Sunday, December 21, 2014

Remember When...

Recently, through social media, I connected with these two school chums. We figured it had been 30 years or more.

There's something about meeting up with old friends. Back then we didn't really know who we were to become, or how life was going to unfold.

We've started to make up for lost time going for coffee that works it way to lunchtime.

Stories from our youth, laughs, and teasing each other like we used to.

Good times.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

20 Years

No one told me during the summer of 1975 that taking anything home from the island of Hawai'i was forbidden. So my lava sand from Punalu'u beach sat on a shelf for 20 years.

I returned during March of 1994 and so did the black sand. Hard to believe that was 20 years ago this month. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

In-Person Storytelling

How often have I had a senior member of our local community visit the classroom to talk stories with students about his or her life? Answer: Not very often.

I had the opportunity to hear Mrs. Bunny Hodgson speak about her childhood this week. Here are a few thoughts on my in-person storytelling experience.

I was able to hear Bunny's stories first hand, watch the expressions on her face and laugh as a group at the funny moments. I met her afterwards, asked questions and shook her hand. She smiled and I smiled back. I handled her original photos and artifacts and passed them around and talked with people about them.

Here's hoping our students will attend to a visitor's talk and be able to respond with questions and have a discussion when I try to find someone from our community to speak in the fall. This might depend on the visitor's topic and whether it is of interest to students. I know Skyping an author into the classroom has had good results.

I'll be making an effort to find a community connection and bring someone in to just "talk stories." If you have any suggestions on how I could enhance an in-person classroom visitor chat please let me know.

Pictured: Jamie Steel moderates a talk with Bunny Hodgson as she tells stories to a crowd of about 50 or so gathered at a recent 'Talk Tuesday' event at the Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre in St. Andrew's New Brunswick this past week.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

All I Really Need to Know...

What a difference a year makes.

I followed the links today after discovering David Warlick's retweet of Lisa Nielsen's post.

Finally I discovered what was being talked about.

It was Aaron Iba's About Me page.

Now, I'm not comparing myself in the way Mr. Iba does. I was not tested at an early age like he was (although I probably could have benefitted from the testing). I'm certainly not in the same league as Mr. Iba.

I did get thinking about what my progress reports said all those many years ago. So I pulled out my reports and started reading. I remember reading in the mid-80s the book: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Do you remember that one? It made us all take a hard look back then on what really is important for kids and learning.

The difference in the report illustrated above and the next year  (Grade 1) is very noticeable. There was a very large shift in the early 1960s from play in Kindergarten to sitting down and reading and learning your letters and writing them with a pencil back then. So much so, I would not be comfortable sharing my achievement in grade one.

Reading Mr. Iba's About Me page and his subsequent explanation about his middle school years, Low Tolerance for Boredom has encouraged me to take another look at how we can make our school environment more interesting for our students. It won't be an overnight change, but I'm going to try to find the ways to make school a boredom free zone for the students I encounter in school.

Note: I was encouraged to find some posts on student engagement after having spent the last two days of last week at a Middle School Enrichment Studies event at Queen's University in Kingston.

Graphic: My Kindergarten report card fall report from the fall of 1963 in Etobicoke.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Finding Their Passions

It is hard to believe that only three years ago I stood at the podium at an Expanding our Boundaries Ontario Teachers Federation session in Toronto and described how a particular teacher had nudged my young lad into theatre.

Fast forward three years and another passion has emerged for him. Science Fair! And again, a teacher encouraged and supported that passion.

Beyond the shear joy of knowing that the teachers who are with my children a good portion of the day are connecting, supporting, and encouraging along the way, I wonder whether I can be as effective in my teaching practice?

What are the things we must do as teachers to really engage our students to help them find their passions?

There is no hard and fast formula but this is what I've been doing in my current practice.

1. Take an Interest

Connect with students about what it is they like to do. Whether it is sports, a hobby or whatever. I really try to engage students in conversations about what it is they like to do. And I try not to judge if it may not be something I don't like to do.

2. Care about Them

It could be as simple as nod and a word when they are sitting outside the office or if they injure themselves on the playground in some way. Take an interest. Sometimes I just sit outside the office just before my prep and after the bell has sounded to end outdoor recess. I engage students in conversations as they enter but most approach me with a story, a riddle or just to talk.

3. Help them to Learn

For me it can be software related but it doesn't have to be. It could be a good series of books, a project they are working on or some school related task. It may be an encouragement to stick with it when the project isn't going so well, or an offer of assistance with a particularly difficult task.

I'll admit, I may have days where I may not seem approachable at all. It could be just the business of the day or school related tasks that need to be completed. On these days I don't feel quite as connected to the students as I should, but we all get days like that.

There are many things that influence us to be all that we can be with students, even after 30 years in the profession, like me. Certainly one of the universals I try to follow is that All Students Can Learn. I guess I'm a good example of that. I still consider myself a student and have developed strategies to be a daily learner and so have many of my colleagues.

But most importantly it has been teachers-along-the-way who have encouraged and supported the journey.

Photo: My young lad receiving best of show honours from the local college president at our regional science fair.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tools - Then and Now

That's me with my twins. 12 years ago.

I remember the day our resource team was issued laptops. This particular one is a Compaq. Overnight it doubled my workload. I've since wondered why school districts haven't adopted this strategy more widely. Some are considering it. I mean, really, at the time I didn't seem to mind. Kind of like having a mobile phone issued from work nowadays. There is a felt-sense at the outset that one needs to be accessible all the time.

As a self confessed gadget guy, (I'm counting, at first glance on my desk here about a dozen or so technology gadgets smaller than my hand.) I blame my dad ever since he took me to his office in the late '60s and showed me his gadgets: a nifty one was a magnetic device of some kind that erased cassette tapes. Hold the tape against the device, rub it around a little and the cassette is wiped and ready to go again. Another was a large metal rotating drum. It was a fax machine where you had to plug the receiver end of the phone into it to send the fax.

My gadgetness was not lost on my kids. Notice the zen-like look on their faces. They're zeroed in. Every couple of years the district would refresh our laptops and phones and we had the good fortune to be able to purchase cameras, microphones, portable this and portable that. My kids were always playing around with the likes of some kind of gadget when they were young. And of course they had to test all the software before I tried it in schools. My son, although he doesn't remember, could beat Castle Explorer by the end of Grade 4. And my daughter drew the most amazing pictures in Kid Pix. Of course this was all before social media and Macs.

I'm not sure how my kids would learn and connect nowadays without their devices. Oh, they would struggle through. But I think of how having a laptop has helped with the writing process for both my kids. This alone is worth it. My two have been fortunate to have had ubiquitous unfiltered wi-fi access at their school since grade 7. And since the end of grade 8 have had 1 to 1 computing too. So they haven't had to "power down" when they go to school.

I spent my first summer in 12 years without a laptop the last two months. Was it difficult? There were times when I wished I had one. But until my new one arrived yesterday I had forgotten how much I missed it. I keep saying to my kids.. look what I have... their response is "Oh, that's nice dad". My friend Andy talks about how technology and the internet are like "oxygen". So I guess my trying to get a rise out of my teenagers is like trying to get a rise out of them by breathing. Not impressive. "Get over it, Dad."

So now the fun begins. Using our tools for learning during the school year that is almost here. I'm back in the classroom and hope to be able to use my laptop in my school. Wi Fi is on the horizon at my school and we have a bring your own devices policy. Can't wait. It will be exciting. And like my kids I don't want to have to power down when I get to school.

Here's hoping, if you've read this far, that your tools for learning help you out along the way during this school year.

They sure have for my kids and me!

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Random Act

He looked over at my newspaper and said, "I can't read that" This was just before he handed me his card. On it was printed: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ - President.

"But I was really good in math", he said. And I was in the two year Occupation Course in High School. He said this just after he mentioned his company grossed 1.5 million on a recent contract.

What struck me most was his gift for storytelling and his confidence. He mentioned he had two teachers who made an impression on him when he was a student and believed in him.

The little story above is a true one. It happened this morning at my usual breakfast spot. I'm not usually awake and ready for conversation at "oh dark early". I usually bring along a book or the newspaper to read. But this morning was different. I asked if this gentleman would survive the day after I heard a groan from the booth behind me. He said, "Yes, I think so, my arthritis has been acting up".

What followed was a conversation about life, really. All in just a few moments. You know the ones, those chance meetings where you exchange pleasantries with another person. It got me thinking. Especially the part about knowing by name (first names and last names) the specific teachers who had assisted him and believed in him when he was in school. It brought me back to this week when I met a young 2nd grade student, who just might grow up to have "President" on his card.

He was interested in all that I did the minute after I walked in to the classroom. He assisted, offered suggestions and just plain had an awareness of what I was all about during my visit.

Connections. We are all trying to make them as we navigate life's ups and downs. I made a connection this morning and one earlier this week and I was better for it.

As I was finishing my breakfast and reading the last article I had planned on reading, my server asked if I'd like another cup of coffee. I said, "No thank you" She added... " Oh, _ _ _ _ _ _ paid for your breakfast". After a pretty rough week I tried not to show that I was welling up a bit. Put the glasses back on and keep reading, I thought.

Then I thought about _ _ _ _ _ _ . He wouldn't be able to do what I was doing. Reading. But he is good at math and has "President" on his card.

Note: I took this photo of a man on a Penny Farthing at a rodeo parade in Deadwood, Colorado in 2006. It has absolutely nothing to do with this post, I just really like the photo.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It Could Be Me

What struck me most was the look in his eyes. It was a lost, apologetic look. "Can you spare some change?"

It didn't matter that we were deep inside the eating establishment and he saw us sitting at the back and walked back to ask. He asked, twice. But that look in his face.

I can't help but think that it could be me. What if I hadn't had a supportive family, an education, or a loving wife to support me all these years. What if my ancestors had settled in the U.S. where there is no socialized medicine. What if?

It is in the family. But nobody talked about it. An uncle. After WW II. Homeless. My other Uncle: George, used to try to keep track of Tom I was told. But I never met him.

There is some "at home" feeling for me in Toronto. After all I'm 4th generation Torontonian even though most of my growing up was in a small town. We walked a lot yesterday. There is so much to see, so much of life going on as we walked by. You could spend an hour at each moment given the time. Queen West was alive. The sun was shining, folks were out and about on St. Patrick's Day. There was Spring in the air.

But there is just something I feel deeply as I walk by the homeless folks in this great city. I just feel it. And I know I need to do more to act on my thoughts. And I will.

After all, it could be me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Summer of '75

I can count on one hand the few defining moments I had as a teen.

Spending the summer of 1975 as a very young 16 year old on a Sugar Plantation on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of them.

What vision and thoughtfulness my parents had back then to plunk me on a jet out of Toronto, by myself, only to land in Honolulu and be picked up by "Uncle Jack." Uncle Jack was one of my father's best friends from his days at the U. of T.'s Faculty of Forestry in the early 1950's. My dad had continued with forestry and Jack Hewetson had followed the agriculture stream. After a stint with a rubber plantation in Africa Jack managed Ka'u Sugar Company which was based in Pahala, Hawaii.

We'd rise at 3:30 am, and I remember the rice cooker had been on a timer and we'd make our lunch in the plantation house kitchen. Our lunch consisted of various levels of rice with vegetables. This was no small plantation house. The manager's house in 1975 was quite something to see. We'd be in the cane fields covering sugar cane seed by 5:30 am. Good, hard, honest work. Just the thing for a teen.

We'd finish by 2:30 pm and be at Punalu'u Beach by 3:00 pm usually each day. Not many tourists had discovered Punalu'u back then so the beach was mostly locals. And one Canadian in a speedo.

What I remember most about the two months I spent on the Big Island are the people. The kids I hung around with during the summer. I learned how to listen and understand Pidgin English in
about 2 weeks. I had no idea what the kids were saying for the longest time. My biggest compliment was from one of the other summer students when he said, "Hey, you sound like a local, brau".

But most importantly it was how the local teens socialized.

Back home in small town Ontario, the idea of a good time at 16 years old, at least in my town, was to head over to someone's home, usually when the parents were not in and have a party. Not the case in Hawaii. The teens would all head over to someone's home and a spread of food was laid on and the 10 or 20 kids would talk, listen to music, laugh and eat some of the most amazing food I have ever eaten. This was very different from the way Ontario teens, at least the ones I knew, were conducting themselves.

Well here we are 35 years later and I have my own teens. Just about the same age as I was in 1975. So guess what? I'm not putting my son or daughter on a jet all by themselves, we're going as a family! Yes, that's right, next month we're all heading to the Big Island.

There will be swimming with sea turtles, black and green sand beaches, and of course the Mahalo of the people to look forward to.

Maybe a trip to Hawai'i will be a defining moment in life for my teens.

I know it was for me.