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)

Building #ThinkingClassrooms

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

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

Self-verbalization & Reciprocal Teaching

I’ve been selected to participate in a lesson study at my school this semester linked to Ontario’s “Renewed Math Strategy”. My homework after the first meeting was to read up on two of John Hattie’s high-yield strategies; self-verbalization & reciprocal teaching.

Our next meeting is tomorrow so I did some last minute reading & put together a couple of sketchnotes to summarize what I read:


Update 2017.05.15: I just got back from OAME 2017 where I attended a session on Reciprocal Teaching for the Math classroom. Lynne Vink, Chad Warren & Luke Kordupel shared the roles they’ve developed to help their students use this strategy in their classes:Reciprocal Teaching in Math

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

Studenting & Visibly Random Groups: #Sketchnotes #ThinkingClassroom

A few years ago I started using visibly random groups & vertical non-permanent surfaces in my Math classroom. I got so excited about these strategies when some colleagues brought them back from a PD they had attended and immediately changed my classroom routines & setup. These strategies come out of a body of research by Peter Liljedahl on the Thinking Classroom.

Peter came to Ottawa last week for our Math PD day. He keynoted our event as well as offered workshops, both beginner & advanced, on how to apply his research findings in our classrooms. I tell everyone I can about how much Peter’s research has changed my classroom for the better, and so after his recent visit I decided to work on sketchnoting & sharing his research.

Here are my first two sketchnotes:

Visibly random groupings:


Studenting behaviours around homework & studenting behaviours in the “now you try one” teaching model:


Stay tuned for more sketchnotes about the Thinking Classroom!

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

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

Kahoot: game-based learning


Kahoot is a game-based learning system for the classroom. My students love playing Kahoot; it’s a great way to practice & review material.

There are 4 types of Kahoot games:

  1. Quiz – multiple choice questions
  2. Jumble – choose the correct order of the 4 answers
  3. Survey – a quiz with no right or wrong answers, no scoring, no leaderboard
  4. Discussion – a single-question survey

How it works: The teacher presents the questions on the projector. Students (using their own device or grouped to 1 device) choose their answer. Points are assigned for correct answers, with more points for quicker responses. After each question, a graph is displayed with the results of the class, showing how many responses were chosen for each answer choice. Before the next question, a leaderboard of the top 5 scorers is displayed to the group.

Why Kahoot is awesome:

  • Increases student voice, engagement, & accountability.
  • Students get immediate feedback as to whether or not they got the answer correct.
  • Spurs class discussions; teacher facilitates discussions when results show many students are struggling with a certain question or topic.
  • Try playing in Ghost Mode where students play against their previous attempts, trying to beat their previous score.
  • There’s a bank of quizzes created by teachers to choose from, you can create your own from scratch or even duplicate then edit someone else’s.

My favourite way to play is to put the game on “randomize order of questions” and play the first 10 random questions from a large bank of questions I’ve created for my entire course as a warm-up to start class.

Here are my Kahoot question banks for MPM2D and MFM2P.

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

My Tweets in 2016 #MTBoS


I started out sharing on Twitter, and it wasn’t until I felt the real need to move beyond 140 characters that I tried blogging. My blog has been a place to go into more detail on activities I’ve done with my classes or strategies I’ve been implementing. But I wanted to look back and archive some of what I shared on Twitter here on my blog. So I’ve compiled a rough list of top-ish tweets (as best as I can tell using analytics.twitter.com):

The Ottawa Slow EdChat was the brainchild of Derek Rhodenizer & Sandra Walker. It fizzled out at the end of 2015, so with their permission I tried to get it back up and running for 2016. It now has its own Twitter profile so everyone can easily find the weekly question. If you live in the Ottawa/Gatineau area I hope you’ll consider giving it a follow!

Jo Boaler is pretty incredible. She released a great article on her YouCubed site all about Visual Maths. I sketchnoted a summary and shared it.

It’s no secret that I really love Pear Deck!

People seemed to really like my sketchnotes of the OAME conference Ignite sessions. They’re a bit wordy -should be more visual, but it made for a good review of the talks. And got a lot of people asking more about sketchnoting too!

This tweet proved popular and I wanted to make sure to include it as it’s one a few top tweets not including a sketchnote. The #BFC530 chat is a great 15 minute chat in the morning for early risers!

I have still yet to read the full book (I made this sketchnote from a shorter article on the topic) but it’s on my list!

I put this together in order to share some posters that I have on my classroom walls all in one image.

Two sketchnotes from the #EdInnovation summit in Ottawa.

A sketchnote from the EdTech Team Google summit in Rosemere, QC.

This last one is sort of cheating as this exact tweet was posted in January 2017. But as I finished the sketchnote for each section of the book through the fall of 2016 I posted them to Twitter & they each got big views. So I finally used some holiday time to finish the book and posted all 4 sketchnotes in this tweet above. So it’s summarizing the earlier tweets here.

Mostly I notice that all except one of my tweets that did the best contain sketchnotes. People really love the visual summaries of talks, videos, articles & books! Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about sketchnoting. I will hopefully blog about the topic in 2017 as well!

A big thank-you to my Twitter PLN for sharing, listening, advising, and pushing. I can’t being a teacher without all of you to work with!

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

Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

The first time I’ve heard a group of my colleagues excited for an education-related book was for Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. We all bought a copy of the book and met after each of the 4 parts to discuss the ideas he puts forth. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter made hosting a book club so easy and really made us think as we read through the book. I sketchnoted summaries to help myself remember the information better & want to share them here:





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

Google Summit w/ #EdTechTeam

This past weekend I presented at EdTechTeam’s summit in Rosemere, QC. Their summits are designed to immerse teachers in EdTech for the weekend, learning all about the Gsuite tools (formerly GAFE; Google Apps for Education). Here are my sketchnotes from the weekend:

My pen & paper notes from the sessions I attended:


My digital sketchnotes from the 3 keynote speakers:

Jeffery Heilimg_1954

Jason MarkeyIMG_1959.PNG

Emily Fitzpatrickimg_1962

Finally, I presented about Pear Deck:Pear Deck (2).PNG

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