Archive of ‘Ongoing Professional Learning’ category

21st Century Learning Skills

As I’m on Maternity Leave I’ve been reflecting about my teaching practice and how I can make it better. I really want to focus on and integrate in all my teaching is the 21st Century Learning Skills.

I’ve been reading about these essential skills but I wanted to figure out how we can, or already do use them in our classroom everyday. In order for me to really teach to these skills I wanted to really understand them.

I am going to introduce the topic of 21st Century Skills by having a discussion with my class about what they believe communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are. What do they already know about these skills and how do they already use them in their everyday lives? How can we use these skills in a better way?

Below, I have made the graphic brainstorming the ways I can teach these skills or how we use these skills already.

I would love your feedback about this graphic. What am I missing?

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Reflecting on my 1st year teaching Grade 6

This year has been a life changing year for me. It was my first year teaching Grade 6 for a whole year and I was beyond excited for the opportunity to do so. I knew I wanted to do things very differently. I know that March seems like a weird time to reflect on how the year went, but I am now on pregnancy leave until my Baby Boy comes in April.

Topics I wanted to focus on this year:

  • Student choice and voice
  • Student self assessment
  • Project based learning
  • Using technology to support and amplify learning

This year was an uncomfortable journey as I wrestled with the image of what school should look like to what I wanted my classroom to look like.

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I discussed my uncomfortability of these differing viewpoints here. It was a transition for me and my class. I went from thinking that a classroom should be quiet to a classroom should be a buzz of discussion and questions. It was a lot and some days I grew frustrated with the change and some days it was incredible.

Student Voice and Choice:

Students in my class had choice in most things we learned about this year. For example, they got to choose an important person to write a biography on and they decided which Canada History Event they wanted to learn about for social studies. Having choice in the classroom and their learning allowed them to remain very focused on their learning since they were extremely engaged.

Students also decided this year how our classroom was going to be set up and what jobs we needed to cover so our classroom would run smoothly. We had many classroom discussions about behaviour problems, problems we ran into, and classroom decision making. For example: I started to notice a trend of students getting off task and unfocused at around 10:20am each day. They would start talking about subjects not related to school and be quite loud and distracting about it. After a couple times of noticing this, I called a class meeting. I mentioned what I had started to see and asked them what the problem was. The class spoke up and told me that were finding it hard to focus for that long period of time and they would like a break. Some students wanted a break to chat with their friends about something that happened that night, or some needed to move or some just wanted a quiet minute to draw something. I started a break time. They had 20 minutes of a break to read, draw, chat or participate in a Go Noodle.

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I’ll be honest, to get into their routine it took me a while. I kept on forgetting and their behaviour would continue to be off task. I decided to put reminders in my FitBit so my wrist would vibrate when it was time for a break. Starting the breaks everyday made a huge difference in their behaviour and focus. It also gave them the chance to problem solve a solution.

I also asked my students what having voice and choice in their classroom meant to them. Check out this post for more details about that.

Student Self Assessment:

Students knowing how to self assess how they are doing was something I really wanted to focus on this year. I wanted them to know what mark they were going to get even before they handed in their work to me. This took a lot of planning and practice but creating rubrics and checklists as a class was the best way for students to know exactly what was expected of them. From the beginning of the year until now, I’ve seen a huge improvement of how my students self assess themselves. Before, I would get random A’s or D’s that didn’t fit into what I was seeing at all. Now when they self assess, it is usually exactly the same as what I marked them or within one grade difference. I truly believe that this will help them do better in higher grades going forward.

I remember the stress of bringing that report card home and knowing that you would be in trouble for whatever it said but always assuming the worst. I did not want my students to feel that way about school and marks so I decided to be as transparent as possible with report cards. I worked with my students to teach them about self assessing their own learning skills. This was a learning process for me, so please read the linked blog article to know more.

Grades in my classroom are not a taboo topic. We talk about them at length, students share stars and wishes and reflect on what they did well and what they need to do better next time. I stress to my students that school is a learning process so they should be asking for help and redoing work they made mistakes on, that is how we ALL learn. All grades are self assessed by students, discussed with me, or shared with students who reflect on their grade and learning and store their marks in their student led conference binder. Before report cards home, I print off my draft copies of the reports and share them with the students. I ask them to edit my work if I made any mistakes, to look at the grades and comments and see if they agree or disagree. If they disagree, they must circle the problem and come up with an explanation of why they deserve a better mark and then we can discuss it. For more about this process, check out this blog post. Most students feel that their report card is a fair representation, some challenged their grades and I have changed marks based on their arguments and for some it is a wake up call that their lack of responsibility in their learning has affected their mark and will be communicated to their parents.

Project Based Learning:

I wanted for my students to have real world experience of collaboration. Working as a group gets all students to share their expertise, strengths and to help each other with their weaknesses. Some of my students who struggle produced amazing projects with the help of their group. Of course, these students probably didn’t contribute as much as the other students but by working together I know that they understand the topic we are studying more deeply than they would if they were working on their own.

Also life isn’t separated into learning subjects by themselves, it is a mess of subjects integrated with each other.

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I wanted to give my students the chance to learn authentically using the internet and finding relevant information. I also wanted to mark them on many different subjects at once. For example, for the space unit we just completed (addressed in this post) I marked their knowledge of space and writing since they were also learning how to write a report. All the projects we worked on this year assessed more than the subject we were completing the work in. I felt it was more authentic that way.

Using Technology to support and amplify learning:

I’m going to be honest. I’m a terrible speller and I thank google for auto correct and siri everyday. I wanted to teach my students how to use these amazing tools we have at our fingertips properly and how to help them in their learning. I have used Siri in my classroom, in front of my students to show them how to spell different words. I use it on a daily basis and why shouldn’t they? I have also shown them that while using google docs, if you misspelled a word, it will underline it in red for you so you know that you need to correct it.

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I’ve also shown them Google Read and Write and how to get the program to read what you have written back to you. I use this when I am writing report cards to make sure it makes sense. So many students need to use this tool but don’t know about it. Getting them the tools they need to succeed is just a smart thing to do.

Before smart phones, teachers used to drill in times tables into our heads. even completing those mad minutes, I still don’t remember all my times tables.

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With smartphones being in our pockets, who of us haven’t reached into our pocket to help us calculate something while out shopping? Why not encourage our students to do the same. Understanding the concept of multiplication or division is so much more important than knowing all their times tables.

Continuing Next Year:

Some of the things we did in class worked so well and I am so proud of my students for how well they did them.

Students’ learning how to self assess themselves was one of the highlights of my year. I want to continue doing this but I want to make sure that they are deeply thinking about what they have done well and what they need to improve on.

Student Led Conferences was something I really focused on this year in class. We spent a lot of time saving our work and reflecting on what we could have done better for next time. Although I sent notes and emails home and had very open times where parents could come into our classroom whenever they were free, we had limited parents who came. I would love next year to have more parent involvement.

I let my students have a say in every part of our classroom and that was also problem solving. It was clearly needed that we needed to set up classroom jobs, but I waited until the students brought up the subject and what jobs they thought we needed for our classroom to run smoothly. Many of my supply teachers mentioned to me how much that they loved that the jobs just ran themselves. Some of the jobs we had were recyclers, date, calendar, Tweeter of the day, Technology organizer, and more.

My class met often to discuss problems we were having in class to try to create resolutions together. My students would even notice issues and call meetings so we could vote on certain topics. I would like to have classroom meetings more often so the shy students can get more comfortable sharing in these settings. I’m just wondering how often to have them and what to share and talk about.

Bring your own device (BYOD) was such a great aspect to our classroom. As discussed above I wanted my students to actually use the tools they had at their disposal so they could  see these devices as a learning tool rather than a music player and learn the responsibility that comes with it. I only really had to have 2 discussions with my students about how to use the devices appropriately and since we used them everyday, it really was not a big deal.

Connecting our classroom with the world through twitter was an awesome experience. We started just tweeting from my computer as a class and then I gave the tweeter of the day our iPad and they were allowed to take pictures and tweet what we were learning about. Next year I would lay out clearer guidelines for what they are supposed to be doing. I would get the tweeter of the day to introduce themselves in the morning on twitter, and get them to share their learning and questions they have, tweeting to people of interest that can help them and using hashtags correctly

What I need to do better next year:

Using twitter in the classroom was an amazing experience this year. As stated above I need to improve how we use it in the classroom. Next year I would project our twitter feed onto the screen every morning so students can look through our feed together and read blog articles or watch videos they are interested in. I think this would engage them more and they would want to tweet more often.

I want to meet with students more often and figure out a better way to take notes about how they are doing and what they are working on. This year I used a Google Form to document but I’m not sure if that is the best way. Sometimes I’m going to need to meet with certain students or students are going to need to meet with me. Next year, I’m going to have a ‘I NEED to meet with Mrs. B’ spot where students can sign up to meet with me and they will be the first priority that morning.

I felt that through blogging, emails, and notes home, I did communicate well with parents. Obviously some more than others. I would really like to set up a system about how to send more positive notes home about the students on a daily basis.

We blogged this year at http://techtitians.edublogs.org/. We didn’t get as much traffic and comments as I wish we had. Next year I want to think about what is the easiest way for parents and others to see what we are doing in class. Maybe a facebook group?

This has been my most exciting, thought provoking, inspiring year for me as a teacher. I’m so proud of my class and what we accomplished this year. I would be very grateful if you have any tips or feedback to share if you could comment below.

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Building Trust and Accountability through Report Cards

Report card time is here again. For me, it’s a dreaded time since I don’t believe in marks and find that report cards do not give enough feedback for students and parents.

My students this year have been working on self assessing and are pretty bang on with it now. They self assess how they do on projects and even their learning skills.

I work on their report cards with the marks they have decided they deserve by self assessment and also my marks. I enter in their marks and corresponding comments into the report card software. When I’m finished, I print the report cards out and hand them back to the students. I give them time to read through them, look at their grades and comments.

All of their completed assignments and rubrics have been handed back to them previously and they are stored in their Student Led Conference binder. The students have access to these binders all year round and are encouraged to bring them home to show their parents. They also refer to these binder when looking at their report card.

I always begin this process by talking to my students about how a grade doesn’t really reflect what you know and if they are upset in any way, to come and chat with me about it instead of leaving upset.

Then, I hand out the report cards. Some of my students were excited and some were so nervous. I gave them quiet time to read through them and some were thrilled with their report cards and some had questions about certain grades.


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If they had any issue, they were to circle the mark and say exactly why that mark should be changed. Then, when the class was working we met and discussed their thoughts and mine.

I have to say that being really organized using Google Drive helped me pull up all their grades, self assessed or teacher assessed and then we could really discuss it.

Some students made quite persuading arguments and their marks were changed. Some students forgot that they self assessed themselves with a certain mark and that influenced their grade. Some students disagreed with their learning skills mark that they had written themselves and I had to remind them that they decided on that qualifier and grade themselves.

The process of sharing the report card before it actually goes home has been essential in my classroom. It helps the students learn, consistently self assess, demonstrates mutual respect and trust and reduces stress since they know exactly what will be going home to parents on February 4th.

I would highly suggest that other teachers use this method as well.

Here are some thoughts from my students:

I think that it’s good that Mrs Bowker does that because before we go home with our report cards we know our grades, we have more confidence and are not stressed out. -K.A.

We don’t have to worry about how our parents are going to react to our marks because we know what grade we got and we agree with the marks. -L.A

I like how Mrs Bowker lets us see our report cards before they go home so we can check our marks and tell her if we disagree with them and we talk about the marks so we aren’t upset. -L.J.

I like that Mrs Bowker gives us our report cards so we know what level we are at and how we can improve. -H.A.

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Student’s viewpoint on Choice and Voice

This year I have been giving my students choice and voice in everything we do in the classroom. It was a huge, difficult and sometimes frustrating change for me but one that I see is so hugely beneficial.

Before the Christmas break, I asked my class

Being given Choice and Voice in the classroom means to me….”

I asked them to discuss how this impacted their learning and feelings on coming to school. This is the unedited feedback they gave me (I just removed their names).

“Having voice in my classroom is fairly new to me, since in the past few years all my teachers have been strict and only cared about what they said. In my opinion classes that are given choice learn more responsibility and function better. In class we are given the opportunity of helping to create our projects. It also feels like she cares more about us, and cares about our opinion. I definitely learn better when we are given choice, since Mrs. Bowker adjusts how we learn so it’s easy for everyone.”

“by giving a choice i think the teacher cares about us because all other teachers are mean and don’t give us a choice and we won’t be interested the only teachers that i think are giving kids a chance are ms.bowker and ms. h.I also think that i learn more by having a choice.”

“Having voice in Mrs.Bowker’s class is fair to me because all the teachers I have had before don’t care about the kids, there like “I teach these kids, and I get money.” but Mrs.Bowker cares and is way different. My other teachers don’t care about the kids, they care about themselves. But no, that’s not the case with Mrs.Bowker, she cares, but now and then she will get a little annoyed with us or we don’t agree and so on. But Mrs.Bowker is the best teacher I have ever had. Before As Well teachers did not ask for our opinions,”

“I feel important that i get to pick what i do not the teacher or and cuz in the years i’ve been in school teachers think that  all i have to do is tell them what to do except for ms bowker and ms h.”

“To me given choice is being equal.  In the past no teacher asked for my choice.  I want to say what’s in my mind and tell everyone, if I agree or disagree. Mrs. Bowker gives us choice and lets us say what we want, she teached us to be honest. Mrs. Bowker lets us be the teachers. To be given a voice I feel free. To be given a choice it is important because you get to learn how to be responsible. I wish you’re my teacher every year and giving our class “choice” and “voice” is the best choice ever! Thank you Mrs. Bowker.”

“knowing that someone cares about you and can help you grow as I person and help you get set for life challenges. having a voice is important too, it gives you power and responsibility. Choice is also important to me, because I feel free. I hope all teachers were like you Mrs. Bowker.”

“Being given choice in class means a lot to me . It means to have freedom and do whatever you want , Kids should have there own choice with what they are doing just like adults do . For me Mrs. Bowker is being fair with all the students . She trusts us with everything and she is always honest with us . I also like to choose to work with who and i like to pick the topic i want to do a project about.”

“I love the idea because I never had a teacher that does this and it’s very fun. I have a voice you have a voice we all have voices and we can use them that is why Mrs.Bowker has a very fun class.I love this year. I learn more this year because we have choice and it makes me want to learn more then before”

“I think I am learning way more and about school I think it is great and new I love going to school. Last year I DID not like going to school that much.”

“I think I work better when I choose what to work on. I like it better when I go to school better than going to school last year. That’s how choice affects me.”

Reading the students comments made me realize how much students need to be offered choice and voice in the classroom and in their learning. Having students that hated coming to school and now love coming to school has been a huge turn around for them and I’m so happy for them.

In my class, I rarely have to discipline the students. I’ve had to scold students for being too excited about the projects we are working on and going home and working on it all night long. But isn’t that what learning is supposed to feel like? Being so excited to work on a project that you can’t think of anything else? I’m so thrilled that my students are feeling safe, loved, cared for, excited and that they are important!

 

 

 

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Uncomfortability leads to learning for all

Creating a class of student voice and choice has been extremely rewarding but an uncomfortable and learning process for me.  I’m a pretty new classroom teacher but still the idea that students should be quiet lingers in the back of my head.

Today I was introducing Biodiversity and my class would not stop talking. It took us forever to get through our ideas of what Biodiversity could mean. CRsjeNFUAAAtym-

Finally I got them to go back to their seats to calm down and then we talked. I told them how I was feeling and asked why they were talking so much. I told them that I assumed that it was because they were being disrespectful. Many students hands shot up and they told me that they were just really excited about the topic. I asked the class who else felt this way and they all raised their hands.

I realized that my class just really likes each other, is really excitable and needs time to talk to each other. I know now that I need to schedule in time to my teaching to give them moving and talking breaks but I didn’t even think to give them ‘turn and talk’ time.

Asking my students what they need has been a HUGE learning moment for me. Whenever we have these talks, they always come up with a solution and we are both learning about each other in the process.

I’m thrilled that they are so excited about our class and what we are learning about. I know that this year is a learning process for all of us and I’m so excited that we can communicate and trust each other.

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Student Choice and Social Studies

If you read my blog you know I’m doing something different in my class this year. I’m giving my students choice in everything they do.

We have just completed our first social studies project together and I wanted to share the process and outcome.

In Grade 6 students about supposed to learn about Canada’s impact on the world. I decided to share a Canadian History timeline with them and let them choose a topic of their choice.

Some of the selected topics were

  • World War 1
  • How Ottawa became the Capital
  • Hockey in Canada
  • Schooling in the 1700-1800’s

Students worked in groups to create something to show the class.

The presentations were varied. We had mostly slideshows but also had posters, homemade videos, and models.

After their presentations were completed I gave the group a self assessment rubric and they went off and had time to self-reflect.

I met with the groups later that day or the next day and we compared their self-assessment rubric with the one I completed. We discussed the differences in the rubrics and the similarities. If there was a discrepancy, I let the students determine what grade they should have.

When all the presentations were discussed, we met as a class to talk about the project in general. I wanted to know what did they like, and what needed to be fixed.  

As you can see, the class loved being able to choose their own topic, assessment type and they got to work with peers of their choice. Next time we are going to add some immediate peer feedback. Right after students present, their peers will share one thing they really liked about the project and one thing they would like to see next time.

We also discussed how they could improve their own project next time.

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The experience giving my class choice in their learning has completely changed the way I look at teaching.   The students couldn’t wait everyday to work on this project and were highly focused during their group work. I love talking to my class to get feedback about how the projects are going and it will be something I continue to do for the rest of my teaching career.

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What I learned from ‘Unshakeable’

I began gearing up for my Summer Reading plans in May and wanted to get a bunch of professional books that I could read. I have a huge list on Goodreads but wanted something special to read, so I reached out.

Pernille Ripp is an influential teacher and person to me. Her book, ‘Passionate Learners’ changed my entire viewpoint as a teacher. You can check out my blog post about her book ‘Passionate Learners’ here and her other book ‘Empowered Schools, Empowered Students’ here.

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I had never heard of ‘Unshakable’ but I went online and ordered it right away.

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This is what I learned from Angela Watson’s ‘Unshakeable.

  • Bring your personality into your classroom. We are all unique so share with your students what you are passionate about and what you love. If you share your true self with students, you will have a better time in the classroom and create a stronger bond with your students.
  • Be present. At school with your students or when you are completing your work. Don’t watch T.V. while you mark papers because you will be doing it all night long. Focus on marking and allot yourself a specific amount of time to truly focus. In the classroom don’t multitask. Listening and look at your students, be involved. The work can wait.
  • Make lists of what you need to complete daily. I find this so important for me. If I don’t write it down on a list, I will forget about it. Writing my to-do’s on a list will ensure that they get done, even if I’m procrastinating completing them.
  • Prepare for the morning to make it less stressful. Next year I’m going to pick out what I’m going to wear the night before. I find I get stressed by this decision and it makes me frazzled and I just grab whatever to wear. When I look better, I feel better so I will make time for that.
  • Make a positive impression with parents on the first day of school or before. Call or leave a message introducing yourself, your contact information, and Meet the Teacher night info. This will start a positive relationship from day one.
  • No more complaining or listening to complaining. Change the subject or walk away. This year is going to be positive.
  • I need to create a personal and classroom vision statement.
  • Let the students discover why you are teaching a certain lesson. Why do you need to know this now?
  • Have fun! Create a classroom music playlist with your students. Dance, and be silly.
  • Students and teachers both need down time throughout the day. Plan to have downtime worked into your schedule. If you are feeling drained, your students are too.
  • Teach and reteach routines and procedures. It’s good for the teacher as well as the students to know exactly what to do. If there are changes to the routine, write them on the board.

Obviously from this list I learned a lot. I really encourage all teachers to buy and read this book. I will definitely look at this book for inspiration and for resources for years to come.

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Goal Setting and Changing in the Classroom

I’m so excited to be teaching Grade 6 next year. One thing that I want to do with my class every week is Goal Setting. I recently finished reading “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg.

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It was an interesting read and one that really can be linked to the classroom environment. Students need to learn how to set goals so they will succeed in their later educational pursuits, work and in life. I know that in my personal life sometimes I need a reward to complete a task that I don’t want to do such as working out or doing the dishes. I created this worksheet for students to use and to practice creating their own goals. For students to be able to complete their goals, they need to be as descriptive as possible in how, when, and where they are going to complete their goals.

Click on the picture to download.

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I’m sure you have some students in your class that have a routine that is less than positive. The below worksheet is to change their routine. You would meet with the student in private, when they are calm and discuss the trouble they are having.

For example: Student A sees another students take one of his crayons and he hits them to get it back. You can discuss why this happens, what are some other options they could choose and the student could suggest some rewards that they would like to get if they choose a better option rather than hitting. Please click on the picture to download.

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The below image is from CharlesDuhigg.com, the author of “The Power of Habit” and also describes in detail how to change a habit. 
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I would highly recommend reading “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg.

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Summer Reading

With Summer quickly approaching I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to read over the break.

Here is my list:

Unshakeable by Angela Watson

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“Reinventing Writing:The 9 tools that are changing Writing, Teaching and Learning Forever” by Vicki Davis

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Going to continue to read, “The Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg

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And I’m going to re-read “Passionate Learners” by Pernille Ripp

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What are you reading this summer? Let me know in the comments below or let me know if you have a suggestion.

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Learning about Student Voice

I was so blessed to be able to attend the Spring Leadership Conference on April 17th run by the OCDSB. This was my first leadership conference so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

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Jennifer Adams, the boards Director of Education introduced the day. She reinforced that this conference and our board should be focusing on 4 key priority areas: Well being, Engagement, Leadership, Learning. This conference definitely exceeded at all 4 of these priorities. 

We were allowed to choose different sessions that we wanted to go learn about. I chose to attend the session about Student Voice.

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This session was lead by students from Nepean High School. They have helped host two student conferences organized by the OCDSB to promote student voice in our students. To see some tweets from these conferences, follow #findyourvoice15

Some of my key learning points:

  • many different kinds of student voice
  • need to active listening, more student to student discussions
  • asking students what they want
  • technology gives those that are quiet a voice
  • Need critical thinking in schools
  • experiences not books
  • teachers shouldn’t be the end result for projects. Should have a real world demand
  • Give the kids the curriculum guidelines, build their own rubric

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The teacher behind these students learning is Jon Tenthorey who teaches CORE at Nepean High School. He believes in risk free play time and time to fail and learn from it. He creates situations to push kids beyond what they think they can do, mentally and physically. He take students downtown and gives them ten dollars but limits the students saying that they cannot just give the money to someone. This way he gets his students to find out people’s stories and to learn and care for them. To learn more about his teachings, check out thecoreway.org

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