Future Ready Days at MacLachlan College
Posted: 20 February 2020
- Communication skills
- Appreciation for diversity
- Problem solving skills
- Sense of Responsibility
- Commitment to sustainability
All subject areas
We created Future Ready Days to support the innovative ‘BIG PICTURE’ learning and to prepare students for the 21st century workplace by developing cross functional or Future Ready Skills.
Our Future Ready Days are designed to encourage students and teachers to reach beyond the traditional borders of their classrooms, to put academics into action and to take an integrated approach to working collaboratively. Students identify real world problems and endeavor to solve them by using the methodologies of Design Thinking, (a human centred approach to problem solving that originated at Stanford University). An emphasis is placed on the importance of empathy, fostering inventive attitudes and cultivating optimistic outlooks. Our students are encouraged to see problems as opportunities.
Activities are underpinned and framed through the lens of the Round Square IDEALS and Discoveries, with a particular focus on the Ability to Solve Problems, an Appreciation for Diversity, Inventiveness, Courage, Compassion and Teamwork skills.
Future Ready Days were developed as part of a strategic direction that encompasses three overarching aims: the creation of a culture of collaborative innovation in Education; a re-framing of the educational lens to develop deep curiosity through curriculum design and flexible and experiential learning; and a vision of education, designed for a rapidly changing world, which fosters the creative potential of teachers and students by building a community of learners that can demonstrate a mastery in academics and problem solving.
Several key objectives support these aims including: the creation of environments that support innovation; professional development for teachers to support them in the creation of curriculum and cross curricular opportunities; the development of an integrated curriculum through the creation of cross curricular project based learning (PBL); personalization of learning, the promotion of real world learning and the integration of design, systems and computational thinking; as well as a shift to make learning relevant by increasing student choice and voice.
A new Future Ready Team was established as part of the school academics, (formed of faculty who had already been trained in Design Thinking). The team has FOUR overarching aims: Planning of Future Ready Days; supporting staff in Design Thinking professional development; the development of cross curricular Project Based Learning; and the Re-structuring of Departments into subjects that share common areas of focus in terms of curriculum expectations and cross functional skills. The scope of these aims are multi-layered and will unfold over three years.
Design Thinking Pilot Project.
Five years ago, a pilot project in design thinking was developed for Grade 8 and 11 students. This was a full day, off site experience, which was extremely successful. After the pilot project, additional trial, cross-curricular, project based learning experiences were constructed and tested within the school. These validation tests were interesting, as we collected evidence of student work that was more holistic in terms of understanding, but there was some initial push back from a small group of students and parents who could not understand the cross curricular skill connections. This provided us with clear feedback, and a decision was made that in moving forward, we needed to market and communicate our intentions within a strategic direction in order to ensure student and parent buy in.
A year later students began to suggest that they wanted opportunities to work on what they identified as “passion projects,” (a self-directed undertaking where they could put their academics into action without worrying about it impacting mark and grades). In response to these suggestions, last year, the school administration agreed to create an “off timetable day,” which we ran as another pilot. Our intention in planning the day was to create a full school day that engaged students in more experiential learning and created the opportunity for students to build and fabricate solutions in the classroom. We also saw this as another opportunity to provide a different learning experience within the classroom and to gain additional insights and feedback from students and parents. Students were given the overarching theme “Our Place in the Universe,” and groups of students, divided by house, worked across grade levels on different aspects of the theme, while other students reported in real time, posting the work being generated and built on the school’s social media channel.
This day was highly successful, the energy generated in the school was fantastic! Students really stepped out of their comfort zones in applying their academics and prior knowledge to a problem. They researched solutions and learned to use maker based tools to fabricate their solutions. The feedback collected from the students was very positive and as a result, we were persuaded to create 3 half day and one full day off time table days for this year. These were branded as ‘Future Ready Days’.
Introduction of PBL (Project Based Learning)
In the spring last year, in response to student stress regarding summative assignments, another pilot project was created by teachers within the Arts and Humanities. This became the summative assignment for Grade 12 students in visual arts, history, philosophy, law and economics. Students were given a choice of one of several broad topics, which they would research from the lens of each subject. Our aim was to reduce stress by minimizing the perception of the amount of work at the end of the year. We also intended that the project would be an opportunity for the students to develop a mastery of knowledge by examining a topic from different viewpoints/subjects. Again, students who were surveyed at the end of the year found this to be a beneficial way of working, as their was a perception of a reduced workload and considerably less stress associated with the work. Students felt the project in each subject supported a more holistic understanding of the topic being studied. More opportunities to create these types of cross-curricular assignments are currently being identified through alignment of curriculum expectation across subjects and grades.
Professional Development for Faculty grade 6-12
Also in the spring of last year the school administration made the commitment to provide a two year programme of professional development in Design Thinking to Upper School staff. Our aim was to support the growth of creative confidence in the faculty and to provide a foundational understanding in user-centred design methodologies in order to support Future Ready Days and the integration of Future Ready Skills into the curriculum. As the school had recently joined Round Square, we also recognized the opportunity to align our identified Future Ready Skills with the Ideals and Discoveries, and we saw this as an opportunity to embedded character based education within the curriculum.
Team Future Ready
At the same time in the spring, we established Team Future Ready, (which has 2 periods of collaborative planning time per cycle). The intention here is to provide an in house team of experts in Design Thinking who can support staff in their professional development training as well as establish the philosophy and practice of the Future Ready Days.
Future Ready Days
Future Ready Days were introduced to the student body in assembly. The presentation underpinned the need to develop the workplace skills identified as being in highest demand by the World Economic Forum. We wanted the students to understand that the current workplace will be vastly different by the time that they graduate, and that the development of AI means that certain jobs will no longer exist. As a result, students will need to develop their ability to think analytically, be more resilient and adaptable, innovative and creative; as well they will need to apply these skills to complex problem solving.
Future Ready Days were formulated within the context of assisting students to build Future Ready skills and competencies while simultaneously framing them through the Round Square Ideals and Discoveries. Students are provided the opportunity to put their academic learning into action through real world problem solving. We wanted these days to be meaningful and authentic, to promote inquiry and open-mindedness and to introduce faculty and students to new perspectives.
Mock Design Sprint
In the first half day, Future Ready Day students were exposed to Design Thinking methodologies and processes in a half day Mock Design Sprint. In order to reinforce the concept of student agency, we gave them the opportunity to think of one thing that they wished they had the power to change in their school.
Problems identified by students included;
A. Use of school space – Lockers and Quiet Spaces
B. Mental Health – Homework and Stress Management
C. Mindfulness – Authentic Implementation
D. Student Agency – Course Choices
After the Mock Design Sprint, we surveyed students and staff to collect Data and gather Feedback on the design sprint.
Student Lead Initiatives
In line with Round Square, we wanted students to identify and lead the initiatives we would pursue in our next Future Ready Day. So in preparation, students were surveyed as to what specific issues they were interested in. Students were asked to identify three specific issues. In providing choices we looked specifically at the Round Square Ideals and Discoveries as a way of finding synergy for topics. These included: Use of Resources, Reducing and Managing Stress, Revolutionizing Education, Carbon Footprint Issues, Attaining Equity, Access to the Basic Necessities, Technology Use, Freedom to Express yourself, The Role of Social Media in Our Lives, Attaining Peace in our World, Ending Discrimination and Youth Engagement in Leadership.
Analysis of Data: Technology Use, Ending Discrimination and Reducing and Managing Stress were the top three most popular topics that students chose to identify as problems that they would like to engage in solving; Attaining World Peace and the Role of Social Media in our lives were also popular choices. The team was interested to see the correlations between the topics staff chose to explore in their Design Sprints and the student choices, with both technology use and mental health scoring highly in both groups. Going forward; we are hoping that this will eventually lead to some authentic collaboration, between faculty and students, in terms of identifying problems and generating solutions, as well as creating opportunities for dialogue between other adults, (parents) and students. From the survey results, The team identified FIVE potential over-arching themes: Mental Health, Technology, Environment, Human Rights and Education. Students were then asked which theme interested them and why? They were then organized into small groups of 6 based on their interest within the theme. Students started a One and a Half Day Design Sprint on Nov. 13th 2019. This was a half day were students unpacked the problems they were interested in by identifying the key drivers of the problem, key questions and assumptions, priority characteristics and supporting data. Students finished the session by creating validation tests for their ideas, such as surveys or interview questions that they could use to test and validate their information. The Design Sprint will culminate on Feb.19th 2020 when students will then create a How Might We…. Questions to start to brainstorm how to solve their chosen issues through the focus of empathy. The evening of the Feb.19th will be a school Showcase event where parents will be invited to join the dialogue with students and teachers. Parents will be invited to participate by asking questions, giving feedback and learning about the Design Thinking methodologies themselves.
As this year’s trial is in process, it is not possible to give a full account yet of the year’s activities, but we have committed next year to have scheduled four full Future Ready Days within the timetable. We see this as an on-going organic opportunity to continue to develop this type of programming within the school and eventually to have it implicitly embedded within the curriculum.
Innovation and School Administration an exercise in persuasion: You have to sell the need for a Leap of Faith, you have to remove the need for an end product, that there is more value in process. Fortunately, there is lots of data that is now backing up some of these initiatives, use them and collect data as you go along.
Showcasing the unknown: Future Ready Days are open-ended, we don’t know what the students will produce? That can be a scary concept for educators and students.
A. Functionality of Spaces and Learning Zones: At the moment Future Ready Days are being implemented 7-12 and do not yet include Kindergarten – 6. As it is, spaces for students and teachers to collaborate together is limited due to the size of student body in relation to open planned spaces. Space needs to reflect and facilitate the learning happening in the room and some rooms do not have space for chart paper, or wall space. Some are not suitable for building. We need to create some more dynamic spaces that are more flexible and adaptable to this kind of learning.
B. Learning Galleries: Space for learning galleries also needs to be provided so that the process of problem solving can be more authentically and effectively displayed and enables a change in mindset as VALUE is shifted onto the process of learning. Learning galleries would encourage students to take a variety of approaches to their learning and work serves as a model of inspiration and pride as students recognize the work of their peers. Learning Galleries would also support the development of academic mindsets and a positive school culture as the community becomes more interested in what’s happening in school.
C. Staffing for Future Ready Days is a challenge as there are not enough of us to provide opportunities for breaks. Teachers also lose their regular preps. To support Future Ready Days, we need the additional support of supply staff to cover off regular staff so that they can have a break during the day. This going to be particularly difficult on the full- day sprint and evening event, as staff and students will need a break between the end of the sprint and the start of the evening.
D. Planning Time TFR:Though the Team has 4 objectives for the year, so far we have spent the 2 periods per planning cycle preparing only for the delivery of Future Ready Days, (This has included selling the concept to the student body, through presentations and videos, as well as scheduling rooms, preparing materials for staff and students, creating and administering validation tests, working on marketing and branding, feeding back progress to administration and board). With only 2 periods per cycle, we have not as yet had time to consider fully the other three objectives, though some ad-hoc work has also been completed on cross disciplinary project based learning. It should be noted also that currently our team have spent far more time than 2 periods per cycle so far in planning the days, which for the most part have so far been successful, but not without the hard work, and the above and beyond that the team has had to take on in order to ensure that the days ran on time and were adequately supported.
E. Student Push Back. This type of learning does not immediately appeal to some students, particularly ones who are “in the box,” and already feel that they are successful at school and learning, they don’t always see the additional benefit. The key here is to provide that student agency and give them the opportunity to follow those passion projects. Push back can also come from students who are feeling that they are already overwhelmed with school can see the day as a day to catch up with work.
F. Communication with Parents and Students. The benefits of learning Future Ready skills needs to be clearly communicated to students and parents. We have shared philosophy with students through letters and website branding but we are in the infancy of embedding Design Thinking school wide and as such have not yet had the opportunity to receive feedback from parents or share ideas.
G. Branding. We have engaged our marketing team in assisting us in the branding of Future Ready pedagogy. We think it is important that we are able to see the language on the website and in communication with parents. As we move forward we intend to continue to use this pedagogic language, data and research.
H. Re-Structuring. As we develop both Future Ready Days and more authentically integrate design thinking an Project based learning, we have considered the possibility that the school we need to re-structure leadership positions within departments to reflect the identification of skill sets and a shift from individual subject expectations to the integration of skill development across subject areas. The development of Pedagogy, Mindsets and the development of cross curricular PBL needs to be supported through changes to school structures and we foresee the need for the creation of several new positions.
It is important to stress that Future Ready Days are a work in progress, students have currently completed two half day sprints and are scheduled to participate in a full day workshop with a showcase event planned for the evening for parents. There is also a half day de-brief planned in late spring. As such, we are only in the early process of gathering data and analyzing results.
Survey Results Students: 59% of the students surveyed said that they had enjoyed the design sprint; 58% saw that there was a connection between the design sprint and how problems were solved in the real world; 59% saw how these skills could be useful to them in learning their subjects; 57% enjoyed being out of structured classes to do the activity.
Survey Results Staff: 88% of staff surveyed agreed that the day provided ample opportunities for students to engage with each other; 100% said that they saw value in off timetable days that promote design thinking; 89% said that students enjoyed the process of the Design Sprint.
In line with the Round Square Ideals and Discoveries, the students are developing agency by identifying and initiating solutions to the problems they are facing, they are actively part of the process of designing solutions to the issues that they have identified. In terms of the Mental Health, Technology and Education groups, these students are giving voice to important issues and are engaged in identifying solutions.
Students are also seeing that change is a process, that we determine a solution, but first we need to test it, validate it through data, that we need to reiterate, change is organic and keeps evolving. We fail forward, some suggestions/solutions might not work – so we need to analyze why and create better solutions. This places an emphasis on process instead of product, so much of the educational experience is a box ticked, a topic learned and not revisited, whereas this experience is emphasizing the collaborative, adaptive ongoing nature of most workplaces.
Students are putting their academic knowledge into action and are more readily seeing the benefits of learning particular subjects, i.e. in order to understand quantum computing they need first to understand calculus, so it is assisting in the objective of making learning relevant, it is helping students see the WHY and HOW and not just the WHAT in learning.
Next year we have made the commitment to move to 4 full day Future Ready Days. We have also made the commitment to integrate Design Thinking into the curriculum across subject areas in the development of Project Based and BIG Picture Learning.
We are hoping that the long term outcomes of Future Ready Days will be to enable students to build portfolio of concrete, real world, trans-disciplinary learning skills that will better prepare them for the future workplace. We are also hoping that Future Ready days will help us to transition students out of a marks based culture and foster a culture of innovation. This type of learning encourages students to be more of a risk taker and hopefully will encourage more resilience and adaptability from students as they start to see broader connections across subject areas.
We are also hoping that this is an opportunity to foster creative confidence in staff and to celebrate and model skills to students. We are hoping as there s synergy between student and teacher identified projects that we can leverage parent buy in and build a community of problem solvers who are working to create a better world.
- Patience – Mindshifts take time – but it only takes a few to create a movement and momentum. There was a time when only Sir Ken Robinson questioned the stagnancy of an educational pedagogy born of the Industrial Revolution, but now it seems now that everyone is talking about the fact that employment markets are being disrupted at an ever increasing pace and that educational providers also need to adapt in order to teach the skills necessary for the future work place.
- Stay Optimistic – See point #1. It’s important to model behavior and even when things go wrong you learn something. We need to model mobility potential so sometimes that means going back to the drawing board. Shift focus onto the process of change as this will mirror a change to the process of learning.
- Allow opportunities for people to BUY IN – this will greatly assist in maintaining point #2. It is now universally recognized that education systems are inadequately designed to help young people navigate a new skills economy and government education authorities and legislative bodies can be frustratingly slow to advocate and facilitate change. The challenge then becomes to offer other opportunities within the existing system, find ways to leverage all stakeholders when suggesting big changes. You have to consider and be willing to address the fears and concerns of each party -they are different: school boards want to know that schools are evolving, that research is stringent, relevant, proven; school administrations are worried about accreditation; teachers already overloaded, don’t have time to consider new approaches to teaching and learning; students need to know what they are learning is relevant; parents want to be reassured that the education their child is receiving is preparing them for life. Run pilot projects, invest in professional development, have on going open communication with students and parents, see problems as opportunities. Remember EMPATHY is at the center of problem solving, so approach change from the perspective of the user as this will inform your solutions.
- Accept that it won’t be perfect. This is a new space, one where a whole school is collaborating and cooperating as learners. Change is an iterative process.
- Start small – Leverage opportunities within the existing framework. Create a Future Ready day or hack one existing assignment to create one project based assignment that integrates design thinking. Keep your team tight to start, work with someone you trust and you know can be open-minded.
- Develop a Bias into Action – Don’t over think your initiative, just try it as a small idea, what if you reported on learning skills rather than or as well as knowledge content on one rubric?
- Use your students as consultants to get feedback from within. Invite them to consult with you, give them the voice and the power to be a part of change by recognizing that they are your best source of information.
- Brand failure a success – It’s an opportunity to learn and is an important part of the design process. It also gives you the opportunity to model real world workplace problem solving.
- Create Learning Galleries/Authentic Audiences – Try to give students the opportunity to report to the real world. They’re tech savvy, give them the voice to communicate their enthusiasm for what they have learned and created.
- Be prepared for Push Back – not everyone will be in the same place when it comes to creative confidence and trying something new. Let them work within their comfort zone or pair them up with someone who can support them in trying something new.
- Support staff as they integrate learning skills, trying something new takes planning, create time and space for staff to action plan, encourage them to collect data with regards to changes and review information objectively. What’s working? What needs to be changed? So support staff through professional development. Shifting teacher’s mindsets to one of being creators of curriculum means supporting their creative confidence.
- Be in it for the long haul. Integration of learning skills and the concept of life-long learning are not new concepts, but most parents and students view high school as a stepping stone to University and a career; it’s hard to comprehend the concept of constantly having to re-train and update skills for the future – even though this is what many professionals already do.
- Sharing Best Practices. Providing faculty with the opportunity to visit other schools to see how they are integrating Design Thinking and PBL into their curriculum allows the school to be part of a bigger pedagogical conversation. It helps to establish considerations for planning and examine what has and hasn’t worked in practice. It also encourages a sharing of best practice, increases teacher connectedness. This will also provide insights as to how other high schools are working with Universities to recognize the development of skill development, (Consortium 100).
Author: Christine Butterfield, Director of Integrated Arts at MacLachlan College