#1141 Learning Links

As a young student I didn’t sit still very well. I got distracted sometimes. I loved what I liked and grudgingly did other work. Sometimes I sunk energy into subjects others thought I would be good for me… that never went well. I started to blossom when I allowed myself to pursue and enjoy what I loved.

This realization helped ignite my interest in education, and more broadly, working with youth to help them find their way and excel. I started reading, writing and learning.

Below are some recent resources I’ve enjoyed and that help me shape my next steps:

• Some of my toughest and most rewarding days are working with children who test our limits as teachers. I cannot believe these children are behaving as they do for fun. Their (often traumatic) circumstances shapes their spikey behaviours. Rob Miller describes “hugging the porcupine.”

math alternatives

Image Driven Math

• I spent a day last week learning about math strategies including our education ministry’s renewed math strategy.
I was happy to hear some of the strategies that included “image driven math,” math sites like  Which One Doesn’t Belong and Fermi’s open ended questions.
These sites get students’ brains and classes working differently. One of the presenters urged us to take math class outside. I smiled at that suggestion. I probably would have done better at university level calculus if we could play with practical applications outside the classroom…

• I don’t sit still very well. Active learning – ie being active while learning math / language, etc. helps me learn and smile. I am seeing more bike desks in classes to help students that need to move. Being outside and being active engage and retain students and their learning. Bill Murphy Jr. writes about the need for many to be active when learning.

Keep reading and learning. Please share your favourite links, below.

#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.


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.

#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.

#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.


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!

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.

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.

• 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.

#1124 Laurentians / Tremblant Photo Safari and Adventure

Early mornings and a deliberate, casual pace marked this week’s photo adventure in the Tremblant area with long-time photo student Margaret.

photo adventure

Tremblant photo safari

I’ve been travelling to the region that many associate solely with the mega ski hill and village run by Intrawest. The ski hill is impressive but the surrounding hills, rivers, forests and lakes are what keep me coming back.

Like the slow food movement, I prefer observing and shooting with purpose rather than the speed of a fast trigger finger. Margaret finished the day with a manageable number of quality photos that made editing easier.

Tremblant photo safari

© Margaret A. – Laurentian’s water – learning about flow

We shot throughout the day. Yes, there are two magic hours per days. J David Andrews once told me “It’s always perfect weather to shoot something.” Likewise, there’s always something to shoot, no matter the time of day.

Tremblant region photo workshop

© Margaret A. –  Early morning calmness – a perfect time to observe and learn.

Days flew by. One day we visited a segment of waterfalls and rapids. We arrived at 11am and after what felt like an hour Margaret approached excitedly “It’s five o’clock!” When you’re excited and engaged time vanishes.

Margaret’s photos improved and her confidence grew. We both smiled, a lot! We spent evenings reviewing concepts, ideas and photos. See some of her work… Well done Margaret!

Laurentians photography adventure

© Maragret A. – We explored possibilities when shooting a scene – motion, composition, depth-of-field.

#1123 Directions

Many of you know that I transitioned from full time photography and teaching workshops to traditional elementary school teaching in the last couple of years – I still teach one-on-one / small group photo workshops and have kept my art practice.

This week I finished teaching Grade 4 for the year.


Elementary School

The year flew by – full of adventures helping students navigate through academic and life challenges.

I received many cards of thanks – some were really touching:
“I will never, ever forget as (my friend) and I watched you do a cartwheel. You inspired me to reach for our dreams…”

My cartwheels are, erm, terrible but I believe in encouraging students to TRY. The best way I can do this is by example… I’d forgotten about my cartwheels. It’s nice to know they made an impact. 🙂

I’m grateful to many people who have supported my path. Thank-you!!

#1117 Fall Photo Custom Course

Last weekend I spent some time with a long-time photo student exploring fall in Gatineau Park in a Custom Photo Course. I enjoy seeing the creative progress of students who invest in their skills. Margaret has done well!

Custom Photo Course

© Maragret A. – Early morning Gatineau Park.

We started early and explored a small part of the park along the escarpment. By the end of the morning she had a handful of stunning photos: “Move slowly and make each photo count!”

Ottawa Custom Photo Course

© Margaret A. – Maple Sapplings; Gatineau Park.

Margaret shared the photos above and note, below:

I loved yesterday’s outing… I really appreciate the thought you put into what I was to learn and work on.  All of the exercises were very relevant for me at this particular time so I know I’ll be applying the learnings as I move forward in the next few weeks.

Read Margaret’s blog for more of her photo adventures.
Well done Margaret!

#1116 Free Online Photo Program

A while ago I started our Online Photo Program. Every month we offered a new challenge with support and critique. Members loved it…
We’re looking for more members for the new, free format!

Online photo challenge

© Sara Hendrix

With some changes in direction over the last couple of years, (read past blog posts ) I’ve turned the program into a small, community managed, friendly, free, monthly photo challenge based on a private group on Facebook’s platform.

Online photo program

Online Photo Program
Portrait and Photojournalism Challenges – “Cooling off on a hot day behind the arena…”

Senior members of the group take turns developing the monthly challenge and posting links and information pertaining to the month’s photo adventure. Members offer real critique and questions that guide the discussions. I offer support, critique and tips to the group.

The group wants more members! We’re looking to attract supportive photo people of all levels willing to participate, contribute and support the community as we all try to interpret the month’s challenges. It’s not a competition. And members are looking for genuine feedback rather than praise.

Online photo challenge

Night Time Shooting
© Christine Payant

What members have said:
• ” I really enjoy the positive and constructive feedback. I know when posting that those who participate are likely just like me, wanting to learn and grow. The group has typically been diverse, with people of varying levels of experience which has been great to push me to try different things. I realize that I have some ¨Harryisms¨ that come to mind: ¨get closer¨, ¨what are you exposing for?¨, ¨triangles¨, etc.

Motion in Landscapes © Al Garner

Motion in Landscapes
© Al Garner

• “The program challenges me to get out there and photograph improving my skills as a photographer. It provides some focus. Without it, I would probably not photograph as much and I would not learn and grow as a photographer. It has helped me tremendously and gets me out there shooting and enjoying life!

Landscapes and Sunsets © Maisie Ismail

Landscapes and Sunsets © Maisie Ismail

• “… having the close group to help out and provide critique in a “safe” environment really makes a difference. It helps get over the shyness of… ‘maybe this is not good enough to post.’ What a great group to belong to and get great feedback! Thanks Harry and everyone!

To join the group you need to request to join the group and befriend me on Facebook so I can add you to the Facebook group.

Hope to see you on the other side!