Monday, April 13, 2015

Week 30: Trying New Things in #flipclass

This weeks #FlashBlog for #flipclass is about innovation. We are supposed to share something new that we are trying that might be helpful for others in their classroom.

One thing that I am trying to be more mindful of is the use of conversation in class to help students process and talk through any confusion. There is a big push for numeracy in Ontario these days and one thing we have introduce (or really, reminded people of) at our school is Accountable Talk.


So I have been trying to create more opportunity for communication as a way to help kids work through their thinking and model for others. I cannot say I have gotten to the point where I am using these specific conversation prompts, but my plan for next year is to start the semesters off with them written on tent cards at each group so that we can create norms and start off on a good foot.

One thing I have been doing that has been pretty effective is recycling some work I did a couple of years ago and re-purposing it to create conversation. I used to hold twitterchats with my Physics class. usually about 3 per unit and I would use them to get students to give concise answers and to get them to focus on the concepts (the tendency is for them to focus on problem solving too much - I have blogged about this and will add the link to this later).

In the last couple of weeks I have been opening up the files that have my questions/prompts in them and using them to start class each day. I highlight 2-5 questions for them to discuss in their groups and then walk around to eavesdrop. It has been a great way to get them talking about the material and identifying points of confusion early on. And I will eventually make use of this to take conversation notes of what specific students understand to use for assessment practices (one day).

I don't necessarily look at this practice as being all that innovative, but it is a new thing for me - and so far I am finding it very useful.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Week 17: I Was Tapped on the Shoulder This Week

In my board the department headships (positions of responsibility, or PORs) are 5 year terms. This means that every 5 years they are posted internally for anyone eligible to apply to. I have been told for a long time that I have some natural leadership qualities which has lead to many people in my life asking me if I have plans to be a principal/department head/etc. I have always found this a difficult question and the short answer is usually "I love my classroom right now".

I do sometimes think about a POR, and have explored a bit about what it would mean, etc. In our board it has been defined as leadership in three areas: curriculum, administrative, and school. The administrative portion is often what we see as the headship - the budgeting, ordering materials, making decisions, doing the timetabling - and as much as I enjoy logistics this is the part of the job that does not interest me. I don't want those concerns to take away from what I do in the classroom and the difference I am trying to make in various areas of the school. The school leadership part seems like a bit of a given to me. Attending and helping with Grade 8 parents night, in school leadership, etc. The curriculum leadership is the part that I am passionate about. I love learning and working on my teaching practices (especially as they relate to assessment and evaluation), but it is also the part that I find I can do as a teacher. Being a teacher-leader has been a pretty satisfying piece of my job in recent years.

With the PORs posted this winter it was indicated to me by various people that I should consider applying. I was, of course, flattered by the suggestion and have taken their opinions into consideration. It would be neat to work with a team of people at the school to work on improving the learning and working environment (although we already have a pretty good one), but when it comes down to it, I felt good about what I was accomplishing in my current position. I have always felt supported by my admin, and I already feel that I am able to make a positive impact on my peers. There were, of course, other concerns that I had as well, as it can be difficult to change roles within the same group of peers, and I did not feel ready to think about applying to another school's POR at this stage.

There are many pros and cons to consider overall, but in the end I think that I am going to decide to stick with the current challenges I am taking on, as I do not feel the desire to take on a new one (a big one, at that). Maybe sometime down the road I will change my mind, but for now my decision is to see what happens at my current school (as I am sure there will be some changes) and make decisions from there.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Week 28 - Grades in #flipclass

In recent weeks the weekly twitter chat for #flipclass has become a #flashblog where the topic that is being discussed at the beginning becomes the topic of a blog that we go off to write (and then return to share). This weeks topic is grades/assessment (and since I am Canadian I must add to that list, marks).

I have been trying to work toward a classroom culture that limits the emphasis on marks. Both of the classes that I run using a flipped classroom model (and wish I could do a mastery model) I have been trying to create this type of culture in. About two semesters ago I stopped including a marking scheme on my in-class quizzes. I now only give descriptive feedback on them and return them to students. This has allowed me to create more discussion around them and to try some new things.

The first semester the focus was on getting students to make corrections without me simply posting an answer key. This made sure that students actually had a good reason to read through the feedback I had given and put some thought into going back to that material that was unclear to them. Students bought into this idea fairly easily and it seemed to work well overall.

This semester I had a quiz for my physics class that lead me to find some common mistakes. I used this idea to create homogeneous groups based on their results and then throughout that class visited each of the groups to discuss what their next steps should be. The feedback from students was that they enjoyed being put into different groups like this and that I should do it again. It is kind of funny how often they appreciate new groups but they never switch it up on their own (even though this class choose their own groups).

I am always seeking new ideas to try to work on this culture some more. I am also doing a lot of work around my assessment practices in general and hope to work more with learning goals in the future (and then make info available to students showing them their learning level of each of the goals so that they can see what I think they need to work on whenever they need).

If you have ideas, please share!

Happy Spring!

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 ;)