Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reflections on #OOE13 so far

Our end-of-month task for #OOE13 ( 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.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Keeping them Motivated

From the student feedback last week, I've made a couple of small modifications to the infrastructure of the course which seem to have a positive impact. We continue to use the tracking chart for the new unit (the tablet tracking system has been put aside, as it was really only a digital version of the tracking chart for me), a fancy new binder helps keep the unit materials sorted and easy-to-find for both myself and the students, and there's now a big line on the master list indicating where students should be to consider themselves on-pace with the unit.

A month in to the semester, the class routine has settled nicely. At the bell,
  • we quiet down for announcements (changes, reminders,  etc.),
  • I hand back and give personal feedback on any exit slips that indicated the student wasn't quite ready to move on,
  • I check in with individuals as I work my way around the room returning the slips, get everyone working and focussed (some days more focussed than others...),
  • students figure out what they need to do by consulting the chart or the master list and get whatever resources they need,
  • students request mini-lectures and I begin teaching them once the slips are all returned.

Everyone then continues to work - more or less productively - for the remainder of class.

I am beginning to get a little concerned, however, as a good number of students seem to be losing their motivation. Upon prompting, they'll get up to find a particular resource, or re-open their book, or ask for some help, but I find myself reminding them more and more that class is a time to work on the course, not just socialize. 

Some students are taking 40+ minutes to complete a single exit slip (the longest of which, really, should only take 5 minutes at most), as they get distracted by their friends. The chatter is getting louder and louder - to the point where I actually projected a continually-running deciBel meter app from my iPad onto the board so they could see just how loud things were getting (and it did quiet them down, somewhat).

I'm sure part of this is that the class has grown - I've gone from 22 students at the beginning of the semester to 30. They certainly fill the room, and a little bit of talking among 30 students goes a long way.

How can I get them re-focussed and motivated? What is it that actually motivates my students? Grades? Future goals? Comparing themselves to the rest of the class? External rewards provided by parents? And once I know, how can I tie this motivation into the course?

I'll be giving them a survey tomorrow to assess what motivates them, as well as determining what their primary motivation style is. Results to follow...

Friday, October 4, 2013

It's Friday - time to wipe 'em clean

With my BYOD class using a school set of tablets on a regular basis, I find spending 10-20 minutes at the end of the week to clean them off (literally and figuratively) a good way to stay on top of how the students are (possibly) misusing them, as well as keep them in good shape.

Here is what I do for each tablet:

  1. Reset the lockscreen and background images if necessary (I find if we end up with a lot of silly classmate photos on the startup screen, that just encourages the students to take even more photos, particularly from class to class).
  2. Clear the update alerts & notifications.
  3. Clear the camera gallery (see point 1 above!).
  4. Clear any recently-added games or inappropriate apps (the Zippo lighter app seemed to be popular one week...).
  5. Force quit any apps running in the background.
  6. Power the tablet off completely for the weekend.
  7. Wipe down the screen (so they look super shiny and new!)
This also gives me the chance to make sure that each tablet is working correctly - one week I found a tablet that wouldn't rotate the screen when tipped. Quick Google search, and it was fixed and ready to go for the next week.

This was just an off-the-top of my head routine that I started doing on Fridays... how do you take care of school-owned technology? Is there anything I should be adding to my list?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Today was the first day of the second unit of our BYOD class. We started by taking a look at the calendar on the course website, noticing that there is a new bar on today's date for unit 2, and then visiting the link within that bar to unit 2's "master list."

The students were reminded of the class format, the resources available to them, and the expectations of the course. There was to be one difference to today's class, though - today I would be moving from "pod to pod" within the room, speaking with 3-5 students at a time about their test results, how the first unit went (in their opinion), and how they would like to see the course progress through the new unit. 

Basically, I wanted to know: what do the students find is working? It was great sitting down with them in these small groups, and I found all of the conversation to be respectful and engaging. Here is some of what they said: 

Awesome stuff:

  1. 10-minute mini-lectures: These were overwhelmingly loved by the students. Many said they really liked receiving the note in small groups (rather than to the whole class) as it let them ask more questions and control the pace of the note better. Because the students tend to work with their friends, in a mini-lecture there they found there was less conflict/frustrations between students of different cliques or backgrounds, allowing them to feel more comfortable in class as a whole.

  2. Online resources: Many students (but not all) really took advantage of the online videos, worksheets, lessons and tutorials to work ahead or get caught up from home. Those students who had to spend time away from school seemed to benefit from this the most.

  3. Tracking Chart: Students liked the visual aspect of the tracking chart, both to keep on top of their own progress, but also as a double check for me (did I not get their work from learning goal 7? They were sure they handed it it? Let's look together…). The students suggested we add to this by denoting - somehow - roughly where the students should be in the course on the master list, as if they were working at an average pace through the learning goals.

  4. Pace: On the whole, students like working at their own pace, not only as they move forward through the material, but also because the master list lets them jump back and forth between topics - the resources are always there.

  5. Live Help: Students wanted the ability to receive help when they needed it, and suggested I keep the editable Google Docs Help! file accessible at all times - not just as we approached a test.

Comme-ci, comme-├ža:

  1. Testing: Students liked the quizzes (taken after every 3 learning goals), but not the test (taken at the end of the unit). They liked how the quizzes and test matched the learning goals well, but felt there was too much expected of them on the test. I'm not sure if this is due to poor review of the unit's 8 learning goals on their part, or rather my tests are too long. I'll be talking with other teachers, and showing them my test, to see what they think. We'll also revise our review process leading up to the next test.

  2. Videos: A small number of students used the videos quite a bit, but many find them boring (just following someone's writing while listening to a voice) and complicated. youtube is also still blocked at our school, making even trying to watch the videos frustrating. I'm on a mission to find better-quality videos. Bonus if they are not on youtube.

  3. One-on-one help: Several groups discussed the availability of one-on-one help during class time. They like that there is lots of opportunity to interact with me, but they - like me - find the class so busy that they can't always get the amount of help they want. 
I struggle with this last one. During the first 60 minutes of class, I always feel run off my feet between mini-lectures, getting handouts for some, answering "quick" questions for others, encouraging everyone to get on task/stay on task, helping students with software issues or fixing a tablet when it won't connect to the wi-fi. I am constantly among the students, yet many of them find they have to wait quite a while before I can get to them. 

One of the strategies I hope to use to help with this includes getting a properly organized binder of handouts that the students themselves can go to when they are ready to move forward in the unit, instead of having me "guard" the exit slips. Another strategy is to often remind and encourage them to consult each other. Hopefully this will help.

Definitely need to change:

  1. The only complaint the students really had about the first unit, was that one day I was away from class for a meeting. They felt that between me being away and, in some cases, them being away the day before/after, they lost up to two days of progress. It didn't help that this was just a few days before the test. While this could be an excellent opportunity to remind them of their access to resources as well as initiative when it comes to independent learning, in the interest of keeping everyone organized, I'll be letting the students know in advance - where possible - when I won't be in class.

Other comments: 

One pod of students said they would benefit from a more traditional structure to the class: having a note, and then practicing the concepts until they are ready for the exit slip. For this group, I will start each class with a mini-lecture at their table (and to any others who want to join in), on the learning goal of their choice to get them started, before moving on to the rest of the class. I think it's a nice compromise.

Onward and upward into the second unit!