Into High School

I will be starting my transition into the high school system in September! I have been hired by the Avon Maitland District School Board for their secondary occasional teacher (OT) list, and I’m so excited!

Over the summer, I’ve been doing some professional reading (more to come), took two AQs (read about those here and here), and have been checking in on my Twitter PLN. One thing that cropped up in the latter is the HackLearning Back to School Hacks series. The first session is about choosing One Thing to be great at this year (#onething).

Since I’m starting out as an occasional teacher, my #onething (though it could be thought as many) is to really hone my classroom management skills. I think with a well-running classroom comes an opportunity for great learning!

To be clear, I don’t mean being a tyrant and having everything running “perfectly” (whatever that means). What I do mean is being able to provide a safe, comfortable, and inclusive classroom where students can focus on their learning.

I plan on blogging about my experiences throughout the year for a couple of reasons: 1) it’s a good self-reflective practice, and 2) there don’t seem to be many OT voices in the education blogosphere (please let me know if you know any others in the comments), and I think it would be a valuable resource for new teachers.

I’m looking forward to the new part of my journey into high school teaching, and I hope you’ll join me!

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Physics ABQ

I just finished my Physics ABQ, so now I’ll have three subject qualifications (Math, General Science, and Physics).

As part of the final collaborative inquiry project, we are required to share it somehow. Since I am not teaching right now, I thought I would share it via Twitter and my blog.

Here’s a summary of our project:

Group Topic: Problem-Based Learning
Focus: Getting Started Using Problem-Based Learning in the Classroom
Sub-topics: What is problem-based learning?
How can we implement PBL in the classroom?
What does the research say about PBL?  (pros/cons)

There were 3 of us in the group, and we each researched one of the questions (I did the last one). Here is a link to the Google slides presentation we put together.

One piece of feedback that we received was it would have been nice to show an example lesson plan or how it could have been incorporated into a high school science classroom specifically. I completely agree, and gave similar feedback to other groups. So, something to keep in mind for future collaborative projects!

If you’re in need of a beginner’s guide to PBL and/or know any other teachers who may benefit, check it out and pass it on!

Posted in Learning, PD, Science, teaching | 1 Comment

Spec. Ed. Pt. 1 AQ

I just finished up my first additional qualifications course: Special Education Part 1. Here are some thoughts about the course that I included in my final reflection:

I am very thankful I decided to take this course. If I may be candid, I wasn’t all that eager to take it when considering which AQs to take first, and actually registered mostly because it was recommended to me if I wanted to better my chances of getting onto a supply list. I had also been told a course like this could be a re-hash of course(s) we took in teacher’s college, but this was so much more and now I realize what an important course it is.

I have learned more than I thought I would, and I found the readings, discussions, assignments, and CIP (Collaborative Inquiry Project) to be engaging, informative, and interesting. I feel motivated to continue to learn more about helping students with exceptionalities, and how to create an inclusive learning environment.

One of the big take home ideas I have learned in this course is that differentiated instruction and assessment, universal design, and inclusive classrooms are not only important to create equal opportunity for success and learning for students with exceptionalities, but are also extremely beneficial for ALL students.

As part of our CIP,  it is expected that we share the information somehow with other educators. Since I am not currently in the classroom, I thought it would be a good idea for me to share our project here.

Topic:  Learning Disabilities in Secondary & Post-Secondary

Focus Statement: Learning disabilities are lifelong invisible impairments that interfere with the way that students develop skills, perceive social situations, or engage in social interaction (Learning Disabilities of Ontario, 2001). Our role as educators is to provide support and a framework for students to navigate these challenges with dignity and respect as they move forward on their academic journey into and through post-secondary education.

You can view the presentation here.

Another part of our reflection was to create a list of new goals we have as a result of the course. Mine are:

  • Learning more about differentiating assessments by finding resources and doing more reading on the subject (the text book has great resources that I haven’t been able to delve into much detail yet). I would also like to meet with some teachers who teach math and science to find out what they do in their classrooms for this.
  • Putting a “toolbox” of classroom management skills together: Since I hope to get onto an Occasional Teacher list soon, I really need to make sure I have some key classroom management tools on hand. I will write a list of some I think will work for me, and review them when I need too. I also want to put together a physical tool box to have on hand when going into the classroom! This will include games, activities, and supplies that will help create an inclusive and enjoyable educational experience for the students (and myself!)
  • Resource List: As I have been doing the readings, research for my CIP, reading/responding to forum posts, I have been making notes of good resources and websites and will continue to grow this list.

One other thing I am doing, now that the course is over, is making notes (sketch notes, actually!) of some of the ideas and information that I found to be very useful and/or important.

I’ll be taking the Additional Basic Qualification course in Physics in July too, so stay tuned for that later this summer!

Posted in goals, Learning, PD, Reflection | 1 Comment

Astronomy: Final Reflection

The final exam for the Astronomy class was this past Monday and I have gotten my final grades submitted and approved. There are a few loose ends to wrap up (a few students need to write the make-up exam), but I’m essentially done!

Throughout the semester I’ve been jotting some thoughts about what I’ve done and what I might do different if I teach this course again:

Things I implemented or tried:

  • The two biggest things were adding a participation component and an assignment. Each of these were worth 5%.
    • The participation mark was done on a points system. The students could choose from a variety of activities (observatory visits, attending public lectures/talks, in-class mini-labs, discussion forum posts, in-class group work, etc.), with each activity being worth 1-2 points. To get the full 5%, students had to collect 15 points throughout the semester.
    • In the assignment, the students had to take 5 photos of things that reminded them of the content of the course. With each photo they submitted, they had to include a description of the photo and how they thought it related to the course. This was marked by the TAs with a rubric that was given to the students.
  • I use Kahoot! to review every week, and I got a lot of positive feedback about this one!
  • I tried to do large jigsaw activities, but this did not go over well (though I did have a few students tell me they appreciated I was trying different/new things)
  • I used Learning Catalytics for exam reviews. I did have some technical difficulties with it, but I would like to try it again.
  • I created Google Doc reviews for the exams so students could ask questions.
  • I used some mini-labs for participation and this seem to go over well.
  • I used virtual clickers in lectures to review as we went along

Here are some things I’d like to change for next time:

  • The textbook needs to be updated to the newest version (which came out this year). This field changed rapidly and the version we used is getting out-of-date
  • I’d like to include short reviews/summaries DURING my lecture before we switch topics. I have no idea why I didn’t do this but I think it’d be very helpful.
  • The questions on the weekly quizzes need to be updated for several reasons:
    • Most of them, along with answers, can easily be found online
    • Some are out-of-date
    • They’re generally at the “recall” learning/thinking level, and I’d like to make more at higher order thinking levels
  • Participation:
    • Students will keep track of their own participation and self-report with a reflection at the end of term (keeping track of 350 students was INSANE!)
    • I’d like to “gamify” this more
    • Make it mandatory to visit the observatory at least once, ’cause it’s an awesome experience!
    • Forums will only be open for 1 week each
  • Assignment
    • I’d like to have students propose formats of an assignment similar to the one we did this semester and then they can choose from 3-4 choices.
  • Exams
    • Create a question bank
    • expand the questions to include diagrams, tables, graphs, etc.
    • Add more higher level learning questions
    • Offer practice exams (though the Learning Catalytics reviews were similar to this idea)
  • Grading…oh the grading…there were MANY issues that came up, so here are somethings I hope will help (and these would be good for ANY class):
    • Students must wait 24 hours before asking about an assessment grade AND have solid reasons for me/TA to re-evaluate
    • Marks for each assessment will be considered final after 2 weeks from when the mark was posted
    • Documentation from an academic counsellor is needed for any misses assessment
    • Allow late submissions for some assessments, but dock certain percentage per date (10%?)
    • Perhaps make quizzes worth less overall and increase the worth of participation and/or assignment

I had my students reflect on their learning and I was SO impressed by their posts. If you want to read a couple, check them out on my teaching portfolio webpage.

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Astronomy Week 13

This was the last lecture, and it was all about interstellar travel (with a brief review at the end).

Learning outcomes for week 13:

By the end of this lesson, students should be able to explain the following to a general audience:

  • The challenges for interstellar travel
  • Design ideas for interstellar spacecraft
  • The basics of relativity
  • The Fermi Paradox

We again started with a review Kahoot of the worst 5 questions on the week 12 quiz. This time to make it more exciting, I gave $10 gift cards as prizes to 1st and 5th place (just randomly because I can!).

After doing a brief review of week 12 material, we started talking about the challenges of interstellar travel. The big ones being the distances we’d need to travel, the natural speed-limit imposed by the speed of light, the cost of energy, and the mass of fuel needed (for rockets, anyway).

We then did an overview of the different designs for spacecraft to overcome these obstacles: Nuclear rockets, bomb pushes, fusion rockets, ion engines, solar sails, arks, matter-antimatter annihilation, and interstellar ramjets.

We briefly talked about some issues that arise with special relativity if we could get close to the speed of light (time dilation, length contraction, mass increase). A couple great way to possible get around these is to not travel in space at all – but in hyperspace.

Yes, this is where the fun begins! We talked about using black holes, wormholes and warp-drive for space travel. Awesome!

We ended the course by looking at the possible solutions to the Fermi Paradox (“So, where is everybody?”) that is brought up by two very opposing ideas: 1) we know us and Earth are not special and there should be many planets with intelligent life and 2) we haven’t seen any evidence for that to be true.

The possible solutions?

  1. We are alone
  2. There are civilizations but they haven’t colonized for some reason
    1. There are technology issues
    2. There are social issues
    3. Civilizations tend to self-destruct
  3. There is a Galactic civilization but they are purposely hiding from us.

What a great topic and discussion to end on! I wish we had way more time to get into it further, especially since many students are in the Social Sciences.

Finally, I gave a brief overview of the whole course, focuses on the key points we learned. I ended by sharing the idea that even though the course was all about finding life on other planets, it was really about learning more about ourselves.

Their in-class assignment was to write a reflection about their learning and they have been amazing to read. I may post some here just to share!

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Astronomy Week 12

Just realized I’m behind schedule! Week 12 was all about how we’re looking for aliens!

Learning outcomes for week 12:

By the end of this lesson, students should be able to discuss the following with a general audience:​
  • What’s the deal with alien visitations and UFOs?
  • The Drake Equation
  • Is intelligence a common outcome of evolution?
  • How are we searching for life in the universe?

We started by doing a review Kahoot of the worst 5 questions on the quiz for week 11, and then I did a brief review of what we covered in that lecture.

I began with a discussion of the difference between aliens (pseudoscience) and extra-terrestrials (science). We talked about all the ways in which the “evidence” for  alien visits and UFOs are NOT science – shady reports, faked reports, Area 51, conspiracy theories, crop circles, ancient alien races, etc..

The take-home point here is “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (a quote often credited to Carl Sagan, but originally by Marcello Truzzi).

We then talked about how scientists are looking for evidence of advanced civilizations through the Drake Equation and SETI. A big idea here is the Drake Equation is NOT meant to give us a exact number, but is really to show us what we need to learn about and know in order to get a good estimate.

The in-class participation activity was to do a Drake Equation mini-lab. I’m becoming quite partial to these exercises and I think the students get more out of them than other activities I’ve tried.

We also talked about whether intelligence is rare or if there is a trend toward it in evolution as this could help us pin down some of the factors in the Drake Equation.

We ended with a discussion about whether or not it’s a good idea to be broadcasting our own signals, as was done in 1974 to M13.

I felt this lecture fell a bit flat, and it probably had to do with my low energy levels that day. If I teach this class again, I’d like to make this one much more interesting.

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Astronomy Week 11

This week we finally started talking about searching for life outside our own solar system.

Learning Outcomes for Week 11:

By the end of this lesson, students should be able to explain the following to a general audience:

  • How stars evolve and how we classify them
  • How we detect planets around other stars
  • What we have learned about extrasolar planets
  • Are Earth-like planets rare?

I started with a quick review of the main concepts of the week 10 content, since we didn’t have a lecture. I also gave some quick stats about the 2nd midterm. I had many students come to my office hours to review their tests, which was a nice change from the 1st test.

We began class by talking about how stars are classified by their spectral types: OBAFGKM. The typical mnemonic device to remember this is Oh Be A Fine Guy/Girl Kiss Me. I think this is kind of out-of-date, and heteronormative, so I asked the students to come up with better solutions, and they took on the challenge. Some favourites are:

  • Oh boy, a freaky giraffe kissed me
  • Obviously Benevolent Astronomers Find Gilbert’s Kahoots Magical
  • Only Brilliant Astronomers Find Gratitude Knowing Mnemonics
  • Oil Butter And Fat Gonna Kill Me
  • Our Best Actions Favour Good Karma Moments
  • Out Back, A Fat Goat Kicked Me
  • Oh boy another fun game, kill me
  • On birthdays all friends give kind memories
  • Only Brilliant Astronomers Find Gross Killing Microbes
  • Oh Boy Astronomy’s Flippin’ Gnarly, Kool, Magical
  • Our Best Alumni Found Gaining Knowledge Marvelous
  • Oh Boy, Astronomers Found Giant Killer Moon
  • One Billion American Females Go to Kickboxing Matches
  • Oh brother another frat guy knocking monogamy

We also talked about how many of the scientists involved in this type or work and research were women . Yay! Like Williamina Fleming, Annie Jump Cannon, and Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin.

I briefly described the HR-diagram (if I teacher this class again, I’ll spend more time on it), and the basic properties of the stars of each spectral class.

We then discussed the various techniques that we use to find extrasolar planets (direct imaging, astrometry, Doppler technique, gravitational lensing. and the Transit method). We spent quite a bit of time on the last one and the development of the Kepler Mission.

I describe the various types of planets that have been discovered (hot Jupiters, Super Earths, etc.), and if we believe Earth is a rare planet or not. Yes, if you are a proponent of the rare-Earth hypothesis.

I ended with talking about how we are looking for certain signatures in the atmospheres of planets to show an indication of life. (water, methane, etc.).

Throughout the lecture I had the students answer questions using virtual clickers. They also had the option of completing a min-lab on exoplanets.

Next week: what’s up with UFOs & alien abductions, SETI, and the Drake Equation.

Can’t believe there’s only 2 lectures left😦


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