Inspiring the Next Generation

I have some interesting news to share.

The Grade 10s in one of the schools where I sub began their poetry unit in English this week. I subbed for them yesterday.

One of their tasks yesterday was to write a poem in one of the forms they had already learned, then share these with the class. There were some very reluctant students; they had a low opinion about this sharing business, particularly their contributive involvement in it.



I decided to break the ice by sharing one of my poems. And I had access to two: those I published in my writing blog.

The poem I chose to share was Van Gogh and the Moon. It was a hit, particularly when I explained to the kids that the poem was an in promptu (five minute) response to a writing prompt in the local writing club.

So, yes, I got a chance to plug the Write Group as well; I told the kids that students from the school were part of the group, which peeked more interest.

But more importantly, it got each of the students to open up and share some of their poems, not just those they wrote in class yesterday, but those they had access to through their iPhones and other devices.

It was a perfect marriage of teacher and student sharing, technology (I used the Smart board; the students used their devices), and encouragement and modelling by example.

It never ceases to amaze me how well these teachable moments go when the teacher releases control and opens up to her or his students. (Of course, it also never ceases to amaze me how badly such moments go as well at times. There is a definite case for timing and thoughtful and responsive judgement here.)

These students have everything to be proud of. They have incredible imaginations, and a deep and active appreciation for written communication.

Moments like these remind me how much I love teaching, and learning with, these students.

This article is cross-posted in Digital Substitute and Stefras’ Bridge.


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.

Every Idea Begins With a Spark

I came upon a quote yesterday that I wanted to share. It is a message that every student should hear in some form every day.

Be innovative in your thinking and bold in your learning.

– Sabine Lague 2011

(The original quote is in first person.)

I thought it would be great as part of a BigHuge Labs Motivator poster, but then I found more than one photograph that would be perfect for the poster.

It occurred to me quite abruptly that I have not posted a photo essay in a long while. So the genesis of this post — a mix of photos and quotes.


IMG_0486IMG_0486 © 2008 Chazz Layne | more info (via: FlickrStorm)
Every Idea Begins With a Spark







EUREKA! I Found it!EUREKA! I Found it! © 2008 g d (Gary Dean) t???????d? | more info (via: FlickrStorm)
That Grow With Focus and Imagination into a Dream.



Humboldt GasworksHumboldt Gasworks © 2005 Cassidy Curtis | more info (via: FlickrStorm)
Whatever You Do, or Dream You Can, Begin It,
– W. H. Murray



Foxy!Foxy! © 2008 Wavy1 | more info (via: FlickrStorm)
For Ideas Rarely



The Thought Fox

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

Webster, Richard. (2002, 1984.) ‘The Thought Fox’ and the poetry of Ted Hughes. The Critical Quarterly vol, 26, no. 4, 1984.




Life Offers Many Paths.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;




Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,




And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.




I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Frost, Robert. (1916.) The Road Not Taken (poem). Mountain Interval.


Creamsicle SunsetCreamsicle Sunset © 2008 Evan Leeson | more info (via: FlickrStorm)
Keep Adventure in Your Heart and Pick the Paths that Excite You Most.



Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

– Howard Thurman

Realize Your Dreams.


Success Imagemap



Everything you want in life is right outside your comfort zone.

– Bob Allen

Be innovative in your thinking and bold in your learning.

– Sabine Lague

Engaging Kids: Outside of the Classroom and into the Club

The first section of this post is cross-posted in my writer’s blog, Stefras’ Bridge.

I have had three deep passions throughout my life so far and the good fortune to experience them all. I love nature, so I became an ecologist. I love learning and sharing my passions, so I became a teacher. And I love storytelling and storycrafting, so I became a writer.



In a previous post, I discussed the change in teaching style when one engages with students outside of the lesson and in camps and clubs. About a month ago, I attended a Don’t Hibernate Fair in my town. This fair is designed to connect clubs and people. I attended a table and recruited new members into the Write Group.

This was an exhilarating experience for me. I have been in many clubs and organizations, but this was the first time I recruited new members to a club. I had thirteen people sign up and express keen interest. Best of all a few of these are students I sub.

My Students: Engaging Passions

Imagine if you will how profound

It is nice to see students and witness their talents outside of the classroom. We often forget how rich, or conversely how poor, our students’ lives are. And though we spend much time preparing and considering the lessons we teach them, we typically forget in the daily details of our jobs how small, and yet how big, our classes are to our kids. Our influence is cumulative, each class a small part of each school day, yet so important to our students over time.

This in itself is a good argument for making our classes as memorable and impactful as possible, so that our students consciously identify with the concepts we try to help them learn. One of the big goals of our teaching is to contribute to the richness of our students’ daily lives, to keep that excitement that should be every day alive in the people we are raising.



The hidden factory-style curriculum of traditional education attempts to quash this anticipation so students docily accept factory-style jobs and even factory-style lives.

Our students deserve better, better than turning content, geared curriculum, contrived exercises and lectures. Isn’t the whole point of life to experience and wonder? Shouldn’t our classes go beyond “this is today’s content” to “imagine if you will how profound”?

Imagine if you will how profound. Better starts today, each day, in how we teach each class our students attend. It might be our eighth class we teach today. It might be their eighth class they attend. But it is the one class, the class right now, where we can excite them about learning, about participating, about the concepts we teach and about the possibilities and opportunities and wonders, even about the horrors, of life. We are teaching their lives now. We are teaching their lives in their futures. They deserve the best in this class. So, we have to engage them and rile their passions.

This is certainly a lesson I keep learning. And sometimes it is hard to figure out how to do that with the lesson plans I am given. Sometimes I am exhausted or under the weather. This happens. But I try to remember the key, the key, that this class, this class here, is part of my students’ lives, a part they deserve to be fired up about. Attitude begets attitude; passion begets passion.

Meeting them where they live

I remember when I first really decided to write. It is not the first time I wrote. It is not the first time I slung stories. I was already well into these, for others and for fun. But it was the first time when I thought that writing was really, really, really neat and something I wanted to do more regularly than occasionally, and more for fun than for others.



I started seriously, playfully, writing when I was eleven, a year older than the lowest age of the students I am teaching. (I currently teach 10 to 21 year olds.) In my time, where I lived, there were no clubs to encourage my writing, no community of people passionate about the same passion. Those of my students who joined the Write Group get to share and grow in their passion with like-minded people of all ages in an environment where, unlike school, they are not judged for the quality of their work, where they can choose to share, what to share, or not, where they can experience the work of others and where they can open their minds to new and beautiful worlds.

The Write Group is experiential. It is as good as what is shared.

In the Write Group everyone is equal and the only criteria is the love of the written image, the spoken story. I look forward to witnessing my students engaged in their passions, sharing that which stokes their pride and celebrating what they love.

The Camp, the Club and the Class

Our students require a lot from us. Sometimes they need a class. Sometimes they need a camp. Sometimes a club. A lab. A project. These types of teaching should:

  1. reflect the content of our lessons — the form of the lesson should reflect the structure of the content.
  2. reflect the knowledge, skills, curiosity, skepticism, problem solving and innovation we want our students to learn.
  3. reflect who are students are, what they are interested in and how they learn.
  4. provide authenticity and relevance of our lessons to our students.
  5. provide a variety of learning opportunities and styles to invoke and promote a variety of thinking and physical skills.
  6. invoke curiosity, awe, confidence, mastery and gratification from our lessons or their learning in our students.



A class, under controlled circumstances, explores content and skills. A lab and a project duplicate a class but invoke handling content and skills. A lab is more immediate and cooperative than a project; a project delves deeper and ranges farther. A camp combines class and lab in open and unfamiliar circumstances. And a club combines each of these in an open, guided, non-critical, low-stakes milieu.

When was the last time you taught in a club-style? What lessons coming up can best be learned if they were experienced as a club rather than a class?

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