SPANNING the Ocean Partnership- “We are gonna be BEST friends!”

A partnership requires interdependence on each member of the partnership. It needs to be a give and take, where some times you are the expert, and sometimes you are the learner.

Our English Second Language students are exchange students from other countries or brand new, soon to be Canadians. They need practice writing, listening and speaking. Typically they are shy and uncertain. SO perhaps if we could have them talk, write and listen about a topic where they are experts, it would allow them to have more confidence. They would only have to focus on vocabulary and English, not on the content. Their final test happens to be in a British accent, so finding British people to speak with and listen to would be useful.

Gareth and I have done some projects together in the past around Engineering Brightness. We wanted to expand from Engineering and Science. They have a requirement to study geography. They need to learn about different countries and learning form someone first hand might be helpful. They are already native speakers and therefore comparatively experts. They do not need to learn the language and can focus on learning geography.

Let’s work together to make travel brochures. A partnership is born.

Step #1- Have a short SKYPE to introduce ourselves. They were just 1 or 2 sentences to say hi.

Step#2. Our students looked at vocabulary such as what is an “attraction” or “event” etc…

Step #3- SKYPE/SPAN- Use the SPAN WALL to brainstorm all the important parts of a travel brochure. It is a chance to practice vocabulary and get used to the tech and the accents. We are still pretty quiet, doing lots of listening, and not much talking yet.

Step #4- Our students spend 2 days building SWAYs. They worked in small groups. One chose Quebec City and the other chose Vancouver. It is interesting that none chose New Brunswick. They spent a bunch of time with pics and restaurants, hotels and activities. There was little text.

Step #5- SKYPE-SWAY We were able to show off the SWAYS. The UK kids gave us a list of the things that they liked , particularly the video and the range of possible hotels. They also gave us a list of things that could be improved. They wanted to know about celebrities, currency, more activities, languages etc.. They had some interesting questions like, why was the Queen on our currency and why was the French flag flying in Quebec?

Step #6- Use Feedback Students use Laptops and SMARTBoards to use the feedback to improve the brochures.

Future Steps

Step #7- Hand over the Canadian SWAYs to the UK kids for them to help with the English. We are NOT going to give them editing privileges. The point is to have students talk, listen and write. If we give them editing privileges, we might get to a final product sooner, but miss out on the conversations and the English.

Step #8- Individual work. . Now it is time for each ESL student to complete a brochure on their own home countries. Thus far we have been working as a group so that students can help each other with the vocabulary. They are experts in this area and have some practice with the tech and the language.

Step #9- Hand over multiple travel Brochures to the UK for editing. The editing of the brochures will help teach about geography. Hopefully, we will have Skypes between small groups where there is more discussion.

WW1 Trenches, SPAN, SMART laptops and going over the top

This is still under construction…

I want to talk about how students at laptops contributing to SPAN Wall did not have the same conversations as small groups of students at SMARTBoards contributing to the wall. SMALL groups around SMART boards had emotional conversations about how they do not think they could go over the top, etc… I also want to talk about how having the whole brainstorm on one wall was immersive and impactful. As a whole class, the SPAN WALL allowed for a very different conversation. The grouping of images and organization of the wall allowed them to talk about the connections between different aspects. How did the architecture of the wall contribute to the flooding and the filth, how did that contribute to vermine like rats and how they used sick rats as biological warfare.

This is a great example of how at first glance SMARTBoards and SPAN wall are the same, but in reality they are not. They are different tools for different purposes.

I need to expand these ideas and add pics.   

Passion Projects, Metacognition and Nureva Troove

A major question around the passion projects in the earlier posts are how does one assess the learning when they are all learning such different things?

The answer comes in the form of a digital portfolio, in our case, Nureva Troove.

The portfolio contains multiple aspects of studying history and for being a student. Armand and I both believe that it is not enough just to study our subject area. There is an important but subtle difference. We believe that we are to teach kids how to be good students, and good people who have skills and that we are to use our subject area to do this. More important that a physics formula or a history fact, is the ability to time manage, to communicate, to think critically and not just memorize something or believe something because the teacher or a textbook said so. We must show it is important to us, but spending time and energy on it and providing a grade value to it. Troove helps with this.

Few assignments for the kids give them a chance to do a  video self-reflection. Although they have complete freedom, there are some broad guiding questions to help them along. Out of this came some very insightful comments about how students think they learn and their perception of the situation they think they find themselves. In some cases Armand was able to point out that there were times during the day that were bits of time that could be better used. Although we all need a break and lunch is important, talking with friends for 45 min rather than 1 hr at noon probably accomplishes the same mental wellness and social connections and yet provides some additional time to get some check on the to do list.

In some cases, it was eye opening to hear what kids lives were like at home. They were stressed about meeting a deadline. Although they were working hard and were excited about the project, they had to work 30 hours a week to contribute to the household income. Armand was able to encourage this student and discuss some options to negotiate a flexible deadline. Up until this point in time, that was not a typical thing that a student could do, negotiate with reason for a new deadline.

The video submissions in Troove helped to point out to some students that they were not good time managers and the number one way to decrease the stress of a large todo list was not to fret, panic and procrastinate, but rather start checking things off the list. Find some of the low hanging fruit and shorten the list. As the semester went on, I am thinking of a specific handful of kids who would say that they learned lots of history but they learned even more about how to manage time, stress and study.

Troove also had a more academic side, where students could submit aspects of their passion project and comment on them. They could do a self evaluation against a rubric. In particular, students gave them selves a low mark on the “wow factor”, often confusing flashy but superficial with depth. They did not equate multiple conversations with world experts in their respective fields with something that had lights, and animation and sparkle. If I were to combine the thoughts of many students into one, it might sound something like this…”I do not have anything special in my presentation, I just had multiple emails with people all over the world who do this kind of stuff as a living and then put them together to make my own idea that could be launched Canada wide.”

Some fantastic learning, but how do you put this on a test. Maybe a test mark is not the important thing.

Fi Modern History Passion Projects

A few days before the start of a new semester, the semester that my own sons are taking French Immersion Modern History, Armand asks the question, “How might we make a connection between what kids love in their own life and Modern History?”

As a teacher, I am excited about any kind of thoughtful innovation. As a parent, I wonder about the education of my own sons. This question is very intriguing to me.

Armand already had an idea of Passion Projects. Give kids a chance to talk about themselves and their passions and find some connections to Modern History. How will we make it a valuable experience? Students will value what we value. They will know what we value by what where spend our class time and what grades we assign to it. (This hurts a bit, but tends to be true for a certain, and significant portion of the population)

How do we balance passion projects with the mandated curriculum? In a middle school, there is seems to be more flexibility in content, where as in high school, it seems to be content heavy. Remember, Armand was an award winning Middle School Teacher and is now has completed a single semester of  high school.

He dedicated on average, 1 day a week (after Googles 80-20). As a teacher, I got to watch what happened during class time. As a parent I got an inside look into what was happening at home. It was a rough start for the first month and a half, because of the passion projects and because of the wonderful but new way in which content was “delivered”, but that deserves its own post.

If students are going to embody the project, they needed to have some control. Armand used tech to do small group collaborations and then a whole class collaboration where they defined the critical parts of the project, co-created a rubric and decided on the relative values of each category. This was empowering to kids. It also gave the a chance to talk out loud what is meant by “wow factor”, to talk about the difference between superficial and depth, about using perhaps unreliable internet resources, and using the internet to make contact with actual real live people or official historical archives.

With 2 weeks left to go, my sons, and most of the rest of class is freaking out. They have been working on it little by little all semester because Armand had created check in points all along the calendar. Now it is time to kick it into high gear and take all of the diffuse research and learning and turn it into a “no time limit” presentation. They are researching, creating, trying to find something with a wow factor.

The long weekend before it is due, they asked me to cancel a canoe trip so that they can work on their project. They were VERY invested. We can go canoeing next weekend after it is submitted.

I am usually skeptical of Powerpoints. The night before, both sons call me down to show off their Powerpoints. They were well done, not the normal “cue-cards-everything-you-will-possibly-need-shown-on-the-slide-so-you-can-read”. A picture and maybe a word to support what they were saying. One made a connection to the medical field while another talked about architecture. However, they were not just talks. One 3D printed a scull and is going to put butter in it. Then he is going to re-create how they would have done a trepanation through the eye socket to deal with brain issues. The other 3D printed the vision of the Nazi Germany main plaza and compared it to other influential architectural pieces such as the Pantheon, the Eifel tower and L’Arc de Triumphe.

The amount of information and more importantly the connections that they were making from different parts of history and to the present were amazing. I did well as a student in history, but I never made these kinds of connections , with such detail and insight. Very higher order thinking, and that is just from my own sons.

One girl is looking at a yoga and a connection to the Syrian refugees that just arrived. Another is talking about how Baseball had an influence on the war and vice versa. Still another is looking to redesigning the bolt action of a ross rifle so that fewer soldiers would have been injured or died from a faulty design.

They reached outside of the classroom. The UN Human rights commission retweeted some of the work. The Canadian Human rights commission contacted our school principal and left a message that contained only Armand’s name and a return number. So the principal called Armand into his office and asked, “Why is the Human Rights Commission calling us and how are you attached to it?” He was pleasantly surprised and impressed when they discussed that it was about a school project and not something that happened in class.

The Ross Rifle project made contact with the armed forces base who had some rifles in their library and would let him take a look if he could travel an hour to the base. A world class 3D game design company gave him a 3D model of the rifle in full detail.

The Baseball project communicated with the head researcher for the Major League Baseball and were having intelligent back and forth conversations.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heard about these projects, he became interested in them. Particularly the Syrian Refugee and Yoga project. They may go nation wide shortly.

Although he won the Prime Minster’s Award for work he did in Middle School, I suspect he is well on his way to winning another one for his high school work.


Armand Meets Prime Minister Trudeau

Armand won the Prime Minister’s Award for teaching for his work that he did while at middle school. It has been interesting watching him take all the cool things about middle school and adapting it to high school. I wonder if the students know that their high school projects are about to explode onto the world scene?

That makes two Prime Minister’s Award Winners at one school… How many more do we need to break the record? More importantly, how can we use this to change school??

Mindshare Learning PodCast

Thank you Robert Martellacci, for featuring our podcast in the recent issue of MINDSHARE Learning @MindShareNews @MindShareLearn, Canada’s Ed Tech Magazine. It was an honour to be selected to represent the Atlantic Region in the SPOTLight. Thank you so much for your continued support.


MindShare Learning Board Meeting

MindShare Learning Board Meeting