Learning About Teaching While at a Rodeo

Yep, you read that correctly. I learned a few things this weekend, while traveling roughly 2,000 km with my husband to a handful of rodeos through Saskatchewan and Alberta.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a barrel racer. It’s a sport I’ve competed in since I was 4 years old and it’s one that I enjoy immensely. It keeps me sane while keeping me on my toes.

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My early barrel racing career

This year I am competing on a horse that was raised by my sister and trained by yours truly. Her name is Jellybean. She is 5, will turn 6 on the Fourth of July. We have had our ups and downs and things are truly uncertain when hauling a young horse to rodeos.

She and I made a run at a semi-pro rodeo in Saskatchewan on Friday. We were placing (which is super exciting, considering this was her 6th rodeo ever) against some of the best horses competing in Canada. We then traveled to a few rodeos to watch my husband compete. We returned to Saskatchewan on Sunday to compete at a different semi-pro rodeo.

I was so excited on Sunday morning, we were at an outdoor arena, one of the first of the season, and we were still hanging in for a cheque at the first rodeo of the weekend.

About twenty competitors before I was set to go, Jellybean began to limp. I got off, called my husband over and we began checking over what was wrong. We couldn’t find anything visible but I unsaddled her and we began caring for her.

My husband’s horse is also a barrel horse. I’ve competed on him several times over the last year or so. We get along pretty well. So when my husband suggested that I jump on Buzz to make my run, I went with it.

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Video screenshot of me and Buzz in action on Sunday

Teaching, like barrel racing, sometimes presents scenarios where Plan A isn’t working and we need to move on to a new plan. We shouldn’t be afraid of improvisation and responding to the needs of our students. At the end of the day, we can create beautiful lesson plans that hit every indicator and outcome that do always engage our students. What works for one class may not always work for another group of students.

Don’t stress. Assess the situation, respond and try your best. That’s all we can do as human beings. Sometimes the most memorable material or skills are the ones that pop up unexpectedly.

Teachable moments are priceless and we should engage in those moments every chance we get.

I know, this is a silly post. I legitimately had a light bulb-epiphany-ah-ha moment while driving home on Sunday and I just had to share!

Around and Around We Go

Fidget spinners seems to bring out the emotions in teachers. Some teachers seem to love them, and some seem to hate them. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between.

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Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

I dwell in that space between loving the toys and hating them.

I should probably expand on my position a little more; I love the idea of them but hate how the toys perform (for a lack of a better word) in my classroom.

I love fidgets, I even use one everyday to keep my focus. The problem I have with the fidget spinner is the fact that the students don’t really fidget with them. They begin the spin and watch it (or listen to the thing make lots of noise- a whole other problem that I have with them). They aren’t actively using their hands all the time so in my mind, it isn’t a fidget at all. More like a top from my childhood that looks like it came from space.
So Mrs. Keller, if you like fidgets but hate the fidget spinner what kind of fidgets do you like?
 

That is a very good question! My personal favorite fidget is the spinner ring (also known as a meditation ring or an anxiety ring). I am not going off of educational journals and research, just personal observation. I wear a spinner ring everyday. It rests either on my right thumb or my right index finger. If I am having trouble focusing, am frustrated or bored, I spin the ring. Sometimes I fidget with it while lecturing for the lack of something to do with my hands. I cannot name how many college classes and meetings that my spinner ring has helped me through.

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my spinner ring

I like the spinner ring for its simplicity and unobtrusiveness. I told some of my students that I have and use a fidget on a regular basis. They were stunned and fascinated that it was my “cool ring” that looks like rope. The first thing one student said to me was, “I didn’t even realize you used a fidget or were playing with it.”
So what other fidgets do you like in your classroom?
 

Also a good question, I don’t have a personal preference other than that they must address the students’ needs and not be disruptive to everyone else. I find fidgets that make a lot of noise are disruptive to classroom flow and grab the attention of the other students.

I’ve had a couple of students say that they’d love to have a spinner ring or something similar. One student even tried my spinner ring for a period and said it helped him concentrate. I’m not blogging about this to say that spinner rings are the must-have fidget in your classroom, and I’m not saying fidget spinners are the devil. Both things have their purpose and help different students. I just want to share my (personal) success using a fidget other than the much talked about fidget spinner, and to commiserate with those teachers who find their classroom invaded by these toys that look like they came from outer space.
The important thing is that we help our students to achieve the best they can and give them the tools that help them on their learning journey.
If that tool happens to be a fidget spinner, that’s OK as long as my classroom remains on environment conducive to learning. I love that my students have tools to help them concentrate and stay focused. I’m fine with students moving and working towards staying focused. I want my classroom to be a fun-filled learning environment that my students enjoy. If I have a student that learns best by playing with a fidget spinner, then my classroom will be a fidget spinner friendly environment!
On a fun side note- there is a fun fidget spinner STEM activity for those teachers who want to bring the fidget spinner into their science classroom!

I want to ditch the textbook

Just an update on what I’ve been doing since my ECMP355 class ended, I am on a temporary contract in a small rural school in southern Saskatchewan. I am teaching world history, middle years social studies, and a few other courses. Needless to say, I am pretty busy.

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Since I am so busy, I have been relying on the textbook for the world history course. I kind of hate it. The textbook is almost as old as I am, and rather outdated. I also really hate how one sided it presents “world” history. Right now, we are learning about imperialism in Africa (I really want to expand that to imperialism across the globe, because the way it is presented it seems like imperialism only affected Africa). In the few chapters of imperialism in Africa, the textbook gives us three (3!!!!) paragraphs about resistance to imperialism. Did I mention that those three paragraphs are short and stilted? There isn’t very much information contained within those sentences.

My plan is to shift my approach as this unit goes on. I plan on using online sources such as Ditch That Textbook, TED Talks, the Fordham University Internet History Sourcebook , Stanford’s Read Like a Historian, and quite possibly a few other sources that I find along the way! I want my students to be able to ask questions and explore other viewpoints rather than just the one that is presented in the textbook. I want them to realize that not every source is reliable. Most of all, I want them to learn more than what gets them a good grade on the next test.

I will (hopefully) keep this updated as I move away from the textbook and focusing more on critical thinking and inquiry in my classroom.

Adventures of ECMP 355 (Summary of Learning)

I’m not sure one post or one video can explain all that I’ve learned this semester, but I worked with Brooke Stewart on creating a video or two where we tried to fully summarize what we have learned on this journey that is ECMP 355! Rural internet limitations means that we had to break up our summary of learning into two parts: the first being a Powtoon video where we go on a journey about learning about technology and the second, we reflect on a few things we couldn’t include in our Powtoon including coding, cyberbullying and a topic that is special to us- technology and rural schools.

 

I sincerely hope you enjoy our videos as much as I enjoyed creating them with my friend and neighbor Brooke!

Online Activism and Social Justice

Our world is imperfect. Privilege is afforded to a select few and exclusion happens all around us. Although it is imperfect, it can be changed. We can change our world. Change can happen in a variety of ways, not just by marches, protests and voting booths, but by opening dialogues, teaching others and accepting a diversity of voices and viewpoints. Change is difficult, change can be seen as threatening and online dialogue can get muddled with trolls, irrelevant comments and dissension.

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Photo Credit: justine warrington Flickr via Compfight cc

This week we were presented with a few questions: “can online activism be meaningful and worthwhile?” & “Is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online?”

My answer is yes. Yes, it can be meaningful and worthwhile and productive, but there are ways to go about talking about a specific cause in such a way that educates the public and opens dialogues.

First, conversations should be conducted in an appropriate venue with an appropriate audience. A dog owner forum would be a great venue to talk about no-kill shelters and spay/neuter clinics while those members might be less receptive to talks about social justice and other non-dog related topics.

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Photo Credit: Geraint Rowland Photography Flickr via Compfight cc

Conversants allow others to voice their opinions in a respectful, meaningful manner. Hopefully the dialogue stays free of over-generalization, name calling and other disrespectful habits that detract from the topic on hand. Openly discussing differing viewpoints allows others to see the different sides of the story and synthesize any information.

According to Caralee Robertson, we need to engage in these conversations to be good digital citizens and that these conversations need to be based on facts, not blown up assumptions. 

Online activism can be deeply meaningful and can reach individuals across the world. I think there are a few key things that can keep the dialogue on a meaningful level: knowledge, authenticity, informational about the issues and maintaining an open dialogue with others.

Those supporting a particular issue should be knowledgeable about said issue and about how to solve the problems surrounding the issue. It is one thing to bring light on a problem, but it takes a solution to bring people together and unite them for a cause.

To me, authenticity is a huge deal. If I feel like a cause is “just a fad” I’m less likely to invest my time, money or thought on it. But if a person comes to me with strong feelings and information on why the topic is important , then I’m more likely to learn about it and contribute.

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In addition to authenticity, maintaining an open dialogue is also important for both authenticity and in acknowledging a variety of view points that exist. Diversity makes us stronger, our multitude of voices leads to a more complete narrative and more wholesome solutions.

Please, engage in dialogue, support a cause and discuss social justice. Help the world change, be the change you wish to see! But be prepared for trolls to disrupt the dialogue and for others to not see eye-to-eye with you, acknowledge differences and respect opinions for it is by our differences that we make our world a better place.

Learning Project Summary

When this semester began and I learned that I had to work on a “learning project,” I was doubtful. I figured it would be a drain on my time and that I would hate it. I was wrong. I enjoyed learning about engraving and I’d love to learn more about it. There are three day courses I can take from professionals to hone my technique. I am saving up for one of those courses!

If I had to describe my learning project journey in one word, it would be “roller-coaster.” On my trip from Calgary, I was sky-high with my expectations and how much I was going to accomplish with this project this semester. To say that I overestimated myself- is an understatement. I learned lots about engraving, more about myself and tons about online learning.

To kick off my list of things learned, I will start with organization. It is important to organize your research materials as sources can be scattered across the internet with various authors/contributors and information can differ depending on the source. I have an “engraving” folder on Chrome and my Safari browser on my iPhone. This really helped me stay organized. I also utilized Evernote to write notes, save websites and save pictures for inspiration. It even has a handy-dandy Chrome extension to help you!

Access to certain pieces of information may be limited and information is not always free. Sometimes you have to buy or rent a digital copy of a video, pay for a membership or invest in private lessons via video conference or phone call. This isn’t new to me, private lessons via phone call or video are common in the barrel racing world.

Having a network is important. I didn’t get the opportunity to establish an engraving network like I have for teaching, though I did gain information via online forums available to me. I believe the quality of my learning project suffered from my lack of network. I did gain some great sources from Twitter thanks to the Hobo Nickel Society. They responded to my tweet!

This reinforced another idea- don’t be afraid to ask for help! Someone in your network may be able to help you!

Don’t forget to reflect and learn from failure. Accept failure when it happens, explore why it happened and move on with what you learned from the experience. I know I failed mostly from a lack of practice and a lack of tools (you need the right tool for the job!), but I can still improve my skills with the tools I have and I can always buy more tools.

My last project is incomplete. I began engraving a pair of stirrups (See my post with stirrup inspiration!), but life got in the way. I plan on finishing the pair, but it might take me awhile to get them completed while we are calving and I am working full-time. Below are some photos of my process and a few of my projects this semester! I hope everyone had as much fun as I did when it came to their learning project this class! I’m considering a new learning project in the Fall, I just have to decide what I want to pursue.

My Contributions 

“How have you contributed to the learning of others?”

That is a very good question. It has been a long semester filled with ups and downs, indecision and a rather hectic schedule for me.

I will say that this is my weakest link. When my life got busy, my responses and comments got pushed to the side. I also have a tendency to lurk, seeing how others have solved the problem rather than answering the question being asked. I also felt limited by my lack of knowledge in this topic of technology. It took me awhile to actually comment on Google+. Below are some screenshots from comments I made and posts I shared on our Google+ community.

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I began the semester hating Twitter. I had tried using it as a personal account and I just didn’t “get it” but thanks to this class, I now love twitter! I love learning new things (especially about teaching) and meeting new people.

I shared a few sources with my #ECMP355 classmates like Love, Joy, Feminism and Youtube extensions for teachers (see embedded Tweet above). I also helped a few classmates learn more about a particular ed tech tool- Flipgrid by Tweeting about the tool and created a topic using Flipgrid on which my fellow ECMP classmates could use Flipgrid as a student and respond to a prompt.

I also participated in a few Twitter chats such as #CVTechTalk and #imaginEDchat and I would love to keep participating in chats such as those in the future (when I can, Spring and Summer are hectic times for me due to our ranch. We start calving in mid-March through May and then there’s seeding in the Spring and haying in the Summer in addition to our branding and helping our neighbors with theirs).

I love the Twitter chats because you see so many different opinions from a variety of sources (which I could see easier thanks to Tweetdeck!). These chats are also a way to expand your network  based on your interests (Social Studies, anyone? Social Justice? Teach like a Pirate??) which I think is great, I can learn better methods that are catered to the issues that pop up in a Social Studies/History classroom.

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I could have commented on more posts, but as I’ve said before, my life got busy and I pushed the interaction part of this class to the side. It is a terrible excuse, but I am owning that this was my weakness and I could have done better.

My next post will be all about what I’ve learned! Stay tuned!

Wiggle Engraving

So I decided to play around with wriggle engraving the other week. I’m so sorry that I’m a few weeks behind, between calving season and subbing I’ve had a pretty full schedule!

I saw this engraved trumpet while on a google search adventure and I absolutely loved this design! I had to try something like it!

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Detail on the engraved trumpet.

Online learning is difficult, especially if the concept or skill is particularly detailed or not well-known. Engraving is a skill that is all detail. Engraving well involves attention to detail, knowledge of the tools and materials involved and a whole lot of feel. I don’t have great feel yet, but with practice and perseverance, my feel will develop.

Until then, I will keep practicing and honing my skills! After this bracelet, I began engraving an aluminum stirrup (I’ll post about it later) and I’m so excited about how it is turning out!

This is my attempt at wiggle engraving.

Learning online is great, however; it poses its own challenges to different learners. I am very much a hands-on type learner. I like to try new things and experiment until I find a strategy that works for me. With engraving, it is a great strategy, but it can get expensive when I need new materials to experiment with or if I need a new tool to try a new technique.

Sometimes our students don’t learn the same way we teach. That’s OK, great even! We as teachers need to acknowledge those differences and structure our classroom in such a way that everyone can learn in different ways.

Playing with Scratch

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I decided to play around with Scratch today! I had fun making the unicorn jump around using the arrow keys. It took some getting used to, knowing what I wanted the unicorn to do but not knowing the exact terminology. It definitely took some tweaking!

I think coding is an important 21st Century skill that our students can benefit from learning. Coding and tweaking websites can be a great resume building skill and makes our students more attractive to future employers.

Coding can also engage students who might otherwise not be interested in classroom topics.

Technology Integration

Tech is everywhere. We engage with technology everyday as consumers, whether by using our an app on our phone or on the job. It is clear this is the 21st Century. Just how can technology benefit schools, students and educators?

Education technology is a wonderful thing, it can open up a whole new world to students who live in extremely rural areas (like I do) and it allows them to broaden their experiences when life is not limited by locale. 12158666264_61c44094fa This can be done via virtual tours such as this one of the Louvre or via linking classrooms via video conferencing. Students in smaller schools may also be able to access classes that otherwise might not be offered.

Photo Credit: Wayne Stadler Photography Flickr via Compfight cc

Another way that education technology is a wonderful thing is that teachers can utilize technology to encourage student voice and promote democracy in the classroom. Students who are introverts can be encouraged to use their voice via technologies such as Flipgrid or Mentimeter or through a platform such as blogging or Twitter where they might be more comfortable rather than speaking in front of classmates. Students can also give teachers feedback on lessons, topics and classroom activities. And for other students, technology can provide a real audience for them to share their ideas and practice their writing skills. Blog platforms such as Edublogs can provide a safe environment in which these students can blog about topics and hone their writing skills with real-life applications.

Technology can also streamline instruction. To quote Alec Couros, “if you can google it, why teach it?” Instead of focusing on information overload, teachers can focus on teaching skills such as writing, digital citizenship, branding and other 21st Century skills that may help them in college and career readiness. Our students should be becoming critical thinkers, engaged in asking questions and making their world a better place instead of focusing solely on the memorization of dates and names that they might forget after the next test (dates and names are important, but it shouldn’t be the only thing on our students’ minds).

We can all agree that technology is a good thing, however; there are a few things to consider before we jump in feet first. We must consider student access to devices if our classroom is “bring your own device,” some students cannot afford a smart phone or tablet or computer and making your classroom BYOD might create some issues.

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How much is too much? Can too much technology be a bad thing? According to Science Daily, writing notes by hand might make learning easier and the information might be absorbed better than if those notes were typed. We as educators need to find a balance between technology and regular classroom instruction.

Photo Credit: DawMatt Flickr via Compfight cc

We should seek to pick and choose types of technology that fit our classroom and school environments instead going overboard and adopting things wholesale. What works in one classroom may not work in another. This is especially true right now when many educators and administrators are concerned over budget cuts and what kind of impact those budget cuts might have upon our schools.

Overall, there are many advantages to integrating technology into our classrooms, but there are many things to consider before we jump in feet first. Technology integration should be smooth with students in mind.