Living in the Wreckage – A Mycological Recap

I want to consider two works on mushrooms in this final blog post, and think through how they might help us burgeoning mycelium appreciators and as subjects under a capitalist political economic regime.

Anna Tsing, in her book The Mushroom at the End of the World, looks at the relationships that mushroom pickers, buyers, supply chain capitalists, and consumers have with the Matsutake, also known as the Pine Mushroom (Tricholoma matsutake or Armillaria ponderosa). Tsing argues that by analyzing such as small commodity, the mushroom, we can reveal and understand the vast arrays of histories and politics that are a part of its collection and consumption. Through these analyses, Tsing argues, we can look at the ways that the commodity structures impact broader political acts globally and find ways to disrupt or use the structures to create viable networks of care and aid for living in the wreckage of climate collapse.

Tsing’s work is fascinating for a number of reasons. I think foremost she has done excellent work exploring the political economy of the matsutake market. The mushroom, growing best in forests that have been heavily disturbed by human action such as logging, are highly prized in Japanese haute cuisine, but are becoming more and more difficult to find in Japan. Matsutake mushrooms, with their distinct peppery and spicy smell and taste can fetch upwards of 800$ per kilogram in Japan. Good specimens will run 80$ per mushroom. Despite the high cost of the commodity, workers engaged in picking are often in the most precarious positions. They operate as independent hunters, forced to compete with other hunters and sell their finds to bulk buyers who run near monopoly wholesale operations and hunters tend to be from populations that are already systemically disempowered (Tsing discusses how pickers are often migrant labourers, veterans without health support, etc…).

Throughout her discussion, Tsing notes that noticing the connections that the Matsutake mushroom harvest makes between labour and capital, and between high class consumers in Japan and forest destruction in Korea or the west coast of North America, allows us to find novel forms of networked solidarity and community in a world collapsing under the weight of capitalist accumulation and its consequences. Troublingly though, Tsing underplays the visceral reality of people living through the collapse and the reasons why they find mushroom picking as their only option. She portrays the matsutake as a symbol of hope, of finding ways to survive through the destruction. Her portrait of the mushroom however, is nothing more than a palliative for privileged persons who are too timid to stand up against the forces that are targeting people deemed superfluous. Mushrooms that live through destroyed forests can certainly be a sign of hope, but intentional or not, Tsing implicitly encourages a kind of blissful resignation to destruction.

Tsing’s patronizing distance from the lived realities of the precarious workers she portrays as ‘free’ in the woods picking mushrooms (as if living off starvation wages because nothing else is available to you or because the society you live in has thrown you aside is ‘freedom’) is not helpful to us if we want to organize to actually emancipate ourselves from imposed social conditions under capitalism. However, her analysis of the networks that are arranged to accumulate wealth with the matsutake is. Read alongside Paul Stamet’s work Mycelium Running, we can start to think through mushrooms not only as analytic devices that reveal capitalist relations in our networked world, but as tools for disrupting those relations.

Stamets, a mycologist from Oregon, writes of his experiments that show the ways in which mycorrhizal fungi (mushrooms that are symbiotic with other plants) have demonstrated the capacity to filter water, or even breakdown toxic and radioactive materials through a process of myco-remediation. Beyond these capabilities, limited though they may be, mycelia are demonstrably beneficial to overall soil health and the reclamation of depleted soils for farming or re-wilding. Stamets specifically recounts the history of the world’s oldest organism, a massive mycelium in Oregon that is some 2200 years old and over 2400 acres in area. This fungus has worked on the decaying forest to create incredibly deep soil and conditions necessary for the massive trees we are familiar with in the Pacific North West. Research into the uses of fungi as tools of fixing the problems that capitalism has caused remains in its infancy, especially given the complications of encouraging mycological growth. As Tsing noted, the matsutake in particular is quite resistant to attempts at cultivation. Stamets’ and Tsing’s work shows us how novel ways of organizing ourselves and of relating in the nature we are a part of are crucial to survivance in the capitalist world. Using the work of both Tsing and Stamets we can look at how we may disrupt capitalist networks through the actions of non-human force, build new human-nature relationships that mitigate and reverse the damage, or at least clean up the damage. Beyond this however, we need to organize so that our survivance is not something just based on growing like a mushroom in the wreckage, but rather the spreading mycelium that continually makes and remakes the conditions for a better future world.

Throughout this inquiry project I have explored growing mushrooms, hunting for mushrooms, how mushrooms are connected to the history of colonization, and now what mushroom relationships let us think through and organize politically. This project has been helpful for me in one way in particular. Thinking mycologically and getting some experience harvesting and caring for mushrooms has been a goal of mine for some time, but the impetus to get to it has been lacking. I think that facilitated inquiries can be most helpful as a kick in the pants and a way to unlock the desire for learning in people that may otherwise be stagnating. I suppose we’re all kind of like mycelium in that way. Lurking underground for the right conditions to sprout forth fruiting bodies. Weird imagery.

I think the best part about this kind of experience is that it almost always precipitates a long-term process of learning, or at least some kind of skill development that you can keep with you. For me, that has been the reinvigorated commitment to thinking political relationships through a social-environmental lens, and of course the newfound skills in mushroom growing and hunting I can keep working on. Together, these provide whole new connections and conversations with a growing community of mycological appreciators that I can have, which in itself is a wonderful outcome of the project.

Thanks for a great semester team (especially to anyone who actually read any of these posts)! I hope we can keep pushing the boundaries of pedagogy together.

In solidarity,

Digital Storytelling

      The act of storytelling, in its multifarious forms, is arguably one of the few if only social and cultural universal among human societies. Storytelling serves some of the most vital functions from the passing on of important survival information, exploring the meanings of our world, or delving into the depths of our social experiences. We all love stories. Whether we read them, watch them, listen to them, or participate in them physically, we love them. With the growing ease of access to digital tools for design, film, recording, art, and text development, our stories are growing more digitally interconnected on a global scale.

           Our technological inquiry asks, what is digital storytelling, how can it be used in classrooms, and what critical considerations do we need to take into account?

What is Digital Storytelling?

           Digital storytelling, as a specific form of communication, is distinct from other modes of storytelling. Being digital, it is necessarily oriented towards the use of multimedia such as audio/visual features, music, still images, live presentation or recording, and 3D rendering. It is also frequently interactive in ways that other forms of storytelling are not. For example, it may incorporate features of a choose-your-own adventure book, but through soundscapes or visual settings. Of course, none of the features of digital storytelling distinguish it from analog forms of the same thing.  A cinema can show a film just as well as a streamer on the internet can. What is distinct is the growing access to tools by a growing pool of people who are able to share their stories globally instantaneously.

           For users, digital storytelling tools create a new digital space for expression. In it they can create stories and tell their own in ways that may otherwise be unavailable to them socially, materially, or politically. Access to such tools can be a part of disrupting entrenched understandings of who gets to tell their stories and how when used in conjuncture with social activism and organizing. With this, the global reach of such tools and the universality of telling stories means that digital storytelling can act as a bridge across continents and cultural differences allowing people to share and explore each others stories’ in an increasingly globalizing world.

Research on Digital Storytelling Methods in Classrooms

           There has been a good deal of research in the past few years on the integration of digital storytelling tools into the classroom both as a method of lesson delivery and as an interactive activity for students to participate in and tell their own stories with. In both cases, digital storytelling can fit into any subject area, though the way in which it is implemented would necessarily need to change depending on the class one is teaching. Regardless of the subject area, digital storytelling has been shown to give students an outlet for creative expression that may not otherwise be available to them by instructing them not only in methods of expression but in platforms that allow for a global reach and interaction. This has been shown to build confidence in personal expression and self-efficacy amongst students.

           The growth in self-efficacy is evident in the ways researchers and teachers see students grow as learners and peer teachers as they become confident with their own expression and the use of digital tools for storytelling. This helps create a greater sense of community and cooperation in the classroom, building a more student-centered environment where the teacher becomes a servant-leader in facilitating learning the tools. The multimodal nature of digital storytelling tools gives multiple entryways into subject areas for students which has been particularly helpful for students who are learning English as another language, or who experience difficulties and challenges communicating.

           As Bernard Robin argues, using digital storytelling as a method for exploring content and concepts in ones classroom has demonstrably increased the accessibility of information for students. Because digital storytelling has so many entryways (making a video, interactive presentations, audio performances, game-like presentations, etc…) students are able to slide class competencies or content into something they are already interested in working through, like a new skill on a digital platform or tool. Learning best happens when people are able to construct meaning around the new concept, fact, skill, or other thing, and when we use stories and new tools to tell them, then the meaning making is blended directly into the very act of education, rather than being tacked on at the end or left in the air for students to hopefully grasp. The concepts or competencies we are trying to teach become entangled with the experience of developing their stories with peers, with performance, and with sharing their stories and listening to those of others. On top of their growth in self-efficacy, Robin also shows how digital storytelling has lead to better memory recall and growth in empathy among students who learn through stories.

Critical Considerations

           Corinne Gordon has done extensive case study research on secondary teachers implementing digital storytelling into their classrooms in both English and Math subject areas. In her work we see some of the ways that digital storytelling projects can, like any other project, lead to poor outcomes and learning for students if it is not facilitated effectively by the teacher. Gordon shows how during a digital storytelling project on utopian and dystopian literature, a teacher failed to facilitate the guidelines of the assignment which lead to a student decorating their stated “utopia” with Nazi imagery. While we can see this as important in identifying a student that has problematic views (to say the absolute least) it does not help the general goal of the course or the safety of other students in the class.

           Student and teacher interaction is still necessary when using digital storytelling tools for projects or expression in class. To take digital storytelling methods as a panacea for teachers is not helpful.  Like any tool, it must be mediated by effectively teaching about its use, and teaching about the means of caring, empathetic storytelling. Digital storytelling is a method and offers a repertoire of tools for learning and expression that can make space for creative explorations of content areas, concepts, and competencies, but like any other method, it cannot be used without proper scaffolding. Likewise, the digital tools that are used in this kind of storytelling are not always going to be fully understood by every student, and not every student is going to become proficient or enjoy using them to tell a story. For this reason digital storytelling cannot stand alone. It is useful to accompany this method with other forms of communication such as short written or spoken analyses, descriptions, or other thoughts.

Conclusion and Further Steps

           As we have seen, digital storytelling is a powerful tool for developing self expression, compassion and cooperation, empathy, communicative skills through different media, and self-efficacy. Critically however, we must not let digital storytelling stand alone and give students unguided free reign on their work with it.  Facilitation on what meaningful and caring storytelling looks like is still necessary.

           As the above authors have shown, digital storytelling becomes even more effective as a means of teaching when it is interactive. Students will learn better through stories, either by listening or performing them. But when students are able to co-create a story together it fosters an even greater sense of community and gives yet another entryway to access the content, concepts, or competencies that the lesson is trying to communicate. One way of augmenting digital storytelling is by incorporating gamification.  While this could look like creating digital games, we became interested in looking at how it might fit in with in-person tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons.

As Sarah Roman of Teaching With D&D demonstrates, using a digital platform and in class participation to run a D&D game based off Beowulf for her English literature class has not only increased student understanding of the topic at hand, but has generated a more open, communicative, confident, and socially caring classroom environment. Students were given a safer space to explore their performative sides while engaging deeply with the English tasks and learning from one another’s creative expressions.

           There are countless platforms and tools to use as a form of digital storytelling.  One that we like is Twine.  Check out our Twine story here to see some platforms, how they work, and what we think of them! Hopefully it will help you integrate digital storytelling into your classroom in the future!



Gordon, C. (2011). Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: Three Case Studies. Retrieved from 

What is digital storytelling. (2020). Retrieved from 

Wyman, K. (2020). Digital Storytelling: Putting Students’ Passion for Technology to Good Use. Resilient Educator. Retrieved from 

Robin, B. (2006). The educational uses of digital storytelling. … for Information Technology & Teacher Education …. Retrieved from

Robin, B. (2020). About Digital Storytelling. Retrieved from 

Roman, S. (2019, February 12). Teaching With DnD. Retrieved from 

Roman, S. (2017) Literature with Dungeons and Dragons. Retrieved from 

Life Under the (Slot)Machine – Games, Education, and Ideology

Games are everywhere. Now I know that may seem obvious and kind of empty to say since games are the largest growing entertainment medium in this moment, but really think about that. We’ve got all sorts of game systems (which let’s be real are pretty as distinct as Pepsi and Coke) like the Xbox and Playstation, not to mention old fashioned PC gaming rigs. But more than this we see games on our phones. Games for entertainment –Among Us, Call of Duty, Minecraft. Games for daily routines – Habitica is an app that gamifies everyday activities to encourage habit forming and countless apps turn exercising into games with rewards for performance and effort. Games for learning languages – as DuoLingo likes to advertise, more people are learning a language with it than almost any other system. When we think about it, games have become one of the dominant modes of engaging with our social world.

Media theorist McKenzie Wark, in their 2007 book Gamer Theory, makes the argument that our social environment has become a  ‘gamespace’ where so many of our social interactions are being gamified and that this has dramatic impacts on our lives, communities, education, politics, and pretty well everything (philosopher Steven Shaviro offers a good review here and you can access the original online conglomeration of Wark’s notes here). According to Wark, social life under capitalism has become a game where the political economic structure and algorithmic make up of our social medias has conditioned the way we experience ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’. Rather than fully autonomous, we are limited by structures that make our false choices – like a two-party political system, brand loyalties, or literally any interaction in a ‘market’ etc… – appear as ludic features rather than restraints.

I used to play many more games than I do now and I stuck mostly to real-time strategy games like Age of Empires or role-playing games like the older Elder Scrolls series and was considered a nerd in the more denigrating sense at the time. I haven’t found myself plugged into a lot of the new wave of games that are everywhere now (he tells himself despite name-dropping LOTS of games in this post and being way too into game and media theory), but certainly my DuoLingo buzzes at me all the time. Wark’s work makes me wonder not just about educational games and their use in the classroom, but also about what we as teachers will need to reckon with as games increasingly become one of the most prominent kinds of texts youth are engaging with. In particular, I wonder about the gamification of education in general. The messages that achieving badges or points for accomplishing particular educational tasks sends is that an institution beyond our democratic control has decided what counts as ‘right’ and that this is ok and in fact good. And we gobble it up for the endorphin rush of the reward. Well hell with that I don’t want Sal Khan to tell me what matters about history.

In the classroom I can see many potential uses for games. Games like Portal run on such sophisticated physics engines that any physics or maths class would benefit from exploring it as a multimedia entryway to different topics. By creating this kind of entryway to the more esoteric side of physics becomes concrete and material for students which is a very effective way to show the impacts it has on peoples lives, and what they can do with the knowledge. Likewise, there exist games that could be used in social sciences such as classic city builders and strategy games like Pharaoh. This said, we do need to be conscious of the ludonarrative dissonances and messages in games, that is, the way gameplay features and narrative combine (or diverge) to tell particular stories or serve particular social and political functions.

The most striking example of the video game as text that concerns me is Europa Universalis IV, an incredibly popular game that puts you in the place of (usually) a European power from the 15th through to the 19th centuries.  This game turns the period of colonization into a condition of winning the game and while you can play as some Indigenous nations in the so-called Americas or other non-European nations, the bulk of the purpose is to colonize the world like Europe actually did. While its gameplay may provide potential students with insights into the challenge of managing trade over the centuries for a burgeoning nation-state, narratively, it condones a teleology of conquest and imperialism without engaging in questions of justice or how these forces continue to impact people today in the real world. Ditto all this for games like the Civilization series.

Games as text, in classrooms or outside of them, are not only changing the way we interact with each other, our communities, and political and economic institutions, they’re changing the way we learn about those things. By all means games can be useful entry points for topics from all subject areas, though it strikes me that they fit the STEM and English/Writing fields a bit more than other social sciences. Critical engagement with games as texts cannot be separated from games as learning tool, nor can we effectively separate it from games as a material commodity in the structure that makes them. One great use of them is to facilitate conversations exactly like I am having with myself now. Being so ubiquitous, how can we use games as texts and metatexts to talk about ongoing injustices and crises in our real world, while being cognizant about how they try to construct a particular reality for us to interpret. And all this is not even to mention the ways that games are being intentionally designed to extract ever more money from players. The free-to-play, pay-to-win (or at least for a massive in game advantage) model of phone games or games like Fortnite is there to target vulnerable young people and mercilessly suck out profits by creating addictions just like gambling does.

So I’ve gone off a lot on this topic, I just read William Gibson’s Neuromancer so maybe that’s why. Suffice it to say that games could be used for fascinating educational purposes.  I love the idea of blowing something up in Minecraft and creating another device that can measure the force present there. I also love using games as texts for interrogation and critical inquiry about story and affect – such as in games like The Last of Us or indie darlings like The Stanley Parable and Firewatch. But the most paramount consideration when involving games in education is the shadow messages being instilled by ludic and narrative constraints.  What options are foreclosed upon by the seemingly ‘free’ choices in a game? And how is our real-world becoming ever more ‘free’ in the same way?

Death Caps – or, To Think About the Settler Colonialism of Fungi

When we think about mushrooms, we tend to think of these guys.

Fly Amanita, found on my run the other day near the Gorge.

This is Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria) also known as Fly Agaric.  The classic mushroom with a red cap and white dots. Fly Amanita is a widespread mushroom throughout the northern hemisphere and, as you’re all wondering I am sure, is commonly associated with its intoxicating effects. Despite the fact that it has been used in many cultures for precisely these reasons, the intoxication brought on by Fly Amanita isn’t quite as predicable as those darling Psilocybin friends. Ingesting Fly Amanita may induce intoxicating effects, but will likely just make you very sick as well.

Though Fly Amanita is common, it’s not anything to be overly worried about. It’s a little toxic, as I said, but it announces itself like no other with such distinctive colouring. The poisonous mushroom of note for Vancouver Island, is the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides).

Death Cap Mushrooms
BC Centre for Disease Control

The Death Cap has a pale green to yellow-olive cap, white gills, a skirt-like veil on the upper stock, and a cup at the base of the stock (often underground). The Death Cap is native to Europe and northern Africa and grows as a symbiont with hardwood trees like oak and chestnut. This kind of symbiosis is ectomycorrhizal, meaning that the fungus grows on the roots of the host. First spotted in Mission BC in 1998, it is believed that the Death Cap came to BC as the fellow traveller of an imported decorative tree from Europe. Since 1998, sightings have increased in the lower mainland, with the first sightings in Vancouver in 2008, and on Vancouver Island shortly after that.

The Death Cap is one of the deadliest known mushrooms in the world. Its mortality rate sits at between 10% – 30% depending on access to care. This is so high in part because it takes up to 24 hours after ingestion for symptoms to appear, at which time the toxins have been fully absorbed by the consumer.

Be careful out there folks! The general rule with mushroom picking is eat nothing unless you are completely certain you know what it is. This is especially important around Death Caps as they can easily be mistaken for another popular and very delicious mushroom, the White Matsutake or Pine Mushroom (Tricholoma magnivelare) shown below.

White Matsutake
Burke Herbarium Image Collection

Delving into the life of the Death Cap and other poisonous mushrooms that manage to get themselves to places they are not native to has revealed some questions I didn’t know I had about urban design, ecosystem management, and colonization. When we think of invasive species, we think of things like Scotch Broom, the European Green Crab, or Atlantic salmon escaped from fish farms. These all carry adverse affects on ecosystems that we can see, but can also insert themselves into niches that were disrupted by industrial activity. The spread of European trees as decorative trees in cities will aid the spread of the Death Cap. The ways in which cities are organized and impact the ecosystems they grow in is based on colonial models of urbanism and a kind of settler colonialism of plants and animals, not just people. Though this inquiry project does not have the space for the kind of investigation I would want to do on such questions, future posts will begin to look at them more closely.

Flipped Learning and Hyflex: The Uber of the Education World?

Thanks for falling for my clickbaity title!

Something that always bothered me when I was in high school (and let’s be honest, university too) was the prevalence of homework. I performed well in high school.  For whatever reason I found it easy enough to coast through classes and get good grades based on tests and assignments.  I think I got pretty lucky. I never did homework, and it always piled up for me at the last minute and I’d find myself scrambling to finish things just before they were due. I think a big part of this was because very early on I (perhaps stubbornly, perhaps due to rumbling class consciousness) I decided that homework was bad and should not exist because it takes so much time for people to do, causes undo stress and anxiety, and often doesn’t help anyone learn. And besides, isn’t our home time supposed to be just that, home time? Not time that the school we go to for so long during the day gets to bleed into. How is that fair?

These ideas were floating through my head as we discussed the ideas of flipped learning and hyflex learning during our last class. I appreciate the ways in which both these models seek to create an atmosphere and method of accessibility for students, especially in times of duress such as our current pandemic. Disability, illness, learning needs, and all sorts of other specific accessibility needs of students can be met by combining online and face to face, and synchronous and asynchronous forms of teaching. These tools can be a form of universal design that helps both those in need of it and those who may not explicitly require extra support, which is a liberatory goal we should all be working towards.

However, in order for these methods to truly reach such a potential we need to address two concepts.

  • The bleed over from school time into personal time.
  • The way in which school is a kind of labour.

Hyflex and flipped learning make space for students to access school material online at home. This could be used as a means of making lessons or lecture style work something to be done on ones own, with support given in the class room, and then homework added as necessary. This risks making lectures and information transmission or exploration something that students do outside of the classroom. The time that students take during the day at school is substantial. We need to be asking ourselves carefully whether or not we should be facilitating more work for students outside the class. We know the effects of sleep deprivation on youth, something that schools are contributing to. Contextually, these methods can be very helpful for students, but we need to carefully monitor their implementation in our classroom and what our student’s workloads look like in their other classes to do so effectively.

The second thing to consider is how school is a form of labour, and students are, in effect, workers. Going to school and learning the skills we need to get along in our world post graduation (be that working or post-secondary and then working. Or, and we won’t get into this, criminalization) means that we are able to produce value or reproduce social necessities under the capitalist system in which we live. From this framework we can see how homework and the moving of formal learning into non-class time manifests as a kind of ‘unpaid overtime’ that begins to normalize hierarchical work conditions and the gig-ification of jobs. Flexibility is no longer a perk of the job, but something we need to make a part of our lives by foregoing hobbies, relations, and the general exploration of life in order to make ourselves available to work so we can survive.

Obviously none of this means that these models aren’t useful in their own ways and in particular classroom contexts, but we cannot dismiss the political economic connections and implications that every model of education has in our excitement to do good on behalf of our students. We need to use the models we have, and of course make more, with justice, liberation, and our shared struggle as teachers and students (workers both) in mind.

And all this still says nothing about the way these models facilitate the gig-ification of teachers in the education system! Who needs teachers with secure contracts and a position in their community when we can have loads of atomized ‘learning experts’ or knowledge guides’ or whatever corporate buzzword gets assigned to people in ever more precarious positions? But that’s for another rant.

The First Hunt

This weekend I got out and had the opportunity to go hunting for mushrooms! Myself and some friends set out in the morning to look around for Pacific Golden Chanterelles (Cantharellus formosus). Our crew left early and trekked out to Sooke where we know of a few secret spots that have historically been pretty decent sources of chanterelles.  At least according to a friend of a friend.  I myself had never been before but I was very excited.

Hunting for wild mushrooms is a challenge.  You need to be aware of a number of things about the mushroom you’re looking for, but also about the area you are hiking through to find them.  Without giving away our spot (I see you all trying to sneak in and grab some mushies 😉 ), I can say that we all have extensive knowledge of the hills in the area and are very familiar with the trails and non-trailed parts. Without getting off topic, preparing for a day hike that may include bushwhacking and non-trail travel is no small matter.  It’s important to take it more seriously than any mushroom based aspect of the hunt.

Chanterelles tend to grow under denser second growth Douglas Fir and Hemlock areas.  They prefer sparse ground cover, mossy growths, and ground made up of lots of woody debris. Generally speaking, once you’ve found a patch, you can be pretty sure that they will be there year after year.  Because they are easy to recognize and a typical mushroom that first time hunters go for, they can now be harder to find.  Pickers may have ‘claimed’ spots and don’t always want to share that information with others.

There are four key things to look for when hunting chanterelles in order not to mistake them for other mushrooms; interior colour, gills, stem shape, and cap shape. Chanterelles are a golden yellow colour, but this can of course vary from mushroom to mushroom.  All chanterelles however have white interior flesh.  The gills of chanterelles are ‘false’ in that they are shallower, look like wrinkles, and extend towards the base of the stem. Chanterelles are trumpet shaped (they narrow towards the base and sometimes ‘cup’ on top, and their caps are wavy and irregularly shaped rather than round. Although chanterelles are comparatively easy to identify unlike lots of other kinds of mushrooms, there are still plenty of false chanterelles out there.  Be careful when you go picking any mushroom and make sure you are very certain you have something edible.
Discover the Wild

After a few hours out on the hillsides looking for chanterelles… drum roll please… we found none.  Well we did find one single one but decided not to pick it.  However, upon returning home, I heard word from a friend that he had been out elsewhere and found lots! I got a small present of some chanterelles from him and cooked up some tasty German chanterelle, wurst and spaetzle dishes.  Here’s hoping I can find some more next time!

EdCamp vs. Syndicalism: Antithetical Models of Teacher Collaboration?

I like the ideas of EdCamps.  Collaboration between teachers in order to learn about and seek to address concerns or topics that are pressing. Through a simple, democratic process, co-workers are able to construct ideas and programs to improve teaching methods, cross curricular content, student care, and more. I think that, given the opportunity, programs similar in structure to EdCamps should be a method by which most professional development happens at schools.  I don’t, however, think that professional development should be the domain of EdCamps themselves as presented to us in class.

When we look at the structure of an EdCamp we see that teachers are a part of the conversation, but so are administrator from the school, district, and ministry in equal measure.  In addition to these workers and administrators, we occasionally see community members like students involved, but it is unclear if other community members like care workers, parents, etc… are connected to the program.  I actually think this is a good thing as there are plenty of ways for community involvement in schooling, but staff and students should have their own space without input from parents and other community members in order to freely build their school practice.  For this reason, I am troubled by the inclusion of administration from various levels.

On the face of it, administrators from school, district, and ministry levels will have similar goals for educational development. What remains unspoken however is the distinct differences in workplace power that administrators have versus teachers.  EdCamps, by virtue of including the various levels of administration, are going to implicitly reproduce that power dynamic.  This does not mean that they are bad spaces, nor does it mean that good and meaningful collaborative projects will not occur as clearly there are shared interests in student care and experience.  What it does mean however, is that the political horizon of possibility is dramatically narrowed by the presence of the more powerful employing class.  Can we really collaborate towards an anti-colonial education if we must include members of the colonial ministry in our collaboration and treat their position and institutional interests as equally valid?

Revolutionary Syndicalism is a (often anarchist orientated) form of unionism that rejects electoral politics and institutional reform as effective methods of political change. It also rejects centralized, top-down, bureaucratic unions as limiting workers power and favours federated, decentralized, and grass roots organization and direct action (both of which may look like anything from organizing community events and petitions to directly blocking evictions or starting wildcat strikes) by workers directly in their field and communities as a more powerful and meaningful form of political and social change.

Black cat - Wikipedia

If we want to see the goals of EdCamp style organizing and professional development expand, then we need to take a tip from the syndicalists and put our energies into structures that are not bound by the constraints of colonial institutions. EdCamps have their place certainly, but the goals they espouse may be more powerful and implemented more directly if we refocus on these projects as a part of the greater political and social struggles that teachers, students, and non-administration co-workers, such as custodial workers, face. Centering our shared material and social struggles, we can contest the top-down mandated pedagogies, curriculums, or projects that hinder our collective liberations. With this parallel structure to the idea of EdCamps, EdCamps themselves benefit. No longer being the only place of conversation for teachers and community, our collaboration with administration is no longer on the same totally unequal political footing.

I certainly do not pretend to have an answer as to the perfect model for developing professionally and responsibly adding to our teaching practice, but if we limit ourselves to the bounds of the colonial institutions we operate within then we are failing in our job as teachers to students who are most targeted and harmed by them.

Harvest Time and Cooking!

This week I finally got to a stage of mushroom care that I was very excited for, harvesting!

In a sense I am grateful that I am harvesting these mushrooms at home before I have gotten the chance to go out searching for mushrooms in the woods.  Caring for the growing fungi on my balcony has meant that I am doing a lot more reading and care prior to getting into the hands on components.  Before going in for a harvest I did some reading about proper technique for pulling mushrooms out of the ground (or plastic block I’ve got mine in). I had a suspicion there would be a specific way to go about this and I was right.  Don’t pull them! Cut them out with a knife.

Mushrooms are a fascinating thing.  As the fruiting body of the larger underground mycelium, the mushroom spreads spores for the overall fungus. In the process of harvesting, if you pluck the mushroom from the ground or whatever container it is growing in, there is risk of damaging the underlying mycelium.  This damage could prevent subsequent blooms and limit the growth of the whole organism, so it is best to avoid it.  A twist and pull reduces the potential damage, but the sure-fire way to not harm the fungus is to cut the mushroom off at the stem.  There is a prevalent rumour that cutting the mushroom at the base of the stem will leave the remainder behind to rot.  This is not true! The stem left over is still connected to the growing mycelium underground and will not rot, it may even start growing again!

Cooking mushrooms, as many of you will know, is delicious.  To celebrate the first harvest of my mushrooms, but also because I didn’t want to work too hard, I put together a quick beef and broccoli and oyster mushroom stir fry.  Super tasty stuff, super easy.

  • Fry up your broccoli and beef cut. (You could cook the beef cut any way you like and would probably get a nicer outcome than just frying it, but like I said, I wasn’t interested in effort at this point)
  • Separately, fry up and reduce those shroomsters.
  • Mix together a sauce of soy sauce, sesame oil, fresh grated ginger, lemon juice, and honey.
  • Add to the mushrooms so they soak it all up.
  • Toss in the broc and beef, stir to coat.
  • Serve with rice or noods.

The real exciting part of this inquiry project comes next weekend.  I’ll be heading out to hunt for mushrooms in the woods! A friend of mine is taking me out to some great spots for chanterelles and we’ll be looking to rake in a new delicious fungi friend.

Philosophical Orientations in for Inquiry Based Pedagogy

This week we had the opportunity to hear from Jeff Hopkins, former Supernintendo superintendent of the Gulf Islands school district, and now head of the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII). Prior to speaking with Jeff we were given a glimpse into the structure and pedagogy run by PSII which is entirely based around the idea of ‘inquiry.’ PSII has clearly developed some very meaningful tools for facilitating investigation and learning by youth along with a culture that inculcates the intrinsic rewards of learning rather than relying on external praise or consequence to keep students on track.

Among the most valuable tools I have found was there means of transposing co-constructed, caring, and evolving criticism and assessment into the ministry mandated grade system. Evaluation to a particular standard in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the means by which it is done in mainstream educational structures – grading – is not something that actually helps this.  Grading entirely forecloses on the ways in which people are constantly developing and conditions students into a competitive social relationship with their peers. Inquiry based learning and the assessment associated with it changes this into a moment of reflection and collaboration. It levels the playing field between teacher and student that allows for spaces of challenge and space for the student to exert their autonomy over the conditions of their learning and how it continues or changes course.

Something that does come to mind as potentially limiting in the way PSII runs inquiry-based learning however is its underlying philosophy of knowledge, its epistemology (a theory of how we can know what we know). At PSII students work with teachers to construct questions, figure out ways to refine those questions, devise ways of learning about those questions and work towards figuring them out or finding out how they only lead to more questions. This method makes space for a myriad number of investigative routes and encourages critical reflection on findings.  In this way it replicates the scientific method of knowledge discovery. This method leans towards a positivist orientation, which means it is most concerned with questions of what is ‘objectively’ knowable (critiques of what makes something ‘objective’ are not hard to come by.  I like the takes that philosophers Sandra Harding, Sara Ahmed, and of course old man Marx have myself). While in and of itself this can be very valuable, such as in the STEM fields, it is incomplete without a normative or critical counterbalance.  Normative philosophical approaches begin to ask questions of whether or not the ‘objective’ realities we discovered ought to be the way they are.  Critical theories such as Marxism or critical feminisms go further by unearthing the underlying social relations that may lead to why things are the way they are and what limits they put on our conceptions of reality.

While PSIIs method by no means excludes such philosophical approaches, it appears as though these are not in-built to their style.  For this reason it is incumbent on teachers to bring such approaches to students and encourage their use in critical reflection and the construction of analysis and arguments.  For example, Jeff recounted the story of a student who wanted to learn to run a business. While the approach used by the school certainly worked in terms of allowing the student to explore the necessities of management and business ownership, it does not immediately engage the student with arguments the push against the apparently ‘objective’ reality of business that they experienced.  In this case the teachers need to facilitate the student’s critical reflection on a number of issues such as the power of institutions (like PSII itself) to help certain individuals get started (like getting them free rental space) running a business, while others, predominantly people of colour and those not already with spare capital do not get support. Even more central to this example is in questions of ethics and politics around business such as whether or not the wage labour system is just or if co-operative and horizontal organizations of enterprise should be investigated more.

Inquiry itself is a powerful pedagogical system, but because of the ideological presumptions of our world we need to be careful in its implementation especially when it concerns social science fields or social and political issues in general.  Without careful facilitation of a critical philosophical orientation in inquiry, students findings may well reproduce existing social relations and leave vital critical thinking skills underutilized while simultaneously normalizing the idea that certain social arrangements are to be taken for granted and not investigated.

SAMR, Interactive Media, and the Hidden Social Relations of Technology


Screen capture programs were always beyond me until this week.  I understood the idea and how it could be useful, but I never found it very meaningful in a world where you can display a screen for a class to show your actions online, or trust that youth will figure out what they need to do on their own in any given online platform.  Even if students were to miss explanations, the social aspect of a classroom creates space for sharing the instruction amongst students. The shift to online learning that has been required under the Covid-19 pandemic however has certainly shown the merit of having screen capture as a tool for asynchronous demonstrations of online tasks. It has also made more visible the needs of students that were going unmet by teachers not preparing instruction and material that can be accessed in an asynchronous manner using a range of mediums to help students understand.

[I have been trying to insert a ScreenCastify here to demonstrate what its value is, however I have been unable convince my antivirus that it is not trying to steal everything off my computer and as such it will not run for me. I was able to run H5P though!]

I find the SAMR model of technological integration quite useful to address this.  Its taxonomy is simple and lends itself to critical questions not just around what kinds of technology can be integrated and how, but whether or not one even needs to or indeed should integrate it into their classroom for whatever reason.  As a tool, substation, augmentation, and modification lean into principles of universal design that help meet the needs of everyone by creating a more accessible classroom, content, and method for delivery.  Redefinition however needs more critical engagement.  Though it is certainly true that using particular platforms or applications will allow for an ease of communication and engagement with distant or different topics or communities, ‘redefining’ education through the use of technological integration comes with hidden social relations.

Marx argues that technological development both conditions social relationships and is one in itself.[1]  What this means is that while the use of different communication devices or technologies (for example – though Marx focused on means of material production rather than means of social reproduction) help create new social relationships between people, they also condition the way those form because they are the material form of a social relationship themselves between their users, and the owners of those applications and their material interests. For this reason, when looking at technological integration in the classroom we, with our students, also need to carefully explore and critique the ways in which those technologies encourage us to engage in learning.  What subtle aspects of the application force us to use particular forms of analysis? What restraints in social, cultural, or political expression does the form of technological implicitly hold us in? What ideological presumptions are embedded in the ways it functions and the ways we are able to use it?

Engaging with these critical questions is how we build strong students that can unearth the buried social relationships behind our material world. Uncovering these, and interrogating their formation and justness, is vital to using technological developments towards collective liberation.

[1] Marx, Karl, Capital, Volume 1, Translated by Ben Fowkes. London: Penguin Books, 1976,