Monthly Archives: October 2016

Class Notes and Workflow (On The Other Side of the Wall)

I've struggled in the past with the role of class notes. I wrote more than a year ago about my solution using Microsoft OneNote. Since moving out of China, I've realized just how far behind I am in just awareness of what Google Docs are capable of doing. My new school uses them extensively for all sorts of organizational and administrative purposes, not to mention applications in the classroom. I decided to upgrade my class notebook system this year to make better use of these tools. Now that we're approaching three months in, I'm feeling pretty happy about my system thus far.

I now make all my handouts on Google Docs. The bandwidth and lack of a Great Firewall make it a reliable way to have access to files both at school and at home, which means that I'm not dragging my computer back and forth anymore. There's something to be said for carrying a minimalist backpack, especially given the temperatures here. I relied on iCloud Drive last year which worked well enough, but the fact that I'm not worrying about files syncing between home and school is a clear change for the better. These files are titled U3D02 - CW - Title of Day's Lesson to signify 'Unit 3, Day 2' for ease of identifying files and their order. These are starting points for class activities, resources to use during class such as Desmos activities, videos, or other parts of what might be useful to students learning a given topic.

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Each handout is shared with the class through Hapara teacher dashboard and Google Drive, and I give students read access on each file. Two students are randomly picked to be responsible for class notes. These two students make a copy of this handout during class, name it with the same title and unit/day designation, and then change CW (class work) to NB (notebook) file to indicate the purpose of this file.

I take notes during class using Notability and my Wacom tablet. It's easy to copy and paste images from the digital handout into the notes, and then annotate them as needed. I take photos of student work with my phone and use Airdrop to get them to my classroom laptop. At the end of the class, I paste images of the notes I take during class into the relevant part of the notes. The two students are responsible for solving problems from the class handout and from homework, taking pictures, and putting them into the notes file on Google Docs. Links to these files are then shared on the course website with the rest of the class.

My class handouts are still printed on A5 paper as an analog backup, and quizzes are usually still on paper as well. I still insist on students doing problems by hand since that's ultimately how they will be assessed. The computer is there for access to Desmos, Geogebra, and the digital handout.

The most satisfying part of all of this is that students are being remarkably proactive about asking for materials to be shared, letting me know when they think something should be added to a handout, or adding it themselves when they have editing access to the file. There is also a flow of suggestions and comments to the students that are responsible for each day's lesson.

It's pretty amazing what is possible when a major world power isn't disrupting the technology you want to use in the classroom (or for whatever) on a regular basis.

The How and Why of Standards Based Grading @ Learning2.0

For those of you that are readers of my blog, you already know that I've become a believer in the power of standards based grading, or SBG. It's amazing looking back at my first post on my decision to commit to it four years ago. Seeing how this system has changed the way I plan my lessons, think about class activities, and interact with students about learning makes me wonder where I would be at this point without it.

I'm now trying to help others see how they might make standards based grading have a similar change to their classrooms. I'm running a one hour workshop this Friday at 1:30 in room C315 to introduce Learning2 attendees to how a teacher might go about this. More important for those considering a change to such a system is the fact that I run my system in a non-standards based PowerSchool environment. Here's the workshop description:

Suppose a student has earned a 75 in your class. How do you describe that student's progress? What has that student learned in your class? Obviously a student with an 85 has done better than the student with a 75, but what exactly has the 85 student achieved that the other student has not? Is it ten percent more understanding? Two more homework assignments during the quarter? Perhaps most importantly, what can the 75 student do to become an 85 student?

Grades are part of our school culture and likely aren't going anywhere soon. We can work to tweak how we generate and communicate the meaning of those grades in a way that better represents what students have actually learned. One approach for doing this is called Standards Based Grading, or SBG.

In this one hour workshop, you will learn about SBG and how it can clarify the meaning of grades, as well as how it can be implemented effectively within a traditional reporting system. You will also learn how a SBG mindset encourages productive changes to the process of planning units, activities, and assessments. We will also discuss the ways such a system can be run in the context of various subject areas.

It's a lot to cover in an hour, but I'm hoping I can nudge a few folks to try this out moving forward.

The link to my workshop is here.

I'm really excited about the Learning 2.0 conference this year. I first attended back in 2011 in Shanghai and the experience was what prompted me to become active on Twitter and begin blogging back then. I know the next few days will be filled with inspiring conversations and ideas that challenge my thinking and push me to grow as a teacher.

Stay tuned to the blog and to Twitter to see what I'm up to over the weekend.

Scaling Reassessments, Part 2

A quick comment before hitting the hay after another busy day: the reassessment system has hit it big in my new school.

Some facts to share:

  • In the month since my reassessment sign-up system went up, 87% of my students have done at least one self-initiated reassessment, 69% doing more than one. This is much more usage than my system has had, well, ever.
  • Last Friday was an all time high number of 53 reassessments over the course of a day. I will not be doing that again, ever.
  • Students are not hoarding their credits, they are actually using them. I've committed to expiring them if they go unused, and they will all be expired by the end of the quarter, which is essentially tomorrow.

I need to come up with some new systems to manage the volume. I'll likely limit the number of slots available in the morning, at lunch, and after school to encourage them to spread these out throughout the upcoming units instead of waiting, but more needs to be done. This is what I've been hoping for, and I need to capitalize on the enthusiasm students are showing for the system. Now I need to make it so I don't pull all my hair out in the process.