Knot Here: Communities that promote lifelong learning

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Each summer, the oceanside village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia celebrates Harbourfest.  In addition to cardboard boat races, a soap box derby, crafts and music, families and friends are invited to engage in Knot Here: A Trail of Nautical Knots. This unique community learning activity is a great example of  how a simple walk can turn into an opportunity for adults and children to pause, read, view, build vocabulary, learn some history, develop spatial awareness, and problem solve. Check out these images and see how Pugwash is a community where everyone, young and old, is encouraged to take time out of their busy days to walk, pause, talk, think and learn.

  • A reason to pause and and think. Here’s everything you need (words, pictures, and a sample) for an interesting challenge.


  • So much information – and a rhyming verse to commit the steps to memory.


  • Everyone can try it out – lots of opportunity to problem solve together.


Click here for more examples of how to engage the community in learning.

Please visit us at: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education  or contact us at

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Rethinking Alphabet Charts

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Check out this alphabet chart. H is for chicken, Q is for people, R is for flower, S is for dessert, J is for drink, N is for spaghetti and Q is for queue. What???

This chart (and many like it) illustrate the fact that no purchased alphabet chart matches the vocabulary or experiences of all children . . . so save your money and engage your students and your school community in the experience of making their own unique classroom alphabets.

Here’s how:

  • Release the idea of an alphabet chart; the chart format is too crowded for young learners and it’s difficult to see by anyone other than the students who sit very close to it.
  • Create a classroom space – at child height – to place alphabet cards. Measure a  section of wall long, enough to hold 26 alphabet cards, with space below for 2-3 images representing each picture .
  • Take your students on regular “community alphabet walks” to search for and then photograph or draw for the names of local objects, locations, plants or people that begin with a certain letter. Place these images below each letter.
  • Make these images meaningful by including them in science, health, math and language arts lessons.
  • Add / replace pictures over time.
  • Remember that there’s no need to begin with A and end with Z; add images as they are discovered. Watching the alphabet “grow” will enhance a student’s ability to visualize alphabetical order. For example:
    • as the image is placed under a letter, compare the placement of that letter with the other letters of the alphabet. Is this letter at the beginning, middle or end of the alphabet? What letter is before it? What letter is after it?
  • Every once in awhile, create new letter cards with a different font. This encourages children to experience one of the many ways that written language is flexible.

Please visit us at: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education  or contact us at






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Close looking: “O that she knew she were . . . a balloon?”

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At Beyond the Apple, we’re always looking for an intriguing image that provides an anchor to “cog up” a student’s problem solving. When we saw Canada’s Twisted Team recreate  Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene in balloons, we knew we had a winner.

To begin this close looking experience, share the image of Twisted Team’s balcony scene with your students (any age, any subject) and extend an invitation to engage:

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Then, invite the students to share their ideas:

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As the conversation develops, focus the “How” conversation on the micro, for example, how did the team create Mickey’s ears, the grass and the musicians:

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Then, view the image from the perspective of the Twisted Team. How did they anticipate, encounter and solve problems?

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Regardless of the age of your students and the subject you teach, the teacher’s role is to listen carefully as the conversation and problem solving develops and interject occasionally with questions that extend the problem solving:

  • How did you figure that out?
  • Could there be another way?
  • What little problems could become big problems?
  • What big problems might actually be little problems?
  • How is this like (provide a link to a current topic of study)?

Throughout this process, a teacher gains insight into how each student approaches a problem, the various ways students “connect the dots”, and the insightful ways students link this problem solving activity to their own experiences.

For more close looking experiences, please visit: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education  or contact us at

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Re-imagining our teaching practice: how do we begin?

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Dana’s words, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn” serve to open this conversation about how a teacher’s ongoing professional learning can and should modify, enhance or wholeheartedly change their teaching practice.

Let’s get that conversation started.

  • Accept that change is disruptive, causes friction and takes time, so approach the possibility of changing your teaching practice through an appreciative lens.
  • Acknowledge while some of your teaching practices are effective, there are some students who, despite your best efforts, experience limited success or become disengaged. These students are the impetus for a change in practice.
  • Gather information about each of these students: Review work samples, formative assessment results and classroom discussions with a perspective of possibilities rather than a perspective of problems:
    • Ask: What is this student’s “known”? Regardless of the student’s level of achievement (high, average or low), recognize that the student’s known is the foundation on which to build.
    • Ask: What does this student need to know next? The answer to this question lies in scaffolding on the student’s known.
    • Ask: What is the community knowledge of the student and what are the interests of the student? Acknowledge these as foundational funds of knowledge.
  • Use a student interest and/or fund of knowledge as an anchor for the next steps lesson. Regardless of the interest, a student interest can anchor new lessons in any subject area. Check out T’s story.
  • Rethink the lesson planning process by re-imagining the sometimes “solid walls” of lesson plans, curriculum and your existing practice as louvered walls that open to allow new ideas in.
  • Plan a lesson that looks and feels different from your traditional practice. As you begin, keep Dana’s words in mind: Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

    • Remember to keep an appreciative perspective in place.
    • Check out social media for research based conversations on topics such as educational change, literate identity, funds of knowledge, teaching that builds on the known, etc.
    • Talk to your colleagues.
    • Try something new. A good start point: Reduce the introductory “teacher talk”. Begin the lesson with music, artwork, an outdoor experience or a video.
  • Anticipate an enthusiastic response from the student(s), but be prepared for a less than enthusiastic response. Change is disruptive for students as well, so there may be friction. You may feel under attack, but don’t take this personally.
  • Keep trying – remember that a student may have taken years to build up this level of disengagement, so the switch from disengaged to engaged can be a long journey. Persevere, confer with colleagues and remember to keep an appreciative perspective.
  • Keep expectations high. The goal is for each student to feel real success, not to be prompted and helped.
  • Provide the student with feedback asap. Be honest and provide evidence. Start with an acknowledgment of the student’s known, “I notice that you can . . ” and then a direction to the new, “The next step is . . . “. For a simple but very effective method of recording student progress and providing feedback, check out our Meaningful Feedback in Minutes.

Finally, each disengaged child has the right to start again, so keep a journal of successes, partial successes, and moments that lead to frustration. Write and reflect on each entry with an appreciative perspective.

For more conversations about education, please visit: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education  or contact us at







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Does the image of an apple hold back educational change?


The purpose of an iconic image is to create and sustain a message. So, why does an apple represent education? It might be a reference to Newton’s apple, which certainly reflects the search for knowledge, but here’s what most people think:

  • “A” the first letter of apple and “A” is the first letter of the alphabet.
  • The apple was an inexpensive and healthy gift, intended to supplement a teacher’s meager income.
  • The apple is the ultimate bribe for good marks.
  • Johnny Appleseed spread apple seeds across the country; teachers spread knowledge.
  • The apple is a biblical reference linking Adam and Eve’s apple to new beginnings.

Hmmm, since education should be associated with learning to think critically, question, problem solve, and discover, perhaps the apple isn’t the best choice. Maybe it’s time to retire the apple and search for an iconic image that represents learning as opportunities to engage in a variety of active, thought-filled and innovative processes.  Any ideas? If so, contact us at

P.S. While we’re at it, could we also ditch the all too common images of desks in rows, blackboards with chalk alphabets, and the image of a big red A+ or F circled at the bottom of an assignment?

For more conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or

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Exploring Social Studies Through Arts-Based Pedagogy

 The Beyond the Apple video introducing arts based pedagogy is available at:

Infusing arts-based pedagogy into classroom practice provides students and teachers with an opportunity to view content through a new perspective.

Here’s how we used arts based pedagogy to link the social studies curriculum with the study of poetry.

The focus of the social studies unit was to introduce the 6 components of social studies (citizenship, diversity, economics, geography, history, and relationships) and to apply those components to daily life.

Students were asked to think about Maxine Tynes’ poem, “Is It Okay To Look At You”? (see below) as a representation of daily life. As they read, they were to decide which component(s) of social studies the poem most represented, and to create a line drawing to explain their choice.


To maintain anonymity among peers, but to ensure we were gathering information about individual student responses AND to be sure sure which component each student chose, each student wrote their name and the component chosen on the back of their post-it.

Students passed their post-its to us. When all post-its were collected, we placed each post-it on chart paper. You may wonder why the students didn’t post their own images – we wanted to provide an opportunity for everyone to watch the pattern of responses unfold.  As the pattern became evident, the questions began.

Here are the results:

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These simple illustrations provided us with a lot to think about. Many of the illustrations were fairly obvious and we wondered how deeply the students had thought about the links between life, the poem and the components of social studies. We had a lot of questions to pose to the class, and the seeds to plan the follow up lessons, but first, we decided to see that the students had to say.

Here are the questions generated by the students:

  • What is the difference between citizenship and relationships?
  • Are there overlaps between diversity, citizenship, and relationships?
  • Does history have a “place” in this poem?
  • How can we view this poem through the lens of economics?
  • Geography column is empty. Can this poem be viewed through the lens of geography?
  • Are all of the components of social studies inter-related?
  • If the components are inter-related, how, when and why do we separate them?

Needless to say, we were delighted. Turns out, they didn’t need us to challenge them to think more deeply.  The posting of the drawings and the obvious omission of connections to history, geography and social studies spurred the students’ deeper thinking. That thinking led to more socially aware questions. The follow up conversations, which focused on the links between social studies and life experiences were full of thought and insight.

Let’s hear it for arts based pedagogy!

Is It Okay To Look?

By Maxine Tynes

Is it okay for me to look at you

as you go limping down the street?

May I look at your wheelchair?

May I pick up your cane?

May I watch how you get up the stairs

that I can run up and down as easy as the rain?

My mom tells me not to look

at your twisted lips or legs or arms or hands

but I want to see

and to ask you, too-

What’s it like?

Does it hurt?

Could it happen to me?

How’d it happen to you?

I’m not sure that I should look at you,

not sure just what to say or do

’cause my body is whole and normally strong.

Your body is different.

I’m me.

You are you.

I finally do take a chance-

I look at you, you look back

and then you smile.

Tynes, M. Pottersfield Press, Nova Scotia, 1991

For more of our thoughts on arts-based pedagogy, go to Arts- based Pedagogy: gaining insight through multiple lenses 

For more conversations about education, please visit: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education  or contact us at

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What Does Growth Mindset Look Like?

Growth mindset, first mentioned by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, is a simple but powerful idea with tremendous impact. In essence, people with a growth mindset have a “not yet” attitude. Rather than thinking “I don’t know it”, a person with growth mindset thinks, “I don’t know it yet.”

When faced with a challenge,  the learner with a growth mindset acknowledges what is known and what is not yet known, then commits to  learning the “not yet” though active problem solving, research and collaboration. It’s an intentional shift from “not yet” to “got it!” Getting to “got it” means not only new understandings of content, but also, perhaps more importantly, exploring new ways to problem solve, research and collaborate.

Watch Cail’s growth mindset process as goes from “not yet” to “got it”. Cail reflects on what he knows, plans the next steps to improvement, puts the planning into action, reflects on accomplishments, and then continues to plan the next steps to improvement.

(Thanks to Accomplice Content Supply Co.)

For more conversations about education, please visit: Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education  or contact us at

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