Sunday, September 25, 2011

What Has Having Children Done to My Teaching?

Earlier in my career, as Vice Principal of a Junior High Catholic School, I remember having a meet and greet with several parents during Curriculum Night.  One bold parent approached me and proclaimed, "Mr. Frehlich, you have been an educator at this school for several years, and my wife and I think you are a really good teacher.  But, once you have children of your own, you will be an outstanding educator."  

Needless to say, I was offended by this statement at the time.  Although I did not overtly argue with the man,  my stoic express did not portray how I felt inside at that moment.  I couldn't understand what he meant by this bold opinion.

Fast forward many years, and now I am more grown up (so to speak), married and I have two children making their way through school.  As I reflect on this incident, I truly understand the wisdom this man was trying to convey.

What Has Having School Age Children Done to My Teaching? 

Let me start this section by sharing a video clip that was shared with me on twitter by @amichetti (Thanks for this)

As evidenced in this video, loving Parents are filled with struggles.  How do you balance boundaries with freedom, self doubt with trust and compassion with control.  Personally, now that I have children I am more compassionate, patient, trusting and more apt to give students the "benefit of the doubt".  When dealing with difficult situations I usually take time to reflect, "What if this was my child?"

My teaching/assessment practices have evolved over the years, because of my own children.  Here are some pedagogical  practices I can thank my children for:

1.  I refuse to give a student a "0" for an assignment, I will keep them in at lunch until they finish.
2.  I allow students to eat snacks in my class, to ensure they are not hungry.
3.  I make a habit of standing at the door to my room to greet students with a smile and a welcome to begin each class.
4.  I allow students to re-attempt many of their assessments.
5.  I communicate with parents more often on the good things I see in my classes.
6.  I am quick to praise and slow to judge.
7.  I give less homework, and more advanced notice for summative quizzes and chapter tests.
8.  I try and work one-on-one during class with students while others are working on online labs and assignments like
9.  I facilitate more and broadcast less.
10.  My powers of perception and instinct seem more heighten.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Classroom Without Walls-Thanks to the Magic School Bus

As child growing up, I was usually glued to the television show The Magic School Bus.  In the show, Ms Frizzle doesn't just tell her students how the world works, she shows them by hopping on the Magic School Bus and taking them on incredible adventures.  Here is a clip of one of the episodes;

The Magic School Bus is based on Experiential Learning. This "learn by doing" philosophy can be a highly effective teaching methodology, especially if it involves taking students to places beyond the walls of the classroom. Having taught at several schools with extensive outdoor education components embedded in their physical education program, I have always enjoyed the multitude of benefits that Experiential Learning can avail.  Students are able to have the opportunity for immediate application of classroom knowledge through active learning outside of the classroom.  The result can be greater student engagement and motivation. 

Yet, many schools are not structured  for such a learning style.  In some cases, a rigid schedule whereby students have a set timetable with math period 1, science period 2, history period 3, and so on...does not give teachers amply time to journey outside of the school or classroom.  If only they had the power of Ms Frizzle and her Magic School Bus. 

This year, I was given just such a gift.  Our school has a 21 passenger "Magic" school bus.  This summer I wrote my class 4 drivers test so that I, like Ms Frizzle, am able to take my science students on short adventures around the city and be back in time for their next class. 

One of our first trips was to a local man-made wetland only a few minutes from the school.  Students were able to take pictures of abiotic and biotic interactions and record sounds of the wetland.  We took water quality tests and will blog about our experience once back at the school.  Then, we will revisit this wetland in the winter and spring to inquire how they are similar and different.

Since I am a strong advocate of Experiential Learning, I plan on using the "Magic" school bus several times this year to learn by seeing and doing.  Here are some of my possible trips (all within a one to two our visit):
1.  A visit to our Cancer Centre when we study about cells to learn how they diagnose and treat cancer cells.
2.  A visit to a local grocery store, Safeway, when we study about heat and temperature to learn about how they control heat to work with food storage and preparation.
3.  A visit to several ponds around the school to compare water quality.
4.  A visit to the local animal shelter to learn (and maybe volunteer) about how to treat animals with sickness and diseases.
5.  A visit to a local ice rink to learn about the science behind ice making for our unit on heat and temperature.
6. A visit to a greenhouse to learn about different varieties of plants and how to take care of them.
7.  A visit to our local ski hill to learn about the science behind snow making.
8.  A visit to our local mall to find out how they use solar power to power the mall.
9.  A visit to a large restaurant to talk to the chef and learn about safe food handling procedures to prevent the growth of micro-organisms.
10.  A visit to a heavy machinery business to learn about how hydraulics work for our unit on simple machines.