Baking up Something Surprising in the Classroom

The final activity for Module 1: Teacher for Learning in the eCampus Ontario mOOC is to explore my metaphor for teaching. I am a fairly new teacher with so much to learn.

Teaching is no piece of cake, but the classroom is kind of like my kitchen. I am a novice baker. My kids know this; They know better than to expect to come home from school to mom’s freshly baked cookies and pastries from scratch. Every once in awhile though, I like to try to surprise them. My confidence in the classroom ebbs and flows much like my confidence with the oven. Sometimes, I get brave and try out a new recipe (a new application to simulate symptoms of dementia via virtual reality). Sometimes it flops (burnt biscuits anyone?).

My teaching sort of equates to perfecting the recipe. It requires trial and error and constant revision. Too much sugar? Let’s adjust.

I have learned to be patient and kind to myself. I know that the perfect recipe won’t come to fruition overnight. It could take years and decades… and essentially, I may spend the rest of my entire career chasing that award-winning pastry.

For now, I will remember that it’s okay to go with the boxed Betty Crocker stuff sometimes as a jumping-off point. My kids appreciate the effort and see me experimenting… I think that my students do too.  

blueberries cake chocolate chocolate cake
Photo by Abhinav Goswami on



I’ll only drive from the passenger seat…

As part of the Ontario Extend mOOC “Teacher for Learning” module, I am tasked with identifying a concept in my discipline that is like driving a car. You know… fully understanding those threshold concepts that create that blind spot for you as an expert.

Teaching about person-centered approach in dementia care is kind of like driving a car (but from the passenger seat and with trust and patience). When we consider people to be the expert drivers in their own lives, we open up the possibility for empowering that person. In dementia care, we need to take into consideration that the person has strengths, preferences, and unique needs. We can not assume that we know anything from their perspective.

When working with people who live with dementia, it is important that they take that driver seat. Sure, as helpers we can offer directions or ideas for alternative routes… but ultimately, the wheel is in their hands and that is how it should be.

adorable adult animal automotive
Photo by Tim Gouw on

“What’s in it for me?”

In response to mOOC Extend Activity “WIIFM” Module 1.

“What’s in it for me?”

As a fairly new teacher, I am learning that students often question why they need to know about some of the concepts that I’m teaching them. The courses that I teach are considered to be General Education courses, however there are many reasons why these courses align with students’ respective programs.

Like teaching, as a parent you sometimes have to step into the role of a salesperson. Allow me to elaborate… My 4-year old son is approximately halfway through his junior kindergarten year. His journey in academia has just begun and he absolutely hates it. The other day he asked me, “Mommy, why do I have to go to school? I already know lots of things.” Before I was able to respond (and I had a real great sales pitch lined up) he proceeded to explain how the music in my car is transmitted by invisible “waves in space” (not sure how he got to that one but I am sure he stumbled upon a video somewhere in YouTube-averse). I began asking him questions about his knowledge on the “waves in space” until he ran out of answers and said “I don’t know.”

Sometimes, we automatically assume that our time could be better spent elsewhere. Leaning into something new and stepping outside of our comfort zone can lead to unexpected things.

In my Introduction to Gerontology class last semester, one of my students included the following feedback at the end of their final exam:

“Considering this isn’t a class I would have ever picked up on my own if I didn’t need a Gen Ed, I quite enjoyed this class and found the topic to be a lot more interesting than I thought.”

Motivation to learn something new is a complex beast. Sometimes, the element of surprise is “what’s in it.”


I Brought my Umbrella to Class…

Here I am… extending away! My first activity for the Ontario Extend mOOC has me reflecting on the role of language in dementia care.

“Alzheimer’s Disease” and “Dementia.” These are terms which are often used interchangeably in my discipline. During week one of my Hyflex Dementia course this semester, I asked students what comes to mind when they hear the word “dementia.” My initial intent was to simply begin the conversation around dementia… after all, it seems to be so widely misunderstood. When I look back to week one however, this was partially a diagnostic exercise for me. Upon reflection, what I was really doing was assessing learners’ prior knowledge on the topic.

With January being Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month, my social media news feeds were being flooded with stories from persons with lived experience and also commentaries from professionals in the field, (many of whom referred to AD and Dementia as if they were the same thing). Here is the truth… They are not.

Dementia refers to a decline in cognitive functioning. It is not a disease on its own. When we talk about dementia, we are usually talking about a group of symptoms. These may include a loss of memory, understanding, or judgement, but it is something usually caused by an underlying condition (such as Alzheimer’s Disease for instance).

The conversation in my classroom during week one was not met with as much silence nor shyness as I had anticipated. Students were actually talking and being quite transparent regarding their own attitudes towards dementia. During that week one class, I heard students describe dementia as being a “mystery” for them; Some students shared that the topic scared them and that it made them feel sad to think about losing all of their memories.

Our week one class took place during a Northern Ontario snowy day in January, however that didn’t prevent me from bringing my umbrella to demonstrate my super cheese-ball analogy (I’m Jenny, that’s what I do). After a good initial classroom discussion about what dementia is, I opened up my umbrella and explained the following:  Unlike Alzheimer’s (which is a specific illness) dementia is considered as more of an umbrella term. There are many different forms of dementia (all unique and all with varying impacts to cognitive functioning).

If we think about my opened umbrella, the umbrella itself represents dementia (the group of symptoms caused by changes in brain function). Underneath the umbrella fall some commonly related diseases [such as AD, Lou Gehrig’s (ALS), Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson’s Disease]. As a side note: some people with these related diseases do not even experience dementia.

The conversation in my classroom is just getting started. I am so looking forward to sharing the rest of the semester with my incredibly open-minded and transparent students. They are aware that in turn, I am not able to promise a cutback on my cheesiness… so far they seem OK with that.

A Lesson on Mistreatment and Listening to Understand

When a simple connection activity bombs… you roll with the resistance and connect anyways.

So… this happened while teaching this week…

This week in our class, we were tasked with exploring the different types of mistreatment and forms of abuse commonly reported amongst older adults.

For our connection activity, the class was divided into two groups. Group A went into hallway while Group B remained in the classroom.

Group A was instructed to return to the classroom and pair up with someone from Group B and to tell them something important to them (not too personal or deeply detailed). For example, I told them that they could talk about a passion, hobby, pet, or person important to them… just something important.

Group B was instructed to use nonverbals (like fidgeting and lack of eye contact) to convey that they weren’t listening. Maybe it was too harsh… many of them looked at me with concern as I read out their task.

The room was silent once I reunited Group A and Group B. Then the laughter… No one wanted to start sharing. It got real awkward for a bit but then it started again… More laughter. A very small bit of sharing.. but genuine sharing as I hovered around.  It was beautiful to watch the honest connections form during such a small part of our class time.

We went on to explore some of the more obvious and devastating forms of abuse… physical, financial, etc. Ultimately though, I feel that we all saw the linkage and the connection that was being made. Mistreatment is strongly associated with disrespect. They knew what I was doing 😉

man wearing gray sweatshirt and headphones
Photo by Burst on

Prototypes… Not Failures

IMG_20181107_131405I haven’t posted in a bit… but I am loving course development! I have had some experience over the years in planning some community-based psychoeducational groups and courses, but this is definitely a new learning adventure…

I know how I’ve made my own learning “work” for me early on as a University student… it’s basically just memorizing and regurgitating info (content conveyance…  Hmm… if I could just sound smart and trick the teacher). Realistically, this wasn’t true learning for me. It’s taken me awhile to learn this.

With some incredible guidance from Cambrian College’s HUB for Innovation & Learning, I quickly realized that with course development, you NEED to start at the end. This means that as a developer, you must ensure that learning outcomes and vocational outcomes first and foremost connect…  then we can delve into assessment and content planning (it’s hard to resist… that’s where I feel that I shine… where my creativity flows). As you can see from my image above, my prototype #1 morphed into prototype #2 thanks to Open Educational Resources.

My hardcopy prototypes have been through the wringer (the 2nd one literally looks like it went through the washing machine… or even, a Spinning Jenny)… sorry, couldn’t resist!

Prototypes..   not failures… not even mistakes.


OCD Awareness Week

SO… last week was International OCD Awareness Week. I had been wanting to write something for my blog, but kept pushing it a day… 2 days… 3 days back. I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to say, and in what way to convey my message. OCD is so incredibly misunderstood. Although I am late for the official awareness week, am I really?

When it comes down to spreading awareness about this unbelieveably agonizing disorder, here is what I can say at this time.

I don’t have #REALocd …not even close. I feel that I understand it fiercely though. I do live with a compulsion disorder which (from what I’m still learning) is often linked to OCD. There is some sort of relationship… but…

I am not “SOOO OCD. ” Not even close. I am surrounded by it though.  And it’s a painful thing. It is definitely NOT an adjective to be used lightly. Some of the most important people in my life live with #REALocd Every. Single. Day.