Thursday, January 30, 2014

End of the Line

The Language and Landscape blog (and program) are parked for now. I've had a blast teaching the first cohort in this unique program and we'll see if there is enough interest in doing it again next year. While putting together report cards for the students I had a chance to read the stories that came out of the GeoNarratives projects, some of which the students referred to (and read from) during presentations.  These works of creative non-fiction were pretty cool, and definitely made me want to learn how to structure these for future students, to get more out of them and ensure they go through more formal editing steps. Here are some thoughts about one of the GeoNarratives projects:

Thanks to the students for your patience as we put this unique experiment through its paces.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


I can’t believe we’re almost done. This has been a fun experiment in combining English 11 and Geography 12. In particular, a few things stood out as valuable and interesting for me as a teacher:
  • Field trip to Wastewater Facility and the comments that showed that students knew that what happened there was important and necessary for the health of the Fraser River, but at the same time quite gross and smelly. 
  • Field trip to the Lheidl T’Enneh exhibit -- I learned a lot from the tour, and I thought your questions going in were very solid. I very much appreciated how you enjoyed your time at the riverside. 
  • Friday Seminars -- great discussions and nice to get to know you better: shared quotes, discussions about music, leadership, special places, cool stuff and “findings” you came up with in response to the prompts 
  • Thoughtful responses to some of the blog prompts and TED talks,especially on environmental themes. 
  • Pretty good results for the 3 or 4 map and airphoto interpretation exercises -- these are difficult and most of you did quite well 
  • Field trip to UNBC -- I think many of you made great connections to university life (social and academic) 
  • Field trip to Ancient Forest and seeing how students reacted to the woods in different ways. 
  • Emphasis on Topophilia -- you had a variety of opportunities to write about places that have significant meaning to you and I saw that some of you kept pushing to really understand what made these spaces important, both in descriptive writing and in probing the “psychology” of place. 
  • Variety of reading and writing -- I was impressed with the books that many of you chose to read (or were already reading) and also the fine writing from a few of you who dedicated time to expressing your thoughts with polished writing on your digital portfolios. 
And, like any course, there are a few things I probably won’t do the same way again:
  • Into Thin Air -- might give this a pass next time around. This was highly recommended by other English teachers but I think only a few students were interested in the story. I do wish we had more choices when it comes to class sets of books in the bookroom. Also, I need to sort out how to make lit circles work better, and find other methods for students to share their independent reading.
  • Flex time -- not in this format anyways... I think many of you were still not ready to use independent time for either open ended inquiry (your questions) or assigned tasks (my questions). This will be important for you to figure out before you do any post-secondary schooling. 
  • If you have suggestions for how I could make Lit Circles or Flex time work, please let me know.
  • addition (after reading your comments): Less direct lectures on Geography and indirect assignments on English, and more direct lessons on English and integration of English into Geography themes and vice versa. There was a lot of "English" in our course, but maybe too much of it was assigned to Flex and therefore was skipped by those for who Flex did not work. I think this was a challenge for me because the Geography 12 outcomes are very specific (e.g. geomorphology) and require direct instruction whereas the English outcomes are more abstract and can be learned in a variety of direct and indirect ways.  I knew exactly what Geography had to be included, but was more "dreamy" about the English side.
What did you take away from the "Language and Landscape Program?"

Friday, January 17, 2014

Resource Sustainability

One of the last topics we addressed in the part of course devoted to "Geography" was the set of connected issues, debates, and solutions related to the sustainability of resource use in Canada and the World.

This is a "bonus" assignment (optional) -- if your other work is done (Thoughts on Shakespeare, January Novel Reponse, GeoNarratives Project, etc.), then consider visiting and completing the activity that Ms. Inden has designed for her students.

Leave a comment on their blog with your response... ask me if you need some prompts or help refining your ideas.  You may wish to develop your response on a separate document first (you are welcome to place this in your portfolio).

Monday, January 13, 2014

Habitats and Lions

Our lesson for today focuses on LIFE - the geography of species and the importance of understanding, rebuilding, and conserving habitats. The Kevin Richardson video above shows one facet of this topic: "giving back habitat and restoring habitat, that would be utopia;" the protection of "iconic species" such as the lion. In BC we might feel the same about grizzly bears or spirit bears (white-furred black bears). In fact, someone very similar to Kevin Richardson exists in NW North America in the person of Charlie Russell. Here's a short youtube video documentary on Charlie's work studying bears in the wild.

What did you think of the "Lion" video? Is it ok for humans to get close to large, wild animals? What other iconic species draw humans into conservation efforts? What do you think our provincial and federal government should do to improve conditions and promote species diversity (endangered or otherwise). Assuming you agree (and feel free not to), what can individuals (like you) do to promote conservation and sustainable animal habitats? What role to corporations (e.g. forestry, mining, oil & gas) play in this ongoing challenge? What other, smaller, "non-iconic" species deserve our attention?  Leave a comment below with your thoughts on some or all of these questions.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Poetry Week

Have a look at this if you didn't it in class. I find parts of this really inspiring, and parts of it really annoying... in fact that is how I feel about lots of poetry. I can't stay away, though... the "tightening" of ordinary writing and speech into poetic images and wordplay is too compelling. We'll can talk more about it on Wednesday.

Tue Dec 10
Poetic Terminology, with talk and examples of why poetry has an important, if odd, role in the life of any culture. Not everyone will become a poet, or become a student of poetry, but there is something powerful to be gained from the study and writing of poetry in high school. Consider this skill set:

  • take powerful ideas and make them simple, beautiful, clear, and personal
  • take many simple ideas and weave them together into complex yet recognizable creation (like the many threads that compose a tapestry, or the parts of a machine)
  • play with language to reduce it to it's bare minimum (being exact with your ideas), and then build them back up to into inspiring expressions (showing depth of thinking)
  • solving puzzles, finding plain and hidden meaning, examining words and ideas critically with the aim of a more thoughtful and interesting person

These skills can be gained from a number of pursuits, but they are all present in the study and writing of poetry.

Wed Dec 11
Make sure your Book Circle Self Evaluation is complete. After, we'll watch the Koyczan video (above). We'll be in the library next for a 2-day poetry assignment... the format is up to you, but you might want to start with a Word document and see what happens next:
  • choose a theme that interests you
  • collect (and reference) a number of poems that relate to your theme -- use books and websites to find them
  • pick a few (two or three would be fine) to explore in more depth; re-read them a few times and ask what the poet is trying to express and what techniques they use to do this
  • identify any poetic terms or devices that are used in each poem that you explore in depth
  • summarize your thoughts about the poem, its meaning, and its use of language
  • include at least one sketch, picture, or image that fits with the theme and poems that you chose
  • write a poem (any style or form) on the theme you have chosen
  • put this all together in a document or entry in your digital portfolio
Thu Dec 12
Follow-up -- more work in the library on the poetry assignment -- #giterdone

Fri Dec 13
Seminar: bring a favorite poem to read to the group, be prepared to offer your insight into what the poem means, and how it achieves it's meaning. Your reading and analysis should take no more than 5 minutes.

For Flex (the block you are not in Seminar): complete all work from this week (key ones are Book Response, due today, and the poetry terminology and library poetry assignment).  Keep in mind that the poetry assignment is due by Wed., Dec. 18th. A test of sorts on the novel and poetry coming on Tue., Dec 17th. Leave a comment here on this post with a brief description of what you did for flex activity today (required). Here's my contribution to the favourite poem category: check it out and leave a comment there, too, if you like (optional).

Mon Dec 16
Poetry Exercises (in class) and time to complete poetry assignment

Tue Dec 17
Poetry assignment due, short test on poetry, including the exercises from yesterday

Sunday, December 8, 2013

parent and student info

Grade 11 students have a unique option next year for completing English 11 at D.P. Todd, and will complete Geography 12 at the same time. We are looking forward to the second year of a program that uses "blended learning" to explore language, writing, literature, landscapes, and environmental education.

This approach mixes classroom based learning (with a teacher), student-centered learning in small seminars (facilitated by the teacher), smaller groups (facilitated by students), some interesting local field trips, and some independent work (supported by all). 

Students will learn strategies for resourceful self-reliance and collaborative interdependence, skills that are crucial for success at post-secondary schools and the 21st century workplace. Students will also bend the digital and communication tools they already use towards positive applications for learning. We will develop life-long habits for pursuing passion and honouring the "whole self." We will set high standards that balance creativity with practical understanding of the big ideas from English and Geography.

The focus will be on the "spark" or learning passion that each student brings, creative use of technology, critical thinking, integration of the arts, deep inquiry, project-based learning, and use of digital portfolios. We will use examples in the course from diverse sources including local writing and local landscapes. We will use the work generated by students themselves to enrich content and opportunities for dialogue.  A series of short field trips also supports the work we are doing.  During the first year of the program, we took a "sustainability" themed tour of UNBC, visited the PG Wastewater facility, hiked the Ancient Forest Trail, and studied the Lheitl T'enneh culture at the Exploration Place.

About two-thirds of the time the learning will be guided by the teacher (traditional lessons in class) and about a third of the time students will be able to craft their own interests, skills, artistic and intellectual abilities into their classwork, projects, and assessment. This part takes place during "flex" blocks -- independent work, groups of 3-5 led by students, seminars of 8-10 with the teacher. Many of the learning resources and reading/viewing will be "flipped" or posted online for students to work through during the flex time, allowing for more interactivity when we are together. Students have some time built in to work when and where they want, but also daily activities at school and in class. That's blended learning.  It's also an experiment with new curriculum goals and other aspects of the BC Education Plan.

Students completing this program receive full credits for both English 11 and Geography 12 -- the learning outcomes from both courses will be addressed. This "Language and Landscape" program takes place in two blocks in one semester (e.g. A & B) and allows flexible attendance during one of the two blocks. Pre-requisites: English 10 and Social Studies 10. 

For more information, email, come talk to me in room 180 or read more of the posts on this blog. I think students have a lot more to offer than we often give them the space to attempt.   This program is designed to see what that looks like.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

TED talks that make you think

On the advice of Ft. St. James teacher Ms. Inden, we watched this TED talk on the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the resilience of the "babushkas" that refused to leave. We had (what I think was) a great discussion afterwards about emotional attachment, impact of experience on the body and mind, memory of landscapes, nature vs nurture, respect for ancestors (in Aboriginal culture and elsewhere), the power of dreams, and genetics. It was interesting to throw in this CBC story about how memories of fear can be passed on from father to son (in rats, anyways).

TASK: Leave a comment on Ms. Inden's class blog <> -- choose one of these options:
1) respond to her prompt about what HOME means to you. You are well practiced in this having done a few "topophilia" related writing assignments.
2) respond to the Chernobyl video, your thoughts about why the babushkas were so stubborn about staying and what this says about people's connection to place
You'll notice that many of Ms. Inden's students did both -- connections to home, to place, and also their analysis of the Chernobyl story. You could also choose one of these
3) respond to a comment left by one of her students -- maybe something said struck a chord with you and you could write a bit about your thoughts
4) respond to the class discussion we had with your own thoughts -- was there something you wish you could have added to the discussion?

It was really great that one of our students has some prior knowledge about Chernobyl... Dyllan was able to share some insight into the nature of the disaster and thoughts about what the future held for the region. She also shared some great links:
Continuing with the theme of TED talks, let's take a look at a few that relate to the theme of poetry, something we'll study in the next couple of weeks. Take a look through the options at -- there are three pages worth of titles. You'll notice that some include poetry, some are about poetry, and some are just "poetic" in nature. Maybe a few that don't fit at all. Look at a few (read the summary), and pick ONE to view. Next, compose a news article as if you were an audience member during the talk and were reviewing or reporting out about what you heard, learned, and thought about the talk. TASK: Save your article or review in your files and place a copy in your portfolio (do not leave it as a comment here). Should fit on one page --  keep it under 400 words. Here are some tips for writing reviews (pull some ideas out for writing a review on a TED talk):
Also, just read through the comments on the talk you picked -- this will give you ideas about different ways to think about what was said.

For seminar on Friday, we'll be looking ahead to upcoming Geography and English learning outcomes and sharing where we're at with our responses to the Book Circles. Maybe we can try to recreate/imitate the diverse and thoughtful discussion we had today! When you are not in seminar, here's your Flex assignment... find a powerful TED talk, one that makes you think, and respond with your (deep!) thoughts in a well-written paragraph. Take your time to get to know the search tools -- get closer to a topic that really interests you before you start reading or viewing too much -- this does not have to be a talk about something related to our English and Geography topics, it is purely something that grabs your attention. TASK: Try writing down your thoughts immediately after you watch the one you pick, and then come back after a few minutes (maybe after  sandwich break?) to write more and edit.  Proof read your work, read it out to yourself to see if it makes sense, leave a copy in your portfolio, and paste the paragraph into a comment for this blog post. A reminder -- your comment here is both an indication of what you learned and also a way for me to check that you used your Flex time as intended. The comment can/should be left anytime on Fri., Dec 6th.