OCT OEEO

PS_June_2018

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G R E AT T E A C H I N G 25 June 2018 | Professionally Speaking The Ontario Certified Teacher featured in this profile has been recognized with a teaching award and exemplifies the high standards of practice to which the College holds the teaching profession . All of these achievements were cited when Alexander earned a Certificate of Excellence from the 2017 Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence. Janice Gladstone, OCT, principal at The Linden School, says Alexander models what is expected of the students by taking risks herself. One example is the CERES (Coding, Engineering, Robotics, Electronics and Science) lab that she creat- ed for the 2017–18 school year. "She's willing to step outside of what she's used to and try something new," says Gladstone. "It's an integrated lab, where you learn subjects simultaneously, which makes it more authentic because the world is integrated, and learning should mirror that complexity if you're doing it right." Solving meaningful problems is also paramount. In one class that meant using circuits in textiles to support a UN sustain- able development goal. For instance, one student designed a device to alert you if a mosquito net wasn't installed properly. That assignment exemplifies how Alexander makes science come alive. "You feel it serves more of a purpose. It made me more engaged," says Grade 9 student Juliana. A former student, Maud Munn, says the award-winning teacher builds confidence. Munn, now in her first year studying edu- cation at York University, had Alexander in Grades 5 and 6. After Munn discovered that she had a non-verbal learning disorder, Alexander used techniques that allowed learning to happen through displays and visuals, not just words. And she did it for the whole class, never singling Munn out. "She's flexible with the way you learn. If one method doesn't work, she'll try another and guide you to where you can go," says Munn, who calls Alexander an inspiration for her own career. "I want to do the same things she's doing — changing students' lives, as well as the way they see the world." Colleague Savannah Barker, OCT, says Alexander has faith in the learner. In the Early Learning program (JK and SK), where complex subjects can be over- simplified, Barker notices how her colleague deliberately uses accurate and challenging language, like elasticity and decibels. "She respects students and wants to see how far she can push them," says Barker. "She believes everyone can have success no matter their age or ability level." Alexander, teaching at an all-girls school, is mindful of the under-representation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). She says there are many ways to foster greater inclusion. For instance, Alexander says students don't see enough diversity in what a scientist looks like in the media. Inviting guest speakers or choosing videos to highlight greater diversity of experts has an impact. She reassures students about their skills with supportive feedback and the opportun- ity to circle back to topics to improve per- formance. "Many studies show that girls, in particular, begin to disengage from STEM in the face of hyper-competitive practices such as emphasis on speed, on-the-spot performance and evaluation based on rank. I often talk about Maryam Mirzakhani, the first, and only, female Fields Medal winner in mathematics. She considered dropping math until a teacher explained that she didn't need to be fast to be good." Alexander also nudges students out of "safer" roles and into more active ones. "During collaborative tasks, I assign roles and rotate them, so certain students don't end up being the recorder time after time." Beyond science knowledge, she wants to nurture a love of perpetual inquiry. One of the most important lessons is resilience in problem-solving. "When I assign a project I ask students to record every time they are surprised, change their minds or make a modification to their work. Part of their mark is this rec- ord of these 'mistakes.' I'm a cheerleader for anyone who thought something was scary but did it anyway. I make a fuss about that." Alexander also wants her students to develop a deep respect for evidence, conveying how that is vital in science and in simply being an informed citizen. "One study is interesting; 10 are more compelling. How do you know when something is true, how do you trust what you see or believe? These skills are so much more important than knowing the atomic weight of every element." PS How can you make STEM engaging for all learners? Award-winning Beth Alexander, OCT, offers these five approaches that work for her: 1 Make it multi-sensory "As often as possible, STEM lessons should involve the five senses. Break up listening/reading tasks with chances to experience real materials." 2 Set up a "makerspace" Learn by doing, she says. The space doesn't have to be large; Alexander's first was a repurposed AV cart. "It's amazing what can be done with simple materials like cardboard and masking tape." 3 Let students generate questions "Kids don't ask, 'Why do we have to learn this?' when they are asking the questions and they are genuinely excited to find answers to interesting problems." 4 Incorporate coding "Digital skills and computational thinking are more essential than ever, and can be integrated into STEM classes in so many ways." The CS First program (csfirst.withgoogle.com) is an excellent introduction for anyone who wants to teach and learn the Scratch programming language. 5 Try citizen science projects "These allow students to collect real data that helps to further studies all around the world, from water quality to biodiversity. It also reinforces the idea that more data equals more reliable results." Visit SciStarter (scistarter. com/educators) for a list of suggested projects to join.

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