It's a different world for today's students


Jeff Christian, TVDSB, Summers' Corners P.S.

Welcome to Wipebooks’ podcast series, hosted by Felix Thea, where we interview educators like you to get their thoughts and experiences on how they transformed their classroom to get their students more engaged in problem solving.


 “You know, we as teachers tend to want to sort of stick and teach to the way that we were taught. Why? Because it's comfortable. It's safe. But, that's unfortunately, or fortunately, I guess, not the world that our students are coming into."


This week Felix Thea sat down with Jeff Christian, TVDSB, to get his views on:

  1. Student centric learning;
  2. The school within the school concept; and
  3. How to measure success when implementing a new teaching model.



Student centric learning 

Jeff is adamant that the traditional teaching model that we are all very familiar with needs to be revisited. And he points out that gone are the days of the teacher-centric classroom. The new teaching era has to be student centric. And has to be de-fronted; where students and teachers are partners in the learning experience. Jeff says that flexibility, creativity, communication, and collaboration is fundamental in today’s academic setting.


“Yeah, so I would say about three years ago, my teaching partner and I were having conversations about education, and where we were seeing it going. We really recognized that we needed to be more responsive to the world that our students were going into. And the traditional sort of model that we had been using, and that we had been taught, just didn't seem like it was going to fit with the realities of what the students were going to experience when they left us. So, we moved towards more of a student centred learning focus classroom. Rather than the traditional one lesson fits all, rather than the dominated idea that there's a lot of independent work, we moved more towards the idea that students were going to be partners in their learning, rather than just vessels that we would sort of dispense our knowledge into.”


And some educators at Thames have taken student centric learning and collaboration to a whole new level. Jeff adds that there is not only collaboration amongst students and teachers in the classroom, but there is also a significant amount of collaboration around the teachers themselves within the school.  A particular example that he provides is that some teachers in his school meet on a daily basis to plan lessons and discuss teaching approaches that work best to get their students more engaged.



School within the School

Jeff further adds that Thames has been an innovator in the school within the school concept as well. And in-line with the above collaborative learning approach, Jeff and his colleagues like to have their students work on large relevant topics that directly impact their students. The key here again for Thames is collaboration; forcing students to work outside of their silos, and instead, in groups on larger projects that activates combined subject-matter like: math, science, geography, economics, et cetera.


“So, in our particular model that we run, a lot of our key learning happens around large current world events. So, we've kind of moved, at times, away from teaching in silos. I'm actually part of a project down here in Thames Valley known as school within a school, where we look to sort of remove some of those silos of traditional teaching. So, rather than a traditional, now we're going to do a science group class, or now this is going to be a geography class, instead we try to engage the students in larger, more relevant topics.”



An example that Jeff provides is the impact of 1- time-use-plastics, which evidently is a hot button topic these days. Jeff describes that his students were totally absorbed in the latter-mentioned project in his class; they developed solutions to this very real world problem and even had ideas on how to bring it to market.




"Now that you have this information, what are you going to do about it? And so, we had students designing everything from prototypes to be able to get single use plastics out of the local waterways. We also had students who are designing advertising campaigns to go to local breweries to create biodegradable six-pack rings as opposed to those plastic ones that are thrown away. We had students who organized marker-recycling programs in our own school to ensure that we're not contributing to the plastics problem ourselves. And, through the project, the students recognize that they had to activate learning from all areas. They had to activate their mathematical knowledge. They had to be able to activate their abilities to use language and they had to learn about language as they communicated and contacted people outside of the school." 


vnps_thames_student_math_1 vnps_thames_student_centric_2 vnps_thames_student_centric_3


What is the physical design of Jeff’s class

Jeff uses a myriad of design features in his classroom including vertical non-permanent surfaces, #VNPS. And he likes to use different seating arrangements to accommodate the different needs of the students in his class. He has been gradually moving away from the teacher centric classroom, and has de-fronted the classroom in a physical sense as well where learning happens all around the classroom.


"We have products like the wipecharts [wipebook flipcharts] that we use in the classroom for the non permanent vertical surfaces for students who are working in math to sort of give them a larger space where they're able to show their math and their thinking in a way that they didn't before. So, it's just really about not being afraid to look for other ways so that students can show what they know; to allow each student to select the way that meets their needs the best, and allows them to best show their stuff."


How do you measure success

Jeff admits that determining student success is still based in part on qualitative methods like test scores for example; however, one key KPI (key performance indicator) is the palpable increase in student engagement that he has noticed after implementing his progressive teaching strategies. For example, when his class worked on a project to enhance the fidget spinner, a number of students asked to stay inside to work on the project even during recess breaks. Or even stay after school to work on the project to complete it before it was due.


“We asked the students to make the fidget spinner better. That's when the fidget spinner craze was the big hot thing in schools [...] I knew that we were on the right track when the recess bell rang and we had students who didn't want to go outside. And these were students who, traditionally, when the bell rang would have been the first ones out the door and the last one's back. These were students that actually asked us to stay inside. They didn't want to stop their learning. They didn't want to stop their building. They didn't want to stop their constructing. And so, it was at that moment that we really knew that we'd hit on something." 


There you have it. Some cool strategies and techniques employed by some progressive educators at Thames, including student centric learning and utilizing the school within the school model, to help get their students more engaged.


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