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Taking the Pace I'm Going Through

As a part of the Innovator's Mindset MOOC set up by George Couros, we have been given weekly prompts to consider.  To be honest, this was a blog post I was drafting when I read the first prompt and realized it was perfectly timed.  

The prompt was as follows:

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”  How are you embracing change to spur  innovation in your own context?

I believe that all great change begins with the why. Change can be something done to us or done by us. I pride myself to be an individual that doesn't wait to be told to change. I look at the landscape in front of me (in the form of feedback from students, administrators, and my own reflections) and try a new iteration in the hopes that it will be as George Couros states in The Innovator's Mindset " New and Better". It is always my hope that each iteration will be an innovation. Many times what is new is not always better. But, it is always a learning opportunity. That leads me to this year's big change I am undertaking as we begin a new school year. The first of hopefully many changes to come.

In my teaching, learning outcomes were statements that were disconnected from the daily work students did.  In feedback surveys, students commented that they failed to see how the outcomes as used in class were helpful in clarifying what they were expected to do. The failure was not in the outcomes themselves, but how I was utilizing them, or more accurately not utilizing them.  After a summer of doing lots of reading, reflecting, and revising, I’m deploying a new framework for how we will work with learning outcomes in my classroom. The goal in my use of outcomes is to make the outcomes apparent to students throughout the learning process.

Last year, I presented outcomes on a daily basis.  My outcomes take the form of “I can” statements.  The are arranged on 0 to 4 proficiency rubric. Here’s an example from our first unit.

I worked very hard to craft the language for each level. But, I failed in communicating the outcomes to students. I failed to recognize the difference between presenting outcomes to students and students understanding and reflecting on outcomes. If they were not working with the outcomes, they meant nothing.

It wasn’t until the end of the unit that we looked closely at the proficiency scale for each outcome. Before the summative assessment, I would walk through each level and break it down. So, it wasn’t until the final days of the unit that it was made clear what they were expected to do to show mastery. On quizzes during the unit, I’d ask students to reflect on the outcomes on a scale of 0 -4, but it was not the proficiency scale they were looking at. It was a generic scale ranging from 0 = I can’t do this even with help to 4 = I could teach this.

Hattie’s Making Learning Visible, helped me frame the importance of having students identify gaps in their learning and look at progress over time. In order to do this, I can’t wait to have students understand and interact with the proficiency scales until the end of the unit. So, here’s the framework we’re implementing for unit 1.

  1. Exploration before content delivery

In this unit the introductory activity took the form of a computer simulation/game involving electric fields on one day and hands-on exploration of circuits with LittleBits on another. There was no attempt to deliver content or state the learning outcomes. This is something I didn’t do enough of in the past. Too often, I would jump right into content delivery without “priming the pump” or giving us a common experience to reflect on as we took our first steps into understanding the new content. The key to these exploration activities was to find an engaging experience that we could build content on top of.

Here’s the electric field hockey simulation. It requires Java to run.

Electric Field Hockey
Click to Run

  1. Introduction to Content via Pear Deck Lecture.

This is about a 30-40 minute lecture with built in questions students are asked to respond to (If you’re unfamiliar with Pear Deck, I highly recommend you check it out).  At the beginning of the lecture I mention the learning outcome, but I’ll wait until the end of the lecture time to break it down. Within the framework of some lectures, I may not be able to truly give them the experience of what would be required for a “Level 3 0r 4” on a proficiency scale but it puts students in a place of having to work with this new content knowledge not just absorb it. At the end of the lecture, I put up the proficiency scale for the outcome and break it down in terms of what students did in the day’s lesson. So, at the end of the first time the content is introduced, students are given the idea of how they would be expected to present understanding on a summative assessment. Students then rate their current level of understanding on the scale. It gives me a sense of where we are as a class and where individuals are at.

  1. Practice with Content

Help Wanted!  This is an area where I do not have structured remediations to meet the needs of individual learners.  I have practice problems and hands on experiences for all learners. Currently, I expect all learners to complete these activities.  If learners believe that they can demonstrate mastery after introduction of the content, should they be able to opt out of these practice activities? I know classrooms where they have leveled practice.  This is something I need to work towards and bring to my classroom. Hopefully my PLN (you) will remind me of this when I forget about it in a couple of months.

  1. Formative Quizzes

During the unit, we took three formative quizzes to check on progress towards objective mastery.  The quizzes were administered using Pear Deck. Pear Deck has a student paced setting so students could progress through the quiz slides at their own pace.  We conducted the quiz in two rounds.  In round one, students work quietly without notes to complete the quiz. The quiz is divided up by outcome and at the end of each outcome section there is a place for students to self rate themselves on the proficiency scale.  In round 2, students are allowed to use their notes or their neighbors to work through the quiz. The idea of round 1 is to check current understanding. Round 2 is to reflect and defend their answers and use resources to deepen their understanding. I love hearing the conversations during this section.  Students are using terminology and reasoning to express why they choose their answer not simply what they choose. Then, I lead the class through the quiz as a and students score themselves on the proficiency scale. This last part is actually the quickest.  But, I can see where we are struggling as a class and take the time to so some reteaching on the spot.

To add a reflection piece to the quiz, I’m asking students to add a brief written reflection on their performance on each quiz to their portfolio. I’m asking students to report out on their quiz performance including the good, the bad, and what they require to improve.

It is my hope to use the formative quizzing to drive work in the classroom. I ask student to report out what I could provide to help them progress up the scale. Students report this out via Pear Deck.

I collect the responses on the whiteboard.  It is my job to then make these opportunities available for students.  Below you can see some of the requests for this unit.



  1. Practice with Content

I then used student requests to create a variety of different remediations for students. Some were teacher led like when I would carry out demonstrations for students in order to reteach concepts or provide more examples of problem solving.  Other remediations were designed to be student driven.  These included additional simulations for students to interact with and additional sets of online practice problems students could complete and get immediate feedback.  In addition, I provided links to additional readings and video tutorials. These assignments were not checked nor were they required. As time goes on, I imagine I’ll be able to structure reteaching/demonstration sessions with specific focus.  I know a lot of teachers in my district conduct “seminars” in class for remediation.  It is my hope that I’ll be able to implement something similar, eventually.

  1. Summative Assessment

The summative assessment is intended to give learners the opportunity to demonstrate levels of proficiency on all three learning outcomes for the unit.  Students have the option of the format in which they will demonstrate proficiency. I gave students some guidance in terms of the types of products they could create for the alternative assessment. Examples I presented included screencasts (using Explain Everything), presentations they would present to me (using Google Slides), and infographics (using Piktochart or Canva).  Since this was the first unit assessment, I gave students an outlined template to guide the students through the process of creating a document in the form of a Google Slideshow.  Students didn’t have to use the template, but it was there if they wanted it.  

The rubric is the ultimate guide to how they will be assessed.  This is the same rubric that we have been using when content was introduced and on quizzes.  Before giving time to prepare the summative assessment, we walk through what each level of proficiency looks like. This was not as difficult as it had been in past years because they were familiar with the type of work asked when we worked through our quizzes.
Electricity assessment rubric notes_2.png

Electricity assessment rubric notes_3.png
The last 2 days of the unit, students worked on their path towards completing the assessment. Those taking the test worked on a review packet and additional practice problems on Canvas on the first day. Also, I ran a Pear Deck for them with practice test questions. The second day, students took the test. Those doing the alternative assessment were given time to put it together. I takes time to put the alternative assessment together. So while it may result in a little less test anxiety, it takes more time to craft a quality document that communicates mastery.

So that's the story up to the summative assessment . But this is not the end of the story. Like I said this is an iteration and I hope to discover that it is an innovation. The only way to determine if it is better is to seek and reflect on feedback. I look forward to collecting student feedback on the process and their ideas for designing the next iteration. Also, I have to look at how the students performed on the assessments to determine what worked and what didn't. Then, speak to how students will be given opportunities to demonstrate mastery if the failed on this attempt. Not to mention my ideas for the next iteration now that my students have a better feel for the cycle and routines. I'm going to be getting a lot of good data in the next couple of days. I look forward to reflecting on it and sharing it. Kind of feels like a cliffhanger, but...

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