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