A thank-you gift for the teacher

Posted June 22, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Education, Media

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With school almost out I know that there are some parents out there fretting over what to giver their child’s teacher(s) as a year-end thank-you gift.  I can tell you from experience that there are probably an equal number of teachers out there worrying about having to accept these gifts.  There is a wonderful article in the Toronto Sun that explains this phenomenon.

I never felt very comfortable receiving gifts from students, however I have accepted (among other things) the following gifts: home baked cookies, a chocolate Easter bunny, a hand-knit toque, two traditional Korean figurines, pieces of student-made art and countless mugs.  My most treasured gift was a hand-painted flower pot, made to look like a can of Fresca.  The student who made this for me was a talented artist who noticed that I grew plants at the back of my classroom and that I drank far too much Fresca.

However, my most common and appreciated gift was usually given to me by students after having written their final exam.  About one student in ten would drop off their completed exam on my desk and then shyly thank me for what they experienced in our class.  Some bolder kids would shake my hand and specifically tell me what they enjoyed most over the semester.  Now that’s a gift every teacher would welcome.

My Fresca flower pot.


Standardized testing: trying to measure the unmeasurable

Posted June 21, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Education, Video

Tags: , , ,

Okay, I’m not one to tell the Queen of England who she should and should bestow knighthoods upon, but when Kylie Minogue and Pierce Brosnan are knighted, I begin to question if the honour has become a bit diluted.  I do, however, commend the Queen on her choice of honouring educator and author Ken Robinson.

Robinson is a great supporter of the arts and its inclusion in public education.  He believes that creativity in schools is being strangled and he points to rigid bureaucratic systems (and standardized testing in particular) as the culprits.  Much of what he says is out of vogue with education pundits as he champions soft concepts such as creativity and imagination . . . things that are difficult to standardize and measure.  He  has delivered a wonderful TED lecture where he passionately asks that schools not be treated like fast food joints.

Take a quick look at this five-minute clip from the Bonnie Hunt Show to hear him speak on standardized testing:

Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.

-Albert Einstein

Remembering a powerful activist from Attawapiskat

Posted June 20, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Community, Education, Media, Politics

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Canadian Education Press Association

Posted June 17, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Cool, Education, Media, Politics, Video

Tags: , ,

I was away from the blog for the past week as I attended the 50th annual meeting of the Canadian Educational Press Association.

Although it is always great to get together in this relatively exclusive club of communication specialists from the professional education community, for me the highlight of the event was our keynote speaker Jesse Hirsh.  Many of you will probably have heard of Jesse as he is a regular contributor to CBC radio where he discusses issues of emerging technology and culture.  The man is very bright and brings a sharp and philosophical perspective to how technology affects us.  I think Jesse defines what he does best when he contrasts himself against other tech-commentators: “They tend to idolize new technology and gadgets rather than analyzing their political and cultural impact.” (I am paraphrasing here).

Aside from his intelligence and his ability to critically analyze technology, Jesse is an amazing speaker whose voice captures the attention of everyone within earshot.  So, in the spirit of Plato’s Republic, I nominate Jesse Hirsh for King of the Internet — a position I am sure he would refuse because he seems so content to analyze our digital world that I doubt that, even if given the chance, he would want to rule it.

I found a great clip of Jesse waxing philosophical on anarchy on the internet.  Enjoy!

How do you teach poetry?

Posted June 13, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Cool, Education, Music, Video

Tags: , ,

Teaching poetry was probably the toughest gig I ever had.  How do you “teach” poetry?  You can’t.  You don’t.  You can talk about words and sounds and meaning . . . and you can read poems and discuss them, but after that you have to have faith that the way you have presented the material was interesting enough that the students begin to catch on.

When I was in grade ten, I decided that I should learn about poetry.  I walked into the school library, went over to the shelf labelled “Canadian Poetry” and randomly pulled out a book and flipped it open.  I looked down and read the first poem I saw, Leonard Cohen’s For Anne.

With Annie gone,
whose eyes to compare
with the morning sun?

Not that Idid compare,
But I do compare
Now that she’s gone.

I     was     hooked.  Then and there I became a reader (and soon a writer) of poetry.

As a teacher, I loved to have my students read John Ciardi‘s How a Poem Means – an essay which, although outdated and somewhat stuffy, clearly dispelled the myth of a poem as something to be deciphered and wrought of meaning.  I would also share with my students the poem, Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish and which contains the beautiful and educational lines, “A poem should not mean/But be”.

I guess I am always impressed with anyone who can comment on the nature of art within their own art.  This is probably why I was gobsmacked the first time I heard Tanya Davis’ song Art on the CBC Radio2 show Drive.  I can say that without a doubt these are the cleverest, most beautiful words I have heard uttered about art, the urge to produce it, and the hesitation to do so.

I was lucky enough to see Tanya perform last night at the tiny Silver Bean room by the shore of the Otonabee River in Peterborough.  I have never purchased a concert ticket before that has printed on it “14/30”.  That’s right, 30 seats.  Tanya Davis is a wonderful songwriter, storyteller and – yes – poet.  Listen.

Getting students out of their desks to learn

Posted June 13, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Cool, Education, Video

Tags: ,

As a teacher you quickly learn that that developing lessons that get your students out of their desks and engaged in a relevant activities is a great way to not only teach, but it helps foster a love a learning.  A colleague and I used to take our grade 11 English students to a local forest to act out scenes from Macbeth.  Students came dressed in costumes (armour, swords and shields) and the day included a real feast during the scene in which Macbeth is visited by the ghost of Banquo.

The video below shows a teacher who brings science alive and has his students students create their own paper gliders to demonstrate some principles of the properties of air.  Listen to how encouraging the teacher is!  Look at the students’ faces.  What a great event.

I especially like this because it reminds me of a year when I was teaching a small group of unmotivated high school students to improve their reading skills and their ability to follow instructions.  I went to the school library and dug out an old book on making paper apirplanes.  For two weeks we practiced the steps of making different types of paper airplanes and we concluded each day’s lesson in the gymnasium giving test flights.

A cool throwback

Posted June 10, 2010 by banderblogger
Categories: Cool, Music

Tags: ,

I love Motown music and discovering the NOISEttes has been great.  It’s hard to believe that they are a three piece outfit with the lead singer, Shingai Shoniwa, on bass.  Listen to their hit “I’ll Never Forget You” and try to tell me that we don’t desperately need a Motown revival.