Dam It, We’re Learning Here!

A group of kids huddled around a garden hose may look like a recipe for disaster, but in this case it was to prove a point about pressure. The question started off innocently enough: “What would have more pressure, the bottom of a hose that was held off a cliff, or the plug at the bottom of an Olympic swimming pool?”. Sure, one has about a gazillion times the amount of water behind it, but does that really matter when it comes to pressure? Well, to put it to the test we filled up our 20m long garden hose and I got the kids to walk down the path, which descends vertically fairly quickly. 20m of hose… that has to have a bit of water in it, yeah? It should start to really gush by the time they get to the bottom of the hill. Sure enough one kid after the next wandered down the path only to find the task of holding the hose clamped shut harder with each step down. Continue reading

Text Remediation Infographic

As the final multimedia project for my course, ETEC 540, I decided to try something new. I wanted to employ the dynamic nature of SVG files as created by programs such as Inkscape. The creation was a process in itself, but by the end I ran into a couple stumbling blocks. First, wordpress would not upload the SVG file. No worries, I thought, let’s just link to it. However, the link did not have any of the hyperlinks activated. So, I went for second best. I linked to the original file, but then also made an image file to share as an example of what the infographic was to be like. Here is is, along with a link to the original file (which has lots of hyperlinks to cool resources by the way).

noanfesnoux_remediation of text

Constructivism and At Risk Students

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Experts in Engagement

In the three pieces I viewed (Robinson, Harris and Graham, and Woodul et Al) I consistently heard the message that a primary issue lies not within the students directly, but rather the fact that they do not feel engaged in their learning. Essentially, this is the key to making any learning stick: get the kids engaged. I really liked the quote from Harris and Graham at the start which stated that teachers are no longer teaching subjects, but teaching children. To go one step further, perhaps we could even say that the teacher is expected to foster an engagine learning environment (it just sounds less direct, but means the same thing). Like a comedian, the modern teacher must know how to read a crowd and respond to cues they send in a dynamic fashion. The teacher also needs to be able to balance expectations of the school board, the parents, themselves, and of course the students. It gets tricky, that is for sure. Once school boards relax their expectations, the other three parties generally feel a strong sense of fulfilment when engagement in high.

Diversity in Style and Product

The article by Harris and Graham really brought forth a strong feeling to me that we need to be a bit more open to embracing diversity in learning styles as well as teaching styles. Both the Endogenous and Exogenous constructivist forms seem to have space and sit comfortably in a learning environment, and in the discussion there was examples of how both of these can be beneficial to learning. I have seen teachers prosper as master storytellers, while others excel at creating a laboratory like feeling in the classroom. To allow these styles to co-exist and not prescribe one of the the other seems to me like a critical piece of how we need to look at the future of education.

Similarly we also need to be accepting of a wide range of products from our students. It is challenging to not compare, but all work has intrinsic value and all learners develop when engaged. To do this, we may need to elimiate some of the core tenets of education (Grades, Learning Outcomes, Standards). in lieu of this, we will need to have a well trained and dynamic cohort of educators ready for each day at work to be unique and never feel they have an established routine. This is part of the Finnish model Ken Robinson speaks of: educate teachers to high standards and let them prosper in a more open system.

References:

Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (1994). Constructivism: Principles, paradigms, and integration. The Journal of Special Education 28(3), 233-247. Retrieved from http://sed.sagepub.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/content/28/3/233.full.pdf+html 

TedTalk, (2013). How to Escape Education’s Death Valley. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX78iKhInsc 

Woodul, E. III, Vitale, M. R., Scott, B.J. (2000). Using a Cooperative Multimedia Learning Environment to Enhance Learning and Affective Self-Perceptions of At-Risk Students in Grade 8. Journal Of Educational Technology Systems, 28(3), 239-252. Retrieved from http://ets.sagepub.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/content/28/3/239.full.pdf+html 

Sacred Paper

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Bolter’s analogy of us living in the “late age of print” (loc 213, 2001) being similar to the late age of capitalism stated by Jameson (1991) held true for me in more than one way. I am often abhorred to see how much waste our societies produce these days, and feel consumerism (a direct product of capitalism) is the culprit. An element that I have noticed more and more with students is that as we progress towards digital devices is that the relative value of paper has decreased. The combination of the paper based system and digital media has led to large amounts of waste and a decrease in care for organizing our older, paper based learning. In this transition time, we need perspective and perhaps even find a role for the outgoing technology. Continue reading

Originally Posted on Green School Blog, Feb 2016

I felt solace in knowing that I was not alone in sleeplessness on the first night of Utopia/Dystopia. Sarita had emailed me and said her daughter was awash in ideas and enthusiasm for our new role playing unit, wondering how her character would engage in the world at the end of the 21st century. I could not sleep for the same reason, but in a different context; what had I missed in designing this unit? Continue reading

Earth Day Alphabet

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As a project for Earth Day, I wanted my students to create some digital art using natural tools. I had never done this before, but was pretty sure we could manage to create a few letters. A full alphabet though? In the 1 1/2 hour session I had with 6 students we were able to put together a nearly complete alphabet, take pictures, and make some of our names. Here is how:

Equipment:

  • A Digital Camera (I used a Nikon N1 and my Smartphone… both worked fine)
  • A tripod (it keep the light consistent, but is not necessary)
  • A laptop or desktop
  • Software: GIMP and Inkscape
  • A White sheet of art paper
  • Access to lots of bits and bobs from nature

Process:

DSC_3712I started the kids out by creating a simple enough letter from flowers we found as we walked in the classroom. I set up the camera so that the image was slightly overexposed and snapped the shot. Ok, that was one letter… now I challenged them to go and find any additional pieces of stuff in nature and cover the other 25 letters. One student had the idea of writing the letters on the board and crossing them off as we go to them.

After about 15 minutes, I already had about 15 letters on my camera. I hit the pause button, transferred the photos, and showed a couple students how to process the pics so that the white background was equally white between photos. Basically, you have to adjust the fill light. This can be done in most image editing software (on phones I use snapseed, on computers I personally am a big fan of the recently retired Picassa).

After the background had been lighted to be white, each letter was cropped closely to the letter and resized to a standard size (800px width worked well for our purposes). They were then dragged into an Inkscape file and arranged to create words. Voila… digital nature art made simple!

If you are interested in seeing the full alphabet, we originally posted it in a photo album on Green School.

earthday-0000

The Jungle Run

When Mikel, a middle school student, suggested that we just “run through the forest and learn while exploring the jungle” as a PE elective, I immediately took heed.  I knew the area around Green School well, and felt that in the PE time I would be able to get the kids into places that looked and felt like the middle of the Jungle. I had no idea how much more I would learn from this class.

Our first run was not so much physical as social. We teamed up with the first graders, and went on a walk. The premise was that as middle schoolers, our eyes had become desensitized to the amazing natural world around us. Going on a walk with younger people would allow us some new perspective. A few minutes in, and I found myself handing around a golden orb weaving spider as large as my hand, to the fascination of the youth and terror of the other adults. That walk slowed our pace, but provided insight into the amazing opportunities to explore a new side of the Jungle Run: building relationships amongst our students.

A week later, I questioned my judgement in taking the kids down the river. After finding ourselves at a loss to progress further along the river bank, we attempted to backtrack up the slopes of the river, more jungle that I was personally comfortable with. Every crevice looked like a hiding place for a cobra, and I had lost control of my group of adventurers.

“Rumi, stop clambering up the cliff, it is just too steep” I shouted ahead as I saw some of our younger kids blaze their way up a steep slope.

“It is ok, Pak Noan, I can do it. The others are already at the top.” he replied.

Oh man… what had I got us into? Fortunately, I found an alternative way up the slope and was able to get the group up to the Kul-Kul Farm above us. There, I gave some stern warnings about risk assessment, and being empathetic to the needs to the group. This was truly learning by doing, even though the doing was kind of borderline insanity.

This event convinced me that more adults were needed on the Jungle Runs. A lead and caboose would keep things in check. Bashalah, an intern from Spain, and Aga, our new Green Studies team member, joined us for the rest of the runs. Their first experience was another exploration which was entirely different: going into a manmade cave which extended deep into the earth.

With many students in tow, I knew the limits of our exploration. We would proceed with caution, looking for signs on dangerous wildlife, and keeping within sight of the cave exit. 10 meters down one shaft we found a gecko nest full of eggs, with the mother clinging the roof above them. We also saw coconuts, which had fallen down a shaft, striving to grow towards the small light source above them. After leaving the cave, the kids were hooked: we needed to go back there and look deeper into that cave!

The next class every student came prepared, and we did a briefing at the mouth of the cave. As a group, we discussed the hazards or exploration, and indicators we need to be aware of. Curiosity is a strong driver, but how can we make rational calls in spite of the intoxicating desire to explore further? With flashlights in hand, we started towards the cave mouth only to be greeted by a emerald green snake slithering within vines directly above the cave mouth.

Ok, strike one… that was scary but not enough to call off our expedition. We were able to identify the snake as a red-tailed racer, a non-venomous snake. So, we continued with newfound caution and trepidation.

Six meters deeper into the cave, we noticed something on the floor. A sock? Dried leaves? As I approached, trembling slightly, it became clear that what we were seeing was in fact a snake skin.

It was enough to convince me not to look for strike three. We called off further cave exploration, and surprisingly (or not) no child protested. They too had taken in the indicators can came to a similar conclusion. This cave was not meant to be explored today.

The final Jungle Run classes involved similar challenges to overcome, and each time I saw students throw out a helping hand to their peers, so that as a group we could overcome greater challenges. On one run we climbed a dusty slope using a rope and lots of encouragement from one another. Another time I was in the tail of the group and caught up to some kids helping an Ibu push her motorbike up a hill. There was not a single class I did not come back feeling proud of the students’ behavior and attitude.

Gokcen, another intern who joined us for a couple classes, put it well. “It is so nice to see students enjoying the moment, not worried about what they needed to make or learn” she told me.

I agree completely. There is much value is liberating our students from a prescriptive learning process, and allowing them to help craft the skills and outcomes that the experience may produce. Jungle Run started with simple needs and expectations, but by the end of the class I felt we had created so much more than just a way to get fit and ask a few questions about nature.

Perhaps more learning happened before the walls were built?
Perhaps more learning happened before the walls were built?

This article which was recently shared with me does an excellent job in summarizing a critical piece of understanding. The world of education is riddled with formula for better learning, and we often forget to recognize quite simply that humanity is pre-disposed to learning.

A Thousand Rivers – by Carol Black

A Reflection on Systems Thinking Sessions High School Course

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In teaching several High School classes, I started to notice an interesting trend among a few students. As the class flowed into a more discussion based format, their interests were piqued and great questions started to form. Unfortunately, these classes had a container, namely the content of the class. Against my instincts I found myself redirecting the conversation to align with the preordained material.

This experience led me to question how important content was, and what could be done to ensure that instead of cutting tangential thinking off, we could do the opposite and encourage it. Thus, a class with the name Systems Thinking was born.

Instead of producing content driven outcomes, Systems Thinking would employ a range of democratic principles and a vital skill: how to immerse yourself in the topic fully and without distraction for an allotted time.

Within the first class, I absolved myself from the formal role of teacher, and declared that while the adults in the room (we always had guests: parents, teachers, and interns) may have more experience they are equals in terms of mandating direction in this course. I went through question generation ,mechanics on how we would employ democracy in our class, and the process of self evaluation which would ultimately determine the students’ grades. Looking around, I recognized the students were processing the ride they were in for: greater agency to learn on their terms, but greater responsibility in how they learned.

The second class was where the structure would begin to prove its worth. While in principle all these ideas would lead to greater engagement and ease in authentic learning, the class itself had never been tested. I had to trust that the students would react positively to this form of learning, and that by relinquishing control I was in fact providing greater opportunity for students to learn.

Each class started with a vote, choosing among questions generated by the students themselves. The first question to be dissected and discussed was “Are we alone in the universe?”. I had no idea where this would lead.

Students broke into self-chosen groups (or to work alone if that suited them). They understood that for an hour they were to attempt to keep the question relevant. Tangential thinking was encouraged, but ultimately it was agreed that students should be able to trace their line of thought back to the original question if challenged.

An hour later, the class let out a collective sigh as our Systems Thinking session came to close. However, the conversations were far from complete. Following a personal reflection on their engagement, we had a group discussion on any aspect the students wished to raise. Some focussed on their discussion, and the connections they built as a group. Others focussed on the process, discussing where challenges were found in maintaining focus, and how we may overcome these.

The subsequent classes flowed ever more smoothly, and as an educator I was able to free myself from managing students and move into a role of sharing in the experience, influencing direction of conversation, and encouraging new strategies on how to view complex systems.

How successful was this class? Well, the model certainly provided agency, and through this enlistment of the students. A strangely awkward situation best summarizes the power of such a model: On multiple occasions, as I call class adjourned a number of students have been compelled to clap, only to kind of stop and realize they are applauding a class they take in school.