“Playing” with the Renaissance

About a week ago PSD’s Division Principal George Couros taped an interview with me about learning through play.  Essentially, he asked me to talk about ways in which I am learning new technology and teaching strategies by jumping into them and playing around – before I know all the answers.

I spoke about my relatively new use of Twitter as a tool to build my PLN, my experiences with blogging for myself and my students, and my use of new technologies like Prezi, with my students.

The one thing I didn’t talk about was probably my biggest foray into Playing in Public.  This year I have decided to let my grade 8 Social Studies class direct their learning of the Renaissance by planning and presenting a Renaissance Faire. I have never before run a Renaissance Faire and I have never given up control like this to my students. I’d be lying if I said I was completely confident.

Let me start out by telling you the great things about this project. We started out by looking at some videos about what a Renaissance Faire actually is and talking about some experiences they had that may relate to this project. It was decided that we would try to run similar show in our school gym and we would invite classes and teachers from our school as well as parents, family and friends from the community to view our learning display.

Next, we brainstormed some topics or presentations that we wanted to be sure to include.  I gave them five that I wanted to make sure were covered (artists, scientists/mathematicians, writers, scholars/philosophers and explorers), then they came up with some others (musicians, actors, jesters, clothing/costuming, food/baking, church/religion, games/leisure). I then had the kids pick which group they would most like to represent, based on their interests. We had to do a little bit of negotiating because there were two very large groups in games/leisure and food (ah yes – the passions of middle years students), but soon we had fairly equal numbers for each.

The next thing that happened filled me with excitement for this project. The students went to work enthusiastically planning their presentations.  The first couple of classes were spent researching and planning. Then it got crazy. Amazingly, messily, crazy.

The “musicians” brought their guitars and got to work learning a Renaissance piece to be performed at the faire. The “actors” wrote a short skit to illustrate the role of the theatre in Renaissance Europe. The “bakers” took a poll to see what kind of pie we liked best so they could prepare it for the visitors to the faire. The “artists” brought in an authentic easel and a stretched canvas that they are planning to paint on the night of the faire. Some students raided the drama room’s props (with permission, of course) and practiced mock sword fights and juggling acts. Others got to learning how to play chess. It was loud. It was chaotic. It was scattered…and it was AWESOME. It was everything I had imagined when I made the decision to take this on.

Not everything is going smoothly, though.  There are definitely some students that are less engaged in the presentation than others.  Truthfully, most of those students are in the groups that I decided needed to be covered.  I just couldn’t give up complete control (there are things that NEED to be covered – cringe). I can tell that these students are not feeling connected to their topic.  My goal this week is to meet with them and see how we can get them back on the rails.  Changing topics will be one of the options.

The last thing, and its a biggy, is assessment.  I do not know how I am going to assess this activity.  Yikes. My original plan was to meet with each group, go over the curricular outcomes and together come up with an assessment strategy.  Well, they are half-way through this project and I have not yet set up these meetings. I think part of the reason is that I am nervous about how it will go.  Likely, they have rarely been asked to do this and they are going to struggle.  Will I be able to help them, or will I just end up taking over?

So that is my explanation of how I am learning through play and watching my students do it as well.  We are failing in some areas but succeeding in so many more.  It is definitely worth it.  I would love to hear your feedback and input on our Renaissance Faire and also to hear how you are learning through play.



I have spoken on a previous post about being stuck between two passions – my love for athletics/athletic leadership and my new goals to build my tech abilities and knowledge.  I’m still flip flopping.  I think I may have come to some conclusions about why.

I believe strongly that athletics unite a community.  Whether its a school, town, province, country or continent I think that if we build a strong athletic foundation the rest of the community with also flourish with the “trickle down” effect. For some reason, people unite around athletic events or teams.

I have been a part of a school with a rich athletic culture.  ALL areas of the school were flourishing, not just the sports teams.

In 2006 the Edmonton Oilers hockey team made an unexpected run to game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.  There are no words to describe the positive glow of the city.  Friends and strangers alike came together to cheer our team.  Driving down the streets became an uplifting event of togetherness, love and reaching for a common goal.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics did more to unify Canadians than anything I can remember in my life time.

So you see, this is where my beliefs lie.  This is what I “hang my hat on.” How can I walk away from athletics when I believe so strongly that this is the most effective way to bring our school together?

I can’t.

“Puke on a Page”

Creativity by Alun Salt
Creativity, a photo by Alun Salt on Flickr.

I have read about it, heard about it, thought about it, scoffed at it and thought “it won’t happen to me.”

And yet here I am, in the middle of it.

Writer’s Block.

I currently have four drafts sitting in my “posts”. None of them are good. None of them are finished. None of them feel right.

So, tonight I decided that I would take my own advice. Often when I have students who are struggling for a topic, I tell them to write about how they don’t know what to write about. I say, “Put down all of your ideas. Anything that comes into your head, even if it doesn’t make sense. Puke on a page – get it all out.”

I know, it’s gross. It allows them a little giggle and then they can get to writing down some of the ideas that they think don’t work.

I have started posts about:

1. The effects of successful athletic teams on the culture of a school, community or country.

2. A fun game called Kaboom Ball that is a staple at Stony Plain Central School

3. The difficulty schools have in getting coaches for athletic teams and the fact that it always seems like the same people doing the wide majority of the extracurricular activities.

4. The interesting work my grade 8 homeroom is doing while they plan a Renaissance Faire.

5. Tonight I participated in an #edchat discussion about teacher Professional Development that made me think about possible ways that I could provide more meaningful PD for my colleagues.

So there’s my “puke on a page”.

I promise never to scoff at Writer’s Block again.