My mother-in-law approaches ninety. I’ve seen her in the context of the last thirty-five years. Throughout those years she has been a widow stubbornly maintaining her presence on the family farm, and later, a grandmother living in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. My wife and I have embarked on a project to convey something of her life to her grandchildren. We have begun with her oldest photo albums. I want to move on to incorporate some of her personal narrative and (give me strength) some representation of her appallingly awful poetry. I forgive her that. I too have an overwhelming passion to write. I will self publish a few copies of the result.
She was a farm girl who loved the land and liked the lifestyle in principle, but not much in practice. I have listened to her story with half an ear, more absorbed in the trials of her present. The pictures in her albums are so illuminating. What a precious technology photography is. She went to Normal School in the 1940s and taught briefly until her marriage. She told me about the frustrations. Her pictures convey some of it. One picture shows a tiny isolated clap board teacherage she utterly hated. Others document the series of one room school houses. She taught for less than seven years. As was expected, she quit to raise her family. My grandmother returned to the classroom after raising my mother and uncles. My mother-in-law never did. I think she was proud to have been a teacher, but the work involved teaching multiple grades in the prairie isolation was too frustrating. You have to respect the women who did it.
She has many pictures of her classes. Not so many years teaching, such small groups, yet together they made a crowd. What happened to them all? Do any of them retain memories of the slender bookish woman who taught them briefly? I wonder about the host of students I have taught these last three decades. I have been turning my mind to them more lately. At one time I could have laid my hand on each of their names. I let that go some time ago. The lists went up in smoke. They only matter to me. I have a much larger collection on pictures documenting my years teaching. Even better than my mother-in-law’s pictures, my pictures capture so many fascinating people. I hope they found me as fascinating.
It’s been a while since I posted to my blog. I spent the evening sitting in my bedroom where it was nice and quiet, using Siri to record comments on report cards. After a while you get a little tired typing. I find there is a knack for capturing my working relationship with these young fourth-graders. They are all unique individuals. I guess we always say that about our students, and of course it’s always true. Articulating those unique qualities and recalling the experiences that helped me define those qualities is always difficult.
There is a phrase applied to the inconsistent learn on our schools rubric. “Sometimes I am interested in learning at school”. The reluctant learner it suggests, “I have very little interest in learning at school”. I have my moments when I think I’m brilliant, but seriously both of these comments have more to say about what I do in the classroom than what the student is motivated by. I think it would be fair to say that all of my fourth-graders have a passionate interest in learning. They are all simply caught in the educational machine.
We discuss “getting rid” of traditional spaces like desks, when we should be discussing when and where desks, or any type of furniture, are appropriate. I had tables, and now I am back to desks. The change was not my choice. I liked the tables because they unleashed my student’s from static learning space. They did not own the table spot. It was not their territory.
The tables took up far too much space. Some students were uncomfortable without the personal space they needed. People do have habits. Think of your place at the dinner table for example. There is security in personal territory.
My fourth grade students have a half locker, a drawer, a spot to hang their coats and bags, and a shared shelf. They also have space in their flat topped desks. They do have territory. Using tables would not eliminate that.
Apart the questionable ergonomics of traditional school desk design, I do not think the furniture is as critical as the way it is organized and used in our classrooms. My flat topped desks are flexible. We default into a rectangle and reconfigure regularly into groups (even rows). I have 24 desks and 21 students at the moment, so there is movement off “home base”. Students shift to our two study carols or to the pair of standing tables in the room. Ideally, the room would accommodate at least one conference table. There is no space. Our wing winks at the fire marshal’s directives and keeps three tables in the hallway.
My ideal classroom would have quiet areas for personal learning, common areas for discussion, sensible acoustics and a sensitive color pallet. It would have WiFi for personal devices and learning resources readily at hand. My ideal classroom is a library with a science lab/art room on one side.
I’m wondering how to evaluate my technology components this year so far. It’s hard to decide whether things are going well, or whether there are insurmountable problems to deal with that will force me to change the direction in which I’m taking some of my activities. I have three projects going on right now. First there is edmodo connecting with classrooms across North America and hopefully around the world. There is switching my writing workflow to Google Drive. Finally there is my effort to include personal devices in the classroom.
I’m watching bringing personal devices into the classroom very carefully. Increasingly students are bringing their iPods to my class and using them both for classwork and personal social networking. iPods have been disruptive in my class. Perhaps no more so than coloring, playing with plasticine, or reading a book. There are always distractors in the classroom, if they are nothing more than going to the bathroom or talking amongst themselves. There is always the question of equity in the classroom as well. Not all of my students bring iPods. This is not always simply a parental choice. My students cannot all afford iPods. I’ve spoken of this before. However, I do see many positive results from allowing the students to bring their iPods to class. Our edmodo project with classrooms around the world has been a catalyst for using iPods for learning. Between the iPad lab and the iPods students bring to class my students associate edmodo with Apple applications.
I’m having mixed feelings about switching from Microsoft Word to Google Docs for my writing. The students have taken to Google Docs quite well. The problem with Google docs in our school seems to be bandwidth and the laptops that our school has brought in this year to replace the computer lab. The laptops of not been as friendly as we hope they would be. Students have trouble logging onto Google and their pages freeze or they lose connection. I’m going to stick with it and hopefully we can work the bugs out. I want to include Google Docs in my writing flow because it has been working very well from a creative standpoint. Students are getting quick feedback and that is what it is most important.
Someone tweeted about pushing the envelope with technology in the classroom and I replied that I didn’t think that my pushing the envelope had not resulted in pushback. It seems that things were going fairly smoothly. I guess the truth is that my innovations or adaptations in the classroom have indeed pushed the technological resources of my School division more than I thought that they would. Like the social impact of allowing BYOD in my classroom I need to adjust the workflow to allow for the limitations of our situation here. Technology learning has evolved very rapidly. I think in the next few years, before my retirement, I am going to see even more exciting changes.
Friday a colleague and I took fifty fourth graders on a three-hour tramp along the Trans Canada Trail where it skirts the city. It was quite an adventure for our students. Although the reality is, they were never more than one hundred yards from a road. It is accessible to us and makes a point I think needs emphasizing when you are talking habitat with students: humans are embedded in virtually every habitat on earth. The world’s habitats are responding to our ubiquitous presence. It was a risk to take so many of them out of the school. But it was not much of a risk. We had nine parents along, each shepherding five students and helping them with their work at the stops. The school was just a cell phone away.
Falling off a cliff, twisting an ankle, getting bit by something; these are not the risks I was thinking about. It did occur to my colleague and I that we had neglected to bring a first aid kit. I need a better checklist next time. Perhaps you would think it silly, but what really bothered me as I let this long string of children along our well-marked trail was how little I knew about the plants and animals we looked at. I’m not a science teacher. I’m more comfortable tramping around a book or poem with these kids, or discussing global education with juniors and seniors. I kept telling myself someone else should be leading this walk, and I kept apologizing for the uninspired activities I had developed. Part of me felt I had wasted the learning opportunity.
I was imagining every conceivable science experiment we might have done along the way: community counts, pond studies, orienteering, lectures, etc. I dreamed of superannuated science teachers strategically stationed along the way ready to explain everything I could not. I saw QR codes on posts everywhere linking my students to references and Google Doc surveys. I guess I would need to create some hot spots for that. All they had was a hapless high school English/SSt teacher as a guide. Yet, I know I am the one who got them out there, unprepared as I was. I remind myself that it was worth it to them.
Before I went home, I took the time to pull all 870 pictures off of the ten digital cameras we took along on the hike. They took some amazing pictures. I think the pictures show how aware they were of their surroundings. Their journaling was sketchy at best, their concept of habitat, communities, and populations poorly expressed (not much more than third graders at this point). They had an experience they can come back to throughout the year. Each of them hopefully has something they can connect with as we finish the science and social studies unit this month. I remind myself that this time it was fine not to have all the answers ready. They just needed someone who knew the trail. They shared what they knew along the way and brought their questions home. It was a great field trip again.
I am so consumed with mobile platforms these days that I have not been keeping up with my laptop applications lately. While connecting with classrooms on Edmodo I was reintroduced to Jing. I must have been there before because they knew my email address. I have no record of it in my little black book of applications, usernames and passwords. I wonder why. It looks like a handy application for capturing media. I will have to play with it. It is an elegant solution to capturing illusive creations like Wordle.
The fourth graders and I were talking about producers and consumers in science. Our textbook (yes, I use a textbook often) reminded us of the First Nations and Metis world view that habitat communities are circles and not hierarchies. We understand ecologies to be fantastically complex and interrelated communities interdependent on both living and nonliving things. Of course we do not always act on that understanding. The hierarchy is a comfortable paradigm when you delude yourself into thinking that you are part of the indispensable, all-important 1%, and everything flows to you. I took the time to try and alter some perceptions.
We omnivore humans do not often think of ourselves as a humble part of our ecological communities. A mosquito or tick is a nuisance. A human consumed by an animal is an aberration. It is unseemly to discuss the reality that we are food for the worms. I like to end my lecture (yes, I take the stage still) by sharing pictures of dust mites. My students are horrified to find they are a habitat for many things. But that is us, part of the circle.
I have often prefaced a hierarchical question (name the topic) by confiding that I hate ranking things. What is my favourite sport? Best book? Greatest strength as a teacher? Any answer I gave would lack nuance and accuracy.
Children come first in public education. You do not have to be a parent or teacher to proclaim this fervently. Even the financial bean counters will subscribe to this tenant, as they advocate fiscal restraint and educating with economies of scale. It is not true. They do not. But then, neither does anything else I think.
I confess. If I am drowning in the stream, I hope someone jumps in and rescues me. I think I would risk myself for another human being. My cat Max (by far my favourite animal) is probably on his own I am afraid. I would be totally unmoved by a helpless willow torn violently from the bank destined to destruction on the cruel rocks. Things are not all that equal in my mind. You have to be aware about that. Which is not to say you should be complacent about your self-centred biases.
Teachers’ job actions violate the children come first paradigm. So do funding cuts. So does the industrial nature of modern public education. I am wondering if children do always need to come first. Would we set other groups with needs (like the frail elderly) on the metaphorical ice flow in order to meet the needs of children? If communities are a network of interdependent populations, then perhaps we should abandon a hierarchical perception of public education. There is something of fantastic complexity going on here in education. I am not sure I really understand what constitutes a healthy educational community after all these years. Somehow, the word “balance” appears in the answer.
I saw this Australian video on Google+ and decided to share it.
We wanted to talk about 21st Century Education
Quick review: Cashed in my Scholastic Book Club points on a Nexus 7 tablet for my classroom. It is set up for my classroom Google accounts so class reporters can pick it up and tweet during the day. *@SunningdaleRm7* I started the project this week after a summer conversation with +Kathy Cassidy
Day Four: the Android technology has been very accessible for my students. I think we are only getting three or four tweets a day. I assigned three reporters each day. One reporter mentors the next group till they all know how to do it. I was hoping for eight tweets minimum on the assumption they might tweet each period. I will try to be patient. As with all classroom projects, some students engage better than others. I also need to work on the quality of their tweets. It takes a while to learn the techniques (and joys) of the 140 character remark.