Designers and Directors of Their Own Learning


“Collaborative inquiry that challenges thinking and practice involves people working together in meaningful ways to deepen understanding and challenges what they already know and do.”

S. Katz & L, A. Dack (2012)

iStock_000020925875XSmallWhat does it look like to engage in a journey to explore innovative learning as teachers and students? Chimney Hill Elementary school is an Innovative Learning Designs (ILD) project school. The ILD project started three years ago as a small pilot with 16 schools that were interested in exploring ways to transform student learning. Each school built its own proposal based on some guiding principles such as using formative assessment, collaborative inquiry, project based learning, etcetera. Teacher and student response to the project was overwhelmingly positive and so in Year 2 another 40 schools were added. Then, as additional funding became available, we worked to add yet more schools. The ILD project is now adding the last wave of elementary schools. By the end of the year, 101 elementary schools will be participants in this unique opportunity to transform student learning; Chimney Hill is just one of them.

The ILD projects are expressed differently in each school. One of the goals at Chimney Hill is to use technology to leverage learning in all areas of the curriculum and to increase student engagement. Their learning is tailored to the school context as they engage in collaborative inquiry around their learning questions. In all of the projects, teacher teams use a collaborative approach and authentic inquiry into student learning and teacher practice. Why? We recognize that this approach is regarded as the most effective form of professional development. “The evidence shows that effective professional learning (i.e. that which positively impacts on the learner and the teacher) consists of three basic features: enquiry; reflection and collaborative learning.” (see Harris & Jones).  All of the projects are designed with that understanding, leaving each community of educators to design their own priorities to anchor their learning.

How does a project like this reflect itself in student learning? Are teachers doing anything different? What does it look like at the school? As Principal Chris Baldry explains, “At Chimney Hill we seek to find sustainable ways to use technology to leverage student learning. Our intention is to use technology to transform student learning. Students are using technology to engage themselves in learning in ways that are unconventional, different.” The school has focused on cultivating an inquiry-based mindset where students design and are directors of their own learning.

Paul Langereis, the grade six teacher, has played a pivotal role in encouraging staff participation in the school’s journey. Together with his colleagues, they describe their learning travels:

Student learning has been amplified through the use of the project technology. Whether it is writing and responding to their learning through their blogs, skyping with authentic audiences around the world, or creating their own books, the students are deeply engaged in their learning.  While student engagement is important, the concept of focusing on creation rather than consumption is noticeable as well. Students are analyzing, evaluating, creating, and demonstrating their thinking through the use of technology. Blooms’ taxonomy is turned on its’ head as the thinking becomes both the entry point and primary purpose for learning.

The initial novelty of shiny, new technology fades as teachers begin to embrace the district focus on creation and digital storytelling. Chris Baldy describes it:  “Increasingly, iPads with creation apps such as Explain Everything, Book Creator, Coaches Eye, IMovie etc. are being used by classroom teachers. A grade 5/6 teacher recently used the app Explain Everything to demonstrate their knowledge of decimal fractions. Presentations ranged in time from 5 to 12 minutes.  Sometimes the diagrams and /or narratives of what the students were describing were rambling and unclear, other times they were very cogent. What was interesting watching them was one could see the metacognitive processes at work…Every day, students go to their teacher and ask, first of all, can they show their project and second, and most importantly, can they reopen their project so they can change something…. They realize mistakes have been made.” Self-evaluation, constant improvement, ongoing feedback, formative assessment and engagement are hallmarks of learning for these students.

Cord with knot.The Chimney Hill Innovative Learning Designs journey is two-fold: the teachers are reflecting together on their own practice while the students are engaging in deep learning. The two are in inextricably linked together.

Note from Paul Langereis: The movie  was made for the Surrey School District (SD36) to show how technology has changed students’ learning, and how teachers’ at this school have changed their instruction.  I would like to thank all the teachers, administrators, and students who helped this movie come together.  Without your help I would not have been able to take on this project.  I hope this movie provides viewers with a glimpse into what is happening at our school, and where we are going with the use of technology in the future.  Lastly, I would like to thank Kevin Amboe for this opportunity to showcase our school, and for providing me with a chance to challenge my editing skills!

Find out more about Paul Langereis at

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