Episode 107 – Trevor MacKenzie

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Meet Trevor MacKenzie

TREVOR MACKENZIE is a learner, teacher, speaker, consultant, and outdoor enthusiast. Trevor teaches English at the 10th through 12th grade levels at Oak Bay High School in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is also regarded by many as the preeminent voice on inquiry-based learning today, authoring Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice and co-authoring Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders, and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners

The First Five Years Are the Hardest

When asked about an experience of adversity on his education journey, Trevor thinks back to his first five years in the profession. There were many forks in the road, he says, where he found himself questioning whether or not he even wanted to stay in education. It took him a while to move from substitute teaching to a full-time contract, and even then it was a real challenge to juggle all the responsibilities of a classroom teacher: lesson planning, unit design, assessment, parent communication, coaching, and other duties.

Trevor credits his local community of colleagues and professional peers who gave him advice, encouragement, and solidarity during those early years. Although his professional learning network has evolved far beyond the bounds of his own building, he continues to appreciate the power and importance of collaboration today.

Why Inquiry? 

First and foremost, Trevor says, he never proposes that other teachers must do things his way. “Teaching is an art with incredible nuance and subtlety, and there’s simply no lockstep approach or prescriptive framework to what makes a good teacher.”

That said, Trevor readily admits that inquiry-based learning is where his heart is, and he loves nothing more than helping other educators see what is possible for learners. Education has changed a great deal in the last decade – not just because of our access to phones but also in terms of the amount of prior knowledge that students bring to the classroom. It’s no longer about how much students know, but about what they can do with what they know.

Inquiry-based learning challenges teachers to facilitate experiences that help our learners to explore content and then create products that have an impact on others. Inquiry also challenges students to investigate the “un-Googleable” questions, the sort of questions that Google Home and Alexa cannot help them with. These are the kinds of vast, broad questions that students must chew on and wrestle with over extended periods of time. Inquiry encourages the development of the 4 Cs: competencies that are absolutely critical in today’s workforce. As a framework, inquiry provides the space and common language for students to become creators, problem-solvers, and active agents of their learning.

Inquiry and Curiosity

Children enter the school system full of curiosity, chomping at the bit to learn, to play, to read, and to interact. Sadly, students often leave high school with that curiosity and joy of learning greatly diminished. “Curiosity is at the heart of how we can better meet the needs of all of our learners,” Trevor points out.

We need to look at our curriculum with an eye to integrating inquiry approaches – it never needs to be a situation of all or nothing, inquiry vs the curriculum. Inquiry-based learning, when properly applied, allows us to explore prescribed curricular outcomes through the lens of curiosity and creativity.

Understanding the Types of Student Inquiry

Structured    Inquiry, Controlled Inquiry, Guided Inquiry and Free Inquiry

In the swimming pool illustration, Trevor divides the types of student inquiry into four levels: structured, controlled, guided, and free. Although it might seem tempting to jump quickly into the deep end of the swimming pool, Trevor cautions against initiating free inquiry without giving learners the necessary tools, understanding, and vocabulary. To move too far and too fast into inquiry is to invite chaos and confusion for teachers and learners, so strategy and forethought is required here.

Ideally, a school can work together on strong and structured units of inquiry-based learning so that all learners in the community become familiar with a common language. Frame those first units of study around central, unGoogleable questions. Use provocations to spark rich and engaging entry points to new areas of interest and study, and allow space for students to pursue side paths and related questions along the way. For help in getting started, visit TrevorMacKenzie.com for a large collection of free inquiry unit planning templates and other resources.

Inquiry and Assessment

When first introduced to inquiry-based learning, educators often have questions around assessment. To help guide teachers through these challenges and demonstrate what assessment can look like in the inquiry classroom, Trevor is currently working on a book that speaks directly to the mindset shift he has experienced around assessment in his own practice, and he goes on to describe some of the changes he’s made in the classroom.

For example, he no longer puts any numbers or letter-grades on formative assessments — he only offers feedback. He also makes sure that students are invested in the assessment process through the co-creation of criteria, the inclusion of student voice, and by making sure that assessment occurs in the classroom, by and with students — instead of something done to them. Assessment done properly infuses course content instead of taking the shape of something slapped on to the end of a unit of a study. 

The Power of Grading Conferences

Speaking to the power of the conference, Trevor says that the simple decision to sit down with each of his learners to discuss their assessments for the term was one of the most helpful and practical moves he’s ever made in his practice. He immediately noticed the empowerment and sense of agency that the conferences gave students. For a change, many of his students actually wanted their parents to read their report cards because they had a direct hand in crafting those comments. Even more importantly, the process broke many students out of a fixed mindset regarding what past report cards and the education system had told them they were and were not capable of as learners.

Could Inquiry Reshape Professional Development?

Sadly, Trevor says, professional development is often not designed by teachers, and as a result, there can be a disconnect between philosophy and practice. Make sure that teachers have a voice, and make relevance and immediate application high priorities in the design of professional development activities, he urges.

What Else is Setting Trevor on 🔥 in Education

Beyond inquiry, something else that is setting Trevor on fire in education today is the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion. He’s taken some hard looks at cultural responsiveness, systemic biases, allyship, identity studies, and the unpacking of his own personal biases. Educators who greatly impress Trevor in this space include Gary Gray Jr., Liz Kleinrock, and Cornelius Minor. If we want our students to truly understand themselves as learners, people, and human beings, we owe it to them to help them understand the biases, narratives, and historical forces that shape our understanding of ourselves.

Serving with Presence

As much joy as he derives from working with learners in his classroom, Trevor is also passionate about teaching teachers and working with other educators around the world. Balancing the two consituencies well and being fully present in every context requires intentionality and mindfulness. “As I enter the classroom each and every day, I’m asking how I can be present and mindful of what’s immediately before me,” Trevor says.

A Personal Passion: Cycling

Trevor is an avid cyclist, and on many mornings he is up early and out of the house on his bike before school. He also enjoys a good community of fellow cyclists in his area that he enjoys biking and racing with. Cycling gets him going, fires him up, and keeps him healthy so that he can serve others well.

A Productivity Hack: Early Mornings 

Trevor’s best productivity hack is to get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning, and he’s been inspired by other creatives to work before the rest of the world is awake. It’s the perfect time to tie up loose ends, complete tasks, do important reading, or write reflectively. With small children at home and students at school, the early morning is simply the best block of time in the day to be productive and undistracted.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Practice 

Over on Twitter, Trevor recommends following @TheMerrillsEdu. The Merrills are an amazing elementary teaching couple who take creativity to a whole new level in their practice. Make sure to give them a follow!

No edtech tool has revolutionized Trevor’s assessment practices more than FlipGrid, where students post video responses and interact with each other’s ideas. Microsoft recently acquired this legendary platform and made its features absolutely free for educators, increasing equity and access for all learners in the process. Make sure to connect with Flipgrid on Twitter @FlipGrid

The Innovator's Mindset by George CourosWhen prompted for a book pick, Trevor points to a classic — The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, by George Couros. Trevor also shouts out another title that has been influential in his practice, Understanding By Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

In the world of podcasts, Trevor is making a late appearance at the world’s most famous true crime series, Serial. He’s also gaining a lot from the Teaching While White Podcast – White Fragility podcast series.

As for YouTube channels, Trevor is going back to one of the faves he mentioned previously: Gary Gray Jr. Gary is an important voice in the conversation on equity and he keeps things real on his channel.

Although his kids are still too young for the chills and thrills of this popular series, Trevor has been enjoying Stranger Things whenever he does find the time for some entertainment on Netflix.

We sign off on this terrific conversation, and Trevor gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details!

Connect with Trevor …

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel!

 

Episode 98 – Chris Woods

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Meet Chris Woods

CHRIS WOODS is a high school math teacher, STEM presenter, and host of the STEM Everyday podcast. Chris likes to remind his students and followers that STEM is everywhere around us … we just have to learn to recognize it. 

Chris is also a high school math teacher at Calumet High School, Calumet, MI. It’s a relatively small school, located two hours from the closest freeway and situated in the northern part of Michigan.

Challenging Connections

This past year for Chris was a challenging one. He found it difficult to connect with some of his students, and although there were some days when he felt like he made some progress, other days felt like setbacks. Sometimes, relationships just don’t get to the place that we want them to get to, and we can’t fault ourselves after doing our best.

Thankfully, Chris sees his ninth graders in the halls for years after they go through his classroom, and for those few that he finds it challenging to reach, he enjoys the subsequent opportunities he gets to connect when he’s no longer relating to them as their teacher.

On 🔥 for STEM Education

When asked what fuels his passion for STEM education, Chris points to the curiosity that underlines his work. We know that students begin their school careers with excitement and curiosity, but sadly the years that follow often drive that curiosity out of them. Chris lives to help students see that learning is relevant and connected to the world around them, not the static body of knowledge that is sometimes reduced to endless worksheets.

STEM and the Creative Arts: Complementary Partners

To educators who want to see more A in STEM, Chris welcomes STEAM wholeheartedly. Although he happens to adopt STEM in a lot of his work, he sees great compatibility between STEM education and the arts. For Chris, it shouldn’t be a case of STEM vs the creative arts, right brain vs left brain; it should be about cultivating the whole brain and recognizing the multidimensional person in every learner.

Meeting Students Where They Are

Besides STEM education, Chris is on fire for a program called ‘Capturing Kids’ Hearts.’ Again, it’s about seeing the whole individual, incorporating SEL and trauma-informed teaching strategies to meet students and serve them where they are.

A Professional Goal

This year, Chris is looking for more ways to connect the math that his students are learning with applications in the world around them. Students will need STEM skills and habitudes in any career or field after high school, and he wants them to see that this learning has never been more relevant.

Chris is looking forward to bringing the STEM mindset to a couple of conferences this fall and is always happy to share his learning with other teachers across the United States. Visit his website for more details!

Personal Passions Away From School

When he’s not at school or working on things related to his work, Chris enjoys fixing and building. He subscribes to a mindset of days gone by: make do with what you’ve got. Nothing gives him more satisfaction than to take apart broken things, identify the problem, find a solution on YouTube, and then reassemble whatever it happens to be.

His Productivity Hack

When it comes to productivity, Chris believes in the power of lists. Whether it’s a list in his pocket or sticky notes around his desk, lists keep him on his game.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Thinking & Practice

On Twitter, Chris recommends following @JsnHubbard, another #TeacherOnFire.

When it comes to an edtech tool that accelerates learning in his classroom, Chris is all about his interactive whiteboards. There may be nothing better in terms of learning together, out loud and in sight of everyone.

Mister RogersFor his book pick, Chris turns to The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor by Amy Hollingsworth.

Chris’s favorite podcast is the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast with Vicki Davis. True to her title, Vicki’s daily pod is daily, quick, and packed with value.

On YouTube, a channel that may be underrated for STEM thinking and creative approaches is Joseph’s Machines. Check it out and subscribe!

We sign off on this conversation, and Chris gives the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details!

Connect with Chris:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 50 – Bethany Petty

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BETHANY PETTY is a teacher, coffee fanatic, and 2017 EdTech Digest School Leader Finalist. She writes about thoughtful uses of technology in education at http://usingeducationaltechnology.com/ and is also the author of Illuminate: Technology Enhanced Learning.

In our conversation, Bethany recalls the challenges around teaching students not much younger than her. She discusses the main message of her book, Illuminate, and the ways that her passion for history plays out in and out of the classroom. She also talks about coffee, the importance of exercise, and some of her top picks on Twitter, edtech tools, and more.

Follow Bethany online here:

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:54 – Bethany describes her current context in education. It’s her 11th year teaching high school Social Studies in southeast Missouri. It’s her school’s 5th year in a 1:1 Chromebook environment, and she’s excited by the innovation she’s seen over these years. She’s also an adjunct instructional technology instructor at a local junior college.
  • 1:36 – She recalls the challenges of being an anxious rookie teacher not much older than her students. Initially, she made it her mission to control her class. Over time, she realized that authenticity, transparency, and humor can all go a long way toward building learning relationships in the classroom and creating an optimal learning environment in the process.
  • 3:44 – We talk about the heart and main message of Illuminate: helping educators at all technology levels use technology intentionally and purposefully in ways that support the learning of their students. It’s not about the technology – it’s about the learning. Why are you using it? What do you hope learners to gain from it?
  • 7:36 – Even out of the classroom, Bethany’s passion is Social Studies. A self-professed history geek, she enjoys watching history documentaries and learning opportunities wherever they present themselves.
  • 9:04 – One personal habit that Bethany relies on is exercise. It’s always been a part of her life, and when she’s in her exercise routine she feels like she has a good handle on things, she’s more alert, and more present. She also admits to a strong coffee addiction, often consuming eight or nine cups in a day!
  • 10:30 – On Twitter, Bethany recommends following legends @AliceKeeler and @HollyClarkEdu. Both of these educators tell it like it is and will keep you thinking with practical advice and provocative insights.
  • 11:07 – An edtech tool that Bethany calls indispensable for her Social Studies classroom is EdPuzzle. Follow EdPuzzle on Twitter @EdPuzzle.
  • 11:52 – A fictional book series that has really drawn Bethany’s attention lately is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Follow Diana on Twitter @Writer_DG. For a solid educational read, check out Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom by Matt Miller. Follow Matt on Twitter @JMattMiller.
  • 12:56 – Looking for an interesting podcast to add to your commute? Check out Ladies, First with Natalie Gonnella-Platts. Follow Natalie on Twitter @YankeeBean to learn more.
  • 13:38 – On YouTube, Bethany recommends the very fun Epic Rap Battles of History. Even if you’re not teaching Social Studies, it’s a blast at any age level.
  • 14:25 – When she’s got no energy left for anything productive, Bethany is watching the Once Upon a Time series
  • 14:54 – We sign off on this conversation, and Bethany gives us the best ways to follow her online and get to know more of her great content! See above for contact links.

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube | Spotify

Follow the podcast on Twitter @TeachersOnFire and on Instagram @TeachersOnFire.

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

Listen to this episode on YouTube and subscribe for more episodes!

Episode 43 – David McFarland

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DAVID McFARLAND is a high school IB humanities teacher at Pacific Academy in Surrey, BC, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @MrMcFTeaches.

In our conversation, David talks about how “We don’t even know you!” challenged him to rethink the importance of building relationships with his students. He describes some of his passions in education today: helping students navigate knowledge critically instead of merely absorbing content, using digital tools to customize learning experiences, and continuing to advocate for some reading on paper. David also shares some of his lifelong learning outside of the classroom, a daily ritual that builds relationships, and his top picks in books, Twitter, Youtube, and more.

Find the highlights from our conversation at the timestamps below:

  • 0:49 – David describes his current teaching situation as a high school humanities teacher at Pacific Academy in Surrey, BC, Canada.
  • 1:18 – Three or four classes into the school year at a new school, he recalls a student bursting out with “We don’t even know you!” That experience challenged him in a positive way and helped him think more deeply about the relational component of teaching. Today, he takes more time and makes more intentional investments in building relationships with his learners.
  • 6:05 – There’s a lot that gets David excited about education today: a new curriculum in BC, better options for course customization, helping students think critically and navigate knowledge instead of dumping content on them, interpreting content in a world that is becoming entirely digital, and still advocating for some reading on paper.
  • 11:25 – One area of learning for David outside of his teaching is the art of cooking. He’s had fun this summer playing around with different cuisines while working his way through the New York Times cooking app. It’s a hobby his family appreciates, because there is always a product everyone can enjoy at the end of every experiment!
  • 13:02 – A personal habit that contributes to his success is based on a fine taste for coffee. He explains how this can be a “ritual that is relational” – an activity that invites others into the creation and enjoyment of the teacher’s go-to beverage. Another habit that feeds him is regularly reading books while at school.
  • 15:53 – David recommends following high school social studies teacher Glen Thielman (@GThielmann).
  • 17:06 – The edtech tool that has made the biggest impression recently is Google Classroom.
  • 21:04 – David’s pick for books is You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith (@James_KA_Smith).
  • 24:01 – A podcast to add to your podcast line-up is The Way of Improvement Leads Home by (@JohnFea1).
  • 25:40 – If you’re a Social Studies teacher, you need to subscribe to John Green’s Crash Course on YouTube. Follow @TheCrashCourse on Twitter as well.
  • 27:35 – When he’s got time in the summer to enjoy the pleasures of Netflix, David’s watching the The Office and Better Call Saul.
  • 28:42 – David reminds us of where to find him on Twitter @MrMcFTeaches.

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device: iTunes | Google Podcasts | YouTube

Follow the podcast on Twitter @TeachersOnFire and on Instagram @TeachersOnFire.

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

Listen to this episode on YouTube and subscribe for more episodes!

Episode 5 – Sarah Robinson

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SARAH ROBINSON is a high school vice principal at Fort Nelson Secondary School in Fort Nelson, British Columbia, Canada.

In this interview, Sarah talks about what really excites her in education today: shifts in the learning curriculum, new opportunities for authentic learning, and the latest research in the area of neuroscience. She also shares some personal habits that work and gives us great recommendations for books, Twitter, YouTube, and more.

Follow Sarah on Twitter at @82SJR.

In this episode, Sarah discusses …

  • 1:06 – her current context
  • 2:33 – a challenge she encountered in the classroom
  • 4:15 – three things that get her excited about education
  • 5:29 – a Twitter recommendation: @MindShiftKQED
  • 6:18 – if she wasn’t a teacher …
  • 7:09 – three habits that contribute to her success
  • 8:06 – edtech tools that are working right now: Google Chrome extensions
  • 9:25 – a book recommendation: Grit, by Angela Duckworth
  • 11:32 – a podcast recommendation: The Way I Heard It with Mike Rowe
  • 13:18 – a YouTube channel recommendation: Expedition Overland
  • 14:31 – a Netflix recommendation: Alias Grace
  • 15:18 – how to follow her on Twitter or by email

Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

LISTEN to this episode on YouTube and SUBSCRIBE for more episodes!