Monday, 22 May 2017

STEM & STEAM: Why & What?

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​"The principle goal of education is to create individuals who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done."   - Jean Piaget

There is no greater integrity, no greater goal achieved, than an idea articulately expressed through something made with your hands. We call this constant dialogue between eye, mind, and hand "critical thinking -- critical making." It's an education in getting your hands dirty, in understanding why you made what you made, and owning the impact of that work in the world. It's what artists and designers do.'  John Maeda, former President, Rhode Island School of Design

It is rare to wander through the Hub, Studio or Learning Commons at Eric Harvie School and not see a child creating something - it might be a prototype of a system to filter water, soil and air in some future home, or a new kind of garment to help a mother through a busy day, or a plan to write an intriguing new ending for an old, much-loved fairytale. Sometimes there are great meals being planned and concocted in the Hub's 'kitchen' or geodes smashed apart in the Learning Commons are being explored with magnifying glasses. There are often prototypes of many things - reading rooms, Rube Goldberg machines - being crafted from cardboard that morph and change several times before being re-purposed and replaced with something completely different. Creativity abounds - as does design thinking, problem solving and the application of many skills learned both in and out of school. 

Although we don't label any of our work with students as being particular STEM or STEAM-related efforts, the roots of much of our students' work lies in these initiatives, and we have been fortunate this year to have seven of our teachers involved in a pilot STEM Learning professional development opportunity that has provoked our thinking and helped us build a vision for learning that is engaging, hands-on and as generative as possible, based on student questions and curiosities. 

Merging the study of Science, Engineering, Technology and Math together to promote innovative thinking and problem solving across the disciplines is a widely researched and supported strategy for innovative thinking that has supported space exploration, advances in technology and medicine over the past half century. In schools that focus on STEM education, student learning is focused on using the scientific method in ways that can be applied to every day life, through the blending of science, technology, engineering and math disciplines into formats of learning that encourage students to use computational and critical thinking to solve real world problems. Promoting STEM learning has taken on greater significance in the past 15 years or so because it has slipped in popularity as an area of study and significantly so for girls - yet the need for skilled workers in STEM-related professions is growing exponentially around the world. What STEM teaching does is advance complex thinking and innovation with students to support continued learning in innovation within occupational and research fields such as manufacturing, technology and engineering-related fields. 

John Maeda, former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, noted "innovation happens when convergent thinkers, those who march straight ahead toward their goal, combine forces with divergent thinkers – those who professionally wander, who are comfortable being uncomfortable, and who look for what is real." (2012) Adding the arts to the combined study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics brings an element of creativity and greater freedom to add artistic design to innovative thinking and planning. This added bonus of creative thinking also brings the aspect of understanding situations that require innovative thinking to be considered from a humanistic perspective as well, rather than purely through the lens of science or mathematics. When the Arts are added into the equation, STEM becomes STEAM and offers a more open, flexible approach to using the scientific method, computational thinking and critical thinking to generate innovative solutions to modern problems.

Corporations and governments around the world are promoting STEM and STEAM related learning to help draw students - both male and female - to engage in cross-disciplinary, creative approaches to solving highly complex issues emerging from our fast-paced growth and development world wide.  And that is essentially the 'why and what' of STEM and STEAM.

In elementary schools, students engage in inquiry-based and real-world problem solving situations to develop an appreciation and understanding of design thinking, computational thinking and critical thinking to promote innovative, creative and hands-on approaches to thinking and learning.  As students advance through school, opportunities to engage in related STEM/STEAM learning will seem more familiar and therefore enticing and inviting to pursue as they flex their design thinking skills, understand the meaning and needs of both humans and technology behind the problems they are solving, create prototypes to meet needs and understand the processes they are crafting as essential steps impacting human growth and interactions.

While the theories and practices behind STEM/STEAM learning underpin highly technical innovations that could and will play an enormous role in the future of the children currently attending Eric Harvie School, most of our students see our work in STEM/STEAM related events as fun, practical, hands-on learning. Our new 'Wonder Time' adventures are one element of encouraging students to pursue interests and ideas outside of the everyday learning routines students usually follow while borderless access to the Studio, the provocations in the Hub and the Learning Commons offer multiple, daily opportunities to take a different approach to problem solving using every day items like cardboard, nails, hammers, elastic bands, duct tape, etc - as well as art supplies, books, paper and design tools. 

Our goal is to provide seamless opportunities for children to see the world as a strong foundation for learning as well as an infinite opportunity for asking questions and solving problems. Not a blank canvas but certainly one they can change and adjust to as it changes with confidence and imagination. And to have a whole lot of fun in learning, reading to learn, designing, writing to explain learning and creating at the same time!

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Design Thinking & Wonder Time

"It starts with the students. They are the reason we teach and the future of our world. My daughter is four years old, and soon to be going through our public school system. I want her generation to have opportunities to explore, analyze and create projects that have unique meaning to each of them. Instead of answering a multiple choice test on The Great Gatsby, why can't my daughter have the opportunity to write, collaborate, sing and produce a song that explains in detail the major themes of the story. Through 20% time, we give our students a voice in their own learning path, and allow them to go into depth in subjects we may skim over in our curriculum."   -  A.J. Juliani

We often say, as educators and parents, that if we encourage students to pursue their passions they will find out what they want to do in life that will make them happy - yet their experiences are often our experiences as we offer them opportunities to play the sports we enjoy, or the musical instruments we are familiar with - even as we try to find alternatives that might pique their interest. In schools, we are guided by curriculum topics and the limits of available resources - including those parents work so hard to fundraise to provide. Finding ways to invite students to expand the parameters of their experiences within school helps us also encourage them to use tools of learning - like design thinking, reading, writing, using math skills - among many others - in real-life contexts. 

The idea of inviting students to engage in learning about a topic of their choice is not a new one - teachers have been trying to work this concept into lessons for as many years as I've been teaching - and probably for thousands of years before that - I believe even Socrates sought to engage his followers with considering issues near and dear to the challenges of life in ancient Greece! Strategies like  'show and tell' or 'Student of the Week' or 'How I Spent My Summer Vacation' all offer opportunities for students to showcase their own personal experiences for their peers and friends. And students love being in the spotlight (usually!).

20% Time is an idea that originated with Google when the company invited their engineers to devote 20% of their time at work to focus on any project they liked, no questions asked. The idea was simply that if people worked on something that interested them rather than projects that were assigned, productivity would increase. The idea has worked so well for Google that about 50% of their most popular products - like Gmail and Google News - resulted from these 20%-time projects. 

Several education researchers and teachers have co-opted the idea of 20% time as a way of deeply increasing student engagement in learning - and one name for the idea is 'Genius Hour'. We've named the concept 'Wonder Time' at EHS, and we believe providing students a designated time to delve into a topic, idea or experience they are really interested in extends into something with enhanced learning potential, and changes the focus of engaging in a personalized task into a personal pursuit of something that is significantly interesting to each child. 

At Eric Harvie School, we launched this learning strategy this month - we've been exploring the idea for several months as we have engaged in using design thinking strategies in a variety of ways, and made the decision as a staff to pilot a 4-week project called 'Wonder Time' based on the premise of Genius Hour or 20% Time. We want to see how our students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 perceive the opportunity, what level of learning they will engage in and whether or not launching a Wonder Time extends student learning and invites them to explore their world from a different perspective.

For this pilot project, teachers and support staff each identified a possible area of interest they would be willing to support a multi-age group of students to investigate without much structure. This is a considerably different perspective from most of our daily teaching where we have specific targets and goals in mind as we work with students - as well as a much wider spread of student age/ability than teachers usually work with at the same time. It is a bit of a risk for all of us - students and teachers alike! Once the topic list was generated, a google doc was used for students to indicate their top 3 topic choices to explore and then we used a simple sorting system to place students in their categories of choice. And suddenly we had 15 groups all ready to begin exploring and investigating topics of choice.

Two weeks ago, on May 5th, Wonder Time began at Eric Harvie - all those groups of children ages 5 - 9 came together at various places in and out of the school to investigate and experience topics they were personally interested in. Cooking, design/building, space, fabric creations, Canada, photography - these are just a few of the topics children have begun investigating and experimenting with over the past two Fridays - and these experiences will continue each Friday through to June 2/17.  By all accounts, these have been the 'best part of the week' for many of us!

So what is actually going on when we have Wonder Time?

Children are exploring in depth ideas they might not get opportunities to explore within the designated grade-level curriculum topics, while using the competencies and skills that are in the curriculum. They are coming together to help each other, inspire each other, coach each other and also travel different paths of investigation from each other as often as they investigate things together. There are no 'tasks' or 'assignments' in the sessions but there are plenty of things to do! Cooperation, collaboration and sharing are essential as they come together with resources and sources gathered onsite, or brought from homes, or mined from teacher homes - there were no special purchases made to support our projects. Students are using ipads, cameras, sketch books, egg cartons and artifacts they created themselves (including pizza) to document and gather evidence of their investigations and explorations. And ideas are flying all around the school - along with laughter, pride in new creations, children moving all around the school as they pursue their investigations and loads of questions, questions, questions! 

Using the design thinking principles (discovery/empathy, interpreting/defining, ideation, experimenting/prototype, evaluate/test) provides students with a framework for thinking - yet there is no expectation that students proceed through the stages in a linear fashion, for Wonder Time is about experimenting, trying, exploring as much as it is about building a prototype or testing. Could happen but might not - and whatever happens is okay ;)

We've been tweeting out some of our experiences and documenting others on teacher blogs, but the greatest source of information about our Wonder Time are the students themselves - in the telling of their stories of wonder lie the seeds of curiosity and joy that spark imagination and invitations to lives forever filled with learning.

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal 
Eric Harvie School

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Literature and the Power of Storytelling

“The story is the basic unit of human understanding, and we will never understand each other and we will never understand ourselves, if we do not tell our stories every chance we get.”
James Maskalyk/Drew Dudley

"We know our literate learners and our literate learners know themselves." - Dr. Frank Serafini

There are so many excellent reasons to share our stories - ranging from expressing our ideas/emotions/understandings, to building empathy, to learning from each other's experiences, to enhancing self-esteem, to strengthening the development of language and ideas - I could fill this entire blog post with reasons to share our stories!

 Stories are at the heart of all the work we do at Eric Harvie School - we use stories to build our relationships with each other and to offer opportunity to listen well, experience language and find our common ground. We use stories to push our thinking, capture new ideas, question old ideas and describe our innovations. We use stories to make sense of things that seem senseless to us and to wonder about the things that make the most sense. We use stories to laugh and cry and celebrate and try on new personality qualities we didn't know we had - like bravery and curiosity and risk-taking. 

 As our first year as a school enters our final two month-wrap up zone, we are using our stories to amplify the learning journey we have ventured on together this year. We have shared so many wonderful stories - picture books, novels, non-fiction texts, news articles, tv clips, movies - the ones we shared AND the ones we made together, youtube videos, cards, oral stories - that we wanted to find a way to capture them all and celebrate them together with our families. We have some exciting adventures in storytelling ahead of us for sure!

Our first adventure with sharing the power of literature and storytelling begins this Tuesday, May 9th, with our Student Led Learning Walk #2. This learning walk is focused on the curricular mandate " ‘Literature is used to advance student learning across the disciplines”.  As our families join us in the school gym, there will be beautiful examples of our work - evidence that literature and stories are helping us make sense of our world and how to best function as agents of kindness, generosity of spirit and changemakers. There will be evidence of solid teaching based on the latest and most effective research; evidence of how students are learning in different ways and evidence of the tremendous growth in reading, writing and applying critical thinking to learning students have experienced this school year.  As Serafini noted - we know our literate learners and they, in turn, know themselves.

Our next adventure in storytelling has really already been launched with the introduction of Jeff Stockton to our children.  Jeff is a master storyteller himself and he is also skilled at supporting the youngest of learners to become vocal, powerful storytellers in their own right. Over the next eight weeks, students will be gathering together as well as independently to capture, render and share their stories in a wide variety of storytelling styles and genres - capturing all the adventures shared and experienced in our first year at EHS. We are excited, a little nervous and captivated by the possibilities of our risk-taking - how amazing can we really be if we take the time to shape and craft our stories with care and attention?  We think:  PRETTY AMAZING!

To finish this blog entry, I would like to quote Frank Serafini one more time:

"Because of the pressure from federal and state legislatures to raise test scores, public school classrooms may become places where children learn to read well enough to score higher on standardized tests, but may not be places where you learn to love to read, discover great authors and pieces of literature, or learn how to read in order to succeed in the “real” world.

…Reading instruction in schools should develop students’ passion to read, support their engagements with texts of all sorts, and encourage them to become lifelong readers capable of fully participating in a democratic society…."

This particular passage caught my attention because I believe it honours the enormous work of school - to educate for life, not just for test scores. Students need to know reading is a strategy for storytelling and story sharing, that reading also allows us to to understand the world and helps the world understand us, that we all have amazing stories to share and that becoming lifelong readers - story tellers - story receivers - story shapers - is the only true way for us to successfully support each other in a social world.

We have literature. We have each other. We have stories. And voices. And courage. We are all storytellers :)

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal