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Designing our way into an unknown future by leading with our beliefs

Seeing possibility. It wasn’t what the conversation was initially about, but it navigated there because it mattered to both of them. Niki Leboe and Jeryd Baines teach grade 5/6 in community at Oyama Traditional School (OTS). Like educators across our district and around the world, they have been working tirelessly to connect with students and provide them with a sense of safety, belonging, and hope during this period of remote learning. And they are also looking for possibilities and being curious about how what they do now could translate if (when?) the educational landscape shifts again. We began this conversation weeks ago, before any announcements by the ministry about the invitational return to schooling for children on June 1st. They were already imagining what might shift and how they might design learning experiences that shifted with students, regardless of environment. By designing with their beliefs, a sense of openness, and putting students at the centre, they were finding a way of “future-proofing” their learning experiences. Both educators already had a sound background in learning technologies, and Niki and Jeryd describe that they had a gift to focus on what they really wanted to design for students by knowing what kinds of platforms they could draw upon to make that happen. It wasn’t a question about how to use the technology, it was which tools would serve their students best (as well as honour the beliefs that each educator held about learning and children). In supporting a connected and consistent learning community, both educators describe themselves as being ‘blown away’ at the efficacy and agency of students, as well as being personally empowered to be open and flexible in meeting the specific and distinct needs of each family.

What beliefs about learning inspire your distance learning practices and might help you imagine a partial return to the classroom?

Nurturing Connections

  • When we started planning for our students the first week back from Spring Break the main focus was ensuring we are keeping the students connected. Not only with us, but them as peers. Creating routines with zoom and how we would continue to shape their learning would be collaborative to ensure those connections they worked so hard at forming remain.

  • One thing we do is have the Stream open on the Google Classroom and in there we post fun, open ended questions and puzzles. The students can reply and see each other's posts. It's a fun and safe place for them to learn and interact.

Connecting to Nature

  • This idea of connections carried over to what we started before Spring Break. We were working with ASM, PGE and Watson Rd. to have our children work collaboratively online with some Nature Based Projects and then eventually get to go on an outdoor field trip together. Especially forming connections with PGE is very important to OTS because these kids filter into the same middle school. This became a top thought for us now that the typical chances for these kids to engage together and build new connections (such as Apple Bowl and Gardom Lake) weren’t going to happen.

Continuity between Learning at OTS and Distance Learning

  • I think this leads into another belief that the learning we wanted these children to engage in, needed to be meaningful. That regardless if eLearning was a few weeks or if the students returned back to the classroom, that everything we are exploring and focusing on together during this time had meaning and could continue, regardless if it was online or not. We didn’t want to do something totally random that had no connection to everything we built. Knowing that literacy and numeracy were our top focus as for the curriculum that needed to connect to the topics we would normally have been focusing on. Now the challenge was to utilize technology in a meaningful way that allowed this to happen and be able to be successful.

Digital Wellness

  • Keeping the Digital Wellness components in mind is always a belief I have. Being conscious of how and why we are using the computer and not just using it to use it. Is the use meaningful? Is it supporting the connections we want to see? Are the children making safe choices and creating a positive, supportive culture? Do our weekly assignments create balance for on and off technology learning? Do the students have choice with how they present their learning- meaning they can opt out of using technology also?

  • These are all questions we use every week as we learn in and out of the classroom.

How are you factoring the changing landscape of learning right now into your planning/designing?

  • Creating learning tasks that allow for choice was important and also offering learning tasks that allowed for all our different learners to feel successful. Using the model we used in class from Shelley Moore that has learning tasks that all can do, some can do and a few can do so they all had some kind of entry point into the day’s/weeks focus.

  • Being very intentional with what we focus on… keeping the core competencies in mind and as well as the curricular competencies. This is where the reflection piece comes in. Having the children reflect on their practice and relating the skills they are learning to the Core Competencies. So far they have been doing this in Seesaw when posting/sharing but we are working on adapting a Google Slide deck that was shared from the intermediate teachers at ASM.

  • We have Sara Manana joining us on Fridays to continue offering SEL lessons via Zoom. Keeping that instruction consistent. A huge focus is the Growth Mindset and now adapting the discussion around Growth Mindset and eLearning...perseverance.

What have you noticed about student learning at this time that is guiding your design?

  • The learning doesn’t have to be different than our intentions from in the classroom. We can do our best and adapt to the challenges that we face, but ultimately we can plan and design learning that can carry back into the classroom when that day comes.

  • Having very clear and sequential plans is a must and also keeping how we provide the materials to be very consistent. Structure, organization and routine are key to our weekly planning.

  • Looking at how we can still offer deep learning opportunities and not just remain on the surface. This is challenging from a distance but something we continue to keep in mind.

  • Designing learning that offers support built in… we understand that not all children have the necessary support at home so we want them to be successful while also being independent learners too. (providing zoom lessons for math and allowing them to get some targeted instruction has helped them be successful at learning our ‘I Can’s’ each week). Being very intentional with that.

  • We have about ⅓ buy in right now. ⅓ that do some, and another third that are not engaged in learning at all. We have encouraged those families that are not as engaged to have their children still take part in our fun, community zoom each week.

  • Some children who you’d expect to be very successful aren't engaged at all and vice versa. Some of our shy kids are soaring in this model. Having choice on the time of day they are learning and how they go about their tasks. And some are more likely to share in an online setting than in the classroom. Kinda neat!

You have shared that you have been reflecting on and exploring assessment practices. Can you describe some of the conversations you have been having as colleagues? With your students?

  • Continuing with Assessment For Learning and a place for reflection is also a belief we are carrying. We have been focusing on how can we make “collecting evidence of learning” without just “collecting the work” they do? How can what we collect show the growth of their learning and not just the end product? This is something we are continuing to work on and is important to us because it is meaningful and can continue when we get back into the classroom.

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