Friday, 8 June 2012

Hello, world!

On Wednesday, June 6, 2012, I graduated from Brock University with my Bachelor of Education!  I can't believe it's finally happened.  I'm just waiting on my OCT number, and then I can fully and completely say that I am an Ontario Certified Teacher.  What an honour!

Instagrammed, @kristeneakins
The graduation ceremony at Brock was a lovely day.  Everyone looked great in their gowns and the smiles were contagious.  I couldn't be happier for my fellow classmates.  And, yes, we were lucky enough to be in the presence of Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, who were there to support and celebrate Gosling's mom's graduation from the program as well!  I can't imagine not having my family there to support me on my big day, so I imagine Mrs. Gosling felt the same way.

One of the speakers at convocation was Kevin Kee from Brock's Faculty of Humanities.  He gave a moving speech about being ready for our futures, but urged us to go out and search for our future and not just sit back and wait for it to come to us.  He was adamant that things don't always go as we plan and that sometimes you take a path that you least expected to take, but which takes you where you want to be in the end.  I really appreciated his sentiments as I have been considering my options as a recent graduate.  I know that the job market is tough for teachers right now and that has put somewhat of a damper on my outlook.  However, Mr. Kee's optimism about things not always working out according to plan has really resonated with me, and his words couldn't have come at a more optimal time.  For those of you who attended the ceremony, you'll understand when I say:  Mr. Kee, I won't give up searching for my deer!  We'll all find it eventually.

Congratulations to Brock University's Class of 2012!  Best wishes to every single one of you.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The End is Near

So, my year at Brock University's Faculty of Education is coming to a close in two weeks.  I have learned so much about the field of education, about teaching, and about myself.  But, I've spent the last few hours thinking to myself - what's next?  I've been searching Apply to Education and general job search sites to find what my next steps are going to be.  I know that I am going to volunteer as much as I can to continue gaining classroom experience.  But, as Teacher Candidates we hear that job prospects are few and far between, so how can I make sure that I'm doing all I can to eventually find a position in the field?

I guess I'm writing this blog seeking support from other Teacher Candidates and experienced teachers willing to offer some advice - where do I go from here?

Sunday, 11 March 2012

It has been way too long.

I haven't blogged in what feels like forever.  I've been neglecting my social media connections and feel disconnected because of it!

This past week was my first at my new Grade 4 teaching placement.  I can't even begin to explain how tired I am but how every ounce of that tiredness is completely worth it.  I love teaching.  I love learning to teach.  I have learned so much from my associate teacher in such a short time, and so much from her students who are full of energy and curiosity.  I had the opportunity to attend a bunch of meetings this week, where I gained invaluable learning about what goes on "behind the scenes" of the classroom.  I was invited to attend Halton District School Board's Family of Schools meeting along with my associate teacher, where great minds come together to set goals and the means to achieve them via their School Improvement Plan.  At a School Team meeting, I witnessed firsthand how teachers and administrators plan to accommodate students who need some extra help.  I was invited to tag along with my associate teacher to a SMART Board workshop put on by the Halton District School Board where I was able to put my SMART Levels 1 and 2 training to use and play around with a SMART Board with several other teachers.  Finally, I attended a meeting with a few teachers (including my associate) and the principal of my placement school regarding how to keep up with the digital age and integrate technology for the benefit of our students.   Students who are often bombarded with technology in their everyday lives, except for at school where the culture has not quite caught up due to obvious needs for funding for technological equipment.  However, it's understandable that funding for technology in schools can't always be a top priority when other issues and needs must be met first.

I could babble on about my experiences forever as I've had so much fun despite the late nights of planning and preparing for lessons.  I can't wait for the upcoming six weeks!  But... March Break comes first.  To all the teachers, administrators, and those who get the week off - ENJOY IT!  You deserve it :)

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Use of Social Media by Teachers

Social media has taken the world by storm.  A day doesn't go by where I don't check my Facebook, Tweet about something or scan through Pinterest.  In my Tech class at Brock University, we were encouraged to use Twitter, Google+ and Blogger to explore using social media as a teacher.  This has proven to be exceptionally valuable to me.  I've participated in #ntchat on Twitter the past few weeks and have found so much support and gained awesome resources as a future/new teacher.  I can see this being a valuable resource for any teacher or professional in the field of education, as the possibilities for collaboration and expansion of learning are extremely powerful.

The Ontario College of Teachers released a professional advisory on the use of social media by teachers in April of 2011.  The advisory touches on how great it is to use social media but also that teachers need to be wary of the risks involved in creating and maintaining a permanent digital footprint.  I think that the bottom line is that teachers need to compose themselves online as they would in the professional world, just as this advisory states.  Watch your language, do not discuss confidential or personal details about students, colleagues, or anyone for that matter; and use it as a professional forum for the sharing of ideas and advice.  Furthermore, as I've mentioned in earlier blog posts, we need to transfer this wariness to our students so that they are aware of the risks and dangers involved in using social media and the 'netiquette' required to uphold a respectful, appropriate, and effective online persona.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Using Tagxedo as a Learning Object

Created using
In my Teaching and Learning with Technology class, our instructor, Zoe Branigan-Pipe, asked us to create a learning object.  A learning object is basically a method of using a Web 2.0 tool to teach a part of the curriculum.  To try this out, I chose to use Tagxedo, a very fun take on a Wordle, to display the characteristics of a Fair Weather Cumulus Cloud.  I thought that this would be a creative way to approach the Ontario Ministry of Education's Grade 2 Science & Technology curriculum, under the Understanding Earth and Space Systems strand and the Air and Water in the Environment topic expectation:

  • 2.5 investigate water in the natural environment (e.g., observe and measure precipitation; observe and record cloud formations; observe water flow and describe where it goes; observe a puddle over time and record observations)

I'm not sure how in depth this curriculum goes into the various types of cloud formations, but I do recall students learning about cloud formations at some point in elementary school!  Please correct me if I'm wrong about the curriculum expectation this could be used for, or if I'm off-base about the whole thing :)

Regardless of the accuracy of my Tagxedo example, I think using Web 2.0 tools to "teach" curriculum is an awesome idea, but only if it is done appropriately.  I believe that in order to use these tools appropriately, we cannot rely on a tool to teach our students.  We could use these as a means to summarize the key points of an upcoming topic of study, or to consolidate the key concepts discussed in a particular unit.  As usual in the world of technology, the opportunities for using Web 2.0 tools in education are endless - the ability to teach through the use of these tools provides a creative, interactive way of allowing students to actively participate in their own learning.

Main point to take away from this blog post:  Give Web 2.0 tools a try!

P.S.  Information about Fair Weather Cumulus Clouds gathered from University of Illinois' WW2010 website.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Fabulous 4s!

Yesterday I had my first Observation Day at my new placement in a Grade 4 classroom.  This is what I was greeted with:
First of all, I have my own little desk!  Like a real teacher!  But second of all, and most importantly, the little Valentine's package and card are from the Kindergarteners I taught in my first placement!  My first associate teacher really knows how to make a Teacher Candidate feel like a real teacher that did make an impact :)  I hope I can one day do this for an aspiring teacher!  It's one more thing that reminds me that I am in the right profession and that I CAN do this.

In other news, I absolutely adore my new placement - the Grade 4s are so sweet and have shown a genuine interest in having me in their classroom.  My new associate teacher is phenomenal.  She's so nice, organized, and really cares about her students and helping me become a better teacher.  She's already offered me the chance to teach my first lesson next Friday and I can't wait!  We'll be doing an art activity of some sort, not exactly sure of what yet but I'm excited to figure it out and give it a try.  

Every day I'm reminded that through learning about teaching and learning to become a teacher, I'm becoming a better student as well.  So, let the learning begin!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Teaching from the Heart: My Philosophy of Education

This is a puzzle I created to represent my philosophy of education.  I thought I would attach a written explanation of why this puzzle is representative of my beliefs and values so that it makes a little more sense than a bunch of words and pictures!  Also, I picked up the blank puzzle from Scholar's Choice - amazing teacher resource centre!  A teacher's heaven to be more specific... next to Dollarama of course.

My philosophy of education is that of a puzzle which require many pieces to arrive at the whole picture. When I began my studies at Brock University’s Teacher Education program, I was learning about so many ‘pieces’ that I had trouble making them fit together. However, over the last six months, those various pieces have now come together to create my understanding of the education system. My understanding of the education system along with my own personal beliefs and values has created my philosophy of education, which revolves around the heart. Hence, I have drawn a heart and placed it at the centre of my puzzle to represent how important I believe it is to have a heart and be compassionate when working in a classroom, a school, and the field of education.

In order to have a heart in the field of education, I feel strongly that a sense of community must be present and be of utmost importance to those who have the opportunity to build it in their classrooms and schools. I have drawn the Tribes Learning Community logo in order to represent my understanding of how to build community within a classroom. I was fortunate to be trained in Tribes this past year, and the strategies I have learned are invaluable and I truly believe that they will help me build an inclusive, fair, and safe environment where my students feel comfortable to learn and take risks. Tribes encourages a fun approach to learning, one that can engage all students and make them see how wonderful learning can be.

In conjunction with the building of community, I believe that equity is something that all teachers must strive for in providing for their students, who are so diverse in their learning styles, personalities, backgrounds in terms of both culture and family composition, and simply where they are coming from when they arrive at school each day. In order to provide for these diverse students, I uphold the belief that differentiated instruction is paramount in having a preventive, equitable approach to education, believing that all students can be reached and all students can learn if we give them the opportunity. Thus, I have drawn symbols to represent Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences and a globe to represent diversity.

I have added a few words and pictures to represent myself as the teacher in my classroom and school. I believe that regardless of the diversity, number and ability of the students, a teacher must believe that he or she can provide for those students and have the desire and ambition to do so. Students must be the focus of a teacher’s energy because they are the ones we want to change the world for and inspire them to continue to change the world and make it a better place. To do this, I believe teachers must be reflective and realize the power of collaboration. I will always work to involve as many people and resources as possible in my classroom because there is so much for students to experience outside of what one teacher can provide. I am naturally a very reflective person and so I will always work hard to reflect on what I am providing my students and find ways to improve, especially through collaboration and encouraging my students to do the same and build a sense of metacognition.

Finally, all of the aforementioned characteristics and qualities that I believe are important and contribute to my philosophy of education come back to the centre of my puzzle – the heart. Teachers need to care about and have compassion for their students. They need to have a sense of humour to show how fun learning can be if we all do it together and learn from our previous experiences. They need to have a heart and inspire their students to use theirs.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

eBook: AC at the Zoo!

This is my first attempt at creating an eBook, and I have to admit that it was going pretty well... until I realized that there are some difficulties when trying to upload a PowerPoint presentation to Blogger or any other type of website.  So, after many trials and tribulations, I decided to take a video of my PowerPoint presentation in action with my iPhone and then upload that into iMovie, edit it, and export it as a .mp4 file.  I've learned my lesson... will stick to SlideRocket next time or some other form of eBook-making option.  Alas, I have a pretty not-so-good-quality video but the transitions look FABULOUS :) Under the video, you'll find an explanation for AC Bonkers and all the awesomeness she brings to Brock University's Cohort F! 

One of our Cohort F advisors, Gail Phillips, introduced us to AC Bonkers very early on in our Teacher Education year. She is an adorable frog that students in a Primary Language Class at Pilgrim Wood Public School in Oakville love to read and learn about. Cohort F Teacher Candidates were given the opportunity to be pen-pals to these wonderful students and we exchange letters and other fun activities occasionally to help each other out through the (sometimes) stressful school year! We also have the opportunity to take AC home for a weekend to document her "adventures" and then create a book based on them that could be used in the PLC program. I was lucky enough to steal AC away for Thanksgiving weekend of 2011, when my family and I decided to spend the beautiful (almost summer-like) day at the Toronto Zoo. AC met a ton of fun animals and had a fantastic time! I created a book of AC's adventures and thought that these photos would provide a great opportunity to create an eBook for not only my Tech class, but to send to the students in Pilgrim Wood's PLC as a way to show them how they can have fun with their reading and writing, too. I hope it works!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Diving into #ntchat

Tonight I joined the infamous #ntchat on Twitter, which features several master-educator moderators, such as Lisa Dabbs and Paula Naugle, and new teachers from around the world.  I was timid at first - would my ideas be good enough?  Would I say something inadequate?  Two minutes in and I knew this hashtag was gold for any newcomer on the education scene.  The amount of support and resources being shared was inspiring and reaffirms that I'm in the right profession; a profession that won't leave you hanging by a thread if you feel lost.  I also met a Cohort F alumni, Natalie Dunn, in #ntchat which was a real-life, meaningful experience for me.  She only graduated last year and she's already made her mark on the world of teaching.  Check out her website, The Rookie Teacher!

Looking forward to joining #ntchat again next week.  If you're a new teacher, Teacher Candidate, or someone with information and support to share, tune in to #ntchat Wednesday evenings 8-9pm EST.  Let's Tweet it up!

Blogging FOR the Classroom

For my Tech class, we had to create an "EDUBlog" where we role-play as a teacher.  Mine is Miss Eakins's Class News - feel free to check it out!  Creating a blog for a "pretend" classroom  has been an interesting experience.  Originally I thought it would be extremely difficult to imagine that students would be reading this on a daily basis and using it to enhance their learning.  However, I then thought about it being like creating lesson plans for imaginary students in the Teacher Education program and how these are not meant to be perfect, but a way to experience what it would be like in the real world and learn from it.  That's what I did with this blog.
Photo credit:  alamodestuff
Keeping a blog for students is very useful because children of extremely young ages are using technology to learn and experience their world.  If I can bring "their world" into my classroom, then their learning can only improve and become more engaging because it is more meaningful. 

Differentiated Instruction is something I've heard a lot about this year, and maintaining a classroom blog can reach students of various learning styles.  Adding a variety of videos and audio clips is one way to engage your visual and auditory learners, and to add in interactive websites where students can drag-and-drop objects or type in text boxes is a way to engage kinaesthetic learners.  Even better, these things will benefit all students - which provides further evidence that a Universal Design for Learning is effective and very attainable.

A classroom blog can be a convenient way to combine various curricular subjects.  Websites such as BitStrips and SlideRocket can combine Language, Visual Arts, and Technology all into one performance-based task.  Webquests or Scavenger Hunts can allow students to explore an endless variety of educational websites while recording their findings on a website like Popplet, which could aid them in creating a piece of writing that is research-based.

Finally, updating a classroom blog can keep students and their families up-to-date on current classroom and school events, which eliminates having to e-mail parents or send out paper newsletters - it's eco-friendly! 
I can't wait to be able to create a blog for a real life classroom one day!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Brock Technology Showcase 2012

On Friday, January 27th, I had the pleasure of attending Brock University's Technology Showcase.  I was very excited about this professional development event because I have learned in such a short time just how amazing technology is when integrated into the classroom.
The first workshop I attended was put on by Giancarlo Brotto from SMART Technologies.  This workshop was fabulous - I learned so much in a 75 minute period.  Mr. Brotto was a very engaging presenter, and was able to get us involved in his presentation by utilizing the technology that he has obviously mastered:  the SMART Board.  Even more, he explained to us the extent to which SMART Technologies are useful in an increasingly tech-based classroom.  For example, he talked to us about SMART Sync, the program that a teacher can use to literally block students from using any potentially distracting websites (Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to name a few) on their computers while he or she is instructing.  He mentioned the new SMART Table that is being introduced which will allow younger Primary grade students to work as a group using the interactive surface.  Finally, Mr. Brotto showed us how to effectively use clickers and the Front Row system to benefit all learners and teach under a Universal Design for Learning approach.

I also attended the "iPads in the Elementary Classroom" workshop which proved to be inspiring.  Presenters included a principal and three teachers from a Halton Catholic school who have facilitated learning in their school via the iPad and its numerous Apps.  Two classroom teachers spoke to using the iPad as a way for students to engage more intensely with word study and guided reading practices.  The special education resource teacher talked about using the iPad to successfully reach an SK student who had appeared to have no interest in integrating into a school environment.
These technologies are incredible and provide amazing opportunities for both students and teachers to learn and grow.  Mr. Brotto of SMART Technologies made a poignant point:  using technology in the classroom is not about teaching how to use technology, but how to teach via technology.  Technology is not what needs to be learned, it simply provides a more current, meaningful and engaging journey to the gaining of knowledge.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Use of Blogs as Blended Learning

Since the start of my Tech class at Brock, I have absolutely loved having a blog where I can express my thoughts and feelings about education.  Today in class we were asked a question about the use of blogs for blended learning and the concerns that may arise from their use.  Blended learning involves the mixing of different learning environments.  In terms of technology, blended learning would entail the mixing of face-to-face learning with computer-mediated learning.  My understanding of this is that face-to-face learning occurs in the classroom with a teacher and classmates physically present.  Computer-mediated learning to me means that students can learn via their computer - by interacting with other students using video chats, surfing the Internet for research purposes, and of course, creating blogs.

When I think about students creating blogs, I think of blogging as a means to enhance and improve student learning.  Adding a technological dimension to their education means that they are gaining skills in "netiquette" (which is so important in increasingly web-based communication practices) and have a way to describe their thinking processes regarding content that they've learned, such as I am doing right now!

Concerns that I have about students using blogs in a blended learning environment mainly surround Internet safety and the creating of one's digital footprint.  Beginning at such a young age, students now have the ability to create their digital footprint and leave a potentially very permanent trail behind.  Teachers need to ensure that they make their students aware of the safety risks in using one's full name, address, phone number, or any other type of identification that could potentially land them in trouble.  Even though I have put my full name on my blog and Twitter account, etcetera, it is important to note that young children may not have developed full-fledged reasoning skills when it comes to knowing the "okay" places to identify oneself and how to maintain privacy when/where necessary.  Young children can be very vulnerable to online safety risks, and we as teachers need to build this into our lessons that involve the use of technological communication just as we tell them to "look both ways before you cross the street".

On a final note, I believe blogging is a great way for students to really develop their craft as writers and become familiar with a tool that can lead to reflection of learning, higher-level thinking skills, and decision-making.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Project-Based Learning

Yesterday, a group of classmates and I did a presentation on a couple of chapters from our Tech textbook.  One of the topics that we talked to our class about was Project-Based Learning and how it can be effective in engaging students in their learning.  The video below was listed as a must-see by our instructor, and it sums up the benefits of using Project-Based Learning in the classroom exceptionally.  Thinking back to my days in elementary and high school, I wish I had had the opportunity to take part in more project-based activities where I could really put my learning to good use and create solutions or think much more critically.  I was labelled one of the "smart kids" back then and took pride in my academic achievements.  However, thinking back to these times I can completely relate to what was said in this video because I was simply able to memorize facts or sentences and regurgitate them on tests.  I don't think that this means that I was ever smart - when I think of someone who is smart, I think of someone who has the ability to think outside the box, to question "facts", and who tries to build their own knowledge by taking in many sources of information and figuring out what all that information means to them.  I'm not trying to say that people who can memorize things are not smart; I am saying that I wish I had tried harder and spent more time on thinking critically rather than memorizing things someone else told me were true.

Furthermore, project-based learning requires collaboration, something I think is so important for students to learn as early on as possible.  I believe it is inevitable that there will be competition and the desire to be "the best" at something amongst all students.  However if we provide them the tools to learn the benefits of collaboration, we may at least be able to relieve some of the pressure these students feel to be the best and compete with their peers.  I think in the end, the benefits of collaboration can beat any of the so-called benefits of being the best.

Competition can isolate, collaboration can empower.

Video credit:  

Friday, 13 January 2012

Did You Know?

Video credit:  Jfitzpatri

Just watched this video with some very interesting "facts" about the world and how fast information changes and, sometimes, becomes obsolete.  I got goosebumps watching this video because it shows how small our world is becoming due to technological advancements that may have been thought of as science-fiction only decades ago.  When I watched and read all of the "facts", one thing stood out in my mind as a teacher who is going to be educating students on "problems that we don't even know we have yet" and preparing them for "jobs that don't even exist yet":  critical thinking and inquiry are of utmost importance, and we need to foster this in our classrooms for the future citizens of this world so they know what to make of the world they live in, because we have no idea now what that world will look like.  I highly doubt that my parents ever thought a handheld device could hold thousands of songs and videos, access a whole other world of information, and type a word into something called "Google" and find thousands of possible answers.

Speaking back to the Building Futures workshops I attended yesterday, this was a main theme in the Effective Literacy workshop, mentioned by Ellen Davey who has been a principal in elementary schools for a number of years.  She talked about how important it is for her to see that students are engaged in their learning, because really - if they're not engaged in the process of learning now, that "learning" is going to me meaningless to them in the future, but to a whole other extent because that learning will have become obsolete by the time they may be able to put it to use.  What I'm trying to get at is that I think inquiry is so, so, so important.  Students need to learn how to find the information they want to know and discover more information on the way.  They need to have critical thinking skills so that when they are bombarded by all the new information, they can make decode its meaning, make sense of it and make it relevant to their own lives.

I mentioned above that the video provides a number of "facts", and I purposely put the word facts into quotations because I think it's true what they say in the video about information becoming obsolete - so how long will it take for the information in this video to become obsolete?  We need to educate students, and all people, that indeed, "shift happens" and we need to know how to prepare for it and make something of it.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

"Building [Our] Futures"

Photo credit:  Kristen Eakins
Today, Brock University's Hamilton campus hosted a Ministry of Education professional development workshop called "Building Futures".  The event featured educators with various experiences within the profession as speakers who discussed with teacher candidates like myself topics that are of high priority in Ontario education.  Each teacher candidate had the opportunity to attend three workshops, and I chose to attend Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Schools, Laying the Foundation for Effective Instruction in Literacy, and Special Education.

The workshop sessions were each very informative and I was happy to have the chance to listen to such experienced educators speak on topics that are so important to the profession I'm about to enter.  However, I found the most beneficial speaker to be Jennifer Dickenson (apologies if I've spelled her name incorrectly!), a 4th year teacher.  Jennifer spoke to us about her experiences as a new teacher including her recent completion of the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) and the importance of having a mentor through the process.  She advised us that no matter what, we're going to experience a lot of stresses and frustrations as a new teacher, but that we will also greatly benefit from having a mentor.  She talked very highly of the mentors that she worked with and the relationships she's fostered with them.  She encouraged us to be as open with our future mentors as possible, including about our insecurities, to allow us to gain the most from the experience.  Regardless of the nerves she expressed having at the beginning of her presentation, I found her words to be the most valuable and motivational as a teacher candidate.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

How fast time flies!

I cannot believe that there are only 8 weeks left of classes until I begin my second teaching block.  Although I'm anxious about all of the assignments that will be due and the quizzes that will be had, it's extremely hard to believe that it's finally happening - I'm finally going to achieve the goal that I set for myself at about age 4 (20 years in the making!)... I'm going to be a full-fledged, Ontario-certified teacher.

It has been quite the journey, especially because I did not take the route that may have gotten me to this place as soon as possible.  I decided to extend my 4-year degree at McMaster University into a 5-year trek and then take a year off to work full-time at a daycare centre, rather than go straight from high school into the 4-year concurrent education program at a university, which would have gotten me to this exact same place (albeit probably a few alterations) two years ago.  I feel as though these two extra years have given me the opportunity to really know and become confident in myself and know that I still do want to pursue a career in the field of education.  I have absolutely nothing against the concurrent education program - I think it is a great option for those who are totally confident in their choice of career and applaud those who have combined both their undergraduate degree and teacher certification into an all-for-one feat.  However, I know that for myself, I was not so sure that after 4 years my desire and passion for education would remain the same and honestly, that I would be cut out for the teaching profession.

Regardless of my ramblings above, the main point to my reflective post on the past 20 years of my life is that it is possible to achieve your dreams and goals, even if you take a few detours along the way.  I hope to inspire the same drive and ambition in my future students because the feeling of accomplishing goals, especially those set at a very young age of 4-years, is invaluable.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Daily Beast: "31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012"

Loved reading this short article from The Daily Beast on how to improve your mind (and soul) in 2012.  I'm going to try to incorporate some of these things into my life as a New Years Resolution.  Even if they don't necessarily make me "smarter", I can see how some of these tips can improve my life, which I think everyone can benefit from every now and then.