thought-leaders

Thought Leader: Grace Miao

We spoke with Grace Maio in April. She’s a Grade 4 teacher at Grant MacEwan School. We asked her about inquiry-based learning and what she thinks of gamifying the classroom. 

 

Hi Grace, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

No problem.

 

You’ve checked out Mobile Escape before, yes? What do you think?

I really appreciate the concept of connecting something so fun, authentic and hands-on (like an escape room) to the curriculum. I think a lot of the kids struggle because curriculum can be boring or hard to connect. I think Mobile Escape is a cool approach.

 

Is inquiry-based learning something you focus on at your school?

Our school is very inquiry-focused. Inquiry is discipline-focused where teachers are planning lessons around how an expert in that field approaches the problem at hand. Students are learning through the lens of a junior version of such an expert. Inquiry-based learning tries to find a connection between curriculum and the real world. For example, teaching students how to blueprint makes them feel like a junior version of an engineer: authentic, real-life based. Not just knowledge-based. Students learn better when they choose to engage. We introduce a topic with a hook, maybe a video, or we’ll create something to get them interested.

 

How has your Masters program affected your teaching?

I did the first year for personal growth where I learned about wellness. In the second year I took a creativity course which has broadened how I approach teaching. I’m not spoon-feeding so much. Students go home and research and explore ideas on their own, find it in the library, it’s neat. It’s made me not focus so much on the curriculum. I personally think if you teach the basic skills, the learning will happen; it’s all correlated anyways. I am more focused on the front end of the curriculum rather than each specific learning outcome. If I can have a conversation with kids, they may take it off topic, and that’s part of learning.

 

What do you think of gamifying the classroom?

I’m all for it and it aligns well with kids today. Kids are teaching me how to use Snapchat! I think gamification is a great idea, but there are a lot of traditional teachers—maybe half of us? How are you going to engage those teachers to change a pedagogy they’ve had for 20 years? I don’t know!

 

What would you think of an escape room residency?

We’ve done art and dance residencies. The kids like looking up to someone else, in a balanced learning experience that’s not so paper-and-pencil. I really like the idea of the kids creating their own escape room. After all, when you can share an idea you really get it.

 

Any final thoughts?

It’s awesome that you guys are promoting critical thinking. It’s something that kids really need nowadays. Kids have become zombie-like. Your approach is very natural: asking questions. If you’re stuck in a room, you have to ask questions to get out.

 

Oh, and you should give them lab coats.

 

Great idea.

Thanks. This is really cool!

 

 

Thought Leader: Allison Robb-Hagg

We spoke with Allison Robb-Hagg in March. She’s a Grade 4 teacher at Westgate School. We asked her about her teaching methods, and what she thinks of gamifying the classroom. 

 

M.E. - Hi Allison, what do you think of the phrase “gamifying the classroom”?

A.R.H. - I think it’s a great way to get kids into learning without letting them know that’s what’s happening. It’s actually a big area of study at the [University of Calgary] too. Kids are playing video games, so how can we bring that into the classroom? We need to respond to what the kids are into.

 

I understand you’re completing a Masters at the U of C right now as well? 

Yes. I’m in an amazing and life-changing class called Design Thinking for Innovation. It’s all about seeing the potential in students and building their creative capacity. As educators, we are responsible to the curriculum but we can be as creative as possible to reach more students.

 

There’s a lot of talk right now about inquiry-based learning. How do you engage with that topic?

Inquiry based learning is a big name for a lot of things. My specific style is design thinking: problem solving, problem seeking. I try to make my students problem seekers and solvers in the world. I find that everybody has their own definition of inquiry-based learning.

We’re looking at task design as a school, coming from a place of empathy. Last year we talked about how our actions affect other people: from girls rights in sports, to racism, to learning disabilities in the classroom. The kids rallied around them based on their interests.

 

How do field trips play into all this? And what do you look for in a field trip?

I love field trips! I try and do as many as I can. I look for three things in a field trip. First, I’m looking for connections to curriculum, delivered in an interesting way. Second, it needs to be hands-on, and interactive, leaving my students with questions and wonder. And third, it needs to lead into my next project.

Last year we visited the landfill and recycling centre. Students journaled about what bothered them and what they saw. They ended up starting a recycling initiative. We reduced garbage from 8 bags to 5. We’re still working toward education and spreading the message. I want to create little citizens of the world.

 

In our field trips, students get a chance to be makers themselves. After doing our escape room, they get to make their own. And in the process, we’re teaching kids about what their learning style is and how they can work with others more effectively. 

It sounds like a long-term benefit, to learn how to build your own puzzles, make your own room. But how are you going to identify different types of learners through as escape room?

 

People unknowingly show their true colours throughout the process of an escape room. Because the stakes are high, people don’t self-regulate as much. And we can make observations and reflect on our behaviour in escape room to draw conclusions.

I see that all the time in my class; different kids have propensities for different engagement. How could the kids make an escape room in a 2-hour field trip?

 

We envision a “made by the kids” escape room where the rules are bent. Right now escape rooms are mostly 1-hour blocks with 3 or 4 rooms. But we’re rewriting that rulebook to include any theme, any timeframe. The important part is that kids become the makers.

That would be amazing!