The Value in Being Uncomfortable

 

Unease. Awkwardness. Two words that inspire pits to form in many a stomach. Who wants to feel that way? We avoid those feelings as best we can in life, and yet, I’ve come to embrace them (at least in one area of my life).

I’ve come to realise that when it comes to teaching, there can be value in being uncomfortable. 60406796

For one, going outside of your own comfort zone can inspire others to do the same. I’ve learned from many fellow teachers who constantly take risks and try new things. They may not realise it, but their willingness to try new things with their students inspires me almost every single day. Had I not spoken to a colleague who had just tried it, I would have never sat and written a blog post in class while my students did the same (and wouldn’t be doing it here, again).

I’ve also come to learn that there is great reward in taking risks. There have been times where I’ve decided to stray from my usual lessons or assignments and try something new. Those days can go one of two ways: they could go very smoothly, and remind me that some great work can come out of trying something new, or they can go horribly wrong. What is the worst that could happen, though? Yes, I might look a bit silly in front of my students, or the assignment might have to be scrapped because it didn’t go the way I thought it would. In the end, though, I’ve come away from these experiences having learned something. If the risk went well, the payoff was likely an increase in student engagement and hopefully learning. If it flopped, well, they likely saw me work around it and move on.

It’s not always easy, though. I’m not usually comfortable enough to try new things in courses I’m unfamiliar with. The best I can do is to continue in the courses I’m most comfortable ‘playing’ in, and hope that it translates into ways to change up those other, more unfamiliar courses as well.

So the next time you’re sitting next to a colleague who seems to be doing something interesting, don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, what’s that?” as it might be the perfect starting point for your jump into the uncomfortable.

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Worth the Risk

My poor mother. To say I was a picky eater as a child is a massive understatement. My mom would often cry, fearing my sister and I were not eating enough. My eating habits improved in high school but I was still pretty hesitant when it came to trying new things. In university, a professor of mine used cheese to get me to open my mind to the endless possibilities of good food. Later that year, I took a big risk for a former picky eater. While in Prague I opened a restaurant menu only to find that it was written entirely in Czech (naturally). I remembered my professor’s advice, closed my eyes, and pointed. It was delicious.

Since then I’ve tried things I would have never fathomed in my previous, risk-free life – some were delicious, others not so much. I really did take something away from that experience and I’m trying to apply it to my life in ways that don’t just relate to food. One way I’m trying to do this is in my teaching. One of my goals straight out of teacher’s college was to learn more about the use of technology in the classroom. I decided I was going to make it a goal to learn more about the various options available for incorporating technology in school and then do my best to apply those things when I started teaching.

Technology can be scary! What happens when my lesson plan is based on content requiring an internet connection and the WiFi suddenly goes down? What do I do when my projector isn’t working, or even worse, I forget to book one out on a day it’s needed? I had these and other fears when I decided to join an online collaborative project called “Macbeth Goes Social”.

Classroom setup for our second Google Hangout
Classroom setup for our second Google Hangout

This project allows a space for teachers around the world to collaborate and share their collective experience of studying Macbeth at the same time. We’ve used Google Plus and more specifically Google Hangouts to share throughout this unit. The idea of a Google Hangout really scared me at first. All those previous questions (and more) swam through my mind. What if? Well, I took a risk and I tried it. My class has done two live Google Hangouts so far and I hope to do at least one more this week. Yes, there were flaws and yes I would definitely change a few things the next time, but boy am I glad I decided to give this a shot! This project has allowed my class to learn the importance of having a live audience (digital citizenship); share with peers around the world (Italy, America, United Kingdom, etc.); and have fun while doing it.

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https://twitter.com/HUSNAIN_AHMED/status/467296880670806016

If you’re interested in checking out a Google Hangout there are more scheduled for this, the final week of the project. Head over to the Google Plus page for Big Fun Education (the organizer) and watch some of the videos already posted.

 

Things I Learned at the GAfE Summit

This past weekend I headed to the Google Apps for Education (GAfE) conference held by our board. A few teachers at my school decided we’d go check it out and I thought I’d share some of the amazing stuff I filled my brain with over those two days.

In no particular order, here are some things Virginia learned this weekend:

1. Chrome is a pretty great browser with a lot of exciting apps and extensions.

Cool App: LucidPress – similar to Microsoft Publisher but free and web-based
Cool Extension: One Tab – saves any open tabs and lets you post them as a link (all tabs open when you click the link)

Then there’s the Omnibox (formerly known as the address bar). Things you can do in the Omnibox:

  • search multiple websites using shortcuts (for example, I set it up so that I type in “gd” and hit space to search my Google Drive. I also set up a number of other search engines in a similar fashion)
  • use it as a calculator/flight checker/etc.

Basically, you can do things you’d normally do in fewer steps/clicks which I think is pretty neat. Hello, timesaver!

The other great thing about Chrome is that it’s totally customizable. When you log in to the browser, all of your history, apps, extensions, and bookmarks are saved. This means students can log in on their Chromebooks at school and go home and access all the cool sites they used for their research without having to search for them again.

2. Google Drive has even more capabilities

Ever since our board adopted GAfE I’ve been trying to explain how useful Google Drive is to my students. How cool is it that you can all collaborate on the same document!? Anyone!? Bueller?? More cool Google Drive tips:

  • no need to open a new tab, you can research right in a Google Doc (Tools -> Research)
  • you can upload images in a variety of ways (Insert -> Image). Again, you can search Google for images right in the Document and it will also tell you its license details so you know how to properly cite it.
  • a lot of apps and extensions work right inside Google Drive, meaning you can use them to enhance the user experience (example: Pear Deck for interactive lessons)
  • you can use your phone to dictate to the Google Drive app and watch as it transcribes it on the document(!)

3. What it’s like being a student again 

I found myself back in the role of student which was a nice change as I always liked being in school. It was nice to be reminded of what it feels like being on the other side of the room and I left with a bit more empathy for my students. Some observations:

  • my brain was fried by the last sessions and I started to pay more attention to Twitter than the speaker
  • those wooden chair/desk combos in some of the classrooms were extremely uncomfortable
  • I was often thinking about food

This is all just a sample of what I learned this weekend. I remember after the first day I was trying to think of a good analogy for how I felt and the best I could do was liken my brain to how my stomach feels after eating too much. It hurt.

Thanks to the presenters, organizers and WRDSB for a great two days!