Creativity – Seeing the Light and Moving Forward

Creativity isn’t about tools, it’s about process and vision. Sometimes I have to consciously return to stone age art: berry dye, charcoal, melted fat, ground rock dabbed on a cave wall; telling stories, important to me, my family, my community and the Creator. Lose that vision and I risk being washed away in a sea of materialism.

Finding personal stillness to see an image in the minds eye, and then striving to recreate it is my challenge.  As an artist I struggle to interpret meaning, texture and detail. In this dance I try to balance the material and the creative, the bloodied hunt for the woolly mammoth and warm fire-lit cave painting. To do both things I need focus.

In every beginning there is an end. Rural schools has been a great learning experience. But, it is time to move on. One of the challenges of social media is to stay focused, or as they say in the business “to define your brand”. To this end I have decided to integrate a new website and blog under the name of OakesMedia. This will allow me to concentrate on developing my personal, artistic and professional interests. Therefore this will be the last post for Rural Schools. I thank all those who have stopped by to see what I was up to, hopefully I can take what was learned here and use it as a base to push creative boundaries.


Social Justice and Environmental Sustainability

The recent Copenhagen Conference was a first step, but a failed one. However, climate change is not going away so humanity will have more chances to get it right, albeit at a cost. It is a cost humanity didn’t need to bear. It will be the poorest who pay first. Because humanity is one organic unit we, or at least our children’s children, will pay our share in time – a sad injustice.

While we wait for those with wealth and power to do the right thing we can take up the challenge and begin to create that better world we dimly imagine. For me the two defining qualities of a hoped for global society are social justice and environmental sustainability. By identifying these broad principles that people of goodwill can agree and collaborate on we can develop plans of action.

Environmental sustainability and specifically keeping earth’s biodiversity are defining principles. Unfortunately we face a rear guard action as the forces leading to extinction appear set to accelerate. With climate change an almost certain reality, we can at least work to mitigate the pending genetic carnage. All is not lost. In the small community where I live the local naturalist group is one of the largest and most respected social organizations in the town. Grassroots movements can make a difference.

Social justice is based on equity. There are such extremes in the world that radicalization and social dysfunction threaten the stability of large regions of the globe. Democracy with strong and fair judicial systems are key elements in a socially sustainable world. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights reflects the human birth right that every citizen of this planet is entitled. It is a good place to start in our attempts to promote universal social justice.

With environmental sustainability and social justice as touchstones for action we can move forward, if not as serried ranks, at least as a loose collective of committed individuals striving to reach our shared objectives.

What’s in my multimedia kit bag?

The tools of the trade can be carried in a shoulder bag.

Multimedia Tools

Multimedia tools are expensive and they have a relatively short shelf life. If you can get five years out of a tool before it becomes obsolete or its complicated circuitry gets damaged you are lucky. Mine have a couple years to go before they need to be replaced. My kit is a combination of tools begged, borrowed and bought. Those items I have bought might be termed industry standard. Buying the cheapest product often isn’t cost effective, while a bleeding edge product can seldom be justified monetarily.

The brain of my multimedia kit is a computer. It functions as word processor, sound recorder, picture library, video editor, research tool and gateway to the internet. With a modern point and shoot camera like the Canon G11 you could do 60% of what I can. Unfortunately to create professional quality work and to be free to experiment, that missing 40% requires more investment.

Quality sound is a huge issue for creating video. People will sit through bad video but will walk if they can’t hear the sound track. I use an older Marantz 660 digital recorder that allows the use of two XLR quality microphones for true stereo production. The Marantz is great for podcasts, audio interviews or it can be used to record a separate sound track to be used with video productions. The microphone that I use was rescued from a junk pile and brought back to life with loving care.

My school JVC video camera provides the raw video content I need as well as professional quality sound with the ability to use two quality microphones with XLR output. I need a simple set up because I am either on my own or working with a group of students. I usually have a shotgun microphone mounted on the camera. It cuts through ambient noise and delivers a crisp and clear sound track.

The good news is that with this set of tools I can create professional content. The bad news is there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to fully learn how to use the tools to their potential. But when I do pick the camera up to shoot a scene I know that the only thing limiting the outcome of the shot is my skill set and vision. And that is something to be grateful for.

Rural School December Wrap-up

Preparing to take eggs from a salmon

The week before winter break is always a little crazy at school. Definitely a time to change up the routine and focus on short bursts of high interest activities. At present I am working with a small group of kids who are creating a series of videos. They have completed two so far, Christmas News and Environmental Kidz. With the clock ticking we are trying to squeeze out one last video of the year on a mystery theme. If you are interested in our latest offerings you can view them at . Just go to the top of the video page.

Last week we finished the first cycle of Connected Classroom sessions. As teachers we are getting faster and more confident. The students are now demanding to be more engaged in the delivery of the lessons. We need to design our next series of meetings in a way that will allow the children to have a direct hand in the presentation and outcome of the experience. I don’t remember them teaching me this back in university.

This past weekend, vigils were held across Canada in support of the Copenhagen Climate talks. Lillooet was well represented and had a per capita turnout head and shoulders above main centres anywhere else in the country. It was a pleasant candle light affair, for which the weather more-or-less co-operated. Following the vigil there was a screening of the video Fierce Light, by Velcro Ripper. It deals with the topic of environmental and social justice. It was delightful to see students past, present, and possibly future in attendance. Concern about climate change and the future of the planet may not yet be at the forefront of the minds of everyone, but there are a few who are willing to raise their voices to make a difference.

And with the holiday only five sleeps away I have a stack of books to read about video editing and multimedia integration. I need to pick up some more gear and there will be lots of time spent with family. Another major project is to rewrite the web page Multimedia Stories . Multimedia Stories is a resource site for creating multimedia content. Unfortunately the technology of multimedia changes so quickly that every six months the site needs to have a major update. As my mother would say there is no rest for the wicked. Have a great holiday.

Asking questions about the environment – a kids perspective.

Sockeye disappear from the river ecosystem.

Where have the salmon gone?

Teaching young students about environmental sustainability is a tricky thing. Students need to be knowledgeable about the forces that are shaping their world, but the process of instruction needs to be done in such a way as to not frighten them, or leave them feeling guilty about choices they had no part in making. Children need to be given the right amount of information so that they can increasingly begin to make constructive decisions about living responsibly on this limited and sometimes fragile planet.

Socrates was put to death for asking questions, but I don’t believe that any of his students were. So it seems like a safe strategy to encourage kids to ask questions about the current state of the earth’s ecosystem. Just the process of asking questions engages learners on a path of discovery. I think that the more questions a child can generate the better and if they can’t think up one of their own they should borrow one from a partner. Often before a learner can ask a deep question they need some background information.

This past week we have been exploring the concepts of ‘ The Ecological Footprint’ and ‘Carbon Footprint’.  We have been using two excellent resources to look at these complex phenomena. The ecological footprint calculator shows how many earths would be needed if everyone used the same amount of the earth’s resources. Because the kids live a Canadian lifestyle typically they require four planets to maintain their current standard of living. Kids have a heap of questions after this activity. The website has a variety of other activities and games to support environmental learning as well. To investigate the amount of carbon students produce in a year we go to . Here they find out the number of tonnes of carbon they produce in a year among other activities.

As a follow-up research project kids trace their own feet and fill in some of the factors they have learned about that create these two footprints. To fulfil our mandate to be a connected classroom, in the near future we will generate a list of questions about the environment and turn that into a video to post on the internet.

As a teacher it is exciting to be part of a process of discovery where students are engaged in learning about things that matter to them and that they want to understand. After all they are the ones who will soon inherit this planet from us. They will need all the wisdom and perspective they can get to deal with the environmental challenges in their future.

Technology, Teaching, Change, and the Big Picture


Wildfires Darken the Sun

Wildfire changes day to night over Lillooet.


Human civilization is entering a period of change, caused by technology among other things, that will fundamentally disrupt the basic assumptions and social patterns we have experienced over the past century. Education too is going to be radically altered over the next few decades. The first tremors of this ground swell can now be discerned.


Our daily lives in the western world are being shaken by the rumblings of financial instability at the very core of our capitalist system. The shock of the recent global economic disaster is a harsh example of this. These are times of change where past assumptions can’t always be counted on.


We are numbed by the range of crises that loom around and before us. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, the radicalization of religious fundamentalism, the disintegration of time honoured social institutions, the inevitability of peak oil, and of course the accelerating collapse of the earth’s ecosystem that sustains us. We live in times of change, times of challenge and, for some, times of despair.


As educators we need to be informed, engaged, and most of all confident that humanity is capable of rising to the challenge, because those students who we teach will look to us for reassurance and direction. And yes things will change, and that transition will be uncomfortable, but we, as a species, have the abilities and resources to create a just and sustainable world, rich in biodiversity. A large part of the solution will be found in the emerging technological capacities that are at the moment seemingly so disruptive.



A Voice in the Wilderness – The Copenhagen Conference



Looking east past Marriage Rock to Fountain Ridge

Global warming will change the world we live in and love.



As the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference unfolds I wonder about my professional responsibility to translate the global importance of this event into concepts that my students will understand. Especially when I am not totally sure I understand the ramifications myself. I have been increasingly turning to the Manchester Guardian newspaper for information and unbiased clarification. The Manchester Guardian has long held a reputation for quality news reporting and a fair examination of the topics. It is also one of the few major newspapers that has a designated Environment section.


Copenhagen is about global warming and global warming is about the increase of CO2

in the atmosphere. A two degree increase over the next century would cause international disruption and dislocation. Four degrees would be disastrous. According to a number of peer reviewed studies , if humanity remains on the present accelerated course of fossil fuel consumption we could see a six degree increase in earth’s temperature − devastating.


The stakes are high and the future possibly grim for this present generation of elementary students. So, what am I going to do as a teacher? Well, I certainly don’t want to traumatize ten year olds with a cataclysmic view of the future, although I will show them Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth . This is a long video so I’ll abridge it. The film always stimulates interesting discussion. We will also watch a video created by local kids that describe the immediate impact of global warming on their lives .

The concept of one’s carbon footprint is key to understanding the goals of the Copenhagen conference. This site provides a calculator that kids can fill out to get a sense of how consumer decisions affect their personal footprint and therefore the health of the planet. Hopefully, this will lead to some positive discussion around the dinner table.


As for practical steps in the classroom we will be looking at ways to reduce our footprint by 10 %. This is both a realistic and meaningful goal based on the 10:10 Project. . And what if the whole climate change discussion is a hoax or a conspiracy? Well, we will be well on our way to cleaning up a badly polluted world and creating a sustainable civilization before we run out of oil. And that makes sense! Unless you don’t believe we are going to run out of oil.