#FallisComing

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“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”   ~William Arthur Ward

On June 9th, 2014, I accepted my first teaching position and began putting together resources for the new school year. The start of school is now less than three weeks away and my anticipation is building with every passing moment.  I was browsing Reddit.com (as I tend to do every day) when I came across a post in a sub-Reddit specifically geared towards teachers (/r/teachers) that asked the question “How do I be an amazing teacher?”

I have often asked myself the same thing; “what things can I do to be a ‘good’ teacher?” and “what does a ‘good’ teacher look like?”  I did well enough in University so I should be fine… right? Right? This summer I read through a number of first-year teacher books in search of the answers to my questions. One of the most influential of the bunch came from Harry and Rosemary Wong, “The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher“.  This book emphasizes the importance of being prepared and gives practical examples of what being prepared looks like. So, I prepared.  I have lesson plans, unit plans, yearly plans, discipline plans, first day plans.  So… will I be an amazing teacher if I’m prepared?

One of the posts to the question on Reddit put so perfectly what I was missing.  I searched for the post today and was unable to find it so I will paraphrase to the best of my ability (the original was far better):  A great teacher is rarely remembered for their tests, assignments, lesson plans. A great teacher is remembered for their commitment to their students and for investing in their lives.  Being a constant in an inconsistent world and a building a relationship that goes beyond the subjects taught.  OK… so a great teacher has good relationships with their students. That message was made very clear throughout my time at University. Instruction is pointless without relationship.

As with most things in life, I suppose the answer really lies within both answers.  Obviously planning is important. I have been hired to instruct children and the curriculum sets out what they should learn this year. That is my job and to do my job well, I will need to be prepared.  As I think about it now, it is also apparent to me that to have good relationships with my students, I will also need to be prepared. I cannot imagine getting to know the lives of my students if my mind is consumed with all of the material we need to accomplish. Being prepared for the year allows me to spend more time with my students. As an added perk, it also allows be to spend more time with my family.

Another comment on the Reddit post struck me.  It said something to the effect of, and I paraphrase again: Good teachers come in all different packages. Some teachers are hilarious, some teachers are interesting and some teachers are inspirational. You can only be the teacher who you are. Find what works for you and how you connect with kids and run with it. It’s the same message we give to our students… be yourself and don’t try to be someone you are not. Wise words.

I am SO excited to begin my teaching career.  I have been waiting a very long time to teach my own classroom and watch my own students learn and grow. I am not naive enough to think that I will be an amazing teacher on day one.  I know that there will a lot of mistakes, opportunities to grow, and things I will need to adapt and change.  I am so thankful that I have a group of experienced teachers I can ask questions to and seek guidance from. #FallisComing and I can hardly wait another moment.

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Techie Teacher Tools

Teaching is an increasingly digital job.  Every day, I see new online tools that claim to make teaching ‘easier than ever’ and will ‘give me the free time I deserve.’   Most of these are, just as I’ve stated, claims.  I have, however, found a number of excellent teacher tools that have helped me be more effective and productive as a teacher.

1. GoAnimateI have used this tool in two different ways; as an engage tool at the beginning of a new unit or topic and as a tool for students to present.  In this tool, users create simple video’s using ‘comic book’ style characters. Once the character animations are set, you are able to add voice overs with your own voice or a computerized voice that is provided on the site.  There are free and paid options available but I find the free option more than enough for classroom use.

2. PowToonAlong the same lines as GoAnimate, PowToon allows users to create quick and easy presentations that look amazing.  PowToon utilizes a simple ‘stick-man’ style that comes across as clean and is very engaging.  I have had one of my students create a PowToon and it helped to elevate his presentation from a simple PowerPoint to something stylized and beautiful.

3. PollEverywhereAn old University favourite, I have used PollEverywhere to help gauge students prior knowledge before starting a new topic.  PollEverywhere allows you to ask multiple choice questions and get quick responses from your students from computers, smart phones, and other electronic devices that connect to the internet.  I have also used it as a ‘no-pressure’ math pre-assessment that lets me quickly see what areas need more attention without singling out students who are struggling.

4. TodaysMeet – It is amazing what can happen when you allow students to communicate with each other over the internet.  TodaysMeet allows you to create a close chatroom for your class.  Students who never raise their hand or seem to have nothing to say during classroom discussions come alive online.  The best part is that you can print a transcript of the chat session, giving you a lot of data for formative or summative assessments.  I find this tool works the best when I ask a large group question and wait to see every students response. I then allow students to respond to what other students have written and a dialogue occurs. 

5. Planboard Planboard is a tool I use everyday.  I have been trying to find an online Day Planner since my first moment in the classroom and have finally found one that work like it should and makes my job easier.   The ability to add classes on a rotation, move lessons to the next day with one click and add standards make this online planner stand out.   The ability to add and track standards take things to the next level.  On top of all this, the support is available all the time and I have literally received an answer to a question seconds after asking it.   This is one tool you definitely need to try out.

6. CCPensieveA pensieve is an ongoing record of what a student is doing.  The online version found at CCPensieve makes recording anecdotal records easier than ever.  This tool is designed to be used with the Daily 5 instructional strategy in literacy, but is also easily used in all other subject areas.  If you want to take your formative assessment to the next level, you need to check this one out.  Just a warning that it does cost $24 – $39 per year but this tool is more than worth the cost.

7. KeepVid Tired of having videos buffer halfway through showing them to your class?  Worried about showing video and the potentially inappropriate ones sites suggest you watch afterwards? If yes, KeepVid is for you.  This tool allows you to download videos from popular streaming sites allowing you to show video to class without worrying.  I love being able to download my videos before a lesson and having full confidence that the video will play as intended.

There you have it; my list of must have Techie Teacher Tools.  The tools listed here have made teaching easier for me and have made me a more effective educator.  If you have any other sites you thinks are a ‘must’ for teachers, please add them in the comments below.

Happy Teaching!!

Social Networks as Tools for Connecting

“How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” Seth Godin

“Local Call” by gfpeck

opinions on the purpose of Social Networks vary greatly from person to person.  Some will describe them as a distraction, self-indulgent, pointless or even dangerous.  I can see their point.   Do I really need to know what dish you made for supper and be forced to look at an Instagram of it?  Do I really think that the sporting event I am attending is SO important that I need to share it with the whole world?  Does the world really need to know that I’m leaving my house unattended for the weekend while I’m visiting my family out-of-province?  I suppose the obvious answer to these questions is ‘no.’  I must admit I use Social Networks in these ways, but there is one more way that I use Social Media that has changed (continues to change) the ways I connect with others.

For the most part,  I see Social Networks as a way to ask questions to people who would otherwise not be able to hear them.  On the flip side of that, I also see them as a way to hear the questions of other’s and to help where I am able too.  I will illustrate my point with a story.  The other day, a friend of mine asked on Facebook if anyone had a multi-region DVD player that they would be able to lend him so he could watch DVD’s from England.   It just so happened that I did have a multi-region DVD player sitting in my backyard (don’t ask) and I was more than willing to allow this person to have it.  This was made possible because: 1. He was able to ask the question; and 2. I was able to hear his question and respond.

Photo by: Funky Tee

I guess this is something people have been doing forever through bulletin boards and the like, but these have a limited range in the people they are able to reach.  Social Networks increase the range of my questions AND my ability to see the questions of other’s. As a future teacher, I think one of the most important lessons a student can learn is to ask questions.  Student’s need to be taught that their Facebook and Twitter accounts can be used to help with their homework or with questions they have.  I think to ignore the usefulness of Social Networks is to disadvantage yourself in a world of collaboration and interconnectedness.  Social Networks have allowed me the opportunity to be connected to a number of very smart people related to my fields of study, but have also allowed me the opportunity to hear the needs of others and to respond where I am able too.

This is How I Fell off the Horse (and how I got back on)

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” Abraham Lincoln

 

My first experience riding a horse was at a friend’s birthday party (I was probably about 7 or 8 at the time). I was placed on a horse and told to hang on for the short trail ride that would follow. I remember being unsure about being on such a large animal, but my mind could not think of a cleaver way to avoid the situations, so I instead decided just to endure it. The ride was pleasant at first, and I started to enjoy myself until the horse in front of us on the train decided that we were following to closely and kicked my horse in the head. This led to my horse becoming extremely agitated and eventually bucking me off.  From that moment on, I had a great fear of horses, convincing myself that they were not a beast I would trifle with any longer.

Failure is something that happens to all of us (some more often than others it seems). Dwarfing my fear of horses, was my fear of and hesitation in going back to school.  My initial attempt at a post-secondary education was with a small college in southern Manitoba, Canada.  I had all the right ingredients for success; I was interested in the subject matter, I had success in my high school English, History, and Arts classes, and I had taken the right classes to ensure admission into a post-secondary institution. I was meant to succeed.  But I didn’t. I failed. The first time I failed I chalked it up to being fresh out of high school and having to adjust to a new type of school.  The second time I failed, the reasons I used to explain away my shortcomings (a.k.a. excuses) were much less effective.

 

My flight or fight response kicked in at this moment, and I decided to flee. I did not want to be around anyone or anything that would remind me of my failure. I worked out a situation where I was living on my own and had a lot of time to think, reflect and come to terms with what had transpired in the last 3 years of my life.  In my reflection, I noticed a couple of areas in my life that led to my failings. First, I took for granted that I would succeed, and as such, did not take my classes as seriously as I should have. I learnt that if I was going to be successful, I would need to learn how to treat the classroom as a job where my performance was being evaluated on a regular basis. I also realized that while I was struggling in school, I was portraying an image of success to my friends, peers, and family. To them, everything looked fine.  This allowed me to hide the struggles I was having, but also forced me to go through them alone.  I had people in my life who would be willing to help, but my pride kept me from asking for any.  If I was going to succeed, I would need to learn how to ask for help. Living alone was very hard at times and I often found myself feeling sorry for my situation.  This was the greatest area of my life that needed to change.  I realized that I would need to suck it up and to see my failures for the growth that they had spurred, not for an excuse to give up.

While living on my own, I had been working as an Education Assistant at a local high school.  Here I learnt that I had a passion for seeing young people learn and grow.  Ideas of becoming a teacher had floated around in my mind, and I knew that I wanted to go back to school (for the third time now) and become a teacher.  I understood this would not be an easy process (and it wasn’t), but I was committed and felt that I had learnt enough from my previous experiences to finally be successful.  After taking some classes (to boost my confidence and my overall GPA), I applied to the Faculty of Education and was denied. This stung, but I was used to failure and decided that I would try again in the next year.  My second application to the Faculty of Education was accepted and I was finally on my way.

I now have a network of people I trust to help edit my work, which slowly made me a better writer.  This time around, I expect my classes to be difficult and stretching for me.  I no longer see ’school’ as a stepping stone on my way to a career, but rather a process by where I can grow my understand of my craft (teaching) and can make connections with like-minded people.  I have also learned to not hide my shortcomings, but to learn how to grow from them.  If I come to a difficult problem (whether in school, life, or work) I know that there are people who are willing to help me succeed.

A couple of years ago, my wife Megan and I were invited to ride horses at a camp where we are counsellors. I had been on a kick of facing my fears and decided it was time to get back on a horse and learn how to ride.  To my surprise, I throughly enjoyed the ride and got to see my own fear dissipate.  If you have failed at something in life, I would ask you to heed the advice given in the two quotations at the top of this post and trust me, if I can make a comeback, so and you.  The only real failure is when you give up.

Rise of Nations. Fit for the Classroom?

This week our Tech Task in my ECMP335 class was to find and play an educational game and write a short review about it.  I have always been a fan of RTS (real-time strategy) games, and thought that the historical context of Rise of Nations may make it suitable for classroom use.  The game itself is quite similar to the Civilizations franchise in that it allows you to start with a small group of nomadic people and slowly grow their colony into multiple cities, eventually advancing to the Information Age. The game includes historical information the the Wonder’s of the World and asks the players to find a balance between developing your economy, your military, and expanding the size of your nation.

While very entertaining and engaging, I found that I would not have noticed the connections to the historical world had I not been specifically looking for them.   While I feel that educational games (or games that include educational elements like Civilizations or Rise of Nations) can be used to teach while at the same time creating an exciting engaging environment, I don’t believe that this translates well into the classroom.  I think as a future educator I will need to look at everything I do with a critical lens and examine the best ways to teach.  I don’t think technology should be used simply because it is the ‘next greatest thing’ or that it will ‘make teaching easier’ but instead should be viewed as another tool.   A tool that needs to be used in a calculated way to maximize its affect on students.

As a teacher, I always want to be doing the best thing for my students and if I am being honest, I don’t think that games like Rise of Nations facilitate a deeper learning than researching a textbook. That said, I know different people learn differently, but I feel that a game like this is something that would teach students, but one that should be played in the home instead of some other games.  I also think that as educators, we need to look at what games are doing correctly that engages participants so deeply.  By understanding those elements, perhaps we will be able to create lessons that spur the same connection and ultimately, deeper learning and understanding.

More to ponder I suppose.

D.

Mid-Semester Blues

As the school year continues on, I’m starting to feel tired, fed up and finished.  It’s that old familiar friend, the mid-semester blues. Mid-terms are finished, which is nice, but I am hit with the realization that finals (and due dates for final projects) are right around the corner.  This, mixed with the continued pressures of work, volunteer and home life commitments, can feel overwhelming to say the least.  My initial reaction to feeling overwhelmed is to completely shut down, which at this stage of the game would be devastating. In an attempt to rid myself of the blues and refocus, I felt that I should share some strategies that have helped me in the past, and that I have found online.

Photo by: anna guttermuth

First, I think it is important to make lists of what has to be done and then check off the tasks that are complete (this was one my wife told me about).  I often find myself making mental lists of everything I have to do, and then simply repeating this list over and over in my head, the whole time thinking that I have SO MUCH to do and no time to do it.  When I wrote everything down on paper, I was able to get it out of my head and see that I really only had 8 different tasks to accomplish, which felt a lot more manageable than the seemingly endless tasks running through my mind. Then, once I had completed a task, I put a check mark beside it and would see my progression and how much I had accomplished.  This works particularly well when you have set aside a weekend to work on papers.

Photo by: mysza831

As I have mentioned before, I think it is vitally important to continue exercise and healthy eating habits.  It is even harder to stay focused when my body is coming down from a carb or sugar high, so keeping these to a minimal helps maintain balance in my emotional state, which makes me a better student. I also like to clean, do yardwork, or laundry as a means of helping to stay sane. School can often feel like a task that never has an end, and doing smaller jobs that I can start and finish in an hour helps to lift my spirits. It also keeps my house clean, which is a nice perk.

Photo by: jovike

Also, I always make sure I take time for myself.  The hardest part about this is feeling guilty before, during, and afterwords.  Don’t though.  If you are organized (using your list from the first tip) you will know that you have some free time to NOT think about school work.  I hope some of these can help you.  If you would like to have some further reading, check out these great resources:

www.collegefashion.net

ls-update.berkeley.edu

www.hercampus.com

Have a great day! D.

Education Rehash

Before I begin this post, a quick disclaimer:  The ideas presented and discussed in this blog post are coming from my own brain and are based on the learning I have been experiencing this semester.  If any ideas are presented here were yours first, I apologize for not recognizing you (and please feel free to post a comment stating that this thought was yours first).
 

Photo by: kharied

Ok. This semester I have been learning a lot about how the current system of education in Saskatchewan may be failing the majority of the student population.  The bulk of instruction has been based on the fact that change needs to occur, but very little has been said about how this change will occur or what it will look like.  I have learnt, through lecturers like Sir Ken Robinson, that the education system we are using is largely the same as one that was used 100 years ago and that a paradigm shift is needed to administer better education.  This disproportion leads me to believe that we do not have an answer to this question quite yet (perhaps answers come in years 3 and/or 4).

Now I know some questions simply do not have answers, but my gut tells me that this one does. I asked myself this question (how can the education system change to better suit the needs of the majority of students?) in conjunction with another; if the I could recreate the education system from the ground-up, what would it look like? Now, before I proceed, I want to be clear that I’m still not entirely convinced that the old system is wrong.  I mean, I learnt the traditional way and have turned into a functioning member of society.  So I’m not saying that these changes are ones I desire to see, just simply another way of looking at eduction.

In my recreation, schools would no longer be organized by age.  Instead, they would be organized by levels, much like the current University system.  I imagine there would need to be at least 9 different levels.   Requirements for graduation would also change to something like needing 20 classes of each level (I know that only gives 180 classes but work with me here… make it 30 of each level if that makes you happy).  Let’s say that a student would need 3 Math classes of each level.  At the different levels you could have “Math 501: Mathematics of Cooking” and “Math 502: Mathematics of Woodworking” where each class would offer instruction in the basic skills of math (i.e. fractions, algebra) but they give the students the option to choose the math that they want to learn that is relevent to them (Side Note:  As I start to transpose my ideas from my brain to my computer I realize that they look a little silly but I still want to flesh this out… even just to prove to myself that it is nonsense).

Students would also be able to choose how and when they would like the take the required classes.  If I am an early riser (or if Tuesdays happen to be a very busy sports day or something), I would be able to choose classes that we in the morning (or avoid classes on Tuesdays).  I know this sounds a lot like University, but I feel this type of  a system would work well in the school system as well.the increase of access to online, it is also possible that classes would be administered online, where students from around the globe would be able to learn from the best of the best in their selected subjects.

Photo by: ~Aphrodite

Just by writing this all out, I can see some major flaws with this type of system.  How would this work for younger students (5-10) who wouldn’t know how/what to choose, or how to participate appropriately in online classes (or maybe I’m not giving them enough credit).   Also, we would need to have teachers who have diverse skills and perhaps many more teachers.  This would be solved by the use of the online classroom, but that has its flaws as well.  Not all people yet have access to the internet and it would be a grave mistake to give greater opportunity to those students who have access to technology. Children also need to be given some structure, and this system has the potential to give too much freedom.

The type of system I have described also has many advantages.  Students who are given choice may find their subjects to be more relevent and may be able to develop a deeper understanding.  Students also have many more commitments outside of school and would be able to organize their school schedule to better match their extra-curricular schedule.

Wow.. it feels good to get that out of my brain.  I hope this post has at least made you think about the current system and how you would change it if you could.  Thank you for letting me unload my thoughts on you.  Have a great day!

D.