Thursday, July 24, 2014

Plans, Plans, Plans

The #blogamonth topic for July is setting our goals for the new school year. Not just any goals, but - in the facilitators' own words - "BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOALS!!"

I love the summer because (among other things) it gives me time to read, plan, jot down ideas, plan some more, create learning goals, and finally, plan exciting new units and activities. I'm a definitely a planner. My biggest lament during the school year is that I find all sorts of new ideas to try, but little time to plan things out to the point where I can implement them.

My summer office
This summer, I created a new notebook in Evernote, with a new note for every class I'm teaching next school year, and I've been jotting down ideas as they come to me. I'm amazed at how many ideas I've come up with, but there are definitely a few trends as to what I want to try:

Genius Hour / 20% Time

This is my biggest, hairiest, most audacious goal for next year. In my grade 9 general science class (second semester), I want to take between 10-20% of our class time and devote it to what the students themselves want to learn. I'm having a blast looking through what other teachers have done, and I'm just starting now to feel like this might be possible.

I'm worried about covering class content, though (it's tough enough to get through the entire curriculum well enough to prepare them for grade 10 general science) in addition to this project, and I'm worried about the implementation of such a large project over a large period of time, with a "younger" group of students. But I'm excited by the possibilities, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the students come up with.

Citizen Science / Creating for a Greater Audience

I've always been a big believer in having students contribute to "real" projects. When students realize that what they're producing will have a bigger audience than just their teacher, the stakes are raised, and they have a greater incentive to learn and perform well. It's not just about the mark any more.

In my grade 12 math class, I hope to have them creating products for others (scale model doll houses for local youngsters, resources for grade 9/10 math classes, geometric designs printed on fabric that can be sold through throughout the year.

In general science, I'm looking at getting my students involved in "citizen science" where they can collect and contribute data to real scientific investigations around the world. I'm totally inspired by @jaccalder's success with Earthwatchers and want to try something similar.

In all of my courses, I would love to connect that class with another class in the region/province/country/world so they can share their learning. Do you know of a high school science or math or Physics class we can collaborate with? :)

Active Students

I want to move away from delivering the content to my students, and more toward having them go out and find/synthesize the curriculum. I love the idea of an active class - seldom do I want to be seen lecturing from the front of the room.

In grade 9 math, I'm hoping to use more real data - information collected within the school, information from sites like or sea turtle tracking, or information from hands-on activities (volume of water in water balloons, ratios and volume change in making pancakes). I would love to have all my classes contribute data points to a giant graph my grade 9s have made (similar to this:)

In grade 12 Data Management, I want to have them collect data on a global scale through Google Forms and build catapults that will launch a projectile with the smallest standard deviation in target.

In Physics, I'd love to see more "design your own" labs - break open the whole inquiry idea and really let them try, test, fail, tweak, and design their labs for real experimentation. I'm also toying with having them create a video series for younger students to explain the physics principles we cover in class using demos and kid-friendly language.

Blended, Independent Learning with a vLE

Last year, I ran my math courses - learning goals, learning options, project pages - exclusively off a Google Doc. This year, I want to move everything into the virtual Learning Environment (vLE) that our board and ministry recommend. I've spent a good part of the summer immersed in the vLE as @christheij and I teach online summer school, and I'm looking forward to customizing the courses (the shells just arrived this week!) and automating exit tickets.

While I like the security a vLE offers, I'm still hoping to combine it with global connections (class blogging? class tweeting? class instagram account?). Not sure how that's going to work yet...

But I'm still looking for MORE! What are YOU trying that's new and innovative (either new to you or new to everyone!)? How else can I connect my classes with the world? What works best when opening up the curriculum to include whatever the students want to do? I would love to hear your ideas and goals!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A BYOD Year in Review

Ten months ago, I started changing the way I teach math. I had become disenchanted with the traditional approach of 1. Review homework (which was seldom attempted); 2. Teach a note (which only some of the students paid attention to); 3. Try some questions (which seemed to require me repeating a lot of what was in the original note to students individually), and 4. Start again the next day.

It wasn't working for me (even I was getting bored), and it certainly wasn't working for the majority of my students. So I switched two of my classes over to a proficiency-based, independent learning system that was paced almost entirely by my individual students, and focused on BYOD. And I loved it.

I won't go through all the details of what I tried (read through the rest of the blog for that!), but I did want to consolidate my thoughts as I close out the year and start gearing up for the next.

Love that this was a typical class this past semester...

Things I love about this new system:

Student confidence improved
  • The students who put in the work at their own pace - even ones who traditionally struggled with math - experienced success on a regular basis through the exit slips, improving their confidence on quizzes and tests.
  • Students used the tracking board to quickly see what they need to do to complete a unit, and always had a good idea of what needed to be done to succeed.
  • Students were more likely to jump in and help each other since we were all working together.
  • Students were very comfortable on their devices, and this translated somewhat to their math work.
  • Student stress was also reduced, and many students told me that they didn't dread coming to math class any more.

Students became 100% responsible for their learning
  • There seemed to be a more direct correlation between the work a student put into the course and their mark, and this was a correlation they noticed as well.
  • I had more students be very successful (80%+) because of their efforts. I also had students receive less than 20% (I had never had that happen before), due to them putting NO effort into the course. Their final mark seemed more reflective of their effort and ability than in a typical class.

This was much more fun!
  • My students were never bored in class, and the time just seemed to fly by ("Class is over in 5 minutes?! How did that happen??").
  • The behind-the-scenes work was pretty heavy, but I could just walk into class ready to help whoever needed it - no need to prepare notes, make photocopies, or even have a plan. That was a nice feeling of freedom I didn't expect.
  • The marking load was reduced since there were more exit slips (very quick to assess) and fewer daily worksheets/assignments.

I never lost teaching/learning days
  • I never had to postpone a lesson or lose a teaching day because most of the class is absent due to a sporting event or field trip.
  • Students could be behind, on-schedule, or ahead of schedule all during the same period. There was always something for them to work on regardless of how many of them were present.
  • If connectivity within the community could be improved, this could be extended to snow days - no use losing a day of learning just because the busses aren't running!

I never saw students falling asleep in class
  • Any lectures by me were 10 minutes in length, done for maybe five students at most. We went at their pace, and let them come up with the examples, making them much more involved in the note.
  • Students were choosing to work, choosing what they wanted to work on, and choosing the pace at which they wanted to go.
  • Students never had to wait for the rest of the class to catch up. If they quickly mastered a concept, they work ahead of schedule.
Teaching each other
So is this something I will continue doing? YES. But there were still some big issues that I feel far from having resolved...

Things I'm still struggling with:

Connectivity issues
  • Even with a switch in our classroom, we were still dealing with lagging connection speeds and the occasional outage.
  • There were still many sites blocked (youtube, Google Drive, discussion forums) that I would like to see made available.

Getting students to make good notes
  • Students still preferred taking the easy way out and quickly absorbing and then regurgitating information. Very few took regular notes, so when it came to tests or exams (that were long after the original concepts were learned), many struggled because they couldn't remember what they had learned.
  • Some focus on note-taking at the beginning of the course seemed to help, but it needed to be reviewed regularly to keep the momentum going.
  • Next year I'd like to include a notebook mark in the students' grade - making sure they have a record of their learning (but recognizing that it could be on paper, in Evernote, through pictures, etc.)

Getting students to do some work on their own
  • Because of the free-flowing style of the classroom, students are more likely to get help from each other (yay!) on everything, including work that should be done independently (boo!). There were, unfortunately, a couple of students who got through on the coattails of others, as evidenced by repeated poor performance on tests (but very good results on in-class work).

Having taught this way, and seen some dramatic results, there's no going back to being the sage on the stage! I'm really happy with how this year went, and look forward to conducting more classes in this style next year

This summer, I'm concentrating on moving my resources from Google Drive (not supported by my board) into the ministry-approved virtual Learning Environment (vLE), converting my science courses into this format, and trying to find new ways of having my students share their learning. I'm always looking for new ideas! How has BYOD and/or proficiency-based learning changed how YOU teach?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Meet Your Teachers, With QR Codes!

The more I immerse myself in educational apps, BYOD, and the latest online toys, the more I try and find ways to sneak them in to what I teach and where I teach. 

This past spring, one of my colleagues decided to put together a display in our front foyer introducing the familiar faces within our school (teachers, office staff, counsellors, custodians, cafeteria staff, etc.) to the new grade 9s entering the school in September. She envisioned a yearbook-style display with photos and names so the students feel more at ease and put faces to names on their timetables.

Can you find Pippen, the empathy dog that ate our scavenger hunt clue??

But why not kick it up an notch??

So we added a little extra touch: beside everyone's name is a QR code that links to information about each teacher (that we collected from everyone through a Google Form), so not only can new (and old) students see who their teachers are, they can also learn a little bit about each of them.

Scan the codes to see what kind of information the teachers are sharing!

Why a QR code??

  • They don't clutter up the display - they each have potentially a lot of information, but we don't have to worry about fitting all that information by everyone's picture!
  • They are dynamic - thanks to suggestions by @robert_kahlman and @MahfuzaLRahman, each QR code (created with a Chrome add-on) links to a Google Doc, so I can change someone's information on the fly without needing to print off a new QR code!
  • They will (hopefully!) make students take more notice of the board - instead of just giving it a passing glance, I'm hoping students stop, scan, share with friends, compare teachers, etc. The codes make the display so much more interactive.
  • They will introduce students to another way to use their devices - not many know what a QR code is or how to scan one. This will give them one more tool in their BYOD arsenal. We've included "how-to-scan" information with the display too.
  • This also introduced teachers to the idea of QR codes! When I pitched the idea at a staff meeting, many of the teachers had never heard of a QR code before or knew how to scan one. With more teachers using the technology, it might creep in to more classroom activities too.

The only downfall? As it is now, the codes are too small/too far from the viewers to be scanned properly. I'll be printing out another copy of the names with the QR codes to list down either side of the main display that the students can get right up to the codes to scan them.

I'm excited to see what students (and staff!) do with this display in the fall as the new semester starts up. Next step - a little augmented reality embedded in the photos? :)