The Canadian Education Association (CEA) is proud to share summaries and contact information from the top fifteen Ken Spencer Award finalists – an ambitious group of Canadian educators are changing the culture of school by working tirelessly to provide their students with the space to follow their passions and contribute to the development of their own learning pathways – in the process, these learners have become way more engaged.
This year’s Ken Spencer Award winning programs leverage teacher expertise beyond their subject areas to provide inquiry based real-world learning that takes the classroom outside school walls. Many of these programs involve regular teacher collaboration that focuses on motivating students at risk of not completing school, while others blend indigenous teachings with 21st century learning. They all demonstrate a common commitment to the quality of the relationship between teacher and student.
CEA encourages you to visit their websites, view their videos, contact the educators responsible for making these ambitious programs a reality, and get inspired to develop similar innovative learning opportunities.
CEA’s Ken Spencer Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning was established with the generous contribution of Dr. Ken Spencer to recognize and publicize innovative work that is sustainable and has the potential of being taken up by others; to encourage a focus on transformative change in schools; and to provide profile for classroom innovation within school districts, schools, and the media.
Dr. Ken Spencer is a former CEA Director and retired CEO and co-founder of Creo Products. In 2011, he was inducted as a business laureate of the British Columbia Hall of Fame. Since 2009, he has generously donated the financial awards for CEA’s Ken Spencer Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.
Changing the culture of school by unleashing both students’ and teachers’ passions
Len Wood Middle School
North Okanagan-Shuswap School District
The X-Block class takes place every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at Len Wood Middle School. Students work with teachers to design courses that can range from building self-propelled aircraft, hydraulic arms or catapults, to backpacking, camping, canoeing, and rock climbing – they are fully engaged in a variety of experiential learning such as wilderness survival, creating super hero comic books, and cooking food from around the world while learning about the nutritional content and the country’s culture. Still others may be creating a sculpture, sewing, designing web pages, and photography – all the while acquiring a wide range of skills to help them attain future opportunities and an appreciation for lifelong learning.
X-Block courses heighten student engagement, develop problem solving and decision making skills, promote critical thinking, a sense of initiative and entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and citizenship. Assessment includes the students setting their own learning goals. This program has been successful because it connects to both the students’ and teachers’ passions, amplifies student voice and choice, matches skills and competencies to curriculum outcomes, strengthens the school-community relationship, and provides extraordinary learning experiences for everyone involved, and in the process, has shifted the learning culture of this middle school.
Image from "Building Futures: Framing TimeLapse" video
Constructing real world learning for students, from the ground up
George McDougall High School
Rocky View Schools
Jarett Hooper, Greg Rankin
Building Futures is a ten-month program where Grade 10 students build two houses from the ground up in partnership with a community owned and operated homebuilder. Students get bused to the jobsite Monday to Thursday for hands-on work alongside skilled tradesmen/tradeswomen. A detached garage filled with tools and technology becomes the classroom.
Collaboration between the two teachers leading this initiative is an essential ingredient to providing students with a project based, cross-curricular, inquiry methodology. Curriculum requirements for core subjects such as Math, English, Science and Social Studies are integrated into various aspects of the build alongside construction industry professionals. By the time the build is completed, students complete the Grade 10 curriculum and obtain 57 of their required 100 high school credits to attain a Residential Construction Site Manager Level One Academic accreditation. This dynamic real-world context has led to a sharp increase in student engagement and subsequent decrease in discipline issues. Students are simply too engaged to ever ask: “Why do I need to know this?”
Oskāyak High School Renewal
Empowering a generation of aboriginal leaders by blending traditional teachings with 21st century learning
Oskāyak High School
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools
Oskāyak High School is a First Nation’s public school incorporating Plains Cree language, worldview and values to help students attain a powerful sense of identity and belonging. Four years ago, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, the Oskāyak Kitotiminawak Parent Council, school administration, teachers, and students leveraged a culture of trust, collaboration, flexibility and risktaking to revitalize the school’s Culture and Cree Language Program, create an integrated model of Student Support Services, and transform the classroom learning experience to a high level of student engagement.
Throughout this school renewal, teachers collaborated to implement pedagogies that reflected Cree ways of knowing, developed expertise in inquiry and problem based learning, and infused the learning environment with technology. In just over three years (2010-2013), the overall credit achievement rate (Grades 10-12) has increased from 31% to 81%, school enrolment has increased by 71%, school attendance has increased by 27% and the number of Grade 12 graduates has risen from three to 45 students. As a result of this renewal process, Oskāyak has become a school of choice for Aboriginal youth in Saskatoon, and they now have the cultural, personal, and academic tools to succeed in the post-secondary world.
CBC News Article: Aboriginal high school graduation makes history
Image from the "Through a Different Lens" gallery
Through a Different Lens
Helping teachers look at learning through the eyes of students
Princess Margaret Secondary School
Okanagan Skaha School District
Judith King, Naryn Searcy
Twitter: @judithaking, @nsearcy17
Through a Different Lens is a program that attempts to level the playing field for all students by helping teachers look at learning through the eyes of students who are disengaged, discouraged or at-risk of not completing school. It shifts practice from a traditional rote learning approach to incorporating students’ interest and strengths such as drama, art, technology, outdoor education, cross-curricular links, and other connections to their lives.
A group of 28 teachers meet monthly to share teaching and assessment strategies, and to strategize on how best to connect with specific students who are at risk of not completing school. They challenge themselves to reflect on their practice and to try a new approach between each meeting. This collaboration has led to growth in all students’ academic confidence, engagement, and greater self-awareness of their personal strengths and talents. Students at risk attend class more often, participate more in class, establish better relationships with their teacher and peers, and begin to see themselves as learners.
Report: Through a Differnet Lens: Data
Image from "Futures Forum Project -June 28, 2013" video
The Futures Forum
Embedding 21st century learning across the school district
Waterloo Region District School Board
What started out four years ago as an initiative to improve the achievement results of Grade 10 English, Careers and Civics course has grown into a system-wide inquiry-focused, cross-curricular approach to learning where students follow their passions, communicate to share critical and creative thinking, develop contemporary skills, and create for authentic, real-world purposes.
The Futures Forum brings together students, teachers, administrators, central staff, superintendents, community members, trustees and others with a common purpose of improving learning and instruction across the Waterloo Region District School Board. It offers encouraging evidence of innovation that can result in sustainable, improved instruction and learning that is inquiry based, increases achievement results and is relevant to the world in which students are preparing to live, work and succeed. It has been carefully developed and assessed over time, and has documented conditions for scaling similar approaches to improved learning and instruction across a system.
We Are All Treaty People
A powerful way to bring treaty education to the classroom
Palliser Heights School
Moose Jaw, SK
Prairie South School Division
In Saskatchewan, teaching about the historical and modern implications of treaties signed between First Nations and the Crown is a mandatory part of the provincial curriculum. With the assistance of researchers from the University of Regina’s Faculty of Education, a program was developed through a teacher’s trial and error to explore how digital storytelling could be used to engage students in inquiry learning about treaties and the treaty relationship.
Grade 3/4 students grappled with difficult questions by creating videos, digital puppet shows, podcasts and stop motion animation projects that demonstrated their learning of key pieces of the treaty relationship. They became passionate learners of the social justice issues embedded in treaty education by exploring issues of fairness, citizenship and belonging. Their perspectives on the history of Residential schools, the spirit and intent of the treaties, and treaty failures are shared on a class blog. This program has the potential to expand to other schools and classrooms and become a crucial element to ensuring that relationships between First Nations people and Canadians move forward in positive ways.
Treaty 4 Student Projects
Presentation: Constructing Identity with an iPad
Image from the "Découvertes pédagogiques" gallery
Découvertes pédagogiques (Pedagogical Discoveries)
A mission to motivate at-risk learners
École des Sentiers
Commission scolaire des Premières-Seigneuries
This personalized course was designed for students who decided not to participate in one of the school’s optional programs. Some of these students have behaviour-related difficulties, attention deficit disorders, low levels of engagement and motivation, and are in danger of dropping out. Students find themselves in the year 2172, and an immense solar storm has destroyed all of the information on the planet’s computer servers. Unfortunately, back in 2053, humankind decided to give up reading and writing because audio-video data were much more practical and efficient. The students imagine themselves in a world where no one knows how to read or write. They must therefore return to the roots of this code that formed a language and then find a way to convey it.
Using an elaborate program of creative incentives to motivate, students participate in a series of “missions” throughout the academic year that challenge them to work in teams, problem solve, and invent in a non-traditional classroom environment with ubiquitous technology and social media tools at their disposal. The results so far show students who once felt helpless are on their way to becoming self-confident independent learners who like school and want to succeed.
Image from the "FraserHeightsSec" gallery
Moving from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation
Fraser Heights Secondary
Surrey School District
Fraser Heights Secondary moved from a school with pockets of innovation to a school-wide culture of innovation that includes the Inquiry 8/9 Program, Western Canada’s first ever Science Academy, Innovation Week, and Genius Hour, as well as a school wide blog, and a library transformed into a learning commons. This curricula and course re-design process is based on teacher-driven ideas about what innovation, inquiry, technology integration, and formative assessment meant in classrooms and throughout the entire school.
These conversations spawned the Inquiry 8/9 Program that loops students in core curricula and consistent instruction for their first two years of high school; the Science Academy is a two-year program for Grades 11/12, delivered in partnership with Simon Fraser University, which challenges students to learn the subject matter and apply it in the spirit of scientific inquiry; a “Genius Hour” project design course became part of regular class instruction; during “Innovation Week”, the entire school takes one week off from instruction in order to give students the opportunity to explore, create, and experiment with projects that they are passionate about. The staff’s enthusiasm, innovative ideas, willingness to take risks, and outside-the-box thinking have all contributed to this high school’s innovative culture.
Image from "Message parents" video
La classe inversée de Mme. Annick (Ms. Annick’s Flipped Classroom)
Students know what to do when left to their own devices
École Le Mascaret
District scolaire francophone Sud
Annick Arsenault Carter
This Math class has been ‘flipped’ so that students view the actual lessons on video at home and use classroom time to complete what is traditionally considered ‘homework’. Struggling students benefit from more teacher support in class while stronger students are encouraged to move ahead at their desired pace to tackle meaningful challenges that enable them to reflect, question, and create.
Parents have access to their childrens’ digital learning environment, which has encouraged them to become more involved in their child’s learning experiences as well as restoring, reinventing, and strengthening the relationship between home and school. Students have developed leadership and technological skills while becoming more autonomous learners and manage their learning experiences more effectively when it comes to organizing, understanding, and performing tasks when left to their own devices.
Le pouvoir du rire contagieux (The Power of Laughter is Contagious)
An entire school engaged in laughter
École catholique St-Michel
New Liskeard, ON
Conseil scolaire catholique de district des Grandes Rivières
Schools can often be a place where seriousness trumps laughter. With the mental health needs of students on the rise – from emotional challenges such as anxiety, low self-esteem, mood disorders, and lack of motivation – can make students discouraged, aggressive, and even depressed. This is why École catholique St-Michel began a program that includes sessions of spontaneous laughter within classrooms. Students laugh for at least ten consecutive minutes every week as well as before tests and leisure activities.
Research has proven that a commitment to engaging in laughter on a daily basis provides several benefits to a person’s physiological, emotional, and physical health. Student interviews about this activity revealed their desire for more laughing sessions to be scheduled regularly, which was an encouraging sign that laughter is starting to have an impact, become contagious, and helping to better meet their mental health needs. This exercise gives students with attention deficit have the opportunity to expend their energy in a controlled manner, and many anxious students are now viewing oral presentations and evaluations without decreased levels of stress. Overall, students are more positive after engaging in laughter and have a better perspective on the tasks they have to handle.
Image from the "TALONS Gleneagle" gallery
T.A.L.O.N.S. Gifted Program
Student-directed autonomous learning
Gleneagle Secondary School
Coquitlam School District
For the past six years, the Academy of Learning for Outstanding, Notable Students (T.A.L.O.N.S) is a unique program that addresses the learning needs of gifted Grade 9/10 students, by focusing on the Autonomous Learner Model and interdisciplinary learning.
The T.A.L.O.N.S. Gifted Program has included collaborative inquiries that often take place outside of school in the form of community service learning projects, field trips and cultural events, and multi-day outdoor adventures. While these activities are facilitated by teachers, they are implemented and directed by student leadership in committees and collaborative teams.
Blog: Defying Normality
For FLIGHT students, school isn’t rehearsal for real life – it is real life.
Seycove Secondary School
North Vancouver, BC
North Vancouver School District
Bryan Hughes, Petra Willemse
Twitter: @bryanhughes, @williwords
FLIGHT is a program that blows up the traditional model of school while following the B.C. curriculum’s core academic content. Students work as a cohort learning how to harness the power of digital technology for research, collaboration, and personal expression – they’re asking good questions, providing research answers, and presenting learning in new and creative ways. Students use iPads to publish their assignments to the world and learn beyond the school on frequent day and overnight field learning experiences that are tightly integrated with student inquiry and learning objectives as they develop the skills necessary to become thoughtful, engaged citizens, ready for post-secondary academic and workplace success.
Dedicated FLIGHT teachers passionately believe in authentic, open concept learning: reduced boundaries between subjects and classrooms, space for students to explore interests and passions, and limitless opportunities for creativity and imagination with connection to the world beyond the classroom. This program has expanded every year to new grade levels (currently encompassing Grades 8 through 11) and the team of teachers works both within the school district and outside the school district to provide professional development opportunities for others to learn from and expand upon the FLIGHT model in their own schools.
Making a meaningful curriculum connection to Aboriginal traditions
Midland Secondary School
Simcoe County District School Board
Seventh Fire is an alternative secondary model for First Nations, Metis and Inuit students that incorporates technology, experiential learning, traditional activities, cooking, physical activity and community connections – with Math, English and Science fully integrated – to focus on the ‘entire’ student. Students work together in mixed grade groups through a combination of whole-class activities and independent work, and are encouraged to take full ownership of their own learning activities based on their self-perceived strengths and interests.
Seventh Fire students have competed in Aboriginal youth business plan competitions, international music making projects, and brought First Nations legends to life through stop-motion animation. Diverse projects such as Ojibwe language learning apps and bicycle restoration allow teachers to connect curriculum expectations in real meaningful ways. Students are enrolled in this program because they have struggled in the “regular” classroom, yet once they arrive in the Seventh Fire classroom, they often excel. The flexibility to take breaks when needed, work independently and in small groups without bells ringing every 75 minutes makes education much more personalized for these learners.
Image from the "École Passage" gallery
Le Passage (The Passage Program)
A student’s personalized learning pathway to professional success
École secondaire Charles Gravel
Commission scolaire des Rives-du-Saguenay
The Passage Program is a teacher-supported career orientation process offered to students with special needs in order to help them discover their true potential. Students have individualized ‘à la carte’ schedules alternating between internships and studies, which occur in a building adjacent to École Charles-Gravel – this small distance from school has proven to dramatically alter students’ view of learning at school, and they have direct input on the design of this learning space, which heightens their sense of belonging.
Specialized instruction is offered in three pedagogical contexts: education through adventure/nature, arts and culture, and in entrepreneurial values. Enabling students with special needs to benefit from educational settings where they can have positive experiences is a very real need. These three settings are intended for students who are not ready to take part in an internship when they start the program. Students have embraced the challenge to change their negative attitudes and deviant behaviour while gaining confidence in themselves, discovering their interests and strengths, and becoming more mature and successful learners.
La classe du 21e siècle pour les autodidactes (The Do-It-Yourself 21st Century Classroom)
Bridging the gulf between school and the students’ world
Collège catholique Franco-Ouest
Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est
Spurred by his concern for the increasing gulf between his teaching and the world his students were experiencing, a teacher took it upon himself to develop a 21st century classroom to bridge this divide. Students bring their own intelligent devices (phones, tablets, laptops) to class, access WIFI, and work on mobile furniture that they can adapt to a variety of collaborative learning situations as required.
In this classroom, students are placed at the centre of learning where they truly benefit from technology. Classroom learning resources that are centralized in a virtual space are combined with adjustments in teaching style that have maximized creative and critical thinking. Students are now active participants rather than just “receiving” the information, and the real learning takes place through classroom discussions.