Author: Justin Cook

After teaching in British Columbia, Toronto, and at his alma mater Hamilton District Christian High School, Justin has joined the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools as the Director of Learning, where he is excited to partner with schools in a vision of learning for flourishing communities. Justin attended Redeemer University College and Calvin College, and is currently an M.A. candidate at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, ON.

Smithville Christian High School

Flourish

On Thursday, January 14, 2016, I had the pleasure of attending Smithville Christian High School’s annual Open House and Celebration of Learning.  Smithville’s mission was clear to me as soon as I pulled into the school property: “Belong. Believe. Succeed.” Their three part identity is displayed prominently on their front sign and website.

Pulling into the parking lot, I struggled to find a spot to park; clearly the community was excited to participate in the evening celebration and I felt like I was late to the party. That fear dissipated, however, as soon as I entered the beautiful, newly-renovated front atrium of the school. I was immediately greeted by student ambassadors with “Ask Me” buttons pinned to their shirts.

“Welcome to our celebration!” one student said, and handed me a program for the evening. They briefly described what was happening and how I might move through the evening. After thanking them, I was drawn next to the huge sculpture of the tree that was climbing up the wall and growing over the ceiling. I had known about the school’s partnership with sculptor, Floyd Elzinga. But to see it towering over me, up close, in the atmosphere of the evening and people milling about, with light glinting off of its bark and leaves, I was captivated by it.

The piece is called Flourish and again it reveals both the school’s mission  and our mission here at the OACS: “Flourishing Christian Schools.”

The tree image from Scripture has deep meaning for all of us. We yearn for the promise of Christ as Lamb on the throne as promised in Revelation 22:

“Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (NASB)

This reference moves me, and the story of Flourish in the atrium brings the reference into reality. Floyd Elzinga wasn’t the only sculptor involved in the piece. As part of the project, Floyd came to work with the student body to create individualized leaves that he then incorporated into the finished sculpture. The students aren’t passive recipients of their education at Smithville. Like the ambassadors greeting me at the door, the students are Smithville Christian High School, both the recipients and the embodiment of its mission—Belong. Believe. Succeed. How inspiring to see the students themselves speaking through the leaves of Flourish, actively committed to offering their own gifts for “the healing of the nations.”

This vision of our students as agents of “flourishing” gets to the core of how we want to pursue learning in OACS schools. Principal Ted Harris expresses it powerfully in the program of the evening:

“You have no doubt heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. What we are discovering in the world of education is that it also takes a village to make the learning of our young people more authentic. This is especially true of a Christian community where we share the responsibility of encouraging members of the next generation to take up their calling as disciples of Jesus.”

And for the rest of that evening, I revelled in the beautiful work of the students that arose from this village of support. Again, from the program:

“Our goal tonight is to feature the work of as many students as possible so that (1) students are motivated to do their best work and (2) the community that supports our school can be in touch with the work of our students.”

I don’t use the phrase “beautiful work” loosely. It is one of the three core “Dimensions of Learning” that we want to support students in developing—the other two being “mastery of knowledge and skills” and “culture/character.” As a dimension of learning, our work is “beautiful” because it reveals the coherence and inter-connectedness of all things in Christ. It is “beautiful” because it involves craftsmanship, and because it is authentic—both to the student’s own passions and to its purpose within the community. I have a growing gallery of beautiful work created by students from all across the province and beyond. We use examples of actual student work to help us get better in our work as educators, too.

So, just as the the leaves on Flourish reveal how each student is a beautiful work, the products on display that evening at Smithville reveal our learning mission to produce beautiful work too.

As I moved through the building, I listened to students and teachers explain the work on display:

A grade 12 student described to me the four seasons of literary critic Northrop Frye’s Monomyth, and indicated how story shapes our experience of reality.

A senior math teacher described her students’ use of graphs and equations of advanced functions to create their own images that revealed the theme “Thriving in God’s World.”

Grade 10 math students used trigonometry to measure a structure (like a silo on a farm) that would otherwise be “unmeasurable”.

Grade 10 science students displayed presentations that answered this driving question: “How can we help our family and friends understand the complex conversations connected to climate and climate change?”

Grade 9 geography students displayed 3D models and reports of how they would take current vacant lots in the Smithville community and repurpose them.

The first half of the evening allowed the community to move freely through the building, interacting with the student work and socializing with others. Students and teachers were on-hand to offer their own perspectives and explanations of the work displayed. I was so excited to see student work reveal the mission of the school firsthand.

In the second half of the evening, we were all together in the gym to enjoy performances and worship. After milling through the building, it was powerful to see the full community in one room, buzzing with a sense of joy and purpose in being together.

After performances and robust singing, spirtual life director, Gord Park, offered a brief meditation that once again unified so powerfully with Smithville’s mission and identity. He opened by playing for us the song “Thrive” by Casting Crowns:

Like a tree planted by the water

We never will run dry

So living water flowing through

God we thirst for more of You

Fill our hearts and flood our souls

With one desire

Just to know You and

To make You known

We lift Your name on High

(John Mark Hall, Matthew West)

Gord went on to describe how the Smithville community had been pursuing this desire in their weekly chapels, exploring how their roots find nourishment in Christ’s living water, so that, just like the leaves they each added to Flourish in the front atrium, the student body could do more than just survive, but be “made to thrive” as the song revealed. The whole evening embodied exactly that. Smithville Christian High School drinks deep from Christ’s offered living water. The students embody an authentic passion and joy that arises from the way their school community wants each of them to Belong. Believe. Succeed. The unique and diverse gifts were also evident in the craftsmanship of the student work on display.

I left the evening, pulling out of the parking lot with the rest of the Smithville Christian High School community, deeply moved by a community that reveals our collective desire to see not only our students, but all things, flourish.

Teacher as Designer: Educators Helping Educators at our Spring Professional Learning Days

FullSizeRender[6]In my last blog I outlined our shared vision through our three Dimensions of Learning:

  • Culture and Character
  • Mastery of Knowledge and Skills
  • Beautiful Work

Embodying these practices in our classrooms and schools takes time and sustained attention through professional learning. This needs to happen in ongoing professional learning structures within each of our school communities; Edifide, OCSAA, the OACS, and the Ontario Christian Teacher Academy are committed to providing a dynamic calendar of professional learning opportunities that will also support these core practices.

One of those learning opportunities for elementary schools is the spring PD days hosted by the OACS and Edifide. At this year’s event, teachers are given time to listen to stories of the dimensions in action, and then collaborate with each other in grade groups or shared specialty areas to discuss the following questions, core practices, and possible data to support growth. At our recent day in Hamilton, one teacher commented that it was “the perfect balance of theory and practice”.By using thegroups and resources EHE grade groups on edCommons, teachers can also access OACS curriculum resources in digital form, as well as share with each other valuable resources that they have developed as designers themselves. By creating a system-wide community of sharing both in person at events like the PD days and then by extension on edCommons, all of us can deepen our own capacity to design learning for students.

The Professional Learning Day is structured around four major sessions. In each session, one or two teachers share with the room a story of this particular dimension of learning in action. Using those stories as an inspiring starting point, and with the help of a facilitator, each table then enters more deeply into discussing and supporting each other in their particular work and experience, sharing joys and struggles, priorities and fears.

The first of these five professional learning days is already behind us; over 130 educators came together at Calvin Christian School in Hamilton in February. Not everything went perfectly, but the feedback is extremely positive. According to one participant, “This was one of the best PD days I have been to. The theory went straight into classroom practices. Thanks very much!” Another really valued the collaboration: “I enjoyed the time to discuss each topic in smaller groups. It was helpful to hear what others are doing and to glean new ideas for colleagues.” There was also encouraging feedback about each session which I’ll include in the outline of each session.

Session 1: Culture / Character
Discussion Questions:

  • How do you encourage a healthy culture and character development in your classroom and school?
  • Has this area been a focus for you and/or your school?
  • Which core practices are intriguing or important to you personally?

Core Practices:

  1. Pursuing a growth mindset as students and as teachers with a belief that effort will lead to growth
  2. Creating classroom or school wide norms for social/emotional health with students in order to clarify how people will treat each other in the school community
  3. Creating a school wide “habits of a graduate” or “character code” that is woven into classroom learning targets and community times
  4. Empowering students to lead and speak in full school assemblies/chapels and school tours
  5. Celebrating student and teacher embodiment of the character traits the school wants to encourage
  6. Leading devotions as “morning meetings” where each child is welcomed, engaged, and has an opportunity to speak/participate
  7. Using circles with open-ended questions as check-ins and reflection to empower all learners to participate and share their social/emotional states
  8. Support students to lead their own learning in sharing with parents through student-led conferences: their growth in character, in knowledge/skills, and through producing beautiful work

Comment from Hamilton participant: “Those who have gone to Genesee [Community Charter School, a learning trip last December] need to keep talking/sharing. It sounds like it was a positive event.”

Session 2: Mastery of Knowledge and Skills
Discussion Questions:

  • What are essential knowledge and skills for your grade level or specialty area?
  • How do you or your school incorporate Ministry Expectations as a curriculum map for your program?
  • Which core practices are most intriguing or important to you personally?
  • Is your school implementing any of the assessment tools below to evaluate growth?

Core Practices:

  1. Linking mastery of knowledge and skills to engagement with beautiful work and character in authentic projectsFullSizeRender
  2. Clarifying purpose of learning through student friendly learning targets/goals clearly displayed and communicated
  3. Linking effective assessment–of, for, and as learning—to mastering learning targets/goals
  4. Co-constructing with students the success criteria for accomplishing learning targets/goals
  5. Differentiating instruction and ability groupings
  6. Creating interdisciplinary structures and opportunities—projects, schedules, team teaching…
  7. Mapping curriculum across grades and disciplines (use of Ontario Ministry curriculum documents)
  8. Using learning protocols to engage all learners and use time effectively

Comment from Hamilton participant: “This is a topic that we need more time on.”

Session 3: Beautiful Workgallery of beautiful work
Discussion Questions:

  • Have you tried a project based learning approach in your classroom? (Have you attended the Academy?)
  • Has this dimension been a focus for you and/or your school? Have you hosted a celebration of learning?
  • Which core practices are intriguing or important to you personally?

Core Practices:

  1. Linking beautiful work to engagement in mastery of knowledge and skills and supportive character development
  2. Planning meaningful projects—“real work that meets a real need for a real audience”
  3. Examining models and exemplars to understand what quality can look like in a given project
  4. Co-designing with students success criteria in rubrics or checklists to name the aspects of quality and to support multiple levels of assessment
  5. Using critique sessions with students and experts to create growth through revision and multiple drafts of work (assessment for and as learning)
  6. Planning for sharing the work with an audience who can benefit from seeing or receiving the work
  7. Incorporating community organizations and experts who understand the project and the aspects of quality
  8. Celebrating both success and failure through checking in with students often throughout the project

Comment from participant: “I love the whole school doing project based learning at the same time. By doing that, the teachers within a school can support each other in their work.”

Session 4: Space for the Holy Spirit
Discussion Questions:

  • How have you been moved by the Spirit’s presence in your students and your school?
  • How has the Spirit moved learning in your school beyond what you imagined in surprising ways?
  • What stories have encouraged you that you can you share with your colleagues to encourage them?

Comments from Hamilton participant:“An interesting end where we could share moments that we felt God’s presence in our classroom. A great time to share unique stories.”

Edifide and the OACS are excited to move into the next four days in April. We can’t wait to hear more about how the Spirit is leading you and your school in its support of your students. We’re also collaborating to provide dynamic summer professional learning opportunities such Responsive Classroom (which embodies our “culture/character” dimension as some of us observed at Genesee Community Charter School), the Ontario Christian Teacher Academy in August, and more to come. And we don’t need to wait until the professional learning days to discuss learning! Don’t hesitate to connect with me about what is happening in your school that you’d like to share.

Dimensions of Learning in OACS Schools

In our appreciation of and learning with Expeditionary Learning, the OACS has identified three key dimensions of learning that we’re highlighting as the foundation of how we support students to discover their gifts and purpose in a beautiful and mysterious world, full of immense joy and massive challenges. These are the three dimensions I’m referring to:

  • Mastery of Knowledge and Skills
  • Culture and Character
  • Beautiful Work

The three dimensions of learning are also highlighted as learning strands at the upcoming convention, and we’ve collaborated with Edifide in writing them. I want to share our description of them here too, and then expand on each of them in subsequent blog posts that describe school-wide and classroom specific core practices that support students in their experience of each dimension.

I’ll start by highlighting the role of approaching the Bible as an over-arching story of the universe, in which each of us finds our place and purpose in God’s ever-unfolding kingdom, full of grace and joy but also struggle and doubt at times. After establishing how we find our story in the Biblical narrative, I’ll move on to describe each of the three dimensions of learning and root them in our identity as image-bearers in God’s grand story.

All of this can also be read and downloaded in pdf form here if you’d rather access it that way.

FINDING OUR STORY IN THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE

Why are we in Christian schools so concerned with “story”? Richard Kearney explains the relationship between story and identity:

When someone asks you who you are, you tell a story. That is, you recount your present condition in light of past memories and future anticipations. You interpret where you are now in terms of where you have come from and where you are going to. And so doing you give a sense of yourself as a narrative identity that perdures and coheres over a lifetime (Kearney, On Stories, 2002).

So, we instinctively organize our daily experience into what we believe from the past and hope for the future. As Kearney says, our identity is a narrative identity.

We also recognize that our personal narratives find deeper purpose and meaning within larger sacred stories as well. We profess belief in a Creator who chooses to reveal himself to us through the grand narrative of Scripture. As Bartholomew and Goheen state,

Are we left with our own personal stories to make sense of our lives? Or is there a true story that is bigger than . . . us, through which we can understand the world and find meaning for our lives? Are our personal stories—apart or together—parts of a more comprehensive story? . . . We believe N.T. Wright is correct in saying that the Bible offers a story that is the true story of the whole world. Therefore, faith in Jesus should be the means through which a Christian seeks to understand all of life and the whole of history (Bartholomew & Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 2004).

So, our school communities intentionally participate in what we profess to be “the true story of the whole world.” And together we continue to explore with our students how God calls us to live in that story “for such a time as this” just as Esther was encouraged to do.

There are many key motifs in the Biblical narrative that our Christian schools explore together–image-bearing, covenant, culture, shalom, antithesis, sin, Kingdom, redemption and restoration—in partnership with thinkers like Nicholas Wolterstorff, Al Wolters, Mike Goheen, James K.A. Smith, and Andy Crouch, only to name a few. We do this through our regular devotional lives in the staff rooms and classrooms of our school communities. We do this through our ongoing professional learning in the school and at events like the annual Edifide Educator’s convention. This work can never be completed! The power of narrative is that it continues to shape us in new ways as our own local stories also unfold.

How do we invite students into the depth and beauty of the Biblical narrative? We recognize that the primary method of understanding this narrative is not only through learning content but primarily through experience. Educators design experiences for learners that are then woven into their personal narratives. As we deepen our ability to design those experiences, we focus on these three dimensions of learning for educators and students in our ongoing apprenticeship with Jesus Christ in what it means to be image-bearers.

MASTERY OF KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS

Our image-bearing of the Creator implies responsibility and privilege in stewarding what has been made and discovered. We inherit knowledge and skills from the ongoing story of creation and humanity and in turn discern how to use that knowledge and skills in service to God and his ongoing kingdom. There can be a sense of joyful play and delight in what we are discovering in our learning. Although we often approach knowledge in specific disciplines—math, language, arts and sciences—we also recognize that knowledge is inter-connected. We want to explore how meaning is inter-disciplinary.

While pursuing knowledge, we want to foster life-long habits that support skill development, the discipline required for any apprentice to become adept in skills. In this sense, play and delight in discovery lead to habits and mastery through practice. Practice in skills is encouraged through a growth mindset and takes many forms. Skills are cognitive (such as analysing, computing, reflecting), physical (such as through using tools, technology, or body movement) and social-emotional (such as collaborating, sharing, empathizing). Like knowledge, these skills are also inter-connected.

Finally, for all students to be supported in the mastery of knowledge and skills, we are committed to pedagogical approaches that support diverse learners. We want inclusive classrooms, practices, and structures that help us to support a diversity of students. Diverse learners help each other develop diverse understandings and skills.

CULTURE & CHARACTER

An intentional focus on culture and the shared habits of character that will create that culture is crucial for all schools. The mastery of knowledge and skills cannot be separated from the character of learners. Both students and adults play a significant role in developing a relational culture in the school community. Doug Blomberg expresses relationality this way:

Truth is a network of relationships; any one person, thing or event stands at the intersection of a vast number of these. Ultimately, truth is the relationality that is God‘s covenant community, held at the centre by the cosmic Christ. Not reason but love is at the heart of Creation. (Blomberg, “Whose Spirituality? Which Rationality? A Narrational Locus for Learning”, JECB, 2009)

Our image-bearing of the Creator implies relationality: we are inter-dependent in our relationship to creation, to each other, and to God as Father, Son, and Spirit. OACS schools believe that a Spirit-filled community will reveal the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22-23– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

A culture that embodies these characteristics is determined not only through writing a good discipline policy or outlining a school’s habits of a graduate. As we engage in learning experiences, we actively reflect on our thoughts and emotions within those experiences, deepening our understanding of ourselves and others. Social-emotional learning is woven into the daily practices that foster healthy relationships: active listening to understand, speaking with courage and honesty, and collaborative protocols that outline how we treat each other in community. These practices are embodied in both student and professional learning.

BEAUTIFUL WORK

Full of mystery and wonder, the Biblical narrative moves us through a grand story from garden to city, and our image-bearing of the Creator implies that we are also creators; our learning empowers us to participate in making beautiful things. We learn about God’s world not just for our own gain, but to pursue shalom—the flourishing of all things in creation. Often, the commitment to culture and character and the mastery of knowledge and skills find their realization in the beautiful work that we pursue together. Play and work are not opposites in this regard. There is a beautiful seriousness in both that reflects Christian wisdom.

Proverbs 8 indicates that Wisdom is craftsmanship, woven into the things we observe as so beautiful. As we explore how God has woven wisdom into the things he has made, we also respond by weaving our best sense of wisdom into the things we make too. Often, cultural artifacts will act as powerful models for us to consider in our own work—a bridge, a novel, a presentation, a topographical map, a math solution, a meal—the qualities of these artifacts can invite us to ponder what skills are needed to create something well, and to ponder how our artifacts might play a part in God’s unfolding drama of shalom. Building from Expeditionary Learning and the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s “Attributes of High Quality Student Work”, we believe beautiful work will exhibit the qualities of complexity, craftsmanship, and authenticity. As a means of both encouraging and celebrating our desire for these qualities, beautiful student work should be shared with others who can appreciate it and be blessed by it. Beautiful work is “real work, that meets a real need, for a real audience.”

VISUALIZING THE THREE DIMENSIONS OF LEARNING IN THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE

The following draft visual (click to enlarge) attempts to capture the interplay of the dimensions of student learning in the context of our Biblical identity. From within the context of the grand story of God’s creation–the river that flows from garden to city–learning moments are constantly occurring and can be intentionally designed in our schools. The question mark signpost in the river begs us to ask us about our context: what impact does a specific time and place have on the learning moments we provide for students? As a learner encounters a benchmark or model and an authentic purpose for the learning that prompts engagement and desire to learn, the learning community works to deepen knowledge and skills, taking time to practice with formative assessment and multiple drafts. As that mastery is developed, students actively think about both the culture and character that is ideal in which to develop their knowledge and skills. What are they learning about God, themselves, and others through the learning? To the best that they’re able, students and teachers collaborate to produce beautiful work, the culmination of the learning experience, and that work is then shared with an audience who can benefit from receiving that work.Beautiful work becomes a future benchmark or model to inspire another learning moment. In this visualized experience, we use the rich metaphor of pottery from the Biblical narrative. Like apprentice potters, we work to create something meaningful, and we ourselves are also formed in the process. Of course, in our schools, the focus could also be math, literacy, science, socials, or some inter-disciplinary combination of a number of these disciplines. The OACS is excited to support you in your pursuit of learning. Don’t hesitate to connect with me at any time to discuss your learning vision. And look for future blogs to make each of these dimension more specific with core practices and data to support our implementation of them.OACS dimensions of learning v2

Growth Mindsets for Learning–Grand River District PD Day

Just before 6 PM on April 4th, 1968–a Thursday–Martin Luther King Jr. stepped out onto the balcony of room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, to sclc_bumperstickeraddress his colleagues from the Christian Leadership Conference in the parking lot below. The group was preparing for another non-violent protest march, this time in support of the striking Memphis sanitation workers. Suddenly, a single shot is fired. Dr. King falls with blood on his face. People rush to support King and get him to the hospital. He’s pronounced dead an hour later. Violence erupts in cities across America; forty more lives are lost. Four days later, still in Memphis, King’s widow Coretta marches with thousands to honour King, to carry on his work, and to support the sanitation workers who are still striking.

The day after King is shot to death, in a small Iowan town 700 miles directly north of Memphis, a grade three class comes to school confused, as PBS Frontline describes in their documentary of the class:

“On the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in April 1968, Jane Elliott’s third graders from the small, all-white town of Riceville, Iowa, came to class confused and upset. They recently had made King their “Hero of the Month,” and they couldn’t understand why someone would kill him. So Elliott decided to teach her class a daring lesson in the meaning of discrimination. She wanted to show her pupils what discrimination feels like, and what it can do to people.”

Skip forward another forty seven years. A group of 100 Christian school teachers gather in a gym in Hamilton, Ontario, to explore what Carol Dweck has outlined as the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. As an entry event to the day, we watch a three minute clip of Jane Elliott leading her students in the “daring lesson” where the kids experience discrimination–based on their eye colour–first hand. They don’t question her when she states frankly that brown-eyed kids are better than blue-eyed kids. The body language reveals Group pictures2the confusion and anxiety of those who are deemed less valuable. The privileged group reveals a sense of excitement and pride in their superior position.

After the clip, we discussed together its implications. As teachers, we realized that our power in the classroom is shocking: what we tell children about themselves is often accepted as fact. And what children believe about themselves will have a significant impact on their capacity to learn. How do we create environments in our classes that encourage all students to believe they can grow? How do we help students develop social-emotional learning–a deep understanding of their own identity and a deep commitment to understanding others through healthy relationships? The tragedy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and Jane Elliot’s classroom reveal that social-emotional learning has both global and local implications. As the SCLC bumper sticker pictured above states: how do we create environments where we “turn TO each other, not ON each other”? In an age of “radicalization,” this seems more pressing than ever.

Our day was then spent diving into these key questions through three sessions:

  • Session 1: Social-Emotional Learning: Ethos and Learning Go Hand in Hand. In the first session we explored the relationship between ethos (the environment and culture of our classrooms and schools) and learning. How do we create healthy spaces for students to understand themselves and their classmates together? How do we do this both proactively and reactively? How might programs like Restorative Practices, TRIBES, or The Leader in Me help us to accomplish this? As an embodiment of this pursuit, each grade table brainstormed and created their table’s “Group Norms”–statements that help name how a group wants to “be” together–commitments that the group agrees to in order to make the community excited to spend time together collaborating in their work and play, in their pursuit of meaningful learning. Each table wrote their own norms, displaying them on their tables and in our work gallery for the day. Examples of the norms for the tables included the following:
    • “We give space and time for each voice.”
    • “Our group is a safe place for honesty, courage, passion, and awe.”
    • “We celebrate individual giftedness.”
    • “We will pursue feedback that is both constructive and supporting.”
    • “We listen attentively and actively.”
    • “We want original and creative ‘out of the box’ thinking.”

Mindset dweck

  • Session 2: Growth in Action! Creating Growth Mindset Critique Sessions for Learning. After establishing what a growth mindset is, we moved into experiencing growth in action. This session borrowed extensively from a session we were offered at High Tech Elementary Chula Vista, led by two teachers there–Trisha Magoon (gr. 1) and Paul North (gr. 3). Huge thanks to them for being willing to share their presentation materials freely with me. (Primary teachers should check out Trisha’s class page here!) This session also took on a bit of a risk–I asked teachers to think about a time in which they or one of their students had experienced a significant learning moment that impacted their character and then write about it in a paragraph. It’s not easy to share our stories with each other, especially at a table with colleagues we may not know well. (I love the way my friend Owen has urged us to consider the power of sharing each other’s stories–both teachers and students–as a way to pursue meaningful learning. You can read his brief article here.) After exploring a powerful mentor text as a model written by one of my former grade 12 students, the group chose the learning targets that they wanted to focus on in their writing and worked on their first drafts. Then, using the categories of warm and cool feedback we tried to offer each other kind, specific, helpful feedback to sharpen our writing and the experiences we were sharing. Finally we incorporated this feedback into a second draft.
Warm Feedback (I like…) Cool Feedback (I wonder… I suggest…)
I was really struck by how you _____________. Can you explain why ____________________?
__________ stands out because ___________. I’d like to see more of ____________________.
I like how you used __________ to _________. Perhaps you could try_____________________.
I understand ________ because you ________. I have trouble understanding ____ because _____.

In our debrief of the activity, we used the following discussion questions to frame our experience:

  • Are there themes we can identify in our deep learning experiences?
  • How did it feel to decide the learning targets and peer-assess each others work?
  • Was the mentor text–the model–important in helping you do high quality work?
  • How did critique help you and/or challenge you?
  • Can you see yourself using critique and co-assessment (assessment FOR Learning) in your class? (Or do you already?)

We discussed that it was difficult to provide suggestions for improvement, given the fact that our stories were quite personal. Understandably, we didn’t want to seem critical of experiences that were quite profound or difficult. I’m considering changing the writing activity in the future to provide more opportunity for both “I like” and “I wonder” or “I suggest” feedback. I’ve had great conversations with participants that have really helped me in this reflection. (The first draft’s the worst draft… Growth mindset!)

Session 3: Pursuing Professional Growth Together. In last year’s spring PD days we pondered a key quote from Ron Berger that urges us to move students off of the treadmill of mediocrity:

“Most students, I believe, are caught on school treadmills that focus on quantity of work rather than quality of work. Students crank out endless final products every day and night. Teachers correct volumes of such low-quality work; it’s returned to the students and often tossed in the wastebasket. Little in it is memorable or significant, and little in it engenders personal or community pride. I feel that schools need to get off this treadmill approach and shift their focus from quantity to quality” (p. 8-9).

I’m a firm believer that often “the answer is in the room.” We know that often the most powerful learning occurs in engaging collaborative tasks with peers. So, in this last session, we opened up the space for each grade table to reflect on two major questions to help us deepen our desire to create learning for students to pursue deep learning with growth mindsets. The questions were quite simple: first, for the sake of our students’ and our own health, what should we stop doing? And second, what should we be doing more of? I was inspired by both lists–allow me to share some of our feedback:

Things that need to go:

  • some of our content
  • informational staff meetings
  • marking everything
  • spelling tests
  • pointless colouring
  • grades
  • smaller blocks of time in divided subjects
  • busy work

Things we should do more of:

  • professional learning communities (staff PLCs) (as opposed to informational staff meetings)
  • circle time
  • posting “big ideas” and learning targets in our classes
  • more authentic learning–PBL and presentations of learning
  • flexible learning spaces
  • exploration of the Bible that leads to awe and wonder of God’s world
  • teacher prep time
  • protocols
  • more process/skill development (as opposed to content)
  • time to review ministry expectations
  • bringing in experts
  • time to watch others teach
  • bigger blocks of time with interdisciplinary learning

As much as these lists are exciting (and they are extremely exciting to me!) what has inspired me most is the stories of teachers sharing with me what they’re doing in their classrooms.

Grade 2 teacher Lisa Vanderkuip from Beacon shared this story with me:

“This week, I’ve jumped in with my students with some of this to lay the framework for the project we are starting in a few weeks. Tuesday we brainstormed on how our brains grow. Wednesday we thought about “stop” thoughts and actions that can stop our brains from growing and learning and matched them with “start” thoughts and actions. Once we’d written it down, I gave them the words Fixed and Growth Mindset. Never to young to give them the vocabulary! I was amazed at what they came up with! Yesterday I taught an art lesson using Austin’s butterfly and introduced critique. I was excited by what I saw my students doing and saw them increasingly amazed at their own improvement in drawing a butterfly . It was also great to have discussed mindsets earlier in the week so when they started groaning about having to do multiple drafts, we could label the groan for what it was!”

Grade 8 teacher Rodney Kooy from Laurentian Hills shared with me the way he’s been using critique feedback through his Google classroom. He and some of his students were happy to share this sample of his students using a persuasive essay group feedback form that I think is fantastic.

My colleague Laura has written about Halton Hills kindergarten teacher Amanda Vandervinne also using multiple drafts and classroom critique to help students foster a growth mindset. From the same school, another teacher has shared that the word mindset is popping up in their staff “lexicon.” One colleague said, “I’ve got a mindset to go for a donut!”

I love that playful banter. I think it isn’t just fun, it’s a sign of mental health and joy (and perhaps our Tim Horton’s addictions?) in our daily work. We also finished the PD day with a reminder to us all that we have to take care of our own mental health–our own sense of joy and balance might be the most important factor in helping our students to experience joy and growth too. So we finished with an activity that celebrated both our success and failure–a whole group “Rock-Paper-Scissors” tournament! We all found someone to compete againstrock paper scissors hamilton, and if we lost, we became the cheering squad for the person that had beat us. At the end of it all, the battle came down to two staff members from Covenant Christian School in Smithville–gr. 1 teacher Diana Brunsveld, with 40 supporters (including a group of boisterous principals!) went head to head with her colleague–gr. 8 teacher Marie Ramsey. Relying on her expertise, a sound game plan (after they tied on paper, Marie went with rock), and an incredible support team, Marie came out the ultimate victor! Congrats on being the Rock-Paper-Scissors 2015 Champ of the Grand River District Marie! Stay tuned for the provincial championships…

 

Our High Tech High Learning Expedition

HTH arrival
Over 60 Ontario Christian school leaders arrive for the start of the High Tech High Winter Residency!

I have had two incredible learning opportunities in the last few months: first, attending the Expeditionary Learning National Conference in early December, and second, visiting the High Tech High (HTH) network of schools in San Diego a few weeks ago with over 60 leaders from Christian schools in Ontario. (We also met some great people from Christian schools in both BC and Alberta!) Although I’m focusing this blog on the HTH trip, it is deeply influenced by Expeditionary Learning as well. I’m excited to share with you a bit of what we experienced there. Feel free to click on any of the thumbnail images to enlarge them.

There are a number of reasons why the HTH trip had such an impact on me. As a group of schools, High Tech High has been very clear about the importance of their design principles. All staff members in their schools understand them and have the space to pursue them through professional collaboration and with the encouragement to mix their own personal passions into the learning experience of children. We heard co-founders Rob Riordan and Larry Rosenstock tell the story of where these design principles came from, and then saw them embodied everywhere we went (and we were urged to go anywhere) over the next three days. You can read more about High Tech High’s design principles here, or see Larry Rosenstock discuss HTH’s vision on video here.

Three Dimensions of Student Achievement

Within these design principles, High Tech High also seems to embody “three dimensions of student achievement” as Expeditionary Learning School’s Ron Berger has articulated in this blog post. They are the mastery of knowledge and skills, character, and high quality student work. Just because one of these is much easier to assess than the others doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be devoting our energies to all three, Berger says. In fact, knowledge and skills find their true purpose and value only in the other two. These three dimensions are a very intentional focus for us in OACS schools too.

2015-01-20 16.30.38
Students reflect on and share publicly how they hope to grow in core areas of learning.

Although they are hesitant to support standards, (“you know what standards lead to? Standardization…”), and we had great discussions about their hesitancy, High Tech High is very serious about assessment and rigour. (Rob Riordan’s first job title was playfully identified as “Emperor of Rigor.”) It was reassuring for us to see that High Tech High Chula Vista was very much committed to pursuing the mastery of knowledge and core skills such as numeracy and literacy. Students are always reflecting on their own development in these core skills. You can see more of both of these integrated in the project gr. 2 “Toy Story” project highlighted below.

Second, Chula Vista is also very intentional in naming and pursuing the character traits they felt are important for all of us to embody as human beings.

HTH Chula Vista's School-Wide Character Traits
HTH Chula Vista’s School-Wide Character Traits

And all High Tech High staff members that we met do embody them. We felt welcomed and honoured by any staff member we met. We were encouraged to enter any space, and each time we did both students and teachers made time to answer any of our questions. Teachers offered us resources on the spot. We took home handouts, samples of the teacher work that impressed us so much. The HTH campuses post their characteristics prominently on their walls; they build student reflection of these characteristics in their handouts to encourage the students to embody growth mindsets in pursuing them. In this handout, you can see both the presence of the learning targets the student is pursuing, you see the importance of the character traits they’ve committed to on the top of the 2015-01-21 14.46.55page.2015-01-21 14.46.12

Third, the students are given time and tools to develop beautiful work. This is also highlighted in An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger, which we all read before our trip and which I reviewed in OCSAA’s The Rudder. A number of us were able to observe a staff meeting while they collaborated together in examining the actual work their students are creating—looking for qualities of complexity, craftsmanship, authenticity, and transformation—to evaluate how meaningful the learning is. We’re doing these collaborations as staffs in our schools too. I’d love to partner with you to pursue this more deeply.

High Tech High campuses put beautiful student work at the fore-front of their design. Everywhere we turned, we encountered diverse and beautiful work displayed on any and every available public space.

We constantly snapped photos of work that inspired us and urged us to ask more questions about what the students were learning and what they did with this learning to impact their larger culture. While we were there, grade four students invited us to a book launch they were hosting at a local bookstore–not only did they write the books they were selling, they took over the store for the launch, running the tills and helping customers.

Student Empowerment

2015-01-22 10.01.33
Grade 3 and 4 students step forward eagerly from the back to give us school tours.

But seeing evidence of these three areas—knowledge and skills, character, and beautiful work—is not the only core experience we came away with. What impacted us most powerfully was the empowerment of the students at Chula Vista to speak to us about their school and their learning in these three areas. After a very brief and gracious welcome by the school’s leadership team, the stage was immediately turned over to the children. We were divided in to small groups and partnered with excited student tour guides (from grades 3-8) to lead us through the building and to tell us about all of the projects they and other classes were doing. These students spoke honestly and with excitement about their own learning, the learning of their classmates, the beautiful work on the walls. This was also most clearly evident after the tours when grade two student Androy stood on a chair in front of all sixty of us to show us his own beautiful work—a book and toy that he designed and created to give to a pre-school friend he had made over five visits his class made to the pre-school. Androy designed the book and toy specifically and especially for Jose. He took pride in his beautiful work and the skills he had to develop in order to make it. He admitted that doing many drafts was exhausting. He told us that the last visit he made to Jose was hard, not because he had to give up his toy, but because it was his last visit to Jose at the pre-school.

What does it look like when we empower students with space and voice to own their own learning? I think it should look much like what we saw at Chula Vista. It’s full of rigour, whimsy, joy, open-ended questions, some mess, multiple drafts of meaningful work. But don’t take my word for it—the very same grade two students who we met have shared their beautiful work on video—you can hear it from them directly just as we did. In the video (7 mins. of time well spent!) the kids will reveal to you the same three areas I’ve been describing—core skills in numeracy and literacy, character, and beautiful work. They are empowered grade two kids that inspired us to consider how we can also dream bigger to empower our students to be “co-creators” of blessing in God’s beautiful world and his vision for it to flourish.

Notice that all of the students are invited to speak. Some seem supported with scripts, other speak “off the cuff.” All students are empowered to do good work. You see all of their prototypes on the back wall of the classroom, not just the select few that the teacher is most proud of. All of these grade two students give a beautiful sense of their excitement for purposeful learning: “real work that meets a real need for a real audience.” Colleagues and friends of mine—two educators from Surrey Christian School—have articulated all of this beautifully in a recent Comment article. If you find our visit to Chula Vista compelling and want to hear more about how it fits so powerfully within our Christian school tradition and Biblical narrative, I’d urge you to check their article out.

There are also numerous ways for you to continue deepening your learning and implementation of these three dimensions of achievement. One of the best opportunities is our annual Christian Teacher Academy in the third week of August.The stories of implemented projects that were designed there continue to be so exciting. You can also connect with me at any time about other opportunities.

Empowering students to pursue these three dimensions in our participation within the beautiful mystery of God creating and sustaining the universe is the core of my work here at the OACS. I was so privileged to join sixty others for a learning expedition to High Tech High. I come back inspired and determined to move forward with courage, implementing what we know are God-honouring educational best practices, always seeking to empower the students we are blessed to work with every day—beautiful children like Androy and the students in all of our learning communities. Let me finish with just another sampling of the beautiful student work we encountered. I wish I had time to tell you why I found each one so compelling!

Valleys and Mountaintops

(Originally publisSpencer Gorgehed on OCSAA’s online journal The Rudder—revised here in my blog with their permission)

One of my favourite hiking locations is the Spencer Gorge in Dundas, between Tew’s Falls and Webster’s Falls. There is an amazing trail that takes you from the top of Tew’s Falls, to the cliff lookout in the distance of my photo, and back through the valley to the bottom of Webster’s Falls. It’s a glorious walk of both valley and vista.

Summertime provides all of us in education with a needed opportunity to reflect on our work from the year past and ponder our commitments for the year ahead, leading and serving the children in our schools with our best effort and best learning designs. As you move further into that summer phase, let me offer you three broad areas with which to reflect on your past and future participation in learning in your communities—the way that you and your colleagues continue to grow and learn as you also create learning for children in your school communities.

1. How do we continuously keep ourselves open to “hearing the story” that God reveals to us through Scripture, through each other and creation, and through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst?

The Biblical narrative is the core of our distinct identity as a school movement. For me, staff devotions, honest conversations with close family, friends, and colleagues, reading C.S. Lewis with my children, walking in the woods, trusted “prophets” like N.T. Wright, Mike Goheen, Andy Crouch, Jamie Smith, and so many others all shape my own identity as I find it in this mysterious grand story of the universe. Ren Siebenga has said that good leaders invite others to follow the story, not themselves as leaders. I think this is exactly right.

And my prayer for all of us is that following the story comes with potent moments of joy in addition to the moments of suffering that we also know so well. I pray that our experience of the story is powerful enough to make meaning even out of suffering, and by doing so also allow us to experience unspeakable joy. We use vocabulary like shalom, culture-making, image-bearing, covenant, kingdom; and Christ’s coming is concretely realised in Kingdom metaphors of feasting, vineyards, gardens, glorious cities, still waters… We want tastes and sights (spiritual fruit!) of his presence here and now; we want it to be tangibly experienced as we gather together: camping with friends, eating with our families, singing in church and school, coming together in June graduation ceremonies and August staff retreats. How do we personally and communally “hear the story?” Is this language that we use understandable to your entire staff? How do we ensure that this language is invitational/inclusive and not indoctrinating/exclusive? Perhaps our conferences can help: this coming fall, both the CSC Conference with Jamie Smith in BC and the Edifide conference with the theme “Entering the Story” will invite us to deepen our identity in God’s narrating of the entire universe.

2. How do we “design learning experiences” that are rooted in where we see the story taking us?

All of us want “the story” to shape what happens in our schools. In addition to the vocabulary I mention above, we have mission and vision statements that use phrases like “Christ-centred learning” or “academic excellence” or “service in God’s world.” But how do these phrases shape the concrete “habits and habitats” of our learning communities, as Ken Robinson asks? Intentional commitment to certain over-arching Design Principles for education can drive the habits and habitats that we commit to. Here are a few that I appreciate:

  • Cultural Participation: Education is for cultural participation: In order to make culture, we must immerse ourselves in culture with the right postures: critically evaluating and cultivating the cultural gifts history has given us and creating new culture that is inspired by a vision for flourishing. Dynamic learning is rooted in real world cultural contexts. If you’re looking for reading in this commitment, I highly recommend Culture Making by Andy Crouch.
  • Learner Personalization: Education honours the image-bearing God-presence within each learner. Typical structures within education often force students and teachers into “one size fits all” experiences that dis-empower their own God given diverse gifts and voices. We need to personalize educational experiences for learners. Parker Palmer explores this as an epistemological commitment in his book To Know as We are KnownHigh Tech High in San Diego, California, names it as one of their four design principles. (See the link below).
  • Inter-Generational Collaborations: Both the young and the old are impacted through inter-generational interaction. We expect this interaction to offer learning for all—it is not only a mentorship for the young. All voices have the power to shape the learning of individuals and communities. These adult/children interactions are not only limited to those within the school community.
  • Inter-Institutional Collaborations: The school will actively seek partnerships outside of its own immediate institutional life—including families, businesses, churches, civic and government organizations, non-profits, other schools, institutions both local and beyond, in both face to face and digital connections, as cultural partners for learning. The Fall 2013 issue of Comment Magazine explores this design principle in culture more generally. The Learning Futures programme offers an amazing perspective of schools as “base-camps” for learning (see the link below).
  • Learning Cycles: Learning occurs in generative phases: projects and units provide the means by which a group of learners can focus on a specific task through phases of creation, critique, revision, and presentation of a product in that task. Learning also occurs in reflective phases: after a generative phase learners need opportunities to reflect on what has happened and what should happen next. Each learner’s creative, critical, collaborative, and communicative faculties should be honoured and challenged in these cycles.

I hope these stimulate your thinking for your own school’s design commitments. Let me offer you some links to other design principles from specific schools and systems to

continue that conversation. Some of these designs create a visual resonance with their designs so that it can be more memorable and more deeply understood. What do you think? Which of these resonate with you? How do they compare with your own school’s design principles?

The Learning Futures programme represents their design for schools visually
The Learning Futures programme represents their design for schools visually

A number of different but inter-related learning designs are being intentionally pursued in Ontario (and Canadian) Christian schools—Differentiated Instruction, Project Based Learning, Understanding by Design, Teaching for Transformation, All Kinds of Minds—as pedagogical design structures that shape the organization of learning and

curriculum. These various learning designs (and professional learning agendas) must be evaluated through the lens of a school’s committed design principles and rooted in a community’s desire to respond to “hearing the story.” A school that prioritizes cultural participation (a story of culture makers!) might prioritize project based learning (or, if you’re reading this in Alberta–Teaching for Transformation and “formational learning experiences”) as a design for learning. (Are you a member of eCurriculum? Join the pbl conversation on eCurriculum here, and see our first project upload here.)  A school that stresses learner personalization (a story of unique and relational image-bearers!) might start with differentiation as a design commitment. (Again, join the DI conversation on eCurriculum here and see our first DI lesson upload here.) These design principles are not just rationalizations. If they are going to shape our “habits and habitats,” they will first shape our desires and imaginations–our Christian school “social imaginary” as Jamie Smith highlights from the work of Charles Taylor. And these design commitments are not exclusive or competitive, of course. We can integrate authentic projects (PBL) and differentiation strategies into one learning cycle. Indeed, I think we must! But our design commitments will shape our learning conversations at the local, provincial, and national levels in schools of all systems.

3. How do we “live the learning” in a way that concretely realizes both our story and our design commitments?

A learning design is not an experience until it is lived! And it is through the doing and living of learning experiences that we understand more deeply how learning occurs and how we can continue to intentionally shape learning experiences for more learning. Educators need a means to share not only their learning designs but also the story of that design as lived experience. And the story of lived experience will most often be powerfully told through samp2014-05-29 14.22.00les and images—photographs and video of the cultural artifacts that we all produce—whether we’re principals, teachers, students, or in another position. These artifacts math patiomight be an actual product, like this patio made by a 4C math class at HDCH, or an event, like a class exhibition of presentations (like HDCH hosted in the school and on the completed patio). I love celebrations of learning because they celebrate the value of the artifacts that a school is producing for learning. What artifacts reveal how we’ve been trying to live our learning? How does the lived learning actualize our learning designs (and our desires and imaginations!), which are in turn rooted in our biblical narrative identity?

These three areas–hearing, designing, and living–have become important to me through conversations with my colleague Chris van Donkelaar.  We have been applying these three broad areas in both our face-to-face work with schools and in the structure of our digital communal space—eCurriculum. Above, I mention that learning is cyclical—it goes through generative and reflective phases.We have committed to both generative production and reflection as we “hear,” “design,” and “live.”

As you move further into your summer, I hope you can reflect on the year past with a sense of honesty and peace. Some of us have had very difficult years; others of us will feel like the year was perhaps our best yet. Much of this perception will be shaped by both our professional and personal lives. I have been blessed by many of you letting me into those stories of success and struggle. Regardless of whether you find yourself looking back or forward on a mountaintop or in a valley this summer, I pray that you can rest secure in the love of the Prince of Peace  who draws you into his story. Speaking of stories, valleys, and mountain tops: although my children and I are only just finishing The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (Aslan is just being bound to the Stone Table) I can’t wait to get to The Last Battle, where we get to hear Jewel the Unicorn laugh and say

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!

Project Design Day 4! Bluewater District

Well, the four district pd days for this spring with Edifide are officially complete. They've been such a highlight I'm sad to have to say so! We had another great day of project design together with the western Ontario schools coming together at Strathroy Christian School. Just over 140 of us explored Project Based Learning (PBL). Once again we worked on designing projects with this driving question:

How can I design projects that accomplish my learning goals and engage kids in culture making?

Read more

Project Design Day 3–Seaway District

Teachers check out each other's projects at Kingston Christian School
Teachers check out each other’s projects at Kingston Christian School

We had another great day of project design together with the eastern grade schools coming together at Kingston Christian School.  The teachers from Kingston were joined by Ottawa Christian, Community Christian from Metcalfe, Trenton Christian, and Timothy Christian from Williamsburg. Just over 40 of us explored Project Based Learning (PBL). Once again we worked on designing project with this driving question:

How can I design projects that accomplish my learning goals and engage kids in culture making?

Once again I found the commitment of the teachers in our schools inspiring. Perhaps you can be inspired by their work too. Check out the gallery posters by clicking on them here:

Once again we hope to transfer these project ideas and great gallery feedback into digital copies of each project overview and post them in the eCurriculum groups so that the collaboration and implementation of them can continue! (If you’re a member in eCurriculum, you can access the groups here: (JK/SK, Grades 1/2, Grades 3/4, Grades 5/6, Grades 7/8. If you’re not yet a member of eCurriculum, you can request to join from our homepage).

It’s been exciting to see the growing interest and intrigue for PBL in the district pd days and beyond. In addition to the grade groups mentioned above, you can also join roughly 250 colleagues in the PBL group on eCurriculum. I’m excited to continue sharing intriguing resources for you there in the group, and we hope that you’ll feel comfortablOCTA 2014 Postere to share your favourite resources too.

And, as I mentioned in my last blog post, I’d love to see many of you at the Ontario Christian Teacher Academy this August. Come as an individual or a small group with your colleagues to the 2014 Academy’s “PBL Essentials” or “PBL Digging Deeper” streams. You can register on the Academy’s website.

Our mission is to participate obediently in God’ unfolding narrative for the universe as stewards and even co-creators,  and we hope that each child in each of our schools finds her own joyful place and purpose in that grand story. We desire flourishing children in flourishing schools that bless and are blessed by the larger communities in which they’re placed. May we continue to deepen the professional bonds that unify us in that mission and empower us to learn from each other and from our students.

 

Project Design Day 2–North Toronto!

Attendees offer feedback on each other's project designs
Attendees offer feedback on each other’s project designs.

The second of the four Edifide district elementary PD days for 2014 is also officially in the books. It was another great day, this time with the North Toronto District grade schools meeting together at Toronto District Christian High. Just over 100 of us explored Project Based Learning (PBL): how it honours kids as image-bearing culture makers, how it might be structured into the school program, how it relates to Differentiated Instruction and assessment, how it might look in our K-8 classrooms. Each participant worked on a project design, again with this driving question:

How can I design projects that accomplish my learning goals and engage kids in culture making?

As support for our own project designs, we leaned heavily on great resources from The Buck Institute for Education and Expeditionary Learning Schools. We also looked at a number of dynamic projects that have been highlighted from our OACS schools in the past year : an urban design project, a Special Olympics project, a water safety project, and a five senses kindergarten project. What do each of these amazing stories have in common? They were all designed  by attendees at last summer’s Ontario Christian Teachers Academy. And they represent only four of the twenty three teachers who each has their oOCTA 2014 Posterwn implementation story to share.

As a joint partnership among the OACS, Edifide, OCSAA, and HDCH, the Academy is in session again this coming Aug. 18-22, and the 500.00 registration fee has been subsidized by up to 50% for teachers from OACS schools. I’m convinced the Academy is one of the most dynamic (and most affordable) professional learning opportunities in North America. The stories coming out of the Academy speak for themselves. I urged the  attendees this last week in Toronto to consider coming. How about you? Intrigued? Come as an individual or a small group with your colleagues to the 2014 Academy’s “PBL Essentials” or “PBL Digging Deeper” streams. You can register today on the Academy’s website.

At our PD day on Friday, we added tables for Special Education teachers and for principals, in addition to the grade groups. And with a bit more encouragement for each teacher to work on his or her own project and support each other through collaboration, we put up significantly more projects in the gallery at the end of the day, offering each other feedback with “I like” and “I wonder” statements. You can see the gallery of the projects below–click on an image to see the posters in full screen.

Once again we hope to transfer these project ideas and great gallery feedback into digital copies of each project overview and post them in the eCurriculum groups so that the collaboration and implementation of them can continue! (If you’re a member in eCurriculum, you can access the groups here: (JK/SK, Grades 1/2, Grades 3/4, Grades 5/6, Grades 7/8. If you’re not yet a member of eCurriculum, you can request to join from our homepage).

And, in case you’re curious to see the presentation material (with minor changes from our first design day together in Hamilton), you can check out the Prezi below. I’m really looking forward to round three this coming Friday in Kingston with the Seaway District!