Friday, 28 October 2016

Teaching Critical Thinking Through Sewing

Let's Sew! We are pleased to announce the arrival of 4 new sewing machines at the Enrichment & Innovation Centre! These machines have assisted us in expanding our Maker space to include designing and making with textiles.They were first used with our grade 7 students and due to the tremendous amount of fun and learning that happened simultaneously, we are using the machines with our grade 6 students too!

On first glance, it may appear that we are teaching students how to sew. Although not incorrect, there is a whole other level to the learning as well. It is our goal this year to address critical thinking while making!

Our grade 7 students were asked to consider the concept of re-purposing throughout their day at the Centre. Students were asked to bring old shirts and other articles of clothing to use as the fabric. T-shirts were turned into drawstring bags, pant legs turned into neck pillows and old pockets re-purposed into ipod cases. While the skills of hand sewing and machine sewing were addressed during the day, students were given an opportunity to ponder how the skills involved in making could help address the United Nations Global Goals. Students pondered what else they could re-purpose instead of sending to landfills.

The classroom was busy! Students were measuring, cutting, designing (sounding like Math to me!) while critically thinking about environmental and social issues! It was fabulous! The conversations and thinking that occurred transpired in such an active way! At the end of the day were we all expert sewers? - NO WAY! However, the pride that occurs from having a completed project was tremendous. Students felt empowered. Instead of just talking about how we could solve World Issues and creating a lofty list of things that we may never do - we did! We made! We created! We re-purposed!

This lesson addressed re-purposing, but that is not the only critical thinking that can be addressed through sewing. Our grade 6 lesson was much different, yet visually if I took a picture of the class during the two grades they would look exactly the same. Students were moving around the room doing!

During our grade 6 sessions we used sewing to address media issues. We focused on how logos and branding impact individuality. Students were asked to design a logo that they could cut out of fabric that represented them. They were asked to think about what others would infer from that image. These logos were then hand sewn onto a piece of fabric that became one side of a pillow that was later sewn in a sewing machine.The conversations that occurred during this lesson differed from the re-purposing conversations that occurred during our grade 7 classes! Here are some of the questions that were pondered while making:
Are logos truthful?
Why would corporations and institutions choose to use logos that have no words?
Do logos control the message or expand a message’s possibilities?
Who decides the meaning of a logo?
What informs the meaning of a logo?
Does everything need to be represented with a logo?
How might logos work for or against the UN Goals for Sustainable Development?

Wow! These questions require such deep thinking. Yet, instead of just just talking we made while we talked. Again, our students left with a finished product and a sense of pride that comes from making. It is no wonder that I had a nightmare that I came to work and had no sewing machine in my classroom!

We are only just starting to explore the potential of the machines in our classroom. We have just touched the surface of learning by addressing re-purposing and logos in media. The rich Math that would come from making or following a pattern has yet to be fully explored. Not to mention further exploration of Social Studies issues such as Child Labour (the textile industry plays a large role in this!) or exploring the textiles of other cultures.

If I haven’t yet convinced you of the power of a sewing machine, and even if I have, check out the video below of an amazing young boy who sews teddy bears for children who are sick and at the hospital. Warning - have your kleenex ready, it’s a tearjerker!

Monday, 30 May 2016

Becoming A Maker with the Makey Makey

My son Ryan screamed with excitement the minute I pulled the Makey Makey out of my school bag. Apparently he had watched an advertisement for it on VAT 19 (some YouTube show, one of many that I do not follow!). He quickly pulled it up for me to see and told me that he wanted me to do what they were doing in the video. Little does he realize that the cool tricks that he sees in videos require time and patience to learn and perfect.

We started by checking out the Makey Makey website: I wanted to read as much as I could before I dove in and Ryan wanted to replicate what was happening in the videos. You could clearly see our different learning styles emerging, he a child of the YouTube generation, and me, clearly a child of the 80’s, looking for written text to tell me what to do.

Our problems started almost immediately. This was not a result of the Makey Makey. It’s obvious that it is going to be a great addition to the Enrichment & Innovation Centre where I work. The problem is that it requires the user to trouble -shoot, problem-solve, think outside the box, be innovative, the list is endless!

So why might I say we had problems? Well, trouble -shooting, problem solving and being innovative require skills such as patience, perseverance, determination, and the ability to accept failure and dive back in again! It is these skills that my eight year old son still needs to further develop. The unfortunate side of the videos that he watches is that it is the end product that is shown and marketed. The process of getting there is not always shown and if it is shown it is after the creator of the video has ironed out many of the kinks.

Ryan wanted the glory without the work. Despite my efforts to make him his own game pad on which he could play Flappy Birds, I lost his interest as soon as I had to fiddle with getting proper conductors of electricity. Off he went to watch YouTube or play Minecraft (a game I love, but he is very familiar and comfortable with).

I started out the day thinking that I was going to learn about the Makey Makey (I’ll write more on this later) and instead found myself reflecting on why we need to bring back the maker culture of our grandparents era. It is through making that we develop a variety of skills that transfer into all areas of our lives. If you were to ask me the curriculum that the Makey Makey covers I could make many links to the Grade 6 Electricity unit, but that’s not it’s major selling feature. It’s endless possibilities provide kids and adults with a hands on way to develop perseverance, determination, grit, and problem solving skills. If you are willing to develop these skills then you will love the Makey Makey.

For now, Ryan returns to the world of Agario and Slitherio, two games I can’t quite understand (however, in my youth I loved Burger Time!). I can’t harp too long on his lack of persistence when it came to the Makey Makey, in other areas of his life he does show those skills. I could BLOG so much about Ryan’s determination to be the best baseball player he can be! That sounds like a post for another day - How can we transfer skills we are able to use in one situation  to another? (perseverance to master a skill in baseball to persevering to make a working circuit for Makey Makey).

Monday, 25 April 2016

Learning to understand and love Market shopping!

My colleague Zoe has excitedly shared with me all year information about the Hamilton Farmers Market where she shops for her family’s weekly groceries. Before our first trip to the Market with our class I thought I would visit the Market with my family so that I had a sense of what was there and where I would be taking the kids to visit.

Being a Mountain person, I am totally spoiled when it comes to parking.This first part of the trip started to create angst in me.We had three primary aged children with us that we had to navigate through downtown to the Market. I would love to say that they are these perfectly well behaved children that would walk in a single file line, but they are not. Have you ever heard the saying, “God made us cousins because our parents couldn’t handle us as siblings.” saying? Well, it applies perfectly to our little crew!

We arrived at the Market and were shocked at the size. Every direction we turned had different vendors for different products. I honestly didn’t know how to shop at a market. I am so used to navigating a grocery store and using a check out system using debit, that it was very unusual for me to see multiple vendors selling the same item and using only cash for purchases. The open style of the Market and the hustle of the people became overwhelming. I left that day very uncertain of what to expect when we took our students.

The day of our first trip came and I hesitantly embarked on our outing. Much to my surprise, the experience was totally different than when I went on Saturday. What was the difference? The difference was that I now had a tour guide. Someone with knowledge of the Market who could navigate me through everything! Someone who knew various vendors and allowed me to see the incredible personal side of the Market.

I have now taken three different classes to the Market and each time I go I enjoy it more than the previous time. Instead of feeling the anxiety that I felt on the first day, I feel comfortable talking to the vendors that I have seen on previous trips. Instead of feeling overwhelmed at where to shop and eat, I look forward to seeing what menu items some favourite places have to sample (Lina's European Pastries, Sensational Samosas or Eat Industries).

I can now see why people who shop at the Market prefer it to a grocery store. Those who run their stalls are invested in their shop in a much different way than an employee. They really appreciate their customers and therefore treat them with respect and do not take them for granted. I was impressed on many occasions as I watched vendors interact with the small children who were visiting the Market with their families.

Will I return to the Market in the future? Absolutely! Once I understood how a Market worked and left behind me my grocery store expectations, I really enjoyed the Market! As you get to know the various vendors, you start to gain a greater trust in the products that you are buying. It is nice to know where your food is coming from and who prepared it.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Our Learning Environment - it's not just about the physical, there's a social and emotional piece to it too!

In my last post I referenced and talked about the significance behind each of the areas in our Centre: the KItchen, the Living Room, the Makerspace, the Computer Lab and the Art Spot. I used the term, physical environment. As I left the Centre today after an Open Classroom Session (we open our Centre on Wednesday Nights from 3 pm - 5pm to all parents and students of the HWDSB to learn together), I couldn’t help but start to think that when defining and creating a learning environment it is about more than just redesigning the physical layout of the room and filling it with a large variety of materials.

Although, I do know that this is a key and necessary part of the process for creating our effective learning environment. There is something else that makes it tick too.  I stood in awe with my colleague, Zoe Branigan-PIpe, and stated, “You need to video this!”

 As we completed a 360 degree rotation of the Centre the following activities were occurring around the room:

In the Living Room we have the grandfather of a grade 7 student strumming his guitar and singing while surrounded by junior aged students working on homework. His sound permeates through the air and I can’t help but feel a spring to my step as I distribute flyers for an upcoming pottery workshop that another parent has organized for an upcoming Open Classroom.

In our Kitchen a mom has brought in her love for feeding her family healthy and wholesome foods by bringing in the materials to make energy balls. Parents and students gather around to sample and make these delicious treats filled with the goodness of such ingredients as chia seeds and hemp hearts! BRAIN POWER! Two other moms co-ordinate on how they can share their skills of cake decorating with everyone in the future.

In the Science area we have a young boy who has come for the first time. He loves coding and understands a variety of coding languages. His love of knowledge has had him taking apart and building computers since a young age. It is in this area of the room that he finds kindred spirits in a dynamic father/son duo. The trio quickly set to work looking and working with Arduino kits. I have to admit that I find myself a little overwhelmed in this area, but for this team of learners, they are in their comfort zone.

It is in our Art Spot that I find my inner peace. Tonight we wanted to highlight the fact that the United Nations is Celebrating the Year of the Pulses. Pulses are plant based proteins that provide many nutrients to our bodies at a reduced cost, they are versatile, have a long shelf life and offer elements of sustainability that other forms of protein may not. What better way to familiarize ourselves with pulses than through pulse art! We are going to use the artwork as provocations for getting students to ask and think about pulses. Art is a wonderful avenue for not only creating, but allowing students to socialize in a risk free way. Sitting around our table tonight were two girls at different ages (Gr. 7 and Gr. 11) that share many things in common. Their commonalities have caused them both to struggle at times in their lives. We have been hoping for a while that they would connect at the Centre and provide for each other a much needed sounding board of support. I stood back grinning from ear to ear as I watched the relationship unfold. We all need someone who sees us for who we are and truly gets us.

In our Makerspace the sewing machine is once again up and running. The guitar player’s wife shares her love of sewing with those who want to learn. Tonight she reconnects with a young girl that she has been patiently working with for the last 3 weeks. Together they have made a beautiful storage basket and tonight they are starting pajama bottoms!

Tucked into another corner of the room the grandson takes the time to teach and play with a younger boy Magic the Gathering. This same boy spent time on another day patiently showing my own five year old how to build series and parallel circuits using Snap Circuits.

In our Computer Lab a group of Minecrafters collaborate to explore an adventure world on Minecraft EDU. Their energy and excitement can be felt throughout the room.

As we completed our 360 degree survey of the room Zoe turned to me and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if all learning opportunities looked like this? This gets me emotional.”

I was thinking the exact same thing! It was so moving and powerful to witness so much reach rich and authentic learning. I know that the physical environment plays a huge roll, but what I also want to know is what drives our families to bring and share their talents with everyone?

When I ponder what makes people willing to share I am drawn to the conversations we had with our grade seven students this past week. Over 4 different classes of students, I repeatedly had students say that one of the reasons that they enjoy coming to the Centre is that they feel comfortable enough to make mistakes. Physical environment alone isn’t enough to create comfort, but it is a part of the equation.

I believe the physical environment supports the creation of a community and it is when we feel a part of something, both socially and emotionally, that we are more willing to share our passions. I have continued to explore learning environments and am drawn to Constructivist Theory. According to this theory we view learning as being constructed rather than a transmission of information. Built into this theory is the use of manipulative materials and that learning is most effective when the learner walks away with a product.

According to the Harvard Agency by Design they see, “ a new kind of hands-on pedagogy emerging, one that "encourages community and collaboration (a do-it-together mentality), distributed teaching, boundary crossing, and a responsive and flexible pedagogy."

When I look around the Enrichment & Innovation Centre this is exactly what I see!

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Physical Environment and it's impact on learning

In September of last year I started a new position within the HWDSB at the Enrichment & Innovation Centre. I knew the job would be different as soon as I had stepped through the door. Why? Because of the obviously different arrangement of the physical learning space.

The Centre looks like no other classroom that I have ever worked in.
Throughout my career as an educator I have grappled with the question regarding what has a greater impact on learning - the personality of the educator or the pedagogy used by the educator? Am I an effective teacher because of who I am or what I do? I have always thought that the answer was that both matter. My new position at the Enrichment & Innovation Centre has created a third variable to the question of what element of education impacts a learner the greatest. It calls into question the physical environment in which students learn.

My work environment is very unique. ( link to video showing the Enrichment & Innovation Centre ) . It is the result of the innovative researching and thinking of Z. Pipe, B. Carey (former teacher of gifted) and B. Nywening.

We are a maker space. In addition to running planned Inquiry lessons, we also provide time for students to engage in learning of their own choice. I wanted to begin my research into how this space came to be by looking at the philosophy behind “Reggio Emelia”. I have heard the phrase thrown around before, but have not completed any personal reading on the philosophy.

My research into this affirmed that my colleagues are on the right track when they  begun to put an emphasis on not only the pedagogy that we use when teaching, the relationships we form with our students, but also addressing the physical environment in which we teach. I read a couple of times that the environment can be referred to as the third teacher. A key sentence phrase I read was that our environment defines how we see children as learners. This resonated with me. In classrooms where educators see themselves as the holder of knowledge that is to be distributed when they see fit, we are far more likely to see rows of desk and the focal point of the room would be a front board where the educator would stand. In rooms where educators see themselves as a facilitator of learning and where they view children as capable of making choices related to their own learning, than we are for more likely to see a room with a circular flow to it. My research indicated that rooms would have purposeful centres that students could gravitate to. In our Centre we have a variety of Centres and locations, all with a specific purpose in mind.

The Kitchen is the place we gather to eat our lunch, discuss nutrition and join together as a community in the sharing of healthy foods such as smoothies and soups. It is a place where plants grow, tea is brewed and we discuss personal issues such as mental illness. Our kitchen reminds us all that our whole self must be nurtured and cared for in order to grow and learn.

The Living Room is the place where we curl up with a good book, strum on a guitar, listen to music or knit or crochet a homemade item. The living room allows us to relax from a busy day and engage in conversation with friends new and old. In our Living Room we let our imaginations soar by diving into a great book or writing an adventure story. It is in our living room that we can let down our guard and ponder the events and issues occurring in the world (also known as Critical Literacy).We can express our thoughts and opinions through our writing and acquire new knowledge through our reading.

The Maker Space ( although the whole place is a maker space!) is the place where we get to not only make, but take apart inventions and creations both new and old. It is in this space that we are designers, planners, engineers and developers. We can be electricians, seamstresses, architects and computer technicians. It is in this space we must be patient and be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. We must be willing to dive into the unknown and be willing to problem solve along the way! It is in our makerspace where we realize that we are problem solvers and can make things for ourselves.

The Art Spot is the place where we get to enhance the world through the creation of beautiful pieces of art. We get to enjoy the thrill of designing something from scratch using a variety of mediums. We can get dirty. We can be meticulous. We can imagine. The confidence that can be gained through Art is tremendous. Each medium is a craft to be mastered. It is in our art spot where we can find a tranquility to our busy lives and just enjoy the beauty surrounding us.

The Computer Lab is the place where we join together with others to collaborate online. It is the place where information is at our fingertips. The computer breaks down the walls of our classroom and transports us anywhere that we want to go! It allows us to learn without anxiety and assist us in skills we may have difficulty with like writing. It is the computer that allows us to value our thoughts and opinions and share them with others. It is in our computer lab that we excel as researchers, journalists, writers, readers, and learners.

I have spent the last few weeks reading about learning environments and am happy to report that research supports what I am seeing live - the environment in which we learn can impact our learning. I may not be able to quote all the research behind it, but having seen over 400 students successfully learn in this non-traditional environment, I feel very confident in saying that it works! My next point of interest is WHY? - Please feel free to refer me to any art articles or current research on the topic of learning environment. For now - I am going to start asking the students! I can’t wait to hear what they have to say!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Reactions to Adversity

In a recent lesson with grade 6 students we discussed the concept of ADVERSITY and how we react to it. We challenged the students to ponder whether or not good could come from it.

Life throws adversity at us all the time and there are so many ways to handle it. In researching adversity online for our upcoming lesson, I found a neat story that related adversity to boiling water. In this short tale it talked about how an egg, a potato and tea leaves all react differently to the same adversity, boiling water. An egg turns hard, a potato turns soft, but tea leaves create a delicious and new flavour!

I can honestly say that at times in my life I have reacted like an egg and become hard and protective of myself and those around me, additionally, I have also been the potato that just turned mushier and mushier (this is my most common reaction) as I faced adversity, but I have also been fortunate enough to have the mindset that has allowed me to take situations of adversity and turn them into tea leaves.

In 2002 my husband Gary dove into shallow water and broke his neck. At the time he was actually my fiance. The accident occurred 6 days before our wedding. Initially, I think that we were both in so much shock that there was no real reaction, but over time as the situation started to sink in I reacted as a potato and got mushy. As we plugged along and began to get our life back on track I would say that we had none of the above mentioned reactions. It definitely can take time to brew a good cup of tea! Over the years various barriers, particularly fertility caused me to mush, but Gary has remained strong. He’s not really a potato or an egg, but I wouldn’t say that we reached the tea stage until 2008. Things started to change slowly for us, but the birth of our eldest son, Ryan, really changed our outlook on life.

The addition of Ryan to our family gave us a completely different outlook on our situation. Prior to Ryan, Gary and I would spend time reminiscing about “walking Gary”. Probably not the healthiest of activities, but something that somehow provided comfort. When Ryan was born it suddenly struck me that the “walking Gary” that we spoke of or thought of played absolutely no role in Ryan’s life. Ryan never met his Dad walking. His dad was Gary in a wheelchair. He would be the only way he knows his dad and there would be nothing wrong with that. Ryan’s birth really caused us to remember to think of Gary as Gary and not to distinguish between “walking Gary” and “wheelchair Gary”. I believe that this is when we reached the “tea” phase of reacting to the adversity that we encountered 5 years prior. It wasn’t immediate, but it was a result of continuing to live and enjoy life.

I am grateful that the adversity of Gary’s accident has turned to tea for us, but I do believe that there was value to my mush stage. I needed to grieve the loss of the life we thought we would have. It took time, but eventually we got to a place where we were living our new life and not dwelling in the past. So back to the question we asked our students, “Can good come from adversity?”. I think the answer is yes. Do I believe it happens immediately - absolutely not. The next question I then ask is what is it that allows a person to find the “tea phase”? For Gary and I, I know that our attitudes and mindsets played a big role, coupled with the support we had surrounding us from family and friends.

Adversity is inevitable, but I think the reason this online story resonated so well with me, and I wanted to share it with our students, is that it helped to explain in simple terms how we can all react differently to the same adversity and that it is in our power to create something positive from it. I found the tale empowering and hope that it empowers others when faced with an adversity. Will I immediately react as tea when faced with an adversity? - ABSOLUTELY NOT! I am a mushy potato through and through, but will I consider my reaction and ponder other reactions? - ABSOLUTELY YES! Delicious tea may be in the future!