2 Jun, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on Social Learning

Social Learning

I have exhausted a lot of emotional energy this year facilitating our open, social learning environment at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII).  In my opinion, it is by far and above the best thing that we do at the school.

But it is really hard work.  Really, really hard work.  At PSII, our open environment, where each learner can interact with any other learner most of the day in small teams and groups, is fascinating to watch. And at times, very frustrating to watch (school would be so easy if it weren’t for the teenagers!). Through the good and the not so good, we have witnessed revolutionary social transformations in almost all of our students.  I cannot overstate how powerful it is to see a teenager evolve from someone whose success was just being able to walk in the door last year to addressing the mayor in a council meeting to try to secure grants for a business idea this year.  Night and day.

But again, it is really hard, exhausting work.  I have had to deal with some major social issues.  Like total team meltdowns.  Or people not pulling their weight.  Or dropping out of the team entirely 3/4 of the way through a major product in development.  Or not showing up to a film shoot for 2 hours while everyone else had to wait and then the explosion, hard feelings and ruffled feathers that was the fallout.  Or the supreme frustration of allowing teenagers to organize the complexities of film production and arranging schedules.  I could go on…and on…

With that said, the learning that has come out these situations is what is allowing our students to truly understand what it means to build something together.  True blue collaboration happens when if one person on the team does not show up, nothing can move forward.  It requires every single person to make it happen.  This necessitates risk taking on both the students’ and teacher’s sides.  This is the learning that needs to happen in school.

Most students that I see get zero practice in this type of learning.  The learners at PSII certainly did not have any at the beginning of last year.  Nearly 2 years of slogging through the difficult, interpersonal situations of the creative process has learned these kids a thing or two about how to really work together.  Hence, the blossoming of so many young minds.

Again, this is the learning we need today.  It is very easy to know things – made significantly easier by Google.  The real problem is learning how to work together in the most highly effective way to find solutions to roadblocks that inevitably arise in creative endeavors.

I strongly believe in leading by example. One of our students, who last year broke out and learned she can lead through directing her first film, “Hey Blondie”, continued that excellence through leading another diverse team of students directing a second film this year entitled, “A Light in the Forest”.

Out of all of the other teams that I was involved with this year, this learner was by far and above the most organized, well-rehearsed and had the most effective team under her leadership.  I would personally recommend her to anyone – she is without a doubt going to succeed in being a team lead (which she did not think she was capable of 2 years ago).

If you have a moment, this is what effective social learning looks like in action:

The trailer (if you have minimal time):

The full film:

7 May, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on Guest Blogger for Enstitute

Guest Blogger for Enstitute

I have been graciously invited to be a guest blogger for Enstitute.  As a teacher who is trying to change the education system, I am honored to be able to contribute to this innovative organization as they are trying to change how education happens too!

In case you have not heard of them…

“…Enstitute, a national non-profit, is reinventing apprenticeships for 21st century careers. Working to address both the growing cost of higher education as well as the current youth unemployment crisis, Enstitute provides young adults with one year, full-time, apprenticeships at high growth startups, small businesses, and corporations around the country to prepare them for the workforce and accelerate their career trajectory.”

I strongly believe in their model and I would really like them to come to West Coast, Canada.

Check out the posts (I hope to be adding many more…):

Not All High School Graduates Need College

Innovating in Education Required – Start Early and Carry On!

The Death of the Resume: On To Digital Portfolios

Accelerated Learning: The Education of the Future

23 Apr, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on Contact juggling update

Contact juggling update

I have not posted a juggling video for quite some time.  I had the opportunity to film a little contact juggling piece that I did to open up the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry’s first ever theater show.  It was fun.  I always love the starkness of the black theater mixed with the warmth of the wood floor, stool and guitars.

Recently, I have mostly been working on ball juggling.  I have found endless things to work on.  It is definitely contributing to my multi-prop number that I am putting the finishing touches on.  It is kind of on hold as the street performing season is nearly upon me.  In October, I already have a musician lined up to write an original track and I will definitely film it.  Stay tuned…

22 Apr, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on Embroiled in creating and inventing

Embroiled in creating and inventing

For a long time, I have been meaning to update the site with all of the fabulous things that are happening at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry. I have been so embroiled in creating and inventing that I have barely had a moment to organize it into a blog post or two.  Good problem to have!

For starters, here is a fabulous 3 minute speech about how one of our learners has found happiness at our school:

I have worked with this guy for 2 years, nearly every week, developing, practicing and rehearsing his public speaking skills.  He graduates this year and has many university choices.  I am definitely going to miss him.

Next year, I am proposing having a small space for alumni to come back and work with us.  Kind of like a mini-incubator.  We give them space for their ideas to grow, and they in turn help the younger learners progress.  I have some kids with some seriously wicked skills that are all graduating this year. I would like to be able to continue our creative processes that we have worked so hard on for the past 2 years.

Last week, I produced the school’s first ever theater show dubbed, “PSII’s Big Little Show”.  The learners did fabulous.

Here are the girls singing Riptide acapella:

This is an excellent example of emergent curriculum which is a very important concept at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry.  I had no idea or plans that the girls were going to do this.  It just happened throughout the rehearsal process.  It is necessary to give people freedom to create instead of locking it down in a rigid curriculum that allows for no lateral movement.

26 Jan, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on Victoria Circus Festival, April 2016

Victoria Circus Festival, April 2016

Victoria is ripe for a circus festival.  I am dreaming big but starting small.  This is just an initial call to artists, organizers and enthusiasts – let’s make this happen for April 2016!


Since the moment I was thrown off the Russian Swing, I have been fully committed to the circus arts.  Among all the other craziness that has happened to me over the last ten years, it has been the one constant in my life.  I will never stop doing it.  It makes me happy.  I want to share that love by building a strong circus community.

So, here is the tentative plan (please feel free to contact and tell me what else I need to do – I would really appreciate the input!):

Gather the circus community in Victoria.  Looking for professionals (artists who are currently working or have done important gigs).  I would like to organize a meeting just to get the ball rolling and start to hammer out some initial ideas and support.  I am trusting that this will lead to an explosion of scintillating concepts for the festival as well as provide a tremendous amount of stoke and motivation for all those involved.

I am thinking that an entire weekend might be too much to begin with the first time out, so I was thinking of making it as simple as possible by doing the first festival as a one day event – an afternoon of workshops and an evening show.  Victoria has shown a lot of support for the arts and circus, but I would really like to sell out something small than go big and be half full.  If all works well and Victoria loves it, of course, we can go way bigger the following year.

Beyond just putting on an awesome little festival, I am very interested in gathering the professional circus artists in and around Victoria in order to establish a strong, dedicated team.  Once the team has solidified, I would like to begin to offer summer camp programs in 2016.  Again, looking for a small team to sell out the sessions.  Keep it tight and make it funky.

The big goal is to step by step gather the infrastructure necessary to open a small circus school in Victoria.  I think the process of starting a small festival, then offering summer camps to gauge community support is a great way to create a minimal viable product and build along the way thereby taking a lot of risk out of just opening up with a “build it and they will come mentality.”

Ultimately, I would like to have a dedicated space that combines a circus school with high school.  As a teacher at the mighty Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII), I am in a very unique position to make this happen.  We could be the first high school circus arts diploma program in Western Canada.  And it could happen in relatively short order.  PSII is growing like wildfire and a circus arts diploma would attract a lot more students.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  First things first – a circus festival in Victoria and gather the team.  The people that I have spoken to are already madly excited about the prospect and are surprised that it does not already exist.  Well, let’s bring it into existence.  Please contact me.


11 Jan, 2015
by Jake
Comments Off on Tech Apprentice Program

Tech Apprentice Program

Victoria has some incredibly talented youth who are highly technically skilled with large ambition.  As a teacher at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII), I personally know some of them.  They are doing incredible work through mentorships with VIATeC and Limbic Media; developing, creating and iterating projects that have potential commercial applications.  Truly, they are learning the direct skills needed for the tech industry in Victoria: engineering know-how, content knowledge, critical thinking and problem solving all the while creating things of value for the world.

Keeping top talent must be a priority.  If even one of these future apprentices strikes it big with an idea and goes onto create hundreds of jobs, I truly hope that they do it here in our backyard. In 2014, 884 tech companies in Victoria brought in 3.15 billion in annual revenue (see VIATeC report). According to Linkedin, these were the hottest 25 skills that got your hired in 2014.  Notice the tech jobs.  I see a very bright future for Victoria’s tech sector.  The number one thing that we need to ensure is that we attract and retain the top talent.

Things are evolving rapidly, and the knowledge that computer programming students learn in first year is obsolete by their fourth year. These students don’t necessarily need university, rather, they need an apprenticeship; directly learning hands on daily, evolving with the industry in real time.

For example, one of my students is a dedicated programmer – it is his passion and it is what he wants to do with his life.  He has already been programming for years, and he definitely knows what he is doing – especially when he practices 6-7 hours everyday.  He is already working in a startup team using Agile Engineering to design, make and implement a product for the real world.  You can see it here.  He still has 2 more years of high school where he will continue to code everyday for real-world projects.  He will have 6 years of experience and practice. In my estimation, he does not need to do 4 more years of undergrad work.  He is good to go.

What he does need though is an opportunity to break into the industry.  He needs to be mentored one-on-one with a local entrepreneur to get the skills necessay to be savvy enough to run his own show.  He needs to learn to pursue life-long learning which includes a mixture of both theory and practice that make him industrious and scrappy.  He needs to be working in a startup to really know what is going on and form strong interpersonal relationships and connections in the community. He needs to learn strong work ethic in a vibrant setting using the very best practices on hand.  He needs to take important people out to lunch and ask them questions on a weekly basis.

We need to make this happen.  There is an example.  It is working.  In fact, they are expanding. I have found no one else who is doing this but them.  They are called Enstitute and are operating in New York, Washington, DC, St. Louis and Miami.  Take a good look and ask them questions.  I have found them to be delightful and open.  Take a look at what their apprentices are saying here.

We need this for Victoria.  Are we a truly innovative city or what?  Tech is our largest industry – why do we not have this kind of system in place yet?  It is doable – requiring only an incredibly talented impresario to connect the pieces.

I would love to do this.  Currently, all of my energy is being funneled into starting up PSII and changing the school system.  It is so exciting!  It hasn’t been changed in 150 years and it looks like we will be the first to do so.  Wow! I just do not have the time required for the initial set up.  But I would love to help you in anyway possible.

On behalf of the tech sector of Victoria, I call on an impresario to step into the fray and lead this initiative.  You already have one super loyal follower.

29 Nov, 2014
by Jake
Comments Off on To no longer be needed…

To no longer be needed…

The greatest reward a teacher can receive is to no longer be needed.  The learners that I have mentored since last year have taken off.  Of course, this does not mean that I am not still part of the team, which I most certainly am as Scrum Master.

However, they have learned to become independent of me: making plans, getting on radio shows, communicating with local companies and getting interviewed for TV (see video above).  All of these things are happening without me in the loop.  I did not even know they had made it on to the radio until they told me the following day.

Again, this is the greatest achievement for a teacher – to no longer be needed – which frees up my time to build other learners to this level of independent learning.  Is this not the learning that we all want to see?

19 Nov, 2014
by Jake
Comments Off on Starting up PSII 2.0

Starting up PSII 2.0

It has been exciting.  No, make that exhilerating.  We have been inventing every single day. It is  a rare and unique opportunity that I have been relishing.  We are in a totally different place at this time than where we were last year.  We have figured out so much more, continuing to develop a model of open, personalized, interdisciplinary inquiry.  It is not easy.  There is much unlearning to do.

Our plans are beginning to take off  and it is happening fast. Next month, we meet with the Ministry of Education to facilitate launching the Innovation Zone.  We, with a few other places around the province, will be pioneering a new way to do school that is competency based rather than outcome based.   This is what we have been pressing for since the day we began last year and it is actually happening!  Yes, system wide, educational transformation is on the horizon.  It is possible to change the system!

I have been focusing hard on breaking our learners out of status quo thinking to the principles of the school: interdisciplinary  inquiry and co -creation of curriculum and assessments based on evaluating competencies that intersect at big ideas.  Writing report cards are very challenging at the moment as we are having to translate from inquiry back into a course based on learning outcomes.  There are things that are going on at the school that the traditional model cannot capture.  Like the collaboration and leadership that is happening. Or the creative and critical thinking. It is phenomenal:

  • A role playing game entitled, Rift of Time, that involves  7 learners are working on so many different levels, from digital art to probability factor.  They are building a website and writing the History of the worlds.  They have got themselves into the largest gaming conference in Victoria, for beta testing.
  • We have also been rehearsing major films that has involved tremendous teamwork from so many different people (think of the credits that roll at the end of a movie).  We are actually going into production for the film, “A Light in the Forest” this weekend.  It is a very emotionally challenging film and the lead actor has been doing an incredible job in rehearsals.
  • Another team of learners have been designing and building an art installation for TEDxVictoria this weekend.  It looks amazing and has also involved so many learners on so many creative levels while collaborating together as a team to accomplish something that is far bigger than any one of them could do on their own.

The totality of that learning is difficult to represent back into an outcome, course based model.  It is however, very easy to report upon competencies, like collaboration and leadership.  And really, isn’t that the learning we truly want?  We do not need to be regurgitating facts back on tests.  Personally, as an entrepreneur, teacher and a parent, I would much rather have a report on how my son is learning to collaborate and build things for the betterment of the world rather than some unimportant number in Science 10 based on how many facts he can memorize.

The time to change is now!  I will save you the rant.  There are many others who have said it more eloquently than I.  If you want to understand how we need to change education, you must read:


Roger Schank

Yong Zhao

And of course, Jeff Hopkins who is the principal of the mighty Pacific School of Innovation and inquiry.  This is his vision of what high school needs to look like now, in 2014 and it is what we are proposing to the Ministry of Education next month:

It is looking very promising that we will get to do this starting next year.  In my mind, I am already there.  The revolution has already happened.

13 Oct, 2014
by Jake
Comments Off on Inquiry: Question/Quest

Inquiry: Question/Quest

After following the education debate for numerous years on twitter and doing my utmost to effect change, I have grown tired of the conversation.  Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly passionate about education change, I am just tired of hearing about it and people saying what “should” be done rather than actually demonstrating what can be done.  For me, it comes back to the cliche – actions really do speak louder than words.

An inquiry can be a big question or a quest.  This is an excellent example of a quest.  It involves numerous different competencies, most of all being collaboration.  This particular quest was so big that it required a team to accomplish.  That is the mark of true collaboration – something that is so big that not one person could possibly do it on their own:

So, please watch the video above as I feel it demonstrates what learning should look like now.  The video itself was another collaboration from a different team of talented filmmakers at The Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry.  They call themselves: PSII Productions.  Here is another incredible example of what true collaboration in school can look like:

3 Sep, 2014
by Jake
Comments Off on Inner Harbor, Victoria BC, Summer Season 2014

Inner Harbor, Victoria BC, Summer Season 2014

inner harbor fire circle

I did about 40 shows in the Inner Harbor this summer.  It definitely made me tougher.  I was hoping to do 80 shows, but I had an old flare up of a hernia injury that took me out for a couple of weeks and limited my show numbers after that.  Next season…

Here is a photo essay of this experience, documented by the budding, professional PSII Production Team.  Photographers: Teagan Gosling, Jasmine Wong and Avery Stefanson.

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