Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Month: November 2019

Today at School: I Made a Bracelet…a Cell Bracelet!

Bitmoji ImageWe’re going to hit the pause button on the running/classroom reflection blog posts and take a little dive into what my classroom looks like a bit. We just finished our second F2F session and in true cohort nature, I was completely wiped out and extremely tired after. This tiredness does not come without its excitement–I got so much feedback and encouragement to write about what I do in my science classroom that I now feel inspired! I’ve never really been comfortable sharing what I do in the classroom (probably a mix of nervousness, embarrassment and overall worry about how others will perceive me as a “new teacher”). The positivity and  kindness I received this weekend has really got me thinking today about pushing out of my comfort zone and talk about something that scares me to share: how I teach.

For the first time ever, I was interviewed for a podcast; more specifically, a podcast called Teaching Tomorrow hosted by none other than the lovely Celeste Kirsh. As a mini-preview, I’ll let you know, a topic we talked about was pushing out of our comfort zones. I guess I need to practice what I preach, so here goes!

I hope this is what my students look like before class…

Let’s start with my class structure. Many of my students (and myself) are a creature of routine, so let’s dive into what my classroom looks like on a regular basis. The first 5-10 minutes are always attendance/announcements (important dates, upcoming science events), and then…whatever fun things we can think of. If we’ve been having a day, we might do a little dance, sing some karaoke or run up and down the stairs, just to burn some energy. Example karaoke songs include:

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Once we’ve shaken out all our sillies, we dive right in to the next most exciting 10 minutes of your life…REVIEW. This is a chance for students to catch-up, ask questions or just activate their little (or big) brain networks to remember what in the world we’ve done in science! We do a little short summary on the whiteboard, courtesy of my many colourful whiteboard markers of what students should remember and know from last class. No surprises. Something simple, quick, easy. Remember, this is just a warm-up, we aren’t stressing any brain muscles yet.

Just a small little warm-up. I apologize for the weird lighting, we dimmed the lights to help with my newly laser-ed eyes.

Once we’ve come out of the warm-up feeling strong, it’s time to roll into the core of the lesson. Be prepared for the next portion of the lesson to last anywhere between 20-40 minutes. This timing is generally activity based and depends a lot on our various moods of the day. If you’re curious how we talk about our moods, please take a little peak at the amazing Blob Tree. What number are you feeling today?

Head on over to the Blob Shop if you’re interested in this lovely resource!

In today’s grade 10 science class, our main activity was making CELL BRACELETS. Sounds exciting, right? Well, here’s the plot twist. The class was divided into three teams. Teams can try to earn “fun points” by answering questions and explaining the functions of organelles correctly. Teams with the highest fun points in a round of bead distribution get first choice in bead colours. Don’t worry, there are about ten solid rounds this class so you are surrounded by opportunity, colourful bead opportunity.

How might we use beads to illustrate how the organelles of a cell work together as a system?

riding mr.unicorn

“I am who I’m meant to be, this is me”

That was exactly my question when my coworker first suggested this activity to me last year. I would like to mention her here as I didn’t come up with this idea on my own from thin air. Now, I have edited this lesson a couple times to make it suitable to my teaching personality and class dynamics, but she did originally suggest using beads as a medium to communicate this idea. I probably didn’t phrase the question with the “HMW” language we learned this weekend at cohort, but somewhere along the way, I am sure I asked a question with that premise. Logistics, organization and delivery are the creative parts of this lesson that I change every year and also are aspects that make her class very different from mine. I think that’s awesome. We are two different people who are being genuine to who we are as teachers and keeping this lesson unique to who we are as people. We’re just humans too. I like tech so my classes are a little tech-centric.

Okay, back on track…making your bracelet! Here’s the fun–we look at the organelles of the cell and how they work together to breakdown glucose, convert it to a useful form of energy (ATP), use the energy to make proteins, and modify/transport proteins to where they are needed in the body. This is how a cell works as a system. Here is an example of one of the beads we might use to symbolize the process. Remember, we have 10 rounds for this activity, but for the sake of time, I’m going to hit the fast forward button.

Thank you Amoeba Sisters for the amazing cartoon as always.

This is my bracelet!

Once we’ve gone through the entire process, the picture to the left is the product we ended with. The fun doesn’t quite end there. In true Ms. Lu fashion, no lesson ends without some awesome colours so grab your crayons and your papers and let’s get drawing!!!

We then took our bracelets and drew out the “rough shapes” and colours of our bracelets on a sheet of paper. There’s no use in having a bracelet if we don’t know what each bead means. Students were required to write out each organelle as it matched to its corresponding bead. Then, students were asked to write out how each organelle impacts the other to create our overall “cell as a system”.

Confused? See the whiteboard below. While students were building their bracelets, I wrote down the words they were saying. I then, drew out a bracelet to the quality I expected theirs to be drawn at. See below:

Today’s Whiteboard

This is my OneNote

Alright, that was a lot right? Let’s take a breather. At this point, we’ve had anywhere between 40-50 minutes of activity time and we all need a bit of a cool down, a change in pace. This is about the time where we switch gears, especially in Ms. Lu’s class. Falling behind? No worries, this whiteboard stays as it is for the rest of class. This is where we turn to our electronic binders for some synthesis, slower paced consolidation. This is normally where my class diverges. I have my stronger students who dive RIGHT into their electronic binders and my weaker students who are still working with the whiteboard material and playing a little catch up. Worry not, with my electronic binder, any message I write, gets synced to the students’ notebook in what is known as the “Content Library”. There is a portion of the binder that I hid to prevent you all from knowing my student names, but there are three key pieces to the electronic binder, also known as  Class OneNote:

  • Collaboration Space–ANY student and/or teacher can view and edit anything in this section (all notes and pages). This is a good space for students to share their notes.
  • Content Library–I see this as the “master library” where only the teacher can edit but students can view and copy from. This is where I generally write, give solutions, etc. and students know they can use this as a resource to work through material at their pace
  • Personal notebook–this is labelled by student name where only one specific student and the teacher may edit. Think of this as your personal binder for the course, just electronic…

At this point, students know there is probably a synthesis activity in their OneNote or a scaffolded questionnaire to help summarize the information we just discussed. At this point, some students will finish the synthesis and carry on to their homework which is written on our school’s communication platform, Edsby. Other students will ask questions, clear up any misunderstandings and save their homework for well, home. Still confused? Check Edsby! Check your Success Criteria to make sure you’re on track and if that didn’t help you learn, I post videos on every topic we cover. Thank you youtube for your many many many science resources.

Check Edsby folks!

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After writing out this lesson, I’ve realized how much my lesson is structured around a running workout. Here’s an average marathon workout (in short): 2-3km warm-up, 12-16km at marathon pace, 2-3km cool down. Here’s the structure of today’s class: small brain warm up (sing, dance, shake it out), review last class/ease into the learning activity, cell bracelet activity, synthesis/brain cool down. I said I was going to hit the pause button the classroom and running posts but clearly I just couldn’t help it. It took writing out my class lesson for me to realize how similar my teaching style is to a run workout. Who knew. I guess now I know…

Questions? Confused? I host science parties Wednesdays at lunch, Fridays during break or by appointment.

Feedback? Other activity ideas? Please let me know 🙂 always open and ready for some new ideas!

I totally used this blog post as an excuse to procrastinate marking.

The Awkward Yeti just gets me.


A Little Throwback in Light of This Week’s F2F

Bitmoji ImageOur second F2F is this weekend and I am excited, nervous, scared and probably feeling a lot of the emotions everyone is feeling too. I can feel the positive energy and spirits of the various teachers that make up this cohort which is so incredibly motivational and inspiring. As I mentioned in our last Twitter chat, I wanted to write a blog post about something that I’m just slowly getting comfortable sharing as openly as I have this year.

I get anxious too.

I have a very outgoing personality, but I am not someone who thrives off the energy of socializing.  Sometimes, I am not trying to be friendly, I am not trying to be very talkative but it just comes out that way–it’s my word vomit, it’s my way of coping. Social settings scare me. I hate meeting people, I hate small talk, I hate socializing and I start the mental prep for things like our F2F sessions about a week in advance. I need to mediate my emotions and nerves. It takes me a week to prepare for it mentally, not because of the people, I fully trust and believe that those in this cohort support me, I am just that scared. I often use rambling and excessive talking as a way to avoid social interactions with other people; not because I don’t want to hear about others but because the voices in my head just keep multiplying and talking and talking and they won’t let me calm down. They start scaring me, intimidating me and overwhelming me. I promise I am not trying to interrupt, be rude or not listen, I just internally panic and when that panic ensues, I talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. Sessions like our F2F really scare me in that I worry a lot about coming off as rude or not wanting to hear other teachers out. They stress me out because I constantly worry about interrupting other teachers or panicking

A lot of you can probably relate to these feelings really well. A lot of you have probably dealt with similar feelings, emotions and hopefully think I am not crazy when I say these voices in my head often overwhelm and hinder me. I specifically italicized that because I had one time said that to a person in my past and received a response I have never ever forgotten. On top of a laugh like I was a joke, I received the following response:

Everyone has these “voices” you claim to be dealing with.  Everyone deals with it. It’s not overwhelming, you just need to find a way to deal with it like everyone else does. 

It broke me. I won’t lie. I can still picture their face and their fingers in the air as they air quoted my fears and choice of words in saying, “voices”. Sometimes, it still brings tears to my eyes to think that someone would laugh me off like that.

Bitmoji ImageIt’s funny because I just had my laser eye surgery a couple days ago. My students were all excited asking how it went and if I was excited to never need glasses again. I was straight out honest with them. I told them: my anxiety was through the roof. Before the surgery began, I was asked to take a pill that was apparently an “anti-anxiety” medication to help patients calm down during the procedure. I took the pill thinking that this would be excellent. I wouldn’t have to worry about my coping mechanisms or anything! WRONG. I was extremely anxious that I saw that person’s face again. The doctors said this pill made sure that I wouldn’t be anxious, so why was I so anxious?! The minute the surgery started, I panicked, but he was holding my head absolutely still. My right hand instantly started opening and closing my jacket zipper–I probably zipped and unzipped my zipper at least a hundred times in the procedure. My left hand started squeezing my thumb, remnants of bruising can confirm that one. I was counting in my head, trying to think about meditation, trying to breathe but I was so overwhelmed. Odd thing is, I wasn’t scared of the procedure but in the moment I was so overwhelmed by all the people, the voices, the doctor who didn’t even tell me his name, the weird orange light, and the lady counting down. I was anxious because, I just was.

This entire experience (and talking to Lisa Betterncourt) reminded me of an old blog post I wrote. Now I won’t be sharing the entire post, just parts of it. To contextualize the start of this post, I used to host science shows with a close friend. He was the absolute opposite to me: he would purposely play devil’s advocate, be pedantic just to annoy me, extremely disorganized (annoyingly so), but one of the most creative minds I have ever met. He used to purposely annoy me because “it was funny” but make up with a banana pecan muffin, because #teamwork.

Every Race has a Finish Line

August 18, was bittersweet. It was a last of many. This was the last day I would teach in a building I had taught in for the last 8 years. It was the last day I would sing ridiculous songs in front of hundreds of kids. It was the last day he and I would bicker. For some reason, he would purposely cause banter and bickering between us for the sake of being argumentative or as he would say, pedantic. For some reason, I would just as easily participate in this bickering because that was what made us, us. Then, he would give me a banana pecan muffin as truce…that was our peace offering. With a letter in hand and a loud paper bag that held the banana pecan muffin—I walked away as he said, “this is the last banana muffin I will buy you.” Even now, I can only wonder—how in the world did he forget to mention the pecans?!!?

This is where it all begins. For every young adult, that first step into starting a career is the most terrifying, exciting and thrilling experience. With the memories stored in a banana pecan muffin, I was trying to root myself in a new community. Like anyone who has to adjust to a change in pace, I found myself trying to steer through the motions, holding onto whatever piece of my identity I could. The fear if getting complacent, the fear of no longer challenging myself to try new things and to push myself was a worry I held quite dear to me.

​I am lucky. I am incredibly fortunate to be thrown into a position that propels my creativity exponentially, leaving no limits to my thoughts, ideas and ability to create thought provoking and meaningful lessons. A huge load for a little me, but hey, we try hard things, right? Basking in my love for being creative and being a teacher, I got lost. I mean, here I am justifying to myself: I am still bubbly, I still am spunky, I still run, I still profoundly love my job and teaching, I am still aiming to engage and be creative, I am still driving inquiry forward—all these things are me, right? I am still me, right? But this is when it hit me—why am I justifying anything to myself? When did I begin falling into the motions of a community, feeling like I needed to justify pieces of my identity? How did I find myself in a community and home where I felt guilty to go for a run?

On one hand, it is easy to see running as “just a hobby” or “just a sport”, but I am not going to apologize for what I think is one of my greatest strengths. I think what is seen as a weakness in one set of eyes, is one of the most impactful and meaningful self-awareness and mindful experiences I have propelled myself into.

​I can say all that confidently now like I am some badass but that took time. It took a lot of time, reflection and guess what—mindfulness while running. If you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll read about a tale where I did THE hardest workout I have ever done with my race team mentor and a mentor who I called Karl for reference. I can still picture the tears and excruciating pain I felt during that one. It’s a terrifying workout that I fear every marathon season. Last season, I was lucky enough to run it with my race team mentor. This season, lucky for me—they changed the workout. Instead of a 2km warm-up, 12km at marathon pace, 2km cool-down, the workout was a 2km warm-up, 12km a marathon pace, and after every 2km you run, the next two had to be 10 seconds faster per km, then finally a 2km cool-down. You mean you want to take the hardest workout that I have the biggest mental block for and make it harder?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

What a lesson learned. What a hard, challenging and crazy workout. Was I successful? Yes, I lived to tell the tale; hence, you’re reading this now, but it did not come without its doubts and hesitations. Anything that is hard is scary. Life is scary. It’s confusing sometimes and is full of doubts and hesitations. That’s why we have to tackle it head on. One foot in front of the other, again and again, until you get there, until you accomplish something you never thought you yourself could do. I ended that workout with 2 kilometers at a 4:15 pace. In context, I couldn’t even run that pace for 100m 2 years ago. ​

For some reason, that run made me remember. It made me remember the thrill of doing a science show for hundreds of people. It made me remember coaching and the growth of the students. It made me remember the pillars of wellness that I make a point to emphasize in my classroom. It made me remember that everything I have done, am doing, and will do will be challenging no matter where I end up. It made me remember what it felt like to be in a school culture and community where I felt like I was thriving and that my creativity, running and overall identity brought life, inspiration and motivation to the community. It made me remember that no matter where I go or where I end up—I will always love teaching. I will always form irreplaceable rapports with my students and most importantly—I will still have impact.

​If impact is my strength, impact will be a part of me wherever I roll on over to. The dude who gave me that banana pecan muffin wrote, “you won’t even be able to measure the positive impact you have brought to our community.” Every step I take to improve myself in my running is a moment I can share with my students. Running to me is about taking something that is hard, something where I have a mental block and trying to overcome that fear within me to improve myself. Running to me is about building strength (physically and mentally) and it is about training my resilience, practicing creativity and learning to challenge myself to “try hard things.” Running is really a big metaphor to me on how I approach life and teaching. This run made me realize that if this habit and/or lifestyle makes me lesser than, or “not a good fit”, then this is where I needed to draw my line. I want to thrive, but I want to thrive while being honest and genuine to what I love and the best possible geeky, nerdy, bubbly version of me (which funfact: includes running).

This blog post is years old. I merely bring it back because this entire cohort experience has reminded me about the impact we have on students and the community we are building in our classrooms. I have had many lessons in my own growth this year but I’ve also been very open about the lessons I’ve learned with my students. I’ve told them when I failed, I’ve told them when I’ve been anxious and I’ve told them when I’ve been uncomfortable. It’s interesting how many students want to hear about these lessons and how it taught my coping mechanisms, how I channel a little inner mantra to face challenges, and coming to terms that sometimes, I just want to be alone for hours and hours and not speak to a soul (despite my overly friendly personality).

I use running as a medium to share these feelings and thoughts because for a lot of them, they understand it and it becomes easy to relate to and empathize with. I like to say, “this is how it made me feel because this is how I process things, but you might feel differently depending how you process these moments,” or a “this is why I am doing this because I think this will help me grow in this regard,” etc. My students know you cohort folks as “the group of teachers who hang out in Toronto” and I’ve told them that this cohort experience is similar to our group work in the classroom. We make groups with vast diversity and different personalities, we discuss ideas and we try to help each other be better versions of ourselves. They think it’s sort of dorky that a bunch of teachers all get together and chat about how to become better teachers, but they also think it’s “kind of cool, in a nerd way”.

Popping out from a rabbit hole with 'It Me' painted on a wooden sign

So I cut my hair and got rid of my glasses over the weekend. Hope you can all still recognize me this weekend!

I am a quitter. I failed, I blew up, but I am just a learner.

Bitmoji ImageThis one is going to be a hard post. I don’t know where to start because I am still struggling with the right words. We talked about earlier how I quit on my original race plan to re-adjust and change my goals. Well, my new goal race was this past Sunday and…for the first time, I did not finish. I quit. 

I was very prepared for this race–I almost over-prepared. I knew this because I had done two time trials earlier and knew I was perfectly on pace and ready to take on this half and achieve my goal. My coach had timed me for my time trials and he also had detailed notes proving that my goal pace was going to feel easy and very doable. It was perfect. I was tapered, ready to go to run a goal half time of 1:29…or so I thought.

Saturday evening I was feeling a little off, but I couldn’t figure it out exactly. At about 2:30am on Sunday morning, I woke up in excruciating pain. It was that time of the month. For me, I have a condition that leads to extreme pain, vomiting and cramps. Don’t worry, I have an operation scheduled for Dec 20 to help with this condition and it is being dealt with medically, but for now, it typically lasts about 36 hours. As any runner typically does, I knew I was just going to run through the pain and try to suck it up. Sunday morning rolled in and I consumed the maximum amount of Advil and Tylenol that I could consume. I knew I was just going to have to be a fighter that morning and this was going to be an epic “fight through the moment” day.

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Turns out, 2km in, I completely shut down. I vomited twice and had to go to the washroom. I thought I was going to power through and just run a slower day, even if I didn’t hit my goal but by 3km I threw up a third time and had just had enough of dealing with the smell of bodily fluids, the pain of my body and the intense winds of the day. At 3km, I just cried and stopped. I couldn’t do it. I thought, let’s sit down and let the pain subside and start back up again. I sat. I sat for 10 minutes. The pain did not go away. I needed assistance to stand. I promise, it wasn’t my legs, I was training for a marathon, 3km was NOT going to knock me out. I needed assistance to stand up. I knew this was the end. I had to accept it, I had to quit and call it a day. I did not qualify for my goal marathon (for 2020). I cried my eyes out and called my other half. He was on his way to pick me up.

No. 1 fan

This was hard. After re-arranging my goals and training through a brutally hot summer, I really wanted this race to pan out. I had done two time trials throughout September and October and knew that this race was going to be a realistic and achievable goal. I was so excited to show my progress. I was so disappointed to fail. Bitmoji Image

My coach e-mailed me. He told me not to dwell on the race as I had, “progressed amazingly well” this year and that “I would lose nothing” from walking away. He’s right, I know, but it’s hard to swallow. I had been training for this one race and I just walked away, I quit. I had so many doubts. Was I really in that much pain? Was it really THAT bad? Could I have pushed through? Why didn’t I push through? Am I mentally not strong?

My coach told me to focus on the 2020 season and that I would hit all my goals and qualify for the marathon in 2021. He reminded me that I had lost no fitness and that I was walking into my next season stronger and even better than the last season. It’s still hard. I have never ended a season feeling like such a failure. I was a mess. I am still a mess.

I often talk about my grade 10 science classes, but I also teach grade 12 Biology. My grade 12s asked me today, “Ms. Lu, didn’t you have a race this weekend? Did you qualify?! Did you make it?!” I looked down at my feet and sighed. They asked, “why are you so sad?”. I explained the exact same situation I explained to you all. Then everyone started shouting at me:

  • That’s okay Miss, we still love you!
  • Ya Miss, you’re still so cool, plus, you’re actually still such an awesome teacher
  • Miss, you’re honestly still so inspiring–it’s pretty legit yo
  • Miss, you’re still crazy

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Hah. After all that, I am still the same old teacher who gets excited about molecules and is crazy?! I always talk to my students about failing and being okay with it, that people won’t change their opinions of you for messing up one thing. It’s interesting how I am so hard on myself for failing but always encouraging my students to fail. Am I a hypocrite? 

I know I have a second chance. I know it’s not over and I know I have a chance in 2020 to do this all over again; just instead of trying to qualify for the 2020 marathon, it would be the 2021. Okay–that’s doable, I mean, I used to laugh at the idea of running the Boston Marathon, and now I’ve done it–twice. In talking myself up mentally a grade 12 student blurted, “When are you going to try again? When’s the next one? Where is it? Can we come watch? CAN WE MAKE BIG SIGNS FOR YOU?!”

“Wait. I take that back. We can’t promise this. Where is your race again?”

“Yeah, I think I can only be there if it’s in Ottawa”

“Wait, will it be cold then?”

“What time of year is this going to be?”

Okay, so I appreciated the support and effort, but I would never ever expect nor think my students would come to a race to cheer me on. It amazed me at just how supportive they were. They proved my point about how one failure doesn’t define who you are. What a lesson they just proved to themselves. Their gut reaction upon hearing about my quitting was to ask when I was going to try again. I followed-up and asked them…so when are you going to try again?

That’s the thing, I am still sulking, don’t get me wrong. I need some time to get over this and feel like I am not a quitter. I need some time to bask in my emotions because I am so incredibly disappointed in myself. I am however, fully aware that I have a next time and that this isn’t over. I am fully aware that I am starting another season stronger and ready to grow more as a runner. It’s okay. I know it’ll all come together in time but the silver lining here is that hopefully I can model failing and growing to my students. It’s not over. It’s also not just beginning because I’ve already begun. I think I am in a re-group and continue phase, and that is completely okay.

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