Tag Archives: social justice

Changing How We See the World

For as long as we can remember the map of our world looked like this:



This is the map represented by the Mercator projection created hundreds of years ago. In recent years, however, the Mercator projection has been considered to be misleading. For example, Greenland and the continent of Africa appear to be roughly the same size when it actuality Africa is over 10 times the size of Greenland. As a result, the Gall-Peters projection has been considered a more reliable representation of the world. You may notice it is quite different than what we are used to:



The Boston school district recently introduced this new map as the standard and needless to say students were pretty shocked. Joanna Walters (2017) from the Guardian reported on the new map rollout noting some of the most obvious differences:

The USA was small. Europe too had suddenly shrunk. Africa and South America appeared narrower but also much larger than usual. And what had happened to Alaska?

Walters believes the new map standard will lead to a paradigm shift and a step towards decolonizing the curriculum. She explains:

The result goes a long way to rewriting the historical and sociopolitical message of the Mercator map, which exaggerates the size of imperialist powers.

“This is the start of a three-year effort to decolonize the curriculum in our public schools,” said Colin Rose, assistant superintendent of opportunity and achievement gaps for Boston public schools.

I believe it would be a powerful exercise to have students compare the two maps and analyze the differences.  Integration of a new and more reliable map standard is truly important step in working towards a socially just curriculum.




Problematizing the “Word Gap”

mind the gap

We, as educators, know there isn’t a single magic bullet solution to any of the issues related to education. Equitably educating all of our young people is a big, complex, and often messy process.

I (Pooja) recently read an interesting article in The Atlantic which aims to complicate the notion of the “word gap.” The word gap refers to the disparity of words heard by children at the age of four years old in affluent households (approximately 45 millions words) versus low-income households (13 million words). The author of this article, Amy Rothschild, uncovers how the “word gap” may oversimplify issues around opportunity gaps (disparity in access to quality education and resources needed for all learners to be successful) apparent between children from affluent household versus those from low-income households. Oscar Barbarin, a child psychologist from the African American Studies department at the University of Maryland  asserts the word gap serves as a miracle solution, which doesn’t take into account several of the sociopolitical issues which play a role in word acquisition. Barbarin suggests focusing on the word gap doesn’t address the root of the opportunity gap issue: “If the problem facing low-income children of color is simply a question of parents saying more words and longer words, it would be much easier to fix than poverty and access to education for adults.”

A professor from Harvard, Richard Weissbourd, argues real obstacles must be addressed to begin to close the opportunity gap.  He says “…there are these very serious obstacles low-income families face.” For example, the article’s author, Rothschild, points out “lower-earning workers are more likely than others to work overnight and on weekends, and have irregular schedules without paid time off. Their hours require them to find childcare for hours that many centers are closed and commute when public transportation may not be available.”

Addressing the “word gap” may be a start in closing the opportunity gap for young learners, but we certainly cannot stop there.

Read the entire article here: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/beyond-the-word-gap/479448/

Social Justice Study at AREA

I was once again thrilled to attend the AERA conference this past week.  It is such a remarkable opportunity- so many knowledgeable and committed educators from around the world.  Quite inspiring.  At the conference this year, one consistent theme emerged in the sessions I attended: Know your students. One particular study in a session entitled Preparing Preservice Teachers to Teach for Social Justice, resonated with me quite profoundly.  The study was called Candidate Change in a Community -Engaged Teacher Education Program and was led by Patricia Clarke from Ball State University.  Patricia maintained, ” a good teacher must understand the context in which a child lives grows and learns.”

Her team conducted a study which examined: preservice teacher candidates’ attitudes towards diversity and community, and how they changed over the course of a semester-long community-engaged experience. As teacher candidates came to know the community in which they were working, their expressed attitudes and beliefs changed from explicit statements of bias and stereotype to ones that sought community involvement and social action. 

This teacher education program at Ball University emphasized community involvement by holding classes in local community centers (as opposed to the university).  Student teachers also attended the local church on Sundays to be part of the community gatherings.  The teacher educators arranged for “community ambassadors” to welcome the student teachers to their neighborhood and guide the student teachers throughout their weeks in the school.  The results were remarkable.  The student teachers moved from “being nervous” and “afraid” in the neighborhood to feeling like a community member.

Patricia closed her session with a sweet anecdote shared by one of her student teachers, which I will share with you here. The student teacher was working in a class of grade two students and asked the children to share the markers.  She handed the basket of markers to the child beside her who seemed a bit confused.  Remembering what she had experienced the previous Sunday when she  attended the community church with the children, she said, “pass the basket like you do at church.” The child nodded, and said “Hallelujah!”  all the of the children immediately responded with “Praise be the Lord!” and they promptly passed the basket of markers around the circle. The student teacher was somewhat surprised by the response, but because of her inclusion in the community completely understood why the children responded they way they did.  She smiled, nodded, and continued on with the lesson.


The commitment of the teacher educators in this program was outstanding and quite inspirational.  I sincerely hope teacher education programs worldwide can learn from not only this study, but the model of teacher education Ball University has implemented.

An Educator’s Guide To “Minding Our Digital Footprints”

In an article titled “Minding our Digital Footprints” the Edmodo blog outlined 9 elements of digital citizenship they use to frame their work. Edmodo is a K-12 social learning network which focuses on “connecting all learners with the people and resources they need.” I believe these elements can be applied to the work any educator is doing with their classes in digital technology spaces (e.g., class blog, class wiki).
Within each element questions are posed. Educators at all levels pose these questions to guide students as digital citizens while making them reflective of their own citizenship. The 9 Elements are listed below and are accompanied by some questions developed by Edmodo:
1. Digital Access
Does everyone in our community have equal access to digital resources? Think about the ways Internet use affecrts your daily social life and your school work: how might it change your life if you did not have access to it?
2. Digital Commerce 
What are smart precautions to take when buying and selling goods online?
3. Digital Communication
List as many tool you can think of that we use to communicate digitally as 21st century citizens. What are the appropriate decisions we need to make with these tools?
4. Digital Literacy
How do you use technology to learn? How do you learn about technology? What kind of information literacy skills do we need?
5. Digital Etiquette
What are best practices for responsible conduct in shared digital spaces?
6. Digital Law
When we are online, what are some laws and ethical/moral rules we should be aware of and follow?
7. Digital Rights and Responsibilities
What are the rights we have as digital citizens  that no one can take away from us? What are the responsibilities we have as digital citizens?
8. Digital Health and Wellness
What are some ways that using the Internet can be good for our health? How can it hurt us?
9. Digital Security
What are smart ways to protect our digital information?
Check out the full article here:

Lens Blog and Visual Thinking Strategies

When developing the photo essay assignment for my course, I came across an excellent resource for teachers and students. The New York Times has started a blog entitled Lens: Photography, Video, and Visual Journalism. The topics covered in  the blog posts touch on several critical issues such as immigration, race, and class. The photos  captured in each of the photo essays serve as a great entry point into rich discussion. When using the Lens Blog in my classroom I find myself drawing on skills I developed during workshops many years ago.

When I was a public school teacher, I participated in a fascinating series of professional development workshops called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). By analyzing carefully selected images, students were able to develop critical literacy skills as well as visual literacy skills. Teachers were facilitators in this process and asked three open-ended questions:

1. What’s going on in this picture?

2. What do you see that makes you say that?

3. What more can we find?

I found myself using the VTS approach when presenting students the photo essays from the Lens blog. Students in my class really engaged with the photos and rich discussion took place as a result. I will definitely be using this blog for years to come in the classroom.

Below are some powerful images from photo essays on  the Lens Blog.

Photo Essay: Garifuna Immigrants in New York
Photo Essay: Garifuna Immigrants in New York
Photo Essay: Connecting with Syrian Refugees
Photo Essay: Connecting with Syrian Refugees
Photo Essay: One Year Later, Remembering Eric Garner
Photo Essay: One Year Later, Remembering Eric Garner

Link to VTS site: http://www.vtshome.org/

Link to NYT Lens: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/

Visiting the Rishi Valley School…Part 2


While at the Rishi Valley School I had the opportunity of visiting the Rishi Valley Institute for Education Resources (RIVER), a teacher training and development wing of Rishi Valley Rural Education Centre. The school serves children from the surrounding rural communities, several of which are impoverished. At first glance the RIVER school appears to be like many rural schools in India; one large classroom, one teacher, twenty-five students spanning across 5 grades. However, after spending an afternoon in the classroom it became clear that this classroom was not like the others. First, there are no desks or chairs; rather, there are four large tables with students purposefully seated at them. Second, Kala, the classroom teacher, does not do any stand-up teaching. Instead, she moves from table to table working with small groups of kids or one-on-one with a child with laminated graded cards. Kala is using the multi-grade, multi-level methodology which the Rishi Valley School has spent years developing, and she has spent years perfecting. At the RIVER school a “community-based curriculum is taught…where the academic curriculum is graded for individual levels of learning, grounded in up-to-date information, and framed in the local idiom, and…where the curriculum is integrated with activities.” (http://www.rishivalley.org/rural_education/RIVER.htm)


The classroom

I was most interested in the pride the students took in their graded cards they had completed, as well as their designated space on the wall to record their progress (pictures below). They were all very aware of what level they were at for each of their subject. The graded cards are part of an educational kit the RIVER school has created.

This is how the educational kit works:

The education kit, a series of carefully graded cards, replaces textbooks in the area of language, mathematics and environmental science. Each card in the graded series is marked with a logo (rabbit, elephant, dog) and mapped on to a subject-specific “Learning Ladder”, a progress guide which traces out the learning trajectory for students.

Spaces on the Ladder are sub-divided into a set of milestones. These milestones consist of  cards that explain a concept;  the applications of the concept;  evaluation of students’ understanding and, finally, provide means of testing, remediation or  enrichment. A student identifies her own place on the ladder, and creates, within the broad confines of the milestones,  her own path from grade one to grade five. 

Blank spaces on the ladder allow teachers to introduce independent content into the learning process. Indeed the Ladder can be designed in flexible ways to allow for multiple trajectories between which teachers and students are able to choose so long as the sequencing required by the academic disciplines is maintained.(Source: http://www.rishivalley.org/rural_education/RIVER.htm)

 Although I only spent an afternoon in the classroom, it left a lasting impression on me. The MGML approach seemed to really have been working, and effectively addressing the prevalent issue of mutli-grade classroom across rural India. The MGML approach is being used in rural school across Andhra Pradesh, and has been adopted by many school in the state of Tamil Naidu. The creators are advocating for the approach in several other states in India. Take a look at some photos below!


Kala (the teacher) working with the students. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 8.30.28 PM

Students working on Math problems at their own individual levels. 

The Milestones Chart


Student progress for the week. 

A is for Activist: Guest Blog by Gisela Wajskop

The school year began in Canada at the same time we experienced many human tragedies across the world. In this peace-less world, I’ve (Gisela) A is for Activistdiscovered, by chance, an interesting book for young children: A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara, http://www.aisforactivist.com. From Activist to Zapatista, this “children’s book for the 99 percent” offers different rhymes and perspectives to small children.

The book is described as:

Activist is an ABC board book written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for. The alliteration, rhyming, and vibrant illustrations make the book exciting for children, while the issues it brings up resonate with their parents’ values of community, equality, and justice. This engaging little book carries huge messages as it inspires hope for the future, and calls children to action while teaching them a love for books. http://www.amazon.ca/Activist-Innosanto-Nagara-ebook/dp/B00DIGNCNU/ref=srA is for _1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410614592&sr=8-1&keywords=Innosanto+Nagara

As Corey Hill wrote in 2012 (http://www.yesmagazine.org/people power/in-review-it-is-for-activist-by-innosanto-nagara) “It’s pretty clear from page one that this is no Cat in the Hat. Billed as a book for the children of the 99%, A is for Activist is the radical vision of Innosanto (Inno) Nagara, a graphic designer and social justice activist from Oakland, California.

Although the book is said to suitable for children from birth to three years to age I wonder about the impact of reading it to such young children, and I wonder if it would be better suited for older children who have ideological knowledge and experience. The illustrations are gorgeous and the rhymes reveal ideas about the rights of all in the hope of a world more with fewer ills. It is a lovely text to start the school year in which conflicts and wars in the four corners of the world threaten children around the world! It can serve as introductory material to literacy and can serve as an inspiration to parents and educators about the social function of writing and literature for children.

Open Street Maps: Taking Action and Focusing on Multiple Perspectives

Nora Young, the host of CBC Radio’s Spark, was the keynote speaker of a conference I (Pooja) attended yesterday. She spoke about data science as a growing field of study, in fact, many universities have created departments of data science.  With the growth, Nora noted, comes a need for what she called critical data literacy. She illustrated the need for critical data literacy with an example of mapping technology. Google maps have quickly become the go-to application for finding directions and/or locating businesses on a map. However, being critically data literate,  guides us to  question like: who gets to decide what appears on a map? The answer is most often large multi-million dollar enterprises like Google.

To disrupt google’s monopoly of the growing online map industry, initiatives like Open Street Maps have been created. In January of 2014, The Guardian commented on the need for applications like Open Street Map. They likened it to  “a wiki-like map that anyone in the world can edit. If a store is missing from the map, it can be added in by a store owner or even a customer. In terms of display… each person or company who creates a map is free to render it how they like..” (Wroclawski, 2014) A site, which allows community members to add and edit a map of a community to which they belong, is powerful because it positions community members as experts.

I am looking forward to bringing this mapping technology into my classroom. I hope my students can create maps of their neighbourhoods.

A snapshot of a map made by community members:


Read more about Open Street Map:

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/14/why-the-world-needs openstreetmap

Teaching Social Justice Through Action


Last week at the 22nd Annual Labour Fair my (Pooja) class attended several sessions, but one profoundly affected us all. Activist Chris Ramsaroop from Justice 4 Migrant Workers (J4MW) came in and spoke to us about issues migrant workers in Canada face such as a lack of health benefits, sub-par living conditions, and low hourly wages. For many, this was the first they had heard about migrant workers in Canada. And so, many were surprised to learn some of the unsettling history around migrant workers and human rights violations.

To deepen our awareness on the issue, the following day we watched Min Sook Lee’s documentary “El Contrato.” This heart-wrenching documentary gave faces and narratives to the cases Ramsaroop spoke about the previous day. Students were deeply moved by the documentary, asking after:“What can we do?”; “How can we show we care?”

Wanting to take action, a moved student looked through the J4MW website and found there was something we can do: The J4MW group is looking for court support on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 (today) regarding migrant workers access to healthcare. To demonstrate support and solidarity, the J4MW wants to fill up the open court at Osgoode Hall to send a message. My class, along with two other sections eager to attend, will be in attendance at the court today.

I have deviated from my curriculum to make room for this issue my students (and I) have come to care so passionately about. I’ve seen students utilize an extensive range of literacies over just one week: they have organized themselves into groups to get to Osgoode Hall and back; they have conducted research on previous cases related to migrant workers’ access to healthcare in Ontario; and they have critically thought and discussed what it means to buy “local” produce in Ontario.

To learn more about the provincial court hearing today at Osgoode Hall, check out the link below:


If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch “El Contrato,” I  highly recommend watching it. Below is a synopsis and link to the documentary:

This documentary from Min Sook Lee (Tiger Spirit) follows a poverty-stricken father from Central Mexico, along with several of his countrymen, as they make their annual migration to southern Ontario to pick tomatoes. For 8 months a year, the town’s population absorbs 4,000 migrant workers who toil under conditions, and for wages, that no local would accept. Yet despite a fear of repercussions, the workers voice their desire for dignity and respect.a poverty-stricken father from Central Mexico, along with several of his countrymen, as they make their annual migration to southern Ontario to pick tomatoes. For 8 months a year, the town’s population absorbs 4,000 migrant workers who toil under conditions, and for wages, that no local would accept. Yet despite a fear of repercussions, the workers voice their desire for dignity and respect.


The Wikipedia Gender Gap

Wikipedia is  believed, by many, to be a democratic model of content creation because of WIKIit’s design which allows anyone to create/edit content. While listening to CBC Radio’s Spark, I (Pooja) learned that Wikipedia suffers from a severe gender gap. In fact, a study in 2011 conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation, found that only 13% of Wikipedia contributors were women, making men the overwhelming contributors to Wikipedia.

Sue Gardner, the Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, uses comments posted by women on articles related to the wiki gender gap to explain reasons women do not contribute more to Wikipedia:

1)     Some women don’t edit Wikipedia because the editing interface isn’t sufficiently user-friendly.

2)     Some women don’t edit Wikipedia because they are too busy.

3)     Some women don’t edit Wikipedia because they aren’t sufficiently self-confident, and editing Wikipedia requires a lot of self-confidence.

4)     Some women don’t edit Wikipedia because they are conflict-averse and don’t like Wikipedia’s sometimes fighty culture.

5)     Some women don’t edit Wikipedia because the information they bring to Wikipedia is too likely to be reverted or deleted.

6)     Some women don’t edit Wikipedia because they find its overall atmosphere        misogynist.

7)     Some women find Wikipedia culture to be sexual in ways they find off-putting.

8)     Some women whose primary language has grammatical gender find being addressed by Wikipedia as male off-putting.

9) Some women don’t edit Wikipedia because social relationships and a welcoming tone are important to them, and Wikipedia offers fewer opportunities for that than other sites.

Like many, when I want to learn the basics about anything, Wikipedia is often the first place I go. However, before listening to the Spark radio show on Sunday, it never crossed my mind to edit or contribute to a Wikipedia page. Some of the reasons Gardner presented resonate with me, while others not at all. So what is it that’s keeping me (and you) from Wiki’ing?

Listen to CBC Radio Spark on the Wikipedia Gender Gap:


Read Sue Gardner’s blog here: