Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Semester, New Goals

Last semester, when I started BYOD and started this blog, I was trying to integrate technology with with a grade 11 mixed level math class. Some students were coming from an academic stream, while others were coming from a more applied level. I thought it would be an ideal course in which to learn independent study and learning skills, especially since most students taking it would go on to take the grade 12 university-level data management course.

The results were eye-opening at the extremes: some students coming from the applied level, who I expected might struggle with the more advanced theoretical content, ended up with some of the top marks (> 85%) in the class. They thrived in a system of moving at their own pace and choosing how they wanted to learn.  I can't remember the last time I had students work so earnestly to achieve an amazing level and depth of understanding.

On the flip side of the coin, some students coming from the academic level, for whom the level of math should not have posed a problem (a lot of the content was identical to what they learned last year), were unable to manage their time or workload throughout the semester, and accomplished very little understanding (resulting in an overall mark < 20%). I also can't remember the last time I had students do so little in a course.

The majority of the students in the class struggled somewhat with learning independently, but with a bit of a push at the end (exam exemptions based on an overall grade helped motivate them), they finished up with decent understanding of the course material.
Students taking notes from a video

So where does that leave me for this new semester? I'm currently in week 2 of BYOD learning with my grade 10 applied-level math class. As I'm planning my units and the learning goals within, there are a couple of things I find myself coming back to upon reflection of the first semester:

1. The amount of success with BYOD does not depend on academic level.
  • It doesn't matter how much the student knows coming into the course, it's how well he or she can manage one's time and workload to accomplish the tasks set in front of them. This semester I aim to identify students who struggle with this earlier, and to work more closely with them and their parents to explore management strategies. Some students got overwhelmed toward the end of the course in semester 1 and gave up. I don't want that to happen again.

2. Constant reinforcement of curation skills will help everyone.
  • Last semester I allowed students to do as they pleased when it comes to note-taking and organization. About half the students took some kind of note on various lessons, but the majority just wrote down an example or two and moved on. That made it really hard for them to review later on and study. This semester, I started with the introduction of the Cornell note-taking system, and led the students through an example. I aim to remind students of this system often, and have in place an expectation of good, clear notes from which they can learn

3. Skill practice must be enforced for long-term success.
  • Last semester many students would learn the material, regurgitate it for the exit slip, and then promptly forget it. In addition to having the students curate what they learn, I am also aiming to enforce the practice aspect of learning. Before the students can receive an exit slip, they have to show me - or my peer teacher, who I am very lucky to have with me in this class - that they have practiced the skill with success. I'm hoping this leads to more success on summative tasks like tests or unit projects.

Though I made it through one semester, I still very much feel like I am completely new to all of this. We'll continue to tweak and hone our system as we move through the course. As always, suggestions, experiences and comments are welcome!


  1. Hi Heather,

    It is interesting to think about why certain types of students are successful in this type of learning environment (and others are not). I think there is a lot to be learned about how to motivate students and develop them as independent learners with the increasing influence of technology delivered learning. There is a lot of talk about teaching students about growth mindset and how this impacts them as learners in general. It would be interesting to measure the students mindset toward learning at the beginning of the course and see if this was related to their success.
    - Marcie

    1. I wonder how I could measure growth mindset? I poll my classes on what motivates them and what style of learner they are... I'm unsure as to what I could ask them to measure how keen they are to learn! My current class is a pretty even mix of goal-driven and social-driven students. It will be interesting to tailor the resources to their needs...


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