Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Category: Approaches to Teaching/Learning

No answers: Just Thoughts and Searching for Friends

I’ve sat on this for awhile but decided on my run today that this was worth sharing. For starters, this is very much about my experience and what I see through my eyes. I cannot speak for a larger community, nor should I.

I recently spoke to my school just about who I was and the origin of my name. For a long time growing up, I didn’t like my name because I knew it gave bias. “People will know I am Asian on my resume, my name gives it away!” is what I thought to myself, over and over again. My last name, my first name, why couldn’t I of had a more “normal name”. Every time a teacher called my name on an attendance sheet, I’d hold my breath and hope they didn’t say the name, “Mary”.

I mean, no one really cared about my name. In school Newsletters (as a student), in interviews, in e-mails, everyone reads my name as “Mary” (and they still do now! I guarantee when I contact external partners or folks I am trying to schedule workshops for my students with, 1/2 times I’ll get a “Hi Mary” in return). Do they really think I’d spell my own name wrong on my resume? My emails? People also think there’s something special about my name, like it has some deep Chinese history to it and I always get a “tell me more”! Guess what? It doesn’t, it’s pragmatic and to the point. My Chinese name is May: Jia-Mei…which means Canadian Mei…which if you think about it, May is the Canadian way to spell, “Mei”…so my name makes perfect sense if you ask me, but often it’s followed-up with, “that’s it?” or a “Oh…”:

Named after the good old Canadian flag and the Mayflower

I spoke to my school about implicit bias. My name is something I had a hard time with growing up, but have recently started actively correcting people about it. Some popular mistakes include people reading it over too quick and thinking it’s Mary, to people thinking it’s too short to be a full name and opting to call me “May Lu” instead of “May”. At first, when I was a child, I thought people were just bad at spelling and/or bad readers. As I grew up, I realized because the mistake happened so often that no, it’s because they don’t recognize May and when they see the letters “M” and “a”, the assumption is Mary or that May is just too short, so May Lu must be it; implicit bias.

I thought back to a picture that I’ve always looked at as odd. This is me at about 3 years old. What was I thinking about so seriously? What idea did this crayon in my hand spark? Did this little one think she’d be here today?

Critical thinker from day one

I am iconic in my school for strutting around with my favourite pink Yeti always sipping it in my period one and two classes. Every year, every conference, every meeting, it’s always assumed I am drinking coffee or tea. Okay, in theory I am drinking tea, but it’s not what you’re (likely) thinking. I am drinking:

Too all the aunties and uncles who will scold me for it, sorry!

Yes, every morning, I make myself a cup of Hong Kong milk tea. It’s not necessarily the healthiest option, but I mean, people put cream in their coffee and drink lattes, right? This is just my thing. BUT for some reason, it causes such a ruckus at meetings or when I go to conferences, and I really hate that it causes a big deal, that I often pretend I am drinking coffee (or like it…I think it’s gross).

I get asked a lot, what are you drinking if not coffee or tea? You mean, YOU DON’T DRINK COFFEE?!?! Wait, what’s Hong Kong Milk Tea? How’s it not tea? Or the ever popular, wait–but what tea is Hong Kong milk tea? Oh, it’s Orange Pekoe! We have that right here!

Bitmoji ImageYes, it’s Orange Pekoe tea, but do you also have the Evaporated Milk? Do you have a tea press? Do you have every other thing I would need to make this? No, you probably don’t. You probably have 2% milk and skim milk…soy, almond and coconut if you’re trying to be conscious of allergies…but I am pretty sure you probably don’t have evaporated milk. I also sometimes add condense milk too, because you gotta give yourself a little treat here and there, right? Now, let’s multiply this explanation and interaction another 100000 times because how many times do you go to meetings, conferences, talk with colleagues who drink Hong Kong milk tea on the regular and hate coffee? For me, I go to a lot of conferences and a lot of meetings, but not many milk tea lovers alike have been found for me. Maybe 1 every 500 colleagues on a good day. But to meet that one friend, I have to explain to the other 499 friends why I don’t want to drink what they have so graciously prepared. If you’re not exhausted from reading the numbers, imagine how tired you would be of saying the exact same explanation 499 times in a year.Bitmoji Image

I am writing this because I am thinking a lot about conversations I have had lately with Lara Jensen and Lisa Bettencourt…so much is happening in the DEIJ space right now. I am trying to learn a lot in this space and that can be seen as you trying to be an expert or gain more traction. I am very much a learner in this space and not an expert. I am not trying to be an expert. I told my students, this is an uncomfortable space for me too, but I want to learn and am ready to learn with them. We are in this together and should be brave together. But, as we pondered in discussions, how can we be effective teachers without learning more in the DEIJ space? What is meaningful pedagogy without acknowledging the individuals in our classroom?

For myself, I had to learn a lot about the “Western culture” when I began pursuing a career in education. I learned about Bieber, the Kardashians, Schmitt’s Creek, the Beatles, and anything to make me “in the know” with staff and students. If I went to a staff meeting and said I had no idea who the Beatles were, you know someone would say, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHO THE BEATLES ARE?!”. I had to learn about hockey, golf and camping. Not that I had much experience with any because of my upbringing, but you want to feel “apart” of social conversations, and think about what those conversations are about in our schools. I had to learn the basics of what those things were. I had to learn about basic Western pop culture from Disney classics, to “go-to favourites” like Gilmore Girls, Friends, and That ’70s Show.

I had no idea the popularity of this photo until after university

I didn’t grow up watching this stuff. I took the time and effort to learn. I learned about these shows to not seem like “TOO MUCH” of an outsider. I already knew I was because my parents never took me camping (or know how to camp), I wasn’t allowed TV time as a child, I didn’t like golf, I don’t drink coffee, and when I finally learned how to hack the systems at home (sorry mom and dad), my interests fell to anime, manga, Jdramas, Kdramas, and overall, Asian pop culture. I’ve learned this to be really true of some our students too who are seeking adult mentors with similar interests. Or, are so uncomfortable when their teachers talk about these epic camping trips…I get it. It’s no fault to the teacher. They should share their interests because it humanizes the teacher, but when I was a student, I felt so out of place in those moments because I felt like a weirdo. How could I have nothing in common with any of my teachers?! What’s wrong with me?! If it weren’t for my partner, I probably would have never camped ever because it’s just not how I was raised. It’s not in my psychology, but I made an effort to learn more about these activities; we can all learn. I think back to high school me, just wondering: what if my teachers learned about my interests? What would that mean to me? Everything.

two thumbs up

It was hard to reconcile that I just grew up differently. Culturally, I was different and coming to terms with it is something many of our students have to do in our classes. I am an awkward space where generationally, I don’t really fit in with my parents. Because of the values that were enforced in our household, it almost felt like I had a generational gap with some of my peers at school. Culturally, I don’t really fit in fully with the Chinese culture or the Canadian culture. I am very much a happy mix and blend of Canadian and Chinese; hence, people have coined it “Canadian born Chinese”. This is an awkward space both generation and culture wise, but this is me. I can’t change it, I can’t do it differently, so I learned to accept and embrace me!


When I was in high school, I wondered if part of “growing up” and “becoming an adult” was switching your interests, because none of my teachers knew anything about Asian pop culture. I always questioned if I’d stop reading manga, listening to Kpop, Jpop or watching dramas/anime because that’s what “growing up meant”. For years in teaching, I pretended I only watched English Netflix shows to avoid being the odd one out. What are our students feeling? This also doesn’t cover every student in our classroom. We need to learn more about all. Learning is for all. Are you a fellow netizen?

Pop culture references that have come up to me lately…food for thought…

I have one student pursuing a K-pop stardom dream. But, there are many layers with their identity and how training camp runs, how the media works with this, etc. Layers of education and age, etc. Do you know the process of training camp? How grueling it can be? Yet, why is is so rewarding to debut? What does it mean “to debut”…I promise, it’s not the same as “debuting” in Hollywood.  What’s a Blink (Blackpink fan)? Their music has been featured in many American Netflix films this year but how many of you know that? Why are there so many BTS references right now, do you know who they are? What in the world was that BTS/McDonald’s campaign? It was in every McDonald’s in Canada for at least a month! To protect their own identity, I don’t want to dwell too much more, but have you ever wondered about the Korean entertainment culture? How it’s different the Hollywood culture in North America? What interests do your students have here?

Sailor Neptune and Uranus. This art is from the new reboot!

Netflix is releasing a Sailor Moon movie in June. This is going to be really really big. Why? One, this phenomenon is coming to a Canadian/American platform!! When this was originally written in the 90s, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus were written in the original manga AND the Japanese anime to be lesbian lovers. However, the publishing company in the USA at the time thought that LGBTQ relationships were not acceptable for younger audiences and this was a show said to be geared towards “young girls.” So then, they decided to make them cousins. Yes, they changed the entire storyline and took out a part of the original story to hide an entire relationship. They also didn’t translate an entire arc of the story because there were too many scenes of romance between these too sailor scouts! (Update: the publishing company apologized in 2019 and acknowledged them as official partners), but childhood me…was outraged until about 2019…? Is it wrong to feel like it’s not fair? Is that even reasonable? The movie being released this year in June is about the Dream Arc which is right after the Arc Uranus and Neptune were introduced, but what’s more important is what is offered on Netflix will be an English TRANSLATION (The OG Japanese with subtitles will be there too!). They will not alter the story, the sequence of events, etc. from the original animation.

How many of you know how the hockey game works? Do you know how to keep score in golf? Have you gone camping? How many of you know how to play Mahjong? In the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians”, the ending Mahjong scene is one of the most powerful moments of the movie. With what Rachel speaks about Nick’s happiness and the meaning when she reveals her final hand to Nick’s mom, it’s metaphor upon metaphor upon metaphor. However, the scene is meaningless if you don’t understand how the game works.

Nick’s mom thought she won it all…

I put these examples up there because they’ve all been in recent discussions in my class. But, giving a space where I talk about pop culture outside the “standardized norm” has helped other students in my class feel that they can share aspects of their pop culture that they’re interested in. I am learning more about my students, I am learning more as a person…and again, I am no expert, I am still just learning.

i am here

I will admit as a student, I never felt seen, I never felt relevant and I never felt like my interests mattered. Running was so epic for me because I finally felt like I had “common ground” with the social constructs around me (I have now learned it is so much more too!). Do teachers actually like dramas? Do they like anime? Do they read manga? Do they check the Spring and Fall previews? I am well into my career and adulthood, and yes yes yes to all! I still read manga, I still watch dramas…and if anyone wants to chat, I am currently watching:

  • Law School (new episodes on Weds/Thurs on Netflix)
  • Mine (new episodes on Sat/Sun on Netflix)

But believe me, I watch lots of Kdramas, Jdramas, anime, read lots of manga, and avid fans of certain writers, artists, actors, actresses, etc. I am the same way some are about Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga but my interests are just “not the same”. I promise there are iconic Asian pop stars like the Beatles. Do you have a colleague or colleagues you get to talk about your interests with? Camping? Golf? When will I get one too? High school me asked that every day: if I become a teacher, will I have a colleague to talk about Asian pop culture with?

I recently watched a video where a speaker asked the question “Diversity from what? Inclusion from what? We are diversifying from the white male standard, we are including into the white male standard. Why is the white male standard our baseline?” Good question. Thought I’d share…because I was like woah, I don’t know. What is the message we are portraying to students? What are we modelling? We have to role model openness and empathy to our students. We have to show students what it means to be welcoming and a learner in this space (and that it is okay to be uncomfortable). I am trying to learn as a means to create a space where everyone feels like they belong and we have to look at our own implicit bias to get there. We have to examine ourselves, our practices, our schools and so much more to get there. No one is immune to it and we all have to be reflective and critical learners in this space for our pedagogy to be effective and authentic. Thank you for reading my story as I know it was a bit of a long one, but I think this is just the one of many many learnings about each other that will help us grow :)!

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Layered like Onions

keyboard smashMy lack of posting is not for a lack of thought, but for an inability to find the right words. Without any doubt, there’s been a huge shift in our profession; workload, balls in the air, various hats, everything has astronomically changed.

Here are some ways I’ve changed what I am doing…running has gotten a whole less intense. I feel like that’s how life has gotten to cope with the pandemic stress. Long runs are shorter, and what in the world are speed workouts? It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of those. But who really cares? I’ve really gotten comfortable with being okay with what I can do in the moment. Remember, teaching is a marathon…we have to pace smart, I’ve never hit the wall in a marathon and I don’t plan to start now.

Like many of you, I am sure COVID-19 has profoundly change the oncall situation at your school, especially when a running nose is enough to have your child or you stay home from school. I personally felt like there was a pivot in oncall culture in that anyone who needed an oncall needed it to take care of their child, themselves or a family member for something COVID related. Teachers were requesting oncalls like toilet paper was flying off shelves and we needed to try our best to be available for oncalls to support our team. It felt like any other reasons for oncalls were  “unfair” as you would be adding strain to an already strained system…but…I had an amazing chance for something super cool!

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I had an celebrity moment. I was asked to do something pretty darn cool (in my biased point of view), but there was just one problem: it fell on a school day. I was asked to participate in a big running campaign about “Runners who Inspire” and how runners have stayed motivated during this pandemic. This included a full day photoshoot and commercial shoot. I mean, it was an AMAZING opportunity–but during a pandemic, can I really take a personal day for something run related? Watching my colleagues stress and stretched thin by the oncall system and watching them run in circles about what to do with their child’s running nose or cough…could I really take a day to do something not COVID/teaching related? I was immersed in so much guilt, but when in my life would I get a chance like this again…?! What would you do?

One of my superiors was incredibly frustrated with the oncall system and on a day I was going to ask their opinion about taking a day to pursue this opportunity (before knowing what I was going to ask) they looked and me and said, “are people really requesting oncalls for non-emergencies? Don’t they realized how strained the system is with COVID-19 right now?! If you take an oncall when it’s not essential, you’re just adding strain to your colleagues…who are already burning out.”

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So if I didn’t feel guilty enough, let’s throw in a bucket of guilt that just got dumped on me. Is running essential? Depends how you look at it. Could I live without it? Sure. Would my mental health be in a good place? No. Then, I thought about something my first boss told me in my very first teaching job:

You’re not an Olympian. At some point, you need to pick between your career and running. You can’t have both. 

Was I forcing running again? Was I adding work to my coworkers to pursue a passion that no one else cared about? But, I did also disagree with the idea that you can’t both run and have a career in teaching. Queue in my sweet dear students who have been sending e-mails such as:

  • “thank you for caring so much about us, it makes us want to keep working hard”
  • “thanks for always checking-in with me, it means a lot”
  • “thank you for wanting me to organize myself”
  • “thank you for investing time in me”

Yesterday, when I stepped out of my classroom to go to the washroom, my lovely grade 10s put together this little creative card…

FYI…I am still running and I am still teaching. The feedback from my students give me confidence that doing both is working out just fine. I am not aiming to be a professional runner, I am just aiming to pursue a passion that gives me balance, self-care and makes me happy.

This is where I think we need to remember who we are as teachers. Pandemic teaching is pandemic teaching, but we are here to mentor and be role models. We are here to share our identity in safe ways so that our students have guidance in ways approach life and learning. We are here to facilitate meaningful relationships and if you dig through my old blog posts, that’s what I keep talking about!

Safe spaces. Student relationships. Socio-emotional learning. Wellness…teacher AND student.

In my last blog post, I said the following:

“We have to show our students what balance and sustainability looks like. We have to be role models to show what prioritizing mental health and well-being looks like. We have to be examples to show how students can be healthy and live a lifestyle where health (physical and mental) is a priority.”

I just thought…how awesome is it to be selected to be one of three runners who will be in Canada-wide campaign…nationwide. If anything, I should be celebrating, right? Yet, all I could feel was guilt thinking about how much I would strain my colleagues for a personal, selfish opportunity.

Then I realized–if it weren’t for COVID, what would my thoughts be about this? Do we just stop being who we were in this pandemic? Yes, we are pandemic teaching, yes we are high-flex and pivoting every second of our day, but we are also every single piece of who we are before this virus hit the globe. What am I modelling for students by doing this?

follow your heart

If you’re wondering whether or not I did the shoot, I did, and it was the coolest experience ever. Surprisingly, it’s a lot of running to shoot a 30 second commercial or for that ONE cool shot. It took about 10 hours of constantly running the same 100-150m stretch 5-6 times, and then moving to a new location to repeat. It was such a humbling and amazing experience, I’d love to show you some photos from the shoot, but alas, I am not allowed to. Instead, I have some cool photos taken by a handy dandy cell phone that we were requested to post to social! 

After this all ended, I thought about this shoot a lot and felt I needed to remind myself what we are showing our students during this pandemic. We are role modelling ways to take on life. What am I aiming to accomplish for my students by doing this? I want to show my students what it means to pursue a passion. I want to show students what it’s like to have goals and to chase them (pun intended). I want to show students that you can learn something later in life, work hard and become so much better at it. I came to running in my adulthood and started at a 43 minute 5km…and now I’ve run the Boston marathon–more than once!?! Doesn’t even feel like me. Click here  if you’re new to this space and have no idea what I am talking about.

I don’t want students to see my for the runner I am today, that’s really not that cool. I want students to see me for the journey I took to get here today. I want to show them that progression is life-long and you’re never ever done. I want them to know that you are more than your career and that you are a person with many layers and experiences. Throw that together with a bunch of other people with different layers and experiences, and you get some pretty darn cool teams.

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What are the layers to your onion? I’d love to hear about others’ passions!! 

Good is Good Enough

It’s been awhile since I’ve found myself here. In March, we had a quick pivot to online that I found myself using my preps to help teachers with small technology troubleshooting things and every break I had to get outside to decompress from being indoors. Now that we are swinging back into the routine, I thought I’d give a good old crack at this blogging thing again. My fingers may be a little rusty so please go easy on me here!

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Let me just summarize my last 6 months in a couple of bitmojis so we can do this whole “how was your summer” thing much faster:

I may have done a disproportionately large amount of running this summer compared to other activities but hey, we all have our own things, right? Funfact: I learned that my bike is of a quality that my other half calls, “one up from Walmart”, and I am such a slow biker that in 21.1km, I probably save myself about 5-10 minutes compared to me running that at my race pace. This is not a testament to my strong running skills but my absolute garbage biking skills. Don’t worry folks, 2021 is the year of the bike! suave

I just thought I’d use this chance as a nice reminder to bring back the running metaphors because it’s really how I see the world. Summer was great. I was running, biking and hiking a lot. In July, I climbed 3500m in elevation between running and hiking. In August, I hit 4600m in elevation gain. I had a phenomenal routine. I’d wake up and do an easy 20 minute run in the morning just to get my legs warm and flushed. Because I had done that early morning warm-up, my afternoon runs felt GREAT and that caused my overall summer to run pretty smooth and groovy (no pun intended, or pun intended?). Running was going great. Great schedule, great weather and I really had the chance to focus on personal fitness and health with no race goals. Sounds odd, right? It was amazing. Running not for speed, but for me. Spending lots of time to get in a mindful zone and appreciate…me.

And then the blissful happy summer came to an end. It was time to go back to school. Having specialized in mathematical modelling of biological diseases in my undergrad, this whole pandemic added a whole lot of stress that I did not need. My anxious self knows too much about how disease spreads and…I am just going to stop there before I go on a tangent that helps no one in this situation. For once in my teaching life, I was dreading back to school. 

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Don’t get me wrong, teaching is my passion, but so is protecting my loved ones. I am sure many of you reading this now also feel the same. We are all adjusting to new normals and working in environments where normal looks different for every individual you encounter. Not only that, there are different levels of careful and everyone has their own comfort level of what they’re willing to do in their classroom.

Now, let’s throw in the mix of what we have to do this year in our classrooms. New tech, new students, new routine and new teaching? So…the way my school has it, my “in-class” students are divided into Cohort A and Cohort B. That is, one day I will see Cohort A, and the next time the schedule rolls around to that same class, I will see Cohort B instead. Don’t worry, the cohort not in school will be following online at home in a synchronous format. Yup, so you’re running an in-class lesson and a synchronous online? Well, don’t forget about the many students you also have to cater to in an asynchronous model because they live in a different timezone. Okay let’s recap because I always have to work it out in my head…in one lesson, I have to plan an in-class lesson, an online synchronous live lesson and an asynchronous lesson for students to do in a different timezone. A reminder, I teach science. I teach a very activity-based class. I do at least one hands-on activity in-class. I don’t know how to teach without activities…it’s just…my style! Okay, so now I need to pivot how I teach, but have three working models that support the needs of the many different learner profiles I have in my classes? Yup…okay.


Oh yeah, don’t forget the newer teachers you need to help mentor and guide through these times because clearly, I am an expert at all these things?! It’s a lot, and the numbers also don’t always work out. In one cohort, I could have 2 students actually in-class, 10 students synchronous online at home (5 from Cohort B and the other 3 as local, online synchronous learners) and then another 5 asynchronous, in a different timezone. Then, the other cohort of that same would have 5 in-class, 7 synchronous online and 5 asynchronous, in a different timezone. Does your head hurt yet? Mine does…

deep breathsI found myself feeling guilty last week for not being able to do my double run routines that I developed over the summer. I found myself feeling like I was giving up on my health because I wasn’t running twice a day. I realized when I really sat down to think about it, that I was not running twice a day last year. I was not running twice a day when I qualified for Boston, or when I was training for the Boston Marathon. Heck, when did running twice a day become expectation? I realized I had to check myself. Everyone around me is overworked, tired, stressed, and setting the bar so high. As teachers, we put so much pressure on ourselves to do it all and to do whatever we are asked of at such a high level. When did this become an expectation? We are in a pandemic.

The expectation is to stay healthy, keep our families healthy and to focus on the well-being and mental health of ourselves and our loved ones.

Bitmoji ImageI don’t think I’ve officially heard that said to me, but I really felt the need to get that out there. How many of you are sitting there thinking about all the things you need to do this week? How many of you are thinking about all the lessons or things you want to try to be that awesome teacher (or school leader)? How many of you are really trying to plan three different lessons for every lesson you teach and pretend that you know how to set up all the tech you were given just a week ago? How many of you are trying to support absolutely everyone around you (except yourself)?


We can’t do it all, but we can be role models to our students about what staying health in a pandemic looks like. We can truly be the star examples of showing limits, vulnerability, and remind students that we are humans too. We can’t be the teachers we were a year ago. We have to show our students what balance and sustainability looks like. We have to be role models to show what prioritizing mental health and well-being looks like. We have to be examples to show how students can be healthy and live a lifestyle where health (physical and mental) is a priority. Academics are important, sure; but academics mean nothing if you’re not well. We’re all just trying here. Honestly, if my students learn how to manage and mitigate their stress and how to pursue a healthy lifestyle that is realistic and sustainable, I would be happy. Who cares if they don’t remember mitosis in 5 or 10 years? If my students can develop the habits of healthy living (eating, sleeping, exercising, time management, etc.), I think that’s the big win we should be fighting for; again, we are in a global pandemic folks! If my mic fails or my internet shuts off…go exercise for the period. Mitosis will still be here when you’re back, but that hour you took to improving your health was a deliberate and intentional time you took to focus and work on you.

When I first started at my current school a coworker said to me, “good is good enough.” That statement has never meant so much to me until this pandemic. I can’t put the expectation on myself to run twice a day again–I’ll run as much as my body needs to stay health at its current fitness, but there’s not pressure to do it all. If the time allows it, then sure, but there’s no pressure if it doesn’t happen. I just have to do what I can!

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I’ll teach what I can this year and if I drop the ball in one of the three models I have to do for every single lesson, so be it. If I drop the ball on a full lesson in all three models, so be it. If I am to be understanding of the dynamic and variable situations my students are in, they can do the same for me. I am sure if I continue to focus and prioritize the students’ wellness and mental health, they too will do the same for me. We are our harshest critics. I can only do so much. I am one person. You can only do so much. You are one person.


Good is good enough.

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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!

Bitmoji Image

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.


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