Spinning

woodcut_woman_spinning

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

I’m sitting here staring at my screen, a blank screen, hoping that inspiration will come. It isn’t that I don’t have anything to say, I have lots of things floating around in my head, it is that I am literally at a loss for words. Somehow, my creative juices have dried up. I want to write, but I am stuck. I have topics, ideas, thoughts, but no words. They are all jumbled up in my head and refuse to come out. I’m not sure why, but I felt I just needed to start writing, even if it doesn’t make sense. If you are reading this now, somehow I have managed to transform myself into Rumpelstiltskin and have spun gold out of the hayloft in my head.

Thankfully, this hasn’t been the case in my classroom as I transition once again into a different course with new objectives. Continue reading

Commemorating

rachel

This morning, the world lost a great woman. She likely isn’t known by anyone who reads this blog, but within her sphere of influence, she was a force to be reckoned with. She was opinionated, maybe even a bit bossy at times, but just slightly below that exterior was a incredibly generous heart. She loved animals and knew the names of each and every pet owned by her siblings, nieces and nephews, and almost anyone she came in contact with. She never made a lot of money, but if respect was a currency, she would have been one of the wealthiest ladies on the planet. She loved her family, friends, and God. She was faithful, diligent, determined, compassionate, loving, and giving. Who is she? My aunt Rachel.

What made her even more amazing was that she did this while dealing with the struggles of day-to-day life as someone with Down Syndrome. Heart problems, laboured breathing, and walking were some of the physical struggles, but the biggest hurdle came in the form of public perception. Seeing her, people had difficulty imagining she has much to contribute, but ask anyone who met her and you knew there was so much to her than her condition. She had an incredible memory and knew so much. She didn’t just know this information, she could piece things together and develop her own thoughts on virtually any subject.

I only had the opportunity to meet her one time in person when I was about 13 or 14 years of age. Even still, when mom and dad would visit her up until this last year, she would remember us and talk about us kids as if that day was still fresh in her mind. To her, it was incredibly important to remember details about a person since people were important to her. It didn’t matter what job you had, how much money you had, or how beautiful you were, just being you was enough for her.

I’ve learned a great deal from her. She taught me that people are important for just being people. I came to understand how valuable it is to focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. I am struggling to be as gracious as she was in the face of adversity and to not let obstacles stop you from doing what you feel is right and good. I know she lived her life as if the next day could be her last. She also didn’t let things get her down. Yes, she had her bad days, but she didn’t keep it bottled up or stop her from moving on; she dealt with it and then left it in the past.

Rachel, we will miss you. You have taught us so much in your 57 years on this earth. You were truly a gift to us and your memory will help us to be kinder, more loving, and more understanding to others. Most of all, you taught us that nothing should ever stop us from being the change we want to see in this life. As the tributes to you pour in from all over the globe from people you have touched over the years, may others learn what it means to never judge a person on their outward appearance, but to dig deeply and find out who they truly are.

Falling

migracija

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Here I was staring at Room 209 once again, wishing for something, anything, to happen. I can’t imagine the hours, perhaps days, my wife and I had sat on this narrow wooden bench in the second-floor hallway of the Klaipeda Migration Office, hoping that our application for our one-year visa was going to be approved. We had been told that our forms were incorrect despite the fact we had received it from this very office. We had been told of ‘new’ fees that needed to be paid immediately, only to be told the next day that we no longer need to pay this fee, so we could fill out a new form and bring it to Vilnius, a five-hour drive from Klaipeda, to get our money back, even though it would cost twice that to get there and back. Begrudgingly, we sign the money over to some mysterious recipient, likely in that office. Slowly, but surely, we had ‘played the game’ enough without giving into what we felt was unethical behaviour to the point where we were now the ones who had their names called out of the vast crowd, even though others had been waiting there much longer than us. We had finally ‘made it’! Continue reading

Profiting

money

Image courtesy of Images Money

The other day, I read this post about a photographer named Kris who posted a prize-winning photo of the shadow of Mt. Fuji on Reddit’s subreddit /r/pics only to find his joy for getting a huge amount of upvotes to be taken away by his photo being shared without his permission or attribution on various social media networks. I won’t get into the whole story since you can read about it on his post, but one of the comments on his blog regarding this story really stuck with me. The person wrote, “Your image was not “stolen” yet. Nobody is turning a profit on it.” There are two distinct things that came to mind after reading this:

  1. For most people, the inherent value in something is in what you can get in exchange for it.
  2. For most people, profit refers to monetary gain.

In this situation, the commenter believes that the photographer took the photo to make money. Since other people are not making money from it, there is no problem with those individuals sharing that photo as long as they are not making money from it. My problem with this is that the notion of value and profit are not just about physical items such as cars and computers, but intellectual properties such as writing and ideas. Continue reading

Designing

planer

Image courtesy of Steve Snodgrass

In 2010, the BBC produced a documentary series called The Genius of Design. I was taken with how design has changed over the last century and the influence it has had on so many areas of our lives. The other day, I heard a technology focused radio program which had an unusual guest considering his speciality. He is a woodworker who designs and crafts incredibly beautiful bespoke wood planers. He was in town to speak at a technology conference on the design process and how this can influence both form and function, no matter what the end product. While his target audience in this case was software and web designers, his message sparked some ideas for me in the area of curriculum and course design.

When I arrived at home, I did a little digging online and I stumbled on this ‘design manifesto’ by Stephen Hay. Stephen takes readers through the process of how to be more consistent and creative with their design work. Obviously, this is written for a different audience, that of web designers, but after reading this short document, I was intrigued at how much this parallels the design process in creating courses and programs for education. Stephen sets out five steps in the ‘design funnel’: Continue reading

Siding

fence

Image courtesy of Brian Smithson

Normally I have a short little story to start off my post, but I am afraid I am at a loss for words on this one. Everything I come up with is either too trite or doesn’t fit the scope of the issue. I guess the only thing I can do is to jump right in.

I have been watching with interest and sadness the events unfolding in Israel and Gaza along with Russia and Ukraine. Go back twenty years ago or more and most of the conversation regarding these events would be limited to what we received from the media and then discussed with our friends and family. With the advent of social media, especially Twitter, the information flows from various sources and our conversation has grown to include total strangers from all over the world. What is amazing to me is how quickly judgements have been made regarding which ‘side’ to choose in either conflict. For some it seems, these decisions are made with limited information which has not been verified. This is then propagated through retweets and reposts while the details are still scarce. It may be that that photo, video, or quote might be true, but in this age desperately in need of patience, there is a sore lack of it. Continue reading

Flooding

prairie wetland

Image courtesy of USFWSmidwest

It’s amazing what I can learn on my drive to work. This semester, I am working on two campuses which are about a thirty-minute drive from each other. During my daily commute, I listen to CBC Radio and I am always surprised how interesting some of these topics are. The other day they were interviewing a professor from the University of Saskatchewan regarding the flooding that was occurring in central Canada. He mentioned a study they had undertaken regarding the draining of prairie wetlands for farming and the effect this has had on spring and summer flooding. This study shows that this natural prairie watershed system was instrumental in dramatically reducing the flooding downstream. By allowing farmers to drain these small and seemingly insignificant ponds and marshes to provide more space for growing crops, water had no natural barrier and would eventually accumulate and overflow the natural banks, flooding farmland and municipalities downstream.

This got me thinking about teaching and how we are much like those individual farmers working on our small plots of land. Our actions, no matter how well intentioned, have an affect on our students and can cause problems further ‘downstream’. Continue reading

Starting

coffee cropped

Image courtesy of Cloud2013

One of my first jobs I ever had was working in a camera store in a shopping mall as a salesperson. Every morning, my boss would come in carrying a tray of coffee from McDonalds for everyone who was working that morning. One of the guys I worked with would smile, take the coffee, thank her, and then promptly put the coffee on the back counter. After a few weeks, I started to notice that he never actually took a drink from the cup, but the cup would eventually disappear. One morning, I watched to see what would happen. He grabbed the coffee as per usual and put the cup on the back counter. About an hour later, he took the cup with him to the photo lab and dumped the coffee down the sink. I asked him what he was doing and he simply said, “I don’t drink coffee.” He proceeded to tell me that he didn’t want to hurt our manager’s feelings, so he never told her. This went on the entire time I worked there and I suspect that it continued on long after I was gone.

For the manager, she thought she was being helpful and for the most part she was. I am sure all of us appreciated the gesture, but if she had taken the time to ask, she would have found out that most of us didn’t even like the coffee that much and would have appreciated something else instead. I am not trying to sound ungrateful, I am simply showing how a simple question could have made a difference in this situation instead of continuing to carry on in the way it had always been.

I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the things I do in class that I believe to be productive / helpful / important for learning a language. Continue reading

Blaming

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Image courtesy of Sudhamshu Hebbar

Back in 1986, my brother brought home a Howard Jones CD with the song No One is to Blame on it. We must have listened to that song over a hundred times over the span of that summer. Of course, I didn’t really understand that song since I was still pretty young at the time, but looking at the lyrics now, it isn’t that tough to grasp what was going on. Jones was attempting to wax poetic about the feelings of loss one feels when feelings are left unfulfilled.

While the ultimate meaning of the song does not really fit what I am writing about, I felt it was apt to start with that since nowadays there is plenty of blame to go around, especially when it comes to teaching and education. Our province in Canada is in the midst of a public teachers strike with plenty of finger pointing happening on both sides of the picket line. In other provinces, parents, teachers, and the government are waging a war of words regarding curriculum reform. The province I am in is fighting with the national government over funding for English language programs. Finally, teachers are fighting one another over what is happening in the classroom. You know what they all say? Someone is to blame. Continue reading

Fearing

pufferfish

Image courtesy of Saspotato

Social media can be so cruel. Before Twitter, Facebook and the like, I was content in thinking that I knew something. I felt like I was actually pretty knowledgeable and was able to connect the dots to apply that information in a meaningful way. But then I joined Twitter and started blogging. Now, I feel that I don’t really know that much really. When I read what others write and even the short snippets provided in Tweets, I feel, well, pretty dumb actually. I don’t say this to gain pity, I am admitting it because I am starting to realize that this is somewhat of a gift. Continue reading