Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Living, loving and learning in New York City - Days 3 - 7

Day 3 - 7 all had a similar routine for the students.  Breakfast, school, homework and some time to see and explore various parts of New York City.  The students in the writing module were focused on writing that was "showing, not telling."  They did a lot of practice and took a field trip to the New York Times to learn about writing from some of the best in the business.

The photography students spent a lot of time doing there homework while we were out.  They were getting a better grasp of depth of field and points of view.  Looking at their photography that they are doing now, I can instantly tell that their time of purposeful instruction and practice has had an influence on their work.

Monday night we went to Times Square.  We enjoyed a meal at Ellen's Singing Stardust Diner - a 50's diner for wannabe broadway stars who sing and dance while taking orders and delivering food.  Students got the chance to take in the bright lights and shop.  While they tended to the more familiar fashion staples like H&M and Forever 21, I enjoyed the 5 story Toys R Us, and just sitting on the steps watching the billboards change.
Time Square Banners
Tuesday night we went to a broadway show - "Newsies."  The show was AMAZING.  There are quite a few dancers in our group, and many of the Newsies cast members had been on various seasons of the show "So You Think You Can Dance."  We decided to stay afterwards to get a few autographs - which turned into photos and full on interviews!  The students in the writing course were suppose to write an article that involved the principle of "showing, not telling."  They were busy making notes in the theatre and interviewing the ushers.  They never anticipated that they could get interviews from the stars themselves.  The dancers/actors were SO kind to stay after their long day at work and answer all their questions.  It was a powerful opportunity for the girls to practice what they were learning and better experience the world of journalism.
Me and my friend Luke (who chaperoned)
Students in front of the Nederlander Theatre
R & L with Thayne
M with Jess

Students interviewing and photographing cast member Jess

Girls with dancer/actor Alex Wong

Interviewing Alex Wong

Girls with dancer/actor Evan L. 

Interviewing/Photographing Evan

Wednesday night we went to Union Square and had dinner at Max Brenner's Chocolate Restaurant.  The food there is amazing, but nothing like the deserts.  But we were so tired, full and hot that we never got to desert.  Instead took a warm summer night stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge!
View from the Brooklyn Bridge at the Financial Distinct (tallest tower = World Trade Center)

Students on the Brooklyn Bridge
Thursday was our last night in the city.  We went to Lincoln Center and grabbed some sandwiches from 'Wichcraft, and ate by the fountain.  It was a mellow and calm evening.  We ended with one last (and begged for) shopping outing at Macy's - world's largest store and the Herald Square shops.
Girls (very coordinated) in front of the fountain at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center Fountain.  Lincoln Center to Right, New York Opera to Left, American Ballet straight ahead

Friday was our last day.  Students had a final class in the morning and then we met at the Metropolitan Museum of Art - one of many museums and cultural staples in the city.  However, the students were not as interested in the museum as I had hoped.  After 45 minutes they resorted to taking in the 37 degree heat (celcius to my American viewers) on the roof and enjoying the view.  We walked back through Central Park and had our final dinner at the Shake Shack, another New York Staple,  before heading back to JFK.
The roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking into the city
The entire trip was an amazing, exhilarating, exhausting whirlwind.  Watching my students experience the city was an incredible opportunity.  Helping them learn and grow and providing them with new opportunities to learn and grow was also a wonderful treat.  But I'm not going to lie - it was exhausting.  Being someone who loves to travel, and is use to the "go go go!" of it all, it isn't the same when you are constantly looking out for the wellbeing of others.  By the time I got home I was ready to sleep for three days straight.  I am so lucky to have such wonderful and well behaved students.  New York is a big exciting city and I wish I would had more time to share more it with them, and had them share their experiences of it with me.  But regardless, our 7 days of shared experience is one that I hope will be as rich and meaningful in the scheme of their lives, as it was in mine.

Living, loving and learning in New York City - Days 1 and 2

I know it is already November.  And while student council is getting ready to deck the halls and winter dances are right around the corner, I wanted to take the time to tell you a story of the adventure that I took with 5 yearbook students in the end of June.  (And if you are wondering "why now" you should see the length of my to do list....)

I had the privilege of taking 5 (then) grade 11 students to New York City at the end of June for 7 days.  They were students who had made a commitment to taking Yearbook 12 this school year, and were travelling to New York for a 5 day Photography, Writing and Journalism workshop offered by Columbia University.  [As it was a photography and yearbook based workshop, this post will be filled with photos.  Enjoy/deal with it.]  My students engaged in 2 streams: photography (3 students) and writing for the web (2 student).  The workshops themselves were great.  Every day I would spend the subway ride home listening to tales of "showing, not telling" and "looking for the action."  The evenings were balanced between poignant questions about lighting in Photoshop and panicked rush to interview strangers and complete assignments.  And of course the biggest challenge was that 2 blocks down was central park, and 5 minutes away was Times Square.  The bright lights of the big city were blinding.  Fortunately we were able to combine our exploring and observing with our writing and snapping.  I'm pretty confident that my students left the big apple as enamoured with it as I am.

First ride on the Subway
On the first day, after a long (but comfortable, thank you Cathay!) red eye flight we arrived at JFK and took the subway into the city.  Even the smell of urine in the Jamaica station elevators could not get us down.  We got off the plane starving, and wanted a quick bite before headed off, and sure enough we came across.....Tim Hortons.  Not the most quintessential NYC experience (I'm pretty sure New Yorkers do not qualify Tim Hortons as "real" makers of bagels", but it was a little piece of home to calm a grumbly tummy).  

Grand Central Station

After ditching the luggage at our hotel in the upper west side (the Milburn - standard hotel, but great location near central park, in between Columbia and midtown, and in a more residential neighbourhood by a great grocery store), we headed to Grand Central Station to admire the marble work and get something more substantial to eat from the food court.  It only took about 5 minutes in the station for my to have my wallet stolen.  This is my fourth trip to the city, so I really should know better.  Some guy came and asked me to take his photo (I had a camera, he had an iPhone camera....happens a lot in NYC for tourists to take pics of each other), so I took his picture, and by the time I handed him back his camera, my wallet had been taken by my camera bag.  So my licence, credit cards and everything I needed to pay for this trip were gone.  Not the best way to start the trip.  So we wandered over to the New York Public Library, as planned, and I paced through the Children's book section while arranging an emergency credit card from Mastercard to be sent to me, and my students could see the ORIGINAL Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animals.  Not the way I planned on starting the trip, but the students were great and rolled with it.  
New York Public Library
 In the early evening we went down to the financial district and visited the newly opened World Trade Center Memorial.  Even with tickets, there is quiet the series of security measures before you get in to see the reflecting ponds.  I have been to NYC 4 times in the last 3 years.  The first time I went the site has a whole in the ground and they were preparing to build.  So it was amazing to see it completed, and to experience the awe and reverence of those visiting the site.  It was interesting to see my students interact with the experience.  I was in university on September 11, 2001, and most of my friends were American.  I was driving in my car to Organic Chemistry, and getting into the classroom full of US citizens trying to call home, and my professor from Alabama almost in tears was unreal.  My students would have been 6.  There was a certain disconnect between them and the place they were standing.  They were struggling to determine how they should act, think and feel.  They don't really know a world before 9/11.  That's the generation that we are teaching.  Wow.
World Trade Center
Students at World Trade Center Memorial
 As a side note, despite the large number of people who work near and around Wall Street, on a Saturday the place is pretty deserted.  Couldn't even find a place for dinner.  Ended up going back to the hotel and ordering New York Pizza.  I'm sorry New Yorkers, I'm not a big fan.  May be the largest greasiest pizza I've ever seen.  But it was one of the many NY experiences we could check off the list.

Day Two, the second in a week of beautiful, hot, sunny days, was jam packed. We had morning and afternoon sites to see and experiences to partake in, and students had orientation at Columbia.

After a quick breakfast courtesy of the Milburn, we talked to central park, and started our tour in Strawberry Fields, the area of the part dedicated to John Lennon, across from the Dakota Building where he was shot.  We wandered across the Bow Bridge (featured in many movies), down around the boat house and Bethesda fountain and through the mall towards 5th avenue.  The park was BEAUTIFUL in the morning sun and made for the perfect way to start the day.  I may have been sans-wallet, but my camera was still with me, and out in full force.  All 7 of us (me, students, and my friend Luke who was chaperoning) were out with our camera, capturing the beautiful sites.

Following the walk through the park we hit the famous 5th avenue.  All 5 students were super excited for shopping (their request must-have New York experience).  They had fun experiencing the stores, even though very few purchases were made.  We ended up at Rockefeller Plaza (I had lunch at 'wichcraft - HIGHLY recommend) and took the subway back home before heading for Orientation.
Trying on Hats at FAO Schwartz
Columbia University is one of the most beautiful University campuses.  The students checked in and headed to "class" while I got to enjoy photographing the property.  4 hours later they came out with their first assignments.  The photography students needed to go "take pictures" - an easy thing to do while traveling through a new city!  The writing students needed to interview and write a piece and submit it by midnight.  Now, the majority of students attending this program, 350 in all for 15 countries and all over the US, were staying on campus.  They had a 10pm curfew and 12 lights out/internet off policy.  Over the weeks I was told the kids were complaining more and more.  They were in New York City, but were not allowed to leave to go SEE the city.  My students were increasingly grateful for the freedom of off campus accommodations.
Columbia University Library 
Columbia University
When class was over we had more to see though! (every bit of daylight and twilight was maximized!)  We planned on taking the train down town to Washington Square Park.  We proceeded as planned, but when we got off the train we realized we arrived RIGHT as the New York Pride Parade had ended.  There were tens of thousands of people, police, colours, shouting, singing, barricades and general chaos.  I instantly began to think about turning around, but the students were LOVING it.  This was the New York City experience!!  People watching can be fascinating, and this culture of celebration was taken in as one of the highlights of the trip.  Of course trying to get to the restaurant we planned was tricky.  Took us 1 hour to walk 0.3 miles.  We got there and the restaurant was closing, so we had to take the food to go.  Decided to go eat in Washington Square Park, which is beautiful....and under construction.  So we found ourselves some benches beside the construction, next to a few post parade attendees and possibly a couple people who live there on a more permanent basis.  The whole endeavour was a memory building comedy of errors.  By the time we left the park we were well into twilight and a 5 minute subway ride from our final destination - the Empire State Building.  We spent an hour weaving through lines to rise the 86 stories to the windy view of the city lights.  Of course this was the moment is decided to start raining.  So we only stayed about 15 minutes before heading indoors and down and back towards our hotel for homework and warmth.  However, I could have stayed and photographed all night - the view is totally worth the wait!
View from the Empire State Building (see Macy's, worlds largest store, bottom right)

View from the Empire State Building, towards Times Square
More to come in subsequent posts....

Friday, October 12, 2012

Becoming a Patient Problem Solver

"Persistence is the twin sister of excellence.  One is matter of quality; the other, a matter of time." (Marabel Morgan, The Electric Woman)

I spent the past summer writing a State of the Art (current practices) of Critical, Creative and Collaborative Thinking in High School Science classrooms.  While researching the current practices across the globe I came across this great TED talk by Dan Meyer, titled "Math Class Needs a Makeover."  In this video he talks about students struggle with "irresolution."  That it to say that students are uncomfortable with problems that don't nicely wrap themselves up in a neat little bow.  They by far prefer to be shown a procedure that can be repeated, plug in numbers and quickly get a right answer.  To them, this reinforces that they understand the ideas and can do the work.  They like this.  Except that this is very far from the reality of of problem solving really works.  Problem Solving is hard work.

Problem Solving at its heart involves a marriage of critical, creative and collaborative thinking.  Analyzing what they know, applying logic, thinking outside the box and doing it together.  In my Physics class I encourage students to work together.  To help each other come up with new ideas.  Problems have multiple steps.  They often have more than one way to get there.  I don't get students a procedure, but instead teach them the ideas.  I want them to become better problem solvers.  I want them to understand the patterns in nature and make connections between ideas - not just to work through the recipe of plugging in numbers.  But seems that this method of problem solving is more work than they anticipated.  But every day I am honoured as I watch them rise to the challenge.  They are persevering, and slowly beginning to overcome their impatience that was seen in the early days of the semester.

Arthur Costa defines 16 dispositions of good critical thinkers (article here) - including gathering data through the senses, creating, imagining, innovating, thinking flexibly, taking risks, applying past knowledge to new situations, (among others) and of course, persisting.  These dispositions continue to grow and develop as opportunities are presented.  What helps one become a good critical thinker are the skills they employ when they don't know what to do.  Early on it started with a lot of question asking.  A couple weeks in they relied solely on the answer keys to guide them to the next step.  And now I can watch students persist with a problem for at least 30 minutes before asking for asking me for guidance or looking for hints off an answer key.  They ask each other, go back through their notes, look at previously solved problems.  They draw out diagrams, and list things they do know.  They put question marks next to things they are uncertain about.  And while it is happening quietly, they are becoming persistent, patient problem solvers.  And it's beautiful to watch.

What are you doing to help your students become patient problem solvers?

If you haven't seen it - I recommend you take 15 very worthwhile minutes to watch Dan Meyer's TED talk.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Here a goal, there a goal, everywhere a goal goal

Our school has gone to extended days this year, so it has been a shift to teach until 3:45 each day.  When my yearbook students walk out the door at the sound of that last late bell, the school is relatively quite.  There are a handful of classes during this block, but they are spread out, and the vast majority of students have already gone home.  I see a grade 9 student grabbing their backpack after the volleyball practice that was going on during 9th period.  I stop and say hello to my fellow block 5 comrades who are also adjusting to this new and still unfamiliar shift in the day.  I'm still feeling a little bad about the Physics students I had to turn away at 2:20 - they came for help at the end of "their" school day, not realizing it wasn't the end of mind.  I remind myself that they will adjust.  A few student council kids are waiting to ask questions by my door.  I'm impressed that their were willing to wait the 80 minutes through block 5 just to have a 30 second conversation.  The piles of papers on my desk are already growing, and I have to do's written on sticky notes and scrap papers, hand written in iPad apps, and typed into reminders.  iCal flashes me a notification that I have to pick up ribbon on the way home.  I hit ignore for the third day in a row - it can wait.  I drop a 20 pound stack of old yearbooks on my desk that I had carted downstairs.  There are sticky notes from my editors peaking out from a few of them.  This years book is already being conceptualized.  For a moment I get really excited.  If we can pull this off, we're going to raise the bar.  The challenge is both frightening and exhilarating.  I have a look at the Physics quizzes and decide that I'll mark them at home.  I pack up, dig out my sunglasses and chuck as much paper as I think I'll have time to deal with into my pack back along side the half eaten lunch I didn't have time to finish.  Seems that in light of this new schedule, the days have been getting away from me.  "Not enough time" is on repeat quietly in the back of my mind.  I find myself pausing from time to time, asking myself, "how can I do this more efficiently?"  But then I realize that I don't have time to figure out the answer, and continue working through my list.

As I'm walking out the door, I stop to say goodnight to my neighbour - one of the handful in the block 5 crew this semester.  We catch up briefly, share an anecdote from each of our classes that day, and confirm our progress on a field trip we are attempting to book - we're both in a holding pattern.  And in the midst of recapping our day she mentions goals.  "I'm really liking what the school is doing with staff goals and looking for connecting ideas with in them.  I think it's great that our department goals are going to reflect our personal goals."  To be honest, I hadn't really thought about it.  I mean, I did sit through a Pro-D workshop 2 weeks ago about personal goals.  And I filled out my personal goal sheet this past weekend.  Our science department met and set department goals.  And I attended an assembly with my grade 11s that talked about goal setting and the 10,000 hour rule.  Oh, and I planned a follow up lesson for my discovery class about goal setting.  but to be honest, I hadn't really thought about it. Until now.

At this exact moment, 4:09 on a Tuesday afternoon, it was like each one of those individual conversations found sitting in the recess of my mind had instant playback.  I had been processing them subconsciously, and had so many thoughts and ideas.  If my life were a movie, insert moving "AHA!" moment montage; the music crescendos, the camera moves in to my eyes and the light goes on.  Goals. THEY'RE EVERYWHERE.

"I have to go blog about this!" Is my first thought.  Which was also my goal I set last year.  and again this year.  In fact one of the first things I blogged about here was goal setting (almost 2 years ago) and I checked in on those goals again last year.  I wanted to blog about my goal epiphany on a blog which is a goal inself, on a blog which is, not purposefully, full of posts on goals.  It has an "only in the movies do things come this perfectly pull circle" quality to it, right?

Of course, now I've wasted all my time with this grand revelation and didn't get to say anything about my actual goals.  So I'll save that for another post.  Disappointed?  Don't be.  I'll be back.  That's my goal after all.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Is the Yearbook Relevant?

In the Fall of 2009 I first attempted to under take the large and daunting task of teaching the yearbook.  On my first day, nervous and overwhelmed, I ran into a colleague in the hall who proceeded to question whether, in the world of social media, where pictures and information are accumulating daily, is the Yearbook necessary anymore?  Is it a dying art?  At the time I didn't know what to think - I hadn't even started the job, and there was a possibility that my job was already irrelevant.  And that question has stuck with me since that day.

Today someone posed the same question to me, but my reaction was very different.  Instead of confusion and contemplation, I knew my answer.  YES.  Yes it is.  The yearbook is relevant! The yearbook doesn't exist in competition with Facebook.  Via Facebook kids share their thoughts, ideas, feelings and actions momentarily.  Pictures are posted, people comment, and it is almost instantaneous.  But regardless of the "permanence" of facebook on the internet, none of these posts, thoughts or pictures are really permanent.  They are passing.  Online social media is about movement.  It shows change and allows us to interact second by second, wherever we are.  The Yearbook isn't that at all.  The Yearbook stands still.

The Yearbook says: I WAS HERE.  For this period of time, I was here.  I was part of this bigger body, this community.  I participated in the Halloween fashion show, and I made fun of Mr. Stroh's moustache.  I wore pink for anti bullying day, and sported that haircut that I'd rather forget.  I loved/hated Justin Bieber and remember Mr. Atwal dressing up as Santa Claus.  For this moment of time, I was HERE.  There is no question.

The Yearbook says:  I BELONG.  It isn't just facts and pictures.  It signifies a community to which everyone belonged.  A good yearbook is one that every student identifies with.  That there is a corner of it for each student to say, YES!  I was part of this community.  I was a member.  I  BELONGED.

The Yearbook says:  I AM PROUD.  To dance.  To sing.  To play the clarinet.  To sport pink hair.  To make up games in PE.  To be a member of a Co-op.  To learn to slam poetry.  To build a robot.  To be a Sullivan Star.  It represents the finest part of school spirit and has the power to remind us why it is we are proud to be one of the many.

The Yearbook says:  I MATTER.  Matter enough for a class of students and a dedicated teacher to show up to Basketball games, and witness drum circles.  Matter enough to stand in the cold watching Rugby, or in the rain watching soccer.  To include poems of our bravest writers and art of the creative.  When I enter a classroom or a gymnasium, students are excited.  To be included.  To matter enough that we are there, on the sidelines, wanted to capture their passions, efforts, joys, successes and failures.  We care.  Because our students matter.  Each one.

The Yearbook is a labour of love.  And for all the arguments I have heard to why Yearbook as a publication is on it's way out, I have heard more for why it is POWERFUL.  And I, for one, cannot wait to hold this one in my hands at the end of the year.  I know what went into it.  Every single ingredient.  And the hours and the props and photos and edits and spreads and manipulations and fonts and foils are all a small part of that.  And far FAR from the most important part.  This book is the spirit of our community.  And I could not be more proud to be a part of it.  I hope you all feel the same.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Goal Setting - 10 months past

10 months ago my sister-in-law encouraged me to think seriously about goal setting.  I was paging back through my blog recently, and found this list.  And while looking at it, I realized that I can accomplished most of my goals!  So it is time to review and set new ones!  I was so excited to see, that without thinking too much about it, just the process of taking time to set goals put me in the mindset to achieve it.

In the classroom, I am always vary of having students set goals - I mean - will they really achieve them?  Are they taking them seriously?  But the cognitive process of making yourself aware of your goals really is a meaningful part of being able to ACHIEVE them.  And let me tell you - it feels GOOD.  I think I'm going to start doing more goal setting with my students.  But in the meanwhile - my goals:

MY GOALS (Apri 2011) (Original Post)

Within One Year
  • Obtain a permanent position in my school district - DONE
  • Find 3 extra-curricular needs in the school community (one to meet the need of the students, one to meet the need of the staff, and one to meet my own personal passions) - STUDENT COUNCIL, GRADE 7 TRANSITION, TWITTER
  • Begin my Masters in Education or (if necessary) Apply to a Masters of Education program to begin the following year - YUP.  IN SEMESTER 2, CREATIVE, CRITICAL and COLLABORATIVE INQUIRY
  • Formally or informally mentor a student teacher in my school community - HAVE A STUDENT TEACHER RIGHT NOW
  • Teach all my students how to use twitter for classroom learning - YES
  • Try 3-4 new pieces of technology in the classroom (including Pasco products) - YES, minus the Pasco Products
  • Help 3 teachers develop a PLN - YES YES YES and then some
  • Get a class website up and running in a way that students will access - REPLACED THIS WITH TWITTER and GOOGLE DOCS - which ARE BEING ACCESSED DAILY!

MY NEW GOALS (February 2012)

Within One Year
  • Take a group of Yearbook Students to NYC for training (scheduled for June 2012)
  • Have students involved with developing their own assessment
  • Teach critical thinking and scientific method in greater depth
  • Have students complete scientific inquiry projects
  • Learn how to use Pasco products
  • Blog Weekly (Continued Goal)
  • Teach a Senior Level Science Course
  • Develop a Water/Geological Systems Field Trip for Grade 8's
  • Develop Skills using Photography Lighting Systems and set up a temporary studio for Yearbook
  • Take a professional photography class
  • Develop 10 new demos to incorporate into lessons

I think it's important to note that these goals were set by me and for me.  This wasn't a task I was given by an administrator or professor.  I didn't create them to impress anyone else.  I created (and posted) them for accountability.  For my own growth.  They are not "done" and I have not moved on.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Quiet is Overrated

I teach two blocks of grade 8 science.  My first block works very quietly.  When I give them an assignment, the "work" quietly at their desks.  They do as I ask.  They don't talk out of turn.  They are easy to manage.  When I walk around the room, about 2/3 of them are working.  The other 1/3 are sitting there quietly, not disturbing anyone.  Today I gave them an assignment to write a story or comic that uses density to solve a mystery (murder mystery, is this a real diamond mystery, who stole the cake mystery etc).  At the end of 75 minutes, 1/2 of the students had started an idea.  1/2 of the student had, at most, one sentence, or a stick person drawn.  But they were quiet.  I had the chance to mark their quizzes, respond to a few emails, edit a few yearbook photos.

My second block is loud.  I mean LOUD.  I spend a lot of time reminding them of appropriate volumes and giving speeches on respecting our neighbours by keeping to a reasonable volume.  They are always interrupting me to share their ideas when we're learning new material, and asking questions.  They don't know how to turn away from their neighbours and focus on any given practice questions.  They HATE sitting in their seats.  I attributed this to the fact my class is 65% boys, or that most of the kids are enrolled in a drama class, but that cannot be proven.  Of course, the instinct is to control them.  This "chaos" is hard to handle sometimes.  I'm a little bit "type A" and working with this class, on days, has the potential to leave me frustrated.  Except that I'm not.

You see, when I told them about doing a mystery density assignment, they instantly rose to the challenge. The room gets loud.  Kids start coming up to me with new ideas.  BETTER ideas.  They are eager to demonstrate learning!  They just have ideas about how to do it in ways that work for them.  Two girls are shooting a video.  The room may be loud, but after 20 minutes the script is all written and they are making an equipment list for Monday.  1 student is making a rap video.  1 student designed a comic about a pirate searching for gold.  3 kids got out their iPhones and downloaded new apps to take photos and build a digital comic strip.  2 students asked to use a program called scratch, and one is making a storybook Prezi.  I can see scene rehearsals, and hear the faint beats of a rap in progress.  Kids are storyboarding their plans for the computer applications, and bouncing their ideas off their neighbours.  One student came to me so we could google the bone density of a triceratops.  Other kids are using using their iPhones/iPods to google densities of other substances not found in their textbooks.  My room is loud.  And this is GOOD.  Quiet is overrated.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Here We Go Again

During my water systems unit with my grade 8's this past January, I gave them a choice of activities to demonstrate their learning about the water cycle.  One of those options was to write a song about the water cycle.

One of my students really rose to the challenge.  She wrote an original song, recorded the guitar and the vocals using Garage Band on her iPad, and then emailed it in.  This project met all the criteria and demonstrated understanding.  It also exceeded expectations in every possible way.  She took ownership, she indulged her creativity, and she demonstrated her learning.  And it is amazing.

So I share this, with her permission, because it is too good not to share.  

by Hazelle D.

As I go around the land
It gets hot like desert sand,
I look down and I see
I have lifted off the ground

While I'm floating in the sky,
As invisible little spices
I'm colliding in one big fluff
White as snow, here we go, come on keep floating now

As long as the sun keeps shining
The longer this will go
Land or ocean, I'll be there, waiting for this to start all over
Oh, here we go again

We wait and we wait until the time is right
We're ready to fall there's no time to put up a fight
And we fall, liquid, solid, rain or snow
When we'll hit the ground, neither of us will know

I feel myself reach the ground
We flow throughout and around
We're following the same old plan
We'll run-off into those water lands

As long as the sun keeps shining
The longer this will go
Land or ocean, I'll be there, waiting for this to start all over
Oh, here we go again

Friday, February 3, 2012

Can I have another go?

A grade 8 student asked me the following this afternoon:

"Can I have another go at the project I just handed in.  I know I can do much better and I don't think it represented how much I really know about safety.  I'd like a chance to do it again.  I will hand it in on Monday."

Yes.  Yes you can.  Thank you for asking.

I love it when students "get it."  I wish more of them understood that what I am asking for in projects is for them to demonstrate their learning.  "How much do you understand about lab safety?  Prove it to me." I just want their best.  It isn't about jumping through my hoops.  It isn't about due dates.

The assignment in question was a "What not to wear" safety poster.  They needed to draw 2 people, demonstrating 10 safe things to wear in the lab, and 10 not-so-safe things to wear in the lab.  One student asked me if she could dress up and model and take a picture instead of drawing.  Another 2 students asked if they could write what not to wear raps instead.  Moments like this make me extraordinarily happy.  There is so much talent trapped in our students, along side their ever increasing understanding of the "stuff" we are teaching.  If the way I have asked them to prove it doesn't "fit" with who they are - I encourage them to pitch me something different. Sometimes they do.  And sometimes it is AMAZING. 

It's only 5 days into the semester and my grade 8's already "get it."  I am very excited for what the next 5 months will bring.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Need for a Twitter Timeout (aka the history of my internet according to me)

When I was 12, we got a new fancy PC.  We had window 95!  I could "journal" on my computer in a fancy handwriting font (ahh, Lucida Handwriting).  

At 13, it was the internet.  I was excited to feed my desire for knowledge.  I wanted to be an astronaut, so I spent hours behind the computer listening to the modem make it's musical sounds to connect me to a world where I could spend hours on the NASA website learning about the upcoming shuttle launch.  I could also send electronic mail to my one other friend with the internet at home who also had electronic mail (also, she lived next door).

At 14, the hormonally charged teenager in me discovered my first online chatroom.  It was on a website that allowed me to play chess online vs. other people who loved chess.  I thought this was amazing.  I met a guy at the University of Nebraska.  We spent a year as pen pals, emailing back at forth.  This seemed so extraordinary...I could talk to someone in NEBRASKA! I could tell him all those things I couldn't tell my parents and friends.  In fact, I would tell him things I probably wouldn't tell anyone, I mean, he didn't really "know" me after all, right?  After a year, I got bored of his stories of college life in Lincoln, and I'm sure he got bored of listening to me complain about how hard it was to be a 14-year-old girl. I mean, is there anything more difficult?

At 15, I discovered ICQ.  Before MSN messenger, there was ICQ.  I was in grade 10, but in Math 11 (a big deal in a small private school), and made all new grade 11 friends.  The circle of us would talk online at night.  We could have 3 conversations at the same time (UNBELIEVABLE!) and because we didn't have to say things to each other face we could be more honest, more cruel, and more intimate than any previous relationship I knew.  Something about being behind the screen made me feel safe.  It was a year of school night 4am ICQ chats when my parents were sleeping and I snuck into the computer room that led me to develop typing speeds in excess of 100 wpm.  Of course, from time to time this sense of security would backfire.  Someone might reference an online conversation at school, a friend found out her boyfriend was talking to someone else about their relationship drama, or someone would confess a secret that they would immediately regret the next day.  The use of ICQ caused our relationships to blossom quickly - at least online.  In class, it was like they didn't happen.  We talked about Math.  The Weather.  Maybe the upcoming dance.  For a year, I thought they were my best friends in the world.  But none of these relationships lasted.

At 16 MSN replaced ICQ. The number of people chatting online increased - and they were making many of the same mistakes I made the previous years.  People were divulging personal secrets left and right.  Many joined different discussion groups and chats, sharing with strangers online their innermost thoughts and feelings.  Being online magnified these feelings.  If you were depressed, the chat rooms became a spiral to feed your depression.  If you sought out advice on doing drugs or having sex, random strangers would tell you that you only live once, and then walk you through overly detailed or overly intimate experiences.  Knowledge was being acquired at an enormous rate, but we lacked the ability to process it.  We didn't know how to judge safe from unsafe situations or good from bad advice.  By now everyone had email, and the novelty of writing long and personal letters began.  It got worse when it was long and attacking emails to the friend you felt betrayed you.  It's amazing how mean you can get when given time to draft, edit and improve the quality of your cruelty.

At 17 I was getting ready to graduate.  We'd begun to settle into our world of email, online chatting and the information age.  I did a lot of research for class projects and applied to college online.  I started downloading music for the first time.  I spent a lot of time educating my parents and grandparents, friends and extended family on the uses of the internet.  I began to see the dangers in online conversations, and frequented MSN a little less.  By 18 I was in University.  It was only here that the internet because a source of email with professors, setting up group meetings, newsletters, online course registration and a slew of practical purposes.    By now almost everyone had a story of a chat room conversation gone weird, a MSN chat that was super intimate, or an email that was sent to the wrong person, or accidentally (or purposely read by their roommate).  It was at this point that we started to see that there may just be a problem with being online.

I could continue my story, into the world of IRC, personal websites, blogs, Facebook, twitter and into whatever comes next.  But that isn't the point.  The evolution of the online community started with an assumption that is was SAFE.  That is was the appropriate place to vent without consequence.  That it was a solution to our emotional strife.  That we could be anonymous.  That things could be private.  But it's never been true.  Through every phase of development we lost more and more of privacy and anonymity.  We continue to give up a little more with every email and every website that we sign into via Facebook (Pinterest, Kayak, Voting for Dancing with the Stars....)  And yet, I still watch teenagers and adults a like online venting about their friends, family, colleagues, boyfriend, girlfriend, coaches, teachers or mailman.  They are sharing personal information about themselves and their emotional states.  They get angry or hurt and act rashly, and need somewhere to do or say something.  It seems making an emotionally charged statement online is the modern day equivalent of punching a wall.  I need to do something permanent.  I'm hurt.  I'm angry.  And I want to do something so big and bold that if for only one moment, I will have made a statement, garnered some pity, or at least feel something other than the misery I am feeling right now.  We are all guilty of it.  It may be an email response written back too quickly.  A poorly decided tweet.  A Facebook status you shouldn't have shared.  A blog post written in haste.  [If you have never made an emotional e-mistake, please comment below].  But the internet is not a safe place for this.  Everyone is watching.

And the thing is that most of these moments will pass.  Going for a run, curling up with a cup of tea, a good nights sleep will all help.  Also healthy conversation with parties involved (if that is the nature) and seeking resolution with an open and fair mind is an appropriate set of actions.  Personal journal writing or face-to-face dialogue with a spouse or close friend may help give you perspective.  These are all good choices. But being emotionally charged, getting behind a keyboard, and typing is not going to help.

So here is my suggestion.  When you are having a bad day, when you are hurt, upset, angry, frustrated, lonely or furious; if you have an issue with a parent, teacher, friend or loved one; if you are looking to hit a preverbal wall.....

Take a Twitter Timeout.  Shut down the computer. Put away your phone.  Turn off the iPad.  Logout of Facebook.  And take a self-imposed break.  Cool down, reflect, run, sleep, eat, cry, work out, read a book, play with lego, take a photo, play with your sister, do your homework, bake some cookies or any other activity.  Seriously.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Value of Authenticity

First day of PDP, first lesson.  We teach who we are.  The first thing I was taught on my teaching journey was that how we teach and who we are in the classroom has to be authentic.  Anything less just won't do. This lesson set the tone of pretty much everything I have come to hold dear in education.

Over the course of my short-yet-eventuful career thus far, I have heard so many stories and strategies of how teachers have worked hard to separate their professional lives and personal lives.  Some go by different names in each domain of their existence.  Many choose to work a decent distance away from their homes.  Most have a story or two about the awkward run in with a parent or student while out buying a bottle of wine or box of tampons.  Now don't get me wrong, I don't think it's a bad thing to want a home life with a degree of privacy.  Privacy isn't my issue today.  But with twitter, tumblr, youtube, Facebook, flickr, iPhones, foursquare, geotagging and a never ending list of ways to which we have been willing to give up our privacy in a digital evolution, can we any long hide our heads in the sand and pretend this is possible?

With the rise of social media, the ability to create separate spheres of existence is coming to an end.  I mentioned it briefly in my last post - we are now in an era of life that is going to calls for teacher congruency.  This involves two aspects.  Firstly, teachers accepting that they are role models 24/7.  This was always true.  I knew this the minute I submitted my application to SFU.  I was choosing a calling that was going to require me to lead by example.  I CHOSE THIS.  I can't complain.  I wanted this.  I consider is a privilege and an honour to be a teacher and I am proud of the role I play.  And with it, I was ready and willing to make choices to live up to it.  If any teacher is unwilling to be that roll model 24/7, they may want to consider another profession.  The spotlight it on us, whether we are willing to accept it or not.  The second aspect that comes with this is the acceptance of teacher fallibility.  This means that parents, students, faculty, administrators, media and public at large may have to accept that teachers are human.  We make reasonable decisions.  We make good decisions.  We may even, gulp, make bad decisions.  We are real people.  This is a new and uncharted waters for the educating community.  I'm not going to pretend these are waters I know how to navigate.  But I am ready and willing.

If I was going to pick one thing that will make these waters EASIER to navigate, then I would have to say it is authenticity.  As individuals we now need to be one person.  Our teaching, inside and outside the classroom, the messages we share and the relationships we build, need to be true to who we are.  And as we continue to wade deeper into the murky waters that social media has exposed, my goal is to the lead the only way I know how - by modelling authenticity myself.  This can happen through consistency in our words and actions, transparency in our motives, and willingness to be vulnerable and honest with those around us.

If you know me, and you are reading this, I hope this rings true (if it doesn't, I ask you to call me on it).  If you are just getting to know me, I hope you grow to see that there is only one version of me to get to know.  And if you want to get to know me, I can assure you that the 'me' you will meet for coffee, in the classroom, on twitter (via @sullyteacher or @lysmekah - 2 handles, not for personal/professional separation, but for different audiences), curled up with a good book, backpacking through Europe, taking pictures of families or pitching a tent in the woods - she's all the same.  Of course this kind of authenticity is a work in progress.  It requires vulnerability and transparency.  But that is the journey I am on, and I hope to be better for it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Top 11 Things I Learned in 2011

I don't know if it is possible to really say I learned 11 things that were the "most" important.  What I can say is there are 11 things that stick out in my mind as being very significant.  They vary from facts to life lessons.  While I was compiling this list I started wondering, what would this look like if I had to write down 11 things every DAY.  I'm sure I learn at least 11 new things per day.  Via Facebook I learned that the song what was number one on the billboard charts the week I was born was "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar.  In conversation at school I learned the topic of a colleagues upcoming paper and that two of my students have mutual crushes on one another.  I learned that there is more than one type or moraine and where you would find each, and read a great article teaching me how to best photograph fireworks.  Also, online research led me to discover there are amazing waterfalls in Croatia (I would like to go here).  And it's only noon.  But of course in the grand scheme of a year, these may not seem like the most important pieces of learning I have acquired.  But these 11 items slightly edged out the rest on my learning journey this year.

[One]  Who you are with is more important than what you are doing:  I spent two years working in an amazing school, when in Fall 2010, with no control over the situation, I was posted to a new school.  I originally was very optimistic about it.  I thought maybe the grass was greener on the other side.  I started my school year bright eyed and full of enthusiasm for the new adventure.  I quickly realized, that, though the courses I given were awesome, and I had my own classroom, and admin was providing my with lots of resources, it wasn't home.  The staff of Sullivan Heights Secondary were my home.  They were more than just people I worked with - they were family.  It didn't matter what I was teaching, but who I was teaching with.  I was fortunate enough to get a permanent posting back here starting in September 2011 and it has enriched my life more than I could imagine.  I love going to work and am grateful for the time I get with my colleagues and friends - in and outside of the building.  It's people that make all the difference.

[Two]  Intentional Effort is the key ISO vs. Exposure vs. Aperture vs. Shutter Speed vs. Focal Length, aka, my photo archenemies.  After years of struggling to understand the relationships between all of these fun photographic ideas, I was finally able to work through it until I could say I GET IT!  It wasn't a magical "click".  I embarked on a 365/2011 project (mentioned in my last post).  Working hard every single day was the key to actually developing the skills I sought.  It was a joy to work towards and accomplish a goal driven completely by intrinsic motivation.  I found that being intentional (the heart of which was discipline driven by desire) really is the heart of learning.  Intentionality and its friends motivation and discipline rule the show.

[Three] Learning is most efficient when sought, not forced: The last year has been full of a lot of perpetual professional development, most of it via twitter and educational blogs, as well as developing photography skills.  It seems the more say I have over the method and type of learning I do, the more I invest.  My learning is enriched when I am choosing.  This isn't just limited choice (like welcome to the convention, pick a seminar) - this is big 'C' Choice - the media, the message, the time, the place, the who, the how - all of it.

[Four] We are all creative: in my masters program (on Critical, Creative and Collaborative Inquiry) I spent me semester learning, researching, dialoguing and writing about creativity.  I have learned that we are ALL creativity.  Creativity, building something novel and of value, is domain specific.  It is possible for one to be creative in any discipline and subject.  My best friend has a great deal of creativity when it comes to working with numbers and budgeting.  My cousin is creative when it comes to finding away the best way to organize a small space.  And of course I am capable of creativity - whether in designing a science lab or taking a photo.  (However, if I start talking about freedom and safety to create, we will be here another 22 I'm going to move on)

[Five] We are our own worst enemies: We can all fall prey to our own insecurities.  Being confident in who you are will lead to joy and freedom.  I've realized that many of the people that inspire me (in a multitude of fields) are those who demonstrate confidence and self-belief.  Though, I'm sure they struggle with this one like the rest of us.  Believe in yourself, let go of the fear.  We are all powerful beyond our wildest expectations.

[Six] Don't let technology be a crutch: Yes, the world is changing.  Yes, students can navigate technology effectively.  Yes, we want to develop 21st century learners.  I've started to realize that so many have fallen into the trap of incorporating technology into the classroom because it is technology.  Using a laptop to research a project instead of books is efficient.  It doesn't by definition make it better learning.  Just like doing an online lab doesn't necessarily enrich education over the hands on opportunity and creating a cartoon strip using an iPad app isn't innately more meaningful than drawing one by hand.  How we use technology and when needs to be smarter than all that.  My goal is to get students to think critically and creatively and to see them communicate effectively.  Sometimes this means using technology, sometimes it means avoiding technology.

[Seven] Aim for Congruency: As many teachers begin blogging and using twitter, there is a difficult line between our personal lives and our professional worlds.  This is a challenging conversation.  When I started as a student teacher, those seasoned teachers around me would give advice on how to create a separation between who were are personally and who are are professionally.  The rise of social media and other technologies have led this advice to be moot.  It seems there may have to be a great deal of congruency between our personal and professional selves.  As for me, I'm striving to be but one person.

[Eight] I am a photographer: I have hesitated to use the word.  Seems every man, woman and child out there with a $500 SLR and picnik thinks of themselves as a photographer.  What once required an eye for composition, and understanding of optics and light and the ability to worked expensive and complicated equipment, to be able to create beauty without the ability to check and adjust, has been reduced to point and click or instagram.  The definition of photographer has changed.  So I've had to define it for myself.  And then feel confident enough to say "I am a photographer."  I'm still hesitant to use the word, but I'm working on it.

[Nine] Engage your imagination: I'm always happier when I engage my imagination.  And I try to do it regularly.  You should to.

[Ten] The world is magnificent: Want proof?  Hit the open road.  I spent 3 weeks this summer driving from ocean to ocean.  I cannot begin to recount how many beautiful things I saw.  From the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, The gorgeous landscape in the Badlands, the Dunes in North Carolina, the Buffalo herds of South Dakota, the rolling hills of Kentucky and sunsets of Cloudland Canyon.  The more I see, the more I want to see.  The world is magnificent.

[Eleven] Power of Balance: Learning to let go has become one of the most important lessons I have had to learn this year.  Creating time for family and friends, or even time to curl up with a good book has been a struggle.  Being intentional about saying yes, and saying no, is so incredibly important.  Family, friends, health, solitude, reflection, work, learn and play all need to be given their time.  Being aware of the decisions I am making has allowed me to achieve a greater degree of balance, and for that, I am grateful.

Monday, January 2, 2012

In Retrospect: My 11 Favourite Photos of 2011

A colleague of mine posed a question on twitter: "What are the top 11 things you learned in 2011."  And while I've been thinking through that question over the last three weeks and jotting ideas down, I noticed that a good portion of the list fell into the photography category. This year I did a 365 project (a picture a day for the whole year).  Unfortunately I didn't finish (only got through 248 pictures).  Once the yearbook began I was taking photos for the school, and my photo-priorities shifted.  However, through both opportunities I found that my abilities as a photographer grew immensely.  So while I am finishing up my top 11 things "learned" I am here to share with you my 11 favourite photos taken this year (in no particular order):

1.  Hatteras Island, North Carolina.  After driving from Langley, BC to Hatteras, NC, we were finally about to set our feet in the Atlantic Ocean.  It's just over that ridge. #coasttocoastroadtrip

2.  Underneath the St. Louis Arch my eye was drawn to this family, who appeared to be #lost

3.  Fire.  Every camping trip needs a camp fire.  And every campfire needs a boy to find a stick, and carry that fire around with them.  #campingtraditions

4.  These are a few of my favourite things.  Books.  I love love LOVE books.  Strangely enough, I have not yet read Crime and Punishment (but have read all the others).  But I singled it out because I love the colour red. #justaddawarmcupoftea

5.  Tassels and Beads.  Each bead is represents someone or something important to me.  The four tassels represent my university graduations (BSc and BEd) as well as my husbands. #blessed

6.  Pike Place Spices.  This is an amazing store in the Pike Place Market with wonderful spices and hand made loose leaf teas.  I love the colours of the spices and would have taken so many more pictures if I wasn't getting the evil eye for wandering through with a camera.  #pikeplace

7.  Being that my family is entirely dutch, I cannot help but love tulips in the spring.  I hope that one day I can go to the Netherlands in the spring to take pictures of fields. #proudtobedutch

8.  Crispness.  I love taking pictures in the spring (Which is evident in most of my 365 pictures as well).  I enjoy a beautiful piece of nature, the colour green, and great bokeh.  My Nikon 35mm/1.8 lens is by far my favourite and used for 90% of my pictures this year. #makeawish

9. Lake Michigan, Indiana Sand Dunes, facing Chicago, Sunset.  #beautiful

10.  SPLASH!!!  This photo, worked on along side one of my yearbook editors, took 5 hours of staging, manipulating light, perfecting the writing, hanging sheets, rearranging mugs, choosing new mugs, and testing shutter speeds.  It was created by dropping a rubber chemistry stopper into a mug of warm tea.  400+ photos later and we had one we loved!  #perseverence

11.  Movember.  Many of my colleagues grew moustaches and raised money this past November in honour of prostate cancer research.  In commemorate their hard work we had a photo shoot.  The goal was to show the many faces of a man. #testosterone