Wednesday, March 30, 2016

We Need to Stop Testing and Start Thinking

I heard something that was music-to-my-ears today. Apparently there was a presentation to senior leadership in my board a few weeks ago that included a prof from UTM and one from UGuelph (both from math departments) that passed on this message (I am paraphrasing of course) that I hope makes its way around the board sooner rather than later:
"We need secondary teachers to stop using tests as a crutch claiming they need to "prepare students for University". Your students are coming to us as great test takers, but without critical thinking and problem solving skills. These skills are vital, and students who have these skills will be able to succeed no matter the assessment environment they are put in."
I have been saying for years now that we are graduating hordes of students who do not know how to think - even the ones getting 90s. This was confirmed by the numerous peers who have become math teachers and admitted that they now realize that they never actually understood the math they did in high school (until they started teaching it). We need to stop testing and to start giving students the opportunities they need to do some true learning and thinking.
To this I add....we need to bring back the Al Geo course! That had to be the course that I did the most thinking for in high school, without a doubt.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Using Learning Goals in 1P Science

It has been pointed out to me recently that I should try to deprivatize my practice more. And so, I am resolved to blog about my assessment practices (including failures and questions) and hope that I can spark conversation, collect some feedback, and crowd source some ideas. So I have one request - if you are reading these entries, please share them with someone else and/or comment at the bottom and join the conversation. :) The first entry from this series can be found here.

I think that most teachers can agree that it is very difficult to focus on making major changes to more than one course at a time, and at my current job I am usually teaching three courses at a time. So of course, some things get neglected. This semester I made a conscious decision to try to make some changes to my Grade 9 applied Science course, particularly related to my assessment and evaluation practices.

I have been trying to find ways to help all of my students be more responsible, reflective, and to use metacognition constantly. I have also been making efforts to move toward not using marks to motivate students (I have read that studies show they discouraged struggling students and that most students motivated by marks can also be motivated by the learning). When I looked back at discussions I had with other teachers on the assessment working team I recalled some discussion about the use of LGs in vocational classes. And so, I decided to make an effort to make explicit use of learning goals.

This use of learning goals is another step to me attempting to throw out grades (follow the hashtag #TTOG to connect with others trying to do this as well). Here is what I am doing with my 1Ps as a first step:
At the start of class I put up three LGs that show the students what we will be learning that day (typically I am showing the same goals for 2-3 classes). I am using a model that was demonstrated to me by a colleague for professional learning goals (for PD) which involves having learning goals that describe:
1) What the student will know
2) What the student will do
3) What the student will be

Generally speaking the "know" is the core concept that is necessary to move onto higher order thinking; the "do" is usually some kind of application (such as calculating, using, drawing, etc); and the "be" is often related to a hands-on approach such as identifying actual objects/situations in a lab setting or showing confidence in interpreting drawings.

I am finding that doing this is helping me to see how each of the expectations from the curriculum we are tackling might fit into my overarching learning goals for the course. And in other ways, it is helping me reflect on those OLGs and think about how I might tweak them in the future. I try as often as I think of it to make sure that we also revisit the slide at the end of each class to make sure students at least have the opportunity to reflect on their learning.

Thank you for reading. Please join the conversation!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Overarching Learning Goals

I seem to have fallen off of the blogging band wagon recently. It has also been pointed out to me recently that I should try to deprivatize my practice more. And so, I am resolved to blog about my assessment practices (including failures and questions) and hope that I can spark conversation, collect some feedback, and crowd source some ideas. So I have one request - if you are reading these entries, please share them with someone else and/or comment at the bottom and join the conversation. :)

I have blogged a couple of times about creating and starting to use Overarching Learning Goals. The most recent one can be found here. If you are not sure what I am referring to please check that out (which also links to the first time I blogged about it - this one is where they are explained).

I am trying to build on my understanding and use of OLGs as the semester progresses. Sometimes this means simply thinking ahead to future semesters and things I hope to attempt, sometimes it means trying something new right now. I will blog about some of these specifics in the near future. Here is where I stand right now.

I see OLGs as a starting point for everything. I see it as having the potential to drive my backward design, influence my daily assessment practice, revolutionize my evaluation strategies...the list goes on.

I have been able to create OLGs for a few courses now and am feeling more comfortable with the idea. One thing I have learned (and I believe my colleagues would echo) is that it is a work in progress. As soon as I introduce it to my class and start to think about actual changes I realize there are things I do not like or think are missing. But perhaps this process is really the most valuable part.

Here is an image showing the OLGs that I came up with for SPH 3U along with some of the "rough work" that shows part of my process/thinking.


If you are a physics teacher I would appreciate your thoughts/ideas/feedback/questions about these OLGs as I have not had the chance to collaborate with other physics teachers around them yet.

Here is an image showing the Learning Map I created from our department SNC 1D/P OLGs. This is one potential application of coming up with OLGs. This rubric could be used to inform all course rubrics used for evaluation and could also help me determine a students final grade. This is great particularly if you are a teacher who is interested in joining the "Teachers Throwing Out Grades" (#TTOG) movement.


I would appreciate feedback/questions/comments/ideas from any subject/grade teacher about this one. This is my first full attempt at a full learning map.

To anyone still reading at this point, I would greatly appreciate you joining this discussion to help in my journey and/or to pass this blog entry onto a colleague who might be interested. I am still very new to all of this and am hoping to collect as many ideas as possible. Particularly as I will be presenting at OAME this Spring around these ideas.

Also, if you are interested in this process it is based on the book Rethinking Letter Grades. I have also recently read Myron Dueck's Grading Smarter Not Harder that I think every educator should read. Both books are by teachers for teachers out of British Columbia.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My #oneword for 2016

This is my first time coming up with a #oneword as a professional new years resolution, and I am having trouble doing it. I had initially thought of using the word "basic" to try to get myself to focus on the basics, sleep more, and be a little less crazy. But let's face it, I wouldn't be very good at that. Perhaps the writing of this blog is proof enough of that.

And so I have settled on LEARNING as my word for 2016. Being a learner is something I have really grown to embrace since I started my career and I want to continue to build on this in 2016. My areas for being a learner:

1. Drive my own LEARNING.

Try to more consistently read blogs/articles/tweets that are related to things that I want to learn about. I hope to pay a bit more attention to #mathBoS and #TTOG so that I can focus on the things that drive my every day learning.

2. LEARN from my students, every day.

I am constantly reminding myself to focus on improving my communication with my students. I want to learn to be better at making connections with students every day.

3. LEARNING at some interesting PD opportunities.

I would really like to find an interesting conference to go to. Maybe even one that would require me to travel (such as #flipcon). I don't know if this really counts as part of a resolution since I am a PD nerd though :)

What is your #oneword?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Inquiry/Research-Based Bio Strand

This was my first time teaching the Grade 10 Academic Science in about 4 years. Since that time my teaching styles and philosophy have changed quite a bit. As many of you know I implemented a flipped model in most of my classes - my primary goal being to help students to be active learners (if they do the work, they do the learning), become better independent learners, and to seek more time for collaborative problem solving. But when it came closer to time to start the Biology unit for this course I wanted something different, so I tried to seek a more project/inquiry-based method.

In large part I wanted to make this change from my usual methods for motivation. Biology is not my strong suit (I did not even take Gr 11 bio when I was in high school) and the last time I taught this involved too many power points. I wanted to motivate myself and, in turn, motivate my students to grasp the bigger picture. This really gave me a chance to remind them to focus on the overarching learning goals of the course so they will leave my course with a better understanding of the bigger picture.

A big part of the overall idea was to design the unit backward. To START with the big picture and END with the cell. I hoped to give students a better grasp of how parts work to create a whole (one of our overarching learning goals for the course).

Here is what we did:

Day 1: Intro to "The Whole" of a Living Thing
I had students do an inquiry as a group. Each group got a question such as "How does a long-distance run affect the systems of a human body" and had most o the period to do research. They then shared what they discovered with the class before the bell.

Day 2-3: Frog Dissection
Students worked through a procedure to dissect a frog (based on one I found on the net supported by some online video instruction that I showed in stages for the class). A couple of students opted to work through a virtual dissection in class instead on day 2. They had to document their dissection on the class OneNote file.

Day 4-8: Importance of Organ Systems (Debate)
This was also based on something I found on the net. Students were split into 11 groups to cover all of the human system. Each pair did some research about their system to discover what organs were involved, the role of each organ, the overall importance of the system, and a "slogan" for their system. We used butcher paper to do a life-sized diagram of the system with all of the necessary info and then students decided to post and do a gallery walk as their "opening argument" instead of a 5 minute share. Then they prepared a rebuttal supporting their system and presented that to the class. Finally students voted on which system was the most important to the survival of the human species. I ended up having them submit a paragraph about this to support, gave them feedback, and then used the same question on their unit test.

Day 9: Tissue Function
Each student was assigned a specific tissue (assorted between the 4 main types of plant and animal tissues so all would be covered) and had to do some research to complete a template of relatively basic information. Some were more challenging than others. They then had to walk around and figure out who their partner/group was which I verified for them to make sure they were in their ajor tissue group (i.e. all the epidermal together, etc) and then find why they were grouped to complete the next section. Then I grouped an animal group and a plant group together that have similar functions and they had to figure out why I paired them. Finally they grouped as all plant or all animal to look at how the tissues work together.

6 Days of Work Periods Throughout: STSE Bio Technology Project
Students started a major project. They had to work in pairs to: Do a topic proposal (that had to support the Overarching Learning Goal - related to society and/or the environment); Complete secondary research; Propose, create and carry-out primary research; and, Finally, propose and carry-out an action to educate a target group about their topic based on their research. At the end they also had to do a reflection to share their learning and to help me reflect on the project itself to see how valuable it really was in the end. (I have yet to look at these.)

Day 10: Cell Parts and Functions
I created a sheet to fill in to label cell parts and record their functions. A table was either assigned the plant or the animal cell to look at. They also had to create an analogy for their assigned cell and justify what each of the parts were within the analogy. The following day they made sure they had both plant and animal recorded on their sheets.

Day 11: Microscopes
Students got introduced to the parts of the microscope and basic skills for use. They then completed a "letter e" lab to build the actual skills and start doing biological drawings.

Day 12: Mitosis
Students completed a worksheet/note on the cell cycle, focusing on Mitosis and watched a video and animation.

Day 13-14: Mitosis/Biological Drawings
Used microscopes to identify the stages of mitosis and draw the stages (summative assignment).

Day 15: Stem/Specialized Cells & Cancerous vs Normal Cells
Students used videos, research, and notes to make sure they understood what the above ideas were.

Remaining summatives were a unit test (focused on learning goals published) and the presentaions of their STSE projects/actions with the rest of the class.

There are definitely things in this unit that I will reuse if I end up teaching the course again. It was definitely more engaging for me and students seemed to enjoy it - and the end results showed an improved understanding of the overarching learning goals - so I would say "mission accomplished."

I am happy to share any of the above lessons if you are interested in anything. And also am open to ideas, suggestions, comments or questions that you may have. Please post below :)