My Current Events Problems

Integrating current events into the classroom curriculum troubles me. I am not doing it intentionally at the moment. At one time, I was passionate about current events. It was misplaced during a series of shifts in my work and I need to restore it to my classroom.

My first position in the 1980’s and 1990’s was as a middle years and high school social studies teacher. We called them division three and four back then. That was part of an interesting (failed) attempt at continuous outcome-based learning her in Saskatchewan; but I digress. I incorporated newspapers and news clips in my lessons. Students monitored topics as homework and shared their conclusions in class. At the end of the year, a parent told me she was impressed with her son’s new interest in reading the newspaper.

During these first two decades of teaching, my current events focus was on the Cold War, South Africa, and Free Trade. I spent a weekend painting a huge outline map of the world (Peter’s Projection) on the back wall of my room. It became a huge infographic complete with article summaries, graphs, charts, timelines and images. On Fridays I took a period to watch a weekly current affairs program broadcast for middle and senior grades. I do not recall the name of the program now.

I took on administration at the turn of the century. Eventually, I gave up social studies and took on other assignments. That was a mistake in retrospect. My mentor at the time cautioned me to take care of myself first, but I ignored his advice and I put myself into areas I lacked strength. Current events should have been as relevant to computer science, health, and arts education; I did not see it. Picking up the new curriculum and trying to be an effective administrator became far more important to me. I do not believe I completely neglected current events, but it was far more incidental.

Incidental is not wrong. Student concerns and interests about the world around them must be attended to. Student initiated conversations about current event may be the most effective approach. It is authentic conversation (just to toss that word into my discourse). It is not always particularly relevant to the learning outcomes. That it be relevant is important to me because learning needs real world connections.

Since 2007 I have been an elementary generalist teaching up and down between grades four and six. Student initiated conversations about current events are less sophisticated. I have not been effective either. This needs to change. I found Teaching Kids News this Thursday during the #saskedchat discussion. What other grade appropriate sources are there out there? How are you approaching current events?

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I Don’t Know What to Read


More specifically, the book, in my own definition, arrives when a student is no longer learning to read but reading to learn. They’ve read a lot of “chapter books” for fun, excitement, and adventurous means. They are now emerging from adolescence and are in the early to mid-teen years. At this developmental place, they are beginning to seek to understand the world.

Once found, the book has a profound affect on them — their emerging sense of understanding of life; it is often tragic yet hopeful and sparks empathy and speaks to the universality of the human experience. Franz Kafka’s famous quote comes to mind, “A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.” (The ax for me was Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms. I was 15.)

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

5 Tips for Helping a Student Find the Right Book

Sir Ken Robinson believes we educate to help students understand world around them and talents within them, to become fulfilled individuals and compassionate citizens. 

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The Literacy Singularity


Mark Twain on literacy

From the time I was eleven or twelve and reached that singularity where reading was now for me, I have been a passionate advocate of personal reading. I read something of personal interest every day. I carried it over into my choice of profession. 

I have extended literacy to digital technology. Mark Twain’s remark applies to integrating technology into our lives as well. If technology builds literacy, then use it. I’m of a generation that orients to the printed book. I have e-readers, but value my books. 

My son leaves for a brief visit to Japan tomorrow morning. I could not embark on such a tedious journey without a paperback. I have my phone and tablet, he does too. Those pesky batteries worry me. I had to encourage my 26 year old to drop something on his Kindle. Why is it so many people don’t pass through that singularity. There must be enough gravity to pull them in. Your mind stretches as you approach it, and then instantly, you exist in another universe with added dimensions.

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Equity or Equality, We Keep it Simple, but Stupid

I have hardly said it all, however; one of the first things I do before composing a new post is to search back through my previous reflections on edustange. Equity surfaces in my reflections on BYOD, assessment, and curriculum. Equity in my classroom is often accepted as a sensible response to personal needs. Students consistently expect me to respond to their needs equitably, yet significant numbers challenge me maintain equality. I think this is partly because equality is so simple to measure. Equity is entangled in subjectivity.

The terms equity and equality are sometimes used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion because while these concepts are related, there are also important distinctions between them.

Equity… involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives.  Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.

Distinguish between Equity and Equality
Rising to the Challenge, SGBA e-learning resource

The concept of cultural capital is important. Cultural capital refers to the valued cultural attributes that an individual might have. For example, a child from a literate background will be advantage or privileged in a school where this cultural attribute is shared. Other examples of cultural capital are being of a certain race or gender. I stress the factors such as these that I habitually overlook.

It is interesting to recall the equity flash points over the years.

  • Allowing selected students to use calculators in class, or multiplication charts. 
  • Computers for students with poor motor skills (they can’t print legibly).
  • Offering high school students who failed a course an opportunity to redo a particular unit or outcome to fulfil the credit.
  • As an administrator, assigning more challenging groups to master teachers and extra preparation time to new teachers or teachers with challenging assignments.

In each case, people challenged the unequallity because it was interpreted narrowly as a zero-sum situation, or a competition. Perhaps my decisions were debatable.

Equality seems the measure of fairness, but it advantages the powerful and privilaged. To achieve learning equality, we have to address issues of equity.

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Teach Like a Pirate, not so much

#saskedchat questions:
1. How do you integrate your Passions/personal side into your classroom?
2. How do you Immerse yourself into the content you are teaching?
3. Why is Rapport important with students important and how do you build on this daily?


I suppose this whole notion of teaching like a pirate hinges on romanticized archetypes like Long John Silver and Jack Sparrow. Who among us does not fancy Johnny Depp’s panache? I can imagine swaggering about the room, an edgy, fascinating creature captivating my students with my outrageous antics. Long John Silver is the better trope for educators. Jim Hawkens, bored with his mundane responsible existence, is drawn to Silver’s mystery and the promise of adventure. Long John can talk a good line to Jim, he knows how to build a relationship. Long John has a map to treasure and the map helps Jim negotiate an exotic island. Jim learns practical lessons on his journey, finds a treasure, and also struggles to find personal solutions to extreme problems. He respects  the wise and practical Dr. Livesey, but Jim is not inspired by him. Morally ambiguous pirates like Silver do.


I have issues with us romanticizing pirates. The history of pirates is frankly horrendous. They terrorize for personal gain, flout morality, and either lack empathy or disregard their humanity. The real pirate in the classroom is a pretty destructive, self-centered adult. Personal gain, not learning is this adult’s goal. The sorts of management tactics applied are inspired by paradigms of power. At best, I imagine the character Fagin from Oliver Twist. A rather twisted mentor grooming children to serve and emulate him. Creepy, and dangerous. I am not pleased with the pirate metaphor for teachers.

I confess I am something of a pirate about the school. There is a little hoarding in my room. I have resources I snatched from previous schools. I recall exchanging computer monitors from colleague’s classrooms simply to achieve aesthetic uniformity. I have a great deal of trouble respecting copyright laws. I will pirate media and text ruthlessly at 8:30 in the morning to create a lesson. I acquire PDFs (and distribute them) with abandon. I confess to overlooking age restrictions on media and application accounts. I am not a perfect moral exemplar. 

I have always been passionate about literature, technology, and art. These are three things I now find easy to integrate into my classroom. We spend a great deal of time talking about integrating technology into learning. For students this is an obvious approach. My blog here is an extended journey into integrating technology. There seems little point in elaborating on it and this post. There are always fellow travelers in the classroom or appreciate art. Understandably, there are other students find art pointless. I am called on to teach my students how to represent their learning in different ways, aesthetics enters into this. I’m feeling my greatest grief about integrating literacy into learning. It seems that my students are increasingly reluctant readers. I often read to my group and that affords me an opportunity to indulge my dramatic side.

I can’t immerse myself in every topic that I am asked to address in the classroom. I know I fail to inspire often. I believe passionately in the concept of a liberal education. An education that provides young people with a map, compass (moral and geographical), and the varied tools they need to explore. Where I don’t feel the passion for the subject, I try to remember to listen and respond to the passion that my students might feel for that subject. For example I have a little passion for sports, but I do know how deeply engaged my boys and girls are in very many different sports. You build relationships through being open to others. Pirates are passionate about themselves and their own needs, teachers are passionate about their students.

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A gym class where people get to challenge themselves physically and mentally doing something a bit cool. The message is, “You are a responsible person.”

A sustained inquiry project that challenges a person to explore a passion and explain it to others. It integrates many literacies to research and represent. There is time to immerse yourself in learning.

Doing something cooperatively with others. Thinking about your own voice and how to make it compelling.



Noun      1.
 – a state of extreme happiness        

ecstasyrapture – a state of elated bliss
elation – an exhilarating psychological state of pride and optimism; an absence of 
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.

The question was posed in our Saskatchewan in education chat, “What exhilarates you in teaching? What uplifts you as you go through your days?” Too often, I consider the things that are dragging me down, and that’s a bit sad, if all too human. My growth and the growth of my students lift me up.

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We Rail Away at Life

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Enduring Technology

My recently deceased mother in law’s sony taperecorder TC-200, probably mid 1960’s. It’s not worth much. I couldn’t discard it without giving it a try. There seems to be a broken connection in one jack for the first channel speaker, but both stereo channels are working. It plays and records still. You have to respect the technology I guess. 

I do not have happy memories with these machines. For one thing, my mother in law tried often to get us to listen to her recordings of country old time music. They were not high fidelity studio tapes. They were recordings of my father in law’s band. He played events across southwest Saskatchewan up until his death in 1978. I should have been more tolerant. The music was meaningful to her. It is harder to reconcile the other memory.

A reel to reel in Madison, Wisconson, very like this, plagued me in grade four or five. To say I was a bad speller understates the case. To use the current jargon, I was in permanent intervention as far as my teachers were concerned. I have a strong memory of sitting in the library conference room facing one of these machines. I was being drilled on some sort of program to help me master spelling. Years of ferocious reading and writing with the help of a spell checker finally helped me. 

I’m doing a pretty traditional spelling program with my four and five’s and I worry about why. I really have little faith in learning pattern rules or memorizing, yet here I am following this enduring strategy. I am desperate to have them read and write as often as they can. That is the strategy I have faith in. What are they going to remember about this in 50 years I wonder?

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Connecting to the Grid

  • What does ‘collaborative planning’ mean to you?
  • Why is working in collaborative groups important for teachers?
  • What skills are necessary to work collaboratively with others?
  • What is the difference between collegial and collaborative?
  • How can a staff develop collaborative habits?

Kelly Christopherson

I did a quick search through my posts on the topic of collaboration. I ran into a number of references. I reflected on Division directed teacher collaboration in my post Collaboration should be flexible and differentiated. It spoke to my beliefs about teacher collaboration. Most of my meditations on collaboration are directed toward student collaboration. I have always assumed I worked in a culture of collaboration. Looking back, I can only vaguely recall a handful of incidents where my request for curriculum ideas was rebuffed. 

Formal collaborative planning in Prairie South Schools manifests in our Learning Improvement Teams (aka Data Teams). These are grade alike teams focussed on a Division goal; currently, Reading Comprehension Strategies. Our LIT meets every two weeks essentially following this strategy: 

Creating Data Teams

I am not a fan of the process, but I am a fan of the team. We are sharing and learning together. The conversation broadens my understanding and I profit from different perspectives and resources. My problems are validated by my team mates and their solutions often help me when I am at a loss. Informal collaborative planning is embedded in our culture, though not to the extent I would like. I have attempted to share my Drive Curriculum and Instruction link with colleagues. Apart from being helpful to my grade four and five classroom colleagues, I wanted them to begin contributing to it. I guess I am still waiting for a teacher with my enthusiasm for Google applications.

Learning is connected and teachers are learners. We can simplify our connections and follow limited strategies or reach out in different ways to tap into the power of diversity. I think every teacher understands that. , or perhaps they don’t. There is sometimes a disconnect between what teachers think is good for themselves and what they think is necessary for young students. For example, children need recess outside and adults do not, or children should sit on the floor during assembly while adults sit in chairs. As adults, we dislike having others define what our learning goals should be. Collaboration involves sharing goals and group norms.

The nice thing about working collaboratively with your peers is that we don’t all need to bring the same skills to the group. The point of collaboration in my mind is that we lend each other our strengths and experience. In today’s learning improvement teams someone needs to be technologically literate. Do we really need to consider skills or do we need to consider attitudes? A lot has been written. Below is one list I found in a cursory search.


I think collaboration begins with a willingness to be open about your interests and needs. There is a lot of chatter and staff rooms about frustrating challenges to learning. These need not be venting moments. They can be the moment when a collaboration begins between two teachers. Being open is critical. If a teacher is not prepared to talk to the principal or consultant about learning issues, then they are not taking advantage of a real opportunity. Collaboration requires soft skills.

  1. Soft skills is a term often associated with a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, managing people, leadership, etc. that characterize relationships with other people.

Teachers develop collaborative habits through working with partners and mentors on immergent projects throughout the school year. I don’t believe that the district can create habits among teachers through professional development activities. Districts play a large role in building collaborative culture. The role of the district, through the school-based administrators and much-maligned consultants is to foster a culture of collaboration through building connections between staff, and offering opportunity. Consultants and administrators are supposed to be more in touch with the big picture then classroom teachers. A consultant should be able to to build a connection between two or more teachers were unaware of each other or the shared interest. If teachers refused to disclose their practice in an honest way to their principal, then the principal can’t take the opportunity to connect people together into teams. 

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read, know, learn, go

I scheduled an hour each week for my students to browse the school library. For my sins, I distribute Scholastic Book orders most months. I read to my students as often as I can. I get them to share and write about what they are reading. Every day, twenty minutes is set aside for unrestricted silent reading. I’m still failing to reach too many boys and girls in my class. It is a familiar frustration I’m sure. All of them get fascinated by something they read. I can engage all of them in listening. Yet I cannot get them to draw the conclusion that further personal browsing might lead to other engagements.

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