Reflection on Ken Robinson’s TED talk

Here are the points that I didn’t want to forget.

Three principles on which humans flourish

1. “Human beings are naturally different and diverse” –> diversity vs. conformity

2. Curiosity “children are natural learners” –> encouraging curiosity vs. stifling curiosity

3. “Human life is inherently creative” –> creativity vs. standardization

Three things that high performing school systems do

1. “individualize teaching and learning”

2.”attribute a high status to the teaching profession”

3.”divolve responsibility to the school level to get the job done”

Other notable quotes and concepts

“teaching is a creative process”, “the whole point of education is to get students learning”, “teachers facilitate learning”, “testing should support learning not obstruct it”

“education is not a mechanical system, it’s a human system, it’s about people”

Watch the video yourself

OK, that’s one big photo…let’s not get carried away here. How does one re-size a link?

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What does my classroom look like: beta version

I’ve been wanting to put down in words a description of the classroom I would like to have as a teacher.  I especially want to collect, post, and reflect on my ideas before my first year of teaching (starting September 2013), so I could read your feedback, be more purposeful in planning, and document how my ideas have changed after a year of teaching.  If you have the time to read my post, please feel free to share your thoughts with me.  After all, I’ve heard “a word to the wise is sufficient”.  Now I just need to find someone wise to read your comments…how hard can that be.🙂

Purpose of teaching

My ultimate goal (subject to revision) as a teacher is to engage students in learning.  There are at least three characteristics of learning that are important to share with your students through your teaching. 1) Learning is fun, 2) We can become more skilled at learning, 3) Learning is a continuous process (it does not start and end with a class or school year or school career). I was going to include, “learning should not be graded, it should only be documented”, but I’ll leave that out for now.

Skills students need for their future

I recently went to the Connect 2013 conference (May 6th & 7th) in Niagara Falls.  I kept hearing from different presenters how educators need to focus on four competencies, or seven competencies…depending on the presenter.  The four skills that students need for growing up in the 21st century are communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

Of the four skills, I think that teachers are typically only assessing (and therefore valuing) critical thinking.  The other three are somewhat valued, but can be difficult to assign a grade to…so creativity, for instance, is paid lip service but does not show up on a report card.

I am interesting in creating a classroom that promotes these four skill sets and assesses them in conjunction with the curriculum outcomes.  I’m not pretending that this will be easy, or that I even fully understand what this might look like, but I have some ideas.


This is an area of personal conflict for me and (I imagine) many educators.  The political powers and to a large degree the education system operate and communicate student ability with grades.  However, I believe a focus on grades hinders students from focusing on learning.

On the other hand, I value feedback.  So my solution is to use collections of student work throughout the school year as evidence that students have met the curriculum outcomes.  The collections of student works could be group projects, presentations, traditional tests, blog posts, videos, essays, storytelling, etc.  I plan to use both a physical portfolio in the classroom and an electronic portfolio in the form of a student blog.  I will provide students with feedback on their assignments, but not marks.  Through their blog, students will receive feedback from other students, parents, and educators (hopefully around the world).

Throughout the semester, I hope to build the students’ ability to grade their own work (designing and discussing rubrics together and practice assessing each other’s work) and collaborate with them to create a “meaningful” grade for their mid-term report card and also for their final report card.

Characteristics of my classroom

Since I don’t know exactly what subject areas I will be teaching next year, I am going to pretend that I am teaching a high school physics class.  Most of my ideas can be transferred to another subject and another age group, but I need somewhere to start.

Physical Environment

1) Tables that students can sit at in groups, tables to stand at as well.

2) Chairs that are comfortable and adjustable, carpet floors so chairs don’t make loud noises when they are moved around into different configurations (individual work, small group work, class discussion circle, etc).

3) Reading area with a science magazine rack, iPad or electronic reader, couch, lamp

4) Video projector to share electronic media with the whole class

5) iPad (or equivalent) for Skyping other educators, experts, or students into our class

6) Wireless network with large bandwidth to support devices that student bring (BYOD) to learn with

7) Slow motion camera…because physics is even more amazing in slo-mo

8) Room on the classroom walls for student work

Non-physical Environment

1) Inquiry, project based, group and individual learning

2) Feedback only for formative assessments

3) Student designed classroom rules (regarding behaviour issues)

4) Physical and online portfolios to document learning

5) Show and Share Fridays…where we get together in a circle and listen to group presentations, discuss current issues in science, and talk about physics! (Students can bring drinks and/or we can brew some coffee and tea)

So there are some of my ideas for next year.  What do you think?

If you haven’t already read Taylor’s Proposal for how teachers could educate, you should.

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Rote learning and standardized testing

I just finished reading “How do Finnish kids excel without rote learning and standardized testing?“, by Erin Millar in the Globe and Mail.  It made me consider how much we value teaching and testing individuals rather than teaching and testing groups of people.  If two of the skills students need for the future are communication and collaboration, then perhaps there ought to be more group discussions and projects in schools.

My favourite quote from Dr. Hargreaves is, “Instead of measuring what we value, we have got stuck in valuing what we can easily measure.”  I’m sure Einstein would agree.

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Metaphor for learning in my classroom

I don’t actually think I have all the answers.  For instance, I don’t really know if grades are all bad, but I suspect so.  It’s fun to try on an opinion that you think just may be right.  It’s like shopping for clothes.  You see ideas on racks all around you.  Some ideas you know don’t fit on you, but some do.  Some new ideas look so good, that you just have to try them on and wear them around the store…looking in the mirror, asking other people in the store what they think, before deciding if you’ll commit to the idea and use it outside in front of everyone.  The classroom is like the clothing store.  I hope we all feel free to try on new ideas, at least for a while until we can decide what to do with them.


Picture has been modified from Makaipinsoa under w:en:Creative Commons

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Encouraging Student Motivation

So here’s the setup.  I was given an opportunity to design my own learning experience in a class based on participatory research in science education.  As a teacher interested in the motivation of students, I decided to try out a few ideas I had about student motivation in education.

Hypothesis: Students are motivated by personal choice (the ability to choose specifically what they are to learn), by “presenting” their work on a larger “stage” (like posting their work online for other people’s feedback), and by removing the distraction of grades (free to focus on the learning process and discover intrinsic motivation).

First, I would like to recognize that these three motivational conditions are only a few of the conditions that I believe set the stage for helping students feel motivated to learn.  I only wanted to focus on three so that I could think deeper about their specific effects.  So here are my reflections from the past semester.

What I did (or my professor did) to set up the three conditions for motivation

The professor offered a large amount of control of the learning experience to the students.  I was able to choose exactly what I wanted to research (based on science education) and how I wanted to do it.  I was also allowed to decide on how I would share my research and learning experience and how I would be assessed.

1. The professor allowed me to choose exactly what I was going to learn.

2. I decided to post my learning process on my blog to show how I was learning and to get feedback from people around the world (potentially).

3. I decided to minimize the negative effects of grades by creating a pass/fail rubric where a pass would result in receiving a mark equal to my current grade point average.  The rubric outlined how I would show critical reading, reflective writing, deep thinking, and conscious action.  I designed a student contract detailed the types of things I would engage in throughout the semester.

What effect did three conditions have on my motivation to learn

1. As a student, being able to design my own learning environment was very motivating and empowering.  And because I was already interested in the motivation of students, I did not find it difficult to outline the types of things I would be doing to learn about motivation.  I feel that my past year at university (especially a class on assessment) and my new found purpose in learning (learning to become a better teacher) primed me to be motivated by personal choice.

If I would have been assigned a specific topic to research and didn’t care about what I was learning, I would only put out the minimum effort.  This describes a large chunk of my education.  To get by, I’ve learned how to jump through the hoops and play the education games.  I know how to take effective notes, write a decent essay, ask questions when I don’t understand, cram for a quiz or test, guess on T/F, multiple choice, and matching.  But my skill in winning at school should not be confused with an underlying motivation to learn.  The education gaming skills are more like survival skills.

Some of my classmates found this personal choice freedom and responsibility a bit uncomfortable at first.  For some, it was intimidating to come up with a semester long concept or item to research.  I imagine that giving students personal choice in smaller amounts (for smaller lengths of time) may help students build up to a semester-long, self-guided assignment.

2. First, I would change the wording of this motivation condition to “document learning” instead of “present learning” (concept from Dean Shareski).  It is better to document the process of learning than to focus only on a snap shot of the “final” day of learning.  Measuring learning is perhaps one of the greatest mistakes we make as educators.  How does that sit with you…try it on and let me know.

At the start of the semester, I was apprehensive.  I thought blogging and tweeting would be a giant time black-hole, like facebook. But both tweeting and blogging turned out to become powerful tools in my learning process.  At first, I was not very motivated to share my ideas on a blog for all to see.  I wanted everything to be perfect (like a presentation) because it was going to be released into the Internet and could never again be retracted.  This made everything I did even more time consuming.  But after a while I starting to lower my “final project” mentality and embraced the “this where I am so far” mentality.  I started to feel freer to post ideas and became more efficient with time.

After getting connected to other educators and classmates, I started getting comments (feedback) on my blog and starting interacting with them on their blogs or twitter.  Very soon, I began to see the potential for sharing ideas and resources.  And now, I feel like it’s been worth it.  I am now motivated to post my ideas online as a way to learn more efficiently and to gain a world perspective.

3. Grades still motivated me to do school work.  I had two classes that were focused on grades, and two that de-emphasis grades.  When the deadlines for my physics labs came up, I set aside the work in the non-graded classes to focus on the grade game.  I found it very difficult to deal with one class without grades and one with grades during the same semester.  This has made me re-think the dream of teaching high school without grades when other teachers hang on to grades.  I think it would have to be school-wide policy or I would stick with using grades.  I fear that under stress, my students wouldn’t bother doing their work for my class.

There may be a kind of compromise, by de-emphasising grades, but this would require some skill.  The alternative school that Shauna (one of my mentoring teachers) teaches at does not give students or parents grades, even though they do compile grades for the provincial government.  I’ve also heard of teachers collecting evidence of learning throughout the semester and allowing students to decide (under the guidance of the teacher) what grade they deserve for the course.  Perhaps someday we will use documentation of learning (maybe through a blog) as a way to show what students know and what students can do.

Some of what I am taking away from this learning experience

Take care in how you set up your classroom.  Your philosophy of education is important.  Learn how to create an environment that supports their motivation for learning.

Take care in how you teach.  Your teaching skills and strategies will take you far.  Use your teaching ability to engage your students when their motivation is not enough.

Get rid of grades and focus on feedback.  If you have to give grades, only give them on summative assessments and a very few formative assessments. Decide on how things are going to be mark together as a class.  Maybe someday documenting your student’s learning will replace report cards and be used to get into university and receive bursaries instead of using grades.

Give students choice in what and how they learn.  Connect your students to other people outside of the classroom and gain a broader source of feedback and expertise.

What do you think?  Let me know.

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Partial Book Review: Feel-Bad Education

FBEcoverFeel-Bad Education (by Alfie Kohn) is a discussion on different educational issues that stem from Alfie’s philosophy of teaching.  The book covers many topics including: what students learn, creating non-readers, motivating students, rubrics, student feelings, competition, national standards, cash incentives, etc.  I will only highlight a few of the ideas in this post.

On the topic of student motivation, students enthusiasm and likelihood of learning are positively linked to student interest and choice in what and how they are learning.  On the negative side, students become less interested in things they are forced to do.

Here’s the tricky thing about motivation in education: you can only truly motivate yourself.  However, you can support or help revive the intrinsic motivation within your students.  This concept is of great interest to me, and I feel like the answer to creating a motivation-friendly environment is of great worth.  On the flip side, you can quite easily destroy your student’s motivation.

On the topic of grades, students “tend to think less deeply, avoid taking risks, and lose interest in the learning itself” (p.100) when they are subject to grades.  I have found this to be generally true over my 22 years (13 in school, 9 in post secondary) of learning as a student.  I would just add that “good” students figure out the “game” that is our educational system.  Eventually, you can learn to be a good note taker, essay writer, studier, and test taker, and lose the real joy of learning.  Being good at school sometimes means giving up at getting good at learning.  I hope to help change that.

(Picture of book cover from

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Partial Book Review: Emotions in Education

EmoEdI had thought that “Emotions in Education” (edited by Paul A Schutz and Reinhard Pekrun) was the book my professor had recommended me to read, but it turns out she recommended “Feeling Power – Emotions and Education” (by Megan Boler).  So I guess I should remove “pays attention to details” from my resume.

In any case, here is a brief summary: a collection of articles on different people’s emotions (student and teacher) and the issues and research surrounding those emotions in the education setting.  Emotions like anxiety, anger, hopelessness, shame, boredom, enjoyment, hope, pride, etc.  As a society we are largely unaware of the role emotions play in education.

I can’t possibly cover everything in this book in my blog post, so I will just say the one thing that I found interesting.  On a side note, if you want to read this book, make sure you have a degree in psychology or equivalent…because there’s a lot of technical data, models, concepts, and jargon.  Most of the true worth of this book went over my head.

Around pages 109 – 110, under the heading Motivation and Affect, the author explains Achievement Goal Theory.  Basically, goal orientations “provide a framework for interpreting and reacting to events”.  Why do student’s engage in achievement behaviours?  Suggestion 1) mastery goal orientation (developing one’s competence) and suggestion 2) performance goal orientation (demonstrating one’s competence).  The school environment has a large effect on which goal orientation the student chooses.  So if your school emphasises developing student competences, then you would expect to see more value placed on processes, reflection, activities, etc.  If your school emphasises demonstrating student competence, then you would expect to see more value placed on tests, presentations, performances, etc.

The resulting student experience from the two methods:

Mastery (developing) – You feel good if you begin to be relatively competent and if you have not yet or you are a long ways off from competency, you realize that it’s because you’re not trying or don’t have the support.

Performance (demonstrating)– You compare yourself with others (fellow classmates) and either feel good or sad depending on where you see yourself.  Inherent in this model, 50% of the class underperforms the other 50% of the class.  On one hand anxiety results, on the other pride and elation.

When Learning is the goal, then everyone can win.  When Performance is the Goal, winners win big, losers lose big.

(Picture of book cover from

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