Students are not plants!

I created this video in the same way I created Instructional Coach, via Garage Band, iMovie, and with my own photos and videos. This time I did not rap, and for this we are truly grateful.

This video tells the story of my son’s Geranium adequately. What I did not put into the text was the fact that during the same power outage and furnace failure event all of my Coleus died. Death doesn’t readily mix with inspiration, which was my primary intent in creating the video. This example of different plant stress-response outcomes has made me more displeased than usual with a quote that has been streaming through my eduTwitter feed a lot:

When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower. ― Alexander Den Heijer

Green plants grow where the climate suits their biological needs; permitting them to not only survive, but thrive (read: reproduce). This is why we associate cacti with the desert, lush vines with the tropical rainforest, and conifers with the taiga. These are but three of our major terrestrial biomes, identified by vegetation that has been influenced by thousands of years of climatic stability. The sun’s angle of incidence along with the quantity, frequency, and type(s) of precipitation are the major influencers in the location of a native plant. After seeing this quote a few times I started to think that it might be intended for cultivated plants instead, then I recanted.

A garden next to the north side of your house will never support plants that require full sun. You may plant them there anyway, but unless you are willing to relocate your house, they are unlikely to thrive in the shade. Instead of fixing the environment in which a plant grows, what gardeners actually do is choose a species that will thrive in a given location based on its climate. It is why I chose Impatiens walleriana for my north-facing garden when I lived in Barrie. It is also why I have relocated two Lamprocapnos spectabilis out of full sun to supply them with the partial shade they prefer. Thus, I have my own quote to offer:

When a flower doesn’t bloom, you resign yourself to being satisfied with its beautiful vegetation, or you replace it with something that is more likely to bloom in that location. ― Leslie Farooq

If a student is not thriving in the classroom or school environment we absolutely have a responsibility to make adjustments to support and encourage them. How fortunate it is for everyone that educators have this (super)power. In the era of misinformation, alternative facts, and outright lies, we must be ready to fact-check pithy feel-good quotes before we apply them as representative of best practices in education.

Posted in Botany, Creativity, Opinion, Reflection and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , by with comments disabled.

The end of the end of the beginning: Option 3.

Continued from the middle of the end of the beginning.

I’ve blathered on for long enough, and I did it so you know that this went wrong a lot before it went okay. Even now, check the punctuation in my video’s text. It is laughable. Will I be an instructional coach at Rosseau Lake College? I now await the final verdict based on next year’s work assignments. Thanks for listening to (and watching) my song.

P.S. If the partnership approach and Jim Knight’s instructional coaching program and resources interest you, please click this link and check out what he has to offer.

P.P.S. Unless the picture or video is of me, it was taken by me. Now I have an additional destination for all of my photos and videos. Yay!

Posted in Action Plan, Face 2 Face Sessions, Homework, Instructional Coaching, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , by with 5 comments.

The middle of the end of the beginning.

Continued from the beginning of the end of the beginning.

I was stuck with a screenshot of what I had created in Garage Band, and this did not capture the essence of the song I had written nor what my Cohort 21 action plan has thus far entailed. I thought about linking directly to the Google Document containing the lyrics themselves and it felt like settling. I had written some rhyming phrases, counted some syllables, and discussed poetic meter with Jessica Sheppard. I felt that it wasn’t enough and I wanted more.

I started thinking about lyric videos and wondering if I could create one to visually merge the Garage Band loops with my written lyrics. It sounded hard, though lyric videos are prevalent on Youtube, so there must be an easy way, right? I started imagining myself copy-pasting my stanzas into Google Slides and advancing through them whilst playing the song through iTunes during a very carefully timed Screencast-o-Matic screen capture. I’ve used this method of video creation many times. I could do this, yet it wouldn’t push me.

Out of curiosity I went into my applications folder and looked for iMovie. Adeel Farooq, Rosseau Lake College‘s Technology Integrator and my favourite man, told me that it was annoying and that he preferred other methods of video creation. Nevertheless, I opened the program, and started dragging and dropping pictures and video clips from Photos. I added some lyrics and tried adding more photos to them, which I could not do. I had it all upside down and backwards and it wasn’t working the way I thought it should. I dragged my Instructional Coach song into iMovie from iTunes and made a mostly black screen lyric video with a few intro and bridge photos. It nearly ended then and there.

This is the end of the middle. I will be back tomorrow with the start of the end of the end of the beginning. Thank you for reading.

Posted in Action Plan, Face 2 Face Sessions, Homework, Instructional Coaching, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , by with 3 comments.

The beginning of the end of the beginning.

Microsoft PowerPoint was first released in 1987 (Wikipedia, 2019a). The original slide deck software, PowerPoint revolutionized presentations everywhere, freeing us from the trials and tribulations of drawing, or even worse, photocopying, onto transparencies. As a testament to their significance in communication, the form and features of myriad slide deck programs remain similar to this day.

Whenever I ask my biology and chemistry students for creative demonstrations of their learning they automatically default to slide decks. We have arrived to the point at which I now ask them to create anything but a slide deck as a product in my classes. Why do they, and we, default to slide decks? We all know the answer. It is what we know how to do that gets the job done quickly, and for this very reason it brings the following quote to mind:

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. – Fred DeVito

In the spirit of expanding my own horizons and demonstrating to others that it is possible, I decided on Option 3 for my final sharing with Cohort 21. I didn’t really know what I would make, but I was determined to make something that wasn’t easy for me; something that I would actually have to learn how to do before I made the product. I wanted something that I could use as an example of other options besides a slide deck to show my students. Model, model, model.

Recall my “How might we…?” question:

How might we develop an instructional coaching program that supports learning, nurtures teachers, and honours the needs of the school?

I love almost all music, especially classic rock and tropical house, and it seems like a shame that I don’t know how to make my own. I wondered if I could somehow make a song about my action plan, and I turned to Garage Band many years after first having eschewed it. It seemed like it had a very steep learning curve when I first tried it. Garage Band was released in 2004 (Wikipedia, 2019b) so it is fairly old technology too. I played with it for a while, overlaying sound bites from our most recent athletic awards acceptance speeches onto interesting sound loops. My practice songs are on Soundcloud:

| #1 My Grandpa and Mister K | #2 The Beautiful | #3  Quinzee Lullaby |

I felt like I understood Garage Band well enough to get started on a song about instructional coaching. First I picked a backbeat, then I chose some accent loops to overlay onto the backbeat. I realized I needed to be able to sing to the beat I had chosen, and I attempted to do so. It was too fast, so I switched the backbeat and the loop overlay. Now I was ready to write a rhyming set of lyrics about the path I have taken in the development of an instructional coaching program. So I did that. Then I rapped it into Garage Band in one take. I decided I needed a backup singer, so I was that person too. When I played it back it blew my daughter’s mind: “How are you singing with yourself?”

I downloaded my own original song, entitled “Instructional Coach,” into iTunes this past weekend. Then I reread the Option 3 instructions:

…and embed a picture of your artifact in it.

I was crestfallen at my epic fail, for you cannot take a picture of a song.

Do you enjoy cliffhangers? I will return tomorrow with either the middle of the end of the beginning of maybe even the end of the end of the beginning. My one good hand is having an arthritic flare right now. Thanks for reading!


Wikipedia. (2019a, March 29). Microsoft PowerPoint. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2019b, March 29). GarageBand. Retrieved from

Posted in Action Plan, Face 2 Face Sessions, Homework, Instructional Coaching, Technology, Tools and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , by with 6 comments.

An instructional coaching update.

There is no great time to launch yet another initiative. After our second face-to-face we were in the throes of the pre-December rush, and it seemed like a bad time to start. After the winter break we were in the throes of gathering data for Semester 1 final reports, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of launching then. Recently we have been in the middle of end-of-season sports fixtures and we are leading up to the pre-March break rush.

When is it a good time to start anything new? Never would seem to be the correct answer, and this does not get my action plan underway, nor does it support teachers who might like some support. Thus, I sent out a survey on February 27, 2019. I kept it simple and followed the Instructional Coaching Group’s line of questioning. You can find their free downloads associated with the Instructional Coaching book (buy it) near the bottom of this link.

I generated a surprising-to-me amount of interest (Figure 1, below). My next step will be to have a face-to-face sessions with each teacher to explore our options going forward. Our steps will be based upon what they would like to see happen for their groups of learners. Of the respondents, most were interested in gaining support in the area of assessment and feedback (Figure 3, below). This is all I wanted to let you know for now. Thanks for reading!




Posted in Action Plan, Data, Feedback, Instructional Coaching and tagged , , , , , , , , by with 4 comments.

How Aletheia’s diaper taught me a thing.

Last year when I was teaching Chemistry 12 (SCH4U) I borrowed two of Aletheia’s (@edaigle) unused diapers with which to conduct an experiment. I even dissected one diaper to get ready for the experiment; then life moved on, time ran out, and the diaper strips sat in a beaker in a lab cupboard until today. Yes, it’s true, we undertook a diaper experiment today, and thanks to Aletheia’s generosity, I learned a thing (or two).

As I was preparing for the lab in earnest, reading the instructions closely this time, I was fairly underwhelmed by the substance we were supposed to harvest from the diaper. It said to extract the powder from the batting inside the diaper. I started to dig around in the dissected pieces and I realized there wasn’t a whole lot of powder in there. Would there be enough with which to conduct the experiment (see t=0 seconds image, below left).

Diapers contain sodium polyacrylate, which I never really knew despite having raised two kids of my own through the diaper stage. Diapers work and you don’t ask questions, am I right? Sodium polyacrylate is a polymer that contains sodium ions spread equidistantly throughout. Because of this arrangement it is very good at absorbing water-based liquids, such as urine (and you can learn more about this here). When we added 100 mL of water to the beaker containing a small dusting of this substance it did not take long for all of the water to be absorbed (see images, below).

Sodium Acrylate without water at t=0 seconds.

Sodium acrylate and 100 mL of water at t=10 seconds.

Sodium Acrylate and 100 mL of water at t=30 seconds.

Sodium Acrylate and 100 mL of water at t=50 seconds.







What the structured inquiry experiment called for next was puzzling to all of us. We divided the expanded polymer into three equal parts and added a scant teaspoon of either calcium chloride, table salt, or table sugar to each of them. What happened next was easily observed, yet not so easily explained. I didn’t know what to expect, and it is only now, after exploring internet sources, that I can make inferences about our observations (see images, below).

What do you notice? What can you infer from what your observations? I look forward to any replies to this blog post as much as I look forward to reading my students’ “Dear Mrs. Farooq” response emails. I told them to write their emails as though I am their daft professor and they are my learned lab technicians. Let’s see how that goes! Thanks for reading!

Calcium Chloride, Table Salt, and Table Sugar (from left to right) mixed with hydrated Sodium Acrylate at t=0 seconds.

Calcium Chloride, Table Salt, and Table Sugar (from left to right) mixed with hydrated Sodium Acrylate at t=3 minutes.









Carnegie Mellon University. (2016). Gelfand Center. Retrieved from

Van Kessel, H., and Di Giuseppe, M. (2002). Nelson Chemistry 12. Toronto: Thomson.

Posted in Chemistry, Data, Science and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , by with 1 comment.

Giving feedback from the cottage.

Have you ever gone away for the weekend and realized you owed some feedback to a student while you were gone? I am talking about the type of feedback that has to happen before Monday and not by 11 pm on Sunday night either. This just happened to me and thankfully the student submitted his work vial email as a PDF. I was able to take screenshots and upload two .png files to a technology tool that I have used a few times: A Web Whiteboard.

I was able to mark up the submitted work, download a .png file (image, below) of the work and email it back to the student to support his learning in organic chemistry. In theory I should have been able to share a collaborative board with him, but maybe due to connectivity issues it did not work that way this time.

In the past I have used this web-based tool as a means to promote the creation of  collaborative diagrams of the matter cycles. After each group collaboratively sketched the cycle for carbon, nitrogen, or phosphorus I downloaded their work as a .png file for use as backgrounds in a class Google slide deck for other groups to add their knowledge, comments, or corrections to any cycle upon which they did not originally work.

If you haven’t yet used the AWW App you should give it a try. It’s easy to use and very versatile. Thanks for reading!


P.S. Since I know @timrollwagen and @adamcaplan are interested, here is a picture of the current conditions at the cottage. So much snow! That little dot on the lake is my husband!

Posted in Chemistry, Feedback, Technology, Tools and tagged , , , , , , , , , , by with 1 comment.

Are you in a network or are you in a community?

You might wonder if these two words, network and community, are not synonyms. People, together, the way they are supposed to be. Am I right?

I am reading Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto (buy it), and Gatto is getting under my skin. At a scant 120 pages, some of which are postscripts, you may wonder how it has me questioning this particular distinction. You may also wonder why, at page 52, it is bringing me to tears; the kind of tears Truman (spoiler) may have secretly cried as he stood with his back to the camera and facing the open door to the big, wide world beyond the set.

This book is essential reading for everyone, and especially so for educators. How has it stayed under my radar, apparently our collective radar, for so long? I suppose it is because many of us are very good products of the factory model school system; well-oiled machines in the “game of school.” It was only once I started teaching that I realized this traditional “game of school” isn’t fun for everyone.

It is true that the game doesn’t end when you graduate from Grade 12. The pawns change, the draw cards get more complicated, a few more dice are added, yet the play itself remains the same. We are all chained to the rhythm. So let me ask you:

Have you ever lamented at the lost connections between you and your classmates from high school, college, or university? Have you ever felt lonely despite being surrounded by people? Have you ever prided yourself on your ability to handle complex problems with efficiency? Have you ever felt empty inside even when your day was overly full with what many would call great things?

You don’t have to tell me that you have answered ‘yes’ to most or all of these questions. I am not ashamed to admit that I did and often still do answer ‘yes’ to all of them. Gatto has helped me to better understand why a life that appears fulfilling externally can feel so hollow and meaningless from within. It is about those network connections that we use as substitutes for community.

I have been in one or more networks for most of my life; they do not take the place of community, no matter how hard we try to make it so. If you do read this book, trust that I will be here for you when you read through and beyond page 52. Though I am now uncertain that I will ever be more than just a part of your network, I can surely try. Perhaps there is method in the madness of making your Cohort 21 blog website an online version of Hotel California. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!” Because of this, you can never truly become just one more lost link in a network that you used to know. Keeping each other around in perpetuity is arguably Step 1 of how we build an authentic community.

How do we change a bloated, outdated system from within? Perhaps the only truly transformative option is to “kill it with fire.” Here’s hoping we figure it out within at least some of our lifetimes.

Thank you for reading.


Posted in Book Review, Opinion, Random, Reflection and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , by with 3 comments.

On becoming a scheduler.

Once upon a time, Cheryl Bissonette (RLC’s Assistant Head of School) had a vision for what she called an end-of-semester ‘personalized week.’ Her exact words may very well have been:

“What if we set up exam week so that students have a mix of required items, such as presentations and exams, and options such as a ‘charging station’ where they could grab a hot chocolate and do some colouring to destress and relax?”

Design thinking fans might reword this question as:

“How might we redesign exam week to provide students with greater autonomy over when and where they work?”

As a scientist I act on “what ifs” and so I was already thinking in my head about how we might accomplish such a feat. In January 2018, with only one week before we needed the schedule, it took a concerted effort by several to bring this idea to life.

I worked out the schedules for students and spaces while Jessica Sheppard (RLC’s Cocurriculars Lead) worked out a teacher schedule to ensure all spaces were supervised. As I drew the schedule (image, below) I worked out a painful shoulder cramp that I had been gingerly nursing for a month. It almost seemed as if schedule building was therapeutic!

We printed hard copies of the students’ personalized schedules and I remember not being done with the printing of Grade 12 schedules as @edaigle walked out the door go to meet with our Grade 12s.

A one-week schedule with coloured blocks indicating times and spaces for presentations, review sessions, conferencing, and final exams.

Fast forward to Semester 1 of the current school year and the Google Form to ask teachers about their end-of-semester assessment needs went out on November 30. Their responses supported building the schedule’s framework of presentations, review sessions, Discovery Days conferencing, and exam time slots (image, left). This initial data supported my efforts in building a draft personalized schedule for each teacher via Google Documents.

Next came the checks and balances. I had to balance our Grade 9-12 end-of-semester assessment plans against regularly scheduled programming for our Foundation Years students because of the implications for any crossover teachers and rooms that are used by all grade levels. I had to take into consideration a Wednesday of absences as the junior and senior boys’ basketball, girls’ volleyball, and snowboarding teams will be in action. I had to ensure that year-long Grade 9 and 10 English, ESL, and Math had regularly scheduled class time built in to the schedule. Eventually I had to be reminded that Math 10 had split into two groups with two teachers and I had to do some quick thinking to figure out what to do about a scheduling conflict this new information produced. A little substitute coverage and it all worked out.

Once I knew where every student and teacher needed to be, and more importantly, the student numbers associated with these patterns, I could plan for workspaces within which students could scan in via QR codes. During a period when ten or fewer students are free to decide on their workspace there are understandably fewer workspace options than if over 30 students are in a position to make this decision. This information allowed me to backfill each teacher’s schedule with workspace supervision assignments. I then shared a finalized personal schedule with each teacher via a Google Document.

After deciding upon the types and quantities of QR scannable spaces within which students could choose to work I began the ultimate task of working through each student’s personalized schedule. This was when I started to notice little errors associated with crossover students, for example, students who are primarily in Grade 11, but have reached ahead for that one Grade 12 course. It was also at this time that I noticed I had double-booked @gvogt in English 12 conferencing and productivity space supervision. One day my favourite physics teacher, Monica Rand, asked me if her Functions and Applications 11 exam was in the Dining Hall or her own classroom, as indicated on her schedule. Oops. Another fix to make.

Yesterday the task was complete (40 days later, for those who are counting). Each student from Grades 9 through 12 had their own personalized schedule, complete with requirements and options, shared with them via a Google Document.

What I have learned from scheduling RLC’s personalized exam week three semesters in a row is that the little glitches always happen, but the earlier you start, the better you will handle them with grace and sanity! Thanks for reading.

Posted in Random, Reflection, Scheduling and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , by with 6 comments.

Technology has changed, and I will too.

I love taking photos. As a teen I longed for my own camera, yet I had no money. I have none of my own photos from my time in high school.

Once in university I bought a small point-and-shoot film camera. I would develop a roll of 24 photos to maybe get two or three nice photos. This was costly and often very disappointing. As such, I do not have too many photos from my time in university. I also couldn’t tell you where any of these prints might be.

Once out in the work force, and with the arrival of digital cameras, I bought a new point-and-shoot digital camera. It was good, yet clunky to get the photos from the constantly full memory card to the desktop computer. There was a cord of some sort. We went to Spain, it was beautiful, it was once-in-a-lifetime, and I have no idea where all of those digital files went. They are most likely gone forever.

With the demise of my first digital camera, and with the move to Mexico looming, I bought a new and better digital camera. I needed something modern to capture all of the amazing sights I would see on our adventures abroad. During this time I switched from PC to Mac, the digital files became very disorganized, and the transfer cord eventually stopped working. I didn’t want to lose all of my digital files again, so I started using Dropbox.

Now I am back in Canada, and it is no longer possible to transfer digital files from my second digital camera to any computer, not even via the memory card itself. I have recently purchased my third digital camera. Not only did I splurge on a larger memory card, the camera is Wifi capable. If I want to share a photo from the camera I need only to sync my camera with its app.

We spoke with the family of our beloved Mexican nanny last night. I was instantly reminded of all of the beautiful sights I had captured during our ten years in Mexico. I do not want these to be lost forever due to some technology glitch or human error. As such, I will be taking advantage of throwback Thursday as a means to publicly share photos from our time in Mexico. I started today and will be using the specific hashtag #lesfarmx. No more procrastinating. The time is now and I even have a plan. Thanks for reading.

Posted in organization, Photography, Random, Social Media, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , by with 1 comment.