Reflections on a Year

I’ve been reading a great deal lately about Jewish culture.  One of the most important aspects of ancient Judaism is the concept of Talmidim; the Japanese have a similar concept called uchi deshi,  which is still prevalent in Eastern culture.  This approach to teaching is much more like a traditional apprenticeship than a modern classroom.

Student’s engaged in this type of learning literally work side-by-side those who have greater knowledge.  They learn through hands on experience, imitating someone who possesses the skills they want to acquire.  In this setting, learning is not so much about retaining data as it is about gaining essential wisdom for living.

And yet, while occasionally I write for, and with, my students, most of their literacy learning occurs outside of the classroom, on their own.  This is often true of technology and social media use as well.  I demonstrate a few tricks of the trade, and they are left to complete a project on their own.

But now I’m wondering, what if my classroom became a place of apprenticeship in writing and technology, rather than a traditional classroom that dispenses facts and knowledge.   Instead of covering more, we cover less with greater depth. How would this change me? my students? my classroom? If part of the point of apprenticeship is learning essential wisdom for living, how critically important is this with the rise of social media, with all its benefits and caveats?

I wrote these words a year ago today.  It’s hard to believe I’ve been blogging for an entire year; in truth, it seems like something I’ve always done.

When I wrote these words I couldn’t have imagined what was about to happen in my classroom and to me. I had no idea it would be so hard or so rewarding.

While a year ago I began pondering the ramifications of these ideas, today I live them.

So have I changed? Absolutely. In all honesty, I think I’m gutsier as a teacher than I used to be.  For me, the bottom-line is what will help my students learn?  That doesn’t always look like the typical classroom.

We pursue work that is real, and when possible, collaborative. Currently, we’re working on a trafficking social media campaign. Rather than writing & creating solely for me, my students now have a real audience.  It changes the stakes.  Now my students realize the artifacts they create need to be powerful.  It’s also given a signficance to what I teach that wasn’t there before.  I’ve learned that what happens in my classroom matters.

It also means less of me and more of my students.

Has it changed my students? Yes. My students likely work harder than they used to, although they probably don’t realize it. They’re responsible for their learning, while I facilitate the process and create the environment.

In chemistry last week, we were learning to calculate average atomic mass. It took three days.  Why? Because they were learning it through inquiry. Normally I teach the formula in less than 10 minutes. However, now my students understand the scientific process that often accompanies creating a formula.

I mixed a number of assorted beads together in a bucket.  Each type of bead represented an isotope of the element bead. My students were instructed to calculate the average atomic mass of the element bead — that’s it. No help. No formula.

In their lab groups they proceeded to take one of each bead, find the mass, and then divide it by the number of different beads. They were pretty sure they were right. Nope.  I asked, “Did you calculate the mass of the beads you have or the entire bucket?”  The beads they have.  Back to the drawing board, but they realized they needed to find the mass of the entire bucket.  Soon they began to collaboratively count the entire bucket of beads.

For three days they calculated, tried, failed, and went back to the drawing board.  Many were frustrated.  What were they missing?  It was right in front of them, but they jumped all around it.  They needed to find out what percentage each type of bead made up of the whole, then they could multiply it by the mass & add each isotope together.  One of my students commented, “This is so frustrating; it’s driving me crazy.”

I responded, “that’s the feeling that drives scientific inquiry.”  When one student finally figured it out, it was like Archimedes “Eureka” moment.

While the past year has had it’s trials,  I think my students are more competent.  Their ICT skills have grown immensely, and they’re able to begin to answer what they need for their learning to occur.

And for me, I’ve learned a lot as a teacher. I mark less and talk about learning more. I don’t have all the answers; but my students don’t really want me to. Instead, the most important thing I offer them is modelling what learning, failure and perseverance looks like.  This is the beauty of the 21st century classroom.

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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2 Responses to Reflections on a Year

  1. vonxay says:

    After reading your blog for a bit now, I’d like to let you know that you’re my new idol, whether you wanted a fan or not. I’ve always wanted to push myself to create a learning environment like the one you’ve been describing. I do what I can, but I don’t have the experience yet, but continue to soldier on through the many failures.
    I usually find myself wrestling with how do I get through all this curriculum and haven’t figured how to navigate thought it all to find what is most important. I guess that comes with time.
    I do have a question though. Are there provincial exams for your students? I find that the Provincial exam hovers over much of my thinking. Every time I think of a lesson, I go back to trying to figure out if this will help them develop those skills they need for that exam. I know that good teaching should not be exam focused, but it’s hard to wrestle with that demon when you know 50% of their score rides on that test, and I don’t want let down my students for that. Instead, I would love for my students just to explore and play with ELA more and not have that dark cloud give me cause for worry. I’ll try to get there one day, but for now those worries are still there.

  2. Nicola Kuhn says:

    I have shared your blog with my colleagues at Rossland Secondary School so they can see that using inquiry based learning is messy, frustrating, full of hurdles and ultimately rewarding. As a teacher-librarian I have been using inquiry based learning with individual teachers who were ready to take the risk and move away from a more traditional delivery method. The results have been so rewarding and the students agree that although it is hard and asks a lot of them, they enjoy learning this way.
    We are now moving towards becoming an inquiry based school. This means creating pods of learners in order to move away from a traditional timetable so teachers can collaborate and students can learn across curricular areas. The administration and school board is fully behind these changes.
    Keep doing what you are doing and we can all learn together.

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