Halloween and Geography

On October 31, 2014, in Laughs, Think About It, We Made It: It's Friday, by gregorynpaziuk

Don’t let the rain dampen your Halloween spirit: you’re a scholar, so you know how to make the most of anything.  And how do us scholars make the most of things? We study them dry.

  • Yesterday, Market Watch released their map tracking Halloween candy buying trends across the U.S..  Whether or not this classifies as part of the “big data” movement, it’s nice to see people using data for something worthwhile. As of yet, there doesn’t appear to be the same type of info available in Canada. But no doubt children will one day be using strategies such as this to know which streets to avoid and which ones have the very best candy. Of special note in the link above: kids in Louisiana are going to have more Ring Pops than they know what to do with this year.
  • Geography is one way to tackle Halloween, and economics is another. Two years ago, Mia Saini took a look at the business side of Halloween for BloombergBusinessweek. The report, “Trick of Treat: The Economics of Halloween,” puts some interesting price tags on the most candied of holidays.
  • Ever say to yourself while reading an article for a literature review for one of your major projects, “Jeeeze, I wish I was reading some scholarly work about Halloween right now?” Praise Google Books, then, for giving you access to (most of) Jack Santino’s edited collection of essays entitled Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life.  The chapter on “Bonfire Nights in Brigus, Newfoundland” is a particularly interesting read.
  • Bonus: Don’t ask me how I found this or what my score was, but the geographically inclined among you might enjoy JetPunk’s Countries of the World Quiz. The rules are you get 12 minutes to name as many countries as possible, and every country you name gets put on the map of the world to help you keep track. Correct, this has nothing to do with Halloween, but geography waits for no one.

Happy (Halloween) Friday!


GATA Buttons

GA/TA Appreciation Day is returning for 2014. This year’s celebration will take place November 13th in the CAW Centre Atrium as part of the Graduate Studies Showcase. The Showcase offers undergraduate students the opportunity to ask questions about admissions, research, scholarships, other funding opportunities, program requirements, future job opportunities, and, of course, graduate/teaching/research assistantships. What better time to celebrate all of the wonderful work GAs and TAs do?

On Thursday, November 13th, 2014, Betsy and Greg will be joining the Network’s friends from Graduate Studies from 9am-3pm in the CAW Student Centre – Commons Area. We’ll be chatting with visitors — handing out resources and answering questions. We’ll also be passing out our world-famous buttons so that you can display your GATA pride.

GA/TA Celebration Day is a chance for everyone on campus to share stories about life as GAs and TAs. We’ll be featuring testimonials we’ve collected over the years from past students and encouraging visitors to add their own stories – whether about their own experiences or about a GA/TA who positively impacted their life. Add your own stories to our wall with a few sentences or a doodle.

Visitors will also be invited to test out our online teaching modules. Hop on our computer and explore online modules on important teaching and learning issues, including how to give effective feedback to your students and how to develop a lesson plan.

Who’s invited?

  • Current GAs and TAs – pick up information, or a button, or offer stories.

  • Wannabe GAs and TAs – learn more about the job, the skills to develop, or how to prepare.

  • Students who’ve had TAs or GAs – describe the support or challenges you’ve had with your GAs or TAs.

  • Faculty – pick up resources for your TAs or GAs, or share your experiences working with GAs and TAs.

  • Anyone who’s curious about the GATA Network, the Centre for Academic Development (formerly Centre for Teaching and Learning), GATAcademy, the University Teaching Certificate, Skills Workshops, the University of Windsor’s upcoming Conference on Teaching and Learning, and more.

Can’t make it that day? Email your stories, questions, or concerns to gata@uwindsor.ca. Or share the GA/TA moment you’re appreciative of with us on Twitter of Facebook.

We’re looking forward to seeing you!



This week’s Friday fun blog has a “story” theme, and you can blame my weakness for choose-your-own-adventure novels. So really, you can blame the first “must-see” item on this list for turning this post into story time:

  • Good literature demonstrates a certain amount of respect for its readers, as in, a confidence that the reader will understand the narrative and/or draw connections, etc. Great literature gives (seemingly) complete control to the reader. I have no doubt that Howard Shrier’s recent choose-your-own mystery collaboration with the Toronto Star fits with the latter.
  • Speaking of storytelling, have you ever used Storyboard That? It’s a free online service we learned about this week from @bwuetherick with a special section of resources designed specifically for teachers. Have you ever thought about replacing a PowerPoint or assignment with a storyboarding exercise?
  • And did you know that thinking about storytelling is a legitimate way of learning? No, we’re not talking about studying literature – think “narrative inquiry”. As the UWO’s Narrative Inquiry FAQ explains,

    Narrative inquiry is the interdisciplinary study of the activities involved in generating and analyzing stories of life experiences (e.g., life histories, narrative interviews, journals, diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, biographies) and reporting that kind of research. (Schwandt, 2007, p. 204)

    Read more: http://www.edu.uwo.ca/Narrative_Inquiry/


Happy Friday!


Sometimes Twitter is just the best little reminder. If you’re like me, you likely skim a few hundred tweets per day with little consequence or the occasional urge to retweet. But every once in a while you stumble upon an important tweet that causes you to pause and think. Early last week, Brad Wuetherick, Executive Director of Learning and Teaching at Dalhousie University, shared this tweet that caught my eyes:


What was so eye catching, you ask? Quite simply, the tweet showed me how ignorant I was. I asked myself: “Doesn’t everyone know about threshold concepts?” Clearly, no – not if scholars are still discussing them at important SoTL conferences. And the more I explored Brad’s link the more I realized that I didn’t really  know much about threshold concepts either.

In brief, a “threshold concept” can be defined as a essential information/ideas/theories that students need to understand before they can develop deeper understanding about a subject. In more detail, Mike Flanagan of the University College of London describes eight features of threshold concepts:

  • Transformative: They change the way we look at entire fields of study.
  • Troublesome: They are difficult to rectify with what else we know.
  • Irreversible: They cannot be “unlearned”.
  • Integrative: They allow us to synthesize other insights on the subject matter.
  • Bounded: They are targeted at specific fields of study (or subfields) and serve some sort of defined purpose.
  • Discursive: They develop their own accompanying terminology.
  • Reconstitutive: They might deeply change us as learners.
  • Liminality: They often require a lengthy transition for learners.
    (Read more here: http://www.ee.ucl.ac.uk/~mflanaga/thresholds.html)

Why Threshold Concepts Matter

Whether you know it or not, your discipline has its own set of threshold concepts. You probably don’t know it because you learned them long ago and now they’re simply a part of your understanding. Thus we reach the core problem we often face as GAs and TAs: how do we make sure our students reach an understanding of these concepts? Sometimes we must also ask ourselves if we even understand the threshold concepts that our instructors expect us to.

Given the meta-cognitive level of thinking required to examine what we already know, taking stock of the threshold concepts that have affected us and will likely be required of our students is not easy.  With in the context of the courses you assist in, one way to identify these concepts is to look at a well developed syllabus. Effective curriculum development is oriented around these formative ideas, and so a proper syllabus will often highlight or repeat threshold concepts throughout. Flanagan has also collected SoTL research on threshold concepts across disciplines.

But here’s some food for thought: what are the threshold concepts one must understand to be an effective GA/TA?


October 10th is recognized globally  through the World Health Organization (WHO) as “World Mental Health Day“. This day holds special importance for students – including student teachers – who research proves are becoming more and more susceptible to stress and mental health issues. In recognition of the WHO’s aim to raise awareness about mental health issues, we take a look at some of the most important mental health issues facing GA/TAs in the classroom and how to

More on stress and mental health:

What Is “Mental Health”?

We’ve come a long way in our ideas about mental health. As the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) explains, mental health, in the contemporary sense, not only means removing or minimizing risks to our mental well-being, but also possessing “positive aspects” of mental health. PHAC also suggests some indicators for mental health – both positive and negative – that can be found internally (emotionally) and (externally). For more on those indicators and how they measure mental health, read “The Health of Canada’s Young People: A Mental Health Focus“.

Teaching Your Students About Stress

The same stats that show how so many university students suffer from stress that leads to mental health disorders often also show that a startling percentage of those students feel they have no solutions to their stressors. As a GA/TA, you’ll likely witness first hand just how stressed your students get. Providing them with strategies they can use to combat stress could save your students from developing worse problems – academic or otherwise – down the road. But how do you do that?

Gabrielle Siemion of Santa Barbara City College suggests leading students in an open discussion and encouraging them to share their stressors and their stress reducing strategies. Find a detailed script of Siemion’s “learner-centered activity” here: http://www.honolulu.hawaii.edu/facdev/guidebk/teachtip/top10stress.htm

You can also supplement Siemion’s activity with the stress busting tips published by Santa Clara University’s Wellness Center. For instance:

Plan ahead.  Don’t let the gas tank get below one-quarter full; keep a well-stocked “emergency shelf” of home staples; don’t wait until you’re down to your last bus token or postage stamp to buy more; etc.

Pollyanna-Power!  For every one thing that goes wrong, there are probably 10 or 50 or 100 blessings.  Count ’em!

When feeling stressed, most people tend to breathe short, shallow breaths.  When you breathe like this, stale air is not expelled, oxidation of the tissues is incomplete, and muscle tension frequently results.  Check your breathing throughout the day,  and before, during, and after high-pressure situations.  If you find your stomach muscles knotted and your breathing is shallow, relax all your muscles and take several deep, slow breaths.

Resources on Campus

Mental health awareness is an increasingly prevalent issue at UWindsor, and there are a number of resources you and your students can use to improve mental health for yourselves and others.

UWindsor’s Student Counselling Centre provides a number of online resources through its website at http://www1.uwindsor.ca/scc/mental-health-resources. The UWindsor Mental Health group also provide outreach to students through Twitter (@UWinMentalHealth) and Facebook (fb.me/UWmentalhealth). Student Health Services also provide suggestions on how to ease the physical effects of stress in their discussion of the “Stress Triangle.” In addition, keep an eye out for special mental health awareness events throughout the semester such as PAWs for Stress.


Weather aside, our outlook this fall is pretty positive. And who can blame us, when you take stock of all the fairs, festivals, and FREE (how free is free?) events going on around UWindsor in the coming months? Okay, we don’t mean “fairs” and “festivals” in the ferris-wheel and candied-apple sense, but below is our list of upcoming happenings we’ve circled in our calendar for Fall 2014/Winter 2015.

Graduate & Professional Schools Fair – October 7th & 8th, 2014

A great event for those considering further education, this fair gathers educational institutions both nation and international. Learn more about graduate, post-graduate, and professional programs in your field and maybe even in some fields you never knew existed.

GA/TA Appreciation Day – November 2014

We’re bringing it back! A day for celebrating all of the good work graduate assistants and teaching assistants do. Come visit us in the CAW Student Centre Commons and share your experiences, connect with others, and maybe even get some free goodies. Exact date to follow, so be ready to celebrate at a moment’s notice.

Faculty of Education Career Fair – Friday, January 30th, 2014

The teacher job market can be a scary place (as everyone is fond of saying), and events like these can help you get ahead of the game. School boards and other agencies from across the region – and maybe even the province – well descend on UWindsor looking to chat with potential teacher candidates.

Job Fair – A Partnership to the Future – Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Description from the Student Success Centre: “This recruitment event for students and recent alumni allows companies the opportunity to promote their employment opportunities.  You will talk face to face with company representatives and industry professionals from the local area, nationally and internationally.  Network with employers and market your skills!”

GATA Winter Academy – January 2015

GATAcademy’s winter cousin will be entering into its third year, and the event continues to grow. This is your second chance to attend all of those workshops you just didn’t have time for in September. Look for updates on this FREE event in the coming months.


Those of your looking for ferris wheels and candied apples in Windsor might try the Windsorite Event Calendar: http://windsorite.ca/events/.




Crowdsourcing Education

On October 3, 2014, in Think About It, We Made It: It's Friday, by gregorynpaziuk

Crowdfunding is becoming an increasingly popular way to fund commercial projects (and/or potato salad, apparently). Everyone from small-business owners looking for start-up money to famous movie makers looking to fund  film projects without Hollywood’s help are turning to crowdfunding.

What about educators? What kinds of ways could crowdfunding be used for educational purposes? Could your local elementary school start a “Buy Us Textbooks” campaign? Could your local university replace donation drives with online, public crowdfunding (or other projects)? As it turns out, there are some educational-type crowdsourcing projects in the works right now…

Warning: We aren’t actually endorsing these projects, nor suggesting that you contribute. Just consider this a “Oh, that’s neat someone is trying to do that” post.

  • They are funding the creation of learning objects. Have Fun Teaching, an established teaching resource designer, is using KickStarter to fund the creation of 220 learning videos and songs. The resources, aimed at elementary school teachers, will seemingly be made to pledgers first, and will afterwards be sold to the general public on the company’s website.
  • They are funding education for under-privileged youth. The School Fund organization currently uses crowdfunding to sponsor children in poverty-stricken areas of the world and give them the chance at post-secondary education.
  • They are helping parents save for their children’s university tuition. InstaGrad has emerged as a digital-age strategy for planning for children’s education. The site makes it easy to contribute to a loved one’s education fund, whether as a gift or simply just because.
  • They are helping satirical, scholarly movies get made. As we’ve mentioned before, crowdfunding is helping The PhD Comics Movie 2 get made. And yes that’s only vaguely educational, but don’t tell us you don’t enjoy those comics.

What would you use crowdfunding for?

(Also, Happy Friday!)