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.

 

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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

Teach Like a Dad

 I want in!

If Dave Burgess and Paul Solarz have us teaching and learning like pirates, then I want to set sail in waters like theirs too.
So, in honour of Father’s Day I thought it would be nice to tie a sail of thoughts to the mast in a treasure laden post filled with golden ideas and pearls of wisdom. Haarrrrr!

I became a father in 1995 – nearly 14 years before I became a teacher. After the natural shock and wonder of new parenthood wore off, I realized that my son did not come with a set of instructions. Perhaps, it was this experience that helped me in the classroom in ways not tangible to those just out of teacher’s college or via text book. My on the job experience as a parent has led me to some awesome revelations about the parallels between fatherhood and education. As much of life is learnt while on the job, I am thankful for everything that being a dad has taught me.

But it goes much further back in time than that and that leads straight to my own dad. Now I have blogged about him before, and to be completely transparent there is not a day that one of his axioms or ‘dadisms’ doesn’t spill into my practice.

Dads are consistent. Students need this from their teachers. Being consistent in the classroom means your yes means yes and your no means no. Never make a promise you cannot keep. Students will forget volumes of meticulously planned and executed hands-on inquiry based lessons, but will never forget a promise you made. In fact they will probably even be able to tell you what you wore when you made the promise. Keep your word. It teaches students to keep theirs too.

Dads are fair. Nothing erodes the confidence and trust in the classroom as unfairness. Students need to know and see there is equity and justice where they learn. Dads can’t play favourites, and teachers risk losing respect which will lead to undermining relationships with all students if they favour one learner over another.

Dads will always tell you what you need to improve even when you don’t want to hear it, not just what you did well. We’re not going to gush to your face, but we will tell every other person on the planet. Take it from me, word of a job well done will get back to you.

Dads are protective. Teachers do what it takes for their students’ to feel safe in the learning environment. Providing a safe place for students to try, fall, fail, shake the dust off, and rise again is crucial to growing effective modern learners. Feeling safe allows learners to take chances knowing they will be encouraged and honoured for their hard work, creativity and resilience.

Happy Father’s Day and Happy Teacher’s Day too!
In honour of this week, here are some TED Talks about Father’s Day for you to enjoy.