You Made A Great Decision

Choosing Miller Comprehensive Catholic Highschool was one of the best decisions you could have made. I firmly believe that this school is full of some of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life. 

To the new students, welcome. You are truly welcomed here, and I hope it is a great experience for you.

To the returning students, welcome back. Although summer vacation is great, it is nice to come back to see genuinely happy and positive people. 


Connecting the Harsh Truths of Education with Godin

I know one thing for sure, and that is- it is not easy being a teacher. Along with this fact, there are three other hard truths I have learned.

Discomfort is ok.

Seth Godin, a best selling author who has a blog and Twitter account I absolutely love, says in his book Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? that “the road to comfort is crowded and it rarely gets you there. Ironically, it’s those who seek out discomfort that are able to make a difference and find their footing…Discomfort means you’re doing something that others were unlikely to do, because they’re too busy hiding in the comfortable zone.” He is right.

Your Idea May Fail.

Sometimes people hesitate to try something new, such as implementing technology in the classroom, or trying a new approach to lesson because it has not been done before or they are scared of change. The idea is “if it works, then you have to do it. Then you have to do it again. Then you have to top it. If it works, your world changes” (Godin).  If your idea does not work, then you go back to where you started. Some teachers are stuck in this memorization and regurgitation mode because that is all they know, but could you imagine if the students embraced that mentality all their lives?  Repetition soon becomes comfortable, and once that happens nothing is challenging and we come full circle to Ken Robinson’s truth, that Schools Kill Creativity.

Some People do not want you to Succeed

Simply put “the temptation to sabotage the new thing is huge, precisely because the new thing might work” (Godin). I think back to certain times in my career where I witnessed, or experienced the criticism for new, different, approaches to teaching. Upon reflection, I realize that it is easy to criticize anyone who is doing something different because if he or she succeeds, it is likely that you’ll have to do something different too. God forbid people leave their comfort zone. At the same time, and this is Godin speaking here, isn’t it rather sad that some people “excessively criticize the work of [their] peers, thus unrealistically raising the bar for [their] own work.”

Please continue being great. If you are not trying to do great things, send me a Snapchat from the comfort zone because all you have probably fits in ten seconds or less.


Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action

I am not saying that a flipped classroom has all of the answers, but the students can benefit from one. A student can Google/research almost anything, and the smartest person in the room nowadays is not the teacher, but the person with the phone in his or her pocket. With that saying in mind, I like the idea of student driven activities, collaboration and inquiry done in the classroom, while the note taking and making is done at home.

Sara Thibeault and I are attempting to flip our grade 9 ELA classrooms. We are not experts, but we want to try out the concept and see where it can take us. I attached a letter that Sara created for her flipped math classroom in previous years that we tweaked for ELA to help explain our thoughts to students and parents. Flipped Classroom Information 2014

Just because we are keeners and want to go where we think education should be headed, we also started an outcomes based grading system. By start I mean we are implementing it with our Grade 9 ELA classrooms and it is a start for us, but others have done it before. There has been a lot of talk about what constitutes an 70% or an 80%, and should we be giving marks for comprehension/homework checks etc. when these are not outcomes that are mentioned in the Saskatchewan Curriculum. Quite frankly, I do not want a doctor who received 95% only because he handed in his papers on time.  As educators, we need to start looking at the big picture and focus on the outcomes that we are trying to achieve versus question, answer, regurgitation and memorization. Think back to your school days right now. Think about the board filled with notes, or the countless number of overheads you were told to write down. How much of it benefitted you? Can’t you simply Google what you forget? I am sure not all of it was a loss, and I am sure some great concepts were applied, but you and I were not learners of the 21st century. We did not have the answers literally at our fingertips with the touch of the button. New skills need to be implemented, and these skills should be assessed accordingly.

I attached a few documents that we are using.

Guide to Decoding My Gradebook – We tweaked another document Sara had done up for a previous math class. We hoped it helped parents and students see the method of assessing.

outcome based AR   Outcomes based CC Rubric   Outcomes Rubric CR  – These rubrics are the ONLY rubrics we are using for grade 9. They are specific to the outcomes in the Grade 9 ELA Saskatchewan Curriculum.

I am extremely excited to try this out. I firmly believe it is the step in the right direction in regards to assessment and teaching styles. One of my best friends works for a publishing company and when she meets professors from the surrounding areas she often asks them “what do you think your students will need or want in terms of technology in the classroom?” Sometimes the response is “the students do not use it/want it/need it.” Her follow up question is “my friend is currently implementing a flipped classroom concept in her highschool classes. How do you plan on preparing these students of the future when they come to you?” I hope they think about.

It must be a sign that change has to happen

I have been a teacher for 3 and a half years, and my views of education have been changing drastically over the last two years. (As they should considering I am learning more and the world is forever changing). It has come to my attention that I do not fully understand the education system, and I am unsure that I ever will.

I was a good student, and I did my homework, went to class, graduated with good marks, and went on to university like I thought any good student should do. I enrolled into the combined BEd BA program, mainly because I had no idea what I wanted to do and I was told that taking general classes was only for those who did not have a “life plan,” and I did not want to be considered one of those people. Anyway, I graduated with good marks in 2010 and received a job as a secondary teacher.

As it seemed my life generally followed the status quo. Therefore, it seemed just fine to teach how I have been taught, for the most part, as well. After all, the majority of educators around me are doing the same and I was taught that way in University. I mainly teach English, and I was/am a struggling beginning teacher so I stuck with the classics, and did some comprehension questions, some essays and tried to incorporate some new and “innovative” stuff. How terrible of me. I will be the first to admit that this mentality of how we were taught in school CANNOT be how we teach the learners of today.

The learners of today, the 21st Century learners are different. Any student can Google almost any book and take almost any question off of the Internet. Why are we still teaching for comprehension or memorization? I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, no one ever cares about Scout or Boo again,  once grade 11 is over or the AP test is written or English 100 is passed, so why as educators do we insist on teaching it? How is our teaching of today preparing students for the future? Quite frankly, most of it isn’t.

As an ELA teacher, I need to be careful to not slip into literature for literature’s sake.  Nothing is wrong with a good book or a classic book, but it should be used to look at themes and then have the students relate it to their life. English should be surrounded by inquiry, projects and wonder, versus chapter questions and essays.

I was brushing my teeth, thinking about my upcoming semester and how I am basically a hypocrite because if I was in a high school setting, I too would be ignoring my teacher, checking my twitter feed, Googling all of my homework, and finding things I was more interested in. I would not do it out of disrespect, but out of boredom and relevance. Yet, I am the one who (get ready to cringe) is questioning the students on Holden Caulfield’s stream of consciousness.  I laid in bed thinking about this, and turned to my twitter feed. I retweeted Marc Andreessen’s @pmarca “What’s the one thing you never do in a real job after you graduate from school? Take a test,”  simply because I liked the tweet. Alison Seaman @alisonseaman then shared with me an article written by him, and introduced me to Audrey Watters @audreywatters  and HackEducation. I read a few posts, and I only have a general idea, but I took this as a sign. I was just thinking that change is so very much needed in today’s education, and then BOOM I was immersed with numerous, awesome resources.

What it took me over 600 words to say is I am going to change teaching. I’ll start with small steps. It will be better. It is not terrible now, but I would like those 21st Century learners to learn 21st century skills.

A Flipped Classroom Concept #cue13

Slowly, but surely I will share more information that I took from the #cue13 conference. I attended a workshop called “Flipping the Secondary English Classroom ” and it was presented by an energetic, passionate Secondary ELA teacher named Kate Petty. @techclassroom Her resources can be found here

Up until this session I was under the impression that a flipped classroom meant more or less paperless and incorporating technology. I hadn’t read a lot of articles concerning it because I thought I knew the basic concepts. I was wrong. The flipped classroom is where the reading and instruction takes place at home, and then the work is done at the school. (I know that you probably knew that as a seasoned pro, but it was news to me)

I have to give Petty credit because she had an individual in the room asking a lot of questions, and she could answer them all. He asked things like “doesn’t this create more work for you? What if students don’t have their own iPads/computers etc? What if they don’t do the work at home? What if they don’t have Internet access at home?”

I do not remember all of her answers, but I can speak to these questions myself from what I have experienced.

I do not think that the flipped model creates more work, just different work. We go from planning 20-40 min lectures/power points/ discussion topics to simply posting the content online. I had a grade 12 student raise their hand during my last Prezi and she said “I don’t understand why teachers make us copy notes or read whats being projected while they talk! I can’t listen and read at the same time.” I stopped and said, “good point,” and did not talk for the rest of the Prezi. It then dawned on me that they don’t need me to read it out! I’d save a lot of valuable class time for all of us if I just posted the material. Plus, if the explanation is not there at first it gives the students time to think and figure it out instead of me immediately explaining it after the slide.

If students do not do the work prior to class, then they will be behind in their personal and group work. It’s not ideal, but what we are doing in classrooms now is not ideal either. It’s the same concept as if they didn’t do their homework that you assigned in class.

As for the technology issues, our school has iPads/computers for teachers to book out and share. Also, students have Internet assess before class, break, lunch and after school that allows them to do any work they may need.

The role of the teacher must change from a lecturer and being the centre of attention, to a guide and mentor. This does not mean that a teacher sits behind his or her desk. In my mind, as soon as the teacher disengages, it gives the impression that what the students are doing isn’t valuable. I like to model the behaviour I want to see in the room. Being at the desk marking, answering the odd question does not have the same affect as walking around, giving feedback, asking questions and giving positive praise. I think about myself, and if my professor or admin is presenting, but is not participating or helping with the task they give, I immediately take the “why should I do it?” attitude.

I have a lot to learn about the flipped model, but I am interested. I have tried a few things in my classroom that I have learned during this conference and I will discuss my experiences with them at a later time. It’s trial and error right now, but I am trying.

Making sense of #cue13

Cue the Resources for CUE

I have no idea how to sum up everything in a few blog posts. If I were to, it would take me a long time to type and then I would stop typing it before sharing it. I’ll make an attempt to share as much as possible in a timely way. After all, I know you are busy because you’re an educator.

The Computer Using Educators conference took place in Palm Springs in March.  They have them at other times too, but what is important to note is while I was gone I shopped, ate, learned and tanned in 30 degree, sunny weather while Regina endured a blizzard.

On Thursday, March 14th  I attended a session called “iPads and Literacy: Where Technology Meets the Book”   done by Andrew Smith. His resources are on his page, so I will talk about what I have done or plan to do with these apps.

Sock Puppets– Your voice/student voice- the puppet talks. Quick, fun, easy way for students to be heard without being seen. I attached some videos my class created for Romeo and Juliet under the Grade 9 ELA section. Their task was to “Sum up” Act One in thirty seconds or less. My instructions were unclear because some students made multiple videos up to 30 seconds, but that was my fault. I did this as a “test” for Act one. Previously, we read the play, did some questions (which helped to sum up what they read) and then did a test. I began questioning this process- why as educators are we teaching the same thing three different ways? Isn’t regurgitation pointless? The students were forced to remember the important parts of Act one, go back and re-read sections, create a script and then produce their final product. The students looked back at their notes and added in exact quotations and made it their own. In my mind, this type of experimental learning is more important than giving a standard test.

 Screen Chomp– sketch and narrate ideas and share. It’s a virtual whiteboard, and you can record everything you do and send it.  My grade 12s are trying this app within the next week or two, and I will share my thoughts and their projects at a later date.

Red Lite– Voice Recorder.  Easy to share, and organize notes. I can see some of my EAL students using this to share their ideas instead of writing. Shy students in class? Perhaps they can have their audio created prior to the presentation. It depends on the outcomes you are trying to achieve.

Chirbit and Red Laser – It generates QR codes that may be scanned and shared. The best part is that a student may record his or her voice and others will hear it when the code is scanned.  I am playing around with this one. I am finding that the Chirbit APP does not have a QR generator option, or it does and I cannot find it. The website allows numerous ways to share the voice thread, but I would rather have the generator in one central location rather than jumping from the app to the website.– Self explanatory, but  this website allows you to build an app. I haven’t played with it yet, but when I do I will post my thoughts.

That sums up what I took from the  first workshop. I am trying to take what I learned and implement it or use it in the classroom. There is a lot to learn, and a lot to do so I am hoping to do little things at a time. The key to successful technology/iPad integration is to go beyond the apps. I am not quite there yet. I find myself concentrating on the apps more, but I’m hoping to change for the better as I learn.