What Do You Make?

What Do You Make?

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?

Girls in STEAM

Girls in STEAM

Technology Learning Specialist – On Nov. 23, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of 50 girls, their teachers and guests at the Girls in STEAM Day. STEAM is the integration of science, technology, engineering and math with the arts to stimulate inquiry, innovation and creativity.

The enthusiasm these young ladies had for learning, experimenting, failing and trying again was electric. The conference began with the girls creating name tags that represented them: who they were, their interests, and their aspirations for the future.

We then had the opportunity to listen to three outstanding RVS teachers (Jill Quirk, Jenn Hummel and Shauna Taves) and their students describe the ways they support girls in STEAM in their own schools. Students also discussed what STEAM meant and learned about the stereotypes and biases they may face in the future.

The rest of the day focused on hands-on activities: making Christmas cards with lights and circuits, doing science experiments that resulted in Christmas ornaments, learning about robotics and coding with Little Bits, Spheros, and EZ-robots, and creating a band with found instruments.

Why did we do this? We need to encourage girls, especially those between 11 and 15, to pursue their interest in science and math. Society is missing out on the diversity needed to stimulate innovation and creativity if we are not attracting girls to engineering, sciences and math.

In a study commissioned by Microsoft, Martin Bauer of the London School of Economics states, “Conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, gender roles and lack of role models continue to channel girls’ career choices away from STEM fields.”

“This means that governments, teachers and parents only have four or five years to nurture girls’ passion before they turn their backs on these areas, potentially for good,” states Microsoft. “When we encourage girls to pursue science and technology, we double our potential to solve problems.”

“If the cure for cancer is in the mind of a junior high girl, the odds are that we’ll never find it.”
– Dr. Jenna Carpenter, Louisiana Tech University

Making Learning Meaningful

Making Learning Meaningful

Director of Schools – For generations, learners have been asking the questions, “Why do I need to know this?” and “When am I ever going to use this?” I am convinced that if we wish to engage our learners, we need to start by considering these age-old queries.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take several lessons related to some new software tools that I will need to become proficient with. The Office 365 modules included One-Note, Sway, Groups and SharePoint. Frankly, I admit that I was not prepared to delve into these new programs with zest and zeal. As you may surmise, I am quite comfortable using the tools that I have become familiar with.

I remember asking the instructor specific questions about how I may be able to use each of the programs for various facets of my work. Once I understood how these tools could be useful, I became much more interested in trying the programs and learning more about them. The importance of making real-life connections to the concepts being learned cannot be understated.

Simon Sinek, one of my favourite authors, states, “Start with why.” Essentially, his message is that people may be inspired to action if they understand the why. Similarly, learners solving real-world problems and learners who can make life connections to the outcomes they are studying will be far more engaged and will develop deeper, more thorough understandings than learners studying concepts that have little or no meaning for them. As educators, our challenge is to ensure that we make learning meaningful for each and every individual!

The Need for Balance

The Need for Balance

“Focused” (high content wolf-dog) taken at Yamnuska Wolf-Dog Sanctuary, October 2017. Photo: Sharon Rhodes.

Director of Schools – As an educator, I have always believed in the concept of “lifelong learning” and have, throughout my career, challenged myself to continue to learn and improve. Over the past couple of years, I have taken a keen interest in taking good photographs, so as an educator, it seemed only fitting that I take some courses in photography to improve my skill. Now, don’t get me wrong; I never signed up to become the next Ansel Adams. I just want my photos to look like what I see so I don’t have to explain what the fuzzy blob in the centre of the picture is!

As the student, being an educator gives you a very different perspective on learning. I find that I am often assessing the lesson plan, or the assignments, or even the final assessment. I hold it up to what I know and value as an educator and measure it against the standards that we have set as a division.

In some of the courses I have taken, the instructor has inspired me and really allowed me to tap into my passion. The course has been designed in such a way that there is a mix of information and hands-on experiential learning, and it provides for personalization. For example, I was excited to be out in the mountains at sunrise on a Saturday to get the “perfect” shot at daybreak. Or tromping around at daybreak in the bush in thigh-deep snow to possibly get a picture of a bull moose! Seriously… on a Saturday. And I hate getting up early on the weekend!

“The Three Bears” taken at Churchill, MB, November 2016. Photo: Sharon Rhodes.

A few courses were less than engaging. One course had mostly lecture and little hands-on. In another, learning the Photoshop program (I use “learning” loosely here), the instructor presented the information in rapid-fire format, jumping from one concept to another so quickly that there was barely time to blink to re-hydrate my eyes! Needless to say, I didn’t learn a whole lot. Thank goodness for manuals and YouTube videos!

My point is that, for a student (any student), we really need to present information in a balanced, engaging way – offering as many hand-on opportunities as possible to reinforce the learning and allowing the student to present their learning in a personalized way that ignites the passion of the learning. I don’t remember much about the Photoshop course and often consult other resources to get me through. Yet I still get extremely excited about planning my Saturdays and getting up before the sunrise to get photos of the next “thing” on my list!


Enhanced Support at Rainbow Creek

Enhanced Support at Rainbow Creek

Students grocery shopping at No Frills.

RVS Learning Support Teacher, Rainbow Creek Elementary – What do you know about Enhanced Support? When I was given the chance to share about the Enhanced Support program at Rainbow Creek I jumped on the opportunity. I love being able to celebrate the successes of our exceptional students!

For those of you who don’t know, the Enhanced Support program at Rainbow Creek Elementary provides direct support to students with complex communication needs. As the lead teacher, I am supported by three educational assistants, as well as divisional staff who collaborate on student programming. Programming is based on each students’ individual needs with a focus on improving communication, social interaction, behaviour and independence in addition to their academic skills. I have the opportunity to work with homeroom teachers to modify curriculum, promote peer interaction and ensure student success in their inclusive classrooms. In addition, students have the opportunity to develop specific skills in the Enhanced Support room. Our students participate in weekly outings such as grocery shopping for our school breakfast program. Students also develop independent life skills through activities such as cooking.

A student learning to use their power wheelchair.

Currently our students are working on goals, such as learning to drive a power wheelchair, communicating using Touch Chat, practicing street safety, and developing a greater understanding of expected school behaviour. It is amazing to see our students develop skills which will help make them more independent in their lives.

As the Enhanced Support program continues to develop, I have come to realize it is about more than just students with complex communication needs. It is about creating a culture of acceptance where all students can feel that they belong. It is about teaching all students to embrace diversity and difference. It is about creating an environment that promotes equal opportunities for all learners.

If you are ever in our building, come by and say hi. We would love to share more about what we are learning!

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