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Creating Graphic Novels

Earlier in the year our grade 8 Humanities students completed a project where they retold a chosen novel in a graphic novel form.

Our two grade 8 Humanities teachers, Dave Scott and Jaime Groeller, recently compiled all the materials they used for this project into an "integrated inquiry resource." If you have an iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone, you can click here to get the ePub document that contains all the steps of the project, with videos and rubrics.

Creating a Graphic Novel - Grade 8 Humanities
Created by Dave Scott Jaime Groeller

Below is an brief overview of the project.

Assignment Outline:

In this inquiry project students are asked to take on the role of a writer who has been commissioned to take a short story/novella and put it into graphic comic form. As part of this process, they must take on a perspective different from the one the novel is in (first person, limited omniscient, omniscient) and then choose ten central moments in the narrative structure of the story to represent within their graphic novel.

For each of these moments, they are asked to create two or more pages in graphic novel format if they are working independently, or 4 or more pages if they are working with a partner. Specifically, they are asked to render the following parts of their story into graphic novel format:
  • A character sketch of 2-4 of the primary characters in the story
  • Exposition/ Prologue (if necessary)
  • Initial incident
  • 3 moments within the rising action
  • Climax
  • 2 moments within the falling action
  • Denouement or resolution
Overall unit objective:

Students will read their short story or novella carefully for details of important literary components and through enhancing key literary elements of their novel with visuals, create a graphic novel. Students can choose to work individually or in partners for this project. We recommend that students choose only short stories or novellas for this project, to keep the process manageable.

Rather than having to create a whole story from scratch, choosing form a list, students are asked to adapt a short story or novella into graphic novel format. To do this they must graphically recreate the central moments within the narrative structure of their story. As a graphic novel is highly visual and minimal in text, they must be very concise in their story telling. Thus, they must distill their novel down to the central moments needed to re-tell the story in a way that keeps the reader’s interest, yet does justice to the narrative.

To graphically represent their story students could use from a variety of tools:
  • use the online comic generator Pixton or Toondoo
  • draw the images themselves
  • find images on the internet and place these into Comic Life
  • use Adobe Fireworks to manipulate and combine images
Each of these mediums have their strengths and weaknesses; the following video will provide you with the student’s perspective on the possibilities and limitations of each medium.

Here is an example of one of the completed student graphic novels:

Digital Publishing Discussion Follow Up

Thanks to all those who joined us for our first Innovation in Education "Think Tank" discussion event.

For those who joined us (either face to face or digitally) you'll know the content. The resources and ideas presented by Dave Scott and Neil Stephenson were:

As a quick review:
Dave and Neil shared ideas around digital publishing in three areas:
  • Student Publishing
  • Teachers Publishing for Students
  • Teachers Publishing for other Teachers
The final discussion question of the night was:

For many the power of emerging technologies lays not in the tools, but in the accompanying interactive and participatory cultures. If there were no constraints, do you see (and if so how) the changing nature of digital text impacting and transforming education?

Our purpose for the event was to introduce some ideas and possibilities, and allow for participants to respond and discuss. We wanted the event to be the beginning of the discussion.

Please feel free to continue the discussion using the comments section below.

Digital Publishing Discussion: Today!

Today we're holding our first Innovation and Education "think tank" discussion! This initiative is designed to get a range of educational stakeholders together to discuss emerging ideas and possibilities in education, particularly around different technologies and their implication for the classroom.

We have planned our first "Innovation in Education" event for Wednesday, March 23rd, from 7:00 - 8:30pm.

A grade 8 teacher from the Calgary Science School, David Scott, and PD/Outreach Coordinator Neil Stephenson will be the facilitators for our first event. David and Neil have become very interested the potential of digital publishing or 'etextbooks' - particularly as resource for teacher professional development. They are starting to build their first "integrated digital teaching resources" - digital documents embedded with video files, student examples and assessment resources.

The dynamic, self contained, and digital nature of electronic publishing elevates it beyond paper or text based resources. In addition to providing a more interesting and visually rich platform to engage ideas, concepts, and knowledge central to a unit, digital teaching resources have the potential to provide an integrated space where current research and scholarship, the program of studies, and the lived world of the classroom intersect in one resource.

David and Neil will use the resources they're working on to initiate discussion about the potential of digital publishing in education - both as student resources and teacher development material.

During the event there'll be opportunity for discussion around questions such as:

What potential does digital publishing hold for teacher resources?
How might digital resources address both content delivery and pedagogical practices?
What role might digital resources play in teacher and student teacher development?

We will be hosting this event both physically (at the Calgary Science School) and digitally through this link.

If you have an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch - please bring it along! We'll be demonstrating some of the experiments we've been making with digital publishing.

There's no cost for the event - although we ask that you sign up in advance by clicking here.

It's open to all (parents, teachers, administrators, etc) Please spread the word about this event!

Inquiry Book Study: Week Six

Welcome to chapter 6 of our inquiry book study: Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching can Transform Education

Chapter 6: Learn from the Team
Guest Blogger: Joanna Sanders Bobiash

I am a French Immersion Middle Years Educator and Teacher Librarian in Regina, Saskatchewan. I received my B.Ed. from the University of Regina. I am passionate about the integration of technology into the classroom to enable students to think and work together in new ways. I have documented my journey through my blog entitled “My Adventures in Educational Technology” . In 2009, I won the $20,000 “Best in Class” award from Best Buy for the use of technology in my classroom. This award enabled me to purchase many new tools for my classroom, including iPod touches and netbooks, which have allowed my students to learn in new ways.

I chose this chapter to write about because of its title, “Learn from the Team”. Collaborative learning is a key component to the current environment in my classroom and in my school. Many aspects of this book really resonated well with me because I’m fortunate to work at a structurally innovative school that allows me the opportunity to put many of the seven principles in this book into practice. In fact, after reading Perkins book, I felt that it will be a useful tool to help explain some of the structural changes and practices we are currently implementing at my school. Please indulge me as I share a bit more about the structure I have helped develop at my school while reflecting on Chapter 6 of Perkins book.

First off, let me tell you a bit about my school and our structure, as it is far from traditional. École Wilfrid Walker School is a public, K-8 French Immersion Centre in the suburbs of east Regina. All instruction and interaction occurs in French, which is the second language for the majority of our students. Other than a couple of hours a week devoted to English Language Arts instruction, our entire curriculum is in French. In fact, students don’t receive any instruction in English until they are in Grade 3.

In this chapter, Perkins begins by explaining the importance of the “Social View of Learning”. In French Immersion instruction, social interaction is crucial to second language acquisition. The premise of this practice is to “immerse” the learner in a new language environment. Students come into the program with no knowledge of the language, but are actually forced to learn and interact using the language before they fully understand it. They rarely receive translations for what they are learning, but instead their comprehension is supported through images, gestures and social interaction to learn new vocabulary and grammar.

French Immersion students in fact explore the same concepts other learners in the same grade are learning in English at other schools. In a short amount of time, they become fluent in the language as they are challenged to think and learn in new ways. Perkins begins this chapter by talking about Vygotsky insights into concepts like “social scaffolding” and the “activity theory” and their impact on internalized learning.

I believe that learning in French Immersion is successful because students are learning through physical actions and conversations that help internalize the new language that they are encountering. I believe that students would not experience the same successes if they were not exposed to the social aspect of learning through a “social scaffolding” of supports from their peers.

What makes my school different from other French Immersion schools across Canada? Social learning is not a new practice and has been important to the success of French Immersion since the beginning of the program more than 30 years ago. The difference at our school is that we have taken social learning to the next level.

In 2009, Wilfrid Walker was one of the first schools in Regina Public to experiment with a new structure under our division’s initiative called “Structural Innovation”. Our structure is founded on the principles of flexible groupings, team teaching, student choice, inquiry and project based learning. It is rare to walk through our school and see students sitting in rows listening attentively to a single speaker in front of the room. Usually you see students working together in pairs or in groups on hands on learning tasks or projects. From the early days of Kindergarten, students are “playing the whole game” when it comes to learning French.

At Wilfrid Walker, most teachers teach only a few subjects, which is rare in elementary school. This focus allows teachers to become masters at what they do and allow the students the benefit of receiving quality learning experiences from educators who are specialized in the subjects that they teach. Our student body of approximately 250 has been divided up into three grade specific pods (1-2, 3-5, 6-8). Students have a homeroom, but are otherwise grouped and re-grouped during the day depending on the subject that they are studying. These groupings change throughout the year as our calendar has been organized into eight, six week blocks.

Although our schedule is blocked into more traditional subject headings, teachers plan as teams to ensure that similar themes are covered through many subjects at once, ensuring students work in cross-curricular situations. They are able to solve problems and apply language skills in math class then later use those same skills to investigate world issues and propose solutions to today’s problems in social studies, science and health.

Ideally, students would have exposure and opportunities to work with real experts in their fields. Just like how most educators in Saskatchewan learn to be teachers by doing lengthy internships, we learn best by observing and working alongside veterans in their field. Education students get to apply their knowledge by practicing their skills in the real world and learn to reflect and try again. That is how they become master learners.

I think that the next level of Perkins’ described “Communities of Practice” in this chapter would be in the form of team teaching at my school. Not only do we host and mentor our share of university students but being able to plan and teach alongside our colleagues in the same room allows us the ability to see each other in action, to reflect on our own practice and to have opportunity to become better educators.

This brings me to the section of the chapter devoted to “Studio Learning.” I feel a particular attachment to this part of the chapter because my classroom does not actually have a number like most others in our school. Its “room number” is actually a name and is called “Studio 1”. It is a place where I spend most mornings teaching social studies and science in mixed grade groupings of students in 6/7/8. Students in my classroom follow the studio model explained in this chapter (demonstration-lecture, students-at-work, process of sharing and critique) to learn about the required curricular outcomes in social studies and science for their grade level.

But what does this look like? I start each block modelling and demonstrating what we will be learning about to give students an idea of what it “actually looks like”. Students then use problem solving methods similar to the “Pair Problem Solving” method described in this chapter to work on specific learning tasks to get more familiar with the topic at hand. They collaboratively draft questions and propose hypothesises about the topic.

Finally, students choose to work independently, in pairs or as teams to attack larger problems, which are either student or teacher constructed, through lengthy project-based learning periods or student focused work periods, culminating in a peer critiqued sharing event or presentation at the end of the block.

The culture of constant feedback and reflection are woven through my classroom. Students have been taught how to give constructive feedback to each other and how to effectively reflect on their own learning. They teach each other how to approach problems in different ways. They also mentor each other to see past what is happening in the classroom and to try to apply their ideas in a real world context. Their journey is documented through learning journals, exit cards and block end reflections. This is my form of “Extreme Team Learning” and is evolving every day and we re-evaluate and try new ways of learning at our school.

This type of learning wouldn’t happen if we hadn’t already developed a culture of understanding at our school where students feel supported and listened to, not only by the teachers, but by their peers as well. An open and caring environment is necessary for students to experience success.

Finally, my latest experiment is the concept of “Cross Age Tutoring”. Traditionally, this method is used in our school in the form of “Reading Buddies”, a time where older students read to younger students or vice versa. As we focus more and more on the acquisition of 21st century skills, I have developed literacy and numeracy centres where older students work with primary students on acquiring new skills through the use of ipods, laptops and Smart Board.

Nothing is more rewarding then hearing older students give feedback or instruction to younger students using the terminology they have learned to use in the “Studio”. The older students often comment in their reflections that they really enjoy teaching younger students new things. This experience gives them confidence knowing that even if they are struggling with concepts and skills at their own grade level, they have come a long way since Grade 1. They also say that they have become better learners themselves watching how younger students learn.

I’m not sharing our school’s journey to say that we are the best out there. We have come a long way and have a long way to go. We are constantly learning and growing along with our structure and make changes and improvements all the time. We have developed a structure that works for our students and their needs. As their needs evolve, so will our structure.

I’m curious to hear how you interpret “social learning” or “learning from the team”. I hope by sharing a bit about my school, you will share a bit about yours. I am always looking for new ways to approach learning in my classroom and in my school.

I look forward to hearing more from you.

How to create a Digital Publishing Culture

Over the last few weeks a few of our staff have begun experimenting with the potential of digital publishing using ePub, both for students and teachers. We are excited about the possibilities, and we imagine digital publishing being used for:
  • Students publishing their own fiction writing within the school community
  • Students creating images and videos to embed into written documents (i.e., student developed 'Khan Academy')
  • Teachers creating integrated digital resources to share promising practices (i.e., multimedia teaching materials)
  • Teachers creating unit guides for students (combination of text, visuals, videos and links)
Why create ePubs? ePubs have a number of functions that PDFs or WORD documents don't, including:
  • easily resizing the font size for readability on the device
  • clickable table of contents
  • makes use of the embedded dictionary on the device
  • the ability to highlight text and add notes
  • text to speech so the text can be read to students
  • embedded videos
  • embedded links to external sites
  • embedded links within the document
  • kids get excited about seeing their content in an iBook!

Creating Trailers for Short Stories

At a recent PD day, our staff had a lengthy discussion about iMovies.
We've been a 1:1 school for 5 years, and had Mac labs for years before that - so our teachers have been doing digital storytelling in various forms for quite a while now.
As the examples and uses of iMovie have spread through our campus over the last few years, more and more teachers and students have been using iMovies as a way to demonstrate understanding. When used in the proper way, we feel digital storytelling is a very powerful and creative way for students to express themselves.

Boreal Math Part 2

Recently we shared some posts about a grade 6 math problem built around the question: Are there enough trees in Canada's Boreal Forest to be considered the lungs of the Earth?

In order to solve this problem, students were given a few pieces of background information and worked in small groups to formulate the specific calculations they'd need to solve to answer the question.

Inquiry Book Study: Week Five

Another weekly post for our Inquiry Book study. You can get to all the posts and comments through this link.

Week Five: Uncover the Hidden Game
Writer: Sarah MacGregor I am a U of C grad, BGS and soon BEd, specializing in Early Childhood Education. I am passionate about inquiry and enjoy practicing on my three year old son. I'm currently in my last semester and looking forward to an exciting career in teaching. I have a sole publication to date and you can find it here. I live by the mantra, become the lesson you would teach.

You can follow Sarah on twitter and read more of her ideas on her blog.

I would like to start by saying that I was very hesitant to write a guest post for this book club. I am, after all, a preservice teacher with limited experience attempting to make intellectual connections with a group of very experienced, and probably outstanding, teachers. So what can I possibly offer?

It’s my hope that two years of theoretical learning combined with practicum experience have left me with a strong platform upon which knowledge can be built and extended via this book club. So far, I have found that the creation of this post has deepened my learning experience and understanding of Perkins’ chapter five: Uncover the Hidden Game. I hope that my interpretations and ideas will promote further knowledge building in this group as the chapter indeed has the potential to provoke a lot of reflection.

In my practicum experience in a grade one/two split, I was asked to teach the Boats and Buoyancy unit. As should be expected of a student teacher, I got very excited about this and began brainstorming exciting ways to introduce the unit. My partner teacher and I soon realized that all of my ideas involved boats sinking!

Somehow I thought that boats were only really interesting when they sank; when they failed to do what they were designed to do. This is because of the interesting questions that a sinking event leads to: What went wrong? (Mechanism) Why? (Interaction Pattern, Probability) Who is responsible? (Agency) How has this impacted the lives of the people involved?

There is more complexity in a sinking event than a successful voyage. There are emotions, opportunities for heroic demonstrations, triumphs, failures, and human struggle. The excitement and epic nature of a sinking boat makes the game worth playing, as Perkins would say.

To add to this, just days before the planned opening, the Canadian Class Afloat ship, Concordia, sank off the coast of Brazil. This was a GREAT story. They were students, they were Canadian (many even from our city), and they all survived because of their successful training (working on the hard parts) and courage.

Based on feedback from my partner teacher, I decided to play it safe in the introduction a
nd tell the class the story of the great Canadian Blue Nose. They enjoyed the story and began to take up the unit with a racing mindset. The next day we got into the Class Afloat story and the unit really took off.

Over the following weeks, students worked in groups with various materials in water, referenced boat designs/types in books, drew designs for their boats (new class afloat prototypes), had their work teacher and peer edited, and then began building. When they were done we tested the boats as a class, providing group feedback on improvements and evaluating relative buoyancy. Then they had the opportunity to go back and improve their boats.

In reading chapter five, I was left with the question: What is the hidden game in this unit, and did we uncover it? Throughout this learning process, students discovered the importance of shape in a boat. This happened initially in their discovery that plasticine would sink unless they changed its shape, and then later in their boat building. Shape is the mechanism by which the boat stays afloat. However the anomaly weather system that struck Concordia overcame the physical capacity of the shape to exist in its upright position. The probability of this weather system was extremely low which leads to the complexity of the interaction patterns in weather systems. The agency goes all the way back to the boat builders and the complexity of their task to combine shape with masts, sails, rudders, etc. In answering my question, no, we did not get into the complete realm of the hidden game. However, I like to think that we played a successful junior version by discovering the importance of shape.

As an early childhood specialist, I had an appreciation for Perkins’ Kindergarten example in this chapter. The teacher notices her students beginning to dwell on one topic, in this case animals, and directs them to open up new ideas. This reminded me of how my class began to dwell on racing boats. The way O’Hara’s students are able to participate in this flowing dialogue speaks to her disposition and how these class experiences are regularly lived out. Furthermore, Perkins touches on the very important topic of developmentally appropriate practice. To what extent do teachers need to become experts on human development? This is a very important question in ECE in particular, where the rate of development is generally really fast (i.e. you can see massive differences between September and June in the lower grades, which are not always as apparent as you move up the grades). Perkins’ example provided me with a great model of how critical pedagogy can live in ECE. This will include a lot of junior versions, priming students for a future of intriguing ideas that they can approach with a critical, self-aware eye. Not an easy task.

Perkins speaks a lot to intentional teaching in this chapter. When describing an example, he states that “the particular anomaly is calculatedly chosen to push the learners further along the dimensions of complex causality”. That is, the teacher knows where the students need to go and is intentional in guiding students toward this discovery. The discovery itself, perhaps even just by being a hidden game, leads learners toward a more universal understanding. At the very least, students will discover that hidden games exist and things are not always as they seem. In moving away from teacher-centered pedagogy, this is a crucial step because it asks students to question their own discoveries, leading to more robust understandings.

As adults and teachers we can often fail to notice universal understandings that we now take for granted. They have shifted into our unconscious (tacit) knowings about the world. This is clear in Perkins’ words, “it’s easy to imagine that these sorts of distinctions are obvious, but they are certainly not”. I was intrigued by Perkins’ section on tacit knowledge. An example of this occurred this morning when my son questioned why I had to close the bag of bread. This is common sense to me. Obviously if I left the bag open the air would dry it out. So I began to try and explain this and it proved to be much more complex knowledge than I realized. Not only did he have to understand that air makes the bread dry and it doesn’t taste as good, but when I put my hand up in the air and said “air” he was looking for the thing I was referencing. Then we had to have a conversation about what air is! This leads us to a relatively difficult scientific concept (he’s three after all) that had entered the realm of my inert knowledge –or so I think. There is a complex causality for the bread drying out and this is the hidden game.

Ultimately, I think that Perkins refers to a level of self-awareness in teachers to the extent that we can take on student perspectives relative to our own. With that understanding, we can guide students to more complexity. If I had planned to teach my son about this topic, I could have well predicted the difficulties he would encounter with it and scaffold the steps accordingly. Indeed I probably would have concluded this information is beyond his realm of readiness, outside his zone of proximal development, and not developmentally appropriate. So what’s the junior game of drying out bread?

Exemplary Teaching and Learning

As a charter school, we have a special mandate in Alberta to provide specialized learning experiences for students in keeping with our school's vision, mission and charter as well as to share exemplary teaching practices and innovations with other schools.

Although we have this common mandate, each charter school is unique. Over a period of several months beginning with our staff retreat at the beginning of the school year in August, the Calgary Science School has been reflecting on our mandate and in the spirit of inquiry, we have been exploring the question, " What does exemplary teaching and learning look like in the Calgary Science School?"

Explaining the Charter with Common Craft

Our grade 9 students recently completed a project where they were asked to take a complex idea (the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and explain it in a short, simple and entertaining format.

To accomplish this, they used the Common Craft video format. What is Common Craft? Here's the description of what they do from their website:

Our videos may surprise you. They're short and simple. They use paper cut-outs. They cover subjects "in Plain English." But lurking under the simple surface are lessons that have been crafted with great care. Despite our fun and lighthearted style, we take explanation seriously.

For our grade 9 students, creating a Common Craft explanation for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom meant they had to take a complex idea, determine the most important components, and communicate them in a visually effective and compelling way.

Here's a couple of the videos produced by our grade 9 students:

Inquiry Book Study: Week Four

Welcome to week four of our inquiry book study - you can access the discussion from the first three weeks here.

Week Four: Play Out of Town

As vice president for technology and research at the Great Books Foundation, Mark Gillingham plans technology-related infrastructure, marketing, production, and service. Major projects include enterprise applications for web content, constituent management, and telephony; he is also responsible for technical development and analysis of web sites. In addition, Mark is engaged in tracking education and reading research. Mark has a doctoral degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been on the faculties of the University of Maryland, Washington State University, Michigan State University, and the University of Illinois-Chicago where he taught, managed programs, and conducted research. You can find Mark on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and at Wrigley Field.

David Perkins' clever metaphor of playing the game of baseball works well for "transfer," the
main idea of Chapter 4. Without transfer, there is no reason for instruction as we know it.
Without transfer, knowledge we applied to towers would never apply to holes; what we applied
to cars wouldn't apply to trucks.

Transfer is complex with many ancillary topics: near and far transfer, negative transfer, Bo Peep transfer, high-road, and low-road transfer. Teachers who can create lessons in which students excel at transfer are performing a great feat. If our lessons don't have strong cues that lead toward transfer "then the sheep do not come home" when placed in an out-of-town bin (the lost sheep theory).

At the Great Books Foundation, we promote Shared Inquiry Discussion--a form of critical
thinking. First, the teacher explores a concept of interest that is relevant to a story. This helps
elicit background knowledge and connections from the students. Then, the story is read (often
aloud) and students ask questions about it. During the second reading, readers are asked to
pause to engage in brief activities, which vary by age and ability. Then the teacher (or other
leader such as a peer) asks an interpretive question--one that is rich and authentic. Students
discuss this question completely giving everyone a turn. Usually, there is another activity that
includes writing or other creative response to the story. You can see other video examples from
grade 2 to middle school and adult discussion at our Vimeo channel.

In this example one may see that low-road transfer of decoding, vocabulary, reading strategies
can occur, especially if this sort of reading and re-reading are a normal part of a curriculum--
many games played in a season. High-road transfer occurs while finding evidence, formulating
questions, and listening to others. Each new story is a new game and each new interpretive
question is a new out of town playing field. For even further transfer, a new leader can be
chosen to ask the questions and lead the discussion (a game at a neutral field).

Motivation to expend effort in this game is usually very high because humans have opinions
and like to talk, but the cost of an opinion is evidence (a favorite quote from a volunteer leader). The junior versions of Shared Inquiry have to be carefully constructed so that the students can understand the story and find evidence in it.

Chapter 4 makes me wonder what other rich games we can play in classrooms to promote the
conditions for transfer and if the out-of-town (transfer) games serve all disciplines well.

Grade 8 Renaissance Symposium

Re-imaging our City

Last year we shared a number of posts about a grade 8 Renaissance Project where students determined whether Calgary had the necessary conditions to be considered a Renaissance City.

At the end of the project last year, our two grade 8 Humanities teachers took the bold step of creating a survey to ask students what they thought/learned from the project. From the student responses a clear theme emerged:

Students felt they learned a great deal about both the Italian Renaissance and current conditions in Calgary - but would have appreciated an opportunity to re-imagine or redesign parts of Calgary based on what they discovered about Renaissance conditions. They felt they didn't get a chance to act on their findings.

With that in mind, this year's Renaissance Project picked up where last year's project left off.

Similar to last year, the first portion of the project was for grade 8 students to study the changes and developments that occurred during the Italian Renaissance. This year, part of this background knowledge was covered by an integrated digital resource that the teachers created for the students. This resource provided students with some introductory background knowledge supplemented with inquiry questions and links to extension videos. You can access this resource here.

After discovering the conditions of the Italian Renaissance, the students then considered if the changes and developments that occurred during in Italy during the 15th and 16th century, are occurring in Calgary today.

To provide direction for the study, our students were linked with Calgary experts in the areas of commerce, education, religion, science, communication, art, and culture. Each group member came up with 2-3 interview questions to ask their expert in order to determine if the changes and developments they discovered in Renaissance Italy are occuring in contemporary Calgary. This lead to a horseshoe debate.

Finally, students were give the opportunity to consider how we might foster the positive qualities and characteristics of Italian Renaissance city states in contemporary Calgary.

Applying their understanding of both the Italian Renaissance and the similar conditions in Calgary, students began to re-design or re-imagine different elements of our city. Areas that students chose to redesign were:
  • Schools for the 21st Century
  • A new Calgary Arts Museum
  • A more 'renaissance' inspired city hall and town centre
  • Developing more public spaces
  • Building greater community spirit
  • Political implications of social media
The project capped off by a Renaissance Symposium that was held at the Science School on March 2nd. This event was attended by the 100 grade 8 students, as well as dozens of local experts from a variety of different sectors. The focus of the symposium was to allow for a sharing of ideas about how might might be re-designed or re-developed to achieve a greater quality of living for our citizens.

This event was kicked off by a keynote address by Dr. David Jardine, professor of Curriculum Theory from the University of Calgary. After the keynote address, students shared their ideas for a more Renaissance-like Calgary through videos, displays, and digital animations. You can see the keynote address, and examples of the student work below.

Keynote on the Renaissance by Dr. Jardine:

Students sharing their findings with a variety of local experts during the Symposium:

Student Example: Animation of why Education needs to change:

Brochure for the Renaissance Symposium:

Digital Storytelling: Student Exemplar

One of the wonderful educational tools that recent technology affords is digital storytelling. Applicable in a wide variety of subject areas and curriculum connections, digital storytelling provides a medium for students to demonstrate their understanding in rich ways through the act of combining of images, text, and sounds.

This grade 8 example was completed for a Japan unit, part of the Grade 8 Social Studies curriculum in Alberta. This video is a powerful example of the potential for digital storytelling in the classroom - and combines research, script writing, images selection and music choice, in addition to remixing and use of green screen. At a few points through the video you'll see images where the grade 8 students have digital inserted themselves into the photographs.

Creating Space for Student Engagement

Finding the Experience in Learning:
Creating Space for the Ebb and Flow of Student Engagement

(this article was originally published in the CASS Connection: the Official Magazine for the College of Alberta Superintendents, Spring 2011)

Shelley Robinson, PhD, is a writer, educator, researcher and mother (not necessarily in this order). 

“It is the function of the educator to examine deeply his own thoughts and feelings and to put aside those values which have given him security and comfort, for only then can he help his students to be self-aware and to understand their own urges and fears” (Krishnamurti, 1953, p. 38).

Some Trends and an Essential Question
Recently, in the educational institutions across our province, there has been considerable interest in 1) defining; 2) interpreting; 3) implementing; 4) measuring; and 5) further developing promising practice (all reciprocally) around the concept of student engagement (Inspiring Education, 2010; What Did You Do In School Today, 2009; Rocky View School Division Alberta Initiative for School Improvement Cycle 2 Research, 2003-2006).

Inquiry Book Study: Week Three

Our inquiry book study has made it to week three!

Be sure to check out the conversations still happening on weeks one and two.

Thanks to Allison Home for this weeks great blog post - as always - please share your thoughts and comments below!

Chapter Three: Work on the Hard Parts
Allison Hone is a Calgary native (which she continually regrets every winter) and completed her B.A. Honours in History, and B.Ed. from the University of Calgary. After teaching 15 years with the Calgary Board of Education, she decided to embark on a Master's of Arts in Learning and Technology from Royal Roads University in Victoria. Her thesis on the use of mobile learning to enhance historical thinking skills will hopefully be finished by late 2011 (added emphasis on "hopefully"). Her interest in technology enhanced education is both a blessing and a curse, as it means far too many books read on the iPad, and an astonishing number of apps bought in the hopes of finding that one that will encourage her high school students to develop greater critical thinking skills. The other problem is the fact that she must compete for use of the iPad with her 3 year old son, Silas...

You can read Allison's blog here and you can find her on twitter here.

A teaching career affords many opportunities for reflection. In fact, it is difficult to think of other careers that provide such opportunity for reflection on a daily basis, as every day is certainly unique for an educator. For some of us, it almost becomes an obsession. I spent many an hour (when I should have been marking) reviewing the latest book on increasing student involvement, or scaffolding for the reluctant reader. My bookshelf grows heavier, and alas, so does my bag of marking.

Making Learning Whole fits my obsession just perfectly. In my limitless quest to find the ultimate resource for the high school Social Studies teacher, I had hoped I had found my educational equivalent of the holy grail. And to this point, it has not disappointed.

Chapter Three is entitled, “Work on the Hard Parts”. Perkins suggests that we are all often guilty of “practicing your mistakes” (Perkins, 2009, p. 79). In the classroom, we know this to be true, as time and time again, we comment on an area for improvement that a student, in the very next assignment, completely ignores. For me, it is a probably most evident in essays. “Remember to include some proof that backs up this statement,” I write in the margins on an essay about the effects of imperialism. Yet on the next essay on economic globalization, the same problem rears its ugly head. Sometimes I have thought to get a number of rubber stamps with comments on them, as I seem to write the same thing over and over again.

Perkins calls this the “hearts and minds theory” – we hope that the student will take our comments to heart, keep it in mind, and make the necessary changes. In doing so, we may be incorrectly assuming that the student’s heart was actually in it in the first place, or that they even understand our often brief feedback. Often the feedback is not that informative, and even when it is informative, there is no guarantee that the student will understand it.

The cognitive psychologist K. Anders Ericsson suggests that truly successful individuals are often not naturally gifted; in fact, talent played a negligible role compared to deliberate practice (Ericsson, 1993). Malcolm Gladwell found similar evidence in his book, Outliers, suggesting that natural talent does not matter as much as hard work and practice. What is interesting in this is that a cognitive psychologist is involved. Cognitivism is a learning theory that focuses on how the brain accepts new information. The brain is often compared to a computer in that it accepts information, processes that information, and then outcomes are generated. Cognitivism suggests that learning occurs best when the content is broken down into smaller chunks. This seems to be the basis of Perkin’s argument as well – practice the hard parts.

But how does one know what the hard parts are? Perkins spends much of Chapter Three discussing assessment, for in assessment we will be able to determine where the hard parts exist, and provide accurate and well timed feedback to students. He suggests several types of assessment – actionable assessment, peer and self-assessment, and implicit assessment. Perkins suggests that the key to working on the hard parts is to isolate and reintegrate these trouble spots – find out what the trouble is through the various assessments, isolate it and provide opportunities to try it again in the setting of the whole game.

But just how do you know when the hard parts will pop up? For every teacher, I think there is an innate ability to anticipate what students will struggle with. Still, I am often surprised to find that what I had considered quite easy is posing a challenge with a class. Perkins suggests that there are different types of knowledge: ritual, inert, foreign, tacit, skilled, and conceptually difficult. For each of these types of knowledge, Perkins has suggestions on how best to attack the difficulty the students are facing (pages 89 – 99). He cautions teachers to avoid the blame game – in which all we do is sigh, shrug our shoulders, drink even more coffee, and carry on the status quo.

His final advice in Chapter Three is to think about creating études – specific exercises that strengthen certain skills and sensitivities. “It’s a holistic mission with a technical agenda” (Perkins, 2009, p. 105).

I am currently midway through a M.A. in Learning and Technology. For me, this book hits some familiar notes, particularly in regards to learning theories and models. But the technology side of me is forever hopeful to find a way to make learning whole that deals with the rapid influx of technology in the educational world. Maybe it will be up to me to make those connections. Perhaps it is time that I work on the hard parts…


Andersson, K.A., Krampe, R.T., and Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Pyschological Review, 100(3), 363-406.
Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Perkins, D. (2009). Making learning whole: how seven principles of teaching can transform education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.