I can’t believe I have just finished my 10th year of teaching. If I were to look back in my past 10 years and give advice to myself, here they are…
Advice to myself
10 years later and here is some advice I would give to myself 10 years ago
Be creative – Think how you want to be taught the content you are teaching. Is it taught in a way that would help you learn? Be creative in designing your content.
Build connections with your students – Get to know your students, their home life, and their talents. We often know a lot about the outspoken ones but take the time to get to know everyone. The connections go a long way.
Parents that show concern are not annoying – These are the parents who are advocating for their child. Having parental support is a positive thing.
It is ok to re-invent – You will hear people tell you not to reinvent the wheel. But it is ok to re-invent, and get some fresh ideas on your content and deliverables. Otherwise your content will become stale.
Don’t just print off worksheets – Don’t just print off and use a worksheet from the internet without first knowing what it is. Students can tell when things are copied or printed off from the internet as they themselves can search the same thing you did.
Make your deliverables aesthetically pleasing – Students can tell if you have put in the time in making a lesson or deliverable. Add some flare to everything you give to them so that they will rise to the same standards of what was put into the design.
Make it relevant – Every year you will have students with different abilities and interests. Tweak your previous deliverables to cater to the new group.
Travel – Our classroom is undoubtedly diverse. Traveling and seeing other cultures bridges these connections with our students. Traveling also allows us, the teacher, to be more aware and empathetic towards various cultures and backgrounds.
Don’t follow the trend just to fit in- It is ok to question and think critically about different trends in education.
Don’t compromise the integrity of your classroom standards just to get the students to like you – Newer teachers tend to seek the acceptance of their students and sometimes this could lead to one making a course easier, more bonus marks, or diluting the curriculum. Students prefer knowing that they earned a grade through a challenging course than be given a high grade with ease.
Don’t take it personally from students – We are all different as teachers. Some students will like you, and some will not. Don’t take it personally if a student chooses to be in a class with another teacher. It’s not a competition.
Genuinely encourage each other – Teachers often forget to encourage each other. If you see something neat that another teacher is doing, compliment them, like genuinely and wholeheartedly encourage them. It doesn’t make you less of a teacher when they are doing something great.
Biology dissections have been staple in high school classrooms. Dating back to when I was a student in biology, dissections were often the most exciting part of biology class. Students were placed in small groups with a dissection tray, dissection kit, and a series of cookbook instructions of what to look for in the specimen. We would go through the instructions step by step making cuts and incisions and drawing the parts as we go. Once all the steps are completed with all the diagrams labeled, the clean up process begins, and that was the dissection. There may be a post dissection series of questions for students to complete or how the dissections could be found on the next test, but in a nut shell, that was a typical dissection.
This year, I tried to have my students lead the dissections instead. The dissections were incorporated into the gr.12 biodiversity unit when most of the dissections take place. The unit took 4 weeks in its duration including basics of evolutionary history, classification, and research on the conservation efforts. I broke down the Unit into a project-based learning where the question is
“Are the efforts being conducted by conservation adequate in sustaining the population of a/an endangered animal (select your own___________________)?”
The project contains 4 parts
1) Learning portfolio on the classification of organisms
2) Leading a dissection
3) Presentation of the findings of the conservation efforts
4) Creating a cladogram and dichotomous key assignment.
In the learning portfolio, the students are to create their own notes, take down information discussed in class, and create a portfolio describing how biodiversity is organized. The students have to clearly identify, explain, and annotate with diagrams the various domains, kingdoms and phyla and their individual characteristics.
In the leading a dissection, I had the students prepare a presentation to guide through their peers step by step in the dissection, a diagram (blank and completed), and questions that follow the dissection. Many students chose Kahoot, and prepared various questions for their peers to complete. The remarkable part of this process was seeing the students answer questions and facilitate the dissections. Moving forward, I would create a more structured expectations of the diagrams, and a more concrete list of items needed from the students. Some of the diagrams, or instructions were not as clear, or that the diagrams were simply printed off an internet site without any use to them during the dissection.
The presentation of the conservation efforts of an endangered animal involved the students to individually prepare a formal presentation of an animal of their choice and to research on the current conservation efforts, techniques, and what more can be done to the efforts.
Lastly, the cladogram and dichotomous key is a simple assignment where the students create their own instead completing one. Some of the cladograms, and dichotomous were very creative in the topics that the students had chosen.
All in all, I think the student led dissection was a great success and will definitely try it again for my next biology class.
I remember when I first started my education career, there was this viral video named “Caine’s arcade” (see below) that came out about a kid who built cardboard carnival games. I was impressed by his engineering in designing and putting the games together. Having always been a fan of building things, this video and the kid in the video got me thinking in how I can incorporate the building aspect in the classroom.
After searching on Youtube, I found that there were a lot of cardboard game builders where they had instructional videos in showing you the materials and steps in building a fully functioning game. The games were simple yet fun to build as they require some precise measurements and engineering. The videos provides you with all the measurements, and design but in order to really test out your engineering skills, building a game that is to your liking requires you to do some trial and error work.
I built the basketball game with my 4 year old. Even though I did all of the big cutting with a box cutter, she did help me with other items such as using a hot glue gun to glue pieces together, deciding on the pictures to decorate, and to cut out the decorations to put on the game. One of the memorable moments was when I printed out a cartoon drawings of NBA players and cut them out to have them look like the spectators. After gluing them on, she looked at all of them and realized that they were all males so she asked if we could have some girls in the stands. We then browsed through Google images and searched for WNBA players and printed them off for the stands.
Spending them building the game with my daughter provided a lot of quality time spent together. It wasn’t just about her learning the skills, but also for her to observe the details and work needed to put something together. Sometimes the cut out pieces may not line up or fit together, but it is the grit of trying it and fixing errors that make the building more rewarding. Some people might not let a 4 year old use a hot glue gun all to themselves (she did burn her finger once), but with supervision, and some caution, her confidence grew as she did more of the task.
After building the basketball game, I saw that a pinball game was also a common build. The trick to building a pinball game was the mechanism in the bumpers, and the release trigger. The bumper mechanism is an interesting one since it requires the use of elastics, and to place them so that when you depress or push the trigger, a “L” shaped bumper is pushed by your motion. The harder you push the trigger, the harder it pushes on the bumper. But the question is, how do we get the bumper to its original position. This was the engineering part. I watched several Youtube videos in how others created their bumpers with each of them having a different type of mechanism but in the end, I used one and modified its design a little. I must say that the designing of the bumper and using the elastics really allowed me to understand the mechanism a lot deeper than just following the instructions on the Youtube video. I would consider trying this design process again once my daughters are little older so that they can appreciate the design and engineering process.
The next part was the trigger release. How do we get the ball into the game. The trigger release is a bit simpler since you just need to have a pull trigger that is created by the elastic (like a slingshot), but instead of it shooting out, you have the release trigger hit a stop. There are other ways of creating the trigger, which makes this design challenge a fun one.
Building this with my daughter allowed her to choose her favourite characters (yes, final fantasy VII heroes), and have her understand how the bumpers work. She might be too young to understand the exact engineer part, but for her to be exposed to the design, and visually see behind the foamboard of how it works is pretty amazing.
In the future, I would like to have the exact dimensions and draw it on Inkscape or Illustrator and have them cut in a laser cutter. Can this be fully assembled just based on a template? Other variations that can be done is to use a 3D printer to print off various objects to incorporate into your pinball design. I think this is a great activity for early years students to create.
This toy castle was a fun build. My daughter was really into her Duplo block people, and Playmobil that she wanted a castle for them to have a home. The tricky part of the design was to build the columns at each of the corners and to cut triangles to provide a cone type structure. I could have measured out exact triangles with appropriate degrees, but I realized that “eye balling” a triangle can do the same effect. After putting the castle together with hot glue, the lay out and texture can be simply added on from pictures from the internet.
A trebuchet was also made in hopes of showing my daughter how a counter weight can be used to propel something in the air. My daughter spent a lot of time playing and adding items to the castle.