It is always an honour to present at a conference. To have such incredibly passionate and engaged educators, leaders, academics and friends dedicate time to listen and reflect on my words might be one of the most humbling experiences of a lifetime. I sincerely thank you for empowering me and reminding me of the support and kindness that exists in our field – it is that that helps me (and you) to move forward. Christ Hatfield, our closing Keynote on Thursday reminded us that innovation is not just about one single person but it is a combination of so many people’s experiences, skills and talents. That is how I feel. Please continue to connect, share and dialogue. I look forward to continuing and deepening the connection that already started!
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.
*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
*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)
*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.
*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.
*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.
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
What does a ball of yarn, a quilt, a Makespace, the Honey Bee, a podcast, Green Smoothie and a Minecraft Museum all have in common?
The following is an example Inquiry Lesson that infuses Maker Space, Collaborative tools, Inquiry and Design thinking, including Minecraft. We facilitated this lesson at the Enrichment and Innovation Centre in our Grade Six Journalism Program, for Gifted Students.
This Video is the lesson consolidation. Everything is connected. “How Wolves Change Rivers”.
We ask: Is Interconnectedness essential for our survival?
*How does the interconnectedness of anything change its course or direction in life?
*What does it mean to depend on someone or something?
*Will the disappearance of the honey bee impact human life at the local to international level? In what ways?
*How can we strengthen our own connectedness to the earth? To each other?
Social Studies: People and Environments, Political and Physical Regions of Canada (Ontario Curriculum)For More Detailed Curriculum follow this link
Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 13:Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Pre-Lesson and Critical Literacy/Inquiry
To begin, we would use a “Flipped” approach. First, students would be given a task to investigate content related to the local and global issue of disappearing bees. Students explore, find, read,watch/listen and discover information related to why honey bees are disappearing. Second, students are asked to bring a leafy green vegetable and a fruit (and any type of super food such as chia or hemp). Contributing means feeling part of something and recognizing the value you bring in- your importance. This piece is vital. It strengthens community and builds trust.
Room Design, Bulletin Boards and Relevant Activities (Self-Directed Activities)
Kitchen (connection back to home/family)
Mock kitchen is created. Vegetables are displayed along with a nutritional information focus; Students would also share in a Tea Circle Discussion upon arrival (as they do most days); The kitchen would also have an assortment of plants (especially those with obvious pollen); A variety of honey types would be on display for students to explore the texture and taste and begin to make personal connections to the topic.
There is also a worm compost bin (vermi composting) to maintain the importance of connections and emphasize the value balancing what we take and give back to the earth.-Flowering plants on display for students to explore with microscope; A variety of informational videos available.
Living Room Area (literacy)
Word wall and activities; Knitting/crochet activities (in shape of honeycomb; Sewing (creating a beehive pattern activity); A variety of books, magazines, newspapers and literature
Collaborative puzzle for hands-on activities (an explicit way to demonstrate the connectedness of each individual piece and its necessity for the whole); A display that demonstrates facts and data, along with inquiry questions; A map display showing areas that are impacted; Honey Comb is be available to help students learn about the geometry of the Bee Hive and how the HoneyComb is made.
Maker and Art Space
Students will have access to lego; Sewing Machine Activities; 3D printer; Programming activities (using scratch to program geometric shapes);Green Screen applications; Pencil Sketching, Math and GeometryDesigning
With a cup of tea, the lesson will begin around the “Kitchen Table” where we will feel, touch, smell and taste some of the fruits and veggies that will go into the Smoothies. We will discuss how the veggies change their attributes and nutritional impacts when the are paired with one another (i.e., vitamin C with Iron). As a group we begin asking questions about what we know and don’t know about the vegetables, their interconnections to each other as well as to the earth. We will ask, what would happen if they weren’t available?
Here, we would begin our inquiry.
Following our Tea Circle, students will begin an independent exploratory activity where they will participate in a ‘shared’ Google Document and contribute to collaborative inquiry. (Here, a link is created by opening the document to anyone with link to make the process efficient.) Students contribute to information search focusing solely on the specific foods they brought in (or assigned to) and make explicit connections to nutrients. They use the information to create recipes that focus on a certain need or ailment.
We would later use this activity to make the connection that healthy foods are a necessity in our lives and begin the inquiry of WHY so many people continue to suffer obesity and health problems – relating this to our connections to the people and world around us.
We would discuss Nutrition in the context of wealth and poverty and further explore the Global Goals.
We would connect this to the biodiversity of our planet and examine the impact – the cause and effects of loss and gain. Students would see the chain reaction of how a honey bee can impact the lives of humans, food and climate change, and the impact this has for Ontario Farmers, Trade relations and cost of food. This article would provide a context: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/food-and-our-planet/food-and-climate-change/
Students would discover that this loss would perpetuate poverty and would lead to a health crisis since our most valuable resources (as they’ve discover) are only accessible to people who can afford the high costs.
Minds-on & Hands-On
Together: Students begin the day, together in a large circle (this process helps students understand the impact of being connected and interconnected). Students are encouraged to be mindful of the fact that they all share in the moment, the day. One by one, students pass a ball of yarn while celebrating and sharing one connection (a team, a family, a friend, a book…). They form a web of direct and indirect connections and would learn that they can be impacted indirectly when the yarn is yanked or dropped by anyone in the circle, even those that aren’t directly linked.
compare this to our connections to our planet, to other living organism, to the foods we eat, to others – near and far.
bring this realization of interconnectedness back to the Big Idea (Is interconnectedness essential for our survival?)
Individual: Students are given time to explore hands-on activities provided throughout the classroom – all that demonstrate concepts of interconnectedness. This can be done at the start of class (when they arrive, or throughout the class as time allows.
knitting, crocheting (co-creating a quilt)
Circuits and Programming activities
(Assessment Opportunity – Teacher/Student time)
Inquiry – Student Driven:
As a class, students create a COLLABORATIVE book that identifies a variety of topics/issues involving the plight of the honey bees and the interconnectedness of the environment and humans. Together, students create a list of issues involving the disappearing bees ( focus on trade, farmers crops, use of pesticides, GMO’s, cause and effect on environment…). Upon completion, each of the Inquiries will be posted.
List of topics will focus on specific learning curriculum expectations
*connections between natural environment, employment, jobs and consumer (relating to bees)
*Jobs, land and organizations dependent on survival of bees
*Impact and connection of environment effects and land use (cause and effect)
*Environmental issues at an international scale and its impact on Canada
In partners or individually, students are given a full period (or more) to research and discuss the topic of their choice, but always relating it back to the inquiry topic of the Honey Bee and its interconnected value to the world.
Staying engaged… feeding the body and soul…
*Note – Throughout “Worktime”, students will have an opportunity to make SMOOTHIES based on their recipes and ingredients (from earlier activity). During this small group time, students will be asked to share how the ingredients and the nutrients are directly connected to their inquiry topic. AT this time, we will make connections back to the land and its impact on farming and then back to the consumer.
(Assessment Opportunity – Teacher/Student time)
Product (Culminating) – What are students working to create/produce?
*Podcast – Students learn to use Audacity and begin exploring podcasting techniques. As part of Interconnectivity, students use SKYPE to discuss Podcasting techniques with an expet in podcasting -Rodd Lucier.. Students are given examples and podcasting techniques -how to express voice, to conduct an interview, to use voice to convey a message, etc. Students will create a podcast interview, informational podcast or a skit.
*Blog – Students upload their podcast to their blog along with a blog describing the topic and inquiry question.Students have a prior knowledge of blogging. They will be reminded to use more than one medium in their blog and to end their blog with an inquiry question.
*Collaborative Book – Students will contribute to a Collaborative book using OneNote or Google Drive
Students will add their information to the WHOLE class creation using Google Drive or OneNote, thus demonstrating and participating in a connected activity
*MinecraftEDU – Students will design their solution or their information topic in a collaborative world. Here students will design a collaborative museum, where they will add their information through design and interactivity.
Learning criteria will be established with the students. As a group we will discuss some of these expectations:
Research and Information produced must contain local and international data that explains a topic.
Students address connections to themselves as well as looking at connections at a large scale (consumer, poverty, land use)
Students will ask relevant and critical questions as part of their research
Students recognize the impact that the topic has at a larger scale and discuss reasons for this
Students use appropriate vocabulary
Students recommend solutions
*describe some major connections between features of the natural environment and the type of employment that is available in a region, with reference to two or more municipal regions in Ontario
* “Why are some jobs dependent on the seasons?” “What are some of the jobs that are connected to forests, lakes, and rivers? What sorts of jobs are connected to agricultural land use?”
*gather and organize a variety of data and information on the environmental effects of different land and/or resource use and measures taken to reduce the negative impact of that use
*evaluate evidence and draw conclusions about issues related to the impact of natural resource extraction/harvesting and/or use around the world
*communicate the results of their inquiries using appropriate vocabulary (e.g., non-renewable, renewable, flow resources; extraction; sustainability; deforestation; fossil fuels; aquifer) and formats appropriate for specific audiences
*explain why some environmental issues are of international importance and require the participation of other regions of the world, along with that of Canada, if they are to be effectively addressed
I do not share this post with the intent to judge others in their attempts to educate students by using specific tools. Instead, I want to encourage critical thinking, reflection and discussion. I share it as a way to ask for support and guidance as to when we should be using Game-Based tools to engage and teach certain content.
I struggle with incorporating the popular “Craft Reconciliation” project into my current Inquiry Lesson about Truth and Reconciliation between the Canadian Government and First Nations Peoples. I struggle at the thought of using a tool that for many students is considered a “game” to address such a deep, personal and difficult topic. I do not want to put light on an issue that has had such dark implications and caused so much harm for so many.
It is important to me as an Educator to have my students truly understand why Canada is involved in the process of Truth and Reconciliation as it pertains to our First Nations, Metis and Inuit. This isn’t just part of our history – our past and present – but it is part of our own individual need to understand why reconciliation, truth and forgiveness, is necessary for individual growth so that we can authentically make and act upon changes – not just say reconciliation, but also demonstrate it. These are the values that we uphold as Canadians.
In my role as a Teacher for Gifted (ages 9-14), I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity for students to dive into some of the deeper issues that involve First Nations, Inuit and Metis (FNMI) not just as Peoples of the Past, but of the Present. I was also thrilled at the potential of using creative approaches, like Minecraft, for students to engage in this initiative – Craft Reconciliation is an initiatve –https://www.facebook.com/WabKinew/posts/10153017657506618:0 where students would engage in a inquiry process and design thinking.
I was excited to participate in this process – at first.
But then, as my colleague (Kristy Luker) and I began designing the inquiry lesson, I became more and more uncomfortable with having students sharing and demonstrating their thoughts in Minecraft. The task yes, but why was I so uncomfortable with my Minecraft when I have done so many lessons using Minecraft in the past?
Let me be clear here. I am a HUGE advocate of Minecraft in the classroom. I have used Minecraft for almost six years and have presented locally and Internationally over the past several years on why Minecraft is a choice learning tool for design (and for thinking, engineering, collaboration, math, science, literacy …you get the point). I write blog posts about Minecraft and have even won awards based on my use of Minecraft within an Inquiry driven classroom (The Enrichment and Innovation Centre). My point is that I am in FULL agreement that Minecraft is a fantastic tool.
BUT….I am uncomfortable with students using Minecraft for this particular topic. Am I afraid of minimizing the content? Am I afraid that students will be distracted from the seriousness of the issue? Am I worried that they will not give attention and justice to an issue that has had such dark and destructive impacts on an entire culture? Are we over using Game-Based tools…to the point that we have lost perspective?
I can attest that I know how student work in Minecraft. I have worked on Minecraft related projects with over 600 students over the last few years. Keep in mind, I am talking about students at the Junior or Middle school ages (9 – 14). I’m not sure how this would be different for Secondary level students or adults. I wonder if it is different for those students who have only used Minecraft in an Educational sense?
Watching them work, play and create is what made me love it so much as a learning tool. But I have learned that they work differently in this platform. Even in a most focused and rich design task, they are in “play mode”. This isn’t bad, it is just a fact. Most of them have been ‘playing’ Minecraft before any teacher or school ever introduced it to them. They know well and and used the tool well before most teachers. They go into “Minecraft Mode”. It is almost impossible for us to tell them to stop “playing” and get to the task/design. FULL ENGAGEMENT. I am certain that any teacher who has used this tool in the classroom can attest to this. They can’t help but get giddy and excited – like anyone would that is allowed to use a creative, open-ended and collaborative tool. Plus, it’s Minecraft!! And, too often, they need some reminding to stay on task (they love to build Minecarts or anything involving redstone for just about anything). They also need a lot of time and thinking as part of the process. A lot.
It is exactly these reasons that I am uncomfortable with students using Minecraft to explore and recognize Truth and Reconciliation between Canada and the FNMI people. Why? Honestly- I don’t want them to get “giddy and excited” in this topic. I don’t want them to Play when talking about the Residential schools. As I read and read (and read) the information and documents released, I realized that the issues go so deep and personal. We are not just talking about the physical symbols and cultural values that our First Nations have brought to Canada. We are talking about the the fact that over the years, Canada has policies that were geared at eliminating Aboriginal rights. The report released in 2015 explains, “For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation and cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, 2015)
The more that I learned from the report about the Residential Schools in detail the more angry and upset I felt. “For the students, education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, 2015) .
If you have ever read my blog or tweets, you know I am an advocate for the use of engaging and current learning tools. I believe that we need to do better at engaging our students. But as an advocate, I am also cautious and I tend to think critically about how we do this in a balanced and respectful way.
I hope this doesn’t get read with offense but more as a discussion starter about when we should be employing Game Based tools in our curriculum. Does the content matter? Are students able to recognize the seriousness of a topic when using a tool that they are used to using for fun? Maybe I’m way off. Maybe fun and engagement can help us understand hard topics better? But in this case, I am going with my gut.
Consider joining in the conversation.
We did our first of 5 lessons about Truth and Reconciliation. We talked about why we were not participating in the Craft Reconciliation Project. They said, “It doesn’t feel right”.
Here is the overview (just an overview) of our lesson. Keep in mind, it is changing as we go along.
The Enrichment and Innovation Centre is considered a ‘Maker Space Community’ with a strong focus on STEM principles, problem based learning, design thinking and arts education, each with an overriding theme of Social Justice and Environmental Education. The Inquiry driven model was designed with specific attention to enriched programming, current pedagogies, computer science, environmental considerations (physical space), online and blended learning, and community partnerships.
The Learning Environment is something that I’ve discussed many times in this blog. More and more, the term ‘Makerspace’ is becoming synonymous with the “Learning-space”. A space where we teach, learn and create. However, the conditions for engaging students and teachers in a space where creativity and design is at the core needs to be implemented first. Making requires a strong sense of community, of team work, of shared learning experiences and requires tough challenges and risks and it also requires constant evolving innovations. There is so much more to the space then providing a set of robotics, circuits or robotics – we need to provide the opportunity to develop strong relationships and a place where learning can happen regardless of age, or skill, or interest. Here, I share our story in creating the Innovation and Enrichment Centre – a Makerspace Learning community that is far more than circuits.
In 2008, when Skype, along with the internet first became available in my district (at my school), my classroom walls literally opened up. Even in that small classroom, students became empowered to learn outside the classroom, from people and sources beyond the teacher and the curriculum. It was fascinating. 2009, we Skyped (yes, its a verb now) over 80,000 kms on the first and second day of school.
If you’ve read my blog you will know why I have tea circles in the classroom or have a crock-pot of soup on throughout the day. You will know why I so strongly value game based learning and feel strongly against the ‘gamified’ approach which I believe contradicts the factors that are so necessary for learning to be fully realized. Learners, regardless of age, need to feel respected and valued and honoured. We need to create instances where we talk naturally (games are a great way to make this happen) and to find real world connections to what they are learning about. Learners (all of us) need to have a say in what we are learning as well as provided with up to date, current and challenging tools and projects.
It was almost three years ago that I shared with you why I stood strong with my Union. “Why I Protest”. Then, for several weeks, I spent my days in solidarity with many teachers across Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, and across Ontario, in Protest against Bill 115, a legislation that would eventually force a contract upon us and force Teachers to return to work without respecting a mutual bargaining agreement – one that would could improve our Standards of Education.
Now, three years later – the Elementary Teachers across Ontario are once again asking the Government, and the public, to support Public Education with the highest possible standard.
In this round of contract negotiations, ultimately, teachers are asking for better working conditions. This means smaller class sizes, more support for special education students and the autonomy to use professional judgment during non-instructional time. This brings me to a story I want to share with you – One that hits all of these issues. I see now how it has helped shaped who I am today and why I stand tall with the Elementary Teachers Federation.
Last week, I was having dinner with my family when a young man approached me. “Mrs Pipe?” He asked. It took me a minute to recognize him, but then the memory of that school year came rushing back.
I’ve never shared this story before, but I want people to understand just how demanding, overwhelming and debilitating our jobs can be without the proper support, choice, and autonomy with how we spend our time.
A few years ago, I was the teacher of a class of 42 Grade Five students. I was super excited to start this new job…at first. It was a brand new school. I was leaving a small community school that I worked at for several years and I was ready for a change. In June, I said goodbye to my class of 20.
The first day of school that year, I had 38 students. Because the classrooms were smaller than what I was used to, I had to get rid of all tables, teacher desk, quiet reading corner, additional book shelves, or any extra furniture in order to make room for 38 desks. It was a challenge. Quite honestly, I wept coming home from school that day. Space is important to me. I wasn’t sure how I could do it.
Then, on day two, I got the news that 2 more students had registered and would be put in my class, bringing my total up to 40. There were no more desks available so two students would share. That week, I began reading through my OSR’s (Ontario Student Records) only to discover that more than 14 of my students were on an IEP for a variety of reasons (Learning Disabled, Gifted, Developmentally Disabled, etc. ). I also had two students that did not speak a word of english. The biggest challenge was the blind student because we had to ensure the room was clear of obstructions. Due to the needs of this blind student, there was an Educational Assistant (EA) in my classroom. Thank Goodness! I had fifteen I.E.P’s to co-write which included meeting with parents and the Learning Resource Teacher.
I soon realized that my running routine (a personal love of mine) was going to abruptly come to a stop. And it did.
On day three, 4 more students registered and were split up between my classroom and the other classroom (who also had 38 students). That would bring me to 42.
I have heard some educationalists argue that class sizes do not matter. Let me tell you just how much they matter. Just do the math. Parent communication became scarce. If you were parents of a student in my class, you could speak to me, say, once every two months. That is IF I found time to contact a parent everyday. Assessments and grading? I had to become really good at oral feedback and ensure that I only spoke to each students for a short period of time each day. I taught Math, Science, Social Studies, Language, Art, and Drama. I became good at both cross-curricular teaching and assessment. That’s a positive.
By week two, I was finding ways to manage my class. I had developed a very strong online network. I felt isolated lonely in the school since so much of my time was dedicated to simply managing the class and the duty schedule. Way back then, my online colleagues (and now my good friends) became my supports – @dougpete @thecleversheep @courosa @crutherford. They kept me grounded.
Unfortunately, the amount of students that I had, did not change the type of support or expectations that I had in other areas of my job at the school level.
By mid-September, I had to start my DRA’s (Diagnostic Reading Assessment). 42 DRA’s. Again, unfortunately, the support staff in the building (Literacy Improvement Teacher, for example), were there to assist teachers with programming needs, not with student assessment, so I was on my own. I would try to do 4 DRA’s per day in order to meet the deadline. This meant photocopying hundreds of booklets and assessment pages for the students to complete. My mom came in and helped me.
I was happy when the weekend came because this gave me a chance to do what I really loved. Plan my program. This was the year that I started classroom blogs and skyping in the classroom. This was an olympic year (Vancouver 2010) which connected so well to our Inquiry Big Idea – How do International Events strengthen Canada’s connections with other countries?
At school, the September/October deadlines and meetings continued. We have annual learning plan (ALP) goals (a several page document) to complete and hand-in. This was late. It is hard to explain the frustration and embarrassment I felt when my VP sent an email to me (and some others) reminding me this was due. Then there was the TLCP framework template. Also due and also late.
By week three, I was told that there would be some reorganization of classes and my class numbers would be reduced. But this would need wait another couple of weeks. This reorganization was a district initiative, not a Provincial mandate.
In the meantime, I became quite unaware of most things around me. My friends, my family and my colleagues. The honeymoon phase for many of my students was over and their needs became more and more prevalent. One student, a ward of the CAS cried most days. Another, slept on his desk because he rarely slept at night. Another, would often leave class and not come back for a long time. The students’ parents wanted interviews (all 40 of them), the ELL teacher needed my time, the LRT needed my time, the EA needed my time and then there was the new protocol to have “divisional meetings” during our nutritional breaks.
At home, I was barely present. I regret that now.
I remember this one meeting (during a nutrition break) as if I was watching myself, rather than actually being in the meeting. I sat down in the library with 5 other teachers and the Vice-Principal (VP) of the school. I had a stack of books, papers, and files in one hand and some food in another. As the VP began the meeting, without thinking, I abruptly interrupted her and asked if I could share how I was feeling – perhaps seek help/support from my co-workers. I’m not sure if I’ve ever asked for help like that before. But, her response wasn’t what I expected. She hushed me and explained this wasn’t the time. I’m not sure what I felt, but I couldn’t let it go. Again, I explained I needed help, and again she said that the divisional meeting was prescribed and that I needed to focus on the task at hand. But I couldn’t and I left the meeting in tears. And I had to teach Math in 10 minutes.
I don’t regret that year because I eventually connected with some of the most incredible students and teachers. I was working in one of the first tech oriented schools and learned and unlearned so many strategies that are only now being seen as mainstream and innovative. I found ways to make it work. I began presenting at conferences and unofficially became a GAFE (Google) teacher.
But I also lost a lot too, and so did my students.
Not too long after that meeting, I had a moment of clarity on what can be lost when we forget about the human aspect of our jobs as educators. I lost and found myself sometime during this school year. Clarity came as I sat on that bench at the side of the road, watching as my brand new Subaru was towed away. I don’t quite remember the drive or how it happened. On my break that day, as I drove to Tim Hortons for a coffee, I simply went into a daze and hit the bus in front of me like a brick wall, totalling my car. I wasn’t hurt seriously. In fact, I was given a chance to really reflect on the demands on our job and how we need to stand up for our work conditions and our needs as teachers – because ultimately, this impacts our students. It has to.
The student that approached me during that night out with my family, surprised me with a hug. He towered over me. He looked at me and smiled, “You were my favourite teacher.” He said. I teared up. He has no idea!!
I am excited, thrilled and honoured to be given the opportunity to present some of my experiences as a Teacher and Researcher, in particular how and why I am using Minecraft in my Maker/Learning Space. I look forward to meeting, sharing and collaborating with the many innovative and curious educators that will be attending ISTE and hopefully attending my session on:
Over the past couple of years, I have been teaching the Junior Basic Qualification course (ABQ) at Brock University. The purpose of the course is to provide comprehensive training for teachers who have already qualified teachers, but need their Junior Level Qualifications to teacher Grades 4-6, in Ontario.
For one of the Modules, these teachers spend a couple of weeks learning about how teachers at the Junior level are using non-traditional methods to teach and learn, including the use of a variety of online tools, technology tools, social networking sites, blogs, and of course innovative tools that engage and inspire learners in this day and age.
Probably the BEST RESOURCE that my students have collaboratively gathered is their contributions to my EDUCATORS that INSPIRE book (below). Seriously. Amazing. Tonight, for the first time in a while, page by page, I went through this wonderful resource and realized how ABSOLUTELY fortunate I am to have such a wide variety of co-learners (educators, leaders, education activists, writers, bloggers) in my network.
Next week, I’ll be heading to #iste2015 to visit some of the people here and I hope to personally thank them for their genorosity, care and constant belief in Education!
A couple of days ago, I read a couple tweets from a teacher that was voicing thoughts about being labelled as a “Minecraft” teacher, rather than an Innovative teacher that uses many engaging and creative tools including Minecraft. I looked back through the Twitterverse, but couldn’t find the tweets again.
First, I think that any teacher, leader or principal that is labelled a Minecraft teacher should be EXTREMELY proud. Bring it ON! Think about it. You are being labelled as a teacher that is creative, open-minded, collaborative and willing to use tools and methods that are engaging and encourage students to venture into ARTS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING and MATH! Not to mention, using a tool that lends itself well to having students THINK, REACT and ADAPT to certain situations. And to further the point, you are using a tool that is Universally Designed and doesn’t restrict students that have literacy barriers or language barriers.
So, if people see you as a MINECRAFT TEACHER, then I suggest you thank them. Maybe they just don’t understand what a compliment they gave you!
I find myself thinking more and more about the assumptions that are made about teachers that research, share, blog and reflect on specific technology tools they use as part of the learning and teaching process. In fact, sharing specific examples about the tool or program on Social Media can have an interesting result since the context isn’t always obvious and assumptions get made about the teacher. For example, The Minecraft Teacher, The Smartboard Teacher, The Livescribe Teacher, The Google Teacher, The iPad Teacher…… You get the point.
But who cares? I am certain that I’ve been labelled a certain “kind” of teacher. I suppose it depends on who and from when. Today, I might be considered the “Minecraft Teacher”. I delivered several Smartboard workshops for my District about 10 years ago, so back then, I was the “Smartboard Teacher”. About 8 years ago, I started using blogging platforms with my students, so those who know me then, might consider me the Blogging teacher, or the Skyping teacher since we used Skype so often. A couple of years later, I began incorporating tools that were Universally Designed, such as audio amplification systems. I used the Front Row system and had a microphone around my neck most of the day. Yes, for a while, I was the Front Row teacher. And then, there was the iPad. My iPad ‘ONE” was the only iPad in the school (of 700) for 2 years. This single iPad labelled me as the iPad expert. In 2006, my students were using Scratch and Robotics and even for a short while, I was seen as the Programming Teacher. Then, there was the Livescribe. Another action research project that had me integrate the tool in ways that I still find myself attached to, especially around assessment. Recently, I’ve been investigating and integrating a variety of Microsoft tools into the classroom. Maybe that makes me a “Microsoft” teacher too.
Doesn’t it seem like the technology tools and innovations that we blog and tweet about seemed to override everything else we do as teachers? as leaders? as learners?
Do we take the time to sift through our assumptions, to get to know the person and understand why they use the tools or methods they do? Why the “act” the way they do on Social Media? Who are they really?
I now use all of these tools or program as part of the teaching and learning process, depending on the situation, the student and the context. Those of have taken the time to know me, know that I am NOT an expert, but am willing to try out as many tools as possible in hopes that I can reach my students in a way that supports higher order thinking, inquiry, and depth.
My classroom focuses on collaboration and inquiry, not technology, not Minecraft, not Livescirbe, not Smartboard, not Coding, not Google, not robotics… (you get the point). I am good with the many labels that are attached to my name and I’m even good with the fact that I have probably used these tools for “Subtitution” (SAMR) on occasion. But…I used them and I continue to learn.
Back to the “Minecraft teacher “ and for all the “Minecraft teachers” out there, be proud of your label, because you ROCK. You are taking risks, trying new things, engaging your students and putting yourself out there to be scrutinized and judged…and still, you do it. Remember, it is most often due to the ignorance or lack of understanding of you and your practice that results in the LABEL, not you!
I wonder, what ASSUMPTIONS, based on interactions in Social Media, about educators, leaders or others in your network, do you have?
Problems that Matter… Where our Inquiry Started…and never ended.
“Inquiry” seems is a hot topic in education today (although it certainly isn’t a new concept). Facilitating a true inquiry can be a challenge when students are strapped to a schedule, a curriculum or even when being assessed or monitored for their performance. It is a challenge when the classroom environment doesn’t allow for exploration or choice. Inquiry can be challenging because it isn’t predictable and it means taking risks, not knowing how long it will take and not always having the final answer.
Where I co-teach with Beth Carey at the “Enrichment and Innovation Centre” (geared for Gifted Students at the HWDSB), these stipulations do not exist. A few things are important to note about our program and its uniqueness compared to a “traditional” classroom setting. First, our schedule is completely flexible. We do not have periods or subjects, there are no bell interruptions, no set lunch, no duty and no specific transition other than when to arrive and when to leave. We do not have specific seating or teaching areas.This is key because this schedule and environment allows us the time and flexibility to fully and completely immerse ourselves (teachers and students) into topics and let our natural curiosity take over. It should also be noted, that we do not start each lesson with “how it will be assessed”, but instead we leave this open-ended and students drive their own assessment through constant feedback and dialogue. With support, students monitor their own thinking and we (and they) adapt as needed.
That is what happened today.
While we don’t have ‘Subjects”, we do use Big Idea questions to drive a topic. Today, for instance, we started with this question: How can LOCAL and GLOBAL citizens impact the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? Of course, this led to further questions: Are we working on Problems that Matter? In order to understand a problem (or perceived problem) do we need to try to live or experience that problem ourselves? What is the role in FAILURE to help us guide innovations? Of course, this is also very tightly connected to the History, Geography and Social Studies Curriculum (as well as Language, Science and Arts).
For the most part, students participated in an INQUIRY focus around the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the role of NGO’s, NPO’s and everything in between. Students collaboratively investigated and researched local and global initiatives and co-created a series of inquiry questions to help them develop their own humanitarian initiative. They had to first understand the topic and what exists already (and why). They c0-created a book to share a few of their ‘passions’ and what they deem as “important”.
Students created inspiring ideas. Seriously.
One group presented their idea, “Teen Teachers” , an idea that resembled something like a Khan Academy, except teens could join this website as ‘teachers’ or ‘students’ and learn together, as they wanted, when they wanted and what they wanted. This idea was so popular that a few other students began side conversations about how they might market this, how this could be part of their “Individual Education Plans”. Another group proposed a topic around Mental Health and Teens and suggested an organization that encouraged teens to use their musical talents, in hospitals or nursing homes, as a way to help those suffering from Mental Health disabilities. They suggested (hypothesized) that playing music for others could help the performer as much as it could help the audience.
Another group shared an inquiry that they eventually named, “Pretty in Pink”. Similar to the “Neighbourhood Watch” initiative, this organization would encourage neighbourhoods to train, talk, discuss and learn about issues relating to Women Safety. Residents, after being trained, would get a sign/logo to post in their front window, a way to show solidarity and support and let Teens in trouble know they had somewhere safe to go.
Another group spent the afternoon learning about local farmers only to find out they had more questions then answers. Why do local products tend to cost more then imported products? Why are local farmers not supported more in schools? How can local farmers reach out to the urban communities? This group decided to form a initiative to promote local, organic and non-gmo foods and to use a crowd-sourced donation effort to bring costs down.
As the students collaborated, their inquiries led to further inquires and more questions. The flexibility of our day (as I noted, we do not have specified periods, recess or lunch) allowed us to veer off topic when our questions guided us in different directions. At some points, students became entrenched in their work, even when they recognized it wasn’t leading to their final outcome. The fact that we didn’t fixate on an “assessment agenda” or “evaluative criteria” freed students from the need to perform. For instance, a couple of students found themselves immersed in the Raspberri Pi’s (small computers), eventually changing their inquiry topic completely. I could write an entire chapter on the amount of problems these students had to tackle in order to get the Raspberri Pi’s running (we don’t have an ethernet internet connection). They recognized that these small computers, priced under $50.00 could solve problems relating to lack of technology access.
At one point, we found our Sustainable Garden group with their heads in the Worm Compost (literally) which soon became a big excitement, as student after student had to observe, touch, smell and watch these little creature do their magic (and we found thousands of little baby worms, which was very exciting). “Black- Gold or Magic Soil is what we use in our classroom garden,” we tell the students. “The worms eat our fresh fruit and vegetables and then do their job”. The students were fascinated which led to more questions about how this could be an initiative in parts of the world where fresh food wasn’t always accessible.
Back to our initial inquiry. Problems that Matter.