3 Teacher Tips Thursday: January 28th Edition

This week’s 12th edition of 3 Teacher Tips Thursday comes from TCDSB secondary teacher and monthly contributor Nick McCowan.

Below are 3 simple yet effective resources broken up into 3 categories:
– Great Ideas
– Online Tools
– Teacher PD

Enjoy 3 Teacher Tips Thursday. Hope you find it resourceful.


A reflective practice is a good practice.  I ask for feedback on course lessons from my students regularly.  It helps to shape what works and what doesn’t for future students in my classes.  Educator’s love having plans A through Z because we are just sadistic that way.  When it comes to “Tell me what you thought?”….Trust me… Students are BRUTALLY honest, especially in secondary, but I’ll take the hard truth over sugar-coated answers any day. 

After polling students early in January, one expressed an interesting take on her lessons and virtual learning in general.  Her other teachers would turn off their camera while delivering PowerPoints or lecture-style lessons; she likened it to learning from a podcast! 

The pandemic has put a spotlight on our homes as digital classrooms and we have all had the moment of hesitation as we open up our lives to our students because, we deserve our privacy too! 

Students in high school are much more conscious of themselves and their home environment, so they find comfort in having their cameras off during lessons as well. 

Despite these hesitations, I have started to create themed-Fridays where students have to turn on their cameras to exhibit their Theme-of-the-Week contributions.  The hope is to offer some semblance of that social interaction which is lacking from the learning during these virtual times.  Last Friday, we rocked a Breakfast Theme and we all made our favourite breakfasts; we shared a meal together during our lesson.

Contrary to the advice from one of my favourite childhood cartoons, Animaniacs, the event was a huge success.  Plus, I’ve never seen so much Avocado Toast in my life!  Some students got up at 6am to make French Toast, fruit platters, and fancy teas; there were a few renditions of bacon and eggs; lots of itlog and pandesal and one very proudly presented bowl of Lucky Charms.  It only took 10-15 minutes to highlight what everyone had made, and then we got to eat while we engaged in our day’s lesson.

They were excited to show off their Chef Ramsay talents (although I expect some parents were hired as honorary sous chefs for the morning).  The students had energy for days and remained fully engaged in the class activities for the entire session.  Our faith story knows the power found in the simple act of sharing a meal.  If you try this out to start your next theme day, my bet is, you will too.  I’m excited to see what they will make for lunch this Friday!  


Most of us will agree that virtual assessments and evaluations were one of the most difficult things to navigate when we first moved to fully virtual platforms.  Give me my Muji pen and a stack of paper-based assignments any day.  Or so I thought.  I recently purchased a new iPad Pro and the 2nd generation iPad pencil.  You may be thinking, “hey man…we are teachers not millionaires…” and…. I agree!  It is a large investment but well worth it for anyone that has decided they will be using online platforms whenever it is that we return to in-person learning (Soon??🤞🏼)    Using the pencil, the ipad and apps like Explain Everything, teachers can offer students a new format that builds upon the traditional whiteboard at the front of the classroom.  It’s like Jamboard on steroids.  With this app, teachers can co-create hand-written activities, sets of notes, or use diagrams/videos to explain a learning goal or rationalize the big idea in a live and collaborative setting; all shared through Zoom during their lessons. 

The app allows instructors to record their lessons or their whiteboard creations, while adding their own audio or embedded videos from any source.  The app easily uploads the recorded lesson to an instructor’s YouTube Channel, Google Classroom, or can be used to supplement their D2L content.  Students who are absent during the day can engage with what they’ve missed quite easily.

It offers a Collaboration option that allows students in your class to join the Explain Everything session you are running.  Students can use their mouse pads or tablets to draw live on the whiteboard as well. They can co-create their understanding to the learnings of the lesson alongside their peers and their instructors; they don’t even need to leave their seats to display their answers on the board! 

I have found that since it is one from the comfort of home, students tend to be more willing to take risks while learning. Additionally, teachers can easily add an old assignment or activity they have created in the past to the whiteboard by uploading .pdf or .doc file. Once can simply copy and paste old assignments into it as well.  Also available is the option to upload and embed videos and images. You can then use the Apple pencil to build upon the displayed concepts either while watching a video or explaining the big ideas outlined through the image.  It is a Godsend for anyone that teaches equations, whether it be Math or Science.  For more of the apps functionality and easy-to-follow tutorials offered by the apps creators, check this out:

I have found this app EXTREMELY useful if I am explaining a concept or assignment requirements to a Spec. Ed teacher who is helping one of my resource students.  They can draw on the assignment to show me where the students’ learning gaps were, and this builds a collaborative approach amongst colleagues.  For elementary teachers, who are often times taking time out of their evenings to explain to parents various concepts and lesson ideas, parents can be added to the apps session and add their misgivings, live, on the whiteboard doc as well. 

D2L assignments submitted by students can be annotated directly on the student work in the submission folder itself.  The same is true for any document submitted through Google Classroom. 

By using the Apple pencil to easily write out constructive feedback, rather than trying to suffer through using the mouse pad and inserting awkwardly placed text boxes for corrections and annotations, teachers can still offer the old pen and paper feel, but do so digitally. Less paper.  Less waste.  All filed in a neat and organized manner to help build student understanding. 

I highly recommend this set of expensive (yes!) but incredible learning tools to help you build your engaging and interactive lessons for any subject that you are teaching.  Downloading Explain Everything will cost you a one time fee of $19.99 from Apple’s App store and this will grant you access to all of the incredible resources and functions!


This year, I got The MindJournal for Christmas.  I had heard it being raved about by a few of my colleagues so I was excited and surprised when I unwrapped this gift!  (You know you’re adulting well when you get all amped up opening a book at Christmas and birthdays… Or socks.. I love getting new socks).  Professional development doesn’t always have to happen in groups.  In fact, sharpening our saws and the life lessons that get us there often times happen through self-reflection during our solo downtime. 

The journal breaks down into three core stages – Warm Up, Hurdles and Strength.  Within each of the stages are exercises formed by “Four Key Components”: Thought Triggers, Feelings, Support from Me and a lined area for free writing

In between exercises are various inspirational quotes, thoughts, or challenging tasks that allow you to engage with the world around you in a variety of ways.  I have found incredible solace in performing these tasks and I find myself holding off on completing all of the activities so I don’t finish them too quickly (people with siblings know what I’m talking about… eat that dessert slower so you still have some when your brother/sister finish theirs… them’s bragging rights!!) The exercises have inspired many hook activities for my Leadership and Science students and have even honed the way in which I scaffold my lesson delivery and assessment techniques. 

Now.. I should mention that the marketing of this book is aimed primarily at men. 

(Check their website: https://www.mindjournals.com/)

However, with the exception of a few pages, it is completely unisex and non-binary and should not be discounted by anyone reading this article due to the publishers own preconceived notions of gender roles. 

The MindJournal’s value is huge.  Especially now when one’s penchant for professional development weighs heavily upon how well the storm is being weathered during this ever-changing landscape of public education.  It has been an uphill battle and with the summit seemingly nowhere in sight, it is important to remember to take time to care for yourself. 

Protect your mental health, recharge your sense of worth from all of the parents and students who can either feed or suck the energy right out of you, day after day.  Find new ways to develop your sense of purpose and broaden your horizons with simple activities that deliver peace to your soul. 


Nicholas McCowan teaches Science, Leadership and Student Success at St. Joan of Arc Academy (TCDSB).

Instagram: @mccowanroad and @teachmetoolbox

Twitter: @NJMcCowan

This edition of 3 Teacher Tips Thursday is brought to you by:
@teachmetoolbox. Educators sharing best practices with fellow educators.

Instagram: @teachmetoolbox

I hope you enjoyed our 12th weekly edition of 3 Teacher Tips Thursday. Got an idea, online tool, or PD opportunity you want to share? Email stefanie.lenzo@tcdsb.org.


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