High tech

Albatrosses and Affirmations

He went like one that hath been stunned, 
And is of sense forlorn: 
A sadder and a wiser man, 
He rose the morrow morn.

-
Samuel Colderidge in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


The 2017/18 school year came to a close for me on Friday, and as with most endings, I became very reflective about the events that made up the period of time that just concluded. This was a hard 12 months for me - probably the most difficult I have experienced in my nearly half a century on the planet - but mixed in with the challenges, changes, troubles and tears were some amazing moments and learning that I am incredibly grateful for. Many of these happened in May and June.

I have written about the plastic pollution project that I worked on with my students in the last two months, documented in these posts: The Last Straw and Curiosity and the CAN-BAN Connection. Since this project is undoubtedly the most transformational work (for my students and for myself) that I have done in my career, I wanted to write a further update on how we wrapped things up, plans for next year, and why I feel so hopeful about the future as a result of this work. I am very proud of what we have accomplished, the fact that we are addressing important global sustainable development goals, and that we have taken our learning beyond the walls of the classroom, harnessing the power of technology to connect, create and collaborate with friends in different parts of the world.

After our friends in Bangladesh completed their school year on June 10, we no longer had collaboration partners to work on projects with for the remainder of the month, but we still delved into some deep and inspiring learning to round out the project before the end of June. One of the most powerful things we watched was a movie called, “Albatross” by Chris Jordan. Chris and his team visited Midway Island, a wildlife refuge in the North Pacific Ocean, that is inhabited only by birds, including many albatross. As there are no natural predators on the island, the birds were very trusting of the humans there to study and film them, and allowed the crew to get up close and personal in a way that made the finished product feel like a story of heartbreak and hope, a work of Art, and a beautiful piece of social activism and information all in one. These amazing creatures have been unwittingly consuming the plastic that humans have discarded and polluted the ocean with. It is killing them and their babies, their bellies and bodies damaged by the debris they confuse as dietary nourishment.  It is such an important message to watch, receive and ponder. Chris made the film available for free, starting on World Oceans Day at the beginning of June. You can view or download the full film from this webpage.

Albatross was difficult to watch, and there were few dry eyes in the classroom when the movie concluded. We had a rich discussion after the film ended, with some great connections to First Peoples’ Principles of Learning, the way that we treat and respect all living creatures, interconnectedness, and our obligation to clean up the literal and figurative mess that we have made of the planet.  One of my students commented, “I think this movie is going to stay with me for a very long time.” Multiple heads in the room nodded in agreement, mine included.

We moved on to a more joyful project by creating muppet-style puppets. While not without its frustrations (there were a few hot glue gun burns, tears and a classroom covered in strings of hot glue residue), it was definitely a memorable way of combining Art and activism. The intent was to have the students use their puppets to create a green-screened PSA video about plastic pollution and its effects on marine wildlife. The puppets were completed, scripts were written, and scenes rehearsed, but ultimately, no groups were prepared in time to film. This was disappointing for everyone, however, it opened another discussion about real-world issues: this time on meeting deadlines, working toward goals as a team, and how the learning and creation process that we engaged in was ultimately more powerful than a completed video.  You can view a gallery of some of the terrific puppet creations below. In addition to the puppets, we also learned about levels of government in Canada and what their responsibilities are, and then wrote letters to our local, provincial, and country leaders to encourage them to ban single-use plastic. It was a proud moment when the completed messages went in the mail delivery!

On the last day of school, we finished our year together by playing an eco-themed BreakoutEDU game called “Save the Planet”. While not directly related to plastic pollution, it was a terrific final critical-thinking activity to bring everything full circle.

The “prize” when they opened the box at the end was a stainless steel straw for each student. While not precious or expensive, I was gratified by the excitement and enthusiasm the students displayed when they realized what they were receiving (see video below). My friend, Pedro Aparicio, had shared some beautiful words that he wrote on the board for students on their final school day.  I was inspired to do something similar by tying a special message to each straw in the box.

My collaboration partner, Emil, and I have been doing a lot of reflection and discussion on this year’s brief version of the project together, and where we would like to take things next year when we have 10 months to really dive deep. We have invited friends/colleagues from several other countries to join us and are planning some great projects, challenges, and collaborative activities for our students to be involved in. I am excited to start in September and see how it evolves!

As I wrote final report cards for my students, I found the format a difficult medium to use to accurately assess and share what my students had done. What evidence did I have that they were engaged and learning? I received a few affirmations as the year concluded.  A parent of one of my students stopped in to see me. She said, “I know as a teacher you probably don’t often hear that you are making an impact, but I want to tell you about how what you are doing in class has changed my son.” She went on to explain that her child now refuses plastic straws when they go out for fast food or to restaurants, and tries to limit his use of other plastic containers. He is encouraging everyone in the family to do so as well. She also told me that when it was his turn to choose a fun family activity on the weekend, he requested that they all go to a local park and do beach cleanup.  It was a proud moment! Other students in my class have reported doing similar things. Some of them have started clubs outside of school, put up posters, and even created cards to leave at restaurants, either asking management to reduce or eliminate single-use plastics or praising them when they have instituted policies such as asking patrons whether or not they actually want a straw. In our own school, staff have noticed that playground litter, which had been a huge problem earlier in the year, has been greatly reduced, and that more students have been actively picking up garbage that does not belong to them. (We can’t take all the credit for this, as another grade 6/7 class has also been presenting to groups in our school about litterless lunches, etc., but we still feel proud of our part in the change!). Far more relevant and powerful than test scores, letter grades or term comments, these real-world manifestations of the learning that we have been doing make me feel certain that this is good work with a purpose that MUST continue in the fall.

I plan on mindfully relaxing and actively enjoying each moment of my summer, so the blog will likely get a bit quiet over the next two months.  That being said, please expect new posts to start flowing in the fall, brimming with excitement about the new ideas and learning activities that have been planned and engaged in. I hope you’ll continue to join me on this journey! Thank you for being a part of the adventure so far!

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Curiosity and the CAN-BAN Connection

“I’ve never met an interesting person who is not also an interested person.”  Curiosity and inquisitiveness are virtues.

- Elizabeth Gilbert (on the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett)

It is unusual to hear a teacher say that they are sad that they are running out of instructional days with their students near the end of the year, but I honestly wish we had a little bit more time. Don’t get me wrong: just like most teachers, I am absolutely exhausted, the full moon last week seemed to mysteriously make even the best students act out with unexpected behaviours, and I would rather be enjoying time on my deck in the sunshine, kayaking, or travelling rather than be cooped up in a classroom. That being said, because we are doing some AMAZING learning and collaborating, I am almost disappointed to see the end of June arrive.

Since launching our inquiry into plastic pollution in the ocean and its effect on marine animals (and the world), my students and I have really taken our learning to another level. Finding a topic that they were genuinely curious about got them really fired up and excited. The activities and collaboration that we have been participating in during the last couple weeks have added fuel to the flame. Very little of it would have been possible without the use of technology. We have been exploring young innovators like Boyan Slat from the Netherlands, who has come up with a unique way to start reclaiming plastic pollution from large, ocean garbage patches. We were extremely lucky to meet with the Florida Oceanographic Society for an excellent Skype in the Classroom program about Sea Turtle conservation. We have been brainstorming ideas for how we can promote more awareness of plastic recycling in our community. But the very best part of our learning? Our collaboration with new friends from another part of the world!

A mutual friend from the Netherlands suggested that I might find a good collaboration partner in Emil Waldhauser. Emil is a creative and talented teacher from the Czech Republic, who is currently working at the Australian International School in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This was such a timely connection, as, in our class, we had recently been looking at articles from the digital “Planet or Plastic” June edition of National Geographic, and a photo that we were particularly curious about was one from Dhaka. Emil was immediately onboard with the collaboration idea, and quickly set up some SMART Amp workspaces for us to use as an asynchronous collaboration forum - a great way of making things work despite the fact that a 13 hour time difference meant we would never be able to have our students meet in real time.  In the workspaces they have posted photos of and Google Maps links to nearby neighbourhood scenes, waterways, and plastic pollution on the beach. They even shared a terrific video about pasta straws that had my students wanting to learn more! We have been doing our best to post links in the collaborative workspaces about our city, river, garbage pick-up and recycling system, and other information that we have been learning. We shared a link to the Flipgrid videos we created to share our questions and wonders about Dhaka and plastic pollution in Bangladesh, and are waiting for our partners to comment back.  It has been extremely motivating for my students (and I think for Emil’s as well) to have an authentic peer audience for their work, and to be feeling like we are making friends in another country, while representing our own.

One thing that has really stood out to me about this collaboration is the extreme curiosity that my students have been displaying about learning more about this issue and the other countries we have been investigating as a result of our learning. While our Dutch friends were unable to fit us into their busy year-end schedule to collaborate, we still made a fun Adobe Spark video to share with them, and the process of researching and then creating it was a wonderful inquiry and learning experience. We learned some words in Dutch, and also got to have a little fun and show off our great Canadian sense of humour! ;-)

The CAN-BAN (Canada-Bangladesh) connection, however, has been the most powerful by far! Our countries and cultures are very different, and yet, we still have so many similarities. We have had some really terrific discussions in class about how the way we do things in Canada are not necessarily “right” - just normal for us, but that there are multiple ways of doing things “right” in the world. “Our” way is just one of many. We can learn a lot from how others do things. They can learn from us. We can be courageous, curious and caring. We can ask questions in respectful ways to find out more, like starting our sentences with, “I am interested to learn more about…” or “I am curious about…” or “I noticed this. Can you tell me your thoughts about it?”. We are also learning a lot about ourselves in the process, thinking about the systems and structures in place in Canada that make our country a wonderful place to live in, but that we often take for granted. This is powerful learning! 

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I have very few instructional days left with my students. We are currently trying to work on a culminating project where we make sea creature muppet-style puppets similar to these (but made from craft foam) that we’ll use to make green-screened PSA-style videos about the plastic pollution problem. We want to write letters to different levels of government and local restaurants to encourage them to reduce the amount of single-use plastic drinking straws we are using. We will make it a priority to keep sharing with our friends in Bangladesh about what we are learning and doing until they are finished their school year in mid-June.  Will we get it all done? I don’t know - and I’m not worried. The fact that my students are becoming more interesting people because they are interested and curious is more than enough for me! Better humans for the win!

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The Worst Presentation Ever!

I don't think you can appreciate the glory of life unless you can also know the dark side of life.     

- Bessel Van Der Kolk

If it was never dark, we would have no way of understanding what light was. If we had never experienced suffering or sadness, it would be hard to comprehend what joy and happiness feel like. If we had never been sick, we would take times of good health completely for granted. In order for something to be truly and deeply understood and appreciated by humans, we also need to experience its opposite.  

The negative aspects of things can be our best teachers, even if they are painful or difficult to go through. While they are not always enjoyable, these experiences often contain lessons that we might not learn as quickly or deeply another way, and the education we receive by going through the difficulties can often be much more powerful than the learning we might otherwise glean from more positive, "easy" experiences. It sucks, but it's true. Sometimes, when we are sitting in the middle of something painful, it is difficult to see how it will benefit us in the longer term, but looking back later, we can understand how the difficulties have made us smarter, stronger, kinder, and more resilient. Working through challenges can help us develop a sense of gratitude for the many wonderful things in our lives. 

All of the above are ideas I have been processing and pondering as part of the path my life has been leading me on lately.  I wondered if there were any lessons that I could take out of what I was learning in this part of my personal journey that could be applied in my classroom. I decided to try to put these concepts to use to help improve upon one of the more painful things I have had to experience as an educator: really bad presentations.

I am being somewhat facetious, and am not trying to minimize terrible life experiences by saying that what we feel while enduring a presentation with bad Slides or PowerPoints is on par with the pain we feel when going through something traumatic (although... I suppose it may depend who you ask! LOL). Nevertheless, I have heard people share feelings that mirror what I have heard others describe in terms of physical pain when they are anticipating, or have had to sit through, a presentation that is truly horrible.  I wanted to do my part to help improve my students' abilities in this area to prevent grievous potential injury to their future audience members, so I came up with an idea that I thought would help.

I recently went through part of a free e-course called "Designing Presentations" on the outstanding KQED Teach website. This course does a great job of leading educators through some modules that help with learning good presentation design. I was inspired by ideas from a resource shared in these modules and modified them to share with my students.  I have embedded the slides I adapted/created below. You can also access them here if you would like to make a copy.

Rather than show my students a good example of a presentation slide deck, I gave them exposure to one of the worst ones I could create - a total FAIL - with tips as to what was wrong and how to avoid the mistakes. It was tempting to then give them an assignment to create a really visually appealing slide deck of their own as a way of showing what they had learned, however, I decided to continue to let pain be the best teacher and challenged them instead to create a Google Slides presentation that was even worse than the one I had shown them.

I had no idea how much the students would love this exercise in failure and suffering! In some ways, it was "exciting" for them to feel like they were breaking the rules, and they were truly delighted by the pained sounds of their classmates groaning, cringing as they shielded their eyes from the horrible designs, colour combinations, and font choices that were shared. Pain and joy did not have to be separate. I dare say that the learning they got out of having to explain their appalling choices (and what made their decisions to incorporate them into their slides truly terrible) was exponentially more powerful than if they had simply created a "nice" presentation deck and called it a day. The value of the lesson actually INCREASED because we were actively making mistakes. Pain and failure for the learning win!

I really enjoy reading the work of Thich Nhat Hanh. In his book, "No Mud, No Lotus", he discusses how perspective can be powerful, and suffering and happiness are not separate. He says, "People often ask, 'Why do I have to suffer?' Thinking we should be able to have a life without any suffering is as deluded as thinking we should be able to have a left side without a right side. The same is true of thinking we have a life in which no happiness whatsoever is to be found... If there's no right, then there's no left. Where there is no suffering, there can be no happiness either, and vice versa." It doesn't have to be either/or. Pain and joy can exist at the same time.

None of us are able to get through life without experiencing pain, making mistakes, and suffering.  But by using these principles in the classroom to teach our students about better slide design, maybe.... just maybe... we can at least spare them the pain of sitting through any more bad presentations in the future!

Jay Shetty is quickly becoming one of my favourite media personalities online. If you still need more convincing about how failure and pain can become amazing catalysts for change, take a few minutes to watch the great video below. It's worth your time!

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What If You Just Said, "Yes"?

2017 was the first time that I picked a word to guide me for the year ahead. I liked the idea of the simplicity of that process - rather than a whole list of resolutions, streamlining things into one word of intention that would keep me focussed and moving forward.  I won’t share publicly on the blog the word I chose last year, but I WILL say that the Universe had a whole different definition of it than what I had intended in my own mind - and not at all in a way that worked with my plans and dreams for 2017. Things definitely did not turn out the way I had hoped with that one carefully chosen word. As a result, I was a little nervous to choose a word for 2018, fearing that I might face a similar situation with my new selection.

My friend, HyperDoc guru and amazing educator Lisa Highfill, tagged me in a post about a special “One Little Word” HyperDoc created by the equally outstanding educator, Sarah Landis.  It was beautiful and inspiring enough to convince me to revisit the value of this process and practice, to try it out with my students, and to choose another word myself.  I have embedded the HyperDoc below, but you can also access it at: http://bit.ly/onewordhd  As always with HyperDocs, please maintain credit to the original author in your copies or iterations.

While browsing my Twitter feed, I noticed others posting similar One Word activities, and sharing their own words for 2018, using the hashtag #oneword2018.  I was inspired by the great posts, the quality word choices, and the ideas for extending this activity.  There were beautiful graphic designs, amazing decorated doors, stellar sketchnotes, and much more to peruse. So much One Word goodness was being posted!  Another terrific One Word HyperDoc was shared by Meredith Akers on her website.  I definitely recommend you check it out as well. It is similar in idea to Sarah’s HyperDoc, but has a slightly different format for sharing out each student’s word. You can choose what might work best for your class - or possibly a mash-up of both! You can find Meredith’s activity details by clicking here.

Choosing a word does not have to be something that you do just at the beginning of the year.  I can see this being a powerful practice at the start of each month, each term or semester, or even each season of the year.  It might be something you do each year on your birthday, or at other pivotal times where you would like to refocus yourself.  It is never a bad time to stop, reflect, and move forward with intention. The word you choose is a great touchstone to come back to as you ponder next steps and consider how it has influenced the time in between choosing it and where you are now.  In British Columbia, where I live, our students are required to self-assess on a number of important core competencies.  The One Word activity could definitely tie very nicely into these reflections and assessments.

Maybe choosing a word is not your thing, but you would still like to have your students thinking about the year ahead and setting goals and intentions.  You might be interested in this additional activity that talented Texas educator Kasey Bell posted on her blog about creating digital vision boards.  I love this idea so much that I think my class will be doing it in addition to the One Word exercises!  You can find instructions and inspiration for Kasey’s vision board activity by clicking here.

I kept resisting picking my own word for 2018, but there WAS a word that kept showing up for me that was really resonating.  That word was, “Yes.”  It showed up when I had to decide whether to take a friend up on her incredible offer of a special, last minute vacation getaway.  It appeared in some beautiful meditations that I practiced from incredible teacher and author Tara Brach.  I kept finding it in articles and posts and books that I was reading.  It also showed up when Lisa tagged me in the post about the One Word HyperDoc, inviting me to reconsider choosing a word for this year and encouraging my students to join me. I have decided to let go of my fear from last year, say “Yes!” to the word, “yes”, and claim that word for my own this year. I am choosing to believe that "yes" means that good things will come to me when I release fear, try new things, choose to shift perspective and see the underlying freedom in situations that might feel like they are currently burdening me, and receive opportunities that are sent my way. My fingers are crossed that this year my word takes me places that are far better than I ever could have imagined.

If you are struggling to choose a word, even after looking through the great resources, inspiration, and word lists, maybe you should consider making up your own word? My thoughtful father recently came across and shared with me a really incredible TEDx talk by John Koening called, “Beautiful New Words to Describe Obscure Emotions” which might inspire you to start generating words of your own. John is the author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows where he shares the words he has created to describe things that have previously eluded a single expression to define them.  He also has a YouTube channel where you can view all of the videos for the words he has carefully and thoughtfully crafted. The videos are absolutely, breathtakingly, poetically beautiful.  “Socha” made my breath catch.  “Sonder” touched my heart.  I have posted it below. Sonder means, “The realization that everyone has a story.”  What do you hope your story will look like in 2018? What word will you choose to represent it this year?

Have you chosen a word for 2018?

Have you tried doing a one word or vision boarding activity to start the new year with your students?

Do you have any other great activities that you like to use to start a new month, year, term, semester, or season in your classroom?

Please share in the comments below, or join our Facebook group and tell us your stories there!  Your voice and ideas are important and valued. 

Nothing Sticks Together If We Don't

This content is cross-posted from the EdTechTeam blog.

“Whatcha gonna do about it?” I felt like the Universe was taunting me with this question after a challenging series of difficult life events and unexpected changes in rapid succession.  In addition to feeling defeated and depleted on a personal level, I was feeling anxiety and concern about the world at large. Every time I turned on the news, scrolled through social media or perused trending topics, I was bombarded with stories that were steeped in negativity.  I needed help finding the positive, and looked for inspiration in books, podcasts, online courses, and videos from people who have worked through difficult times with great courage. I noticed that many of them had the same core message, expressed beautifully by Viktor Frankl:  “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”  Perspective is powerful. Seeing difficult times as a catalyst for change and growth can help mitigate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.  Instead of perceiving “Whatcha gonna do about it?” as a call to surrender to sadness and wave the white flag, I decided to choose to see it differently – as a challenge to do something good.  My response? The Glue EDU.

If we focus on the negative, we tend to see more of it. If we look for the positive, it begins to appear more frequently. I decided I wanted to create a blog that focused on the good, that helped myself, other teachers and students work toward becoming more “Wholehearted” (as defined by Brené Brown), and generate a positive ripple as a result.  

 Sketchnote by  Leonie Dawson

Sketchnote by Leonie Dawson

I came up with my site’s mission: We appear to be existing in a time in this world (and often in educational systems) where the focus seems to be on things such as power, programs, policies, politics, plans, and procedures. It feels like decision makers sometimes overlook the most important “P word” of all: PEOPLEThe Glue EDU aspires to be a place where we can share lessons, activities, ideas, resources and more that help us work with our students to become human beings who are courageouscurious, and caring  – both to themselves and to others.  This could be through mindfulness activities, acts of service, global projects, storytelling, perspective shifting, and more!  Many of these activities can harness the power of technology to help us be even more effective and/or wide-reaching.

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As someone who has worked as a tech integrator for more than a decade, I am passionate about sharing ideas about using technology for GOOD, and teaching our students to do the same. I listen to a lot of people blame technology for many negative things in the world – that we are more connected to our devices but less connected to one another, just for starters.  In some instances, this may be true, but I believe we can work to shift our perspective here as well, and focus on all the positive ways we can use our tech tools. I have been incredibly fortunate to attend and present at many EdTechTeam Summits and events where I have seen this demonstrated over and over in presentations by other amazing educators. We can work with students to use technology to inspire curiosity, engage in empathetic interactions, and create, create, create – whether it’s connections to others, stories to share, solutions to problems, or moments of joy. It’s what you do with it that matters – and there are so many ways and opportunities to do it well!

It is scary to share your work publicly. When I began The Glue EDU, I worried that my only blog followers would be a couple good friends and my mom.  The response has been so much better than I ever expected. Colleagues in my own district are using some of the mindfulness resources I mentioned. Teachers from across North America, in New Zealand, and from Singapore, among others, shared how my post about #eyebombing brightened their day, made them smile, and inspired them to try it with their students. Kids in California are now getting a hug, handshake or high five from their teacher every day. An educator in Ohio reached out to say she made some big connections to the truthbombs I shared and thanked me for writing about them. Knowing that I am creating the positive ripple I had hoped for it gives me the courage to keep posting.

Human relationships, empathy, and compassion: they create the glue that connects us. I would love to hear your stories about using technology for good and possibly share them on the blog so others can hear them  – your perspective is important and necessary! Let’s use technology to connect our classrooms, share good ideas, and shift perspective to the positive together. Nothing sticks together if we don’t. Please join me!

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