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When the Waves Stopped

This blog post was originally posted at zoebettess.wordpress.com

I haven’t blogged in a long time because I am not confident in my writing skills but lately, I have had lots of thoughts and found myself wanting to share but have been scared to do so. Then I heard Clara Hughes (mental health hero) speak and share her story about her mental health struggles. I made the decision that it was time to share my story around my mental health struggles. Of course, a month has come since then and I haven’t blogged. Then on Thursday, I met my inspiration in literacy teaching-Pernille Ripp. I realized through her keynote and our tweets that I need to share my story too. I just need to remind myself that I will never be as eloquent with words as Pernille is and that is okay.  

For those of you who know me in person or follow me (or my class-@3bbees) on Twitter/Instagram you know that I am a primary teacher who loves connecting and sharing learning through technology. But, you might not know that I have anxiety and have struggled with it for almost a decade or that I grew up with a father (teacher too) who had severe depression. My anxiety isn’t severe and usually it is kept under control by; medication, physical activity, supportive friends and family, and strategies to keep it at bay. But then something happened.

With the riding the waves perspective in mind, I am always moving and changing what I do based on what my student’s needs are. I am never afraid to laugh at myself or with the students. I consider myself a silly but engaging teacher.  I was the teacher that truly believed all of the inspirational and truthful teaching posts on Instagram and would excitedly screenshot them and text them to my teaching partner in crime.  But, then one day at the start of this current school year the waves stop. I had turned from the teacher who loved the upbeat teaching Instagram posts to the one who related more to those posts from teachers complaining about having to go to work on Monday or dragging themselves through the week etc. It was like something had snapped and I wasn’t me anymore. I didn’t want to get up in the morning to go to work. Everyone morning when I woke up I was anxious about what the day would bring. Sometimes I’d even have a bit of a panic attack when I got to school before the children came in. Some days I even struggled to get through the day once it started. Yet, I appeared to be fine when I was at home not thinking about school and when spending times with friends.

Soon I was dreading going to work every day.  Yet, I rarely talked about what was going on. I didn’t know what was happening to me and wasn’t telling anyone other than two teachers at my school that I am friends with outside of school. I didn’t tell my mum as I didn’t want her worrying about me. Despite my two friends telling me that it was just a rut and things would get better, I kept on struggling. Eventually though, another teacher at my school noticed something wasn’t right and that I was struggling. After hearing her story and her advice I knew something had to change and that I need to take action as I was at the point where I thought, “Oh no! I am going to end up like my dad and need to stop teaching.” My thoughts were so irrational and despite knowing this I couldn’t stop them. Now, I was thinking about school and my future outside of work hours and it was start to cause me to have more and more anxiety.  Things weren’t getting better and I was scaring myself with the possibilities (unreasonable ones). I took the advice of my colleague and made an appointment with the MTS counsellor. It was hard going to him again after years of being fine mental health wise for the most part and having to admit something wasn’t right. We hashed out potential scenarios for why I was feeling the way I felt. Meanwhile, I was going through the struggles of getting back to the right dosage of my anti-anxiety meds. Eventually, close to Christmas time, I told my mum what was going on. She listened and told me that she knew I loved my job and not to  be silly. Of course, little did she know that is the worst thing you can say when I am anxious or irrational. It just made me feel worse about feeling the way I felt. She meant well but, it didn’t help. It did get me to fight the upward battle to continue to get the help I needed to be me again. Finally, winter break rolled around and it felt like things might be changing for the better.

I spent Christmas break at home with my parents and spent a lot of time with my best friends and her three girls. I left home feeling revitalized and much more better about returning to school. I started the first week back feeling happy to be back at work. By the end of the first week back, I was happy to be there and loving my job again. I don’t know what happened for sure but, I think part of it was that I was not at the right dosage of meds at the start of the year and slow got to that right dosage. By the time Spring Break rolled around I could say that I was almost 100% that teacher that I loved being. I am now 100% certain I made the right choice to fight to return to the teacher that I know my students need and respect. 

I wrote this blog because I wanted to let others struggling with mental health issues know that they too can fight back and return to who they use to see themselves as. I want others to realize that they need to reach out for help. Let the colleagues you are closer to know what is going on and let them give you advice if they have it and listen to it. Don’t be stubborn, get help. Don’t be afraid to share your story in your own way and own time.

My story isn’t finished. I will continue to be the teacher my students need but will make sure that I am the person I need to be in order to be that teacher. I have anxiety but it doesn’t have me. I won’t let it control my life anymore! 

I need to say thank you to a few people who’ve helped me or supported me.

  1. My parents for listening and supporting me in the best way they know how to.
  2. My two friends from work who listened to me.
  3. The colleague at work for checking in on me when she realized something wasn’t right. 
  4. My best friend for listening to me and giving me a distraction when I was visiting. Her twins and daughter kept my mind off of my anxiety.
  5. My other friends who eventually knew about what was happening. They listened when I needed them to without judgment.
  6. Clara Hughes for sharing her story and leading me in the direct of sharing my story.
  7. Pernille Ripp for encouraging me to not be afraid to share my story.
  8. A teacher of pre-service students who follows my class on instagram and sometimes says how much she loves what she sees going on in my classroom from the photos. I wasn’t posting a lot at the start of the year but her comments made me remember that I am that teacher she saw and that I needed to get back to that. So thank you!

Remember that we all have voices that need to be heard. Hopefully mine can stay strong for myself and my students.

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Working Toward Assessing a Variety of Media

Working Toward Assessing a Variety of Media

by: Erin Thorleifson

March 10, 2017

 

Dear Ms. T,

 

We regret to inform you that your methods of assessing a variety of media are not up to par. Based upon the following criteria, we have determined that you are currently standing at a 50% fairness rate when it comes to assessing less “traditional” (read – more engaging, interest-based) class assignments. Please see the attached rubric to see what we expect when assessing such assignments.

 

Sincerely,

 

Your Students

 

Rubric: fairly assessing assignments submitted in a variety of media

 

Assessment Criteria 3 2 1 0
Assessment of Structure/Organization Students are expected to present a clear beginning point, middle, and end. Assignment provides students with the opportunity to choose their assignment/media, and teacher will develop a different rubric for the structure portion of each one. Students may present the teacher with a media they would like to do the assignment in, but teacher limits artistic license for ease of marking. Students are only permitted to write APA style papers and teacher is not open to alternatives.
Assessment of Knowledge Gained New knowledge is presented clearly and is accurately conveyed in a medium chosen by the student. New knowledge is expected to be sprinkled into a creative work, but expectations are loose. Assignment allows students to present an alternative idea to the teacher, otherwise an APA paper is expected. Students are expected to present new knowledge in only one way (ex. facts on posterboard).
Assessment of Creative Thought Students may use any variety of materials in the room. Marked on their willingness to experiment, rather than their artistic skill. Students are provided with tools they are expected to use creatively (ex. everyone has to draw a picture in crayon) Assignment contains very limited space for creativity (ex. one question may be answered using a diagram) Assignment contains only blank spaces for right or wrong answers.

 

Okay, so this rubric has a lot of flaws but you get the picture. This is a new idea for me, thinking of assessing a variety of assignments, which is why I addressed the above letter to myself. It’s a joke, but also, I know it’s something I need to work on. There are certain things you can assess when accepting assignments in a variety of media, but there are other things that just won’t work. Essay formatting, for example. I’m not exactly sure which of these above methods are best, in some cases. For example, when assessing organization, is it enough to say that you will mark on the presence of a beginning, middle, and end (or intro, body, conclusion), or should you be assessing each slightly differently for this portion of the assignment (ex. for photography they are expected to use the rule of threes, for an essay they are expected to use APA formatting, for a play they need a beginning, middle, and end, etc)? To some degree, of course, it should depend on the subject, but at the same time, you do need to assess each student on the same SLOs. To me, this is the key to assessing diverse activities fairly.

 

So how does this change grading and rubrics? It could make it harder, but it could also make it easier! Having a broader concept of what you would like to accomplish during an assignment can help you zoom out and decide on which SLO you would really like to assess. You have a whole year – so maybe this one assignment only assesses one or two SLOs! Maybe your rubric is simply a checklist… Is there a beginning? Check. Middle? Check. End? Check. Did the students use a technique studied in the course thus far (if you were assessing in drama or music class, this would assess part of the Making wing of the curriculum)? Check. Are students connecting the topic to the outside world (in the arts, this would assess part of the connecting wing of the curriculum). Maybe a checklist isn’t such a bad idea… it’s growing on me the more I think about it.

 

But overall, a diversity of assessment techniques seems fair, doesn’t it? Not all students like rubrics, not all students like checklists. Maybe for one assignment you would give them 10/10 if they just got up there and did it! (This is a technique sometimes used for acting in drama class. A student will get a mark for all the preparation they did before performing a scene, but they won’t lose marks if they freak out and forget the words during in-class performances – all they have to do is get up onstage and do it to get the marks.)

 

I do think that this can change the nature of assignments a lot. For one, the aspect of competitiveness that exists between certain students may be less severe if you are assessing them on assignments in different media, because they can’t compare one specific skill. This is a huge plus for me, as I used to be very competitive in high school (and it wasn’t always fun – sometimes it was stressful!) It also allows different students to show off the skills they are really good at, which can up class morale. With higher success rates, they’ll be fonder of you too! It doesn’t mean you have to be an easy teacher, it just means that you can have high expectations for your students in the areas that they are good at!

 

Here’s to hoping that Ms. T’s students see a change in her assessment strategies!

 


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Running Header: Teaching Computer Science and Coding in Schools

This blog post comes from a student of one of our board member’s education students at Brandon University. Her name is Eleni Galatsanou  and you can follow her on twitter at @el_gal:

Over the past three years there has been an increasing trend regarding teaching computer science in schools and “teaching kids how to code”. More and more organizations and sites such as Code.org, Code Academy, Canada Learning Code among many others, have emerged with each advocating about the benefits of teaching children computer science and coding. Most of these organizations are not just advocates. They provide the tools and resources for students and teachers to pursue it. Countries abroad like Estonia and the UK introduced coding in primary schools in 2012 and 2014 (Sterling, 2015). In Canada, provinces such as British Columbia and Nova Scotia have recently committed to prioritize coding in schools as part of a broader policy to support their province’s tech sector (Frelix, 2016). The underlying idea among these initiatives is that every child should have the opportunity to learn computer science and coding in schools, so our children are better prepared for the fast-growing high-tech world in the 21st century.

What is the difference between computer science and coding though? Coding or programming is an important tool for computer science, but computer science is a broader field that engages mathematical concepts such as computational thinking, logic and problem solving. Coding is a tool for computer science to create software. Ellis and Corcos (2015) illustrate the difference between coding and computer science with this example: “In programming you generate a random number with the function Math.Random(). In computer science, you learn how to build algorithms that make truly random numbers that can be used in a function like Math.random() to generate a random number” (para.11).

Despite this prevalence of computers and their application in our daily lives, there is no universal consensus on why and how we should teach computer science (Carroll, 2015) and whether children in schools should learn how to program a computer or should focus on learning the fundamental concepts underlying computer science. However, there seems to be an increasing trend toward the latter; that is, the focus should be on teaching the fundamental concepts of computer science, while learning a programming language is to be used as a tool to assist with this process. Therefore, the goal is not for the students to master a specific programing language, but rather to learn the concepts, develop the necessary skills and become familiar with technology so they can be best prepared for a future heavily based on technology.

What students are gaining from learning computer science? According to Mitch Resnick (TED, 2013), director of Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the most important concept computer sciences teaches children is the core principles of design:

How to start with a gem of an idea and turn it into a fully-fledged functioning project.”. This process involves “experiment with new ideas, […] take complex ideas and break them down into simplier parts, […] collaborate with other people on your project, […] find and fix bugs when things go wrong, […] keep persistent and persevere in the face of frustration when things are not working well (TED, 2013, 13:40).  

These skills are not only important for professional life but they have applications in personal life as well. Many others (Solomon & Rusev, 2008; Heese, 2014; Sterling, 2015; TED Partovi, 2014; TED Waterhouse, 2015, Crow, 2014) align with Resnick’s beliefs.  

Computer science promotes computational thinking, which trains students to think in logical and analytical ways. Computer science students become familiar with algorithms and develop skills that allow them to break down a complex problem into smaller manageable parts, and then to create a sequence of steps that will lead to the solution. With programming, students can enhance their understanding in other curriculum areas, like mathematics. For example, they can gain a better understanding of variables and appreciate their importance, or they can recognize that the long division they have been struggling with is just another algorithm. They can understand how to generate random numbers when they need to test their hypothesis about various probabilities (Solomon & Rusev, 2008). With computer science, students also advance their problem solving skills and learn to generate multiple solutions to approach the same problem. Due to the interactive environment of programming, students can test their solutions and self-identify what went wrong and think of new possible solutions to their problem. In order to succeed they need to develop persistence and perseverance, both important values for every aspect of their lives.

Not all problems will have successful or have the most efficient solutions, so students will need to reach out for help. Peer work and collaboration are two other important skills students can develop while working in computer science projects. Much of programming is accomplished in teams where students can communicate, test their own ideas, build on the ideas of others, ask questions and work together towards the solution. Programming is an area that can bring students with different skills and interests together. For example, in an assignment about designing an app, the teacher could have each student in a group focusing on a different task. While some will do the coding and math, others will have an interest in the design or in testing the app with users and provide feedback to the team.

Working in groups, validating ideas and applying peer feedback, is a process that allows students to embrace their mistakes and view them as part of their learning process. Computer science is one of the few subjects that allows students to do this. The notion of “debugging” is at the core of programming, so students must realize that learning is about fixing and learning from mistakes, rather than not making mistakes at all. Students’ perceptions toward “failure” change since they can just return to their computer program, examine it and make changes to solve a problem (Mauch, 2001). Once students are released from the fear of making mistakes, good things can happen. Students will be more willing to try new ideas, to play and experiment, to take risks, and be creative. Once reaching this stage, together with building confidence with technology through learning computer science, students can then express themselves with technology. They can create technology that is meaningful for them and aligns with their own needs and interests. A good example of this learning process is the one of Callum Pickles (CBC, 2014), a 15-year-old boy who designed a computer application to help prevent cyber bulling in his school community.

Early exposure to computer science and coding in schools will assist students realizing the value of this educational discipline and the variety of carreers they can follow in this field. In March 2016, the Information and Communication Technology Council (ICTC) released a report revealing that by year 2019 there will be a demand for over 180,000 skilled ICT professionals in Canada. The report notes that unfortunately the domestic supply of ICT graduates and professionals will be unable to meet this demand. South of Canada, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated 1.3 million job openings in computer and mathematical professions by 2022 (Gallup, 2015).  This job forecast is not only about the jobs in the ICT field. Every field, from medical and energy to entertainment and transportation, will be affected; every field will require people literate in computer science and programming skills (TED-Partovi, 2014). By not giving students the opportunity to learn and develop those skills at school, teachers will not be preparing them for a large range of future career opportunities.  

On the other hand, critics (Trucano, 2014; Marx, 2016; Farag, B.) say that it is unknown what the jobs of tomorrow will be, and so, deciding what students should learn at schools should not be based on what job-relevant skills the job market requires right now. Advocating initiatives for coding are often driven or supported by the large high-tech companies. Many are suspicious about their motives. Dash (2016) argues that our schools should not become a pipeline feeder of employees for the high-tech sector. Education curricular policies should be influenced by pedagogical value rather than future job opportunities. Even though the importance of acquiring skills such as problem solving, logic and analytical skills is not questioned, critics argue that computer science and coding are not the only opportunities students have to develop those skills (Trucano, 2014). In addition, education policies need to ensure student competency in the basic literacies of reading, writing, and arithmetic is in place, before adding new ones to already full curricula.    

Promoting coding as a ticket to economic prosperity and future job security for the masses is perceived as dishonest (Farag, 2016). Similarly, some argue that advocating for “Coding as a new literacy” is deceitful. Marx (2016) notes, “It’s undeniable that coding is a hyper-important skill in the 21st century — but it’s not the end-all, be-all of literacy. Literacy spans a variety of languages, communication tools, and colloquial, idiomatic trends. There is no “one” magic bullet.” (para.11). Coding and computer science is not for everyone. Not everyone will like it, be good at it, or be willing to pursuit it as a career in life. Making it sound like people who cannot code will be the illiterates of the 21st century raises ethical issues.

Even if there was a universal consensus that all children should learn computer science, implementing this idea faces major barriers. According to a recent survey in US schools conducted by Gallup (2015 & 2016) on behalf of Google, the majority of principals and superintendents reported that there are insufficient funds to train or hire computer science teachers, and too few teachers have the necessary skills and qualifications to teach the subject in schools. In addition, since computer science is not part of the mandatory curriculum, schools have to devote most educational time and resources to mandatory courses instead. Many schools reported not receiving a high level of demand for computer science education among students and parents in their communities, and this holds especially in rural communities. The lack of equipment and software were also mentioned as barriers to offering computer science in schools.

When computers were first introduced in schools the focus was on learning programming and how computers work (Heggart, 2014). Then, and since graphical user interface software applications were in its infancy, the user had no other option other than to learn to program the computer and make it do the work she wanted to do. Once software applications became interactive, user friendly and widely available, there was a shift to start using computers only as tools. This has resulted in having mainly users of technology rather than creators of technology. Thus, in my opinion, this “coding movement” is about returning back to basics: understanding how computers work, their power and limitations.

Having students understanding how computers work helps them understand the world around them, which is constantly becoming more and more high-tech based. With advanced technology, automation will significantly progress and machines will be taking over more manual labour jobs in the future, leading to an even more knowledge based economy. Investing in technology professions might be a way to economic development and prosperity for our communities. Initiatives in the Eastern Canada are viewing opportunities with technology as a way to retain their youth in the Atlantic Canada communities, who might otherwise migrate West due to the scarcity of traditional jobs in the home area. Countries like Estonia have invested in technology and succeeded (CBC, 2014). Students with increased exposure to computer technology are more confident in their own skills and more likely to consider learning computer science in the future (Gallup, 2015). Not exposing them to this field is like not giving them the necessary tools to meet the opportunities of the future.

Exposing students to computer science does not mean that every student will end up being a computer scientist or pursuing a career in the high-tech industry. Similarly, students are currently exposed to math and arts with no expectations of them all becoming mathematicians and artists. Students should graduate from school with a broad range of knowledge, skills and experiences in all disciplines; they are to be prepared to pursue their own passions and interests, regardless of what jobs will be available in the economy at the time of their graduation. In the 21st century, computer science should not be ignored from this broader knowledge and skill-set we want our students to have in order to be successful in their personal and professional lives in the future.

One option to enhance computer technology literacy could be to include computer science’s fundamental concepts as part of the math curriculum. In this way, all students would have an opportunity to gain a basic understanding, which could lead more students to select computer science for further study. For example, when children are learning long division, wouldn’t it be interesting to have them designing the algorithm? This will engage them in deeper understanding and they could enjoy the opportunity to test their algorithm in a computer to see if it actually works. On this point, Heggart (2014) notes, that in reality, you don’t need to be a computer expert to teach students how to program. The key is to start small, and then allow the students to drive the learning. There has never been a better opportunity for this to happen. Currently, there is a wide range of available online resources (e.g. Code Academy, Khan Academy, Scratch, Tynker). Most of them are available for free, which support both students and teachers. The teacher can take the role of a facilitator in class, while students can become self-directed learners, moving at their own pace, collaborating with their classmates, engaging in further research and finding solutions to their problems. It is these sorts of skills that we want our children to gain and utilize, so they can become life-long learners and meet the demands of the technology oriented 21st century.  

 

References:

Carroll, D. (2015). Should we really teach all kids to code? Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/teach-all-kids-code-why-how-david-carroll

CBC Documentary. (2014, December 4).  Code Kids. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JGy8zmskbM

Crow, D. (2014). Why every child should learn to code. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/feb/07/year-of-code-dan-crow-songkick

Dash, A. (2016). It is more than just “teach kids to code”. Retrieved from https://medium.com/humane-tech/its-more-than-just-teach-kids-to-code-177fd6cb7184#.3z9jtq8vs

Ellis, L. & Corcos, S. (2015). Is It “Computer Science” or “Programming”? Retrieved from https://medium.freecodecamp.com/is-it-computer-science-or-programming-c01383dacc9c#.hu5bha8z1

Farag, B. (2016). Please don’t learn to code. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/10/please-dont-learn-to-code/?utm_content=buffer0644b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer   

Frelix, E. (2016). Coding and computer science should be mandatory in Canadian schools. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/coding-and-computer-science-should-be-mandatory-in-canadian-schools/article31456908/

Gallup (2016). Trends in the state of Computer Science in U.S. K-12 schools. Retrieved from http://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/trends-in-the-state-of-computer-science-report.pdf

Gallup (2015). Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in U.S. K-12 Education. Retrieved from https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/searching-for-computer-science_report.pdf

Heggart, K. (2014) Coded for success: The Benefits of learning how to Program Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/coded-success-benefits-learning-program

Information and Communication Technology Council (ICTC) (2016). Digital Talent: Road to 2020 and Beyond. Retrieved from http://www.ictc-ctic.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ICTC_DigitalTalent2020_ENGLISH_FINAL_March2016.pdf

Lee, S. (n.d.). What’s the Big Deal about Coding? Retriecved from http://www.figur8.net/whats-the-big-deal-about-coding/

Marx, A. (2016). Stop telling me I need to code. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/startup-grind/stop-telling-me-i-need-to-code-7ab67681304c#.p0asy3mqw

Mauch, E. (2001). Using technological innovation to improve the problem-solving skills of middle school students: Educators’ experiences with the LEGO mind storms robotic invention system. The Clearing House74(4), 211-213.

Solomon, J. & Rusev, P. (2008). Early Acquisition of Computer Science. Retrieved from: https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/early-acquisition-of-cs/advantages.html

Sterling, L. (2015). An education for the 21st century means teaching coding in schools. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/an-education-for-the-21st-century-means-teaching-coding-in-schools-42046

TED. (2013, January 29). Mitch Resnick: Let’s teach kids to code [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ok6LbV6bqaE

TED. (2014, December 8). Computer science is for everyone | Hadi Partovi |. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/FpMNs7H24X0

TED. (2015, February 10). Teach kids code | Torgeir Waterhouse | TEDxOslo. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TP7Zjqmj_4

Trucano,M.(2014). Should all students learn how to code? Pros and Cons. Retrieved from http://www.wise-qatar.org/coding-cognitive-abilities-michael-trucano

 


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Teaching About Residential Schools: Getting Comfortable

This blog post was originally posted on Jon Sorokowsk’s blog  . Jon gave ManACE permission to post it here on our journal blog:

Earlier this year, my Grade 6 class and I embarked on a shared inquiry about Canada’s Indian Residential Schools. With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and calls to action, educators are called to teach about residential schools in age-appropriate ways. In these next few posts, I’ll take you through the process we used to learn about residential schools and education for reconciliation.

Students in our classrooms right now are among the first to learn about an aspect of Canada’s history that has historically been hidden from our textbooks…or reduced to a short, paragraph-level summary stuffed in hastily. Teachers have a job to correct this oversight. After all, the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said, “Education got us into this mess, and education will get us out.” Trailblazing can be hard but it is necessary.

We, teachers, are often scared to get it wrong; sometimes we’re scared to say something we shouldn’t. This is logical: After all, don’t we love to gush over how we are educating “the next generation”? Fears intensify when we lack resources – books or otherwise – to support teaching a tough subject. Here’s what you can do.

Step 1: Get Yourself Comfortable

My experiences learning about residential schools built my confidence for teaching about them. If we don’t teach about residential schools, there’s a real risk that no one will because it is always easier to pass the buck. Here are some suggestions for starting your own education and helping build your confidence.

  • Attend a Treaty Education Training session, if you’re in Manitoba. One of the best sessions I’ve ever attended. I walked away finally understanding what “We are All Treaty People” means.
  • Read Facing History and Ourselves’ Stolen Lives: The Indigenous Peoples of Canada and The Indian Residential SchoolsFacing History and Ourselves is one of my favourite organizations. They push teachers to examine history with their students through a critical lens. Stolen Lives, which you can download for free, includes an incredibly comprehensive historical background along with primary-source documents and activities to teach your students.
  • Flip through the TRC Findings. Though very long, the report contains everything you need to know, including the calls to action.
  • Use resources developed by your teacher association. The Manitoba Teachers’ Society assembled Orange Shirt Day resources, and the Canadian Federation of Teachers has published Truth and Reconciliation: What is it about? filled with student voice and artwork. We are well supported by our associations.
  • Reach out to your local experts. My professors – Leah Gazan and Kevin Lamoureux, in particular – woke me up to the importance of Indigenous education. Niigaan Sinclairamazes me every time he speaks. My school division’s Indigenous Education teacher, April Waters, is always a phone call or text away. Follow them on Twitter. Then ask yourself: Who in your school district or community has expertise? Whose door can you knock on?
  • Read children’s literature. Picture books and children’s novels are excellent because they take huge topics and hit the most important details. There are many excellent titles out there, but I especially recommend these ones for your own learning:
    • When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, Illustrated by Julie Flett (Picture Book).
    • Secret Path by Gord Downie, Illustrated by Jeff Lemire (Graphic Novel). Be sure to also watch the video adaptation accompanied by Gord Downie’s songs.
    • I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, Illustrated by Gillian Newland (Picture Book).
    • Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes (Middle-Grade Novel).
    • When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Illustrated by Gabrielle Gimard (Picture Book adaptation of Fatty Legs).
    • Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Illustrated by Gabrielle Gimard (Picture Book).

    Next Time

    Next up, how we began our shared inquiry about residential schools and the internal struggle I faced when trying to find relevance, balance, and truth.


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Reflection on Adolescent Literacy Summit

This blog post is written by Lisa Carlson:

“Critical Literacy: Challenge, Inspire, Empower”

Manitoba Reading Council’s 4th Adolescent Literacy Summit

April 12 & 13–Winnipeg, MB

 

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of world that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books” (Rudine Sims Bishop, “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors, 1990).

The Manitoba Reading Association’s 4th Adolescent Literacy Summit was a time for reflection and personal and professional growth for over 450 Manitoba educators, librarians and literacy leaders at the Victoria Inn in Winnipeg, MB from April 12 to 13. As described by one attendee, “It was not necessarily an in-service for the head, but one for the heart.” Many of those presenting commented on the theme of “windows, mirrors and sliding doors”. Linda Christensen began the summit with the keynote and encouraged the audience to look at what texts they are sharing with their classes to ensure diversity is incorporated into each class. Breakout sessions led by Shelley Warkentine and Michelle Honeyford discussed practices in the ELA classroom in terms of curriculum and writing practices. Eric Walters shared his experiences as a YA writer, discussing his books and the inspirations that led him to write his book. Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair shared many incredible resources as a means of bringing many of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Actions into all our classes.

The day continued to be just as incredible in the afternoon with a keynote by John Schumacher (aka @MrSchuReads), Scholastic Library Ambassador, and seeing what was books were in his infamous carry-on bag. Many new books were discussed, and many Amazon orders were placed. His enthusiasm and charisma re-ignited many teachers’ love of books and the idea of getting those books into the hands of the students was clearly emphasized. Finally, the day ended with a very emotional author’s panel, consisting of Eric Walters (The Rule of Three), Marsha Forchuk-Skrypuch (Making Bombs for Hitler) and Manitoba author David A. Robertson (When We Were Alone); it was moderated by John Schumacher. The authors discussed, among other topics, what motivated them to write and where their ideas came from, along with how writing has affected them personally. Again, emphasis was put on the idea of using books as windows and mirrors. There was not a dry eye in the room when Marsha discussed her mother’s struggle with Alzheimers or when David told of his six-year-old daughter asking her grandfather to teach her Cree. Also discussed was how reading about difficult subjects makes one’s brain think like those who have gone through that experience; as a result, it grows empathy and hope within the reader.

The day ended with local educators sharing their expertise through IGNITE sessions in various fields such as teaching with theme, popular and current book trends, how to bring gaming and technology into the classroom and Reading is Thinking, among others. Kudos to those teachers who shared their talents in this unique presenting style.

The next day was just as uplifting and powerful as the first. The day began with Pernille Ripp again encouraging us, as educators, to do our best to create passionate learners through choice and using feedback directly from the students. This includes ensuring that the books and other texts we use serve as both windows and mirror for the children we teach. We need to ensure that the students not only see themselves, but also are able to explore others’ lives as well from books, not only from a knowledge lens, but also one of empathy and understanding. She also encouraged us to always put the child first and think of the situation from the child’s point of view, always striving to do whatever is in the child’s best interest. Stories from her own experiences again brought the audience to tears. Pernille’s break-out session was also an encouragement in the use of picture books in all classrooms, not just in EY rooms. Again, books were being saved in Amazon carts across the room. Other break-out sessions included Shelley Warkentine presenting on Reading Apprenticeship, and Richard Van Camp spoke about how to incorporate the use of graphic novels and comics into the classroom when teaching about healing and reconciliation. Pearson Publishing kindly brought in a speaker who spoke about various comprehension strategies and how to engage students using strategies such as making inferences and monitoring comprehension.

Did you know that you can call The Northern Lights by doing one of the following: clicking your fingernails, whistling or running your jacket zipper up and down? Northwest Territories author Richard Van Camp continued the day’s storytelling with stories that were humourous, inspiring and heart-wrenching all at once. The fact that he handed out many copies of his various books was also quite popular. The most powerful session of the summit, however, was the student panel, led by Richard. Students represented rural and urban areas, along with the North. Both male and female students took part, and were anywhere from Grade 8 to 12. All spoke their hearts, giving credit to either their teachers or mothers for making them the readers they are today. “When I read, I can be anything I want to be” was only one of the many profound statements made in the hour. The overwhelming consensus of the panel was to let students choose their own books. The only standing ovation of the summit was for the students of the panel—and so well-deserved!

While it wasn’t your typical in-service where one came away with tons of ready-to-go lessons and strategies for the classroom the following week, it was a time that was set aside for each attending to really think about what practices are we doing well and how we could improve. It made us think about each and every student in our class and what we can do to challenge, empower, and inspire each and every child in our care.


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Makerspace Mayhem

This is post is authored by Jennifer Young:

        Makerspace is the ultimate workshop for the tinkerer and the perfect learning space for students who learn best by doing!

        Three years ago, I was noticing that my multigrade class of third, fourth, and fifth grade students found it challenging to apply critical thinking skills to everyday problems in their academics and social life.  This seemed bizarre to me since we had plenty of practice collaborating on the world’s stage.  We invested a lot of time in collaborating online with other classrooms around the world via twitter, blogging and video conferencing.  We were participating in heaps of Mystery Skype sessions and virtually visiting other classrooms                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   for book talks during the Global Read Aloud.  Although there was communication growth happening all around us, my students still needed additional support and encouragement to take control of their own learning and be active thinkers.  

 

I started to reach out to other groups of teachers, attended Riding the Wave of Change and EdCamp Winnipeg.  At all these events, the common thread were the murmurings of something called ‘makerfaires’ … ‘makerspaces’.  And after several (short) hours of disappearing into the google-matrix of “makerspace”, I was hooked!  I began to recruit mom and dad; solder, sewing, and sawing helpers.  Made several trips to the local wholesale store for cardboard and collected every bendy, shiny, sticky bit n’ bob I could get my hands on.  Soon enough, we had several bungee cords bundles and rolling bins filled with magical supplies…And that is how our Makerspace was born!  

 

Our Makerspace included both structured and unstructured activities inspired by science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics.  Challenges could be done independently or as a collaborative group.  Most activities were unplugged…until we were awarded a Seed Grant!  The grant allowed us to get an iPad, Raspberry Pi, and a couple of other tools.  At lightning speed, kids were becoming coders and using real problem solving skills!  Students were assembling their very own computer and brought their mini-cardboard robots to life, of course with a little help from Sphero!  We started to explore augmented reality apps like Chromville and Enchantium.  We toured various places through virtual reality with two sets of Google Cardboard googles.  At recess, kids from around the school were stopping by, to check out the latest video game made on Pixel Press Floors.    

 

We are incredibly thankful for these tools.  They have certainly helped us plant seeds of; ingenuity, perseverance, and self-driven learning in our classroom and school.  I am confident that we (teachers, students, and parents) are growing together as a community who values creating, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

 


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Welcome from ManACE President

Hello and welcome to the Spring edition of the ManACE Journal! The theme of this issue is Reflection. Spring is a time of new growth and new beginnings, but for many teachers it’s the time to reflect on the months gone by, and look toward the end of the school year.

 

This year I have been out of the classroom on maternity leave and at home with my tribe. As I reflect on my year at home, and start thinking about returning to work in the fall, I have come to a few realizations about myself as a teacher.

 

First, I am a maker, and teaching is my creative outlet. When I’m not in the classroom, I don’t have that place to experiment, build, and create. When I’m teaching, I have so many opportunities to do all of those things both for and with my students. When I don’t have a classroom, I need to find other ways to exercise that creativity. My son and I paint, draw, craft, build, and play outside everyday. This year I redecorated, sewed, baked (a lot)… oh, and made a baby 🙂

 

Second, I have a deeper understanding of what it must be like for parents to leave their children in the care of their teachers for the largest part of their day, and what a huge responsibility we have as teachers to take care of those little people like they are our own. My littles are still too young for school, but I can only imagine the mess I’ll be when I leave them with their teachers for the first time. When you make a person, you want to know what they’re doing, and who they’re with, and, most importantly, that they’re safe and happy.

 

Third, I have a whole lot more patience than I did pre-babies. Not because babies require patience (because obviously they do), but because I look at my little climbing, jumping, singing, dancing, running, sweet, quirky, VERY busy boy and hope with all my heart that he ends up with  teachers who appreciate ALL of the things that he is. I hope that they appreciate him even when what he needs doesn’t quite fit with their plans, and that they give him lots of different opportunities to do what he loves.

 

And finally, I have seen the power connecting with nature, unplugging and getting outside. Being at home all winter, and often not having a reason to leave the house, I’ve realized just how much a few minutes outside can turn a day around for cranky babies, restless toddlers, and tired mommas too. I know that when I return to the classroom getting outside will continue to be a priority.

 

I hope you have an awesome final two months in your classrooms and look forward to connecting with you!

 

Erin Clarke

ManACE President