Saturday, December 28, 2013

One of the most important lessons I have learned.

After a stressful two weeks of putting my application together to apply for University of Calgary's Ed.D program, I had one of my most important lessons from my eldest daughter.   I was frustrated with a case of writer's block due to illness and lack of sleep and I decided that taking a break from writing my statement of intent would clear my head.  I walked into my daughter's room and asked how her homework was going and we talked about how frustrating it can be when the words don't come easily.  We spoke for a few minutes about what she was working on and she then asked me what I was having trouble with.  The words that came out of her mouth next made me sit down and write.  When I told her that I had to write about why I would be a good Ed.D candidate,  she said "because you're a hard worker."

My children have always been and will always be when of my greatest sources of inspiration.  When I was exhausted and wanted to give up on my masters, the thought of facing them was enough to drive me forward.  When my belief waned of whether I could finish it, all I had to do was envision their faces as I walked across the commencement stage.

Learning to find sources of inspiration are an important skill for anyone to obtain--I believe that this skill should be incorporated in a student's education.  My sources of inspiration are often subject specific when I reflect on my education.   Some of these sources are moments in history, inventors, theorists, works of art, inspirational sayings.  I found them randomly, through research and from the people in my lives.  Recognizing their importance and role in my life and work has been a life long process.

My goal is now trying to formally add this learning skill into my classroom and the timing couldn't be better.  When I return from winter break, my students will be entering the last few weeks of the fall semester and the workload will be ramping up with final summative activities and exams.  For some students, this workload will seem overwhelming.  It is these students in particular who will need to find their sources of inspiration for not only attacking the overall workload, but to successfully complete each activity and exam.

I always start the new year by drawing a life timeline on the whiteboard that visualizes how short a student's school life  is, but how long it's impact will have on a student's quality of life.  This year I will add a twist as I will ask my students to change their desktop image to the most expensive item they hope to own one day.

I will then follow up with a sticky note exercise.  I will be placing a pile of sticky notes by each student's work station.  Each student will be asked to open the assignment that he or she is finding most frustrating to date and then the students will asked to walk around each other's work areas and leave 2 comments with the sticky notes.  One statement is to be a complement and the other a suggestion; students will then return to their desks and collect the sticky notes about their assignment and reflect on what their peers like about their assignment as well as suggestions for improvement.  Before I ask my students to log off and get ready for their next class, I will ask them to pause and look at their new desktop image and reflect what they're going to do now so that they will be able to buy it one day.

I'm curious to see how this goes......stay tune in the new year for the results.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What should come first learning to teach or the pedagogy of teaching?

I remember the first class and the first time that I heard of Bloom's Taxonomy.  There were three things that popped into my mind:

  1. Does this have anything to do with flowers?  I grow roses so I believe you can see how I came up with that idea.
  2. Does taxonomy have anything to do with taxidermy or taxes? Really it's about classification?
  3. How is this 1956 paper going to help me in today's classroom?  After all, what I was looking for in teacher's college was the magic formula that was going to make me into a super teacher. How was reading about a bunch of theories going to help me or any other new teacher?
The problem was that at the time I was so impatient and nervous of becoming a teacher--a good teacher that I forgot to be a good learner.  Even now, a year after finishing my masters, I am revisiting lectures and papers I read and realizing how they're applicable in today's classroom.  The more I think about this, I'm really not that different from many of my students.  With their G.P.A.'s being held over their heads to whether or not they'll continue on to post secondary, learning sometimes takes a back seat to performance--and one doesn't necessarily take place with the other.  

 It's a shame when learning to takes a back seat to the final mark.  Although my personal academic focus is on mobile learning and smartphones, my real goal is to further engage learners to develop independent learning skills and see value not only with acquiring knowledge but working beyond the basic scope.  The problem that I face with teaching this way is time.  It's much like how I learn.  On the surface I obtain the information, but the challenge is how deep do I comprehend it?  With this in mind, it's difficult to meet the needs of learners under time constraints.  

As an educator, I too feel the learners' frantic pace as I try to squeeze all of the required curriculum in the set period of time.  While attending teacher's college, I tried to identify how Bloom's taxonomy could be applied, but without experience the learning cycle of a student, I didn't really grasp the importance of it.  After teaching for 16 years, I can identify when students are only superficially scratching the surface of topic leaving them able to spew back shared information, but lack the ability to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate the information/skill's purpose and role.  It's honestly taken me years to take these theories (and to have the time to revisit them) and evaluate them with purpose.  Montessori's approach is one of my favourites and to me is the basis of problem based learning (PBL).  While I re-examine PBL, I have to tip my hat to Seymour Papert for his work in constructivism theory.  As our society changes so does our need for educational approaches that are still deeply rooted in quickly pounding information into students' heads.  As I digress on this point, it leads me back to my original idea for this blog is that sometimes one of the best approaches or tools to increase the learner's synthesis of knowledge is to allow the time for the learning to take place.

Now that I have gotten off of my pedagogical soap box, I am left with the question "how do we allow more time for learning to take place?"  In essence I feel like the learner who is leaving the final examination room only to realize what the answer is to "that question."  Right now, I'm still stuck in that room, but I'll keep looking for answers.  In the mean time, I will seek opportunities to have these discussions with student teachers who are at my school on practicum.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Super Ninja Teaching Moment

Just to be up front, I have never trained or studied any martial arts—that would be my daughters.  I have watched a lot of kung fu films as a Bruce Lee fan, but I do not consider that training.  When I refer to my super ninja teaching moment, I am referring to an incredible moment in an educator’s life when all of your teaching ideas and lessons come together in a learning moment of awesomeness. 

Today was my day.  I wish I had recorded or bottled it so that I could revisit or share this perfect moment.  Just how athletes will rehash that amazing play of the day or a doctor will talk about how they found an impossible diagnosis, educators will share when the most disillusioned student suddenly becomes impassioned in the classroom.

For my new educators or anyone who hasn’t taught in a formal classroom. it is these moments that makes educators want to teach.  If you’re wondering what it looks or feels like, watch any of those great teacher movies—Mr. Holland’s Opus, Freedom Writers, and my personal favourite To Sir With Love. ­When educators watch these movies, we image being Sydney Portier and all of the students are sitting in a classroom having incredible discussions about the curriculum of the day.  They’re not just finishing their classwork, they’re mastering it and teaching each other.  Anyone who has considered entering this profession has these kinds of fantasies.  When I’m having a bad day, I’ll secretly watch these films and think that I really do make difference and tomorrow will get better. 

However, today started as an ordinary day, but something quickly happened when I had my grade 9 students try out a new skill.  They had success and it create a drive for further success.  When my grade 11s arrived, they immediately went to there newly formed groups and started brainstorming.    They kept going right to the bell and beyond; the smiles were ear to ear as they came up with solutions and ideas.  There was no bickering or wasting of time—their goal was clear and they were going to ensure that it happened.   My grade 12s were no different, they were helping each other while solving their own problems and they were talking about the future. 

My description can’t justified what happened today in classroom but I can say that the energy and learning level was off of the charts—I got the best bonus as an educator and I hope for more.  I also recognize that not everyone shared in his or her own moment.  Some teachers had the opposite kind of day, but a good teacher knows to share in these moments, as they will help you get through the darkest days.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Reflections from attending ECOO13

A week ago I attended another fabulous ECOO conference that was organized under the leadership of co-chairs +Doug Peterson  and +Cyndie Jacobs.  All of the volunteers worked extremely hard to do the impossible--top last year's conference. Three years ago I decided to start saving my landyards and hanging them up in my office and I'm sorry I don't have my landyards from the earlier conferences that I attended.  I choose to display my landyards in my office to remind me to  reflect on the knowledge I have gained from these conferences as well to reflect on the importance of continuing to learn.  I have to also thank +Harry Niezen  who first introduced and encouraged me to attend this conference.  He is one of the volunteers that helps plan and run this conference.  His support as a WRDSB secondary consultant always has me exploring new resources and possibilities.  He continues to also provided me opportunities to expand and share my skills.

Leaving your classroom requires a lot of organizing and preparation, but what you gain to bring back to your students makes well worth it. There is no good time to attend a conference.  If you're not starting a new unit, you're getting ready for parent teacher night or report cards.  I missed my school's parent teacher night, but I was willing to do what was necessary to ensure I met those obligations upon my return.  This afternoon I will be contacting all of the parents who left their contact information.  Regardless of what's necessary, ECOO13 had a vast array of workshops, presentations, education suppliers,  and discussion panels.  There were also three keynote speakers that left me energized and inspired to return to the classroom.

+Amber Mac had me furiously bookmarking WBLT resource after resource.  In between book marking, I was trying to tweet them out as they were too good not to share.  As I look at my list of incredible new resources, it reminds the importance for educators to share their knowledge.  The creation of new ideas and resources as increased expeditiously with this digital age and there is no way that anyone person or group can keep up with it.  By sharing, we have the ability to improve all students' learning.

+Jaime Casap's stories of his childhood in Hell's Kitchen and how he see the role of technology in learning and teaching has left me reflecting on the importance of teaching students the importance of remaining in control of the role that technology should play in their lives.  The bigger picture is as important as the knowledge that technology allows you to gain.

+Kevin Honeycutt's address literally made me and others cry while he shared stories from his childhood and teaching various disadvantaged students who include ones that are serving sentences in the juvenile penal system.  He reminded all of us how sometimes we are the only positive role models and sources of support in our students' lives.  He shared the impact that his elementary teacher had on him when she hug him knowing that he probably had lice.  Not being shunned knowing his past helped him become the person and educator he is today.  Whether we as educators know it or not, we have the ability to do the same.  I have had similar experiences with some of my past students.   This year when I read a past student's application to teacher's college, I discovered that I was one of the first adults who made it okay  for him to be gay.  Tears streamed down my face when I read how during one particular class I had addressed some students and the class how homophobic slurs or behaviour were not socially acceptable and would not be tolerated in my class ever.  I didn't think twice about that day,  but it had a positive impact for at least one student in that class and changed the behaviour of some others.  Kevin's talk has me asking myself each day, if my actions with my students have helped or hindered with their growth as a person and as a learner.

On top of these incredible speakers, there was a whirlwind of talks to attend--lunch and breaks were sacrificed or eaten on the run so as not to miss anything.   If you haven't visited the ECOO13 landyard to view the various resources by the speakers, I highly encourage that you do.  It's great how speakers can share their information so that anyone who couldn't attend that particular talk or the conference itself could view these resource.  My own slides from my presentation are located here as well.  Throughout the talks, I was tweeting quotes and resources to both my educator and student followers.  After my talk on the Thursday, I read over the tweets of the attendees and saw the knowledge being shared.  I was both excited and flattered that I was worth those 140 characters.   It's amazing how the social media allows to share, teach and learn in real time.  I had colleagues and students engaged in exploring and discussing the various talks that I attended.

 This is why I spend the time to prepare my class, create a talk to share with my fellow educators and attend the annual ECOO conference.  I hope to see you there next November--I've already added to my calendar.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Year Celebrations

September 3, 2013

This summer I found myself reflecting on how I have changed as an educator over the process of obtaining my masters.  When I first applied, I was so excited at the prospect of learning.  As the weeks turned into months and years, my driving force to finish was the vision of watching my two daughters see what hard work can lead to and for my parents, they got to watch their first child graduated from graduate school.  I was so focused on the piece of paper that didn’t see how I have changed as an educator.  I am more thoughtfully curious and question how I teach.   I’m looking forward to how my courses are going to develop.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Watching Eyes Open

It's not very often that I can surprise  teenagers with technology, but I did today. 

While teaching an audio lesson, I polled the class to see how many of the students had actually heard a vinyl record. Although each year I have less students who have actually listen to a record, I was shocked to discover that most of the students had not heard one before—it was less than 5% of the class. I’m glad that I looked up as I dropped the needle down. The look for shock and surprise quickly grew across their faces. It sounded like music but it was different—it was warmer. I surprised the tech savvy generation with some “old school” technology. Some of the students have started to borrow their parents records and are bringing them in to be played. It's amazing watching old technology becoming new again.  

it has also led to some spontaneous teaching moments while students play their records.  As students have brought popular old songs in, it has fostered some interesting discussions comparing MP3 sound quality with that of vinyl.  That has then led to even more comparisons of other technologies.  Some of the best lessons have been born out of others and this lesson has fostered students connecting ideas and knowledge.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Diving into the Water

April 2013

This is it, my very first blog and it is bit like the first time you dive off of the diving board.  It seems like a fun idea, you climb the ladder, you get to the edge of the board and look down.  A sense of panic comes over you questioning whether or not it really is a good idea, but you decide it's worth a shot.  The question is whether or not you'll enjoy the experience and find the water warm.  To be honest, it was not my idea, but one that I had repeatedly heard from some fellow educators who had attended either  a workshop or talk that I have given.   They told me that they would like to hear any new ideas or approaches in education that I discover.  It's funny to hear that someone wants to read my thoughts about education, but as more people asked me I decided that knowledge is meant to be shared--much like sharing a pencil in class.  

I hope that if you have come across this blog that you find something interesting and worth sharing.  I'm hoping that it may start or continue the dialogue.  Educators, administrators, parents needs to work together for the betterment of education and students.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Debunking a Myth about Teachers

My badge of honour and inspiration.

This weekend I was part of a group of educators that prove teaching continues after the bell rings. Hundreds of teachers brushed the snow off the cars and arrived at a school at 7:30 on a Saturday morning to learn. I bought my ticket to this conference immediately after hearing about it at ECOO12 ; that was a smart choice as it not only sold out, it had a waiting list of over 100 disappointed educators. I learned more then what was presented at the various workshops. I learned that the passion for being better educators is alive and well. I met amazing educators and support staff of all ages from across Ontario, Quebec and even Michigan. Educators left their classrooms on Friday after school and began driving so that they could learn some new tools and approaches to make learning better for their students. At the Google Chrome Summit of Ontario, we explored a variety of Chrome apps. More importantly we learned a different way of thinking or possibly a different way of approaching learners. The new digital age is providing tools that can expand not just how but how many ways we can teach. It’s not about one method fits all; it’s about finding the right approach to maximize the learning impact both in and out of the classroom. Twitter was exploding with #gafesummit tweets from all of the workshops and presentations. Educators were tweeting to share with not only the educators attending but for the followers located worldwide. I was amazed to discover how far I was being followed. The world became a lot smaller this weekend and a lot brighter for learning.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Inspiration can Create Drive

I was feeling very daring and inspired after attending the Google Apps for Education Ontario Summit.  It is the middle of the semester and I turned myself into a first year teacher.   After finishing my masters project, I began to exam my teaching materials and realized that they needed updating.  As an educator, I find myself muttering this to myself constantly.    More frequently, during this process, I “get busy” and “distracted” and it’s a new year.   I sat at my desk and decided drastic measures were necessary.  I wheeled down one the large recycling bins and began to purge without back up materials.  It was exhilarating as I watch my bookshelf empty and the recycling bin fill.  The next day, a new feeling settled over me—panic.  My bookshelf was empty; my binders were empty.  I had stripped my resources to the bare bones.

After taking a deep breath, I realized that it wasn’t really that bad.  I had a fabulous opportunity to create new current and creative resources to better meet the needs of my students.  I do have to be honest that my workload has increased with the building of new teaching materials, but I find that they are better at engaging my students both in and out of the classroom. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Moving Day!

I have to write a prologue to my blog, as it appears that I’ve been very busy writing in an extremely short period of time.   Although I am an extravert,  I’m actually really shy when it comes to showing my work—in this case my writing.  I have tried various platforms to place my words—only to change my mind yet again and delete my work.  This time, I’ve decided that it’s time to follow the words that I am constantly telling my students.   Put yourself out there and show your work, because everyone has a story that’s worth telling.  I hope you enjoy reading my posts now and in the future.