Innovation Week 4 – Day 2/3/4

What a great three days we had this week as students put their plans into action, working hard to make their visions for their projects a reality. These three days are always the most impressive, as projects that seemed lofty suddenly become reality in front of your eyes, and students blow expectations out of the water. If there is one thing that has stayed true in all four Innovation Weeks we have run, it is that we don’t challenge students they way they challenge themselves when given the opportunity.

After a weekend away from their projects, there was a great deal of energy in the building as the students got back down to work. Now because our students in Gr. 6 & 9 had to write Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT’s – government exams in Alberta) during Innovation Week, we waited until after the tests were completed to start our days. Students had brought the vast majority of their supplies in and were laying them out and finalizing plans in their Innovation Rooms. It wasn’t long before you heard the buzz of tools, the music from performance groups, and lots of conversation as groups worked together to get their projects underway.

After running three of these in the past couple years, our organizing committee was committed to improving the quality of learning, and we did so on two fronts. The first was incorporating a Design Thinking process that we learned from Ewan McIntosh (and he documents on his site here) and the other was improvements to our Proposal Forms. Spearheaded by Claudia Scanga and Katy Rogal, these forms had added spaces for feedback and reflection as well as better questions to help shape the process for students. They were photocopied on BRIGHT pink paper, and students were expected to have them at all times during the week (see in picture above). As I went around from room to room over these three days, I asked groups about their process, about their guiding question, and about how they met the criteria for the week, and the vast majority could all answer the questions I had for them, and I am quite certain it had a lot to do with our improved forms.

One thing I noticed when talking with students this time around was how much better our students were at managing the time, tackling projects that were achievable, and troubleshooting their own issues. In previous weeks this was definitely a struggle as students were not used to being on their own to guide their learning. We’d see groups choose projects too complex or too simple, we’d see groups struggle when they ran into difficulty, and we definitely saw groups have trouble with managing their own time. I am sure that most schools that would try Innovation Week would see similar issues their first couple times through, but I also see great power in the learning those difficulties provide. There is no doubt our students have learned from their adversity, or the adversity of others, and the improvements in this week are a testament to the three we have run before.

With 414 students participating, 81% of our eligible students (Gr. 9’s couldn’t participate due to PAT’s), it meant we also had most of our teaching staff participating as well. It is a unique interaction for teacher and student as the teacher is not there to do any instruction, but to simply be a resource for support and guidance, and it is often with students from other grades or classes that they don’t get a chance to work with. During the three working days, we had a lot of great feedback from teachers, with common themes including high quality projects, great work ethic and excited, focused learning.

As we wrapped up Day 4 on Wednesday, the prospect of the showcase and assembly the next day made for a lot of excited, and some nervous students as they prepared to share all their great work with family, friends, and visiting guests from our division. I’ll post the Final Day reflection soon, so stay tuned to see how this great week finished up!

Innovation Week 4 – Planning Day and Day 1

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So here we are again, time for our fourth Innovation Week as we wrap up another great school year. This time around our theme is “Invent, Improve, Innovate!” with the goal for students to:

  • Invent something new
  • Improve an existing object/practice
  • Innovate how something is done/used

We also included some detailed information on how the week connected to the 10 Cross-Curricular Competencies from Alberta Education, which I think we will explore in more depth for Innovation Week 5.

So this time around we did a lot of work up front with our Application Form, with our planning for providing feedback and for checking in with students, all with the purpose of setting higher expectations for the learning that would occur during the week and the quality of the projects being worked on. Probably the biggest addition to this Innovation Week was the addition of Design Thinking for the student planning of projects.

In May we were lucky enough to see Ewan McIntosh at the Ideas Conference in Calgary and he put us through a workshop on Design Thinking. The process followed four steps – Immersion, Synthesis, Ideation and Prototyping, and was a powerful tool for thinking, learning and problem solving. We loved it so much that the week after we returned from the conference, we used this process with our staff to tackle our annual Education Plan (documented on video, look for that post this summer).

We decided to use this process with our students, but we broke it up with the first two steps (Immersion & Synthesis) done last Tuesday for our Innovation Week 4 planning afternoon, and the third and fourth steps (Ideation & Prototyping) were carried out on Day 1 of Innovation Week 4, this past Friday. I want to provide a little snapshot into how that went:

Innovation Week 4 Planning Afternoon

For the afternoon we had students use the Immersion and Synthesis steps of the Design Thinking process to create their guiding question for their Innovation Week 4 projects. The process required groups of 3 (or as close as possible), which meant some groups were mixed with members doing different projects. The groups then interviewed each other, asking questions about the student’s project, why they chose it, what they hoped to accomplish etc. . One group member was the interviewer, one was the recorder and one was interviewed. We rotated the jobs each interview, which differs slightly from Ewan’s plan, but was necessary given our mixed groups. Each interview was 4 minutes long, with the recorder writing down EVERYTHING they heard. (12 minutes)

After the first round of interviews we addressed the idea that many of the interviews sounded more like conversations than interviews (common happening I’m sure). We did some coaching to help them understand that an interviewer needs to provide space (and silence) for the interviewee to think and process, and that they need to be patient and not jump in and start a conversation. We then suggested some deeper questions to ask, and challenged them to get more out of the next 4 minutes. We repeated the interview cycle one more time. (12 minutes)

We then took 4 minutes each to allow the recorders to review what they heard, to circle or highlight key words or things that were repeated, so that the person could really see what they talked about, and what was important to them.  (12 minutes)

From these highlighted/circled and reviewed notes, students were than challenged to come up with a big question, phrased as follows: “How might we/I…?”. They were asked to look closely at what they said in their interview so that they could formulate a question that was clearly important to them. The questions had to meet the following criteria:

  1. New to You
  2. Original to the Audience
  3. Important to Others (What is the Impact?)                     (10-15 minutes) 

As a group we then shared some of the questions and tried to provide feedback (students & teachers) that was helpful, specific & kind to make the questions even better. The goal was to remove jargon and have the question have a clear expectation and developed focus on what the students would be working on during Innovation Week. We then sent the students back to try and improve the questions by doing the same work on their own question. (15-20 minutes)

Once the students were happy with their question, they worked to complete the rest of their Proposal Form to take home and get signed by a parent. These proposal forms stay with the students, and are to be used to guide their process and to record feedback from teachers/students. They also have a place for their own reflections on how they used the feedback to improve their work. (10-15 minutes)

With the proposal forms ready, students were done the planning day and were all set for the opening day of Innovation Week 4 on Friday.

(We used this presentation to walk our students through the process.)

Innovation Week 4 Day One

For Friday, we placed the students into the rooms for Innovation Week based on their project. We had 5 “Hands-On” rooms, 3 “Building” rooms, 2 “Research” rooms, 2 “Tech” rooms and a “Performance”, “Music”, “Arts/Writing” and “Crafts” room. Here the students were surrounded by students doing similar work, with a teacher prepared for that type of project, and ready to dive in to the next two steps of the Design Thinking process: Ideation & Prototyping. 

For Ideation, the students were challenged to come up with 100 ideas that would answer their guiding question in 10 minutes. Now this was challenging, so I went a little nuts and tried to go classroom to classroom to get kids fired up about ideas…sorry the coach in me came out a little bit:


For 10 minutes they tried to get everything they could down on paper and we instructed them if they ran out of good ideas, to start coming up with silly, off-the-wall or impossible ideas. In some rooms we got a lot of ideas, and some not as many, but in the end our 414 students came up 8,684 ideas!!! (10 minutes)

From here they needed to select 5 great ideas and 3 silly ones, and rate them on a 10 point scale in three categories (See pictures above):

  1. New
  2. Useful
  3. Feasible

When all was said and done, they were to choose their top rated idea and move on to the prototype stage. (10 Minutes)

In the Prototype stage, students were asked to create a visual representation of their project. Some chose to make mind-maps (which I would recommend against) but many actually sketched out their project. Ewan has a great quote on his webpage about the process:

Sketching one’s ideas, instead of writing them, is a great way to both ideate and create your first prototypes. It tends to lead to higher quality feedback.

Once the students were done their prototype visuals, we were ready to open the floor up for feedback. (10-15 minutes)

Students were asked to provide feedback to the group next to them, and the feedback again needed to be helpful, specific and kind. Students were then told to go back and use the feedback to make improvements to their drawings. At the end of this process, it was lunch time, but the students were then set with a great picture of where they wanted to go. (10-15 minutes)

In the afternoon, students got down to work and finished their Friday by getting their plan together and beginning the initial work on their projects.

It was a great start to this Innovation Week, adding the Design Thinking process definitely helped students prepare and start to be creative before they even started work on their project, which will be very beneficial. We wanted to up the quality of learning going on in our building during this Innovation Week and with the work our staff put in well in advance of the week, along with the addition of the Design Thinking, I believe we are well on our way to seeing some really quality projects and really exciting learning.

Here is one more video, an interview with Kiana and Sara about their thoughts on the addition of the Design Thinking process to Innovation Week 4.

 

 

Collaboration

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So a few weeks ago I attended the Innovate West Conference at the Connect Charter School in Calgary, with a team of 7 teachers from our school. Along with Claudia Scanga, our school’s learning coach, Lynn Lang and Ashley Solomon, teachers from our school, we facilitated a discussion we called “Collaborative Teaching Models”. My hope, as I put our presentation together, was that we would share our story and what we do at Greystone Centennial Middle School, and then open up the floor to hear about other models, and maybe discuss how we could create more opportunities for teacher collaboration in all schools. It didn’t end up going that way.

We shared how we embed three blocks of collaborative time for each teaching team into our timetable,

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how our school design team put together a planning document that guides the conversation in those blocks,

 

and how our staff choose to use the time provided to collaborate with their teams rather than grab a coffee, photocopy work or mark assignments. From there the conversation ended up being focused on how we are able to do this in our building and how we got there. A couple people dismissed what we told them as “too pie-in-the-sky” and walked out of the session, while others wanted to ask us question after question about how it’s possible.

By the end of the session we did get to talk to teachers from BC who shared with us all the issues they are currently dealing with that limit their ability to create collaborative models. We talked with teachers from small schools who spoke about limited resources and limited numbers of teachers, and how that can hinder their collaboration. We also heard from a group of high school English teachers, who talked about the massive size of their department, and how that made collaboration difficult.

While I already knew that we were lucky in so many ways at Greystone, this reminded me of so many more ways. So much of our collaboration model works because of A) The size of our school B) the grade levels we work with C) and a culture that it took 9 years to build (I had nothing to do with it, I joined the staff 3 years ago). But whether its presenting at a conference or hosting visitors from other schools, we know people are looking for advice when it comes to making teacher collaboration a reality in schools.

So rather than talk about our model of collaboration, I believe it would be more helpful to talk about what can be more easily re-created in other buildings, by highlighting the important keys.

1. Start with a Shared Vision  

Teachers collaborating are going to come to the table with their own perspectives, shaped by their experiences, their education, their passions and their beliefs. When it comes down to a discussion without a shared vision, it becomes a battle of two (or more) people’s perspectives and someone is more right. The shared vision brings all conversation back to what is agreed upon as the most important focus, and then its not a battle of competing perspectives but rather how to best realize this vision. So if you don’t have a vision, create one… together. Our time at the Connect Charter School (formerly the Calgary Science School) inspired us to create a visual representation of our vision at Greystone and it is mounted on the wall of every classroom in our building.

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2.  Challenge Each Other to Grow

Collaborative conversations can’t just be about watering each other’s gardens, they have to also be about pointing out the weeds. If the conversations start centered around a shared vision, then we have to be able to call each other out when we aren’t doing what we need to get there. That shared vision means we are not pointing out flaws or claiming some sense of superiority over our colleague, but rather helping each other to ensure we are always improving and always doing what’s best for our students. I wouldn’t say we have completely gotten to this point, but we continue to talk about the importance of pushing each other and identifying moments for growth. This is easier said than done, but in the end it is important enough to work towards.

3. Find Ways to Validate the Importance

If collaboration is important to you as a school leader, you have to be doing everything you can to help facilitate it. Maybe you can only afford a collaborative block once a week, or once a month, but whatever it is, it shows you are committed to the importance of collaboration enough to help make it a reality. I was talking recently with a senior executive member of another division, and her concern was that embedded collaboration might not be achievable in the next school year. My first thought was Twitter and Social Media, and I recommended providing staff with a day where they bring in a facilitator to help get their staff on Twitter, to work on developing an online PLN. If you can’t immediately implement collaboration into your timetable, at least provide another avenue to experience the power of collaboration. In doing so, you help people see that you believe its worth the time and the money. It was definitely the leadership at our school who professed their firm belief in the power of collaboration for the past 9 years, namely our Principal Carolyn Cameron, and this no doubt led to a culture where people readily spend their entire prep time working with colleagues instead of doing all the housekeeping they could be doing.

4. Celebrate the Successes

There are so many aspects of our building that the collaboration of our teachers impacts in a positive way. Having new teachers on a team helps them get acclimated to the building, get to know our culture, and support them through the first tough couple months. Having teachers on teams helps veteran teachers of all ages and experience levels keep pushing to bring the best to students as they are opened to new ideas from their team. The way our teachers collaborate is modelled daily for our students and I can’t help but believe it helps them see the importance as well. In our “team times”, as we call them, our teachers work not only on planning great projects and assignments for students, but also they share important information on students so that everyone is on the same page, they reflect on assessments and how to improve them, and next year our focus will be on providing quality student feedback. I have no doubt the conversations in those team times will be deep and meaningful as we explore what great feedback looks and sounds like. We celebrate these successes with our staff and our school community, and we share them with every school that comes to visit our building and in every presentation we do at conferences. Collaboration is an idea that needs to spread, first in your building of course, but then everywhere it can, so that more and more schools and divisions will work to support it.

What do you do in your buildings to facilitate collaboration? What gets in your way from making it a reality? What do you find the most beneficial part of Teacher Collaboration? I’d love to hear from people, and whether or not you agree with these four points.

Educator Innovation Day #2

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Innovate | Flickr – Photo Sharing!Noah Scalin Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I am very excited to share that we will once again be running an Educator Innovation Day on Saturday May 3rd, at Greystone Centennial Middle School. The idea behind Educator Innovation Day is two fold: 1) to explore ways to improve education by pursuing a project that you are passionate about and 2) to live the innovative, risk-taking experience so that when we have our students undergo a similar experience, we can speak from a place of understanding rather than just conjecture.

In our first Educator Innovation Day this past August, we had over 20 participants explore projects that included literacy assessments, timetable models, and course design, along with many other topics. It was a good first attempt, but the timing definitely made it tough as it was the last day before we all went back to work. We are hoping that with the early May date, people will be able to focus a little more on their project. If it is something they are hoping to implement into their schools immediately, there will still be 2 months left to give it a try, if it something they are hoping to implement in September, it will give them a good start to continue working on over the summer.

There is no cost for Educator Innovation Day – we will provide the space and, if necessary, the technology you need to assist you with your project. Lunch will be on your own and the only requirement is that we come together in the afternoon and share the work with the rest of the participants. We have the support of Parkland School Division in coordinating this event, as well as Parkland Teachers ATA Local 10, but this day is open to educators from outside Parkland School Division as well. We will meet in the gymnasium at Greystone at 9:00am and should be done by 3:30pm that afternoon.

We would love to have you join us for the event, and the registration form is embedded below, or can be accessed at the link http://bit.ly/psd70eid. Share the link with any educator you think may be interested in attending, the more the merrier. Also, we will be tweeting to the hashtag #psd70eid before, during and after the event so keep an eye out for these tweets and to get the conversations started well in advance of the big day.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, and we hope to see you this May.

On The Right Track

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Beautiful picture don’t you think? It is the brilliant art work of Emma, a student at our school in grade 8. Emma didn’t do this work in her art class, or as part of a school project, or even during one of our Innovation Weeks. Emma did this at home, on her own time, in fact during her very own Genius Hour. A completely self directed project, exploring an area of interest and producing something wonderful. 

Her mother Carrie, a Kindergarten teacher, was proud of the work her daughter had done and wanted to let us know at school, so she sent us this tweet

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Carrie let me know that Emma has also turned to You Tube to research and learn to play the piano and guitar during these “Genius Hours”.

Projects and initiatives come and go in education, and it can be hard sometimes to know if we are doing what is best for our students. I am fairly certain that we have the right initiative when we see students doing them at home. I think we can be sure we are on the right track when students choose to learn on their own time. If lifelong learning is a goal, its examples like this that show us the way to the desired result.

Shouldn’t this be what we are aspiring to? We live in an age now that kids have everything they need to learn from anywhere. They can explore their passions and satisfy their curiosities without us being there. I believe Genius Hour, Innovation Days/Weeks, and Passion Projects help students realize just how capable they are to learn independently.

On the eve of our second Innovation Week, I can’t help but be excited to see what our students will learn about, create and share. I have seen and heard their excitement as we have prepared for the coming week, and having students excited about learning at school is so rewarding. I hope it will lead to even more examples like Emma’s, of students who can’t wait for us to help them so they take the initiative themselves to learn outside of their time at school.

Innovation Week Day 5 – Taking Flight


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Andy.Schultz

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

I have always loved this quote. In conversation with George Couros at our Innovation Week wrap up he talked about the scene in the Matrix with the Red and Blue pill. Both are fitting, I find mine a little more eloquent though.

But I’ll come back to that…

Yesterday was our final day of our Innovation Week. We finished the week with an Open House, with each individual or group set up at tables to show case their work to the rest of the school and to the parents and members of the community that attended. It was a really great couple of hours with students proudly displaying their projects, walking each passer by through each component, and eagerly explaining the step-by-step processes that took place to complete them. For these students, they became the star of the show, as the people walked around to see just what they had done. It felt great to see that our project was able to make celebrities out of learners.

After the Open House we finished with an assembly just for the students involved in Innovation Week. We rode our Principal in on a hovercraft built by three Gr. 9 students (trust me, there will be a post about these three young men and their project). We had a selected number of groups come up and show their projects, and gave them the microphone to talk about their experiences during the week. There were many cheers and a great deal of excitement, especially when our Principal let them know that there would be another Innovation Week coming sometime this school year.

While there are things we will do differently, we were very pleased with the event (see post from our happy Principal here). I think a lot of great learning came out of this week for us as a staff and we have a lot of sharing and reflecting to do when we return from the break.

Which brings me back to my conversation with George…

As we walked around the Open House, we talked about the impact the event would have on our students. George talked about how after an event like this, any type of “old school” lesson just wasn’t going to cut it for these kids anymore. I have to agree, and I believe our next step is to pursue ways for us to implement Innovation-style activities into our day to day teaching. Whether it is in a one hour class, over the course of a unit or in a week long project, ensuring that students have a chance to choose what they study, how they do their work, or what they produce, will foster the innovative learning we are hoping for.

I would hope that if you are reading this and you have an Innovation activity that you have used or read about that you would share it here, or if you have ideas or tips for our next Innovation Week those would be great as well. Josh Stumpenhorst, the creator of Innovation Day, and Matt Bebbington, who ran his own Innovation Day in England, both helped me a great deal in bringing Innovation Week to our staff and students, and we would love to help anyone else looking to run a similar event. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of the details further. There will be more Innovation Week posts to come, as there is so much more to reflect on and discuss, but as for the week recaps, that’s a wrap.

 

Innovation Week Day 3 & 4

Wow. What an amazing four days it has been. New learning experiences for students that are bound to be ones they won’t soon forget. Novel opportunities for students to be successful, and proud of their accomplishments. Positive, growth-provoking interactions between student – teacher, student – student and student – community where learning was the end goal and motivation was never in question.

I believe the biggest reason why this week has been so successful is because it has provided so many of the goals that we strive for in our teaching throughout the year, only those goals have happened almost completely without a great deal of teacher involvement, input or design. So often we strive for a learning experience that will provide our students with choice, challenge and curiosity. We try to provide opportunities for all of our students to enjoy success. We work so hard to meet our students at their level, and then do our best to help them improve and grow. Innovation Week has done some or all of these things for a number of our students.

As I said in the previous post, I will try to write about all of these topics and more in the coming weeks, as we break down the week and reflect on all aspects of the project. For now I want to continue along the lines of providing ideas on how this could be done in other buildings, and discuss some of the issues we dealt with during the week.

Flexibility

As the week progressed, some students finished their projects earlier then they had planned. Other students had difficulty with staying focused and on task for such a lengthy period of time. In a couple instances, groups decided to scrap their projects. The way we decided to tackle this was by being flexible with individual student needs. Students were able to go back to their classes for a short period of time, for the entire morning or afternoon or even for the rest of the day and then allowed to return to their project at a later time. Some students left their Innovation Week projects and helped other groups, attended their gym classes, or wrote tests their classes were having. Doing a project for the first time with 260 students ranging from Grades 5 to 9, we expected there would be some of these challenges. The key of course was having flexible staff who were able to handle the flow of students in and out of their classes while still maintaining a positive learning environment for those students who were not taking part in Innovation Week.

Lack of Assistance in Certain Areas

Specifically technology. We have a pretty dynamic staff, and while we are lucky to have a few teachers who excel in the arts, a couple teachers who are great with hands-on type mechanical work, and a number of staff who know their way around a computer and an iPad, we were still short with help a lot of the time. It didn’t take long for us to realize that in many cases, the best helpers were the students themselves. We quickly identified who was good with certain devices or software, who had recorded music before, who had built and launched rockes before, and those students were enlisted to help other students. They did it willingly, and certainly drew a sense of pride from being the “expert”. I think if any school were to do an Innovation Week style event, identifying “In-house Experts” would be a good way to bolster your assistant numbers and to give those students a chance to be the teacher to others.

Opportunity to Connect with Community

We didn’t do enough when it came to this… really, I didn’t do enough. A colleague, who also happens to be one of our Learning Coaches in the building, suggested this project would have been a good opportunity to connect with “Experts” in our community, even if it meant taking the students TO THEM. In a couple instances we did that, with a group heading to a bakery to learn and ask questions for their baking project, and other groups that had people come into the building to help them. What we should have done was make “Outside Experts” a component of the proposal process. With enough time, every student could find someone to meet with, either at their place of work, in our school, over Skype or at worst over the phone. Connecting our students to resources outside of their day to day lives would be a valuable learning experience for when they encounter issues in adulthood, either at their job or at home.

 

Tomorrow we have the students present their projects in an Open House-style setting, and we will see how many of them were able to create projects they are proud of. Day 5 will be a big day, and one I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about when its over.

If you are reading this and you have any questions or comments, please leave them. While we would love to help other schools do this, we are also already starting to plan Innovation Week #2 and we would love input on how to make the next one even better for our students.