Friday, March 27, 2015

Week 13 - Assessment & Evaluation

Starting last spring I started to go to after school sessions lead by our Secondary Assessment Resource Coordinator of our board around assessment in secondary schools. I have been (what many of us lovingly call ourselves) an assessment nerd for awhile now. In the spring of 2013 I did an online AQ through Queen's to develop a better understanding of student Assessment & Evaluation and have enjoyed discussing, learning, and developing student assessment practices ever since. It is a complex beast, worth a lot of our time and effort - it is the backbone of our everyday decisions and long term planning (or at least it should be).

Around the time I had planned to write this blog we had a positive climate day at our school that included a speaker for our students. In his presentation the speaker showed the students part of a children's book he had written that refers to education as a hegemony. It was a light bulb moment for me to have one word that can describe my feelings around the changes that education needs to make all of a sudden - I have always found it ironic that we reference education as preparing students for what comes next (this phrase is used at all grade and levels of education) and yet, we are not really equipped to do this in our changing world.

These early experiences with out A&E coordinator had a lot of discussion around triangulation of evidence and the fact that appearances in secondary education are that we are further behind in implementing growing success than our elementary counter parts (though perhaps this is just an appearance?). As it turned out a bunch of the teachers who had chosen to attend one of these sessions were math educators and we all had the same feeling - we all WANT to learn to triangulate evidence in our math class rooms but do not feel like we know HOW. From this session we requested a chance to create a working team to come up with some things to work from that we can hopefully spread and share with other colleagues. [At the time I planned to write this we had not gotten to a point where we had anything planned, but we now have meeting dates in place for a group of us to do just that with support from our A&E coordinator. These are planned for April and plan to blog about these experiences later.]

It is going to take some time and effort up front to make all of this work, but I am looking forward to continuing to explore these ideas with my peers and to trying new things. I have started to explore e-portfolios as a way to track student learning (and find this way more meaningful for report writing than just looking at a list of marks I have recorded as I can speak to specifics a lot more easily). I have started doing this on my own (which is time consuming) and plan to explore ways of getting students to do this for themselves and sharing it with me instead (next year).

More A&E blogs to come.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Week 18: How I Get Unstuck

I will start with a simple truth. I have not really worked to get "unstuck" this time around. Sometimes it just feels easier to start fresh and make improvements the next time.

Today's #flipclass chat has helped me to realize that I think the root cause of feeling stuck has been getting bogged down by the unmotivated around me. And the funny thing is, that is a pretty small minority, really. I also have people around who have worked their butts off for me. So why has the negative had such an impact on my actions? This is, of course, the unanswered question.

I think I used the nearing end of the semester  to become a light at the end of the tunnel to resort to looking forward to a fresh start with a new group (and a new course to flip!). Maybe that is not so much of a a bad thing anyway. We are at a point in the semester now where we are in review and culminating mode, so there is not much "new" to act on.

We have to remember that there will never be a perfect way to do something. There will never be a 100% buy-in to everything that we do in a class. There will never be an entire group of completely motivated people. But the drive to work toward the 100% will always be a part of the hopes for many educators so sometimes we will get dragged down by negativity. We are human, so sometimes we will be unmotivated, or need a break.

So, in the end, I will seek to embrace the "stuck" moments and remember that they are part of the process. They are what lead us to do some real reflection and make the bigger decisions about our classes.

Now, my fear is that I have too much motivation for the new semester and it will lead to little sleep (which inevitably leads to burn out...and the cycle begins again). But hey, one day I will find better ways to use my time and sleep will become important again ;)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Week 12 - POEs in a #flipclass

Every Monday at 8pm there are two Twitter chats that I often like to participate in. #cdnedchat is where I get to discuss some general teaching related topics and connect with other Canadian educators, and #flipclass is where I get to discuss things people are trying in their flipped classrooms and connect with other like-minded educators. I use social media a lot for the sake of connecting with the like-minded. If you are one of the many, many teachers on twitter you probably understand the draw to do this - as there is nothing more daunting than trying to be a pioneer in education without a bunch of support around you.

This week in the #flipclass chat we were discussing ways to engage students in the all-important in-class portion of our blended classrooms and I mentioned that I make use of the idea of POEs to tryo to engage students and attempt to address misconceptions in physics. The concept itself is not new, but I am finding myself doing it more often now than i used to, and using virtual demonstrations to do it as much as I am. So for those of you who are wondering "what is a POE" I will attempt to explain.

POE stands for Predict, Observe, Explain. It was my physics instructor in the Queen's B.Ed. program that introduced me to this. You can do this formally where students record the process or do it informally as a whole class out loud. The formal process usually uses a page split into 4 boxes. In the top left they predict what is going to happen (drawing and/or explanation), top right they explain why they think that is going to happen, and then after we actually watch the demo they record what they observed (bottom left) and we work to explain why it happened (bottom right). The first few times doing this I often have the class help me form a list of possible predictions by posing a question such as "if a Grade 6 walked in right now what might they say is going to happen?" so that we can get a broad list and so that students feel safe offering any possible option.

In the process of doing this you can often help students identify their misconceptions in physics (this process helped me see my own, even in my BEd year!). The POE demo you choose should be relatively simple to explain and do and should focus on one idea or concept. This process also allows students to practice the hypothesis part of the scientific method as they are forced to try to think about the physics in order to make their prediction (since they must explain their choice).

Here are some examples:

Refraction: put an object in a tank of water and aim a meter stick at a specific spot. As students to predict what will happen when you put the meter stick in at that angle.

Relative Motion: try something like Frank Noschese has here (my students loved it)

Conservation of Energy: use a YouTube video that shows two balls released down two tracks that start and end at the same heights but do not have the same path in between

I would love to hear other ideas from people - so if you have suggestions or ones you have tried please post them in the comments section. Specifically I am always looking for ideas for 1D and 2D motion, 1D and 2D forces, work and energy, waves, and introductory electromagnetics.

Happy demos!

Week 11 - "Welcome to Teaching"

I cannot count the number of times I have said "welcome to teaching" to my student teacher this week. She continues to integrate fairly well into my flipped physics class (she is getting to know students, coming up with things to do in class in addition to textbook work, making attempts to engage students in the learning process, etc) and has now taken on my Grade 9 academic science class (which is essentially not flipped).

Watching her dive into teaching two classes reminds me of my first couple of years of teaching. Time spent overwhelmed, unsure, but full of potential and excitement. I am always in awe of my colleagues who have young families at home and still manage to do so much for our school, but I cannot imagine starting this career with a young family already going. This is the situation my student teacher is in. She has a family at home and has decided to go to school to become a teacher. I admire her, but I can also see how difficult this balance is going to be for her, especially as she is learning a new school system (she was educated elsewhere).

This week was especially hectic in our building. We knew that her physics instructor from OISE was going to come on Nov 11th, which also involved a modified schedule because of the Remembrance Day assembly, and we were interrupted throughout the day for the meningitis clinic. This was probably our biggest "welcome to teaching" moment. We constantly have to be flexible in a school environment. I get called out of classes to attend to first aid situations unexpected. Changes in the schedule pop up with less notice than we would like. It reminds us that we have to be flexible in our classes as well. Not every class is going to get through the same material, the same way, in the same amount of time. We have to know out students and the class well so that we can implement assessment practices into our daily classes effectively and with purpose.

This week she also got to experience a chance to guide students through a research project. It was the grade 11 course so they generally do not need as much support, but it reminded me that it was a chance to spend a bit of time supporting the international student and remembering that those students did not have the same experiences when they were younger that the rest of my students have had. These students still need to be introduced to database resources and be taught the importance of citations, plagiarism, and appropriate sources

One of the most interesting moments of the week for me was when the student teacher sparked an interesting debate in our grade 9 class. They had watched Bill Nye's Food Webs video and she was reviewing some of the content afterward when the question arose "is a farm an example of an ecosystem?". This got them thinking about what a food web has to have and actually looking at whether those things existed on a farm. It was a simple question, with complex ideas that has a lot of potential in a classroom. Hopefully I remember this one for later!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Week 10 - Students Appreciate Learning About Credit Cards and Banking

At this point in the semester my Math for Every Day Learning class (MEL 3E) was finishing up learning about interest (finishing with compound interest) and starting to do some investigation into the large variety of credit cards that are available, comparing their use to using cash, and learning to read credit card statements. Despite this not being the most fascinating unit I can imagine being a student in they seem to really appreciate how useful the lessons and investigations are. They are seeing how it is relevant to their lives (even though most are only 16 so cannot get credit cards for awhile still) and seem to understand why it is important to learn.

When you ask them what they have learned after some of these lessons they can easily tell you about the benefits and consequences of credit card use. I keep reminding them that the important part of this semester is that they leave with some ideas of what to think about in their financial lives and hopefully will know how to find resources to help the make decisions in the future. It seems like many of the students in this class this year are hoping to leave with those things (some have since even said "this binder is going to be my bible after this course is finished").

If I get another change to teach this course I would also like to put some more focus on basic math skills. I am not sure how this would look, but I know that it would have to be something that would be motivating for them...and that would, in the end, improve their numerical confidence.