Thursday, 22 March 2018

Theory vs. Practice - How I See the Field Experience

I've said it before, and I will keep saying it.  It starts and ends with the mentor teacher.

Unless excellent mentor teachers are selected for observation, student teachers will not have the opportunity to grow into master teachers.

The University of Alberta's Faculty of Education explains that "The field experience is designed to give student teachers their first opportunity to merge theory with practice in a school setting."

Here's how I see the Field Experience.

Experience 1.

I believe the "field experience" should happen at the university first where student teachers observe a visiting master teacher, currently employed with a school district,  teach the student teachers a lesson that would be delivered to a high school class.  The process of this experience would be as follows:

1.  Student teachers watch and participate as a master teacher delivers a senior high lesson in a university classroom.
2.  Student teachers engage in the process as a high school student would.
3.  Student teachers observe the teaching strategies and processes ( the "theory") as it unfolds in practice.
4.  The master teacher stops the lesson periodically to debrief what strategy and process was used and why.

Experience 2 and 3.

Student teachers, in pairs, are assigned to excellent mentor teachers that have been recommended by principals. Mentor teachers should engage in a rigorous interview process to determine if they meet the requirements. During this experience student teachers should have the opportunity to:
1.  Observe excellent mentor teachers
2.  Co-teach with the mentor teacher
3.  Co-teach with each other



PowerPoint has killed the secondary teacher. Try to find a teacher at the high school level that engages students on a daily basis and thoughtfully uses the "theory" that is to be merged with "practice" in a school setting.  Hmmmm.......

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Results in the way of Engagement!

Results are important. Absolutely.

The school district I work for has spent a lot of time and money ensuring that we assess students fairly, provide students with a clear target, and assess only those outcomes found in the provincial program of studies.  Makes total sense.

At my school particularly, many science teachers love looking at results, tweaking common exams, experimenting with new marks programs and test creation software.  Its become a bit of an epidemic of all new learning and professional development geared around testing.

Sigh. How about student engagement and learning?

I, personally, would love to see more professional learning around creative methods of teaching and learning. So, what's holding teachers back?

Is it the level of confidence teachers have around creating engaging activities for the students?

Is it the feeling that they won't "finish teaching the material" if they move outside of their comfort zone and allow the students some responsibility to learn?

My Chemistry 20 students were reviewing for the Gases Unit Exam and instead of working through endless problems, I asked students to create a presentation on one of many review topics.  It had to be less than two minutes, creative, engaging and fun to watch (there was specific criteria).  Here is one of the amazing presentations, this one was reviewing "properties of gases".  Certainly, students will remember the types of motion gases have and the Combined Gas Law after this two minute video - way better than if it was a PowerPoint presentation.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Inspiring Student Teachers: It Starts with the Mentors

Dear Minister of Education and Dean of Education,

I’m writing this letter in an effort to affect change and hopefully have some kind of impact on the profession of teaching secondary science in Alberta. I have been fortunate to teach in Alberta for twenty five years and every year is rewarding.  The students I teach are fantastic human beings; more considerate with their surroundings, more caring towards their peers, more committed to diversity and inclusion.  These young people are driven to become the best our planet has ever produced and will no doubt leave a legacy we can all be proud of.

However, these students are being taught and challenged in an educational system that doesn’t often promote the type of thinking necessary to reach the goals they have ahead of them. Our system seems to intentionally or unintentionally promote the stand and deliver mode of teaching. As we all know, good educators are constructivists and actively include students to develop understanding through conversation, experimentation, modeling, peer teaching, etc.  However, no matter how we promote this philosophy through curricular change and university classes in pedagogy, new teachers are entering this profession with limited skills or lack of appropriate mentorship.

As science consultant for Edmonton Public Schools, I had the rare opportunity to visit many secondary science classrooms.  At first I was excited to watch the innovative teaching practice in science classrooms. But I was disillusioned to find that the majority of classrooms were very quiet, students were taking notes, watching a PowerPoint presentation, with little obvious engagement. As I headed back to the classroom after four years as a consultant, I was eager to start with student teachers.  My first student teacher in five years provided me with a cover letter embracing the concept of constructivism.  Imagine my excitement.  Unfortunately, this student teacher clearly did not understand its nature or importance. Upon clarification, this student decided that true constructivism was too difficult and had no background information to draw from to create lessons.  I was able to model constructivism and gave the student teacher opportunities to demonstrate understanding and appreciate the impact it has on students.

My question for the University of Alberta and the Province of Alberta is how can  we provide students the best and most effective learning environment where students collaborate, question, examine, experiment and challenge current thoughts and theories if the most prevalent teaching method is to stand and deliver with a focus on achievement and high stakes exams? I understand the Alberta Government is re-inventing the curricula for all subjects, however, no matter what changes appear on paper, the pedagogy stops with the mentor teacher. How can the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education and the Government of Alberta work together to create a system to develop mentor teachers capable of producing student teachers that can inspire science creativity and wonder in future Albertans?

Thank you for reading my letter.  I would be happy to help with the process.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Increasing Student Achievement: Anyplace, Anytime, Anywhere...

Technology in the hands of students - ubiquitous.  Students would rather catch on fire than lose their phones.  It is awesome to leverage that technology in an effort to increase student achievement.

There are so many reasons students don't achieve their potential.  And with class size pushing 40 in Edmonton high schools, it becomes exhausting and near impossible to connect fully with each student in your class.

Some high schools in  Edmonton Public Schools are piloting "High School Redesign" where credits are not tied to the Carnegie unit and there is flexibility in teaching minutes. This has allowed schools to incorporate built in "tutorial" time during the day.  This is a fantastic opportunity for motivated students to benefit from one on one time with their teachers. However, for at risk students, or students who are not so motivated, there still needs to be opportunity.

Learning doesn't only have to happen in the classroom.  Students miss class for a variety of reasons and having only the textbook as a resource can be intimidating for students.  Students are told, "if you are away you  are responsible for the work missed".  That statement bothers me on so many levels.

Really?  A teenager is responsible?  Sometimes, yes. But, most of the time,  not really.

To increase student achievement, we need to provide meaningful support for students.  If students love their phones, then put the lessons on the phones.

I have created three YouTube playlists; one for each class I teach.  It takes me less than fifteen minutes to screencast the lesson and upload it to YouTube.  Time well spent - it will save me time when I can't connect with the student face to face, and save students time as they can learn anyplace, anytime or anywhere.

My YouTube channels (still being developed) are for the Alberta Program of studies:
Science 10:
Chemistry 20:
Chemistry 30:

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Power of Vodcasts

So far the blended model of the flipped classroom seems the best.

I create vodcasts of each lesson and then have the flexibility to use them as a stand alone lesson or a tool to manage absences, lates or otherwise. The vodcasts are simple, easy to make and periodically have some errors in them for the students to pick up on.  I only do one take as my workload this year is particularly large.  Furthermore, in Alberta, our class sizes have reached ridiculous sizes and are averaging close to 40 students.

Last week was our parent teacher interviews. I spoke to many parents who have watched the vodcasts alongside their child in an effort to support learning.  I hadn't considered that would happen.  The parents are happy to learn the science and help along the way.

I hope to continue building my library of vodcasts and try a true flipped class next year!

Check out my Chemistry vodcasts on my YouTube channel at
Chemistry Vodcasts Playlist

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Some Flipping Success!!

Students continue to impress me!

Because of the modified flipped structure of my lessons, I was able to spend a considerable amount of time coaching students in their understanding of the inner workings of the cell.

Students watched vodcasts on organelle structure and function, explored cell membranes, and investigated transport of materials across membranes.

The performance task given to students at the beginning of the unit was:

Science 10IB Cell Transport Assignment

Create a story that outlines the “life” of a newly created protein and its journey out of the cell.  You can use artistic license when showing the relationship the protein has with the cell components, however the story must clearly articulate the following scientific processes.

·         Graphic Novel 
·         Ransom Letter / Police Correspondence
·         Explanation without using the letter “e’
·         Song / Poem / Rap
·         Scientific Explanation with supporting electron micrographs.
·         Format of your choice

  1. DNA produces RNA which communicates with ribosomes. (2)
  2. Ribosomes on the rough ER create the protein. (1)
  3. Protein travels through the smooth ER, where lipids (fats) on the protein are synthesized.  (2)
  4. Protein moves to the Golgi Apparatus. (1)
  5. Golgi Apparatus modifies protein by adding some carbohydrates. (1)
  6. Protein leaves the Golgi in vesicles. (1)
  7. During the journey, oxygen diffuses through the semi-permeable plasma membrane into the cytoplasm. (2)
  8. Glucose enters the cell through facilitated diffusion. (1)
  9. Glucose and O2 combine in the mitochondrion to produce CO2 and water.        CO2 gas diffuses out of the membrane and water leaves by osmosis.(3)
  10. The protein encounters some evil ‘ions’ that have entered through active transport. (1)
  11. The evil ions force the protein to become evil. (1)
  12. Lysosomes bind with the vesicle containing the protein and digest it. (2)
  13. The lysosome binds with the plasma membrane and removes the now evil protein through the process of exocytosis. (2)

Marks:             /20

Take a look at some of the results.  You will be just as amazed as I am!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Flipping the Classroom - Reflection

Teaching is a crazy business. It's pace is frenetic, and the bar is set high.  We, as teachers, have many stakeholders to satisfy - obviously the most important are the students.

So, to hold on to every student and not let one slip through the cracks, I attempted a new strategy.  I flipped my classroom. My intentions were to provide quality instruction at home as a vodcast, and then to navigate through my classroom searching for any misconceptions in learning while students worked through well planned activities.

My experiment lasted three weeks.

I asked the students to watch the vodcasts in advance and then in class we would start with a discussion around the vodcast and the students would break into groups to work on the assigned activity.

The frenetic pace doubled.  Maybe tripled. I was happily involved with student conversation about learning instead of taking the class to deliver instruction.

Students who watched the vodcasts were successful in completing the activity and demonstrating what they knew to me.  It was interesting to listen to their discussion.  This was evidence to me that this strategy was working for them.

Students who didn't watch the vodcast were slowed down considerably.  I had some chromebooks available for students, and they attempted to watch the vodcasts during class time.  But, unfortunately, they began to fall through the cracks as they didn't have sufficient time to engage in the meaningful discussion.  Sigh.

The great idea of flipping requires students to have easy access to computers and free time to watch them before coming to class. The motivated students will watch and continue to excel but the students who lack motivation will experience the same results as before.

So I reverted to the classical method of instruction where I knew all students would receive the information first, and then I assign activities to reinforce learning.  This method limits the richness and quality that I imagined the flip classroom may provide.  Sigh.

As of September of 2014, the Alberta Government has relaxed the number of minutes of instruction that each credit demands.  So our school is experimenting with a 30 minute tutorial time in the morning where students can access help for whatever they need.

I may think of trying the flip again.  Students can use the tutorial time to access the vodcasts if they didn't have access or time to view it. If I can level the technological playing field for all students then I can work hard to co-construct learning through meaningful activities.

Here we go again.