Make One Change: Learning Road Trip – A Professional Learning Experience!



The idea was inspired by the great conversations that happen in the car as you travel to or return from a conference. It’s where all the ideas you have just experienced, or are going to experience, spark conversation about how we can change the system, improve our practice or impact student learning in our classrooms. Its where we dream big, we leverage great ideas, we start to plan for the action we will take once back in our buildings.

What we were after was recreating the road trip experience through a professional learning event. What was developed was a two day opportunity for educators from our division to travel to schools across our jurisdiction, see quality learning in action in a number of settings, and then have the time to develop an idea to bring back to their students in their classrooms. It was called the “Make One Change: Learning Road Trip” and it ended up being a pretty great two days together with a great group of educators.


Day 1 – Learning Road Trip



We started off the morning meeting at our division office to board our rented coach bus, with our coffees, muffins/donuts, and materials in hand to embark on our learning road trip. The bus was equipped with televisions (although there were some technical difficulties) which we would use to show some thought provoking videos to spur on conversation while we traveled from school to school. Our videos included a video from Simon Breakspear about “Pursuing Inspiration” which acted as a great intro to our day, as well as videos from Seth Godin, Chris Lehmann, and Mitch Resnick





As seat-mates engaged in conversations about learning, they wrote down big ideas, inspirations and extensions that came up on to Post-Its and placed them on the windows of the bus to collect them throughout the day. These would serve to inspire the work on Day #2 and were available to connect with new ideas throughout the trip. It was exciting to see the spaces fill with ideas throughout the day as our participants were inspired by the school visits. We also tweeted to the hashtag #make1changePSD throughout the two day event (Storify to come!).






Our participants represented K-12 educators from almost every school in our division, and we were able to visit K-12 classrooms in four schools. We saw maker-inspired learning, literacy centres, differentiated instruction in multi-grade classrooms, personalized learning, critical thinking exercises and so much more. It was so great to have the administration, staffs and students of Parkland Village School (K-4), Memorial Composite High School (10-12), Blueberry School (K-9), and Seba Beach School (K-9) welcome in our group of 40+ to see the learning in action in their buildings. The experiences in each building served to get our participants thinking of what it was they would develop on Day #2 to “Make One Change” in their practice to impact student learning in their buildings.




Day 2 – Educator Innovation Day    


On Day 2 we met at the 360 degree Wellness Centre (Thanks for the room Ken!) in Spruce Grove to embark on an Educator Innovation Day and create the initiative, project or intervention that would be the one change we would bring to our students. We worked through a Design Thinking process that members of our group adopted from Ewan McIntosh, a process that involves four phases – Immersion, Synthesis, Ideation and Prototyping. The Learning Road Trip acted as the bulk of the immersion phase, but we finished up the immersion phase with interviews to understand our group members thoughts and aspirations for their projects. From there, driving questions were developed in the Synthesis phase, carefully crafted to drive the ideation phase and worded as “How might we…” questions. In the Ideation phase, our participants were challenged to come up with as many potential ideas as they could in a ten minute period, with the group developing nearly a thousand ideas! Groups sketched out visual representations of their ideas in the Prototyping phase and arrived at a place where they could get to work on their projects.

The rest of the day was used to work on the projects, with groups accessing resources, planning out lessons and developing learning experiences to bring to their students. The final hour involved groups sharing their projects, and processes, with each other and discussing the inspiration and plan for action behind their “One Change”.  Our plan is to come together again as a group on May 11th to check-in on where the projects are in their development, to share successes and look to solve challenges that have emerged and keep the momentum going!

Overall it was a great experience, and it was so much fun to work with Carolyn Cameron, Travis McNaughton, and Shaye Patras to develop this professional learning experience for our division. We have surveyed our participants, and will look to gain feedback from schools as to the impact of this event, as we hope to bring more of these “Learning Road Trips” to the teachers of our division. We have a lot of ideas already bubbling up about different ways we can leverage this model and can’t wait to start planning the next one.

Thanks again to the schools who hosted us, to the participants for their engagement and enthusiasm (even on the hot bus), to the organizers and to everyone who contributed to making this day a success.

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!

Educator Innovation Day #2

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 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.

Educators Innovation Day

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Sean Kelly

Ok. It’s OUR turn.

After having our first Innovation Week and with Innovation Week 2 only days away, we have put together the plan for our Teachers to have a chance to be innovators.

On Tuesday, August 27th, 2013 the doors of Greystone Centennial Middle School will open to Educators who want to get the same experience our students have had. With the theme of “Improving Education” the teachers will have a chance to spend the day working on their own or in small groups to come up with a project. At the end of the day, the only requirement of participation is that we will all get together and share what we have come up with.

Now, with only a day to do the project, we expect most people will do a little bit of work beforehand to prepare, and of course that is ok, but we don’t want people to bring canned projects. A big part of the learning is in the experience, and the constraint of getting the project done by the end of the day is part of the experience.

While I said we developed this to help our teachers gain experience that will help them work with our students on future innovation projects, this is not limited to just our Greystone teachers. We are opening this to any educator that is interested in taking part, so if you would like to join us fill out the form and plan to be there!

Educator Innovation Day Application Form

We also want to thank Parkland Teachers ATA Local #10 and the Parkland School Division for their support of this event, and to everyone who is helping to make it happen!

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.


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.

Innovation Week Day 1 & 2

Photo 12

Well two days are in the books. I’m tired, but it’s a good tired. We started the week off strong and the wave of energy and enthusiasm continues. We can only hope that the kids and the staff can keep it rolling.

When it comes to writing about our Innovation Week project its one of those rare times when I have an overly abundant number of ideas I could write about. I could tell you about the way the staff of our school have done such an amazing job of inspiring and motivating our students’ learning regardless of the certain mental and physical fatigue all us educators feel in the last week before the holiday. I could tell you about the amazing engagement and excitement coming from our students, the outstanding depth and magnitude of their projects and the way they are pulling together, helping each other out and working as one large and effective learning community. I could also write about how initiatives like Innovation Week, and so many others like it, are the antidote to the status quo and the way forward if we are truly going to help our system break free from the old model of prescribed curriculum and standardized tests. I could write about all of those wonderful topics (and probably will at some time) but in these posts I really just want to give you an idea of how we are making Innovation Week work, and how you might improve on it and run your own in your building.

Managing The Space

When all was said and done we had nearly 260 of our 540 students involved in Innovation Week, which meant we needed half the classrooms as well as the use of some of our more specific work spaces (Gymnasium, Foods Room, Flex Lab). We also needed to ensure we had adequate work spaces for the students who did not take part in the week. Because our staff was so behind the project, they were very flexible with giving up their spaces and sharing the responsibilities of supervising students. We decided to group the students by the theme of their projects and to a limited degree by grade level. We have Building Rooms, Performing Arts Rooms, a Writing Room, a Cooking Room, Tech Rooms, a Display Room, a Sewing/Craft Room, a Research Area, as well as a few other targeted work spaces. Students start their days in this room (following a daily opening assembly) but are not limited to working in these spaces. They are, however, responsible to the supervising teacher in their workspace and keep that teacher informed on where they are choosing to work. There have been some difficulties to overcome including creating a supervising schedule of teachers (we made sure everyone was a part of Innovation Week for at least one day) and creating a gym schedule (to create prep time for teachers and provide physical activity for the students in regular classes) but so far it has seemed to work. I think the keys to making this work in a building are obviously the support and flexibility of the staff, as well as being comfortable with the learning becoming a bit geographically messy.

Photo 6

Sewing Room

Photo 7

Writing Room

Photo 9

Display Room

Photo 10

Display Room

Optimizing The Impact

It is important to us that the students are getting the most out of this learning experience, so to try to ensure we were having them capture part of their own learning process we purchased everyone of them an Innovation Week Journal. In this journal, students will reflect throughout the day on what went well, what was difficult, and how the learning process evolved throughout the week. Because the supervising teachers in each Innovation Work Space, we are also having the teachers provide constructive feedback and thought provoking questions in the student journals. This gives the teacher coming into the room the next day an idea of what feedback has been given so far and how they can help the students with their projects. On Day 1 we found the reflections to be a little on the light side in some instances, so we provided some writing prompts at the end of the day to better provide direction for our students on what they could be reflecting on.

Opening Assemblies/Community Focus

Each day, we are starting with an assembly to get the ball rolling. We have shared videos on innovation and creativity to inspire our students for the day. We have gone over house keeping issues such as break times, safety and shared use of technology. We have talked about how Innovation Day began, and what the idea behind it was all about. These assemblies have been very useful in our first two days for a couple reasons. One being that this is our first Innovation Week and issues have been popping up throughout the first two days, and this gives us the ability to talk about these issues with all 260 students at once rather than trying to do PA announcements or spreading the word room to room. The other reason is that we have been able to get a bit of a community feel to develop. The students in the assembly are all there for Innovation Week and there seems to be a shared pride in that. When we started the first day, they cheered at being told it was “time to get started”. Today when we asked everyone to think about their fellow Innovation Week participants and share the technology in our building, we noticed a much smoother day when it came to sharing the Laptops, Desktops and iPads.


I haven’t had as much time as I had hoped to get into classrooms and see the projects, speak to the students and teachers and really get a feel for how each persons experience was going. I am going to try to get to more classrooms tomorrow, and document more of the week. When this is done I hope we will have a great deal of video to share as well.

For now, I will leave you with a plea to please disregard any typos, spelling mistakes or poor writing in this post, I am going to go ahead with it without the usual proofreading and re-writing. More will come, hopefully separate reflections from Days 3, 4 and 5 and hopefully with a bit more care and attention. Its 11:30pm and my wonderful experiences of the past two days have worn me ragged. I need sleep.


Accept The Challenge

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by lawmurray
Today was our division day, an event that involves every employee of Parkland School Division coming together to prepare for the start of a new school year. It’s always good to see familiar faces, especially with changing jobs and changing schools. I got to see the staff from my previous school, and while that was hard because I find I already miss them, it was good to see many of them again. I also got to see many of our division’s administrators and senior executive, who I had the pleasure of working with last year as an administrator myself. I am going to miss seeing them at our lead team meetings and working with such an impressive group of educators.

I settled in with a couple friends and sat to hear our superintendent, our board chair and many others speak. While they spoke, a number of teachers, administrators and central office staff were tweeting out key points from the talks. It was so exciting to see so many of our division members on twitter and sharing, a lot has changed in just a couple of years. Our board chair Richard Gilchrist and our Superintendent Tim Monds both spoke about how the world is changing, and how there won’t be any going back. This is true, but it is modeled so clearly in our division as so many are joining the Social Media movement and looking to connect and improve. There is no sense denying this movement towards connectivity, there is no going back, and more and more people are joining us rather than sticking their head in the sand. When I returned to my school, I decided to make sure I was following our superintendent on twitter. When I found his page I saw our entire senior executive represented on twitter as well!

This made me very proud and inspired, because I am sure for some members of this group joining twitter was probably intimidating, frustrating, or may have even seemed pointless, but they did it anyway. They realize that there is no going back, and more importantly, they are modeling for our division the willingness to go outside their comfort zone and join in. For me, this is a challenge to follow their lead. Whatever it is, however intimidating, frustrating, or pointless it may seem, if it is right for my students I have to join in.

So to you I ask, will you accept the challenge? Will you do what is right for your students even if it means you will have to go outside of your comfort zone? Will you try something new even if it means it may fail? In doing so, together we can model the type of learner we are for our students, and we can ask them to accept the challenge as well.