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Disrupting the Classroom Norm

You know that feeling that you want to write about your first week of school to document it and yet you don’t want to do it. But I have to tell myself over and over that there is only one first week of school for the year. This first week of school is very special because this year, I have my own class, my very own class as a permanent teacher!

Now, does that make it more valid to be worth writing about?

A few weeks before the new school year started, Twitter has been overflowing with back-to-school ideas. Three of them I picked in particular to get me started: Play-Doh activity found in Teach Like A Pirate book by Dave Burgess, Youcubed.org videos by Dr. Jo Boaler, and 5 Questions to Ask Your Students by George Couros.

Here’s my learning at the end of the week.

Using Play-Doh on the first day of school lessened the anxiety of students. It made the atmosphere more relaxed. Grade 4-5 students were surprised to see a Play-Doh on a plate waiting for them. A new student actually wrote about it on her “Highlights of the Week.”

It’s interesting to see some students struggled in deciding what to make to represent themselves while other exactly knew what to do. This activity gave me an opportunity to learn about them right away.

With Dr. Jo Boaler and her students sharing their love for math in a video for students to watch, how can this be not worth a try? I had the youcubed.org posters printed off and laminated. Another poster from Ikea coincide with the idea of making mistakes. Only after 4 days of school, I hear my students saying that math is not about speed. It’s more about depth. They are more open to making mistakes and keep on trying which was visible when they did the Stack-A-Red-Cup Challenge. So far, we worked on 3 word problems from the University of Waterloo. Then, topped it up with a card game on place value which they truly enjoyed.

The classroom norm, we asked the students about classroom expectations during the first week of school. With George Couros’ list, we asked them about the qualities they look for in a teacher, their passion, their question for the year, their strengths and what success looks like to them. I took the risk and gave them this questionnaire and am so glad I did. It gave me an insight of who they are beyond the classroom. I’m going to put them in a chart and see what’s common and what’s different.


I also want to open that window for parents and guardians to get a peek of our learning beginning the first week. On Friday, students came home with the Parent Invite to connect to our class through Seesaw. Out of 24, 10 are already connected. They can listen, watch or see what’s taking place which can be a good starting point of conversation at home. When they ask their child, “How’s school?” The one word response “good” won’t be enough.


Highlights of Our Week
Trust. A Safe Place. Respect. Like any human being, we would like to be around people that we trust. We would like to be in a place where we feel safe and individual differences are respected. This is the kind of environment that we try to build at the beginning of a new school year. For four days that they’ve been coming to school with smiles on their faces, I know we are on our way. It will take time for some but we will get there!

This is a new journey for me. I’m opening myself to take more risks to better myself in the classroom, make mistakes and learn with my students, collaborate more, share what I know and learn much more with and from other educators.

Lastly, a question I’d like to ask you, “How’s your first week of school?”

 

 

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Inspiration. Passion. Education.

This may be the beginning of my writing about achievements, be it big or small, of students and people that we, somehow, forgot to celebrate or put more attention to. Sometimes, celebrations of achievements are short-lived. We moved on too soon because there are other things we are compelled to do. When it’s written, we can always go back. In a click, we can always share.

In 2003, I met her family and became friends. She’s an elementary student at that time. Our families went camping and picnicking together with other friends. One thing that I noticed about her was how she would ask her dad to drop her off at the library during weekends and even in the summer.

When I heard about her latest achievement, being selected as one of the 36 young entrepreneur in the Next 36 Program, I told her that we need to share these kind of accomplishments to inspire more youths, more people. This is a great example of empowering our students with a great tool: Education.

Her name is Margarita Andrea Quijano. We call her Marga.

Academic Achievements:

St. Catherine of Siena Separate School (Elementary) – Received the Science and French Awards

St. Francis Xavier Secondary School (High School) – International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme with a focus on Higher Level Biology, Economics, English, Standard Level Chemistry, French and Math; Honour Roll for all four years; received the IB Chemistry Award in Grade 11; received Second Place and the Viewer’s Choice Award for an international economics video contest held by the Fraser Institute; received the Ontario Scholar Award upon graduation and a valedictorian of class 2012.

In high school, Marga served as the Youth Task Force Leader on the Mississauga Youth Advisory Committee, representing 145,000 youth to voice their opinions on how to better engage them in the community. She facilitated many camps for Youth for Christ, played in the school’s Junior and Senior Girls Basketball Team, performed at talent shows doing spoken word or played the guitar in a band. After school, she would head to the Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga as a volunteer as well.

Western University – Received the Western Scholarship of Excellence (requires a minimum of 94% average in high school) to study Medical Sciences; Dean’s Honour List throughout undergraduate studies.

Outside academic during her years at Western, most of her extra curricular activities were focused on premedical.

  • Volunteered at a hospital
  • Research Assistant at Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry to work on genetics project
  • Research Assistant at Western Psychology Lab
  • Medical Lab Assistant – sponsored to do a hospital student placement at a neuropsychiatry lab

During her summers as an undergraduate student, she watched doctors performing cardiothoracic surgeries and also, led an infection and equity research group of professors, Masters and PhD students.

Even in university, Marga found time to play basketball as captain for Western’s Competitive Basketball Intramural Team (Women’s and Co-ed).

Of all the achievements mentioned above, I asked her to list down the top 3. None of the above made it.

  • Change for X (CFX) – Founder; On her first year in university, her love to create value to better people’s lives led her to start Change for X that support a different local charity every year to impact the world one charity at a time. She read everything and watched videos about starting a non-profit organization, encouraged friends to join, sought sponsors, learned Photoshop, web development and website creation. Over the years, CFX reached Harvard University, McMaster University, New York University, Queens University, Sheridan College, University of Toronto, Western University, Wilfred Laurier University, and still expanding if anyone is interested in starting a chapter. She led the Western chapter as President for four years, growing the chapter from 10 members to 50 active members and over 200 general members by taking a few computer science courses to generate high-quality multimedia for marketing tactics.
  • Active Learners – Marga started a tutoring company called Active Learners which tutors different subjects in elementary, middle school, high school and university that aims to help learners discover the best way they can learn. When she was struggling in Organic Chemistry during the first few weeks in second year, she sought help of professors, TAs, and external online resources. It was then that she discovered she’s a visual and audio learner. With perseverance, in the end, she fell in love with the subject and received A’s.
  • Creating Safe Spaces – To support and promote a safer space for everyone, Marga joined Get REAL, a non-profit organization whose aim is to tackle homophobia by offering inclusivity workshops to students. She served as VP Corporate Expansion, spoke to thousands of elementary, middle, high school, university and medical students across Ontario towards removing discriminatory language and instead, foster unity. She spoke to students at Western University’s Early Outreach Conference, Durham Regional Police Youth’s 9th Annual Provincial Youth Forum, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, and Richard Ivey School of Business. An opportunity was also given to her to publish an informational brochure about bisexual youth health through Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and the University of Toronto. As an executive and volunteer for Pride Western’s current events, she liased between Pride Western and the London community to organize events to create a safe space on campus. Last summer, she received the Out on Bay Street scholarship.

Her entrepreneurial journey started last summer when she took a Computer Science course, a business course, an online entrepreneurship courses and read books on entrepreneurship. Since then, Marga already had been to four hackathons where she learned more how to code, gave product ideas, and led teams. She gave an entrepreneurial workshop to Grade 11 students at the Richard Ivey School of Business, delivered the best pitch at Western Engineering’s and Richard Ivey School of Business’ Pitch Competition, and won First Place at Startup Weekend Peel Powered by Google Entrepreneurs.

Recently, Marga was shortlisted and got accepted into the Next 36 Program as one of Canada’s top 36 young high-impact entrepreneurs from a pool of over 1,100 applicants through a rigorous national selection process. These 36 young entrepreneurs will receive unparalleled mentorship from Canada’s top business leaders, up to $50,000 from top venture capitalists, and academic instruction from some of the world’s top faculty beginning May 6 to August 19, 2017.

Her parents, Ramil and Pinky Quijano instilled in her and Marga’s three other siblings the importance and value of education. Medical school (and/or business school in a dual degree program) is still in her mind and will push it through when the time feels right. In her own words, “perhaps after I positively impact at least one million people – a number I haphazardly chose.”

I gave her 5 questions. The last one was about her philosophy, motto… “Life is short, so do what you love. Take care of yourself, exercise, surround yourself with great people who support you, spend time with people you love, give back, take the risk, get out of your comfort zone to grow as a person, and be happy.” – Margarita Andrea Quijano, 23 years old

Kindergarten: The Noise in the Background

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to work in a kindergarten class at Ridgeview Public School. Unlike other grades, there are a lot of different activities going on in kinder at the same time and I would like to capture them not just with still pictures but the conversations that take place when their talking out loud their creative minds.

What fascinates me more upon hearing these captured talks are the noise in the background. I played the video over and over to listen closely to what’s happening beyond what the lens can cover. I knew what exactly took place to the little ones that I was speaking with but there were more speakers around that were talking meaningfully at the same time.

 

 

Until now, I still find myself watching and listening to these videos and wonder. And yes, kindergarten is very busy.

Hats off to all the educators out there who make learning so much fun and meaningful for these young minds during their first years in school. How do you capture all these moments?

For the Love of Reading

Like any other part of the school, I see how important it is to have the library up and running as soon as possible when I got a chance to work in one for a few days.

From a two-month summer vacation, students were looking forward to set foot in the library to borrow books, from Guinness Book of World Records to Smile to Amulet to Peppa, to name a few of them that they’d asked me. Yes, we can search and read almost everything online but the library in each school provides the opportunity for all the students to get hold of the latest graphic novel, read a collection of Franklin books without spending a single dime.

Call me old fashion but I still like to get a book, hold it and flip the pages. No dog-ear for me please.


#TLDW2016

When you are surrounded with positive people that believe in each other’s strength, you have no way of going but moving forward.

Here’s my takeaway after the 3-day of learning and networking with wonderful educators, #peel21st.


For all the educators that helped me out along the way and spent the time to listen to what I had to say, a BIG THANK YOU! All kinds of exciting things are on our way as we begin a new journey of learning together with our students.

A Powerful 4-Letter Word: Grit

I was ready to go to bed after the Blue Jays won the game against the L.A. Dodgers last night but decided to have a shot of espresso since the machine had been on for the last couple of hours. Guess what happened? It kept me up for a few hours more. Make this moment useful and productive. Write.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been tweeting out scoring moments of the Toronto Blue Jays. I am not athletic. Far from happening. I’ve been watching the game because I am amaze to see each player on the baseball field. The sport is slow-paced, in my own term. But once the ball is released, I need to hold my breath and wait for what is going to happen next.

If I am going to fill in my Word Wall, it will have the terms slider, fastball, relievers, baseball, defence, pitcher, catcher, home runs, curve ball, good pitch, breaking ball, RBIs, mph, inherited runners, ball, strike. These are just some of the technical terms that I regularly hear from those sports commentators while watching the game. Don’t ask me of any more technical questions because I do not know the answer.

What makes me wonder the most is how much time, effort and courage each of this player has put in and continue to do in order to improve and perfect their craft. Yet, errors are committed along the way, during the game, in front of thousands of spectators. In spite of this, they continue. Disappointments and frustrations are sometimes visible. Their human side. But giving up has no place. This is what I see every time they pitch, catch, pass or throw that ball.

Watching the game most nights serve as a great reflection for me. A reason to keep pushing. There are things that don’t go my way when and where I want them to be. Seeing their determination in conquering the challenges they’re facing help me to remind myself that what I worry about is minute to what they have to deal with. Maybe.

In the classroom, I hear students saying they can’t do the task on hand because it’s too hard. Sometimes, the students and I feel the same way. “It’s too hard. We can’t do it. I’ve been trying.” Getting stuck will not get both of us anywhere. Take a deep breath. Move one foot forward. Then, the other. I need to have that courage. Walk the talk.

One life skill that I need to remind myself and I would like these young learners to equip themselves in facing adversities: GRIT.

 

Just Like Seeds

When the seeds that were planted a few weeks ago started to germinate, it made me think of the students in our care everyday.

They are like these seeds that come from different plants. Although placed in the soil at the same time, they grow at different rates. But both of them have something in common. They both need love and care.

Every student that is placed in our hands come from different backgrounds, different beliefs, different environment. When they gather as a class, they share all these differences in one space.

As educators, we try to meet all their needs which are not limited in the school vicinity. We come home and still thinking of ways on how we can help and guide them to be successful individuals. The minute we open our eyes in the morning, our mind is already occupied of what we have planned for them for the day.

We have students where school is the only safe place for them. It’s where they can be with friends and leave their real life behind. It’s where they look forward to coming everyday to fill their hungry stomach for their first meal of the day. It’s where they can just sit still.

It breaks my heart every time I hear a story where a child is not doing well because of the life at home.

The reality is, we are tied with what we need to cover and accomplish. But if we take a few steps back and see that child through, it’s not the knowledge that the child is wanting to at the moment to have but is longing for a caring hand and a listening heart.