Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Engaged in Learning in June

Steve LaPointe teaches grade 4/5 and believes that May and June are the perfect months for kids to do some intense, engaging learning.  “All the scaffolds are in place.  The kids can self regulate, the parents are involved and supportive, there is a feeling of respect among the kids.  It’s important to keep kids thinking about learning during this time of year rather than thinking about the year ending.”  So one of the things  Steve involves the students in is “Genius Hour”.  He first got excited about Genius Hour working with David Hird at KVR Middle school.   He found that it was tremendously engaging and motivating, and so he has continued with his students in grades four and five.

Steve has the kids think of something they would love to pursue… using imagination and personal passions and interests.  He tells them about how Google operates – a company that give company time to its employees to explore their passions that are good for human kind.  “What would you explore if you could?”  “What is your personal interest?”  “What would you say to me if you had the chance to say ‘How come we never get to learn about ____ at school?’”  “What do you want to learn about, or learn to do?”

As part of the 6 weeks project (twice a week beginning in early May), the students write a question “How can I build a skateboard ramp”, “How big of a bubble can I make?”  “What kind of cat house might my cat like?”  “How can I build a car that runs on CO2?”  They research the project, spend time talking with their parents and peers to flesh it out, explore the internet for designs and ideas, and then write up a proposal that indicates their question and the materials or resources they need.  This proposal has to be approved by both the teacher and the parents.

Then the action begins.  The students start gathering information on a topic, or begin their creation. The classroom, hallway, and workspace outside the classroom door becomes a buzz of activity as students are gluing, hammering, and creating.  Though each project is individual you see students helping each other out with their projects, and displaying what they have learned about ‘coaching’ each other.  Engagement is high as all the kids appear to be highly self-motivated.  Steve reports that there are few behavior issues because they are all doing something they love (“sometimes they are just too excited”).   

When the projects are completed, each student does something to report out – a power point, poster, picture display, a movie, or a short write up.

Teacher reflections:  Steve values Genius Hour.  He loves to watch the kids totally engrossed in their projects, excited to learn and share their learning, displaying such respect and cooperation with each other.  “They are at peace with themselves and each other”.  It is a fabulous way to end the year.”  Steve noted that one of the challenges for him is not rescuing the kids… “it is hard sometimes to let go or not step in.  I am repeatedly saying ‘If you get stuck come and see me’ but then staying hands off unless I’m invited in.”  The kids disappointments are also key – “their plans don’t always go the way they think they should but they learn a lot from that, and I am there to support.”  All in it is “just so worth it.  You just have to watch them to know that”.

Comments from the kids:
“I learned that it is not always easy… there are always difficulties.  For example, you have to be careful with the length of screws you use cause some of them went right through the boards”

“What I loved is that you get to build something that inspires you – and might inspire you to do something in the future”.

“I liked working on something that I want to learn.  I got to explore ways that work and ways that don’t work.  It was all about something we wanted to learn.”

“It was really FUN for the kids”

If you want more information contact Steve at slapointe@summer.com


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Teacher Inquiry


This year TADL sponsored four inquiry groups; indigenous perspectives, inclusive practices, assessment, and literacy and the renewed curriculum.  This video clip includes some of the teacher inquiry questions, and some of the learnings from being involved in an inquiry group.  Thanks to all the teachers involved this year.

Submitted by Jeff Fitton

Monday, 16 May 2016

Learning Outside the School

This fall I had a contract at KVR Middle School teaching grade 6, 7 and 8. I have a passion for service learning, community based learning, and letting students experience learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.  So during my time at KVR I focused on building empathy through having my students make connections to their school and greater community.

I started by having the students brainstorm problems within their school, city, and global communities, which they felt passionate about. The class narrowed down their ideas and came up with three ways to help their communities: garbage pickup around the school, collecting new and gently used warm clothing and toys, and going to a senior centre to keep them company.

Garbage pickup:
The grade 7 class organized themselves, went outside and picked up all of the garbage on the school grounds. The students had a blast and in just under an hour they collected 12 full bags of garbage. This might have seemed like a one time thing, separate from their day-to-day lives to the students, but it did make a lasting impact on some of the students. Some were clearly more aware of the garbage that surrounded them, upset at how quickly the grounds were once again covered in garbage. This helped them take ownership of their school grounds, and feel their connection the space that they spend so much of their time in.

Collecting new and gently used clothing and toys:
In December, the class organized a clothing and toy drive. Students throughout the school brought in new and gently used toys and warm clothing for all ages. In just over two weeks we collected 717 items, with our class bringing in over 1/3 of the total items.  Many of my students stayed in at lunches to help sort all the clothing and toys. 

I knew the students had started to feel empathy for each other when they were walking to a local elementary school to deliver the clothing and toys and one of the boxes’ bottom broke.  Scarfs, mittens and tuques flew everywhere. Almost everyone in the class stopped to help them pick up the articles and carry them the rest of the way.  The students were so proud as they recognized how they could directly effect lives around them in a positive way.

Senior Centre:
The grade 7 class chose to go to Haven Hill and bring holiday cheer and baked goods to the residents.  The students shared the goodies and helped the seniors make Christmas cards for their families.  One student played  the violin and a few others took turns on the piano, playing Christmas carols while the rest of the group sang along. Talking with the residents was eye opening for many of the students; they enjoyed learning from them and hearing some old stories.  

These actions were powerful for the students because they choose and organized them.  The students found things they wanted to do to positively impact the communities around them. It helped them see how much they can achieve on their own and the power they have to make change in the world around them.

Submitted by Alannah Stewart, a recent graduate from UBCO and first year teacher in SD67

Monday, 7 March 2016

SD67 Maker Day

So many things about Maker Day connect with Through a Different Lens – hands on learning, creativity, group work or individual work if you so choose, expression of your thinking, no right answer, problem solving, … fun.

Thirty adults took on a challenge for the afternoon.  An hour and a half went by and none of us were ready to stop.  No one had left early.  There were no behavior issues!  ☺ Everyone was on task and it was a sunny, Friday afternoon.  

There was conversation, problem solving, taping, cutting, inventing, spilling, dropping, encouraging, frustration, sighing, laughing, and really every conversation I heard was on the task at hand.  Even the two of us that thought we would just observe were drawn in to working with a team – suggesting and then eventually making too.

Time, slope, friction, a problem with multiple solutions, group work, communication, critical and creative thinking, social responsibility all woven into one activity.  So many ways to LEARN.  

Content is the vehicle; the competencies are the destination.

Watch Trevor Knowlton's video for a better look:  http://www.code67.ca/calendar.html

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Aboriginal Book and Video Gathering

We have continued with our Aboriginal Book and Video Gatherings this year.  In October we met to discuss the book "April Raintree".  We were so fortunate to have one of our staff talk about her life and relate it to the novel.  In February, thirty of us gathered at Theos to discuss Wab Kinew's Book "The Reason You Walk" and Wab Rice's book "Legacy".  We watched a CBC interview with Wab Rice and a youtube video of Wab Kinew talking about growing up with his father "Surviving the Survivor".  

Our next book is "Birdie" which is one of the 2016 Canada Reads Books.  It is being defended by Bruce Poon Tip.  We would love to have you read the book and join us on April 6.

One of the goals of our Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement is "to raise awareness and understanding of Aboriginal history, traditions, and culture for all students and staff in the Okanagan Skaha School District".

The Aboriginal Book and Video Gatherings help us with this goal.  We gather to talk about history and culture that many of us are unfamiliar with.  The book club is a safe place for important conversations.

Everyone is welcome to attend.
You can order a book through Hooked on Books hookedonbooks@shaw.ca to support a local small bookstore, or pick up a copy at Coles.

Saturday, 27 February 2016


Two full days of professional development .  What incredible learning opportunities were offered.  Leyton Schnellert and Shelley Moore talked about inclusion – but it’s always much more than inclusion as we might traditionally think about it.  They wove in:
- The new curriculum 
- How to teach SEL within the context of a series of lessons
- How to teach with all kids in mind
- The First People's Principles of Learning
- Story – your story, each child’s story, and how to collect multiple stories

The idea of STORY is a powerful thing.  We can learn so much from hearing stories. Shelley shared about ‘snapshots’ – how we need to collect more than the ‘snapshot’ we get of our students to see what is really happening; Leyton told us stories of two boys and what happens when you teach to their strengths, adapt things slightly to empower them.  We heard about the ‘wind’ – how we can’t control it but we can channel it to do wonderful things.

In addition to Shelley and Leyton, Naryn Searcy shared about seeing our students who challenge us the most as ‘trickster students’; these are the students who teach us, change us; we become better teachers because of them; and Myron Dueck told a story about using the 2 x 10 strategy as a vice principal, not a classroom teacher, with a student in the hallways, the discomfort and the changes he saw.

We can not connect with some students without the story, or at least some of the story, or at least showing we are open to the story; the connection with our students – especially those who may not be connected with any other adult in the building, is the most important factor in keeping kids in school and engaged in a meaningful way.

Monday, 18 January 2016


A few of us from SD67 have been attending an inquiry in SD53.  A group of early learning and primary teachers led by Melia Dirk have been meeting together to talk about provocations, and how to build classrooms that foster inquiry.  At this last meeting, teachers shared how they have used different materials to stimulate play, curiousity, writing, building and story.  We saw examples of tables covered with nature materials, shells and sand, jewels, animals, art supplies.  Some teachers put the materials on mirrors or light tables to add different kinds of exploration.  Other teachers used story stones to stimulate writing and story telling; one teacher is taking her class outside every Wednesday to explore nature and write about it. Last week her students investigated animal tracks in the snow. 
Nature materials in a Strong Start Classroom

Materials used to stimulate connections and memories

This kind of learning has been around for a long time in many pockets in the world, and is certainly becoming more evident in classrooms around B.C.  The provocations that SD53 are exploring are based on the Reggio Approach, which is being explored in districts throughout B.C. Many teachers are visiting the Opal School in Portland to see it in action.

“The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It was developed after World War II by a teacher, Loris Malaguzzi, and parents in the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy. Following the war, people believed that children were in need of a new way of learning. The assumption of Malaguzzi and the parents was that people form their own personality during early years of development and that children are endowed with "a hundred languages" through which they can express their ideas. The aim of this approach is teaching how to use these symbolic languages (eg., painting, sculpting, drama) in everyday life. The program is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.

When I watched some of the video clips from the Opal School I was intrigued with how well it connects with Through a Different Lens; Younger kids, but a similar approach.  Opal School seems proud that they are addressing the needs of all students – and doing it by allowing them to express their learning in many different ways. That sounds very familiar to many in SD67.

We are in an exciting time in education - so much to learn and be curious about ourselves.

submitted by Judith King

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Indigenous Perspectives: Where To Begin?

Educators in British Columbia are recognizing that Indigenous perspectives are an integral part of the new curriculum. While teachers are excited by these changes, many also harbour some anxiety. How will they weave Indigenous perspectives throughout their lessons, instead of treating them as an "add-on"? How should non-Aboriginal educators respectfully and appropriately incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing into their practice? Students in classrooms that reflect First Peoples principles describe their learning as relevant, active, and engaging. They become more open to diverse perspectives, develop the ability to creatively solve problems, and enjoy a supportive community with their classmates. Students learn to see the connections between their education and the world around them; they recognize that the world around them is their education!

No matter what the subject area or grade level, incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing and learning allows students to connect more deeply with their educational experience. Here are three recommended starting points for educators who would like to increase their understanding of these perspectives:

1. The First Peoples Principles of Learning
Described as one of the founding documents of the new B.C. curriculum, the First Peoples Principles of Learning (FPPL) were created through a joint partnership between the Ministry of Education and the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC). The FPPL are a set of learning principles based on general Indigenous educational perspectives and are a wonderful framework to guide any educator hoping to learn more about First Peoples ways of knowing.

A key companion piece to the FPPL is Jo-Anne Chrona’s website which goes into each principle in more depth, provides context for what each might look like within a classroom setting, and includes links to the new BC curriculum and competencies.  This comprehensive resource also provides connections with non-Aboriginal educational theory and includes tips for using authentic resources and avoiding appropriation.

2. Your school district Aboriginal Education Team: While districts vary in the structure and size of their Aboriginal education programs, members of your district’s educational team will be able to recommend resources, connect you with members of your local community, and
guide you in ways to implement Aboriginal perspectives into your practice.

3. FNESC (First Nations Education Steering Committee)
The FNESC website has a wealth of resources. The “First Peoples Classroom” tab provides links to authentic resources as well as recommendations for multiple grade levels and subject areas. FNESC also offers a variety of workshops and conferences around the province.

It’s an exciting time for education in B.C. and a highlight is the Indigenous perspectives now embedded throughout the K-12 curriculum. While there will obviously be challenges that accompany any type of significant change, these new elements will provide our children with an educational experience that accurately reflects our dynamic and diverse 21st century society.

Additional Resources:

Aboriginal Perspectives and Worldviews in the Classroom: Moving Forward (Ministry of Education)