has challenged educators to shift their thinking in regards to the way teachers teach and students learn. While historically education has been a profession where people often worked in isolation, opportunities to discuss ideas and communicate with colleagues have never been more necessary.  Schools, districts, and regional networks have been working to provide various ways for teachers to share their thinking with each other. Three teachers at Parkway Elementary in SD67 came up with a simple but effective method for creating dialogue and exchanging ideas. When they developed something to help their students understand the core competencies, they posted their ideas on the cupboards in their staff room with a written explanation for the staff as well as a pile of sticky notes and a pencil for others to provide feedback. Their message to the staff clearly emphasized that their ideas were a work in progress and that critical feedback would help with the continual revision of their initiative. By choosing a communal space within the school building (the staff room) and providing a simple and quick way (sticky notes) for others to provide commentary, the teachers were able to collect a wide range of responses and suggestions for improvements.

It was a creative solution to the challenge of providing teachers with the essential opportunity to collaborate in regards to the revised curriculum, when there is often so little time available to do so.

Related Posts: See this post for further commentary on the importance of idea exchange in education, or this post for a discussion about teachers as learners.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Arboretum Activity: A Metaphor for the Core Competencies

A few months ago at a regional network meeting we were fortunate to experience an activity designed to help teachers understand the original intentions of the core competencies. Two members of SD23’s Instructional Leadership Team Carolyn Durley and Keely Flannigan began by giving us a little potted plant.  We were asked to discuss with a partner “What would success look like for your plant?”

Then we were asked to consider, "How would you care for your plant so it can be successful?" Some of us were fortunate enough to have little labels with instructions for proper care, however others had to make educated guesses about what their plant might require to thrive.

After our focus on the individual plants, we looked at a photo of an arboretum and discussed the strengths and beauty that resulted from the diversity of the plants represented.
The activity was a clear reminder of the intention of the core competencies which is to honour the individual strengths of every child and not to think of students as components to be evaluated, but as unique and complex people whose holistic growth must be supported and nurtured.

Next we were each given a personal blank plant label and asked to create care instructions for our own strengths. We were asked to consider “What care instructions would you write for yourself? What does success look like in learning for you? What do you need in order to be successful?” Reflecting on our own personal strengths as professionals was an excellent experience to help us prepare for developing self-reflection skills in our students.

While this activity is effective for helping educators reflect on the holistic intentions of the core competencies (and therefore resist the urge to reduce the competencies to a checklist or a rubric) it also has potential for classroom use.

Dave Searcy started his second semester Law 12 classes with this activity. Students began by looking at small plants that were brought in. After discussing the metaphor, the students were given their own plant labels and asked to create care instructions for themselves, both to begin practicing the self-reflection skills that would be needed in the course as well as to help their teacher understand what they each needed to thrive as learners. The labels became a visual display of the complexities and unique capabilities of each person, and the process gave the students a voice, allowing them to communicate their strengths and take ownership of their earning.

Note: Click here for a related blog post about getting to know your students at the beginning of the year or the semester.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

First Peoples Principles of Learning In Action

This video was recently created to highlight some of the exciting approaches being used in classrooms from K-12 in SD67.  Teachers who are intentionally working to bring the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL) into their practice are using engaging activities such as taking their kids outside, partnering students of different ages and grade levels together, bringing in more experiential hands-on elements, connecting with members of the community, and helping students connect their learning with their personal strengths and identity. A focus on the First Peoples Principles is creating classrooms where teachers and students are finding learning more meaningful and relevant.

While it is essential for teachers to acknowledge that what they are doing connects with the First Peoples Principles of Learning, it is equally important to recognize that we are only in the beginning stages of understanding the complexity and historical context of Indigenous educational approaches. The main purpose of this video is to help teachers recognize the potential for incorporating these ideas into their own teaching, but it simultaneously runs the risk of oversimplifying the FPPL.

In our work we sometimes hear the comment “Isn’t this just good teaching?"  or "What makes this Indigenous?"  Here are some things that are important to consider as we move forward.

1. The First Peoples Principles of Learning originated from Indigenous communities and societies.  These are methods and philosophies of teaching and learning that have been practiced for as long as Indigenous communities have existed which long predates the creation of our current educational system.

2. It is irrational to infer that our North American education system has historically reflected the philosophies and approaches represented by the First Peoples Principles of Learning.  Educational practices that have traditionally been used in North America and Europe bear little resemblance to the FPPL.  Traditionally, our system has focused on control, compliance, competition, regulation, production and standardization.  The goal has been to been to educate the largest number of students as efficiently as possible.

3. While it is certainly encouraging that current research on optimal learning environments (from groups such as the CEA and OECD) is compatible with the First Peoples Principles of Learning,  it is important to recognize that these principles have always been recognized by Indigenous societies and it is only now that these approaches to learning are being widely acknowledged by Eurocentric educators and researchers.

This video is an exciting example of positive things that are happening in our district when the First Peoples Principles are embedded within our current framework.  We want to continue to celebrate and support teachers in this work, while also acknowledging that this is just the beginning.

Note: A highly recommended resource for developing a greater understanding of the First Peoples Principles of Learning is Jo Chrona's Website.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Transforming Physical Space

 This year, the Social Studies department at Princess Margaret bought a small can of vibrant green paint and painted one of the walls in a vacant classroom. Now it is a multimedia center. Students with cellphones can now “green screen” video themselves to any location in the world. Using an ipad with a free app, students can stand against the wall, or sit at a desk in front of it and deliver newscasts with live footage and cool locations in the background.  

The green screen wall has so far been used by Social Studies and Geography classes; and now the French and Art classes are clamoring for the room. The green screen wall has become so popular that at times, we are competing for its use.  Some teachers have taken long sheets of green paper off of the rolls in our supply room and put them up on walls or onto bank of lockers and then take it off when done. Instant pop-up green screen!

The use of the green screen has also made me think about  other ways we could transform
the physical structure of our classrooms into  better learning environments. Wouldn’t it be cool if instead of regular linoleum, we could get linoleum stamped with a world map? Or periodic table?  At some universities, there are no chalkboards or whiteboads in some rooms. Every wall is covered in “Idea Paint” (basically, painted floor to ceiling with whiteboard covering) which means every wall can serve as a projection area or as an area to write upon! What a cool step in the right direction.

Submitted by Jeff Fitton

Friday, 25 November 2016


 It looks like a candle lit dinner at a restaurant … but why the books and journals? This is actually an inquiry group having a working dinner talking about changing practice and sharing ideas.  This group is one of four inquiry groups this year in Through a Different Lens.  They are pursuing hands-on active authentic learning and how it can be used to help kids think and connect with the curriculum.

The evening was filled with conversation and activity.  One activity was a provocation, a Reggio strategy that helped us connect with our memories and lives, and listen intently as others described some of their connections and memories.  At the end the group was asked to connect the experience with the First Peoples Principles of Learning.  There were so many connections – learning ultimately supports the well being of self, learning is reflective, learning involves generational roles, learning is embedded in memory, history, and story, learning involves the exploration of one’s identity.

We did a number of other activities such as musical chairs as a review or learning activity, taking notes standing up, watching a short inspirational video on design thinking, and one by Shelley Moore on the outside pins.  As well, each
person documented their thinking, and looked at how these strategies might be meaningful for students they are wondering about.

One of the richest parts of the evening was the two minute go-round at the table where teachers shared a strategy they had used recently or thought they might use soon. We listened to ideas about vertical math, snowball writing, pictionary, parodies, roleplaying to learn about the great depression, understanding mean, median, and mode on the basketball court, and building circle graphs with your bodies out on the field.

Ten teachers in the group – four are teachers on call; all who want to connect with kids better and create richer learning experiences for the all the kids they interact with. 

A good evening.  Thanks to Jeff who facilitated and all the teachers.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Outdoor Explorations: Connecting to Nature

Last May, I had the opportunity to observe two outdoor kindergarten classes in Nanaimo. I was seeking a new way to engage my students and wanted to “get out” of the classroom. When this opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to experience this place-based learning style and was pleased that I did.

 I felt that my class was having a hard time engaging with their learning. I felt that I was not teaching the way I wanted and that my class was in need of something different. So I started Outdoor Explorations. I saw a difference immediately! My students could not wait to go outside and write in their nature journals and learn about their environment.  I saw a big difference in my students who were more reluctant writers and ones who didn’t engage easily.  Outside I found they became very curious and had no trouble drawing and labelling in their journals. 

I was extremely lucky to have an Aboriginal Support Worker participate with us. She was able to provide an Aboriginal Perspective, which added a deeper connection with the environment. 

I did a number of things to make our Outdoor Explorations successful.  The students REALLY wanted to learn outside, so I told them that they could as long as it was always safe, and to be safe it meant that we had to be able to do a number of things.  

1.  Follow the three class expectations:  Respect Yourself, Respect Others, and Respect the Environment.  We discussed what each one of those meant and we talked about examples.  Respect Yourself meant that you were not going to do unsafe things – like hang from a tree or jump near a cliff; Respecting Others meant that we would do everything we could to keep everyone in our classroom community safe – for example we would look out for each other, we would not be pushing or shoving each other; and Respecting the Environment meant that we would not be damaging the environment, breaking plants, and taking things out of their environment.

2.  Listen for the whistle:  I taught them that if I blew my whistle at any point while outside, they would stop immediately and come back and gather together.  I assured them that if they could do that out on the school grounds then it would show me that they could respect themselves, and each other and keep us all safe.

3.  Spend time on our school grounds before going anywhere else:  We would do nature walks on the grounds, I would blow the whistle and they would come back and gather.    We practiced this over and over.  We would go outside and do nature journal writing – and I would blow the whistle and they would come back and gather.  These gatherings often lead to discussions about what they had seen or found or thought about.

 After I felt confident that the students would come when I called; we went on our first excursion.  I always took a whistle, cell phone, an extra adult (CEA, parent, principal, or another teacher) and was sure to have parent permission (field trip forms).  The children all needed to have a clipboard and pencil.

When we went off the school grounds, I set boundaries for the kids.  I would have 2 kids run to the edge of the boundary.  I would tell them they could go anywhere within these boundaries but if I blew my whistle they must come back immediately. I practiced this at every new site.

I always reviewed our 3 class expectations before going out on an excursion, during the excursion, and at the end.  The kids understood that safety is very important and that if they could act safely, we could be learning outside.

The kids ALWAYS want to go outside. They want to learn. They are inquisitive.  They have no difficulty at all distinguishing between running around at recess and learning time outside.  In fact, instead of thinking that learning time is recess, the opposite happens.  They come in from recess telling me about things they have observed, or sometimes problems they have encountered with students not respecting the environment.

During one of Outdoor Explorations, my students became fascinated with a spider web. They took great care not to disturb it. As they were examining it, a person walked by and asked what they doing. My students took the time to explain how a spider web was created and the importance of leaving it alone. They also informed the “stranger” how important it is to preserve and take care of nature. At this point, I was extremely proud of my students and knew that I made the right decision to bring Outdoor Explorations into my curriculum.

By Kelly Maxwell

Grade 2/3