Monday, September 21, 2015

My Marking Hacks & Things to Come

(Sorry my American #flipclass friends, but whenever you see "mark" you will have to think "grade"..It's a Canadian thing)

There are two main things that I do that contribute to (hopefully) speed up marking a bit.

1. Using EduCanon to embed questions and note-taking suggestions into video lessons. This app is connected directly to Edmodo (and also to Google if you use Classrooms, so students only need one login) and I can log in to look at my "monitor" page and can see how my entire class did on one screen. I immediately see which Ss are struggling on an individual topic and/or if a Q gave a whole chunk of the class issues. Students can also go back and write explanations that I can read and give them credit for. Love that added communication piece.

2. More discussion, less grading. Evaluation comes later. During the semester verbal and written feedback is much more valuable than marks themselves. I do everything in my power to get kids to stop thinking about the mark and start thinking about the learning. This is where I want their focus to be, and when I have to do something with an actual mark they will hopefully be better prepared (and, as a result, do better). If I could throw out grades entirely, I would.

Then there are the things that I want to do. I have (what we call in Ontario) my AQ (additional qualification) in assessment & evaluation. I am a bit of an assessment nerd, but my practiced do not yet match my beliefs/values (I am working on it).

Ontario has a policy called Growing Success that was published in 2010. Apparently we were one of the first provinces to have such a document and it is both vague and detailed. There is a lot in there that we should/have to do that we are still working to put into practice.

I am currently working on making better/more accurate use of Overarching Learning Goals (OLGs, this is a board term...they are similar to what some books call Big Ideas or Enduring Understandings) and learning goals in my classes. On my lesson plan (that is posted online for all to read) I give a learning goal (and am working on shifting them to more student friendly "I can" statements) that Ss can use to self-assess. Last week I had release time with some department colleagues and we created OLGs for Gr 9 and 10 science. I am planning to reveal these to my Grade 10s and make a point of referring back to them often.

Here is the ultimate goal - all assessment and evaluation will be developed with the OLGs in mind. In other words, the OLGs will serve as my starting point for backwards design. One of my colleagues has switched her "tests" in one of her courses to be much less traditional. Instead of having a bunch of (potentially insignificant) questions, she only has 4 questions on each test. One for each OLG as it relates to that "unit" of study. I love this idea. It seemed like the biggest issue was training Ss to answer the types of Qs she was using. Basically to UNtrain them of their previous habits of "studying content" to making connections and communicating well.

Monday, September 14, 2015

First Cracks at Accountable Talk, Note-Taking, and Video Watching

I have some relatively significant goals this semester and have tried to get them going as early on as possible. I am going to try to reflect on them as often as I can to try to keep myself on task. Here are my thoughts after the first week:

Day 1: I set out to accomplish two things the first day of school. 1. Make use of Accountable Talk strategies to start to work on collaborative, effective discussions between students (student to student, not teacher to student) as I continue to seek a more student-centered classroom. 2. Start the semester off with someone that would make students want to come back tomorrow!

I created tent cards for student groups of desks to help introduce a variety of Accountable Talk strategies and tried to model a couple of them while I was introducing the ideas. So far students seem to have a mixed reaction to them. But I will continue to try to get them to focus on self-improvement in communication as a life skill, not just a classroom skill.

I used activities from Spark101 that were scientifically relevant and engaging to each course to use for the first day. Students seemed to have a lot of fun in those discussions and got to attempt to solve a real-life problem using their current knowledge and info shared in the video.

Day 2: Another goal for this year is to do a better job of helping students become better note-takers (and by extension, better at watching educational videos for my flipped class). I found a College Geek video that introduced effective strategies for note-taking and create a note-outline for students to use to take their first note (that was a model of the first strategy mentioned).

I also modeled a strategy for video watching by pausing thee video after each note-taking method was shared to allow them to record their thoughts/ideas. We also discussed pros and cons of each method and where different people might choose to use each one. I also stressed one of the lines in the video "You are a STUDENT, not a dictating machine!" and the importance of actually PROCESSING information while you are learning (so that you are learning not just writing down something to learn later).

This lead to a fun start to the next day because I got to show them some electronic note-taking apps and organizers. A couple of students have even started using a couple of the apps and trying one of the note-taking methods already!

Day 3: Continuing the goal of helping them become good video watchers (and needing to introduce them to one of my main reasons for switching to a flipped class) I had them watch a video as an entire class, while taking notes, without touching the pause button. The effective one was a Crash Course I picked for my Grade 10s to watch. He speaks pretty quickly in general and it was introducing some things that they did not know yet (but was related to something they did last year).

The frustration in the students was very evident. Some gave up entirely. Some were madly note-taking the whole time. Some gave me exasperated looks when I just smiled at them when they said "can't we pause???" Afterward we shared some feelings/adjectives to describe the experience and I promised them that they should NEVER have to feel this way again because their learning would be in their control. A point a used to remind them that this involves them communicating with me - a lot (I can't read your minds, really!) - if they do find themselves feeling this way again.

I think some of them were annoyed that the "note" ended up being futile, but most of them appreciated the resulting honesty and seemed to feel like they would be in the driver's seat in my course. Maybe it was just wishful thinking on my part though.

Day 4/5: I have now started to introduce students to watching educational videos individually and taking notes effectively. We are using class time to watch lessons at this point in the year and I am making sure they are taking notes and trying to give them feedback about the notes themselves. This is probably the hardest part for me...I do not feel like I am an expert myself. But I am trying. I am doing my best to encourage them to (at the very least) have examples/visuals when possible, and to show they processed by taking NOTES not recording every word.

My Grade 10s are being introduced to EduCanon right away so I am trying to use the embedded questions to get them to focus on important things and forcing them to pause at various points. Hopefully we can work together to pare back on my forced pauses by the end of the semester knowing that they will do it on their own. Fingers crossed.

Any advice/ideas/etc that you have for me on this topic would be greatly appreciated!

Still to come (i.e. something I have not started yet but hope/plan to) - student ePortfolios and reflections

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Teachers Need to Fail

As teachers, we are constantly asked if we are ready/looking forward to going back to work. I usually say that I have "mixed feelings". I mean, of course I like summer and (if the weather would stay nice) I could live with a few more weeks of "free-time"....but I actually love my job. I actually spend a lot of time thinking about my classroom, year-round. And I'm not alone. Just venture to the many education blogs out there...the thousands of teachers on Twitter, learning on their own time...the Staples locations where teachers are spending their own money on the "little things" that make a difference - and I guarantee you will find them.

What September gives us is a new start. A new year to try new things, to tweak old things, to wonder out into the vast world that education is becoming and to take a risk failing. There has been a lot of talk about grit, perseverance, and mind-set over the recent years in education - a discussion hoping to find a solution to the need for change in education, to remedy the apathy we see in our classrooms. I think the answer lies within the system - the system that needs to change, if only in its own mind set. A change to finally believe, that it is okay to fail.

Isn't this what we want our students to learn? We want them to take risks with their learning. To "guess" answers based on what they know, even if it might be wrong. To take a chance on something new, because what is new might just be what they are looking for (even if they don't know it). I do not claim to think that this is a novel idea. I am sure many people have had it before me - in fact there is research to support failure as the backbone of learning. I do not even claim that I am the first person to believe that teachers need to start failing to learn to get students to do the same, I have just realized that this is the easiest way I can express my feelings about what education needs right now.

We need to try new things. We need to start failing. So that we can learn. So that we can truly embrace the 21st century as educators (and learners). So that students will care. So that students will learn to fail, too. So that students will not just come to school to "get knowledge", but will come to school to work on problems, to learn from others, to actually "Forget what you know" and start thinking

It's funny, I initially titled this entry "A New Beginning" and I was going to share how I am going to start my first week of classes - but this is what evolved. Sometimes taking the time to write helps us find some clarity. Maybe it will even spark a discussion that will help evolve my thinking even more. If you would like to participate in this discussion feel free to comment below or to reach out on Twitter.

Have a wonderful 2015-2016 school year! May it be filled with risk, failure, triumph, and laughter!

[The link is to a boys TED talk address about how some of the worlds most influential minds have stopped learning so that they can start thinking. I highly recommend that you watch it, in entirety]

Monday, August 24, 2015

Communicating with Parents, a #flipclass #Flashblog

In this weeks #flipclass chat we are discussing ways that we communicate with parents (in general, and specifically to do with our flipped classroom). Here are some things I do or have tried.

Since I started teaching 6 years ago I have given out an intro letter to my students to read themselves (and sign) and then for them to show to their parents to sign. It usually says a bit about ways to contact me and the communication/responsibility I expect of the students in terms of getting info home (this varies depending on the grade/level of the course). Since I started flipping I have modified this letter more and more to introduce the basics of the flipped class and to invite parents to an info night at the school where I will give them a run-down of what it is and they can ask questions.

Generally I get about 50% of parents saying they will attend and then 1/3 - 1/2 of those will actually show up a couple of weeks later (I am guessing because they have a better sense from their child about what is going on by then and no longer feel the need to come). It has been well received from those who do come, and the most common feedback last year was "It is clear that you care about our kids and that you are enthusiastic about this format...and that is all we can ask." Generally speaking, parents seem to respect us (usually I do this with a colleague) for what we are doing and just want to have a thorough understanding of the "new" method. [I also tried to use a google form that they could submit questions to in advance of the session but no one took advantage of it].

Through the letter and the info night I tend to get a good dialogue going with many parents and they seem to feel more comfortable approaching me later in the semester when they have concerns. This is extremely helpful as a high school teacher as it decreases the ones I have to worry about getting in touch with later (in most cases). I have  learned a lot in the past two years from the parents of my students as they have the home perspective of what the flipped class entails and it has given me a lot of insight as to what students need from me in order to be more successful. I especially appreciate the ones who take the time to come to see me in person and are clearly there to help their child and respectfully help me in the process.

My grade 9 (and I am considering for 10 as well this year) parents also get the opportunity to submit their email address to me to be a part of a mailing list for the class. I use this just to keep parents informed (and to adjust to having a child in high school since communication seems to be so different from what they are used to) about the class - what we are presently doing, what work I have returned recently, and what is coming up. This opens the door for communication from some of them who have concerns as they can hit reply to my email and ask me to call or ask a question. I have found this practice to be extremely helpful (mostly) and requires a bit of work up front to create a distribution list but then takes me 5-10 minutes every couple of weeks in the semester (meanwhile, cutting down on the phone calls I have to make).

I think the best part of this contact is that it forces these new high school students to recognize that their parents are going to find out anyway - so they may as well tell their parents themselves!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Week 40: Reflecting and Looking Forward

Another delayed post based on a list I wrote myself weeks ago. This one is probably the most important (and the list was actually written in the last week of the school year while it was fresh in my mind). Here is the annual reflection of my practices based on things that I want to work on in the future:

1. It was made evident to me (largely by conversations with a couple parents of my Grade 10 students) that many of these kids are still not really equipped to handle the flipped classroom on their own because of two major things: They have never view videos for homework before really; and Many of them have inadequate note-taking skills (i.e. they do not know when to hit pause because they have seen something important that needs to be written down).

I had tried to tackle these issues in the intro to my classroom but clearly I am not even doing an adequate job. Step 1: admit you  have a problem, right? I had been doing the first couple of videos as a class and had tried to show them that they should pause and record rewind if needed - and I do go through a list of "video guidelines" that they should follow for effective learning. Peers have shared that they will have a student be in charge of the mouse during these types of class video viewings so that a kid is in charge of pausing, rewinding, etc but either I am going about it wrong when I do this, or the kids are just too shy to really do what they need to do. I must find a way to better model this process. I think that perhaps I should model note taking myself even...and probably do the videos in class for a few more days than I have been.

2. Further to the note-taking issue, I have been grappling with the idea of losing textbooks as resources altogether and providing them with notes - this may happen if I return to the math department as this is the direction our new department head wants to take (if we have our own resources it does not make sense to pay for textbooks). Another possibility for working on modelling note-taking would be to provide students with outlines that they have to fill in as part of their homework/lesson.

Food for thought. Potentially time consuming. (especially with a new prep to worry about this semester)

3. Working as a flipped classroom teacher the focus is supposed to be on the in-class "stuff" that is assigned to really move the learning forward, allow for individual assessment/feedback time, and really engage the students in the topic and the learning. This has been a big adjustment...just what do you do with all the TIME!? It is, of course, the biggest blessing of this coaching style (I do not really call it teaching anymore - I am a guide to their learning...a facilitator if you will).

I want to make this part a better focus for me next semester. To continue to find engaging and meaningful things for students to do in class while resorting to "do these problems" less and less. Again, finding these many resources, ideas, etc is time consuming. But it has to be the most rewarding...the biggest bang for my buck (if the buck is time). I plan to continue accessing the many resources I have found (which include fellow bloggers, interactive websites/apps, project based learning, inquiry - and to hopefully harness the most effective things as often as possible (and if I can engage in PBL and inquiry this will be newer territory for me in areas that have intrigued me for awhile). I have even thought a bit more about the "genius hour" idea - and really liked the way Matthew Oldridge outlined it in his blog entitled "The Road to #GeniusHour Math"! (I recommend the read if you are math/science and want a starting point for implementing this type of task into your class).

4. I started to repurpose by Twitterchats from many moons ago to use as in-class discussion starters. This was a focus on physics CONTENT (not problem solving) and is supposed to serve as a way to get more effective conversation going in my classroom. My reflection on this is how I want to continue to use this next year (and beyond) by really establishing Accountable Talk practices (conversational norms) for students to use and make habit going forward. I discussed these ideas broadly here.

Looking forward I want to help students create conversational skills that will make them:
Clarify what they think the other person understands.
Asking another person to repeat what they think they just heard (i.e. engaging other group members).
Seeking the opinions of others by asking them if they agree or disagree AND why.
Engaging others and seeking all ideas by asking if there is anything they would like to add.
Using wait time to allow others to think. Not rushing the discussion.

5. I have also blogged this year about using Mathalicious with my Grade 10 math class. I would love to work on implementing these tasks the next time I teach a math course. They are a great foundation to math applications and a more authentic look at the subject, but are not always easy to implement in a way that engages teenagers. I need to work on relating the task to them more AND definitely making sure there is a strong foundation with the math tools needed before assuming it is a feasible task in the time-line I lay out.

Well I think that about covers it. I always have ideas for myself that turn out to be ambitious and maybe not achievable goals but I would way rather have too much I want to accomplish than to become complacent and not have enough.

I think it is safe to say that my priorities in this reflection are 1, 3 and 4. Goal 1 is my focus to help most with continuing to implement my flipped classroom and to build better relationships with students at the start (and parents, by extension). Goals 3 and 4 will be the focus I set out for myself for in-class throughout the semester - if I only do 2 significant things this time around I hope they are to actually create this conversational atmosphere in my class and to try new tasks/ideas/etc as often as possible.

If you have read to the end of this and have any reflections, ideas, questions, thoughts, etc that you would like to share please comment below. Would love to hear from you :)