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!
Viola Desmond Public School
Milton ON, Canada
Halton District School Board