We Are Teachers

#EDUC454E100 – Week 10 – July 12, 2018

Voila. After 10 weeks of classes, here is my first POSED picture by student request. Of course it has to be the blog photo feature of the week. Thank you for this… it really made my day. As mentioned in my last blog, the week before was a week a deliberation as to how to approach assessment and evaluation in EDUC454E100 without losing focus on student learning. This was a tough conversation to have particularly when I have be operating as the “guide on the side” and some students still had to facilitate learning activities this class and the class after. I did not want to influence their performance with my “lecture” on assessment and evaluation. I had to make my intentions explicit.

We were talking about formative versus summative assessment. We talked about how some assignments in my class were pass or fail (i.e. 20% or 0%) based on meeting the criteria of integrating environmental education, quantitative approaches, and their subject area or area of interest together… or summarizing the reading and asking good questions. What did it mean to MEET EXPECTATIONS and climbing towards a ceiling or working from the basement. We talked about focusing on student learning versus student achievement, which sometimes gets in the way of learning. I gave a few examples from my practice in higher education when formative feedback is useful and when it’s not useful. A long story made short, I think my class understood what I was talking about and I am grateful.

I even appreciated the few students who stayed behind after the end of the first half of our class to let me know that they are dealing with different assessment and evaluation practices in other classes, so it gets confusing and habitual. They appreciated what I was trying to achieve and I was even more grateful that they would stay behind to clean the boards and move tables back with me. These are the little things that make me love teaching and learning with students… particularly student teachers. What was even more amazing is, the student led learning activities were outstanding. I cannot believe how these students were able to make things happen wholeheartedly and adapt so easily.

Poor Jeff T. I was feeling for him because he had to follow my assessment lecture and give it his all. He was providing the reading summary for this week on sustainability. I loved how he took the reading (with honesty) and approached the document as intended. He shared with the class one of his assessments on how well he was doing with one of the checklists and provided himself a rubric or Likert Scale on performance with each bullet point, as seen below. I loved the use of technology and using one of the checklists to see how well he was doing with sustainability. He posed a few questions to discuss on what could be done in schools and Dustin offered the Weekly Journal Questions (see end of blog) to address for Week 10. Both Jeff and Dustin “met expectations.”

We then transition into the warm-up activity. We start of with Dustin and Stephen K facilitating a game of SPOONS. I never heard of the game but I really like the premise behind it. 4 teams, 3 spoons, and a fork. Each team brainstorms a list of 10 words related to the key word announced by either Dustin or Stephen K. Once you finish your list, you grab a spoon (or fork). If you are the team left with the fork, you don’t “get any points” for the round. I love collaborative and cooperative games. They had to rotate players per round. This would be an excellent activity to work through a list of terms for a class or related topics. It could be a summative or formative learning activity. Students were engaged and I appreciated using Non-Permanent Vertical Surfaces as a learning tool.

I could not help myself but to interject and talk about the Core Competencies. It’s something that I wanted to incorporate into my class because it is something that the field is currently grappling with and these pre-service teachers will soon be their peers. I also wanted to explore what it means for students to self-assess their core competencies and play with some ways students can keep this as an ongoing conversation along side with the curricular competencies and content. So, I facilitated a second part to this warm-up activity of co-creating “I can” statements in light of this warm-up of activity and state verbally how did they know that they were achieving or developing that core competency.

Well, it worked brilliantly as well as already being divided into groups for our next warm up activity with Karmin. He asked groups to brainstorm as many things their group members all had in common. I loved the dialogue and collaboration to make this list of commonalities. It was an excellent activity that I wished that we did at the beginning of the course instead of the end. This was another activity I asked the students if I could interject my thoughts and inclusion of the course intentions to what they were facilitating. After the students made their list, I asked them to place the letter “P” beside the items that reflected PLACE or the environment and “Q” for quantitative approaches or math. Some of the groups labelled all items either P or Q and some used PQ. I was only hoping for one of each to demonstrate that Quantitative Approaches to Environmental Education is in everything that we do. Karmin concluded that this was an excellent “get to know me” activity to identify our likeness or commonalities versus differences between and with students, then facilitated a conversation on why differences are so important to students.

We headed outside to do our third (and postponed) warm up activity with Aeri and Sunayna. Holland Park the week before was gated up due to a concert. They planned for an outdoor warm up activity and although we brainstormed possible ways to facilitate this activity indoors… in hindsight, I am so glad that we waited to do this activity outside.

This warm up activity was a continuation of Aeri’s story that she read to us about the penguin who believed he could fly (re: math efficacy), now translated as a STEM or MakerSpace problem. Design a penguin who will fly the furthest distance given a limited use of materials and time to plan. This was very interesting, because Aeri did a demo of pasting wings to the picture of the penguin and made it fly (but not well).

One group developed a slingshot (that apparently broke before launching their penguin), another group made a paper airplane penguin and made it fly (as seen below in the photo below), one group opted not to fly their penguin (well, they walked it along), and the rest of the groups attached the penguin onto a rock and threw it… very far!!! The distance achieved exceeded what Aeri and Sunayna anticipated by 2.5 times. Time to adapt.

Then they asked a representative from each group to position themselves relatively on the xy-axis. That was a big idea and collaboratively they managed to plot themselves on a graph. I loved this idea. Relative distance. An opportunity to take extensions to this activity such as design a device to launch the penguin into the air… how high will he go?… how far will he travel? (e.g. quadratic functions, angles, trajectory, velocity, acceleration). I also like how this could be a statistics question of plotting central tendency, multiple trials, design thinking, and standard deviation. Many math opportunities that could be made meaningful to hypothesize the best way to help the penguin fly and why.

Finally, we end our class with the group facilitation learning activity. We switched the activities around to accommodate group members. I was so pleased with the group and their willingness to adapt. We came outside because of the warm up activity, as previously described, but I assumed that their activity was designed to be outside… and it wasn’t. But during the break, Ally said that it was OK for her group to facilitate their activity OUTSIDE. I love learning outside and I was so happy that they were willing to adapt. Moreover, we were running out of time and their time to facilitate dwindled from 1.5 hours to 45 minutes. They were up for the challenge and adapted their learning activity beautifully. Ally, Jeff, Karmin and Aeri facilitated a Build Your Own City activity.

Students were divided up into teams and assigned a city. Each city has different biomes and wealth. This was the first activity in the course that used ECONOMICS as the quantitative approach to environmental education. They were CITY PLANNING. Building things like hospitals, schools, roads, etc… costs money. Each team was give an amount of money depending on what country they were and asked to BUILD THE BEST CITY under the circumstances. What a great discussion on values and making decisions on what was important for the people in that city. Before starting the activity, groups were asked what makes a good city. This is time for teams to put these thoughts into action.

This was not an easy activity, depending which city you are from AND that each city were struck with a natural disaster. With each disaster, they may lose important infrastructures like schools or government buildings. They had to find ways to rebuild their cities while still serve (as best they can) the people in their cities. This was an excellent learning activity as I could see all 3 core competencies in action in context to quantitative approaches to environmental education as it related to social studies, biology, geography, and economics. It’s very complex and one can see that this activity could last at least a week with students getting to the heart of civics, governance, and decision making,

Each group reported out their designs, decision-making, and constraints. We were so engaged in the work that we were doing that we were attracting community members who were strolling in the park to stop and listen to what the students had to say about building their own cities and how complex it is and how relationships with other countries matter when they need financial help given exceptional circumstances like a natural disaster. This learning activity was enjoyed by all such that students at the end of the activity requested the unit plan from this group. Well done Group 6. Given the circumstances, you adapted and excelled. As one said, “of course, we are teachers.”

Weekly Journal Questions

As a teacher, what actions do you plan on taking to improve sustainability in your school?

I like the self-assessment that Jeff T. did during his presentation. I would like to do that with a class to help identify an area of need or of high priority in the school. Then, as mentioned in class, chose one or two areas to focus on during school year. Make it a theme for the course or a topic that the class returns to on a weekly basis to gather data, research the impact, and make changes to student attitudes and behaviour on that topic. I would like to make it a class approach to problem solving and creating the change that they want to see. I would only like to facilitate it and make cognitive space for students to wrestle with the topic and find viable solutions for the school to adopt.

What barriers are there to being a vocal advocate for issues like sustainability in a school?

Culture shifting. Policies. Rules and regulations. Habits of the mind. We do get caught in a routine and if sustainability is a new concept or operating at minimum expectations, it’s best to find others who you can team teach with or collaborate with in different subject areas or grades so that your class or classes can create a momentum to sustain change.

Do you agree that the goals in this guide are attainable?

I believe anything is attainable, but it takes time, patience, and persistence. It won’t be perfect, but it’s always about striving to get damn close to it. I would agree that you can’t do all of it at once. Choose one or two areas, learn from that experience, then transition to other areas when the first two has been widely accepted by the school community.

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