Covid Journal # 4 Walking the Walk

And now as long as space endures,
As long as there are beings to be found,
May I continue likewise to remain
To drive away the sorrows of the world.

—Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva

I think it is important to continue to write these journal entries. It will be good to have something to look back on once all of this is over.

Today I did another of the COVID walks I have been doing for the last month. It was a long one – over 8 kilometres. I have a constant companion, our dog Dory who patiently goes on these treks no matter what the weather is like.

Dory

I almost always take photos on these walks and post them on Instagram and Facebook. The photos mirror a bit my mood on these long walks – thoughtful, a little sad, taking in the stillness.

COVID Walk Today

Today I listened to a Pema Chödrön talk called Walking the Walk: Putting the teachings in practice when it matters most. I have included the first nine minutes of her talk here. The quote at the beginning of this post comes from this talk and is repeated by the participants in this retreat at the end of each session. In the passage, she talks about a young Buddhist monk who is told by his master that one day he would travel to teach people in North American. His mentor explains that there he will find people who will be much more interested in staying asleep than waking up.

This is a really good talk and I listened to it for the rest of my walk.

It does describe in some ways what I see going on right now. We are probably into the 10th week of the pandemic. The initial rush of ‘we are all in this together’ is now well over. The crisis is not nearly over, it is just morphing into a new and more challenging phase.

The violence and protests in the United States are part of this pandemic. The growing anger I see on social media is part of this too. The uncertainty about what the future holds now is a big part of what the pandemic looks like.

The uncertainty about what the school year will look like in September is palatable. While large events continue to get cancelled right up to and past next September what will schools look like? Already many universities are saying that classes will be online. There are new webinars offered almost daily by my university on how to adapt courses to an online environment.

What will elementary and secondary school look like in September? We do need to do some waking up as suggested by Pema Chödrön. The pandemic is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The initial rush is over, we are now in this for the very long haul and we need to open our eyes to this reality. I don’t think we are talking about this enough, maybe we need another few sleeps.

Many experts say that things really won’t change until there is a good treatment or a vaccine. Vaccines take years to make and many are only partly successful. The disruptions that we are experiencing now many lift, but only temporarily. Last week, one infected doctor in New Brunswick was able to expose over 150 people to the virus and effectively shut the province down again. (New Brunswick copes with return to lockdown after increase in COVID-19 cases – Globe and Mail, Monday, June 1)

It only takes one person to lock us all down again.

Wake up Wake up! We are in this for a very long time and we all need to start looking at how we are going to live in a very new world.

Schools have to look at how they are going to structure things to reopen in September. They will need a better plan than what we have seen in Quebec where schools with an outbreak close for two days, clean up and go at it again.

Wake up Wake up! We need to see our world with new eyes. Every sector of our society has to change. We need to start asking ourselves some very hard questions. From what I have seen, we are not doing this.

Cycling back to the violence in the States, this lack of awareness is limiting our deeper understanding of the swirling crisis that envelopes us. John Doyle writes about all-news coverage in the United States

When is the real life of American cities covered? Where is the punditry and analysis of the vast racial disparity in health and wealth? What this current crisis illuminates is all-news TV’s preference for extolling itself. It’s not the real basis for the protests and riots that matter, it’s the alleged bravery of its peacocking reporters on the inflamed streets.

Globe and Mail – American all-news TV is fundementally unfit to cover this crisis

Are we fit to understand and really grasp the depth of the crisis that we are in? Are any of us taking the long view on this or are we still trying to sleep through this by finding more and more distractions?

Maybe we all need to take a very long walk, listen to Pema Chödrön and start the process of waking up to this new and daunting reality. It’s not going anywhere soon.

another COVID shot

Covid Journal # 3 Adapting to a new world – it’s a slow burn

I have been thinking about the pandemic. I have the time. All the scenarios I see have waves and waves of Covid-19 dashing over us for the next year or more. Take a look, do you see a scenario where this goes away?

This makes sense. Why would the virus go away?

I am not going to write a post on the craziness of people who just need to defy common sense to get a haircut. That is too easy.

What I am interested in is how we move into a new normal? What will it look like? How do we as a collective figure this out?

A friend of mine sent me this out today. This makes lots of sense.

In Jared Diamond’s book Collapse he proposes that one of the criteria for the collapse of a civilization is the inability to adapt.

This is something. We live in an age where we as a society need to adapt to a new normal. The old way is gone, maybe for a very long time.

Adaptation for a species that can think can happen very quickly. We can’t waste time here. We need to think, we need to figure this one out. Other great societies have failed. We don’t need to follow others here.

My main concern now as we settle into the slow burn is education. One of the most social of all enterprises is threatened in an entirely new way. We need to start figuring this one out.

Over the past few days, we have learned that universities will be moving to a hybrid learning situation. I’m not sure what this will mean, but I think it will mean lots of on-line teaching and learning.

What will this mean at the primary and secondary level? I have no idea and I don’t know if anyone else does either.  The old ways are done. We need to figure this out.

Adapt or face the consequences. Adapt or become a wisper. Maybe learn to cut your own hair?

Our current tools were not devised to deal with a crisis like this. We can’t fall back on Zoom and hope everything works out. This is a time to be really creative. This is Florence in the 1400s, Great Britain in 1940. Adapt and do it quickly.

What makes the difference? What made Florence thrive?

I don’t like Zoom, but I do agree that we need to find a way to adapt. Watch this short very funny video. Zoom is already a parody.

 

If I was going to be a character in the Zoom chat with the dogs, I think I would be one of the dogs whose camera got shut off!

What I am finding is that I am valuing old forms of technology. I really value the emails I get now. I read them carefully and I consider my response. Maybe I don’t get lots of emails, but I want to think of each email as a letter, just like the letters people used to exchange.

What if we really took our time with our email notes to friends?

In a letter, you need to consider the reader. You should make sure it reads well, you should make it interesting.

To me, Zoom is like dogs at a meeting. Technology will not necessarily ease our journey into the new normal. We will have to think this through.

We still have a way to go to learn how to adapt to this new world. I am going to do lots of thinking about this because hopefully, I will have courses to teach in the fall and I know our daughter as a new law school student will be living in the online world.

Let’s keep adapting, it’s a slow burn.

Covid Journal # 2 – Asking the Right Questions

I saw this post from Stephen Hurley on April 24th. We are not there yet, but he is right to put this out. In the midst of the first truly global crisis many of us have ever seen it is right to start asking some really hard questions. Are we ready to do this?

This is a hard thing to do. Today I am reading articles in the New York Times where they are doing a great job of creating a record of some of the nightmares that are happening in the United Staes right now.

Gladys Vega, a longtime community activist, helped a man who had been banished to a freezing, unfinished dirt basement, where he was riding out the illness on a piece of cardboard. Another man had been sent to sleep on a porch, despite temperatures that still dropped below freezing at night.

“People are being treated as if they have leprosy,” said Ms. Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative.

New York Times Sunday, April 26th, 2020 – In a Crowded City, Leaders Struggle to Separate the Sick From the Well 

This is what we need to be doing right now. We need to read the stories. We can’t become too isolated. Our social infrastructure is so broken that those who live in poverty, those without what should be the necessary resources are dying terrible deaths.

While the situation here in Canada is better, at least for now, medical workers are doing incredibly heroic service in a system that was already at over 100% capacity before the crisis hit. It is a marvel that they are able to do this. We can’t ever forget this.

We are scrambling in other areas as well. As many post pictures of their latest bread creation, teachers are struggling to connect to students who, in many cases, do not have the resources to learn from home. How many educators are spending sleepless nights worrying about their students?

While we have known for years that hard to serve communities needed to have computers and internet services to effectively link to their schools we did nothing about this. We didn’t provide computers for home use, we didn’t think that was something that schools were supposed to do. We were woefully underprepared for a crisis like this.

Those with the resources can surf through a crisis like this. Those without are suffering in silence.

So how do we start asking the hard questions?

Do we really ever look at how we distribute our resources in a rich country like Canada? Are we willing to be really critical about the level of health care services that we make available to every person here in this country? Are we really willing to offer excellent support, the support that is needed in low-income communities? Do we really want to support those who do not have a voice in our communities?

It is too easy to condemn our neighbours to the south. We love to congratulate ourselves saying that things are so much better here. Is this true?

Is a vital social infrastructure really our first priority? When we see the gaps what do we do? Where do we put our resources? Why do we allow so much inequality to exist?

These are the questions I would like to put out there now. After the Second World War, the world really changed in significant ways. We started to realize the importance of new institutions like the United Nations, and the importance of seeing ourselves as global citizens. Poverty and ignorance caused the war so we had to find ways to combat these evils.

Our world changed. Will it change now? Or, will we just go back to Major League Baseball and let all this slide?

The death toll is already staggering. Just as after the war, we need to mourn the terrible loss, but we need to do so much more. Can we make the incredible effort once again to really change how we all live and how we look after our most vulnerable?

I am a cynic. I don’t know if we really learn from a crisis. I think people just want to make sure they can get their hair cut again. I don’t see the big questions being asked.

I really hope I am wrong, but can we actually make the incredible changes that need to be undertaken?

I would love to be wrong on this one.

Living in the Times of Covid – 19: A Journal

So, I reorganized my CD collection, sent a video to my mom and put a silly picture on Facebook. My very busy agenda for the day is complete. I am thinking now it is time to start an on-line journal on our days staying inside.

Just to be clear, none of this will be me complaining. I have a sister-in-law who is a nurse in Montreal, our daughter and her partner and our daughter-in-law are all front-line health care workers. They are the ones I know who are actually going through challenging times now.

Thank-you Norma, stay safe!

This is more of a reflection piece. Where was my mind at during the Pandemic?

If you can see the photo I put up on Facebook, you can get a sense of where my head is at. I really think, number one, the idea needs to be stay stable, don’t go off the deep end, this is a really weird time.

But at some point, we will all go over the deep end.

Two nights ago during a Zoom book club, I didn’t follow my own advice. I had spent an hour listening to the daily presser with Donald Trump fact-checked by Now This News. It is really good because they fact-check Trump in realtime. Good, but very disturbing.

Going from this train wreck to a discussion on books about hiking was a little too much. I erupted about Trump, about trekking books, about everything. If my Zoom partners could have backed further away from their computer they certainly would have. For good reason, my state of mind is now a discussion item and I can hardly blame people for that.

Trying to keep an even keel these days is a real challenge!

We all have minor and major disappointments. We can’t see our friends and family. Everyone is seeing opportunities and plans go up in smoke. In the very worst cases of course, many people are dying terrible deaths.

There was an incredible article in the Sunday New York Times – He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus.

It is a long article – four pages in the NY Times.It really outlines in gruesome detail how President Trump hid from what was coming. Then I read an amazing piece by Nicholas Kristof, Life and Death in the Hot Zone. Here is the video he made of his time in a COVID ward.

 

So, I think we need to do a bit of both. We need to send out the silly photos, we need to share our pictures about baking bread and we need to read good pieces on hiking too. We need to do it all. We need to face up to what is happening too.

There is no balance in the time of COVID -19. There are highs and lows and all are good. We need to witness the terrible and we can’t turn our faces away from the corrupt and stupid. Somehow, we need to find a way to see both.

For me right now, the best I can do is write. Yes, it is a bit of an apology for a wonky state of mind, but we all need to acknowledge that this is a different time. Terrible for some scary and uncertain for everyone.

If this works I will keep writing, maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, take care everyone!

ps – I leave you with this – while I don’t really like books on trekking I love trekking videos – definitely, to each their own!

Why e-learning during a pandemic can’t work

These are challenging days. Teachers are scrambling now to find ways to teach their students using some form of e-learning. While families with multiple devices and parents at home will be able to do this, in many cases e-learning can’t work. We haven’t done the human capacity building that is necessary for this to take place.

We should have been doing this, but we haven’t done the necessary capacity building.

At my last school, we worked for over a year to build capacity with our students and teachers. We had a Chromebook for every student from grades 3-6 and they were obliged to take them home every night. We trained the kids on how to use Google tools. That was the capacity building that would need to be in place right now to make an e-learning system take place.

Students need to be taught that the computers are for daily learning and the expectation needs to be there that they will use the machines – that takes time, that is a paradigm shift.

And before you say but… this was a very poor school. With the help of our school board, we made sure the computers were always available – after school, on the weekend and if there had been enough time, for the summers as well.

We are woefully underprepared for this current situation.  We have squandered an opportunity to set up good e-learning relationships.  It would take a long time to get this set up, I am not sure why we are trying to do this now.

You can only build this capacity while you are still in school. We should have been working on this years ago, but there was no real support for this. Even a flipped classroom takes in-person time to set up.

I talked to one of my students this year who tried to set up a flipped learning system in his high school classroom. He did assign work for students to do at night that could be taken up the next day. The project failed because students didn’t see the assigned work as something they had to do.

We talked about this and realized that such a system would only work with some careful in-class learning. As in our school, a good e-learning relationship can only be set up if there is a prolonged in-person training period prior to enacting the system.

We needed a year to set up our system. Unfortunately, as soon as I left the school, the new principal stopped buying the computers our students needed and the system fell apart. There was no system-wide support for this kind of a relationship so the experiment ended.

I write this post with a certain amount of frustration. It seems that we never think of the important human relationships that we need to structure first before we plunge headlong into technical solutions to learning. Yes, we have the technology, but no we have not developed the important human linkages necessary to make this work.

It is not really the technology that is slowing us down here, we just haven’t done the necessary human face-to-face work. Yes, we could easily get the Chromebooks to the kids who need them. We could set up mobile hubs in neighbourhoods that do not have internet access. But we have not done the necessary work with our students, especially at the elementary level to make all this work.

These are extraordinary times. Our students and our families are really on their own now. Maybe we will learn from this. Maybe we will construct the necessary human linkages to make real, meaningful digital learning work in the future.

I hope people are thinking about this. Technology rarely solves important human problems.

Why can’t we be more positive with each other?

In the last few weeks, I have been subjected directly or indirectly to a collection of feedback. I wasn’t really looking for it, but it always comes, smacking you in the face.

One was actually directed at Heather and another to a friend after a piece of writing that each of them put out there on different topics. Another was the ongoing feedback I get from my employers at Discovery Education and the last and most devastating was from my students from my first semester history class – an experience I had thought went pretty well.

What is the value of feedback? We promote assessment for learning as a way to gain useful feedback on what we are teaching. The exit card is a great way to get a sense of what just went well and how we can make slight improvements on what we are doing next. This feedback works best when it is constructive and impersonal.

What really works is positive and just in time feedback. I get this with the people I write and edit with at Discovery Education and consequently, I work harder to deliver a product that is up to their standards. I always like working with them because I know that they appreciate the long hours I put into their work. This is a good, creative partnership.

In the past two weeks I have seen comments directed first at my wife, then at a friend publically correcting them for something they wrote in their blogs. It really doesn’t matter if the suggestions were relevant – correcting someone in public is not an effective form of feedback. It produces nothing but shame, then anger. It does not produce positive change. Feedback like this shows a lack of social grace and really needs to be avoided. Having said that it happens a great deal in education – why is that? How is this possibly a good thing?

Today I read the feedback I received from the history course I taught at the Faculty of Education last semester. While much of it was positive, I was taken aback by some of the comments:

So unfortunate to have an instructor with a traditional lens on history. I
wish we had a more progressive academic for this course, rather than a retired principal who clearly has some catching up to do in this subject.

And other one. Yes, there were lots of presentations, we couched this as a way for us to learn from each other rather than follow along with the sage from the stage approach.

there were too many presentation assignments, with unclear instructions for what was expected for the assignments and how we were being assessed. Feedback on assignments was very unclear and didn’t offer what we did wrong that took off marks and what we could have done to get the next higher grade. When emails were sent for clarification on assignments, email response from the prof was fast, however, responses left us with more questions, rather than answering all of our questions.

I obviously have to find other ways to do feedback, however, we spent three hours together each week and none of these concerns were ever sent to me. We have email, we have a bulletin board, there are all sorts of ways to connect. Generally, however, communication was a one-way street.

Maybe we are a hypercritical society. Maybe my skin still isn’t tough enough. Maybe I should stick to gardening.

I can take some ideas from the criticism, but so much was toned in a negative way that it is hard to discern whether many had any interest in making things better. Some wrote later that comments were just a reflection of the natural negative atmosphere they found around them – what does that even mean? Is there no personal responsibility for making destructive comments?

Uncalled for public criticism and negative unconstructive critiques need to be called out. In all the cases I am writing about here, these comments were made by people who are currently in education or soon hope to be. This is a concern for me.

Why is it in education that we can be so critical of our colleagues? How can we expect our students to receive good constructive comments that they can learn from when we are so quick to judge others without any consideration of the impact on the receiver?

I felt strongly enough to write my class back. I am not including everything here, but I hope some of the more critical students will learn something before they inflict their negative energy on students:

To those who articulated comments designed to be negative and hurtful, I would ask you to consider how you communicate with fellow educators. Negative and hurtful comments are seldom helpful and do no lead to new learning. You may be in similar situations in the near future and I wish for you that you will not have similar experiences.

I wish you all success for next year. Try to be kind and considerate, it will take you a lot farther in your careers.

There are enough people out there who are going to go after public educators. We are seeing lots of this now. Please, if you are reading this and you are someone who thinks there is value in always ‘stating your mind’, maybe you could curb your natural instinct to pass on your valuable knowledge.

In many cases, your silence would be very much appreciated.

Sometimes you have to move on – working with vertigo

Today I was working with my trainer trying to get this old body ready to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro again.

We are really working on my leg flexibility right now, one of the things I need to get good at if I want to climb a huge mountain mass like Kilimanjaro. It is a very slow process.

Doing lunges and trying to stay upright

We thought that it would be interesting to do some writing about living with vertigo, especially training with vertigo because sometimes you just have to move on.

In late November, I came down with a vicious attack of vertigo. Everything started spinning and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. When things didn’t get better by the next morning we went to the hospital to check things out.

I got some pretty immediate treatment seeing how I was displaying the same symptoms as a stroke. Fortunately, after a day’s worth of tests and lots of doctors, it was determined that I had something called vestibular neuritis or an inner ear infection. Not all that interesting, but something that is pretty common. It can also have a dramatic impact on your life.

Now six weeks later, I still have most of the symptoms of this condition. I am dizzy most of the time, my balance is off, sometimes considerably but I don’t have any problems with my hearing or vision, here I am fortunate. I have daily exercises that I do. One has to do with rotating my head while throwing and catching a ball – our dog really likes this one.

I am fortunate because right now my work schedule is pretty light. In December I didn’t do anything but catch up on old movies. I actually did a Facebook survey to get some ideas for things to watch – I got a pretty good list!

Others have it so much worse. My wife Heather had Meniere’s Disease, also an ailment of the inner ear but so much worse. She dealt with this condition for at least eight years all the while teaching full classes of grade 7’s. The condition would sometimes lead to terrible attacks of nausea that would leave her world spinning for hours.

One of the reasons I am doing OK, is that I have the benefits of Heather’s experience. I am learning all sorts of tricks about how to navigate through my day and how to monitor my energy level.

It is one of the amazing things about teachers like Heather is their ability to cope with chronic conditions and still teach a group of students. Pretty amazing, really brave.

It is interesting to note how people react to invisible conditions. Many people have told me about their experiences with inner ear ailments. People talk about going for months without being able to keep their balance, a constant buzzing or fogginess in their heads. They also talk about recover which is really good to hear.

There is another group of people who unfortunately don’t get it. One person, once I explained what was going on said he thought I just had a cold. Some people, good friends have paid no attention to what is going on here. In one case, a former good friend was insulted when we cancelled a dinner because Heather was experiencing an inner ear attack. But let’s not focus on these folks.

There is a lot going on out there. We really don’t know what people are coping with and what people do every day to put up with a whole variety of conditions.

I think the only thing I would ask of people, especially friends is to take a few seconds to actually acknowledge when someone has been hit by a pretty debilitating condition. I am not asking for sympathy, just a few seconds of directed attention in the space of a busy day.

That’s not going to happen and writing about this doesn’t matter at least not to others, to me the writing matters.

What I love about my trainer is that he always takes me where I am. He is someone who has gone through battles I cannot even imagine and he thrives. He knows how hard it is for me to do a certain type of squat because today, for instance, my balance is not very good. But I do it and he is overjoyed. I am all over the place and my head is full of cotton, but I am doing my best stretches ever.

After the session I feel better, my head clears a bit. I am thankful for those who take the time to notice, my family, my trainer and a few of our friends.

This is a good reminder to try to be there for others. Try not to stay on your busy track and miss the moment to notice what is going on with another person. Take the time to get outside of your bubble, don’t move on too quickly.

Are we willing to lose a bit of control?

A few days ago Dean Shareski came out with an interesting post that got me thinking (it’s time I got back into writing something). Dean has a great sense of humour so I think the post is a little tongue in cheek – I Don’t Think I’m an EdTech Guy Anymore.

In the article, he wonders whether what he once saw as edtech is really technical anymore.

Using digital media to create and consume, expanding classrooms to connect with experts and other learners, connecting assessment to technology, effectively using mobile devices as well as exploring the growing interest in digital citizenship were all topics and areas I spent time teaching and supporting. Today those topics, while still of interest do not have the same “newness” that we associate when with think of technology.

I can agree with this. The things that he writes about as now being technology leave me a little cold. His list includes:

  • Augmented and Virtual Reality
  • 3D Printing
  • Coding (arguably coding has been around for a long time but has become a newly sought after skill/experience)
  • ESports
  • BlockChain (data security)

I remember bringing some of this technology into schools and being pretty excited about the possibilities of makerspaces and tools to start understanding how coding works. Now, while I am still (more than ever) interested and engaged in teaching and writing about education, I don’t seem to get as excited about some of this technology.

I have to ask here, what is seen as educational technology these days? In another part of the article, Dean references an ISTE article on the 9 hottest topics in Edtech. The list includes professional learning vs. professional development and student-centered learning as two of the nine.

My question is – are these really edtech trends? Am I off base or is the trend towards more individualized learning (two of the edtech trends) simply a matter of more intelligent pedagogy or must it be linked up to technology?

Earlier this week I observed a student teacher going through a lesson with some grade 9 students. The lesson did have technology – there were Youtube videos and digital media involved in the presentation. What was missing was any level of engagement with the students. The information was conveyed using a very traditional lecture style, the students were the passive receptors of the information.

We know enough about education now that this mode for delivering information is outdated. It is unnecessary and it accomplishes little. Technology doesn’t accomplish all that much if all the strings are held on to by the teacher. The same goes for professional learning. When we bring in the sage from the school board to enrich the lives of our teachers, no matter what technology they are bringing in they are missing the point.

Maybe what we need to be focusing in on is not so much the tech we have at our fingertips but the democratization of education – maybe what we need to do is lose some of the control over information and allow our teachers and students explore more and use their own tools to find out what matters.

Writing is a funny thing. I really meant to write about the importance of digital media in education and how it really is (in my opinion) revolutionizing teaching, but I guess that will have to wait.

there is a lot to write about when it comes to the use of digital media and the teaching of history – just getting started!

Whatever the edtech – AR, VR, 3D printing, coding etc, it really doesn’t matter if we do not understand the basic fact that we need to lose control. We need to let our teachers know that the sage on the stage is not a valuable way to get students excited about learning. We have to stop talking at our teachers in dreary PD sessions and we really need to model an approach that allows for inquiry and discovery in the classroom.

What I am seeing is that there is little excuse for not doing this. We now are able to bring almost anything into the classroom. I was astounded last fall when I was giving a course on teaching methods in history how much amazing primary material is now out there for students to examine. And you don’t need a classroom full of computers to actively engage your students.

We know better now. Students need to get their hands dirty and get involved in their own learning.

Why should we hold onto all the keys to the knowledge chest? Why not open it up and let our students and teachers discover what is out there? They are bound to find out more than we could imagine.

More on the treasure of digital media later. The world is unfolding in your classroom – if you are willing to lose a bit of control!

Naming and Shaming

It is tiresome to write about people who misrepresent the truth.

It is tiresome, but it is worse if we don’t write anything. It is so easy to become desensitized to misrepresentation and outright lying by our public officials. We see it all the time now and we are used to it.

Right now I am a bit housebound. I have an inner ear condition that produces dizziness and instability. The one thing I can do is watch the on-going impeachment saga in the United States. That and read Twitter.

This is really something terrible to watch. House Republican leaders are actually saying what Donald Trump does in his attempts to bribe the leader of Ukraine is OK because, well, he didn’t go through with it. He got caught, so no bribe happened.

I find this incredible. These are publically elected officials who are blatantly ignoring the facts to push their own party line. While this might work in a grade 9 classroom debate, we should be better than that when it comes to public office.

This type of misrepresentation of the facts has seeped into Ontario politics. Steven Lecce, the Minister of Education in the Province of Ontario, duly elected by his constituents is doing exactly the same thing. He is appealing for public support because he knows a significant portion of the public will believe him or will at least not allow facts get in the way of a good story.

Last week he put out the tweet above ‘naming and shaming’ the OSSTF for standing up to his misinformation campaign.

It is his government that wants to stack Ontario classes with more students at the high school level. It is his government who wants to save education dollars by requiring Ontario students to take on-line courses following the shining example of that leader in education – Alabama.

Interesting, the original plan was for four online courses. Steven Lecce is showing his flexibility by reducing the number to two – twice as many as Alabama and other states. Beyond this, he only wants to increase class size now to 25:1.

Let’s be very clear about what is going on here. Both initiatives have absolutely nothing to do with improving the quality of education in the province. They have everything to do with siphoning money out of the system. That is the fact and it is something Stephen Lecce will never talk about.

This morning there was a good conversation on Twitter about raising the level of discourse on education issues here in Ontario. It’s a good point.

But, I have to say, how are we to discuss matters of education reform when our system is dominated by politicians who struggle with the truth? Yes, public bargaining is not a refined tool for developing education policy, but when we are dealing with people who are insincere and dishonest, we have to realize that a strong, coherent defence is essential. When someone is trying to shame you you need to stand up to the bully.

I remember being at an education conference soon after the Harris Government was replaced by the Liberals. It was a great conference, new ideas and positive, innovative initiatives were being discussed. I asked a consultant what it was like to have these discussions during the conservative years. She replied that everyone just kept their heads down.

What a way to bring about change!

When your minister knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. When he tries to use old-style bully techniques, when he apes the tactics of Republicans south of the border we have to realize that we are playing by a different set of rules.

Facts matter, education matters. If we don’t want to keep our heads down we must call out those who want to hurt our system. We shouldn’t have to do this, but here we are. There is no shame in this.

History in the Making – Creating Digital History Techbooks

So, I have to say I have had lots of fun this fall.

Out of nowhere, I was offered a chance to teach a history teaching methods course at the University of Ottawa. For ten weeks I got to talk about one of the things I really love – the study of history. It has been many many years since I actually taught history and fortunately, the methodology for the teaching of history has changed dramatically since I taught the subject.

The last assignment we worked on was called History in the Making. I had this idea that it would be really cool for students to develop a digital textbook along the lines of what Discovery Education has created for math, science and social studies.

I have done lots of work on Discovery Education’s Science Techbook and I know it is an amazing learning tool. While there is a social studies techbook, it doesn’t have the features of the science version and there is no Canadian version.

The digital techbooks are incredibly versatile learning tools, but I don’t really know any good examples outside of the Discovery Education material. So, why not create our own?

We just did a gallery walk of the completed Canadian History techbooks and I have to say they were amazing. We ran out of time in the ten weeks to present the techbooks individually, so one of the students had the brilliant idea of doing them all in one day in the form of a gallery walk.

the basic idea

I really believe that this is the future of educational publishing (in my humble opinion!). As more and better technology becomes standard in the classroom, we will begin to see the value in having excellent, properly curated digital resources to support students and teachers.

The key word here is curated resources. It is simply not good enough to expect educators to Google topics for the classroom without making sure the chosen sources are reliable and accurate. Teachers don’t have the time to do this themselves, but relying on a standard textbook is (again), in my opinion too limiting. Even in a field like history, perspectives and viewpoints change on a regular basis. What was significant a few years ago may not be relevant today.

Screenshot of one of the digital techbook assignments – Canada and the Cold War

I think that new teachers will be faced with a different reality from teachers in the past. As we move away from reliance on textbooks, teachers will have to become their own publishers. They will need to put together their own collections of documentary evidence, essential questions and credible sources to engage and inform their students. With so much material out there this will become a formidable challenge.

The selection of topics chosen by the class is a response to this challenge. There is an amazing and incredibly relevant techbook on the Oka Crisis. There is another one – Women and the War Effort that ties Historical Thinking Concepts – a relatively new idea – to curriculum focusing on the contribution of women to the war. There is so much more!

All of the techbooks have links to curriculum and many have additional resources for teachers. This is important. If we are going to create excellent curated resources for teachers, we need to make sure they are linked to relevant curriculum. If we don’t, no one will see them as credible. We also have to make sure the resources include ideas for interactive activities and opportunities for students to create their own content.

Cover page – Women and the War digital techbook

So, all to say, our last class was an exciting one. Students presented to other students what they had created and then the techbooks were shared with me. I have spent the last few days reading through them and I really think that this is important work that needs to be shared out and developed.

students presenting during our gallery walk

I have created a Google Doc here that contains a summary of all the history techbooks that have been shared with me. The class has editing privileges so that they can go in and add to my summary. The reality is they probably won’t be doing much of this in the next few weeks as they are all back in the classroom until Christmas.

However – they have done some great creative work that needs to be shared. This work deserves an audience and I hope people, especially history teachers will take a look and give us all some helpful advice on where to go with this project.

Thanks to all the students in PED 3183. It was great learning with all of you. Here is me hoping that many will benefit from all of your creations! I leave you with one last activity from the Oka Crisis techbook.

Take a moment to consider the image (above) and consider the following:

  • What do you notice about this image?
  • What questions do you have about this image?

Jot down your answers individually, then pair up with a classmate to share your ideas.

Activity: Engaging with Primary Sources Padlet

Click anywhere on the image (Padlet link) below to type your thoughts and ideas regarding the iconic image above. Your response will appear pending approval.

Made with Padlet