Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Use SharePoint in the Class - Like a Ninja

If you hand in some math homework to your teacher, and then realize, "Oh no, I didn't finish question number 11!", what would you do? One option might be to simply leave class as if nothing was wrong. Then, go home, change into your ninja outfit, and use a grappling hook to get up onto the school roof at midnight. Then, drop in through the ventillation ducts, into your classroom, and replace incomplete homework with a completed copy.

Of course that wouldn't work, and could prove dangerous. Fortunately, there is a way for kids to update their homework even after they hand it in - like a SharePoint Ninja!

Now, I don't want to say kids should turn in their work late. Yes, I do look at the time and date kids hand in their work. But generally, if I don't have to chase them down for work, and if the students are not depending on updating their work after they hand it in, I am OK with that - sometimes. Other teachers might not be, but I figure it saves me a lot of effort from having to chase down students.

PS. Seriously, don't go trying to break into your school. It is against the law, and you will get hurt. It's not like you are an ACTUAL ninja.....unlike myself ;-).

Friday, November 5, 2010

Treat Teachers Like Google Engineers

I have a good job. I have a good medical and decent dental plan. Still, I look at Google engineers with envy. Deluxe cafeteria food. Video game consoles provided in lounges and even in hallways for play time. One building offers its employees a choice of stairs or a slide to get from one floor down to the next!

But what I envy most is that Google encourages its' engineers to spend 20% of their time on their own pet projects. It is called Innovation Time Off. What would happen if you gave that time to teachers?

Would I teach my computer class that day? Would I take the kids on field trips to the Inlet near our school, because I have a degree in biology, and my real strengths were environmental and evolutionary sciences. Would I become a PE teacher for a day? I used to be a competitive archer, and if I could manage to get some equipment together, perhaps I could introduce students to a sport they have never attempted. I wonder what I would teach them?

Could I collaborate with another teacher? What if I got together with the music teacher, and we used my computer lab and her music room, and created re-mixes of student recordings? Or, perhaps we could make animations with the student's compositions playing in the background.

I suppose the worry is that some teachers would take advantage of this time and just give the kids busy work so that they could mark and have more free time on the weekend. Perhaps some would actually do this. I wonder if the bosses at Google had the same worry at first. However, it was Innovation Time Off that led to the creation of Gmail and AdSense. Who knows what innovation will come next from Google? It is a safe bet though that something will be coming.

If teachers had Innovation Time Off, I bet it would really awaken the passion teachers have for teaching. I bet they would look forward to this day, and it would be a day of the best planned, most exciting lessons of the week. The students would look forward to it. This one day of the week could change everything.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

CUEBC 2010 - Saving Time, Effort, and Money

Hi and Welcome to CUEBC! My name is James Gill, and I am a teacher with SD43, Coquitlam School district. Today, I would like to share with you some of the ways that I have been saving time and effort in the classroom by using a classroom website.


I teach computer education at Moody Middle school, and have for 3 years. Part of my job involves teaching the same lesson to different groups of kids. Also, I find that some of my students would like to be able to get help, or review the instructions, but don’t always follow written instructions well.

I use a free program called Jing (pro version is $15 dollars) and I create screencasts:

1.) I save myself effort by playing the video 4 times in a row, instead of talking 4 times in a row.
2.) Jing forces me to be brief, and no one listens after 5 minutes – I have a tendency to talk if left to my own devices
3.) Kids don’t wait for help with their arm going numb in the air- they can review at their own pace
4.) Parents can support their kids at home – when was the last time your parents did 8th grade math? Probably in the 8th grade!

But what if you have a student that forgets their homework....often!

By putting your lessons and your worksheets on your website, you can tweak your lessons on the fly from anywhere there is an internet connection. I have had students go home, and realize they have forgotten their homework. If there is a worksheet or template they are writing their responses on, they can download them from the website (or rather their parents can ;-)). While students are never thrilled to re-start an assignment, it prevents them from possibly losing marks for turning in late work. I re-use my lessons often, and re-invent them often.

I use this with my middle school classes, but I first used it with a class of Grade 3 students. It saved me a lot of time waiting for a kid to re-do lost assignments, or having to mark after they have handed it in late.

Hand In Bin – Easy Peasy Paperless:

In my first term in my position, I had students hitting print on their first assignment. Then I realized that this created organizational problems, kids not printing on time. So using our SharePoint websites, we created a list where students can hand their work in:

I see everyone’s work, they see their own. I can mark them here, or at home, or anywhere I have an internet connection. I don’t carry my marking home with me. Perhaps not all of your students will do their work on computer, but I bet a lot of them are doing it on a computer and hitting print. If you even take some of your work electronically, it could speed up your marking. Kids can hand in from anywhere there is a computer with an internet connection, which sometimes increases your chances of getting their assignments in when you are ready to mark them.

Giving Feedback that Motivates Kids to Listen:

Another problem I have wrestled with in the past is that kids don’t read my feedback. Students are only interested in the mark. I can ask a student what mark they got, and usually they will know the answer to that question. But when I ask a student what I had to say about their work, hardly any students were able to tell me. I am not alone in this struggle. Apparently, students will not read your comments unless they are surprised in a negative way about their mark.

One of the ways I have found around this issue has been to have students turn in their work to my classroom website. We currently use MS Word on all our school computers, and many students have this program at home too. Rather than write on their work, I will record a comment on their work. By embedding a voice recording in their work:

1.) I can save myself time and energy by “talking” my comments into their work- I can say in 35 seconds more than I can write
2.) Students listen to my comments- listening comprehension is higher in my middle school students than is reading comprehension
3.) There is no way to fast forward the comments – as long as I say their grades last, they have to listen to all my feedback first.

Improving Student Writing:

I thought that using the Document Libraries on SharePoint would create a great way for students to share their work with each other . Basically kids upload their work to a common folder on my website. Then, they sign out the document, read it, and post comments in the margin.

After teaching the class about how to give useful feedback, and what are some ways to phrase it to not offend others, I asked kids to then read, and make use of any feedback they felt would help when writing good copies. I decided to do an informal poll which is something built in to our SharePoint websites. You can also survey your students on SurveyMonkey. The results were quite telling:

I hope you have enjoyed my workshop on using the virtual classroom to save time, and money. I would like to leave you with a final thought. Sir Ken Robinson, a college professor and internationally renowned speaker and writer on the topic of education said recently that schools are at their most elemental an interaction between student and teacher, and so we must only make changes to school that improve this dynamic (sic). My two bits - use technology, but not because it is shiny, new, or trending on twitter. Only use it if it makes your life better.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rewarding Initiatve and Bending the Rules

Today, a young lady in my class named Samantha turned in an altnerate assignment. She had not taken home the correct homework assignment, but fulfilled the spirit of the assignment with an essay. How often do teachers mark according to the criteria, and not the spirit of the assignment. While not exactly what I was looking for, I like initiative, and think it ought to be rewarded. By rewarding her efforts in front of the class, I hope that the other students will realize that the world is looking for people with initiative. If you don't know what to do, sometimes the most dangerous thing is to do nothing, and give up. Samantha didn't give up.

This is why I gave her an A on the assignment.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Screencasting Worked - Just Not How I Planned

Yesterday I created a screencast to help students in a math tutorial class designed for kids who are struggling with math. The topic was integers. Turns out the student who planted the seed of this idea became confused with her schedule, or chose not to show up. But for the kids who did show up, I created this screencast as support for them to use at home and at school:

When I ran into Susan later that day, I showed her the video. She was surprised and pleased that I had taken an interest in her academics, but I don't know yet if she checked out the video. But someone did.

Jeffrey, another student from the class caught up to me in the hall. He told me he watched the video last night.
  1. I asked if he thought it was helpful, and he said yes.
  2. I asked if his homework was complete - another yes.
  3. I asked him if he always completes his homework, and he replied no
  4. Finally I asked if he would like to see more screencasts about his homework - definitely yes.

I guess the question remains, with other staff adopt the idea of screencasting their lessons? I went around and informally shared my screencast with other staff, and told them what it was for. Most were hesitant, perhaps dreading an awful learning curve associated with learning how to screencast with Jing. Or, perhaps they don't believe that students will go to the video.

It is my goal this week to support one person who is interested in learning how to screencast their lessons.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Susan Don't Tell Me Your Lies!

20 minutes ago, a student in my class named Susan (not her real name) told me she was stupid and that's why she couldn't do math, but that it didn't matter. Holy cow - I told her that she lied to me and herself 2x in the same sentence.

1.) I don't believe she is stupid (but I do believe she finds math hard)

2.) It does matter if she doesn't do well at math.

Currently students are creating their own designs for the school that will eventually replace this school here at Moody Middle in 2014. We discussed it in class, then on a discussion forum, and now we are taking these ideas and using them in sketchup. Susan was having trouble coming up with a concrete idea that she could create, and I think she was close to giving up and just looking for a way to go and talk to her friends out of my line of sight. Unfortunately for her, there is no such place in my room.

I asked Susan what she was doing in Math right now. She told me she is learning about integers. She finds her math class distracting because her friends are talking about other stuff around her. She also told me that she only understands some of what the teacher says, but none of what she reads in textbooks.

I showed her this video:

I then said if the front of her "futuristic" desk had a computer screen in it, and all the instructors lessons were on youtube, and her desk had privacy screens on the sides, then she could watch the videos, pause them, do one step at a time, and review them as many times as she would like.

Susan asked if you don't have to practice math to get good at it. I asked her if you could practice something when you don't understand it. If the lessons were on youtube, she could watch it at home, and practice it there. She would be getting some support at home. She said that these ideas made sense to her, and that she would be more likely to learn math skills, and to do her homework.

I wonder if she would go home today, and watch a youtube video on math? This week?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Light bulb went off at McDonalds

My grade 6 and 7 Computer Class students are doing research about fast food by using the nutrition calculator on the McDonalds website. We are learning about calories, fat, protien, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. But this is only the activity that keeps them interested. What I have been trying to get them to do is to be able to read charts, and find information. Of the 10 questions I have asked the student, it has been about reading and recording information from the Nutrition Calculator.

But the last 2 questions are what really interest me. I have asked very broad questions for them to tell me "what have you learned from playing with your food?" Then I asked the kids to compare two fast food chains with similar items, and to draw conclusions based on data.

I asked them do you know who looks at information and then makes sense of it in words? Scientists! Engineers! Financial Analysts!

This sounded good to them. I pointed out that while memorizing that the capital of Alberta is Edmonton is somewhat useful, this is something they could just google. Their education should focus on being able to demonstrate the thinking they can do with the facts that they learn.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Words to My Students on the First Day

Good morning and welcome. No one is going to care about the letter grade you get in this course. I assign letter grades as a way to tell you how you did overall, at the end of the course. My bosses insist. This kind of makes sense - you would like to know how you did at the end of it all, wouldn't you?

But what will matter most when you leave my doors? By the time you are an adult, none of the programs we are using will be there anymore, or will likely not look the same. The information will have changed because you and people like you around the world keep making it change. You might not remember any of the facts you learn in my class when you are an adult, or only remember some of the facts. This is normal.

After informally interviewing people with all kinds of different jobs this is what I have summarized:

You must learn to be hard working - grades don't always help you there, nor does criteria. They tell you "go this far and stop."

Creativity - Dan Pink in his talk on motivation says "if this...then that" rewards systems only motivate people to do simple tasks. Learning is NOT a simple task.

Communication - Can you explain what you mean with your writing, spoken word, a piece of music, a drawing or painting, or a math equation? I can - and I want you to be able to do this too.

Collaboration - this means working together. I will help you learn how to work together, but if you can't work and play well with others, and need a "ref" after you graduate, no one will want to work with you. No one will want you.

Critical thinking - don't believe everything you read on the Internet - or anywhere else. You are allowed to disagree with me, and are obligated to come and tell me you disagree with me. Just have a reason you disagree that is defensible, and better yet, offer me a better idea!

So, the adventure begins. See you in class.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why Study Science?

This is a question asked by my students. They are asking for a reason to justify the effort they put in, and in some students' case it is a great deal of effort. Here is one thought - 'cause Jurrasic Park didn't quite get it right.

Ever notice the colors of the dinosaurs in the movie Jurrasic Park? Why would dinosaurs all be the same or very similar colours? Many animals in nature in the same environment do not? Furthermore close examination of the velociraptors in the movie have smooth grey skin. Fossil records now show that velociraptors and possibly juvenile t-rex's had feathers.


So - how did we get the impression that dinosaurs were grey in the first place? Elephants are grey, elephants are big. Dinosaurs are big (not all) = dinosaurs are grey?

So - if we got this wrong, and only a decade or so ago we thought dinosaurs were grey - what else has changed? While this may not change your day to day life (a dollar is still a dollar, your fav tv shows still come on at their usual time) but something you just accepted to be true is now proven to be - not so much true.

If this is so, what else should be re-examined? What will we learn tomorrow? How will this affect my kids?

Remedial Science 9 - 2010

It's that time again. I leave my regular classroom to teach summer school. I will once again be teaching Science 9. Here is what I have learned from the past two years:

1.) I always lose about 10-15%

2.) There is almost always a 100% correlation between the kids who drop out or fail and the kids who do not do the first homework assignment!

3.) Kids who talk during instruction are not actually bored - they are cracking under the pressure. They might think they are bored, but when the going gets tough, they mentally shut down, bail out, and look for the escape hatch. By socializing.

I think I will alert my students to watch out for these signs, and to see what they make of it!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Putting Myself Out of a Job

How can I teach my grade 6 and 7 students to teach themselves? Today's lesson is following a GIMP tutorial , but I am not so interested in whether or not they get good photo manipulation skills - I want to see if they can follow a step by step process on video. Grade 8's can.

In block 1 I explained that the task was to follow the youtube video we saw the day before 1 step at a time in order to learn how to teach ourselves skills from youtube.I demonstrated how to find the instructional video, and how to find the program. I then told them to follow the video one step at a time - only about 20% of the students were successful in following the video one step at a time.

In block 2 I explained the importance of being able to teach yourself skills from a YouTube video. I then showed them how to have both YouTube and GIMP open at the same time, and how to open the two photos they were going to photoshop, and how to hit play and pause on the YouTube video. I then let them go on their own, and about 33% were successful in following the steps of the video.

In block 3 and 4 I modelled several steps using a student's photo collection. After 4 steps I asked if the students were clear on how to follow one step at time using a YouTube video. I then asked how many would be able to get to this point. I then had to correct about 5 kids who didn't open their photos correctly in GIMP, but at the end about 80% of the kids were successful.

So, in the end the lesson for me was just how many steps to go through in a multi-step process (at least half) in order for most of the students to be able to follow a step-by-step set of instructions independently. Now to hammer home the information that students are not really learning how to manipulate images, but how to teach themselves.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cell Phones and iPods in Education

This Friday I will be brainstorming with a middle school principal the ways and howto's of using iPod touch's in their education. She is buying a class set, and going to use these as a mobile lab. Accordingly I have given this assignment to my Grade 8's.

Cell Phones and iPods in Education

The purpose of this assignment is to figure out ways to use Personally Owned Devices (POD's) in education. They are a powerful tool, many students have them already, and they are becoming more common as time goes by.

Step 1 - Identify all the things you can do with your cell phone / iPod / SmartPhone / Netbook / Laptop

Step 2 - Choose 3 features of your device and figure out a way to use them in education. At least one of these should be a well detailed paragraph that really showcases the cell phone's ability as an educational tool.

Step 3 - Identify and clearly explain ways that students can mis-use with a POD in class. Be prepared if questioned to justify why you consider some acts to be cheating /mis-use, and some are not.

Step 4 - Model one positive way in which a POD can be used in an educational setting. This can be done with a video / audio recording / interpretive dance.

Just kidding about the dance part...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hey Dad, I Hear Cars - ?

I took my son hiking in a regional park near our home today, Minnekhada Regional Park. It is a marsh with lots of different kinds of duck, it has some beaver, and the Canadian geese have returned from the south as spring has sprung. and the grass is riz. Lots of goose poop on the dykes that cross the marsh.

We were searching for a geocache on one of the higher look outs in the park. On our way up the hill, he said, "Hey Dad, I can hear cars?" I thought this was strange, as we are quite a distance from the highway. I asked if he was sure, and he said, "Yeah, listen - whoooooooosshhhhh..."

I told him what he was hearing was the wind in the trees. Hmmm. My son doesn't recognize the sound of wind in the trees, and mistakes it for cars on a highway. An honest mistake, to be sure, but I think we better keep getting out there.

PS. We found the geocache.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cheaper Lighter Better Camping Gear

Ok, so there are so many people on youtube who have done it before me, and so many who have done it better, but I had to make my own - pop can camping stove! See the video below of a model similar to mine:

Warning - the blog you are about to read is for entertainment and education only. I do not advise any one try this at home.

I felt I had the necessary qualifications to create this super cheap, super lightweight alternative to my regular camping stove. The fuel I used was methyl hydrate, which I bought at home depot for less than $4 for about 1 liter. I had the pop cans, and I used a cheapo utility knife to etch the can by rotating the can against the blade. I held the blade still by anchoring it with my hand against a stack of boards.

I drilled a series of burner holes in one coke can bottom, with one filler hole. I cut the bottom of that coke can, and then cut the bottom off another can. I fit the two together, and filled with Methyl Hydrate. I had a larger tin can lid that I put the stove on to catch some Methyl Hydrate that I poured over the side of the stove. When I light this small amount of MH, it will help boil the fuel in the stove, so that its fumes come out the jet holes and ignite.

I lit it carefully with a match, bearing in mind that this fuel burns invisibly in daylight. While I had a crack in the can from when I slid the two parts together, it still lit well. It burned a little more on one side, because of the crack in the side of the can, but I still got flames out of the jets.

I put it inside a an ikea stainless steel cutlery container, with one side cut open, like shown in this blog. It is super light, and I cut open the side of the container with some tin snips. I didn't have a dremel tool, so the cuts are kind of rough, but overall it worked ok, and acted like a pretty good windbreak and pot stand.

I boiled about .5L of water in only 4 minutes by my guessing, and I still had enough fuel to keep boiling more.

The only downside is that you can't instantly shut it off easily unless you smother it with sand, which would foul the fuel in the stove (maybe, or maybe not).

- Methyl Hydrate (1L from home depot) - less than $5
- 2 cola cans - free from neighbors recycling bin (with permission of course)
- optional Ikea cutlery drainer $5

Total cost is less than $10 and it is lighter than most other camping stoves. Also, by carrying the Ikea hobo stove, I can switch to burning wood, ( so long as contained flames are allowed where I am travelling). This means it doesn't matter how cold it gets - unlike some backpacking stoves - I can keep cooking.

This project combined my love of science and my love of camping. I can't wait to make another one soon - without a crack in the side.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Geocaching with Kids

I love hiking, and my doctor says until my back heals, I have to stick to stuff like walking. Walking for the sake of walking strikes me as dull as a white bread, mayo, and processed cheese sandwich (Sorry Micki)!

But geocaching? I got my whole family out and about, fired up about finding treasure. I bought a GPS with a gift card I got to a big box electronics store, learned about it the night before, and went to geocaching.com, opting for the free account. Holy cow, I have been living on Treasure Island all along, and I didn't know it. There were 5 within 2 km of my house. We have found 2 so far. The first one contained patches, badges, bottlecaps, dice, and a booklet dating back 2+ years.

The website names the second cache we found as "watch your fingers" - Andrew (5 yr old son) said maybe it's an alligator! We scrambled around some ferns and boulders in some landscaping near my neighbourhood. We were looking for a typical rubbermaid container. Imagine my suprise when we found....an alligator! And in its jaws was a fake bloody finger! The kids howled with delight.

The next day we went looking for three more, but I think 1 was destroyed by recent logging activity. The second appears to be submerged IN a lake (don't think that is right, better re-check gps) and didn't find the third because it was too far for my daughter (7) and my son to make get there after a day of hiking.Who would have believed that my wife was going to be the most disappointed when we didn't find one!

But, we will be out again this weekend. And over spring break, we will be checking out Geocaches in other towns too. Who knew there was another world hidden all around us. I wonder how we go about hiding our own geocache? To be continued.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Accountability and ESL students

Big day - do or die day. All my students today needed to hand in their "School of the Future" assignment. As my school is being torn down and replaced with a new school in only 2 years time, I thought it would be a fun assignment to draw the new school in Sketchup, and to include a 1 page write up about it. I told them that they could have the weekend if I got both write up and sketch in by Monday at the start of class. They wanted to be treated as adults so I told them there would be a penalty for late work.

One student didn't take his deadline seriously. He didn't do a write up, though he was capable of doing so. He tried to laugh it off, but I insisted that this was a required element. When I said I needed to phone his parents, he gave me the number, but told me that this would not be worth my while as they don't speak english.

I was left with no choice. I showed him our school's "I" letter - a letter we send home to students in danger of failing a course for incomplete work. I filled it out in under 2 minutes for him. I then showed him Google Translate. I translated the letter into the language his parents spoke, had him sign it, I signed it, and circled the date. When I asked him to read what it said and describe it in English, his jaw dropped, and he said "ooooh this says I am not doing well in the course, and I am going to get a bad grade!" I wonder if he was so aghast because I found a way to contact his parents, or if for the first time he understood in his own language what was happening to his grades.

I expect the form back tomorrow, along with his missing assignment.

If I had to wait for a translator to be available, and for the parents to be available, it could take days, or perhaps a week for everyone's schedule to jive. In order for this student to feel the immediate effects of his poor choice, I needed a way to inform his parents immediately; this is necessary for the student to learn from his poor choices.

Accountability has Never Been Easier

I love the Internet. I love teaching my students the importance of being accountable. But using one to facilitate the other? That's like a bowl of "awesome" covered with "awesome sauce!"

I have been using my computer to email parents directly from class, and as so many parents are working with computers as part of their daily routine, they get the update on their child's progress, (or lack thereof) really quickly. I find parents are more likely to respond using email than they are by phone, or at the very least, respond the same day.

Taking it a step further, one of the teachers on my campus has installed skype. I have skype. When I was teaching his class, and I needed to discuss with him about students that had not completed work for my class, I skyped him. Good idea too, as we have six buildings on our campus, and he and I are about as far apart as you can get and still be on campus. It takes about 3-4 minutes to walk across campus.

Not every teacher wishes to be disturbed on their prep period, but we work quite closely together, and he addressed the class over my speakers. I was able to get work turned in to me the next day, instead of spending a week chasing stragglers.

I wonder if I can get other teachers on skype? I wonder if I could set up a conference call between teachers and parents over skype and cell phones? It would save time and effort, and have a much more immediate effect on the students who are....reluctant, to get their work in on time. I will propose it to other teachers, and see what they say.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beatrice Meets Stodgy Opposition

A student in my class, let's call her Beatrice had an idea during a discussion from our activity about schools of the future. Bea's father is a college professor, and he complains that students are on facebook in his class while he is giving his lecture. I asked if Beatrice thinks we should take computers out of the class, and she said no, but she didn't know what to tell her father. I suggested maybe the way lectures happen in a classroom need to change. She thought about this.

Bea came up with an idea of changing classes around; not at her fathers school, but at ours. She thought it would be good if her Social Studies teacher did his lesson on video, and had the kids watch it the night before. Then they would do their work in class, instead of doing their written work as homework. This would make homework less tedious, and you would get better support on your written work because you were doing it in class. I thought Bea was pretty smart.

When we had face to face discussions, no one seemed to think it was a very good idea. They thought that kids would skip the video and then just go to class. Bea responded that they wouldn't be able to participate without having watched the lesson as they wouldn't know what was going on in class.

I wonder what it was about the idea they didn't like? I don't think I got a clear answer.

The Social Studies teacher thought it was just like doing prescribed readings the night before. But, when I offered to help him film and post the videos, and suggested we not begin until these report cards are over, he said that he would give it a try. I could see the wheels turning already.

I think Bea's idea is visionary. I think a video is worth a lot, and if it was a short video to act as a companion to reading, highlighting and pre-teaching important concepts and vocabulary, kids would read and watch the videos on a regular basis making homework a regular part of their day.

Maybe that's the part of Beatrice's idea they didn't like? Going home to go to class, and going to class to do homework. I still think it's brilliant.

(apologies for any mistakes. Typing late in a prone position ...zzzzzz)

Friday, February 19, 2010

What Kids Think about Sharing their Writing

This week I had my students share their writing assignments with each other over the Internet. Our purpose was to improve the quality of our writing through peer editing. I created a document library on our SharePoint website for the class, and taught the kids how to check documents in and out of the website. This is not unlike what the teachers at our school do for our report cards. Here is the result of a survey I asked the kids to take. It was an anonymous survey, and 39 of 57 students answered:

The results may be a bit hard to see, but if you enlarge the image you can read the results of the 3 questions I asked the kids.

97% of the students in my class who responded to a short survey feel that using a SharePoint document library to share their work for peer editing improved the quality of their own written work.

About half of them feel it improved the length of their written work.

97% of them feel that they had something to offer their peers in the form of editing advice that would make a measureable improvement in their work “some of the time” to “almost all of the time.”

I also felt that interest was high during the days we were editing each others' work, and that behaviour problems were virtually non-existent. I feel that the students were interested and engaged in their work.

When I showed these results to one class' homeroom teacher, she said "Ok, but now where do we get a class set of computers for my class?" While I admit we don't have the class of computers on wheels, I think we know that kids enjoy and benefit from peer editing, and that perhaps other classes will book our second computer lab 1 period a day, for a week. Perhaps a teacher will assign it as a homework project. Like that old baseball movie says "If you build it, they will come."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Paying Kids to Think Makes them Dumber!

Do you pay your kids to go to school? Of course you do! We pay our kids in grades. This I think creates a problem though. According to Dan Pink's presentation at TED on motivation, a number of universities (London School of Economics for one) a "Pay for Performance Plan" actually decreases performance on tasks that involve creative problem solving. The only time the "carrot and stick" model of motivation increases student performance is when a person is only given very simple tasks where very little creative thinking is involved. I guess in this case it is only a matter of a person deciding how much effort to put in, as effort is the only ingredient required for success.

But is effort the be all end all for improving student performance? No. Instead I think we need to focus on improving student performance with more intrinsic rewards when teaching upper level thinking.

1.) Autononmy - the feeling that "I am in charge of my learning". But, our job as teachers might then be to find a way to prove that kids need to look after their own education.

2.) Mastery - self esteem doesn't come from people patting you on the back. It comes from applying yourself to a difficult task and being successful. Mastery is a form of reward.

3.) Purpose - the ultimate job of the 21st century teacher. My latest focus - connecting what students are learning to their lives in such a way that the student uses the knowledge TODAY. And, to use this knowledge for something that serves a higher purpose than ourselves.

Keep talking about the intrinsic rewards of learning to your students. It's a tough sell at first, but its the only currency worth paying them.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Comparing Schools to Each Other

We wouldn't do it to our students, so why would New York school board officials do it to their schools. In today's New York Times , Jennifer Medina writes about how the school boards have given high grades to 97 percent of elementary schools. This has led to the school board changing the way they evaluate schools so that there will always be a certain amount of schools getting an "A" and a certain amount of schools getting an "F". We don't evaluate our students by comparing them to each other, why do this to schools?

I the article, Medina said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief accountability officer is quoted in an interview as saying “We want to be able to really show how much value a school is actually adding.” This just sounds like marketing-language. The term "value-added" reminds me of how companies include "valuable trial software" on a USB drive. Like I really want to pay for a product that has trial software I didn't ask for!

There is a real danger in running schools like a business. There is only a finite amount of money to go around, but to say you will hand out funding like bonuses get handed out at Christmas to the top sales people does not create incentives. It creates more "have" and "have-not" schools.

I don't have a solution to improving performance in schools other than keep giving teachers at the grassroots levels what they need. Also, quit trying to measure the value of an individual school by test scores. The tests change frequently. What value a school adds to a community cannot be measured in its entirety on paper. Changing the hearts and minds of children for the better cannot be measured by a single score.

The big questions we should keep asking ourselves are "Are we giving kids the tools to be successful tomorrow?" and "What are the variety of ways we can measure success in preparing our youth for the future?"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Use It Today - Electricity

My impression of how some kids view school is that they can't make use of what they are learning in school in their every day lives. They feel that it is only going to be useful in the future, and then only for some of the students, not all of them. My lesson today focussed on how you can apply knowledge you learn each day in class, but it is up to you to look for the opportunity to use it.

Here is a short clip on where I wish I had applied what I knew about electricity, which I teach in my Grade 9 Science summer school course:

Could've saved myself a few bucks! Rats.