Creating thinkers instead of learners.

This week was my last official week to teach in the classroom. I did a health lesson that was based off a story I read on the internet:

When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions–and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else–the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your  spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first–the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.

It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.

This was the basis of a health lesson that I did on effective decision making. I developed a work sheet to guild their thinking because I knew that the symbolism might be something they had a difficult time grasping. I did the demonstration just as in the story above except I switched out the coffee for a can of coke. I asked them to work through the first side of the sheet which asked them to write down what the golf balls and the pebbles in their life represented. This separated the “big things” in their life from the “small things”. They then were asked to take the words from above and separate the words into needs and wants. They then made the observations that the “golf balls” in their life were generally the needs and the “pebbles” in life were generally the wants. As the students worked, I walked around the room and asked students to put one thing on the board under the heading need or want. When every student in the class had put a suggestion on the board we had a discussion about the words on the board and our personal definitions of needs and wants. We then talked about what would happen if I had put all the pebbles and the sand in the jar first. They of course came to the conclusion that if I had put the small things in the jar fist that their would be no room for the big things. They quickly made the connection to their own life and many of them had something profound to say about the importance of prioritizing their lives. They connected the ideas to people in third world countries vs. Canadians who are incredibly fortunate. I left the idea of the coke to them. They were to hypothesize about what it represented. Once everyone had made it through the sheet we had a more formal discussion. I had a foam ball and we tossed it around the room. Who was ever holding the ball could say something. It was great to hear how much they got out of the lesson and what it made them think about. Many of them shared what they thought the coke meant and it sparked a very intelligent conversation.

I thought this would be very hard for my students, and in some ways it was. My students do not think for themselves at all. I do not know if it is a result of their education this year or since they entered the system, but my students will not even write their name on their page unless you specifically ask them to do it at a certain time and a certain location on the page. If you do not give them the specific direction, the students will all raise their hands and and ask too many questions to handle. So, when I gave them a work sheet to do their own open thinking they were incredibly flustered. The students were asking question such as “how many words do I have to write down for each box?” or “can I move on to the next question now?” The students were even asking me if their answers were “right”, which surprised me because there was no right answer in this context! No matter how much I would explain to them that the sheet was meant to encourage their own thinking, and they could map it out how they liked, they still wanted pin point directions. This tells me two things; our students are well managed but they can not think for themselves, nor do they know how to, or where to start. This bothers me because part of my teaching philosophy is that my students have common sense and are well rounded thinkers when they walk out of my classroom for the last time. I do not have the authority or the time to encourage more critical and creative thinking but I wish I could. I believe that the education we are receiving at the University of Regina has equipping us with the skills to create thinkers instead of learners. Anyone can learn material and then memorize and regurgitate it. I believe that our system is heading a direction where children will think for themselves and take responsibility for their own learning with the teachers guidance and encouragement. From what I have seen this week, we are a long way from what I would like to see, but I see pre-service teachers adopting new and innovative philosophies and teaching techniques that will push education in this direction. It is very encouraging to see.

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those kids who slip under the radar.

This week I taught a lesson in math. My cooperating teacher warned me that it would be one of the hardest lessons I have taught this far and she was right. My students have a very negative perception of math, most of them find it either boring or too difficult to bother with. She had explained to me that this geometry unit was going to be hard for them as they haven’t worked very much with geometry besides classifying shapes. My challenge was to teach them to draw triangles. After I started to teach the lesson I quickly realized that there is much more to the thinking process to drawing triangles then I though. I had to break it down to the simplest steps and still, they were frustrated. We had one hour and we barely drew seven triangles together. I had a good grasp on the management of the class and they were working, it was just a lot slower moving then I thought it would be. I was disappointed that the students were having such a difficult time grasping the concept but my cooperating teacher was optimistic about my lesson. She said, “I am glad you taught it and not me!” I suppose this is a good thing. I tried my best to research how to make this lesson as engaging as possible but drawing triangles can only be so interesting. So I realize now that I can not plan to have every lesson be a knock their socks off, fireworks and light bulbs going off lesson. The best I can do is to make sure that my students learn at least one thing at the end of that lesson and I would like to believe that my students leaned how to at least start the process of drawing a triangle. My professional target this week was based off one of my weaknesses from last week. I have some students that are hard to keep on task and they are loud and distracting to the rest of the class and I believe I am strong in dealing with those situations. It is the quiet ones that do not work that slip under my radar. I never notice that they are not working because they sit there quietly or read a book. They are very deceiving. This week I focused on the kids that seem to fly under the radar, I monitored them more and reminded them to work. It seemed to pay off as students who never participate or work were drawing triangles that were fairly accurate. I am excited for next week as I will be teaching a lesson that is very visualized. I hope to keep my students engaged and to have everyone in the class working as much as the next. Wish me luck!

Lights, Camera, ACTION

I haven’t been in the classroom for three weeks because we had our reading week and then the students had last Thursday off, so today was getting back in the the swing of things. I was proud of how today went; I taught a lesson on summarizing (you can see on my lessons page). I sent Ms. Olfert out of the room so she would not know what the story I was going to read to the kids. I read the students a very simple book and they acted it out for Ms. Olfert so that she would know what happened in the story. Only a few students got to act, but the students in the audience were very helpful when the actors forgot what happened in the book. I only read the book once on purpose so that the students would remember, and therefore act out the major points while leaving out the details that are not required in summarizing. I explained to the students that when they did the skit that they were essentially summarizing. We then discussed how the skit contained three things: the setting, the conflict and the events that the characters were involved in. I showed them that these three things are what is important in a summary. They wrote a summary of the book on a piece of lose leaf and I was able to collect them. I have read through quite a few and their cooperating teacher said that their skills greatly improved in such a small time. I overheard her talking to the other teachers in the staff room about how my lesson was very effective and could be used across all grades. Today was very encouraging.

I learnt that my learners thrive when I give them an activity that appeals to their learning style. I have been thinking a lot lately about the difference between students who are very creative thinkers verses the ones that are more critical thinkers. I remember being frustrated by teachers who though we were all imaginative little children.  I think that this lesson was able to appeal to both. The role playing activity allowed listening, watching, visualizing, speaking, communicating and many other skills. My goal for my next few lessons would be to design lessons that appealed to all my students as much as this one did.

I am not skilled in the English language, so this lesson was terrifying to me. Now that it went so well I am more confident to try teaching all subjects, not just science and math. Today proved that I am growing into a real teacher, not just a subject specialist in chemistry.

5,6,7,8!

First of all I must say I have an amazing group of kids. They are as diverse as they could be but they are so well behaved. As expected, the natural behaviour of the children is starting to come out more as they get to know Kelsey and I. There has been more problems today then before but they are a wonderful group of kids to be around.

Today Kelsey and I taught a line dance to the song 5,6,7,8. You can see the link to the video we learned from, here. We immediately spit the kids up into two groups as they trickled in from the change rooms. They sat down on the gym floor and we talked about how counting in a song works, there are consecutive bars of 8 counts. We played the song that we would be dancing too and I asked them to do what I was doing. I began to count to eight over and over to the beats of the song as we clapped whole notes, followed by half notes and then quarter notes. After, Kelsey and I then went to our opposite sides of the gym and taught them a basic line dance.

My side had two children who you might consider “difficult” as they have behavioural problems and are on the autistic scales. The lesson though, seemed to go well for them although I had to reign in their behaviour a few times.  We went through the steps slowly and I was sure to repeat them until I heard unity in their stomps and clapping. Two girls after class even said that they appreciated how I repeated things until everyone got them and they said I was very easy to follow. After Kelsey and I had successfully taught the groups the line dance we brought them together and put the dance to the music. They loved dancing and had a lot of fun doing so. After we did the dance many times during the song we went back to our separate groups to add “flare” to the basic dance. My group was adding turns, claps and jumps and they were very excited about creating their own line dance. After Kelsey’s group had finished their line dance we turned on the music so each group could try their altered version to the music. My group quickly learned that our version was too hard for the music that was going so fast. I decided to abandon ship on that one and retreat back to the original dance, I wanted them to end on a successful note. Our students were begging us to do our line dance again sometime, and I am sure we will do so.

It was a great time to be silly with them. There was still a level of respect there but when there was four jumps in a row I would spin while I jumped and they soon followed because it was fun. I danced the whole time with them and they loved counting along out loud and laughing at me when I messed up, what a success. Don’t worry Mrs. Sawatzky, there is a video to come, we wouldn’t want you to miss out on a good laugh!

After the gym we went back to the classroom to finish our lesson on explorers. It had been two weeks since we originally did that lesson and there was definitely a train wreck to start. The first group to go forgot how they were presenting and they began to fight at the front. Once that was dealt with the lesson went much better, but I was having to make a few too many reminders while they were answering questions that it was “an individual assignment”. After that they worked in silence until the bell. How wonderful!

A male teacher who I do not know came in and talked to our cooperating teacher. I overheard him say how our line dancing was the “talk of the staff room”! Apparently the teachers, secretary and principle were peaking through the window! It was great to hear that other teachers who were observing thought that it was successful too.

We found out today that in two weeks, the superintendent of the Catholic School division is coming in to observe our cooperating teacher on the afternoon where we are asked to be teaching. She told him that we would be there, and he replied saying that he would like to come and watch anyway! PRESSURE! We will be teaching for a superintendent! What an opportunity to show him what this education program has been teaching us and that we are leading the way in changing the face of learning.

Sounds like a job interview to me! 🙂

Ready, set…. GO

First of all Mrs. Sawatzky, you should see this video because this is what is inspiring me this week.

Just because this is what has inspired me doesn’t mean that this is what I did for my first week of teaching. I think this style of teaching requires a lot of prep work but this is something I want to really try, and hopefully succeed at.

Back to this weeks lesson. If you want to see what I did with Miss. Kelsey Olfert I will direct you to my “Lesson Plans” page at the top and click on the grade six explorers lesson. This was as successful as it could have been. We honestly have the best group of kids who are well behaved and polite, and since we are fairly new still, they caused no problems at all. We did have to ask for their eyes to be at us once and remind them to raise their hands instead of shouting out the answers, but these minor problems were caused by real excitement to share what they knew.

The kids became “experts” on explorers. They were split into groups and each group was assigned an explorer and given questions to answer. Next week the students will share what they learned with the rest of the class. Kelsey and I decided that we wanted to focus on our set and closure. We had a sharing time associated with both so we could really get to know our students more. Kelsey led the set which encouraged kids to tell us of adventures they have had, times on a boat or anything they have ever explored. This was surprisingly a very effective discussion. The only issue that our cooperating teacher pointed out was that we may have cut it too short since we were focused on keeping our lesson moving along. She encouraged us to let moments like a great controlled class discussion that was very applicable to the lesson to go on longer, I guess that’s what they mean by teachable moments. The kids went off and worked on their questions so efficiently. Kelsey and I guided their group work as we moved about the room and it went incredibly smoothly, to our surprise.

There was one moment that stuck out to me more then any other. There is one child in our class named Steven* and he is severely autistic. He is a sweet boy and they try to include him as much as they can in the regular classroom but he is awfully hard to understand as it takes a long time for his brain to form words to come out his mouth. He was put in a group that was working on Henry Hudson. We left it up to the students how they would work through the questions and this group decided that they would read a paragraph each, stopping after each paragraph to answer the questions that were applicable to what they just read. I was overjoyed when I saw Anna* ask Steven to read a small paragraph with two sentences. Although you could hardly understand what he was saying I could tell that he was reading through it very smoothly and all the kids in his group helped him though some of the tougher words. It made me so happy to see in real life what I have been learning in my education classes all along, inclusive education is a benefit to not only the special needs child but to every child around them. That makes me very hopeful.

Truth be told, I was nervous. But as I said before, it could not have gone any better.

Waiting for next week,

R

The world gets a taste of Miss. Klassen

Today was my first day as Miss. Klassen. I have been placed in a grade 6 classroom in a Catholic School in Regina for the first time I am going to actually teach! My teaching partner, Kelsey and I are going to teach a lesson on explorers that came to Canada  so if any of you have any suggestions for us we are open to them! Kelsey and I don’t spend to much time in this area, we are quite honestly both more comfortable with math equations and chemistry but this should stretch us out of our box a little bit.

My class is great.  They respected their teacher and their fellow peers so much. They were so well behaved that they actually do peer teaching for gym class. The teacher just sits back and the kids take turns teaching gym class everyday. It makes her life easy and the children really work with and listen to each other well.  During recess I was incredibly surprised to hear that she thought they could be better behaved then what we saw, because they were little angels! Well we will see what comes in the future.

They are incredibly smart.

Kelsey and I played a game with them to see if they knew about the different types of sciences. We admit that when we were in grade six we didn’t know what zoology, astronomy or physics was but all of our kids knew them!  I am really looking forward to this semester.

Cheers!