London Riots

What is happening in London??
The Globe and Mail’s front page article about the London riots states that one of one only unifying factors among the rioters is that they are almost entirely under 20 years of age! It also points out that the violence is being committed in the rioters’ own neighbourhoods. There is a problem here. The article goes on to state that 600 000 people 25 yrs and younger have never had a job. 25 and under!

I can’t help but think that this is not a “youth” problem but a community-wide problem. I sincerely hope that those in charge, or those with influential voices will take a moment and reflect on the many, many decisions which have led to this event.
I wasn’t following the education “reforms” that took place in England under Margaret Thatcher in the 80s, as I was a young child at the time, but I have read a little of them. (I have also noted that the spirit or ‘flavour’ of much of the more recent attention paid to education in the United States and parts of Canada echoes steps taken in the UK, which worries me.)
I have read about how Margaret Thatcher (who was Minister of Education before she became Prime Minister) and her Education Ministers strove to make education a marketplace. I have read about the devaluing of teachers and other education professionals by actively excluding them from decision making regarding curriculum and school community organization (presumably because their views were not compatible with treating education as a market). And I have read about the streamlining of a centrally-run market-based education system that serves only those who are deemed “worthy,” or profitable.

I believe that when we dehumanize the curriculum by overloading content and emphasizing a one-size-fits-all mode of delivery students will respond by becoming numb – their senses of community, agency and self-worth will atrophy. I believe teachers will have a similar response.

There were major reforms (Education Acts) almost every year throughout the 1980s. Students in school during this decade, while unfortunate, at least had the impression that things were getting worse: they had a collective memory of better times. Children born in the 1990s and who entered and attended school in the UK in that decade and beyond – this would be almost every single rioter in London this last week – has only ever experienced a system which has, one could argue, never really recovered from the three consecutive terms Margaret Thatcher served.

This event may be the ultimate litmus test for an education system run on market principles.

These individuals are human beings. They have sensibilities like you and me and as we ask ourselves “what on earth could make someone act like this?” We only have to look at their life experiences thus far: would you act any differently?

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Graphic Organizers – [becomes/ is] – Data Visualization

How do we understand the information we see? How do we represent the information we have? What is the best way to organize information for different purposes/ audiences?

Different graphic organizers are better for different purposes and we’ve been using them for a long time. Have we, though, been explicitly teaching the pros and cons and characteristics of how each organizer presents an interpretation of data, and how the interpretation may influence the way the data is read?

As new digital tools emerge regularly, along with access to more and more data, we have the opportunity to present information and the understanding, or interpretation, of that information – our learning – at the same time.

The catalyst for this was (again) an episode of CBC’s Spark:  Spark 133 – 5th segment

Off the top of my head, below are some examples of what I’m thinking about.

Nuclear detonations 1945-1998
watch a video of a world map-view of all the sites of nuclear detonations – it’s crazy!

Health and Wealth over 200 years
This is an animated graph of standards of living in 200 countries over the last 200 years.

Visual Thesaurus
this site creates a mind map-style of word relationships.

Prezi
This is a presentation tool that is waaaay more flexible than powerpoint.  Go play around with it!

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School Collaborative Time

I was asked by a friend recently for input on my experience with scheduled collaborative time.  I got me thinking about ways we can not only build much-needed time into our school schedules but how we might plan and support a collaborative culture so that the time is well used.  Below is mostly what I replied to my friend’s question.  It would be interesting to learn of others’ experiences with school-wide collaborative time.

My school doesn’t have collaborative time. One thing I’ve heard/noticed at some high schools in Vancouver that do have collaborative time built in to their timetables is that teachers don’t use it for authentic collaboration but rather for marking or administrative meetings. I have discussed these problems with the TLs at those schools and my impression is that the average classroom teacher doesn’t know where to start or what collaboration might look like.
My understanding (though I may be wrong) is that there was very little modeling or mentor-style support provided when the schedule change was adopted. Subsequently, if the unproductivity is identified, the administrative solution of submitting accountability records of activities comes off as top-down and nit-picky.
As I visit different schools, it seems to me that teachers appear to not buy in when in fact they are just nervous and unsure of how to proceed. Teacher collaboration often requires the building of collegial relationships that are unlike what some folks have ever really known in their career – that must be super uncomfortable!

One of my UBC courses this semester started with the question (among others) “how comfortable are you with letting go (temporarily) of your own agenda?” My prof also said “trust the process” about ten times. I think that these are some of the keys to fruitful collaboration. Collaboration is embodied AND we don’t know where it will take us; these are not common characteristics of a teacher’s practice/ comfort zone.

I think a major key is to acknowledge that learning to collaborate professionally can be really hard.  We can’t just provide the time and expect immediate and profound results.  I’m looking forward to following my friend’s school’s process.

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Happy teachers, happy students

I am growing more and more interested in teachers within the learning community rather than students. Now, while actually at school my mind is almost always on my students. In my professional reading, though, I am consistently interested in understanding more about teacher efficacy, teachers’ experiences as part of learning communities and their roles as part of information ecologies. My (future) research will likely inquire into a question in one of these areas.
It feels weird, though – like I’m being a bad educator. The BCTF (like so many other teacher’s unions and other advocate groups) has had to adopt such a strong mantra of “it’s all for the kids” because of (in my opinion) misinformed and baggage laden public opinion that is suspicious of teachers that it sometimes feels taboo to advocate for something that directly improves teachers’ work experience. Oh well. I like to believe that we will grow (psychologically) as a society. Perhaps we will. Until then I will continue to enjoy teaching and learning with both my young’uns and my colleagues alike.

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Spark | CBC Radio

Spark | CBC Radio.

Last week on the CBC radio program Spark, Nora interviewed William Gibson.  They primarily spoke of his new novel Zero History and Nora mentioned his treatment of underground fashion.  Their discussion of our “information society” started me thinking:

There is definitely a “cool” culture in restaurants, fashion/clothing, parties, etc. were the most sought-after things or experiences are those which have had the least (if any) advertising.   There is a restaurant near my house that has no signage or visible address.  It’s called The Narrow and it’s indicated by a single red light outside a door that leads down into the restaurant.  I only know about from word-of-mouth.  It’s very cool.

It seems as though the abundance of information available to the average urban resident, the accessibility of consumer opportunities (malls, stores everywhere) has led us, led by the 20-something gen, to seek products and experiences that are not easily come by.  In these cases, ease of information is the opposite of what we want.  or maybe of what we need?

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Many things

So much time has passed! Since the end of 2009:
I started my Master’s of Education program at the University of British Columbia. I am currently in the department of Language and Literacy, focusing on Teacher-Librarianship however, I am likely switching to an MA.

I got a .5 continuing contract! I hold a 50% success ratio of applications to contracts with the VSB (4 applied, 2 successful). I am now a part-time teacher-librarian at Laura Secord Elementary in Vancouver (BC). I teach some core French and reading too. Hopefully next year (or within the next few) I will be able to get more library time and less prep coverage. Secord is great; the staff and students are friendly. The school dual-track (English and French Immersion) and has a late-immersion program. The library gets A LOT of use, which is super awesome.

That’s pretty much it. I mean, I’ve done other stuff (still going strong with BCTELA – I’m VP for a second term) but that’s what’s kept me so hugely busy.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I hope to post more often in the proceeding months. Although as Yoda says: “Do or do not: there is no try.”

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Questions and Answers

Some of the folks in Susan’s and my roundtable discussion at the BCTELA conference wrote down some questions for us as we didn’t have much time to answer then at that time.  I said we would answer them here… and we will.  We haven’t yet (obviously) but only because we want to answer them thoughtfully, together, and our schedules are so disparate we haven’t even seen each other since that Friday afternoon.  When we do get to them (hopefully soon) I will also try to post them on the BCTELA website on the Conference Materials page.  I’ll keep ya posted! (ha!)

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