Being Picky – Ignite Session OAME 2017

Giving an Ignite talk can be a rewarding but also super terrifying experience. For me it was both. Session participants create exactly 20 slides which will auto-advance every 15 seconds giving a total time of 5 minutes. This year, for the second time OAME invited me to participate in their Ignite session at the 2017 conference in Kingston, ON (my home town).

I wanted to share with you my talk:  Being Picky: How we choose lessons and tools for our classroom.

You can read the transcript with slides below.

I was inspired for this talk by fellow teacher Andrew Stadel and it begins with coffee makers. Here is the super deluxe coffee maker that I was looking to buy for a long while! It has all the bells and whistles, timer, auto shut off, and even a grinder.
and then this baby slides in which is arguably the easiest coffee maker to use in the world, it has only three buttons. I had to make a decision. I wonder? Which would you choose? Why? The why is most important part of the conversation it’s what dictates your choice. That’s because we humans are picky. We’ve got lots of reasons to like what we like. We create a set of criteria based on our wants, needs, beliefs, values. I could swap out coffee makers here for
tv shows or computer choices or hair styles and you’d have lots of opinions, conversations, disagreements, maybe even regrets. How many of you had those haircuts……come on….don’t be shy! I knew you did!

We could also swap those out for our lessons and activities. It’s important that we think about what we want in our lessons to create good student learning opportunities. We need to think critically how lessons we get from others fit into our core beliefs of good learning. For me, I have four criteria I use to evaluate all of my lessons
I want ALL my students to show me their thinking and understanding in interesting ways. I want them to show me what they think first instead of just telling them what to think! I want to open up the questioning that goes on in my room. So I look and create lessons that allow for this.
I want my students to discuss, collaborate, argue, defend, and justify with each other. I believe this helps clarify their learning and understanding so I must make sure that discussion and collaboration happen in my best lessons.
I am always assessing! I’m constantly looking to see who gets what we are doing and who needs help. I need to be able to assess quickly the abilities in my room so I can use that on the fly to decide where to go next. Assessing easily must be apart of my lessons.
Every lesson or activity must have a ratio between the cost of set up and the payoff where the payoff heavily out weighs the set up. Nothing is worse than spending a huge chunk of time, making, cutting, designing and then when you run it the learning outcome wasn’t worth it. The payoff must out weigh the set up.
These are things I value in my lessons so naturally I must select lessons and tools that allow me to meet this criteria! One tool that I use regularly and meets all of these criteria is

A whiteboard. Students can easily show off their learning. They are quicker to get to writing on a whiteboard than on paper. Especially when the boards on the wall. Students get to defend, argue, justify their thinking with each other. I can easily see if students are understanding and the set up ratio is a no brainer. Here’s a whiteboard, marker….Go!
As technology advances it becomes a bit more difficult to choose what we want to use. There are literally thousands of apps, websites programs that are in ED tech and globally it’s an $150 billion dollar industry!! And I know that all of those companies out there didn’t create their software with my criteria in mind. I only want tools that fit my criteria!! So I throw away programs/apps/websites/tools that don’t meet it and keep the ones that do meet it. I want to share two tech tools that meet my criteria and one that doesn’t. First up…

The activities on teacher.desmos.com are amazing and meet my first two check points. Through carefully set up prompts my students can easily show me their thinking in a variety of ways. Their new conversation tools make it easier for us to consolidate and class discussions have never been more interesting.


It also meets my second two criteria. I can see in live time what the students are working on. It gives me the feedback I need to decide to go further. The set up can’t be easier. There are hundreds of pre-made activities ready to just click and run. Just grab a device.


Freshgrade is online portfolio tool that meets my criteria. Showing thinking through pictures is the beauty! Discussions can occur easily and assessment is a snap…which drives where we go next.


Kahoot has been pretty popular lately. Students answer multiple choice questions in a game like format competing against the rest of the class. However, It doesn’t allow my students to show their learning in interesting ways…..just a right/wrong selection. We can have discussion about the ideas but the questions are timed putting a rush on my students thinking and I don’t think that helps good learning.


Assessment is tied in but I see class scores not individual achievement. But hey, its super easy to set up!!! Since it doesn’t meet most of my criteria I decide not to spend time creating on it.


These are my four criteria for lessons and tool selection. If a tool doesn’t meet the criteria then I don’t use it. Our time is valuable. I don’t want to spend time on learning something if it doesn’t fit into they way I think good learning happens.

Going forward you have homework. You need to decide: What kind of lessons do you want in your room? And then create the criteria that will help you evaluate the lessons, activities, tools you get from co-workers, friends, online, or at conferences like this. Be picky! We trust you!

End of transcript

I’d like to thank Andrew Stadel for this post on his Tech Tool Criteria and also Kyle Pearce for feedback and  suggestions and listening to me rehearse!

What are your criteria for activities and tools? Feel free to share them with me through email, twitter, or here in the comments.

Assessment in MFM1P – Update

Here’s a short update on my grade 9 applied course. I’ll try to explain this as clearly as I can…bare with me.

An integral part has been our weekly mastery days. I’ve written about those days along with the tools that make them possible here. These days have been so important to our learning and we will definitely be doing them again next semester.

Allowing For Differentiated Learning and More Student Accountability.

Having these days allows students to have more responsibility in their learning not less! We are using a web based and app based tool called Freshgrade (You can read about how I set that up for mastery days here – this post will be mostly about the benefits). On our mastery days students have to scan through their portfolio and decide which learning goals (expectations) to improve on….then, they, the student, has to go and make that improvement happen (Each LG in Freshgrade has links to questions for them work on). So our mastery day is filled with students all working on different expectations from the course — according to their need. With the encouragement I give them they know it’s up to them to work towards mastery on each learning goal.

Student view of a learning goal to improve:

An activity in Freshgrade I’ve called a learning goal. Each one shows student achievement and next steps to improve.

Capturing Growth Informs Instruction & Assessment

The portfolio tool in Freshgrade is amazing. It captures and holds all of their work. It provides me great insight into their learning. As students work to improve their learning goals (expectations) they upload pictures of their work through the app. I get to see that work and provide audio or written feedback also through the web/app or in person. What I love is that I get to see all that interaction for each learning goal (expectation) forever. I can see the growth that my students are making. My old spreadsheet tool never tracked past work…only most recent. I love being able to see a student’s thinking progression as they attempt problems. It makes me as a teacher more confident about that student’s ability on the course expectations.

For example, this student uploaded a picture of their work on solving a proportion. They were confused on the nature of proportional relationships. After a comment and talking with the student they made corrections and re-uploaded. Their next step is to attempt a new problem to show consistency. That progression of learning stays in their portfolio for us both to see!

A student view of their portfolio:

Can’t see the video? Click through to the post

Capturing all of their progress and achievement in Freshgrade also provides me a ton of data. Since I set up the categories in Freshgrade to be the strands from the curriculum and each learning goal is assigned to one of those strands I get to see my class’ achievement on those strands. For example, If I filter the activities (learning goals) to only see the ones for linear relations I can see if we need to work more on linear relations. This has been great in the spiralled course. We can spend more time on what we need.

Gradebook view showing learning goals and student achievement.

I hope I explained our mastery day process clearly……now, onto an updated day-to-day plan for MFM1P.

Planning:

Each semester I’ve spiralled I’ve kept a spreadsheet that outlines my day-to-day. In the links below you can see those outlines in detail. I’ve included each semester on it’s own tab.

Webpage view of the outline

Get your own copy of the Google Sheet (You’ll need a Google account).

Sign up for a free Freshgrade account

Spiralling in Advanced Functions (MHF4U)

I’ve been spiralling my courses for the last few years, but this last semester was the first time I spiralled the Advanced Functions MHF4U course. If you’re new to the spiralling idea check out the blog post from Mary Bourassa and the MHF4U website from Al Overwijk and Janice Bernstein. They’re great resources to get you going.

This post is really to remind my future self on what I did this semester and for anyone else asking spiralling questions.

On Planning

Occasionally I will get an email from a teacher who is interested in trying spiralling and the question they usually ask is, — Where do I start? I think most of us need someone to shine the flash light down the path for us to see where to head. I usually start with a table that shows the strands of the course and where the major skills (overall expectations) fit in. I try to group them by themes. This year I my cycle one was about introducing the functions and focusing on graphing characteristics. Cycle two focused on linking algebraic representations with graphical. See below.

From there I keep an ongoing day-to-day plan.

Click to see the live version

On Homework:

In the past I’ve given out homework in a very traditional way, “Tonight, complete page ___ Questions #__ to ___. Tomorrow we’ll take them up.” And what did homework take-up look like in a grade 12 course? Well, for me, it was always “What problems did you have trouble with? Number 8b? Ok, does anyone have that one completed? Kearra can you put that solution up on the board?” If no one had that question right, then I would put up a solution. And everyone watched, twiddling their thumbs (or more realistically — texted) while I put that solution up….or we all watched Kearra put the solution up. Not a great use our of time.

I’ve changed that process over the last year or so. For me, giving out homework comes in a homework set. I got the idea from Al Overwijk and Mary Bourassa. The sets not only have practice problems from the ideas from that day, but also practice problems from other areas of the course. Each night of homework they are practicing most strands of the course. It keeps concepts fresh in their minds and keeps practice going all semester.

a typical homework set

When students come to class they get a playing card that randomly assigns them a partner. Instead of asking which question we should put up, I choose two or three from the set and the pair has to put them up on the vertical whiteboards/blackboards around the room. They are only allowed one piece of chalk or marker between them. I circulate around the room to give feedback and check for understanding/thinking. I’ll routinely yell out to “switch the marker” which forces students to communicate, error check, and defend their work. A better use of our 10 minute homework take-up time. After, students hand in their homework which allows me to check their understanding and gives me insight on what skills we need to improve on (I choose one or two questions to focus on). Gone are the days where I give out homework and I don’t find out what they really know until test time. Now, I know daily. Is it more work for me? Yes it is. But it’s worth it.

Can’t see the video? Click through to the post

After homework take up.

Whiteboards & Note-taking:

Most of our problem solving and practice work in class this year was done on non-permanent surfaces. For some students, parents, and teachers this is a concern since they are wiped away and there is not a record of that work. Here is an email response I sent a fellow teacher this year to address the concern:

“Do your students need the note? Are they asking to take notes? If so, have a conversation with them about what they need and teach them to take pictures of what they need or make notes for themselves. Or have them summarize what they’ve learned after doing the problems as an exit slip.
I sometimes do “important” solutions on chart paper and then they stay up in the room so we can refer back to them.”

Changes:

As always I’ll be making changes for the next time I teach the course. I want to include solving equations earlier in the course. This year I didn’t bring it in until cycle 3 and I feel like we could have benefited from more exposure. Also, radians need to be introduced in cycle 1 so that it can fuel all of trig for the rest of the year. I feel like it was crammed into the last cycle.

Day-to-Day Outline and resources for MHF4U

See the outline as a webpage

Get your OWN copy of the Google Sheet to modify.  – You’ll need a Google account

Appointment Clock

In class today we practiced, error-checked, discussed solutions, got peer feedback, got teacher feedback, smiled, laughed, and cringed. Today’s class was supposed to be boring. We were supposed to just practice solving polynomial and rational inequalities. Boring right?

A few years ago I saw an activity structure called Appointment Clock from an English teacher in my district. It was one of those structures you see at a PD day and think… “that’s kinda cool” and then the weekend happens, and by Monday it’s gone. For some reason, this weekend, years later….it popped back into by brain.

To start all students got an appointment clock handout.

They were given two to three minutes to circulate around the room and schedule “an appointment” at the indicated times. 

Next, they were given ONE inequality (list of inequalities) and about 7 or eight minutes to solve it. They were to write the solution to their inequality on the handout and keep it hidden from the other students. They were to check their solution using Desmos. I circulated to help anyone who needed it. “Now, this inequality is YOUR inequality….you are the master of this one.” Once everyone was ready, I announced, “Get up, and move to meet with your 2 o’clock appointment. Show your new partner your inequality. Complete their problem in your notes and check with them to verify your answer.” I gave them 7 minutes. This is where great stuff happens. They check with each other to find mistakes, get feedback, improve. After the 7 minutes or so, I announced, “Now, meet with your 10 o’clock appointment and repeat the procedure.” The structure is very much like Speed Dating

We did this for the entire class. Every minute was worth it!

At no time was practicing solving polynomial and rational inequalities boring. Not today!