Saturday, 13 October 2012

Time is flying by!

I have a hard time believing its been six weeks since I began teaching at Mohawk College, and I honestly think I have learned as much during this time from my students as they have learned from me. I feel so fortunate to be teaching such an amazing group of individuals who all have so much to offer. I am constantly humbled by their perseverance, determination, and positive attitude about life. I have two of the nicest and happiest people I have ever had the good fortune to meet in my class, and it is incredible to see the effect they are having on the students in our class, the College as a whole, as well as all the Faculty - truly inspiring!

A week into teaching at Mohawk the Associate Dean offered me another course to teach in their 'School Within a College' (SWAC) Program on the Social Impact and Ethical Issues Technology is having on Society. This course is for at-risk high school students to provide them a College experience. This is such a fascinating course and a joy to teach. Beginning with some history of technology, we have also discussed Marshal McLuhan's theory about technologies 'extending' and 'amputating' skills, and his TETRAD model for theoretically assessing, analyzing, and predicting social effects on society. Although my students found these topics quite intriguing, it has been our more recent topics of applying ethical arguments to the use of technology, as well as discussing GMOs that has really peaked their interest. I myself have a very keen interest in these issues, and love sharing and discussing the positives and negatives of these issues because generally speaking most have not considered where their food comes from, and what goes into it. Just as teaching my other courses for students with special needs, I find this course just as inspiring and challenging in finding ways to reach these students who in most cases have never had someone there to fight for them, or to provide them assurance in life. They are doing so well, and I only hope I am able to continue to inspire them to believe that they can achieve anything if they put their minds to it.

One of the biggest eye-opening experiences I have had thus far is the level of differentiated-instruction required when teaching a computer skills course to twenty special needs students. Over the weeks I have made adjustments and find I am really finding my groove now in reaching every students preferred learning style. The combination of preparing PowerPoint slides with step-by-step instructions on the projector, as well as printed off for students to follow, and encouraging students to teach the class and a buddy the skills as we proceed seems to be very effective - and a joy to teach! Absolutely love it when I crack a joke and ask a student to show the class and I get a huge smile and a "Yeah buddy!" back. These past two weeks we have been learning how to use Microsoft PowerPoint, and yesterday the students began working on their own Presentation which demonstrates all the skills learned, as well as recording the presentation to share next week. I am really proud of them, and their focus level - and although I like a chatty classroom because it feels alive and interactive; it was quite amazing whilst eery when the classroom was very silent due to the level of focus on their work.

Back in May I attended the 3-day TRIBES training course, and am a huge fan of the activities, the inclusion and community it creates. I have used these activities every week in each of my classes, and I really feel as though it has brought our group together to a level that without would have taken much longer. The camaraderie and respect amongst my students is amazing, and it really does make your heart twinge a bit when you see them helping each other out. One of the best examples of this was last week we attended the Tim Horton's Camp at Onondoga Farm with the Recreation and Therapy Students from Mohawk College who we partner with. One of my students has a walker, and for the camp we provided an all-terrain wheel chair. Everyone was so accommodating and helpful in pushing the student around and making them feel welcome - just amazing! The day at the Camp was fantastic, and it was great to see friendships continue to blossom. Not to mention the fantastic activities we got to participate in. I was fortunate enough to participate in the mountain biking, flying fox, and nature walk with some of my students. It was great to see the students really start to come out of their shell, and one student in particular I had never seen smile so much - and is still smiling! 

Similar to my students, I feel I am really finding my groove teaching at the College. I continue to adapt and modify my lessons and teaching strategies for each student, and this very flexibility is the same skill I am teaching them in adapting to the curveballs life throws us. As I always remind them - "Every day in every way, life gets better and better!" - a quote my Mom told me.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

I'm now an Instructor

It still gives me goosebumps to call myself an instructor or teacher, and no longer a 'student-teacher', but after finishing my first week teaching at Mohawk College I indeed can do just that. I must confess it feels absolutely incredible! I feel so fortunate and privileged to be teaching an amazing group of students in the CICE (Community Integration and Continuing Education) Program. Already I can tell that I am going to learn just as much from these individuals as I hope they will from me. It is so inspiring working with these students who have all gone through great lengths, determination, perseverance, and against all odds, to attend College; and as such I feel a great responsibility to do everything I can to make them not only succeed in College, but give them the confidence to succeed in the years following their graduation.

From their first day of orientation the level of excitement amongst this group is infectious. I feel so energized by this group, and after teaching my first two classes this week: Recreation Activities and Computer Skills I think I've returned the favour. Being a huge fan of TRIBES having completed my training in May, I felt using some of those methods my first week was an obvious way to kick off. The icebreakers and group forming techniques such as "Name Wave" and "Silent line up" to get to know each other and form groups were so much fun, and quickly introduced everyone as well as creating focus and groupings.

Ways to fight stress.
I really enjoyed our first class topic of Stress Management techniques where we did a graffiti exercise to come up with ways to combat or deflate stress. The students came up with some fantastic ideas which I was really proud of. Afterwards we did some breathing exercises and a muscle relaxation whilst focusing on our breathing. Was so much fun, and as it was my first time orchestrating one of these I think I pulled it off! Was a fantastic start to our class.

Yesterday I taught our first Computer Skills class where after covering the course outline we learned about computer etiquette and completed an online scavenger hunt as a form of a skills diagnostic to see where everyone's strengths and weaknesses are. To complete the diagnostic I asked the students to tell me their strengths, weaknesses, and what they want to learn; and email me their responses. It was great to see everyone helping each other out, and definitely provided me with a clear idea of the pace and level of my students, as well as where their interests lay. I found using TodaysMeet to be a great way for the students to brainstorm their ideas of what Computer Etqiuette entails, and fosterred a great class discussion from it. I cannot stress enough how much of a pleasure it was to teach this class, and how amazing it was to watch the students all help each other out in the scavenger hunt, opening TodaysMeet, and figuring out how to email me their exit card. What a great bunch of students I have! So excited for next week where we're going to learn about Microsoft Word.

Lesson's learned

I'm a tad bit taller...
It's been four months since my second teaching placement in a Grade 1/2 split class ended, and I thought it would be a good time to think back about the main things I learned - what stuck out in my mind.

Tableau during reading of
"3 Little Pigs" - the wolf
fell down
Lesson 1 - Have fun! I had so much fun teaching this young age group, and it was amazing how much the students could retain or learn when you made the class as exciting as possible. Whether it was through incorporating drama, art, a little theatre, technology, moving around, or singing/dancing - when the kids were laughing and moving they remembered what we were learning! One example was in dance we played "Show me how you get down!" where you go around a circle asking someone to essentially do a little dance, and then the class repeats that dance. It was so much fun, and the students loved it when I called on the classroom teacher and another teacher who entered the room to "get down".  I also really enjoyed making advertising posters during our Point of View TLCP on how the big scary shark would try sell a home in the ocean to unsuspecting fish. The ideas my students came up with were ingenious - such as a secret trap door on the other side of the advertisement for the shark to sneak in through. There are so many other examples, but I want to try keep this post 'relatively' short..

Lesson 2 - Technology captures their attention unbelievably well! I used clickers, SMART Board, camera's, document camera, and livescribe pens with my class. I remember the first week I used clicker's with my students, and a lot of people thought there was no way it would work with this age group - but it did, and very well! The students were very respectful of the clickers, partly due to my discussion on how we handle them beforehand I suspect. They thought it was a game, and got really excited seeing their responses pop up and the graph results of the class responses. I used Clickers during the first week of my TLCP as a diagnostic check on what they though Point of View meant, or from someone else's point of view how would the world look, or how would they feel, etc. I found it very informative, and was quick and easy. It was essentially an exit card, but digitalized. I kept the questions to 6-10 so it didn't take long, and by the end of the week the students were great using them I only had to bring them out and they knew exactly what to do.

I've used document camera's before and always love how they don't waste so much paper, but also add a little interest to it. Especially when the students come up to interact with manipulatives underneath it during math class.

The class absolutely loved it when I brought in camera's for them to use to take photos around the class from a different POV, such as a bee, or a giant, etc. The class was electric during this, and they were so independent in their groups. The next day I printed off some of the photos, stuck them to chart paper and we walked around graffitiing them up with ideas of whose point of view the photo was taken from. So much fun!

I've used the SMART Board many times before in my first practicum and during teacher's college, so it was natural to want to use it again. However, at my school there was only one which you had to book in advance. This made planning a little more difficult - and when you factor in walking down to it, setting up, and the walk back; your lesson time is reduced quickly. Regardless, I used it in Social Studies, and as I discovered before if you do not have the students interacting with it then you should limit how much you use it. With that said, once you get the students up and going they love dragging, dropping, revealing, etc with it. My favourite lesson I did with it was a Social Studies lesson on transportation where we did an amazing race as a dpa warmup going through the different modes of transport evolution from walking, jogging, biking, canoeing, driving, trains, planes, etc. It was great as I had the music going, a clock ticking down, and used a reveal to show what our next "transportation method" was. Got the students really energized before starting the lesson on comparing Canada to the World.

Lesson 3 - Don't sit back - get involved, interact, and participate in everything you are teaching. Every time I would jump into the game we were playing, become dramatic, act goofy or silly (within reason of course) the students level of excitement and learning increased. An easy class to spot this of course is Gym class. I loved teaching gym! Perhaps because I have always been very active, and it was my favourite class when I was younger. I always got involved in the games, acted silly, would crouch down and run with the students in invasion games. The reaction on the students faces when they saw I was playing was priceless, and they always wanted to tag me out, or the cries of "ahhh Mr. Iles is it!!" were hilarious! The other lesson was never think this they could not handle a lesson you want to teach - especially the younger age group. Trust yourself and your abilities to teach the lesson, and the students will rise to the occasion.

Math wall

Creating our Writing Success
Criteria as a class
Our Literacy wall with Learning Goals, Big Idea, and student work

Lesson 4 - Never undervalue being prepared. I cannot stress this enough. The amount of time you spend assessing and providing written feedback to students every week is overwhelming at times, or perhaps I was doing too much? But if you can have your all your lessons planned out two or three days in advance it is the most amazing feeling because you are so much more relaxed and ready, and have the time for all your marking. Not only that, but you then can make the small changes you want to without thinking "bugger I've got to change everything now!" The other maybe not so obvious reason is you can spend more time thinking about your timing, your materials, and your delivery.

Lesson 5 - Your delivery is so important! If you have a great lesson but cannot deliver, then it will fall flat. This is why you have to have some good routines to make sure you get enough sleep, eat well, and stay active. I learned in my first placement how important delivery was because I took what I feared to be a boring lesson and made it into one of my best taught. I remembered that everyday during my second placement and what a difference it made! The other amazing side benefit is a lot of classroom management issues tend to fade away too because they are interested in the lesson - they do not want to miss out.

Creating monsters using 2-D shapes
in Geometry
Our trip to the movies to see
The Lorax in 3-D
Paining butterflies learning
'colour value'
Lesson 6 - For new teachers especially - remember to always give yourself some "me time". Its easy to get wrapped up in how much prep and work there is. But if you're stressed out, tired, anxious, and not eating well - it does not matter how great of a lesson you planned it will flop. Take some time off every day to do whatever, just sometime other than think about your class. It's all about balance, and as tough as that is it will make you a better teacher.

Lesson 7 - As obvious as this may be for some, get to know your students. Know their interests, who their friends are and who they do not get along with. You do not want to make the mistake of pairing them up with someone they will fight with. One student of mine was having a bad day, and after speaking with them they divulged they were not sleeping well at all. So I asked them to let me know in the morning if they slept or not, so I would be aware if they would be a little cranky that day or not. Just gives you a heads up on their behaviour, so you can read them a bit better. The student was very good at keeping me informed, and the behaviour improved. They always talk about differentiated instruction for your students, and all the different learning styles - and for good reason because it's true. It's so important to vary your lessons, content, and themes so that every student finds something they enjoy.

Lesson 8 - Keep the lines of communication open with the parents and respond quickly to any queries. Even though you will not hear from most parents throughout the year, by constantly sending home student work with feedback, classroom letters, announcements, etc. When the parent-teacher night comes along it will pay dividends because that is when you will meet them and they will thank you for it. If a parent writes a note in the students agenda, respond quickly and professionally and the parents will be grateful.

I'm sure there's so much more to say, but for the time being I'll leave it at that =)

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A fantastic first week teaching!

Last Monday marked the beginning of my second teaching placement in a Grade 1/2 split class, and right off the bat I feel as though I've found my teaching-niche! I am amazed by how much I am enjoying teaching this level. The students are so eager to learn, and absorb everything like sponges. I started the new literacy unit on point of view on Tuesday and the students are so quick to try and use this new term and apply it to what we are reading and learning. It's only been a week, so it's a work in progress - but I love their enthusiasm. It has been such a thrill reading the read-a-loud's too. Last week we read "Waking Beauty" and "The Jolly Postman" - the students loved how there were actual letters and postcards included with the second book, which worked so well as we were working on our letter writing at the time.

One of my favourite things I tried last week was using Clickers with the students. I used them at the end of our literacy period Wednesday through Friday as an exit card strategy. I found this worked really well providing myself a gauge on how they are grasping point of view as the questions I posed were all related to the stories we read with directed point of view questions. The students had a blast using the clickers as well, and thankfully were very careful and respectful of them too - perhaps my strict guidelines on handling them before, during, and after their use helped. I would highly recommend anyone considering using them to give it a go - I used the Turning Point set which are very basic and perfect for young students. 

Another highlight my first week was the opportunity to teach gym class. My first teaching placement had a dedicated gym teacher so I never got the chance, so I am relishing the opportunity now! It was so much fun playing a few different types of games all designed to encourage 'sending and receiving' - the unit I'm starting. The students were pretty tired at the end, but were laughing and smiling the whole way through - a win in my books! I cannot wait for the weather to warm up so we can start having gym outside!

Next week when we return to the classroom after March Break I am looking forward to starting the new Math unit on Geometry, and completing the mapping unit in Social Studies so I can begin my World Communities unit. So much to do, and so little time - I know these next six weeks will fly by!

If anyone has any amazing ideas related to these units that have worked well for them in the past I would love to hear them. I am also hoping to Skype another classroom to learn about World Communities or share stories for Literacy - if anyone would be interested please send me a message. Also, if anyone has had success teaching their students how to tweet about their day and what they learned I would be very interested in how you scaffolded those lessons because I am interested in trying that out. I have a few ideas, but always keen to learn more. Cheers!

Monday, 13 February 2012

My Education Passport

For my Method's class we were asked to create something to depict our philosophy of education. The following is what I created and wrote:

Trying to find a way to describe my philosophy of education in a succinct, yet creatively ‘me’ way was a challenging endeavor. My mind sprang to ideas of creating a painting of some kind because since coming to Brock University my passion for art and creativity has been re-ignited. But I was unsure what to paint, so I started thinking of creating an interactive multimedia representation, as I am part of the Educational Technology Leadership cohort. However, I still felt at a loss for how to encapsulate my personal teaching philosophy. I then began thinking about how much I love traveling, and how it has influenced my life and values. I began sharing these ideas with my friend Adam Childs (Twitter: @adamajchilds )who is a Junior-Intermediate student at Brock in my Cohort who shares a similar thirst for travel. As we talked more about this I came up with the idea of a passport to represent our journey. Then Adam came up with the idea of making actual stamps to reflect our personal development. Together we enthusiastically collaborated in creating our own passports representing our respective journeys through education, and experiences that have influenced our teaching philosophies.

Cooperative learning is one of my principle beliefs in learning, which is why I was so thrilled to work on this project with Adam. Together we came up with ideas on how to create the passport, which individually we would not have been capable of. By working cooperatively in designing the layout with individual responsibilities, we were able to embody cooperative learning whilst creatively creating our passports. This tangible object was created through both artistic and multimedia design (Adobe Photoshop) – both the original strategies I hoped to build upon. Working together made this such an enjoyable experience, and we were able to build off each other’s ideas and enthusiasm. I strongly believe that if you want to ‘talk the talk – you have to walk the walk’. What I mean is if you say you are all for cooperative learning, then you have to want to do it yourself, or else there is no way you will be able to sell it to the students as a learning approach. Students will see right through your transparent motives if there are not authentic. I am honestly over the moon with how the final product turned out. It is far better than I could have imagined, and I absolutely love the feeling of having achieved something, and gone above and beyond your expectations. I owe a lot of this to Adam and to the process of cooperation, as I find when you work cooperatively and succeed, being able to celebrate that accomplishment along someone else is that much more satisfying.

I found it very inspiring creating this passport because it prompted me to take a step back and reflect on what I have learned since arriving at Brock five months ago, and what events in my life have inspired me to be who I am today. One of the strongest realizations I have had is how much of a kinesthetic and visual learner I am. I love getting involved, hands-on, creative environments. This is why I was so involved in sports and the arts as a child. I was speaking to my Mom about this the other day, and she told me that when I was a child I would study by walking around the room; that I was always moving. This reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson’s speech about creativity; and I have set a personal goal to teach with this in mind. I want to teach in a classroom that thrives on creativity, cooperation, and active engagement. I want to create a safe and inspiring learning environment, built around the principles of Tribes and energizers. I want my students to learn through authentic problem solving tasks, which I organize through the input of students. I want my classroom to be a twenty-first century inclusive classroom where students want to learn because they enjoy it – not because they have to. This is what I strive to create, who I strive to be, and the journey I strive to travel on – with my passport in hand filling up with more and more stamps as I continue along my educational journey.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Google+ in the Classroom

On January 27th my cohort put on the Educational Technology Showcase at Brock University in Hamilton. This showcase ran three sessions over the day throughout the school on different ways to integrate and teach with technology in the classroom. It was a fantastic event that attracted more than 400 in attendance. I was fortunate enough to be a presenter alongside my friends Adam Childs and Natalie Gilbert on "Google+ in the Classroom". This was such a wonderful experience, and was so enjoyable. We presented in the Google room where there were six centres set up and the attendees rotated through our tables to get a quick 15 minute introduction to the topic. We decided to focus on three aspects of Google+: Circles, Hangout, and Integration with the Google Family.

Circles are effective in creating literacy learning circles, school council circles, parent circles, student circles, TLCP, etc. By doing so it allows you to control who see's what information, and communicate more efficiently with your students, peers, parents, support staff, etc. An example of how a literacy learning circle could work is to have the students create a circle, where they can share information such as youtube videos, interesting articles, questions, idea's, etc; and all can comment and work collaboratively together through this. The benefit of circles is you control the privacy of the information. This is very important due to the vulnerability of information and students, therefore this added safety allows you to share information with only who you want. For example, a conversation with a parent is a private conversation, and should not be privy to others. To highlight this, if you post something on someone's wall in Facebook, everyone who is a friend of that person can see it. In Google+, you can control this completely. Moreover, no one knows what circles you have - it is only viewable to you as a means of organization.

The benefits and flexibility of Google Hangout allows up to 10 participants in an online video conference. Unlike Skype where you can only chat to one other person, Google+ allows you to chat with up to 10 participants simultaneously. We see this as an excellent way to have students conference on projects, meet with parents outside of school hours (increased flexibility), have school staff meetings (if someone is home sick they can still participate), or discuss questions with students outside of school hours. To be clear with these outside school hours, you would set up guidelines on when you are available with all the stakeholders. This will improve transparency, and will avoid any misunderstandings. Another benefit is you can use screenshare, which allows the other video participants to view your screen to share video's, word document ideas, or anything else you wish to share. There is also the chat feature on the sidebar for those without functioning video camera's to participate with.

Google+ works seamlessly with all other Google products. You can easily incorporate, embed, and link to all other Google products in Google+, for instance add a doc, form, blogger, YouTube clip, or calendar. In our session I focused on discussing the benefits of the Calendar whereby you can create and share multiple different online calendar's with whomever you like. What I like about this is you would not want to share your calendar with colleagues, parents, and students that has your friend's birthday party on it, or a dentist appointment. So by creating say a "School Staff Calendar" and only sharing that with your school staff that calendar could include staff meetings, emergency meetings, school PD days, fundraising days, etc. Moreover, you could create a "Classroom Calendar" that includes when you have a math quiz, a field trip to the library, parent-teacher conferences, sports events, or online availability for additional help. This calendar could be shared with your students, parents, teachers, and administrative staff. This will create terrific transparency for what is going on in the classroom, and help parents be more aware of their child's learning.

It was a terrific experience presenting on this topic, and my co-presenter's and I learned so much. As the day progressed we started thinking of new and creative ways to use Google+ as a home base for all other Google products. An analogy I thought of was Google+ is the parents, and all the other Google products are the children and relatives that come home and share every once and while. So documents, presentations, flickr, blogger, etc, all are independent and grown up living their own lives; but they come home for a great Sunday lunch every week to share their ideas.

The Showcase had such an amazing atmosphere and buzz in the air, and I'm so thrilled I was able to be a part of it. It was fantastic walking around seeing all the different learning and centres going on, and hearing all these new ideas being discussed with such enthusiasm. I'm so proud of my fellow cohortian's who also presented at the Showcase, and cannot wait to take these ideas into the classroom.

If anyone has any other idea's on ways they have used Google+ in the classroom, or experiences on how to scaffold it I would be very interested in hearing about them. Cheers!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Some thoughts on leadership

Last week my cohort discussed qualities of effective leadership in and outside the classroom. A lot of rich discussion resulted because this is one of those topics that runs deep with all of us. We all have strong personal feelings on what effective leadership looks like, and what it takes to be a great leader. I've had some time for our discussions to settle a bit, and am going to try make some sense of it.

Initially when thinking of leadership I think of those who are the leaders in a community, whether that be a school, playground, office, or parliament. We all can associate to those roles, but I do believe leadership takes on many different faces. Sometimes it is simply being comfortable taking a stance, helping and encouraging others, or being the silent rock of the group. Leaders know when to speak up, and when it is beneficial to have some quiet time. I think being comfortable with silence says more than the urge to constantly talk from anxious nerves. Leadership is the ability to provide ideas, or facilitate a group on this. Moreover, it is being a calm persona for others to bounce ideas off of or absorb tension. It is having the ability to rise to the occasion, and turing frowns upside down. Leaders are those who we look up to and admire. Leadership takes on so many different faces it's impossible to peg down one defining characteristic or attribute.

Leadership I believe is a skill and to a degree innate quality. (The jury is still out on this one though!) And like a skill, I believe leadership abilities can be taught and learned. Just recently I ran a workshop in my Methods class on cooperative and collaborative learning. One of the important ideas we stressed is we need to explicitly teach and model for students how to work collaboratively in the classroom. We all learn from observations and experience; therefore if you have never been privy to great leadership demonstrations then it will be more difficult to cultivate your own abilities. With that said, I do believe great leadership is completely subjective, and is influenced by your environment and experiences.

Knowing when to take a step back and let others step forward is a wonderful skill as it empowers others and creates a greater community of partnership, equality, and learning. Being an active participant is just as important as leading, and to be an active participant students need to learn how to actively listen. I strongly feel one of the most important characteristics of effective leadership is the ability to support and develop people. When you succeed at this you empower the individuals, and this will create a wonderful trickle-down effect to all those around. These feelings are as contagious as laughter, and when the school is feeling great the team-bonds grow stronger and greater. This leads to everyone taking on and sharing leadership roles in their community.

Altogether I believe we are all leaders in our own right. Those moments when you witness unexpected kindness, thought, generosity, new ideas or outlooks - those are the moments of great leadership in action. Those 'wow' moments when you stop and think about your own choices and behaviours - the ability to evoke these emotions is something each and everyone of us does every day. As I mentioned laughter is contagious, well so is negativity, and so is positivity! As much as the term "reflect" is started to seem like one of the most used terms I've heard since entering teacher's college; it does seem fitting to say we need to stop and think about what we are doing and how we are affecting those around us. Great leaders understand this dynamic relationship, and practice it too.