Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tasks Galore!

Another long break. Thought it might be the end of the blogging, but I was loaned these fantastic books that have really inspired my special education practice and I felt the good word about them had to be spread. Tasks Galore! is loaded with great ideas and examples of practical job and life-skills tasks to support exceptional students. The authors outline how to put the tasks into practice and the reasons why exceptional students learn best through tactile/kinesthetic exercises. The tasks require preparation and materials, but they'll quickly inspire your creativity. You'll be looking at all the "useless" things lying around your home in a different way.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Reading and Writing Site

It's been too long since the last post, I know. Thankfully it's because I've landed a temporary position until the end of February. That really shouldn't be an excuse for not posting a link or two, but I have been faced with the challenge of differentiating instruction for ten developmentally delayed youth, all with very different levels of cognitive, physical, and social ability. The days are busy and the evenings equally consuming, but dodgeball on Tuesdays, soccer on Fridays, and delicious meals at home (see the menu here) are the life preservers keeping me afloat.

At school this week, we will be continuing with a creative writing project. While researching methods of teaching creative writing for new and developing readers and writers, I came across this site. Thought I'd share it, if you haven't already made it a tab in your bookmarks list.

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.

~William Wordsworth

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Interview Questions

My friend recently interviewed for a Science EOT at a high school in Ottawa. Posted here are the questions he was asked in his interview. Practice makes perfect, right?

1. How would you design your lessons to take into consideration all the different learning styles displayed by students today (ie. kinesthetic, auditory, visual etc.).

2. How would you plan your assessments and evaluations to devise a mark and level for a student in your class?

3. What are some strategies you would use to engage apathetic students?

4. How would you deal with difficult parents?

5. The science department at (this school) is divided into teams based on courses. What would you bring to the table as a member of the team to which you were assigned? What would you expect to get out of your team?

6. Science classes can be very dangerous environments (in labs etc.), what kind of safety measures do you put in place and enforce from personal experience?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Interview with Ms. M, The Woman in the North

In YSHM's first interview, Ms. M describes the challenges and rewards of teaching in a remote, Northern community. Many new teachers are making their way north, where the snow, cold winds, bears, and teaching jobs abound. The sometimes high cost of living in the North is compensated by a Northern allowance, and most relocation costs are covered. Some of the more remote areas offer generous bonuses for signing on. Follow the links below the interview for information from the provincial governments of the North on teaching opportunities.

Thanks for the insight, Ms. M.

November, 2009

Why teaching?

I wanted to have the same positive influence my teachers had on me. The opportunity to affect change, be a part of a system that I believe in and hope to someday expand upon. Teaching is always evolving and there is always an opportunity to learn something new.

What motivated you to seek employment in Northern Canada?

There were three main factors: opportunity, adventure and money. There are very few opportunities for new teachers in Southern Ontario and I was hired in the North almost immediately. I love to travel and see different parts of the world; the North seemed like the perfect way to see a part of Canada many people never have the opportunity to experience. Last but not least, the financial benefits of moving North are fantastic. As a first year teacher I make just short of $100,000; more than double what I would make in the South.

What incentives are offered, if any?

There are unlimited opportunities in the North. Every teacher is offered $2,000 in professional development every year. There is a “Professional Improvement” week in February all teachers in Nunavut will be flown to Iqaluit to attend. The pay scale and benefits are an obvious incentive. There are also many additional opportunities I often wonder if I would be open to in the South. There is a convention in Oslo in May I am being considered for, I stand on 6 committees, there is ample funding for almost any endeavour and most principals are elated to give funding to enthusiastic teachers.

What PD would benefit a new teacher going to work in the North?

Special Education (Nunavut is 100% fully inclusive), English as a Second Language, and at least 2 grade ranges (primary/intermediate or intermediate/senior) so ABQ in an additional grade.

Where are you living, what is the day to day life like?

I live in a brand new home in one of the most Northerly communities in the world. We have running water just like down South which is rare, many communities are trucked in clean water and have to be very cognizant of their usage. Our heat is included in our rent so we keep our home quite balmy considering it is usually -50C outside. We’ve had 6 snow days in the first 2 weeks of November. School starts at 9:00 and it is about 500m from our front door so most days I get up at 8:10 and am at school for 8:30. We have eight 45 minute periods a day and an hour at lunch where the school is closed and everyone has to go home. School is out at 4 and all teachers stay until 5. I usually stay later to get marking and planning finished. Night time is fairly dull but as a first year teacher I find I am exhausted so it is not so bad.

What has been the greatest challenge in the classroom/school?

Many of the classes are multi-grade. Learning to differentiate lessons to teach across 4 grades in one period is exhausting at first but it gets much easier once you learn where all of the students are in their learning.

Are there occasional teaching positions available? Who fulfills the sub needs?

There are quite a few sub positions available but they are filled first and foremost by locals. Since most schools are small (5-10 teachers) there are sub days when they go on conferences or are sick, but not nearly the same amount of sub days as a large school in the south. The absolute only prerequisite you need to sub in the North is that you don’t have a criminal record. Most of our subs are local people who did not graduate high school themselves. Moving to a community to sub would be pointless because it does not occur often and they hire local people first. Unless you were in a large center like Iqaluit or Yellowknife, you might have more luck there. It’s unfortunate because for a certified teacher supplying in the North you make ~$400/day, uncertified people make ~$300/day.

What resources are available to support your teaching?

Our school has fantastic resources, and it is my understanding that most schools in the North are similar. The Internet is great, nearly as good as down south. My classroom came with an insane amount of previous teacher’s lesson plans, notes, ideas, etc. (almost too much, at first it was very overwhelming). The staff are often the best resource, they have good ideas all teachers seem to love to share. There are an abundance of textbooks and materials. If there is ever anything I think could be useful I tell my principal and she orders it, I usually have it within 3 weeks. I’ve ordered close to 100 items since September and received them all already.

How have you had to shift your preconceptions of what teaching is to be successful up North? If at all.

It is a huge adjustment shifting your preconceptions of teaching from South to North. The biggest shifts for me are:
• There are no bells, so there is no such thing as being “late”. It can be difficult when you’re halfway through a lesson and 50% of your class wanders in.
• The students can be very attention-seeking, much more than I have seen down South. This is good as most are keen, but tiring and difficult to get work done.
• There are no curriculum documents for Nunavut to follow.
• You have to often let things go. Issues that seem huge to me are nothing to the students and the school. One of the nice things is that if you have to discipline a student they have forgotten about it 20 minutes later so there is no holding grudges.
• Nunavut is 100% inclusive at all times no matter what.

If someone reads this and decides to join you up North, what is the last thing you would like to advise them of?

Have and keep a very open mind. You cannot change the way things run in the North, it’s best to embrace everything as it is, go with it, and enjoy it!

Click here for Yukon teaching information

Click here for Nunavut teaching information

Click here for NWT teaching information

Friday, October 30, 2009

Comics in the Classroom


The potency of the picture story is not a matter of modern theory but of anciently established truth. Before man thought in words, he felt in pictures... It's too bad for us "literary" enthusiasts, but it's the truth nevertheless, pictures tell any story more effectively than words.

- William Marston

There's a scene from the movie Ice Age that I've always enjoyed. The misfit gang of mammals crossing the arctic landscape in search of greener pastures find themselves in a mysterious, magnificent cave. Adorning the walls of the cave are human pictograms depicting the life- struggle of the humans inhabiting this ancient world. The mammals start "reading" the sequence of pictures and magically the images come to life on the wall and enact the story. The story is a revelation for both the characters and the audience and a new perspective on the plight of these characters is achieved, all without uttering a single line of dialogue.

Reading a comic is exactly like reading cave paintings; the sequence of images, how they are placed next to one another, alters our understanding of each individual image. For students, understanding how one image impacts another, is precisely the same practice as reading a literary text where one word can drastically alter the word that either follows or precedes it. "Reading" is not an act of following a sequence of words, but rather it is an act of following a sequence of symbols, and the stories being told breathe life into the subject. Comics should be used not only as an option to engage visual learners, but as worthy and legitimate texts to be explored. Comics create visual connections with words and readers begin to see vocabulary and sentence structure for the art that it is.

The strength of comics as pedagogical tool goes beyond their ability to engage the visual learner; comics activate the basic human impulse of storytelling. I once heard Thomas King, Canadian literary giant, say that "stories are all we have. They are everything we are." Telling the story of the discovery of the atom, or Einstein's perspective on his work being used for warfare, adds the emotional resonance to a topic that could very well be reduced to a technical drawing. Telling these stories, depicting them both in image and text, connects the reader emotionally to both the topic and the person, or people, who brought it to life.

Take Mr. Yang's introduction to factoring as an example:

And just as we ask students to read comics, we should also encourage them to create comics to express their knowledge. There are a number of excellent resources available to help teachers implement comics in their curriculum. Comic Life is a web-based software that enables the user to use digital pictures as graphics in their comic. They also provide tutorials for educators on how to use the program to its full educational potential. Click the logo below to visit the Comic Life website. and CLICK HERE for a guided tutorial.

Bitstrips is another web-based software that allows the user to build their own characters and insert them into panels to create a story. Users can build stories and entire books and share them with other users. The software is very easy to use and there are a number of pre-created characters, backdrops, and props to help build interesting, rich and humourous scenes. Click the logo below to visit the Bitstrips website, and CLICK HERE to read a Globe and Mail photo-story of students using Bitstrips in a Toronto school. For an interview with the creators of Bitstrips CLICK HERE.

Gene Yang, high school teacher and cartoonist, researched the strength of comics in education while completing a Masters of Education degree. Click the image below to read his research and thoughts on comics and education.

As an occassional teacher, I always keep a few comics handy in case of emergency. Some are about grammar or science, others are funny or insightful strips that I've collected along the way, but all are educational and have helped me engage students in thoughtful dialogue. And you would be surprised at the number of conversations students have prompted with me when I'm walking through the halls with a comic tucked under my arm.

Click here to read more about comics in the classroom

Click here for a list of suggested comics for the classroom

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Recommended Viewing: CBC documentary

Wired for Sex, Lies and Power Trips: IT'S A TEEN'S WORLD

Last week CBC aired this important and revealing portrait of the social and sexual lives of high school students in the wired age. In this documentary, Toronto high school teenagers explore complex issues that both weave and tear the fabric of their social lives. How has media transformed the image of the responsible teenager? Is the objectification of women in hip hop responsible for male students abusing their female counterparts? Can our moral standards catch up to the speed of technology's progression? Are cell phones a distraction from reality and instruments of gossip or tools of independence and empowerment for youth?

What is particularly effective about this documentary is that most of the commentary, the criticism of social issues among teenagers, is provided by teenagers themselves. They are perceiving the same problems we as educators, responsible adults and role models for youth, perceive as disturbingly normalized behaviour. This is crucial viewing for anyone looking to better understand the impact that technology and media are having on today's youth, and for those who find the consciousness of today's youth a mysterious Pandora's Box of questions. This is a portrait of their wired world, still full of humanity, reflection, and empathy.

Cleverly, this documentary subverts the damaging effects of technology's progression by empowering its filmmakers with video cameras, computers, and editing software. Teachers everywhere are being implored to incorporate technology in the classroom and this film is a shining example of why they should do so.

Many of the issues explored in Wired for Sex parallel ideas discussed in Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity. Tough Guise creator Jackson Katz argues that most of the problems plaguing the social dynamic of western culture can be traced to the narrow image of masculinity presented to boys and young men. If you enjoy the CBC documentary, I suggest you watch Katz's film, I'm sure you'll find the parallels compelling.



Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ottawa Secondary School Start Times

On more than one occasion I've woken up to my alarm knowing I had to work at a school somewhere but not sure exactly when they start. Unfortunately it's not the easiest information to find on the school websites and it can lead to some anxious, rushed mornings.

Problem solved. Here is a list of all the Ottawa area public secondary school start times (click on image to enlarge). Thanks, Derek.