Digital Health: Are We Destroying our Brains?

I majored in Health Science for my first degree and even considered a career in the medical field, so naturally I am drawn to ask questions like “is this healthy for me?” and now that I am a mom, “is this healthy for my daughter?” I’m sure that as a teacher, I will be asking “Is this healthy for my students?”

When it comes to tech, I feel a lot of grey areas exist. Technology has advanced so fast with almost no restraints, so we haven’t really had a lot of time to “proceed with caution”. Rather, I find that society is diving into the new tech advances and then back-pedalling, asking “is this good for us?”


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Source: Lin, Zhou, Lei et al. (2012) Red areas designate abnormal white matter in internet addicted teens.

I read an alarming article a while back that summarized multiple studies all saying that “screen addicts” (people with internet/screen addictions) showed atrophy (essentially, shrinkage) of gray matter in the brain and loss of integrity of white matter. The result?

“I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention.” (Victoria L. Dunckley, MD)

I noticed an interesting phenomena while substitute teaching various 3/4 classrooms in my hometown school last year (long story how that ended up happening). The class where technology is barely used had the MOST INCREDIBLE attention span. They literally could sit and listen for at least 20 minutes, and then focused in on their work so well. The other classes where we were jumping from tech to tech seemed a lot more “all over the place”. I wonder if this observation is a result of the studies I mentioned above? (Of course there were probably many factors at play here, but could the overuse of technology be part of the explanation?)

I would like to continue to observe and study the effects of technology on our health, particularly screen time. I’ve had many friends report that their school-aged children struggle with anxiety and mood problems way more than they ever did as kids. Is this too a result of too much time in front of the screen?

Personally, I want to give my children and my students the best advantage in life possible. If limiting screen time, and educating about the harms of screen time, ensures that their brains develop properly, then I will definitely be first in line to set some serious boundaries.

the ABCs….or should I say Alef, Bet, Gimel….

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Well, I reached my first goal which was to memorize the 22 characters of the Hebrew alphabet by today.

To do this, I did what we did back in kindergarten and grade 1 – wrote the letters out again and again and again. I also broke them up into groups of 4, which really helped!

Finally, I made use of the PollyLingo app and self-assessed with one of their quizzes – I got 95%!

Onto my next goal,

GOAL #2: Learn 20 words or phrases (be able to speak and identify on paper) by Wednesday, October 19, 2016.

Setting Goals in Language Learning


I’ve decided to set mini-goals for my attempt to learn Hebrew. Since there is no specific competency I’m aiming to reach at the end of my 50 hours, I’m felt mini-goals would be appropriate.

Goal #1 : Memorize and write the 22 characters of the Hebrew Alphabet by Wednesday, October 12.

Goal #2: Listen to a conversational podcast everyday.

I’ll self-assess on Wednesday to see if my goal has been met!

iWant to get rid of my iPhone



It’s sad but true that the thought of someone stripping me of my smartphone elicits feelings similar to that of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings…helplessness…lost…anguish even!

smartphones have become, to our society, a necessity for life, a source of happiness, entertainment, power and knowledge, and a major center of our attention… almost like a god in a way!

Did you know that people of old used to carry around idols in their pockets, stopping dead in their tracks, wherever they were, to worship and adore their pocket-god?  I’m afraid we, myself included, are not much different than our “primitive ancients”.  Checking my phone has in many instances taken priority over so many other things in my life.

In beginning this post I thought I’d set out a debate for whether or not I SHOULD get rid of my iPhone. I’ve been back and forth on this subject for some time now. Now, as I am writing this, I feel that I MUST take a step back and see what life would be like without unbroken connectivity to the world in the palm of my hand.

I mentioned to my friends that I am considering reverting back to a standard flip-phone, and like you reading this, they asked my “why on earth would you do that?”

I like lists. Here’s a list of “why’s”:

  • I want to focus more on the world around me. My daughter will grow up very fast and I can’t stand the thought of missing out on her life because I am glued to my phone. I want to offer her more than a half-present mother.
  • There are numerous studies coming out that overuse of a smart phone can lead to insomnia, stress, and depression
  • Smartphones are a fairly new invention in society- like all new things, like pharmaceuticals, it takes a long time for us to really understand their impact on society. Moderation is a good idea!
  • I’ve critically evaluated the quality of my relationships since smart phones came into play, and I can’t say there has been a positive impact on the connectedness I feel to my friends and family
  • I think it’s good to compartmentalize things in life.  I find it stressful to wake up  knowing that I can do my banking, shopping, meal planning, appointment scheduling, flight booking, news-getting, and everything in between before I even say good morning to my husband lying next to me.

Yes, I’ve thought through the fact that I may have a harder time accomplishing tasks on a daily basis. But somehow, SOMEHOW!! our parents got along just fine without. I think my child will survive with a few thousand less pictures of herself.

At the present time, I’ve been really disciplining myself by keeping my phone on the kitchen counter and only going to it when it dings. I’ll be honest, if I feel this change helps me feel less “committed” to my iPhone, then I might just stop there. But if I feel like I need to go further to shake myself out of this strange twilight zone I’ve found myself in, then for real, I’ll probably be getting a flip phone.

What do you think? Have I completely lost it or are there others out there who are questioning their relationship with their smartphone?




Adventures in Learning Hebrew

For my learning project in ECMP355, I’ve decided to attempt to learn some Hebrew (Don’t I sound confident? “Attempt to learn..”)

I’ve decided to learn Hebrew for a couple of reasons.

Reason #1: Hebrew uses a totally different alphabet than English. Since Canada is full of language learners who have to pick up English quite quickly when they are used to a completely different alphabet , I thought I should put myself in their shoes.

Reason #2: I’m interested in this language because of my faith and cultural background

Here are 9 other reasons to learn Hebrew!


So far, I know a few letters in the Hebrew alphabet and a few Hebrew words, but that’s about it!

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Demonstration of Learning

Over the past couple months, we have been working hard to delve into some very important educational concepts; assessment and evaluation. At first my understanding of assessment and evaluation was very similar, and I rarely categorized the two concepts individually. As we continued to research and have discussions as a class, it is very clear that assessment of, for, and as learning each carry their own significance in the classroom.

After taking these concepts into my classroom during pre-internship, I now strongly believe that assessment covers many different aspects within the classroom. For starters, diagnostic assessment allows us to gauge an understanding of learning. Each semester we will have new students join us in the classroom. Without any idea of pre-requisite knowledge, we have to find a starting place. Diagnostic assessment can help aid in this process as it will provide us some information on where the students are at.

As we move forward in our units and strive to meet outcomes, formative assessment covers its own category-by which it provides teachers ongoing feedback of how well the students are grasping new content. Some key ideas about formative assessment are:

  • Formative assessment is a two-way relationship that benefits both the student and the teacher.
  • Teachers can open lines of communication with the students, and let them have a voice in how they are being assessed
  • descriptive feedback can provide the students with details of how to improve
  • as we assess, it allows us to adapt and modify accordingly

When it comes to modifying and adapting units to help individual students, this is only possible if we are assessing the students correctly. The more we are involved in formative assessment, the better we will get to understand what types of instructions methods best suit our learners.

I feel as though it is extremely valuable to set clear expectations with the students in terms of assessment and evaluation. Not only do we want to the students to know and understand what they are being evaluated on, but we want to allow them to opportunity to get involved in the process. If students are involved in this process, they will likely be more engaged and feel more entitled to be successful.

In my field experience I worked through as many forms of assessment and evaluation as I could. I was in full experimental mode as I pulled from many different resources and tried as many tools as possible. Diagnostic assessment was hard because I didn’t have time to set up any tests or written material as I was teaching on the first day. I used class discussion and exit slips as a way to gauge where the students were at. As I got going on my units I was trying different formative methods everyday. This was definitely the most beneficial aspect of my pre-intern ship experience. I found through so many different means of formative assessment, not only did I build an understanding for the student’s individual needs, but I also got to know my students on a personal level. The better my relationship got with the students, the more they would open up and relay important information back to me.

In my second week, I finally had some students open up about our diagrams assignment, in which they offered a lab option instead of doing the diagrams. I was excited to hear this feedback from the students, and I made the according adjustments. What did this teach me?

  • Once you build a comfortable relationship, students WILL give you feedback
  • Use this feedback to make necessary changes
  • Interactive/applicable discussions lead to more engagement
  • Once students are more involved, they are more entitled to try harder

I used many other methods of assessment including check-lists, my favourite no, online quizzes, class discussion, exit slips, lab hand ins, group work, the list goes on. Some worked better than others, but they ALL significantly contributed to the learning process.

Where else did formative assessment work?

  • EAL students- understanding their learning styles (making necessary modifications)
  • Knowing where I needed to teach more (where the students struggled)

My assessment and evaluation practices in the field aligned pretty well with my teaching philosophy considering I only had these students for three weeks. I did have some struggles though:

  • Students were resistant to change (comfortable with the way they were being taught before)
  • New relationships and communication take time (3 weeks isn’t enough time)
  • Not a lot of preparation time (finding out what we were teaching the day before sometimes)

Moving into intern ship I will make a couple changes to help ease the transition into the classroom:

  • Set up a scope and sequence earlier
  • Focus on building those relationships EARLY as they take time
  • Be patient and listen (Davies)
  • Focus and build off student effort


Following my pre-intern ship, I still wonder about modifying and adapting for all students. I found that in the classroom there is a huge emphasis to make adaptations for those students that sit in the 40-50% range. Teachers spend so much time and effort to make these students successful, but it seems like we forget about the 60-70% range. These students are passing and doing okay, so we just let them be. However, it isn’t to say with the right time and effort that these students could be 80%+ capable. How do we select who to modify and adapt for? Should this be based on how much effort the students are giving us?


Key Learnings:

  1. Diagnostic, Formative, Summative Assessment are fundamental in today’s teaching practice.
  • They provide valuable feedback from your students
  • Aid in differentiated instruction
  • Contributes to the student-teacher relationship
  • Gets students involved


  1. Getting students actively involved in the learning process,
  • Students will feel more entitled to their work
  • Expectations will be clearer and more defined
  • Class content is more likely to stick with student’s long term
  • Students will find application behind learning


  1. Change and modification are necessary to improvement
  • Teachers/students are resistant to change because it takes work
  • Finding/trying new ways is the way to improve
  • Allows you to push the boundaries
  • Don’t get set doing the same things, because all students are different (What works for one class might not work with the other)

I look forward to working on these concepts are I enter my intern ship. The only way to continue growing my educational perspective is to work hard to implement the research we have done in the classroom. I don’t expect myself to be a perfect teacher in my first year, but these key concepts build off the idea that I will always be learning and open to adjustments that expand my platform as a young educator.

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Power Shift: Teachers to Students

After returning from teaching in a high school for three weeks, it is very clear that students have the upper hand in terms of power. With no late marks, or even late assignments for that matter, students have the ability to pretty much do homework at their own pace. Teachers have no option but to accept assignments when they get them. This strips the leverage from the teachers, and puts it in the students hands. Rather, this now emphasizes the importance of having a good relationship with your students. Teachers need to use these relationships to keep students on task and productive in class.

Students having more power isn’t necessarily a bad thing if they can use it correctly. Educators can use this as a way to let the students guide their assessment and have a say in how they want to be assessed. If they are involved in the process, then they can’t make excuses when they fail to meet expectations. If we can continue to keep the students involved, they will be more likely to find application and relativity to the content they are learning. When they ask, “When am I ever going to use this?” Lets build off that, and make them research to find out. The better grasp students have behind their education, the more entitled they will feel.

After returning from the field, I feel like our expectations about modifying and adapting instruction for each student are still a bit out of realistic expectations. We certainly have a handful of students that don’t care, and give us no effort in return. As a result, we can only do so much with these students. Our focus, effort, and resources need to go to those students that show up to school willing to learn. I feel like we spend so much time on the failing students, and neglect passing students in terms of modification and adaptation. I think it is important to gauge the students effort level, and willingness to learn before we make address our approach to each student. Pick the students where our time and effort will pay off, and take the battles that we can win.

As I move into my intern ship, I look forward to digging into this and asking teachers how they approach modification. Where they invest time and energy? What type of students have they had the most success with?

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Dealing with Change

As a young educator, we are consistently challenged to learn and apply the new ways of teaching. As I continue to work with high school teachers, the consensus is that educators are always attempting to implement some sort of change. Now, even though this presents a challenge for teachers, I think it can be very beneficial in working towards refining a profession that can always get better. It seems to be very popular, that once teachers get settled in their field and have a couple years under their belt, they then become extremely resistant to change. This doesn’t surprise me, because we work hard and invest countless hours to create our unit lessons, assessment, and so forth. Then administration comes in and implements a new style of teaching or assessment, which challenges teachers to invest even more time in adapting to the new methods. As a new teacher it seems simple-when change is requested, we should do it. However, I wonder how much stress and resistance these changes get from the field of experienced teachers. This is something I look forward to digging into in my pre-internship. Teachers that have been in the field for ten or twenty years have seen many “teaching changes” come and go. I want to find out, what their reaction is to these changes, and how quickly they adopt the technology.

My pre-internship placement is at Sheldon Collegiate with a teacher that has previously taught me in highschool! This is very exciting, because I can observe how her teaching has changed over the last 5 years since I have been in her class. Over the last 5 years, technology in classrooms has absolutely exploded, and I expect her class structure to be a bit different. This will allow me opportunities to ask questions about adopting the change, and the workload it puts on her. Not only have the times changed, but she is also teaching at a different school. I have always wondered how changing your teaching environment effects your teaching practice. Each school is equipped with different resources, different students, and sometimes a different school identity. How does this effect the way we teach? We can be sure that we will not spend our whole careers at the same school, so this is just another form of change that we have to be ready to embrace.

Whether we are changing our teaching styles, students, curriculum, or even schools, we must always be prepared and ready to put in the time to make adaptations. This challenges teachers to stay on top of their game, and I am excited to use my pre-internship as an opportunity to ask these challenging questions. As I continue to grow as a young educator, I strongly appreciate the opinions of experienced teachers, because nothing speaks louder than years of experience in the field.

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An Outstanding Teacher


Photo Credit: haasbroek via Compfight cc

Most people leave school having a favorite teacher. This person was someone who stood out to them above the rest and had a positive influence on their lives. Some people’s opinions of an outstanding teacher may vary slightly; however, I believe most times all centralize around certain concepts. In my opinion, the difference between a great teacher and an outstanding teacher all comes down to the relationships formed. An outstanding teacher is one who listens just as much as they talk, if not more. From experience, I have discovered that I can learn just as much from my students as they can from me. Being receptive and open to students and their input builds trust as well as respect. An outstanding teacher knows his/her students, focuses on their individual strengths and builds on weaknesses. Because of this knowledge, teachers are able to demand the best from each student and make individual adaptations to nurture student success by first meeting at the student’s unique level.

An outstanding teacher is someone who not only teaches, but demonstrates, generosity, mastery, independence, and belonging (Circle of Courage). They are enthusiastic about what they are teaching and make learning both engaging and fun. An outstanding teacher models self-reflection and self-advocacy and assists students in doing the same. They believe in each and every student and facilitate a safe, welcoming, and judgement-free classroom. Inclusive practices and a variety of teaching styles are part of this teacher’s professional repertoire and get used on a daily basis. An outstanding teacher is not just aware, but utilizes to benefit learning, the fact that each student has their own personal story and brings “baggage” and experiences (good and bad) to school each day with them. An outstanding teacher uses their passion, leadership skills, and flexibility to foster student learning. This teacher is resourceful and collaborative, as well as, organized (but allows for organized chaos). This teacher relates curriculum to everyday life, is fair and honest, and makes his/her students feel valued, important and smart. An outstanding teacher has a sense of humour; is relatable; never gives up helping; and recognizes the importance of a positive school community, consequently is involved in many school activities. The reason a teacher is outstanding is because they value professional development and educational growth as well as demonstrate lifelong learning.