Teacher Feature #50 – Pay It Forward

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Pay It Forward Day is the last Thursday of April each year. This year it occurs on April 30th and it provides teachers with a powerful opportunity to teach more than traditional curricular concepts. My Dad used to say … “We are put on this earth to ensure that when we do leave, we have made the world a better place.” Likewise my thoughts return to my days as a Wolf Cub when we made the promise “to do a good turn to somebody every day.”

Teacher Feature #50 - Pay It Forward - 400x300
Teacher Feature #50 – April, 2015

I encourage teachers to explore the Pay It Forward Day free downloads and School Kits. In addition to the resources provided online, one can use the “Search L-L-L Blog” tool at the right and enter “Pay It Forward” (without quotes) to locate previous posts that I have written about this powerful teaching opportunity.

Recently a friend forwarded this YouTube video to me, which I will call “The Man in the Queue”, which I encourage you to share with your students. Likewise, a past video that I’ve entitled “Kindness Keeps the World Afloat” demonstrates how a simple act of kindness can cause an amazing ripple effect.

However, some of you may not yet be convinced and might say … “Ya …Great idea Brian. Too bad you couldn’t have shared this with me about 10 days ago so I could research, download, duplicate, and distribute this to my kids on April 30th.” To which, I reply, “True … I am posting this later than I intended. However, take time on April 30th to briefly expose your students to the Pay It Forward Day concept and ask each of them to think about what they might do as a random act of kindness. Afterall, now that you have the nessary preparation time, you and your students have all May to make the world a better place through doing a good deed.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Teacher Feature #49 – Finesse Stress

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The task of being a teacher today is one that may be filled with a variety of frustration. In fact, I believe that the daily stress in our teaching profession has increased drastically over the past decades. This is due to the fact that a teacher’s range of responsibilities and related expectations have diverged dramatically.

Earlier this week, a friend sent me a “swinging” image with the following text “Every time you feel yourself being pulled into other people’s drama, repeat these words … “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. This stress-reducing mantra is a translation of an old Polish proverb “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy!

Not my circus - Not my monkeys - 400x300

Teacher Feature #49 – Polish Proverb – March, 2015

I wondered why we, as teachers, can identify so well with this powerful, proverb. In my case, during an educational career spanning 40 years, I worked as a classroom teacher with junior and senior high students for 12 years. The vast majority of my educational career was spent as a provincial and divisional Computer/Education Consultant. Many might argue that spending only 30% of my career as a classroom teacher, reduced my exposure to stress significantly. However, I maintain that any dedicated individuals, working in the educational system today, be they Teacher Assistants, Teachers, Consultants, or Administrators are subjected to stress. With this in mind, I wondered why this might be the case.

When I attended university, I worked each summer at Coca Cola on the bottling line where bottles were cleaned, filled with product, capped and packaged for distribution. I’m sure there were the odd days when the job may have had its stressful moments. However, at the end of the day, when we “punched out” our time card, we went home and left those frustrations, and work-related problems, at the job site.

Educators, it seems, do not have such luxuries. Their job, together with the stress of the day often goes home with them. Furthermore, today’s educator seems to be tethered to the job and often to parents by email and other social media applications. The job, which we all know, continues well past the 9:00 am to 4:00 pm day when the school is open. Furthermore, the “teaching day” together with it’s related responsibilities, continues to get longer.

Another reason that I think teachers may gravitate towards drama and added stress in the workplace is that we all want to be helpful. We want to be the “ring leader” and bring happiness and put smiles on everyone’s face. Most students who enter the Faculty of Education do so because they want to improve education and help students succeed. So when students, or other educators, attempt to draw one into their problems, and the related drama surrounding the situation, we often feel the need to “jump in with both feet” and do our best to help. Unfortunately, the results can be both overwhelming and we may not be as helpful as we had first intended. If you are one that can’t avoid jumping in to help “every circus in town”, the following Bill Cosby quotation below will probably resonate with you:

“I don’t know the key to success,
but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Am I suggesting that you withdraw your help from everyone? No … I think it is more important that you look at “each circus” and determine how best you can support the situation. Sometimes, even walking away and forcing those individuals to work through the issues themselves, provides them with a chance to learn and develop their own coping skills.

When a “new circus” arrives in town, you have to ask yourself … “What is my motivation for becoming involved and, more importantly, what will my involvement cost me in terms of time and stress?” Take time to ask yourself if you can really bring, or add, something unique to help resolve the problem for all involved. If you cannot, bow out gracefully, rather than simply adding another individual to the melee.

Lastly consider what will be the consequences, should you not choose to participate. After all, if you are not going to be part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem. Sometimes one has to be selfish, if you are already trying to manage several monkeys in your own circus. Furthermore, in today’s educational environment, you know there are always going to be new circuses coming to town.

These can be tough decisions but perhaps you will remember this Polish proverb and ask yourself whether you might reduce your stress by not getting involved but in just “monkeying around”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/sets/72157625102810878/

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Teacher Feature #48 – Independent Thinking

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Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, has stated:

“Back, you know, a few generations ago, people didn’t have a way to share information and express their opinions efficiently to a lot of people. But now they do. Right now, with social networks and other tools on the Internet, all of these 500 million people have a way to say what they’re thinking and have their voice be heard.”

What can we, as teachers, do to encourage such independent thinking in our students? First and foremost, we must provide a classroom environment that encourages students to risk-take and feel comfortable when they make mistakes.

Teacher Feature #48 - 400x300
Teacher Feature #48 – Author Unknown – February, 2015

In my mind, two important skills that all students should acquire in any K-12 grade or curricular area are: the ability to problem solve and the the ability to collaborate. In today’s ever-changing job market, these two skills will provide our youth with an opportunity to enter the work-force with assets that will always be in demand.

As a former Mathematics and Computer Science teacher, I was always encouraging my students to problem solve and my classrooms were decorated with puzzles to stimulate the minds of my students. I must admit that when I first began teaching Grade 7 & 8 Mathematics, I tended to think that the way students in my class should solve a particular problem should closely follow the algorithm that I used or was demonstrated in the textbook. Thankfully, when I started teaching Computer Science to Grade 11 & 12 students, I quickly learned that there were many different ways of programming a computer to solve a problem, True, some computer programs might be more efficient because they used fewer lines of code, but I embraced the diversity of my students’ solutions and was quick to demonstrate the variety of solutions. In addition, I found that students in Computer Science seemed to collaborate and help each other de-bug their print-outs looking for the errors in syntax or logic.  For me, teaching Computer Science was a powerful environment for problem solving and a culture to foster collaboration.

With this fresh idea of problem solving fixed in my mind, I want to share with you some unique activities or lessons that I have used with students. I’m sure, as educators, each of us can recall a handful of lessons that were truly inspiring or ones that had a profound impact on both your students and yourself. Like the above powerful quote, I want to share with you some classroom ideas and activities that will cause your students to think and wonder.

So stay tuned, as I share some of my “most unforgettable classroom problem-solving experiences” in my upcoming posts.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
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Teacher Feature #47 – I Love to Read

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In last night’s post, I indicated that I have set a personal goal to create and share one “Teacher Feature” each month. Furthermore, I stated that it seemed like this  challenge was more frequently occurring in the latter half of the month as opposed to the first half. In that today is the last day in January, I guess you might say that I best get started. However, my delay (some might call it procrastination) this month has benefits in that I can be inspired by a theme that traditionally takes place starting tomorrow as “I Love to Read” month begins.

Teacher Feature #47 - 400x300
Teacher Feature #47 – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis – January, 2015

One might ask … “What connection exists between ‘I Love to Read’ and my monthly ‘Teacher Feature’?” If you have followed my blog posts for some rime, you will know that I have difficulty writing in a succinct and direct manner. Back in the 1970’s, I wrote two different theses which shared my ideas regarding computer use and my practical resources to support classroom teachers. During each of these challenges, my advisers kept requesting that I “expand” certain ideas, thoughts, or classroom activities. Little did I know that these repeated suggestions would ultimately shape the way in which I write and share information today. I often laugh and tell people who comment on my wordiness, that “If I can stick a subjunctive clause anywhere in a sentence, I go for it!”

Knowing that I have this penchant for verbosity, I stand in awe of those individuals who can describe an event or share a teaching strategy with an economy of words. Furthermore, like the stories read by adults to young children during “I Love to Read” month, they are often succinct yet they engage young minds during the animated story-telling. Thankfully technology and the related apps are helping me become a much more concise writer. I find that our sons do not want lengthy replies when texting us. In addition, Twitter has forced me into sharing information in 140 characters or less. Furthermore, these limited character tweets are often significantly reduced because my friends and colleagues often embed important hashtags like #edtech, #ipadchat or #mbedchat into the message which further reduces the coveted text “real estate”.

With this background you can understand how I really appreciate a person who can express themselves in a clever, yet concise, manner. I often explore motivating, educational quotes to find relevant, short passages that I can embed into the “Quote of the Day” generator found in the top right corner of my blog’s home page.

When I began searching for motivational quotes, I was impressed with the power and succinct choice of words that I found to be the common element in the sayings that I enjoyed most. About the same time, I first began exploring how to find images on Flickr which were shared with a “Creative Commons” license.

These two ideas of searching for impressive quotes and enhancing the message with a powerful Creative Commons licensed image were the two ingredients that I used to create my popular “Image with a Message” classroom activity. Through this endeavour, students learned to critically search the Internet for quotations of interest, to use the advanced search on Flickr to acquire Creative Commons licensed images which they could modify, and lastly to give appropriate credit to both the author and photographer. Teachers have used this activity with students to create posters for their classroom.

After I created and shared this engaging activity, I thought that I should create some examples and this action expanded into my commitment to create a “Teacher Feature” and share it within a blog post each month.

Should you chose to explore this activity with your students, I can assure you that they will indeed become engaged in the process. Furthermore, other students and teachers will take notice of these “Image with a Message” creations because each individual probably embraces the “I love to read” initiative … particularly if it is concise.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
https://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/sets/72157625102810878/

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Teacher Feature #46 – Sharing the Light

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As the current year draws to a close, I have been pondering what message I might include in this month’s “Teacher Feature” remix. I must thank Kevin Hodgson, a talented Grade 6 teacher, for inspiring me. Yesterday, Kevin entered the following comment in my previous blog post:

This is the kind of reflective practice that I cherish in DS106 and all of its assorted connected cousins. Thanks.

Teacher Feature #46 - Edith Wharton - 400x300
Teacher Feature #46 – Edith Wharton – December, 2014

Wanting to learn more about this individual, who graciously took the time to read and comment on my blog post, I did some research. I was delighted when I clicked on his hyper-linked name at the top of his comment.  Not only did it take me to his “Kevin’s Meandering Mind” blog, I also found his Dec. 23rd blog entry entitled “Annotating a Connected Song”.

His animated music video “Writing on the Wall” resonated with me because Kevin created this song as a tribute to all those who have influenced him over the past year. Furthermore, I was delighted that he took the time to share the important “behind the scenes” steps that he takes when creating a song. So often in education, we are overwhelmed by a student’s finished product, be it a well-researched blog post or essay, a musical composition, a thought-provoking poem, a complex computer program, a sculpture, or a collaborative video. What we often fail to recognize are the steps and revisions taken to create the final product. Kevin, through this reflective process, demonstrates the “messiness” that is part of the creation of his animated music video tribute.

Kevin caused me to reflect on my sharing, as well. I must admit when I was an Educational Computer Consultant, working with students and staff in K-12 schools, I generated a number of educational resources which I willingly shared with others. It was the day-to-day interaction with educators that provided me with the motivation to produce and share ideas and resources. Now that I am in my seventh year of retirement, I find that I no longer have the daily requests for help and, as such, do not create as many relevant resources to share.

To reflect on the “Teacher Feature” message above, I find that my educational role is becoming less of a candle and more of a mirror. True, I may no longer produce up-to-date, step-by-step resources like I once did, but I still can share the light. I would hope that through my connections with a very dedicated PLN of educators, my serendipitous discovery of new ideas and resources, together with my innovative colleagues in DS106, I can reflect and share their creative ideas with my readers.

With such connections … the educational future looks bright indeed!

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
https://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/sets/72157625102810878/

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Teacher Feature #45 – Vision and Venture

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I first “met” Laura Stockman on the Internet four years ago, when I serendipitously chanced upon her powerful 2007 blog post entitled “25 Days to Make a Difference”. With the help of her mother, who was a teacher, 10 year old  Laura posted a challenge. To honour her grandfather who had recently passed away from cancer, Laura decided she would save her December allowance, of one dollar a day, and donate it to a charity on Christmas.

Teacher Feature-45 Laura Stockman
Teacher Feature #45 – November, 2014 – Vance Havner

Laura used the power of social networking to challenge readers “to TRY to do something every single day during the holiday season to make a SMALL difference in his or her world.” Whoever made the most difference in December, could select the charity to which Laura would donate her $25.00 on Christmas night. Laura was surprised with the response and the number of readers who matched her donations during the Christmas season.

Laura’s initial challenge really resonated with me and so I wrote a blog post entitled “How to Make a Difference in December”. My colleague, Chris Harbeck,immediately adapted Laura’s idea and engaged his middle school students to donate 25 cents per day and issued a challenge to other teachers and students in his blog post entitled “Would your students donate $0.25 cents per day?” A few days later, Karl Fisch, a high school teacher in Colorado, read Chris’ post and challenged his students and staff with the post “A Quarter is More Than Just a Fraction”. In addition, Karl introduced us to Kiva.org, which in a non-profit organization that helps facilitate the lending of $25 micro-loans to alleviate poverty throughout the world.

I strongly believe in the metaphor that our actions are like a pebble tossed into a quiet pool of water. We have no idea how the ripples that we create will benefit others. Laura’s initial challenge, together with the power of connectivity through the Internet, demonstrate how one person can influence many.

In fact, it was through social networking that I learned of Laura’s new vision. After my most recent post, Laura sent me a thank you “tweet” in which she introduced me to her most recent endeavour shared through her blog entitled “25 x 25 Days to Make a Difference”. Laura wants to recreate her ripple effect by helping “twenty five local kids as they venture out to do good deeds this holiday season”. However, all students who participate in doing a good deed each day in December can qualify to recommend the charity to which Laura should donate her $100.00 on Christmas day.

Those students wishing to participate in Laura’s new “good deed a day in December” challenge are requested to share their good deed via either a picture on Instagram or Twitter or a blog post. Obviously the more good deeds that are documented and shared with Laura, the more chance you have of being able to recommend the Christmas charity recipient.

In closing, it is obvious that Laura Stockman has followed up her vision with a worthy venture. I encourage teachers and students to join in her Christmas activity and we’ll all step up the stairs together.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
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Teacher Feature #44 – Teaching Superheroes

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It’s the last day of the month and I am scrambling to write this month’s “Teacher Feature” blog post. I was motivated to write this message by the antics of some of our neighbourhood children who, dressed as superheroes, visited our home tonight shouting “Hallowee’en Apples!” or “Trick or Treat!”. Many of these children were elementary school age and it got me thinking about my teaching colleagues, who are indeed real superheroes.

Teacher as Superhero - 400 x 300

Teacher Feature #44 – Author Unknown – October, 2014

When I began teaching in 1967, I was able to spend almost all of my school day focusing on the curriculum and helping the students in my classrooms. Today, however, there seems to be an ever-expanding plethora of demands on teachers’ time. Often more than half of the weekly hours that the average teacher devotes to school-related activities are non-classroom duties. Often it is spent preparing for classes, marking, working with individual students, supervising extra-curricular activities, attending meetings, committee work, completing paperwork, and contacting parents. In addition, today’s teacher is expected to stay up-to-date on the latest trends, partake in professional development, and learn to use technology and social media to improve the educational experience for all members of their class.

Furthermore, when I began teaching I believe that I had the support of all my parents. Should a student misbehave in the classroom, I knew that his/her parents would back me up and that the individual student would be reprimanded by his parents as well. Toady, I’m not sure that all parents respect and support teachers to the same degree as they have in past.

Donald D. Quinn expresses the challenges of teaching today with the following comparison:

“If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.”

I am proud to state that I have met so many dedicated teachers over my 40 year teaching career who were indeed superheroes because they strongly believed in the words of Barbara Colorose:

“If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy, functioning families, it makes our job more important.” 

In closing, I leave my colleagues and educational readers with these wonderful, wise words: “To the world you may be just a teacher, but to your students you are a hero.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
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Teacher Feature #43 – Life & Photography

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In education, like most professions, there are good days and bad days. Having worked closely with educators for more than forty years, I have observed the following … Although we may have a series of good days or inspiring situations, with all the associated positive feedback, we tend to focus on the single, bad, or negative incident.

In five years time, will this issue really matter or make a difference?

On the occasion when we had experienced a unsettling day or action, a former colleague would often ask me … “In five years time, will this issue really matter or make a difference?” This simple question helped me put such concerns into perspective. To help us avoid perseverating on the few negative incidents that we may encounter in our educational careers, we need to focus on, and celebrate, the positive opportunities. More importantly, we need to share such positive energy with our colleagues to motivate them as well.

Animated Life & Photography

Perhaps Ritu Ghatourey expressed it best, when she said, “A negative thinker sees a difficulty in every opportunity. A positive thinker sees an opportunity in every difficulty.”

A Teachable Moment
Often, I am intrigued by the ingenuity of other bloggers and wonder how certain elements on their web displays were created. Some readers may wonder how the above animated GIF was created. In that I plan to use this same animated process in my next blog post, I thought that it might be wise to share how such an effect was created. Those who are interested in the above animation style, can create a similar one by following these steps.

1. Locate a suitable image which one imports into PowerPoint. In the above case, I chose an old PowerPoint template, which I remembered displayed a filmstrip or series of negatives.
2. I entered the “Life is like photography … ” quotation into the “Title” text box and positioned this frame appropriately.
3. Next, I copied this original slide and repeatedly pasted it into the PowerPoint slide tray to create a total of eight slides.
4. I right-clicked on the first slide and chose the “Format Background” option. I did not change the “Picture or Text Fill” option but explored the changes made to the slide by moving the “Transparency” slider. When I moved it from 0% to 100%, the filmstrip graphics disappeared leaving only the important quotation. Since I wanted my animated GIF message and image to “slowly develop”, I thought that if I altered the “Transparency” level on this, as well as each subsequent slide, the message would slowly appear or “develop”. I closed this first slide, with the “Transparency” level set to 100%.
5. Using the above process, I next selected each of the subsequent 2nd through 7th slides and set each “Transparency level” to the respective values of 90%, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0%. The seventh slide, with it’s 0% “Transparency” level, appears with all the “developed” colours and quotation as intended.
6. I right-clicked on the eighth slide and chose the “Format Background” option. Next, I selected a “Solid Fill” with a black background which I applied to only this last slide. I thought that by removing all film elements and the quotation, the plain black background slide would be an important “fade to black” process to end the animated cycle.
7. To complete this task, I saved this PowerPoint slide set.
8. To create an animated GIF, one must collect a series of similar slides, with slight changes, which can be cycled through rather quickly. To save these individual PowerPoint slides, I chose the “File>Save As” option and selected “JPG File Interchange Format (*JPG)”. When prompted “Do you want to export every slide in the presentation or only the current slide?”, I selected the “Every Slide” button.
9. On my computer, each of these eight PowerPoint slides had dimensions of 960 x 720 pixels. Unfortunately, my blog can only accommodate images that are less than 450 pixels wide. To reduce each of the eight slides to their corresponding 400 x 300 pixel format, I chose to use the “Batch Conversion” process of “Irfanview“, a very powerful, but free, Windows application.
10. Using an old Windows freeware application called Ulead’s GIF Animator Lite, I was able to import these eight 400 x 300 pixel images into this application and vary the display speeds of each image.
11. Once I felt that the individual images and timing were appropriately set, I was able to save the results as an animated GIF.
12. The last step was to import this GIF image into my WordPress blog, so that when viewed in a browser, the eight images would rapidly display providing, the above, animated look.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Teacher Feature #42 – Inspiring Teachers

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With students and teachers starting back to school in two days, I searched for a powerful quotation that I felt might motivate teachers. I was very pleased when I found the following William Arthur Ward’s description of the different qualities of teachers. Next I used Flickr’s Advanced Search to find Creative Commons licensed pictures of students and a teacher that I could  “modify, adapt, or build upon”.

Imagine my delight when I found a picture of Kathy Cassidy, a dedicated Grade 1 teacher from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Not only does Kathy inspire her primary students, she “invites the world into her classroom” through the use of a classroom blog and other social media.

Kathy Cassidy - Inspiring Teacher - 400x300

Teacher Feature #42 – William Arthur Ward – August 2014

As I began creating the above “Teacher Feature” poster, I started to revise my initial thoughts. I must admit that when I first positioned the above quotation beside the picture of Kathy and her student, I was thinking about how we, as teachers, can tell, explain, demonstrate, and inspire … students. However, when I started searching for links to Kathy’s personal and classroom blogs, her Flickr photostream, her personal and classroom Twitter streams and her “Technology in the Classroom” and K12 Online Conference contributions, I realized that not only does Kathy inspire students, she also inspires other teachers.

As the new school year gets underway, perhaps each one of us should think about how we might, not only inspire our students, but how we might also inspire other educators. I believe that by sharing, and connecting with others, the potential to inspire exists.

Have an exciting and fulfilling school year!

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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Teacher Feature #41 – Never Stop Learning

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I first began teaching Mathematics to Grade 7 & 8 students more than 45 years ago. I must admit that I was convinced that all the learning on which my students focused, would be found in the Mathematics textbook that each student was issued  at the start of the school year. Somewhat naively, I thought that the vast majority of the students’ learning would come to a grinding halt over the summer months as the books were forgotten and holidays started.

Today, upon reflection, I realize just how much students learn outside the conventional classroom and just how many opportunities there are to learn over the summer months.

 Learning Over Summer-400x300
Teacher Feature #41 – Unknown – July, 2014

I am convinced that as adults, we should take more time to explore those magical “teachable moments” with the children in our charge. Whether it be … how to catch and fillet a fish, how to throw a football, or how to ride a two-wheeler, these are rare opportunities to teach interesting skills that may be retained long after the student has forgotten, for example, how to solve a quadratic equation.

Learning to downhill ski was important within our family. Although our two boys enjoyed competitive downhill racing in Manitoba, they eagerly looked forward to their school Spring Break holiday in March. This was when our family drove out West to ski in the mountains in Fernie, British Columbia. Our boys often wondered why other Manitoba ski families seemed to always arrive in Fernie before us, although we often left Manitoba on the same day. In that my wife was also a teacher, we often spent time “learning along the way”. Other families might travel in the most direct route between point A and B but we always took side trips to explore other interests. Whether it was exploring the life of the North-West Mounted Police at Fort McLeod, discovering the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, or investigating Canada’s deadliest rock slide at the Frank Slide, our family took advantage of these holiday opportunities to learn more about the history and related stories that may not necessarily have been found in the textbooks that our sons were studying in their respective classrooms.

I think back on these amazing opportunities that our family shared and I know our sons are richer for these additional learning experiences.

Perhaps Jiddu Krishnamurti captured the essence of this “Teacher Feature” when he said:

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”
http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/

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