Sunday, November 2, 2014

Finding an Audience

One of my goals for this year is to garner a larger audience for my students and their work. I have big ideas and plans of working with other classes (both in the school and in other schools) for cross-curricular projects, but I find one of the biggest stumbling blocks for me is really just getting my students' work out there for others to see.

There are a few things that I've tried so far this semester, and I'm quite pleased by the results. Not only are the students more intrinsically motivated to put more effort into their work, but they are buoyed by the feedback they receive from teachers/adults other than myself.

Grade 9 Math

One of our first projects was creating "Welcome to Grade 9 Math" booklets aimed at grade 8s coming into high school. The aim was to get the students thinking of the basic algebraic skills needed to succeed, and how they could teach these concepts to younger students. 
Examples of some of the booklets
I had done this activity with grade 9s in the past, but this year I reached out to the grade 8 math teachers at our feeder schools, and asked if they would like to use these in their classes. Four teachers from three schools agreed, so the booklets were divided up and shipped off. The only constraint was that booklets made by a school's alumni did not return to that school.

Knowing that their booklets were ACTUALLY going to be used by grade 8s inspired my class to put extra time and effort into their work, and whenever I get feedback from the grade 8 teachers, I am sure to share it with my class so they are reminded that the legacy of their work lives on - this was not just another project to store in a box or get thrown out when finished. 

Here is an example of some of the feedback I recently shared with my students from one of the grade 8 teachers:

"My students have had the chance to view these booklets.  They were very interested in knowing more about concepts that they need to know next year.  Even though many of the concepts are continuations from this year, they were intrigued by these booklets.  I think it was an eye opener for them.  I try my very best to really focus on key ideas that will be required for Grade 9, so this project was excellent!  I might try to do something similar with my students for those coming from Grade 7.  It's a great way for students to review their learning."

In grade 9 we have also shared our creations with a grade 9 math class in Kingston (see the collaboration post on that project here), and collected some data for Jon Orr's Pumpkin Time Bomb project. We are hoping to use the data Jon has collected from that larger project when we get to our unit on correlations.

Pumpkin Time Bomb

Grade 11 Physics

Though we weren't planning on sharing our work outside of the classroom, a collaborative slide show the students were working on for Newton's Laws became a little more public than intended when a couple of teachers on Twitter wanted to see an example of this kind of collaboration in action. It was a two-day project, with the announcement that the end product would be used as an exemplar for teachers learning about GAFE coming on the second day.

The result was this Google Slides slide show. Though the criteria of the project didn't change, most students spent the second day tending to smaller details of the project, and verifying that what they had written was actually correct. Whereas before it was just about crossing off the expectations of the assignment, suddenly the project wasn't just about pleasing me (their teacher) - it was about showing off what they knew, and being creative.

Grade 12 Math

In grade 12 math, we're taking things to the next level as we are actually going to try and sell our creations to make a profit! The students have been working on an assignment using Desmos to create a pattern that will be printed on fabric, wallpaper or giftwrap, and sold on Once the patterns are published, the students will make 10% commission on any sales. The audience has become global, and their reward for their efforts - while partially a good grade - will be any money they make. You can view the assignment here.

One of our patterns for spoonflower, made in Desmos.

Students couldn't believe they would be able to actually make money off of a math project, and it motivated many of them to create some great patterns in Desmos. I hope to have an update on this as we finish the project and get everything uploaded into spoonflower for sale. Some students were even talking about ordering their own pattern on giftwrap so that they could wrap Christmas presents for their family in it!

Toward the end of the unit, students were also asked to design a worksheet with questions not for their own grade level, but, similarly to the grade 9 booklet project above, for students at a lower level (the assignment can be found here: Passing on the Knowledge). The worksheets will be used by other teachers at the school, and must be submitted in a "ready-to-be-photocopied" state. Asking students to produce 15 questions often produces some scribbles on a crumply piece of paper. Asking students to produce 15 questions for another class produces some masterpieces - I have never seen them write so neatly! :) While I knew that creating an audience would help improve student engagement, I had not expected great results like these.

Flattening the walls...

I still feel like these are small steps at this point, but I am getting there (and getting more comfortable with the idea of flattening the classroom walls and letting others look in!). I love the idea of taking the students' demonstration of knowledge outside of the class so that it's not just me that sees their final work. I'm always looking for new ideas - what have you tried when it comes to sharing student work and giving them an audience?


  1. I have often thought that my work was just 'small steps.' I was wrong. Every time we stretch the limits and imagine how we can make change happen it is significant. I love the idea of making worksheets/booklets for other students.

    1. It's true - even though it feels like small steps when I compare what I do to others, when I look back at how far I've come recently, it's pretty cool :) One of the grade 8 teachers just returned a set of booklets back to me with feedback written by her students for my students - looking forward to giving them back to my students this week!


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