Unplug’d 11: 25 kilometres later

It’s been six weeks since the unplug’d11 community said goodbye and we all headed back to our regular lives. But we were not the same people returning to our normal routine. Many of us had formed friendships with people we had never met before based on common passions, and we had experienced an openness with each other that we believed was rare in a classical PD venue.

For Alana Callan and me, it started on a train headed to an off-the grid retreat known as The Edge outside of South River. During a short “exchange seats” format, we were randomly seated with Kelly Power and John Evans.  We were suppose to be talking about….hmmmm….Tom, what was that topic you assigned? Instead, we found our shared passion for running. We were talking about how people connect with educators online, and John discussed how he chooses people to follow on twitter by checking their profile to see what resonates with him. He used running as an example. The conversation that ensued sparked something in all of us which paved the pathway for our friendships. For some of us, it was the encouragement needed to get back into long distance running. It was the conversation where connections were beginning.

During the next 2 mornings Alana and I continued our sharing during our morning runs.  The off-the-grid natural setting reminded Alana of a upcoming opportunity to run a 25 km. trail run hosted by a similar retreat in Mattawa a mere six weeks away. At the time we were nowhere near physically ready, but the conversations and coaching that followed from Chris Harbeck and John proved to be the spark we needed. A genuine connection. Over the next 6 weeks, we trained hard, planned and were motivated by our unplug’d team members. Chris, Andy Forgrave, John and Kelly continued to post words of encouragement as each of us independently worked towards the deadline. On September 24, we completed our goal.

So now we’re in the car driving home writing this blog post on an iPad. Sore, tired and proud, we’re both wearing big grins and reflecting on why this was such an emotional and empowering run for us. For starters, when we met up on Friday, we instantly picked up right where our f2f friendship left off. On Saturday, as we struggled up that gruelling, slimy, muddy wall of a hill at kilometre 18, we both felt Chris, Andy, John and Kelly pushing us on. And I could hear John’s voice in his last tweet. “Enjoy Enjoy Enjoy. Trail running is THE BEST!! It will fly by. Take some pics to share!”

When we finished the race, we knew with certainty that we wouldn’t have had the confidence to take on such a challenge without the unplug’d experience. We wanted to stay connected and saw this as a way to do so with a purpose that mattered.

There were similarities between this experience and unplug’d. At both events we were truly unplugged. As we prepared for unplug’d, we began our connection by sharing our uncertainties with each other. Was our topic worthy? Were we? The preparation for the race was similar. But because of the relationship that developed over those three days at The Edge, we already had the commitment – that was solidified at unplug’d. We knew we were going to get there, and our unplug’d cheering squad knew it too as they regularly checked in with us.

When we left The Edge, many of us were adamant that we didn’t want to lose these new connections, the sharing, the collaboration. For some of us the link is running, ds106 radio and math. Yes, math! Our next project involves a classroom collaborative math project with Chris and Andy’s students using our students’ running data.

And so we wonder, how do others maintain the magic of the unplug’d connection when we all live so far apart?

“Potential for Genius is Carried Inside Everyone”

As I was getting ready for school this past week, I pulled out my “1st day of math” folder. Tucked inside is an article I read to my gr. 7/8 students in our first math class of the year. It’s not your usual “tips for math success” or “review of long division”. It’s a copy of an article published in 2007 in our provincial farm paper, The Ontario Farmer. “Potential for Genius is Carried Inside Everyone”, was written by Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot, a local writer who farms in Huron County with her husband and children. It’s a beautiful piece with a powerful message for our students. When I read it, I always have to catch myself before my voice begins to crack. I found it just as emotional this year. As usual, the room became very quiet as I moved through the story. However, what was different this year was the response from my students. When I finished reading, one of my gr. 8 boys starting clapping. Slowly, quietly, sincerely. Soon others joined in. And before long, the entire class was smiling as they connected with their inner genius.

After receiving that reaction, I wanted this story to be shared with other teachers, so I contacted Lisa through Facebook to see if it was posted anywhere online. It wasn’t, but after some searching, Lisa found and sent me the copy stored on her computer.

“Potential for Genius is Carried Inside Everyone” by Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot, November 01/07

Once there were four sisters who grew up on a dairy farm in Huron County. They loved their dad and worked hard beside him milking cows and bringing in the hay. When talking about his daughters, the father would say with pride, “They’re hard workers!”

Not surprisingly, all four girls grew up to be just that.

One of those four girls struggled with mathematics at school. She told her parents about it and they told her not to worry about it. “Just try and pass.” They weren’t overly negative but neither were they very encouraging and her whole life, she believed she was dense when it came to arithmetic. She never got good grades in the subject and to this day, freezes up when she has to do a difficult calculation.

The farm girl married and had daughters of her own. Believing she was ‘bad at math’ she knew she’d never be able to help her daughters with their math homework so she told her daughters something different than what she heard growing up.

She told her daughters they were geniuses at math.

The girls believed it. They come home with ‘A’ grades on their math tests. When asked what her favourite subject is, her older daughter will answer: math.

The mother knows that they really aren’t geniuses but that doesn’t matter. The girls believe they are. When they come across a difficult problem they don’t get frustrated and quit, believing they are incapable of answering the problem. Instead, her girls believe they have the brainpower to figure it out. So they do.

This story came to me after hearing a blurb from Canadian Writer Alberto Manguel who was speaking on CBC radio about how our culture makes kids stupid. He suggested that we are born intelligent, fully capable of successfully living in the world. However, today’s culture seems intent on making us believe we are stupid.

I did it just today! Facing a shortage of feed since there wasn’t enough haylage to top the silo, Farmer Freddy decided to pasture the heifers on the alfalfa fields. He purchased more steel fence posts, shock wire and strung a temporary fence around the field. The heifers were introduced to their new grassland and happily started munching down the rich forage. Each day they are out saves Farmer Freddy feeding one large square hay bale. The system worked so well, he decided to give the milk cows a field too and feed them less TMR (Total Mixed Ration). This, of course, disrupts the whole TMR concept where cows receive a carefully calculated ration with each foodstuff meticulously weighed and delivered to the cows.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” I questioned him, my voice laden with doubt.

Farmer Freddy just looked at me and said he’d been feeding cows for a long time. He knew what he was doing.

I felt a little bit ashamed, for I was doing the very thing Alberto Manguel warned about—I was being negative; promoting ‘stupid’ instead of encouraging intelligence; tearing down instead of building up.

Truth is that since we bought this dairy farm 10 years ago, Farmer Freddy has successfully managed this farm, raising healthy cows and increasing profitability year after year. Perhaps it’s time I told Farmer Freddy he is a ‘farming genius.’ Who knows what that might lead to?

Fred and Lisa's Dairy Herd

Personally, I think we should always treat each other like we treat babies. From the minute a baby is born, we are teaching them new things in the shelter of our loving embraces. We let them know with our gentle hands, our smiling faces and our loving words that they are amazing creatures as they learn to eat, walk, talk, read and write. A first step is greeted with loud cheers. A first word is met with huge smiles and big hugs.

When do we start telling our children that: “math is too hard” or “that book is too long to read” or “that’s too far to run?” Why not tell them they were born with great brains to figure out that math problem and healthy legs to run the distance?

When God knit us together in our mother’s womb, He gave each one of us special gifts and abilities to fulfill His purpose for us in this life. We didn’t all receive the same gifts in the same measure. Yet by the very nature of forming us, the Creator of the World believed we were worth making.

It’s our universal role, then, to believe in the intelligence and the inherent value of others. And tell them so.

Lisa shares a powerful message that would resonate with any student, urban or rural. I’ll end this post just as Lisa ended her Facebook post to me, “Wishing you wisdom and patience as you start another school year!”