Students Shine In A Culture Of Creativity

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from failures and go on to the next challenge. It’s OK to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.”

-H. Stanley Judd

The Catalyst. No longer a piece of welded metal but a piece of art!
The Catalyst. No longer a piece of welded metal, but a piece of art!

I don’t know about you, but today was a great day! May 30 was Georges Vanier Elementary’s first ever WikiSeat Showcase. If you’ve been following our WikiSeat journey, you’ll know that it’s been one of great learning, risk-taking, and uncertainty. When our WikiSeat experience first began and we gave students catalysts, none of us…Ron O’Neil, Matt White, Hugh McDonald, Gallit Zvi, Francoise Rempel, or myself…knew where we were going or how things would end up. Our experiment also was very public as students continued their work during separate visits from educators Lindsey Own, Michelle Hiebert, Chris Wejr, and Kristin Peters.

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Today was such a rewarding day because of how our students rose to the occasion. With adults taking on more of a facilitator role, students were encouraged to think for themselves, solve problems, create something totally unique, and do this all for an authentic audience. This morning as WikiSeat participants sat ready to present their creations, hundreds of peers poured into the gym, viewed projects, and asked questions. We were visited by the local newspaper as well our District’s media department, making the learning very “real” for students. Best of all, learners were completely focused on what’s important…their learning rather than letter grades (which by the way were not assigned to projects).

As I stood back and marvelled at how excited and proud our students were, I thought a great deal about school culture and about how school culture determines whether or not opportunities such as these every make it to students. It’s certainly a culture I try to foster at our school, but it’s a task I cannot do alone. I am thankful to the educators who participated in this project not only because they took part, but that they embraced and celebrated the sometimes messy and ambiguous learning that comes from innovation and creativity.

Leaving our comfort zones was made easier knowing that we can ALL be creative, and that all students truly have the opportunity to shine in a culture of creativity!

Where do we go next?

When Square One Isn’t A Bad Place

“Maybe it’s not about trying to fix something broken.Maybe it’s about starting over and creating something better.” – Unknown

Yesterday as I sat, dissatisfied, looking at my WikiSeat, I made the decision we all need to make sometimes – to start at square one! Sometimes you think you have a great idea, but when faced with what the idea really looks like, you change your mind. So I dismantled my WikiSeat and went back to the drawing board. I eventually drew something I liked better, then set about figuring out how to make the design work. Five hours later, and after trips to the Home Depot and fabric store, I was finished my WikiSeat (with the exception of some sanding and staining I need to do).

My WikiSeat 2.0
My WikiSeat 2.0

Today, I made a point of mentioning this work to the students at my school. I wanted to let them know that a little struggle along the way is OK. It also shows that not only is starting over sometimes the best decision, but being back at square one isn’t a bad place to be because it shows you’ve been reflective and haven’t settled on something you weren’t happy with.

Meanwhile, students in five classes at Georges Vanier Elementary have continued to work on their own WikiSeat projects. From the first day we introduced the catalyst to them, there have been several construction days – and yes…they have been chaotic. In fact, what we as adults have realized is that in addition to all the learning students have done, there are many things we have learned about how we would roll out the WikiSeat project next time, such as:

  • Encouraging students to spend more time on the design and model phases
  • Working with classmates in their own classes as coordinating schedules has been problematic
  • Staggering times when classes work on their WikiSeat project so students have access to the tools and support they need
  • The importance of modelling creativity and resilience for students
  • Conducting “mini-lessons” on important steps in the building process such as measuring, marking, drilling, and upholstering
  • Reminding, reminding, and then reminding a little more when important dates are coming up
The Catalyst!
The Catalyst!

But for me personally, today was the most rewarding day in the WikiSeat journey so far. A few classes were out of the school and I had the chance to work with a couple of small groups. Half way through the day as we were cutting some wood to length, I heard a student say, “This has been the funnest school day” … or something to that effect. He didn’t say it because he thought I would hear it, but because I believe he was genuinely enjoying the work he was doing.

Mostly, the students today enjoyed doing work they were proud of and personally invested in. As the conclusion of this project nears, we look forward to our WikiSeat showcase on May 30th and the celebration of student (and teacher) creativity!

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Doing Work That Matters

“Deprived of meaningful work,
men and women lose their reason for existence;
they go stark, raving mad.”

-Fyodor Dostoevsky

I hear it all the time…We could focus on the stuff that REALLY matters if it wasn’t for all the small, menial, (and yes sometimes bureaucratic) tasks that sometime seem to dominate our time. The more time I spend in schools and with my own growing children, the more I believe that kids feel the exact same way adults do about the importance of our time. Specifically, they not only want to do work that matters, but they also have the need to know why they are doing the work. The more I look around, the more examples of this I see.

photo-75My oldest son Jake is in Grade 11. He’s a good kid, does well in school, but nothing in school has ever really interested or motivated him. But recently, I’ve noticed a change – a good change. He has combined his passions of soccer and technology and has started to write a blog about one of his favourite teams; the Vancouver Whitecaps. His blog isn’t something that he just throws together, but rather something he devotes a great deal of time and care to. In fact, for the first time I can recall, he spends the time to make his blog “just right” instead of “just good enough”. He contributes to other blogs and has bloggers write for his. I was most impressed when, before our last Whitecaps game, Jake told me that he didn’t need his ticket because he had been given press credentials and would spend the game watching the game from the press box with the media. A few days later, he met with the editor of a local newspaper to discuss the possibility of doing an internship. Yes…Jake working for free in order to learn! To him, this is work that really matters!

Another great example of students embracing work that matters is the recent 30-Hour Famine that took place at Georges Vanier Elementary. I’ve always loved working with our senior students, but being a few months away from moving on to high school, some can have the attitude that they no longer need to buy into any school events. Teachers at the school promoted ownership by introducing the idea of doing a 30-Hour Famine and allowing students to discuss charities they were interested in supporting. Together, students and teachers agreed on dividing the money three ways between Kiva, BCSPCA, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. There was something about helping people, children, and animals in need that struck a chord with the 54 students who decided to participate. When the event had concluded, over $3900 was raised. Who said you can’t get Grade 7 students to care?

Finally, many teachers at Georges Vanier Elementary have introduced their students to Genius Hour, a time weekly when students not only get to learn what they want, they get to decide how they will share their learning with others. How do I know this approach is making a difference? It is obvious when you walk into a class during Genius Hour that students genuinely care about what they are learning because the learning is meaningful to them. Initially, some students find it difficult to come up with topics because they’ve rarely been asked what interests them or what they would like to learn more about. With time, the process becomes natural and topic selection easier.

Do we give students enough opportunity to consistently do work that really matters to them? Probably not, but the work I see currently being done throughout Georges Vanier and many other schools gives me hope that the shift towards passion-based, student-centered learning, has not only started, but is beginning to grow. After all, we all deserve and yearn to do work that is personally fulfilling and meaningful!

I’d love to hear about strategies and projects you implement to make learning meaningful for your students!

Creativity Takes A Seat

photo-56I feel compelled to write about an upcoming project at my school. Compelled not only because I am extremely excited to be involved in the project, but also because I want to spread the word and hopefully have more students in Canada participate. Months ago, I came across a tweet regarding the WikiSeat project – essentially an opportunity for students to do the meaningful, hands-on, creative work of making a functional chair given only a “catalyst“. After much discussion back and forth and with much support from WikiSeat founders Nic and Aleric, educators Sean Wheeler and Jared Nichol, and several departments in Surrey Schools, our learning journey begins.

A few weeks ago, the catalysts arrived and my mind has been working overtime since. I’ve been having on-going conversations with teachers on staff and now we are at the point of introducing the project to our students. We’ve quickly realized that we are going to be doing as much problem-solving and learning as our students…and that’s VERY exciting! Questions we are mulling include:

  • How do we best promote creativity? How much do we let student struggle?
  • How much information do we actually share with students? Do we tell them they are ‘supposed’ to make a chair or do we leave the project open-ended? In other words, how much steering do we do?
  • Do we leave it to students to supply (all) their own materials?
  • How do we ensure student safety given they will need to use tools at some point in their work?
  • How will students document and share their learning?
  • Where will students do their work?
  • What will the showcase at the project’s conclusion look like?
The Catalyst!
The Catalyst!

Essentially, being WikiSeat rookies, we don’t know what we don’t know. But what I do know is given our staff’s openness to innovation and foray into Genius Hour, I’m confident the seeds of the WikiSeat project have landed on fertile ground. I hope you follow us on our journey!