“What if you Won the Lottery?”

This is the question that lead me to becoming a teacher.

I was a second year university student, further away from knowing what I wanted to do with my life than ever before.  I had considered engineering, nursing, business and everything in between at one point or another while trying to decide.  But then one day, a friend of mine asked me “What if you won the lottery?  What would you do then?”   Almost instantly, I said I’d want to teach.  I surprised myself with this answer, since teaching was probably one of the few things I had not seriously considered pursuing yet.  I had always tutored peers and often found myself thinking about how school could be more interesting and fun as I didn’t pay attention in high school.

To be honest, my vision for being a teacher quickly changed once I started my teacher education.  But, this was the one question I can thank for leading me into a career I can honestly say I love.

This Youtube video with Alan Watts narrating reminded me of this earlier today:

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Compfight cc

Time

I’m finding it a challenge to balance my time as a first year teacher.  I’m sure the lack of time to get everything done is nothing new to experienced teachers, but I’m still battling it everyday.  I’ve never been great at managing my time as it is, so the increased expectations of being a teacher has really challenged me.

Just the other day I made the commitment to blog nearly everyday for a month.  Already I’ve missed a day.  Simply because I just did not have enough time to sit down yesterday and reflect in any sort of meaningful way.  Really, I don’t even have much time to make this post, but I’m forcing myself to do it.

Balancing planning for my classes, grading and assessing my students’ work, and  coaching hockey alone eat up almost 100% of my time each and every day.  I get to school almost two hours before the school day starts to get ahead on work, but yet I still find myself up working until past 11 each and every night just to stay caught up.  I have very little time to read a book, get in shape or do a hobby I enjoy.  Quite honestly, any spare time I have I usually find myself taking a nap to catch up on some sleep.

I know that finding that perfect balance between teaching work and a personal life is a difficult task, something I have not even been close to figuring out.  I know that taking take for myself should be a priority, but it never really seems to happen.  When I have to plan for all of my classes the next day, assess any student work or coach, my personal time falls to the bottom of my priority list.  I’ve always been told that the first few years of teaching are difficult like this and with the extra experience, it will get easier.  I’m convinced there is a better way to do this, I just need to take the time (which, I probably don’t have) to figure it out.

I’m hoping that the more I can be conscious of how I spend my time throughout the day, the more time I can for myself to do the things I enjoy outside of teaching.

Photo Credit: Βethan via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: mamasaurus rex via Compfight cc

Bring a Scientist into Class

I am currently teaching an introduction chemistry course.  It has been a lot of fun, but I can honestly say that my chemistry background is not that strong having only taken/took (clearly my English background also isn’t that strong) a handful of chemistry courses in my undergraduate studies.  Despite that, I have made it my goal of this course to show my students what science is and can be and try to give them an idea of what it’s like to be a scientist.

I have to admit, it’s pretty tough to show students what it is like to be a scientist if you’ve never been a scientist.  Sure, I like to think I have a good idea of what a scientist does, but I haven’t experienced it first hand.  I owe it to my students to give them a clear picture, which is something I don’t think I can provide them myself.

Luckily for me, I know people that can.  When I decided that I needed to find someone to teach my students about being a scientist, I  immediately turned to my good friend Mac Hird (@ImMacHird), who I met working for a summer science, engineering and technology program during my undergrad summer breaks.

Mac is currently  finishing up his masters in physics at MIT, where he is studying K-12 education as a complex system.  I honestly don’t know the details of his research, but knowing Mac, I’m sure he’d love to discuss it with anyone who was interested.  The greatest thing about Mac is that he wants to share his knowledge and passion for science with the world.  Mac also has a passion for science education and his studies are focused on investigating how to improve it.

So I decided to bring Mac into my classroom using web conferencing tools.  We have used both Skype and Google+ Hangouts to bring Mac into class three times this trimester (I prefer Hangouts, but that’s not what this post is about).

This is the same class where I get my students to blog about current events in science.  For one of my blogging assignments, I asked my students to reflect on our first session with Mac.  Almost every single student’s post started with something like “I thought this was going to be really lame and boring”, but they all went on to explain that they found the class fascinating and interesting.

Observing these web conferences, I witnessed a level of engagement and curiosity I have not seen in these students yet.  Speaking to a real scientist about real science in a fun, safe environment proved to be an incredible experience for my students.   They learned about things they never knew existed.  On one of our chats right before winter break, Mac told us breaking news about a new state of matter that’s research was released only hours earlier from MIT.  The science was way above my and my students’ heads, but they were so thrilled and excited to learn about something so new and cool from where it was happening.

We brought Mac back into class this past week and I was able to record the session using Google+ Hangouts which automatically can record to YouTube.  If you’d like a taste of what our conversation looked like, just hit play below!

A New Approach

When I was putting together an assignment for my ECS 100 class a few weeks ago (which I posted here), I came across the following from an article entitled Real-World Issues Motivate Students

“If schoolchildren are given the gift of exploration, society will be the beneficiary, both in practical and in theoretical ways, scholars say. “This is the way that mathematics started,” notes MIT’s Seymour Papert. “It started not as this beautiful, pure product of the abstract mind. It started as a way of controlling the water of the Nile, building the pyramids, sailing a ship. And gradually it got richer and richer.”

I didn’t really think much about this quote at the time, but I have been thinking more and more about it.  Currently, we are teaching students how to do math from a textbook, from a set of rules that we tell them and that’s how it is.  I don’t think too many students are able to discover something on their own when they are taught this way.    The closest event would be figuring out how to solve a more complex question.

Wordle of this post (wordle.net)

Wordle of this post (wordle.net)

Those who discovered and created math in the past weren’t told how it works from a textbook.  They had to figure it out.  They learned it because they wanted to.  Because they were curious to understand the world that they lived in.  If someone told them right from the start that this is how it is I highly doubt that the discoveries they made would have occurred.  Perhaps someone else down the road would have, but not them.  They likely wouldn’t have had any desire to explore new things if they were told how everything worked by someone.

I understand that not everyone can master math without help.  But, perhaps they can if we simply guide them along, allow them to make their own discovers, possibly by conducting studies and projects where they begin to see things clearer through their own eyes, not the pages of a text.  I think that if we started this at the beginning of a students education, they will be much more capable of grasping new concepts later in life and more able to figure things out on their own.

In my eyes, this approach would not only stimulate individual problem solving and thinking skills in students, but boost the need to share information and communicate with their peers.  No one can possibly expect a student to discover everything on their own.  However, I wouldn’t be surprised if a group of students did by constantly building upon each others work.  students would learn how to network ideas, how to constructively criticize, and  work with one another as a team.  They would have to work together to accomplish their goals.

I haven’t really figured out how this would look in a classroom.  These are just some thoughts I had once I reread the quote.  Does anyone else think this approach has some potential?  What are your thoughts?

Teaching for the Real World: Incorporating Relevant Topics and Technology

(This is an assignment I just submitted for my education class.  I’ll warn you, it’s a long post)

Just over a year ago I decided I wanted to pursue a career in education.  Since then, many people have asked me why I wanted to become a teacher.  At first, I was not entirely sure why I wanted to.  I would tell them that I wanted to make a difference, to work with children, to have as many holidays as possible, and to be able coach sports.  Don’t get me wrong, those are all things that still motivate me to become a teacher.  However, now I attribute my desire to teach to something much different:  I want to be a better teacher than my teachers ever were.  My teachers were behind in the times and did not always have the passion and enthusiasm I hoped for.  I do not feel that they prepared me to live in the world of today.  I can barely apply anything I learned in school to the real world and I am very inadequate when it comes to using technology.  My students will not suffer through an education experience similar to mine.  I will be a better teacher by using relevant, real-world problems and examples and I will incorporate the incredible tools of technology that are at my disposal.

From Flickr (click to enlarge)

From Flickr (click to enlarge)

For me, the most difficult aspect of school was applying what I was learning to the world I was living in.  Whenever a classmate of mine asked “Why are we learning this?” we typically got a response similar to “because it will be on your exam”.  What motivation is there for students to retain knowledge if the only reason they are learning is because it will be on their exam?  Students do not want to learn what will be on their exam, they want to know how it connects to their lives in the “real world” (Burden, 2000).   If a teacher can illustrate a purpose to a particular lesson, the students are more likely to dig deeper and expand their interest in the subject matter (Curtis, 2001).  Eventually, using this approach will encourage students to make connections to other lessons they have learned and apply a greater amount of knowledge when trying to solve a problem (Curtis, 2001).

This lack of real world applications will be addressed when I begin to teach.  If I can give my students reasons to learn, they will retain their knowledge rather than dismissing it immediately after their exam (Curtis, 2001).   I will give my students the framework to apply everything they learn within the walls of my classroom to the vast world outside of those walls.  I want my students to be able to do more than pass the final exam; I want them to connect their classroom experiences to their real-world experiences (Linking the real world, 2002).  It makes sense to say that “lessons related to real issues in a community have greater meaning to students than textbook ones” (Linking the real world, 2002, para. 17).  When students can build on their education outside of class, school will feel like less of a chore and will be more exciting.  Learning will become an everyday practice when students can start applying their school knowledge outside of school.

From Flickr (click to enlarge)

From Flickr (click to enlarge)

Having real life applications to schoolwork will unquestionably motivate students to learn.  Elliot Solloway, a University of Michigan professor, suggests that motivation can also be increased when technology is implemented into lessons (Kiedrowski, Smale, & Gounko, 2009). Tools like the internet can be used to link students to the real world (Linking the real world, 2002).  These tools make teaching more effective and interesting by better illustrating concepts and help appeal to the imagination and creative minds of students.

Technology is a bigger part of the world than it has ever been in the past.  In the 2004-2005 school year, there was over $7-billion spent on technology in the United States (Leonard & Leonard, 2006).  However, most technology still sits and collects dust (Leonard & Leonard, 2006).  When I was a high school student, technology was a large part of my everyday life, but never a part of my education.   Perhaps my teachers weren’t confident or educated well enough to effectively use the tools available to them.  According to Leonard and Leonard, many teachers have struggled to advance past the initial stages of using technology and ultimately have difficulty seeing its potential to boost their teachings (2006).

Some people argue that technology is not needed in education.  Some say the best teachers use very little technology while others argue that it disrupts the classroom environment (Leonard & Leonard, 2006; Kiedrowsk et al., 2009).  This may be true; however, technology is here to stay and is currently transforming our world (Leonard & Leonard, 2006).   Should education not reflect this worldwide trend?  Teachers need to begin finding ways to use technology for educational gains instead of ignorantly banning it (Kiedrowsk et al., 2009).  New technology needs to be used to its full potential because students will be using it for the rest of their lives (Leonard & Leonard, 2006).  For example, if a student is capable to accurately and professionally T9 text message a colleague in the future, they will have one more essential workplace skill than a peer who did not have the opportunity to learn this skill in their education (Kiedrowsk et al., 2009).

From Flickr (click to enlarge)

From Flickr (click to enlarge)

As a teacher, I plan to utilize technology to its full extent.  I do not intend for it to compensate for my shortcomings, but rather for it to complement my abilities.   It will be my responsibility to use technology appropriately and to ensure that my students are educated on how to use it safely and effectively (Kiedrowsk et al., 2009).  In the United States, the Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment believes that integrating technology into classrooms is the most important step for developing students to live in the future (Leonard & Leonard, 2006).   If a class can be made more exciting through the use of multimedia or projects made more fun with technology, why not use it to do so?  Teachers should be doing everything in their power to make learning more exciting and interesting for students.

I do not want my students to have a discouraging education experience like I did.  I want to make their schooling fun, exciting and practical.   My students will be prepared to live in the real world outside the walls of my classroom.  By encouraging my students to connect what they have learned in my class to their real life, they will be better prepared to handle real world problems on their own.  I will give my students the tools to succeed by exposing them to the incredible technology of the world and encourage them to use it in a safe, effective, and creative manner for their entire lives.   I want to be the teacher who makes school relevant to the real world.

References

Burden, P. (2000). Powerful classroom management strategies: motivating students to learn. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications Inc.

Curtis, D. (2001, 11 1). Real-World Issues Motivate Students. Retrieved October 18, 2009, from Edutopia: http://www.edutopia.org/start-pyramid

Kiedrowski, J., Smale, W., & Gounko, T. (2009). Cellular Phones in Canadian Schools: A Legal Framework. Education Law Journal , 19 (1), 41-62.

Leonard, L. J., & Leonard, P. E. (2006). Leadership for Technology Integration: Computing the Reality. Alberta Journal of Educational Research , 52 (4), 212-224.

Linking the real world to the classroom. (2002). Retrieved October 15, 2009, from Teaching Today: http://www.glencoe.com/ps/teachingtoday/educationupclose.phtml

The SHA Has it Right!

Saskatchewan Hockey Association

Saskatchewan Hockey Association

]This past weekend I took my hockey refereeing certification course. I haven’t been a referee since my younger days, but as a student I couldn’t think of a better part time job. I get to work when I want to, I get to participate in something I love, and the money is pretty good.

I know what you’re thinking: Kyle, what does this have to do with your blog relating to education, specifically technology? Everything, believe it or not. When I used to go to these officiating clinics back when I was in grade 7 or 8 it was a full day event. You would show up at nine in the morning and stay until somewhere around 4 or 5; a full day. Much to my surprise, things have changed significantly in the past few years. Before showing up to the clinic I was required to do online modules. The last thing I wanted to do was do online modules on top of the full day I thought I going to have to use to do the clinic.

So what did these modules include? They had slides on all the different topics: rules, penalties, procedures, expectations, and safety. Some topics even had excellent images and videos to complement the slides. This would come in very handy for someone who doesn’t quite understand what an offside or an icing is for example. After each set of slides or movies there was usually a quiz that you had to pass in order to move on. Someone who knows nothing about hockey or officiating the sport could quickly start to grasp the game and its confusing rules. And the best part was that the clinic was reduced to only four hours!

Screenshot of the Modules (click to enlarge)

Screenshot of the Modules (click to enlarge)

Whoever thought of doing this course this way is a genius! Not only did it save me half of a day of sitting in an uncomfortable desk, but I didn’t have to go anywhere. It could have only made sense for the Saskatchewan Hockey Association as well: They would have only had to pay their instructors half the hours and rent the classrooms for half of the time. It was really a win-win for both of us.

This clinic really got me wondering. Why don’t teachers take advantage of effective learning tools like online modules? Perhaps some do, but I sure never encountered one as a student. Why not have quick little modules or videos for our students to do as homework? Maybe even just some quick review tutorials on how to do some tasks. How handy would a quick video on how to do long division be for a student who is at home struggling with their long division homework? It would be an invaluable resource to students! I know there are some sites with videos like these kicking around, but what if your teacher is teaching you a different way than the video you stumbled across does? Having that reinforcement and help from a teacher while he/she isn’t their could be just as good as them being their helping with homework.

I think that the SHA has increased effectiveness with their clinics through this method. Why shouldn’t we be trying to increase our effectiveness in our every day lessons? With all the tools at our fingertips, it’s well within our reach.

On a sidenote, if anyone is interested in learning more about the rules of hockey, I believe anyone can take the modules here.