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Monday, May 19, 2014

The Blog Posts that May Still Be Coming!

I realize I start most of my blog posts with apologizing about not blogging more frequently - and this one is no different. My mom has told me that a few family members and friends have directly mentioned my lack of blogging to her. I am sorry!

There really is no excuse, other than that I have a bad habit of using my relaxation time as "passive" relaxation time, other than "active" relaxation time - for example, I tend to watch tv instead of reading a book (passive vs. active). Blogging definitely counts as "active" relaxation since it uses brain power! At any rate, please accept my apologies for the lack of updates. I am constantly thinking of ideas for blog posts - I just fail to write them down.

So, for this blog post, I would like to share some potential blog post ideas and/or titles that I have been meaning to write. Who knows, perhaps I will get "caught" up at some point over the summer, although it does seem a bit silly to reflect back on some of the minute-detailed educational posts.

Educational Blog Posts

  • My First Field Trip as a Teacher: Transportation Failures and Educational Greatness (working title, haha!)
  • Grade 8 Classroom Management
  • Grease: The Musical! The highlights, the lowlights, and why it was all worth it! 
  • Taking my Grade 11 IB students to the opera
  • Recruiting for the band class
  • Beginning to develop a middle-school band program at my school, including purchasing instruments, figuring out instrumentation, and dealing with the logistics of living in Dubai
  • Beginning to develop a middle-school choir program at my school
  • My Second Parent-Teacher Interviews (they weren't nearly as exciting as my first!)
  • The End of the Year Stress!
  • Next year's schedule
  • My teaching load for next year (new courses1 new courses!)

Travelling Blog Posts

In case you don't remember, I have been to multiple countries in the past few months. I have had amazing experiences in all of them, whether I was being a complete tourist, visiting family, visiting friends, travelling just for the sake of travelling, etc. I would still like to do recap posts on the following:

Luxor, Egypt (Nov. 2013)

  • The Temple of Karnak (one title: Alone in the Temple of Karnak)
  • The Luxor Temple 
  • Riding a Hot Air balloon over Luxor
  • Should you travel to Egypt? (I definitely wanted to discuss this... although it is not as relevant now)
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut 

England (Christmas 2013)
  • General posts about seeing family and sharing pictures - I didn't do anything super touristy (it was my fourth time visiting England)
Lights in downtown London

Hong Kong and Macau (Spring Break 2013)
  • Exploring the beauty of Lantau Island
  • Photo essay: the neon lights of Hong Kong
  • 10,000 Buddhas hike and photo essay
  • Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden: A Serene Escape within Hong Kong
  • Macau: Asia's Las Vegas
  • And many more!

10,000 Buddha Monastery

Bahrain (May 2014)
  • How to Spend Less than 48 hours in Bahrain
  • The Darker Side of the Gulf Coast Countries: Human Trafficking (I met a Saudi Princess and heard her speak about human trafficking - very powerful stuff)

Bab al Bahrain - the Gate to the Old City


  • My first trip to Jordan is happening this weekend, so I know I will want to write about the Dead Sea and Petra!
Vietnam and Cambodia

  • I am travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia on my way home for the summer. You better believe that I will have some amazing photos to share and stories to tell!

As you can see, I have a LOT than I can be blogging about. I truly am sorry for not blogging more, but please remember you can always contact me to find out what's going on in my life!

I hope everyone is having an excellent end to the school year. It's almost summer!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Calm Before the Storm

It's the calm before the storm!

I figured a picture of a Dubai sandstorm was appropriate! Source:

I can't believe how busy my weekends have been lately. I have had multiple events planned for the past 3 or 4 weekends, and more events planned for the next few weeks. This include musical rehearsals every Saturday, birthday parties for colleagues, picnics, a choir competition, another 10K race, etc. Now, however, my entire life is about to become one big, stressful situation!

The end of quarter 3 is fast approaching, which means REPORT CARDS and somewhat unfortunately, I have to write comments again. Almost all of my classes have their summative assignments next week (which equals marking!), and I have multiple concerts to attend, which takes up my entire evening. I am feeling more prepared and confident about this round of reports - I'm learning through the process each time.

Welcome to the life of a first-year teacher! :)

Fortunately, I have lots of exciting things to look forward to that will help me power through the next two weeks.

Hong Kong

First up: I'm going to HONG KONG for Spring Break! Spring Break is just under 2 weeks away, and I'm headed to visit my friend Hannah for 9 days. Hannah is also a first-year music teacher, and I can't wait to see her and explore a new country! I met Hannah while working at the International Music Camp a few years ago, and we actually attended the international job fair together!

I have had several friends and some family who have visited and/or lived in Hong Kong, and I've heard nothing but good things. I intend on doing lots of exploring, shopping, and being a complete tourist. I also intend to do some reading and catching up on blogging (anyone still interested in Egypt posts...? Haha!). I haven't even had a chance to properly plan this trip - and I don't think I will be able to until I get there!


Right after Spring Break, our high school is putting on the musical "Grease". We have one week back after Spring Break and then shows! I'm quite involved with the musical, as I'm the "music director" and have been working with the soloists and chorus members to sound their best! Our school has a growing theatre and music program and Grease is quite a bit venture - here's hoping we'll pull it off!

The ladies of the Creative Arts department promoting Grease last Halloween!


There are so many other things I am looking forward to in the upcoming months - more concerts with my students, more Dubai experiences, more trips that are in the works (Jordan and Bahrain!), then an epic summer travelling through Europe with Hannah (again, we're going to plan that in Hong Kong), being back in CANADA, working at IMC for one week, attending weddings, and so much more.

I can't believe how quickly this year is going - I'm almost 3/4 of the way done my first-year of teaching! I'm sorry I haven't been updating this blog more, but I promise you that I have been enjoying this crazy adventure.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The 10K and the Biggest Loser Challenge

The Dubai Marathon

I participated in the Dubai Marathon a few weeks ago. That's a sentence I never thought I would say!

Back in November, a colleague sent out an email asking if anyone would like to register as a team. A few of us signed up, and I thought to myself, "Why not?" It seemed like a great opportunity! There was an option of a 3K "fun run", a 10 K, or the full marathon. After a bit of persuading, I agreed to sign up for the 10K run in January.

Please note that I had never "gone for a run" in my life outside of gym class. 

Even though I had no previous experience with running, I still used to be in great shape. In high school, I used to be a very serious dancer, dancing up to 15 hours a week. In university, I found enjoyment working out with cardio machines, group classes, and weights, but "running" never interested me. Since moving to Dubai, I've found fitness and my lifestyle to be a bit of a struggle (more on this later), so I agreed to sign up for the run!

I downloaded the wonderful "Couch to 5K" app (check it out here if you are unfamiliar with it!) and began to "train" for the race. A few weeks later, I only had a few "runs" under my belt, and I began to be discouraged. The weeks leading up to Christmas Break were crazy and busy, and I neglected my training plan. I travelled within the UAE and to England for a few weeks, and still neglected the plan.

When we came back to school in January, I had been hoping the race would somewhat just disappear. It didn't. Through endless email chains, it became apparent that there was still space to sign up, and my teammates wanted me to register. I did, and I finally got back into running the week before the race.

I completed the 10K. I certainly didn't run the 10K, but that's okay. One of my friends stayed with me the entire time, and we alternated brisk walking with jogging (which is the premise of the Couch to 5K app - I just hadn't completed it in time, or doubled it for a 10K!).

I had fun. It was unexpected.

After the start line, we could finally RUN!

I found myself enjoying the race - I enjoyed the feeling of moving, I enjoyed the stunning scenery (see below), chatting with my friend, and seeing the thousands and thousands of participants.

We ran right by the Burj Al Arab!

My absolute favourite part of the race? Running into a tunnel. Everyone was cheering and the echoes bounced off the wall, encouraging me to keep running.

Heading into the tunnel
I finished the 10K with a rather slow time, but that's completely fine. I'm excited to break my PR next time (fancy runner talk for personal record!). I am planning on completing at least one or two more races in Dubai this year, and a few next fall.

At the finish line!

I think I'm becoming a runner. 
That's surprising, for someone who has avoided running all her life. 

The most supportive colleagues - that's only half of them!
 I plan on completing the Couch to 5K app and buying the Couch to 10K app to properly train for my next race. I am still on the alternating cycle of walking and jogging, but I'll soon be up to jogging a 5K!

With my medal :)

The Biggest Loser

I am really trying to balance a healthy lifestyle as a first-year teacher, but it's difficult! I'm working on staying active, eating healthier, getting lots of sleep, managing stress and my workload, etc.

I'm proud and excited to say that today marks the beginning of a 12-week "Biggest Loser" challenge at school, and I've signed up.  Over 20 staff members are committing to a healthier lifestyle, and the person who loses the highest percentage of weight at the end wins a lot of money! I had my first weigh-in this morning, and I am currently at my heaviest weight. Ever. I'm not surprised, but I am encouraged to kickstart a healthier lifestyle.

I'm not necessarily trying to "lose weight", but I am trying to feel better and more in shape. I'm committing to being more physically active, trying to get more sleep, cut down on electronic uses, taking my vitamins, continuing to cook healthy meals, and avoiding mindless snacking.

I'm excited for the next 12-weeks, and I will continue to update my progress in the weeks to come!

Any ideas or tips for running or feeling more in shape? Let me know!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Classroom Rules and Procedures

At the beginning of the year, I wasn't exactly sure what my classroom rules and procedures were going to be. I used an adapted course outline from my co-teacher, and left his rules on the outline. I briefly went over them, and never really touched on them again. These were the rules:

  • No food, gum, or drinks in the music room (bottled water is okay)
  • Enter quietly
  • Act professional

These are fine rules, but they are personal to me at all. Now that I am halfway done my first year of teaching (YAY!!!), I have a more clearly defined set of rules and procedures that I wish to implement in my classroom. I expect certain things from my students, and certain things irritate me.

Second semester starts tomorrow, and I am going to spend time in each class reviewing my new rules and procedures. I only have one new class, but each class could definitely use a refresher!

Here are the new rules and procedures I wish to highlight:

  • Bring a pencil and paper to every class
  • Keep handouts and assignments in an organized place in your binder
  • Personal devices are only allowed to be used during specified times (mp3 players, phones, etc.)
  • Do not touch anything in the room that does not belong to you (including but not limited to the piano, the sound board, any instruments, drums)
  • Instruments are not desks (the students are constantly trying to use a drum or the piano as a desk. NO.)
  • No food, drinks, or gum in the music room (other than bottled water)
  • Set and clean up the chairs quickly
  • Once the bell rings, you are late. If you are late, please come in quietly and do not disturb the class. 
I'm going to create a colour and laminated poster of these rules and procedures and hang it in the classroom. I'm trying to think of an abridged version of these rules to get the point across without being so wordy. Here is what I am thinking so far: 

  • Pencil and paper
  • Handouts and assignments
  • No food - only WATER
  • Personal devices only when requested

  • Set and clean up the chairs quickly
  • Not yours? Don't touch it.
  • Late? Come in quietly.
*(And yes, I refuse to put "behavior" on my poster, even thought I work at an American school. I may conform on report cards [and by conform I mean that I go back and remove the u, because I cannot type "behavior" intentionally], but I will not conform on a sign I will look at every day!)

I then want to put some type of fun sentence, like "Music is the ultimate goal" or "Follow the rules and make more music". I'm not sure about this one yet. I'll update the poster file once it's finished!

What do you include on your list of rules and procedures? 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Happened with the Grade 8s?

I look at my schedule and sigh. I have Grade 8s next period. It’s period 6 – the second last period of the day, and I’m not looking forward to the class. I think back to first quarter, where I looked forward to my boisterous, energetic Grade 8 class. I enjoyed teaching them, and I think they enjoyed themselves more. What happened to the Grade 8s?

After careful reflection, I began to realize that the question I should be asking is not “What happened TO the Grade 8s?”, but more accurately, “What happened WITH the Grade 8s?”

Some Background

I teach the music section of a Grade 8 Creative Art Foundation class. This class is a class that runs opposite Islamic Studies, and students have the option to choose the music or art section. I was basically told that I can do whatever I want with this class – there is no set curriculum. I originally thought that this was going to be a band class, but that did not pan out.

Quarter One

I approached first quarter full of life and energy, and I was really excited about our first unit: BODY PERCUSSION! I sat down one weekend in September and planned out the entire unit through until November. I made a fairly detailed unit including unit goals and final assessments. I went as far as to outline what would happen in each lesson. I incorporated theory with experiential learning – for example, we spent time at the beginning of each lesson working on rhythm reading or rhythmic dictation, then the rest of class was spent learning a body percussion piece. We even held a body percussion flash mob in the cafeteria at lunch! I was incredibly proud of the unit, and the kids seemed to really enjoy it. There were a few issues along the way, but in general, it was an incredibly successful unit. I looked forward to the Grade 8 C.A.R.T. class.

Quarter Two

The second unit I decided to teach was “Melody”. I had visions of a melody unit – learning what a melody was, how to construct one, adding harmony and singing, etc. For some reason, I simply never got around to planning out the full unit. I often planned out a week or even a lesson at a time. I thought that I was still incorporating fun activities and active learning, including spending three good classes in the computer lab working on the Incredibox website. 

However, I began to notice a difference in the class behaviour in my male-dominated class. The boys were becoming more rowdy in general – they were bringing basketballs into class, and began hitting each other more. The boys were constantly interrupting and leaning way back on their chairs. I was finding myself constantly waiting for silence. I incorporated a method of counting the extraneous seconds it took for the class to settle down when I asked for silence, and kept them for that length of time into their 20-minute break. Our classes no longer seemed to be meshing. We finally turned a corner the last few days of the semester when their summative projects were due. The unit morphed into more of a melody and form unit, and the group summative project was to write an original song. All of the groups managed to produce quite good songs, and most of them seemed to have fun while learning. Our last class for this quarter was yesterday, and this marks the end of first semester.


What do you think of this scenario? Looking back, I wonder if my lack of organization and whole unit planning was a direct relation to student behaviour and engagement. I did sit the grade 8s down a few weeks ago to ask them what they think had happened to our class, and several kids expressed the opinion that we weren’t doing anything “fun” anymore. This was hard to hear. I explained to them that I usually had two components to the lesson planned: a theoretical and a experiental part, and we simply weren’t getting to the experiental part (ie. the fun part) due to their behaviour. I think a few of them finally understood this.

Moving Forward

I want the next quarter to be more like the first quarter. I want the students to be more engaged, which I believe will have an impact on student behaviour. I vow to plan the majority of the unit in advance, making sure I have a clear idea what the unit objectives and final assessment will be. I think that this type of planning will let me feel more passionately about the unit, since it won’t be a source of stress (No more “what am I going to do with the Grade 8s tomorrow?!).

The Unit Reveal

My idea for the next unit was going to be “Movement”, but now I am thinking of creating a unit that encompasses cultural music, including music, instruments, and dances. I’m looking forward to learning more about the musical cultures that my students are from. I’m thinking of ideas such as teaching them a traditional Greek wedding dance, listening to tango music, learning a hip-hop dance, etc. I love dance and movement, and I feel as though most of my students will be excited to move again. I am hopeful for the next quarter, and I'll be sure to post an update within the next few weeks!

I’m open to any suggestions as well! Please feel free to leave a comment regarding the shift in grade 8 behaviour (is it mostly related to my planning, or lack thereof?) or any ideas for classroom management strategies. If you know of any specific cultures with fun dances, songs, etc. please also feel free to share!

Friday, January 03, 2014

New Year's Resolutions!

Last year, at a New Year's party, I resolved to find a teaching job in 2013, preferably overseas. I definitely stuck to that resolution, as I'm coming up to the halfway point of my first teaching job in Dubai, U.A.E.!

I'm hoping that writing down my resolutions on a public forum will help keep me accountable in 2014. Here are the things I would like to work on improving in 2014:


(I am trying to be realistic about my New Year's Resolutions - I am still in my first-year of teaching, so I feel as though drastically resolving to change my teaching methods in some way may be a problematic idea!)

  • Survive my first year of teaching! (Haha - almost halfway there!)
  • Blog more frequently (I have Twitter friends to help keep me accountable!)
  • Be more productive at school during prep periods (try and leave work at work)
  • Continue to try and make long-term plans for all of my classes
  • Cumulate unit plans of what I have covered thus far
  • Continue to interact with my PLN on Twitter and Facebook
  • Continue to engage in Twitter chats (especially #mbedchat and #ibdpchat!)
  • Over the summer, read Teach like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and attempt to incorporate its strategies into my next year of teaching
  • Complete the Computer Science 50 Course from Harvard for which I am currently signed up!
  • Take guitar lessons


  • Read more (and watch less TV!)
  • Continue to try and lead an active life
  • Put myself out there more in Dubai in terms of meeting new people
  • Do more outdoorsy and water activities in Dubai - diving, surfing, SUP, hiking, etc.
  • Buy both a DSLR camera and a GoPro camera and learn how to use them
  • Continue to travel every chance I get
  • Floss more. Seriously.

There you have it! I think the majority of these resolutions are quite realistic and aren't overly drastic! 

I leave you with a picture of the Burj Khalifa that I took at midnight on January 1, 2014! 

Happy New Year's, everyone! What are your New Year's Resolutions? 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Statistics

I fancy myself to be an amateur travel blogger. While I am not travelling full-time, I still feel as though I managed to rack up an impressive amount of statistics this year. Here goes!

2013 in Statistics

Continents Visited: 4

North America, Asia (the Middle East), Africa, Europe

Countries Visited: 7 

Canada, United States, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Ethiopia, Egypt, England

Number of Flights Taken: 24!

(4 to Iowa, 2 to Toronto, 5 to California, 3 to Dubai, 2 to Ethiopia, 4 to Egypt, 4 to England)

Number of Visas Acquired

2 Entry Visas to Egypt and Ethiopia and 1 Residency Visa for the U.A.E.

Number of Places Lived: 2

Brandon, Manitoba, Canada and Dubai, United Arab Emirates - over 11,000 kms apart! 

The Burj al Arab :)

Those are all of my statistics for now! Are there any other statistics that people would like to know? Leave a comment!