Thursday, April 30, 2009

Student Teachers Make My Day

Yup, still marking assignments... I am enjoying every minute...

Especially when I get feedback like this: I really enjoyed this class!! , and What I learned!, and Reflection, and finally, this heartfelt feedback on IO, the online learning design environment we used in seminar to (i) investigate the relationship between inquiry and ICT, and (ii) to design integrated units of study across the curriculum. Happy, Happy Teacher Dance!!

Excerpt on what it is like to design integrated units using IO (

What can I say? IO was a great tool for organizing everything a teacher would want to consider in creating a unit plan. It included more important things such as student engagement, and how you plan to integrate technology and what technology it is, what outcomes it meets and more importantly, it gives you a "Learn How" tab that lets you see if you are using technology usefully, efficiently, effectively and meaningful, or if you are using it just for the sake of including it to say you "covered" that part of the expectations.

IO provided a critical thinking element to the way we created our unit. I was constantly thinking about the quality of the tasks/activities, how I chose to integrate technology, how meaningful the task was, and how the task flowed with the rest of the unit. It was very helpful for me to see what the other tasks and activities were so I could build off them, include my own touches, and still meet the SLEs and GLEs. This is awesome, especially for beginner teachers because it has everything you would want to consider in a single page. You can quickly browse through your unit to make sure that it flows the way you wanted it to.

My favorite part of creating the unit using IO is the online collaboration. As a creator, you can invite people to view or contribute to your unit, and they contribute in real time. It is like google docs for unit plans. I think it is an exceptional resource for teachers that require a little bit more help in the organization aspects of planning a unit (like me).
Wow!! I appreciate this feedback on using IO - it has been the backbone of our seminar and I have observed some great design work by student teachers who have created integrated units of study in diverse areas of the curriculum.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Designing Learning Tasks So That Curriculum is Intriguing and Meaningful

Like many professors, every year around Christmas time and again at tax time, I am buried in marking. This year, I am writing narrative assessments for graduate students who designed, developed and evaluated eLearning projects across organizational contexts and problems. I am also reviewing student teacher's integrated unit plans, independent inquiries and multiple learning blog postings from a seminar I lead on "Inquiry and ICT Across the Curriculum". I believe that knowing WHY a teacher combines inquiry and technology for learning is as important as knowing HOW to do it. Student teachers need to experience first hand the type of meaningful and authentic learning opportunities that they are being called upon to design for children. Therefore, in my seminar, student teachers learn in a constructivist, inquiry rich studio environment with regular feedback about the strengths and value of their work. Equal emphasis is given to (a) developing a philosophical stance on combining inquiry and technology, (b) evaluating current and projected uses of technology across subject areas, and (c) developing design and assessment skills for using digital technology with learners.

As I read through my student teacher's coursework, I am reminded again that teaching is a profession that calls for intellectual engagement, dogged determination and inspired idealism, imagination and insight -- teaching well is no small task that requires no small courage -- all of which I believe that our current crop of student teachers possess in abundance. The first step to becoming a great teacher is developing a healthy sense of inquiry and adventure -- when anything is possible, then, everything becomes possible... As I review the great tasks created by student teachers, the assessment rubrics and marvel at the examples of projects they have created to illustrate their intent, I feel optimistic about the future of education.

It is a joy to review the student teachers' projects and plans and to have the evidence before me of their determination, enthusiasm and commitment to providing meaningful learning experiences for their students - learning tasks that will engage children academically and intellectually. As I read the student teachers' independent inquiry projects and study the connections and conclusions they have come to, I am confident that they will make the changes that they call for and get others onside. Lucky students; lucky new teachers; lucky colleagues - I hope my own children experience bright and enthusiastic teachers like our graduates during their schooling years.

One thing I want my student teachers to remember is that teachers do not have to recreate the wheel each time -- we can and should learn from the great ideas of other teachers (See Galileo Network Inquiry Tasks by Classroom Teachers). We can analyze the tasks, activities and approaches to assessment designed by great teachers who invite inquiry and ICT into their classrooms. We can examine the great work created by students and analyze how to design tasks and activities that call forth creativity, intellectual engagement and passion from our own students. I strongly encourage my student teachers to resist "ready made worksheets" and to instead, actively study, then redesign and re-invent great tasks created by outstanding teachers to fit their own classrooms, to meet the unique and diverse needs of their own students, to design appropriate assessment practices and draw upon the disciplines in ways that inject new life into the curriculum (thus maximizing a teacher's precious and limited time).

There are some key challenges that teachers need to address when they plan to invite inquiry and ICT into the classroom:
- timetabling and discontinuity between courses and topics (differences between elementary and secondary schools)
- the view of curriculum as coverage versus uncoverage; Inquiry lives when the focus is on knowledge creation rather than information storage and retrieval
- peer pressure from colleagues to "go with the flow", "do not rock the boat" - becoming an excellent teacher rather than just a competent one;
- standardized testing and teaching to these mind-numbing tests;
- unfounded views about "what students want" versus what they really need, which is strong mentorship from teachers who are passionate about learning and their discipline.

Contrast the challenges cited above with our "calling" as teaching professionals, with this challenge: "your job is to make sure that your students experience the curriculum as intriguing and meaningful." As teachers, we also deserve to experience the curriculum as intriguing and meaningful, in ways that feed our inquiry spirit. An inspired and imaginative inquiry task, that is both meaningful and an authentic reflection of the discipline, enlivens not only the students' inquiry spirits, but also our own.

My student teachers have expressed a great range of ideas in their work this semester, and, I am delighted to note, a great deal of determination to bring inquiry into the lives of their students, and into their own lives through meaningful and authentic daily work in their classrooms.

Here are a few great comments on inquiry from student teachers:
- What message does this send to students if everything they learn comes from one resource? MJ: We need to use a range of sources and expertise in our inquiry and the types of inquiry we expect of students.
- In regards to time pressures, on first thought, it seems that inquiry would take longer, but I think if the inquiry is created and planned effectively it will actually save time. As a teacher I need to let go of the time pressures and teach for understanding.
- Worksheets for "dash-two" versus "I sat with the students and consulted them on what they felt they needed or wanted. All of them wanted long term projects rather than small assignments. " MJ: Students want hard fun - I cannot believe that an active and inquiring professional believes that "those kids" actually like, let alone 'need', worksheets...
- What I am finding about conducting inquiries is that they are great for planning cross-curricular activities – which can be very good for time constraints.
- Backwards design - This kinds of uses the curriculum outcome and works backwards to build the whole thing. ... use the ordinary cookbook labs and twist them around to make an inquiry lab. This sounds interesting because we don't have to invent anything new but can use existing material to make something great.
MJ: Yes, Yes, Yes!! Build upon the great ideas of other teachers -- repurpose existing materials so that inquiry and knowledge creation are the goal, rather than information storage and retrieval.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ezra's Free Speech Freight Train

Ezra's denormalization campaign against the out of control "human rights" commissions in Canada gathers steam as he travels across the country promoting his book, Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights.

Here are a few more positive reviews that have been published in the last few days at home, in Canada, in Canada2, and by one of our neighbors in the US.

A few of my favorite quotes about Ezra Levant:

"What matters is that he is right".
Edward Keenan

"I can tell you that participating in an academic discussion with Levant is like trying to share a steak with a pit bull. He’s never uncivil or unreasonable — just a lawyer with a killer instinct for finding flaws in arguments. If anyone had asked me if I had any advice for the “human rights” commissioners attempting to prosecute Levant, it would have been, “Duck!”
Mark Hemingway

Ezra Levant has done his fellow citizens an enormous service in exposing this folly. [namely, ... HRCs as “whacky.”]
Mark Medley

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Ongoing Battle for Canadian Human Rights Continues...

On April 7th, I jumped the C-Train from the UofC to attend a lunch hour talk by Ezra Levant, active political blogger, lawyer and author, hosted by the Fraser Institute at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. After following this case for the last year or so, and writing about Ezra's Political Spadework in the Blogosphere in an editorial, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ezra Levant in person for the first time.

Ezra Levant's book, entitled "Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights", published by the staid McClelland & Stewart last month, is currently riding high on the Globe and Mail's best seller's list, along with Amazon and Chapters' best seller's lists. I found Ezra to be a gifted and engaging speaker who has a great sense of humor (especially given what he has endured in the last few years since he published the infamous 12 Danish cartoons of Mohammed).

Ezra's ability to poke fun at the censorious and abusive commissions, which number 14 across the country, one in each province and then a federal commission, government bodies that silence and bully individual Canadians and Canadian business owners, is remarkable because there is nothing funny about my tax dollars being used in this way. Consider how Levant's rant against the $$200 million dollar Canadian "human rights" industry that is used to punish and censor free speech clearly resonates with the mainstream who flock to his speeches and buy his book. Ezra's jab at the Alberta Commissions' attempt to "drum up business" given that complaints have DROPPED 15%, was both hilarious and disturbing - I am offended that my tax dollars are being used to print and distribute "how to be a victim" education materials.

I am delighted to have met Ezra, and greatly appreciated his taking the time to sign my copy of his book. Although I do not wish this type of "human rights" procedural abuse on anyone, like Connie Ostermann and Nomi Whalen, who I had the chance to chat with after Ezra's talk, I am delighted that the Alberta Human Rights Commission chose to bully EZRA because he is a fighter, and he REFUSED to be BULLIED!!

Most of the victims of the Alberta and Canadian "Human Rights" Commissions are people who lack the resources, the ability and the time to fight back against provincially-supported censorship and bullying. On the other hand, thanks to Alberta taxpayers, the Alberta Government has a limitless coffer of resources and lawyers to defend the accusers who launch human rights complaints -- no matter how spurious or superficial the issue. Consider this: the AHRC threw over $500,000 of time and resources, up to 15 staffers on the public dime, to investigate the case against Levant for 900 days. Eventually, the Alberta "Human Rights" commission had to BACK DOWN, and dismiss the complaint. Given the online scrutiny and negative public relations created in the blogosphere and the media -- and, the fact that the Alberta commission DID NOT HAVE A CASE, Ezra was eventually acquitted -- but, was told "we will be watching you". Ezra exposed the virulent AHRC to the best kind of disinfectant - the sunshine of widespread public awareness that publishing the Danish cartoons of Mohammed was not hate speech, it was not illegal, and that in Canada, the police and the province do not, and SHOULD NOT, mediate religious disputes.

Ezra's courageous battle FOR Free Speech and FOR Freedom of Expression in Alberta and Canada is an example and model for us all. Ezra is engaged in a historic battle to defend ancient and unalienable Canadian Rights and Freedoms, and all Canadians should thank him. I am genuinely delighted that the spotlight is on Ezra and his battle (a recent talk in London, Ontario drew a crowd of 600) and that the debate about the abusive human rights commissions, and the many ludicrous cases they have convicted, has moved into the mainstream. I smile to think that Ezra's blog, originally written off by the snobbish and uninformed in the media as "right wing", is becoming the "new normal"!!

A few months back, I wrote in my editorial, "unless free speech and freedom of expression are better protected in the online and print media world, then whose voices will be heard, whose will be silenced, and who will decide?" Ezra's talk bolstered my resolve to speak out frequently and with more passion when anybody with a politically correct agenda attempts to silence free speech, or stifle reasonable debate about issues, or tries to force their own particular point of view at the expense of other Canadians' diverse and textured points of view across the spectrum of public and academic opinion.

Thank you, Ezra, for doing the University of Calgary & Alberta, the City of Calgary, the Province of Alberta, and this great Country Canada, Proud.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Joyful Signs of Spring

Spring is my favorite time of year. My heart, mind and spirit rejoice in the new plants pushing through the soil, the new buds on shrubs and trees, and the new babies in the barn and fields. The spring signs of earth's vibrant life cycle never fail to fill me with joy. 

Yesterday, while wandering through my yard, I found eight new tulip spears poking through the earth! I smiled as I remembered planting the new tulip bulbs with my two sons last fall. I strolled through the yard looking for other signs of new growth. A potential bud here and there and the steaming compost pile make me long for my gloves and shovel. Just a few more days until the weekend and digging. 

Putting bulbs in the ground each Fall is an act of faith in the ancient rhythms of the earth. Gardening is an act of hope and love that often results in the heartfelt satisfaction and reward of tiny plants peeping through cracked dirt. The sweep of green that returns to the prairies reminds me of another resurrection, that enduring symbol of rebirth that I feel in my bones when witnessing the groundbreaking new life on spring days exactly like this one.