What are holes made of? Pt 2 Language

bullet-holes-1744860_640bykiwikong

This is a mind purging follow up to my 2015 blog What are holes made of? Pt 1 Science. In it, I share a story from a kindergarten class where I asked them the title question. This post continues the conversation about holes and their simple and complex nature.

When we are in debt, we are in the hole. When prisoners are put into solitary confinement they are going down into the hole. Alice in Chains and the Police sang about holes. There was even a band called Hole. Who could forget that The Beatles sang Fixing a Hole on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? (I almost did)

Holes are similar to hunger. There are lots of holes in the foods we eat. Have you ever looked at a pancake or meringue? The lighter and fluffier the better. This has me wondering whether holes get confused with bubbles from time to time? If we really think about it at a molecular level, there are spaces in between everything – therefore holes.

Sports are filled with analogies about holes. A baseball player or golfer who is struggling to hit the ball is said to have a “hole in their swing”. Baseball players have been asked, on more than one occasion, whether there is a hole in their gloves?

In football, the offence is always looking to punch a hole through the defensive line in the hopes of seeing a little daylight on a running play. If a team does this enough times then they could score multiple time. If that happens, then their opponent might not be able to climb out of the hole they’ve made. Ouch.

Speaking of ouch, losing a player to injury will leave a “hole in the team”. Many fans have holes in their hearts when their favourite teams lose a game. Some of them could become motivational speakers for as often as they extol the virtues of patience, devotion, and ‘there’s always next season”. Maybe these die-hard fans have books in their futures?

Not surprisingly, there are books about holes. And at least one movie has been made about holes. Although, I’m not quite sure of the title. So with all of these holes to see through, what’s it all about?

When any of use language it can go a number of ways. We can dig ourselves into a hole with our words, or we can dig ourselves out just as quickly. Holes happen in arguments. When this happens such logical fallacies in one’s words expose them down to the profoundest levels. It is often said that a poor argument has as many holes in it as Swiss cheese. Words, true or otherwise might pierce the mind, but nothing can prepare for what pierces the body.

Bullet holes are also symbolic of some deep shit. Their blatant and sole intent is to put a hole in someone. To spill the lifeblood out of a fellow human might be the cruellest hole of all. When we think of all we can do to repair the holes we’ve made, there is little we can do after the hate decides to pull the trigger and fill others full of holes.

What I wonder is how the holes that have been put into people’s hearts today by gun violence and hatred could ever heal? Could we turn our minds to making things whole instead?

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Grade 5s and their desks

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An actual Gr 5 class captured while re-organizing their desks. No actors were harmed in this pic.

What is learning? Is it the content inside of the textbook? Does it come from all of the socialization experienced at school that is supposed to prepare us all to run on the hamster wheel of life? Could there also be lessons to learn from moving desks in a classroom?

I’m writing this post while my grade 5 class attempts a self-directed room re-organization. Cacophony, collisions, and an occasional boundary dispute resolution tribunal are all part of the process. Desks and chairs in motion cause mini-tremors across our classroom floor. It’s as if 26 simultaneous games of Tetris are being played as the furniture gets turned and shoved in search of a new place, perspective and neighbours.

To understand whether this exercise went well, if at all, requires a keen eye, a calm mind, and a deaf ear. Throughout the process, students do not hear a word from me. It’s their time to sort things out and into place. I’m happy to watch and hear it happen. There are negotiations, subtle and otherwise. Accommodations too.

After 10 minutes of time that seemed more like 15 minutes, we made it. I asked, “What did you learn about this?”

“We have to communicate with each other,” said one.
“Some people are only worried about themselves,” replied another.
“You didn’t help us,” said a third student.
“You’re welcome,” I said.

Letting students shape their learning space on their own has become an informative exercise in my practice. It points out who is willing to embrace change and who is clinging to a familiar and safe(in their mind) past. It also provides me insight into whether peer groups and friendships have changed.

Desk moves also give students a chance to negotiate with one another. I find it interesting how problems get worked out when there are disagreements. It forces students to listen and respond when things are in motion and out-of-place.

When the dust settles. We get back to learning…the other learning.

 

The lies we tell our adult selves

If you don’t think that students in grade 5 have stress,
You are lying to your adult self.
They do.

If you don’t think that stress is affecting the health of our youth in school,
You are lying to your adult self.
It does.

Today, an entire class of grade 5 students raised their hands when asked if they had ever felt overwhelmed by stress and anxiety –  reasons shared too many to mention:

  • family discord
  • too much free time
  • too little free time
  • pre-adolescence
  • over-consumption of media
  • over worked adult(s) in the home
  • body image
  • fear
  • loneliness

Today, the lies we tell our adult selves about how everything is fine and that it’s only a phase revealed themselves out loud and clear in these students. Will more lies be necessary to help or will the honesty of this moment be the start of something better?

We listened, we shared, tears were shed, and we rallied in support of one another.
The bell rang and we went our separate ways. The students to their lives outside of school. Me to my computer.

Hoping that the lies we tell our adult selves will be absent tomorrow.

Better

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New Kintsugi by Kate CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 via https://www.flickr.com/photos/49965961@N00/12436054475

     Courage.             Voice.

     Meraki.                Now.

Four of the many #OneWord2018 offerings from educators via Twitter.

With the retrospective rose coloured goggles secured over my eyes, it’s time to dive into 2018 because it is going to be better. This is not a flippant cliché to elicit the feels and aahs of readers. 2018 will be better.

My one word for 2018 is better.

Whether written, spoken, or withheld on purpose my words will be better in 2018.

They will edify not nullify.
They will appreciate not devastate.
They will lead not supersede.

My lessons will be better in 2018.
They will envelope my students with ownership of their learning.
They will inspire confidence, resilience, and compassion for others.

Failures will be better in 2018.
They will be spectacular and educational.
They will be welcomed into a safe space with room for everyone.

Otherliness will be better in 2018.
Kindness will trump self-centredness.
Students will know how much I care before being asked to care about what I know.

Student voice will be better in 2018.
They will be given a place at the table where their futures are decided.
They will tell us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear.

In 2014, I heard poet/rapper D.O. Gibson share a powerful message about getting 1% better each day.* Once all of the feels and aahs were gone, the power of his message hit home. I began to imagine how to apply it to my approaches to pedagogy and personal learning.

This got me really excited about how we could all get better, and at a pace that would not overwhelm anyone. The next day, I began including this philosophy into my instruction. First, it was in French class with vocabulary, then to Math with problem solving, and soon afterwards all of my subjects. The best part of being better by 1% everyday means everyone is able to work towards an individual and common goal.

I wonder if you would even realize it when someone is 1% kinder from one day to the next, but after a month 30% increase would be difficult to ignore. Even if better only meant 1% per month; 12% per year is still excellent growth. Just ask your fund manager.

So 2018 is going to be better.
I’ve done the Math and even at a modest 0.25% per day.
I am almost 1% better than last year. So far…

What’s your #OneWord2018?

Please share in the comments section.
If you liked this post, please follow and tell a friend.
Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

the rocks

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[[File:Rioters Throw Rocks near Nabi Saleh.jpg|Rioters Throw Rocks near Nabi Saleh]] CC BY 2.0

We are rocks.
We are witnesses to all that has passed in front, under and over us, and all that will surely come.
We wait.

Our once jagged edges smoothed by time, wind, and water.
We have been used as hammers, as walls, and as weights.

We have become weapons; thrown back and forth between sides who no longer remember, or understand the original reasons why.

Too many times, we have been plucked from a peaceful place only to be thrown in anger. We land as far as rage and fear can fling.

We have broken windows and bones.
We have been used to punish and frighten.
Our pores hold on to the skin and blood of those whom we’ve struck.

There are nicks and pocks about our surfaces from millennia of contact and conflict.
Each time we are hurled, a piece of us gets left behind as we, too, become battered and bruised.

Praying, like all of the other rocks, to become piles of dust that rest in peace
– to be thrown no more.

 

I(n) tune

This is the companion to my post The Groove for The Heart and Art of Teaching blog. I am writing it here in order to keep my blog posts reading times reigned in. It was originally occupying several paragraphs elsewhere, but was moved here to take on a life of its own.

I love music. I’m listening to it right now(Dave Matthews Band – Live in Rio). In my classroom, I sing, quote song lyrics, hum tunes, and offer students the chance to use music as a means to demonstrate they’re understandings of learning. I have an obscure record collection that includes speeches by Mussolini to  songs by Cookie Monster.

From the earliest moments I wanted to be a DJ on the radio. As a kid I was always pressing the presets on our car radio. I loved the idea that one person could curate the soundtrack for so many people. There were countless times I’d dial the local radio station to request a song. And for a very brief while, I believed that the performers were actually in the stations performing live.

It was the late 60s in Hudson’s Hope, BC. Most of our family welcomed the addition of my little sister. Not me, I was officially the middle child and it was time to occupy my time plotting against my siblings. Most days were spent outside playing in the dirt, wandering around the limits of our trailer park, and learning to cruise along, the lone stretch of driveway, on an over-sized trike.  Inside, our little black and white television warmed our temporary double-wide home with its futuristic glow. The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. I was hooked.

Uprooted, moved, and transplanted over the border to New York state. This was followed by the revelation that Buffalo, NY is probably the snowiest equivalent location possible to the Peace River in British Columbia. What did I care? I didn’t have to shovel it.

The move brought with it a home, and some new gear. A colour TV now bathed our living room with light and entertainment. Ed Sullivan was still  hosting his “Really big Shoow!”, but not for long. The soundtrack was changing, evolving, and definitely becoming more interesting. My parents listened to the radio wherever and whenever they could.

Whether we were in the house, the yard, or in the car on the way to somewhere – music was there. You couldn’t help but sing along to the grooves and rhythms of Rock n’ roll, the twang of Country, the hooks of Pop music, or the heart and soul of R and B. In our space, no musical genre would be denied. Although, I think my dad had a limit on how much “hippie” music he could handle.  😉

In 1972 we moved again. This time, it was to Wyoming where cattle outnumbered people 2:1. It is still that way today. Once again a score to soothe the worried mind of a middle child filled my ears with Led Zeppelin, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, and Tammy Wynette. A new home, same TV, but only Ed Sullivan reruns to watch until we discovered Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.

Queen, Bad Company, Van Morrison, and Linda Ronstadt had become household names. Everyday on my way to school I’d be humming one tune or another heard on KWYO AM or KROE FM( now talk radio), which played album sides and a greater selection of performers.

My parents loved music too, and had amassed quite a record collection of their own. To a young audiophile, it was a gold mine of sounds to accompany my musical education.  The album covers alone served as part of my daily reading regimen. When my brother became a wage earner, the collection grew even larger and wilder with his contributions of BTO, Guess Who, Styx, and Elton John.

Wherever I ambled, music made the journey better regardless of what was going on in the world around me. And there was plenty. I remember my first albums, Kiss Destroyer, and Peter Frampton Comes Alive. I nearly wore through that vinyl from playing it so often. Then another move in 1978.

Arriving to Toronto in the late 70s meant having my ears opened to a buffet of musical offerings. Bands like the Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, and Rush began to consume my adolescent times with guitar heavy riffs and intelligent lyrics. Radio became the means by which I got to know my new city.

As a grade 8 student at St. Gaspar Elementary School(closed 2002), I began slowly amassing a collection of vinyl records. Countless hours of my youth were spent listening to albums, reading liner notes, and getting to know about the artists/performers making the music I loved. No genre was excluded. If it was on vinyl I’d give it a spin. Music videos were just creeping into our sound consciousness with shows like the New Music.

The Tubes, Peter Tosh, The Police, and the Clash.

I remember studying the albums themselves and wondering how a diamond stylus needle that get’s dropped into a groove translates the contents into such glorious sounds; complete with crackles and pops. It was as if I was in the room when I could hear fingers sliding across the strings of a guitar or when stereo headphones made it feel like the sound was going right through my brain.

In short the soundtrack to my life to this point was accompanied by amazing music, lyrics, and performers who poured their talents out for the world to hear. I still remember skateboarding and listening to Sultans of Swing  cranked up on my portable transistor radio sans headphones.

Let’s call this the first side of the album…
I will flip it and press play on another post covering the early 80s to present next time.

If you like discussing music please comment and keep the conversation going.
Happy listening.

Header image by Mr.choppers (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Who knew that thinking we were not good at Math ≠ the Truth?

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photo by Sam Howzit CC BY 2.0

Well in advance of my ever becoming an educator came an episode of BBC’s Dr. Who, where the TARDIS traveller shared,

“You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: They don’t alter their views to fit the facts; they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” from Dr Who Episode – The Face of Evil Part 4 January 22, 1977

It seems very clear now, that we are capable of convincing ourselves of anything regardless of sensibility, social standing, or support system. It’s happening everyday in classrooms because it has been allowed to happen over and over this way since forever. I’ll use the short story below to illustrate how it might be playing out in a typical Math classroom.

Some others

It’s a Tuesday, or is it Wednesday? No matter, because it’s Mathday. A teacher shares the concept(s). Some respond with nods, others avoid eye-contact, and silent supplications of “please don’t ask me to explain this”. Students try to understand what’s being taught. Some get it faster than others. Seconds pass, then minutes. Teacher grows impatient with awkward silences and then ploughs on. As if in unison, the others begin to doubt whether they’ll ever get it? Some wonder in disbelief how the others don’t get it and repeat. At some point most educators will have learners floating in various states between being some or the others.

Suddenly, but with far less warning, an assessment is given and the results serve to separate some from the others. Followed by a false, yet difficult to overcome, opinion that Math ‘can’t be got’, and therefore  must be hated, simply because of the inability of others to solve all or some of the concepts taught and problems given. This imbalanced view negatively warps some mindsets one way or an other;

  1. They tie Math and other academic success to self-worth
  2. Students begin to doubt their abilities based on single results rather than embracing an attitude of process and progress instead of performance.
  3. Problem solving skills are mitigated out of the day by educators who feel they have to cover what’s in the text books rather than what’s needed by their students. In other words they are being taught to the test rather than being allow to test what they’re taught.
  4. Resilience is skill that goes further underdeveloped in favour of focusing on report card marks. Instead of emphasising growth from concept attainment, iterative thinking, and real life application opportunities students are made to live, breathe, and be measured by a singular method and measure.

Simply put, we can’t allow alternative facts, false beliefs, or misinformation to infect the minds of our learners and colleagues. Yes, teachers believe that they can’t do Math too. We need to stand in the gap to prevent and dispel destructive mindsets. For some students and teachers this means time to unlearn, a safe place to make mistakes, relearn, and start again.

If we equip our learners with the ability to re-frame their focus with confidence and arm them with problem solving tools we can erase the discourse of doubt that plagues so many. This will run counter to the mass instruction of the past, but it will be better than perpetuating the destruction any longer. We need to understand that we are works in process and success will look different from lesson to lesson and learner to learner.

Perhaps then, the breezy breath of fresh air will be felt as a change for the better by everyone? In the meantime, I will be moving the air about my classroom like a human tornado helping students understand that thinking they are not good at Math is does not equal the truth.

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