WestCAST 2012

Next week, I will be attending the WestCAST (Western Canadian Association for Student Teaching) 2012 conference being hosted by the University of Calgary.  I attended the conference last year when it was in Brandon, Manitoba and shared a session called “Google 2.0 – More Than a Search Engine” and met many other student teachers from across western Canada.

This year, the conference challenge is “How might we rethink the focus and practices of teacher education to explore emergent insights into learning?” and I’m excited to hear what other universities are doing to investigate this.

In Calgary, I’ll be involved in two different sessions.  The first workshop is called “Using POEs with K-12 Students to Develop Scientific Concepts” where my Science Education classmates will be sharing and demonstrating various POE (Predict, Observe, Explain) activities.  We’re sharing a wiki using business (front and back) and you can find it at bit.ly/urpoes.

The second session I’m running is called “Flipping Math Upside Down” where I am planning to share my use of the flipped classroom over my internship.  I’m still working on the finer details of the presentation, but I’m hoping to share my story, show other examples and discuss some pros and cons about the flipped classroom before opening the floor to questions and having a conversation. I haven’t decided yet how I’ll share my presentation with those who attend, but I’m likely going to just use a GoogleDoc and Slideshare (unless you hav ea better suggestion, let me know!)

I’m planning on live-tweeting using the hashtag #westcast2012 * throughout the conference, and I hope others in attendance do the same.  It has been a while since I blogged, and I’m hoping that the sessions and conversations can be a spark to get me back into the groove of sharing.

*Edit (Feb 19, 2012): The Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary has recommended using #WestCAST2012, instead of the #westcast I was planning on using. http://educ.ucalgary.ca/node/1171

Photo Credit: HessonPhotography via Compfight cc

How Things Are Done Around Here

(Click image to enlarge.)

Does this sound familiar?

I don’t know where this image originated, but if you do, let me know so I can give credit where credit is due.

Growth Documentary

I made this video for my EPS 350 class this semester. Instead of writing a final reflective paper, we created mini documentaries to show our growth over the semester. The video is just under fourteen and a half minutes long and can be viewed by clicking play below or here.

I used iMovie ’09 and a FlipCamera to shoot all of the film. I originally had over three hours of footage that I clipped down to the 14 minute video.

The Bare Minimum

St(art) (From Flickr)

St(art) (From Flickr)

This semester has brought about a lot discussion around assessment among my classmates. This is what I have found:

As university students, we don’t care about learning.  We care about getting a good enough grade to move on.  It wasn’t until my class Skyped with Joe Bower that I began to realize this.  Joe challenged and pushed our thoughts on grading and what impact is has on real learning.

So I decided to stop caring.  Those who know me might think that I have never cared.  They aren’t wrong, but what they were actually saw was me being able to get good grades without trying very hard. I always cared and worried about the grade I would receive and how others would view me because of it.

So how am I going to get through my degree without caring about my grades? What kind of teacher will I be if I’m not getting good grades?

For the first time in my life, I now care about my learning.  I am finally beginning to see how little the two are connected. Up until this point, I would do whatever I needed to do to obtain the mark I wanted to get.  I would do the bare minimum I needed to.  It didn’t matter if I wanted to get a 50% or a 90%, I would do the same amount of learning: the bare minimum.

Now, there is no bare minimum.

I look around my classes and am disappointed.  My classmates constantly ask how long it has to be, how detailed we need to get, how many resources we need to use… we have all heard them.  We don’t know it (I didn’t at the time), but we are simply looking for the bare minimum we need to do to get our grade.

I know these expectations are designed to give us a guide for us to strive above, but more often than not, they serve as a cap.  We don’t have incentive to go above and beyond.  If we want our grade, and we’ve met the requirements, why go any deeper?

I have a few classmates who are on board with this train of thought.  The things we have come up with and shared in the past two months are beyond anything any of us have ever done.  They haven’t been graded and we don’t care.  We have developed an appetite to learn, and it’s been way more satisfying than any grade could be.

It’s time we all need to stop caring about our grades and start caring about our learning; something no one can grade.

Effort in Assessment

To kick off our Winter 2011 semester we attended a conference covering many different education topics.  For one session I chose to attend a presentation about physical education assessment, mostly since I know nothing about physical education and thought that perhaps I could get some ideas that could translate well over into math and the sciences.

To kick off this particular presentation, the presenters posed a question to us;  Should effort be included in assessment?  I immediately thought to myself, of course it should.  I think mostly everyone else in the room had the same train of thought.  Then they asked us to consider the following scenario:

Chairs (From Flickr)

Chairs (From Flickr)

You’re looking for a new wooden chair.  You head to the local wooden chair shop and, after some time, you narrow down your search to two different chairs.  You decide to sit in them to see how comfortable they are.  The first one feels good, you can see yourself sitting comfortably in it everyday.  You sit in the second one and it falls apart. You find out that the first one was built in less than a day by a “natural” builder who has incredible talent, he/she usually builds a few a day without any problem.  The second chair, which fell apart, was built by someone who spent months of hard labour and put a lot of  love and care into their work.  Regardless of this background knowledge, which chair would you buy?

This scenario bothered me ever since I heard it.  To be completely honest, I had not considered this approach until hearing the scenario.

Is the purpose of education to create the best wooden chair?  How can we encourage students to learn to build better chairs if we don’t find out what areas need improvement in the building process?  Did the builder struggle with gluing, cutting or what? Isn’t knowing about the process involved much more valuable?

How do we get out of the mindset of caring solely about the final product?

Cramming

Studying for an exam (From Flickr)

Studying for an exam (From Flickr)

A few weeks ago, I finished up my finals for the year.   Luckily, I only had to write two finals because all of my education classes had final projects instead.   This meant I had a great deal of extra time to prepare for my two difficult math finals.  I’m used to having to prepare for five finals in the same time period, so I had plenty of time to get ready for these two.

Did I use this time to my advantage? Of course not.  Why would I?  If high school taught me anything, it was that I can cram the night (or even morning) before an exam, and do well on it.  I was so good at it, I graduated with highest average in my class and received the Governor Generals award for Academic excellence, “the most prestigious award that students in Canadian schools can receive” (quoted from http://archive.gg.ca/honours/awards/acmed/index_e.asp).  I strongly feel that my effort in high school was pathetic, and that the awards and recognition I received was not deserved.  Perhaps I wasn’t challenged enough, maybe I just didn’t care.  It’s tough to recall what was going through my head at that point.

It turns out that this skill has stuck with me into my post-secondary career. For one of my finals I was able to figure out the mark  I got on the exam.  Miraculously, I pulled off a 95% on the final.   I use the word miraculously because I only put in about three or four hours of studying, if you can even call it that (much of that time was wasted away on Youtbe, Twitter, and Facebook).

I found some definitions of “studying”.

Studying: perusal: reading carefully with intent to remember
(http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=studying)

Reading carefully with intent to remember? Try having an intent to get a good mark. I could have cared less if I remembered, since I didn’t feel that class would be beneficial to myself down the road.

Study skills and study strategies are abilities and approaches applied to learning. They are generally critical to success in school, are considered essential for acquiring good grades, and are useful for learning throughout one’s life.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studying)

They are very critical to success in school and essential for acquiring good grades. Useful for learning throughout one’s life? Not so much. Not my study skills. How often are we faced with situations similar to a midterm or final exam in real life? I’m yet to encounter anything similar.  Maybe it’s still coming.

Do I know 95% of the class material? Not a chance. Maybe I did from 9-12 that morning, but by that night, most of it had already been forgotten. If you asked me what that class was about now, I could probably tell you a few of the topics we covered, but not much more.   I was able to attain a mark that in no way reflects my knowledge of the course.  What it reflects, is how effectively I was able to cram in those three or four hours.  Apparently I’m pretty good at it.

Studying (from Flickr)

Studying (from Flickr)

I get away with this, because the current education system allows me to. If I (or any student) can get by with as little effort as possible, why would I (or we) change things up? I know this is not right and not going to help me in the long run, but classes that allow this are just making the problem worse.

I do not want my students to turn out like this. I am a product of the system that I want to change. I’ve never really been encouraged to learn, but rather I was encouraged to get good grades. It appears to me that most people don’t know the difference.  To be honest, I didn’t really know the difference until this year.  I have started to realize that I have learned more in classes that I’ve received 60’s in than those that I’ve received high 90’s in.

So how do I encourage students to learn? I am the perfect example of how I don’t want my students to turn out. Is it possible to simply abolish exams? Or grades?  I don’t think it’s this easy, especially in high school, where grades are essential for students who wish to move onto post secondary education. Certainly, marks motivate many students to pay attention and do their work.  But if they are anything like me, they will write the test, get  a grade for it, and forget the very next day.

I want to encourage life long learning, not up-to-the-exam learning.