Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My new classroom for 2014

2014 marks a new school year and a new school for me -- which means I have a new classroom! Here are some pics and highlights from the classroom that I designed and created (with lots of help) for 2014.

Choice and Comfort

Many years ago, I moved a way from desks to tables to reflect a more collaborative learning space, and this year I wanted to create spaces for students so that there was more than one place for them to learn. The fixed size of my classroom and the growing number of children in a class are two variable that make this a challenge, so I had to get creative.

Here is a quiet reading corner where students can relax and read. I wanted this corner to somehow feel like a room inside the classroom -- while still allowing for supervision. I purchased two floor tri-folds, one of New York and the other of London, to provide some sense of a room inside a room. I think as many as 10 grade 6 students could sit in this area.

The carpet is a durable indoor/outdoor rug that I will have to monitor for cleanliness. Not sure how long it will last, but it looks cools and offers a different feel for students to sit on. The green boxes are cushioned and open up where I will cycle a variety of reading materials -- I'm starting with magazines.

I brought the baseball chair from home and the blue chair was my mom's. Thanks mom!

I can turn the fluorescent lights off above this reading corner and turn on the floor lamps which offers some warmer lighting for reading. The change in lighting also adds to the feel that this is a special place.

I will introduce this reading corner as a place to read. It's not that students can't talk here, but if kids want to use this space, they primarily need to be reading. There are other places in the classroom for discussion.

Small Groups

Pictured above is a space for small group work that might include peer editing and literacy games with word tiles (think Scrabble or Bananagrams).


My TV is hooked up to an Apple TV. I use the schools public Wifi to access YouTube, Netflix, etc. and airplay from student devices. The TV will be used by me and the students to share stuff that we find on the Internet and stuff we create on our devices. Plus, baseball's post-season starts soon, and the children need to learn about baseball. The TV was from my mom and dad -- Thanks mom and dad!

The black bulletin board will be used to display stuff the students create.

The small table has the computer that is attached to the SMARTBOARD. You'll notice that I do not have a teacher's desk. I tossed my teacher desk four years ago, and I don't miss it. Without a teacher's desk there is way more room for the students. Teacher desks are like a virus, if left unchecked, they grow and grow and grow until one day there is no room for anything else.

Bulletin Boards

Using push pins and yarn, the students will identify where in the world their family came from. The yarn will run to a recipe card that will have the students picture and a short description of their family's past. Students may come from more than one place, so multiple strands of yarn can be run. I have a two bulletin boards like this at the back of the classroom -- one for my grade 6s and one for my grade 8s.

Books, Supplies and Shelving

I love books so it goes without saying that I love that my entire north wall is a bookshelf. However, the shelving was pretty beat up (read: it looked like crap). I thought about painting but decided to use coloured duck tape to cover just the shelve's edge. I think it worked!

All of the books and all of the classroom supplies are available for all to access. The kids don't ever need to ask my permission which frees me up to teach.

Fish Tank

Durable fish (read: hard to kill) will find a home here. Some students love to look or listen to a fish tank. It offers a calming effect to a classroom that can sometimes be best described as organized chaos. Some students love to care for the fish which helps make the classroom feel like theirs. Thanks Tamara!

Insightful Quotes

I love quotes almost as much as I love books, so I dedicated a bulletin board to a wall of quotes. Using permanent marker and small canvases, I display my favourite quotes that I inevitably refer to through out the year. Some of my favourite include "Mistakes are our friends", "Progress NOT Perfection", "Think for yourself, your teacher might be wrong", and "The best things in life are not things". As the year goes on, I invite students to create their own canvases with their favourite, insightful quotes.

As for technology, I have limited access to school supplied devices. There is a computer lab and there laptops on carts so I will use them as much as I can while sharing with other teachers. I will invite students to bring their own devices. To be clear, there are huge equity issues around technology.


It's going to be a great year and I think my classroom will provide a safe and and inspiring learning space for students to learn and for me to teach.

I'm always looking for more ideas, so please feel free to leave a comment or email me with any of your ideas.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

John Oliver on the Wealth Gap and Inequality

Here are a couple key points on inequality and education from my article Telling Time with a Broken Clock: the trouble with standardized testing:
  • The strongest predictor of student performance on achievement tests is socio-economic status, which is why it is a mistake to believe that the scores tell us about school quality when really they are reflecting affluence or poverty.
  • No school or school system has ever become great without great teachers, but what can an excellent teacher do about a child who needs glasses or is hungry? To say that teacher or school quality is the most important variable in education is at best naive. Education historian Diane Ravitch writes, “Reformers tell us that teachers are the most important influence within the school on student scores, and that is right. But the teacher contribution to scores is dwarfed by the influence of family and other out-of-school factors.”
  • Ultimately, great teachers make great schools, but great teachers can’t do it alone – they require the support of an equitable society. If we are not careful, we risk misinterpreting the scores, and instead of waging war on poverty and inequity, we end up waging war on teachers and schools.
Here are a couple posts I've written on inequality and education:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Province shouldn't pay for Private Schools

This was written by Kent Hehr who is MLA for Calgary-Buffalo and Liberal education critic in the Alberta Legislature.

by Kent Hehr

The public school system takes all types: it does not exclude on the basis of race, creed, background, language, origin or religion. No one is turned away. No one has to take an intelligence test. No one is refused admittance if they have a disability — unlike what happens in too many private schools.

The public school system is not exclusionary like Strathcona Tweedsmuir, charging their students $20,000 a year to attend high school. Of all the private schools funded in Alberta, roughly 39 per cent are based on elitism (i.e., they charge tuition), while 43 per cent are religious. This supports my position that, in the main, private schools separate children on the basis of wealth and the religion of their parents.

Furthermore, the stats used to support private school choice are questionable at best. If anyone bothered to do their research, they would know there are a wide variety of studies that show public education leads to both better outcomes for individuals and societies.

It is also ludicrous to cite Finland’s education system in support of the position that funding private schools is a good thing. Faith-based schools outside of the public system in Finland are extremely limited, because every school is required to be approved by a vote in their national assembly. Finnish schools cannot charge tuition, and they must accept everyone regardless of ability or faith. Let’s also remember that 97 per cent of the Finnish population are either Lutheran or have no religious affiliation at all — which is quite different compared to the multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious makeup of Alberta.

The Finland voucher system is based upon parents’ ability to select any public school that they want their children to attend in that country. We have the same thing here in Alberta. Parents are allowed to send their children to any public school that they would like (space permitting).

Government resources should be spent on services that move a society forward. A fully funded and properly managed public education system can, does and will provide Albertans with ample amounts of choice to accomplish this goal. Accordingly, there is no need to subsidize elitist education for the wealthy, religious schooling for myriad different belief systems, or any other reason individuals may feel that the public system is not for them.

It is time Albertans decide whether we want to separate our children on the basis of wealth and religion by subsidizing private schools or commit ourselves to the principle of equality of opportunity, which recognizes that whether you were born of a rich family or one that struggles, whether you are Christian or Muslim, whether your child has a physical or learning disability or is the next Albert Einstein, your child is going to get a fair chance to succeed in this province through government-funded world-class public education.

If parents do not feel that the public system is good enough for their children, well, that is in fact their choice — but let them pay for their choice at a private school. Don’t ask other Albertans to fund it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Without Tenure...

This was written by Peter Greene who is a long time high school English teacher from New Hampshire. Greene tweets here and blogs here. This post was originally found here.

by Peter Greene

Yesterday, twitter blew up with responses to Whoopi Goldberg and the View having one more uninformed discussion of tenure (and, really, we need to talk about why education discussions keep being driven by the work of comedians).

"#WithoutTenure I can be fired for...." was the tweet template of the day, and even though I rode that bus for a bit, it occurs to me this morning that it misses the point.

It's true that in the absence of tenure, teachers can (and are) fired for all manner of ridiculous things. That's unjust and unfair. As some folks never tire of pointing out, that kind of injustice is endemic in many jobs (Why people would think that the response to injustice is to demand more injustice for more people is a whole conversation of its own). That doesn't change a thing. Firing a teacher for standing up for a student or attending the wrong church or being too far up the pay scale-- those would all be injustices. But as bad as that would be, it's not the feature of a tenureless world that would most damage education.

It's not the firing. It's the threat of firing.

Firing ends a teacher's career. The threat of firing allows other people to control every day of that teacher's career.

The threat of firing is the great "Do this or else..." It takes all the powerful people a teacher must deal with and arms each one with a nuclear device.

Give my child the lead in the school play, or else. Stop assigning homework to those kids, or else. Implement these bad practices, or else. Keep quiet about how we are going to spend the taxpayers' money, or else. Forget about the bullying you saw, or else. Don't speak up about administration conduct, or else. Teach these materials even though you know they're wrong, or else. Stop advocating for your students, or else.

Firing simply stops a teacher from doing her job.

The threat of firing coerces her into doing the job poorly.

The lack of tenure, of due process, of any requirement that a school district only fire teachers for some actual legitimate reason-- it interferes with teachers' ability to do the job they were hired to do. It forces teachers to work under a chilling cloud where their best professional judgment, their desire to advocate for and help students, their ability to speak out and stand up are all smothered by people with the power to say, "Do as I tell you, or else."

Civilians need to understand-- the biggest problem with the destruction of tenure is not that a handful of teachers will lose their jobs, but that entire buildings full of teachers will lose the freedom to do their jobs well.

We spent a lot of time in this country straightening out malpractice law issues, because we recognized that a doctor can't do his job well if his one concern is not getting sued into oblivion for a mistake. We created Good Samaritan laws because we don't want someone who could help in an emergency stand back and let The Worst happen because he doesn't want to get in trouble.

As a country, we understand that certain kinds of jobs can't be done well unless we give the people who do those jobs the protections they need in order to do their jobs without fear of being ruined for using their best professional judgment. Not all jobs have those protections, because not all workers face those issues.

Teachers, who answer to a hundred different bosses, need their own special set of protections. Not to help them keep the job, but to help them do it. The public needs the assurance that teachers will not be protected from the consequences of incompetence (and administrators really need to step up-- behind every teacher who shouldn't have a job are administrators who aren't doing theirs). But the public also needs the assurance that some administrator or school board member or powerful citizen will not interfere with the work the public hired the teacher to do.

Tenure is that assurance. Without tenure, every teacher is the pawn and puppet of whoever happens to be the most powerful person in the building today. Without tenure, anybody can shoulder his way into the classroom and declare, "You're going to do things my way, or else."

Tenure is not a crown and scepter for every teacher, to make them powerful and untouchable. Tenure is a bodyguard who stands at the classroom door and says, "You go ahead and teach, buddy. I'll make sure nobody interrupts just to mess with you." Taxpayers are paying us for our best professional judgment; the least they deserve is a system that allows us to give them what they're paying us for.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I will be speaking at the University of Alberta on August 20

Join me and other Alberta teachers at the University of Alberta's Teacher Leadership in Curriculum Redesign: A Working Conference on August 19-21, 2014.

I will be addressing the entire group on Wednesday, August 20 at 12:45. My talk is titled What Change Denies: degrading loves of learning.

Registration for this event closes at noon on Tuesday, August 12.

For more information and registration, click here.
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