The Joy (and Struggle) of Meaningful (Hard) Work | Edvance Christian Schools Association
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The Joy (and Struggle) of Meaningful (Hard) Work

Written on December 19th, 2013

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One of my first blog entries invited us all to see the value in sharing good work. In that post I mentioned how excited I was by my position giving me the opportunity to see amazing examples of learning happening all over the province. This week I was given yet another opportunity to celebrate dynamic community-based learning.

At the Ontario Christian Teacher Academy this summer, Lisa Eelkema, grade 7 and 8 teacher at Laurentian Hills Christian School, designed a project based learning (PBL) project building on our OACS Deciduous Forest Biome unit. Here’s the summer presentation of her project design:


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Just this week Lisa shared with me the details of her actual project in action. She describes it this way:

We focused on urban planning for grades 7 and 8. The students were to create a land use proposal for a piece of land close to the school. Their driving question was, “How can we create a desirable and sustainable community?” The entry event was a bus tour of the specific neighbourhood. Then we worked on our need-to-knows, bringing in a city planner and a city counselor. The students then developed their plans, focusing on the 9 urban design principles that the city has prioritized. We ran the PBL with all our grade 7 and 8 students, so we had 13 different plans and presentations. Wow. What a lot of work.    By this time we moved on in our regular curriculum. I pulled a small group from each of our 3 classes and had them bring together all the cool ideas from their classmates into one design. From this design we wrote a speech (collaborated on google docs). We just got back from our presentation to city counselors and members of the city  planning department in the city council chambers. It was way too cool!  It was a great experience and very valuable. I think our first PBL was a success and I am looking forward to both a break from it as well as planning another one.

If you’re familiar with PBL, you’ll notice the way Lisa has paid attention to its essential elements—using a driving question, engaging students with an entry event, asking students to participate in the learning by naming their “need to knows”, giving them opportunity for deep inquiry to find answers (I love it that the students incorporated Kitchener’s own urban design principles!) developing 21st Century “4C” skills—creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication—and sharing their work with a public audience and local experts. What an amazing learning design! It inspires me. Her students know that their work matters. They were all there sharing it at Kitchener City Hall!

After hearing the students present there, a city planner had this to say about the students:

“I just wanted to congratulate you and the grade 7 & 8 classes on a job well done! I was so impressed with the quality of the work, the well thought out concepts, and the incredible public speaking skills! The kids did an outstanding job and were very professional and polished! Excellent work on preparing them for today and they behaved well beyond their years. I was very proud of them and it was my pleasure to work with you on this exciting project.”

Lisa has also been kind enough to share with us her planning documents. Interested in creating your own learning project based on her work? Check out her work here!

As much as Lisa’s project and her students’ work inspires me, I also need to share with you some honest work from another student. A parent (not from Laurentian Hills) recently shared with me her daughter’s frustrations in learning in her own project based environment. She is also attending a school that is actively pursuing project based learning as a vision for learning. Many of the stories of student learning from that school are inspiring too. But her experience hasn’t been positive at all. She represented her frustration with these visuals:

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So, we have students flourishing and struggling side by side. This isn’t about “good” and “bad” teaching or learning. We need to recognize that at any given moment in a class of multiple learners, simultaneously there will be those that are experiencing success and those that are experiencing struggles. What is needed, then, and this isn’t easy, are environments of honesty where all learners—teachers and students—can name together what is happening—how things are going—what is going well and what isn’t going well at all. Let me invite all of us to foster learning communities where sharing our work is coupled with sharing our emotions—how we’re feeling about the learning we’re experiencing.

As Lisa mentions, great teaching can be a lot of hard work. And as the student above shares, sometimes the hard work doesn’t even feel safe or manageable. My hope is that our learning communities can be places of honesty where both of these moments of success and frustration can be shared freely. And every now and then, it’s nice to get an extended break from it all. Enjoy your Christmas holidays! May the mystery of the incarnation, the Word made flesh, appear for all of us with wonder and beauty.

Blessings from us here at the OACS for 2014! And please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if I can help support you in your own good (hard) work.