"I came from Montreal in '88", said my cab driver on the way from Thunder Bay Airport to the hotel, "and I never left". I could see why.
I knew that in theory getting kids interested in something results in higher achievement. I may have even glimpsed it in practice a few times, for example when I "Tony Stead-i-fied" my classroom library a few years ago, and sat back in amazement as hitherto reluctant readers began to engage in reading eagerly and often... but it's been a while where the link between student buy-in and the work they produce has hit me so squarely in the face as it did yesterday...
In lieu of the horrible holiday movie and festive party that invariably results in mayhem and leaves a classroom strewn with wrappers, empty drink bottles and general mess in its wake on the last day of school before winter holidays, I opted instead to take my students from Mississauga to Toronto by public transit.
Prepared as I was for their pre-trip excitement and a fun day on the road in small groups (we had subdivided into 4 groups of 5-7 students plus one adult), I was not prepared for the content the students would spontaneously produce while engaged in the field trip.
It was true that I'd had them plan the trip themselves, everything from finding the most efficient route, to calculating mileage and average speed per km while in transit, to finding fun and free activities to do while in Toronto. So to say they were invested would be an understatement (one student had even researched helmet laws in Toronto and rental fees at Nathan Phillips Square, so that a few of them could go skating -- it's $5 per helmet, and $5 per 2-hour skate rental, btw).
What amazed me, though, was the amount of self-directed effort students were putting into completing both their pre-trip assignments, as well as their "on the go" work.
While some took endless selfies, others pointed out street musicians and urban art as I had requested, and still others noticed and commented on a variety of observations (why the other subway cars on the Yonge line look like they're turning when you're going around a curve in the tracks, while the one you're sitting in always seems to be straight, for example!)
One student -- a child who barely writes two sentences in class without constant redirection -- self-selected to blog as she went along. Screens and screens of text she wrote: Everything from impressions of the bus and subway, to sights, smells and sounds on the streets of Toronto. She wrote and wrote and wrote, until her device ran out of battery.
Another student gave some coins from his pocket to two of the many homeless people we observed while in the city, explaining to me that he was fulfilling his duty under the Muslim pillar of Zakah. (He ran out of money before Toronto's streets ran out of a supply of homeless for him.) A lively conversation ensued, about the religious and secular responsibilities to look after one another as members of society, who was responsible (government vs. people), and what that might entail in different contexts.
When the class dispersed to check out Chinatown or visit another activity they had pre-selected after visting the Christmas windows, my small group hopped back onto the subway and headed down to Union station to catch the shuttle to the Island Airport.
Students were extremely engaged, as we had recently read a debate about this very airport in our literacy textbook at school, and had looked at photos of some of the homes on the island in class. They also had a million questions about the underground tunnel (oh how I wished I'd had this infographic at the time!!), and more generally, about the concept of an island so close to the city.
We'd also just finished our study of flight in Science, so when we arrived at the small flight school next to the Porter terminal and were offered a tour of the hangar by Ms. Kachira, who happened to be working that day, the students were quite excited to participate, marveling at being able to name some of the airplane parts they had memorized from a diagram in real life now. As one student remarked, as he looked at an actual airfoil (wing) up close, "Oh, now I get it!"
Each student also had a chance to sit and be photographed in the cockpit, which they enjoyed a great deal, and which I immediately posted to parent accounts on Edmodo.
Almost before I could post the suggested "After" assignments for the field trip when I got home, the student-initiated content started appearing on Edmodo: "Best trip ever!" noted one student, who accompanied his post with several selfies and group photos from the trip.
"We saw...." followed by a long, descriptive string of paragraphs from a student in a different group.
Questions and responses amongst the groups ensued, focused in ways I have rarely experienced in class!! They were genuinely interested in hearing about one another's adventures, and learning from their divergent experiences of the city.
The blossoming self-confidence I had observed earlier in the day, as this group of loosely-monitored 11-year-olds navigated public transit (many of them riding subways and public buses for the first time in their lives!), was evident in their writing, and I am looking forward to using their self-initiated work when we return to school in January, and building on it to develop and refine their writing and media skills.
The world is a big, exciting place. Bigger and more exciting by far than worksheets and textbooks. Following students' leads, and building on to their existing strengths and interests, can help educators foster a growing understanding of the world for their students and encourage them to demonstrate their understanding of said world in a more inspired, pain-free manner!
Inspired by the greens, reds and blues from above, we decided to head to the beach in the afternoon, snapping a few photos from the ground along the way...
Gosh, PEI must be the prettiest place on the planet!
Lucky me, I got to go flying this afternoon, and the weather was perfect for practising climbs, descents and turns (including steep turns, which we did out over Frenchman's Bay)!
On take-off, we noticed a purple tent out on the island... what was going on?!
We decided to do a few circuits when we came back from our local east, and I managed to snag some photos of the commotion from the air. It seems there is some sort of runway run tomorrow they are setting up for, and a music festival or some such today.
Another thing we worked on today was slips and slipping turns. It's amazing how much one forgets when one doesn't do it regularly!!! (Makes me think of the importance of purposeful practice for our students at school -- once or twice is not enough... and it has to be context-embedded.)
I will do my best to review visually in my mind over the next 24 hours: Pull out ALL power before initiating the slip, make sure airspeed is in the white arc (don't overspeed the flaps), and developing automaticity with my overshoot procedures, especially remembering to put the nose in the climb attitude!!!
Oh, if only I had more time and money to practise regularly!
At 10:22 on Friday night, I boarded an AC flight from YYZ to YYG for my first trek of the season to PEI.
I'd brought a friend with me, one who'd not yet visited the island, and it was fun to anticipate our adventures together.
Although the visit was a short one (2.5 days), we did our best to pack it with Island "stuff"!
Arriving after midnight meant a visit to the all night Sobey's in Ch'town before heading out to the house. Brian obligingly picked us up and went grocery shopping with us -- never saw a grocery story at 2 a.m. before; they took advantage of the lull in shoppers to restock the shelves! -- before driving us out to St Peter's Harbour, around the corner from his own Red Head Harbour.
The night sky was bejewelled with stars, and the Milky way was clearly visible overhead. One of my favourite things about the island (and one which differentiates it so from Toronto) is the sky, and I felt so much joy at this astronomical greeting from above as we pulled into the driveway and unpacked our bags from Brian's trunk.
The boys downed a Gahan House from the fridge which I had had the foresight to prearrange (the beer, not the fridge) while I unpacked groceries and suitcases, and discovered that somewhere between removing my gloriously noise-cancelling headphones and arriving at the house, the headphones had disappeared. Crumb!
Thankfully, Brian had the number to the commissionaire memorised (one advantage of having a friend who works at the tower!!), and I wrote it on a scrap to follow up later.
By the time we'd unpacked and finished catching up, it was after 4 a.m., and glimmers of sunrise were hinting at making themselves known on the horizon, so I stayed up a little longer, and captured the pre-sunrise on my iPhone before falling into bed.
The next "morning" (well alright, it was closer to noon!) our house looker after swung by with the plumber to do a few odd jobs. Then we lounged about and got caught up with the neighbours on one side.
Afterwards I had a nap in the hammock - nice!
Then it was time to show Rick the beach and the light house. We set off into the late afternoon windy sunshine, and snapped a few pics of the old pier en route. How strange it was to be walking in 22-degree sunshine and still see remnants of snow along the treeline!
Sunday was more of a cloudy Island day; rain seemed inevitable, but we'd determined to bike into Morell so that I could show Rick the village, and so I could go to the bank and get some money for our house guy, who had presented me with a bill for the winter's work!!
Although Tats' bike had not weathered the winter on PEI particularly well, and was desperately in need of a new chain, my bike seemed okay, as did one of the others, and we set out towards Hwy 2.
Camera-less, Rick took away only memories of the RedHead fishing huts, the Morell River, and the local stretch of the confederation trail (the visitors' centre was not yet open for the season) before stopping at the bank machine to complete my errand.
Once we arrived back home, we fed ourselves a decent lunch, and then it was off to another vigorous nap in the hammock for me and one on the couch for Rick, before our Sunday night Lobster Dinner, which we had been invited to by our new neighbours Syd and Katie.
The dinner was both delicious and entertaining, as it afforded me an opportunity to meet many "from away" neighbours who'd come to the island to open up their summer homes, or who were living there year round and were eager for the first big social event of the season.
Interestingly, several houses down the road from ours had been purchased by Ontarians over the past 12 months, and I was able to connect with several new neighbours.
Rick endeared himself to all by washing dishes for most of the night. Being an extreme introvert, this was ideal; he was able to observe the proceedings from his central post at the open concept kitchen sink while avoiding direct conversation for much of the evening!
The next morning we took one more jaunt down to the beach as well as the subdivision at the end of the road, and then prepared for our departure after lunch. Brian came to enjoy said lunch with us before taking us into town so that Rick could get a lay of the land in Confederation's birthplace.
No visit to Ch'town is complete without a stop at Cow's ice cream -- Rick treated us to a few scoops at Peake's Warf, and then it was off to pick up some treats for Simon and Alex as well as my Grade 7s at the much-fabled Anne of Green Gables Chocolate Shop... still no chocolate covered red licorice in stock, but we made due with a few containers of their famous chocolate covered potato chips, which I had told my homeroom students about last week, and had promised to try and obtain.
Finally, sadly, it was time to say good-bye to the island, and head off to the Airport.
After checking Rick in (he was on a different plane home than I), we popped over to the tower for a quick tour -- Brian showed Rick how aircraft show up on the radar, and we saw a smaller plane land on 03 before heading back down to the terminal to make our way through security.
Boarding my own aircraft a short time later was a bittersweet event: On the one hand, I am looking forward to returning to my Tatsy tonight; on the other hand, I already miss the island, and am not sure how I will weather the weeks until end July when I finally head back for a full month of summer vacation (this time with the kids).
Those who followed my flight blog for the three years it tool me to earn my pilot license know that I spend my summers on PEI, and that often my Saturday mornings out there are spent at a greasy spoon near YYG, where the local pilots meet for breakfast (and sometimes flying!!!) each week.
This past Sunday after church, Tats, Alex and I went to the Gay Pilots' Association brunch here in Toronto. It was a leetel different from the PEI event we are used to, hehe...
For starters, we were not the only women there!!! Secondly, we were not the only openly GAY people there!!! Thirdly, Tats was not the only commercial pilot there!!!
And there was live jazz music! And the food was edible!
My only complaint was that -- unlike many a Saturday on PEI -- we didn't get to go flying afterwards.
Alex had an excellent time, and asked afterwards, "Mommy, they're fun! When are we going to another Gay Pilot Breakfast?" No worries, kid, Dean's already got you signed up to work the booth at Pride this year, lol!
Once you have piloted the plane you are flying in, once you have pulled back the controls at just the right moment, have felt the instant your aircraft left the ground, and have looked out straight ahead as it did so and realised, "hey, I am actually flying this thing!", it is hard to find any thrill that will match that experience.
Especially if those moments of take-off have included the outlook over a body of water, the sunlight dancing and sparkling off the ripples of the big lake or ocean ahead, with nothing blocking your view as you soar off into the skies... life on the ground seems, well, sluggish. Slow... and dull.
If -- like me -- you also happen to be a cyclist, you may be lucky enough to experience a tiny little bit of that thrill as you sail, slightly more smoothly and at a quicker pace than the plodding footsteps or crawling car traffic so many of us city dwellers are bound to, across an elevated platform such as a bridge, for example.
Today I had the good fortune to be cycling across such an one.
The Sunnyside bridge offered me the ability to capture -- for the most fleeting moment -- a fraction of the adrenaline rush that flying generates. Cycling southbound as the sun danced for a moment across the ripples of the water of Lake Ontario creating a glimmering spectacle of luminosity on this otherwise grey, gray day. The panoramic vista that lay open ahead of me, glinting and gleaming as I peddled effortlessly high above the Gardener Expressway with the wind at my back, was as powerful as the most potent anti-depressant available on the market.
Ahhh, but the moment was too brief, and the other side of the bridge was reached too soon.
In a flash, I was back on earth, the cold biting my face at ground level, and the crosswind creating a nuisance to fight against as I struggled to maintain both my balance and my forward motion with an extremely overloaded and bulky pannier on only one side of my bike.
Without the thrill of the sky opening up ahead of me, the exhilaration of the preceding 3 minutes was gone.
Oh, how I miss flying!
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera now focuses most of her written attention to prolific blogging, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and, more recently, SMARTbansho and Homeschooling 4. Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
The views expressed on this blog are the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of her family members or the position of her employer on the the issues she blogs about. These posts are intended to share resources, document family life, and encourage critical thought on a variety of subjects. They are not intended to cause harm to any individual or member of any group. By reading this blog and viewing this site, you agree to not hold Vera liable for any harm done by views expressed in this blog.