Khan Academy … everyone loves to hate it

This popped up in my feed today:

Since I’ve been using Khan Academy, an online math practice website, with my students for a few years now, I was intrigued & promptly read the blog post.

I had so many thoughts as I was reading through it that I decided to respond to each of David’s points from his post in a comment on his blog that I’ll post here now:

Feedback is terrible or nonexistent

Agreed. No worse than a textbook w/ an answer key in the back to check (KA tells you if right or wrong). Better than a worksheet w/ no answer key to check.
Obviously worse than a teacher working beside you.

Impossible to see patterns

Agreed

Blocked practice

I have my students use the blocked practice to practice a skill the first time. Later I encourage them to do KA’s “mastery” quizzes which interleaves concepts they’ve practiced over time to help with retention.
So some of these offer both blocked & interleaved options.

Too easy or too hard

I use the progress tab on KA to look at a series of practice sets. Students that still haven’t mastered the first on the topic from back in September practice that again. Students that have shown competence with more skills will be assigned the next in the progression for their needs. I can do this student-by-student on the KA dashboard so that they each get what they need to practice next.Screenshot 2017-11-28 at 3.45.27 PM

Inappropriate medium

No worse than a textbook. My students solve the KA problems on paper with pencil and then input their answer to see if their right … same as they used to do w/ textbook practice.

It obscures information from teachers

Yes – it doesn’t show me the student’s work like when I used to pick up paper copies. But I also no longer spend hours checking/correcting homework. Instead I use that time to better prepare the in class activities we do where I am able to offer in the moment feedback while they work on problem solving.

It isn’t really mathematics

Again, no worse than a textbook.
Obviously worse than the problem-solving activities I run in class …

…. But here’s the thing: Khan Academy [or insert other online practice medium] is not meant to replace a teacher or a math class. I use it as a tool to allow my students independent practice like they used to do w/ a textbook. I think practice is useful to my students, and sometimes they do need to practice skills one at a time in addition to the problem-solving we do in small groups all the time in my class.

I’m not a fan of these blanket statements that these online tools are totally horrible and can’t be used in helpful ways. Is Khan Academy perfect? Far from it – but nor was the textbook my school used to offer us to use. Here are the things I like about it:

  • The report it generates is a useful tool to communicate home about students that aren’t practicing (b/c I believe that independent practice is still important)
  • That I can differentiate who gets assigned which exercise set.
  • That students can work ahead & KA can even predict what the next skill in their progression might be
  • That students don’t lug home a textbook each night
  • That it has videos (even if I don’t always love his strategies) a kid can watch when stuck
  • That I no longer have to spend time marking homework for correctness or completion
  • Probably more reasons too that aren’t coming to mind at the moment …

KA is not a valid replacement for good Math activities and teaching. But is it a useful tool to offer independent practice to students? My argument would be yes. Does that make me a bad teacher?

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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

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OAME Leadership Conference #OAMElead

 

I spent Friday at the OAME annual Leadership Conference. It was a great day of learning more about Peter Liljedahl’s Thinking  Classroom framework as well as on the topic of leadership & what it looks like.

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Peter Liljedahl was the keynote speaker. He outlined the (now) 14 elements of his Thinking Classroom framework for us. I had previously sketchnoted about the 11 elements he previously outlined so today I just added the 3 new elements to today’s sketchnote of his keynote:

20171110_100052-01Thinking Classroom

Next we were broken up by panel & experience level w/ Thinking Classroom. I attended the secondary intermediate/advanced session led by Al Overwijk & Jimmy Pai. We were visibly random separated into groups of 3 and given a vertical non-permanent surface to work on the problem of decomposing the number 25 into numbers that summed to 25 and finding the set of these that would generate the greatest product:

We also added to our boards the questions we still have about implementing the Thinking Classroom framework – what we are struggling with. It was a relief for many of us to see that other experienced educators that we respect are struggling with similar questions and strategies:

After lunch Jimmy Pai led a panel discussion on the topic of leadership. I did my best to capture a summary with this sketchnote:

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After the panel were two breakout sessions for the secondary panel; one by Mary Bourassa which involved immersing ourselves as students in a round of Desmos Parabola Slalom and a session about great problems to spark learning by Kyle Pearce & Jon Orr:

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It was a great day of connecting & learning. A big round of 👏applause👏 to OAME president Jill Lazarus and the team for putting the day together:

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

 

Course Packs for the #ThinkingClassroom

I had the pleasure of welcoming Peter Liljedahl to visit my classroom this past week. Peter is the brains behind the Thinking Classroom framework that I’ve been implementing in my classroom over the last few years. While he was in town this week for the OAME Leadership conference he took the time to visit some Thinking Classrooms in the area and I was lucky enough to have him come visit ours. He spent a period with my grade 10 applied students where I was running a problem-based learning task (or 3 Act Math task) to do with solving for the missing angle in a right triangle.

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Peter Liljedahl & Judy Larsen visit

The two most popular elements that most people know about Peter’s Thinking Classroom framework are vertical non-permanent surfaces and visibly random groups. Another of the elements is to have students take meaningful notes after the problem-solving task; giving them time to select, organize & synthesize the ideas they want to keep in their notes. My way of doing this has been to create course packs for each of the courses I teach. Peter shared out this idea during his keynote on Friday and a number of teachers were interested in hearing more about them and seeing examples, so I figure a blog post was in order!

What are my course packs?
They are approximately 10 pages long (1 page per overall expectation for the course) or 5 sheets back to back. There is a box for each of the key terms or skills they need to know (I pull these from the specific expectations listed in the curriculum docs). For my applied classes I usually fill it in with worked examples of the skills, but leave the key terms blank for them to complete (see below right). For my academic classes I usually leave every box blank for students to complete (see below left). I copy & staple one for each student and hand it out at the beginning of the course.

How do we use them?
A place for meaningful notes: After each activity we do, I get my students to take out their course pack & open to whichever page matches the content we covered that day. I give them time to write their own notes based on the student work on the boards, the short notes I may have written on a board or on their boards, and I’ve also suggested mathisfun.com as a good site for definitions at their level. I also encourage them to put both images & words in every box.
A reference document: When groups go up to their boards to solve the day’s problem, one of the 3 members is given the role of bringing the course pack (the other 2 are responsible for scribing and calculating, respectively). Groups will often look through the worked examples if they need some help solving the day’s problem or remembering how to do something. On individual practice days, students often have their course pack out to help them with their practice problems. When students are stuck on a problem, I’ll often ask them to show me where a similar problem is in their course pack & we’ll use that as our starting point as we work together.

Can I see some examples?
Sure can!
Grade 10 applied course pack
Destreamed grade 9 (applied & academic together) course pack:
Grade 10 academic course notes

Still have some questions? Hit me up in the comments below or on Twitter! Have you made some of your own? Share links to your course packs below too!

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

Turning Textbook Questions into Problem-Based Learning Activities

Over the last few years I’ve done my best to create a student-centred Math class using a mix of Dan Meyer’s 3 Act Math strategy, Peter Liljedahl’s Thinking Classroom framework and some other routines like Notice & Wonder mixed in, all in a Pear Deck interactive slideshow.

This week I wanted a problem-based activity on volume so I turned to my version of a textbook; Khan Academy practice sets. I picked a problem that my students will see during their independent practice problems on the Khan Academy website and fleshed it out to create a student-centred activity out of it. Thought I’d share the process with you to show that you can take (sometimes boring) problems right out of a textbook & create a student-centred thinking task for your class.

Here’s the original problem from Khan Academy:Screenshot 2017-10-24 at 8.28.49 AM

So my first task was to find an actual image of a tent and use Google Drawings to add the dimensions as well as the volume to the image:Tent

So this is what I show students to start. I do not tell them yet that I want them to find the height. I have a series of questions we run through every time that I build in a Pear Deck slideshow (where students will be able to answer on their phone & I can display their answers on the board). But you can just ask the questions orally if you like.

Here are the questions/steps:

  1. What do you know / notice?
    They should tell me facts that they know.
    Eg. The tent is the shape of a triangular prism. It has a volume of 70 ft^3.
  2. What do you wonder?
    What questions come to mind?
    Eg. What is the height of the tent? How much canvas is need to make the tent?
  3. Now I tell them the question I want them to explore … for this tent the question was “Can you stand up straight in this tent without hitting your head?”
  4. Estimate:
    – too high
    – too low
    – best estimate
  5. What do you need to
    – measure
    – google
    – calculate
    in order to solve this problem? (plan)
    Whenever possible I bring a hands-on object in that they can physically measure. This time I gave them the measurements of the tent.
  6. Then I send each visibly random group of 3 to their chalkboard or whiteboard section to solve the problem. During this time I’m walking around managing what Peter Liljedahl calls FLOW by giving hints (usually in the form of a question) to those that are stuck and extensions to those that are done the original question (for this tent, how much canvas is needed?). Sometimes this involves calling all groups over to one spot & I do some direct teaching if they need to learn something new or review something to move on.
  7. When all the groups have solved the problem, students return to their seats and I debrief / consolidate the activity by “narrating a story” as Liljedahl says of the student work. I found the “5 practices” article really helpful in learning how to do this.
  8. At this point I reveal the correct answer (needed more if they are taking their own measurements to see how close their answer is to the real answer; for example how tall the lamppost outside actually is after we solve for its height using shadows & similar triangles).
  9. We go back & see who’s best estimate was closest to the actual answer. We celebrate the closest estimate.
  10. Which of the overall expectations from our course did we use today? (reflection)
    This is where the learning goal of the task comes out – at the END. If I say this up front, then it takes away all the student thinking about what math they can use as a tool to solve the problem.
  11. I encourage them to take a photo of any group’s board they wish to save in their notes.
  12. Finally, usually the following day, they do some individual practice using some of the problem sets on Khan Academy.

Hopefully that all makes sense and shows a bit about how you can take a typical textbook or worksheet type word problem & turn it into a more student-centred learning task. If you want to see examples of this type of lesson with student work, have a look at my collection of lessons I have blogged about.

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

Groups of 3 with a 4th Desk Free #VRG

Yesterday,  my students were working on their independent practice problems on solving similar triangles on Khan Academy. As I reflected at the end of class, it was so obvious to me how important it is to have a seat free at each group’s desks so that I can sit with them to help them one-on-one. And while that seems obvious, I’m sure I’m not the only one that lets myself be lured into the temptation of sitting at my teacher desk while students work & saying “come over to me if you have any questions!” meanwhile I can shoot off an email or two that need sending. And of course a couple of students will come over to ask me something. But so many others will not leave their seat. Might not even get any work done at all & I won’t notice. Some just can’t get started because they have no idea where to start. So they’ll make it look like they’re working, but at the end of 75 minutes they haven’t done a single practice problem.

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Each group has either 4 desks or 3 desk + a stool.

Even on independent practice days, I have students sit in “visibly random groups” by giving out playing cards as they enter class. New partners, new seat every day.

So yesterday as my students started on their practice problems, I moved from group to group, helping students that asked for help. I also sat down to work through a question together with students that hadn’t even started yet (not because they’re being oppositional – but they just don’t know where to start!). Here’s a short video with my reflection on that 4th seat at each group:

Or you can view the video here also.

How do you make sure your quiet, reluctant learners get the same one-on-one help from you as those that self-advocate a little louder?

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

Push-Back to Student-Centred Learning. #sketchnote

I’ve often said that I would hate to be a learner in my own classroom. I was a very strong student in high school. I didn’t need to be in class; if I missed class I would read the section in the book & do the homework problems & learn it myself. I made beautiful pages of copied notes from the teacher’s board and was able to understand the content as I copied. I did not enjoy group work; hated relying on partners to do their bit. I am still the first person to roll my eyes at ice breakers in a staff meeting or workshop.

And yet, my classroom is the opposite of this. I ask my students to work in groups, beginning with a getting to know you question every day since we change groups daily. I don’t give many notes, rather I give students time to summarize their new learning in their course packs. We do problem-based learning with hands-on components whenever possible. This is a far cry from the teacher notes followed by homework problems routine from my day.

But many to most of my students are not able to learn that way (although a small number of them are & would prefer a more traditional teaching style). Most can’t understand the notes they’re copying down because they’re too busy copying. (Have you ever asked your students if they’re able to listen to the teacher while they copy notes? My students tell me straight up that they are not able).

So over the years I have searched for strategies & pedagogical methods that would transform my classroom to be a better learning environment for my students. But my students haven’t always been eager about my methods; group work, problem solving, critical thinking, feedback separated from marks, etc. The workings of our Math classroom are so different from their experience so far that they sometimes push back. And for many teachers, this push back stops them from continuing to pursue different teaching methods. For example, I’ve had students say “you don’t teach us!”. But upon drilling down further as to what they mean, it becomes clear what they really mean, is you don’t write long, detailed notes on the board to copy down. They think that is teaching and don’t view the careful orchestration of a student-centred classroom as teaching also.

My advice to teachers: keep trying! Don’t let that student (or parent) push-back stop you from pursuing new & innovative teaching methods. It’s normal – it happens to all of us! But eventually students (most anyway) get past it. Alice Keeler shared this great article entitled “NAVIGATING THE BUMPY ROAD TO STUDENT-CENTERED INSTRUCTION” by Felder & Brent that likens the student push-back during student-centred teaching to the 8 stages of grief. I love sharing the article with teachers that are frustrated by students that are reacting negatively when they try to transform their classroom to a student-centred learning environment. So to make the ideas even more shareable, I put together a sketchnote version:

Student centred instruction.jpeg

But I really do encourage you to read the whole article as the authors go on to explain some suggestions as to how to mitigate the push-back, such as sharing with students the reasoning behind the methods, and modelling & establishing criteria for the successful use of the critical thinking skills expected of students.

I’ll finish by including a few of the tweets from other teachers on the topic:

What push-back have you experienced in your classroom and how have you dealt with it?

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

Captive Audience: #LearningInTheLoo

Do you ever read a great article or blog post and think I HAVE to share this with my colleagues! So you email everybody the link & say you have to read this. And then maybe 1 or 2 people actually read it?

I find so many great things on Twitter & blogs (#MTBoS) that I want to share with my colleagues, but they often don’t have (or make) the time to check them out. So when I happened upon a tweet about Learning in the Loo I thought it was genius – a captive audience!

So I have made it a habit to create & post a new Learning in the Loo 11×17″ poster in each staff toilet in our school every 1 or 2 weeks this semester. I curate the amazing things I learn about online & turn them into quick read how-tos or ideas to read while you … “go”. And it just occured to me that I should have been posting them to my blog as I made them. But now you can get a whole whack of them at once and next year I’ll try to remember to post them as I make them.

The whole collection so far can be found here with printing instructions.
Feel free to make a copy (File –> make a copy). Also the sources of images & ideas are in the notes of the doc above too.

Here they are:

Learning in the Loo Assessment FeedbackLearning in the Loo Cell Phone Work Life BalanceLearning in the Loo EdPuzzleLearning in the Loo Adobe Spark VideoLearning in the Loo TwitterLearning in the Loo Google ClassroomLearning in the Loo Grouping StrategiesLearning in the Loo KahootLearning in the Loo Google Docs

What would you share in your school’s first Learning In The Loo poster?

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

#3ActMath – What is it?

I learned about a great tool this past weekend at the Ontario Summit; Adobe Spark video. A huge shoutout to Rushton Hurley for the introduction to this tool. It’s a super fast & easy way to combine photos, videos & text and narrate over top of it to create a seamless professional looking video.

I tried my hand and created one about 3ActMath lesson style. Give it a watch & let me know what you think:

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

Building #ThinkingClassrooms

[update: There are now 14 elements in the Thinking Classroom framework – an updated sketchnote can be found here]

Almost 3 years ago now, some math teachers in our school board returned from a conference with two concepts from the research of Peter Liljedahl; vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPS) & visibly random grouping (VRG). I was blown away by these 2 strategies & implemented them in my classroom immediately after learning about them.

Peter tells a great story about a Math teacher saying upon meeting him “Oh, you’re the vertical surfaces guy!”. While he’s happy that teachers are finding benefit from implementing VNPS in their classrooms, he hopes those teachers will be inspired to go even further and delve into the 11 conditions Peter says will help us build “Thinking Classrooms”. A thinking classroom is . . .

“a classroom that is not only conducive to thinking but also occasions thinking, a space that is inhabited by thinking individuals as well as individuals thinking collectively, learning together, and constructing knowledge and understanding through activity and discussion” (Liljedahl, 2016)

In his chapter titled “Building thinking classrooms: Conditions for problem solving” Peter outlines 11 practices teachers can adopt in order to build a Thinking Classroom. Actually, I think that chapter proposes 9 of them, and Peter has an upcoming chapter to be released that details all 11 practices that his most recent research has unveiled. Here is my sketchnote summary of those practices:

Thinking Classroom.PNG

Building a thinking classroom:

  1. Begin with problems/tasks
  2. Visibly random groups
  3. Vertical non-permanent surfaces
  4. Oral instructions
  5. Defront the room
  6. Answer “keep thinking” questions
  7. Build autonomy
  8. Hints & extensions to maintain flow
  9. Level to the bottom
  10. Student-created notes
  11. Assessment

That last one is the one I am the least clear about what it entails. I heard Peter say in a talk that it would take him another 3 hour session just to cover that piece alone. I’m hoping that the more I explore his publications, the more I’ll learn about what he proposes for assessment as I am keen to get away from tests & make my assessment match my classroom time.

For more of my posts on Peter’s Thinking Classrooms work, click here.

Peter’s Thinking Classroom research can be found here.
He provides some “good problems” so you can start with the 1st step, here.
You can watch a 1-hour archived webinar by Peter on the topic here.

Update: I wrote an article for Edutopia about the first 3 elements of the Thinking Classroom – good tasks, VRGs & VNPSs – that you can read here https://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-centered-math-class-laura-wheeler

[update: There are now 14 elements in the Thinking Classroom framework – an updated sketchnote can be found here]

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