Tag Archive | teaching

Smell The Roses

I really enjoy long-range planning. One of my favourite parts planning is calculating the number of hours each unit should have, then deciding on major assessment types, and finding really awesome projects. Long-range planning is so mystical and so hopeful. I’m not one to say that I stray from my long-range plans, per se, but some of the most wonderful ideas I have tend to slowly disappear when I discover just how much I need to accomplish in the allotted 13 hours for a specific unit. It sure doesn’t leave too much time for an in-depth inquiry project, complete with student-experts, student-generated media, and learning centres. While I’m certain it could be done (and I’m more than certain it has been done), it seems almost too daunting to take such a time risk at this point in my career. For example, investing two weeks into an inquiry project that should cover the majority of a unit would be FANTASTIC. However, if it flops I’m going to be two whole weeks behind, which stresses me out!

I’m slowly working myself up to more involved, student-centred lessons that stretch on for more than an hour or two in order for students to really dig into the curriculum with their own shovels. Currently, I’m about four hours into some inquiry for Ancient Rome in Social Studies 9, and it’s going well, but only time will tell. My assessments at this point are looking awfully hopeful though.

I am also teaching Modified Science 9. This class has taught me a lot (with more enlightened blog posts to follow, but I’ll stay on topic here), but in particular, I’ve learned to “smell the roses.” I feel significantly less time pressure with this class because we don’t have to explore the topics as deeply as regular programming. This lets me figure out what truly interests the students and use that topic as a launch pad for many lessons to come. This serves many purposes, including helping the students find a point of reference for the majority of each unit. They are significantly more interested because they are learning about things that interest them (while secretly covering the same curriculum from a different view).

A few days ago, I was stopped in my tracks with astonishment about quickly we were whipping through the current unit. I took the unit I taught last year in the regular programming and altered it to be at the appropriate level, which meant removing a few topics and supplementing them with similar topics that would be lower level and easier to work through. I started adding in the course work from my regular course in the last few days, and to my surprise they are absolutely crushing it. While my assessments and assignments differ a bit, the concepts are the same and I’m instructing with the same level of difficulty that I did last year.

This shocked me for two reasons: firstly, I was amazed at how well they are connecting their learning (something that I hadn’t seen earlier in the semester), and secondly, I was impressed with the fact that I stopped to smell the roses AND covered all the course work with no problems.

This is making me revisit my other courses to see what roses we’ve ran past in a race against the clock. It continues to affirm that student-ownership is hugely important in their retention and their willingness to learn. These “roses” are invaluable and could even potentially save time for more wonderful roses, even though it seems like they are only taking more precious time.


Political Education: No Need for a Class. It’s Everywhere.

Today, Mike asked us to critique Dr. Shor’s classroom as if we were an administrator who got a complaint that his classroom was too political. The anecdote was an excerpt from “First Day of Class: Passing the Test.” I would post a link, but it is only available to me in hard copy.

Time to put my administrator hat on.


Dr. Shor’s class is very political. I don’t deny that. However, education is political—that is the nature of it. Everyone comes into the classroom with their own set of beliefs. It is impossible to dodge that. Regardless of whether you are teaching a math class, a drama class, or an English class, your beliefs are going to seep into your teaching. The same goes for your students; their opinions and beliefs are going to seep into whatever they do too.

Dr. Shor is very wise to not suppress these beliefs. It is impossible to hide from them, so why not engage these beliefs as a platform for teaching the course. By doing so, he can engage all learners—after all, everyone has an opinion—and dig deeper into the curriculum.

Interestingly, Dr. Shor was using the discussion in class to teach the curriculum. Part of being a good writer is an ability to analyze, see different points of views, make a succinct argument, and justify your thoughts. I don’t see any other way to teach such skills other than by raising political issues that clearly have many available views to discuss as a class.

Many of the topics Dr. Shor discussed were controversial, such as abortion, teen pregnancy, etc. I can understand why some students might find this sort of discussion uncomfortable or inappropriate. Some might even find them offensive. A lot of these issues have the potential to be very personal to each student. It is impossible to find a topic with two sides to it that couldn’t possibly have any links or ties to students’ personal lives. However, Dr. Shor never forced any students into a discussion. Yes, he encouraged them, but he never forced them. Part of what makes a good class discussion and debate is that people tend to be emotionally invested in the topics. Having that personal frame of reference enables students to really connect with the topic, rather than doing some superficial research that they don’t care about only to present it one day and forget it the next. I commend Dr. Shor on beginning the class talking about the standardized test–it enabled his students to open up and share in a safe environment. They were sharing about something that they were passionate about and had a personal connection to. Doing so set the stage for his class to be a safe place for sharing.

Being political in class is inherent. Being outwardly political in class has its time and its place. Dr. Shor found that time and place. He created a safe learning environment, and he saw his students succeed. I see nothing wrong with his approaches and I will continue to support him.

What do you think?

Just one of those days… or so I thought…


Well, you know when you get sick? You feel like you got hit with semi truck and want to curl up and die. Solution: drugs – lots of drugs. Tylenol, halls, cold remedies gallore. Been there, done that. So I got sick about a week ago. I thought clearly it would be gone by now. Boy, was I wrong. I felt almost not horrible when I woke up this morning. I still managed to oversleep, but got to where I was headed only a few moments late (no biggy). So, before I left the house I made a fruit and yogurt smoothie (yum!) and popped a few tylenol cold and all my vitamins. So after I finished my classes, I met up with friends for coffee which was well deserved and much needed, and also made me feel better (don’t you just love how friends can do that?). So I finally got home, in time for lunch. So I made lunch ate it, and felt like I could fall asleep. So I curled up in a ball and just rested (I didn’t actually fall asleep, darn). I came to my senses and ran the errands that needed running, entaling about an hour of driving, for less than three minutes total of actual errands. Needless to say, when you’re sick, that’s a pain in the neck. Eventually I headed out to Moose Jaw to coach. When I got there (and two tylenol colds later), I felt a little better. The quiet drive was actually nice, in a way. When I got to class, after some confusion with my new boss about signing this and that, I got to teach, which is obviously my passion. That was so much fun. I felt not sick and not horrible at all, minus the scratchy voice. Isn’t it great how such simple things in life work about a thousand times better than any drug?

So eventually I got home. I layed down on the couch and watched a little bit of tv. I came in to my room and checked email and decided to tidy up a little, as my room is a bit of an, ahem, organized clutter. [Here is where I actually get to my origonal reason for writing the blog]. I started picking up clothes off my bed. One of my favourite time killers is figuring out what to wear and building outfits (I’m starting to actually get the hang of it, finally!), and as of late I’ve been trying to figure out what to wear to my first day of preservice teacher experience in an elementary school. I got my “posting” on Thursday afternoon, but I have been overly excited for so long, I might have jumped the gun and started picking out possible outfits about a week ago. So anyway, as I was putting away blazers and pants and shirts and skirts, I tried on a few things that I hadn’t thought could go together. I was right. But just as I was actually cleaning up, I had a light bulb moment. I finally figured it out! I know exactly what I am going to wear.

Being one of those people who like to be early, have everything organized perfectly (I know, why is my room in a state of organized clutter, as I so delicately put it? Honestly, I have no clue why I am a messy child), prepared ahead of time, I need to start to prepare early. I really don’t like the unexpected and I really do not like last minute problems, so now I can sleep easy knowing that I don’t have to worry about that. While it is somewhat small and insignificant, I feel a lot better. Oh, and I also feel better (as in not so sick) too!

My Personal Learning

Well, as you all know, learning is not the same for anyone. This task has begged me, in a sense, to reflect on how I learn. Well, in this reflection, it dawned on me that I am an independant type learner, if that makes sense. To illustrate I have a story from what happened this weekend to me (I’ll change the names to protect identities):

So I was in Saskatoon for an annual baton clinic this weekend. We had two guest coaches come in: David* from the US and Sheena* from Japan. During this clinic, coaches are able to sit in a watch what we learn from the clinicians, which is always very interesting and different from what we usually learn. So, I was in David’s class Sunday morning and he had taught us a new combination and the ending trick was pretty hard and no one was getting it. So, my coach, Jennifer*, in her old age and “wisdom” decided to tell me I was doing it all wrong and I was horrible at the whole combination to “motivate” me to do it correctly. Grrrrr. So she came over and was up in my face trying to “teach it to me properly” when David had just come over to tell me I was doing it well and was on the right track. I know it wasn’t good yet, but I just got very frustrated because I wanted to get it on my own. I love to figure things out and when she came over to help, it just got me more angry and less like I wanted to do it. I noticed that before she came over, I kind of liked the trick, but as soon as she “helped” me I started hating the trick. I mean, call it selfish, but I like doing things on my own, for myself, at my pace, not yours. It bugs me when people try to force-teach me.

Being an independant learner has served me pretty well so far. Mostly I can take care of myself for school and its good because I can work at my own pace (usually faster than the class’ pace). But at baton, I have a rather “controlling” coach, so it tends to clash and cause some grief for me.

Outside of being an independant learner, which I do know isn’t an actual defined style of learning, I would have to say I am a big salad of some of the other types of learning – by this I mean its not a perfect blend and it depends of the task or subject (the fork full of salad) as to which I use. For math, I am a visual learner – if I can see where everything goes, then I can do it and then visualize it really well. I also like to know more than just “thats just how it is.” I like knowing where my formulas came from.

For language, I am one of the people who has to have strict rules and everything needs to stick to where it goes. I am big on following all of the rules to the T, so when there are deviants, there better be a loopole specifically stated to include the deviant word, such as neighbour, weigh, etc. I also like to hear things. Okay, so this is a big secret: when I am at home alone doing homework such as reading a play or short story or something along those lines, I have to read aloud to myself or none of it registers. I love to act it out and do voices and I just go all out, but it’s the only way I can get it into my head.

For anything physical, I really struggle, unless I know the science behind it. If I can figure out the physics of a baton trick, for example, then it is a piece of cake, but otherwise, I’m lost. I always need a purpose for moving a specific way.

So, as you probably have guessed, I like to learn in general, but specifically about physics, math, and (big surprise) baton. I also like to learn about unusual things, such as background info about common things (like did you know that Chicago’s World’s Columbian Expo in 1893 was actually supposed to be held in 1892 to commemorate Columbus’ discovery of America 400 years previously, but do to a short time line, it was delayed to start May 1 the following year. Yes, I know I am just that random). I love to learn about history and origins, and then be able to make connections to things I already knew.

As far as my learning network is concerned, it is pretty tiny. I know my teachers, my coaches, my friends, the internet, the library, and thats about it. I have a few teachers on my RSS feed, but other than that, its pretty small. I guess I could say, as far as know people in baton as a network, its pretty big, as in most of the top coaches in the world, but still, they live far away and I don’t think they have blogs or anything like that.

So just to bring a little closer to this ordeal, does anyone have any suggestions to help me cope with my controlling coach? I’ve tried everything it seems, but she refuses to let me do it on my own… your help would be much loved!

Here is everyone who was at my clinic this weekend.

Here is everyone who was at my clinic this weekend.

Google Teaching Tools

Hi everybody!

So for this week, I decided to put google to the test (as per our assignment). I started off by just checking out the site and what it has to offer. I noticed a really awesome page for teachers to use with their students ( http://www.google.com/educators/index.html ). It displays recent projects and news from google so currently most of it is a bunch of links to election related material. Although I am not a social teacher, I think that these could be very good resources to use to get my students to write about for an english class (for example). It has mock elections, election video links, a “Letters to the next president” (I’m hoping they come out with a Canadian edition soon!), and lots of other great tools. I think this would be so helpful in teaching students about politics and national issues, or at least provide a topic to spark an interest for an assignment. I wish that my teacher (especially social studies) had used something like this to get me interested, excited, or even just informed about what is actually going on in the political world. I really hope they come out with a Canadian version, though. If they do, I will definitly try to incorperate it into my class.

I also found a page of google related posters. Some of them would be helpful to display near and computer, especially if I plan on using google tools. I don’t know that they would be all that helpful, but for students to have a reminder of how the tool their are using works, then I might hang up a poster or two.

Finally, I stumbled upon at site called “Google Lit Trips”( http://www.googlelittrips.com/ ) which basically uses google earth to “fly over” the cities or places mentioned in various books. This would be helpful for students to actually see what they reading about or follow the path of a character over the course of a chapter, or even an entire book. This is an excellent idea for better comprehension and would be what I would think to be a fun activity for students to do. There are also lots of helpful links on the page with various teacher’s guides etc., to use for inspiration.

I only have two big problems with the Teacher Tools. Firstly, as I said above, its not Canadian, so there won’t be some material that Canadian teachers might want. Secondly (and this is a big secondly), there is not a full subject range of tools. There is absolutely nothing (that I could find) that is even remotely math related. Being a math major, this disappointed me a lot.

Overall, for the general teaching population, this would be a GREAT site to use, but for a select few Canadian math teachers, probably not so much.

New Tool

So I decided to review a search engine I found called dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com/) using the “Open Thinking Wiki” site (http://couros.wikispaces.com/tools). It is pretty good and I have found it already useful.

In order to get my stamp of approval, I sent it through as series of very rigorous tests – I searched my name, my name with other words (Sara Thibeault and baton twirling), hard to find quotes, and other typical and generally unsuccessful searches. Surprisingly, it turned up several useful results for almost all of my searches. The only draw back, even though there was a lot of useful results, there were a lot of useless, junk results.

But dogpile doesn’t just have a great search engine, it also features an image search, audio search (didn’t even know these existed!), video search, news search, the yellow pages of every state in America, and the white pages of every state in America (including a reverse phone book search indicated name, age, and location of number holder). While the last two features only are helpful in USA, the rest are very exciting and very useful.

As a teacher I could use this to more easily find information, or get students to use it. It is very user friendly. I remember countless presentations where the teachers said to use pictures, sound, and video clips to enhance our projects, and I recall never being able to find suitable material, at least easily.

I do have one criticism: in the search engine, there is no dictionary. On google you can type “define: something” and it will give you multiple definitions of “something” from various glossaries and dictionaries on the web. This would be a useful tool to add to the site.

Overall, I will definitely continue to use this as my search engine. I’ll keep you posted with my latest findings! All I have to say is, sorry google – you are no longer my favourite search engine!

Teaching Experience

Hi everyone,

So I figure I had such a great experience yesterday, that I should write about it and get some input.

So as a new coach/teacher, I began coaching baton (with a mentor coach and an assistant) last year in Moose Jaw. It was a great experience and I learned a lot last year. This year, I have taken it on with more students, no assistant, and my mentor is letting me take most of the control. I had my first “on my own” lesson yesterday. Oh boy, it was very very exciting to be solely in charge. I had a few new students and few who were returning from last year. The first five minutes of class were the toughest – I had to talk about safety (when you have small children with steel pipes in their hand, things tend to become rather hazardous!), introduce myself, sort out attendance, talk about appropriate apparel for class – mostly just housekeeping things that needed to be said. Everyone looked up at me (well, some of them were almost as tall as me – being short is a slight disadvantage) eager to learn after my quick talk. So I just started. I had created a lesson plan before I left, which was a very good thing. Had I not, there would have been utter chaos. But I just jumped right in and the next thing I knew the lesson was almost over! So we had a quick water/bathroom break, learned a little bit more, and reviewed the day. Before they left, I sat them all down had handed out a tree’s worth of notes to take home for their parents to read/sign/etc. All in all, I felt it had been a pretty successful lesson, and in my opinion, one of the best lessons I had ever taught (all on my own, yay!).

So I was feeling pretty good about what had just taken place, when I realized why one of the girls who had been pretty focussed and calm until the water/bathroom break had suddenly become squirmy, unfocussed and refusing to be in the front row in the class (I rotate through rows regularly so everyone gets equal time in the front and back). It dawned on me that she was the one who asked for the bathroom break – and for a good reason. She’d wet herself. I didn’t notice until the end of class because she was wearing black pants. Now, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t want to draw attention to her because I didn’t want to embarrass her, but what should I tell the girls next week? I want to make it clear that it is okay for them to ask to go to the washroom and I will always say yes, especially in an emergancy, but I don’t want anyone to catch on as to why I’m telling them this. I really have no clue about how to go about this dilema. Any suggestions, or should I not say anything at all?