Monday, 8 February 2016

3D printing

Printer in action

So last week i jump into the amazing world of 3D printing and I am completely hooked. All I want to do now is 3D print. It was truly the most amazing experience I have ever been a part of. However, as any good technology there always has to be a purpose. 3D printing has all of this in one small package.

Let's first take a look at the project:

For this project my students had to research and design their own International Space Center. Students first researched and wrote a small report on the International Space Center and then got into Project Ignite to design their own. Project ignite is online tinkercad program.

Now on the whole this project may look simple but it covers so many curriculum expectations.

First let's look at the math:

Math (Grade 6 curriculum):

Number Sense:
– estimate quantities using benchmarks of 10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% (e.g., the container is about 75% full; approximately 50% of our students walk to school)
– represent, compare, and order whole numbers and decimal numbers from 0.001 to 1 000 000, using a variety of tools (e.g., number lines with appropriate increments, base ten materials for decimals)
– represent ratios found in real-life contexts, using concrete materials, drawings,and standard fractional notation

Throughout this project students are working at reducing and estimating the size of an object. They have to look at measurements that are in decimal notation and in standardize units. In addition, students also have to learn to scale objects down when we print or it would be to long.

– demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between estimated and precise measurements, and determine and justify when each kind is appropriate

Taking an idea from your head and making it a reality always relates to some sort of measurement. In this case students were also required to look at specific measurements while they manipulated the program. Those that were successful at reading these measurements also had a more successful product.

– sketch, using a variety of tools (e.g., isometric dot paper, dynamic geometry software), isometric perspectives and different views (i.e., top, side, front) of three-dimensional figures built with interlocking cubes
– build three-dimensional models using connecting cubes, given isometric sketches or different views
– explain how a coordinate system represents location, and plot points in the first quadrant of a Cartesian coordinate plane
– identify, perform, and describe, through investigation using a variety of tools (e.g., grid paper, tissue paper, protractor, computer technology), rotations of 180º and clockwise and counterclockwise rotations of 90°, with the centre of rotation inside or outside the shape
– create and analyse designs made by reflecting, translating, and/or rotating a shape, or shapes, by 90º or 180º

The whole project dealt in a 3D space. Students learned x, y and z planes and where able to manipulate these objects in the plane. Traditionally these transformational Geometry are taught on a 2D plane making it hard for many students to visualize what is happening. Using a product like Tinkercad allows students to practise and visualize in the proper space.

Students also hit on their writing, reading and science curriculum. Students had to research, and read about the current ISS. They had to know how it operated so that they could redesign the process. Not only did they do this but they also hit many of the 7 C's that we talk about for 21st century learning. Throughout this whole process students were being creative, communicating ideas, collaborating with others as they had to figure out new tech, Critical think and problem solve out of situations, and be adaptable (which isn't a c but a critical one non-the-less). Students where so engaged throughout this process and learned a lot about the ISS itself.

Here are some of their designs:

As always it is never about the tech but the planning. This project took a lot of effort to plan and make it pedagogical sound for the students. They had to plan, research and then revise their plan even before they could work in the software. Once in the software portion they had to revise as some ideas didn't work and even after we printed many of the students revised having learned that their projects wouldn't work. This whole reflective and planning piece is critical to the success of any lesson involving new technology.

I highly encourage anyone to get their hands on 3D printing and do this in their classroom. Even if you don't print the aspect of working on Tinkercad was truly amazing in itself. The printing portion was just a nice add-on.  Big thanks and shout out to David Cruz who brought the printer to us.

What does it mean to have a reflective class?

Just before the winter break I got my hands on probably two of the greatest books I have ever read. The books were titled: Teaching students to self Assess and Hacking the Classroom: 10 ways to go Gradeless in a Traditional Classroom by Starr Sackstien

You can find both books:

These book were revolutionary because it validated what I was already starting to do in the classroom. For a long time I have felt that the way I was assessing students wasn't working. When I first started teaching I like many just followed what has been in place for centuries. We taught, we had students review and then we tested. We got data from these test but to be honest was it accurate or reflective of what that student can do? 

These were the questions that I asked for numerous years before I sat in my classroom watching my students taking a test. Some of my students started to ask their friends some questions. I was about to tell them to be quiet when I sat there a decided to listen. The types of questions I was hearing was basically what I already knew about these students based on my observations.  Then as I was marking I kept nodding as I already knew why those particular kids got the marks they got. 

This is when it dawned on me that I already knew more about my students than any test was going to give me. Based on my interviews, observations and comments I made throughout the problem solving process, I already had a better picture of my students needs, next steps and achievements. This was the moment that I gave up formal testing. However, reflecting back I was still missing something. 

I had these amazing comments and observations I would share them with students but kids didn't read them (well most kids that is). This took me a long time to reflect on this, which is why I was led to this amazing book. 

So what was I doing wrong? I was giving marks with my comments. I know this may seem like a simple thing but basically my students only honoured the mark and not the grade.  

If you think back to your own learning what have you always wanted, that lovely A. School has never been about the learning but always about the grades. This is true for our parents too. I come from a fairly traditional household and even when I came home with a 95% the reply back was where is the other 5%. It has been ingrained in our society to think about the letter and not what we need to achieve the letter grade. 

So what have I done this year to address this: 

After reading the books I rapidly changed my practice. I started thinking about how I can make my students better at reflecting and honouring the learning process. We first started with looking at our Curriculum. Yes I actually read the curriculum document with my kids. Before each unit of study we sit down and reflect on what standards we need to learn based on what the curriculum says. I have the students tell me in their own words what they have to do to achieve the standards of their grade level. now I do teach grade 6 but I think this can be done at any grade you just may have to think about the amount of expectations that you want them to focus on. 

We also created a google form for their reflecting purposes. This is still a work in progress. This form gives me a quick look into my students thinking about what they thought they achieved and did on the assignment. Once these are submitted we have a conference about their learning where I either agree with their assessment or disagree. We also discuss next steps and my observations of their work. These conversations are about five minutes in length. 

I also turned to having students do a final reflection on what they think their term 1 report cards are going to look like. This took a while and I am going to try and shorten this process but I also got very rich and amazing discussions from it.

Now you may think that grades are important but I have seen more growth this year in my students then ever before. 

On a recent reflection about their writing here is what some students said: 

I think I got 3 as my final mark. Maybe even 2.8. That is because my tone; it felt like I was shouting. I also plagiarized so that would cut out some marks. I would work on my tone and remember not to plagiarize in the future. I think I was stressing my point a bit to much and the person who I wrote this letter to already knew about this topic. It felt to him, even me, that I basically screaming through the letter. Next time, I should consider my audience. My goal is to get a level 4 in my next writing piece. ~ Raghav

I think I would get a 3 because in the comments you wrote "This the work I expect from you all the time" and I followed most of the guidelines given. ~ Manpreet

Now this was their first attempt at reflecting and is still a work in progress.  In fact after some short reflections on our reflection this is what students said during their final report for term 1: 

I think I deserve this mark because I can do and understand basic math, but I need more practise on justifying my work and answer. I need to work on think more deep and more logically. Math has a big part of logic which I need to practise on because I am very used to the algorithm and what we have been taught in primary grades. I need to focus more on understanding the numbers. ~ Pavneet

- in the Surface Area Assignment he used math terms to write an answer to the question he was given - In the None To Many assignment Manchit used math concepts to do math calculations to find the mean and the median - should try to understand what is happening when you do the math equation

It is funny because these comments was what I wrote on their reports even before I read their responses. I have found that the more students reflect and conference with you the more that they become in charge of their learning. 

Now this does take time. It is not something that can be done on the side; you must put the effort into making it a part of your practise and taking the time to reflect but the more that you do this the better students will get at it.  I often hear that we need to prepare our students for what lies ahead but the reality is in life grades don't matter. They mean nothing except for university and even the grades they look at are the last years. What we need to do is train our children to know how to get the grades they want. To set goals and learn what it takes to meet them. We are training our students for today because in doing so we train them for tomorrow.

So I encourage you to a) read the books and b) jump in going gradeless.  You have nothing to loose and all to gain. 

Sunday, 24 January 2016

To Code or not to Code?

I know that this seems like a topic that is in everyone's blog post but that because it is in my own personal opinion one of the most important concepts to be teaching.

This isn't because of being the coolest new buzz word to get everyone's attention but because it actually makes our students smarter. Now I really don't have any research to back me up here but from what I have seen in K-6 it has made my students smarter. Not book smart but thinking smarts.

Coding didn't teach my kids to memorize facts or to follow procedures but to think about what they are doing and why. Sure many of them often followed other people's ideas but the thinking that went into understanding code was tremendous.

Coding in my classroom is not just about computer science. I do not believe that in my role am I a)qualified to teach the skills and b) is the place but what it is, is part of my everyday teaching.

For me coding is a tool, a vehicle for me to teach with. I treat it like I do any piece of technology or paper. It gives students a platform for learning. But it is the teacher that brings out that learning. I will be the first to tell you I only know the basics of code. But it is amazing to see kids understand and practise knowledge concepts through the act of coding.  Coding makes my students think about what is going on. It makes them understand the algorithms that we teach and learn in class and it gives a place to solidly knowledge that we normally solidify with a test or some sort of worksheet. 

Coding makes kids think and makes them creators and innovators. It teaches them to problem solve, to think and isn't that what we want for them?

I love this info-graphic:


So the questions then becomes how do I start?

Simple answer like you would another lesson. Have a big idea that you want to teach with, plan possible outcomes and find ways to modify for various students. Now think of a way to insert coding. You see it is not coding that makes it a great lesson but the planning that you do before hand. You cannot go into a lesson a just say hey let's code, you still have to plan.

Some lessons that I have done:

Measuring the distance around my hand in pixels: this grade 2 lesson had kids have their pixie move around their hand and count the pixels of their movement. We then compared the distance of our hand to fingers or the width of our thumb to that of our pinkie.

Design a game to create a pattern rule:

Students made a game for their partner to guess their rule. I also had them ask what is the algebraic statement. Students had to use algorithmic language to tell the computer what to say

Lightbot and codeable:

Are two great iPad apps that have many great practical knowledge built in. Counting, rotation, spatial sense, Cartesian planes, etc.

Coding has endless possibilities it is all up to your planning and own innovation. Remember it is not the tool that teaches but the teachers. Coding is a tool but you still need a good plan to teach.

For more ideas you should check out:

Thursday, 7 January 2016

What does it mean to innovate?

Google has opened their Google Innovator Program (formally their Google Teacher Program) and this year they want applicants to think about an Innovation for education. This prompt got me thinking, What does it mean to Innovate?

There are so many innovative people that I have met over my teaching career, from looking at what I admire in them here is what I think about innovation.

An innovator is someone who thinks outside of the box. They are always willing to push the boundaries of education in order to better the profession. An innovator is able to make connections to many varying subject matter. An innovator is energetic, enthusiastic and has a zest for learning. They themselves are as much the learner as the innovator. An innovator is someone who continues to questions and is never satisfied with one answer. They don't just do things because its always been done. An innovator doesn't have to be the loudest person in the room but is someone who let's their voice be heard. They are leaders and teachers.

However, as I am asked to think of an Innovation project I do get stuck. Is my idea good enough? Is it innovative enough? Has it been done before? However, this is the frame of mind that blocks innovation. What I do know though is that not everyone is an innovator but that everyone can be. It takes a special drive to be one but a personality that is in us all.  We all can be an innovator, just have to remember that the most dangerous phrase is that it has always been done this way.

What are you doing to be an innovator? How will you change education? Love to hear your thoughts.

P.S: Some great Innovators to follow are:

Tina Zita

Matthew Oldridge

Starr Sackstien

Brian Aspinall

Rolland Chidiac

Aviva Dunsiger

Michelle Cordy

Sandra Chow

Peter Cameron

Vision of grade 6

So as many of you know I have started a new grade this year, grade 6. It has been fun but also very tiring.
My vision for grade 6 was to have a totally inquiry run program. I wanted my students to be engaged in asking questions and being part of the design of the curriculum.  I was tired of the traditional classroom. Now I am far from being a traditional teacher but was still finding that I have held on to many traditional ways. Even though my practice had a lot of student voice there was room for more. I was tired of assessments not being read or student choice still being directed by me.

Here is my plan:

I started the year by changing the layout of my class. I got rid of traditional desks and opted for tables. I wanted the space to be creative and flow. To give my students the options depending on their needs. Now in no way is this the best situation but it has really opened up the traditional flow of a classroom. 

I also started to do a more circular curriculum. Meaning that I teach a little of the curriculum at a time and keep circling back.  It has allowed me to teach all of the curriculum in one term and making broader connections between strands and subjects. Students see the bigger picture and it has allowed them to make deeper connections.

I wanted to teach predominately through Inquiry and Project based learning. Now this wasn't a stretch for me as I was doing this already but I really wanted to take this further. I wanted my students to really have direction and choice of where the projects would lead them. Now there is still the curriculum but I have let my students be a part of where they want to take the learning. This is done by setting the learning goals as the big ideas of the curriculum and then letting the students chose the avenue to present their learning. We then have a sharing session so that all of the students can hear what the others have learned.

I also have started many new things this year to incorporate as part of my vision. In other blog posts I have discussed Collaborative Problem Solving approach from Dr.Greene. I decided that part of making my students a part of the classroom was to have them talk as a classroom. We have started community circles to share our problems and frustrations. We then discuss how deal with them. I have noticed a real improvement in their behaviour and how they have matured. At the beginning of the year problems were very juvenile but they now are discussing how to make the classroom better versus who said what in the hall way. 

I have also decided to throw out grades. Now this may seem weird but I have not given a letter grade at all to any of my students all year. Instead I provide feedback that is combined with their own feedback. We talk about what curriculum they have met and how they have met it. This allows them to see what they still have to accomplish and how. At the end we do discuss a final mark for their reports but this is often a collaborative discussion. Again I have seen a dramatic improvement with their work. Probably the biggest strides in learning I have ever seen. Students are more reflective and actual read their comments and compare it to the curriculum.  My new goal is to have them write parts if not all of their reports.

So far all is going to plan. There has been some hiccups along the way but for the most part it has been really amazing. I have seen so much gains both academically and socially. My students have really matured and a lot faster than I have ever see any of the kids in the past.

What has been your vision this year? How is your year going? Any advice? Love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

5 favourite things

This is part of Peel 21st blog hop. The theme of this hop is our five favourite things.

1) Lost at School by Dr.Greene Ross

Though I have had a lot of favourite things this year my top one this year has to be Dr. Green's book, Lost at school. Learning about collaborative problem solving has been revolutionary; not only in my classroom management but with my personal parenting. CPS is an approach to managing all children. It is meant for those special friends we have but to be honest it works for all. Read more about this here.

2) Starr Sackstein: assessment books

If you have not read these books I highly recommend that you do. They discuss her journey as she has thrown out grades. This has been a big journey for me as I have really thought about why we need to have grades? What do they actually tell us? Do they really matter? These are the questions that I have been pursuing this year while I am attempting to not give any grades (except those mandated by the ministry). Check out the various books by Starr. The ones I refer too are: Teaching Students to Self Assess and Hack the Classroom: 10 ways to go gradeless in a traditional classroom.

3) Doctopus and Goobric

I know that many who read this blog or know me, know how much I love google. My main reason that pushes me to use it is the work flow possibilities. Doctopus and goobric allows me to push assignments to my students. It also allows me to differentiate for them by giving certain students one template and others another one. I can also attach this to goobric and give feedback right then and there within the assignments.  For more info click on this presentation I made.

4) Some of my favourite people on Twitter

This wouldn't be a favourite thing post without some amazing people to follow and share with. These people are some of the best educators that I have had the privilege to meet and talk to about everything and anything in education. There are many who I could have put here but these are just a few that I have had the privilege of interacting with. Of course there are also the amazing people in this blog hop who you should follow. All of them are amazing educators.

Matthew Oldridge (@MatthewOldridge)
Brian Aspinall (@MrAspinall)
Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca)
Peter Cameron (@cherandpete)
Rolland Chidiac (@Rchids)
Lisa Floyd (@LisaannFloyd)
Michelle Cordy (@cordym)

5) My Favourite Hashtags

Of course adding to following people is following amazing hashtags for learning. Here are a few of my favourite ones


These are just a few of my favourite things. To learn about more please look at the other amazing educators in this blog hop.

Jason Wigmore:

Jim Cash:

Tina Zita:

Pam Taylor:

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The power of a debrief

"An activity is just an activity unless you have a debrief!"

This was from a wise colleague of mine and what sparked this post.  I often hear in my many conversations about math that it is all about the kids voice and though I really agree with this statement I also disagree. I disagree because the role of a teacher is even more critical in Inquiry than any other time.

The act of inquiry, though innate in many of us, is not really that natural. Sure we wonder but often it stops at finding answers. We often need guidance to take any of our inquiries further, the same applies to our kids.

For inquiry to have a impact on our students we as teachers need to be planning thoughtful and critical questions to guide them through the learning.  This also includes a thoughtful and engaging debrief or consolidation phase.

This is the most critical part of any lesson. It is where the teacher really shines. Because you have planned and thought through kids learning, development and possible misconceptions you are able to guide the learning that you have seen in the lesson so far.

A debrief can be any length (a lot depends on kids and age). The key though is that as a teachers you are helping kids make connections to the big ideas and thoughts you planned or saw unfold in your lesson.  It is the place where you are purposefully guiding students through their tall and strategies. Students still have a voice but yours is the one that is really speaking.

Here are some of my consolidations.

I know for myself that I can tend to forget to debrief the learning but I have to remember "that an activity is just an activity without a consolidation."