Blogosphere turns Fifty (posts)!

Day 50This post marks the fiftieth such publication on this blog, a milestone I couldn’t conceive of almost ten months ago when I awkwardly began this endeavor by compiling a (far-too) exhaustive best-of-web installment and publishing it against an all-black backdrop that infuriated many of my early readers. Since then my posts have ranged from the professional to the personal, to collaborations and glimpses of my classroom, to treatises on the work and thoughts of others, and continue to expand in the scope of topic and tone, and continue to define me as a blogger, writer, teacher and human being. If I have learned in these fifty posts anything about what makes a good blog post: it is anything that I wind up sharing on my blog. This doesn’t mean that I think every one of my posts is gem worth global digestion, but rather that by continuing to create, and permitting my posts to include everything, and anything, so long as they speak for me, and report on my view of things – be they educational or otherwise –  I am further defining what my blogging can and will be. Looking ahead, that is an exciting prospect to behold.

In these fifty posts this blog has been visited by more than 2,000 different people. They have come from 302 cities in 44 countries on five continents. According to Google Analytics, these have been the blogosphere’s most viewed posts (interestingly, in as much as ‘format,’ or topic, they are as varied as my interests, and representative of the teacher’s life by random, yet authentic samples):

  1. Don’t Stop Believing in Santa Claus (Your Mission Should You Choose to Accept it): Though we haven’t quite gotten there yet, these two posts – viewed more than 400 times – are the record of an attempt at a collaborative project that was a good taste of what pulling off the ultimate global singalong requires. Whether the recording of our students at our Last Day of School Sing – Along (held as an optional ‘assembly’ for anyone wanting to join this pep rally filled our cafeteria multi-purpose room to the rafters with holiday cheer and the voices of our students and staff – is eventually joined to that of others on other continents or not, our school’s digital media students are at work piecing together a short film of the live performance, both on stage and in the crowd, that promises to be only the beginning of a project that will hopefully grow in the years to come.
  2. The Long Way HomeThough it is technically a ‘page,’ and not a post, The Long Way Home is the written record of a cross-country road trip with my sister on my way home from five years spent living in Arkansas at university.
  3. Edublogs Awards NominationsAt the end of November, I was honoured to be nominated by Dave Truss for one of these annual awards that are a great way to hear what others have been reading, and who has gotten them thinking. Though I wasn’t shortlisted for an award, my contributions of nominees were almost more of a milestone in joining the blogging community, as they were viewed by almost two hundred people in the past month.
  4. To Find Your Own Way Arguably home to the best photograph on my blog, this post is testament to the direction our class is poised to take, as it shared the collected voices of our grade nine students in the fourteen directions taken with their Eminent Person Speeches.
  5. A New Year (…and my love of teaching grammar) – Testament to the blog’s growing audience if nothing else, I wrote this resolution to get back to basics in my instruction of English (even as I delve deeper into the realm of technology and web 2.0 authorship) after reading a lot of Jim Burke’s English Companion Blog (I couldn’t find a way to work his namelink into the original post, but do want to bring him to your attention as an eloquent teacher who writes as I would wish to).

As the blog has gotten older, and become more a part of my daily practice,  I have only posted with increasing frequency. With every post, as well as visitor, this blog becomes more of an honest reflection of the teacher I am becoming alongside it. I have been happy to share the last fifty such posts with everyone who has landed here, whether by being a personal connection, or one gleaned otherwise through the web, and look forward to another fifty posts – which will no doubt be here sooner – spent learning alongside you.

Wordle as Discussion Synthesis

Wordle: Reign Of Queen Victoria

Edit: Wesley Fryer has a great post this week with a variety of digital means of delving into President Obama’s recent speech at West Point (among them Wordle).

This past week our socials class made use of its Wikispace’s discussion boards to conduct ranging conversations around major themes in their respective chapters. For the grade nines, this meant the English Civil War; the tens discussed Canada’s colonial society and its political issues.

Wordle: Talons multiculturalism discussionStudents divided the chapter into sections which were read and mined for a discussion topic by partners or groups of three. The class then was assigned the reading of their respective chapter, and was asked to post in a variety of the discussion threads at a rate of three-to-five quality posts for each of the assignment’s two days. The student-groups who had crafted and posed each of the original questions were charged with moderating their discussion thread, and at the end of the week the task of Wordle: parliamentsynthesizing the major points of the discussion. As one of the wiki’s purposes is to serve as a reference and study tool as the socials curriculum (and respective stories of the European march toward independance and exploration, and Canada’s first steps into democracy and the West) will continue to accumulate through the final exam in June, a brief representation of what became at times passionate and articulate debate could potentially go a long way.

Wordle: Reign of Queen VictoriaBut this was also a tall task, given that many of the discussions had veered into tangents that may not have had any bearing on the original purpose of the material.

Out of the density of text, came to the rescue, the results of which freckle this page, and aided in the creation of the intended summary paragraphs of the discussions’ major themes and ideas. When the final does arrive though, I wonder if these wordles – as well as those which will follow – just may prove to be the more valuable study tool?

Canada Day & Our Country's Parks

Last week I received an early-morning phone call

informing me that a friend of a friend had passed away over the weekend along the lengths of the Yellowhead Highway’s western flank, in Smithers, BC. Weary of the drive through the Fraser’s canyon and the sheer distance involved in traversing the province’s northern shoulder – some two thousand kilometers in all – I offered to provide vehicle and pilot to the expedition (this is where it can help to have vacationing teachers as friends) so long as we could round out the trip by cycling through the northern edges of the Rockies on the return trip. And at 11pm on the last day of June – last Tuesday – we resolved to leave the next morning for Smithers, and the funeral slated for Friday. The next morning, Canada Day, we stopped at Canadian Tire for a stove and several propane canisters, and lit out for the north.

In Chilliwack, we stopped at the Provincial Information Center by the Trans Canada, and procured nearly the entirety of the resources required for a 2500km road trip over five days: BC Parks & Road map, Camp Free BC guidebook, and regional parks descriptions for the Caribou, the Skeena, the Rockies, the North (yeah, simply, the North), as well as Lower Mainland and Coast. Aside from spending a night in Smithers in a hotel (whose drapes helped us sleep through a night that saw a mere three hours of night), we would live out of the car, making living rooms in campsites around the province.

I have made such voyages before, but never on such short notice. My sister and I have driven the country from Toronto to Vancouver, and spent a month in the wilds of Haida Gwaii, and yet even on a smaller scale, the ease our provincial parks put such explorations of our country’s natural beauty before our fingertips is a remarkable testament to that which we hold to be self-evident: that,

“as a public trust, [our parks] protect representative and special natural places within the Province’s Protected Areas System for world class conservation, outdoor recreation, education and scientific study.”

A. and I left for our trip on Canada Day, our national holiday, and set up tent, fire, sunset and the Tragically Hip on a perch above the Trans Canada Highway and Lac Le Hache. Far from a wilderness venture, our site was raked gravel, and came with sturdy picnic table, fire pit (and achingly dry pine that split and burned too easily), and also included waterfront view at $15 a night. From past experience, I knew that in driving aroundacross our country, the use of a Parks Road map will point out such overnight accommodations at two-to-three hundred kilometer intervals along Highway 1, but also many ulterior routes. But I had not truly contemplated how easy, how reachable, and how inexpensive such experiences could be, and realized that it showed an incredible amount of foresight for our legislators had written it into law that such plots, freckled across our highways and the natural expanses they lead to, be set aside to put future generations in touch with who they are, as citizens of Canada. To enjoy our parks is to view the country’s natural and human history in the spirit of the adventurous present, we thought that night, retiring to a sleep rock-a-byed by the rumbling of 18-wheelers on their night drives, winding through the capillaries of the Caribou.

The next morning we set our sights on the western reaches of the Yellowhead, to Smithers and the head of the Skeena Valley. With 700km to travel, and a date with a hotel that evening, we spanned our day around highway rest stops and campgrounds for meals and swims across the high country. Two years ago my sister and I followed the Yellowhead to its termination in Naikoon Provincial Park, on the Queen Charlotte Islands. But we misread the date of our sailing from Prince Rupert, and spent four days exploring the valley of the Seven Sisters, and the lakes along the Pacific Trunk Railway. Though not as awe inspiring as other corners of the Province, it felt on both trips as though I were exercising some patriotic duty to see and experience as much of my home as possible. Thoreau alluded to traveling in one’s home as important to that accomplished abroad, and while I don’t believe he imagined a sense of home reaching the lengths of BC’s farthest borders, I feel like these excursions make manifest this purpose.

With the funeral behind us on Friday afternoon we drove away from the afternoon sun, bound for Beaumont Provincial Park near Vanderhoof (the Geographical Center of British Columbia). But with the sun still high and the promise of the Rockies not far off, we drove through the northern capital of Prince George and found a Campsite Full sign outside Lake Pruden. Cause for momentary panic – as the long twilight had begun and Mt. Robson was more than an hour’s drive to our next such lodgings – we found that “overflow campers” had been diverted to the picnic area behind the beach. At the same cost ($15), we found ourselves baffled in the July moonrise accompanied by crying loons and the North’s trademark mosquitoes, black flies and noseeums, and retired to an early rest.

The next morning, still in the sun, the eastern border of the province barreled on toward us, opening the highway up into its cursive-writing dive into Mount Robson and the western Rockies. Mount Terry Fox reared up, bald and rounded at the edge of the highway, striking that chord that Douglas Coupland has spent a while tuning in each of our appreciation of the quintessential Canadian Hero. Looking up through the free steel binoculars in the rest area, I remembered standing at the foot of the man-made monument to Terry at the western tip of Lake Superior, and the furthest point reached during his Marathon of Hope. As a graduate of Coquitlam’s schools (just like Terry Fox), I didn’t feel myself a stranger to the mythology of the young man’s courage, inspiration, and the call to rise above, beyond and to become a symbol. But to be twenty two at the time and to see my young countryman in marble looking out at the greatest of the lakes was a Canadian moment rivaling any I have yet experienced.

Some few thousand miles west, into the promised land which Terry traveled as a picture of heroism which defies description, I looked up at the mountain bearing his name and thought about the land between these honoured points, and that it is the fabric of our country, our home, and diverse as the people who live upon it. But each of us is bound to this sense of distance,  and the immensity of our separation. In distance we are yet close.

At Mount Robson, we stayed in the spray of the Fraser headwaters as they begin their teeming glare out of the belly of the province to spill the land’s sediment into the Pacific. Here begins the highway that the Northwest Company would utilize in its efforts to reach the ocean; how much hope welled within those earliest explorers – Alexander MacKenzie, Simon Fraser & David Thompson, among others – when they sensed that these streams were to be the culmination of a continent, the end of the future? I waded into the freezing waters on Sunday morning, waited for the numbness to take my feet and shins (though in the meantime worried I would throw up from the pain of doing so) and submerged myself in the broiling eddy of the main current, stumbling and rolling against the riverbed before coming up.Later in the day, A. and I would each swim in the Thompson before stopping for a final night on the shores of Lac Le Jeune.

It may only be a Canadian ritual 1  to ceremonially immerse oneself in the waters of the various regions of one’s country, or in the least is exclusive to countries – where through frigid temperatures, dangerous currents or predatory animals – where rivers, lakes and the seas command human respect. Where the opportunity presents itself, I keep a tally in my mind of the local bodies of water I have swum in: from the Adriadic, Atlantic and Pacifics, to the Frasers, Thompsons Rivers, Cultas and Pure Lakes, among a host of others. I was raised a water child, swimming before I could walk, and to emerge from these waterways is to become a citizen of these places.

“I have been for a long period among the Rocky Mountains, but have never seen any thing equal to this country, for I cannot find words to describe our situation at times. We had to pass where no human being should venture. Yet in those places there is a regular footpath impressed, or rather indented, by frequent travelling upon the very rocks. And besides this, steps which are formed like a ladder, or the shrouds of a ship, by poles hangining onto one another anc crossed at certain distances with twigs and withes (tree boughts) suspended from the top to the foot of the precipices, and fastened at both ends to stones and trees furnished a safe and convenient passage to the Natives – but we, who had not the advantages of their experence, were often in imminent danger, when obliged to follow their example.”

Simon Fraser

Having journeyed north through Cache Creek and the Fraser Canyon, winding through Hell’s Gate and what must have seemed the apocalypse to Simon Fraser and his band of Norwesters, we spent Sunday passing through Valemount, Barrierre, Clearwater and the country north of Kamloops where Fraser first came south, along the Thompson. With the ghosts of the high country fading, we discarded the relics of the north en route back to life, civilization, and pavement.

We made it through Kamloops, filling up on what would be our trip’s final tank of gas, and stopped at Lac Le Jeune on the Coquillhalla Highway for our final night in the tent. RVs rumbled through the afternoon taking up sites, and

the moon rose on a cloudless, bugless night. We lit an early fire with a surplus of wood, and listened to a large family playing Wolf and the Townspeople up the hill from our site. Our fifth night out, we slept soundly amidst crickets in the surrounding grass.

Civilization came calling early the next morning however, with an industrial weed-whacker tackling deep swaths of the cricket-grass before the sounding of the dawn’s first rustling birds. Yawns and bed-headed tenters emerged quickly – checking watches, craning their necks to the overcast sky – and by 7:30 the camp was fully stirring, as the weed-whacking parks employee had continued his rounds through each of the campsite’s four concentric rings of sites. Our dusty wares were stowed and we stopped for coffees before arriving in Port Moody in the rain, 2512km under our tires in five days.

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  1. I say that this could be a Canadian phenomena based on two experiences: When my sister and I found ourselves within a stone’s throw of the St. Lawrence, in Montreal, grasping the history that had sailed that canal in the preceding four hundred years: as Canadians, something of us is born in rivers and lakes, as they meant the birth of our country. In BC, we are witness to not only the proximity to European and Native interaction with the land, but the millenia which have sculpted salmon’s relationship to the land within its waters. Such is this impulse in British Columbians that on a recent trip to Copenhagen with a large group of Canadians, several were instinctively drawn to diving from the corner of a busy downtown intersection into the channels of the Copenhagen River, yielding many inquisitive stares from the uninitiated European observers.

This We Believe: A Google Docs Collaborative Writing Experiment

A few months ago I caught wind of Google Docs and was struck with the flexibility offered beyond the clunky Wiki capabilities of my class SharePoint site. My gifted class (undertaking grade nine, ten & eleven English) had been working through draft phases of This I Believe essays, using the class’ Wiki to create blogs for daily writes and an online discussion board for peer editing, and I thought we might employ Google Docs to approach the original intention of Edward R. Murrow‘s CBS Radio essays of the same name: To point to the common meeting grounds of belief, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization.

We began with this prompt, arranged in groups of four:

Purpose & Procedure

  • We will be using this Google.doc to prepare a document that will serve as a declaration of our shared values.

  • Beginning in class Wednesday, we will divide up the responsibilities in the preparation of this document. Following a discussion at the quad level of each individual’s belief statement, the following responsibilities will be allotted to each grade:

    • Grade Nines ~> development of small passages which represent the common ground of belief between members of each quad.

    • Grade Tens ~> drafting of a unified whole, which blends and edits together a class set of beliefs based upon the passages supplied by each quad.

    • Grade Elevens ~> publishing a cohesive statement of the class’ beliefs, dignified in tone and written in a style which is deserving of such an expression.

Each group began with its four members’ distinct This I Believe essay theses, with the grade nine members developing  statements which represented each quad’s unified beliefs. Initially the prospect of coming together on 28 unique belief statements was met with some frustration and indignence that such a thing might even be accomplished, but the simplicity of having to listen to one another, to acknowledge the firmly held values and perspectives of their peers was evident within minutes. Keep it simple, I told them. Surely there is something can be said that four people can abide as representative of their beliefs! With awkward first steps, the project began to take root:

We believe that if everybody is passionate enough about a something ie. Books, we can make a difference in society.

We believe that one needs a means of release, such as a hobby or activity, to be happy and enjoy the present.

We believe that the key to enjoying life is to use your common sense and listen to everyone because each person is equal. :) :) :) :)

We believe that when a person accepts and loves themselves for who they are, they have the potential to be happy.  People who are satisfied with their life have better abilities to help others and make a difference.

We believe that one must be strong in oneself to be a contributing member of the community.

We believe that everyone has their own perspective, but it is hard to accept that.

We believe that if we take time to find and follow our hearts and passions, while accepting the change that comes our way, we can do anything.

The task then shifted to the tens and scupting the above into a single paragraph representative of the individual values of their classmates. Responsibility for the writing process became less a conversation than a range of individual contributions according to the shaping of meaning, evolution of style, and a grasping for the profound:

We as a class believe that life is about achieving happiness and fulfilment, and living life to  the best of one’s abilities. We believe that in order to be successful, each individual must       accomplish their own personal goals and live according to their own standards. We believe    that everyone has a belief, and it is important that they live by their belief at all times.

We believe that one’s ideal in life is to be happy.  To live in a life where the only knowledge one needs to be successful is common sense.  Where optimism is a universal language.  A place where the more one accepts themselves, the happier they can potentially be.  It wouldn’t matter if one could not accept their own perspectives because they would be in a place where they are never alone.  No, they would always have their community to fall-back on, because one would do the same for each person there.  In a community so great that one’s passions becomes the community’s passions and, together, they start their pursuit.

Okay so I really like where that’s going and I like the idea of it, I’m just not quite sure what I want to do with it. I’ll highlight to you what I think may need changing, and comment beside it.
We believe that one’s ideal in life is to be happy.  To live in a life where the only knowledge one needs to be successful is common sense.  Where optimism is a universal language.  A place where the more one accepts themselves, the happier they can potentially be.  It wouldn’t matter if one could not accept their own perspectives because they would be in a place where they are never alone. (I think that maybe this would be more effective if we made the idea of community, and the idea of not accepting oneself because I feel like they were forcefully placed together. I think that we need to find two seperate thoughts for it, but I’m not quite sure how, beacuse then it seems like it’s going onto a tangent) No, they would always have their community to fall-back on, because one would do the same for each person there. In a community so great that one’s passions becomes the community’s passions and, together, they start their pursuit. (I feel almost as if it’s a bit awkwardly put together. Those are definitely the points we want to make, but as for flow and putting the idea together better, maybe try stepping in grade 11’s)

Strangely, it takes until this point in the process where the silence is broken (near the end of an hour-long class spent shuffling the duties of the This We Believe Google Doc, and each student’s This I Believe (during the period, there was also an ill-fated attempt to begin a Wikipedia page for our school’s gifted students’ program; apparently such a page – even attached to a public school’s site – was deemed “promotional.”). For homework, the English 11 students were to add revisions contributing to the piece’s overall polish and a “dignified” tone and “style that is deserving of such an expression. The process is now a personal one, and the fine tuning is left to the class’ literary leaders:

We believe that one’s ideal goal and purpose in life is to reach a point of happiness in which we think the life we’ve had thus far has been used to its fullest. We believe in making differences, and that moving and changing things for the better is part of a fulfilling life. We believe that our lives are our own, and that is immensely critical, but that it is also vital to equally share it with others.

We believe in faith; in living by and for your own principles and ideals.

We believe that in everyday life, passion and heart is a necessary drive. We believe in the power of expression, and the importance of accepting and shaping those expressions. Both our own and those of others.We believe that the two worst things you can do in life are to not love yourself at all, and to love only yourself.

What is School's Job?

Nabokov“So here we have three different worlds—three men, ordinary men who have different realities— a world completely different from the rest since the most objective words tree, road, flower, sky, barn, thumb, rain have, in each, totally different subjective connotations.  Indeed, this subjective life is so strong that it makes an empty and broken shell of the so-called objective existence.  The only way back to objective reality is the following one: we can take these several individual worlds, mix them thoroughly together, scoop up a drop of that mixture, and call it objective reality.  We may taste in it a particle of madness if a lunatic passed through that locality, or a particle of complete and beautiful nonsense if a man has been looking at a lovely field and imagining upon it a lovely factory producing buttons or bombs; but on the whole these mad particles would be diluted in the drop of objective reality that we hold up to the light in our test tube.  Moreover, this objective reality will contain something that transcends optical illusions and laboratory tests.  It will have elements of poetry, of lofty emotion, of energy and endeavor (and even here the button king may find his rightful place), of pity, pride, passion—and the craving for a thick steak at the recommended roadside eating place. So when we say reality, we are really thinking of all this—in one drop—an average sample of a mixture of a million individual realities.”

Nabokov’s Metamorphosis

In teaching social studies I marvel at the simple yet powerful notion of democracy, as it allows the expression of each of our subjective opinions in within Nabokov’s “one drop.” I revel at the opportunity to teach the act of communication, and be a member of a global, professional body of individuals whose goal is the exercising of the above-described ‘objectivity.’

For Nabokov’s objectivity to be realized though is to realize the paradox of Einstein’s relativity (one degree of separation between Nabokov & Einstein: a productive Monday morning!): the more we know about the object’s speed, the less accurately we know its location, and visa versa. Any definition we seek – for Truth in the religious sense, to the tenor of our elected officials and the implementation of our education systems – must be constantly reevaluated, recalibrated and ready at every moment to be torn down to make way for the New.

In the above vein, I hereby open this blog to the ongoing discussion of the question which fuels the pursuit of Educational Truth, and provides the title of this post: What is School’s Job?

A few answers in the form of an initial “Best of the Web” style posting:

A. Literacy 

·         McSweeny’s Syllabus: Writing for Non-Readers in a Post-Print Era

·         The Elements of Style Turns 50

·         21stCentury Literacies and the Direction of our Schools

·         Qu’est que c’est? Diigo

·         How the e-Book will change the way we read and write

B. Creativity

·         Sir Ken Robinson says Schools Kill Creativity

·         Tim Brown links Creativity and Play

·         Genius = Creativity

C. University?

·         Globe and Mail is Skeptical about Students being College-Ready

·         Japanese Pre-Schoolers Experience Exam Hell

·         You Talkin’ to Me? High Schools not doing their job

D. Represent & Maintain Culture

·         Technology Generation Gap: Gen Y vs. The Boomers

·         Network Education @ Golden Swamp

·         Jeff Utecht on the Culture of Availability

·         Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

·         Book ATM Changes Face of Book Buying

·         The Georgia Straight on Artists’ Copyrights

·         Dave Eggers on Public Schools