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Collaborative learning

Students using the Nureva Span visual collaboration system

More than a field trip – inquiry learning at 2School

By Tricia Whenham
on May 19, 2016

Cecilia Gutierrez has big goals for her students – ones that go beyond the mandated program of studies.

“I am a teacher that loves the curriculum, but I also like to teach other things – reflection and engagement and collaboration,” she explains. “I think if you don’t take a moment to be aware of who you are, what you are doing and what you can accomplish in life, then what’s the purpose?”

Cecilia, who teaches fourth-grade at Escuela Canyon Meadows International Spanish Academy in Calgary, Canada, jumped this year at an opportunity to participate in 2School and spend a week with her students at the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) downtown office. Their days were filled with hands-on learning experiences, including sharing ideas with school district leaders and visiting community outreach programs. On Friday, the inquiry learning culminated with a chance to use the Nureva™ Span™ classroom collaboration system.

In Cecilia’s mind, the value of such week-long learning excursions can’t be overstated. “It’s opening another door in students’ lives,” she says. “It’s giving them the chance to explore something different. That’s 2School to me.”

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More than a field trip

The 2School program, which celebrates its fifth birthday this year, is just 1 of 11 sites in the Campus Calgary Open Minds program. Each is redefining what it means to learn outside the classroom.

“It’s a beautiful program for students because it really isn’t a field trip,” explains Trish Hubbard, coordinator of the 2School program. “It’s taking the classroom and moving it somewhere else. It makes learning really authentic. Students become researchers, explorers, collectors of data.”

The journey begins when teachers choose a driving question to anchor their entire year. “Our question was, ‘How can I feel at home in the world?’” Cecilia explains.

Then during the 2School week, students dive deeply into exploring their question. Cecilia’s students, for example, had discussions with the CBE deputy chief superintendent and the students’ school trustee – conversations that made a strong impression.

Another highlight of her week was a visit to Inn from the Cold, which provides temporary shelter and sanctuary for children and families who have nowhere else to go. “That was a shocking moment,” says Cecilia. “So we talked about the things that make us feel at home even though we are not at home.”

Working as a community

For Cecilia’s class, like many other 2School classes, the week wrapped up with a visit to Nureva. “We use the Span system near the end of the week, so students can start to sum up some of their learnings,” Trish says. The whole class worked together as they documented their understanding with photos, sketches and notes.

The Span system sparks a new kind of student collaboration, something that struck Trish from the start. “When I was a classroom teacher, I was frustrated when we used interactive whiteboards because of only one touch point,” she says. “If you have 30 kids and you want to manipulate things, say for math, you pick one student and you lose the rest of them.”

The 20 points of touch with the Span system, plus integration with students’ devices, changes this dynamic. “To be able to have, say, a third of your class using the system and the others on tablets – everyone can be involved.”

Cecilia’s students agree. When asked what they thought of the system, they highlighted how it “helps us work as a community.” Not surprisingly, collaboration is a skill Cecilia focuses on – for good reason.

“We are not isolated. We belong to a society, a community. If you don’t know how to cooperate and collaborate, you are not going to work very well. That’s why I think collaboration is super important."

All voices matter

As students use the Span system, Trish often sees learners helping each other as they think critically about which notes or images belong in which groups on the virtual canvas.

“I think those are pretty complex skills, especially with your younger kids – to say that an idea doesn’t fit and give constructive criticism,” she adds.

These types of moments, when students are learning directly from each other, drive home another key benefit of collaboration for Cecilia.

“If you work independently all the time, how do you know if what you’re doing is a good idea? You may be getting feedback from the teacher, but it’s good to get feedback from your peers and to work together and expand ideas.”

Students at 2School don’t just teach each other. They’ve also contributed to the design of the Span system – every session at Nureva ends by asking students what they would improve.

Sometimes learners discover product features that even Nureva staff don’t know about, like when an early group of 2School students figured out how to add emojis to the notes. “One of the workers said, ‘I didn’t know we could do that!’” recalls Trish.

It’s another lesson for 2School students about the contribution they can make to the world. “I think they walk away at the end of the week with the feeling that their voice matters,” she adds.Inquiry-learning-with-the-Span-system-Canyon-Meadows-1.jpg

A successful collaboration

Trish hopes to see the partnership with Nureva continue to grow. “I could have a site at Nureva full time!” she says. “I really feel appreciative that they extended their hand.”

It’s just one of the many collaborations that make 2School what it is – and makes the Span system perfectly suited to play an important role.

“I’m fortunate in this community to have a lot of partnerships,” Trish says. “I think education is about partnerships. I hear it everywhere – it’s better together.”

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