Wednesday 30 January 2013

Fed-Ex Day

The other day I booked the library and adjoining computer lab for the classes I teach.  I borrowed the idea from a TED talks video I watched - Daniel Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation.  His talk is quite interesting in that it identifies the skill set workers (our students) will need for the future and tied it into a couple of progressive companies who offer their workers time... time to focus on anything they want with the catch being they have to deliver something the next day.  He referenced Google - who offer 20% of their workers time - and from that time google docs, google news and chrome were created.

Students could investigate any topic they wanted but had to present to either the whole class, small groups, or an adult.  I was curious to see how 14/15 year-olds would spend their time.  It was fascinating to see those who were extremely engaged basically disappear into the rabbit hole as they researched a passion or curiosity of theirs.  It was just as fascinating watching others flounder with the freedom and time.  Without direction from me they struggled.

Here are a list of topics they explored (they are as diverse as the students in each class) - card tricks, sleep efficiency, why Africa is poor, planning a surf trip to south Africa, Matisse, origami, Esperanto Language, unicycles, 3D animation, car engines, Anna Pavlova, ski resort trips, corruption in politics, buying an island, black holes, cities in England to visit...


1.  As expected students learned in very different ways (they were not told how to learn or how to record their evidence).  Most mixed the visual (video) with the written.  It reaffirms the need to provide both the visual and text during instruction.  The inclusion of video is vital to today's learner.

2.  I surveyed students afterwards and an overwhelming majority loved the freedom to investigate anything they wanted.  I don't think we provide enough freedom for students in our class.  The challenge is to create a structure or framework of outcomes and then to broaden the means in which they not only investigate the information but recall it and provide evidence of learning.

3.  The presentation of their learning proved to be the biggest challenge.  Moving forward I need to have clearer expectations in how this will function.  I suspect they have not had these type of coffee talk interactions at school.  This is a significant skill (not only in school but outside of it as well) - to be able to not only articulate your ideas to peers but to be an engaged / active listener.

Moving forward I plan to implement three or four of these a semester.  In our PLOs there are expectations such as: "critical thinking skills, including - questioning, summarizing, drawing conclusions, defending a position" and as well students are to "demonstrate effective research skills, including - accessing and assessing information, collecting and evaluating data..."  Students asked if this  lesson was "allowed".  I believe I can justify this day by applying the Skills and Processes piece from the Learning Outcomes... I want to develop the means to collect the data and use it as inspiration for moving forward.

Students' days are so structured, they seem similar to an assembly line of a factory.  Life and most of their occupations will not resemble many of their school experiences.  There are few manuals for the challenges that lay ahead of them.  Perhaps little moments like these will spark a curiosity, expose them to how they learn, or what they like.  Regardless this was a valuable experience and I plan to continue to develop it.

Post courtesy of Russ Reid

Tuesday 22 January 2013

The Best Learning Is Difficult To Define

Guest Post by Myron Dueck (The original post can be found here)

Our district has a program running within it called Through a Different Lens (TADL).  As best as I can tell, it is a whole bunch of things that serve to personalize learning, without being one thing in particular.
Even people in the project seem purposefully vague when it comes to attaching labels to it.  Here is what I mean: A teacher in the project recently posted the results of a cool Math project.  Students were asked to go out of the class, in groups of four, and take pictures of fractions around the school property.  After deciding that some ‘real world’ scene warranted the classification of a ratio of some kind, the group of students interpreted the mathematical context of the photo using a sentence. Simple. Innovative. Engaging.  When I commented to one of the TADL project leaders that it looked a lot like Differentiated Instruction, I was met with, ‘Sure, I guess so,’ followed by a shrug.
The reaction was fitting, as there are many ways to classify something that makes learning fun and engaging:
If the students shared it, call it collaboration.
If they receive feedback during the learning process, call it formative assessment.
If they review each others photos, I guess it is peer assessment.
“And it is their own thing!”  Personalized Learning…check.
…therein lies the point.
Once in a while you come across a phenomenon that is many good things wrapped up in one, and with that, the very people running it are reluctant to hitch it to one popular term.   It reminded me of a great restaurant I visited in Austin last year.  After eating an incredible meal, I asked the server what he considered to be the establishment’s specialty. The server responded, “food”.
The Through a Different Lens Project is changing lives and you can read more about it at their blog.
Good teaching is creative, education needs to be centered on relationships, authentic learning is formative in its processes, and be default all of this is personal.  What so many people struggle with is how to assess something that is creative and personal according to learning outcomes that are seemingly both standardized and rigid.
I have shared a rather simple assignment template (see example below) with a lot of educators and it allows students to not only be creative, but to also purposefully plan out the medium of their choice and to explain specifically how they plan to tackle the learning objectives.  Using this template, the teacher can assess a project that is novel in its approach, but linked to learning outcomes that are well-established. The example below incorporates a template that is preloaded with the existing learning outcomes so that there is no guessing as to what the learning objectives are.  Secondly, the learning path begins with clear objectives so that the chances that a great project may go sideways are certainly reduced.  This eliminates the conundrum, ‘But it looks so good, it must be good.” Lastly, and most importantly, the student is in control of defining what will be investigated and the manner in which it will occur.  Assessing this Holocaust project was really easy for me, as the student’s ‘assessment map’ was presented with the project.  I must say that the idea behind this template is much like the TADL project: a result of collaboration with Naryn Searcy.

Thursday 17 January 2013

25 Year Reunion- Psychology 12

In my developmental Psych unit, I decided to try something different for teaching the Middle Adulthood section. I had students complete a timeline exercise (to realistically predict their future), then had them find age 43 on their timelines. They had to calculate the ages of their children, determine where they were living, their careers at the time, etc. when they would be 43 years old. For our next assignment, they had to bring themselves to life at age 43 at our "25 Year High School Reunion". We had food, and music, and they had to dress and play the part of themselves at age 43 while mingling with their classmates (25 years later). The entire class participated fully and had a lot of fun playing their part in the assignment. This interactive assignment was a great way for all of my students to learn about life in middle adulthood while having fun at the same time!

Post courtesy of Dana Kocsis

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Picture This! (Math 8)

As an introduction and review to our Grade 8 fraction unit, I thought that I would try to get the students to see the fractions all around them.  They had to work in groups of four to go around the school grounds and take photos of six different fractions.  The photos needed to show a visual of a fraction that could be reduced.  The students then loaded their photo onto the computer and wrote a "fraction sentence" describing the photo.

The students' fraction sentence for the photo above is:

"Two sixths swings are being used. This can be reduced, or another perspective is that one third of the sections of swings is being used."

This was a very quick and easy intro and reminder to the grade 8's about what a fraction is and how to reduce a fraction.  We spent the following day look at everyone's photos and then they had to guess what the fraction sentence was.  This was met with lots of giggles and laughter in class (which is always great to see in Math), but it was wonderful to see how many different fraction sentences students came up with, and the different perspectives you could take on one photo.

What is your fraction sentence for this photo?

This post is courtesy of Shona Becker.

Friday 11 January 2013

Social Thinking Taught Through Visual Pictures-Grade 5

For the past few years, I have started the year teaching my class (and other classes throughout the school) about the concept of Social Thinking. Social Thinking is basically teaching kids how to be metacognitive about their social behaviour. It is getting kids to be thinking about their behaviours in various social situations and realizing that others are having thoughts about their behaviours too. This concept of Social Thinking was brought to my attention a few years ago when I attended the Cross Currents Special Education Conference. The keynote speaker was a woman named Michelle Garcia Winner who was toting the merits of using Social Thinking with special needs students. As Michelle explained the core foundations of Social Thinking I immediately thought that this concept would work just as well with my current grade five class. I also considered the broader implications of applying these concepts to a whole school setting and felt that the suggested common language used within Social Thinking would be a powerful tool both class and school-wide. Michelle has written a series of books that help explain the concept of Social Thinking in picture book formats. "You Can Be A Social Detective" is the book that I use to introduce the concept and language of Social Thinking. What appealed to me most when hearing about this concept was the language of "expected" and "unexpected" behaviours. Kids are taught that there is always a set of "expected" behaviours for any social situation. When you do what is "expected"people have good thoughts and feelings about us. When we do the "unexpected"people often have uncomfortable thoughts and feelings about us. What stuck with me about this language is that is not "value" based. We are not judging kids regarding their behaviour and deeming it appropriate or inappropriate.  Any given behaviour is either "expected" (following social norms) for that social situation or it is "unexpected".  

The first year I worked with this concept, I read the book to the kids and then had them work in groups to brainstorm various social situations they find themselves part of within a school day. This is traditionally called "Behaviour Mapping". Kids came up with social situations such as walking down the hallway, standing in line, using the bathroom, etc. We created a series of anchor charts listing the "expected" and "unexpected" behaviours for each social situation and how others would feel as a result. I then posted these anchor charts and  referred to them often in order to pre-teach and remind students about "expected" behaviours   before engaging in different social situations. This activity also gave our class common language to use on a daily basis thereafter. It proved to be very powerful and effective. It allowed me to respond to both expected and unexpected behaviours in a non-emotional way  putting the onus back on the kids to make the correct behaviour choice for each social situation. I was just someone who was pointing out whether their choices were expected or unexpected. I believe it allowed them to become more metacognitive and gave them the power to reflect on their behaviour and see how others were responding to them as a result.

This year I challenged the class to come up with a way that they, in turn, could teach other students in the school about this concept. They liked the idea of visually representing both the "expected" and "unexpected" behaviours using a camera. I divided the class into small groups and then they were given the task of coming up with a social situation and be ready to act it out for the camera. What a ball they had! They loved the idea of acting out the "unexpected" behaviours. It was a great conversation starter for other classes who were watching this all transpire. One of our regular bus drivers even got in on the action and suggested that a group come on to his bus and display both "expected" and "unexpected" bus riding behaviours. Our school principal was supportive of this leadership action the kids were taking and bought the original teaching book for each classroom so that other teachers could teach the social thinking concept to their classes. He suggested that the whole school begin using this common language and he now uses it regularly at school assemblies and other occasions. Our support staff have also begun using this language as well during supervision times. It has been interesting to see how much power that common language can have on a class and school-wide basis if all stakeholders "buy in" to the idea. Having given the reigns over to the kids to promote Social Thinking within the school made all the difference in helping this very worthwhile concept take root and grow.

"Expected" playground behaviour
"Unexpected" playground behaviour
"Expected" drinking fountain behaviour
"Unexpected" drinking fountain behaviour

"Unexpected" bus riding behaviour

"Expected" bus riding behaviour
Post courtesy of Heather Rose

Wednesday 9 January 2013

All the Tea In China -Comparative Civilizations 12

After lessons on Chinese culture and history, including the Qin, Han, and Tang Dynasties we muddied our hands today in clay, creating tea cups that we will use in a tea ceremony later this month.
The first step was for students to use their smartphones and search an appropriate Chinese character they will engrave and glaze onto the cup.

The next step was to start making our pinch pot tea cups. Frustrating for some, easier for others, but seemed to be fun for all.

Tomorrow we will continue shaping and carving into the cups then let them dry to prepare for firing in the kiln.

Post Courtesy of Lesley Lacroix 

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Reflections on What's Working (Junior French)

Some teaching practices ("traditional" and "non-traditional") I have found to be effective this year:

Relationship building: I haven't followed the 2 x 10 strategy as much this year, but I make sure I check in with students every class. Students often show up early or stay after class so this provides me an opportunity to get to know the students and I try to spend some time talking with (not necessarily helping) quiet students or struggling  students throughout the class.

Daily Quiz to start class. The quiz focuses students and provides students with an opportunity to review previous learning.

Choice on projects: By allowing students to choose what types of projects they do (and how they are marked to a certain extent) I am hoping that it increases engagement in the assignment and builds academic confidence by allowing students choose projects that cater to their strengths and interests.

Tests and Re-tests: Offering re-tests and splitting my tests into sections so students can choose which sections to re-do eases student anxiety and allows students to re-learn sections that they may not have understood the first time.

Reflections: I have had students write short reflections in English on their learning and on different aspects of the course throughout the term. I think it brings awareness to students about their abilities and will hopefully increase self-confidence while allowing students to realize what aspects of the course they need to improve on. I would like to implement more reflection pieces within my classes.

Games: It seems that this aspect of the course gets talked a lot about during Collaboration. It's a great way to spend more time with vocab/verbs in a manner that is enjoyable and engaging. When I asked students during a reflections time about their favourite activities in French many chose games such as pictionary, charades, fly swatter, verb relays, counting games, and card games as their favourite activities in French (especially when done outside).

Post Courtesy of Marcus Krieger