Great Canadian Mail Race – “Dear any grade 9 student …”

This spring I got an envelope in my mailbox in the main office addressed to “any grade 9 student”. At first I was unsure as to why the office staff chose to direct it my way; likely because I work with the Link Crew students who, in turn, work with our grade 9 students to help them transition to high school. I opened the envelope to find a handwritten letter from a grade 9 student named Jeremy in Langley, BC. The enclosed typed letter from Jeremy’s teacher explained that this was part of an activity she called The Great Canadian Mail Race. She explained how it works in her letter & I did a quick Google search to discover that it’s been around since at least 2013. Very cool – how had I not heard of this before?

20180425_111725-01.jpeg

I decided this would make a great assignment for my grade 9 BTT1O/S class; Information and Communication Technology in Business. They could type up letters to send around the country using Google Docs. So I read Jeremy’s letter out loud to the class. I then gave each of my students a quarter sheet of paper to write a short response to him. We put all of our responses together in an envelope & mailed that off to Jeremy:
20180426_104338-01.jpeg

Next up, I had my students – in pairs – choose a different province & territory. Within each pair, one student picked a big city and one student picked a small town in their chosen province/territory. I told them they couldn’t pick Ottawa (our town) but next time I would say no Ontario at all – because it meant that with the number of students I had. we left out Newfoundland & Labrador. Each student picked a high school in their chosen city/town.

I made this map of the locations we picked for the purposes of this blog post. Next time I’ll have the class collaboratively build this map in Google My Maps:Capture.PNG

I gave students a day to read up about their chosen city/town and the school they had selected. Then my students began composing their letters in Google Docs. The previous week we had learned about composing a proper email message and each wrote a proper email to somebody. We started these letters by discussing as a group what the format of a typed letter should be. We made a sort of template to follow on the whiteboard & students began writing their letters. For many of my students this was their first experience with writing a letter (as it had been composing an email longer than a sentence or two also).

Once they had a rough draft, I had them draw a random name of a classmate and share their doc with that person to be peer-edited/reviewed. We do this by sharing our docs in “comment only” mode. They leave a positive comment as well as something for the person to improve. Then each student returns to their own doc for a final edit.

Once all of our letters were ready to go, we printed each one and wrote something by hand or drew on our letter to make it a little more personal. Each student addressed the envelope for their letter. This was a learning experience in and of itself. Many students were unsure what to write where, how or where to find the proper mailing address for the school online, etc. Lots of learning happened here.

20180515_093037-01.jpeg

I also typed up a letter that I photocopied & had students include with theirs in their envelope. It read:

Dear Teacher,
My students are writing to you today as part of the Great Canadian Mail Race. A few weeks ago we received a letter from a grade 9 student in BC. We read that letter and each student responded with a short hand-written note that we then mailed back all together.
Today we are sending out new typed letters as part of our BTT1O/S course; Information and Communication Technology in Business. I am evaluating their ability to work in Google Docs as they write their letter. We have arranged it so that we are sending one letter to a small town and one letter to a big city in each of the provinces & territories in Canada. The first person to receive a letter back in the mail will win the race!
We are a very diverse school in Ottawa, Ontario. Some of the students in my class are ESL or even ELD students. ESL students are learning English as a second language. Our ELD students have had significant schooling gaps in their life, and are not yet literate in their native language, let alone in English. They have done their best to write their letters as clearly as possible.
I hope you’ll consider continuing the Great Canadian Mail Race with your class; it’s been a fun experience for us. For some of my students this was the first time they have ever written a letter to someone. Perhaps it will be a first opportunity for some of your students as well. We hope you’ll read this letter with your students and encourage them to respond in kind.
Sincerely,

Here are our stuffed envelopes ready to get stamped in the main office & be sent out in tomorrow’s mail!

20180515_154758-01.jpeg

I can’t wait for letters to start coming back to my students. I know that when they wrote their emails the other week to past teachers, family members, and city councilors they thought it was pretty neat to get back & read the emails they received in return.

This has been a great activity so far. A genuine way to have students create something in Google Docs that we can send out into the real world (a tech skill I have to evaluate for this course anyway). Don’t wait to receive a letter, start the mail chain yourself by having your students write a letter to any grade ___ student elsewhere in our beautiful country. Teaching a course on global studies? Have students pick various countries outside Canada instead.

If you try this activity or have done it in the past please leave a comment below about what you did differently, things that went well, and what you’d change next time so that we can all learn from each other!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Advertisements

#LearningInTheLoo: Station Rotation Model

While I haven’t had a chance to read the entire book yet, I’ve been working my way through the Blended Learning in Action book this year:
51HgEA6t6aL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_

I turned their chapter on the station rotation model into a “learning in the loo” poster for this week. I made good use of this model with my ELD (English Literacy Development) Math class last year which required differentiation for a variety of mathematical levels amongst my ELL students. It was so helpful because it allowed me to do small group instruction by ability level.

With chromebooks becoming ever more present in our schools and our school board looking to move away from the rolling class set of chromebook model and towards the embedded tech tub of 5 or 6 devices in every room, many teachers are wondering how they can make use of only 6 chromebooks daily rather than booking a class set every so often. One solution, can be the station rotation model:

Learning in the Loo (3).png

Want to post some Learning In The Loo posters around your school? The whole archive is here.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

#LearningInTheLoo: Making phone calls w/ Google Hangouts

All of the teachers at my school just got new chromebooks for their use, to replace our aging desktop computers as they are dying off. Now is the perfect time to let them know that Google Hangouts are a great way to make free phone calls to anywhere in Canada & the US, making it easier than ever to contact student’s parents or guardians.

Learning in the Loo (2).png

Want to post some Learning In The Loo posters around your school? The whole archive is here.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

What do your students think is the purpose of school? #BFC530 #edchat

Yesterday’s #BFC530 chat was “If you polled your students about the purpose of school, what would they say?” from Ben Owens.

We all had some ideas but also admitted that we should probably actually ask our students! I told them to give me their honest answer as to why they think kids are supposed to go to school … not what they thought I’d want to hear.

The short version of their answers is this:

But if you’re interested in reading them all, here is all of the responses from my gr. 9 computers class, my grade 9 (academic & applied mixed) Math class, and my grade 10 applied (aka remedial) Math class:

purpose1purpose6purpose5purpose4purpose3purpose2

Amber Grohs also asked her kindergarten students & tweeted their responses:

And Kathy Iwanicki polled her 8 year old students and wrote this post about their responses.

What do you think your students would say? Better yet – ask them & tell us what they think in the comments below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

My Khan Academy Pedagogy

I first wrote about how I was using Khan Academy with my students in late 2014 here. Then earlier this school year I wrote a response to another blogger’s post about why online Math practice tools aren’t good, here. Since that first 2014 post, Khan Academy has changed & improved quite a bit and so has how I use it with my students. So let me share a little of my Khan Academy pedagogy.

From here on out, KA = Khan Academy

Students and teachers can use KA anytime they like without having an account or without joining a teacher’s KA class. However, by making an account, the student’s progress gets tracked & saved in KA, allowing the site to better offer next steps of Math for them to work on. And by joining the teacher’s class, the teacher has the ability to assign practice problems & check student progress. I highly recommend using it as a class like this.
Screenshot 2018-01-30 at 11.32.58 AM

Step 1: Create a class

If you haven’t yet, make a KA account yourself. I often log in from my chromebook & so I love the simplicity of the red Google button that automatically logs me in using my school board Google account.
Then head to your “dashboard” https://www.khanacademy.org/coach/dashboard & click on “add new class” (on the right side). Enter information for your class – I like to name it by period & course code – or choose the “import from Google Classroom” option if you already have all your students connected to Google Classroom.

Screenshot 2018-01-30 at 10.46.07 AM

You will be prompted to tell KA what Math subjects your students are learning. I choose “World of Math”.

Step 2: Get students in your KA class

Two ways to do this:

  1. Invite students by email address (or by email but via Google Classroom). The advantage here is that you will see a list of invited students on your dashboard & KA tells you which students have not yet accepted the invitation; makes tracking the sign up process simple.
  2. Give students the Class Code. This can be found by starting from your dashboard choosing the class & then clicking on Roster. Top right you will see the Class Code. I used to write the code on the board in my classroom & students go to khanacademy.org/coaches to enter it & join the class.

Screenshot 2018-01-30 at 11.02.46 AMScreenshot 2018-01-30 at 11.16.44 AM

If at any time you’d like to change the name of your class or change which subjects you attributed to the class at the beginning, you can click on the class name in your dashboard & then choose Settings:Capture

Step 3: Find content & Assign it

So let’s say that today we did a 3 act math task or problem-based learning activity involving surface area & tomorrow I want my students to do some individual practice on surface area. I use the search bar at the top of KA to search for that topic. I click on “Exercises” to filter it so that I only see the practice sets:Screenshot 2018-01-30 at 11.27.59 AM.png

Once you click through to the exercise set, along the top you have the “assign” options. You can choose to assign the set to one or more of your classes. By default “All students” is chosen but you can click the drop down in order to assign to only some of your students if you like (useful for differentiation). Choose the due date & time (students can complete it after the due date still but it will notify them that it’s overdue. When ready, click Assign.Screenshot 2018-01-30 at 11.32.58 AM

Step 4: Students do the practice set

I provide class time to practice independently on KA after each activity we do in groups. What they can’t get finished in the provided class time becomes homework to complete at home.

Students log in to the website (khanacademy.org/login) or download the app & sign in there. The assigned work will be on their dashboard in a list of assignments to do. They click “Start” next to the assignment title. I have my students work on paper so that if they get stuck they have a trace of their thinking so far for me to help them find their error or sticking point. Once they have an answer, they choose the answer (if it’s multiple choice) or type it in (paying attention to how KA wants it submitted; rounded to the hundredth or as a precise fraction instead of a rounded answer). They click “Check” and KA either tells them they are correct, or incorrect & try again.

Screenshot 2018-01-30 at 11.43.55 AM.png

If students are stuck they have the option near the bottom of the screen to watch a video or use a hint. The KA videos are pretty traditional teaching and often involve tricks like FOIL. But they are better than no help at all when a kid is at home & stuck on a problem. Hints are literally the next step in the problem given to them. They can keep pressing hint until the whole solution is shown & explained. But using any hint results in the student being allowed to finish the question, but not have it count as successful. I believe KA’s recent changes mean students need to get 70% of the problem set correct to be considered “practiced” on that skill.

Step 4: Checking their work

KA tells students immediately if they get a question right or wrong. Students cannot move to the next problem until they’ve entered the correct answer for the current one. So students get immediate basic feedback about right or wrong.

From the dashboard for a given class you can see the current assignments as well as past ones (whose due date is past). If you click on the number of students that have completed an exercise next to its title (ex. 3/15), you can see a list of students and their scores. You can sort by date, number of attempts, score, etc. This can also be downloaded as a CSV file (which opens as a spreadsheet in Google Sheets or Excel or similar programs).Screenshot 2018-01-30 at 11.56.55 AM

If you click on View Report next to the assignment title (not the one next to each student in the above image), you can see which questions the students had the most trouble with:Screenshot 2018-01-30 at 11.55.27 AM.png

Step 5: Assigning further homework & Differentiating

I have created a list of all the KA exercises that meet the curriculum needs for each course I teach, divided by overall expectation. You can see an example here:Capture

I list the practice from easiest to hardest (or in the order in which we will study it). When I am assigning the 2nd or 3rd practice set from that list to my students, I will use the “Progress” tab for each class & I will click on “Within mission” in the top gray bar & search for the list of practice sets for that expectation (you can see this screen below). Any student that is still in the “needs practice” or “struggling” column will be reassigned the first homework. Any student that is “practiced” or above on the first homework gets assigned the 2nd homework, and so on until each student has been assigned the next practice set for them to work on according to their completed work to that point. I find this helpful to not overwhelm students with a practice set they are not yet ready to tackle individually.

Capture.PNG

Step 6: Mastery

When students are done all of their assigned practice early, they have three options:

  1. They can redo old practice sets to increase their score on them if they weren’t happy with how they did. They can find these under their “completed assignments” list in their account or by searching the title of that practice set.
  2. They can do KA’s “mastery” quiz which gives them a mix of 5 or 6 problems from topics they’ve been practicing. The mastery serves to check if students retain their abilities over time; can they still find surface area 2 weeks later?Capture.PNG
  3. They can work ahead on practice sets that we have not yet assigned by choosing from the list on our Google site.

Step 7: Using the spreadsheet of data

There are two main things I do with the data that KA provides for me; communicate with parents & guardians as to their child’s progress on KA skills and use it as backup evidence at the end of a semester when I am determining whether or not a student has shown sufficient achievement of an overall expectation for the course.

On the “settings” tab of each class, you can download the student data as a CSV file:Capture.PNG

I save that CSV file to my Google Drive & open it in Google Sheets. I move & hide columns to meet my needs. I use the IFERROR formula to compute their best score yet (not the score at the due date) for each practice set & display “incomplete” if there’s no score. I sort by student and copy & paste their table of data into an email to them & their parents.
Capture

I try to do this every few weeks. I download a new .CSV file each time so I have their up to date best score to honour when they go back & try again or do mastery to level up. This is purely for feedback to them & their parents at this point.

At the end of the semester I do a final spreadsheet where I do one extra step: I sort the exercises by curricular expectation, for each student. When determining a final grade or whether or not to grant the credit, this can serve as backup evidence of their skills in the case where they have difficulty with the more complicated problem solving on our formal evaluations.

PHEW! I think that’s about it.

Have you used Khan Academy? How do you use it with your classes? Let us know in the comments below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

 

#LearningInTheLoo: actionable feedback strategies

Inspired by this tweet …

I asked my PLN to share their strategies for getting students to take action on the feedback we leave them on their work:

Their responses are compiled in my latests edition of Learning in the Loo:

Learning in the Loo

The archive of my past editions can be found here in case you want to put some up in the bathrooms of your school too!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

3 Act Math #Sketchnote

I was looking back at a blog post from last year showing a short video I made explaining what 3 Act Math tasks are & how they work. This lesson structure is the brain child of Dan Meyer. I decided to put together a sketchnote on the topic:

3 act math dan meyer (1).png

Here’s video of Dan Meyer himself facilitating a high school level 3 act math task: http://blog.mrmeyer.com/2013/teaching-with-three-act-tasks-act-one/

Here’s a video of an elementary level 3 act math task: https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2016/05/13/modeling-with-math-nsf/

Want some 3 act math tasks to try? Have a look through:

Finally, are you interested in trying your hand at sketchnoting yourself? Or just want to learn more about it? Read my recent post on the topic here.

What is your favourite 3 act math task of all time? Leave a comment in the section below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

90 Days of Getting to Know you Questions for Visibly Random Groups 🤔#ThinkingClassroom

In my classes, I use a strategy called “Visibly Random Groups” based on the research of Peter Liljedahl. In short, every single period students are greeted at the classroom door with a random playing card from a set I’ve made for each class. The number on the card tells them which group they will sit at for the day (groups of 4 desks are clustered under hanging group numbers from 1-8). Students may not trade cards and I may not choose which card they get. Students sit with different classmates daily.

20180111_123653-01

Discussing the question of the day “Where is your favourite place to go for a walk?”

To help break the ice, we begin each day with a “getting to know you” question with our new group mates. Most importantly is that I stress they must start with “My name is . . . ” before answering the question of the day. I insist on this even if they think their partner knows their name. Too often I will notice half way through our group work that someone in the group of 3 does not know their partner’s names which can make group work awkward and/or difficult.

So I thought I would share my most recent list of getting to know you questions in case you might find it useful for your class also. There are 90 questions because we have 90 classes per semester here in Ontario. It starts with 26 of the “36 questions to fall in love” list. Then it’s a mix of questions by myself, my students, colleagues, or that I’ve seen online somewhere:

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Who’s the last person you made an actual phone call to? What about?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  7. How do you think you will die?
  8. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  9. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  10. Take 1 minute and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  11. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  12. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  13. What is something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  14. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  15. What do you value most in a friendship?
  16. What is your most treasured memory?
  17. What is your most terrible memory?
  18. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  19. What roles do love and affection play in your life? who are you affectionate with? who is affectionate with you?
  20. Tell your partner about your relationship with your mother
  21. Tell your partner about your relationship with your father
  22. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  23. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  24. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  25. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  26. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  27. Do you pour your cereal first then milk or milk then cereal?
  28. Do you prefer rainy or snowy weather? Why?
  29. Apple or Android? Why?
  30. Tell your partner about something you learned how to do from YouTube or the Internet
  31. Tell your partner about a time you felt included here at this school (like you belong).
  32. What is the last movie you watched?
  33. What is your favourite TV show?
  34. What is your favourite book?
  35. What website/app do you spend the most time on?
  36. What is the last book you read that wasn’t for school?
  37. What do you consider one of the best inventions in the world? Why?
  38. Tell what you did this weekend in 30 seconds.
  39. What’s the last song you listened to?
  40. What is your favourite season (spring/summer/fall/winter) & why?
  41. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
  42. If you invited a friend over for dinner this weekend, what would you cook for them?
  43. If you could be an animal, which one and why?
  44. Complete this sentence: “math makes me feel _____” & explain why
  45. What are the qualities that you look for in a teacher?
  46. What are your strengths?
  47. What Canadian city would you like to visit? Why?
  48. What is your favourite sport to play?
  49. What are you passionate about?
  50. Name one of your hobbies & say why you enjoy it
  51. Who is your favourite actor/actress?
  52. What pets do you have at home? If you don’t have any, what pet would you get if you could?
  53. What is your favourite meal to eat at home?
  54. What is your favourite activity to do with friends?
  55. What is your favourite thing to read?
  56. Would you prefer to play hide & seek or tag? Why?
  57. What has been your most rewarding experience getting your 40 volunteer hours so far?
  58. Would you rather: live inside your house or outdoors forever?
  59. Where are you from?
  60. What do you want to become in the future?
  61. What is the first thing you do when you get home after school?
  62. What is the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?
  63. What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
  64. Tell about a goal you made & achieved
  65. Chocolate or candy? Why?
  66. Sweet or salty?
  67. What is the scariest thing that you’ve experienced?
  68. What is your favourite fruit to eat?
  69. Favourite grade/year of school to date?
  70. What is something you’ve done that you regret? Why?
  71. When is your birthday & how do you celebrate?
  72. Do you walk/bike/drive/bus to school? Why?
  73. Teach your favourite stretch to your partners
  74. If you were making a playlist to make you happy, name 3 songs you’d include
  75. Where is your favourite place to go for a walk? (or what’s the best spot you’ve ever walked/hiked?)
  76. How do you help encourage your friends when they are stressed or nervous about something?
  77. How would not having your cell phone with you for 24 hours change your day?
  78. Describe the last time you had a real conversation with someone you didn’t know very well.
  79. Describe the last time you played in the snow.
  80. What space (locker, room …) is your most messy? Name 3 things you should probably clean up or throw out there.
  81. If you were to send an encouraging text to someone right now, who would it be & what would it say?
  82. Describe the last funny video you saw
  83. If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
  84. How many hours of sleep do you get a night? What time do you go to bed? … Wake up?
  85. What’s your favourite piece of clothing you own/owned?
  86. What hobby would get into if time & money were not an issue?
  87. What fictional place would you most like to go to?
  88. What job would you be terrible at?
  89. What is the most annoying habit that other people have?
  90. What’s your favourite thing to drink?

Want more? I found this list of 200 questions to get to get to know someone today & their website has several other question lists also.

Do you have a getting to know you question you love that isn’t on the list above? Leave a comment in the section below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)