Monday, 21 March 2016

LC Reflection

“He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it.”
-Dante Alishieri

I’ve been working in the LC for years now, and it’s easy to see the mistakes I’ve made. At one point I thought about my role through an economic lens where those who need assistance (in planning, in executing, and in teaching) would naturally seek it out. My learning has developed towards a much more fluid and organic perspective. 

As the quote above describes, the LC leader has to be empathetic and helpful. They have to be observant and aware of the professional growth and professional learning of their peers. They must have the perspective to know the holes and gaps within classrooms and throughout the building. Yet, being aware isn’t enough... They have to actively help. Like water, they have to flow towards the deepest holes and help to raise the collective whole... They have to provide help before being asked...

I think. 


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Reflaluating Design Thinking

It's an ugly word, but it's mine:
reflaluation - that process which both evaluates and allows for reflection on an experience.
It implies that we find the value in, and also find ways of curating the salient artifacts of the experience. To that end I hope to record the experience of my foray into leading Grade 8 students in Design Thinking.


Maker Kits
As with most things in teaching, one workshop is often enough to inspire activation of a new way of doing things but it does not make an expertan expert make. We (as teachers) are often required to wear the mask of "expert" in the face of the students while being continually aware that we might only understand the process from a distance. It is those who are willing to risk getting it wrong in public who welcome new process into their classrooms without intense study and mentoring. The irony being that so many professional development mandates demand that a teacher indicate how they will immediately apply the expense that has been made to bring in the experts.

I, as you may have read, have recently been exposed to Design Thinking. I am not a Design Thinking expert though I do find that it lends itself to my natural inclinations well and so, perhaps, I am more an expert than I realize. Having been exposed to the vernacular and handed the template it was only a matter of opportunity that would allow for immediate experimentation.

Alberta's Mechanical Systems unit for Grade 8 lends itself well to the #MakerEd movement, and is rich in room for students to thinker and ideate. (not my words)

Fruits of Tinkering
The project (still and always in refinement) was installed in partnership with the Grade 8 teachers who would normally be responsible for this Unit. They, in a sense, partnered with the Learning Commons to go deeper into the mechanics of Design Thinking as they scaffolded the physics of Mechanical Systems. It would be another blog post entirely that would properly address how an entire unit was captured by Design Thinking, what I want to reflaluate here is on one element of what happened that was unexpected: rich partnerships.


In design thinking methodology a student is made responsible for recording and empathizing with another student's ideas. They become active listeners and engagement experts hoping to draw out the best from the person they are listening to. That in itself could be enough but yesterday I noticed something deeper: Trust.

Making groups is common in a classroom, and Design Thinking makes group-work better. There is something that happens in the community though that has inspired me to share; students forge trust.

Under Pressure

Item 1: Students are often asked NOT to work with their friends as they are familiar, too common, and often sources of distraction. In Design Thinking it is possible for students to gravitate to their friends. Where this would normally be something that does not expand a student's experience in this case it is actually an excellent place to start. When you become responsible for your friend's work, and you are asked to represent your friend's work to others in the group there is a loyalty there that means a student who might normally "phone-in" the work is now directly responsible for the way that their friend looks in the eyes of others. Particularly for the boys, but I suspect for all of the students, this addition of risk draws out better work from two friends than you might expect to see, and it also solidifies a relationship between two students.

Item 2: Students might be put into a situation where they are working with someone they would not normally choose to experience learning with, much less speak to. They might be encountering this partner for the first time, and in that experience they are presented to the unfamiliar as being a responsive, engaged, active listener who will stand up and advocate on behalf of their partner who knows that they are not owed this grace given the social context of a middle-school classroom. The amount of trust that this builds between two unfamiliar people; the way that it sets up two strangers to demonstrate the capacity for reliability, loyalty, and friendship appears organically, is not contrived (as it so often is) and is allowed to happen naturally. The authenticity of the experience can bring out the best in the community (in this case the classroom) and creates yet more impetus for employing Design Thinking structure in any and all of the activities which involve collaboration in the classroom.

Written by Tom Currie - Westmount Charter School - Learning Commons

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

We're Back and Looking for Contributors!

It's been a quiet year so far on YYCLC. Settling into middle school has taken a little more of my time than expected. Now that we have had more than half a year pass by, it's time to start firing up the #yyclc engines once again.

We're looking for new and past contributors to share LC stories. Are you connected to a Learning Commons in Calgary and/or surrounding area? Are you willing to share a story from something that happened in your LC? We'd love to hear from you!

If you're interested, please leave a comment on this post with some way to get in touch with you and I will contact you soon!

Some of stories we hope to share from the #NCKodiaks Learning Commons over the next little while are:
  • Community Maker night at Nose Creek School
  • 3D printing in the Learning Commons
  • It take a Community to Build a Learning Commons
I look forward to hearing from some new contributors!

Nose Creek LC in 2016

I have learned that an important part  to having a successful Learning Commons in a middle school requires student involvement. By having the students involved in the decision making process we have created an awesome place for them to learn, create, collaborate and be. 

When we opened Nose Creek School in 2012 ( grade 4-9) we decided that it would be a space for the students of our school. A space for them to want to be, feel comfortable in visiting and place to showcase their work. Not a space to store books, av equipment or teacher resources and definitely not a quiet space. 

We wanted their input. We promoted this to them through announcements and the teachers asked for their input during their T.A. (teacher advisory classes). This created  a lot excitement and suddenly  we had long lists of books, games, and  furniture that was recommend by the students. 

Our learning Commons has many student L.C. Assistants from every grade . They help with book fairs, shelving books, closing blinds, taking care of the  technology and tidying. They are key to making our Learning Commons successful. 

In the future we plan to establish a Student Learning Commons team and maker stations operated and lead by students for students. The Student Learning Commons team will help us come up  with ideas on how to make this an even better space. 

Going into our fourth year, our Learning Commons is still very busy.  Students are there all day and even after school we have a hard time getting them to leave. It is truly “their” space.  
The Learning Commons always has different things to see and do.  Including new books, puzzles, art work (created by the students), board games  and of course the newest, coolest thing - the 3d printer.

By Annette Bennett
Learning Commons Assitant
Nose Creek School

A New Material

A while back we considered purchasing document cameras for our new portables, which led to the inevitable discussion about cost and the evolution of the PVC Doc Cam (post to come). From that, this began!

It was suggested that we post this as an unperfected project by the wonderful Marina Clark... And I couldn't agree more! It would seem that there is endless potential in PVC... (Have you ever googled 'PVC Projects'?).

Here's what we've done: We cut the PVC in 1m and 50cm lengths, purchased connectors, and provided the material to students in structured and unstructured settings.

Structured Tasks: (Shadow Legends; Shadow Play)
Students in the 3rd grade are testing designs and building rooms, hallways, restaurants... One of my favorite moments was when they were "raising the roof" ...  For a light and shadow project, students required a shadow screen (pictures below) which has been hung, propped from the wall, for the past couple of months.
A PVC Yurt.

Students in the 4th grade are working on developing an outdoor classroom; they're studying area and perimeter, among other concepts. The most successful moment during this task was the embodiment of 1 meter squared... Where they understood area by existing within it. Then they created rooms that were 4, 6, or 12 meters squared, getting a sense of scale.

More amazing than the structured stuff is what the kids developed on their own. Leaving the PVC pieces in the LC as a building material, students made giant board games, quiet reading rooms, forts, props (okay, okay, weapons from Starwars... They're pretty cool, though!) and tipis.

Grade 4 Shadow Puppet Legend
What's next? I don't know... The kids may construct soccer nets... basketball nets? A greenhouse? The grade 4 teachers are talking about making a camera obscura with blackout fabric. I don't know! That's why I wrote this post... What else can be made? What else can be done? Anyone want to take this journey with us?

Here are some pictures of what we've done so far:

Starwars props - Can you figure out which is which? 

The breakthrough moment so far came when we connected 2 T connectors together with Zip Ties... It allows the students to connect pipes in any directions and works as a hinge. 

Grade 3 students added material bit-by-bit until they built a room taller than they are. 

That's a restaurant. Clearly. 

Raising the roof! ... It collapsed afterwards, but it was a valiant effort!

Grade One house. If you look closely, you can see the furniture and decorations that line the 'bedrooms'.

Shadow Puppet (Queen sheet)

Prototyping - kids are learning about scale... If this was their classroom the ceiling would be 3 meters tall... Which seems unnecessary!

What's does 6 meters squared feel like?

PVC Storage for PVC pipes!

The shadow screen, not in use.

A collaboratively-built space.