A Peek Inside Our 21st Century Classroom!

Gosh, I love my students and my job! It is so fun to work in this environment every day!

Here is a video that gives an overview of the technology-infused 21st century teaching and learning practices in my classroom in the Challenge Program in the Surrey School District. CLICK HERE: http://vimeo.com/55650166

I created this video to enter in the Mindshare Learning Video Contest with the hope of winning a wonderful technology prize pack. If we won, it would be just amazing to see the look on my students’ faces as they discovered the prizes!

I wanted our video to show our 21st century techie side, but also wanted to round it out with our philosophy that education in the new era has to be about what is best from all eras…we still love learning about our Ancient Greek Philosophers and we’ll never give up the toga parties!  But perhaps our retro green chalkboard could use a SMARTboard makeover…I sure won’t miss being covered head to toe in chalk every day!🙂

Here is the 100 word DESCRIPTION of the video that I gave for the contest: Welcome to Challenge Program in the Surrey School District–preparing creative, critical thinkers and leaders for the 21st century! We collaborate as a true “Community of Inquiry” where learning is student-centred, project-based, dialogical, creative, critical and open-ended. We love philosophical discussions, “Personal Interest Projects” and creative problem solving. Technology engages us and helps us to accelerate, document, analyze, and share our learning process. We’re on the cutting edge right now, exploring advanced audio recording and editing, point of view and time lapse video techniques, and the “flipped classroom” model. We’re the future, and we’re making a better world because we care.


Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”—but today we can examine can our living and learning with technology on our side. (“This is how we learn!”)

Welcome to Challenge Program preparing leaders for the 21st century. I’m the teacher, Tiffany Poirier—that’s me—and these are the faces of the students for whom we’re personalizing learning.

We’re a true “Community of Inquiry” where philosophical dialogue is foundation for the future of democracy. Together we learn the nuts and bolts of rationale thought and communication, and we question, question, question!

What’s the meaning of life? What kind of world are we building? And what can we each contribute?

We collaborate. We tackle real-world problems. Our learning’s student-centred, project-based, dialogical, creative, critical, and it’s always open-ended.
With our “personal interest projects” we show learning in diverse ways and technology-supported documentation makes way for authentic assessment. We archive work with photography.

We audio-record in our deep discussions. It helps us remember, reflect and analyze more deeply. And all of this helps level the playing field ability-wise. It is especially helpful for our students with written output challenges. We edit our audio in Garageband and also record music there with a midi.

Educational videos are fun to watch, but we’re just as good at making our own. We’ve harnessed the power of point of view technology used by the action sports industry to learn from new perspectives. We’re seeing greater heights now outdoors and in the classroom reflecting on our process.
“Time lapse video art helps us…”

Technology connects our learning and brings us together as people in real time. We connect online as well with blogs and websites. It helps to locate and make our place in the greater society. Our learning is richer with these great tools we use.

Now we’re even exploring the “flipped classroom” model. It’s a way to free up more face-to-face and hands-on time in the classroom because here our students achieve world-class results.

And now our innovative learning practices are making waves nationally: our class was just recorded for a documentary for CBC radio because we’re on the cutting edge of learning with our community of inquiry.

I wish Socrates could have seen our Challenge Program for leaders of the 21st century.


Dr. Maurice Gibbons is an educator and author who runs a great website on self directed learning.

If you click in his link in the menu bar titled “Becoming Self-Directed”, you will find 21 detailed, sequential activities for young people.  A great resource!


Personalizing Learning Idea #73: Questions in the Shadows

Here is Personalizing Learning Activity #73: The Questions in the Shadows.  I designed this open-ended critical reflection activity to use with intermediate students (Grade 5-9), but I could see using this with any grade (even grade 2 or grade 12) if the explanations were adapted and there were appropriate levels of support.  I would love to hear how this goes with your students or how you altered the lesson to suit your group.     

PURPOSE: Students will explore and share some questions that have been on their minds.  Students will think about the nature and process of questioning.

THEME(S): Questioning, Metacognition, Critical Thinking, Classical Literature*

PRODUCT OF LEARNING: A personal silhouette, framed by the thinker’s own questions.


(1.) Read to the students Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.*

(2.) Discuss the meaning of the shadows on the cave wall.*

(3.) Organize students to students create and present their own dramatizations of the Allegory of the Cave.*

(4.) Have students work together using an overhead projector to trace outlines of their profiles on black construction paper.  They can cut the silhouettes out and mount on coloured paper.

(5.) Ask students to think about what questions are written in the shadows of their minds.  During a quiet time, or perhaps with relaxing music, invite students to transcribe around their silhouettes any of their own questions as they think of them.  This can be a free-flowing stream of consciousness writing activity and/or students may want to come prepared with questions they have been pondering lately. Ask student to think about what happens in their minds as a question forms.

(6.) Using the same coloured paper as the background, cut out a question mark and glue on the silhouette–it creates a kind of “key hole”.  This can be the space the student writes a question of key and central importance according to him or her–perhaps it is a question so important that it is makes itself transparent in the identity of the student.  It is a defining question.

*These optional steps help set the stage for deep thinking.

VARIATION:  With many activities, I believe it is important to present the main idea and learning goals and then ask if there are any other ways students would like to represent there learning.  It’s not important for a teacher to have a bulletin board of artwork that looks the same–it is important that students can freely and creatively interact with ideas and express themselves their way.  Instead of the above, perhaps a student will want to make a shadow puppet show on the theme of deep questions.  Or, maybe another will draw a comic, make a movie, or a write a song.

FOLLOW-UP & EXTENSIONS: Ask students to reflect on and discuss…

(a.) Which are your favourite questions and why? Looking at your work, are there certain types of questions or categories that you notice?

(b.) What is the meaning of your artwork: What does it represent? How is this represented?

(c.) ADVANCED: How could you explain the connection between your artwork and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?

(d.) MORE ADVANCED: How is a person “framed” by the questions they ask?  What could this mean?  How does the way we frame questions restrict or open up possibilities of types of answers.  (Consider exploring and connecting to George Lakoff’s notions of framing in language and metaphor.)

HOW THIS ACTIVITY IS A PART OF PERSONALIZING LEARNING:  Students are invited to use their intrapersonal intelligence, to be introspective and to analyze the content of their own minds.  This is a valuable metacognitive task in and of itself, and students may also find turning focus inward in this way to be personally validating.  Discussing and sharing with others in this personal way within the context of a safe classroom atmosphere can build a community where individual ideas are valued.  This is a great activity to begin the school year with as it lets the teacher get to know what questions matter to students and therefore helps to better personalize choices about units of study.