Learning all the time

As the school year winds down, I’ve had a bit of time to think about what the year was like and the things that happened. I was commenting today with Heather Theijsmeijer about assessment and learning with high school kids on her post, and I mentioned the NPDL project that I was involved with this year. (I was also involved in a cool project with Heather, but that’s another post… )

I’ve posted a summary of the project here on this site if you’re interested in how the whole thing went down, but it was definitely a highlight of the year. New Pedagogies for Deep Learning is based around Michael Fullan’s ideas of the 6C’s, and how to help kids learn deeply about things. I think the part that I finally wrapped my head around this year, is that this is all a work in progress. The big, untold secret about education is that NOBODY has the answers, and that all we can do is work towards a better understanding of how to best help students learn. So with that in mind, an NPDL project was cooked up. As luck would have it, Jamie Reaburn-Weir and I had a chat about wanting to try some sort of collaborative project with our classes. As she’s an English teacher, and I’m Science, the ideas was definitely one that intrigued us. So we had some discussion and landed on a project where our classes would work together to collaboratively create some digital media to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways.

As I eventually came to realize, the biggest thing that I took away from the project was that getting students to do reflections was really valuable. Both for them, and for me in terms of what the next steps would be to continue to deepen the learning. Some students’ reflections, as well as a video chat Jamie and I did are posted on the Reflections page of the project summary. I think that the idea of using audio and video to do reflections is important as well. Some of the students did written ones, which were good, but they didn’t have the flavour of hearing voices and seeing faces. Those things are important too.

The NPDL opportunity was one that paid dividends in not only the student learning, but also the teacher learning. And as we continue to leverage our networks of colleagues, I realize that the learning doesn’t have to be limited to those that are explicitly involved in a particular project, you just have to be open to trying different things out. And if someone offers an opportunity to try something, you should just try it.

The more the vision of the future changes…

… the more it stays the same. I was talking to a colleague at school yesterday about our NPDL project, and some of the things we are working on. She shared with me video that Pearson Ed has put out called Rey’s Storey: School of Thought – A vision for the future of learning.

As I started watching it, I was struck a memory, so did a quick search and found the video by Apple called Knowledge Navigator, which was their vision of the future. But from 1987. Take a few minutes and watch them both.

So. What do you think? If Apple has the ‘vision of the future’ in 1987, and I don’t really see it as much different from Peason’s ‘vision of the future’ in 2014, what has changed? Have we made any progress toward this vision? I’ve been thinking a lot about barriers to progress in edu and wonder how to move ’em.

Learning as Teachers

We had a PD day today at our school, and we spent some time engaging in self-directed learning. Our VP @scottjohnsonVP gave teachers an opportunity to engage in whatever learning they wanted to. We are piloting a new digital tool called Edsby at our school this semester, and myself and a few other teachers were charged with running a session on getting teachers introduced to it and up and running with their classes.  He also asked each of us to report back to him about what we learned over the morning in whatever it was we chose to do. (This was met with an interesting chorus of groans from some teachers… :-) )

My hope was that we’d not do a presentation, but rather that the teachers would just dive in and play in Edsby to learn and figure it out. Interestingly, many were expecting a ‘show me how’ type session. In the end, we pulled Edsby up on a projector and basically did a Q&A for an hour about how to access and use different aspects of the tools. I also sent the VP my reflection for the day which is pasted below. Wondering if others have experienced similar things, and how to best approach the idea of giving teachers autonomy to self-direct their learning. Any comments or experiences to share?

In the introduction to Edsby session, I learned that teachers sometimes need a kick start to learn a new digital tool, but once you cut them loose in the right direction they dive right in, and ask questions and help each other learn in ways that make sense to them. For people who are comfortable with digital tools, they have a shorter learning curve, but still benefit from having someone who can maybe work with them to find answers, even if they don’t know the answers themselves. In the effort to help students become more self-directed learners it is important to recognize that many of us are still used to other ‘experts’ tell us how to do things, and that if we’re going to become better at helping students become self-directed that we may first have to start with helping teachers learn how to self-direct their own learning processes.

Lessons from Lessons

I did something last night that I haven’t done is more than 30 years. I had a guitar lesson. I took a few years of guitar as a kid but gave up on the lessons at some point due to lack of interest on my part. I later picked up the guitar again and taught myself to play, mostly by using magazines with music from bands I wanted to learn.

There’s a lesson there about the nature of motivation in learning, but that’s not what this post is about.

I had an interesting experience with my new guitar teacher yesterday. He was showing me a system and way to learn how to use scales to quickly improvise over different chords. I was able to follow it for the most part, but not as quickly as he was explaining. After a short time, my mind was a blur as I struggled to mentally keep up with what he was showing and explaining. I know that my goal is to take the next week and practice this idea at a much slower pace, but it reminded me of what it feels like to be a learner. In particular, it reminded me what it was like to have a grasp of some information but know that there was large swathes that were passing you by.

Kind of what its like for many of our students on a day to day basis.

It’s good to be reminded what it’s like to be a learner.

Teacher Leadership and Change

Our school board is currently in a process of revamping the models of teacher leadership in secondary schools. They’ve changed the concept slightly from one of Department Head to that of Lead Teacher. The Lead Teacher will have specific responsibilities for various curricular areas. If it’s a large school, with a large department, then one Lead will have only that area, but in smaller schools, or for smaller departments, there will be consolidations. The idea seems to be to have the Lead Teachers focus not only on the managerial responsiblities, but also on the large school goals that are framed in the School Improvement Plan. I think that there will be opportunities to provide input and drive the school plans.

The driving force seems to have been a joint group lead by OSSTF and the school board. In recent times, the role of school leader has altered in many places, and this is an effort to revitalize the positions to have leaders in place who are wanting to drive changes at the school level.

I heard it said somewhere (and have often used the line myself) that there are 2 things that teachers hate. Change and the way things are.  For those of us striving to move our classroom practice towards more student-centred and skills based approaches this is an interesting opportunity. Will the mandate be to simply implement the changes that are directed from the Ministry of Ed and the school board administration, or will there be opportunities to drive the agenda at the school level towards goals that we find valuable? Time will tell I suppose, but if there is one thing I have learned, it is that if you are interested in making change in education happen, it pays to be at the table where they are discussing what changes should be made.

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Open Everything Exams

I just finished marking this semesters’ exams. I had tried something a little differently with my Astronomy class. It was a small class, and we’ve been experimenting with different things as we’ve gone along. For the final, I thought it would be interesting to give an ‘open everything’ exam. Notes, books, internet. If you have access to it, you can use it. I obtained a cart of netbooks for the exam, but many students brought their own laptops, and a few used their mobile devices.

A few interesting things happened.

  1. Students took way longer to do the exam than I thought. I think that they spent more time searching for answers, than they did actually putting down their answers. I think that they were looking for confirmation of what they already knew rather than trusting their knowledge and simply answering the question. It makes me think that I need to reconsider the format of this type of evaluation.
  2. Some students chose to hand-write answers rather than use the technology. Sometimes old-school is preferred for some tasks.
  3. I was simply using the tech as a substitute, and I need to consider better ways to ramp up the integration to make it more purposeful in that context.
  4. The reaction of the kids to the exam was the most interesting thng, and I think that as they’ve never had this kind of approach before that it will take time and more of this kind of thing before they get comfortable with the idea. Like I said, they relished the idea of using the internet, but they used it as a crutch rather than as an augmentation to their own abilities.
  5. The one thing that stood out, was that the students with the better tech skills were better able to transition to this kind of assessment, the ones that were not as strong in using tech approached it differently. Interesting.

Just a few things to consider for as I move on into next semester.

This is my job. It’s awesome.

I’m working away on a snow day assessing some student work today. The assignment was to come up examples that explain Newton’s 3 Laws. This is what I received from one student.

Notice how i used three superheroes, and though they may have been marvel ones, that its not because i dislike DC. Also i do poke fun at aquaman, but this is mainly in jest because i do (somewhat) respect him as a hero. Ladies and gents, Newtons laws

 

Newtons Second Law.

Peter Parker hears that the Rhino is in town. Quickly he finds the nearest convenient storage closet and puts on his costume; Becoming spider man. He then jumps out of the 23rdfloor of the Daily Bugel and shoots strings of web onto miscellaneous objects overhead, his relatively light weight is easily supported by the web. On the way back However he Is carrying Marry Jane on his back. This time the mass that spider man has to carry is greater; and therefore the force of tension on the web is greater.

Newtons first Law.

Deadpool is racing down the streets in a sports car stolen from the King Pin. Unfortunately Deadpool gets distracted by an attractive jogger on the side of the road, and accidentally swerves into a fire-hydrant, bringing his car to an abrupt stop, but since his body was in motion it wanted to stay in the said forward motion, and Deadpool is shoot out of his front windshield, splatting on a nearby building. #seatbeltsforpansies

Newtons Third Law.

Aqua man punches a wall. Since Aquaman obviously doesn’t possess enough strength to break a wall, the force that Aquaman applies on the wall is the same force that the wall applies on Aquaman.

So there’s that. Gives me a good laugh. And it’s a decent understanding of the Laws to boot.

Who are you working for?

Promesse de l'avenirI’ve had this idea in my head for a few weeks now. I was talking to a teacher in our school about a really cool project she was running with her class. She was worried that taking 5 or 6 days out of the semester was too much. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to cover everything. I told her not to think of it that way, as she was replacing some other activities with something far richer and deeper. She still was having trouble thinking of it that way. She said that there are ‘certain things that they need to know for the next level.’

So it got me thinking, who was she talking about? Was she thinking that she had to provide the kids with some specific knowledge or skills that they absolutely needed, or was she thinking about the next course they may take and that if the students seemed to be lacking in something it would reflect upon her as a teacher in the eyes of another teacher?

Then I got thinking about the all-too-common phases that teachers use to ‘motivate’ kids. “You’ll never be able to get away with that in (fill in some upcoming level above current level here).” Or the oft uttered “Why didn’t they teach them this in (fill in some prior grade here).”

Then it struck me. Who do we work for?

Are we working for the kids in front of us, or for the imagined future-teachers that the kids may have? Or are we working for our colleagues in the next grade, or the senior courses in the rooms down the hall?

I submit that if we spent more time worrying about providing quality educational opportunities for the students we have in front of us now, that we’d be better off in both cases. That the students now would learn more and better things, and that the future-teachers will appreciate their skills. For my part, I’ll get over the fact that maybe students haven’t had the chance to master some specific bit of knowledge if they are better learners, and eager to give things a shot in my class.

So, as I thought about it, I’ve decided that I’m no longer going to be concerned what the teachers next year, or any year after that, (university prof’s I’m looking at you!)  may wish for me to do in my class, I’m only going to worry about what the students in my class need, and what will work best for them.

How about you? Are you working for another colleague? Or some imagined future-teacher?

Video Physics

One of the things I want to do in my return to the classroom is to use more inquiry-based activities for the science students. Today I had them engage in an activity in physics where they were challenged to find the acceleration due to gravity. We’ve done a few other labs involving acceleration, and they’ve used a few different techniques and pieces of equipment. Each group designed and carried out their own investigation. I’m keen to see how the different approaches pay off. In the spirit of equality, I decide that I’d play along as well, and I downloaded two apps from Vernier, Video Physics and Graphical Analysis. Each app was $4.99 (yikes!) but I was very interested in how they’d work.

I used the Video Physics app to video a student as they dropped their weight against a wall. Then, using the app, I was able to plot the path of the object as it fell. That took about 2 minutes to figure out. Then I was able to see the graph of the motion with one tap.

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With another tap, I was able to send this data to the other app, Graphical Analysis. There, after about 5 minutes of fussing around, I figured out how to select a section of the line, and fit a linear equation to it. This equation (y=mx+b) also gave the m-value, which was the slope. Since this was a velocity-time graph, the slope was the acceleration due to gravity. My value came out to 9.593 m/s^2, which is pretty close to the accepted value of 9.8 m/s^2! Not bad for a few minutes with 2 new apps!

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So, I think I’m a fan of these apps for physics. Now, how can I get a 6 or 7 iPads for my science classroom?! :) If you’ve got an iOS device, like physics, and have $5 to drop, try these out. I’d recommend the Video Physics one for sure. I’ve already used it to analyze the launch of a toy rocket at science club this week. Too much fun.

Oops, I did it again.

So my blog and I have had a love-hate relationship. Earlier this week, I just went to pop into to check on one thing, and got a white screen of death from WordPress. It was a variable passing error or something crazy. It did give me a list of the file that was causing the error. It was apparently part of the theme that I had installed.  I’m not sure what happened to cause the error, but I had updated a few things a few days earlier, so maybe something broke during those updates. At any rate, I couldn’t even access the login page directly via URL. I was pretty much scuppered. So after I got home from work, I tackled it again. In the end, out of frustration, I went in via FTP and simply deleted the entire folder for the theme. I didn’t know if that would completely destroy the site or not, but I was out of options. When I went to the direct URL for the login page, I was presented with the familiar WordPress login screen. Hooray! I logged in, and was immediately met with a message that the ‘current theme was broken’ and that WP had automatically reverted to a default theme. Since I had deleted the other theme, being ‘broken’ was a bit of an understatement, but I appreciate the effort. 

So I learned to be more careful how and when I update things. I do have backups made of the site, but had no idea how to start with a reinstall, so I’m much happier with this result. I think I’ll stick with the default theme for now. It’s simple and clean. I just put my own header pic on it, and that’ll do. Until the next time I break something.