Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 in review


That was quite a year... I'd have to say the highlight was our summer travels. The cruise to Alaska with my parents & family and the preceding camping across three provinces made for a great vacation. Kate had it all planned out and I’ll admit to some skepticism about it all working out. Our tent trailer was thoroughly broken in and we got to see some amazing sights and people. Cookes, Zimmers, Gorbys, Campbells, and a Friesen for good measure. Onboard the Volendam our Thielmann party of 15 comprised 1% of the passenger list. We had some time to reconnect; it was a blessing to see my parents surrounded by such a healthy, loving, and individuated family, a real witness to their 50 years of marriage.

This year, I find myself growing more... hmm... I’m not sure what word to use. Not conservative, if that’s what you were thinking. Perhaps more cynical (see the school stuff below), maybe stalwart or something like disaffected (in the misanthropic sense), and overall more grim. This has something to do with the time of year and the fact that my chopped woodpile is empty and it is -21˚C right now. Balancing this is the love and joy from a very amazing family; I really can’t or shouldn’t complain. I think 2011 will be less grim.

Our school district went through a rough patch in 2010 with a massive deficit brought on through changes in government funding, declining enrollment, and some delayed financial planning at the board office. I invested far too much time trying to keep our district accountable and honest in terms of spending, the nature of cuts, alternatives to school closures, and some sanity around technology decisions. I was also able to work with an amazing group of parents and teachers who modeled “sustainability” for the district as it offered its own plans and recommendations based on rigorous educational and community values, excellent research, and diverse perspectives. In the end we saved the French Immersion program from being dismantled and exposed some incompetencies, but I don’t think we were able to shift the basic narcissism that guides our local system. In the area of technology, our BC school system envisions that teachers will be able to use digital tools to increasingly guide students at a distance, and that face-to-face classrooms where the teachers are experts in their subject is an outdated mode of learning. As problematic as this may seem, our school district has embraced this vision while at the same time restricting access and planning to the very technologies that are supposed to bring about this brave new world. My own school mirrors many of these disturbing trends and ironies. So, that provides some context for all this talk of grimness and cynicism, but I am growing weary of being a whistleblower, especially when it is off the side of my desk and has come at a cost to my family, self, and students. Thankfully, I’ve been able to share this load with a dedicated and humorous group of teachers we’ve dubbed the Pacific Slope Initiative. Kate forgave me of many evenings locked away at a computer or at meetings, and was always the first one to push me into a good debate.

This is my 15th year as a teacher and I still feel lucky to be in the midst of so many stories, so many discoveries. I’ve had some challenging Grade 9s in Social Studies but I’ve tried to put their high energy to use. I haven’t taught SS9 for many years so it has been constant experimentation on my part, some of it pure disaster. New lessons, assignments, resources, assessments. Two projects in particular stand out. The first centered on Heritage Skills -- how people made a live for themselves, adapted the resources at hand to their needs “then and now.” One student brought out his grandpa’s hand-made woodworking tools and talked about the objects in his house (made by GP) that had special significance. Another talked of canning salmon with grandma and how this was one aspect of her ancient culture that she was keen to learn, remember, and pass on. Some of the projects were a bit rough -- I’ll admit that the students benefit from exemplars and previous trial-and-error but one must do what one can. The second project involved students examining a cultural landscape of 17th and 18th century North America and reporting back on their research and conclusions. We used “benchmarks of historic thinking” (a critical inquiry model) to explore the topics and each student used a modern example to compare with their topic. Order of Good Cheer & the Habitation at Port Royal, the Seigneuries of the St. Lawrence valley, draining the marshlands of Acadia, and so on. One of the students came across information that linked her family to one of the first habitants that were brought over by Jean Talon as settlers in the Royal Colony of New France. Her great x 10 grandfather turned the earth a few miles from Quebec in the 1660s. Another student examined the Jesuit subculture as they made deep impacts on the Huron people. His modern comparison was the humanitarian interventions in Haiti. There were some interesting parallels between clashing cultural values and also between the spread of smallpox (Huronia) and cholera (Haiti). Again, some of the projects evidenced incredible learning and some fell flat, but I think I’ll try this again the next time I teach SS9 and try to work out some of the kinks. I was also lucky to be a small part in the creation of Pearson Education’s new Social Studies 11 textbook over the last year, and I also had a contract to create and write an online course for the Distance Ed Consortium of BC -- Sustainable Resources 12 Forestry. As of this exact moment, it is not 100% complete!

I hope 2011 brings you health, happiness, and insight.

1 comment:

Lewis said...

I am disappointed you didn't mention "formative assessment" even once in talking about your SS projects.

Great picture of your family, that could act as the mission statement for SD 13.