Best to disconnect…

A few disconnected thoughts – or maybe not – before disappearing for the weekend. I really, really do not want to be near any form of news these next few days. Childish? Absolutely. Would I encourage wilful ignorance in the students I teach? Absolutely not. However, I’ve completed my latest round of report cards, I’ve been in the city for too many days in a row, the weather has been unseasonably warm, and I’m not prepared to witness a petulant, thin-skinned, and self-serving individual assume the presidential mantle. Tetchy? Yup. It’s off to a cabin in Yoho I go. Yes, I can be petulant, thin-skinned, and self-serving, but I’m not a liar on a grand scale.

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Chinook arch, Monday. Yuck.

Phew, I think I need the break! It has been horribly warm in the city, with temperatures rising from -30C to plus 9C in a few days. A chinook wind has been blowing and the snow has been melting, and with it all my hopes of a classic Canadian winter. To be fair, chinooks are a common feature of a Calgary winter. I simply detest slush – the early morning frozen slush and icy patches, the late morning semi-slush, and then the afternoon wet slush once again. Repeat ’til depressed. All with a wearying west wind dragging me down and inducing lethargy and a headache. (Well, this really is a whiny and petulant poor me post this week!)

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Yuck. Headache.

On the final day of our learn to ski/snowboard adventures last week, a student managed to wipe me out in spectacular style. Didn’t feel it at the time, and nor did I feel the consequences of students hanging on to my arms and hands (with a steely death grip I’d no idea children had in them) as they begged and pleaded for me not to let go. (Good man that I am, I assured them I wouldn’t let go – I simply loosened my mitts and enjoyed the stunned look as they realized they were holding empty mitts and riding backwards. Success. Payback for my untrustworthiness has been in the form of bruises, aches and pains all this week – back to my whining again…)

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Please refreeze! Whiny voice.

Time to end on a positive note! Before we took the students skiing/snowboarding, they researched a few of the usual suspects when it comes to role models on snow. Nothing wrong with that, but we’re not all going to be pro-boarders and Olympians, although have at it if that’s your goal. We did discover a far more interesting individual. If my whining and negativity here has you shaking your head – and I don’t blame you, haha – please check out the link below. It lifted me out of my mini “poor me” slump, and delivered an exhilarating kick in the pants. This guy is simply wonderful and for so many reasons. His philosophy has been well and truly tested. Check this out (you’ll be glad you did!):

Powder Philosophy

Did you watch it? What a guy, what a role model – I’m looking forward to aging gracefully and maintaining positivity and equilibrium. Or trying, anyway. Can’t wait to get to Yoho and disconnect to reconnect. Tetchy? Yes, a little – but as George says, life is good. Not Disney, but good!

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Oh, Yoho! Good.

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend! I’ll try and write something less childish next time…

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Double Mountain. Double, you say? Oh, go on then!

“I fell over!”

Teacher: Goodness! Are you alright? What happened?

Student: I fell over!

Teacher: But your arm is okay? Yes? Tell me the story!

Student: Well, I was going down the hill, and then I fell over!

We took a group of grade 5/6 students to WinSport, formerly Canada Olympic Park, at the west edge of Calgary. What an opportunity! Cold and sunny, not too windy, so what’s not to like? Three days of ski or snowboard instruction – why, that’s almost as good as three days in a classroom with Mr. PlaidCamper…

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Cold and sunny, and you can see the mountains from the top of this “mountain”!

The rest of my week has been spent writing report cards, so the post is from the mouths of students. I started off with the tale of the broken arm – that’s what we thought when Ski Patrol radioed in and said there’d been an accident. Fortunately, ice , sympathy and time revealed no more than soreness and what I hoped would be quite the tale. We’ll do some work on embellishment and tall stories next week in class, because what you read above is the story D told me – he fell over.

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Paying attention

Let’s try another one:

Student: When I was living in Nigeria, I had a dream about playing in snow. Today I will try snowboarding. God has given me a gift from my dream.

Teacher: That’s lovely, J – but do you think you could push your foot a little harder into your boot?

Student: I think I need smaller feet, Mr. PC.

Teacher: An interesting idea J, but perhaps we’ll try the next boot size up first?

J did get a larger size up, and he did spend three days learning to snowboard. Or three days playing in the snow. His first Canadian winter, and he’s embracing it!

How about P, who has ASD and loves Star Wars:

Student: Can I keep the boots? I’m like a stormtrooper on a snowboard. When I go home, I’m making lego Darth Vader on skis.

Teacher: Would Darth prefer snowboarding?

Student: No, he skis and Han Solo snowboards.

Fair enough. I’m looking forward to that movie.

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My snowboard at Louise (I’m short on pictures this week)

Here are a few more snippets from students, and I have to say they thoroughly enjoyed their time on the “mountain”!

My butt hurts!

Can I switch to skiing? (After seeing a skier blast by)

Can I switch to snowboarding? (Snowboarder blasted by)

My board is the wrong colour – I need a blue one! (We did establish that colour likely wasn’t the issue, and that getting up and trying again helps…)

My butt hurts!

Can we eat this snow?

Are you really related to Shaun White, Mr. PC? (Not exactly, but there are similarities, don’t you think?)

But Shaun White has hair!

My butt hurts!

Can we come back next week? 

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Maybe they’ll end up here?
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Or here! I hope so…

Oh, how I wish we could be back there next week. Seeing students fall over, flail around a bit, realize they’ll have to pick themselves up, and then do so with a smile and a laugh, really gives me hope. Their character is revealed, and they start to realize that work, effort and play can, sometimes,  be pretty much the same thing.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

How cold is too cold?

Too cold?! Is that even possible? Maybe…

This past week was spent with a small group of 12 year old students out in Kananaskis. They – we – were learning more about teamwork, leadership, and meeting challenges together. Fun stuff, and one big challenge was the super subzero temperatures. The daytime highs were minus 20C, and in the valleys and shadows a touch colder than that. At sun up yesterday, it was minus 35! Yikes – toe freezing temperatures!

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Cold from top to toe, and toe to top
It was certainly a talking point amongst the students – and they were sold on the notion that few people can say they’ve experienced what they did in such temperatures! I was so happy to see them rise to the challenge of skill building and cooperating when it could have been easy to complain. Yes they mentioned the temperatures (hard to ignore!), but most of the time they cheerfully stepped up and reached personal goals set each day. City kids with very little outdoor winter experience between them, they were delighted to be in a wonderful setting and were heard exclaiming how pretty the landscape was.

They did have to hug trees, because it’s mandatory on all Mr. PC field trips, even if it isn’t an explicit curriculum requirement. (It should be!)

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Does this tree look like it needs a hug?
It was too cold for high ropes, but not too cold to learn a knot or two, or learn how to lash logs together to build a rudimentary shelter (although it was too cold and getting too dark to hang around and finish it!)

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Let’s finish it later, when it warms up…late April sound good?
It was too cold to bore into trees (they were frozen) and extract a core sample, but it wasn’t too cold to hike to Chilver Lake (one student renamed it Shiver Lake) and admire a long view in the late afternoon.

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Beautiful Shiver Lake
No sign of the cougar seen by many the previous week, but deer tracks, coyote tracks, and squirrel tracks were everywhere – those little guys are so industrious and could still be spotted scampering from tree to tree and scurrying up trunks. It was too cold to stand around watching for long, but they always excited our students.

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In lovely light, with Mount Yamnuska to the right
Seeing students learning and problem solving together far from their regular classroom, and in trying conditions, gives me hope for the future. Not just their appreciation for the environment, although that is essential. No, it’s something else as our generation looks to the next. Let’s face it, when I’m in the retirement home (many, many decades hence), the young ones we’re teaching today will be (amongst other things) the healthcare policy makers, care workers, nurses and doctors looking after me in my dotage.

I take this seriously. Imagine you’re bedridden, awaiting the next dose of medication, the door opens and that student from way back when walks in – surprise! You know, the one you’d wished you’d helped a bit more in, say, measurement and math, especially as now they’re stood in the doorway holding a large syringe. Those thoughts keep you focused when teaching, let me tell you…

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A wee heavy for a cold, cold night – and a little reward
Anyway, on the basis of what I observed this past week, there are going to be some fine citizens taking responsibility for themselves and each other in the future. Too cold wasn’t possible for these young people – and, one day, we might all be safe in their hands. A happy thought.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, and have a wonderful weekend! (Stay warm…)

 

Snowed under? Take a hike!

On the day this piece is posted, there’ll be ten teaching days until the winter break. I won’t count today, because that’ll mean eleven days, and I just can’t handle the truth. Definitely snowed under at work, and it’s been like that for a while, so last weekend we needed to go and find some snow. The real stuff.

Chocolate advice

Meteorologists have forecast a cold and snowy winter for our little corner of Canada, and that prediction has warmed an old PlaidCamper’s heart. Contrarian! A real winter? Yes please! I felt shortchanged by last winter when there were too many Chinook winds and too few flakes. Snow flakes.

As we set off for the mountains last week I was feeling flaky, maybe slightly anxious with my high hopes for some real snow – the bright blue skies and a warm westerly wind didn’t add up to winter. Still, it was the weekend, we’d made our plans, and I’ve tremendous faith in weather forecasters. Also, if I only step on the white tiles (not the blue ones) along the hallway from my classroom to the exit, then the snow will fly. Scientifically speaking, this only works on a Friday afternoon, and I must be wearing my favourite toque…

Put on your favourite toque

The science behind the white tile approach to meteorology is very hard to explain, and I struggle to understand it – it is enough to know that it works every time (except for the times it doesn’t) – and it worked once more last weekend. The deeper we traveled into the mountains, the lower the temperature dropped. By the time we arrived near Louise, reasonably heavy snow was falling, and it continued to snow well into the next day. Yup, it had to be the white tiles.

Fresh

We opted to take a hike, taking delight in leaving fresh tracks across the first snow, all along Baker Creek and down to the Bow River. The snow wasn’t deep, but it was enough to change the landscape and create something new. What a relief to be out in the snow, tramping back and forth along the river bank, and recharging instead of feeling snowed under. Snowed under? No, no, we were under the snow! Winter is almost upon us, a season to embrace, and it’s almost always a perfect time to take a hike. Feels good.

Along the Bow

I’ll keep this short, and, like the snow last week, not at all deep. Thanks for reading, avoid the blue tiles, and have a wonderful weekend! 

Beautiful Baker Creek
Unexpected!

Midweek movies and music

The thread through this post is a little frayed, and a bit twisted – less thread and more like an old cassette tape that has unwound from the spool – but there is a line…

One thing leads to another, if I can borrow an old lyric. Where to begin? A splendid piece, Monster Blues and Salmon, Too, by Walt over at RivertopRambles was the starting gun – it got me thinking and following movies and music along a winding trail. A long and winding (oh stop it, PlaidCamper! Or get your own lyrics…) Walt linked to a video (you can go watch and listen to it at the link above) that had me jumping down a musical rabbit hole, chasing old memories and digging out old albums.

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(courtesy: Springsteen.net)

The Big Head Blues Club pointed me to John Lee Hooker, I took a detour with Van Morrison, and ended up traveling through Springsteen’s Nebraska. I heard and found echoes and traces of all these and more after Walt’s blues pulled the musical trigger. Hanging  out in Nebraska got me back to the Terrence Malick movie Badlands, and that reminded me I was planning to watch Malick’s Days of Heaven. So I did.

What an astonishing movie! Set in 1916, it is a rural drama played out in the fields of the Texas panhandle. Murder, loyalty, poverty, identity, family breakdown, and the threat of industrial scale farming production are some of the themes in the mix. If that doesn’t appeal, don’t be put off, simply watch the movie as a series of painterly scenes. And Brooke Adams, Richard Gere, and Sam Shepard are all quite pretty.

The  actual story is slight, fairly conventional, and the dialogue is rather stilted and spare. Fortunately, what overrides the plot and dialogue deficiencies is the voiceover delivered by the most interesting character, a teenage girl played by Linda Manz. Sometimes I find voiceovers irritating; it can seem as though the movie is unable tell a story effectively without a clunky voiceover explaining everything. The voiceover in Days of Heaven is exceptional. It reveals the real story in the movie, told almost in parallel to the events unfolding on screen, and the commentary presents the most affecting point of view.

Days of Heaven is beautiful, with frame after frame of striking images. For the look of the film, Malick was inspired by Edward Hopper, and if Hopper had ever made a movie, it might have looked something like Days of Heaven. The house in the movie was built as a set based on the painting below:

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House by the Railroad, 1925 Edward Hopper (courtesy EdwardHopper.net)

Malick’s aim was to shoot in natural light, which he mostly did and with striking results – the harvest scenes are breathtaking. The cinematographer, Nestor Almendros, won an Oscar for his lighting.

As I was watching, the natural lighting had me thinking about The Revenant, how that was filmed in a similar way, in natural light at the start and end of the day. I’m such a nerd – some quick research revealed the production designer, Jack Fisk, worked on both movies. The cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won an Oscar for his work on The Revenant. I ended up watching The Revenant again, wanting to see and compare the cinematography. What a nerd, but what a delightful landscape-heavy double feature. Shot in different seasons, and forty years apart, both movies were made (in part) in Alberta. Oh the winter grandeur of the mountains, and the late summer beauty of the rolling prairies.

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Days of PlaidCampers. Rarely seen. Shot in Montana. Beautiful lighting. Lost plot.

What a wonderful music and movie journey I ended up taking. OK, so it was through an iPad screen, and the hour got exceptionally late, but it was as close to being out of the city as I could get midweek.

There you have it. I’m not so sure I’ve managed to wind the cassette tape back onto the spool, but the music and movie trip was good for me (and for Mrs PC – she didn’t have to listen to me complaining about my nature deficit – and she seems to like my noise cancelling headphones even more than I do. Apparently they really work…)

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Good for your health – winter playtime is near!

Little end note tangent: I stayed up late and watched movies because I didn’t have “real” work the next day. Instead of teaching, I attended a workshop designed to promote positive mental health in students (and teachers) – I was a little drowsy later in the day – and one repeated theme was about being outdoors and/or in natural environments and having time to play.

The profile of the class I’m teaching this year includes many students with a mental health diagnosis, and there are several others with mental health problems. It’s quite the challenge in our communities these days, and, sad to say, increasingly prevalent amongst our young people…

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Fundamental…

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I firmly believe that being outdoors and involved in the natural world has a fundamental part to play in maintaining good (mental) health. We are better human beings as a result. In that spirit, we are planning on being out in the mountains and on the slopes this coming weekend. Winter playtime!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, a music or movie recommendation, or a tip for positive mental health, and have a wonderful weekend! If you are in the USA, or from the USA, and you celebrate, I hope you are enjoying a happy Thanksgiving.

Another little end note: to meet the overwhelming demand (erm, one request) the butternut and black bean chilli recipe will be included next week – there was no need (or demand, PlaidCamper) to squeeze in more squash after last week…

Looking forward, looking back…

For many involved in education, this time of year is about beginnings; a new school year and all the excitement and promise that goes with having a new set of students. Fall is fast approaching, and summer is fading. It’s all about planning for the fresh academic year, being ready with spruced up lessons and wonderful ideas to activate learning. Something like that, anyway.

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Fresh

The other day, I found myself sitting at my desk, in my empty classroom (the students were due to arrive in another couple of days), making a few final adjustments to some “start the year” type activities. Jotted down some hoary old bits and pieces to share with the new arrivals, along the lines of making a good first impression (but give your teacher, Mr PC, some slack – he is happy to see you, but he smiles on the inside…), make a good second impression if the first one didn’t go so well, and it’ll all be fine as the year progresses. The steady drip, drip, drip of encouragement. So, very much in looking forward mode. Yet, I’m not quite ready to let go of summer…

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Drip, drip, drip

Don’t tell the principal, but I ended up using a few minutes of that planning time to make a note or two about our summer adventures. We had a splendid summer, fortunate to be able to visit the UK, and spend time with family and friends – this was an absolute highlight. Still, banging on about close friends and family that other people don’t know isn’t necessarily a recipe for an enthralling blog post. So I’ll spare you those details and, over the next couple of posts, share one or two other highlights instead. Not that these will necessarily be enthralling, but I’ll do my best (as I like to say to students) and these are what came to mind, what I scribbled down in the quiet of the classroom:

dscf3068Let’s start with sitting outside the Tofino Botanical Gardens Darwin Cafe, taking shelter from a heavier period of rain, and drinking an excellent cup of coffee whilst leafing through old editions of The New Yorker magazine. Really, PlaidCamper? Yes, really! It’s not always all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers, you know! Who am I kidding? If you’ve read even only one or two of the posts here, you’re already very aware that it’s rarely all action outdoor pursuits for the PlaidCampers. I imagine high octane all action adventure must be exhausting. It certainly seems it. Hence the coffee, gentle rain, beautiful plants, and magazines.

dscf2759I must admit, I’d never read a copy of The New Yorker before picking one at random from the pile. Talk about a lucky dip! This particular edition had a new short story by Ian McEwan, and I’ve always enjoyed his novels. The short story, My Purple Scented Novel, was an absolute gem. In his tale of rivalry, professional jealousy, and betrayal between two writers, McEwan constructs a devious, gripping, and (suspend your disbelief) plausible account of a relationship that twists and turns from the first to the last paragraph. I loved it, and loved it again when I reread it prior to writing this post.

The Tofino Botanical Gardens, a cup of great coffee, and an enjoyable short story. All these elements combined on that damp Tuesday afternoon to produce a happy summer highlight. I think back to that, and I smile (on the inside…)

dscf2755I can’t transport you to Tofino, and I can’t share a cup of coffee with you, although I’d love to, but I can give you the link to McEwan’s story:

My Purple Scented Novel

 

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Boats, floating

If nothing else, this was a great excuse to look back at some West Coast photographs from the summer! If this didn’t float your boat, be warned, because I’ll write about some other highlights in the next post or two.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to leave a comment or share a story, and have a wonderful weekend!

Balance

After the woes of last week, I thought it might be appropriate to redress the balance, and get back on an even (and optimistic) keel.

We took a group of students out to a provincial park, with the stated curriculum goals being connected to learning more about Alberta’s trees and forests. No problem, and straightforward enough! Identify a tree, record a leaf shape, and recognize an animal or two. But there’s the curriculum, and then there’s the hidden curriculum. Don’t tell anyone, but it’s the hidden curriculum that I find more interesting, and where a demonstration of deeper learning and real connection often occurs.

DSCN6792We hugged trees – we really did, and who cares if anyone’s watching? – and smelt and touched the bark, and the leaves, and the needles. We got a bit sticky with pine resin. We took stock of all the signs and traces of interdependence between plants, insects, birds and mammals for one single tree. We decided one single tree is a thing of beauty and wonder. Well, that begged the question, if one tree is a natural miracle, how about two trees? A stand of trees? An entire forest? All the trees on the planet? Heady thoughts, and the students were smiling about it.

DSCN6814The children loved being in the woods. They were excited to be there, (and to be out of a regular classroom) and were able to enthuse and enjoy without climbing where they shouldn’t, without breaking branches, without disturbing habitat, or dropping any trash. For a large group of rising thirteen year olds, they were also pretty quiet! Quiet enough to see and not startle a mule deer feeding only a few metres away…I don’t have a picture, but it was beautiful –  both the deer, and student reaction!

IMG_20160611_182513My day was made when two boys, unbidden, took it upon themselves to pick up all the pieces of a broken styrofoam cup they found strewn in the undergrowth. They told me they were concerned for the health and habitat of a squirrel they’d observed nearby. Now, we should all pick up litter, ours or not, that’s kind of a given, but after the appalling behaviour we witnessed last week, these boys raised my spirits. They are two young gentlemen who sometimes find themselves challenged with making good decisions, but they didn’t hesitate to do the right thing when they saw an environment in need. Real character and global citizenship at the micro level. Thank you, boys!

DSCN6769(It makes me wonder, what excuse did our fellow campers from last week have to be so callous towards the environment? Presumably they were educated? To be clear, they weren’t just out of high school or college, not that that excuses anything. They were “grown ups” in their late twenties and early thirties. Hmm…but let’s not go there again, PlaidCamper, it’s not good for your health!)

DSCF2559Keeping it brief this week, and as I said at the top, the real reason for writing this little piece is to restore the balance and get back to being optimistic. I think we have reasons to be cheerful when we see younger generations show they care about the planet. Here’s hoping they don’t lose that compassion and consideration as they “grow up”…

Thanks for reading, feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a wonderful weekend!