Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Dresden Codak

I've been following Aaron Diaz (@dresdencodak) on twitter for a while. It was one of those follows that results when you read a few witty or eccentric tweets and think that you need something different in your feed. My twitter stream is composed almost entirely of educators, centred on my province, educational technology, social studies, and public education advocacy. This is awesome as a professional development tool but it sometimes makes for way-too-serious reading and often raises my blood pressure. I'm trying to add some colour and humour to my feed, at the same time trying to avoid anything connected to celebrity or sports.

As it goes sometimes with twitter, it took me while to realize that Aaron Diaz was a graphic artist (and author, illustrator, and internet curator of comics lore based in Portland, OR), and it took me even longer to realize that he had an interest in illustrating the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, something dear to my heart and the theme of course I just started teaching called Middle Earth 12. I came across his Silmarillion Project a few weeks ago and was blown away by his renditions of characters that are known by the select few who have been Inducted. I find that his sketches and art go right to the profound thoughts I have about key characters and skip past the mental images I have about what they might look like. This is a big deal for me because I don't want these characters to be fixed down (the way they become after you've seen a book turned into a movie), I want them to remain fluid and possessed of the ability to inhabit new interior landscapes depending on where I'm at.

Today I emailed Aaron Diaz and asked if I could use his images with my course on handouts etc. and for comparison and study. He said "sure thing... kids need Tolkien." So, I'm thrilled to share his unique art with my students and help make the connection for them that the passions and interests kids have in high school can translate to satisfying lifelong pursuits and even paid work!

This image above shows Fëanor, a troubled elven prince in Tolkien's world, who created great gems called the Silmarils and set in motion a chain of events that altered the history of Middle Earth. The story of Fëanor has haunted me for 30 years, and is never far from my thoughts. I'm not sure if this was wise (given his tragic fate), but my wife and I named our son Fëanor. We gave ourselves a backdoor, though, in the moniker Finn.

Image credit:, Dresden Codak (Aaron Diaz) artist, author, and illustrator. Used by permission. Check out his main page at and more visual musings at

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Tapestry Workshops

Hello Victoria, Sooke, Sanich and Gulf Islands Teachers!

The organizers for the Tapestry Conference tell me that my workshops need some more souls or they might have to cancel. I'm really hoping to make the trip down there (from Prince George) for your Feb 21 Conference, so if you can help recommend a few people (or yourself) to attend one or both of these sessions I would be very grateful.  Tapestry Registration here.

Morning Session:

Heritage Inquiry: Connecting Land, People, and Narrative

Target audience: Secondary Humanities especially Social Studies, History, Geography, and English

Project-based learning using heritage research as the basis of cross-curricular inquiry and application of critical thinking skills. Case studies from Social Studies 10 and 11, Geography 12, and suggestions for adapting this work to other contexts. These projects have grabbed students and provided relevance, a basis for empathy, and really great presentations. You'll be amazed at the artifacts that students find in their basements.  Examples of Heritage projects.

Afternoon Session:

When Educators Co-create: Experimental Course Design for Secondary Schools

Target audience: Secondary teachers

Listen to some ideas from a Northern BC Professional Learning Network about course combinations, blended learning, simulations, and cross-curricular projects, including Middle Earth 12 and the Language and Landscape program (combination of English 11 and Geography 12).  Other courses and combinations we've tried or are trying "up here" include Yoga, Peer Mentorship, History of Social Justice Through Music, Geography combined with Digital Media Arts, History combined with "Cultures in Conflict" (another local course), and Genocide.

Then, the conversation can move to match the audience:
  • engage in a “critical friends” activity that will tune your own curriculum/instruction ideas or designs for project-based learning
  • look at what it takes to build your own locally developed course or adapt an existing one to new curriculum structures, including Board approval process and incorporating team teaching
  • discuss how blended learning (mix of in-class, online, and community-based settings) can be used with new and existing courses, including use of digital portfolios

So.... sign up for one or both, and bring a friend with you!

Glen Thielmann