Wednesday 14 December 2011

Assessment with Manipulatives (Math 9)

Recently I gave my Math 9 students an option to use linking cubes to help them write a surface area quiz.  Immediately some students knew they would want to use the manipulatives and collected the cubes prior to the start of the test while others waited to preview the quiz first. In the end, all of the students used the cubes to help them complete the quiz. Interesting that when given the choice, the students utilized the manipulatives! 

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Socials 11: Spy vs. Spy

This post is courtesy of Russ Reid.

During our August Pro-D I worked with Dave S. and Lesley L. brainstorming ways to improve understanding of the cold war for our grade 11 students. We all felt this was a challenging era to explain and understand. It was thought through competition (which in a nut shell was the cold war) a better understanding could occur.

This was my first time running the competition and I was nervous wondering if the kids would buy into it. Well I failed to remember how competitive teenagers are. I first divided the students into two groups - Soviets and Americans. Next time I would like to create a few sattelite states. We have had a few competitions along the way. The one they bought into hook line and sinker was the Spy vs Spy.

I asked two adults on staff to act as double agents. Each of them came up with a password. This password would then be used by the students to discover who their agent was. Once they found their agent, the agent would give them a document (a blueprint of a secret tank being built by the other nation). The students went around the school (on their own time) saying their password to adults (the two passwords were "The earth is blue" and "I love cuddling with Nellie"). One of my agents decided to bake a cake and hide the blueprints between the two layers. The video is of them discovering the document.

We also had a space race (building paper airplanes), trivia competition about the cold war, rock/paper/scissors competition. Next week they are going to watch a clip of a Russian Ballet troupe. They will be given time to practice and will have to perform in front of judges - Three Americans and Three Soviets. All the judges will be corrupt and will give Zeros or Tens depending on which nation is performing. I will also have a group boycott the event.

The hope is to give them a fun, practical way to understand the war. The students are also receiving notes, video and textbook questions to reaffirm their understanding.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Show What You Know-Test (Science 8)

This post is courtesy of Middle School Teacher Lindsay Guza: Today I decided to give my class a very non-traditional test. I gave the student the hand-out below and a large piece of blank, white paper.

Energy Flows and matter cycles in ecosystems
Chapter 2- QUEST


On blank paper, please show me that you understand the concepts and ideas covered in this Chapter. You may write notes, a paragraph, drawings and/or diagrams.

BE sure to include labels and vocabulary from Chapter 2.
1. How energy gets into the living parts of an ecosystem.
a. Photosynthesis
2. How Energy gets transferred in an ecosystem.
a. Food Chains
b. Food Webs
c. Ecological Pyramids
3. How Water cycles through the non-living parts of an ecosystem.
a. The water cycle


I was not in the class, as I was doing my planning, but it worked out even better than I had imagined. Here are some examples.

Student #1 often gets assistance from an adult to write tests and do work.  Today he did this test independently! 
Food Chain:

Water Cycle with ALL of the vocabulary:

Photosynthesis with ALL of the vocabulary:

Student #2:  During the last Science test, this student did not answer half the questions even though she knew many of the answers.  Today, she completed this test with no extra help or encouragement. 

Food Chain:

Student #3 always excels at tests and written work. She was able to demonstrate her learning in a new way. She was also given the opportunity to show more than she would have been able to on a traditional test.

Monday 5 December 2011

Choice Power: Grade 4

This post is courtesy of Kent Percevault.

Our class is currently doing a read aloud novel together. After hearing the chapter(s) each day we do a reading response. I have taught several different methods for the response. The main responding method practiced is to first retell what we heard to a partner, then after practicing verbally, write about it using the "first, then, finally" frame. The frame is basically three sentences where students attempt to pick out the most important parts of the story in the order of what they heard and then write about it in their own words. Additions to this have been a 3 panel comic with captions, again using the "first, then finally" frame concept and things like diary writing as a character in the story. Even though the kids are really enjoying the story the reading response is not all that well liked for several and can be difficult for some to complete. Now that they all know how to do the different kinds of responding I let them choose in what way they'd like to complete their response and suddenly engagement went up, complaining went down and their work improved. Me thinks there is something to this choice stuff!

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Math 8: Sticky Note Success

This post is courtesy of Middle School teacher Pam Rutten.

Monday morning always seems to be a struggle for my students to get motivated, especially in math. So I am really focusing on Monday mornings and how I can get them engaged right off the bat. This Monday I tried a little activity with Sticky Notes. We are working with fractions, decimals and percents. I wanted them to be able to convert a fraction into a decimal, or a decimal into a fraction, etc. and understand what the values actually meant. I split the class into 6 groups of 4 and gave each group sticky notes. I then wrote 14 different values in the board (.0067, 75%, 3/5, etc) and had them write one value on one sticky note. I then gave each group a section of blackboard and their task was to place their values in ascending order on the board. I made it a competition to see who could complete the task first. Those were the only instructions I gave them. In order for them to do this, they first had to recognize that it would be easiest to convert them all to the same type (either all fractions, all decimals, or all percents), and then order. So it was very interesting to watch. All the students were very engaged and discussing with their group about how to go about the task. A few of the groups converted all to percent and a few converted all to decimals and then ordered them. Once they thought they had it correct they would call me over and I would simply say "error" if there was one and they would all go crazy and try again. Once they had all figured it out I had each group pick a representative to share the approach their group took to solve the problem. Then to top it off, no group had converted to fractions, so I had another race to see which group could now convert all the values to fractions first. Overall, I would say it was very successful, and the students had a much clearer understanding than they did at the beginning of the class.

Monday 21 November 2011

Tableaus-Social Studies 9

So I decided to try tableaus in class yesterday. It was a refreshing break from some fairly dry content material (life in New France). The students were really into it and were able to explain their tableaus well and include key issues and events.

I started off class today with questions about the material yesterday and most the class was able to answer them adequately. (Marcus Krieger)

Sunday 20 November 2011

Grade 8: Choice...and censorship

This post courtesy of Middle School teacher Lindsay Anderson.

For Remembrance Day, students were given an option for how to represent a veteran's story of their choosing:  poem, interview, illustration, letter, etc. One of my students did an amazing job on this assignment! He is really into Call-of-Duty video games (war based), and so first of all liked the idea of researching a real war veteran. He wanted to not only create a picture, but also write a poem! (He was only required to complete one option but decided to do an extra one as well). I wanted to blog about this particular assignment because in this assignment I saw how by allowing this student to make connections to something I didn't really "approve" of, he came up with something really meaningful. When this student was working on this assignment, he was chatting with his friends and making connections to his video game. A part of me wanted to shut the discussion down, but a part of me enjoyed seeing him get so excited about something that he is good at, and apply it to the assignment.  On a similar note, a few weeks ago students were given the option of creating Facebook pages on the protagonist in one of our stories,again, I was thinking, Is Facebook really appropriate? but the results that I got were excellent. Students loved using Facebook. They totally hit the learning outcome (showing conflict), and had fun.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Math 9: Rational Numbers

In Melissa Berrisford’s math 9 class, as an alternative to individual work, the students were put into groups of four for a game. Each student was given a piece of paper and asked to divide it into 8 sections (they could choose to fold the paper however they wanted). Then a problem was put on the overhead and every student wrote the problem down on their paper individually but they were all expected to collaborate in how they solved it. The whole group then had to agree on a final answer at which point one appointed student would raise their answer in the air and ask the teacher to check it. If the answer was correct the group would be allowed to advance to the next problem (the students worked through a total of 8 problems).

The whole thing is a competition (to see which group can successfully complete the 8 problems) and it engages students who like to compete but it also takes the risk away from less confident students as they are allowed to work through their answers with other students, and they don’t have to hold up their answers by themselves. This same game format could be used for various topics.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Playdough-Spanish 9

This is a video that shows a Spanish 9 class playing a game similar to Pictionary but with play dough. The students were given a list of 15 new vocabulary words. First they worked with a partner for 10 minutes to create a play dough symbol for each word. For example a lake could be a blob of blue. This encouraged the students to become familiar with the vocabulary. Then they played a game with another pair of students. One student from each pair picked a word from the list that they would like to "show" with play dough. They quickly created their play dough symbol and the first partner to say the work in Spanish won that round.

This post courtesy of Anita Mosher

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Socials 10

This blog courtesy of Russ Reid

Due to the shortened weeks and a couple of family life classes I had not seen my grade 10 class for three classes - which translated into almost a full two weeks. In addition, the class was the first block of the day so I figured I needed to do something a bit active and interactive. Each student was given a list of key terms (in the middle of the paper) with the three complaints / themes in half circles. They were to colour each theme differently and then link the terms to a corresponding theme. SEE VIDEO ABOVE

For a morning class of 15/16 year olds and a topic (rebellion of Upper Canada) that is not the most exciting (one might relate it to rational numbers in math) they were all engaged and interacting with each other. It was interesting how each student choose to connect the terms (by colour or lines) as well as, how and when they realized there was an overlap in many of the terms (ie they linked to different themes).

As a class we then placed the terms on the board (SEE VIDEO BELOW) and discussed how many of them overlapped.

The class had movement (while sitting and moving to the board), there was elements of individual and class discussion. I am not too sure if this will improve their grade, however, the engagement factor was at a high level and I believe they were showing a better understanding of the complaints the lower class of upper canada had prior to the Upper Canada Rebellion.

The next step will be to take these terms and add images to them. Have them create their own chart of complaints in the appropriate theme. This will be done using a Venn Diagram (yeah math). It will culminate to a written paragraph identifying the main complaints.

Monday 7 November 2011

Small Improvements

This is a reflection post from middle school teacher Lauren Vallis.

So, usually Taylor (not the student's real name) shows disinterest in what we're doing in class. He will sit and stare at his work, but not do it. He will complain that he doesn't know any of the answers or he doesn't understand. A couple of days ago, I posted some notes around the room and had my class moving around to find them and write them down. Taylor was very engaged in this process. He was working the entire time. Even when it was time to take those notes to their desks and copy them onto post-its (to eventually put them in order of the events that take place in the circulatory system), he kept working.

In addition to that, yesterday he was in at lunch to complete some missing tasks. He actually came and asked me if he had written enough! Normally, he might try to submit something unfinished because he doesn't want to put any more effort into it.

Today, the class did mini skits to act out certain events from our novel and he participated without a single complaint!

Sunday 6 November 2011

Window Writers- Literature 12

Friday's Class (Nov. 4th) The students have a quiz next Tues on the first 2 acts of King Lear. In the past I have put students into groups and made each group responsible for one scene. They have to write down the key events, pick 2 key quotes, draw 2 key images and connect the events in the scene to any of the "big ideas" in the play. In the past the students have done this on paper and I've photocopied a booklet for the students to study from. Today I decided to give each group window writers and complete the assignment on windows. In the past this never would have worked because of lack of window space but this time I used the library which worked very well. I couldn't fit everyone in the library but I had 2 groups in my classroom and 2 groups on hallway windows.

Most groups were engaged for the entire activity (they had about 40 minutes-the first half of class was spent on discussion of one of the themes in the play, review of key ideas and 15 minutes of video). I made up the groups and put a lot of thought into who was working with who. After groups were finished I interviewed at least one member of each group on video to check for understanding.

Post activity reflection: There were 2 groups that had particularly difficult scenes to explain. I should have anticipated this and had some support sheets to scaffold their understanding. As it was I spent longer than I would have liked with these two groups while I personally took them through the text.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Cameras In Class

We are on day 3 of "King Lear". I may have resigned myself to the fact that this class will never enjoy sitting still while I personally try to explain ANYTHING to them. However, as soon as I ask them to get up and participate in an activity the results are great. We are about a fifth of the way through the play and the kids need to start reflecting on certain key ideas that are starting to show up. I decided to break the class into groups of three and give them a "big idea" to track (betrayal, loyalty, blindness, disguise). The students wrote down examples of these themes in the play and characters who have demonstrated them (I have done this many times in the past). Today I added the extra step of having the kids choose one partner to pose as a character and write out one thing the character did that linked to a "big idea". The students took most of the pictures with my camera and a few kids used their cell phones and then emailed the pictures to me. I'll put a little slide show together for them tomorrow as a review. (Note: the written notes are from a student that usually disengages in any form of written activity, but in this case he had group members to support him and he liked the photo activity that came after).

Wednesday 26 October 2011

2 X 10 (A Simple Strategy for At-Risk Students)

This email was passed on by one of the teachers in the Maggie Group.

At one point in my life – a long time ago – it was normal to assign a zero if work was not done. But – the “assignments” section of a student’s mark was no more than 10%, and they had a week to do each assignment – with teacher help if they wanted. This worked quite well, and most students did their assignments and did well.

As years went on, I found this less effective. Students changed and so did I.

I was then introduced to an idea by Kim Schonert-Reichl, a psychologist. She called it a “2 by 10”. It has really worked for me to get those who don’t tend to do the practice they probably need. It’s an idea that is so simple and which most of us know works, but by giving it a name and consciously applying it … it helped.

Take the student who is not getting work done (or who causes disruptions, or whatever). Give him/her 2 minutes of undivided time 10 classes in a row (thus 2 by 10) and you will see a difference. I usually see it by the third day. By the 10th day, I hardly recognize the student. A former student from about 6 years ago still comments when he sees me how I changed his attitude to math (I hadn’t explained the 2 by 10 to him – I just applied it.)

Katharine Borgen
(as emailed to the B.C. Association of Math Teachers)

Monday 10 October 2011

Small thing-big difference

I just finished marking our first big unit test for Literature and I noticed that almost every student got 100% on a particular section. They all clearly remembered the elements of a Romance poem and were able to apply them to the poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" that we study in Lit. All I did was this:

1. I put the notes for "Elements of a Medieval Romance" on the overhead.
2. I gave the students different coloured sheets of photocopy paper (they got to choose the colour-small choice but they liked it) Oh and I gave them smelly felts-they LOVE smelly felts!
3. Then I had them write down one key word from each of the notes (they had to pick the most important word). I told them not to copy down anything else because I would give them the full notes afterwards.
4. Once the kids had the words written down they had to take a piece of tape and make their sheet of paper into a wizard's hat.
5. I told them we were making the hats because the story of "Harry Potter" includes all the elements of a Medieval Romance. We went through each of the points and confirmed they were all found in "Harry Potter" books and films.
6. Kids then had to stand up and recite two elements of a Medieval Romance to a partner from memory (or by looking at the other person's hat).

So why did they remember it?

Because they had to think of a key word to condense the info?
Because they had a visual memory aid?
Because it was hands on?
Because they had to stand up and verbally express some of what they remembered?
Because it was connected to Harry Potter which is relevant to them?

All I know is that they nailed it on the test a week later.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Trying New Stuff

Fairly straightforward (the concepts aren't difficult) lesson on a Medieval Ballad. I decided to throw in a "twitter" option which worked quite well (the kids figured out how to do it-I didn't). The lesson was fairly traditional at the start, with me explaining the elements of a ballad and then we listened to "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan and identified criteria for a ballad in the song. Then we read "Bonny Barbara Allan" out loud. Then students were allowed to choose their own groups (I said max 3 but we ended up with a few groups of 4). The challenge was to capture all 11 stanzas of BBA in some form, and reference the symbolism of the rose and the thorn in the poem.

Class breakdown: 35 minutes: students in desks working independently. 40 minutes: group work with options plus the one presentation we got to at the end of class.

Option 1: Use twitter to create a fictional conversation between the two characters in the poem (that hit on every stanza)-3 groups chose this option
Option 2: Take 11 pictures of tableaus that represented each stanza.-5 groups chose this option
Option 3: Take 11 pictures of scenes created using playdough that represented each stanza.-1 group chose this option

Pros and Cons:

Pros: The students were highly engaged in the lesson and as I wandered around the school checking on groups, I did not stumble on anyone off task. It was obvious that the students were having a lot of fun. I think giving the groups a timeline (30 min) to complete their projects was also effective and seemed to be about the amount of time they needed. The activity was also highly creative. All groups had to grasp the main elements of the poem and then create a NEW way to represent the material. Inferences had to be made. But:

1. How to assess? Do I assess? From the video you can see that a number of the groups have one person "leading" (they are reading the poem itself and giving directions). Did the rest of the group members fully absorb the key elements and images in the poem?

2. Time. "Bonny Barbara Allan" is a very small piece of the course that I always easily cover in one day. Now my lesson is going to spill over into another class. Do I have this time when bigger poems need to be covered in more depth?

3. Deeper understanding. While a knowledge of the plot elements and images of this particular ballad is on the core curriculum for Lit 12, should I be spending more time on deeper issues (such as the importance of retaining culture such as folk ballads, or identifying the ballad genre in our modern lives)?

Follow Up: Monday Sept. 19th (after weekend). I did a small "quiz" (not for marks) to see if the class retained the info from Friday and retention was very high. The last question on the quiz was "did you find the activities on Friday were a good way to learn". The results were very positive:

Student #1 "Yes! It help me rember it and it was fun and better then...(didn't finish the line)" (photo tableau option)

Student #2 "Loved it, it was awesome" (photo tableau option)

Student #3 "YES, it was creative in a non-artistic way" (twitter option)

The worst comment I got (only one) was "I didn't mind it".


Students got to pick their own teams (they had worked in randomly chosen partners earlier in the lesson).