The Boys and the Tech Connection

The painting below sits at the front of my research journal for my Masters coursework. It took me twenty years to find and, that story, though too long and not quite relevant enough to include in its entirety here, has woven its way into my inquiry. That painting symbolizes a new layer of understanding into why I do what I do at home, at school and in my Masters research.

Mother and Child

Madame Vigee-Le Brun and her daughter, Jeanne-Lucie-Louise,  1789
(painted by Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun)

Last night I sat supposedly working on report cards watching and listening to my children. My two sons were both on the home PC playing with a friend. The friend was far away – a 6 hour drive from here – visiting family. The friend, let’s call him Leif, has been my older son’s best friend for years. They are both rough tumble boys who seem to be from two worlds; the first world of tree forts and dirt biking switches back and forth with the second, newer world of video games and Youtube.

The boys were playing a free online video game that had a chat feature, so the three of them were chatting away, laughing, yelling, discussing what to do, goofing around, having a great time. They were using, very proficiently, a variety of technological tools to have fun with a friend.

A confession: I don’t always like technology. I do love it for some things, but it’s awful in other ways. It can be a huge waste of time, it can create real problems in people’s lives and I question the overall health of sitting in front of a screen for too many hours in a day. But it’s a part of our lives, our childrens’ and students’ lives very much so, and I feel it’s important to stay one step ahead of the younger generation in order to guide, role-model and help them navigate the world through the lens of technology. That’s a huge, heavy lens that nearly all children wear now. I want to be able to help them be able to stand up under its weight and think critically while looking through that lens. I also want to help them realize that they can, and should, sometimes take that lens off and unplug.

I stopped writing report cards and started to pay attention when I realized what the boys were doing. I stopped when I realized how the technology was allowing for a positive, transformative friendship-solidifying experience. I started to pay close attention to how the communication enabled by the technology was enhancing the connection and relationship between the boys, even over a vast geographical distance.

I started to think about the connection to my job. What the boys were doing is basically the same thing we’re doing with the Elementary Connected Classrooms project. One goal for the project is to create and maintain a relationship, a real connection, using technology, to bridge geographical distance and enlarge students’ peer group while at the same time giving them practice, in a safe and guided way, to learn how to learn from and with others online.

And that’s what my boys were doing. Using technology, under my guidance and watchful eye (from the kitchen table where I sat, I had a direct view of the computer screen, not to mention that I was close enough to hear the chat perfectly) to bridge the distance and maintain and enhance a friendship. They were using technology to play with a friend. It sounds so simple, but the more I think about it, the more complex it seems to be.

One thing I’ve known for years is that motherhood is a huge motivator for me. For example, all that I do with technology…from TLITE to the MEd inquiry to the Connected Classroom to all my independent, online PLN pro-d…it’s all, at the very heart of the matter, to do with being a mother. I am very motivated to stay one step ahead of my children and want to know just enough so that I know more about technology than them. I strive to keep them productive and literate and competitive and safe with their use of technology. I know they are growing up as Marc Prensky’s ‘digital natives’, and I want, as their mother, to be able to help guide them and help them along in that technological environment as I strive to do in every other aspect of their lives. I’ve known this all along. I’ve always known that, before my students, who I do absolutely love working with and who I try to be a wonderful teacher to in so many ways, are my own children. I am always so much more a mother than I am a teacher.

And that’s when I really had to stop. I was reminded of my older son’s entry into a visualization exercise we did at class one day. Basically, in the middle of a guided meditative type exercise to focus our thoughts on our inquiry, my son popped his head into my envisioned classroom. Since it happened, I’ve been wondering why. I was convinced, out of guilt, I think, that he was literally barging in on my imagined inquiry because I was neglecting him and his brother with all of the extra work and travel that the Masters has brought to our lives.

But he wasn’t barging in, he was reminding me. He was reminding me that motherhood is the driving force behind all that I do with technology. I do care about my students and take my job as a teacher in this small community very seriously. But I’m a mom first and foremost in all that I do. Which brings me, finally, to the painting of the mother and child…

I’ve loved that painting since before having children of my own. It is motherhood, simply and beautifully.

I placed that image at the front of my research journal weeks ago, not really knowing how it connected to my inquiry, but sensing and trusting that it did. Watching the boys and the tech connection tonight helped me to not only understand why my son appeared in my visualization, but also to remember why this inquiry is so important to me. Those boys and their technology made me realize that motherhood is one of my deepest motivators and the one lens that I never take off.

Thanks boys. Just another reason to appreciate those rangy boys that I’ve always enjoyed so much…

Research Proposal in Visual Text

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this myself, a little disappointed that I didn’t actually. I just spoke with my Masters buddy because I had to miss class today (and feeling very, very guilty about it, but it was for all the right reasons). She gave me a quick overview of the day and one topic they discussed was Wordle. The group was talking about narrative inquiry and Wordle was introduced as a method to highlight repeating words and ideas.  I’ve used Wordle in this space before, and in my teaching practice, so it’s a natural extension to use it to enhance my Masters learning.

Here’s a wordle of the research proposal I submitted last month. Click on the image for a full size version. Thirty-five pages and over 9000 words summarized neatly into one visual image!

Wordle: Inquiry Project

Based on that image, I think it’s obvious that I’m focusing on my own teaching practice (the whole point, so I’m happy to see that word is the biggest) and that learning is the next key idea. Inquiry is closely followed by students and then it gets a little more complicated.

It’s clearly my inquiry project – everything is there, all three topics: the Elementary Connected Classrooms environment, visual literacy/arts based methods and my exploration of my inherent Metis worldview.

One last thought I’ll share…the inner art teacher that’s still a part of me was very pleased to see the word arts registered larger than technology 🙂

Image above courtesy of Wordle.net.

Preparing to ‘Stop’

Driving home from a weekend of graduate coursework last  Sunday,  I approached signs warning of road work ahead. There, at the side of the road, was this sign:

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Those three simple words summarized the first weekend of Educ 807 and, I’m guessing, the next few months of graduate coursework.  We discussed the importance of being aware enough to notice the ‘stops’ during the inquiry process, those moments when reading, or writing, or engaging in the inquiry process, that, although fleeting, offer rich and meaningful learning. More on ‘stops’ and the originator of the idea follows.

In my mind, there are a few steps to take before you are prepared to ‘stop’. It’s good to know these steps; if you don’t slow down and aren’t prepared to stop, you could miss your destination entirely, and I know that no one in the cohort wants to do that. So, my steps, as I see the process…

Preparing to Stop:

  • Know who you are personally and professionally. Understand the  lenses through which you view the world, know your distant teachers and how they’ve influenced you, and be aware of your passions and what ‘rubs’ you the wrong way.
  • When reading, read for what David Appelbaum calls ‘stops’, those gaps or spaces in-between ideas that catch your attention. Instead of reading an article and underlining everything that you find interesting, read with an awareness of what ‘stops’ you and makes you think. Find those few ideas that inform your inquiry and make you wonder. Read in a critical yet personally meaningful way. Not everything that is interesting is relevant to your inquiry.
  • When you notice a ‘stop’, determine why you stopped – why did it matter? How does that inform you, your teaching practice, the inquiry you’re working on?
  • Also note, what questions does the stop raise?
  • Finally, when writing, pay attention to the self-created ‘stops’ that emerge from reflection, observation, data collection, etc. – I’m guessing we’ll be learning more about this in the coming weeks as we’re onto data collection very soon!

If only road signs could always sum up learning experiences for people. The world would be a completely different place…

A Chance Meeting

Yesterday a student changed the way I think.

Allow me to explain. I was being a dutiful sports-mom and was a sideline official at my child’s sporting event. One of my duties was to ensure that the score sheet was correct. As I was verifying the visiting teams’ roster, I was surprised to notice a familiar name: Hubert Smith.

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Hubert is a part of the Connected Classrooms project. He lives in a different community geographically distant from my home and both communities are in the same school district. Furthermore, both Hubert’s class and my class are a part of the Connected Classrooms project so, everyday when the classes connect using the latest video conferencing and desktop sharing software to teach and learn collaboratively across the district, Hubert sees me as one of his teachers. Some days I’m teaching his class a lesson through a video camera, other days I’m a supporting teacher guiding my students through the other teacher’s lesson activities.

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Also, Hubert is reading the novel I am teaching in our Online Literature Circles. Every week I post a deep thinking question to our Connected Classrooms Moodle site and Hubert, along with all the other students reading the novel, posts a response to the forum. We’ve had some good discussions online and Hubert even took the initiative to post a music video relevant to our novel. He and I have built some student/teacher rapport within the Connected Classrooms environment. I have never met Hubert face to face but, as one of his teachers, he has been learning from me for over three months now. This is something I’m sure distance education teachers are used to, but not me.

After the sporting event mentioned above,  when it was finally time to leave and go home, I looked up and saw a boy walking out of the changing rooms with his mother. The way he looked at me, I instantly knew that it was Hubert. He smiled, tentatively, then, after I smiled tentatively back, his face transformed into a full, happy smile of recognition and he waved. He mother came walking over and introduced herself, starting our conversation by explaining that Hubert had said I was his teacher.

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It was the coolest and oddest experience I have had in a long time as a teacher. Here, before me, was a student of mine that I have been teaching for over three months. We know one another as student and teacher and have interacted as such in a variety of ways but always through a virtual connection.

I am still amazes at how powerful the actual face to face meeting was. It was so nice to put a face to the name and be able to chat with him in person. We talked about the game and his team, we talked about school and we parted saying ‘see you next week’. Meeting his mother was wonderful, too.  I love meeting students’ parents for many reasons and she was so warm and seemed genuinely happy to meet me.

The chance meeting with Hubert, and the power of the experience, was timely. I’m currently finishing my research proposal for the Masters course and I’ve struggled to find the exact words with which to frame my inquiry. My inquiry is centered around arts-based methods and advocating for visual arts. I also feel a need to research indigenous worldviews to more fully understand hidden perspectives that I bring into the classroom each day. And, somewhere, I was hoping that those two topics would intersect and enlighten me with their connection.

I have constantly thought that those two topics are enough and should be the focus for my research but the unique learning environment that is the Connected Classrooms keeps creeping into my inquiry. I have purposefully tried to leave the context of teaching through new technologies out of the inquiry for simplicity’s sake.

But the reality of it is that, everyday, when I turn on that video conferencing equipment or login to the Connected Classrooms Moodle site, I am teaching in a radically different way than I have ever taught before. I can’t remove that from my inquiry. The way that my pedagogy is shifting as a result of the Connected Classrooms is profound and effects everything about my teaching practice, including the research for my Masters Degree. While I would like to leave the complexities of teaching with these new technologies out of my research, I can’t, and I shouldn’t.

Hubert reminded me that the context of the Connected Classrooms is effecting who I am as an educator, how I teach and what I believe about teaching and learning. He reminded me that the students are at the center of my inquiry and that I have entered into a teaching position which fundamentally changes the connection between student and teacher. And while I’m fascinated with the arts and intrigued by indigenous methods, I can’t ignore the environment in which I’ll be exploring those ideas.

Which takes me to a whole new level of thinking in this inquiry process…can I connect all three? I thought I’d tried, but really I was just asking separate questions that didn’t connect. Now I wonder, can I make meaning and create knowledge about using arts-based methods while gaining understanding of inherent  indigenous paradigms in a technology-rich learning environment that is innovative to the point of fundamentally transforming teaching and learning?

The more I write, the more I think, the more questions I have…all thanks to Hubert.

Hubert is a pseudonym to protect the student’s actual identity.
Soccer game by RaeA from Flickr.com, Hands 2 by A Taridona and Camera equipment by me.

MEd Layers in a Dream

I had a dream last night…vivid, involved, realistic. The first thing I remembered from the dream was that I was very self-aware and I was thinking. The time was a few days in the future, the upcoming weekend to be exact, and I was down at the coast for my Masters coursework. I was not at SFU (where I actually do go for my studies), but in a house. I had my binder of articles, my notes, my bag, even my lunch. Everyone in the cohort, including the professor, Dr. Kelly, was there. It was a usual weekend of study…except for the house.

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The house that we were in was old and cozy. The rooms were large and opened one onto another. There was a large living room full of seating. I had a spot on one of the couches because, as in real life, I’d been one of the first to arrive for class that day. Even the couch I was sitting on was in the exact same place I usually sit in the room at SFU – I like to situate myself along the back wall facing the prof at the bottom of the ‘U’ shaped table arrangement.

The dream progressed through a normal day of Masters study. I sat on the couch, with my binder in my lap, discussing articles with the group and the people sitting near me. We broke for lunch and I wandered outside with others to sit and eat on the large patio at the rear of the house. The afternoon involved a creative, arts-based activity in the kitchen involving melting wax (haven’t figured  that one out yet) and I distinctly recall admiring beautiful owl sculptures that decorated a few of the rooms in the house.1336922714_4606f83fc6

I’ve been peeling away the layers of this dream all day and, as I’m obsessed with it for the day, it’s my musing for the week.

The first layer of interest was that I dreamed about the Masters in the first place. With the life-consuming report card deadline fast approaching, I’ve had little time to devote to MEd studies in the last week. Out of necessity, I’ve had to spend that extra time on assessment and evaluation tasks. I wondered at first if dreaming about the MEd was an indication that my mind needed to spend more time on my studies.

The second layer, too much for my half-awake brain to immediately sort out, was the house. Why the house? Why was it so vivid and so central in my dream? Once I started to wake up, I realized that the house in my dreams was symbolic of Prospect School (now called Prospect Center) from an assigned reading I finished a few days ago.

The reading is from a book entitled “From Another Angle: Children’s Strengths and School Standards: The Prospect Center’s Descriptive Review of the Child” which tells about an amazing school in Bennington, Vermont. The original Prospect School opened in 1965.  The teachers at Prospect created their own philosophy of education which included an emphasis on process and inquiry. Also, these educators were, in my mind, dedicated teacher researchers. They designed comprehensive descriptive processes through which to study not only the students and their learning, but also the educational practices taking place within the school.

When I finished the reading I was inspired and impressed by the educational environment that was Prospect School (the school closed in the early 1990s). I hadn’t had a chance to do any writing, or even thinking, on the reading. I think that my mind wasn’t ready to let go of the ideas in the reading, and a detailed, wonderful dream in which I was actually experiencing a meshed SFU/Prospect School was the result.

As I seem to rethink and question everything these days, I started thinking about the dream itself. Why was I even spending the time to make the connections above? It was, after all, only a dream…or was it…

That’s when I came to the last layer. The last layer resonates at a much deeper level and deserves explanation.

In order to better situate myself as a teacher researcher and more fully understand the paradigmatic assumptions through which I view and act within the world, I started to research those who currently influence, and have influenced, my thinking. One of the greatest influences in shaping who I am today was my great-grandmother, or, as we called her, Nanny.

62125068_3340ca4409Nanny’s mother was Metis and her maternal grandmother was Cree. She exemplified the combination of old wives’ tales from her Scottish fur trader father and the common sense based on living in connection with the natural world which, I’m guessing, she received from her Metis and Cree maternal roots. I speculate not only because Nanny passed away peacefully years ago (at the fine age of exactly 99 1/2 years old), but also because my family knows precious little of Nanny’s Metis origins. She was sent away, along with the other three eldest siblings in the family, to ‘boarding school’ (a.k.a. residential school) and never spoke of her aboriginal ties. What we do know about our large Metis family in northern and central Manitoba we have learned since Nanny’s passing. In order to learn more about myself as a teacher researcher, I felt the need to learn about First Nations epistemologies and worldviews, especially those of the Metis and the Cree.

One of the more compelling articles I have read so far is a personal narrative by Patricia Steinhauer entitled “Situating myself in research“.  The author wrote the article during her Masters coursework and discusses her ‘rubs’ connected to low achievement among students in the reserve system. She returned to graduate coursework with hopes of finding some solutions to these issues and, in particular, mentions a course in Indigenous research methods.

As an aside, I’ve been trying to find the answer to a seemingly simple question – what was ‘research’ called before the birth of the word ‘research’ in the 16th century? – since reading Denzin and Lincoln‘s introduction to The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, so the Steinhauer reading definitely caught my interest.

Steinhauer tells about the tasks assigned as part of the Indigenous research methods course:

Here we had several tasks. The first required each of us to select a living object somewhere on campus and to spend an hour with it. The second task was to spend half an hour each evening watching the moon. The final task was to make notes of our dreams.

Herein lies the final layer of my musing. My mother used to, and taught me to as well, record my dreams upon waking. Dreams were important to Nanny, too, and it was commonly believed that she would dream things before they happened. She rarely spoke of such things, but there are enough family stories to make a believer of almost anyone. Although I have no actual evidence, I think that the importance of dreams as a way of making sense of the world was a part of Nanny’s Metis and Cree heritage. ‘Boarding school’ couldn’t erase her worldview, it could only erase her acknowledgment of it.

As a result of my hidden Metis and Cree influences, I believe that dream analysis is a deeply ingrained part of my overall worldview. It’s part of how I make sense of the world, and, in this case, helps me to fully process readings for my Masters degree. I feel comfortable, and somewhat validated, with this new knowledge and thankful that the Masters coursework has helped me to understand this layer hidden for so long inside the core of who I am.

Imagery from Flickr: the swansea door by Grant MacDonald, the Great Horned Owl by Henry McLin, and Apaches in Italy?!? II by maxgiani.

The MEd dictionary, 1st edition

This is a list of random, assorted words from my Masters studies that catch my interest enough to jot them down or circle them where I find them. The act of recording them, along with my own and others’ definitions (thank you Wordsmyth), should help me to stay specific and keep my thoughts clear and my writing precise.

Cycle: Defined as ‘a circle of events that repeats in a regular pattern’. Goes with spiral below, one way to refer to the research process as the inquiry goes around full circle and cycles back to where it began. Due to the cycling action, the researcher is farther along in the process and either enlightened or has more questions the longer the cycle repeats or moves along. Regardless, the researcher will have a deeper understanding with each cycle.

Discover: one of the action verbs used to describe the inquiry process or the research that teacher researchers do. One of the words in the School District motto. I think closely linked to curiosity and a trait modeled by my mother to me as a young child. Defined as ‘to learn or gain knowledge of through study or observation.’

Framing: Defined as ‘to conceive or formulate…for a particular purpose’. Makes me think of how Anja’s group drew the frame around the idea they had discussed that second day in class. For the inquiry process, the framing of the question is key in that it needs to be open-ended to allow for continual discovery.

Humility: Defined as ‘the quality or state of being humble; modest about one’s status or accomplishments.’ I think this word is important for two reasons – one, teacher research probably brings a good dose of reality into one’s practice and, for some, (most, I would think), humility would result. Two, the more honorable and respectable way to put yourself out into the world, especially once you start actually doing some exciting, groundbreaking work that could bring notoriety, fame, and cause people to actual take notice.

Messy: describes the process of teacher research, probably because it also describes the process of teaching. Synonyms are untidy, disorganized, chaotic, complicated – right brain process comes to mind. Makes me think about the art room, paint and teaching Kindergarten.  🙂

Quest: My favourite word for the moment to describe the MEd process overall. As I’ve written elsewhere:

I like the idea of the MEd year as a learning quest more than a learning journey. You can go on a journey fairly passively or by force, but a quest is usually self motivated and there is the sense of being driven to accomplish the quest. Quest suggests ambition whereas, to me anyway, journey suggests a leisurely travel experience. Also, the word quest forms the root of the word question so there’s a nice little correlation there as well.

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Defined by others as ‘a search, esp. an arduous one for something that is greatly desired’. Synonyms include pursuit, search, chase, endeavor, grope, hunt, inquiry, and probe.

As a verb, it’s defined as ‘to seek; search (often fol. by for or after)’ and synonyms are aspire, pursue, seek, chase, fish, hunt, search, stalk, strive. It’s also defined as’ to search for something (campaign, crusade, explore, hunt, search) or grope, probe’. One last definition is to pursue or search for; seek, explore, investigate, pursue, search.

Rub: What annoys you? What bothers you? What rubs you the wrong way? From the first day of class, and one of the first questions we had to answer. One of the ways to find a good starting point for research is to look for the tensions in your practice, the things that rub you the wrong way. What really cranks you up?

Specific: Exact, precise. It’s important to ensure that the language one uses in the inquiry process, especially in the actual inquiry questions, is exact in meaning. Hence my MEd dictionary and my desire to buy/find a really good dictionary for this next year.

Spiral: Defined as ‘a circling around a fixed point that constantly increases or decreases in distance from it, in either a flat or a three-dimensional plane; coil or helix.’. The fixed point would be the original inquiry question or initial wonderings. Connected by circular motion to ‘cycle’ above.

Struggle: Another word that jumped out at me from the readings. Yes, this year will be a fight. Other definitions I liked include, ‘to go forward by expending great energy’ and ‘to contend strenuously with a difficult problem or situation.’ Both fit nicely…

Wonder: What my mother taught me and one of the ways I think people should view the world. One of the greatest aspects of childhood. Once you lose this childlike quality, then the closing of the mind sets in and you get old (my humble opinion, of course).

I like this word even more now that I’ve looked it up. So many definitions…

As a noun, ‘wonder can be a thing or occurrence that causes admiration or amazement; marvel’, or ‘the feeling that is caused by something amazing, surprising, or awe-inspiring.’ I like the feeling part, I’m all for gut instincts and intuition. Other words with similar meanings include marvel, miracle, phenomenon, prodigy, wonderment, curiosity, nonesuch, phenomenon, rarity, sight, spectacle, surprise, wonderwork, admiration, amazement, awe, fascination, stupefaction, surprise, doubt, skepticism, confusion, and  uncertainty.

As a verb, ‘to be curious or skeptical about something’ with synonyms including conjecture, deliberate, ponder, puzzle, reflect, and think. Also defined as ‘to be curious or doubtful about’ with similar words including conjecture, doubt, inquire, ponder, query, question.

Definitions other than my own were accessed on October 10, 2010 from www.wordsmyth.ne­t.
Imagery by scottwills on Flickr.com.

I Wonder What I Wonder?

I’m a few weeks into the MEd routine now. The familiar life of me as an academic can be described in this way:

  • Read, whenever possible, and if necessary, make it possible to keep up421538389_ad19813ccb_z the self-imposed schedule,
  • Comment and scribble notes all over each article or chapter,
  • Find time to critically analyze the readings and my thoughts on the readings.  The dual accounting strategy Vicki showed has worked well, and I’d like to move that work into this space somehow.
  • Think about where I’m headed. The big picture. Why I’m doing this. The October 25th deadline for a draft proposal is fast approaching. All this reading is leading somewhere. So, I’m working in time to think, mainly because I’m able to afford that luxury at this point in the course and also because I know, from previous graduate coursework, the importance of taking the time to let ideas simmer and see where the wanderings of my mind take me.

167191996_48359529bd_zWhat will my inquiry look like? Or, as I jotted down the other day, I wonder what I wonder?

Hence time to post on possible inquiry topics. This is what I’m wondering about at this point:

  • Creativity. Big topic. Needs to be focused. I wonder about the creative process and how it’s connected to writing. I’ve learned a great deal about creating in the visual arts in recent years – how can I apply that learning to the writing process with intermediate students? How does that question fit into the unique learning environment that is the  Connected Classroom?
  • Collaboration in the field of education. Another big topic. Would probably focus this down to teaching collaboratively with other teachers over geographic space using video conferencing, desktop sharing software, Smartboards, and other technology in the Connected Classrooms. Or…
  • Students learning collaboratively in the moodle learning space. How does posting in a collaborative moodle forum on topics such as current events or online literature circles change the learning?
  • The writing process. Kind of connected to my first bullet above. Could narrow to questions around my teaching of writing in the Connected Classroom environment or to students’ development as writers using the Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham.
  • Student engagement and student/teacher rapport. Really where I thought I’d go with my inquiry from the start and it still surfaces in my head whenever I think about what I could do with the MEd.
  • Being a Connected Classroom teacher. Or, teaching in a ‘Flintstones vs. Jetsons’ teaching environment, as my predecessor called it! The Connected Classroom project is a pretty cool gig. The project even has the attention of the provincial Ministry of Education to the extent that  they’re going to be keeping a close watch on the ground-breaking ways in which the school district is using technology to enhance the learning experiences of the students. So many ways to turn what we’re doing into a question, such as…
  • How can I engage learners across the district through a camera and 70530914_d5e6dd0ef8_zlearners in my classroom at the same time?
  • How do I create/build/maintain student-teacher rapport across the district through a camera and learners in my classroom at the same time?
  • How do I plan lessons, create visuals, communicate content, and teach curricula through a camera and in my own classroom at the same time?

Many, many questions at this point! Too many…I’m only doing one MEd! I’ll probably have to save a few for the PhD I have planned after retirement…

Any comments? Questions about my questions? Which stood out? Which seem to be most ‘alive’? I’d love your feedback…!

Imagery from Flickr:  B is for Books by Jim is Write, Reading by ilmungo, and  Reading by Pensiero.

MEd Musings: Complex, Expansion, Belonging

The first MEd weekend was complex. It felt familiar to be back on Burnaby Mountain in the Education Building even though I haven’t been a student there for fifteen years. The various identity exercises were also quintessential SFU and I very much appreciated the way Vicki approached those activities. How can you figure anything out about your practice if you don’t know who you are? Teaching is an intensely personal and private experience and if one is to fully become a teacher researcher, one should be clear about oneself to begin with for a multitude of reasons (e.g. know your biases, understand your world view, or your own personal hermeneutics, know your interests so you can pinpoint exactly what it is that will be most meaningful to you). Starting with self may seem ‘artsy-fartsy’ (poor Billy, Jeremy’s right, that one’s going to stick) but I think it’s the most logical and practical place to situate oneself at the outset of such an experience.


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The readings, and how to read them academically, are fantastic. More fantastic is how Vicki uses (not sure if that’s the right word…) the readings to bring certain ideas and examples to our attention. This prof is a master at leading students through a process so as to maximize the experience of learning. She could easily have told us about the importance of imagination in Maxine Greene’s article or we could have taken notes as she lectured about how exactly to ‘read’ an article in the course, but she instead somehow primed us then gave us the articles which facilitated our own discussions to discover these ideas on our own. I’m fascinated how smoothly she did this, I was aware of it, but it was so organic that I kept getting swept along in the learning experience even as those moments of awareness popped into my head. We are fortunate to have such a Master of Education to guide us along this learning journey because that’s exactly what she is. More than that in fact, but the word Master speaks more to me than Doctor in this context.

My mind is so full tonight. And so expanded. I was to the point at times today where I couldn’t quite comprehend some notion or idea. That’s a rare experience for me. That feeling of ‘it’s almost there, I almost get it – now if I can just hold on to that thought while it fully matures…’. It’s wonderful. I love that stretching of the mind. Thoughts so complicated that my brain can’t quite understand…wonderful. My brain feels very stretched because of how large the body of knowledge is that I was exposed to this weekend, but also stretched wide open because of the realization of how much the Academy encompasses. It’s amazing really. And one can only learn so much in a lifetime – what kind of a ‘yardstick’ or assessment could ever be used to ‘measure’ that?

The quality of the people in the cohort was another humbling experience. Every single teacher in that room today is an exceptional person and professional. I like Jeff’s take on the group too – lots of little niche groups within such as being a parent, being a TLITE graduate, having of love for the outdoors (mountain biking, fly fishing, camping – nature in general). We’re all highly engaged in our profession and, I would say, we’re all pretty wide awake in the sense of Maxine Greene’s ‘wide-awakedness’. It’s motivating, inspirational, humbling and comforting to be a part of such an amazing group of people. I really felt like I belong in a way I’ve never experienced before. I am thankful, and happy, for that. A little awed, too.

Remarkable.

Imagery by JKim1 on Flickr.


Becoming a Teacher Researcher: Shifting, Stretching and Spiraling

330655247_a488fc76ac_zToday my identity shifted a little. Today there was a subtle stretching of who I am and where I’m headed in life. I was warned that this change would be uncomfortable.  But that’s okay, this change is by choice.

As of today, I’m officially a teacher researcher.

I started the final year of my Masters of Education in Educational Practice at Simon Fraser University this morning. Eleven months of intense academic study during which I will read numerous books, work through various articles and readings, create a proposal for an inquiry of my choosing, complete a field study in my classroom/school/school district, write a major research paper and present my learning to my cohort and professors. Dr. Kelly, the professor for this first course, described the entire MEd experience as a spiral of learning and my understanding is that readings will be revisited, ideas will reappear and the process will build upon itself with time.

It’s a fantastic challenge.

It seems to me that the first part of the process is to determine where I fit in as a teacher researcher into the vastness that is the field of education. Before that can be determined, however, I have to take a good, hard look at myself and figure out who I am as a person and as an educator. Teaching is, for those of you looking from the outside in, an incredibly personal experience and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a teacher able to separate their professional and personal self. So, a few thoughts on “Where I’m From”, one of the homework assignments for tonight…

  • I’m from Irish, Scottish and Cree people
  • I’m from the natural world and need to be a part of it
  • I’m from a beautiful part of the world full of huge mountains, breath-taking valleys, and a rugged coastline
  • I’m from a little town surrounded by a rich variety of wildlife – bears, deer, coyotes, wolves, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, salmon, sturgeon, steelhead, rainbow trout, eagles, owls and more – and I love that I share that home with them
  • I’m from a city where the mountains touch the sea
  • I’m from a succession of strong women – intelligent, passionate, intuitive, loving, wise
  • I’m from a big immediate family, but a smallish extended one

The other part of the process that I learned about today was how to read. Really read, not skim through, not decode and forget, not glide over the surface, but take-your-time-to-actually-ingest-the-text type reading. That reading requires two things often missing in our busy world – time and thought.

240234623_1d7b8b4b87To illustrate the notion of ‘reading well’, we read  The Ethics of Reading: A Traveler’s Guide. To be honest, the title makes me think of universe imagery every time I look at it. The article, by Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, expands the definition of what it means to read so widely that the universe imagery makes perfect sense and I’m wondering when during the first reading that picture appeared in my mind.

In the article, Rorty offers advice and lists questions to ask when reading to more fully understand the text. Advice such as read, then set the work aside and see how it affected you: questions to ask about the author to more completely experience the meaning inside, behind and within the words.

It was late in the day, as I was packing up to leave, that I experienced an ‘aha’ moment, or completed my first little spiral of learning. The Rorty article included details on what questions to ask about the ‘historical author’ of a piece of writing. Rorty offers the following advice:

Identify the historical author. What was his education? what had he read? What was his early environment and experience?

Isn’t that exactly what the first homework assignment was about? Hadn’t we been led through a process in which we thought about and shared who we were, where we came from, what our experiences have been? I think we were asked to identify ourselves, the future author of the final research paper, in order to situate our own thinking in preparation for the stretching, the shifting and the learning to come.

Today my identity shifted a little. Today there was a subtle stretching of who I am and where I’m headed in life. I was warned that this change would be uncomfortable, especially at the beginning.

But then, stretching is somewhat uncomfortable, isn’t it? If you don’t feel a slight tug, nothing’s stretched at all.

Imagery by SubyRex and Emdadi on Flickr.

Enough with the downtime, time for a challenge…

I’m very happy that the one week of holidays I allotted to myself this summerIMG_1647 happily stretched into one month. Proof of this is that on July 18th, I sat down on the couch, tea and book in hand, and realized that I actually felt relaxed. By early August, I had no idea what day of the week it was or what the date was. Sure, I had a dayplanner filled with camping, trips to the beach and other important summer to do’s, but I somehow managed to just blur the days into a succession of fun summer tasks without maintaining a schedule.

It was a great summer vacation, and now it’s time to transition back to reality. Looking back, I did manage to work while forgetting time. I actually did a great deal of reading and thinking to get ready for the challenging year ahead…

I read Ruth Culham’s  6+1 Traits of Writing and her more recent book, Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for Middle School. The more I think about what I learned from these books, the more ridiculous it seems that anyone would just expect students to be able to write. There is so much to teach them about writing, just like anything else, and I’m excited to focus on writing in my role with the Connected Classroom project.

sfu cropped

I spent a fair bit of time thinking about the upcoming year of study to complete my Masters in Education at Simon Fraser University. Cindy, a teacher who just completed the same MEd a couple of weeks ago, recently posted about how fantastic her experience was. If I was excited before, she increased it tenfold with her post! The first weekend of classes is September 11/12, so once school starts, life is going to get interesting (I’ll try Cindy, really, I will, to keep you updated!). Anytime I feel panic about being a mom, a teacher, AND a grad student, I remind myself that this next year is all about positive stress and challenge and I stubbornly refuse to complain or think negatively about such a wonderful opportunity.

I also managed to spend time doing nothing this summer, and downtime always allows for undirected thinking. What I think about during that blissful downtime often surprises me and this summer was no exception. The main theme that ran through all my thinking this summer, whether I was  reflecting on returning to Intermediate teaching, or planning for the last year of my MEd (or tenting for a week, by myself, with two children, a dog and a 5:45 a.m. wake-up call for hockey camp!) was challenge. Challenge seemed to creep into all my thoughts. I realized I need challenge in my life; I actively seek it out. And I realized I’ve always been that way. I thought I was just an overachiever, but I think now I can define myself as one who actively seeks and needs and enjoys challenge in life.

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All that thinking about challenge left me with these questions – How do we teach that? How do we get students to enjoy challenge?  I’m hoping that theme finds a way to surface in both my Connected Classroom and my MEd research…

All photos by me. Challenge Motivator poster generated by Big Huge Labs.