Collaborative Inquiry

I’ve been lucky to work with a group of engaged, forward thinking, learning professionals recently and for an extended period of years.  Collaborative inquiry is the way we work.  We’ve been forging a new path at our mid-sized high school that empowers students to engage in their own inquiries and independent studies.  We think together, read together, talk together, plan together and teach together.  Oh, and we have fun together, too.

We’re a pretty diverse group of individuals.  But we share a common idea and we dig pretty deeply into it to nurture it and make it grow.  We’re proud of our program.  It’s been a journey – and one that I hope to continue.

This article is an easy read that outlines the conditions that are necessary for professional growth through collaborative inquiry.  Have a read!

Collaborative Inquiry:  empowering teachers in their professional development

Final Exams – Do they support learning?

Exams have evolved over recent years.  It wasn’t long ago that every academic grade 12 subject was concluded with  BC government-issued exam.   Teachers were clear about the “pressure to teach to the exam”.  Students were stressed by having to study for an exam that was heavily content based.  Little was revealed about deep student learning or their ability to create meaning.

But some teachers continue the tradition of final exams because that’s what’s always been done.  Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools in West Van, outlines this well in his blog entry (well worth cruising through his whole blog, by the way).

It’s time to assess assessment!  Final exams are one very narrow way to assess student learning.

Improving Standardized Test Scores….

…. doesn’t necessarily improve cognitive abilities.  A new MIT study has found that schools that are very good at improving test scores (labelled “crystallized abilities” in this study) don’t necessarily see the same improvements in abstract or creative thinking (labelled “fluid thinking”).

Improving test scores isn’t a bad thing.  Better Math and Reading abilities can do nothing but help our kids.

AND it’s time for us to focus on improving creativity, inductive reasoning, executive function… fluid thinking.

Creativity and Ken Robinson

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
~Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson is likely best known for a talk I heard at an education conference several years ago.  It has since been featured as a TED talk….  How Schools Kill Creativity.  Have a watch….

Since then, schools have been working hard to figure things out.  I am heartened by some of the stories I hear from schools around BC and all over the world.  The heart of it all?  Listen to the learner and guide their passion.  Take their lead.  They will create something special.

What Do Letter Grades Tell Us About Learning?

Earlier I said that letter grades don’t say much about learning.  Here’s one quick example to get you thinking about that.

A student takes a course and gets the following marks out of 10:

  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 and one missing assignment
  • And then writes the final exam and gets 95%.
  • Assignments = 31/80       Exam = 95/100

Depending on how the teacher thinks about this, the student could get some very different final grades.

  • Some teachers would say that 126/180 is 70%    “C+”
  • Some teachers might put more weight on the exam and come up with a “B”
  • Some teachers might note the growth over time and the fact that the student had mastered the content for the exam – therefore 95%   “A”
  • Some teachers might note the missing assignment and say “incomplete” or “fail”

But what did the student learn?

Flipped Classrooms

The concept of a flipped classroom is not new.  We’ve been talking about it for a few years now.  But there aren’t many teachers who have taken the leap – or should I say the flip….

Here’s the concept.  Traditionally kids go to school, the teacher stands in front of them and teaches, there may be some questions to answer while still in class, and then the kids go home to face their homework on their own.  It just doesn’t make sense.  The teacher is the best source of help there is – a subject matter expert.  So flippers do it the other way around.  The lesson is on a video and assigned for homework.  Class time is spent working individually on problem sets, projects and labs with the teacher helping individuals and small groups who need the help.  The added advantage is that parents can also watch the lesson so they can help their own child more confidently.

Graham Johnson, aka Math Johnson, has flipped his Math classes.  His blog – flipping math – is a great read.  It’s well worth scrolling back and following his journey.