Our Experience With Project of Heart

During my pre-internship, my partner Brooke Alexander and I, co-taught and co-created a large unit on residential schools for our grade fours. During that unit, we engaged in Project of Heart, a nation-wide project that commemorates the lives of those who passed away while attending residential schools, with our students. Check out the website to see our students creations, and learn more about this amazing project!

Well… Maybe There is Such a Thing As a Stupid Question.

I recently came across an article by Alfie Kohn, on standardized tests. I was introduced to Kohn’s work in a course at the U of R, and ever since have been intrigued by his compelling discussions on educational issues. If you have never heard any of his discussions, I strongly suggest you do – I have linked to his website above. You can also follow him on twitter!

What first attracted me to this article was its title, “Whoever Said There’s No Such Thing As a Stupid Question, Never Looked Carefully at a Standardized Test.”  However, standardized tests is a topic that I will never get sick of discussing, I love to hear all of the varying opinions – they help me create what my own may be. In the article, Kohn questions the type of questions that we use to on tests for our students. He gave an example of math questions that essentially only assessing whether or not the student can follow a rule, not whether or not they are capable of doing math. Commonly, questions such as these –  in all subjects, influence the  students’ own perceptions as well as the teachers’ perceptions of how well the student understands the concept. However, more often than not this is a misleading perception.

After reading this article I began questioning my own beliefs. As I have previously discussed, I do not agree with standardized tests – for many reasons. However, I am now beginning to think that it is not the concept of standardized tests that I disagree with, but rather the tests that are created themselves. For, maybe it is not the tests as a whole that are the problem, but rather the questions. I  find myself wondering if there will ever be a time where teachers and students can free themselves of standardized tests from the government. Therefore, the question then becomes, how can we adapt these tests into positive learning experiences for the students? What kinds of questions could we use that would be beneficial for the students? Moreover what questions could we use that would benefit the teachers, seeing as though standardized tests are really created to benefit the teachers as well as education administrators. If we have to engage in standardized tests, we mine as well create ones that will actually demonstrate student knowledge.

To Fix or To Prevent?

Today I am feeling very poetic as I am beginning to embrace the idea that spring courses are coming to an end and within a week I will have finished all required courses, excluding internship, for my education degree. I am going to share a poem that I was introduced to in my EHE 310 course in the fall. I found this poem to be very intriguing when I first read it. For every reader it may hold relevance in varying areas or contexts however, the strong message concerning whether to fix or prevent has interesting relevance in many areas of education.

The Ambulance in The Valley 

Joseph Mulins

Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.

So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said, “Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became full of pity
For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds and gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,
“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”
So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would those rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.

Then an old sage remarked: “It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause,
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,
“Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.”

“Oh he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined,
“Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He’d dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We’ll support them forever.
Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?”

But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
“To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best
To prevent other people from falling.”
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ’round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.

Is School Simply a Life Support?

Yesterday I found this letter on a blog post from one of my favourite blogs that I have subscribed to, Cooperative Catalyst. This letter was written by a 16 year old just before she dropped out of school. There are so many important messages that her piece is telling us. Her words are crying out, informing us of the problem with some school experiences students are having. I wonder what signs she gave to her teachers before it got to be too much and she felt that the best decision for herself was to leave? Did her teachers notice these signs? Did they ignore these signs? What are many of the students who are so often labeled as ‘drop outs’ or ‘lazy’ telling us? What are their signs? How can we take this upon us, as future educators, and make sure that none of our students feel that school is simply a form of life support… one they very much want off of?

“School is constantly causing us to forget who we are in the first place. I’m not dropping out, I’m choosing to leave. I’m choosing to not follow their plan. Yes, it works for a lot of people, but most of them are only in school because they’ve all become too oblivious to themselves and too scared to decide what they want to do with their lives. Then again, you can’t blame them because they’ve been held up by the school system – being led from one thing to the next – their whole lives.

By staying in school, I feel like I’m just taking the easy way out. I don’t need a structure to live on, I feel like I’ve got an IV hooked up to me, and the worst part is people think we live on it. We don’t. I tell them I’m leaving and they look at me with such disappointment…”You could do so much” “You have so much potential.”

Going to school should not define your life. I don’t want to look at living as a math equation, having to solve it and keep following these rules. What’s the point of being on this life support when we all end up dying anyway? We all end up the same.”

– Paris Kouns, 16 years old

When Does Real Learning Occur?

Today I spent my lunch hour at a volunteer appreciation lunch at a school where I, along with 54 others, have been volunteering over the past year. This was mainly a student run luncheon. The students created a presentation, made speeches, said grace, made lunch, prepared gifts, wrote cards, served food & drinks, greeted  & seated guests, and decorated. These students are amazing, to say the least.

As I was sipping on my coffee and enjoying the presentation, I considered what an amazing cross curricular, experiential learning experience this is for the students to engage in. Essentially when speaking in terms of curriculum subjects and outcomes and indicators, the students would have covered areas of math(setting up chairs for appropriate amounts of people, preparing enough food for all guests, setting up the schedule for the lunch), ELA (writing and presenting speeches, writing in the cards, sending out emails), social studies (community involvement, understanding of well-being), science (the life cycle of plants, growing and taking care of plants which were then gifted to the guests) health(giving back to the community, and essentially every aspects of health) and I am sure much more that I am missing. Looking at this experience in those terms, this was a teachers dream come true all wrapped up into a conclusion of an hour and a half.

This then made me think about when the real learning will occur for my future students? What kind of experiences will I be able to create for them that they will truly benefit from in the long run? How can I make learning meaningful to their lives? What kind of learning will help my students become ‘life long learners?’ I am continuously finding more reasons as to why the classroom as we think of it, in its standard form, needs to change. What we consider to be a ‘normal’ classroom needs to change, we are well overdue. Many teachers may consider an experience like this and cringe at the amount of time and preparation it would take. However, these teachers embraced it and went ahead full force. I wonder how much these students will benefit from this experience over sitting in the classroom?

What is the Value of Health Education?

Through the use of twitter, I came across a video of youth speaking out about diabetes via Shelley Barthel, an education professor at the U of R. Shelley taught my section the EHE and EPE 310 courses. Throughout both of the courses Shelley continuously challenged us, pushing us to dig deeper into our thoughts. Well, here she is again, pushing me to critically analyze my philosophies. In our class in EHE 310, we had many meaningful and interesting discussions regarding the value of health education in schools. How do schools value health? How much time do they spent on health in the classroom? How much should schools value health education? Should health be above math and ELA? All of these questions are ones that as future educators, we should be thinking about.

When I was watching this video and started to consider what this video meant to me, it reminded me  of a google survey that one of my peers, Lindsay Fuchs did. Her survey was on which subject is most important in the classroom. Interestingly enough, her survey found that 0% of us who did her survey, all future educators, put health at the top of the list. While watching this video it also reminded me of the Social Determinants of Health and their influence on daily life for all individuals. This is an interesting topic and I would love to hear your thoughts. How much should schools value health education in the classroom?

Raise Your Voice against Diabetes