Tag Archives: anti-oppressive education

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.

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Can we pretend our way to becoming anti-oppressive educators?

Lately, I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about the ideas of performance and authenticity. As a chronic people pleaser, I often feel myself “performing” or taking on certain roles to suit the social situation I find myself in. Watch this unreal spoken word piece describing performance to understand what I mean.

I am also constantly performing my gender. I don’t do this intentionally, but I do think of it as performing because I’ve learned to act, walk, speak, and even take up space in “feminine ways” through regulated discourses of what it means to be female since before I was even born. This might also have something to do with why I’m a people pleaser..  Food for thought.

Likewise, my journey to becoming an anti-oppressive educator began as a performance. I was performing “good student” in ECS 110 and ECS 210, which both focused on the “isms,” dominant discourses or common sense, and oppression in schools and society. To perform good student, I read about racism, gender performance, national identity, white privilege, heterosexism, ableism, colonialism, and social class; I critiqued popular culture for problematic representations of self/other; I started thinking and talking about race; I reflected on my positionality and privilege; I engaged on Twitter and on my blog to start to build my PLN; I learned about treaty education. The list goes on… And all of those things started because I was determined to perform good student.

When I first realized that I cringed at the idea. Why did this journey have to start as a performance? Can’t I be authentic in anything I do? (Possibly not, because I’m not sure that authenticity is a real thing.) I thought that since anti-oppressive work is important to me, it should have been “real” from the start.

Now I’m realizing that maybe it had to start as a performance because these are uncomfortable issues to engage with. Maybe performing helped me ease into the role of attempting to be an anti-oppressive educator because I was able to “try it on” first. This gets even more complex when I think about the different social media platforms I engage on, because I perform anti-oppressive educator on Twitter but not on Facebook (but that’s a blog post for another day).

Anyway, at some point in my performing, I found real value in and passion for this new role.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when I shifted from performing anti-oppressive educator to truly believing in and trying to live out this role, but I don’t think it really matters.  I’d like to say that I no longer perform it at all, but that isn’t true either.  Performance is ongoing, but I believe this kind of performance is constructive.

I’ll leave you with a few questions and I’d love to hear thoughts, feedback, or more questions in return!

How are performing online and performing face-to-face similar and different?  Do you agree that performance can be constructive or do you think it makes anti-oppressive work less authentic/less valuable?

Moving Past the Good White People Narrative

This post is a response to “I Don’t Know What to Do with Good White People” by Bennett and Chapter 3: “The Eye of the Beholder” of Revealing the Invisible by Sherry Marx.  I happened to read this article and this book chapter in the same day and couldn’t believe how many parallels there were between the two!  Both discuss the good white people narrative and the ways White people distance themselves from the construct of racism.

In her article, Bennett describes “good white people” as those who responded to the Darren Wilson non-indictment with empathy or outrage, joined protests, deleted racist Facebook friends, or performed small acts of kindness to Black people.  She emphasizes the way the good white people congratulated themselves for these acts, concerned with “seeming good,” and sometimes expecting to be rewarded for their decency. This description instantly made me feel defensive of my own actions in response to the non-indictment, but as I read through Marx’s discussions with the preservice teachers I was able to better understand what Bennett meant.

Marx writes, “When I asked Elizabeth if she could be racist, she reeled back in horror, gasped, and exclaimed, ‘No. Absolutely not. I think racism is a bad thing… It’s not like I’m a bad person. I know I’m not a bad person. I know I have a good heart” (p. 85). Marx also explains how the young women easily shared stories about the racism of others, which seemed intended to highlight their own contrasting, nonracist qualities. The good white people narrative allows us to focus on our small acts of decency and our good intentions, making our own racism invisible.

Now, I want to make it clear that critiquing the good white people narrative does not mean it’s a bad thing to try to be a good white person (using your white privilege for good). The problem with the narrative is that when we see ourselves as good white people we obscure the ways that we are implicit in racism.

As Bennett puts it, “We all want to believe in progress, in history that marches forward in a neat line, in transcended differences and growing acceptance, in how good the good white people have become. So we expect racism to appear, cartoonishly evil like a Disney villain.” However, if we understand racism “as a system that advantages Whites and disadvantages people of colour,” then we must recognize that “all members of society contribute to this reproduction of inequality simply by going about ‘business as usual’” (Marx, p. 91). This means that racism is not only evil acts done by evil people; rather, it is “an inevitable consequence of living in a racist society (Marx, p. 89).”

The good white people narrative allows us to equate racism with evil and hatred and to think of it as something that others do, rather than recognizing it in our own everyday thoughts and actions.

So how do we move past this problematic good white people narrative? These are just a few ways I have gathered from my readings. Please comment your thoughts and additional suggestions!!

  1. Accept your Whiteness.

We don’t have to feel guilty about being White. Marx writes about negative White identity, which many of her preservice teachers possessed because they associated Whiteness with shame and guilt for all the crimes of oppression Whites have committed against people of colour.  In order to move past this guilt/negative White identity, we must accept our Whiteness and define a view of Self as a racial being that does not depend on the perceived superiority of one racial group over another (Helms quoted by Marx, p. 90).

  1. Acknowledge your own racism.

To move to a positive White identity, we must acknowledge our own racism as an inevitable consequence of living in a racist society. You can’t work to be actively anti-racist unless you acknowledge and address your own racist tendencies.

  1. Stop focusing on your good intentions.

The problematic thing about the good white people narrative is that it excuses white people for racist thoughts/actions because they didn’t mean to do any harm, because it wasn’t their intention to hurt or offend anyone. As Bennett powerfully states, “What good are your good intentions if they kill us?” We need to examine our own actions and how they contribute to both equity and inequity – turning the gaze back to Self – despite the good intentions behind those actions.

To sum it all up:  If we can reject and move past the good white people narrative, we can acknowledge our own implicitness in racism, which is the first step in the direction of antiracist work.

Reflections on a Field Trip – Part 2

Almost two weeks have passed since our field trip to Fort Qu’Appelle. Finally, I have a chance to write about the second half of our day. I will close my eyes and drift back…

Excitement. It is tangible and all around us, in our voices as we discuss Sheena’s work at Bert Fox, under our feet as we amble the streets of Fort Qu’Appelle, and in our eyes, as we seek the treaty monuments we have come to see.

Mike tells us about the two treaty monuments, hinting that they are very different. We stumble across the first one, put in place by First Nations Chiefs in 1987. It is a beautiful sculpture of a First Nations man holding a golden eagle with his gaze turned up to the sky. The plaque tells us that he is praying to the Great Spirit for allowing him to take the golden eagle for ceremonial purposes, which demonstrates reverence for the environment. Another plaque explains how the First Nations peoples agreed to share this land with newcomers peacefully, in an exchange of solemn promises. This monument was set up to reaffirm the chiefs’ commitment to the spirit and intent of Treaty Four. It also commemorates a burial ground, where Cree, Saulteaux, and Assiniboine peoples are known to be buried.

             

“Beautiful,” I breathe quietly.

“And hopeful, isn’t it?” asks Mike. 

Hopeful, indeed. Although some Treaty promises were not being fulfilled, the Chiefs still showed their commitment to the Treaty, hoping that the oral understanding they had come to would be honoured.

We are quieter as we walk back to Mike’s vehicle, reflecting. We squish in and drive around, looking for the other treaty monument. We talk about how there are no signs for these important historical monuments. I think aloud how crazy it is that I grew up only 15 minutes away Fort Qu’Appelle, and yet I had no idea that these monuments existed until a few days ago. Sometimes we are blind to – or maybe choose not to see – what is right in front of us.

We find the treaty monument and notice it does have a sign – a tiny brown “Point of Interest #3” sign. We joke about whether we have seen points of interest one and two, and then walk briskly into the open green space, bordered by trees with a tall, white monument standing proudly in the middle. Our pace quickens because we are all excited to critique the monument and compare/contrast it with the monument put in place by the First Nations Chiefs.


  A hush falls over us as we move around the monument to read the plaques.

                                     

“Ceded all their rights, titles, and privileges to all lands?” asks Meagan incredulously.

“Wow…”

“That is so crazy.” We are all murmuring our disbelief at this misrepresentation of Treaty.

Mike nods at our reactions. He knew this was coming.

“I was expecting the language to be problematic, but I wasn’t expecting it to be historically inaccurate,” I say, shaking my head.

I think about the stark contrast between the explanations of Treaty on the two monuments. Solemn promises, sharing the land, peace, the spirit and intent of Treaty. Ceded all their rights, titles, and privileges to all lands forever.

As we walk away, Christine mentions how appropriate it is that the monument is white. We laugh. She is right; it was put in place by white people and for white people. This understanding of Treaty is the one that has benefitted the Europeans and disadvantaged the First Nations peoples for years and years.

We decide to take a drive over to Lebret before we head back to Regina. I express my frustration that Lebret is even closer to where I grew up – I even went church in Lebret when I was a little girl – and I had only found out about two weeks before that there had been a residential school there. How was I so blind to the history that was right in my backyard?

As we drive toward Lebret, someone points out some brick pillars on the side of the road and asks what they are. I have never noticed them before and no one knows for sure what they are. We decide to go see the beautiful Sacred Heart church first and then go back and check it out. The church is breathtaking. Mike stops the vehicle so Meagan can stand up and take pictures through the sunroof.

We turn around and go back to the brick pillars we saw. Mike pulls over and we all pile out and cross the road, eager to explore.

“Could it be the residential school gate?” we wonder. We don’t know for sure but we can’t think of anything else it could be. We walk a little further down, behind the gate. It is exquisite. The sun shines down on us and shimmers across the lake. We take it all in.

We take a group picture, capturing the beginning of STARS: Student Teachers Anti-Racist/Anti-Oppressive Society. I am grateful to be a part of this group. Together, we are exploring the past and seeing connections to our society and our lives today. Together, we are learning and making decisions about what actions we can take as people and as teachers because of that learning.

STARS

Reflections on a Field Trip

On Wednesday, I had the amazing opportunity to go on a field trip out to Fort Qu’Appelle with four of my classmates and Mike Cappello.  We decided to go on this field trip because Mike had to pick up some magazines from Sheena Koops, a teacher from Bert Fox Community High School, and he thought meeting her would be a valuable experience for us.  Was he ever right!!

We met with Sheena for lunch and I think we were all captivated by her passion for treaty education and also her real, down-to-earth nature.  I learned a lot just from this lunch meeting, but I’ll try to summarize!

  • There will be resistance to treaty education.  Sheena integrates treaty education and First Nations content into her English classes and she gets phone calls and emails from upset and/or angry parents every year.  She described it as “slaps on the hand,” or being disciplined for teaching this content.  Now ask yourself:  Would she be getting the same reactions if she were integrating health education content into her English classes?  Highly unlikely.  That parents and students don’t think treaty education is important or worth learning about is evidence of structural racism.
  • Action research can be understood as a way of being rather than something we do.  It is this never ending cycle of action – reflection – research – more reflection – more action.  It means developing a questioning mindset and a desire to understand what works for you and what does not.  Seeing action research this way is a way of making your own professional development, because you are choosing to be engaged and are continuously and actively constructing your own learning.
  • One of Sheena’s goals for the next 10 years of her career is to help her students learn through discomfort rather than let them off the hook or consoling them when things get uncomfortable.  She struggles with this because she is so caring and compassionate, or as she said, “When I see tears, I have tears!”  This would be really difficult to do, so I think it’s a fantastic goal.  Mike also made the point that everyone can develop their own personal style of helping students learn through discomfort, which means you can stay true to yourself but still push students through that process.

We also got to explore the amazing magazines that Sheena’s students have created over the last few years – the ones Mike will be using as textbooks in his social studies class.  The work those students put into those magazines is just incredible!  It was so inspiring to see how knowledgeable the students were about treaty education and how powerfully they could write about it.

Sheena invited us into Bert Fox Community School, gave us a tour, and introduced us to her class.  She used us as a “teachable moment” and connected our presence to what they were learning about journalling by interviewing us as if she were a reporter.  It was really cool to see that she just ditched her lesson plan and embraced the opportunity (which she was still able to connect to student learning)!  I really want to be able to do that when I’m a teacher.

Click here to see us getting interviewed by Sheena in her classroom.

So this post covers the first half of our field trip!  I will be writing another one to cover the second half, which was equally as exciting.  I am so grateful that we got the chance to meet with a dedicated, spirited teacher who was willing to listen, discuss, and support us as new teachers who are interested in anti-oppressive education.  As a group and as a whole faculty, we are starting to normalize the conversation about social justice within the education profession.  I can’t wait to see what this will bring!

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?  

 

Technology and Anti-Oppressive Education

How might the changing nature of learning and the increased prevalence of technology be related to social justice and anti-oppressive education?  What is made possible/impossible by these tools and this type of learning?

Here are a few of my thoughts on this question:

According to Kumashiro, teaching for social justice means preparing students to succeed in whatever context they find themselves in.  Technological skills are becoming increasingly important in schools, universities, and the workplace, which means our students will need these skills and if we are teaching for social justice, we must provide them with the opportunity to develop those skills.

What do technological tools and learning based on collaboration make possible?

–      Opportunities to connect with a variety of role models for students

–      Learning that involves ending up with knowledge that could not have been predicted, which is part of Kumashiro’s model for Learning in Discomforting Ways

–      Students may view things on the Internet that reinforce an oppressive status quo  (This is why we must teach students to think independently, critically, and creatively about whatever story is being taught.)

What do technological tools and learning based on collaboration make impossible or difficult?

–      Having students learn about what they resist learning.  (Since learning with technology is interest driven, students might continue to learn what they desire but never learn what they resist learning or think about why they resist learning that.)

–      May disadvantage certain students

  • Students who don’t have access to smartphones, iPads, or computers at home
  • Students who are uncomfortable with sharing online or whose parents aren’t comfortable with this

How can we, as teachers, work against the disadvantage that using these tools and learning in this way may cause?