Why Canada 150 is Problematic and What YOU Should Be Doing About It

I’ve been reading and thinking about Canada 150 quite a bit over the past few months, so this blog post is my two cents on the celebration.

I really started thinking about it when I was in Toronto and everywhere we looked we saw Canada 150 ads, billboards, posters, etc. I saw a Roots poster that said ‘Celebrating 150 years of being nice’ as well as a huge line of people waiting to get their picture taken on the Canada 150 sign at Niagara Falls. It was everywhere – ubiquitous almost to the point of being obnoxious.

Photo taken by me at Niagara Falls, Toronto

I started talking with some of my colleagues who were in Toronto with me – one of whom wore a Colonialism 150 t-shirt, and two of whom were taking pictures of all the signs so they could use them to start discussions in the university courses they teach – about Canada 150 and the implications of celebrating our country’s anniversary of confederation. I am grateful to have amazing colleagues/friends/ mentors who lead me through these kinds of discussions.

When I got home from Toronto and wrapped up my first year of teaching (reflections on that to come in another blog post), I received this as a gift from one of my students:

Her family most definitely had good intentions with this gift; however, it felt like Canada 150 was following me everywhere I went…

So anyway, here is my take (developed through discussions with my colleagues and reading/listening), on Canada 150 for those of you who might be thinking: ‘What’s the big deal?!’

There are a few things that are really problematic about the whole Canada 150 celebration:

  1. Our History Sucks

Celebrating 150 years since Confederation is a slap in the face to Indigenous people who have lived on this land for thousands of years, and for whom the last 150 years have been marked by:

  • Their peoples dying from diseases brought over by the Europeans, such as smallpox, measles, and tuberculosis
  • Dispersion, persecution, and extreme poverty for the Métis people
  • Inuit communities being forced to move to isolated and barren lands
  • TB epidemics in northern communities
  • “Indians and Lands reserved for Indians” being put under control of the federal government (BNA Act/Constitution Act 1867)
  • The Indian Act (1876) saying who is ‘Indian enough’ and attempting to control every part of Indigenous peoples’ lives – limiting hunting/fishing, making spiritual ceremonies illegal, placing people on reserves
  • Gender discrimination in the Indian Act – status Indian woman who married a non-Indian man would lose her status (including treaty benefits, health benefits, the right to live on her reserve, the right to inherit her family property, and even the right to be buried on the reserve with her ancestors) while a non-Indigenous woman who married an Indian man, she would gain status
  • The Pass System – system of racial segregation where First Nations people were not able to leave their community without having a pass approved by the Indian Agent – in effect for over 60 years 
  • Not being able to vote, get together to discuss their rights, or practice their traditional forms of government
  • Being granted ‘enfranchisement’ – losing legal Indian status if they became doctors, teachers, lawyers, soldiers, or went to university
  • Residential Schools (cultural genocide – 1820-1996) – First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children being taken from their homes and put in boarding schools run by churches, malnourished, punished if they spoke their languages, sometimes physically and/or sexually abused
  • The 60s scoop (1960-1980) – thousands of First Nations and Métis children being forced illegally from their homes and adopted or fostered, usually by non-Indigenous people, many experiencing violence, racism, abuse, and loss of connection to their identity and culture
  • The government giving ‘free land’ to anyone who cleared 12 or more acres and built a home – laying 1,600 km of “colonization roads” across Ontario to encourage white settlement of the prairies
  • Unfulfilled Treaty promises, stolen land, stolen resources – over 70% of the land set aside for Indigenous peoples in Treaties has been lost/stolen/expropriated – before the arrival of Europeans, First Nations and Inuit people occupied 100% of Turtle Island/what is now Canada – Aboriginal lands today make up 0.2% (less than one half of ONE percent) of the Canadian land mass

… The list goes on.  Actually, here is another list of what Canada 150 celebrates:

If the government of Canada succeeded in their plan/goal (to “get rid of the Indian problem… to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada who has not been absorbed into the body politic” – Duncan Campbell Scott, Head of Department of Indian Affairs, 1920), Indigenous people would not be here today. It is only because of the incredible resilience of these people that they are still here despite centuries of efforts to destroy their identities, cultures, and make them disappear. They have continued (and still continue) to resist.

We should be celebrating the resilience of Indigenous people, not 150 years since Confederation.

Pause here and listen to Christi Belcourt’s poem, ‘Canada, I can cite for you 150’. It is a powerful response to Canada 150 and speaks to the incredible resistance and resilience of Indigenous, including Indigenous youth and children.

  1.  Our Present Still Sucks

Colonialism is ongoing. It’s happening right NOW in many different ways.

… This list goes on, too. This is why Indigenous people can’t just ‘get over it’ and move on. To be honest, I’m getting very tired of hearing that response from people. Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair responds to this comment much more eloquently than I can:

How can anyone ask a group of people to ‘get over’ something that is STILL HAPPENING? Colonialism is ongoing. As McMahon explains, Colonization Road is a film and a metaphor, but it’s also an actual road (because Canada). 

One of the many actual Colonization Road signs across Ontario, this intersection is in Kenora (Frog Girl Films/The Breath Films) – Photo taken from article linked above

‘This is also why McMahon has been pushing the idea of decolonization before reconciliation.

“It’s never stopped, right? That’s the thing that people really need to understand. Until indigenous people have full control of their lives, it’s just going to go on. It’s like a leaky faucet just drips constantly. It doesn’t stop until you fix it. And we haven’t fixed the colonialism problem here in Canada.’

Instead of encouraging Indigenous people to get over it, we should be standing with them in solidarity and outrage that they have put up with this for so long and that it is still going on TODAY.

  1. Many of the Celebrations Represent a Narrow and Limited View of History 

This article shows how some Canadians (in this case, an immigrant family), are conflicted about whether or not to celebrate Canada 150. The dad who writes this talks about coming to Canada and being incredibly grateful for being able to ‘travel such long distances and not encounter military checkpoints, cross national borders or be pulled over arbitrarily by police’. He also talks about Canada Day as an opportunity to encourage their children to positively synthesize the different layers of their identity – to find harmony between being Canadian, Muslim and Palestinian.

But he also said this year, as he has been learning more about Canada’s colonial history and realizing that all Canadians are shaped by colonialism (some advantaged by it), they decided they would celebrate Canada Day but also do more – attend an event organized by Indigenous activists, replenish their home library with books reflecting Indigenous traditions/stories, reach out to Indigenous friends and let them know they can count on their family as an ally for actionable solidarity. This conversation is also helpful in understanding some of the different perspectives around celebrating the anniversary of confederation.

I get that there are many things to celebrate about living in Canada (especially if you are white and benefit from settler colonialism). We live in an incredibly safe, wealthy country, and we are afforded amazing freedoms and opportunities. These are definitely things worth celebrating and things we should be thankful for. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone has access to those same privileges. There are people in our country who have been systematically denied access to the privileges and freedoms that we often take for granted – provisions that they were promised when Treaties were signed

When we celebrate the freedoms, opportunities, and choices that we get from living in Canada – when we celebrate being proud Canadians because we are a ‘salad bowl’ rather than a ‘melting pot’ – when we celebrate being the nicest, most polite people around – we are falling into our country’s nationalist myths and reproducing a dangerous narrative that ignores and obscures the hard truths of Canada’s history.

What YOU (and I) Should Be Doing About It

This was my favourite quote from the article I mentioned above:

“On July 1, 2017, my view of Canada will not be limited to the opportunities it afforded me. My Canada includes the parts often unseen and unsung, where there is poverty, substandard housing, water not safe to drink, poor infrastructure, families grieving their girls, mothers and daughters… “ -Idris Elbakri

So I guess that’s what I’m asking of you… Don’t let your view of Canada be limited to the opportunities it has afforded you. Expand your view to include everyone in Canada, especially the First Peoples of Canada. As you reflect on your celebrations, remember that not everyone has something to celebrate. In fact, for many this anniversary of confederation is one of mourning for lost family members, loss of language, and loss of culture.

Finally, I think it’s important to remember that different people will have different ways of dealing with Canada 150 – some will choose to celebrate the resilience of Indigenous people while some will choose to protest and ‘unsettle’ Canada 150. As a settler, I think my job is to accept those responses (without judgment) and LISTEN to those responses.

Start Here

Take a look at a few of these #Resistance150 posts, and start your listening here. This is where the discomfort comes in…

Some of these posts/images will likely make you uncomfortable. Some of them might make you feel defensive, upset, guilty, frustrated, or angry. THAT’S OKAY. Sit with that. Reflect on that. Keep reading. Keep listening.

This is a journey for all of us, and one that is going to take a long time. But it starts here, a few days after Canada 150 – with you.

Photo Credit: Vice News Canada – #Resistance150

Milestone madness: an update on my summer

Some amazing things have happened over the past few months…


Teaching Certificate

Teaching Certificate

I received my teaching certificate and did some subbing with Regina Public throughout May and June. Despite my tendency to plan ahead and my need for routine, I was able to adapt to receiving (or not receiving) a phone call each morning and planning my day accordingly. I really enjoyed substitute teaching, as I was able to see different classroom set-ups, different procedures teachers had in place, and some very cool assignments students were working on.

I definitely took some great ideas away from my time as a sub and I’m excited to experiment in my own classroom!

Teaching PositionW.F. Ready

On May 31st, I accepted a full-time grade six teaching position at W. F. Ready Elementary School for the 2016-17 school year! I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and very excited to have my own classroom and students. Since accepting the position, I visited the school, saw my classroom, met my administrators, and met several other teachers who will be new to Ready in the fall. I am very much looking forward to getting to know and work with everyone come late August!




I walked across the stage at convocation! I received my degree with great distinction and was also awarded the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Prize. I feel very honoured to have received this award and am extremely grateful to all the people who have supported me throughout my undergraduate career. This includes my mentors Katia Hildebrandt, Keith Adolph, and Mike Cappello; my UR S.T.A.R.S. crew, especially my co-executive director and dear friend Meagan Dobson; my Section 10 family from my third year of university; my friends and family; and my amazing fiancé/husband Kelly.

B.Ed    STF Prize


13411901_10157124045935571_246830857883602249_oOn June 11th, I married my best friend and the person I want to be with for the rest of my life! We had a beautiful wedding day in Weyburn and were completely overwhelmed with the love, support, and generosity that everyone poured out to us.

Also, after quite a bit of thinking and talking about it, I decided to change my last name. So I am now Mrs. Raquel Oberkirsch, which I am still getting used to and still in the process of changing.

Married life has been great so far; Kelly and I are loving the basement suite we are renting and are looking forward to potentially going on a snowboarding trip honeymoon over the Christmas holidays.

Shout out to my amazing friend Kayla Onufreychuk for being an absolutely amazing wedding photographer! You can check out more of her work at her website Uniquely Kayla Photography.

Camping Trip

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Three days after our wedding, I took off on a three-day camping trip to Buffalo Pound with students and teachers from my internship at Centennial School. The trip was extremely well planned and everyone had a ton of fun. It was jam-packed with activities, including designing and launching bottle rockets, making bannock on a stick, knot tying, seine fishing, fire starting challenges, singing campfire songs, creating and performing skits, watching a movie projected onto a trailer outside under the stars, and more. 

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The students were put into groups and asked to come up with a team name based on the bandannas they were given. Each group was responsible for packing its own coolers with food and supplies and for cooking their own food at each meal. We had a pig roast for supper one night and were also able to make some crazy desserts (smoreos and banana boats)! It was really neat to see some of my students take on leadership roles within their groups, during activities and when cooking our meals.

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Along with having an absolute blast on the field trip, it was also really beneficial for me to get a glimpse into how much planning and preparation it takes to pull off a trip like that successfully. For example, the students all brought their tents to school one day before the trip and practised setting them up and taking them down – something I would never have thought of! The two grade 5/6 classes who went on the trip spent many hours doing activities together to get to know each other, discussing what the trip would look like, planning who would bring which supplies, etc. The planning required is substantial, but I learned that involving students in that planning process also helps them learn many real-life and teamwork skills.

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I have always been amazed at how taking students on field trips deepens your relationship with them. I could go on and on about the benefits of outdoor education, but I’ll save that for another post. This experience will definitely translate into my own teaching and the way I think about and plan field trips and outdoor education experiences for my students!



I started working at EYES (Educating Youth in Engineering and Science Camp) again last week! The camps run for one week at a time and each day of the week is structured around a particular theme. Our theme days this year are Star Wars, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, and Jurassic Park. Fridays are our crazy fun days, which include a science show, the presentation/testing of the weeklong projects, diet coke and mentos, pie-ing instructors in the face, pizza lunch, and then a choice between a giant water fight, games room, or a movie for the afternoon. Check out our Flickr account for pictures! 

Me lighting my hands on fire at a Science Show last year!

Although camp can be exhausting, it is a ton of fun and it’s really great teaching experience. I get to work with a different group of campers each week and facilitate amazing science and engineering activities designed by our staff members. I am very excited to bring some of our EYES activities into my classroom in the fall.


That’s all for now… Although these past few months have been amazing, I am really hoping the next two months are much less eventful!  I am incredibly grateful for all of these opportunities/experiences and looking forward to what the future holds.

Out with the old; in with the new

Co-written by Meagan Dobson and Raquel Bellefleur

Originally posted on UR S.T.A.R.S. website

This year has flown by. It is hard to believe we are wrapping up our term as the Executive Directors of UR S.T.A.R.S. When we stepped into this position a year ago, we could never have imagined what a positive impact this experience would have on our lives.

UR S.T.A.R.S. has propelled us towards so many great things both personally and professionally. Developing close relationships with our mentors, other educators, and members of the community; participating in ceremony; learning about and teaching alongside Treaty Education and decolonization; and navigating anti-oppressive education and reconciliation as frameworks for both teaching and life. We have shared many successes and a few late night tear-filled phone calls; this work is messy and we have made mistakes, but we have (un)learned so much in the process and it has been exceptionally rewarding.


Presenting at Ed Camp YQR (Fall 2015)

Treaty Ed Camp 1

Opening Treaty Ed Camp 2015

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Presenting at Investigating Our Practices (IOP) Conference

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Presenting at Teaching and Learning with the Power of Technology (Tlt 2016)

At this time we would also like to introduce you to the amazing individuals who will be stepping into the role of Executive Director come fall: Amy Martin, Cassandra Hepworth, and Jasmine Korpan. These ladies will undoubtedly guide UR S.T.A.R.S. through many more successes. We are so thankful to have had the opportunity to work and learn alongside them this year and we cannot wait to see what the future has in store for them.

We are both really looking forward to our next steps – internship in grade 8 at Sacred Heart Community School for Meagan and teaching grade 6 at W. F. Ready Elementary School for Raquel. We will definitely continue to draw on the experiences we have had and the relationships we have developed through our work in S.T.A.R.S.

This past year has been literally life-changing for us. We are sad that this chapter is ending, but we are looking forward to continuing this journey and seeing how our growth through S.T.A.R.S. will transfer into our personal and professional lives in new and exciting ways. Our story is far from over; we hope that you continue to walk alongside us.


Meagan and Raquel xx

The Problem(s) with Disability Simulation

Co-written by Raquel Bellefleur & Meagan Dobson

For one of our classes this semester, we were asked to engage in a disability simulation assignment. The purpose of this assignment was to develop an empathic perspective of what it might be like to be challenged by having an exceptionality or difference in the classroom environment. On the first day of class, we each received an envelope that indicated the difference or disability we would be given the opportunity to “experience” throughout the course. One of us received “LGBT” and was given a rainbow bracelet; the other received “hearing impairment” and was given an earplug. We were instructed to use these implements to help us “experience” these differences on “disability days” throughout the course. Although we know our instructor had good intentions with this assignment, we were both extremely uncomfortable with the idea of reducing someone’s entire identity to a single simulation experience.

How can what amounts to a game of pretend enlighten a person about something that has shaped my entire life? Of course, I realize there are several people and organizations out there that are trying to do their best to use simulation activities to create positive change. But at the end of the day, the temporary glimpse into disability that such exercises provide are just that — temporary. It is simply impossible to fully immerse yourself in another person’s being. – Emily Ladau

Simulations do not dig into the root of discrimination, nor do they do justice to a person with a lifetime of experiences alongside disability and difference. We were wary that this type of simulation might lead to empathy (or worse – sympathy) but not to a deeper understanding of disability/difference. We recognize that our privilege affords us the ability to remove ourselves from this experience as we so choose; we can decide, at any given point, to disconnect physically, mentally, or emotionally – especially when things get tough. People who identify with our assigned disability/difference cannot simply ‘take off’/’turn off’ their identity. Yet in this case, we can.

The socially constructed categories of ‘LGBTQIA+’ and ‘Hearing Impairment’ are complex, incredibly diverse, and non-homogenous – every individual’s experience is unique to them. As a result, we chose to approach this assignment by learning alongside authentic personal narratives. The purpose of our altered process was to avoid identity appropriation, as making ‘blanket’ generalizations are exceedingly problematic. We shared what we learned via our collected narratives; existing alongside them, but not assuming them. In our efforts to NOT reproduce harmful stereotypes, other, make assumptions, portray experiences as tokenistic, devalue/diminish/trivialize someone else’s lived experiences, we have learned the following about disability and difference.

Ten Things We Have Learned About Disability and Difference

(1) Someone’s identity should not be defined by what is “different” about them. We need to resist the temptation to classify other people based on their disabilities or their challenges. We should focus instead on their abilities and the ways we can help them realize those abilities.

(2) It is not anyone’s job to educate us about their identity. Asking or expecting someone to constantly explain their disability/difference is placing a hugely unfair burden and responsibility on their shoulders.

(3) We need to educate ourselves on specific disabilities. It is our job, as teachers, to recognize what we do not know and to make an effort to learn by reading, reaching out to experts, and taking part in professional development opportunities.

(4) It’s okay for students to do things differently. Fair and equal are two different things. We need to strive for equity – providing students with what they need to be successful so that everyone can receive what they need as an individual to thrive and to be successful.

(5) Inclusive practices don’t only benefit students with exceptionalities, but all students. Universal strategies (including ‘Tier 1’ interventions) such as sensory regulation, visual schedules, and social stories can benefit all students. When supportive efforts are solely focused on students with exceptionalities, it can lead to further segregation.

(6) Don’t equate challenges with limitations. All students will have challenges and it is our job to support them and help them find ways to overcome those challenges. We should never put limitations on what our students can do.

(7) Each student has a unique set of learning needs. This includes students who have the same disability. For example, not all students with ASD will need the same accommodations in order to be successful in the classroom. Our students know what they need better than anyone else, so let’s not forget to ask them and keep them involved in conversations about their learning.

(8) We need to ensure that we consistently bring in resources that provide inclusive and diverse representations of students. Students need to see themselves positively represented in our classrooms and our curricula. This is vital for students to develop a positive self-concept, which has huge effects on their overall mental health.

(9) We need to create safe classroom spaces by using inclusive language. This means using the pronouns students prefer as well as being able to talk to students about using inappropriate language (ie. that’s so gay, the R-word, etc).

(10) Although we often think about the ways we make adaptations for students, it’s important to recognize the multitude of ways our students are constantly accommodating us. For example, when students with hearing impairments do their best to lip read (even though only 30% of English language can somewhat clearly be read on the mouth), they are accommodating us. When a student who identifies as transgender feels the need to explain their identity/preferred pronouns, they are accommodating us. When a student with ASD uses self-stimulating behaviors to help themselves self-regulate (in a classroom environment that may be over or under stimulating), they are accommodating us.

A PLN is give and take: my contributions to the learning of others

I started to actively construct my PLN (personal learning network) about two years ago as a part of ECS 210, a course about the complexities of curriculum. Since then, I’ve had off-and-on relationships with both Twitter and with my blog. Although I know both of these tools benefit me and help me grow as an educator, I have sometimes struggled to find time to use them consistently.

I’m really glad I chose to take ECMP 355 this semester because it motivated me to be much more consistent in blogging and tweeting as well as to make more connections with educators to build my PLN. By participating in these spaces, I also contributed to the learning of others! Here are some ways I did this:

Blog Comments

I commented on my classmates’ blog posts about their learning projects to give encouragement, feedback, and suggestions.

Me on Rebecca LP

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I posed questions on my classmates’ blog posts to encourage deeper thinking.

Me on Ashton TRC

Ashton Reply on TRC

Me on Gillian Justice SinclairGillian's Reply on Justice Sinclair








I answered the questions my classmates posed in their blog posts to stimulate discussion.Me on Ryan ReconciliationRyan's Reply on Reconciliation

Me on Leanne All Lives Matter








I also provided resources that I thought might be helpful to my classmates.

Me on Kerrie Activism Me on Kailyn on Online Activism

Twitter Interactions

I contributed to other people’s learning by encouraging them to come out to UR S.T.A.R.S. events. I did this by promoting our events on Twitter using poster images, popular hashtags, and pictures of freshly baked treats!

I also tweeted out thoughts and key learnings from professional development opportunities I attended, which allowed others to engage with the content presented even if they weren’t able to attend.

I moderated #STARSchat meets #BellLetsTalk, which was the first Twitter chat many ECMPers had ever participated in. I think this discussion about mental health was really encouraging for many of the participants.

I also participated in a few other Twitter chats, including #STARSchat on Supporting ELL and Syrian Refugee Students and #rpstrtalk. Unfortunately, I had class on Thursday evenings so I wasn’t able to participate in #saskedchat this semester.

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I used Twitter to share awesome resources and tools with my PLN! Sometimes I shared resources with specific people and sometimes I shared resources to my PLN in general.

I also started to quote tweets and add questions/comments in order to start discussions.

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Replies to the question I posed

I was also able to use Twitter to help my classmates problem solve.

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Google+ Community

I can’t say I used our ECMP 355 Google+ Community very often; however, I did use it to share my idea to start a social media campaign calling for the commemoration of the Regina Indian Industrial School cemetery.

Sharing my social media campaign idea

Sharing my social media campaign idea

Responses to campaign idea

Responses to campaign idea

I also used it on occasion to share helpful course-related tips.

Me on Feedly Suggestion Responses to Feedly Tip

Blog Posts

I wrote several of my blog posts in response to my classmates’ blog posts, linking to their blogs and explaining my thoughts in relation to theirs. In my post, Social Media Is Not A Brainwashing Monster, I linked to four of my classmates’ posts (Larissa’s, Ryan’s, Matthew’s, and Gillian’s) and explained the pattern I observed – that many people were writing about the importance of unplugging, disconnecting from social media, and being present in the moment.

It was not my intention to call my classmates out; I was just responding to a pattern that I saw and pointing out what I see as a problematic ranking of different types of connection (real, “authentic,” human connection vs. “inauthentic” connections made on social media).

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After I started to receive comments on this post, I realized that it might have come across as a little harsh or as shutting down/misinterpreting the classmates’ posts. I felt horrible, as this was not my intention at all! I made sure I took the time to reply to everyone’s comments and clarify what I meant.

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Because this post didn’t come across exactly how I meant it to, I learned that I need to be really clear when I blog so I don’t unintentionally offend others or make them feel like I’m twisting their words. Despite all of this, I am still happy I wrote the post because I think it stimulated some good discussion and made me and my classmates think about multiple perspectives on social media use.

“…I don’t so much see us contradicting ourselves in saying that there is a need to ‘unplug’ rather, we should maintain a positive portion of our lives dedicated to using the internet efficiently WHILE maintaining the ability to stay present in our real– as in non-virtual– lives… I feel like we are fighting the same battle… but wording it slightly differently: social media/technology is capable of being used in a productive and positive manner IF the authenticity of the people behind it is actually… authentic. Regardless of whether we are on the same wavelength, I really admire this very well constructed post.” –Gillian Maher

“…I cannot speak for the others that wrote similar blog posts, but I think we would all agree that as valuable as social media can be, we need to find a balance in the way we use it. Personally, I think the time we spend off of social media or disconnected is just as important as the time we spend on social media. For me, I needed to have an experience where I was entirely disconnected from technology to see the importance in this. Although we may agree to disagree, your blog post certainly intrigued me and challenged my way of thinking.” –Ryan McKillop

I was also really excited that some of my blog posts contributed to the learning of others outside of our ECMP 355 class. I was so honoured to have some of my posts shared with other educators and with students!

This post highlights some of the ways I’ve contributed to the learning of others online this semester. If you’d like to see more, you can check out my interaction log. I feel very supported by my PLN and look forward to continuing to build it by making connections with other educators. My current goal is to reach 500 Twitter followers.

Only 33 to go!

Only 33 to go!

I love being a connected educator!

My Chess Project Is Finally Over…

My Chess Project Is Finally Over…

This semester has flown by, and so has this learning project! As part of ECMP 355, a class about using technology in the classroom, I was required to use online sources to learn a skill of my choice and to blog about it weekly to share my progress.

I chose to learn how to play chess because it was a skill I had very limited experience with and I thought it would be nice to have something completely different to work on that still counted as homework. I also felt chess was a solid choice because it is one of my fiancé’s passions, so I knew he would be able to direct me to useful online sources and support me in the process.

So I bet you’re wondering how my epic chess quest turned out.  Was it a nice break from homework? Not at all. Was my fiancé helpful and supportive? Absolutely. Does that mean I enjoyed the process? Not a chance. This project really challenged me, and although I definitely feel I’ve grown in my chess abilities, I can’t say I enjoyed the whole process.

Now my negativity has you hooked!  Check out this recap of my learning project posts to find out more about the ups and downs of my journey:

Learning Project Recap

So I’m learning to chess…

  • Introduction, inspiration, and rationale for my learning project

The Opening (of my epic chess quest)

Valiant Knight Crushed in Grueling Battle (My First Chess Tournament)

Dropped Pieces + Shattered Dreams = Fresh Determination

  • Describing challenges:  finding motivation to play chess games when busy/tired, dropping pieces in my games
  • Video where I analyze one of my online games
  • New action plan:  play and analyze 4 games/week, continue doing tactics puzzles every day, watching instructional videos and live streams more often
  • Tools to share learning:  Screencastify

Chess Cognition (AKA Thought Process Boot Camp)

  • Description and key learnings from Chess Cognition video series by John Bartholomew
  • What I liked and didn’t like about this video series
  • Identifying specific chess skills to work on

Chess Games: The Ultimate Relationship Test

  • Picture and cheesy fast-motion video of me playing chess against my fiancé, Kelly, to show my progress
  • Video of our joint game analysis (with highlights provided) to show my progress and teach others about chess skills
  • Tools used to share learning:  Samsung video editor app (recommended by Curtis), phone tripod (borrowed from Curtis)

Curtis Reply on LP

S’more Chess Updates (not the graham cracker kind)

Tried-and-True Resources to Help You Learn Chess

  • Annotated collection of resources I have used to improve my chess game
  • Tool used to share learning:  Padlet

One Assessment of My Learning

It’s kind of tricky to show my level of mastery now vs. when I started this project. My Chess.com started me with a provisional rating of 1200, so I had to keep losing games until my rating became more accurate. My rating is now 980, and I’m still not sure how accurate that is.

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One aspect I saw definite progress in was my tactics! My goal was to reach a rating of 700 on my tactics, and I achieved that on April 4th! Here is a chart that shows my tactics ratings over the past three months:

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Reflections on the Process of Learning Online

What does learning online make possible?

  1. The ability to express frustrated and/or angry reactions without fear of being judged.

This was a huge difference I found between playing chess online and playing chess in person at the chess tournament. When playing online, I could moan, groan, pout, or yell at my computer screen without worrying about what my opponent would think of these (over)reactions. When I played in the chess tournament, I had to keep my emotions in check and be polite and courteous at all times.


My face after every chess game…

Photo Credit: Scott SM via Compfight cc

  2.  The ability to play a chess game with little to no social interaction with your opponent.

This might sound like a negative thing, but I appreciated having no social interaction with my online opponents. At the tournament, I was annoyed at receiving a comment about my appearance, distracted by my opponents’ facial expressions during the game, and embarrassed to be seen losing to an 8-year-old. When I played online, I didn’t have to worry about any of those kinds of things.

   3. The ability to receive feedback and encouragement from others on your learning.

I received encouragement from classmates and people outside the class on my learning project:

Zach on Chess Cognition

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I also received feedback on the ways I chose to share my learning project:

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.51.35 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.51.41 AMT on Smore

   4.  The ability to learn from and feel connected to experts who are far away from you.

Had I not used YouTube as one of the main sources for my learning, I would not have been able to learn from International Master Daniel Rensch or International Master John Bartholomew, who are both professional players and coaches. I also found that after I watched several of their videos, I started to feel like I knew them personally.

What might the process of learning online make impossible?

  1. Private one-on-one learning sessions with another person.

Choosing to learn a skill online usually means that you learn from a variety of sources, which might reduce the possibilities for intimate learning sessions and one-on-one relationship-building with a teacher. For example, if I had learned piano from online sources rather than through private lessons growing up, I wouldn’t have developed such a close relationship with my auntie/piano teacher.

   2. Using all the free time you have to focus on learning the skill.

The process of sharing about your learning can be time consuming. Throughout this project, I sometimes felt like I was spending just as much time writing blog posts about learning to play chess as I was actually learning to play chess.

I can’t think of anything else that learning online makes impossible. Feel free to drop me a comment if you have any ideas!

Final Thoughts

My biggest challenge throughout this learning project was getting frustrated when I lost games. I took my losses really personally, especially at the beginning of my project. As I began to learn more about chess, I discovered how technical it is and found that even really talented players can learn sometime from each game they play. After my losses, I had to constantly remind myself to say “I made this mistake” instead of “I suck at chess,” which was something I really struggled with.

I think the negative self-talk I fell into often happens to students in the classroom when they make mistakes. When I have my own classroom, I really want to emphasize that it’s okay to make mistakes and that mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process. This is definitely easier to say than to put into practice, but I think I could share the story of this learning project with my students to show them how negative self-talk detracts from learning and how adults also struggle with it.

I definitely see the benefits of learning a skill online and sharing that process with the world. Through this project, I was able to: learn from and critically evaluate a variety of online resources; share my progress openly through my blog and Twitter using the hashtag #learningproject; receive encouragement and feedback from my PLN; and explore new tech tools to document my learning. Although attempting to learn chess was challenging, I’m glad I took it on and I think I learned a lot more than chess skills from this project.

Tried-and-True Resources To Help You Learn Chess

I decided it would be useful to put all the resources I used throughout my ECMP 355 Chess Learning Project into one place. I used Padlet, which allows you to create a visual wall with embedded content!  I like this because it allows me to easily share my resources with others and gives me an easy way to keep them all in one place for future reference. Click this link to check it out!

Learning to Code: empowering myself and my students

Previous Experiences With Coding

I’ve been hearing about the benefits of coding in the classroom for a while now, mostly through talking with my co-workers from EYES Camp, where I worked last summer. At the end of each week of camp, I got to see the amazing projects campers in the E-Design Codemakers program had come up with. David Brown, my amazing colleague and friend, is an avid supporter of coding and teaching logic in the classroom.

Hour of Code

At David’s advice, I decided to start with Hour of Code. Since I’m a very easily frustrated person, I was a little nervous to try it because I didn’t want a negative experience to potentially discourage me from bringing coding into my classroom. To my surprise, my first Hour of Code was a fantastic experience! I chose the Make A Flappy Game activity and had a lot of fun with it.

I was impressed with how accessible the activity was. It walked me through every step, using a series of puzzles with clear instructions to introduce me to the different aspects of the game. I learned to drag and drop blocks that represent computer commands to change the parameters of the game and finally got to put it all together by creating my very own flappy game! You can try it out here. (Warning: it’s surprisingly addicting.) I think students would have a lot of fun making their own games and trying out each other’s game creations.

Since I enjoyed my first Hour of Code so much, I decided to try another activity! This time, I chose the Classic Maze activity. In these puzzles, I had to drag and drop blocks to build code that would get my character (which ranged from angry birds to a zombie to Scrat from Ice Age) to move through the maze successfully.

Here is what puzzle #17 looked like:

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I had to drag and drop the blocks like this in order to get Scrat to his acorn:

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 6.58.54 PMDuring and after completing the puzzle, I could click and view the actual code. I appreciated this because it made it feel more like “real coding” for me.

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Here is a short video of me completing the final puzzle in this activity:

Why Teach Kids To Code?

After these positive experiences, I did a little reading about teaching students to code because I definitely have a lot of learning to do in this area. Through reading and reflecting, I came up with a few potential reasons to teach kids to code. (This list is a work in progress.)

  1.  It gives them a deeper, less-mystified understanding of the world around them.

I find this reason really interesting because I think this is something I don’t personally value enough. To give an example, my fiance loves taking things apart and putting them back together. He finds it really satisfying to figure out how things work and why they work the way they do. I, on the other hand, can barely sit through an episode of How It’s Made. I’m not sure why, but I find it really easy to just accept that things work and I don’t often wonder about the why or how behind it.

So despite my lack of curiosity and sense of wonder, I want to spark my students’ curiosity and encourage them to investigate and make discoveries that lead them to a deeper understanding of the world. Coding could be a really valuable way to do that. Maybe it would also help me develop my curiosity and appreciate a less mystified understanding of the world!

2.  It can make students more expressive by giving them a new way to understand and describe their world.

“If you think computer programming is all about math, you’re wrong. It’s about describing a situation precisely, and giving good directions for what to do when conditions change.” -Tom Igoe

I’m starting to think of coding in a broader way – it’s more than just math or stringing together a bunch of symbols in computer lingo. It’s a different and precise way to expressing oneself that can widen students’ view of the world and positively contribute to their development.

3. Coding can be empowering (but it is also shaped by wider issues of power).

In this article, Ben Williamson problematizes the current the current preoccupation with coding, noting how if we elevate coding activities and ways of thinking to a dominant position, we may marginalize other forms of educational activity and thought. He asks: “What assumptions, practices and kinds of thinking are privileged by learning to code? Who gains from that? And who misses out?”

I definitely agree that those are important questions to ask; however, I believe we need to ask those questions of everything we do in the classroom. Whose voice are we privileging? Whose voice are we leaving out? What are we making possible/impossible? It’s important that we constantly reflect on these in order to be as anti-oppressive as possible.

This actually reminds me of Foucault’s idea that we gain agency by taking up particular discourses (becoming a subject) but we are also constrained by that discourse (become subject to it). Similarly, coding is an empowering activity but it is also shaped by wider issues of power in educational technology. I think it’s important to remember that and to keep educating myself on the reality of activities associated with coding (ie. the incessant updating of skills and fluency in different programming languages, operating systems, etc.) and on the issues with our increasingly algorithmic culture.

Coding and Chess

Interestingly, when I was doing my Hour of Code activities, I was struck by how much it reminded me of playing chess. Oftentimes when I play chess, I can come up with a plan that I want to put into action, but struggle with what order to play the moves in to make the plan work. John Bartholomew describes this challenge in this video, advising players to get used to changing move orders in their calculations and to look at different permutations of a good idea in order to implement a plan successfully. Similarly, I noticed that sometimes in the coding activities I knew what I needed to do but would put the blocks in the wrong order and have to run my program a few times before it would work.

I am not the first to notice similarities between coding and chess! They both involve patterns, logical thinking, tactics and strategy, and beauty. This interesting article outlines some of these similarities.

Final Thoughts

I think learning to code would be extremely beneficial for my students and for me! This is definitely something I want to continue to learn about and practice with. I see that coding has the potential to help my students and I develop a deeper understanding of the world, teach us a new way to express ourselves, and empower us as 21st-century learners.

If you have any resources, activities, or suggestions for learning to code, please comment below! I would love to hear from you.

Fighting Slut-Shaming and Cyber-Bullying: 7 Things Teachers Can Do

These last few weeks, the topics of slut-shaming and sexual extortion have been weighing on my mind. These are huge problems facing girls in schools and I’ve been thinking a lot about how they tie into digital citizenship and the formation of a digital identity. Through watching videos, reading articles, and reflecting, I’ve come up what I think some of my responsibilities are – as a teacher and as a young woman – to support my students in the face of these issues.

Your Body = Your Worth

About two weeks ago, I went to a film screen put on by The UnSlut Project, a project working to undo the dangerous slut shaming and sexual bullying in our schools, communities, media and culture. Here is the trailer for the documentary film:

Emily Lindin started the UnSlut Project in response to hearing stories about suicides of girls like Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, and Audrie Pott. She was reminded of how she felt when she was labelled as the school “slut” in her middle school and decided to share her story by posting her diary entries from ages 11-14 online. The Project has become a collaborative space for sharing stories and creating awareness of sexual bullying and slut-shaming.

While watching the film, it stuck out to me that girls are told over and over again that their worth is based on how their bodies look to other people. The media constantly imposes impossible standards of beauty on girls and diet/beauty industries fuel body dissatisfaction to make profit.

It starts scary young. Media Smarts reports that three-year-olds already prefer game pieces that depict thin people over those representing heavier ones, while by age seven girls are able to identify something they would like to change about their appearance.

Photoshop Pic

Image from Media Smarts

“The barrage of messages about thinness, dieting and beauty tells “ordinary” girls that they are always in need of adjustment—and that the female body is an object to be perfected” (Media Smarts). And not only are girls told that their bodies are objects to be perfected – they are also told that until they can perfect their bodies and become thin, beautiful, and sexy, their worth is compromised. If they want to be worth something, they need to eat less, workout more, show more skin… The list goes on.

Sexy = Valuable But Sex = Shameful

So this idea that girls must have a perfect body and be sexually attractive in order to be worth something sounds awful when you say it outright; however, these are the messages that the media is sending to young girls, who often receive and internalize them.

And perhaps the most sickening part is that when girls learn the rules of our culture – that their sexual desirability is what makes them valuable – and try to portray themselves as sexy, they are labeled, shamed, and bullied for it. It’s a vicious, grueling cycle and one that many girls, including Amanda Todd, have fallen victim to.

This paradox doesn’t disappear as girls grow up, either. It manifests in double standards that put women down for doing the same things as men (ie. she’s a slut, he’s a stud). Jarune Uwujaren from Everyday Feminism puts it this way: “Ironically, our society simultaneously values women for their sexual desirability and shames them for having sexual desires.”

What’s the point? There should not be worth tied to a woman’s or a girl’s sexiness or how much sex they choose to have. Slut-shaming is extremely harmful to a person’s self-concept and internalizing those negative messages results in tragic outcomes for girls and women.

Constant Pressure, Little Control

Girls are constantly pressured into portraying their bodies in ways that will please others, whether it’s posting pictures to social media, sexting, or revealing themselves to a camera online. But once they share, they have little control over how the images will be perceived or what the viewer might do with the image. The pictures are easily circulated and become part of a digital footprint that remains with them forever.

The Sextortion of Amanda Todd, a documentary by the Fifth Estate, shows the extensive blackmail that the seventh grade girl received after flashing the camera in an online chat with a man she had been messaging with. He was a ‘capper’ – a cyber-predator who stalks websites looking to flatter girls into performing sexual acts and then capture and distribute their images. When Amanda was put under pressure, she made one mistake and the damage was done.

Although the RCMP was notified about blackmail attempts on at least five occasions in the two years leading up to Amanda’s death, they simply told the family: “If Amanda does not stay off the internet and/or take steps to protect herself online … there is only so much we as the police can do.”

This (lack of) response horrifies me. It’s victim blaming and it places all the responsibility for Amanda’s protection on her and her parents’ shoulders. I think it would have been pretty obvious that it was the RCMP’s job to protect Amanda had her harasser been physically stalking and harassing her. Why should it be any less their business when it’s online?

Digital Dualism

I don’t think it’s realistic for us to tell young people to just stay offline when their lives are so intertwined with online spaces. They have grown up in a world of digital dualism, where they interact in two different worlds that are fully, inextricably weaved together. We can no longer separate our digital lives from our offline lives, nor can we expect young people to do this. And avoiding the problem wouldn’t have solved anything, anyway. She couldn’t have stayed offline forever.

Amanda needed someone to teach her how to protect herself and be safe online. She needed someone to show her that she could start to build a trail of positive artefacts (which I think she was trying to do in the famous video where she shares her story) that would someday outweigh the picture that destroyed her reputation. She needed support in rebuilding her self-concept and strategies to deal with her online and offline bullies.

As educators, what are our responsibilities? What can we do about all of this?

  1. Speak out about slut shaming and sexual bullying.

We must start with a ground up approach by speaking out within our personal spheres. One strategy suggested by the Unslut Project is to ask the person to define “slut” or to explain what they mean by their problematic comment. The conversation might go something like this:  “What do you mean by ‘slut’? “Well.. a promiscuous woman.” “What’s promiscuous?” “Well.. she has too many sex partners.” “So how many is too many? Who gets to decide?” It quickly becomes apparent that no one has any business judging anyone else based on their sex life.

It’s also important to note that women can simultaneously be victims and perpetrators of slut-shaming. This means we need to be critical of our own thoughts and careless comments and catch ourselves when we slut-shame. Through speaking out and listening to one another’s stories, we can humanize each other and begin to work together against this shaming.

2. Help students deconstruct media messages and develop critical thinking skills.

I tried to do this in my internship through a health unit on body image. I had my students examine a variety of advertisements and critique them in groups using a questionnaire. We discussed influences on body image, such as the media, family, friends, culture, place through videos like this and talked extensively about stereotypes related to body image. In fact, this unit turned my students into the Stereotype Police. They became really passionate about reporting stereotypes they heard at home, around the school, and from one another. We also examined photoshop mistakes and saw how photoshop is used to create a problematic “ideal” body type. These are just a few ways we can get students thinking critically about the messages the media sends.

3. Educate students about their worth.

It’s our job to make our students feel loved, respected, valued, and affirmed for who they are and what they do. When we constantly remind students how irrationally crazy about them we are, we help them understand and believe that they are worth so much more than what their bodies look like.

“And when you start to drown in these petty expectations you better re-examine the miracle of your existence because you’re worth so much more than your waistline.”

“…Standards don’t define you. You don’t live to meet the credentials established by a madman. You’re a goddamn treasure whether you wanna believe it or not.”

I also recently came across this beautiful poem by Rupi Kaur and I think it would be great to share with students:

i want to apologize to all the women i have called beautiful

before i’ve called them intelligent or brave

i am sorry i made it sound as though

something as simple as what you’re born with

is all you have to be proud of

when you have broken mountains with your wit

from now on i will say things like

you are resilient, or you are extraordinary

not because i don’t think you’re beautiful

but because i need you to know

you are more than that”

Rupi Kaur

These are the kinds of traits we need to recognize in our students and help them recognize in each other. We can model these types of compliments: You are resilient. You are passionate. You are extraordinary. You have such great vision. You are working so hard. I love how you support your group members. Through our words and through the resources we bring in, we can show our students how deeply valuable they are and remind them of their endless potential.

(My focus in this post is on girls, but I recognize that boys also need to be educated about their worth, as they are also affected by the problematic way that masculinity is defined and portrayed by the media. I also recognize that transgender students, probably the most of anyone, need to see positive representations of their identity in the classroom. So although I’m focusing on girls in this post, I truly believe in instilling a positive self-concept in ALL students.

4.  Educate students about digital identity and digital citizenship.

Teaching students the how and why behind constructing a positive digital identity is an extremely important responsibility, as professional digital profiles have huge effects on future employability and might even start to replace resumes.  The digital footprint students leave will impact them short-term and long-term.

This tweet, from Katia Hildebrandt, is a response to this article, which makes it clear that as a society, we are willing to consider the context and timing of mistakes like DUIs, but unwilling to consider the context and timing of mistakes in the form of hateful social media comments.

Because their digital actions will continue to affect them throughout their lives and because of the harm we have seen in Amanda’s story, it is imperative that we teach our students to ask themselves questions before they put anything on the Internet. When posting about themselves, we might teach them to ask: Would I want my grandma or future employer to read this? Does this represent me in a positive way? And when posting about others, we might teach them to ask: How would I feel if this was shared about me? Do I have this person’s permission to share about them?


Photo Credit: MO3-2005 via Compfight cc

We can also teach them about online predators and the risks of exposing themselves online. We can show them examples of how our digital footprints can easily slip out of our control. Rather than asking students to simply avoid the internet or installing ineffective filters, we need to give them the tools to make responsible decisions for themselves.

5. Educate parents about digital footprints and their child’s digital identity.

Along with educating students about digital identity, we need to educate their parents. Research from the University of Washington finds that while children ages 10 to 17 “were really concerned” about the ways parents shared their children’s lives online, their parents were far less worried.  Another study finds that ‘sharenting’ – parents who share details of their family life online – can be detrimental in cases where parents put their online popularity ahead of spending time with their child. We need to model the process of asking students for permission before sharing about them online. We can offer support in helping parents find a middle ground, where they can share about their children online in a way that doesn’t compromise the child’s privacy or dignity.

Throughout the documentary, Amanda’s parents went from supporting her use of YouTube as a tool to share her singing talents to being highly concerned about her online behaviour when her photo went viral and she began to receive blackmail from the capper. Although they documented everything and continually informed the RCMP about the blackmail, they seemed ill-prepared to give Amanda any advice on how to defend herself online or how to start to repair her digital identity.

6. Educate ourselves about the online tools, apps, and websites students are using.

We need to keep up with the online tools are students are using and bring those into our classrooms and schools. For example, young people love Snapchat and there are many ways we can use Snapchat in our schools and classrooms for teaching, communicating, and sharing. We also need to educate ourselves on specific issues related to the tools, apps, or websites being used. For example, I recently became aware of the huge issue of cyber self-harm, a phenomenon in which young people create fake online identities to attack themselves and invite others to do the same. They might do this to pre-empt criticism from others, to bring their pain out into the open, or to get compliments from peers. We need to make ourselves aware of these issues so we can better understand what our students are going through and can support them in the best ways possible.

7. Educate everyone about moving toward a more forgiving digital world

Finally, because we are living in a world that no longer forgets, we need to work towards greater empathy and forgiveness towards others when they make mistakes online. We need to learn to make informed judgments rather than snap decisions and teach our students to do the same.

This means a few things, which Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt outline in their joint blog post. It means thinking about the context, timing, and intent of digital artefacts when we evaluate them. It means considering whether the artefact is a one-time thing or a pattern of behaviour. And it means holding ourselves accountable to the hypocrite test – asking ourselves whether we have ever said or posted something similar and thinking about whether we would want that held against us.

Burden or Opportunity?

My heart breaks for Amanda Todd, Retaeh Parsons, and so many other girls who have taken their lives due to experiences like this. As educators, we have a ton of responsibilities for educating ourselves, our students, and others on these issues. These responsibilities may seem burdensome, but they also place us in a unique and critical position to support students and families as we all learn about digital identity formation and online safety together.

So what do you think? What other responsibilities would you add to this list? What steps can we take to prevent tragedies related to slut-shaming, cyber-bullying, sexual extortion? I’d love to hear your thoughts.