smashing pumpkin spiced thinking – school edition

I can almost hear it now, the sound of the last pumpkin spiced anything be sold and the leftovers being shipped back to the warehouses for next year. I am positive that the chemicals that make up these products have a half life and will ensure it’s best before date does not expire for another decade or more.

Who buys this stuff? To my knowledge, I do not think anyone in my circle of friends has ever been excited about pumpin spiced goodies and drinks. Cue the relief. Not that there is anything wrong with it. We all go through a curious phase or two in our lives, but once the trance wears off it’s usually back to the status quo.

Have you ever been persuaded to try something that you instantly regretted afterwards? At first, you think you like it because how could all that hype be wrong? Once that fades and the taste kicks in you’re left to be alone with your decision(s). I mean where would we all be without the gift of knowledge regret provides us?

I’ll give you an example: Hammer pants  One of many the blessings of being a certain age is that any evidence of my bad decision making has not been digitally preserved. Case in point with this late 80s fashion craze. I am sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Speaking of good ideas at the time

Starting out as an educator, all of those years ago, I came with my own set of bags packed full of the way that I was going to lead my class. Inside that luggage were many positive, and unfortunately, negative experiences and I was determined to repeat what worked and bury what didn’t. What could possibly go wrong?

What I quickly realized in those first years was there were already several well traveled paths to follow along that started to be seen as ruts rather than pathways to success. I found myself trying to shape my students around the resources in the building rather than the other way around. Things went well, teach, practice, test, and repeat, but it came with a cost. Those lessons never felt like they were relevant to my students. They lacked depth and scope for a number of reasons, some of which are on me as a new teacher, and others because they fell within the “We’ve always done it this way” space.

When my second year rolled around it was easy to follow along the well worn path once more, but instead of proceeding safely along with so many others, I made a decision to wander off to see what else was out there. Don’t get me wrong, I could still see the trail to provide some cardinal directions, but my detours began to provide us all much richer and diverse perspectives. It only took a year to realize that there were many paths to create and pursue that could edify both students and their teachers.

I began to seek out others who wandered off in their spaces and ended up connecting with an insightful and supportive global professional learning network or PLN. All these years later, I am thankful for the connections and kindness that helped me navigate off of what was the norm and around some other ruts that needed avoiding.

Where do I find these amazing folx?

For me, it started out at school board level events and edtech training sessions. It didn’t take long before I joined Twitter when it became a truly global cohort. Yes, Twitter can still be used for good and not evil despite its new owner and legions of misinformed malicious account holders exercising their free speech without facts or accountability. End rant.

I joined weekly discussions via #edchat and then #etmooc and then #CnEdChat to start and started following some of the more experienced and supportive educators on the platform. As time went on, I started a blog called What and Why are Everything to hash out some of my thoughts. Our weekly Q and A discussions on Twitter became sources of great perspective and growth which continue to inhabit my practice to this day. It was almost like I was given permission to be the teacher I wanted to be rather than another educator flattening the well worn path.

What started happening was the democratization of my classroom through student directed learning, Genius Hours, and the use of videos to enhance the scope of my instruction. What better way could there be to bring an expert into the class room with the click of a button rather than read through a text book that had been written years beforehand.

This shift in thinking helped me realize the static and fluid natures of knowledge that we have to balance each day for our students and ourselves. It also moved me past some of my negative experiences as a student. I appreciate how some of the things I went through empowered me not to repeat them just like I would never buy a pair of Hammer pants or pumpkin spiced anything again.

read a little bell before the bell

I love to read. It wasn’t always like that though. After taking a literature heavy course load through high school and university, I swore off the printed word for a spell.

It wasn’t absolute avoidance or aversion. I did read the paper from time to time, although selectively. When I took a job in broadcasting during the early 90s, my self imposed reading embargo was over as a boatload of reading came with my job as newsreader, DJ, and local reporter. Even though reading was a key part of those workdays, there was not much desire to do so outside of work.

Fast forward to 2007. 

I’m back in university trying to finish a degree that started in 1984. The interweb had become the main source for reams of digital texts and other content from online libraries and newly prescribed course materials. Once again reading became more like work rather than a daily getaway and reward. I struggled to read anything more than what was required. 

As such, it took some time to find a genuine motivation. About 2 months in, it began to change when by some bit of fortune, the text(s) started became so much more relevant to my life as a 40 something adult. I’d like to call this my mid-life renaissance, but fear it maybe considered a bit to melodramatic. Whether it was a personal essayist, scientist, or philosopher it was as if reading no longer felt like assigned work, but rather as tools  intended to strengthen my heart and mind as an educator. It’s 2022 and my reading game is still going strong. 

Teaching Community by bell hooksThis leads me to my most recent read Teaching CommunityA Pedagogy of Hope by iconic educator bell hooks.  Although it took me a bit of penny pinching to add to my collection, it is worth every dollar. I can’t wait to share this text with others who, like me, are on a journey to create inclusive communities in their classrooms.

Please note: I am not naive enough to think that one book could be the lever that moves all barriers and mountains, but I truly believe that the ideas in this text can be leveraged to make a difference when and where they are applied in our classrooms. Be advised that this book contains much “thought fuel” and plenty of feelings too. 

The greatest feelings I had throughout reading this text were this strange sense of acknowledgement and validation. I may have thought and felt many of the ideas shared, but hooks has organized and articulated them so perfectly and has gifted us with an opportunity to reflect, respond, and put community into action. 

I guess what spoke the loudest across the chapters was an emphasis on disrupting the status quo through compassion and community in education. Reading Teaching Community encapsulated my goals as an educator in a personal and professional manner. I love how hooks puts it,
“…the most powerful learning experience we can offer students…is the opportunity to be fully and compassionately engaged with learning.” Creating this space requires 3 things; commitment, courage, and compassion. None will work unless combined with the others. Notice how curriculum wasn’t mentioned? As @callmemrmorris often reminds us via Twitter. “We teach students not curriculum.”

hooks continues, “Refusing to make a place for emotional feelings in the classroom does not change the reality that their presence overdetermines the conditions where learning can occur.” We have to see our students where they are and not in the spaces we want them to fit within. We have to acknowledge that everyday comes with a raft of emotions that rise and fall. Teachers need to be prepared to accept the highs and lows that happen at the speed of learning. Whether a student is sad, anxious, joyful, angry or a combination they are showing us that they do not feel emotionally safe in that moment and will struggle to be truly present as a result. How we choose to respond to them in those moments will determine whether they feel seen and a part of the community or like an outsider looking in. 

hooks also shares, “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” This is probably the hardest space to occupy as educators. We were conditioned through past experiences and pedagogy to be the centre of our classrooms in the past. However, what was thought to have worked back in the day, was really only a means of perpetuating dominant culture in order to maintain power over students rather than respecting and sharing power with them and empowering them as learners. 

Can you tell that I love this book? hooks also discusses the intersectionality of identity and identity in academia. She writes with clarity and candour that challenged my perspectives while affirming them at the same time. This is why I share that everyone should read a little bell before the bell and I know this will be one of those texts to read over and over as my career continues. 

Happy page turning.

tracked and filed

My reports are completed. One hundred and ninety (190+/-) days of teaching, tasking, note taking, tracking, and now OSR filing are completed. If you are like me, then this time of year seems bittersweet.

Bitter because the act of writing report cards can be onerous. I am the first to admit that I love teaching, but hate putting a mark on things. To me, each time that happens creates a rift in the educational continuum. Regardless of rubrics, success criteria, and descriptive feedback, like on my most recent set of reports, the eyes of the reader will only be trained to the letter or percentage grade earned.

The time accumulating data, sorting through work, providing feedback is such a big part of our jobs. Yet, all this work, collaboration
and relationship building with students is distilled to a single letter or percentage grade.

When it came to the hybrid and emergency online learning many students struggled to complete work efficiently and effectively which would have been completed otherwise without issue in the classroom. Funny how computer tabs giveth and taketh away from one’s attention and abilities to learn as well as in person. In many ways, the past 2 and half years have shown us the value of being in our classrooms regardless of what consultants might have sold the powers that be in the current government.

Students received copious amounts of formative feedback that the summative result was an earned and culmination of their hard work and growth. Imagine if we could do that at every grade level. Perhaps that is the luxury I have had as a grade 4/5 teacher these past two years. Since there are no provincial assessments to ruin students lives in these years, they can really focus on the sheer joy of learning, making mistakes, unlearning, and trying again. I know this year has been a year of confidence building as much as it has been curriculum delivery, but it is important that our assessments match our students needs as their purpose is to improve student learning.

I am afraid we are still being forcibly blinded by a system incapable of seeing the brilliance of its youth each and every time we file another set of report cards. “We’ve always done it this way.” cannot be the next cliché in any of our minds if we truly want to support our students.

Reflecting on assessment at this time of year needs to be the call to action for each of us for this coming September. How can you create a space to track and file the learning that occurs in your classroom? What will be the first thing you change? How will you create the safe place for a do over or a retest or a late submission? How will you assess the strengths of your students’ abilities and needs?

Happy summer.

Can the Integration of Students’ Lived Experiences in your Teaching Practices Impact Student Success?

I believe that there is a profound connection between student learning and student lived experiences and the ability of educators to embed who students are with what they are learning. I can vividly recall, as a young learner, the teachers who were most impactful in my learning. They showed genuine care for my well-being and often went above and beyond academic support,  in unconventional ways, to understand my needs, including my personal challenges based on my lived  circumstances, and to support me in all aspects of life. I can  honestly say that the relationships those teachers established with me directly helped to shape me into the person I  am today. Knowing who your students are, their identities, their barriers, their abilities and their lived experiences allow educators to create the conditions for dynamic learning opportunities that are culturally relevant and impactful to student learning.

What do experts say? 

Scholars Gloria Ladson-Billings and Geneva Gay have spent decades at the forefront of researching Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogies. Their findings have been clear: “integrating a student’s  background knowledge and prior home and community experiences into the curriculum and the teaching and learning experiences that take place in the classroom are paramount to meeting the needs of all  students”.

Furthermore, research shows that learning needs of students from diverse backgrounds are not being met equitably in classrooms across the system. For example, in the current age of destreaming mathematics for grade nine students across the system, it is important that teachers are well versed and equipped with the necessary tools and strategies to support all learners in an academic classroom. When we acknowledge students’ cultural experiences and prior knowledge, we are better positioned to strengthen their ability to see themselves as doers of mathematics, language, science, history, art and so on. They are further empowered to interpret the world around them with a critical social justice lens.  

Activity

The “Where I’m From” poetry activity is a great strategy you can use to have students explore their cultural identities and values, to foster collaboration with their peers, to create a positive classroom environment and to learn about students’ lived experiences. This activity should be culturally relevant to the students in the classroom and  intentionally structured to engage all learners at multiple entry points. This will help to foster a sense of community in the classroom and help the teacher understand who the students are and how to embed their real-time lived experiences into the teaching and learning process.

My 2 Cents

I think teachers should spend the first week or two of each school year engaging students in conversations about their (the students) own identity and lived experiences and the intersectionality of their identity. This would allow students to feel comfortable and confident in sharing who they are, as well as their thoughts and opinions, with others in the classroom. Try to create a brave and nurturing space where students feel comfortable talking about their racial background, their gender identity, and their preferred name. You can use culturally relevant books, videos, posters etc. that can lead to those discussions where students are invited and encouraged to talk about their own racial, gender and cultural  identities. Teachers can then incorporate students’ identities and lived experiences into the instructional planning and teaching program. 

Whether it’s a math activity, collaborative inquiry in history or a STEM project, it is important that teachers provide opportunities for students to reflect on their interests, their passions and how they see themselves within the development of the task. Use culturally relevant and responsive resources that reflect student identities, interests and lived experiences. Providing opportunities for small group discussions and descriptive feedback will help students make meaningful connections to that task and to their real-time lived experiences. Educator’s willingness to share their own identity with students, their own experiences in school as a young learner and  how their experiences inform and influence their decision-making process are effective strategies in building strong relationships with students that engage them in embedding their own lived experiences into their learning. If we truly believe in developing young minds, creating strong leaders and critical thinkers then we must create the space for that to happen within the classroom. When we let go of the notion that we are the holder of knowledge in the classroom, we create opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate leadership, to become critical thinkers and to advocate for justice and social change.

SERT= (joy + journey) x job

Fall 2021 marks the start of my 5th year as a co-SERT (Special Education Resource Teacher). Please, no gifts. Although, you can read on if you’re feeling generous?

2021 is also the first year that I finally feel comfortable in the position. Up until now, I’ve felt competent, somewhat confident, but never comfortable. If your school is like mine, there is a lot going on in SERTLandia as I fondly call it, and a lot at stake. Thankfully, I have been really blessed to have a patient and savvy mentor to work with throughout this time. There haven’t been many days when I didn’t need her wisdom, experience, and support to keep me on track while growing in the role. 

First, some background info

I never wanted to be a SERT. I initially took the course so I could be more adept in my work with students in the classroom. After completing Level 1, I figured a little more wouldn’t hurt so I enrolled in Pt 2. Did you know that many school boards offer their own AQ courses, and as luck would have it, my board provided an affordable option for staff. ETFO does too. The learning, although difficult to keep up with while teaching fulltime was worth it in resources, stories, and deeper understandings about how to truly support students whether they were identified or not in my classroom. Once Pt 1 and 2 were done, I retreated back to my comfort zone and began to apply ‘the learning‘. Or so I thought. 

“I will quit if I ever have to be a SERT.”

I actually said that to a superintendent during a conversation over needing her signature on an application for my SERT Specialist(pt 3). I know, as well, that the role of SERT looked different from school to school and board to board based on a number of things such as allocation of resources (human and financial). I know that many schools have 1 SERT lifting the weight for an entire community as well. So I count myself lucky to work in a team environment.

My ‘never’ was now a yes, but what I didn’t factor into that impetuously made statement was how the experience and knowledge gained from parts 1 and 2 began to take hold in such tangible ways in my classroom. My classroom management improved along with my ability to differentiate more for students who struggled but were otherwise not identified. I learned the value of growth plans and asking for help. Suddenly, it made perfect sense to go for my specialist to finish the learning I had started. It was nothing short of an incredible experience. Yet, I still did not have my heart or mind set on becoming a SERT. I did have some fun writing my own IEP with accommodations though. I think every teacher should do this at least once in their career.

SERT certification in hand, I retreated to the safety and comfort of my classroom once again. With new knowledge and perspectives in the tool box, things seemed to click even more. Throughout the entirety of the 3 AQ courses for Special Education Specialist I developed an even deeper respect for the SERT team in my schools. I witnessed the wonders that they worked everyday and the students who they supported. They made it look so easy, but I saw how much work they put in each day. I struggled to see myself in their shoes.

Qualified, but terrified

I was so terrified of the responsibilities, the paperwork, and the meetings that seemed endemic to the job. I love being in the classroom. I also feared making mistakes and letting students slip through the cracks. I was convinced that being an ally was a great way to support the awesome SERTs in my schools. However, the more I learned, the more I was able to apply outside of the classroom to help student teachers and fellow educators. Then the call came with an offer to be a co-SERT. 

New school. New Role. What was I thinking? 

As I have shared in past posts, I am a huge proponent of educators switching schools to explore new teaching opportunities and to stretch outside of their comfort zones. I believe that moves to new schools open educators up to new learning experiences and provide excellent ways to learn from others. This can lead to discomfort as well, but that is usually where the best growth happens for you personally and professionally. As a result, in 2017 I started teaching at the 4th school of my 12 year career – so far. In each case, I did not have a single reason to leave such wonderful colleagues and students behind, but for no other reason than to learn more. 

I can clearly recall the disorientation that came at the pace of SERT life and trying to balance out my instructional obligations those first weeks. I questioned whether my decision to join a new school was going to coming back to bite me. Thankfully, a supportive admin, co-SERT, and staff alleviated most of that stress. I wanted to do a good job, but I wasn’t even sure what that looked like. That was how new it all felt to me. That meant a lot of silent observation followed by a lot of questions. By October that first year, things seemed much clearer. Clearer, yet not clear. 

Fastforward to 2021

100s of IEPs, growth plans, IPRCs, SEA claims, academic tests, in-school meetings, student support sessions, teacher consultations, CPI calls, and parent convos later have all contributed to a very incredible set of insights into the needs of learners. I am not sure whether I will be a SERT in the future or not, but I will never regret taking the AQs or this job. They have been incredible tools in my growth and practice as an educator. My experiences as a SERT have been transformational and I wouldn’t go back in time and talk myself out of this opportunity even if I could. *  

So whether you dip your toe in the water and do SpEd Pt 1 or dive in for a 5 year swim, I encourage you all to take join me. The water is fine. 

If you would like to share your own journey about becoming a SERT or if you want to chat more about becoming a SERT please add a comment below and I’ll pass it on to my mentor. She still has all of the answers.  

* Well I might go back and buy some shares in Tesla, but that is a story for another dimension.

 

Mentoring Moments: Importance of Our Names

I always wanted to write why the name each of us are given is important to consider. Each year we have the privilege as an educator to touch and impact families as we teach their children. I emphasize as a teacher we teach children that belong to many cultures and backgrounds…As a teacher we have so many opportunities to reflect on pronunciation of names, spelling of names and the chance to talk about each individual story behind the name that we are given. As we celebrate World Teacher Day this month reflect on the privilege we hold as teachers to embrace diversity, be inclusive and bring about change in the education system that we work for towards a better future for all.

This blog starts with you getting to know me a bit better as an Educator in Ontario. Nilmini is my middle name- it was given to me by my parents because “Nil” in Sinhala means the colour Blue. “Mini” in Sinhala translates into “Gem”…Nilmini means a Blue Gem a precious stone, and important name that I was given. I love it…I never really thought about how when I was born the white part of my eyes had grey and blue tones….Moreover, now as an educator I reflect on why my name holds a special place in my heart since it is also apart of my heritage the beautiful country I was born in Sri Lanka before I immigrated to Canada with my family as a child.

“Each year we have the privilege as an educator to touch and impact families as we teach their children.” @NRatwatte

Ask your students about their Name Stories

As an educator there is no better way to build a trusting relationship than to ask students about who they are so you can connect it to the curriculum that is being taught each year.

  • Build in lessons through out the year to get to know your students names
  • Their heritage
  • Their traditions
  • Call students by their names – real names
  • Don’t change them since they are long
  • Do give them pride and ownership in using their own name

Some Books that can help you start the conversation about Names

Name Jar

I love using this book to discuss the importance of keeping our language cultural name and customs. The book helps us talk about inclusion practises in a school setting and importance of feeling belonging.

Chrysanthemum

No better book for me as a teacher since my name is very long and I go by my middle name Nilmini that is a family tradition.

They call me Number One

A book I start the conversation with about the importance of making students feel welcome when learning about the First Nations Peoples of Canada and the Residential School System.

Growth Mindset to Teaching

I encourage you as an educator to embrace the differences and not shorten names but call students by their real names to give them respect for their identity. Names are apart of each individual identity since they are interconnected to who we are, our cultural heritage or our customs.

  • Ask Questions
  • Encourage sharing
  • Embrace the Learning

In my culture we have a “letter sound” that is given to us when we are born according to our horoscope and that is the sound that we use to name each child according to be prosperous in our lives. These traditions carry with us over the generations because they are meaningful and they encourage customs that hold our heritage over the centuries close to our hearts.

Reflection Question: Think about why your name is important; write down your name story that you can share with your student during a lesson and courageous conversation.

Yours in Education,

Nilmini

Ditch Tests – Do Projects Instead!

As the year winds down and you start to think about next year, I have something I want you to consider: get rid of tests.

No, seriously. Forget about them.

When I first started teaching, I, too, used tests. After all, that’s what my experience was: finish a unit, do a test to demonstrate your learning, move on to the next unit. I even did that thing that my own teachers had done where I worded questions in specific ways to try and “trick” students. I told myself that this was a way to make sure they were attending to the questions, really paying attention in class, really knew the material.

Is that true, though?

As I learned more about effective assessment and practice, I started to see how wrong that was. What are we really assessing when we ask students to memorize facts? Complete tests within a set timeframe, inducing unnecessary stress? Give them one chance to show their learning, in one set way, without allowing for student choice or different ways for students to show their learning?

(As an aside, my most hated kind of test is a spelling test.)

I got rid of tests in my teaching several years ago and I have no regrets. This decision has led to a better understanding of students’ needs and learning, higher student engagement, and a more fun classroom all-around.

So what do I do instead? 

P R O J E C T S.

There are so many reasons why I love projects.

  • The possibilities of what you create are nigh endless.
  • You can easily provide multiple options to students.
  • Expectations for the project can be tailored to individual students’ programs and needs.
  • Projects are versatile and easy to adapt on the fly if necessary.
  • Cross-curricular opportunities abound.
  • Projects can be individual or collaborative in nature.
  • It’s easy to integrate technology into your plans. 

What kinds of projects do I use for assessment?

For Grade 4/5 Science, I’ve used Minecraft: Education Edition to have students create model habitats and human organ systems to demonstrate what they had learned. In previous years, I’ve also had students create new animals (inspired by the book Scranimals) and create a habitat that would respond to their needs.

For Drama, Art, and Language, I’ve had students create stop motion animation and puppet shows where they have to think about the backgrounds, character design, sound effects, storyboards.

For Social Studies, students have created museums with artifacts from early societies, explaining their importance and history while acting as tour guides for visitors.

For Math, students have created their “dream home” with set parameters for maximum perimeter and area. At times, I’ve also extended this into financial literacy and planning by giving them resources and asking them to decorate their home within a certain budget.

For Grade 6 Science and Language, students have created dioramas of key moments in stories read in class and incorporated circuitry and working switches into their pieces. (These were extremely cool and some of my absolute favourite projects to date. So many design challenges to overcome. So many creative solutions. So much perseverance!)

For Language and Art, students have created graphic novels of fractured fairy tales, incorporating narrative elements and elements of design into their work. 

Like I said: the possibilities are nigh endless. Often, students will find ways to adapt and change the project in exciting ways I hadn’t thought of before. I can then take their ideas forward into future years.

Using projects as often as I do isn’t without its downsides, of course. Projects take a LOT of time, so you’ll want to be prepared for that. You need to be clear about what your expectations are so that students don’t get too far off track, either. Providing a list of steps for students to follow is helpful, especially with set “check in” points where you meet with them to see how things are going.

One key thing you’ll want to have in place before you dive into project-based learning is a routine around what students can do if they have finished their work. I’ve found that students tend to take different amounts of time to complete their work, some groups finishing quickly while others still have days ahead of them. You’ll want to know what the finished groups will move onto while waiting for others to finish (and no, it shouldn’t just be extra work).

Also, projects tend to make your classroom look a mess. I’ve embraced the chaos. My classroom is never tidy.

Every year, I ask my class what their favourite things were that we did in class. Every year, they mention projects. They love them. They love the creativity, the flexibility, the collaboration.

Even if you don’t completely get rid of tests in your classroom, try some projects, alright? It’s worth it. Even when the projects don’t work out the way you expected and you can’t use them to assess what you thought you were assessing (which happens sometimes!) it’s still a worthwhile venture.

If ever you need ideas for projects, I’m here. I’m happy to share. I do so many of them.

If you already do lots of project-based learning, what are your favourite things that you’ve done?

Some days I don’t like teaching

The above title is not a lie, but it hasn’t always been like this. I have no intentions on adding on more unlikeable days either, even while there are forces beyond my control always at work. I am seeking to understand how and why it feels this way?

Prior to January 2020, it would have been easy to count the number of bad days I have had  over 11 years of teaching on one hand – that includes the Laurel Broten years as MOE. Okay, 2 hands #FireLecce. Sadly, a year and a third later, I am using the segments of my fingers too.* I am sure that this admission probably mirrors what many in our profession are feeling whether in class or in virtual school settings. For the sake of this post, I will stay in my lane and write for myself with the knowledge that this is common ground. 

Not that my students would ever notice, but there are numerous days when I find it hard to like what it takes to facilitate instruction of any sort. I am struggling to find any of the profound and prevalent joy that naturally occurs in the in-person classrooms in which I am privileged to teach. While emergency online education has occasional moments of brilliance, they seem more like faded flashes of light than beacons of lasting inspiration lighting the way forward. I perish the thought that this becomes acceptable in education beyond these “extreme and exceptional” circumstances. 

These moments pass through our cold screens as quickly as posts on a social media feed. Lately, it seems as if students have become conditioned to seeking out fleeting moments of happiness/joy while on-line – something akin to the addictive need for instant gratification. They need to know the answers now, and don’t want to wait for them. Are you noticing this happening in your lockdown learning spaces?

At a time when most answers are available to learners by simply opening another tab or pointing an app at a screen, it is hard for students to get excited about “the learning” when it comes without a healthy struggle or a need to problem solve. By being able to get what they need without any demand on their intellect other than Google skills, students are missing out on some deeply foundational learning right now. The issue comes when they are asked to apply some of this instant knowledge to something different that can’t be searched. 

At first, I wondered whether it was the type of questions I was asking. Were the answers googleable? Teachers can fall into that trap really easily, but it can also be avoided by asking students to evaluate and infer as part of their responses rather than to regurgitate the who, what, when, and where answers. I am a why and how guy when it comes to asking questions so most of the literal variables in questioning are out. I suggest reframing questions to help students respond to content in ways that ask for their opinions while using the lesson or text to reference and support their own ideas.

Then I wondered whether the pace of instruction was too rapid? Was I assigning too much? I teach a combined class and try to provide enough time built in for much shorter lessons with considerably more digital supports for students to reference when they are working independently. Providing time in-class, re-negotiating due dates, reminders, and check-ins are all part of the process.

Despite multiple hours of availability on and off line, students have still been struggling to complete work in a timely manner. With so much pressure to keep everyone engaged more content/lessons/assignments get shared over the course of a the instructional week, more check-ins for understanding happen, and the cycle of lockdown learnig online repeats itself. Adding more work was not the answer. Maybe variety is the answer?

So I mixed it up with TED talks, TED Ed lessons, discussions, visual Math, digital manipulatives, assessments with links to prompt and remind students, and some extra time be silly and do Just Dance. That moved the excitement and engagement needle in the right direction and then in the last little while, the cameras began staying off. 

Cue the dots

This is what teaching looks like during a pandemic yet this is the reality of virtual instruction right now. Despite the differentiation it is still hard to find joy or connection in these spaces. At least the sounds of voices and the occasional witty remark in the chat lighten things in the moment. I can only imagine how hard it must be on the students who have been thrust into this virtual maelstrom and expected to perform as if nothing has changed in their lives or the world around them. I am still working on making it better for all of us in the spaces we are forced to occupy right now. In the meantime I am want to make sure that our time is meaningful, fun, and mentally healthy in advance of a return to in-person instruction in the future. Maybe then I can stop counting the unlikeable days and resume counting the amazing ones again. 

Further reading
The Twitter Generation: https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1182

https://medium.com/launch-school/the-dangers-of-instant-gratification-learning-d8c230eed203

Buiding an Inclusive Playground

I am having a lot of fun learning how to center issues of disability justice and equity throughout the curriculum.

Every week, during MSI (Math-Science Investigations) the Grade 2 students solve problems using a variety of building materials. As part of the Science curriculum, we are learning about Movement and Simple Machines. We started this inquiry when we were face-to-face and finished on-line.  We have integrated this learning with disability justice, equity and community activism. For example, we went on a walk and collected data about barriers and “bridges” in our local community. Then, the Grade 2 students designed inclusive playgrounds where everyone is welcome.

Here are some other examples of how we are deepening our understanding of Structures and Mechanisms, and making connections to the local and global community.

World Water Day:
We celebrated World Water Day on March 22, as part of our year-long inquiry about water. Throughout the year, we have explored a variety of texts, including resources from The Junior Water Walker website. After reading “The Water Princess” by Susan Verde and “Anna Carries Water” by Olive Senior, our class simulated the experience of carrying a bucket around the track for 1 km, to represent the journey taken by girls and young women every day.

 

Then, we used building materials to investigate: How might you move water from one place to another?

We learned about a simple machine that was invented to help families carry water in rural India. We watched a YouTube video about The Wello Water Wheel, and talked about the impact it might have.



Toy Day:
On Toy Day, the MSI challenge was: Design a structure that moves or helps your toy to move.

Freda made a wheelchair for her doll.  Svea made a sled.

After building, we watched this video:
Science Max: Simple Machines

Outdoor Learning:
One day, we collected materials to bring outside to investigate simple machines. We worked with partners to explore: How might you use ramps and different balls to investigate levers and inclined planes?

Before schools went back to on-line learning, we went on a Community Walk.  I invited students to think about: “How might we make our community more accessible?  What are some of the barriers and “bridges” in our community?”  Students worked together to draw, write and collect data on clipboards.  We found ramps made by StopGap Foundation, and followed up our walk by reading books about children with different abilities.



Inclusive Playgrounds:
The summative task was: Design and build a model of an inclusive playground that includes a simple machine. The equipment must move a person up and down, or round and round or back and forth.

Students used a variety of materials to build their inclusive playgrounds, including Lego, recycled materials, clay, and Minecraft. Before building, everyone was encouraged to make a plan and draw their designs. Everyone worked on their project off-line and came together to share their VIP: Very Important Projects at the end of the week.

Clem used a glue gun to spell “PARK” in Braille letters.  Avery included an elevator.



Oral presentations have been an effective way to connect, share ideas and feedback, and assess students’ understanding. Technology/Being on-line has created space to hear each other, share our screens and look at photos of our work up close, and invite others into creative Minecraft worlds.  These integrated learning activities were engaging, fun, creative, and provided meaningful opportunities to explore inclusive design and disability justice.  

 

Birds of a Feather….

….FLOCK Together!!

In preparation for the Spring Equinox, which is usually held in the Rainbow Garden, I started to think creatively about how we could gather as a whole school community and respect COVID health and safety protocols. I wanted to incorporate dance, and then I remembered about flocking.

WTF?
Flocking is a type of movement improvisation, where the whole group mirrors each other’s movement. Students can be organized in a straight line or in the shape of a diamond. In flocking, there is one student who leads a movement, which is followed by the other students.

Different students can become the leader, just like birds do when they are flying together, by changing their position. In a diamond formation, the student at the top of the diamond is the leader. When everyone rotates a quarter turn, there is a new leader at the top of the diamond. Flocking can be inspired by music that is played, but I wanted to integrate text and embody the Land Acknowledgment.

Thanksgiving Address:
We are learning that many Indigenous and First Nations communities offer greetings and gratitude at the beginning of every gathering. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which includes the nations of Cayuga, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Seneca, Mohawk and Oneida, share The Thanksgiving Address. Here is a video that describes the importance of this text.

In the Thanksgiving Address, all parts of creation are recognized with honour and respect. Here is a link to the text we used. We have been deepening our understanding of this important protocol by speaking and listening to the words, drawing, writing and reflecting. This was our first time exploring the text through choral movement and mindfulness. It was very powerful.

Bear Song:
As educators, it is important to build relationships with First Nations and Indigenous families, which includes consultation and collaboration, and invitations to share knowledge with the community. At our school, we are fortunate to have several parents who have shared songs, drumming and dancing at different events. After gathering in the field, Archer and Ansley sang the Anishinaabe Bear Song to welcome Spring. Here is the song performed by Turning Point Women’s drum group from Skownan, Manitoba.

Medicine Wheel Teachings:
In the article, “Teaching by the Medicine Wheel: An Anishinaabe framework for Indigenous education,” Dr. Nicole Bell (2014) describes how schools might integrate Indigenous knowledge, and create a process of education that is respectful and culturally relevant for Indigenous families. Bell explains that while there are some variations of teachings and representations of the Medicine Wheel, there are common threads of understanding, including the importance of appreciating and respecting the interconnectedness and interrelationships of all things.

I wanted to incorporate Medicine Wheel teachings into our Spring Equinox gathering. The Medicine Wheel is a circle that is divided into four parts, which represent the four directions (East, South, West, North) using four different colours. Each of the directions include teachings that are interdependent, including the four seasons, stages of life, times of day, medicines, life givers, and learning process.

We organized the students into four sections, from youngest to oldest, starting in the East. Everyone was standing in the field, facing the same direction. As the Junior students read the Thanksgiving Address, everyone followed the movements of the Junior leader at the top of the diamond. The refrain, “And Now Our Minds Are One”, was repeated in chorus, and was the signal for everyone to rotate a quarter turn to the right together. Then, we started to follow the movements of a new leader. The rotations and the movements continued until the Thanksgiving Address was finished.

It was flocking amazing to welcome the new season with movement, gratitude and respect. Happy Spring!!