Learning Design Specialist – In preparation for the Learning Design Maker Cohort, we thought it would be interesting to ask teachers, “What do you make and why?” Tough question! Immediately I put on my teacher hat and thought, “Well, I make awesome lessons, labs and fun projects because… curriculum!”
And then I thought about what making really is: making is finding creative solutions to unique problems. Teachers are designers of learning; we are here to design for our students and to learn alongside them. One way teachers can create authentic experiences that are fun, engaging and real, is to come up with interesting and relevant challenges for kids to solve. In making, students rise to the challenge by creating authentic, high quality products. They will be engaged, reflective, collaborative, and feel accomplished. During the Learning Design cohort, our goal was to generate engagement by encouraging teachers to make something they were proud of.
The modern maker movement is about making high quality products for an authentic audience or consumer. Whether a person knits a blanket to give as a baby gift or bakes cookies for coworkers to enjoy, creating a high-quality product worth sharing is the essence of making. When a student produces something that they take no pride in, either because they lacked the skill to reach a level of quality they could be proud of, or the product has no consumer beyond a teacher who will grade it, the engagement can be limited. When students have an opportunity to create products that are meaningful to them, that they can be proud of, and that can be shared with an authentic audience, making becomes magical! Teachers don’t have to be experts. Being willing to pose a question and learn alongside students can be just as powerful. Providing an opportunity for students to explain, exhibit or show off to parents, industry or local government adds even more to the experience.
Making requires more than knowledge and some remembering. It often requires deeper understanding, reflection, and an application of knowledge. And isn’t that the goal of teaching – to create authentic learning experiences that drive students to be engaged learners ready for problems of the future? So what are you making?
Superintendent of Schools – Our Four-Year Plan (4YP) has three key goals – learners are engaged, supported, and successful. Another means we use to describe the key work of RVS is making learning visible, real, and for everyone. One only needs to watch the #rvsed Twitter hashtag to see daily examples of how schools and staff create amazing learning opportunities for our students. In any given day, you will see teachers creating learning opportunities bringing those three concepts to life.
Last week I was at an event at Banded Peak School where students were given a place conscious challenge – utilization and beautification of a piece of land in the town area. In parallel, the community has created a committee looking at the space and trying to decide what to do with it. The students were challenged to design a functional space that would become a community asset. Students surveyed members of the community to see what people wanted. They asked about overall concept, preferred materials, activities that could take place in the space, and learned about lighting concerns, strategies to make the space low maintenance, and many other ideas. Students also met with local experts to gain further information. Students toured the site. Ultimately, students produced a scaled drawing, key information panels, and a model of the park. I was among a number of adults who walked through the student stations and had students explain the details of their designs. It was a great opportunity for making their learning visible.
Often we get caught up in the final product of the learning activity, but it is the process that is truly important. In gathering the information and ultimately explaining their learning to a stranger, students had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of our 21C competencies. I asked students tough questions about their design and I am pleased to say they could answer the question or at least recognize the issue as a challenge in their design. The kids were invested in the activity because it was engaging and real. They walk or ride by the land in question and want to contribute to a solution to make it better. They were given an authentic problem and access to real world experts and resources. This was not open the textbook, read a chapter, and answer 1,2,4 and 7. Kids toured the site, learned the nuances of the land, looked at a solution from multiple perspectives, and had to handle competing priorities and diverse opinions. It was real and they made their learning visible.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a common occurrence in RVS. I saw on Twitter the previous week about grade 3 Sarah Thompson School students designing and building models/blueprints for ways to address opportunities and challenges in the hamlet of Langdon. They shared their ideas and presented to the local county Policy and Priorities committee. I cannot list all the examples so just watch #rvsed to see some of the amazing ways our staff are making it real.
Learning Specialist – CTS Teachers from across Rocky View came together to collaborate, create and ideate on designing CTS projects to include core subjects and that also would meet the needs of the students and school. We started the day being inspired by the staff and students of Building Futures in Airdrie. The teacher participants were blown away by the professionalism of the Building Futures students. The students introduced themselves, shook hands with teachers and talked about about the benefits of their program, why they enrolled, and how it was changing their outlook on school.
Then we made our way to the shop at W.H. Croxford. Teachers had time to talk to each other about projects they have done and what they were interested in doing in the future. One key thing that has struck me over and over again this year, is how much we crave time to talk to other professionals about our practice and projects. Rarely are we given time for a tête-à-tête about what is going on in our classes. Professional Learning days and staff meetings often have tight agendas with a lot of bullets to get through, leaving no time just to chat. Shooting the breeze shouldn’t be seen as a waste of time! Build it into your agenda by using speed dating or critical friends protocols that are structured to allow for talk. It can be so helpful to have someone to share your ideas with, brainstorm ways around barriers, and #humblebrag** about the amazing things your school does. The feedback left by teachers and administration following PL sessions led by the 21C team this year, reflects this. The opportunity to hear what other schools are doing is valued and powerful.
Teachers at the CTS Remix day were then faced with a challenge: “How would you redesign a shipping container to meet the needs of your school and/or community?” Teachers partnered up and created incredible designs! A biodiesel plant, a makerspace powered by green energy and a Transformer-inspired container that would expand to allow for multiple uses and then contract back to an innocuous-looking shipping container are just a few of the thoughtful designs that came out of that exercise. From there, teachers had time to consider how they could redesign what they were doing in CTS classes. With creative juices flowing, teachers arrived at inspired and inventive projects that included repurposing an existing school space into a makerspace, redesigning a tent trailer into a mobile showcase for student art work, and rethinking the entire grade 10 curriculum to create a more personalized learning experience.
It was a fantastic day and our thanks go out to all who participated. If you have an idea that needs some help getting off the ground, send me an email (email@example.com) and we can set up a time to chat!
**Definitely worth a Google if you haven’t heard of that term before 🙂
Greetings from the Learning Department’s 21C team! Not sure who that is or what we do? Check out our introductory article, and then join us back here for an update.
Trailblazers investigate iconic Alberta images at The Stockman’s Museum.
If you follow #rvsed or #rvs21c on Twitter, you’re probably well aware that we’ve been doing some fun, out-of-school things with a number of RVS teachers these past couple of weeks. On those days we do tend to get a little excited and spam the Twitter account with updates and retweets of the work everyone is doing. We apologize to anyone whose #rvsed Tweet got buried in a stream of 21C exuberance.
It’s just that it’s difficult for us to control ourselves when we see and hear enthusiastic teachers diving into an interesting inquiry and creating excellent finished products in spite of some heavy time pressures. We believe one of the hallmarks of good instructional design is understanding it first from the inside – as the learner. Accordingly, a consistent feature of all the design cohorts is that teachers first act as learners and actually work through a designed exercise where they must explore an inquiry topic and use newly acquired tools or skills to create a product of significance.
In our Trailblazers Cohort, teachers inquired about the natural and man-made iconic symbols of Alberta at Cochrane Ranche, and exhibited their learning in a narrated SoundScape. They then put their new photography and graphic editing skills to use, creating icons of Alberta to be submitted to The Noun Project – an international effort to create a visual language.
Canada 150 teachers inquire about the identity of historical artifacts.
Our Canada 150 Cohort explored what we can infer about Canadian identity by examining the artifacts we curate, like the ones they explored at the Glenbow Museum. They went on to compose photographic pieces of art to accompany artist statements they made about their findings.
Lastly, our Architecture Challenge teachers took on the role of Professional Planners at the U of C, as they uncovered the ways in which public space serves our communities. After an inspiring tour of the Faculty of Environmental Design, including conversations with a Professional Planner, they began to plan scaled architectural models that will accompany infographics highlighting their findings.
Teachers pool the knowledge about public spaces for their Architecture Challenge.
You may notice that in each of these projects, teachers are asked to acquire and share knowledge (Inquiry), to create something that meaningfully displays their learning (Project), and to showcase this in a way that is authentic to the discipline they are exploring (Exhibition). These three phases are the key elements of our own instructional design process and what we believe can make for powerful design for student learning as well.
The part that we sometimes fret about is making teachers speed through all of those phases in a single day. In truth, the most important part of the design cohorts is when teachers design for their own students. While we believe the teacher projects have authenticity, the real value is in seeing the process from the inside and getting to use different tools and protocols that lend themselves to collaboration and creativity. In a future blog post, we’ll look at how these first days later translate into exciting student projects.
Our Visual Instructional Design Framework.
Thanks for reading! Janelle (@Janelle3904), Dan (@DMcWilliam), Jason (@JasonTeaching), & Sara (@mrssaramartin)