Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ten Techie Things I Can't Live Without!

  1. Twitter - it's true, I really can't live without Twitter. It is 140 characters of connection, collaboration, sharing and PD all in one place! 
  2. Facebook - tragic I know. But it's not because I have to know what's going on in other people's lives, it's actually because it is the easiest vehicle for communicating with the parents in my class and sharing the action of the day! Our class FB page, accessed only by the parents and I, contains the links and updates for our class Flickr account, the class blogs, the wiki and the news from all of our trips and learning. Love it! Oh - and the parents leave comments, write questions, connect with each other and NEVER privately track me. 
  3. Flickr - I started doing the Flickr 365 challenge 2 years ago and the class have just loved using Flickr to develop a total picture of a year of learning. We have linked this to our class FB page so that all of the new photos go across there and update automatically - yay!
  4. iPhone - sorry. Just have to confess. I had an android phone and thought I was missing out on something and then when I got an iPhone I realised what it was. My phone lives in the classroom, it is really like a class pet and there are many panic moments at 3pm when the kids have gone and I am madly searching for where it was left last! The kids grab it and use it for photos, videos and recording interviews/responses all through the day. 
  5. iMovie - ah yes, iMovie on iPads especially. The class love being able to film and instantly manage the material on the iPad to create their own movies and embed them on our blog.
  6. Youtube - tutorials, fun songs for learning maths, uploaded movies from the class - youtube is the coolest platform ever! Lucky us, our school have never blocked it, instead, we teach the kids how to safe search and also make sure we preview everything we use. Teachertube is another great way to ensure that you get quality clips without the junk/ads.
  7. Blogs - my class have several of these. Each child has their own blog on and they also all contribute to the class blog on blogspot. These are a wonderful ongoing snapshot of the learning and reflection process in the class's daily lives. Quadblogs, Edmodo and pass the blog are also great ways to use the power of blogging and to teach intentional, constructive, positive and appropriate commenting.
  8. Wikis - oh dear, I am a slightly self-confessed wiki madwoman. I have more wikis than I've had hot dinners. The kids create their own with ease and I think it's a simple, fun and creative way to teach about embedding, planning, evaluating, creating, building simple websites and  bit of coding thrown in for good measure. The class use them for their daily learning - it's an extension of the classroom and contains all of the links for the children in one easy-to-use place.
  9. Evernote - since discovering Evernote web clipper I have loved Evernote even more. I find it a simple way to take notes and share them. My student teacher did all of her planning on Evernote and shared it with me, then I was able to take all of my notes and observations on it and share with her. It can be used to record voices as well as being able to embed photos on it.
  10. My MacBook - ah yes, none of these things would be possible without my beloved Mac. I used to be a PC lover years ago, but the years with my Mac mean I will never go back. It is fast, the open lid gives me access to everything immediately, there's no such thing as a virus or any need for antivirus software, no spam etc. My Mac is just a wonderful extension of my classroom. I know they are expensive comparatively, but boy they last and they really are worth the cost!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

10 Reasons That Techie Brekkies Work

We are constantly seeking ways in our school to ensure that everyone is given the training and guidance around technology and tools. The big push this year has been to have 3 eLearning facilitators in the school, who are classroom teachers, competent in eLearning but, more than that, competent in sharing, and guiding others.

As one of these facilitators, it has been my role to go into classrooms and work alongside, team teach or model eLearning. The joy has been to see how keen people are to learn and to try new things. It isn't about gadgets and gizmos, it has been about skills building in teachers, something that is powerful and empowering.

Techie brekkies have also been a hugely successful part of the process too and we can have up to half of our staff attend them on a regular basis. This is nothing to do with me, it is simply driven by people's desire to keep learning and to keep trying new things. So why do techie brekkies work so well?

  1. It's teachers teaching teachers - it's all about the shared learning model, where teachers get to mentor others and learn from and with one another.
  2. It's personalised learning - topics are picked by teachers, for teachers and are learnt with teachers. The skill-set is demand driven and teachers get to drive their own learning!
  3. It's fun! We all know that kids learn best when it's fun, so why should adults be any different?
  4. It's productive - it helps to keep teachers communicating with one another, talking and listening to one another around their learning.
  5. It benefits the students - nothing benefits our students more directly than when their teachers are excited, passionate and keen to try new things!
  6. It keeps schools fresh! It's very hard to get 'stale' when change is occurring constantly, and although techie brekkies are not the end all and be all of ever change, they certainly help to keep teachers curious, learning and looking for new learning.
  7. It keeps collaboration real and rich in schools.
  8. It helps to build a team culture - our syndicate last year were incredible at sharing and raving at syndicate meetings every week about what they were doing in their classes from what they had learnt in the Techie Brekkies. There was a great team culture that grew from the techie brekkies!
  9. It focusses us on what we can change - it keeps us looking forward rather than backward and it helps to highlight the attainable rather than the limitations.
  10. It provides the chance to work alongside colleagues in other age levels and to have professional discussions in a relaxed setting - for our staff which is pretty large, it means the opportunity to have impromptu chats with others across the teams and age levels, talking and listening to one another's ideas and sharing learning.
And quite frankly, who needs an excuse to have a social catch up and a delicious breakfast?! Not me!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sharing Ideas

A few years ago, one of our young new teachers introduced the concept of Techie Brekkies. Our wonderful DP would provide fresh coffee and croissants along with fresh fruit at 8am if we attended the 7.30am session once a month. These took off and there were lots of amazing sessions where she tutored us through the basics of blogs and wikis, links and more.

Fast forward to last year, where I picked up the baton and played host to the Techie Brekkies myself, following the same format but minus the brekkie. Somehow I got away with it for a whole year, and it was just our syndicate of 12 teachers who were a part of it, so there were a few problems from time to time i.e. only 1-2 people showed up...

So this year, with fresh eyes (and more fresh food!) we opened the concept to the whole school and the response has been amazing. Ownership for all and plenty of teachers contributing to the sharing aspect of the techie brekkies. I am simply the co-ordinator and the staff are using a googledoc to drive the ideas and learning outcomes. It has become a whole school approach to the learning and sharing - meaning that there is total buy in from those who attend. We have had up to 19 attend and even on the quiet weeks, there have numbered over 10.

We have covered photography, photo editing, photo slideshows/collage sites, embedding photos/slideshows into wikis/blogs, and adding extras to blogs and wikis to enhance them visually.
Next term, we will look at iMovie and then go into curriculum areas using the iPads/iPods and assessment tools such as google forms.

What have I learnt? 

  • I have learnt that teachers are learners first and are always eager to know more even if that is hard work or a bit scary. Sometimes, the best way to help those who are struggling with the techie stuff is to actually listen, listen, listen. What is it that THEY need rather than what I think I can overwhelm them with.
  • I have learnt that small is enough. Little bite-sized bits of learning in easy steps is perfect for most. Anyone who wants more can stretch themselves pretty easily because we have to move at the pace of the slowest traveller.
  • I have learnt that no question is stupid and yet we all feel foolish asking things from time to time. Everyone is a learner and if we can keep that in mind, then we can patiently and humbly help to answer all of the questions. 
  • I have learnt that no matter how much I learn, someone knows more about more and is learning more! It's not about having all of the answers, it's about having plenty of questions!
  • I've learnt that I work with a truly wonderful bunch of people who are constantly striving to learn. 
Check out our techie brekkie links, tutorials and more on:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Art Exhibition

This year's big idea/theme: Colour My World - Artists Who Inspire Us

Having changed my mind at least 10 (exasperating!) times, I finally settled for the original idea: Reuben Patterson inspired art. Yes I know, cringe and groan aloud at the thought of *glitter* and what a total mess that will be, but no! I decided to be brave and bold and get onto it!

So the start was to look at reflection which we have been learning about in Maths anyway. We have re-visited some of the images from our visit this year to the Auckland Art Gallery where we encountered the amazing Reuben Patterson artwork called "Gazillion Swirl". The class were blown away by this and it has ended up forming the basis for our own works. We are using bathroom tiles - 4 per child - and they are creating a repeating pattern which has 2 lines of symmetry.

Take a look at the results so far...

Creating Our Art Exhibition on PhotoPeach

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Daily 5 - Moving Forward

I am now looking at the 'next steps' in my own learning with the Daily 5 and one of the things that I have been struggling with has been 'how do I create/store etc. a personal box of books for each child for read to self?'

My student teacher came up with the solution of making the students all a book bag of their own - she is, fortunately, a rather gifted seamstress! So this week, she is creating a button label with each of the children and then she will put the bags together for them with their personalised 'badge' on the front of each bag. With an already full classroom, the thought of (a) the cost of 26 boxes and (b) the storage factor for each box, this is a clever little solution as we can peg the bags up on the windows while they are not in use. A-ha! Brilliant me-thinks!

The class are currently working on choosing books independently for read-to-self, as part of the reading conferences with each individual child is to help to guide them towards making great choices for books. We have worked on this as a school for years and have a simple self-guide system already, but the explicit nature of the Daily5 means that the students also understand the difference between a book that they can read fluently and one that they need to share or have read to them, or perhaps one that is best for another child to read to them in read-to-someone.

We are now working on getting their self-chosen books into a lovely bag like these:
Will post in a few days and show you the finished product with the button letters on them!

How Daily5 Is Shaping Up


Totally and utterly unbelieving, skeptical and completely lacking in conviction.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how I felt about Daily5 only a short few months ago. I had heard about it, followed a few #daily5 chats on Twitter, read a few blogposts, spoken to a few educators who were running with it in their rooms and I was still doubtful and skeptical.

My major issue was that my reading programme has run smoothly for years - in fact, it is and always has been, my favourite time of the day in my classroom. My classes have always enjoyed our reading tumble and since the eLearning skills and tools have been embedded in the tumble, the class have enjoyed it even more.

So I had a BIG problem. If I was going to give this whole 'Daily5' malarky a go, then I was going to try to fix something that wasn't broken. Was that just crazy or what???

But then I took a wee leap of faith and decided to buy the book. The talk on Twitter seemed to be around the whole philosophy of Daily5 teaching and really intentional skills teaching, so I reckoned that the worst that could happen would be that I read a new book and ended up staying with the usual tumble and teaching.

I bought the book, devoured it in a day and was inspired. This confirmed everything that I have always known about literacy but more than that, it gave me a step-by-step guide to how to explicitly teach the skills needed for a truly successful LITERACY programme - no more separation of writing, vocab, word skills and reading - oh no! This encompasses everything 'literacy' and wraps it neatly up in a self-managing, manageable daily programme! Yeeha! I was sold!

So I have spent this past term building slowly towards the ultimate outcome - the whole Daily5 in the middle block of each day. Each activity lasts (for us) for 20 minutes and the class have embraced it and run with it! The most hilarious thing has been the cheer at morning tea time every day as the Daily5 appears on the ActivBoard for the next thing on the timetable! My class bounce out and bounce in gleefully - each one of them loving the responsibility for their learning and the feeling of controlling their own literacy choices within a firm boundary of expectations. We have learnt words such as 'stamina' (perfect when the term's focus was the Olympic Games!) EEKK, CAFE, and much more. The explicit teaching of each component and building of stamina has meant that the Daily5 are securely embedded in their minds. The co-constructed anchor charts bring subtle reminders to them of what they decided each activity looks like and sounds like, what is expected of them, and what they are capable of.

In a nut-shell, I am now a firm, confident, Daily5 believer. The powerful programme has added to the passion I have always had for literacy teaching and learning. I am now able to (seriously!) teach 2 focus reading groups a day, 1 writing group per day, conference 2-3 writers and 2-3 readers without missing a beat. It feels like I have been doing it forever but every session ends with a smile on 27 faces (especially mine!) and a wail of, "Ohhhhh..." when the bell rings for lunch. I think the kids would do the Daily5 all day if I let them! Doesn't that say it all???

Friday, September 21, 2012

Writing - What's Wrong With It?

I was down at my local coffee-house this morning, chillaxing out with the Saturday rag, and I read on the front page: Why Children Fail In Writing. To sum it up, the crux of the problem is stated as: not enough books in homes, text language, slang, boredom with writing, and boys achieving lower than girls.

So the main statements were around how texting and slang have meant that our kids are spelling phonetically (e.g. wot/what, sup/what's up? and so on) for texting, and that slang is also a contributor, as this tends to be phonetic also (e.g. cuz/cousin, bro/brother, nekminit/next minute). Now we can laugh about this, we can even argue that this is the language of the time just as thee, thy and thou were the language in Shakespeare's time, but when it begins to (apparently) affect achievement in writing standards, we have to ask some more questions.

The bottom line, for me, is that writing and spelling are often confused. Which do we desire, rich content or error free recording? My students would produce (predominantly) dull vocab if required to spell all words accurately. Yet they also understand the value of spelling and understanding patterns in language. I prefer to teach chunks and basic rules of language alongside a strong editing programme so that my students attempt rich vocabulary in their writing but also know how to correct it if their approximation is incorrect. The reality is, that the computer is underlining words for me even as I write and I am a strong speller, yet here is a tool that will automatically highlight my errors and assist me in options for spelling words. So let's not get hung up on spelling being the issue.

As for boredom with writing, I have to admit that as a teacher we must expose children to the entire range of genre. But, if it is done with life application at the centre, it is far less likely to breed boredom. Let me give you an example: 2 weeks ago we had a visit from a Year 8 class for the day. They came to swap ideas and skill-share with us with eLearning, so there was iMovies, Prezi, blogging, wikis, QR codes, and so on. Now the following day, I could have demanded that my class write a recount of the day in their books. That would certainly have fit the experience. But instead, I asked that they work with a partner to choose a way to explain what we did, what we shared, what we learnt and prepare it to present to the class next door. Away dashed the class, eager to start, debating which programme to use - some used Prezi and embedded footage from the day as well as clear explanations of how the day worked and what they enjoyed, some created an iMovie with interviews of all of the class about their highlights, some wrote blogposts and inserted photos from the day, some created ComicLife pages depicting the activities and with speech bubbles (which were quotes that they got from the class) and some made slideshows/posters of the day.

When they had finished they shared their work with one another and the language was rich, varied, interesting and inspiring. The sharing was done with passion and pride - all things that good writers feel. My class didn't just learn on the day, they learned FROM the day and they shared that learning in a rich, reflective way. Would I have got the same result if I said, "Sit down, be quiet, don't talk, write a recount of yesterday - you have 40 minutes, go..."? I know that the answer is no.

The language of the time may be text speak and slang, but let's not demote our kids to only being capable of writing this. If the richness of their language experiences is real, inspiring, relevant, then the richness of their language produced can surely be the same!

As for books in homes, I can only speak to my own experiences. I have taught in the range of deciles and I have worked as part of a making parents literate project in the UK when I taught there. If we educate parents about the need to read, then we will reach the kids. Often, parents in homes without books or with little literature around, are adults who grew up with little exposure to reading at home themselves. They cannot know the importance of books if they have never been in a world of literature themselves. Often we find that these parents have not been to the library as children themselves - they want a life for their children that is different to their own, but they do not know how to create it for them. Their homes are often needing food and clothing so buying books or paying for the petrol to go to the library are low priorities. We found in the project that I worked on, that many parents were poorly literate or actually illiterate - they wanted to read to their children but simply could not. When we helped to give them the tools to read with their kids, there was a massive change that took place. The children began to learn alongside their parents and there was a shared passion for books that grew immediately. Fortunately for us, one of the large supermarket chains was doing a project at the time where they gave a large bag of free books to every kindergarten aged child and they also had library cards in the bags for parents to take their kids to the local library. This certainly helped many families to get books into their homes.

We cannot change children's attitudes to reading and writing if we are not helping to change parents' attitudes. How many parents, particularly dads, do we hear saying, "I hate writing and I never bother reading." A few years ago, one school that I worked in decided to get dads, uncles, big brothers and grandads to come in every week and read to the class so that the children got to hear quality literature from men. And they also recorded stories for the classes to read along with, which certainly inspired many of the boys. We also buddied up many of the boys in our classes with the men/lads coming in and  had them read 1:1 or in a small group. This fostered a real love for reading among many of our reluctant boys and the feedback from our lads was amazing - many of them had not read aloud for years and had felt that they were a 'poor' reader, but the opportunity to be valued as a reader meant that many of them began to read in their leisure time more and even went home and started reading to their nephews, nieces, grandchildren and so on.

There are ways - many, many ways - to change a loathing towards literacy into a passion for reading and writing. It does not mean that we will all be writers and it does not mean that we will all be avid readers, but it does give access to other opportunities that would be out of reach without that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Gold and Silver Visit!

Who would have thought! A right royal visit from 3 fabulous young Kiwi athletes who have achieved gold and silver medals in sailing. They were very inspiring and really great with the kids! Speaking to over 800 students and a bundle of teachers cannot be easy but they made everyone chuckle and were honest, humble and just plain down-to-earth.

Olivia Powrie won Gold in the womens 470 and Peter Burling won silver in the 49er class.  They are 25 and 22 years old and have been to a few schools already. So - lucky us! Because one of the dads at our school coaches Peter and his sailing partner Blair Tuke, we were lucky enough to get on their on their list of school visits.

So what did the kids think? They loved meeting them, they loved seeing their medals and talking to them about what it takes to compete at that level and what it takes to win. How inspiring for the kids to meet real, down to earth Kiwis who were just like them at kids! But with hard work and determination, sacrifice and practice, they were able to achieve at the top of their sport. Wow!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Symmetry on PhotoPeach Lots of fun today as we get a handle on flipping and sliding shapes and patterns. The challenge was to make a pattern with dinosaurs and then get our maths buddy to flip (reflect) the pattern on the other side of the page. Many students find it easiest to work with materials and be able to manipulate equipment - makes the learning concrete for them. My students loved this activity and tried very hard to make their pattern too complex for their buddy! However, there was no fooling them! They then took photos with their buddy to demonstrate their learning. Check it out!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Interview for Mrs Cutler

Duraiz and Sunny interviewed and filmed every student in our class. Their two questions were: what was your favourite learning activity with Mrs Cutler and what could she improve with her teaching?


So today was the day! The countdown was FINALLY over, the planning was done, the devices were loaded, signed in and ready...and the bus from ELIM Christian College rolled in! It was our pioneering eMeet day - the day when Point View hosted our Year 8 guests for a day of 'learning together'.

The classes were pretty excited and there was a real buzz in the air! We gave some basic instructions out and got the ball rolling. With 4 teachers and 55 students, I was wondering where we would all fit but within moments every person had a place and the fun and begun!

So the day was made up into 6 activities lasting 30 minutes with a fun game of BASH in the afternoon to end the day. The goal for the day was to explore, share and collaborate on eLearning through:

  1. Wikis
  2. Blogs
  3. Kodu 
  4. Prezi
  5. QR codes
  6. iMovie
We emphasised to the students that the process and the learning was more important than a 'product' as we didn't want there to be time pressure or the worry about finishing or completing something. This worked well throughout the morning and there were 2 stopping points for us to reflect on how the students felt things were going. 

The reflections were great as a gauge for us - we were able to work out what needed to be tweaked, what was working, what was tricky and what we needed to leave for them to work out themselves!

I was wondering by lunchtime if the momentum would carry through into the afternoon, especially when they all ended up back in the classroom early while the rain pelted down outside!!! But we need not have worried - they all fell easily back into their tasks and explorations and the afternoon was fun and fab just as the morning had been! We ended the day with a high octane game of BASH! in the school hall and then the ELIM students fled for the bus to get back to school in time for home!

As teachers, we reflected together on the day and decided that we would do a few things differently next time:
  • have slightly shorter blocks (20mins instead of 30mins)
  • check the network and logins before bringing PCs into a different school (they wouldn't log into the network here because they had complicated issues! FAR too much for the help desk to manage! This meant that only 2 of their PCs worked for KODU
  • have 2 sports blocks - they needed some 'brain' rest and some physical activity to get them out and moving in a VERY long day of inactivity
  • allow some time each session for the students to further explore or complete an activity - some of them really wanted the product, regardless of whether we weren't concerned about the outcome, they were
All in all it was a truly excellent experience for all involved - so much learning for us all and definitely something we will be repeating soon!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

1:1 Devices? NO thanks!

I used to have this desire as a classroom teacher. This deep desire of what the 'perfect' classroom looked like. You know it well: the huge room, the perfect lighting, the lofty ceilings and underfloor heating, the modern furniture, the grand use of spaces, the outdoor garden, the bi-fold doors that take you into a huge shared space and so on. Oh! And don't forget, that tip-tap-typing in every space, is a smiling student on their own device.

Ah-yes...the much desired 'one-to-one' devices ideal.

So why am I shouting NOOOOOOO! from the rooftops now?

Ok, let's back-pedal a bit...what is it that we are trying to achieve in our classrooms?
Collaboration. Connectedness. Communication.

Give my students a device to work on with a buddy, and there is talk, banter, negotiation, compromise, action, laughter, more talk, more negotiating, agreement, disagreement, and much, much more. This is when kids work TOGETHER to achieve a goal or to create something.

But, give my students their OWN device each and it is a quiet room, with more limited learning opportunities as children simply tip-tap-type their way through what they can already do and remain firmly possessive of their work. Self managing? Maybe. Participating and contributing? Hmmm. Thinking? Not as much. Relating to others? I don't think so...

SO if the purpose for 1:1 devices is to achieve possessiveness, exclusivity and individuality, then that box can be ticked. But if one main purpose for 21st century learning and 21st century learners is to collaborate, then I would scream from the rafters that we need to be sharing, sharing, sharing. And that includes the devices and tools. The REAL learning happens when there are 2 heads together or more. The powerful problem-solving seems to occur more often when kids are bashing ideas around with one another, bouncing their options around, chatting about the 'how' rather than fretting about the product.

It would seem to me that the optimum amount of devices would be an amount that enables children to work together comfortably. I have 9 laptops and 2 desktops in my class as well as 3 children who have iPads (tech-assisted learners). On any given day there are like to be 1-2 more iPads and several iPods, which tend to get used mostly in maths or for photography purposes for the blog. Therefore, with a class of 26 I often have 1:2, which is good, but I am pretty happy when it's 1:3, because they all still have access to contribute and yet they still have to work together closely to achieve their learning.

If the purpose for having the devices is to support learning, nurture thinking, grow problem-solvers, develop independence while supporting teamwork, then I believe it is a slippery slope to provide primary school children with 1:1 devices, and something that will end up perilously close to exclusivity and insular learning at its worst. Keep the devices shared and the outcome is going to be a far greater chance of...

Collaboration. Connectedness. Communication.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Self Management - what does it LOOK like?

I have several students in my class that you would probably watch during a class visit and comment inwardly that these are not students who are strong self managers. Often found in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, away from their group, off-task, disorganised and seldom able to keep within a timeframe for completing work.

But I know these learners. I know how they are wired, and let me tell you, they are proficient self managers - in SOME things...

One of them gets the laptops out every day, puts them on charge, checks that they are set up for the day and then often heads to the ActivBoard to set me up for handwriting and reading, reading confidently off my group planning to ensure he has the correct tasks/day on the tumble.

Another one of them is quick to watch over my shoulder with anything I am teaching on the laptop or if I am working with another group on the web, and will follow my every move so that later in the day I see him upskilling himself by copying what he sees. His skills have been in remembering the order that he sees things in and then recalling them, yet he can't seem to follow a 2-step instruction given verbally.

The third of these children spends all day asking me 'how' and 'why' for everything. He wants to know how to do anything that I do on a laptop. He seeks out new knowledge and is a high level communicator yet writing is his least favourite activity, tantamount to torture, and he seldom completes things without me pushing.

Two of these boys spent the afternoon asking me about how the school website works, how do you create a website like that, how does design work and what is the coding like on that type of managed site? Since I have been busy reworking the Middle School page today in the breaks, I was able to show them firsthand the answers to their questions. We looked at how the design shows up on the page as I work but how I can also use the coding to add moving images/slide shows/movies by embedding. They already know this language from their work on the wiki and blogs, and they keenly enquired about the differences between each. We looked a split view of the page so that they could match what they read in the code to what they saw on the design page.

When I asked them if they would like to help me to create parts of the page their eyes lit up! They went away and collaborated on a plan of what they would need to learn and the steps to do so. Suddenly I had reluctant writers who want to record because this is their language - this is what they love.

We have decided that while the class are at music on Friday, they will work with me to create the next part of the page, and they have their plan ready.

Self management? I think so!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Paralympics

I watched some of the highlights of the Paralympics today (had to troll the internet for it) and felt mixed feelings. I wondered at the amazing determination of the athletes and was humbled by their absolute joy  at competing. Not once did I see arrogance or hand gestures from them saying 'number one'! There was sincere and heartwarming congratulations from each athlete to their competitors, an obvious mutual respect. Looks passed from competitor to competitor that said, "I know how you feel..." and you know that they do.

Each competitor knows what it is like to be looked down on for moving differently, for speaking strangely, for struggling to do something. Each one of them knows discrimination, even if it has not been deliberate, because of their disability. Each one of these athletes has had to work harder, train harder, feel more pain and overcome more challenges than any of the thousands of athletes who completed the Olympics 2 weeks ago. Each of them has had to make enormous personal and often financial sacrifices to follow their dreams, represent their country and come to compete at the Paralympics.

When I watch ANY Paralympian I have tears in my eyes. Here is a person from any place, of any age, at any stage who has had more challenges in their life than most of us would know in 10 lifetimes. Yet the joy they display, the exuberance that they exhibit humble me beyond words. I know, without a shred of doubt, that if I was to walk in their shoes for even a day, I would complain, moan, grumble, cry "Why me?" from the rooftops. Yet, these incredible athletes enter the arena with smiles and most often leave with tears of joy regardless of whether a medal is around their neck.

I wonder then, which Olympians would the founders be most proud of?

And I think of the Olympic values that Pierre de Coubertin came up with to encapsulate the virtues surrounding the athletes and the games: determination, courage, respect, equality, excellence, friendship and inspiration and I know, without hesitation, that the answer would be the Paralympians.