Making Connections With Students: It’s the Little Things!

I am currently in my 16th year of teaching. I have taught at 4 different schools in my career, two of them in small towns, and two of them in the city. I have taught grade 8 through grade 12, mostly math, with a few other subjects thrown in. I have mostly enjoyed my time as a teacher, a lot of ups with a few downs. I have never been the most organized teacher, I have never been very creative in how I deliver content or assess students, but I have always felt that I was a pretty good math teacher, just maybe not a great math teacher. However, when people have asked me over the years what my greatest strength is as a teacher, I have always responded that I feel like I am good at connecting with my students. And I have always felt as though this was one of the most important things we as teachers can do.

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Every teacher is different, and I believe this is a good thing. We need all sorts of teachers with different strengths, different styles, and different perspectives. And every student is different as well. We as teachers cannot make a student like us, or make a student love our subject area, but every teacher can make an attempt to connect with their students. This is something that we, as teachers, can control.

When I think back to my high school experience, I don’t necessarily remember the most organized teachers or the most intelligent teachers or the funniest teachers, but I do remember the teachers that I connected with. I remember the teachers that took an interest in the things I did outside of school. I remember the teachers that were caring and kind. I remember the teachers that were fair and listened to me. I remember the teachers that gave up their time to coach, direct, or run a club. I remember the teachers that made an effort. When I entered the teaching profession, I aspired to be and do all these things that I admired in my teachers.

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To this day, when I run into a former student, we don’t talk about that amazing math lesson I did, we talk about the trip we took together, or the close basketball game we won (or lost), or the musical we did together. And I do the same when I run into my former teachers. Connecting with students is a huge part of what we do, and students will remember and hold onto that.

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We can do small things as teachers to connect with students, they don’t have to be big things like coaching a sport or directing a musical. It may be as simple as saying hello in the morning or asking how their day is going. It may be as simple as asking about their interests, or going to seem them play a game, or sing at the choir concert. It may be as simple as opening up and letting them know something personal about yourself. It may be as simple as listening to their concerns and giving them a voice. It may be as simple as getting to know the student and their story.

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Of course all of the other stuff is important too. I think that all teachers should be organized and professional and experts in their content area, but I think that we get too wrapped up in the day to day grind. Curriculum, timelines, professional development, assessments, planning. Sometimes we lose sight of the small things that can mean a lot to our students. If we take the time to connect with our students it will make a difference. It did for me. So thank you to all of my teachers that connected with me. And I encourage all of the teachers who read this to continue the work they do to connect with their students. It will make all the difference in the world.

If you are in the mood for sharing, let me know what you do to make connections with students or share a memory from your own school experience. I would love to hear from you!


I Love TED Talks!

For those of you that know about Ted Talks, I probably don’t have to convince you that they are both amazing education tools and just plain fun and interesting to watch! For those of you that have never heard of TED or never watched a TED Talk, I hope I can convince you to have a look, because not only can you grow your own curiosity and knowledge base but also that of your students and colleagues. And for those of you who are not teachers, you can watch for the shear entertainment and educational value, even if you don’t share it with anyone.

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, started out as a conference in 1984 which brought together people from these three worlds to share idea’s. Not surprisingly, the motto for TED is “Idea’s Worth Spreading”. TED

TED Talks are short video’s, usually about 18 minutes long, in which a speaker talks and presents on a specific topic. The speakers are experts in their respective fields and the presentation is generally short, educational, and entertaining; and these three adjectives are really what make TED Talks so great. You don’t have to invest a lot of time and they are very entertaining and educational, perfect for a school setting, but also perfect for the average person who wants a quick bit of entertainment while they work out or wait for the bus. Also, there are currently over 1600 TED Talks available, so you can find a TED Talk on almost any subject. Some are very funny and light hearted, some are very somber and serious. Whatever your interests, there is a TED Talk for you. So instead of me just talking about TED Talks, why don’t I share some with you.

I will start with a TED talk that falls under the topic of education but is also related to the most recent EC&I 831 on-line class which featured guest speaker Sylvia Martinez. Sylvia talked to the class about the Maker Movement in education which she features in her book, Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. She is encouraging teachers to let their students simply build things out of junk and odds and ends. Let them be the creators and engineers. Let them learn through play. Technology is integrated using things like Makey Makey and Arduino and the end result can be unbelievable. I believe that this is very closely related to the first TED Talk I would like you to watch. The video features Dr. Sugata Mitra, an educational researcher, who discovered, through his “Hole in the Wall” experiments, that children can teach themselves, and each other, in the absence of formal teaching. He hooked up a computer in a slum area of urban India, protected by a wall, and simply let the neighborhood children experiment with absolutely no training on how to use a computer. Watch the video below to see what happens.

What an amazing story! And this is just one of many education related TED Talks. There are also subject specific TED Talks that a teacher may use. I am a math teacher and here is TED Talk I shared with one of my classes.

Here is a very interesting TED Talk that could be used in a biology class studying the environment.

Here is a TED Talk that made the rounds on social media that could be used in a language arts class studying poetry or maybe a social studies class studying social justice or bullying.

How about music class? Here is one of my personal favorites which features Bobby McFerrin. I love this one.

There are so many more that I could show you but I think that I have maybe shared too much on this post as it is. Even if you watched just one of these video’s I hope it was enough to get you to go and check out some more and maybe see if there are any that would fit into your subject area or specific topic you want to cover.

Please let me know what you thought of any of these TED Talks or maybe share your  favorites with me. I would love to hear from you in the comments area below!


A Trip Down Twitter-y Lane

Twitter launched in July of 2006 and I joined on Oct 4th, 2010. I have to admit that before I joined, I had my reservations about twitter. I didn’t really understand what it was all about and thought it was just about following celebrities and tweeting about the minutia of every day life. I had no idea what an amazing tool it was and how much it would shrink the world for me and connect me with so many different people. I am currently approaching 600 followers and 3000 tweets on my Twitter account, fairly modest numbers I would wager, but I thought I would take a trip down Twitter-y lane and check out my early Twitter feed! So I actually scrolled back to the beginning to see how I, and Twitter, have evolved in the 3 years I have been on.

Here is my first tweet! (Kind of funny I think.)

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For my first tweet I would like to say something profound so here goes…I don’t think Kevin Costner movies are that bad. There, I said it.

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As I read through my early tweets I noticed a few things. First of all, I used to tweet a lot more than I do now. I attribute this to the fact that at the time, Twitter and Facebook were my only social media sites, and I had way more time to tweet. Now my time is split between so many more social media sites and apps on my phone, (not to mention a 4 year old daughter and a girlfriend). I also noticed that my earlier tweets were much more whimsical and a lot less edited than they are now. I was tweeting to be funny and was not too concerned about the content. My tweets were not crude or anything, but I was a lot more free back then. At the time I was still learning how to post photo’s and video’s. I was talking about songs to listen to instead of posting the song or YouTube video. I was having a lot of fun contributing to different trending hashtags, which I rarely do anymore. I really dove in at the beginning and instantly loved Twitter. I loved connecting with people I didn’t know from all over the world.

The funny thing about reading through my tweets was that I remembered all of them, and some of them seemed like I just tweeted them yesterday. In many cases it didn’t seem like 3 years ago. It was also very cool to see the tweets of some of the milestones in my life over the past 3 years. In some ways it was like a little diary. I really enjoyed that aspect of looking back. A lot changes in 3 years and Twitter is a daily record of the things happening in our personal lives and in the world. Pretty amazing.

For all of you on Twitter, I encourage you to take a trip down Twitter-y lane. Do you remember what your very first tweet was? I would love to hear it. Feel free to share!

A Promise to My Daughter

So I thought I would take a break from all the posts about social media and technology and share something education-related from my personal life.

This fall my 4 year old daughter started going to preschool and today I attended her very first parent-teacher conference. Her teacher said that she was doing very well and told her mother and I all the things that a parent wants to hear; she is polite, she listens well, she gets along with others, she works hard, and she is progressing nicely. I know that my daughter still has a long way to go in her education career but I couldn’t help feeling very proud of my little girl.

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What I realized today was that this was going to be the first of many parent-teacher conferences that I would be having over the next 13 years. So after I told my daughter how proud of her I was, I asked her if she liked school. She said, yeah. Then I told her how much I liked school and how much her mother liked school and that she was going to be in school for a long time. I told her she was going to graduate high school, and then go to university, and then take her masters, and a PhD. I don’t think she really knew what I was talking about, but she was smiling and giggling the whole time and that made me smile.

I don’t know what path my daughter will eventually take, but I am going to make sure that she knows that education is important and I will always encourage her to be a life long learner. I don’t proclaim to know everything about parenting, or anything about parenting for that matter, but I do know as an educator, that taking an active role in your child’s education and making it a priority is absolutely essential.

Right after the parent-teacher conference today I realized that this was the beginning of a long journey of my daughters education and that I would be involved every step of the way. I don’t consider this a burden, I consider it a privilege. I know that there will be many bumps along the way but I can’t wait to take this journey with her. So that is my promise to my daughter, that I will be with her every step of the way through her education career and always encourage her. I promise to make education a priority and I will always be proud of her accomplishments. That’s my promise.


Daddy, Put Down Your Phone! – Part II

Thank you to everyone who viewed and posted comments to my previous post, “Daddy Put Down You Phone!”. That post seemed to resonate with a lot of people so I thought I would share a YouTube video that I just came across which is directly related to smart phone addiction…it is even in the title of the video! Check it out!

According to this video, the average smart phone user checks there phone 110 times a day! Another source, according to the video, says that it might actually be more like 150 times a day!! The most shocking of all is that some of the highest frequency users, during the peak hours of 5pm and 8pm, are checking their phones every 6 seconds!!! (That statement is three exclamation mark worthy). The rest of us “average frequency” users are only checking our phones on average 9 times an hour during peak hours.

Just like we all spend time thinking about our spending habits and often create a budget to control our spending, I wonder if we should all think about our smart phone habits and somehow budget our time to control our smart phone use.


After watching this video I started to think about how many times an hour I check my phone. I hate to admit it, but I would guess that I probably check my phone, on average, 10 to 15 times an hour. So over the course of a day I would easily fall into the category of 150 – 200 times a day. I am a little shocked and saddened by that. How can I possibly be looking at my phone that much during the day!

As I pointed out in my last post, the time I spend on my phone is not all frivolous. I am actually doing productive and meaningful things a lot of the time. But I can’t help feeling like I am spending too much time on the phone. It looks like I may have to create a smart phone time-budget for myself! Might be time to pull on the time purse-strings and cut back!

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I’m interested to know, what is your number? How many times an hour or a day do you think you are checking your smart phone or other device? For the brave among you, I encourage you to post your number and/or your thoughts below. Thanks again for reading! (Better go check my phone!)

Daddy, Put Down Your Phone!

One of the things I am hearing more and more these days from my daughter is, “Daddy, put down your phone!”. This is also seems to be a common theme in many of the comments I have seen in the google+ community for my current Masters of Education class, EC & I 831. Many of my classmates, myself included, have noticed that time on our smart phones and other devices is taking time away from family. In my previous two blog posts I have been singing the praises of social media but thought I should explore another side of the story and try to answer a few questions. Do I spend too much time on my phone checking my various social media sites? Do I rely on social media as a distraction from other things going on in my life? Do my relationships suffer because I am spending too much time on my phone?

One of the catalysts for this blog post was a video clip I recently saw of comedian Louis C.K. on the Connan O’Brien show. In the video below Louis shares his feelings about cell phones.

Obviously this is an exaggerated commentary by a comedian on a talk show but it really got me thinking about my own personal cell phone use. I find myself on my phone more and more when I have a spare moment. Often I am texting or sending emails to people that I need to communicate with. Sometimes I am using social media in a more official manner, for example; running my schools twitter account, reading, posting and commenting for my aforementioned masters class, promoting an upcoming comedy show on Facebook or Twitter, or writing my latest blog post. However, the rest of the time I am on my phone I am is just surfing around my social media sites; Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, goggle+, Instagram, YouTube, and now my blog. I am listening to music, watching videos, listening to podcasts, reading and responding to Facebook and twitter posts, looking at peoples pictures on Instagram, and communicating with people via instant messaging and email. Sometimes I have to force myself to put my phone down, and sometimes my daughter reminds me that we are in the middle of a tea party and I need to put my phone away!


I am very aware that when I am spending time with my daughter, my girlfriend, my family, or my friends, I should put my phone away and give them the attention they deserve. But what really got me thinking when I watched the Louis C.K. video was his point he made about people using cell phones to avoid feeling lonely. For those of us with smart phones, we have constant access to friends, family, celebrities, sports, music, videos, and pictures. If we so choose, we never have to be alone with our thoughts. Some may argue, “Isn’t looking at a smart phone the same as watching TV?”, and I would say that it is and it isn’t. Using cell phones acts as a distraction the same way watching TV does, but social media is much more interactive than watching TV. You are still alone with your thoughts when watching TV, and when you are on social media sites, you are communicating with people, just not face to face, so there is the allusion of human interaction. I agree with Louis C.K. when he says that people reach for their phones to avoid feeling lonely, to avoid the things they don’t want to think about, and I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing.

I love my phone and I love staying connected with people via social media, but I really do think that our real life human interactions are suffering. It is very cool to be exchanging twitter messages with a friend on the other side of the world, but how about chatting with the person beside you at the dentist office or the person beside you at your child’s swimming lesson. Or more importantly, how about spending a little more time with the people that mean the most to you like your friends and family. Check the link below for some helpful tips on how to limit your social media time and increase your human interaction.

As much as I am an advocate for the proper use of social media, I am also a fan of good, old fashioned, human interaction. So the next time you are tempted to reach for your phone to check your Facebook, or text somebody, try striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you or maybe try just being alone with your thoughts for a little while. Disconnect from your phone for a moment, and try reconnecting with yourself. (Whoa, that was deep.)

I would love to hear what you think on this topic so please comment below! Cheers!


Social Media: Not just about sharing what you had for breakfast!

Contrary to popular belief, Facebook and twitter are not just about sharing what you had for breakfast or complaining about the Saskatchewan Roughriders. There are some really cool ways to connect with friends, family and complete strangers alike! In last weeks EC&I 831 class, Dr. Richard Schwier talked about community and asked us to think about the communities that we belong to and participate in. Many people in the class had reservations about joining social media communities, or wondered if they were indeed communities at all. I believe that social media does create community in different ways and in fact makes the world we live in a smaller place. I would like to share a few personal stories about connecting through social media that will hopefully demonstrate this point.

The first story I would like to share takes place about 5 years ago in Australia. I was on holiday in July of 2008 and staying in Sydney for about 6 days. Each day I would update my status on Facebook and share what I had done that day in Sydney. A friend of mine back home in Saskatchewan saw that I was in Sydney and messaged me to tell me that that a mutual friend of ours was currently living in Brisbane and I should look her up on Facebook. I did just that and sent her a friend request immediately with a message telling her that I was currently in Sydney. She accepted my friend request and replied back saying that she was going to be in Sydney the next day for business and would love to meet up. Below is a picture of two Canadian friends, who hadn’t talked or seen each other in years, sharing a drink on Darling Harbor in Sydney, Australia. To me, that is a very cool and powerful application of social media.

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My second story revolves around a song that a friend of mine and I wrote in protest of the abolition of the Film Tax Credit in Saskatchewan. The government’s decision to get rid of this tax incentive for the film industry affected me personally, and more importantly, it affected many of my friends that worked in the film industry in Saskatchewan. In response to the government’s announcement my friend and I wrote the following parody song in protest, filmed it, and posted it on YouTube.

It wasn’t long after we posted this video on YouTube and shared it on Facebook and twitter that we had a couple thousand views and we were generating a lot of conversation on our YouTube post. Shortly after, we were invited to sing our song at a rally in Saskatoon at which many of the main players in Sask Film would be at, including Saskatoon’s own Kim Coates. Many of the news organizations covering the story and the rally also used clips of our video in the story. I even had complete strangers coming up to me and recognizing me from that video. Without social media, our song and message would not have had nearly the same impact as it did. Social activism is another powerful application of social media.

The last story I have to share is a really powerful story which clearly demonstrates social media as community. About a year ago, a friend of mine and his wife found out that their 5 year old son had a cancerous brain tumor. They began to share their son’s story on Facebook and as a result, friends and strangers alike were drawn into to this brave little boys battle. People began to rally around Tyler and his family and offered their support, some with just a small message, others with much larger gestures. One friend of the family began a campaign called Sailing Around the World for Tyler, which raised money for the family, and inspired thousands of people to follow Tyler’s story. A complete stranger, who had no connection to the family at all, set up an online silent auction to raise money for the family. She asked people to donate items and administered the auction herself. As more and more people began to follow Tyler’s story, even the local media picked up the story. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you reading this have heard about Tyler’s battle. Unfortunately Tyler eventually lost his battle with cancer, but his parents are now using Facebook as a way of grieving and also as a way of bring awareness to this disease. One 5 year old boy’s story was able to bring thousands of people together. If this isn’t an example of community, I don’t know what is.

Yes, it is true, some people share what they had for breakfast on Facebook and twitter. Some people post way too many pictures of their babies. Some people share their every thought and opinion. But people are also sharing their hopes and dreams, their travels, their families, and also their tragedies. This is what a community does. It shares with each other. They learn together, they celebrate together, and they grieve together. So I say to those people out there that may be afraid to share themselves on social media, take a risk, you might be surprised what people might give you back in return.

I would love to hear about your cool social media stories, so please share in the comment area below!