Monthly Archives: June 2014

Finding Martial Arts in the Madness

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For those of you that know me, you are aware that I speak about martial arts probably more often then I speak about doing a PhD.  I discovered martial arts during my masters at UBC when I took Karate at the GSS. When I moved back to Calgary, I thought it would be fun to take Kung Fu. At the time I did not realize it would become a life passion.

There is just something so graceful and lyrical about it all. I watched my senior classmates move in Wushu and I just went, “wow!”  For someone, who walked into walls for most of her life (yes, I walked into walls prior to starting martial arts) it was just neat to watch people move so easily and gracefully across the room. I just love how it all flows. It is like this impossible dance to me. This dance does not allow me to do anything but focus on the movements. I have joked to my friends that Wushu saved me; uncoordinated Melanie can walk without walking into walls. I will never be a pro but I just love how free it all feels when I am doing it.  20140623-194234-70954491.jpg

I recently started doing Chen style Tai Chi. People have this misconception that Tai Chi is slow and for old people (ha, I had that impression too before). However, I have learned that it takes extreme focus and control to do it right; I get such a workout from it. It works every single muscle in your body if you do it correctly. I come out of every single class stronger. Martial arts has kept me sane during this PhD. It has helped me to take that mental break that I normally do not get.

Juggling

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Part of what I have learned as a PhD student is that you are constantly juggling a bunch of hats (balls whatever you want to call it) as an academic. It sounds like there isn’t much difference between that and my time in the school board except I can say it has been more insane. I have been writing like a maniac all evening between checking my email periodically (and answering those that fly into my inbox so I don’t forgot) and mentally preparing to teach tomorrow AM. That isn’t including the work I had done earlier in the day (prepare for a workshop and plan for teaching). What drives me nuts is that I will shortly have to turn off the computer and end my very productive evening of writing to sleep (or else my students will see a very CRANKY PhD student tomorrow AM). My question for experienced academics is how do you do it? For the emerging (if you can even call it that) academic such as myself, who has not even finished her PhD yet, this is insanity. There is always this guilt when I turn on the TV to quote “have some down time” quote but really I am still working on my marking while I watch TV.  We haven’t even added abstract and publication deadlines into the mix today (ha!). It is a very interesting puzzle for me that I need to really contemplate…this idea of how can one person do it all?

Getting out of the Procrastination Blues…

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Back when I was in high school, I spent hours offline and online writing. In the digital environment, I wrote for an online fan magazine for Savage Garden fans and much of my spare time was devoted to crafting articles for my newsletter column. In the non-digital environment I was writing for my high school newspaper or writing  in my notebook. All of these writing experiences were empowering.

As I entered into adulthood, I began to blog. When I blog, I often write and decide not to post what I have written for a number of reasons. Perhaps it is because what I am thinking and reflecting on has become too personal. Or maybe it’s just because I am not ready to share my “half baked” ideas with the world. However, what I have learned during this PhD process is that words are a powerful tool to express what is on your mind. I also find that writing is a very personal experience especially as I move forward in this PhD process.

So why am I reflecting on writing today? Long story short, I am experiencing some writer’s block lately and to be honest I think it is a case of the “procrastination blues.” What usually takes me about 5 hours to produce has taken me about 2 weeks. I spend hours moving paragraphs around and rewording things to make it more (or maybe it is less) coherent. I am more excited about checking social media then doing my writing.  I am pretty sure everyone goes through these stages in their PhD journey. However, the question for me is how do I move out of this “hole?”

A friend of mine has been encouraging me to use an app called “Toggl” (https://www.toggl.com/). It is a digital timer. My goal starting today is to get about 5 hours of writing done daily. I have to start the timer when I am working but stop it when I take breaks. You get a running total of how many hours you work for the entire day if you use it continuously. I used this during my comps process when I wasn’t able to focus. It really worked, at least for me and then I stopped using it. However, I am going back on the “Toggl” train. Hopefully this is will get me out of my “writer’s block” aka “procrastination blues.”

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My thoughts on Research, Theory and Practice

I am finding more and more as I work in my profession of educating teachers that “research and theory” are not connecting with teaching practice. I imagine it as a seesaw. Research and theory on one side of the seesaw and practice on the other side.

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Often when we begin the journey of learning to teach (at universities) we are focused solely on the theories and research and not considering how these ideas connect and have implications for teaching practice. In my experiences teaching teacher candidates I have learned that the best way to present an article is to connect a highly dense academic article back to practice and how it can potentially impact a classroom. I always return back to the idea of “why.” Why is this academic article important and significant to teaching?

On the flip side, within school districts, teachers are more concerned when attending conferences and workshops about “what they can take back and use in their classroom tomorrow.” However, the focus is not on the research or theory that makes this particular “teaching tip” important but on getting something tangible to use in the classroom.

My concern with both of these situations is that innovative teaching practice comes back to understanding the research and theories and applying them into a classroom context effectively. Research and theory should guide teaching practice. Teachers should understand why a certain research study has merit in their classroom and apply what is learned into their daily planning. The other concern that emerges is like any other profession, teachers need to be current and up to date with the “new” ideas and research that is occurring. This professional development helps their teaching practice to evolve, change and become more effective.

At an English Language Learners teaching conference right after I finished my masters I was asked to speak about my work on SMART virtual word wall work. I started my presentation out with a focus on the literature review that I had conducted that lead to this concept. After the presentation, I had several teachers comment on how I placed too much emphasis on the theory and I should have just gotten to the “good stuff” faster which was “showing them how to use this in their classroom.” I was disappointed. However, I also understood why these teachers were more interested in the “teaching tip” rather then the theory. Teaching is a tough job and when I was a classroom teacher attending a conference I would have just wanted the presenter to provide me with something practical to bring back and use the next day. However, my question focuses on how do we get teachers more engaged with the academics (research and theory) and encourage these teachers to want to engage in their own inquiries around the material that could transform their teaching practice? How as a teacher educator do I engage teachers in wanting to connect with theory and research? This task will not be an easy one because teachers do not use the term “ivory towers” to connect with universities for no reason.

One of my main concerns in terms of academia is how there is lack of connect with the teaching profession. Sometimes it appears that at universities we are in our “ivory towers.” I read this great innovative research on a daily basis while working on my PhD. I am also aware of all these great scholars and the work they have done in K-12 classrooms, however I have doubts that teachers are reading what I am reading. Academic journals are often inaccessible (both language wise and physically) to teachers. If you look at the program for teachers’ conventions, we don’t often see the names of leading scholars. How can we change this imbalance? How do we get both academics and teachers to be more engaged in each others’ work? It seems like it is simple and something that should be happening but at least from my experience it isn’t always the case.

Capturing the Monday of a PhD Student

It is gloomy day when I wake up. However I can see the sun trying to peek out across the way when I look out the window.

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Seabus ride. Uneventful ride but my iPod makes it pretty exciting. Today the tunes are a combination of Top 40 (Problem-Arianna Grande) and dance numbers (Pitball, Usher, etc.).

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Stopped at Starbucks prior to the Seabus ride. My “Truth North” coffee with milk and sugar is just what I need.

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Walking to the Digital Literacy Centre. Is it blue sky?! Yeah!!!

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Yes, a SMART board, I am excited to get my hands on it.

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A break before the afternoon session (reading assessment workshop). I just love spring in Vancouver.

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Dinner out with a friend. There was this lovely elderly Chinese couple beside us. They were so excited about the food and life. It was great to be reminded that the little things in life bring happiness. 🙂

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Waiting for that light to change. It took forever.

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Sunset in Vancouver as I walk home from dinner. What a great view!

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Yes, back at my computer again. No rest for the weary. I wonder how many more hours I will get tonight! 😉

More PhD Student Photo Documentation

I started my day off relatively quiet. It was pouring out, the usual Vancouver special.

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Checked my email (answered a few of them from my students) and then surfed over to Twitter. A healthy dose of social media always helps me get ready to work.

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Made myself a cup of coffee. I am beginning to realize that coffee is “life’s blood.” Can’t live without it!

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I start planning my week of teaching. I just love keynote lately. The colours are awesome! How am I am going to engage my students this week?

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Getting my shoes on so I can enjoy lunch (?) or Brunch (?) with a friend.

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Back to the “grind!” My lovely mess of my books on the floor.

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Oh wait there is more!

Celebrating my dad

There are few times when I have said it but today seemed like the right day to do this. It’s Father’s Day. I am away from my Dad and it is during these times I am away that I start reflecting on my family and how amazing they are.

I have been blessed with probably the best dad on the planet. I know many people say that about their fathers. However, I can truly say that I mean this. My many memories of my father include him working hard but always taking the time to spend time with his kids.  He provided for his family (not just financially) but in the ways a father should provide for a family. He loves his kids.

Even during this PhD journey, one journey that continues to have uphill climbs, I have found myself constantly grateful for the fact that I can call my dad and talk to him when I am having an off day or share with him good news.

Back to Cyberspace

It has been awhile but I wanted to come back to documenting my PhD student life in photos. For the next little while I will post pictures that capture what happens over the span of my day.

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Arriving on campus. It’s not my normal Friday Morning but I didn’t get a chance to buy my coffee prior to my transit ride so I am stumbling across campus in a haze until I can get my caffeine fix.

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Caffeine!!! Yippee!! Thank God for Starbucks. There will be an acknowledgement for you in my upcoming dissertation! Not to mention a few more stars on my card (free drinks!)

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Time to teach my BEd students. Today we were invaded by selfies and now we are co-creating assessment criteria as a group for the final project.

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Back to my home and I am at it again. Writing…yes, again! Glued to my computer as usual.

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Getting my shoes on and getting ready to move tai chi style. It’s another end to a week.