MTS PD Day 2017 – Matt’s Pick

MTS_PD_DAY_2017_FrontEvery year as educators we are fortunate to have one day when we can all get together in order to share ideas, learn from each other, and begin new and exciting projects. I love MTS PD Day — or SAGE — or SAG, or…!

No matter which special area group I attend, whether it is Mathematics, Middle Years, MSLA, ManACE, MSSTA, or any of the other amazing groups of educators, I am always blown away by the incredible knowledge and wisdom possessed by my colleagues throughout the province.

This year, I am attending the Manitoba Social Science Teachers’ Association PD Day. (Although I am still lobbying to change the Social Science part of the group as History is a huge component of the day — and History is not a social science (I digress)). Whether you’re an Industrial Arts teacher, a school principal, a Physical Education specialist, or a Spanish language educator, I think this year’s MSSTA conference has something for all of us. Here’s my pitch:

The Keynote — What can I say?! The folks at MSSTA have secured Stephen Lewis as the keynote speaker. As former leader of the Ontario NDP, the founder of the Stephen Lewis foundation, and of course Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations. If you profess to want your learners to become global citizens, this is a must see keynote from an incredible example of what it means to be a global citizen. He is also the father of Avi Lewis and father-in-law of Naomi Klein, founders of the Leap Manifesto.

Morning Session — A must for the morning session is also the session devoted to Model United Nations. (MUNA.) If you teach Grade 9 Social Studies (Canada in the Contemporary World) or Grade 12 Global Issues, this is essential PD for you. Model United Nations, which takes place every May at CMU is possibly one of the most educative experiences for young people and educators to take part in.

coverAfternoon Session — If you’re a teacher of the History of Canada, the session on Western Canada at War is for you. In this session, the Manitoba Historical Society will provide a free copy of its journal from last year with a resource package. Participants will be asked to help create learning experiences, using the Six Historical Thinking Concepts, so that we can launch these into to the ether. (Psst…the Big Six are part of the Manitoba Curriculum and we have to teach them.)

This is a free resource and an opportunity to jam with other history teachers.

So there’s my pitch! Take it or leave and we’ll see you all out-and-about on October 20th!

Advertisements

Big Bang 2017

IMG_2255

Things got real at the Improv Everything event on Thursday at Big Bang. 

July 24th to 28th marked the second Big Picture Learning conference, Big Bang, that our school has attended. As the Maples Met School opened its doors last year and now is expanding heading into September, this second conference was a brilliant time to connect with friends throughout the BPL network, to engage in deep conversations about student-centered learning, and to begin thinking about what educative experiences we want to create and foster for the upcoming year.

Big Bang is also a time for the faculty at the Maples Met School and the Seven Oaks Met School to get to know each other better and to learn from each other. The host city, St. Louis, was an outstanding venue to connect with themes related to reconciliation (it was hard to ignore the overwhelming celebration of Manifest Destiny), to poverty, and to the arts, innovation, and urban revitalization.

IMG_2254

The Maples Met and the Seven Oaks Met crew kidnapped Greg Young from Project Foundry and hit the streets of St. Louis!

One of the incredible highlights of the conference was the keynote discussion facilitated by BPL Co-Executive director Carlos Moreno with actor/artist/activist Wendell Pierce. Most will know Pierce from his incredibly impactful role in what might be considered the best television programme ever created, HBO’s The Wire.

DF1BSO6U0AIOcdN

Photo form Big Picture Learning featuring Carlos Moreno on the left and Wendell Pierce on the right.

Pierce spoke at great length about his experience growing up in New Orleans and how this shaped the work that he does now. His message, bathed in historical thinking (be leery of those who ignore history), emphasized a need for social entrepreneurship, collective resistance, and a need for our schools to nurture the knowledge and historical thinking required to confront the very real forces determined to maintain an inequitable control of resources and the means of production. (Pierce did claim to be a capitalist and argued that “real” capitalism would create some sort of social justice through innovation. I wish there was time to have challenged this, as capitalism at its core is about the exploitation of resources, both human and natural.)

DF50kJBU0AA4VbZ

Image created by Rachel Brian, an artist from Providence who created incredible pieces of art representing our discussions throughout the week. You can check her work out at: http://www.blueseatstudios.com

What was striking about Pierce’s positioning was one particular sentence: “There are those who do not have our best interests at heart.”

This sentence, which he used with intention throughout his conversation with Carlos, was perpetually scaffolded by linking cause and consequence of historical events and forces. (A brilliant example of the use of the Historical Thinking Skills.) The past 500 years of European oppression, imperialism, and genocide has created deep trauma and deep chasms in how we treat each other on this continent.

Pierce created a clear line of historical reasoning as he linked recent events in Ferguson and the ubiquitous murders at the hands of police in the United States to centuries of oppression. (Let’s not pretend that this profound marginalization has not and does not happen north of the 49th parallel. Canada just might be better at covering such marginalization up.)

From government, government agencies, corporate interests, and a constant desire to maintain the status quo, Pierce succinctly articulated the dark clouds which prevent many within our society from achieving self-actualization. (And I am absolutely checking my white, male, European privilege and understanding that I might be a cog in this oppression.)

If we bring things back to the local, what are the examples in Winnipeg and Manitoba where people most certainly do not have the interests of our learners at heart? Might it be with city zoning failures, the failed attempts to inquire into missing and murdered indigenous women, the elimination of funding to women’s shelters, the lack of desire to service railways to the north but to support further beautification of urban parks, or the elimination of lactation consultants and other essential health services?

These are attacks on our community’s best interest and the antidote is where Big Picture schools, or Met schools, are well positioned. With our focus on relationships, relevance, and rigour, our mission is to fundamentally expose our learners to how their lives have been interwoven in a complex trajectory and to question their purpose on this planet and this universe. That’s why we leave to learn, that’s why we connect them with powerful mentors in the community, and that’s why we base everything we do on critical ways of thinking and deconstructing powerful existential problems and questions.

As a faculty at the Maples Met School, many of our discussions leaving the conference in various airport lounges were based on empowering our learners — empowering them, as Pierce suggested, “to exercise their right to self-determination.” The challenge, as it always is, is to know as the adult when to shut up, step out of the way, and let the learner drive her inquiry and purpose.

This is the magic of BPL and student-centered learning — placing the interests and passions of the learner before anything else.

 

 

Big Picture Learning and the Autism Spectrum

2542582474_7d6d27790c_oA group of educators, including myself, was invited last year to help create the second BPL school in Canada. There are two Met Schools now in Canada and they happen to be in Winnipeg in the Seven Oaks School Division. Our new school, the Maples Met School, began in September 2016 and it has been a brilliant experience.

One of the fascinating trends we have noticed as a faculty is that learners on the Autism Spectrum have gravitated to our model. Our neighbouring school (and our heroes for mentoring us this year!), the Seven Oaks Met School, has also noticed this trend. While this has been really exciting, I was underprepared and we needed to do some action-research on the fly.

I have taught Canadian History for the past number of years at an independent school, so coming into a brand new Met School with such diversity has been incredibly rewarding and challenging. That’s not to say that many of us have not encountered learners on the Autism Spectrum in our career, but within BPL schools and the Seven Oaks School Division, inclusivity is a central tenet.

tTJ7-ALo

Karen Hiscott, Principal of Constable Finney School

Having said this, we had a tremendous amount to learn. By January, we were feeling pretty overwhelmed and we were equally frustrated at our collective inability to properly serve these incredible students. By chance, as things generally go, I attended a regularly scheduled monthly administration meeting.  At this meeting, a colleague of mine, Karen Hiscott, who was then the principal of Governor Semple School (She has moved on to be the Principal at Constable Finney School) was speaking to her research she had/has undertaken for her Master’s Degree thesis.

Karen spoke about how she had some profound experiences working with students on the Spectrum and this led to her line of inquiry and passion for working with learners with Autism. I immediately clung to Karen’s passion and wisdom and asked her to meet with our faculty to present some of her findings. Because she is awesome, she immediately offered her time and expertise.
She pointed us to several resources, but one of the most profound might be Barry Prizant’s book Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism. Karen’s research and Dr. Prizant’s book gave me a completely different understanding of Autism, where our learners might be at, and how our school might better nurture the amazing gifts and enthusiasms that our learners possess.
Through Karen’s research and dedication and Dr. Pizant’s years of experience, the Maples Met began and has begun to create an environment and educative experiences which seek to honour all our learners and also to nurture and respect those students on the Autism Spectrum.

We have failed many times and have had a few victories here and there, but one thing is for certain: Big Picture Schools are indeed ideally designed for learners on the Autism Spectrum.

At this year’s Big Bang (The Big Picture Learning network annual conference), I invite you to join our school in a conversation about how we create learning communities that are inclusive to all students. We will be sharing the voices of some of our students and their families about what has worked at our BPL school and what has not.

If you do decide to join us on July 26th at 1:30 pm (You can register using Guidebook), here are some resources that might prove valuable in preparation (Thanks to Karen Hiscott, Jennifer McGowan, and Dr. Tomy):

Prizant, B.M. (2015). Uniquely human: A different way of seeing autism. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Quek et al. (2012). Co-occurring anger in young people with Asperger’s Syndrome. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol 68(10), pp 1142-1148.

Simone, R. (2010). Aspergirls: Empowering females with Asperger Syndrome. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Assessing Ecological Literacy: Dispelling the Hunch

June is often a stressful time at public schools throughout the world. Educators can be seen scrambling to finish their assessment of student growth, development, and transformation following ten months of intense and rigorous study. Coupled with this, learners are often placed in highly stressful situations whereby they are asked to empty their brains onto a piece of foolscap paper, sitting in cold gymnasiums.

More often now, learners are madly trying to finish up project work, hurriedly putting the final touches on public exhibitions, and/or wrapping up their intense internship experiences.

However a particular school is designed, June can be intense and chaotic. And all of this frantic activity has one goal in mind: to summatively assess the growth and development of learners in a meaningful and authentic way.

What is often not assessed, however, is the one skill that may be most important skill of our time — the ecological literacy of our learners.

While we place heavy emphasis on numeracy, language literacy, we seem unable to assess one’s ecological literacy — that is one’s ability to see the Earth as the very thing which sustains life combined with one’s desire and ability to take meaningful action. (See attached infographic.)

Matt Henderson

Assessing for an ecological literacy is a perplexingly difficult endeavour, and it’s one that I have struggled with for my entire career. But it is also an opportunity as a community of educators to think deeply about the skills and attitudes required to compete against  those who are hell-bent on destroying the planet.

Given our our seemingly insurmountable task of overcoming these destructive forces and to some degree a general societal malaise, how do we teach and assess for an ecological literacy? What are these skills and values we are attempting to impart, and when do we know when someone has indeed become ecologically literate?

For educators, whether teachers, parents, older siblings, homeschoolers, etc., these are exciting times!

David Orr, the American academic who coined the term Ecological Literacy, suggests that someone who is indeed ecologically literate needs to have an understanding of basic concepts such as the laws of thermodynamics, energetics, carrying capacities, environmental ethics, etc.

At a content level, we are able to assess whether someone has developed at least some sense of an ecological literacy. For instance, we can determine to what extent a student is aware that energy/matter cannot be created or destroyed. This has huge implications, as those who are aware of the first law of thermodynamics understand why burning fossil fuels has its limit and they begin to understand the notion of externalities. We can assess as to one’s understanding of carrying capacity and systems thinking. We can assess as to whether one can determine what is right and wrong when making decisions about our environment.

The change in behaviour comes with creating educative experiences which cause disequilibrium within the learner. The more learners are able to question their role within the universe, the greater questions can be elicited about human existence on this planet. This is a different type of assessment – one which involves a dialectic and democratic conversation between educator and learner and one that is authentic. We don’t have to look into a crystal ball to see if a learner has been impacted by a deep educative experience and a meaningful relationship within a learning community if the design is sound.

A few years ago, my friends Pauline Gerrard and Dean McLeod and I had the idea of creating an educative experience for young people at the IISD’s Experimental Lakes Area. This intense whole ecosystem field course for High School students has most certainly impacted the learners who have engaged with the ecosystem, the world-class scientists, and the quiet conversations around campfires or in the middle of a lake.

But the experiences don’t have to be as intense, so long as we are equipping learners with the tools they will need in order ask deep and powerful existential questions and as long as the experiences are designed with purpose. This type of learning arguably occurs outside of the confines of a traditional classroom and leads to curiosity, inquiry, and praxis.

To assess this questioning and praxis, we then need to create learning environments which allow for a horizontal conversation about our role on this rock hurtling through space. This is the heart of assessment and a pathway towards an ecological literacy and a better future for all species and systems.

DoNow: Canada 150

Welcome to our friends from Cape Breton! This week, the Maples Met School hosts our new friends from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia and then in June, our Metsters will be head to the East Coast.

We have some really exciting activities planned for the upcoming week, including experiences at the Manitoba Museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg Harvest, The Forks, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Upper Fort Garry, the Royal Aviation Museum, and much more!

One event will situate us at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. On Thursday, March 16th, the Walrus, a Canadian magazine which looks at current affairs, literature, and general interest articles, is hosting a discussion series called We Desire a Better Country. The event is sold out, but we have managed to secure a few tickets!

150map-medium-crop-alpha.png

Image from the Walrus Magazine

This is a really profound proposition and this week we would like you to contemplate a couple of things. First, in light of Canada 150, what has been the impact of Confederation on both Nova Scotia and Manitoba? What have been the causes and consequences of Confederation in both provinces and how has it impacted people, the land, the ecology, and how each province governs itself?

Secondly, looking at the continuity and change of each province, how might we construct a better Canada? What do we mean by better and for whom?

In your groups of four, you need to respond in the following ways:

  1. On Monday, begin to create a skit, song, or performance of any kind which answers the two questions above. (We will provide you time throughout the week to work on this.)
  2. Elect a person from your group to attend the Walrus talk on Thursday.
  3. Each group needs to respond to the questions using FlipGrid. Each member can provide a response, or all four members can create one.

On Friday, March 17th, groups will be able to present their performances at our potluck dinner at the Maples Met. If you are using social media throughout the week, please use the following hashtag: #DoNowCanada150.

We will be posting photos, tweets, and FlipGrid responses throughout the week, so be precise, be courteous, and be thoughtful. As you venture from place to place, be sure to collect evidence for your responses. (Hint: Take pictures, write notes, post photos, Tweet links, etc.)

You can follow the Maples Met on Twitter and Instagram