Educational Theory, Professional Development, Recent + Research-Based, Technology

Looking to 2020: New Year's Teaching Resolutions!

With a new year comes new opportunities to reflect one the year, which many do with a look towards health, habits, and perhaps even new gym memberships (go for it!). Why not do the same in the classroom? In January, I wrote about how teachers can use the new year as an opportunity to re-evaluate classroom norms, habits, and goals. As we round out the year, let’s take a look at what we can reflect on and look forward to as teachers in the new year. What will I be doing? Check out my 5 resolutions!

Audit My Classroom Library

Library Audit BINGO, created by Dr. Katherine Fishman-Weaver; from Edutopia

Dr Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, faculty at the University of Missouri, recently created a brilliant Classroom Library Audit BINGO, as featured on Edutopia. The audit itself addresses common problems in classroom libraries and is an invaluable, even fun, resource. Fishman-Weaver’s BINGO game is especially helpful for any teachers who feel intimidated by the grand task of ensuring they have representative and inclusive libraries.

Expand Classroom Inclusivity

It’s 2020, and dialogue has changed significantly. Things on the news become more and more raw, real, and scary and include difficult topics, such as consent, racism, homophobia, violence and terror, hate speech, and more. Our students are witness to these things daily, from the news to YouTube to all sorts of social media platforms, and beyond. While it’s ultimately up to each family to decide how, when, and in what manner they talk to their children about the real, raw, and scary, as teachers it is a disservice to ignore these topics. At times, however, it’s challenging to know where to begin. The most trusted and courageous resource I have found is Teaching Tolerance. This website includes easily adapted lessons, learning plans, student tasks, teaching strategies, learning plan tools, film kits, and posters on a wide range of topics for grades K-12. My resolution is to use 1 resource per month from Teaching Tolerance.

Experiment with Apps for Inquiry

Just a small sampling of the TONS of games and resources available through the Goose Chase app.

Confession: technology is not intuitive for me, particularly when it comes to using apps. I find I’m always a bit clumsy with respect to how to best incorporate apps into the learning, rather than have the app take over the instruction and learning entirely… though I’m learning sometimes this is okay, too (for example, MathGames or RAZKids). I’m going to challenge myself this year to get comfortable and plan a lesson around ONE app, and go from there. (I like setting goals I know I have some hope at achieving!). The app I’m thrilled to try is Goose Chase: an interactive, customizable scavenger hunt app and one that is easily adaptable and lends itself well to discovery, student-directed learning, and inquiry. I was introduced to the app as an online Learning Design student through the Harvard Extension School, and I loved it! I’m particularly excited to dive into the full Game Library that Goose Chase provides, which includes topics from Christmas wreath coding (cool!) to English language learning to ecology to field trips, and seemingly everything in-between!

Practice Responding Over Recreating

As mentioned in my November post regarding B.C.’s curricular overhaul, Indigenous knowledge and philosophy are critical pillars and lenses for learning and teaching. One of the key learnings for me in navigating and re-calibrating my positionality in response to these curricular changes has been the notion of responding to, instead of recreating, cultural practices, traditions, and art. My resolution in this regard is to continue to challenge my lessons and applications of the First People’s Principles of Learning, particularly in the way of how students can respond to art, stories, and lessons. Specifically, I’m creating my own essential question: What is the most valuable, meaningful, and authentic way students can connect to their own and other’s cultures? Luckily for me (and all B.C. teachers), there is the First Nations Educational Steering Committee (FNESC), who have SO generously provided extensive lesson plans and classroom resources addressing this very need. B.C. Ministry of Education also has some excellent resources to help guide me on this question.

Learn!

This one may seem like an obvious one, but too often, teachers can get bogged down in the many day-to-day details that go along with loving and wanting the best for our students and their learning…that we forget to take a breather and look around. My goal/resolution there is simply to keep my ears perked and stay curious about new ways of teaching and learning. All of our students are so beautifully unique, and any expansion of our pedagogical toolkits can only help everyone. Recently, I’ve been diving down the rabbit hole of Whole Brain teaching...which seems great and also quite controversial (is this not true of everything to some degree?). To be honest, I don’t know much about it! If you do, what should I know?

  • What are your teaching resolutions for 2020?
Educational Theory, Instructional Tools

One-Minute Inquiry: Classroom Quickies to Inspire Critical Thinking

There’s been a big push for inquiry-based learning…and for good reason! Inquiry-based learning (which also houses problem-based and project-based learning) encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, craftsmanship, and so much more. When done well, it’s undeniably a beneficial addition.

Inquiry can be a bit of a tricky dance for educators. On the one hand, inquiry-based learning is largely student-driven and teachers serve as more of a mentor, as opposed to a guide, in helping students construct their own knowledge. They play a support role, particularly if students begin to stray in their thinking or get stuck. This is not to say, however, that teachers simply stop teaching and let students have a free-for-all. Rather, teachers can work with students as a class to generate a common starting point before students venture off on their own individually and/or in small groups. Certainly this method of teaching will engage students meta-cognitively, and they will start to chart their own routes of what they want and/or need to know and how they can get there.

For many teachers, inquiry can seem intimidating and maybe even clumsy, particularly if one has assumed more of a direct instructional role for most of their career and/or training. There is so much room at the table for teaching strategies, and inquiry-based strategies provide another way in which we as educators may reach students. Inquiry, at first glance, may seem like a total overhaul in one’s traditional instructional strategy, but in fact, it’s likely many classrooms already employ inquiry-based approaches without even realizing it.

Feeling stumped?

Here are a few quickie, low prep and high impact inquiry-based approaches that can be added to a variety of subjects.

1) Show Me the Money!

If you’re a traveler like me (or if your colleagues are!), you likely have come home with small coins and bills from around the world. I collect and save money from all of my travels and keep a small stash in my classroom. A fun activity for rainy days is to compile bags of money of various currency, divide students into small groups, and ask them a series of questions related to Social Studies and/or Mathematics curriculum. Generally, students have instant engagement as they look through different currency. Who wouldn’t!? Some questions might include:

  • Discover and list the various types of currency (ex: Rupees, Quetzales, Pesos, Francs, Euros, Dollars, Zloty, etc.) in each bag.
  • Convert all money to CAD or USD. Which group has the most money? The least?
  • Identify all countries each money bag comes from and mapping (use the Mapster app if your school has iPads)
  • Ask students to describe any symbols or people associated with currency. What might we assume about the values of the country through what is represented? Have students engage in mini research projects and explore the various symbols represented on bills and coins.
  • Discuss with students the different forms of currency. Why do some countries have many small bills (ex: Rupees) versus some countries have primarily only large bills (ex: Dollars)?

2) Creepy Creatures

During Halloween week, when attention spans seem to wan, it can be easier to embrace the madness (while also being mindful of students whose families do not observe holidays) rather than fight it. Creating creatures is another low prep, hands-on, collaborative mini-project with a wide range of curricular crossover, including Mathematics, Language Arts, Art, Etc. Gather a supply basket for each group with things in your classroom (especially those hard-to-find-a-purpose-for things, such as dried bits of clay, pencils down to the nub, etc.). Give each group a bin, provide studnets with directions, and a time limit. This is a great ongoing project for free blocks and/or introducing new topics. It can be adapted to include more robust skills, such as paragraph-writing, creating narratives, and/or character development. Check out my freebie to inspire your own creature projects!

3) What happened here?

One of my favourite uses of transition time (beginning of the day, after recess/lunch, in between projects) is some type of daily or weekly ritual. Writing prompts are one of my favourites and are an excellent way to prime students towards imagination, wonder, and critical thought. Thanks to the internet, there are E N D L E S S creative writing prompts available. Here are some of my favourite images and sources. Please use discretion when selecting images, mindful to copyright and sharing, as well as what you are sharing your students.

Thanks for stopping by! What other ideas do you have for quickie inquiry projects?

Curriculum, Professional Development

Reflections on Updating Teaching Credentials, BC's New Curriculum, and the Philosophy of the Perfect Stranger

Earlier this year, I became an official Permanent Resident of British Columbia, having spent the last several years travelling internationally for my career in global education and prior to that, as a classroom teacher in Colorado.

My move to Canada coincided with a relatively recent curricular change across British Columbia, one that arguably moves B.C. to more appropriately prepare learners for the 21st century and incorporates a more progressive definition of learning and the processes of learning. The changes in the curriculum include philosophical and structural changes, as well as the language used throughout (ex: Assessment AS learning vs. Assessment OF learning).

I cannot speak to the previous curriculum, however, I’ve become quickly acquainted with the new curriculum this year. {As a noteworthy aside, my teaching experience and credentials were not recognized by B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch, and I have been in the process of undergoing teacher certification through the University of British Columbia (UBC). At first, admittedly, it was a tough pill to swallow returning to school for another Bachelor’s degree in a subject I already have a Bachelor’s and Master’s in, however, I am very grateful the for the opportunity to have this extended and personalized professional development. I am thoroughly enjoying being on the student end of things again and highly recommend the Teacher Education Program at UBC. We could all use a professional tune-up at someone point in our professional careers!}

But– enough about me! Let’s talk curriculum.

When I moved to B.C. and became involved and connected in education circles, I often heard references to “the new curriculum,” but struggled to find a fully comprehensive document that gave quick, digestible information about the specific changes. The most helpful article I came across that spoke to (and answered!) my questions was a blog post from the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning at Vancouver Island University. The post details the 5 major changes of B.C.’s new curriculum and these include the following:

  • 6 Core Competencies [photo 1]
  • Concept-Based Competencies [photos 2 & 3]
  • Graduation Assessments (for Secondary)
  • Competency-Based Assessment (aka- Assessment as Learning)
  • Aboriginal Knowledge and Ways of Knowing

{For a slightly more comprehensive but still easily digestible resource, the B.C. Teacher’s Federation also put out a very helpful, easily navigable online magazine detailing the 2016 curriculum changes in depth. Check it out!}

Overall, all of these changes support inquiry-based learning and prepare learners how to think and problem-solve versus simply memorizing information and/or having success on exams. The shifts move students towards processes of learning, rather than the assessment of learning. The curricular changes align so well with my teaching philosophies, and what I’ve been equally impressed with is the freedom with which teachers can and do practice this curriculum.

Photo Courtesy of FNESC.ca

The most important learning I’ve engaged in this year has been unpacking what it means to decolonize curriculum, particularly through Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation initiatives. I have also seen what it means to open up a curriculum that includes different ways of knowing, particularly Indigenous knowledge and the First People’s Principles of Learning. This year has been particularly intense in a necessary way, as I’ve been exposed to and un-learned many structural and systemic ways of thinking that have been (and continue to be) oppressive and marginilizing, particularly to Indigenous Peoples. Two things have opened my eyes and served as guides for me with respect to how I can teach with more permanent social justice lens: the First People’s Principles of Learning (seen in the photo on the left), as well as as the notion of the Perfect Stranger.

The FPPoL are deeply embedded into the B.C. curriculum… and make so much sense for all learners, young and old, and regardless of cultural background. Included in these principles are philosophies on sacredness of knowledge, intergenerational learning, and cultivating a deep reverence for living things. Perhaps my favourite principle (though, they all resonate with me) is “Learning takes patience and time.” As teachers, so often, we are trying to fit everything in– every standard, every big idea, every assessment and then sit back and hope our students “get it”… when in reality, the concepts and ideas we introduce may not be able to take root until our students have more, different, or alternative life experiences. And that. is. okay. It is beautiful, in fact.

In addition to the FPPoL, another major (positive) disruption in my thinking came from Dr. Susan Dion, who is an Associate Professor of Education at York University in Toronto. Dion uses the phrase “perfect stranger” to describe the “safe” position many non-Indigenous educators can take when asked to teach from an Indigenous perspective (as the B.C. curriculum requires):

his position, a perfect stranger, allows teachers and actually all Canadians to be off the hook when it comes to thinking about Aboriginal issues, thinking about Aboriginal people, or the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. There was a desire to distance themselves from the issues and to say, this has nothing to do with me. 

Dr. Susan Dion, from https://vimeo.com/59543958

Dion’s words spoke to me and make me wonder if and how I have written something off as being irrelevant to me, or deciding to use my positionality at the expense of someone else who did not have the voice nor advantages I do. Definitely give Dion’s video a watch. It is an essential message for all educators.

  • What is some of the most impactful professional development you’ve undergone?
  • What does it mean to be a perfect stranger to you?