Newbie Reflection

It being the beginning of a new year, it’s a good time to do some reflecting on my first months of teaching in a public high school. Here are some things that have been running through my head lately:

  • I let the complaints (and wanting to make everybody happy) guide me too much
  • In the beginning, I focused too much on staying on the schedule rather than ensuring a deeper understanding
  • I think I tried to implement too many methods/strategies for starting out (this is the problem with having such an awesome PLN: there are so many amazing teachers doing amazing things. But, they’re also tweeting what things NOT to do. So, it’s inspiring and overwhelming at the the same time.)
  • I had trouble staying consistent (teaching methods, classroom management, even marking) – perhaps the idea of keeping it simple might help?
  • Direct communication is key (found this out the hard way: trying to gloss over things or avoid situations to “be nice” does not work)
  • There will always be difficult situations/people to deal with
  • Teaching can fill up every second I allow it to

Many of those sound negative, but I certainly have a lot to learn from it all. On the more positive side:

  • I had several compliments about my teaching from other teachers and admin.
  • Students like and appreciate choice
  • I found that creating personal connections make a huge positive difference

In fact, some of my favourite moments involved making surprising connections with students: like having  a student who told me many times they didn’t want me around come to my door when they were bored and having a 30 minute conversation about their art.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: this job has a steep learning curve, but I’m not giving up just yet!

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I really had no idea

Here I am, about three months into to my first public high school teaching gig, and the one thing that I cannot stop thinking to myself is “I had NO idea how hard this job is.”

This is a second career or sorts for me, because I spent the first 15 years of my adult life learning, doing research, and coming up with fun/cool activities that would help teachers. I remember getting stressed out once in a while then.

That was nothing.

Being a high school teacher is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and that includes my 8-hour PhD comprehensive exam (and preparing for it for months), my MSc OR PhD defence, giving birth twice, and even recovering from a stroke.

I’ve tried writing this post several times over from this point on, and keep deleting my thoughts because I just don’t feel brave enough to share my true experiences at this early stage in my teaching career.

So, instead, I was to send out a public service announcement of sorts, as someone who can still see this world from an outside perspective: please, please respect your teachers, and your kids’ teachers.

Every teacher I have met is trying to do the best they can with the resources they have, with the background knowledge they have, and with the students they have. They are all trying their best to make your child(ren)’s life at school as educational, interesting, happy, and safe as possible.

They deserve your kindness, your respect, and your gratitude. Thank a teacher today!

For those other new teachers out there – do the best your can, hang in there, and I’m right there with you.

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STAO 2016

I spent Thursday and Friday at the STAO conference in Toronto, and it was so awesome to be back! I used to go when I coordinated the CPSX outreach program, in an exhibitor/presenter role. This time, I was there as a teacher, of course.

It was a great conference, for so many reasons:

  • I got some awesome instructional ideas for the classroom
  • I got to hang out with a teacher I work with, and we had a great time
  • I found out about some cool programs and online resources that would be great for my current and future classes
  • I caught up with several people I’ve known from my outreach days
  • I picked up some pretty sweet swag

There were SO many sessions to choose from, and I could only attend 7 out of the 200-ish available on the days I was there. They were:

Mindset: Collaborative Learning for Smarter Science: this was an introduction to growth mindset, and how two teachers implement it into their classroom teacher. If you follow me, you know I’m a strong proponent of Growth Mindset, but it was good to hear how other teachers use it.

STAO’s Demo Collection for Physics Grades 11-12: this was clearly right up my alley, and was a great introduction to STAO’s huge resource bank. I’ll admit that I’ve know about it before, but never really looked too deeply at it. I will now! There were some great demos that were shown, and I hope to use some of them soon!

But is Everyone Buying In? Gender Inclusivity in STEM: most of this presentation was at an introductory level about the what the research shows about girls & women in STEM (more go into biology/health-related fields than engineering/math/computers/etc). I’ve been following this type of research already for years, but they made reference at the end how ensuring there’s relevance/context can help with engagement, especially with girls.

And Yet Another Fun Friday: though the activities in this presentation were biology/chemistry-based, I got a lot of good ideas for different types of fun activities. I very much liked “evolution telephone”, the flower dissection, and the pandemic simulation.

Intuitive Physics and Why it Matters: honestly, I was unsure about this one, because it was a university presentation, but I found it very useful! They talked about how they need their incoming students to have more of a intuition about physics/science, instead of thinking it’s memorization and plug&chug. It gave me more confidence that what I’m doing with my students – especially the 4Us – is on the right track.

ScienceWorks: Grade 9 Astronomy: This was presented by a friend of mine, and amazing science teacher, @HTheijsmeijer, and it was awesome (and I’m not just saying that because I know her!). Even though I know more than the average bear about Astronomy & teaching it, she showed some awesome resources that would be great the next time I teach the course(s).

Exploring the Edge of Black Holes: The Event Horizon Telescope: okay, to be perfectly honest, I went to this one because it sounded way cool, but it ended up being one of my favourite things about the conference! First, I had never heard of the EHT, so it was cool to learn about it (coming online in 2017, people!). Second, the activity presented about interferometry was very well put together, easy to follow, and engaging. Finally, the presenters themselves were excited and fun to listen to!

Overall, I found the sessions well-done, engaging, and very useful! I’ve walked away with a lot (probably too many) good ideas! Some I’d love to do/try out soon are:

  • look at the STAO resources online
  • Subscribe to the Physics Girl YouTube channel
  • Use foldables for review on Monday (not new to me, but a good reminder!)
  • Show 4U students the info from Waterloo to show what we’re doing will be very helpful when they go to post-secondary
  • Peruse the PI resources

Can’t wait to go again! If you didn’t get a chance to go, you can download the handouts here!

Posted in Learning, PD, physics, re-thinking, Reflection, teaching | 1 Comment

Reformed Physics Teaching in SPH4U

I have adopted Chris Meyer’s Reformed Physics Teaching method for SPH4U and I have been incredible impressed!

We have finished the intro unit and the first major unit on kinematics, and I  (and some of the students already) have seen great value from the strategies he uses.

The courses he has created are collaborative-, inquiry-, and critical-thinking-based. It involves:

  • students working through tasks as a small (3-4 students) groups that guide them through their learning
  • daily homework so students can practice individually (typically 1-2 problems)
  • collaborative group problem solving challenges
  • quizzes/tests (which have a collaborative component at the beginning)

One very interesting and important aspect is how students are taught to solve physics problems. Instead of focusing on the the mathematical solution only, the students need to show their understanding using sketches, motion/force diagrams/vectors, word explanations, and evaluations of their answers (this is why homework are only 1-2 questions, as it takes much longer to do each one).

As someone with a looooooong education in physics, I see this aspect of the course incredibly valuable. Knowing how to crunch the math and having a true understanding of the physics are two very different things, and this focus on the understanding will help students* immensely as they move forward into their post-secondary education. So, even though the problems take much longer to work through, it forces students to understand physical situations and concepts from different angles, therefore increasing their understanding.

This is certainly a more challenging method for students, but one that will come with a lot of pay off if they put in the effort.

* and I definitely see a difference in my own understanding!

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Flipped Update in 3U/4C

So there goes my goal of doing a reflection each week, but I’ve decided not to give myself a hard time about it! Much more important that I do any reflection, than if I do it on a schedule.

We are now three weeks in, and the first unit tests are coming up already!

My 3U/4C split class has been running as an e-flipped classroom, as I like to call it. Instead of the traditional flipped model where students watch lectures at home then do their homework in class (and therefore get the opportunity for guidance from their teachers during this process), I’m using a model where I am acting as a curator of various types of already created  internet resources, and I add in mastery checks, labs, assignments, and other assessments.

Now before you get all excited that I’m amazing in coming up with this, you must know that I totally stole it from Heather over at BYOD, ASAP – who is an awesome math and science educator.

This model saves me time in that I don’t have to create resources and/or videos, but can use those already made and used by other educators. I can work in all types of assessments into the lessons as the “things students need to hand in”. My time is also saved because Heather has sent me her 3U lessons. So, I just need to edit those a bit and add in the 4C lessons.

This lets the students work at their own pace, and on completely different topics when necessary (for example, unit 3 will be dynamics for the 3Us and simple machines for the 4Cs).

I have good feedback from the students so far because of the freedom it affords them, and they like the variety of resources they are learning from.

Some concerns that have come up are when do the students know they’ve done “enough”?(there are mastery checks for each lesson that have questions in a similar style to what they will see on the test); and the freedom can be a stumbling block for a few who either get easily distracted or overwhelmed.

I am being as supportive as I can by answering any questions, giving mini lectures, and giving feedback on assessments and allowing students to revise their work. I am also being transparent as to what will be tested and what is important for them to learn by giving them the mastery checks and a list of success criteria.

The first unit test will be on Thursday or Friday this coming week and, I’ll be honest, I’m nervous. I know the students are too. It’ll be a test on whether this strategy is effective, especially in their eyes.

Stay tuned for the results, and I’ll also update on what’s going on in my 4U class.

Posted in flipped classroom, Learning, physics, Reflection, teaching | 1 Comment

Week 1 (+ a bit!)

The idea was to do my reflection posts on Sunday evenings, but – as usual – things were a bit busy and hectic. So, here it is!

Well, I made it through my first week of teaching in a public high school, and came out relatively unscathed!

The 4U class started with the intro unit from Reformed Physics Teaching (seriously check this resource out if you teach physics – it’s VERY well done) and learned about how to answer written questions by making their answers more scientific, set goals, learned what good group work looks like, measurements & numbers, and we started solving our first Fermi problems.

The split (3U/4C) class worked all week on a math skills review that included things like manipulating equations, scientific notation, significant figures, converting units, and graphing. They had a quiz on this material yesterday, and most did very well.

There were definitely some things that came up that I did not plan for.

Being my first time starting a high school course, I didn’t know what the first day entailed! The 4Us are with me for homeroom, and that meant handing out lots of papers, getting them to get them signed, collecting fees, giving/getting locker combos and more. That, combined with an assembly the first day, meant we lost the first day completely.

I also was not prepared for the number of students adding/dropping courses, or for students not showing up (or leaving in the middle of class and not coming back).

With my room being newly renovated, there have been some technical issues (no computer, couldn’t connect to the projector, no sound, I can’t get on the attendance system, etc). It also means that all the physics equipment is in another room down the hall and around the corner…and I don’t know what’s there, or where it is.

The learning curve has been high, and I’ve had some not-so-great moments, but I’ve already caught myself thinking “I love this job!” more than once.

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Things have changed greatly since my last post!

I applied for a couple LTO postings, got an interview for one, and received the job! So, instead of supplying to begin my (public) high school teaching career, I’ll be teaching a grade 12 physics course (SPH4U) and a split physics course (SPH3U/4C)!

In looking at tons of resources, I have settled on a couple different methods to begin each course*:

4U: I’ll be following Chris Meyer’s Reformed Physics Teaching resources.

3U/4C: I’ll be running this as a flipped-classroom in order to meet the need of both classes without the students feeling like they only have half a teacher. I’ll be adapting some great resources I got from Heather of BYOD, ASAP.

Some other things to note:

  • The 3U/4C split will start with a math skills review the first week (thanks, Andrea!)
  • The 3U students all have iPads (as part of a board-wide initiative), so that will be fun to work with
  • The board has moved over to GAFE, so I’ll be using (and learning!) Google Classroom and other GAFE apps.
  • I’ll be doing the spaghetti tower challenge with both classes this week
  • I’ve got some other intro/ice-breaking activities planned

I hope to do a weekly reflection here about how things are going, so stay tuned!

I’ve certainly got the “back to school jitters”!!

*I say “begin”, because we all know things can change quickly and rarely go as planned! I’ll see how the students respond, but I’m a big believe in the methods I’ve chosen.



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