Showing posts with label collaboration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label collaboration. Show all posts

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

"Flipping" Student Learning

Educational research indicates that deep learning takes place when there is “interplay between the cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills” (National Research Council, July 2012, p.2). This approach was evident in a recent Grade 10 Canadian History class, as students used “flip debates” to develop a position on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The class began with students using appropriate documents and working in small teams to become familiar with the fact patterns related to this historical event. This team work enabled students to develop such important interpersonal skills as communication and perspective.
Students were then instructed to work with their team to develop a position as to whether the bombing should have taken place. Doing so enables students to think and reason about an important moral issue. Teachers then placed teams with opposing viewpoints on the issue into one group and instructed the group to examine the “flip” side of their position. Ultimately, the team had to reach a consensus on the topic. Adding this step to the process forces students to think carefully and debate both sides of the issues in order to reach a carefully considered point of view.
Having students write about what they learned through the “flip debate” is an excellent intrapersonal activity, as it allows them to assess how their initial position on the issue evolved.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Integrating Student Learning

Grade 7 Integration Week helps students make vital connections between the different subjects that they learn in school. By creating a challenge for students to respond to that incorporates what they have learned across their courses, from Science, Math, English, and Social Studies students can see the connections between what are often perceived to be separate areas of knowledge.

The theme of Grade 7 Integration Week was “How to Survive a Natural Disaster.” Canadian author Eric Walters, who writes on the theme of survival, spoke to the students about the inspiration behind his stories and what it takes to survive disaster. Being able to hear from an author such as Walters, whose books they have read, was inspiring for students, encouraging them to really think deeply about their work during Integration Week.

For the rest of their activities, students broke into teams to solve problems that would arise in the wake of a natural disaster, taken from the pages of an Eric Walters novel. Each challenge required drawing on concepts they learned in class. For example, students applied their learning about heat, insulation, and distillation from science class to the challenge of how disaster survivors could cook food, keep warm, and purify water.

They designed original prototypes of survival aid devices, strategically selected gear for a survival mission, and wrote journal entries from the perspective of a character in their chosen Eric Walters novel. Each challenge required students to think critically, and encouraged the to create unique solutions.
By approaching one challenge from so many angles, they can also determine the best way to solve multi-disciplinary problems in the future. They can apply the strategies they develop from one subject to solve challenges in another. This will help them be more agile, adaptable learners, skills so crucial for lifelong learning. 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Collaborating to Learn

Historically, teachers often worked in isolation. When offered, professional development took place outside of the school on ‘PD days’ and at conferences. Since its inception, Greenwood has adopted a progressive approach to teacher development and has focused on job embedded PD that happens within the school on a weekly basis every Wednesday morning.
Research supports the belief that teacher collaboration is a powerful component of teacher growth. Rather than working in isolation, our teachers gather regularly to share their expertise or work on school-wide initiatives. By working in this manner, we have developed a professional culture in which learning together is a fundamental value.
Here is an example of our teachers working on the implementation of our new age and stage framework. Teachers first meet in grade level groups to determine how to incorporate elements of the framework into their classes and then re-group to share their thinking with the larger group so that all teachers have a sense of the overall framework.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Conflict, Characterization, and Co-Teaching

After a full year in our expanded facilities, teachers are accustomed to the different uses of their Learning Communities. Here is one example of how co-teaching is enhanced by the resources available in the space. 

Co-teaching in our learning community rooms offers numerous ways for teachers to engage students. In this example, Grade 10 English teachers Johanna Liburd and Laura Vhalos have the students explore the intersection of conflict and characterization.

To energize students, the activity begins with students out of their chairs and on their feet.

Students collaborate, share their ideas, ask interesting questions and record their thinking on movable white boards.

After working in small groups, students come together as a class to share and refine their thinking about character and conflict. Organizing classes in this way enables all students to participate and develop important communication and teamwork skills.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Fostering Creativity with Smart Design

"It's an excellent space for supporting different modes of teaching," says media arts
teacher Marcio Sargento.

When it comes to creating an amazing digital media lab, technology is only part of the puzzle. The thoughtful design of our new media arts space plays just as big a role in fostering students’ creativity.

The media lab is equipped with everything a filmmaker or media artist might need: 22 iMacs loaded with Adobe Suite, three flat-screen monitors, a wide-format printer, a high-fidelity sound system and a soundproof recording and editing suite. However, it’s the design of the room that allows students to take full advantage of these tools.

“It’s an excellent space for supporting different modes of teaching,” says media arts teacher Marcio Sargento. “We can have a teacher-led lesson at the front of the room, individual work in the middle of the room and small groups at the back, all in one period.”

The digital media lab's 22 iMacs are equipped with Adobe Suite.

Film teacher Doug Brown agrees. “The long layout of the space, along with portable whiteboards, allows us to execute multiple lessons in the same room based on student needs.”

Collaboration is key in courses that facilitate the creative process, and students need ample opportunity to bounce ideas off of their classmates and provide constructive feedback on each other’s work. The openness of the new lab gives students the freedom to move around and gather as needed, and to break into small groups. And with three projection screens spread throughout the classroom, students have the ability to see lessons from every part of the room.

Grade 12 student Amelia used the media lab to create this "Day of the Dead" illustration.

Though students and teachers love the light-filled room, it’s sometimes necessary to block out natural light to deliver an effective lesson. With this in mind, motorized blackout blinds were installed to allow for control over the space when film students are learning about advanced lighting techniques.

The new media lab presents endless possibilities, and we look forward to seeing what our students create!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Campbell River Town Hall: An Integrated Project

Integrated projects encourage students to explore big ideas in greater depth.

Last year, Greenwood piloted the use of integrated learning experiences for students in Grades 7 and 8. These week-long projects incorporated key concepts from English, math, science and social studies, and encouraged students to explore big ideas in greater depth.

Our new Learning Communities, coupled with the use of blocked scheduling, allow us to find even more ways to integrate subjects together. Greenwood teachers recently used the back-to-back scheduling of Grade 7 English and Grade 7 Social Studies to create a project touching on concepts and skills from both subjects.

The Project

In the town of Campbell River, B.C. (the salmon capital of the world), concerns have been raised about the issue of overfishing. Members of the community disagree about whether fishing should continue. As a result, the mayor of Campbell River has convened a town hall to listen to the various viewpoints of those affected by the fishing industry. Based on their presentations, the B.C. Supreme Court will decide whether or not salmon fishing will continue.

Each student was assigned the perspective of someone for or against the fishing industry - whether it was a fish farmer, a government official, an environmentalist or a member of a local Indigenous community. Over the course of two weeks’ worth of classes, students worked in groups to explore their perspective using a number of resources, and to develop a presentation explaining their viewpoint. Each student then presented to their classmates and to the Supreme Court, who made a ruling on whether the fishing industry would continue.

Students were assessed for their content in social studies, and for structural writing and oral presentation skills in English. Each student was individually assessed on their presentation.

How Our Spaces Supported the Project

This large Learning Community, coupled with two smaller classrooms, provided
ample room for students to spread out according to their area of exploration.

These two classes had the use of three rooms - one large Learning Community and two smaller classrooms - to prepare their presentations. These spaces allowed students to break into groups according to their area of exploration, and to work with students from other classes. “At this age and stage, social mixing is really critical,” says English teacher Lisa West.

Social studies teacher Will Salvarinas agrees. “The students really enjoyed working with people from other classes and coming together to create passionate arguments in support of their assigned roles,” he says. “It built a lot of camaraderie between students.”

How Did It Go?

“The project was really well-received by the students,” Lisa says. “What really came through in their unit reflections was that it allowed them to reflect on not only their learning, but on their contributions as a learner in the classroom.”

Will highlighted the project’s connection to a real-world issue. “The opportunity to make their learning relevant really engaged the students,” he says.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

More Choice, Less Noise

Modelled on facilities found on university campuses, the Learning Commons offers a variety
of work areas including collaborative study rooms, independent work areas and soft seating.

When you walk into Greenwood’s Learning Commons, the first thing that strikes you is how purposefully students are working. Whether they’re coming in early, on a spare or on their lunch break, students have been making wonderful use of the Commons as a quiet work and study space.

Modelled on facilities found on university campuses, the Learning Commons offers a variety of work areas including collaborative study rooms, independent work areas and soft seating. Whiteboards and projection screens located in these breakout rooms are frequently filled with idea-building and test preparation.

Whiteboards and projection screens facilitate
collaborative idea-building and test preparation.

What do students think?

Here’s what a few Grade 12 students have to say about this new workspace:

“In the old building, it was hard to find a spot where it was guaranteed to be quiet. There’s a mutual understanding that everyone here wants to keep the noise down, too.”

“I’m more motivated to work when others around me are working.”

“The breakout rooms are great for having quiet conversations and doing group work without disturbing other people.”

“A lot of people from our grade are using this space, so you can always find someone else who is working on the subject you’re studying.”

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Grade 7 Integrated Project: Designing for Disaster

Shannon, Megan and Taylor with
their disaster survival prototype.
In March, Grade 7 students were challenged to ‘Design for Disaster’. The students’ goal was to use their scientific knowledge and understanding of resources to design a device that would allow their literary character to survive a natural disaster.

In the process of completing their prototypes, students were challenged to integrate subject knowledge, think creatively and develop their teamwork skills.

Students had the opportunity to create diverse products that covered several curriculum expectations. Project tasks were designed to provide appropriate structure, while being open ended to foster critical thinking and capture student interest. Students could choose how they demonstrated their design process, what they built, what supplies they used and even where they worked.

Choice served to empower our students’ thinking and creativity. Taylor Davis ('21) commented that “getting to be creative and build things without a written plan pre-given” was really rewarding. While reflecting on connecting her school subjects in one project, Zoe Starnino ('21) stated that she “really liked doing all of the science and math parts because it was kind of like you were solving a mystery, or going on an adventure, and you just kept discovering all these things”.

Learning should go beyond curriculum. A collaborative approach to design thinking was used throughout the week. This allowed students to learn from each other, as well as problem solve in a team.

Working in teams was a highlight for many of the students. Toby Bower ('21) stated that “sometimes we didn’t agree”, but as the project progressed they enjoyed  “coming together as a group”. Callum Thomson ('21) thought “it was really fun working with the same people. Splitting the jobs up worked really well for us because we got the work done quickly.”

Students experienced successes and failures throughout the week. While no two groups took the same path, all students realized their design goals in creating final products they were proud of.

Students and teachers are looking forward to the second Grade 7 Integration Project in June!

Elysia Jellema & Erin Klassen
Grade 7 & 8 Teachers

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Grade 8 Integration Project: The Student Perspective

Group work was a major component
of the Integration Project.
Last week, teacher Kathryn Connelly shared her thoughts on our Grade 8 Integration Project. This week, Grade 8 student Graham Palmert provides his perspective on the same project.

During the week before the December holidays, the Grade 8 students were involved in an Integration project which drew from our four core subjects; math, English, science and social studies.

Each class contributed to a different aspect of the project. The beginning of the project was related to science and social studies. We had to pick substances or elements, such as fluoride or lead, and explain:

  • How the substance gets into our water system,
  • How it affects us, and
  • Ways to solve this issue. 

For English we wrote a final proposal, which outlined the research behind the issue we chose, how the issue affects humans, and potential solutions.

In relation to math, we completed a data analysis.

All of the subjects blended really well together and we required knowledge from all of them, such as:

  • Knowing the water system,
  • Taking data and turning them into graphs, and 
  • Knowing human settlement patterns. 

Each group chose their own topic to explore, such as how microbeads affect the water systems in Toronto. My group, which included Owen Bates and Jackson Cowie, learned about where lead comes from, how it affects us, and solutions to solve the problem of lead in our water system.

The two most astonishing facts that we learned were:

  1. Next year, the World Health Organization estimates that 143,000 people will die from lead poisoning.
  2. Lead pipes themselves elevate the risk of health issues for Toronto 35,000 households.

This project was a change from a regular classroom that provided different challenges. One challenge we faced was balancing working in a group, and dividing up how much each person had to do. The project itself was more challenging than the regular classroom work we are used to because we had to use knowledge from all four subjects instead of just one.  It was also different than a classroom because the whole week we worked in small groups, and I usually do not have class with some of my group members.

The final product had two different components:

  1. A proposal on what the problem was and how we can fix it. 
  2. A visual component. Our group decided to make a Google slides presentation on how lead affects us. Other groups used videos or poster boards. 

Upon completing the project, we showed our work to a Toronto city councilor, Jaye Robinson. Hopefully she will consider our ideas and make our water cleaner.

This was an interesting week for me as a student, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Take aways from the week were that Toronto’s water isn’t as clean as everyone thinks it is, and that working in a group requires a lot of patience.

Even though it was difficult, at the end, I think we all felt rewarded for the hard work that we had accomplished.

Graham Palmert
Grade 8 Student

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Grade 8 Integration Project: The Teacher Perspective

This December, Greenwood piloted a unique project for Grade 8 students: an integration task involving math, science, social studies and English components. This problem-based learning activity requiring the students to look at a water issue in the city of Toronto and examine how this issue has either impacted human settlement OR is impacted by human settlement.

How did this project go? Teacher Kathryn Connelly shares her thoughts. Next week, we'll bring you a student perspective on the same project.

The Grade 8 Integration project took flight on the week of December 14-17, 2015, with great success!

The Project

Students` visual and verbal presentations
highlighted their proposed solutions for
the water issue they studied.
The students were introduced to the project by going on a field trip to the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant. They took a tour of the facility and learned about where our water comes from, how it is treated, and what Toronto’s challenges are in terms of water treatment.

Back at school, the students were placed into small groups and were presented with a problem statement: How does human settlement impact the physical environment and sustainability of water resources in Toronto? What are possible solutions to this problem?

The Process

In small working groups, the students chose from a variety of topics directly related to the science, social studies, math and English curricula. In teams, the students researched, summarized and identified the connection between the science behind water quality issues in Toronto and how human settlements have impacted these issues.

The students were engaged and energized through their investigation and new knowledge of the relevance of water issues in Toronto, and worked collaboratively to think critically about their research and data, while also thinking of potential solutions to their chosen issue. The ideas that the students came up with were innovative and inventive. Throughout the collaborative process, the students were extremely engaged and active problem solvers. They worked well within their groups, divided the work effectively, and worked together to find the most relevant research and data. As a teacher, it was most impressive to observe their minds at work!

The Presentation

As a group, the students created a visual component that reflected each of their written proposals, which were completed individually. The goal of the project was exhibited through the presentations, as the students visually and verbally presented upon the history behind their issue, their analysis of the present situation and predictions of future trends of their issue, as well as the possible solutions/recommendations.

On the last day of the project, Toronto City Councillor, Jaye Robinson, listened to each group passionately present their discoveries and solutions to Toronto’s water quality issues.

Overall, it was an extremely successful integration project which the Grade 8 students embraced with open arms. Through a problem-based approach to the project, the learning became wholly student-centered, which enabled the students to work to their full potential. This project enabled the Grade 8 students to embark on a different type of learning than they were used to, allowing for more flexible and innovative thinking. The students thrived, showing them that hard work and dedication to a relevant issue leads to a heightened sense of accomplishment.

The project also gave the team of integration teachers an opportunity to communicate and collaborate outside the classroom walls, which was enriching and energizing. The first integration project helped solidify the value of student-centered learning, which will continue to be a focal point in future Grade 7 & 8 integration projects.

Kathryn Connelly
English & Learning Strategies Teacher

Friday, 9 October 2015

Integrated Projects: Learning Through Cross-Curricular Programming

Grade 7 and 8 students learn best through meaningful and rich experiences that connect to real life, incorporate multiple disciplines, give students choice and provide time for experimentation.  

In June, a diverse group of Grade 7 and 8 teachers met to brainstorm and develop integrated projects to improve how we address these students' needs. These week-long projects meet expectations for social studies,  English, science and math.  Each grade will have the opportunity to participate in two projects this year.  The first project will run during the school year and the second project will be implemented during the culminating period.  

The themes for the first projects are:

  • Grade 7 - Designing for Disaster:  In teams, students will design a device that will help a literary character survive a disaster.  They will need to use their scientific knowledge and understanding of how humans acquire, manage and use natural resources based on their environment to help them achieve their task.

  • Grade 8 - WAPT (Water Action Project Toronto):  In teams, students will create a proposal for Toronto City Council that focuses on improving water sustainability within the city. In creating the proposal, they will investigate the various ways people impact the physical environment and sustainability of water resources in Toronto, and use statistical data to support their ideas.

The integrated projects are developmentally appropriate, sensitive, and encourage critical thinking skills. These projects are piloting an integrated approach for the Grade 7 and 8 program that could be extended into the flexible spaces in the new building in the future.

The opportunity for teachers to meet as a team for extended periods of time during the Summer Institute allowed for efficient and innovative programming to be created. Grade 7 and 8 teachers are excited to continue planning and building an authentic cross-curricular program for our students!

Elysia Jellema and Erin Klassen
Grade 7 & 8 Teachers

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Learning Historical Literacy through Role Play: The Trial of Louis XVI

Recently, Grade 12 students in the Headlines of History class were given the opportunity to travel back to revolutionary France and put King Louis XVI on trial for crimes against the people and the revolution. By facilitating a trial that loosely follows the actual events of 1792 (which, unfortunately for King Louis XVI, resulted in his execution) students were able to work together, focus on their individual strengths and develop their critical thinking skills.

In Headlines of History, along with other Canada and World Studies (CWS) courses at Greenwood, we have been working toward integrating and fostering an approach to history education that develops students' historical literacy. This is done using "historical thinking concepts" that engage students to become competent and critical historical thinkers.

As researched and developed by the Historical Thinking Project and reflected in the recently revised Ontario CWS curriculum, teaching students how to understand and leverage historical thinking concepts helps them understand and analyze historical issues from a number of angles.

The goals of the Trial of Louis XVI lesson were to develop two particular historical thinking concepts:
  1. Taking historical perspectives
  2. Understanding the ethical dimensions of history
Students had to use their understanding of the different positions and perspectives of both Enlightenment-era thinkers and the varied interests and factions of French Revolutionary thought.

Students were divided based on their own personal interest and strengths into teams that consisted of the prosecution, the defense and the jury for the trial. After taking the perspective of specific historical actors, the students researched and determined their position on Louis XVI's culpability, based on their character's philosophy. For example, a student who had chosen to take the role of radical Jacobin Maximilien Robespierre had to address the charges and the ethical issue of the trial by using only Robespierre's perspective.

This process was successful because it developed the students' ability to remove their own contemporary opinions and perspectives on the events of the past and develop historical empathy. This enhanced their understanding of the complexities of historical issues and in turn, developed their critical thinking abilities. It also allowed students to work together and bring their own individual strengths to bear in the activity; each student was able to leverage research on Enlightenment thought that they had developed earlier in the unit.

The result of Louis XVI's "second trial" at Greenwood? On this occasion, the students in the jury found him guilty of all charges - as the National Convention did in 1792 - but unlike the 18th century trial in Paris, Louis was spared execution and given life in prison instead.

Eugene Henry
Teacher, History

Friday, 17 April 2015

Grade 12 Leadership Takes Students Out of Their Comfort Zone

Leadership at Greenwood is an opportunity for students to engage in activities and conversations with peers and staff that often require them to go outside their comfort zone as they strengthen old traditions and create new ones for the Greenwood community.

Leadership at Greenwood is a progressive model in which each grade of students is afforded more opportunities and responsibilities than the previous year. This culminates in the roles that some of Greenwood's Grade 12 students take on as executives for various committees such as Arts, Athletics, Diversity and Social Affairs. The Grade 12 students also act as leaders in the fall to younger students at Kilcoo Camp during the fall outdoor education program.

Starting their graduating year as counselors, large group activity coordinators, small group activity leaders and skill developers is the greatest leadership challenge our students face and, I would argue, the most important. At Kilcoo, the grads are responsible for welcoming new Grade 7, 8 and 9 students, mentoring and guiding them through their first week of school, and helping students navigate the social climate of high school as cabin counselors.

Beyond these general leadership roles, the grads are able to personalize their own Kilcoo experience with the additional specialized roles they select. A Grade 12 student can request to
  • A large group activity coordinator - Student in this role work in conjunction with teacher-advisers, House captains and members of the Student Council to plan three-hour integration blocks. In this role, students are challenged with the logistics of organizing up to a hundred students at a time, while liaising between different facets of the school community. This experience provides excellent preparation for those who will go on to create initiatives for the entire student body throughout the school year.
  • A small group activity leader - These Grade 12s work with groups of ten of fewer Grade 7, 8 and 9 students, as they move through traditional summer camp activities, such as kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, and more. The challenge for our grads here is to build a cohesive group that stays motivated, engaged and safe throughout an exciting but also tiring week.
  • A skill developer - Assuming a graduating student has been at Greenwood since at least Grade 9, they have a wealth of their own outdoor education experience to share with our younger students. Grads that choose to be skill developers will instruct activities such as kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and so on. The challenge with being in this role is much the same as being a substitute teacher. The skill developer does not have a developed relationship with the students who come to their activity. In this role, the grads learn how to manage and troubleshoot the dynamics of smaller groups and break down larger skills into a manageable and logical progression, while keeping engagement and safety at the forefront of their minds.

The relationships the grads make with the younger students set the tone for the school year and have an enormous impact on the school's culture. In my mind, leadership development and the opportunities Greenwood provides are the best examples of building and stretching each individual student's leadership potential and ultimately character.


Erin Porter
School Life Coordinator and Mathematics Teacher

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Design Projects Add Creativity and Individuality in Physics Class

Each year in Grade 11 Physics, students build a multitude of contraptions, machines and gadgets to allow them to manipulate a real-world application of the theories they are learning. Physics teacher Emma Seaborn explains how these projects add creativity and individuality to the class.

Design projects are intended to let the students show their creativity in science and are also a great way to analyze the kinematics, forces or other physical components of machines. At the end of every unit, the class tests out their designs as a group, analyzes the findings, compares results and decides how we might build a better machine, slingshot or instrument.

The design project for the winter term was a whole-class Rube Goldberg machine. (Not sure what a Rube Goldberg machine is? Here's a great example.) Personalization is embedded within the project, as every student is responsible for one section of the machine. They can choose to make something simple, like a pattern of dominoes, or extend themselves to make something a bit trickier, like a pulley system.

Students must work collaboratively with the entire group to determine the order in which the components will run, and how to piece the machine together. This is an excellent opportunity for leadership within the classroom and students have plenty of space for creativity and individuality within each section.

When the whole machine comes together, students are very excited to see it in action, and with any luck, the whole thing runs from start to finish as planned. As a class, we then analyze the energy transfer in the machine and have a discussion about how to improve the design.

Students are already looking forward to building their very own instrument for our next design project!

Check out this video of one of last year's machines.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

How We Show Our Learning: Personalizing Learning through Assessment

There are many approaches our teachers use to personalize the learning experience for students. One way is by giving students different ways to demonstrate their learning. Edwin Bryson, Greenwood's Vice-Principal of Teacher and Staff Development, shares an example from his Grade 10 Introduction to Business class, in which differentiated assessments were used to personalize for student readiness, interest and learning profile.

Step 1: Identify what students should know, understand and be able to do (skills)

I began by identifying what each student should know, understand and be able to do as a result of a particular chunk of learning. In this case, students needed to "demonstrate financial planning skills and produce a...personal financial plan (e.g. monthly plan, budget)."

Step 2: Identify one or more formats for the product

Next, I brainstormed all of the types of evidence that a student could use to show they have met these learning outcomes. For example, they could
  • Complete a monthly budget worksheet for themselves
  • Analyze a case study that requires a monthly plan
  • Complete a quiz on key terms and processes
  • Role-play between a financial planner and client
  • Create a board game that illustrates income, expenses and savings, etc.
The goal is to determine financial planning skills, but the teacher has the flexibility to create more than one type of assessment for this skill.

Step 3: Determine expectations for quality

The third step was to clearly describe the success criteria; it should be general enough that a student can achieve the top band of achievement, regardless of their choice of activity. I did this in the form of a rubric, using the following criteria to evaluate each assessment:
  • The student understands the relationship between types of income, fixed and flexible expenses.
  • The student demonstrates the use of planning skills (gathering information, organizing a budget/project).
  • The student uses critical/creative thinking processes (evaluation of spending and saving goals, actual versus planned budgeting).
  • The student makes connections between the financial planning process and future career and life goals.

Step 4: Decide on scaffolding needed

The fourth step was to select a few assessments that would meet the different levels of student readiness, interests and learning profile.

Complete a monthly budget using a template: This option would suit students who are still gaining confidence with financial planning, liked working individually and benefited from concrete and sequential tasks rather than abstract and non-sequential tasks.

Work in pairs and create a board game: The game should demonstrate the key concepts of income, personal income tax, expenses, savings and investment. This option would suit students who had attained a conceptual understanding of financial planning, liked working collaboratively and enjoyed abstract and non-sequential thinking.

Create a role-playing game: This option was created by a few students who wanted to modify the board game assessment to create a role-playing game. Since the rubric focused on learning outcomes, rather product specifications, it was very easy to accommodate this request.

Below is a summary of the differentiation found in each assessment.

Assessment  Readiness  Interests  Learning Profile 
Create a monthly budget using a template Basic understanding of terms and concepts  Wants concrete application of learning of this topic  Works best with clear instructions, small steps and linear approach. Prefers working on own assignment 
Create a board game  Strong conceptual understanding  Wants to expand and extend their learning of this topic  Is stimulated by creative challenges and conceptual thinking. Prefers working with peers. 
Create a role-playing game  Strong conceptual understanding  Wants to expand and extend their learning of this topic Is stimulated by open-ended challenges and enjoys abstract thinking. Prefers working with peers. 

Regardless of which assignment was chosen, students were engaged in an authentic learning experience and making meaning by linking the concepts to their own lives. Each assignment allowed students to reach the top level of achievement and provided different approaches to suit their learning styles. The end result was increased engagement and more accurate evaluation of each student's progress toward meeting the course's learning goals.

Note: Many of the concepts discussed here are borrowed from one of the foremost authors on the subject, Carol Ann Tomlinson, in her book How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms (2nd Edition).

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Grade 12 Film Studies: Collaborating in the Arts

Each year, the Grade 12 Film class works collectively to create a series of films from a variety of genres. Film and Social Science teacher Doug Brown explains how this collaborative project enables connections between a variety of arts courses.

The current Grade 12 group is the largest class in the last six years of the Greenwood senior Film program. This group of students is notorious for producing ambitious bodies of work; from their visually dynamic music videos, to their carefully crafted, cerebral documentaries, the current Grade 12 Film class has a history of quality.

The size of this class will allow for rich cross-curricular connections between a variety of senior-level Arts courses. Each spring, all film students work collectively to produce a 30-minute television pilot. Having film students who are also in Fashion, Drama, Media Arts and Music will provide authentic opportunities to include skills from their other arts electives. In the past, the Grade 11 and 12 Music classes have composed film soundtracks. This year, Arts teacher Lisa West will be working closely with the Film class to find ways for her senior drama students to be characters in this pilot. In the past, acting in the pilot was an extra-curricular commitment. By making more facets of the production embedded in curriculum, students will be able to connect their classroom work to their passions.

The television pilot will debut in May at our 5th Annual Greenwood Oscars (aka the "Groscars"). To see some of the work produced by past film students, check out the video below.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Blended Learning in Media Arts

Teachers Johanna Liburd and Amy Adkins discuss how personalizing learning for their Media Arts course helps students to acquire not only technical skills but also confidence in their learning capabilities.

What is Media Arts?
Media Arts provides an avenue for students to experience new technologies and the ways in which those technologies interact with and build on the traditional arts. Students explore such areas as photography, image manipulation, sound recording and editing, video recording and editing, digital animation and web design. Students acquire communications skills that are transferable beyond the media arts classroom and develop and an understanding of responsible practices related to the creative process. Students will also develop the skills necessary to create and interpret media art works.

The Traditional Media Arts Class
There are many ways to personalize student learning in the arts. One of the more traditional methods is personalizing by student interest. This year, the course has been further developed to incorporate even greater opportunities for personalizing learning based on readiness. For instance, in each unit students are given a variety of options for how they go about learning course concepts, skills and the ways in which they express their knowledge and understanding. With a focus on choice, students are able to use their interests and strengths to navigate their own learning through each project.
When personalizing for readiness, the teachers get to know each student and create lessons and projects that build upon their unique interests, strengths, prior learning and academic needs. We identify when a student needs a push or challenge and gear their choices and projects in a more challenging direction.

How Will This New Course Benefit Student Learning?

Blended Delivery: Students will be given a variety of ways to learn material based on their specific needs and/or learning preferences. By delivering course content in a variety of ways, students will learn the same material, but in the manner that suits them best. Students will also be encouraged to consider when, and if, they need to revisit prior learning. With the guidance and support of their teacher, students will be given opportunities to push themselves and will be challenged to develop strong and effective work habits.

Greater Teacher Support: The course Groodle page will contain resources presented in a variety of formats, such as videos and written tutorials, as well as one-on-one demonstrations provided by the teacher. With a greater focus on online learning, it is our hope that students will further develop their independent learning skills. This also allows the teacher to circulate around the room and provide support based on individual need.

Student Choice: The last unit of the course is an Independent Study unit. This unit provides students with the opportunity to propose a project that revisits and expands upon prior learning in the course. After submitting a proposal, students will be challenged to further develop their independent and collaborative learning skills. Regular check-ins with their teacher will ensure that the student stays on track while exploring the topic of their choice.

Collaborative Learning: Our goal is to give students a realistic sense of what it is like to work in a creative field. To that end, we aim to create and support an environment of collaboration, teamwork and leadership. Lessons will begin with warm-up activities that energize, challenge and promote community within the class. Students will not only gain a broad set of technical skills during the year, but they will also develop their interpersonal and collaborative skills, as well as their emotional intelligence.

In conclusion, it is our hope that students are able to experience greater success in Media Arts because of blended delivery, greater teacher support, student choice and collaborative learning. We aim to increase our students' ability to learn in a self-directed manner, to build their creative thinking skills and to foster a love of the arts. As we prepare our students for the future, our focus is not only on equipping them with competitive skills, but also instilling confidence in their own ability to learn.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Exploring Programming Possibilities in Computer Science

How are games made? How do programs work? How does an animation work? How does a computer know how to solve problems? Computer science and math teacher Will Truong explains how Greenwood's computer science program helps students tackle these tricky questions.

Students learn the basic ideas behind programming by
working with Scratch, which allows users to program
 theirown interactive stories, games and animations.
When students enroll in computer science at Greenwood, they come from a variety of backgrounds. A few students have some programming experience, some have a great understanding of hardware and most have little to no programming experience.

Students in Grade 11 computer science first learn the basic ideas behind programming using Scratch (view some of the projects here) and then move onto more formal programming using Python.

The challenge isn’t working with students of varying skill - this is surprisingly easy to manage. The challenge as the classroom teacher is to avoid guiding students towards how I would write a program.  Instead, I work with the students on their own ideas and help them to develop a solution based on those ideas.

In class, students learn the fundamental skills through videos and class discussions. Students are also encouraged to work with each other and possibly find other resources. It's not uncommon for students to find their own websites and discussion forums to help with the ideas they're working on. This often leads to great discussion between students and helps them to develop their own programming style.

Computer science is always evolving - new programming languages, new environments to work in, and new advances in technology all contribute to this evolution. Because of this, it's important that students learn how to seek solutions and how to approach problems. Developing these skills in an individualized manner is an important part of learning how to effectively navigate a new language within the computer science classroom.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Design Thinking in the Classroom

Success in the 21st century is not just about what you know – it's about what you can do with that knowledge. Leslie McBeth explains how her Green Industries course encourages students to be resourceful, resilient problem solvers who are ready to take on any challenge. 

In a recent New York Times article, Learning to Think Outside the Box, Laura Pappano demonstrates a growing need in the workplace for creative thinkers  individuals who can develop innovative solutions to problems that others might not even recognize as a problem. Similarly, in another New York Times article, Tony Wagner, Expert In Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, argues:

Building a working farm – in the middle of
Canadian winter – requires Green Industries
students to be independent thinkers, while
working collaboratively to overcome obstacles.
“The capacity to innovate  the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think  to ask the right questions  and to take initiative.’ ”

These articles caught my attention as they speak to one of my primary goals as a teacher of Green Industries: To develop students who are resourceful, resilient problem solvers, confident in their own personal strengths and intelligence. I hope to create a classroom where learning becomes not only about what the students know, but what they can do with that knowledge.

Teaching Transferrable Skills

As part of the project-based focus of the Grade 11 Green Industries course, students undertake a challenge that teaches transferrable design thinking skills while simultaneously requiring them to apply their knowledge about the environmental impact of the agricultural industry, the importance of local food sources and food security.

The project starts with a challenge: In order to address food security and sustainability, students must build a working farm to grow their own food  in the dead of the Canadian winter. The process then unfolds over several weeks as follows:

  • The project starts with several small design-thinking and problem-solving challenges as warm-up activities at the start of each class. 
  • Next, the students complete research into various soil-based and hydroponic gardening systems, factors that affect plant growth, the specific needs of different plants, lighting and watering techniques and appropriate fertilizers. 
  • Then, with the help of an Industrial Designer who visits the classroom, they learn about various problem-solving approaches and start designing their gardens. 
  • From here, students build their designs. This prototyping phase of the design process requires on-the-spot quick thinking, innovation and resourcefulness to complete. From cutting up recycled hockey sticks to drip systems that flood the classroom, this phase is often busy, noisy and messy!
  • When they have a working farm, students create a marketing campaign to sell their farm system during a “Dragon’s Den” style competition.This requires them to explain why consumers should want to grow their own food, recalling information they learned about sustainability and food security earlier in the year. 
  • Finally, students round out the design process by reflecting on their work. This part is very important as it allows students to understand and explain why they were successful or where they failed, synthesizing information and making recommendations for future changes to their prototypes. 

This project challenges the students to be independent thinkers, while also working collaboratively to overcome obstacles, and no two solutions to the problem are ever the same. Students are required to view the problem from many angles and to place themselves in the shoes of various professions, from designer to builder to farmer to businessperson. I also encourage students to make mistakes – there is no “right” answer and no prescribed method for solving the problem. Students are graded on their process, not just the product, so if all of their plants die they can still be successful by reflecting on the process.

Developing a Culture of Creative Thinking

Although it is unlikely that many of my students will go on to be farmers later in life, the goal of this project is to develop a culture of creative thinking in the students. According to Bloom’s Taxonomy, “creating” is the highest order of intellectual behaviour in student learning. Through a focus on problem solving and design thinking in the Green Industries classroom, students are able to move beyond remembering, understanding and even analyzing to create their own ideas and solutions. In the 21st century, young people need to be able to transform information in the face of ambiguity and create disruptive innovations in addition to knowing the “right” answer.

To follow the Green Industries students in their quests to grow organic food indoors, visit the Green Industries Blog, Greenwood Green

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure: Canadian History Style

This week's post comes from Charles Jennings, History, Law and Politics Teacher.

"You mean we get to choose?!"

If you had the choice, which would you choose to learn about: Prohibition, the Women’s Movement or the Economic Boom in the 1920s? Students in Grade 10 Canadian History were surprised to learn that they had this very choice at the beginning of the Roaring '20s Unit. This is one way in which we personalize the teaching of history at Greenwood. The results of this interest-based approach showed outstanding student success, and greater student engagement and excitement.

Here is why it was so successful:

  1. Student Choice: Our first unit provided built-in opportunities for students to explore themes within the broader study of World War One. This prepared students to view history through different lenses, readying them to study the Roaring '20s unit under one central theme. Students jumped at the opportunity to independently select from Prohibition, the Women’s Movement or the Economic Boom, and were grouped accordingly.                                                                                                
  2. Blended Delivery: Online materials developed in-house by Greenwood history teachers provided rich content tailored to each theme. These, in combination with the work done in class, create a blended learning environment that helps students work to their interests. Navigation is easy through clear and simple organization and delivery in Moodle and Google Docs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  3. Self-Paced Learning: Students appreciated being able to independently work through the unit at a pace appropriate to their learning needs. This allowed for more opportunities to extend learning and access support. Assessments dispersed throughout the unit provided students with timely feedback and greater preparation for their final task, and provided teachers with immediate and concrete evidence of learning to better gauge progress.                                                                                                              
  4. Greater Teacher Support: During each class, teachers worked with each theme grouping to clarify understanding, ensure progress and extend learning through engaging activities. Teachers acted as learning coaches to ensure students progressed successfully through the unit, providing one-on-one and small group support.                                                                                                                       
  5. Collaborative Learning: Engaging whole-class activities challenged students to share their learning, deepen their historical understanding, and make sophisticated connections between each theme. A lively debate highlighted the importance of each theme, and brought history to life.  

It is clear that students ‘do’ history best when they are engaged with content and can find meaningful ways to connect it to themselves and the world around them, Students responded to this new approach with enthusiasm, interest and Roaring results!