Student Voice = Student Choice

As an educator, I value every word my students write or speak when it comes to their learning journey.  Listening to my students and applying their ideas, concerns, and aspirations has led me to improve my role as a lead learner in what I consider ‘our’ learning community (formerly known by some as a classroom).

Earlier this year, students worked in small groups to share their ideas about what in ‘history’ they would like to learn.  Their ideas were shared via a ‘technological gallery walk’, something that students truly love to do thanks to the interactive component involved in such an activity.  Their enthusiasm for such an activity based on choice and sharing led me to do the following.  I asked my grade 8s to Historythink about what being given ‘choice’ in learning means to them.  Posing the question was simply a launching pad to get my students reflecting on their strengths and interests.  However, one student opted to take on the challenge of writing a simple reflection that he permitted me to post his reflections on my blog.  (note: he is reflecting on his current independent study in history)

Matthew: Gr 8 Student

I think that the ability to give students a choice by in a project is marvelous. It allows you to learn about a subject that you personally are interested in and still follow the curriculum. I really enjoy using a website as my presentation format because it can be accessed from anywhere.

I for one, am researching the crusades. Others are doing World War 2 or World War 1. The range of studies that we are doing shows preferences and interests. I tend to like schoolwork but I can imagine this helping people who don’t have the same views as me. There is also slightly more interest in the research when all the ideas came from you and not a limited list of options. There are my views on the intellectual curiosity hour project.

What strikes me in his post is the notion of greater interest in learning when it stems from student interest and not, as Matthew describes a ‘limited list of options’.

So, with his post in mind, what are you doing to open a child’s curiosity to learn that stems from their interests and not your own?

Yours in learning,

The Enthusiastic Learner

Posted in education, educational practice, multimodalities | 2 Comments

Twitter – the good, the so-so, and the good

Many educators have read about why they should use Twitter; they have been told why they should us Twitter; they have seen how to use Twitter and yet I feel there are still so few voices of educators on this social media platform.  I admit, I was late to join the world of tweeting; I almost feel like the pot calling the kettle black as I write this but alas, I digress.

So why is there still such a push back against using Twitter in an educational setting? Is it because of fear of posting something that will set your career in a spiraling downfall or is it perhaps because it is too overwhelming?  Are the complexities surrounding who to follow or how to chat holding one back or perhaps even the fear of not putting enough time into the platform itself?

Regardless of the reason, I hesitate to say that not being on Twitter as an educators lends itself to creating a missed opportunity for students.  No, I do not mean FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) but more so missing a great idea or chance to connect to an educator or Austria or Australia.  We also miss creating authentic learning opportunities that support the digital world through literacy and citizenship; how can we support our students in understanding social media if we are struggling to understand it ourselves?

I have lost count of how many times I have learned something, both big and small, thanks to my incredibly diverse PLN on Twitter.  The endless amounts of personalized PD that has arisen thanks to Twitter makes my heart small.  Sure, I get overwhelmed at times and think to myself, I cannot keep up but alas, the wisdom of Mark E. Weston once told me “you’ll learn what you must when you need it”.

Above all, Twitter, with the support of Mark, has also allowed me to find my voice in education so that I can help my students find their own. Student Voice LinesTwitter can be overwhelming but alas, its positive potential far outweighs the deficits that some may think it contains.  Following even 5 other educators can spark a world if opportunity to learn, grow, and support our future change makers one read Tweet at a time. 

So I ask you, should you read this because you are part of my Twitter PLN or because you send it a colleague, what hurdles do we need to overcome to connect our classrooms together in an effort to create a better world for all?

Yours in learning,

The Enthusiastic Learner

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Not Perfect Hats = Perfect Day

I have so much to say about how fantastic today was thanks to the global launch of the Not Perfect Hat Club.  Alas, with the respect of my readers in mind, I will keep it simple.

In preparation to be part of the above mentioned book’s launch, my students requested that they build their own hats based on my ‘forgotten craft cupboard’.  They wanted to be ready for their first Skype chat with other students rocking hats that were created by their own hands.  But what of this lost cupboard you ask?  While designing our classroom together, some of my students noticed this magical cupboard filled with left over arts and crafts supplies.  Over the years they had been collected and stashed away and sadly, forgotten. leftovers

But today was their day to shine, their day to make a child’s day that much brighter.  So out came the supplies and along with it, extra enthusiasm, smiles, and joy of 26 students.

Our goal was simple: with our ‘not perfect left over supplies’ create a hat that would make a student shine bright with joy and smiles and that represented them even in the smallest sense.

My students ate the 50 minute period up like you would not believe.  Did I mention that they are grade 7s?  They worked collaboratively, as per our classroom agreement, to creatively support each other in making hats out of the left over supplies.  They knew that no matter what they created, it would be awesome because having a not so perfect hat is the best hat their is.  hats

I have the amazing Jena Ball to thank for sparking this magical moment thanks to her book and dedication to student well-being.  Her Not Perfect Hat Club led to my students’ forgetting about time, forgetting about being in grade 7, and focusing on creativity, community, and fun.

We connected all of our hats together with ‘pink pigs flying’ duct tape as voted on by the class.  This unifying piece reminds of us the sense of community we create when together, however; the community sense is thanks to the self-awareness that each student brings forth thanks to their unique ‘awesomeness.’

Need to see more?  Student quotes below (they were so happy to write in English!)

Freya: I liked when we did the hats and that we did not have to make it perfect.

Ryleigh: I liked when we did the hats this morning because I liked seeing what everyone did and there creative ideas. :]

Beyza: I liked seeing the creative ideas of other people.

Safa: I liked when we could do arts and crafts during class! But mostly because you couldn’t be judged by anyone.

Safa’s comment sums it up best I think.  Is that not a goal we strive towards as educators?  If not, it should be.

Yours in learning,

The Enthusiastic Learner

Posted in community building, education, fun, not perfect hats, student voice | Leave a comment

Not Perfect Hat Club – Best Club there is!

Empathy and self-acceptance can be difficult to teach.  The world of social media places so much pressure on our youth in terms of looks and our education system places pressure on marks (for the most part).  We hear of more students needing mental health support because they cannot handle the pressures placed on them by friends, family, and even teachers.  How then do we, as educators ease this pressure on students while still helping them to achieve their best?  We remind them that being part of the Not Perfect Hat Club is what we all have access to in reaching our infinite possible “bests”.

What is this club I am speaking of?  It is a soon to be released book and current global initiative that I feel honoured to part of along with my students and colleagues.

I was asked a while ago now to write a review for Jena Ball’s “The Not Perfect Hat Club” book.  Just being asked to read the work of such an inspiring and creative individual is an honour in and of itself, but then I read the book – 5 times and cannot to wait read it yet again.  It is not just a book that sends a strong message of embracing one’s uniqueness, it is a book that promotes a community of understanding.

Jena’s goal in writing this book is simple, it is “to give children stories and characters whose lives reflected their struggles with perfection; to help them celebrate what makes them unique” (p. 7).  Within my heart, I believe that most educators enter our profession with a goal of inspiring young minds to achieve their greatest success.  However, within my short experience as an educator, I feel that far too much of the pressure placed on students to achieve said success stems from academic achievement versus that of each child’s individual uniqueness.  photo courtesy of Jena Ball.

To me, individual uniqueness mirrors the personalities of Jena’s leading character, Newton, a dog fighting to find his way in the world and wanting only to be loved and to be understood.  Newton finds himself in scenarios where he is not fully understood because, well, he is a dog.  His drive to be understood and to please others mirrors what I believe many students are wanting and wishing to do.  It is this connection to the human world that makes this book extra special to the reader and especially those in the education system.

The honesty and emotion that one can draw from this book is simply outstanding.  It speaks to what we often forget to look at as educators, emotional intelligence and the importance of empathy and self-awareness.  Finding one’s self is a never ending journey and some would argue, that is the point of finding one’s self in and of itself.  However, we must embrace the fact that each student that walks into our room is unique.  Not because of their learning styles but because of WHO they are and where they may go in life. Perhaps Carl, Newton’s giver of shelter and food says it best: “people are like snowflakes – each one is different, and each one has to find his or her own way” (p. 22).  It is our job as educators to foster a safe learning space where each student’s unique qualities can shine in conjunction with all those around them.

As an educator, I cannot stress how amazing this book is towards helping to promote a culture of empathy, self-awareness, and creativity.  It is a book that can be read to or by any age group as the message is truly timeless.

Imagine if every student heard the message of the Not Perfect Hat Club?  Oh the creativity and positive outcomes that we would see!

Yours in learning,

The Enthusiastic Learner

(As an aside, this book caused me to tear up a few times.  That is how strong the message can be pending on your life’s events and emotional connection to Newton, Jabber, or even Midge.)

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Getting our youngsters into politics via NPDL

As a Political Science graduate of Acadia University, I never really thought I would be applying what I learned in my 4 or so years to my middle school teaching practice.

Yet, here I am, nearly 10 years later, embarking on my third election journey with my students and let me tell you, it is awesome.

Thanks to the amazing free resources offered by CIVIX, my students are not only adding to their learning of the Canadian Government stemming for the Grade 5 curriculum but they are embarking on an adventure that extends far and above just learning about democracy and the right to vote.

My grade 7 and 8 Immersion classes are creating their own electoral campaigns based on the following platform ideas according to their designated political party:

  • environment
  • health care
  • Canada and the World (student simplified words)poli
  • economy
  • education

The above mentioned topics were debated over the past few days.  Why? Because my students have quickly learned that creating a party platform that will be shared in a media campaign is not easy when ideas of importance differ within one’s group.  Students, within their designated party groups, researched a variety of issues affecting Canada and argued what commonalities each of their self-created campaigns will contain.  Never in my wildest dreams did I foresee my grade 7s intellectually arguing why transportation should be included and not health care; a teacher’s dream really.

The added teacher’s dream of this authentic, organically growing project, is the connection that this project has with New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL).  My students are continually recognizing how the 6Cs of NPDL are being applied to this project through their need to effectively communicate with each other and within their final product.  Their creativity may be what wins their student ‘constituents’ or perhaps their desire to think critically about the needs of our country.  Even though students have been in their groups for a mere three days, they have begun to collaborate in such a meaningful way because their end goals are the same and the project is fun, exciting, authentic.  The collaboration shows their understanding of character education through empathizing with the views of others.  Each student recognizes what it takes to be an active citizen in a democratic society and why it is extremely important to be an informed citizen.

What perhaps strikes me the most is the connection we are making with outside supports.  We are connecting with my former professor’s first year Poli Sci Class (Dr. Biro) and learning about his students views on why democracy and voting is important.  We are bringing in members of CIVIX via Skype and a few other guest presenters are on deck.  The project is rich with technology and inquiry making it perhaps one of my favourite NPDL projects to date.

As our project grows, I will be blogging about the journey with a few other posts in between.  Students will be guest blogging through a ‘blog by choice’ opportunity to share their learning journey with the world.

Cannot wait to see where this project goes.

Yours in learning,

then Enthusiastic Learner.



Posted in authentic learning, deep learning pedagogy, student voice, student vote | Leave a comment

Own Your Story – Create Your Story – Foster a Better Future

Students at my school today had the chance to listen to an organization speaking of voice, compassion, and empathy.  Their message was simple: Own Your Story: Become an author of Hope. Own

The impact of hearing a variety of stories of hardship and pain touched the hearts of many students and hit home for a few.  Tears were shed as students released some pent up emotions upon hearing others overcome their own emotional turmoil and ridicule.

Fast forward to a Twitter chat I participated in tonight called #SOBTC (Send Our Boys To College).  The chat connects to the social movement of Black Lives Matter and how educators can speak to this social justice issue in a meaningful/authentic way.

I made an error tonight when partaking in this chat.  I stated that all lives matter.  Of course all lives matter, few with a good head on their shoulders would argue different.  However, its not the issue of lives that matter, more so the inequality that exists between cultures/race that is in question and in particular, Black lives in the US.  This image perhaps states it better than I.  blacklives matter

Connecting the chat back to today’s student presentation is simple.  My group of students have an opportunity to grow as individuals based on owning their own story, their own history, and writing the hopeful journey of the future that lies before them.

By providing students the space to own their story and understand the story of others means that there is a brighter future for all those who have seen hardships, injustice, and lack of empathy in their lives and that of the ancestors.  My students have the opportunity to end movements like Black Lives Matter by simply understanding that equality and equity are number one, not colour, religion, or race.

I have an obligation as an educator and a member of our global society to ensure that my students understand this amazing power that they posses in making our future a better, more equitable place.  It is their right to do so, and it is my duty as an educator to create the space, the materials, and the mindset to ensure it happens.

Social justice, and Empathy truly need to be at the front of an educator’s teaching role.  Curriculum and standards will not change the state of the world, empathy and social awareness can if we create space for it in our classrooms.

Yours in learning,

The Enthusiastic Learner

Post thoughts from student conversations held throughout the week:

My students have defined social justice and empathy as the following:

Social Justice: Owning your own story for the sake of knowing others

Empathy: Understanding/respecting other stories for the sake of a better world because we all deserve equitable treatment.

Interesting no?

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6Cs – Setting Students up For Life

Today was perhaps better than yesterday.  My class of 27 seems to truly understand the meaning of fun and grasp the concept of community without question; a teacher’s dream.

This being said, I cannot wait to see my students grow as they still seem mystified by the opportunity to lead their learning versus being robot learners ready to regurgitate what they are told to learn.

Part of supporting my class in developing an understanding of advocating for their own learning includes recognizing the significance of the 6Cs of New Pedagogies for Deep Learning.

Students were given essential opportunity to do a gallery walk of sorts based on the 6Cs and their task was as follows:  write, draw, doodle, talk, sketch, express yourself how ever you can with the word on the sheet in mind.  A few crickets passed over the room for a moment or two but then I let the music play and away they went.

Students were thrilled to have music during this community based activity as it opened up the opportunity for students to discuss freely the words in front of them and perhaps support their creative juices on sharing their ideas about the 6Cs. Day 2

What I found interesting about today’s activity was the difference between the task of today and the same set up of said task with a different class 6 months ago.  The advantage of promoting the 6Cs of learning at the beginning of the year versus part way through is seeing the light bulbs go off about how the 6Cs can and will connect to nearly everything they do.  This is not to say the class who did this activity part way through did not recognize the value in the Cs but more so, starting the year off with the Cs in mind opens the door for greater growth that is student based, or so I hope.

Our discussion the 6Cs today following the gallery walk activity left students with the following thoughts:

  • the Cs are skill sets required to succeed in everyone’s own right
  • that each skill is essential to one’s well-being
  • that the Cs promote a culture of understanding and community
  • that if a project/task does not have at the front of its outcome that it is not worth doing (this one made me laugh given the student who put forth the thought…)

Though my grade 7s are still a bit groggy on the 6Cs, their understanding of the importance of each word is stronger than it was 24 hours ago.  I cannot wait to see my class grow with the 6Cs in mind and to recognize that learning is more than memorization, learning is about enhancing skill sets that can be connected to one’s passions and joys in life.

I invite you to look at New Pedagogies for Deep Learning and find the value that the 6Cs and its theoretical approach bring to your practice.  If you are new to the idea, feel free to ask questions; we cannot grow as a community of learners if we do not ask questions; the one’s posed by my students today certainly made me think.  I suppose they really got the Critical Thinking piece of the 6Cs.

Yours in Learning,

The Enthusiastic Learner

Posted in deep learning pedagogy, education, student voice | Leave a comment