Sunday, November 29, 2009

As a democratic society what is it we need of our schools in the 21st century?

As a democratic society what is it we need of our schools in the 21st century and has our expectation of teachers shifted? The cost of technology is socially complex and expensive compared with the traditional tools of teaching. Is this cost bringing us closer to what we need? Do we need to re-examine the assumptions that are propelling reform through technology? Is it enough in our democratic society to just educate teachers and students in how to use technology?
On one hand, we have aspects of our society craving higher standards, with a need to be efficient about collecting data that demonstrates measurable achievement. In the Alberta Guide to Education document they state, “The school’s primary responsibility is to ensure that students meet or exceed the provincial standards… that education inspires and enables students to achieve success and fulfillment as citizens in a changing world.” (2009-2010 p.2).” In my view this indicates a standards-based, accountability-oriented approach concerned with effective delivery of this program of study and the teacher is responsible for collecting this data.
Yet, at the same time looking deeper into the school curriculum teachers are being asked to make a fundamental shift in their practice away from a teacher centred delivery of content to a more generative and collaborative exploration of content. This shift requires a major adjustment of the traditional power relationship between teacher and student.
As a classroom teacher, I find myself uncomfortably squeezed between the two. Do teachers find themselves trapped in a paradoxical profession as Andy Hargreaves boldly states (2003, p. 9)? Do we as a society have a clear request of its teachers or has teaching in the 21st century become so complex we are confused? Alberta teachers are being asked to embed technology into every area of their curriculum. “As technology is best learned within the context of applications, activities, projects, and problems that replicate real-life situations, the ICT program of studies is structured as a ‘curriculum within a curriculum’, using the core subjects of English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies as a base” (2003 p.1). Yet much research suggests there are barriers to teachers doing so. What might explain some teachers eagerly infusing technology and others not? Is Larry Cuban correct when he reports that computers have been over sold and under used by teachers (2001 p.195). As well, in their examination of the use of computers by teachers Dexter, Anderson, & Becker uncovered from teachers that they felt time to reflect was more of a catalysts than the technology itself for instructional change in teacher practice (1999).
If technology is not the catalyst what might be? I think it might be time to stop thinking that teachers are the obstacles to over come in school reform? Do we take seriously the experiences of teachers? If explanations contain the seeds for solutions, can I as a researcher explain or rather interpret for school reformers the teachers voice in this place? In the heart of this question I wonder, what do teachers say about of the relationship between technology and exploratory learning in constructionist classrooms today?

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused: computers in the classroom. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Dexter, S., Anderson, R. E., & Becker, H. J. (1999). Teachers' views of computers as catalysts for changes in their teaching practice. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 31(3), 221-239.
Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society. Teachers College Press.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

All I needed to learn I learned in my backyard

I wrote this for my father on the occasion of his funeral September 12. 2007. I publish it now to honour his memory as a WWII veteran on this Remembrance day 2009.

The lessons I learned in my backyard

My father was a kind man, a good guy. He wasn't what you would call ambitious, he wasn't driven to climb the corporate ladder. He was a good man. In today's society good has become a kind of undervalued word. But good is good, and good is a good word. He was a family man and from my perspective a top level father. It wasn't enough that he fathered us he also fathered our friends. He wasn't alone, I remember thinking the same thing about Mr. Boydell. As a child I spent a lot of time in my backyard and I'll tell you my father's presence was always there even when he wasn't. In those days our parents would open the back door after breakfast and if we were home by the time the streetlights where on all was good. At some point lunch would happen but I don't have much of a memory of that. When it was time for my mother to prepare the family meal I was not to be found in the kitchen helping her. I was out on the front step waiting for my father to come home so the we could play catch. When he wasn't there I spent hours throwing the ball against the house. I now wonder what that must have sounded like to my mother inside the house. The time I spent with my father in my backyard was sacred.

In playing catch with my father I learned about the importance of anticipation, keeping your eye on the ball and covering
up. You know just in case life throws you a bouncing ball. You have
heard the expression covering all your bases and you never know when
life will throw you a curve ball. I learned to be ready to be prepared for the
unexpected from my father.

From my father in my backyard I learned that all life has a place and an importance in creation. Life is a circle with nothing having dominion over another what ever we humans think. However as the children of Ross Grant we learned that cats have some sort of special place at least in our laps.

In my backyard I learned that trees can be your friend. You can play with them. And if you listen very carefully they will whisper your name. They will seldom let you down. We had several trees in our backyard. In one of them we made a simple tree fort
and a rope swing. Not sure I had anything to do with the construction. However in my backyard with this tree I learned the important lesson of gravity it sucks. I have a
memory of one day that rope broke while I was swinging. My hand just
melted. I also recall one day waking up in my bed with the worried
faces of my family all around. Apparently I fell out of the fort and
gave myself some sort of concussion.
In the presence of our family and friends hurts heal faster. I am sure some of you have your own memory of that tree different from my own. I also remember sparklers and burning school houses with the Boydell's very close to that tree, what where we thinking?

You have heard of March madness? I have a different take on it. Yes in March it is time for American college basketball to decide who is the best, but in my backyard it meant the changing of the seasons. My father would make a backyard rink every winter for us. You see in March it is also the time when in Canada we find out who is the best in figure skating. I would watch the championship on television and when it was done for the evening I would go out in my backyard and skate on what was left of the ring. That was madness, sometimes it was only 5 feet around. I spent time there from the time before I could walk to the time I wore high heels. From my father I learned about balance and starting with a good foundation and building on that. In my life I attempt to keep a balance not between work and home but around all life. It's all good. All of it.

My father taught me the art of quite listening and auditory discrimination. In my backyard learned to listen to the difference between bird songs. Robins have a song to sing and it is different in the morning from the evening. It's different when their young are on the ground and it's different when they say goodbye to us in the fall. All winter I wait for the return of the robin's song so that I can tell my father I heard it. It isn't spring until I do. I also learned to whistle although I have never heard a sweeter sound than my father whistling.

Now I want to talk about the focal point of our backyard. All the seasons where revered in our backyard but we all could not wait for the warmth of spring. When the earth would open up so that we could plant the peas. The first seeds of spring. All seeds have a place and an importance in creation but my family will tell you that garden peas have a special place on our tongues. I won't even talk about tomatoes but they have to wait for the warmer soil of June. My father was not a great gardener, he didn't always have straight rows and he didn't pull all the weeds. However he just was a gardener. He had such a connection to the earth and creation. He taught me that seeds, like children grow into what they are meant to be, they don't need a label to know what they are, they don't need straight rows to grow in. They just need to be planted, watered, watched and cared for. With that care they will grow into what they are meant to be.

I believe I learned about honour and duty from my father. In 1939 war was declared and he was 21 years old. That is how old my son is now. He was working at Timothy Eaton's in Hamilton when he was called up for 30 days service in the army. He did his required time and then returned to work. In the summer of 1941 there was a big crop of hay that year his sense of family called him to returned to the farm to help his father but then he also felt a call to serve his country away from his family. His sense of what was right sent him back to the armed forces and in the fall of 1941 like many young men he joined the Air force. He didn't talk about it much but he didn't go into battle, he just quietly when around the North of England making sure the radar was working. That's how he was, he just quietly went about doing good things. I have discovered that radar technicians were Canada's gift to the war effort and it was radar that ended the war.

I live far away in Calgary but even there I am close to my father. All I need to do is put my hand in the dirt to feel his presence. All I need to do is hear my son whistle to hear his voice, or cut open a tomato I have grown to understand life is a circle. When you go home today spend some time in your backyard pour a glass of something cool raise a toast to creation. Spend a few moments thinking about the lessons you have learned there. Look around and notice what is growing and living in your backyard and be filled with the sense of wonder that you should. Life is amazing, drink it in, smell it, listen to it, today all creation sings as it does everyday.