Starting a school…from scratch

Going with the philosophy that late is better than not at all, here’s my contribution to the #ossemooc #innovatorsmindset bloghop. We’ve been reading George Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset, and this is one of the questions:

bloghop 2

image : Tina Zita

As I reflected on what my “dream school” might look like, I realized that my views have been profoundly influenced by the school community in which I have lived, worked and learned for the past 9 years. Teaching a clientele that reaches opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum with very little in the middle has confirmed for me that I can’t really help my students move through Bloom’s Taxonomy without making sure that they have the necessities of Maslow’s hierarchy.

I have also realized, much more than I expected, that a great many of my students’ parents are intimidated by the very concept of school, often due to their own negative experience. If my school concept is to succeed, it has to find a way to get past that fear and negativity and be a welcoming space. A genuine community space, offering reasons for both parent and child to want to be there.

Beginning. then, with those physiological basics at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid – air, water and food.

breakfast program

photo credit: flickr user US Dept of Agriculture via cc

A fully equipped and staffed kitchen, open beyond school hours, that can be used as classroom space, community kitchen (for teaching parents, kids and community members to prepare and share healthy food), breakfast/hot lunch/supper program, or just a space in which to do schoolwork while eating is the cornerstone of my school space. Access to extensive outdoor space, with both structured and unstructured areas, as well as a stream or pond, are my tweak on air and water. Many of my students have nature deficit disorder and regular learning time exploring outside is becoming a necessity.

The next levels of the Maslow pyramid, that delve into mental and emotional well-being, as well as physical, are at the heart of what I’d like to address in my school. As well as meeting physical needs with spaces like an open clothing “swap shop” and regular visits from a team of medical professionals, my school would be equipped to help with emotional needs as well. Intermediate student in crisis, and needing to talk to someone right away? There would be a trained counsellor available. Family needing support to move through a challenging situation? That would be available on site, too. Teachers needing mental/emotional health support – that’s here, too.  In the environment where I teach, many of my colleagues are finding themselves faced with students who need substantially more mental and emotional health support than we are able/trained to give. Having services to address this on-site, as needed, would help us shape a new approach to mental and emotional health support.

Don’t get me wrong – I want bells and whistles, too. Loads of light, flexible learning environments, creation spaces (analog and digital), room to stretch and socialize and laugh and read and curl up and be quiet and make and share and learn! Yes, I want those, too. But I want, at heart, a healthy community to be able to live, love and learn in that space.

What do other people think? Check them out here, and please share a comment, or write your own post:

Paul McGuire

Amit Mehrotra

Patrick Miller

Donna Fry

Leigh Cassell

Stacey Wallwin

Tina Zita

Jennifer Casa-Todd

Joe Caruso

Gary Gruber

Mark Carbone

George Couros

Allison Keskimaki

Anne Shillolo

 

 

Tumbling in (for 3 voices)

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into @MzMollyTL (Diana Maliszewski) and @MDHS_Librarian (Sarah Wheatley) on Twitter. Diana was admitting some confusion around Tumblr, and suggested that the 3 of us explore Tumblr on our own, and share what we found/learned. As Tumblr was a new frontier for me, I was game. We set a date  (really important for me as a procrastinator), and off we went.

photo credit: flickr user SJL via cc

One of the first things I did was talk to some of my Grade 7 and 8 students about who was using Tumblr, and it quickly became clear to me that the kids who really loved Tumblr were my visual kids – the ones who are always sketching or doing something creative with their photos – but also some of my storytellers. That started to give me a clue about who Tumblr appeals to. It’s not the same crowd that is all over Instagram, because there it’s all about the pictures, and Tumblr is definitely about the pictures, but also about the words. It occurred to me that these students might also like to explore a photojournalling site like blipfoto or a photo and writing combination like thinglink, or even a photo narration variation like fotobabble. Things to think about for the best way to help my students express themselves.

As I explored, I started to get the sense that Tumblr occupies a middle ground between the immediacy of Twitter, and the longer reflectiveness of a “blog” (and I know that term can mean a lot of things).  The first Tumblrs I encountered a couple years ago were very much like what Pinterest has now become – I remember one in particular that was a collection of  images of  70’s couches. It was a way to document your passion, and I think that having your students share the Tumblrs they love (maybe it becomes part of the classroom job list, or there’s a corner for it in a newsletter?) would be a terrific way to direct some passion-based learning.

The Tumblrs that I really enjoyed (and I think one of my absolute favourites is this one, created by the Royal Ontario Museum) managed to find that balance between an image, and the things they wanted to say about it. The ROM Tumblr makes great use of Tumblr’s visual capacity to show off their collection, but also manages to share lots of information (but not too much). And sometimes, it’s just about the image.

from the ROMKids tumblr: The entrance to the museum, looking like the Rebel base on Hoth

from the ROMKids tumblr: The entrance to the museum, looking like the Rebel base on Hoth

I was very interested in seeing how other teachers were using Tumblr, and was lucky enough to have a great example in my friend  Stepan Pruchnicky, who teaches with TCDSB. He uses his Tumblr as his class’ website, and features student work, announcements and other news. It’s a terrifically engaging way to invite parents into the classroom, and his students are obviously very comfortable with the platform. This is something I want to look into further, since I’m always looking for accessible ways to share my students’ work. I’d also like to find my way to some more teacher’s Tumblrs. Do you have a great one to share?

At about the mid-point of our exploration, Diana shared a tweet from a friend including some of Tumblr’s terms of service, which are, to say the least, a little unorthodox, and written in language most people can understand. I actually found this refreshing, and was pleasantly surprised to find this in the terms:

tumblr terms

That link takes you to an international set of crisis phone numbers, and places to get help. Not something you’ll find on every social media site, and while I know not many users would actually drill down that far, I was impressed.

I did set up a Tumblr account as part of this inquiry and I can see using it in certain contexts.  Blogging is often a long, reflective process for me, and I find that it’s tricky to find the time to get that done (I’m very aware of the clock ticking on this one). With Tumblr, it’s like a quick shout-out – again, with more room for a conversation than Twitter, but relatively easy to get it out there. I think it might be perfect for travel blogging with my own kids, because we can choose the pictures we want to talk about.

In terms of ease of use,  I like how easy it is to add a friend’s Tumblr, or something I’ve read on-line to my stream, but wish there was an easier way to do the opposite, and zip a Tumblr out into the Twitterverse. I acknowledge that it probably and I just haven’t found it yet.

Overall, I enjoyed the chance to dig into Tumblr, and am hugely thankful to my co-explorers, who checked in along the way, to keep me motivated (as well as to my students who let me pick their brains). As with any social media platform, there’s some silly stuff out there (witness this lovely bit of “internet whimsy” featuring benedict cumberbatch and otters), and using it in a classroom would need to be focused on the creation part of the equation, rather than consumption.

And maybe that’s my big takeaway. The students I talked to seemed to be willing to be creators in this format – yes, they’re reblogging pieces by others, but some of them are posting their own ideas, too. That’s something I’m looking to encourage, and this seems less of an intimidating format to my students than whatever they perceive a “blog” to be.

Here are my co-conspirators reactions:

Diana’s: Trio tests Tumblr: Diana’s path

Sarah’s: Encouraging Each Other

What do you think?

Let the sparks fly.

An introduction

So, it’s finally time. I’ve considered myself a writer for a long time – almost as long as I can remember being a learner. I wrote poetry and wrote and edited for newspapers through high school and university, and wrote lots and lots of letters (some of them even published, though that’s another story), and then, life got in the way. I had kids, and something happened to the writer who lives inside me. There just wasn’t time…..

…. and now? Well, now those kids are 10 and 12, and the world is a different place. Now, I have an amazing PLN (personal learning network if that’s a new acronym for you) who make me think and question and look at things in different ways….and I want to share that. Now, there’s the medium of a blog, to help me share my thoughts in writing. So, now, it’s time to write again. To try and let that storyteller, who’s been locked out for a while, back in (she’s kind of been banging on the doors and windows a lot lately).

Credit: flickr user domit via cc

Credit: flickr user domit via cc

What might you find here? Reflections on what’s happening in my classroom, reflections on bigger ideas in the education/technology world, something cool that somebody else shared, a great recipe I came across, and maybe even just some joy at something unexpected. We’ll see…it’s a journey, always. I hope you’ll come along, and maybe share where these sparks take you.

Thanks to @kevinhoneycutt for the name of the blog.  I was lucky enough to meet him at #ECOO13 in October, and he suggested that I was a sparkplug, and the more I thought about it, the more I decided he was right. I like to light things up…to share ideas, and encourage people to play with them, and take them in different directions – like sending out a shower of sparks to start something up. Thanks also to Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) whose #nerdlution (and reflections on it) was the final push I needed to get this out there!

Hope to see you here soon.