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?


Friday, August 12, 2016

First time lucky: Ignorance is Bliss

Governor General's Conference
In my last post, I wrote about the Governor General's reunion conference I attended in the spring.  Over a decade a go, I wrote a collection of lessons for grade 4/5 Social Studies about the Japanese Canadian internment in the 1940s. That resource received one of the Governor General's award for Teaching Canadian History.

Landscapes of Injustice
Fast forward to last year when I was asked to write some similar lessons for a project research project called Landscapes of Injustice. Landscapes is massive.  It is centred in the University of Victoria and is headed by a history professor there, Jordan Stanger-Ross.  His vision is to investigate the issue of Japanese Canadian internment and relocation by focusing on the topic of dispossession.  "What is dispossession?" you might ask, (you might because I know I did).  Dispossession is the forced sale of the Japanese Canadians, which in their case was unusual because the proceeds were used to pay for their own incarceration. 

The project, which is in year 3 of 7, includes other universities (including Ryerson and Simon Fraser University) and several other partner groups, institutions and museums (including the Royal BC Museum, the Pier 21 Immigration Museum, and the Nikkei National Museum).  The project is arranged into several organizational structures called clusters.  The clusters are mainly academic research groups (including land titles and government records, oral histories, GIS digital mapping, etc.) and have been going through an archiving mountains of data. 

So where do I come in?  Apart from the academic research, Jordan wants to engage the public and one of the ways is to have a cluster for Teaching Resources.  Mike Perry-Whittingham is chairing the secondary lessons, and I am doing the elementary.  As a grade 2 teacher, it is a really great experience to work alongside professors, grad students, community members, and museum curators.  I get a chance to see some worlds I know nothing about.

Shouldn't it be easier the second time?
How are the lessons coming?  Well............

Compared to the first set of lessons, these ones have been slow coming.  And that's the reason for this blog post. 

The Magic of the First Time
I was watching the Olympics last night, and Canadian swimmer, Penny Oleksiak, in particular.  Penny burst to the end and tied for gold, but the part that really stuck with me was watching Penny in the warm up room.  She was so loose, so happy just to be there.  She is obviously a fierce competitor, and has won 4 medals at this Olympics, but the expectations for her at these games was to soak in the experience and just get ready for 2020. 

Okay, okay, I can't hold myself up to a 16 year-old athlete, but I do see some parallels about going beyond expectations the first time you do something.  When I wrote the first set of internment lessons, looking back, I really didn't know what I was doing but with that I had no great expectations upon me.  Just like Penny.  The first time, I was loose and just went for it.  Just like Penny. I had fun and had no way to fail.  Just like Penny.  I am inspired by Penny because she reminds of my students: they don't know what they don't know, and just do the best they can, enjoying the experience as much as possible.  I love that first time thrill.

Great Expectations
Now with Landscapes, I am feeling the expectations.  I am working with a bunch of scholars.  They have mountains of work to do and have huge expectations for themselves.  They take their work very seriously and must feel the pressures of targets for grant funding, professional integrity, and out and out scholarly discovery.  I did a good job before, and I think people expect me to do the same or better.  Actually, that last part is not true, instead *I* expect me to do the same or better.

Keep the Wonder
But I know myself well enough to know that that approach does not work for me.  I need to stay loose like Penny, just enjoy the experience, focus on the task, and see what happens when I do my best.  I also admire physicist Richard Feynman, not just because he was brilliant, but he saw the world with a child-like wonder.  He had a great passion for how things worked, but also pulled pranks, played the bongos, and made up his own nonsensical language.  He always had this great grin like he was in on the greatest inside joke. 

So for me and this Landscapes task, and for life and for my students is all about maintaining that first time wonder.