On Friday, September 21, Canadian Rockies Public Schools kicked off our professional learning year with a keynote address by Dr. Sharon Friesen, from the University of Calgary. This was followed by small group discussions in response to guiding questions we were given, under the umbrella “Nurturing a Culture of Excellence.”
Dr. Friesen presented the following graphic as a model for inquiry and excellence in teaching.
Used with permission. Dr. Sharon Friesen, University of Calgary, 2012.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the notion of teachers as designers, so Dr. Friesen’s presentation was timely. The question that has been foremost in my mind is, “Does the way I design learning tasks for children encourage the development of 21st century skills?
Last spring I designed a learning task where my students would make an educational video. They had to create a short claymation movie to teach others about the life cycle of an animal or plant. Having a combined 3/4 class, this enabled the children in both grades to meet science outcomes. They researched the life cycle, created clay figures of said animal or plant, and showed them moving through their life cycle. For all the students this was their first foray into claymation movie making. We used some old cameras we had kicking around the school, and a few students brought cameras from home. We had one tripod, which we tried to share, but with 23 students not everyone had access to it.
While working on this project, three things struck me – the “feel” of the classroom, the risk-taking that went on, and the natural self assessment and peer assessment that grew out of the work. The classroom had a workshop feel. Though each student was working on their own movie, they often stopped to help each other when they got stuck. When we previewed the videos in class, the peer feedback was constructive and bang on. It mostly focused on tips for making the clay characters move more naturally, and attention to reliability in research. When students watched their video with the class, they often would make comments like, “I didn’t get the stages of the life cycle correct” or “this part of the movie is paced too slowly.” One boy, who studied the dung beetle in depth, was trying to incorporate specific adaptations as part of his video. He explained to the class his challenge with the medium of clay, and they offered suggestions for next time.
In using Dr. Friesen’s Dimensions of Inquiry for my own self assessment, I decided the two dimensions I did not really address at all in this design were “Connecting with Experts,” and “Beyond the Classroom.” I can see now that a couple of simple additions to the design might have been to watch how-to videos on claymation (though we did watch some examples of finished products). We also could have posted our videos to YouTube for further feedback outside the classroom. But other questions linger. Should I have grouped the children to build on people’s strengths? Was this process rigorous enough? Was the time spent worth the learning?
I will be using Dimensions of Inquiry in future planning. It provides a starting point, a planning structure, and a guide for further reflection. Simple, but good design.