Monday, December 28, 2015

One Word 2016: Reflection

One of my favourite parts of winter break is the time I can (at last) take to just sit and plan. With one month to go in the semester, I can focus on how I'll tackle the last month of my courses, as well as start piecing together some of the ideas I have for new courses starting in February.

With all the talk of new year's resolutions, it's also a good time to reflect on everything that happened in 2015 (my most-viewed blog posts from the year are here), particularly my chosen #OneWord theme for the year: JUMP.

This past year I wanted to:
  • JUMP at the chance to go out on a limb and try things I've never tried before (and not balk at trying just because it was new to me);
  • JUMP and reach higher, raising the bar on my work in the classroom;
  • JUMP into the unknown and take risks with my students, like connecting with other classes and people around the world;
  • JUMP into new opportunities, like sharing my learning at conferences or in workshops.

2015 was a phenomenal year. I was able to make good on my promise to JUMP more, and I'm not sure I'll be able to top it in 2016. 

But as I keep trying new things, I find I want to change my focus slightly. I want to continue taking risks, but I'd like my students and I to get more out of what we try. In that vein, my #OneWord for 2016 will be: REFLECTION.

  • Reflection on what's working well in my flipped classes. I've changed a lot of things in how I teach. Many ideas are working well. Some, I know, are not. There's always tweaking to be done, whether it's in delivery of content, choice of activities, or methods of engaging the students. How can I make my classroom an even better place to learn?

  • Reflection on my practices and abilities. I'd like to get back into blogging on a regular basis, both on my successes and failures. I learn so much from others, and I want to give back and help others where I can.

  • Reflection on what my students need - both what they say they need and my best guess as to what I think they'll need to succeed later in life. What is the right balance between digital and analog learning? How can I use both to help my students become better problem solvers, collaborators and communicators?

  • Reflection for my students. I keep meaning to have my students self-reflect on their (best) practices in class and on the work they do outside of class time. This year part of my focus will be to engage them more in this reflection process, and help them make connections between what they do to learn and how well they learn.

  • Reflection in the form of personal, quiet contemplation. I am hoping this will lead to a better balance between work and life. I started out the school year with a focus on mindfulness, and would like to return to that practice.

What is your #OneWord focus for the new year?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Five Most-Read Blog Posts of 2015

Sitting around the dinner table with family last night, we all recalled our best memory from 2015. From swimming in the Caribbean, to that night going out for pizza and the power went out, to a serendipitous walk in the woods, everyone had great stories. It was a fantastic year in so many ways, I found it hard to pick just one highlight!

Looking back through my most-visited blog posts of 2015, I'm reminded of my learning and my classes' successes over the year. It was a good review of what I've tried, what I've wondered and struggled with, and what I've changed. 

I've got a lot of great, new ideas in mind for 2016 - here's to a great year!

1) Physics: It's not all about the math - A look at how I've been testing students in Physics. How much emphasis is on the science?

2) Genius Hour - Year 1 - Here's how we got Genius Hour up and running in our grade 9 science class. It was amazing!

3) Ditching Effectiveness - The miracle of page 18 - After an intense weekend of learning about rich task assessment, I wrote this post to reflect on my biggest take-away from the two-day workshop: a single paragraph on page 18 of Growing Success.

4) A Global Survey - Electricity Usage - My grade 9 science class created a survey on electricity usage and sent it around the world. We had over 600 responses from over 40 countries! Here's how we did it, and what we did with the data afterward.

5) Make School Different: Five things to stop pretending - A response to the #makeschooldifferent challenge.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Taking Physics Across the Border

Earlier this month, Daniel Welty (@weltyteaching) contacted me about possibly having our two grade 11 physics classes collaborate and get feedback from each other. His honors physics students are using blogs to document and communicate their learning

While they aren't doing the exact same things we are doing in SPH3U, it was a great opportunity to make good on one of my year-long goals to have my students collaborate and connect with other classes around the world.

So we took a virtual trip from Manitoulin Secondary (Manitoulin Island, Ontario), to Algonquin High (Northborough, Massachusetts)! 

Connecting classes across the border!

Daniel's tweet to me came at just the right time - our class was just finishing up kinematics with projectile motion, and about to start a new unit on work and energy. 

I created a small communication assignment so my students could get both a review of their past work, as well as a preview of the upcoming unit through these blogs, while at the same time seeing how other students were problem-solving:

An important piece of this assignment was the digital citizenship component of how to comment on blog posts. Blog-writing is much less formal than report-writing. By perusing through a blog you can really get a feel for the author's personality, making it easier to connect with the writer. 

And my students did make those connections! They were drawn to the blogs of their American counterparts with similar hobbies or senses of humour. Because of this, though, we had to be careful to not be nonchalant in a comment, as if commenting on a friend's work. 

The guide given in the assignment worked pretty well, and gave my students a good starting point for their comments. Most of the students provided thorough and well-worded replies.

Exploring the blogs


One of these days, I will remember that activities like this ALWAYS take longer than I think they might! Whereas I planned on having my students comment on the blogs for 20-30 minutes, the activity ended up taking the whole 70-minute period. There were some issues (see below), but for the most part, students were earnestly putting in time to explore the blogs and write good comments.

They loved learning about the students at Algonquin HS, and there were lots of comments in-class on how the experiments performed by the other class were the same or different than what we had done. They also loved the life-sized cardboard cutouts of R2-D2 and Sheldon Cooper Daniel's class had. :)

Commenting on blogs

We lucked out in that the day we did this, our classes occurred at the same time. Daniel connected his students with our class through a map as well, noting that a large park to the east of us (Algonquin Provincial Park) shares the same name as their high school. They even used Google Translate to learn how to pronounce my last name, "Theijsmeijer" (it does a surprisingly accurate job!). :)

My students were also interested in how Mr. Welty and I connected in the first place - it's rare that they hear of social media to collaborate professionally, so it was nice to address that in class. I had a running conversation between Daniel and myself through Twitter up on the board for them to see as the class progressed.

On the whole, my students really liked the idea of using a blog to demonstrate learning (though some expressed that they didn't want to write blogs themselves!). It's something I'd like to consider for future courses as it was such a nice connection piece.

Commenting on blogs


As noted in the assignment, there were indeed some issues with getting around our Internet filter ( is blocked, but - which is really the same thing - is not). It's a manual fix, but it led to a little bit of frustration initially.

The biggest issue was that many of the students were not able to get to the comment boxes on the blogs. I had never seen this issue before, and didn't anticipate it whatsoever. For those students, I had them write their comments in a Google Doc or email and send them to me to be posted later. Annoying, but not a huge obstacle in the end.

Exploring the blogs

Next Steps?

Daniel is going to have his students look at their comments and then reply in kind. Many of my students indicated that they were interested in getting to know their counterparts more, perhaps by collaborating on an assignment/lab, or connecting via Google Hangout. The idea of becoming "penpals" or visiting Northborough even came up! ("We can take a plane there," they said. "That's PHYSICS!") 

We will definitely be seeking opportunities to have the two classes connect again.

Go Mustangs!