Sunday, 12 August 2012

Gr. 5 Integrated Unit - Ancient Civilizations

This summer, I completed my Junior Additional Basic Qualification this summer with Brock University. For the final assignment we were asked to create an integrated unit for a junior class.  My reflection and TLCP Planning Framework are shown below.

Teaching-Learning Critical Pathway (TLCP)
This integrated unit was planned with a TLCP in mind.  The TLCP is a model “used to organize actions for teaching and student learning” with the idea that “classroom practice can be organized in a practical, precise and highly personalized manner with the outcome being increased student achievement.”[1]

Under normal circumstances, the TLCP plan would have many contributors and would be the result of many Professional Learning Community (PLC) planning sessions.  Planning would be focused around learning goals set out by members of the PLC which are created based on the results of diagnostic assessments of students.  Once the learning goals are determined, members of the PLC work together to create an authentic, engaging framework that addresses the learning goals.  I have created such a framework in a mind map format (please see attached).

Learning Goals
As a starting point for my integrated unit, I came up with 3 main learning goals, based on simulated diagnostic assessments that showed the following student needs.
  1. Oral Communication – clear & coherent presentation of ideas, opinions and information in a readily understandable form
  2. Reading a variety of text in different formats and extracting/summarizing the main ideas – nonfiction text focus.
  3.  Writing from a specific perspective/in a specific voice.

Keeping these learning goals in mind, I thought that one of the most interesting topics in the Grade 5 curriculum is that of Ancient Civilizations (social studies) and felt that students would be engaged and motivated when dealing with this topic.  In true backwards design form, I first came up with a “big idea” – “Life in Ancient Times – what are the similarities and differences compared to life today?”  - and a related culminating task.

Culminating Task
In order to address this big idea, I decided that students should work on a culminating task that presents “A Day in the Life of…” i.e. presents daily life of a certain person in a specific ancient civilization.  I purposely left this topic vague so that student may choose the era, country and character on which their presentation would be based on.  This element of choice serves to garner student interest and engage them in their learning.  By having the ability to choose the topic of their culminating task, students have ownership of this project and personalize their learning according to their interests.  When introducing the culminating task, suggestions and examples will be given in order to guide the students eg. samurai in ancient Japan, gladiator in ancient Rome, medicine man in the ancient First Nations community etc.  Students will be introduced to the idea of the culminating task, but will not be asked to choose a topic until the class has had an opportunity to explore and learn about different ancient civilizations.

Throughout the integrated unit, students will learn about different ancient civilizations as a class and also have opportunities to work in small groups to research specific civilizations (as per their interests).  They will have opportunities to present their findings to the class, while noting down relevant/interesting information that would help them choose a topic for their culminating task.  Learning about ancient civilizations will occur over a variety of different subjects including language arts, math, science and arts.

The expectation for the culminating task is a presentation, in groups of 2 or 3, of “A Day in the Life of…” a specific person in a specific country during a specific era.  This task addresses learning goals #1 & 3 (oral communication and writing from a specific perspective).  The students will be allowed to choose the format of their presentation (eg. dramatic demonstrations, media presentation, visual poster etc.)  This element of choice caters to different learning styles and different intelligences and allows students to express themselves in a format in which they feel most comfortable.  A rubric of presentation expectations would be co-constructed with the students and displayed in class to allow them to understand the project expectations.  Included in these presentation expectations are elements of language, science, math and arts of their particular civilization, which must be incorporated in the presentation. 

As well, an authentic assessment of the presentation will be done, the criteria of which would be student-created.  As a consolidation to the entire unit, it is suggested that the students write a reflective journal that details specifics of what they learned in the unit and answers the big idea question that compares life today to life in ancient times.

Language Focus
Upon the start of this integrated unit, the first step would be to explore and learn about different ancient civilizations.  This can be done through a variety of media including non-fiction texts, which would address learning goal #2.  This also addresses the reading curriculum expectations.  As well, information should be presented using video and online formats and allow for online research – this would address the media literacy portion of the language curriculum.  After investigating different civilizations, various writing tasks would be given to the students in order to address the writing portion of the curriculum and learn to write from different perspectives as per learning goal #3.

Other Subjects – Science, Math, Arts
While investigating and learning about the different civilizations, the class would also focus on other learning expectations from different subjects and view them through this ancient civilization lens.  These subjects include science, math and art and specifics are outlined in the attached planning framework.  I believe that by viewing the curriculum expectations of these subjects through the ancient civilizations lens, the students would be especially engaged and motivated to learn these topics due to the exciting nature of this topic and the possibility of the learned information to be included in their culminating task.  As well, since the students will be especially focusing on and researching ideas for their culminating task topic throughout the unit, they will be especially interested in learning about the science, math and arts of the civilization of their choice.

Communication with Students and Parents
The students will be introduced to the integrated unit in class and parents will be informed of it via the class blog/website & an email update.  Parents will be encouraged to engage their children in discussions at home regarding the topics learned in class and will be assured that the all of information that must be included in the culminating task will be covered in class and class time will be allocated in order for the students to work on and complete their final presentation.

Overall, I believe that this integrated unit would be extremely exciting and engaging for Grade 5 students and it would definitely address the learning goals that have been created based on student needs.  By having the big idea of this unit focus on comparing life in ancient times to life now, students make a personal connection to the topics of study and will be motivated to learn more.  As well, the element of choice with respect to the topic of the culminating task presentation will allow students to take ownership in their work and be motivated to research and learn about their topic of choice.  By allowing students to also choose the format of their final presentation, we are catering to student interest and learning styles and further engaging them in their learning.  The overall result of this would be higher student interest and higher student achievement. I am very excited about this integrated unit and would love to have to opportunity to implement it in my own classroom.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Y Tch Speling & Gramar Nyway?

We currently live in a technological age in which we are constantly bombarded with media and communication.  Everyone is emailing, texting, tweeting, blogging and “Facebooking” – from young children to seniors.  Grandparents are checking email and trying to keep up with new technology and children are growing up not knowing a world without cell phones, iPads, laptops and digital media of all kinds.  Life truly has changed!  Gone are the VCR-illiterate days of my Mom and my Mother-in-Law – now they both email and text me on a daily basis!  The fact that my 7 year old and 8 year old kids figured out how to instant message each other using their Nintendo DS’s still boggles my mind! 

So what does this mean for teachers?  How do we teach a generation that is being raised on digital media and electronic gadgets?  From my earlier posts, you can learn about a variety of Web 2.0 tools that can be used in the classroom to cater to this generation.  However, one question remains – has the importance of teaching spelling and grammar diminished and/or become irrelevant for this generation? Why bother teaching spelling when all devices now have spell-check and autocorrect?  Does anyone even type out full words anymore or is it all shorthand and acronym-based? I mean, really, when was the last time you actually spelled out “laughing out loud” or “oh my gosh”?  As well, all major word processing software has grammar checking tools and a thesaurus.  Will teaching the basics of handwriting, spelling and grammar become a thing of the past?

My opinion regarding this is mixed.  I believe that with the continued use of text-based media, the importance of grammar has actually increased even more.  If our students will be relying on Twitter, Facebook, blogging, emailing and texting to communicate, their written words had better make sense!  The art of writing is definitely being used much more now than ever and it is imperative that our students be able to communicate their thoughts in a logical, sensible way – for which proper grammar is essential and therefore must be taught explicitly and reinforced constantly.

The second part of this question involves spelling and I am conflicted with this part.  As the reigning spelling bee champion of my elementary grades, I am a stickler for spelling and I cannot stand when people email/tweet/post messages with spelling errors – it drives me crazy.  My “old-school” heart holds correct spelling as an important skill, however my 21st Century realization is that spell-check is a definite reality and when its everywhere, why not use it?  Spelling is a very important skill and it comes easily to me, however if assistance is available, then why force students to endure repeated, rote learning of spelling words?  It does drive me crazy when my high school students have atrocious spelling, but they do rely heavily on the crutch of spell-check – does this mean that their ideas are not valid?  The way I think of this is – no matter how hard I try, I cannot properly parallel park my car.  I learned how to do it years ago, but I still find it impossible, so much so that I will park blocks away from my destination even though there is a spot closer due to the fact that I am unable to properly parallel park in it.  When the day comes that “park assist” is available in all cars, it will definitely be my crutch and I will depend on it the way many people depend on spell-check.

That said, I do believe that spelling must still be taught in school, especially in the formative elementary and junior grades, but emphasis should be on recognizing how a word should “look” and long-term spelling strategies as opposed to short-term memorization of specific words for a spelling test.  I have personally seen this shift with my childrens’ education.  In Grade 1, my son had spelling words to memorize, practice at home and a spelling test at the end of each week.  In Grade 2, there was a shift to “weekly word wall words” that were used repeatedly throughout the week and the children were encouraged to spell them correctly and taught strategies for correct spelling, but pure memorization was actually discouraged.

The last skill that is related to this topic is that of handwriting.  This one baffles me since, again, “old-school” me believes that neat, legible hand writing is an essential skill, however as we migrate to text-based media that involves typing, why emphasize handwriting at all?  Let’s be honest, its faster to type a memo on your cell phone than to find a pen and paper and write out a reminder!  The subject of handwriting was debated in an online forum of one of my teaching courses, and someone mentioned that you still need to write things down like phone numbers, appointments and items for your grocery list.  Now I don’t know about you, but I always have my iPhone with me and contact info, appointments and even my grocery list all get typed straight into it.  Pen and paper are an inconvenience!  However, as a Chemistry teacher, I must say that when writing out mathematical solutions to chemistry problems, pencil and paper only!  So, while we have shifted to a typing society, it is still important to teach the basic skills of handwriting since it is still a major factor in our written communication. 

In summary, I feel that grammar is still as important as ever and should definitely be explicitly taught and enforced to all students.  Spelling and handwriting are also important, but the heavy “old-school” focus that used to be on these skills is a subject for debate and I feel that, while they should be taught and reinforced at all levels, students should not be limited in their communication of ideas due to some errors in spelling or illegible handwriting.  Just my opinion – would love to hear yours!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Virtual Field Trips (VFTs)

School field trips are an amazing opportunity to make learning authentic and to motivate and engage students in their learning.  They offer a break from the normal routine and instructional strategies that occur in the classroom and they expose students to new experiences and appeal to all styles of learning – visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Field trips expand children's learning and increase student knowledge and understanding of a subject by adding realism to the topic of study. 

Thus, field trips lead to better understanding and greater achievement due to the students’ observation of real-life application of their lessons.  That said, there are some disadvantages to planning field trips for a class, some of which are listed below:
  • Cost – to students, to school, of buses
  •  Inclement weather
  •  Parent concerns
  •  Availability of supervisors
  •  Extra preparation and organization is required
  •  Accessibility for all students
While the advantages of field trips are quite demonstrated, many times the disadvantages outweigh these and organizing a field trip may not be feasible.  In this case, why not plan a virtual field trip for your class?

Virtual field trips (VFTs) use the Internet to take your class on a field trip via an online guided exploration i.e. a virtual online tour.  There are many VFTs that are available online and these range from basic websites that contain text-based information to detailed floor plans with video tours.  After browsing some of the VFTs available online, I definitely see myself using this in my junior and secondary classes.

To prepare for your VFT, you should ensure that it is directly related to the subject matter being covered in class.  Teach an introductory lesson that covers the basics of the subject matter covered in the VFT, book the computer lab for the VFT and ask students to bring earphones.  Another fun idea (for junior students) is to send home a “permission form” for the VFT in order to advise parents about it and provide them the opportunity to discuss the VFT with their child.

On the day of your VFT, first show the VFT site to the entire class using a projector and show them how to navigate the site.  Remind them of the expected behaviour (ie. no surfing other sites!), point out “must sees” and demonstrate how to explore the VFT site.  Lastly, provide the students with guided questions to answer throughout their VFT in order to ensure their learning.

At this point, have the students navigate to the VFT site and explore it.  I believe that students would enjoy doing this activity in pairs and I would expect one set of answers from each pair.  Give your students the option of typing their answers on the computer (in Word or a Google document) or writing them out.

The experience of a VFT is an under-used one and can be used to “visit” places that would not be possible on a regular field trip.  After researching VFTs online, I have listed some great ones below.  

Some Virtual Field Trip Destinations:
Student Challenge: Create Your Own VFT!

After taking your students on some VFTs, why not challenge your students to create their own VFT?  Take the time to explain your expectations and model the platform you want your students to use. Create a simple VFT in real time in class and show the students how this can be done.  In simplest form, this could be a PowerPoint presentation or a LiveBinder that includes links, videos and photos.  In more complicated form, this could involve using online tools to create a VFT.

Challenging your students to create their own VFT is an amazing, rewarding project that would allow them to present researched information in a fun, creative product that is novel and engaging.  Once done, post the student-created VFTs on the class website,  encourage classmates to attend their peers’ VFTs and evaluate them. Alternatively, take a little time each day to showcase a VFT using a SmartBoard in the class. This performance task would be allow for differentiated instruction and cater to all learners who would be able to make their VFT as simple or as complicated as they wish, according to their learning needs.

I believe that Virtual Field Trips will enrich the learning of all students and engage them in student-centred learning, allowing them to actively construct their own knowledge. The next time you are planning a unit/cycle of study, try to integrate a VFT – your students will thank you for it!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Using Technology in the Junior Classroom

Incorporating technology in the classroom is an effective way to engage today’s students and educate them in 21st century fluencies.  A variety of tools and resources are available for teachers and their students. In my secondary school classes, I routinely use a variety of technology tools including PowerPoint, Document Cameras, Livescribe technology, Poll Everywhere, Google Tools, Edublogs and LiveBinders

I am currently completing my Junior Division ABQ and have been posed the question of using technology in the junior classroom.  Am I able to use these same tools in the junior classroom?  The answer is ‘yes’ for some of these tools and ‘no’ to others.  For example, I routinely used Poll Everywhere in my classrooms as a means to engage my students in a way that allows them to use their cell phones/iPads/laptops to augment their learning.  This would not be the case in a Grade 4, 5 or 6 classrooms since the majority of these students may not have such devices as a result of their age.  Some tools that may be especially helpful in teaching language arts in the junior grades are discussed below.

Starting a class blog with general information, homework postings and lesson information is definitely a “must-do” for every teacher.  This platform of communication is user-friendly and allows the teacher to post important information for the class.  The blogging platform effectively engages students and parents alike and allows them to view the classroom happenings through a unique lens.

Teachers can take the blog concept further and create blogs for each of their students (these can be linked to the main class blog).  Students can post on their blog for a variety of reasons – journal reflections, research summaries or even answering questions posed in class.  By providing the blog as a platform to submit assignments, the teacher is motivating the students to prize their work and polish it so it’s worthy of publishing i.e. posting on their blog.  Older students, especially, have a heightened awareness of the value of work posted in the Internet and by giving them the responsibility of posting to a blog, the teacher is allowing the student to take ownership and pride in their work to a new level. 

The ability to blog is one of the “new literacies” that our students are expected to be well versed in.  Blogging allows students to fine-tune their thinking and writing skills and work on all aspects of the writing process including proofreading and editing.  As well, when using student blogs in the classroom, a teacher is able to stress the importance of Internet safety and good digital citizenship while modeling these values.

Great blogging platforms to use include Edublogs, KidBlog, Blogger and Wordpress.  I personally have used Edublogs Pro (paid account) for my Gr. 9 Applied Science class with great success (click here to view the class blog).

This tool allows collaboration between students in a completely new way.  The next time you assign a project in pairs or groups, ask that the group put their work into a Google Doc.  The platform is similar to MS Word, except that multiple users can edit and change the same document in real time.  Just think of it as a “chat window” in which all users can edit each others’ work.  This is a phenomenal way for students to collaborate with each other and with their teacher.  It allows the students to practice teamwork and social skills on a whole new level.

Melanie Wiscount of Wilkes University summarizes the use of Google Docs in the classroom very well in the following slideshare presentation.
Google Docs in the Classroom
View more PowerPoint from mwiscount

Skype has revolutionized communication in a way that is as dramatic as the first phone had.  Skype allows you to video call anyone, anywhere and chat with them.  I use Skype every day to keep in touch with my sister and my Mom in Chicago and with family in India and worldwide, but can this tool be used in the classroom as well?  The answer is a resounding ‘YES’!!

Skype has launched “Skype in the Classroom” which “is a free and easy way for teachers to open up their classroom. 
Meet new people, talk to experts, share ideas and create amazing learning 
experiences with teachers from around the world.” An example of one of the featured projects at this site involves “Skyping” with Park Rangers from Yellowstone National Park and learning about a variety of things such as geology, ecology and cultural history.  This program facilitates connections and collaboration between teachers and classes who may geographically very far apart but on the page with regards to curriculum and classroom topics.

I see myself using Skype in a much more basic way.  For example, if I am teaching my Grade 5 students about environmental impact of garbage and recycling, I would love to take them on a field trip to the local city-run recycling plant.  If this trip were not feasible, it would be great to connect with the recycling plant’s community engagement person and arrange a Skype “visit” in the classroom. This would allow the expert guest speaker to “visit” our class and allow the students to interact with him/her and ask questions.  In this was, Skype could be used to bring any expert into the classroom as a guest speaker.

Livescribe technology is one of my favourite technologies for differentiated instruction.  Livescribe technology consists of a special pen and paper that records writing and audio simultaneously.  A quick description of Livescribe technology is shown below along with “10 ways to integrate the Livescribe Echo Smartpen into your classroom” (courtesy of Two Minute Tech Tips, YouTube).


According to VOKI, it is “a great way to have students share their knowledge of a topic in 60 seconds or less. Makes students organize their thoughts to focus on key details.”  This site allows students to create a speaking cartoon avatar and describes its function as anabling users to express themselves on the web in their own voice using a talking character. You can customize your Voki to look like you or take on the identity of lots of other types of characters… animals, monsters, anime etc. Your Voki can speak with your own voice which is added via microphone, upload, or phone.

This can be integrated in the classroom in a variety of ways and teachers can use the “Lesson Plans” tab on the Voki site to explore lesson plans created b y other educators.  I see myself using this tool in lieu of an oral presentation.  Students would enjoy creating their Voki character, voice and script and would especially enjoy watching the Vokis created by their classmates.  This adds a new twist to presentations and would motivate students to learn and communicate concepts due to the novel product that they would create.

Kinect in the Classroom
This is a tool that I have not yet had the chance to use in the classroom, but I am excited for the opportunity to try it out.  Microsoft has listed many ideas of how to use Kinect in the Classroom and has posted the following video on YouTube.

I found this teacher’s blog especially helpful in understanding how Kinect can be used in the classroom and hope to be able to implement some of these techniques in junior classroom of mine.  The gamification of learning motivates students and engages them in a new way and use of the Kinect allows teachers to explore kinesthetic learning and teaching methods.

As professionals, teachers are committed to engaging and motivating students to learn in a variety of different ways through different multiple intelligences and the technology tools described above allow teachers to do this in a unique way.  Just as we commit to ongoing professional learning in all areas of teaching, we must remember to continually learn how to use new technology tools and how to incorporate them into our regular classroom practices.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Classrooms of the Future

So much has changed in the classroom since I was a young student.  When I first heard of constructivism and student-centred learning in my B.Ed. program, I was baffled.  What happened to the "good ol' days" of teachers lecturing and the students frantically scribbling notes down??  Were these really effective learning opportunities?  While some "old school" adults hold the belief that "we learned that way and we turned out fine", others recognize the fact that this method of teaching is no the be all and end all of pedagogy.  Throughout my B.Ed. courses and my teaching practices, I have strived to be an effective teacher by differentiating instruction and adjusting my teaching style to incorporate different learning styles and multiple intelligences.

An “Ideal” Classroom Design

In order to aid this major paradigm shift in teaching and learning, we must support it via the physical environment in which we teach.  No longer is the ideal classroom one in which all the desks are in rows, facing forward while the students quietly focus on the teacher as the "sage on the stage".  The ideal classroom, in terms of physical space has evolved into a very different concept.  While, I have not had an opportunity to teach or to set up my own ideal classroom, I researched many different ideas on what the ideal classroom should include, some of which are listed below (courtesy of

     “Writeable surfaces—everywhere in the classroom—that capture and store everything written on them (see, for example,
     Real-time blogging in the classroom—students building collaborative notes on the course site or a wiki
     Classroom chat rooms—for example, with a teaching assistant (TA) monitoring students’ meta-conversation, including a TA-moderated Instant Messaging "back channel"
     Dynamically available bandwidth provisioned to and within a room, allowing students to safely access and download rich media objects without choking the local network segment
     Ubiquitous access to videoconferencing, so simple and intuitive that multisite conversations are "natural" extensions of classroom discussion
     Video/data-enhanced real-time capture and asynchronous discussion and annotation tools”
The above points focus on embedding technology in the classroom, however I believe that there is more to it than just technology.  Some ideas of my own include:
-     comfortable seating areas including desks, chairs, sofas and carpet that promote collaborative learning and group work
-     access to outdoor spaces for outdoor learning opportunities
-     natural lighting and visually appealing posters/artwork
-     open space for kinaesthetic learning
-     access to art supplies for visual learners and creative expression
-     access to different technology including LiveScribe Pens, netbooks/laptops/tablets, document camera, SmartBoard etc.
-     overall safe, supportive and incusive environment

While there are many more ideas (the list can be endless) we need to focus on what exactly we can implement in our immediate classroom environments.  This may be as simple as rearranging student desks into groups and setting up different learning stations that reflect different learning styles.  By accommodating our students' different learning styles through our pedagogy and physical space, we are demonstrating our commitment to our students and to their learning.  As well, we are demonstrating our ongoing professional practice and professional knowledge when we research the latest technologies and explore their use in our classrooms.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

LiveBinders in the Classroom

I have discovered a wonderful online tool/resource called LiveBinders.  I learned about this through a casual comment from one of my instructors at Brock University, and I visited to learn more.  What I found was a great way consolidate online resources and my class material.  I was so enamored with LiveBinders, that I prepared 2 different workshop presentations about it for my fellow teacher candidates and I use this site for all my classes.

In a nutshell, LiveBinders allows you to create a virtual 3-ring binder/e-binder to organize your information.  This information can be different websites, YouTube videos, or any files you want to upload.  This tool can be used in a few ways which I have outlined below.

Search for Resources 
I like to go to the LiveBinders site to search for resources compiled by other authors (you do NOT need to register in the site to do this.) I find that the search engine on the site is not too good, but if your keep your search terms quite broad and general, you should be able to find what you are looking for.  I think that since we are so used to Google giving us thousands of results for a vague search term, we have become accustomed to making our search terms quite specific.  Do not do this when you search LiveBinders!  For example, instead of searching “SCH3U”, search “Chemistry”.  I typed “technology in the classroom” into the LiveBinders search and it gave me 397 LiveBinders on this subject!  Each binder is organized into tabs and is an amazing resource!

Organize/"Bookmark" Websites 
I also use LiveBinders to “bookmark” information I find on the Internet.  For example, as a teacher candidate, I conducted countless Internet searches for a variety of different ideas while planning my lessons.  Before LiveBinders, I would either print the information I found (not eco-friendly!) or bookmark the site.  This led to many bookmarks and too much random paper!  I then registered for a free account with LiveBinders and created an e-binder with these resources.  I am able to add virtual “dividers” (tabs), label them as I wish and sort them in whatever order I want.  Under each tab, I can enter a URL and that website will display within my LiveBinder.  This avoids my having to navigate to other sites and open up many different browser windows.  So, LiveBinders literally brings the Internet into your binder!  This can be used to organize your online resources for lessons, Ministry of Education resources or even recipes!

Class LiveBinders 
For my last teaching placement, I used LiveBinders as my class website.  I created a different LiveBinder for each of my classes and each lesson had a separate tab, titled with the date and lesson topic.  Within each tab I uploaded my PowerPoint lessons, the lesson worksheets, YouTube videos and other online resources.  I kept all the organized by using the “add sub tab” feature.  For any lessons that may have been on the chalkboard or overhead projector, I typed out the notes directly into the LiveBinder tab (text layout).  I provided the link to the class LiveBinder to all the students (I posted it on my Google site) and the students were to check the LiveBinder regularly for the daily lessons.  My students loved this!  If they missed a class, all the lesson details were still available to them.  Some of my students brought their iPads/laptops to class and logged onto the LiveBinder during class to follow along with the PowerPoint slides or to access their class worksheets.  I also posted podcasts and video lessons on the same topic so that the students could learn the content from a different source. 

The LiveBinders I created are public and accessible to all and are listed below.  
  1. SCH 3U (Gr. 11 University Chemistry)
  2. SNC 1P (Gr. 9 Applied Science)
  3. SNC 1D (Gr. 9 Academic Science)
  4. Implementing Technology in the Classroom Workshop (at Brock University)

Overall, LiveBinders are an amazing resource.  They can also be used by your colleagues or students to consolidate lesson plans or internet research.  The collaborator option in LiveBinders allows multiple people to add to the same binder.
Check out this amazing tool at!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

"Teachers have it so easy...."

Throughout my journey as a Teacher Candidate, I have learned many valuable lessons but perhaps one of the most striking is how MUCH teachers actually do!  I am consistently in awe of how much there is to actually DO!

"Teachers have it easy.  Their hours are 9am-3pm and they get lots of holidays (Christmas & March Break), plus they get summers off."  How many times have you heard (or even said) the above statement?  Well, let me tell you, it does not do justice to the amount of work teachers do!  Let me illustrate with my schedule from the past few days.

Last Friday, I gave 2 of my classes a quiz, 1 class a test and I collected their labs from the week.  Not a bad day  in class - pretty low key and great for a Friday of a busy week.  As I packed my things to take home, it struck me - now I have to MARK all these items!!!  53 quizzes, 60 labs + 17 tests - WOW!  This was going to take a nice chunk out of my weekend!

On top of this mountain of marking, I needed to plan my lessons in 3 different classes this week.  Because I like to prepare in advance, I try to prep the entire week's lessons on the weekend.  What does this entail?  Researching creative methods & strategies of instruction (not just lecturing!), creating PowerPoint presentations, creating student worksheets and uploading and organizing all info on my website & Live Binder.  On top of all this, since I have never taught 2 out of my 3 classes before, I needed to research & learn new material, what the curriculum expectations are and ways to make the classes "fun".  Weekend? WHAT weekend??  I must confess that I did get sidetracked with family obligations and didn't get around to any of the marking this weekend.  I did, however, plan all my lessons for this week.

Monday morning - I'm feeling great that I have a fun plan for this week's lessons.  Yes, I do have a 75 min prep period + lunch hour, however these fly by with conferencing with other teachers who teach the same courses that I do (our material must match), setting up labs, printing and photocopying worksheets and providing students with extra help.  I usually manage to inhale a quick lunch 10 minutes before my period 3 class.  Monday evening - oh yeah, I need to complete that marking!  Sigh...I tackle some of it, but only put a dent in the pile.

Tuesday's school day is much like Monday, except we have a unit test in one class and a lab in another...more marking!!  On top of this, my plans for an activity for one of my lessons on Wed need to be changed due to weird circumstances so now I need to re-plan a lesson as well (this involved some creative problem-solving and a last minute tip to the dollar store!)  I was determined to finish my marking and I did it the majority of it last night + planned my lesson - mission accomplished!!  How many hours did I sleep?  Just under 4 hours.

I finished the rest of my marking this evening, logged in student marks, made notes about who needs extra help and who is struggling and prepped tomorrow's labs.  It is 8:30pm and I am still at school!

This is just a snapshot of what a teacher's schedule looks like.  Granted, I am a new teacher and I do not have the benefit of having taught this material before.  This part (lesson planning) will get easier as I teach more - I hope!  The marking will never go away and it keeps coming...I think of it as ocean waves that continually crash onto the beach in a specific rhythm.  Just as one wave pulls away, another comes in - that is what marking is like.  I have not yet mentioned the struggles of classroom management and the challenge of incorporating innovative, student-centred teaching strategies in each lesson as well as the need to meet the needs of all the different learners in my classroom.  As well, teachers get involved in a variety of extra-curricular activities to contribute to the school community  - we'll save that for another blog post!

So the next time you hear someone talking about how easy a job teaching is, think of me still sitting here at school on this fine Wednesday evening.  And why do I do it?  Why do any teachers do this?  Its a passion for learning and connecting with students to make a positive impact on their lives.  Some people skydive or go bungee jumping for thrills - I stand in front of a class, teaching chemistry/biology/science, and get the thrill of imparting knowledge, engaging students and helping them learn.  It truly is a thrill!