You’ve Been POE’d!

One of the best used three days of my life happened last February when I traveled to WestCAST. I learned a lot about myself, and I learned even more about education. I traveled with the U of R Science majors and they were doing a demonstration of what POE meant in the science classroom. POE, for anyone unfamiliar refers to Predict, Observe, and Explain, a method for inquiry. The Science team from U of R showed off many fantastic examples of POE-ing in a “science fair-style” gallery. It was oh, so helpful. I knew that it was something I wanted to incorporate into my future teaching, but I wasn’t sure how.

When I received my teaching assignment for the year in June, I immediately knew that I was going to POE in my Science 9 classes, which start in February. What I didn’t know was that in a moment of “unplannedness” I would POE in math. I also didn’t predict that it was in the Top Ten best lessons I taught all year. Go figure!

Part of the fantastic Workplace and Apprenticeship Math 20 curriculum here in Saskatchewan involves a logical reasoning unit, in which students are to find the mathematical processes and strategies in various games. I have a reflection sheet for students to respond to playing math-based games that I’ve used before with questions such as “What strategy did you use to win? Did you win? If not, why?” The answers I received back were less than stellar.

I had forgotten that I promised a Games Day to my WA20 class a few weeks ago, and that day rolled a

round without me knowing. Every student walked in the door absolutely stoked that it was Games Day. I immediately ran to grab a couple of decks of cards, sent a student for the chess boards, and whipped out a few sets of dice. I had no time whatsoever to photocopy my reflection sheet. Besides, it wasn’t working. Maybe this was for the best.

I scrambled, then told my students that we were going to POE. “What? You are pwning us?” (I had to look that one

Flickr Photo Credit to  alasdairnicol Some Rights Reserved.

Flickr Photo Credit to alasdairnicol Some Rights Reserved.

up on Urban Dictionary after class) they chimed. I scribbled Predict, Observe, Explain on the board as they jotted d

own the name of the game they were playing. I adapted it to read:

Predict – What strategy are you going to use? Why do you think it will work?

Observe – Play the game. Keep score. How did you do? Did you win more, tie, or lose more?

Explain – What will you do differently next time to be more successful? What mathematical strategy proved the most successful for your group?

And with that, they started their predictions. Full disclosure: the first time we POE’d it was a little rough. There were a lot of questions. They forgot to predict. They forgot to explain. They forgot to hand in their sheets. Naturally, I opted not to evaluate it, as it was just for practice. I certainly got great feedback.

On Friday, we had our last work period with the netbooks on their review projects. About two hours before their class (i.e. in the middle of another class that I was using the netbooks for), the power went out. It flickered all lunch hour, and our Wifi wasn’t working by the time the bell rang. The students walked in, and I immediately sent a student for the chess boards. Needless to say, the students were very excited to have a Games Day AND an extension on their project all in one day. I scribbled the POE steps on the board again, and they got right to it. The only instructions I really gave them were to POE and play two games within the hour. They chose their games. Since they knew they needed something to write about, they all chose rather wisely. I was absolutely astonished with how well behaved they were for such a chaotic day.

I know making the jump from science to math for teaching strategies certainly isn’t the biggest, but I’m quite glad to be able to make those connections and see them flourish, especially when what I was originally doing wasn’t really working. Lessons learned:  (1) When in doubt, test it out! I’m glad I gave it a try in an unfamiliar context. (2) Always read your daybook. But if you don’t, something wonderful might happen, so no need to panic! (3) I, too, can feel like a ninja teacher sometimes, even though my teaching life is chaotic. I love ninja teacher moments.

E-Advisership: Great on So Many Levels

At WestCAST, I had the pleasure of presenting about my internship with my faculty adviser. Why? My faculty adviser designed a new framework for advisership. The best way to explain this is by giving you a run down of our presentation.

It started off with Kathy explaining her plan and how it fit into the U of R. She wanted to enhance the engagement of the faculty adviser and build a stronger relationship with their interns. The basic set up we had was that she would visit me once or twice in person (as per a usual faculty adviser set up), and a few times I would either Skype her directly into my class or record a lesson and send it to her. However, the modification was that before each time she came to visit/watch, we had about a week lead up of planning, reflecting, fixing, and improving. We would set up a time about week before, then a few days later, I would send her my initial lesson plan. She would send it back to me a few days later, and we would have a Skype meeting talking about the highlights and the things I needed to improve upon. She would then watch/visit and we could post-conference about how the lesson went, how the changes did or didn’t work, etc. It definitely lead to deeper conversations and greater learning on my behalf.

For my portion of the presentation, I got to speak to the benefits and drawbacks of the E-Adviser Model. To save time (and avoid rehashing the twenty minutes), I’ll give a quick summary below.


  • It was very good to have 1 on 1 pre-conference conversations prior to teaching a lesson
  • It worked great to get in touch with other interns
    • More diverse feedback
    • Good to see how others are doing (not stranded on my own “island” wondering if everyone else was doing what I was doing)
  • I used it on the iPad 2 to Skype Kathy into a lesson, which enabled me to literally take Kathy with me wherever I went. Ultimately, she was more connected and observed the conversations better than had she been there in person.

Electronic PDP

  • This referred to the emails and Skyping back and forth prior to and after a lesson.
  • The feedback on lesson plans was constructive.
  • It enabled both pro-active and retroactive feedback. A typical Faculty Adviser Model (FAM) only allows for retro-active feeback on a lesson.
  • Emailing opened up the conversation/pre-conference on Skype. It was less about me telling her what I was planning and more about getting feedback on what she thought worked/didn’t work in my lesson plan.
  • Having another set of eyes reviewing my plans made me a better planner, which doesn’t typically happen within a typical FAM.

Flip Video

  • Kathy provided each of her interns a Flip Video Camera to use during internship.
  • Initially, it was very intimidating; however, forcing myself to watch the video before I edited it down and sent it off to her was very useful for my own professional growth. It was like getting double the feedback.
  • It forced deeper analysis of my teaching since we both got to watch me teach.

Top Ten Reasons Why  E-Advisership Is a Good Idea

  • I had all the support of a typical FAM — I knew Kathy would come in person if I needed her too.
  • It built a community of learners within the interns she was advising for.
  • It enabled deeper conversations and reflection.
  • Both sides (both Kathy and I) saw what each other was seeing/thinking.
  • I had a closer and better relationship with Kathy because we were so connected. I knew she had a lot to offer, so I was able to get as much of that knowledge as I possible could.
  • Because of the timelines and the constant connection, it forced me to be more accountable and more prepared (no “night-before-at-2-am” lesson plans)
  • It enabled me to have better reflection on my own planning.
  • It enabled me to have better reflection on my own teaching.
  • It opened up the conversation with my cooperating teacher as well.
  • It helped me to become more excited about using technology within my classroom, and pushed me to build my own PLN through twitter, this blog, and beyond.


  • The interns need to have a good internet connection
  • All the software needs to be installed and up-to-date
  • Each intern needs to be sold on the idea of the E-Advisorship or it won’t work out as well as it could

Overall, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I am ever so grateful to Kathy, and I certainly hope that I can incorporate some of the the professional development we did into my future classroom teaching.

Yoga for Teachers

Okay. It’s not exactly yoga, but I had the chance to sit in on “Teacher Presence: Skills for the New Teacher” session. I took a couple of little tricks/techniques home with me, and I think they could be helpful.

  • When talking to students and questioning, use lots of “Mmm?,” “Oh?”, “Oo?” and “Ah”‘s. Not answering questions gets students to keep talking, explain their thinking, ask more questions, and so on. This shows you are engaged and curious, but doesn’t lead them to the answer you want to hear.
  • Think about this: Whose lungs did that air just come from? Air is the one thing that really connects everyone. We all have to breath each other’s air.
  • Build a flexible space in your body: gently push your fingertips together, or gently link your fingers and pull them apart slightly. Think about all the muscles you are using while doing this. This helps to focus and relax you.
  • When gesturing toward a student, extend your arm palm up. This welcomes answers. Avoid pointing/gun position. This is more aggressive.

These are just a few of the ideas we talked about. We focused a lot on maintaining your centre and keeping yourself calm/focused. Any other tips for doing these things? They are so simple and easy, but highly effective.

Math Sucks?

I’ve heard that many students think math sucks. These students grow up. Some become lawyers, some become doctors, some become electricians, some become executives, and some become teachers. Firstly, that’s okay. Not everyone needs to like everything. My biggest concern is not that people don’t share my inexplicable love of math, but they don’t like it and believe they can’t do it. Chicken and egg conundrum — which came first? Disliking math or having trouble with math?

At WestCAST, I saw Dr. Jerome Cranston (@dr_j_cranston) present on his research about pre-service teachers entering university. All data was collected prior to the students took even one education class. A few things really stuck out for me. According to Dr. Cranston’s research, only 46% of females stated that they had average or above average math skills. That means that over half of the large data poll thought that they were below average (or worse) in their math skills. That’s kind of scary.

Similarly, only 69.3% of males participating in the survey thought they had average or above average math skills. That’s a little more promising, but the lack of confidence is still astounding.

The scariest fact that he presented was that only 47% of middle years teachers felt they had average or above average math skills. Over half did not believe that they were at least average. Yikes. Based on the Saskatchewan Curriculum, middle years is where math starts to get abstract (think algebra, variables, etc.). Confidence in math skills goes a long way to helping students learn these skills. Instilling self-trust in math is imperative.

While many teachers don’t like math and are fantastic at pretending they do, it still can come through in subtle ways. Think back to your education — if a teacher didn’t like doing something, could you tell? Did you like it even though they didn’t? Scary stuff.

So what can we do about it? We need to break the cycle. We need to build math confidence in our students. I don’t know exactly what this might look like, but somehow it needs to happen. What are your thoughts? How can we help our students like math or, at the very least, feel confident in their own math skills?

Counting on Accountability

At WestCAST, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Eugene Kowch (@ekowch) speak on the topic “You Got a Job Yet?” While the presentation wasn’t specifically on teacher accountability–rather it was about the national job market for teachers and how to best maximize the opportunities of getting hired–he made an interesting point. He said that teacher accountability should involve “mutual assessment of teaching practices with respect to outcomes.” That stood out to me big time.

I’m not a fountain of knowledge about teacher evaluation by any means, but from what I’ve learned and can see, the system the the US has isn’t working. In Canada, there seems to be less of a push for teacher evaluations. This is good, but perhaps we need to forge a new path that ensures that all teachers are pushing for excellence all the time.

We’ve all see him or her: the teacher that is just putting in time for the last five years or the teacher who pulls a binder off the shelf and teaches the same course the same way every year for twenty years, regardless of which faces they have in front of them. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these teachers are on to something, but by-and-large, I beg to differ.

The majority of teachers aren’t like this, but the ones who are coasting and not putting in an effort to teach young people maybe need a push to get back into what they used to love to do, which is making a difference.

Dr. Kowch’s “mutual assessment” sounds like a pretty good deal for this. Just as teachers assess students, should students, the community, and coworkers have the opportunity to assess teachers. Note that I chose the term assess, just as Dr. Kowch did. I do not think that teachers should be evaluated (i.e. graded, put in a hierarchy, etc.), but I do think that getting feedback on strengths and weaknesses is valuable.

In my internship, I had all of my students fill out an assessment form regarding my teaching practices, and it was so valuable. Not every form was particularly helpful (although there were many that were), but as whole, I got a great feel for how the students felt I was doing. It held me accountable, and I am grateful for that.

Feedback is good. We love to give feedback, so why wouldn’t we want some in return?

Memorable Versus Memorizable

At the WestCAST Conference last month, I had the opportunity to attend the presentation by Michele Jacobson. This presentation was fantastic for a two reasons: (1) she had lots of great stuff to talk to us about, and (2) she opened up her presentation by telling us that we should be tweeting and on our phones while she was presenting.

First: the awesome stuff she told us about. Michele talked a lot about student showcasing. How do I see this working in my classroom, based on what I learned from Michele? Well, it starts off with something Michele called a “Great Task,” which is a well designed task for students that is memorable, not memorizable. Those last three words stuck with me. This means that the task is active and participatory, requires communication, and provides assessment as, of, and for learning. With this task, students would also need to engage in active peer review based off of a well-laid out, clear, concise rubric. This ensures student accountability, but also provides exposure to other thinking.

The peer review (notice that I didn’t call it peer-evaluation) is the best part for me. I’m a big believer in learning through teaching others. In my personal life, I’ve  been competing as a baton twirler for over 17 years. I started taking coaching courses and assisting with coaching about five years ago. I didn’t really understand the technique fully until I started helping and teaching young twirlers the basics. Since the basics build up to harder tricks and skills, having a solid understanding of the basics is imperative. I have to say, my understanding of the mechanics of twirling and learning how to coach has greatly improved my ability to practice and self-coach during that practice. This would be the same in a classroom — learning how to identify strengths and weaknesses within someone else’s work will ultimately help students to understand the material better, and enable them to better critique their own work. That will most certainly lead to better learning and deeper understanding. How marvelous!

Now for the second part of why Michele was awesome: she encouraged us to tweet. Gone were the days of trying to hide a phone under the table and sneakily tweet or text without looking down. She asked us to tweet. It was awesome. We were able to be in the presentation, listening to her make fantastic points, and still hold a group discussion, courtesy of the #WestCAST2012 hash tag. We also tweeted @dmichelej (Michele Jacobson), which helped keep things organized too. What was an awesome outcome of this? Michele tweeted us back after she finished speaking! The conversation continued far beyond the presentation. How marvelous!

I’m thinking that this could be really beneficial in a classroom. We were having a group discussion, but it was totally quiet. I know there are a lot of hurdles (like how do I tell if they are engaged versus playing Angry Birds), but it is certainly something to ponder.

With tweeting during her presentation, Michele instilled exactly what she was presenting about — we were actively engaged and her presentation was memorable, not memorizable.

Hand-Held Learning

Here is the first installment of my mini-series regarding what I learned at WestCAST:

Peggy Jubien (U of A) and Brad McDiarmid (Red Deer College) co-presented on pocket technospaces. They emphasized that when a student is using his/her iPod, cell phone, etc., to listen to music or play games, he/she is in his/her own world. Listening music and playing games alters four important factors for engagement: sense of place (altered perception of the outside world), sense of others (altered perception of who you are interacting with and who is around you), sense of time (altered perception of time), and sense of body (altered perception of your physical state).

Such engagement can actually work to teachers’ benefit. How? First off, if a student is so intensely focused on a game, why not bring that came into the classroom. For a quick example, many math teachers are experimenting with using Angry Birds in the classroom. Students love Angry Birds, and teachers love teaching tangent lines in calculus. Voila! A match made in heaven.

Teachers can also use this with a more traditional educational sense by having students listen to podcasts, audio books, or other audio resources. This got me thinking about the flipped classroom — why not do a podcast sometimes, instead of a video, or have the videos in a format that can be downloaded on to an iPod?

I want to leave you with a surprising fact from their presentation that stuck out to me.

Did you know that 53% of mobile gamers (i.e. people who play games on their cell phone or iPod) are female?