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?

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