Wednesday, December 21, 2011

25 Days in the Life - Becoming a Teacher

Teacher candidate... student teacher... call it what you want.  It's an experiment in learning and teaching.  I've just finished my first 5 week practical experience, placed in a classroom of middle years learners, mentored by a teacher, advised by a Faculty representative.  Some of my learning in the first 25 days: Tales from the classroom.

1.  A group of complete strangers accepted me and made me part of their lives, quite instantly.
2.  Student response to a research project when I suggested books as a research source (as opposed to internet-only):  "BOOKS ???!!!" in a shocked voice.
3.  Everything can be a fraction -- 25/25 days of teaching, 5/5 weeks of practicum, one (1) practicum finished. Parts of a whole.  Equivalent fractions. 
4.  Math facts are a fact of life. You gotta figure out how to figure out the basics.  I have to figure out how to teach them.
5. A hot classroom gets hotter when 20+ bodies are mingling in the room. A few times I felt like I was melting.
6. I had to quell my own giggles when a student got "busted" for blithely doing something contrary to what had been requested -- and how the student snapped to attention as the footsteps came up behind the desk.
7. Sometimes you just have to move forward and look to the next day or week and try something new.
8. The internet connection generally goes down when you want to use it to illustrate or demonstrate a particular concept.  Be prepared to find another way to teach the information.
9. Families are important. Don't forget the impact of the family.
10. It's an international world in our classrooms.  Exciting to meet students whose origins are from places I thought were exotic when I was a kid. Equally exciting to hear Indigenous students talk about their heritage with pride.
11. Project-based learning rocks! Doing it well is my personal challenge as I move forward.
12. Personalities outside the classroom ... something new to experience every day.
13. Counting pennies is a great way to teach someone about estimation/guessing ... it was an excellent practical way to see how close students came to understanding amounts of money/pennies.
14. Students love being read to. And I love reading ... it's a win/win.  Pace myself.
15. I want to do a novel study.  Or literature circles.
16. "When are we going to do real science?"  This from a student when we were talking about doing a project on nutrients and labeling, part of the Manitoba science curriculum.
17. Smart technology is only as smart as the user.
18. You can integrate art into all facets of teaching.
19. "I just love this!".  The student who loves figuring out how to "do" math.
20. Diversity compels us to teach creatively.  Inclusivity means more than just a body in the room. Doing it is work that requires input from many individuals.
21. Marks matter.  To me (as a student) and to my students.  I want to know how I've done and how they've done.  
22. But, what's important is how I "do" assessment in a way that matters to my teaching and to their learning. For, of, in, about -- it helps me figure out better ways to teach. Assessment is always ongoing.
23. The Tim Tam slam -- bite the ends off a Tim Tam biscuit (an Aussie wonder that is available in Winnipeg, via Superstore, London Drugs).  Dip one end into a cup of coffee, slurp coffee through biscuit, and quickly bring the Tim Tam into your mouth before it disintegrates... quick, it will fall apart fast!
24. I was out of my element when I started.  I was frightened. It became a new and wonderful experience.  Thanks to the students, the classroom teacher, a new teacher in the school, and fellow U of M students -- it became a learning and teaching experience that has re-invigorated me.
25.  I'm going to miss them.  And I want to go back.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Math... a bogeyman?  Something to be feared?  Something to teach.  When we started this term (which is now winding down to the final 2/5 of the practicum... 15/25 done, that is), I met our Math Ed prof and casually mentioned that I was intrigued by the "math" class.  Math education, I was corrected.  Indeed.  Math ed.  How do you teach math?

Problem-based learning, that is.  And recently a study was published stating that Manitoba ranks below several other provinces in how our students do on certain mathematics and literacy standards tests.  One or two percentage points difference, but it was enough to get some emotional responses from the public.  In my practicum, as we discussed in our math ed class, the range of ability and interest varies.  For some, it's a difficult prospect to think about division.  Multiplication is another challenge, and without understanding grouping of numbers and how they can be re-arranged, you won't figure out division easily.  (I am interested in figuring out to explain this to a group of students ...)  Thanks Thomas Falkenberg, math ed prof., for raising the standard on how we can help our students learn this area.  People, at least some of the parents whose comments aired on radio or in letters to various editors, aren't that thrilled with problem-based learning.  Where are the facts?  Why don't they just memorize a set of numbers?  Well... until you understand how the bits are put together, memorization only exhibits one kind of learning ability.  And in a province that has one of the highest immigration rates in Canada, many classrooms have students from around the world, including some who arrive in the middle of the term, on any given day, with varying abilities in the English language.  So the challenge is to help students figure out the how and why, and also understand new terminology and some abstract concepts in another language.

Taking math to the real world is another challenge, and yesterday Nicole and I entered Chatter's, a chain store that sells "beauty supplies" and is open to the public!  OK, we're on.  She had to buy a $10 gift for a fellow gymnast, for the 'Secret Santa' event which is happening next week.  Understanding the relationships and concepts in numbers is difficult for Missie; however, she knows what she wants to buy for the person whose name she picked. She's clear on fashion and loves to enhance beauty, but figuring out how to spend the money can be a challenge, especially when everything is so beautiful!  So we entered to an immediate "How can I help you"?!  All cheery.  Not listening, though.  I explained our price point, looking for some ideas.  Immediately the "upsell" began.  Oh, you can buy two of these for $9.95 each and get a 3rd for free.  I explain the price point again, and that it might not be fair to other kids at the event if we brought a $20 gift, disregarding the limit.  The interest waned, and off the young lady wandered.  No longer a viable customer, I guess.  Nicole and I added the amounts of some gorgeous nail polish and a cute little foot scrubber -- just under $10.  I explained I would pay for the extra tax that would occur (percentages are still a concept that hasn't registered).  Off to the checkout and the price appeared higher than we'd figured.  Now how can I teach math if prices don't jive?  So I asked yet another attractive store clerk to check the price -- frowning, she points to the sticker on one of the products and assures me it's the amount that is listed.  I mention that the price on the shelf is different.  Really?  With a little put-down in the voice.  Like, why is the lady arguing with ME about the price.  Oops... price is different.  OK, back we go.  It's only $1.00, she says.  Yes, but it's my daughter's dollar, not yours, and we'd just figured out the math (I left the math part out; that would be the ultimate bore), and, and, and.  You will try to make us feel like bad people while you figure out the price difference. So we waited, while the young lady changed everything and gave us the difference.  Math is math, yes.  So is a bad attitude. I mentioned one more time that it's someone else's money, not hers.

I am enjoying the challenging of "teaching" math.  Both to my daughter and to students who are learning it in the classroom.  Math is everywhere, and math can be fun and without a foundation in basic facts and math relationships, the world will be smaller.  But math in the real world might be improved by a little change in attitude.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Carrot Lentil Tomato Soup

Take some garden tomatoes (we have a huge pile, ripening in the basement, because we didn't harvest them until last weekend - had to cover them with sheets a few times when the temp dipped to zero), chop them up.  Add to some sauteed onion, garlic, and little carrots (mini bits from our garden) and chicken broth.  I then added a piece of chicken that was hanging around in the freezer with a handful of lentils.  Spices used:  chili flakes, salt, pepper, basil (pesto), and a big handful of chopped, fresh cilantro.

Cook everything until soft -- add some 1/2 and 1/2, or milk, or no dairy if you don't like it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where I'm From

Where I’m From

I am from Manitoba and old Russia, escape from the Revolution,
walking 14 days and nights,
hiding from bombers in hay fields.
Every generation had a Peter.
Susanna, then and now.
What they carried to the new country they could list on one hand – everything gone.
Memories moved with momentum into the new world.
I am from the first born in Canada, bringing hope into the memories.
One of six.

I am from Jesus loves me, this I know.
It’s gone now.
Way too many rules for women and girls.
It just ain’t so.
Devouring books whole. A writer’s heart. Knowing the world was huge.
Not hiding my light under a bushel.
To let my little light shine.

I am from orchards, the agony of peach fuzz.
From cherry juice dripping.
From riding bikes, hide and seek in the dark.
Working, always working. Cars waiting to be fixed.
That ’63 Impala was a stunner. Didn’t know it then. Know it now.
Little hick town then.
Niagara-on-the-Lake. Honey Harbour, the mighty Chub.
The “Bigg-a” Slice on the way home.

I am from Manitoba calling – it was always there.
Surprise baby and then two more, at once.
Pumpkin, you came to me,
your hands waving.
He didn’t stand a chance.

I am from art and paintings, books and clay.
Clay is everywhere!
His love for clay is deep and wide.
Little did I know.

I am from kookaburras in my back yard, hollering.
I am from Kallista down the hill.
I am from Kai and Gabriel: “I’m hearing two heartbeat patterns that aren’t your own.”
I am from dreams as bright and twisted as life itself.
I am from love your neighbour as yourself.
No more waiting.

This is the result of my first assignment of the new academic year.  We have been asked to create a piece of writing to assist in creating classroom community.  It's a wonderful exercise -- stuff just flowed.  And Tom is going to use it with his students, in one of their assignments.  The goal is to express ourselves, to share our experiences, to reflect upon our origins, and look toward our futures (Bryan, 2011).  It's set up as a powerpoint presentation, which includes some images I scanned for the assignment.  It makes me emotional every time I read it -- I don't know if I'm going to be able to stand up in front of a new group of "strangers" (my new cohort) and read it without some form of breakdown.  Let's hope for the best!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The River is High Again

The river is high again
rushing north.  Rained hard at night and then for a few days.

A geographical anomaly.
Remnant of the last ice age.

Fossils are part of the local architecture.

The ancient lake wants to reach equilibrium
and I heard an old man talk about his achievements
which are visible every time the rivers rise.

He was modest,
priggish, said an announcer from the 1960s.
But our social structures have a lot to do with things he brought into being,
including the big gates that divert the Red from terrorizing the city we built
at the confluence of two prairie rivers.

They are the bottom of an ancient lake bed
and all water moves through those channels.  The ancient clay bottom doesn't soak up much. The water moves along.

Our wheelbarrow was full of water in the morning.
I rode my bike over the rushing Red. Suspended on a bridge, spanning the flood.

I wrote the poem last year, a bit amazed at how much water was pouring through the Red after the dry lake bottoms we saw in Australia. I heard a radio item about Duff Roblin, the former Premier who orchestrated the building of the floodway, apparently the largest earth moving project in the world (have to check out that fact, for sure).  Duff Robin was quite unassuming, but he got things done, and his ideas still resonate in Manitoba today. 

The word this year is that more water, by volume, will pass through the Assiniboine and Red Rivers than in any of the biggest floods recorded in this century. The amount of water going through the Red near our house is incredible; small towns are almost inundated this year with unusual flooding patterns.  I can't help but thinking that ancient Lake Agassiz is still hovering there, somewhere behind the horizon.  We traced the geological ages at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller a few weeks ago ... the water ebbs and flows, but it's always there.

Here's a link to some great shots in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pulling Teeth

I've had a lifelong relationship with my teeth (haven't we all...).  In February, an old familiar feeling started on my upper left jaw.  Hmmm... was this another little flareup that I could blame on hormones?  Or was this more like the good old days, when a series of abscessed teeth created pain and agony on and off for a few years?  At the time, I wasn't making very much money and had no dental benefits, so every little red cent came out of my after-tax, hard-earned dollars.  Ouch.  More than pain in my jaw. When it started pulsing, with a heartbeat of its own, I knew it was trouble.

The fear of developing some longstanding health issues related to dental decay inspired many thousands of dollars of expenditures that could have been better spent on a mortgage, car payments, or just plain fun and games.  But teeth seemed worth it.  So I invested.  A few root canals, crowns, a variety of fixes and I thought things were well and truly "fixed".  No one seemed to be able to give me answers, but theories abounded.  No fluoridated water in my youth (we drank water from a cistern that provided water to our house); soft enamel, a genetic inheritance; very little dental care in my earlier days; the list goes on.  I do recallr a series of dental appointments in my mid-teens that resulted in a multitude of fillings.

There were dental issues that erupted in my early 20s, the inheritance of this lack of dental care.  And I thought it was all fixed.  So the February outburst was surprising... I thought things were under control.  And there are always more opinions or ideas when I ask how this could happen given the attention and care I've paid to my teeth in the last 20 years.  A tooth with a large filling was now causing the problem.  My dentist checked it out, x-rayed it and confirmed that an infection had developed in the jaw.  Antibiotics and a visit to a specialist were prescribed.  A root canal (pulpectomy) was in order.

I was surprisingly nervous during my visit to the endodontist. This man, who spends his time peering through microscopes attached to his glasses, was graphic:  "I've done what I can do... one root is cracked and is now calcified, so it is unfixable. It's crawling with microbes."  I imagined a series of 6 to 8-legged minuscule creatures creating havoc in the cracked root of my molar.  And that's probably what he saw with his super-power vision.  A tooth full of bugs, each intent on developing an extended series of problems, resulting in more decay and pain.  I asked the obvious -- "Is there anything that can be done to save the tooth?"  Apparently only my dentist could confirm this with me, so I went back to my dentist.

The news wasn't good.  The decay wouldn't abate with any known treatment, so that tooth had to go.  There was some emotional turmoil on my part.  I thought those teeth were healthy.  All my clean living... and care of teeth. Disappointing. If the tooth wasn't removed, the infection would never settle down.  Couldn't seal it off with a root canal, so there would always be a low grade infection.

Getting someone to do something they don't want to do is "like pulling teeth".  How's that for an appropriate idiom? Pulling my tooth ended up like "pulling teeth".  Again, anxiety set in.  This office checks your blood pressure, just to make sure you are up to the ordeal -- my bp was 166/79.  Much, much higher than I'd ever seen it, other than (perhaps) during the twin pregnancy!  They weren't too worried -- they've had people with their blood pressure readings in the 200s, and those they send home to relax before they do the extraction.

It was hard work giving up that tooth.  The specialist had some nice biceps (and he is so nice to talk to, a charming individual, whose main work is to remove teeth from their sockets in our jaws), and he acknowledged that dental extractions are somewhat difficult for new dentists, who aren't aware of the force required to haul a reasonably unwilling tooth out of some one's head. Sometimes a decayed tooth just slips out (apparently the majority of the time those teeth just want to be removed), but in a few, rare cases, it's a bit more work to pull out a tooth.  Several hours later (or what felt like hours later), the recalcitrant molar had been sawed into three parts (each root had to be hauled out on its own), wrestled out with those biceps (I did have a few moments of worry when I wondered what he would do if the tooth didn't come out), and I saw the biggest root capped with its abscess, a flagrant example of what was going on in there.  He remained cheerful...  "Well, that tooth didn't want to leave, did it?"  Big sigh on my part.  Goodbye reluctant tooth.  ...just like pulling teeth... 

Now I have a hole in my jaw, where a tooth used to live.  And live it did, chewing, grinding, biting, enjoying food.  Now I will let it heal and go to the next stage, likely a bridge.  I don't know if I will have an implant, although I should explore that option.  Depends on the strength of the surrounding teeth, the jaw, and my bank account.  I don't think it's covered in either of our dental plans, but I'll check.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Check out a little assignment that was done for a course...

We had a group assignment for my Teacher and Technology course.  A project-based learning experience, focusing on the Hudson's Bay Company, choosing a particular theme related to a topic that had been presented in a 1958 television series called Hudson's Bay (the show we watched is called The Watch).

The group I was with wanted to make a book of some sort, focusing on "older" technology, thinking about some people want to read books now -- online blogs, columns, E-readers, and other devices.  Not having the ability to create a book 'app' we came up with the idea of creating a web page that looks like a book... click on the page number at the bottom and move from page to page. 

QUICKSAND: Mythology, Mystery... Reality?

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Winter Visit to Vic Beach

Pelican Point

Looking west

Wind Patterns

White on White          

Lake Winnipeg Ice

Trekking along the shore

Fisherman Beach ... heading home

Christmas Dinner

Having not had a working dishwasher (other than the two-legged creatures in the house, and that’s a story for another day) for the last three weeks, throughout the entire holiday season, this is actually about the preparation and clean-up of big celebratory meals.  From childhood onwards, I always enjoyed Christmas dinner.  It usually included turkey, which was one meat I enjoyed without reservation, not being a real meat lover in my youth.  

As a child you generally show up for dinner, pick your favourite foods, and enjoy.  I remember some wonderful items.  There were always dill pickles, homemade.  And homemade tomato juice, another favourite.  One strong memory is dipping my pickle into the juice, and holding it where my missing front teeth should have been.  Don’t know why that sticks out.  My dad loved taking pictures, and he was recording the occasion with his new movie camera.  The meals at my father’s parents’ house were memorable – this family lived through terrible hunger and privation during the Stalin years in the Soviet Union, and enjoyed every bit of the turkey, pork, beef, or whatever they prepared.  Watching them enjoy pigs knuckles, chicken feet, and head cheese must have been part of my early meat aversion.  But they didn't waste a thing, and before it was a foodie thing to do, were making sausages, canning meat, and enjoyed the plenty of life in Canada.

As we grew older,  we had a few more responsibilities related to the meal and its preparation -- that's what raises the memories of the dreaded dishwashing of my youth.  But the adult women took the lead in our family – aunts, mothers, grandmothers prepared the big meals, from scratch.  They may have used canned foods, but the items were canned by them earlier in the year.  When we got our first deep freezer, freezing replaced some of the canning processes.  I still remember thinking that frozen peas were hundreds of times tastier than their canned, palid counterparts. Another memorable Christmas dinner memory is of me carefully moving the canned peas from my plate to the floor under the table, hidden by a long tablecloth.  Why my father checked under the table still remains a mystery.  I do know that I received another heaping portion of the benighted canned, now cold, peas on my plate.

As a teenager I started to notice the work done by my female relatives, and I usually participated in the clean-up.  In my late teens, I do recall lecturing several older male relatives about having a nice relaxing time in the living room while the hot, tired women had to deal with the meal’s aftermath in the kitchen.  To their credit, they did rise from their restful spots and come and help in the kitchen.

The beauty of the food, the enjoyment of its nourishment and taste, and the laughs and talks with relatives we didn’t see that often were a highlight of the year.   As a parent, I want to bring that experience to my children.  In our house, Tom is usually responsible for most of the preparation of the Christmas dinner.  One of his great achievements was making sure we had Christmas dinner, a day late, the day after I and the twins came home from the hospital.  That was the calm before the storm, but by then we had a dishwasher, a portable one, courtesy of his mom, Sadie.  She wisely counselled, strongly, for the purchase of a dishwasher, and made sure it happened, by contributing the cost as a gift for the new household.  Tom professed he loved washing dishes, but he’s been a convert to the mechanical process of washing dishes for years now.  Not having had a working dishwasher  as a household helper in the last few weeks has been noticeable.  Of course we have the benefit of 3 strong, two-legged pre-teens and teen to help us, but it’s still a bit more work than we wanted.  It does drive home how much work the clean-up of a memorable meal can be.  The preparation is fun, usually, and you anticipate the wonderful tastes, the different side dishes, and the main course, ending with some amazing dessert.

So I give tribute to the women relatives of my past, who created amazing meals for their families, who showed us what taste was about, who cleaned, scoured, whipped and creamed, much of it by hand.  They were definitely my role models, and made sure our meals were memorable.  I remember many of the special occasions to this day.  And one day GE and Purolator will manage to get the special corrugated hose that links our dishwasher to the waste water system to our Winnipeg repair person who will then come to our house, connect the new hose, and we'll be thrilled to once again have a working, non-human dishwasher!