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!


  1. Wow. That's a lot of new stuff all in one go. :)

    I wonder if you have had a look at It looks terrific--great visuals, customizable lessons, games, videos, data, teaching tools, and textbook support. It is predominately a science resource, so although I have test driven a few interactives myself (Build-a-Tree), I have never had the opportunity to use it in class.

    And have you checked out, which is site dedicated to supporting Ontario teachers using D2L?

    I also like tapping into BIE resources and project ideas (; they are project based learning specialists, who offer courses, templates and tons of support.

    1. Thanks, Julie!! I use Tim's on a regular basis (MAN there's a lot of stuff there!!), but I haven't heard of - I'll be sure to check it out! As I move to have the students do more independent learning in science (a new venture for me), I'm looking to add more interesting resources.

      The site looks very interesting - there are so many great sites out there, and I'm only scratching the surface! :) Thanks again!

  2. Please let me know what you and your students think of Sponge.lab. Some teachers like the videos and use the site to augment their teaching, but they are not teachers who are "letting go" yet. I am curious to know if the students are motivated by the gamification and if you find the analytics to be useful. Please share with whomever is teaching senior bio since Spongelab has a game about the "History of Biology", which looks fab. (Maybe there's a future post in here somewhere ;) )

  3. Hi Heather;

    I loved reading this!

    I great next step would be connecting you to some amazing online science teachers in Ontario. We want to get all of you working more collaboratively next year. Imagine the power!!

    I will be in touch. I, like Julie, am very interested in how you like spongelab.


    1. Thanks, Donna! I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to try and put into words all the ideas swirling around my head!!

      Speaking of sponges, I'm just absorbing as much as I can now, so any connections you can throw my way would be greatly appreciated. I'm not even sure what all is possible at this point, but the potential is absolutely huge! I'm looking forward to trying spongelab - I'll let you know what I think :) Thanks again!

  4. Hi Heather. Great ideas! I love the summer for the same reason, it is the only time I can reorganize and plan for another busy year. I have one idea that might help - do you know about the BIT2014 - Conference in November? This might be a great place to connect with other educators. I went for the first time last year and it was terrific!

    1. Thanks, Paul! I have heard of the BIT2014 conference, and have my eye on attending (especially after attending the OTRK12 conference this past spring), but I'm already scheduled to be at STAO the following week so I don't know if it would work out with all the travel. So many amazing conferences, so little time!


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