Friday, January 31, 2014

The Student Becomes the Teacher - Video Summatives

As my first BYOD course came to a close, I wanted to make sure the culminating project reflected what we had been doing in the course. In addition to covering the required material, I tried to push my students to be more independent, more creative, and more flexible in how they learned and demonstrated their knowledge.

A culminating project which consisted only of review questions (as it had been in the past) just wasn't going to cut it.

The project was divided into three parts (the whole project can be found here). The first part was six, traditional, application-style questions from throughout the course.

The second and third parts involved my students creating teaching videos for not only other grade 11 math students, but also MY grade 10 applied-level students next semester. For the first time, not only did the students have to prove to me that they knew what they were talking about, but they had to know it well enough to teach it to younger students.

Students chose learning goals from the semester (signed up using an interactive Google Doc - see link above), filmed their video, uploaded it to youtube, and then submitted the link via Google Form.

Great things:
  • Though students had to create and be in the video by themselves, many paired up with friends to help each other re-learn the material, check their math, and film each other. Loved the collaboration!
  • Students used everything including white boards, blackboards, large paper/bristol board taped to the wall, pencil-on-paper and photoshop with screen capture. Some included background music or fancy transitions. There were no marks awarded for this, so it was nice to see the extra work students wanted to put into their videos on their own.
  • It was harder than the students thought it would be! They found they really had to break the learning goal back down into parts (like how they originally learned it) to make sure they could explain it properly.
  • Students had the opportunity to watch their videos, fix things, and then record again until they were happy with the result. Lots of opportunity for self-assessment before submitting the final product.
  • While some recorded their videos at school, many recorded at home, and involved their parents. How wonderful that parents got to see what their children had learned in math class this year!
  • Watching the videos, it was VERY clear who knew what they were talking about, and who didn't (or, in some cases, which subtle details gave students trouble). They were very easy to assess.
  • This project gives me pre-made material - made by students for students - for my grade 10 class this semester. Not only did it confirm whether or not the grade 11 students knew their stuff, it will help grade 10 students learn the material in the first place!
  • Some students were camera shy, and didn't want anyone to see their videos. Some dealt with it by only appearing in a tiny bit of the video (and then talking through the rest), but some simply decided to not complete the project.
  • Many students encountered incredibly long upload times (3+ hours) for videos that were sometimes only 2-3 minutes long. I'm not sure if this was because many devices now record in HD, making file sizes unreasonably large, or because of individual students' data plans.
Next time:
  • Next time I try this (and there WILL be a next time! I loved this project!), I will include a component where students will peer-assess each others' videos. There were several small mistakes that other students would have caught for each other if there had been a chance to watch other videos. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Changing Face of Feedback

This month's #blogamonth theme is feedback - how do we give it? How do we receive it? What sort of a difference does it make in our classes?

As teachers, we all learn what feedback should be: timely, specific and encouraging. When it comes to marking, that's such a nice dream, but it never seems to work that way. My marking, like most others', piles up at what feels like an exponential rate. Tests and quizzes are usually returned "in a timely manner," but worksheets and larger assignments... well, let's just say not-so-timely. And as much as I would like to give as much written feedback as possible, I haven't yet found a way (squished in margins, on sticky notes, pre-fab assessment chits) that works well for me.

This school year, with the consistent use of learning goals and daily progress measured in exit slips, my delivery of feedback has changed dramatically.

With the exit slips (which are handed in throughout the period, not just at the end), the single-question format allows me to either assess it right there on the spot (telling the student they got it right, or returning it with verbal feedback to try again), or that very evening if it's a particularly busy class and I don't see it right away.

When students come in the next day, they immediately gravitate toward the tracking board. If they see their most recent learning goal coloured in, they know they can move on to the next one. If it's not coloured in, they usually find me before I can get to them - "Can I see what I did wrong?"

Students checking our tracking board during class

It's an efficient system that allows me to be both timely and specific to each student. The slips that get delivered back at the beginning of the next class are accompanied by one-on-one feedback as to how the student can succeed on the next attempt. Students are given as many chances as they need to master the goal before moving on, receiving feedback all along the way.

In class itself, with the students learning more-or-less independently, I have more time to circulate and check-in with students personally. I find students are more likely to ask questions if you happen to be right there beside them, rather than seeking the teacher out at the front of the class themselves.

I'm very happy with how these new-to-me practices are working in class, but there's still lots of room for improvement. 

As students hand in investigations or projects, because each student is at their own place in the course, the work tends to not get handed back (my students seem to work so well together that they think nothing of copying each other's work, and I'm trying to avoid that), and the feedback is lost. 

Creating student inquiry portfolios - accessible to students but remaining in the classroom - is something I'll be trying with a new batch of students this coming semester.

On the flip side, I also want to receive more feedback from my students on how I'm doing as their teacher, and how they feel they are progressing in the course. Are weekly check-ins a possible solution? Should it become part of their assessment to give me feedback, and feedback on their learning environment? And how can I get feedback to the parents in a more efficient manner? 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Being a Good (Digital) Citizen

Though I missed the bi-weekly #OOE13 Twitter chat this week, the end of the conversation brought a blog prompt that I thought I would take the group up on. As I move toward having my BYOD students work more and more online (and as I find myself making a bigger and bigger digital footprint), this is something I find myself thinking about quite a bit.

Here is the prompt:

To give a bit of perspective, previous questions in the conversation covered: How do we teach students about digital citizenship and digital literacy? How do we keep students safe as they explore new tools? How do we teach them about the pervasiveness of the things posted online?

Perhaps the best way is by example. There have been many pictures over the past few months asking people to "like or share so that my students/daughter/grandkids can see how quickly photos can spread online!" Within hours, the number of views skyrockets. A powerful message, but to me that always seemed artificial - sure, information can spread like wildfire online, but especially so when its sole purpose is to be spread by everyone who sees it.

I would prefer to show them how material can be distributed organically - with no push to get it out there. There have been a number of great examples recently of how quickly information of any kind can be circulated online.

The two examples that come to mind from this past week alone are the New Brunswick mother who wrote on her blog about how her three-year-old daughter experienced the extraordinary kindness of a stranger on a recent plane trip (the entry had over 69,000 likes on Facebook, and over 600 comments on the blog itself), and the Ontario widower who (almost anonymously) paid for the meal of a young couple at a restaurant, leaving them a sweet note on a napkin and asking them to pay it forward (the story made national news, with copies of a photo of the note accompanying the headlines).

In both these cases, what strikes me is that the original acts - the ones now being advertised and passed at incredibly high speed from person-to-person all over the world - were not digital. Patience demonstrated on a plane flight; a handwritten note on a napkin. Not being anywhere close to a computer at the time, I don't imagine that either of these gentlemen expected their actions to be seen by thousands, if not millions, of people.

As much as I don't want to scare my students, or lead them to believe that Big Brother is constantly watching (whether or not he actually is, is another matter), everything we do these days can become online content. With the pervasiveness of cameras, and the ease with which almost anybody can connect, is it even reasonable to expect privacy while out in public anymore?

So is the risk of putting students online even more, too much? Should we leave digital citizenship to the "experts?" No. We, as teachers, should continue teaching students to be good citizens - online, in public, and in private, because what they do in the digital world and the analog world is becoming interchangeable.

What are the consequences for teachers? We extend what we have been doing, for generations of students already, to the online world and the interactions therein. 

We model good behaviour in our online help sessions with them, and good behaviour in the halls between classes. We warn them about providing too much personal information (in many contexts), and we teach them to be kind. We gently correct, point out effective avenues to pursue, demonstrate patience, and offer advice (both when asked and when we feel it is needed!) in all media.

As the digital world becomes intermixed with the real world - and eventually becomes the real world - the lessons don't change, just the medium. The benefits of connecting our students far outweigh the disadvantages, and we'll continue teaching every step of the way. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

There's an App for That

The other day, I was going through the curriculum expectations for my grade 10 applied math course for next semester, trying to see them through new eyes - BYOD eyes - and trying to create student learning goals (see previous post), when I got stuck on one expectation in particular.

I should mention that I love the planning part of the teaching process. Endless possibilities - what can I try with the students this year? Which projects have worked well in the past? How should I set up my units and build up the big ideas? It's a blank slate at this point, and the classroom is my oyster.

The expectation that bothered me was a fairly simple one on the surface:

From the curriculum document:
"By the end of the course, the student will perform everyday conversions between the imperial system and the metric system (e.g., millilitres to cups, centimetres to inches) and within these systems (e.g., cubic metres to cubic centimetres, square feet to square yards), as necessary to solve problems involving measurement."

My student-centred learning goal:
I can convert between the imperial system and the metric system.

My initial reaction (and yes, I ramble in my own head):
Conversions. Okay. Students struggle enough with conversion within the metric system (centimetres to metres to kilometres), how can I teach them how the imperial (non base 10) system works and then get them to create fractions (they never like fractions, and they bared touched them in grade 9), maybe decimals; I'll have to give them a table of conversions (inches to cm, miles to km, feet to metres, ounces to cups, etc.), maybe an anchor chart, they'll struggle with when to multiply and when to divide; or maybe I should go over cross-multiplication... and then we'll have to do compounded units (cubic metres); I know they're going to struggle with this, and it will likely take the better part of a week, which is ridiculous because in real life, all they'll have to do is...

...use a conversion app.

My second reaction:
Can I not just have them research and find a GOOD conversion app, and then make sure they get practice using the app?
     ... it would be easier to engage them on their devices than it would be to engage them at the chalkboard;
     ... it would reinforce research skills, evaluating skills (as they pick the best app), and allow them to tailor their tools to what they need (and like);
     ... it would allow us to spend less time on the tedious math of the conversions, so we can spend more time on problem-solving and creating (other apps/software for designing, building, testing?);
     ... it would be SO MUCH MORE like real life. In fact, it's just like real life. I can take this from something they will hate to something they can actually see themselves using. 

My students won't remember that to convert from feet to metres they need to multiply by 0.3048 (which, I admit, I had to look up), but they WILL remember that "there's an app for that," and they will remember that they CAN do it. They're not going to get flustered at the hardware store, at some unknown point in the future, when they need to make a conversion to get the right amount of materials. Empowering, no? Isn't this what we're supposed to be teaching students??

Will we still do fraction work? Yes. Will we still do cross-multiplication? Yes. Will my students be able to convert between imperial and metric? YES. And with BYOD I'm hoping it's something they actually enjoy.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Using Learning Goals to Focus BYOD

One of the unintended benefits of going BYOD with my math class this year, was that many of the best teaching practices I had learned about over the past few years - learned, but never really figured out how to incorporate into my teaching - seem to naturally come to the forefront as I planned my units.

The most notable, for me, was the use of learning goals in the classroom.

When I was first introduced to student-centred learning goals, I hated them. We weren't given clear instruction on how to create them, or how to really use them, but we were expected to post them at the beginning of the lesson, in every class. Some teachers just added them to the first slide in their note for the day, some had a dedicated space on the chalkboard, but many did nothing.

I can't speak for every teacher, but I think many of us found it to be just another extra little thing that in theory was supposed to help our students, but in reality, did nothing. It was tedious, students never paid any attention to them, and because we weren't sure what to do with them, teachers never followed up. Useless.

That is, until I suddenly had to turn the learning over to the students. How could I keep them on track though a unit? (Or really, how would they keep themselves on track?) How would they tell when they had successfully mastered a concept? With every student learning differently, how could I make sure they were all able to demonstrate the same level of mastery on a given task? How could I make sure there were no surprises on unit tests and the students knew they would be well-prepared? 

Learning goals took care of all of this nicely.

I should mention here how I create my learning goals, since every teacher/school/board does it a little differently. I take each course expectation (directly from the provincial curriculum document), and then adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Start the learning goal with "I can..."
  2. Use student-friendly language;
  3. Use a "demonstrable" verb (determine, graph, make a t-chart, describe, compare, sketch, etc.);
  4. Ensure that the learning goal can, in and of itself, become an exit slip.

Curriculum document: By the end of this course, students will solve quadratic equations by selecting and applying a factoring strategy.

Learning goal: I can solve a quadratic equation by factoring.

Exit slip question: Solve the following quadratic by factoring.

Once I have the learning goals laid out the for unit, I build the unit around them. What is the best way to master each learning goal (through skill mastery, investigation, design)? What resources can be used to master each learning goal? Does the exit slip match the learning goal? Do the quiz and test questions match the learning goals? I don't want there to be any surprises - the students should know exactly what to expect on all evaluations in order to demonstrate mastery!

Not only has my personal use of learning goals changed in terms of planning, but also how we refer to them in class (although, I still won't post them on the blackboard!). Each step through the unit is referred to by the students by the learning goal (ie. "What learning goal are you on?" "Do you have the handout for learning goal 8?"). Sometimes, when the students are stuck on a question, I ask them to re-read the learning goal, and that gives them a clue (or triggers a reminder) of how to solve the problem.

One of our exit slips, prefaced by the learning goal.

Our master unit list (our current one is here), has all the learning goals in full. Review sheets, quizzes, tests and exit slips all preface each question with the particular learning goal, and each of my mini-lectures start with the learning goal. Our course now revolves around them.

The main result is greater focus - both on my part when it comes to organizing course content (and boy, does it make test generation easy!), but also on the part of my students as they move through the unit at their own pace. It helps keep them on track, especially when it comes to reviewing for quizzes and tests. 

Having completely integrated learning goals into this BYOD course, I can't believe I got by without using them before. Now, when I approach any planning, then first thing I do is take time to create the learning goals. I think this will become even more important as I begin teaching applied-level students next semester.

Do you use learning goals? How do you use them? How do your students relate to them?