Tag Archives: collaborative learning

Middle school and up – social media lesson to share

First of all what is a parody? what is a spoof? how are they same/different?

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/a-day-in-the-life-of-pinterest

Who or what is being made fun of in this piece of writing- ? Does anyone use Pinterest? can we count the references to actual online boards? Let’s all make our own collection of boards to become familiar with internet use…I have made a number of sample boards here:

Guys, the person is suggesting only women or mainly women are the primary consumers of Pinterest- can you find ways in which guys are also using it? hint- chefs’ websites, sports, cars, guitars, movies, space… many home builders- what is soothing/ annoying about the site? Girls – which types of pins do you find yourself gravitating toward? For everyone in the room- please choose a “motivational pin” and then create your own.

How would you use it? what types of pins would you save? how would you get others to know your site exists? Does it matter? Do you think a site like Pinterest is more for “fun” and “relaxation” or for social media advertizing? why? why not? remember to backup your opinions with examples of/from other sites…

Take your time on the activity but be warned- pinning on Pinterest can become a real hobby…

Ali 🙂

Note to educators- the original article can be offered in hard copy format to allow students to move between using a piece of printed material and reading/commenting on it and using the internet to source further material. This is an open ended project to enchance technology in the classroom and reading and writing skills.  In addition a blog posting could be created with students commenting and sharing their views about Pinterest on line.

Designing Space

It is great to see and be inspired by so many modern workspaces, with their bright colours, comfy seating, and quiet nooks.  But what can the schools/learning environments that simply do not have the funds to refurbish, or to invest in the “gorgeous new designs” take from the “advice” about the ideal learning spaces? They don’t exist! Yes that is “blasphemy” in today’s newest is better culture of sophistication, but as a “seasoned educator” I have seen first hand wonderfully, excited, curious students ignoring their less than ideal surroundings in favour of the focus on the learning that was being allowed for inside a space.  Key word here is “allowed”, and that may take on a number of different situations.

Will the students be able to ask questions? Can they murmur to a peer and chat quietly even when not officially assigned to “group work”; can they get up and reach for additional material, is there fluidity within the class regarding working on assignments? Could a student or students “discover” that via researching a project they wished to change direction or are they locked into their initial “thesis” description.  In short will growth on the individual level be encouraged by the teacher/teachers encouraging the students, or will the space be so restrictive as to deny original thought?

What is truly amazing is when students themselves take “ownership” of an idea, and we as educators may step back for a period and allow this new exploration to continue.  It may mean doing exactly what was labelled but not clearly defined way back in “teacher’s college”- the recognizing of “teaching moments”, the ability to permit tangential thought, and collaborative effort with other educators within a school building/system/and globally.  The fanciest desks and comfiest chairs are still no match for the informed and genuine teacher.  And while it seems that even kindergarten students today may have cellphones, educators instill how to take the technology from a toy to a learning tool which may be used in multiple ways to enhance the student’s ability to access further knowledge.

When designing and creating within four walls, consider the input of the students and what extra space within the building may become another station.  At one point hallways weren’t for punishment, they were a second area for small groups to congregate, then slowly with “fear” entering the school systems, allowing children to freely be in an open space minus monitors became  dangerous.  When schools require metal detectors on a par with airport security, every educator must become attuned to anything and everything that could return the classroom environment to an atmosphere where possibility is still available.  It could be something as simple as plants actually growing, or posters which the students design themselves…

As a child I attended a summer camp which was held in former army barracks! Oh, those cabins from the outside- people would sigh and marvel that campers wanted to return.  But we knew that upon arrival we would be given paint and paint brushes and allowed to redecorate for ourselves /to make magical over three weeks rain or shine; the barest of spaces could come alive with the energy and enthusiasm an arts based camp in the woods encouraged.  And so the teamwork, and collaborative effort was instilled.  That culture of practice, reinforced over many a summer, prevailed when I as grad student found myself ironing the wax off of brown paper bags to help make art materials for schools in low-income districts.  We students of teaching and learning provided the simplest of tools- the children, becoming involved in making and doing before the buzzwords prevailed, furthered the design process.  With technology we must continue to provide the how and possibly where, but make sure it is the students learning to ask the “why?”

Volunteering and School Credit

I blogged a few weeks ago about how important it is to give back to a community, and with students in High School requiring a minimum of forty volunteer hours to graduate, know that many wait until their final year to grab the credit while others get “hooked on volunteering” from their grade nine year.

Students please be aware that mockery is a form of bullying.  It shouldn’t need to be said but indeed some students are so disturbed by what they see when they go to volunteer, they later adopt a bravado and can be heard joking about the very people who only a few hours earlier they were meant to be helping!  Empathy is aparently not as natural an emotion as we would like to believe.  In fact volunteering itself becomes a skill, and each station or space where one offers to be of service will have its own guidelines or rules for new volunteers to first apply, then with commitment and practiced observation skills, share their own techniques and what might further the organization.

It is important though to think carefully before signing on to volunteer, even if only to gain those needed High School credits.  Are you a behind the scenes or front line person? have you an actual interest in learning more about the particular situation? Can you do the work as it is described?

Agencies in the service industry might also appreciate office help and provide a solid reference for the needed first job. When the sign goes up to volunteer consider the following:

  • have I patience?
  • will I be comfortable in an unusual setting (as in some place of worship, or community hall where one might not regularly attend)?
  • is there a language requirement?
  • is there any minimum amount of hours for the training which could require more than the school demands?
  • am I comfortable in a crowd?
  • is it a hands on position ( hospital help, working with children or adults…)?
  • is it one to one after the training or will I always be part of a team?
  • will I have a chance to learn something new? ( always one is learning-here perhaps a new skill)
  • if athletic could I share these skills and help others?
  • if academic could I share these skills and help others?
  • have I a particular interest in any field where volunteers will be welcomed (could range from gardening, to robotics, or museum work, or learning a trade and shadowing a skilled worker, apprentice style, while helping as required)
  • have I truly considered trying something new and where my skills might be most useful?

Having worked with volunteers who ranged from High School age to seniors I have learned some come with high anticipation to simply “begin” and others shyly wait at a door pondering the fit.  Both are extremely useful once shown the ropes and allowed to choose where and how they feel they may contribute most.

Please do take it seriously and recognize that whichever place you decide to help with your time, energy, and enthusiasm will begin to count on you- and be respectful as if it were a paying position.  Some organizations are only able to do the work they provide due to the help of caring volunteers.  And don’t be frightened to try something “unusual” as you may learn something about yourself in the process.

2015-2016- a year to explore!

Second Sunday in May? Mother’s Day

Playing Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and wondering how these four men managed to capture beautifully in lyric and score the feelings of parents; so deeply moving when we do “look at them and sigh, and know they love you…”

Grace and beauty just walked out the door together, intent on a project and pleased to share – and I feeling truly blessed have the afternoon “free”, and time to catch up with writing, reading, cleaning (housework rarely takes care of itself), and Yes, Thinking.  So often we are deluged with activities that simple “quiet time” now comes at a premium, to be cherished and appreciated.

Mother’s day for me began the minute I knew I was pregnant with each of them, and has continued daily since; blessed with a son and a daughter, each uniquely capable and caring, and filled with that exuberance of personality that needn’t be restricted but ought to be unleashed- “Hello World”- they are ready for you!  And as a Mom, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

And as always, special good wishes to the parents of the children I am fortunate to have taught and  those I continue to work with- You are Amazing

Enjoy the day!  And if you have the minute- give a listen to “Teach the Children”

Red Herrings and Holiday Musings

RED HERRINGS
In mystery writing, the red herring is the suggestion of a clue- it also misleads the reader as well as the mystery solver. In real life people too are given red herrings- that is – led astray with diversions – tactics meant to exhaust rather than help and which over time wear a person out. When I was beginning my divorce, so many games ensued until I finally stood up in court and said “stop.” But a few years later the very agency claiming to “help” me also created games, of an even nastier nature. When my children were little, I had the energy to be up at 5:30 on a Sunday morning and out the door with two kids in tow hoisting a hockey bag and all the needed equipment for a 7:am practice- we became very familiar with the early am bus drivers! And I grew adept at juggling as many a new parent learns; to organize as much as possible the evening before, to have snacks and treats already in the bag, to bring an activity for the one not playing, and to be ready to cheer for the one on the ice.

Slowly the children do grow up and being able to communicate with their teachers was a blessing. My own background combined education and anthropology, the former allowed me to practice and be hands-on in encouraging, hands-off when it came to the doing of the homework and the practical matters, the latter was a reminder that there is more than one system of learning, and that learning is how all skills are acquired.

And so I once again accepted delayed gratification and put the personal pursuit of higher level credentials on a back burner while accepting almost any and every type of work that would still offer the much needed flexibility a single parent requires. To paraphrase Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) I never let schooling get in the way of real life. And with every day providing further challenges, and positive reinforcement by way of those oh so meaningful little, and sometimes big, gestures which our children offer to us, I turn now and marvel at my young adult children who generously and caringly offer love and affection.

I won’t pretend it was a cake walk- not at all. When we as parents see a child in pain, all caution goes out the window; and each of us can probably recall or if your children are young and growing through the growing pains, can relate to the feeling of pure helplessness at times when one or the other is unwell, and the prayers sent to all the heavens above until the danger is passed. However prayer is only one part of it- action here on earth being as necessary, it seems this long weekend of spiritual experiences and traditions steeped in tales of action and renewal, is a genuine reminder of how much each of us as adults were indeed influenced by personal tales of experiences and challenges that ultimately were overcome.

That other red herring mentioned above? It was an ugly, nasty business that caused headache and heartache, money and time- but- like red herrings in novels, I am able to realize now that it was a diversion and while not yet ready to “laugh about it” am able to recognize that the blessings of friends and genuine caring made me never lose sight of the big picture goals. People ask me why I teach, and I have realized that it is more complicated than a quick surface response would allow. When a learner gains confidence – be it a child in the early grades or an adult changing professions, I am grateful that the experiences I am able to share can actually help another. And it is such a genuine treat to learn with them- to continue to share in the excitement and frustrations that learning any activity may provide; if educating means encouraging thinking and while supplying possible solutions also giving way to a learner’s discovery of a personal path, then one can’t expect every lesson to be ‘magical’ nor every paper to be polished- one can however relish the surprise twists in the learning challenges, be ready to pivot when a student requires it, and if lucky – be there when they surprise themselves with their own achievements.

Holiday and ritual practice may attempt to take the “mystery” out of life by prescribing a set of practices- red herrings as they provide a type of clue, and a diversion from the everyday – they link us to the past and when about redemption or rebirth, remind us how the power of story can transcend a time and a place, can provide hope, and does share the wisdom of experience. But life itself- to me anyhow, remains wonderfully mysterious.

Fiction-Literacy and Action

Considering my own book shelves  makes it clear that the concept of telling a story in pieces has a longer history- much pre-dating the blogging period.

Harriet Beecher Stowe so famous for the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin published in March 1852, first attracted readers when she published her pieces in an abolitionist newspaper- apparently as a 45 part seriesimagine (!) the excitement for readers when the whole collection was bound and then shared as a complete volume  – actually a two volume book.  Today she is credited with helping to change public opinion globally about slavery– the books having been sold and translated and shipped across the world.  Charles Dickens is another author whose concerns about (1836 and on) social conditions also managed to attract a large audience through the newspapers- publishing his stories in serial installments and generating what today we refer to as  a “buzz” or word of mouth excitement – we tweet about our favorite tv shows/movie character/ musicians, references to the character’s exploits, and -perhaps- consider the situations in reference to contemporary social issues.  Both Dickens and Stowe knew that their stories would only work if readers could recognize the “truth” within the stereotype and character.  And today?  we bemoan the retirement of a TV personality like John Stewart whose regular satire allowed us as viewers to poke a bit of fun at ourselves, while being made aware of very real social issues. And in installments, with each episode capable of illustrating a current concern while the big picture “story” of recognizing social justice/injustice was never far from the scene. 

Perhaps news as “NEWS” – social issues horrific and frightening at times not only have become almost commonplace but require the distilling through a commercial lens.  Can we laugh at the horror? ought we too? and if not laugh, can we empathize with the struggles of others?  Dicken’s famous character Scrooge, epitomizes to many what may have been lost in terms of charitable feelings when people became commodities /objects at a factory and as dispensable or replaceable as any part in a machine – but the story holds sway and stays in people’s minds because we are presented with the three ghosts and the ideal of being able to change the future through present action.  Scrooge actually changes and while not a fairy tale, Dicken’s story provided for this awakening, this way to merge owner and worker, in this space we call humanity.  Harriet Beecher Stowe not only united many in the fight to end slavery, she also united women in an amazing cross cultural and cross economic fashion, when women signed a petition to become vocal on a political level, expressing their outrage at the continuation of practices that set one group of people against another.  Fiction then can change lives when readers have access to the story, and opportunity to care deeply, passionately about others.

But the books and authors mentioned also brought together their personal experiences and their ability to craft a story through researching the lived experiences of others- when teaching and analyzing novels with students it seems imperative to make clear that imagination isn’t either “out there” as a thing itself, or solely inside as a personality trait but is indeed an action, practiced, encouraged, developed and extended which each student is capable  of accessing within him or her self.  Some become better at the craft of sharing this trait- the ability to design in any fashion demands imagination what ever field- the ability to care? I would like to think it is innate if not always encouraged.

Music to teach by:

Early morning, and as light flashed through the blinds and the sounds of a new day began with the street rumble my brain kept hearing David Bowie singing “Ch-Ch changes”, and I found myself marveling at how the singer’s vocals had so captured the feelings of worry and confusion major changes might bring on.  The near stutter evoked palpable fear- and the lyrics continue to suggest why and how major social upheavals will produce this worry.  We have mottoes today such as “change is good” and websites “teaching” how to be a disruptor, yet if people were actually to follow a blueprint for disruption then the bandwagon effect of everyone doing pretty much the same thing happens, and little “ch-ch change ” actually occurs.

Technology and education go together and regardless of what age or grade level one may be  working with, most educators do make use of various forms of “equipment”- computer, phone, i-pad, smart board, digital cameras, and even the lesser in vogue today but which schools may have on hand, audiovisual equipment such as TVs, and overhead projectors.  But the change today is to almost insist that the students are the ones offering the lesson in order to have them demonstrate some understanding of subject matter.   Academics still demands testing, be it in the form of board wide generated formal exams that are meant to provide a summative overview of where a group of students may fit within the big picture perspective of “learning goals” ( formally called objectives) or in the everyone”must” first acquire testing that either welcomes or eliminates students from moving to new levels  (any pre – program assessment test from the SAT through the GRE).

So what really has changed?  The day to day encouragement which in some ways may be reminiscent of apprenticeships of old, with a slight slant.  Many of the younger generation are technologically “gifted” that is swift learners when it comes to using and applying new technology, however this technology to “make sense” of Academic goals is still applied as a “tool” for learning, rather than the end means in and of itself.  Learning coding becomes a new strand neatly placed alongside IT courses, when really it could be right up there with Language Arts- coding is a form of communication – not only do computers speak with one another, but the person versed in code understands a language as does the person using vocabulary specific to any field of study.  And like the acquisition of any new skill, some basics must be learned /applied/understood, before the “creative” aspect that leads to “ch-ch changes” or real innovation will be demonstrated.

Bowie’s  song with its direct appeal that we ought to “turn and face the strange”  continues to be of value- when listening to ( “but I”) “can’t trace time” , the clear concept of a younger generation not becoming a carbon copy of its predecessors but instead further innovating and adding to the picture as a whole is both “disruptive” and positive-the singer readily acknowledging that time itself  may change him-allowing for his own growing and changing, as a reminder that it is not mere rebellion but is new direction.

Has education really changed? Or are we merely participating in that ripple effect which technological changes create? Bottom line, as educators, we are compelled to encourage the students to question-when they do so -like Bowie-they too may “ch-ch-change” things up.

Modern Women of Influence

Too often it seems the “classic” women of influence are early suffragettes and women who made a difference as “sidekick” to the men who in their time received the accolades.  So classes of students may “discover” that in addition to Watson and Crick and the DNA model there was Rosalind Elsie Franklin, molecular biologist, and then students may question what is meant by the term”sexism”.  My problem with any learning that appears to polarize rather than to unite is that reductive and reactive stance; men were credited- women were ignored.  Perhaps a change of pace would have some looking into the “men behind the women”, noting for example that although a writer like George Sand had to take on a pseudonym to first be seen as an independent author (and then read) being a ‘special friend’ to Chopin didn’t hurt her creativity or her career.  Or take George Elliot ( George appears to have been a popular choice of male name for female writers !) born Mary Ann (Marian) Evans, her biography reminds one that her positive relationship with philosopher and critic George (actual name- male) Henry Lewis may have contributed to her prolific writing and the novel Middlemarch.   

When we share stories of strong females, we have an opportunity to also speak about social change over time, to note where and when women had influence: ancient Egypt had a female Pharaoh, China an Empress dowager, and Britain (today and) in its history many a powerful Queen.

Fast forward to Madonna and Beyonce– female powerhouse singers, dancers, entertainers, breaking the financial barriers too!  Beyonce’s start was as lead singer with the musical group Destiny’s Child– a group managed by her dad – who apparently resigned from his job to manage the  group.  Madonna remains unique in her determination, and her quote: In 1996* she said: “I came to the realization that a strong female is frightening to everybody, because all societies are male-dominated – black societies, poor people, rich people, any racial group, they’re all dominated by men. A strong female is going to threaten everybody across the board.” ( *amybrown.net)

The quote in itself opens discussion.  Why should strength on the part of a female be threatening? When and where have societies embraced rather than obscured female talent? How do politics/economics/education and opportunity inter-mesh, and in what ways can history enlighten girls of today – offering both a form of mentoring (they did it!) and a timeline with potential for further changes. Of course not only history: sports, the arts, politics, economics, current leaders, modern technology; examples abound and females of influence may be found in each sphere. Please remember though- women and men make up the whole, and society benefits when both genders are open to communication; to fully celebrate women of influence let’s not create a further polemic and instead encourage mutual appreciation, and keep the whole class curious about invoking positive social change.

Differentiated Instruction

A request came to elaborate on my last blog post, and clarify how a similar lesson was offered in different fashion to different students.  The Topic was the “Chinese New Year”  and I had mentioned in the last blog post how a couple of  students questioned the widely used title for the holiday- feeling the title had ignored their place of birth and own celebrations.

Together we discussed how families celebrate holidays, and looked at the skeleton of a human body.  The lesson moved on to talk about how skeletons may appear basically similar but the skin and outer garments of a person suggest both our similarities and our differences.  Then, we created an outline for the holiday itself- the Lunar Calendar, and using a combination of graphic charts, Venn diagrams, and reference material, on and off line, were able to highlight how and where the material – reference material- differed from the student’s personal practical knowledge.  His way of celebrating within his family- the specific traditions- became the focus of a written piece, the general traditions which appeared in common to the people of China and the other South Asian communities which we had looked up became affixed to a poster, and diagrams were extended to highlight how and where traditions may have changed, with reference to a timeline.

A simple question formed the basis of a full project, leading to a number of sessions while one aspect of inquiry encouraged deeper research and the review of geography plus history texts.  Given that literacy involves more than the deciphering of words on a page, the project enhanced literacy and began to involve math as well.  Statistics present in population charts, and cultural change over time brought us back to the present day, and the ways in which a topic may be extended.   Another student not of South Asian background had grown curious and was given the task of sharing one of his family customs- provided similar effort at understanding background and connecting the personal to the global would be shared.

The students were of different ages and at different grade levels- the expectation then was for the project work to demonstrate their different understanding of “how much is enough” – by not setting a page limit or restricting the amount they could share, the students “created”  work to share and were influenced by peer comments- questions and responses which I encouraged them to write down.  This was not a full class project – other students were working on other activities.  And it is only one example of how educators must become more open to what students may be asking, and when their students are craving some outside- of- routine work.

Much as I have put aside the assigned test prep packages and instead suggested articles in the Economist and other magazines to higher level students prepping for standardized  tests, and saw the test scores of said students jump – it was a pleasure to see the interest in the younger  students mentioned above, and to note that  when the standardized tests were offered, these students scored high as well.

Students had been encouraged to look for patterns, and to develop a personal set of inquiry based responses to their readings.  They were also encouraged to aim for accuracy over speed.

My personal pet wish: that the learning which goes into programming for students deemed “special ed”, be they remedial or gifted, would be training encouraged and expected for all new incoming teachers, so that differentiated instruction could become a part of programming across the board, and in large sized classes the movement among groups of students become more fluid.  Students themselves quickly absorb attempts to stream, and note which tables they are seated at, which work they are given, and which level they are expected to participate at.  Mind set and flow-two ideas that are meant to work together.

Multi-culturalism and learning

Young student to his teacher, ” Why do they call it ‘Chinese New Year’? I’m from Vietnam and I celebrate it too!”

Maps, look at population charts, find some of the history for both countries, discuss foods, customs, language, and what it means to celebrate in a “home country” versus in an adopted country.

Recall and share a comment from another student “Russia is part of Asia too!” – once again maps, populations charts, history…

What it really means to teach a “diverse group of students”.  It means to be aware, to be open, to respect cultural differences, to recognize family practices versus “global” ideals.  And to learn with one’s students.  When we learn together, we give each other “voice” and when we listen we move beyond words and expected understanding of the words to the personal and how each student may or may not “relate” to a concept.

Kindergarten through grade 12 and for many – a number of years in post secondary- that is really a lot of time in the places we label “school”.  As educators we need to be aware of how our own understanding of vulnerability is affected when children voice their confusion, and to join the students in their research and review of concepts that adults may be “taking for granted”.  Our purpose after all is to encourage their thinking skills, their curiousity, and their desire to learn more.  But first we do have to create a safe space wherein they may question us.  And if we do not have the immediate answer- or better yet if we ignore the immediate answer and instead join with our students in the search for answers, we just may be modelling what inquiry – makers, and doers, is all about.

To all who may be celebrating the Lunar New Year Festivities- Enjoy!