Saturday, January 2, 2016


Just before the winter holidays kicked in, I had a lovely chat with Rola Tibshirani (@rolat) about collaboration, and getting folks involved in sharing on social media. We agreed that pursuing personal professional development through social media sites like Twitter has been a game changer for the both of us, and we would love to be able to share that.

However, convincing others to give it a try isn't always easy. Teachers new to Twitter often find it overwhelming. The sheer amount of information can be quite daunting, and many won't take the time regularly to flip through what others have posted, let alone find time to contribute themselves. 

Educators who have been active in the Twitterverse for several years, however, are starting to experience a bit of Twitter-fatigue. Once-exciting Twitter chats seem to just be asking different spins on the same old questions, and while Twitter is still a great resource bank for ideas, the connection and collaboration aspects seem to be waning.

This got me thinking about why I use Twitter as an educator. The most powerful uses of social media, for me, have been the connections I've been able to make with other people and/or classes around the world:

It's connections like these - which would have been nearly impossible to arrange prior to Web2.0 - that are making the biggest difference in my classes. I want to be able to help others make those connections, too.


So, without further ado, introducing #OntarioClassMatch. I'm hoping that through the use of a common hashtag, reaching out to other classes in-province will be simpler and more accessible than before.

What can you use #OntarioClassMatch for?
  • Collaborating with another teacher currently teaching the same course;
  • Extending literary circles outside your classroom walls;
  • Getting a class survey answered by students across the province;
  • Connecting your students with an older/younger class in Ontario to teach or mentor;
  • Gathering data (à la Pumpkin Time Bomb);
  • Having your students collaborate with other students on mutual or cross-curricular projects;
  • Learning about, through first-hand resources, different aspects of our vast province;
I'm hoping I can help! Please help me spread the word, talk it up, and most importantly, use the hashtag! Let's break down those classroom walls and continue working toward making Ontario educators the best in our field.

UpdateThank you to everyone who has been spreading the word about #OntarioClassMatch! Now that the hashtag is out there, what can you do with it?

  • Use it! Include #OntarioClassMatch in your tweets to help find a class you'd like to connect with.
  • Create a column in Tweetdeck and follow the hashtag - you never know when someone else might be looking to connect with your class!
  • Keep spreading the word! You may not teach grade 3, but you might be able to connect a grade 3 #OntarioClassMatch request with someone in your school. We can all help make those connections and break down classroom walls :)

Monday, December 28, 2015

One Word 2016: Reflection

One of my favourite parts of winter break is the time I can (at last) take to just sit and plan. With one month to go in the semester, I can focus on how I'll tackle the last month of my courses, as well as start piecing together some of the ideas I have for new courses starting in February.

With all the talk of new year's resolutions, it's also a good time to reflect on everything that happened in 2015 (my most-viewed blog posts from the year are here), particularly my chosen #OneWord theme for the year: JUMP.

This past year I wanted to:
  • JUMP at the chance to go out on a limb and try things I've never tried before (and not balk at trying just because it was new to me);
  • JUMP and reach higher, raising the bar on my work in the classroom;
  • JUMP into the unknown and take risks with my students, like connecting with other classes and people around the world;
  • JUMP into new opportunities, like sharing my learning at conferences or in workshops.

2015 was a phenomenal year. I was able to make good on my promise to JUMP more, and I'm not sure I'll be able to top it in 2016. 

But as I keep trying new things, I find I want to change my focus slightly. I want to continue taking risks, but I'd like my students and I to get more out of what we try. In that vein, my #OneWord for 2016 will be: REFLECTION.

  • Reflection on what's working well in my flipped classes. I've changed a lot of things in how I teach. Many ideas are working well. Some, I know, are not. There's always tweaking to be done, whether it's in delivery of content, choice of activities, or methods of engaging the students. How can I make my classroom an even better place to learn?

  • Reflection on my practices and abilities. I'd like to get back into blogging on a regular basis, both on my successes and failures. I learn so much from others, and I want to give back and help others where I can.

  • Reflection on what my students need - both what they say they need and my best guess as to what I think they'll need to succeed later in life. What is the right balance between digital and analog learning? How can I use both to help my students become better problem solvers, collaborators and communicators?

  • Reflection for my students. I keep meaning to have my students self-reflect on their (best) practices in class and on the work they do outside of class time. This year part of my focus will be to engage them more in this reflection process, and help them make connections between what they do to learn and how well they learn.

  • Reflection in the form of personal, quiet contemplation. I am hoping this will lead to a better balance between work and life. I started out the school year with a focus on mindfulness, and would like to return to that practice.

What is your #OneWord focus for the new year?

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Five Most-Read Blog Posts of 2015

Sitting around the dinner table with family last night, we all recalled our best memory from 2015. From swimming in the Caribbean, to that night going out for pizza and the power went out, to a serendipitous walk in the woods, everyone had great stories. It was a fantastic year in so many ways, I found it hard to pick just one highlight!

Looking back through my most-visited blog posts of 2015, I'm reminded of my learning and my classes' successes over the year. It was a good review of what I've tried, what I've wondered and struggled with, and what I've changed. 

I've got a lot of great, new ideas in mind for 2016 - here's to a great year!

1) Physics: It's not all about the math - A look at how I've been testing students in Physics. How much emphasis is on the science?

2) Genius Hour - Year 1 - Here's how we got Genius Hour up and running in our grade 9 science class. It was amazing!

3) Ditching Effectiveness - The miracle of page 18 - After an intense weekend of learning about rich task assessment, I wrote this post to reflect on my biggest take-away from the two-day workshop: a single paragraph on page 18 of Growing Success.

4) A Global Survey - Electricity Usage - My grade 9 science class created a survey on electricity usage and sent it around the world. We had over 600 responses from over 40 countries! Here's how we did it, and what we did with the data afterward.

5) Make School Different: Five things to stop pretending - A response to the #makeschooldifferent challenge.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Taking Physics Across the Border

Earlier this month, Daniel Welty (@weltyteaching) contacted me about possibly having our two grade 11 physics classes collaborate and get feedback from each other. His honors physics students are using blogs to document and communicate their learning

While they aren't doing the exact same things we are doing in SPH3U, it was a great opportunity to make good on one of my year-long goals to have my students collaborate and connect with other classes around the world.

So we took a virtual trip from Manitoulin Secondary (Manitoulin Island, Ontario), to Algonquin High (Northborough, Massachusetts)! 

Connecting classes across the border!

Daniel's tweet to me came at just the right time - our class was just finishing up kinematics with projectile motion, and about to start a new unit on work and energy. 

I created a small communication assignment so my students could get both a review of their past work, as well as a preview of the upcoming unit through these blogs, while at the same time seeing how other students were problem-solving:

An important piece of this assignment was the digital citizenship component of how to comment on blog posts. Blog-writing is much less formal than report-writing. By perusing through a blog you can really get a feel for the author's personality, making it easier to connect with the writer. 

And my students did make those connections! They were drawn to the blogs of their American counterparts with similar hobbies or senses of humour. Because of this, though, we had to be careful to not be nonchalant in a comment, as if commenting on a friend's work. 

The guide given in the assignment worked pretty well, and gave my students a good starting point for their comments. Most of the students provided thorough and well-worded replies.

Exploring the blogs


One of these days, I will remember that activities like this ALWAYS take longer than I think they might! Whereas I planned on having my students comment on the blogs for 20-30 minutes, the activity ended up taking the whole 70-minute period. There were some issues (see below), but for the most part, students were earnestly putting in time to explore the blogs and write good comments.

They loved learning about the students at Algonquin HS, and there were lots of comments in-class on how the experiments performed by the other class were the same or different than what we had done. They also loved the life-sized cardboard cutouts of R2-D2 and Sheldon Cooper Daniel's class had. :)

Commenting on blogs

We lucked out in that the day we did this, our classes occurred at the same time. Daniel connected his students with our class through a map as well, noting that a large park to the east of us (Algonquin Provincial Park) shares the same name as their high school. They even used Google Translate to learn how to pronounce my last name, "Theijsmeijer" (it does a surprisingly accurate job!). :)

My students were also interested in how Mr. Welty and I connected in the first place - it's rare that they hear of social media to collaborate professionally, so it was nice to address that in class. I had a running conversation between Daniel and myself through Twitter up on the board for them to see as the class progressed.

On the whole, my students really liked the idea of using a blog to demonstrate learning (though some expressed that they didn't want to write blogs themselves!). It's something I'd like to consider for future courses as it was such a nice connection piece.

Commenting on blogs


As noted in the assignment, there were indeed some issues with getting around our Internet filter ( is blocked, but - which is really the same thing - is not). It's a manual fix, but it led to a little bit of frustration initially.

The biggest issue was that many of the students were not able to get to the comment boxes on the blogs. I had never seen this issue before, and didn't anticipate it whatsoever. For those students, I had them write their comments in a Google Doc or email and send them to me to be posted later. Annoying, but not a huge obstacle in the end.

Exploring the blogs

Next Steps?

Daniel is going to have his students look at their comments and then reply in kind. Many of my students indicated that they were interested in getting to know their counterparts more, perhaps by collaborating on an assignment/lab, or connecting via Google Hangout. The idea of becoming "penpals" or visiting Northborough even came up! ("We can take a plane there," they said. "That's PHYSICS!") 

We will definitely be seeking opportunities to have the two classes connect again.

Go Mustangs!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

New Technology: Photo Spheres & Class Instagram

Half way through the semester, and I'm realizing that I haven't had the chance to blog much. There's been both the struggle of having no time, as well as the feeling that there's nothing worth writing about.

But I've been trying to encourage other teachers to blog and share, because even if it's an everyday occurrence in their classroom, it will be brand new to someone else looking to try something new. So here are some new image-related tech things I've tried this year.

Photo Sphere

If you're familiar with Google StreetView, you're familiar with 360-degree images: photos that you can pan around and see from all perspectives, as if you were really standing there.

Most of these StreetView images were taken with the special spherical camera (mounted on a Google car that has made the rounds through neighbourhoods), however it's possible for anyone to take these 360-degree pictures and add them to Google Maps for all to see.

A flat Photo Sphere of our road on Manitoulin

The process is fairly simple, provided you have the right app. With an Android device, download the Google Camera app: "photo spheres" is one of the options when you go to take a photo.

On an iOS device, download the Google StreetView app, which guides you through the photo spheres process. From here, you can also use the image in Google Cardboard. There appears, however, to be no equivalent option for Blackberry users.

You can see (and play with!) the full image here.
In our Earth & Space Science class, part of an assignment had the students locate examples of local surroundings that demonstrate erosion and take 360-degree images of them (here are some examples: Bridal Veil Falls, road-side rock cut).

It was a neat way to encourage students to get outside and apply what they've learned, and it was a new tool for the students to try (most didn't know they could take photos like this). My plan was to create a shared map for the class using My Maps, and have the students share their spheres to the class map.

Sharing the photo spheres turned out to be tricky, though - the only way to share/publish your spheres is to upload them to the public Google Maps, much like you would contribute a normal photo of an area. This process takes upward of a day (each photo sphere that is uploaded needs to be approved by Google), and once published to the public map, the links seemed to disappear randomly - visible one day, and gone the next. There doesn't appear to be a way to publish the spheres to a private map. Yet.

Those without the app were encouraged to take a panorama photo, and barring that, a series of photos, of their chosen location. Not quite the same effect as a 360-degree photo, but it still got everyone outside hunting for erosion.

Class Instagram

Earlier in the school year, I mentioned wanting to try a class Instagram account, but wasn't sure what to post or how to go about it. My grade 12 Earth & Space Science class seemed interested in taking up the challenge, and came up with the name for the account: @SESforyou (a play on our course code, SES4U (SES = Science, Earth & Space; 4U = grade 12 University-stream)).

A photo posted by @sesforyou on

The account was created, and I gave the students the login and password information so that anyone could post to the account. The plan was to post photos what we're doing in class (with the understanding that we keep students' faces out of images), or their own photos of geology around the island.

A photo posted by @sesforyou on

The account was fairly well-received in class, but even with full login access, only one student has posted his own photo so far. Many say it's too tedious to log out of their own Instagram account and log in to the class one on their devices. This week, I hope to set up the account on one of the class tablets so that students can use that device to take and post pictures.

I love the idea of being able to share what we're doing, especially as some of the projects the students are creating are fantastic (blog post on those, coming soon), but I was hoping to interact/share/connect more with other Earth Science classes through it. We are getting better at using social media, though (especially harnessing the power of the hashtag to get our photos noticed).

What have you tried?

Have you tried either of these image-sharing tools? Any tips or tricks to share? Please comment! We're always looking to learn and try something new.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Autograded Exit Slips - #LazyTeacher?

Since turning the learning over to the students, I have used "exit slips" to both help students focus their efforts as well as help me keep track of their progress through the learning goals in a particular unit.

(I hesitate in calling them exit slips since those are traditionally done just before "exiting" class. The checks we do in our classes can be done whenever the student is ready for them, at any time during the period. Because of this, we're starting to get into the habit of calling them "mastery checks" instead of exit slips. The concept is the same - assessment as learning for the students - letting them know if they are ready to go on to the next topic.)

I have struggled, in the past, with managing all the exit slips that come in - immediate feedback is key on these assessments, and I wasn't always able to provide it. So this year I tried something new.
There was a LOT of paper piling up on my desk...


In my Math (MCF3M) and Physics (SPH3U) classes, we have moved exclusively to online mastery checks, autograded by the Flubaroo add-on for Google Sheets. The fact that this makes the assessment paperless is amazing, however it's how the students are using the mastery checks which has made the biggest impact in my class.

The mastery check is created using Google Forms. Here is a recent one from our Physics unit on two-dimensional motion. Try it out - see how you do!

On the back end of the form, I have installed Flubaroo in the responses Sheet, and set it to autograde. Once a form is submitted, Flubaroo will grade the responses, and send that student an email (at the address they provide), usually within 60 seconds. That email will contain a message from me (written in advance), the student's score (in the above case, out of 3), and a breakdown of which questions the student got right or wrong.

Seriously - try out the above form to see what the students see! I promise I won't judge :)

One of the tabs Flubaroo provides in Sheets - you can see who took the mastery check, their highest score (points), and the number of times the mastery check was attempted.

(If you're interested in trying Flubaroo, there are detailed instructions here on how to set it up.)

Visible Changes

This has completely changed how my students complete (and master the material on) these checks:
  • Students receive feedback almost instantly (no waiting for me to have a spare moment in class to look at the slip, or worse, waiting until the next class to find out how they did).
  • Students immediately (and naturally) go back and try again, seeking help (most often) from classmates or from me.
  • Within a span of a few minutes (or longer if there are bigger gaps in the knowledge of the content), the students have fixed their mistakes and re-submitted their slips. They can re-submit as many times as they like - when they get perfect, they can move on to the next learning goal. Often, this happens without me even knowing.
I'm seeing students become both more independent with their learning, as well as more collaborative (I hear lots of on-topic conversation among students as they find their mistakes and correct them). Those who can master the material quickly are doing so and moving on, not held back by others who may need more time. 

And those who do need more help are realizing it more quickly (without having to wait on me to assess something), and are seeking help. Some students will approach me en masse because they collectively can't figure something out, while others will seek help from me independently because they're just not sure where they're going wrong. And this leads to great teaching moments, because the students are genuinely curious and ready to learn.

Students are taking more ownership of their learning, relying less on me as they master the basics, and honing their own problem-solving skills. 


Earlier this month, I was trying to explain to someone why a teacher might want to become connected on Twitter. One example I gave was that it provides an instant connection to a huge, international network of teachers from which you could seek advice. I mentioned how in August, before I knew about Flubaroo, I had asked my Twitter PLN what apps/extensions were available to autograde quizzes. To this statement, my colleague replied: "hashtag-lazy," implying that this was how I should have punctuated the tweet.

It stung that it was assumed that I was just looking for an easy way out, rather than a way of more effectively managing my time: freeing up more time in class to sit down and work one-on-one with a student who needs extra help, or freeing up more time in the evening to provide detailed feedback where students need it most - on rich tasks and in-depth assignments.

In the grand SAMR scale (or whatever acronym is used for the place of technology in classrooms these days), if technology can be used to engage students in their studies, help them continue the conversations that drive learning in the classroom, and allow them to foster their learning skills, I'm all for it. In the classroom, I'm just as active than ever (if not more active), as are my students. Might I suggest #Empowered?

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Flipping Continues

This September marked my third year of flipping classes. Well, pseudo-flipping. I wasn't requiring or asking my students to front-load the material on their own at home, but I was turning the classroom over to them: students are choosing how they are learning the material, what resources they will access to do so, and choosing their pace of learning.

Most of my success so far has been in very skill-based courses like math. I've struggled, though, with how best to present a variety of resources when the learning goals are more broad (like in general science).

With my grade 12 Earth and Space science class this semester, I was ready to revamp things and try again. But there were also two new factors forcing me to up my game: firstly, I had made it my goal to introduce more rich assessment tasks and project-based learning into my science classes, and I wanted to follow through.

Secondly, I knew I had a student coming in who has been literally learning geology and fossils - particularly as they pertain to our local area - since the age of three. His knowledge is astounding; there would be no way I could teach the geology components of the course in the traditional sense and still keep him engaged. I really had to step back from the idea of being the expert in the room. Change was afoot!

New Format

After toying with the idea of layered curriculum (à la Kathie Nunley) or an equivalent point system, I decided to go with a rich assessment project that tied together the components of the units, and then choice boards for the individual lessons.

Here's what one of our lessons looks like:

Just the Facts

Each lesson starts with the learning goals, as well as materials for learning the basics. These include my PowerPoint notes (now uploaded to Slides, as well as Screencastified videos with me talking through them), textbook references, and a vocabulary list.


Students need to choose one activity from each row. They can do these in any order, and the options are usually open for them to complete the task however they choose (verbally, on paper, visual presentation, 3D model, online graphic, etc.).

You may notice that the rows are roughly themed. The first row is a check of the basic knowledge (Knowledge/Understanding in the Ontario curriculum, or an entry level in Bloom's Taxonomy), the second is Thinking/Inquiry, and the last row is more Application/Evaluation (or, a higher level in Bloom's Taxonomy).

Again, the students can do these in any order - some start with the synthesis tasks and then come back to the specific details, others choose to take the notes first, familiarize themselves with the vocabulary, and then tackle some of the larger tasks. A couple of students, for this particular lesson, loved the idea of creating an online model of a rock record in Google SketchUp, and jumped right in with that before looking at any of the resources. A great hook!

I'm seeing a good range in what the students are choosing, and I'm getting an excellent variety of projects - from the SketchUp files for the task previously mentioned, to a marker-and-paper design, to a pair of students who are reconstructing the rock record seen in one of our local waterfalls in a 3D physical model:

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island
image labeled for noncommercial use by

Unit Project

The unit project is tucked away at the bottom of the document, but was available from the day we started the unit. Those who were interested (my in-house palaeontologist included), found it right away and jumped right in. Others waited until I pointed it out and walked the class as a whole through the idea.

Again, some students started brainstorming immediately after the class-wide discussion, while others waited until finishing the lessons (there were three in this unit, all set up similarly to this one) before starting. I have been super impressed by the creativity the students are applying to this project - some of their "futures" are hilarious! - and am looking forward to seeing how they tie the final product into what we have learned. 

This project was my first attempt at creating a rubric on my own using the method picked up from assessment PD in the spring, and I'm glad to see the students making use of it to fine-tune their work.


Overall, I'm very impressed with how this class is functioning. So far, I've been successful at both introducing more project-based learning and rich tasks, as well as meeting every student at their level: the students seem engaged, and students of all backgrounds are finding entry points and ably demonstrating their learning. 

It is a lot of work to frontload each of the lessons, but by opening up the class like this, I find students are taking more risks when they are ready for them:

Some are bringing in their fossil collections from home to identify and learn more about them, many are getting out and exploring their local area from a geology point of view, and one student - in the hopes of possibly teaming up with a local university to re-create the famous Miller-Urey experiment - even emailed a student (now Professor Emeritus) of Stanley Miller in order to find out more about the experiment. We are getting good at breaking down these classroom walls! 

I'd love to hear suggestions or comments - I'm always looking to make learning a great experience!