Monday, February 27, 2012

My Thoughts on WestCAST

     I'm back safe & sound! All 41 of us from our university survived the 11 hour bus ride (22 hours round trip) to and from Calgary without killing each other (almost) haha. All-in-all it was a great time! I really enjoyed spending time with other students from my faculty, some of whom I had not even met before, and I learned a lot from the sessions I attended. I give props to the U of C who organized a wonderful event with some amazing presenters and super helpful volunteers. I was able to visit family, see the mountains and rode the C-Train for the first time as well!

     The hardest part was deciding what sessions my fiance and I wanted to attend. In total, one could have the opportunity to attend up to 16 sessions depending on which ones you chose (some were shorter than others) which were presented as a workshop, a paper or panel discussion. I ended up choosing 7 sessions that were all longer workshops because I was drawn to the hands-on aspect of them and they were topics that really interested me.

- Tai Munroe & Jennifer Kock (University of Alberta)
     This was a great interactive session that introduced different outdoor-education games that integrated science curriculum outcomes too. Tai had a lot of experience with creating cross-curricular outdoor games as a teacher and was able to offer a lot of information about what works well, what doesn't work so well, safety precautions, necessary materials, etc. As a group we played many of the games and discussed how they worked, what things we would need to keep in mind, and how to integrate different curriculums. With my fiance having a Phys-Ed teachable and me having a Social Studies teachable we were already thinking of all the different activities we could create together for our students! Some books that Tai & Jennifer suggested for more ideas were:
- Project Wild Curriculum & Activity Guide
- Below Zero Workshop

 - Ashley LePage & Courtney Cann (University of Lethbridge)
     I've written a few posts on inclusion and I love the class that I take here at university regarding inclusion so I was really excited for this session. I was, however, pretty disappointed. From the title I had assumed that we would be provided with lists of strategies or different resources that we could use in our classrooms. The session was split into two groups with Ashley presenting one topic, Courtney presenting another, and we would switch half way through. The first half introduced the strategy of "precision reading" which, from what I learned, seemed to be based on rote memorization. You can read more about it on their website. I would love for some comments on teachers who have used this strategy because I could not understand how it taught comprehension or how it was more beneficial than phonetic reading. The second half spoke about "backwards by design" or "understanding by design" which was good, but was something we already cover in school. I feel that both Ashley and Courtney were very well-informed and seemed to have good ideas, but it was not what I was expecting. I feel as though if they focused on one idea or had a longer slot (it was only 50 minutes) then I would have enjoyed it more because I feel as though we couldn't get into depth on the ideas.

- Fiona Purton, Dr. Ali Abdi, Dr. Lynetter Shultz & Associates (University of Alberta)
     This was another session that I was really looking forward to because I felt that it was a good fit with my teachable being in Social Studies. This session, for the most part, focused around guided discussion regarding points brought up by the TEDtalk video, Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Singe Story. I am a big fan of TEDtalks (I can easily spend a few hours on the weekend watching different videos) but I had not seen this one yet and was very impressed. I would definitely recommend that you take the time to watch the video. Chimamanda talks about her journey to discover her Nigerian culture and how someone can misunderstand a culture if they only hear one story about it. I had just read an article by Michelle Jay regarding the concept of the hidden curriculum and I realized that the concept of the hidden curriculum only tells a single story for our students. This is something that I will definitely keep in mind when I am teaching. I have bookmarked Chimamanda's talk and can't wait to watch it again. :)

- Sandy Hill (University of the Fraser Valley)
     Hmmmmm what to say on this one. This session did not really fit my style what so ever and I will admit that, because of this, I tuned out. Do not get me wrong, I think that Sandy was incredibly passionate about what he does and seemed very knowledgeable, it just wasn't my forte. Sandy spoke a lot about working on our presence in the classroom and how to be emotionally ready to teach our students. To achieve this, he provided a lot of meditation-like techniques that we could do when we enter the classroom. These included us sitting in our chairs, grounding our feet to the floor, focusing on filling the room with our breath and orientating ourselves with each of the corners by describing what was in them. He also spoke about different techniques on how to vary the tone and level of our voices in order to fill the space which I think many participants found useful.

- Melanie Sawatsky & Ashley Warkentin (University of Winnipeg)
     For not being a science student I found that this was by-far my favourite session! Melanie and Ashley spoke of different environmental activities they had developed/modified while at a student teaching placement at an environmentally-focused school in Costa Rica. They shared an interactive electricity unit that included building windmills with students and introduced a game called the Sustainable Forest Game. This game followed a Monopoly-style format where each team was given a grass mat plot and $200. As teams make their way around the board they answer trivia questions (based off of the unit outcomes), face natural disasters or make choices regarding commercial development versus environmental sustainability. Based on their answers/choices students can either earn/lose money or earn/lose trees for their grass mat. Its a great way for students to review information and think about long-term effects. This was another session that got my fiance and me brainstorming ideas of how we could use this for Social Studies, English, etc. 

- Kathryn Marinakos (Strathcona Tweedsmuir School)
     This was the only lesson/unit planning workshop that I found in the schedule and it was so helpful! Kathryn is a private school teacher and was so personable and down-to-earth I found that it felt like we were all sitting in a staffroom discussing ideas rather than sitting in a formal session. She focused on the idea of concept based instruction and how to plan our lessons and units with the end goal in mind (essentially backwards by design). She focused on planning our lessons/units by thinking about, "What do I want my students to know and understand?" and "How will I know what my students know and understand?" She also spoke a lot about focusing on the bigger, all-encompassing concepts rather than each individual outcome separately. What really hit home with me was when she asked, "Can you take your lesson to China, change the localized facts/information and still be teaching the same concepts?" For example: our students may be learning the local river systems, landforms, major cities, etc (local information) but are they using that information to determine how the physical landscape influences human settlement (big concept)? I find that I haven't had a lot of opportunity to do any long term planning with any of my classes or placements yet so I found this session really helpful.

- Dr. John Poulsen (University of Lethbridge)
     This workshop listed ten areas of consideration for student teachers based off of common areas of difficulty. This session was extremely well attended and we actually found ourselves sneaking in and sitting on a counter in the back in order to attend. John was a really engaging speaker and had us interacting with one another to demonstrate many of the points on his list. Some points focused on basic skills such as planning, time management and preparation while others focused on behaviours such as modeling politeness and fostering acceptable language/behaviour in the classroom. I found that I really connected with this presentation because I am a student teacher and could relate to every point on his list. I know that his information will be something I keep in mind when I go out to student teach in two weeks time and I think that this session was perhaps the most appropriate last session for me to attend. 

    All-in-all I am really impressed with my WestCAST experience and am glad that I chose to attend. Next year's conference will be held in British Columbia so I am glad that my fiance and I were able to attend this year because I feel as though that would be an expensive trip from Manitoba (especially since our wedding would be coming up soon then too!) Please comment and let me know your thoughts, especially about the precision reading concept. 


  1. This review is just like being there! Thanks for sharing Kirsten, sounds like a great trip.

  2. Thanks Mr. Nantais, it was definitely an amazing trip!