My students have been exploring Micro:bits in grade 9 Science the last few days. I gave them no instructions except: “Here is the website.” and “Be careful with them.” They rose to the occasion, as students do when you let them. Note that these are students who spent the fall semester with me in Geography doing inquiry-based learning and now we are doing Science together. I have a high level of trust for these beautiful people. They made basic “press the button and a word is displayed” and then, Magic 8 balls (lots of fun and laughter using that), rock, paper, scissors and many more things. No one has successfully used the bread board yet, but they are close. To be frank, I don’t know how to do it. At all. I didn’t even know to tell them to turn it on again with one of the buttons after uploading the program turns the Micro:bits off. But one of the kids figured it out. I also know very little about coding but I know it’s important and want to expose the students to it. Today, one of my students excitedly stated, “I coded a program! And it worked!” and it made my heart sing. They are teaching me. I almost don’t want to “connect it to the curriculum.” But alas, soon, we will be drawing circuits and calculating power and energy.
This brings me back to my first day on campus at UofCalgary and I was playing around with an interactive display where touching the screen changes the actions of the moving “boids” or digital birds and someone came up behind me and said, “You can change the code too.” It was the professor (@pratim123)who created the program and display (and, eventually, taught one of my courses) and he intentionally created it for the public to “Hack the Flock.” I had no idea how to hack anything and, when he opened the code, I only changed the colour because that was pretty obvious. I remember feeling quite out of my league. I also did not have the agency or skills to play around with the code just for fun, like my students do. #100LSreflections#100dayproject 7/100
For the Computer Supported Learning course, I wrote an essay about how to develop Global Citizenship Education (GSE) through activism and participatory media. GSE “equips learners with the knowledge, skills and values to navigate and live together in an increasingly interdependent world and to work collectively toward solutions to the planet’s pressing problems” (Truong-White & McLean, 2015). I want to share two metaphors that came from the research for this paper. The starfish thrower, based on a story by Loren Eiseley, essentially helps justify helping the ONE starfish by throwing it back in the sea, even though there are thousands on the beach that will die in the sun, because even though it will not make a difference, it makes a difference for that ONE starfish. But what if that starfish, in its infinite natural wisdom, knew that it was time for it to die and did not want to be saved? Another metaphor is the story of children drowning in a river with a strong current. Of course, unlike the starfish, we know for certain that children do not want to drown. We try to save them. But then we look upriver and see boats with people throwing children into the river and there are more and more boats coming. What do we do? Andreotti and Pashby (2013) describe 4 responses: “rescuing the children in the water, stopping the boats from throwing the children in the water, going to the villages of the boat crew to understand why this is happening in the first place, and collecting the bodies of those who have died to grieve and raise awareness of what happened.” They call this “going upriver” to find the root cause of the problem. The added complication to today’s GCE-oriented teacher is that viral media usually means there is no context for issues that are spread around the world and they are almost certainly shared without questioning what the people are doing to help themselves and how they want to be supported? Perhaps they are satisfied with their culture (not dying children, of course) and find fulfillment in a different way of living. Going upriver. It’s complicated. 6/100 #100LSreflections #100dayproject
I am in the middle of writing the methodology chapter for my proposed design-based research study that will lead to my EdD dissertation. My current research questions are about how can critical place-based education be used to design a pedagogical framework which engages students in activism and can this framework increase students’ agency for activism.
I have come to understand that my desire to focus on how to increase student agency for activism comes partially from the lack of agency for activism that I have experienced in my own life. There are so many instances of me wanting to “do something” but not following through. I wanted to be a “Big Sister” but didn’t do it. I wanted to volunteer with animals or to clean up the local wetland conservation area in the spring. I wanted to save the world. Instead, I focussed on my family, or that’s what I told myself—as if the two where mutually exclusive. For example, I coached soccer for many years and became “Brown Owl” when my daughter was in Brownies. I made my children’s lives the best I could but I did not follow a personal passion for making the world a better place. I did a good job at being a mom and am proud of the wonderful adults my children have become. But it took joining a sorority for my daughter to learn service. It didn’t come from my example.
If I had participated in activism in school alongside my peers, and gained skills and knowledge on how to create positive change in my community, would things have been different? Would I have continued to volunteer or be civically engaged throughout university and into marriage and motherhood? I believed that personal fulfillment through service or “giving back” was my right and an opportunity would eventually just be presented to me on a silver platter. Of course this is not how the world works. I want students to know how important they are to the world right now and throughout their lives—how important their ideas are, their passions, their solutions. I want to help them develop the attitudes and tools to be able to be lifelong world-changers. #100LSreflections#100dayproject 5/100
Academic writing is not my strong suit. I finished my masters degree in 1994. It had been over 20 years since I had written anything for a course that wasn’t a lesson plan or a reflection when I started to write my first paper in the summer of 2016. That first paper was excruciatingly hard. If I could wish for anything, it would be to be able to write quicker. I’m a pretty good writer but I am SLOW. If I am “on a roll” it will take me about 3 hours to write a page (about 250 words). But it takes about 2-3 full days of focussed work to get on a roll. This luxury of time is available to me in the summer, but not during the school year, so I have really struggled with my courses during the fall and winter terms. I love the research part though. Searching out sources, reading, reading and reading some more, defining words (remember those vocab lists from my first post?), going down “rabbit holes” into interesting topics that are not-exactly-but-maybe-relevant (to justify the time), making connections and then, finally, there’s no more time. It’s time to write or die. All the profs said to write daily. They said to get into a daily habit of writing without fail. If only I had listened to them! But I thought, “How can I write until I’ve finished the research?” Looking back, I see that I also did not allow myself to be a novice. After having supported Grade 12 students for 15 years as they learned how to write argumentative essays and editing those essays, I felt that I should be able to do it easily. I had to get it right the first time, without major edits and it had to be brilliant! These thoughts are paralyzing. Well, I believe in a growth mindset, not just for my students, but for myself as well. I have a lot of writing left in this degree. I can develop the habit of writing daily. I think I just started that habit about 4/100 days ago. #100LSreflections#100dayproject.
All my classes were based on a construcTIONist (Papert) epistemology today. Grade 10 Science were designing and making a model of all the body systems. Grade 9 Science just finished making atomic superhero models and videos and today were discovering how to program Micro:bits (this student did a “rock, paper, scissors) and Grade 9 Geography were making 3D maps of Canada. All these things are Papert’s “objects-to-think-with” which allow students to build “knowledge structures” through social interactions (Piaget’s construcTIVism which Papert felt happens easily when constructing “a public artifact” of the learning). I did not know these theories of knowledge before starting the EdD program, although I did use a social constructivist pedagogy, I didn’t know it. 🙂 Learning Scientists study both the science of how we learn and how to design effective, innovative learning environments, tools and teaching strategies. We need to have a solid foundation of educational theory to do this. I remember a heated debate about Knowledge building (with a capital K) and knowledge (with a small k) (Scardamalia and Bereiter). Good times! #100LSreflections #learningsciences #100dayproject 3/100
The second part of my first post for #100dayproject is about my tribe–csl779 EdD we call our WhatsApp group. On the first day of our Intro to Computer Supported Learning class, just like all good teachers, our prof gave us a BINGO game to get to know each other. But this bingo had characteristics like “has made a QR code” and “taught an online course” and “has a makerspace.” Almost everyone knew what all the acronyms meant and what the tools were for. There was an immediate feeling of belonging and of finding your tribe. It has been a privilege to journey through 6 courses and 2 collaboratories with these incredible educators from all over the world. We all are extremely supportive of each other and a few are now very close and dear friends. If you are choosing a grad program, look for a well-run cohort. I could not have gotten this far without one! #100LSreflections 2/100
It’s been almost 2 years since I started a doctoral program in #LearningSciences at University of Calgary and will soon need to write a learning reflection of those two years for my candidacy portfolio. For the #100dayproject, I will reflect on the significant ideas, people and events that have influenced my personal development and research direction. That’s what I love about the project…it’s really for yourself, focusing on something that brings meaning and joy to your life. If others enjoy it too, well that’s a remarkable bonus. My first post is in two parts. The first is an Evernote screenshot of some vocabulary from my readings for the first courses. I was so excited to get started, but found that my lack of background in philosophy meant that I had a lot of catching up to do. So many new words–so familiar to me now–were just out of my reach at the beginning. It was almost refreshing–isn’t that what a degree is for? To push you to new ideas, fresh ways of looking at the world? I got that in spades. And many, many vocab lists. #100LSreflections 1/100
One of the best aspects of the TLLP is the ability of our team members to have release time to discuss our classroom experiences, to visit other schools and classrooms and to plan for what we will do in our classrooms. During today’s meeting, we all had a level of frustration around final evaluations. Every secondary school in the board has been helping teachers to revise and update their final evaluations so that they more closely meet our vision for empowering modern learners with “informative and purposeful assessment.” This has been a rewarding but also difficult process where all aspects of our final evaluations have to be examined, compared to a set of success criteria, and then revised to be more equitable, engaging and purposeful.
This revision process is not where I had frustration, however. It is the breakdown of marks between term work (70%) and final evaluations (30%). It’s hard to articulate the reasons why this doesn’t fit a feedback-focused class. It’s like a square peg in a round hole. You can force it to make it work, but it’s not authentic. All of a sudden we are switching strategies. Traditionally, there is no feedback for a final evaluation, just the mark. So all semester, no grades are traded in exchange for the students’ work and now, for the 30%, you have to just slap a number on it.
Also, in a feedback-focused assessment classroom, these divisions between term and final are problematic. We work closely together with the students to help them progress towards the overarching learning goals. At least for me, all activity in class is “assessment for learning” and “assessment as learning.” At the end of the semester, in their portfolio, I ask students to (1) choose and reflect on artifacts that show their growth and (2) to choose and reflect on artifacts that show their highest achievement. Of course, we also keep in mind how consistent they have been with this achievement.
Then I turn around and say, “Okay, show me what you can do one more time. And this time it’s going to count A LOT. Plus, you don’t get to reflect on how well you did. It’s only my professional judgement that will determine how well you did.” I know this will sound strange to a teacher who is not “grade-less” because that is our job, really. We teach, then we judge. But in a feedback-focused class, the students judge themselves. We guide them and help them see what they might miss, but the ownership of the “grade” is the student’s.
I have an idea on how to make this final evaluation process more authentic for next semester. It’s a pretty radical idea, so I will need to think it over and chat with my mentors before I share, but I hope it will make the end-of-semester evaluation period match what happened all semester.
If you are in a feedback-focused classroom, how do you handle final evaluations?
“However, the thing that really matters in feedback is the relationship between the student and the teacher. Every teacher knows that the same feedback given to two similar students can make one try harder and the second give up. When teachers know their students well, they know when to push and when to back off. Moreover, if students don’t believe their teachers know what they’re talking about or don’t have the students’ best interests at heart, they won’t invest the time to process and put to work the feedback teachers give them. Ultimately, when you know your students and your students trust you, you can ignore all the “rules” of feedback. Without that relationship, all the research in the world won’t matter.”
~from “Is the Feedback You’re Giving Students Helping or Hindering?” by Dylan Wiliam
This quote from Dylan Wiliam is resonating strongly with me today. As a team we spent today mostly looking at student self-assessment. We visited Jonathan So’s grade 6 classroom in the morning, then worked together in the afternoon summarizing the data from student assessment literacy surveys and creating self-assessment task requirements and success criteria. Throughout the day, though, I kept thinking about the recent feedback I had given students and how it was received.
In Jonathan So’s feedback-focussed classroom, his students were using a tracking form for math expectations. They needed to indicate if they had met or not met the learning goals, then plan next steps for the ones they had not yet met. This was in preparation for a student-written update of their progress for their parents. I asked one student how she knew if she met the learning goals. She said that she looked at Mr. So’s feedback and determined if she was able to do what was expected without further instructions. Not only were the students able to self-reflect, they were able to articulate the process succinctly. I know that Jonathan has purposely cultivated a climate of trust in his classroom which celebrates each student and that he lets them know that they matter. I could tell that they trust him and know that he has their best interests at heart. This resulted in a calm, reflective attitude in the students where they received his feedback with a growth mindset.
Jonathan So’s You Matter board
In contrast, the feedback I recently gave students on a large project was received with many different attitudes. Most students were academically thoughtful and satisfied with the feedback, but several were visibly affected by the feedback and this eventually resulted in tears on both sides, mine and theirs. This huge emotional response to descriptive feedback (there were other factors, but the most emotion was around the written comments) has prompted a lot of self-reflection since I know that I have the students’ best interests at heart and that I worked very hard to make sure I gave good feedback to help the students move forward in the next inquiry.
The learning goals and task requirements were in typed text on the feedback document and I highlighted everything that was met. What was not highlighted was accompanied by a handwritten comment. I’m starting to think that this is the problem. All those highlighted, typed sentences were not considered important to the students and parents who were upset. They seemed to focus on the small details that were handwritten. Somehow, I did not convey the positive aspects. My tone or word choice or maybe even the size of writing (compared to the typed text) created a message that I had not intended.
Is this a reflection of my failure to cultivate a classroom climate where the students feel they matter and that I care about their success? I don’t think so, since this is something very important to me, but it is something to think more about.
Is it the personal nature of written comments versus the “coldness” of typed and highlighted text? Today, when we looked at the data from our assessment literacy surveys for all of our classes, “written descriptive feedback” was considered very effective by 63% of the students, compared with only 41% for “typed descriptive feedback.” Surely we are not giving better feedback when handwriting than when typing–but the students think it is more effective.
When giving feedback, relationships matter, but so does what you say and how you say it. So, I have taken out my books. I will refresh my skills on descriptive feedback by seeing what the experts say. Even in just a quick perusal of the headings in Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy’s “Embedding Formative Assessment,” I can see interesting areas to explore. For example:
Feedback should focus on what’s next, not what’s past
Don’t give feedback unless you allocate class time for students to respond (something we discussed with Jonathan So today)
Provide an appropriate balance of critical and supportive feedback
Make feedback into detective work (hmm.. I wonder what that’s about!)
I am also working on providing feedback through screencasting. I hope that this will be an effective tool to give feedback while also conveying the positive “growth mindset” spirit that I feel about each student. I hope to rebuild trust with these students.
Edited to add:
The example of feedback gone awry that was described above was actually from a class where I give grades for summative assignments. I was thinking this morning about the difference between that course and the one where the grades are determined by a portfolio and negotiated with the student. In the latter case, the student learning starts with a blank slate and the artifacts in the portfolio build evidence of learning and skills. In the former case, essentially students start with 100% and I feel like I have to justify why they do not get 100. What are they missing? What was done well, but also what was misunderstood or incorrectly completed? Of course it results in comments that are critical as I justify the grade. Another thing to consider as I move forward.
I’ve been teaching grade 9 Geography for over 15 years now and when I say 15 years, multiply that by two semesters and multiply that by at least two sections each semester. So many, many times. I’ve never been happy with how my “Landform Regions of Canada” lessons have turned out. I don’t know why but it’s very difficult for the students to connect their theoretical learning with pictures. I have tried graphic organizers with notes from the textbook, slide shows with many pictures, picture books and art from each landscape, videos, webquests, starting from the geological history, starting from issues based in each region, starting from national parks in each region, students presenting different regions/ecozone to the class. I wish I could take all the students on a cross-country drive so they can see it for themselves so I’ve been looking for a good VR experience (if you know of one, PLEASE let me know!).
Then there are the philosophy shifts. They need to know every region→ They only need to know that you can make regions based on different physical and human characteristics→ They can learn about one region in depth to understand interrelationships of land and people→ By doing an inquiry situated in one region, they will learn all the human and physical characteristics of the region and develop geographic thinking skills of spatial significance and interrelationships (depending on the issue)→ They need to know every region.
But isn’t that the beauty of teaching? We design learning experiences for our students, try them out, gather data through conversations, observations and products, reflect on how effective the learning experience was and redesign for the next course. In addition, what works for one group of students might not work with the next.
This big buildup is to introduce my newest iteration of Landform Regions of Canada. This time, I decided to take a constructionist approach.
We started with the learning goals and how they connect with the course overarching learning goals.
I discussed the learning theory of constructionism with the students.
Then students were put into small groups and each student was assigned two landform regions to research. This was a strategy to foster increased positive interdependence of the group members. Each student’s research was required for the group to be successful.
The groups were given a tiled map of Canada to assemble like a puzzle (from Canadian Geographic). I printed the document with four pages per letter size sheet and when completed, the map was about the size of chart paper.
The students were then required to create a 3D map of the landforms, vegetation and population distribution of Canada. This was facilitated by all the “low tech” makerspace supplies I have gathered including such items as plasticine, popsicle sticks, left over game pieces, styrofoam balls, fabric, tissue paper, Legos, Mechanics, blocks and all sorts of other craft supplies.
What followed over the week was a lot of discussion and negotiation in the groups. Trial and error. My student teacher and I conferenced with the groups every day, asking probing questions about how they were going to represent each feature. Whole class discussions occurred about the importance of a legend, if many groups missed a feature and when they started putting too many people in the arctic, for example.
Once the maps were done, we created a peer assessment Google Form with about 20 “look fors” for the map and “two stars and a wish.” Each student filled this out individually, not as a group, for three different maps→ meaning they read through the look fors once as a class while we made it, then at least three more times during peer assessment.
The Google Form was used with DocAppender which pushed the answers from filling out the form to a specific student’s assessment document. Students read all the feedback they were given by their peers, then completed a self-assessment Google Form, also pushed to their personal document.
This was followed by a Kahoot quiz on the Landform Regions. Unfortunately we ran out of time to do the full quiz, so we will do another one on Monday or I might do a formal quiz. We will develop the success criteria for the learning goals together.
Eventually, the students will post their assessment document, a picture of the map and a reflection on their achievement of the learning goals in Sesame.
I don’t know yet if this constructionist strategy was successful. My gut feeling is that it has to be better since the students have touched the regions with their hands. They discussed, often passionately, how to represent each feature. Students co-constructed and used a list of look fors which are the main features of Canada’s landscape and population distribution. They literally constructed a map with four layers on it (provinces and territories, landform regions, vegetation regions and population density) so I am sure that they will understand GIS mapping concepts easier when I introduce digital mapping next week.