Priceless

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Education and Reform

Dear Reader,
Well, life has been a whirlwind in the last two weeks and has taken me to both New York City and Banff, AB in that time. High time for some more musing…

The trip to New York City came about as a requirement for the Arts Education program I am currently enrolled. The purpose of the trip was to visit schools in New York that have implemented Arts Education curricula into their schools and to observe how the Arts are used to convey material in a more meaningful way. The school I visited was The Clinton School for Writers and Artists – a school that places writing at the core of its curriculum to give students the opportunity to write in a variety of styles. For example, rather than working out math problems solely for the numerical interaction, the students incorporated writing by investigating the mathematics of something that interested them. One student chose high heeled shoes for a mathematical study. She wrote about why she liked high shoes aesthetically and then worked out the lengths, widths, angles and proportions of a certain shoe. The teachers at Clinton decided to do this because they noticed when students were faced with mathematical word problems they struggled far more than with numerical problems. Another student chose the Chrysler Building in Manhattan for a study of what the building’s proportions are. Teachers at Clinton were finding that the students enjoyed this approach and were beginning to get better at integrating language and numbers.

Other students in my program visited other schools and, by and large, took something inspiring away from our visit to New York. However, despite the incredibly interesting work being done at certain schools in New York, educational reform in the state has been in place for sometime and has been systematically removing student centred learning from the classroom. More and more, teachers are forced to succumb to the tyranny of standardized testing and students are unfortunately taught little more than what will appear on the test. Having spoken to a few teachers in New York about the reforms being made, it became clear that inquiry based leaning and teaching students how to become life long learners is not a priority of the current municipal administration. In fact, the Bloomberg administration has increased the number of standardized tests in schools and has moved to a system in which student and teacher performances are made publicly available. Schools are issued letter grades from A through to D, and schools achieving D’s are given a maximum of 8 years to improve before the school faces closure.

New York City Mayor and tenth richest person in the United States, Michael Bloomberg.

However, the personnel installed in underachieving schools are not experienced or well equipped enough to make the necessary changes. Band aid solutions are all that have been offered and eventually schools have been forced to close their doors. However, these schools don’t stay closed, they reopen a year or two later as charter schools. Charter schools are largely publicly funded, however, the teachers employed at these schools are evaluated based on their students’ performances and paid accordingly. The teachers in these schools work in pressurized, competitive environments where self preservation is the only priority. These teachers belong to no union or federation and have few labour rights. Essentially, the Bloomberg administration has implemented a school closure policy that in the next ten years will see the rise of many more charter schools – more students writing more tests, and more teachers with fewer rights and smaller pay checks.

There have been rumblings from Alberta about following a similar path in terms of reform. In my opinion, these United States reforms amount to students becoming increasingly alienated from their schools and teachers becoming less valued. Let’s  continue to value both our students and teachers in Canada.

Thanks for reading.

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The AFI Door Scene

Reader,

In order to fulfill the requirements of Tech Task #6, I am including this short scene modeled after the American Film Institute’s “Door Scene”.

That’s all for now.

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Treaty Injustice

Dear Reader,

Please watch the following TED Talk in which Aaron Huey discusses treaty history and its impact on the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota, USA. Following it will be some commentary on it.

The theme of this blog is history, and this entry harks back to the first piece of writing within it. Much like the work Zinn did in his book entitled A People’s History of the United States, Huey plots historical dates on which the US government waged so-called “battles” against the Sioux. Huey criticizes the notion of these massacres being called battles, and suggests that the US government is guilty of genocide against Native American prisoners of war.

Huey’s use of photographs taken in recent years that depict the standard of life the Sioux people now live go a long way to highlight what was taken from them in the early years of US sovereignty. Huey carefully juxtaposes his historical talk with images of today to illustrate the impact of history on peoples’ lives.

Although Zinn’s work and Huey’s talk are indictments of US governmental corruption, we in Canada must not forget our government acted in ways very similar. In 1877, Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Sioux lead hundreds of his people to Canada to take refuge from the brutality of General George Armstrong Custer and his army. After a few months camped at Fort Walsh, the only RCMP barracks in Western Canada, James Walsh was instructed by John A. McDonald to send Sitting Bull and his people back to the US where they would meet certain death. Although Walsh was conflicted about this decision and debated it for some time, eventually he bowed to the US pressure that McDonald was facing and sent the Hunkpapa Sioux over the border. The result was yet another massacre killing many before Sitting Bull surrendered and was made to live the remainder of his life in the Wild West Show – a puppet for a way of life that once was.

Huey’s talk highlights how land was taken, food resources were wiped out and people were killed all because treaty agreements were not upheld. But Huey does not stop there, he goes on to discuss the disproportionate rate that Native Americans currently suffer from disease, incarceration, and low life expectancy.

Huey ends his talk by indicating that something can still be done about the manner in which Native Americans have been treated. He suggests that we honor the treaties that have been made. He finishes by saying: “Give back the Black Hills. It’s not your business what they do with them.”

We here in Canada should be ashamed of our government and the manner in which it has treated not only First Nations people but also immigrants from all parts of the world. There is little difference between our history and the one Huey outlines. Become informed of the injustice people have suffered in this country. It’s the only way to defeat the ignorance millions of people suffer from.
Thanks for reading.

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The Disparity of Access to Technology

Readers,

To fulfill the Tech Task #2 Assignment for ECOMP 355, I will be addressing the following question:

How do we address problems of access in schools (i.e., unequal access to technology amongst students)? Is there an ethical role of schools or governments to increase access?



I feel this question is of great importance when discussing the the use of technology in the classroom. Clearly, not all schools will have the same access to technology due to various factors, the most common of which being availability of financial resources.

In October of 2010, I completed my first pre-internship in Melville, Saskatchewan at a school called Miller Elementary. Miller is a part of the Good Spirit School Division, a division that emphasizes the use of technology mainly through the use of Smart Boards. While spending time teaching at this school and using the Smart Board, I was easily convinced of its teaching merits: students were able to interact in a hands on way with their learning, were able to share resources with other students and were able to take care of practical tasks like roll call, checking weather and keeping class appointments.

While all of these reasons are attractive selling points, not all schools in all school boards can have Smart technology in their classrooms. In fact, many schools across the country struggle to gain access to text books and novels to use in their classrooms. It seems unfair to me that schools that schools that cater to certain demographics are given more sophisticated tools for their programming. If different divisions were mandated to share their financial resources, Good Spirit would not have Smart Boards in all of their classrooms, but other schools would not be struggling to buy the basics. When students are treated unfairly at such an early stage, the situation is set up to create an increasing disparity as time passes.

Access to technology is also problematic as it is dictated by capital corporations that care more about profit than how people learn. Therefore, as companies dictate prices and the market value of technology, schools are left at the mercy of capital culture. No matter how current a school’s technology, the technology will always eventually be obsolete.

Having said that, even having one computer in the classroom may grant a certain student their only access to very important technology. One of the points this article on equity and technology makes is that some students who come from homes who cannot afford a computer, can still benefit when using a computer in the classroom. As people who are future educators, we have a responsibility to prepare students as much as possible, and the ability to engage with technology is a significant part of that.

Thanks for reading – bye for now.

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NYC School Visits

Well, after several months of grueling fund raising, my mega keen Arts Education colleagues and I have raised enough money to visit New York City this February. The purpose of our trip to New York is to visit schools in the city that have implemented strong Arts Education curricula. During our visits to these schools, we will be observing some of the most cutting edge pedagogical strategies in the field of Arts Ed and bringing some these great ideas back to the province of Saskatchewan. The goal is to incorporate some of the newest ideas into our classrooms and help freshen the face of education in Saskatchewan.
In doing some research on which schools would be best to visit while in NYC, I came across The Center for Arts Education NYC.
This group, through the use of its School Arts Support Initiative (SASI) grant CWA_SASI_FINAL, has been able to help some very chaotic schools turn around their academic programming by making use of the Arts. In some cases, after having access to the grant for only two years, the number of students meeting standards has increased from 10 to 60 percent. Major successes.
As as an Arts Ed student whose been in the program for almost two years, reading about the SASI grant was seriously refreshing. I came into this program believing firmly that major changes can be made by implementing Arts based learning into curricula and, after being holed up in a university classroom for two years, one can begin to lose sight of their original perspective. However, having seen some of the work that is being done in the US and what can be done in Canada, I once again feel inspired to continue with the work I feel I am capable of doing.
Here is a short video of what the SASI grant has done for one middle years school in the Bronx.

I find this stuff pretty motivating myself. Really can’t wait to get to NYC and make these visits.

Bye for now.

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Zinn & Sharing Knowledge

So – here is my first ever attempt at blogging. I’ve been interested in writing online for sometime, but just have never found the impetus to do it. So thank you Ed Computers 355 for giving me the motivation to write about things that I normally just think about in deep, profound, meditative and contemplative silences.
A few weeks ago, when designing a unit plan for English Language Arts 30, I was researching the notion of public memory and its affect on social consciousness. After considering the myriad ways public memory manifests and is accessed, I came across a website dedicated to the memory of educator and historian, Howard Zinn.

 

After having nosed around the site a bit I noticed a lot of really interesting material one could use teaching lessons of all kinds. I also realized I had never read Zinn’s most important work   entitled A People’s History of the United States. So, on our next mission to Regina’s only giant book store, Chapters, we promptly located and purchased the book. Over the last few weeks I’ve read the first hundred pages or so of the 700 page account and, predictably, it has left me informed and depressed. Zinn begins the book by discussing Columbus and the other Spanish conquistadors who colonized much of South America. In their insatiable pursuit of gold, Columbus and company shed so much blood that within a hundred years entire races had vanished from the earth. After colonization, Zinn moves into the American Slave Trade and recounts how millions of Africans from various countries were caught and death marched to the shores where boats awaited them. Only one in four Africans survived the marches and the trip across the sea – and, even then, only survived to live a life of enslavement.

Anyway, enough doom and gloom for the moment. In a brief discussion I had with the professor of Ed Computers 355, the notion of “paying it forward” was mentioned in relation to the spreading of technological knowledge. Although I am big believer in this concept, for some reason it didn’t resonate as well with me in regard to technology. For whatever reason I’ve never seen technology and social media as reliable forms of knowledge. However, when I consider the work Zinn has done for us, there is little difference between the text in his pages and what could potentially be posted in this blog. So, I will discontinue my spurn for the Web 2.0 and join the masses who write for the pleasure of writing and possibility of being read.

And so I say to you good reader: Feel content when reading, when writing, and when eating and drinking with friends and family. After all, what else is there?

Ciao for now.

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