Canadian Conversations

Yup.

Yup.

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have had a number of conversations with Unplugd participants Tom Fullerton, Andy Forgrave and Stephen Hurley, as well as #ds106radio folks like @drgarcia and @easegill about the nature of the Canadian experience or identity. Spurred on by the inspiration of attending the first “uniquely Canadian educational summit,” the discussion of just what it means to live in Canada, how the landscape influences our national character, and how the immensity of our country factors into the dreaming and expression of its artists, thinkers, and politicians, has continued to fill my thinking. In advance of our author panel coming up this Thursday evening, I thought I would attempt to synthesize some of this thinking and delve into some of my own piece of the Canadian narrative.

Let me debunk an American myth: I take my life in my hands.

Gord Downie

Canada is a big place. And the creation of that mythological Canadian character, that supreme individual in whom resides the imagination of the country is as immense as the space between our scattered cities.

Margaret Atwood has characterized the chief concern of Canadian literature as Survival, and the breadth of citizens living out this central theme in our national life has ranged from the colonists of Susanna Moodie, to artists such as Tom Thompson, and athletes like Sidney Crosby.

Terry Fox.

Gordon Downie.

Iceage Leftover

Erratic Behaviour

These are people with a vision expansive enough to see the whole country, and channel the exaltation of a people bound to one another and their local communities by distance, weather, mountains, plains, and the scattered tribes of NHL franchises, hometown heroes, and brief flirtations with international notoriety. But for the fringes of ‘civilization’ freckled across the 49th parallel, the True North of long nights and longer winters, of hockey played on backyard ponds, and of an intimate awareness of our cohabitation with a visceral wilderness are the everyday experience in the great wide open that separates us all, in our cities or outside of them. And it is against this sparsely populated landscape that the characters and authors of our national narratives lived and recorded their lives in monuments of necessity and invention, art and social artifact.

There exist in great abundance across the country these ‘soul homes,’ where in the unmolested forests from Haida Gwaii or Gros Morne we can touch, and see, and breathe the dawn of not only our Canadian story, but modern human society, and the birthmarks of the very Earth itself. To experience a sunrise against a mountainside bearing the scars of the most ‘recent’ ice age (10,000+ years ago), or swim in a lake scoured into the surface of a two billion year old rock, is to immerse oneself in the immensity of the Canadian experience and imagination. We are greeted daily with the reality that the Edge – of the province, country, ocean or time itself – (if there even is an edge) is well beyond our ability to conceive of it. Oceans rise and fall. Mountains collide, erupt, and crumble. The glaciers come with regularity, and over time our mammalian cousins evolve to live in the sea, then upon land, only to return eventually to the oceans. Life in Canada, from cedar trees, to orca whales and Prime Ministers, is waged against the unavoidable landscape of immeasurable time.

August 2004

Echoes in a Timeless Battle

And despite the fact that North America’s First Peoples had managed in this tidal cycle of ice and evolution to live productively – if not in many cases quite comfortably – from coast to coast and north of Hudson’s Bay across the arctic barrens, the European settlers who would write the initial passages in our young nation had left a native landscape that had been subdued by the hands of men and machines for centuries. From landed nobility to indentured servants, Canada’s first settlers had little reason to expect that land, even in the ‘untamed’ New World, would do anything but surrender to the development of crops and the sweep of human progress [1. Of course, they may have also been terrified, scared witless as you or I would be setting out to colonize Mars. But I like to imagine proper French and English gentlefolk encountering the north woods of Ontario with formal-wear and tea sets.]

It is into this terse relationship with the land that Susanna Moodie, and later Tom Thompson, wandered out into their own North Woods and created, in paint and prose, artifact and expression of the energy and life force of the very land itself. And while many did, and many still do cling to the cities [2. Whose character and value I don't begrudge or discount, but aren't the aspect of the Canadian experience I'm after here.], there have always been Alexander MacKenzies, and Emily Carrs, and Terry Foxes, individuals who have pursued in themselves a relationship – a conflict, really: survival, waged against the country’s wilderness, and the limits of understanding our country’s character.

In line with the focus of my #Unplugd11 essay and anecdote, I continue to write the story of our country’s/countries’ unfolding narrative with these individual thoughts, and the perspectives of my friends and colleagues. I am able to continue forward from the summit replenished and inspired by time spent talking, telling stories, singing songs, and forging meaning in the ways people of this place have for millennium: beside lakes and campfires, in canoes, and surrounded by residents of a landscape that has shaped each of us.

Why Doodling Matters

Why Doodling Matters

Why Doodling Matters by Giulia Forsythe

One of the extra-special pieces of the Unplugd experience was not only being able to spend some time around an actual campfire with #Ds106Radio fire-mate Giulia Forsythe, but being able to collaborate with her in preparing the second chapter of the summit publication, “Why _______ Matters: Voices and Choices.” In addition to being tapped to collect the various chapters’ themes and stories in visual representations and sketches, Giulia’s own essay, “Why Doodling Matters,” took the shape of a visual essay that continued to develop over the course of an afternoon on the couch in the Edge’s Points North cabin (though, to be fair, I disappeared before Giulia delivered a lengthier treatise on the wonders of iPad file storage and transfer).

Giulia’s essay begins at Temple Grandin‘s notion – highlighted in an excellent TED Talk – of the world needing All kinds of Minds, and makes a powerful, visual argument for the necessity of thinking in doodles:

As Temple Grandin says, “the world needs all kinds of minds.” and some of those minds “think in pictures”. Doodling is a form of external thought that allows you to visualize the connections you are making while thinking. In the conscious mind, doodling can assist concentration and focus but even in the unconscious mind, while doodling and day dreaming connections are made. As Steven Johnson says, the “mind’s primordial soup” can lead to “serendipitous collisions of creative insight”. Doodling has allowed connections to be made between people and ideas, the magical space between. These aspects can lead to better problem solving. By sharing my thinking through visual means, my most important connections have been to people, by way of sharing my perceptions of their ideas, presentations and words back to them.

You can download Giulia and the rest of the Voices and Choices author group’s contribution to the Unplugd publication, as well as Giulia’s doodles that accompany the other chapters as they are published over the next month. Our group will also be participating in an author panel on #ds106radio this Thursday evening (6pm PST / 9pm EST), and discussing our individual threads in the chapter’s conversation. In addition to Giulia and myself, they are:

Why Choice Matters: A Story Shared by Kathy Cassidy from unplugd on Vimeo.

  • Kim Gill – “Why the Tool Matters”

Why The Tools Matter: A Story Shared by Kim Gill from unplugd on Vimeo.

  • Rodd Lucier – “Why Irresistible Challenges Matter”

Why Irresistible Challenges Matter: A Story Shared by Rodd Lucier from unplugd on Vimeo.

Why Perspective Matters: A Story Shared by Andy McKiel from unplugd on Vimeo.

#Unplugd11: Why Sharing Our Stories Matters

Why Sharing Our Stories Matters: Story by Bryan Jackson from unplugd on Vimeo.

It was a great honour to be able to share the story above with members of my #Unplugd11 group – Rodd, Kim, Giulia, Kathy, and Andy – and be a part of the inspiring collaborative editing and writing process of the collectively-authored second chapter of the Summit publication, Why ______ Matters: Choices & Voices (pdf). As Giulia noted, it was amazing to work in a group where:

we negotiated meaning through shared understanding. We dug deep to determine ‘the point’. The main ideas were mined, refined, expanded and sculpted. The group was so considerate but challenging too. It was the perfect mix of choice and voice, modeled perfectly- as teachers, editors, learners, colleagues and friends.

Rodd's Group

Voices & Choices author group

As my invitation to the Unplugd Educational Summit arrived during the beginning of the unit(s) mentioned in my canoe story – which turned out to be perhaps the most fulfilling and relevant of the year – it seemed a logical focus for my essay and supporting anecdote around the topic: “Why ______ Matters.”

The conversation around Truth with respect to the emerging developments in 2011′s Arab Spring movement are seen beginning to take shape in a post highlighting many of the #Talons‘ thoughts from that first week. Megan made for a particularly inspiring synthesis to the class’ thinking:

If what happened in Egypt is any indicator as to what can be accomplished through communication, I think that maybe, I need to realize, or maybe we (and I’m talking to all my fellow youth out there) need to realize that if we organize we can accomplish something big. People may say that children and youth are better seen, and not heard. But you know what? We are the new generation, and we should have a say about what sort of world we are growing up into.

So hey, there’s my two cents. Just tossing it out in the world of the internet.

But I guess you might say this:

I know that it actually matters now.

I am a participant in this age of information.

The conversation continued across posts about events in the Middle East, discussions of Canadian history and Louis Riel, and provided powerful inspiration for the class’ This I Believe personal essays, that are the inspiration and support for my Unplugd thesis, “Why Sharing Our Stories Matters.”

Download the preface and first two chapters, as well as the upcoming sections of the Unplugd11 e-book as they are published here, and be sure  to tune into the emerging weekly author panel discussions on #DS106Radio: chapter two authors Giulia Forsythe, Rodd Lucier, Kim Gill, Kathy Cassidy, Andy McKiel and myself will be talking about Voices and Choices this Thursday evening, 9pm (EST), 6pm on the west coast (to tune into #DS106Radio, this link should open a streaming playlist in iTunes or other media players: http://www.bit.ly/ds106radio4life).

Liam’s English Final as documentary film: “On Education”

Though almost two months old, Liam’s English 11 Final Projectany substantial meditation and communication of a unique theme of the learner’s choice – is a compelling contribution of ‘student-voice’ in the conversation of education reform. Liam’s skills of research and storytelling, as well as argument and presentation are particularly on display throughout, as he deftly weaves the opinions of his fellow #Talons classmates into a potent field report from the front lines in learning.

Such it was that Liam’s effort became a learning resource in Gina Garcia‘s Learning Theories course for pre-service teachers at the University of Connecticut. See Gina’s Storified collection of the conversation Liam’s project inspired, and how this piece of classroom work began a life-cycle with boundless spheres of potential influence:


Unplug’d 11 – a Uniquely Canadian Educational Summit

Unplugd11 was special and important to me [because] I had the chance to engage in rich discussion with Canadian educators. That was the first time for me that I was at a conference attended solely by Canadians. I wondered if it was the first time ever that a national conference was attended by only Canadians. We need more venues like this to bring together educators from across this great country.

Tom Fullerton

Just back from a cathartic odyssey into the heart of the Canadian North with a committed team of “people who care about education so much it hurts,” I will likely feel for some time yet as if there aren’t words to convey with dignity the continuous emotional, intellectual, and physical immersion in experience this weekend offered. Consider this a first broad stroke in the narrowing of a statement of purpose that might be deigned a manifestation of our collective minds.

For my part, it was invigorating to not only meet, but collaborate and explore the Canadian educational landscape with so many inspiring agents of educational change in – for me personally, at least – the epitome of Canadian Northern landscapes. Each encountering a unique pilgrimage into the heart of our country’s wilderness, Unplug’d brought together a collection of diverse voices in the threads of the story of Canada’s current state of education. We arrived with stories and theses from the edges of our schools, out on the boundaries of learning in our country, and in some ways the gathering served as an affirmation, and inspiration, for those working on the thin edge of Canadian educational change. In one another’s struggles, we were introduced to allies in kind; and in attempting to define the current perimeters of reform, as well as the elemental values by which each of us lives as educators and citizens, we each were refreshed with a glimpse of the hope for our collective future triumphs.

An immense thank you to Zoe, Rodd, Kelly, Alec, Darren, Dean, and Tom, as well as our hosts Todd, Martha, Topher, Alyha (sorry if that spelling is off), Xena (ditto), Greg, and Google at the Northern Edge for allowing such an experience to be realized. An innumerable thanks to each of the Unplug’d participants for sharing of themselves so completely throughout the weekend, either in the service of our stated purpose of creating the artifacts, or the engrossing conversations in between. As the beginning of the story is being written, you each have instilled in me a great hope for what is yet to come. It may be said yet that just as Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven went into Algonquin Park to discover and make record of an emerging Canadian artistic identity, so too might we have ventured into the heart of the North Woods to create a statement of the country’s educational frontier.

It was thoroughly an honour to be a part of it.

 

Two things I’m going to enjoy this summer

photo-1

And each hopefully for many years to come: my back yard, and a new guitar (third hand [1. At least!]), decorated as a gift given to me today by the 2010-2011 Talons class. As I told them upon opening the case the guitar arrived in, “You wonderful, beautiful children [1. For the record, I know that you dislike being thought of as children, but perhaps in an unconscious way the gift (and being so moved by it, truly) reinforces our Adult/Child relationship and resulted in the unfavourable word-choice]!”

For the infinite number of times that I – and no doubt many present, past and future Talons – will strum the new guitar and think of you, a thousand (plus a few) thank yous for this incredible gift of music and artistry.

Thank you as well for what was an adventurous and landmark year of Talons learning that I’m looking forward to seeing play out in Greatest Hits throughout the summer on Defying Normality, and in the future momentum of a program each of you has had a profound hand in shaping.

Enjoy your rest, families and friends this summer.

Vote for finalists in the Write Gleneagle’s Anthem Contest

Watch the video above to hear the songs & match them with their composers below:


You can listen, and download each of the songs on Gleneagle Music’s SoundCloud page:


This Talons Believe

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This Talons Believes by Bryanjack

As this part of the ds106 class comes to a close (sort of) I have repeatedly pondered the role audio for me plays in my life and that we have done great things in this class expanding the community properties of sound and I am so thankful for that. Sound has so many wonderful uses, and I think in this class we have wandered into some fantastic places with it. I want to sit with all of you and make art.

Todd Conaway

Agreeing with Todd entirely, I synthesized some of my teacher feedback from the few-months old This I Believe essay project into a 20′ radio show that sewed different elements of the class’ recorded writings into my larger essay about what we learned we believed. Still a few steps away from offering a weekly radio show, or media share of the collective lessons learned in the Talons classroom, but one closer. Enjoy!