Sunday, January 18, 2015


I absolutely loved the frankness and honesty in @stoodle's blog post on Exorcising Teacher Demons@MrOrr_geek took this one step further and started #10GoodThings - a list of, well, ten good things that happened to him and his classes in 2014, to remind him (and others) that we are indeed fighting the good fight, and doing great things.

So here is my list. They are mostly BYOD/tech related because that seems to be my focus of late. I'm going to nominate fellow #rdsb21c bloggers and bloggers-to-be (@hpennie, @bauerE9, @henschsci, @MrJamesEady) to complete the challenge as well.

Here are my #10GoodThings from 2014

1. 2014 was the first year I started using Twitter to really connect with other teachers. Not just to say hi, but to collaborate on projects and have my students create something along with other students across Ontario. @PatGrew's Ratio Project and @MrOrr_geek's Pumpkin Time Bomb really stand out, as well as @s_m077's Skype chat between grade 3s and grade 12s.


2. I had great support from my principal and vice-principals on BYOD. Every step of the way, from applying for grants, to taking time to figure things out in class, to letting my students run around the school taking pictures of slopes, they've allowed me to experiment and grow. I'm very appreciative of that (and of them!).

3. 2014 was a banner year for attending conferences and non-board PD! Off the top of my head, I was able to connect face-to-face with colleagues at functions by Ontario Principals Council, STAO, STAO Congress, OTRK12, 2 EdCamps, and Manitoulin IGNITEd. It's tough being out of the classroom, but great to get out and discover new ideas.

4. Along with attending conferences, I also had my first opportunities to share my BYOD experiences and help other teachers get started with online pursuits.

5. I finally had the chance to teach true e-learning in the summer with an online Physics course. I had been wanting the opportunity to really test out D2L's vLE waters for some time.

6. I started overhearing good things - unexpected things - from my math & physics students that I'd never heard before. Some would tell each other that this was their favourite class, some would jump in to help a struggling student learn, many would say that they liked the pace, tone, and informality of our class. One student even told me that she likes ending the day with math because she goes home happy. I'm not pretending all students are in the same boat, but teaching-wise, I think I might be on the right track...

7. I became much more of a risk-taker in 2014, teaching a little more like a PIRATE both in how I deliver information as well as building up the excitement in my classes. My students are STILL talking about the mysterious build-up to our Hallowe'en activity.

8. In 2014, I learned to appreciate blogging a lot more, both as a reflection practice for myself, as well as taking the time to read other blogs (through #comcon and #blogamonth) and participate in conversations by commenting on others' blogs.

9. In the latter half of the year, our school's digital infrastructure was improved immensely, giving students and teachers much better connectivity. Slow connections and inconsistency in actually staying connected were perhaps my biggest frustrations while introducing tech into the classroom, and I'm happy to say it is so much better now. Now if I can just convince the powers-that-be to unblock youtube...

10. My husband (@christheij) started adopting and embracing technology in his own ways in his music classes in 2014. It was a really good year of developing ideas alongside him for our respective classes, and growing together as teachers. He has been a huge source of support, and he helped keep me sane throughout a crazy year.

What are YOUR #10GoodThings??

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Watching Students Struggle

Coming back from winter break, I found myself pressed for time in my grade 9 math class. We have just three weeks before the end of the semester, in which I need to squeeze one more unit (linear equations - arguably one of the most important concepts the grade 9s will take with them as they pursue higher levels of math), a unit test, a practice test for EQAO (don't get me started), the EQAO test itself (lasting two days) and the summative project.

We haven't had a snow day yet, but if we do lose a day because of one, this it going to be cutting things awfully close.

My instinct returning from winter break was to rush the students through the learning goals of this last unit - cover as much ground as possible - in what little time we have left. But I knew, too, that particularly with these linear equations, there needed to be a deeper level of understanding. 

I forced myself to slow down. Instead of assigning many small, quick learning checks, I assigned a a larger activity, forcing the students to also slow down. Forcing them to take their time and really understand what it was they were doing. Forcing them to not get the correct answer right away, but instead have to tweak and place in check what they knew as they went. 

The students found the leap to using equations to represent linear functions to be very hard. On Monday and Tuesday, I heard many students complaining about how much they "hate" this unit, and how difficult they find it. This has really been their first challenging unit in this course, and this is the first time all semester I have heard my students speak like this. It was disheartening.

To make matters worse (in their eyes), the activity I assigned them is in Desmos... which many of them haven't used before and were very hesitant about trying.

We had some pep talks in class, we discussed the value of being challenged and growth mindset ("This is hard!" they'd say; "Good! That means you're learning!" I'd say), and we talked about how the only way to get through this was to TRY things and to make mistakes - to take the time to play with Desmos and play with the equations. That things this challenging don't come immediately. To be honest, though, I didn't think they believed me.

Things started to change, however, on Wednesday of this week. Students started coming into class saying "I did it!!" They told me about how it took them one-and-a-half, or two, or two-and-a-half hours the night before, but they figured out Desmos and they got their initials done. They told me about how they understood this whole linear equation thing. And they told me all this with huge smiles. 

They started telling others in class that it wasn't that hard, but that they, too, HAD to play with it. They started helping each other, and creating things in Desmos together. Students would come up to me with their tablet to ask how to place a line or "cut" a line, and then figure it out on their own and literally cheer with joy. No longer afraid, they jumped into the rest of the learning goals of the unit, and are picking them up much faster than I would have expected.

Within a week, our class went from knowing nothing about linear equations, to being able to graph them (from an idea AND from an equation), figuring out the equation from a given graph, creating tables of values from equations and from graphs, and determining the equations of horizontal and vertical lines. I'm super proud of them for digging in deep and overcoming the urge to give up. I think they are also quite proud of themselves.

As teachers, we naturally want what's best for the students. In the beginning of the week, it was tough for me to stand by, watch my students struggle, and listen to them complain without jumping in to help. There were many times I really had to bite my tongue in order to do nothing but encourage them.

But taking the time to let them struggle paid off with huge dividends in the end. Something I definitely have to keep in mind the next time we tackle something new and difficult in class.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Five Most-Read Posts of 2014

2014 was a big year for learning and trying new things. I'm no writer, but I am discovering the benefits of blogging - and hence reflecting - as I find my path through the BYOD jungle. 

Here are my top five most-read posts of 2014. Thanks to @classcollect for the idea, who in turn got the idea from @justintarte.

5) Mutiny! - I nearly lost my class over the introduction of a cross-curricular assignment...

4) Culminating Project - Quadratics Toss! - my students went outside to perform an activity, and then matched the outcomes using both traditional and digital tools.

3) The (False?) Pressure of Standardized Tests - as much as I try and ignore the results of my students' standardized math test, there is still pressure to have them do well...

2) The Student Becomes the Teacher - Video Summatives - highlighting the first time my students created teaching videos for their math class.

1) A Tale of Two Edcamps - reflecting on two very different EdCamps - EdcampIsland and EdcampBarrie.