Journalling My First Few Months

COLEMANGAFor the first couple of months of my teaching contract I have been keeping a journal.  I have always strongly believed that reflecting on mistakes and experiences is the best way to learn.  I feel like I am a reflective person however I have never been one to sit down and write out my thoughts into a journal or diary.  Creating a journal presented a unique opportunity for me to further engage in the reflective process.   Sharing my journal has challenged me to think about challenges and experiences to a depth that I do not think I would have done otherwise.  I believe that keeping this journal for my first year of teaching has enhanced my experience in the following ways:

1. Increased depth of reflection.

Being asked to share my journal and my reflections has challenged me to go deeper and resulted in a higher quality of reflection.  I believe very strongly that sharing my work created a level of accountability that I would have struggled to have otherwise.  Knowing someone is going to read your reflection challenges you to create something that reflects the passion you have for the profession.

2. Enhanced/increased number of learning experiences with other professionals.

A lot of my journal was focused on various initiatives within the division and education in general.  Focusing on the experience of other professionals challenged me to begin conversations that drew out there opinions around a particular idea or practice.  One of my favorite things to do is to share my philosophy and ideas with other educators.  Having this journal helped to focus my conversations into something that I could potentially journal and share later.  I was able to learn more about different initiatives and different teachers’ successes and failures because this journal challenged me to ask questions that probed deeper into these issues.

3. Increased frequency of reflection.

Ideally teachers reflect on the successes and/or failures of every lesson that they teach however there are times when commitments outside of school or a need for balance takes away from this experience.  Keeping a journal challenged me to continually reflect on all aspects of every lesson even though I did not journal or share on every aspect.  I would reflect on each lesson I did trying to draw out particular ideas that I could reflect on further in my journal.

4. Encouraged to try (or transition to) new things quicker.

As I was continually reflecting on my lessons, experiences, interactions, etc. I was more aware of any successes or failures that I had.  This heightened awareness allowed me to quickly identify things that worked well or not so well with certain classes.  I was able to switch quickly to something new if I needed to because I was very conscious of how successful my current method was.

5. Greater confidence in what I was doing and why I was doing it.

Being able to share ideas and receive feedback on them was such a confidence builder as a first year teacher.  Sharing my journal presented a great opportunity to receive affirmation about the practices and lessons I was attempting from people who were knowledgeable and appreciative of these methods. Having a system of support and affirmation is an important thing for new teachers and without my journal it would have been harder to find.

Everyone’s situation is unique and what may have worked for me may not work as well for somebody else.  Differences aside, reflective practice is at the core of what it means to be a teacher.  A teacher committed to the profession is a teacher committed to developing their skills and practices.  Keeping a journal is one of the simplest (yet probably the most effective) way to continually engage in a process of life long professional development.

As you read this journal I hope that it offers a unique perspective from a first year teacher.  I would recommend a process similar to this for any first year teacher.  Keeping a journal and constantly reflecting on experience can be annoying and time consuming however in the field it can be one of the only forms of accountability you have.  Engaging in authentic reflective practice will help you learn faster, be more effective, and experience more success more often in your first year on the job.

Here is my journal (it has gotten quite long):

Journal of a First Year Teacher


Using Augmented Reality in the Classroom

One of my focuses this semester has been using technology to engage my students into the assessment process.  I want my students to experience learning in a way that may be new or different than their previous experiences.  In my Health 9 class we have just finished creating some drug awareness posters using augmented reality. This is what our class projects looked like:

We created these posters using Pixir and a free app called Aurasma.  We found Aurasma to be very intuitive and easy to use.

When I visited the Calgary Science School @DMcWilliam told me they were using some augmented reality for their student projects. I recently had some time to look a little more at CSS’s Connect Blog and figured that augmented reality would work very well with the posters we were going to make in Health.

Augmented reality allowed my students to tell a story with their posters.  They were able to create a two part story reflective of the choice presented by drugs.  Students were intrigued and proud of the final result to the point that other students were coming into my class throughout the day to see what their peers had created.  Other teachers saw this project as well and there have been so many other ideas centered around augmented reality in a very short time.

Dealing With Student Frustration

“Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.”

– Bo Bennett

Okay so one thing I am really trying to focus on is student frustration.  Taking an inquiry type approach produces some feelings and reactions that my students do not usually relate to learning.  The frustration of having to try something only to have it not work is something my students are not used to.  My students are accustomed to instant solutions and are really challenged when the problem tests both their understanding and patience.  Experiencing frustration and successfully working through it is a valuable lesson and I think it can really help my students fall in love with learning.

I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can in order to help my students deal with their frustration. I think the  thing that has worked the best is providing my students a forum to share what they are experiencing.  At the start of the year, sitting down and spending five minutes talking about the challenges certain problems presented allowed my students to see that other students had the same frustrations.  As the semester has progressed we have become better at dealing with our frustration individually.  My students have been honest with me about their frustration, something that has helped them get accustomed to the process of working through it.  Creating a community has allowed my students to not only be vocal with their frustrations but it has also allowed me to gain their trust.

Having to deal with frustration and experience how frustration is an important part of learning has helped my students and I really look at learning from a different perspective.  I am loving the challenges that inquiry presents not only for my students, but myself as well. 

Engaging My Students With 3-Act Math Problems

I really want my students to become engaged in the process of Math and I have been looking on blogs, asking other teachers, looking around Twitter, doing anything I can think of to find out what other teachers are doing.  I ran across Dan Meyer’s blog last week sometime and over the weekend decided to develop what Meyer calls ‘Three Act Math Problems’.  Basically these problems use technology to video tape, photograph, and annotate something from everyday life.  Students are shown this video and then ask questions.  Once we decide on a question we are going to answer students break off and work out the math.  At the end we get back together, discuss what we did and imagine how we could take this further.

This whole past week I have been doing Three Act Math problems for the first 10 – 15 minutes and have seen engagement increase consistently.  I think the students really appreciate the idea that:

1.) We are answering their questions.

2.) The things we have looked at are things that are relevant to them.

An Example: Yesterday we looked at a National Post article that stated we are going to melt down 85 million kg of pennies in the next year.  One student knew copper was worth a bit and so wanted to know how much money we’d make off the copper.  The students then determined they needed to know how much one penny weighed (although at the end we realized this was irrelevant), the percentage of copper in one penny and the price of copper.  Once we found these numbers (there was a helpful info graphic with the article) the students were able to work out mathematically how much money we would make off the copper in 85 million kg of pennies.

We have only been doing Three Act Math problems for almost a week however the class is already beginning to ask great questions as well as come up to me with their own ‘Acts’ to base questions around.  Students are becoming less afraid to ask questions and more focused when we cover particular aspects of the curriculum.  My hope is to continue this at the beginning of every class as a way of engaging my students and helping them understand how Math can help answer their questions about the world around them.

Our Meeting With An Archaeologist

In my Social Studies 9 class I have really been trying to focus on engaging my students (sometimes it works, sometimes I learn from it and try again).  We are just beginning a new unit on societies of the past and we thought it would be cool if we could talk to someone who actual studies these societies as a living.  Que the drum roll…….. Enter Doctor Chris Foley from the University of Saskatchewan.

Photo by: Jessica Finson

Okay, well I don’t think he looks the same as Indiana Jones however his job sounded just as exciting as in the movies.  Dr. Foley shared with us what it is that he does, where in the world he has been, and some of the spectacular discoveries his teams have made.  It was an unique experience being able to hear from someone who not only does the stuff we are studying for a living but is immensely passionate about it as well.  Dr.Foley was an amazing storyteller and had so many interesting anecdotes along the way.  I asked some students afterwards what they thought and they all agreed that this was a great experience for us. Meeting with Dr.Foley allowed us to put a face and voice to the content we were studying as well as offering us an unique perspective from someone that we would not normally meet.  I would definitely do this again in the future!

In order to make this meeting possible we used Adobe Connect.   Adobe Connect is the web-conferencing software that our division uses however I think it is very similar to Elluminate, a  (possibly less expensive) program we used to meet in my ECMP 355 class. The program allowed us to set up an online meeting place where both Dr.Foley and I met using a URL we were given when @jeffwalters27 created the space

Our Adobe Connect session with Dr.Chris Foley

Our Adobe Connect session with Dr.Chris Foley

for us. There were some issues that I think extended from our unfamiliarity with the Adobe platform however the overall experience with Adobe was good.  A tool like Adobe or Elluminate give presenters more versatility however I think you do give up some of the intuitiveness you would have with Skype or Hangouts.  I think in the future I would look for a platform that would be more comfortable for our expert to use or I would make sure I knew the capabilities of the networks and hardware that either of us were working with.

This was a great learning experience, not only for my students who got to meet an actual archaeologist, but for me as well.  I think connecting with an expert is such an important step whenever it is possible (something I took away from my visit at the Calgary Science School).  With the technology available to us all it takes is an email to set meetings like this into motion.  Looking back on our meeting with Dr.Foley there is no way that I could compare with both the knowledge and passion that he has for his field.  Meeting Dr.Foley and being able to ask him questions has helped my students and I become more engaged and excited for our new unit.  Yay internet!

My Visit to the Calgary Science School

Today I was able to go and observe a morning at the Calgary Science School.  Calgary Science School is a charter school with a mandate to present education in a way that is new and research based.  Spending the morning at the school really showed me how my philosophy could be applied in a school setting.

Here are some of the things I observed (sorry the video is so long, I tried to shorten it, there were just so many exciting things going on):

There are a lot of great ideas on the Calgary Science School Connect! Blog and because they’re so great…the ideas are free!


My Favorite Unit So Far

So I’ve completed my internship at Estevan Comprehensive High School and man was that a blast!  Internship was such a challenging, rewarding, revealing process and I was able to grow so much in such a short time.  This semester I’m sticking around Estevan and subbing while finishing up my final class for my Education degree.

It was thinking about project ideas for my final class that I started thinking back to the different units I taught in Physics and Chemistry this last semester.  I was trying to think hard about what types of learning opportunities worked the best…did some work better than others?…is there one type of approach that works best?  I came to the conclusion that there is more than one way to teach something however what I found for myself is that when I really focused on student engagement at the beginning of the concept they seemed to have a better handle on it in the end.

The engaging activities I used usually took the form of something that at first looked like it had nothing to do with science (I think that was part of the reason my students seemed so engaged). There was no better example of this seemingly unrelated engagement than our unit on chemical kinetics

The Lesson

We were beginning Chemical Kinetics and I had recently seen a new Ted Ed video, “How to speed up chemical reactions (and get a date).”

I began by showing the first couple minutes of this video:

We didn’t watch this video all the way through.  We stopped when the narrator pulled out his construction hat and was about to redesign the school.  I wanted my students to understand their purpose (getting students to collide) and how they could accomplish this thinking for themselves.

We branched out into groups, students were contractors for an hour, and they designed floor plans for schools where there would be a high likelihood to get a date to a dance.  It gave me goosebumps seeing the different ideas that groups had…and the things they were coming up with were synonymous with the different ways we could speed chemical reactions.

When we watched the rest of the video at the end, and tied what we did to chemistry, students were already confident with the idea and we had a good place to start for our study of chemical kinetics.  The rest of the unit was never boring as we were constantly making reference, in some form or another, to relationships both in the real world and in chemistry.  We came out of chemical kinetics with a good understanding of the important concepts…and I don’t think anyone in the class ended up going to the next dance without a date.

Reflecting on this semester…

During this semester my views regarding my educational philosophy and learning were constantly being challenged to grow and expand.  I don’t feel like I was ever far off track from what was going to work for me however I equate my learning journey to a drive down the highway with slight corrections here and there.  Throughout my experience this semester I feel like I was able to grow and develop into the teacher I want to become.  I realize that my growth is not finished and that I am going to be challenged quite a bit in internship however, I feel comfortable with my abilities entering pre-internship.

One of my greatest areas of growth this semester has been in regards to how students learn.  I entered pre-internship after reaching a point in my understanding that students want activities and engaging opportunities to learn.  In pre-internship I found this view of what students want to be both challenged and supported. I realize this is somewhat of a paradox so let me try to explain a bit.  I found, after being in a high-school, that students were very comfortable with taking notes, memorizing, and then writing an exam.  In contrast I found that many students were originally hesitant when faced with an activity that challenged them to apply the concepts that they were learning.  I found that this hesitation was associated with the challenge that the activity presented.  Students enjoyed learning through activities and although there was some initial frustration, these students were often thoroughly engaged.  It was the challenge and the demand to do more than memorize which presented some difficulty to these high school students. I feel that high school students very quickly saw the benefit and value in being asked to apply what they knew once they began to do more activity and application based lessons.   My belief entering pre-internship was that if I can connect the content to my students in a meaningful way I can teach for a deep understanding.  Reflecting on my pre-internship I believe connecting experience to learning is possible if students are shown how to buy in to the process and led to understand that experiencing frustration is itself a valuable learning opportunity.

Photo by: Piero Sierra

The most important area where I have grown this semester has been how I have come to an understanding of what my most important role as a teacher is going to be.  I have come to understand how I have a legal, ethical, and moral responsibility as a teacher to make my classroom safe for all my students.  I have learned that how I respond to this responsibility begins first with being aware of the different discourses that my students and myself are going to be exposed to on a daily basis.  This idea of making my classroom a ‘safe’ community is a theme that has echoed through all my courses, not only this semester, but this entire year.  I have been challenged throughout this semester as to how I was going to do this within my classroom.  I knew that in order to begin this process I needed to be aware and create a community, but isn’t there more than that?  It was when I was able to attend a WestCAST conference with some of my peers that I realized how I can, and am, going to confront discourses within my classroom.

At WestCAST my opinions on education and inclusion were challenged and forced to grow in a variety of different sessions.  The most impactful experience for me was when I listened to Dr. Darren Lund talk on student activism.  Dr. Lund from the U of C has published over 250 papers or articles and won numerous awards including the Alberta Human Rights Award.  The projects that Dr.Lund and his students have established have gone on to have not only local, but international influence and have been a catalyst for change in many situations.  While listening to Dr.Lund I was forced to take my thinking about discourses and apply it to my students and myself.  I had all the theoretical knowledge but was struggling with how to practically apply it to myself.  After listening to Dr.Lund I realized that what I can do as a teacher is begin the process of discourse analysis in my class and then get out of their way.  My thinking was challenged and grew from an understanding of my responsibility to an understanding of how I would accomplish this within my classroom.  Students are capable of far more than most teachers give them credit for.  Sometimes a teacher can stifle or hinder an idea that a student may have not fully understanding the perspective or intent behind the idea.  As a new teacher I enter with a fresh perspective.  If I can keep an open mind, empower and really listen to my students my classrooms will have the potential to create the same kind of changes that Dr.Lund’s have.

I have learned so much this semester and the most important thing for me now is to not allow my learning to cease.  I need to stay invested in the professional development process and what this means for me as a teacher.  As I learned this semester, if I continue to invest in my growth I will continue to grow.  If I make mistakes or experience success, as long as I focus on growth, I can take away valuable lessons that will help to shape my practice as an educator.   As I previously mentioned, I realize that my views on learning as well as my educational philosophy will continue to be challenged throughout my entire teaching career.  I also realize that I will probably experience the most growth in my thinking within my first couple years however I also realize that to be effective this growth can never stop.  It is important that I continue to challenge the way I think about learning because, as I have experienced, this is how I grow as a teacher and a professional.  I can’t start to think that I have all the answers.  What I know might work at the time but this could change as my students change.  In order to be an effective teacher I need to critically and continuously evaluate my practice and philosophy.  Focusing on my own personal growth will be the most effective way to help my students grow.

Biology Web Resources

Here are some great sites I found for teaching high school biology.  Thanks to @cybraryman1 who helped me out on #edchat and hooked me up with his biology page – a great place for me to start.

These are the ones I really liked with a quick explanation about them:

1.] Ensemble Genome Browser

This website catalogs the human genome as well as the genome of other vertebrates and makes it free on the internet.  The search feature is very easy to use and makes it

Picture by: Ethan Hein

possible to search for genes that have roles in certain diseases or even traits such as eye colour, growth, etc.  Good chance for students to go deeper into genetics and the genome; help express the complexity of genetics and its role in physical traits.

2.] Secrets of the Sequence: Video Series on the Life Sciences

Contains videos on a variety of topics including evolution, anatomy, DNA, genetics, even careers in life sciences although focusing mainly on the DNA aspect of those concepts.  If you’re looking for videos to relate DNA to a variety of topics this is a good place to start.  These videos are short and could be incorporated very easily into a lecture or activity.

3.] Learn. Genetics

A great site with interactive tours and videos on a variety of genetics related concepts.  There is a prezi type tour that helps students relate the size of the microscopic cells they are studying to some everyday items such as coffee beans and rice grains; there is also a build your own DNA molecule activity.

The Teach.Genetics companion site to this offers great lesson plans for teachers looking to incorporate activities into their genetics lessons.  This site is in beta mode so will only get better as new resources are developed.


A good-looking, interactive game where students need to know and understand how traits are inherited in order to accomplish the objectives of the game.  There is even a brief little aspect in regards to mating rituals throughout the game although the main focus is genetic inheritance and selective breeding.  The teacher’s portal through which the game is linked provides good ideas for how to incorporate the game and potential questions to ask afterwards.

5.] Biological Animations

Website with very good animations of cellular level processes such as protein folding, cell division, DNA replication, and metabolism.  This site would be a very good way to show students what you are talking about during an interactive lecture or something like that.

6.] Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms

Great resource produced by the Human Genome Research Institute where students or teachers can learn about potentially difficult terms.  The glossary provides a pronunciation and definition; even better sometimes a diagram, 3-D animation, and professional related to the term is provided as well.  This is a great way for students and teachers to interact with material they may find difficult in whatever way suites their needs.

7.] Shape of Life

Great site produced around the TV series on the way life has evolved over time highlighting different Phyla along the way.  This resource not only contains great videos on different Phylum but provides companion activities that could be adapted or used as is. There is also a section connecting the scientists to the different sections they were involved in providing students a face to the science presented.

8.] Tree of Life

This is an excellent visual tool depicting the phylogeny of all life on earth.  Students are able to look at a certain organism and see how closely related it may be to other organisms they have studied.  This resource would also be helpful to teachers needing to brush up on their classification.

9.] Hands-on Activities for Teaching Biology to High School and Middle School Aged Students

This site has lots of hands-on biology activities conveniently organized into a variety of different concepts.  Some of these activities could use a little bit more creativity however a lot of them such as the Diffusion Across a Semi-Permeable Membrane are already set up as a type of inquiry and include the student and teacher resources.

10.] Dr.Saul’s Biology in Motion

This resource is a very good looking website with some interesting looking animations.  The animations are an engaging way to explain some cellular processes and there is a simulation to help students see how mutations effect variation.  Some of these animations would help to show students what you are talking about in a humorous sort of way.

11.] Microscopic Imaging Station

This site has loads of different microscopic images.  This site would be useful to show students similarities and differences between different cells, cell stages, and organisms.  Would be good to add to a lecture or very important in a lab situation where there may not be microscopes or the slides you want.

How Twitter Has Changed How I Learn

I was looking through my Google Reader today and ran across another tweet from an athlete that has made the news. James Harrison apparently got himself into more trouble over a suspension when he “LOL’d” it over twitter. This seems to be a common theme in the news and its hard to go a week without hearing about something along these lines happening.

I’m not going to lie, before this semester, this was one of the main reasons why I used twitter.  I thought twitter was something I could use to have a laugh every once in awhile and following guys like Conan, I’ve been able to.

From there my use of twitter evolved to serve as a method for acquiring news.  I have found that if something happens it is on twitter, and if it is important it is usually a trending tweet.  In this way twitter allowed me to have a laugh and also know what is going on.

Over the course of this semester I have found that I was not wrong in how I’ve used twitter before, a lot of people use twitter for just those reasons.  What I have come to understand, however, is how twitter is probably one of the largest networks available to me.  I was one of those people who said, “Oh, Twitter, that’s silly, I don’t care what you had for lunch.”, but now I understand how much I can learn on twitter.

Twitter has allowed me to connect to people on #edchat who have been teaching for decades.  I can learn through them and what they share on twitter and their blogs.  Twitter has also been a resource with other things I’ve wanted to learn or explore.  This is what twitter has become for me.  I still use it to have a laugh and keep up to date on current events but now I also use twitter to learn.  Who would of thought?