Crocheting and Math

My last post, Quilting and Math, was discussed this week by Doug Peterson in This Week in Ontario Edublogs, and with Chey, Pav and Stephen on VoicEd Radio. They made connections to other types of needlework, and they inspired me to look at my own projects for more connections to mathematics.

I’ve been crocheting (aka “hooking”) since I was about twelve. It appealed to me in the same way that Bach and ballet appealed to me: structured, beautiful, and satisfying.

Squares

My first crocheting projects were “granny squares”, which were very popular in the 1970’s. They begin with a central ring, into which you stitch clusters of three double crochet stitches, separated by single chain stitches. Here’s an afghan that I made in university for a boyfriend, who broke up with me as I was working on it. I decided to use it as my bedspread in residence, and it has travelled with me since.

Granny Square Afghan

You can see, in this detailed image, how there are four clusters in the first round, eight in the second, twelve in the third, and so on. The corners can be one to three chains, depending on how tight you crochet, and how flat you need your fabric to lay.

Granny Square Detail

Here’s a baby afghan, made from one very large granny square:

Baby Granny Square

By combining more than three double crochets in a cluster it is possible to create variations on the granny square, as seen in this city block pattern:

Circles

You don’t have to make squares when you work from a central ring. You can add chains, and other stitches, and create shapes borrowed from botany:

Doily Detail

Rows

Some crochet projects begin with a foundation chain, and then proceed in rows. These rows can then be made to “zigzag”, through the addition of clusters of stitches at the “zig”, and then skipping stitches on the “zag”.

These afghans were stitched in continuous rows. The pink variegated afghan is sets of single crochets, and was made by my grandmother in the early 1970’s. The green stripes are half-double crochets, done in the back loop of the stitch to create a ribbed effect. The look of the “zigzag” is determined by the stitch height, with single crochet being the shortest, and double crochet the tallest. If you look closely you can see small triangular voids that are formed as the rows pivot.

You can also crochet in rows where you always begin at the same side, and cut the yarn at each end to create a fringe. In this case the pattern is based upon single crochet stitches, with double crochet stitches that extend down to previous rows to create the hearts. This technique layers stitches on top of those behind, creating a texture that is very unforgiving if you mis-count your stitches!

It’s also possible to create a mobius strip, by joining the foundation row of chains with a twist, and then crocheting a single spiraling row:

Mobius Strip Cowl

3D

Working in the round is fun, and it even allows you to create three-dimensional works:

It’s fun to play with crochet in the round to create hats. Check out my son’s TikTok videos, where he explains how to create a wizard’s hat. Here’s Part 1:

I also like crocheting in layers, so that you get a different look on either side of the afghan:

The Math

Your building blocks are chains, single crochet, half-double crochet, and double crochet. The chains are wider than they are high, and create thin strands, or are the foundation into which you work your next stitches. Single crochet stitches are the closest to square, so you could imagine that you are adding small cubes. Half-double stitches are almost twice as high as they are wide. And double crochet stitches can stretch to three times higher than they are wide. These last two stitches are also “thicker” at the top, so several of them can be stitches into the same foundation stitch, and then curve around a corner, or create a cluster that begins to look like a trapezoid.

If you put chains between stitches you begin to get a lacy effect, and can create patterns of stitches and gaps. I have given away all of my filet crochet projects, so I don’t have any pictures to share. However, they can be designed in a similar way to the pixel images we create on computers, or on paper using grids. If you want to learn how to do this, check out the Spruce Crafts.

An example of Filet Crochet

Since crochet work involves only a single tool (hook) and a yarn, it’s a great technique for beginners. Preschoolers can learn to chain, and love making long strings. Older kids can easily learn row-based patterns, or simple granny squares. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube, and free patterns on Ravelry.

Data Representation

Because of its stitch structure, and the ability for several stitches to be made into a single foundation stitch, it’s a great way to illustrate concepts, and here are just a few examples from YouTube:

Math Concepts

In the Ontario Curriculum – Mathematics 2020 – Grades 1 – 8 there are many places where crochet might fit within Strand E – Spatial Sense:

“In this strand, students analyse the properties of shapes – the elements that define a shape and
make it unique – and use these properties to define, compare, and construct shapes and
objects, as well as to explore relationships among properties. Students begin with an intuition
about their surroundings and the objects in them, and learn to visualize objects from different
perspectives. Over time, students develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of size,
shape, location, movement, and change, in both two and three dimensions. They understand
and choose appropriate units to estimate, measure, and compare attributes, and they use
appropriate tools to make measurements. They apply their understanding of the relationships
between shapes and measurement to develop formulas to calculate length, area, volume, and
more.”

In addition to the obvious spatial skills, students can also estimate yardage required for a project, calculate yardage in a ball of yarn based upon weight, and scale patterns to fit. I’m sure that you will find many other applications, if you embark on crochet in your classroom.

Fidget Toys

And if all else fails, a crochet hook and yarn is the perfect fidget toy in a classroom. It is quiet, you can crochet out of sight under the desk, and it can result in beautiful works of art.

I believe I could continue to write for days on this topic…. so I’ll pause now. If you think mathematically while you “hook”, please share in the comments below.

Quilting and Math

We’ve all heard about the connection between mathematics and music, and much of my life has been proof of this. I never thought of myself as much of a visual artist, but mathematics has been the basis of much of my enjoyment of cross-stitch, needlepoint, crochet, knitting and quilting.

During COVID, this interest blossomed. I began working with numerical sequences as well as exploration of the golden ratio. That resulted last spring in a quilt that features a logarithmic wave on one side, and sets of golden ratio “rectangles” on the reverse:

Golden Ratio Quilt
Logarithm Quilt

I designed the golden ratio side, and my son helped me with a table of logarithmic values in Excel, to make the best use of one “jelly roll” of print fabric to fit a Queen-size quilt. I tried out both “walking foot” machine quilting for the stripes and long curves on the logarithmic side, and “free motion quilting” for the spirals through the golden ratios. I love having a reversible quilt, and it’s kept me warm all winter with its wool batting.

My next challenge was to combine my daughter’s love of Fibonacci sequences with her social justice advocacy. I had two “jelly rolls” to work with, with 22 rainbow colours. And here’s the result:

Fibonacci Rainbow Quilt

This quilt was machine pieced and then hand-quilted. I could have chosen to machine quilt, since the quilting is very simple “stitch in the ditch”, but I needed the meditative process this spring as to balance out my long days online as Principal. As the weather became warmer it was more difficult to sit under the quilt, so it was July before I was able to bind and complete.

Yesterday I went looking for more challenges, but was hoping for something that wouldn’t take months to complete. I have enjoyed playing with “disappearing” patterns, but had not actually constructed any yet. This is a technique of piecing a simple square, and then cutting it into quarters or ninths, and sewing it together with the pieces rotated. So I tried out the “disappearing hourglass” pattern. You create it by sewing all the way around a pair of squares, cutting them on the diagonal, resewing them into an hourglass shape, and then cutting again into nine-patches.

What do you think?

These were both machine pieced and quilted, so they worked up quickly, and make a bright pillow for my sunroom. They each began with a 10″ square from a “layer cake”, so I have 40 more possible “disappearing” squares to construct. If I can find enough background fabric for the contrast to these wonderful Kaffe Fassett prints I might just make this my next “mathematical” quilt.

Planning to “Grade Less” this September

Tote that says "Does this bag make my assignments look marked?"

It’s the first week of July, and perhaps a little early for our teachers to begin planning for September.

But, before the planning for September begins, I am hoping that I can plant a few seeds to help teachers move away from grades and marks, and towards a model of feedback-based assessment. Here are a few suggestions to prepare for this process:

Design “Backwards”

Begin with the curriculum documents, and list all of the main standards, or overall expectations.

Rewrite in Student-Friendly Language

This is a task that will be most valuable if done with your students, so begin be re-writing a few as models to use in September. You may choose to re-write all of the standards or expectations, but your students will buy in more fully if they have a voice in the process. These could be printed, and then cut into sections. Or you might put them on “post-its”: either physical, or within Jamboard.

Group

Re-arrange your standards or expectations, grouping them in to related clusters. You may be able to label your groupings, and perhaps even write an over-arching expectation or goal. Prepare to facilitate this same process with your students; don’t assume that their groupings will be the same as yours. Remember, your goal is to have them invested in their learning, so try this process out for yourself, but leave the real work for your class in September.

Determine Evidence of Learning

For each group, decide what might be used as evidence of successful achievement of the expectation, standard, or goal. And then list both the task criteria (what will need to be done) and the achievement criteria (what knowledge, understanding and skills will be demonstrated). These criteria can then be used as the basis for feedback, single-point rubrics, or four-point rubrics.

Plan the Flow

Order your groupings in such a way that one leads to the next, and supports the skills and knowledge necessary for progress. Consider reporting periods, and ensure that you have paced your groupings and built in conferencing time so that you will have a mark to put on report cards, if required in your jurisdiction.

Bonus: Connect it all with a Theme

When I was in grade 11, our English teacher structured our course around the theme of “Love”. She was able to connect our study of “that Scottish play” to a poetry unit on ballads, and tease out references to “Love” in almost all of our readings. I still remember how eager we were to talk about “Love” (and then, of course, “Sex”) and make connections between our readings and our current, teenaged lives.

As I designed our first semester of “Introduction to Information and Communications Technology”, which was offered within the Ontario Business Studies curriculum I looked for a unifying theme that would inspire our grade 9 students to continue within the business program. So, we took a course that was heavy on technical skills, and united all the units through the creation of a “Business Plan”. Our students did Internet research to decide on a business. They built an Access database of computer equipment to equip their new business. They designed a style sheet, and then implemented their style in both Word and Publisher. A company logo was developed in a graphics application, and then converted to work both in print and on the web. Their financial projections were developed in Excel. They developed business websites, to promote their new business. And they created PowerPoint presentations to convince their class VCs to invest in their new business.

You may have a theme in mind, or your students may be able to see new themes as they work through the process of rewriting the expectations and standards in the first few days of class. Be prepared to (happily) throw all of your planning and hard work out the window if your students come up with something better. You never know what they might create, and how it might make your semester much more fun for all of you.

Hiring in Education

Over the past two weeks I have been engaged in the process of application to a position at a Faculty of Education at one of our Ontario universities. It has been a very different experience than any other educational job application I’ve had, and has given me a great deal to think about.

Process

Image of Terry Whitmell June 2021

The process began with what was called the “long short list” interview, which was 30 minutes long and conducted in a very traditional manner: five questions presented verbally, with a “hand wave” when I was nearing the end of the allotted time. I was invited to pose any questions I might have at the end.

When I made the “short list”, the process was very different. For our second interview I was asked for a 20-minute presentation to share my approach to a concept from one of the courses. This presentation was open to all faculty, and there were two attendees who weren’t on the committee who viewed my Zoom presentation, and could participate in the 10-minute Q&A that followed. Immediately after this session was an additional 30-minute interview, much like the first. And after a break I met with the Dean for a 20-minute conversation, which was unstructured and quite enjoyable.

I had provided the names of five references, of which three would be contacted. And then, based upon my CV, two interviews, and the references, I was told that a decision would be reached.

Results

Ten days after the second interview I received an email indicating that I had not been successful, and sharing that “The APC was very impressed with your leadership background and your teaching skills. A key differentiator was that the candidate who was offered the position has worked in multiple university contexts in full-time roles and has a significant record of scholarship in curriculum studies.”

It is obvious that I cannot remedy my lack of full-time university teaching experience; I have been a K-12 teacher, leader and administrator since 1983, with only maternity leaves and my Ph.D. research as gaps in service. As a late-in-life academic (Masters in 2007, Ph.D. in 2020), my record of scholarship is sparse. And, as my colleagues will know, running a school leaves very little time for scholarship!

This area of scholarship is certainly one that I can augment, and so my goals this summer will be to look for opportunities to write. I have been told that I should be able to turn my dissertation into two or three articles, so I will look for some assistance to help me clarify how this might work. I am also going to look for colleagues to collaborate with, hopefully within their research at their institutions. And I will continue to speak at conferences, meet with teams, and support teachers directly where possible.

Making K-12 Interviews Better

One key learning for me from this process is the value of the second interview’s “presentation” component. By having to examine the curriculum, design an approach, and share my “lesson plan” with the committee, I was able to solidify my understanding of the course, and begin to prepare a framework that would have been very useful, had I been successful.

Perhaps, instead of reinstating Reg 274, we could work on a process for candidates to our teaching positions that includes “real teaching”? The presentation process was much closer to the real experience of teaching than is a traditional interview. And since I was given clear criteria, I embedded within my presentation what would have been the answers to many questions that would have been asked in the interview. Since I had time to prepare, as I would as a classroom teacher, I shared who I was and what I could do in a clearer, more effective and efficient manner.

I’m also wondering about the disconnect between the world of universities, and the reality of K-12 education. While “curriculum studies” is valuable work, I am not convinced that studying curriculum is better than delivering it. And I certainly do not believe that years of study are better than decades of supporting teachers as they work with the curriculum to plan, instruct, assess and evaluate. And the “action research” that every teacher undertakes each day in their classroom is in some cases more relevant than the research conducted by external parties. Perhaps this should become part of our criteria, so that we better prepare our young teachers to consider a move to higher education later in their careers.

I am not going to be able to change academia. But perhaps I can work with my K-12 colleagues to enhance our selection process, and do our best job to match teacher candidates to our teaching positions. The next time I am part of a hiring team, I will look to incorporate an aspect of the process from higher education, and “see our teachers in action”.

Our students will win, our schools will win, and our teachers will win.

What Worked this Year in @Home Learning?

Teams meeting image with Author highlighted

The 2020-21 school year has been a year of growth for me, and for the teachers I lead. In the fall I had the privilege to work with 150 Math/Science/Tech teachers, as part of a huge Online Secondary School. And then in February I joined a smaller K-12 Virtual School, with students engaging both synchronously and asynchronously.

Last week our K-8 teachers gathered, and compared notes for the year. And here’s what they told us worked for them:

Communication

Our teachers made use of a range of technologies to connect to families, and maintain student/teacher/parent communication. Our teachers provided weekly communication schedules, built community through circles, and encouraged their families to share images and videos of their children’s learning.

Ergonomics

With a minimum of five hours a day in front of a computer, our teachers became experts in chair yoga, and implemented multiple monitors and drawing tablets into their toolkit.

Events

Particularly in our primary grades, our teachers became event planners: Dinosaur Tea Party, Snow Castle Challenge, Jump Rope for Heart and Tinker Tuesdays were all planned and scheduled this year.

Results

Rather than isolating during COVID, our families and teachers forged deeper connections and achieved greater academic gains than they had in in-person classes. The use of large-group, small-group, and 1:1 interaction resulted more focused learning within a supportive and friendly learning environment. Our teachers found they had more time to work 1:1 with students, and appreciated the ability to develop language skills without the interference of masks. Their lesson planning became more creative, and was presented in a structured format that allowed for improved support from EAs, other teachers, and family members. Students with special education needs were more easily integrated into the activities of the class, and were able to safely learn.

Educator “Moves”

As a result of the change in environment, our teachers had to increase their creativity and flexibility, and they found that it paid off in huge improvements for their students. They used humour with their students, and teamwork with their parents. Because they were limited in the classroom materials available to their students in their homes, they differentiated tasks and were “wowed” by the results.

Teaching Strategies that Worked

  • One-on-one meetings and instruction
  • Running Records
  • Predictable routines
  • Socializing and Sharing at the start of each day
  • Weekly checklists
  • Real-time assessment and feedback
  • Playtime structured to allow students to play together
  • Reader’s Theatre
  • Asynchronous sessions, with “expect a teacher call”
  • Interactive Games
  • Whiteboards

Technology Tools

  • Boom cards
  • Chrome Music Lab
  • Raz Kids
  • Book Creator
  • Secret Stories Better Alphabet Song
  • Flyleaf
  • Virtual Field Trips – Toronto Zoo, Art Gallery of Ontario, etc.
  • Use of “spotlight” in Teams to focus on students when they speak
  • Office 365 tools
  • Screen shots
  • Mote – to record audio on slides
  • Cool Chrome extensions
  • Guest Speakers
  • PE with JOe the Body Coach
  • Apps: Teach your Monster to Read, Lalio, Kodables
  • Robotics Canada
  • Pearson Bookshelf
  • Use of Breakout Groups
  • Dictate and Immersive Reader
  • Edsby poll to take attendance
  • Math Antics – YouTube
  • OneNote
  • Use of Learning Management System – especially useful for split grades
  • Awards in the Learning Management System
  • Sharing of Learning Management System “shells”
  • Pre-recorded “How To” videos

Conclusion

The impact of teacher learning this year will only be able to be measured once they return to their physical classrooms in the fall. There is little from the lists above that cannot become part of our teachers’ toolkits as they move forward, so I am anticipating even more positive results for the 2021-22 school year.

My prediction that parents might now wish to opt for continued remote learning for their children was absolutely wrong. Our experiences this year have shown parents that they need teachers in classrooms even more than they need teachers online. Our successes this year were as a result of extraordinary efforts on the part of our teachers combined with intensive support from families at home. As parents and caregivers return to their in-person work, they do so with a greater appreciation for the work of our educators, and a strong value for the in-person interaction that our classrooms provide.

Remote learning will now be added to our collection of supports for students, but I believe it will not become the preferred mode of learning for most of our kids. A safe, supportive classroom, with access to technology tools to allow for access to resources, thinking tools, and media to share learning, is the best option for our students as we move forward.

What will we bring back to in-person learning?

This week our Ontario elementary teachers are concluding weeks of reflection as they gather assessment data and craft report card comments. And as they do so, I’m certain that they are reflecting on all that they have learned as they tackled remote learning. What will they be keeping, to use in their “in-person” classroom in the fall?

Today I’m going to “guess”, since I’m their Principal, and have only an outside view of their classrooms. Next week our teachers are meeting to share, and I’ll write again, to report what they shared and to evaluate and revise this list.

Here’s what I think that our teachers will be looking to implement for September 2021:

Learning Management System

Our teachers make use of two Learning Management Systems: Edsby and D2L.  They have a choice, since neither provides all the content organization, parent communication, assessment tracking, and mark reporting functions in one single tool. But what they both do very well is keep content organized and students on track. I believe that our teachers will continue the use of these tools, and will be better able to support students beyond the classroom.

Student-to-Student Digital Collaboration Tools

Since our kids haven’t been able to work together in person, our teachers have developed a range of collaboration tools in order to facilitate connection between students. The chats that begin in class often continue after the Teams meeting ends. The collaborative slide stack is added to and referred to by students at any time after the class session. And shared documents remain as working documents, with no need for additional notes to be taken.

Increased Differentiation

Our students have come to this year’s learning from many different circumstances, which has resulted in very uneven progress. Our teachers have had to scaffold and support more than ever, and they’ve become experts at quickly meeting students where they are and helping them move forward.  When September begins our teachers will meet students whose learning might have been interrupted by technological challenges, whose families were unable to support their work online while working full-time themselves, along with those who have thrived online with strong family support.

Transparency and Structure

Classes online require clearly communicated agendas, with chunking of time to allow for students to manage 225 minutes in front of a computer. The benefits of this clear structure have been seen in the excellent work submitted by some students, and in their positive outlook, even on a sunny day in June! Scheduling has been necessary in order to ensure that teachers and students arrive in the same space online at the same time. And class materials have had to provided in a format the allow even our JK kiddos to access them. Bringing this organization back to the classroom will be supportive of all our learners.

Greater Professional Networking

With our teachers having to connect via email, phone and Teams this year, they have developed strong networks of support that will live beyond COVID. They have reaped the rewards to working collaboratively, and will continue to work together in support of improved teaching practice.

We meet as a team next week, where our educators will share what has been working for them. I will listen, and compare their list to mine.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog!

Priya Parker, Brené Brown, and Protecting your Source Work

This morning’s walk allowed me to listen to Part II of the conversation between Priya Parker and Brené Brown entitled A Meeting Makeover. And something that Priya Parker shared resonated when I heard it, and then returned to me throughout my day: Protect your Source Work .

“I am continuing to develop my mastery in my craft, and then I can write about it and read about it and talk to others about it, but if I’m not close to my source work, I’m going to shrivel up and I’m going to become pretty boring”.

What does this mean for leadership in Education? For me that means I continue the work that supports my purpose: teaching, hiring, mentoring and learning. If I get caught up in management I lose my focus on doing what is best for kids. So I need to hone my craft by teaching each time I meet with my teachers, revisiting my values and vision when hiring new teachers to my team, mentoring my teachers through Annual Learning Plan and Teacher Performance Appraisal processes, and always, always, always learning.

Teaching

As a Principal there aren’t a lot of opportunities to teach in the traditional meaning of the word. However, at least once a month, we get the opportunity to lead a staff meeting, and so mine are designed more like lesson plans than meeting agendas. I try out new tools and strategies, embed new technologies, and try to model processes that I hope to see followed with our students. I also look for teaching opportunities outside my school, both formal and informal, in order to continue to grow and develop my skills.

Hiring

When we bring a new teacher into our system, we have begun a relationship that will last 30 or more years. So we have great responsibility, both to our students and to our new teachers. My hiring process includes providing candidates with the questions ahead of time, so that they can prepare (as they would each day for their classes) and I can be confident that I will be able to make a decision based upon all the possible data. And I begin building a relationship with each candidate I meet, ensuring that they hear my hiring decision from me, not from their friends, and offering to provide feedback to help them learn and improve. I have often met great teachers who weren’t a great fit for my vacancy, but were perfect for one at my colleague’s school, and I am proud to have supported them to that destination.

Mentoring

Once teachers are in our school, we then can bring our experience and skills to the process of mentoring them. Each year is an opportunity to meet and discuss their Annual Learning Plan. Sometimes the plan isn’t directly related to their teaching career: one of my teachers expressed a goal to get married and start a family and, though I told I couldn’t help her much with that, did achieve her goal! Every five years our teachers get a chance to share their practice through the Teacher Performance Appraisal process, and to have us observe and confirm their strengths and achievements. When we get to know our teachers we can network and connect, supporting them to broaden their perspectives and deepen their knowledge.

Learning

If student learning is our goal, then we have to keep ourselves in learning mode as well. Curiosity and wonder must remain constant, even as we work through the paperwork and administrivia that seems to fill our day. I’m currently taking an Additional Qualification course, as readers of this blog will have recognized by previous posts. But the greatest source of new learning is found within my work: my teachers and their students. Each classroom observation, each email or phone conversation with a teacher, and each problem that presents itself is a gift of learning. 

I’m protecting my source work by continuing to teach, hire, mentor and learn. And I love it!

Priya Parker, Brené Brown, and how a Return to Work relates to K-12 Return to School

My morning walk is my time to listen to podcasts, and one morning last week I was captivated by a conversation (part 1 of 2) between Brené Brown and Priya Parker entitled “How We Return and Why it Matters“.

Priya Parker is the author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters“. In this conversation, she and Brené Brown discuss how the world is going back to work, and what that might look like.  As a K-12 Principal, it’s also been a topic at the forefront of my thinking, and I was struck by how similar our concerns are.

Access and Equity

Priya Parker and Brené Brown discuss the possibility that a return to in-person work might inadvertently be punishing those who choose to continue to work from home. Priya Parker suggests that “if not everybody is in the room, is it important to have two facilitators or two hosts, an in-person host and a hybrid host?”  She recommends that in order to not exclude those working from home, perhaps everyone has to take the meeting through their computers in separate rooms, so as to not limit power and access.

In our K-12 educational context, this is exactly the concern of our educators, who worry that a hybrid model with a single teacher will shift the focus to the teacher from the students. And they share a concern that students at home and students in the classroom will not have equitable access to resources, to the attention of the teacher, and to opportunities to collaborate and learn together.

Vaccination

Priya Parker shared a story about a parent who tried to protect guests to her child’s party by providing t-shirts that indicated their vaccination status. In an effort to allow her guests to make informed choices, she was inadvertently creating a caste system.

As our children ages 12 to 18 begin to be vaccinated, we will be entering our middle and secondary schools in September with both students and teachers who may be fully or partially vaccinated. I know that there will be students who will use this as an argument to push back against cohorting, masking, social distancing, and use of sanitizing processes. And I fear that those who still do not feel safe heading into our schools due to personal or family circumstances will run the risk of being excluded, both socially and physically.

Physical Distancing

In business we shake hands, and in schools there is often a culture of hugging and other forms of physical connection. Elbow bumps, bowing, and air “high fives” may need to be developed as a form of connection when we meet in person. There is a risk of “micro-moments of perceived rejection” as we develop our sense of connection, and consider physical proximity as a measure of how much or how little we are “liked”.

When working online we are glued to our seats, not moving. We cannot be moving around the room and still able to maintain connection through our cameras. Will a year of inactivity result in students who are no longer comfortable moving around the classroom, interacting with each other? Will teachers be driven to return to the 1960’s model of the teacher at the podium, lecturing to the class?

Principles and Policies

The principle behind the the t-shirts was caring, but the policy of providing shirts served to exclude. In order to get to meaningful policy we need to aim for policy that reflects people’s “deepest experiences”, through a participatory process so that people “feel that the policy is the best way to coordinate their work”.

As I write this blog post, some Ontario school boards have communicated an intent to deliver program through hybrid classrooms for the 2021-2022 school year. This policy decision has been made, often without any experience of the hybrid model. And for boards where hybrid models are in place, little attention may have been paid to the genuine experiences of the teachers, students and their families.

Policies provide the “handrails and guardrails” that Brené Brown says need to be designed from “power with and power to, not power over”. However a policy of hybrid instruction provides neither handrails, which would be created through successful models and exemplars, nor guardrails, which could only be formed from the experiences of our teachers.

Rather than impose a policy, we need to consider ourselves to be “in beta”, and continue to be creative and innovate as we remain in this period of great transition. Imposition of policy as an act of power can only be destructive to our education system, and to our students.

Next Steps

I look forward to listening to Part 2 of this podcast, and to continue my thinking about how we gather, be it online or eventually in person.

I am also interested in how the plan for hybrid learning will be framed by some of our school boards as anything other than a power and money move. In the long run, I cannot see how we can defend a system that creates worse outcomes for all participants. Will we hear from parents who want in-person-only classes, so that the teacher can provide individual attention to their children? Will parents begin demanding “paper packages” so that they don’t have to deal with technology at home?  Will teachers leave the profession, burnt out by the demands of teaching two different groups at the same time?

As a Principal of a fully virtual school I have seen how effectively each of the three remote models: fully synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction via an effective Learning Management System, and remote learning with well-design print materials, can be for different student needs. But I cannot imagine how a teacher can do their best in all three models while simultaneously providing a rich, in-person classroom experience. We have the potential to develop the “handrails and guardrails” that we need, but not with an imposed policy based upon money and power.

First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies AQ – Response #3 – Misconceptions and your Backpack

This week in our course we discussed three types of information: that which you know through experience (your backpack), that which you hear through the media (often misconceptions), and that which is the truth.

Backpack

We began our class with a Backpack activity, shared with us by an educator who has used the activity to reveal what our students carry with them. By writing with a white crayon, and then painting over with a wash, hidden information is revealed. She talked about how some students chose to participate in the full activity, while others chose not to reveal what they are carrying with them. However, the process of writing served to validate, and focus their reflection. I could see this being a valuable minds-on activity, to set the tone for subsequent activities that might be triggering.

Media Misconceptions and the Truth

There are many misconceptions that are spread via the media, and then continued socially.  We listened to Wab Kinew’s “Soap Box” video from 2016, where he shared five stereotypes (the first five in the following table), and then examined many other sources of the following misconceptions.:

MisconceptionTruth
Alcohol as a Social IllThis issue is not unique to indigenous communities. It is when it is combined with poverty that it becomes visible to all.
Need to “Get Over It”You can be “over” something, and still need to remember it. In the case of Residential Schools, there is multi-generational trauma which must be addressed.
Long HairLong hair is worn by Indigenous people as a symbol of cultural pride. However not all indigenous hair matches the stereotypical long, straight ideal, so short hair does NOT indicate a lack of pride.
“7 Billion Dollars”The “7 Billion Dollars” that flows from Indian Affairs is less per capita than that provided to the citizens of New Brunswick.
TaxesStatus Indians pay taxes, except on property on their reserve. Those who qualify are only about 314,000 people, of which the employment rate is only 55%, so this represents a tiny portion of our tax revenues. Less than 1% are exempt from any tax at all.
First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples have similar systems of government.First Nations peoples are sovereign nations, who have never surrendered their right or title, and possess distinc tlaws and governance systems, language, culture, economic systems and social structures. The Indian Act establishes a limit form of local administration, and constrains movement towards self-governance.

The Métis Nation of Ontario has a democratic, province-wide governance structure.

Inuit peoples have united under the Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on the Sovereignty in the Arctic.
Post-secondary education is Free for all First Nations studentsOnly “status Indians” qualify, and they must apply for funding from their home community. The demand often exceeds the money that bands receive, with more than half of applicants turned away.
Education is funded equally to allThe Band-Operated Funding Formula came into effect in 1988, and is capped at an annual 2% increase, with few increases even approaching this cap. As a result current schools are now significantly underfunded.
Indigenous peoples are free to hunt and fishWhile these rights are inherent Treaty rights protected in the Canadian Constitution, confirmed in court cases, and articulated in the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, they continue to be challenged by commercial enterprises. And a BC court ruled that governments have the power to declare moratoriums on hunting and fishing based upon conservation needs.
Band homes are not cared for by those in the communityBand housing is administered from Ottawa, with no local control. Bands cannot also use their own revenues to apply to housing. Those living off reserve, in search of better housing, face poverty and racism, and so are disproportionately affected.
Health care on reserve is equivalentFirst Nation citizens face high rates of chronic and communicable diseases, and are exposed to greater health risks because of poor housing, higher unemployment, contaminated water, and limited access to healthy foods. (Fact Sheet) Because of the complexity with federal, provincial, municipal and Aboriginal governments all playing a role, the system is difficult to navigate, with many roadblocks. Health Canada does not pay for palliative care or rehab therapies, and there is a shortage of mental health services.
There is plenty of reserve land0.2% of land in Canada is reserve land. 20% of the Indigenous population live on this 0.2% of the land. Of this land, coastal and tidal lands are not included, so access to waterways and fishing grounds are not included.
“Vanishing Indian”While goal of assimilation was to have Indigenous peoples “vanish”, they are now the fastest growing segment of the population.
Indigenous peoples have a lot of moneyThere is a significant gap in median income, even among highly educated Indigenous people.

Reflection

We require significant revision to our Ontario curriculum, to begin to address the misconceptions held within our population.  Some are addressed within the compulsory curriculum, but only in a narrow sense. The Grade 6 Social Studies curriculum suggests consideration of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, as part of the strand on Canada and International Cooperation. In Grade 7 and 8 the perspectives of Aboriginal peoples are considered with respect to land development and the preservation of natural resources. And issues such as Residential Schools are now core to the Grade 10 History program.

The revised (2018) Canadian and World Studies document explicitly addresses the need to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action numbers 62 and 63, and emphasizes the need for cultural safety in terms of their cultural heritage. This need for sensitivity has, in my experience, led many teachers in the past to avoid issues, for fear of being unable to adequately support their students. This choice “not to go there” has resulted in inadequate attention within the limited curriculum expectations.

We must continue to educate our teachers, so that they can educate our students. I believe that students become better able to consider such issues in their senior years in school, where there are unfortunately fewer explicit expectations of Indigenous content within the remaining compulsory courses.  This is why the move to replace ENG3U/3C/3E with NBE3U/3C/3E (English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices) is such a positive move. I would also like to see more offerings of NDW4M (Issues of Indigenous Peoples in a Global Context) in our schools, to challenge students with contemporary issues at a point in their lives where they are considering their roles as adult citizens of Canada.

It is only an educated population who can counter these misconceptions with the truth, and lighten the backpack for our Indigenous friends.

 

Successful Secondary School Online Learning

We have completed six Octomesters in our board, and we just embarked on Octomester seven. For some of our teachers this is their seventh class online, and for some it’s their first. But since we are now ALL online throughout Ontario I thought I’d take a few minutes to share what has been working for us.

Consistent Structure

A consistent structure in both instruction and in the provision of content via the Learning Management System has helped our students. KISS seems to work, with a simple presentation of content combined with a consistent agenda for each day allowing students to get into a “groove” and succeed. One of our teachers has music on for five minutes before class, has a “question of the day”, provides breakout rooms for discussion, and has one task to be submitted each day.

Posting using Multiple Modalities

Our teachers are packaging content in two different Learning Management Systems: D2L/Brightspace and Edsby. They are also providing both print and video content, and embedding videos using OBS Studios.  Some students are connecting with their teachers via email, and others are participating in 1:1 work in MS Teams.

Chunking

Teachers are making the “chunks” small, and easily managed on phones, tablets and computers. They are replicating the length of social media posts, and providing multiples that thread rather than posting a single, large document. Most Learning Management Systems allow for content to be hidden until needed, so our teachers are able to keep students from feeling overwhelmed.

Being Available Online

Our teachers are live in an MS Teams setting for more than just the mandatory 225 minutes (PPM 164). They are replicating their usual practices of “walking around the room” or “being available at the desk in the classroom” by being online in a Teams meeting, and welcoming students to 1:1 or small-group sessions throughout the day. They are doing less “direct instruction”, and more individual facilitation, and it is paying off.

Differentiated Instruction

Our teachers are providing both synchronous lessons, and asynchronous tutorials. They are providing voice and choice to their students. By personalizing methods of assessment they are meeting their students where they are.

Sharing a Master Agenda

While some are using a list, and others a calendar, our teachers are all creating a “one-stop shopping” page where all assignments, links to handouts, and dropbox are located. The LMS is also a huge help, housing all course content and videos of the daily meetings. Live links to content assist both students and their parents to navigate each day’s work.

Clear Expectations

Use of learning goals and success criteria has allowed students to self-assess, and to reach out when they require assistance. Because the octomester structure results in very long days, but fewer of them, our teachers have pared down their goals to as few as possible, and are focusing their work on essential learning.

Taking an Inquiry Approach

Several teachers have structured their courses around fun engaging inquiry questions, and supporting student-to-student interaction to complete their “quests”. They are taking advantage of the technology, and access to Internet resources, and exploring content beyond the textbook.

Communicating Regularly with Students and Parents

Weekly newsletters and emails to parents are helping them to support their children to be successful. Our teachers are providing tips and tricks to families, so that their teens are supported at home.

Monitoring Participation

Our teachers are able to track who is attending meetings in person, and who view the videos later in the day. They can then follow up with students and their parents, and get them back on track quickly. One teacher has an attendance quiz each day, with one question: “Are you here today”? This populates a spreadsheet, and allows him to enter absences at the end of the day. Taking a look at statistics within the LMS is also helpful, and is allowing our teachers to reach out before students get too far behind.

Breakouts to Connect

Structures such as breakout rooms and shared documents have supported our students to connect. They have needed these in order to get to know each other, as many live up to 200 km from each other. Since the culture in our board is to have cameras off the breakouts provide a safe space for cameras and mic to be on and for students to interact. It is important to build rapport with our students, so our teachers make that priority.

Allowing for Fully Asynchronous

Several of our students are now working full-time jobs. They are managing to access class resources, and complete the day’s work when they are at home. By structuring courses to allow for fully-asynchronous participation, our students are able to continue their learning despite the need to work.

Team Teaching

Where we have more than one class for a particular course our teachers are team teaching. Sometimes they create one LMS, and share instructing duties. In other cases they plan and create two or more LMS shells, and instruct only their class. In both, however, they benefit from their PLN, and are able support each other to be more creative.

Ergonomics

Our teachers have been experimenting with standing desks, multiple monitors, and other tools to ensure that they aren’t in pain at the end of the day. Some are scheduling regular walk breaks into their day, getting outside for some sunshine and to stretch their legs.

Learn and Share

Our teachers are learning a great deal through this process, and are happy to share with their colleagues. If you are teaching online, please reach out to a peer and talk about what is working (and not working) for you.

Advice to Novice Online Teachers:

  • Don’t stress out.
  • This is pandemic teaching, not a normal teaching year.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Reach out if you are feeling burnout.
  • Extend grace to your students and their families.
  • You are doing great!