Thinking… Please Wait


Hi. It has been a month since I last posted, but I accomplished a lot during that time. And I am very happy I did. I feel like I progressed quite a bit since I last posted.

This is great since I experienced debilitating writer’s block with some of the key posts I have been struggling to publish, and this pretty much stalled me. It happens I guess. I had all these things I wanted to do and I wasn’t advancing.

Thank goodness I had another blog and other professional resources to work on.

Last month I took a rest from Digital Substitute so I could catch up on some much neglected projects that I was just raring to work on. In one of my early posts, Math Lab: Revisiting Technology and Imagination, I exclaimed how liberating it was to take a single day off from blogging, tweeting, PD and other professional activities to just play, and I think the post that resulted was one of my favourites to write, and perhaps my second most popular.

I find most of my posts, and certainly my best ones, result from some emotional or playful encounter. So, I consider the sacrifice of one month worthwhile to recharge myself.

Wandering in the Land of Set-aside

So last month I worked on several fronts.

Teaching Resources

I editted my Teaching Resources site, including adding:

  1. notes I wrote, and links to online archives, from several of my recent PD sessions to my Professional Development Index,
  2. resources, and a Slideshare Pak Liam created in response to these pages, to my Green Pea Analogy pages,
  3. focussing questions and points to my Phronesis page, and
  4. a math term etymology document that apparently was very well received given the tweets and requests for links to it on Twitter.

Writing in Play

I also did a lot of writing this month, something that has sadly been long waiting, including the completion of a short story based on a Figment Theme Prompt and working on a chapter in one of my long stories. I participated in Figment Theme Prompts, doing a little writing each day. And I posted to my Stefras’ Bridge blog. Altogether, a great month of accomplishment for my writing.

Stefras’ Bridge

I blogged about another of my hobbies, oil painting, and linked to one of my essays describing the history and folklore behind the earliest form of Mardi Gras. And I posted my first review and interview — with Malyn Mawby.

The Write Group

I also created a new Twitter account for the Write Group, to which I am migrating my English and writing tweeps and adding tweeps specifically for the Write Group. And I continued to work on our wiki, gathering RSS feeds and bookmarks relevant to our group. It doesn’t look like much now, but wait until I get things up and running!

Flickr, Videos and Coding

Finally, I added some photos to my Flickr photostream, I am working on two cartoon videos for Pi Day — there has got to be a better way to do this than drawing all these pictures … but boy does it look neat (for my first true “movie” videos) — and I am refreshing my coding skills with Code Year.


How did I get so busy?

I think I work in there somewhere.

Thinking … please wait.


9.11: Where I Was

Today is the tenth anniversary of the 9.11 attacks on the United States, the first attack on the US since the 1941 Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor. The choice of that year, sixty years after Pearl Harbor, and that date, exploiting the Canadian and American emergency number 911 so 9.1.1 could be repeated throughout the day, was callous and strategic.

In Canada, the attacks came as a shock and we sprang into action, helping our neighbour where and how we could. Certainly, our hearts, our prayers and our homes went out to our American friends. And so did our anger. For several decades, Canada had built a reputation as a peacekeeping force around the World. But 9.11 changed that and we went to war, taking our stand beside our allies against terrorism. For us, our role of peacekeeping returned to that of active fighting.

Canadians take the 9.11 attack on the US seriously and personally. Not only were many Canadians killed in 9.11, but we took a defensive posture over our friend on September 11th and fought alongside them since.

As a base brat and station civ, I was certainly personally affected by the attack. My Dad served in the Canadian Armed Forces and though he retired before 9.11, I felt a deep pang for all the soldiers who were deployed as a result of 9.11. My Dad served overseas under NATO command and during his service in Germany local terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, threatened American and Canadian bases and personnel.

Needless to say, I am extremely proud of my Dad’s role in the defense of Canada, Europe and the World.

On September 11, I hopped on my treadmill, one year and a couple of weeks after my heart transplant, and turned on my radio. The first thing I heard was David Rutherford reporting that the United States was under an attack of unknown scope.

My parents were in the computer room. I ran in and relayed the news. They didn’t believe me until I convinced them to turn on CNN News.

That is when 9.11 struck my home, the day when the War on Terrorism began.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims and survivors of the 9.11 attacks. Today, the whole World remembers. And this Canadian mourns with you.

May you sleep well tonight, knowing you are not forgotten.

History of My Past: My Twitter Avatar

In a previous post I described the significance of my blogging avatar. It essentially represents the teaching and naturalist/ecologist sides of me.

Some of you have noticed that my blogging avatar and tweeting avatar are not the same.

You are right.

A month ago, on the Ides of May, @royanlee inquired about my Twitter avatar. His exact query was:

@stefras your profile pic is intriguing.

@Mstew15 noted (just recently as part of a conversation):

DM stefras A ton of history, it looks like! Where was it taken? This can’t be a current-day classroom…can it?

My response is this post.

In the days of settlers and homesteaders

My Twitter avatar is a cropped view of the inside of an early 20th Century, one-room Canadian Prairie school. Actually, this one:



This school is special because it represents the history of:

  1. my family, and
  2. the Canadian and Saskatchewan school systems.

Connections: My family and Jedburgh School

One of my paternal great uncles and one of my paternal great aunts were two of the first students to attend this school in the 1920s. Also, for the wage of 75¢ to $4.50 (1934 CAN) a day, their father, my great grandfather, was the caretaker of the school from 1933 to 1935.

Preservation: The state of Jedburgh School

Jedburgh School actually contains three rooms — the coat or boot room, the teacher’s office (of the same size) and the classroom — plus a basement, where likely the teacher lived (the basement is flooded with water and diesel, so I never saw it).



My Twitter avatar comes from the classroom.




The school operated for over 60 years until the mid-1980s. When it was closed, it was converted into a library which lasted until 1991. After that, as the village waned (it is now a hamlet), the school was abandoned and left to its fate. In it were left desks, school books, school ledgers and other material. Even the chalkboards were left unerased.



Mice now occupy the desks students once learned in and scuttle across the floor they once walked across, somewhat an ironic fate for the school, Jedburgh and their history, which once were the proud center of Garry County 245. Today the Seat of Garry County, the post office, a quarter dozen occupied homes, the same number of abandoned buildings, the Church and the abandoned school are all that remain of the once bustling village.

The school is poised to soon collapse or be rescued. The Theodore Historical Society and the Saskatchewan Archives Board are in the process of salvaging as much of the contents of the school as they can.

Like the grain elevators that once dotted the Canadian Prairies, the one-room school houses are abandoned and disappearing.

Part of the reason I chose the inside of Jedburgh School for my avatar, after symbolizing my family’s history and that of pioneer Canadian education, was to record the existence of this school and its contents as a way of saving or preserving these.

For more photos of the school and detailed captions for all the photos, refer to my Jedburgh School, Saskatchewan, photo set. In addition, take a look around Jedburgh (also), read stories about it and view it on a Google Earth map.

On the map, zoom in to the fifth rung from the top. The white smudge East of 1stE between the stamped 0 and 2 is the school. The dark box South of Jedburgh across Highway 651 is the windrow around the yard of the Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is still occasionally active. And the dark (treed) trail continuing South West of the Church was the driveway into my great uncle’s farm where I used to explore. Some German man currently uses this driveway as a private shooting range.



Avatar’s meaning: Into the school

Progress: Keep asking questions

George Couros in his post, Keep Asking Questions, lists “Would we be doing this if we started schools from scratch?” as a key question to ask when considering a tool for or method of teaching.

To answer this question, we need to define what we mean by schools and scratch. And we need to agree upon a definition of success, because, with no idea of what success looks like, we can never answer the question. In fact, we could not even ask it.

What Kind of World Do You Want?
by NASA 2011

Defining schools: Is a school where we learn? Or is a more formal definition needed? Is a schoolhouse necessary? Or are alternatives better?

Defining scratch: If we were to start from scratch by completely abandoning the education systems we have now, including the infrastructure:

  1. What kind of schools would we build in place of today’s schools?
  2. What kind of teaching would we devise?
  3. What tools — resources both natural and man-made — would we use?
  4. What role, purpose or function would our schools serve? (In this stomps the elephant of hidden curriculum.)
  5. Who would we teach?
  6. And would we use lessons from our past and present to optimize future and present school effectiveness? (Would we plan with past and present triumphs and mistakes in mind?)

At this moment, completely abandoning the education systems we have now is impractical and idealistic. Teachers are left to modify the above questions or create new ones on their own. New questions arise, such as:

  1. Why am I teaching this given topic or concept?
  2. Why am I teaching it the way I do?
  3. What do I want my students to walk with for the rest of their lives?
  4. How do I most effectively help them do so?
  5. What exactly is the meaning of this piece of education?

I always consider these questions as I teach. I am a big fan of why? both on my students and on me. It seems we are so stuck on how? and the shortcut mnemonics (formulaic teaching) that how? develops, that we forget to explore why?. I believe many students struggle because of this very bias and deficiency. I know, when I was as kid, I did.

Defining success: One final set of questions can also be explored. What are the educational needs and wants (priorities) of our:

  1. community and culture (local, regional, national, global, present and future)?
  2. students (in light of their potential futures or adulthoods)?
  3. students (in light of their dynamic presents or childhoods/adolescences)?
  4. students’ parents (in light of their dreams for their kids’ successes)?
  5. selves (in light of our desire to be successful caring professionals who seek to aid our students toward their successes)?

Success is a measure of the degree to which priorities are met. It is optimally met at best, due to the conflict of the priorities of interested parties. It also dynamic, for as a person lives, what he or she requires and uses changes. Community, culture and parents change their priorities as well.

Reflection: What is success?


Jedburgh WordleJedburgh Wordle Shawn Urban(via: Wordle)


Our past informs our future. Without it we can not measure how we are doing today nor plan how we can change tomorrow. It also informs the struggle of our ancestors, the ones who cut the trail we now follow, and it informs the trail our descendents will follow that we cut in our turn.

It is interesting to contrast and compare the schools of yesterday with those of today, like Tom Grant did; to imagine how schools in the days of the Prairie pioneers and homesteaders would be different if they had today’s technology (in the preferable sociological and anthropological senses) at their disposal; and to imagine how today’s schools would be different if we truly wiped the slates clean and designed them again from scratch.

In the days of settlers and homesteaders, the Canadian Ukrainian country pioneer occupied himself with clearing and farming her land or with supporting the farmer in this endeavor. Farming therefore was the homesteader’s priority.

The meaning of education and school was coloured by this pioneer agrarian culture. Priorities, things valued, things stressed, things ignored and things taken for granted were different from today. The population was less established and much more sparse. So, it is not surprising that education reflected these opportunities, challenges and circumstances. It was important but only so long as it did not interfere with farming. (For many Prairie farmers this still holds true.)

The pioneer school of the Prairies was a one-room building, often with a live-in teacher. In it several grades, age-levels and subjects were taught at once. And often these levels of interaction played off of each other in a holistic, sometimes even interdisciplinary, manner. Students often had the same teacher their whole school careers (which ended for most around Grade Eight) and the teacher had the same students throughout these careers. Interaction and relationships often ran deeper. Over time, more personal attention and engagement was afforded each student. The questions of accountability — who was accountable and why — rested more on the community and teacher. Standardization was less stringent than today and often came after the teaching.



Today, Canadians live in a settled if not established society. Education holds deeper significance and opportunity, and curriculum is standardized.

If we did truly wipe the educational slates clean and designed them again from scratch, in the context of today’s exploding technology, modern culture and yesterday’s pioneer past, how would these schools look? I think George Couros’s question is rather deep. Further, do we start to make these changes from the grass roots or from the top? Perhaps a collaboration would work? Who decides which reform is best? And in all of this what do the students think? And when do we ask them, for when are they informed enough to inform us about their priorities, both present and future?

Back to my avatar

Even though I am a substitute teacher, I try my best to encourage my students to ask why? alongside how?. I try to engage their curiosities and fascinate them with twists and disruptions of their universes. I see my role as the complement of their regular teachers that challenges them to imagine rather than accept.

My Twitter avatar calls me to action and reminds me to serve the children and future under my care for their betterment. When I look at my avatar, the principles, purposes and bases of modern education and how I teach reflect on me in the lights of past, present and future pedagogy.

Hopefully I also reflect on them. For just teaching is not enough. Making a lasting beneficial difference is.



My Life Transformed

I always wanted to be three things: a writer, an ecologist and a teacher. I have lived a very good life, for I have managed to accomplish each of these careers. I just had a different plan on how I would become a teacher.

For almost two weeks I agonized about writing this post. Actually, it has been a worry since I began this blog. Of all my posts, this one is a game changer. I am not sure how you will react.

The schools I work at and board I work for know about this, but they are in a position to do something about it when circumstance requires response.

You are not and therefore knowing about this does not serve either of us, I thought.

Then last week happened.

If you could save a life, would you?

Last week was National Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Week (NOTDAW). It is actually an international recognition of the need for and celebration of the generosity of organ and tissue donors.

I attended a joint celebration of NOTDAW and the twenty-fifth anniversary of lung and heart transplants in Alberta in the Guru Nanak Dev Healing Garden of the Mazankowski Heart Institute thirteen days ago. At this celebration, doctors, recipients, donor families, recipient families, live donors and media gathered together to meet, re-meet and share stories. Many of the founding Alberta and University Hospital transplant doctors and the longest living heart and lung adult and pediatric recipients attended. They were all there to share in a very personal way the message that organ and tissue donation, particularly heart and lung organ donation, exponentially saves and improves lives.

My gift

The most touching moment of the celebration for me was when the daughter of a man asked all the people in the third and fourth rows to stand up. She then listed all of the organs and tissues that her father donated to various people upon his death. Twenty-eight people were saved and now live better quality lives. The daughter’s presentation was poignant, all the more so because I was one of the people who stood up.

In August of 2000, several fatal accidents killed people in Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Alberta. I had fainted two days earlier and so was in the hospital already. I had been given five years before a transplant was necessary, but, when I fainted, within a year, I was a month away from dying. I was the first person to get a transplant from the generous organ donors who died in those accidents.

My heart had succumbed to a condition called idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Essentially, my heart grew so weak that it stretched like a balloon and was on its way to popping. On hindsight, symptoms existed all my life. But when you live with them since infancy, you are not aware of them. My cardiologists believe I was infected with an aggressive individual or colony of a common and normally unremarkable virus when I was an infant.

Transformative journey

At the time that I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, I was applying to a PhD position in ecology. I had been accepted by the University of Calgary and was waiting acceptance from the University of Alberta, where the specialists I wanted to become my supervisors taught. I never did discover whether the U of A accepted me or not.

My plan was simple. I love writing and nature. I chose to write as a hobby and study nature as a career. I engaged in different fields of study in ecology with each degree I took. And I worked so many years between my Masters and coming Doctorate studies in yet another field. I had planned to work in yet another field or other fields after my PhD, then with this breadth of skill and technology retire from ecology and become a teacher rich with academic and practical biological and writing experience. You see, I wanted to pass forward my passion. I wanted my passion to be my legacy.

But my cardiomyopathy cut this short. I discovered that I could no longer work outside, so I decided to become a teacher right away. And so I am here, with the restriction that I lack the stamina to work regularly part or full time. With much deliberation, I decided to remain a substitute teacher, where I get to experience many classes, many grades, many subjects and many schools. I chose my blog title to reflect this decision.

My heartfelt thanks

If it were not for an unfortunate and undisclosed man or woman who signed an organ and tissue donation card, I would have died eleven and a half years ago. Then I would not have realized my dream to become a teacher, I would not have met the wonderful and fascinating students who so enrich my life and I would not have met any of you. My life is indeed rich and spectacular.

I wonder several times every hour about the person who had died and saved my life in the same act. His or her sacrifice and generosity inspire me to be better at everything I can control each day than I was the day before. I never try my best, for I refuse to create a ceiling for myself. I love. I thank. I rejoice.

I have mixed feelings when I think about my savior and her or his family. I am grateful, thankful and sorry. And I almost forgot to say it enough.

Writing this post

Your heart is a wonder of physiology and evolution. It is more than just a pump, a piece of muscle that pushes fluid through your body. It has its own “nervous” system, sensors and metronomes. When it works properly, it operates non-stop for every second of your entire life. Its activity is not perpetual, but it is constant.

I was really reluctant to write this post. I saw only harm come from doing so. If this post were about me at all, I would not have written it.

But it is not about me, is it?

You see, last week I attended a celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of heart and lung transplants in Alberta. And I stood up while a furiously proud daughter of a donor listed how her father saved and improved as many lives after death as he did during life. And I wanted to say thank you, even though I never benefitted from this man until that moment.

But I benefitted from someone and that someone lost everything so I could benefit.

I dedicate each day and each act to life and my donor.

Each life saved or improved is really a ripple, for every act the beneficiary makes influences others who influence more and more.

I am a teacher and there is no better place I could be to make many big differences.

Please, do four things for me

  1. Sign your organ and tissue donation card and talk to your family about your wishes.
  2. Take care of your health. Eat well, exercise well, avoid illicit drugs, alcohol, tobacco and salt and build your personal and professional networks. Love. Care. Help.
  3. Let me know if this post moved you. I agonized over it for a long time; it feels like months since I attended the celebration last week. I hope I did not lose your respect.
  4. And finally spread the word. It is important, and I nearly forgot.

Oh, and just in case I have not said it enough, thank you, donor. You gave me a second life and I am trying to use it well. I am dearly sorry that you had to die before I could begin again. May God bless you, your family and your friends. May their memories of you be fond and their thoughts of me be kind and proud. I may not be able to donate any organs, tissues or blood anymore, but I did sign my organ and tissue card before I needed your help and I try to do well by those I meet, placing their needs (though not necessarily their wants) ahead of my own. (Okay, sometimes I treat myself too.) Thank you for giving me your life. I wish I could give something to you.



More information

I wrote another post about my transplant in response to a post from Malyn Mawby, who read this post.

Images of the Guru Nanak Dev Healing Garden

The Mazankowski Heart Institute

Tissue and Organ Donation

25 Years of Heart and Lung Transplants in Alberta

Personal Stories, Advocacy and Efforts

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Design of my blog

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Design of my blog, posted with vodpod

This post combines challenges 2, 3, 6 and 7 of the 30 Days to Kick Start Your Blog Teacher Challenge. I used Text 2 Mind Map, MS Paint, OpenOffice Impress, SlideShare and VodPod to create the slide show above.

Jumping between Janus and Epimetheus

If you had a time machine that only let you spend one hour in a different time, what date would you go to?

January 21, 2006±4n at 02:24:57 UTC








The next six figures, which are being constructed, will reveal the educational worthiness of “Jumping between Janus and Epimetheus”. They will follow soon.

Education and the home of Stefras

About a week ago, I changed the location I claimed to be at in my online profiles. Most of my profiles now say I am from “Alberta, Canada”, which I am; some say that “The World is my Classroom”.

Just changing my location attracted a whole wave of followers. This is evidence that people do in fact read your profiles and pay attention to your location.

My profiles all used to say that I was “Jumping between Janus and Epimetheus”. Several astronomers caught on to the reference, but I thought I might show the rest of you what I was saying, and let you decide how it is an opening to education.


Laughlin, Greg. (2005-2007.) Systemic: Characterizing Extrasolar Planetary Systems. Relevant pages mirrored on my Teaching Resources site.

Nicholson, Philip D., Hamilton, Douglas P., Matthews, Keith, and Yoder, Charles F. (1992.) New observations of Saturn’s coorbital satellites. Icarus 100 (1992) 464-484.

The Planetary Society. (date unspecified.) The orbital dance of Epimetheus and Janus. Space Topics: Saturn.

Tiscareno, Matthew S., Thomas, Peter C., and Burns, Joseph A. (2009.) The rotation of Janus and Epimetheus. Icarus 204 (2009) 254–261.

This post is part of my Science (Biology) week contribution, the fifth activity of the 30 Days to Kick Start Your Blog Teacher Challenge and the Post a Week 2011 Challenge.