Sunday, December 20, 2015

Inquiry/Research-Based Bio Strand

This was my first time teaching the Grade 10 Academic Science in about 4 years. Since that time my teaching styles and philosophy have changed quite a bit. As many of you know I implemented a flipped model in most of my classes - my primary goal being to help students to be active learners (if they do the work, they do the learning), become better independent learners, and to seek more time for collaborative problem solving. But when it came closer to time to start the Biology unit for this course I wanted something different, so I tried to seek a more project/inquiry-based method.

In large part I wanted to make this change from my usual methods for motivation. Biology is not my strong suit (I did not even take Gr 11 bio when I was in high school) and the last time I taught this involved too many power points. I wanted to motivate myself and, in turn, motivate my students to grasp the bigger picture. This really gave me a chance to remind them to focus on the overarching learning goals of the course so they will leave my course with a better understanding of the bigger picture.

A big part of the overall idea was to design the unit backward. To START with the big picture and END with the cell. I hoped to give students a better grasp of how parts work to create a whole (one of our overarching learning goals for the course).

Here is what we did:

Day 1: Intro to "The Whole" of a Living Thing
I had students do an inquiry as a group. Each group got a question such as "How does a long-distance run affect the systems of a human body" and had most o the period to do research. They then shared what they discovered with the class before the bell.

Day 2-3: Frog Dissection
Students worked through a procedure to dissect a frog (based on one I found on the net supported by some online video instruction that I showed in stages for the class). A couple of students opted to work through a virtual dissection in class instead on day 2. They had to document their dissection on the class OneNote file.

Day 4-8: Importance of Organ Systems (Debate)
This was also based on something I found on the net. Students were split into 11 groups to cover all of the human system. Each pair did some research about their system to discover what organs were involved, the role of each organ, the overall importance of the system, and a "slogan" for their system. We used butcher paper to do a life-sized diagram of the system with all of the necessary info and then students decided to post and do a gallery walk as their "opening argument" instead of a 5 minute share. Then they prepared a rebuttal supporting their system and presented that to the class. Finally students voted on which system was the most important to the survival of the human species. I ended up having them submit a paragraph about this to support, gave them feedback, and then used the same question on their unit test.

Day 9: Tissue Function
Each student was assigned a specific tissue (assorted between the 4 main types of plant and animal tissues so all would be covered) and had to do some research to complete a template of relatively basic information. Some were more challenging than others. They then had to walk around and figure out who their partner/group was which I verified for them to make sure they were in their ajor tissue group (i.e. all the epidermal together, etc) and then find why they were grouped to complete the next section. Then I grouped an animal group and a plant group together that have similar functions and they had to figure out why I paired them. Finally they grouped as all plant or all animal to look at how the tissues work together.

6 Days of Work Periods Throughout: STSE Bio Technology Project
Students started a major project. They had to work in pairs to: Do a topic proposal (that had to support the Overarching Learning Goal - related to society and/or the environment); Complete secondary research; Propose, create and carry-out primary research; and, Finally, propose and carry-out an action to educate a target group about their topic based on their research. At the end they also had to do a reflection to share their learning and to help me reflect on the project itself to see how valuable it really was in the end. (I have yet to look at these.)

Day 10: Cell Parts and Functions
I created a sheet to fill in to label cell parts and record their functions. A table was either assigned the plant or the animal cell to look at. They also had to create an analogy for their assigned cell and justify what each of the parts were within the analogy. The following day they made sure they had both plant and animal recorded on their sheets.

Day 11: Microscopes
Students got introduced to the parts of the microscope and basic skills for use. They then completed a "letter e" lab to build the actual skills and start doing biological drawings.

Day 12: Mitosis
Students completed a worksheet/note on the cell cycle, focusing on Mitosis and watched a video and animation.

Day 13-14: Mitosis/Biological Drawings
Used microscopes to identify the stages of mitosis and draw the stages (summative assignment).

Day 15: Stem/Specialized Cells & Cancerous vs Normal Cells
Students used videos, research, and notes to make sure they understood what the above ideas were.

Remaining summatives were a unit test (focused on learning goals published) and the presentaions of their STSE projects/actions with the rest of the class.

There are definitely things in this unit that I will reuse if I end up teaching the course again. It was definitely more engaging for me and students seemed to enjoy it - and the end results showed an improved understanding of the overarching learning goals - so I would say "mission accomplished."

I am happy to share any of the above lessons if you are interested in anything. And also am open to ideas, suggestions, comments or questions that you may have. Please post below :)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My Favourite Things: A December #BlogHop

Hello #peel21st & other readers!

We are writing this month to share 5 of our favourite things related to education. The list of contributors to this blog hop can be found at the bottom of this post. Here goes! (In no particular order...basically the first 5 things that came to mind tonight!):

1. For creating video lessons I choose Explain Everything

This is an app for iPad that is fairly user friendly and has had quite a few features added to it this past year (i.e. I can now add mathematical equations). You can upload your videos to a large variety of places from the storage on your iPad to YouTube to Google Drive.  It does have a cost to download, but it has been well worth it for me. I know that some schools have paid to have it put on school devices for student use as well.

2. For a LMS I will be switching to Google Classroom (either next Semester or in Sept)

A lot has been developed for this system since it was first introduced. I currently use Edmodo and while I like to be able to give parents the option to have a connected account (and while they have added Microsoft online, which is a bonus) the fact that students in my board already have google accounts means this change makes sense at this time. There are a lot of connected apps that you get immediate access to by switching to Google. Though I must admit, I do not look forward to redoing my online assessments...again. But such is life!

If you have google apps/add-ons to suggest please comment below or catch me on Twitter :)

3. For organization I live off of Evernote

I use this app on all of my devices (it is cross platform and can be accessed on their website) and use it instead of using bookmarks on my browser - mostly to save education related resources - because you can tag each item with as many tags as you would like. I also use it to go paperless at home (i.e. keeping car repair/maintenance records), save recipes, and it is where I note-take when I attend PD (this is handy when it comes time to update my resume, or I need to review something from past conference, etc).

4. For teacher-directed PD I am often found on Twitter

I participate in formal chats on twitter with groups of like-minded educators. It is usually through these times that I undergo the most professional growth. I am able to get ideas from others, ask questions, share resources, and work on discovering new things on my own time, at my own pace. I have found that in many circumstances, finding like-minded people is more valuable than finding people close by. Of course there are times when face-to-face meetings are more beneficial, but I have done most of my learning around tech and flipped learning online.

5. For reading/assessment professional learning - Rethinking Letter Grades

This has been the driving force behind a lot of my work with #AssessPeel to go back to focus on backward design (by creating overarching learning goals) and letting this inform all assessment decisions - from creating a course learning map to learning goals/success criteria, and evaluations. I have blogged about this resource and our work earlier in the year. The entry can be found here.

Please check out the other blogs below!

Jason Richea
Heather Lye
Amit Mehrotra
Jason Wigmore
Melanie Mulcaster
Jonathan So
Jim Cash
Tina Zita
Maggie Fay
Pam Taylor
Gina Loutrianakis
Laura Smiley

Monday, December 7, 2015

Digital Citizenship: A #flipclass Flashblog

This week on our #flipclass chat we are discussing digital citizenship - what we teach (or don't) and what students need to learn.

I have always been a big supporter of the need to USE technology with students so that they have a change to learn about being positive digital citizen, to be safe, and to learn to cite and respect the work of others. I am sure I have blogged about some of these ideas in the past particularly when I was developing my ideas for doing formal Twitter chats with students as review. Essentially my point of view is this - if kids are usually ahead of their parents online, then if we do not teach them, who will?

Since I have stopped using those chats the need to explicitly teach the first two has dwindled. Since I am teaching science teaching the third one comes hand in hand with any research project we do. Creating research notes and reference lists are a much and is scaffolded throughout our department's program.

Our board uses a BYOD (bring your own device) model and my school often has a student run day somewhere around the topics of bullying/self-esteem, so aspects of digital citizenship often get touched on. I wish I had a photo of the poster most of us have up in our rooms to share with you. It uses the acronym THINK to help remind students to think before they post. Here is a link to a PDF of it instead. The description is also below:


When instances for a teachable moment come up in class (or on our online classroom) I always cease them to discuss - sometimes with a particular student, and sometimes with the whole class. But maybe I should do more. I would love to have some kind of simulation I could run. Where students are participating in an online chat and they get spammed with inappropriate comments or something...then we could discuss what they could do, etc.

Food for thought, anyway.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Learning Moments: A #peel21st Blog Hop

The prompt: What has been your most memorable learning moment this fall?

The answer:I don't know if I can pick a single learning moment. I have seen students enjoy an inquiry/research/project based biology strand in many different ways (allowing us to focus on the overarching learning goals of the course). I have seen students completely new to a topic struggle and work until they reached an ah-ha moment; or at least declared they would keep at it until they figured it out. Maybe the only answer I can actually use is my own learning moment - although there have been many.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the mutual lessons between myself and my students are the most valuable. The one that comes to mind as I write is a lesson of mutual communication. It often takes some moments of frustration to get my class to really tell me what they need so that I can make changes or adjust a lesson, or add something to a class. When these doors are opened to communicate, a lot of things become possible.

Now they are more willing to speak up and ask for things instead of assuming I will say no. And I hope that they will also be able to listen to my suggestions more willingly.

This is a battle I fight for every semester in my senior flipped classrooms. I am trying to find a way to help it along sooner. Sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall in my own room to try to spot those moments that hinder what I am seeking. I am trying to work on myself first.

Here are the participant in tonight's blog hop. Hop around and join in the fun!

Jason Richea
Jonathan So
Amit Mehrotra
Tina Zita
Jim Cash
Melanie Mulcaster
Heather Lye
Erica Armstrong
Matt Fletcher
Jason Wigmore
Shivonne Lewis-Young
Matthew Forestieri

Monday, October 26, 2015

Creating Culture: A #flipclass #FlashBlog

Hello #flipclass friends & visitors!

In this week's #flipclass chat we are discussing classroom and school culture and have been asked to blog about how we create culture in our flipped classrooms and/or schools.

I have blogged about embarking on a journey to create a better culture of communication in my classroom and am attempting to use a strategy called Accountable Talk (it was proposed within our board as a numeracy strategy to get kids talking about their thinking - so I thought "two birds, one stone". I am going to try to reflect on how I think this is going and how I think it helps to create a positive culture in my classroom.

First of all I would like to acknowledge the light bulb moment I had recently - I have to change my own mind set and habits to really make this ever work. I am not there yet. It is difficult. It is a work in progress. I still struggle to stay out of it completely. But perhaps that will never stop. Sometimes a question needs to be rephrased, or an example is needed to clarify.

This strategy makes discussions take longer at first, so requires a lot of patience and a lot of direct instruction around why and how it can/should be used. I am trying really hard to interject its ideas into conversations I am "eavesdropping" on within my class and trying to speak less and less during full class discussions. My goal is to merely become the facilitator of the conversation (i.e. help them still speak one at a time and remind them when they need to rephrase to maintain a positive discussion).

I have witnessed a few groups of students putting the strategy into place more often in their own conversations (hooray!) but ultimately I hope to see it more. I am getting better at it (slowly) myself and it is starting to rub off on the students. For example, I gave my Grade 11 physics class some discussion questions at the start of class surrounding Newton's first and second laws. They were given time to discuss in their groups first and then I usually pick one or two for full class discussion (so that I can make sure we are all on the same page).

My biggest struggle at this point is how to help a conversation get started when they are not sure how to begin (without going back to my old habits that lead to student-teacher conversation). But that will have to be a bigger thought for another day. But I am seeing them getting used to my madness - one student flat out realized "she's not going to give us this answer, I need to just say something". So he did. And it helped kick off a conversation with multiple participants and all I had to say was "who agrees? why do you agree? what can you add? ...". It felt amazing. They were starting to get it - and it sounded like they were trusting each other, and pushing each other to be better without a single negative comment. It was as if the conversation was building them up, instead of threatening them to need to be right. They were no longer seeking my validation, they were seeking explanations that they could understand - that they built themselves, without needing to use my words.

The part that felt the best was talking to that student who started it all off after the fact when he added "I also get why you do this now. It is easier for us to help each other because we are learning this together." He added on to this idea by clarifying that because they were all trying to learn it they could relate to the difficulties and struggles in a way that I couldn't.

This is why I think of myself as a coach now instead of as a "teacher".

Monday, October 12, 2015

Trying Some New Things

Since meeting with my department to hash out some overarching learning goals (OLGs - which are described in this entry) for Gr 10 science I have been able to start working on something else - true student self-evaluation and reflection.

The first piece we could do overall without the OLGs (but it may be less effective without them). I have created class OneNote files so that there is one file that has all of my students in it, but do not have to worry about other students in the class looking at each others reflections. And no more paper! Hooray!

Students have three tabs in the file. The first is an ePortfolio where I am asking them to take snapshots of their learning and evidence of learning so that they can track their progress. That is the hope, anyway. Basically I got this under way last week and it took a bunch of time away from other things, but I am hoping that now that they are familiar with it they will be able to do this more effectively and with less guidance. Students can create pages within this tab and have been told they can choose how they want to organize their portfolio. For example, my Gr 10s were asked to take a photo of their formative quiz, something they were proud of, as well as at least parts of their test (minimum of one part of the test they were proud of/improved on and one part they wanted to improve on). They also had to include a photo of their self-evaluation (described below). I am hoping that this can help them see their own improvement and give me a place to go to check details when writing reports or talking to parents. I could even open the file to show a parent if needed.

The second tab is for reflection. Students have a page with their SMART goal from the start of the semester and now have a page where they did a reflection on their learning skills for the progress report. I referenced this when doing their progress report cards, taking their evaluations of themselves into consideration. This can also allow for some conversation with individual students if needed who may not be self-evaluating as accurately as I would like so we can find misconceptions about what the learning skills mean. The third tab is for notes, and students can choose to use this as a place to store notes if they would like to.

The next big thing I am trying is to use the OLGs explicitly in class. The Gr 10 OLGs are written (permanently) on the board at the front of the room and have been posted on our class site for easy access. I am trying to make reference to them in various classes in conjunction with a specific learning goal to help give the class direction and meaning. I will also reference specific ones for every project or evaluation we do so that the students know what the appropriate big ideas are.

After the first chemistry test I was inspired to create the students a checklist relating back to the OLGs and specific learning goals. When I returned they marked test to them they were given this checklist (as a met/not yet met list) and they had to use my comments, etc to help them evaluate themselves to identify what they should continue to work on. This forced students who would usually just look at the mark, or who might even recycle their work without giving it much thought, a reason to actually look at it carefully and start to self-regulate.

What I hope to do with this for future evaluations is to give them the checklist BEFORE the evaluation to do in pencil and hand in, and then I will return it to them after to go through the same process so that we can hopefully identify areas to work on more effectively. If nothing else I am hoping it will help some students put some focus into their studying, as many students do not spend study time wisely.

Would love to hear about other ideas you are trying out there with OLGs, learning goals, and self-evaluation!

Approaching Change

A week or two ago a colleague asked a great question. What needs to come first: a shift in mindset or a forced shift in practice?

This question was in context of creating change in assessment practices where a lot of change is necessary and we are unsure how much growth mindset we will encounter when we try to create that change. I am curious to hear how others may have tackled something like this...or how you think you might tackle it. Here is some background info if you think you might have some ideas/advice for me:

We have a small team of teachers who have joined a working team to both collectively move assessment practice forward, and to help each other achieve personal goals of change in assessment practice. The latter is the primary goal at this time.

We are working together using Rethinking Letter Grades (mentioned in my last post) to start to shape the foundation while getting people to revisit backward design (a concept that is not new, but has probably not been formalized in many areas of the school in a long time - teachers coming into a course are rarely being handed this type of thing). So at our next meeting (which is next week) we are going to help guide each other through creating Overarching Learning Goals for a course. Now here is the thing that this not help us will not help us gauge the willingness of the rest of the staff to try to undertake this - a task we will probably be attempting to undertake next semester.

So if we assume that, for the most part, we are the willing group then we have to decide: Do we try to tackle the willingness first? or do you just go head on into forcing them to make a change?

This question interests me because there will obviously be many options (combinations of the two options anyway) that will differ based on your leadership style and personality. But I really do wonder what will be the most effective approach.

I think I am leaning towards a joint approach. That we will have to use the purpose of the changes to convince people to be willing to change. But I don't think it will be an easy road.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A New Year with #AssessPeel

We are far enough into the new school year now to have "written" our progress reports (for a semestered secondary school, anyway) and I am happy to be entrenched in a few things related to assessment and evaluation, both in my own classroom and with the board. Here are some of the highlights which I hope to share in more detail as the year trucks on.

1. Peel Teacher Assessment Working Team

Last year I was pleased to be asked by my vice principal to join the PTAWT as a representative of our superintendency. Each superintendent has a group of schools that they represent so there are about 10-12 teachers on this team (plus the coordinating principals and superintendent) and 3 facilitators (the assessment instructional coordinator and 2 instructional coaches).

The teacher group meets 3-4 times in the school year, as does the administrator group (PAAWT) and then we we have a chance to meet as a whole group at the end of the school year. This started in second semester of last year and both groups identified similar areas to work on, but obviously our team is focusing on the in-class portions of the topics. We are currently working on overarching learning goals (OLGs) and learning goals using Rethinking Letter Grades (a resource by a couple of teachers in BC) to work with OLGs and should be moving into learning goals more specifically at our next session.

OLGs are known as Big Ideas in the book mentioned below and are essentially the broad spectrum learning goals of a course (usually 3-5 goals) that marry the skills (dos) and content (knows) of the course (while curriculum documents usually have a lot of this separate and do not over-arch the entire course).

2. Rethinking Letter Grades

I eluding to us using this resource with the PTAWT above, and I am also using it on my own time and with my schools assessment working team. I had a day with my science teacher team in mid September where we used some of the suggestions for creating big ideas (OLGs) for our Grade 9 and 10 academic courses. It is definitely a process and we were more efficient when we got to working on the Grade 10 course. What I love about creating and using OLGs is how easily it lends itself to other things, such as backward design of the course and bringing a focus to every class and evaluation used. It can provide a lot of structure, if you let it.

What the book really does with these ideas is lead you to creating a Learning Map - essentially a rubric for the course! This can be used to determine a final level/grade for each student at the end of the course and to map progress along the way. This is the stage I am now working on. Trying to come up with what each OLG looks like at each level (in student friendly language). I am a big fan of throwing grades out as much as possible. It should be about the learning (and the progress made), not about some number that we say a student achieves. A lot more motivation comes to students who can look for meaningful (specific) things they can work on to improve, instead of trying to use numbers to motivate them (many kids are not motivated by their marks at all).

3. Co-Facilitating a Book Talk

Our instructional coordinator of assessment has asked me to co-facilitate a book talk around Rethinking Letter Grades with her this month. It is running on 3 Wednesdays after school from Oct 14-28. We have also pulled another of the teachers from the PTAWT to join us and a few of my colleagues have signed up for the sessions. We are still hoping to add a few more participants, so if you are a Peel teacher and interested sign up on My Learning Plan ASAP.

4. Proposal for OAME

Last year I made an attempt to become a presenter for OAME around my flipped classroom and assessment practices but was unsuccessful. This years conference has a focus essentially around "diving into things" so I have submitted a proposal around the above mentioned book. My fingers are crossed and I am thankful for getting to do this book talk first so that I will have some ideas around a flow to use for the session if I am approved.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My Marking Hacks & Things to Come

(Sorry my American #flipclass friends, but whenever you see "mark" you will have to think "grade"..It's a Canadian thing)

There are two main things that I do that contribute to (hopefully) speed up marking a bit.

1. Using EduCanon to embed questions and note-taking suggestions into video lessons. This app is connected directly to Edmodo (and also to Google if you use Classrooms, so students only need one login) and I can log in to look at my "monitor" page and can see how my entire class did on one screen. I immediately see which Ss are struggling on an individual topic and/or if a Q gave a whole chunk of the class issues. Students can also go back and write explanations that I can read and give them credit for. Love that added communication piece.

2. More discussion, less grading. Evaluation comes later. During the semester verbal and written feedback is much more valuable than marks themselves. I do everything in my power to get kids to stop thinking about the mark and start thinking about the learning. This is where I want their focus to be, and when I have to do something with an actual mark they will hopefully be better prepared (and, as a result, do better). If I could throw out grades entirely, I would.

Then there are the things that I want to do. I have (what we call in Ontario) my AQ (additional qualification) in assessment & evaluation. I am a bit of an assessment nerd, but my practiced do not yet match my beliefs/values (I am working on it).

Ontario has a policy called Growing Success that was published in 2010. Apparently we were one of the first provinces to have such a document and it is both vague and detailed. There is a lot in there that we should/have to do that we are still working to put into practice.

I am currently working on making better/more accurate use of Overarching Learning Goals (OLGs, this is a board term...they are similar to what some books call Big Ideas or Enduring Understandings) and learning goals in my classes. On my lesson plan (that is posted online for all to read) I give a learning goal (and am working on shifting them to more student friendly "I can" statements) that Ss can use to self-assess. Last week I had release time with some department colleagues and we created OLGs for Gr 9 and 10 science. I am planning to reveal these to my Grade 10s and make a point of referring back to them often.

Here is the ultimate goal - all assessment and evaluation will be developed with the OLGs in mind. In other words, the OLGs will serve as my starting point for backwards design. One of my colleagues has switched her "tests" in one of her courses to be much less traditional. Instead of having a bunch of (potentially insignificant) questions, she only has 4 questions on each test. One for each OLG as it relates to that "unit" of study. I love this idea. It seemed like the biggest issue was training Ss to answer the types of Qs she was using. Basically to UNtrain them of their previous habits of "studying content" to making connections and communicating well.

Monday, September 14, 2015

First Cracks at Accountable Talk, Note-Taking, and Video Watching

I have some relatively significant goals this semester and have tried to get them going as early on as possible. I am going to try to reflect on them as often as I can to try to keep myself on task. Here are my thoughts after the first week:

Day 1: I set out to accomplish two things the first day of school. 1. Make use of Accountable Talk strategies to start to work on collaborative, effective discussions between students (student to student, not teacher to student) as I continue to seek a more student-centered classroom. 2. Start the semester off with someone that would make students want to come back tomorrow!

I created tent cards for student groups of desks to help introduce a variety of Accountable Talk strategies and tried to model a couple of them while I was introducing the ideas. So far students seem to have a mixed reaction to them. But I will continue to try to get them to focus on self-improvement in communication as a life skill, not just a classroom skill.

I used activities from Spark101 that were scientifically relevant and engaging to each course to use for the first day. Students seemed to have a lot of fun in those discussions and got to attempt to solve a real-life problem using their current knowledge and info shared in the video.

Day 2: Another goal for this year is to do a better job of helping students become better note-takers (and by extension, better at watching educational videos for my flipped class). I found a College Geek video that introduced effective strategies for note-taking and create a note-outline for students to use to take their first note (that was a model of the first strategy mentioned).

I also modeled a strategy for video watching by pausing thee video after each note-taking method was shared to allow them to record their thoughts/ideas. We also discussed pros and cons of each method and where different people might choose to use each one. I also stressed one of the lines in the video "You are a STUDENT, not a dictating machine!" and the importance of actually PROCESSING information while you are learning (so that you are learning not just writing down something to learn later).

This lead to a fun start to the next day because I got to show them some electronic note-taking apps and organizers. A couple of students have even started using a couple of the apps and trying one of the note-taking methods already!

Day 3: Continuing the goal of helping them become good video watchers (and needing to introduce them to one of my main reasons for switching to a flipped class) I had them watch a video as an entire class, while taking notes, without touching the pause button. The effective one was a Crash Course I picked for my Grade 10s to watch. He speaks pretty quickly in general and it was introducing some things that they did not know yet (but was related to something they did last year).

The frustration in the students was very evident. Some gave up entirely. Some were madly note-taking the whole time. Some gave me exasperated looks when I just smiled at them when they said "can't we pause???" Afterward we shared some feelings/adjectives to describe the experience and I promised them that they should NEVER have to feel this way again because their learning would be in their control. A point a used to remind them that this involves them communicating with me - a lot (I can't read your minds, really!) - if they do find themselves feeling this way again.

I think some of them were annoyed that the "note" ended up being futile, but most of them appreciated the resulting honesty and seemed to feel like they would be in the driver's seat in my course. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part though.

Day 4/5: I have now started to introduce students to watching educational videos individually and taking notes effectively. We are using class time to watch lessons at this point in the year and I am making sure they are taking notes and trying to give them feedback about the notes themselves. This is probably the hardest part for me...I do not feel like I am an expert myself. But I am trying. I am doing my best to encourage them to (at the very least) have examples/visuals when possible, and to show they processed by taking NOTES not recording every word.

My Grade 10s are being introduced to EduCanon right away so I am trying to use the embedded questions to get them to focus on important things and forcing them to pause at various points. Hopefully we can work together to pare back on my forced pauses by the end of the semester knowing that they will do it on their own. Fingers crossed.

Any advice/ideas/etc that you have for me on this topic would be greatly appreciated!

Still to come (i.e. something I have not started yet but hope/plan to) - student ePortfolios and reflections

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Teachers Need to Fail

As teachers, we are constantly asked if we are ready/looking forward to going back to work. I usually say that I have "mixed feelings". I mean, of course I like summer and (if the weather would stay nice) I could live with a few more weeks of "free-time"....but I actually love my job. I actually spend a lot of time thinking about my classroom, year-round. And I'm not alone. Just venture to the many education blogs out there...the thousands of teachers on Twitter, learning on their own time...the Staples locations where teachers are spending their own money on the "little things" that make a difference - and I guarantee you will find them.

What September gives us is a new start. A new year to try new things, to tweak old things, to wonder out into the vast world that education is becoming and to take a risk failing. There has been a lot of talk about grit, perseverance, and mind-set over the recent years in education - a discussion hoping to find a solution to the need for change in education, to remedy the apathy we see in our classrooms. I think the answer lies within the system - the system that needs to change, if only in its own mind set. A change to finally believe, that it is okay to fail.

Isn't this what we want our students to learn? We want them to take risks with their learning. To "guess" answers based on what they know, even if it might be wrong. To take a chance on something new, because what is new might just be what they are looking for (even if they don't know it). I do not claim to think that this is a novel idea. I am sure many people have had it before me - in fact there is research to support failure as the backbone of learning. I do not even claim that I am the first person to believe that teachers need to start failing to learn to get students to do the same, I have just realized that this is the easiest way I can express my feelings about what education needs right now.

We need to try new things. We need to start failing. So that we can learn. So that we can truly embrace the 21st century as educators (and learners). So that students will care. So that students will learn to fail, too. So that students will not just come to school to "get knowledge", but will come to school to work on problems, to learn from others, to actually "Forget what you know" and start thinking

It's funny, I initially titled this entry "A New Beginning" and I was going to share how I am going to start my first week of classes - but this is what evolved. Sometimes taking the time to write helps us find some clarity. Maybe it will even spark a discussion that will help evolve my thinking even more. If you would like to participate in this discussion feel free to comment below or to reach out on Twitter.

Have a wonderful 2015-2016 school year! May it be filled with risk, failure, triumph, and laughter!

[The link is to a boys TED talk address about how some of the worlds most influential minds have stopped learning so that they can start thinking. I highly recommend that you watch it, in entirety]

Monday, August 24, 2015

Communicating with Parents, a #flipclass #Flashblog

In this weeks #flipclass chat we are discussing ways that we communicate with parents (in general, and specifically to do with our flipped classroom). Here are some things I do or have tried.

Since I started teaching 6 years ago I have given out an intro letter to my students to read themselves (and sign) and then for them to show to their parents to sign. It usually says a bit about ways to contact me and the communication/responsibility I expect of the students in terms of getting info home (this varies depending on the grade/level of the course). Since I started flipping I have modified this letter more and more to introduce the basics of the flipped class and to invite parents to an info night at the school where I will give them a run-down of what it is and they can ask questions.

Generally I get about 50% of parents saying they will attend and then 1/3 - 1/2 of those will actually show up a couple of weeks later (I am guessing because they have a better sense from their child about what is going on by then and no longer feel the need to come). It has been well received from those who do come, and the most common feedback last year was "It is clear that you care about our kids and that you are enthusiastic about this format...and that is all we can ask." Generally speaking, parents seem to respect us (usually I do this with a colleague) for what we are doing and just want to have a thorough understanding of the "new" method. [I also tried to use a google form that they could submit questions to in advance of the session but no one took advantage of it].

Through the letter and the info night I tend to get a good dialogue going with many parents and they seem to feel more comfortable approaching me later in the semester when they have concerns. This is extremely helpful as a high school teacher as it decreases the ones I have to worry about getting in touch with later (in most cases). I have  learned a lot in the past two years from the parents of my students as they have the home perspective of what the flipped class entails and it has given me a lot of insight as to what students need from me in order to be more successful. I especially appreciate the ones who take the time to come to see me in person and are clearly there to help their child and respectfully help me in the process.

My grade 9 (and I am considering for 10 as well this year) parents also get the opportunity to submit their email address to me to be a part of a mailing list for the class. I use this just to keep parents informed (and to adjust to having a child in high school since communication seems to be so different from what they are used to) about the class - what we are presently doing, what work I have returned recently, and what is coming up. This opens the door for communication from some of them who have concerns as they can hit reply to my email and ask me to call or ask a question. I have found this practice to be extremely helpful (mostly) and requires a bit of work up front to create a distribution list but then takes me 5-10 minutes every couple of weeks in the semester (meanwhile, cutting down on the phone calls I have to make).

I think the best part of this contact is that it forces these new high school students to recognize that their parents are going to find out anyway - so they may as well tell their parents themselves!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Week 40: Reflecting and Looking Forward

Another delayed post based on a list I wrote myself weeks ago. This one is probably the most important (and the list was actually written in the last week of the school year while it was fresh in my mind). Here is the annual reflection of my practices based on things that I want to work on in the future:

1. It was made evident to me (largely by conversations with a couple parents of my Grade 10 students) that many of these kids are still not really equipped to handle the flipped classroom on their own because of two major things: They have never view videos for homework before really; and Many of them have inadequate note-taking skills (i.e. they do not know when to hit pause because they have seen something important that needs to be written down).

I had tried to tackle these issues in the intro to my classroom but clearly I am not even doing an adequate job. Step 1: admit you  have a problem, right? I had been doing the first couple of videos as a class and had tried to show them that they should pause and record rewind if needed - and I do go through a list of "video guidelines" that they should follow for effective learning. Peers have shared that they will have a student be in charge of the mouse during these types of class video viewings so that a kid is in charge of pausing, rewinding, etc but either I am going about it wrong when I do this, or the kids are just too shy to really do what they need to do. I must find a way to better model this process. I think that perhaps I should model note taking myself even...and probably do the videos in class for a few more days than I have been.

2. Further to the note-taking issue, I have been grappling with the idea of losing textbooks as resources altogether and providing them with notes - this may happen if I return to the math department as this is the direction our new department head wants to take (if we have our own resources it does not make sense to pay for textbooks). Another possibility for working on modelling note-taking would be to provide students with outlines that they have to fill in as part of their homework/lesson.

Food for thought. Potentially time consuming. (especially with a new prep to worry about this semester)

3. Working as a flipped classroom teacher the focus is supposed to be on the in-class "stuff" that is assigned to really move the learning forward, allow for individual assessment/feedback time, and really engage the students in the topic and the learning. This has been a big adjustment...just what do you do with all the TIME!? It is, of course, the biggest blessing of this coaching style (I do not really call it teaching anymore - I am a guide to their learning...a facilitator if you will).

I want to make this part a better focus for me next semester. To continue to find engaging and meaningful things for students to do in class while resorting to "do these problems" less and less. Again, finding these many resources, ideas, etc is time consuming. But it has to be the most rewarding...the biggest bang for my buck (if the buck is time). I plan to continue accessing the many resources I have found (which include fellow bloggers, interactive websites/apps, project based learning, inquiry - and to hopefully harness the most effective things as often as possible (and if I can engage in PBL and inquiry this will be newer territory for me in areas that have intrigued me for awhile). I have even thought a bit more about the "genius hour" idea - and really liked the way Matthew Oldridge outlined it in his blog entitled "The Road to #GeniusHour Math"! (I recommend the read if you are math/science and want a starting point for implementing this type of task into your class).

4. I started to repurpose by Twitterchats from many moons ago to use as in-class discussion starters. This was a focus on physics CONTENT (not problem solving) and is supposed to serve as a way to get more effective conversation going in my classroom. My reflection on this is how I want to continue to use this next year (and beyond) by really establishing Accountable Talk practices (conversational norms) for students to use and make habit going forward. I discussed these ideas broadly here.

Looking forward I want to help students create conversational skills that will make them:
Clarify what they think the other person understands.
Asking another person to repeat what they think they just heard (i.e. engaging other group members).
Seeking the opinions of others by asking them if they agree or disagree AND why.
Engaging others and seeking all ideas by asking if there is anything they would like to add.
Using wait time to allow others to think. Not rushing the discussion.

5. I have also blogged this year about using Mathalicious with my Grade 10 math class. I would love to work on implementing these tasks the next time I teach a math course. They are a great foundation to math applications and a more authentic look at the subject, but are not always easy to implement in a way that engages teenagers. I need to work on relating the task to them more AND definitely making sure there is a strong foundation with the math tools needed before assuming it is a feasible task in the time-line I lay out.

Well I think that about covers it. I always have ideas for myself that turn out to be ambitious and maybe not achievable goals but I would way rather have too much I want to accomplish than to become complacent and not have enough.

I think it is safe to say that my priorities in this reflection are 1, 3 and 4. Goal 1 is my focus to help most with continuing to implement my flipped classroom and to build better relationships with students at the start (and parents, by extension). Goals 3 and 4 will be the focus I set out for myself for in-class throughout the semester - if I only do 2 significant things this time around I hope they are to actually create this conversational atmosphere in my class and to try new tasks/ideas/etc as often as possible.

If you have read to the end of this and have any reflections, ideas, questions, thoughts, etc that you would like to share please comment below. Would love to hear from you :)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Week 34: Metacognition in #flipclass

On May 11th our #flipclass chat asked us to complete a flash-blog answering the following question: How do you incorporate metacognition into your classroom? Encourage it? Use it?

I was not able to complete my blog at the time but am taking the opportunity to reflect on these questions now (reflection of my practice and ideas are really the reason I blog to begin with - it is a great way to make yourself think about the things you are doing (or not doing).

I have mentioned a couple of times recently that  I am trying to find ways to get more conversation going in my classroom. Some of these attempts double as attempts to get students using metacognition. If you have read my earlier entries you may recall that I used to use a twitter chat for my physics class as a way to get them to focus on concepts instead of problems (and to model positive use of social media). I bring this up because one of the things I tried this semester reused the prep-work I had done for this task. Instead of using the questions I had prepared on twitter I used them to pose questions in class and had students discuss them in their groups.

In many cases these lead to some great discussions around the room - I would walk around eavesdropping and would ask additional questions when needed or would re-ask a question that was posted to a group I had not been able to hear previously. I think that getting in classroom norms at the beginning of next semester around conversation will help to enrich this even more. I plan to pull these "norms" from the ideas I share here when I first started talking about using Accountable Talk in class.

I also try to get my students to use metacognition by setting up opportunities for students to reflect on their learning. This comes in a few different forms, most notably I will mention:

1. Having embedded questions in my flipped video lessons so that students have to stop at different points in the lesson to actually think about whether or not they have understood.

2. Using peer and self- assessment in Grade 9 for formal lab writing that asks them to actually think about what they are seeing and compare to the expectations.

3. Using gradeless quizzes that both eliminate the stress of the formal evaluation and give the students a chance to get feedback from me. In turn, it forces them to reflect on what they do and do not understand. I facilitate this by returning the quizzes without showing them the answer key. Students must first attempt to correct their quiz on their own or in discussion with their groups. I have found this usually improves student confidence going into formal evaluations and (by forcing myself to have a focus when I am giving feedback) allows students to focus on what the next step should be for that particular concept.

I hope to improve/build on these ideas and to hopefully add more in the process.

Thanks for reading!

I do not know if this copy and paste will work but below are the other blogs that were contributed to the flashblog that night:

Katie Lanier@lanier_katiesue
Carla Jefferson@mrsjeff2u
Lee Graves@Ldg32

Monday, July 20, 2015

Week 27 - Using Investigations to Teach Quadratic Functions

Part of using a flipped class model means identifying lessons that will not be best taught by mass instruction (i.e. video) but will be better served by something like an investigation. A big part of my current philosophy of math education is that most (if not basically all) students memorize algorithms and never really have a strong grasp of the material, so I seek to change this trend and try to push students to make connections between ideas and really understand why it works. "If you understand the basics, you can use them to figure out the hard stuff" is what I am often heard saying. I think I came to this realization when I was in my B.Ed year and/or my first year of teaching when my friends (a year ahead of me in school, so already teaching) were commenting that they couldn't believe how much they realized they did not understand in high school. In fact they did not understand it in university and were only getting it now because they had to teach it!

As part of these ideas I wanted to find a more effective way to teach quadratic functions that would (hopefully) lead to less memorizing. I set out to find/modify/create some investigative tasks for students to work on. This usually involved them doing the intro portion for homework the night before and then working through the rest of it in class in their groups. The first two investigations explored and linked step property (the pattern created by the changing slope - the idea being that students start to make a connection between linear and quadratic relations), first differences, and congruence (as well as symmetry). In the third investigation they were given some challenging problems that they would hopefully be able to solve using the ideas they had discovered.

These classes were then supported afterward with short video lessons to hopefully help students consolidate and to make sure everyone took away the key ideas I was hoping for. One of my biggest challenges has been creating that authentic, risk-taking environment where students are not afraid to be wrong while working through tasks like this. Many of them have never really worked through such challenging tasks or ideas and they seem to fear the unknown, to fear trying new things. I sometimes feel like a broken record, but I really do wonder if this might have been different if these tasks had come later in the semester.

What I am hoping to do in the future is to work toward creating this elusive learning environment is to focus more on talk strategies in class to help students enhance the communication among themselves (so they do not always have to have a conversation with me to feel like they have gotten anywhere). I think that this, in combination with a higher confidence with linear relations before embarking on this unit, will lead to better results (i.e. less memorization!).

I would love to hear from others who are trying anything similar. What worked in your class? What didn't? Why?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Week 23 - First Time Using Mathalicious

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my experiences at the 2015 OMCA Conference in Niagara Falls, ON. I wanted to try using it as soon as possible (as they say, if you do not use the new thing right away you probably never will). We were starting off the Grade 10s (after doing a bunch of numeracy review) with Quadratic Relations (not my first choice, but I went with it) so I chose their Wiibates lesson to hope that it would be something engaging as I was planning to use it to introduce the topic (no lessons done in advance at all). My hope was that by starting off with an application it would show the students why they should bother to learn about quadratic relations.

Being the first time trying to do something that was going to be very new to me, and new to my students, I knew that I was going to run into some here they are:

- I had planned on about 1.5 periods to compete the task and it ended up taking 2+ periods

- All of my students had basically forgotten how to find the equation of a line (seemed to have a weak grasp of slope in terms of its equation although many found it in the context of the question) - this is why I would prefer to start the course with Linear Systems - which is greatly what contributed to the added time needed to complete the task.

- Students were not very engaged by the end of the task, though it started out decently (of course those who actually play video games were the most interested).

These snafus got me to wondering how our Grade 9s are being taught slope? why so easily forgettable? My instinct is that this should be something they remember well because it seems like the Gr 9 curriculum puts a lot of focus on the equation of a line and linear relations in general. I did not find this easy to reflect on as I have only taught MFM 1P once (and it was only 60% of the course as I started at the end of October) and this was 5 years ago. But this is something I would greatly consider when I do finally get to teach MPM 1D.

I definitely plan to try other Mathalicious stories during the semester. The overall concept is still well worth the time and it can only get better with more failure :)

I did ask the class what they thought overall afterward (using thumbs down/sideways/up) and most of them gave it thumbs sideways. At lunch I asked a couple of them for their honest opinions and the consensus was more or less that the lengthy time it took to complete was what made it into a less than ideal experience. They were willing to try something similar later on.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Week 21 - OMCA with Mathalicious

As a mathematics educator I am always looking for ways to show math in an authentic light. It often feels like curriculum limits these opportunities as we feel forced to cover certain topics in a fairly short time-line and we get sucked into it easily. As they say, we often resort to methods and ideas that we were taught with. It takes effort to find new ideas and make changes in education.

So when I heard about the OMCA conference this year and heard that it was featuring the Mathalicious website I wanted to jump on it. Their website has one goal - to use real-life problems to show how math is used as a tool to solve them. Textbooks generally used what is referred to as "canned" math - that is to say that questions are created for the sole purpose of using a specific math tool. What Mathalicious does is take something that is a problem first, and narrate it in a way that allows math to clearly be used as a tool - and generally the end result is something the students will not expect. This can be anything from taking a scene from a play, to looking at pizza to crust ratios, to deciding if a university education is worth the money.

The conference turned out to go as well as we had hoped (I went with a colleague) as the presenter was engaging and sold his product well. We got to try out a bunch of the activities on their site and experience a bunch as an audience. I must say that I don't know that I will ever do the site justice as a presenter myself, but I am still excited to try things out - we got a 6 month subscription with our conference fee. I think what really hit home about the whole experience was that he really forced you to reflect and recall why you had become a math teacher to begin with. We were forced to look at the core of math education and decide what was important - and that is exactly what we did.

By the end of the two days we were ready to head back to work to try something new! The timing of the conference was both terrible (leaving our classes for 2 days in the very first week of he semester was difficult, routines are yet to be established) and perfect - we were able to head back to immediately start using what we had learned. We intend to make use of the website this semester to test out how it might work, where things can be used, gauge student engagement and try to master the art of presenting these well-planned, authentic problems.

First goal is to use one to introduce a topic and to just see how it goes! Basically, to throw ourselves into the deep end - and either sink or swim! (probably a bit of both).

Looking forward I can also see how this has the potential for authentic assessment, great opportunities for collaboration, and the hopes for observation and conversation! It will take me some time to get there (and I can only hope that I will get to teach this course again in the near future - not 5 years down the road again). The excitement of having access to a well-planned, thoughtful resource is invigorating and a great opportunity. I am hopeful that the time they put into these lessons (literally a team putting in at least a week into ONE lesson - time I could never hope to have for one lesson) will only add to my students' experience.

If you have had the chance to try one of the Mathalicious lessons I would appreciate you sharing your story :)