10 Tools in My Teaching Day

Looking to stay productive? Wonder what tools are out there to keep organized? I’ve tried a lot of tools, apps, websites over the last few years; some I kept using and some I tossed away. Here are the 10 tools that I use on a regular basis in my teaching in a video blog format!! If video is not for you scroll below to read the transcript.

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This was my first go at a video post and I would love to know what you think. Think I should keep doing it? Think I should stick to just text? Let me know in the comments below or send me an email. For real, I would love your feedback!!

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Conall’s Assessment Story

As part of a presentation on assessment in math class I put together a short video explaining some key elements for assessment in my classes. When I was thinking about creating this video a certain young man in my class kept standing out in my mind. This video is really his assessment story. I wanted to share this video here in addition to the presentation. You can watch the video or read the transcript below.

Seeing this post through email and can’t see the video? Click here to go to the post page. 


Hey everybody! My name is Jon Orr, I’m a high school math teacher at John McGregor secondary school in Chatham Ontario. I want to share a short story with you about assessment in math class.

I’m sure you remember how your math classes were structured… Lessons….homework …. repeat…then tests. And your mark was created by all those test results. I ran my math class like this for about 8 years.

What sparked a change for me was when I read these simple words that are written all over the Ontario curriculum document.”By then end of the course the student will…”



End of the course??? Really? I have until the end of the course to assess our learning goals? But I had been evaluating by the end of the unit or by Sept. 23 the test date! And like every math teacher that evaluation of those skills were stuck to a student for the rest of the year regardless how they improved upon those skills. I wanted my students to learn our course content not just by Sept. 23 but just learn them! I wanted to promote growth.

I needed my assessment and evaluation policies to reflect that! I want to share them with you and to do that I want you to meet Conall!

Conall is in my grade 10 applied math class. Conall also has autism. He functions very well in my active math class. One day Each week along with his classmates Conall logs onto his Freshgrade account and waiting for him there is a list of our current learning goals. Each learning goal shows not only his current progress, but his past achievement on that skill. Conall scans through the learning goals, and chooses one that he wishes to improve upon. Here is where Freshgrade is great, it captures and holds all of his work which provides me great insight into his learning. As Conall works to improve his learning goals he uploads pictures of his 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 Conall is making. I love being able to see Conall’s thinking progress as he attempt problems. It makes me as a teacher more confident about his ability on the course expectations.

For example, Conall uploaded a picture of his work on solving a proportion.

He was confused on the nature of proportional relationships. After a comment and talking with him he made corrections and re-uploaded. That progression of learning stays in their portfolio for us both to see! His next step is to attempt a new problem to show consistency. And then he moves on to a different learning goal! We do this each week … ALL YEAR LONG!

Time is no longer a factor. Conall doesn’t have to compete with the rest of the class on his learning. He doesn’t get penalized because he couldn’t master the concepts by a specified date. This assessment structure gives more power to Conall while at the same time makes him take more ownership in his own learning. He has choice!He has to assess himself on each goal to know where to improve next.

But that routine isn’t just for conall….its for the entire class. Everyone uses their portfolio to push themselves and show their learning.

“Assessment is power not punishment” * in my class and that helped Conall and many of my students be successful this year.

Thank you

* Quote adapted from “Math is power not punishment” – Dan Meyer

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.


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

Mastery Day – MEL3E Day 7

Today was our first Mastery day. It’s a day where the students get a chance to improve on their skills. In their previous math classes it’s most likely that when they had a test or assignment their teacher marked it and then that mark went in their gradebook and it stayed there all year. So that’s great if I aced that assignment. Not so great if I did poorly on that assignment. Especially in this course, ideas and skills carry forward (and backward) from strand to strand. So…our mastery days are designed so that a student can choose an area of the course that they feel they need to improve upon….and then if they show me improvement I go to my gradebook and update their grade.

This means that our gradebooks change from recording test marks……to recording their progress/knowledge level on the specific expectations of the course (Check out Standards Based Grading in math here, here, and here).

For out first mastery day we had some setup to do. I am trying a new tool (for me) called FreshGrade. It’s an online student portfolio tool that also has a gradebook!!!!  What drew me to this is the ability to choose a variety of different marking setups. I had my eye on setting up a marking scheme that doesn’t show the students a grade. It shows them bench marks like Approaching the expectation, Meets the expectations, Exceeds the Expectation! 

I find that most students in MEL3E are aiming for a pass……traditionally these students stop as soon as they get a grade back from the teacher! That means the learning stops! The improvement stops. And I don’t want that. So….I hold back the number grade and ask them to “make it better”. And when they may have normally packed it in on that skill….they find themselves earning marks better than they expected. I want my students to improve upon all their learning all year. I don’t want the learning to stop just because we had an assessment on it.

For the first half of the mastery day the students logged into their FreshGrade accounts. I gave a demo on what they will see in their “activity feed” on their devices.

Each “box” shows an activity that I created (my activities are the learning goals/expectations/standards for the course). They can see their current progress on that expectation under the heading “Assessment”. When they click on the “More” link they see the curriculum expectation and resources that can help them work at improvement on that expectation.

On the What’s The Best Deal expectation I included links to a few practice problems for students to try. They open them up, complete the problems, or seek help on them and if I see improvement then I go and change their progress. Today my students accessed those new questions and did their work on their desks. They took a picture of it and hit the upload button and BAAAM! we’ve got a record of their work. The students get to build their very own math portfolio!

And the beauty of the mastery day is that their learning/improvement is differentiated. Each student decides where they want to improve. If they are meeting expectations on one standard and not another….they can go and choose to upgrade that other standard. As we move through the course more and more curriculum expectations will show up in their feed which means they will get more to choose from. Students can upload work on these expectations anytime. When they do upload I get a notification to my iPad/phone showing the new work. I can assess that work right away give them either written or audio feedback and change their mark immediately!

Here is a look at the teacher side from the website:


I see a colour coding of the classes progress. From this page I can click on a student and update their grade and then immediately update another student’s grade.

During the last 25 minutes of class I got them to complete their first quiz. It was 4 questions. I’ve sectioned off parts of the paper so I can give them feedback on what they need to fix. Everything is always fixable. Once they correct their work I’ll record their grade/progress in FreshGrade.

Since today was the first mastery day….a good chunk of time was spent setting all this up most students didn’t finish the quiz…..so tomorrow we’ll repeat this all over again.

This is the first semester I’ll be trying FreshGrade….so we’ll see how it goes. Anyone have tips on FreshGrade? The previous 3 semesters I was using “The Spreadsheet” that myself, Kyle Pearce, and a few others modified for mastery days. Freshgrade allows me to do similar things easier. What I’m a little worried about is when that list of curriculum expectations grow…..the first few will get buried in the feed. Think of your Facebook feed. Scrolling back to a post you saw yesterday is even impossible. I’m hoping those first few won’t get forgot about because they are so far down in the feed.

More tomorrow!