Reflecting on Teaching

Educationally Relevant

Posted by erf920 on January 12, 2016

I wanted to use games in the classroom, after all, the curriculum guide (which I had to follow) called for logic puzzles and games. So, I planned to have “games days” at regular intervals throughout the term. “Great idea” said my colleagues, followed by “but we should have some way to make sure it’s educationally relevant.”

There is something in this phrase that speaks to the nature of education in North America. Is it assumed a student isn’t learning when they are playing a game? I would completely disagree with this point; students have to use logic and follow rules, just like in mathematics, to play most any game. However, I was told I had to have some sort of activity students did to make sure there was learning.

Here’s the rub: the students were learning, we all knew that, but we had to come up with some strategy to make sure we could prove it. But how does one prove learning? Is it done with exams? Can it be done with a successful win? What about if a student can explain how to play the game?

What does it mean to be “educationally relevant”?


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Teacher Training

Posted by erf920 on December 3, 2015

I wonder if we need to reconsider teacher training. There is something in our culture that says to be a successful teacher all you need the are most fun activities and the best resources. There is a myth out there that lesson plans are from a template. For some reason, people think teaching is only about the classroom activity: but is this teaching?

Admittedly, in my undergraduate, I viewed teaching as this myth: I needed to get as many resources as I could so that I could effectively teach. However, after a few years of experience, one begins to see the profession as so much more. Yet, each year we release undergraduates who may not have completely grasped this view of education.

Maybe we need to ask undergraduates what it means to teach? Most colleges will ask this. However, we need to make it more. Maybe it needs to be conversations about teaching with a new teacher, an experienced teacher, and many in between. Maybe it means offering a class with defined objectives and having students create the curriculum with the professor. Maybe it means having teachers return to university to reflect and take time to think about what it means to teach after they have attempted it?

In Canada, we do not offer teacher training – we offer a degree in Education. We do not want to produce teachers who can be reduced to effective implementation of a teacher guide. Yet, there is a myth that teaching can be boiled down to “tips and tricks” of a successful classroom. Maybe we should offer a teacher training prior to the College of Education to get these skills out of the way?

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Mulitplicity of Curriculum

Posted by erf920 on September 26, 2014

Today I reimmersed myself in the writings of T. Aoki (2005), and was reacquainted with the ideals of curriculum as planned and curriculum as lived. His writings particularly struck a chord with my today as a guider of teacher candidates. I am teaching a curriculum class for science majors and minors preparing for their first formal teaching experiences; I absolutely love working with this group. Early on in the course, we spoke about the curriculum as planned and the curriculum as lived (and where these ideas developed from), but reflecting now, I wonder if their education is truly preparing them to deal with the curriculum as lived?

In this course, the students focus primarily on reading and interpreting the curricular documents, planning and executing short lessons, and reflecting on their experiences. There is really no preparation for the lived curriculum, yet they continually ask questions about what to expect in the classroom.

Through reading Aoki’s works, I wondered, is the curriculum as lived inherent for teachers? That is to say, do we, as teachers, have an innate sense of knowing and working with our students? I would arguably say that some teachers do, but for many this is a developed skill through time and experience. Why are we not preparing students to receive and reflect on these experiences?

I wonder if our teacher candidate preparation should focus more on the learners and less on the system? Yet, the system is what their teaching standards will be viewed against (and compared to). Leading to the (currently) age old question, are we focused on the learners or the assessment?

Pinar, W., & Irwin, R. (2005) Curriculum in a New Key: The Collected Works of Ted T. Aoki, Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

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4 days of SMART

Posted by erf920 on July 24, 2014

This week, I was given the opportunity to attend the 2014 SMART Exemplary Educator summit. I must admit that at first I was a little leery about what I could learn from this camp that would apply to my situation this fall, but I have been pleasantly surprised!

The beginning of the week focused on SMARTamp, a multi-user platform developed specifically to increase collaboration. While I still have to reflect on specific uses for my physics classroom, I DO see incredible uses in both elementary and high school humanities (english, history, religion, etc) alike. SO, that being said, as I’m hoping I may be teaching undergraduate teachers over the next few years, I would LOVE to show them the power of collaboration using SMARTamp. I also have a few ideas for some of my former colleagues… watch for emails guys!

Then the really powerful stuff came: talking about Global Collaborations. Again, I felt “Oh, elementary teachers of course, I guess I could help some colleagues connect” and then a pair of senior math teachers presented. Interest piqued, I keenly listened. Now I am already attempting to connect some of my former colleagues for collaborations in calculus and statistics with teachers from the USA, South Africa, and Italy.

Finally, we finished off the week hearing from the Hackathoner team. Now, while I can’t divulge specifics, needless to say, Notebook 14 has some AMAZING things coming to it! Again, I wish I was still in my tech coach role for the fall, but my former tech coach colleagues will be SPAMMED with emails as the new hacks are released!

I want to say a final thank you to SMART Technologies for everything this week. Teachers aren’t used to two things: being pampered and being heard. Both of these were in abundance this week. From the ketchup chips and chocolate, to the SMART sessions with the CTO of SMART Warren Barkey, we were definitely treated like royalty. Our opinions were heard, and we even saw immediate developments occur over the week. Truly SMART Technologies listens to teachers, yet another reason we all LOVE SMART!

Oh and have a mentioned that tomorrow they are taking us to Banff?

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To my math students

Posted by erf920 on April 17, 2014

I see you struggling. Looking for a question similar to the one on the assessment. Searching for something that will show you the steps to complete this problem. Desperately hoping that there is some rudimentary pattern you can reproduce. Something has gone wrong in your mathematics education.

Most likely, it happened long before you reached me, but if I have shown you that mathematics is reproducible and regurgitation-based, I’m sorry. Mathematics is understanding. If you take the time to understand the concepts, and what the questions are asking, you do not need to reproduce common examples. Once you understand the theories, you are able to complete any question. Take the time to understand.

I apologize. At no point in our instruction did I complete an example just like the question you are stuck on. You will not find a similar example to replicate. However, if you understood that this question required a basic use of combinations, you wouldn’t be so frustrated right now.

Mathematics requires understanding. I can help you with that. Unfortunately, you didn’t deem that important until your assessment. Good luck.

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Excited about Educating

Posted by erf920 on March 23, 2014

I have had a blank screen staring at me for about an hour. I am attempting to write an article about a topic which I am quite passionate about, but as mentioned in my last post, I have felt less than enthused about teaching lately, so why would I be excited to write an article about educational practice?

In an attempt to refresh my memory, and hunt for some desperately needed citations, I began reading some of my writing from my master’s program. As I was about half way through my major paper, I realized how excited I am to be returning to academia this fall. I was challenged in my masters program; challenged to rethink what education meant to me, and why I had become so complacent and accepting of the current educational regime. I was challenged to improve myself as an educator for myself and my students, not simply asked to implement a division wide practice forced upon me. I was pushed to really think about education, curriculum, and practice – their origins, evolution, and personal meaning.

As I prepare to return to academia this fall, I have been asked to consider teaching undergraduate courses in education. At first I was elated solely because I am considering this as a potential career, but today it took on a new meaning. I may have the chance to make young teacher candidates to rethink education for themselves, to consider what the current system means to them and where they think they will fit into it. I may have the opportunity to gain an entirely new perspective on education from those who have most recently been a part of the system. I will have the opportunity to grow philosophically as an educator; I am extremely excited about this.

Recently, I have been wondering if I made the right decision to move from the trenches (aka the classroom) and into academia, fearing that I may become disconnect from education. However, today I know I made the right decision and I CANNOT wait for this journey to begin.

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Developing Practice

Posted by erf920 on March 21, 2014

Lately, I`ve been feeling quite disconnected from my classroom, like I`ve been going through the motions. I know that my students are still receiving quality information, but can I justifiably say they are receiving a quality education? 

The best teachers are not necessarily those who know their material inside and out, but those who can excite and engage students in the learning process. Lately, I have felt stifled and grown stagnate because of many strict rules I have to follow to ensure that ALL students receive the same education, no matter which classroom they are placed in the school. Why should every student receive the same education? Doesn’t this go directly against the uprising pedagogical wave of differentiation? I fear that standardization within our schools is just the first step to standardization across the province.

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Keep your options open

Posted by erf920 on March 16, 2014

There is an epidemic in North America, the mentality that our students are to ‘keep their options open’. Now, it isn’t this statement that I disagree with, it is the way it is being handled within our educational system.

Parents, and students alike, are keeping their options open by overloading themselves with science and math courses. The successful completion of these courses will allow them to competitively apply for any university program, but are we really keeping their options open? As Sir Ken Robinson alludes to in his Ted Talk, How to Escape Education’s Death Valley (Apr 2013), we need our students to have a broad and well rounded education; we are not doing this by keeping their ‘options open’. We are pulling students from the fine arts and practical arts to overfill our science and math classrooms with many students who don’t want to be there. Using science and math courses as the option-defined medium, has really limited many of these options to business, technology, science industry, and medical careers; is this really that many options?

Secondly, I am a strong advocate for both science and mathematics education, but also recognize that not everyone is meant to take every course. Year after year I see students have their self esteem crushed by taking a high level mathematics course (or physics course) which they neither understand nor need for their intended career path, but because their parents want their ‘options open’ they suffer in silence through these courses. Why are we forcing these students to suffer crippling self-esteem destruction just to have their options open after high school, particularly when they are not likely to pursue these paths?

What is the real benefit to keeping their options open? We should be exposing our students to various areas, not simply academic knowledge. Students should be taught to find what they love and pursue it, not that the world isn’t always pleasant. Educators need to excite our students and students need to learn that being excited about art is just as good as being excited about science; they have options beyond academic pursuits and should be exposed to this as their reality.

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What is Education?

Posted by erf920 on January 29, 2014

Today, at FETC, I was posed an interesting question – “What is Education?” I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this, and limited to my constraints of formal education. The speakers’ response was, “Education is a form of opening up.” Brilliant response. Education is opening up a students’ mind, opening a group of students to new ideas, opening a generation to what it around them. How do we open this next generation?

What does it mean to open up students today? How can we achieve this? Most importantly, how can we integrate today’s most personal piece of technology – the cell phone?

I really all boils down to one question, what do we as human beings want out of education? Do we develop our next generation for success? Do we drive our students to seek happiness in their education? What does our society need? This shift in education needs to occur, because our old model of developing ‘productive members of society’ developed in the industrial revolution, and the technological revolution of today has vastly altered the areas for which we need to prepare our students.

I believe we need to re-develop our educational system to drive towards understanding; understanding of our world, understanding of one’s personal circumstances, and understanding of the tools developing in our world. We need to prepare students with skills, not specifics. The world needs question askers and problem solvers, and our educational system must alter itself to fit accordingly.

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Hit the Target

Posted by erf920 on October 17, 2013

Today, in physics 30, we did one of my favourite labs,


problem-based learning. Students are given access to a basic projectile set up based on inclined planes (covered last unit). We go over a brief explanation of how motion in two dimensions work and then set on the quest of calculating where to place the target in order to hit it.

heavily based on

I have ranted numerous times about the need for problem-based learning within our science courses, particularly with the past enlightening years working on my masters. However, I rarely get a glimpse into how deep this commitment truly is.

My favourite part of this lab is that I made it up in my pre-service teaching. At the time, I was told it would be too difficult for students to solve, but even with declining work ethic in our student population, I always notice that even the weak students are engaged in this project. It is exciting, and challenging, and fun!

Problem-based learning is not only for veteran teachers! I actually find that I developed some of my best material when I was in my first years of teaching – as idealistic and hopeful as I was… I wonder what else I can dig out of the vault…

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