Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air - #wttw

Wow, we had a great time last night! It was nice to have an opportunity to chat with others in the room, and it was exciting to be able to bring so many talented educators into the room virtually from around the world. Some of our online participants came from as far away as the UK and Australia :-)

One of the first things that took place during this event was the creation of a wiki (thanks, @charbeck) to record the Twitter usernames of a few Manitoba educators - - if you're in Manitoba and on Twitter, please add yourself to the list :-)

You can catch many of the evening's festivities by watching our Windows To The World uStream recording here:

Many thanks go out to everyone who participated in this unique event...

So, when should we do the next one???

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Red River's Relevence

Photo credit: Joe Bryska, Winnipeg Free Press

Living in Manitoba, we're no strangers to flooding. The Red River basin collects water from a vast region of the heart of the continent and whisks it north into Lake Winnipeg just as quickly as it possibly can. However, every so often we're left in a bit of predicament when we receive more precipitation than usual and the ice that covers the mighty Red River each winter doesn't break up as quickly as it should. This spring, we're facing one of these potential disaster situations. The last time we were hit with a flood this bad was 1997, when hundreds of millions worth of damage was inflicted upon our province from the overland flooding that was caused by the mighty Red River overspilling it's banks.

Most of the people who live in Winnipeg aren't affected too badly by the flooding. But there are some low-lying regions within the city where high water levels and erosion combine to threaten the decimation of entire neighbourhoods. Take, for instance, Kingston Row & Kingston Crescent - it's just a matter of time until this meandering segment of the river becomes another oxbow lake along the shores of the Red River. No matter how hard we try to slow Mother Nature, she will eventually run her course...

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

One of the reasons that Winnipegers don't have to worry too much about the flooding Red River is the floodway that was created just over 50 years ago to divert floodwaters around the city. Once they open the floodgates, the excess water flows east of the city and spills back into the Red River just before Lake Winnipeg. Provided the powers that be are able to open the floodgates in time, disaster can be averted.

While the flood of 1997 was devestating, we did experience some flooding a few years ago, in 2006. Unfortunately, the provincial flood forecasters underestimated the magnitude of the flooding that would occur and decided that it wouldn't be necessary to use the floodway. The headlines in all of our newspapers reassured the general public that we had nothing to fear because the situation was under control. Then, within one day, there was a surge in the water levels and flood officials were forced to eat their words and scramble to throw the floodgates open before our fair city was inundated by floodwaters. I took advantage of this situation to grab my video camera, hop on my bike, and document the power of the Red River Rising...

I threw this video together within a few hours back in 2006, and it's the first video I ever uploaded to YouTube. This winter, I noticed that it surpassed 2000 views. Much to my surprise, I just discovered that this video's been viewed over 1500 more times within the last month. Interesting how the content that we post online can sometimes become so much more relevent long after we upload it to the 'net.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Tools Have Changed.

One of the things I was really looking forward to on my recent trip out to southern Ontario was a visit to the 'ol sugar bush. I have so many fond memories of tromping through the maples with my Grandpa when I was a young lad and I was hoping to recreate this experience for myself. I was also hoping to treat my daughters to their first taste of fresh maple sap and soak up the atmosphere that can only exist within an old sugar shack. We stopped in at Drummond's Maple Sugar Bush in Spencerville, Ontario, just a little south of Ottawa. Drummond's is a family owned and operated outfit that's been in business for over 200 years in the same location. One of the first things I saw after climbing out of the car was enough to burst my bubble. It was this sign:

The methods have changed.
The experience of visiting a sugar bush is nothing like it used to be.
It's smoother. It's slicker. It's far more efficient.

Looking around the sugar bush, all you see is a maze of nylon tubing. This tubing strings from tree to tree, it gathers and collects the sap and it transports the sap instantly to the central collection area. While there's no question that this method of collecting sap from the trees makes much more sense than the traditional methods that were used, I was disappointed that my children couldn't experience this process first-hand. The tubing has allowed Drummond's to tap and collect sap from over 1600 trees, far more than they'd be able to manage with the old school ways...

However, there was one bucket set up beside the parking lot to appease people like me. My kids could see the tap in the maple tree. They could see how slowly the sap flowed from the tree. We talked about how long it would take to fill that one bucket with sap. This one bucket doesn't shed too much light on the entire process of creating maple syrup, but it made it so much more relevant than staring into a sea of nylon tubing.

Of course, this is a technology blog, and not sugar bush blog. The reason I'm posting about this experience in this space is that I've been hung up on the tools that we choose to use in our classrooms. As educators, technology provides us with many tools and resources that can make our teaching so much more meaningful for our students. These tools can help us tap into our own professional learning networks. These tools can help us, and our students, to be far more efficient and effective than we used to be. But even though these tools are readily available, some educators opt to stick with the more traditional tools.

My recent trip to the sugar bush reminded me that we shouldn't push teachers too hard to adopt the new tools that are available. Many teachers are steeped in tradition, and are quite comfortable using the tools that they know best. Only when we really see the merit of adopting these new methods will we be comfortable letting go of our traditions...

The tools have already changed.
Now we're changing.