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As I watched the news features, Facebook post and countless Instagram stories flooding mass media with George Floyd’s inhuman death, I could not help but think about the ramifications for our students and how educators need to address this come September when students presumably return to school. Regardless of what students are being taught at home, it is our duties as educators to implement a critical lens of right and wrong, to talk about oppression, racism, and privilege.


So how can we do this?

 

First, we need to ensure that it is being done in a meaningful way, do not take away from the experiences of students of colours, do not pretend to understand their lived experience as a person of colour, especially if you are not a person of colour yourself. Simply listen and validate their feelings. Reiterate your support and allegiance to helping and doing everything you can to make their lived experience in school better. Conduct open and honest age-appropriate discussions and let your students voice their opinion. Remember that school might be their only safe outlet in expressing their opinions and feelings regarding this.

 

Second, implement George Floyd in your teachings and lessons when it comes to speaking about race and equality. With everything going on, educators cannot stand idly by and not address this with their students. Make Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice household names. Desmond Tutu famously quoted “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. The conversations will not be easy or even comfortable, but it is the right thing to do. Allow for students to process it — do not rush teaching this topic. The treatment of Black people is systematic and has historical contexts that cannot be taught within a day. Do your research, become informed if you aren’t already, and share resources with your fellow colleagues.

 

Third, you should include messages about the possibility of change. Educate your students about local resources and the different communities and allies working together to make things better. Instilling these messages and letting students know that while the world is hurting now, there is hope for things to get better. Teachers cannot change the past, but they are ethically responsible for ensuring that the next generation become agents of change. 

 

With summer break right around the corner, teachers have time to thoughtfully curate a pedagogy surrounding George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Take this time to reflect, connect with allies, and to craft a curriculum with a social justice lens for your students come September. Educators and school staff are some of the best people I have known due to their tenacious will to help other people’s children. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to protect a child.

 

I’ve lost track now of how many weeks we are into remote learning in Ontario but I believe it is nine weeks and entering our tenth. I have been doing a lot of self-reflection throughout this process both as an educator and parent and felt it helpful to write this post as I consider how the rest of the year might look now that we know we won’t be returning to the classroom in June.

Privilege

 One of the areas that has really stood out to me in remote learning has been my privilege and the need to examine it carefully and thoughtfully when creating or delivering curriculum. Privilege could be an entire blog post and is an area that requires further exploration, but I would recommend watching Black Skin: White Masks Racism, Vulnerability and Refuting Black Pathology by Ruha Benjamin. Ruha states:

 One of the things that’s coming to light is how the global spread of a microscopic virus is placing the ravages of racism and inequity under the microscope. But the fact is, we don’t all see the same thing! Racism has a way of actually DISTORTING our vision. Intertwined with many other forms of social domination, racism is mercurial, innovative, even viral.

  A CBC article I read on-line referred to Pandemic Privilege,  which reminded me to be mindful that words matter more than ever and suggested maybe it’s time to “reassess the vocabulary of our pandemic”. One of my colleagues Donna Indrakumaran suggested we reassess our vocabulary altogether. On Twitter she wrote that privilege was always there and now it is just exposed at a greater magnification that we can learn from and change. I believe this statement may exemplify what many of us have come to realize during this pandemic and in education it is no different. 

Differentiation

Differentiation is key during this time and one way to approach privilege. Everyone is adapting to the current situation differently and as time goes on how we adapt is also changing. Some students are continuing their studies and adapting to the situation, while others are not. Given everyone’s unique experience, patience, compassion and empathy is needed more than ever. As time continues, it is likely that some students will lose interest and have already started to. One of the teaching strategies I have found successful and was inspired to try from Tina Zita and Melanie Mulcaster, has been choice boards which have been well received. As well, moving forward I am thinking of using genius hour/passion projects, which would hopefully help to engage students while allowing them to continue to explore who am I.  Lastly, I have learned less is more. Everything seems to take longer in remote learning and distractions are plentiful. When assigning work or interacting with colleagues I have tried to maintain a less is more attitude. 

Focus on Well-Being

Be kind to yourself and others. At the start of this pandemic I was blessed to participate in a webinar with educator Sandra Chow who was already 7 weeks into remote learning.  Sandra writes in a blog post for ISTE:

First, learn to be kind to yourself. You might feel like time is against you, and everything needs to be polished and completed yesterday, but if you let go of perfection, you’ll find that you do not need to cross all the “T’s” Waiting another day will not be the end of the world.

She stressed the importance of kindness and collaboration during these challenging times and I couldn’t agree more. I have tried to embed well-being into my lessons and delivery of materials and personally with myself and family.

Stay well friends

During the teaching of the AQ Course called Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction, I often introduce students to the work of Ron Ritchhart and Project Zero from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. I’ve written more comprehensively about collaboration with colleagues that started my learning, the book Making Thinking Visible and an especially powerful prompt that I’ve had success with called I Used to Think…Now I Think…

After spending considerable time experimenting with the thinking routines that translate best into online environments my favourites seem to involve questions for reflection and journaling and are as powerful for us as adult learners as they are for students–for example:

  • What Makes You Say That?
  • I Used to Think…Now I Think…
  • See, Think, Wonder
  • Chalk Talk
  • Headlines

I was SO delighted today, to see Ron Ritchhart’s post on exactly this topic as well as his mention of new book that is a follow-up to Making Thinking Visible and is on pre-order at the moment – hope that comes to Canada soon as it would make a perfect book study for us!

Using Thinking Routines with Distance Learning

Check out Ron’s post for some thoughts on Thinking Routines that translate well to online spaces, and stay tuned for expansion of CodeToLearn@home to include PL Sessions for teachers that focus on designing effective learning experiences for online spaces. We are so excited to begin hosting those, and hope you will join in!

I’d love some feedback too…would a PL session like this be of value to you? What are your needs around PL for designing rich tasks for remote learning? 

Taking IT Global is an Ontario based not-for-profit organization that has been empowering youth and supporting educators for 20 years. peter.skillen and I are involved in a project called Code To Learn in partnership with Cisco, Deloitte, FCL, and LCSI.  I'm also involved in the Connected North program, which usually serves mainly remote and/or Indigenous northern communities, and now also has a remote learning format that all teachers and students can currently enjoy. 
Here's what you need to know and follow for continued content: 
We have moved our programs into the '@home' versions to accommodate remote learning with CodetoLearn@home and ConnectedNorth@home content for students - both live and through video recordings. We are also beginning to build in some teacher professional learning sessions. 
Follow @CanCodeToLearn on twitter for continued updates! 
Many more program resources are also here on CanCodeToLearn.ca

 

  • ConnectedNorth@home - Sessions for this week - http://connectednorth.org/athome  - ***NEW You will also notice an Additional Resource Tab on the website. This connects you to other content from our providers that is often available in .pdf versions for lessons, extensions and information for students packets if the videos are too internet dependent. 
  • ConnectedNorth@home - Video Recordings thus far - https://vimeo.com/channels/connectednorth 
As mentioned above, we are also introducing several PD sessions for teachers and one this week that I would highly recommend to help you plan for remote learning is Using Interactive Choice Boards on Tuesday, April 21 at 4:00 pm - Click to join here: http://codetolearn.ca/athome I can't wait to be learning from Melanie and Tina this week!
Description: 
Teachers! How do we provide learning experiences that appeal to a variety of learners and connect multiple subject areas when students are learning from home? How do we offer students and families options in how they engage in and demonstrate learning? Interactive choice boards/grids might be a place to start! During this session, Ontario educators tinazita and mulcasterm will show us why and how they are using common digital presentation tools to design creative and engaging places for students to begin their learning. Suitable for any area: themes, inquiry, content topics, curated activities.

Due to my past work as an Educational Consultant, I have been getting lots of questions from neighbours, friends and family about how to manage this unusual time. So in the spirit of supporting one another, I thought I would write a blog post on the topic. Can you imagine if you would have been told months ago that in March, April and perhaps May you will begin to work from home, care for your children at the same time and see no one else outside of your immediate family? I think we would have all found it preposterous. 

The new normal is one in which we are caring for children while trying to manage work responsibilities. I would say firstly try not to get anxious about what is or isn’t getting done. Do your best to think of this time together as a unexpected event and approach it from that perspective:

  • Don’t be hard on yourself or your children
  • Don’t try to mimic school
  • Be flexible in your daily schedule
  • Observe your children and be responsive to what they are demonstrating
  • Emphasize the importance of reading during this time
  • Offer choice and decision-making to children
  • Accept that screen time will increase during this time period but review websites, games and apps that are being played to make sure they are developmentally appropriate
  • Address your children’s questions and fears through conversation
  • Try to embed small moments of joy into your day

 

During this time, alternative approaches to building knowledge and experience will allow your youngsters to engage in learning but not feel like they are in school. The strategies below will have to be adjusted to meet the needs of your child but a framework that I suggest using for young children (grades K-6) is to divide the day in loose blocks: moving our bodies, play, educational activities and daily household stuff. 

Moving our Bodies - Providing opportunity for movement is important and although social distancing means we can’t spend as much time outdoors as we would like, we can still go on short walks and bike rides to enjoy fresh air (adhering to City of Toronto Public Health guidelines). Something beautiful in this time of crisis is the number of rainbows and teddy bears that you might see in your neighbourhood: perfect for children to look out for and count. If you are fortunate enough to have a garden then spending time there is another suggestion. There are lots of fun ways to exercise indoors with children from dance and yoga to tag and hide and seek. 

Play - If play is the work of the child, toys are the tools that they require to be successful. Through play children learn about themselves and their world. It is through play that children: figure out how things work and connect, develop new ideas, solve problems, innovate and learn to co-operate and collaborate with others. Make sure your children have access to favourite toys and  loose parts such as blocks, LEGO, and recyclable materials so that they can let their imaginations run wild. Encourage them to play for long periods of sustained time. Bring out toys that they may have forgotten about or outgrown and they may be inspired to play with them again.

Educational Activities - This would be the time to prioritize work shared by your child’s teacher, (Zoom classroom meetings, Google classroom assignments or suggested activities) as well any inquiries that have been identified by your child. What are they passionate about? What interests them? Before an inquiry starts, spend time talking to see what your child already knows about the subject, use that as the starting point and let your child be the driver of the learning. Their questions will be the starting points for a study. This can be applied to any topic from ladybugs, to map-making to building bridges to learning about the human body. Not all topics have the same stamina so interest in designing and building towers may last for days whereas studying birds’ nests only lasts for an afternoon. Your role is multi-faceted and will include being a facilitator, materials manager, investigator and supporter. 

Daily Household Stuff - There are so many wonderful opportunities for learning that arise during our daily lives that we can invite our children to participate in. From making meals and walking the dog to sorting laundry, depending on your child’s age and interest level, they may be really enthusiastic about helping tackle those daily tasks. Think of ways they can be involved and praise their efforts. Also note that these are rich learning opportunities as well: baking cookies helps teach about the importance of measurements and folding clothes can start a conversation about sewing and where our clothes are made.

There are a multitude of free online resources to help you navigate this time, but I would definitely begin with these ones:

Learn at Home - TVOKids

Story Place - The Children's Digital Library

Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems

Canadian Geographic

How Stuff Works

ScienceBob

CosmicKids

In closing, these are very stressful times for all of us, children included. Their routines have been disrupted, they miss their school friends, are no longer participating in outside activities and haven’t seen relatives and family friends in weeks. They need extra comfort, patience and support as they make sense of their new reality. We are their entire world right now and despite the worries and concerns that we have, our children are looking to us to let them know that eventually things will return to normal and that they will return to school and activities and be able to resume all the things they love to do.

peter.skillen

Coding? Now!? Who Cares?

Posted by peter.skillen Apr 14, 2020

Note: Learning resources, webinars, and webinar recordings are posted below. SHARE widely.

Why Code Now?

These are challenging times. There are many important needs that teachers and students have—now, more than ever. So why would I post about 'coding'?!

 

Well, if you know me, you'll know:

 

  • I'm a little cantankerous at times about the current 'coding' and 'computational thinking' movement, and
  • I have deeply held beliefs about working with children to encourage and support their development as learners, human beings, and as members of a learning community.

 

**LOOK TO THE LEARNER poster: LOGO - First Children's Programming Language:

1986 Conference Title Belies Our Beliefs (w Lynda Colgan)

 

It is these I draw on now—as my colleagues and I create activities, webinars, and sites that kids and teachers can use as inspiration. Programming a computer should be an opportunity for children to think, to learn, and to be delighted! It should not be an assignment.

 

You can find much about these beliefs throughout my blog—particularly in the following posts (and others—have a browse):

 

 

"Programming a computer should be an opportunity for children to think, to learn, and to be delighted! It should not be an assignment."

Who Cares?

I care. I have cared for 40 years. I believe it is one area that provides a playground, or as Seymour Papert would have said, a 'mudpie' for kids (learners) to play—and, therefore, learn.

 

And, right now, I crave mudpies.

Code to Learn at Home!

I have been part of the federally funded CanCode Code To Learn project for several years now—an initiative funded by the Canadian government to support the learning of computational thinking, coding, and digital skills by our students and educators. TakingITGlobal runs the Code To Learn program.

 

Given the circumstances, and like many others, we have quickly adapted our program to serve Canadians in online spaces through CodeToLearn.ca/athome.

 

Up to now, we have been offering webinars and recordings on coding with Lynx and with micro:bits. We will continue this but will expand to include other useful digital skills and embed these in rich learning tasks that might provide a deeper and more useful context. As Brenda Sherry explains in her post "Thinking Routines – Definitely great for remote learning!" we are asking you what you need as Canadian teachers that we might be able to provide or support. So, please advise!

 

I will be following up this post with notions on 'knowledge construction' which actually has its roots in online learning spaces. We will also develop webinars to support that, if it might be useful to you.

What's Available Now?

Lynx Coding Free for Canadians

 

Lynx is a text-based, cloud-based programming environment that is the natural next step for kids that are ready to move on from using blocks to code but might not be quite ready to use more complex programming languages like Python or JavaScript. Think of it as a stepping stone! Projects made with Lynx are easily shareable.

 

It is available in Canadian English, French, and Ojibwe—with other Indigenous languages in development. 

 

Seymour Papert would be very proud of what his Canadian company, LCSI, has produced through this Code To Learn project. It is our mission to continue his work.

 

Head over and get a free account (if you are Canadian).

 

Slide Decks with Curricular Activities for Students

 

 

These titles are available at CanCodeToLearn.ca:

 

  • Geometric Fun ('Drawing' Kids into Being Mathematicians)
  • Géométrie en folie  - in French
  • Create an Interactive Greeting Card
  • Cartes de souhait interactive - in French
  • Create an Interactive Greeting Card - in Ojibwe
  • How to Create Secret Codes
  • Comment créer des codes secret  - in French
  • Coin Toss Probability
  • Create a Birthday Match Simulation
  • Create a Calculator App
  • Create a Working Ecosystem
  • Create a Gravity Simulation

 

Another in the works is:

 

  • Playing with Artificial Intelligence

 

You will also find project guides:

 

  • Interactive Story Project Coders' Guide
  • Creating a Race Simulation Coders' Guide

 

Current Listings for Upcoming Webinars

 

Head over to CodeToLearn.ca/athome to see the upcoming offerings for the next week. These offerings are for BOTH students and teachers. The descriptions will help you choose what you might want to use directly with your students. (Disclaimer: we are running hard! So it isn't always quite as up to date as we'd like! But, sign up and you'll get the latest news delivered to your mailbox!)

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2020-04-11-at-9.04.01-am.png

http://codetolearn.ca/athome

Recordings of Previous Webinars

Missed a live session? Explore recordings online or via our Fire TVRoku or Apple TV apps!

 

 

Sign Up for Notifications

 

In the meantime, go to CodeToLearn.ca/athome and sign up for regular mailings.

 

As always, I appreciate being associated with these wonderful folks: the LCSI Team (Michael A. Quinn, Brenda Sherry, Alain Tougas, Elena, & Sergei), the Fair Chance Learning Team, and, of course, the Taking IT Global team! I am a better person for it.

lthomas

S is for System

Posted by lthomas Jan 8, 2020

A little while ago I read a “Saturday Email” from George Couros, Something Personal, Professional, and Profound – (Email #2), where he talked about the importance of systems over goals. He pondered “If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still succeed?” He used a coaching scenario to illustrate his point: “if you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results? Couros was confident that you definitely would get positive results. He explained that “the goal in any sport is to finish with the best score, but it would be ridiculous to spend the whole game staring at the scoreboard. The only way to actually win is to get better each day.” His conclusion was to forget about setting goals and instead focus on the system.

After being inundated for years about the importance of goal setting and SMART goals, this really got me thinking. Have we been wrong all this time? And I think, to a certain extent anyway, that yes, yes we have.

One of my goals this year was to knit (my #OneWord2019) or consolidate my many areas of interest because I tend to overwhelm myself. The thing is, overwhelming oneself is not a trait singular to me. I hear it over and over again from all sorts of people – it is a common problem. Goal setting is actually quite helpful for those of us who find this to be an issue. Here’s the rub: goal setting, while fixing one problem, causes another. Ultra focus (goal setting) ignores the peripheral (system) and the full scope needs to be seen. So this thought that thinking more about a system than a goal was revolutionary for me. This has the potential to help me consolidate and look at things from a different perspective.

While I don’t generally recommend Wikipedia as a reference, I did find their definition of system to be quite helpful: sys·tem/ˈsistəm/NOUN: A system is a group of interacting or interrelated entities that form a unified whole. A system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.

I like how spatial and temporal boundaries are included. I love how it is not just a structure but that it has a purpose and function and that it is shaped and influenced by its environment. I think we tend to compartmentalize things too much and then look at other things as extras while really they are interrelated and interdependent. Take another article I read recently about walking, ‘It’s a Superpower’: How Walking Makes Us Happier, Healthier and Brainier. We tend to look at exercise as separate from learning or academic tasks, yet neuroscientist Shane O’Mara “believes that plenty of regular walking unlocks the cognitive powers of the brain like nothing else.” O’Mara “favours what he calls a “motor-centric” view of the brain – that it evolved to support movement and, therefore, if we stop moving about, it won’t work as well.” He has data to back up his assertions too. Walkers have lower rates of depression, creativity ISS higher after walking, even personality changes were positively affected by walking. Walking is beneficial in far more ways than just as exercise, thus showing how our system is interdependent. The article really illustrated to me how we often don’t see things on a system level.

Similarly, our brains are affected on a physical level when reading. I delved into this in another blog, Once Upon a Time, and still find it utterly fascinating as it is not something I would have thought possible but researchers have found it to be true. It really makes the phrase ‘walk a mile in someone’s shoes’ take on new meanings.

Both scenarios accentuate the limited vision we can have and stressed to me the necessity of more system thinking. It has also allowed me to put into words the process I have been going through all year in my quest to knit or consolidate my understanding and my many passions in teaching.

I’ve been feeling for quite some time that we often feel overwhelmed because we (whether forced or voluntarily) keep having more expectations added to our roster. At the same time, I held strongly to the belief that it didn’t have to be or feel that way and that it was perhaps just in the way I was looking at things.

I felt a personal breakthrough when I took part in the Climate Action project the first time. I realized climate did not have to be relegated to only science or geography class and perhaps talking about divergent topics in other classes would encourage students to see the interconnectedness of our world. That realization began a shift in perspective for me: one that encapsulates the essence of what Couros outlined in his email. If you always look only at goals, then it does feel like you have more and more added on all the time. One goal turns into twenty or twenty thousand separate goals. That’s definitely overwhelming. From a system perspective though, it is doable. In my mind, I see it like a kaleidoscope. The many goals are interrelated and interconnected and work together to form a unified, beautiful whole. They are not extras thrown on creating a dissonant catastrophe. Really, they were there all along, it just takes the right perspective to see it.

lthomas

R is for Reflection

Posted by lthomas Jan 8, 2020

MIRROR, MIRROR, ON THE WALL…

Usually, when we talk about reflection in education we are referring to assessment and evaluation. We evaluate through reflecting, that is, thoughtful consideration (#7) or meditation (#6) on something. Both of these qualify as the action we take as educators to assess and evaluate whether it be our students or ourselves. It’s interesting then to view reflection through its other lenses. I’ve not thought about reflecting as producing or influencing something before, so it forced me to question what I’ve produced by reflecting? What did I influence? And finally, it made me consider that what is reflected back to me is in direct correlation to what I emit.

Definition of reflection
1: an instance of reflecting especially the return of light or sound waves from a surface
2: the production of an image by or as if by a mirror
3: the action of bending or folding back
b: a reflected part : FOLD
4: something produced by reflecting: such as
a: an image given back by a reflecting surface
b: an effect produced by an influence the high crime rate is a reflection of our violent society
5: an often obscure or indirect criticism : REPROACH
a reflection on his character
6: a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation
7: consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose

I began the year with some goal-setting in the form of #OneWord2019. The word I chose was a bit unusual compared to the normal gamut, but as I explained in my post a year ago, it works for me. In a nutshell, knit, was my word because it encapsulated the “Cs” that made up my goal for the year: consolidation, creation and creativity, coding, and calm.

Reflecting in an evaluative sense, I still have some work to do. But if I consider the other ways to think of reflection, I feel accomplished, primarily because I like what is being reflected back to me.

So, what reflections am I sending out to the world? Well, here’s a collection from the year: Best of 2019 Wakelet.

As you ponder the year as many of us do, consider not just what you are putting our there, but what you are getting back because that’s part of you reflecting back.

"If we want to live wider and deeper lives, not just faster ones, we have to practice patience -- patience with ourselves, with other people, and with the big and small circumstances of life itself."

M. J. Ryan

    

Have you ever felt frustrated? Exasperated? I think those are pretty natural feelings to experience occasionally but have you felt like you're in a mode where it happens all the time? I have. A challenging class, too many commitments, illness, or other stressors compound to take us to our wit's end. The result? We lose our patience, maybe have a cry, and ultimately feel defeated. At least that's what happens to me.

 

Patience is something that I'm usually pretty good at. A lot of people would say it's a requirement in the job of teaching. But, every once in a while, I lose patience. And, once the cycle has begun, it is like a crazy roller coaster ride you can't get off of and you seem to lose patience with every dip, drop, and screeching turn.

 

Happily, we don't reside on roller coasters and are therefore not trapped on a crazy ride. For me, remembering that is step one in self-help because feeling trapped turns us into non-thinking, tunnel-visioned, instinctual animals - think fight or flight response - and that kind of thinking isn't conducive to the sort of calm and balanced thought process linked to patience.

 

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open.

Arnold Glasow, American humorist

 

I teach my students about the fight or flight response in relation to the fear of public speaking, but it encompasses any kind of fear and should really also include freeze along with fight or flight. I thought it was interesting that the fear response was an active part, for me anyway, of my losing patience cycle (my trapped feeling). Given that I also teach my students techniques and tips to help reduce the fear response in public speaking and that we talk about how practicing helps alleviate fear, I thought that there must be active strategies to help me improve my patience when I am on the downward slide.

 

With all this contemplation about patience and realizing how acutely patience and lack of patience affects my mindset and well-being, I wondered how big an impact patience has in general. I discovered that patience is a pretty important characteristic. In fact, according to Kira Newman in her article, Good things really do come to those who wait, it is linked to improved physical and mental health, helps us achieve our goals, and makes us a better friend. Newman goes on to offer practical advice for improving patience and outlines three things we can do:

 

  1. Re-frame the situation. Feeling impatient is not just an automatic emotional response; it involves conscious thoughts and beliefs, too. If a colleague is late to a meeting, you can fume about their lack of respect, or see those extra 15 minutes as an opportunity to get some reading done. Patience is linked to self-control, and consciously trying to regulate our emotions can help us train our self-control muscles.
  2. Practice mindfulness. In one study, kids who did a six-month mindfulness program in school became less impulsive and more willing to wait for a reward. The GGSC’s Christine Carter also recommends mindfulness practice for parents: Taking a deep breath and noticing your feelings of anger or overwhelm (for example, when your kids start yet another argument right before bedtime) can help you respond with more patience.
  3. Practice gratitude. In another study, adults who were feeling grateful were also better at patiently delaying gratification. When given the choice between getting an immediate cash reward or waiting a year for a larger ($100) windfall, less grateful people caved in once the immediate payment offer climbed to $18. Grateful people, however, could hold out until the amount reached $30. If we’re thankful for what we have today, we’re not desperate for more stuff or better circumstances immediately.

 

Self-control and delayed gratification are not the only things linked to patience. Patient people are often better liked by their peers and co-workers, while impatient people are seen as arrogant and insensitive. No wonder patient people end up in the lead for promotions and leadership positions.

 

Learning to be patient involves knowing your own body. If you are prone to losing patience, take notice of the typical signs like shallow breathing, muscle tension, hand clenching, jiggling feet, irritability, anxiety, rushing, and making quick decisions.

 

Catching ourselves as we begin to fall into the impatience cycle is important to help in stopping it. Many of us have typical triggers. For example, do you get more impatient if you are hungry or tired? What typically causes your impatience? Is there a root cause? Again, knowing yourself goes a long way in cutting down on our impatience and the toxic feelings that often go with it.

 

Remedying impatience can be done in a variety of ways and some techniques work well for some and not others. Again, know thyself! A few that go a long way for me are breathing exercises, positive self-talk, purposeful muscle relaxation (i.e. head and shoulder rolls, visualization to aid in regaining/attaining calmness, and finally practicing active and empathetic listening. The last one is my most difficult to do when I am really impatient, but it is also the most successful in immediately re-framing my mindset.

 

Patience does really come to those who wait ... but it also comes to those who actively seek to be patient.

 

Sources:

 

Mind Tools Content Team. “How to Be Patient: Staying Calm Under Pressure.” Stress Management Training from MindTools.com, https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_78.htm.

 

Newman, Kira M. “Four Reasons to Cultivate Patience.” Greater Good, UC Berkeley, 4 Apr. 2016, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_reasons_to_cultivate_patience.

lthomas

P is for Patience

Posted by lthomas Nov 28, 2019

"If we want to live wider and deeper lives, not just faster ones, we have to practice patience -- patience with ourselves, with other people, and with the big and small circumstances of life itself."

M. J. Ryan

    

Have you ever felt frustrated? Exasperated? I think those are pretty natural feelings to experience occasionally but have you felt like you're in a mode where it happens all the time? I have. A challenging class, too many commitments, illness, or other stressors compound to take us to our wit's end. The result? We lose our patience, maybe have a cry, and ultimately feel defeated. At least that's what happens to me.

 

Patience is something that I'm usually pretty good at. A lot of people would say it's a requirement in the job of teaching. But, every once in a while, I lose patience. And, once the cycle has begun, it is like a crazy roller coaster ride you can't get off of and you seem to lose patience with every dip, drop, and screeching turn.

 

Happily, we don't reside on roller coasters and are therefore not trapped on a crazy ride. For me, remembering that is step one in self-help because feeling trapped turns us into non-thinking, tunnel-visioned, instinctual animals - think fight or flight response - and that kind of thinking isn't conducive to the sort of calm and balanced thought process linked to patience.

 

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open.

Arnold Glasow, American humorist

 

I teach my students about the fight or flight response in relation to the fear of public speaking, but it encompasses any kind of fear and should really also include freeze along with fight or flight. I thought it was interesting that the fear response was an active part, for me anyway, of my losing patience cycle (my trapped feeling). Given that I also teach my students techniques and tips to help reduce the fear response in public speaking and that we talk about how practicing helps alleviate fear, I thought that there must be active strategies to help me improve my patience when I am on the downward slide.

 

With all this contemplation about patience and realizing how acutely patience and lack of patience affects my mindset and well-being, I wondered how big an impact patience has in general. I discovered that patience is a pretty important characteristic. In fact, according to Kira Newman in her article, Good things really do come to those who wait, it is linked to improved physical and mental health, helps us achieve our goals, and makes us a better friend. Newman goes on to offer practical advice for improving patience and outlines three things we can do:

 

  1. Re-frame the situation. Feeling impatient is not just an automatic emotional response; it involves conscious thoughts and beliefs, too. If a colleague is late to a meeting, you can fume about their lack of respect, or see those extra 15 minutes as an opportunity to get some reading done. Patience is linked to self-control, and consciously trying to regulate our emotions can help us train our self-control muscles.
  2. Practice mindfulness. In one study, kids who did a six-month mindfulness program in school became less impulsive and more willing to wait for a reward. The GGSC’s Christine Carter also recommends mindfulness practice for parents: Taking a deep breath and noticing your feelings of anger or overwhelm (for example, when your kids start yet another argument right before bedtime) can help you respond with more patience.
  3. Practice gratitude. In another study, adults who were feeling grateful were also better at patiently delaying gratification. When given the choice between getting an immediate cash reward or waiting a year for a larger ($100) windfall, less grateful people caved in once the immediate payment offer climbed to $18. Grateful people, however, could hold out until the amount reached $30. If we’re thankful for what we have today, we’re not desperate for more stuff or better circumstances immediately.

 

Self-control and delayed gratification are not the only things linked to patience. Patient people are often better liked by their peers and co-workers, while impatient people are seen as arrogant and insensitive. No wonder patient people end up in the lead for promotions and leadership positions.

 

Learning to be patient involves knowing your own body. If you are prone to losing patience, take notice of the typical signs like shallow breathing, muscle tension, hand clenching, jiggling feet, irritability, anxiety, rushing, and making quick decisions.

 

Catching ourselves as we begin to fall into the impatience cycle is important to help in stopping it. Many of us have typical triggers. For example, do you get more impatient if you are hungry or tired? What typically causes your impatience? Is there a root cause? Again, knowing yourself goes a long way in cutting down on our impatience and the toxic feelings that often go with it.

 

Remedying impatience can be done in a variety of ways and some techniques work well for some and not others. Again, know thyself! A few that go a long way for me are breathing exercises, positive self-talk, purposeful muscle relaxation (i.e. head and shoulder rolls, visualization to aid in regaining/attaining calmness, and finally practicing active and empathetic listening. The last one is my most difficult to do when I am really impatient, but it is also the most successful in immediately re-framing my mindset.

 

Patience does really come to those who wait ... but it also comes to those who actively seek to be patient.

 

Sources:

 

Mind Tools Content Team. “How to Be Patient: Staying Calm Under Pressure.” Stress Management Training from MindTools.com, https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_78.htm.

 

Newman, Kira M. “Four Reasons to Cultivate Patience.” Greater Good, UC Berkeley, 4 Apr. 2016, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_reasons_to_cultivate_patience.

lthomas

N is for Navigation

Posted by lthomas Nov 28, 2019

I love old maps. They speak to me of adventure, exploration, new worlds. Ultimately, they tell stories, and being an English teacher, I love stories!


Sea map of Portugal
Gedaente en ... vant Landt van Portugal;
from: Mariner’s Mirror,
Lucas Jansz Waghenaer, 1584

A cool thing that occurred to me is how maps show the big picture, not just point A to point B like GPS gadgets do. I think that is really important, because who wants to walk around with the equivalent of blinders on? As a teacher, it made me think how sometimes we forget to look at the journey, the story, because we're so caught up with the end assessment. It also made me think about how we often have blinders on ourselves and see only one or a couple of ways to do things. Picture, for instance, two people could use the same map, take utterly different routes, write astoundingly different stories, yet still reach the same goal. That is powerful because if the goal is getting from point A to point B, does it matter how you get there, what mode of transportation you use, or even how long it takes, as long as you get there? This is what equity, inclusion, accessibility are fighting for. The chance to get to the goal without being penalized for using different supports or alternate paths to get there.

This is why giving students lots of choices to display what they've learned is so vitally necessary. And I need to remind myself to look at the journey too - it's the life of the story and so much more telling than the endpoint. In my classes, I am often reminded of this when students are working on independent projects like our blogging project. Each student comes at the project from a different place and with vastly different visions of what they want to produce. I coach and give individual feedback to help them garner more success by way of clearer communication and the like. Students write three posts in all and always show marked improvement from the first post to last. That improvement story and seeing a fine-tuned blog come to fruition are the heart of the product and what lends real satisfaction to the project as a whole and I have gained far more insight into my students' capabilities and their thinking by paying more attention to the process than the product.

 

We owe it to students to teach them navigation skills - realistically and metaphorically. Reading a topographical map becomes akin to reading the ups and downs of any given situation. Planning a road trip reminds us that it's important to have goals and figure out the steps needed to get there. What more important transferrable skill can we teach than how to navigate successfully through life?

lthomas

M is for Mindset

Posted by lthomas Nov 28, 2019

There is a lot of talk about mindset in education today, and I agree, it is important; I just think that we put too much emphasis on only one type of mindset and we need to broaden our scope. I see mindset on three levels that are interdependent, picture three concentric circles if you will. In the centre is have, surrounding that is encourage, and surrounding that is support.

 

 

This may seem redundant, but it helps me really flesh out how I see mindset.

 

HAVE

 

What mindset do we have as a teacher? As a person? What is our prime focus, our motivation? How deeply do we truly explore our own mindset? Our mindset can't be merely surface-level nods to the appropriate response of "I believe in growth mindset" or whatever the latest trend may be because what we believe deeply will always reveal itself and be reflected no matter how much we like to think we can cover it up. This came to light for me recently when I had the opportunity to co-host with Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley on the VoicEd podcast This Week in Ontario Edublogs. The program features discussion of various blogs by educators in Ontario. One of the posts was particularly poignant to me. In fact, it was quite disturbing. A Guy Walks into a Bar, from The Beast, a blog co-authored Kelly MacKay and Andrea Kerr, relays the conversation of two people on a date at a bar. This may sound rather mundane, but it is anything but when the conversation dives into the exploration of privilege. The importance of deep self-reflection becomes apparent as seemingly innocuous comments and attitudes reveal an ugliness beneath. A further example of how apparently harmless quips become insidious indoctrination into extremist ideologies is shown in this Twitter feed from Joanna Schroeder about how social media is used to promote white supremacist and racist ideologies by undermining the idea that privilege exists. This post drove home the idea of how easily our personal beliefs, our mindset, is reflected positively or negatively in everything we do and there is no way NOT to have it affect our teaching and our students so we better have a very clear and realistic grasp of our own attitudes, biases, and beliefs.

 

ENCOURAGE

 

What mindset we encourage happens in a number of ways. Part of it goes back to HAVE and what we silently reflect, what we model every day. The other part is more explicit in how we teach. What methods are we using? If we teach to the test, the mindset will be one that sees failure as negative and that learning doesn't matter, the mark does. The methodologies we incorporate in our classrooms speak volumes in encouraging a positive student mindset. Kathleen Carroll, in her article from Edsurge, Teenage Brains Are Elastic. That’s a Big Opportunity for Social-Emotional Learning, outlines the importance of mindset and how using methods that encompass social-emotional learning develop a mindset ripe for life-long learning. She says:

 

"Social-emotional learning, or SEL, encompasses the broad spectrum of skills, attitudes and values that promote success in school and in life, things like managing emotions, setting and achieving goals, persevering through adversity and working in a team. It explicitly acknowledges the importance of mindset and the fundamentally interpersonal project of education, in which knowledge is developed through a series of trusting relationships between teachers, students and peers."

Kathleen Carroll

 

One technique described in Carroll's article that encourage this type of learning is referenced as "maze moments". Looking at learning as navigating through a maze

 

"[gives] teenagers a new way to understand and articulate their roles as not-yet-perfect masters in school and in life. Instead of a frustrated “I don’t get it,” students can visualize their position in the maze: what they’ve learned so far, what they don’t yet know, and how they might persist past this current challenge to chart a different path and solve the problem."

Kathleen Carroll

 

Do the techniques we use every day, whether that be in how we deliver a lesson, or our assessment methods, promote this kind of social-emotional learning? Again, we need to deeply examine what messages are being sent silently in our classrooms that can encourage or discourage positive student mindset.

 

SUPPORT

 

You may think HAVE and ENCOURAGE covers it, but I think SUPPORT is vital. Examining and adjusting our own mindset and the methods and assessments we utilize in class go a long way in supporting student mindset regarding learning, but we all know that mindset goes much deeper than one area of life. Our daily practice also needs to support the whole child including their personal mindset, in other words, their mental health and wellness. I have talked about mental health and wellness in my blog posts before (see The Long Dark Days of November and H is for Happy), but it is paramount in my opinion that we focus a great deal more on it throughout our curriculum, not just in health class. A person whose mindset is affected by stress, grief, depression, anxiety, etc cannot learn to their full potential. Thus, the first step in being supportive is understanding, in which case people need to be more educated, myths and misconceptions need to be revealed for what they are and the stigma needs to be reduced. Addressing mental health and wellness - because we ALL have mental health - should rank first in supporting healthy, positive mindsets.

My tongue was a different colour every other day for more than two weeks that summer. The day I saw that jawbreaker I knew I had to get it. It was HUGE! Talk about bang for your buck or quarter as the case may be. I was so excited when Mom let me get it. All the way home in the car all you could hear was me gleefully sloppy-slurping that enormous orb. It nearly made my mother lose her mind (she not being a fan of sloppy-slurping or multi-coloured tongue and lips) but not as much as the sticky, sugary mess that was left on my bed-stand every night for two weeks. It must’ve taken every shred of her self control not to go into anti-germ clean freak mode. But she didn’t.

 

The childhood memory of that gargantuan jawbreaker stays with me even now. Not the taste so much, more the sheer carefree giddy way that circus-coloured ball of candy made me feel. A feeling that the world was thrilling and fascinating and needed to be tasted, seen, explored. For example, it made me want to know how one creates such a monumentally massive globe of mouth-watering perfection.

 

It creates the feeling that one could laze in a grassy field and pick out cloud animals on Monday, search through beach stones for coloured glass and fossils for hours at a time on Tuesday, build tree forts with mad skills on Wednesday, withhold a siege from the Jabberwock (amongst other spirited, imaginative creatures a la Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien et al) from the safety of that same tree house Thursday, and play tag with wild abandon on Friday. Then there was the WEEKEND!


My mom was a pretty high-strung person whose worry and nervousness was never far from the surface ready to leap out at any second, so it is nothing short of a feat that she survived mine and my brother’s childhoods without snapping those tautly pulled strings. As a kid, I didn’t think any of this was a big deal, now, as a parent myself and a teacher, I see the impact of her decisions that allowed us to experience childhood in the way we did even when it made her cringe. She probably did not understand the scientific importance of the exploring, imagining, and romping about my brother and I did on a daily basis, but we do today so I am baffled at how bad we are at letting our children just PLAY.

A 1989 survey taken by the National Association of Elementary School Principals found that 96% of surveyed school systems had at least 1 recess period. Another survey a decade later found that only 70% of even kindergarten classrooms had a recess period.

 KENNETH R. GINSBURG AND THE COMMITTEE ON COMMUNICATIONS, AND THE COMMITTEE ON PSYCHOSOCIAL ASPECTS OF CHILD AND FAMILY HEALTH

In an age when we have solid research-based evidence supporting play, school districts have been reducing a child’s number one play time, namely recess. One explanation is the hyper-focus on testing seen in both the USA and Canada. For example, Olga S. Jarrett, in her paper “A Research-Based Case for Recess,” described a new school built with no adjoining playground. By way of explanation, the Atlantic Public School Superintendent, Benjamin O. Canada, stated: “We are intent on improving academic performance. You don’t do that by having kids hanging on the monkey bars.” Jarrett further explains the repercussions that various policies have on students:

No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) focus on test scores has resulted in cutbacks in both the arts and in physical activity. According to official figures provided by school systems since the enactment of NCLB, 20% of U.S. school systems decreased recess time, averaging recess cuts of 50 minutes per week. In National Center for Educational Statistics data from 173 randomly selected school districts, 5.3% reported increases in recess while 32.3% reported decreases.

 OLGA S. JARRETT, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY, A RESEARCH-BASED CASE FOR RECESS

It is unfortunate that Mr. Canada was not aware of the overwhelming studies that suggest students are not only more attentive and productive but test scores are improved when students have ample play time via recess. Eric Jensen’s research on the brain bears up this assertion.

Brain research on attention suggests why breaks are needed: (a) the brain cannot maintain attention for long periods of time, requiring contrast (such as a new location or novel stimuli) to regain focus; (b) for information to be processed, down time is needed to recycle chemicals crucial for long-term memory formation; and (c) attention is cyclical, involving 90-110 minute rhythmical patterns throughout the day.

ERIC JENSEN, TEACHING WITH THE BRAIN IN MIND, 2ND EDITION

Play is so important for children that the United Nations even recognizes its necessity stating in Article 31 that every child has the right to play and rest (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child).

Play isn’t just about fun. It is about overall well-being. Play positively affects not only the physical but the cognitive, social and emotional aspects of a child’s life. We can all appreciate the freedom to run and play games and how that supports necessary physical activity. But that physical activity, in turn, supports optimal cognitive processing. A break like children have at recess supports better cognitive learning after concentrated instruction.

In research with fourth-graders, children were less fidgety and more on-task when they had recess. Also, children with hyperactivity were among those who benefited the most. These results are consistent with the findings of a meta-analysis of nearly 200 studies on the effect of exercise on cognitive functioning that suggest physical activity supports learning. Research indicates children perform better on literacy tests after they have had recess and that children raise their hands more often after recess breaks.

 OLGA S. JARRETT, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY, A RESEARCH-BASED CASE FOR RECESS

Furthermore, children build necessary social skills during play as it is a time that they can interact with their peers thus learning valuable communication skills: negotiation, cooperation, sharing, and problem-solving to name a few. Additionally, they practice coping skills, such as perseverance and self-control.

Educators and counselors have asserted that in organizing their own games, children learn respect for rules, self-discipline, and control of aggression; develop problem solving and planning strategies; practice leadership, resolve conflicts; and develop and understanding of playing by the rules.

 OLGA S. JARRETT, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY, A RESEARCH-BASED CASE FOR RECESS

The most significant aspects of play, I feel, are the emotional aspects. One of the most alarming things I have read recently is that the decline in free play may be linked with the rising cases of depression and anxiety in young people. Peter Gray, Ph.D., explores this very notion in his article from Psychology Today, “The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders”. Gray postulates on the sharp rise in young people’s depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders evidenced in a recent study by Jean Twenge at San Diego State University. Gray says:

children’s freedom to play and explore on their own, independent of direct adult guidance and direction, has declined greatly in recent decades. Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests. 

 PETER GRAY “THE DECLINE OF PLAY AND THE RISE IN CHILDREN’S MENTAL DISORDERS

Gray points out that anxiety and depression correlate with a person’s sense of control or lack thereof over their own lives.

People who believe they are in charge of their own fate are less likely to become anxious or depressed than those who believe that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control. By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. 

 PETER GRAY “THE DECLINE OF PLAY AND THE RISE IN CHILDREN’S MENTAL DISORDERS”

By far the most sobering information Gray relays is his admonishment:

We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders.

 PETER GRAY “THE DECLINE OF PLAY AND THE RISE IN CHILDREN’S MENTAL DISORDERS”

It makes me so sad to think that our general over-protectiveness is actually diminishing our children’s joy. Bring joy back, break out the jawbreakers, let the Jabberwocks attack, and let children sloppy-suck whilst defending their own tree forts. It’ll be the best thing we ever did.

RESOURCES

Bilich, Karin. “The Importance of Play.” Parents, Meredith Corporation, 25 Oct. 2006, www.parents.com/fun/sports/exercise/the-importance-of-play/. Accessed 21 June 2019.

Ginsburg, Kenneth R. “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Jan. 2007, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182. Accessed 21 June 2019.

Gray, Peter. “The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 26 Jan 2010,https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/freedom-learn/201001/the-decline-play-and-rise-in-childrens-mental-disorders. Accessed 21 June 2019.

Jarrett, Olga S. “A Research-Based Case for Recess.” US Play Coalition, November 2013, https://www.playworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/US-play-coalition_Research-based-case-for-recess.pdf. Accessed 21 June 2019.

Jensen, Eric. Teaching with the Brain in Mind. 2nd ed., Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.

Murray, Robert and Catherine Ramstetter for Council on School Health. “The Crucial Role of Recess in School.” Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 Jan. 2013, pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/1/183. Accessed 21 June 2019.

lthomas

I is for Imagine

Posted by lthomas Jun 11, 2019
A humble imitation of Margaret Atwood's reveries on a piece of bread.

Imagine a classroom. You don't have to imagine it, you're in it right now. The colourful poster on the wall with the sparkly starts that says "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars" stares back at you as you sit in your bright, clean desk. You pull your notebook and pen out of your backpack as the teacher begins the lesson which she projects onto the SMART board. You listen as you sip on the vanilla latte you bought on the way to school. You grab a computer tablet from the cart in the corner of the room to begin the activity that's been assigned. You could also use your own laptop, but you didn't charge it last night so it's just easier to use the classroom tablet, it's not near as good as yours, but it'll do. You put your earbuds in to listen to music while you work. Teacher says it really doesn't help me concentrate, but whatever.

 

Imagine an armed conflict. Now imagine a classroom. Both of these things are real but you are only in the same place as one of them. You are now sitting with 60 others on rough wooden benches, others crowd in and are sitting on the floor. The sweat drips down your neck and back as you sit quietly listening to the teacher. You wish you could have a drink of water, but the well is a mile away. The corrugated steel walls block any breeze and the bare concrete floor is dusty and hot on your feet. The single light bulb hanging by a wire from the middle of the ceiling, when it works at all, casts odd shadows across the rickety slate chalkboard on wheels that the teacher is writing on. You'd like to write down the notes, but you used your last piece of paper last week and teacher says there won't be more supplies unless donations come from the UN, so you just try really hard to remember all she is saying by chanting it over and over again to yourself. You miss the school you used to go to with the desks and chairs, but it's gone now. This make-shift classroom might be gone by tomorrow, who really knows?

 

Imagine a small two-room hut in a rural village. You watch your brothers as they leave your hut to go to school. You wish you could go with them, but girls aren't allowed. Even if they were, your family can barely afford to get uniforms, books and supplies for your brothers, so you stay home and do chores. Your father wants you to learn your household duties well because he's been busy making arrangements for your marriage. You're not sure what to think, but it's better than what happened to your friend. She got sold and was taken to the city to work there and everyone knows when that happens you never come back. Or even worse, you could end up like your neighbour who tried to go to school and had acid thrown in her face. She can never be married now.

 

There once were two brothers who grew up in a little village. Upon entering adulthood, one brother left the village and struck out to make his way in the world. He sailed the seven seas and made his fortune, eventually settling down by a crystalline lake where he built a home of great beauty with the wealth he had amassed for his wife and children. His riches allowed him to send his children to the best schools and even hire tutors to aid his children when they so desired. The other brother remained in the little village, caring for his parents and toiling long days to eke a living from the drought-ridden land. He also married and had a family, but he worried all the time for them because of the dangers and hardships they had to endure. He tried to ensure his children learned to read, but the school was a great distance away and they needed everyone to help at home or they would starve. One day the poor brother wrote to his rich brother and asked for help. But the rich brother only scolded his poor brother that he should have left the little village like he had then he wouldn't be in this mess. The next day the rebels raided the village, burning the poor man's crops and destroying his home. They all tried to run, but the rebels kidnapped the children and mowed everyone else down.

 

If I was staying true to Atwood's "Bread", I would tell you this is a fairy-tale. I would then go on to write that I conjured the classrooms, but I haven't.

 

This is all real. 

 

UNESCO estimates that there are 110 million children in developing countries not in school. In his article, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World, Phineas Rueckert states lack of funding, no teachers or untrained teachers, no classroom, lack of learning materials, exclusion of children with disabilities, being the 'wrong' gender, conflict and war, distance, hunger and poor nutrition, and expense are the biggest factors keeping children from a basic education. He goes on to explain that increasing access to education can improve the overall health and longevity of a societygrow economies, and even combat climate change.

Phineas Rueckert, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World

Therefore, education is a key way for all of us to move forward with many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership to end poverty, improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

 

Many of the poorest countries can't afford to finance their own education systems and rely on foreign aid to fill the gap. Unfortunately, there is still a $39 billion shortfall. In addition to funding problems, many countries struggle with not having enough trained teachers. UN estimates show a need of 69 million new teachers to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030. Right now, in 1 out of 3 countries, less than 75% of teachers are trained to national standards. Case in point, primary-schoolers in Mali have a 50/50 chance that their teacher is trained to teach. Even if the teacher has the appropriate training, often there is a lack of basic supplies.

 

In Tanzania, for example, only 3.5% of all grade 6 pupils had sole use of a reading textbook. In Cameroon, there are 11 primary school students for every reading textbook and 13 for every mathematics textbook in grade 2.

Phineas Rueckert, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World

More alarming is the fact that many lack a classroom altogether.

Teacher Mahajera Armani and her class of girls pose for a picture at their study open area, founded by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), outside Jalalabad city, Afghanistan September 19, 2015. (Reuters)

Teacher Mahajera Armani and her class of girls pose for a picture at their study open area, founded by Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), outside Jalalabad city, Afghanistan September 19, 2015. (Reuters)

 

A lack of walls is not the only problem to create a viable learning environment,

in Malawi, for example, there are an average of 130 children per classroom in grade 1. It’s not just a lack of classrooms that’s the problem, but also all the basic facilities you would expect a school to have — like running water and toilets.

Phineas Rueckert, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World

Koen Timmers, an awarded educator, lecturer, researcher, author and speaker, and project coordinator for the Kakuma Project and Innovation Lab Schools recognized these problems. In relaying how he started the Kakuma Project in 2015, he highlights an impactful Skype call with an outreach officer in the refugee camp that then prompted him to ship his personal laptop to them. This began his work to help increase the level of education in the camp by offering free Skype lessons to the refugee students. Timmers recruited other teachers to give lessons via Skype and also began a crowdfunding campaign that allowed him to ship a solar suitcase, another 20 laptops and bolster internet infrastructure in the camp. To date, there are 324 educators from 70 countries offering free education via Skype to the Kakuma refugee camp which is based in Kenya and houses 200,000 refugees and 30 schools.

 

Average class size is 250 students crammed into an average size classroom and solar suitcase which allows teachers to charge laptops

Right: We Care Solar solar suitcase which allows the teachers to charge laptops.
Left: The average class size is 250 students (crammed into an average size classroom).

 

Timmers' work did not end there. He is currently working with Jane Goodall and other partners including Goodall's Roots and Shoots, Microsoft, Lego Education, Global Teacher Prize, Participate, Edukans, Dyade, Empatico, i3 Technologies, PXL University of Applied Sciences, and Cross Trade OBL to bring learning to students in rural Africa and all over the world. The Innovation Lab Schools opened their first location in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. The next stage includes the development of more Innovation Lab Schools. To date, schools have been opened in Pugu and Gombe, Tanzania; Tchimpounga, Congo; Rhino Refugee camp, Uganda; Lagos, Umanagbor Ihitte, and Ezinihitte Mbaise, Nigeria; with more schools planned for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Morocco; Bragado, Argentina; Chimp Eden Sanctuary, South Africa; and Australia.

 

NIGERIA | UMANAGBOR IHITTE, EZINIHITTE MBAISE Project Lead: Marie-Christine Ghanbari Jahrami

NIGERIA | UMANAGBOR IHITTE, EZINIHITTE MBAISE, #Project Lead: Marie-Christine Ghanbari Jahrami

 

Timmers' work offers hope to the desperate situation of many, but armed conflict and natural disasters continue to destroy education systems for scores of children around the world. In fact,

nearly 250 million children are living in countries affected by conflicts. Around 61 million children are currently out of school because they live in conflict and disaster zones, with young girls 90% more likely to be out of secondary school in conflict areas than elsewhere, according to UNESCO.

Phineas Rueckert, 10 Barriers to Education Around the World

As if conflict and other disasters weren't enough to hamper the educational prospects of children, there are still many countries where gender decides your educational fate.

 

There are well over 20 prominent nations, which continue to discriminate against females by preventing them from learning. In these countries, gender inequality in education not only stifles the development of women, but also their sense of self-worth.

Laura Argintar, You Won't Believe How Many Countries Still Won't Allow Women The Right To Education

 

A staggering 60% of the children not in classrooms right now are girls. The plights recounted in the earlier paragraphs of this blog echo real situations that young girls have to face everyday. In Nepal, for example, many young women are sold into bonded servitude. In Chad, a country that boasts the highest rate of underage marriages in the world, education is not a priority for girls. Nine out of ten women in Afghanistan are illiterate and face death threats and acid attacks for going to school, making it one of the most difficult places in the world to be a girl. A close second would likely be Pakistan, infamous now for the Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head for pursuing her right to learn.

 

Imagine a classroom. You don't have to imagine it, you're in it right now. The colorful poster on the wall with the sparkly starts that says "Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars" stares back at you as you sit in your bright, clean desk. It's telling you something. It's telling you that you can shoot for the stars by working to make a difference in education across the world. You can support efforts like Koen's or the many others going on as we speak, Camfed, UNICEF, UNESCO, Global Partnership for Education, and Save the Children to name just a few. Get actively involved. For example, Nine, a former student of Timmers' and avid supporter of the Innovation Lab Schools, is  Climbing for Kakuma where she will ride the Cannibalette, a ride of 131 km with four climbs including 2x Mont Ventoux. There are no limits to what you can do. And along the way, you’ll be able to imagine better scenarios for learning and appreciate yours all the more.

 

 

 

The diverse world of blackboards, chalk and duster around the world.


Sources:

Argintar, Laura. “You Won't Believe How Many Countries Still Won't Allow Women The Right To Education.” Elite Daily, Elite Daily, 7 May 2019, www.elitedaily.com/women/separate-unequal-countries-worst-gender-inequality-education.

Atwood, Margaret. “Bread.” This Magazine, Feb. 1981.

Coughlan, Sean. “10 Toughest Places for Girls to Go to School.” BBC News, BBC, 11 Oct. 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-41558486.

O'Neill, Jennifer. “Worst Places for Education Around The World.” Global Citizen, Global Poverty Project, 3 Aug. 2016, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/worst-schools-world/.

Rueckert, Phineas. “10 Barriers to Education Around the World.” Global Citizen, Global Poverty Project, 24 Jan. 2019, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/10-barriers-to-education-around-the-world-2/.

lthomas

H is for Happy

Posted by lthomas May 30, 2019

Happy makes the learning happen

 

As parents we all voice the same sentiment for our children: "I just want them to be happy." But do we actively practice that sentiment? Do we teach the frames of mind that would ensure happiness in our children? Do we really know what being happy actually means?

 

Much research has been done of late that has clarified a great deal about "happy". Turns out, it has far more to offer than a sunny disposition and feeling contented. Parents are right to want happiness in their children albeit it is unlikely they know the science of why.

 

Rebecca Alder, consulting editor of Edutopia, outlines the research of Dr. David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, in her article How Are Happiness and Learning Connected? Rock intones "There is a large and growing body of research which indicates that people experiencing positive emotions perceive more options when trying to solve problems, solve more non-linear problems that require insight, [and they] collaborate better and generally perform better overall." In short, happy people learn better.

 

 

 

Scientifically speaking, happiness produces chemicals, specifically dopamine and serotonin, in the brain. When these substances are released it has positive effects on our memory as well as our brain’s ability to learn. Essentially our capacity to make connections, be creative and problem solve are all enhanced just by being happy.

 

 

 

Christina Hinton, Ed.D.’12 and lecturer from Harvard Graduate School of Education, examined the interplay of happiness, motivation, and success to find out just how important happiness is in learning.

 

 

 

Hinton used surveys to collect data on students’ happiness and motivation; collected qualitative data on happiness and motivation; and further data on students’ grade point averages all of which was then analyzed to explore the relationships among happiness, motivation, and academic achievement.

 

 

 

Key to Hinton's findings were associations that show how we can optimize students’ learning experiences. Namely:

 

 

 

Happiness is positively associated with intrinsic motivation (a personal drive to learn) for all students, and also with extrinsic motivation (outside sources like rewards, praise, or avoiding punishment) for students in grades K–3.

Happiness is also positively associated with GPA for students in grades 4–12.

Happiness and standardized test scores did not seem to be related, but further research is needed to confirm this.

Happiness is predicted by students’ satisfaction with school culture and relationships with teachers and peers.

Because I’m Happy by Victoria Jones

 

Further to Hinton's research, other benefits that have been shown by IWEN happiness lessons are:

 

Improved problem-solving abilities
Broadened horizons and expanded thinking
Building physical, intellectual, and social skills
Counteracted negative emotions
Protected mental health
Reduction in aggression in class
Improvement in school performance
 

So now we can appreciate how vitally important being happy is, not only for children's well being but also their learning and future success. But how does that happen? How can we support happiness?

There are many researchers who focus on happiness today; Sonja Lyubomirsky, Barbara Fredrickson, Ed Diener, Martin Seligman, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to name but a few, and they all agree on one thing: happiness can be learned.

 

Martin Seligman is a psychologist and university professor and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. His work ranges from positive psychology to the study of helplessness, depression, optimism and pessimism, and flexibility. Seligman has come up with a formula for wellbeing he refers to with the acronym PERMA. PERMA stands for:

  1. Positive emotions: in essence, being optimistic. Having a positive outlook is necessary because it helps our relationships, sparks creativity, and allows us to see possibilities. It also strengthens us when we hit tough times because we can see which way steer to make things better.
  2. Engagement: being fully engaged in activities allows us to build creativity, reduce stress, and feel fulfilled and satisfied.
  3. Relationships: humans are social beings, so relationships are essential. Positive, supportive relationships are a key part of being happy and spreading happiness.
  4. Meaning: eventually we all realize the meaning of life is not money or popularity, rather it is something deeper. 
  5. Accomplishments: the sense of satisfaction as a result of our work towards our goals. Accomplishments give meaning to all performed tasks and are essential in achieving happiness.

Having happiness broken down in such a way is one example of how it can be taught.

 

There are a number of learning programs and apps that support the sort of learning Seligman espouses. Happiness Lessons, out of Hungary and based on the work of Martin Seligman and Prof. Sonja Lyubomirsky, aims to provide methodological support to develop the ability to nurture happiness in children through their scientifically approved curriculum. Launched in 2014, the program now boasts more than 3700 teachers providing the instruction to 60,000+ students. Another learning program, this one out of Australia, is Smiling MindThe not-for-profit organization works to make mindfulness accessible to all. You may wonder "Why mindfulness?" Mindfulness is about focusing attention on the here and now, rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future, both things that we know are generally unproductive and do not promote well being and happiness. Being mindful can aid students in being more aware of their mindset and thus lead them to be more positive and optimistic. Mindfulness also plays an important role in your mental & physical wellbeing and can play a role in helping to:

  • Reduce the physical wear and tear on the body

  • Increase your immune system

  • Switch off excessive inflammation in the body

  • Relieve cardiovascular stress

  • Switch down cortisol and damage to your bones

 

There are many other apps and programs that promote learning happiness. Happy Feed is a daily gratitude journal whose aim is to promote positive thinking and optimism by helping people focus on the good things in their life. Happify takes you on a journey to better well being using evidence-based interventions in the form of games and activities. Based in the fields of positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy, the goal is to re-frame negativity thus forming meaningful improvement in life satisfaction. Another game based strategy, SuperBetter, aims to build resilience, an important factor in happiness as it allows people to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of change and difficult challenges. Jane McGonigal, an award-winning game designer, powered SuperBetter with a framework that activates the psychological strengths of game-play to build resilience in real life. The Dalai Lama has weighed in on happiness saying that "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions". And in that spirit, Action for Happiness works to help people take action to create a happier, more caring world. The end goal is a happier world, reduced mental health problems, and ultimately more well-rounded, happy, functioning people who help not only themselves but others as well. The movement embraces the spirit of community-mindedness which works to improve relationships and positivity at the same time. Community is important in supporting happiness as it helps build positive relationships, helps people feel supported and gives them a sense of belonging. The Happy Community Project works to do all those things and more. The project aims to "provide a process by which any community can increase its capacity for wellbeing and resiliency in an era of disruption." Similar to Seligman, the Happy Community Project determined factors that create long term happiness.

  • Belonging
  • Meaning
  • Sufficiency
  • Security
  • Fairness

Building a strong, happy community promotes strong social connections and fosters a sense of belonging, members develop a sense of responsibility toward other members of the community, reciprocal supportive relationships occur and promote peace and security, and ultimately give all a soul-nurturing experience.

 

 

I'm sure there are countless other programs, apps, and curriculum that support the idea of improving happiness. The bottom line is, happiness should be seen as a fundamental, integrated part of the school system. Science shows that the results are win-win. The child wins because they lead a more successful, fulfilling, happy life and society wins on numerous levels. First, it actually reduces cost burdens on society at large. Happy people are healthier, have a stronger immune system and fewer mental health problems. Just given those factors, health care costs and strain on an over-burdened health-care system are lessened. Secondly, we gain more caring, community-minded people to build a better world. What could be better than that?