Monthly Archives: October 2008

Observe What Works, Put it to Work!

One of the easiest things to do to improve as an educator is to watch others and take what you can to use in your own classrooms.

Recently, we hosted a professional development conference for BC high school teachers called, “It’s Your Experiment!” The workshop was part of our two day conference and aimed to develop new curricula based lesson plans for use in the classroom.  This was a chance for teachers to work with each other to generate teaching materials, link these teaching items to the BC high school IRPs and generally be creative.  We collaborated with Connie Cirkony, previously from the Engaging Science program at Science World – now with the BC ministry of education to facilitate the workshop.  Connie has lots of experience at facilitating workshops for teachers, and as an educator myself, I was interested in the process as much as I was interested in the outcomes.  Here’s a couple tricks of the “workshop facilitation” trade that Connie used that were good teaching tools.

The activity that we used to wrap up the workshop was to generate an action plan.  With this task, we gave teachers 1) a chance to think about it, 2) a chance

action-plan-cardto write it down, and 3) a chance to share their action plan with other teachers in the group.  With each step in this activity the likelihood of actually completing the items on your list goes up.  Think about it, write it down, and tell someone… a real recipe for success!  Here’s an example of another implementation of this activity (from another conference that I participated in recently), a card provided to participants so that they can collect their ideas from the day.  Another great idea that we can use for our future teacher workshops/conferences.

The activities that we started off the day with included A) a reflection + B) a brainstorming session.  Both activities are real staples of an effective workshop.  With the brainstorming activity, we asked teachers to brainstorm ideas for lesson plans.  Which subjects did they have troubles teaching?  Which subjects would they like help with?  Which items did they really need a good lesson plan for?  We asked each teacher to write 5 ideas down, each item on a different colored recipe card.  Next, we turned this brainstorming activity into an organizing exercise by asking teachers to group the items together.  The final stage of the activity was to link these ideas to the BC curricula – as supplied by the list of PLO (prescribed learning outcomes) that the ministry of education published.   In the end, this exercise provided a good metacognition activity that captured ideas plus offered a chance for reflection.


Teachers Brainstorming and Organizing Ideas

Another reflection activity that Connie introduced, and I plan on using often with teachers, was what I’ll call the “Take your Hat off” activity.  In this activity, Connie invited the teachers “to take their workshop participants hats off and put on their teacher hats.”  With this invitation, she was asking the teachers to reflect on the logistics and design of the workshop as educators.  Use the model of the workshop as a model for what works in the classroom.  Observe what works, and put it to work. I’ve since used this “take your hat off” activity with a group of teachers with success.  I invited the group of teachers to “take your teacher hats off, put on your students hats.”  An invitation to reflect on what running this activity would be like in their classrooms, and how it would be received by their students.  It worked great too, because as soon as I asked the teachers to “put on your student hat” he started to goof off like a 14year old.  We had a lot of fun with that!  In addition to a setting a good tone, it worked as a perfect icebreaker activity.

Performing in Large Classroom Settings

I recently attended this talk by Robert Gateman.

Many of us know Robert Gateman as the flamboyant, somewhat bizarre, yet somehow appealing ECON 101 prof we had, or wish we had, in first-year. But how much do we really know about the most talked about UBC instructor on  Click here for the full Ubyssey Gateman interview

I attended because I was interested in seeing Dr. Gateman in action.  He’s the most popular prof at UBC on  What does he do that appeals to students?  His appeal is real at UBC.  400 students came out on a Monday night to hear an extra-curricular talk … that’s really quite amazing!  The energy in the room was excited.  Some students didn’t even know what he was going to be talking about, they just knew that this was supposed to be good.  And Gateman delivered.  He had some serious crowd control going and managed to use the group energy to capture the attention of the students.  For example, he started his lecture with his apparently typical, “Every body UP!” stretching routine to loud music.  I say apparently typical – because many students seemed to be expecting the routine.  Students were happy to shed typical routines, get up out of their seats, and do something different, together.  Watching Gateman deliver his lecture, I picked up on a few things that he does to capture the attention of his audiences in these large classroom settings.

  • know your audience, build on what they know already, relate your teaching materials to what they can do
  • connect personally, maintain eye contact as you move around, talk to individuals
  • use theatrics, even props, his lecture wasn’t particulary polished — but you did feel like you were watching an actor in a play
  • move around, never stay at the bottom of a big lecture hall
  • have a simple message that keeps coming up the whole way through
  • use humor, for example offbeat humor can make the message stick — i.e. tie it in a knot vs. global population control

Who knows?  I may find myself dropping in to see an Econ101 lecture to see if Dr. Gateman is as offbeat in a typical classroom.  I bet he is… and I can see why getting “something different” appeals to undergraduate students.  Thanks, Dr. Gateman, for the real life example of how it is possible to use these large classroom settings to capture the energy of large groups and connect with students.

Learning Conference 2008

Today I stopped in at the 2008 UBC Learning Conference “Bring Goals to Fruition” Learning Goals Workshop, presented by members of the UBC Earth and Ocean Sciences Science Education Initiative.

Building effective learning goals is a corner stone for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the teaching / learning experiences for both you and your students.

Also at this workshop was Beth Simon, a Science and Teaching Learning Fellow with the CWSEI. I’ve interacted with her a lot via email and over the phone about science education initiatives happening over in Computer Science, so it was nice to finally meet her in person. As for the workshop itself, I participated in some brainstorming activities and discussion about learning goals. Nothing really that new, but it was a good opportunity for reflection. In particular, we reflected on the nature of learning goals and how they can be classified into different types: cognitive, skills, and attitude. I also thought it was good how the workshop highlighted the importance of having learning goals at different levels, for example generalized goals that relate to the whole course, as well as specific goals for each lecture. All in all, it was time well spent.