55 million kilometres away, give or take (depending on the time of year), our closest neighbour Mars circles the sun — just like us. Two weeks ago, our species was able to land Insight on it — the seventh rover that is responsible for exploring the Red Planet. (They have not all been successful, because landing a robot on a planet 55 million kilometres away is presumably difficult.)
I’ll admit it. I am completely addicted to this mission. I am constantly checking NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab website for updates on video, images, and now even sound. Here is the sound of wind on Mars, captured by Insight (You will need to use headphones or a sub woofer):
How amazing is this! We landed an object on Mars safely and now we are able to listen to the wind whipping over the solar panels of Insight from 55 million kilometres away! I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind and has me asking deep existential questions.
It was this inquiry — that is the inquiry demonstrated by the NASA team — that truly astounds me and has also directed our professional learning as a faculty. On Friday at the Maples Met School, we engaged with several ideas and scholars, including Yuval Harari, Suzie Boss, and Ken Robinson. We were determined to answer deep questions about our instruction, assessment, and our relationship with each other and our learners.
One of the key questions we asked and discussed was: How do we structure our advisories for inquiry? That is, how do we foster learning environments that have the necessary structures and scaffolds to produce consistent moments of deep inquiry?
And this line of inquiry on our part stemmed from an incredible whole-school conversation led by our learners on Wednesday, where they put forth that they wanted more structure and scaffolding in project work, they demanded greater accountability from each other, and they want to go deeper with their internship projects.
Harari’s latest book, in particular his chapter on Education, provides learners with some charged advice. The advice is essentially to not rely on adults to prepare you for the future and to turn consumption on its head. That is to say to produce new ideas (to create) and not to simply consume them. While with the former advice I take issue with, given that mentors will always be critical to our learning, I believe sustained inquiry – coupled with purpose, and creativity – (all ideas that are interdependent) is the pocket or learning when we prove learners with time and space to create and to sustain their creative investigative questioning. This pocket allows affords us the opportunity to create, rather than simply consume.
And ultimately, this pocket provides us with moments of disequilibrium, elation, and connection to other human beings. It is this last point, that of human relationship, which in my experience is a huge factor in sustaining inquiry. That mentor-mentee relationship is critical to diving deep, creating anew, and flourishing with purpose.
And this is what flourishing with purpose might look like (Grab your cardboard VR viewer:
My Christmas comes in July. (As a European mutt, this pagan/Christian event resonates within my experience as a generally positive one.) As a principal of a Big Picture Learning school in Winnipeg, Canada, I relish the opportunity every summer to head to Big Bang, the BPL conference where educators who care deeply about learner-centred learning come together to exchange ideas, refine our practice, and engage in conversations which focus on creating powerful and educative learning experiences for learners.
At “The Bang”, we don’t speak of test scores, discipline, or timetables. Our shop talk is focused on learners, on advisories of learners, on deep internships which produce rich and authentic opportunities for growth and transformation, and on developing schools and learning environments which seek to foster curiosity, learner agency, and where flourishing young people is our priority. (And learners come to our conference, offer sessions, and even emcee our plenary sessions.)
There are also opportunities for mischief each year, which may or may not result in a group of 600 educators and learners being led by the South Atlanta High School Marching Band through the streets of downtown Atlanta. But this has yet to be confirmed.
— Big Picture Learning (@bigpiclearning) July 25, 2018
If you are serious about impacting young people and providing them with authentic, real-world, and rigorous learning opportunities, you need to visit a BPL or Met School (There are two in Winnipeg) and/or head to Big Bang next year.
Beyond the deep sessions, the Leaving to Learn opportunities, advisory, and the impromptu conversations with outstanding leaders in the field of education, I look forward each year at Big Bang to the deep thinkers from across the world who tend to gravitate towards this conference.
This year I was really excited to see that Ted Dintersmith, the creator of the book and film Most Likely to Succeed, was being honoured by Big Picture Learning. Ted recently published another book, What School Could Be, based on a year of traveling throughout the United States and gathering narratives of what innovative educators are doing in order to prepare learners for a changing world. In this book, Ted argues that the world learners are entering post graduation has nothing in common with how the majority of schools are currently designed.
The industrial model of 1893, which is still alive and well in the 21st century, is not able to prepare learners for a future where climate change is and will impact us all, where technology and AI will make many jobs obsolete and where they will fundamentally change how we live and interact with each other.
Simply put, multiple choice tests, compliance-based curricula, and worksheets will not prepare learners for a world that Ted argues “where machine intelligence excels in manual and cognitive tasks: a world stripped of the routine white and blue collar jobs that are the backbone of today’s society. This is happening faster than we think.” (2018, p. 13).
Coupled with this problem is that our schools also need to prepare leaners for what Henry Giroux, famed educational philosopher and pedagogue, calls in his new book American Nightmare, “manufactured ignorance.” Giroux, who eloquently outlines how the United States has become a fascist state under Trump, speaks to a need to shift education towards deep, critical thought that is based in historical and critical analysis. What we have created in Canada and the United States is an environment where consumerism and self-interest are celebrated, tweeted, and emulated, while racism and intolerance are on the rise. This is all at the expense of the most vulnerable and the planet itself. Destruction has become normalized.
As Dintersmith and Giroux collided in my mind, it reinforced the fact that Big Picture Schools are well-situated to provide learning environments which not only foster the critical and historical thought necessary to combat fascism, but also to prepare learners for an uncertain future. Climate change will create greater instability, human suffering, and as we see, greater frequency of global conflict. Technology will most certainly increase to the point where food, healthcare, transportation, manufacturing and countless other fields will rely on robot power and not human.
The antidote to this manufactured ignorance, a society focused on shortsighted decisions and instant gratification (akrasia), potentially rests in learner-centred schools where the standards of a past century are replaced with a new imperative. Dennis Littky the co-founder of Big Picture Learning, referred to this new imperative at Big Bang as a line of questioning that had young people ask themselves: “What pisses me off?”
Don’t we want learners of all ages to be asking questions about poverty, inequality, climate change, the inequitable distribution of wealth, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, etc.? Big Picture Schools are uniquely designed to allow this space for learners to identify a problem, research its origins and then propose, prototype, and launch meaningful solutions.
We are also in a position to help our learners dive deep into critical issues of justice — be it social, environmental, economic, or otherwise — so that they are able to deconstruct the onset of fascism through an historical and critical lens. Don’t we want learners who are media literate, who care about the planet, who question government policy, and who are actively engaged in creating democratic discourse and spaces? And this is not a Left versus Right discussion. I have many conservative friends who perpetually argue for these elements to be be cultivated in schools.
In order for this to happen, learners need time and space to think, they need the opportunities to engage with experts in the field, they need internship opportunities where they can be mentored by adults with integrity. Their curiosity and passion need to be cultivated and unleashed. Their understanding of the universe needs to be challenged and broadened to create solutions for a better and more just world.
They need to learn skills and mindsets, as Ted argues, that will provide fulfillment in an automated world.
This is not to suggest that my school or any other BPL school has mastered this. Far be it. But at the Big Bang, these are the conversations which I am drawn to. The ones started by Dintersmith and Giroux which are carried out in quiet discussions between passionate educators who wish a better future for the young people who are in our care and who we care for deeply.
In January of 2019, I will be facilitating a theory course on Project-based learning at the University of Winnipeg as part of the Post Baccalaureate programme. This will be followed by the PBL Applied course in Spring 2019. The description is below:
I have had several people contact me regarding how the course will unfold, so I thought I would post this note as a means to clarify some of the details.
This is an online course that is live. We will meet on Tuesdays (beginning January 8th, 2018) from 5:30 pm until 8:30 pm CST via Zoom. While each session will be recorded, members of the group are responsible for attending every Tuesday night. This is not an online course that is static. The advantage of this format is that it provides greater access for more participants while still bringing people together for rich and authentic conversations about how and why we learn. (It also means no winter travel on sketchy roads in the dark.)
Each week, we will engage in readings, guests speakers, virtual field trips, and project work. Participants will be asked to design a project that they can reflect upon throughout the course. Participants will be asked to think, read, listen, write, and speak about the theoretical underpinnings of PBL and about their own practice.
We will use Edmodo as a means for housing our online discussions and course documentation.
Rationale for course
As project-based learning schools become more and more part of the pedagogical mainstream in North America, the need for teacher education in is this area is paramount. While project-based learning can be a powerful platform for authentic learning, transformation, and growth, the danger is that project work is merely activities, teacher-led, or not rigorous. With several PBL schools in Winnipeg, and a desire at all levels, including higher education, to pursue meaningful and educative experiences for learners, a theoretical course on PBL is essential.
This course is designed to offer practitioners a foundational understanding of the evolution of PBL, while examining what we deem an educative experience. Learners will look at a variety of critical issues related to the success of PBL and how PBL manifests itself in various contexts.
At the end of this course, learners will:
- Have explored a variety of different theoretical models of project-based learning
- Will have entered into dialogical discourse as to what is meant by an experience
- Be able to articulate the foundations of project-based learning
- Have conducted an inquiry project whereby they pose a research question, offer an argument, and provide evidence for their rationale
- Articulate how they would theoretically employ project-based learning principles into their own practice
- Describe the process of introducing learners to projects and guide learners to propose and carry out these projects
- Be able to discuss a variety of assessment practices and tools used in project-based learning.
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Pearson, G. (2012). Success, but slowly, as MET School redefines learning. Education Canada, 52(5), 37.
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This week, we have taken a closer look at Chapter 9 in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and we watched Steven Speilberg’s tale of The Amistad. We were shocked to learn that the United States grew from 1000 tonnes of cotton and 500 00 slaves in 1790, to 1 million tonnes of cotton and 4 million slaves by 1860.
We were also struck by how presidents of the United States, when facing reelection, did not want to seem too eager to side with the abolitionist side. The addiction to slavery and the creation of a slave society certainly could be deemed as deep cause for racial tensions, not to mention the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights movement, and the Black lives Matter movement.
Using the criteria for analyzing and determining cause and consequence, how might other historical events played into the racial strife that is the United States?
Below are a few examples of events, movements, pieces of legislation, Supreme Court decisions, and people who may have contributed to the Civil War and racial conflict:
1820 | Missouri Compromise
1831 | Nat Turner’s Rebellion
1839 | The Amistad
1852 | Uncle Tom’s Cabin
1857 | Dred Scott
1859 | John Brown’s Raid
Select one and argue briefly but powerfully how this historically significant event might have been a cause of the Civil War. Be sure to provide both primary and secondary source evidence to support your case and be sure to comment on the arguments of your peers!