Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My First ARA experience

Over the weekend, I experienced my first time being a delegate at the Alberta Teachers Association's (ATA) Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) which has around 450 delegates in attendance.

The meeting started at 9:00 am on Saturday and went until around 10:30 pm Sunday night, with various breaks for snacks, lunch and dinner.

Here is what I learned at this meeting:

1) Everyone in attendance truly cares about the profession of teaching
Through various debates and discussion I witnessed, first hand that dedication towards teachers and our profession.   
It was quite a sight to see.   
We debated motions such as whether or not to research the problems females face in the profession, had an extensive debate around our budget, and my favorite motion was "Urging the government to place a moratorium on Gr. 3 SLAs until the profession's concerns have been addressed". 

2) Level 145 of Candy Crush is quite difficult
During the assembly, there were many times the discussion had little to no relevance to my local, and therefore gave me time to do some research around an upcoming motion.  I do have to admit that I did try to beat level 145 of Candy Crush and I failed miserably. Consequently, I went back to researching upcoming motions.

3) Amend the amendment
If you agree with the intent of a motion but may not like the exact details you are free (provided another person seconds you) to amend the motion.  That means you can alter the wording, in almost any way, to your liking.  Now.  INCEPTION TIME,....if someone doesn't like your wording they can (also provided they have a seconder) amend your amendment.  That is right, you will then have to vote on the amendment to the amendment, then on the amendment, and then..wait for it..on the motion.  Therefore, there could be some deep long discussion around one single motion.  Which brings me to.....

4) Call to Question
This is a great alternative to discussion.  During the debate you might find yourself hearing the same arguments over and over and over and over and over again from different people and therefore any delegate can "Call to question".  Which essentially means "I have heard enough and now lets vote".  Of course 2/3 of the assembly have to be in favor, and if so, the discussion stops and you vote.  
This motion, I found out first hand, will result in some delegates congratulating you, but also results in some angry text messages and criticism around "shutting down democracy".  In the end, I deleted the text messages and was happy to move on!
5) Nibs are delicious
Over the discussion, I found that many times my ADHD went through the roof.  At first, I thought I could keep myself occupied by clicking the pen they provided us with.  10 seconds later, my colleague confiscated the pen and provided me with a package of nibs. Well those nibs kept my attention at bay.  On a separate note, after consuming all that sugar, coincidentally I found myself shaking my leg constantly an hour later and being asked to sit in the back alone.
Overall, the experience was one which cannot be replicated and something I hope every teacher experiences at least once.  As I stated at the start, the overall theme that kept reoccurring over the course of each day was "We are the ATA, and we truly care about the quality of education in our province".

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Education cuts in Alberta

The following is a letter from our Board Chair in Red Deer Catholic School Division about the current underfunding to education.

April 28, 2015
Dear Parent and Guardian,

Re: Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Budget for the 2015-2016 school year

We are writing to share information about the Alberta Government’s budget for the 2015-2016 school year and the negative implications it will have on our jurisdiction, schools and students.

The Division is projecting a total shortfall of approximately $4 million, due to grant reductions, a freeze on funding for enrolment growth and restrictions on the use of our reserves.

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools (RDCRS) is a growing school division. Our projections estimate that RDCRS will see an additional 300 to 400 students enrolled for the next school year. Under the current provincial fiscal plan for the 2015-2016 school year, student population growth will not be funded. There will be $2 million less to accommodate the needs of all our students as of September 2016 and class sizes will be larger. Therefore, there will be less support services for vulnerable students, such as English Language Learners and those with special needs.

RDCRS works hard to be financially responsible and accountable to our communities. We have operating reserves, which are used to maintain our schools funding levels to protect students and classrooms against the fluctuations in provincial funding. In 2014-2015, RDCRS used approximately $800,000 in operating reserves to maintain its programs and services for students. Therefore, the inability to access our reserves will result in serious implications for students.

We would appreciate your support in standing up, speaking out, and voicing your support for education. Working together, we will make a difference for our schools. If you have concerns  regarding the Alberta budget and its impact on education, please contact the Alberta Minister of Education, the Premier’s office, your local MLA, and all candidates running in the upcoming provincial election.

To get in contact with candidates in your constituency, please click on the following links:

Thank you for your continued support and commitment to Catholic education.
Guy Pelletier
Board Chair, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools
Cc. Alberta School Boards Association
Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association
College of Alberta School Superintendents
Media partners

Monday, March 16, 2015

Math Midterm

Here is a copy of my Math 31 Midterm.  I am trying to get students to self-assess their own learning and ultimately grade themselves.

Students will receive the grade they chose, provided their explanation is supported with evidence.

Math 31 Midterm

This is due _________.  You are to do this individually, but feel free to converse, discuss and collaborate on this assignment.

You are to create a “Google Slides” presentation, and self-assess your own learning. 
Next, you are to assess your knowledge of the following outcomes

  • Determining f(x)>0
  • Limits
  •  Left and Right Limits
  • Continuous vs Discontinuous
  •  1st Principles
  •  Simple Derivatives
  •  Derivative Rules

Each outcome should take between 1-3 slides, and complete the following:
  • Describe your knowledge of this outcome.  (“I have mastered this outcome fully” or “I understand most of this but I struggle when it comes to…”)
  • Give a short description to demonstrate your understanding of the outcome “When you are doing this you…”)
  •  Give an example of you demonstrating this outcome (Here is a question and my solution).  May be something you created before, just can’t be a class example.

On your last slide you are to give yourself a percentage mark based on your understanding of the course so far.

When finished…

Click the blue “SHARE”,  then click “Shareable Link”, then click the drop down menu and change it to “ON- Anyone with this link”, then click “SAVE”.  Lastly, click “COPY LINK”.  Fill in the form below.

Friday, March 13, 2015

What students are saying around less grades

 People have their doubts around the removal of grades.  Over the last 6 years, I have graded less and less and have been challenged many times.  Instead of me defending this movement, I have compiled a set of responses around what I do from my students.  These are not edited in any way, or were these students "prepped" into their responses around me removing grades.

First, a most recent student of mine, Michael says:

Addressing the commenters who attack Mr. Martin's approach as "coddling", "unaccountable" or "unrealistic". I am a former student of Mr. Martin's class who has received over $115,000 in academic scholarships from some of the top universities in Canada. Anyone who knows Mr. Martin can testify that he is tremendously hardworking and invested in the big picture success of his pupils. As a current high school student, I would like to share some insights into Mr. Martin's philosophy that make what he does so valuable to us. There will always be a bell curve of students in the high school system, with a minority of extremely self motivated students who will succeed in whatever environment they are placed in, and a minority of disadvantaged students who struggle because they lack the support to succeed. Neither of these groups of students should be used as an indicator of effectiveness for any teaching method. However what makes Mr. Martin's teaching philosophy so effective, is that he is able to positively motivate and support the majority of students who fall in the middle, students who are seeking a good education but may find achieving a standard of excellence extremely difficult in a conventional classroom setting. He challenges his students to strive for true understanding of the concepts taught, and does not punish them for their individual learning styles. He provides the tools and the learning environment that allow for total understanding of both basic and advanced concepts, if the student is willing to put in the necessary effort. What is so encouraging about this approach is that the majority (I would venture to say all) of his students develop a desire to excel and work hard in this classroom, regardless of their previous experiences or attitude towards math. Finally, there is nothing ambiguous about his marking system. For students to succeed on the tested outcomes, final exams and projects, they must demonstrate a complete understanding of the concepts taught. Throughout the course, they are evaluated for their understanding on a concept by concept basis, so both students and parents have a real time indication of their success in the class. Your grades are completely "quantifiable" and "real", for lack of a better expression.

Next is Karl,

Thank you Mr. Martin for teaching me to love calculus, you are the reason I chose a math major. I am in my 3rd year at Macewan with a 3.87 GPA in a program I was told as a child I could not learn. The article is good but there is so much more to say about why your students are so successful, your applicable and interesting math examples and love of the subjects and knowing the interests of each of your students are also why your classes are full.

Here is Logan,

Hi, I'm a former student of Mr. Martin's, and now a current Electrical Engineering student at the University of Calgary. Mr. Martin's teaching methods are innovative and greatly helpful, and I have yet to get as much understanding and knowledge out of a course since taking his AP calculus course, despite going into a field that should by all rights have "better" education systems in place than any high school. His reinventing of the "cognitive and empirical wheel regarding math instruction" is a great help to many of his students, despite or more accurately because of his different method of evaluating students. Because of his classes, myself and others in my situation were much more well prepared for the "REAL WORLD" of dealing with higher mathematics than many others who were taught under standard systems, as many of them were pushed through the highschool level without gaining real comprehension of what they were doing, completely contrarily to the education style of Mr. Martin. Obviously one (or even a few) data point(s) do not point to causation, but just about everyone that I have seen take Mr. Martin's classes have greatly benefited from them, much more than people taking courses with very similar learning outcomes from any teacher who follows the standard method of teaching high school math. Clearly he's doing a lot of things that are very right for those he's doing them for.

 Lastly, what Ray says around exams

Exams are “said” to represent one’s knowledge of course material, this statement is both true and false.
Exams do test what we know but misses the main idea of why the answer is so. In most of today’s classes a student can pay attention in class, do their homework and study hard and they should obtain a decent mark but does this mark really display what they know? Exams force us students to memorize what material will be on that exam and to ignore the concepts that won’t be on it. Throughout my schooling there have been countless times when I have asked a teacher “Do we need to know this for the exam? “And they have replied with “No” so my fellow classmates and I don’t worry about it. 
I have noticed that the kids who take interest in the subject want to know WHY and it’s these students that seem to obtain the most success and useful knowledge from that class.  Most courses you can memorize all the material and know what it is but not understand why it is so and how you can use it in your life. Exams limit one’s potential and quite frankly not to many students like them. 
For example the dreaded diploma examinations that are worth 50% of our mark. We put in many hours into each subject in school over 6 hours a week and then 50% of our mark is based on a 3 hour exam? This time limit puts even more stress and pressure on us students, then we are told to manage our time for this exam we have never seen and aren’t sure what to expect. Personally when going in to write my math 30 diploma I was told I’d have lots of time so I took my time on each question. The pressure got to me, as I would second guess myself on each question. Before I knew it I was way behind, panicking as I knew I was in trouble.  I ended up having to guess on 7 questions as I had run out of time, me a kid who is quite familiar with managing time. 
What I’m getting at is that the exam couldn’t accurately represent my knowledge as it had a set of rules with it and could only cover so many concepts.  I was successful all year understanding each concept feeling confident with my learning then ONE exam dictates half of my mark. It dropped my mark a sizable amount and I felt ripped off. This exam did not represent my knowledge but more so the mark I got after some unfortunate questions that got the best of me. 
Exams limit our potential. In the real world we will have access to technology, others input and potentially more time which can help us great amounts. We will have real life situations where the “why” will be more important because the “how” can easily and quickly be taught to us due to the fact we understand the concepts present. 
Value of feedback assessments? 
Contrary to exam focused classes, assessments provide us with the “why”, “how” and even gives us experience and ways to use it in our life. To create our own examples we need to know why something occurs and then how this works or occurs. When we go out and create our projects we make our own examples that relate to us and stuff we are interested in which is another aspect missed by exam focused courses. The importance of feedback in school to me seems quite important and valuable.  
We learn from our mistakes and that’s the honest truth. We shouldn’t be punished for mistakes rather taught and encouraged how to not make them again. In exam situations we sometimes get to go over the questions and see how to do it correctly, with the diplomas and final exams no such luxury is granted. You do what you can and you get a mark, no feedback or an idea of what questions and concepts you struggled with, no learning!

“If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” -Ignacio Estrada

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

No percentages in Math

Recently, the Edmonton Journal did an article around my no percentage grades

EDMONTON - High school math teach­er Dave Martin has stopped grad­ing his stu­dents’ as­sign­ments with percentage marks.
In­stead, the Red Deer teach­er writes com­ments on homework and unit exams, then urges stu­dents to fix mis­takes and dem­on­strate their know­ledge again.
For one of his mid-terms, Martin asked his stu­dents what mark they want­ed and why, “and as long as they could jus­tify it, I gave it to them,” said Martin, who made a pres­en­ta­tion about his teach­ing meth­ods just over a week ago at the Great­er Edmonton Teachers Conference.
“It was real­ly in­ter­est­ing because people didn’t take ad­van­tage of this ... My class aver­age, when I did that, was lower than what it usu­al­ly is.”
Math edu­ca­tion has been a lightning rod for de­bate in Alberta and across the coun­try re­cent­ly, sparking pro­tests and a back-to-basics cam­paign that prompted for­mer edu­ca­tion min­is­ter Jeff Johnson to make ad­just­ments to Alberta’s K-9 math cur­ricu­lum.
Grad­ing and stu­dent as­sess­ment have also come under scru­tiny.
For­mer phys­ics teach­er Lynden Dor­val made na­tion­al head­lines in the spring of 2012 when he re­fused to fol­low a new pol­icy at Ross Sheppard High School that re­quired teach­ers to stop grad­ing with ze­ros and use be­hav­iour codes.
And a year ago, the Bat­tle River School Division in Camrose de­cid­ed high school stu­dents would again be graded with per­cent­age marks after par­ents and stu­dents fought a con­tro­ver­sial sys­tem that marked stu­dents with one of four achieve­ment lev­els.
It’s not until the end of Martin’s math cours­es that he as­signs each stu­dent a per­cent­age grade, which is re­quired by Alberta Education. To cal­cu­late that grade, Martin looks at the cur­ricu­lum out­comes for the course and fig­ures out what per­cent­age of those out­comes each stu­dent has learn­ed.
“So if a kid gets a 60 per cent (of the out­comes), then I can ac­tual­ly say, here is the 40 per cent he or she doesn’t under­stand, as op­posed to get­ting 60 on every test,” Martin said. “Think about the kid who gets 70 per cent all year. You know what that means? He never ac­tual­ly mas­tered any­thing.”
Martin said he wants stu­dents to learn the course ma­teri­al by the end of the year, so he has stopped pun­ish­ing stu­dents with re­duced marks when they learn the ma­teri­al more slow­ly. That means a stu­dent who makes mis­takes on as­sign­ments but final­ly grasps a con­cept at the end of the course can score the same mark as a stu­dent who aces it from the be­gin­ning, said Martin.
“I’ve been do­ing this for about five years now,” said Martin.
“Why do Eng­lish teach­ers get rough drafts but math teach­ers never al­low stu­dents to have rough drafts? So that’s kind of what I do. I al­low kids to dem­on­strate their learn­ing mul­tiple times ... I don’t be­lieve every kid can learn cal­cu­lus by, say, Fri­day, but I do be­lieve every kid can learn calculus.”
Martin started off teach­ing math the way he was taught math but the vast ma­jor­ity of his stu­dents hated it, he said. About 44 per cent of his cal­cu­lus stu­dents failed or dropped out. The rate was sim­i­lar when he com­pared it with other schools. Last se­mes­ter, his drop­out and fail­ure rate was zero.
Students are more in­clined to take on high­er-level math, even math out­side the cur­ricu­lum, if they know they’re not go­ing to be pun­ished for mak­ing a mis­take, he said.
It’s a far less stress­ful way to learn math, but the work isn’t easy, said Grade 12 cal­cu­lus stu­dent Hec­tor Jordan.
“You’ve got to under­stand it fully,” Jordan said. “You end up lik­ing math ... Ac­tual­ly, all his class­es are packed.”
Math teach­er Patricia Shoe­maker de­cid­ed to try Martin’s meth­ods with some of her Grade 10 stu­dents a year ago. Now that she grades with com­ments, at­tend­ance has sky­rock­eted at her mini-les­son study ses­sions. Shoe­maker said her stu­dents did as well or bet­ter on a com­mon final math test than other Grade 10 class­es at the school.
“I’m not grad­ing them on if their as­sign­ments are late anymore. I’m not grad­ing them on if they’re mis­sing an as­sign­ment. What I’m grad­ing them on is what they ac­tual­ly under­stand and what the out­comes are.”

I wanted to share two comments from my own students....these were written on their own without any request from myself.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Teachers; more than "teach"ers

Julie changes one student every day as he is mentally unable to change himself.  She has to wipe, clean, undress and dress this student every single day.

Jason, after school, coaches 15 boys basketball.  He has to plan drills, prepare his students both mentally and physically for the next game, book hotels and busses, and ensure each player is caught up in all classes.

Lindsey listened in silence as her student confessed that one night she drank too much and danced naked in front of other students.  After calling a counselor and organizing a third party psychologist to come in, Lindsey watched for days as this student dealt with turmoil, bullying, and public ridicule.  Through various supports, which Lindsey organized, this student over came this incidence and regained her mental health.

Chris wakes up every morning at 5 am to ensure he is at school to drive the cross-country running team on the bus.  Being one of the few teachers who have a bus license, he is called to drive the team to and from the track every morning.  While they train, Chris sits, enjoys a book, listens, and waits for the coach, whom is another teacher, to finish the daily training so he can drive the students back.

Brenda spent her Saturday on the phone with local RCMP discussing the mental health of a suicidal student.  She then drove to the hospital to sit with the student, as his family abandoned him and Brenda was the closest person he had left.  Only knowing the student for 3 months, she had very little information to give to the RCMP however the time she spent with him on Saturday may be the only reason he is alive today.

Carol has students who arrive to school starving.  Knowing that it is hard to focus when your stomach is louder than the people around you, she cooks a simple breakfast in her classroom every morning.  Usually coming out of her own pocket, she shops once a week to buy bagels, bread, eggs, fruit, and other simple breakfast items. 

The root word of teacher may be “teach” however this word represents only a part of the day of a teacher.   Teachers do teach, as well as act as parents, friends, shoulders, counselors, emergency contacts, cooks, bus drivers, coaches, and most importantly non-judgmental people.