READING REFLECTION: Unplanned Organization by Margaret Wheatley

Articles like the one by Margaret Wheatley, which are written sans citation and stream-of-consciousness, have long-bothered me. She posits many theories, none of which she has any evidence or name to back up (except for her view that these should be obvious to the reader).

Where is the evidence that the stories she is weaving are even true? Or are they all just passed along by “meme-like group misremembrance”, as so often ill-advisedly occurs during many a teacher story. How much is she fitting the narrative to fit her own perspective of how things ought to be?

One such sentence stuck out at me. “Entomologists who study termites looked at these [termite towers] for years, and, recognizing a very complex structure, wondered, ‘Where’s the leader? Where’s the engineer? Where’s the brains behind this operation?’ The search for a leader was a long and futile quest. What is interesting is that the leaderless phenomenon wasn’t even pointed out until some women started critiquing the history of science, and came up with the stunning realization that there didn’t have to be a leader.”

This quote bothers me for three reasons.

1) it has no facts to back up its claims. Who are this group of women scientists?

2) Why is the punchline about “males overlooking the idea of collaborative self-organization” necessary? What does this accomplish other than needlessly mocking males?

3) Is any of her story at all true?

I decided to look up her claims. First of all, these towers have indeed been studied for years. Most of the studies I could find were by males, but in recent years a few female researchers have delved into the issue, particularly in the field of robotics (self-organizing robots).

However, all of this research, including a grad paper on the subject by a woman, was dated past 2007, when Wheatley’s article was written. ALL of the cited work I could find was by males.

This is just one of many examples of what I can only perceive as “storytelling” rather than “fact telling” in this article.

IN-CLASS REFLECTION: QUALITY vs QUANTITY

WHO I WAS | WHO I AM | WHO I WANT TO BE (AS A TEACHER)

PART 1: WHO I WAS

My great strength (as a person) is that, while not terribly good at anything in particular, I am pretty obsessive-compulsive and willing to dedicate obscene amounts of time to doing things exceptionally well when required. An odd example: While not particularly good-looking I was able throughout the course of my dating years to woo women through sheer effort & will-power (rather than, say, being particularly good at dating). I don’t mean this in a creepy way. I just honestly think that my niceness and enduring effort eventually won them over rather than being immediately smitten with me. This is true of my wife, even.

Additionally, despite being seen as “social” by many people, I also don’t have very much use for “socializing time” and have very few actual friends and don’t get involved in too many deep long conversations. I think sometimes maybe that I live in a world in my head. Right now, everyone is scattered across the classroom chatting and my first thought was to get to a computer and write write write.

In regards to teaching, I don’t see myself as an immediately gifted teacher. However, I am a nice guy who works hard at things, and in my first two years teaching I volunteered teaching the jazz ensemble at Burnaby Central, brought my students to perform at the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, ran choirs of 100+ kids, and even ran lunch hour chess clubs etc. Besides this, I put on concerts and ran my own classroom.

I found great satisfaction in taking on waaaay too much work, and put in the hours required at home and at school to do all the work to a pretty good standard. Was my choir the BEST CHOIR EVER? No. But kids enjoyed themselves and a LOT of people were involved. Did kids in my chess club become amazing at chess? No. But everyone enjoyed themselves and a lot of people came.

PART 2: WHO I AM

The problem is: Now I have two kids and a wife at home on mat leave looking after them. I simply can’t stay at work until 6pm on a regular basis. I don’t have the energy to get the attention of 100+ kids in a choir rehearsal after not sleeping at night. Given that this ENERGY TO GET STUFF DONE has always been my strength, I am struggling to figure out how to feel like a competent teacher when I can’t even work much from home without making a baby cry at 10:00pm. I even get dressed in the dark these days in order to not wake sleeping people (which almost backfired on me the other day! I’m glad I’ve instituted the “look in the mirror before leaving the house” rule). A similar random thought: I’ve also taken to shaving daily just to make sure I don’t look ridiculous since I never have time to check my appearance out, thus ensuring I have at least a modicum of neatness about me.

Back to the topic at hand… I suppose if there are two types of people in the world (QUALITY vs. QUANTITY), I’ve always been a Quantity person. I can’t bake ONE AMAZING ECLAIR, so I will make you 200 pretty good chocolate chip cookies. I can’t tell ONE WELL TIMED AMAZING JOKES, so I will tell you 4,000 semi-decent ones and hope for one to hit you the right way. And, as a teacher, I’ve never felt like I would win any teaching awards by producing the next Mozart, so I’ve instead focused on creating 5,000 people who have a decently happy relationship with music. I’m not sure this is a healthy approach, but it’s what I’ve done.

Time management-wise, however, this approach is problematic — because most of my time must be now devoted to my new family responsibilities.

PART 3: WHO I WANT TO BE

This brings me to the crux of my issue. I am trying to turn myself from a QUANTITY PERSON into a QUALITY PERSON. Less blurting, more thinking and speaking quality words. Less time wasted on overwhelming people with the amount of work I’ve put into something, more spending focused time to produce less (but have the less I produce be of higher value).

I’ve stopped trying to teach choirs of gigantic sizes because, quite frankly, I didn’t like it. I decided to instead focus on work I enjoy and do it well. Anyways, you’re telling us we are out of time now so I suppose I will stop writing and return to class. Thanks for bringing trail mix, on an unrelated note.

E-Postcard Synthesis: Spaced Out

SYTHESIS

“One of the recurring questions concerning the pass-fail grading system has been this: How would students taking courses pass-fail have fared had they been given the usual A to E letter grades,” asked Mathew R. Sgan in 1970.

Sgan’s article might be outdated, but it provided some interesting insight into a lot of the questions I’ve been asking myself this semester. Two of the keenest insights were, firstly, that students in Sgan’s studies “did not rank pass-fail high as a factor influencing their intellectual and personal growth” (641), and secondly, that students often asked for letter grades because they felt that “instructors often took fewer pains in evaluating their submitted work than they did with those taking the course for a letter grade” (639).

These two insights are key to some of the issues I’ve been experiencing this semester… as my journals here indicate, I’ve felt often disconnected, academically unchallenged and unmotivated this semester. Ironically, this semester, I feel, should have connected deeply with me. Of all of the topics we’ve studied this term, drama connects the most strongly to my teachable subject (as a performing artist).

However, to me this course suffered from a number of problems.

Firstly, I felt there was a lack of challenge throughout. For example, all teachers were given a new curriculum to teach this year by the Provincial Government. That being the case, there existed a great opportunity for connection to both Core Content and Core Competencies (Communication, Thinking and Personal and Social Development) in this course. These connections could have been made specific — or better yet, teachers themselves should have been forced to make these connections in the time we were in class. We could comb through the curriculum itself and find connections from our “Journey to Planet X” to our own subject areas, for example, and highlight them (or find connections to the Core Competencies, which we all teach). However, perhaps through lack of knowledge of BC’s new curriculum, or through having no rubric or expectations… or, who knows why? — we spent a lot of time discussing Leonard Cohen or Community Arts Grants. As an educator looking for ways to enrich my educational practice this was discouraging, disheartening and disconnecting.

However, when evaluating my learning, the question of who is at fault becomes a tricky one, and the blame may lie in the design of the program as non-graded, according to William McLoughlin. To quote at length:

“While the goals of a nongraded school are new and magnetic, they are also quite imprecise. At best, nongrading is a highly projective concept inviting countless interpretations rather than an exact blueprint for education reconstruction and there is considerable confusion regarding its essential components. This, of course, creates untold difficulties not only in the initiation and perfecting of a nongraded school but also in the evaluation of its efficiency.”

In other words, learning to me might look like highlighting sections of the BC Curriculum and connecting drama lessons to my teaching practice. To others, it might look like discussing alien bunnies. Both are equally valid and to weigh the learning of one way over the other under such a system is impossible.

However, as our class was frequently attended by a teenager this term, I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed that this was the level of discourse in a post-graduate university course. I don’t expect meta-level discussions about the nature of the universe and its relationship to teaching, but I did want some meat with my mashed potatoes.

Instead I often found myself spaced out.

To be fair, the motivation issue is an area I often face challenges with in my own teaching practice. I mean, I teach music. In a day crammed with mathematics, reading, spelling and other useful skills, arriving in my room full of guitars and singing songs about railroads doesn’t factor into the “Useful Skills” checklist most kids associate with school. I once had a grade two student tell me, “Why do I need to sing? I want to be a pilot.”

Here are the ways I get over that hump:

1) Clearly establishing links between my subject area and other subject areas: This connective tissue provides motivation for students. As educators, I was hoping that clear connective tissue might be formed between, say, why we are taking an inquiry based drama class when we are high school science teachers.

2) Establish rubrics that provide clear expectations for students: “this is what I’m hoping we can learn on this assignment” (at the same time, the open-ended Inquiry-based model allows for things to go off on tangents… or “additional learning” and projects sometimes change completely or go sideways). As an educator, I was disconcerted when one day I asked whether the drama project we were supposed to create was meant to connect with our area of curriculum (I think the words I used were “what are the parameters”) and was met with something resembling “Whatever you want it to look like.” How is meaning supposed to be created when there are no rules? In the end, I attempted to connect my “Ugliest Singing” to my music curriculum, but I very well could have created a scenario where we were moles fleeing the destruction of our underground tunnels on Mars due to the Attack of the Giant Butterflies, and that would have been valid.

3) Providing a baseline for expected work (and sticking to it): For my guitar students this term I said, “If you’re new to guitar, I expect you to be able to play G and C by the end of the term. If you’re experienced I expect 4 chords with hopefully 6-7 chords coming along.” As an educator, I found the bar was set extremely low. E-Postcards could be random thoughts, pictures with a haiku, a photo of a stick on the ground. How does this challenge us? Push us? I’ve attempted to read articles, cite sources and write full sentences (despite the birth of a second child and the challenges that has brought). I’m not saying that that makes me “better than” anyone else, but what is the baseline expected to indicate engagement with material? It’s not spelled out enough for my taste.

4) Provide motivating projects that have real consequences for students. This term (largely due to my field study), I participated in the Canadian Music Class Challenge, and two of my music classes stepped up to the plate and produced phenomenal work (one class is so good, I think they pose a real chance at winning the thing). Why? I followed the principles laid out in Ron Berger’s book “An Ethic of Excellence” and provided a real motivator for students — do well or end up looking like a fool on the internet. As a result, students were actually engaged and wanting to learn the songs for class. I know the kids are connected to the material because they’ve gone home and shared their performances with their families and friends. Compare the number of views of the video I discussed on Friday with my class (embedded below):

As of today, Monday December 5th, this class viewed their video 325 times. We talked about it on Friday and kids went home and shared it. I know they did because they came back on Saturday (to the pancake breakfast discussed in my 5th e-Postcard) and their parents told me they’d seen it. Meanwhile, the video that CBC uploaded but I didn’t have time to discuss with my class has half as many views (it is linked to below).

As a professional, I should feel like I want to share my learning excitedly like that. That’s how I felt when I finished my thesis in fourth year university. That’s how my colleague felt when she convinced me to take the Communities of Practice Module. And yet I often felt embarrassed when our learning was viewed by our teenage outsider this semester. I felt “shouldn’t a graduate-level course feel more rigourous than this”?

To be frank, given the birth of my child, I was somewhat thankful for the leeway. But as I am up to 12:30am today typing this, it reminds me of cramming in the last few words of an essay back in university and I quite like it.

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CITATIONS:
McLoughlin, William P. “The Effectiveness of the Nongraded School.” International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale De l’Education, vol. 18, no. 2, 1972, pp. 194–211. www.jstor.org/stable/3443420.

Sgan, Mathew R. “Letter Grade Achievement in Pass-Fail Courses.” The Journal of Higher Education, vol. 41, no. 8, 1970, pp. 638–644. www.jstor.org/stable/1977666.

E-Postcard #5: On Time

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A result of my lack of connection to the subject matter this term has been an intensive reading of journals online at JSTOR. Earlier (on a previous postcard), I wrote of my fondness for doing this from my university days. I’ve been attempting to find journal articles to connect to the subject of my field study but instead have been voraciously consuming articles completely unrelated to the topic.

These articles have supplied me both the academic richness I’ve been seeking this term and also a few “aha” moments to use in these e-Postcards. Today’s article comes courtesy of Martin H. Levinson (PhD), who writes a history of time management (Cited in full below). I was originally consulting the journal for articles about time management in teaching, but as I was not able to find an academic source to quote on the issue, I decided to spend a few minutes reading an article off topic. The article speaks in depth of how America in particular moved from a country that relied on sundials and counting time to the generalized hour to a country that measured time to the exact minute. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Time is money.” (11)

Interestingly, Levinson notes that in early America a typical workday “might consist of three hours of business duties, with the balance of the day spent on government, church, or social obligations.” (11)

This line struck a chord with me, as the over-arching subject of this cohort is Community. It is interesting to me that a legitimate part of a person’s day was at one point dedicated to socializing and religious obligations. These days, such things are considered extras – relegated to weekends and even squeezed in at night via mobile devices and computers through social media networks (so much so that the American Psychological Association notes that “12% of millenials have a diagnosed anxiety disorder – almost twice the percentage of Boomers.” The most prevalent contributor to these disorders? Poor sleep habits. We are expected to sleep but crave social interaction so much that we spend too much time “on phones or laptops right before bed.”

This change came about in the mid-nineteenth century, writes Levinson, when “standard work time was implemented and patterns developed that separated leisure from work.” Women, too, became separated from work as the factory system was implemented. Formerly important in the household economy (through the production of textiles, etc), women were now viewed solely as domestic consumers.

Schools played an important roll in drilling time into children, who had to be attentive to a clock schedule marked by a bell. Remarkably, our use of the word “o’clock” (shorthand for “of the clock”), only came into being in the 1870s, which is amazing because this seems like such a universal phenomenon today.

Levinson continues his study into the mid-twentieth century, when he notes that the invention of the stopwatch gave managers another tool to study efficiency. People’s productive efficiency was measured to the second… and this was something that psychologically even carried over into the management of their private time. Today, we have “24/7” time. “Overnight air delivery and computer networks have made on-line shopping accessible at any hour,” meaning people can work, shop and extend their “efficiencies” late into their historical sleep hours.(15)

An additional source that added to my thoughts is an article that I read in 2014 called “How Different Cultures Understand Time” (in Business Insider). I wont summarize the article but instead link to it here.

What does any of this have to do with our teaching practice? On Saturday, my family attended Second Street Community School’s Annual Santa Pancake Breakfast, an event where family is connected to the school through eating, music and shared activities. It is a beautiful event, and our school of 350 kids sold 250 tickets to this event (meaning a large portion of the community participates).

However, disappointingly, there were only about five teachers at the event. It is sad to me how much our “time is money” these days, and how disconnected from community social events we’ve become. We live in an era where teachers can no longer afford to live in the communities they teach in, and thus the stress of returning to our families after-school means that those vital base-touching conversations become something we don’t want to do. Driving from Maple Ridge to Burnaby for a Saturday morning breakfast at our workplace becomes unappealing.

And from the parents’ perspective, when they pick up their children after school, their clock is already ticking away – soccer practice starts in one hour and a half, and there is still dinner to cook, another child to pick up at the high school, etc.

We don’t LINGER anymore. In fact, lingering too long is seen as one of the most undesirable social traits there is.

But in not taking our time, how are we to build community? Real bonds are something that are built when time is thrown away, not when time is observed. The deep loves of our lives only exist when we converse far past the moon rising in the sky. The real religious experiences only exist when the clock becomes meaningless in face of the awakening we are encountering. The real COMMUNITY BONDS are moments shared with no clock in place. And even in the mid-19th century workday, according to Levinson, these forms of social interaction were permitted. Lunch breaks had no time limit except when conversation naturally died down. Sure, there was work to do – but social bonds also carried a weight of importance. They meant something.

Imagine if a school could function even a LITTLE bit more like that. Your lesson, when the kids were entranced in it – wouldn’t be cut off by the lunch bell. My music class, when kids are in mid-song, wouldn’t be interrupted by the recess bell. Lunch and recess might be longer on sunny days and shorter on rainy ones. These ideas were probably practical for school kids in the 19th century and yet seem ABSURD today.

And most importantly those little conversations that build community – before school, after school and during breaks – would flourish instead of constantly being cut off by bells and rushing. Perhaps then we would see more people willingly drive from Maple Ridge on a Saturday to participate in a community event with the people they worked with. Because the bonds would be so much deeper.

And one can only imagine the trust that would begin to form between parents and educator. Perhaps the combative nature of parent-teacher relations (seeded greatly by the work stoppages of the last few years) would near-disappear.

To borrow Levinson’s closing line, “Time will Tell.”

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CITATION:
Levinson, Martin H. “TIME-BINDING TIME: A History of Time-Measurement and Time-Management in America.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 61, no. 1, 2004, pp. 9–18. www.jstor.org/stable/42580188.
APA

REFLECTION: The Reflective Educators Guide to Classroom Research

The segment we were given to read from the book Developing a Research Plan was an excellent chapter– one that I wish we’d been given a lot earlier in the course (or at least, earlier in the field study). It has tons of great ideas for HOW to conduct data collection. I took a lot of notes in the columns, and also took issue with a few pieces of the article.

In particular in music class, where I am literally unable to pick up a pencil for the duration of a lesson, collecting meaningful data has been a difficult task. In class I am almost always leading in instrumental playing or in singing. Taking out a pencil to jot notes (even on Post-It pads as suggested by the article) would not only ruin the artistic integrity of my lessons, but it would also lead a lot of kids to “shut down” as they would be singing and playing with no direction.

Thus, unlike Alpert’s suggestion that “daily classroom activity” naturally generates a “paper trail” (101), the music classroom often doesn’t. I would suggest this might be similar to a shop classroom or a physical education environment where students “do” more often than they have work written down.

With this said, in the past, I’ve often used audio to inform my upcoming lessons, and even maintain a full “audio library” of students’ work on my website at www.lucastds.com. Students can download songs there for listening. This audio library contains both finished and slightly incomplete recordings from the past seven years of my teaching career, but it represents a very small fraction of the amount of audio I actually take in my classroom. I usually use my iPhone to record at least three classes a day, usually with students playing incomplete fragments of songs. Most of these clips are later deleted — but I use them to inform future teaching of the students (to remind me of where corrections can be made). I often have students self-evaluate their own performances by listening to audio as well.

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However, as the article points out, I’ve often had lots of issues with keeping “audio data” on students. The two difficulties the article points to are that students are “afraid to talk if they thought they were being recorded” (95), particularly because they think their voices “sounded dumb” and that audio recording tends to capture “more than we needed to capture.” (95)

I often have piles of recordings that I both need to throw away and yet I want to keep them, thinking that somehow they may give me a further insight.

Additionally, in a music context I often have quite the opposite problem that the author has. While I, too, have students who don’t want to be recorded, I also have students who want to be THE LOUDEST and the MOST NOTICEABLE on a recording. These students, instead of singing, shout loudly above the voices of their classmates and hope to be “heard” on the recording.

I had some success in quelling this desire in some of my louder students this week when I compared singing as a group to mixing paint.

“Imagine you are mixing paint,” I said to them. “You want to make the colour pink. So you take the red and the white and mix them together. You get a nice pink colour. But sometimes,” I continued, “you don’t quite mix the paint and there are blobs of red sticking out. They aren’t nice to look at. That’s what happens when we are trying to sing as a group and all we can hear is one person shouting.”

In music, I have found audio data collection to be extraordinarily useful. However, this year, I’ve gone one step further in doing a lot of video recording– a passion that was ignited by Carlo and my joint inquiry project last term. This year, however, my video inquiry has actually focused on recording students to better and more accurately grade and evaluate their instrumental playing. Evaluating children’s playing is always hard to do because they often need to follow a leader (me) in order to play at all — and when I stop playing in order to record them, their playing suffers greatly.

One of the difficulties Alpert et al. touch on with technology is the “cool” factor inherent in using new technology. They note a program for iPads that “filled quickly and has an enormous waitlist.” The program is full of excited teachers who, no doubt, hope the iPads will be fun new gadgets to play with. I often find that while technology can enhance the classroom it can also be a disruptive aspect. It’s nice to just play for the pure joy instead of being distracted by being on camera, but perhaps constant surveillance is a new reality that kids are used to nowadays. My two year old probably has had 4000 photos of her taken in the first 750 days of her life.

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When it comes to paper-driven data, I was very excited by Alpert et al.’s example of focus groups. This is a method I often use in my class, and I particularly liked the questions included by Ramirez (105). The categories “Reasons Why I Like”, “Reasons why I don’t Like” and “Ideas or Suggestions” is something I already use — in fact my students did a sheet with these headings last week — however, it was a useful reminder.

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Perhaps my favourite section of the article was a piece of text I will quote at length:

“Departing from your original data collection plan is a natural part of the inquiry process. If you find as your inquiry unfolds that forms of data collection you employed need to be adjusted — adjust accordingly! If you find as your inquiry unfolds that different forms of data collection you hadn’t planned on using may be insightful to your wondering — use them! Just keep track of the decisions you make as an inquirer along the way, as articulating changes in course can also be an important piece of what you are learning.”

I feel that my Field Study project has changed quite a bit from where it first began. A lot of what I was thinking about during the summer washed away as an area of interest when the school year got underway, and, what I did with my students changed to match my new areas of inquiry. I will speak with Don more about this journey over the course of the next few days, but now sleep is calling.

==END REFLECTION==

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Old Friends (E-Postcard #4)

HEADPHONES

Tonight I worked on report cards for three hours and listened to the new A Tribe Called Quest album “We got it from here: Thank U 4 Your Service.”

I was about to putter off to bed, but this week has me so completely overburdened with work that I decided I might as well pluck another assignment off my sagging bookshelf and make a go of it. I hopped on over to JSTOR and logged in to look for some academia to bring to my meeting with my mentor on Monday.

In University, JSTOR was my best friend. I spent hours combing the database while writing my 90-page undergraduate honours thesis in fourth year, which to this day is the most rigorous assignment I’ve ever undertaken. The bibliography alone was some twenty pages long.

That familiar calligraphic logo — the capital J on a burgundy and gold shield — brought me back thirteen years to another time in my life. A time when I had no facial hair, was some thirty pounds lighter and had no life experience. Before I knew it I was plunged four pages into an article that had nothing to do with anything I’m studying but was super-interesting to me.

The article, in case your wondering, was this one:

Degé, Franziska et al. “Music Lessons and Intelligence: A Relation Mediated by Executive Functions.” Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 29, no. 2, 2011, pp. 195–201. www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/mp.2011.29.2.195.

In it, the authors wonder whether music lessons CAUSE students to be more intelligent, or whether their interest in music is caused by a per-existing intelligence.

The article connected with me on a very deep level in that it spoke directly into the experience I have in my music class on a daily basis… especially when playing music for children to listen to.

[At this point, this blog post was interrupted as my baby cried. I'm currently holding her somewhat fussy little body, after defrosting milk and post-midnight-bottle feed, dictating the remainder of this post via voice to text].

Back on topic now, regarding the journal article I mentioned above.

It’s the sort of peer reviewed article but I’ve been missing for quite some time. remembering University when the arguments of Foucault, Marx, Adam Smith, The Roots etc. were first being lit in my young mind.

My notes from class back then would be written by hand in three columns of extremely small blue printing– maybe similar to type size 10, in BIC pen. I’d always wanted to be a cartoonist, so my printing is very neat. Interspersed among the block caps print would be cartoon bubbles and other things to help my visual brain remember.

I can still recall in great detail many of the books I read back then. In fact, on Saturday night I even quoted from memory one of the books I read in those years (it was about medieval dinner party habits, if you’re wondering).

I can’t help in some ways feeling disappointed at the person I’ve become. I’m not sure if I just take in information differently these days, or if I just interact with it differently. Or maybe it’s just that the wisdom of age prevents me from getting quite *so* excited about every silly new idea I hear. It’s just that, where my notes used to burst with academic inquiry and wonder, they now burst with inward reflection and — well, not necessarily negativity but certainly questions.

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I mean, my notes from last class resemble more a tattoo than notes from a university course. And perhaps that’s the reason why I’m handing in all my e-postcards at once. Part of me wonders if in a university program it would be more helpful to make students reflect on readings and inquiries rather than just my any random “aha” moment that might pop into our heads. Part of me is bothered by the idea that writing ten postcards (rather than, say, five) is somehow “too difficult” or “too much work” for something that is supposed to be a Graduate program. For goodness’ sake, I’ve written a friggin’ thesis. If I can’t write a haiku for class and choose a picture to go with it, then what good am I to myself as a person of any sort of academic integrity?

Disconnect (E-Postcard 3)

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PART ONE
On Halloween, my wife and I had a baby. It’s been seven days since the baby was born, and I took the week off of work. Off of everything, actually. I hardly checked my email. We hardly left the house. It was like a vacation… or rather — staycation. Getting to know my little kid was awesome. It was a reminder of how amazing unplugging can feel.

During my absence, there was no TOC to cover my class. I suppose there was a shortage in the district. The first day it bothered me, but I learned to forget about it after that. “Everyone has my back,” I told myself. “Things are being taken care of. My role is being covered somehow. And in the end, my students won’t remember in June that I missed a week of school in October.”

Unfortunately, one of the things I unplugged from was also this course. I have no idea what is going on. We had a day off last week on Halloween, which doesn’t make things any easier to keep track of. Do we have homework for tomorrow? I don’t know. Was I supposed to read something? I don’t know.

Much like my absence from work, the fact that I can’t answer these questions bothers me. I’ve been helping my wife recover from the birth and looking after the toddler. This is the first time I’ve turned my computer on in a week. I spent the last half-hour responding to emails from family and friends that were five to six days old congratulating us on the birth. Now I’m reflecting on how much I wish to reconnect to school.

As I said… I am bothered (professionally) by having taken a week off and falling behind in my work. But much like what happened in my classroom last week, I will catch up. Six months from now, I won’t remember that I missed any time at all.

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PART TWO

Since writing the above, I logged into Canvas and clicked through to the modules and read the course syllabus. I would like to add to my reflection a big thanks to Paula for keeping the website so organized. In a course that occurs off-campus once a week with colleagues from across the district, it’s understandably easy for things to start feeling a little out-of-space/out-of-place. As foreign as Canvas was when the course first started, to me, it became part of the fabric of the community we knit. One frustration that keeps popping up to me this term is that we aren’t using it anymore. I find that I am less inclined to read my classmate’s E-Postcards because they end up drifting into the endless spew of junk that clutters up my inbox. In previous semesters, we were forced to read and respond to at least one e-Postcard. I ended up reading and responding to one e-Postcard, and usually checking out a few more just to get ideas/get thinking/and ask my coworkers at Second Street in particular, what their postcards were about.

This term, without that central place to see them all, I’ve become less inclined to be participatory with the e-Postcards. Interestingly, I noticed the topic for this week was “Exploring Space: How the environment performs us.”

Given my previous Reggio focus with the physical environment, I thought it worth noting how interesting it was that the change in online environment (even a slight change like the move from Canvas to my email box) affected so greatly how much I felt inclined to interact with my classmates and with the learning material. As Patricia Tarr notes of the physical space of the successful classroom, “There is attention to design and placement of objects to provide visual and meaningful context.”*1

Canvas is a platform that is able to provide context for the e-Postcards. My cluttered and confused email inbox — full of baby congratulations and spam and updates of replies to my latest twitter posts and messages to renew my Norton Anti-virus before it expires in five days — is not. Email inboxes are simply a messy teacher desk. Not the appropriate vessel for attracting attention to things like e-Postcards.

I used to login to Canvas multiple times a week because I had to. And now, despite logging into my email everyday (and even on my phone), I feel less motivated to click emails that say “E-Postcard” in the subject line because they become buried among all the clutter in my box. Such a minor change (and such a major impact).

FOOTNOTES:
p. 35 / Tarr, Patricia, Art Education, Vol. 54, No. 3, Early Childhood & Interdisciplinary Challenge (May, 2001), pp. 33-39

Home (demo)

This is one of two songs I wrote as a Portfolio piece as a reflection of the Summer Session. Each of the two songs talks about man’s relationship to nature. The first song, “Home” is a positive portrayal of a young person embarking out into the world. Despite the chorus saying “I will find my way home again”, really the song points to (especially in the last verse) the idea that our home is not really the city. The line “Just don’t wait up for me” points to that, in that our protagonist will not be returning to the city.

The second song, “Signs”, will follow shortly.

Here are the lyrics for Home:

I will climb over the mountains
Through the fields and foothills
Through carpets the of flowers turning
Churning waters, waters still
Every plan and every blueprint
I will throw it to the wind
Where the tracks take me I will follow and then
I will find my way home again

And I will see what I will see (x3)
Just don’t wait up for me.

The mountains frozen with their whitecaps
Standing silent over sea
I have left my light-filled city
Now the stars are shining free
Vision will swallow horizon
Smell will take in all the air
I will tread the paths of ancient men and then
I will find my way home again

And I will see what I will see (x3)
Just don’t wait up for me.

My eyes are filled with awestruck wonder
At a wild that is so calm
And I know these mountains will live on
After all I know is gone
Every plan and every blueprint
Built my city by the sea
Though it houses all the towers of my friends
Every city will fall in the end.

Though I will see what I will see (x3)
Just don’t wait up for me.