Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Ten Influential Albums - Day 2

This is the second post in a series of ten documenting the albums I consider influential. My first post, found here, provides some insight into the rationale behind this journey. The first album I selected was the Soundtrack to "Oliver", which I discovered in 1973 at about age 8. I am moving chronologically and this post lands us in the 1977 (age 11 or 12).

In 1977/78, I was in Grade 8 in Kingsville, ON,  It was a different time in elementary schools: Acceleration (Skipping Grades) and Retention (Failing Grades) were the norm. Consequently, one might be in a classroom with students who differed in age by 4 years...more if it was a split grade.

I had become good friends with Jari, who had arrived from Finland that fall. He did not speak English, so they put him in Grade 4. I was fortunate to have been educated in England when I was 5, so I spent my entire elementary school life a grade ahead. Consequently, 14 year old Jari was in Grade 4 and 12 year old Marc was in Grade 8. However, on the tarmac for road hockey (back when we brought our sticks to school) - we were either team-mates or fierce rivals (depending on the daily draft).

Part way through my Grade 8 year, with graduation on the horizon, they moved Jari to my class - in part, it was because of his age, but it was also because he had quickly mastered English. This is always a remarkable phenomenon for me. I'm currently on my fourth year of Rosetta Stone Spanish and still struggling...kids have such remarkable linguistic flexibility!

That summer, I got invited to Jari's birthday party. He lived quite a distance from me and I knew he had high-school friends. However, when I arrived at the party, I felt incredibly out of place. I was, without question, the youngest person there. I can't remember what I had bought him for his birthday (or, rather, what my parents had bought me to give him), but everyone else seemed to be giving him albums.

One of them bought him MeatLoaf's "Bat out of Hell" - with an album cover that made it seem dangerous to me - little did I realize it was essentially harmless Broadway show tunes. Regardless, I knew that my parents wouldn't approve of the cover...regardless of the music. This was the same reason I had to get ELO Discovery instead of KISS - ALIVE II a short time later.
Another friend bought Jari the Debut album from The Cars. In retrospect, it is really a guitar rock album - but I had never heard anything remotely "electronic" - and it seemed avant-garde and exciting. I managed to get a copy of it a few weeks later from the Devonshire Mall in Windsor - spending hard earned babysitting and newspaper delivery money. I think it was $2.99?

A few years later, "Moving in Stereo" would be indelibly stamped in my teenage brain during an unforgettable scene featuring Phoebe Cates in the film "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". It is still an album that calls me back. I'll hear a song on Radio Paradise or in a movie soundtrack and throw it into a Spotify mix. I still wish I had that original vinyl - I loved the fun and simplicity of the album cover too.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Ten Influential Albums - Day 1

Recently, a challenge has been circulated on Social Media platforms - mainly Facebook. In most cases, you discover this challenge because a friend, who is participating in it, nominates you. The message likely reads ...
"I've been nominated by ****** to post 10 all time favourite albums which have had an impact on my life, 1 each day for 10 days. In no particular order, list ten all time favourite albums (1 per day) which really made an impact and are still on your rotation list even if only now and then. Post the album cover and then nominate a person to do the same"
So, the challenge is pretty straightforward and your interpretation of the rules is flexible.Over 10 days, post the pictures of 10 albums which have had an impact on your life. 
  • You don't have to post on concurrent days. 
  • You don't have to nominate anyone else.
  • You don't have to offer an explanation or description. 
  • They do not need to be posted in any order.

I have a Facebook account, but I follow very few people. This is intentional. I had another account (riding its wave of popularity in the late 2K with everyone else). My Grade 8 students would often ask to add me (back when young people cared about the platform). My answer was always the same - "after you are in high school and no longer my student, go ahead". Eventually, I had over 400 "friends" (many of them former students). This created a dilemma because it meant I had to be in professional teacher mode at all times. In other words...
  • I couldn't post or re-post jokes that were even slightly off-colour.
  • I couldn't post or comment on anything political.
  • I needed to be selective when sharing photos of myself, family and friends.
  • I had to reserve judgement on photographs or comments from former students, particularly challenging when they were navigating their teenage years.
  • I sometimes had to "unfriend" students who posted things that I felt were offensive - some noticed and tried to re-friend me (which led to a challenging conversation through direct message). 
Basically, it had become awkward, untenable and unsustainable - and I went through a painstaking cleanse and delete of all evidence of its existence. As an educator of media privacy I realize that nothing on the internet is gone forever, but I did my best - delivering the news with the inclusion of an email address to every "friend" so that all connections would not be lost when I finally signed off for good.

I am now far more active on Twitter, with both a personal and professional profile. I post very little on Facebook, but this challenge really got me thinking. I am passionate about music and like or love almost everything. As I often say to students, the music I like is any that is made with genuine passion and talent - preferably both. I also discourage my students from saying "I hate..."; reminding them that "hate is something we reserve for racism & war."

So, with that fairly long preamble, I will now re-post my Facebook exploration of "Ten Influential Albums that made an impact on my life."

  • I will post chronologically (trying to capture different phases of my life).
  • I will include a brief (OK, sometimes brief) story about the record & my relationship with it.   
  • I will not be nominating anyone else - although I did on Facebook.

Day 1: I knew I needed to pick something from my first decade and I finally settled on the Soundtrack to "Oliver".  This was the first record I "borrowed" (permanently) from of my parent's collection (which I remember having plenty of Nana Mouskouri, Mario Lanza and, for some reason, a Hawaiian Luau disc in it).

"Food, Glorious Food""Consider Yourself" and "I'd do Anything" became the first "real" songs with lyrics I chose to memorize. The album also marked the first time that I learned to lift a needle and place it in the groove in front of the tracks I wanted to hear. I suspect this is about 1973 (Age 8) in St. Catherines, Ontario. My portable record player was awful, and I am sure I did irreparable damage to a lot of discs. However, it was the best technology available to me at the time. 

I think this may have been the record that entrenched my love for records that moved through styles and genres. It has grand orchestral numbers, cheeky, boppy comedic tracks, and tender, heartfelt ballads.

Honorable mentions must go to the records that almost made the cut - also from my parent's collection: "Elvis Golden Greats" "The Fiddler on the Roof" Soundtrack and "Life in a Tin Can" by The Bee Gees.

Monday, 14 May 2018

My Mother's Influence on my Profession

At this point in my career, my practice is the product of many influences.

  • I have been guided by mentors, colleagues, administrators and students.
  • I am the sum of all my opportunities, from my early days on the supply list to my current role as an instructional coach.
  • I am shaped by my studies - from formal education to daily blasts of learning from my Twitter PLN (Professional Learning Network).

However, I have to give a nod to the influences that have been there for my entire life. Specifically, on the occasion of Mother's Day, my mum Doreen Hodgkinson (Sutcliffe).

My mom us responsible for so many things that shape me as an educator. I'd like to highlight just a couple.
  • From an early age, I was taking to the library regularly and she fostered my love of literature. She let me know that there was a world of wonder to be found in books and that it was up to me to uncover it. She read to me regularly, bringing the text to life with dramatic flare. She only stopped reading to me when I informed her that I preferred to read by myself - I sometimes wonder if this was something she viewed with relief, or sadness (probably a mix of both). When I embark on a read aloud (especially of a book I have read before) I remind myself of the need for panache - and I employ all the tricks of the trade - whether the text calls for a booming Scottish brogue or a meek and mousy whisper.
  • She took me (and still takes me) to the theatre. We attended everything from high school to amateur to top level professional productions. I was fortunate to see an eclectic mix - dramas, comedies, musicals and dance performances. I was introduced to "The Hobbit" as a play before I devoured it as a book. I learned about Canadian First Nation history by attending a performance of James Reaney's "Wacousta" at a time I was just old enough to understand it. I even intervened during a performance of "Pinocchio" when the titular character called to the audience for help. She is still a season ticket holder at the Grand Theatre - and she takes me to every performance. My love of theatre, as a performer, audience member and educator, can be traced directly to my earliest exposure.
  • She taught me about equality at a time when that was a message that I didn't always hear around me. It was the 1970's and racist or homophobic slurs were far more commonplace. However, my moral compass had already been well tuned by my mother's frequent statements about respect for all people. I wasn't perfect - I certainly said things that I now deeply regret. However, when I slipped, I knew in my heart that "my mother wouldn't agree" and that "this was not right". I eventually began to gravitate toward friends who felt like I did and helped me act like I should. She often said that "your friends should elevate you - and make you your best." I took this to heart and have lifelong friends who are kind, honest & generous.
  • She taught me that everyone deserves a second chance. She worked as the volunteer coordinator at the maximum security prison in London and at a number of group homes (mainly for young women). She approached every day with a positive attitude and the sincere belief that people could change - if given the chance and had a kind mentor to guide them. She even brought a former inmate to our home to spend Christmas with our family. A person who had no other positive options available to him. That decision has always stuck with me.
I  could go on, but I think those are the big four. Thanks mom, for helping me become a better person and for inspiring me to make a difference in the lives of others. Happy Mother's Day.

I'd love to hear how other's were inspired by their parents - I'll write about my dad next month.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Updating a dated Unit - "Lost" Part Two

In a recent post, I talked about my efforts to re-launch a highly engaging, cross-curricular unit built around the first season of the television program "Lost". As I mentioned, at least four Transition Years (Grade 7 & 8) teachers were intrigued. However, to seal the deal, I would need to organize and present a massive unit to them in a way that was manageable. In order to do this, I would need to search my storage area (where all of my "teacher supplies" are currently housed, anxiously awaiting my return to the classroom) for a big box labeled: "Lost" Stuff. Additionally, I would need to collate dozens of computer files that contained the lessons that would build this unit. Fortunately, it was March Break.

The Roadblock

Here was the problem. I hadn't looked at the unit since leaving Grade 8 in 2011, to teach the Junior division (Grade 4-6) at another school. Additionally, our board had moved from the early 2K Corel Suite (WordPerfect, Excel, Quattro Pro) to Microsoft Office (Word, Powerpoint, Excel) to the Google Suite (Docs, Slides, Sheets). Consequently, any document I had saved needed to be converted...but...our school computers no longer supported the format in which it had been  saved.

The Detour

My old Dell laptop (circa 2007) had been gathering dust for about 4 years (coinciding with the time I got my first Chromebook). It still had Corel programs installed on it; so, I could access the files and convert them to .PDF which could be uploaded to my Google Drive. Unfortunately, none of the "Presentation" files could be converted to Google Slides - so that was frustrating. Consequently, this was a time consuming (albeit pleasurable) grind. It did, however, give me a chance to reflect on the type of educator I was in 2010 and the type I am learning to be now.
  • How could I upgrade these activities to reflect the technology that is available to me and students in 2018? PadletFlipgridKahootEdmodo etc.
  • How could I adapt these lessons to take full advantage of the Google Suite? Not just Slides - but Blogger and Google Sites.
  • How could I connect these lessons to the  Rethink Secondary vision that we want, in order to prepare our Transition Year students to embrace Global Competencies - skills that will be invaluable in their future?
  • If I get more than one class from more than one school to participate, how do I get them to share their writing and thinking with each other? How do I create an authentic (not just the teacher) audience for these students? 

The Finish Line

My goals are to ...
  1. Update this unit for 21st Century utility - connecting it to meaningful (and engaging) technological approaches to learning.
  2. Connect it intentionally to the (revised) Ontario Curriculum (particularly in Math & Language).
  3. Get a group of teachers to embrace it - with my support (justifying my time in my current role).
  4. Roll it out successfully to over 80 grade 7 & 8 students.
Then... I might have the makings of a blog series (perhaps book and updated workshop*) that could be presented to other educators.

In my next post - I will discuss my use of this unit to secure my Master's Degree - and the stats I wish I had gathered.

 *NB: I have presented this at day long ETFO workshops in the past (2008-2010) - but not with this new 21st Century direction.


Sunday, 8 April 2018

It's not about the floor

Recently, I heard an story from writer David Mandel (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Veep) about his time on Saturday Night Live in the mid-90's. Nicole Kidman, who was married to Tom Cruise at the time, was hosting and Mandel was tasked with writing her monologue.

He decided on a premise where she took questions from the "audience" (which was populated with cast members or writers as "plants".) Every question would be about Cruise (who, arguably, was the biggest blockbuster star of the day.) After the 3rd or 4th question about Cruise, Kidman would run off stage in frustration. Moments later, she would reappear, dramatically sliding across the stage while wearing only a man's white dress shirt, boxers and a pair of white socks - a look made famous by Cruise in his 1983 film "Risky Business". She would then recreate the dance scene from the movie, complete with couch and trophy microphone.

However, the real story took place during the week preceding the live broadcast of the show. According to Mandel, Kidman approached him on multiple occasions to express her concern about the wax on the stage. She was quite worried that she would slip and fall because of the socks and the waxy floor. Mandel took her concerns seriously and consulted with producers, directors, stage hands, custodial staff, costume makers and even stunt coordinators to ensure her safety. Socks were tested, waxes were evaluated, the stage was inspected - regardless, Kidman continued to become increasingly nervous that the sketch was a bad idea.

Just as Mandel was about to scrap the plan and return to his writing desk to pen a new monologue, Kidman's personal assistant caught wind of the situation and approached him. Quietly she said, "It's not about the floor - she's just really nervous about performing on live television. It'll be fine."

That story stuck with me because I recognized its application to my profession. When dealing with a student who is angry, rude, confrontational, oppositional, even violent; it is important to remember that it often has nothing to do with the things that seem the most likely triggers, or even the things that they say are bothering them.  There are a host of other questions you need to consider.

Are they hungry?
Are they tired?
Are they feeling unloved?
Are they feeling vulnerable?
Are they frightened?

Likely, it isn't something that can be solved quickly or easily, regardless of the help you might enlist from those around you. Sometimes, it's just about being patient and kind...and listening. Sometimes it is about realizing...

"It's not about the floor". 

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Lost - The Pitch

In Medias Res

This is Part One to a series of posts I hope to complete about my journey to explore the first season of the television program "Lost" with Grade 7/8 teachers and their 12-14 year old students in the spring of 2018. Spoiler: I am in the middle of it as I write - and I am having some success. Hope you will join me on this journey....(cue "Lost" Intro Music)

I had a problem I needed to resolve.

I was in my 7th month as an Instructional Coach to four schools, and I was not getting into enough Transition Years (Grade 7 & 8) classrooms. I am not saying I was never getting opportunities to work with these classes. I had done some coding and a little math with a couple groups and two of the teachers had embraced my Football Pool approach to Data Management. However, there were several TY classes I had not worked with, and I knew it was important for me to make connections with these teachers - particularly if I was going to stay in this role for up to three more years. I realized that it was up to me to remedy this. I needed to make these connections.

I caught a break.

I was asked by two principals to present some professional development I had received on efficient decomposition strategies (for large numbers and fractions). The schedule gave me the chance to work directly with TY teachers, which allowed me to network. The sessions seemed to be well received and this gave me my opportunity to make a pitch.

Lead with a good story.

When I taught Grade 7 and/or 8 in the late aughts (2005-2010) I began to make use of the first season of the television show "Lost" as anchor for a multitude of cross-curricular expectations. I recognized, as I was watching it, that it had great utility as a vehicle for student engagement. My hunch was quickly supported: my students absolutely loved the series.

There were two clear byproducts of this success. 

  • Improved attendance: I had been teaching at a school where punctuality & attendance (both physical and mental) was often an issue. This was particularly true in the more senior grades. Additionally, some students took great liberty with permissive parents who allowed them to leave early if they were "feeling sick" - even when they regularly had miraculous recoveries in time to meet their friends at dismissal. The "Lost" unit remedied this in a number of ways. First, absenteeism dropped and punctuality improved. Second, students began to engage more in class discussions and curriculum based activities. Finally, spontaneous departures due to unexpected illness, showed a steady decline. I began to get used to the question: "Mr. H. - are we doing some "Lost" stuff today?"  "Of course," I would confidently say and, over the course of the few years I ran the unit, I found more ways to connect the series to curriculum expectations in as many areas of study as I could.
  • Improved performance: I would not say that the unit was a panacea to the academic malaise that infects many adolescent writers, readers, mathematicians & oral communicators. It did, however, help many show significant improvement. Students embraced new language and invested more meaningfully in heady discussions. They willingly engaged in purposeful and respectful deliberation around rich & mature topics that challenged a black & white reality they may have accepted for years. These moments were powerful and felt important. They were certainly rewarding to experience as an educator.
These realizations would also become the backbone for my Masters' research - but that is a discussion for a future blog.

So, I made my pitch.

Through conversation, and email, I began to sell my idea - with great enthusiasm. Four teachers expressed interest in hearing more. However, March Break was upon us. This was fortunate, because I had another hurdle to overcome.

More on that next time.

(Cue Cliffhanger "Lost" End Credit Card.)




Tuesday, 3 April 2018

OK GO - Rube Goldberg in the Grade 5 classroom.

In January, while writing my #OneWord blog post, I made a commitment to contribute 24 articles to this site by the end of the year. I started well, putting two up in the first 14 days of the year. Since then .... crickets.

I know that my new role as an Instructional Coach is getting in the way. I have spent much of my time reading and learning in order to better understand the curriculum (particularly in the Primary grades). Additionally, I am taking a Leadership course, offered by my Board as well as being part of a Crucial Conversations study group with other 1st year coaches.

However, I’m taking some time today to share an idea that came to me while working with a Grade 5 teacher during a Science period.


He was tackling some concepts from “Understanding Structures and Mechanisms - Forces” section of the Ontario Curriculum (p.100-101). Prior to meeting with the students I told him about a great video by the band OK GO called "This Too Shall Pass". In the video, the band members move around an elaborate, warehouse-sized Rube Goldberg machine while singing the song. I have used it in the past to introduce the idea of a deliberately complex contraption that serves a simple task. My students have, in the past, worked collaboratively to design their own*.

However, as this teacher screened the video for the students, another idea struck me.

  • Why not have the students use the screen capture tool on the Chromebook to identify simple machines in the video? 
  • They could then identify the mechanical advantage as well as the input and output force.
  • Ideally, they would work collaboratively on this Google Slide Deck in order to demonstrate the vocabulary skills associated with this unit - load, friction, tension, torque, etc
  • This could then be presented to their peers, further crystallizing their understanding of these concepts.

I’ve made this bit.ly link bit.ly/SimpleMachinesOKGO for easier distribution. I have tried to include everything in the slideshow to make this a self-contained lesson. I won’t likely get a chance to try it out this year - but would love to hear from any Grade 5** teachers who do.  

* A colleague at a school in Singapore made use of the EV3 robots. The challenge was to keep a marble in constant motion for the longest time possible.
**There are some Grade 4 connections possible too.