My sincerest apologies to all of you who are following my blog – I haven’t posted anything in a long, long while.  Since January I’ve been working like a crazy person on my final masters paper.  I will resume service in mid April when I complete my degree!

Until then, take care!


Here is my final postcard for the course I’m taking.  It’s a response to “Now THAT is evidence: tracking down the evil ‘whatever’ interpretation” by Meszaros, C and “An introduction to codes and coding” by Saldana, J.  Click here for more information about why I’m doing these postcards.

Postcard 7 - Coding in three part harmony

Here is another ‘postcard’ for my SFU masters – it is an artistic representation of my readings and/or inquiry project.  I’m taking a very open interpretation of the term postcard here; I replaced the traditional image with a very specific soundscape that both enhances and contributes to the meaning of the poem.  This postcard is a response to an article called “Cognition, co-emergence, curriculum” by Brent Davis, Dennis J. Sumara & Thomas E. Kieren.  I created this postcard using Windows Movie Maker.


Manning Park 180

I wrote in a post last year that planning and supervising overnight camping trips with students is a lot of work and can be quite stressful. But after taking students on camping trips for the last five years, I’m still a huge supporter of bringing students into the wild.  I see things in my students that I would never get to see if I had stayed in the classroom, and this allows me to be a better, more effective teacher.  However, despite all of the positives that come out in the overnight camping experience, I have to be prepared to deal with the negatives as well.

This year was a very different type of overnight experience.  Instead of a hiking into some remote backcountry destination, an early snowfall forced me to find camping in a fully serviced, provincial campground with all the amenities – hot showers, flush toilets – the full meal deal.  Being in a front country campsite (a campsite easily accessible by vehicle) also meant that we could make fires in the fire pits provided – a welcome reprieve from the freezing cold and wet that plagued us throughout the trip.  Instead of hiking to a peak with an amazing, high elevation view, we were on a mostly flat trails that took us past tranquil lakes and thundering waterfalls.  The amazing weather that has characterized all of my other trips was replaced by a mixture of driving rain, thick snow, hail, sunshine, and blue sky.  A four day trip turned into a three day trip because by the end of the second day we were wet, cold, and had hiked most everything we could safely access.  Despite the cold, the snow, the shoes that held more water than our water bottles, the aching bodies after 20kms of hiking, my students were overwhelming positive.  Surprisingly so.

But it is not always happy in hikerville.

Even though I saw a lot of positive things in my students over the three days, some shadows came out as well.  Negative habits, attitudes, dispositions, and personality traits pop up right along everything that’s positive.  And this is to be expected.  My guess is that any time you take students out of their comfort zone and put them in a place where they are exhausting themselves physically throughout the day and then have to eat, sleep, and live together for an extended period of time, whatever barriers and filters they’ve set up will begin to weaken. They begin to let down their guard.  Who they really are begins to shine through.  It’s this interplay between light and shadow that makes the overnight experience so valuable.

I love talking about the positive things I see in my students, but I won’t shy away from talking about the more negative things that show up either.  It’s only by acknowledging and coming to terms with the shadows that we can live more fully in the light.


One of the assignments I have to complete after each week’s readings (for my masters) is to create a ‘postcard’ that in some way incorporates the ideas from the texts we read.  I thought I’d upload this week’s postcard after reading Margaret Lattat and Jeong_Hee Kim’s article “Narrative Inquiry: Seeking Relations as Modes of Interaction” (2010) and Carl Leggo’s  “Astonishing Silence: Knowing in Poetry” (2007).  If you want the full annotation please contact me.

Connecting poetry and research

The following is the result of an assignment I had to do for my master’s class.  We had to look at the painting below and connect it to the process of inquiry.  This is what I came up with…

looped painting

Looped Painting Exercise

When I look at this painting and think about how it connects to my journey as a teacher inquirer, several thoughts come to mind.  The black loops that dominate the painting are an obvious connection to the spirals of inquiry that I am currently engaged in.  The loops are not static however, they tell a story of inquiry – a narrative that is both unequivocally personal and wholly relatable by those engaged in the inquiry process.  I find it interesting that the black line has an obvious beginning but no end.  The line disappears off the edge of the painting.  My personal journey in teacher inquiry definitely had a beginning, but now that I’ve started in it, I don’t know how I could ever go back to a time where I am not inquiring in some way.I like how the line leaves the painting in an upward trajectory, indicative that another inquiry might be on its way if the painting were elongated.

Beside each thick black loop are thin black loops that detach themselves from the bigger loops.  These are like the tangents one might follow in the process of data analysis; sometimes they connect back with the bigger inquiry question like in the first loop, but at other times they don’t connect to anything and simply end – perhaps to be rediscovered in another inquiry down the road.  I like how the line is blurred and almost disappears during the second loop, when the question the inquirer is pursuing might seem irrelevant, the data confusing, and for a time, the researcher may enter into a dark night experience where the  narrative is lost for a time, only to be found again later, stronger than ever.  There are also moments of illuminated clarity, sprinkled throughout the paining as yellowish-green dabs, and moments of sustained clarity and insight as seen in the third spiral.

The bleeding of the black line is important too, as our findings, insights, and revelations bleed into other spheres of our life both personally and professionally.  I like how this painting can be examined through both a macro and micro lens; currently, I’m engaged in an inquiry that looks at the connection points between portfolio assessment and student autonomy, but if I zoom out, my story of inquiry started many years ago when I first realized that I was unhappy with the way I was teaching.  It was from that initial unhappiness that gradually lead me to discover the power inquiry could have on revitalizing and changing my practice.  Perhaps, if you were to zoom out even further, life could be seen as a series of spirals of tension and enlightenment – another expression of the natural ebb and flow that is the story of our lives.

The background of this painting is a little more elusive to me.  There appears to be a figure inside the first circle, indicative perhaps of the people who help shape our thoughts and ideas in the process of inquiry, both before we ever started down this road and during the process.  The chosen colours aren’t bright but rather muted.  Perhaps this reveals that the process of inquiry isn’t glamorous but, using the words of Nietzsche “a long obedience in the same direction.”


This is the first of many article reviews that I’m going to be posting on my blog.  As mentioned in an earlier blog post, I have to write reflections on the different articles I read as part of a masters program.  Instead of keeping these reflections to myself, I have decided to share one article reflection per week.  This week’s reflection is from a chapter on qualitative research.

When I realized that the first reading was one dealing with research, I thought to myself, “Oh great.  The first one has to be the most boring.”  I’m guessing that if you’re anything like me, the word ‘research’ falls into the ‘four letter word’ category.  When I think about doing research, I think about sitting in a room in the library, florescent bulb buzzing just loud enough to be annoying, with an arsenal of boring books that my eyes seem to want to protect my brain from because they keep on closing every time I try to read them.

When I read this chapter from a book about qualitative research (sounds like the ultimate torture right?  Doing research on research…yikes) – surprisingly, my views on research started to change.  The introduction from The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research by Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln was a surprisingly engaging and inspirational read.

The authors describe qualitative research as:

A situated activity that locates the observer in the world.  It consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that make the world visible.  These practices transform the world…Qualitative research involves the studied use and collection of a variety of empirical materials – case study; personal experience; introspection; life story; interview; artifacts; cultural texts and productions; observational, historical, interactional, and visual texts – that describe routine and problematic moments and meanings in individuals’ lives” (p.36,37).

This makes sense to me, and more, this is what I want to do.  I want to transform the world.  If doing research is one of the ways I can do this, then maybe this is something I need to consider more seriously.

In this chapter there are two metaphors describing researching that really stood out to me: researching as filmmaking and researching as montage.  Both of these images have important things to say about researching.  The process of creating films or a montage requires many different shots, perspectives, and sounds that are edited and then put together in a way that makes sense.  In the same way, qualitative research takes many different forms of information gathering and then, through the process of analysis and interpretation, pieces them together to create a deeper understanding about the topic, question, or inquiry that was the focus of the research.  Although the idea of research seems cold and dispassionate, the aesthetic of putting together a film or montage is something that appeals to me.

The process of using many different forms of data collection to inform your research is called triangulation which “reflects an attempt to secure an in-depth understanding of the phenomenon in question” (p.5).  It is the “simultaneous display of multiple, refracted realities” (p.6).  Although qualitative research is at it’s heart a subjective process (which is why it is often scoffed at by those engaged in quantitative research),  triangulation allows for a greater degree of accuracy and objectivity.  However, this being said, “qualitative researchers stress the socially constructed nature of reality, the intimate relationship between the researcher and what is studied, and the situational constraints that shape inquiry” (p.10).  I appreciate that the authors don’t try to make amends for the subjective nature of qualitative research but see it as offering a deeper, perhaps more honest reflection of reality.

Although this chapter has much more to say about qualitative research, the above mentioned ideas had the greatest impact on me.  I personally connect with the idea of research as art; realizing that research is subjective and open to different interpretations breathes life into the process for me.  It makes the whole process more authentic.  That’s not to say that I won’t strive for objectivity, but it recognizes that my subjective being and perspective is part in parcel in the act of researching.  After reading this chapter I felt much more excited about gathering data and starting my inquiry research.  I also look forward to sharing this information with you!


Denzin, N.K., and Y.S. Lincoln.  ‘Introduction’.
The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research.
US: Sage, 2005 ISBN: 9780761927570, pp. 1 to 32, 32 of 1232 pages.
Copyright: Sage, 2005

One of my MA assignments for next week was to talk about my image of students.  For the past week I’ve been grappling with what my image of students looks like.  It’s interesting that in all my years studying and working in the field of education, I haven’t ever had to articulate my view or images of students.  I also recognize that whatever image or images I hold says just as much about me as it does my students.  After some consideration, there are two images, one metaphorical and the other more concrete, that encapsulate my perception of the student.

The first image is of a locked treasure chest.  I see my students as having amazing potential, but often this treasure is tightly locked away, and it’s my job to unlock the creativity, knowledge, skills, and thinking inside.   The majority of students who come into my class seem unaware of the great potential that’s inside them, and if they are aware, they may not know how to access or free their abilities.  Once they have access to what’s inside of them, it becomes my job to teach them how to use it without ‘spending’ it on meaningless or destructive things and going broke.  Unlocking this treasure involves asking lots of questions, challenging their self-perception, worldview, and assumptions about life, and unlearning certain pre-conceptions about school.   I should also clarify that I don’t see my students as objects that need to be fixed or ‘opened’ because I understand that the process of ‘unlocking’ a student requires relationship – it can’t only be done using the curriculum.  This means that I have to look at each student as a unique individual, which, by default, means that the curriculum must be appropriated accordingly.

The second image is a picture I took during a hike with the Adventure Cohort this last fall – in many ways it captures the way I see my students.  Each student in the picture is very unique, each has different strengths and abilities, each has dynamic personalities and gifts.  I love this picture because each of the students is becoming unlocked – they are beginning to be engaged in school, learning, and life.  They are having fun!  Despite the fact that they wouldn’t normally hang out socially, they have come together and are enjoying a moment together – in fact, it is in the act of coming together that many of their strengths are brought to the surface.

Dog Mountain

It’s been two months now since I’ve posted anything.

It isn’t because I don’t have enough material to write about; I feel like I could quit teaching and spend all my time writing…only that would be counterproductive because everything that I have to write about comes from my teaching.  No, I haven’t posted anything for these last two months because I don’t feel like I have the time.  Actually, that’s not true – I have time but I’m choosing to spend it doing other things.  Like spend time with my wife and eight month old son.  Like going for a bike ride to get some exercise and clear my mind.  Like helping out around the house a little bit.  Like marking and lesson planning.  Like meeting with a friend for a coffee.  In an effort to bring some balance to a life that always seems to straddle that fine line between balance and unbalance, blogging my reflections on teaching and learning is pretty low on the totem pole of priorities.

But here’s the dilemma.  I want to blog.  I’ve benefited not only from taking the time to write out my thoughts and reflections, but from your thoughts, questions, comments, and observations.  I’ve had the opportunity to personally meet with some of you who I’ve connected with through blogging.  It has enriched my teaching and by some amazing alignment of the stars and planets, there are some of you in the blogosphere who have benefited from what I’ve had to say.

So here is my solution.  I’m about three classes into the final year of my masters degree (a masters in educational practice at SFU), and part of the course is weekly assigned readings that I have to respond to.  Instead of keeping all of these responses private, I’ve decided that I’m going to blog my reflections on at least one of my readings each week.  In fact, I would like to blog most of my written assignments if possible and would love if you could benefit from all the work I’ll be doing.  I would also love to hear your comments and thoughts as I go along.

Feel free to join with me on my learning journey!

A couple weeks ago I had what I think might be my biggest insight this school year.  For the last two years I’ve experimented with different forms of inquiry learning with my students with varying degrees of success.  For most of my students it has increased their level of engagement and some amazing learning has happened.  But during this last semester I began to see something that started to put up red flags for me, and for months I was unable to articulate why these flags were going up (partly too because I didn’t take the time to properly reflect on what was happening in my classroom).  My students were learning but it seemed too…haphazard.  It wasn’t focused learning.  For some it was distracted learning.  For others it was trying to prove their own biases.  There was a very small contingent of my students who truly possessed the skills necessary to learn effectively through inquiry learning.

Then one day it hit me.  I was doing some research online when I came across a chart outlining the habits of mind that are necessary to effectively learn.  It was then a 1000 watt light bulb was flipped on in my mind (seriously – light was shooting from my ears and my eyes started watering!) –

effective inquiry learning can only take place if students have the habits of mind to learn in this way.

By the time this insight illuminated my mind from the aforementioned 1000 watt light bulb it was too late to change what was happening in my classroom – the semester was almost over and my students were nearing the end of their inquiry projects.  It became abundantly clear to me though that things will have to change for next year.

One thing that I did really well this year was teach my students about how they can know if they’ve learned something.  I spent almost a full day teaching the six facets of understanding as outlined in Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s “Understanding by Design.”  We used their language of understanding over and over to reinforce how they can know if they’ve learned something.  The next step for me will be to teach the necessary dispositions to effectively reach these understandings.  I’ve come to realize that one of my overarching goals as a teacher is to create students who are self-regulated learners.  They will be able to take the skills, dispositions, and ideas learned in my class and be more effective students in all the other classrooms they visit throughout their high school career and beyond.

To be honest, I sometimes wish I didn’t have to teach these things.  I wish students came into my classroom – whether in grades 10, 11, or 12 – and already have the understandings about learning to jump right into the course without me having to bring them up to speed on how they know how to learn.  It takes a LOT of time to teach these things and then even more time to reinforce them while at the same time weeding out the jumping-thought-hoops learning that most of my students are so accustomed and comfortable with.  If these ideas were taught, reinforced, and validated in every class from grade one on with ever growing sophistication, imagine the learners we would graduate!

I feel like there is an ever growing movement towards inquiry based learning.  In fact, in almost every pedagogical workshop/presentation I’ve been too this year there has been some mention of inquiry learning.  This is a good thing and it reveals a fundamental shift in how educator think about teaching, learning, and school.  However, after my light bulb moment, my concern is that teachers are going to throw their students into inquiry based learning without laying a foundation that will enable their students to effectively use this model of learning.  Perhaps the cart is being put in from of the horse – which almost never ends well for the horse!

I look forward to my next season of learning about self-regulated learning and habits of mind to make this possible.  If you have any book, blog, article, or video suggestions that will help guide my thinking – please feel free to send them my way!


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