Happy 1st Day of School!

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It’s the start of another school year and I can’t believe that it’s been 13 years since I walked into my first classroom as a permanent teacher. The pre-day butterflies I had then have persisted each and every year and I’m so happy for that. These pre-day jitters reinforce the excitement to both serve and learn with my students. In the 13 years since I walked into my first classroom (period 1 Gr. 10 College English) I’ve never wavered in my commitment to providing students with what I hope is a fulfilling experience; challenging them to evolve as critical and creative thinkers who can leverage the power of communications technology to empower their voice and connect with a world outside of their classroom. The journey, regardless of the time passed, is always thrilling and one grounded in constant change.

As I begin this new school year and after so many years of classroom instruction and leading adult learning, I’m thrilled to share my new learning journey with my students. As they begin a new chapter today, I too begin a journey that reinforces my commitment to life-long learning. I’m thrilled to be a Queen’s University Graduate Student in the Professional Masters of Education program with a focus on media literacy. This new chapter is strictly about the love of learning. It’s not about “climbing” the district ladder or looking for a life outside the classroom, but rather my yearning to be a student again. As a teacher I find that my own learning is essential in ensuring my students’ experience is timely and relevant. As such, this experience will serve me and the students I teach; a great investment on so many levels.

Although I have a specialization in Communications Technology and Film Studies and have extensive experience is producing and teaching media, it was personally pressing to continue in my own studies – to be challenged and to be provoked within an academic framework that will nurture and evolve my teaching practice. As such, I very much look forward to the next two years of learning; to collaborate with colleagues and to be challenged in my life-long learning journey.

As this new school year begins, let’s remember that schooling is empowerment; the more we learn the more empowered we are and become. As the this new school year begins, I feel incredibly empowered and hope that that my students have an experience that gives them everything they need and more.

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

“Wicked” and the “art” of Decoding Difference

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As a parent and teacher, its hard at times to be optimistic about the world in which your children and students live. Perhaps, never in my own lifetime, has there been such an sense of dismay; a culture that seems to be indifferent about difference. From issues plaguing indigenous Canadians to the realities of supporting the working poor in communities all across the country, its important to recognize that difference, like a movie or an appealing advertisement, is a construct. It’s a construct that places blame and creates divides. From shallow proclamations in casual conversation that indigenous people are suffering due to their own incompetence or that the working poor are “lazy,” we can not afford to be indifferent about the creation of difference. Dignity, respect and community are real words with real meaning and as such we must take the intentional opportunity to dialogue with young people about the need to be critical thinkers who can recognize and decode potentially dangerous, isolating and divisive rhetoric. This is why, I love to engage my own children in the arts. As a portal to communication and sharing, the arts have the ability to seemingly engross in spectacle and engage in the intimacy of conversation. Whether it be a blockbuster film with a conscious, a photography exhibit or a musical, the arts liberates and challenges thinking. This doesn’t mean a particular message must be agreed upon but rather the provocation of conversation is what matters if you’re really watching and listening.

Recently, my wife and I had the pleasure to experience Wicked with our 7 and 5 year olds. Although they’ve watched The Wizard of Oz repeatedly, they were yearning to find out more about the Wicked Witch of the West; the fierce and unapologetic villain who in the 1939 film is a shallow vessel for evil personified. Her motivation is unknown and in such the perspective of the film is limited. As with any narrative, the question rests: What is Real?

Whereas the film is Dorothy centric, the theatrical Wicked provides a contemporary and urgent point of view; a colonial an imperialistic Oz plagued by the spirit of difference and one that’s built on lies, layered representations of truth and the placement of blame.  Published in 1995 and premiering on stage in 2003, I cant help but think of the story’s telling of the how the “Wicked Witch” came to be, is so connected to the cultural discourse of 1995, 2003 and even seeing it for the first time in 2018. As the Wizard himself says in the play, truth is all based on perception. Regardless, the perspective of the play and one that is ever pressing, is that the Wicked Witch was very much created; naturally good hearted but systemically and purposely vilified and used as a scapegoat to protect and justify power. Think about that for a moment; “purposely vilified.” Whether it be refuges painted as terrorists in hiding or a black male youth as a potential walking threats, those in power create the difference and a responsible society must be composed of people who can see that difference is being created.

This is important conversation to be had, both with children and adults. During the intermission I asked my children how Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the East) is treated and if we should treat people who are “different,” in such a way. I asked them to make a connection to their world and provoke conversation. We can’t underestimate kids; they pick up on the home conversation, table talk and what news is playing on the television. We have to be brave enough, whether at home or in the classroom, to have real conversations and find a way to navigate the real world talk.  This is the power of the arts; a vessel for dialogue. This doesn’t mean we have to agree but we should very much listen and share.

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Uncategorized, Wizard of Oz | Tagged , , ,

How worried should you be about the Ontario Sex-Ed Repeal? Very!

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So, how dangerous is the recent repel of the Ontario sex Ed curriculum? Very.

I don’t write this reflection through the lens of a physical education specialization or experience – far from it. However, I reflect if my own children (7 and 5), my students in high school and the importance of teaching and learning that doesn’t serve a political party’s ideology, but,  is grounded in time and space.

The change in the curriculum, bringing us back 20 years, speaks to a paramount disconnect between the role educational systems are to play and the “sensitivity” of individuals. Education is to serve the greater good; grounded in a critical understanding of culture, student learning must be current and relevant. Since culture changes and values evolve, it’s important for teaching and learning to do the same. The role of government is to lead and in this case is a potential warning of what is to come; a fragmentation of progressive education that nurtures a critical discourse for students to understand the world in which they live.

As a parent, why would I not want my grade 1 child to know about consent? This is a urgent conversation not only about self but others. Or, to know the proper name for genital. As such, don’t we want to encourage respect for self and other and the maturity to know one’s body in scientific terms?

Or, as my daughter enters grade 3 the understanding of “difference” and the diversity that exists in her community. Perhaps the conversations will be challenging but we cannot afford to think less of our 7 and 8 years old. As the television and movies they watch become increasingly inclusive and potentially “censor-free” depending on where and what they are watching, it’s a reminder that we’re not living in 1998. Barney and the Teletubbies are no longer on the air and culture has evolved. As such, so does the conversation. It must evolve and make students active citizens of the present and future – not the past.

Pressingly and most disconcerting, the 1998 curriculum was developed at the time of dial up internet. This speaks to how out-of-date it really is. The 1998 curriculum is not the “greatest hits” of contemporary time and place. What about today’s use of smartphones where students must be educated on the pros and cons of social media, the importance of positive digital citizenship, the understanding of their digital footprint and respect for self and other online. The culture of Snapchat alone is a curriculum in and of itself; students at a young age are posting and sharing inappropriate images and messaging that hinders self, others and cultivates a negative social environment. How can this conversation be actively and purposely avoided? This is dangerous.

To eliminate an intentional opportunity to talk about technology and its use within a hyper connected world where young people escape into apps that parents are perhaps not well-versed on the hidden context, is dangerous and irresponsible. To avoid conversations about cultural difference is to amplify the politics of difference. It’s when we stop having current conversations that education becomes stagnant and strips you people of necessary preparedness. In case of Ontario students, a world that is connected and yet divided. For our students, the goal should be to establish Ontario students as leaders in a world in need of leadership that is forward thinking and progressive – reverting back to 1998 is a statement about the value of education itself.

In the end, regardless of who you voted for on June 7, a repeal back to 1998 should be worrisome. It’s one thing to make revisions or amendments, but to harken back to the time of dial up is a stark mistake and has the potential to be dangerous. If you’re worried, don’t be passive. Call or visit your M.P.P and have a real conversation; one that is informed and is committed to ensuring that young people of today are prepared to live activity in world much different than 1998.

Posted in Educational Leadership, family and education, Technology Education | Tagged , , ,

The Incredibles 2: A Parent’s Guide

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If you’re a fan of animated films (and not just those produced in Hollywood), then you can deeply appreciate Brad Bird’s recent online rebuttal that animation films are not kid movies. In responding to a fan on social media who asserted their concern over the “cuss words” in Incredibles 2, the director himself responded and his response is perfect.

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Just think of Bird’s own Iron Giant (1999), a Cold War set film about an alien robot who forms an unlikely friendship with a small town boy all while paranoid McCarthy-esque  government officials living in a deep fear of the “other”  are determined to destroy the friendly otherworldly being. Or, within the Pixar vault, there are countless adult centric stories; from Andy moving onto college in Toy Story 3 (2010) or connecting with the dead and understanding the trauma of family in Coco (2017), animation’s magic and cultural reach isn’t lessened by its form and style  but is rather heightened; shaping worlds accessible to children through colour and sound that encourages, or rather, demands active conversation. This speaks to the shared experience of watching these films with your children or young people in general ; the need to be active participants who are critically literate. Going to the movies must be about more than popcorn and candy but the cultural conversation that stems from narrative, time and place.

It’s with this that Incredibles 2 challenges us parents to actually parent; do look deep into our family milieu and not be afraid of what we discover. From the potential roles that exist within our households or the recognition that we and our children may be too plugged into technology, the film although entertaining, is not escapist. Like all of Brad Bird’s works, there is so much more to the spectacle on the screen.

banner2Here’s a parent cheat sheet on how to engage in a post Incredibles 2 conversation with your kids. These are the conversations I readily have with my 7 and 5 year olds after visiting the movies or watching at home. The idea is to provoke reflection and make connections to what they know, have experienced or wonder. Plus, it provides an opportunity to build critical literacy; nurturing students to grow in their cognitive ability to read and understand text through a personal and cultural lens. 

 

  1. Ask your child what was interesting about Elastigirl being the hero called to action and Mr. Incredible being at stay at home dad. Ask them to think about how heroes are typically represented in movies and popular culture – how are the heroes typically? Challenge your child to make critical connections about gender at their level and speak about issues of today such as the Times Up and Me Too Movement. This is not to say to go in detail about sexual harassment but rather the overall theme of dignity, respect and equity.

 

  1. Ask your child what weapon Screenslaver is using? How is the villain controlling people? Make a critical connection between technology and the everyday world; the film is hyper critical of tech-induced media consumption without critical empathy; thus us becoming slaves to the tech that we plug into. The is reinforced by the World Health Organizations recent assertion that chronic gaming is an addiction. The villain recognizes people’s dependence on tech, acknowledges it as an cultural curse and uses it as a weapon to destroy superheroes. As a parent this should challenge your thinking around technology. How is it used in your home? How much time do your children spend on technological devices? When on the tech, are they consuming or creating?

 

  1.  Ask your child why the Screenslaver dislikes heroes so much. Make a critical connection between her father’s dependence on heroes; an idealism generated by his consumed understanding of heroes. The father, lacked a critical literacy to call the police to help him. Rather he waited for “superheroes.”

 

  1. Ask your child what’s interesting about the kids in the film; the incredible children. What do they challenge their parents to do (primarily their father)? The children aren’t passive bystanders; they’re active participants in the family. They teach their father about who they are; challenge him as does Elastigirl, not be be self consumed with a role society and culture dictate; one that connects masculinity to heroism and not the home. The children challenge their father to embrace his evolved role; dad first and hero second.

 

The power of Incredibles 2 rests within its relationship with technology and the family; its a film about the evolution of a family, changed roles and expectations all while reminding us that human connectivity is of paramount importance and not the tech that we allow in our homes so willingly and without potential critical discourse – one that truly understands the consequences of us being slaves to the screens that we bring into our homes. It with all of this that Brad Bird is right – it’s not a kids movie. Its for adults to watch with their children and guide a conversation – hence the PG.

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Movies and Television, Technology Education | Tagged , , , ,

Deep Learning: Ensuring the “ISU” lives beyond the school and classroom.

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A week ago today, on May 30th at Yorkdale Silver City in Toronto, the 4th Annual Ignite digital media showcase of creative works produced in Communications Technology at Chaminade College School came to life. It’s with this culmination of student learning that Ignite provided all invested in the program with a tangible and shared outcome; an experiential experience lived from applied knowledge (both theory and application), global competencies such as collaboration and the activation of the Catholic Graduate Expectations including but not limited to the Effective Communicator and Discerning Believer.

In leaving a system level position to pursue a resurgence in the classroom four years ago, the need to create a discourse for student learning that lived beyond the school building was of paramount importance. The new learning from a system level position as a resource teacher provided for a new scope and urgency to to re-engage in the physical space of the classroom. Ignite stems from that re-engagement and the promise to students that their learning will transcend traditional assessment and will provide for an authentic opportunity to create from self, for self and for an audience.

Now in its 4th year, the challenge is how to evolve the experience to provide the showcased students an opportunity to share their skills in real time; perhaps facilitating a community workshop in video production or graphic design in the theatre space. As such, beyond being a showcase it must evolve into a shared  community experience. Nonetheless, regardless of the next steps, the core principle of the event is not merely producing and projecting short films on the big screen or transforming the theatre’s concession area into an print and digital gallery, but to establish a shared experience and remind students that their critical and cultural voice matters . Film , is a cultural discourse and sharing in the theatre experience is like no other within the creative milieu.

Such events do foster so many rich opportunities to engage in “ed speak.” However, whether it be my experience facilitating a similar event titled “Digital” at St. Basil’s the Great College School or in my very early years of teaching in Niagara Falls and moderating the student production of a local community access television program, or in my years of organizing and managing the Focus Niagara Film Festival from 2002 – 2006, the promise of the “lived and shared experienced “ is transformational and a acknowledges that our students are more than a canvas for tests and quizzes and deserve true opportunities for deep learning that ensures that assessment is not merely “marking” but rather an opportunity to provided descriptive and ongoing feedback – allowing students to grow during the course of an activity and after.

The journey to such an event is magical and I’m continuously amazed by the students – not just for their technical skill but more urgently their critical voice and resiliency in changing, evolving and embracing the promise that assessment is learning and not just the evaluation of what has been submitted.

Don’t take it from me, here students reflect on their learning leading to Ignite 2018 .

Posted in Education, Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Student Voice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , ,

It’s not my Classroom: Reflecting on Cultural Responsive Pedagogy

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If you’re a teacher, my sincere hope is that you can appreciate the need to serve students as individuals; recognizing that each child is shaped by a personalized narrative that can very much determine, or at least help shape, their success in a classroom. In working with students, its important for teachers to recognize their own philosophy of education. Mine, is quite simple: I want students to be active and mature citizens who value education as an extension of themselves. In my classroom, my concern isn’t merely the curriculum but rather that students leave with a critical sense of how my particular course can enrich their continued growth as a person. As such, the classroom space is grounded in the student and not curriculum. It may seem too sentimental, but students are the curriculum; their growth as human beings is the end goal and the focus in which teaching and learning is founded upon. This growth isn’t merely academic but importantly humanistic.

  • How has the student evolved as a person?
  • Do they see themselves or their world in a new way?
  • Have they been able to share their voice?
  • Have the been able to show what they know?
  • Have the been able to challenge or provoke thinking?

It’s with these questions in mind that I recently attended a conference on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, where Karen Murray an administrator with the Toronto District School Board challenged teachers to embrace the reality of diversity and equity and to teach from and to it. Born out of or perhaps inspired by Constructionist Educational Theory, Cultural Responsive Pedagogy, recognizes the importance of the classroom and school as an adaptable and welcoming setting; recognizing individual students or the collective and ensuring, with intentionality, that the culture of the community (or the individual narrative) is embraced or leveraged in teaching and learning. Importantly, this notion of culture goes beyond such realities as race and gender and includes other cultural pillars such as GAMING.

A major industry that cannot be underestimated in his cultural depth and reach, “gamers,” of today are often active within collaborative or world building games that differ from the structures of their everyday. A world, with its own rules, regulations and language, the gamer verse is grounded not just in game, but connectivity, hardware and the perception of social connectivity and the potential success that potentially, does not extend to the “real world.” A film like Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One speaks to this so intimately. A narrative filled with avatars and conflict between the lived world and the gaming world, the film speaks to the challenges of “escaping reality” and the need to embrace not just reality but balance. It’s because of deep and complex emotional and psychological layers to gaming that teachers can’t easily displace its shaping of students, just like we can’t pretend that issues of race, gender, class, ethnicity and sexuality don’t play major roles in the lives of our students and that we as teachers don’t need to be responsive in our classrooms – we do.

As suggested by a fellow teacher at the conference, the classroom belongs to the teachers and students must adapt to the educator. In part this is true, as students must be resilient and adapt to expectations, but as public servants, the students as real people are the priority and teachers in the public trust must be adaptive themselves; responding to their “audience” and ensuring that education is immersive. As a teacher, I truly don’t see my role as “preparing students for the real world.” Although, I want them to be active learners who are resilient, responsible, disciplined, collaborative, creative, empathetic and innovative, I recognize that the “real world” that teachers often speak of, is not one that they’re necessarily a part of. For teachers, who refuse the open mindedness to embrace such thinking as Cultural Responsiveness (or PD in general), I wonder if they would be able to adapt to a corporate non-unionized structure that provides a mosaic of challenges.  As educators, specifically Ontario educators, we are guided by the Ethics and Standards of Practice above all else – this means we are responsible to the public trust. We can’t be non responsive.

In my own experience, I have grown so much from my intimate embrace of such principles of being responsive. As part of my Communications Technology course, the goal is to provide context as to why the study of popular culture holds critical merit. At the onset of the course, students engage in the critical screening and reading of popular film. In one particular course, I recognized that cultural grouping of my students and rather than watching a film that I traditionally teach to as an opener, I screened Jordan Peele’s Get Out and welcomed the opportunity to have real and pressing conversations about not only genre but race, representation and the colonization of body and mind. Furthermore, recognizing my limitations in addressing the African-American (and in my ways Canadian) experience, I leveraged Twitter to reach out to an authentic voice; Tananarive Due who teaches Black Horror Cinema at UCLA. As an African-African woman with a personal connection to the Civil Rights Movement and as a social advocate addressing today’s pressing issues, she not only educated me but spoke directly to the students in the room from a personal voice – something I couldn’t do. Also, not only did she speak to the politics of Get Out but she contextualized our future screening of Black Panther – providing a framework for Afro-futurism and why Black Panther is such an cultural responsive film in so many ways. It was in this experience that the classroom was not about me but rather the students and providing them all with an opportunity to see their world through a different lens and for many,  to see someone from their community, speak to the past, present and future; a future in much need of allies and advocates.


Here is an excerpt from our in class conversation where Tananarive Due addresses the notion of the “black erasure” in Horror Cinema.

In the end (or rather beginning), a teacher being Cultural Responsive is preparing students for the real world; a world that is layered with issues and one of much needed equity, justice and dignity. As such, perhaps the greatest goal we can achieve with including the actual student as a person in our teaching and learning is nurturing students to be cultural responsive themselves; good people who recognize their own lens and value the experiences of others.

Ultimately, the classroom doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to my students.

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Media Literacy and Pop Culture | Tagged

Encourage students to share their “Why.”

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Over the course of the past few years , I’ve written and have actively advocated for the authentic integration of cross curricular portfolio design; not solely curating learning artefacts but building and sustaining a holistic digital presence including digital portfolios that showcase student reflective voice, artefacts of learning and highlighting a sense of who they are as an individual (hobbies, interests, etc.). Along with a portfolio , the leveraging of social media applications such as Twitter as an epicentre for connectivity, outreach and the sharing of an individual portfolio (and brand) is paramount. Recognizing social media as a new resume provides learners with a self-directed experiential discourse with the potential to support resiliency in asking for feedback , next steps and then applying such notes where, applicable .

In my work with educators in supporting the integration of cross curricular multimodal design and portfolio creation, I consistently assert that modelling is so urgent; building and sustaining a professional web presence that models the viability of connectivity with purpose and meaning . When having this dialogue with teachers, a common question arises:   “What is the point of this for students.”

My response goes something like this:

Imagine the excitement you had as young learner when you brought home work from school and it was put on the fridge for display – your work being showcased.  In the early years we readily celebrate the skills that go along with the work and the overall achievement (the artifact). We celebrate student learning, but later on in school life, the focus turns to marks, content, quizzes, tests and less about the artifact that is an example of students showing what they know.  Where is the student in this? The web is the new fridge and can open many opportunities for students to connect and potentially create experiential opportunities (intentionally or by accident). Sharing online is not about celebrity but rather possible connectivity; showcasing, reaching out to like-minded people, asking for feedback etc.

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Now, coming from me, this means little. With a film and digital media background I have a deep connection to the notion of “exhibition” and the need to be your own PR firm. So, take it from two students who have shown a commitment to leveraging social media within a professional discourse; activating their entrepreneurial spirit to not just wait for doors to open but to create their own. Its within the portfolio and reflection that students can find the “why” to their learning and how they learn.

The video below highlights two students who have participated in a Gr. 9 STEM Portfolio Camp that I developed and have been moderating for three years.  This camp, intentionally scaffolds the principles of the Ministry of Ontario’s Creating Pathways to Success but also enriches the reflective portfolio experience by nurturing students to harness transferable digital skills to show learning across all subjects, effectively communicate and create a positive online brand.

Specifically, in regards to STEM education the camp that runs all year through face-to-face instruction and blended learning, reminds students that STEM is not just about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math but importantly the need to be effective communicators who can share ideas readily, examine the world through a reflective and cultural lens and recognize the importance of be self-directed learners who can discover and share their “why.”

It’s only two-minutes long – worth the watch.

 

Final thought:

Also, speaking to transferable skills, students must be able to leverage digital tools to communicate in a way that is accessible, easy to share and extends their ideas. Here’s a great example of how transferable digital skills can live beyond a tech-centered learning environment.

The following video was produced by Gr. 10 student Jimmy Huynh who not only has a enriched digital footprint but has used digital video outside of the tech classroom; in other courses of study and in extra curricular life.

Check out his video below.

 

Posted in 21st Century Learning, Education, Technology Education | Tagged , , , ,