Monthly Archives: December 2009

copenhagen for kids

The United Nations Climate Change Conference is currently taking place in Copenhagen. 192 countries have been hanging out in Denmark since last week, trying to tackle the ambitious agenda of agreeing on a new international framework for climate change mitigation. Add to the overambitious targets the protests, arrests, hoaxes, walkouts, and boycotts, and  it is hard to be hopeful about the outcomes of this conference.

As educators, we try to find a balance between teaching students about the complex, unpalatable realities of controversial world issues, and inspiring a sense of hope and possibility in our students. I will be tackling the teachability of COP15 for one of my courses in January. This is a bit half-assed but I want to get something up here about the conference before the thing ends on Dec. 18.

So…introducing the Unite for Climate campaign. The Unite for Climate website is an online hub for youth, part of the UN’s official COP15 page. It provides opportunities for kids to learn about climate change through various media, get involved in grassroots campaigns organized by young people around the world, and network and participate in the conversation. It also regularly publishes news about youth involvement at the conference – profiles of the young Climate Ambassadors, and highlights from the Children’s Climate Forum that took place in Copenhagen the week before the grown-ups’ conference.

The site also features “Connecting Classrooms” – an online curriculum that pairs classes from around the world and allows them to dialogue, debate, and work collaboratively to analyze and problem-solve around global issues. The current module focuses on climate change and the COP15 conference. From perusing the website, it looks like all you need to take part in Connecting Classrooms is a secondary school classroom supervised by a designated teacher, internet access, and a one hour per week time committment. Sounds pretty cool.

Climate change is an issue that kids care deeply about, and making them aware of how their everyday choices can impact the environment is no great feat. That’s the easy part. I’ll keep thinking about how to guide students through some of the murkier ‘oil-sands of the mind’ – that is, the economic and political realities – that have bogged down their elders at the Copenhagen conference.

Anyone have a good idea? A lesson that has worked in your classroom? A resource that might be of use? Please share!


the nightmare persists

I enjoy this webcomic from XKCD. I do not enjoy writing reflections for teacher’s college. I look forward to the day when it will all just be a dream.

Students by XKCD

we get educated out of creativity

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.”

– Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson gave a TED talk recently where he criticized today’s schools for educating kids out of creativity. It is not a revolutionary thought that, as Robinson points out,  the public education system since the 19th century has been shaped by the needs of industrialism and capitalism. Academic subjects are valued hierarchically according to what should best help one get a job.

I can relate – I went to a highly conservative academic high school, and was mocked for dropping sciences and maths in favour of art, languages and humanities. Despite my excellent averages, my teachers and peers (PEERS! Not parents. Other teenagers.) were concerned that I was closing doors. As a result of the undervaluation of creativity during my formative years, I spent most of my late teens and twenties trying to get out of my head and reconnect with my passions.

One of Robinson’s criticisms of  our current education system is that in failing to nurture students’ creativity, we are teaching our students to be disembodied heads. “As children grow up we start to educate them from the waist up. and then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side” (For more on encouraging right brain thinking, check out Dan Pink’s very readable book A Whole New Mind. Hopefully I’ll get around to blogging about it in a future post)

In an article published several months ago on The Huffington Post, Robinson takes a similar stance, arguing for a radical transformation of our education system. He writes:

I’m always struck by how many adults have no idea what their real talents are, or whether they have any at all. Many people just do what they do with no particular passion or commitment to it. I know others who genuinely love what they do; who would probably do it for free if they had to, and can’t imagine doing anything else. Understanding what makes the difference is essential for transforming education, business, and communities to meet the real challenges of the twenty-first century.

Robinson argues that the education system must realize that intelligence is dynamic, diverse, and distinct. In our post-industrial society, differentiated talents should be valued. Nurturing students’ diverse creative intelligences – we hope – will produce adults who are open to innovation and interdisciplinary cooperation.  In his TED talk, Robinson doesn’t really suggest how to go about doing this, but his message is worthwhile. It is something I’ll think about as I begin my career as an educator – a career that I believe will help me finally get out of my head and utilize some of that innate creativity that has lain dormant for too long!

freire fridays #1

Bem vindos ao Freire Fridays! The legendary Brazilian critical pedagogue has always been one of those thinkers whose ideas I admire from a distance. Read a few articles for my MA. Skimmed Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I’ve been wanting to get more intimate with Freire’s body of work, so I figured this weekly post was a good place to start.

In between classes today, I popped down to the OISE-UT library and rented a DVD of  Letters in the Earth, an interview conducted with Freire in 1979. Stroking his beard and chain-smoking cigarettes, Freire calmly discusses the roots of his educational activism with Canadian educators Roby Kidd and Alan Thomas. This interview was conducted 12 years after Brazil exiled Freire for his educational activism.

Freire recalls how as a young 22 year-old adult ed researcher, he discussed education both with Brazilian peasants and with intellectuals.  He was struck by how much more able the peasants were to understand and communicate how their concrete realities shaped their educational experiences. The intellectuals, he says, had been “conditioned” by the university and were less able to relate theory to authentic experience. If we are too steeped in the culture of academia, we risk bureaucratizing the ideas of education and social development and turning them into empty concepts that are divorced from the values, needs, and concrete realities experienced by subjugated people.

Roby asks Freire if he sees himself as an educator who focuses on social revolution, or as a social revolutionary who uses education as a means to an end. Freire cautions us against dichotomizing the two, and adds that educators have to be politicians and (I love this part) artists. The idea, he says, is not to focus on education and social development, but education FOR social development, education INSIDE development. Education is always political.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the interview that really stands out for me:

“The more we teach students that education is a neutral tool, neutral students, that we have to measure and evaluate with numbers; the more we say that teachers are neutral beings in the service of humanity, the more we are training them in order for them not ot analyze in a critical way the concrete reality of how it is becoming – because reality is not, reality is becoming.

When we try not only to describe a certain society like it is becoming, but when we try to analyze the raison d’être for this becoming, and to discuss the possibilities for changing, the tendency is for some people to say that you are no longer educators – no longer “scientists” – but ideologues…and for me as if they are not ideologues! When they deny the very process of ideology, they are making ideology.”

Have a great weekend, and beware of false neutrality!

you seemed like a legit teacher

I just finished my first month-long practicum at a crazy cool alternative school. I gave my grade 12 English and Philosophy classes a form, asking them for qualitative feedback on my performance in four areas:

o    Lesson design & delivery

o    Content

o    Interpersonal

o    Additional feedback

Some of the feedback was instructive, edifying, and heartwarming. Some of it was highly entertaining.  Overall, the reviews were positive (phew!), confirming that my first attempt at applying my pedagogic values to a formal classroom setting was successful. A few students commented that I should have been more assertive or authoritative, but most appreciated my relational approach to classroom management. Here is a selection of the feedback I received from my students:

Saw you less of as an authoritative teacher, but more as a mentor, sucks that your leaving kinda began to look up to you. Your pretty cool in my opinion.

1 thing: when no one had read the article and you told us to read for a few minutes, most people started talking. I had to plug my ears and enter a noise cocoon which ended up making me feel kind of ill.

Good, Good, Good, Good, Good,
Good, Good, Good, Good, Good,

hi im pikachu. for future student I would suggest you be more strict friendship is great its fun, but that’s perhaps not the most efficient way to teach as students/children were used to power structures that involve giving power/responsibility to someone else. the idea is if your not strict with us we will not be strict with ourselves this dependency is perhaps bad because some people never evolve beyond it. but it is a stage we must all pass through wouldn’t it be easier if their were answers we could act upon instead of just questions.

You should speak to each student as an individual rather than in a group. (That way each student feels okay about themself)

Of course you smart ☺

I know you sometimes had trouble controlling the class, and I think an effective way to help will come with time and you’ll develop your own method. All the teachers who I know who are able to control the class al have their own individual method. It was GOOD that you never raised your voice.

Students are like animals. Show no fear.

I actually understand logical fallacies.
Maybe a little less reading.
I hate readings.
Take a bit more initiative.
Enjoyed activities.

Don’t be afraid to raise your voice and yell

Don’t say “I don’t want to have to raise my voice.” It never works.

I thought that you came off as a friend which is great for a teacher because then the students respect you you didn’t yell at us you dealed with conflict well

You did help with a lot of my knowledge.
When we asking very direct questions
You were really good at answering
You knew like everything ☺

You never talked down to us and that was amazing.

It’s like you were Plato!

The activities you came up with always made me think, and although sometimes annoying (in a good way) they weren’t just assignments my brain could slide over. Like the logical fallacies assignment, it made me confused and anxious but I further progressed my knowledge.

You seemed like a legit teacher and I would like it if you were my actual teacher

I especially like the fact that you don’t stutter or say “filler words” (ex. Like, you know, um, uh)

You seemed to know what you were talking about and if you didn’t know then you hid it really well.

Be more dominant. Show we can’t push you around or bullshit you. But that wasn’t a huge problem.

Your lesson plans were fantastically linear, and you have a magnificent ability to allow discussions to flow in a manner that does not divert the class from the direction of the lesson. Your activities were underpinned strongly by your in depth knowledge and humanized communicability.

I think on a scale of 1-10 you ranked an 8 ½ because you helped out a lot and tried to explain to the best of your ability.

You might need to be more of a hard-ass in a tougher crowd. Students at our school aren’t that HXC

I learned quite a bit (especially considering it was lit. theory)

If there’s ruckus in the class, don’t go directly to a person, try addressing the class.

When you ask “does everyone get it?” When everyone is silent → doesn’t always mean we get it

It really was good that you got to know our names. It makes us know you care/are trying.

Not trying to suck up, but you were one of the best student teachers I’ve had.