#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.

#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.

Teacher

Teaching
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

Portraits
© 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!

#1115 Photo Studio Transforms into the “Little Big Learning Centre” – Montessori Influenced Home Schooling Centre

The photo studio that many of you know and visited over the last half decade has a new direction.

… We are excited to welcome Amy of the Little Big Learning Centre into the classroom we developed in 2010 to support my photo and arts workshops. Amy started Little Big in 2014. It blossomed so quickly that she needed a bigger space in Ottawa for her Little Big Learners to develop.

Montessori inspired, home school friendly learning space

Amy of The Little Big Learning Centre!

How did the learning centre take off? Amy drew on the influences of Maria MontessoriHoward Gardner, the Reggio Emilia approach and outdoor and experiential education.

The students blossomed and word spread… all the way to their new learning centre at 160 Preston St.

I asked Amy what inspired her to open “Little Big.” Her answer was three-fold:
• “I had a good public school experience due to my small cottage town. I grew up in Apsley, Ont. and our school had only 5 teachers. There was lots of one-on-one time, small classes, enriched learning. It was a great way to learn.

Kindergarten to Grade 4 alternatives to school in Ottawa Gatineau Chelsea

One of the smaller learning areas of the Little Big Learning Centre

• “I earned my Bachelor of Education and was shocked. There were so many kids in a class. There was too much going on. Kids were falling through cracks. Everything was so tied to the curriculum in the wrong way and geared towards practice tests for EQAO (standardized testing). I wanted to give younger students a voice – school is not just book learning.

• ” ‘Hmmm,’ I thought aloud to my husband. ‘What if we opened our own learning centre?’  And I started looking for like-minded teachers, parents, students. I wanted to be creative with teaching so that all students could fit…”There is currently only one other learning centre like Amy’s in Ottawa based out of Barrhaven.

Curious to see and hear more?
Amy is opening the doors of her Little Big Learning Centre to welcome curious minds soon. An open house is in the plans. Stay tuned…

Visit their Facebook page, too!

Ottawa Montessori inspired learning centre

New Learning Centre for students aged 4-10. 

#1112 Summer Photography Adventures – Custom Course Success

Recently, a past photo student called looking for help:
I understand technical photo elements but am struggling with compositions and creating photos that show what I feel when I see the scene.

A photo before her custom course:

Custom Photo Course

Photo before the Custom Photo Course – technically fine but lacking intimacy.

She booked a Custom Course and we met along the path of the Watershed project.

Within a morning session of pointed direction and gentle coaching, her photos improved quickly. They went from broad generic landscapes to alluring photos that pulled the viewer in:

Custom Photo Course

Photo taken during the Custom Photo Course.
Technically good but with more impact than before.

Her comments after the session:

What a fun morning I had in the Gats working my photographic edges with Harry.  He so brilliantly and sensitively identified my next edge to work so I could move closer to where I’m longing to be with my photos.

Bit by bit I began to discern the difference between when I’m hanging out ‘back there’ and when I ‘step in’.  I also began to see a difference in my photos, after just one session.  I learned so much in one morning.  Thank you Harry, and also for what I’ll use as mantras when I’m out there on my own practicing –  “step in”, “embrace it”.  “touch it”.”

One-on-One learning

Custom Course – Learning to see and build feeling into a photo.

Coming soon I’ll be announcing summer photo options including more custom courses (when, where and how you wish to learn), safaris and an opportunity to go on a Laurentian photo getaway.

Stay tuned.

#1110 Creating Art Differently

Every class has students who would prefer to be doing something else.

In math class, some students would rather be playing football. In language, some students would rather be doing art. And in art, some would rather read.

Art Projects for Kindergarten

Art Projects for Kindergarten

I’ve been supply teaching regularly since I finished teacher’s college. In one period I was asked to have the students continue their pop-art projects (Andy Warhol-esque pictures). One student was clearly not conforming to the plan. He was just putting dots on his paper in a reluctant way.

I sat by him and asked how most new art forms started… He just stared at his paper and dotted defiantly.

I waited. No response…

So I offered an answer “By breaking the rules of art and trying new things… so you are creating new art ideas by breaking the rules.

He looked at me. “Really?

Yes!

I made a deal with him… He could create what he wanted but he’d have to create something, however exploratory… His art would need to have purpose. It worked. His slouch disappeared and he started working on art in his own way.

Collaborative Classroom

Collaborative Classroom

Collaborative Problem Solving and Tribes training are popular, current approaches to engaging more students in school and life. The theories involve working together to produce a learning environment where all are included or empowered. It works better than expecting all to ‘conform’. The result is a student or students who are more open to their learning process.

I started working with the ideas behind these theories over 20 years ago when I worked with youth and adults at Outward Bound. The work back then ignited my love of teaching people how to learn.

#1109 “I hate math.”

I hate math,” said a grade 6 student last week in a class I was supply teaching.

He was obviously not enjoying (or doing) his assigned math work.

So I sat with him and asked “What DO you like?”
He: “Football.”
Me: “… Well, you know, football’s got a lot of math.”
He: Pause…
Me: “… (In a commentators voice) And the Redblacks are 2nd and 7 from the 8 yard line… That’s math. What do those numbers mean?… Measurement!”

Different Intelligences (Gardner)

Football Math

“What about when the QB throws the ball? How hard does he need to throw the ball to hit the moving running back right on target?”  I drew a diagram to help make the point.
“That’s math…”

“… And how can you predict who will win the football game? That deals with statistics and probabilities… math again.”

The student looked at me, quietly. I helped with his specific math challenge and let him on his way. I looked back a while later. My football math talk had worked…

#1106 “Math is a sport…”

I’m in the final stretch of my Bachelor of Education training. I’m working in an inner city Grade 5/6 class.

The practical ‘in-class’ part of the course offers me the greatest learning – I am in the “On-Site” niche of the B.Ed. program that offers six months of practical training in the classroom. The normal B.Ed.’s six months of lectures are condensed into two and a half months for On-Site Teacher Candidates.

teacher

Mentor Teacher, Mr Smith, making learning fun.

A couple of weeks ago, my mentor teacher, Steve Smith,above, and I discussed plans for a geometry lesson and unit. “Make math a sport,” he urged. He was pushing my teaching practice to make the lesson more tactile, practical and involved. “If you tell them what an isosceles triangle is, they’ll never remember! But if you help them discover the answers for themselves they’ll never forget.”

geoboard

Geoboard
• photo from Creative Commons – Wikipedia.

Out came the geoboards – a hands-on math manipulative that students use to create geometric shapes. Our lesson started with students finding a geoboard on their desk – they naturally started playing as students got ready to learn. The class progressed with much triangle building and students themselves discovering the properties of triangles.

One student smiled and said “You’re fun!” All I did was ask them guiding questions to help them discover the answers! The process made it fun (and memorable.)

Thanks to Mr Smith for refining my teacher skills in good ways!