Tuesday, December 31, 2013

PLN Blogging Challenge

I have been fortunate enough, in my first year of blogging and exploring teacher connectivity on the Twitters, to be nominated to complete the PLN blogging challenge not by one colleague, but two! I've been slacking on the blog front recently, so I'll ease back into things by happily obliging. Here are the rules:

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4. List 11 bloggers you would like to nominate for this challenge.
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you. That's just a vicious cycle waiting to happen).

Julie Balen (@jacbalen), a fellow educator here on Manitoulin Island, was the first to nominate me. She is one of the most connected-while-remote teachers I know, and has been instrumental in helping me navigate through my first MOOC (#OOE13). Drew Frank (@ugafrank) nominated me just a few days later. He and I are both taking up the #blogamonth challenge to regularly contribute to both our blogs and others' throughout the coming year.

1. My academic background is in astrophysics. Sometimes I toy with the idea of going back and doing my PhD, but there's a lot of calculus I'd have to relearn.

2. I hold a brown belt (ik-kyu) in the martial art of Kendo, and will be grading for my black belt (shodan) in June 2014.

3. I've recently been enjoying reading about Russian history. Someday, I think I'd like to visit St. Petersburg, Veliky Novgorod and Moscow.

4. I say "I think" in the above statement because I hate flying.

5. When I was young, I wanted to live in a house in which I could see the stars from my bed. I'm glad to say that little dream has come true.

6. Chris and I have a goal of camping together at every provincial park in Ontario. We've done about 25 of them... only about 100 to go!

7.  I competed gymnastics in high school, and now coach our school's gymnastics team.

8. I love to cook and bake, and wish I had more time to do so. I got ninja cookie cutters for Christmas and can't wait to try them!

9. I started running a few years ago, and now really enjoy middle distances (5-10km). Someday I'll try a half marathon. Someday.

10. I am a cross-stitching fiend!

11. Attending a French elementary school for seven years and taking three years of Latin in high school has contributed to a love of languages. I really enjoy looking for patterns in (and making connections with) syntax, structure, voice, etc.

I didn't want to answer 22 questions, so I took half from Drew and half from Julie...

1. What do you do for fun? Hobby?
I love to sing, and I have performed recently with the Island Singers, Voices North, The Simple Life and Western Migration.

2. Cat, dog or goldfish? Why?
Cat; we have two of them. They offer more affection than a goldfish, but require less attention than a dog (we're both pretty busy and aren't home much).

3. How do you caffeinate?
Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

4. Favourite Twitter chat?

5. Best place you've ever vacationed?
Vienna, Austria. It wasn't really a vacation - I was there as part of a choir tour years ago - but I absolutely loved it.

6. Favourite television shows?
I'm always good for hockey. Lately, I seem to be watching a lot of Castle and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I really need to watch more Nova.

7. Satellite vs. Netflix?
Satellite. We are remote and our Internet is pay-per-use, so Netflix isn't an option at the moment.

8. Movie or novel?
Novel. I didn't grow up going to the movie theatre (there wasn't one in our community), so movie-watching has never been a big deal for me.

9. Favourite wild flower?
Alberta's wild rose.

10. What educational event do you REALLY want to attend?
ISTE2014, hands down.

11. List three high points of 2013.
-Seeing Chris win a Board award
-Spending more time with my family
-Attending a 6-day mindfulness retreat for educators with Thich Nhat Hanh

Some edufriends, some #ooe13, some #BYOTchat...

Naomi Aubé ~ @celestialnaomihttp://bateaumooc.wordpress.com
JD Ferries-Rowe ~ @jdferrieshttp://geekreflection.blogspot.ca
Jovette Francoeur ~ @FJovette  ~ http://educ-actions.blogspot.ca
Debbie Fucoloro ~ @debbiefuco  ~ http://theeducatorscafe.com
Anna Katterjohn ~ @katterjohn  ~ http://katterjohn.blogspot.ca
Marcie Lewis ~ @marcielewhttp://marcielewis.wordpress.com
Heather Lye ~ @TchngPassion  ~ http://www.teachinginspirations.blogspot.ca
Steve Mefford ~ @meffsciencehttp://meffscience.blogspot.ca
Andrea Wilson Vazquez ~ @wilsandrea  ~ http://techiestateofmind.blogspot.ca
Alena Zink ~ @ZinkEd_uhttp://blogs.forsyth.k12.ga.us/azink/
Brandon Zoras ~ @brandonzoras  ~ http://mrzoras.wordpress.com

Your turn!
1. What is one of your professional goals this year?
2. If money was no object, would you go into space?
3. Your one superpower: what would it be?
4. Real or fake Christmas tree? Or other?
5. Who is your favourite superhero?
6. PC or Mac?
7. Summer or winter? Don't mince - you can only choose one!
8. What is the furthest north you've travelled? Furthest south?
9. Can you play any musical instruments?
10. Do you have a favourite comfort food? What is it?
11. What is one of your new year's resolutions (if you make them)? Happy 2014!!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

They Always Come Back to Paper

Though I had heard of the SAMR model before, I didn't really try to apply it to the tech in my classes until this year with our BYOD focus.

Without getting too much into it, the SAMR model is a spectrum of technological use in the classroom, depending on what you want the technology to accomplish. How effectively am I using the technology I have?
  1. S for Substitution - the technology performs the exact same role as a more traditional tool, but is not necessary.
  2. A for Augmentation - the technology offers some functional benefit, but is still not necessary.
  3. M is for Modification - the technology is necessary in order to create a new product.
  4. R is for Redefinition - the technology is necessary to provide tools for students to explore, collaborate and guide their learning.
In the BYOD course, we have played quite a bit with new tools in line with the "M" and "R" parts of the model, and I've been trying to encourage the students to try new approaches to their tasks. We've done a lot with graphing calculator apps and websites (the students LOVE desmos.com), experimented with the collaborative power of Google Docs and Presentations, and I've gently nudged students working on various things toward slow-motion camera apps, screen capture possibilities, photo collage websites, augmented reality apps... 

...but in the spirit of true differentiation, I have been trying to always allow my students - where possible - their choice of how they want to present their knowledge.

With all the benefits of having technology at their fingertips, I expected great final products. What I did not anticipate, was the number of student who would revert back to handing things in... on paper.

On this project, I expected most students to graph their periodic function using one of the graphing calculator tools we've been playing with all semester, but instead many chose to graph by hand. On the photo collage option of this assignment, I was hoping students would simply email me a link to their collage (or create a .jpg to send to me), so I was surprised when many couldn't figure out how to create captions and chose to print out their collage to hand in on paper.

On an assignment which required a graph, some images, some calculations and text, very few students chose to even use a word processor (or equivalent app or website); pretty much all of them came in on lined paper.

With so many tools at their disposal, why do my students revert back to "old-school" methods of demonstrating their knowledge? 

Is there comfort (or security) in reverting back to what they've always done in school? Are they intimidated by the possibilities technology brings? Do they lack the resiliency needed to try new things and work out the kinks? 

How can I encourage them to push their limits and create something over the top with the devices they use on a daily basis?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Uncharted Waters

I've been picking away at different aspects of BYOD teaching and learning all semester: independent learning, trying new online tools with my classes (discovering some great ones, and some not-so-great ones), and encouraging students to take risks and go out on a limb (in a somewhat controlled fashion) to demonstrate their knowledge. 

It's scarier than I thought it would be - as a self-labeled control freak, it's hard for me to give a lot of the control of the class and the assignments over to the students. 

Apart from just knowing the material, I also find it near impossible to properly "prep" for any given day. Most of the class is spent assisting, assessing and checking in with students as they become more comfortable with a proficiency-based format, instead of controlling the pace of the learning.

For the final project in our third unit (trigonometric functions), I've mustered up all my courage and laid it all on the line: a completely open project where they get to pick and design the experiment, collect the data, collate all the information and then present their findings using the method of their choice.

The BYOD teacher in me says "WAHOO!!" The traditional teacher in me is pretty darn nervous, but definitely optimistic.

Using a slow-motion camera app to observe the periodic motion of a mass on a spring

The learning goal is well suited to this type of activity: "I can collect data that can be modelled as a sine function, and can identify periodic functions that arise from real-world applications," so it seems a natural fit. I'm looking forward to seeing what the students come up with, and I love the fact that they will truly own this task.

As my husband (also a secondary school teacher) noted - this is almost completely opposite to what we've been taught to teach: no well laid out instructions, no exemplars from years past, not even a differentiated list of approaches for students to choose from. I feel like I'm venturing into uncharted waters.

Here are the guidelines I used to get them started: Unit 3 Project. I would love to hear suggestions, or see how other teachers have tried projects like this in their courses. Anchors up!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Short- vs. Long-Term Learning

Time slipped away from me over the past 2 weeks. Between a science conference, a cultural symposium, report cards, the start of coaching, proposal deadlines, and the usual busy-ness that comes with teaching/marking/planning/conferencing, this blog (and, sadly, many of my personal extra-curricular activities) have lately fallen to the wayside.

Which is too bad, because with the results of that second unit test 2 weeks ago have come some pretty interesting traits of my class.

Leading up to the test (and you can read the past few blog entries), I was seeing encouraging signs of progress. Students were working through the material better, experiencing more success, and managing their time more appropriately than they did in the first unit. I was really, really looking forward to the results of the test, hoping I’d have the ability to proudly announce: the system is working!

But alas, that was not to be. The average of the test decreased from 60% to 56%, and while I saw everyone move out of the 11%-30% range (hoorah!), there was also NO increase in the number of students getting over 70% (level 3-4 Ontario standard). In fact, I actually gained a student in the 1-10% range over the unit 1 test.

What is going on? Students had the advantage in this unit: they knew what to expect, knew how to navigate the material, had the benefit of learning from their struggles in unit 1, and yet there was very little noticeable improvement in their grades.

(As an aside, it is a completely different topic as to whether or not we should be using numerical grades to judge the amount of learning our students have accomplished. I do so here as it is currently the way in which our education system works. I’ll leave its validity open for debate at another time.)

One-on-one conferencing with each student after the test shone a bit of light on what was causing the stagnation. For the most part, those who did not do well on the test did not learn the material thoroughly the first time through, and did not spend quality time reviewing leading up to the test. Both of these, to me, are huge flaws in the implementation of a BYOD course like this.

My students look at the unit and chunk out what they need to do to succeed in the quickest way possible: master the learning goal and PROVE IT on the exit slip, all in one fell swoop. For many, as soon as I complete the mini-lecture, they’re asking for the slip. “Go and practice a bit first,” I tell them. “Make sure you solidify what we just learned and make it stick!” Sometimes they do, most of the time they don’t.

This works well for demonstrating mastery immediately on the exit slip, but then when it comes to the test a few weeks later, they don’t take the time to review, assuming that since they “knew” it at one point in time, they’ll be fine for the test. But they rarely are.

What is the solution? I don’t want to go back to marking worksheet upon worksheet that proves the students are practicing. Ideally, I would love to have a peer teacher guarding the binder of exit slips, handing out slips only to those students who can show they’ve done some further practice. Or is this just a process the students have to figure out for themselves? 

Monday, November 18, 2013

...and then the power went out.

When I started designing this course around the use of technology and BYOD, there were a lot of things I had to worry about: students’ access to devices, consistency of Internet connection, and connectivity speed among others. In the back of my mind there was always a little voice saying “This is all great, but wait! What happens if the power goes out?”

But with a zillion other things on the go, I dismissed the little voice, until one day, we found ourselves without Internet connection.

Luckily, that day, we did have power. The students couldn’t access the master list since it was a Google Doc, but I was still able to project it up on the board from my computer. Though the students were limited in what they could access (videos, online interactives and websites were out), they could still ask for a mini-lecture from me, the textbook was still available, and since all our exit slips and quizzes are done on paper, they could work their way through those. A lack of connection that day actually didn’t affect us as much as I thought it would.

(Today, too, we are without power due to a windstorm last night. The students were much less focused, having to work away in the dark, but the impact on their potential learning is the same as that first day with no Internet.)

I have two lines of thought on this. The first is: Hoorah for differentiation! From the start I always tried to include “traditional” methods of learning and resources for each learning goal, like the textbook, so that students who preferred this method always had access to something they were comfortable with. In the trigonometry unit we are doing now, I have an investigation using Geometer’s Sketchpad, but also an investigation using paper plates, metre sticks and giant pieces of paper.

When we lose our ever-precious connection, having those pencil-and-paper resources to fall back on makes the difference between being able to still engage the students or lose a whole period due to being unable to access anything.

My second thought is that I’m torn… I love the idea of paperless classrooms, and as I continue to tweak and adjust what we’re doing in the course, I think about having Google Forms instead of paper exit slips; movies of my mini-lectures instead of me doing them in person; all investigation instructions online. I would reduce our class binder (and all that paper!) down to nothing. Depending on what I use, some of my marking might even be done automatically, freeing up my time to help students in class.

But if everything was online… what happens when the power goes out? I’m in a rural school with limited cell coverage, so it’s safe to assume this is an issue I’ll always have to deal with. How do other BYOD teachers manage their classes when they lose power and/or connectivity?    

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reflections on #OOE13 so far

Our end-of-month task for #OOE13 (ooe13.org) is to reflect on what we've gained from our MOOC so far, particularly in terms of connectivity. I've been letting this sit in the back of my brain for a few days, collecting my thoughts and considering what I wanted to say, when this morning something characteristic of my whole experience happened on Twitter.

By pure happenstance, our Earth & Space Science lesson on radioactive dating fell on Hallowe'en. I normally do a half-life activity involving pennies, but decided in the spirit of the day to use M&M's instead. I was pretty excited about this happy coincidence, so I tweeted it.

Here is the interchange that followed:

Who is Steve Mefford? He's an 8th grade science teacher in Iowa. Like me, after a number of years in teaching, he decided things needed to change, and made his classes student-centred (if I sound like I know him well, I don't... all of this I gleaned from his Twitter profile & posts). I think he followed me on Twitter first, and I reciprocated... how he found me, I have no idea. 

But here's what I'm quickly discovering:

Here are two teachers, almost 1000 miles apart, whose paths would never cross in a million years, sharing resources. 

What makes things even cooler, is that using Twitter, G+, blogs, MOOCs, etc., we can easily share with not just one, but dozens (if not hundreds) of teachers... all over the world! 

EVEN BETTER STILL, by choosing with whom and how we're connecting, we can have access to all sorts of amazing materials/resources/professional development that focuses on what we specialize in. If I am interested in BYOD, or math, or English, or making videos in class, my various feeds feed me information tailored to those topics. As teachers, we can grow by leaps and bounds in ways that make the most sense to us! And it's so easy to connect!

Mind. Blown.

Within #OOE13, or my growing PLN, or even within groups of random people in chats (#BYOTchat, for example), I have come to realize the power of connectivity. I am becoming more comfortable in sharing my experiences, asking questions, and learning from other professionals. On a technological note, I am learning more about apps/software/resources I would never have found or tried before, many of which I pass on to my students.

Our next topic in #OOE13 is Digital Citizenship. This will be of particular interest to me as my tiny digital footprint gets a little bit larger, and I help my students create their online presence as well.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More Success! But still a ways to go...

I find myself back in the position of anxiously awaiting the results of the upcoming unit test. In the first unit, it was because I wanted to see how my students were adapting to the new BYOD class: was this really a better way for them to learn? 

This time around, I find I'm nervous to see if we have indeed improved from unit 1. Have the students become more accustomed to learning on their own? Are they drawing more on their own strengths to master the material? Have they gained confidence in their abilities? Are they doing even better now that they know what is expected of them in the unit, and how to proceed? Tomorrow's test should give me a better understanding!

I'm optimistic - our tracking board shows that unit 2 (on the right) was more thoroughly completed than unit 1 (on the left):

At the end of unit 1, only 4/26 (15%) had completed all that was required of them in the unit. 8/26 (30%) had completed all of the exit cards, indicating they had addressed all of the learning goals. 

I am thrilled to see the numbers go up in unit 2. 12/30 (40%) had completed all that was required of them in the unit, and 17/30 (57%) had completed all the exit cards. Progress!

Any boxes that are "open" in either unit (not coloured and no "X" through them) can still be completed at the student's leisure to demonstrate their understanding. On our turn-around day Thursday (the day after the test) I'll be encouraging most students to go back and complete some of those.

Three students are on the online review page currently (have I mentioned how much I love the anonymous Google Docs animals??), the online help session is up and running, and I'm hoping to see more students take advantage of these resources and pop online tonight. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Student Organization: back to analog

With a week to go before the second unit test, I noticed that a handful of students were way behind the others. For the most part, this was due to poor time management in class, followed by little to no follow up at home. Some had also had an unusually high number of absences (though in an ideal world this wouldn't matter as all the learning resources are online).

In a traditional class, we would have pushed through, from lesson to lesson, note to note, assignment to assignment, trying to catch students up by trying to convince them to come in for extra help outside of class time. 

I'm amazed, looking back at how I used to run this course, how curriculum-driven my teaching was. With the responsibility for pace now in the hands of the students, I have the ability to sit down with a lot of my students one-on-one. 

Earlier this week, I sat down with those who were behind in an effort to help them get organized.

To do this, we took it back to the basics. I gave them a template - on paper - for them to reproduce - on paper - in order to plan out the last week of the unit. They had to come up with the schedule themselves by looking at what they had to do, judging how long it would take them, and how they would make up the difference in time.

Student-made schedules
Each day since doing this, I've checked back in with the students with schedules to see how they are doing. Are they on-track? Do they need to modify their timeline? Are they completing what they set out to complete each day?

The feedback has been positive. One student stuck with his schedule and was completely caught up by the end of the week. Others have jumped around in the schedule, completing items out of order, but still enjoying being able to check them off. Some are still struggling with time management, but at least this has chunked it down a bit for them.

As we move into the third unit of the course, we'll see if they improve their self-discipline and pacing.

I wonder if there is a digital way of doing this? Something more exciting than just a calendar app? I mean, I'm sure there is, but I haven't wrapped my head around it yet. Or is it sometimes better to come back to marker-and-paper to re-focus?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Second verse, same as the first?

With about a week to go before the unit test, I wanted to take a look at how my BYOD students are progressing through the second unit. Have they learned to better manage their time? Are they more accustomed to pacing themselves? Are they following the same patterns as in unit 1?

The charts below are our tracking board - the first one is unit 1, about a week before the test, and the second one is unit 2, about a week before the test.

We can follow one student's progress through both units as they have the same colour and relative position (with the exception of the new purple and green lines at the bottom of the board in unit 2: new students). Reflecting on the comparison...


  • The same students who paced themselves and worked through everything in order in unit 1 are doing the same thing in unit 2. That's no surprise.

  • Students are still getting stuck on tasks which as more of them than just demonstrating the learning goal (ie. all the blank space in the 4th column of unit 2). I was hoping the classroom would become a more comfortable place for taking risks with their work, but there's still work to be done here.


  • On the whole, the class seems to be keeping on task better in unit 2. The lines show better progress made on the whole. I see students helping each other more, and they have a better sense of how to navigate the unit as a whole.

  • The amount of time given to the unit seemed better in unit 2 (in unit 1, I ended up removing 2 learning goals to make the test deadline more manageable, but the students seem to be having no trouble getting everything done before the test in unit 2).

  • More students are hopping around in unit 2 - accomplishing tasks out of order - than they did in unit 1. It is an interesting strategy used to complete all nine learning goals before the test, and I'm glad to see more students thinking outside of the box.

  • There are more students in unit 2 who are WAY behind everyone else - mostly due to moderate absenteeism. More on that in another post.

On the whole, I'm happy with the progress being made through the unit, particularly as it is more challenging than unit 1 (factoring quadratics and completing the square are always such a battle with this grade level). The more time allotted to the unit has relieved some of the pressure to get everything done as quickly as possible, and quiz results to date are showing a very good understanding. I'm looking forward to seeing improved results on the test, too, next week.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Being Connected: what #CE13 has meant to me

I started using Twitter back in 2009 for public outreach with an astronomy education job I had at the time, but other than a couple of forays into tweeting to get the word out about special events, I didn't really start using Twitter until February of this year. I dabbled here and there, gave my classes Twitter Challenges, and read a lot from other teachers who had been "PLN'ing" for years. But that was pretty much it.

In a sense, I was using Twitter in Web 1.0 fashion - doing a lot of reading and learning, but not so much connecting.

But the past two months, with my participation in #OOE13, getting involved in Twitter chats and experiencing Connected Educators' Month (#CE13), I see Twitter in a whole new light.

Not only is it where I can read up on what amazing educators are doing around the world, but I can also reach out to them; I can get advice, ideas, and encouragement; I can take what they are doing - things I would never have come up with on my own - try it out and give them feedback; I can contribute to discussions; I can build my own PLN - names (and some faces) I now readily recognize  who check in with me, and I with them, as we work collectively to become better teachers.

The most important facet of all this connectivity, though, is how much it inspires me. The more I get connected, the more I see what others are working to accomplish, the more I want to do myself. I want to put in the extra work in flipping my classroom. I want to apply for technology grants. I want to take risks and try new methods/software/strategies with my students. And I want to SHARE what I'm doing with other educators - both my successes and my failures. There has never been a mentor, pedagogical book, PD session or inspirational video that has motivated me to do this much.

#CE13 has shown me that though I may be geographically remote, I am far from alone. And while it is one thing to just sit back and learn, it is entirely another to become engaged in the teaching community around me in cyberspace, in order to push myself to new levels of teaching.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Finding the Perfect Resources

With my actual "teaching" reduced to lots of 1-on-1 help in-class and spontaneous mini-lessons (no more big, long notes!), the bulk of my prep time is now spent finding the perfect resources for my students. There are a couple of criteria I try and fulfill as I populate the master list. I always try and keep the following in mind:


I try to give the students a wide variety of resources. There are so many to choose from: videos, text, interactive webpages, worked examples, tutorials, slideshows, online quizzes, online textbooks... it would be impossible to list one of each kind for each learning goal. 

Instead, I try and make sure I list at least 3 or 4 types of resource with each goal. At the bare minimum, the "Learn It" list always includes videos, our textbook, and an in-class mini-lecture when appropriate, while the "Practice It" list always includes various worksheets and our textbook. From there, I vary it up depending on what I can find.

I want to make sure many learning styles are addressed, as well as the various access points - not all of our students have internet access at home, so paper copies of worksheets and the textbook are still a necessity (and some prefer them over online resources anyway!).


I often try to match the vocabulary level of the resource with that of my students. Whether it's a video or text on a page, I'm always looking for material between the lines of "too easy/immature/childish" and "too hard/mature/complex."

In addition to the vocabulary used, I look at the layout of the page, tone of voice in the video or tutorial, and level of math presented. What will appeal to the students? What will engage them? Will this be a site they are willing to return to in order to review or learn something new?

Though they don't often find new resources on their own, when the students do find something they like I ask that they show me so that I can add it to the list.

Complete Package

There are a great many online worksheets for every math topic under the sun. In addition to finding ones that are at the right level for my students and have the appropriate number of practice questions (greater than 4 but less than, say, 20, which some students would find daunting just by looking at the page), I only ever include ones with an answer key.

The whole point of this style of learning is that the students can identify a way to learn, and a way to practice, on their own. In my mind, having the answers at the ready so they can see that they've got it is a necessity. In a selfish sense, too, it saves me having to assess random worksheets to see if the students got the right answer. Instead, the students only come to me when they know they've made a mistake, but they can't find where they're going wrong.

Interactive quizzes which provide immediate feedback (and even hints sometimes) are always included when I can find them.

When Nothing Else Fits...

Even with the abundance of resources on the world wide web, some students still can't find what works best for them. One has declared that she "can't learn from the internet;" one told me that he prefers just a worked example (no preamble or instructional jazz) to study and work through on his own. 

For students like the former, I make sure to touch base with them in class, answer questions, offer mini-lectures or work through review with them on the white boards. For students like the latter, I create one-page worked examples (see picture above). Perhaps in time I'll make my own instructional videos, too, for when I can't find anything suitable online.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How can BYOD Help Motivate my Students?

Though this is my fifth time (wait... sixth? I've lost count) teaching the MCF3M course in the past eight years, I find I'm putting just as much prep into it as a new course. I'm loving the effects of having the students navigate their way through the course, but I want to make sure I give them every possible chance to succeed.

What that has meant for me so far, is that I'm spending hours every week tweaking the learning goals, finding good resources (appropriate language level, appropriate academic level, resources aimed at the right age level - even the look of the resource. Is it too childish? Too mature?), and tracking the students. In this sense, teaching the course is what I expected: lots of time spent in advance of the class preparing resources, but little to no time spent preparing "teaching" materials.

Students working together to master one of the learning goals.

But I'm also looking at how to motivate the students, or help them motivate themselves. The BYOD is a big part of this - by bringing the material to where the students are, by engaging them on their own devices, and by putting them in control.

Initially, this worked very well since it was a novelty for the students to be able to use their devices in class (I'm one of the few teachers at my school that allows this). But like any novelty, the excitement is beginning to wear off.

So my next question becomes: how can I continue to harness the power of BYOD in order to continue to motivate the students through the quickly-approaching dreary winter months when I'm sure math is not high on their list of priorities?

By looking at the results of the motivation survey, one theme that pops out is that my students' motivation depends on how useful the curriculum is. Will they need this information once they have written the final exam and finished the course? Is this something that can apply to some aspect of their everyday life? Or possibly their future careers? Can they see the link between taking this course and being successful in life?

These are all areas in which I can improve. It could be as simple as adding a tidbit of information to a learning goal ("manufacturers use functions like these to calculate profit based on production cost"), or as intricate as designing an investigation based on real-life phenomena (tracking the diminishing height of a regulation vs. a too-soft basketball).

Incorporating BYOD, perhaps I could send them out with their devices to create a photo-collage of how these concepts might be used in real life. Or contact an industry representative on Twitter to ask where they have seen these concepts. Or create an augmented reality "aura" demonstrating to other students how they themselves might use some of these concepts in their own careers.

At the end of this unit, as we finish with quadratic functions, I was planning on giving the students a cross-curricular task, linking what any part of we have done with any other topic/learning goal they mastered from any course they took in grade 10. But now I'm not convinced that would be the best way to motivate them. 


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sources of Student Motivation

To get a better handle on precisely what motivates my students (both to make them more aware of how they can motivate themselves, as well as provide me with clues as to how to keep them motivated through the course material), I gave them a survey based on two I found online: Marcia Connor's What's Your Motivation Style and Beth Castiglia's Factors Driving Student Motivation (see appendix for survey questions).

I asked them to consider their motivation for any class - not just math - to keep the results general.

Here is what we found out about ourselves:

I study more:

  1. when midterms and practicals are approaching
  2. when I find the material to be interesting and practical
  3. when I like the teacher
but not... when the class is difficult and I am afraid of failing.

I am motivated to study:

  1. because I want to get good grades
  2. because I actually want to know the material
  3. because I want to prove something to myself
but not... because studying makes me feel good or because I want to outdo my classmates or friends.

My top reasons for not studying are:

  1. I would rather go out or hang out with my friends
  2. I have no time to study because of work and family obligations
  3. I'll never even remember or use the content of the course later on (tied with #2)
  4. I hate the course or topic
but not... because the facilities at school are conducive to study, because I would not do well in the course anyway or because my teacher is "cool" or "easy."

As for their primary motivation style, our class is primarily goal-oriented (preferring a direct and obvious route; not finding the process of learning much fun) and relationship-oriented (preferring learning through interactions with others). 

Only six students indicated being learning-oriented (preferring to focus on the process of actually learning and problem solving).

Reflections to follow.