Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Enders Game and Remembrance Day

Spoiler Alert: if you haven't read the book/seen the movie, I highly recommend both [in that order!]. My thoughts below will give away some of the key plot points.

The first time I read the book, the carefully woven plot of the story and it's characters, the fantasy world of the space station, the descriptions of the battles and the ingenuity of their strategies, sucked me in to turning page after page in voracious excitement and curiosity at what would happen next. The surprise revelation at the climax struck me with a considerable amount of force. 

After months of anticipation, I had a chance to watch the movie Sunday night, on the eve of Remembrance Day. The movie, while well done and fairly true to the book, does more than just entertain. It is a stark reminder that war is hell, as it has been for millennia. Interestingly enough, as a reader/viewer, we are told that the bugs/aliens are the enemy, but they are otherwise portrayed in a largely sympathetic light. However it takes the entire story for Ender to come to the realization that "the aliens are people too"! (There's no "Us vs. Them" … "There's ONLY us"). The point of the game is to teach the children to win, not just this war, but win so that there are no more wars! (Where have I heard that before? "The war to end all wars")

Gamification is a big buzz word in education right now… it's in the title of this movie! is the only way to get through something unpleasant to make it a game? Why the deviousness? Why can't we do things for their own sake? Why did children need to be pawns in this war against the aliens? The reason given is that they are more creative and able to deal with complex pieces of information [like is suggested in the Sir Ken Robinson creativity video]. Is it also though because by gamifying this intergalactic struggle they have devised an effective plan to insulate Ender and the others against the moral quandaries of annihilating an entire civilization?

When Ender realizes that the Adults have ulterior motives for the final games, that they are in fact NOT games but the REAL thing, he feels betrayed. In the end, Ender decides to devote the rest of his life to the Remembrance of the Civilization that he destroyed. While not mentioned in the movie, in the book we are told how Ender becomes the "Speaker for the dead", telling a whole and unapologetic story of the aliens, and this becomes a standard funeral procedure for humans too.

From a teaching standpoint, it is telling that one of the major focal points of the story (which is somewhat glossed over in the movie, likely because of time constraints) is the battle games. Students are taught in traditional manners, but this is balanced by practical experience designed to teach children on their own terms the strategies and skills required for success as a military leader: collaboration, creative thinking, discipline, and responsibility among other things. The child soldiers learn by doing, by trying and experimenting. (I'm going to put aside the problematic issue of child soldiers for another day)

Especially poignant throughout the story is the internal struggles of Ender:
- The struggle between violence and love. Knowing ones enemy so well that you come to love them, but are then able to destroy them.
- The struggle of a family torn apart by the larger obligations to society made by those family members.
- The overwhelming sense of loss and sadness Ender feels at the end when he comes to understand that he did not realize the enemy was trying to communicate with him, until after it was too late.
- The certainty of a lifelong struggle with inner turmoil, as he tries to find peace with himself for what he has done.

This brings us to Remembrance Day. Where soldiers are told to go, and what they are told to do can be awful, horrible, and at times perhaps even morally repugnant. But I think most soldiers do what they do as an unrepayable service to the people they serve, in the belief that what they are doing must be done for the greater good. And look at the great cost to many of these men and women in uniform. All too often these costs are visible in broken families, strained relationships, or lost limbs. Then there's the hidden cost of things like PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and addictions.

This year, as I reflect on Enders Game, I'm brought back to a section of Flanders Fields:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die…

Let us not break faith with the dead. As Ender spent the rest of his life in service to those who died, both human and alien, we too must face this Day of Remembrance faithfully, with sombre respect. War is nothing to glorify, yet we MUST honour the great cost of those who have gone before. With all my heart I pray "Never Again".

We MUST remember them.

We will remember them. I will remember them.

WILL remember. 

There is nothing I can do that will ever repay. So all I can say… 

is "Thank you".


In Memoriam:

Edward Swift Burford - Grammas uncle, killed at Vimy Ridge, April 9, 1917

Uncle Eddie

With Thanks to:

Grandpa John Hulsemann
Uncle Eric Hulsemann
Thomas Hulsemann

Opa Helmers

Chris Tidd
Jordan Stella
Thomas Edward Peters III

and ALL the others...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A First Time for Everything

Reflecting on Milestones and Celebrating Successes

Over the last few weeks I've had a number of occasions to reflect on "the first time…" If you're a parent like me than you are probably well versed in the concept of "firsts" --- steps, words, etc.

This summer I went camping on my own for the first time with my boys. It was also my first time leaving my camera at home and only taking pictures with my smartphone. Recently I finally put together a photo album of the best pictures and sat with my boys to reflect on our trip. Looking at the album we reflected on my eldest son's first time cooking a hot dog, first time camping without mommy, and first time taking a picture with daddy's smartphone!

Approval vs. Affirmation
With our boys in a Montessori program, I've learned that when a child excitedly informs their guide (teacher) that they've completed a task (a characteristic of first time experiences), they are not told "Good Job" or "Well Done", but rather "You did it!" or "Congratulations".  Instead of training children to depend on a subjective note of approval from an external source, this is designed to ensure that the children are affirmed in their own recognition of an objective sense of self-satisfaction. It's the difference between tentatively asking the teacher "did I do it right?" vs. confidently informing the teacher "I did it right!"

To this end, I had some of my own FIRSTs that I'd like to share. Not for your approval, but simply because I see myself as that Montessori child recognizing my own milestone and running up to the guide (my Twitter PLC) to proudly exclaim "look what I've done!"

Cooking Class
Due to our school's reorganization at the end of September, I now have the challenge (and privilege) of adding a grade 7 Family Studies class to my teaching assignment. This is a huge addition for me. I am already responsible for teaching Science and Technology in our DT lab (including responsibility of the major areas of Safety, Tool Maintenance and Material Inventory), as well as teaching Information Technology, and generally being "the computer guy" in the school. Between all the classes I teach in IT and DT, I have 23 classes across 3 grades and multiple levels (regular, gifted, MID, Behaviour, LD/HSP). Family Studies makes 24. As such I have been reticent to really get into the cooking side of things, preferring to stay in the theoretical (nutrition labels, healthy body image) and the technological (designing cookie cutters to print out on our 3D printer) as these things are more within my comfort zone.

On Friday December 14th however, I took the plunge and did my first cooking class. Recognizing the significance of this "first" experience I took time during the class to "live-tweet" what was happening, since ongoing documentation is an important part of self-evaluation. Of course with technology comes problems, and I couldn't get reception for some reason so I've had to post these tweets after-the-fact. You can see my tweets organized here on Storify - a program I am also using for the first time!

As a result of this “First Time Focus” I am pondering how to be more diligent at this practice in my own classroom. Report Cards are supposed to reflect the reaching of milestones, but how often do milestones coincide with a board determined report card date? Why should celebrations be limited to these structured times without reflecting the fluidity of individual learners! I'm wondering if I can use BYOD to get students to document their DT projects at the end of each class, and then compile a photo album at the end to assist them in preparing a self-evaluation.

Too often we have trained students that self-evaluation is the lowest kind, and that the evaluation that reflects real learning and leads to good grades comes from the teacher alone. The pendulum needs to swing back a bit I think.

February 23, 2013

(SIDE NOTE: as a result of writing this blog I've decided to try changing my teaching a little bit… yeah for professional reflection! ATTACHED HERE are my notes on ideas I might try with my next set of classes in Semester 2. If you have feedback that might help me tweak these ideas, practically or theoretically, please send me a note on Twitter or in the comments section)

DT Project Self-Assessment Notes

A work in progress

Device Use:
-having a smartphone or camera in class is a BIG responsibility and a HUGE privilege. DON’T treat this lightly or abuse the privilege, it will be taken away!
-you will ONLY get permission (in writing, attached to the class clipboard) to have your devices with you at times when you ACTUALLY have DT. So for example if DT is in the morning, you CANNOT have your device with you in the afternoon. If you have gym the same part of the day as DT, we will need to make alternate arrangements to meet at your lockers before class to get your devices or to put them away at the end of class before going to gym.
-we will need to agree to some kind of class code of conduct regarding these devices and consequences for improper use

Procedures for Self-Reflection Documentation
-document your journey from start to finish using your smartphone or camera
-take a picture of each thing you consider a milestone – at minimum, take a picture of your progress once before the end of class
-ensure these pictures are taken SAFELY (ie. Make sure the machines are OFF and that you’re not a hazard to someone else who is working)
-NO people in the pictures! [for privacy/security] [though you may have yourself in the picture at the end with the finished product if you have parent permission]
-curate an online compilation of your pictures and narrate them in some way

Self-Reflection Content Expectations
In your reflection you must mention (either along the way or at the end):
-What tools did you use?
-What procedures did you do?
-Include dates
-Did you struggle at any point? Where? Why? How could you have done better?

-Curate as you go! Don’t wait till the end to put all the pictures together
-You may use any method you wish to curate your pictures (Facebook album, Instagram, haikudeck, prezi, flickr, etc) Perhaps you will teach me something new? Since this will be posted on the internet, hopefully you will get feedback from others besides myself!?



Includes comprehensive outline of tools dates, and procedures
Good outline of tools, dates and most procedures
Mentions some (but not all) tools, dates and procedures
Misses key tools, dates, or procedures.
Thoughtful, honest reflection
Reflective, but superficial
No reflection
Excellent, well planned photos, capture minor steps as well as major ones
Good photos, documents key steps, with some detail.
Photos include only the major steps, some photo flaws
Photos incomplete, missing major steps. Violates privacy expectation!
Curation has been shared and has received feedback. Is easy to transfer for school to share too!
Uses a curation method that encourages and promotes sharing
Curation hasn’t yet been shared
Curation discourages sharing