August 1980 to June 2016, then on

Some figures are easy to calculate, others become muddy or I cannot keep them in mind – sometimes that’s a good sign. I stepped into my first classroom at Government Secondary School Kagoro, Kaduna State, Nigeria August 1980, freshly graduated from the University of Regina. Yesterday I closed my classroom door at Sunningdale School, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. Let’s say then I’ve been in the classroom for thirty five years. 

I’m a person of privilege in many ways, not the least of which, I am male. It made it easier for me to stay in the classroom for so many years. Over this span of time, I experienced only one year of unemployment between my time in Nigeria and first contract in Saskatchewan. I substituted as much as I could in Regina, Saskatchewan as I anxiously applied for contracts. I substituted, and taught on the University of Regina campus years later as I did grad studies. Otherwise, I’ve been full time in Saskatchewan classrooms. It’s been a privilege.

I’m not done, and I seem to have trouble keeping my retirement in mind. There are some linear measures. One is June 30, 2019 when I could take full pension (more example of privilege, but earned too). Another is October 27, 2021 when I turn 65. These are arbitrary dates, socially and personally meaningful. I try to keep them in mind. It is the cycles I am more mindful of. Tuesday I said goodbye to my class, and for the next two days my mind was consumed with planning for next year. That sort of engagement drives retirement out of my mind.

This Canada Day morning (149 years, my adopted country for as long as I’ve been a teacher!) I’m caught somewhere early in summer decompression. The professional motor probably needs to idle a while, but I am still energized by that two days of intense focus on my next class. It is hard to break away. It is not quite yet conceivable that I will ever set this work aside for more than a break. Okay, I do have my moments of anticipation, you can imagine them, I’m sure. While I have my linear calendar, truth is, I’m waiting for the signal that the cycles are complete.

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I’m Still the Master of My Domain

I renewed my domain name for another three years. That involved rectifying a mistake I made the first time. I’ve switched from to the more common Appart from updating business cards, I don’t think the change will cause any ripples.

People are not beating a path to my professional blog and neither am I. It has been hard to keep it up. I am an active teacher still, so I think I need an active presence on line. My domain forwards to this blog for the next three years. After that, I will be considering early retirement. If I do leave the profession, then my WordPress blog, hosted by my school division will cease. I will have to reassess my online presence.

It soothes the ego a little to temporarily control my name on the net. I’m the Canadian Alan Stange who took possession of the domain. All the other Alan Stange’s must improvise. GMail let me have alan.stange too. I guess we are not that common out there.

Maintaining a personal domain seems less important to me as I stop pimping myself among the educational community. I have little interest in job searches, consultancy opportunities, or building an online following. Most of my ideas are shared shorthand on social networks like Twitter or GooglePlus. I need the blog still, because occasionally those brief ideas need elaboration. I think we all need to find space to do that.

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Edmodo for Authentic Writing

I’m sold on social networking as a vehicle for students to publish the best of their writing. It is one of my principal sources assessment data now. I catch them at their most eloquent, when they are engaged, and independent. Personal voice shines through.

Zain is ten and he demonstrates his proficiency in paragraphing to me in this casual post to Edmodo. He includes the beginnings of descriptive detail using effective word choice. I only caught one spelling error. He would have composed this on a personal device with spell check. I’d like to see him add this to his digital portfolio on Seesaw and past a picture of it into his commonplace journal in his desk.

Zain’s post is what I would consider effective, meaningful homework. Reading and writing independently are far more important than daily worksheets sent home, or random spelling lists to memorize, and then quickly forget. This example of Zain’s is not unique from my class this year. Quite a few students have shared great examples of writing with us.

One other reason I promote Edmodo is parents engagement. Parents can follow their child’s writing through a parent account, or simply look over their shoulder. There are many ways to share writing, but this is probably my favourite at the moment.

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Motivation is an Extreme Problem

I agree with John Spencer, motivation is differentiated. We are often overwhelmed by movements searching for the magic bullet that will solve one educational problem or another. It is important to keep our understanding of the varied types of problems confronting us throughout life. Some are simple, others complex, and too many extreme. I have not heard reference to this catagorization in some time. I hope it is still active in educational thinking. It certainly does not seem to resonate in the public’s mind during political discourse. Responding to problems as simple is perceived as demonstrating strength. Responding to problems as complex it thought a mark of thoughtfulness. Confessing that a problem is in fact extreme makes one feel incompetent or ineffectual. 

As John Spencer points out, there is no way to parse out a simple motivator for learning, we don’t know all the factors in motivation. We don’t know all the correct responses to the unmotivated. We function by relying on generalizations, yet we must keep in our minds that each person represents a unique extreme problem. I have 21 children to motivate, so I am challenged to arrive at 21 subtly, or dramatically different responses. This is why we persist in saying that a personal relationship between teacher, student, and their family is critical to learning.

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Sometimes the Bear Eats You, Work Flow Fail

I finally had that heart attack I’ve been promising my colleagues since my sick days began to accumulate. “I’m saving them till then, cough, cough.” In a whisper. In retrospect, I don’t think anyone, barring the accounting department in personnel, appreciated my decision. It was a mild attack, so I still find it humorous. Four days in the hospital shattered my well thought out workflow.

No point in meditating on the life changes of having a heart attack, nor the necessary adjustments to my self concept. I’m still working through that anyway.

One of my frustrations this week was the limitations of my iPad. Naturally, it kept me entertained over the long period. Its lack of flexibility failed me when I tried multitasking Google Documents for sub planning. On a desktop, I can open a browser and shift text from my unit plans to my week plan efficiently. My iPad mini does not have that capacity, though I didn’t try to operate through a browser. I would have to open a file, capture text, close the file to open the next, repeatedly.

My commitment to planning in depth for my subs was pretty limited, understandably. It was definitely a moment for a laptop. I took a look at this advertisement for an IPad Pro,  looks slick, sort of a ripoff of the Surface isn’t it? My suspicion is that it still shares the limitation of my old iPad mini. Perhaps it’s browsing capacity is better. How does the Surface handle multiple windows? Is it basically a Windows 10 laptop that might let me log into my school’s network remotely?

The other thing I missed was access to my network files. I know many teachers lack that service in their districts, but it is a powerful part of my work flow here. I’m suspecting a Surface would handle the remote logins and Microsoft Office tasks I still require.

It was a transitory problem. I’m back home now with access to my HP desktop. Mobile computing isn’t really a priority. I probably should not be window shopping for new technology anyway.

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Why creativity and Genius Hour are important

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Canadian Heritage Fair

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Citizenship in the Digital Age


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Commonplace Books

Behold, the power of the commonplace book, a system with deep historical roots. As author Steven Johnson says:
Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, ‘commonplacing,’ as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations.
The practice remains the perfect way to harness the colossal amount of digital content we see. And technology has provided us with flexible frameworks capable of helping us capture, curate, and retain information. As Ryan Holliday notes, commonplace has plenty of utility in our modern life:
A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.

Taking Note: What Commonplace Books Can Teach Us about Our Past Posted by Taylor Pipes on 26 Feb 2016

Periodically, I’ve attempted to use a “journal” to track my thoughts. It began with a journal in my late teens. I abandoned that in embarrassment, even destroying it. For ten years I used my day planner as a common book, writing and drawing in it. In grad school I kept a dedicated common book. It was very satisfying and as this article suggests, it organized my thinking. Since the advent of my digital life, common books have been in disarray. My writing was fragmented across too many applications.
Finally, I am bringing order to this. I feel the lure of a print journal still, but it can’t compete with the convenience of a phone or iPad. My efforts have gravitated to Evernote finally. This article  Common books seems to be my first introduction to a very old term. I use Evernote to compile links, quotes, resources, and personal ideas now. It is not my only digital tool. It is the most personal. Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, and this blog are more about sharing ideas.

Student exercise books, which I have been referring to as “learning journals” are evolving slowly into common books. After reading this article, I think I will adopt the name.

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Flat Learning is a Challenge Still in Room 7

The technologies we integrate with learning change gradually over time. These last few years I have been trying to use Edmodo to connect my students with other classrooms. After a few successful years of “global pen pals”, and a great start this year, it collapsed.
I had a Mystery Skype in the fall, and neglected to set up others. They are great introductory experiences, but for me, they have never evolved into meaningful exchanges of learning. My dream is to create successful cooperative teams across schools; literature circles or inquiry teams for example. 

Untethering learning, or flattening your classroom remains a challenge for me. It requires partners with the energy to do the same thing. I will keep working on it because I think it is the direction in which we need to take our classrooms, but this year it has been a struggle.

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