Tag Archive | inquiry

Smell The Roses

I really enjoy long-range planning. One of my favourite parts planning is calculating the number of hours each unit should have, then deciding on major assessment types, and finding really awesome projects. Long-range planning is so mystical and so hopeful. I’m not one to say that I stray from my long-range plans, per se, but some of the most wonderful ideas I have tend to slowly disappear when I discover just how much I need to accomplish in the allotted 13 hours for a specific unit. It sure doesn’t leave too much time for an in-depth inquiry project, complete with student-experts, student-generated media, and learning centres. While I’m certain it could be done (and I’m more than certain it has been done), it seems almost too daunting to take such a time risk at this point in my career. For example, investing two weeks into an inquiry project that should cover the majority of a unit would be FANTASTIC. However, if it flops I’m going to be two whole weeks behind, which stresses me out!

I’m slowly working myself up to more involved, student-centred lessons that stretch on for more than an hour or two in order for students to really dig into the curriculum with their own shovels. Currently, I’m about four hours into some inquiry for Ancient Rome in Social Studies 9, and it’s going well, but only time will tell. My assessments at this point are looking awfully hopeful though.

I am also teaching Modified Science 9. This class has taught me a lot (with more enlightened blog posts to follow, but I’ll stay on topic here), but in particular, I’ve learned to “smell the roses.” I feel significantly less time pressure with this class because we don’t have to explore the topics as deeply as regular programming. This lets me figure out what truly interests the students and use that topic as a launch pad for many lessons to come. This serves many purposes, including helping the students find a point of reference for the majority of each unit. They are significantly more interested because they are learning about things that interest them (while secretly covering the same curriculum from a different view).

A few days ago, I was stopped in my tracks with astonishment about quickly we were whipping through the current unit. I took the unit I taught last year in the regular programming and altered it to be at the appropriate level, which meant removing a few topics and supplementing them with similar topics that would be lower level and easier to work through. I started adding in the course work from my regular course in the last few days, and to my surprise they are absolutely crushing it. While my assessments and assignments differ a bit, the concepts are the same and I’m instructing with the same level of difficulty that I did last year.

This shocked me for two reasons: firstly, I was amazed at how well they are connecting their learning (something that I hadn’t seen earlier in the semester), and secondly, I was impressed with the fact that I stopped to smell the roses AND covered all the course work with no problems.

This is making me revisit my other courses to see what roses we’ve ran past in a race against the clock. It continues to affirm that student-ownership is hugely important in their retention and their willingness to learn. These “roses” are invaluable and could even potentially save time for more wonderful roses, even though it seems like they are only taking more precious time.

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.

I Don’t Want to “Teach” Anymore

I’ve had a very interesting last few weeks. I had the opportunity to go to WestCAST (see the mini-blog series on all the wonderful things I took from it coming soon) last week, and it was reading week. Reading week meant a few things: firstly, I got to sleep in, and secondly, I had time alone with my thoughts.

I’ve decided to make quite a few life changes and start taking my self more seriously. On the whole, I am a very serious person, but I found as of late that I’ve got a huge need to impress. That has all changed. I’m in it for me now.

Now that I’ve kept you all in suspense, I will clarify, I wholeheartedly want to be a teacher in the professional sense. I do not, however, want to bethat teacher who stands up at the chalkboard and lectures on end while her class may or may not be listening. Who is to say that I have all the knowledge in the classroom? Heck, the majority of my students, if not all of them at some point, have or will have access to a mobile device that will enable them to access the internet. This for me means a few things: (1) I want wifi in my classroom, (2) I’m no longer the smartest person in the room, (3) I need to get out of the textbook habits, (4) I can let my students direct their own learning.

With this huge mind shift, I’ve decided to really investigate a few things–inquiry-base learning, flipped classrooms, and assessment.

Inquiry for me was always pretty scary. It is the assignment where you need to account for every single “what if” possible. I understood inquiry as a way for me to secretly lead my students to the answer by predicting their every move. Writing that actually seems pretty creepy, if you ask me. So my question to myself is, “What harm would it be if the students stumbled in a different direction than I was headed?” The obvious answer is that it might not be in the curriculum or that it could “waste” valuable teaching time. This is where I’m at loggerheads with myself: if the students are productively learning and engaged, what harm am I really doing? I don’t have the answer for this, but I suspect I’ll keep soul-searching on this one for a while and see where I end up.

With regard to flipped classrooms, I am hugely intrigued by this. I’ve completely revamped a personal project for one of my classes because I want to do this. If you aren’t sure what a flipped classroom is, check out Kyle Webb’s blog post about it. He sums it up REALLY nicely. I think this is a necessary step for me. I know that during my internship, I had a few students who seemed to follow along just fine in class, then absolutely floundered during homework. It seemed like there was never enough time to “reteach” a few students, so they had a pretty tough time in my class. So what would my classroom look like if I flipped it? My students would watch a short video teaching the topic we are on and answer a couple of questions on it (similar to bell work, but homework). They would come to class, have a chance to ask questions similar to a group discussion, then go to work on their assignment. There would be an ENTIRE HOUR where I would be available to help my students–both the strong and the weak–on their assignments. This, I feel, would make me a better “teacher.”

Now the part that I get caught up about with this is that I’m still teaching. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to see what I can find to flip the flipped classroom into an inquiry-based learning experience. I agree that teacher-centred learning has it’s place, and I’m not going to abolish it, but I do want to get a variety of teaching methods within the flipped classroom.

Lastly, I’ve been pondering assessment. Most definitely with a flipped classroom, my anecdotal assessment abilities have the potential to be through the roof. I could make time to check in with each student every single day. Again, having this knowledge would make me a better “teacher” so that I can specifically develop each lesson to the student needs. Isn’t that the goal of teaching? Education for everyone?

So this is where I’m standing right now: I don’t want to be the star of my classroom, I don’t have to be the star of my classroom, and I shouldn’t be the star of my classroom. I have to get over the “no cellphones”/”no iPods“/”no twitter”/”no texting”/”no internet”/”no youtube”/whatever other arbitrary rules that are inhibiting student success. This sounds like a brilliant fairytale for my future classroom. I know it will be hard and it won’t happen all at once, but I know where I want to end up. That end point may change as my students change, society changes, and I change, but I know the general direction I am headed, and, man, it feels good.