Connecting at Dis-Connected:TEDxWaterloo 2012

On its own, the impressive TEDxWaterloo 2012 line-up of speakers and entertainers would be enough to seriously overload the minds and hearts of even the most jaded, hardcore TEDx fans. Take for instance the heart-wrenching yet spiritually redemptive stories shared by Alicia Raimundo and Izzeldin Abuelaish. Their personal anguish, still ringing in my consciousness, also evoked in me the refrains from a couple of popular songs from the 70’s (Driven to Tears or King of Pain by The Police).

Now don’t get me wrong. TEDxWaterloo 2012 wasn’t all purgatory and pain. It was also punctuated by a generous dose of giddy moments, like when Mathew Ho delighted us with his ‘Lego man in space’ video. Or when Krister Shalm with his personal magician and swing dancers actually made quantum physics look like fun. Anyway, if you want the complete list of remarkable presenters and their biographies, I urge you to visit TEDxWaterloo.

I would also like to share with you the podcast (below) of an interview I conducted with two of my Technological Skills Elementary Competition colleagues (Kellie Grant & Rolland Chidiac) who attended TEDxWaterloo for the first time. They shared with me some insights into their take on the main theme of this year’s TEDxWaterloo event ‘Dis Connected’ and how it relates to their students’ lives.


Lighting a lamp


There is a stillness
simpler than silence
a peace deeper
than calm.
There is a shimmering
in the dark soil,
shades of trees,
in old moss, and the twisted
forms of branches,
that hold us, carry us
and nurture us.
In the flash of the eye,
laughter, or a tear.
No effort needed, no self to seek,
just grace remains.

~Svein Myreng

Has it really been two decades since I first asked the students in my grade 11 World Religions class to gather in the school’s chapel to do something that most of them had never done before?

No doubt, guided Zen meditation in a darkened, quiet setting was furthest from the minds of these mainly hormonal 16 and 17 year-old learners. Yet the experience was so foreign and far from the reality of the typical teenager’s daily routine that it had a profound impact on some of them.

The reactions to the soothing sounds of the ocean and calming voice guiding them to focus only on the ebb and flow of their own breathing, ranged from the silly to the sublime. Within a few minutes one or two students would make mock snoring sounds. Some of the more hyperactive students would fidget and giggle for a few minutes and occasionally, one or two would genuinely drift off to sleep.

After these initial minor disruptions and protestations, most of my students would let themselves be swept along in the rejuvenating current of Zen. Many of them seemed to luxuriate in and look forward to these weekly meditation sessions. I suspect for most it was a welcome, peaceful and refreshing relief from the constant noise that permeates modern life.

Which brings me to my own recent joyous encounter with a weekly restorative yoga class offered at my health club. The sense of peace and overall wellness that yoga or any form meditation or breath control exercise yields is well documented in numerous studies. The mere fact that the class attracts young and old members reveals the enduring power of these ancient eastern practices to heal and recharge mind, body and soul.

In the ‘always on age’ of internet, social media and ubiquitous wireless mobile gadgets – never in our history has there been such a visceral need for humans to periodically ‘disconnect’ from digital technology and reconnect to their families, neighbors and inner selves.

There is a Buddhist belief that if you light a lamp for somebody, it will also lighten your own path. Thank you students, for becoming the teachers and helping illuminate my way.

Photo Credit: ‘Solitude’ by jhoc

Why WiFi?

Has anyone at OECTA head office every stopped to consider that chalk dust or even some of the chemicals found in common tap water may pose more of a health risk to our children than WiFi?

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), there are links between chalk dust and allergy and asthma problems. Why has the OECTA Health & Safety committee not investigated eliminating chalk from our schools?

Why they decided to target WiFi in schools via its recent position paper,  A position regarding the use of Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Radiation, including WiFi, in the workplace, and in conjunction with the Ontario Teacher’s Federation, its AGM Action directive 37, is beyond me.

“That the Association through the Canadian Teachers’ Federation lobby the Federal Government to review Safety Code 6 with respect to lowering the current Threshold Limit Values (TLV) regarding electromagnetic radiation, especially in the microwave WiFi frequency band.”
OECTA AGM Action Directive 37

Here’s why I believe we need to oppose any further attempts by teacher associations to limit  or restrict WiFi access in our schools:

1. A June 2011 fact sheet by the World Health Organization indicates that “research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship between exposure to electromagnetic fields and self-reported symptoms, or “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”. In short, according to Health Canada & WHO – both widely respected and expert organizations in determining risk factors to public health & safety – there is no conclusive or convincing scientific evidence that electromagnetic fields from wifi is doing harm to humans.

2. At a time when most school districts are struggling to equip antiquated classrooms with 21st century learning tools (E.g. Interactive projectors, wifi networks, e-Tablets, integration of teacher & student-owned personal electronic devices) all of which would help differentiate learning and engage students – lobbying the Federal Government to lower the current Threshold Limit Values regarding electromagnetic radiation would further discourage the use of wifi in schools and be counter-productive to the efforts of those who are struggling to equip many of today’s under-funded classrooms with digital technology that help would position students and teachers in 21st century learning environments.

3. OECTA’s position that we advocate on behalf of the purported 3% of the Canadian population that are affected by ‘environmental hyper-sensitivity’ – is prudent in the extreme, but rather than deny 97% of the student population the potential academic benefits of internet access (research) via wifi networks using board issued and their own electronic devices – OECTA Health & Safety should develop strategies to safeguard the 3% who may be affected by ‘environmental sensitivity’. E.g. have the 3% attend class out-of-range of wireless base units.

4. There has been enough damage already to OECTA’s reputation by recent sensational media coverage of the OECTA publication, A Position on the Use of Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Radiation Including WiFi in the Workplace. Passing AGM disposition 37 may cause further negative media coverage by further painting OECTA as ‘overly-reactionary’ and ‘anti-technology’ – while also unnecessarily feeding the irrational growing ‘anti-Wi-Fi’ movement in Ontario and across Canada.

Much of what we do in life involves some risk and it is prudent to try and minimize these risks. But when educational leaders ignore the reasonable conclusions of  respected organizations entrusted with our physical well being, I suppose they get the educational system they deserve.

Though it’s unfortunate, especially for our students, that it may look more like the school house on the prairie with straight rows and blackboards, than the truly dynamic, collaborative and interconnected learning community it could be.

Photo: Hope in a better future by Massimo Valiani


WHO Fact Sheet #193

Health Canada – WiFi Equipment

A Catholic teachers association looks to ban WiFi. What’s next, coffee?

Ontario Catholic teachers union recommends pulling plug on wi-fi in school

Ban WiFi in classroom, Ontario teacher union urges

(OECTA) A position regarding the use of Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Radiation, including WiFi, in the workplace