Why bother with a Maker Faire?

Last week I had the pleasure to be invited to a Maker Faire at Pacific Heights. Makerfaire.com defines such an event as “the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth—a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement.”

The event at Pacific Heights was a school-wide celebration of the “making” that I know is an on-going part of learning at the school. The Maker Faire was busy and it was messy. One might step back and ask, “Why would I bother with a Maker Faire?”



But at the end of the day, I left the school thinking to myself, “That was good learning.” Why?

Strong connections to the core competencies.

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 6.13.24 PM

Much gets said about the core competencies and how students are to self-assess these competencies. Truth is, we can’t really expect the process of self-assessment to be remotely meaningful unless we engage students in learning experiences that activate the core competencies.

So without saying too much, it might be better to consider the following questions:

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 3.45.07 PMWhat core competency is being activated when students need to explain their thinking, processes, successes, challenges, and next steps when a parent, principal, teacher, visitor, or peer asks?

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 3.45.07 PMWhat core competency is being activated when students are asked to consider problems that need to be addressed through the design process, when students come up with novel ideas, or when students see an idea, adapt and refine it, and make it better?

Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 3.45.07 PMWhat core competency is being activated when students are required to work collaboratively in order to achieve a goal or share materials?


Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 3.45.07 PMWhat core competency is being activated when students have choice over their learning and are asked to apply their strengths while at the same time knowing what areas they require support?

In what ways do you intentionally design learning opportunity that you know will activate the core competencies?

The ADST curriculum is brought to life.

At a recent workshop, I innocently asked a teacher if he thought his student’s parents understood what ADST was? His look went from “Sure they do” to “I think they do” to “Hmmm, I’m not sure.” This is by no means a criticism, but rather the reality that we use a great deal of specialized language in education and we just LOVE acronyms.

ADST refers to Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies and as a formal learning area, it is relatively new to the BC Curriculum. But make no mistake, where good learning has been happening in the past, the important aspects of the ADST curriculum has been happening all along. The BC Ministry of Education describes ADST as the ability to design and make, acquire needs skills, and apply appropriate technologies. Emphasis is placed on experiential, hands-on learning focused on design and creation, fostering the development of skills and knowledge that will allow students to create practical and innovative responses to everyday needs and problems.

How do you integrate design thinking and making in your classroom or school?

Opening Doors

An under-appreciated but extremely powerful aspect of communicating student learning is “opening doors” which specifically means inviting parents into schools and classrooms to actually participate in the same learning their child experiences. Unless schools are intentional about “opening doors” to parents, many parents will continue to believe that their child’s educational experience is much like their own. For most parents and students, nothing could be further from the truth. If done purposefully, “opening doors” not only places value parents as supporters of learning, but also informs parents on BC’s curriculum, the meaning of the core competencies, and their child’s interactions with teachers and peers. A Maker Faire is but one way for teachers and principals to  “open doors”.

How else do you promote this important aspect of CSL at your school or in your classroom?


When a Korean delegation recently visited a BC school district, the group was asked, “Students in the Korean education system do so well already. Why your interest in BC?” Their response was simple – they were interested in how they could achieve both student success and also joy in learning.

Joy – there seems to be a shortage of it in the world and in schools. While it’s true that the majority of students in Surrey do very well academically, I wonder why 60% of secondary school students surveyed report being disengaged? (Surrey Schools Ideas36 student research)

I believe that joy comes from the realization that you are doing work that has personal meaning, addresses real problems, and that connects students to their passions and curiosities. We would never consider asking an adult to engage in meaningless work. I wonder if we treat students the same way?

As I walked the hallways and meandered through classrooms, yes I saw the ADST curriculum, the core competencies coming to life, and parents, students and teachers working together. But I would dare say I witnessed joy in learning!

Do students in your school or class regularly experience joy in learning? How do you know? What leads to this joy?



So while events like a Maker Faire may push you out of your comfort zone in terms of neatness, control, and certainty and get you thinking, “Why would I ever consider holding such an event?” the better question to ask after thinking about the points made above might be,

“Why would you NOT consider running a Maker Faire in your school or classroom?”

Special thanks to Pacific Heights principal Sundeep Chohan and her wonderful and talented staff for opening their doors to me!


Innovation is Relative

IMG_2574The work of a school principal is challenging, but also highly rewarding. Each day brings something new and that’s exciting to me. As I think back on this work that I love, I recall the wise words of a former principal…

“It’s incredible how quickly you can lose touch with what’s happening.”

For all of us, regardless of our work, we must continue to learn and evolve in order to stay current and relevant. Nowhere is this truer than in education. While some things remain constant, like the power of relationships, and the importance of doing interesting, personalized, and meaningful work, almost everything else continues to change around us. Here in Surrey and around the province of British Columbia, we are now working with a new curriculum, grounded in the development of important core competencies we know our students will need to possess in order to thrive in our ever-changing world.

Thank you Rosemary Heights teacher, Kristin Visscher (@mommavisscher) for these images!

Evolution is key! Recently, I heard someone say something and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. They said,  “Innovation depends on your context.” Think about that comment for a moment and then think about how much the term “innovation” is used. I consider innovation to being something that isn’t just new, but better than what came before it! Therefore, what one person might consider innovative, another might consider dated practice. But, what’s most important is to simply take a small step and try to do what you do, better.

This concept is best understood when we reflect on our own learning and growth.

When I first became a principal, much of what I did was based on what I saw other principals do. One of these things was how schools communicate with parents. Traditionally, this was done through newsletters. So, once a month I would do what I thought I was supposed to do – I would brainstorm all the things I thought I should include in the newsletter such as a message from me, important dates, celebrations of past events, bell times, reminders…all very important information for parents to have. I would neatly put all this information together, have it proofread, printed, copied, and sent home.

It was good … I thought.

But, as time passed, the way I communicated seemed to become more and more disconnected, both in time and content, from the rich learning taking place. In the background, how teachers were communicating student learning began to transform as well. Gone were the days of reports cards three times per year, replaced by ongoing, responsive, and descriptive feedback through digital portfolios. Teachers were clearly in an innovative space with their communication, evolving, risk-taking, being vulnerable with their ideas and practice. How was I to work alongside my teachers and help them lead this shift if my practice did not model what I expected from them? So I went “electronic” sending the same newsletter in PDF form via email.

This too was good … I thought.

At the time, this was relatively innovative, because I could now add more visual content which was more effective in sharing what was happening. Even though my communication evolved to a weekly blog instead of a newsletter in 2012, my thinking around communicating student learning didn’t really change until 2014 when I moved to my most recent school and I pondered for some time what the title of the school blog would be. I had used the word “NEWS” in my previous school blog. And while it’s important for us to communicate the news and events of schools to parents, schools are about learning. So, the simple gesture of adding the word “LEARNS” to a blog title forced us to make a commitment to a certain type of communication – the language of learning.

Suddenly, everything happening at school looked different to me. During my travels into classes, through the hallways, even outside before or after school, at recess or lunch, every photo, video, or conversation was focused on one central question – “Where is the learning?” What I discovered is that once you start to view behaviour that way – through a lens of learning – you realize that school is not about isolated events, but rather that learning takes place all the time, in all situations, most of the time without the learners even realizing it. If our intent as school leaders is to foster a culture of meaningful learning, then what we decide to notice and communicate to our community is of significant importance. If schools are all about learning, how is this learning continuously captured and shared? Sometimes learning can be shared in a quick tweet, or a captioned image, or a gallery of images. Other times, the learning is so rich it is deserving of being communicated through a learning story. Yes, creating learning stories takes patience and time, but when the stories emerge, they communicate powerfully. Some of my favourite learning stories are about…

Fortunately, the myriad of tools at hand today make this process much easier than it used to be. Some strategies I found successful in telling the stories of learning:

  • I always take my phone with me and document continuously by collecting images and videos.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Find a colleague who you can lean on. Ask questions. Risk-take. Start small or start big … but start! Be creative. Have fun!
  • Focus on the learning by always looking through the lens that makes you ask the question, “Where is the learning?”
  • Take some time to reflect on what happens in your busy day and your interactions with students, teachers, and parents. Write a narrative about what you notice. Tell the story of what your school is about, or what you want your school to be about.
  • I started a free blog on WordPress. There are many platforms you can use. I paid extra to have a shorter domain name (cambridgelearns.com) and that allow me to upload and embed video directly into posts.
  • I created a Facebook page because my community was already immersed in Facebook use. I had to go where my families were.
  • I created a Twitter account to be able to quickly post links to the blog and information. You can connect your Twitter account to most other applications so that your tweets show up automatically on your school blog and website.
  • I connected my social media accounts together using Hootsuite, which allows you to post to multiple accounts at once.
  • I used a free app called Chirbit (there are many others) to record and publish our morning announcements each morning. Parents can hear exactly what their children hear. Teachers can hear announcements again with their class if they missed something. In schools with many families speaking a different language, we did a second set of announcements in another language. In this case, it was Punjabi and it was totally led by students.

We ask our students and teachers daily to risk-take, experiment, and personally grow. What a powerful message we send when we say we are willing to publicly do the same. Your “innovative” doesn’t need to be relative to others, only relative to yourself.

So, how will you get started? What will be your next step?

#corecompetencies      #communication      #creativity