Welcoming Syrian Refugees

 

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I love December 10th. On that day in 1948, many nations came together to sign The United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. It is an annual reminder of the acknowledgement that human rights exist, despite what we read in the newspaper, see in the media, and witness all too often in daily interactions. It is also another reminder to have the conversation with our schools about human rights.

The quality of the conversation ranges from surface to particularly moving depending on the year, the person negotiating it and the students.  This year has been magic.  One of the teachers was reading Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, about the Holocaust with her 6th Grade students.  I was reading Playing War by Kathy Beckwith , to explore why war isn’t a  fun game for students coming from war torn countries with 3rd grade students.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children, the conversation morphed into a project to welcome Syrian refugees.

I went down to the storage locker to pull out my Christmas decorations and an old suitcase that Ms. Collins and her 6th graders could use to decorate with images and hold all our messages to welcome the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  The suitcase holding some of my most precious and breakable Christmas decorations caused me to pause.  My paternal grandmother had gotten the suitcase on a trip to Russia.  She used it to take flight several times with her four young children away from the front line of war in Germany during WWII. Her brother sponsored her and her two sisters and all of their children to come to Canada in 1947. Margriet’s suitcase took her on to the Voldendam to travel to Canada and start a new life.

I am an administrator in a school where many families have made sacrifices to come to Canada with the promise of starting a better life.  At the Winter Potluck dinner, messages of support and advice were written to the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.  Ms. Collin’s Grade 6 students have been at a booth to tell people about the Syrian refugees and encourage them to write messages to add to the others in the suitcase.  Mable Elmore, our MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, has come to talk to students about her job and work with refugees.  Yesterday Ms. Collins, on the busiest shopping day of the year, with her daughter in tow, arrived at a community forum to discuss how to support the Syrian refugees that may be arriving in our area.  The conversation deepens, the project expands and the possibility for learning and caring expands exponentially.

Why Do I Lead?

imageIt is a hectic time of year but pretty much every month in the school year is shrouded in busyness.  Getting back to school, meeting reporting deadlines, getting ready of special assemblies, celebrations and project presentations with the overarching goal of meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of our students.  In administration, you add yet another layer to the busyness.   During our recent career day sponsored by the Spirit Committee, one of the students chose “Vice Principal” as their dream job.  Of course, it begged the question.  Why?  The response was true enough: I smile a lot and laugh at my own jokes.  I spend most of the days just talking to kids and teachers and parents and people who fix stuff in the school.  I get to play everyday.  I have a whistle and lots of keys.  I get to do fun things like building the playground and garden boxes. I make rules and get to talk on the PA. What more could you want in a dream job?

I recently became part of the School Administrators Virtual Mentor Program (#SAVMP).  George Couros suggested the blog topic:  Why Do I Lead?  It has pushed me to reflect on the various types of leadership that I have experienced as a student, a teacher, a parent and an administrator.  My first memory of  leadership was in Grade 7 at David Lloyd George Elementary School in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I was running to be team captain.   I was nervous beyond belief to be up on the stage giving a speech and facing the possibility of a humiliating defeat.  My eyes flickered up from my shaking cue cards to see the front rows of primary students cheering.  Those little people believed I could be their leader.    Getting elected was thrilling but the biggest takeaway for me as a kid was that big people and little people believed my ideas mattered and wanted to talk about them with me.  My takeaway as an adult is that I want everyone in our school communities to have that experience.

Subsequent activities that I have chosen, or been co-oped to lead, have been things I have been heavily invested in, such as social justice, my children, my students and professional development.  Leaderships skills were not a precursor to assuming the leadership roles for me but were more of a by-product of the experiences themselves. Every leadership role has been a risk taking venture.  The learning has come with the grand successes or the abysmal failures or the things to consider for a later date.  Each leadership opportunity has connected me with people who pushed my thinking, made me laugh, tried my patience and allowed me to see things from a different perspective.  Each opportunity helped me to grow personally and professionally.

There are many opportunities for leadership when you work in a school.  Throughout my career, I assumed a variety of leadership roles in sports, BC teacher Federation PSA, LSA’s, professional associations and committees while teaching at the elementary school, middle school and university level.  When I was seconded to Simon Fraser University as a faculty associate, my realm of leadership possibilities broadened.  In the Faculty Associate role, I worked in several school districts with student teachers in a Kindergarten to Grade 12 module.  It provided the opportunity to engage in conversations with many administrators about their role and experience many school cultures.  The multifaceted challenges in the role of the administrator in developing a learning community was intriguing.

I have been fortunate to work with a number of strong school administrators who challenged the status quo and supported teachers with innovative teaching practices. What they all had in common was the willingness to support and trust the initiatives proposed by staff members.   We are fortunate in British Columbia to have a strong public school system.  We are also in a time of unprecedented change that requires that educators have the confidence and support structures in place to cope with the advances in technology and shifts in parenting, society and curricular expectations.  School administrators play an integral role in creating and envisioning an environment that supports the intellectual, human, and social and career development of all students.    This requires their personal investment identifying the possibilities open to us as educators.   It is inspiring to work in community to develop the background knowledge and skills required to provide the scaffolding for school communities to meet with success in the challenges of change.  Richard Gerver (2014) highlights the work of Professor Guy Claxton (2002) and his definition of the 4 R’s of Learning Power as Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reflectiveness and Reciprocity.  I lead because I want to be part of a network that supports teachers, support staff, parents and community partners in providing the very best kick at the can for our students to graduate with the background knowledge, skills, creativity, and confidence to fearlessly embrace the possibilities in their future.

 

 

Making iMovie Magic

Thanks to SD38 and their SummerTech Institute at Westwind Elementary School, I’m inspired and ready to start to another year of tech learning with Tecumseh students.  In my role as Vice Principal, I am enrolling a Grade 3 class and teaching computer skills to Grade 5-7 students this year.  Last year I dipped my toe into using iMovie on the iPad with students. Students in Grade 3 and 4 had no difficulty learning to take and edit photos, plan video clips, insert audio clips, airdrop and use templates to make their movies more effective.  We made movies for a variety of purposes:

  • A way of showcasing Remembrance Day art in the school to the Last Post

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  • Highlighting some of the items not always easy to share during student led conferences such as friends in class,

gymnastics skills and presenting practised, low pressure oral readings of text to parents.

  • Event sharing including student interviews about using BookCreator for content area projects and presenting at the                          Celebration of Learning

Video Jedi, Dylan, from the Apple store did a great session on making iMovies in Richmond last week.  3 steps to make a movie

1.  Import

2.  Create

3.  Share

Sounds pretty basic.  I do find the process is easier on the iPad than on the computer but that could be because I’m more familiar with it.  Dylan’s best advice was to BE ORGANIZED.  The events folder is a good idea to hold content such as pictures, videos, voice-overs and other audio clips.  The entire Apple team was very helpful and invaluable for their trouble shooting.

A fantastic online discovery has been the iMovie Trailer Planners.  It provides the structure to help students storyboard their movies with fillable PDF’s for all 14 trailer templates that are included in iMovie for iPad, iPhone and the iPod touch.  The planning sheet helps students to decide the appropriate trailer for the content and mood of the material being shared.  The results are very professional looking and the limited amount of text requires careful selection of images.  The sample of The Giver demonstrates how effectively the trailers can be used to demonstrate understanding of texts.  Certainly a more engaging project than the book reports that I did in school.  Virginia Bowden used the narrative trailer to have her gifted students to do autobiographies last year.  Even the 4th graders came up with impressive results.

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I am looking forward to sharing this material with VSB Teacher Librarians at their Kick-off/ Orientation / Speed Geeking event.  It’s exciting that so many teacher librarians in the Vancouver School Board are enthusiastic about using technology to engage Kindergarten to Grade 12 students.  I’m also excited about continuing the learning and discovery of possibilities with students and colleagues this year.

Inspiring Artistic Expression In Nova Scotia

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Nova Scotia

I was welcomed into the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia with over the top friendly and helpful Maritime graciousness. Maritimers bring the Canadian “nice” to a whole new level.   I gravitated first to what I was most anticipating, the Maud Lewis Gallery.  To my delight her entire house with all of the surfaces, including a good part of the stove, is covered with what is now iconic Maritime folk art.  Learning about the person and her challenges with childhood arthritis brought a new level of understanding to art for the pure delight of creation and celebration of everyday surroundings.  Her art didn’t emerge from limitations on her life due to her physical challenges but her ability to delight in the life she was living.

The gallery tour started at 7:00 pm but many regulars had decided to wander through the gallery on their own.   The docent was a gentlemen named Ian (I think) and had a wealth of background knowledge and had met many of the artists showing in the gallery.  The tour started as a consideration of the show by the well known Nova Scotia artist, John Greer and his show “Retroactive”.   In the very best of teaching strategies, Ian provided not only the background, but shared stories about the artist, the installation of the show and posed questions about the works.  I learned that  John Greer also has a studio in Italy and gets his marble from the same quarry as Michelangelo.  Imagine there still being marble left!  Ian was able to encourage close consideration of the art by evoking thinking with “I wonder” and prefacing questions with “There is no right answer but…”.   What began as a standard gallery tour emerged into one of the most amazing discussions of art.

Alex Colville's Prince Edward Island inspiration
Alex Colville’s Prince Edward Island inspiration

The “Terroir:  A Nova Scotia Retrospective”collection drew me in immediately with the wine references.   The permanent collection of Nova Scotia is explored in relation to the soil, topography and climate.   Early paintings of the Maritimes and early contact with the Mi’kmaq nation were done in Europe by artists who were using early maps and records of battles by early explorers and traders.  They were followed by the work of Arthur Lismer, Alex Colville, Christopher Pratt, Mary Pratt and so many other interesting and reknown Canadian artists.  A great addition was the Contemporary First Nations Arts from artists such as Ahmoo Angecomb, Carl Beam, Edward Ned bear, David Brooks, Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Jane Ash Poitras and Alan Syliboy.   Ian ended off the tour by asking if I wanted to see his favourite piece in the gallery.  It was both an honour and a privilege to be asked.   To my amazement 1 hour and 40 minutes had passed in what felt like a mini-course on Canadian art.  Hands down the best gallery tour that I have ever taken.  If I had been more on the ball, I would have taken down his complete name so I could send a personal thank you card.

Ian underscored the importance of engaging in the stories of the art that is created and selected for showings.  My daughter recently moved into an old house with a friend and promptly started painting the wall of her little “studio” off her bedroom.  Like Maud Lewis, it is an exploration of her own creative impulses and making sense of her world.  This is what I want for the students under our care.  How can we provide the opportunities and experiences so that they have the basic skill and confidence to explore their ideas and express themselves artistically?  I have “DuckDuckGo’ed” and will be looking at ways to expose our Tecumseh students to some of the opportunities in Vancouver to expand their artistic horizons in Vancouver.   I have always encouraged parents to attend Super Sundays at the Vancouver Art Gallery but this year, we will be heading to the Gallery this fall for a start where I can start sharing some of my stories.

Breathing Life into History

Walking in downtown Charlottetown is like being part of those Murder Mystery board game where everyone dresses up and assumes a role.  Actors dressed in period costumes assume the roles of the a Fathers of Confederation and Victorian women and wander around The Province House area where the notion of a Canadian Dominion was conceived in 1864.  The Historic Queen Square walking tour was well worth the $5.00 and the young actress playing the daughter of George Coles, the 1st Premier of P.E.I., gave a good sense of the politics of the day.  She also took us into the Confederation House Art Gallery to see the historic 1765 map of P.E.I. on loan from England.

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The surveyor-general of North America at the time,  Samuel Holland, made the map from his base camp at Observation Cove and a boat travelling around the island which matches the satellite images today.  So very difficult to fathom.

I also loved the follow up film in the Confederation a House.  The dramatization credits the inspiration and vision of Sir John A. Macdonald in Upper Canada and Sir Etienne Cartier in Lower Canada  in being able to broker a deal for a unified Canada in what started as a conversation about a union of Maritime provinces.  It also acknowledges the problematic absence of the voice of Aboriginal people and woman.  Overall a great model of how we can tell the stories of our past in a way which fuels the imagination.  Last year we celebrated Sir John A Macdonald’s 150th birthday at our school.  This year I have several ideas bubbling!

“Norman, Speak!”

  Caroline Adderson welcomed student representatives from all of the elementary schools in the VSB to a celebration of literacy along with their librarians and principals or vice-principals.  “Norman Speaks” was the book selected by the Vancouver Elementary Principals Vice Principals Association (VEPVPA).   Each year the VEPVPA “Celebrating Literacy Committee ” selects a book.   The Association invites the author to share the story with students and then puts the autographed book into the one hundred VSB elementary school libraries in Vancouver.  “Norman Speak” was selected for the storytelling and the illustrations in the picture book, as well as the story itself.   Caroline Adderson fascinated both groups with the story of the dog who inspired the story, a real dog that really only understood Chinese.  The book explores the assumptions that young and old people make when someone does not speak the language.  Something wise to be talking about in a city like Vancouver, where so many people speak English as a second or third or fourth language.  Caroline was an amazing presenter – a prolific author with teaching experience!  She had us all engaged in grappling with the task of trying to speak another language.  She also shared a video clip with the illustrator, Qin Leng, discussing how she approached doing the illustrations.   The students were amazed to learn that the authors and illustrators don’t usually meet until after the drawings are done, if ever.

Ben reports that the highlight of the event was having books and pieces of paper signed by the author.   More than one students reported that the dog shaped chocolate was the best part.   The was truly a wonderful illustration of how books can help us to adopt another perspective and delight in the experience.


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Fostering Self Regulation and Emotional Control

“Fostering self-regulation and emotional control” have become as much a part of instruction as reading and writing.  Kids that are not able to understand and manage their emotions are not able to learn and frequently make it difficult for others to learn.  Before this book was published, I used the graphic of a stop light to teach kids about how to define and consider their feelings and discuss strategies to keep from getting overwhelmed and making choices that created a whole new layer of problems for the classroom community.  The Zones of Regulation:  A Curriculum Designed To Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control (2011) by Leah M. Kuypers develops a solid approach to exploring these topics in a far more comprehensive way.  Adding a blue zone to talk about when you are sad or sick or tired or bored or moving slowly helps kids to understand their feelings with far more depth.  I was introduced to this book by a behaviour intervention support worker and have it reintroduced by ever other STIBS worker who I have crossed paths with in Vancouver.  It is generally proposed for use with a student struggling to manage their behaviour in the classroom and readily embraced by classroom teachers for use with the whole class.  The support poster is pricey at $12.00 but worth it because you can use dry erase markers and help students create personalized toolkits to manage the emotions listed in the four zones.  The reproducibles included in the book are well thought out and included on a CD.  I have just bought another copy of this book for my current staff because it has been wholeheartedly embraced by two of my teachers.  It isn’t a book to borrow, it’s a book to have on hand for your own reference.

Lit Circles Meet iPad Revisited

My grade 3/4 students were given a new assignment posted on Showbie.  I love being able to post the text and then add the voice note.  The assignment was inspired by the article “Literature Circles Go Digital” by Karen Bromley , and her several grad students at Binghamton University in New York, ” in the November 2014 edition of The Reading Teacher (Vol.68 Issue 3).

I’ve have usually framed four roles for Literature Circles: Discussion Director to encourage global understanding of the text; Word Wizard to focus the reader on vocabulary; Friend of a Character to encourage a focus on characterization in the novel; and Connector to activate background knowledge and relate to the text. Each reader would prepare for one role for the literature circle. The next time, he/she prepared a different roles until all roles have been experienced.

Karen Bromley et al, offered a greater range of roles to their students:  Discussion Director (3 thinking questions); Illustrator (picture, diagram or graphic organizer with at least 5 words as labels to show something that happened); Investigator (Find information about the story, setting, author, illustrator or something important); Literary Luminary (funny, favorite, powerful, or special parts to read aloud); Mapmaker (create an action map or diagram that shows plot or describes setting); Connector (connections between the book and the outside world); Vocabulary Enricher (find interesting or unfamiliar words and find the meanings in a dictionary); and Summarizer (Write a paragraph or make a list that is a brief summary or overview of the main ideas and events in the story).

Leila Khodarahmi, my teaching partner (Wednesday to Friday) has worked extensively with our Grade 3/4 students using R5 strategies to respond to text.  I have worked with students (Monday, Tuesday) on developing their ability to express themselves in the writing process.  My expectation was that with the motivation of the technology, they would be excited about generating a response that was thoughtful and perhaps even “better” than what I would generally receive in a typical response log.  My goal was to prepare students for small group discussion by completing tasks to deepen their comprehension.   The technology allowed them to quickly generate a response that took a small piece of the text and generate a response, that may or may not have involved critical thinking skills.  For example,

Response 1:  Literary Luminator

Text is cut and pasted into BookCreator.  The student reads the text aloud and downloads pictures.  Their is no rationale for why the piece was selected  or why it is important to the global understanding of the text.

Response 2:  Illustrator

The student draws a picture on Draw and Tell.  The audio is used to briefly describe the picture.

Response 3:  Discussion Director

The student uses WORD to write three questions about the text.

Response 4:  Connector

There is one phrase written on BookCreator loosely referencing a personal connection with the book.

Response 5:  Vocabulary Enricher

Several unfamiliar words are listed with dictionary definitions and downloaded pictures.

During the literature circles, the responses on the iPad were presented to the group and students were impressed with the features of the technology but the responses did not generate discussion.  The response was generally “easy, peasy, done”.   I prompted students to share their thinking and make connections to the text.  It wasn’t clear whether all of the students had read all of the text or understood it.

My intention was to utilize technology to achieve a greater amount of engagement in the task which I hoped would result in a higher level of critical thinking and understanding of the text.  This was not the case.  Students took the path of least resistance to do the minimal amount of work to fulfill the assignment.  They reported they liked doing responses this way because “It was really easy” and “It was SO fast.”  It did not reflect an understanding of the text or an engagement in the task.  They were proud of their responses because the technology included audio or pictures that they could use the technology to get the work done and they thought were pretty impressive.  The focus was using the technology rather than understanding the text.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura and Dr. James Paul Gee have both given me a good starting point for reflection.  I have heard Dr. Puentedura speak on the SAMR model twice.  Although the academic description was interesting, it was having Dr. Puentedura working through the possibilities of applying the SAMR ladder to a series of lessons that I had completed, that was most thought provoking.  Essentially I had not redesigned the literature circles with the technology in mind.  Although students were familiar with the APPS and with responding to text, their focus was on completing the assignment.  I had simply substituted written response with APPS.

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Dr. James Paul Gee has done a lot of writing and presenting about creating smarter students through digital literacy.  Gee discusses the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively.   Obviously I need to provide more scaffolding for students to learn about creating meaning in the digital world.  The question is how?

What are the applications that will require my students to use technology to create meaning in complex and thoughtful ways?

What will allow them to create connections with others to help them in finding the answers to their questions or ask new questions?

Are my expectations of digital technology based on the best responses that I was able to cox out of my most responsive students during Lit Circle?

The process of learning continues…

Book Review: If Kids Ruled the World by Div.11 Inspired by Bailey and Huyck and iPad minis

Written by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by David Huyck

Linda Bailey has created another fun book to engage young readers in reading and writing. Just like the Stanley series, it pulled my students into using their imagination.  Linda Bailey has played with rhyme.  We used the Draw and Tell app on the iPad minis to speculate about exactly what students would do if they ruled the world. Each child saved their pictures into the Draw and Tell App.  They had some great ideas:

If Kids Ruled the World…

It would rain $50.00 bills.

Everyone would get to go to the beach everyday.

It would REALLY rain cats and dogs.

Everyone could have All You Can Eat instant noodles for breakfast. lunch and dinner.

Crustaceans would be pets.

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Student Led conferences via iMovie

Student led conferences with a twist this year.  Joanne Carlton, our VSB iMentor was fortunately available to come to the classroom to guide our learning in Division 11.  She has a considerable amount of background knowledge in literacy instruction and technology.  As luck would have it,  Zhi Su, the VSB iMovie expert was also available to come as well.  We had planned in advance of their arrival so we could make the best use of their time.   The previous week, I has attended a session for teachers and administrators participating the iPad Cart inquiry with my inquiry colleagues.  Although I’ve had some experience with iMovie, the facilitators broke down the process so that we were able to take photos and a short videoclip, then add voice and a music track.  Very impressive for an after school professional development session.  I posted the assignment for students (the list of photos and videoclips for students to collect) on the Showbie APP and explained the purpose with a voice note.  Most of the kids are now able to log onto their Showbie account independently. With student led conferences on the horizon, my Grade 3/4 class were excited about sharing the Winter theme books they had created with their photos from the playground, their winter sense poetry, downloaded images and audioclips.  However I decided to tap student interest in the iPad technology and allow my Grade 3 and 4 students to use the iPads to demonstrate and talk about their learning this term with their parents.   Many parents at the first conferences of the year had expressed they wanted their children to spend less time using technology.  I very much wanted them to understand the importance of being deliberate with time spent on screens.   Students had each collected:

  • a photo of himself or herself
  • a photo with the friends he/she particularly works well with in class
  • a videoclip of himself/herself doing gymnastics
  • a videoclip of himself/herself reading a favorite passage from the book he/she was currently reading
  • a photo of a piece of writing from his/her Thinking Book or Writing Book
  • a photo of the the province/territory or Aboriginal group he/she is researching

Zhi took the leadership of stepping the students through the process.  The first thing he did was show them how to pull up the picture of himself or herself and write their name on it.  Students learned to share group photos via airdrop, add music and shorten video-clips.  Many of our students attend Chinese School and decided that their Chinese calligraphy had to be part of their iMovie.  The more proficient students in the class have been teaching the others Chinese writing to create Lunar New Year cards to deliver to the mostly Asian business owners down Victoria Drive on February 19th.  Many students were proud to share their skill with their parents. We had lots of adults in the room helping the students and inquiring about their learning.  However the sharing between students was readily apparent.  If one student in a working group had music, then it was likely all of them did.  Myles LOVED the ability to airdrop and single handedly taught most of the class.  Jason, a big ‘”Frozen” fan downloaded an image from the movie as the final frame of his movie with the caption “Bye”.  One group of students downloaded applause for their iMovies.  The process was not without it’s glitches.  However everyone had a movie and one more way to open up the conversation about their learning with his/her parents.  Fortunately Henry emerged as our Grade 3 techno-wizard in the process of getting everyone ready for conferences once the mentors were gone.  He became the expert on downloading from iMovie to Showbie so we could share the iPads with our other inquiry classes on conference days.   Parents were simply amazed at how smart their children are and how much they have learned.  As the teacher, the iMovies helped me to learn about my students and determine some of the focus areas for learning.  The possibilities are endless and exciting! IMG_0246