Sunday, 25 September 2016

HOPE... "Health, Opportunity, Priviledge and Education"

A positive school culture is omnipresent and affects everything. People who work in positive school cultures would have a hard time defining them- they just are.
The above statement came our way via Twitter some time ago. We've been thinking about it ever since. Does culture get thought about? What makes culture definable? Should we be able to define culture? Is there a template for a positive school culture?

If culture doesn't get thought about, it should. Perhaps this is the missing link in some schools... thinking about culture. There is lots of lip service payed toward the element of school culture, but how many actually make a deliberate effort to define their own school culture? Our intent is to visualize a paradigm that could encompass an intercultural perspective; one our very diverse school has shifted toward. Focusing and learning about the roots of indigenous teaching, we have chosen a medicine wheel model to represent our evolving point of view. There is timeless wisdom among First Nations peoples surrounding teaching and learning philosophy. To First Nations people, learning is the essence of living; it’s organic and natural, and for many, represented by the medicine wheel in one form or another. The manifestation of our school culture is evolving in a circular representation called the Hope Wheel.

Michael and Judy Bopp are co-founders of Four Worlds International, a human and community development organization with roots in indigenous peoples’ development work in North America and well known for its ability to bridge between the cultures of communities and the culture of the agencies and professionals who attempt to serve them. (Bopp J. B., 2006) They explain that,
Medicine in tribal tradition refers to any substance, process, teaching, song, story or symbol that helps to restore balance in human beings and their communities. The medicine wheel is an ancient symbol which represents an entire world view (a way of seeing and knowing) and the teachings that go with it. (Bopp J. B., 2006, p. 22)
Borrowing from the timeless wisdom of the medicine wheel provides us with all we need to establish a simple, non-linear framework of intercultural purpose and student support.

At the beginning of any student support context, there is a need to establish some understanding of our students' individual cultural perspective. The Hope Wheel is a powerful guide for us as we navigate the varied cultural perspectives of our students. We place our students in the middle of the Hope Wheel relative to their experiences in life, how they view them and the emotions created as a result. As we become aware of their social, emotional and cognitive states (what we frame as their cultural perspectives,) we are able to work with them in purpose-driven contexts as they learn to advance themselves on the wheel in different domains of learning how to know, do, be and live peacefully with each other. We form meaningful dialog around each student’s variable position on the wheel, and use the graphic model as a template for personal growth. 

In the context of creating culturally competent students the Hope Wheel provides our teachers and paraprofessionals with a valuable visual representation of their development and progress. Hope is the elemental foundation supporting the process. Surrounding this hope are four concepts, each representing a concentric path toward cultural interdependence. In the east, the first path is Respect.

Respect is the place on the Hope Wheel where young people gaze with wonderment at the world surrounding them and begin to simply realize they are part of this world; they are learning to be. They begin to feel an implicit purpose to learn. They need answers to the question, “why?” When we walk the path of discovery with students, we support finding the answers they seek; we establish value in learning… we help them define purpose. A template for interaction between themselves and others is established on the path of respect. Interacting with ideas and concepts in the domain of respect leads to the establishment of self identity, and orients kids toward the evolution from dependence to independence.

The domain of understanding is where kids learn to know. Skill acquisition, new knowledge and rationale for life-long learning are established within this domain. Students at this stage begin developing an independent nature as they take risks with learning and start to develop intrinsic motivation to discover. In the domain of understanding students sharpen their focus on the surrounding world; they look more critically at themselves and others in their quest to gain knowledge and make sense of things.

When students move to the relationships phase of the wheel, they begin to understand the value of interdependency among people; they learn to live peacefully with each other. Kids who function competently at this stage seek extrinsic sources of support in their developing relationships, and they begin to understand that interdependency is about distributing strengths among a network of collaborative people working together to learn. In the domain of relationships students become more resilient by seeking the support of significant others. They learn how to think deeper and critically about ideas, and they establish self-imposed boundaries.

Students who have traveled full-circle on the Hope Wheel enter the domain of responsibility where they learn to do. They display an implicit understanding of the imperative to serve self first so they can responsibly serve others. They understand what taking action means. They become caregivers for those traveling the hope paths behind them. In the domain of responsibility students display intrinsic knowledge and insight as a result of their experience, and they begin to feel confident enough as leaders to engage others; to support and nurture them.

The Hope Wheel is grassroots theory applied to our personal and interpersonal perspectives. It’s a model we can use to place ourselves and those around us on a continuum of human development. We enter the phase of respect when confronted by something totally new, but perhaps function confidently in the domain of responsibility in a different context as a result of our experiences and the knowledge we gained as a result. Where we fall away form the center on the Hope Wheel is a reflection of our developing cultural identity. Owing to the notion that self-awareness leads to self-confidence and the willingness to share our values and perspectives with others, the Hope Wheel is also a conduit for confident intercultural communication leading to increased cultural knowledge and responsiveness.

The cultural perspective we hold is shaped by our experiences as influenced by our birthplace, our family, our spirituality and the zeitgeist within which we were born; it’s the cultural reality lens we look through. Our cultural identity is learned beginning the moment we’re born. Obvious physical characteristics and genetic traits partially define our cultural identity in part from the second we’re conceived. After we’re born, the evolving cultural identity we form is largely influenced by our relationships and surroundings.

Steve Van Bockern, coauthor of “Reclaiming Youth at Risk- Our Hope for the Future” (Brendtro, 2002) refers to this identity as our cultural tail. He explains that we can’t cut off our cultural tail; it’s always there, behind us affecting our perspective, but also that great things are possible in everyone’s future despite this tail that follows us. (Van Bockern, 2004) Whether good, bad or indifferent, our cultural tail tells the story of where we’ve come from; who we are in terms of how our environments affect us, but it doesn’t have to predict where we’re headed.

From a cultural perspective, in many ways we begin our lives rather innocently. Like clay to the sculptor, we start as unformed material yearning to be molded and shaped into a more tangible form; our growing cultural identity. Just as soon as we see the light of the world we begin forming perceptions and feelings about our culture and how we are different from others. We are the sum total of what we think we are. Adults must be responsible about noticing the cultural perspectives of children so we can help them form positive perceptions about their personal identities. This enables them to confidently build relationships and circles of support as they share their perspective with others.

These relationships of support form the evolving foundation of our Glendale school culture. At Glendale Sciences and Technology School we're learning to understand that the cultural perspectives that each of our students wear on their sleeves is the sum total of what they think they are... what we refer to as the stories behind their stories. We are making diligent efforts to learn these stories so we can serve our students in ways that nurture the chapters yet to be written... the ones with the happy endings.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

RedCamp15- All In For Education Improvement...

Glendale Science and Technology School hosted its third edcamp yesterday. RedCamp as we like to call it, has been an annual event at Glendale for three years now, and it continues to gain momentum. Once again, an incredibly diverse group of educators, pre-service teachers, administrators and senior administrators, learning specialists, agency representatives, community members, other edcamp organizers, parents, students and others invested in better teaching and learning came together for social collaboration and connected learning.

In the morning we spoke about social collaboration and how important it is to optimize environments of innovation and growth. If we take a closer look at the social collaboration pyramid we will see that the efforts made below the surface wave closely align with the spirit  and culture of what edcamps are all about. Everyone who attended RedCamp15 yesterday made themselves visible and participated. They shared what they knew, had and thought. They found and discovered people; both those who shared their views and perspectives, and those who had alternative views and perspectives... a necessary condition for authentic cognitive dissonance. They connected and related to each other and certainly contributed their experience, knowledge and perspectives to the event and the thought streams that emerged as the day progressed. This is what happens at edcamps. This is what sets up the form, storm, norm and reform process (that occurs above the surface wave) for success. If the below the wave efforts aren't made, the above the wave efforts tend to lack substance, purpose, meaning and authenticity. As is often the case, the real work happens below the surface.

Making Ourselves Visible and Participating...
Edcamps are very much about connection. Each of us who attended RedCamp15 yesterday took time on a Saturday to attend a professional development event because we care about what we do and we want to be connected to the process of doing it better. I was speaking with a colleague later in the day about the concept of change agency. I don't think edcamps are about change; I think they're about improvement. Participants at RedCamp15 celebrated much that is good, effective and purposeful in education yesterday, but they also worked hard at discussing and sharing ideas about how it could be better. I think I'd like to call edcamp participants "improvement agents" instead of change agents because of this. Edcamps are bursting with positivism and pro-activism designed to move things to better places understanding there is always room for refinement.

Share What You Know, Have and Think...
The Learning Pyramid below is an accurate representation of what happens at edcamps... and what happened yesterday at RedCamp15. Once again, it's not about contextualizing the "lecture" as a bad thing, but rather about putting it in its place and understanding that optimized learning happens in different ways and in different contexts. At edcamps there is a heavy emphasis on demonstrating, discussing, practicing and teaching others during sessions that emerge through the suggestions of participants on the morning of the event. The lower four elements of the Learning Pyramid are the ones that edcamps emphasize making them a pretty good bet for those looking for optimized learning, and for those engaged social collaborators who attend them.

Finding and Discovering People...
We had such an incredibly diverse group of people join us yesterday. Perhaps the most interesting and hopeful cohort among them were the dozen or more pre-service teachers who joined the conversation and shared their passion for teaching and learning. One of them was a first year pre-service teacher. I mentioned early in the day how impressive it was that these fine young people took their time during exam preparation to join us, and how some of the rest of us who may be in the hiring mindset in the near future should take note. That kind of commitment is commendable and noteworthy.

We managed to round up this group of happy RedCampers before they left for
the day with their fancy new RedCamp15 tees!
At RedCamp15 I was fortunate to connect with an administrator that I attended high school with and hadn't seen since then. My wife made a similar connection after encountering two teachers who went to junior high school with her back in her home town. We shared great memories and stories about where we all come from in a positively nostalgic context. Another respected colleague of mine made a connection with an educator who used Mine Craft ubiquitously in her classroom simply by asking her prior to her session if she would be interested in collaborating in support of Reading College, an initiative he spearheads in cooperation with Red Deer College on behalf of entering third grade students in Red Deer. No matter if the connections were new, or previously constructed, I couldn't have counted the total number and different nature of people connections that were made yesterday... too many to count for sure!

Connecting and Relating at RedCamp15...
Everyone at RedCamp 15 was there because they wanted to be there... this makes connecting and relating pretty smooth:) We even had a crew of outstanding student volunteers who supported RedCamp by hosting delegates, attending sessions, setting up and taking down, preparing food and a bunch of other helpful contributions. How cool is it that a group of 7th and 8th grade kids get up at 6AM on a Saturday to go to school when they don't have to! One RedCamp'er commented via Twitter following the event...
I promised to take the kids out for lunch to the plaza down the street from the school to show appreciation for their commitment, and it struck me just before getting on the school bus "why not invite everyone?" So I did and from the look of it in this shot we were able to grab after arriving at the plaza, the adults and kids were connecting and relating just fine, and we acted responsibly by car-pooling too!

All day long if you were at RedCamp15 you would have witnessed folks talking, shaking hands, laughing and generally looking like they were enjoying each other's company... this is a good thing! At the closing address for the day I explained one of the mantras often spoken at our school...
If you're having fun and not learning, that's bad. If you're learning and not having fun, that's worse. If you're having fun and learning, that's our classroom."
Like-minded people addressing commonly held interests sharing a passion for learning and a desire to create optimized teaching and learning environments; that's what you'll encounter at an edcamp. If you're an educator, why wouldn't you want to experience this environment, and have a bunch of fun while you're doing it? I know; I can't figure out why you wouldn't either:)

The first wave of RedCampers gathers early in the morning anticipating
the purposeful social collaboration to come throughout the day...
Probably more than anything, I think the reason people are motivated to attend edcamps  is their desire to contribute to the art and science of teaching. People who are drawn to the edcamp style of professional and personal development are those that understand the value of face to face interaction with others. They understand that to contribute purposefully it makes sense to be present; in person physically, emotionally and cognitively... exposed and vulnerable as learners and teachers. At RedCamp we invite a cross section of people who understand the value added nature of being present, exposed and vulnerable. There are no egos at an edcamp, nobody gets payed and there are no sages on stages. Edcamp participants know that the answers come most genuinely from the middle; the room contains the answers when everyone in the room plays on a level field without any hidden agenda or ulterior motivation. When the playbook gets opened for all to see the most amazing dialog emerges, the box disappears and great ideas start to weave their way through the room, intertwining into neural strings connecting us in cerebral learning circles. Limbic loops are formed when smart, committed and open-minded people sit down in person to talk about topics, challenges, issues and ideas that they share a common interest in.

Edcamp participants are these people. They are the ones all in for education improvement.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

First Nations Celebration of Spring...

It has been an annual tradition to host a late winter carnival since Glendale Sciences and Technology School began serving kindergarten to grade 8 students four years ago. The last two years we have fashioned the carnival to honor and represent First Nations culture. Owing to the very mild weather and apparent early spring this year, our 'winter' carnival this past week turned into a First Nations celebration of spring instead!

 Our K-8 school is a very diverse and wonderful learning place. Our inquiry based, sciences and technology focused school represents a broad cross section of cultural influences, with indigenous culture represented by a prominent number of kids. We hosted the carnival this spring on their behalf, but not only on their behalf. We believe that the richness and relevance of First Nations teachings; their customs, values, traditions and spirituality is a value added element within our school that all kids and staff benefit from.

We intend for the First Nations influence to be ubiquitous throughout Glendale. The first thing you will see if you were to walk through our front doorway is a beautiful Pendleton Blackfoot blanket. We hung this blanket last spring in honor of the Blackfoot People who lived in the area that our school presently sits. The Red Deer River intersects traditional Blackfoot and Cree territory, so we needed to represent and honor these cultures in a respectful and authentic way. The blanket is how we chose to do that on behalf of the Blackfoot Peoples. Plans to duplicate the effort of behalf of the Cree Peoples are in progress.

A description of the Pendleton blanket hangs on the wall underneath of it in the front foyer of the school...
A brave warrior astride a swift steed thunders across the plain. Similar images were painted on buffalo hides by Plains Indians in the 1800s. Our Celebrate the Horse blanket is based on a design from the Blackfoot tribe, expert horsemen who called the animal “elk-horse” for its great size. The arrival of the horse with 16th-century Spanish Conquistadors changed forever the culture of Native Americans, encouraging migration, trading, herding and hunting. THe blanket visually depicts the story of a Blackfoot warrior who nursed his horse back to health and in gratitude the horse gave the man a magical teepee that gave him the power to heal the sick. This blanket was designed exclusively for the American Indian College Fund by Blackfoot artist Michael Gray.

We intend to honor and appreciate First Nations culture and history at Glendale everyday, and the blanket is representative of this effort. Our celebration of spring is like a pow wow or round dance. It's a celebratory event. The First Nations Celebration of spring was designed to support and make visible the ubiquitous nature of our efforts to honor First Nations culture and traditions by highlighting and honoring specific cultural elements in targeted ways for all to enjoy and learn from.

The philosophy of our school is founded on the First Nations concept of the medicine wheel. We offer four pathways of intervention at Glendale, each representing a direction of the Hope Wheel... our version of a medicine wheel. The wheel is centered by the word HOPE, which is an acronym for Health, Opportunity, Privilege and Education. If you click on the texts below in each respective direction of the Hope Wheel, you will be redirected to our student support website which details a growing list of ways we support all students at Glendale.

Our First Nations celebration of spring this year is one way we choose
 to organize and represent our efforts around this Hope Wheel. The more we know our students, and the more they know about each other and us, the easier it is for everyone to work together and have positive interactions... to understand each other better.

We shared many things during our celebration. We sampled bison meat, bannock and saskatoon berries, played Aboriginal games, learned how to shoot with bows and danced to Aboriginal drum music. We learned how to create beaded necklaces and bracelets and we shared legends with each other that taught us about First indigenous teaching and learning and point of view.

We did all of this from an 'intercultural' perspective. To us it's not good enough to simply be in the same building everyday with people from other places, or with different cultural backgrounds. We believe at our school that we need to make a bigger effort to move beyond coexistence to mutual understanding... to a place where we know things about each other, our differing values, perspectives, beliefs, dreams and goals. As we were all walking around the classrooms and school grounds during the carnival we heard the drum beats, smelled the campfires, tasted the bison and bannock and witnessed adults and kids alike enjoying the visceral, experiential learning that was taking place. It was a very genuine experience for all of us that touched all five of our senses. It was a learning experience that we can confidently say positively affected every single student involved in one way or another... and we all know each other a bit better as a result.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Glendale At the Central Alberta Science Fair...

We are excited to feature 6 science fair projects at the Central Alberta Science Fair 2015! Nine middle school students were chosen to put their projects on display at Bower Mall this year:
  • The Science of Perfume- Dawsyn and Brooke
  • Tap vs. Bottled Water- Brianna and Destiney
  • Fresh and Salt Water Fish Comparison- Emerald and Karmann
  • The Science of Fear- Kaitlyn
  • What Are the Secondary Causes of Lung Cancer? Brittney
  • Do Preferences Bias Our Choices? Kianna
 Science fairs offer the opportunity for participants to explore the scientific process or method through an engaging topic of their choice. Participants have made good use of the Science Buddies website during our projects that involved kids from grades 5-8 and even a few division one kids! Plans to expand the Glendale Science Fair experience to even more kids are already in place for next year.

We are very proud of each one of our students who have dedicated a good part of their weekend to represent Glendale in such a mature and committed way. As I walked around the displays on Friday evening I witnessed them interacting with other students, parents, judges and the general public with the utmost of maturity and composure.
In the realm of competency based learning, the list of learning elements these kids have gained experience with is a long one:

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Competency Fun and Learning...

Here's why I love working in an Alberta school right now...

And here's why my students love learning in an Alberta school right now... (complete with photo bomb:)

Recently we completed a project in the true spirit of inquiry and project based learning that we would like to highlight as an example of competency based teaching and learning in action, aka 'fun and learning' as we have come to refer to the process within our class.
If you're having fun and not learning, that's bad. If you're learning and not having fun, that's worse. If you're having fun and learning, that's our classroom!
So we were learning about a curricular outcome in seventh grade science under the following heading and supporting focus questions and curricular overview ...

Sunday, 28 September 2014

What Were We Thinking?!

I Think Therefore I Am Dangerous by JohnE777, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  JohnE777 

Our little cross curricular action research project in grade 7 at Glendale Sciences and Technology School did in fact take place late last winter and early spring, and boy, what an incredible experience it turned out to be! It's been a while since we finished in early May, and it's taken this long for us to get our heads around what we accomplished... and didn't accomplish. I've copied the details of our project below from the first post about this project, and added my italicised notes where applicable. All of that is followed by some observations at the end.

Project Name:
Increased Engagement Through Purposeful, Self-Directed Cross-Curricular Learning
Increased engagement... oh yeah, but not at first for all kids. We observed that the kids who were most difficult to engage were the automatic A's; kids who were very used to getting top marks with minimal effort. We correlate this to the phenomena of the 'study sheet.' These kids are very good at the remembering part of Bloom's Taxonomy, but beyond that were a bit more frustrated. This told us a thing or two about the sort of assessment we didn't want to focus heavily on, but certainly not discard. After all Bloom's is a taxonomy, not a hierarchy, right?

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Action Research... Fun and Learning?

Experiencing, Learning, Reflecting by mrsdkrebs, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  mrsdkrebs

Rationale Statement:
My seventh grade teaching colleagues and I returned from Christmas break with a new direction.  We are realizing more and more within the context of our inquiry based school that to authentically teach inquiry learning skills, we need our students to be engaged, committed and responsible for their own progress. This is not to say that we don't have any responsibility as their teachers. It just means that we need our students to want to know what we need them to know according to the curriculum that has been set before us. We decided to shake things up a bit.
If you're having fun and not learning, that's bad. If you're learning and not having fun, that's worse. If you're having fun and learning, that's our classroom.
This is a mantra we've been thinking a lot about. Why can't fun be learning and learning be fun? We believe it's all about perspective... the students' and ours. So that is the foundation of our new action research project with 44 kids, four teachers and a lot or positive energy. Here's how we started...