#1144 Too Safe?

Can we be too safe?” a parent asked me after learning about our day’s adventure.

We had hiked a long looping trail. During snack the children realized we were high on a ridge just above our starting point. They wanted to take the short, steep direct route back to the start.

Risky play?

What came out of my mouth was the uncertainty about the potential dragons in their caves and the possibility of boiling pits of lava.

What was in my head was the steep, & rocky descent with snow, ice and unknown cliffs as well as my unfamiliarity with that part of the forest. Also, I was well aware I was solo with children under 12 years of age.

The students could guess there were likely no dragons and lava. But while discussing the real risks they started to understand the challenges of the unknown descent. I promised I would investigate the steep forest in the week ahead… and we hiked the long, safe way down.

After more solo exploration during the week I was satisfied we could descend safely as a group. The next week we retraced our uphill expedition and discussed how we could descend safely. We were practicing “risky play.”

Different groups need different levels of support to explore safety and risk. But, if asked to analyze risk, people are usually very capable to assess what is safe for them.

We had a good experience. We weighed the risks and found ways to minimize the hazards. The children practiced the valuable skill of testing their perception and reality of safety.

Regulating Risk
I often see or hear of students denied experiences that offer the ability to develop their self-regulating sense of safety. Managed scenarios can help build self preservation, self awareness and a better ability to stay safe in life.

When I teach at Forest School we talk a lot about risk and safety…
“Can we climb that tree?”
“What do you think?…”

We talk about hazards, risks and what is reasonable. Students usually come to a reasonable conclusion with support and guidance. As we explore more, students get better at assessing risk and regulating their own limits:
“Can I go higher?”
“What do you think?”
“I think this is high enough for me…”

Risk Assessments and Risk Management

Telling vs Learning
A couple of years ago, I picked up my own son from school on our bikes on a cool spring afternoon. I asked him to put on his coat. He told me he didn’t need one. He needed a coat to stay warm. But I said “Ok.” We started riding. He lasted less than a minute before stopping because he was cold. He decided to put on his coat…

Instead of being told he needed his coat, he learned he needed his coat.
Big difference. It’s called experiential education.

Can we, as parents, teachers, educators be too safe?
Hmm. We can teach risk assessment, regulation and safety with careful planning and management of “risky play.”

#1143 Teacher Directed vs. Student Directed Learning – Which is Better?

Recently, I observed a student doing nothing, quietly, in a classroom. I approached to help them clarify, support or initiate their work. To me, it was clear what was going on.  They were BORED.

I confirmed my suspicions through a direct question. I was correct. At this point urging them to complete the assignment does little to help them learn.

Teleport to a different environment where children are playing* on their own terms: Learning happens by default because they’re engaged in something that interests them. They’re experimenting. They’re trying new things and they’re learning.

Learner led learning

* I use the term “playing” with trepidation. Many consider playing to be the opposite of learning: “learning is serious business. Play is frivolous…”  Two thinkers in education – Vygotsky and Sobel suggest play grounds learning.

Vygotsky suggests children learn significantly through social interactions. Most commonly, social interaction for children includes play.

David Sobel suggests there are seven kinds or motifs of play. Like Vygotsky, Sobel places much emphasis on significant learning through play.

Anecdotes from prominent people also suggest the validity of play as a conduit to learning:

In ‘Boy‘ his childhood memoir Roald Dahl confesses of only two memories from his formative kindergarten learning days.  “I can remember oh so vividly how the two of us used to go racing at enormous tricycle speeds down the middle of the road and then, most glorious of all, when we came to a corner, we would lean to one side and take it on two wheels.”

His description is of play but learning underlies the experience: balance, fine motor control, social skills, risk analysis.

Steve Nash, NBA superstar and multiple time MVP said “I’ve worked very few days of my life.

Again, through persistent play Nash became incredibly talented and successful at his niche skill – basketball.

I play, teach and learn one day a week at Forest School. Through recent observations of students’ play with rope I experimented with learner led and teacher led learning.

I often have rope in my Forest School pack – it’s a versatile and practical tool that has many uses. A student became interested in using the rope to help her get up a tree. After some initial student investigations she started asking about pulleys. I developed two scenarios – a teacher directed “lesson” about the benefits of pulleys and some unstructured rope/pulley play time – for the students. I observed and learned.

The “Lesson” (ie Teacher Directed)
To demonstrate the benefits of pullies and rope I set up a “three-to-one” and “one-to-one” pulley system. I suggested students haul a weighted toboggan to experience the differences in pulley systems. Students followed the directions and successfully completed the challenge. There was no enthusiasm and little further exploration occurred.

Teacher directed lesson

The “Play” (ie Student Directed)
I dismantled the climbing equipment and left it for the students to investigate as they wished. Slowly, the real learning began. The “pulley student” picked up some equipment and started experimenting (playing) with building her own system. She built, with assistance, an elevator contraption to haul her friend up a tree.

Another time students initiated play with toboggans and the climbing equipment. They attached ropes to toboggans and started playing. From an educational perspective I observed practical use physics, forces, ropes and social problem solving skills being learnt with far more enthusiasm than my lesson. The students also spent far more time with their self directed “play” than with my lesson.

Student directed learning

Observing these different learning scenarios (teacher vs student led) confirmed the power of play. The teacher directed scenario (3:1 & 1:1 pulley toboggan) had value but students quickly lost interest. The other two, student led scenarios captivated students for significantly more time. Because of play their interest was sustained. Greater and more significant learning happened.

I see both pedagogical platforms – teacher directed and learner led / play based scenarios – have value.

Teacher directed environments allow students to be able to replicate information deemed important by others. However, the risk and possibility of limited retention, disengaged students, and increased misbehaviours is much higher in a traditional teacher led scenario.

Student directed play and learning increases engagement, flexible directions and social development of ideas.The risk of missing specific elements of a curriculum expectation is easily possible if the student’s interest veers away from the mandated curriculum material.

There is great potential for enormous learning if the learner led model is supported by  arms-length support from the teacher to provide connections and culminating summation of concepts. The interest, intrigue and final outcome can be so much more significant if play is initiated and followed through by the students.

My reflection and growth in education leads me to more questions:
• I ponder the correct balance of learner led and teacher/school board/ministry directed curriculum.
• Is there a danger of too much student directed learning?
• Will students miss important, foundational learning – base math, elements of literacy – because individual students lack interest?
• Or will they naturally find a need for a rounded education on their own?
• How much influence should the teacher project onto the learning canvas of the students?

#1140 Losing Recess

A friend was upset recently that his elementary-aged student lost recess time for minor misdemeanors in the classroom.  He was upset. I would be, too. Why do kids lose recess? It’s complicated…

Children need time to play, run and explore in unstructured ways. Often, that means recess.

If the child is like me, sitting still in rows and quietly learning, is purgatory. Moving, exploring and learning through experiences is how I learn best. Taking some of that away – even just one recess – creates more stresses than successes. Thankfully classrooms and schools are changing from past norms.

Schools from the past often placed students quietly in rows where they were supposed to diligently do their work, quietly. Some suggest ‘modern’ school was an industrial idea to prepare workers for factories.

Luckily this thinking is changing.

I still hear of instances of active children who are denied recess for misbehaviours. In my mind, ‘busy’ children should receive double recess for misdemeanors. Disallowing active free play can escalate challenges.

Reducing Misbehaviours
I currently teach a little bit of Forest School. What draws me to their learner led philosophy? Students lead the learning. Kids are engaged and active because they follow their passions. Teachers build the curriculum around the student interest. Consequently, there are very few mis-behaviours to manage.

learner led learning

Following student interests keeps them focused on learning.

What’s going on with some kids in traditional schools?
I teach mostly in traditional classrooms. Misbehaviours happen. Recently, I sat beside a boy who had consumed much of my attention as I got the class going. He squirmed and disrupted those around him. I looked at him. “You’re bored aren’t you?” He looked at the floor and nodded his head. Instead of threatening a consequence – like taking his recess – I asked what he wanted to do. We worked a way to combine his interests with curriculum elements. Happily for all, his behaviour improved.

Why teachers take away recess.
Teachers threaten students with losing recess, I believe, because they’re often strapped for time, energy and need a quick way to keep a student in line. Although it’s short-sighted, some teachers have their limits and, despite best intentions, resort to recess loss as a way to keep the class moving forward. Without an outlet or release, the student’s behaviours can escalate and create more challenges.

What others say about recess and taking away recess:
The Atlantic offers discipline research, suggestions and alternatives to taking away recess:

Education Weekly suggests the practice of taking away recess is declining and offers support for recess.

The Huffington Post cites findings on the subject from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Two alternatives to losing recess:
1. Differentiate.
This is education lingo for meeting all students where they are. It means keeping all students interested in learning whether they are at grade level, or way behind or way ahead. Keeping all students interested will help reduce unwanted behaviours. It’s the ideal in classrooms.

However, differentiation takes planning, insight, resources (time and $) and experience.

It also means teachers need to account for students who are chronically hungry or have a stomach ache or who live with a single parent who struggles to make ends meet. Sometimes the behaviours stem from stresses or traumas beyond the context of school. Some students never develop the basic social skills to get along in a school environment.

I have seen classes where one student can consistently derail an otherwise well functioning learning environment. Sometimes, that student has little support at home and may only be operating at the lowest tier of Maslow’s hierarchy. It’s hard to be ready for learning if you’re worried about food or shelter or safety. Which brings me to alternative 2 to losing recess.

differentiate

Keeping students learning means keeping them interested like in this learning environment.

2. More support.
And I mean more support on many levels such as:
Support in the class for students that need it. A good educational assistant is worth their weight in gold. Smaller class sizes help.
Support for families that are struggling. This could mean support for families that do not have the basics of food and shelter… or families that have developed poor coping skills for life’s ills. Support could be for families struggling with loss, mental or physical health challenges, stress.
Support for schools: More teachers, more educational assistants, more people, more time means better student development.

All this support means more big picture $. That’s a big issue that will not always welcome support. However, The CBC documents that money spent on early education / family support goes a long way in saving money down the road.

The NY Times offers research and more research that equates more educational spending benefits society.

The American Prospect suggests that (in the USA) there is a correlation between jails and education: “The lowest-performing schools tend to be in the areas where incarceration rates are the highest.

Would more support for schools and neighbourhoods lead to less need for jails? I think so.

So… taking away recess from misbehaving children?
Think again.

Support schools. Support teaching staff. Support social services. This support will create better lives for all.

#1138 Public School and Forest School Symbiosis

I wandered past the school’s library recently and noticed a young boy happily consuming dinosaur knowledge (and practicing his literacy skills.)

It was an idyllic picture of traditional learning…  except that he had snuck out of class to do so.

Public School and Forest School
Many know I have been teaching something most of my life and that I currently work as a teacher in a public school board and a Forest School. My passions belong to the development of youth – kinders to Grade 6 – as they develop their foundational elements (see Maslow’s foundational levels) that support academic and/or technical skills… and life.

Which is how I have found myself with a foot in both public school and Forest School.

Public School Love
I love the resources available within public schools including experts, funds, policies, and large quantities of people and students percolating to support as many youth as possible.

Forest School Love
I love the pedagogical ideas behind Forest School – specifically the Emergent Education Theory, or, less grandiosely, learner-led learning (LLL.)

Learner led learning allows students to follow their interests and puts the onus on the teacher to build balanced curriculum around the students’ curiosity.

public school

Learner led learning at Chelsea Forest School.

Bring the two ideas (LLL and Public School) together and you have magic.

Remember the dinosaur-reading boy in the school library?
He exhibited idyllic student behaviours – quiet concentration, independent, engaged learning. His behaviour was vastly different when he was expected to engage in a lesson in which he had little interest! In the library, he chose the learner led approach within a school board.

Managing LLL for the masses is no easy task, though. Answering to the individual desires and needs of millions of youth while addressing the data driven expectations of ministries of education and government benchmarks is no small feat.

But, it is possible.

A first step is recognizing that all people are different, learn at different paces and want to learn different things.

A friend’s son struggled at school. He has dyslexia. His school squeezed him into set avenues of learning and support which went poorly. All that interested him were cars – Volvos, specifically.

His mom planted the seeds for his literacy and math development through car manuals, car magazines, Volvo books. He learned traditional academic skills through his passion for cars. What does he do now? He’s a leading Master Volvo mechanic with a happy, fulfilling life. That’s learner led learning in action.

Forest School

Learner Led Learning at Chelsea Forest School – these students were mesmerized by what they found beside the trail. They were captivated (and learning)!

Within the last couple of years I worked regularly with a tough class in a public school board – they pushed my skills. Every lesson was challenging. I dreaded gym class because there were volatile students who could make the learning environment challenging for all.

One day, I came to gym with the prescribed lesson – protests started. I took a deep breath and turned the tables. “What do you want to do!?”

Students shared their ideas. Quickly, the gym transformed into a hub of four activities that students chose to join as they wished. I took a step back and watched. It didn’t follow the plans and I had to work backwards to see how it fit the prescribed curriculum… but all were engaged, smiling… and learning. It was one of the best learning environments I witnessed with the students. They had helped shape their learning environment.

The learners in these scenarios led their own learning with positive results. Good news for all.

Forward steps!
Ottawa Forest and Nature school launched a program to bring Forest School to the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. Select elementary classrooms were selected to go to Forest School one day a week for six weeks.

The effect? Positive. I asked Karen, a Kindergarten teacher whose class were involved in the Forest School program. One of the benefits she noticed was increased creativity in her classroom.

Chelsea Forest School offers a School Day Program where students spend one day per week at Forest School to complement their traditional school. One observation – students who struggle at traditional school often blossom in the hands-on, learner led environment. Why? They learn in an active, kinesthetic way with a different mindset – students are encouraged to follow their passions.

I’d like to see the collaboration continue between the ideas of Forest School and public schools. The tide is slowly turning as people see the benefits, strengths and collaborative potential of public schools and alternative pedagogical principles like Forest School’s learner led learning.

#1134 Upcoming Watershed Events

Follow the Chelsea Creek Watershed with two events this summer. I have explored 20 km of the watershed over the last 16 years. I’ll be sharing some of my experiences at three events:

1. An Adult Forest School evening to explore the Chelsea Creek Watershed and…
2. An Ottawa School of Art photo workshop based on the art of “Watershed.
3. Watershed Art Exhibition – details to come…

Chelsea Creek watershed

Chelsea Creek watershed

1. Adult Forest School Along the Watershed.
Join us the evening of June 15th for a Forest School inspired play date – just for adults.
As a Forest School teacher I’ll lead you on an exploration of a small part of the Chelsea Creek watershed.

Meet at 7pm at Dunlop Picnic Field across from P9 in Gatineau Park.

By starting our adventure at Dunlop we will see three significantly different parts of the watershed. Be prepared for some hiking as we travel up hills and across flat terrain. We will stop to investigate interesting elements of the watershed.

Details:
June 15th; 7pm – 8pm.
Dunlop Picnic Field across from P9 (Meech Lake Rd.) in Gatineau Park.
Cost – Suggested donation $10.
Registration – send me a message – or connect on Facebook – and show up!

Please bring:
• Curiosity and smiles.
• Sturdy, comfortable footwear.
• Lightweight, long sleeve and long pants – ideally a nylon or quick drying variety. Think of gardening clothes. You may come back a little muddier than you started…
• Bug repellent –a citronella based product is effective.
• Water and (nut free) snack.

Chelsea Creek Watershed

Chelsea Creek Watershed

Watershed Photography Adventure and Workshop
Bring your cameras as we will be expanding creativity alongside the Chelsea Creek watershed, a 16 year art project starting in Harry’s backyard. Slowly, “Watershed” has grown into a travelling and expanding exhibition.

Harry Nowell leads this photo/art adventure following in the footsteps of his “Watershed” project following Chelsea Creek through Gatineau Park and Chelsea. On the first evening Harry will briefly discuss his long-term project including inspiration, process, and equipment.

Discussions will include:
• Technical and creative challenges.

We may also discuss:
• Art project development – what it takes to create a body of work.
• Equipment choices and demonstration of large format equipment.
• Opportunities /challenges of traditional, digital, analog and unusual formats.

Practical challenges:
Harry will introduce students to different areas of the Watershed project and guide participants to stretch their artistic practice, whether artistically or technically.

Critique:
Harry will offer critique to the participants on an ongoing basis. Digital cameras will offer the most immediate feedback but other formats are encouraged. Participants may email a small selection of photos for critique after the workshop.

Details:
Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 11, 12, 13
Cost: $300
Register through Ottawa School of Art – scroll down to “S17DAA7:  Creating Photo Artwork on the Watershed”

Prior to formal teaching Harry worked as a commercial photographer and arts teacher for 20 years. He has explored 20km of the Chelsea Creek watershed over 16 years. His photo project “Watershed” currently captures photos on a 22 kg, home-made, plywood camera.

20174x5Watershed

Large Format Photography – Chelsea Creek Watershed

See you soon!
Another exhibition of Watershed artwork is coming up towards the end of June…

#1133 Education Information through Daydreaming

My wife found me standing motionless on our back deck staring at the half built tree house in our back yard. “What’s going on?” she whispered. I was absorbed in the creative process of the design/development of the tree house.

While I have a loose plan in my brain, the design process consumes a lot of creative energy and time to develop the next stages of the project. The process is influenced by research, engineer friends and serendipitous time that allows ideas to percolate.

I’ve used meandering mind process throughout my life while creating:
• stock imagery for the photo stock market
building cameras and developing art projects
• developing lesson / unit plans for students
• exploring my passions and path in education.

treehouse design

Creative play = new ideas

Quiet time with freedom to wander in thought has allowed for many breakthroughs in history.

I often spend time roaming the forest on skis, bikes or on foot and magnificent ideas often present themselves. Sometimes internet meandering opens doors, too. Below are some recent web wanderings in education:

Democratic Learning
People learn well when they are interested in what they are learning. Often I see students in class acting out or staring at the ceiling because they aren’t remotely interested in the lesson on the board. Last week I taught a challenging class with many characters who did not want to be there. In gym I asked what they wanted to do: “Floor hockey, basketball, hula hoops…” So that’s what we did. It was the easiest class of the day – students were engaged (and learning) because they had input and interest.

The Power of Outdoor Learning
I teach, part time, for Chelsea Forest School. We’re outside almost all the time. Students are learning at their own pace in ideas that interest them. It’s magical. I’m sometimes surprised at the learning that takes place when the students lead the learning – my job is to build the curriculum around their interests… I recently asked a traditional kindergarten teacher if she saw any changes in her students after they visited Forest School once a week for six weeks – “Oh yes! Their creativity grows…”

Better Behaviour Management
I often see “undesireable” behavious in elementary students. Understanding and changing the behaviour effectively takes patience and big listening ears. A year or so ago a Grade 4 boy refused to go out for recess. With lots of listening and gentle questions the real reason for his misbehaviour became clear – he was feeling uncomfortable around an overbearing boy at recesses. Connecting with the school support team, parents and addressing the boys’ actions helped resolve the situation while helping everyone save face.

So much to learn!
Our tree house grows, slowly, as I daydream the design. My teaching practice (and photo projects) continue to flourish as my mind wanders…

#1131 Looks Like Learning

As I look back on the last 25 years I smile at some of my adventures: swimming with dolphins in the Pacific, planting a quarter million trees, teaching via skis, camera, classroom and the forest, and GoPro style commercial art years before GoPro existed…

With the adventures came many bumps in the road – both small pot holes and bigger sinkholes that took more extensive extrication.

But everywhere I’ve been (and continue to go) keeps bringing me to similar places – (reasonable) risk taking, progressive education and creativity.

Learning limitations

What Learning Looks Like – Risky Play

Some ideas and people that have always made me smile:

Alfie Kohn – “Kohn’s criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”” (sited from Kohn’s site.)

Ken Robinson – Supporter of arts and progressive educational ideas. He has three relevant Ted Talks.

Learner Led Learning

What Learning Looks Like – Child Led Learning

Chelsea Forest SchoolChild Led Learning for National Capital area children.

Outward Bound – Exploring potential.

Learning takes many forms for many people – an idea that is often overlooked. I keep learning and realizing the potential in and beyond traditional classrooms. And so I’ll keep adventuring…

Multiple intelligences

What Learning Looks Like – Kinaesthetic Learning: learning by doing.

#1130 Forest School

Learner Led Learning

Forests – amazing classroom potential

It seems wherever we go in life we keep circling back to similar themes. I started teaching in the outdoors with Outward Bound in the mid 1990s and am returning to a taste of different outdoor teaching with Chelsea Forest School. The path to now has been an interesting one as my teaching philosophy continues to develop…

At school I excelled within the arts – physics and engineering were far from my core interests… until I needed them for an arts-based application.

About four years ago I wanted to buy a very large format camera to pursue a new part of my Watershed project. The negative from this camera is eight inches by ten inches. It’s a big camera. It wasn’t long before I realized the easiest way to acquire one (they’re expensive and scarce) was to build one myself. All of a sudden, I had a new passion for the physics of light applicable to designing and building a camera…. It made learning easy.

large format camera

Learning math and science through art…

This experience helped shape my philosophy of education.

During Teacher’s College I discovered  Forest School. I started learning about Forest School’s Learner Led Learning philosophy and fell in love with the idea. Why? At Forest School students are the driving force in their learning. Their teachers’ role is to build the curriculum around the students’ interests. Learners learn because they direct the learning… I wangled a way to visit a Forest School as part of my practicum and enjoyed what I saw.

Last year I had a great year. I led a traditional, but active, classroom. For me that meant as little sitting at desks as possible, more spirited debates, less worksheets, more hands-on learning. It wasn’t Forest School but I brought influences from many philosophies to the classroom.

Grade 4 classroom

Traditional Classroom Teaching

I saw the benefits of an active class. One of my students last year had had a tough year the year before. Initially he didn’t want to go to school. By the end of the year all that changed. I received a letter from his home that described the boy as thriving – his desire to skip school had vanished. Active learning has its benefits. Stories like this made me smile (more.)

This year I’m exploring my passions in teaching and enjoying some different contracts / opportunities…

I feel fortunate to be working a contract at Chelsea Forest School. The Learner Led Learning model is central to the teaching at the school. My job is to provide an environment that supports their interests and to build the curriculum around their passions. We spend almost all the time outside, in or near a forest.

child led learning

Chelsea Forest School learning

As a teacher it’s challenging – we need to support environments conducive to learning and be a catalyst as children discover and become engrossed in animal tracks, snow sculptures, bugs, imaginary space ships.

As a teacher it’s also lovely – watching students discovering, wandering, counting, building. I’ve never had to urge a Forest School student to get on with their work. Ever. Children always find something interesting and their work becomes play. And they learn!

… My 8×10 plywood camera still works well. It was designed and built with the zeal of true  intrigue – the essence of positive learning. That’s what learning looks like for me.

Home-made large format camera.

Home-made large format camera.

#1128 – Recent Photo Teaching!

I changed directions a few years ago – more toward traditional teaching but I still get requests to teach one-on-one or small photo classes.

This fall I taught my most popular classes to individuals who came knocking. I spent a half day with each person covering Creative Fundamentals and Natural Light Portraits.

portraits

Portrait photography course © Chris Payant.

Creative Fundamentals began inside a beautiful building and we ventured outside to explore some of central Ottawa’s visual appeal.

For Natural Light Portraits Chris practiced on the teacher preparing for an actor to come and “model” for her camera.

portrait photo class

Portraits © Chris Payant

I cannot thank you enough for the session yesterday.  I learned so much and I had fun! You certainly know how to challenge me just enough and you are a gifted teacher. I sent some sneak peaks to [the model] and she is thrilled!

Smiles all around!
A big thanks to everyone for the fun!

#1127 Curiosity, Passion and Learning.

I have vivid memories of my early schooling days.

I worked hard to get on the school honour role…  but never achieved it. I took courses because they were a “good idea,” not because they interested me. My first university degree was in finance and economics – a good career path – but not for me. Every day was un-inspiring. I obtained my first degree in a lack-lustre way.

The schools I attended and the courses I took were well respected. The problem, I now realize, was the approach I took to education. I did not look to my passions for guidance.

passionate learning

Passion leads to learning – if you enjoy what you’re doing,  it’s easy!

Passion
Once I started pursuing what actually interested me I performed at a much higher level. A trend emerged when I pursued my passions:

Arts/photography. I didn’t go to school for arts / photo but as far back as I remember I loved drawing, photographing, creating. I started a business.
I worked crazy hours producing commercial art. It didn’t feel like work. Before technology transformed the industry success developed through enthusiastic hard work. My best photo sale? A car driving up a city street in a Go-Pro style (before Go-Pro existed) licensed for $32,000 – and that was almost 20 years ago. Not bad for a self taught career based on passion.

• Creative/Innovation. I got excited about two interesting photo processes that required acquiring a big camera that I could not afford. I built the camera instead and needed to learn math/physics of focusing to make it work. Math and physics never excited me before but I loved the whole camera design/building process including the math. Math became important to my art! Watershed / Sunstreaks continue to flourish.

large format camera

Learning math and science through art – building a large format camera.

• Teaching. I went back to school in recent years for a Bachelor of Education. Taking a year to go back to school in my forties with a young family was an expensive luxury. I focused on learning as much about learning/teaching/development as my head could hold. I told myself I didn’t care about marks. That didn’t seem to matter. My passion led to Magna Cum Laude (high marks.)

I recognized a correlation. For me, success depended more on passion than blind perseverance. Passion led to knowledge that led to success in some form.

Learner-Led Learning
I’ve been investigating different ideas in education. One that speaks strongly to me (and supports passion in education) is “Emergent Education” or the idea of leader-led learning.

In traditional schools, students are presented what to learn. Current practices urge teachers to develop engaging ways to teach so that all students will consume the knowledge. Engaging all in direct or deductive learning can be hard to do with a large group.

In one of my elementary English classes students wrote a standardized exam. One of my very capable (and spunky) students had no interest in the creative writing component of the exam. What she did write earned her a failing mark on that part of the exam… despite her capabilities. If she had been allowed to produce a language assignment that interested her for the evaluation, her marks would have been better!

inquiry based learning

It’s easier when it’s interesting! Intrigue and inquiry based learning make learning easier…

In an inductive (learner-led) learning scenario students are supported, guided and evaluated based on their passions. Music? Computer coding/web development? Horses? The curriculum is built around student’s interests.

Criticism
Some opponents to inductive learning suggest that the students using this approach will miss important aspects of a well-rounded education. Remember my mention (above) of building a camera while I pursued my arts passion? To succeed I had to design and build the box camera using physics (focusing) and math (geometry.) When my goal was an arts project the math learning became more successful because it was interesting for me.

All-encompassing
• Music involves math.
• Learning about coding and web incorporates syntax and language skills.
• Horses can pull students into reading, writing, science, math, physical education.

In my classroom, when facilitating a lesson that draws on more than one core subject (cross-curricular teaching), I sometimes abruptly stop the class and ask “Is this math… or art?”

Deductive vs Inductive Learning – Summarized.
The traditional school approach is often based on a deductive or direct approach to teaching. Material is presented and students are expected to learn through different activities and platforms. This approach works for many students and can produce excellent results.

A new (but very old) approach is growing and supports people in different ways. The “emergent” or inductive approach to education differs in that students lead the learning and the curriculum is built around their passions.

More organizations are using this learner-led model to teach. The theory is old. Historically, people learned by pursuing what interested them. People are naturally curious and naturally seek the appropriate skills to succeed. This usually involves concepts of math, language, science and arts that fit their passions. With the right steps and support, that leads to a satisfying life.

Learner Led Learning

Positive Mentors

Time with Positive Mentors
Another factor that is important to successful learning is time with strong mentors. Interpersonal connections can make or break learning opportunities. We’ve all had teachers or mentors with whom we’ve connected. Spending time with them is fun and easy!

One boy in a class I was teaching came from a tough place. He had challenges and his academics suffered. At the beginning of the school year he was reluctant to come to school and reluctant to share his work. He asked “What happens if I make a mistake?…” I looked at him and, with a smile, announced “… It shows me you’re learning.”

By the end of the year his family sent a lovely letter saying how the boy had thrived during the year. He was also closer to meeting expectations. His biggest success was that he was coming to school and learning. That happened because he enjoyed it. Positive mentors make a pivotal difference.

Options for Different Students
I’m curious about learning. I’ve explored different options for teaching/learning and realize there are so many good options – it’s heartwarming!  Many students thrive in traditional schools. Some students perform better with different models of learning. Below are a few alternate options I’ve explored:

Forest School
Forest School caters to younger audiences and builds learning around children’s natural curiosity. They follow the Emergent Education Theory of Leader-Led Learning. Math, arts, language and science are all built around student’s discoveries as they explore the forest and nature around them.

Compass Centre for Self-Directed Learning
Compass supports youth’s learning passions through Leader-Led Learning by first investigating student’s passions and collaborating with community experts / organizations to access relevant learning for the individual’s goals.

Astolot Educational Centre
Astolot places emphasis on connecting teachers to students. Classes are very small and I saw a strong connection between the learners and teachers as they navigated the individual’s learning.

My life path has not been a traditional one but it has been exciting and (mostly) enjoyable. Looking back helps me navigate moving forward in positive ways. Seeing more options and ideas available for all learners makes me excited about the future of learning.