Summer Reading

It’s been a month of intense reading.

The Return by Hisham Matar –  A recommendation from Barack Obama’s reading list. Hisham Matar’s family was exiled from Libya and lived in Cairo where he attended an American school.  Later, both Hisham and his brother attended school in Europe under false identities because of threats to the family from the Gaddafi regime. This book is a memoir of loss, hope, and the importance of family in a land that has a history of tyranny. I was crushed by the cruelty of Libya’s prisons and the many losses. I was touched my Matar’s descriptions of hope and loss and how those we have lost remain with us in so many ways. He states, “ Hope is cunning and persistent.”, a helpful thought as I continued to read other books.

Kingdoms in the Air by Bob Shacocohis  – travel essays from afar. The Nepalese Kingdom of Lo Mustang is remote and high in the Himalayas. The author and his travelling companions return for a visit after 10 years and observe the changes and influences of westernization. The author describes navigating narrow, rocky, trails on high cliffs with no option of getting off your horse because either you or the horse would fall into the deep valley. In a sunny warm Alberta garden, fear and terror course through my brain as I imagine these heights. The author states that “until 1947 Nepal was the yet to be explored by Europeans.  In 1992 almost 95% of Nepal’s energy needs were being met by firewood.”  Democracy, tourism, economic reform, “ lifted the veil from the lost Kingdom of Lo.”  Who could deny these people education, healthcare and access to a wider world? Something is lost and other things are gained in this synthesis of old and new.

Another essay in this book, ‘Mount Ararat’, made me laugh.  He attempts to summit the 16,94 5 ft. snow-capped volcano but turns back because of altitude sickness. And did he see Noah’s Ark?  Ha, ha, no. He did, however, meet several women he humorously describes as Noah’s granddaughters.

At the end of the book he states, “… one of the most enduring lessons of travel are inaccessible until you are out there moving and then they are indelible upon the soul.”


Seven Fallen Feathers
. By Tanya Talaga, is deeply thought provoking.  A book that you cannot put down and forget, because it was not intended to be that kind of book.  This book is a call to action for all of us. Tanya Talaga tells us of the seven aboriginal youth who leave their communities in northern Ontario to attend high school in Thunder Bay, they lose their way and lose their lives in circumstances that show how alone and overwhelmed they were in a culture of racism. This is a hard-hitting book because of the truths it reveals. The VoiceEd Summer Book Club on Facebook and the weekly podcasts on Sound Cloud have been invaluable as I take in all that this book tells and think about the ways I can take action as an educator.

Tomorrow Will be Different, Love, Loss and the Fight for Trans Equality by Sarah McBride. This memoir, tells Sarah’s story of coming out, her activism, her marriage, and the death of her husband a short time later.  Her honesty about her life and her willingness to fight for change inspires me.  She is currently the National Press Secretary of the Human Rights Campaign in the United States. Another challenging and hopeful read.

Whew! A lot of deep thoughts as I read these books.  Each one was eye-opening and I am grateful to the writers, an exile, a transgender woman, an indigenous journalist and a traveler who share their lives, their observations and the facts. For me, there is a common thread in these books. Each of us needs to be seen, and acknowledged, whether we are indigenous youth, an exile, a transgender individual, or a remote culture in the midst of change. Sarah McBride states,

 

A Community of Learners, Near and Far

This is a story about some of my favorite learners who live throughout Alberta.  They access their courses online, connect in Blackboard Collaborate sessions, and share in small groups via Google Meet. Once a week, those that can, meet for for a full day of learning and exploring together. These young students know that you can learn wherever you are. They are community of learners.

This particular day was ‘Pumpkin Research Day!’ Curiosity and excitement abounded, and everyone near and far participated.

Notice and Wonder

Look at all those beautiful orange pumpkins in a row.

What do you notice? What do you wonder?

“Will we make a pumpkin pie?”

“Will these seeds grow into more pumpkins?”

“Will the seeds from the small pumpkin grow other small pumpkins?”

“How many seeds are there inside that pumpkin?”

“Does a big pumpkin have more seeds than the small one?”

There was only one way to find out…

First some predictions about the possible number of seeds in our pumpkins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How are we going to count all those seeds?   By ones, by twos, by fives, by tens? The serious counting begins.

Such a great day of exploration, as these scientists and mathematicians were at work.

Students Far and Near

Something more was going on behind the scenes something that made this experience complete. Earlier that day my teaching partner, Susan Sundlie, @128sue on twitter, met with students who live in other parts of the province, via Blackboard Collaborate. They too were engaged in the this inquiry process. Perplexed with some of the same questions and with equal curiosity they were conducting research in their homes across the province throughout the day. They knew that their classmates were work addressing these same questions. Everyone would share their discoveries at the end of the day.

Scientists Share Results and Data

All scientists share data and discuss results, and so did we.

Near the end of the day students gathered on the carpet and in a Google Meet to discuss and report results. Each group presented their challenges, methods and results. Students who worked at home listened and shared their results with those at school.

As students discussed their findings they discovered there were common challenges! Counting by 2’s to 190 was not easy! And then there were still more seeds to count!! One student was pleased to share that she had learn how to count by 10 beyond a hundred. “Now I get it!” she happily reported to her mom at the end of the day.

Meaningful learning, engagement, and a genuine learning community for each student no matter where they were.

As I reflected on the day, my students, and their learning, I realized that this is what normal looks like for them. They are living in a world where learning is not constrained by walls, or distance, textbooks or isolation. Today they were participants in learning sparked by curiosity and inquiry. They are learning about collaboration, sharing information, and connecting with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Brain is Amazing!

All I can say is, “Thankfully we are developing a deeper understanding of how we learn.”

Once upon  a time I lived in a world of the fixed mindset¹ and likely you did too. Some students were smart and others were not.  Intelligence was viewed as fixed at birth and one of the roles of education was to sort students and direct each one to the correct vocation.   And,  if you think about it, too often we still organize learning in this way.

Let’s identify the qualities this fixed mindset promotes and you will recognize it right away.

Students working under a fixed mindset:

  • Are afraid to make mistakes
  • Avoid challenges
  • Give up more easily
  • Fear of constructive criticism
  • Feel threatened by the success of others

Think what this does to learning. Consider what happens when students see themselves in this way.

Contrast this with a growth mindset¹, a term which on its own sounds encouraging. A growth mindset states that intelligence can be developed and our true potential is unknown.

Students with a growth mindset are:

  • Persistent
  • Not afraid of mistakes
  • Willing to take on a challenge
  • Resilient
  • Inspired by the success of others

How can these ideas change instruction?

It is not the student who ‘knows’, that we should recognize rather the student who says, ‘hmmm I am trying to figure this out and I have not got it yet. It is this student who demonstrates a growth mindset. As educators we need to communicate that everyone can get better if they work on it, which means that persistence becomes a  key quality to encourage.

And for this reason our view of mistakes plays a critical role in our mindset. How do mistakes impact learning? The student who makes a mistake has multiple opportunities to learn.  First from recognizing the mistake, and then from working through the process to correct it.  All this creates more opportunities for brain synapses to fire and grow. Working through mistakes causes our brains change and develop.

What message shall we give to students?

 Mistakes are fertile ground for learning.

As an educator with a growth mindset, I am motivated to create an environment where risk taking is safe and encouraged, and where  learners at all levels are recognized for their effort.

 

¹Carol Dweck – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Random House Publishing Group December 26, 2007