Sunday, December 14, 2008

Power of Experience

It has been a long 3 weeks or so since I last updated my blog. Some of you have started to ask me if I have abandoned it - the answer is no, I am still here. There have been times where I have felt like I have been in the background of my own life...or in a (maybe) more concrete explanation - sitting in the back row of my own classroom while at school and analyzing too much of what I do everyday while not at school. It seems like I often express myself more often when things are not quite going the way I would like so I have given off the view that I am not enjoying my second block of practicum, but I really am.

I think that I have really embraced the freedom that I am given in my classroom this time around. I spent some time learning about SMARTboards (including going to a workshop on some of it's basic functions during the PD Day a week ago) and have been using it with my Grade 11 Functions classes for the past two weeks. This has involved learning some new software and being comfortable having some things go wrong in class! I had a definite Murphy's Law day when our school had multiple photo copier issues (on top of the fact that I initially photocopied the wrong handout!) and everything that could go wrong with my laptop and the projector seemed to (never mind the fact that it was a buyout period so a third of my class missed out on Part 1 of a vital lesson). I have also used the graphing calculators in class a few times and we have done some group work. On top of all the technology I have been using the transformations of functions unit as a chance to do a lot of Assessment FOR learning where I have given handouts with prompting questions for my students to take notes on during class that they then take home to help with HW and then hand it in to me the following class to get feedback. It has been quite the adventure with these two classes, but man i have learnt a ton! [I also started using private "wikis" with my classes, but that will be it's own entry once my project and research are complete].

This entry is already way longer than I thought it was going to get, but evidently 3 weeks of not talking has taken its toll! (as I am sure a few people in my life would tell you when I have been in some seriously talkative moods recently). Other tidbits I will include for your enjoyment will be short here, but I think they are things that have been a big part of this block of practicum and will probably play into things I write about in the future:
- Having to give speeches/"yell" at Gr 11 classes about how I am here for them, not myself, and that they will be seriously troubled as this unit progresses if they don't get a thorough understanding of what I am trying to teach them
- Helping coach the Girl's Ice Hockey Team
- Spending time in Student Success learning about some of the inner workings of a school and how amazing these programs could be with the right support
- A student sharing something with you about their lives, just to create conversation
- Getting to spend time with fellow Teacher Candidates at our "meetings" or otherwise and getting to bounce ideas and give suggestions to others (it is so easy to forget how NOT alone you are in this profession!)
- Starting the process of applying to the Ontario College of Teachers and doing some basic research on the application processes for the District School Boards (DSBs) I will be considering

I think that is enough for now... I want to talk about a video clip that was sent to us by one of my curriculum professors at some point, but I will save that for another entry (so maybe it will actually happen soon! but don't count on it, as the Holidays - which means working in my family - are quickly approaching!

Take care and a very Merry Christmas to you all!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Teaching for Social Justice

I have been back at the Faculty of Ed for just over two weeks now. This is our third and final week of the fall semester that will be spent in classes talking, reflecting, and analyzing things that we have already done and trying to soak in even more ideas and notions about teaching. I have really found things to be overwhelming - there are so many things to consider when you are teaching children and adolescents (most of which has nothing to do with the curriculum) and you cannot possibly address them all. So this is what leads you to start to think about what is important to you and what values you would like to instill in your students. I have found myself consistently having the social justice undertone in everything that I do - I always want people (my friends, family, and students) to be active witnesses to injustices in our everyday lives. And so, my path has led me to two things.

1. Attending a series of lectures on social justice that will take place, for the most part, when we return in January and will lead to a certificate in social justice.
2. Making a presentation in my Exceptional Adolescent and Children elective on cultural diversity in the classroom that led me to speak about all types of diversity and get fellow Teacher Candidates (TCs) to discuss how they will plan to create an inclusive classroom/environment in their careers.

In the spirit of spreading my knowledge and views the intent of this entry is to share with you some of the things I have shared with others and some of what I learned in the first of eleven social justice lectures (we also have additional generalized lectures for this topic in one of our course modules in January that all TCs are required to complete).

Here is the pamphlet I created for my presentation.

The rest of the information here is paraphrased from the lecture that I attended this morning. I learned some interesting statistics but please note that this is in point form and that I do not assume that all data presented is precisely or historically accurate.

- Faggot – a bundle of sticks usually used for kindling. “Witches” used a group of gay men as kindling.
- 30% of youth suicides are LGBTQ youth.
- At school, 86.2% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed
- 44.1% reported being physically harassed
- 22% reported being physically assaulted
- 100% of students suffer as a result of homophobic name calling and bullying causing rigid gender roles to be formed
- Film: It’s Elementary: Talking about gay issues in school (Educators version), has also been remade since called “It’s Still Elementary”
- What you permit, you promote!
- 25% of new carriers of HIV are women
- 98% of predators are straight men
- You will always have the School Board Policy, the Education Act, and the Canadian Human Rights Policies to fall back on – ultimately your goal is safety for all students
- Resources:;;; (GALE = gay and lesbian education);

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Interactive Quiz

I mentioned I was planning to do an interactive quiz in my last entry. I went ahead with it and, although there were a couple shortfalls, it was AMAZING! I created a review quiz for a unit that was going to be tested the following class. I tried to brush on each topic so the class could get an idea of what would be on the test later in the week.

The biggest downfall was that it was definitely too long, and the second page was more difficult than I had intended it to be (essentially half of the quiz ended up being "thinking" questions). To balance this I ended up increasing everyone's grade by one mark (10% of the quiz).

They had half an hour to complete the quiz as they normally would. I then gave them 20 minutes to sit in pairs that I had assigned them to to discuss there answers and make any changes that they wanted to. This was the amazing part. Most of the students were actually actively engaged in conversation about the quiz, it was a great atmosphere. The idea behind this was to get the students to learn from each other and figure out where their weaknesses were so that they could ask for extra help in these ideas.

Because it was too long having it peer evaluated at the end wasn't sufficient enough so I had to collect them. The students were told that they could come to the math department before or after school in the next two days to pick up their quizzes and/or to set up a time with me for extra help. I only wish that more of them had taken the time to pick up their quizzes to find their shortfalls. It shows a lack of desire, or maybe a lack of the idea, to take responsibility for their own learning. I feel that had they seen these quizzes that many of them would have lost fewer marks on their tests.

That being said, I know that I had some short falls in teaching some of these skills and that there were a couple of things not reviewed throughout the unit that should have been and would have helped them with their learning. Hopefully we all learnt something valuable in the process!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Continuing Developments

Sometimes I feel like my emotions cause me to bounce back and forth about how I am feeling about myself in teaching. The last week has been a roller coaster and I had intended on addressing some of it sooner so that there was a smaller gap between entries, but somehow I didn't end up making time for (and motivating) myself to do so.

My last entry eluded to me feeling like I had stepped into a much larger hole of confusion and unknown than I had thought I was. I still feel that way - but continuing on with another week definitely led me feeling slightly more optimistic (even if the optimism felt repressed only five minutes later). I will pick a couple of instances and try to focus my writing around them. I apologize if I seem to ramble, as I tend to do =)

On Friday we were able to gain the experiences of attending a Professional Development Day (or PD Day). (Yes, teachers actually do attend school when the students don't!). The day was planned by the PD committee at the school and the theme surrounding the day was transitions - both into and out of high school (One thing I learnt is that PD Days are going to make me feel like I'm at the Faculty of Ed again). We focused on what we, as teachers, should Stop, Start, Continue, and Change about our practises, the school, etc. A group of the TCs at my school hung out afterwards as a chance to blow off some steam and be around people we could talk to (about anything) and it seemed like I wasn't the only one who felt like we were being *evil eyed* by current teachers with "ya, just wait until you're actually a teacher and you can see that you're dreaming" written across their foreheads. Aren't teachers supposed to be life long learners? Aren't they supposed to be here because they want to be and think they can actually make a difference?

We are the new generation of teachers and we are ALLOWED to be excited and enthusiastic about it. I want to be USED as a resource for new things and different insights. I WANT current teachers to look at my attitude and think "maybe she has a point." Is that really too much to ask? Well I sure feel like I'm asking too much of a lot of them anyways - it wouldn't be fair to say that some of them don't embrace us, they ARE out there! (and for you, I am grateful!!)

I did have some personal triumphs amidst the week though. I was able to see that although it is difficult to do now, it really is true that as my experience builds I will be able to figure out where to start with teaching a concept and break it into enough steps that I create minimal confusion. Not that I am there yet, but I feel closer. I do feel like I have already fallen into a rut though. My lessons have consisted largely of "chalk and talk" methods and they are hard to fall away from. My goal has to be to create as interactive an atmosphere as possible in doing this, but sometimes it's hard to pry answers out of students. I have managed to create one handout (and see where it was good and where it fell short) and I have used one investigative class. I am intending to do an interactive quiz with one class this week before their test, so we will see how that goes. I might be able to get some graphing calculator time in before I head back to B.Ed classes but my goal for the second practicum block is to involve some more technology (there is a classroom with a Smart Board).

I cannot wait to get involved with extra-curricular activities!

Now reader, head forth and smile at someone today - you never know how big of a difference you can make!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Built Up Expectations.

Having grown up knowing that I wanted to be a teacher and having almost everyone around me tell me that I would be good at it and had a natural knack for helping people understand isn't always the cup of tea that it seems to be. I am not saying that I wish I had not found my passion so young, or that I want to be the person who has finished University and still really has no idea what she wants to do, but there is something to be said for soul searching and the things that come along with it. Sometimes I feel like I've missed out on a chance to really learn a lot about myself. At the same time, being a Teacher Candidate is the beginning of a road to a lifetime of learning.

What I am getting at is this - through knowing what I wanted to do and having so many people I care about agreeing with me, I have come to have expectations of the profession, and of myself. Finally having the chance to start a unit with more than one class has been a way different experience than my two Undergraduate placements (even though I had a chance to teach a fair number of lessons considering how short they were). I guess it has given me a chance to see how easy it is to fall into patterns and not make the extra effort to find a way to make each day that little bit different. Sometimes you get ahead of yourself and teach a class something that you really do know is completely incorrect, but it takes someone pointing it out afterwards that you overlooked it. It can be easy to make the perspective on something like that larger than it should maybe that is what I did today - but it has lead me to remind myself that I still have lots to learn and that only I can go and seek those things out. I have to create the chances to learn new things, to find people to shed some light on a new angle, to look for the opportunity in everything I do and be willing to take chances (on myself mostly).

I have more to say on the subject, but I should have fallen into my nice cozy, warm bed by now so it will have to wait for another time.

Head off and use your brains as the sponges they were meant to be!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Baby Steps

Leading up to final year (aka this year) we have been taking small steps into the teaching profession. At times it has been trying - meaning that when you are observing for an extended period of time it can be difficult to stay awake - but there have also been some key moments that have probably kept many concurrent students on this track to teaching. Through my undergraduate placements I did more teaching than I was "required to do" which led to me teaching about 6 days of a full course load. While it feels like this gave me a taste of it I am sure starting with a full unit in one or two courses will feel completely different. All of a sudden my giant! baby step is to leap into two classes head on in the third day of my placement! I'm pretty excited (beyond just meeting the students and basically watching them do seat work or write a test...).

I was able to make it to my old high school on my way home to stop in and talk to some of the Admin and a few teachers in the math department (ones who taught me and/or were my host teachers at one point). I bumped into a couple of students who had been in the classes I had been a student teacher in and even ran into a girl who was in a class that I was a co-op student in when I was in Grade 12. I always find it fascinating that you can forget the people you've met have moved forward (and gotten older) and made their own baby steps.

It gets me thinking about the impact you can have on someone and the impact that others can have on you - and sometimes not even realize they have for a long time to come! You can think of it as forgetting, but I prefer to believe that realizing what someone has done for you happens right when you need it to - after all, it's the context you learn something in what has the effect, not the lesson itself. I don't think that very many of us consciously realize what life/someone has taught us and I think that even fewer of us ever come to understand it enough to give credit to whom it is deserved. Or maybe I am just way too philosophical on trivial things for my own good.

Either way, I am in my first practicum block of my final year and about to start teaching a set of minds that will affect my future. One day they will be the politicians, doctors, carpenters, electricians, engineers, and lawyers that our society so much relies on. Who's to say whether one individual can really make that much of a difference in a life - but I have to believe it if after 15 years I still want to share my knowledge and love for learning with others. That is to say, it was 15 years ago I realized this dream and that has to be worth something!

Wish me luck!


I knew I had a purpose when I started writing this entry, but of course by the time I got to a point where I wanted to mention this, I could not remember what on Earth it was. My baby step from Wednesday was realizing that I had been so caught up thinking about how I was not going to be teaching in my own environment and would have to use the classroom rules of someone else, that I had not taken the time up to come up with my own, never mind a way to let a class know what they were. So when I was told that I should do what I wanted and let them know what MY rules were I wasn't quite prepared. But I plunged feet first...and it would suffice to say, I survived and will keep rethinking and adjusting those rules and how I presented them. It's definitely something worth putting a lot of effort into (the thinking part!). After all, what's the point of fighting your students on those rules all year when you can get them right from the beginning and have way fewer battles to wage!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Heather's Letter Home

I am currently in my Physics curriculum class and we were asked to write as if we were writing home to someone to tell them how things had gone here. So obviously I figured it was worth posting here as well. It's not really as informative as it could be, but it was written in a limited amount of time and I will be adding in something more concrete to my blog sometime soon. Not that I expect anyone to keep up with me enough to care about my attempt at being concise (this time...).


I'm trying to think of a concise way to let the outside world know how things have been going since I have arrived at Duncan McArthur Hall and am at a bit of a lost of how to do that. It's funny how every time I've talked to a friend that isn't at the Faculty I am always asked "How's Teacher's College?" so maybe it is just as easy to use this as a chance to answer that question.

It has been easy to feel the (general) gap between the concurrent and consecutive students throughout classes (more so the first couple of weeks) so things have been a little bit redundant. But at the core of this, I try to pull myself away from this view as much as possible - after all, I'm here so I may as well make the most of it. This is to say, that when I am asked how things are going I generally say: "They're going. But I am keeping an open mind and putting the effort into it that I wish to receive from it."

If that isn't the reason I am here than maybe I am lost amongst my ignorance. I'd like to think that someone would point out my ignorance to me if I had made it to that point...but I would be more surprised if any of us had really gotten beyond a lot of our ignorances.

It's been exciting (and sometimes very overwhelming) to discover new aspects of the teaching profession. I have spent most of my time listening for teaching ideas and for things that are "inspiring and worth remembering." These are really the only sections of my "commonplace book" that are worth looking at. I'd like to meet a teacher that managed to get through a year where they actually implemented all of the things they wanted in their doesn't seem possible.

Let the real test begin! (aka Prac)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Try Harder"

In my professional class this morning one of the instructors said something that I just had to take note of. I do not often take notes in this class since we also have readings to do and I get most of my notes from there, but from time to time one of the two instructors will say something that I add to my "Inspiring Things to Remember" section of my notebook. Todays entry reads, "Teach students to do things differently - 'trying harder' doesn't work if what they're doing isn't helping in the first place."

I could not even begin to count the number of times I'd experienced (or overheard) a teacher or parent saying "try harder" when frustration or misunderstanding were involved. It is a simple response when ones initial thought is "he/she has not really put effort into it and just wants an easy way out" but how often is this really the case and what are we taking for granted?

I remember times where I would get so frustrated when I would ask for help spelling a word and the response would be "sound it out" and then "try harder" when I still wasn't sure of my answer. Yes, it would have been just as easy to look it up in a dictionary at this point, but when you are struggling with spelling (and not definitions) this, too, can be a frustrating process. And when I am asking how to spell, I do not need the response to be one that makes me feel worse about one of my weaknesses. I am well aware that spelling is not my strength. Maybe there are ways to look at problems like these differently in order to help a student think about them in an alternative way - one that makes more sense to them.

There are SO many things that I have taken note of throughout the past three weeks. Sometimes it gets overwhelming to think of the number of things that I would like to implement in my own classroom, but I would like to think that many, if not most, of them are accomplishable. Being able to respond to a student's struggles without assuming that their only problem is a lack of effort should be one of those things, but it is going to take some effort to find out what those things might be. So my call to you is this - if you have ever had an experience like this as a student (or a teacher) and can provide insight as to what you liked about what happened or what you think would have helped you, please give me a shout!

Thanks for reading!

-----Amendment to entry, Sept 28, 2008----------

I have since seen this even more because of its application especially to special needs students (mostly those who happen to have a learning disability). This just reiterates the need for teachers (and parents and students) to be sensitive to things that someone is having difficulty with. It is also a reason to know your students well as individuals!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Position Paper

For my math curriculum class we were asked to write a position paper. Basically it asked us to write up to 2 pages, double spaced, about how we feel about math, where it comes from, what it means to be a good teacher, etc. I thought that this was a good chance to start to share some of my thoughts as I have started into my Education year. Hopefully it will provide a bit more insight into where I am coming from and who I am. Here is a good chunk of my paper thus far:


For me Mathematics is a language – it is a way to communicate some very complicated (and some very simple) aspects of our world in a logical and beautiful way. It can definitely be difficult to relate to another person who has a lot of trouble understand math and the reasons it is taught, but everyone has something that they don’t “want” to learn so that is what I try to think about. Mathematics is important to be taught throughout secondary school because it relates to so many careers. Many students that struggle throughout adolescents may find themselves in some kind of trade – and trades require calculations, spatial understanding, geometry, and/or problem solving skills. Further to that, learning how to problem solve in a math class has a great effect on students and their ability to problem solve in their daily lives.

Through my experiences I have found that, in general, secondary school students are not very fond of their math classes. There are always a few students that like the material being taught and want to further their knowledge – but even most of those that are there by choice in Grade 12 just want to get the credit so that they can be accepted into their program of choice in College or University. At least these students will have a drive to learn, just maybe not the desire to be educated that a teacher could hope for. The most important group is probably the one that does not understand why they have to continue taking math and does not want to be in the class. This is a majority of applied courses and even parts of the academic ones. I believe that these students did not receive the support that they needed at some point in their elementary years causing them to fall behind. At this point it is easy for a student’s self-confidence to falter and not know how to get it back. This is why I feel it is important to find the route of a student’s weakness and try to bring that confidence back up.

It takes a very patient person to be a teacher. It takes an even more patient person to teach something like math or any science – the basic concepts must be taught and understood well before one can move on, while, for example, in a history class if one does not understand the year 1899 this will not necessarily prevent one from understanding 1900. A good math teacher can find more than one way to explain a concept, creates a positive learning environment, and finds ways to help the students relate to the material. From what I have seen throughout my life it is really easy to fall into a pattern of using lecture style lessons in math classes and to forget that one needs to make it interesting and try different methods to get things across.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Beginning

I have been sitting here creating this blog for the last while. Trying to come up with a name and a URL that were both available and something that I thought reflected me and the purpose of this weblog. It is not easy to summarize a purpose in a few characters, never mind to create a description for a blog in 500 characters or less.

I wanted somewhere to come to discuss my thoughts, even if it is nowhere in particular as I have proved to myself in the past that I no longer take the time to keep any kind of hand written journal - even if it is a new years resolution!

In any event, these first two weeks of my B.Ed have proved to be trying - if only on my patience and my organization skills. It has been very introductory so far (although understandably so) but there are many things that we have been asked to do in time for next week (and I have not used an agenda since high school). Even still, I have already found quite a few things to write down...many of my instructors have said things or posted things on a power point presentation that have really made me think about what I am going to do in the classroom and how I am going to accomplish them. Even at this point I feel like there are many more aspects of teaching and managing a classroom than one person can handle. I am already feeling very unsure of myself in this regard, but am also really excited to go about trying it. I can't wait to continue thinking about how I am going to accomplish things and what my priorities are going to be - it's as invigorating as it is frightening!

Three more weeks left until I am off to my first "Final Year" Practicum!