Nothing to Lose

you have nothing to lose by Señor Codo
you have nothing to lose, a photo by Señor Codo on Flickr.

I know that in #PSD70 there has been a lot of talk about “Innovation Week”. This year, two of our division schools staged Innovation Week during the last week before Christmas break, Greystone Centennial Middle School and the school that my husband teaches at, Muir Lake School. The idea is a great one: students take the week to learn, research and create based on a topic of their choice. Teachers give feedback and discuss and guide students in their work, but the work itself is not formally assessed. They learn in the way they want to learn about the things that they are interested in and produce a number of innovative and exciting projects.
My husband, Cam, thoroughly enjoyed his experience with his first Innovation Week. Friday night after school, while sitting around the dinner table, we were discussing this with our two boys, aged 10 and 7. Cam told us about many of the different projects and how they worked out. He spoke of the enjoyment of the students and the ownership that they felt. Then we all came up with ideas for what we would like to study or learn/produce if we were given a week to do so.

At first, my boys parroted what their dad had just told us. When we encouraged them to think about something that hadn’t been done yet, something that was rooted in their own interests, the conversation took an interesting turn. After throwing around some neat, original ideas, our 10 year old asked, “How is this going to be marked?” (Not going to lie, I was pretty happy he asked that question). When I replied that it wasn’t being marked, he was shocked and he said something that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. He said,

“You mean I’d have nothing to lose? Oh ya…I would do that for sure then.”

Nothing to lose.

My son who is just in 5th grade sees school, or at least assessment, as a place/time where he has something to lose. How often has he finished an assignment or project being worried about what marks he will lose rather than what knowledge or skills he has gained? I was bothered by that comment, but didn’t address it immediately as I had to think through what my response would be. Isn’t this just what we are trying to move away from in education? My son enjoys school for the most part, but I must say, he is not highly motivated. Could it be that he is not just “a bit lazy” as we have always thought, but demotivated by the impact of grades and “old school” assessment? I think it could be.

In the meantime, I started thinking about my own students and how they view what goes on in the our classroom. Right away I could pick out a handful of kids who were focused on what they would “lose” when preparing a project or presentation of some sort. I’d never thought about it in that context before. I could see them asking themselves,

“How much should I risk here? If I risk, and fail, I will lose marks so I am just going to stick to the basics and do what everyone else is doing.”

I don’t think I have emphasized enough that they should take more risks and that failure is the best way to learn. Starting in January, that is going to be my target for my classroom; to change the frame that my students are looking through so that they never fear what they “have to lose” but strive for what there is to gain. As for my son, we need to help him reframe his education as well. My questioning and guidance in both situations is going to take on a different look. We must also look into coordinating an Innovation Week at our school and providing times for my own children to explore learning and creating for the sake of learning and creating.

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Someone Gave Me Homework…Now Its My Turn

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Yesterday I read a blog post by Patrick Larkin of this same title.  In it, he writes that he is trying to focus on blogging more and that even though he dislikes “chain letter” type posts, he was going to engage in this one, in hopes that it would kick start more blog posts in the near future.  I connected to that because I too want to blog more AND I too hate chain letters. I do however, have a lot of thoughts about who I am and what I believe to be true and the fact that both of those things are constantly evolving.

Patrick linked 10 more people who he challenged to complete this “homework” assignment and even though I wasn’t one of those people…his 11th person was “anyone who wants to play along”. And so…I am going to do just that!  I have to post 11 things about myself and then answer Patrick’s 11 questions.  Here it goes:

11 Things About Me

1. I am proudly Canadian.  I have a Canadian flag tattoo on my thigh. I love Canada.

2. I went to Jamestown College in Jamestown, North Dakota on a fastpitch softball scholarship. Even though winters can be brutal here in northern Alberta, they will not compare to the winters I experienced in N.D. I didn’t realize how much I loved Canada until I went to school in another country.

3. I am addicted to books.  I can’t stop buying them.  I have stacks and stacks of them.  If I walk into a book store (or book fair at school) I WILL be walking out with something. If I had all the $$ I have spent on books in the last year, I could go on a nice little holiday. Obviously, books are more valuable to me than holidays.

4. One of my strengths as a teacher is in my ability to build relationships with students.  I don’t think anyone ever taught me that. If they know you care about them, they will care about you. If you care about each other, you will work hard for each other.

5. One of my weaknesses as a teacher is that I struggle to stay organized.  I go through periods where I work really hard at it and it gets better and then I can’t keep it up and it slips again. I can always relate to the kid with the messy binder, locker, desk, bag etc.

6. I cry when I’m emotional.  That means mad, sad, glad, proud, uncomfortable…all of it.  I can’t seem to have a serious conversation with someone without crying.  I wish I could have more control over that.

7. My husband has taught me a lot of important lessons but these are the most important: 1. Surround yourself with good people 2. Deal with what you can control 3. Keep going

8. My idea of a good night out is a night of Karaoke. I know the words to A LOT of songs. I especially like to rap or sing songs that are fast. Singing makes me smile.

9. My earliest memory is of my dad saving a child from drowning when I was about 2 1/2 years old.  That’s a pretty cool memory to have.

10. My sister is three years younger than me and about 9 inches taller than me.  How does that happen? YES…I am still slightly bitter about it.

11. Forrest Gump is my favourite movie of all time. I always cry at the end even though I’ve seen it a ton of times and know it word for word. The Shawshank Redemption and A League of Their Own are my next favourite movies.

My Responses to Patrick’s Questions

1. Have you ever been to Massachusetts? Nope, I have never been to Massachusetts. I’d like to go, though.

2. What is your favourite sports team (college or pro)? My favourite sports team is the Edmonton Oilers NHL team.  It has been a difficult 6 or 7 years to be an Oilers fan, but I’m still loyal.

3. Name a blogger you would recommend to others. One of the blogs I read the most is the Single Dad Laughing blog by Dan Pearce. He’s real. I like real.

4. When you were little what did you dream of becoming? When I was little I dreamed of becoming a rock star. I really did. I like being on stage. However, I knew by the time I was 13 that I wanted to be a PE teacher.

5. How far away do you live from where you grew up? I live in Spruce Grove, Alberta and I grew up in Trail, British Columbia.  They are about 950km apart. My mom and dad still live in the house they built the year I was born.  I would like to be closer to them, but don’t know if that will ever work out

6. What is your favourite meal? My favourite meal is Pizza. Hawaiian.

7. If you were offered a free trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? If I were offered a free trip to anywhere in the world, I would likely go to Italy. My dad’s family is from there and I teach Renaissance history. I think it would help me if I went there.

8. Do you prefer Macs or PCs? I prefer PCs to Macs solely because I have never owned a Mac and I don’t know what I don’t know.

9. Other than the birth of your children or your marriage/meeting your soulmate, what was the best day of your life? The best day of my life is any day I get to spend with my husband and 2 boys.  I know that sounds cliche, but it is true. Our family has been lucky enough to have lived a pretty steady life so far.  Not too many highs, not too many lows.  A great day is one we spend together making memories.

10. What is the best movie you have seen in the last year? The best movie I’ve seen this year is Hunger Games – Catching Fire.  I haven’t seen too many movies but I really really want to see The Book Thief over the Christmas break.  That book is one of my top 5 all-time favourites.

11. What was the last live concert you attended? Last live concert was Maroon 5 and Train. Pretty good show.  I have tickets to Justin Timberlake in January – I can’t wait.

11 Bloggers to answer my questions

1. Jesse McLean

2. Dan Pearce

3. Dave Oldham

4. Allison Evelyn

5. Tracey Trousdell

6. Miranda Niebergall

7. Travis McNaughton

8. Alan Stein

9. Jen Foster

10. Blye Seehagel

11. Anyone who wants to do this too! Follow the guidelines below!

Here Are My Questions For You

1. Have you ever been to Trail, British Columbia?

2. What is your favourite book?

3. What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?

4. What are you most grateful for?

5. If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?

6. If you were going to Karaoke tonight what song(s) would you sing?

7. Batman or Spiderman?

8. What is your earliest memory?

9. When was the last time you cried?

10. How much time to you spend on the internet per day on average?

11. What is your favourite sport to watch or play?

The Guidelines for your Homework

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger

2. Share 11 random facts about yourself

3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger made for you

4. List 11 bloggers

5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you have nominated and let them know.  Don’t nominate someone who nominated you.

6. Post back here, in the comment section with a link to your finished assignment.

Get going now…you’ve got homework to do

Renaissance Faire 2013

Once again, Stony Plain Central’s grade 8 Social Studies classes have succeeded in hosting a Renaissance Faire to showcase the learning they have done in the first term.  Groups learned about the types of food, clothing, religion, crime and punishment, blacksmithing, science, music, art and many other areas of Medieval and Renaissance life. Here are some pictorial examples of what was on display:

These girls created their own blacksmith booth that included tools as well as armour  that they had created.

These girls created their own blacksmith booth that included tools as well as armour that they had created.

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One of my students dressed as a Catholic Priest and went throughout the Faire “preaching” to the visitors.

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These young men created a display on Knights and Nobles and used creative means to dress the part.

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Our Jester moved throughout the Faire and performed a juggling act and comedy show.

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This was the center of punishment for crimes during the Faire. Criminals were placed in the stocks and rotten “vegetables” were thrown at them.

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These girls represented the Merchant Class. They made crafts and products and then sold them to visitors at the Faire.

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Nate created his own armour out of cardboard.

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One of te students played Renaissance music on her recorder and also moved around the Faire playing the tambourine.

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My student teacher, Miss Seehagel with one of our well dressed mercenaries.

Who Should Coach?

In my role as the Athletic Rep at Stony Plain Central School, it is partly my job to find and organize coaches for our Jr. High sports teams and programs. Over the last five years, this hasn’t been an easy spot to be in, but I have to say, people have always managed to step up whether it be teachers, administrators or sometimes even parents. Today, I am sad to say, it looks like I may be unable to find that person or people.

It seems that the current teachers at our school have too many other commitments, most of which include work, family and leadership outside of school as well. Last week, I held a meeting of all boys in grades 6 to 8 who were interested in playing basketball. In the end, I had 25 of them say they would like to try out. So I implored them to go home and ask, no BEG, their parents to come and coach the junior boys team. I had a few bites, but in the end, those who had seemed likely to take on the role decided that it was too much of a commitment for them.

I am now in quite a time crunch. You see, I have to declare by Friday whether or not we have teams. I have to admit, I am frustrated by this situation and that brings up a question that I am struggling to answer: In a school system where coaching is a %100 volunteer position, who should be expected to coach school sports teams?

I’m torn in two by this question. My first, automatic response is that teachers should be doing the coaching. We know the school and division policies, are trained to work with kids (seems like a no-brainer, but lots of outside coaches know their sport well, but don’t know how to handle young people) and can use sport to help build relationships with students and to help build a positive culture in the school. I have lived by that belief. It has been a part of my worldview. Coaching volleyball is something I have always enjoyed, felt confident in and saw the benefit of. I want to do it right. I want to attend a lot of tournaments (we do six in senior volleyball). My own children have been dragged along to volleyball games and tournaments since they were only months old. It is something I am passionate about. And I don’t mean passionate about volleyball, although I do love the game, I mean passionate about contributing to our school culture and sense of pride.

My second response is that I completely understand teacher’s reluctance to coach school teams. In order to do it right, it takes A LOT of time. It is not just the coach that is willing to spend that time, but their family who sacrifices time with them. My heart gets torn out every time I hear my kids say, “You have to go to volleyball again? Can’t you just stay here with us?” I explain to them that while I do not enjoy spending time away from them, it is important to me, and I am helping people. When I am in the stands watching them play hockey, someone else’s mom or dad is on the ice coaching them. It’s a trade of sorts. Many people are not willing or able to make that trade. I completely understand that. As my kids get older, it is getting harder and harder for my family to manage all of our commitments during volleyball season. What kind of trade is one that boosts school culture, but hurts – sometimes irreparably – family culture? That is not a fair thing to ask and while I know that some administrators will pressure teachers to coach, I’m not prepared to do that.
So now we are left with our 25 boys who are interested in playing, but no one to take over the team. Who owes it to them? Teachers? Parents? the Community? Don’t we all?