Friday, 25 November 2011

Bridging Classrooms and Cultures

Last week, I had the opportunity to join a few online sessions that were part of the Global Education Conference. I found these sessions to be quite informative and a convenient method of learning. The session used Elluminate, which allowed participants to view a common whiteboard as well as the speaker and a chat room.

One session that I attended was called “Bridging Classrooms and Cultures” hosted by Robin Dirkson, a teacher at Lead-Deadwood High School, Lead, South Dakota.

Robin spoke of a collaborative project that she is conducting with a school in Uganda. At Robin’s school, her students are collecting information about native plants and their competitors, and are applying treatments to reduce invasive species. They have called this the “Englewood Springs Botanical Area Project”. These students are also investigating the environmental requirements of many unusual native plants, in a groundwater dependent ecosystem. Using this information, they are creating a virtual herbarium online.

Robin has been able to establish a connection to a school in Uganda, in which students are also participating in the same project, calling theirs “Plants of the Gulu Region”. The students at the Lacor School, Uganda, are collecting images, tying the images to GPS coordinates and sharing what they know about the uses of their native plants, thus also constructing a virtual herbarium.

In true collaborative form, students at both schools are getting to know each other as pen pals and are sharing information about their lives and their data. Together they are investigating what plants they have in common, which ones are native vs. cultivated and what the plants are used for.

I was extremely impressed with this project! Robin has been able to integrate many different learning goals from biology, math, geography and information technology into one project while taking her students outside of the classroom to investigate and research the plants in their community. By collaborating with the students in Uganda, all the students involved are learning from each other and discovering another culture, making new friends and sharing their knowledge and learning experiences. This is possible via technology such as wiki sites, Skype and online platforms like Elluminate. What an amazing experience this must be for these students!

I would love to be able to incorporate something like this in my class in the future. The use of Elluminate alone is revolutionary and is a great method of allowing global collaboration and communication in real-time. I have now participated in quite a few of these online discussions/presentations and am impressed with how easy they are to join and how they truly bridge the geographical gap between participants. It is quite amazing to be sharing ideas and chatting with people from around the world with such ease. As teachers, I feel that if we can incorporate this technology and collaborative projects such as this one in our classrooms, it would be very beneficial to our students and their learning.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Lessons Learned from My First Teaching Block - 11U Chemistry

I survived my first teaching block! What a rewarding, exhausting and amazing learning experience! I had intended to blog my progression through the teaching block, however I had not realized how busy I would be learning how to teach.

4 weeks ago I ventured into the teaching world into Gr. 11 University level Chemistry at Burlington Central High School. I was lucky enough to be mentored by a phenomenal associate teacher, Leigh Macklin. Leigh’s encouraging, positive and realistic attitude and teaching practices really helped me translate my ideas on paper to actual teaching in the classroom. Her patience and willingness to share her ideas and resources were invaluable to guiding my lessons. As well, Leigh was so incredibly organized in terms of her unit planning which gave me a base to work off of.

During my observation days, Leigh had given me the choice of teaching Gr. 11 U, Chemical Quantities Unit or Gr. 12U Heat Unit and I had chosen to teach the 11U class, thinking it would be easier. Boy was I wrong! So I embarked on the rollercoaster of teaching Chemical Quantities to Gr 11U students.

My first 2 weeks were quite exhausting as I adapted to commuting from Guelph to Burlington and as I created lesson plans from scratch. Being the perfectionist that I am, I agonized over each lesson plan and conducted extensive research on different pedagogy and instructional strategies for the different concepts that I was to teach. After hours of work on one lesson plan, I would bring it to class to review it with Leigh and she, very kindly, dissected my plans and basically taught me HOW to teach students. My theory was sound and I was taught about instructional strategies and pedagogy in my classes at Brock, however the actual "know-how" and realities of every day teaching was not something that I had. Thanks to Leigh, I feel like I have learned this "know-how" but still have lots to learn! I have also learned that a teacher really needs to know his/her class well and understand how they learn. Luckily, I was able to quickly develop a good rapport with my 11U students and identify with them and their learning styles.

A few lessons that I learned the hard way - previous knowledge and time management!! Even though Leigh pointed out that I need to remember where the students are coming from and what their current knowledge is, I still managed to make some incorrect assumptions that led to student confusion. For example, I introduced the concept of the "mole" and Avogadro's number = 6.02 x 10^23 without realizing that the students had not formally learned scientific notation and did not know of the EXP key on their calculators! I realized this at the end of the moles lesson and set out to make up a summary sheet and practice problems regarding scientific notation. In retrospect, I have learned that when teaching anything that involves math, these math concepts, however basic they seem to me, must be reviewed in an introductory lesson when starting the unit. For the unit that I taught, 11U Chemical Quantities, it would be well-advised to review scientific notation, rounding, significant digits as well as ratios and proportions. After reviewing these, I would provide an informal assessment such as an exit card or a quiz to ensure that all students understand these concepts. This would help ensure student success.

Another lesson learned was time management during class. I spent my first few lessons trying to teach many examples to the entire class and trying to ensure that every single student understood what I was talking about. This resulted in my teaching for the entire class time! However, I have learned the value of stopping my lesson after teaching the concept and showing one representative example thus allowing the students to try to apply the concepts by starting homework questions during class time. To get to this point, I had to literally talk through my lesson at home and time myself. I then doubled the time I took at home and used this as my guideline in my lesson plan. I found that it was much more effective to give students the time in class to start their homework and apply their newfound knowledge during class time. This built up their confidence, allowed them to collaborate and share ideas and allowed me to provide individual assistance to those students who required it.

Overall, my first teaching block was a resounding success. I learned so much and developed even more of an appreciation for all the work that teachers do. I met great students and enjoyed facilitating their learning during the four weeks that I taught them. It was hard to say good-bye to them on my last day and it was especially hard to say good-bye to Leigh. She taught me so much in four long weeks and I am so happy that I was paired with such a dynamic, effective teacher. Thank you to Leigh Macklin and her students at Burlington Central High School!