Friday, June 26, 2015

Government Exam destroys passion

Below is an article written by a teacher after the 2015 Grade 9 PAT (Provincial achievement exam)

Feeling frustrated, and so I imagine parents and kids are too. Today was one of the toughest grade 9 PAT math exams I've seen in awhile. I saw tears, frustration, and a very sizable chunk of kids needing extra time to complete the exam. Saw kids whose class marks are in the 90's get hammered and scrape by with barely over a 60%.
So dear Alberta Education, here's my rant; instead of patting yourself on the back by writing convoluted, multi-step, detour questions, many of which require correctly calculated intermediary answers, all in the glorious effort to inspire multidimensional thinking heavily dependent on simultaneous synthesis of several curriculum outcomes, how about you keep it a little simpler?
How about just a few more straightforward knowledge based questions?
How about instead of knocking kids way off balance to the point they lose their confidence, you limit the amount of "higher order thinking" questions to 1 out of every 10 or so?
Because once the students' confidence is gone, they're done. I saw 2 outlier questions - one of which was asked in the first 5 questions - that gave me pause, and I teach the damn course!
Quit using the June PAT as a field test on kids stressed out enough about their next journey into high school. Ridiculous. They're not your guinea pigs. Stick to just a little more straightforward assessments. Please.
Hard to "inspire" kids to learn when you obliterate them on a government exam

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What are students saying about no grades?

Recently I asked my class to fill out an anonymous online survey and here are the responses.

1) Overall, did you enjoy learning the material in Math 31?

96% Yes
4% No

2) Did you feel as you wanted to learn more about the material in Math 31?

88% Yes
12% No

3) Do you feel as your knowledge of the course content is demonstrated through is assessment practice?

96% Yes
4% No

4) Provide Mr. Martin with comments around being allowed to demonstrate knowledge multiple times without any punishment. (Here are some)

Being able to do a test multiple times with no punishment ensured that I actually understood what I was doing, no matter how much extra help or time it took.
It would be rather irrational to test whether or not an individual has fully inculcated the outcome by assessing their ability merely based on one particular type of assessment. I intuit this is a better way, as it lessens the pressure and reduces the students' stress level.
It was nice to be able to rewrite everything. It allowed for me to continue to learn and not be punished for not knowing something at the time of writing but rather allowing me to prove that i can learn it and i will eventually understand what I'm doing.
By allowing students to retake tests, the emphasis placed on knowing the material is hugely increased. Rather than a student doing poorly on an outcome, resenting the material and never bothering to learn it again because the mark is said and done, this offers a way for the student to re-learn the concept and show their understanding. I really like this.
High school is hard enough without the added pressure of a test. it's nice to know that even though you fail an outcome you can retake it and relearn it until you fully understand the concept.
A teachers job is to teach students the outcomes by the end of the semester, not in a week. In other classes you are given a week, maybe two, to learn an outcome and after that you never touch it again until review week. In Martin's class if you don't 100% understand the outcome you can work with it all year to understand it. I feel this gives you a significantly more comfortable feeling with the material.

5) Someone could critique Mr. Martin for not giving daily homework.  What would you say to this person?

I personally learn better from practice, so I personally wish there was a little bit of homework.
He give us extra practice sheets and access to a textbook so we have opportunity to do extra work, but aren't forced to do it if we don't need it.
I'd almost agree with them, as homework with a mark attached forces you to pick up the material at home and stay fresh with the topic at hand - something that really helps with being lazy.
There was no need for homework because the class highly prioritizes individual responsibility, Not assigning homework creates extra time for a student who really needs to review and relearn the materiel to do so.
you don't need to do daily homework to understand the content of he course so why do extra work if it is not needed.
While Mr. Martin does not assign daily homework, he has practice work for students to do available on his webpage for every outcome in Math 31. This way students who really do want to succeed in the class can optionally do the homework available online. This feels more like a transition to post secondary, which calculus should be, than teachers repetitively handing work sheets back that not everyone needs to do to understand the concept.
6) General Comments
I really like the problem solving aspect that you introduce when reviewing an outcome, the way you integrate real-life situations into the class. Even the extra-curricular stuff, such as the finance app on our calculators.
I just am bad at math, so the course was a bit of a struggle. The class creates a good environment where there's very little stress, which is especially nice, unlike most other math classes with their Tuesday quizzes and constant marks. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Are you beautiful mathematically?

A great to introduce slope, or a just a cool way to link beauty to math...

1) Get students in groups of 3 or 4 and provide them with a ruler stick, and ensure each group has some way of accessing a google doc.

2) Create and share the google doc that has the following tables for students to input data.

Distance from outside edge of eye to center of nose vs Distance from inside edge of eye to nose
Length of forearm vs Length of Hand

Length from Head to end of fingers standing straight vs total height

3) Have students measure the various measurements and write in the google doc their results.

4) Ask the following questions (change depending on grade level)
-Determine the slope of the 4 sets of data.
-Draw any conclusions you may have.
-Can you think of anything else that may have this relationship?
-Research the number Phi
-Prepare a "cool thing" about this number and be prepared to share with the class.

5) You could even have students calculate their beauty number-How close their own measurements are to the golden ratio.

Here is a pic showing just how the Golden Ratio makes a face look more beautiful


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.