Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Kids Need to Talk

Talking has always been an important piece of processing for me. I have an extremely vivid memory from Grade 2 of a teacher who continually asked me to sit down and stop talking. In desperation she used masking tape to attach me to my desk chair and cover my mouth. This was back in the “baby boom” days of 35 to 40 children in a classroom and she was fresh from Junior E (a teacher training initiative that saw 19 and 20 year olds assume classroom duties after one year of post-secondary). It was my delight to meet her years later, teaching in the school where I was completing my teacher practicum. We laughed together when I reminded her of that memory.

Needless to say I have always had a soft spot for those who need to talk. From my early days as a classroom teacher I had a fairly high tolerance for chatter and often introduced a new idea with the phrase “Turn to your neighbor and talk about….” Recently We are Teachers posted “5 Fun Alternatives to Think-Pair-Share” and each alternative is a great strategy for using student conversing to further learning.

During my years facilitating the Inquiring Minds program called Edmonton Oilers ICE School I was introduced to the Jigsaw method by an outstanding teacher. I have often said that one of the greatest gifts of my time in week-long, site-based programming has been the opportunities to work beside and learn essential tools from skillful educators.

This instructional strategy has so much going for it. My recent reading on this topic revealed to me that the master mind behind Jigsaw was Elliot Aronson, a social psychologist and father of four, who in 1971 was distressed by the circumstances in recently desegregated Austin, Texas public schools. He worked with colleagues and students at the University of Texas and the University of California to research a small group cooperative learning technique that could synthesize principles gleaned from his years of work on small-group dynamics and social interaction. The goal was not primarily a learning objective, but rather to bridge the gap hostility created between children from different ethnic groups.

Jennifer Gonzalez of the wonderful blog, Cult of Pedagogy posted an excellent piece on Jigsaw last April. There is a video about the strategy and if you sign up to receive Jennifer’s tips by email you get a free copy of instructions for using it in a variety of ways.

I now look forward to her emails and have found many other pearls in them. She got me thinking about all of this when she sent me this great post last week called the Big List of Class Discussion Strategies. Take a look!

Friday, 11 September 2015

Teaching the Art of Interview

On the journey of my teaching career, it has been my privilege to witness the power of children interacting with other adults. From that moment in my second year when I realized my little (until then mostly silent) new Canadian from Korea kindergarten student had repeated several words in a row with eyes locked on our visiting guest cowboy “speaker” to the engagement of 12 year old boys coming to an understanding of molten lead from a linotype machine operator turned computer graphic designer, I have marveled at the pure magic of this type of interaction.

Over the last few years, I have been gratified to learn that the neuroscience behind this magic is being explored through research. I just LOVE reading that science has “proved” something I have “known” for years. 
Looking for a great read on Brain Science and teaching? I have just finished John Medina’s Brain Rules. Check it out.

Experts and learning-stuff-from-them is an integral piece of the inquiry cycle and learning in general. Interview as a structured time to get answers to questions is an important skill for all learners. It is one of the bed-rock activities of a site-based program. The opportunities of being out where adults work is part of a real world learning rich environment and some of those adults taking time to listen and answer student questions, provide ingredients that make for engagement and deep connection.

The beginning of the new school year affords a teacher one of those perfect times to introduce and polish interview skills. New faces in the class or school, summer adventures, expanding horizons or “How do you think the Oilers will do this season?” provide some interview teachable moments.

Jennifer Gonzalez, creator of one of my favorite education blogs, Cult of Pedagogy, posted an inspiring set of Ice Breaker activities for the start of a class year. 

Doug Lipman, a storyteller and teacher, has a great collection of steps to building interview skills, using story games.

And what can I say about Story Corps? Genius idea and I admire everything about it. Their work on developing the idea of asking very open ended questions of those closest to us to gather personal narratives is creating an amazing collection of …. great stories.

How about sending the art of interview home to collect some family anecdotes?

Use the students' beginning experiences of interview to teach designing better questions.  There is wonderful support for the questioning classroom at Teach Thought , another of my favorite education blogs.

You can Google “fat skinny questions”. This is a set of lesson ideas by Jacqui Sharp.

Now get busy.

What’s stopping you?

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Hook, Line and Sinker for building journaling practice

I’m excited!
I can’t help it.
It is back to school time. Today I spent 75 minutes with 12 wonderful teachers who are preparing to bring classes to the brilliant Edmonton Inquiring Minds site called U School.  I wanted them to feel inspired, empowered and eager to begin the skill of journaling. I could have talked the whole time but that is always my problem; I know that telling is not really the path to true enlightenment. So I tried to spend at least some of our time writing and walking.
These are the links to some of the ideas, websites and books I mentioned.
Boost your metacognition and brain vocabulary and read Brain Rules by John Medina. The brain science is so clear about how effective this is for learning.

Hook – Get a big idea that grabs you then find a collection of things your students can touch and/or experience to make a start. Today, I took in my personal horse collection but suggested Dollarstore seashells or free-for-the-picking-up-outside right-now spruce cones. One of the teachers mentioned collecting smooth rocks and then using them to create story stones. (Google “story stones” to see some lovely ideas).
A good collection needs to have at least 6 items more than kids in the class so everyone has a choice. If you are smart, things are not too breakable or expensive. Back in my ICE School days I filled a bin with old skates Sports Central was going to throw away. I have used old and new small things from the farm to prompt inquiry and writing about agriculture.
Check out the videos at Edmonton Inquiring Minds by Gillian Kydd about writing and drawing about objects. 
A great book with lesson plans around a variety of objects is Inquiry Based Learning Using Everyday Objects by Amy Alvarado and Patricia Herr.
Write about them. Connect them, reflect on them, observe them, wonder and sketch them.

Line – Take journals, pencils and get out and walk with your class. One of the teachers today suggested a one-time, year-long blanket permission to cover walks with-in a six block radius of the school. Great idea. She also mentioned making the job of caboose or back gate keeper one of the regular rotating class jobs. She has a bright safety vest for that student to wear and they love it.
This fall is an excellent time to walk and connect with the federal election. Watch for lawn signs, count them, see if the number changes. Take a look at this lovely humorous video called Election Signs by Edmonton Journal photojournalist, Ryan Jackson. Then look at his behind-the-scenes of its creation.
The City of Edmonton has created a wonderful resource called Make a Better City. It includes a set of activities centred on walking the neighborhood in the section City Scene.
Looking for prompt ideas for the walk? My favorite collection is How to be an Explorer of the World (this link is to one of my favorite blogs about books and how I found this book in the first place) by Keri Smith. Or check out the Write About website. It is free for an individual teacher to register and has some organized opportunities for joining groups based on interests.
Or maybe just inspiration? Consider Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes. Think about inviting some experts on your walks. Ask them lots of questions.
So, take some walks. Write about them. Stop and sketch on them. Map them when you return.

Sinker – All the brain research is supporting engaging learners and taking them deeper. Let your big idea include doing something that makes the world a better place.  Plan some action because of it. Write some letters, make some videos. Here again Make a Better City has some suggestions in the section Make it Real.
Michael Norton has done research that discovered spending even a small amount of money on something for someone else makes us happy.
Create something to share.
Consider a pop-up museum event. Invite parents to bring in an object related to the big idea for a celebration of learning. Get your students to view the museum and you guessed…write about an object, connect it, wonder about it, sketch it.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

How we ask the questions affects the answers we arrive at

My mother died on Oct 4, 2014. It was not unexpected but, as I have learned from this experience, a heart-pounding surprise. She had battled ovarian cancer for 4 years but finally slipped away in a hospital bed with her glasses on her nose and a book on her chest, thankfully comfortable after a day facing pleading-with-God pain.

This morning I read (following the wonderful suggestion of Maria Popova’s  Brian Picker and the book’s arrival for pick-up by me at my Idylwylde Branch of the Edmonton Public Library) Krista Tippett’s Einstein’s God: Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit. It touched me in so many places, I could not put it down.

And it has driven me to write (in more than 140 characters) which is something I have not managed for more than a year.

I realize, this morning that I am finally emerging from the darkness of the last year. Activities like reading something meaningful from cover to cover and forming thoughts that could make it to print have just not mattered. I have been numbly going through all the motions of my life and am finally rediscovering the joy that has been there.

I met with my writer friends this week in a small café in my neighborhood. I never got to creating anything with my own words. By the time I had caught up on various aspects of their lives like travel, health and the Alberta election, I recorded a few prompts and then had to leave to collect my grand-daughter. This morning I turned to those prompts I had chosen to copy down. My subconscious was definitely trying (it appears it was shouting) to tell me something.
                “But how can you have a sense of wonder if you’re prepared for everything? Prepared for a sunset, prepared for the moonrise, prepared for the ice storm. What a flat existence that would be.” Margaret Atwood; Stone Mattress: Nine Tales 

                “Death is outside life….. It leaves a hole in the fabric of things…” Salley Vickers; Miss Garnet’s Angel

                “You never come closer to owning the whole world than when you wake up before everyone else.”  Åsa Larsson; Until Thy Wrath be Past: A Rebecka Martinsson Investigation

                “All my journeys start with an anxious pang of doubt.  … You point your mind to an invisible land-fall.” Lawrence Durrell; Sicilian Carousel: Adventures on an Italian Island

                “… the hours of that first darkness, were astonished by love.” Alice McDermott; Someone

Krista Tippett interviewed a wonderful collection of brilliant thinkers and pulled together their thoughts exploring the nexus (what a pleasing word) of science and spirituality. One of her distillations is “…modern science increasingly suggests that contradictory explanations of reality can be simultaneously true.”  She then examines the puzzle of light as particle or wave and the discovery that it is both.  “And here is the key that made the discovery possible:  how we ask the questions affects the answers we arrive at. Light appears as a wave if you ask it ‘a wave-like question’ and it appears as a particle if you ask it ‘a particle-like question’. “

And what should I find Maria Popova has tweeted to me this morning but a lovely jazz treatment, Heisenberg’s Aha by Lori Henriques from Lori's album titled How Great Can This Day Be.  Those lyrics contain this take on the nexus of art and science:
And remember your imagination
is a voice inside that can help you
to understand quantum mechanics
and so many more things about you.

Then Google reveals to me that scientists have actually just now (research posted March 2015) photographed light as both particle and wave.

“But how can you have a sense of wonder if you’re prepared for everything?”
How great can this day be?