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Reflection: Ever since the teacher’s college I have heard this buzz word – reflection! I started to appreciate reflection throughout my profession as a teacher. In fact the title of my blog site is “Learning Through Reflection.” So, it comes as no surprise to me that reflection is one of the partnership principles as it forms integral part of professional learning. One of the quotes that stands out to me from Jim Knight’s book on this particular partnership principle is that: “prescriptive practices may scare away the best teachers and quite possibly impoverish the thinking of those left behind” (p.18). It makes sense to me that in order to avoid such stagnant practices, one must constantly be reflective – to look back, to look at, and to look ahead!

Dialogue: In an nutshell – dialogue is a powerful form of communication between colleagues. In the words of Paulo Freire, it is a humanizing form of communication. Freire went on to indentify five requirements for dialogue. They are: humility, faith, love, critical thinking, and hope (p. 19). A great professional dialogue is like a drug – it makes you want it more! It invigorates you; it blows you mind; it leaves you thinking and reflecting; it offers insights into problems of professional practice. For me, it’s the fuel for my professional fire!

Praxsis: What we learn needs to have relevance! Praxis is about putting our knowledge into action! For Freire, praxis is revolutionary: “it is reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it…To speak a true word is to transform the world” (p.43).  I learned from a good friend, Dr. Larry Bencze, that there are two types of learners – single loop and double loop learners. Those professionals who are single loop learners often revise or modify the learning activities so that they are better the next time they implement them in class. However, double loop learners go beyond this. Double loop learner take the time to learn the theory behind their actions. They base their action on the theory, thus bridging the gap between theory and action. This is praxis! I am also tempted to say that there are also ZERO loop learners, or NO loop learners. These would be professionals (not sure I can even use the word ‘professionals’) who follow the prescriptive practices’ which I mentioned above. The message is: don’t be a ZERO/NO loop learner! Be a double loop learner if you want to be a transformative teacher!

Reciprocity:  Jim Knight uses the phrase: “we should expect to get as much as we give” when he writes about reciprocity.  Reciprocity is about learning from each other. It is about humility and openness to learning from others. It implies that everyone’s knowledge matters and this is especially powerful in learning organizations (or professional learning communities) which become successful when members of the learning team truly love learning from each other.

under: EduThoughts, Professional Communities

Seven principles of the partnership approach to improving instruction include: i) equality, ii) choice, iii) voice, iv) reflection, v) dialogue, vi) praxis, and vii) reciprocity. These seven principles form the basis of Jim Knight’s book Unmistakable Impact: A partnership approach for dramatically improving instruction. In this blog post, I will review the fist three principle while briefly reflecting on my own experiences. I hope you find this useful in your practice.

Let’s stat with equality:  If we take true partnership as an example, then both partners are equal. This means that they make decisions together, they listen to each other, they have equal value and they learn together. Learning among teachers is more likely to happen when teachers see each other as equals. Some of my best learning experiences were with my colleagues who I felt were my equals. This does not mean that I did not learn from my graduate professors or people who I admired for their immense knowledge. But even these individuals made my learning experience a memorable one as they were still able to make me feel equal despite having more experience than me.

Choice: When I think of choice I think of freedom. I am motivated to learn when I know that I have the freedom to choose. And I think this is true of most adults and students, too. However, complete freedom without structure is not wise either as it can lead to some messy situations. However, once structures are in place, providing choice is good. This makes me think of my experience with research-informed action (RiA) projects which at first are guided by me, then more freedom is given to students when conducting these projects. Imagine what chaos would ensue if I immediately give students all the choice and freedom in the first RiA project. So choice is good but it does need to occur within a structure.

Voice: Don’t we all like to be heard? Even those who are the silent introverts, they too like to be heard, perhaps in different ways than the exuberant extroverts.  St. Francis of Assisi in his prayer asked the Divine Master “that he may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.” The message here is clear: listen to the voices of others, do not silence them; understand their needs, their desires, their intentions and their feelings. This is what empathy is all about. I learn a lot from my students by hearing their stories, understanding their experiences and making sense of their interpretations, so that I can  indentify and implement better strategies for addressing their concerns or problems.

In Part II of this blog post I will reflect on the remaining four principles: reflection, dialogue, praxis and reciprocity. Stay tuned!

under: EduThoughts, Professional Communities, Spiritual

There is a lot to reflect on since my last post so I will begin with a few quotes from the three key note speakers that captured my attention when I was at the American Education Research Association (AERA) conference in San Francisco this past May .

“We are moving form a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information economy. Every one of our social institutions was created for the former. Schools need to be re-fitted for new society.” Arthur Levine, Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation

 “Do something with what you know! It is knowing the structure of the discipline, how to use it and how to make it useful that is important to convey to our students – not just the facts and concepts of the discipline.” Sharon P. Robinson, American Association of Colleges for Teachers of Education

“We have this highly stratified education system in this country. With education schools historically and legitimately taking pride in serving who? Women, working class people and minorities – none of whom have enjoyed much status in this country.” Kent McGuire, Southern Education Foundation, Inc.

As I listened to these dynamic speakers, I thought about the multitude of ways in which we can better prepare students for the future, especially the marginalized and ‘at-risk’ students.  The following questions came to mind after I reflected carefully on the content of each speech and the message conveyed by the three quotes above.

  • What changes need to occur in our practice so that our students are better prepared for this ‘new society’? Here I am specifically thinking about Arthur Levine’s quote and how instructional technology can be leveraged to improve learning, especially now that we have the BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) policy in the board.
  • How might our practice evolve in response to global and local concerns? I am thinking about how we need to move towards a more balanced education approach, one that is not only focused on concepts, but one that moves concepts into action for social and environmental good.
  • How can develop better cross-curricular projects that allow our students to experience the interdisciplinary nature of education (for citizenship)? I am thinking how our subject disciplines do not occur in some kind of a ‘sociocultural vaccum.’ So, we need inspiring projects that will allow students to appreciate the multifaceted nature of the many school subjects.

 

 

 

 

under: EduThoughts

A transmissive oriented curriculum is one where educators are viewed as ‘authority’ and are responsible for transmitting knowledge to the students, who are passive receivers of this knowledge. The information mainly flows in one direction, from the teacher to the students. The focus is solely on the cognitive growth of the students.

A transformative oriented curriculum, on the other hand, is one where students become more active in the learning process compared to the traditional transmissive approach. The teacher is no longer viewed as ‘authority’ and takes on more of a ‘facilitator’ or ‘consultant’ role. Rather than students simply attempting to absorb ideas, knowledge, and concepts that are being transmitted to them by the teacher, education becomes more about individual and social growth.  Instead of teachers controlling all the learning, students take more control, thus acquiring greater levels of intellectual independence. There is also a greater focus on activism and creating changes locally, nationally, and globally. The information and knowledge within a transformative oriented curriculum flows in many directions: between the students and the teacher, between students, between the students and community members, etc.

Issues-based approach to science education is a type of transformative oriented curriculum. Within this approach, not only are the students’ cognitive needs taken into consideration but also their aesthetic, moral, physical and spiritual needs. This helps to foster a more well-rounded growth of the individual and builds their character. In a nutshell, transform means to change. Thus, transformative education has a focus on change, both within the individual students and society at large.

under: Educational Activism

For over a year and a half now I have been involved in work related to research-informed activism in high school science. My motivation for activist-oriented science teaching stems from my graduate studies at OISE/UT and my own personal beliefs about what kind of citizens would make this world a better place for all, especially our future generations. I hold somewhat critical views of the neoliberal capitalist society that often compromises the wellbeing of individuals, societies and the environments over pursuit of greater and greater profits! The gap between the rich and  the poor is growing; children around the world are still dying from dehydration and malnutrition; natural disasters are destroying communities around the world; large corporations are manipulating scientists and technology sectors; our society is becoming over-medicated; obesity is still on the rise, especially amongst our youth; we’re driven by consumerism; and our environment continues to suffer as a result of many human activities.

Although some capitalists may contribute in some positive ways to our society (and perhaps some care about the environment, too), I would still argue that most profit-driven capitalists (like those on Wall Street) are not overly concerned about our future. As individuals (and as a group) we do have a choice (after all we all value democracy – I’d hope), but I am concerned about the effect that classical and neoliberal capitalist ideology is having on our ‘freedom’ of choice – I put freedom in quotation because I question if we are actually free in this Western system, or simply subjects to a system that subliminally controls us. So, therein lies the reason why I believe we need a society that is more aware of this system and how people (starting with our youth) can ACT collectively to fight the power (and it’s a pretty big power) that seems to behave as if stewardship and sustainability are not important.

I’ll finish by saying that I wish more science teachers would embrace a focus on socio-scientific issues in science teaching. This type of education could potentially open up science courses to become more accommodating for a wider variety of students instead of focusing solely on content learning which only academicizes science education even further. A greater focus on science, technology, society and environment education (STSE)   may also be an excellent long-term strategy for expanding science programs in schools where enrollment in science is low. Having said that, competent and STSE-friendly science teachers are a must – at least a few of them – not everyone has to be STSE oriented in the department in the same way. Individuality is still important to teaching (in my opinion!).

Please feel free to share your comments with me on this topic.

under: Educational Activism

Recently I was invited to speak to a group of student-teachers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) about ‘advanced’ research informed socio-scientific (STSE) action projects.  This group of insightful and talented student-teachers is taking the ‘EDU5517: Science and Technology in Context’ course taught by Dr.L.Benzce, who organizes the course around the ‘STEPWISE’ curriculum and instructional framework.

After sharing my beliefs about the 21st century Science education and showing the student-teachers sample videos of my Grade 10 Science students reflecting on their research-informed action (RiA) projects, the student-teachers were invited to look at two samples of Grade 11 RiA reports, evaluate them in terms of some strengths and weaknesses and consider these two questions:

i) what makes an ‘advanced’ RiA project; and

ii) how do we help students get to that stage of RiA?

I must say that I appreciated the talent and the rigorousness of student-teachers’ thinking. There were a lot of great questions throughout the two hours that I was there, especially during the last thirty minutes when I invited the group to push back if they did not agree with some of my claims/beliefs.  Several questions/comments/concerns from a few students stood out as most academically critical and insightful. After reflecting on what was said, one of the student-teachers made a very good point about the clarity and validity of information presented by students’ actions. This is something to pay attention to in the future – it may be important to review all students’ ready-to-use action materials  before they disseminate it into the public, especially during the apprenticeship stage of their RiA. In my recent communication with Prof. Benzce, he argues that: “we have every right – and responsibility – to vett students’ work prior to letting them go public during apprenticeships activities, but maybe not so much when they get to the student-directed/open-ended stage.”  The rational is that we want students to experience autonomy from those in power (ie. the teachers).  As teachers, we want to provide the right kind of guidance during the apprenticeship activities, ensuring that effective secondary and primary research are conducted. Prof. Benzce suggests that: “we can do more to enlighten students about ways in which claims are made by adults that are not always adequately justified (see Merchants of Doubt book)…exposing students to such aspects of NoST/STSE may motivate them to due diligence regarding research and actions.”

As for the primary research (e.g. correlational studies), my students have recognized that their studies may not be valid due to a number of factors such as small sample size, biased sample, misleading survey questions, etc. Although some have used their primary results to motivate their actions, many have erred on the side of secondary research findings. This suggests that fine-tuning apprenticeship activities is important so that students feel more confident in carrying out valid primary research. Prof. Bencze suggests that maybe student-directed, open-ended RiA projects should not happen until the teacher is pretty sure kids will do credible independent work.

Furthermore, one of the student-teachers gave me insight into another approach to STEPWISE specifically with regards to technology. Would it be possible to have the actions (which we argue in one of the papers is a form of technology) be the motivating factor for scientific inquiry (primary research)? This could be worthwhile exploring further and it would be a bit of a flip approach (i.e. having kids conduct secondary research first, then design something to address some specific STSE issues (a form of action), then test it to collect data and use the data to evaluate the effectiveness of the design).  On that note, students should be conducting research into the efficacy of all forms of actions, including posters, videos, web pages, etc. I have not been able to get to this stage with my students.

The last point to reflect on is the issue raised around content/concepts education and sacrificing it for STSE education. Something that I mentioned to the student-teachers, but didn’t’ really stress too much, is that as teachers become more skilled over the years, they also become more efficient at teaching concepts. And efficiency is all about getting the most with the least effort (and in less time). In the context of concepts education, efficiency means teaching the concepts well the first time around (i.e. having a high success rate the first time without having to re-teach it because you felt that kids didn’t get it). This obviously requires a rich repertoire of teaching tactics and strategies for all sorts of concepts, which takes time to develop.  So the argument is that it takes (as research suggests) about 7 years for teachers to feel that they are at the stage in their career when they can experiment with innovations. But during those 7 years teachers need to intentionally develop their pedagogical content knowledge, so that they become more efficient and more efficacious, giving them the time to implement innovations (i.e. STEPWISE), while still having students score at or above the average on tests/exams compared to other students taking the same class.

The last (and a very important) point to make is that it is possible for teachers to place greater focus on STSE education through STEPWISE framework while still covering the important content. In our research, Prof. Benzce and I have found that my Grade 10 students scored at, or above, average on unit tests and final common exams compared to other Grade 10 classes. This important finding may suggest that even content learning (concepts education) may be improved when the course is contextualized in real, meaningful and relevant STSE issues.

I thank Prof. Bencze and his student-teachers for the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with them – I learn best through these social interactions and deep reflections. Best of luck to all the student-teachers in their future endeavors!

 

 

under: Educational Activism

Over the last several years I have been exploring the idea of merging Art with Science. As an art aficionado and a Science teacher, the idea of integrating art-based projects in my Science classes has always appealed to me. I believe in encouraging creativity and using it to inspire students to learn (often) abstract science concepts while helping them feel a sense of belonging through art-based classroom community projects. I feel that is especially important for at-risk students who often become disengaged unless there is something that intrinsically motivates them to learn.

This year I decided to walk the talk and engage my students in the Grade 9 Applied Science class with some Space art. All students picked one concept that interested them the most and painted it on a 8½ ” by 11” canvass using acrylic paint.  Students painted comets, planets, the Sun, the International Space Station, Hubble’s deep field view of distant galaxies and other Space-related concepts. I encouraged them to express themselves and not to worry about ‘getting it right.’

As we were finishing our masterpieces I had two ideas that I was tossing in my head as to what we were going to do with these paintings. The first was to create the 2013-2014 calendar using two paintings per month (so that everyone is included!) and we would vote a class to select the painting that would be the cover for the calendar. The other idea was to create a movie using Windows Movie Maker about each of the Space concepts depicted in the paintings. This is what we are currently working on as a class. Each student would research the concept that they painted and using voice recorder they would speak for about 30 seconds about their art. I would photograph each paining, import it in Windows Movie Maker and add the students’ audio so that when we play the video one would be seeing the art and hearing about the Space concept that is depicted in it.  The original paintings would be displayed in the main hallway in the school for everyone to see.

The students love the ideas and some parents have already asked if they could have the copy of the calendar with their sons’/daughters’ art work. Such a communitarian approach made the students feel a sense of belonging and pride in the work that they created. The saw their effort transformed into something meaningful and practical, such as a calendar, while learning more about Space. So, why do you try it with your classes and share how it goes!

To see an example of what some of my students painted see the home page of my Wiki: http://mrkrstovic.wetpaint.com.

under: Assessment, Instructional Technology

I have been putting off this particular blog post for a while now, but I think it’s time for me to write it. This is my last year at Fletcher’s Meadow Secondary School, where I spent the last seven wonderful years with the most amazing individuals and it’s difficult to imagine that I will not work with them again next year. I never thought that leaving FMSS would be so difficult, especially my science department.

We have seen each other mature into professionals; we celebrated each others’ birthdays, engagements, weddings and baby showers; we consoled each other during the times when a parent, or someone close to us, passed away; we supported each other when we were sick or when one of our loved ones was sick; we made new colleagues feel welcomed and bid farewell to friends who left us. We became a family and this is exactly why it hurts to say goodbye.

Although we will remain friends, our profession is a busy one and we will not see each other as often as we had in the past. (And this is hard for me to imagine.) But I will remember everyone and cherish their uniqueness. This department has allowed me to develop into a unique educator that I am today and I think that it so important that we allow each others’ individualities and creativities to come to realization – that’s the only way we can grow. It is equally important that we trust and support each other in our innovative pursuits. I can only hope that will have the same kind of support at Erindale that I had at Fletcher’s over the last seven years. I feel like I am a rookie again, and it’s very humbling.

Since I decided to transfer to another school two weeks ago, I have been going through somewhat an emotional time, and emotional often does not equal rational. But every change is an opportunity to grow and with growth often comes the pain. This is my way of rationalizing the emotional pain that I feel as I cut the umbilical cord with the science department and the school that will always be the foundation of my career and an inspiration for my future.  Science: you have all been an inspiration and I look up to all of you!

I will miss you very much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

under: Spiritual

Many professions like medicine, law and dentistry, have specialties – areas in which doctors, lawyers and dentists can chose to develop further expertise through continuing education and professional internships. One can also chose to stay in general practice without specializing in one particular field (i.e. a family doctor is a general practitioner vs. a cardiologist who specializes in disorders of the heart). In the teaching profession we also have specialties; however, one does not necessarily receive specialized education in the same way as the abovementioned professionals.

All teachers start as general practitioners after their pre-service teacher education. Some stay as general practitioners throughout their entire career, while others become teacher leaders (or move into other educational leadership positions). To be a teacher leader, a teacher has to have an area that he/she claims as his/her specialty, at least I believe this to be the case – and this is what distinguishes (G.P). teachers from teacher leaders. In addition, a teacher can claim his/her specialty without any additional education – experience (practice) and passion alone can provide the professional development and the motivation that a teacher will need to claim an area of expertise, and thus develop in that specialty as a teacher leader. And maybe this is enough, or not enough!

On a personal level, I have had many interests in education including instructional leadership, action research, global education and most recently, socio-scientific activism. However, the challenge has been to find that one area (or marrying or blending several areas) which I can claim as my specialty. This is where teaching profession differs from other professions: the teaching specialties are not always so clear-cut (one might disagree with me here, and that’s fine). I wonder if teacher education in Ontario (at the undergraduate or graduate level) could address continuing professional growth of teacher leaders in a better way. I can’t help but to think about Harvard’s groundbreaking doctoral program for education leaders, which is also tuition-free!  Could this program serve as a model for teacher leadership education in Ontario?

I feel that we can improve how we educate and guide teachers (especially teacher leaders) into various specialties, despite the overwhelming number of Additional Qualification courses, which I think are not adequate enough in terms of addressing development of teachers as leaders. Most of us are left to our own vices when it comes to developing our specialties, which may work fine for some. Developing expertise and the capacity to lead is certainly a challenge that comes after one has developed enough knowledge and skills in their specialty. In other words, one cannot be an effective leader without first knowing his/her specialty (feel free to disagree here as well).

What would be some advantages (and disadvantages) if after the pre-service education and at least two years of experience, teachers could pursue a specialty of their choice at a graduate level/or specialty-focused continuing education programs (for example, I want to work to become an expert in assessment and evaluation, or I would like to claim instructional technology as my specialty)?  One might say that OISE (or other Faculties of Education) already offer some of these specialties (ie. Curriculum, Teacher and Learning vs. Theory and Policy Studies); however, as a graduate student in the CTL program at OISE, I still do not feel that I am becoming a specialist in any one domain within the CTL program – am I missing something? Maybe I need to continue into the Ph.D. program!  My point is that we might need to re-think and reform teacher education if we want to produce better educational leaders. I don’t have the answer as to how one can go about this. As I mentioned earlier, Harvard’s program for education leaders and the medical/law/dental specialty programs might shed some light on how we might begin to think about educating teachers as leaders within their own specialties.

Image Credits: Belmont University, Graduate Education (http://www.belmont.edu/graded/tel/index.html)

 

under: EduThoughts

Last Friday (May 4, 2012) I took a group of students the Model UN assembly at the Peel’s Central Board Office in Mississauga. The whole day was filled with excitement as kids debated passionately the UN’s resolution concerning global partnerships for debt relief, which is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Twenty four delegates presented different member nations from Australia, Brazil, Canada to Switzerland, Uganda and the United States.  The day started with a key note address from Dr. Samantha Nutt, who is a medical doctor and the founder of a NGO called War Child.

Dr. Nutt’s speech was both emotional and inspirational as she shared personal stories from her volunteer work in Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo.  Dr. Nutt talked about the famine in Somalia, violence in Congo and misspent altruism in the least developed nations. Her story about a girl from the former Republic of Zaire, who was raped on her way into the town to buy medicine for malaria by three young boys and whose soles of her feet were brutally cut off leaving unimaginable scars, was nothing less than disturbing and tragic. But it had to be told, so that kids get the idea that in some countries the situation is so desperate due to the lack of proper education, adequate funding and right governance at all levels.

Dr. Nutt shared some interesting facts with us. For example, there are more than two hundred million Kalashnikov rifles in the word; 70% of sales of war weapons are sold to developing and the least developed nations; 90% of small war weapons come from permanent UN member nations; and Congo has the world’s largest coltan mine, which is fueling the crisis in this country. Each one of us carries the piece of this conflict whenever we purchase a mobile phone, a computer, Sony Playstation or another electronic gadget, which use coltan to manufacture capacitors for these devices.

Dr. Nutt’s concluding words were that ‘it’s okay to a disruptive force in a sound environment because sometimes the environment is not so sound.” This is certainly the case for many nations in Africa that War Child represents and other parts of the word where the global financial crisis is affecting the most vulnerable of our society.

We all can be that disruptive force that works together to bring about change in parts of our world that are plagued with injustice, poverty, hunger, lack of education, violence and inequality.

under: Educational Activism, Global Education

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