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Friday, October 09, 2015

Speed Dating an Idea

Written by Erin Quinn

Speed Dating is a concept that came from our professor, Robert Kelly. He wrote about the process in his book, Educating for Creativity: A Global Conversation. I highly recommend this book, by the way.
Speed dating isn't for romance, it's for ideas. Its purpose is to grow ideas and collaborate with others to increase the amount of ideas everyone has.

Step 1: Have your students brainstorm ideas around a topic. When I did this with my students, they brainstormed a list of things they could write about in a book review. When I did this with teachers, we had them share ideas for a task they were designing.

Step 2: Set the chairs in your classroom up in two rows, facing each other. There should be an equal amount of chairs. If you have an odd number of students, you could join in the speed dating too!

Step 3: Have your students choose a chair, bringing their original brainstorming list with them.

Step 4: Set the timer. Depending on what the topic is, the timer could be set for 2 minutes or even 1 minute, or as much as 5 minutes. We did 2 minute intervals the other day.

Step 5: Have the two students opposite each other share their ideas. If one of them brings up a good idea that the other person doesn't have, they should add it to their list. The objective is for each student to grow their list.

Step 6: When the timer rings, have everyone move one seat to the left. The ones at the end of the row will go across to the other side. Continue the idea exchange until you feel your students have enough ideas or they have "dated" everyone.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Design Challenge: How might we redesign the first day of school?

by Stephanie Bartlett

 Think back to your first day of school. What were some of the actions, emotions and experiences that you remember as a student?

Fifty teachers met in late August with CBE Learning Services for a three-day institute on Design Thinking. Participants were given an initial design challenge of “How might we redesign the first day of school?” The dominant themes that emerged from the first round of ideation revealed the necessity of a creating a safe place, the presence of positive and negative emotions, fear of the unknown, routines, the beginning of a journey, friendship and storytelling.

Our group created a point of view statement to help figure out the problem we wanted to solve:
All learners need a way to feel safe because when we belong and feel confident, we are more able to take risks and make discoveries in our learning.

 Why would we want to redesign the first day? The first day is always a new beginning. Teachers create amazing opportunities and get to know you games to help children feel welcome. Paperwork and information gathering is also an essential part of the day. There is always an element of uncertainty and excitement as a new group comes together at the beginning of a school year.

 As I sat down to plan my first day, I reflected on my values as an educator and as a person. What did I want students to feel? What did I want students and their families to know about me? Community is an integral part of my pedagogical beliefs. To teach a child to the best of my ability means that I need to form a relationship with not only the student, but with the parents, so that we can best work with the child. With this belief in mind, I jumped into my redesign.

 I took note of the feedback I received when I told people about the redesign. Comments and questions ranged from negative to positive as they asked me why, pointed out the potential for problems with separation when it became time to say goodbye, or nodded approvingly, saying that it sounded like a refreshing idea. Not one to back away from a risk or change, I forged ahead with my plans. On the day before school started, flowers, plates and snacks were on my to-do list to add to what I hoped was a welcoming classroom.

The most significant change that I made was inviting the parents into the classroom with the students. For the first forty-five minutes of the day, we mingled, shared a snack, and parents explored the classroom with their children. I watched as they sat and played or drew with their children and then began to introduce themselves to other parents.

 When the timing seemed right, I taught everyone our stop signal and asked students and their parents to clean up together and say goodbye to each other. We laughed together when more students than parents heard the stop signal when I used it the first time. We learned to say “au revoir” and then joined each other on the carpet to read a story.

Having a social time to mingle and share food together created the effect I hoped to achieve. Building on the belief that I want to create a safe and happy environment where students can feel comfortable enough to take risks in their learning, this was the first chance of many to model the importance of building a close-knit community. It is my guess that our first experience together smoothed out some anxious feelings of both parents and children. It felt peaceful and invigorating at the same time and I am looking forward to the beautiful year of learning and relationships that lies ahead.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Project Engage: Living our LIves for a Sustainable Future Starts Right Here in our Community

By Stephanie Bartlett

When five year olds become social activists, what are the skills they need? How can they turn a passion or curiosity into a positive action that can influence society? My students’ most recent interest is climate change. Rather than be overwhelmed by the magnitude of this task, we are working to redefine the notion of community. This work starts with compassion. We live meaningfully and we listen. When we care for our space and the natural environment, we become able to look at the world and do our part to divert us from potential crisis. Climate change and the market economy are real threats to our planetary nature. We invited our students to take action in order to create change in our local community and beyond. Our five year-old students say they can do this and want to make a difference. Here is our story, aiming to inspire others with the notion that if we start local, change is possible.

Kindergarten students are learning the process of planning social action. We recently hosted a Sweater Swap / Echange des chandails for our community at the school’s Take Action Fair. First, we identified a cause that was important to us. We are concerned about the Arctic, so we planned to raise awareness about climate change by celebrating National Sweater Day in our school.

Then, we organized a campaign, inviting the community to donate gently used sweaters.

We spent a few weeks designing posters to educate the school and we worked with the growing number of sweaters in our classrooms.  

We sorted the sweaters into colours and patterns, counted them, and organized them into groups of small, medium and large. Traditional math and literacy skills were embedded in their project work.

 We had parent and grandparents come and teach us how to crochet and knit.

We researched arctic animals and created an arctic habitat in our dramatic play centre and the block centre became a market with booths to practice selling sweaters.

We built the market in the hallway and sold many sweaters.

We even measured the length of our customers’ arms to get the right fit!

After we counted the money, we wrote a letter to the World Wildlife Fund explaining how we earned over $200.00 to help protect the animals in the Arctic. The sweaters that we didn’t sell will be donated and sent to Haiti to be remade into different materials.Through these community initiatives, students are learning to be ethical citizens by caring for our planet and earning money to donate to the common good. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

Project Engage: The Story of How Kindergarten Students Are Creating Change

by Stephanie Bartlett

Kindergarten students are powerful, yet unlikely activists. As their teachers, we are teaching them the skills that will cause our community to wake up and take notice. With their enthusiasm, children may be the right ones to give us the nudge necessary to shift societal values. Our students are leading our school in serious learning work set up establish deeper relationships between school and community, in an effort to reduce our ecological footprint at a local level. We learn through determining an environmental concern, then educating others by organizing school-wide campaigns. We have established a fourth sector enterprise where a portion of the profit is kept for our own sustainability initiatives.  We give the majority to the common good, therefore teaching the value of ethical citizenship. As we say, if five year olds can do it, anyone can! Stay tuned for a series of stories of how we are teaching our students to take action.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

If You're Lucky

If you’re lucky, you’ll be one good example. – Wendell Berry 
Darlene St. Georges, Branch II, 2011

We must tell the stories. We must tell an account of ourselves, tell what needs to be heard. There is so much noise in education.
“Mrs. Nelson, please call the office.” 
“Guaranteed to improve math levels by one full grade level in one year or your money back.” 
“You must take this exam seriously. It’s worth 50% of your grade.” 
“I’m concerned that my son is not learning basic literacy skills in your classroom.” 
“Province Cuts Education Budget by 8%” 
“I can’t spend time on that fun stuff. There’s not enough time. I have to cover the curriculum.”

Darlene St. Georges, Original Syntax, 2011

It is easy to despair. It is easy to become complacent, or cynical. The noise is exhausting. That is why it is even more important to tell our stories. The invitation is there. It’s really quite simple. We need to read, and appreciate how delicious language can be. We need to write, and talk, and tell what needs to be told. We need to listen. We need to listen deeply. There are openings here, for the very human gesture of response. And if we offer these opportunities, our students will rise to the invitation and will do things they never thought imaginable.

And we as teachers need to tell these stories. We need to tell of how we speak, how the words we use make our students not even think about asking for their grade at the end of a project. We need to share how we open up the possibility of our students to be artists, even in math class, and how this gives them permission to leap, no matter the consequences. We need to come from a place of our greatest strengths, but we, and our students, need to take risks and try new things. We need to show how education can be a practice of freedom, of opening up, rather than boxing in. We need to find a way for there to be more coulds than shoulds.
It’s a matter of practice. And we must practice it, to overcome this discourse of boxes and assembly lines and shoulds. We must be one good example. And be grateful that we are lucky enough to do so.
Darlene St. Georges, Tree, 2011

Inspired by the Provoking Curriculum Studies biennial conference, February 20 & 21st, 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Monday, January 19, 2015

Lessons in the Field...of Sustainability

by Stephanie Bartlett

We are creating. We are prototyping. We are learning. We are teaching. One spark builds upon the other as we take direction from our students.  The mission of the Chinook Park School Sustainability Project is to increase environmental sustainability and stewardship within the community through authentic task design. What does that look like? The work is two-fold. We are teaching the global message of recovering and recycling and we are looking closely at our math and language curriculum, using the strings of lights as an authentic experience.

The Kindergarten students began with a simple message to bring in broken strings of lights. When the first string arrived, students went straight to it with measuring tools and drawing materials. They drew patterns, counted groups of strings, and began to compare the length of the lights.
They presented their message, as only five year olds can, to other classes and to the school community at the Holiday Concert. “Recycle your broken Christmas lights!” “We will sell the strings to recover the copper, plastic and rubber inside.” “We will give the money to charity to save the universe!”
One student asked if we could stretch the lights around the school. So...we did! By this time, many classes in the school caught on. For two days, many classes were all engaged. The buzz was different. The questions were real. The conversations were deep.

Finally, all the lights were gathered up and our Eco Club took them to a scrap metal yard. We weighed the lights, toured the facility to see how the copper would get shredded and received our money.

Back at school, the students are asking questions about other metals and how we can recycle them. They need to research environmental organizations who might receive a portion of our profit. Another portion will stay at school to support our sustainability efforts. That is the beginning of our fourth sector business. What is a fourth sector business? A fourth sector business combines environmental and social initiatives with a viable business. Much of the profits are contributed to the common good, whether it be to the community or to the environment.

The teachers are looking closely at our work to document the full cycle of this initiative so that we can plan our next authentic project to link the school and community in their environmental efforts. National Sweater Day is on February 5, 2015 so get ready to turn down your thermostat and put on a colourful sweater to celebrate...
Sunday, January 11, 2015

Life Writing: Making Sense of My Teaching Practice

By Stephanie Bartlett
I very much believe in connections... keeping my eyes open for possibilities leads to an enjoyment of both the micro and the macro moments of gratitude and realization, both in my personal and professional life. These quotes jumped off the page at me in Wanda Hurren’s essay Kissing Lessons:
Currere: to run the course...the method of currere is a strategy devised to disclose experience so that we may see more of it and see more clearly. With such seeing can come deeper understanding of the running, and with this, can come deepened agency.
-William Pinar and Madeleine Grumet, Toward A Poor Curriculum
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Rumi, “Spring Giddiness” (as cited in Hurren, p. 43)
I have always loved Rumi’s poetry and have a growing appreciation for the root meaning of words, so I immediately recognized that spark of interest offered from these two quotes.  Here was the connection and the hook I needed to read on. Teaching lives in a space between tension and exhilaration, gratitude and doubt. The profession is not, as many would believe, merely a job: it is a vocation that draws upon our deepest stores of energy, compassion, drive, ambition and passion, and keeps educators in a constant search of self-improvement. Are we running from stress and the demands of the profession as we work to create the best practice, the best techniques, the best lessons?  Wanda Hurren writes “teaching runs in my family. Run seems a fitting verb choice. Throughout my life I have been living in a space between running to and running from teaching” (Hurren, p. 44).  Staying put and linking our lives and family experiences with our teaching practice as a means to discover our pedagogical beliefs is an exercise that I am learning to embrace as part of the fabric of the teaching profession.
My reasons for going into teaching almost twenty years ago were very simple. I loved children and, quite frankly, I didn’t have a better idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I am the only teacher in my family and until recent years have had the somewhat misguided sense that I had to justify my choice of careers.  The practice of teaching did not come naturally to me but my relationship with my students did. Sadly, studies during my Bachelor of Education did not involve a rigorous pedagogy that I would expect new teachers to experience. I mistakenly thought that I would graduate from Teachers College with a handbook, a how-to manual, telling me everything that I needed to know to set up a classroom and be a “good” teacher. Instead, bereft of my imagined handbook, I had to make my own way, drawing on instinct and the help of colleagues. And so, my career began with one foot in the door of the classroom with all the passion and determination that is part of my makeup, and the other out in the world, promising myself that I would leave teaching if I ever found anything “better” or the moment that I realized I was just “putting in time.”
Somewhere in about my fourth or fifth year, I found a spark and a colleague to share it with. We discovered a literacy resource that inspired us to evolve our practices and share with our colleagues. This was my first pivotal moment as I discovered the world of pedagogical research and began to design my classroom as a lab where I could play and discover as a means to develop my best practice. Consciously, I still thought that once I put the work in and fine tuned this practice, I would be set for the rest of my career. Subconsciously, I was running from that cornerstone of traditional teaching, always in search of teaching methods that were more natural, more real, more organic,
Fast forward another five years to a very challenging year with my grade one class. Emotions ran high as I tried one technique after another to help my students and help myself have an “easier” year. As teachers, we worry about our students’ home lives, their learning difficulties, their social interactions. We search and search in our very beings for ways to help them, to help ourselves survive the experience. Is it possible to maintain distance in order to maintain our emotional wellbeing? I don’t know. My solution was to leap back into research and go with my gut. This was my moment of truth as I changed directions and truly began running towards teaching with all the energy, compassion, drive, ambition and passion that I have to offer. I flipped my practice, allowing students the time and space to create with their hands, and a chance to offer their voice to the direction and scope of our learning.
Another five years has passed and during that span of time, I have continued running towards my best practice with a deeper understanding. My work in post graduate studies has provided me with the confidence to design a program based on achieving long term creative development of the student, with a deep understanding of curriculum and the discovery of the roots of my pedagogical beliefs. Returning to the quote at the top of the article that drew me in,  I am running the course. My deeper understanding of the running and the deepened agency comes from a better understanding of myself and what I bring to my profession (as cited in Hurren, p. 43). My quest to better understand and make sense of teaching has led me towards a joining together of my personal and professional life. This makes teaching an extension of me and who I am.
As for the space in which the practice of teaching dwells, “it’s actually not a bad space. There’s lots of room in it; thankfully, plenty enough room to kneel and kiss the ground...” (p. 50). Looking at the moments of gratitude and self-realization that teaching has brought to me over the years and how it continues to enhance my life, how could I run from this? I think of all the special moments we share with students, giving us insight into their development, and indeed my own. What I learn from teaching blends into my life lessons. What I learn from life, I weave into my teaching practice, making what was just a career choice into an integral piece of my very being.

Hurren, W. (2012). Kissing Lessons. In  Chambers, C.M., Hasebe-Ludt, E., Leggo, C., and Sinner, A (Eds.), A Heart of WIsdom: Life Writing as Empathetic Inquiry (p. 43-50). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
Pinar, WF & Grumet, M. (1976) Toward a poor curriculum. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt
Rumi, J. (1995). Spring Giddiness. In C. Barks, with J. Moyne (Trans.), The essential Rumi (p. 36). New York, NY: Harper Collins.