The best thing I haven’t done

This week I didn’t do something. It was amazing.

Last year I assigned a (boring to grade, probably only slightly more interesting to write) paper about metal in the body. I instructed students to research bone replacement/repair and work out how metal was actually used in the body.  I even gave them a website to start their search.

This year, I assigned a similar project. It’s a presentation. I didn’t specify how students are to present – I went free range – no criteria for presentation, no time limits or minimums  – and have groups signed up to present through theatrical productions, monologues, stand and deliver presentations and videos. There is no section on my rubric assessing the presentation itself. Students will get non-graded feedback on presentation skills so I can more accurately compare presentations by focusing just on the science within a presentation.

This year I didn’t specify what “metal in the body” they had to research and I had students asking about metalloids (silicone), wearable tech, braces, piercings, iron, old school dental fillings, mercury, grillz (rapper metal teeth/decoration for those of you like me who might need to google that one…) amongst the titanium rods and screws that hold most of us together in some way.

This year I did ask them to consider the ethical, political and social aspects of using their particular metal in the body rather than prescribing research about how it worked. Students are researching and learning about how the metal we use in our body is mined, some are getting angry at the environmental damage and we’re having great conversations around ethics in science. Does our right to have a piece of metal in our body trump the right of the community who is dealing with the environmental damage or the miner’s work rights? Who pays for the metal we use? How much does it actually cost to create some of these things? How much do we charge? How are politics influencing what metals we use in medicine? Should politics influence this? What are the environmental costs? What rights do the miners have in small third world countries? Is there another metal that could be equally as suited? Guys – these are the questions my students are asking each other. My EIGHTH-grade students.

The best thing I didn’t do this week was put a ceiling on their creativity.

 

How do you engage your kids when you are not there?

An age-old question perhaps. How do you create great learning opportunities for your students when you are not in the room, not knowing which teacher with which experience will be covering your classes. It’s a particularly difficult question for me this Friday as I just found out I won’t be in class on Monday, but my major assessment for the unit was today with a carryover on Monday. They are presentations.

I don’t like leaving work periods, but sometimes this is awesome for the kids if there are major assignments coming up. There are not. I don’t love leaving worksheets as they seem like such a hollow experience compared to what I know we would be doing in class.

Sometimes I leave a video/comprehension questions. Sometimes I leave a tic-tac-toe board they need to fill out and basically do three in a row based on their own learning styles (videos vs articles vs games).

How do you create authentic learning experiences for your classes when you are not present to read the learning, change the pace or redirect students who are confused and lost in the material?

How do you let kids be bored?

One paragraph in and I know I”m going to love this weeks topic! Week 7 in my “current issues in education” class has us looking at creativity. This is a topic I am becoming passionate about as I read and learn more about authentically creative experiences, the school experience and how often the two do not allow for much overlap. I hope to change that, even if it’s just in my corner of the school building. 
 
“Dr. Csikszentmihalyi has observed that the most creative people share a common experience in childhood: that of being left alone, often in a barren environment, and of being bored. Paradoxically, solitude and boredom become the springboard from which a creative passion is born”
 
When was the last time you let your kid be bored? How hard was it for you as a parent to step back and let them be bored in a world that increasingly is asking you to structure your child’s time with sports, and toys and tablets? In a world where a child left alone to play outside can be seen as neglect and where parents feel immense pressure to give their kids all of the experiences?
I wrestle with this question often. I have a two-year-old (*gasp* almost three-year-old) who I want to grow up to be confident. I want him to learn how to read his body as he plays and jumps and climbs and have been trying to curb my instincts to shout  in a panic “that’s too high, come back down” and instead try to calmly ask him “do you feel safe?” More often than not the answer is “yes mama” and he climbs a little higher.  Once in a while, he says no and lowers himself slowly. I know he is not experiencing true boredom, and he’s learning a lot about balance, safety, motor skills and trusting himself. I am not sure if toddlers can ever be bored, there is so much for them to experience in their world.  I wonder if it is something we grow into? My child can spend hours outside in a wooden playhouse that has a door and a window. No furniture. He spends his time creating. Sometimes it’s a garage where he fixes his trucks, sometimes it a replicate of our own kitchen and he bakes cookies. Sometimes it is a hospital. 
I was really lucky to grow up in a house where my teenage writing was encouraged, so much so that my parents let me write, in permanent marker no less, on the walls of my bedroom. I wrote all kinds of things. Song lyrics I loved, poetry I had written, stunning lines from novels that moved me to happiness, and the opening lines of Little Women, my all time favourite book. They knew they could shut the door if they didn’t want to see it, and eventually, paint over it when they wanted to sell the house.
How does all this come full circle into my classroom? My experiences as a teenager and as a mother? I’m not sure yet. I’ve only read one paragraph of this week’s readings and felt prompted to write this blog. I’ve dabbled in some creativity reflection, after watching some of Ken Robinson’s TEdtalk videos. I’m not sure how to marry the structures of curriculum outcomes, and authentic creativity – yet, but I know that this year I’ll have some time to explore it with Cohort21 and for that, I am eternally grateful and optimistic.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2012). Reflections on some dangers to childhood creativity. LEARNing Landscapes, 6(1), 19-25.

Where do you find inspiration?

If you are lucky enough to be active on twitter you know there are a ton of great #hashtags and teachers that supply endless information about what is going on in their classroom, their successes, their projects and the honest ones even share their failure so that we can learn from that too. Personally, I have a lot more respect for these teachers as it is not always easy to talk about a superstar lesson that crashed and what you learned from it. I’m still not to the place where I feel confident enough to talk about these failures on a public platform with strangers. Kind strangers, but strangers none the less. I do talk about them in the hallways with my colleagues as I find that is the place I grow the most. From my failures.

One area that I have begun to explore for inspiration in the last 6 months has been Instagram. There are a lot of young, full of energy, full of heart, excited teachers who are giving teaching their heart. They build beautiful classroom cultures, create engaging lessons and have students who love them for their sense of home. I’m sure it’s a generational thing: Twitter vs Instagram.  Not all teachers on Instagram are great to follow, but a few of my favourites include Megan Forbs (teacher, mom and social activist), MissBertels_ (just an amazing human) and Five Foot One Teacher (another incredible teacher who is unbreakable in the spite of the tragedy at her school). None of these girls teacher science, but they teach kids. I prefer that. I have so much to still learn on my own journey to become the educator I want to be and these ladies are helping to lift me up, make me pause and reflect and are always encouraging the teaching community.

A shout out to Ms. Bettencourt, OCT (@L_Bettencourt) who suggested I write this down when we met in person @rns1877 during our CAIS soccer tournament