Current Planning Practice

When planning, I often begin the same way, with a ‘big idea’. My ‘big idea’ is usually something that I find interesting and can be connected to the real world. As Orr (1991) indicates, “knowledge carries with it the responsibility to see that it is well used in the world.” ‘Big ideas’ often come to me while I’m doing other things, playing with my kids, driving to work, or running. Once I have a general concept, I look at the curriculum to see how it can work, what expectations can it include and how to develop a central learning goal.

I ask myself a series of questions: Would I want to do it? Will the students want to do it? As Sternberg (2008) remarks, it is important to have, “[p]assion in your pursuits — going for your goals with drive, motivation, and personal involvement.” Can I get marks from it? Does it coincide with the curriculum? How do I break it up? Can I, as Sternberg remarks, “[p]rovide students with opportunities to learn through multiple modalities [?]” Is there responsibility for them? My strength is considering many aspects of an idea before developing it further.

Initially, resources I access include curriculum documents, colleagues, twitter posts, and the internet. I try to embed curriculum expectations inside of the activities I develop. Usually I separate my unit into different parts addressing different learning styles; knowledge building, practical ‘hands-on’ and communication and application. Orr comments, that “the way learning occurs is as important as the content of particular courses” and I try to make sure content is taught and assessed in alternate ways. Usually, there is a series of little projects throughout, an opportunity to reflect and a larger project at the end that consolidates the learning and applies it.

My priorities at this moment are having the students be motivated, connecting subject material to something tangible, fulfilling my legal obligations to the curriculum and being flexible. I know, “innovation will thrive in a flexible, responsive [environment]” (Smith, 2011).

Obstacles that deter me from planning innovatively include: Time (time to plan, time to execute), report cards, fear of losing control, and lack of familiarity in the material. For example, in Language, I still balance half my year with a traditional literature based focus (novels, short stories etc.) along with literacy inquiry because I’m familiar with the content, I can comment on report cards and I have enough resources. I sometimes need a push or external pressure to do something new.

Moving forward I would like to; have the inquiry ideas come from the students, increase the diversity of student demonstration of learning, understand and use different approaches, and increase my confidence.

Works Cited

Orr, David. (1991). What is education for? [Website] Six myths about the foundations of modern education and six new principles to replace them. The Learning Revolution. Winter 1991.

Smith, K. (2011). Cultivating innovative learning and teaching cultures: a question of garden design. Teaching in Higher Education. Issue #4. Vol. 16. Pgs. 427-438.

Sternberg, R.J. (2008). Excellence for All. Educational Leadership. Issue #2. Vol. 66. Pgs. 14-19.


Planning Framework Mash-Up

Exploring different curriculum approaches was refreshing as I was drawn to a number of different frameworks. However, in the back of my mind, I would ask myself, “[h]ow can teachers meet accountability mandates and ensure an engaging curriculum?” (Drake and Reid 2010). I believe the key is integration. “Successive Integration suggests that teachers’ long-term plans should be designed to ensure that the sequencing of units is conducive to making connections between two or more consecutive topics of study… is also about creating logical connections between those different topics of study over the course of the year” (Chiarotto 2010). Integrated curriculum is important but so is integrating approaches. Using a ‘mash-up’ of planning styles can be successful in delivering an engaging curriculum that also fulfills accountability.

The UBD (Understanding by Design), is a logical place to start. Know where you want to go before you begin. “Planning is best done ‘backward’ from the desired results and the transfer tasks that embody the goals. The 3 Stages (Desired Results, Evidence, Learning Plan) must align for the unit to be most effective” (McTighe 2011). I hope to be more focused in my beginning planning stages so that I truly understand what is important for the students to learn.

Using an Inquiry platform would be optimal; “the tree” to hang everything else on, as demonstrated in a great visual (pg.6) in “Natural Curiosity: Building children’s understanding of the world through environmental inquiry, a resource for teachers”(Chiarotto 2011). It naturally lends itself as a partner to other forms of innovative curriculum planning, including self-regulation, knowledge building and the flipped classroom, other models I would like to integrate to create my new model for planning.

Self-regulation gives students the ability to develop skills on their own that can be applied to the real world. In the class I would want to, “[c]reate opportunities”, “[b]uild capacity,” “[c]reate expectations and student buy-In for self-regulated learning,” and “[e]mbed frequent opportunities for self-regulated learning” (Gini-Newman, G., & Case, R. 2015). Inquiry would naturally create these opportunities, as I have witnessed in my limited use of it in the class.

Using a Knowledge Building Circle in the classroom would help to “promote attentive listening and communication [and] eliminate hierarchy. All students enjoy an equal place in a circle. No one student takes precedence over another. The teacher takes his or her place within the circle as a co-learner. As members of this egalitarian knowledge building community, students both learn from, and contribute to, each other’s understanding” (Chiarotto 2011). Coming together as a group to discuss the more complex ideas and build off of each other is the best way to learn. I have had success with this in History (though I was calling it a learning circle) where discussions of the War of 1812 led to issues of national identity (as a mosaic) and immigration.

I believe using flipped lessons (direct instruction clips) throughout an inquiry process could help students because “pre-training may be an effective means of managing intrinsic cognitive load, thus facilitating learning” (Hamdan, N., McKnight, P., McKnight,K., & Arfstrom, K. M. 2013) and allow more time in class to explore with the teacher as a guide.

Using all of these approaches in a mash-up may seem ambitious but they naturally exist and evolve out of one another. In many regards, I have begun the process already in my practice since this course began and look forward to utilizing them more frequently.

Works Cited

Chiarotto, L. (2011). Natural Curiosity : Building children’s understanding of the world through environmental inquiry, a resource for teachers.The Laboratory School at the Dr. Eric Jackman Inst. Publication Place. Toronto, ON.

Gini-Newman, G., & Case, R. (2015). Creating Thinking Classrooms: Leading Educational Change for a 21st Century World. Nurture self-regulated learners Pgs.175-193. Critical Thinking Consorium. Vancouver, BC.

Hamden, N., McKnight, P., McKnight, K., & Arfstrom. (2013). Flipped Learning Model: A White Paper Based on Literature Review Titled a Review of Flipped Learning. Retrieved from

McTighe, J. (2011). UbD in a Nutshell. Pgs. 1-4. WordPress.


Planning in Practice: Course Assignment–nEtZ5UAjw8-MZGU6yeM/edit?usp=sharing


For this assignment, I wanted to explore a new practice in curriculum design using the framework of inquiry and share my story of risk-taking to encourage others to do so.

I have been working on an inquiry project with my class, adding and revising components of the project as I have learned more about different approaches from this course. One feature of the inquiry project really began to emerge: the involvement of the larger community beyond the classroom walls. Throughout the research process of the inquiry we used four different communication platforms that helped bring community into the classroom. I explored the benefits of each platform and the overall rewards and challenges of using community in order to provide a new approach to teaching.

The inquiry project was based on the idea of creating a more active playground for our school, an idea proposed by the vice-principal to give students some ownership over the actual redevelopment of our playground. The project would help “students to apply their learning to practical, real-world problems” (Sternberg).

The unit (a rough outline is attached as a separate document if you wish to look at it) was divided into three parts: Research (knowledge and understanding), Design (thinking and application), Presentation (communication). Research involved looking at issues like activity promotion, legalities, safety, environmental concerns, fundraising, finances, etc. Design saw the students utilizing their research to construct a model of the playground (pictures are available on Twitter, @dsiertse) and Presentation had them analyzing and then creating a marketing strategy to persuade “the powers that be” that their design was a viable and favorable option. My goal was to “play the role of ‘provocateur,’ finding creative ways to introduce students to ideas and to subject matter that is of interest to them” (Ontario Ministry of Education 2013).

I had intended to explore the use of community but the consequences for learning were far more impactful then I had originally thought. Each student was responsible for contacting an expert from their area of chosen research. Students contacted local restaurants, lawyers, professors, as well as organizations such as Participaction and Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds through email and phone. I was able to bring in some experts as guest speakers from Mohawk College and engage community through Twitter.

The positive response to the project led to a talk with colleagues at a Professional Development breakout session and the board office in a Thinking About Thinking Series P.D. series. The attached Google slide show is a presentation of the key points I discovered and shared at the Professional Development sessions. A slide at the end links to YouTube videos of these presentations.

Relation to co-created success criteria

The use of community demonstrates a dynamic and fluid process. Frequently, we had to make adjustments because experts wouldn’t return phone calls or emails or wouldn’t be able to provide the information we required. Sometimes the students themselves were unsure about the specific information they were looking for and gained clarification along the way. Learning is ongoing for students because they built a network for future inquiry with professionals in many different fields of study.

Instructions were provided on phone and email etiquette prior to the students venturing on their own. By using emails and especially phone calls, students were required to take risks outside of their comfort zone (and mine), use real world skills, take personal accountability and converse in real time. This was extremely empowering and put the pressure on to succeed. It required skills that are used in many occupations.

The task encouraged students to refine, revise and reflect as learners. When they didn’t connect with the right community expert, what would or could they do next? Often one expert would point them to another who would point them to another. Many times people wouldn’t respond and they had to reflect as to why and whether or not to try again or move on. Sometimes experts wouldn’t understand the questions being asked and students would have to refine their questions, a process many were previously reluctant to do.

In creating connections, we had to directly make contact with members of the school community (principal, vice-principal, school council, other classes), town (local restaurants, playground companies), post-secondary education (Mohawk College, McMaster University), and the larger world using different communication platforms. The relationships we built help strengthen our primary source material options for information, but also help provide a larger network for support.

I believe this use of community with different communication platforms acts as an extension of the inquiry design framework. Primary source material that is alluded to in the curriculum can often be difficult to attain but this approach makes it easier. It uses tools familiar to kids, in a new way that connects them to the larger world. “[W]e cannot say that we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities” (Orr).

Works Cited

Ontario. Ministry of Education (2013, May). Capacity Building Series. Inquiry-based learning. Issue 32. Pgs. 1-8.

Orr, D. (1991, Winter). What is Education For? Six Myths About Context Institute [Website]. What is education for? Six myths about the foundations of modern education, and six new principles to replace them.

Sternberg, R. J. (2008, October). Educational Leadership. Excellence for all. Issue 2. Vol 66. Pgs.14-19.