The Science of Art

Dana Mulder, one of the Tecumseh staff members, gave us the opportunity to experience the Science of Art last week.  She has developed a considerable amount of background knowledge through her work providing programs at Van Dusen Gardens and provided an after school session for interested staff members on dyeing wool from natural materials.  My experience to date with dyeing anything has been Rit dyes out of a package.  It felt like a whole new world was introduced.

Dana not only taught us about the natural dyes used historically but also the stories and collection of the plants and insects that they were derived from.  The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay, Wild Color  and Quilt History also provide a plethora of information for further exploration.  We learned there are three types of natural dyes derived from three different sources.  There are natural dyes obtained from plants (indigo), those obtained from animals (cochineal), and those obtained from minerals (ocher).

We used ALUM as the mordant to facilitate the chemical reaction that takes place between the dye and the fiber so that the dye is absorbed and brightens the colour slightly.  Other common mordants are: IRON (or copperas) which saddens or darken colors, bringing out green shades; TIN to brightens colors, especially reds, oranges and yellows; BLUE VITRIOL which saddens colors and brings out greens and TANNIC ACID used for tans and browns.  Some dyes like walnut hulls and lichens do not require mordants.

I chose the cochineal dye, not for the smell, but for the story and for the rich, red colour.  Historically cochineal was a valuable commodity, only beat out in trading popularity in Europe by silver and gold.  These dead insects, hence the smell, are ground with the mortar and pestle into a fine powder that is mixed with the alum for a beautiful colourfast dye.

As a child I spent a lot of time with my grandmothers.  Knitting, crochet and embroidery projects were clearly enjoyable but also had a specific utilitarian purpose.  Creating clothing, decorating pillow cases and saving money were a driving force.  I learned to appreciate these endeavors and continued to pursue them and teach them to students as hobbies.  Dana’s session provided us the opportunity to consider the cross curricular connections implicit in the craft. Her dyes included crushed marigolds, dandelions, leaves and the cochineal insect.  Dana also provided information on respectful harvesting, although I have grand aspirations of our students stripping the ground of all traces of dandelions in spring to deal with this pernicious weed on our school grounds and use them for something purposeful!

The new curriculum in British Columbia gives educators the opportunity to consider the things that we do in schools through a new lense.  Dyeing wool no longer belongs solely in the realm of arts and crafts.  It becomes part of science, the stories of history and Indigenous practices, as well as outdoor education.  It also provides a high level of engagement that was able to keep educators at school after a week of parent-teacher conferences and preparing for professional development sessions the following day.  It continues to hold our attention as we shake our jars daily to distribute the colour and imagine the final outcome.  Special thanks to Dana for opening our eyes.  My Nanny Keenan would be thrilled .  She had fond memories of this long-haired sheep on the farm in Brandon, Manitoba.  I can only imagine what she could have done with these dyes!

 

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Coding 4 Learning

When I googled Harvey Mudd, just the thought of doing an online course at a specialty College in Math, Science and Engineering in Los Angeles intimidated me.  I started the Programming in Scratch HarveyMuddX CS002X course because the Minister of Education announced in Spring that students would be learning coding in school.  I teach computer technology with several classes and enrol a Grade 3 class on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Although I have done a good job teaching online safety, digital citizenship and navigating the internet for a variety of purposes and creating digital portfolios, as have many of the teachers in my school.  To date not many have  waded into the CODING terrain.  As an instructional leader in the school, I realized that I needed more background information to be able to expose kids to this new horizon and engage in the conversation with staff.

My personal inclination is more of a Social Science rather than Math / Science bent.  Given a fiction novel or an interesting math problem to consider, I’ll take the novel every time.  I completed the first module of the course in June and then promptly back- burnered it.  Although I thought about getting to work on the course in summer, I used all of my very best developed procrastination skills to avoid it.   My saving grace was that I had promised kids that we would do coding in the fall and wanted to support the teachers delving into this new terrain.  I knew that I was committed and there was no chance that they’d forget my intended risk taking venture.  I plodded through the assignments and hated it until I was 3/4 of the way through the course.  At that point, I was creating some pretty cool things that I could get excited about.  I was also starting to feel more able to control the outcome in a myriad of ways.  The computer was no longer the problem.  It was up to me to figure out what I had missed in the code to direct the computer.  The locus of control was with me, not the computer.  My biggest problem was to STOP working on my final project.  I went way beyond the expectations of the assignment because my own vision took over.  You’ll laugh if you check out the link.  The game is basic but the learning was profound!

Try me!
Try me!

I was also able to appreciate that I had developed a new way of thinking.  My global / holistic orientation to life had to be traded in for a very logical, sequential approach in order to complete the assignments.  Although in earlier assignments, I was able to complete the task, it was not always the best way that could be used as the course became increasingly complex.

I have been married for many years to a Systems Analyst with a passion for computer programming.  My spontaneous approach to exploring what life has to offer has always been counterbalanced with his end game approach to life.  I now have a much better understanding of the orientation.  In computer science the definition of the final product and what you want it to accomplish dictates how it is approached.  No wonder getting off the vaporetti into the circuitous streets of Venice that were not at all map friendly  stressed him out so much!

Another benefit of teaching coding to students is the complexity of the thinking required to accomplish a task.  Although it has frustrated me over the years that my husband has trouble stepping away from the computer, I can now appreciate the need to hold  several threads of thought in your head in order to navigate through the “If… then”, “if… else”, “repeat” command frequently nested in another command.  The need for complete accuracy forces you to concentrate on the task until completion.  Many nights I looked up and it was 4 am and the time had just slipped away.  In this day of high jolt entertainment, learning to focus on one task for an extended period of time is extremely beneficial and rewarding.

The level of analysis required for programming is also prevalent.  In order to debug a program, you need to follow each step of the program to determine where the error is occurring.  The bugs that initially stumped me were not the commands that were incorrectly executed but the ones that executed so quickly that you couldn’t see them.  The code not the observation of the program was what revealed the mystery.  Programs like Scratch lend themselves to being remixed.  This is when chunks of the program are borrowed to use in your own program.  A high level of analysis is required to read the code to determine the best block of code to select, and the best and most efficient way to use it in your own programs.

As you may have surmised by now, I have become a big believer in the merits of coding with children.  Recently I discovered the Usborne Lift-the-flip Computers and Coding book.  I recently used it to introduce coding to Grade three students.  The layout of the book supports the conceptual understanding of complex ideas.  The follow up was the introduction to Scratch Jr. on the iPads.  Although I carefully thought through how I would sequence the instruction, by the end of one session, some students had managed to open four stages with four different sprites that were interacting with each other.  The desire to complete specific tasks had spawned “teachers” all over the room which was buzzing.  All of the students in the room were highly engaged in mentoring and creating.

Superheroes Champion Syrian Refugees via CBC Podcast

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1947 This suitcase carried belongings of mother and her four young children to Canada to start a new chapter of life

It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015.  Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis.  Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety.  They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.

This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia.  With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada.  With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.

Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board.  Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts.  Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home.  They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style.  Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.


Shining A Light on Reading

Continue reading “Shining A Light on Reading”

Moving Beyond Earth Day

 


Earth Day has become an established part of the school calendar.  Every school district and most schools  focuses on taking care of the environment in one capacity or another. In some cases, the focus remains on garbage pickup and recycling.  In some cases,  it extends to gardening efforts, going outside for Physical Education and composting.   I believe that our real task as educators is to nurture an appreciation of the outdoors to prevent the disconnect with nature that many of our students are experiencing, particularly in urban contexts.

Most children naturally experience the physical benefit from outdoor activity.  Some children readily participate in community building experiences with peers.  All children benefit from scaffolded experiences to develop their curiosity, creativity, problem solving and mindfulness during outdoor learning experiences.  For educators with diverse background experiences outdoors, teachable moments and connections to curriculum unfold seamlessly.  At our school, the Grade 6 YMCA Camp Elphinstone experience, has been an important way of broadening student perspective of outdoor learning opportunities available to them.  The expansion of recycling and organics in all VSB schools, the BC Fresh Fruit and Veggies program, the B.C. Milk Program for K-Gr2 students, bringing the cows to the school and exploration of food sources have all helped students to make connections between nature and their lives.

  One challenges is that educators in urban contexts do not always have the background experiences to use the outdoor classroom as a basis for developing cross curricular competencies on a daily basis.  As school communities, we need to tease out the resources that are readily available to us.   Dr. Hartley Banack ,of Wild About Vancouver, has been instrumental in helping us to engage our students in meaningful learning experiences.  Spearheading the Wild About Vancouver Festival has been a labour of love to broaden the accessibility of outdoor learning possibilities to urban dwellers in Vancouver.  With the stellar effort of his team, Wild About Vancouver was able to coordinate 65 events, hosted by 48 organizations.  Students at Tecumseh Main and Tecumseh Annex experienced nature through games, shelter building and developing their observation skills during the festival.  Hopefully this is an event that only continues to grow and increase our personal health, community building, mindfulness and experiential learning throughout the year.

Dr. Banack is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at UBC.  He works tirelessly with students at U.B.C. to develop the skill set to engage students in experiential learning outdoors.  Alison Nasato and Alli Tufaro are two students in the Social and Emotional Learning cohort at UBC with Professor Claire Rushton.  Their coursework with Dr. Banack and Claire Rushton has been inspirational.  They have been engaged in inquiry projects exploring curricular integrations of outdoor learning within a SEL framework during their practicum experiences in Surrey, B.C.   This type of learning has the potential to impact how we engage students as the redesigned curriculum unfolds in British Columbia.



The Outdoor Einsteins has been an offering at Tecumseh Elementary for all three of terms of after school programming by the David Thompson Community School Team. CST School coordinator, Tara Perkins, has worked hard with student program facilitators from David Thompson Secondary School and volunteers to implement the program.  A grant from ReadingBC (BC Council of International Literacy Association) allowed her to develop the literacy aspects of the program. A eureka moment for many of our students and parents has been that you can even have fun outside, even when it’s raining.  Appropriate clothing, hot chocolate, student made shelters, giant umbrellas, Write in the Rain books and inspired activities have kept kids excited about participating and lining up to register each term.

Another source of inspiration I recently happened upon on Twitter in the 30X30 challenge sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation.  The goal is 30 minutes outside for 30 days in May.  What a fun way to engage our school communities!  Follow us @Tecumseh39 to see what we’re up to in our school community.  Let us know if you have other ideas on ways to learn in the outdoor classroom.

Learning Outdoors

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Embracing the outdoors as an avenue for learning in not always easy sell when you live in a temperate rainforest.  The sun, the sand and the sea are celebrated in Vancouver and our claim to being “the very best” place to live is assumed.  Last week I was heading outside with a group of students for DPA- the 30 minutes minimum of daily physical activity at schools in British Columbia.  An indignant 8 year Amy, popped her hand in the air and responded with “Ms. Froese, don’t you know it’s cold out there?”

The challenge in some schools is ensuring that students are dressed appropriately for the weather.  Perhaps the bigger challenge is the notion that we need to somehow escape the weather.  How do we help our students to embrace the notion of the outdoor classroom at all times of the year?

Dr. Hart Banack, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC, has been heading up  Wild About Vancouver in an effort to encourage teachers and students to take advantage of the opportunities to participate in outdoor learning.  This year Wild About Vancouver is scheduled for April 16-22, 2016 and will provide dozens of free, outdoor-focused activities.  Last week educators from seven schools came together in Vancouver.  In exchange for agreeing to host a Wild About Vancouver event (big or small), Hart Banack worked with his students at the University of British Columbia to develop plans tailored to each school to support outdoor learning in the school community.  The area was surveyed for parks and other opportunities and activities to incorporate outdoor learning into curriculum using a thematic approach to integrating outdoor education into the “big ideas” of the new curriculum and provincial learning outcomes.  Administrators and teachers from public and private elementary sites were excited to see the plans and share about the things happening at their schools.  We heard about “outdoor Kindergarten” and whole day expeditions to  Jericho Beach Park, rain or shine, where students adopted a square meter to observe changes or made footprints using overhead film to consider the impact of a “step”.

I walked away anxious to share some of the ideas with my staff and Community School Team members.  Tara Perkins, CST Programmer, and John Mullan, CST Coordinator, from the David Thompson Community School Team  have been working with me on ways to include outdoor learning into after school programs at our school.  The student volunteers from David Thompson Secondary worked with Tara to include the “Outdoor Einsteins” in our programming this fall.  I came back excited to discuss ways we could continue the program throughout the winter programming.  The current program is culminating this Friday with students going outside to actually try out the fire starter kits they have made.  This is a learning opportunity often reserved for students participating in the Scouting and Girl Guiding organizations.  And yes, that brings up another aspect of outdoor learning:  What are the risks worth taking?

Throughout my career, I have coached sports, sponsored the ski/snowboard club, taken kids to camp with swimming and canoeing, on biking fieldtrips to Steveston and to the beach.  The reality is that these activities do not provide the same protected environment as the classroom.  However many students do not have these experiences unless they do them at school.  These activities are frequently game changers for our students.  You can see it in kids eyes when there world has just expanded to include a whole new range of options for learning and living.  It brings me right back to that Christmas in Grade 3 when I got the lime green bike with the daisy banana seat and the monkey bar handles.  The world expanded.  I was empowered.  To be a child of the 70’s with a new freedom to explore possibilities 🙂

For Amy, the game changer was going outside and realizing that on that cold, crisp day, the sun was in the eastern part of the sky and the moon was in the western part of the sky and that it wasn’t such a bad idea to go out after all.