My Year in Review for 2013!

Every year I normally do a “Year in Review” post on my Facebook page but thought I would blog about it this year. So here goes!

Started last year with a trip out to the thriving metropolis of Wishart to celebrate Malanka, or Ukrainian New Years. I had the pleasure of watching my girlfriend Corby dance with the Wishart Hopak Dancers and also ring in the new year in small town fashion. Here is a link to a video from the epic Kalamanka (group dance) that lasted well over 30 min.

 

In March I ventured into the wine making business when me and three friends of mine, who all met while teaching at Robert Usher Collegiate, made the first two batches of 4-Ush wine. We have since done 6 more batches for a total of 8 different wines!IMG_0657

Also in March, I got to see Great Big Sea on St. Patty’s Day, which was awesome!

At the end of March I took my first trip to Mexico with my lovely girlfriend Corby. We went to Puerto Vallarta and had an amazing time! A trip I will never forget.

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In April my daughter turned 4 years old! I can’t believe that she is going to be 5 soon.

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In May I enjoyed seeing my girlfriend Ukrainian dance once again at Veselka in Foam Lake.

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Then in June I got to see my daughter perform with her Italian Dance group at Mosaic in Regina. She did so well and was absolutely adorable! And I also got to coach my daughter’s very first soccer team. That was an adventure! Corby and I also got season tickets to the Riders. Little did we know back in June just how special the season would be.

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Before we knew it, it was summer and we were hitting the road. Our first trip was to Winnipeg to visit friends and celebrate the July long weekend. Here is a pick of Ava at the Winnipeg Zoo.

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Next was  the Craven Country Jamboree for Corby and I. We had a blast and saw some great concerts. Speaking of concerts, I also got to see Alice in Chains with my buddy Danny.

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Next was a trip to Lloydminster and Edmonton to visit friends and spend some time Corby’s family. I also got to golf with 4-Ush crew at Riverhurst.

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Took in a wedding on the August long weekend in Foam Lake and then it was time for the 20th anniversary of the Boys Golf Trip. This year we went back to where it all began, Fishing Lake.

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Next was fulfilling one of my childhood dreams, seeing Sir Paul McCartney in concert! It was maybe one of the best concerts I have ever seen!

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We finished off the summer with another wedding and then it was back to work. In September I started the 30th season of The Saskatoon Soaps and also joined the cast of a variety show called Red Hot Riot here in Regina. Corby and I also continued to enjoy going to the Rider home games. Which takes us into November and Grey Cup. We had a crew from Saskatoon and elsewhere come and join us for the festivities and then we took in the big game! What an amazing experience!

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Next we celebrated Corby’s birthday after the Riders big win and before we knew it, it was Christmas time. I had an amazing year and want to thank all the special people in my life for making it so amazing. Here’s to 2014!

 

 

 

 

Summary of Learning for EC&I 831 – Share More!!!!

I decided to look back at my very first blog post before sitting down to write about what I have learned during my time taking EC&I 831. I mentioned that I was quite comfortable with social media but always felt a step or two behind when it came to technology in general. I have always been very open to technology but have found it difficult to incorporate it into my teaching practices as a senior mathematics teacher. I still struggle to find interesting and practical ways to integrate technology into math but after taking this class I have an even deeper appreciation for the power of connected learning and open education. I have always known how powerful social media can be but my experiences in this class have only confirmed this belief and even expanded it through learning about new social media outlets and tools.

The first new experience in the class was the introduction to Blackboard Collaborate. I have to admit that I didn’t even know that such a tool existed. I was impressed with how easily video, audio, and text were integrated. It allowed people from all over the world to instantaneously interact. This was amazing to me.

The next experience was becoming a part of the EC&I 831 Google+ community. This was another very easy way to connect and interact with Alec Couros and all of the other participants in the class. We could share video’s, articles, pictures, and of course our blog posts with the google+ community. Commenting on other’s post as well as getting feedback on your own was an important part of the learning experience.

For some people in the class, Twitter was a very new and somewhat scary aspect of the class. This was not the case for me. I have been on Twitter for about 3 years now and know what a wonderful social media tool it can be, especially in the realm of education. Twitter is yet another way to connect with educators from all over the world. What an amazing resource for teachers to have to be able to share with and ask questions of educators from all disciplines and backgrounds. The world is literally at your fingertips.

After familiarizing myself with Blackboard Collaborate and the google+ community, and continuing to connect of twitter, the next phase was to create a blog. I had never blogged before in my life but was very open to the concept of blogging. Coming from a performing arts background, I have no problem sharing myself with my family, peers, and colleagues, and doing so in an entertaining way. So blogging was right up my alley and I fell in love with it almost instantly. I have always enjoyed creative writing and also sharing myself with the world. Blogging…where have you been all my life?!? But honestly, I have really enjoyed blogging each week and found myself really tuned into what was going on in education. It was like a new sense was turned on inside me and I was constantly on the look out for something to blog about and I never had trouble finding something to write about. And when Alec and Sue Waters (the Edublogger guru) instructed the class on how to spice up their blog posts and blog pages, I was even more hooked. Now I was adding widgets and adding links, pictures, and videos like nobody’s business. I now had a Twitter feed and an About.Me link. I thought I might even be giving my good friend George Couros (Alec’s brother) a run for his money in the blog world. (Just kidding George, you are still the king).

Since I started my blog on September 16th of this year I have had nearly 1500 people view my blog, from 28 different countries, representing every continent, (with the exception of Antarctica of course). I have had 103 comments on my 14 posts, many of those were from me responding to others that posted, but nonetheless, I have been quite surprised and pleased with the response that I have received from my blog. I had no idea the potential outreach blogging had. In my brief experience with blogging, it is a very inclusive and caring community. I have absolutely loved my blogging experience and plan to continue long after this class is finished.

I could go on and on about everything that I have learned in this class and detail all of the people, apps, tools, and sites that I encountered and learned from but I fear that I have gone on too long already. So why don’t you check out the song I wrote, and posted to Youtube, summarizing what I have learned in this class. I re-wrote the words to the song “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, and then edited the video in the style of Pop Up Video. As I said at the end of the video, I hope that you enjoy the song as much as I enjoyed this class. The name of my version of this song is “Share More”. Enjoy!

 

Hard Work and Perseverence are the Keys to Success!

Hey Beatles fans! This is my final post for my Major Digital Project for EC&I 831. For this assignment I choose to do a Learning Project. The basic idea of a Learning Project is to learn something new and to document and share how you learned it and your progress along the way. For my Learning Project I choose to learn to play and sing the song “Blackbird” by the Beatles. This is not my first time singing or playing guitar but “Blackbird” is a song that I always wanted to learn and is more difficult than the songs I normally play on the guitar. So I gave myself two weeks to learn the song and filmed myself at the beginning, at the halfway point, and again at the end. Here is a look at my very first attempt after learning the song through this Youtube video and then practicing for just a couple hours. This was filmed on Monday, November 18th.

After filming this I was not sure I would be able to pull it off in two weeks but it really motivated me to practice and improve. I haven’t taken on a difficult song like this in a very long time so I was both scared and excited at the same time. The competitive side of me wanted to take on the challenge and prove I could do it, but the practical side of me wasn’t sure I could in such a short time. Regardless, I persevered and practiced my fingers to the bones, (almost literally), and began to see improvements in just a couple days. I was practicing at my school, at home, at friends houses, you name it. I was highly motivated to get better. For my second attempt, after about a week of practicing, I decided to sing as well as play. My guitar playing had improved significantly but adding the lyrics was an added challenge. Here is my second attempt with guitar and singing filmed on Tuesday, November, 26th.

Not bad for a week of practicing but I still felt that I could improve. I was comfortable with playing most of the song but there were some trouble area’s that I really wanted to get better at. However, I kind of hit a wall after practicing a lot over a short period of time. I went back to Youtube and found an another instructional video that offered a slightly different fingering pattern for the parts that I was struggling with. This was enough to renew my excitement and I instantly improved on some of those trouble spots. I certainly wasn’t playing the song perfectly, but I was making far less mistakes which made me very happy. So here is my final video which I filmed on Tuesday, December 3rd. Hope you enjoy it!

As I said, the song wasn’t perfect but I thought that I did pretty well. I made far fewer mistakes than the previous attempt and really cleaned up some of the trouble spots. Overall, I was quite pleased with the final result. And the best part about taking on this Learning Project is that now I can actually play and sing “Blackbird”!!!

Taking on this Learning Project has reminded me that not everything in life is easy and sometimes you really have to work hard at something to get better. This is true in all aspects of our lives, whether it be relationships, career, or hobbies. You must work hard and take risks to improve and grow. And the pay off is the amazing feeling you get when your hard work pays off and you are able to accomplish the thing you set out to do. Nothing feels better than setting out to do something, and accomplishing that goal through hard work and perseverance. We all have a Blackbird inside of us that wants to be set free and fly. So don’t hold back. Take on a new challenge, take a risk, work hard but be willing to fail. And if you accomplish your goal, no one can take that away from you.

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone Can Be Good For Your Soul!

In my last blog post I introduced my Learning Project for EC&I 831. The basic idea of a Learning Project is to pick something that you would like to learn, (it could be to learn a new skill or to learn about a new topic of interest to you), and then learn said skill or topic and document the way in which you learned and of course your progress. For my Learning Project I chose to learn the song “Blackbird” by The Beatles. I have been playing guitar for about 18 years now but “Blackbird” is a song that I have always wanted to learn and never took the time to try. The difficulty of the song is definitely out of my comfort zone but I wanted to challenge myself and learn this classic guitar song.

On Monday, November 18, I watched a couple YouTube video’s and learned the basics of the song. I practiced for a couple hours and recorded my first attempt. In this first recording I only played guitar and didn’t sing. Here is my first attempt to play “Blackbird” from that first night.

Yikes! That is hard to watch! Since that night I have been practicing a lot and I also learned the lyrics so that I can both sing and play. I also watched and played along with another YouTube video that has an original recording and the lyrics. (I would share that video but apparently it was recently taken down because of copyright infringements). So after a lot of practice, and learning the lyrics, here is my latest attempt at playing “Blackbird” which I filmed last night on Tuesday, November 26th. Enjoy!

 

I have to admit that when I first decided to learn this song in such a short time, (about two weeks), I wasn’t sure that I would be able to pull it off and as a result I have been playing my guitar more in the last week or so than I have in probably the last year! Even though it has been a little scary, I am enjoying the challenge. I think that often we get very complacent in our daily lives and don’t always challenge ourselves and get out of our comfort zones. This Learning Project has reminded me that we have to challenge ourselves if we ever want to grow. This is true in all aspects of our lives, both personal and professional. Sometimes we have to push ourselves or have someone else give us a little nudge in order to see things in a different light or to simply light a fire under our butts! So don’t be afraid to try something new or take on a new challenge. You might be surprised at how rewarding it can be! And as I said in the title, getting out of your comfort zone can be good for your soul!

What have you done lately that is a little scary or out of your comfort zone? It doesn’t have to be something big like jumping out of a plane, it could be something small like trying a new technology or singing karaoke! Let me know, I would love to hear about it!

My Learning Project Begins!

As part of my EC&I 831 course with Dr. Alec Couros, we are required to do a major digital project. The project is pretty wide open as far as what we can choose to do. One of the choices is to do a “learning project”.

I found a great description of a learning project on Howard Rheingold’s Blog which just happened to be about Alec Couros and The Connected Teacher. The basic idea behind a learning project is this:

1. Learn a skill, concept or idea you know very little or nothing about but that you’re interested in learning.

2. Document the learning. Write about it, video tape, audio record, whatever.

3. Consider all the sources you use to learn. Collect those resources.

4. Take an early baseline snapshot of your understand at the beginning and another one at the end. Compare and analyze.

My learning project is not exactly to learn a new skill but to challenge one of my existing skills. I have been playing guitar for almost 19 years and I would rate my skill as a guitar player as adequate. When I started teaching myself to play, my goal was to be able to play around a campfire. I accomplished that goal and I have gone beyond the campfire and regularly sing and play my guitar on stage with The Saskatoon Soaps Improv Comedy Troupe and with the Red Hot Riot show here in Regina, Sk. I also have written and performed several parody songs that I have posted to my YouTube channel and also the Saskatoon Soaps YouTube channel.

As I said earlier, my guitar playing is adequate. I have gotten better over the years but I have plateaued long ago. My skills as a guitar player are very utilitarian. I play just well enough to get by. I can pick up most songs by ear but I would categorize myself as a “strummer” and not a “picker”. In other words, if I were in a band, I would definitely be the rhythm guitar player and not lead guitar. I can play the chords to most songs but cannot play the screaming guitar solo’s.

One of the songs that I have always wanted to learn was “Blackbird” by the Beatles. I have always been a huge Beatles fan and this summer I was able to see Sir Paul McCartney in concert. It was the thrill of a lifetime to see one of The Beatles on stage and relive my childhood and teenage years listening to The Beatles. Even the title of my blog, Live and Let Learn, is a play on the Paul McCartney song Live and Let Die.

So even though I have been playing guitar for a long time, taking on a classic like “Blackbird” is a huge challenge for me, not to mention that the song is all picking and fast chord changes. Not what I am used to playing at all. To learn how to play I went to YouTube and found several tutorial-type video’s and ended up looking at these two video’s.
I spent a couple hours learning and practicing and here is my first attempt at playing the song. WARNING: This attempt is not pretty. I apologize to The Beatles and Paul McCartney and anyone else who has ever played this song properly.
So there you go! My plan is to get much better over the next couple of weeks and post one more intermediate video and a final video. I think that my learning project is a good analogy for this course. I am taking a skill that I already have and trying to do something new with it as well as improve on that skill, very much like this class. I am taking what I already know about technology and social media and trying to do something new with it as well as improve on my knowledge base. Hopefully it all goes well on both fronts!
Stay tuned…..

 

Remembrance Day: What does it mean to you?

In my 15 years of teaching I have been moved by every school Remembrance Day ceremony that I have attended. Today at my current school, 300 to 400 teen-agers will file into an auditorium, put on poppies, turn off their phones, sit down quietly, and respectfully observe our Remembrance Day ceremony. Every year I am so impressed with all the students and teachers that take part in the ceremony, as well as all the students in the audience. For anyone who thinks that our current generation of young people are incapable of respectful behavior, I encourage you to attend a school Remembrance Day ceremony.

As time goes on and we have fewer and fewer surviving veterans from WWII, some people may wonder if Remembrance Day has the same meaning as it did 20, 30, or 40 years ago. Some may ask, does Remembrance Day have any impact on the youth of today? I believe that Remembrance Day still has meaning and it does impact the youth of today. We have a whole new generation of veterans that have participated in many conflicts and peace keeping missions since WWII, most recently the many Canadian soldiers that have been stationed in Afghanistan. We must still honor these people that have fought for our country and continue to fight. I believe that we, as a nation, must strive to solve conflict in a peaceful manner, but I have the utmost respect for those who choose to join our military and are willing to die to protect our freedoms.

In the title of this post I posed the question, what does Remembrance Day mean to you? For me, two things changed the way I view Remembrance Day. The first was seeing the movie Saving Private Ryan in 1998. The opening scene of this movie has forever changed my view of Remembrance Day. If you have never seen the movie, the opening scene takes place on D-Day in WWII as the allied forces storm the beaches of Normandy. As difficult as it is to watch this scene, I think everyone needs to see it. I often think of that scene during the 2 min of silence after The Last Post. I cannot imagine what these young men went through that day. I also highly recommend the 2001 mini-series Band of Brothers. The mini-series is based on a real company of American paratroopers and follows them from their training all the way through the end of WWII. After watching this mini-series, I once again had a new appreciation for what these soldiers went through. The most meaningful part of the mini-series is the interviews with the actual surviving members of “Easy” company. After hearing from these men, I can appreciate why they are called The Greatest Generation.

The second thing that has changed the way I view Remembrance Day was the birth of my daughter. Many things change when you become a parent. You discover that you can love someone more than you ever thought possible and you would do absolutely anything to keep them safe. I cannot imagine what it must be like for a soldier to leave their family and loved ones behind and head off into war or an area of conflict. As a father, it breaks my heart to know that so many parents have lost a son or daughter in combat. It also breaks my heart to know that so many children have lost a parent in combat as well. It brings tears to my eyes when I even try to imagine how painful this must be on everyone involved, and the birth of my daughter has amplified that feeling exponentially.

Today I will go to the auditorium of my school and observe the Remembrance Day ceremony. I will think of the brave young men and women that have given their lives for our country. I will think about the men that stormed the beaches of Normandy nearly 70 years ago. I will think about the men of “Easy” company and their amazing story. I will think about the family and loved ones of our military that have lost a friend, son, daughter, husband, wife, brother, sister, or parent. I will hope for peace. And at the end of the day I will  go home and give my daughter a big hug. This is what Remembrance Day means to me.

 

Are some schools better than others? Public Education vs Privitization

I am a huge fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and watch the show everyday. For those of you that have never seen it, you are missing out. It is the perfect mix of comedy and politics. The Daily Show is definitely left-leaning politically, but is not afraid to take on both the left and the right. The show is very much a comedy show but Jon Stewart does have serious guests on his show.

Last week Jon had on Diane Ravitch to talk about her new book, The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. In the interview, Diane discusses the state of education in the United States.

Although Diane is talking about education as it pertains to the United States, there are definitely some universal themes discussed. She points out that poverty is the number one contributor to low academic achievement. She goes on to point out that there is a direct correlation between districts that have low test scores and districts that have the highest rates of child poverty. I would wager that the same could be said about Canada and other industrialized nations. When students are sick, hungry, and have little to no supports in the home, they are at a huge disadvantage. According to Diane, this is “the elephant in the room” that legislators and decision makers are not taking about. She goes on to point out that if we really wanted to improve education we would make class sizes smaller, we would have nurses and health-clinics available in the schools,and we would make physical education and the arts a priority.

Another theme that emerges in this interview is that of having education look more like a marketplace with the allusion of choice as opposed to having good public education available for all. Based on my 15 years of experience,  I believe that there is a perception in the public that some schools are simply better than others. Some schools have better programs, higher academic standards, and better teachers. In my opinion, this is simply not true. Every school has great teachers, every school has great programs, every school has high academic standards, but not every school has the same demographics. This goes back to the point that Diane made in the interview; area’s with high poverty rates tend to have poor test scores. But does that mean it is a bad school with bad teachers? Of course not. This is a great example of how data can be used incorrectly. I believe data has its place to help guide decision making, but there is a huge danger when we use data to compare one school to the next. When the general public see’s data presented this way, they might choose to send their children to the school with higher test scores because it is perceived that it is a better school, and I believe this is a very dangerous premise.

I whole-heartedly agree with Diane when she says at the end of the interview, “People should have a good neighborhood school in every neighborhood. One where they are very happy to send their kids because they know the teachers are terrific”. Data definitely has its place but we need to move away from using it to compare schools. As Diane says, we need to start to looking at students as individuals and not as data points. Picking a school for you child should not be a consumer choice. In my opinion and in my experience, every school has good teachers and good programs and even though every school is different, one is not necessarily better than the other.

So what do you think? Are some schools better than others? How much choice should parents have when deciding where their child might go to school? Is the public school model working or do we need to move to a privatization model? I would love to hear what you think!