Category Archives: Uncategorized

My Chess Project Is Finally Over…

My Chess Project Is Finally Over…

This semester has flown by, and so has this learning project! As part of ECMP 355, a class about using technology in the classroom, I was required to use online sources to learn a skill of my choice and to blog about it weekly to share my progress.

I chose to learn how to play chess because it was a skill I had very limited experience with and I thought it would be nice to have something completely different to work on that still counted as homework. I also felt chess was a solid choice because it is one of my fiancé’s passions, so I knew he would be able to direct me to useful online sources and support me in the process.

So I bet you’re wondering how my epic chess quest turned out.  Was it a nice break from homework? Not at all. Was my fiancé helpful and supportive? Absolutely. Does that mean I enjoyed the process? Not a chance. This project really challenged me, and although I definitely feel I’ve grown in my chess abilities, I can’t say I enjoyed the whole process.

Now my negativity has you hooked!  Check out this recap of my learning project posts to find out more about the ups and downs of my journey:

Learning Project Recap

So I’m learning to chess…

  • Introduction, inspiration, and rationale for my learning project

The Opening (of my epic chess quest)

Valiant Knight Crushed in Grueling Battle (My First Chess Tournament)

Dropped Pieces + Shattered Dreams = Fresh Determination

  • Describing challenges:  finding motivation to play chess games when busy/tired, dropping pieces in my games
  • Video where I analyze one of my online games
  • New action plan:  play and analyze 4 games/week, continue doing tactics puzzles every day, watching instructional videos and live streams more often
  • Tools to share learning:  Screencastify

Chess Cognition (AKA Thought Process Boot Camp)

  • Description and key learnings from Chess Cognition video series by John Bartholomew
  • What I liked and didn’t like about this video series
  • Identifying specific chess skills to work on

Chess Games: The Ultimate Relationship Test

  • Picture and cheesy fast-motion video of me playing chess against my fiancé, Kelly, to show my progress
  • Video of our joint game analysis (with highlights provided) to show my progress and teach others about chess skills
  • Tools used to share learning:  Samsung video editor app (recommended by Curtis), phone tripod (borrowed from Curtis)

Curtis Reply on LP

S’more Chess Updates (not the graham cracker kind)

Tried-and-True Resources to Help You Learn Chess

  • Annotated collection of resources I have used to improve my chess game
  • Tool used to share learning:  Padlet

One Assessment of My Learning

It’s kind of tricky to show my level of mastery now vs. when I started this project. My started me with a provisional rating of 1200, so I had to keep losing games until my rating became more accurate. My rating is now 980, and I’m still not sure how accurate that is.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.31.39 AM

One aspect I saw definite progress in was my tactics! My goal was to reach a rating of 700 on my tactics, and I achieved that on April 4th! Here is a chart that shows my tactics ratings over the past three months:

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 11.58.32 PM

Reflections on the Process of Learning Online

What does learning online make possible?

  1. The ability to express frustrated and/or angry reactions without fear of being judged.

This was a huge difference I found between playing chess online and playing chess in person at the chess tournament. When playing online, I could moan, groan, pout, or yell at my computer screen without worrying about what my opponent would think of these (over)reactions. When I played in the chess tournament, I had to keep my emotions in check and be polite and courteous at all times.


My face after every chess game…

Photo Credit: Scott SM via Compfight cc

  2.  The ability to play a chess game with little to no social interaction with your opponent.

This might sound like a negative thing, but I appreciated having no social interaction with my online opponents. At the tournament, I was annoyed at receiving a comment about my appearance, distracted by my opponents’ facial expressions during the game, and embarrassed to be seen losing to an 8-year-old. When I played online, I didn’t have to worry about any of those kinds of things.

   3. The ability to receive feedback and encouragement from others on your learning.

I received encouragement from classmates and people outside the class on my learning project:

Zach on Chess Cognition

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 11.27.37 PM

I also received feedback on the ways I chose to share my learning project:

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.51.35 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.51.41 AMT on Smore

   4.  The ability to learn from and feel connected to experts who are far away from you.

Had I not used YouTube as one of the main sources for my learning, I would not have been able to learn from International Master Daniel Rensch or International Master John Bartholomew, who are both professional players and coaches. I also found that after I watched several of their videos, I started to feel like I knew them personally.

What might the process of learning online make impossible?

  1. Private one-on-one learning sessions with another person.

Choosing to learn a skill online usually means that you learn from a variety of sources, which might reduce the possibilities for intimate learning sessions and one-on-one relationship-building with a teacher. For example, if I had learned piano from online sources rather than through private lessons growing up, I wouldn’t have developed such a close relationship with my auntie/piano teacher.

   2. Using all the free time you have to focus on learning the skill.

The process of sharing about your learning can be time consuming. Throughout this project, I sometimes felt like I was spending just as much time writing blog posts about learning to play chess as I was actually learning to play chess.

I can’t think of anything else that learning online makes impossible. Feel free to drop me a comment if you have any ideas!

Final Thoughts

My biggest challenge throughout this learning project was getting frustrated when I lost games. I took my losses really personally, especially at the beginning of my project. As I began to learn more about chess, I discovered how technical it is and found that even really talented players can learn sometime from each game they play. After my losses, I had to constantly remind myself to say “I made this mistake” instead of “I suck at chess,” which was something I really struggled with.

I think the negative self-talk I fell into often happens to students in the classroom when they make mistakes. When I have my own classroom, I really want to emphasize that it’s okay to make mistakes and that mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process. This is definitely easier to say than to put into practice, but I think I could share the story of this learning project with my students to show them how negative self-talk detracts from learning and how adults also struggle with it.

I definitely see the benefits of learning a skill online and sharing that process with the world. Through this project, I was able to: learn from and critically evaluate a variety of online resources; share my progress openly through my blog and Twitter using the hashtag #learningproject; receive encouragement and feedback from my PLN; and explore new tech tools to document my learning. Although attempting to learn chess was challenging, I’m glad I took it on and I think I learned a lot more than chess skills from this project.

Learning to Code: empowering myself and my students

Previous Experiences With Coding

I’ve been hearing about the benefits of coding in the classroom for a while now, mostly through talking with my co-workers from EYES Camp, where I worked last summer. At the end of each week of camp, I got to see the amazing projects campers in the E-Design Codemakers program had come up with. David Brown, my amazing colleague and friend, is an avid supporter of coding and teaching logic in the classroom.

Hour of Code

At David’s advice, I decided to start with Hour of Code. Since I’m a very easily frustrated person, I was a little nervous to try it because I didn’t want a negative experience to potentially discourage me from bringing coding into my classroom. To my surprise, my first Hour of Code was a fantastic experience! I chose the Make A Flappy Game activity and had a lot of fun with it.

I was impressed with how accessible the activity was. It walked me through every step, using a series of puzzles with clear instructions to introduce me to the different aspects of the game. I learned to drag and drop blocks that represent computer commands to change the parameters of the game and finally got to put it all together by creating my very own flappy game! You can try it out here. (Warning: it’s surprisingly addicting.) I think students would have a lot of fun making their own games and trying out each other’s game creations.

Since I enjoyed my first Hour of Code so much, I decided to try another activity! This time, I chose the Classic Maze activity. In these puzzles, I had to drag and drop blocks to build code that would get my character (which ranged from angry birds to a zombie to Scrat from Ice Age) to move through the maze successfully.

Here is what puzzle #17 looked like:

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 6.58.17 PM

I had to drag and drop the blocks like this in order to get Scrat to his acorn:

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 6.58.54 PMDuring and after completing the puzzle, I could click and view the actual code. I appreciated this because it made it feel more like “real coding” for me.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 6.59.34 PM.png

Here is a short video of me completing the final puzzle in this activity:

Why Teach Kids To Code?

After these positive experiences, I did a little reading about teaching students to code because I definitely have a lot of learning to do in this area. Through reading and reflecting, I came up with a few potential reasons to teach kids to code. (This list is a work in progress.)

  1.  It gives them a deeper, less-mystified understanding of the world around them.

I find this reason really interesting because I think this is something I don’t personally value enough. To give an example, my fiance loves taking things apart and putting them back together. He finds it really satisfying to figure out how things work and why they work the way they do. I, on the other hand, can barely sit through an episode of How It’s Made. I’m not sure why, but I find it really easy to just accept that things work and I don’t often wonder about the why or how behind it.

So despite my lack of curiosity and sense of wonder, I want to spark my students’ curiosity and encourage them to investigate and make discoveries that lead them to a deeper understanding of the world. Coding could be a really valuable way to do that. Maybe it would also help me develop my curiosity and appreciate a less mystified understanding of the world!

2.  It can make students more expressive by giving them a new way to understand and describe their world.

“If you think computer programming is all about math, you’re wrong. It’s about describing a situation precisely, and giving good directions for what to do when conditions change.” -Tom Igoe

I’m starting to think of coding in a broader way – it’s more than just math or stringing together a bunch of symbols in computer lingo. It’s a different and precise way to expressing oneself that can widen students’ view of the world and positively contribute to their development.

3. Coding can be empowering (but it is also shaped by wider issues of power).

In this article, Ben Williamson problematizes the current the current preoccupation with coding, noting how if we elevate coding activities and ways of thinking to a dominant position, we may marginalize other forms of educational activity and thought. He asks: “What assumptions, practices and kinds of thinking are privileged by learning to code? Who gains from that? And who misses out?”

I definitely agree that those are important questions to ask; however, I believe we need to ask those questions of everything we do in the classroom. Whose voice are we privileging? Whose voice are we leaving out? What are we making possible/impossible? It’s important that we constantly reflect on these in order to be as anti-oppressive as possible.

This actually reminds me of Foucault’s idea that we gain agency by taking up particular discourses (becoming a subject) but we are also constrained by that discourse (become subject to it). Similarly, coding is an empowering activity but it is also shaped by wider issues of power in educational technology. I think it’s important to remember that and to keep educating myself on the reality of activities associated with coding (ie. the incessant updating of skills and fluency in different programming languages, operating systems, etc.) and on the issues with our increasingly algorithmic culture.

Coding and Chess

Interestingly, when I was doing my Hour of Code activities, I was struck by how much it reminded me of playing chess. Oftentimes when I play chess, I can come up with a plan that I want to put into action, but struggle with what order to play the moves in to make the plan work. John Bartholomew describes this challenge in this video, advising players to get used to changing move orders in their calculations and to look at different permutations of a good idea in order to implement a plan successfully. Similarly, I noticed that sometimes in the coding activities I knew what I needed to do but would put the blocks in the wrong order and have to run my program a few times before it would work.

I am not the first to notice similarities between coding and chess! They both involve patterns, logical thinking, tactics and strategy, and beauty. This interesting article outlines some of these similarities.

Final Thoughts

I think learning to code would be extremely beneficial for my students and for me! This is definitely something I want to continue to learn about and practice with. I see that coding has the potential to help my students and I develop a deeper understanding of the world, teach us a new way to express ourselves, and empower us as 21st-century learners.

If you have any resources, activities, or suggestions for learning to code, please comment below! I would love to hear from you.

Why the ‘Activism vs. Slacktivism’ Debate is Irrelevant

Activism vs. Slacktivism

Social media campaigns have been widely critiqued for reducing activism to hitting the retweet button or sharing a Facebook post. This article suggests that slacktivism can be counter-productive, as sharing on social media might lead you to feel like you’ve done your part and absolve you of the responsibility to do any more. Similarly, Sarah Ross challenges her readers to be critical when they see online activism and asks, “are you willing to go further than the click of your mouse?” Zachary Sellers is also a critic of social media campaigns, claiming that they are ineffective, that they spin messages to their advantage, and that they are more about advertising than action.


Photo Credit: Elijah via Compfight cc

I think these critiques are valid and often true, which makes me critical of my own participation in social media campaigns. Is my retweeting and online support always backed up by concrete action? And does it always need to be? Isn’t is also important to speak out about issues to show that they are important and need to be addressed? I know that what I choose to say (and not say) sends a message, so I wonder about the implications of refusing to participate in social media campaigns. Does that silence send the message that those causes are not important? These are questions I’m still wrestling with, and I welcome feedback in the comments section below.

Despite criticisms, it is obvious that some social media campaigns have been critical in raising awareness of issues, creating discussion, generating political will, and bringing about action. 40 million tweets from #BlackLivesMatter were analyzed and found to have been essential in driving conversation about race, criminal justice, and police brutality. The #BlackGirlMagic movement has led to debate, discussion, and supportive communities, which has furthered the topic of representation of Black girls. #MMIW has been used to share stories and to put pressure on the government to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.


Vigil for Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women on Parliament Hill, Oct. 2015

Photo Credit: patimbeau via Compfight cc

So, the main distinction between powerful social media activism and ‘slacktivism’ that I’ve seen emphasized is that online activism is powerful only when coupled with real world activism. I wonder about this. Is it like a formula?  

social media campaigns + real world action = meaningful activism?

I’m not so sure.

Problematic Real World Action

Although I understand the importance of retweets being backed by real action, I think it’s also important to point out that “real world action” can also be problematic. Volunteering and charity work can sometimes perpetrate racist, sexist, classist, ableist attitudes and reproduce stereotypes about the very people the work is supposed to be helping.

Examples of this:

Recently, 5 Days for the Homeless took place at the University of Regina. For this campaign, five students slept outside for five nights to raise awareness about homelessness and to collect donations for Carmichael Outreach. It faced a great deal of criticism for sensationalizing homelessness and reproducing stereotypes about homeless people. You can read Carmichael’s response to these critiques here.

My point here is that the activism vs. slacktivism debate is basically irrelevant, as both online and offline activism can be equally problematic and oppressive. Instead of choosing sides, we should be critical of all types of activism campaigns so that we can work to break down oppression and avoid contributing to it. I will be the first to acknowledge that we will often fall short, make mistakes, and contribute to oppression without meaning to. The important thing is acknowledging this when it happens and not say things like: “But I didn’t mean to reproduce stereotypes about homeless people…” or “But I was only trying to help those poor children in Africa!”

Good intentions don’t matter when they are coupled with oppressive actions. In order to do anti-oppressive work, we have to acknowledge our implicitness in oppression and work against it at every turn. This means being critical of ourselves and the way we structure or take part in activism campaigns, in both online and offline spaces. 

So how do we move to meaningful activism (online or offline)?

I’m not pretending that I know exactly how we do this or that there are clear steps to “doing activism right.” But I think the most important thing here is that we must operate in solidarity with the people we are advocating for.

Whether it’s through participating in social media campaigns online or taking action in face-to-face spaces, we need to focus on the experiences of those who are marginalized. Instead of focusing on ourselves – our feelings, our good intentions, the cookies we receive – we need to make marginalized voices and stories the driving force behind the work we do. If we don’t listen to these voices and stories, how can we understand the issue or know what work needs to be done?

We need to continuously educate ourselves on the issue we are working against but not expect those who are marginalized to do the educating. They already have enough burdens without us making it their responsibility to teach us about the oppression they face. We also need to continuously educate those who share our identity. For me, that might mean engaging White people in conversations about race or engaging able-bodied people in conversations about how disability simulations can reproduce stereotypes.

Many of these ideas about how to move to meaningful activism came from these great articles:

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know by Jamie Utt

How to Tell the Difference Between Real Solidarity and ‘Ally Theater’ by Mia McKenzie

The Case Against ‘Allies” by Mychal Smith

I’ll end with this quote, from Jamie Utt’s professor:

“If you choose to do social justice work, you are going to screw up – a lot. Be prepared for that. And when you screw up, be prepared to listen to those who you hurt, apologize with honesty and integrity, work hard to be accountable to them, and make sure you act differently going forward.”

These are our responsibilities – to be critical of all the social justice work we do (both online and offline), to focus on and work in solidarity with those we are advocating for, and to learn from our mistakes and do better going forward.

Moving Towards Reconciliation: Why Planting Trees Is Not Enough

Co-written by Raquel Bellefleur & Meagan Dobson 

Originally posted via UR S.T.A.R.S.

What does ‘reconciliation’ actually mean?

Like many, we entered our post-secondary education with limited information about Treaties and the ways in which the two of us are positioned in society as a result of our privilege. We have spent the past three years learning and unlearning alongside mentors (professors) and like-minded peers – all of which has contributed to our personal and professional growth during our time in the Faculty of Education. We established S.T.A.R.S. (Student Teachers Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Society) Regina in 2014 as an outlet for our exploration as socially just, anti-oppressive educators.

Despite progression towards change in our hearts and minds, we continue to struggle with the disconnect between thought and action. Yes, we are our own toughest critics; however, it is important to be critical of ourselves because that’s how we will continue working through our privilege/push ourselves to keep doing this work.

We know reconciliation is important, but how can our inner changes translate into outer action?

False Facade

In the work we have done, one thing we have struggled with is our ability to switch off or walk away from the work, especially when it becomes most discomforting. We can do this because of our privilege.

Although performance (meaning the ability to “try on” an identity as an anti-oppressive educator) can be a positive thing, there is a fine line between using performance as a starting point and completely abandoning anti-oppressive work while continuing to receive recognition and praise for it.

For example, although we both believe that meaningfully engaging in ceremony is part of the reconciliation process, there have been many times that we have turned down opportunities to participate because we were “too busy” or had other things to do.

Ultimately, our lists of priorities that prevented us from participating was our privilege in disguise.

Our privilege means that we can say and think things like: I don’t need to go to this; this doesn’t affect me; my life won’t change whether I go or not. Yet, even when we have participated in ceremony the potential to be unaffected by the experience is a reality – we can cut ourselves off from it just enough so that we are not personally affected by it.

What is being an ally?

We would love to be able to say we are allies of our Indigenous friends and colleagues; however, we realize that we cannot give ourselves that status. Showing up to ceremony does not make us allies; putting ourselves in a physical space is not enough. We need to make a consistent effort to authentically work towards reconciliation rather than superficially and periodically visiting the idea – committing to being witnesses, not tourists.

Receiving Cookies

Something else we’ve struggled with is receiving so much praise for our work with S.T.A.R.S. Regina. Noel Starblanket often wears his S.T.A.R.S. t-shirt and often commends our group when he speaks. Our #TreatyEdCamp event was recognized in the Legislative Assembly. Dr. Jennifer Tupper, the Dean of Education, sends out tweets like this:

We are grateful for any recognition we receive, but it is still problematic. Due to our privilege, we are positioned as “good white people” and praised for doing very little. Dr. Michael Cappello calls this kind of praise “receiving cookies.” We’ve been really uncomfortable with being positioned in this way and are unsure of how to respond respectfully.

Moving Forward – ReconciliACTION

This post started with us asking each other:  What have we ACTUALLY done? We provided opportunities for learning through PD events like #ReadtheTRC; we brought teachers together to learn about integrating Treaty Education into all subject areas; we’ve had many conversations about power, privilege, and reconciliation. But what effect is that ACTUALLY having on us and others? How do we move from talk to action?

Although we are still wrestling with these questions, we’ve tried to identify a few of our next steps:

  1. Listen to Indigenous colleagues when they say this is good work. 

Although it’s important to be critical of ourselves, we must be careful to not fall into a cycle of cynicism. We won’t dismiss encouragement and praise from our wonderful allies, but we will not to take it as more than it is. We cannot allow these ‘cookies’ to lead to our complacency or tempt us into apathy. We must remember that our Indigenous allies are happy to see these starting points, but also expect much more from us. While we are grateful for any recognition, the feedback and input of our Indigenous colleagues and friends is most important because they have been directly impacted by this history. It is these relationships that are central to reconciliation and our movement forward.

  1. Start with conversations.

We know they are ‘Calls to Action’, not ‘Calls to Conversation’, however, we need conversation to guide us to the right ways to do this work. As Gary Edwards explained at Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, we know we’re in a time of real change because nobody knows what to do or how to do it.

We also need to have conversations with our peers, colleagues, profs, siblings, parents, grandparents, and anyone else who might not know about the horrific historical injustice, or the painstaking work put into the TRC, or what the Calls to Action mean for reconciliation. Although this conversation may be uncomfortable and difficult, we must commit to it. It’s far too important to remain silent and our silences will not protect us anyway. These truths must be spoken.

  1. Build relationships.

We have often heard, “Reconciliation is about relationships,” but wondered how we could go about springing up relationships out of nowhere. The best we can come up with is putting ourselves in spaces where there is potential for relationship building. We will participate in ceremony and seek out public events, like the lecture by the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair and the roundtable discussion Taking Up the TRC Calls to Action, where connections and relationships might start to form. We will listen to the advice of Emerging Elder-in-Residence Joseph Naytowhow, who encouraged us to use laughter as a way to enter into relationship.

  1. Take responsibility. Pick a Call to Action and commit to it.

After Sinclair spoke, many people stood up in the lengthy line for the microphone to ask questions that sounded like: “…So what do we do?” to which he replied, “I just wrote a 5000-page report. What are you willing to do?” He urged us to read the report, or at least some of it:

He encouraged us to pick a Call to Action, to work to make it happen, and to never stop.

Sinclair used the metaphor of planting trees to describe the importance of starting to do this work and never stopping. We will not see reconciliation fulfilled in our lifetime; our kids may not see it fulfilled in theirs. But we need to start with planting seeds and teaching our children to water them so that their children might see the saplings and then their children might see the roots deepen, the trunk widen, and the branches fill out. We need to commit to this work for future generations.

We commit to Call to Action #62. We will teach about residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada. We will continually learn how to integrate and utilize Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods into our classrooms and we will provide opportunities to help our colleagues do the same.

The Choice

We’ve realized that instead of carrying the weight of undoing colonialism and achieving reconciliation, we need to start with planting seeds. Is planting the seeds enough? Not even close. But we have to start somewhere. And for us, it starts with the decision to commit to this work for the rest of our lives.

We will need help along the way to ensure we do not give in to our privilege, which will tempt us to apathy, to smugness, to being tourists rather than working towards witnessing. Will you challenge us when we set foot there?


“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

This is life’s work, and we must choose it every day.

Reflection on Pre-internship Imperfections

I started my pre-internship on October 15th at a community school in the north end of Regina.  My partner and I are placed in a 3/4 split class and have been enjoying every minute!  We go to the school every Wednesday to observe, help out, teach, and learn.  We taught our first two lessons together and our next two lessons solo, observing one another and giving constructive criticism and suggestions.

Although I reflect on the specifics of my lessons each week, I want to reflect on my experience in general thus far (one month in!) and summarize some of the challenges I have faced and feelings I have had throughout the four weeks.

The first lesson I taught on my own was social, a discussion based lesson looking at how culture is reflected in our family communities.  The second lesson I taught was ELA, in which we read and deconstructed a mystery narrative, pulling out elements such as detective, suspect, clues, evidence, etc.  Overall, I was happy with how both lessons went but there were definitely challenges in each lesson.

In the social lesson, the students were to move around the classroom to music and do a turn-and-talk about a specific question with a different partner each time the music stopped.  The first few rounds of this went well, but after that some of the students started to talk in groups or always go with the same partner.  Some students also started to misbehave in certain ways, like jumping over desks.  Later in the lesson, we formed a talking circle to share our partner discussions.  This also started out well and then became challenging, as the students really struggled to stay focused and listen to each other during the talking circle. In the ELA lesson, the students were really engaged during the story reading, but I started to lose some of them toward the end of the lesson when filling out the story map together as a class.

Transitions were challenging in both lessons, from moving all the desks to make space for a circle talk and getting students to form a circle in the social lesson to having to switch from the projector to the overhead in the middle of the ELA lesson.  I also found it difficult to scan the room and identify which students were off-task or not following directions because I was so focused on trying to get my lesson across.

This past week, I used classroom management strategies as my professional development goal and got feedback from my teaching partner and my co-op teacher.  My goals were to wait for complete silence before starting to talk, to call on students who were off-task to answer questions, and to move toward students who were off-task.  These strategies helped and I’m improving my classroom management skills, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit discouraged at how the students were responding to my lessons.  I have all these idealized notions of what teaching is and how teaching should look, and I felt like my lessons weren’t measuring up.  I found comfort in a blog post from my classmate, Kara (follow her blog!).  Part of her post read:

This was an important learning moment for me, because, of course, all teachers will become frustrated with their students at some point, yet I always have this idea that teaching is magical and will go perfectly. Letting go of some of these idealized notions has been a big part of my pre-internship experience. Having students test your patience does not mean you are a failure, it means you are human and so are they. It isn’t whether you are frustrated or not, but how you handle the frustration.

I was really encouraged that Kara was also experiencing these feelings and I realized that most of my classmates probably are.  Also, I thought about why I faced those challenges and came up with a few reasons.  One, my learners aren’t used to doing activity-based learning; they are used to worksheets.  Two, they had only done a circle talk once before.  Three, I should have planned better for transitions and given clearer directions in some instances.  Four, the students love to tell stories but struggle to listen to one another for long periods of time.  These are all things that can be worked on and improved with practice!

Based on that, I think some of my idealized notions of teaching can still be goals to work towards.  I just need to realize and accept that I’m not going to be perfect and neither are my students, and it’s not fair to expect that of myself or of them.  So rather than becoming disheartened about the practical aspects of teaching, I’m becoming excited about the opportunity to learn alongside my students in all our imperfections.

CBC Article “Others” Temporary Foreign Workers

This article has been spreading like wildfire since this morning, and I want to share my perspective on it.

First off, it is extremely one-sided, focusing only on the perspective of the two waitresses.  I’ll summarize my understanding of the other side of the story.  My understanding, from several different sources, is that the owners of Brothers Classic Grill and Pizza decided to restructure their restaurant hours because they were not busy enough to stay open throughout the entire day.  As many restaurants do, they moved to a split shift, opening for breakfast, closing for the afternoon, and opening again for supper.  Because of the restructuring of hours, there were less jobs available, so the owners dismissed the staff and then met with the employees to discuss reduced hours and/or different positions.  Some of the staff chose to stay and others chose to leave.  As far as I understand, the temporary foreign workers were already on staff previously, and no new workers were hired in place of anyone.  

Secondly, I found this article extremely problematic because it talks about the temporary foreign workers like they aren’t even people!  Nelson is quoted as saying, “How can that be right, that they’re not Canadians?  I’m a Canadian… How can it be that I’m the one out looking for a job and they’re the ones that are still employed?”  This article works to “other” temporary foreign workers to create an image of what “Canadian” is supposed to be – white and middle class.  Constructing an “other,” or someone to be marginalized, makes it easier for the majority to connect to each other, and it creates a mindset of superiority.  For example, for white people, “multiculturalism” often plays out like this – I’m up higher than you but I’m tolerating you, which shows what a good person and ‘real Canadian’ I am.  This mindset is destructively divisive, and I was disappointed and frustrated to see it in CBC’s article.  Additionally, the article doesn’t mention anything about which employees were better or harder workers, or about the staff dynamic and which employees worked well together; it solely focuses on white women (who fit the image of what “Canadian” is supposed to be) having their jobs stolen from foreign workers.  

I understand that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been and is being abused; however, I don’t believe this is one of those cases.  I believe the owners of Brothers had the right to do what is best for their business by changing their hours and laying off employees for financial reasons.  I hope people will read this CBC article with a critical lens and will not boycott the restaurant before hearing both sides of the story!  




Building a Community of Learners: My PLN

This semester, I started to actively construct my PLN (personal learning network) in order to tap into a broader knowledge base than my immediate school and community and to aid in my professional development as a teacher.  This blog post is a reflection of my growth as a member of my PLN, the growth of my PLN, and the ways I’ve contributed to this learning community.

A major way I started to build my PLN this semester was through Twitter.  My first exciting moment with Twitter was when I wrote a blog post in response to Claire Kreuger’s presentation on Treaty Education in our class and tweeted it out.  I hoped that a few people might read it, but I didn’t expect Claire to read it and tweet back to me!  I discovered that Twitter is an awesome way to thank and give feedback to speakers as well as let them know what resonated with you from their presentation, which contributes to their learning.  My next exciting Twitter moment was after I posted my slam poem, Insulting Identity.  Reading all the replies was extremely rewarding, and it let me know that was I put on Twitter could actually reach and affect people.  I even received a tweet from a former teacher of mine!  Additionally, a few weeks later, my friend Kayla told me that she always thinks of my video when she hears someone use homophobic language and that she finds it really powerful to think of those terms as “using someone’s identity as an insult.”  The replies from my peers, profs, and former teacher are evidence that I contributed to the construction of knowledge in the broader learning community by sending the message that teachers cannot remain silent when homophobic language is used in the classroom.  The feedback I received is also a great example of how my PLN has encouraged me in my journey this semester.

I also used Twitter to attempt to contribute to other people’s learning.  For example, when I appreciated other people’s posts I tweeted them out to get more people to see them.  I did this with Meagan’s treaty education post and Desiree’s visual representation.  Another way I used Twitter to contribute to other people’s learning was through tweeting during lectures.  I found that this helped me to make connections and to summarize important messages, and I think it helped others as well, because it gave them access to messages they might have missed or connections they might not have seen before.  This went both ways, because my classmates’ tweets during lectures often helped me see connections I might have missed.  Curtis’ tweet from our lecture on Monday is a good example of that!

A second way I constructed my PLN this semester was through blogging.  I had created a blog in ECS 100 for my professional portfolio, but before this class, I hadn’t used it for posting my thoughts, connections, resonances, and dissonances.  I found blogging helped me connect more deeply to what we were learning since I was constantly asked to reflect on it.  My biggest challenge with my blog was getting comments on my posts.  I always tweeted them out after I wrote them, but I very rarely received any responses.  At first, I thought my posts must be too long.  I worked on synthesizing my thoughts, but this is something I struggle with.  Next, I tried ending my blog posts with questions to stimulate further discussion.  That didn’t work either.  Closer to the end of the semester, I was reading this post by my classmate Eriko, and I was struck by how personal her post was.  She is always very open and honest about her beliefs, and whenever I read her posts I feel like I am seeing a part of who she is.  After this, I decided my blogging style was too formal, which made it difficult for others to connect with what I was writing about.  My tension with this is that I don’t like to admit that I don’t know something or that my beliefs might have been wrong.  Inspired by Eriko, I am still working through this challenge.

Through blogging, I learned and contributed to my classmates’ learning by commenting on their posts.  I would often respond by telling them what resonated with me in their post and then asking them a question, to encourage them to think deeper and because I genuinely wanted to know their opinion.  In looking through my blogging interactions, I noticed that I asked two people a similar question in response to their blog posts.  I asked Cassandra if we should warn our students about disadvantages they might face in society in response to her post and I asked Christina if we should prepare students for prejudice attitudes and negative comments when we encourage them to “be who they are” in response to her post.  Cassandra replied saying that it depends on the students, but that privilege should be discussed in the classroom, especially if students in the class could be disadvantaged within the larger society.  Christina affirmed that we should be preparing students for negative comments and teaching them that others will have differing opinions from their own and that those opinions that can be negative, hurtful, and discriminatory.  She also admitted that she wasn’t sure how to support them through the effects of these negative opinions.  These comments from Cassandra and Christina helped me work through the problem I was wrestling with:  Should we warn students about disadvantage in society and prepare them for discrimination?  The comments also encouraged me to think more deeply, and ask myself these questions:  What makes this preparation necessary?  How do we have this discussion in a classroom?  How do we support students who experience these disadvantages every day?  This is just one example of how classmates have contributed to my learning and how I have contributed to theirs.

In addition to Twitter and blogging, I also used personal conversations to build my PLN.  One conversation that was really important and that I believe has a lot of potential was between Mike Cappello, Kari, Meagan, Cassandra, Christine, Melissa, Marisa, and myself.  Mike came to several of our classes and talked to us about a conference on anti-oppressive education that is to be held in Regina in October of this year.  He also discussed the possibility of a student led organization devoted to anti-oppressive education evolving from this conference and invited interested students to have a discussion about this over lunch.  During this lunch conversation, we all shared why we had come and gave our ideas for the potential purposes of this student led organization and what it could look like.  It was an open conversation, but we had to take turns speaking because we all had so much we wanted to say.  I am excited to have identified several peers who are as passionate (or more) about anti-oppressive education as I am and I look forward to us continuing to contribute to each other’s learning.

In contrast to the positive conversation I just discussed, I had one conversation that made me very tense and uncomfortable.  One of my peers asked me, with very negative undertones, “So what did you think of the ECS 210 lecture this morning?”  I immediately became really nervous and unsure of how to respond, because I had gotten a lot out of the lecture and I could tell that she had not.  I gave a generic response and quickly asked her what she had thought of the lecture.  She responded by saying she felt like the whole class seemed really “hocus-pocus” and that she felt like she was never going to use anything from it because it doesn’t have any practical applications.  I stayed fairly neutral and changed the subject as soon as I could.  I have heard this view from several of my classmates, and it always makes me uncomfortable because I believe that we need to look at all the types of curriculum in order to work towards having an anti-oppressive classroom.  Although I believe this, I find it difficult to tell people that I am passionate about this when I know they are not.  In the moment, I get nervous and struggle to articulate why anti-oppressive education is so important to me.  This is another challenge I am working through.

Finally, I will outline some of my professional goals for my PLN.  My first goal is to continue to use Twitter for educational purposes throughout the spring and summer by reading articles, following more education accounts, and gaining followers.  For blogging, I am aiming make my posts more personal and real by admitting when I am not sure, when I might be wrong, and when my beliefs have been challenged.  I also want to start blogging about my own experiences rather than just because we were given a prompt in class.  Another goal of mine is to use the conference in October as an opportunity to network with teachers and students who are passionate about anti-oppressive education.  Finally, my last goal is to become more willing to stand up for what I am passionate about and to tell others why anti-oppressive education is important for us as teachers.


Standardized Testing

This week, I was asked to watch this video and read this story from the New Teacher Book, both of which discuss standardized testing, and to respond with my thoughts and understandings.

As I listened to Alfie Kohn and read from the New Teacher Book, the word “superficial” kept coming to mind.  Standardized tests assess students’ abilities to memorize facts but fail to show any depth of understanding that may or may not accompany those facts.  They make it impossible to gauge what and how students have learned and understate the process of learning to emphasize disjointed facts.  

They make possible the emphasis of one side of the story and make impossible the examining of contradictions between society’s dominant narratives and society’s realities – the listening for voices that are often silenced.

Standardized tests may help students who are good memorizers, schools with affluent families, and students who are members of the dominant social group; however, they will harm students with different ways of knowing, immigrant students, ESL students, students who can think deeply but struggle with memorization, and students who freeze up or become anxious in test situations.  Because we have the responsibility to fairly assess ALL our students, I don’t see any reason why standardized testing is a direction we should be heading in.  There is so much emphasis on differentiating instruction to accommodate all students, so why aren’t we heading in the direction of differentiating assessment?  

Although I am against standardized testing, I believe there are some things we can do if we are in a space governed by accountability, standards, and testing.  We can discuss the tests with out students and critique them for their one-sidedness, oversimplification, and cultural biases.  We can choose to facilitate deeper learning through reading, discussion, role-play, and writing about topics rather than devoting time to making students better test writers.  

What implications could this choice (to facilitate deeper learning rather than “teach to the test”) have on us as teachers and on our school if test results are published?  What are your thoughts on standardized testing?  What are your thoughts on differentiating assessment?  


Visual Representation of “Building Community from Chaos”

I really enjoyed the story “Building Community from Chaos” from the New Teacher Book.  I made a visual representation of the story as a response, including quotes that resonated with me and pictures that I felt related to the story.

Click here for my representation.

I didn’t think I would like responding visually, since I always take notes as I read, but I like the representation I created, and I think it will help the story stick in my head.  Let me know what you think of it!