Category Archives: Media Collage

Educational Media thoughts n’ stuff

Test Anxiety: What do we teach?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by albertogp123

Recently the Fraser Institute released the results of the Report Card on British Columbia’s Elementary Schools: 2011 Edition. This report consists of ranking schools in comparison to each other based on standardized tests – the Foundation Skills Assessments Tests. In this type of report there are bound to be perceived winners and losers despite the suggestion that the results must be interpreted carefully. The reality is that most media, and in turn the public,  focus on the top and bottom schools. Further, it seems to suggest that the good schools obviously have ‘the answer’ while the schools that struggle need to pull up their socks. The reality of the situation is quite a bit different. Upon closer examination, beyond the narrow focus of what has been co-opted into a type of ‘high stakes’ test, a very different picture of the true quality of a school emerges.

I am the parent of a student who once attended Raymer Elementary – one of the lower ranking schools. I know that to judge a school using the FSA results is both unfair and demoralizing. A letter to the editor was published this past week in a local Kelowna newspaper explaining this unfairness, but I have yet to find it anywhere online. I’ve received permission from the author to post it here so a fuller picture can emerge. Here is the full text of the letter:

What do we teach at Raymer?

We teach empathy and understanding towards the 50% of the students in the class who don’t speak English at home, but are still willing to try their best on a government exam.

What do we teach at Raymer? We teach how to show tolerance and compassion towards the classmate who has not had enough to eat at home and is angry with the world!

What do we teach at Raymer? We teach by showing how love and safety still exist in a world that sometimes forgets that little eyes see all.

What do we teach at Raymer? We teach honesty and forgiveness towards inappropriate behaviours.

What do we teach at Raymer? We teach diversity since there is a big chance that your best friend may move away during the school year and you will have to find another best friend from the several that will join your class some time throughout the year.

What do we teach at Raymer? We teach that the values of life are worth more than the value of your bank account.

What do we teach at Raymer? We teach reading, writing, mathematics, science, language, socials, physical education, art, music, drama, problem solving, personal planning, computer, creative thinking, library, spelling, and nutrition.

What don’t we teach at Raymer?  We don’t teach the children how to judge a person by only one action, activity, or test!

Too bad the members of the Fraser Institute did not go to Raymer! What a wonderful school it is!

D. Zerr  (on behalf of the staff of Raymer Elementary School)

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On the Bench

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Recently my athletic daughter was injured skiing. She needs knee surgery and will be out of the many competitive sports she participates in for about a year. Her basketball coach encouraged her to watch from the bench – to learn more about the game by actively observing her team, and by encouraging her team. After two weeks of watching she made an interesting comment to me:

“Mom, every athlete should have to sit out for 2 weeks. You learn so much.”

For part of this school year, I’m watching from the bench, too. However, my situation was much more planned as I’m working with a student-teacher (David) in four of my Media Production classes. As he takes over more of the teaching load, I find myself on the sidelines. And while I’m there to guide, support and assess his progress, I’m learning much about my own teaching practice, and I’m hopeful my students are getting a fresh perspective on how they learn, too. While David and I met many times to discuss learning outcomes, units, and lessons, I hoped that he would focus on what matters most in a school – the students. I teach busy, hands-on courses that have no textbook, and require skills in ever-changing technologies so there was no easy way to explain what’s up anyway. David was not daunted by this challenge and, in fact, was able to step in to the organized chaos of a media production lab with relative comfort. I believe a key moment we shared centered on discussing what ‘teaching’ is and his realization that it’s not only presenting a PowerPoint or lecturing students (which I hardly ever do), but it’s about the conversations with students and the relationships that result. It’s about the unscripted moments in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the school field. David was initially concerned that he only be observed when ‘teaching’ (meaning presenting). I was impressed that he was willing to move beyond this limited definition. For a student-teacher to be willing to focus less on the pre-written lesson plan and more on the teachable moments of class demonstrated a controlled daring.

Being benched has also made me appreciate the relationships I’m privileged to have with my students. I’m so proud of both my students and David as they show respect and patience with each other. There is a mutual, unspoken understanding that learning is challenging, fun, worthwhile, and done together. David is beginning to see that each student has her or his own story. From missing school for elite sports to missing school because their single Mom was called into work and couldn’t find a babysitter for the younger sibling – each student has much to share with us. Further to this, David and I have been lucky to experience the care our students show us – their teachers. I find the smiles, hellos, goofy stories, thoughtful comments, and overall excitement about life infectious. Seeing someone else discover this has made me appreciate what I receive from my students even more.

As the only media production teacher at my school, I love having someone to bounce ideas off of – someone who really does ‘get’ my classroom. In addition, I am learning new technical things from David. While my broadcast experience is from many years ago and his is much newer, he’s helped me not only improve, but also validate the choices I make and have made. This was more significant than I realized because I’m so often alone in my classroom choices. Another concept I had to re-think was that of the question. It’s challenging for any teacher to construct good questions, and David was no exception. Interestingly, he found it easier to frame questions for me to answer (about his practicum) than when he was asking questions of our students. I think this is because there is a difference between him authentically seeking information and his desire to elicit responses or extract information from students. I know our discussion of questions caused me to pause and consider how I use and respond to questions in my classes.

For now, I’m remaining on the bench part-time and will continue to observe and learn. The season is not over yet.

A Different Point of View…

Every year Rotary International holds a public speaking contest for young people in our school district. The structure and format of the speeches follow a detailed rubric, and students must follow these guidelines closely. This year the theme of the contest is “The Future of Your Community”, and it can be explored literally or with a more creative viewpoint. Imagine my pride when I discovered that my 12 year old daughter chose to write and speak about technology. I have included the text of her speech as she “guest blogs” the rest of this post for me. I know she would love to read your comments.

The Future of Technology in My Community

by Willa Holmwood

Imagine it’s a beautiful, sunny day outside. The wind is gently blowing and birds are  joyfully chirping.  As you sit on your computer you think to yourself, “what’s wrong with this picture?” It’s astonishing to realize that the average teenager spends over thirty hours in front of a screen every week. This caused me to think about what our future would be like in our community if we continued spending this much time online.

For this speech, I decided to list some pros and cons of using technology such as televisions and computers. Here are some reasons why they might have a negative impact in the future.

When you are on the computer, the only people you interact with are the people who are online. This can create poor social skills when you actually go to talk to somebody outside of the screen world. Because the fact that many Internet sites or games can be addictive, it becomes harder and harder to let go and eventually you start missing out on fun opportunities. Once when I came home from school I noticed that I was on facebook, my mom was on her computer, and my dad was on his. We all realized that technology shouldn’t rule our life and that we had the control and the power to turn it off. Instead of staring at a picture of a tree on a computer screen, why don’t we venture outside and go and climb one? Besides these reasons, over-using computers can hurt your  health. Common problems are back pains, sore necks, achy wrists, and dry eyes. What might happen to our community if we do not address these concerns?    I’m definitely not against technology; in fact I love it and use it every day! But when we spend too much time using it, and not enough time enjoying the real world, it can become an issue.

Fortunately, technology has some really fun and captivating things in it. Here are some reasons why it might make a positive impact in the future.

I think that the main reason people use computers or watch T.V is because it’s human nature to be curious. It’s an intriguing place to be. Online we explore and discover things we couldn’t even imagine. Another huge plus of technology is the amazing connections you can make. Meeting people all around the world and learning their customs and beliefs is an adventure. For instance, my mom is a teacher and blogs about education. She put a picture on her blog and the photographer, who is Greek but lives in Poland, posted a comment to say thanks. In Twitter she connects with other educators from all over the world – Australia, China, England, Finland, Japan, South Africa, and that’s just the start! It doesn’t get much cooler than that. Also, on the Internet you can share your own stories. Whether it’s with music, video, poetry, or even just writing, you can feel free to express your thoughts with the world.

As I look back, I realize that technology is really new and people are just learning how to use it properly. Myspace was only created in 2003, Facebook in 2006, and Twitter in 2007. These brand new technologies are exciting but it’s important to the future of our community that we take the time to learn about them.

So now imagine it’s a beautiful sunny day outside. The wind is gently blowing and birds are joyfully chirping. As you climb trees and play about you think to yourself, “what’s wrong with this picture?” The answer is absolutely nothing.

This is the future of our community.

Come on in, the water’s fine


cc licensed flickr photo shared by gothick_matt

Exploring web-based technology challenges today’s educators to remain students themselves. Recently I presented a workshop on digital identity and social media to a group of receptive teacher-librarians. Despite their willingness to learn, question, and explore it became apparent that there was no avoiding the overwhelming flood of information. With so much to consider and so many technical skills needed it’s akin to being information soaked by a fire hose. These topics and tools are complexly interrelated and have their own language and expectations. And even though I was the guide for this particular session – I realized I related to how they felt. I have experienced the dazzle and thrill of classes taught by Dr. Alec Couros, and know firsthand what it is like to wonder if I could possibly keep up. It was a colleague of his, Dean Shareski, that I remember telling me to go slowly and give myself time.

The web opens up endless possibilities for educators. Its constant state of flux means the only thing we can truly master is our ability to learn. I was honoured to work with the teacher-librarians that attended the workshop because their passion for learning was palpable, and they were committed to working through complex ideas and technology. For myself, I continue to proceed at my own pace, and savour every opportunity. While I’m pretty decent at technology, I’m no tech superstar. Luckily, I know many technical experts through my PLN and don’t hesitate to tweet for help when necessary.

So I’m going wading, and if the water is too cold I may have to acclimatize for a bit before venturing deeper. And that’s ok. Because I am going swimming and I’m planning on getting my hair wet.


cc licensed flickr photo shared by joebart

On the Road to Oz

cc licensed flickr photo shared by erin garrison studio

What are your thoughts and beliefs about curriculum? How do educators determine what students should learn?

I was asked to consider these question as part of a graduate course on curriculum I took last year. Throughout the course we discussed different perspectives, and, more importantly, we were asked to reflect on and uncover our own views and assumptions regarding curriculum. We explored learning theories (no connectivism, yet!), the hidden curriculum, the null curriculum, and the overt (written) curriculum to name just a few. (A good starting place to read about these concepts is Leslie Owen Wilson’s Curriculum Index.) As I was asked to reflect on these ideas – on my ideas, I realized that I had come to view many aspects of the curriculum as confining and was frustrated by the lack of flexibility I perceived.  So much so that most of what I teach at my high school is outside of the core curriculum. In fact I have invented and cobbled together the bulk of what I teach myself, and I admit I enjoy this process very much.

At the end of the course my professor challenged us to create a representation of our learning. As I sat and thought and struggled I realized I felt a little like Dorothy in Oz – exploring the world of classroom demands and the world of my curriculum ideals. I decided to step way, w-a-y  outside of my comfort zone and write and perform a spoken word (or slam) poem. I had never done anything like this before, and wish to thank my creative writing students who provided moral support and valuable criticism as I created and recreated “On the Road to Oz”. When we had our final Poetry Slam of the year (Quench Your Verse) it was obvious that I had to step up and be willing to publicly take the journey alongside my students. And so I did.

Here’s my poem (recorded at the lunchtime slam)  – a discovery of my own thoughts and feelings about curriculum. What are yours?

CinemaOwls take flight!

This November the YouTube channel “CinemaOwls” was officially hatched. This channel was created for Kelowna Secondary School’s film and media production classes. Before taking flight, though, there were many details to consider and address. My school administration approved the concept, but with the understanding that a letter and permission form would be discussed with students and given to parents. With the help of my students I created the following letter and form which was sent home. (Parent Letter – YouTube)

The next step was for my students to finish their projects (see The Big Picture post for details about the project). Students were challenged and sometimes frustrated by the web tools, but I assured them that’s part of the process. Our goal was to test drive these tools precisely so we could document the process about what worked or (equally important) what didn’t work. As projects finished we learned together how to move them from point A to B – it wasn’t a matter of only linking or embedding the films because the ultimate goal was to put them on our channel. So we had to figure out how to upload the films to YouTube.

It turns out that saving the films in a YouTube friendly format can be tricky. We were working with material from both Mac and PC platforms with every different format extension imaginable. Together we problem solved how to do this and many students commented on how much they learned along the way. I echoed their sentiments because I was (and still am) learning along with them. This project was a departure from the usual films we make because we had to rely heavily (in some cases entirely) on the web for the resources and support we’ve needed.

The web tool project allowed our school a gradual introduction to using a YouTube channel. The majority of the posted material did not involve students appearing on camera, and with this reduced risk it somehow seemed easier to see the potential of such a channel. This also allowed students more comfort with experimentation –  particularly since the film is really a test of the web tool. In retrospect, I’m glad we did this because is serves as a great foundation on which to build, and we now have more experience with the whole process as we move into upcoming film projects that are more typical of my film production classes.

I must thank my group of Grade 12 filmmakers (Justin, Sheldon, Jessie, Michelle, Anthony, J-Lee, and Sean) who helped get this channel up and running. We look forward to receiving feedback about our films on CinemaOwls. I will also encourage my students to constructively comment on other work they see, and to appreciate the connections they make.  I know all my students look forward to sharing more films in the future (watch for our Film Noir projects in the New Year!).

The Evolution of a Library


cc licensed flickr photo shared by ConanTheLibrarian

My grandmother was a school librarian who nurtured my love for books. Not so long ago I can remember going to the local public library and looking things up in the card catalogue. It felt good to shuffle through those Dewey Decimal cards, and even better to go to the stacks and rummage through the books searching for treasure. Sometimes I had something in mind, but, more often than not, I loved the unexpected discoveries – those books that for whatever reason I just had to read. I loved both the sound and feel of the book jackets as I placed the finds in my backpack to carry home.

While I still fondly remember my childhood Saturday morning walks past the Chinook bowling alley and into the library, I have learned enough from reading those wonderous books to remain open to new possibilities, to appreciate discoveries, and to remember the value of sharing information.

I still enjoy visiting the library, but find the experience has changed. It has expanded far beyond the scope of books or research materials, and has gone digital. I am lucky enough to teach at a large high school with two exceptional librarians who help guide me and our students through this ever-changing 21st century journey. One of them, Al Smith, was kind enough to take a moment and allow me to interview him about the changing role of the library. Below are the questions I asked Al – if you have a moment pour a cup of tea and listen…

TechTalksPodcast – The Evolution of a Library (run time: about 8 minutes)

In keeping with the ‘media test kitchen’ theme of this blog I edited the audio for this podcast in GarageBand. The opening and closing music stings were created using Magic GarageBand.

1. How long have you been a librarian? What would you say are the most significant changes to happen in the library over that time?

2. What are your favourite “tech tools” to use in the library?

3. How do you use custom search engines?

4. What challenges do you face implementing technology within a public school?

5. Do you use social media, and if so why?

6. Do you have any tech advice you can pass on to the listener – perhaps a favourite tech tip (or tips)?