Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Inclusion, and Me

I just got back from the Sunshine Coast with my family.  We stay in this great trailer a few paces back from my wife's parents' summer home that looks out on the water.  It is a pretty, glorious spot and we go there every year to frolic on the beach.  I always load up with audio books on my player so I can listen to stories and books while I am up there. 

This time, one of the books I listened to was Amy Schumer's book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.  While I won't be reading it aloud to my students or constructing Readers Theatre scripts to act out from it, I was struck by certain parts of the book.  As you know, Amy is one of the most outrageous stand up comics today, and her book is graphic, but it is also very candid.  One of the parts I was struck by was her declaration that she is an introvert.  Introversion is not a trait that I would associate with Amy Schumer but the way she described how, even though she can bare her soul in front of thousands of people during a stand-up concert at Madison Square Garden, she needs time to be alone to recharge and refocus.  She says she loves people but every human encounter is energy-sucking. 

I feel exactly the same way.  I am way more shy than Amy Schumer, but even still I related to loving to be with people but also needing to have some alone time.  I've written here before about Susan Cain's book, Alone, and how we introverts need time to ourselves, but hearing introversion from the point of view from Amy Schumer made me think about how shyness and introversion are not the same thing.   

I was at a session this year with the incredible inclusion guru, Shelley Moore.  She has these great stories about inclusion in her book, One Without the Other, which reads like you are having a nice conversation with Shelley.  She tells these very personal and relatable stories from her experiences of how teachers can include every student in every classroom.  She gives well-attended, energetic workshops, getting people to belly dance to show how everyone starts from different places, or she relates bowling to inclusive learning.  People love Shelley because she tells stories that make people feel something and rethink how we include different kinds of learners. 

But the declaration that made me think the most was when she confessed she is an introvert.  I was floored!  Here was this incredibly charismatic, non-wallflowery speaker who has auditoriums of people in the palm of her hand, telling me what an introvert she is.  She explained that she likes giving lectures and presentations because it is just her talking, and it is not really an interchange between her and others which she would find unnerving.  And when she gets home, the couch and Netflix look pretty good and she will be in for the night.

What does this have to do with classroom design?

A teacher emailed me in June after reading parts of my blog and was asking me for advice about how her classroom could accommodate different kids of learners. She said that it was easy to come up with the Campfire (a communal place where the whole class could meet for large group discussions or instruction) and Watering Holes (smaller places where pairs or small groups could work together), but she was having difficulty coming up with Caves (places of isolation where students could work by themselves undisturbed).  She asked if she could come by and look at my classroom to see how I'd set up my Cave places. 

I was writing back, "Sure...".  Until I looked at my classroom.  Over the previous months, I had been rearranging my classroom to include vertical work spaces for group work, or moving things out from the walls to display some projects, or widening our role-playing Social Studies interactive bulletin board.  These adjustments and others had slowly chipped away from my Cave spaces.  I hadn't even noticed I'd eliminated them!  And looking back, I realised that the students who needed them the most had missed them too but hadn't noticed or hadn't said anything.  (Oh, that's why K kept crawling under the risers.  Oh, that's why normally social R stopped playing with people and would draw by herself at the end of the day. Oh, that's why T burrowed himself into the box of cardboard scraps,  etc.).  It all made sense.  In retrospect.

As Shelley might remind me, "If you are going to have supports in your classroom, you have to make them available to students and let them know the supports are there for them."

As Susan Cain might remind me, "Introverts should be celebrated, so make space for them."

As Amy Schumer might remind me, "You're ****ing taking educational advice from me?  No ****ing way!  Get the **** out of here!   No, I mean it--go so I can be alone now.""

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Foreign Relations?

This week I was invited to a dinner meeting with the Consul General of Japan, here in Vancouver.  I'd met her once before when she gave some words of greeting at a book signing, but I never thought I would be having a sit down meeting with her.  It was a nice time at her residence off Granville.  My friend, Mike Perry-Whittingham (also co-chair of the Education Cluster with me for Landscapes of Injustice) was there too.  We had an exquisite dinner while we chatted about the status of Japan in school curriculum. 

Before and most of the time I was there, I was asking myself, "How did I get invited to this?" because I was just some grade 2 teacher from Coquitlam.  Consul General Okai had done her homework because in our conversations she mentioned some work I had done, my current involvement with Landscapes of Injustice, and quoted from an interview I had done this year.  

At the end of the meal, I gave her a booklet my class had made for her.  Because Consul General Okai was a relative newcomer to BC, we made a book with my grade 2's suggestions of their favourite things to do in BC.  It included such gems as BMX racing in Pitt Meadows and going for a milkshake at McDonalds.  While I can't picture the Consul General doing either of these things, I could tell she was tickled by the book. 

Oh, and the Consul General had held a larger dinner earlier discussing education with some of the Community Advisers from Landscapes and they mentioned Mike's and my name.  Hence, the follow-up dinner.

Last week, another interesting thing happened.  I googled myself (okay, I'll explain why later, but suffice it to say I was procrastinating while writing my report cards), and the usual stuff came up, but this odd reference to me came up in someone's PowerPoint presentation.  I dug a little further and downloaded the presentation.  The presentation was from Sacramento at a conference on school facilities this February, and was given by an ergonomist, who was referencing the Bright Ideas Gallery and my blog.  He liked the fact that my students can move and have options about standing while they work. 

I was pleased that he seemed to like my work, by mystified how he learned about my work, so I emailed him.  He replied that he ran across it on the internet.  Naturally.  But he was giving a presentation to schools about school facilities, and he referenced me?  I laughed at this.  I was and still am figuring this out as I go. 

Okay.  About googling myself.  Years ago, after I built my classroom risers, I went searching to see if anyone or any company had done anything similar.   I came across this beautiful commercial product, and on this blog, I compared their sleek product with my clunky one.   (I think I wrote that mine came out on top because of cost, and the fact that I 'd made them myself.  The Ikea self-assembly ownership effect).   That was all fine and good until a representative from that particular educational furniture company contacted me directly, wanting to have a "conversation."  I was a little freaked out at first, but he really just wanted to have an open dialogue with a teacher who was interested in classroom design.  (That representative was James Clarke who is an educational designer in the UK.  We still keep in touch from time to time).  Back then, James told me he came across my blog and my comments about his product because periodically he would google the product's name to see what came up.  At that time, what came up was my critique.  It worked out okay, but now I google myself to see what comes up.  Sometimes it is interesting, and sometimes it is even true.  Or not.

What strikes me about these stories is how things that are on the internet (about me or what I've written), are out there for everyone to see all over the world, for good for bad.  Mostly good.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Interactive Mesh Idea

I finally got it to work the way I envisioned it.

I have written previously about using a mesh and projecting images my class can interact with in real time.  We have interacted with projected stories and shown rocket launches on the mesh to add a surreal layer of viewing.

But last week, we kicked it up a notch by using the mesh for an interactive live performance.

We performed the song, "Walking in the Air," by Howard Blake.  We had three performance elements:
  • Music/sound/singing.  The song is a dreamy one about walking through the sky.  My class and another grade 2 class sang the song. 
You can make out the two-class choir silhouetted on the risers on the left.
  • Painting/visual.  While we sang, one of the 7 "painters" took turns painting beautiful splattery colours onto the interactive mesh from behind it using the IR pen.  The painters painted in real time (using  creating a surreal sunset on the mesh.  Because the projector was angled so sharply upwards, the painting did not just appear on the mesh, but also enlarged on the gym wall up to the ceiling. 
Here is a picture of me explaining the painting while a student
who you can slightly see behind the mesh,
paints on the mesh which transfers to the wall behind. 
You can also see the same small image on the laptop screen on the cart.
  • Dance/movement.  As the singers sang and the painters painted, dancers danced slowly and flowingly in front of the mesh.  Because the dancers were in front of the projector, their shadows were cast onto the mesh and enlarged on the wall behind the mesh.

Putting it all together, it gave the dreamy impression that the we were indeed walking in the air.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Maybe MonoTasking Didn't Work. This time.

Following up on my last post, I think maybe the strategy of putting all of my eggs in one basket, mono-tasking, didn't work.  I figured this out while I was sitting in the emergency ward. 
I had just returned from some meetings in Victoria with this project I am working on called Landscapes of Injustice.  I was upstairs on the laptop sending off some reflections of the meetings in an email, and I noticed that my hands were feeling a little tingly and numb, like they were going to sleep.  I thought the cuffs of my sweater were maybe cutting off the circulation to my hands, so I pulled the cuffs down and finished the email.  I went downstairs and was lying on the couch watching TV, but when  I got up to get a snack, I was a little wobbly, like my feet were going to sleep. I was trying to tell my wife about the sensation, but my tongue was all numb, like it was going to sleep. 
Without going into all of the drama, that was probably for nought, I went to Emergency, had a few tests done, and ruled out stroke and tumours.  Originally, I self-diagnosed it was a stroke (which was incorrect because my symptoms happened symmetrically on both sides of my body), and I further diagnosed it was due to overwork (also incorrect, according to the neurologist later).  While I was sitting in Emergency, I was going through how many side projects I was involved in outside of my normal classroom work.  On a good year, it is one or two, but I stopped counting my side projects when I got to 11 and the meeting I had that day bumped me up to 12.
I stayed home from work the next day. My symptoms went away before I left the hospital, but staying home allowed me to get caught up with my sleep.  I also sent some emails to withdraw from some of these side projects.  Some were interesting and I had some regret in stepping down.  I still hung on to a few pet projects because they were fun, intriguing, sporadically timed or not too taxing.
So as much as I tried to group all of these projects together to make them manageable, something in my body told me to slow down.  It was funny though.  I was very busy, but did not feel stressed, and the neurologist did not correlate this level of activity with my symptoms.   But I still took it as a sign that maybe I was spreading myself a little thin.
It was a good way to end the school year: take stock, prioritize, and ride back and forth on the new SkyTrain line to the hospital.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The answer to multitasking? Monotasking.

Multitasking is killing us all, literally and figuratively.

I was at a dinner once, and at the table, someone pulled out their phone in the middle of a conversation to check what was happening with a ball game or something.  The person stayed on the phone a bit too long for the liking of others at the table and when his wife called him on it, he said he was multi-tasking.

I was looking at the dented fender of a friend of mine.  I asked him how he got it.  He said his daughter was on her way to her new job when it happened.  I asked if someone hit her.  “No,” he said, “she was texting and she hit a parked car.”  I raised an eyebrow.  He replied, “Usually, she is a good multitasker.”  I asked where her new job was.  It was at an insurance office.

I could go on and on about the perils of multitasking.  Would you really want your surgeon to be checking her messages while taking something out of your body?  Is it really necessary for your pilot to update his relationship status on Facebook during takeoff of your flight?  Do teachers really need to check their texts during an assembly and then get mad at students for not being good audience members?   Does my wife really have to distract me to tell me dinner is ready when I am about to advance a level on Candy Crush?

People think they can multitask but they (we) really can’t.  What they are doing is dividing up their attention so that they can’t do ANY of those tasks well.  (It’s like the joke about the wife who instead of using birth control, gives her husband some chewing gum. )

So I’ve come up with a remedy to multitasking: Mono-tasking.

This school year, I don’t know how it happened, but by the beginning of October I got completely overwhelmed.  I had somehow gotten myself involved in a number of worthy projects but each of them was pulling me in different directions. 

1.      I was asked to present at a Social Studies conference.  Putting the presentation together wasn’t too bad, but there is this movement in Social Studies to emphasize the Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts by Peter Seixas, and I have been trying to wrap my brain around them, but really hadn’t had the time.

2.      I’ve been part of this massive Landscapes of Injustice project.  For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to incorporate a mountain of research into teaching intermediate level Social Studies.  Landscapes comes in and out of my consciousness as I receive information from different parts of the project.

3.      I’ve been grappling with how to implement BC’s new curriculum.  This is at the forefront of my mind as I work on this on a daily basis, with little success so far.  I am part of a district committee that is supposed to inform the school board on implementing this curriculum, but it is such a different way of doing things, I have been having a hard time trying to find my own entry point.

4.      For years, I have been working on inquiry and problem-based learning with intermittent success.  Also, I have been learning about Social and Emotional Learning with more success.  I am on two learning groups for each of these, both of which mean time outside of the classroom. 

5.      Another outside of school committee I am on is one to develop new IEP (Individualized Education Plans) for mostly students with special needs.  When I received the invitation, I had to check to see if they were asking the right person because I was the only one who was not a Student Services teacher, as I am a regular classroom teacher.  They assured me they were looking for some diverse input.  I thought it was a one-time meeting, so I said yes.  We will meet at least four times. 

All of these committees and projects were asking something for me within a ten day span during October.  I thought my head was going to explode.  Usually, I am pretty good at juggling things, but in those circumstances my responsibilities are not as intense and can be spread throughout the year.  This time, everything all seemed to be happening at once.  It was beyond multitasking because there were too many things going on at the same time. 

But as I was coming back from the Social Studies conference, I was reflecting on what I learned there.  I did not just present but was able to attend sessions, and catch up with awesome teachers and researchers, many of whom I had met before in Ottawa.  The big message I heard from them was: it’s all about the process.  I’d heard this many times (including from my wise principal, Remi), but it had never really stuck with me, and when it did stick, it was like a revelation! 


Instead of juggling all of these big projects as 5 or 6 different balls, make them into one big ball.  What if I made all of my projects just one big project?  One task, one direction.  Like.  Monotasking. 

Here are the implications for me: 

1.      Make everything about one thing: process.

2.      The new curriculum is mostly about process.  The content is changing so rapidly, that it is taking a back seat to the big ideas, concepts, and processes.

3.      Make my part of Landscapes of Injustice all about processes.  Then the processes are already invented if I use the Historical Thinking Concepts to frame the Landscapes inquiry.  Then use this inquiry as an entry point to the new curriculum.  Then help make the new IEP reflect the processes, big ideas, and competencies (the main parts of the new curriculum). 

4.      What are the key processes my students need to develop?  What questions will help guide their inquiry to discovering these processes?

5.      How can I teach my students to see their lives as one big discovery instead of a series of disparate, distracting hoops to jump through?