Archive for the ‘Community’ category

Being the new kid in the classroom – a short film

July 7, 2010

Do you have 10 minutes to spare?

The video below, New Boy, is ten minutes of wonderful story-telling and pure craft.  Based on a short story by one of my favourite authors, Roddy Doyle, the film brings the anxiety of being the new kid in the class to a whole new level.  I love how the teacher unwittingly and unintentionally becomes the solution to the conflict.  The film won many awards including the Best Narrative Short Film at the 2008 Tribeca film festival.

Ten minutes – you won’t be disappointed.

Taking the classroom outside

June 25, 2010

June is a difficult month for students (and teachers).  Not only is there an increased demand to get assignments submitted and marked, but the warm weather calls, tempting students and teachers alike to move outdoors.  How many times have I had to field the question, “Can we have class outside today?”  Really?  Class outside?  Come on — that’s something that is not going to end well.

Although I have had students perform outdoor theatre and I have taken leadership students on camping trips, could a typical day-to-day lesson actually be facilitated outside?  Well tire manufacturer Bridgestone Canada and not-for-profit organization Evergreen have teamed up to provide one Mississagua, Ontario school with an outdoor classroom.

You would think that this was big news but good luck finding any reference to the project on the websites of either Evergreen or Bridgestone or even a local newspaper.  I came across it here, on a trucking news website.  Interesting.

Remembering a powerful activist from Attawapiskat

June 20, 2010

I should have posted this much earlier, but sometimes when you hear bad news you expect that everyone else must have heard it too and that they all feel the loss as you did.

It seems that this story has been either missed or certainly under-reported by the major media outlets outside of Northern Ontario.  I find this surprising as young activists are rare and successful young activists perhaps even more so.  So when I heard that Shannen Koostachin from Attawapiskat was killed in a car accident earlier this month, I thought it would make headlines.

For those of you who have never heard of Attawapiskat, it is a tiny community near the uppermost limits of Ontario, situated just upriver from James Bay.  In 1979 a toxic oil spill seeped under the community’s only school and was never properly cleaned up.  Students were forced to use the contaminated school for over 20 years while successive federal government’s ignored pleas for help.  The school was finally closed when parents no longer allowed their children to attend and teachers refused to work there.  For the past 10 years, students were educated in a mish-mash of portable buildings and shelters.  The community launched a campaign to have a proper new school built and Shannen Koostachin, barely in her teens, emerged as an unlikely but persuasive activist.  Hearing Shannen speak was a humbling, yet invigorating experience.  She spoke simply and directly enough to hush a room and inspire respect.

Shannen lived to hear the federal government formally promise the funding of a new school for Attawpaiskat, scheduled to open in 2012.  What a shame that she will not be there see it.  A sad story, but perhaps her legacy will encourage others to realize the power of one voice — even the voice of a single child.

Who decides how much to spend on public schools?

June 9, 2010

Thing aren’t looking so good over at the Vancouver school board.

It’s a story that it’s been told many times over.  The Ministry of Education tells a board how much they can spend while the board tells the Ministry how much they need to spend.  Who wins?  Put your money on the Ministry every time.  They will send in a bean counter who, with no real interest or understanding of the needs of the schools, slash budgets and make cuts.  And then, “Hurray!  The budget will be balanced!”

Historically, schools (and then school boards) were locally run.  Taxes were raised locally and decisions were based on the specific and often unique needs of the area.  By having a province or state collect taxes for education certain leveled the playing field allowing rural regions to enjoy the same funding as urban and industrial ones.  Ministries also provided homogeneous standards ensuring that all students received education of a similar quality.  But somewhere along the line the important role of local boards to address the specific needs or local schools?  Surely the funding of an inner-city school in a metropolis is very different than the funding of a rural school.  In Ontario, the government has promised for years to fix the admittedly flawed funding formula.

In the meantime, I suggest holding bake sales.  That’s what schools have been doing for decades.  This recipe looks good:

Meaningful Lessons on Media Literacy

May 20, 2010

All teachers know that finding material for lesson plans on social issues can be very difficult.  Finding relevant, up-to-date research on such topic such as media literacy is hard enough, but creating meaningful lessons from it can be harder still.  The Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children promotes the development of community- centered, action research on violence against women and children.  One of the projects that the centre has coordinated is a series of lessons on critical media literacy.  These lessons can be perused and downloaded for free here.  Lessons for both elementary and secondary school classes are available.

These are well-written lesson plans geared for specific levels and courses, however the can easily be tweaked to fit a wide range of educational uses.

The Centre’s role is to facilitate the cooperation of individuals, groups and institutions representing the diversity of the community to pursue research questions and training opportunities to understand and prevent abuse.

It serves local, national and international communities by producing useful information and tools to assist in the daily work against violence toward women and children.

Gardening by stealth

May 18, 2010

I never meant it to be a political act; I just wanted to improve my daily walk.  For years I would walk one kilometer from my home to the high school at which I taught.  On my walk I would pass by the yards of dozens of homes, some with beautiful gardens, others quite drab and plain.  In the late summer, when flowers began to go to seed, I would reach from the sidewalk and grab the seeds from one yard and then deposit them in the neglected gardens of another.  The easiest were hollyhocks, morning glories, and marigolds.  The following spring, I would look for (and usually find) the results.  Some of recipients of my distribution must have been displeased as I would see the new plants dug up and removed, but most plants were left to grow and bloom.  Some even became my source for the seeds of next year’s walk-by gardening projects.

I have also been known to prune the odd bush or hedge who’s owner has allowed it to grow out over the sidewalk.  I deal with such projects gradually.  Each time I walk by, I casually reach out and snap off a single twig.  I do so at the exact point where it invades the space over the sidewalk.  One bush in particular required an entire summer of daily dog walks to conceal my stealthy pruning.  I probably shouldn’t do this, but I hate brushing against a hedge on my walk and getting soaked by the dewy leaves.  There should be a general rule that people should plant their hedges at least a foot and a half from sidewalks to allow for overgrowth.  And they should be trimmed yearly.  If only I were King.

Apparently, there is a name for what I do: guerrilla gardening.  It seems there is an entire movement dedicated to bettering public spaces with greenery and flowers.  Check out the guerrillagardening.com website to see some great examples.  I am planning my next guerrilla gardening project at this very moment, but the details are still secret.  I will, however, post updates.

If you want to read about a very cool, secretive gardening project completed on a giant scale, read about 14,000 tulips that were planted (in a little over an hour) on a patch of public land in Toronto.  Impressive, but I think they cheated (using an automated tulip planting machine).

A mysterious 100 metre long patch of tulips planted surreptitiously along the north side of Kingston Road, Toronto.

Shovelling compost the ergonomic way

May 16, 2010

A few weeks ago I “won” 3.5 cubic yards of compost.  I put “won” in quotations marks because it was a silent auction and I and another fellow kept running up the bids until I ended up with the winning bid just a few dollars short of the actual cost.

However, it was all for a good cause; the silent auction was part of the annual fund-raising brunch for Jamaica Self Help, a fantastic organization based in Peterborough, Ontario.  I won’t go into  detail explaining what they do (I strongly advise that you go to their website), but they support education and community development programmes in Jamaica and engage Canadian youth on global issues.  If you know a high school student interested in international development, have them explore their website.  They run incredible awareness trips for youth, having young Canadians volunteer on projects in Kingston, Jamaica.

I stuck with the bidding for the compost because I actually needed some (although perhaps not 3.5 cubic yards worth) and because the City of Peterborough Waste Management division’s compost program is awesome.  We routinely leave out brown bags of garden waste throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and it’s great to see it put to such good use.  I don’t know how they turn it into compost (giant compost bins?) or where, but I do know that the compost is amazing for gardens.  Every year my wife and I seem to increase the size of our gardens (more weeding) and decrease the size of our lawn (less mowing).  She has recently discovered the art of planting vegetables among the flowers and it’s led to some interesting combinations.  I’ll post pictures later this year.

I never minded digging in the dirt and this year I am actually excited about it.  For my birthday I received the unusual but also garden-geeky-cool ergonomic shovel pictured at the left.  It was a generous gift from my in-laws who picked it up at one of my favourite stores, Lee Valley.  I’d go into more detail about this remarkable tool, but I believe that I am needed in the garden.

How many wheelbarrows of compost in 3.5 cubic yards?  A lot!