As a mother, I give you permission to forget about Mother’s Day. I sincerely do not expect a cute present that you stressed about creating with all your students. I do not expect you to use precious learning time and resources to create something for my children to give to me. Mother’s Day is a family event, I expect my family to honour me in the way they see fit (they know I love chocolate and eating out!). Why do teachers feel the pressure to provide their students with a gift for Mother’s Day? Is it an expectation that families have? Do families rely on gifts made at school? If schools did not provide gift that their students made would no mothers be honoured?
What got me thinking about all this, is the dreaded Mother’s Day Tea that has entered my life for the past 5 years. Not sure how it is where you live, but for some reason it has become a popular idea around here for classes, especially early learner classes. Teachers host an event during the school day and have children pamper their mothers with refreshments and “relaxation”. This time is used to show mothers how much they are loved and appreciated. It is a very sweet idea.
Being a working mom, I have missed Mother’s Day teas because I, of course, have to be at school. It has been heartbreaking to tell my children that their father would attend in my place and then being the only children who do not have their mother in attendance. While everyone says it’s okay to send someone else important in my child’s life, it’s not the same. It’s difficult to deal with yet another reason to feel guilty that I am a working mom. I don’t think it was a coincidence that last year in our school district we had a teacher on call shortage on the Friday before Mother’s Day! This meant that there were so many teachers who called in sick or took leaves of absences that there weren’t enough teachers on call to take their place. Often administrators like me had to go into classes to provide coverage. You can imagine how that made me feel!
I do appreciate the thoughtfulness that teachers have to help their students celebrate the day, it’s all coming from a good place. However, instead of making gifts and hosting events, here is what you can do to mark the Mother’s Day occasion. Help support my children in learning that this world is filled with different types of mothers… that children have different types of relationships with their mothers… that some children do not have mothers, but have other people in their lives that be seen as their mother. Teach lessons that encourage children to grow up into inclusive adults, who do not take others for granted and appreciate all the people in their lives that support them and help them grow.
I do love all the cards and crafts I have received throughout the years, just as I love all the work my children bring home. I don’t need a gift or an event provided for me by my child’s teacher to show how much I am appreciated. I hope that my family can handle that on their own.
Recently we had a member of our district’s Safe Schools department visit our school to present to our parents about online safety and digital media. In particular, I was surprised at how many parents did not know about ESRB ratings and the content of video games and YouTube videos related to game play that their children were being exposed to. Some of this content was very inappropriate for our K-7 students.
I have written the following post for the parents who were not able to attend the presentation. Feel free share the link below with the parents at your school.
We all have busy lives, sometimes it is a relief to have our kids occupied with video games, apps and YouTube. Now, more than ever, though, it is very important that we check in to see what digital content our children are consuming, as well as how they are using their devices and who they are connecting with.
First off, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is an excellent resource for you to refer to when deciding whether or not a video game is appropriate for your child. The following chart that they provide is an easy reference.
If you have trouble finding a rating, an easy Google search with the name of the game and “rating” will help you find one.
At our school, we are very concerned about our students playing games that are rated M and above. These games should never be played by our students or around our students.
Now, you may not buy games that are rated M or above but your children may be watching inappropriate videos on YouTube related to games rated M or above. Or the game may be rated for your child to play, but the language used by the host of the video may be inappropriate. To find appropriate videos for your children to watch, just do a search of “family friendly” with the name of the game you are interested in. In particular, here are some family friendly YouTube channels on Minecraft. I personally love watching Stampy and Paul Sores Jr. with my family.
Another area to be concerned about are mods. Mods are apps or software that, when uploaded, modify the game in various ways. For example, a great game like Minecraft can be turned into a violent game through mods that add guns, blood, zombies, etc. Monitor the mods that your children are downloading onto your devices.
Online gaming opens a whole world of exciting and concerning possibilities. There are some games that allow for connecting with others through online chatting and game play. It is fun to play with friends and distant family members online, but it is easy to connect with strangers who aren’t who they say they are. If you allow online game play, limit the options of players only to who all of you know and preferably have met in person.
Finally, the amount of screen time our children are exposed to can drastically impact their sleep patterns, behaviour and relationships. Set limits to how much time your children are playing video games and do not allow any screen time for at least an hour before bed time.
My dad built the house I grew up in, and while this house was being built, I spent many hours on the worksite trying to stay out of trouble and helping as much as I could. I remember my brother and I spending hours looking for scrap materials like nails, wire and pieces of wood and creating new projects like cars, boxes, and mini-houses. He tolerated all this because it kept the worksite clean and it kept us busy.
My dad is also really good at fixing things. Any toy, appliance, car that was “broken” magically came to life again with him tinkering. I learned quickly that he is good at fixing things not necessarily because he knows how to fix anything, but because he is good at tinkering and isn’t afraid at trying different approaches. He also perseveres because he can’t stand having to spend more money on buying things to replace the broken items! Having five children would do that to you!
22 years after my dad built our family home, my husband and I embarked on an epic project that put our perseverance, tinkering abilities, and emotional and physical strength to the test. We bought our first home, gutted it and renovated it… mostly all on our own. We learned how to frame, drywall, paint, install windows, stucco, build stairs… the list goes on and on. I have to say, though, without my experience of being around my dad while he built a house I don’t think I could have done it… I don’t think I would have even attempted it.
I am grateful for the experiences I had with my dad because , even though the project brought us to the edge in many areas at many different levels, we did it and we are now living in something we worked on together. More importantly, my children are growing up in a house that we built and will be continuing to build as they grow up. I am glad that they get to experience what I experienced with my dad. Oh, and today, my 69 year old dad is in the middle of building another home!
Last week our Premier announced that all students from kindergarten to Grade 12 in British Columbia will have the opportunity to learn the basics of coding.
The education community and concerned citizens responded with many questions and frustrations, mostly about the lack of funding attached to this announcement.
Coding is just another skill that is needed to understand how our modern world works, like learning about electricity and structures. I don’t think there is an expectation for everyone to become master coders after they graduate from our school system. Coding can be complicated. Kids aren’t going to be developing apps overnight nor is there an expectations that they do so. Some will take to it and eventually may have a career that heavily involves it; some will just grasp a beginners knowledge of it. Both results are fine. I think it’s great that what many teachers in the province are already exposing their students to is officially being put into our curriculum.
With that said, ideally it would have been nice for some sort of plan and funding to be released. Despite this, we need not panic. Here are some coding resources that do not require any tech hardware, internet connection, or a computer science degree to implement. They also won’t break the bank.
Computer Science Unplugged
This website is filled with no tech options to teach students computational thinking through games and puzzles that use materials you can easily find.
The no tech board and card game industry is growing every month, with new great titles added. Here are some suggestions.
Robot Turtles 2-4 players, Ages 4+
In Robot Turtles, players decide how their Robot Turtle moves on a game board with the goal to reach a jewel to win. There are different variations that can be played depending on players’ experience.
Code Monkey Island 3-4 Players, Ages 8+
Players are leaders of tribes of monkeys. The goal is to take your tribe around the board avoiding quick sand traps to a banana grove and score some fruit along the way.
The Code Master Programming1 player, Ages 8+
In Code Master, your Avatar will travel to an exotic world in search of power Crystals, but only one specific sequence of actions will lead to success.
Bits and Bytes 2-4 Players Ages 4+
Bits & Bytes is a card game. The goal is for each player to guide their character by giving them directions. At the same time they have to avoid obstacles like walls, bugs and the Seepeeu (CPU).
Robo Rally 2-8 Players, Ages 12+
Robo Rally is a board game where you control a robot to meet goals in a race across a factory floor. The factory is filled with obstacles like pits, lasers conveyor belts and other robots to slow you down or destruct you. The first robot to claim all the goals in the correct order wins.
Another area of great development are gadgets that don’t need any devices, hardware, or a WiFi connection. Here are some that are perfect for early learners.
Throught the buttons on top of Bee Bot, children are able to enter a sequence of directions for Bee Bot to follow. Bee Bot blinks and beeps at the end of each command and allows children to follow the sequence. It is very easy to use and there are many games and projects teaches have created to challenge Bee Bot and students.
Pro Bot is a robot in the form of a race car. Just like Bee Bot, children can enter a sequence of directions for Pro-Bot to follow using the directional arrows on top. It also has a mode that allows users to add numbers for distances and degrees for movement.
Cubetto is a wooden block robot that is paired with a board that sends programs to it. Children use blocks and place them on the board. These blocks give Cubetto instructions on where to move.
Yes! You can teach coding with no tech or low tech!
If anyone has more resources that can be added to this list, please add it in the comments section below.
Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create and express ourselves to feel whole. There is something unique about making physical things. Things we make are like little pieces of us and seem to embody portions of our soul.
-Mark Hatch, The Maker Movement Manifesto
When I was growing up, Mummy (and yes, I still call her Mummy) sewed a lot. I remember our dining room constantly being used as the spot to place projects all in various states of completion. Her sewing machine, a Kenmore that my father proudly purchased for her from the Sears catalogue lived on our kitchen counter. That Kenmore is still being used 35 years later.
I often wondered why Mummy sewed. What did she get out of it, what drove her to taking on more projects? Was it because it was a cost effective way to decorate a house and clothe five children? Was it because she enjoyed the compliments she received when people saw her work? Was it a time where she could escape from the busy life of a homemaker?
I guess it was all of the above in some way.
I have spent most of my life envying Mummy’s capabilities. I spent many hours on end watching closely and waiting while she worked. Off to the side I would collect scraps and hand sew clothes for my Barbie dolls, imitating the techniques my mother used. Sometimes I would fall asleep close by as she continued to work on through the night fuelled by the excitement of finishing a project before dawn.
I will never come close to Mummy’s dedication and proficiency at sewing. I still do like the process, though. I love picking a pattern, looking for fabrics, gathering all the notions and getting to work. Being in a fabric store gives me a warm feeling and gets me excited about the many possibilities. I also love the end product, even with all the mistakes hidden behind the seams and under the fabric. It feels incredible to produce something, especially something that is useful and creative at the same time.
As my 5 yr. old daughter sits the same way I did by my mother watching closely while I sew her “the most beautiful dress in the world” (her words!), I realize that when Mummy sewed she felt the same way I do now. It makes me feel human and whole again… simple happiness.
Everyone should have the chance to feel this way. I often think about our students who do not get to watch and learn from their parents making and don’t have the opportunities to make things on their own at home. The process of “making” is taking a back seat to activities like homework, studying, video games, working long hours at a job, watching Netfilx, etc.. We are living in a world where the craft fairs and farmers’ markets are more popular than they ever have been, but how many of us are actually creating rather than consuming?
We owe it to our children and students. They need to “make”. They need to see the adults in their lives make and make with them side by side… watch and go through the successes and failures together. Ultimately, as Mark Hatch states in the quote above, “Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create and express ourselves to feel whole.”
In a recent discussion in our Women in Leadership voxer group, we came to the realization that opportunities for us to hear female education leaders speak as keynote presenters at conferences are a rare find. We can list numerous outstanding male keynote speakers we have heard at conferences and would be happy to listen to again:
Sir Ken Robinson
The list could go on and on…
Yet, when we tried to list women keynote speakers…our conversation came to a halt. Within our group we could actually only identify six keynote speakers that we’ve heard:
Heidi Hayes Jacobs
All six are dynamic speakers who we want to promote and would love to hear again. One interesting piece of these women keynote speakers is that they are all pedagogical goddesses and relentless advocates for student learning. Liz Wiseman, another woman keynoter who was remembered later in the conversation, is the only woman that was hired to keynote on the specific topic of leadership and the impact leadership has on student learning. We are connected to many great female education leaders; we’ve read their blogs/books, we’ve connected in social media to continue learning from them, and we’ve heard them speak on smaller scales (conference sessions, not keynotes). So why aren’t they being asked to be keynote speakers at state, provincial, and national level conferences? Why is the pool of keynote speakers so dominated by our male colleagues? More importantly, why are we, the women leaders in education, not making a bigger stink about it?
This has been a difficult question to discuss as it has brought up some uncomfortable reflections, especially in the areas of how we support women colleagues. Some of the reasons that we discussed included:
Women can be our own worst enemies. Sometimes we compete with each other as though there is only one space at the top, when as we can see with the number of men who are keynote speakers, this is not true.
Some women leaders feel isolated and don’t have a support group.
Speaking in front of others can be scary, causing us to question whether we really are an expert to present to others about it. It’s the own voices in our head that prevent us from stepping up. Many refer to this as the “Impostor Syndrome” which is common among high achieving women where, “Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved” (wikipedia). According to researcher, Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, women who are in male-dominated professions are particularly vulnerable to this syndrome (Goudreau, ForbesWomen, Oct. 19, 2011).
Sometimes, we rely on “duty calls” and stay back to complete the work. Again, our own worst enemy by not prioritizing sharing our story (and the story of our teacher leaders) with others.
The reality of mom guilt; we already feel guilty about the many hours that take us away from our children and worry about the additional time spent away from our families.
According to Tiffani Lennon, the author and lead researcher of the report, Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, women hold 75% of all teaching positions across the U.S., but hold only 30% of leadership positions. Education is a field that is predominantly women, but we hold less than a third of the leadership positions. In looking at this report, education has the largest gap between number of women working and number of women in leadership. We have work to do.
What can we, the women in school leadership roles, do to help even out the influential voices in our space? These are our suggestions:
Demand that the organizations we belong to recognize the imbalance and work hard to elevate our voices. We pay membership fees too.
Recommend women in leadership that we know would be excellent on the stage.
Submit proposals to speak at conferences on topics we are passionate about.
Encourage women colleagues to get out there and share their passions.
Recognize and promote the female speakers that we want to hear.
Continue to share our learning/reflections with others online (Twitter, Blogs, Voxer, etc.).
Read, reflect and discuss great books on women in leadership, such as Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg or Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
Reflect upon our own self-doubt and bravely put it out there so that others can learn from it, support you and help you move onto reaching your leadership potential.
Learn more about the Impostor Syndrome and what that is and looks like for you. Get help from others, as you feel necessary.
Get to know women leaders, so when the time comes to recommend speakers you have a list of good, potential candidates.
We believe women in leadership is a diversity issue and doing this important work is the responsibility of all educators. It is important for girls to see women in leadership roles so that they can imagine and dream their own possibilities. It is also important for girls to see women being celebrated as speakers whose opinions are honoured and valued. It is just as important for boys to see women in this role and on the stage. This issue is not just about girls and boys though; it is also about women and men. If most of our teachers are women, they deserve to learn from women and aspire to be like them. If they only see men, some of the best and brightest may never choose to elevate their position. On the flip side, there are certainly some amazing men in our classrooms who may feel forced to enter leadership positions because it is seemingly expected. The field of education needs all of us to be in roles that fit our strengths. Furthermore, we need to challenge our own thinking, and have courageous conversations that move us forward. It is important for everyone to acknowledge and value the importance of our voices as women to the educational conversations, including as Keynote Speakers at major conferences, both locally, nationally, and internationally. In doing so, we are doing the work of creating a brighter future for all of us.
It’s been almost two weeks since I arrived back home from my trip to the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Philadelphia. I, like many attendees and presenters out there, have had a difficult time blogging on my experience. I have started three posts and abandoned them all. There is just too much to say! As well, I wanted to share the experiences of my co-presenter and first time attendee, Margaret Westaway.
So, as I don’t shy away from learning new things and piling more work and stress onto myself (yay!) and this is an area I want to learn more about for my students, I decided to publish an audio recording of what Margaret and I love doing. We love to reflect and ask each other questions about everything! Of course the only way for me to get this ISTE whirlwind out of my head is to talk about it.
So here we go! In this recording (remember this is the first recording I have ever done, thank goodness my husband is a patient teacher), Margaret and I discuss our experiences as attendees and presenters at ISTE, as well as a side track into reflecting on how ISTE honed our philosophy about Makerspaces. If you are thinking of attending and/or presenting at ISTE 2016, we highly recommend it. We will be there!
What a privilege it was for Margaret Westaway and I to be able to present about our makerspace journey at this year’s ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. I have many blog posts brewing about ISTE 2015, but in this post I am going to focus on our unexpected encounter with the wonderful folks from littleBits and the Vancouver MakerLabs.
Our students love littleBits, so we had to discuss the role littleBits played in our makerspaces through our ISTE sessions. Problem… we wanted to bring our kits with us, but didn’t have the room to pack them in our limited luggage (we were, after all going to make a trip to New York afterwards for some shopping!). So, Margaret decided to take a chance and fire off an email to the “people” at littleBits to ask them if we could borrow a kit. We were shocked that we actually received a response back! The littleBits people gave us a kit and it was waiting for us at our hotel when we arrived. What a great company!
LittleBits had a booth at ISTE, so we decided to visit to show our gratitude. We had so much fun! The representatives were all gracious, helpful, inspiring and as excitable as Margaret and I are! We had great conversations with everyone. Through one of these conversations, we found out that the MakerLabs in Vancouver was hosting a littleBits Olympics event.
After returning from our trip to Philadelphia and New York, on the first day that I felt recovered from my conference/vacation whirlwind, I dragged the family to the BitOlympics not knowing what to expect. I am so glad that we went! MakerLabs is a beautiful 26,000 sf makerspace that I have wanted to visit for some time and this event was a perfect excuse to check it out.
When we arrived, a number of people were engrossed in using littleBits to make Olympic themed creations. I was a little nervous as there weren’t many children around, but that went away when my 7 yr. old son excitedly expressed that he wanted to build a mini soccer goal net that lit up and buzzed every time a goal was scored.
Now I have to admit that I have seen my children and many of my students use littleBits to create awesome inventions. I have also seen many cool creations posted by littleBits. But, I have never really made a project on my own, let alone with my son. So, I let go and let my son lead the project.
For our first attempt, we tried using a motion trigger. If the ball rolls into the net, the motion trigger would trigger the lights and buzzer. After listening to the buzzer go off about a hundred times, we realized the sensor was too sensitive, it was reacting to every little motion. This resulted in the buzzer continually buzzing deep into my brain. I could sense myself getting frustrated. I wanted to abandon the idea, get some coffee and try something else, “Hey Zain, how about we do a diving board instead?”, but soccer means a lot to Zain. He wanted to continue.
Next, Zain examined the choices of bits and decided to try the roller switch. The theory was, if the ball hits the roller switch, it would trigger the buzzer for the lights to go off. At this point I begged him to not use the buzzer anymore. Mama had a headache. After a lot of tape being used to keep the switch in place we realized that the ball had to hit the switch quite hard for it to activate, plus our accuracy wasn’t that great.
Okay, now by this point I really wanted to move on. I even went and collected materials for a diving board. “Zain, it would be so cool if we made a diving board, see we can even use the roller switch for it.”
I saw the disappointed look on Zain’s face. He then said, “Mama, you really want to do the diving board, so do it.” I’m going to do my own thing. My seven year old wanted nothing to do with his mama! Ack! No, this was not supposed to happen, I wanted to create something together! So, I pulled back again and watched as my determined son went back to the bits library and pondered what his next step would be.
Zain brought back a sound trigger bit and said, “I think this is really going to work, mama come on we can do it!”. My inside voice said, “What the heck is a sound trigger going to do? A diving board would be so much easier!” I watched him as he skillfully attached all the pieces together. After decreasing its sensitivity, the sound trigger was just the thing our soccer net needed! The ball rolled into the net and the noise that was created through the ball hitting the bit triggered the lights to go off! Success! We cheered and high fived as though we scored a goal at the FIFA world cup!
Zain then surprised me and marched up to Nick Weinberg, who was the littleBits rep helping with the event, and asked him if he wanted to see how he finally got it to work. Nick had stopped by a number of times during our process earlier and Zain was excited to show him the successful version. Nick ended up documenting Zain’s project and put it up on the littleBits site (you can see it here). My heart swelled while I watched from a distance my confident my little boy explaining our project and the pieces that were used to make it.
This event proved to me once again how kids will persevere if they are given the freedom to explore their own passions, with few limitations, and when given support if needed. It also shows me how easily us adults give up. Just the slightest glimmer into failure I wanted to abandon his idea. Yet at 7 years old he was able to push through numerous setbacks and eventually succeed. Even more powerful to me was that he was able to stand up to me and not allow me to change the path. He pushed me to keep going. As a mama, isn’t that what I am supposed to do for him?
Thank you littleBits and MakerLabs for providing us with an opportunity to play. More importantly thank you for the message that tech like littleBits in schools and home isn’t essential because it wows and “engages” students. It’s value is not in the products that it enables users to create, it’s value is in the process. Our end product was pretty basic and looked very messy, but it was made amazing because of the journey that Zain and I went through to complete it. Our hacked together goal net, assembled with tape, cardboard and card stock that lights up every time a goal is scored will hold a precious place in our memories. Here is another video of Zain explaining the project, showing how it worked and what we used to make it.
As the principal of an elementary school and the parent of two young children, I have been thinking a lot lately about the special needs of all of our learners in the public education system.
Over the past week, administrators in my district have been working on placing Education Assistant (EA) hours that have been allotted to us. It is a heartbreaking, stressful process trying to create workable groups of designated special needs students to work with the EA hours that have been given to us. It seems like every year, we try to work with less. The hours also always need to be stretched to unofficially support those students who are undesignated or designated but do not qualify for EA support. There are never enough hours. And because it is difficult to ask for more funding, we begin to question, what we are doing wrong. Are we overlooking efficiencies? Are there designated students who do not need as many hours as we think? Are we not encouraging special needs students to gradually pull away from being dependent on EAs? Do teachers have access to enough professional development to support special needs students? Many administrators struggle with these questions and prepare themselves for the inevitable frustrations and stress that the announcement of the EAs and the possible placement of students for next year creates in our school community. We try to do the best we can, but it is difficult for administrators to not to feel the fires are just temporarily being put out and that they will start again in time.
Now where does this leave our Gifted students? (and yes, Gifted students have special needs). I recently attended the Gifted Children’s Association of BC Mini Conference. (where I heard the title of this blog post stated numerous times!). I met many parents who are tirelessly advocating for their children and sadly many of them have resorted to pulling their children from the public school system to home school, transfer to an independent school, unschool or participate in a combination of alternative schooling. In addition to the emotional and financial burden of doing this, many parents are paying thousands of dollars to get their kids psychological education (psycho ed) assessments that public schools cannot provide because of the long wait list where gifted students are often put at the bottom. Psycho Ed assessments provide parents and schools with an in-depth report of the areas of strengths and needs and recommends ways to support the student. Psycho Ed assessments are often needed to attach designations to students and for schools to access funding. Even with officially gaining the “Gifted” designation, though, parents are frustrated with getting the crumbs (if even that) of support that is left over from the “more needy students”.
Being able to tirelessly and successfully advocate for your child’s special needs is often taken on by the parents who are doing well financially or have decided to put aside their basic financial needs to seek support. I worry about those students who come from families who struggle with their own day to day survival. How are they to advocate for their child? Who advocates for these kids and their parents?
Not being able to fully meet the special needs of our students is a growing problem. I understand that the funding tap cannot be open all the time and there is work that can be done to improve the efficient use of the funding that we do get. Having conversations with all parties involved and being transparent is important. As a society, If we believe that inclusion is important, we should also believe that the appropriate funding for full inclusion to work is also important. At times like this though, it feels like trying to push molasses uphill.