SD8 Making & Design Thinking BootCamp 2015

This past June 29 & 30th, Innovative Learning Services hosted a Making & Design Thinking BootCamp. We weathered the heat, and even a storm to boot, but the energy and enthusiasm was permeable for the day and a half event! With the support of an amazing Design Team consisting of Naomi, Jeff, Kathy, and Emily and Sofeya, we crafted a diverse schedule of play, learn, and explore.

pic 7


The purpose behind our SD8 Making and Design Thinking BootCamp was to engage staff in understanding the mindset behind design thinking, and to encourage exploration of strategies such as Design Thinking, and structures such as MakerSpaces for the following reasons:

  • Adaptability and flexibility for an increasingly diverse set of learners
  • Develops and attends to SD8 Board Competencies and Provincial Competencies
  • Encourages an iterative mindset for educators and administrators
  • Foster learner engagement and rigorous “hands-on, minds-on learning”

pic 3


Day One involved an overview of curriculum directions, making, and of course, design thinking. This was perfect, as we had participants (Joanne and Victoria) who had recently attended the High Tech High Summer Institute where design thinking was featured in their workshops.Participants then worked in teams on a Design Challenge, and after lunch, we had an Exploratory Expedition to Selkirk College where teams rotated through a MakerSpace session with Jason Taylor, a Digital Media session with Shane Hainsworth, and an Entrepreneurship session with Amy Robillard from Junior Achievement. Great to make connections with our college and outside agencies!

I’ve noticed that Selkirk College is continually iterating some of their courses, including Digital Media Arts–they have to respond to changes in industry standards, and are also looking at developing broader skill sets”

-Dan Rude, Principal, JVH

For Day Two, we started with Tinkering Stations led by some of our wonderful SD8 Students from Wildflower School, Estelle, Jackson, and Jack. Here is a thinglink to the Tinkering Stations we had set up for our educators to play and learn in:

Our concluding activity was the Curriculum Incubation Groups, were teams began ideating a curriculum prototype that would meet criteria for “hands-on, minds-on learning” that they experienced during the BootCamp. Excellent examples and conversation! Here is what came out of the session:

  • Teachers letting go of control—becoming “activators of learning” rather than “sage on the stage”—encouraging students to find their own answers, to engage in deeper thinking
  • Increasing links to community (Junior Achievement, local expertise, KAST/Glows, Selkirk College, etc.)
  • Best means to capture and assess the learning over time—moving beyond the 4 point scale/rubric and to deeper learning—example of eportfolios
  • Interest in Genius Hour and Exploration Time embedded into timetable
  • Focus on Design Thinking, and a variety of design exemplars—empathy component was emphasized as most important aspect
  • Teaching skills and processes such as groupwork (embedding empathy/listening skills) is critical
  • Keeping the focus on process rather than a standardized approach or product; understanding the iterative nature of the curriculum design process (Selkirk is continually iterating)

pic 8

Key Questions from Participants

“How can we embed the Design Process in the primary years?”

“Regarding assessment—what criteria or qualities should we focus on?”

“Mindset emerging in the open-source, sharing economy, and problem-oriented world”

“Support with momentum in moving beyond the keen learners—encouraging reluctant ones”

“Collaboration with secondary students to access experts including more open learning activities in our schedule”

“How can we measure or assess creativity?”

Next Steps 2015-16

It was evident that there is an appetite for learning more about embedding the design thinking into curriculum iteration, especially with the Provincial K-9 Curriculum that will continue to grow and evolve this coming year. Assessment of competencies, as well as teaching skills such as groupwork and empathy emerged as themes.

We look forward to learning and co-constructing together with our learners, our educators, and our administrators!


SD8 Making and Design Thinking


High Tech High Summer Institute 2015


This June, a group of SD8 Kootenay Lake administrators had an opportunity to visit High Tech High in San Diego, California. They hold an annual Summer Institute, and this was the second team of PVP who had attended this year; the first went during the late Spring Institute. SD8 Innovative Learning Services provided this tremendously valuable experience in the belief that there were qualities and attributes that we could benefit from learning about, and in contemplating and potentially integrating into our schools.


A Bit About High Tech High

The campus included the main campus building, High Tech High School, Middle School, and Elementary Schools that we visited. The re-purposed industrial buildings, the open concepts (most classrooms were all-window access), and the impressive curation of student work was evident everywhere we went. Visible learning was at its finest–new staff visit a museum before commencing the year to understand the concept of curation. It was obvious that HTH not only believes in, but embraces a culture of student-centered learning and student “voice and choice” in their project based learning approach, and in reflecting students’ works across the campus. More about HTH can be found here.

rob chat

The Keynote Experience

Rob Riordan, Co-founder of High Tech High and President of HTH Graduate School of Education spoke passionately and eloquently about democratizing student voice, and cultivating in students an understanding that learning is a lifelong, community-based pursuit, spoke unabashedly about a culture of filial “love” that permeates the campus, and that student agency is critical in education. Rob’s “Rules of Rigor” (see below) impressed upon us that students need authentic, engaging learning experiences that connect to community, that provide voice and choice, and that have an audience beyond the school.

rigour rules

What We Learned

We spoke to students, faculty, to Rob himself, and developed a deep understanding of the liberal arts culture of HTH. It was heartening to know that our District is already doing so many wonderful things that benefit students: multi-age learning, eportfolios, lifelong explorations or inquiry blocks, community learning experiences, a burgeoning InterCultural Certification program, Makerspaces, a strong formative assessment focus, and more. So what did we have to gain? We learned about the following aspects that were key take-ways:

  • Focus on powerful protocols for both students and staff to facilitate deeper learning and fine tuning of projects and curriculum
  • Focus on PBL (project based learning) permeating and connecting all subjects
  • A strong focus on deep learning tasks and critical/creative thinking
  • Design thinking as a focus in PBL and as an approach to curricular iteration
  • Teachers as designers, activators of learning, and as co-learners along with their students
  • Strong connection to, and integration of, community in partnering for learning


Not all was perfect–Math within PBL remained a challenge, report cards were retro-fitted from curriculum outcomes into letter grades (especially at the senior level), subject areas still persisted, as did single grade classes (this was shifting, we were informed).

Aside from excellent collegial conversations and bonding, we came away with a renewed sense of purpose; excited to share what we learned, but also honoured to celebrate the great strides being made in SD8 Kootenay Lake.

Related Resources:

Deep Learning Tasks (Envision Schools) via Edutopia

A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning (Fullan)

Equinox Blueprint: Learning 2030 (Waterloo)

Buck Institute for Education (BIE) PBL World

Makerspace Movement: A (New) Pedagogical Manifesto

Much has been said of late regarding the Makerspace Movement. For those of you who may have heard of it, but are not familiar with it, the Makerspace Movement’s central tenant is to provide learners with hands-on, “tinkering” learning experiences that are exploratory and purposeful in design. Rather than having the teacher direct the learning, the students are at the core of it; while the teacher guides, probes, asks questions, and on occasion, provides direct instruction.

The learning space and design for such Makerspaces, or “Fab Labs” as some are being called, are open, with tables to encourage participation and dialogue, and a vast array of tools, kits, technology, and random items that can be constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed into something wondrous or practical—that is up to the student!

Image via

Essential behind the practice is the underpinning of constructivism, with practioners and thought leaders such as Seymour Papert as champions. Papert is one of the founders of the MIT Media Lab, and a long-time proponent of “tinkering with technology” to understand how it works for kids. MIT continues to engage in research, with Mitchell Resnick at the helm of its Lifelong Kindergarten Lab. This is a broad overview, but it is sufficient to glean an understanding of what “making” is about.

The Tinkering Team from Exploritorium’s Tinkering Studio

This summer, I took the opportunity to participate in a MOOC through Coursera called “Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning” while reading the essential guide “Invent to Learn” by Stager and Libow Martinez. Both learning resources were excellent.  I’ve participated in other MOOCs, and the Tinkering Fundamentals one was exemplary in its organization and resources. The MOOC was constructed and led by the Tinkering Studio Team from the Exploritorium Museum in San Franscisco, which dedicates its space to several tinkering and making workshops—both for kids and adults. It was inspiring to see mentor videos in the course from artists who created moving sculptures with every day materials, and artworks that lit up when blown with a breath of air. There was wimsy, but it was also serious exploration.

For me, engaging in this learning over the summer is refreshing and revitalizing—and necessary for my role as a Vice-Principal and teacher. This coming year, we are offering a Lifelong Exploration called Makerspace, and I look forward to working with our staff and Jason Taylor, Chair, School of the Arts, at Selkirk College to create an unforgettable learning experience for our students. I am certain we will experience challenges in our first iteration, but the opportunity for our students is too rich to pass up! There will be much to plan and organize, and I am excited to begin this endeavour. We already offer two other STEM-related LLE’s (Lifelong Explorations) called Robotics and Hands On Science; Makerspace will be a nice complement to the two.

So, what excites me about making? See for yourself: there were some really cool projects that were shared, in the Tinkering Fundamentals MOOC, including the following:

In tinkering, learning is completely iterative, moment by moment. There is much experimental exploration; not a technique per se, but a process underpinned by playfulness. Kids are naturally drawn to tinkering; it is how they learn, and the projects lended themselves well to both genders.

Watch the Tinkering Studio in action from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

The skills involved in making are skills that are in broad demand in our society: creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking,  collaboration or teamwork, and communication. These competencies span the Arts and Sciences; therefore, making is often considered to be part of the STEAM stream: science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Making is about integration and iteration; small fails are critical to learning.

I’ve included some links and resources below—thanks also to Lorri Fehr, our Director of Innovative Learning Services for SD8 Kootenay Lake for sending forward some of these and for providing additional resources:

Kick Flips and Balance

Today as I walked out onto our school playground for lunch hour supervision, I noticed the cold edges of a November afternoon, the dappled sun on the crisp leaves, and the joyous cacophony of Middle Schoolers enjoying their freedom to play and roam before the bell rang to call them back to class.


 One of our students enjoys a moment next to a mural (2013) Photo M. Guenette

I took in many wonderful sights: kids hanging off of our playground structures, grade six boys tussling and kicking around a soccer ball, small groups of girls giggling and huddling on the benches amongst our cedars. Walking around the building to the back, I witnessed some of our grade sevens playing wallball in their area, and a group of boys in a bit of a scrum. It wasn’t what you would think; they were chasing and playing with one of our special needs boys—recent arrival to our school—who was chasing and pushing the boys back with a beaming smile on his face. No one was excluding him; no one gave any indication of discomfort. They were all together in a happy mix. I stood back and enjoyed the scene, and moved to our tennis courts.

The tennis courts are mainly occupied by our Grade Eights who skateboard, play hockey, a bit of basketball, and generally hang out in random clusters. I made my way inside to say hello, and was greeted by a friendly cluster of our skateboarding boys who don’t mind saying “hi” to their new Vice-Principal. Liam asked me if I’d like to see him do a trick—a really cool back-kick move, and then if I’d like to try ride his board. Yikes, I thought, me in heels—this won’t be good—but with the help of his arm for balance gave it a brief try. I realized then how incredible their teenage balance is, and how challenging the kicks and flips actually are. They were pleased to show me their skills, talk about the Skateboard Park opening in Rosemont, and show me some of their own skateboard videos on their digital devices. Craegar asked if he’d be going to the Skateboard Park next week with his grade five buddies, and was looking forward to it as part of his Leadership class with Mrs. Anast. The bell rang, and I walked back with the students, enjoying the moments at our middle school.

I truly enjoy the kids at our school: they are bubbly, physical, and exuberant—they have a lot of amazing energy! I thought back to our morning session with Dr. John Abbott, Director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative at our SD8 Kootenay Lake Board Office. It was inspiring and thought-provoking, and though I have followed Dr. Abbott’s work for several years, it was still refreshing to hear the reminders of how we can harness the (solar) power of our adolescents. There were several key pieces to Dr. Abbott’s presentation that are critical reminders to educators and parents alike:

  • The adolescent brain goes through the equivalent of a “brain earthquake” between ages twelve and twenty
  • Adolescence is not a problem—it is an opportunity
  • Positive risk-taking is essential for learning, discovering, thinking, and being
  • Our species survived because adolescents did something new and unpredictable from their parents
  • Kids need to experience learning and “flow,” losing themselves in an activity that completely engages and challenges them

Play, curiosity, exploration, experimentation, trial and error are critical parts to learning, especially for adolescents, and are often in conflict with expected behaviours (sitting quietly in seats), discipline models, academic learning models, and grades that are a key part of our school system. Our academic subjects, premised mainly on lectures, telling, showing, and testing are in direct opposition to how teens learn: doing, experimenting, trying—just like on the tennis courts.

Albert Einstein, as quoted by Dr. Abbott said:

albert einstein quote
     Image credit

Dr. Abbott spoke of the need for more than educational reformation; we need educational transformation. The world our children are inheriting is shrinking in resources while the population grows, and we cannot continue on the path to economic growth through a consumer model. In fact, asked Dr. Abbott, do we want to raise pilgrims or customers? In other words, do we want adolescents to leave our schools with an experience that connects them to something meaningful: community, sense of self, discovery, contribution, or do we simply wish to pass them through as “consumers of knowledge” ready for the next level of learning and then work?

What struck me as profound is that we know this, yet we struggle to act on it. Dr. Abbott’s opening comment that “schools can rise no higher than the communities’ expectations around them” places the onus onto the adults: parents, educators, School Boards, and broader community to agree that a shift in our thinking and practice is urgent, and to creatively put forth the resources to make that shift happen.  The optimal education model of which Dr. Abbott speaks is akin to a “three legged stool”—you can tip on any of the legs and still be able to balance: home, community, and school. The home is about emotional development, the community is about the inspiration for life in general, and the school is about the intellectual part of how to draw these three elements together:

As our middle school moves forward in our thinking around curriculum that engages students, specifically, Lifelong Explorations, which is an extended block of mixed grade students and staff engaging in learning pursuits such as Outdoor Education, Leadership, Robotics, Music Composition, Food for Life, and many more, we begin to realize aspects of the balance. Further, we need to continue to provide students with more opportunities to have a voice and to participate in the life of their school and community in order to build the very qualities we wish them to have: ownership, social responsibility, character, and intellectual development. We need not to worry if things don’t develop perfectly; needless to say, they won’t. What will happen is that students will learn about their possibilities and limitations through minds-on engagement with curriculum and extra-curricular experiences guided by the relationships forged with the adult role models and educators who work with them. In “Becoming Adult,” authors Barbara Schneider and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi speak well to the “messiness” of optimal learning:

 “Clear vocational goals and good work experiences don’t guarantee a smooth transition to adult work. Engaging activities are essential for building the optimism and resilience crucial for satisfying work lives.”

As I think back to the afternoon on our playground, and of my own inability to balance on the skateboard compared to Liam, I contemplated what Dr. Abbott spoke of in our morning session. If we could muster our collective will to harness the natural curiosity, drive, and energy of our adolescents, and let them grapple with developmentally appropriate, challenging, meaningful learning experiences, we would ensure that they would be able to do more than simply stand on their own two feet—kick flips and all.

A Plan and a Commitment

The following slides were part of my interview for my recent position as Vice-Principal at Trafalgar Middle School, in SD8 Kootenay Lake. I am pleased to be sharing this with my professional learning network–many of the ideas and experiences that I bring forward are a direct result of connections and mentors in my local and extended learning community, through face-to-face, social media, and other networked learning opportunities which I highly value and continue to rely upon.

In addition, the commitments I bring to the learners, staff, and parents at my school are concrete visualizations forming a continuum for my professional learning as part of our School Growth Plan, our SD8 Kootenay Lake Board Expectations, and our District and Provincial directions.

I am so pleased to be working with Carol-Ann Leidloff, an experienced Principal and member of the BCVPA Leadership Standards Committee who I consider a mentor and role model, and am looking forward to a learning partnership for the benefit of our students!

SD8 Digital BootCamp 2013

imageThis past July 3rd and 4th, I was part of SD8 Kootenay Lake’s first Digital BootCamp! As part of the Planning Team for the BootCamp, I was excited to see the concept of professional learning taking place at the beginning of the summer so that educators would have time to practice and sandbox their learning at their own pace. The concept for the BootCamp was simple: invite educators from across the District and provide them with the option of receiving a tablet of their choice as a key part of the learning. With over 46 participants, the BootCamp was a tremendous success. With District Principal of Innovative Learning Services Ms. Lorri Fehr at the helm, our team successfully crafted a learning experience that was both intense and rewarding.

Here’s a snapshot of our agenda:

1. Day One:

  • Tablet orientation and set up
  • Introduction to SD8Learns (our professional learning network)
  • Create, Connect, Publish, and Collaborate: four gallery rounds of learning apps and teaching strategies
  • Sharing and Exploration Time

2. Day Two:

  • “About Me”: Create a digital story with an application or program of your choice
  • Productivity: Deepening learning about the potential of your digital device
  • “Mobile Assault”: Out in the Community in teams filming videos about our SD8 Board Expectations

Participants set up their personal or classroom blogs as part of the experience, and intermittently posted their discoveries and reflections over the course of the two days. The first day produced a lot of mental exertion as participants discovered the functions of their devices, and how applications can be used effectively to support learning in their classrooms and schools. Day Two was amazing, as educators courageously crafted their own brief digital stories using applications such as Voicethread, Tellagami, MS Powerpoint, iMovie, Educreations, and others and shared a bit about themselves. We lost track of time as everyone became immersed in their learning, and supported each other in their exploration. The Mobile Assault was both humourous and very creatively executed! The teams sought out examples of Creativity & Imagination, Resiliency, and Academic Success, as some examples of our SD8 Board Expectations.

I was impressed with the depth of learning and ability for educators to quickly take on the role of Learner, Explorer, and Coach as they discovered the range of possibilities of mobile digital learning, while supporting each other in their explorations. It was a tremendous two days of intensive learning, and as one participant said “I can’t wait til school starts to try this!” Now beat that for enthusiasm! The idea of a summer start to learning provides educators with a chance to explore, and take the time to get to know their device and its potential. Another participant noted that this is much more efficient than trying to immerse oneself the week before school starts. Hopefully, this will be the first in a series of Summer BootCamps for SD8 Kootenay Lake!

Leading with Inquiry

This past February 2013, I attended a Technology for Inquiry session at the Segal Graduate School of Business in Vancouver. Key speakers at the day-long session were Neil Stephenson, District Principal for Inquiry and Innovation in Delta, and Audrey Van Alstyne, District Principal for Learning Technologies in Vancouver.

“Inquiry is wrestling with dilemmas and seeking epiphanies”

-Neil Stephenson

Neil comes with a wealth of experience in inquiry learning supported through technology. Originally from the Calgary Science School, Neil’s extensive learning is documented in hisprofessional websiteThinking in Mind and TeachInquiry.

“Inquiry is…engaging in work that matters; curiosities and interests within a meaningful topic; constructing, organizing, and improving ideas; building shared meaning through collaboration; questioning research and communication skills; reflection on learning”

-Neil Stephenson

Neil outlined the various frameworks of learning associated with inquiry: project-based, challenge learning, and problem-based. He also discussed the different types of inquiry: structured, controlled (ie./ webquest), guided (teacher provides topic), free inquiry (students on their own). As the session continued, it became evident that inquiry was a slower process; that it demanded observation and detail-oriented thinking. It was also a recursive process, requiring the learner to deliberate, revise, and refine his or her ideas and, ultimately, thinking.

Audrey Van Alstyne focussed on the Florida Technology Matrix, and how different levels of student engagement/activity as well as levels of technology integration facilitate inquiry. She also reminded us of the SAMR model of technology integration:

SAMR Model

The SAMR model outlines how technology can be used to support learning in two different dimensions: enhancement and transformation. Ultimately, the goal for technology in supporting learning is to learn in ways that previously have not been possible without the affordance of technology. For example, Audrey outlined how Google Earth can be used to search map coordinates (substitution) or at the other end of the spectrum, be used tocreate a virtual tour of a heritage site, complete with audio and video capacity (transformation). Coupled with inquiry at the heart of pedagogy, technology becomes a transformative, powerful tool.

At the end of the day, Dr. Bruce Bearstro, adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, reminded us, when it comes to change and implementation, to take it slow, focus on what matters, and to expect an implementation dip as part of the process. Most of all, he affirmed that we should be sharing our intentions and feelings with our students and connecting with our PLC and PLN along the way.

It was a tremendous session. Leaving at the end of the day, I wondered about how we might most effectively implement inquiry in our classrooms and schools in SD8 to deepen students’ intellectual engagement. Hey, isn’t that an inquiry question?

Key Points from the Session:

  • a product doesn’t ensure learning: make learning visible with technology (video, blog, wiki, eportfolio)
  • the challenge isn’t adding technology; it’s changing the culture of teaching and learning
  • design constraints often foster the most creative thinking
  • students should be drivers of inquiry in a peer to peer community of knowledge seekers and creators
  • structured inquiry is most successful kind; don’t just let kids loose
  • ill-structured problems put the cognitive load on learners–why do we continue to “pave the cognitive road” for our students?

(Note: this post is cross-posted to

Creative Convergence

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”
-Pablo Picasso

When you think about creativity, what comes to mind? Which subject area(s) comes to mind? Do you think about:

  • Painting, drawing, or sculpting?
  • Performing in a play or musical?
  • Composing music?

Many of us may not consider ourselves “creative,” yet creativity is at the heart of innovation, and innovation is a prized quality. In fact, many creative and innovative ideas have been married in the Arts and Sciences, in Mathematics and Music. Creativity is not compartmentalized, unlike subjects in school are. Why is it that our subjects continue to be so separated?

How often have we heard this statement from our students: “Why are we doing Math in Social Studies? This isn’t Math class!” We have taught our learners, implicitly, that learning is not inter-disciplinary. Creativity is the domain of the Fine Arts, and not the domain of Mathematics, Science, the Trades, or Physical Education. Consider the consequences of this kind of curriculum for our learners when they are asked to solve problems, to innovate–will they answer, “but I’m not that creative?”

Perhaps we should consider bridging the domains of convergent (rational) and divergent (exploratory) thinking to help deconstruct, then reconstruct our curriculum. Here is a slideshow on the creative process that can be incorporated as a team or group exercise in creativity as it applies to education:

(Note: This post is cross-posted to Kootenay Leadership in Learning)