Watershed Moments (Inspired by Dean Shareski and Chris Kennedy)

I’ve purposefully returned to reading and commenting on blogs in recent months and I read two really good (and connected) blog posts this weekend. I first read My Own Watershed Moments on Chris Kennedy’s blog Culture of Yes which led to me to Dean Shareski’s post, Watershed Moments of Learning, on Ideas and Thoughts. At the end of his post, Dean Shareski invited  his network to write about their own watershed moments of learning. That challenge was the inspiration for Chris Kennedy’s post and, in turn, they both prompted me to spend some time thinking and writing about my own watershed moments.

This task, which initially seemed pretty easy, was, in retrospect, not as straightforward as I expected and turned out to be a good exercise in thinking and ranking. I’m guessing that this list will change with time so think of this as a snapshot of my ideas at this point in my life. I decided to organize my ideas using most of the same categories as Dean and Chris: PD Event/Conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

 PD Event/Conference:

TEDx West Vancouver ED (2013) is my watershed PD event because it is one of the PD events I’ve attended in the last few years that continues to standout in my mind. It was my first (and so far only) TEDx, the first TEDx West Vancouver Ed, and one of those PD events where you finally get to meet all sorts of people in your PLN face to face (many for the first time – it was the first and only time I’ve ever had the chance to talk to Dean Shareski!). I loved the event. It reminded me that I became the educator I am because I left my small little town and ventured out to PD beyond. It inspired me in so many ways – the speakers were absolutely incredible (see the youtube videos here). It also, indirectly, reminded me that I learn best through arts based methods. At the time I had been tweeting at conferences to record and share professional learning but for whatever reason (serendipity I think), my devices were not connecting to the wifi that whole weekend so I switched to my default, old-school method – a sketchbook and colored, dry media. My doodles from that day, and a bit more of an explanation, are here.

Speaker(s)/Presentation(s):

Choosing just one speaker or presentation is super tough. For today though, I’m going to pick Helen Keegan as my watershed speaker. Her presentation on gamification at Edmedia in Victoria a few years ago dramatically changed my thinking. She introduced me to gamification and I’ve since become fascinated by this. Because of Helen, I co-created and taught one of the coolest units I’ve ever used with students last year – the Battle of the Books: Canadian Authors. That unit is a new twist on online literature circles that uses gamification as the method through which to engage kids and trick them into loving reading novels. I also have to give credit to Justin deVries and Mike Koppes from Kamloops for their awesome workshop that deepened my understanding of gamification at the PITA conference last fall. I’m still fascinated with gamification and plan to continue learning more about how to use this as one method to engage kids.

Book(s):

I love to read and I read a lot. To have to pick just one book, ever, to answer a question that starts with “Which book…” usually seems like an impossible task to me. So, accordingly, I decided on my top four watershed books as of right this minute, today:

#1: The Arts and the Creation of Mind by Elliot Eisner – This book was recommended to me by Dr. Vicki Kelly (see my watershed person below) when I was writing my thesis. When I started reading this book, I couldn’t believe that there was a book, written by a famous Stanford professor, that summed up everything I believed as an arts educator in such an articulate, academic way. It blew my mind. It still blows my mind. I’d been teaching a certain way and developing certain pedagogical beliefs during my years as a high school visual arts teacher (that transform my practice to this day). This book fit perfectly within, and gave sound theoretical basis to, all that I had learned, experienced and struggled with as a teacher passionate about arts based methods and the integration of the visual arts into students’ learning.

#2: Look to the Mountain by Gregory Cajete – This book was also recommended to me by Vicki when I was writing my thesis. It was the first book I ever read that actually described my mother’s way of teaching. You’d have to read my thesis or sit and chat with me for the complete explanation about that. My great-grandmother raised my mother (and my siblings and I) and my great-grandmother, in turn, was raised by her Cree grandmother. Essentially, my great-grandmother’s and my mother’s pedagogy and child-rearing philosophies were rooted in indigenous ways of learning and knowing. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to read a book that actually described how my mom taught me to teach and to be with kids as a teacher. I think it will forever be one of my favourite non-fiction books for that reason.

#3: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman – This is the same book mentioned by Chris Kennedy in his watershed post. In 2005, when this book was first published, I was starting my graduate coursework, learning about the emerging online tools, and attempting to wrap my head around the impact of what was taking place in the field of education because of the internet and the world wide web. This book really helped me to understand the changes happening at the time and pushed me to think about where learning in schools and the world in general was heading.

#4: An Imaginative Approach to Teaching by Kieran Egan – I really like reading books by Kieran Egan and I’ve admired and followed his work for a long time now. Several times when reading this book I would read a chapter at night and try out strategies the next day with my students. Many of those strategies are firmly embedded into my teaching practice. Because of this book, I often weave storytelling into my lessons and kids always seem to respond well. I once saw Kieran Egan when I was completing my MEd. He was working in a garden outside of the education faculty at SFU. I was starstruck and too shy to go say hello. I kick myself for that to this day. He looked so peaceful though, working away, surrounded by plants and I respected him and his peace too much to intrude at the time.

Tool:

The watershed tool would have to be Twitter. It’s been interesting to experience the evolution of this tool since I created my account in 2009. I enjoy spending time learning with and from other enthusiastic educators who love teaching and working with kids and Twitter allows me to do that with people all over the world from a small, rural town in the interior of BC. I can dip in to talk or comment whenever I feel like it and rarely does a day go by that I don’t check my feed to see what’s happening in the world. Of all the technology I’ve tried and use, I think that Twitter has transformed  professional learning for me (one example of how in this post here) more than anything else. Even with the changes that seemed to have come with the explosion of people using it in recent years, Twitter continues to be the tool that impacts my practice the most.

Person:

My watershed person, and someone who definitely had a profound impact on my thinking, teaching, personal life, and everything, really, is Dr. Vicki Kelly. She is one of the most important teachers of my life. Vicki was one of my professors during my Masters year at SFU in 2010-2011. I don’t think there’s any way that I could explain how much I learned from/with her and through her teaching. She is an expert teacher and one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. She helped me in a way that I don’t think any other professor could have. especially when it came to my learning about traditional Métis and Cree beliefs surrounding education and child-rearing. And it’s no small coincidence that two of my watershed books above were recommended by her.

Those are my watershed moments. Thanks to Dean and Chris for the inspiration and thanks for reading!

 

Settling in to Present One Year of Learning in 20 Minutes


I’m thinking about presenting. Still deep in Masters mindset, I’m looking ahead to my last task – the comprehensive ‘exam’, which, it turns out, isn’t a traditional ‘exam’ at all.

The comprehensive exam is a demonstration of learning. To quote the course outline, it is ‘a presentation of significant understandings about education…and a demonstration of your systematic, critical, creative, and reasoned thinking about your inquiry as applied to your own inquiry and educational practice’. We have 20 minutes to present one year of learning, followed by 20 minutes of questions from our profs and a student reader, then 20 minutes of open questioning from anyone in the room.

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To prepare, I’m re-reading Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. I’m going through his blog too. I’m not even halfway through the book, but I already have a list of things I want to include in my presentation:

  1. Acknowledgements Collage – I’d like to do a digital photo collage of all those who helped me with the coursework in the last year. If I can’t find photos of everyone, I was thinking a Wordle of everyone’s names would also have a nice visual impact.
  2. Story – Reynolds refers to Daniel Pink’s six senses from A Whole New Mind, one of which is story. In An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, Kieran Egan writes about the power of story too. From reading Pink and Egan, I have, in the past, integrated story telling into lessons and I’d love to try it in this upcoming presentation. Story is an efficient way to condense large amounts of material. More importantly, it’s a much more human way to connect with an audience; everyone loves a good story.
  3. Visuals – Anyone who knows me will know to expect photographs and a other visual representations of information. One of my three strands of research is visual literacy and arts based methods and my over-arching metaphor is that of the photographer; visuals are deeply ingrained in who I am personally and professionally. And, again, visuals are an efficient way to communicate a vast amount of information in a singular way. In particular, I want to create my own series of ‘through the lens’ altered photographs inspired by these photos here.
  4. Simplicity – I love the quote at the start of the book – “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo da Vinci. Reynolds talk about the importance of “deciding what matters and letting go of the rest” (p. 17). I often try to pack in too many words, too much information, and this time I want to emphasize the essence of my research and let all the rest go. If anyone wants to read my thesis or talk to me about all the other amazing things I learned, they are welcome to, but for the presentation I’d like to focus in on what really matters.
  5. Emotion – I want to connect with the people in the room at an emotional level. I want to invite them, draw them in, so that they experience a little piece of my learning and want to know more. I’m not sure how I’m going to do that yet, as there will be at least 20 others in the room, each with their own beliefs, assumptions, and lenses. I know it will be challenging to evoke an emotional response from every person, but I’m going to try.
  6. Enthusiasm – This one won’t be a problem. I could talk, very excitedly, about my Masters research for hours, days, weeks! I know the power of positive energy and I will be sure to bring that to the presentation. I’m going to need it, too. I have the last time slot of the day!

Despite my efforts to do no Masters work for a week (I submitted my thesis a few days ago and had vowed to take a break), I can’t stop thinking about the upcoming comps presentation. I’m still mentally exhausted from writing the thesis, but there’s a nice settling of information in my head. I guess I’m settling in to present one year’s worth of profound learning in only twenty minutes.

Fortunately, it feels like the presentation is already starting to take shape, and I think it’s going to settle into my mind almost entirely on it’s own.

Image “Twenty Minutes” by me.

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:

preparetostop

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…

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.

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.

It’s Been Awhile…

Where to start?

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. My apologies to those of you who do check in regularly. I’ve thought, at least once a week, of something that would make a great topic for a post, but then life rushed me right past it before I could pull it out of my mind and onto the ‘new post’ window.

Here’s what’s happened in the last two months to prevent me from posting:

#1. Report cards. I’ve been teaching for 14 years and I still haven’t figured out how to do reports without the rest of my life coming to a complete standstill. Any ideas?

#2. Presentation to colleagues on Using Web 2.0 Tools To Build and Maintain a Personal Learning Network for the district non-instructional day in November. This was really a long, detailed Tech Corner designed to spread the word about the great potential for learning connections using technology.

#3. Twitter. Wow. I said that in August, and I’m still saying that now. In only six months I’ve sent 636 tweets, decided to follow 302 people and I’ve picked up 195 followers along the way. If you want to be connected in the world today, you have to be on Twitter. It’s just that simple. It does come with a price though. It’s taken a fair chunk of my computer time away from this blog but because it’s microblogging, I still think I’m moving forward with my online pro-d.

#4. Christmas. I think for the first time in my life, I managed to pull off a wonderful, organized, fun-filled family Christmas without tiring myself out. I made it a priority and I maintained balance which meant that some things, like blogging, just didn’t take place. But this is some of what I did accomplish:

  • 8 batches of gingerbread cookies (my specialty)Christmas Baking
  • 4 batches of sugar cookies
  • 2 batches of shortbread (secret family recipe)
  • 1 batch of krumkake
  • 1 gingerbread house
  • several Christmas movies, complete with treats, blankets, pjs, and other comfy movie night necessities
  • a beautiful Norwegian Christmas Eve dinner, etc., for my husband’s family

#5. I joined a book club. My first, actually. A wonderfully inspiring colleague asked me to be a member so I couldn’t refuse! We’re reading Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen. The coolest part so far was a conference call to Eric himself (turns out one of my colleagues knows him, what are the odds?!) after we read the first chapter.

That’s my update! I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do plan on posting more regularly. More to come…

A More Permanent Blogroll

I learned the hard way that an RSS reader is the most practical and reliable way to subscribe to blogs. My old computer broke down twice this summer, and along with all the related frustration of losing one’s computer, I lost my blogroll. Up until June, I was using the RSS feed provided by my Internet Explorer browser. When I rebooted my computer, I lost my list of RSS subscriptions.

It takes time to collect a good list of blogs to follow and, mostly thanks to my PLN and Twitter, my list is back up to a respectable level. I’ve learned to not only use Google Reader to manage my blog subscriptions, but also to list my blogroll on a the Blogs I Read page for all to see. I now have a more permanent blogroll if and when I lose another computer.

Blue and BrushThe blogs I read fall into one of three categories. Blogs in the first category are those related to using technology in the field of education, such as Ideas and Thoughts by Dean Shareski and Open Thinking by Dr. Alec Couros. The second group of blogs are those like The Art Teacher’s Guide to the Internet by Craig Roland and The Fugleblog by Tricia Fuglestad which are related to art and art education. The final group are blogs belonging to the 31 Day Blogging Challenge that I participated in earlier this year.

If there are any blogs I don’t have listed that you think I’d enjoy, please leave a comment and let me know!

Imagery by Doozzle on Flickr

What I Learned on my Summer Vacation

This is my version of the traditional back-to-school writingThe Harbour assignment. It’s been a busy summer and one in which I’ve learned more than any summer before. I didn’t exactly  finish my original official plan for learning this summer, but I did complete much of the original list when life slowed enough to indulge in self-directed professional development. Here’s what I learned this summer:

 

1. Favourite Summer Reading: A Whole New Mind

Every art teacher (okay, actually all teachers, but art teachers especially) should read A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. The book outlines the six aptitudes Pink believes will give people the advantage for achieving success today and in years to come. He writes about the following six “right-brained” qualities:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

As an art teacher, it’s great to see importance being attached to the kind of learning often emphasized in an art room. The book is full of links and further reading should you wish to develop your ‘right-brained’ thinking. I highly recommend you read it!

2. Twitter

Wow. I don’t even really know how to articulate how much I’ve learned and how much my thinking has changed since signing up at the end of June. My tweeted quote that “my professional mindset has been blasted wide open” by Twitter is my way of explaining it for today. Put another way, when I first started, I felt as if I’d just walked into a party that I didn’t even know was going on and some of the most intelligent, most inspiring educators in the world were already there. It is THE place to be if you want to have an personal learning network (PLN) composed of educators around the world.

Freighter Side SilhouetteFor those who’ve missed the boat or are not yet at the party, Twitter is a free social networking and microblogging site. It’s all founded on the idea of answering the simple question “What are you doing right now?”  One tidbit I think worth mentioning is that Twitter was created by the same guy that created Blogger, Evan Williams.  I wonder what he was like to teach…

A great explanation of the benefits of Twitter for teachers was written in a post today by Paula White. Her third paragraph sums up Twitter perfectly!

3. Blogging

What I didn’t learn from reading books or on Twitter, I learned from blogging. I spent a great deal of time reading others’ blogs and commenting several times a week. I also managed to post four times (including this post) over the summer. I found it was easier to read and comment on others’ posts than to write my own. Sneaking in 15 minutes with my Google Reader was easy – spending an hour or two tweaking a post was not easy.

My big Web 2.0 realization came about as a result of blogging. I realized that the concept of writing has completely changed. Before (and still for some) publishing meant that a finished piece of writing was made into a final product, such as a book. Now a published work can be like a living document, ever-changing and shifting and evolving as thoughts do with time. I’d read this concept before, but I didn’t really conceptualize it inside my thinking until this summer. It’s a shift that really does change the way I see the world.

Clouds plus Silhouette

I hope everyone had a wonderful summer filled with great memories and profound learning. For those of you starting soon, all the best with back to school…

All imagery by me.

Disrupting Class

dis_classIf you’re a teacher involved in the community of educators online, you may have heard of the book Disrupting Class by Clayton M. Christensen with Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson as co-authors. I decided to read the book after seeing Michael Horn’s keynote address at the VSS Annual Spring Conference last April.

During his keynote, Michael introduced disruptive innovation theory and how it applied to current changes in education. I was intrigued by the combination of business theory and the field of education so, after being assured by Michael that the book wasn’t too US-centric for a Canadian teacher, I bought the book and have seen posts and articles about it online ever since.

It’s a good read and I would definitely recommend it to any educator. The book essentially looks at the reasons underlying schools’ current struggles to improve and then offers recommendations to solve the problems and end the struggles. The authors’ viewpoints are important:

“Our approach in researching and writing this book has been to stand outside the public education industry and put our innovation research on almost like a set of lenses to examine the industry’s problems from this different perspective.” (p. 6)

Their perspective hinges on the idea of disruptive innovation, which I’ll briefly try to describe (read the book, their description, with examples and graphs, is much better than I can do in a short paragraph). Disruptive innovation creates asymmetrical competition in any given market. A sustaining innovation, such as the public school system, is the industry leader providing certain services or products to consumers, whereas a disruptive innovation offers a product or service to non-consumers, thereby disrupting the market just enough to create change.

For example, the high school where I work is small (less than 300 students) and there is no French teacher, but, in the last two years, French 11 has been offered as a Distance Learning (DL) course online. The DL course is a disruptive innovation offering an alternative for students who previously had no way to take the course. Overall, the idea is that new and emerging technology in the field of education is a disruptive innovation which offers an alternate to a standard education in the public system. Since many students struggle in school, disruptive innovation within schools may be the answer needed to help more students succeed more of the time.

What I liked:

  • the book is well written and easy to read. I liked the writing style.
  • the detailed notes at the end of each chapter offer some great resources, articles, websites and readings to explore if you so desire
  • the vignettes at the start of each chapter are a nice connecting thread throughout the book and offer a shift in writing style and perspective
  • the book is full of excellent examples which help illustrate the authors’ arguments
  • individual learning styles are key. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is discussed.
  • the authors’ acknowledge the importance of using technology in transformative ways. There’s no point in using a SMART Board as one would use a flip chart (an example of an adaptive use of technology – one where the new technology is used in exactly the same way as old technology and the learning that occurs is essentially the same). Transformative uses of technology actually change the learning that occurs by creating the opportunity for new things to be learned that couldn’t have been learned without the use of the technology (for example, a collaborative blogging project involving two groups of grade five students, one group in Canada and one group in Austalia, could not occur without the use of blogs and the internet).

What could have been better:

  • this is purely from a design point of view – I didn’t like the graphs in Chapter Two which helped to explain the theory of disruptive innovation. There are several 3D graphs, but it’s difficult to tell that they are 3D because they’re simple line graphs. Someone with a background in visual arts or design could easily add some tonal development to add form and depth, therefore making them look 3D.

Is this U.S.-based book applicable to educators outside of the U.S.?

Before I bought the book, I approached Michael to ask him this question. He was honest with his answer, admitting the book was based on research and statistics from the United States, but that the book was still applicable outside of the U.S. After reading the book I’ve noted many similiarities and differences between the situation in the States and Canada (specifically British Columbia), however, I definitely think that it’s worth the read no matter where one teaches.

Similiarities to education in British Columbia:

  • more and more courses are being offered online. Many districts have a ‘virtual school’ with a variety of online options for students to choose from.
  • the small, rural school where I work offers courses via Distance Learning that wouldn’t otherwise be offered

Differences to education in British Columbia:

  • much less emphasis on standardized testing as compared to the U.S.
  • Individual Education Planning, or IEPs, are designed for students who need drastic changes to be successful in the classroom
  • in B.C., our curriculum is based not on textbooks, but on the Integrated Resources Packages created by B.C. teachers and local curriculum specialists
  • many districts have Strong Start and other programs for early literacy interventions
  • the politics are different
  • teacher training is different with longer programs and rigorous certification requirements

Questions I still have:

  • I’d like to know what the statistics are for British Columbia, Canada and other countries around the world. There are many interesting statistics in the book, for example, “by 2019, about 50 percent of high school courses will be delivered online” (p. 98) I’d like to know what the prediction is for Canada. And what about the projected stats for a country such as Finland which has an education system famous worldwide for it’s success?
  • I don’t see  how computer softare could be used to effectively and completely teach open-ended subjects such as art. I can see how computer software could be used by students to individualize their learning in a fact based subject like Math or Science, but what about Physical Education, or writing skills, or Dance?

Well, that ends my book report! Have you read the book? What did you think?

Imagery courtesy of an online image search – I hope McGraw Hill and the authors don’t mind…