Pop Culture in the Classroom

The first week of May has two important pop culture events: May the Fourth and Free Comic Book Day.  These fan celebrations are great ways to connect to student learning and camaraderie both in and out of the classroom.  More and more, students are interacting actively with media in terms of their interest in characters and immersive communities.

When I was growing up, the May 4th “Star Wars Day” existed only as a pun and has exploded over social media the past 10 years.  Most of my colleagues knew of my fondness for this space franchise and when the day began to be celebrated with fun tie-ins for kids both young and old, I naturally incorporated it into my classroom.  I was particularly excited for this year’s being the first in person occasion in three years and the first since arriving to my new school two years ago.  I was pleasantly surprised when colleagues showed up in some Star Wars hair and shirts with stuffies of various characters, and since our principal encouraged us to be inclusive and call it “Space Day”, there were many star and moon ensembles as well.

Students enthusiastically showed up at nutrition break to my room wearing various outfits, including some in costumes.  They participated in word searches, Mad Libs, and fun poses against a galactic backdrop.  What pleased me the most was that many years ago, mostly only boys would have these shirts and plushies on hand.  The fan culture has catered more and more to all genders with various characters and positive representation that appeals to a wider variety of fans.

Free Comic Book Day is a wonderful opportunity to check out the local comic book store and begin the journey to learning about superheroes and villains in graphic novel form.  Students enjoyed drawing using step by step videos of characters from their favourite cartoon shows and were encouraged to check out events at their local library.  Once again, more inclusivity in terms of characters’ backgrounds and ethnicities leads to more children seeing themselves represented on the big and small screen and in the pages of books that are a great resource for a variety of reading styles.

The terms ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ can be used to negatively stereotype both neuro-divergent and neural typical children with interests and personalities that don’t ‘fit’ into society norms.  It’s empowering to see students embrace ideas that being a fan, whether comics or sports, is something that can introduce lifelong friends and talents.

Forest of Reading and Literacy Award Programs

As school starts up again every January, I always look forward to the recommendation list in my public library ebook section for the Forest of Reading program, an annual initiative in Ontario to get kids reading from a wide variety of levelled books (picture to high school chapter reads).  There are so many new local authors I have had the chance to be exposed to from this program and I have yet to find a student that couldn’t find something that interested them either from the list of fiction or non-fiction books.

Much can be written about the positives and negatives of student incentivization to read more, but in this case I feel that the Forest of Reading and other programs in Canada and around the world strike the perfect balance of getting students excited about competing with others for reading the most books as well as getting the chance to interview with teachers about their completed selections. In our region, students get to accompany their classmates in the school board to a celebration at the local sports arena to hear from some of the authors in person as well as see arts presentations and hear the final winner in each category for Favourite Book.  The connection to seeing people talk about their inspiration motivated students to think about what ideas they could have that could one day be in a book, or how they could persist in not giving up in a variety of career fields.

One of my favourite aspects about the Forest of Reading is that it promotes equity in how the books are distributed.  If you can’t get a copy from the local library in print or digitally, school libraries receive funds to distribute multiple copies of some of the books to students where teachers can have them read independently or as a class so they don’t miss out.  Every year, I see that some authors have had another one of their books selected sometimes in the same series which shows their ability to connect with the committees and students.  Forest of Reading is also great at promoting diverse reads where even tough subject matter is communicated in a way that students can understand and relate to.

When I taught in a school with middle school grades as well as early elementary years, I always wanted to ensure that students were able to tell me something they learned or thought about after reading the book, even if it wasn’t one they would recommend personally.  In addition to ensuring students weren’t looking up crib notes as much, it gave me insight into how students felt about characters and what sparked their interests.  It also gave me insight into what other sorts of recommendations we could make to have them continue their reading journeys.

Given the state of the world these past few years, literacy is always something that we can encourage with our students to open doors as well as become involved with, as a family.  The Forest of Reading name is perfect in inspiring the image of children starting a lifelong journey into a world of possibilities, and reminding teachers to continue to read in their spare time as well.

 

Media Sites for Students: www.cbc.ca/kids

Throughout the past year, particularly online, I am always looking for ways to include meaningful media content for my students. While researching coding, I came across content on www.cbc.ca/kids that I found very useful in terms of the following categories:

*Articles: the content is kid friendly in terms of the language and includes serious topics in a way that doesn’t get into graphic details (such as reconciliation). The students enjoyed seeing examples of technology around the world and there are many topics that are searchable, from “Arts” to multicultural celebrations. Plus, you know that the site is reputable with its content which is important for kids nowadays to assess the accuracy of their digital sources. There are many Canadian focused articles as well as content from around the world.

*Videos and Quizzes/polls: if you are looking for a more interactive experience, search through various topics and find mini questionnaires like “would you rather” and multiple choice trivia. Last year one student was so excited about the video game quiz he called over his dad on the Meet and they both had a blast playing along with their “old school” and “Gen Z” knowledge.

*Games: there are a variety of simple computer games that don’t require downloading or apps that students even young primaries can navigate: in fact, we explore this every week with the online kindergarten class. The games are organized by categories such as puzzles or strategy and even have a three star rating system for students to communicate their thoughts. We also used the games in coding to discuss how simple they would be to create. There are even seasonal selections for different celebrations, including non-denominational ones such as build a digital snowman. Once again, the games are safe in terms of content, lack of needing to sign in with an account which is sometimes an issue with finding internet games online.

If I could change one thing about the site, it is that there doesn’t appear to be a French language option to include students from the FSL program. But all in all, this is a great resource for students of all elementary grades (and a good resource to have on hand in the event of an emergency supply day, or an afternoon where students need some down time while still following the curriculum before the break).

Point of View

This month, we are exploring different points of view through reading and writing a variety of texts. This “big idea” has many possibilities for critical thinking and cross-curricular integration with Media Literacy, Social Studies, Science, Visual Arts, Music and Drama.

In my Grade 2 class, we have used point of view to explore issues of accessibility, anti-Black racism, Indigenous sovereignty and homophobia. Here are some of the texts that Kindergarten-Grade 8 educators can use when learning on-line and in class:

William’s Doll
During Gender Splendour Week, we read “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotov, to explore gender stereotypes and homophobia. We also watched a video from the movie, “Free to Be You and Me” that sings the story as a song. “William’s Doll” is about a boy who wants a doll to play with, but he is told that he cannot have a doll because he is a boy.

Young children receive powerful messages from family, media, clothing and toy stores about what is expected of “boys” and “girls.” These binaries reinforce heterosexism, and often cause harm and exclude students who do not fit into these boxes. It is important to give children the opportunity to name, question, and challenge these gender binaries, and create space for more possibilities.

Before reading “William’s Doll”, I asked students to share their ideas about what it means to be a “boy” and a “girl.” We talked about what a “stereotype” is and how these ideas might not include everyone. Students easily made connections to their own personal experiences of shopping, and described how different products are sorted and sold, (e.g., pink Kinder Eggs for girls). After reading, we used a graphic organizer to support our ideas with evidence from the text.  Then, students wrote about different points of view expressed in the text.  

Of Course They Do!
On the International Day of Pink, we continued to have courageous and critical conversations about how schools can be more inclusive, and how we can take action as allies. After reading texts such as, “Of Course They Do! Boys and Girls Can Do Anything” by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol, and “10,00 Dresses” by Marcus Ewert, students talked about their experiences of being told they couldn’t do something because of their perceived gender. For example, boys with long hair shared their experiences of being challenged in the washroom. We focussed our discussion on how we might respond to questions and/or suggestions that we don’t belong. We used Drama and role-play to practice naming and responding to behaviour.

Hey, Little Ant!
“Hey, Little Ant” by Hannah Hoose and Phillip Hoose, is a story about a kid who is about to squish an ant. The story is told from two different points of view. On each page, we hear the voice of the kid and a response from the ant. The story ends with a question, which is a great prompt for discussion and writing, “What do you think that kid should do?”

This story is a great opportunity to explore empathy and compassion, and students’ relationships with animals. “Hey, Little Ant” also includes a song, which can enrich the text. After reading, students wrote about the different points of view in the story, and then wrote about their own point of view.

The Tree
“The Tree” written by Dana Lyons is written from the point of view of a tree in the Pacific Rainforest. After writing and sharing the story, the author learned from elders of the Lummi Nation, the original inhabitants of San Juan islands, that he has written the tree’s song. Every tree has a song.

We listened to “The Tree,” drew pictures and shared stories about trees that are important to us. Then, students wrote their own poem or song from the point of view of a tree. We used sentence prompts, such as: “I live….” “I hear….” “I have seen….” “My favourite season is…..” “I wonder….” “I hope…” I found a video of Dana Lyons singing the text as a birthday present for Jane Goodall. I hope we will be able to turn our text into songs!

The Council of All Beings
I am always inspired by my teacher friends! Maria Vamvalis is currently working on her PhD, and shares her learning about climate justice with Natural Curiosity as a mentor coach. We took a course together at OISE, and Maria shared how she has used “The Council of All Beings” to allow students to connect with land and speak in-role from the point of view of other life forms, including animal, plant or natural feature, (desert, forest, etc). This article written by Joanna Macy describes the process.

I am learning that the purpose of the Council is to listen and give voice to land, which includes animals, plants, air, water, soil, etc. The process honours our shared responsibilities and relationships with more-than-humans, and helps us to remember and reconnect with land. It requires guidance and thoughtful facilitation. It sounds like a powerful teaching and learning experience.

Joanna Macy explains: “The Council unfolds in three consecutive stages. First, the beings address each other, telling of the changes and hardships they have experienced.” The second stage creates space for humans to hear from the more-than human beings directly. A few students remove their mask and are invited into the centre of the Circle to listen. The third stage of the council involves the other beings offering gifts to the humans. “As ritual guide I might cue this stage by saying, “Many humans now realize the destruction they are causing; they feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the forces they have unleashed. Yet our fate is in their hands. O fellow-beings, what strengths of ours can we share with them, what powers can we lend them?” With this invitation, the beings in the Council begin spontaneously to offer their own particular qualities and capacities. After speaking, each leaves their mask and steps in the centre as humans to receive gratitude and gifts. There is opportunity for singing, dancing and release, as well as reflection and stillness.

I think “The Council of All Beings” would enrich any Earth Day celebrations, and/or National Indigenous Peoples Day. I believe it could be adapted for on-line learning, and would be a powerful collaborative and creative experience for all members of the school community, including families.

People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus Pandemic
I have a new subscription to “Rethinking Schools”, which is an excellent magazine about social justice education. In the Winter 2020-2021 issue, Caneisha Mills describes how she organized a tribunal with her Intermediate students to explore responsibility for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Some of those on trial include: Mother Nature, Racism, the HealthCare industry, Capitalism, and the U.S. government. You can read the article, “Who’s to Blame?” here.

Caneisha Mills honours student voice and engages students in a collaborative and critical process of exploring the global pandemic from different points of view.  She honours student voice, and creates a brave space for students to “grapple with profound social injustice” and imagine different possibilities. Mills explains that the “most important part of this lesson involves students writing a 10-point program — inspired by the Black Panthers’ 10-point program, adopted in 1966 — on how to prevent crises like this in the future.”

The article includes a clear teaching plan and provides information for educators who might want to implement the People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus, on or off-line. “This people’s tribunal begins with the premise that a heinous crime is being committed as tens of millions of people’s lives are in danger due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19. But who — and/or what — was responsible for this crime? Who should be held accountable for the spread of the virus and its devastating impact?”

The teacher plays the role of the prosecutor. Students are assigned different roles, and the “defendants” are supported to work in small groups to develop a defense against the charges outlined in the indictments. A jury is selected, and each group shares their arguments at the trial. There is only one rule: They may plead guilty, but they must accuse at least one other defendant of being responsible. After the jury deliberates and explains their verdict, all students are invited to reflect on the experience. Then, they use their voice to demand and create change.

The tribunal sounds like a meaningful learning opportunity for older students to explore different points of view. I am curious to think about how this might be adapted for younger students.

In your point of view, what are some powerful texts and/or dramatic conventions that you have used in the classroom and on-line?  Please add them to the Comments below.



“Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.” M. Rukeyser

April is National Poetry Month.

During this challenging year, poetry has supported critical and courageous conversations, offered some comfort and hope, while honouring pain and anger. Here are some examples of what this work has looked like and sounded like in our Grade 2 classroom:

Igniting the Spark: Amanda Gorman
The whole world was inspired by the poetry and brilliance of Amanda Gorman in January 2021. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb” filled us with light during this time of “never-ending shade”. Her story about overcoming a speech impairment reminded us all to believe in ourselves and find our voice. I shared her poem and her TEDTalk with my students, and she was the spark for our inquiry about the power and possibilities of poetry.

Power Poems for Small Humans:
I have reached for poems during difficult times when I could not find the words to express my feelings. Jillian Christmas is a Vancouver-based slam-poet, who is an organizer and activist in the arts community. I have shared her poem, “On Honouring Anger” in response to racial violence and injustice that continues to impact students, staff and families, and requires educators to take action.

This poem, and other powerful voices can be found in an anthology called “Power Poems for Small Humans”, published by Flamingo Rampant. Flamingo Rampant is a micro-press that publishes children’s books that center and celebrate stories of kids taking action, disability pride, 2SLGBTQ+ voices, racial justice and more. Please check out their website and bring their books into your classroom library!

Yesterday, I Had The Blues:
When we were learning remotely, I used the Poll feature on ZOOM to check-in with students. One day, the question was: “How are you feeling today? Choose a colour to describe how you are feeling.” Students were invited to analyse the data, and share why they chose the colour. Then, we talked about different ways that people experience colour. We listened to the story, “Yesterday, I Had the Blues” by Jeron Ashford Frame, and made text-to-self connections.

Next, we read selected poems from “Hailstones and Halibut Bones” by Mary O’Neill. I love this book, but it is important to preview the poems, because there is one poem that uses outdated language, and needs to be unpacked or revised. Each poem begins with the same question, (e.g. What is Orange?) and uses the five senses to describe colour in poetic ways. I created a graphic organizer, and students were invited to write their own Colour Poems.

Pink!
On the International Day of Pink, we had a discussion about how some people think that pink is a “girl’s colour.” We talked about where these ideas come from, and how these gender rules might make people feel excluded. We created a poster using post-it notes to capture our ideas, in the style of a JAMBoard. Then, we wrote our own “What is Pink?” poems and displayed them in the hallway. 


Quick as a Cricket:
After reading, “Quick as a Cricket” by Audrey Wood, students wrote poems using the template, “I’m as ____________as a ___________.” This was a fun and accessible way to learn about the poetic device of similes. A simile compares two different things using “like” or “as” in an interesting or unexpected way.

Gratitude Poems:
After reading several poems from a collection called “ThankU: Poems of Gratitude”, we wrote our own “Dear Water,” poems. Students used the following sentence prompts to write a letter to our relative: “I love….I think….I will….I hope….You are….” On World Water Day, we read our letters to each other in the Rainbow Garden and talked about what we value, and how we might protect water. 



Splish! Splash! Splat!
One rainy day, we brainstormed different sounds that water makes. Then, we learned about Concrete poems, which are poems that take the shape of the subject that they are describing. Students chose a shape and wrote a poem about water. 



Respond and Rebuild:
We will continue to explore poetry, self-expression and identity by writing an “I am Me….” poem. This lesson plan is from www.welcomingschools.org and can also be found in ETFO’s newest resource, Respond and Rebuild CRRP Lesson Plans. I am looking forward to integrating movement and choral reading to this work.

What are your favourite poems or poets to explore in the classroom?



G.L.O.W.

GLOW (Gay, Lesbian or Whatever) is an extracurricular club for Grades 6-8 students to explore issues related to the 2SLGBTQ+ community and their allies. We have been meeting on-line every week since April 2020. Before COVID-19, we would meet during lunch at school. GLOW is a proud and positive space for students and educators to share their own stories, ask questions, make art, and take action. It is always the highlight of my week.

There is extensive data to hold schools accountable and support students who may identify as 2SLGTBQ+. Many of these students continue to be bullied or harassed by their peers, and pushed out of school. It is critical that educators respond to homophobic or transphobic comments and actions that are harmful, and to teach diverse stories of 2SLGBTQ+ communities with pride.  There are several resources provided at the end of this blog.

WHERE DO I BEGIN?
You don’t need permission to start a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance). In fact, if a student requests a GSA, many schools are required to provide one. The first thing I did was reach out to my Grade 7/8 teacher friend, Tia Chambers. I asked her to share the role with me because everyone needs an ally. It didn’t take long before other staff wanted to join GLOW. This year, we are sharing the role of co-host with Kindergarten teacher, Nikki Kovac.

We start every meeting with an introduction, which includes our pronouns, and we answer a question. This helps us to build relationships and honour who we are. If there is a new member, we will review our GLOW Agreements. These agreements were generated together in our first meeting and describe what we hope for and what we need in order to feel comfortable.

After making our agreements, we invited students to share music that they like and we created a playlist. Some of these songs are performed by 2SLGBTQ+ performers, and other songs just make us feel good. We asked everyone for ideas about what they wanted to discuss, and the type of activities they might want to do. It is important for educators to amplify student voice, listen and respond with respect. Inspired and informed by the students’ ideas and questions, we prepare activities and questions to guide our discussion every week.

WHAT HAPPENS AT GLOW?
Here is an example of what we discussed at our GLOW meetings in February. As Valentine’s Day was approaching, I wanted to challenge the heteronormative narrative about love and romantic relationships that are reinforced by the media, and create space for more possibilities. I thought that we might discuss these issues and create our own Valentine’s Day cards with inclusive messages.

Our check-in question was about love. I asked: “What or Who do you love?” Then, I used these guiding questions: “What are the messages about love and relationships that you notice on television or in movies?” “Who do they include or exclude?” “How do these messages reinforce a “norm” about relationships that is heterosexual?” “How might we make Valentine’s Day more inclusive?” We also talked about self-love and different ways we might care for ourselves.

I shared a few examples of Valentine’s Day cards that provide a counternarrative, and I invited everyone to design their own inclusive Valentines. We talked about word play, and how Valentines often include puns and rhyme. As we drew, we listened to songs on our playlist. The following week, one of the students shared a poem that they had written about love that was inspired by our discussion. It filled my heart with pride.

RESOURCES
ETFO has created many resources to support educators who want to create brave and inclusive spaces in our schools.

My teacher friend, Melissa Major, has written two excellent articles in VOICE magazine, which can spark meaningful discussions with your students:

How to Become a Super Rad Gender Warrior reminds us that all members of a school community have the right:

To be free from discrimination and harassment.
To have a safe and inclusive learning environment.
To use the bathroom or change room they feel is the most appropriate.
To dress in a way that feels right and safe for them.
To be spoken to with their chosen name and gender pronoun.
To be treated with dignity and respect and the recognition that all gender expressions and identities are a normal and healthy part of a spectrum.
To present their gender in different ways at different times

Gender Neutral Language: An Activity for Day of Pink or Any Day explains how educators can use inclusive language to disrupt the gender binary.

Last Spring, I attended an ETFO webinar called “How to start a GSA and support 2SLGBTQ+ during Remote Learning” presented by Toronto teacher, Jordan Applebaum. It was intersectional and inspiring. You can watch the webinar in four parts here:

Be Proactive to Support Trans and LGBTQIA2S POC – Part 1
Be Proactive to Support Trans and LGBTQIA2S POC – ​Part 2​
Be Proactive: How to Start a GSA During Remote Learning – Part 3​​
Be Proactive: How to Start A GSA During Remote Learning – ​Part 4

I have also joined a few Facebook groups to support this work. Recently, I discovered that the Durham District School Board has created Pink Shirt Day and Beyond, a slide deck which is filled with lesson plans to use in the classroom or at your next GLOW meeting.

Shine on!!

 

“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind….”

This term, I had the honour of working with a Master of Arts student in Child Studies and Education, in his first teaching placement. Working in collaboration as a co-learner and co-teacher is a humbling experience. It is always a lot of work, but I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my own practice, and remember what it feels like to be a new educator.

Ishai Buchbinder and I had a lot of fun creating an integrated unit about Wind for the Grade 2 students. This inquiry connects to “Air and Water in the Environment” as students “investigate, through experimentation, the characteristics of air and its uses.” (The Ontario curriculum, Grades 1-8. Toronto: Ontario, Ministry of Education, 2005.) This blog post is a documentation of our learning together.

Where Do I Begin?
Ishai asked me to describe the planning process for developing a series of lesson plans and activities that culminate in a summative assessment task. This year, I am trying to integrate Indigenous perspectives through land education and environmental inquiry. I am also trying to center stories of Black excellence and innovation throughout my pedagogy.

First, I look at the expectations in the Ontario curriculum, think about the “big ideas”, and generate a few guiding questions to support our inquiry. Then, I brainstorm several activities that might help us to explore and investigate our learning goals. Next, I gather resources, including: picture books, songs, videos, real-world examples of innovation and creativity. Then, I think about a summative task that would allow students to have choice and demonstrate their understanding in different ways. Finally, I sequence the learning activities in a way that builds on prior knowledge and connects to new learning, while also being responsive and open to following the interests, needs and questions of the students.

Who Has Seen The Wind?
We started our inquiry with an active game called “When The Big Wind Blows…” and a poem by Christina Rosetti called, “Who Has Seen the Wind?” This poem has been re-imagined as a song, which I learned from an Orff Music workshop. There is a simple ostinato that is layered underneath, and patsched on the lap: “Wind, Wind, Passing By.” We chanted and sang this song outside during our Welcoming Circle, and acknowledged the wind with gratitude.

Knowledge Building:
Ishai shared a riddle with the students: “What takes up the most space but is something that you cannot see?” After solving the riddle, the students shared what they already know about air and wind. Then, we asked the students to generate questions about what they wanted to know, using “I wonder…” inquiry cards.  These activities help to honour student voice and position all of us as co-learners,



During MSI (Math-Science Investigations), I ask students to design and build a structure that is moved by the wind. Desmond made a dragon. Ezra made an airplane. Florence made a forest. Elliot made a structure that is powered by the wind. All of these activities provided diagnostic assessment and helped to guide the next steps in our inquiry journey.



The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
We learned about the true story of William Kamkwamba, who used innovation and creativity to build a windmill out of recycled materials for his community in Wimbe, central Malawi. You can listen to “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” read aloud. You can find William telling his own story by searching his name. His brilliance has also inspired a movie. After reading the book, we made our own paper pinwheels and took them outside. Everyone loved running with the wind and making the blades spin! 

Paper Airplanes!
Ishai told us about the “Super Secret Mysteries of Flight”. We learned about thrust, lift, drag, and gravity, and their relationship to air. Then, he showed us how to make a ten-fold paper airplane. Here are the step-by-step instructions. It was challenging to listen and follow each instruction carefully. After folding our paper airplanes, we tested their flight in the school yard. We experimented by changing the thrust, and adapting the wings to make it fly straight and long. This was another active and fun activity!

Mr. W
After watching this short video, we had an interesting discussion about the main character. I asked: What do we know about this character? How does this character feel at the beginning and the end of the video? What kind of things do we see the character do? Why would they do these things? Who is this character? Why was this video made? This discussion encouraged students to think critically about media texts as part of our learning about Media Literacy.

This video also inspired us to begin writing our own Wind Stories. We used a graphic organizer to organize our ideas using time-order words, (First, Next, Then, Finally). Some students wrote from the perspective of Wind, and others described the movement and impact of wind. We used a collaborative editing and revision process to share our stories and improve our writing.

Testing our Theories:
This year, we are fortunate to be working with Doug Anderson, who is the co-author of Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: The Importance of Indigenous Perspectives in Environmental Inquiry. After learning with Doug in the Rainbow Garden, several students wanted to know more about the relationship between the sun and the wind. Svea asked, “I wonder how the sun makes the wind?” 

We talked about how we might find the answers to our questions. We could: read books, look on the internet, ask someone. After reading a book called “Air”, which explained some facts, Ishai asked how we might test what we learned from the book. The students had different ideas about how we could prove that warm air rises and cold air is heavy. We went outside to find out. The students worked in small groups and used movement to demonstrate how the sun makes the wind. It was a great opportunity to use our bodies to express our understanding.



Learning Through the Arts
As we explored the movement of wind, we read the book, “When I Get Older: The story behind ‘Wavin’ Flag’” by K’naan. We learned that the song was inspired by his grandfather’s poem. K’naan’s family journey story supported many thoughtful discussions about civil war and refugees, settlement and anti-Black racism, how schools might be more welcoming to new families, and the impact of poetry and music to create community.  We listened to the song many times and went outside with fabric “flags” to wave in the wind. We are hoping to choreograph a dance and embody the lyrics, “Love is the answer”.

We also learned about two artists who have created complex wind sculptures that are moved in the wind. We watched a few videos about the work of Theo Jansen and Anthony Howe. The students were mesmerized and inspired by the movement of these beautiful sculptures.

Another song that we learned was “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan. This is a song that we sing every year during Peace Week and on Remembrance Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on the “big ideas” of conflict and justice. In the past, we have written messages of hope and peace on leaves that are released from the third floor window.

This year, our Visual Arts teacher, Shannon Greene, made powerful connections to Treaty Recognition Week. After learning “A Treaty Poem” by Melissa MacLennon and students, Shannon encouraged the students to write promises of peace on paper leaves to keep in the classroom. Copy of Land Acknowledgement and Dish With One Spoon Resource

Squirrel Nests:
As the leaves continued to fall, the students began to notice piles of leaves in the branches. We learned that they were nests made by squirrels, and we started to think about how animals might protect themselves from the wind. We went on a walking excursion to a local park, and Ishai challenged the students to build their own squirrel nests with leaves, sticks and air.

After building with natural materials, we did a “Gallery Walk” and visited all of the squirrel nests. Students were asked to describe one thing that they were proud of and one thing that they might do to improve their nest next time. These “GLOW” and “GROW” comments allowed us to practice self-evaluation, and provided valuable formative assessment.

Finally, it was time to test our squirrel nests. Each student was given fluffy goldenrod seeds to represent the squirrel, which was placed inside the nest. We used straws to simulate the wind, and to test the strength of each structure. Everyone had an amazing experience learning outdoors together!



Wind Machines!
As our final summative task, the students were invited to plan, build and test a structure that can be moved by the wind. Before building, students were encouraged to think about what they had learned about wind and apply their knowledge to their structure. Everyone drew a plan and labelled the materials that they would need. We spent several days in the classroom building and revising our structures, based on descriptive feedback.



On the day that we tested our wind machines, each student had an opportunity to share their structure and make predictions about how it might move. After testing, Ishai conferenced with each student to document their thoughts and ideas about how successful their wind machine had been, and how they might improve their design next time. It requires more time to connect 1:1 with students, but conferencing provides strong summative assessment data, and supports every student to feel successful about their learning.

Journey through Inquiry
Working with a Teacher Candidate was refreshing and reminded me about the importance of play, storytelling and movement in our lesson planning. Throughout our inquiry about Wind, the students were very engaged, and they had multiple opportunities to explore and demonstrate their understanding.  As an experienced educator, I am still learning about how to integrate and make connections across the curriculum in creative ways.  I am also learning that when we trust our students and follow their natural curiosity, the journey through inquiry will be deep, meaningful and fun!

Overwhelming Resources

As we engage in distance/remote/online/emergency learning Educators are being inundated with resources and tools to use in their virtual classrooms.  It isn’t easy to decide which would be most effective and which ones are safe for teachers and students to use.  There is no one size fits all answer to this but there are a few things that I do in order to narrow down my choices of whether or not to use a particular digital tool or resource:

  1.  I search for tools that are designed by Canadian or better yet, Ontario Educators and where possible, data is housed in Canada.
  2. I look at whether or not the tool will still be free after the COVID crisis is over or whether it has always been a free tool.  I honestly don’t mind paying for a tool from the outset but I don’t really like the whole free trial thing.  I also don’t want to pay some kind of a monthly fee.  One time price, please!  I don’t want to love a tool so much while it is free and then have to pay for it when I go back into the classroom.
  3. I look at whether or not it is a one time fee or negative billing.  I won’t give anyone my credit card to start a free trial for a tool.
  4. I search for tools that I know will be supported by my ICT department.  Anything that wants access to email contacts in my school board is a non-starter.
  5. I search for tools that inspire collaboration and creativity.  I’m not one to sign up students for a gaming platform that is really just an engaging math drill.
  6. I look at bang for my buck (even if it is free).  Is it a versatile tool?  Does it allow for different forms of communication?  Can I embed audio and video?  Is there an opportunity for a variety of feedback methods?
  7. I look at the Privacy statement.  Although I am no expert in this, I can generally tell when something has red flags.  Anything that is attached to third party social media platforms like Facebook is a non starter for me.
  8. Right now while there are so many sign ups and passwords for students, I stay away from platforms that want to create student accounts and want information apart from an email.
  9. I look to see if it is a Microsoft or Apple Education certified product?  I know that for the most part, those tools are trustworthy.
  10. I look at user reviews and YouTube tutorials.  I want to know what the pitfalls are of something before I invest time and/or money.

At the end of the day no tool is perfect and few tools are unlikely to meet the specific needs of each and every student in your classroom.  However, I hope that what I do when choosing a tool might guide you to the most effective tools in the over abundance of resources that are floating around out there.

6/194 and cross-curricular life learning

6/194 and cross-curricular life learning.

This blog title could also read, “Why a small fraction means so much to the future?”

I am trying to make sense out of some pretty important numbers that are affecting us. By us, I mean students, their families, and educators. “Us” also means the entire fabric of society that we share and by which we are covered. Since the currently elected government is seeking to tear this fabric apart without regard to the long term social and financial consequences, I thought it would be good to consider this post as a cross-curricular exercise and include social studies along with the math.

Whoa!(Math)

6, the number of days ETFO members have walked on the picket line fighting for public education.
194, the number of days in a given school year that we spend in the classroom making public education incredible.

Now a few more relatable figures.

3/97 or 0.030927835, just a shade over 3%. I had to simplify the fraction. Ironically, it’s the same amount that the government has legislated an offer to 83 000 ETFO, 117 000 educators (OSSTFOECTAAEFO), and 55 000 CUPE education workers in Ontario. Yup! 1% per year over 3 years.

Back to 6/194

That hole in our paychecks from this fight to protect and preserve public education hurts and the offer of 1% per year is unconscionable. Not surprisingly, the government padded their own pockets with 14% and took 7 of the last 12 months off(insert lesson about irony here). Since we’re talking about irony, why not share a real life teachable moment? I’m thinking a critical thinking exercise about the veracity of facts, content, and the credibility of media outlets especially where they originate or how news gets fabricated.

Want another amazing lesson? Check out this thread by @ms_keats This thread offers a wonderfully considerate lesson via Twitter after the MOE suddenly made Reg 274 an issue  during negotiations with ETFO. Sadly, talks broke off, but since education is always their priority, the public can trust that the government was back to work at the bargaining table the next day because they are committed to a deal(Is sarcasm in the curriculum?). Isn’t that what unions and their employers do in good faith in a democratic society?

Wait! What?(Social Studies)

What do you mean the government wasn’t at the bargaining table?! This is a realistic expectation because we are teaching our students(grade 5) that Canada, therefore Ontario is a civilized society governed by lawmakers who are always respectful of the rule of law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? I contend that the current government is engaging in a systemic violation of our Charter Rights as citizens as their thoughtless actions threaten the rights to opportunity in the future of 2 000 000 students and  the collective bargaining rights of 200 000 educators “not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment”. This line from the Charter is not limited to the criminal justice system, and any intentional underfunding of education through ruthless cuts is tantamount to punitive legislation and is contrary to our Charter rights.

If that wasn’t enough to light a legal inferno, then consider that a  6 – 1 Supreme Court of Canada ruling affirmed that collective bargaining rights are human rights, and the role of collective bargaining has “in promoting the core values of “human dignity, equality, liberty, respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy.”” 

I’m sharing the quote below with bolded and underlined main points, if my MPP, the MOE, or the Premier read this;

“the Supreme Court proclaimed labour rights to be human rights, and boldly declared for the first time that collective bargaining is a “constitutional right” supported by the Charter.

So our elected officials who have violated the Charter should now have to face the consequences for their malevolent disregard for the rights of its citizens. Right? I won’t hold my breath as legal cases against governments spend years in the courts. However, we cannot allow our elected officials to rule by decree without accountability to the whole public whom they have sworn to serve.

Civics does not equal civility

When will they pay for selling out the future and for the harm they will inflict to the well-being of the students in our province?  We will not lose count of the lies, the streams of misinformed statements, the factless rhetoric, the accusations, the doubling down, the vilification of our noble profession, and of the requests we have made for them to come to the table and negotiate.

I also contend that the current government is angling its way towards a secondary agenda authored by pernicious profit seekers including publishers and private education providers looking for a piece of the public education pie. These steps do not appear to benefit our students. Our steps on the picket line have shown more to the public of our commitment to excellence than any sound bite, attack, or child care bribe put forth by the government. There is strength in our numbers. 

Come to think of it, I have kept count of the steps I have stepped – 90 000 plus, the waves I have waved to drivers honking in support – 1 000s, the dozens of encouraging conversations conversed on the picket line, and the 3 people who waved with their middle fingers while yelling single syllable words.

It’s my first strike as an educator. Yet, it feels like our current fight against this government’s assault on public education is nothing new. Everyone remembers what Mike Harris and his ilk did in the 90s. The Ford Regime is Harris 2.0 complete with vitriol and misinformation spewing from a cadre of party whipped sychophant proxies acting as media drones du jour. In response, teachers are standing in solidarity together fighting for respect, transparency, and fairness on behalf of all Ontarians who will be directly affected by cuts to education now and in the future.

Teachers believe this so much, that have given up 3% of our wages already. We know that we are part of a world class education system because we work in it everyday. The results speak for themselves which is why it is so frustrating to see people trying to dismantle what is working well.

6/194 is a small fraction especially knowing how teachers, especially in 1997, fought for us. This will mean even more to the students of Ontario who will bear the burden or benefits because of our actions in the future.

Thank you for reading and for sharing on social-media.

Further reading:

This Collective Bargaining Rights Day, Unions Celebrate Wins for All Workers