Friday Two Cents: Scotland Inspired Christmas Creation


With the Christmas season upon us I indulged on a yearly tradition of setting up my Christmas town at school. A couple of students asked how long I have been setting up the town at the school. I told them it is the 9th year I have set it up, yet I started building the town about 10 years prior to that starting with only 5 buildings that I hand painted and with a simple train. Today it has grown to over 50 builds, all hand painted and some that I built myself.

This year I added a new building or to be specific buildings and hill.  I had built a hill with a tunnel for my castle, but this year I wanted to add something new, something that I was inspired to create when I went on my trip to Scotland.  My trip to Scotland was filled with endless wonders, from the beauty of the Highlands to the wonderful interaction with the people.  With all those experiences, the one thing that suck out for me was the rich history created or forged by the Scottish people. I am talking about the endless castles and medieval ruins everywhere you go.  From Edinburgh Castle to Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland is replete with castles dotting the landscape.  My exploration of these historical sites inspired me to create a new castle and hill for my Christmas Town. 

New Castle/Citadel

Stage 1) I began by creating the basic shape of the hill and buildings using plastic cardboard.  I wanted a hill with a tunnel and a multi-layer hill design similar to the castles I saw in Scotland.  I also created the basic shape of the main buildings for the castle.  I wanted one large structure and a couple of smaller buildings again similar to castles I saw.   

 

Stage 2) I then got plaster of Paris and coated the entire hill and buildings. It did not look pretty but I knew that I would be adding more and moulding the plaster to what I had in mind. This stage was the most time-consuming and labour intensive.  I could not simply scrap or chisel away.  I had to be careful not to press too hard or the plaster would crack.   Instead I used coarse sand paper to help smooth and shape the hill and buildings.   The buildings required two layers of plaster to get the right look but the hill took several. 

 

Stage 3) With the building shape relatively done the hill required more attention.  I did not simply want to use plaster to create a wall around the compound, therefore I created one with grey pebbles.  I used the plaster as mortar and created a multilevel wall with battlements. I also moulded and carved the sides of the hill to resemble a cliff face making the entire structure look like a citadel.

 

Stage 4) I then painted the buildings and the citadel with a base white. Once dry I began painting the buildings and citadel the way I envisioned.  If you look closely you can see that I incorporated three stones from Scotland (near Eilean Donan Castle) into the citadel final design. 

 

Once done, I brought in the new citadel into the school as part of my Christmas town set.   Everyone loved the new citadel and castle.  Thank you Scotland for the inspiration.  

 

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Friday Two Cents: Don’t Stress: Laugh And Have Fun


 

‘A day without laughter is a day wasted.’Charlie Chaplin

 

  Well this week I was able to put up the Christmas tree, string the outdoor lights and put out my nativity scene for the upcoming Christmas season. Yet one thing that always makes the season more enjoyable is the music of this wonderful holiday.  We in Toronto are quit fortunate to have a radio station (CHFI 98.1 FM) that plays Christmas music all day long.  They started last weekend at the beginning of the Santa Claus parade and will continue until December 26, Boxing Day. 

  Christmas music has always been a big part of Christmas for me.  I think because I use to play in several bands and we were always playing the songs for about a month and half before Christmas to help us prepare for our concerts.  However, about 10 years ago I discovered some alternate Christmas songs that I have to listen to that makes my Christmas complete.

Stressed Out Christmas

  They are a collection of songs preformed by Bob Rivers and once I heard them, Christmas hasn’t been the same. For some reason these songs connected with me. Perhaps it’s because I find that with everyone is running around trying to get things done, buy stuff and it places a lot of stress on people when there shouldn’t be.  I think people need to not take things too seriously. Everywhere people are worried about getting the perfect gift, have the perfect dinner and the perfect tree. These songs help me to see that there is some fun and laughter in this season.  We do not need to take things too seriously; relax, enjoy life, laugh and have fun.   Those are some of the important parts of Christmas.
  Therefore in the spirit of bringing some laughter and fun back into Christmas, I have attached a YouTube video/song of my favourite alternate Christmas song by Bob Rivers.  The tone is from the song “Winter Wonderland” but the lyrics have been changed into a new song entitled, “Walkin’ ‘Round In Women’s Underwear”. 
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do and remember to have a little laugh every once in a while. 

Friday Two Cents: Delayed Gratification A.K.A Learning Patience


 

  In the past two weeks many parents have been receiving progress report on their children and many have talked to me about some issues. Many parents have described their behaviour as lazy and not wanting to do the work. Why are so many students having problems focusing and doing the work? Where does the problem stem from?

  I have worked in many grades and I have seen the same issue in all ages. Wherever I go the students are given a task, be it math, literacy or art and they want an instant result. In other words; they want instant gratification.
  After telling this to the parents they look at me with surprise and I say look at our society. Today everything is instant gratification. If they want something all they need to do is to ask for it and they get it. Video games give an instant reward after, you want something you go online and order it. You want a picture of a cartoon, go online and search until you get it. Why draw it?
  I noticed this especially when I do art with the students. On numerous occasions students ask me to show them how to draw something and when I do, they are not happy because their drawing is not the same as mine. I constantly remind them that it took me many years to get to my level of artistic skill and they need to practice constantly to get better. Many do not accept this and destroy their creation or give up.

I want it now!! Instant gratification.

  The same can be said for other subjects and their seems to be a disconnect happening. The best way I can describe it is this way. They are at the foot of a hill. Their goal or task is on the top of the hill. They want the goal but don’t see the hill between them. It does not matter how you get to the top of the hill fast or slow but you still have to put the effort into getting to the top.  Many don’t want to because it would take a long time, in other words they want instant results or gratification.
  What we need to do is teach the students that delayed gratification has more rewards. Study after study have shown the benefits to children who have learned delayed gratification. One famous experiment by Stanford professor named Walter Mischel sheds light on this subject matter. In the experiment a child is placed in a room, sitting on a chair and a marshmallow is placed on the table in front of them. The researcher offered a deal to the child. He told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow. The choice was simple: get one treat right now or two treats later. He left the room for 15 minutes.
  The footage of the children waiting alone in the room was very entertaining to say the least. Some kids jumped up and ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher closed the door. Others wiggled and bounced and scooted in their chairs as they tried to restrain themselves, but eventually gave in to temptation a few minutes later. And finally, a few of the children did manage to wait the entire time. The study was done in 1972 but the interesting thing is what comes later.
  The researchers followed the children and what they found was surprising. The children who were willing to delay gratification and wait to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life lessons. They continued to follow each child for more than 40 years and time and time again, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeed in whatever task they were engaged in.
  So what should people take from this information. The one thing many students and people in our society need to learn and develop is patience. If you put in the work, the rewards are much better after time. We as educators and parents need to help the students solve the problem without telling them the answer. They need to put in the effort. If they fail once in a while that’s ok. Many learn more from failures than constant success. This way they can develop patience and enjoy the success more.

What did Edison say when they said he failed 10,000 times to make a light bulb?

‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ Thomas A. Edison

 

Something we all need to keep in mind.

Friday Two Cents: Start The Ripples Of Caring


 

‘From caring comes courage.’ Lao Tzu

  This week I had the privilege to work with several classes, all with wonderful students. Yet there were a couple of classrooms where a minority of students constantly keep me on my toes. This was not the first time I have worked with these students and sadly I have seen their type of behaviour in different schools as well. The behaviour I am talking about is caring for others or to be more specific, a lack of caring about others. Their behaviour towards being first in line, that their needs supersedes that of others, the attitude that “I’ll do what ever I want because that’s what I want to do and everyone else is not important”.

  Unfortunately I have seen a steady increase of this behaviour. Not just in the older students but starting as young as kindergarten and continuing into the older grades. I thought that this was a generational thing but after looking at some research I believe that it is, in part a generation issue; the generation being the parents of the students.
  Studies from the Making Caring Common Project in Harvard have shown that about 78% of middle and high school students choose ‘achieving at a high level’ or ‘happiness’ over caring for others.   They also found out that three times of them would see their peers agreeing with this statement, “I’m prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
  Yet where does all this thinking begin? Where did it start? Well for that answer they asked the students and the results are pretty clear. They asked the students how they viewed their parents’ child-raising priorities when it came to achievement, happiness or caring for others. The results where: 81% said achievement or happiness and 19% viewed caring is their parents top priority.   The study continued by asking teachers, administrators and other school staff (school adults), who work with the students, the same questions about the parents’ priorities for the children. They found that about 80% of the school adults viewed parents as prioritising achievement or happiness over caring for others.
  So the research says that parents are sending messages to their children that ‘achieving at a high level’ or ‘happiness’ is more important than caring for others. Yet when asked they do not see it and are surprised at the results.
  I have found it baffling that parents under value their contribution to the education and moulding of their children. Many believe that their child will learn more from a teacher than from them. I have told many parents that my contribution to their child’s learning is a musicale one in the larger scheme of things. Many don’t believe me but I explain it this way.
  ‘Your child will be in school for about 14 years (elementary, middle and high school). They are with me for one out of those 14 years. It’s not even a full year, 10 months. Furthermore its only five days a week, for about 6 hours a day. That’s assuming they start when they are four years old. Yet for the first four years of their life and the remaining 14 years, who are they with all the time? So I ask you, who do you think has a greater influence in teaching your child, me or you?’ Their stunned silence speaks volumes.
  When I read all this research, add in my own experience and then add what I see in the world today, I should say, “Well if they don’t care, I won’t care either.” But something inside me says “No!” I do care about others. That is probably why this affects me so much. I care about everyone in the class. My contribution maybe limited to only a few hours a day, but when they do see me I will try to be that beacon that speaks to them that caring about others is my priority. Perhaps that will inspire some to care about others too. As a famous saying goes;

“Look at the ripples. So small a first then look how they grow. But someone has to start them.”

Friday Two Cents: I Spoke From My Heart, A Place Of Honour


 

  This coming Sunday is an extremely important day for me, and many people around Canada. On November 11th we commemorate the sacrifice tens of thousands of men and women did to preserve our way of life. In other words, our freedom to choose how to live our own lives. This day has always been a day to reflect and honour those who paid the ultimate cost for that freedom.

  This past week many schools have been getting ready to also commemorate this day. Many ask the students to create reflections, images and art to this effect. In one class they were tasked to create something similar, yet something happened that made my blood boil and took all my strength to compose myself.
  I was supplying in a junior class with students’ ages 9 – 11, they were asked to create a poster reflecting on their up coming Remembrance Day assembly. I decided to show them a YouTube video I had created for another Remembrance Day assembly. During the video a student was laughing at the images of the soldiers and other students made it a point to tell him to stop and told me after it was over. I had observed this and decided not to react but thought to turn it into a lesson.

Remembrance Day Poppy

  After the video had played I ask them what feelings did they feel after viewing it. Many said sadness, pride and respect. I said their poster also needs to bring out those emotions. The person was still laughing and many told that individual to stop, but I said. “No they can laugh. You see those soldiers died so that people like them can laugh and do what they want. Even if it makes you upset, we in Canada must respect the rights of individuals to express their opinions.” I looking right at them and continued, “Remember though, that in your home country, you are not allowed to express yourself that way. That you would not be allowed to even practice your faith like you are here in Canada. Remember that because of these soldiers, you can come to this country and believe what you want, go to school where you want and even say what you want. Where you come from you would not be.” After that little speech the students went to work on their posters and many were very well done. Even the one individual also worked on it. But it took all my patience and self-control to say those things and compose myself.
  I am not sure if that individual understood what I said or if they care. What I do know is that I spoke from my heart, from a place where honour and loyalty has a strong presence. I believe in the words I spoke and ever day I do try to live a life that honours their sacrifice. That is why I created the video in the first place. I wanted to create a tool to help honour them and hopefully inspire others to take up the torch and hold it high. For I will not break faith with those who die, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields.

Friday Two Cents: Being Bored Is Good For Your Creativity


 

   “I’m Bored.” a common statement from students in class say when they have nothing to do. On several occasions I have had students tell me that they are bored and they have a look on their face that says that I should entertain them or solve this problem for them. I say it’s not my problem to solve. Make something, draw a picture or find something to use that boredom to your advantage. But many avoid being boredom like the plague. Yet from what I have read, being bored is actually a good thing.

   One study had some volunteers read the phone book before taking a test and others did not. If you have ever seen a phone book you would agree that it is a boring task. They found that the volunteers that read the phone book where better at solving the problems than those that did not. As well a study from the College of William and Mary examined 20 years of creative tests and found that creativity scores declined steadily. So how does being bored help you?
   Studies have shown that being bored is an important part of being creative. This can also lead to breakthroughs and being more productive. You see the brain does not have an off switch. It wants to gather information or stimulation. Boredom happens when your brain does not receive enough stimulation. It cannot slow down so it goes back into your memory and reprocesses old information and twists and turns it around. Many people call it daydreaming but psychologies say that it is a complex process that allows you to see the information from new and different points of view.
   I have observed that many students and adults try to avoid being bored. In some cases many students are over stimulated with endless extracurricular activates. Monday hockey, Tuesday tutoring, Wednesday music, Thursday hockey, Friday dance and the weekends are filled with others activities or else playing on electronic devises. There seems to be no opportunity to get bored or even some down time. They are missing a golden opportunity to be more creative and imagine the impossible.
   I didn’t realize it until I read about being bored that I do daydream a lot. Many of my friends can attest to that statement. I do this when I go for walks or when I relax to some music. I lean back and I let the world around me fade away and it is replaced with endless worlds created in my imagination. From these moments I am able to create art, solve problems and imagine wondrous possibilities.

Endless Possibilities

 

So I say get bored.

You never know what fantastic and wondrous possibilities you can discover.

 

Friday Two Cents: A Renaissance Man


‘Learning never exhausts the mind.’ Leonardo da Vinci

This past week I was discussing something rather interesting with a colleague about the nature of people who are classified as “gifted”.   In the education system gifted refers to a person who is talented in specific areas. Many people classified as gifted show tremendous talents in specific areas. Yet those talents are focused in a specific area such as mathematics, music, art or some other area. We discussed that this may be do to an evolutionary adaptation to allow people to focus only on one area for the good of society.

I found this interesting and I have seen many studies showing that millennial children, now adults are a perfect example. Many are very focused or talented on one specific area of expertise in their career. You are good at one aspect of your career, plumbing and not electrical lets say, but in the past you would have to be familiar with both but now it’s ok and encouraged to be a specialist. Studies also show that millennials are very comfortable with this idea and the job market is agreeing with them.
I can see the benefit to this and there are great examples in history that support this. Einstein’s focused work gave us new theories in physics, Picasso in art, Mozart in music and Tesla in the areas of electricity and engineering. These great minds and others like them have changed how we think and the world around us. However thinking about these people made me consider those that have a broad range of talents, like myself.
I have been called a “Jack-of-all-trades”. I have a great love and talent in the arts from music, dance, drama and visual arts and yet I also excel in technology, mathematics and the sciences. I am not just an academic person but also quite handy at building things and the use of a wide range of tools. With all this in mind I sometimes feel like I am a relic of the past; a person with so much skill and knowledge on such a wide variety of skills unlike people today. A person who cannot focus on one area to specialize? At times I have thought this and some people have mentioned this as a hindrance of mine.  

Leonardo Da Vinci a true Renaissance man

However those thoughts are quickly replaced with the fact that my vast array of knowledge makes me who I am. And I like who I am. I am a person who loves theatre and art from Shakespeare to Dali. I find the complex theory of Tesla’s energy transmitted to vehicles wirelessly as well as the mechanics of how the human body works, fascinating. I enjoy programing computers and doing coding, but also painting a picture. Reading about history as well as learning about the planets and other astrological phenomenon. I enjoy writing but I also love building things with wood, plastic or metal.   These different areas make up the colourful tapestry of who I am and if I ever need to be reminded that being a “Jack-of-all-trades” is a good thing, all I need to do is think of one of the most famous “Jack-of-all-trades” person, Leonardo Da Vinci. A man whose interests include invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history and cartography. He was considered to be a true Renaissance man. Perhaps that is what they should call all people who are “Jacks-of-all-trades”. I guess I can live with being called a “Jack-of-all-trades” or better yet, a Renaissance man.

 

 

 

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