Sustainable Learning

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Resources for Rethinking is a database of sustainable learning activities developed by Learning for a Sustainable Future. You can search for lesson plans, books, videos, and various activities, all of which are teacher reviewed. The website has been developed to enable Canadian teachers to search for material that connects to provincial units across the curriculum. Search results take you to various other websites, many of which (but not all) contain free resources.

Rube Goldberg-esque

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Cookie or Cream?

That is the question that Oreo is currently posing to the public. As part of their most recent marketing campaign, they have enlisted engineers, “tinkerers” and roboticists from around the world to design and build machines that separate the cookie part of the oreo from the cream. They are sharing these machines in a series of four episodes. The machines are not quite as extravagant as full Rube Goldberg machines, but I think that the very nature of a machine built to pull apart two sides of a cookie must classify as, at the very least, Rube Goldberg-esque.

Check them out for yourselves.

Episode one

Episode two

Episode three

Episode four

Have a great week.

A Day for Social Action

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On Friday I took a group of students to We Day. It is a day organized by Free the Children, a charity which inspires youth to take action and be agents of positive change in the world. Founded by Craig Kielburger, the main missions of this charity are to assist the impoverished with education, clean water and sanitation, health, alternative income, agriculture and food security. Full day events will occur this year in Toronto, Vancouver, Alberta, Manitoba, Waterloo, Montreal and Saskatchewan. The day is filled with musicians and motivational speakers who want to inspire youth to get involved in social action. In Toronto, we listened to Jennifer Hudson, The Tenors, Al Gore, Justin Trudeau, Hedley, Martin Sheen, Nelly Furtado, Spencer West, General Romeo Dallaire, K’naan, Justice Sinclair, and The Honourable David C. Onley. Our students left feeling inspired by the stories they heard and energized to rally for others less fortunate than themselves.  In the spirit of the day, I would like to highlight a few math resources that focus on social action.

I discovered a new resource called “Real World Math: Engaging Students through Global Issues” from Facing the Future. I tried one of their sample activities in the spring, which linked sustainability to surface area and volume. I decided to order a copy for this year, and I am excited to try more of their tasks. The resource focuses on issues such as waste and recycling, poverty, population growth, youth conflict, global health and carbon emissions. There are a variety of other resources to explore on their website, including web-based and print resources.

For many years I have been a fan of an organization called The Southern Poverty Law Center, whose mandate is to fight hate and intolerance. Their Teaching Tolerance program assists educators in preparing youth to live in a diverse world.

The Global Education website is based in Australia, and contains resources for a variety of global issues such as clean water, cultural diversity, human rights, sustainability, poverty, international aid, food security and the environment.

It is also worth checking out a few other resources that I have previously mentioned. “Math that Matters” from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives focuses on connecting math and social justice so that students can make connections between what they learn in the classroom and the world around them. Radical Math is a website resource for integrating economic and social justice issues into the math classroom.

Have a great week.


Sustainable Thinking

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I was looking for math resources one day, and I came across a neat organization called Facing the Future. It is a non-profit organization whose goal is to educate students on global issues and how to make positive changes in the world. They have a series of resources that cover topics such as poverty, the environment, global health, and population.

When looking through their site there are a few key areas to explore. The curriculum link takes you to their Global Issues and Sustainability curriculum. Most of them are for purchase, but there are free samples from many of their books. I used a sample lesson from “Real World Math: Engaging Students Through Global Issues”. It incorporated sustainable design into a surface area and volume question. It was a great assignment, but I learned that my students need more practice with these type of problems. I have ordered the book for the school next year, as I think it is a great addition to the middle school math resources.

You can also explore the Global Sustainability Issues link. Within that section, the Global Issues Tours give some background information on some of the global issues facing our world. The Newspapers in Education link shares some global issues newspaper articles and related lesson plans. The Action Project Databases give students some ideas of how they can get involved to make a change in the world.

I am always looking for good resources for educating students on global issues. If you have any, send them my way.

Enjoy the sun.

Update: The website has been updated and most of the links mentioned are no longer working, but the website is still worth exploring.

Holocaust Education Week in Toronto

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Holocaust Education Week in Toronto is from November 1-9th. In honour of the week, I would like to share one of my favourite related websites:

The Secret Annex Online
This website teaches about Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, as well as guides you through a tour of a 3D online version of her house. It is part of the larger Anne Frank Museum website, which has a wealth of information shared in various digital means. It is a wonderful website to visit, both to teach students about her history and to explore the many ways to effectively share information online.

And if you are interested in learning more about Toronto’s Holocause Education week:

Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre
A wealth of resources for the general public and educators.

Have a great week.

Reflections from my first edcamp

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When I first heard about edcampTO, I was intrigued by the idea. I put it into my schedule, but knew that it was still many weeks away. Then the weeks turned into days, and finally it was the night before the event. I must admit, on Friday evening I had a lot of reservations about going. The thought of getting up early on a Saturday morning and leaving my family for the day did not thrill me. My family time is precious to me, and the thought of missing a day that we usually all spend together was enough to make me rethink my decision. I was also going alone, and I have never been good at that. However, despite my reservations, my alarm still went off early Saturday morning. I got up, got ready, and headed out to York University for edcamp.

I registered, walked into the room, and sat at a table alone. I immediately opened my laptop and begin to follow the twitter stream. Within a few moments I was approached by one of the organizers, asking if I would be willing to help out at the registration table. And so off I went. When I had done what they needed, I headed back to my table and waited for the events of the day to begin. Within a few moments I was joined by some others and we began to talk. (Many thanks to Stephen Lippa and Tim King for pulling me out of my lonely start.)

I chose not to enter my own topic (way too bold for me) and instead I jumped into the sessions led my others. At first I was very quiet and just listened. Eventually I entered into conversations and felt free to voice my opinions, even those that were different from the opinions of others. When I left I felt drained, but I also felt that there was so much that I got out of the day. It took me into the evening before I was able to piece together my thoughts and impressions.

So now it is one day later, and here is some of what I took out of edcampTO:

• We want students to take risks in the classroom. In fact, we tell them to. Yesterday it was hard for me to enter a room full of strangers.  I also recognize that in the first session it took me a while to find my courage and voice my opinions.  Once I had taken the first steps the ice was broken, and the fear was gone. When encouraging students to take risks, we need to find ways to help them take those first steps, and then we need to ensure that we follow up with them afterward. We also need to share our experiences so that they know that what they are feeling is quite natural.

• There are many people who are not teachers, but who value education enough to have spent their Saturday discussing topics with teachers. As introductions went on in sessions, I kept meeting people who were outside the direct field of education. Yet these participants were highly engaged in conversation and had strong opinions. It was nice to see.

• The day was definitely a validation that I and my fellow educators at my school are doing something right. I was so surprised to hear about how students are taught in many classrooms around the city and province. These were not the practises of the educators at edcampTO, and I believe that wholeheartedly. Any educator who is willing to spend their weekend discussing how to improve their students’ learning is not one who discounts the needs of those same students. Rather it was the stories they told of what they have seen from others that shocked me.

I heard about teachers who stand up in front of the classroom and deliver lectures – day after day after day. I kept asking “Does that really happen?”, and the answer was, unfortunately, yes.  Perhaps it is because that I do not work for a school run by the Ministry of Education, and so I am not mandated to ensure that I can check off every curriculum expectation as having been covered. I follow the Ontario curriculum, but I am not bound by Ministry guidelines, and so I have more freedom in my classroom. I guess this allows me more time. That time is spent letting students build and construct, letting them explore concepts and dive into real-world tasks. It is a rare week that they have not participated in a hands-on task. I never realized that this was not common practise in other classrooms.

I heard about teachers who only allow learning to be shown through essays. There are no other options. Other than formal lab reports, my students are allowed to present their learning in whatever format suits them best. They can write an essay if they choose, but they can also prepare blogs, twitter streams, documentaries, commercials, letters, books, or any other presentation mode which will best highlight their abilities. When I shared this with a group, one person asked if I have difficulties managing the students with so many different things going on. My answer was no, because the students are doing what interests them, and so they are engaged.

I left knowing that I am doing good things in the classroom. I may not be doing everything right, and I most certainly have my moments when I do things wrong, but I feel that those moments do not define me.

• I listened to many opinions about good practises in education. Some opinions I agreed with, and some I did not. (I so wish that I had been in the session on homework – they would have heard an earful!) Sometimes you are not sure how strongly you believe in something until you are forced to defend your thoughts. This day allowed me to question some of my beliefs while strengthening others, all done through good conversation.  

Thanks, edcampTO, for a great experience.
And thank you to all those who talked with me and shared ideas throughout the day. I look forward to our continued conversations on twitter.

Not the beginning

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A new school year begins tomorrow…for the students. My school year has already begun.

It began last June, when I started making decisions as to how I would change and adapt for the following year. It encompassed both the finer details, such as unit questions, and also the bigger picture, such as how to better differentiate my lessons for all learners.

It continued throughout the summer, as I spent many hours researching rich tasks that would allow students to apply their learning to the world around them. I revised planners, made new long range documents, and I read about theories, strategies, and best practices.

It further continued throughout the past two weeks, as I began the physical preparations in the building. By Thursday my rooms were ready. I had met with individual teachers and participated in team meetings, and I had prepared my lessons for the first week of school.

By Sunday I was already revising my first day lessons. I came across a great resource through twitter, and quickly decided that I was going to make a lesson switch for one of my classes. I took the original lesson and modified and differentiated it for my students, and I am much happier with the new plan.

So far all of you who are welcoming new students tomorrow, I wish you a great day. If you are anything like me, then it is not a new beginning. Rather it is just the next day in this wonderful world of education.

Rich Performance Tasks

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The London (that’s London, Ontario folks) District Catholic School Board has a website called Rich Performance Tasks, or RPT’s for short. The website is no longer updated, but the tasks are still there for others to access. They are real-life tasks that bridge different subjects.  There are tasks for all grade levels and most subject areas within the Ontario curriculum. Each task has both a student and a teacher page. If you click on the teacher page, then you have access to pre-task activities, exemplars, and curriculum tie-ins.

If you click on the science tasks link, then you are brought to divisional science projects. There are tasks designed for primary, junior, and intermediate grades, and it appears that the goal was for students to work together across grade levels.

If you are only looking for science-based tasks, then I have some of my projects posted for all to use.  Enjoy.

Note – This website is no longer accessible to the public…..sigh…..

A Great Site: Jefferson County Schools

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I came across this math website and thought it worthy of sharing. It is the Middle School Math site from Jefferson County Schools in Tennessee.  It does have a lot of math resources, but it also includes resources for other curriculum areas, as well.

There are a lot of links here, and I wasn’t quite sure where to explore first.  They have links to sites for algebra, geometry, statistics and also general math sites that cover a range of topics.  Then there are also various PowerPoint presentations on the main page that go through math topics and are ready to use with your class.

If you scroll down and click on More Math Presentations, you are taken to another page of PowerPoint resources for K-5 and 6-12 in math, language arts, science, social studies, the arts, health, and library.  Some of the presentations are very basic, but others have been developed into Jeopardy and other games. While on that page, look over to the right sidebar for the Quick Links. There you will find other goodies, such as the “Daily Dose of Math”, Game Board links, Science Fair resources, Tech Tutorials, a link to their Dynamic Curriculum site (which has even more resources), to name just a few.

I would recommend spending some time to explore this site. I have found many things that I can incorporate into my lessons, and hopefully you will, too.

The HTML Challenge

General Education, Using Tech 2 Comments »

I am, by no means, a tech guru.

I can work my way around the back end of a Google site, where my site was originally hosted. Now I am on WordPress, and I can still work my way through the back end, but it is the finer details that cause some problems.

For example, when I transferred my content from Google to WordPress, not all of the content was the same size (still working out those issues). So as I update pages (gotta love the summer), I am trying to figure out how to change all data so that it is the same size. This is not so easy on the visual mode, and so I ventured into the HTML view. Brave? Stupid? The jury is still out.

I did a quick search for HTML tutorials, spent some time going through some of the basics, and then began to make some minor – very minor – changes. All was going well and I was making some good updates. I did this for a few days until I ran into some trouble. I was making what I thought was a basic change, and I refreshed the front end of the site to see the updates. But alas, I no longer had a background on the page that I was updating. I scrolled down, and realized that my background had been pushed to the bottom. This was a simple fix, as I found out later, but my initial response was, “Uh oh”.

One of the reasons that I ventured into HTML-land was that I have a backup system by way of my husband’s company’s tech team (true gurus who fixed the problem in a snap), but it certainly opened my eyes to the fact that I need more HTML training before I explore again. I choose to do my training on my own time, and self-learning on the internet is my preferred go-to method.

Here are a few of the sites that I am exploring and would love to hear your suggestions:

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