We’re Not Even Getting Marks for This!

There was a quiet anticipation as we made our way through the old, winding corridors. I could hear the conversations as the students trailed behind me, this was a new experience for most of them, and it was clear they were in awe of their surroundings. This learning activity was set up by their Physics teacher, @ellen_verity , and the students only knew one thing, and that was that they would be completing a learning lab studying inelastic collisions. I was along as a chaperone and was just as excited. Part of the excitement was in the wonder of what we’d be learning, the other was the flood of memories as we walked by old classrooms where I had studied mathematics as a University student many years earlier.

We were met by two men, a lab instructor and a graduate student, and they took us to the science lab where we would spend the next two hours creating collisions. After an introduction and a brief discussion outlining the lab the students would be completing, the work began. The students were busy determining mass, calculating velocities, and wrestling with formulae that first-year university physics students would normally encounter. It was a treat to watch the students learning together as they completed the 90-minute lab experiment. One of the comments that stood out to me above all the others was from a grade 12 boy who had been struggling to determine the energy loss in the experiment. He had repeatedly tried and failed to calculate the correct answer, his only support was from the facilitator who encouraged him to “check his math” as his answer fell outside of the acceptable range that the instructor had told the students to keep in mind. He turned to his lab partner and said, “I can’t believe I’m still working at this, it’s not even for marks”. The boys laughed and then returned to their work. Eventually, they had found the error in their calculation, and when they had succeeded they could not hide their pride. They had persisted and were rewarded for their hard work. This ‘stick-withitness’ was demonstrated at all the stations, not a single group dropped their pencils and said, “that’s it, we’re done here”. It made me think about why, and I have a few theories.

1. Environment: the students were working in a different environment than they were used to, and it seemed to be a big change for them. In reality, there was not a lot of difference between their school lab to the one they were in on this day; the tables were similar in height, the stools looked and felt the same, the lighting and temperature were familiar, and one student even noticed the laminate on the counter tops was peeling, just like back at school! So while the different setting surely had an impact on their mindset, I do not think it was the greatest influence.

2. The lab facilitator: the students commented on how smart the lab facilitator was. One student marveled at how he would manipulate different formulas with ease, while another student found it interesting how the facilitator could predict the mistakes students would make. It was apparent to me that the students wanted to do well for this facilitator, and wanted him to know that they brought with them a solid understanding of high school math and physics. While this desire to impress was apparent, like the environment, I do not think this was the greatest influence either.

3. The challenge: this lab involved shooting a 60-gram steel ball into an apparatus that consisted of what I would describe as a cage attached to a pendulum that would swing up using the momentum of the shot. The challenge was to use simple measurements (i.e. height, distance, gravity) to determine the initial and final velocity of the ball. From there the students were challenged to use this information to calculate momentum and eventually determine if there was a conservation of energy. All of this flew straight over my head, but it was fun to watch the kids work through a lab that was not too difficult, yet not too simple. It was a task that was just right in terms of rigor. While the task, was in the Goldilocks zone, much like the environment and the facilitator, I do not think it was the greatest influence.

4. A sense of pride: above all else, I believe the students wanted to successfully complete the lab for their own sense of pride. It was wonderful to see the smiles on their faces when they had correctly calculated the velocity or the momentum. It was wonderful to watch them work together to compare their calculations and discuss what they had learned. It was wonderful to watch them traverse the highs and lows that are typically associated with deep learning. I believe it was this sense of pride that was the greatest motivator for the students, after all, like that student indicated, they were not getting any marks for this. This was truly learning for the sake of learning, and I could feel the engagement in the room.

Given that we are currently immersed in looking at and talking about our assessment practices, I could not help but think about how closely engagement is tied to our assessment work. In her book, @KatieWhite426  writes,

engagment is strongly connected to assessment. Not getting the best effort from our students and feeling like we are working harder than our learners are symptoms of a system not grounded in authentic learning” (p. 153).

Reading this took me back to many times in my classes when the kids were not as “in to” the learning as I had thought they would be. I felt like I had created a highly engaging lessons only to see slumped shoulders and partial efforts. I would have chalked this up to “kids being kids”, however there also numerous lessons when the exact same students were highly engaged and motivated. I had to come to terms with the fact that it was me, not them. I also had to be gentle on myself and forgive myself when a lesson fell flat. I had to have the belief that I could learn from it and improve on it.

This also makes me think of our mindset, as Katie’s quote invites us to view engagement as something that is within our control versus looking at it as something the students consciously choose (either they want to be engaged or they don’t). Of course, going one step further, this also takes me back to our school goal, every adult at #WaldheimSchool will develop a deep and thorough understanding of every student they work with as learners. If we really know our learners we can then begin to craft engaging learning opportunities which in turn will lead to authentic assessments. I’d invite you to think about this the next time it feels like you are working harder than the students are.

Here’s what is on the horizon for our final week before the Christmas break:

Monday:

  • 9 – 12 staff meeting (any 5 – 8 staff are welcome to join us as our meeting last week was cancelled)

Tuesday:

  • Final preparations for Christmas concert

Wednesday:

  • K – 4 Christmas concert matinee performance

Thursday:

  • K – 4 Christmas concert evening performance

Friday:

  • 7 – 12 locker clean up (schedule to be posted Tuesday to assist with your planning)
  • K – 6 Christmas classroom activities
  • 7 – 12 Christmas activities (pm) lead by the SRC

As always, create a great week!

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The Power of an Audience

Sometimes, when I least expect it, I catch myself thinking about learning and this happened today while I was preparing supper. As I was tending to the pots on the stove, my oldest son was practicing the piano. The song he was practicing at first sounded vaguely familiar, however once he started playing it with a little more confidence it occurred to me he was playing my wife’s favorite Christmas carol, Little Drummer Boy. Stopping and starting, he really struggled with the song. He knew how it should sound, for he had heard it numerous times in the past, and he also knew what he was playing was just not quite right. The notes were off. He would mess up the timing. He would lose his place. And he would growl with frustration. One thing that is important to understand is that my son has inherited his father’s short fuse. When I get frustrated or angry it’s not a pretty sight, and if I’m trying to complete a task and I end up in this zone, the only thing I can do is walk away and try to reset. I could sense Bobby was heading this direction, so I asked why he was practicing this song with such intensity.

His answer reminded me of a powerful tool we have as educators, audience.

Bobby told me his motivation for practicing was that he wanted to perform this song at his auntie Susan’s house this Christmas season. One of our family’s Christmas traditions has been to gather around the piano and sing carols. I recall Christmas sing-a-longs many years ago at my grandparent’s home in Carrot River, and as young child I loved to hear my aunts, uncles, and grandparents sing together. I’m so happy that my children have had the opportunity to be part of this experience, even if their dad does not sing along (I’ve come to accept that my musical talents are pretty much restricted to playing the radio). I’m even more excited that Bobby now wants to have more prominent role in this and actually play the piano to lead one of the carols.

This is why he is practicing over, and over, and over. This is why he is getting better and better. He is learning.

He is learning so he can perform for an audience. This makes me think of how often our students are asked to ‘perform’ for an audience. I recall asking students to complete learning tasks as a classroom teacher, and at times their hearts were just not in it, however, if I asked them to create something for a learning fair that involved other classes or parents, they would always be a little more diligent. This also makes me think of ‘performances’ I’ve seen in our school in the past, such as:

  • the grade 1 class singing at the Remembrance Day ceremony
  • the grade 7 science fair
  • the genius hour presentations at parent/teacher conferences
  • Life Transitions learning fairs
  • math cafe
  • readers cafe
  • writers cafe
  • assemblies
  • plays

These are many things that you may have also seen in your school in the past. There are also some other very cool ‘performances’ I’ve seen that create an opportunity for students to present to an audience.

  • the IA teacher lets his students know their projects will be shared online via Instagram (check it out here)
  • a geography teacher inviting his students to present their tourism ideas to two other adults instead of just presenting their ideas to the class or the teacher
  • the journalism teacher asking her students to seek real sponsorship from businesses in town to support the school yearbook
  • the Psychology teacher challenging her students to create real learning activities that will be taught to the Kindergarten class
  • the senior ELA teacher inviting the kindergarten class to hear his students’ If you give a                             stories (for example, If you give a panda a crayon)

In all of these cases (and there are more) the students know that the audience will not just be the teacher or their classmates. They know it will be a more diverse set of eyes and ears, and because of that their pride kicks in, and they usually put in a greater effort.

Obviously not every learning activity can be set up for an audience, but, are there ways to invite students to share their learning with more people than just their peers or the teacher? I’ve seen an increase in the use of online sharing tools, like See-Saw, Class Dojo, and FreshGrade. What else can you do? There is Facebook Live, Twitter, and YouTube. Of course with online sharing comes other factors teachers must consider. Some families do not want their children sharing online, but are there ways to share processes and products without sharing faces and names? If we want our students to work towards mastery and deep learning, how can we occasionally use the power of an audience to accomplish this? I’ve seen it in our school, I’d love to hear other ideas, so please comment below.

And as far as The Little Drummer Boy, I’m expecting to hear an awful lot of it over the next few weeks!

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November 27th – December 1st

As another wonderful weekend draws to a close, I’m reflecting on how lucky I am to be able to be a kid with my kids. Today we spent time at the Shaw Centre water sliding, sitting in the hot tub, and doing cannon-balls, and I get to take part because of my kids. It’s similar to the fun I get to have with them sledding on the hill by our house, or building snow men, or playing Lego. Part of the reason I play with them is because my 4 year old twins still need a lot of supervision, but the other part is that it is just plain fun! All of this playing with my kids reminds me of the fun we get to have at school on a regular basis. I’ve seen teachers and students laughing and learning side-by-side; from Kindergarten role playing to senior science phalanges creations, there are many wonderful things happening all the time from room to room. I’d like to throw an invitation out to anyone willing: during your prep, or perhaps if you are an elementary teacher, during recess, pop into someone else’s classroom to see what they are up to. Just know that you are, in no way, expected to do this, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the exciting stuff going on at Waldheim School. Jesse and I get to do this on a daily basis, and it is such an energizing activity.

Now that’s “hands on” learning if I’ve ever seen it.

Last week I stumbled across a headline on Twitter for the attached article. The headline read: Is This the Most Important Thing a Teacher Should Know? Eye catching, isn’t it. The author, Terry Heick (@terryheick), claims, “while relationships building and classroom management and organization and lesson planning and assessment design and dozens of other competencies are crucial to teaching, the ability to parse content into usable blocks that can be built (alongside students) into a compelling ‘wholes’ might be the most important thing a teacher can know how to do.” Interesting. Heick maintains that to complete a complex task there are multiple, simpler skills that need to be mastered to be successful. This caused me to reflect on a conversation I had with Brenda on Friday about our students’ ability to type. Recently, we have moved away from teaching keyboarding skills, hoping that it will be learned through authentic writing tasks, and this seems to make sense. I believe Heick would claim the danger in this would be asking students who can’t type to complete two complex tasks at once: 1. learn how to use a keyboard that at first glance makes no sense in it’s set up, and 2. craft a written document, such as a story or a research project. When you think about your students, are there times you ask them to complete complex tasks without knowing, for sure, if they have the necessary, basic skills to complete said tasks? If you are unsure if they are ready to complete the complex task, how could you find out and then support them if they are not?

Here’s what lies ahead as we wrap up November:

Monday:

  • classroom visits: what I’ll ask the kids is, “what skills or abilities have you learned that make your current task achievable?”

Tuesday:

  • Grade 2 assembly
  • classroom visits

Wednesday:

  • classroom visits

Thursday:

  • classroom visits

Friday:

  • Grade 1 – 6 progress reports will be sent home today, thanks for your hard work on these!
  • Jon Yellowlees visit ~ professional goals conversations with Jesse & Bruce
  • Hot dog sale

As always, create a great week!

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November 20th – 24th

A relatively quiet weekend around our house, as November colds have caught up to a few of us, but that does give one a good excuse to watch football, even if it was a heart breaker. Like the Riders, our volleyball teams have wrapped up their seasons as the senior boys finished their year in Langham on Saturday. It was nice to see such involvement from so many kids at the junior and senior level, and it looks like it will be a similar story with the basketball teams who get rolling this week.

I’m very excited about our staff meeting (gotta think of a better name for these…suggestions?) and the sharing that will be taking place tomorrow. Joanne, Cara, Shantel, and Amy all have amazing things for us to learn about, and I’m so thankful that they have agreed to share what they have been learning about recently. I saw a post today on Twitter that caught my eye, and it was a link to an  interesting website (found here) that views Bloom’s Taxonomy through the lens of digital learning. What I noticed in the planning verbs is that they are not only at home in our classrooms, but in our staff meetings (any thoughts on a new name yet?) as well. I’m wondering what planning verbs from the list will be used at tomorrow’s meeting.

Here’s what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

  • Staff meeting 3:15 (Mr. Derksen’s room)
  • NOTE: the team meeting previously scheduled for 9:00 – 10:30 in the library has been postponed, the library will be open all day

Tuesday:

  • Steve & Brenda at LF meeting

Wednesday:

  • Team meeting 9:00 (Brenda’s room)

Thursday:

  • Business as usual

Friday:

  • Jon Yellowlees school visit

As always, create a great week!

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June 12 – 16

What a great weekend, the weather wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot of opportunities  to get out and about and enjoy a June weekend. We had an action packed weekend, as Krista, who is a Guides Leader, took Eva to Redberry for an overnight camping trip with the rest of Eva’s troop. Judging from an exhausted six year old’s report, it sounds like it was the, “best time ever!” She talked about the fun activities they took part in, and even went so far as to celebrate the fact that she was allowed to wash and dry her own dishes, I wonder how long that will last. This meant that Bobby, Charlie, Maggie, and I were fending for ourselves, and we had a blast at my niece and nephew’s family and friend grad celebration. I found it so interesting that we were celebrating 12 years of education for my sister’s twin children just as my twins are getting ready to begin their journey. All in all, it was a wonderful, but very tiring weekend.

We are certainly in the home stretch now as the 10 – 12’s have 9 days of classes left, while the other students have 13 days, and we all know the days will fly by. We also know that this time of year can be very trying for all of the learners in the building, and at times it can feel like we are just holding on by the thinnest of threads. Larry Ferlazo talks about this in his article, Finishing the School Year Strongwhich is an interesting read with some great ideas. He discusses the idea of finishing strong, offering these two suggestions;

Students can reflect on these two questions, turning their answers into posters that can be hung around the classroom as reminders and shared with each other:

  • What are three things you can do to help finish the school year strong academically?
  • What is one thing you can do to help your classmates finish the year strong academically?

As you think about where you are with your course loads, what needs to be done to finish strong, while maintaining that critical relationship with the students? We know it’s not easy, but how can you make everyday count from here on in? While you do this, I sincerely hope you find joy and happiness in every moment with your students.

Here’s what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

Grade 5/6 off to Camp Kadesh

Tuesday:

Grade 5/6 return from camping trip

Wednesday:

High school ball tournament

Thursday:

Bruce away all day at daughter’s field trip to Pike Lake

Friday:

K1, 2/3, and 5/6 swimming in Rosthern

 

As always, create a great week!

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May 29 – June 2

What an incredible week of learning! Last week I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn in so many exciting and unique ways, starting last Tuesday at our school track and field meet. A person’s first year at a school is always full of new events and traditions, and I was excited to see how our elementary track and field day worked. I was so impressed with the incredible leadership shown by the teachers, students, and parent volunteers. There were so many smiling faces on a day that can be fraught with tears if it is not set up properly, and sometimes even the students cry! Wednesday and Thursday were a great opportunity for David and I to get some dedicated learning time together at the CAP2017 conference.  The opening speaker, Anthony Muhammad, spoke passionately about the importance of school culture and the impact the teachers have on student learning. He spoke at length about John Hattie’s Visible Learning study, and shared some of the key things we can do to help our students grow. Some things that really stood out from this information was the impact that collective teacher efficacy has on student learning, along with how a teacher predicts a student will do prior to entering the course. I’d invite you to consider the following two questions:

  1. how important do you feel you are in the lives of your students (do you believe you are an agent for change)?
  2. do you have predetermined beliefs about how well your students will do before your course even begins or is in it’s beginning stages?

As a staff, I’d like to explore Hattie’s work together on a deeper level. There was a lot more great learning that occurred over the two days that I’d love to share with you over the next few weeks, so keep looking for that in upcoming On the Horizons.

On Saturday Bobby (10) and Eva (6) performed in their annual piano recital in Saskatoon. There were over 25 students playing a variety of pieces, from the very basic, to the very complex. What stood out to me the most was the feeling of pride each and every pupil displayed as they played for us. There was no comparing student A to student B, it was simply a showcase to celebrate their hard work and (sometimes) daily practice. Two highlights for me, besides the obvious pride I felt when my kids played, were the performances by the teachers and the quote on the program. First, the teachers. All three of them played for us, and all three of them played pieces that were just a touch beyond their current skill level, which was evident as all three of them had one or two tiny miscues. To me this showed a belief that there is always room for growth and that the teacher is and should be just a passionate about their chosen pursuit as their pupils are. Second, the quote.

This quote sums up what it is we should all be striving for everyday.  School should not be about perfection, but rather the passion that should live in the learning journey. Ask yourself this, are you more concerned with the journey or the destination?

Here is what lies ahead this week:

Monday:

  • Bruce, David, Trace, June, and Brenda presenting our Learning for Life story at division office (9:00 – 2:00)
  • Book fair set up (any help after school would be greatly appreciated)

Tuesday:

  • Day one of the book fair

Wednesday:

  • Literacy day, hot dog lunch!

Thursday:

  • Staff meeting (am) ~ focus: student awards, ROA’s, forward planning (elem)
  • Final day of the book fair

Friday:

  • Jon Yellowlees visit (9:00 – 10:30)

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