Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Journey towards inquiry-based learning through P.B.L.

I have always known that inquiry-based learning is a very effective method for structuring learning. It also aligns very well as a process that meets many of the requirement of Alberta’s Ministerial Order on Student Learning. I just wasn’t sure how to go about implementing...inquiry can be easier said than done.

Our journey going deeper with inquiry based learning began last May when a fellow administrator told me he was arranging to bring in a Project Based Learning (PBL) facilitator, Charity Allen from www.pblconsulting.net, to put on a two-day workshop for his middle school teachers. He had 18 available spots he was going to open up to the district. I asked him to hold all 18 openings for two days until I had an opportunity to talk to the middle school teachers at my school. The following days I spoke with the teachers and by the end of the second day the middle school team had committed to doing the training and pursuing PBL implementation this school year. Only one of the teachers had already received the training and was using PBL in her classroom. She was excited to take the training again and support teachers new to the process.

Knowing ongoing support would help the chances of follow through, I asked our Teacher Librarian to participate in the training so that she could offer her expertise throughout the year. Having already received the training and already using PBL with other classes, she knew the benefits of providing support to teachers. She could use her flexible timetable in order to offer this vital ongoing support.

For two days, Charity facilitated an Intro to PBL workshop for our two schools. As president of PBL Consulting, she was extremely gifted in managing the workshop. She guided us through the why of PBL, the what of PBL and then moved us into how to design high quality, inquiry-based projects.  By the end of the workshop, participants reached near completion of their projects. She explained that inquiry was basically attempting to resolve the unresolved using a process. She shared multiple processes and methods of inquiry upon which projects could be modeled. She further instructed us that projects need to be in a context that is connected to the real world in a way that is relevant to students. Teachers developed projects such as: how to revitalize a vacant city lot, input into our district’s new school design, school renovations, the impact on environment from invasive aquatic species in provincial water bodies, how to sustain society on another planet (MarsOne) and more.

After two days, teachers were very impressed with the workshop and eager to develop and implement their projects in their classrooms. The priority now will be offering support and encouragement so that our middle school continues with this approach.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Start up

This year began with a change in my role as an administrator. I find myself working with an exceptional group of middle school teachers. The past three days of school have been what I can only call inspiring as this teacher cohort has dedicated itself to welcoming new students and welcoming back returning students.

The first day began with teachers volunteering their prep time to facilitate activities planned by the counsellor. The purpose of these activities was to build relationships with one another and their teachers as well as to get familiar with a large new school. Activities included a “fashion infraction” where teachers modeled clothing deemed unacceptable to a school setting (I wore a beer shirt with sunglasses), how to open up your lock, an amazing race to explore the school and much more. The grade sevens were the only students in the school and had free reign to explore and get comfortable for the entire morning before the first day of school started two days later.

Another teacher organized “activation.” A series of stations where each grade level (seven through 12) came in at different times and within an hour had their picture taken and received school ID, text books signed out, lockers assigned, timetables handed out.

I visited every middle school classroom the following day and watched how teachers had planned activites around getting to know one another and building relationships. Another noticeable characteristic of most of the classrooms was how their rooms were set up. All rooms had desks or tables set up for cooperative learning (not group work). Most classrooms had “soft seated” areas in the  classrooms and many had light filters or lamps to adjust the lighting. Words of welcome and encouragement were displayed throughout.  

I am confident all of this preparation and dedication in the beginning will pay huge dividends throughout the year. I am very proud to be a part of this team and look forward to supporting them however I can.