Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens

Something incredibly wonderful happened to me this week. I met Frank Oppenheimer.
He said some things that spoke to my soul from years of observing kids in rich learning environments:

The Exploratorium was conceived as a place to teach and learn, primarily because these are things we all like to do. It is the way we bring up our children, take our friends to the top of a hill to see the view, or call out, when we are walking through the woods ‘Hey, look, there’s a deer.’”

“This show of reality represents a basic honesty that is surprisingly important effect on learning.”

“No one flunks a museum.”

There is a stack of books from the library that I am working my summer way through. Summer reading was one of my all time most restorative activities during my active teaching time. I did not consider the summer break well started until I had spent at least a few days that first week nose deep in a novel from breakfast until supper or even lights out bedtime.
When I was growing up, my mom would occasionally request the removal of my nose from a book to get something done. During my university days, I reread The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings each year during my summer job bus commutes. Then I taught for 8 years before starting my family and so I had time to create a July tradition around summer reading. Family changed some aspects of this (no more dawn to dusk reading) but this summer I have reveled in it in a new way.
In late July, my husband got a total knee replacement and I had hospital and home time to spend nose deep in books again.

In the early 1990’s my husband and I enjoyed the opportunity to visit San Francisco for a conference related to his work. I checked out Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and discovered the Exploratorium. I could not believe such a wonderful learning environment existed. I tried to get there every time we went to San Francisco and have recommended it to many people as a highlight of a trip there. We planned a family holiday to San Francisco expressly so my kids could experience it. When I discovered a biography of the man who “made up” this rich world I knew I had to read it.
In the pages of Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens; Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up I found a kindred spirit in Frank Oppenheimer. Biographer, K.C. Cole has communicated her “perceptions” of this physics and education genius so that I feel I truly “understand” his life and times. Perception and understanding were key to Frank’s educational approach. Cole had the advantage of working with Frank over many years and experienced the development of the Exploratorium first hand in the role of a writer. She had contact with him right up to his death from cancer in 1985.

Her description of Frank’s early life, his experiences related to work as a young physicist on the Manhattan Project with his more famous brother Robert, his eventual blacklist for his stand (with the scientists involved) on not using the bomb which included suggestions for international atomic energy oversight and his eventual high school teaching job in Colorado all lead to understanding the cosmic synergy he brought to the development of his “woods of natural phenomena”.
Frank’s science was a life philosophy, a way of looking at the world and wanting to know more. Knowing more could only lead to better people and society. In his view there were no stupid questions and ultimately with time to touch, listen and observe, patterns were revealed, connections made and looking for answers brought understanding.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Farming in the City

When my Mom and Dad moved into the town of Airdrie from the small farm they had been on for twenty some years out by Irricana, my twenty-something daughter began to fret. I never lived on that farm. I visited it lots but my Dad was an oilman and when I was growing up we spent lots of time following the rigs in a mobile home. We often returned to our family roots in Pincher Creek where my uncles and aunts farmed and ranched. As Dad brokered his years of experience as a rough neck into more responsible positions we found ourselves in Calgary and Edmonton. Then just as I entered my last year of university Dad's work took them to back Calgary and he fulfilled his dream of his own land. On the acreage they bought, they settled to raise my younger siblings, Brown Swiss cattle and allowed my horse-mad sister to purchase a paint horse to show.

"How will my kids ever learn all the things we did, Mom? Do you think my cousin, Leanne, will marry a farmer?" My daughter already had her sights set on a fine young man who was city raised in Calgary and she has always had the ability to take a long view and worry about it. She and her brother spent idyllic times "on the farm" riding horses, pulling weeds, stacking bales and floating down the irrigation canal while actually growing up in the city.

So next weekend, we will do our best to get my grand-daughter to a farm. The last couple weeks Anisha has been snacking on the ripening tomatoes we planted seeds for this past February and her Aunt Jenn brought raspberries in from her parents garden out by Stony Plain. But I think we would enjoy a bus ride in the country to see and taste out "on the farm".

Sunday, August 26, GEA, Live Local (handling ticket sales) and Northlands (where you can park and catch the tour bus) are teaming up to get folks out to our exceptional growing lands with an event called Farming in the City. North-east Edmonton is home to a large valuable area of fertile land with a fascinating micro-climate. The event promises some history (one of my favorite parts of tours) and the opportunity of a sensory experience to help connect us with our food roots (could not resist that little pun).

Monday, 30 July 2012

Colourful Overlapping Concentric Circles

I, like all of us in the human race, am a member of many intersecting circles. One is a group of women who gather from time to time to write. Today, they are writing in one place and I am in another. I vowed to myself since I could not be with them physically, I would sit and take a prompt (this is the model we use - to collect interesting words we have read and use them to inspire us to write) and write. The set of prompts were collected, in early July, by Val for a session where the group passed so much time reconnecting that there was no time to write (yes, sometimes we are weak in our discipline).

These two prompts are twisting in my mind today:

         They keep coming up new all the time – things to perplex you, you know. You settle one question and there’s another right after it. L.M. Montgomery

         And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. John Steinbeck

Currently, I am reading two library books that I sought out because my mind has been returning time and again to India, my December experiences there and Gandhi. The Way to God is a small sampling of his writings pulled together by M.S. Deshpande. Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life by Kathryn Tidrick is a biographic attempt to bring some context to this fascinating human being by examining texts and experiences that influenced Gandhi’s life. The first I have read through once (I am inclined to reread it – seeking out the parts I found resonated with me and skipping the ones I found disturbing); the second is thick and written in an academic style I find I do not push through the way I used to. Simon Winchester has spoiled me. These days, I prefer my non-fiction rich in story and not burdened by so many detailed footnotes.
But lately, Maria Popova has peppered my brain with more books to consider and a video about how brains work and each time I stop to connect the threads of some idea and weave them into the fabric of me, a new batch of cotton fiber appears by my brain hand loom and my dendrite fingers start to add them to whatever is on the cortical spindle. What I hope is being created is some mental khadi fabric to clothe my intellect in, preferably silk that will make my writing look just as good as Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

In the publisher’s notes for The Way to God, thanks is given to Vandana Shiva who Googled is revealed to me to have come to Canada in the seventies to study at Western University Ont. and there wrote her thesis on a Quantum Physics topic. She is, like me, 60 this year. This drives me to see where she is right now (in northern India) and the circle comes back to my interests in seeds and kids and planting and school gardens and agricultural education and Northlands.
Yesterday the will of the people who voted reveals they choose K-Days as a new name for the exhibition and today a 15 year old Lithuanian girl has won a gold medal in breaststroke at the Olympics. Are these tiny fibres yellow or pink?

The brain graphics in video look like riverlets, creeks and streams but what I experience is a never ending set of raindrops on the oil slicked surface of a pool of water – colourful, overlapping, concentric circles.
The things that perplex my mind keep choosing to follow the compass spin instead of one direction. I find I can’t get more undirected than that.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

One of the biggest rewards of getting kids (or anybody) out of the box or away from the screen is just how absolutely brain filling smelling, touching, tasting, seeing and hearing can be.

My grand-daughter and I went to the Ex this afternoon. No matter what they rename it, that’s what it will be for me because that is how old I am. So in Name Your Fair I have voted for…… wait for it ….. The Edmonton Exhibition. You can go and vote yourself (just do it by July 29).

My primary objective was to share Fred Penner with her. We listen to a CD of his LOTS and our two favorite songs are The Cat Came Back and Happy Feet (a wonderful 1930’s song which I like to imagine inspiring an animated movie about a dancing penguin). He performed them bothJ He also sang A House is a House for Me; the lyrics come from one of my all time favorite children’s books for looking at the world creatively.
Before Fred’s show, my grand-daughter and I shared a trip through the Farm at the children’s area. She got to put on a denim apron and carried a bucket with real feed corn. To be honest (she gets this tendency from her mom) she spent most of her time picking up spilled corn from wherever she spotted it.

That is the great part about real stuff. When surrounded by it, You can find something that interests You wherever You look.

Her favorite part was when we reached the Save On Foods’ sponsored store at the end. We were given a shopping list and on it was macaroni and cheese, one of her favorites! Now I am pretty sure that she has not yet started making a connection between the stuff we saw in the barns, the stamps in her little booklet and her food. She is after all only 21 months old. But we had lots to talk about and it was fun.

We saw and smelled some real pigs. We love the story the Three Little Pigs.
We talked about cows making milk and shared some ice cream. We love ice cream.
We looked into each other eyes when Fred Penner began Happy Feet, smiled and started moving our “ten little tapping toes”. We love dancing to that song.

There is nothing like the real thing baby for making connections.
(Absolutely could not resist that Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell link)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

To infinity and beyond

I am pin-balling my way on this blogging, Tweeting thing in ways that look a great deal like Buzz Lightyear after he speaks his “famous” words, “To infinity and beyond!” and jumps.
It is common for folks my age to worry a great deal about the future: health issues and care, living on fixed incomes and the current pace of change, change, change.
I am trying to follow the advice of my mentor in Tweeting, Karen Unland, to treat the Tweet world (try saying those 5 words quickly 5 times) like a stream and dip in it when I can. She says not to worry about what I am missing when I am not there. This zen-like approach has freed me to discover many wonderful writers and thinkers.
As the internet has a larger population of digital natives than digital immigrants (like me) I am finding to my joy that many of those natives are deep, deep contemplators who are passionate about things I care about and are using their techie powers for good.
Karen has also helped me discover that the internet is full of lots of accurate and current information. I do not have to be afraid of the great deal of misinformation out there. 
I don’t even have to look at it. Another freeing concept!
Which leads me to her recent Tweet about media change from MASTERMAQ. It contained lots of insider type notes about that changing media world and yes, I found it interesting, so I practiced my new “Retweeting” skill.
But what should I see on his recent posting list: a careful, deep and thoughtful piece about Edmonton’s work on food and agricultural strategy. As I read through it, I find he has pulled together ideas from my personal journey in this area – Edmonton’s recent Food in the City Conference, GEA, Doug Kelly’s book $100,000 an Acre and has added graphics and links and all the stuff a dinosaur called teacher/librarian LOVES.
But the icing was on the top and bottom of this cupcake. On the top, under What I’m Reading I found an article called Twitterology: A NewScience and at the bottom where I found a link to an old piece he did on Edmonton’s Future Leaders.
Ching, ching, lights flashing: my brain “to infinity and beyond”.

I am going to mow the lawn nowJ
From my Twitterology reading I learned folks can tell a lot about you from your emoticonsJ

Monday, 16 July 2012


Maybe it’s because yesterday was a rainy day and things were moving underwater slowly.
Maybe it’s because I am approaching my 60th birthday.
Maybe it’s because I spent much of the last year looking at the world through my grand-daughter’s eyes.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s because I’ve returned from a week-long visit of family and friends on Vancouver Island that flew by quickly although each moment was deliciously relaxed and well spent.
Maybe it’s because I sat down for the first time in about a week and followed a Twitter string of connections that started with MariaPopova @brainpicker and her recommendation about “the mysteries of time perception” transitioned through (following Twitter connections always seems to make time disappear) fond memories of reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking while nursing my new-born daughter 30 years ago (a mind expanding experience for someone who had stated for so many years that she hated physics) and ended listening to Gershwin.

Time: a wonderful and valuable dimension of learning
Taking time is one of the basic elements of site-based education.
Time to watch, revisit, ask deep questions, reflect, collect.
Time to lay down connections deep in a brain.

I listened while driving Friday, to CKUA’s Don Hill explain the Roman origins of the “dog days of summer” and that made me long to hear every recording I have of Gershwin’s Summertime. Thinking about a white, Jewish male writing in an American black voice caused me to reflect on how it is universally true that human beings have much more stuff deeply in common than we have apart.
A desire to hear led me to YouTubes of a few of my favorite Summertimes and since I could not decide which I liked best right now, I link you to the young woman, Nora Jones, whose roots are in Texas and India and the mature black woman, Ella Fitzgerald, recorded in Berlin. This could go on forever and isn't  forever a mind blowing time concept.

Time as experienced through those wavy mirage visuals that lift off the pavement on a hot summer day. 
A mystery of perception indeed.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Processing Speed as a Function of Time

During the two months that have passed since I have posted a blog (this long amount of time could be explained by tesseract theory a la Wrinkle in Time) I have been watching robins build nests and hatch chicks with my grand-daughter. I have been at my computer only to read and respond to email and do some work on the upcoming Beyond the Classroom Conference (which on Monday, June 25 will become real and then part of the past).
The nests are now empty and all the work the parents did to help keep the hatch-lings warm, safe and fed as well as all the time my grand-daughter and I spent observing that activity have joined the stream of some dimension that is now the past for us.

On a recent Thursday evening I enjoyed the company of some innovative educators. I only knew a handful in the room but the spirit of collaboration and celebration filled the space.
For the past 15 years (5567 days) the Education Society of Alberta have been exploring how to equip teachers and students for the power and change technology is bringing to the process we call learning. Along the way they explored the cascade professional development model and will soon have the results of a University of Alberta study posted on their website.

Imagine my delight when I strolled the room and discovered my new partner in site-based education EJ School adventures (and encourager of Tweeting), Karen Unland had written an article about the future implication for education of cellphones (way back in 2000).

We ate then, Catherine Macklam, Provincial Team Leader, took us on a stroll down memory lane. She was followed by guest speaker, George Siemens' (his book Knowing Knowledge will be my first on-line book read) whose rapid-fire delivery smash-drove me into the 21st century of learning. 
I am still processing it all - several in the room were tweeting away while I was making notes in my trusty journal (yes, I am a digital immigrant by virtue of age).
Then today I get in my email Edna's new post (I love how she boils it down) reminding me that a focus on learning (not teaching) keeps the process in the right place.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Science behind Getting Out of the Box

One of the things I am enjoying most about my recent exposure to Twitter is how almost every single day I follow a link that has some piece of research or academic type study to support why the experience of a site based learning situation is so successful for all kinds of learners.

Today, a tweet from Annie Murphy Paul sent me to her The Brilliant Blog which in turn sent me to find out about the research Angela Leung has done on creativity outside a box (literally) and guess what she found out – yes, “Each person completed a test widely used to testcreativity; those who were outside did the test better than people who wereinside the box.”

One of the elements I enjoyed the most about my ICE School days was the fact that we spend very little of our time in a conventional classroom setting. Each day of the week a group was with me, the teacher, class, volunteers and I were out and about, travelling around the 167 acres of learning that comprise Northlands.

While I always felt any walking was worth it for the exercise factor alone, what became clear week over week, was how student conversations while they walked and looked at what ever caught their attention tended to be so connected to what the teacher and I were hoping they might learn. Then when I had the opportunity to read what they had written in their journals about things they found interesting, were wondering more about or wanted to record so they would not forget or the little details they choose to web or sketch I was often amazed to discover they GOT some connection with hardly a word from me.

Just this week Edna Sackson’s blog Who Controls the Learning had a cartoon of a teacher drawing and then opening a window to the outside world. I printed it and now it is taped to the cover of my journal.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

One of my Beliefs about Learning

Just the other day, Edna Sackson asked me (well, not just me but anyone reading or following her blog) what my beliefs were about learning. This morning, as my husband and I learned about how a preadmission clinic works (lots of sitting and waiting for 10 minute spurts with different experts on what will happen), I wrote this blog. When I came home to type it up I went to my trusty on-line Oxford English Dictionary (I fell in love with the OED after reading Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman, a great example of how truth can be ever so much more fascinating than fiction) and discovered that apart from the definition of learning 1(a): “the action of receiving instruction or acquiring knowledge”; its root was in an old Germanic word that meant teaching.
I am spending a lot of time these days with my toddler grand-daughter who reminds me more than once every day about the basics of learning: touching, smelling, listening, looking at and tasting new things until you know them. I noticed in one of Edna’s old blogs she feels there is a lot to find out about learning from children.

One of my strongest beliefs about learning is that human brains are hard-wired to learn and doing just that, constantly.

I believe the sensory processes that allow the in-put of data, the exotic synapse system that lays down hundreds of connections for later reference and a complex neural network to facilitate response occur much of the time without the human actually trying to learn. I am sure I am not the only educator who often lost track of these brain facts while trying to push my particular agenda of what I wanted a child to learn.

When I was in my last year of high school, my Chemistry teacher gave us copies of the last 5 years’ worth of “Provincial Departmental” multiple choice exams. The score on a similar exam that we would write at course end would provide 80% of our final mark. Unlike my first 2 years of high school chemistry, which were full of experiments (I had filled 5 loose leaf pages with observations of a candle burning) there would be no experiments. My close-to-retirement chemistry educator could put me to sleep inside 15 minutes and after one week of 90 minute classes, I quit attending and spend the rest of the semester in the lunch room working my way through the exams. I scored 97%. Sadly, when I attended my first Chemistry 200 class at the University of Alberta in a lecture theatre with 250 other students, I discovered I had arrived in Greece – at least it sounded like the lecturers were speaking Greek. One experience in the lab made it clear we would be marked on the achievement of the “right results” and convinced me I had not learned enough or maybe any chemistry to this point and I dropped Chemistry 200.

Some might say I learned nothing.

I felt I had learned a lot from my chemistry experience. It allowed me to approach the rest of my teacher training with a new concept of what learning was all about.
So unlike Edna’s daughter, my ability to recall any of the periodic tables (which I must have been able to recall at one time) is limited to the phrase “Little Betty Boron” and yet, like Edna’s daughter, I owe one of my greatest educator insights to the teacher who tried to get that darn table into my brain. Go figure.  

Monday, 9 April 2012

Patrick Goes to Kindergarten (using his powers for good)

My friend, Patrick went to Lauderdale School the other day and taught a kindergarten class. Patrick is not trained as an early childhood educator but he has demonstrated to me many times his willingness to talk person to person to kids. At the heart of inquiry and learning, are grown-ups willing to listen to children’s questions and respond to them.

The god-mother of the Edmonton Public School Board’sFoundation is Sandra Woitas. Sandra and I share a first name and a history of passion for education in the inner city. She is currently working hard to facilitate the delivery of early learning and full-day kindergarten experiences at schools with students considered  Edmonton's most socially vulnerable citizens. Because government funding does not cover the full cost of these programs, she finds sponsors. 
One of those sponsors is the excellent Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation. Sandra convinced Patrick LaForge, EOCF board member, President and COO of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team that to understand the great good the money was facilitating, he should come and spend a morning as the kindergarten teacher. 
There was a lot of professional support in the room but I can tell from the video footage that Patrick took to it like a duck to water. When I sent him an email note of congratulations he wrote back:

Just loved the experience with the children at Lauderdale School. The teacher (Terry Odegard) and the Foundation (Sandra Woitas) absolutely made me feel comfortable with my test at being a teacher for 90 minutes. Because, after having watched the movie “Kindergarten Cop” maybe 20 times with my own family, I have to say I was more than a little bit nervous when I was walking into the classroom with 24 little people this morning. However, my anxiety disappeared pretty soon, as the kids were telling me the routine for starting class as they performed their duties while directing my every move. After the kids went through their attendance process using the SmartBoard, the cutest little angel looked up at me and said “ Hey Mister, now you sit in that chair and read us a book!” How good is that?

Patrick LaForge, one of my heroes, using his powers for good.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Power of a Horse Experience

If you read my blog because you already know me you can skip the next paragraph. I have been made aware of the fact the folks who have never met me are reading this so I feel I need to declare all my “biases”.

I love horses. I grew up in the heart of Alberta ranchland, Pincher Creek, and have cousins and grand-cousins, who “ride out” to work many days. I have a collection of horse sculpture and art. My husband and I bought our first racehorse 32 years ago this summer and we have recently taken delight in showing our grand-daughter the changes in family and friends in our collection of winners’ circle pictures reaching back 3 decades. I have a sister who showed a champion paint horse and participates even in the face of a debilitating neurological disease in horse experiences as often as possible with the help of a circle of people who know the power of a horse experience. John and I have visited many interesting places in the world and had horses featured in most trip itineraries. Just this past December we watched races in Hong Kong (Sha Tin racetrack is a masterpiece as a physical plant holding 65,000 race fans without feeling overwhelmingly crowded) and Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Race Course where we also toured the stables of the Amateur Riding Club and heard about their Hippotherapy Program.

Friday in the early afternoon at the Northlands Farm and Ranch Show I learned about a program I wish I had thought of, the Arabian Horse Literacy Program. I love the pure simplicity at the heart of the concept and the fact it uses many of the educational elements I have championed for so many years. That it changes kids’ lives and is successful at promoting reading is no surprise to me.

Horses and ideas about the educational use of horse themes will continue to show up in this blog. I just never imagined it would begin this way. In the mean time, I send you to look a few of the beautiful and well written horse books I know are available at the Teacher’s Book Depository or through our Edmonton Public Library. The great thing about the topic of horses is the wealth of fact and fiction at all reading levels to capture a child’s imagination.
Briggs, Karen; Crazy for Horses (Scholastic series)
Byars, Betsy Cromer; Little Horse
Chen, Jiang Hong; The Magic Horse of Han Gan
Clutton-Brock, Juliet; Horse (Eyewitness Books series)
Goble, Paul; Mystic Horse and  The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses
Hutton, Warwick; The Trojan Horse
Little Wolf, Linda; Great Spirit Horse
Lewin, Ted; Horse Song (The Naadam of Mongolia)
Lowell, Susan; Cindy Ellen, A Wild West Cinderella
McCull, Emily Arnold; Wonder Horse (the True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse)
Sharp, Thelma; Saturday Appaloosa Georgia Graham illustrator
Schwartz, Betty Ann (editor); My Kingdom for a Horse: Anthology of Poems About Horses
Simon, Seymour; Horses
Ulmer, Mike; H is for Horse
Van Camp, Richard; What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know about Horses?
Williams, Ursula Moray; The Adventures of a Little Wooden Horse
Yolen, Jane; Pegasus, the Flying Horse

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Who Will Put the Culture in Agriculture?

One of the balls I have in the air is developing a primary research experience for urban kids at the very rural connected event called Farmfair held every fall in Edmonton in conjunction with Canadian Finals Rodeo. It is my firm belief that the majority of people living in cities are far removed from any understanding of who/what/where/how and when food arrives on their tables.
This blog will not be a finger pointing exercise. It is just an observation about how it is that in a place where a 40 minute drive in any direction can still put you on the spot where pieces of the human being food chain grow, there are many who have not seen a real, live cow or smelled for themselves the clean, fresh fragrance of flowering canola. This is a rich mystery and fertile ground for all kinds of inquiry – even by me.
I grew up in Alberta in a time when almost everyone had a farm somewhere in their family, even if they themselves lived in the city. But I am, by my own admission, old, and those times and demographic trends long gone. And here I am learning all about the power of technology to teach and reach in many ways I never imagined.
I know in my heart, though, and based on many years of teaching experience, that you just cannot make many connections to some ideas if a human being does not have a real-life sensory experience to build on.
This past Thursday evening, one made memorable by another spring dump of snow that turned the Edmonton streets into a driving obstacle course (cue Ian Tyson’s Spring Time in Alberta) I attended Who Put the Culture in Agriculture? an enthusiastic production of the U of A class of Animal Science 200. I smiled, laughed, tapped my toe and even sang a few lines of choruses along with the family and friends of the students as they explored some of the people who have had an impact on our food and lives. It was clear from the video presentations they had gone out and done some hands-on learning (if only to catch some memorable video footage) and interviewed experts to get the low down on the person or concept their group was exploring.
To be honest their audience was a group of insiders who got most of the jokes. A trio of senior class presenters were wrestling with the question of how to make consumers more knowledgeable about their food.
I am confident I have one answer – it is to start with kids and we need to make all the ways that food gets from the farm to the fork real, through concrete experience and the opportunity to ask questions from experts of all kinds.
So that is one of the balls I am working to move high into the air. There will be more about it here as the fall draws near.
If you want a see-it-with-your-own-eyes experience you might consider checking out the Farm and Ranch Show at Northlands, March 29-31. It is a consumer show here in the city for the rancher and farmer where you could learn about the pieces of business they need to invest in to bring food to your fork. Go do some primary research of your own.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Applications, Big Ideas and the Art of Connections

What I am writing about today is my take on how you can use the Inquiring Minds application process to get your brain moving in a way that will help your plan for next year whether or not you get a site school week or (God forbid or maybe Halleluiah) you are asked to change grades or decide to move schools.

Consider mulling over some of the questions you need to answer in your application proposal as an opportunity for personal reflection on how you like to teach and begin to play with an interesting theme, organizing idea or key concept. Start rolling one around in your brain. For inspiration check out Edna Sackson’s Feb 2010 blog on Big Ideas at What Ed Said. Edna herself teaches primary IB (PYP in Australia) and her blog inspires me every time I click on it. Google “big ideas key concepts” and read from some of the diverse results to inspire yourself. Look at Table 1 (pg 3) in Focus on Inquiry (Australia). Look at this poster of Research Summary from Oxford University Press.

Do you personally journal in any way, shape or form? Do you read your students’ writing regularly and respond? Do you have a passion? If so, try making a web about one/all of these experiences and consider using it as illustration.

If you used to journal or never have, get busy. Try writing for 10 min everyday for the next 2 weeks (perhaps while you have your class doing it as well) on your thoughts connecting your class, next year planning and anticipating making this application. Let it inform your teaching practice. The site based experience is as much about how it opens you as a teacher to making all kinds of connections as it is for the development of that ability in your students.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Inquiring Minds of Edmonton

Wed. March 7 was the information meeting for applications to the 10 week-long, site based programs in the Edmonton area. I went with my new blog (one post-worth) to show off, see old friends and to talk about inquiry learning. Of course, the teachers who show up are generally the “converted”. Gillian Kydd, godmother to this learning movement, and I have often joked about all the times I use “religious” metaphors when I talk about this experience that we here in Alberta call site-based programming, but I just can’t help it.

Anyone: program coordinator, teacher, parent volunteer or presenter, who has ever witnessed the power of these week long field experiences NOT FIELD TRIPS (I owe this phrase to my Wed chat with master teacher, Maxine Sprague) knows that they become “believers” in the simple but hard to explain magic.

A blank journal to fill with observations, reflections, sketches, diagrams and jot notes is the basic tool of the week. To many this journal becomes a life long treasure. Time to sit or stand and watch, listen, smell and feel proves to be unstoppable as a student engagement technique. Opportunities to pose questions of all kinds to the site experts are primary research tools beyond compare.

I promised those who stopped by that a few TIPS to the art of applications in the quest of a precious week would be in this blog. Thanks to the work of Lorna Zucchet (Zoo School program coordinator) over the years, the application form seems to be very self-explanatory.

The first tip is APPLY – it is impossible to get a week if you don’t submit an application. And don’t be late; the deadline is April 13 at 4 pm. Find a form at the Inquiring Minds site. 

If you have made a successful application before (I know you master teachers are worriers)
RELAX, read through the form and answer with your heart. 

If you have never done this before (all sites seriously consider first timers, sites share a missionary zeal about spreading around the opportunities)
READ through the whole form – nothing kills a program coordinator’s interest in your application faster than blanks or 7 page applications when the form says the proposal should not exceed 3 pages.

Consider visiting the site with a mindset of using it as a classroom, not a field trip.

Although you are applying for a week, this experience will become a touchstone for you and your class’s whole year. Think about that and comment on it. It is the answer to the first question of proposal and a key concept.

Contact the coordinator by email early if you have questions, but don’t become a pest.

Absolutely consider saying yes to the waiting list and listing second choices. 

Treat the program coordinator with open honesty. The application process is the hardest part of the job. Give as much information as you can and follow-up several days after you submit, to be sure it was received.

If things do not work out this year, please try again next year. That is why there is a question that asks if you have applied and NOT been accepted. If at first, you don’t succeed, TRY, TRY again.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

I am Out of the Box

It has been a fascinating 8 months since I officially retired from Edmonton Public School Board. I never intended to stop being an educator, but I certainly did not know what the next territory on the journey would be. Besides the awesome experience of Grandma-hood and full time childcare for our lovely Anisha, I have managed to facilitate the transition of Diane Gurnham from outstanding experienced, classroom teacher to marvelous program coordinator of the Edmonton Oilers ICE School program, provide program coordination for 1,000 Division 1 students at Farmfair International and attempt to round up winter themed art for electronic display at the new Metropolis Winter Festival. Some things I did better than others. That’s life when you endeavor to live out of the box, I guess.
The Inquiring Minds sites of Edmonton are preparing for another round of applications for next year (the last official piece of no-need-to-reinvent-the-wheel learning for Diane) and are also working on hosting another conference to follow the very successful Beyond the Classroom 2010. Several little projects are in the air for me and it is finally time to decide just how to keep myself current and out there. I have been enjoying reading some inquiry-based learning blogs that have filled up my brain with thousands of ideas.
To say that I am passionate about the process we here in Alberta (and a few other places) call site-based learning is an understatement. The magic and power I witnessed week in and week out during 9 years of running the ICE School program filled me with a missionary zeal that has not waned.
It has been my privilege to work with many excellent educators over my career and I want to keep that contact alive. But I also want to grow the circle of those who see the pure learning potential of getting kids out of the box for a walk around the block, a visit to a seniors’ centre, a day at the waste management facility or a week at a museum, city hall, provincial legislature, zoo, botanical garden, auditorium, fort, university or NHL hockey facility. I want them to be determined to milk each concrete experience for every cup of constructivist style teachable moment and connection they can imagine. I want them to know they are not alone and the work and planning they put in are worth every minute because the hope of our collective future is in the minds they are empowering for a life of inquiry.  
This sermon is now ended and I promise future posts will not come from such a soap box place. Besides interesting links to like-minded websites, I hope to post great out-of-the-box opportunities and tips on the basics of observation, interview, sketching and journaling.  
I close with one of my all time favorite Anotole France (really interesting guy!!) quotes: “The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.”