Goal Setting and Achieving

Yesterday, I received a draft of the year-end report on my teaching from my Vice Principal. Seeing the explicit and objective observations from someone who knows me, as a teacher, well was a good ego boost. More importantly, however, it was incredible to see how far I’ve come since August.

The “how far I’ve come” piece is two-fold. First, I think about how I nervously and meticulously planned every detail the first few days (and then had to completely scrap almost everything), compared to the attention to potential details I have now. I also see how my vision of who I am as a teacher has changed, and is still changing. I haven’t exactly found my perfect teacher persona yet, but I’m way closer than I was 9 months ago. My students must have thought I had some sort of personality disorder for the first few weeks.

The next thing I really noticed was that the goals I set, both on paper, and in my head are being realized. For instance, I set out to get better with using my SmartBoard. Aside from it dying the last few weeks (its fixed now), I’ve done a pretty good job of that. But more importantly, in my head I set out to “stop teaching” so my students could really learn. I’ve hit my stride with the Workplace and Apprenticeship 10 class I’ve got right now. I let them work at their own pace and they are, for the most part, ridiculously engaged.

I have to say, seeing that report and reflecting on the last few months kind of gave me goose bumps. I know I have a long way to go still on the never-ending journey of being a great teacher, but I think I’m at least on the right path.

I also noticed that there are some goals that I still need to step it up for, the main one being incorporating authentic First Nations/Metis content into math. I’ve got my sights set of the probability unit in Math 9, but that’s not enough. Any suggestions or help?


All Ready for Tomorrow? Well, Maybe.

I just finished fine-tuning my plans for tomorrow, and I have to admit, I’m feeling deflated.

I went to the SUM (Saskatchewan Understands Math) Conference 2013, which featured Dan Meyer and Marian Small as keynotes. I got myself fired up to be amazing upon my return to school. Somehow, I’m feeling like I’m fighting a losing battle.

I can say with certainty that the lens I view the textbooks with has never been entirely rose-coloured, but upon my return, I have become very unenthusiastic. The questions and problems seem just short of pointless.

Their big redeeming quality, as Dan Meyer would point out, is that they have some content to use as a jumping off point. They are just written in the most monotonous way.

For instance, tomorrow we will be doing a review of perimeter to launch into the composite shapes chapter. The first question asks, “Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 24 squares on a piece of grid paper.” The second question asks, “Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 28 squares on a piece of grid paper.” The third asks, “Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 20 squares on a piece of grid paper.” The numbers here might be wrong, but the boringness is still maintained.

I do see the value in this — perimeter is a total measure of all the side lengths. There is an infinite possibility of side lengths that can have a measure of 24 squares. This could be powerful stuff. But it’s not, because it is so rote.

I wanted to come back ready to shake it up in my class. I am ready for that change, but I’m still struggling with executing it. I have plans for a Three-Act activity on Thursday, and I’m hoping that can spark the change. Where I’m struggling here is how I can start making small changes to my teaching that will eventually lead up to big ones? Are there little daily things I can/should do to help prime my students to have their minds blown when I’m ready to take that jump?

What? Science is Cool?

I don’t know if my students really understand what MIT is, or how big of a deal it is. I don’t even know if my students really understand how awesome they have the potential to be, when they want to be (or subconsciously want to be but try to be cool about it). I do know, however, that last week my students were pushed, and they excelled beyond my hopes.

A few months ago, I got a text from an old classmate, Kyle Webb. It read,

Happy Saturday. How interested are you in taking science class to the next level?

Little did I know that those 14 words would have such a profound impact on making school awesome for 45 fourteen-year-olds.

After I responded excitedly (that might be the understatement of the year), Kyle hooked me up with Mark, an Engineering post grad student at MIT who is working in/on environmental policy. Aside from my shear excitement to be working with someone who is as cool, if not cooler, than Howard from The Big Bang Theory, I was more excited to get to have an awesome teacher moment.

I hyped it up with my students. They were unimpressed. They were wondering what this whole MIT thing was, as apparently MIT doesn’t sound like a real university to a 14-year-old. I left it at that, but I maintained my excitement for a few weeks.

I had a few family things come up in the days leading up to when I planned on having Mark Google Hangout with our class. This turned out to be a good thing. We were working on designing the most ecofriendly house we could conjure up. The students grouped themselves up, and they worked somewhat diligently for a week, but they were frustrated. Their presentations, while alright, were nothing like I had expected or hoped for. They were kind of limp to be honest. Enough to meet what I sort of wanted, but not what I knew they could do.

The started on the extension of the project, designing the most ecofriendly community (after all if one house is good, couldn’t an entire town be better?). I grouped them this time, and they had a few days to work on this. Then Mark hungout with us.

Originally, I planned on him hanging out for about 35-40 minutes, then giving my students the rest of class to apply his ideas. I asked them all to come to class with a few questions, and they were all supposed to ask one question, but many students thought it might be “lame” or something.

What really happened was far more incredible. After some fun internet-related issues and about 3 power outages the morning of, we connected and Mark introduced himself. I quickly summoned a few students who had questions ready, and they began asking questions.

I have to admit, I was terrified. I didn’t proof any of the questions. I wouldn’t have been surprised if something inappropriate came up. But it didn’t. Even better, the students ask REALLY GOOD QUESTIONS. All of them asked really good questions. Even the students who had been struggling with this project. Even the students who had been disinterested with the project. Even the students who don’t like science. It was awesome.

Mark hungout with both of my science classes. Same setup, same Mark, but two completely different sets of questions. I have a total of 45 students. There was not ONE duplicate question. To be honest, I thought some of the questions were a bit outrageous when I first heard them, but Mark handled them with ease and proved that some of the most outrageous questions were some of the best questions.

As class was ending, a student stopped to pack up his binder. After his classmates were gone, he looked up and calmly said, “Miss Thibeault, that was really cool.” Then he wandered off to his next class, as content as could be. I don’t want to get to Hollywood on you or anything, but it was definitely a moment that was Oscar-worthy. I couldn’t have paid a student to have a better reaction.

Oh, did I mention that their ecocommunity presentations were awesome? They incorporated ideas from their discussions with Mark, adapted some ideas, and canned others. They poured their hearts and souls into them. And it was awesome.


Would I do this again? In a heartbeat.

What can I make from all this? It was a lot to digest, and it has taken a few days. What I’ve taken from this is that the greater audience is important, but his greater audience has to be visible, it has to have importance, and it has to resonate with my students. Mark did just that — he was cool, he was young, he was on the SmartBoard talking to them (woo!), and he conversed at their level.

Another important piece I pulled from this: the internet is great for having a huge pool of knowledge, which isn’t easy to navigate. There is still significant value in connecting with experts and asking questions. I didn’t give any students any questions. They thought of them themselves. One question sparked another from a different student. This kind of collaborating and feeding off of one-another just can’t happen in the huge google pool. They wanted to know and they wanted to learn.

The last thing I’ll speak to is me. I have no formal science education training. I was almost terrified (but up for the challenge) when I saw Science 9 on my timetable last June. I do, however, have the ability to help facilitate my students’ learning. I need to draw on resources, like Mark, that enrich my classes in ways that I will never be able to. This isn’t solely in science, but in math, career education, or any other subject I end up teaching. It could mean face-to-face, it could mean via Google Hangouts, it could be over twitter, or it could be something else. I owe it to my students to let them learn. After all, they proved that they really wanted to learn (even if a few of them kept it a secret so they could look cool).

Training Circuits

I have been to many conditioning and exercise classes in my time. They’ve drilled it into my head that some of the best workouts are in the form of short bursts that utilize different parts of my body. I have to agree. So, I decided to apply this to math.

The math coordinator for my school division came out to visit me last semester and introduced me to the idea of doing learning centres in math, but it has taken on a whole new life from what I originally envisioned after our meeting.

My basic set up is a set of seven stations — two practice stations, one skill check (quiz) station which I kind of axed and turned into another practice station, one reading station, one mad minute station, an open-ended problem solving station, and a Thibeault Time (3-1 time with me) station.

What I’ve learned so far — I am going to tweak these stations a little bit. I think it would be best to divide into four or five groups so I get more time with groups. I also would like to be able to get contact with each group each day (the current station set up means I don’t see one group each day).

I also have identified that there are common things in that I taught every group, regardless of their skills and abilities. That gave me a spark — why not do a hybrid flip-flop (flipped classrom-style ordeal, but have the videos available to watch in class instead of for homework)? Instead of having students wait to move on until they saw me (unless they figured it out correctly themselves), I could record a few videos, then have more directed instruction with the groups individually where we could work through at-level problems or reteach specific concepts.

I do want to keep the reading and mad minute stations, along with the open-ended problems simply because they workout different parts of the brain and provide a break from staring at questions all hour long. This ties into the circuit training — workout different things to get a better overall result. Same principle here — utilize different important skills (reading, problem-solving, and basic math) to get a better overall result. Not to mention, it is a good break for them. As of today, I haven’t had any classroom management issues. Keep your fingers crossed that nothing happens!

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a few days now, but this morning I almost didn’t post because my confidence was rattled. A student was away for a few days and had NO IDEA what was going on. She was completely lost and didn’t get any meaningful support from her group. She came to her Thibeault time, smiled and nodded, then came to visit me at lunch. We’re doing similar polygons with her group, but she had no idea what scale factor was, and was therefore quite lost. I’m wondering what I can do to combat this issue in the future. I think having the videos will help a lot, but I also am wondering if I need to build in 10 minutes each day for open Thibeault time (anyone who was lost).


Any thoughts on any of this, especially when students are absent? I really appreciated the comments from the last post — they certainly helped me with the process thus far, as well as thinking about improvements for next go-around!

Liebster Award? Cool!

I was ever so kindly nominated for Liebster Award by endlessly creating. I am so grateful!

The Liebster Award is intended to recognize up-and-coming blogs with fewer than 200 followers.

There are some rules to follow when you get nominated:

– Post eleven facts about yourself Answer the questions posed by your nominator

– Pass the award on to eleven new recipients

– Post eleven new questions to your recipients

– Post a copy of the badge on your blog (Google image search “Liebster Award”)

– Notify your nominees and include links to the originating blog as well as the new recipients

Here Are My 11 Facts About Me

1. I was horrible at Mad Minutes when I was younger. I’m working on my Mad Minute scores along side my class.

2. I have been to the World Baton Twirling Championships 8 times.

3. I love celery.

4. I am terrified of spiders and bugs. I will avoid them at all costs.

5. I am trying to become an amateur herb gardener in my kitchen. So far, I am mildly unsuccessful.

6. I am officially a coffee addict.

7. I have finally kept a fish alive longer than 6 months..

8. Eight is my favourite number.

9. I really wish I was into reading. I want to be the person who curls up with good book every night, but I’m not.

10. I have stumbled upon ASMR videos on youtube — they induce that awesome tingling sensation and help me fall asleep. ASMRmassage is my favourite.

11. After I painted my entire townhouse interior, I ensured that all the switch plate cover screws were turned so that the lines on the screw heads were parallel to the floor.

Here Are My 11 Questions from Endlessly Creating

1. What inspires you?

I am inspired primarily by things I see and read about, especially on youtube and twitter. Amazing educators who share with the world are the most inspiring.

2. What’s your favorite book?

As I mentioned before, I’m not huge into reading a book. However, if I had to choose, my favourite book right now would be The Hip Girl’s Guide to Happy Homemaking. I’m still fumbling around being an adult, so I need all the awesome advice I can get.

3. Biggest pet peeve?

My biggest pet peeve is when someone does not put the “-ly” on an adverb. Example: drive safe should read drive safely. I don’t know why it bugs me, and I do it all the time.

4. Are you part of any fandoms, and to what extent do you participate?

I guess that I am a big fan of ASMR secretly (well, not anymore), and I’m also a huge fan of Steve Spangler!

5. Which fictional character would you most like to meet?

I would love to meet Mary Poppins and get some cleaning tips! Or Ms. Frizzle. She was the best.

6. When you get famous for whatever it is you’re doing, who would you most want to be interviewed by?

I would really really really want to be interviewed by Ellen. She is an amazing woman, advocate of good education, and just plain awesome.

7. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up?

I bounced around from teacher to other jobs then back to teacher. Some of the others included fire fighter, scientist, baton coach (which I’m currently doing as a hobby), environmental psychologist, lawyer, and engineer.

8. Favorite/least favorite subjects in school?

My least favourite subject in school was History. While interesting, I hated doing the assignments and tests.

9. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging for my ECMP 355 class back in my first year of university. I am so glad I started. It has certainly shaped the teacher I am today.

10. Which is better, the book or the movie?

Movie. It is faster, more efficient use of time, and more stimulating. (Especially since I rarely read the book before the movie comes out.)

11. If you had a band, what would you name it?

Well, since I have a minor obsession with singing about math, it would probably be something math-related. Perhaps Function F(x) or something way cooler. I haven’t given it much thought, but guaranteed I’ll be pondering this one for weeks.

11 Questions for My Nominees

1. What one thing could you live without in your life that you use daily?

2. If you could get any pet in the world, what would you choose and why?

3. If you got to study in a great library for one day, what would you study?

4. What is the most important thing in your life?

5. If you met yourself ten years ago, what advice would you tell yourself?

6. What inspires your blog posts?

7. Chicken or egg?

8. If you could be the star of a movie, what would the title and genre be?

9. If your life was made into a movie, who would star?

10. What is your favourite number and why?

11. Why do you get out of bed in the morning (what makes you tick)?

Change is Bad

Change is really hard to take, especially in education. Change is usually uncomfortable, and at times a nuisance. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Well, in a field as broad as education “broke” is not black and white. It’s not simply working or broken; sometimes, things can be bettered by an uncomfortable change.

Here is one of my many frames of reference: students like predictability. They like things they’ve done before. They like things to stay the same, and they seem quite complacent with the hierarchy of the class — the weak stay weak, and the strong shall remain strong. A change in teaching styles could shake up the hierarchy or at least make them uncomfortable. The students who tend to protest most about change are those who are at or near the top.

Photo credit to Sara Thibeault. (CC) 2013.

Photo credit to Sara Thibeault. (CC) 2013.

For instance, in one of my math classes, we will be starting a math circuit. I haven’t worked out the finer details of exactly whose doing what, where, when, and why, but I’ve got the basic concept down pat. I’ve decided to split my class into seven groups, loosely based on ability, but also on compatible workers. I created seven stations for my students to work at — Thibeault Time (3 on 1 instruction/help with me), Mad Minute (drill and practice on basic math skills), Math Mysteries (a few problems or related games to play), Practice (work time on an assignment, which they will visit twice), Literacy Time (reading at-level math history or math-related articles that I found), and Skill Check (a short quiz that students will take after they are ready to show mastery of a specific math process, or more practice time if they aren’t ready). I plan on working through 5 ten-minute rotations each day. I have a 62-minute class, and I’m allotting 5 minutes for Oh Canada/attendance/setup, as well as 5 one-minute breaks for rotation time, and two minutes for clean up. All of this will flow under the guidance of their individual learning contracts. This hopefully will minimize chaos and maximize awesome learning time. It’s going to be hectic and crazy, but I’m ready for the challenge.

Here’s the catch: I didn’t tell them about it. Why? I wanted to flip a unit with them (the polynomials one above, actually, with a few improvements) and they complained bitterly for days leading up to it. They were uncertainly about it for the first few days, and by the end they enjoyed it. A few students complained afterward too, and it was enough to rattle my confidence. So I went back to teaching on the board (not even the SmartBoard) and powered through the next unit.

The biggest complainers involved in this whole ordeal were the students, barring a few, who were at the top of the class. Maybe they were nervous that they weren’t going to be #1 anymore? Maybe they were nervous that it wasn’t going to work for them? Maybe they knew that they could coast and not have to do a ton of work with traditional teaching, so weren’t prepared to step u their game? I don’t know. I’ve seen it in a few of my other classes as well, and I’m a little disheartened by it. Just not enough to make me scrap my plans or kill my enthusiasm.

So this is where I stand — I have big plans for change in my classroom and students who are hesitant because it will be different and maybe even a bit awkward. Any advice for keeping them calm and getting them on-board? Also, has anyone else tried math stations in their classroom successfully (or unsuccessfully)?

“Miss Thibeault! I Have to Tell You Something!”

I hear that a lot lately. It is not limited to bad jokes, either.

I have been teaching Career Ed since September, and every term (half semester) I get a new class. I’m currently teaching my third Career class. I have to say, third time’s a charm!

I started my first class out with wordpress blogs, but my students found them confusing, and I had a hard time finding/orchastrating them. I was actually quite surprised at how difficult my students found it, as I was expecting them to have a better grasp of the technology than I did.

In my second go around, I moved over to Weebly (and completely overhauled my course). This solved a few problems for me. Firstly, it allowed me to create the usernames and passwords for my students, which solved the “Miss Thibeault! I don’t know my username or password” problem. Secondly, it had a better drag-and-drop-style interface that my students liked using. Once their sites were up and running, things went really smoothly. Lastly, it also let me move my class websites to one location. Previously, I’d been using wikispaces, but weebly seems to make more sense. I now have several pages that I use to keep track of daily work, as well as other classes. I’m still developing my site, but it is certainly user-friendly.

Now I’m on my third batch of Career 9 students. I reorganized my course even more than I did, and I also booked into the computer lab. I am trying to run this class without paper. I goofed and printed out a course outline on the first day, so I am on a mission to not printout another thing. We’ve even done tests without paper!

What is really inspiring about this though is the ownership this third class has over their sites. I give them their assignments, and they quite often do not have homework. However, a handful of students go home and post their own stuff on their sites. I now get a report from excited students the next class (it usually goes something like “Miss Thibeault! Did you read my blog last night??!?!?! I posted about this really cool thing! [Insert explanation almost word-for-word of what they posted]). I usually haven’t had a chance to check out their blogs the night before, but I always make a point of stopping what I’m doing to go see what they’ve been up to.

On of my students is into video games and animation. He asked me what my favourite animation program was. I really can’t say I’ve ever animated, so I told me all about his favourite sites. He and a partner used xtranormal for a presentation (they made it in under half an hour). He did a review on his site about the pros and cons. I have to say, it is pretty cool.

These conversations really drive how we are learning in the class. For instance, his xtranormal presentation got me thinking about how we can use that sort of technology in a productive, meaningful way. We are now going to be doing a mini-project recreating a video I have about resumes and interviews. I bought the video at Dollarama, but the quality is, well, AWFUL. What can you expect from a $2 movie? The information, however, is invaluable. I think I’ll split my class into small groups and get them to remake parts of the film (condensed), then splice them together to make one awesome video!

I am so grateful for my very engaged class. They are certainly making my job a ton of fun, easier, and more creative!