Just Remember

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 3.04.56 PM

In November of 2002, I had the opportunity to attend the Teacher’s Institute on Parliamentary Democracy in Ottawa for a week. Aside, from being amazing professional development and the fact that I met incredible people from across Canada, it brought me to our nation’s capital, a city I never visited before. The patriotic Canadian in me loved Ottawa.

But nothing could have prepared me for the true beauty and intensity of experiencing a Remembrance Day service at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity and I think it is something all Canadians should experience once in their lifetime. I was in awe of the thousands of people who lined the streets nearby, the parade of hundreds of pipers and war Veterans marching in and the unparalleled sense of respect that surrounded us. A visit to the Canadian War Museum that afternoon gave me the opportunity to meet firsthand then, one of the few remaining World War 1 veterans at 101 years old. He has since passed. I was privileged enough to be staying at the Lord Elgin Hotel across from Confederation Square. By that evening as we packed up to head home the image of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier covered in a sea of red poppies was breathtaking and is forever etched in my memory.

Since then I have had a strong conviction to work even harder to help students gain insight into the true significance of Remembrance Day. As a parent, I also tried to ensure that my children began to understand and appreciate the great sacrifice of our Veterans, from a very early age.

It is a topic I have given a lot of thought to….that is how to best discuss the subject of Remembrance Day with kids. No one wants to talk to their little ones about war, guns, and death, but what I have come to realize is that we sometimes don’t give them enough credit. As kids get older and more mature, so too should our conversations. Also, our conversations need to focus less on content, that being facts, dates, locations, and statistics but the stories of war; the loss, the emotions, the impact, and the sacrifice.

And when we do so; when we frame our lessons and our student learning around the STORY and through a lens of EMPATHY  kids are ultimately far more invested in the topic. They want to know more. Our focus and conversations around this are hopefully not just a “one-off” before our school assembly once a year but should instead be much more impactful than that and include deeper thinking and reflection.

Here are a few resources I have collected over the years to help facilitate and promote inquiry, questioning, critical thinking and conversations around this topic through an empathetic lens.

The resources listed below include videos, texts, artifacts and images and then the variety of strategies used to respond through questioning, critical thinking, reflection, and discussions. Many of the strategies that can be used to support student response come from two excellent resources including:

Resources for Remembering

Videos

The first number of videos are ones I have used for our school Remembrance Day service over the years but can also be used in classrooms to activate thinking. Some of the ones listed toward the end could be used with further, more specific intent in mind.

Shawn Hlookoff -Soldier

The Trews-Highway of Heroes

George Canyon-I Want You to Live

Global TV Soldier Cries

Standing Strong and True (For Tomorrow),- an all-star Canadian country single

Bell Poppy Commercial (powerful- lead to conversations focused on being empathetic, taking action)

Remembrance Day Ad- war through time (great for timeline)

Veterans Affairs- learning videos (content focus)

A good “go-to” strategy for videos is RVL- Read, View, Listen from Q Tasks.

Text

One text resource that can be used with students in the middle years is the newspaper a lot of schools order through Veteran Affairs. In fact, Veteran Affairs Canada has a multitude of resources teachers can order in advance each year.

Two strategies that work well with this newspaper and other expository texts related to war and Remembrance Day online or in books are the QAR strategy or Fact React.

In the way of fiction Feather and Fools by Mem Fox I have found to be an excellent picture book to help discuss the topic of war with younger children.

For older students, the picture book Faithful Elephants is the thought provoking story of elephants in a zoo in Japan during World War 2.

Images

Pictures are a great source to stimulate thinking and conversations. Veteran Affairs has an Image Gallery and each year Veteran Affairs Canada produces a poster with powerful images which schools can order. They also have all of the past posters archived here and I have used the past year’s posters to set up picture response inquiry stations for students to work through. Practical strategies for responding to images are Step In, Step Out from Q Tasks or from Making Thinking Visible; Step Inside or See Think Wonder.

vwposter_2017-647x863

 

Artifacts

Seeing and touching actual artifacts from history is an excellent entry point for our students to be able to relate and understand more deeply. I taught at a school in the North End of Winnipeg for 10 years and we were lucky enough to be located near the Fort Garry Horse Museum and Archives . Each year I would have the organization send over artifacts and or we would have the students visit the museum.

Veteran Affairs also has also begun a Borrow a Boot Project in recent years. Also, try asking students to bring in war-related artifacts, surprisingly over the years my students have brought in quite a few to share. My own children have also had the opportunity to bring in their great grandfather’s war medals we have at home and this was a very meaningful opportunity for them.

There are many rich learning opportunities to explore with our students through inquiry around the topics of our Canadian Veterans and Remembrance Day.

As the years pass and many of our Veterans do as well, it becomes more and more essential that we give our children the knowledge and understanding needed to ensure remembrance in future generations.

Advertisements

Time to Breakout!

breakoutedu-1

From time to time we see popular culture take an educational spin and translate into some sort of activity or practice in schools.  However, I don’t ever recall an example quite as powerful as the escape room phenomenon and the classroom application known as Breakout EDU.  Over the holidays, I spent some time getting acquainted with how Breakout EDU works using my own children and their friends as guinea pigs. They LOVED it!

If you aren’t familiar with this learning opportunity here is a big picture explanation from the Breakout EDU website and the creators themselves, Breakout EDU creates ultra-engaging learning games for people of all ages. Games (Breakouts) teach teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking, and troubleshooting by presenting participants with challenges that ignite their natural drive to problem-solve.

Breakouts are perfect for classrooms, staff trainings, dinner parties, and at home with the family! At the end of a Breakout, your players will be eager for the next! Speciality K-12 Breakouts can be used to teach core academic subjects including math, science, history, language arts and have embedded standards that apply problem-solving strategies within a real world OR collaborative context.

With the purchase of a Breakout kit, you’re able to play countless Breakouts. Each kit comes with a collection of locks, hidden contraptions, timers, keys, and other “diversion hardware” that can be used to play the Breakout challenges available from the store.  Currently, all the games in the game directory are free!”

Or check out this video.

We live in a dynamic, rapidly changing world.  As educators, we constantly must strive to meet the unique and unprecedented learning needs of our students in the midst of these changing times. In 2015, The Economist Intelligence Unit (the world leader in global business intelligence) completed a study focusing on preparing our students for the future, and what skills that reality will demand.  After surveying respondents from countless industries, business sectors and fields of education from countries around the world, the study showed that organizations felt the top five critical skills for employees today are: problem-solving, teamwork, communication, critical thinking and creativity.  

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 7.43.40 AM.png
Over the past two years, I have been working with teachers, and ultimately students, in my school division in Winnipeg, to support the development of these 21st-century skills.  One of the most successful strategies teachers have found and embraced in supporting learning in this area is through the use of Instant Challenges. This term comes from a program called Destination Imagination, which is a challenge program in which students learn and experience the creative process while fostering their creativity, curiosity and courage.

The purpose of an instant challenge is to put a team of students and their collaborative problem-solving abilities, creativity, and teamwork to the test in a short, time-driven situation.  The challenges are either task or performance based and have teams involved in doing anything from building a structure, to designing a catapult, to performing an infomercial for a new ice cream flavour they invented, to creating a new constellation and sharing a skit about how it got its name. Through this challenge based learning, teams must plan collaboratively, assess the use of available materials, apply strong time management skills, often utilize performance abilities, and work well as a team, under tight time constraints.

Instant challenges have been embraced by the educators I work with.  Classroom teachers are using them across grade levels, and throughout the disciplines. Adult learners are taking part in them regularly at staff meetings and professional learning days. Educators see the true value these motivating activities offer their students related to critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, risk-taking and building resilience. Check out this document for further explanation and resources around Instant Challenges.

So what’s the connection to Breakout EDU?  The way I see it, this approach to learning uses a similar skillset and methodology to Instant Challenges in an engaging, dynamic and extremely fun way. Students work together to crack codes, solve problems, decipher locks, untangle riddles, think critically and collaborate to “breakout” (in reality they are actually “breaking in” to the box but you get the idea).  Teachers can find ready made, Breakout scenarios online linked to many curricular areas and outcomes, or create their own to meet their students’ needs and interests.  A next step could also be to offer students the enriching opportunity to create their own Breakout EDU challenges for their classmates to solve.

Educators can purchase a ready to go Breakout EDU kit here, complete with the lockable boxes, hasp, hint cards, invisible ink pen, UV flashlight and a variety of locks.  This purchase also gives teachers access to a code and all of Breakout’s ready made scenarios and resources.  Some schools are choosing to create their own similar kits by purchasing the locks and other materials online through companies such as Amazon or at local hardware stores. Educators can also find hundreds of Breakout EDU related resources on platforms such as Pinterest.  And check out this teacher created resource from Lynne Herr explaining how to run Breakout EDU with one box for a whole class. The possibilities are endless!

In addition to supporting and developing 21st Century skills and competencies in students,  Breakout EDU can also involve solving math problems in context.  It uses reading, writing, and word study in meaningful, hands-on ways.  It promotes students asking questions and investigating answers to knowledge and content related outcomes in motivating, relevant situations.

Breakout uses an integrated, multidisciplinary approach through which all students can find an entry point.  Kids love a challenge. They enjoy finding answers to difficult questions and riddles. They relish in a  good mystery and they embrace the idea of the “hunt”.  Breakout EDU checks all of these boxes as a learning opportunity and authentically engages students in their learning. As educators, we are constantly searching for innovative and appealing ways to motivate our students.  Here is an opportunity to breakout and try something new and exciting!