Kat Enters the 21st Century

A new educator's first foray into modern media

Hoop Check-In – Final Video!

Well, I did my best

I set out this semester to learn how to choreograph and perform a routine in the aerial hoop (lyra) discipline. I came in with some knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses in the hoop, and with some practice under my belt, but with no experience putting together a routine or moving to music in the hoop. Through online resources, the generous help of my mentors and coaches, and listening to that song until I couldn’t anymore, I was able to put together a routine that played to my strengths while also challenging me to improve in my weaker areas. I practiced and practiced, filming periodically along the way, until I arrived at the end of the semester (and the end of my filming opportunities with Eve at Studio 4 until the new year).

This is by no means the best I can do, and I’m going to keep working at it – with a different song this time though! That said, I’m fairly proud of what I was able to accomplish, and moreover, I forced myself a long way toward getting over my aversion to being filmed.

With enormous thanks to everybody who supported, guided, and ooh’d and aah’d me through the process, here’s what I have so far:

Coding for Beginners (Like Me)

A Question on My Mind

I’ve spent a lot of time in the field of professional and academic science, and one thing is clear: in order to go on in science, engineering, or technical fields, you need to learn how to code. At the post-secondary level, there are few classes offered on coding for non-computer science majors. I’ve had to learn to use R and MATLAB on the fly, or learn to use them as part of a course on statistics or signal processing, respectively. The most successful and in-demand of my former colleagues are the ones who came from a computer science background, and can code in multiple languages. Being able to see a problem and solve it by coding an application is the best way to get a job in the research field – or, honestly, probably any field.

So something I’ve been wondering is: as a high school science teacher, when is it appropriate to start teaching my students to code?

Screen capture from Hour of Code, showing coding games available for ‘pre-reader’ age children.

The answer, it seems, is ‘from before they can read’.

And Here’s How

Today in class, Rich McCue came in to give us an introduction to learning activities that teach students to code. There are a number of great resources out there, including Scratch (for beginners or younger kids as it’s mostly picture-based and requires little typing and no spelling), and Grasshopper. Grasshopper is a Google-based platform (see my post on Google for Education for my thoughts on Google’s brave new world), but don’t hold that against it. It is an incredibly intuitive app that guides and scaffolds the player through games that start out very easy, building self-efficacy, and build quickly toward real coding tasks.

Example of a game screen in Grasshopper. Screen capture.

In the game, your instructions are on the left, with the command screen in the middle. there are buttons ta the bottom as ‘building blocks’ of syntax, in case the student doesn’t feel comfortable typing right away. there is an example on the top right of what your code should create, and the bottom right shows what you have so far.

Remember how I said I’m not one to get into computer games? Well, having spent about half an hour with Grasshopper, I’m addicted. I’ve downloaded the app and can’t wait to play it on the bus tonight.

Screen capture from Hour of Code, showing coding games available for ‘pre-reader’ age children.

For hour-long lessons in coding, Hour of Code has compiled hundreds of games or sections of games that incorporate code and take about an hour to complete. On Hour of Code, you can search by subject area, level of experience, platform (iOS, Android, computer), and age level, and find fun activities to help get students engaged with coding.

As the CodeBC teachers’ guide to Computational Thinking states, computational thinking is the new literacy if the 21st century. I think of coding as a tedious, frustrating chore that I will never learn to do properly and that I do as little as possible. I believe it’s essential for high school students today to think of code as the opposite: a fun, engaging, and accessible activity that is as necessary for life as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Games like Grasshopper and the lessons on Hour of Code are great ways to get students started coding in a way that makes them want to code, and feel like they are good at it.



Multi-Access Learning and Accessibility

Today I got to meet a real live robot.

It’s called a Beam, and it’s a new form of what Dr. Irvine calls ‘digital proxy’ – it’s a way for students who cannot be physically present to be part of the class, to fulfil their right to be present in school regardless of disabilities and special needs. The Beam can move, turn, look up and down, and project a real face, which students coming in on Skype or BlueJeans don’t get to do. It allows the student to be part of the class, do group work, talk to their friends, and get from class to class, while the student might be anywhere, using a mobile app to communicate with the robot. However, there are still a few things this nifty little robot can’t do. Don’t try stairs; it doesn’t do stairs.

Beam robot. Image by RogDel on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).

We had a good conversation about the future of accessibility and what modern technology can do to allow anyone to participate in school, from anywhere, at any time. We spoke about ‘blended learning‘, which is a somewhat-outdated form of class delivery that is done in both face-to-face AND digital format. The problem with this type of education is that it doesn’t work 100% for anybody. The alternative that Dr. Irvine has pioneered is ‘Multi-Access Learning‘, which truly integrates both digital and face-to-face learning to allow for class cohesion, access to technology, and choices for the students and the instructor.

There are still a few barriers to this new idea, mostly to do with funding, infrastructure, and availability. But Dr. Irvine argues (and I agree) that this is not just an issue of student convenience, or teacher preference for modality – it is a human rights issue, to do with the right of every student to learn in a safe, accessible, and comfortable environment for them. To that end, I’m not sure if I’m ready to face a classroom full of these little fellas, but I’m willing to give it a shot!

My classmate Kay giving the Beam a try. Photos by me; image used with permission.

Hoop Check-In – Week 10

Posture and Expression

The difference (okay, one of the many, many differences) between where I’m at with aerial arts and where the real pros are is in their ability to use their bodies not just to do the neat tricks, but to express emotion and exhibit fluid motion. I can work on making my moves flow together smoothly, but it takes another level of strength and competence with those moves to use them to really express what you want to show. It’s a literacy all its own that requires facility with the parts, much like poetry or great prose requires automaticity with grammar and vocabulary. One thing I’ve noticed from watching the pros is that they can use posture to make moves look more fluid, or use body positioning to emote without even being able to see their face:

I am working with a very limited vocabulary, and a basic grasp of the grammar of dance and movement. I can’t expect poetry to come out yet, but here are a few things I’m working on right now to push my expression a bit:

Photo by AerialShowgirls on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Slow it down and lean in

A pop of a hip, a roll of an elbow, or an arch of the back can add drama and emotion to a move. the photo above would look way less appealing or intense if the performer’s head was not thrown back, or if her shoulder wasn’t cocked. You can do a lot with the difference between a flexed or pointed foot, a bent or straight knee, etc. At my level, this means I need to slow down and do every move REALLY hard, like I mean it, instead of trying to flow through them quickly, which makes it look sloppier and less deliberate.

Posture counts

In the video above  featuring my favourite aerial artist on YouTube, you can see how she arches her back to pull up into the hoop, straightens her back to show balance, and sometimes even hunches forward for almost a springboard effect, when she’s about to do something really impressive. I like this idea, and as I work on my back flexibility I’m always trying to be aware of what my posture is doing.

I’ll be doing my final video recording this weekend for a few weeks, so wish me luck!!

Hoop Check In – Week 9

Things I’ve Learned

The semester is drawing to a close, and as I prepare to wrap up my Free Inquiry project, I’d like to take a moment to summarize my learning thus far.

As I’ve stated before, it’s more difficult for me to reflect on my learning and make it visible when I’m working on a physical skill and not academic research.  I’ve been watching and learning, rather than gathering prior research. I’ve been seeking advice, rather than gathering data. And, very importantly, I’ve been gaining an understanding of physical limits (mine and gravity’s), rather than analyzing observations. I’ve learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, and how to learn by experience.

Along with my latest progress video (the entire routine through with music for the first time), here are a few practical things I’ve picked up along the course of this project that I think apply to life in general:

  1. You can substitute strength for flexibility when it comes to showmanship…but you still need to work on both.
  2. It is 100% harder to resist gravity when spinning very fast.
  3. You can condition and you can gain calluses, but in order to put on a good show, some things are going to hurt very badly no matter what.
  4. Covering up doesn’t always prevent you from getting burned.
  5. Leaning into every move makes it look more intentional.
  6. Always think of what to do with your hands.

And without further ado, my progress so far:

Video taken by Eve Carty at Studio 4 Athletics. Used with permission.

Google for Education

Google Educating Educators on Google for Education


Yep, today in EdTech we explored how to use Google applications for education, via the Google for Education training on the Teacher Centre. I was introduced to two things: 1) just how recursive Google and its subsidiaries are in terms of their self-advertisement and 2) you can use Google for everything, if you want. I use Google Drive and Hangouts, and I foresee myself using Google Classrooms once I start teaching. I have my own organization methods outside of Google Calendar, but I’ve used Calendar and Tasks with OneNote at a previous job. If everything in my life were run on Google, which is clearly what Google wants, then this might be a good organization tool, as well as a way to collaborate and keep track of students’ tasks.

Google wants to (help you) run your life.

But my entire life is not on Google, nor do I wish it to be. And, more importantly, nor do I wish my students’ lives to be wrapped up in Google exclusively. Students using other platforms may have other systems, and I would rather encourage my students to find their own (more secure) way to organize themselves and communicate/collaborate with their peers. The Google-world idea makes sense in perhaps a rural school or a correspondence school, such as SIDES. This does not, however, remove the issue of privacy and the fact that Google does not store its data in Canada. That means that if even one student does not get permission for data sharing, that student will be excluded from class activities and collaborations taking place on the Google platform.

My verdict? From the training that I managed to get through, I think I have a good working knowledge of how to use the Google applications that I already use.  I have slowly learned to use a number of these applications on my own, and if I am interested in using more, I’ll learn it the same way. I am technologically literate enough that, rather than a training course, I can look up or learn by exploring about other tools or uses for Google that I feel the need to add to my toolbox.

SkySafari: Finding Place in the Universe

What Is SkySafari?

SkySafari is a free app that uses augmented reality and a massive historical and knowledge database to allow the user to learn about every star, constellation, and astral body in the sky at all times of day and year, and compare it to what was happening minutes, hours, days, or years ago! I think this counts as an environmental app for place-based learning, especially because stories and legends about the stars and the cosmos are so important to the culture of a place. We see different stars here than people do in Australia, and experience the motion of the planets differently than somebody in Colorado, for instance.  The way we see the stars is very specific to place, and learning more about how and why we see them that way is important to understanding the place you’re in.

Close-up Selection view of Mars, including its moons! Image by kyu3 on Photozou, under CC BY-SA 2.5.

How to use it for education

There are a ton of tools on this app. Using Compass, the phone’s screen turns into a planetarium, with an overlay of stars and other astral bodies that updates as you turn 360 degrees or change the angle of your phone up toward the sky or down toward the ground. The phone orients to the four compass directions, and uses GPS to locate the phone’s latitude and longitude, as well as the exact local time. At any time of day or night, the user can select any star in the sky that is shown on the app, and not only learn its name and what constellation it’s in, but using the Selection tool will open an information page with everything known about that astral body and its history. The International Space Station, all the planets in our solar system, Pluto, the Sun, and the Moon are also included and have a ton of info available. Using the Time tool, the user can see what was happening in the cosmos at any time over the last several decades. Using these tools, students can explore the ‘night sky’ at any time of day, wherever they are – including in the classroom!

The solar system lies along a flat plane called the ecliptic, which you can discover using the orbit of the planets, sun, and moon over time. Image by PlanetUser on Wikimedia Commons (under CC BY-SA 3.0).

A cool lesson with this app could be using paper cut-outs and string to represent the movement of certain stars or planets over a year. This could apply to art, science, or even English (explaining the principles of astronomy to make sense of Shakespeare’s “star-crossed lovers” maybe?)! In Social Studies, you could have a ‘day at the planetarium’ by dimming the lights in your classroom and using the app to mark the constellations on the wall to link them to Greek and Roman mythology. You could even find some Indigenous stories about the stars and bring those viewpoints into the conversation!

There are some other cool features as well, like the Night setting (switches the phone’s display to all red light for night viewing), the Tonight tool (shows the rising and setting time of planets, satellites, and notable stars coming up that night), and Notifications (pops up when an interesting event like a planetary transit, comet sighting, or ISS visible, is about to happen).

  • Free (although there are pop-ups advertising in-app purchases, these are easily dismissed)
  • Cross-platform (Available on Play Store for Android and App Store on Apple devices)
  • Versatile, with many tools for students to explore
  • Works day and night, any time of year
  • Contains seemingly limitless extra information on every visible object in the night sky
  • Can go ‘back in time’ using the Time function to understand planet/star movements
  • Unlike some stargazing apps, it has the outer planets and Pluto
  • Uses WiFi, but would require data if outside or out of WiFi range
  • Does not contain every star in the sky (but has most of the easily-visible ones)
  • The download is big, and will take up precious space on students’ devices
  • Some pre-knowledge of where to find things will help, but is not really necessary once you start exploring!

Wolves and Airships and Axes, oh Minecraft!

Today we had a team of experts from Colquitz Middle School come to UVic and teach us how to use Minecraft EDU, an educational application of a computer game that I haven’t really thought about since my friends got into it about ten years ago. We learned about the ways Minecraft can be used to promote teamwork, communication and collaboration, creativity, and survival skills in students and classes. The experts told us about projects they have done in Minecraft, including building competitions using Creative mode and ancient civilization simulations using Survival mode, and code machine-like creations using certain materials! Their teacher also showed us how to design a game and curate the students’ interactions. There are pre-built worlds and games for several different age groups, and in different core subjects, although if the teacher is well-versed at creating in Minecraft, building your own worlds is the best idea.

Then they let us play:

Some of my classmates with more experience built a ship in the sky!

Little wolves were very friendly and followed us around – until it gets dark. Then they get deadly!

These players created a house out of pink and purple stone…then filled it with puppies!

I have to admit, I am not the kind of person who gets into video games. I didn’t find anybody to play with right away, and with no idea what I was doing, I spent a lot of my time ‘in game’ wandering around and watching other people create.

All the same, I was completely immersed in the world, and felt, as the Colquitz teacher put it, “as though the mouse was my new eyes”.  Despite my lack of engagement in the game, I really enjoyed watching other people play and get really involved in it. This tells me that Minecraft EDU would be a great way for me to let my students explore, play, and teach me more about how this immersive and completely customizable tool.

However, this is also a caution. In any class, there will be students who are as overwhelmed, inexperienced, or easily frustrated with this game as I was. Building (or using one of the pre-built) games with specific goals and making teamwork a priority would be necessary in this case, so that students are more motivated to work together and bring their peers up to speed. My feeling is that I need more experience with Minecraft before I can ever consider building it into my classes. If my buy-in is low, students will sense this. If my expertise is shaky, there is only so much patience my students can be expected to have in teaching me. It was interesting to watch my colleagues get immersed and really passionate about the game, and I can see many of them building Minecraft and other immersive games into their curricula. For me? I’ll stick to real dogs for now.

Hoop Check-In – Week 8

I Blame Dr. Albert Bandura

This week, I’ve switched up my classes at Island Circus Space. I’ve found the classes I was taking weren’t helping me to learn or improve new skills, and similarly were not allowing me time to polish skills I already have, or that I am using for my routine. Dr. Lucinda Brown would be so pleased, because it all had to do with…


The idea of self-efficacy being important in teaching and learning has been on my radar for some time. As a tutor for UVic’s Learning Assistance Program, self-efficacy training (including the four components of teaching for increased self-efficacy) was part of how we learned to help our students take charge of their own learning. I’ve been hearing about the importance of self-efficacy again in Psychology of Classroom Learning (ED-D 401), and it’s made me realize how little of it I’ve been getting from my hoop and trapeze classes.

Image: Reciprocal Determinism by EDCU320RHT on Wikimedia Commons (under CC BY-SA 4.0).

I started at this studio taking intermediate hoop/trapeze, considering that I had a year of experience in the hoop. It turns out that I’m halfway between their version of ‘beginner’ and ‘intermediate’, and being in a class full of folks that are much more experienced, and only practicing skills that are new to me, has been really impacting my self-confidence with this discipline. I know as a teacher that this is not how I can learn optimally, so I’ve decided to switch up my schedule to take the beginner-level hoop/trapeze class, as well as an extra strength-training class to get me up to speed with the intermediate class. This is a different angle that might yield the same results, but in a way that I can feel much more comfortable with my progress.

I’ve really begun to reflect on how teaching a skill like aerial arts is intrinsically the same as teaching science or English or anything else in a classroom. Once I start thinking about it, the principles of pedagogy start turning up everywhere!

(Featured image: Psychologist Albert Bandura in 2005 from  Fridolin freudenfett on Wikimedia Commons, under CC BY-SA 4.0.)

Project-Based Learning at Esquimalt High

As part of our Multiliteracies class, we had the opportunity this past month to work with a group of students from Esquimalt High School on a project that they were passionate about. This was an open inquiry-style project, and the projects that grew out of it represented emergent learning. I had the opportunity to work with another of the pre-service teachers in the program on a project that interested both of us. I learned a lot during this experience about how to relate to today’s students, how to build trust and rapport with them, and how to enable them to do work that they couldn’t do on their own by providing effective scaffolding and collaborations.

Our Students

Image from PxHere (Public Domain).

My colleague and I ended up attaching ourselves to a group of four students who were all passionate about organizing a class trip to Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park. All four had strong opinions about the logging of old-growth forest on Vancouver Island, and wanted their classmates to see the beauty of the forest (and the devastation of the surrounding clear cuts) for themselves. These students were part of a challenge program, and so were already very high-achieving youth that are in their final year of high school. In addition to this project, they are all dealing with the stress of graduating, applying to university, and finishing their year with strong grades. They were fantastic resources for us, as they knew the school and the staff within it well, and were able to access the resources within the school that we needed.

As challenge students that are very involved in their school and community, our group were already quite comfortable interacting with adults, which made it easy to establish a respectful rapport with them.  They were able to clearly articulate their ideas, and were also very aware of their own strengths. With very little prompting, they were able to put together a plan of action and self-organize into loose but interchangeable roles: the researcher, the artist, the designer, and the logistics handler.

Our Project

The group agreed that their goal in this project was to win their class over to the cause, in order to prepare a field trip proposal to take to the administration for approval. As outdoor educators, my colleague and I were both able to advice on the kinds of logistics required, as well as offer suggestions toward a ‘save the forest propaganda campaign’. This campaign came together as follows:

  1. The students contacted a researcher at the Pacific Forestry Center and arranged for him to come in and talk to the class about the importance of preserving old growth rainforest.
  2. The students independently researched and produced multimodal publication (called a ‘zine, pictured below) aimed at informing their classmates about the issues facing the Carmanah and Walbran valleys.
  3. With minimal input, the students explored arrangements for camping accommodations, transportation, and possible dates for the field trip, to begin the process of their application.

Front and back cover of ‘zine. Photo by me.

Inside of ‘zine. Photo by me.

Opportunistic Collaboration

It so happens that another pre-service teacher in our cohort is a member of the Friends of Carmanah Walbran collective, and was in possession of some cedar with which the organization was planning to make trail marker signs. We were able to take advantage of the opportunity for our students to design these signs themselves, as the colleague I was working with is also a visual artist and had access to the CNC router at UVic’s Digital Fabrication Lab. Using a free design program, our students produced another product: two trail marker signs that the class will take with them on their field trip and install in the Carmanah (pictured below).

Photo by me.

This was a phenomenal experience, and I hope that our students keep in touch about the results of their efforts!

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