Knowledge Building in Practice – Educator-Created Resources from KBSI 2019, Toronto.

In April 2019, the Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology and the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study co-hosted the Toronto-based events for the 2019 Knowledge Building Summer Institute (KBSI).

Teachers, students and school administrators from all over Southern Ontario came to share their work with the international KB community. Below, we’ve put together their posters and papers – a treasure trove of KB resources engaging subjects across K-12.

Knowledge Building and Leadership: Exploring the Intersectionalities

By: Karen Steffensen, Student Achievement Officer, Ontario Ministry of Education.

In 2012, as part of my ​graduate thesis,​ a framework for leadership came about as a result of a narrative inquiry I was embarking upon — exploring the spaces within organizations where innovation and creativity can flourish. At that time, it was my hope that through this inquiry I would uncover key factors that contribute to greater agency, supporting the emergence of innovative practices that improve the quality of outcome for those at the receiving end of an intended innovation.

In a ​research interview​ with my dear friend and mentor–Tsimshian artist, Elder and Hereditary Chief ​Roy Henry Vickers​– the ​Four Directions of Leadership ​emerged as a way of grounding possible ways forward. The graphic shown below, frames these four directions. Through the way of ​Teacher, Healer, Visionary, Warrior/Leader​, we move through challenge with the knowledge necessary to arrive at a new place of being.

During this past academic school year (2018 – 2019), I have been contemplating the intersection between the ​Four Directions of Leadership ​and specific ​KB principles​, in particular,Epistemic Agency, Democratizing Knowledge, Improvable Ideas, Rise Above, and Community Knowledge and Collective Responsibility. ​I am wondering how understanding this intersection might further support leaders navigate complex change, particularly in turbulent, rapidly changing times. How might KB principles underpin and further inform our collaborations as we journey forward?

Which KB principles are embodied by leaders (both formal and informal) as they navigate complexity and change, innovating the systems and institutions for whom they serve? In what ways do these principles leverage successful change?

I believe that ​Idea Diversity & Democratizing Knowledge​ connects with ​the way of the Teacher​, as they each embody

○  being open to new possibilities and potential, constructing new paths to explore;

○  taking risks, learning from mistakes and failures;

○  expanding understanding through co-construction of learning with a knowledgeable other.

I see ​Epistemic Agency ​as having connections to ​the way of the Healer​. These principles and ways of being involve nurturing, caring, guiding, supporting, and ultimately, moving out of a space of hurt, anguish, challenge or despair into a space of renewal. Epistemic Agency and the way of the Healer offer hope because of new beginnings and connections that arise from the deep learning in the process of healing. The relationships fostered by these leadership directions (Epistemic Agency and the way of the Healer), enable us to grow as we work together for a common purpose, which gives rise to voice and contribution, moving us forward into the new spaces of possibility.

Improvable Ideas and Rise Above​, connect to ​the way of the Visionary​, allowing us to get beyond “what is” (from a current state) and move into “what could or can be” (a future state); enabling us to see beyond what is, to be open to possibilities and to intuition, and to embrace wide-awakeness as we strive to move forward. Improvable Ideas, Rise Above and the way of the Visionary, embody the creative process, ignited by inspiration or challenge and result in the emergence of something quite innovative or possibly new. As Roy Henry Vickers describes, the way of the Visionary uses our ability to see without our physical eyes, to be aware of the images that come to mind every day “because we human beings have been given this incredible ability to have vision that is beyond our eyes”. This, for me, is the ability to Rise Above, seeing and seeking the new possibilities not yet seen.

Community Knowledge and Collective Responsibility​ connects with ​the way of the Warrior/Leader ​as these require

○  walking in truth and wisdom of our ancestors; being grounded in knowledge from those who have come before us;

○  not being afraid to take a stand or seek the changes necessary to move beyond a current reality;

○  leading forward in possibility (imagination), joined by action;

○  embodying a form of leadership that ignites the passion in oneself and in others.

I see strong connections and intersectionality between KB principles and the Four Directions of Leadership. I wonder how this understanding might offer to further support and deepen our work as leaders– beyond a pedagogical approach that resides solely in classrooms with students, particularly if we consider how might KB provide strength of purpose, as a way of being when embodied in one’s leadership for and with others?

When we understand and navigate through layers of emotion, we are afforded the opportunity to enter into the “spaces of possibility” (as Maxine Green might say), enabling our ability to Rise Above, co-exploring ideas and seeing every idea as being improvable. By growing connections to KB principles within leadership practices, it is my belief these connections will give rise to meaningful innovations and ideas that truly uplift us through complex changes and challenges that are unfolding in and across today’s educational landscapes.

-Listen to a short (4 min) excerpt from Karen’s interview with Roy Henry Vickers, where Roy shares important perspectives around student engagement, success and learning, and ways we can ignite and inspire learning and teaching:

-You can also read more on the Four Directions of Leadership in Karen’s graduate thesis

-For more information on Roy Henry Vickers and his art, visit

Give it a go! One teacher’s story of getting started with KB.

Bijan Nagji, Gr. 6 teacher, Halton District School Board (HDSB)

I was introduced to Knowledge Building in the middle of the 2017 school year. One of my V.P’s came into our room and had the courage to introduce me to a document.  Being open minded, I glanced at it and said “sure”, I’ll take a look. I put in on my teacher desk. It stayed there.

Later in the school year, I’d heard that  the Halton District School Board in Ontario Canada, where I have been a teacher for these past 19 years (that can’t be right, can it?) announced that there was some grant money available from the Ministry of Education. The idea of potentially getting some money and trying something new, something different sounded good to me! They were looking for proposals around how to teach the New Global Competencies. Knowing that there had been discussion that they were going to replace our Learning Skills in our Provincial Report Cards, I figured, hey, why not apply? So, a group of us got together and wrote up what sounded pretty impressive (to me, anyway) proposal. Thanks Emily Horner! We wanted to use the funding to see if we can teach junior students skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

Little did I know that it would take me into perhaps one of the best and most gratifying professional endeavors to this day. Using The Knowledge Building pedagogy was a part of that proposal. We got short- listed  for the money and then approved! Sometimes as educators it’s easy to stay the course and do what we do. Risk taking and stepping outside our own comfort zone is not natural at times. It can be challenging and even difficult. But, that’s not me!  I went back to that document and started reading it. I was intrigued and remember wondering why I hadn’t seen this yet in all my years of teaching? So we took some of its theories, principles and ideologies and attempted to apply them into our classroom. We started slowly and looked at big ideas and concepts across all curricular areas and incorporated Knowledge Building within them. Knowledge Building scaffolds were introduced and we jumped right into using KB circles. Students were first introduced to a few basic scaffolds which soon enough, they seemed to have mastered! So we increased the scaffolds we were using, changed a few and even created some of our own. It soon occurred to me that our grade 5 students were engaged, respectful and actually sounded like empowered students and learners having a respectful conversation. In short, they sounded like adults! Reflecting on this, I think that may have been my aha moment!

With part of the money received we decided to bring in some experts to our school and dig deeper into how we could use Knowledge Building to teach some of the Global competencies.

That’s when I was introduced to the Knowledge Forum! It seemed so complex at first, and a bit intimidating too! But, I gave it a go. What an exciting tool I thought!

We continued to take risks, play, fail and eventually learn! Oh yes, there were lots of failures along the way. Really, the kids figured out things quicker than me! Even at age 10, they are so tech savvy and intuitive.

I was particularly fascinated by the analytics tool in the Knowledge Forum platform. We continued playing and exploring with the students and realized that there was invaluable data that it gave us! I liked that it allowed the silent, reserved type students (we all have them) to have a voice! Not only that, but students and teachers had data about peer to peer collaboration.

Students were looking at their collaboration as a community and we then realized that the collaboration for some was focussed primarily with only a certain subset in our community. Yes, we found out that some of us were only collaborating with our friends! This opened the door for great discussion and discourse in our room about what collaboration looked like in the real world. Slowly, we started noticing a change and more authentic interactions with others. Success I thought! But wait, if the goal is idea improvement, we still had a long way to go! Another emerging trend came to the forefront. Students seemed to be really good at creating and stating their own theories. But, not as good at building on the ideas of others or putting ideas together.

So, our journey continues! We use Knowledge Building circles regularly in our class across all curricular areas.  Here, students are having a great discussion in math. They are “democratizing knowledge” together in our T.O.G.A table (Table of Great Achievement) a phrase coined by Suzana Milinovich and her class. Suzana was one of the  brilliant educators with the Hamilton Wentworth School Board who had come into our school to help us dive deeper into Knowledge Building and how we can be used to teach the Global Competencies.

Students are trying to convince each other which theory is correct and building on the ideas of others

Toward the end of the school year I was lucky enough to be asked to present the work our class was doing at KBSI 2018 Summer Institute. What a great few days!  For me it was about learning about all the fascinating work others were doing! If you are an educator, administrator, a policy maker, I have this to say, give this a go. Try. Fail. Learn. Try again! I have no doubt that in the end the winners will be our future generation!

Bijan Nagji

Grade 5

Viola Desmond Public School

Milton ON, Canada

Halton District School Board

Twitter: @BijanNagji

East Asian Graduate Students Symposium on the Learning Sciences

The East Asian Graduate Student Symposium on the Learning Sciences (EAGLS) 2019 took place at Hong Kong University (HKU) on February 16th and 17th. The event was organised by Dr. Carol Chan and Dr. Jan van Aalst from the HKU Faculty of Education, in collaboration with colleagues from Shizuoka University (Japan) and Nanjing Normal University (Mainland China).

The EAGLS 2019 event was the second symposium of its kind, expanding from the successful Lab Exchange Programs between Shizuoka University and University of Hong Kong.  Over 60 graduate students from the three participating universities attended to showcase their work.

The symposium provided opportunities for graduate students and junior researchers to present their research in the learning sciences for cross-exchange of ideas and collaboration.  Senior academics from different universities in the region were invited to give plenary talks on learning, pedagogy and analytics.  The senior researchers were also on hand to provide useful feedback and mentoring for graduate student participants. 

To cater to the interests of graduate students, the program also included several invited talks on learning designs, classroom dialogue and teacher learning. Graduate students and participants also had the opportunity to use Knowledge Forum (KF6) to enrich the interaction and community building during the symposium.

For more information on the symposium, visit the conference website.

You can also download the EAGLS (2019) full program here.

Growing Knowledge Building in the Capital Region of New York

The teacher team from Guilderland Elementary School (Albany, NY) delivered a workshop to share their Knowledge Building science program with teachers and school leaders in the Greater Capital Region of New York State. The workshop was hosted by the Teacher Center in Albany on February 7, 2019. The Guilderland teacher team (Patricia Gagnon, Stacey Kirk, and Beth Tangorre) has been collaborating with researchers from the University at Albany, SUNYsince 2013 to restructure their Grade 5 science program using a Knowledge Building approach with Knowledge Forum and Idea Thread Mapper (ITM). At this workshop, they shared their innovative work to approach the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) using Knowledge Building.

Students reflect on their KB experience!

ITM integrated with KF6 offers support for students to co-structure their knowledge building work and further collaborate across classroom communities.

See more info, or contact to enable this service. 

Change the Way 2019!

A Student-Led, Student-Driven Human Rights Conference

Students, teachers, parents, community members, district leaders, and administrators came together this past January 10th for a powerful day of learning, knowledge building and social action at the Change the Way 2019, Human Rights Conference.

Students from Dundas Valley Secondary School in Dundas Valley, Ontario, took charge of every aspect of the event — from coming up with the conference concept, selecting and inviting speakers, securing and prepping the venue, and everything in between. The program featured contributions and presentations from guest speakers, as well as elementary and secondary students across the school district, who showcased their work on innovating solutions and ways to advance the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Hear from the conference organizers about how Knowledge Building and Knowledge Forum helped them create Change the Way 2019!

 “I really liked how students started off the conference. When you go to school conferences or any school event teachers or someone else who isn’t a student will usually start off. The 11th grade students definitely were responsible and were ready to speak in a confident voice.  Really shows how much students can do when you give them an opportunity.” – Gr. 7 student

Student organizers welcoming participants.

The conference was also an amazing example of students bringing the international KB community together. Classrooms from Mexico, Singapore, Canada, and Spain all contributed their outstanding work to the conference. The international scope of the project stands as a wonderful extension of partnerships and classrooms collaborations already taking place between KB classrooms across the globe.

“It was very interesting to see all the different ages. We were the youngest, but we saw elders and teenagers talk about the UN Sustainable Goals. I would recommend [this conference] because it teaches stuff you would learn when you are older, so you can explore it now so you can learn it earlier.” – Grade 6 student

“It was interesting to see students of all different ages  and  their projects including their experiments and research on Human Rights initiatives. One class got water from Flint, Michigan and compared it to Toronto’s water. Another group of students recycled pop can tabs to make wheel chairs. One parent made sleeping mats and pillows from recycled milk bags. It was nice to see many young students get together to save the environment.” -Grade 6 student

“It was wonderful to witness and be a part of the Change the Way conference. Gathering many students and teachers (as well as community members) from various school boards provided an opportunity for students to share and build off of one another’s research and knowledge. From this new knowledge, students are now able to move forward in developing and creating solutions to world issues such as Climate Change and Human Rights.” – Darlene Martin, Junior Division Teacher

Students Reflect!

Christine Vanderwal’s Gr. 7 students have written blogs about their experiences and thoughts on the day, which you can read here, here, here, and here!

A Grade 7 student blogs about their experiences at the Change the Way 2019 Conference

Check out the article presented below, written by a Max Kaplan, a Grade 11 student and conference organizer (Notice his shout out to KF!)

Highlights from the Twitterverse!

Students Taking Charge at the Highest Levels

Grade 9 students from Sant Pau Apostòl school in Tarragona, Spain are part of the global community of Knowledge Building students who are working to tackle the UN Goals for Sustainable Development. This group of students came together and decided to focus their efforts on Goal 13: Climate Action.

Hear from Kacper and Marina as they introduce their work and classmates in the video below!

During the course of their KB work, students worked together to propose and advance their ideas and theories, consulted with experts in industry and academia, and built their ideas on a Knowledge Forum community that was open to collaborating teachers and classrooms all from over the world!

You can watch the evolution of the students’ KF community in this video, which captures the KF Timeline tool in action.

Their teacher, Dr. Pere Boluda, is an expert in educational technologies, and has been working with Knowledge Building since 2007. Dr. Boluda is part of a community of Catalan researchers exploring Knowledge Building processes and practices. He is also the Catalan coordinator of the Knowledge Building International Project (KBIP) in Catalonia, which brings together teachers from across the region every month to share practices and advance practice and pedagogy.

The powerpoint below describes the overarching goals and guidelines of the Climate Action project, which was developed as a flexible framework to support Knowledge Building work over time.

The presentation below describes the students’ online discourse, with examples of student created rise-aboves and Knowledge Forum assessment tool visuals.