Biology Around Elmvale

In Grade 11 Biology, SBI3C, we created a 360 degree tour of biology found around Elmvale. Students took the 360 degree camera and took a picture of a location around Elmvale where they could find some biology that connected to the concepts we explored in class. There are 9 scenes in our tour. Each student submitted 3 “points of interest” to connect to their image. I learned a lot through the project and there is lots that I will do differently next time.

As with all major culminating tasks that I try for the first time, I need better exemplars and draft copy check in points so that I can really push students to go deeper. My understanding of the success criteria are always a little different than students’. I expect more detail and depth than they naturally tend towards. Of course, it was very rushed at the end of the year and it took a while for us to really build a vision of what we were planning. Between arranging sign out times for the camera, we had little time for draft revision. Next time, I think I could guide a class to complete something like this much more effectively.

One major “tech learning” for me was that in Tour Creator you can only insert 300 characters for each point of interest. Most students had submitted more than 300 characters. We worked around this by taking a screen shot of the writing and inserting the image of it as the point of interest. Not ideal, but it got our tour put together. In Google Expeditions we often had very long typed points of interest. We had assumed that we could do the same in Tour Creator. An oversight on our part. Next time students can submit audio recordings/narrations for the tour instead.

Thinking ahead, I’m wondering if we could do “math around elmvale” for math courses and maybe science research connections for academic science courses.

Be sure to drag the view around and click on the points of interest in all 9 scenes. If you click on the “poly icon” at the top left you can see tour in a larger format and it is easier to read the writing.

My new focus – supporting professional development through student learning opportunities

I’ve been a bad edublogger. The last post I made was last June when I was in the classroom. I am currently in a central role (I’m currently the Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching contact in my board). While in a central role, I find it tough to blog. I feel as though all the great learning I want to blog about, is really someone else’s story to tell. The amazing teachers I work with – it’s their hard work, focus on student learning and professional learning that needs to be shared. It has been an AMAZING year with many great stories that need telling. As April wraps up I’m getting that buzzing, head spinning feeling when reflecting on the great work and amazing experiences students and teachers in our system have created so far.

It has taken me until now to finally be able to articulate my biggest learning this year.  I have found the value in creating student learning opportunities that in turn engage teachers in professional development opportunities. I strongly believe that at the heart of every teachers value system is a deep and sincere love of learning and interest in student well-being. When teachers are presented with a rich opportunity for their students to connect with others and collaborate around real issues they are often more willing to take risks than if the goal started with their own learning.

Lucky for me, I am working in a wonderfully supportive, innovative, progressive and inclusive culture. I have been able to focus much of my energy on creating opportunities for students that in turn have led to some of the most drastic teacher learning I have ever witnessed. In this supportive culture, I have been able to meet my goals for the year through these non-traditional methods.

Some of the student learning opportunities our team has created include;

Student learning throughout these projects vary widely including literacy skills, media creation, oral language, active listening skills, critical thinking and Indigenous perspectives.

Teacher learning through the film festival has included media creation, gradual release of responsibility and integration of different subject areas. It also lets us all experience the process of providing peer critical feedback and providing time for students to improve their work based on this feedback. The radio station has prompted teachers from K to 12 to learn new technologies, pedagogies and ways of connecting students. Lastly, the Craft Reconciliation project has provided teachers with opportunities to learn new pedagogies, technologies and ways of encouraging students to own and lead difficult conversations with peers across the province. All of these projects have supported teachers in connecting to teachers outside of their classroom walls and to learn together and share.

My thinking around effective teacher professional development has changed throughout this year. While, I will continue to facilitate and support teacher collaborative inquiries and other powerful professional development, I am sold on the benefit of creating student learning opportunities as another form of professional development. Now comes the job of trying to capture some evidence of the learning!


Programming Ollie to make regular polygons in MFM1P

Today a few students in Grade 9 Applied mathematics used the Tickle app to create a program that asks the user “Please enter the number of sides” and then it uses the formula for sum of interior angles to calculate the exterior angles of the polygon. Ollie then dutifully travels to create the requested regular polygon.


Their code for Ollie in Tickle App:

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.12.32 PM


Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.12.24 PM

MFM1P Challenge: TickleApp + Ollie (Sphero) + Plane Geometry

MFM1P Students:

After using Scratch to create programs to solve geometry equations for us (too bad we can’t use them on EQAO!) – I challenge you to figure out how to make Mr. Ollie create a regular polygon with 5 sides using the TickleApp. How about 6? 7? 8? 21? Is there a way that the same program (code) could work for all regular polygons if you entered in the number of sides?

2015-06-01 17.59.06Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 7.53.22 PM


Was that too easy? Create an obstacle course for your classmates that requires the use of an angle theorem, pythagorean theorem and/or rate of change when creating a program for Ollie to complete.


MFM1P Final Task – Designing a School

My students are in a unique situation. They are currently in
Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.20.55 PMgrade 9 with a new pilot program (1:1 BYOD where every student must have a laptop or tablet). Part way through their educational career they will merge with another local high school into our current building. Then, they will all move into a new building for their last year of high school together. Currently the board team is assessing the site, making designs and planning for the new building.

This led to a final task idea that builds on some of the work we did with proportional reasoning this semester. My students will design a new school and create a scale model using ratios. However, due to our unique situation we are able to step this up a bit to make it a bit more authentic.

Yesterday Mr. Dance (Superintendent) and Mr. Parker (an architectural technologist) from our school board came in as guest speakers. Mr. Parker ran us through the process of making decisions for school design. Right from the spreadsheet supplied by the Ministry that helps you determine the square meterage per student, number of classrooms and other spaces, up to the virtual walk through created using 3D design software. For the record, the virtual walkthrough example Steve created of our current building got “ohhhhhh’s and ahhhhhh’s” from the students.

Before I explain the rest of the students task – a quick shout out to Steve Parker who actually took my task idea and designed his presentation with my curriculum expectations in mind. He also let us totally pick his brain over the pathway he took to get such an amazing job. We learned about the college programs, different streams in the same field and experiences. He brought in the big idea of environmental impact and sustainability. Lastly, he connected to the software technology we have in our technology department in the school, to engage students in design tech courses as well.

I had no idea how a school was designed. I can’t believe I even dreamed of doing this task before going and learning with Steve myself first. As he worked through the process, he touched on ratios and critical thinking when deciding on rooms and spaces needing to meet the Ministry “benchmarks” (another new term I learned). Steve also showed us what “bubble diagrams” are and how they are kind of like visual brainstorming in proportions. I had never seen these. Students described them as “sick”.

After yesterdays session I need to revamp the task based on the great things I learned and student input. However, essentially we plan on having students use the Ministry spreadsheet to work with the ratios and end up at the correct number of classrooms, washrooms, special function rooms, etc. Then, they will create a bubble diagram and start to form that into a sketch with approximate dimensions. Lastly, they will create a scale model using their choice of 3D design software, Minecraft, Lego, cardboard, etc. Other expectations such as slope (rate of change), volume, area and perimeter will all come into play when we actually measure the field where the school is to be built, design wheelchair ramps, calculate volume for heating/cooling and calculate floorspace and costs of flooring. At the end, students will present their schools to the class. We have been invited to send in digital copies of student designs to Mr. Dance and Mr. Parker. Mr. Dance is interested in comparing student designs to those they are working on and making notes of their great ideas.

I am very excited about this project. If anyone has ever done a design project like this with MFM1P (or other grades) and has some tips and suggestions for me, I’d greatly appreciate them!

Yesterdays class reminded me that we simply can’t teach our classes in isolation. The more often we can bring in “real people” and connect to our community the better. This project and learning will be immensely deeper because of the input and help from “real” people. It will be way beyond what I could have done on my own.






Responding to “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher”

I recently read this article titled The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher. I don’t argue the potential for education to head in the direction described by Mark Godsey, if decisions are left to those who are not immersed in education. Godsey describes classrooms as having one large computer screen where lessons that have been crowd sourced and created by “super teachers” are played for rooms of students all over the nation. They are professionally created and media rich. They include games and assessments. The local classrooms with up to 50 students each have a “tech” running them. Making sure the students behave, watch the video and ensure the technology works.

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 7.58.48 PM


If all our students were the same as each other and were being prepared for an industrial era where conformity and falling in line was the ultimate goal, this may be a valid argument. However, I believe this is entirely backwards.


Instead of the “super teacher” creating content and lessons, the technicians can. They are the media specialists. The “super teachers” can be in the classroom. The merging of art and science required for effective education is necessary at the point of the learner. The local, classroom teacher uses the art of building relationships and the science of learning to determine which lessons and which resources to use when. To decide when an assessment is appropriate. To provide opportunities for students to focus in on areas of interest.


The vision presented in this article is entirely backwards in my opinion. Those working with students directly need to master the balance of art and science required to “teach”. The article simplifies what learning truly is.

Using assessment to motivate and empower students in grade 9 math

I hadn’t taught MFM1P for a long time – about 9 years. As I began planning this semester I had flashbacks to the last time I taught MFM1P in Moosonee. I vividly remember making great gains in implementing new instructional strategies to support a variety of students with learning disabilities. We used manipulatives regularly and completed more projects and tasks then tests. Unfortunately, I also remember my attempt to shift assessment failing miserably.

I tried to assess based on the overall expectations in a portfolio-like manner. Each student had 20 file folders and would put their favorite work for each learning goal into the corresponding folder. At the end of the semester they reflected and self-assessed. It was a logistical and paper chaos nightmare. It was poorly executed (by me) and one of my first major educational fails.

Thank goodness for technology. Nine or 10 years later, I am able to revisit this method of assessment and am making it work much better. We have 22 learning goals for our class. We have in-class activities and assessments that cover these learning goals in a variety of creative, fun ways. One project might tap into three learning goals, or maybe only one. As a class we set out what makes a level 1, 2, 3 or 4 for each learning goal. Here is a snapshot of how our learning goals are organized.

mfm1p learning goals

We use Activegrade to track and record our assessment. Students and parents can log in and see their grades for each learning goal. This first student killed pythagorean. He missed a group activity in class where we investigated finding the area and perimeter of 2D composite shapes. He didn’t quite get caught up before the in-class assessments for that goal.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 9.37.47 AM

Because he wants to do better, he’s been working on improving that concept. He has a few ways to do that. He has videos he can watch. He has an online program (Knoweldgehook). It contains video lessons and EQAO-like questions to help practice. He also has a printable, paper package I created to help him review the concept, practice and assess.

This next student has a learning disability. I was still learning how to best support his learning at the beginning of the semester. I think we are getting better at supporting his needs. He will take longer to get the concepts involved in solving problems using area and perimeter of composite 2D shapes. And that is just fine. Using Activegrade, each time I add a new assessment for a learning goal, it pushes all previous assessments for that goal into 25% of the total for that learning goal. The new one counts for 75%. I can also (and often do) just delete the previous assessment when a student really struggled and it truly doesn’t reflect their understanding. As long as the assessments used for a goal collectively cover all of the achievement categories (knowledge and understanding, application, thinking and inquiry and communication), all is well. This allows different students to demonstrate their understanding in different ways if they choose. If they want to make up their own example and create a short video describing how to solve a problem – great. If they want to do paper and pen practice and then come and explain to me how they did two of the questions – great. If they want to take me into Minecraft and explain how they solve for the unknown in a ratio to figure out the length of a wall in “blocks” – great. HOW they demonstrate their understanding is inconsequential.

This way of assessment has worked great so far this semester. Students only get to see their overall marks at reporting periods. This means we aren’t focused on their “grade”, but spend most of the semester focused on “what area do you need to level-up?”.

These are a few reasons this way has worked for us:

  • it has empowered students to take ownership and responsibility for their learning. They see the direct correlation to working on a specific area and their achievement.
  • it allows us to add in quick, on-the-fly assessments for a specific student (example: grab a video of a student during a group problem explaining a concept to the rest of his group)
  • it provides a couple of in-class assessments for each learning goals. Those who are not as engaged in assessment and just want to participate in class and not think about it are set.
  • it allows for all the accommodations we integrate to be effective (extra time, multiple methods of assessment, etc.)
  • accommodations are no longer viewed as “cheats”. Everyone could make use of extra time, different methods of assessment. It values different ways of learning without appearing “unfair”
  • it lets STUDENTS take ownership for differentiating ways that work for them

I started off the semester thinking that I would have multiple online, digital versions of “levelling up” each learning goal. We have Knoweldgehook, which is an awesome tool for this. However, I quickly realized that I also needed a paper and pen version of levelling up each learning goal for a few reasons;

  • MANY of our students do not have internet access at home
  • paper versions help students attending our program for lengthy suspensions
  • paper versions work for students who are catching up in alternative learning environments such as the resource room, student success or credit save days when a device is not always available
  • paper versions can be done in the hospital, on the bus, on the train, on a plane, etc.
  • to differentiate – some students truly prefer paper and pen

I am always shocked at how many times in one semester I am asked to “send work” for a student. Fifteen-twenty times each semester I am asked to hand over a hard copy of what a student will or has missed in class. When you teach through problem solving, assess with tasks more than tests and use technology regularly this is actually very difficult. Class is no longer a teacher directed lesson followed by practice. Handing over a Minecraft task or ClassFlow interactive activity is actually quite difficult. Having paper versions of each learning goal, has let me focus on keeping those interactive activities the base of our course while meeting the varied needs of students throughout the semester.

The curious part of assessing this way is that at midterm I ended up with no students in the Level 1 range. Other than some special cases of non-attending students, we have a couple students in the level 2 range and the rest are in the level three or four range. I am way happier when students “level up” their assessment and show me a good solid understanding of a concept instead of simply leaving a student with a poor understanding of a concept and moving on. They are way better prepared for the next grade. The few students in the level two range are there because they simply need more time with the content. If we can find that time within our 110 hour credit-based semester system, I am convinced they will move into the level three range as well.

My one concern with assessing this way is the potential to turn my class into a simple drill-and-kill, mastery class. I highly value the creative and critical thinking aspect of math. The FIRST assessments for all learning goals are always interactive, creative, problem solving activities in class. Levelling up with videos and practice is only for when that didn’t work. For example, we assessed student ability to set up and solve ratios through Educreation videos made after creating scale models in Minecraft or 3D printing. It is almost impossible for a student who missed this in-class activity to catch-up on it. The structure of 75-minute periods in high school don’t make catching up on interactive class activities easy. The videos and alternative assessments are great to ensure that this student doesn’t get left behind. Not the best learning option – but a great alternative.

In the future we plan on improving this system by:

  • creating and collecting better “level up” resources (videos, assessments, tutorials, etc.)
  • creating a rubric for each of the 22 learning goals with examples and explicit details on what makes a level 1, level 2, etc.

I have decided that my assessment is effective if it motivates and empowers students to actually improve their understanding. How do you use assessment to motivate students?

Building confidence by valuing multiple methods of solving problems

Our Grade 9 MFM1P class has investigated solving ratios using multiple methods. Students have also created scale models (in Minecraft or for a 3D printer) or drawings to support setting up ratios.

Today we used Dan Meyers problem “Nana’s Chocolate Milk” to draw out and review those methods and add one more into our toolbox. Students completed the problem in many different ways. When students solve problems like this BEFORE we “teach” the lesson, it often provides us with the opportunity to build confidence in at-risk students. Students who do not normally step up and share are encouraged to share their method because it was so different/original/exciting. Today that happened again. The group of students actually said “really?” with pride when Ms. Lachapelle said that their method was unique and that she’d love them to share. They even said “thank you” to her after. Every time we teach THROUGH problem solving, we make small gains building confidence with at least one student.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.23.48 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.23.38 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.23.33 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 10.23.43 PM

“Can I add something to that?” – Co-teaching in secondary math

I’ve come to realize what the two most beneficial phrases that myself and Ms. LaChapelle say in our MFM1P Grade 9 math class are. As co-teachers, we’ve shifted in and out of slightly different roles throughout the semester. However, one thing has remained constant. We are both present and active for lessons. We don’t do a ton of teacher-directed lessons, however when we do (usually as consolidation from rich group problems), one of us is always watching as a participant. In doing that, we get to watch the students reactions, see who is struggling and what might have been missed.

The observing teacher often says “Can I add something to that?” during a lesson. It’s a quick interruption to repeat, highlight or state something in a different way based on observing the students needs. It can also often be to bring students attention to the “meta” component of math or learning.

The second most important phrase we use is by the teacher leading the lesson or small group. It is “do you have another way to explain this?”.

Having two teachers in our class has by far let me grow more as a teacher than any other professional development activity I have ever participated in. It has also, hands-down, been the best initiative to support improved student success in math that I have seen. Students see more ways of solving problems. More teaching strategies. More assessment strategies. More attention in general. More support when needed. They also see teachers learning from each other every single day. We often have conversations in front of our students that start with “REALLY? I had no idea!”. Or, ” I had never thought of that”.

Every so often students get confused when we’ve each told them conflicting instructions without realizing it, but we can always solve that with a laugh and some humor.