The Kitchen Table

Bring the Home into the Classroom – Literally!

cuvbcmxwiaafxweWhat is one artifact or symbol that can literally make students feel “at home” in the classroom? An artifact that can ease stress, encourage conversations,  build relationships, have no limitations of age or ability and be completely  diverse in nature?

A KITCHEN TABLE!

In our home, The Kitchen Table is not just where we gather for meals but where we gather to talk about our day. It is the first stop when getting up in the morning, returning from a walk or coming home from work.  Where we throw down our keys, where we pile up our books and add to the week’s worth of newspapers. It is where we charge our phones and open our computers and play our music. It is our card table, our game table, an art centre and a sewing station.  It is where the mail gets read and sorted and where the bills get paid. The table is a space for food preparation, for sorting groceries and for sharing surprise snacks.  Sometimes, the table is our refuge after a long day- a safe place to sit and gather, where we talk and plan and discuss and cry.  Our best arguments happen around the table and our best apologies follow. Sometimes, it is a place to sit together in silence reading or writing.

Whatever it is and whatever time of day – it is always a safe place to be ourselves, to take risks, to be honest, to be vulnerable and to love one another.

And so, in effort to create an environment of trust, we brought the Kitchen table (literally)  into the classroom and  built a kitchen around it. We created a situation –  a small space, a “feeling” where students could be vulnerable, tell stories, laugh, cry and be themselves. The following 2 minute video gives an excellent description of why we start and end our day at the Kitchen Table. 

Our Kitchen Philosophy

We strive to connect MIND, BODY & SPIRIT by connecting what we study with  HOME. FOOD is a NEED that connects Families and develops COMMUNITIES. The development of a COMMUNITY of learners allows students to take risks, be mentors, have leadership opportunities and push the boundaries of their learning.

We address the role of the family and the community in our daily living.

We value our connection to the land by creating and sharing healthy snacks and meals.

We offer experiential learning opportunities.

We discuss respect for the group process and the significance of balance in all aspects of our lives.

 

When we are HOME we feel free to be ourselves !

We all can LEARN & GROW together!

Indigenous Worldviews Inspires THIS classroom MAKERSPACE

Reconciliation should include a commitment to bringing in the Indigenous World Views as part of the learning process.  I ask, ‘Would recognizing that we are already moving in this direction be a valuable part of the healing process for Indigenous populations?’ 

Many traditional methods of teaching are being challenged, and now, in Canada (and elsewhere), we have begun to adopt some of the very philosophies and principles (of course, with different names, definition and labels) that were once removed from our First Peoples when they were forced to attend Residential Schools.  

Canada has made a strong commitment toward Truth and Reconciliation in respect to First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI). This is especially important in our Education Systems because these ‘Truths’ have not always been explicitly (or implicitly)  taught to children and thus, the inequities perpetuated. Reconciliation, as we know, is a process of restoring relationships or by making views and beliefs compatible with one another. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report in 2015, Canada was faced with recognition of  the injustices experienced by the First Nations peoples  when they were forced to attend Residential Schools. This is especially important for schools and how we guide our learners today in their journey through this process.

Prior to these children attending these schools, what was education/learning like for them? Did they learn through Inquiry and discovery? Did children and adults learn through experiences? How was learning and connected to the earth around them? Did empathy play a role? What was the role of making and creating in the learning process? Was balance in life important? How did Storytelling impact learning and was it multi-generational ? What about Environmental Education? Family Connections? Community involvement and relations? Was there focus on spirituality and mindfulness?

“Traditional education allowed children to begin the process of observing from the time they are in their takinaakan and learn by participating as soon as they are able; traditional life was ruled by the principle of production from each according to his ability and distribution to each according to his need. (Red Lake, Heritage Centre, Virtual Museam)

Consider the approaches we are using in Education in the 21st Century –   

*Inquiry approaches are about wondering, discovering and experiencing the world. This approach is being adapted instead of what is seen as ‘traditional’ teaching.  

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*Learning can happen at HOME with the family  (Blended learning, online learning,Family Involvement, Travel, Discovery, Experiential)

 

 

*Education programs include explicit teaching of Environment Education and we emphasize human impact on the earth. Schools are connecting learning to outside environments through the use of natural playgrounds, green walls/roofs and gardens, celebration of  the earth

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*There is more emphasis on Primary Sources and Storytelling (using digital media and internet for world wide connections, learning from elders, learning from each other, accessing networks to connect to remote areas)

 

alternative spaces*Mindfulness is a practice seen as good for students mental health and overall well-being and is being adopted as part of the school program. According to Tobin Hart (2014),  Long dormant in education, the natural capacity for contemplation balances and enriches the analytic. It has the potential to enhance performance, character, and depth of the student’s experience. Perhaps most important, the contemplative helps to return the transformative power of wonder, intimacy, and presence in daily learning and daily living.

DSC_0216_2*Teachers are incorporating lessons about life balance and mental health, nutrition and physical health as part of our daily curriculum which includes looking at non-traditional ways of healing and medicine. Here is one example of how we are incorporating Food and Nutrition into the classroom, not as a separate curriculum topic, but in a holistic way, as part of the learning process.

DSC_0096_4 *The term  “Maker” is being expanded to include approaches to learning that enhance and develop hands-on skills, inquiry and learning through play or through doing, problem solving and creating

 

 

*While the Teacher is still valued as “facilitator” we are emphasizing community and collaboration as a better way to teach and learn.


As I reflect on each of these “new” approaches in education – I am drawn to my knowledge of history and the Indigenous cultures. Are the above approaches to teaching and learning are at the core, inspired from many First Nations Cultures?

While it is true that each Aboriginal group has different ways to express its values and traditions, there are similar themes that are prevalent in each group. As noted in a recent publication from Alberta, ‘ Our Words, Our Ways, 2016, these common “worldview” threads that run through many First Nations cultures are sometimes referred to as ‘foundational worldviews’.

In this report by Alberta Education (2016), there are many examples that connect these world principles in the classrooms, both with indigenous and non-indigenous students. I am not an expert in understanding these principles at a depth in which they are intended, but I can confidently explain how these connect to learning and how classrooms can use these principles (whether they know it or not) as a guiding program strategy.

Take a GLIMPS into a classroom that uses the following approaches to guide teaching and learning…


What do you see?

  • Espousing a holistic perspective and that knowledge is holistic

Cross-Curricular and integrated disciplines are more prevalent, as demonstrated by the structures of classroom schedules (less rotary, more time spent in one classroom with one teacher, combining topics into projects). Further, an inquiry approach to teaching is seen as the best way to engage students in real world issues, social justice and global issues. Most recently, classrooms are adapting “Mindful” practices and are emphasizing that when knowledge and learning is approached in a holistic way, students gain a better sense of self and a stronger self-esteem.

  • Recognizing the interconnectedness of all living things

There is a strong emphasis on critical literacy, inquiry and using world (local and global) issues and big ideas in the classroom. In fact, the new Ontario Social Studies/Geography and History documents emphasis a connection to real world issues which leads to studies about how land, animals and food are interconnected, the impact of global warming on our health, how oil extraction is impacting the earth, how the use of pesticides are impacting Bee populations. There is an emphasis on teaching students to relate curriculum topics and subject matter associated with History, Geography, Social Studies, Sciences and the ARTS to present day issues.

  • Having a strong connection to the land and community

We are inter-connected more than ever before not just due to the internet, but because collaboration and communication are seen as vital components of learning and living in the 21st Century.  This allows us to communicate and share with our communities whether urban or rural. There is more emphasis on eating throughout the school day, on health, and on making different food choices. Schools are using the United Nations Goals to guide teaching and learning.

  • Inclusion of Environment and dynamic nature  of the world in lessons and learning.

Environmental Education is now weaved through all areas of the curriculum. Some schools are participating in community gardening initiatives, community food organizations and local markets are partnering with classrooms as a way to help students to see their connection to the land.

  • Strength in “power with.”

As noted in the Our Words, Our Ways Document, In Aboriginal cultures, worldviews reflect “power with,” rather than “power over.” The image for this concept is a circle, and all living things are viewed as equal within the circle. “Power with” is a dialogue, where everyone stands on the ground, face to face – leadership and learning is “distributed”.

 

How does this look in the classroom today?

Explained in the Our words, Our ways Document (2016):

  • Learn from the students about how they learn best. Work in genuine collaboration with them to determine the approaches that are most effective.
  • Involve students when making decisions about the classroom. Provide opportunities for developing their skills so that they become effective at making real decisions about things that matter. Work toward consensus.
  • Invite older or stronger students to mentor younger or less able students. Find ways to reverse the process, e.g., find a skill that a younger student could mentor in an older student. • Welcome and validate parent input into decision making about their child’s education. Treat them as full partners in the collaboration that is essential for supporting their child’s learning.

(Our words, our ways : teaching First Nations, Métis and Inuit learners. 2016)

While it isn’t often identified as such, it appears to be these very foundational worldviews that are influencing Education in the 21st Century, especially in how our classrooms are designed and curriculum is taught.  There are many examples of classrooms and schools from across the globe transforming their spaces into environments that resemble home, enriched places for art and beauty, quiet spaces that embrace comfort and individuality, community and collaboration stations, connection to the outdoors and balance of life.  

Curriculum, more and more, is being taught holistically with an integrative approach and disciplines being taught together. Inquiry, design thinking, experiential and project based are approaches that are recognized as strong methods to engage and teach students of today.

Are we recognizing that the very principles that are shaping how we are creating the 21st Century Makerspace learning environments are those same principles that have guided the indigenous peoples for centuries, the very principles and values that were taken from them when traditional school was created.  

Example lesson that espouses the Indigenous Worldviews and Principals

LINK

The Strength Based IEP – let it work for the Gifted Learner

The IEP for the Gifted Learner

IMG_8531As a teacher for Gifted and Enriched students, I have spent many hours working with teachers, parents and learners on developing Individual Education Plans (IEP) for Gifted and Enriched learners. The IEP has a clear purpose and its process for development is not a difficult one to grasp. Regardless of school, district, or even country,  the IEP has similar characteristics: To identify the learner’s strengths and weaknesses,  to set measurable goals and objectives, to identify the tools and resources (including people) needed, to identify the strategies needed to achieve the goals and finally, as a team, to commit. Yes, there are subtle differences in language from district to district (modification, accommodation), but the overall purpose and gist of the IEP remains the same: To set our students up for success by ensuring they are getting a fair chance at learning.

It should be easy then. However, with Gifted learners, there is much debate and discussion about the IEP.  In my school district, we use both group testing (all students in Grade Four are given the CCAT test) followed by Individual testing (WISC-IV) and students usually score within the 95th to 99th percentile on these tests in a variety of areas, including overall IQ. Only a very very small portion of children or adults would score in this range (1-2% of the population). This alone, should sound the alarm bells. These students are not in the norm and SHOULD NOT be receiving the same programing as the rest. We would say no different for students who are scoring at the other end of the scale and require significant modifications in their learning. Further, just like within the general population of learners, these students are just as likely to present with a Disability.  Sometimes, the gap between two areas is quite wide…sometimes debilitatingly so.

Strength Based Goals:

Many students who are Gifted may not display obvious areas of “Need”. There is no use in searching for areas of weakness simply so you can put it on the form.  CREATE the goal from there overall strength.  On the other hand, many students who are identified Gifted in one area, may struggle greatly in another area or may have significant learning disabilities.  It is important that the student’s IEP sets goals that are also non-academic, such as social skills, organizational skills and personal and intrapersonal skills, which are often a struggle for Gifted learners.

Student Driven IEP and the PORTFOLIO:

IMG_8446In another post, I shared some strategies on how to involve the students in the IEP process, Here, I emphasis the following and share examples from my own class:

1) Ask for Student Input when developing the IEP. Of course, this would depend on the age group and how you structure the questions and interviews. Around the second week of school, I handed out the IEP’s to the students and had them go through and add, edit, and comment on each of the sections.  Most of them had neither seen or heard of the “IEP” before so it took a bit of time to explain the terms (accommodations, modification, strategies, methods).

2) Meet with the students individually and go through the IEP’s with them explaining how and why this document came to be.  Help them understand their own identification and what they need to best succeed.

During the first month of school students did research on their own exceptionality. Many of the students wrote blogs about what it means to be “Gifted” or as they often see it, “Labelled”. Set aside time for students to continually develop and alter their own programs. Don’t let this be a “one off” lesson. Build this into a weekly plan. Build it around their Learning Skills.

We did this every week with tea.  We tried to discuss one area of need or learning skill. What does it mean to be responsible? How much independence should students have at what age? What is fair and equal when it comes to learning? How do we advocate and ask for feedback?

4) Provide an organized system for students to view and edit their IEP’s as needed.  Of course, since some parts of this document may be highly confidential, the template would need to be altered.

5) When updating the IEP’s each term, send home the “working copy” along with the formal copy to allow the parents and families to see how much student input is valued

This IEP development strategy takes a lot of trust and relationship building to work. Students need to feel safe and free to express their honest feelings and advocate for themselves. One students said to me after reading his IEP (prior to his input), said, “Wow, I sound like an anti-social nerd that has no friends”.

Here are a few  case examples created by Beth Carey and Zoe Branigan-Pipe (although there are many many many more, since the IEP should reflect each individual child). These examples are only meant to provide a starting point to help when creating a “Gifted” IEP.


Student Profile/Achievement: Student has strong academics in all area’s (All 95% or above); in the 99th percentile of  testing. Motivated to learn and always seeking out opportunities, rarely feeling challenged by school. Proficient in reading (more than 3 grades above) and proficient at Math and Science. Strong abilities in Music and Languages.

Annual Goal: Student will use higher order thinking skills to enrich the depth and breadth of grade level learning expectations.

Learning expectation:Student will use divergent thinking skills during classroom learning activities, independent activities and home learning; Student will use convergent thinking skills (bringing together a range of ideas and resources to support a central topic or idea); Student will use critical thinking and questioning skills to enhance depth of thinking

Teaching strategy: Provide opportunities for student to learn what it means to think divergently (research/inquiry project, TedX videos..); Provide a schedule/contract for student (allow, encourage accountability, growth); Support student’s ability to ask questions to/with peers and teachers that encourage others to think deeper about a topic,especially one that focuses on current, local and global issues; Encourage home learning opportunities (use of Khan academy for skill mastery, use of blog, community activism – writing and co-created blogs); Encourage and demonstrate use of mind mapping

Assessment: Student will demonstrate a variety ways to express a skill, concept or idea that is presented to the whole class and will add 2 items in the portfolio each month (self-evaluation); During formal assessments, student  will provide more than one answer, with justification – even when there is a question with a specific answer; Teacher will provide a comment/feedback to student during scheduled teacher conference;  Student will bring home portfolio for parent feedback; Allow students to share the answer orally


Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student consistently exceeds grade expectations in literacy based subjects and has demonstrates strong verbal abilities and expression (99%tile in oral language abilities and verbal comprehension)

Annual GoalStudents will further develop higher-level oral communication skills.

Learning Expectation: Student will use real world topics (shared through portfolio and monitored with teacher) and current events to apply verbal/oral language tools as a way to share and demonstrate learning; Student will investigate, listen  and analyze podcasts of interest (one per month); Student will will use oral language to demonstrate learning, discuss ideas and brainstorm using inquiry based strategies


Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student excels at reading, both fiction (in particular Fantasy Genre)  and non-fiction. Tests indicate strong perceptual reasoning, processing speed and working memory.  Student will read as often as possible and enjoys discussing or debating the content.  Student demonstrates strong comprehension skills and can recall information and facts with ease.

Annual Goal: Students will develop analytical skills in reading using more challenging literature; Student will apply reading strengths to increasing writing (finding new vocabulary and structures)

Learning Expectation: Student will analyze texts by identifying many elements that give the text depth or meaning and will maintain a blog or journal of these elements;  Student will be able to draw conclusion about the author’s work through in-depth analysis, ongoing discussions and comparisons and will maintain a blog or journal of these elements


Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student writes descriptively and uses figurative language expertly as well as above grade level vocabulary and grammar. Report card grades reflect exceptional written assessment. Gifted Assessment report indicates student is in the very superior range in all cognitive areas.

Annual Learning Goal: Student will write in a variety of genres using a blog format and will submit at least 4 publications throughout the year to a pre-approved magazine or blog (provide a real world opportunity); Student will pick 10 new vocabulary words per week and keep a journal of new words.

Learning Expectations: Student  will use poetry and prose to write essays, narratives, and poems and will include figurative language; Student will keep apoetry journal updated weekly; Students will communicate to a wider audience and use reflective and communication skills to respond to others in writing


Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student demonstrates strong abilities in mathematical reasoning, computation and problem solving. Student has strong processing and working memory skills. Gifted Testing and Report Card grades are consistent in demonstrating that student exceeds above grade level in all mathematical subjects which require modification in the depth and breadth of the content.

Annual Learning Goal: Student will complete several projects related to Math (timelines and content determined in a co-created portfolio); Student will complete a self-monitored Math course (using MOOC, or COURSERA); Student will create a Math Blog that highlights interesting Math problems and discoveries that impact the world around him/her

Learning Expectations: Student will blog weekly about math related content; Student will be self-directed in his/her math learning by seeking out problems and investigations that related to a specific area (as determined by student and teacher)


 Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student is disorganized at school and home and frequently does not turn in homework and classroom assignments. Student is easily distracted and has trouble staying on task for more than 10 minutes. Student is easily disengaged at school and often complains of being bored. Student has low processing skills and working memory and needs specific accommodations.

Annual Learning Goals Student will complete class assignments on a timeline co-created with teacher and parent; Student will maintain an organized desk, binder (could be an online shared binder) and “to-do” list, to be checked weekly by teacher

Learning Expectations: Student will use technology tools to aid with scheduling (online calendar, online portfolio such as Onenote, Evernote, Google Drive (and can share with teacher and parent); Students self-organize and  will use to do lists each day; Student will “check-in” with teacher each day to guide on-task work and self-monitor how much he/she has completed; Student will keep a portfolio that includes timelines, lists and checklists and will have this monitored by teacher; Student will use his/her device to take pictures of assignment outlines, homework board, etc


 Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student demonstrates strong leadership skills through on-going involvement in student leadership, clubs, and extracurricular activities. Student demonstrates a strong stance toward social justice including a desire to work in the political arena.

Annual Learning Goals: Student will lead at least TWO events, club or organizations throughout the school year (school based, online or community based); Student will maintain at a leadership blog (choice of topic)

Learning Expectations: Student will read a book about leadership development and will share the overall learning, thought and reflections of the book on his or her blog; Student will register the School as a “We Act School” and be the communication link for the school and will complete the on-line follow up focusing on local and global initiatives.


 Student Profile/Achievement: 

Student has a superb memory for facts and detailed information and has an intense focus on area of interest.  Whatever the class is working on is of no interest to the student.  He/She seems disengaged from school and does not follow classroom routines. Student is unaware of social conventions and lacks social insight.  Can be disruptive in class.  Testing demonstrates student is proficient in all areas of WISC IV.  Student does not see the need to demonstrate this.

Annual Learning Goals: Student will demonstrate knowledge in all areas of curriculum through a variety of self chosen ways; Student will share knowledge of his/her interest with class and engage in conversations about his/her topic; Student will develop  a working knowledge of social conventions and social insights.

Learning Expectations: Student will conference with the teacher to decide on ways to demonstrate knowledge of topics covered in class; Student will develop a organization and communication tool to share with teacher and parent; Student will share topic of interest with class or school through oral or visual presentations, blogs, small group lessons etc.: Student will learn a good variety of of social norms and how to understand specific social situations and feel comfortable in those situations


 Student Profile/Achievement: 

IPRC – Statement of Strengths and Needs indicate that areas of need include: Peer interaction, leadership, additional opportunities to negotiate her own learning outcomes; more stimulation and motivation from peers with similar abilities and interests.

Annual Goal: Student will become more self-aware of her needs as a gifted learner

Learning Expectation/Objective: Student will strengthen social-emotional skills within a variety of context and with a variety of people: Student will participate actively in opportunities to work in groups with like-minded peers;Student will participate in explicit relationship building opportunities using whole group circles and class meeting: Student will use blended learning tools, blogs, e-portfolio and ongoing communication with each other and with  parents.

 

 

On the Tip of Their Tongue – Use audio for Assessment and Evaluation

IMG_8004 2“________ has not handed in the assignment. Neither has ____________or ____________or ______________. Please have them come to my class and finish their work during lunch hour. ”

“_______  failed the test…..can you give him/her time during class for a rewrite?”

 

“________needs extra time in my class to do his/her work.”

These types of concerns were shared with me (their homeroom teacher), almost daily by other teachers. Let me be clear. I don’t blame those teachers.  When put into a timeframe or constraint (part of their schedule), many of  identified (exceptionality) Gifted students would shut down, move on, or just not finish. Why bother? And so, they would either be graded accordingly, or be given another chance to prove themselves, over and over. But, what I was seeing in the homeroom was often very different from what other teachers were seeing. Why? Were the students being honest in sharing what they really know? Was the assessment designed in a way that allowed them to demonstrate the higher order skills that they are truly capable of? Was the results of the assessment truly accurate of the students ability?

As a teacher in a self-contained gifted classroom, my students would spend the majority of the day in my class. I was responsible for teaching and assessing the core subjects, which included Language, Math, History and Geography.  The other subjects (Music, Drama, Art, Phys-ed/Health, Science) were taught by teachers in a rotary timetable, each for only a small section of the day or week.  There are certainly many pros and cons to this type of schedule for which I will leave for another post. I had more time (then the rotary teachers) to build relationships with my students, which afforded me the opportunity to not only know them well, but to also learn and explore creative ways to assess and evaluate them.

Providing differentiated opportunities to demonstrate their understanding, communication, thinking and application not only made my assessments more authentic, but it gave me more confidence and certainty when providing evaluation or using the assessment to steer or customize my teaching. For many of them (my Gifted students), their thoughts and ideas raced so fast that many tended struggled to translate anything into print of any kind (pencil/pen/computer). The eloquent and creative words and phrases that they wanted to share, examples they wanted to give, ideas they just discovered were there, right there….on the tip of their tongue. That’s it… literally, on the tip of their tongue.

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 9.00.44 PMLet me share a couple of strategies that I would swear by. The information that I would get was from night to day when allowing students to use AUDIO and talk it out. And it is so simple.

1)   My Number #1 assessment strategy was to allow students to share their work in audio format using the Livescribe Pen. (LivewithLivescribe gives many applications: http://livewithlivescribe.edublogs.org/)  Students were all given a small pad of Livescribe Sticky pads and would use the pens available in the classroom to speak their answers instead of focusing on their writing. They were all allowed to provide an audio response in every test (a Universal Designed approach). Students that really needed to use this strategy were more comfortable when all students were given the chance. Funny – they seemed all want to do this, even if they all didn’t really need to.  Audio just made it more clear, more detailed, more personal.  While there are MANY other ways to use this pen to accommodate or differentiate student learning, using this tool to collect assessment data and information might be my favourite.

The beauty of this strategy, is that when used with EVERNOTE, the sticky notes, tests, or assignments were EASILY be added to their portfolio for an audio anecdotal and then shared with the student and parent. Seamless.

It would be inappropriate of me not to mention that I would also carry a sticky pad in my pocket (or on my desk) which I would use for ongoing meetings with students, in audio.  One demonstration question (like an exit card) student can explain, in audio and we both have a copy (the sticky that I give to them and the digital file that I have after plugging in the pen).

IMG_8018 2)   EDUCREATIONS  – ipad app. Hands down, this is one of the best.  demonstration apps. Students could take pictures of their work and then use the app to explain. Students would use the app similarly as the Livescribe pen. Simply add a word or number and speak their mind. Students used this tool to share their math, create presentations, and for creative designs.

 

I look forward to continuing my work with the Gifted Program at the HWDSB as a Gifted Itinerant Teacher. I look forward to learning from others and exploring and sharing the innovative teaching and learning strategies that are happening in so many classrooms. 

 

 

 

 

Community and Urban Planning – Project Based Learning and Minecraft

The following pictures/slides provide some information about how we are using PROJECT BASED LEARNING, INQUIRY and MINECRAFT in the classroom.

Recently, a reporter asked me, “So what have you learned through this project?”

 

I’ve learned that I need to step back and trust my students.

I need to provide time, support and facilitate the groups and activities and allow them to discover for themselves the different possibilities, avenues and perspective of an issue.

I learned how important it is to use tools that they themselves are familiar with and to explicitly provide situations where they can be leaders and facilitators themselves.

The Barton and Tiffany area in Hamilton remains vacant. These students, while their concept plans may never get to play out in the real world, have had their voices heard.

Why DO I protest? I am looking beyond the present.

Dear Reader,

It is with great concern and much confusion that I write this post,  as there are so many dichotomies at play in the conflict between the Ontario Government and the Ontario Teachers Federations.

I spend my days in solidarity with many teachers across Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, and across Ontario, in Protest against Bill 115.

To clarify, I am participating in a “pause” of any non-instructional work that I do during the school day, which includes all extra-curricular activities, clubs, and homework help.

It has not been easy. I love teaching and like many of my colleagues, working extra hours, participating in trips, plays, concerts and sports  is a huge advantage of this profession. I can’t help to be filled with not only anxiety and trepidation but also confusion. The last several weeks have been filled with voices across my own community and Ontario debating the issues at hand. Do teachers have the right to Strike? Why are students being made to “suffer”?

I’ve noticed that people are focused on the present. Perhaps it is because they have a child in the system right now and  they have a very personal stake.  They want their children to have the very best education and they know that extra-curricular activities are an essential part of the schooling process. Research proves this. They know that their children need choice and flexibility at school and need to be enriched with a variety of learning that includes field trips, clubs, and opportunities to practice ARTS during non-instructional times. We know this well. I understand this because I am also a parent with two children in this system.

Student designing a “concept” for the Barton and Tiffany land in Hamilton Ontario.

However, as a teacher, and as many of my teacher colleagues, I am looking beyond the present.

I protest for my students next year, in five years and in 20 years.

I protest to protect their future in the labour force.

I protest because  I want my children and my students to experience an environment where labour rights are respected, debated, and upheld. I want them to continue to feel safe to voice their opinions in a democratic society. This debate itself – what an excellent learning opportunity this has been for them!

Students using Inquiry Methods to interview a group of explorers via satellite

I protest to ensure that Ontario continues to uphold the high standards of instruction and respect for students and teachers that we have.  I am proud to work for one of the most well respected systems of learning in the world. My stomach turns every time I hear someone try to compare our system to a US State that uses high stakes testing as a way to measure their children and teachers. I grimace at the thought of lowering our standards. What kinds of teachers would we attract to our profession? I am confused when I hear the community criticize teachers. Shouldn’t we support those that are working with our children?

Students creating proposals for a community project

I protest for change and progress in education. I push for innovation in teaching and learning. I push for new methods and insist on meeting the needs of our 21st Century children. I push for the ARTS in education. I am fortunate to work for a system where I feel safe and protected to take risks, while also getting the support that I need.

The last few years have afforded me opportunities to travel to many places across North America and the world where I would visit, share and collaborate with educators, researchers, parents and students. As an Ontario Educator and Activist, what I learned most from these experiences is how fortunate our children are to be attending Ontario schools and how fortunate I am to be a teacher in a Country that values my profession. I learned that even with a highly regulated system (much more than other countries), there continues to be a great deal of trust and autonomy amongst educators, which has led to much progress and innovation in many of our classrooms.  Our organizations strive to work in partnership to empower teachers, as I have witnessed as part of the Teacher Leadership Program (OTF and Ministry partnership).  In Ontario, our students and teachers are valued which is why we are constantly implementing new research and finding new ways to teach students that prepare them for 21st Century jobs.

If we accept Bill 115, I fear that the balance between Trust and Regulation in our system will swing irrevocably too far, creating a rigid system that is lead by those far removed from the realities of the classroom. Good teachers will leave. We will condone mediocrity and will fear risk taking. Our most valuable assets-  our children – will ultimately be the ones that lose.

 

 

 

MY TOP 10 LEARNING SPACES – A Universal Design, in a Gifted Classroom

The learning environment is what will help create community. Before anything, students need to feel safe. Not just physically safe, but safe to learn how they learn, safe to think “outside the box”, safe to ask questions, safe to make mistakes, safe to be who they are.  I recently read a post by Jackie Gerstein, a friend and mentor who talks passionately about the importance of community in the classroom (It’s About Connections Not Content). Below, I talk about the learning spaces to honour all learners.  It is my intention to help these students find their passions, their gifts, and their understanding of themselves.

The Circle

Each day, we start off in a large circle. We might play a game, talk about a current event or gather our ideas for upcoming lessons. The circle gives brings the class together as one team, a group of co-learners and a support structure that they will need.

Comfort and Escape

A few years ago, I taught in a brand new school with small classrooms. A quiet “comfy” space was not an option and was strictly forbidden by fire regulations. I yearned to provide my students with an area to go when they needed to unpack and reflect. As we know, this 7 hour day, surrounded by an assortment of individuals can be overwhelming and draining. This classroom (an older school) allows for this space.  Students can use it to work collaboratively using the bulletin board or small table or even the floor as a workspace.  Of course,  reading a book, plugged into a good song is also pretty fantastic for any learner.

It only took about one hour before a student crawled into this “getaway”.  A calming environment that is still in the same room is a true gift for any classroom.

 

Exercise – Meditative, focus~refocus, transition

I truly love to Hula-Hoop. Not only because it is great for the abdominal muscles, but the repetitive motion is soothing. After a long day, or a long think-session, there is nothing better then grabbing a hula-hoop,  with a little music (or quiet is good too) and finding a place to gather thoughts and re-fuel for the next “thing” to come. Another true gift that this classroom offers – enough space.

Game

There has been much debate about the use of Gaming in the classroom and its integration into core subjects like math, social studies and language. The Kinect offers an incredibly fun way for students to work together in solving problems, debating stories and characters, and thinking through puzzles and math games. Allowing students to move around, challenge one another and discuss the creation and process of the game itself is incredible insightful and meets them in their world. We will be integrating Minecraft in our classroom this year, as a way to plan, think, and discuss through creation and collaborative building.

Apple TV, Reflection, Interaction.

So often, we use the projector and whiteboard to deliver instruction and content. But with the Reflection App or Apple TV, students can broadcast their work and designs on a larger surface. To show the students a quick video, or demonstrate an iPad tool, I can stand anywhere in the room and broadcast quickly and safely. Even better, students can broadcast their work.  Only a few years ago, I found myself stumbling trying to improve my motor skills when using the Smart tablet.

Group Think-Tank and iPad Center

One of my students asked, “Too bad we can’t just write on this table!”. I wonder if “Idea Paint” would work here.  To move away from their desk workspace to a group workspace is valuable. It is also valuable to have an option to go back to ones own individual space. With the use of the HWDSB iPad program and the School iPad purchases, I have about 10 iPads in the classroom. We will start of with interview videos. A favourite app used today was WORLD OF SAND. I highly recommend it. Highly.

Weekly Schedule, Handouts and TEA.

Posting a daily overview is important, but to see it in context within the entire week is essential. Like adults learners, our younger students want to know what is next and why, and especially how it relates to their learning. There is a definite accountability attached to this practice, but it is so worth it. At the end of the week, I brew tea and together we work on the next weekly schedule. It empowers them and gives them voice.

Choices and Voices

This image keeps changing. As students become more comfortable with me – and more confident, they start adding more ideas and information here. It is fascinating to see how many students ask to get away from the brick and mortar. They want field trips, walks, and to learn outside.

 

Online

Blended learning is not only going to provide more solid communication and on-going information for students and parents, but also more access to content and learning. While it might be surprising to some (ha, ha!), I am not the bearer of all knowledge and information.  Neither is the Internet. A blended learning platform (where students can also learn online) such as EDMODO (something new I’m trying this year) will allow me to facilitate content that is rich and diverse to a group of students that vary greatly in learning needs.  As well, each student will be given a personal blog, and will have access to my daily plans through Google Docs and our classroom blog (another huge accountability risk that is worth the immense outcome).

 Community

My favourite learning space – The real world.  This year, I’ve established a partnership with the Hamilton Farmers Market where students will get a chance to learn stories of the lives of real Hamiltonians. Students will learn to shop, cook and share resources.  Most importantly, they will have an opportunity to socialize and interact with citizens and with each other in authentic ways. With some structure and guidance, they will have a chance to apply what they have learned at school to something real.

 

We have also arrange for several community walks. Our school location is surrounded by hundreds of acres of forests (Royal Botanical Gardens) and wooded trails. The colours, smells, sounds and wildlife are the inspiration I’ll need when teaching poetry and creative writing. Perfect for finding space and time to talk, share and develop a real sense of self.