Tag Archives: best practice

More on my trip down the SBG road

I wrote earlier about my decision to go SBG, and my early observations of implementation. Well, at about the half-way mark through the year I compiled my thoughts about it, and put them into a video. So if you have a few minutes, let me walk you through my experience so far:

A little organizational idea

So, I had this idea. And here’s the funny part – it came to me in a dream. No. Seriously. But it’s not the sort of thing I would ever think up, so I must have heard it from someone and it’s been fermenting in my brain for lord knows how long. But anyway…

In this dream I was volunteering somewhere (because it was a dream the “somewhere” was kind of vague, but maybe a museum?), and there was a box full of little slips of paper. On each slip was a job that needed doing. We volunteers would take a slip, do the job, initial it, and drop it in the “done” box.

See? beautifully simple. Totally unlike me.

This little idea, id seems to me, would be perfect in the classroom (and is probably being used in classrooms all over the place – like I said, this is not likely an original idea). Not only can you get jobs done – sorting craft supplies, organizing resources, returning materials to the library, etc – you have a record of who did what, and you can do a quick check to see how well each job was done.

While this would likely be very useful in an elementary class, an art room, music class, etc, I am not entirely sure how to implement it in a grade 11 Physics class, nor what motivation I could use even if I did have jobs.

But if I was organizing volunteers…

The straw that fixed the camel’s back – Moving to SBG

I am always on the lookout for ways to improve my courses. Recent(ish) innovations include flipped learning, layered curriculum, modelling, SBG, and on and on. I like them all – or rather, I like most of most of them, and parts of all of them. But inevitably there is something about them that either doesn’t fit, whether it’s with my subject, my teaching style, or the requirements of our Ontario curriculum, there always seems to be something.

But recently, while perusing again through resources on SBG (Standards Based Grading), I re-read this post by Kelly O’Shea. But this time, something clicked, and I realized how I could mesh SBG with the Ontario ministry requirements of assessment and evaluation, layer the content in a meaningful way, and have it all make sense. And It all works with how I like to do things, which is probably the most important thing.

So here’s what I’m doing:

I started by going through the list of ministry expectations for the course, and then through all of my tests and assignments, and figured out exactly what it is I want my students to know. The list came out at 82 things, which were further subdivided into categories of Knowledge, Inquiry, Communication and Application (it’s an Ontario thing…). I also identified which standards involved core knowledge and skills, and which were more advanced.

Every standard is graded on a 0-3 proficiency scale, and all standards are effectively weighted equally. The core skills, such as  I can draw and interpret d/t and v/t graphs in uniform motion, and I can identify/determine whether forces are balanced, will earn students a score up to B+ (we don’t officially have letter grades here, we have number levels, but they correlate: 1 is a D, 2 a C, 3 a B, 4 an A. You get the idea). Advanced skills add on top, bringing the mark up into A territory. Which means, technically, a student could get a B+ in the course without ever even attempting an advanced skill (but hey, if they are ninjas with the core skills, why not?). I have a few additional rules – mostly to force conversations of a student earns a 0 or 1 on a core standard, but you probably get the gist.

On any given assessment, I will typically have three or so questions for each standard (sometimes multiple standards per question), and will generate an aggregate grade of 0-3 (whole numbers only)  for each standard based on the results. The only way to get a 3 is to get 3’s on all questions addressing that standard. Two 3’s and a 2 is a 2 (since they have not fully mastered that standard). Errors on things that are not addressed by a standard in a question are given feedback, but not penalized. There are no overall grades for tests and assignments, only on standards.

Students will have regular opportunities to be re-assessed on standards.

I have only been using this method of assessment for a month now, and I have already noticed many  advantages. Because all standards are weighted equally, it forces me to create assessments that cover a balance of topics, as well as a balance of core and advanced level questions. Students and I know exactly where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and ask for specific assistance in order to achieve proficiency. And, frankly, as I start working on my first set of reports, It is ridiculously easy, as at a glance I can see a student’s progress through each standard.

I have to say, so far so good!

Making a flipped class video

I have experimented with a number of formats for making videos for blended or flipped classes, and I have settled on a style that seems to work well in terms of ease of creation and student engagement.

Allow me to explain here:

 

The indirect lesson we mustn’t forget

I was at the Google Apps for Education Summit a few weeks ago. Lots and lots of great stuff, interesting talks, interesting discussion between talks. But there is one thing I learned that I really REALLY must not forget as I plan my courses for next year.

You see, the GAFE summit was held at a high school in Kitchener, and I spent two days sitting in chairs, at desks and in the auditorium. And dammit, it was uncomfortable. I mean ass-numbingly knee-bangingly miserable. And yet, when we see kids being fidgety in class, we often think it’s because they can’t sit still.

The old Golden Rule is do “unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and I suppose the flipside is also true – don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done to you. I would rather not have to sit in a hard chair at a small desk all day. So I will try my best not to make my students suffer that fate either.

How do you spell conundrum?

Previously I have written about how textbooks get it backwards, authenticity, using challenge, and all kinds of posts on pedagogy, ed tech, and “21st Century learning” (a phrase I am growing tired of, because we are well into the 2nd decade of the century…). I have also written about various challenges dealing with recent cohorts of students, and how the trend for general disengagement from learning in even a progressive classroom seems to be on the rise. It really is time for wholesale change.

I have experimented with flipping my classroom, with mixed success. While many students appreciate it, I still have students who just don’t do the preparation, and so they are unable to participate meaningfully in the activities that are based on the videos. So my plan is to build a hybrid/blended course with all of the content laid out online, so that all students can stay caught up, even if they are away at sports, or ill, or I am absent.  Here is what I am thinking:

  1. Build the course online, in Google sites, with plenty of embeded videos (mine and others) and interactives, questionnaires, wiki components etc.
  2. Make use of Google groups and/or Google+ for asynchronous discussion, backchannel, etc.
  3. Have students do ALL their classwork in  drive, shared with me, so that I can access and comment at any time.

 Now, the items above are not really new. Others have been doing things like this for years, and I have used pieces of it myself, just not integrated them all, whole-hog. But here’s what else I would like to do:

  1. Incorporate the concept of 20% time.

I spoke with some of my students the other day about the idea of spending every Friday class (we have classes every other day, so we have Friday classes every other work. But it is still one class in five) on a project of their choosing. While intrigued with the idea, they suggested that it would be difficult to implement meaningfully, because, as they put it, “We’d just play Tetris”. So I thought about it some more, and hat the following train of thought. In order to implement 20% time, I need to streamline the efficiency of the course, so we can address the essentials in 20% less time. Fine. So, what would happen if I were to streamline the course, and use the Friday classes not for projects, but for homework? If content delivery can be compressed enough for 20% time, it could certainly be compressed so that there is no need for homework. So what about the 20% time? Well, what if students were required to spend, say, one hour a week outside school time working on a project of their choosing, but with no other required homework? In other words,

  1. Flipped 20% time.  

This, I think, might work. With students journalling their progress there would be accountability, and ideally it should be something that is meaningful enough to them that there would be intrinsic engagement.

Now, here is the conundrum part. In order to pull this off, I have to compress a course that, historically, has typically been rushed as it is down into 80% or less of it’s former time allotment. Looking where the time goes now, I can see that  some time is spent in delivering factual content, some in what to do with that factual content, and some in providing context for both. So where to trim the budget?

In terms of factual content, whether I give it to them, or they look it up themselves, time is required. In grades 9 and 10 the curriculum is particularly fact heavy. I can carefully trim the list of things they absolutely have to know, but it is hard to trim the time significantly. As for the doing part – if anything I would like to increase the amount of time on using the knowledge learned, so not much room for cutting there. So that leaves time spent contextualizing, and the heart of the conundrum.

We know as educators that lists of facts just don’t stick. They are meaningless words. New knowledge requires meaningful context for it to be effectively retained, and that requires providing students with both context in which to place the knowledge, and context for the students to relate to. My informal, subjective observations seem to indicate that it is this contextualizing that takes up a significant portion of the time, and so this is the only thing that can be trimmed significantly. And yet, it is arguably the most important use of time. So what to do? How about something like

  1. Layered context

If the course material is provided online, as opposed to in a textbook, it can be presented with basic context, but with links to additional background information, examples, videos, diagrams, applications and so on, so that those students who need the extra context have ready access to a veritable buffet of all the information they need, while those who get it quickly do not have to slog through unnecessary material. And if those who need more context are able to turn to those who “get it” for help, so much the better.

I still have a lot to wrap my brain around, and I would love to hear from anyone who has tried (successfully or otherwise) to implement any of this.

Random thoughts on things to implement in my class

There are lots of strategies I would like to try in my classroom, but I’m not always sure how they would work. But here are a few of the ideas I have been tossing around, in no particular order:

  • Make MUCH more use of google tools – I picked up a lot of great ideas at the GAFE summit in April, and I’m dying to put them to practical use. Pages, shared resources, research tools built in, no losing documents.
  • 20% time – based on the Google model, where employees spend 20% of their time on a project of their choice.
  • On the Fly response forms – using a generic response form and creating questions each day to go with the questions, and/or using it as an exit ticket
  • more portfolio, journaling, less testing – build emphasis on ongoing learning, break the dependency on cramming and memorization
  • “tests” as formative – Despite making practice tests available, I find students rarely make good use of them, and then doing poorly on a test comes as a complete surprise. I have considered giving tests, just as they are, as a means of  providing feedback on what students still ned to know before they complete their work on the unit – whatever that might be.
  • “streamed” course for layering/differentiation – allow students more choice in how they complete each unit. Offer perhaps three “pathways” through a unit, from more traditional reading/lecture/worksheet, to grad-school like complete independent research, with a kind of hybrid/pbl in between.
  • change the way I assess. I need to a) make students more independent and responsible for their own learning, b) make it more meaningful, ans c) make it less onerous for me.
  • flipped classroom/blended learning – get more videos up, migrate my notes online, build the course in google sites as a sort of online textbook, complete with embedded docs for students to contribute like a wiki
  • Project/inquiry based learning. I really like the concept of the modelling method. The problem is that much of the material in grades 9 and 10 is purely factual, which leaves little room for inquiry.
  • introduce students to formal logic early. Hey, it’s science. Causation vs correlation is something science students really need to know.
  • make simple interactives. Flash, Construct 2, whatever. But something that can be embedded.
  • 3 before me – help to emphasize that I may be AN expert but not THE expert, and help break their dependence on me as the sole source of knowledge. They have to consult three other sources (classmates, textbook, internet, for example) before they ask me.
  • provide a road map of the course, that students must fill out as they go, with links to their work – students often ask what we did last class, or what we are doing next class. If i provide them with a syllabus/sequence on google drive, they can make a copy, and turn each heading into a link to their own work as we go along.
  • change the way I assess – Definitely.
  • “do I get it” self-assessment checkpoints
  • Incorporate Karplus learning cycle – important, particularly in science, but tricky to make relevant when the information is predominantly fact-based.
  • have students measure and graph everything they possibly can – It’s science. Measuring and graphing are what we do.
  • Maker Spaces – I love the idea of a maker space classroom. Making something is an incredible exercise in problem solving in the real world, and students don’t get nearly enough of it.
  • Change the way I assess. ‘Nuff said.

I don’t yet know how I can implement any of this properly, and implementing all of it is nigh impossible. But I know I have to make changes, and starting with a list of possibilities seems like as good a place as any.

 

Why can’t we follow a recipe?

Chances are you know someone who can’t follow a recipe. When they try your favourite recipe, it comes out as a disaster. Why is that? Why is it that someone following step by step instructions can mess it up so badly?

I don’t know the answer for sure, but I suspect it has something to do with lack of familiarity. It seems perhaps ironic that in order to follow a set of step by step instructions you need to know what you are doing already, but I think that is what is required, and here’s why: If you don’t know what you are doing, you won’t know if you made a mistake, whereas if you have an idea what you are doing, you can recognize mistakes and correct them along the way.

The same is true for lab activities. Many of them are cookbook style, with step-by-step instructions. And foolishly we think, well, how can they possibly screw up? And the answer, I’m afraid, is very easily. Step by step instructions instil a false sense of confidence. Students, like cooks who can’t follow a recipe, assume that they have done each step correctly, because they don’t necessarily have the experience to recognize missteps.

The other day in Biology class we were using the popular pop-beads to simulate mitosis and meiosis. They are good in that they give students a tactile, visual representation that they can manipulate and see the process as dynamic, as opposed to series of discrete steps. But it was a disaster. The set comes with very explicit, step-by-step instructions. But either they could not follow the directions, or they were so focussed on the directions they virtually ignored the beads, or they simply skipped the beads altogether and drew the results from memory, rather than observation.

Next time I try this lab, I will do it very differently. I will introduce them to the beads one day, have them plan out exactly how they would represent the steps, and then on lab day have them make a stop-motion animation of the sequence of events in Meiosis. That way they are responsible for planning it out, and will have an idea what it should look like, so they can recognize mistakes when they arise, and then the videos can be critiqued afterwords to see if there are any glaring (or subtle) errors or omissions.

Now I just have to keep this in mind going forward, and plan ahead knowing that cookbook activities (not just labs) have a built-in human flaw.

How you do math is, well, not how you do math

Math is an important tool in life, but the mechanics of math, the way it is often taught, is not actually the way it is typically applied. Probably because our brains aren’t wired like computers.

Here’s an example – you are the cashier at a grocery store. A customer buys $43.37 worth of groceries, and hands you a $50 dollar bill. What do you give them in change?

In math, you would find the difference, $50 – $43.37 = $6.63, then count the change out as $5, $1, 2 quarters, a dime and three pennies.

A real cashier, however, counts up: from $43.37, three pennies makes .40, a dime and 2 quarters makes $44, then $1 and $5 make $50. They don’t need to know the total change amount is $6.63, because the goal is to hand over change, not count it.

Likewise, when solving division problems we don’t tend to do division in our head, we do multiplication. When asked how many nickels make up 45 cents, we don’t think 45/5 = 9. We think what times 5 = 45? It seems that we are programmed to think forward, and that thinking backwards is really difficult to do, and when we do think backwards, we are actually thinking forward in a series of backward steps (like the lagging strand of DNA, if I may be so nerdy).

I think this is really important to recognize. In an earlier post on my approach to problem solving, I talked about the necessity of working backwards from the answer to ensure you know where you are going, and that experienced problem solvers do this without even thinking about it. So when I teach problem solving, I not only try to model this as explicitly as possible for my students, but I also teach the metacognitive side – to get the students thinking about their own thinking process when problem solving. To expose the man behind the curtain, as it were.

Certainly to be good in science one has to have a handle on evidence-based problem solving, both inductive and deductive. I feel that teaching metacognition is a way to help students develop those skills. It also helps me fathom the workings of the teenage brain.

 

Shouldn’t it be blue?

I love how people think, and I love teachable moments.

We were using extracted red cabbage juice as a pH indicator today, and a student came to ask what he should do if he made a mistake. I asked what had gone wrong, and he said “Something happened with our strong base sample. It’s yellowy green, but it should be dark blue”.

Since this was the part of the lab where we were observing what the colours were, I asked him why he thought it should be dark blue. His reasoning went like this: neutral is purple, mild acid (pH=3) was light pink, strong acid (pH=1) was red. Mild base (pH=9) was blue, and therefore, strong base should be dark blue. Rather than simply correct his misconception (which was, after all, a hypothesis based on extrapolation), I simply had him take another sample.

His result? Yellow green. He faced a pre-conception head on, verified for himself his results, learned that double checking results is valid, and that things can sometimes – but not always – be extrapolated. Lots of learning from one little transaction. Yay science!