Tech vs Paper

I’m very fortunate to teach at a school that has a one-to-one laptop program.  Each student I teach has their own laptop that has scribing capabilities, students can use a stylus to “write” on their screens.  With my students having instant, immediate access to the internet, it has opened up learning opportunities that probably wouldn’t have presented themselves otherwise.

In my math classes, I create OneNote files for my students to use instead of worksheets on paper.  It’s an attempt to cut down paper use and it allows them (and me) to stay much more organized.  All of my students do all of their work on their tablets and it seems to work pretty well.  However, when it comes time to gives quizzes or tests, it’s always on paper.

Is this right?  It seems like an odd question, but am I preparing students to take these assessments on paper?  Does it even matter?  Is it ridiculous to make my quizzes in the same OneNote format as their assignments?

The other issue I have with using our tablets all the time is time.  In the chemistry course I taught last trimester, we used POGILs (process oriented guided inquiry learning).  In POGILs, students work in groups with specific roles and they are guided to discover whatever concepts are covered in that  topic.  I spent a considerable amount of time converting all the paper packets to work Google Docs so the students could collaborate within their groups.  For me, it was really valuable to be able to peek into any of the documents, add a few comments here and there, and then move onto the next groups.  I thought the students would find it a refreshing change compared to the paper they are used to seeing.

I was wrong. They didn’t like it.  They found it tedious and, I think in a couple of cases, one person just took charge and ended up doing most of it by themselves.

At one point in the trimester, I realized that my class had fallen behind and we were going to have a tough time catching up to the other sections that were going on.  I decided to try to go back to paper for these POGIL activities and reduce the group sizes from four per group to two per group.

I don’t have any data, but I would guess that my students completed these packets almost twice as fast as previously.  Maybe it was the reduction of group size, but I think it had more to do with the switch to paper.  I don’t know why this was, but I was really surprised since I thought the use of the tech was something they enjoyed.  I thought maybe it may have something to do with my students being proficient in using the tech tools we have, but I mostly dismissed that idea because most of them have been using it since they started at the school and many of them are using the tools in other courses.

I’m going to investigate this idea a bit further this upcoming trimester.  Have you seen results similar to this in your class or school?

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More Learning: Superheroes and Global Warming

Now that I’m starting to get the hang of this teaching thing, I have gained back my appetite to learn more.

Luckily for me (and everyone else), the internet is so easily accessible and you can learn about anything you want anywhere, anytime.  Sometimes it’s easy to find what you’re looking for, sometimes it’s not.  Now that more and more people are starting to realize this, more and more sites are popping up with the purpose to help people learn what they want.

coursera_logo_RGBCoursera, you should check it out.  Their tagline is “Take the World’s Best Courses, Online, For Free”.  You can’t argue with that.  Basically it’s an online platform where real professors teach real courses.  It’s free for anyone to sign up.   The selection of courses is incredible, when I first saw the site I wanted to sign up for at least 20 different ones.

I recently signed up for a course called “Science from Superheroes to Global Warming” on Coursera.  The entire purpose of the course is to make students better critical thinkers around scientific content by examining scientific accuracy of movies and videogames (I wish high school courses had themes like this to build off of!) Basically, the aim is to improve scientific literacy.  I like to think I’m already pretty scientifically literate, but I have never actually learned anything formally about it.

The course started four weeks ago.  I’ll be playing a bit of catch up, but that’s okay since everything content-wise is delivered through video and readings.   I also discovered you can speed up the videos to higher speeds.  If I watch at 1.50x speed, I deal with a bit higher pitched voice but  I can watch a ten minute video in just over 6 and a half minutes.  The course is also built on discussion boards where you discuss and apply your new knowledge, it will be impossible to catch up the 4 weeks of missed discussions, but I’m looking forward to the forthcoming ones.

They give you a grade, but I couldn’t care less about it.  I don’t think too many people voluntarily sign up for online courses because they want to get a grade in it.  They sign up because they want to learn.  I love that.   This will be the first learning environment I’ll find myself in where grades don’t matter. Thinking and learning does.

Hopefully, I can bring some of what I learn to my classroom.

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World’s Largest Rubik’s Cube Mosaic

Today,  I came across an article on today about the world’s largest rubik’s cube mosaic that was recently built (is built the right word for art?).  Spoiler alert: the article tells you how many cubes were used.

I think this could be a great lead in to a WCYDWT or a 3Acts type problem.  I hope I can develop it into one, but it would be a great start to hear your thoughts.  I’ve also posted this one 101qs.com

What questions come to mind for you?  Please share in the comments below!

A special shoutout to @paul_aniceto for suggesting turning this into a math problem.

Photo Credit: – macau-mural-perspective1.jpg


Why Tests?

I’ve been thinking a lot about final assessments, and assessment in general, lately.

If we started education today, with no knowledge of what has happened in the past, would we still have tests?  Tests confined to two hours?  Tests full of multiple choice questions? Tests with questions intended to trick students?  Tests where we expect students to memorize things word for word?  Tests strictly with paper and pencil?  Test where collaboration equals cheating?

Today, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would use a test as an assessment method, if they had never heard of or seen a test before.

It seems to me that all teachers know that there are better ways to assess out there.  But, come exam time, everyone seems to give an exam (Not really everyone, I know a lot of good people are doing a lot of good things to try to go against this norm).  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that Saskatchewan was increasing standardizing testing today.

What I’m struggling with most: Why have tests survived over time the way they have?

Is it because they are easy?  Is it because we feel the need to have something that gives us a simple number to contribute to a grade?  Is it because we’re too uncreative to come up with other ways?  Is it because the public is resistant to the change?  Is it because students need to be able to take a SAT-like test to be successful in the future?  Is it because they need to be able to take tests in college/university?   Is it because we need to collect data?  Is it because it’s the only way to assess the curriculum we are required to follow?

I could go on and on, but any possible explanation I come up with doesn’t outweigh the need for meaningful, authentic assessment for our students.  They’re the whole reason we even have an education system, right?

Am I missing something here?

Meaningful Assessment is Hard

One thing I’ve learned in my first year of teaching is that real, meaningful assessment is not easy.

It’s easy for me to make multiple choice tests, maybe with some true/false or matching questions.  I could probably grade more than one a minute once I got going with them.  I may even be faster if I had a scantron type machine.

But when I assess this way, I don’t actually find out what my students know.  I get a number, a meaningless number.  One that’s supposed to tell me and my students what they know and learned.  But, it doesn’t tell me anything.

To be able to find out what my students have learned and if they actually understand anything we have done, it takes a lot more time.  The questions take time and responses are unique to each student.  It’s a difficult process and takes up the most limited and valuable resource teachers have: time.

Real assessments produce more than a number, they give the students feedback on what they can improve on and what they were strong at.  They should guide students in where to take their learning next.  It should show students where they can improve, in very specific, detailed ways.  Good assessments should give me, the teacher, a peek into my students mind and see how and why they’re doing/saying what they are.

Consequently, they should do the same for me.  They should show me where I need to improve as a teacher and guide me in differentiating for my students.

I’m yet to find a multiple choice test that can do this.  I’m not sure they exist.

Having struggled with my own time management lately, I understand the appeal to use easy-to-grade assessments.  But, we need to continue to find meaningful, valuable assessments that actually matter to our students learning (more than just to give them a number for their grade).  I don’t know when or if I’ll ever find an assessment I’m happy with, but that’s my goal.

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This is not learning.

It’s currently the end of trimester and time for finals at my school.

Suddenly, all of the calm and motivated students I have taught this year have become something completely different.  Learning is out the window.  All they care about right now is what is going to be on their tests or final assessments.  The peace and order in my classroom has turned into near chaos with the looming final assessments.

I even have students in my classes where I’m not giving a final exam stressing out.  I’m not going to pretend to understand that one, but I can only imagine it stems from the stress overflowing from other courses.

They openly admit that all they care about is getting their desired grade.  They tell me they won’t sleep for the next week and they are clearly completely miserable.

It kills me to see my students being driven to this.

I don’t know why anyone would want to put this sort of unhealthy stress on a teenager.  If this isn’t a strong enough reason to reconsider whether we should be giving final exams to assess our students learning, I don’t know what will be.

This is not learning.

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