Category Archives: WalkMyWorld

#walkmyworld: Dreamscape

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 “To sleep, perchance to dream…” (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1)

When I dream

When I dream

How do dreams reflect identity? How does the unconscious mind become the conscious decisions of daily life or long term plans? Who am I in my dreams and can that become reality if I so desire?

This week’s learning event afforded an opportunity to consider the power of dreams, but also reflect on which dreams are worthy of pursuit.

Dreams release us from all limitations, but also bring our fears to life. Patrick Ness’ book, A Monster Calls, brings to life an old yew tree in the dreams of a boy who must find a way to cope with his dying mother. The fear of monsters parallels the fear of the disease and how it has and will continue to affect his life.  As the protagonist faces the dual monsters (the tree and the cancer), he finds himself able to do things he never imagined.

Of course, it is a work of fiction, but in many ways, dreams can help us discern new ways to manage life’s stress because in dreams we are not limited to what is practical.  As a teacher, some of the best lessons I’ve ever written have come either in dreams or in that twilight between waking and sleeping. Once the idea is discovered, the analytical daytime mind can begin to work out the logistics of overcoming the limitations of practicality.

Some dreams can take on a real life, as Ryan Neil demonstrates as an American ShokuninHis artistic dreams manifest in Bonsai, where he has learned to balance life and design to create living sculptures that will live for hundreds of years. This is the beauty of art, no matter what the medium. I have some skills with photography and digital manipulation, and if I were to describe an impossible dream, it would include being discovered as an artist and making a living with this kind of creativity. My logical mind, however, sees the limitations (including my inability in sales and marketing), and puts my art into the category of hobbyist.

Relax and dream

Relax and dream

Still, the creativity of my dreams does find its way into the classroom. I never teach the same lesson twice–even on the same day. Every class has its own personality and requires a unique approach, a certain kind of humor, and a personal touch. I use the analysis to create goals and objectives and outlines, but once class begins, I shape my lessons in much the same way Neil shapes his Bonsai art.

One element of pursuing dreams is the freedom to do so. The arts offer that kind of freedom. Today’s educational system does not. The current obsession with standardized tests, single stream learning, and strict analysis places nearly insurmountable limits on teachers. The standards themselves are not the issue, for the most part. The application of those standards, however, puts many teachers in a bureaucratic maze with only one escape route. This devalues the creative passions of the teacher as well as minimizes the students’ ability to innovate, create, and think beyond multiple choice. What will happen to the dreamers and the visionaries if they are forced to conform to a false norm? Is there a place for the Einsteins and Edisons in our elementary schools today?

Nightmare

Nightmare

Teachers must dream bigger than ever in this day of sameness. We must find new ways to talk about literature and culture and society. We must create new ways to connect content with life in relevant ways all while ensuring our students are able to perform on state test day. It is a challenge that for me has inspired a new dream. While I once dreamed of leaving a legacy in the world of visual art, I now dream of leaving a legacy in adults who, having walked into my world classroom, are not afraid to push back, who value creative problem solving, and who are able to meet ridiculous regulations with style, panache, and enough humor to know that in the long run, life is a better teacher than textbooks anyway.

 

#walkmyworld: Identity Non-Crisis

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As a teacher of young adults, I am intensely aware of the search for identity and significance most young people face. My texts are often selected partly because they afford an opportunity to discuss and reflect about how one transforms from a child whose parents must be right to teens who are certain their parents know nothing to young adults who take the best of what they were taught and blend it with what they learn to become independent adult thinkers. However, the more I consider the concept of identity, I recognize the transitory nature of knowing the self.

This particular learning event coordinates with my focus word for 2015, chosen because my own life is in  a transition not unlike the one from child to adult. This is the year I turn 50, an age once upon a time I considered old (and I am certain most high schools students think of 50 as one step from the grave). This is the year I complete my M.Ed., officially become an empty-nester, and embark on a career path still uncertain. So, I reflect: Who am I? Am I the sum of my beliefs? My experiences? My surroundings? All of these? None of these?

This week #walkmyworld encouraged my to consider my own identity, apart from the roles I play as woman of faith, wife, mother, daughter, educator, artist, writer, runner, coach, musician, photographer, student, blogger, and friend. I have always considered myself a modern Renaissance woman because my interests and skills are diverse. On the worst of days, I call myself a “Jill of all trades, mistress of none.” On the best days, I manage to do some pondering, some crafting, some writing, and some exercise, feeling very accomplished in the process. Either way, these are things I DO, not necessarily who I AM.

Pardon me for a moment while I consider the importance of understanding the changing nature of identity as taught by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth in the mid 50s CE: 11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”  Paul here sets up his argument that identity as a believer requires change over time. He uses familiar language to make his point, comparing physical change to spiritual change. The fluidity of identity must be addressed periodically throughout life in order to truly know the self beyond the activities of life.

This is the reason I chose “identity” as my word for the year. And this is what makes this particular learning event important for both students and educators. We are ever evolving as we learn and think. Projects like #walkmyworld expand our horizons and expose the participants to cultures and ideas that may not be otherwise known. For teachers, it can form an unexpected Professional Learning Network (PLN) wherein ideas from one side of the world can find a place in the other. Students who participate may develop friendships in unexpected ways. In sharing bits of our worlds, we begin to see our individual identities as they stand at the moment. When we open our worlds to others, we also enter the worlds of others, and this new information may well alter our identity, affording us the opportunity to change and grow and morph into the next “version” of self.

It’s a mind-expanding idea: identity is fluid, changed by time, experience, relationship, and ideas. Understanding that, however, eliminates the identity-confused “mid-life crisis,” because instead of fearing great life change, one may anticipate with excitement whatever is next. Who I was at 18 is certainly not who I am at (nearly) 50. The things that I do influence the way that I think. The relationships I form in person or via digital means add to the depth of how I understand the world. Every day that I learn, I grow up a little bit more. Growing up, but never getting old.

Renaissance Woman

Renaissance Woman

References

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

#walkmyworld: Doctor Who Edition

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There comes a time in every project where the unexpected happens and things just get better. This is true of #walkmyworld. This week’s learning event was a “virtual high-five” intended to allow participants to create community within the broader scope of the project. In a sense, #walkmyworld became a portal to an affinity space (Gee) wherein participant made new connections based on a common interest. Some participants high-fived each other for classroom interactions or favorite foods or exercise. These new revelations created bonds between people who have never met–and possible never will in a non-digital environment.  Some shared inspiration, some silliness (never, ever take yourself too seriously!), and others posted adorable images of baby animals. A few even reached out for employment, which was unexpected, but hopefully led to something great!

#walkmyworld: It's bigger on the inside

#walkmyworld: It’s bigger on the inside

I happened to observe a familiar mug in one post: an exploding TARDIS. For many people (maybe most, but I cannot fathom why), this detail may have gone undetected, but for me, a dedicated nerd, this homage to Doctor Who made me happy. I quickly poured a cuppa for myself and sent a high-five to the poster. Someone saw that and added a favorite, along with a comment about her Van Gogh TARDIS mug. And there we were: three Whovians from different places who also happened to be educators participating in a common project.

It was fun to connect and talk about something fun and trivial even as we pretended we were participating in an educational learning event.

It just doesn’t get better than that. Unless you add fish sticks and custard.

References

Gee, J.P. (2009). Affinity Spaces: From Age of Mythology to today’s schools. Retrieved from: http://www.jamespaulgee.com/node/5

Opening Doors #walkmyworld

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When I first considered the first learning event of #WalkMyWorld 2015  (http://bit.ly/walk2015LE1), I considered the physical doors of my world. I thought about my front door, both the view from it and my canine companion who insists I don’t actually step though it. But my front door isn’t really about me or my world. It’s a lovely double door with leaded glass that brings in prisms and light, but in my world, it serves more of a decorative than an practical purpose.

#walkmyworld My Front Door

The view from my front door.

WalkMyWorld-My Canine Companion

My canine companion, an Italian Greyhound who is always alert and somewhat pampered.

As much as I like my front door, it is not the real open door to my world.  My real world is much less formal than a “front door life” and those who walk with me learn quickly that my reality is often messy with things out of place, and generally things that don’t work as they should.

This gate is the door I use daily when I leave my home whether I’m heading out on foot or by car. Most days I don’t really “see” the gate as I’m focused on whatever takes me through it. The back yard is far from an inviting garden, especially in the winter, although the dogs and the birds seem to enjoy it. The distance through from the gate is simply a transition from my world to something other.

#walkmyworld: The gate to my world outside

#walkmyworld: The gate to my world outside

The gate is a little crooked, and the latch sticks to that it takes an effort to ensure it stays closed so the greyhounds don’t escape. The jasmine tries to take over every summer, but the sweet fragrance makes the inconvenience of pushing it aside worthwhile. Going out the gate represents a new adventure or the promise of something about to happen. Sometimes it’s a trip to the gym or the grocery store, but other times is it the gate to something greater.

Coming home, the gate has another meaning. Usually coming in through the gate is the final step at the end of the day or the workout or the errands. Very often coming through the gate includes juggling bags and boxes and books, so that the sticky latch is more of a nuisance. The emotions associated with this side of the gate are some blend of fatigue and relief at being home.

I can see the gate from my computer station in the kitchen. I see when family arrives home or good friends come for tea. (Good friends never use the front door!) The latch is loud, so it alerts me to people coming in so that I can disengage from whatever work I’m doing and put on the kettle (usually.) This is the gate that welcomes people into my world.

#walkmyworld

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Last year I participated in a really cool event called “Walk My World.” Educators and students shared bits of their lives via Twitter using the hashtag #walkmyworld. The project covered ten weeks, with specific learning events each week. We analyzed the poetry of Robert Hass, wrote poetry, and shared pictures. Of shoes. Lots of shoes. Not exactly sure why.

It was tremendous fun, and I connected with people all over the US. It was during this project that I decided to see just how well Twitter can function as a pedagogical tool. So much class time is taken up with administrative duties and test preparation that there often isn’t time to really delve into the meat of the literature and what makes it relevant to today’s teens/young adults. Using Twitter as a modified discussion board allows students to continue to contemplate the literature: how it affects them and how others are affected by it. Assigning a class hashtag and an “assignment” tag allows Twitter’s filters to organize those discussions so that a teacher can quickly see how students are thinking about the work.

Twitter has its advantages. The 140 character limit forces economy of words. The relative anonymity allows for shy students to speak up and be heard. Reading the tweets of their peers connects students who may not otherwise have something in common. Having to connect literature to life requires introspection and self-evaluation, two key elements in forming a personal identity. To get students considering who they are and who they want to be is a critical thinking skill that cannot be measured in a standardized test. This kind of thinking is real life.

In a broader sense, a project like Walk My World allows people to connect who may never have met in any other way. The commonality of learning events forms a foundation upon which relationships can build. One never knows where those relationships will lead.