Welcome back to school everybody! We made it through lockdown in Level 4 and Level 3 and are now able to head back to the classroom (albeit a little differently to normal).
Here at OGHS, our focus for our first week back in the classroom with the students is the 3Rs - Relationships, Routines and Re-Ignition. Last week, we spent some time as a staff talking about the value of "re-starting" school and starting with these foundations rather than just jumping straight back into 'catch-up' mode.
I would imagine that teachers are finding that their students are coming back with a variety of experiences and a massive spectrum of readiness to come back to school. Launch has been no exception! We've had students barely able to engage with their online learning (for a variety of reasons) right the way through to students who relished the opportunity to have some autonomy over the learning day.
A matter of minutes into the class today, I realised that I was not going to have to lead the 3Rs in this class. The students immediately initiated a return to our routine of writing lovely messages about a student on the whiteboard, further fostering the relationships they are building with one another! See the picture at the bottom.
In order to get us back into using our brains in the classroom, I initiated an online roundtable discussion using parlayideas.com. Using the online style meant that students were able to continue to be physically distanced while still participating in a class wide discussion. Going straight to a class wide conversation seemed like a big leap for the first day back. Parlay Ideas gives you a nice little summary at the end of a roundtable including a graph of how the students engaged in commenting on each others work. I was feeling re-ignited myself as I read through their responses and could see their voices and passions coming through
Please keep following the students blogs as they continue to adapt their projects to new ways of working and new epic problems in our communities. They have some amazing ideas!
A new year doesn't mean starting new, it mean building from what you have.
PBL - Powerful, Brave Learning. We can all be doing this...
Why did we start?
2019 was the first year I coached a Year 12 & 13 problem based learning course (PBL). 'Launch' arose from the engagement and wellbeing needs of the current students at OGHS. Student voice and teacher classroom observations revealed that:
Why go through with it?
Believe me, there are some days I asked myself, "why did I decide to do this again?!" But my own response always quickly followed - because we have to. Because the purpose of school is different now that it used to be (or it should be!).
"Doing school" by following the old formula is no longer going to set our kids up for success. There are, of course, a great many skills we teach that are still just as useful and valuable today as they always have been. But there are also a number that are not. As I said in a previous post - above all, we are all teachers of learning. We may have subject specialities, but if you're determined to teach your subject to the exclusion of all others, and teach using "pure" methods the way you were taught in the past, then you are doing a disservice to the next generation, where the world does not work like that anymore.
We know what employers already want: essential skills or capabilities that transcend all subject or knowledge silos.
Things like innovation, creativity, collaboration, resilience, mental fitness skills, problem solving skills etc.
THESE are what our learning programmes need to be built around. The holy grail of "knowledge" that education used to be founded upon no longer really exists. Knowledge creation, re-imagination of old concepts, cross-pollination of ideas, taking risks, seeing things differently, challenging the status quo... this is what is driving us forward into the future. THIS is what our students need to know how to do to succeed not only in the future workplace (or the current one!), but in their future lives.
Let me be straight up about the challenges... & share some tips
This article (below) was first published in English in Aotearoa, issue #97. It is published again here with the editor's kind permission.
While this article was written to target English teachers, the key thing I'd like to point out, is that any teacher from any subject speciality can be a Project Based Learning teacher.
Above all else, we are ALL teachers of learning.
Utilising your own skills and talents as a PBL coach or teacher makes perfect sense, but...
YOU DO NOT NEED TO KNOW ALL THINGS ABOUT ALL SUBJECTS
to work in this way.
Your students can learn a lot from a wide variety of other people / experts in their fields / youtube tutorials / research etc. What they will need you for, is to guide them in the variety of methods they can use to access knowledge or skills they might need. That is where your experience as a leader of learning in your school is vital.
Launch is an Agile Based Learning Environment
How does that look in Launch?
One of the most important attributes of a highly effective team and the ability to collaborate effectively, is knowing you can be vulnerable in front of your team members, and they will support you. One of the things that was was most important to me as the "teacher" / lead learner of this course, was that the students would feel they were part of a team who really knew them and had their back, and so we've done a lot of work around building our Launch team culture.
Being able to demonstrate your vulnerability, to share the fact you may not know what the next step is, to share that you do not have all the answers all the time and need to draw upon the strengths of your team, is actually a sign of great strength. A team member willing to share their struggles, concerns, worries or doubts, is demonstrating that they are self-aware, reflective, collaborative, value others' ideas, and that they are a team player.
Sharing your vulnerable moments, the failures (or "pivot points", as we like to call them in Launch) and the moments of self-doubt, is a sign of someone stepping in and sharing being human with the team.
Projects are go!
All our pre-work of Term 1 has lead us to this point - embarking on projects to take the team through Terms 2, 3 and probably beyond. Coming back from the Easter break, the girls were raring to get stuck in to their own projects, albeit with a little trepidation about what that may actually mean.
In our first week, we took a trip down to Otago Polytech to work with Ray O'Brien through his Change Jam process, which took two half day sessions. This was an incredibly valuable process that combined elements of Design Thinking, with start-up strategies like Lean Canvas, Agile, Back Mapping and Future Casting. The initial discussion and reflection work around the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and our personal connection to these through our own individual values and strengths was such a worthwhile exercise in itself, and personally validating for me with the work around strengths and values we'd done last term as a team being easily drawn upon by the girls in this activity.
The feedback from the girls was that they thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Groundwork is Key
This first term of Launch has been about building the solid platform of skills and knowledge the girls will need to leap into action on their projects in Term 2.
This has been a term of exploration and expanding horizons. In week 5, the class met Cheryl Adams - CEO of Animation Research (the company who do all the graphic overlays etc for the America's Cup races, golf tournaments etc).
Cheryl totally inspired the girls with her story from leaving school to where she is now. And it wasn't a straight trajectory.
Cheryl has had to overcome many challenges, one of those simply being a woman in a traditionally male dominated field of technology and engineering.
Cheryl told the group that if she could say one thing to her past self it would be:
Make more mistakes."
How to make toast - You'd think it would be simple...
What started as the seed of an idea has bloomed into a brand new course at Otago Girls' High School.
In a nutshell, Launch is a Project Based Learning course (PBL). But it encompasses so much more than the title possibly suggests.
In 2019 the course is pitched at Year 12 & 13 students who wish to embark on a self-driven and directed project. It might be to design a product they see a need for, provide a service that currently is not available, or perhaps start a movement around an issue that is important to them.
How does it work?
Amy-Lee Budd is the new Coach for the Launch course at OGHS. Together with the students we will blog about our learning journey in 2020. Previously, Launch has been coached by Rowan Taigel who is now Director at www.whatifpld.com