Innovative Inspirations

In light of me taking part in the #IMMOOC this year, I’ve been noticing and getting inspired by teachers doing innovative things in their classrooms when I supply for them.

So, I’m going to use this space to write about the cool, innovative, different strategies/tools/etc. I see other teachers use. This is mostly for me so I have them all in one place, but hope it might be useful or helpful to others!

I’ve covered classes for a math teacher a few times recently (Denise Cowdry at Lord Dorchester SS) , and have been struck by her use of VNPS (vertical non-permanent surfaces…whiteboards on the walls in the classroom), VRG (visibly random groups – students put into different small working groups each day), DESMOS, and student-centred learning strategies.

Often, the classes are structured as follows:

  • As students enter the room, they get assigned to a pod of (4) desks. I do this just by numbering them as the come in, but I might start bringing a deck of cards.
  • Usually, the students  then solve a small number of review problems on the whiteboards in their groups.
  • At this point, the students may go through a DESMOS investigation, have a lesson, or work on extension problems in their groups.
    • This part differs greatly each day, and I’m sure she incorporates lots of learning strategies (I know she’s done 3-act math lessons, for example)
  • Near the end, we try to consolidate their learning for that day, and they have time to work on their assigned homework.

She also spirals most (all?) of the classes!

Last time I was there, I got to actually meet Denise, so that was awesome, and we chatted more about the process of making these changes to her classroom. The big take aways for me were:

  • yes, students/parents complained in the beginning, but now that she’s been doing it a while, students know what to expect and  (most) can see the benefits.
  • She said she’s never had so much fun teaching in her career!

I look forward to going back to her classroom because it gives me a chance to be immersed in the type of classroom I hope to create for myself and my students.

This week, I have the opportunity to work in the Beal Innovates program, and I’m so excited to see how it works! I’ll definitely write about that, so watch this space!


Posted in #IMMOOC, math, supply teaching, teaching | Leave a comment

#IMMOOC Week 3 – Old School Academic Thoughts

The 3rd week of #IMMOOC had us reading about the power of relationships and leaderships in innovation. The blog prompt has us reflecting on how far we’ve come with our thoughts about teaching and education.

In my previous career, I was an academic. I spent 12 more years in school after I graduated high school, and learning was basically my job. I got very good at it, but being immersed in it pushed me toward having a more fixed mindset about education. In that environment, it’s common to hear things like “you’re either smart or your not“, or “you can make a living with your brain or your back, you need to choose one“, or “if you’re not naturally smart, you should just give up.

So, as you can imagine, when I heard about students getting accommodations for assignments, or others wanting to re-write a test (and it being granted), or when other went for extra help, I would immediately think they were weak, no smart enough, lazy, or all of the above.

That was the atmosphere I was in, and it was a bit cut throat. It was common for extremely intelligent people to think they didn’t belong there even with plenty of evidence to the contrary  (known as imposter syndrome).

During graduate school, I started a number of science education and outreach programs and began to work with teachers and schools directly. These interactions pushed me out of my academic bubble and made me see education from different perspectives. I started to learn the difference between equality and equity, that the process of learning looks different for everyone, and being “smart” or the ability to learn is not a fixed trait.

The more I learn about the psychology of learning, the more empathy and understanding I have for all learners. In fact, my teaching philosophy now is based on the ideas of differentiated instruction, creating supportive and positive learning environments, and encouraging a growth mindset about learning in my students.

I do catch the old-school academic thoughts creeping back in from time to time, and it often makes me stop and reflect. Often it’s when I’m frustrated with students, and I’m not sure why they’re “not getting” something. At times like these, I really try to put myself in their place and feel what it’s like to learn something new.

I wrote a while back about how my hobby of knitting often reminds me of what it’s like to be a learner, and that’s a good thing to practice as an educator!


Posted in #IMMOOC, changes, Learning, Philosophy, psychology, Reflection | 4 Comments

#IMMOOC – Week 2 Reflection

This was the second week of #IMMOOC, and the focus of the reading was defining innovation, what innovation mindset is, and what the characteristics of an innovator are.

Some key points that I highlighted are:

Chapter 1:

  • Having empathy for those we teach is where innovative teaching and learning begins (Pg. 21).
  • Reflecting on how and why we teach something helps us make sure we’re providing rich learning opportunities (pg. 22)
  • Bringing people from outside the classroom (including parents) is a good first step to innovation (pg. 25)
  • “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional” (pg. 27). The world is constantly changing. You can evolve with it, or be left behind.

Chapter 2:

  • “The innovator’s mindset can be defined as the belief that the abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas.” (Growth Mindset ++) (pg. 33).
  • Though failure is an important aspect of learning, resiliency (the ability to overcome failure) is even more important (pg. 37).
  • Always ask yourself if you’d like to be a learner in your own classroom (pg. 39).
  • Know what your students are passionate about and tap into their expertise (pg. 40).
  • Get feedback from your students regularly (pg. 41).

Chapter 3:

  • The 8 characteristics of the innovator’s mindset:
    • Empathic
    • Problem Finders (and Solvers)
    • Risk Takers
    • Networked
    • Observant
    • Creators
    • Resilient
    • Reflective

The YouTube conversation this week was with Alice Keeler – wow! How amazing is she? So much energy, enthusiasm and passion for what she does! It was inspiring just to listen to her.

The big take-aways I got from her were:

  • Make room for what matters in the classroom (ditch the homework!)
  • Call parents one at a time to explain any big changes/differences in your class (not a newsletter/syllabus/etc). – can really save a lot of aggravation later.
  • Reading is the most important thing we can get students to do.
  • The new lesson plan template should include: Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend, Evaluate (notice how explain is 3rd!? Let students use their previous knowledge to try and solve a problem, let them struggle, THEN let them know you know a different/easier/more efficient way that can help).
  • CHOICE is key! Have at least 2 per assessment/lesson. Students will feel more in control AND this automatically takes the “blame” off you.
    • If we have a huge range of students in our classroom, how do we not provide choice?

One of the blog prompts this week was “If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like?” I like this question because I’ve been thinking about this for years (as with many teachers, I imagine!).

I could probably go on and on about this, but somethings my school would have:

  • No curriculum “silos” – no specific subject classes. Everything would be taught across the curriculum.
  • Students would not be put into grades based on their age.
  • There would be an inquiry-based focus, with lots of hands-on/building/making components.
  • There would also be a problem-based focus where students would connect with industry partners to help find and solve current problems.
  • An important component would involve learning about local/national/international current events and creating social change.
  • Teachers would work collaboratively both within and across disciplines.
  • There would be no grades and no homework!

How about you? What would your ideal school include?

Another great week of #IMMOOC! Can’t wait to see what next week will bring!

Posted in #IMMOOC, Learning, Philosophy, Reflection, teaching | Leave a comment

#IMMOOC Kick Off!

The online course to discuss George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, kicked off today with a live YouTube chat with Jo Boaler (an amazing math educator)!

Throughout the course, there will be blog prompts, and one from this week is:

Why is innovation in education so crucial today?

I did answer this in my Flipgrid response:

In writing…

I believe innovation in education is so crucial today because we’re trying to prepare our students for jobs and careers that don’t even exist right now.

As someone who has a long background in scientific research, I understand the importance of critical thinking, problem solving, and innovation when attacking problems no one has ever thought about before. It is these skills our students need to have in order to succeed for these future unknown careers.

I want to learn how I can best teach these skills to students, and I think learning more about the innovator’s mindset is an excellent starting point!

The kick-off video and Twitter chat today was fantastic and there is certainly a lot of things to mull over and consider. If you missed it, I would definitely recommend watching! You should join in too!

Posted in #IMMOOC, Learning, PD, Philosophy, Reflection | 2 Comments

In Praise of Substitute Teaching

I’ve been enjoying my role as an occasional teacher (OT; aka. supply or substitute teacher) since February immensely!

Some people think I am crazy, because there are lots of downsides:

  1. Initial lack of respect and “testing the sub” behaviour from students.
  2. Not getting a super close relationship with students (that being said, I have made great connections as an OT, and have had very bad connections as a classroom teacher)
  3. On the same theme – not getting to know other teachers as well.
  4. Not seeing students grow and thrive over the course of the semester/year (however, I get to see this somewhat if I go to the same classes…but I don’t get the big picture)
  5. Rarely getting to choose HOW to teach a lesson/subject/topic/etc.
  6. The pay and benefits aren’t as good (maybe not good to say, but it IS a factor!)

Now that those are out of the way, there many upsides of being an OT:

  1. I get to visit many different schools and classes
  2. I get to work with way more students throughout the year
  3. I get to experience a huge variety of teaching strategies and pedagogy
  4. Practically no marking or prep work
  5. If I have a bad day, I can more easily leave it behind me.
  6. I can take time off when I need or want
  7. Being someone other teachers can rely on when they need help

I think that teaching in so many different schools and classrooms with a huge variety of students and subjects is making me a better teacher. My classroom management skills are improving quickly, and I am getting to know the curriculum more intimately.

The BEST parts of being OT for me: it’s extremely flexible, way less stress, and fun! These are all  huge bonuses, especially with a young family!

Will I want to get a more permanent teaching position? Probably, just not right now. It works for me and our family, and that makes me happy 😀

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Two Weeks to Go!

In these parts, public school starts two weeks from today. I’ll still continue in my occasional teaching role (at least to start the year), but it will be in two school boards.

Yes! I got hired by the school board that I actually live in, so I’m very excited about that!

Since I do not have classes to prep for the Fall, I haven’t been thinking all that much, or deeply, about teaching lately. Though it’s been a nice summer break, and I’ve gotten lots of knitting done, I’m starting to get the teaching itch!

So, to get myself back in the teaching headspace, I’m doing a few things:

  1. I’m reading Mindset by Carol Dweck
  2. I’m taking part in the NEW New Teacher Chat (check it out here – it’s a slow chat, with questions posted once a week, and all the responses are done using Flipgrid).
  3. I started the process of getting my Google Educator Certification – Level 1
  4. I *just* signed up to take part in the IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course)
Posted in Learning, PD, teaching | 2 Comments

Favourite Moments

As the school year winds down, I’ve been reflecting on my favourite moments I’ve had during my first year teaching public high school.

  1. When a notoriously-unreachable student knocked on my classroom door during my prep and we talked for 45 minutes about his art…and then he thanked me because no one ever does that with him.
  2. During an intense game of Spoons with a group of grade 12 physics students, one ripped the last spoon right from my hand. Then when he realized who he stole it from he became bright red and said “Oh my God! I stole the spoon from the TEACHER!! I’m going to fail!!”.
  3. Having a parent email to tell me how much they appreciated me helping their child.
  4. Having students teach me how to play Euchre, and then winning with my partner. Playing games with students is an awesome way to bond.
  5. Having students get excited when they see I’m their teacher for the day.
  6. Helping students, who normally do very little work, GET something. Those smiles and sense of accomplishment are such bright parts of my day.

It’s very bittersweet finishing my first year as a high school teacher, especially as it has been a bit of a rough start. I am excited to see what next school year brings!

Posted in changes, Future?, Reflection, students, supply teaching | Leave a comment