My Underused JOT Script Pen

Here I am back in my comfort zone, tapping away at a virtual keyboard. I even feel comfortable dictating with Siri. I will keep playing with the different pens. Sometimes I sketch out math algorithms for students as if it my mini iPad was a white board. It works, but it is not an established routine for me. You would more likely see me walking around with a small white board and pen. I wonder what other people’s experience is with stylus on ipads. Until I get better using them, they will just be another illustration of being mindful of appropriate technology.

Posted in public education | Leave a comment


He chuckled to himself after organizing his desk so carefully, then became self-conscious as I framed the picture. 

Posted in public education | Leave a comment

An invitation to Grow

Creating positive learning environments has so many nuances that we could explore and discuss…

Questions to start us thinking:

  1. What do we mean by “learning environment”?
  2. Who is responsible for the ‘positive culture’ of the learning environment?
  3. How does school culture affect a learning environment?
  4. How can learning environments include global learning?  

Kelly Christopherson

Creating Positive Learning Environments

I understand environment to represent the external world that has an impact on us. The environment  consists of the physical, social, and cultural world I live within and interact with. For a young person, the physical environment of learning begins with their personal space and the classroom. It extends outward to the school, home, local community and our physical and natural world. Human interaction is part of that natural world. I am making a distinction between our culture and socializing here. A person learns their culture. This is the history, myths, values, beliefs, norms, traditions, and artifacts manifest in the curriculum and influences of home and community. Peers, family, organizations, and community provide social exchanges. These are also factors in learning. Humans do not passively react to the stimuli in their environment. We interact, and modify it, whether it be physical world, culture, or relationships.

Positive culture is a subjective term. In my classroom, the core values were reduced to respect, acceptance, and appreciation by Cayle Fiala, my intern. Perhaps I would add empathycooperation and learning to the list. Schools are for personal learning and the contentedness of learning in public schools demands cooperation. Achieving a positive classroom climate is the responsibility of all stakeholders in education. The teacher, by virtue of his or her resources, knowledge, and authority takes a leadership role in creating a positive culture. Each student in the school shares responsibility for exemplifying the core values. I encourage them to influence their peers as well. I think our culture should embrace and socialize young people in these values. Families in particular exert huge influence over young learners. The messages from home are critical. As young people become more independent, our popular culture’s values influence learning. We really cannot afford to absolve anyone in the global village from this responsibility.

At times it seems as if elementary schools, high schools, and post secondary institutions exist in a separate reality. They lie on continuum’s of cooperation-competition, reliance-self reliance (suggest others someone). Elementary schools push at the values of high school and post secondary through assessment for learning. Learning is less Darwinian in the elementary school classroom. Failure is less of a disaster. To me, this promotes a climate where the core values flourish. Without fear of the consequences of failure, the only valuable consequence is learning from experience, teachers and students can be risk takers. They can stop seeing solutions as lying within established boundaries. Learning can be untethered in every possible way.

One important way to untether learning is by broadening our experience of the environment (Another is reflecting on our own inner world). I have commented over the years on the ways digital technology opens doors for learning about the world. There are so many ways to link learners together these days. Part of what makes learning authentic is recognizing connections in the world around us. Technology is the quick fix for that. I advocate a studio classroom design with maker spaces, tech tools, and an acceptance of BYOD because this facilitates the core values I think promote a positive learning environment. I struggle with my training and decades of experience to move towards more democratic, student-centered, problem-based learning. I want my classroom to be inclusive and differentiated for the same reason. Sometimes, it even seems to be working.

Posted in differentiated learning, inquiry, internet, Project-based Learning, public education | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Secret love of Chaos, thanks P.K. Dick

… I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new. (P.K. Dick)

Philip K Dick on Disneyland, reality and science fiction (1978)
By  at 12:00 pm Mon, 

I recall telling someone when I first began teaching that I did not intend to fall on my sword when I reached eligibility for early retirement. There was much grumbling back then about superannuated teachers monopolizing substitute teacher spots. Room must be made for young teachers in the profession, people said. As I just wrote recently, the prospect of falling on my sword is now a bit more attractive; to rest… perchance to dream…. Yes, Hamlet is talking about death. Dylan Thomas was also talking about death when he urged his aging father to not go gentle into that good night. I won’t be raging all that much as my career enters its last few laps, but I don’t plan to ossify. 

I’m no anarchist. I imagine a survey of my colleagues throughout my career would characterize me as something of a company man. Order and stability are attractive qualities. My wife and I like routine and long range plans. Yet, like Phillip K. Dick, I have a secret love of chaos, or perhaps just the unpredictable. Interesting things happen in the apparent chaos of a classroom where students are given some responsibility for managing their time. My plans can come unglued for many reasons. The measure of myself as a teacher is how I deal with the moment. Dick remarks, “Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly.” I think that is true, and while teachers may not die in the classroom literally, we certainly become far less effective teachers.

A strong case can be made for retaining many of the practices and principles of public education. I won’t make it here. Our culture is changing around us in North America and Europe. Technology is once again transforming us, just as it did when the printing press challenged the practices of the medieval university. I relate to weary colleagues worn out by constant change, certain that we stray from good past practices. The change we face is real. We have to keep learning don’t we? It does not matter what point in our career we are. To paraphrase Dick, [it is] the authentic [teacher] who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new. 

Posted in public education | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Three-Legged Stool


I found this in in A Principal’s Reflections, through a Google Plus post by Eric Scheninger.
Image credit:

Posted in public education | Leave a comment

5 Stages of Twitter User


I’m beginning to acknowledge that I believe those teachers who avoid integrating social networks like Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus into their professional development are failing. I don’t think we can simply agree that it is a strategy choice anymore. Would we accept a classroom limited to workbooks and textbooks? I already struggle in my mind with the best response to colleagues who seem to suggest digital literacy taints the purity of learning in their classrooms. “Ban the devices that distract students from learning.” As if our students were not immersed in a culture saturated with such technologies. We essentially spent 60 years avoiding teaching people how to critically reflect on television, despite it being the prevailing literacy of three successive generations. Our professional development strategies must take advantage of technology. I’m loosing patience with the perception that “internet relations” are less authentic than face to face ones. My ongoing connected professional development is authentic, integrated into my practice, convenient, absorbing, and empowering. Why wouldn’t I value it? Why wouldn’t I choose to back channel at a conference or reach for my device when I need to share or learn?

Posted in Classroom technology, learning resources, professional development, Social Networking | Tagged | Leave a comment

Don’t teach for the next grade

“Before today’s educational leaders, business owners, or even everyday taxpayers get too emotionally or financially invested in programs to help students prepare for the working world—ensuring they are, to borrow a favorite school-reform buzzword, “college- and career-ready”—maybe they should realize (or remember) that most kids just want to be kids while they still can. And if the policymakers can’t accept this reality, then maybe they should look for ways make adulthood more appealing or adolescence less luxurious.”

School Is About More Than Training Kids to Be Adults
What teachers risk when they focus only on ensuring adolescents are ready for college and their careers

I remind myself to stop approaching each learning outcome as a preparation for the next step. My nine and ten year olds don’t need to be preparing for high school. They need to feel their learning is important to them now. It needs to make their childhood meaningful to them.

Posted in public education | 1 Comment

Honourable Brad Wall, Ken Krawetz, and Don Morgan, give it a try


As a rural teacher, I generally had 16 students in a double/triple grade room. I thought it a good size. Over the last few years my classes (single and multigrade) fluctuate between 22-25. 25 exceeds my comfort level for grade four and five. The more significant factor is learning needs within the group. I swear I never worked with people on the autistic spectrum two decades ago. Here in the city I regularly have English as an additional language students. Without assistance, this makes the numbers game a serious issue.

Beyond the classroom composition, government is callus in its assessment of the physical requirements for learning in public schools. I want to shove 25 of those bean-counting politicians into my classroom for ten months, locked into a plastic chair behind a little desk, working at the pace of their slowest ministerial colleagues, trying to have an important conversation without privacy. I could only dream of a classroom room composed of endless cubicles and a conference room at one end for my students. That sort of office nightmare does not even approach the physical resources children need to learn well. I have nothing but contempt for politician’s assessment of the physical learning needs of children.

Posted in learning resources, public education | Leave a comment

Burning Out


“Introducing merit-based pay for extra hours and exceptional work, as well as allowing teachers more flexibility and creativity within the curriculum, and cutting back on work that is not teaching-related would do much to reduce teacher burnout, says Bradley.”

Overwhelmed Canadian Teachers Quitting in Droves
By Justina Reichel
Epoch Times Staff
Created: February 19, 2013
Last Updated: February 20, 2013

Put this way, pay for extra curricular hours of additional supervision makes sense. My district provides that, though the return is inconsequential. I supervise 18 hours of lunch, covering six classrooms, about 150 students, and earn a day off… Which I have to prepare for. Most people think of merit pay as measured by test score results. I cannot accept that. Too many factors outside of a classroom teacher’s control affect progress. How about a bonus above grid for each designated student in a teacher’s classroom?

I am working through my 31st year in Saskatchewan school systems (It’s all about pension contributions.). Of course, I have taught longer. I stood before my first classroom the Fall of 1980 in Kagoro, Kaduna State, Nigeria. I think I will superannuate June 2019 (four more years). There are already moments, mornings, days when I could just leave. I have felt all of the concerns expressed in this article.

I left at 55, with 32 years of teaching high school, the last 6 with horrific, inhumane workloads.
— Former teacher Debra Barry

In response to a recent Montreal Gazette article on teacher workload and high resignation rates, former teacher Debra Barry noted in a letter to the editor that it is not just new, young teachers who are quitting.

“I left at 55, with 32 years of teaching high school, the last 6 with horrific, inhumane workloads. I taught 14 groups of students, 400 teenagers, twice a week in what felt like a factory assembly line. As a teacher who ran multiple student activities and sports teams over the years, I was exhausted. The success of my students sat squarely on my shoulders with little or no support from a board obsessed with the budget over students’ needs, and an administration with so much paperwork they never came out of their offices.

“Many of my colleagues are leaving for the same reasons, most before full pension. I am so glad I got out, but my daughter, after three years of teaching, is exhausted by her workload of four different elementary school levels, many special-needs children not properly supported, and hours of unpaid and unrecognized preparation time.”

Like Debra Barry, I have a son in his first decade of teaching. I am ambivalent about that. When you know something institutional, like public education, intimately, it can sometimes seem like a crock of shit. Politics, religion, parenting, all economic endeavour can be viewed with frustration.

I have not always been a good teacher. Moments, hours, days, probably years found me not at my best. I am trying to be as self aware as I can these final years. Take a moment to watch A Scene From The Browning Version (1951) – The Crock Apologizes. This is from an old movie, and older play, that had quite an impact on me as a young teacher. I have composed my own speech just like it many times. I really don’t want to need to give it.

Everyone involved in public education has competing interests and mistaken beliefs. That is why it will inevitably seem like a mess to us. I think I can handle that for several more years. Cynicism and discouragement have not overwhelmed me yet. It helps that I have finally learned not to sweat the small stuff and as they saying goes, remember, the vast majority of it is small stuff.

Posted in public education | 3 Comments

There is no box

“How can we foster imagination in the classroom? Why is it important for kids to be able to use their imagination?”

This was posed by Amanda Brace for Week #2 of the #saskedchat blogging challenge.

We need to teach creative strategies. Creativity is innate. It expresses itself in my classroom all the time through art and play, however, some struggle. I have sometimes been described as creative, yet rarely think of myself that way. I always use strategies, tools and models I have learned through others or independently. I think we are better able to synthesize and repurpose as opposed to create new. For example, we don’t create Minecraft, we use it to express something uniquely ours. Most students don’t independently discover collage, they are exposed to it, and then make it their own. As teachers, we need to introduce possibilities in student’s minds. Mostly, they will run with them.

I devote a quarter of my available space to making – mostly you would describe it as an arts and craft centre. Students use the materials for free play as well as trying curriculum related challenges. Every classroom from k-12 should have such a space permanently established in the room.

“If, as it seems, leaders wants schools to be “business like” then let’s create them to be like future businesses not past factories.”

That is the most positive spin I’ve heard on the business model of learning. I still find myself unreconciled to the concentration of young people into confined spaces with a poverty of resources for interminable hours each day. These conditions constrain imaginative expression.

I watched my class during indoor recess a few days ago. That, and my weekly Genius Hour period illustrate the problem. Solitary drawing and writing fit neatly into the room, as did groups of several crafters over at the Maker’s Space. Three dancers occupied the open space in the middle, but they were interfered with by the group of boys playing a pickup game of floor hockey they had invented. Their imaginative game had nowhere to go without disrupting others. Schools lend themselves to solitary, unobtrusive forays into imagination. Schools hate physical movement.

The Internet, and our learning networks are not the only source of creative teaching strategies. Our Saskatchewan curriculum, and the many textbook programs that support it, suggest opportunities for creativity. As we plan our units, we have to stop shying away from poster making, cartooning, model building, experimenting, role playing, and all the other time consuming or messy activities. Too often, we take the controlled path of GRR or workbooks.

This month we are trying the Canadian Heritage Fair. I provide a detailed scaffold for my students to follow. Students in fifth grade have not internalized inquiry processes yet. Very quickly, they use my scaffold as a springboard for their own solutions. The structure of an essay is followed by greater freedom to express their learning in a presentation. It is always fascinating to see how far some students take their projects when we have a fair in March.

Young people will use their imaginations. They need to know we not only value creativity and innovation when it occurs, we expect it as a matter of course in learning. What was it I read recently on Twitter? “We don’t need to think outside the box. We need to realize there is no box.” Learning in our classrooms should be untethered in every way.


Posted in Creativity, inquiry, Project-based Learning | Tagged , , | 1 Comment