Challenge-Based Learning: Redefining School with Glarea Elevated Learning

In this edition of the Roundtable, host Tim Cavey connects with Rita Rai, Nadia Irshad, and Peter Anderson from Glarea Elevated Learning, a school that is charting a unique path to learning and instruction.

What is challenge-based learning, how does it help students, and how does it fit with inquiry and other approaches to instruction? You’re about to find out.

Select any of the timestamps listed below to jump to specific portions of the discussion. ⬇️

Questions and Timestamps from This Conversation

  • 0:29 – Who is Rita Rai?
  • 3:12 – Who is Nadia Irshad?
  • 5:15 – Who is Peter Anderson?
  • 9:22 – What is Glarea Elevated Learning? How is this school different?
  • 11:38 – What is the history of Glarea Elevated Learning? How, when, and why was it founded?
  • 17:28 – What is challenge-based learning? Why is an emphasis on challenge so important in education today?
  • 21:49 – What do you see as the current and future roles of technology in education?
  • 29:15 – Why is it so important to put BIPOC women in places of institutional leadership? What work remains to be done in this space?
  • 33:43 – How are children learning differently than they were 10-20 years ago? How can teachers and schools responsively to those needs?
  • 36:29 – What is the meaning of Glarea?
  • 41:29 – How can we connect with you and join your learning journeys?

Connect with Glarea Elevated Learning

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Hey Teachers, Let’s Model a Metacognitive Life

Three simple reflection questions are enough to sustain a lifetime of authentic learning.

Education is waking up to the power of self-reflection. It seems that when we ask our learners to actually reflect on their own learning journeys, VERY COOL THINGS HAPPEN.

They get involved in the process.

They take on some agency and assume some ownership.

They move from passive spectators to active participants.

And the results can be significant.

Professional growth for teachers requires agency and ownership, too.

Ironically, teachers can fall into the role of passive spectator just as quickly as students can.

We can find ourselves waiting to be taught by others. To be professionally developed. To be told our next steps forward.

Yes, it’s entirely possible for the very professionals dedicated to the industry of learning to learn very little at all. To cruise from year to year. To grow stagnant and stale, uncritical of our own practices, unconcerned with growth, or too content in safety to risk uncertainty of any kind.

Don’t hear me heaping judgment, because I’ve been there myself. For those of us who’ve been around for a decade or two, professional complacency has a certain stealth about it. Turn your back on it for long, and before you know it, you’re comfortable.

But it’s hard to learn when you’re too comfortable.

Three Big Questions

Some time ago, I was privileged to attend an assessment conference with three colleagues. As part of the conference, we were given the opportunity to tour a few local schools. We were profoundly impacted by what we saw.

One of the many things we took away from these school tours was that schools were using Three Big Questions to make learning visible throughout their entire buildings.

It’s so simple, really.

  • What am I learning right now?
  • How’s it going?
  • Where to next?

Students were involved, but teachers were too. And that gave me some big ideas for the 2019–2020 school year.

Student Self-Reflections on Seesaw

First, I decided to make these Three Big Questions a regular part of my classroom culture. I then asked my 8th grade students (at a different school at the time) to reflect on these questions on Seesaw every Friday.

(*If you’re a Seesaw teacher yourself and would like to try this activity, grab it here.)

So far, I’ve allowed students to reflect on any learning target(s) from any subject, and I’m always impressed by how thoughtfully they approach this exercise.

It’s a simple practice. The writing demands here are pretty tame. It feels safe, and it’s interesting to my students. All they have to do is be honest.

Their comments are usually enlightening, and my eyes are always opened when I hear about their challenges, their frustrations, and the wins they’re celebrating.

It’s an awesome practice.

One student reflection from last Friday

Teachers Can Reflect, Too

As a middle school, our staff team decided to begin the 2019–2020 school year by following the fantastic example at Holly Elementary in Ladner, BC, and building a bulletin board that modeled lifelong learning through the Big Three questions.

  • What was something that we were learning? It didn’t need to be academic.
  • How was that learning process going?
  • Where were we headed next?

Three Big Questions in My PLN

Encouraged by this activity, I then threw out the Three Big Questions to my PLN. I tweeted a challenge to educators in my professional learning network to tell me about their own learning journeys.

And they did.

I could go on with more examples, but you get the idea.

It was super fun, and an exercise that I think schools and learning communities everywhere would do well to build into their staff conversations, circle check-ins, and professional learning times.

Wouldn’t you want to know what your colleagues are learning? I find that so inspiring and energizing.

Back to You: Model That Metacognition

And so I leave the Big Three questions with you, lifelong learner and education professional.

  • What are YOU learning right now?
  • How is that going for you?
  • Where are you headed next?

Share your answers with your own learners, with your colleagues, and with your PLN.

Because learning is contagious.

Student-Led Conferences: Why, How, and Best Practices

In this edition of the Roundtable, Tim Cavey facilitates a conversation around student-led conferences: why, how, and best practices. Guests included Starr Sackstein, Melisa Hayes, Skylar Primm, Jeffery Frieden, and Victoria Thompson.

Questions That Guided Our Conversation

  • 1:04 – Who are you and what is your current context in education?
  • 4:15 – Let’s start with the rationale. Why do you believe in student-led conferences as an essential practice?
  • 13:02 – Tell us about your experiences with student-led conferences. How have they looked in your world?
  • 35:15 – For schools looking to refine and improve their approach, what are some other best practices, tools, or strategies that you can recommend?
  • 48:35 – What about the student who doesn’t have a parent that is able or willing to attend the conference?
  • 51:50 – When it comes to student-led conferences, who should we be reading? Which authors and books have you learned from?
  • 56:01 – How can we connect with you? What’s next in your learning journey?

Connect with These Inspiring Educators on Twitter

Books Recommended by the Panelists

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Evo Hannan: Agency, Innovation, and Inspiration

Meet Evo Hannan

EVO HANNAN is an educator, education leader, freelance designer, and speaker in Dubai who is passionate about promoting confidence in students through innovation and agency. You’ll find him active on Twitter at the hashtags #Agents4Agency and #CrazyPLN.

Cancelled by COVID: Forced to Pivot

This interview was recorded on March 8, 2020, and Evo had just recently had to cancel his plans for his #Agents4Agency tour of the United States due to the appearance of COVID-19. He had been planning in-person professional development sessions for New York City, Houston, and San Francisco, and four and a half months of work had gone into their preparation.

It was absolutely heartbreaking to cancel these events, but as the pandemic started to make its appearance in North America, people’s health and safety took first priority. Rather than completely give up, however, he began the difficult task of pivoting these events into virtual settings.

“I’ve built up a little bit of resilience over the past decade or so with some of the crazy ideas I’ve come up with,” Evo admits. When it comes to go big or go home, he generally never goes home.

Advocating for Growth: the Work of The Agency

At the core of Evo’s #Agents4Agency movement is the idea that teachers reflect on their own practice and pedagogy first before they start to implement and promote student agency. Agency doesn’t only come from students, Evo points out. As educators, we are the facilitators that can help to elevate their voices. Find out more about The Agency and join the movement at Evo’s website.

The Four Pillars of Innovation

Evo is passionate about innovation in education, and that passion has only grown in his years as a design teacher. His understanding of innovation is quite functional, and he sees it made up of four pillars: knowledge, creativity, characteristics, and culture.

Innovation is his heartbeat for education, he says, and the idea of student agency flows naturally from there. Voices that influence Evo’s thoughts on innovation include Tony Wagner, Craig Kemp, Adam Hill, Kieran Kelly, Steve Bambury, and others. 

Building Movements That Inspire Change and Transformation in Education

Vehicles like InnovationX and Agents for Agency allow me to directly connect with people on an interactive level,” Evo shares.

Even with the appearance of COVID-19, Evo is committed to growing these movements and continuing to learn and gain inspiration from the like-minded educators who join forces in the process. His goal is to inspire as many educators as possible and provide them with the tools to help them inspire students to become the innovators of tomorrow.

An Expression of Personal Passion: Project Decade

“I’ve always been quite a positive person,” Evo says. It’s been in the last year or so that some of Evo’s friends have encouraged him to channel those passions into efforts that motivate positive change and transformation in the lives of others, and that’s what motivates him today.

Project Decade is one expression of those efforts. On his Instagram account, he shares daily inspiration and thoughts around inspiration, passion, places, and people. If we can stay in touch with those four on a daily level, Eve suggests, we’ll continue to find ourselves and live positive lives.

Finding Productivity in Ways That Work for You

Evo is quick to admit that his daily routine is not the healthiest: he knows he needs to get to bed earlier and eat more intentionally. Some of the traditionally rigid advice about productivity and time management hasn’t worked for him, he says, but one thing he has found reliable is to work as and when he wants to.

If that means sitting with his wife with both of their laptops open and Netflix on the TV, then so be it. No, it may not be the highest level of productivity on the planet, but it strikes a comfortable balance between having a life, being human, and chipping away at projects to the extent that he’s inclined to do so. 

Voices That Spark Evo’s Thinking and Ignite His Professional Practice

On Twitter, Evo shouts out the Lead Agents that have been so instrumental in supporting The Agency’s work in North America, including @KBahri5, @TheWrightLeader, @Support_A_Teach, @ChrisQuinn64, @BBray27, and many more. “These guys inspire me on a daily basis by the things they do and the suggestions they make both on and off Twitter,” Evo says.

The power to really move things forward in the classroom comes from collaboration, Evo says, and in that regard, nothing beats the edtech tools found in the G Suite (now Google Workspace), including the workflow and applications associated with Google Classroom.

When asked to recommend a book that was influential in his journey, Evo points to Screw It, Let’s Do It: 14 Lessons on Making It to the Top While Having Fun & Staying Green by Richard Branson.

When it comes to YouTube, Evo’s more of a searcher and surfer than a subscriber. But on Netflix, one of his recent favorites has been Drive to Survive, a series about Formula One racing. It’s a great place to learn about how people deal with success and failure at a very high level, Evo says. It gives some great perspective for the space you’re in, and it builds your growth mindset in the process.

We sign off on this international learning experience, and Evo gives us the best ways to connect with him and follow his work. See below for details!

Follow Evo

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Song Track Credits

  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*
  • Coupe by The Grand Affair
  • Species by Diamond Ortiz
  • *tracks courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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