In-depth Week 8

We are almost half way with in-depth projects before our celebration evening on May 30th. In addition to the mentoring aspect, the emphasis is on the process more so than the final project.  What skills are we learning?  How does this project offer us insights into ourselves? While writing our blogs every two weeks, we are reflecting on our learning along the way, our struggles and triumphs and what is ahead of us yet to be discovered.

We tell our learners that we learn the most when things are challenging.  No exception for me this week. My dissertation has taken another detour; therefore, no time to learn to embed technology into my post this week. 

However, Mr. Jackson has set up a math wiki and science wiki for our classes.  As soon as my own studies are back on track, I will return to my previous goal, stated in week 6. We tried to tape my math “lesson” yesterday because a student was going to be away and thought it would be helpful to post this lesson for her viewing at home later. This was a first for me. It was fun. I joked with the class about being self-conscious about what to wear, making sure there were no stains on my clothes, for example.  Not sure why it mattered now, because I never pay much attention to that sort of thing!

It is interesting how we sometimes think about the little things that may get in the way.  I know the little things do not really matter, in most cases.  “Don’t sweat the small stuff: can be heard in our room.

In Talons, we do not use the more traditional, teacher-centered way of instruction for long periods of time and only when absolutely necessary.  At times, direct teaching is an opportunity for teachers to scaffold the Talons’ learning, to preview challenging concepts, to extend the lesson (add tangents!), to raise awareness of the applications of math whenever possible, and to clarify common conceptual errors.  None of these processes are written or highlighted in the workbook pages. We frequently condense three, four or even five lessons in a  30-40 miniature lecture followed by several days of independent and quad study to grasp the briefly taught concepts.

This facilitation approach is similar to the in-depth approach.  The learner meets with a mentor when needed, learns a new skill or sub skill, practises the skill at home and returns next time for feedback and so it continues.

Interested in learning alongside one of our learners? Check out the following blogs:

Immy is being resourceful in her own community, collecting natural objects to be turned into paints!

Sara is learning how to draw and paint. Check out her photos.

Megan is learning to use the potter’s wheel and to play with clay.  Check out her photos posted two weeks ago.

Iris is learning to play the guitar.  Listen to her song.

Jenna is exploring photography.  Check out her posted photos.

Toren has finally found a mentor and is trying to contact two other experts on music composition in our Tri-Cities.

Liam is practising using a sword and much more.  His PE classes are paying off as well!

Jason’s vegetable/fruit carving classes are helping him to discover art.  Check out his latest successes.

Stephanie is learning Latin/ Greek prefixes, roots and suffixes and is volunteering regularly at a medical clinic.

Veronica’s vocal classes are described vivid detail.

See you in two weeks.

My own studies need my attention.

PS: A public note of encouragement for Talons learners. Your “This I believe” essays received constructive criticism this week. They were chopped, bits deleted and sometimes entirely new essays were written.  It is my turn this weekend to begin to rewrite mine.  Writing is hard, as is almost everything else, if you want to learn to do  it well. 

Keep practising your in-depth skills.  When your skill matches your challenge, you will have an optimal experience or be in the zone!

This is another example that we are in this together. We are learning alongside of each other.  There are no boundaries for learning, our new district’s vision!

Keep enjoying every learning moment, no matter how hard it gets.


In-depth week 6

Talons learners have just completed week six of their in-depth projects.  They report and reflect on their progress every two weeks. Many recent posts provide the reader with great insight into what we are learning and what we are struggling with.  As we say often in our program, we learn the most when we challenge ourselves. By navigating through these challenges, we become more effective and enriched learners, getting to know ourselves a little more each time.  Our in-depths projects immerse us in one of our passions for a prolonged period of time, not frequently seen in secondary school.

If you have not already figured it out, my in-depth is learning more about technology, especially blogging.  As “teachers” of Talons, we role-model or learn alongside of our program’s participants. In today’s blog, I am trying to figure out how to insert hyperlinks. Inspired by a recent professional development day keynote speaker, Ross Laird, we know technology is here and our youth know how to use it well.  See his website for more informative articles and posts.

He claims that many parents have not adopted the technology that their children are using, so it is up to us, the educators, to become  the learner’s mentors. Learners can access any subject’s content online anywhere and any time. Thus, an educator’s role is shifting from being a lecturer to being a mentor. We support the development of the whole child in Talons and that includes their social and emotional development as well as their intellectual development.

Our in-depth project is all about mentorship, learning alongside an expert and focusing more on skills than content that can just be read in a book or online.  The Talons learner focuses on practical knowledge as well as propositional knowledge, especially during their in-depth.  Learning alongside the other, like an apprentice and master, also provides opportunities for wisdom and intuitive knowledge to be shared during the process.

So with some trepidation I enter the blogging world.  I support Chet Bowers’ work when addressing the negative side of technology in his book, called Let Them Eat Data. For example, he warns us about the loss of local, ecological knowledge.  This local knowledge is often not accessible online; however, it may be a critical piece to the community’s way of living and survival.  

Another author, Bill McKibben dispells the notion that this generation is better informed in his book, called The Age of Missing Information. His argument supports the notion that being outdoors in nature provides us with direct experiences filled with information that no television can provide. He concludes that less is more.  The timing of my thesis is just perfect (more about that another time!).

Technology is here and it is not going to go away any time soon.  How do we balance the use of techonology in schools with all the other worthwhile learning opportunities?

Talons learners explore their passions for learning in their blogs.  I will highlight some of them below and share others in my subsequent blogs.

Learning how to play the guitar is exemplified by Conrad’s blog. Follow his blogs and you can get some awesome instructions!

Becoming more flexible is explored in Chelsea’s blog. She shows us how one can become more flexible as we follow her 30 day flexiblity program.

 Owen’s Blog reports his learning while programming robots. Videos of his robot moving about show us how challenging programming can be.

 Andrew’s blog reflects on his progress in writing HTML code. His latest reflection #3 tells us more about life while learning HTML code in the process.

While dancing through life, Kelly’s blogs reveal her path of self-exploration, giving us a glimpse of what it is like to live and learn every day.

Jennifer S. explores the wilderness using several different modes of transportation. Her tips and travels are revealing a journey that is bigger than just being outdoors, following trails.

Also, trying to become more environmentally conscious, Jennifer A. is trying to reduce her ecological footprint. She shares her suggestions that reduce our impact on this earth.

And lastly for now, how about writing a Shakespearan play using his writing style. Leanne’s blog  illustrates that her passion is worth exploring more and more deeply as well. She is immersing herself in a personal experience that brings together her interests and skills for writing.

And so another blog has been posted.  The links work! My next goal is to learn to embed technology. Be back in two weeks with another in-depth update.

Quirien Mulder ten Kate

Talons Program Mentor

Inspiring a Life of Immersion

Building on recent conversations in Talons, “What do I believe?”, Jacqueline Novogratz’s  TED talk provides another worthwhile perspective.

Here are small sections of her talk that spoke to me.

She states,  “Your job is to be human.”  What is the cost of not trying? We must do what we cannot meaure.  Put yourself in somenone’ s shoes. Live a life of immersion. Make your dreams come true.  Stand on moral ground. One persons’ actions can spread. We need moral leadership and courage in our world. We live a life of fear and sense of otherness, distancing ourselves and living with blame.  Or, we can take the more difficult path of transformation, justice, accountability and compassion.  Stand  up for change.

We need leaders and we need to lead.  We cannot do it alone.  We can change a small portion of acts.  Our lives are short! Our time on our planet is precious.  We all have each other.  Live a life of immersion!  That is all that will sustain us.

Quirien MtK

In-Depth Projects- Introduction

In-depth Study: Two Universal Goals.

The two goals in the in-depth are as follows:

1. Know something about everything and everything about something.

In school you are usually taught about many subjects.  In this project, the goal is to learn a great deal about one field of activity.

2. Learn what others tell you is important and learn what you decide is important.

In school you are told what to learn and how to learn it.  In this project, you will decide in what field and with what strategies, you will become an “expert.”


We are interested in three components of your study.

1. The process: as young people, you will be learning patterns of behavior that will emphasize your strengths and that will help you overcome any difficulties.

–          Project will last at least five months

–          Your bi-weekly blog will demonstrate the process:

Blogging Criteria

Post includes: thorough progress report, includes information on mentor, describes frustrations, overcoming obstacles, includes evidence that illustrates process and product, includes modifications to project, includes relevant research, quotes, articles, references, websites etc, shows a caring about project.  Entry makes sense, is written concisely. 4
Includes most of the above description, but in less detail. 3
Includes about half of the above description, but in little detail.  Little progress is demonstrated. 2
In-depth study is progressing too slowly.  Entry is vague.  Demonstrates that not much effort has been made since last entry. 1
Not completed or handed in on time 0



2. The product: The product will include three areas:

                    i.            The evidence of learning

                  ii.            The source of self-esteem

                iii.            The cause for celebration


3. The mentor: The relationship with the expert in your field.  This relationship will include three areas:

                    i.            Meeting with mentor on regularly basis

                  ii.            Expanding network in community

                iii.            Getting feedback on progress

                 iv.            Obtaining an in-depth understanding of chosen field.

This I Believe Today

I believe in so much that it is hard for me to choose just a few words.  I love the notion of voluntary simplicity. The more we do with less the better.  Is it just doing less? Is it just feeling more and just being?  We make matters more complicated than they need to be. We lose sight of what really matters.  Living happily is my vision. What if we live everyday to the best of our ability and do as much good as possible?  We live our lives to the fullest, not separating but merging as many aspects as possible.  Making fewer distinctions and separations allows me to live life meaningfully and passionately.  There is meaning in it all. I may not know it all yet and may never know it, but trusting that it is there.  Trusting my instincts and being intuitive enable me to see the good in most things and continue to move forward, taking many with me on the same path. At the same time, I let others pass through or cross my path or run passed me.  So, live life to the fullest with its bumps and bruises along the way.  Learning occurs when we have to struggle the most. Experience has taught me that there is always going to be a way out or beyond it.  It may take longer sometimes; however, it is all worth it in the end.


My pledge

I vow to live according to as many voluntary simplicity principles as possible.  I vow to be the best I can be and to do the best I can do.  I strive for happiness and be there for others whenever I can. I will take care of as many relationships as possible in the human and nonhuman world.  I will change the “ I” to “we” whenever I can.

Vulnerable Harmony

The world is a vulnerable place.  A place filled with uncertainty, struggle and unknowns.  I like to reflect on a life that is exactly the opposite. I like to dream and to think big.  I like to change things for the better.  I like to see others change things.  We all have a part to play.  We are all part of it.  We need to see what is possible and make a difference. I include everyone who cares and like them to include me.  Why are there so many divisions and disagreements?  I walk away from some of them if I can.  I try to negotiate others.  Some of them I let go off entirely.  Harmony may also not be possible.  If everything is in harmony, it is in equilibrium, quite boring and unstable. Harmony is too much of the same thing and not enough variety or diversity.

Quirien MtK

Talons (progam for gifted grade 9 and 10s) philosophy and more…

I was recently asked about the philosophy of the Talons (The Academy of Learning for Outstanding, Notable Students) program and how it implements its theory into practice.  Its theory and practice inform one another on almost a daily basis and our learners often influence our practice more than anything else.  While its approach is grounded in the Autonomous Learner Model developed by George Betts, we adopt and merge other insights as they seem fit and a good match.

My own personal/professional philosophy of learning is mostly influenced by people such as David Orr, Chet Bowers, Fritjof Capra, Rachel Carson, Barbara McClintock, Barbara Kingsolver and Donella Meadows.  Capra stresses three elements of particular importance to me:

1. relationships

2. connectedness

3. context

He advocates for a shift in perception that is:

1. from the parts to the whole

2. from objects to relationships

3. from objective knowledge to contextual knowledge

4. from quantity to quality

5. from structure to process

6. from contents to patterns

Meadows refers to systems thinking as a dance:

1. get the beat.

2. listen to the wisdom of the system.

3. expose your mental models to the open air.

4. stay humble. Stay a learner.

5. honor and protect information.

6. locate responsibility in the system.

7. make feedback policies for feedback systems.

8. pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.

9. go for the good of the whole.

10. expand time horizons.

11. expand thought horizons.

12.expand the boundary of caring.

13. celebrate complexity.

14. hold fast to the goal of goodness.

 It is up to us to do these things!

(Source: Stone, Michael and Barlow, Zenobia (2005). Ecological Literacy Educating our children for a sustainable future).

A learning society

A learning society

(informed by reading Kate Davies’ article in Resurgence, November/December 2009, No. 257)


It feels somewhat ironic to use an electronic media to express what I am about to say below.  I have been very hesitant to use an edublog to post.  I am familiar with Chet Bowers’ s work, particularly his book, called Let Them Eat Data, outlining the concerns and dangers of computers contributing to the ecological crises and loss of intergenerational and local knowledge. Yet, this medium is an enticing way to get messages out beyond our direct, immediate  interactions with others at work, at home or at play and get more of us to be more critical about almost everything.  How can this kind of learning community enhance our understanding of each other and the world we live in without losing touch with one in other in person to person direct contact? 

Creating a sense of meaningful, responsive and responsible community, particularly since entering the field of teaching, has been particularly important to me.  I seek out schools to “work” in close to home so that I feel connected to students in the classrooms as well as in their community at large.  Even if I would not run into them outside (many get driven back and forth to school -another post for later!), I would know and be in their “home.” Their place in the community, their issues and their struggles would be familiar to me at some level.  It does “take a village to raise a child.” I like to be connected to what I am doing.  I have never seen “work” as many others see  work in the more traditional sense of a nine to five job!  A TED talk by Stefan Stagmeister discusses a way of being and doing that I believe is important and fulfills life.  Kate Davies’ six ideas for a Learning Society that is sustainable totally captures my calling.

  1. Create Learning Communities – “A learning community is any group of people who share a common purpose and who are actively engaged in learning from each other” (p. 43).

Personal example: The Talons program at Gleneagle Secondary, Coquitlam, BC. 

2. Learning from Experience  –“…our own lived experience is the best teacher. Through experimentation and critical thinking we can learn what works and what doesn’t” (p. 43).

Personal examples: teaching hands-on science as much as possible by experimenting in the classroom and taking students into the community for small field excursions whenever possible instead of using the book!

3. Foster a New Worldview -“With its assumptions of human superiority, Western culture assumes that humankind has the inherent right to exploit other species and the planet’s resources. Developing values and beliefs consistent with sustainability will require an understanding of the destructive consequences of the old worldview, as well as creating a respectful relationship with the earth” (p. 43.)

Personal example: Continue to remind myself that actions speak louder than words. Challenge myself to lead a life that is more eco-entered rather than ego-centered. Walk the talk!

4. Think Systematically -“Based on the belief that the parts of a system can best be understood in the context of their relationships with each other, systemic thinking emphasizes patterns, trends and feedback loops. Systemic thinking focuses on the interactions between human and ecological systems. Without systemic thinking, society will continue to apply ineffective and superficial solutions that do little to resolve underlying problems” (p. 43)

Personal examples: Live life more deliberately. Follow more voluntary simplicity and smart growth principles.  Make more informed decisions and think more critically about my actions.  Why use chlorinated water to water my plants? Where are my clothes made? Do I need this object? Live life more slowly. Less is more.

5. Embrace Diversity – “We need to embrace not only different cultures and ethnicities, but also different ideas and beliefs.  This is important because it demonstrates a commitment to a democracy based on inclusion, equality and respect. It is also important because differences are a source of learning. We can learn from people who donot look or think like us, because they challenge our assumptions, beliefs and expectations” (p. 43).  In terms of ecology, the more diversity in a population the more adaptable the species is to changing factors in its surroundings.  Being in equilibrium or in balance or in stable state or frame of mind of sameness is not conducive to being flexible and ready to respond quickly.  Instead it gets us in a complacent state, lulled into believing that everything is fine and taken care of.  We are less ready to respond to sudden changes or major disasters. Instead, being on the edge of situation that can go either way allows us to respond more quickly and be more alert.

Personal example: I continue to seek out new experiences and be open to new possibilities. Seeing the potential in others and their ideas and beliefs and continuing to be a life-long learner.

6. Whole-person Learning – “ We should foster the development of whole human beings, who can think critically and appreciatively, respond compassionately and act ethically. Whole-person learning enables students to grow as authentic human beings. This is very different from contemporary education which focuses mostly on intellectual learning, and largely ignores ethical values, stunts emotional intelligence and leaves students with few practical skills for navigating the complex world around them” (p. 43.)

Personal example: Teaching mathematics 11 applications/ introductions. Students sit in groups and talk about their math questions that they are trying to solve. Yes, they socialize as well and talk about other topics but that makes us human. Sitting still and doing math problems for 75 minutes is not naturally what human beings do every day! I facilitate skills, like listening when someone else is talking, taking turns, taking care of assignments and  taking responsibility for their own actions.  When they decide what to do when something gets challenging, they are in charge of their own results.  Act responsibly and you get results that enhance learning and make you a better human being.

This list is not exhaustive. My intent is to explore these ideas further in future blogs.  I appreciate any comments or questions in the meantime.