lesson planning (3)

A plan. My experiences over the last few weeks have highlighted the similarities between traveling and teaching. It all started with a desire to escape the constant business that naturally occurs in a city of 10.6 billion people. The noise, the traffic, the unsettled feeling of always being on the move. Despite being a beautiful place to live and study, Xi’an is only a tiny part of the Chinese landscape. Over the first four weeks, it became clear that I had to experience what rural China was like, or I would forever regret not taking the opportunity to. Thus, trip planning began, and my excitement grew. However, the only week we would be available to travel, also happened to be the Chinese National Week of Holiday. This meant many millions of Chinese citizens would also be moving across the country, causing many unexpected challenges to emerge. Regardless of all the hurdles, after many late-night planning sessions and time spent endlessly refreshing pages to check for updated train and bus availability, we formulated a plan. We were set to leave with only a few gaps in transport to address in each city.

The day came, we were up before the sun, eager to hit the road. The experience started smoother then we anticipated, we caught a cab without hassle despite the language barrier and time of day, we passed through security with only minimal lineups and the high-speed train was spacious and comfortable. Traveling at 250km an hour, 4 hours later, we arrived in Chengdu, and we were able to navigate our way to our connecting bus with ample time. This was when our plan started to change little by little. Our 4-hour bus ride ended up being 8 hours along a bumpy, and at times highly dangerous road, due to the traffic, but we arrived at the hostel with only a few sore stomachs. The next day we explored Kangding, a stunning mountain town that rivals the sites of Jasper and Banff in Canada. After lunch, we decided to try to hike up a hill to find a monastery, with no guidance, or points of reference in the fog and tree cover, we missed our mark by a longshot and ended up summiting the entire mountain. At the top, we found a beautiful Buddhist village. It was indeed one of those “steal your breath away” unexpected travel moments! The next day, we were off to visit a town even further into the Tibetan prefecture of Ganzi, there was only one problem, we did not have a ride, and all the buses were sold out. “Not to worry!” we were told by the locals, we could always hire a car to take us.  After 2 hours of waiting, attempting to find a driver, we met some very friendly Chinese university students heading in our direction. They helped arrange transport and we were off! Little did we know, that the one-hour drive would become a night spent in subzero temperatures stuck on a mountain sleeping in a car, as firefighters, police officers, and military personnel worked through the night to rescue us and many thousands of others from the mountain, due to an unseasonally tremendous amount of snowfall and freezing rain. We arrived safely back in Kangding the next day, thanks to their hard work, courage, and dedication. Our new friends engaged us in conversation late into the night. They kept our spirits high with traditional songs and our bodies warm by loaning us their sleeping bags (Thanks Jane, Richard, and Bella!).

All and all, in both teaching and travel, having a plan is important, but always remaining adaptable in dynamic situations and remembering to reach out for help when you need it, is critical to being successful in your endeavors!

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Halo/Buon Giorno

Moin moin. Another two weeks have flown by in Hamburg! Steph and I have been teaching the grade 12 English bilingual class. Through the study of society, we have been building students’ skills in how to write a summary and characterization. We showed the film Into the Wild to discuss the concept of society and why an individual might reject society. Students then practiced writing a summary for the film and a characterization of the protagonist. One class we prepared an adjective worksheet related to the film to help build students’ vocabularies. We provided a word bank with words such as concerned, lonely, fearless, and selfish. We then provided a sentence with blanks such as “it was very blank when Chris did not contact his parents”. The worksheet seemed straightforward; however, students struggled to determine the ‘correct’ words to fill in the blanks.

We soon realized that the activity was straightforward to us because we knew the intent of each sentence. It was a great teachable moment because we were able to show students how fickle the English language is. It’s not incorrect to say “it was very lonely when Chris did not contact his parents”, but the word that best fits that sentence is selfish. I used to struggle with reading comprehension tests in school. All the answers are correct, but you have to choose the most correct answer from the perspective of the test writer. In English, the context, intent, and situation control the correct word choice.

One student made a sentence that involved calling the boy next to her smelly. The teacher disapproved and told her to make another one. The student then made a sentence calling the boy stupid. The teacher calmly told the student that we are a nice class and don’t speak that way before sending her to another room for a time out. I was incredibly surprised because the student in trouble is normally incredibly sweet. This seemed so out of character! When I asked the teacher after class where that came from, the teacher just laughed it off. She explained that the student just has a crush on the boy. This made me think back to our Individual Learning Theories course where we learned how behaviour, emotion, and cognition are inextricably connected. It’s so important to understand students’ emotions because it affects their behaviour when learning. In this case, the teacher did not need to escalate the situation because she understood the emotion behind the behaviour.

I prepared a lesson on Buddhism for the grade 6 religion class because the partner teacher found out that my Mother is from Myanmar (Burma). I struggled to prepare this lesson because Buddhism is such a complex topic. How do you engage grade 6 students in learning such abstract concepts? How do you teach grade 6 students the concept of suffering? I planned a short presentation explaining key concepts and included some personal pictures of me at Buddhist sites in Myanmar. However, most of the lesson involves a number of different activities. I planned a map activity for students to learn the countries where Buddhism is present, a breathing exercise for students to learn about meditation, and a matching activity for students to learn about different Buddhist symbols. The class is an hour and a half long, but I have no idea if we will be able to get through all the material planned. I also don’t know if the students will fly through everything. This is still something that I am working on in lesson planning; how do you gauge how long the lesson will take? Advice I’ve heard is that it’s better to over plan, so I’ve prepared a longer matching activity that could go into the next class.

Students have a two-week school break now, so that means we also have a break! I am currently in Italy and the warm weather and sun is amazing! Until next time!

Pictures: University of Hamburg, Pantheon, Colosseum and Constantine's Arch, Trevi Fountain 

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1 Month in Germany

Hallo from Hamburg!

Moin moin! Another incredible two weeks has flown by in Germany! I visited Munich one weekend and saw the magnificent Neuschwnstein Castle. Built by Ludwig II in 1869, this fairytale palace inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. Continuing with visiting Disney landmarks, I also saw ‘The Little Mermaid’ statue in Copenhagen. Something that I found really interesting about visiting Bavaria compared to Hamburg is how incredibly different they are! When I was in Berlin, I went to the German History Museum and was really surprised to learn that Germany only unified in 1871. United Germany is younger than Canada! Prior to German unification, many different German-speaking kingdoms existed such as Prussia and Bavaria. Hamburg was a sovereign city-state. Understanding that separate kingdoms and city-states existed for much longer than unified Germany helped me to understand that regionalism exists despite Germany being a smaller country than the province of Alberta!

These past two weeks I have been very fortunate to be able to lesson plan and team-teach with my fellow TAB student. One of our partner teachers asked us to prepare a lesson on the Palace of Versailles for the grade 8 Social Studies class. I was extremely excited because as a future secondary Social Studies teacher, this is a lesson that I would potentially teach to future students. I also visited Versailles 7 years ago and am really fascinated by the palace and its ‘Sun King’. However, I was a little nervous to prepare and teach the lesson because I’ve only taught grade 10. I was unsure how complicated and in-depth we could go with a younger age group. As well, this grade 8 class has behaviour problems such as trouble staying on task and being disrespectful to the teacher. It was intimidating trying to plan a lesson bearing these in mind.

We kept the ‘lecture’ portion of the lesson to less than 10 minutes, and the rest of the class students worked on different activities. We decided to include many activities in our lesson that would keep the students busy. I included pictures from my trip to Versailles, and I’m always surprised that students actually like it when you bring personal connections to the lesson. The main activity of the lesson was students working in pairs to read an information packet that we had prepared on different aspects of life at Versailles. Each pair was given a number that corresponded to a specific aspect such as food or palace hygiene. Students made a mini poster and presented to the class to teach their class.

It was incredibly difficult finding information on the different aspects about life in Versailles that was suitable for ELLs. We had to simplify and change a lot of wording as we anticipated that students would struggle with words such as extravagant and sovereign. When we handed out the information packet, we made it very clear that students should ask us for help if they didn’t understand words or phrases. I was really pleased that students were comfortable asking us for help, and it was great practice explaining concepts such as ‘etiquette’ to ELLs. We also tried to use information that would be interesting to grade 8 students such as how people at Versailles would go to the bathroom on the lawn because there weren’t enough chamber pots at the palace. We wanted the students to be able to connect with the material and find it interesting and funny.

Overall, I was really pleased with how the lesson went because students were more on task than I anticipated. We received positive feedback from our partner teacher, and she particularly liked that we included many activities to keep the students engaged. However, it was very tiring preparing this lesson because we had to do so much preparation and research. I can see how each lesson you teach cannot possibly include this many activities because you do not have the time to prepare this much for every class you teach everyday!

Until next time!


Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen 

Nyhavn, Copenhagen  


 Rare sunny day in Hamburg on the Goldbekkanal, around the corner from my flat 

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