Category Archives: teaching

Knitting in Iceland

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The reason I went to Iceland was because I received a grant to help me improve my teaching by incorporating art and physical education in the classroom. I found a program through Knitting Iceland that had knitting workshops, design workshops, and yoga and dance classes. Perfect.

Turns out the sheep population in Iceland is larger than the human population, so I was able to visit with lots of the fuzzy creatures.

sheep

I also had the opportunity to learn about dyeing yarn with natural, plant-based dyes.

dyeing

I spent a lot of time knitting and admiring the pieces that others made.

knitting

Traditional Icelandic sweaters, or lopapeysa, are a solid color for most of the sleeves and body, but have a multi-colored, intricately designed yoke. Like this one, that was for sale at the Handknitting Association of Iceland.

lopapeysa

I got to learn how to make one of these by creating a tiny version in a workshop that taught top-down sweater construction.

minisweater

For this project, I did my one and only steek (for you non-knitters, this means cutting into knit fabric, which also strikes fear into the hearts of many knitters) in order to make the front opening on this mini-sweater. I knit it in the round, then reinforced the edges in order for it to get cut open without unraveling. I conquered that fear, but it would still be nerve wracking for me to do this to a full-sized garment.

Overall, the trip was great. The grant was valuable. I learned new techniques, and I got inspired. What more can you ask for?

Knitting Workshops in Jacmel, Haiti

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One of the purposes of my trip was to continue a knitting workshop. When I went in July, I taught two separate workshops, for two days each. This time I only taught one 2-day workshop at the new Jakmel Ekspresyons building.

I am grateful for the community of knitters on Ravelry who donated so much yarn for each trip. I had to vacuum-pack all of it in order to bring it with me.

It was my first time seeing the building, and it is awesome! There are two floors. The second floor has an office, two workshop rooms, and space for a computer lab that will be set up shortly. I held the workshop on the first floor to be handicapped-accessible since one of the knitters was unable to walk. Plus this courtyard section is beautiful and breezy. It’s in a shady spot, but the sky is the ceiling.

There were approximately 12 attendees, and about half of them had come to the workshops in July. I taught most of the experienced knitters to increase and decrease, as well as knit in the round. I taught the first-timers to cast-on, knit, and bind-off. Many of the experienced knitters also showed the newbies how to knit. I’ve found that in Haiti, people are extremely helpful to each other. It sure helped me since I was using very limited Creole and only one person there spoke proficient English!

I had so much yarn, I was able to leave some of it behind, along with dozens of pairs of handmade knitting needles (the chopstick ones– I ended up securing the ends with rubber bands). I also left 4 cd-roms with instructional knitting videos in French and dozens of copies of my handmade “Learn to Knit/ Aprann Brode” zine which is in English and very broken Creole.

My hope is that Jakmel Ekspresyons can have a regular knit and crochet group who meets regularly and helps each other. Lots of people in Haiti know how to crochet, plus there was a crochet workshop at Jakmel Ekspresyons a few weeks before my knitting workshop. Haitians are extremely resourceful, and I am confident that they will be able to figure out patterns and fix mistakes if they meet and craft together.

One of the students, Salomon, knew how to crochet already, and learned to knit at my workshops. Afterwards, he continued his project until he finished his skein of yarn, then came by Jakmel Ekspresyon to ask for more yarn.

He was so impressive. I taught a group of kids his age how to knit in an after-school program, and after many hours with these English-speakers, some of the kids were still not able to knit as well as he could. As usual, I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of yarn donors, the willingness and excitement of new knitters, the ability of people to learn in a difficult situation (language barrier), and the helpfulness and kindness of the participants.

Influencing Young Minds part 2

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What bothers me the most about the Pork propaganda I received is that it seems to be acceptable to send branded curriculum to schools for kids to “learn” from. This is not the first time I received curriculum from a corporation. As I’ve said before, teaching is a political act, and students are consistently learning from what we teachers say, do, the materials and curriculum we bring in, and the materials and curriculum we ignore.

I wonder if the school I attended faced a moral quandary when they decided to broadcast Channel 1 news (12 minutes a day, with at least 4 of those minutes commercials) to all 6th through 12th graders in exchange for a television in every classroom. That’s seven years times 180 school days = 1260 days. Say the commercials were only 4 minutes each day. 1260 * 4 = 5040 minutes or 84 hours of commercials I received at school, many of those for junk food or joining the military.

There are textbooks out there with product placement that are cheaper for school to buy. For example, a math word problem may say, in the more expensive book: Eduardo was buying snacks for a party. There were 14 girls and 12 boys going to the party. The snacks come in packages of 3. How many packages should he buy? But the less expensive book would ask: Eduardo was buying *Brand Name* for a party…… The *Brand* comes in packages of 3. I’m thankful my school has splurged to get the books without product placement.

I understand that we are advertised to all the time, but school should be a refuge from that. Schools should put the best interests of the children at heart, and protect them from corporate branding. Though it may technically be less expensive, we can’t afford to sell out our schools.

Pork and Influencing Young Minds

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It’s not easy to get money for schools. In my classroom, I have an interactive white board and 4 computers. I have a rug and an easel, a couple of tables and a desk and chair for each student. I also have enough text books and workbooks for each student (the things I’m listing have not always been the case). Aside from that, I buy just about everything else. Staples, paperclips, the alphabet chart, notebooks, pencils, crayons, globes, copy paper, construction paper, a classroom library of hundreds of books plus bins and shelving, the list could go on and on. So I’m always looking for sales, bargains, freebies and grants.

One grant my husband directed me to this year was for $2000 towards a school vegetable garden. Sounds great! My principal is on board as well as a core group of teachers who will help develop and take care of the garden should we win the grant. I just have to finish the application and submit it. Another grant that appeared in my school mailbox came from the Illinois Pork Producers Association in collaboration with the Soybean Council. It seems all I have to do is show my class a video called Food for Thought.

Here I’ve provided the trailer, but you can also watch theĀ  full-length video if you’re so inclined. There is also a 7 minute version included on the dvd. The grant application just asks if you showed it, if you did any of the provided lessons, and if you have any comments. This grant is worth $200 toward agricultural materials. That would be a nice boost for our (hopefully!) soon-to-have garden.

Unfortunately, I cannot show this video to my class in good conscience. It is an infomercial for factory pig farming. I am against showing my students slanted media regarding any topic without critically analyzing it, but this one hits especially close to home for me. I cannot just show the video and teach the accompanying vocabulary lesson. It just won’t happen.

So my idea is to show the seven minute version of Food for Thought and have students take notes on the words they heard, how they felt, and what sensations the creators were trying to get across. Then, I’m going to show them a video that is against factory farming. The Meatrix parts I and II is a possibility for what I could show, but I’m still looking for something easier for children to understand, and more clearly opposite to the first video.

I’ll have the students will think about the same things they were thinking about during the other movie- what words were used, how did it make them feel, and what point were the creators of the video trying to make. Then I’ll have them compare and contrast the videos. We’ll discuss the tactics the creators of each cartoon used to persuade, and the effectiveness of those tactics.

Teaching is a political act even if teachers don’t know it or refuse to believe it. What we promote in our classrooms, the way we handle disagreements, the things we talk about, the things we ignore, it all has meaning for us and our students. Even if my students disagree with me on the issues, (as they all love to run to Burger King after school) I still have the responsibility to teach them to think critically about the images and media that are presented to them. And getting $200 from the Pork Council for a vegetable garden by analyzing the bias in their media makes me smile.