Play: Essential for Learning

One of the most effective ways to nurture creativity is to provide an environment where artists can explore and experiment freely.  My grade 10 students were introduced to reduction printing this week, and we spent a number of classes having fun with styrofoam and fabric ink:


Experimentation is a vital part of the Creative Process; you gain confidence and comfort with the materials you are learning about by playing with them.  You learn what works and what doesn’t.  Your critical thinking skills kick in as you make constant decisions about successes and failures while you plan your next move.

Preliminary #printmaking

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There were no marks involved in our explorations.

I didn’t have expectations for our prints.  I simply hoped that students would play with the materials and let me know what they thought of the techniques as they played with the styrofoam and ink.  When I provided my demo, I made sure to let them know that it’s ok to mess up — in fact, it’s more than ok.  If the t-shirt looks “ugly” after we’re done with it, great!


It has been so rewarding for me to witness the growth in my class throughout this inquiry into printmaking, and I know that the students have enjoyed collaborating in a stress-free environment.  These thoughts popped into my mind as my colleagues and I discussed our Theories of Action yesterday in a meeting for aspiring leaders in our school board.  We had been feeling quite stressed because it seemed so difficult to develop an effective theory of action based on our new knowledge of the Ontario Leadership Framework.

What I didn’t like about my Theory of Action was having to select one method to connect with others.  It felt inauthentic.  I achieved more success by straying from my original plan and meeting people where they were, and helping them with their needs if they were willing/able to connect.

This is exactly the point of my current TLLP: recognizing individual entry points, goals and methodologies.  The same seems to echo with fellow educators; in fact, unless there is a tool that is relevant for their practice, it is a waste of time (think of the educator’s perspective).  Therefore, why waste someone’s time with my own goal & assumption about what will help them move forward?  It is my responsibility to listen and respond.  

My frustrations with my inability to develop a clear vision are captured in my reflections above, which I’m glad I recorded because they seem to compare to the messy t-shirt prints from my grade 10 class.  Is it possible that messy learning can be a part of leadership too?  As I mentioned, this possibility crossed my mind in yesterday’s meeting thanks to some extremely open conversations about our progress as well as our understanding of the OLF.

When I began to see the development of a Theory of Action through the lens of inquiry, I felt a weight being lifted from my shoulders.  It made more sense to see leadership as a new learning journey and consider these first steps as preliminary sketches (or even messy prints on a t-shirt).  The pressure began to disappear and I am grateful to the facilitators at yesterday’s meeting for providing an environment where exploration was encouraged.  Maybe this is what play looks like for educators?

What a great group of colleagues in #SGDSB!

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New Approaches: #DiveIntoInquiry

This morning: a modified circle, to discuss curriculum with my students. #everyvoicematters

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I really appreciate using circles with students; it is a way to ensure that they know their voice matters. Today I modified my approach because I wanted to speak about our curriculum and expectations. We would be speaking about the structure of our course, so I used a square set-up to represent something more objective and concrete.

We looked over our responses from yesterday’s Google Form, asking students what they knew about the Critical Analysis process (one of the three strands in Visual Arts). We were able to assess what we knew by reading through everyone’s (anonymous) answers, and discuss different approaches to meeting our expectations. We have established a learning target (a term I learned about from my Principal — thank you!), so we know where we would like to be in terms of understanding and communication by June.

I asked students to look through the ten expectations from this strand and select three to examine in more depth.  In a Google doc that would be shared with me, they would provide the expectation, explain what it meant, and provide a suggestion for a way to cover this material in class.  I’m already very interested to read through my students’ opinions:

B2.1  I think that analyzing the function and social impact of different kinds of artwork in both past and present societies means that you learn from the artworks impact on people and their culture. To represent this in our class, a project we could do is recreate a dynamic historic event that affected everyone in that time period. We can do this through any type of artwork whether it’s painting, drawing, etc.

B2.2 I think that this means that the artwork represents the struggles or challenges that artist had in history. We believe this because artists could have had a minimal supply of products according to the society they lived in. A project that we could do relating to this topic is make a painting with only a number of supplies.

B1. 4; I think this means to analyze your own work and be able to evaluate the strong points in your work and where there is room to improve. I think looking over your work and going through the criteria will allow you to improve and see what you need to work on to better your current assignment or assignments in the future. I think this will help us learn what we are good at, and how we can make our work better. This will help us experiment with techniques, and use of materials.

I think we could create an artwork using 2 or more techniques, and blending them together to make a creative piece of art. I think a project like that will help us experiment will all of the techniques we have learned, while broadening our experience with techniques we aren’t familiar with.


B1.2; I think this means looking deeper into the art we create. I think this skill will help us develop a deeper understanding of the art our peers create as well as our own. I think we will be able to connect on a deeper level and be able to understand each other more, because we will be able to recognize the emotion and feelings put into everything they create.

With this skill I think we could create a piece of art that describes our feelings, or who we are emotionally. This could help everyone understand who we are personally, and show that we all have rough patches or things we don’t talk about. I think this is a great assignment for bullying awareness because bullying affects everyone, and we can show that they aren’t alone and we can relate in some type of way. I think this will help show the true value of our emotions and who we are, this will help us develop a deeper understanding of everyone/everything around us.


B2.1 I think this is teaching us how to evaluate artwork in a different perspective. I think we will be able to use technology to make art, I think we could explore some media art and understand how technology and social media has evolved art, and the creative processes.

I think we could create a piece of art using aspects from social media, but tie it into what we learn on a daily basis. We learn so much from social media, I think it would be cool to show what we’ve learned through the technology we use daily.


Their thoughts are fascinating, and I am grateful for their suggestions.  I respect their efforts to consider new possibilities while remembering the foundations of the course.



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Structured Inquiry: Not a Bad Way to Begin the Semester

I learned so much more about inquiry thanks to my students in first semester; their willingness to push their skills as well as their limits kept me on my toes while I admired their independence and tried to support them in any way I could.  I wanted to provide free inquiry for my students, but I’ll admit that my organizational skills needed to be refreshed as I attempted to create a foundational structure on which we could build our new knowledge.  Now that a new semester has begun, it’s time to take a step back and keep it simple for a while.

In Trevor Mackenzie’s book, Dive Into Inquiry, he recommends a scaffolded approach.  “…we begin the year in a Structured Inquiry model, transition to a Controlled Inquiry, move on to a Guided Inquiry, and if all goes well, conclude with a Free Inquiry.” 

Ok, so I didn’t begin last semester with Structured Inquiry, but this semester I did!

Before curriculum, outlines or procedures, I knew I needed to focus on relationships.  One of Trevor’s recommendations is to build an atmosphere of trust on which we can rely in the coming months.  Since our school board is emphasizing the need to support students through their learning environment, I wanted to use circles as a way to let my students know that they are welcome, their voice is important, and that I am listening.

Every voice matters. #SGDSB #onted

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Deliberately designing structured inquiry tasks was another method I used to provide support for my students as they transitioned from one semester to another.  My grade 10 students were challenged to design an automaton, my grade 11 students designed a cardboard arcade game, and my grade 12 students were given a #mugchallenge.  There were very specific parameters but you would be surprised by the freedom found in such rigid limitations.

Please take a moment to read about the exciting story related to this tweet:

I’ve never had someone from the Canadian Space Agency give one of my students advice before!  #socool

We celebrated our learning by inviting a group of grade 7 & 8 students to view and assess our automatons:

My Educational Assistant and I often found ourselves fascinated when we watched these students throughout the design process; they really had to push their thinking as they addressed problems that needed to be solved!


Grade 11 students jumped right in to their first task, and enjoyed sharing their cardboard arcade games with our young friends from Red Rock Public School!

Arcade #game fun!!

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More #fun!

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The games were fun to design and construct, but it was so rewarding to share our games with young students.  They were excited to play and their willingness to have fun was contagious!

What a thoughtful thank-you note from the students at Red Rock Public School!! ❤ #SGDSB

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This was one of the sweetest thank-you notes we’ve ever received. ❤  Their teacher also let us know about one young gentleman who was so inspired by our class that he built his very own cardboard arcade game!  Wow!


I don’t know if the beginning of a semester has ever been so memorable.  As of today, we’re just beginning our third week.  The grade 12 #mugchallenge is almost complete, and my grade 9 students are beginning to explore the Elements of Design by creating stop motion videos.

As we progress through the semester, our model of inquiry will evolve to provide students with more control over topics, resources and solutions.  It sure helps to have some very positive first steps to help us on our way!

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Challenging Assumptions: Classroom Design

Conferences have always been a part of my interactions with students, but I can’t say that I’ve planned or structured these conferences before.  This year, I am using conferences as an integral tool for my students’ inquiry tasks; they schedule meeting times with me and are responsible for recording what we discussed as well as their plan for the next step of their task.  As much as I enjoy the first meetings with students, I was surprised by the level of accountability in the 2nd and 3rd meetings because we used their notes to assess their growth.

If I am going to continue using conferences in my classroom, I think I have to consider redesigning our classroom space.  Although my students and I are able to have productive meetings, it would help if we had a designated area that was more conducive to meaningful discussions.


While I tossed a few ideas around in my head, I noticed Aviva Dunsiger‘s post on Instagram:

What a beautiful way to use her classroom for the benefit of her students.  It made me wonder if my students would feel comfortable in my classroom if they needed a “brain break”.  What would this look like in a secondary classroom?  How would it compare and differ from an elementary classroom?


I have heard that the classroom is the third teacher, but I haven’t honoured this concept by intentionally planning our learning environment… yet.  Maybe this is my next step…

If you have suggestions or ideas for classroom design, please share!



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Assessing an Evaluation: #DiveIntoInquiry

A conversation with Heather Theijsmeijer (see the tweets embedded below) made me do something crazy:  share my rubric.


For some reason, I find it difficult to share my evaluation techniques with others.  I rarely get other perspectives on this really important aspect of connecting with students.  Why? I’m not sure yet.  I just know that it’s difficult.

If so much is riding on evaluation (consider our students’ perspectives), why don’t we share our rubrics, checklists and grading schemes more often?  

<I take a deep breath and prepare to jump in the deep end>

Here is the link to my rubric, along with the related resources (a questionnaire & assignment handout).  If you’re curious and able, would you consider giving me feedback on my evaluation scheme?


Hey Trevor, is this why it’s called “Dive Into Inquiry”? 😉


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I have enjoyed reading several posts and tweets from educators who are sharing their #OneWord2017 (or, in our school board, #SGDSB1Word).  I wasn’t sure if I would contribute a word — there are so many words to choose from! — I have commitment issues… — but a colleague from Dorion captured my attention tonight on Twitter:

Dave’s honesty was refreshing, and I can understand why balance is so important.  Sometimes my own balancing act resembles a performer with spinning plates on long sticks.

So, to honour the need for balance in my own life, I have chosen plan as my #oneword2017.

My roles as a teacher, a parent, and learner (Dave’s wording) all vie for my full attention. I need to learn how to budget my time so that the most meaningful people in my life get the attention they deserve while I still tend to the other necessary tasks and responsibilities. Add a few side-jobs to the mix, and life gets really interesting.

Inquiry is one of the most important aspects of my current TLLP project, and I recently realized that organization is the critical component of a fruitful inquiry task.  I might have known this before, but it’s rather convenient to ignore and hope for the best… 

Thanks for sharing your #OneWord2017 today, Dave.  It meant a lot to me.



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Organization: My Nemesis


  1. the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall.
  2. a long-standing rival; an archenemy.

Thank you, Google.  You have described my relationship with Organization perfectly.  Organization deserves to be capitalized in my world, since it has grown into its own entity; my rival, the thing that should not be named, the thing I would rather avoid…  you get the idea.

That’s why, when I continued to read through Dive Into Inquiry (something I’ve been blogging about lately), I felt a pain — it’s hard to say if it was actually physical, but at the very least it was intellectual.  Have a look:


Uh-oh.  My nemesis found its way into my favourite book!  Albeit, disguised under the pseudonym of structure, but it couldn’t fool me.  My spidey-senses knew my rival was close by.

I chose to do what any superhero teacher would do:  I avoided it until the fateful day when I would have to face my enemy.  I donned my armour and braced myself for …

a snow day (cue dramatic music).

I’m not sure how the victor of a battle is determined, but I think I came out on top.  By the end of the day, I had managed to plan an inquiry unit for the month of January (here is a copy of the PDF), prepare a schedule for conferences with students, and make folders for everyone.

My reward?  A restful holiday.  I fought well, I fought hard, and now the bounty was mine.  I wasn’t stressed or anxious while I celebrated Christmas with my family — I can’t think of a better treasure.




Now to help my daughter with her own battle…    😉

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