Cross-Curricular Learning


Our conversation this week on #saskedchat shared our understandings and current practices incorporating cross-curricular outcomes and indicators. Within ten minutes I pulled myself up short and remembered that my context was not identical to those of the others in the discussion. Parenthetically, that is one of the virtues of participating in these sorts of conversations. Each of us is reminded that our lived experience with students and the curriculum is different.

I initially entered the conversation from my current perspective as an elementary classroom teacher. Creating integrated an integrated unit when you teach virtually all disciplines to your students is remarkably easy. Consuming and then producing representations of learning involves multiple disciplines. The student in the picture is working on his Canadian Heritage Fair Project. The outcomes effortlessly bridge language arts, science, social studies, and arts education. I can assess him in all these subjects.

Ten minutes into repeating the obvious to my fellow #saskedchat participants I was reminded that I was also chatting with departmentalized high school teachers. I was forced to rethink the questions. In their context, cross-curricular learning, at least learning representations destined for assessment, necessitates team teaching and collaborative meetings. Many of my colleague’s remarks revolved around the roadblocks to collaboration. Shared vision, time, and rubrics, are examples offered.

I have frequently characterized teaching as akin to being a short order cook, rather than a chef, or cook book author. We expedite results in an economical manner, with the minimum of superfluous exposition. Unless you are documenting something for your graduate class, thesis, or district assessment, the word is KISS. Frankly, I think an administrator in a supervision cycle with a master teacher should be attending to this quality in the teacher’s work flow. It is, I think, a hallmark of a master teacher.

This relates to the problems high school teachers face implementing cross-curricular ideas. My approach would be to create a unit, identify outcomes from other courses, and then shop around the staff room seeking colleagues interested in assessing my students publications for their own narrow interests. If they can offer a modification to my plan that helps them integrate their outcomes, all the better. Formal meetings between three to five teachers seem unnecessary to me.

Time for my Sunday night pizza!

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Seven Years of Blogging


I think that I have been posting to this blog for nine years or so actually. My first post, PARTY Time is dated 


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 Last evening our #saskedchat conversation focused on blogging. I moved into the conversation late with the assumption we were discussing professional, reflective blogs like this one. After following the exchanges, I realized much of the conversation was on classroom blogging. I’ve been trying to engage in both.

I don’t believe I’ve ever had a parent or student follow my professional blog. I write this blog for myself and for my teacher colleagues. The voice that I use in this blog reflects that audience. Topics are more generalized I suppose, and less specific about individuals in my class, or our daily routine. As I said in my last post, I also write with far less certainty that I am being read.

I am far more confident about the audience attending to my microblogs from the classroom. It was unclear what people in the #saskedchat thought a classroom blog looked like. I’m sure I added to the confusion. Text messaging with Seesaw and Remind do not really constitute blogging in my mind. Blogging is a longer and more reflective process of developing ideas into paragraphs. My classrooms Edmodo account would be a much better example of that sort of thing. While it is something of a failure in my mind this year because we have not been able to connect with other classrooms, it also gives us an audience beyond ourselves. 

Every year’s technological integration feels like an improvisation. There’s so much potential in each of the applications available to me. It’s rather like my students playing freeze together. The action keeps changing as new people step into the  centre of room. It’s interesting to think how this is happening also get a macro level among the software developers themselves. Applications like Seesaw, Class Dojo, and Remind adopt characteristics of each other. It has gotten to the point where I am not sure which of the three principal applications I use for communicating with families is the best one to follow. All three have Included classroom blogging into their service.

Next year I think I will have to make a choice between some of these services. At present I use Remind to keep students and families up-to-date with our daily activity, and offer challenges for evening conversation (about as much homework as I cared offer). I use Seesaw as a digital portfolio. Class Dojo is my weekly behavioral assessment on learning. Remind has been so very useful over the last few years, but frankly it is the one service I could probably eliminate.

A final thought on blogging, likely unrelated to the previous conversation. During the course of our chat last night I remarked that it was important to think about audience and purpose when your blog. This is true. It’s something that we stress with students all the time as they think about their writing. It’s only one strategy though. I think I began writing with myself as the sole audience. Unlike a class blog which has a very clear audience my professional blog is largely for myself. It’s purpose is to capture the flow of my own ideas and make them clear through articulation. As my thoughts progress my audience often changes or rather expands.

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Quo Vadis Blog?

What a painful topic this is, and so predictable. What to do with a reflective blog you have invested in? This is my domain at a number of levels, but as in the classroom, technology has shifted my work and PD flow. Edustange is a representation of my learning. As I approach the end of my career, Edustange Blog remains one important indicator of my continued engagement with teaching.

I recognize that retirement for me will be be a process of gradual disengagement. I see this in the increasing desire to pace myself at school. I am applying all of my canny skills and years of hard won knowledge to streamline my workflow. I’m more inclined to pass on extracurricular coaching two younger teachers. And admittedly these teachers are more experienced than I am at the coaching. Never-the-less, I intend to end well. I’d like to be reflecting in this blog all the way.

I think and articulate ideas for myself, but also to engage in meaningful conversation. Edustange Blog has definitely been more about the former than the latter. Digitally speaking, Twitter and its #saskedchat community has met my need for conversation. This is part of the ongoing migration from one platform to another. It is, to steal a delicious phrase, a moveable feast.

The conundrum of my blog is part of the greater migration in my work flow from one platform or application to another. There remain only a few living fossils in my work flow. The WordPress Blog is one of them. Part of the process of disengagement is apparently a growing inclination to stop pimping myself to the educational community. Leadership, being a sage to others, has lost its charm. I began with the intention of conveying my lived experience as a teacher here in Saskatchewan. I’m not sure I met that goal. I’m still living my dream though.

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Science Experiments

The grade fives so love anything hands on, and who doesn’t like playing with a balloon?

I’m struggling with image file sizes. I can upload an image on iOS with an iPad, but the image size is not optimized I guess. I am currently going into WordPress on my desktop to make adjustments.

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Adjusting my Practice to My Tech

I’ve been struggling with posting pictures through the iOS app. The file size is clearly not compatible with my iPad camera. I realized my Paper Artist app allows me to save smaller formats that are acceptable to the iOS WordPress app. I’m encouraged to resume blogging.

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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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