3 things

Warning: Do not read this post for more than 3 -4 minutes.

2016 is hurtling towards its calendar end and thoughts turn to a highlight reel retrospective heading for the history books. My mind is counting down around a repeating loop of ideas and reflections like a Space X reusable rocket. Well, maybe the baking soda and vinegar in a bottle type.

As the countdown approaches, I wanted to ask educators around the world to answer this question. If you’d like, think of it as a wishlist.

What would you change in education for 2017?

If you could change 3 things about education in 2017, knowing you wouldn’t fail, what would they be? I’m talking Astro Teller moon shot type changes here.

We use the word “moonshots” to remind us to keep our visions big — to keep dreaming. And we use the word “factory” to remind ourselves that we want to have concrete visions — concrete plans to make them real.  Astro Teller

Here are my 3 cannot-miss-the-spot-moonshot-thoughts.

  1. End the school to prison pipeline. My wish would be that schools could be funded with the same amount of money per student as the prisoners of our world. I believe that if we provided more funding for our schools, then our prisons would soon be very different and under-crowded spaces.I also believe that by stopping the flow of students from classrooms to courtrooms to cell blocks there would be a better standard of living for our entire society with opportunity for all. Imagine what could be done with all of the extra money if it was spent educating instead of incarcerating? Did you know that the students receive on average only 1/3 of the funding of prisoners?
  2. End standardized testing. What good is asking students to cram 10 months of learning into 9 months, only to stresst them out?  Why are millions of tax dollars being spent on tying up instructional time and resources in order to administer and assess students in grades 3, 6, 9, and 10. Is it worth quantifying education annually as a soapbox for politicians?Has anyone thought that the questions being asked are not considerate of skills and understandings required for the future? Cynical me asks, if there is a correlation to test results and real estate value? This appears to frequently be the case in my own province of Ontario, Canada. My own home price benefiting from strong results in neighbourhood schools.When I look at results by district in the U.S and compare facilities and funding I am left with many questions around equity and distribution of assets. In 2012, 1.7 billion dollars were spent on standardized testing in the U.S.A. If the financial cost doesn’t get your attention, how about the anxiety and mental health issues that result from many educators who feel they need to teach to the test instead of to the needs of their learners?
  3. End the global desk-wagging contest known as PISA and invest the money shelled out back into the students.Are you noticing a trend yet?To whose benefit do these tests and rankings really serve? How come the sample sizes are so small? Why are students and schools used as collateral/capital for international bragging rights? Did you know that schools can be recruited or selected to participate? How does this not scream of yielding a skewed sample? Why are so many countries not taking part in PISA? There are students learning on dirt floors or without access to any education at all. All the while a bunch of people in suits are deciding to see which privileged country’s students are number one.

It’s your turn to share 3 things. Shoot for the stars because you can. It will not be marked.
Countdown in 10, 9 … 3, 2, 1.

If you have made it this far, thank you for your interest in this topic. You are now past 3 minutes. Why not read on? Here is a very worthwhile reading list.

Pipeline to prison – https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/pipeline-to-prison

School-to-prison-pipeline – https://www.aclu.org/infographic/school-prison-pipeline-infographic?redirect=racial-justice/infographic-school-prison-pipeline

Project Liberty: School to prison pipeline –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXR51vZCfVY

How High-Stakes Testing Feeds the School-to-Prison Pipeline Infographic –  http://www.fairtest.org/pipeline-infographic

US should nix its federal department of education –  http://www.troymedia.com/2016/12/12/canada-proves-dont-need-federal-department-education/

School performance rankings from the Fraser Institute –  https://www.fraserinstitute.org/school-performance

How does a school district affect the value of your home (don’t miss comments) –

http://torontorealtyblog.com/archives/10020

The standardised test debate. Is EQAO good for education? (don’t miss comments) –

https://tapintoteenminds.com/the-standardized-test-debate-is-eqao-good-for-education/

School choice not the right choice for our kids –  http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/nancy-kaffer/2016/10/02/choice-schools-michigan/91240656/

Pisa and the creativity puzzle – http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/pisa-and-the-creativity-puzzle

The tower of PISA is badly leaning – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/24/the-tower-of-pisa-is-badly-leaning-an-argument-for-why-it-should-be-saved/?utm_term=.c813afeddee2

Tick…tick…ticked off

By Imager23 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tick…tick…tick…

The sound heard in classrooms all over Canada. To a handful  it feels like the second hand has been stuck on the same spot for far too long. While for many others, it’s spinning away like a Sesna propeller at take off. Where did the year go?

Does this sound familiar in your school as the academic year comes to a close? Don’t you wish there was a little more time to share, challenge, and grow with students in the classroom? I sure do.

Recently a local media outlet shared that teachers are phoning in the last weeks because report cards were done. I’m here to say that statements like these do not accurately reflect an over-whelming majority of educators and are thus utter BS (bologna slices) IMO.

Firestarter

As part of my daily 10 minute commute, I listen to the radio. Most days it’s CBC Radio 2, but on June 22 the tuner landed on CBC’s Metro Morning, also found via TwitterMetroMorningBSfor the segment that sparked this post. When I shared it with my colleagues, they too were disappointed at such skewed perceptions from a usually credible media source.

How does painting a negative portrait of our profession with such broad strokes show balanced journalism? The last weeks in a classroom cannot be taught on auto-pilot because there is still a lot to teach, discover, and share. So contrary to a public broadcaster’s opinion, the kids and teachers have not “checked out”.

Sorry I’m not sorry to burst this bogus bubble folks, but the kids will have to sit on their own couches over the Summer if they want to watch a movie. Especially, in my class because there’s still learning to do after losing the better part of a week to standardized testing earlier this month.

What makes this difficult to understand, for me, are the incendiary intentions attached to narrow minded statements like these? What is the gain of creating enmity in statements about our profession without hearing from those who  are making a difference in their classrooms from start to finish? StillLearning

I replied via Twitter with a few reminder posts that students are involved in ongoing inquiry and real life problem solving in Math.

Please remember that what we do comes with mountains of misunderstandings from many sources. Our calling to be educators carries a nobility and satisfaction unlike any other that allows us to be the difference makers in the lives of all who we teach. Somehow that message gets lost even by the media.

Can anyone who hasn’t worked in a classroom with students for longer than an interview segment really understand what educators pour into each day to prepare for their learners?  I didn’t think so.

Gotta go. There’s work to be done.

Thank you for reading my post. If you like what you’ve read please subscribe and share.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section too. Will

Batting 300 – Swinging for the fences pt 2 — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

This is the second post in my word series in spirit of circling the bases of baseball and education. I’m back at the plate to take another swing. Click here for an instant ‘read’play of my first at bat. It’s the 7th inning, and your back at the plate, again. So far you have popped out to short stop, struck…

via Batting 300 – Swinging for the fences pt 2 — The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning

Perception

How we perceive ourselves is a matter of inner vision, trust, and wisdom. It must come from the belief we are all infinitely awesome at something. For me this came in realizing, albeit later in life, my true calling as an encourager, mentor, and educator.

So, at a time when mid-life sees many people my age taking stock of their relationships and buying little red sports cars, I sold my company and took a gigantic leap of faith with family intact.

Deciding to pursue a career in education came with an unimaginable amount of uncertainty. Terrible job prospects, rejection letters from all but one faculty of education (props Tyndale), and reduced revenue streams while I studied, practice taught, parented, and husbanded (a considerable challenge indeed).

Do you know the expression sometimes you have to learn the hard way before you can learn the right way? I’m sure I made some of that up, but I had basically flunked out of university in the 80s. I left with a chip in my shoulder and hurt that I did not succeed. What happened next was not a 25 year pity party over, but rather an education along the road of experience.

This journey has allowed me to arrive, alive, bruised, and better. What I learnt was that although what I did wasn’t always a success, it was the best I could do at the time. That my best was good enough so self-doubt, my ego, and abject personal disdain could go shove a rock. I realized I was a work in progress.

So…What makes you get out of bed before the alarm clock each morning?
Are you in the place that makes you the happiest and your light is undeniable?
How do you stay there? What sustains you when times get tough?

What keeps you hitting the snooze button until last minute late panic sets in or a terrible song drives you screaming towards the bathroom?
What would it take for you to change and get up before your alarm?

Where do you turn when you need help?
What would you change if you knew you would not fail?
Who could you talk to today?

Is it a matter of how you perceive yourself? Let’s Talk.

6 words

It takes time to express yourself.
It takes effort to be precise.
Ideas are always possible when shared.

I am a huge fan of the 6 word memoir. I penned my first one in teacher’s college, and it has served me well for years. It goes:

I am a work in progress.

Take a look at the sign I’m holding in the picture above. You’ll notice I’ve reworded my original 6 word narrative, but did you see anything off about the picture? Hey! Other than the guy holding the sign?

The sign was rewritten to be inclusive of all learners. I am no longer a singular work in progress, but one of many works in progress. My calling as an educator has enabled me to see things differently now.

This year, one of my 6 word posts from Twitter was published in The Best Advice in Six Words, in November. Fortunately, my copy arrived in time to give to my dad as a Christmas present. The book has hundreds of pages of advice culled from a global cohort of advice givers, some of them famous, and others, like me, who are not so well known.

As dad gifts go, this one brings me full circle. It was my dad who distributed the wisdom growing up (he still does). Mom also played a huge role there too; she was the enforcer (she still is). Since starting my career in education it has been my goal to keep their work going.

While I was growing up, when my dad spoke I paid attention. It wasn’t out of fear, but in anticipation and respect. Although, he was always a man of few words what he shared resonated and stuck.

In September 1983 he told me, “It is a character building year.” (6 words) He wasn’t wrong. By the end of that school year in 1984, the joke became I had too much character. A bit of laughter reckoned the experience of completing grades 12 and 13 –  while holding down a part time job, competing in sports, and working as student council spirit rep.

He also shared, “There aren’t any leaders without followers.” (6 words) Ouch! That one took me down a peg as an impetuous young man who knew everything and had figured out the rest. Dad was right. What we sow in the service of others, whether it was with kindness or encouragement mattered. Time after time since hearing those words they have anchored my worldview as an entrepreneur and educator.

6 word stories are also a part of my Literacy instruction. My students are tasked with writing 6 word character studies, 6 word essays, and 6 word reflections about their learning. The exercise allows us to throw language conventions out the window and get to the heart of ideas and understandings. Students are challenged at first to communicate their most important thoughts, uncluttered from superfluous details.

Maybe it is the simplicity of having only 6 words to work with that make it so effective in the classroom? Perhaps, my dad was like a 6 word chef way ahead of his time cooking and serving thoughts in:

Edible, tasty, digestible and memorable mindfuls.

Cheers to great progress in 2016.

 

Innovative Educator

I’m an educator.
Moreover, a thought provoker.

I’m nice.
Maybe too nice?
My students might disagree when I hold them accountable.
I believe that learners need to reach for an opportunity rather than have it handed to them.

I’m funny (ha-ha, not peculiar).
Maybe a little too funny for some people.
What can I say? I believe in using humour in the classroom?
Studies show how laughter relaxes the brain and increases retention in students.

I’m creative, current, and constantly learning.
A sound body is as equally important as a sound mind.
I believe that mental health and wellness are as important as the curriculum in the classroom.
I have become a quasi-psychologist, tech wizard, instructor, first-aid responder, mentor, and arbiter all in one.

Yet, despite all of the things I do in and out of the classroom, in the name of education, not a single one of these things makes me feel like an innovator in my career. So what does?

This year I was given the honour of being named 1 of 28 TED Ed Innovative Educators. Our global cohort has been learning & meeting on-line, creating & sharing TED Ed Lessons since July. On September 1st we were introduced and it felt great. In a way I feel like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of OZ who got his diploma. I know this because it seemed like the only thing that changed was the recognition of my practice. Perhaps recognition as an innovative educator helped me understand how I’m an innovator?

So what do I do to deserve this mind-bogglingly humbling privilege? Let me share:

If a student struggles to write a test because s/he’s hungry, and I provide a snack, support, and some extra time maybe this is what makes me an innovative educator?

Whenever a fellow teacher seeks my support with with a challenging student, and I can help, maybe it’s the ability to collaborate on a solution with that teacher that makes me an innovative educator?

When ideas can be sparked, fostered, and brought to fruition because I got out of the way of my students, is what makes me an innovative educator.

When new ideas, opportunities, and experiences arrive in my world, and I don’t run the other way screaming, but instead turn to embrace and make them my own makes me an innovative educator?

When a parent is worried that their child is not successful, I point out that our class is about progress not perfection, and that their child is progressing well, I am an innovative educator.

When I share my time, experience, and encouragement with others knowing that together none of us is as smart, or innovative, as all of us I am an innovative educator.

When I take current events and mesh them onto ancient curriculum requirements making lessons relevant to modern learners, I am an innovative educator. This includes infusing social-justice, activism, empathy, and life learning in every lesson possible too.

Maybe it simply boils down to this. I care more about students/teachers than myself. I am willing to collaborate/support them to do that which has never been done in order to achieve something incredible.

I will learn, un-learn, and re-learn whenever and wherever necessary.
I will challenge, provide next steps, and encourage students/teachers to get the best out of them.

I am an educator.
An innovative educator.

What are holes made of? Pt 1 Science

Once in a while this past school year, I had the privilege to work with kindergarten students. To no one’s surprise, despite their diminutive(more like Minions) stature, they too are incredibly big thinkers.

I like big thinking. It’s awesome just thinking about it.Sounds like borderline epistemology to me.Trying to confine or quantify big thinking requires patience, and the intangible ability to simultaneously navigate many paths without a map. In other words…it’s fun! As an added bonus, ideas from big thinking opportunities span the spectrum of thought and possibility.

To break the ice, I started asking students to share their favourite words. This led to some interesting, albeit occasionally unpredictable responses. I will leave it to your imagination what the words were, but they do rhyme with art, and gut. OK, so I opened a doorway through laughter and the students had a chance to share, knowing their answers were 100% correct. Photo credit to woodleywonderworks https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/Photo credit to woodleywonderworks https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/

Next time, I had some time with a group of kindergarteners, I decided it was Math time. “Share a number between 1 and 5 with a partner?” “What’s the biggest number you can get if you add them up?” “What’s the smallest number you can get with a partner?” “Could we add up all of our numbers to see how many we have as a group?” “How could we show our answers using materials from the class?”

Well if we’re going to do Math, then Science was not far behind…So into the abyss of our next lesson we dived.

“What are holes made out of?” For a moment I thought I was being controlled from a remote location by Sugata Mitra. This was his type of inquiry question. Mischievous grin included. A-Ha! A question that did not have an immediate answer. A question that asked students to think, and in the process discover, as spoken by Morpheus in the Matrix, “How deep the rabbit hole goes.” Down the Rabbit Hole by Valerie Hinojosaphoto credit: Down the Rabbit Hole by Valerie Hinojosa

After the I don’t knows, blank stares and huhs, came the answers… Air and nothing? Hmm I asked. “Of the two answers, which one do you think is the most correct, because I like them both?”  (more silence) “Air”. OK Air it is. What is air made from? I’ve lost them…for a moment. I know…more questions! “Does a hole have to be round?”

When we think of holes, our immediate responses are the same as the kindergarteners that day. And that’s ok, but when we have time to think about it we can all arrive at some pretty deep understandings about what many just think is nothing.

Holes are all around us. I get the irony of that last sentence, and am still willing to keep writing. Doughnuts, bagels, cheese and other foods have holes. We have holes in our heads. Some animals make their homes in holes. Humans too. Throughout history holes have been included in our architecture. Not that we should brag, but we have also managed to make a hole in our Ozone layer. Not cool humankind. Not cool.

photo via NASA

photo via NASA

When it comes to holes, it is probably the study of black holes which captivates the minds of a majority of scientists, physicists, philosophers, and Sci-Fi enthusiasts. Are the spaces in between just as important as the objects surrounding them? With questions like this flying around our minds, it becomes clear that there is a whole lot to know about holes.

This post is a departure of sorts. I am attempting to script a TED Ed lesson and felt this format would be a great way to flesh out a script and enlist support from peers. Please take time to comment, like and even share. I value your feedback and support. In the process of drafting this post, my son and wife provided several valuable points. And as such, this has now become 2 posts about holes. Will

Now the lesson…Even though the preamble is about holes, here’s an object lesson about air and states of matter.

Sharing that even the air around us is made up of certain types of matter. I share the 3 basic states of matter with the students from gas, liquids and solids. I left plasma out for this age, but was tempted to drop on them anyway. So I take out two identical large clear plastic bags and a metre stick, and ask the students to compare the bags. After a few moments they all agree the bags are the same and the metre stick is a fun substitute for an imaginary light sabre. I shouldn’t have shown them that last thing. I ask a few volunteers if they can help me teach about balance using the metre stick. We then practise with rulers to understand the idea a bit(lot) better.

Next, I fill one of the bags with air, tie it off and tape it onto one end of the metre stick. I ask students to describe what was in the bags? Afterwards, we taped the other bag on the opposite side of the metre stick immediately followed by students’ predictions about what was going to happen next? With 2 students helping, we lift up the metre stick with my finger carefully and precisely placed between the two bags taped onto it. They let go and for some reason one side begins to drop towards the floor. What is happening? What does this mean? Laughs, a few moments of silence to process and then some sharing.
I ask, “So you are telling me that the air around us weighs something?”  “That means it has mass,” I continue, “even though we can’t see what makes up air, it is still made of something.”

“What else has mass?”…

Maybe next time.

More

Holes of Matter