Question Mark Phoenix: royblumenthal via Flickr

I think as I age I realize that answers are far less important than the questions. Hey, we all learned years ago that the answer is 42, it was the question that remained elusive. So how do we learn to ask good questions? There are all kinds of pyramids and charts showing various levels of thinking and multitudes of fancy named hierarchies of thought processes. Sure, those all play a role, and are worthy to examine; thinking about how we think is totally up my alley. However the highest levels of thinking are completely pointless if the people in the room don’t feel they have permission to ask the questions out loud.

So what do we do?

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I love teaching Shakespeare. I revel in it. It is honestly my absolute favourite part of my English courses. That is why what I did with my FFP class today was agony for me. We are starting Romeo and Juliet. Because it is something I could teach in my sleep I decided it was a good unit to hand over to the class to control.

I presented the kids with a set of learning goals for our Shakespeare unit, then we sat in a circle and they discussed how they wanted to learn the material and how they would demonstrate their achievement of the goals. Continue Reading »

TEDxWaterloo + FFP


There are moments when I love my job so much I think I may burst. Moments when I am amazed that this is what I get paid (paid well even) to do. This sunny February Friday was one of those days; I rushed out of school and up to Kitchener for a planning meeting about the TEDx event we are organizing for our Futures Forum group of students from the Waterloo Region District School Board.

March 21st is TEDxWaterloo, hosted at Centre in the Square.  This is one of the largest Tedx events in the world, last year featuring the  likes of Dr Roberta Bondar, Vicki Keith and Abby Sutherland.  The place was packed and the energy palpable.

This year, just down the street at the Chrysalis theatre 300+ grade ten students will gather to watch a live stream of the event. Exciting enough, but we are aiming to recreate the feel of a live Ted event by adding as many authentic interactive experiences as possible.  The folks at TEDxWaterloo have been amazingly cooperative about sharing their resources to customize an experience for these students.

I am hopelessly excited about this. There is a great group of university volunteers who are going to draw upon their connections to create neat displays of innovation for the kids to experience.  Mathew  Ho (of the recent “Legoman in space” fame.)  will come in person after his talk to do a live QA session with the kids.  They’ll get to see a little behind the scenes magic of the main event, via video and a presentation next week by Ramy Nassar the TEDxWaterloo director and co-host.

We are creating a truly amazing event, in true collaborative style and it embodies everything the Futures Forum program expouses.

This will be a quick post because it’s the holidays!

Before we broke for the Christmas break I gave my classes a schedule of the rest of the semester.  They each got a hard copy calendar of events.  I gave hard copies of the major assignment that was due the first day back. I posted it all online, and gave them access to all the notes, and even classroom “chalk and talk” notes were typed and posted. I went over things with them repeatedly in class, inviting questions, concerns, comments or queries.  (Yes, that’s a redundancy, in multiple ways, but I use the QCCQ phrase as a indicator I am done talking on a subject! It’s become a bit of a silly signature in my classes.)  I was more explicit in the last two weeks then ever before in these classes as a response to their growing nervousness as the end of semester approaches. Continue Reading »

My students communicate with me regularly. I am glad for this. It takes a variety of formats: many are still most comfortable coming to find me during the school day, but a lot of students appreciate the chance to use electronic communication. Students don’t generally e-mail me, but tend toward more public communication via Twitter, our class Facebook group or wall posts on Schoology. My favourite thing about this communication is how regularly a peer will help them out before I even get a chance to respond. Students will direct each other to course content, clarify instructions or remind each other of deadlines. A degree of collective self-reliance has been established. Information flows pretty freely. I hope most students find me pretty easy to approach as a result. I have found this semester that students seek me out face to face more than they ever did before, as well as asking questions out of school time. I like this, even when it is time consuming. Continue Reading »

It’s mid-term.   The flurry of mark calculations and report card commenting is thankfully  past.   As I was determining marks this year I started thinking about WHO the report cards are for.  Intended audience drives the voice of most writing.  Who was my intended audience?   Are report cards primarily a teacher-parent communication tool?  Are they the concrete and a definitive word on the student’s progress so far?  Are report cards meant for comparison: between classes, between students, between friends?  Are they predominately official and historical documents?

I suppose they are pieces of all of those things. Some of which I agree with, and some, not so much.   I find it so disheartening however that students will gauge their entire success, in fact often their whole view of self, on this one little number.    I  despise when student start comparing marks– it negates  their personal journeys. Continue Reading »

Over the past week, I have really been trying to wrap my head around the idea of “flipping” a classroom.   First lets deal with the ideology: students access new lesson material outside of scheduled class time, this replaces traditional “homework” activity.  Class time is then used to apply the concepts they learned in a hands-on way, with  teacher support.    Rather than working through the application of material on their own, as tradtional models so often demanded, students have the teacher and classmates there for guidance and clarification.

There are reasons this makes sense to me.   A full class period to conference with students individually about their essay writing is far more personally productive for both me and the student in question.

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