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.

 

 

Advertisements

Ken Robinson: A Demonstration of Ecological Literacy

IMG_0967

Four of the five educators of the Maples Met School at Big Bang 2016 in Orlando. (Will, Michelle, Sara, & Matt. Sopear was holding down the fort in Winnipeg.)

In recent months, I have been tasked, along with four highly skilled educators, to open a second Big Picture Learning school within the Seven Oaks School Division. The Maples Met School housed within Maples Collegiate and has been heavily supported by colleagues at both Maples Collegiate and the original 7Oaks Met School.

Given the newness of our school, we were invited to travel to Orlando and participate in the annual Big Picture Learning conference commonly referred to as Big Bang. The conference offers critical sessions on the components which make Big Picture schools unique, namely sessions related to exhibitions, advisories, internships and the education of one student at a time. All these sessions occur within the foundation of the Big Picture: Relationships, relevance, and rigour.

Not only did Big Bang afford us with outstanding opportunities to make sense of our roles within the life of a student, but it also allowed our small staff to bond and connect with itself. Similarly, we were also able to make powerful connections with the other Met School just down the street. We had tremendous discussions in between sessions, at meals, and in long layovers at dreary airports about experience design, assessment, and how to ensure that our learning environment was both rigorous and vigorous. many of us are also heavily invested in sustainability and ecological literacy, and began discussing how our school might champion these notions.

As part of Big Bang 2016, we were also treated to a talk from Sir Ken Robinson. As most educators are aware, Robinson is famous for a couple of brilliant TED talks and equally compelling books related to learning, schools, and creativity. His most recent book might be one on all of our reading lists. I had seen Robinson a few years ago in Winnipeg and so I was really excited to hear what he had to say.

Robinson was clearly a fan of of Big Picture Learning schools as they focus on the passion of the learner and allow time and space for learners to take control of their own learning. Robinson received the annual Disruptor award from the founders of Big Picture, Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor, with grace and humour.

What was most interesting regarding Sir Ken’s remarks was his focus on the state of the planet and how high the stakes are for our learners. He spoke of the carrying capacity of Earth, how critical soil is in agriculture and how we have essentially destroyed much of it, and he paid special attention to the fact that we need to properly equip young people for the current and impending ecological crisis. Robinson spoke in systems and clearly understood how nature sustains all life on Earth.

FullSizeRender 5

Ken Robinson’s aims for education.

I had never heard Ken Robinson speak this way. Granted, he was his usually charming and hilarious self, but there was a more serious and forceful tone to his message. In most contexts, the audience can be turned off by those who speak truth to power when it comes to our role in the destruction of our planet, but while Robinson didn’t seem to care, he also was sensitive enough to not alienate those who might be annoyed of offended by the truth.

Matt Henderson

This is my criteria of experience for an ecological literacy. It might help us create learning experiences which lead to sustainable communities.

For me, Ken Robinson spoke to our role as educators in terms of equipping our learners with the knowledge and learning experiences that will help them to gain an ecological literacy. It is incumbent on us to help them understand the world around them, to think in systems, to anticipate the consequences of human activity, and to take meaningful action in order to create sustainable communities. I believe this is our role as individual educators, and also as schools.

As we creep towards the beginning of a new academic year, how might we cultivate this ecological literacy within our learners? How can we design learning experiences which help give our learners a fighting chance?