Monday, 28 May 2012

Blog-iversary

I just realized that I've been blogging for more a year, though there have been some significant gaps during busy periods!  Over the summer and through next year, I hope to be more consistent with blogging as I find that it is a great source of professional growth and often connects me to educators I wouldn't meet otherwise.  Through Twitter and this blog, I have been influenced by many amazing educators!

Last summer, I wrote this post on changing assessment practices.  Since then, it has circled through the Twitter world quite a few times, received hundreds of hits, and was recently published in the BC Teachers of English Language Arts journal.  It is a reflection I keep coming back to as I continue to examine my assessment practices and I'm glad that there are others who are asking the same questions.  Without social media, I may have felt like I was one of a few teachers questioning widely accepted assessment practices but, through messages that followed, I realized that I was one of many.  As well, through this post, I explored the dilemma I see many teachers facing regarding "presentation" versus learning in course assignments.  Again, it connected me to other teachers who were thinking about how and why we assess.  It's been great to engage in conversations with others via Twitter and e-mail after posting my rambling thoughts online.  In addition to discussing these things with a small group of AMAZING colleagues regularly, the conversation has extended to include experienced and wonderful educators I have never met.  Technology is pretty great!

While this has been a crazy year, it has definitely been my best year for professional growth.  I've learned that my most significant professional growth always comes through collaboration and discussions.  This year, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers formally and informally through a variety of different professional development opportunities in my school and district.  As a student in high school and university, I always hated "group work" assignments but, now that I am surrounded by people as passionate about good practice as I am, working together is the best experience possible!  It's amazing how my views about group work changed when I began working with others who share the same goals!

I'm happy that I've been able to collaborate, through this blog, a few wikis, and Twitter, with so many amazing educators and look forward to continuing this growth in the years to come!  I'm so grateful for my in-person and online PLN!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Inquiring Minds

Flickr Creative Commons Image
I have fallen in love with student-directed inquiry learning, this year!  I have attempted it in my classroom and, despite a steep learning curve, feel that it is 


I'm equally excited about teacher inquiry and have had many opportunities to see it in action through my role as a mentor with a SFU graduate diploma program.  As well, I had an opportunity to participate in teacher inquiry myself through my school district, this year.  Below is the summary of findings that I submitted at the end of my teacher inquiry project.  I hope to engage in more teacher inquiry in the future as it help me to examine my practice and enables me to model lifelong learning as I discuss my own inquiry with my students.  The conversations which result from teacher inquiry are invaluable.  This year, I have come to realize the value of self-directed professional development.  When I am passionate, engaged, and collaborating with others, I learn far more than I can in any other setting.  I hope that I can continue to create similar experiences for my students as I continue to pursue Inquiry as an instruction method.



Name: Megan Jakse
School: Pitt Meadows Secondary
Courses taught: Social Studies 9, Family Studies 11/12, Planning 10, Leadership 10-12, Foods 9/10
Inquiry Question: Will introducing student-directed Inquiry Learning in my classes enable students to take ownership of their learning?

What did I notice?
Now that I have begun to use Inquiry, I can’t imagine teaching any other way.  I have always felt motivated to run a student-centered classroom, but this style of learning made it a reality more than ever.  As students became involved in Inquiry projects, they were able to take ownership of their learning in new ways.

While I had done a lot of reading about Inquiry over the summer, I quickly realized that I had a lot to learn as I began to introduce Inquiry in my classroom.  Despite the steep learning curve for me and my students, I feel that it was worth the time and effort to introduce this new and meaningful style of learning.  I feel much better equipped to implement Inquiry learning in my classroom in the future.

I expected my Family Studies students to take to inquiry with the most ease, but learned that my older students had the most difficulty adjusting their view of “school work” to incorporate open-ended, self-selected questions.  At first, it seemed that many wanted highly structured guidelines and expectations regarding topics, content, presentation, and format.  Quite a few begged me to give them a question or topic as we worked through the process of developing questions.  It took time to shift their expectations but, by the end of the course, I regularly received positive feedback from students as they understood how Inquiry learning can make learning personally meaningful for them.

I hoped to jump right into inquiry with my Social Studies 9 class but, after realizing that many struggled with some of the necessary skills, I adjusted my expectations at first and worked more slowly toward an Inquiry project.  We worked on a number of inquiry-inspired assignments which encouraged students to form and articulate an opinion using reputable resources.  As the year progressed, students were able to participate in in-depth research and articulate their views.  I feel that skill-building before we took on larger projects helped to increase students’ confidence and, therefore, their levels of engagement in the project.  Compared to my other classes, I spent the most time developing skills with this group; as a result, they became the group whose Inquiry work was most in-depth as the year progressed.  As I spent a lot of time building skills with this group, I found myself wishing that I could work with the same group of students for multiple courses.  It would be fantastic to have them for English 9 and Social Studies 9 so that they could meet outcomes for both courses through cross-curricular learning opportunities.

Some of my Food Studies 9 students are also in my Social Studies 9 class, so I was able to use them as leaders when introducing inquiry learning ot my Foods classes.  There, we were able to do more hands-on activities as part of the research process.  A number of students were curious about the difference between organic and “regular” fruits, so we did a blind taste test to collect data.  We also held a taste test to examine the difference between bottled and tap water.  The hands-on research seemed to make the projects more relevant for many students.  I was excited about the enthusiasm expressed by my Foods 9/10 students during these projects, as they were generally resistant to theory work earlier in the year.  My colleague, Becky, has been using Inquiry in her Foods classes and was a great source of support through the process.

As I discussed Inquiry learning with other teachers who were implementing it, I learned that this is not something which can be done in isolation.  Just as my students supported one another through the process, I benefited from collaboration with other teachers.  Ideally, teachers using Inquiry in the same school would use the same phrases and strategies with students so that they can become increasingly independent over time.  In the spring, a group of PMSS teachers were provided release time to spend two days working on Inquiry strategies together; this was incredibly valuable as it widened my network of support and gave us time to work together on practical elements of our courses.  I quickly learned that many of my colleagues experienced the same challenges and rewards as they began to implement inquiry in their classrooms.  It was apparent that teaching in this way is something which requires time for both students and teachers to adapt and I began to realize that creating

Finally, I have come to realize that Inquiry is an approach which must become part of my classroom culture; some of my colleagues model this incredibly well and I hope to take cues from them next year.  Encouraging questions and curiosity are key as students work up to developing their topics.  As well, students must begin to see themselves as active participants who have a role in developing course content, not passive recipients of teacher-selected information.  It takes time to build this culture within a classroom but I think that it will be incredibly meaningful as I continue to develop as a teacher.

What will I continue to explore?
I plan to use Inquiry learning more in the future, designing courses around the skills and objectives of student-directed inquiry.  I have learned a lot about establishing a culture of inquiry in my classroom and hope to have a stronger start next year.  I plan to continue my own professional development through reading and meetings with colleagues so that my abilities can improve.  Specifically, I hope to improve my ability to engage students in inquiry and guide them through the process of developing questions, selecting resources, and analyzing information.  I am looking forward to a master’s course this summer which focuses on inquiry learning strategies and building a culture of inquiry within schools.  While we developed a couple of graphic organizers during our group sessions, I would like to expand on this and develop a variety of visual aids to help guide learners through the Inquiry process.  As well, I would like to involve students’ families in the Inquiry process, encouraging them to reflect with students and contribute in various ways.  Inquiry helps students to extend their learning beyond the walls of the classroom; I would like to take this farther in the future.

Gathering with colleagues was incredibly encouraging and helpful this year.  The group of teachers who gathered were able to share teaching strategies, struggles, and advice despite representing a variety of teaching areas.  While some of us are likely moving on to other schools next year, I hope to continue to meet with teachers who are incorporating inquiry learning into their classroom as my colleagues are an incredibly valuable resource.  We have a “dropbox” folder to share files from our workshops and resources that we have created; I hope that we can continue to use this in the future to share information.  In the future, I would love to see enough colleagues using Inquiry that we could develop a set of standards for each grade level and use consistent strategies, phrases, and rubrics so that students become accustomed to this.  While we are all in our first few years of using inquiry, there is potential for a culture of inquiry to develop over time.

As I engaged in teacher inquiry, I was able to experience Inquiry learning as a student, not just as a teacher.  This was incredibly valuable for me as I feel it is important to model learning strategies, and my own passion for learning, in the classroom.  I look forward to developing my skills as a facilitator of Inquiry learning and will continue engaging students with Inquiry in the future.



Sunday, 20 May 2012

Why I Tweet: A Planning 10 Discussion


I've been exploring internet safety with my Planning 10 classes and, of course, they began to Google me.  A number of them wound up on my Twitter account and wanted to know why I was on there (and how their incredibly uncool teacher wound up with more followers than they have).  I explained how I use my Personal Learning Network to contact other educators from around the world.


The tweet above was based on an activity I'd heard about and am eager to try.  It was "retweeted" by a couple of people and generated several responses with helpful links and information from one person I used to work with and several I've never met.  I'm continually impressed by the power of my personal learning network, and often babble to friends (teachers and anybody else who will listen) about the positive influence that my Teacher Tweeps have had on my professional development, this year.  There may not be many educators in the same school or district trying a teaching strategy but, when a message is passed on to a large network of educators, I learn so much!

My students were incredibly open as they discussed their (good, bad, and ugly) experiences on Twitter but, as I suspected, all of them seem to use it for posting entertaining comments and communicating with people they know in real life.  In informal discussions and during lessons, I assume this and tend to emphasize the importance of interacting responsibly online when students see (or are tempted to leave) inappropriate comments, become the target of bullies and trolls, or begin to reveal too much personal information in a very public forum.  While it is important to discuss these things, I realized that I should also give my students examples of other ways to use social media so that they can develop positive online profiles.

I would love to have students use Twitter for research purposes; they could follow, contact, and potentially interview professionals in a particular field as they research for inquiry projects.  Social media is so incredibly powerful yet, while I talk about my love of Twitter with my colleagues, I feel that I missed out by leaving my students out of the discussion.  Has anybody out there used Twitter as a research tool with students?  We're wrapping up the year now but this is definitely something that I will keep in my mind for future years.