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.