Dan Meyer’s making Maths fun again!

Dan Meyer has got me excited about teaching Maths. As I am Health and PE teacher, that will probably seem odd. Today, I had the pleasure of attending one of Dan Meyer’s Sydney Seminars hosted by 3P Learning (the makers of Mathletics). Although I’m a PE techer, deep down, I do love Maths. It was my favourite subject at school and I even voluntarily took a first year Maths course in first year university.
What was it that I liked so much about today’s seminar that got me excited? Dan has simply tried to make it interesting for students to do Maths. He’s trying to get students out of textbooks and into the real world to see the application of maths. In his words, ‘There are limitations to the medium of paper to convey the likability and usefulness of Maths’. Instead of opening the textbook in the first instance, Dan’s trying to get the students developing their own critical thinking skills, developing the problem solving skills by trying to get them to work out how to ask questions to solve problems and he is also advocating for the collaboration between students to get to the point of solving the problem. To do it, he’s using images or videos that he’s found or created to engage the students in the topic.
His process isn’t too dis-similar to that of Project Based Learning. Use a ‘hook’ to engage the students, get them record the questions they have and then work out how to solve the questions. He’s not telling them to do the math, but he’s asking them to solve their own questions – questions that you’d probably have found in a textbook anyway – but because a student asks the questions, they’ve bought in to solving them. That’s the kicker really. The student wants to see their questions answered and they can’t just look it up in the back of the book.
As Dan took us through the process, one thing stood out, there was no judgment on our individual  performances. We worked together using the ‘Think-pair-share’ method not just to formulate our questions but also as we worked out how we’d solve those questions. As Dan said, by using this method, it gives all the students a chance to think of questions before becoming distracted by the question that the student with the first hand up provides. By getting us to review our guesses from early in the process, he was giving those that didn’t have the refined maths skills the chance to succeed.
The reality is, this doesn’t happen enough. Allow the students to fail or succeed in safe environments that aren’t high stakes. It provides a terrific opportunity to build their confidence and enjoyment in what ever subject you teach. Students in this environment are willing to take risks with their questioning and problem solving and get to experience how others would tackle the question too.
We’re all passionate about our subject areas and want to see our students share the enthusiasm that we have, but sometimes we get bogged down in teaching methods that don’t inspire the students. Again today, I was reminded that I need to keep focused on how I engage my students in my subject so that they too may become passionate about health and physical activity.
For those Math’s teachers playing along at home:

Assessment – the real start to your child’s academic growth!?

My wife picked up a parenting magazine today as we entered our local swimming pool as we took our son to his regular swimming lesson. As she flicked through it, the advertisement in the picture above, caught my eye. As a PE teacher, it was the picture that initially drew my attention and so I looked closely to see that it was an advertisement for an externally administered, standardised testing program. The tests typically take the form of a ‘bubble’ test that requires student’s to circle the bubble that corresponds to the correct answer. After they’re marked, students get a certificate that tells them whether they got a credit, distinction or high distinction. (I’m not sure whether the students who get in the bottom 10 percent get certificates, but maybe they’ve decided that that would be detrimental to a student’s well-being?).

The claim on the advertisement is “Assessment: The real start to your child’s academic growth”. Just stop and think about that for a moment. What’s it saying exactly? That until students’ are properly assessed they can’t achieve substantial academic growth until they are assessed. And, that that assessment is best done by a once per year multiple choice bubble test that is marked by computer?
It also claims that their tests help you (the parent) identify strengths, weaknesses and progress to support academic success. For this to occur, parents need to be given feedback saying what the student got correct, what they got wrong, where they can improve on. However, in a subject that requires particular skills to answer the question, how can a test that doesn’t require a student to show how they solved the problem give accurate feedback?
It makes me think, if parents need to rely on the information gathered from a once per year, standardised (mostly) multiple choice test to find out what their child’s strengths and weaknesses are then our school’s information gathering about student understanding and reporting on it is not doing it’s job.
On the other hand, are we (teachers) using these because it’s ‘good’ for the students to see how they compare to other students, then we need to consider whether learning is a competition in which we need to compare ourselves to one another and whether that is good for the well being of the students.
In his article “The case against grading“, Alfie Kohn sets out clearly how research has shown how detrimental grading is to learning – that it decrease the learners interest in whatever they’re learning, that they create a preference for the easiest possible task, that they reduce the quality of student’s thinking.
More and more I feel our number one priority must be to encourage students to become individuals with a desire to learn more, who enjoy learning and have the skills to do so. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to get rid of grades or marks completely from our schools because we often have to collect information or prepare our students for their final leaving exams. Here in New South Wales, where I teach, that is the Higher School Certificate. However, we can take steps to minimise the number of grades that our students get and endeavour to give more helpful feedback to students that doesn’t provide judgement on their work but shows them what they’ve done well and what they can improve and what direction they can move in next.
In my classes, I’ve started using feedback forms that outline the areas of their work that they’ve shown they’ve shown they understand what they are doing and a section that sets out areas that they can still develop. Maybe this isn’t perfect but I’m trying to keep my feedback free from judgment. I also give students opportunities to re-submit (even on tests when we still have them) so that they have the opportunity to show what they actually know rather than using it to test their performance at that one moment in time.
Does anyone else keep portfolios of learning and give feedback rather than grades? I’d love to hear how you do it and what format you use, and what the advantages and disadvantages are as I seek to do it better.
Also, if you haven’t read any of Alfie Kohn’s work on grading, motivation and extrinsic rewards I strongly recommed you take a look. You can find a lot of his articles here.
Reference: Alfie Kohn (2011) “The Case Against Grading” http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/tcag.htm

Classroom expectations – theirs or mine?

At the start of each year, a common discussion topic among teachers is ‘What do you do in the first lesson with your classes?’. Old school teachers may reply “Be tough, don’t smile until Easter”, “Put them in a seating plan, get them working hard to set a good work ethic” etc etc.

Well, this year, for the first time in a long time, I’d never taught any of the students in three of my five classes. Two were year 9 and one was a year 7 class. For year 7, that’s par for the course, but for the two Year 9 classes, their only knowledge or experience of me as a teacher will predominantly have come from others – either siblings or friends – evidenced by comments such as ‘don’t you give lots of detentions for such and such’, ‘I heard you give lots of homework, is that true’. So my first class had greater significance than ever before. Rather than set out my class rules/expectations, our first lessons were focused on students developing/setting the expectations, giving them some ownership over the culture we are to develop int he classroom.

Our first activity was to work in small groups and discuss what they thought were reasonable expectations for each of them in this class. This was followed by a class discussion and developing a set of expectations for behaviour and work ethic that would set the standard for the year.

Here’s what they came up with:

Student Expectations

  • Do your best. Work to the best of  your ability at all times.
  • Listen when someone else is talking
  • Treat your classmates with respect (this probably covers number 2 anyway)
  • Submit or complete work on time
  • Ask Questions when you don’t understand something
  • Come to class with everything you need

The only thing I had to add was:

  • Try new things and expect to make mistakes.

I thought this last one was important to add to get the students thinking about the role of mistakes in learning and because I want to try and foster an atmosphere  where they aren’t afraid to make mistakes. Hopefully, this will help them take more risks in their learning and experiment more with their projects and tasks.

The second part of the lesson was to determine what were realistic expectations of the teacher. Again, students had time to brainstorm their thoughts and then report back to the whole class. This is where the activity got interesting and required some light hearted negotiation. Students’ suggestions included ‘Give no homework’, ‘Don’t give detentions’. The most interesting and provocative though was “You need toteachus”. My response was “I can’t guarantete you that I’ll teach you as much as you want” This really got them going. “You have to teach us, that’s your job”, “that’s what our parents pay fees for” (we are a private school). I countered that my job isn’t to teach them, but to help them learn. Well, this seemed to spin a few heads as their were lots of confused looks in the room. It’s the first time that I’ve ever had that discussion with junior years and proved that it is a really worthwhile task to do with your class. Let them set the expectations and negotiate with them how the classroom will work to provide a positive learning environment.

Here is the final teacher expectations:

  • Have realistic work load expectations and time frames.
  • Treat students with respect
  • Encourage students in what they do
  • Give meaningful feedback on your work (this was my addition)
  • Listen to students’ ideas

So, a few final thoughts, who sets the expectations in your classroom? Do students have a voice in their learning environment? Will you be teaching the students, or helping them to learn.

Badminton – TGfU

At the end of last year, I began to experiment using the ‘Teaching Games for Understanding’ (TGfU) model in my PE classes. I’d used similar questioning in my lessons previously, but it hadn’t been a driver in developing lessons and units. This year, I’m determined to do it more and have in fact set my department the challenge to adopt it in to more of their units too.

Our year 9’s start with a unit of badminton. In the past, we’ve spent a lot of time playing games and practicing specific skills but little time on strategy. We don’t have specific courts marked out for badminton, so make do we what we can create in the space available. I have managed to string together 6 courts which means the class is active the whole time.

Before starting this year, I did a quick search for some resources online and found a fantastic wiki with TFfU resources for a wide range of sports. I found the Badminton resources particularly helpful in getting my class started.

In the first lesson, the students experiemented with different types of shots. After a quick warm up with one ‘bird’ between two students, they then had to rally just with underarm shots and then with just over arm shots. Because asking questions plays a big role in developing understanding, I asked questions like, ‘what was easy about playing an underarm shot at the front of the court?’, ‘What was difficult using one at the back of the court?’, ‘What was the flight path of the bird when hit underarm?’ and ‘What impact will that have on a rally?’. I asked similar questions for overhead shots in order to get them observing the flight of the shot and to work out how and when they could use each shot in a game.

Today we had the second lesson and it was based on progressions found on the TGfU wiki for Badminton.  Our first activity, used one tennis ball between 2 players across the net. The idea was to move the opposing player around the court trying to get the ball to bounce in open space to win a point. The video below gives a good idea of what the students had to do.

Activity 1 – Tennis Ball

This game provided a great basis for asking the following questions (taken and adapted from the TGfU wiki mentioned earlier).

1. Why is it easier to catch some throws than others?

2. What strategies did you use to try and make it difficult for your opponent to catch the ball.

Activity 2 – Singles with a racquet and bird

We progressed from this game to using a racquet and bird and asked the following questions:

1. When was it easiest to hit the bird? Why?

2. What was the most difficult shot to return? Why?

3. How and when can this shot be used effectively in a game?

Activity 3 – Doubles

The third activity was to play a doubles game, using any type of shot to try and get the bird to hit the ground. It was really good to see the students starting to think about he type of shot they would play and already working out strategies to create space on the court.

At the end of this activity, these are the questions I used:

1. What was the main difference between playing singles and doubles? Answers included a lack of space in doubles, harder to hit it away from opposition players etc.

2. What were the challenges of playing doubles? Answers included, getting in each others way, working out a common strategy or knowing what the other player was trying to do.

3. What different strategies did you use on the court to manage the space? Most teams said one player at the front and one at the back but a couple set up side by side.

4. For each of the two strategies we then explored how you could create space to attack – Question: How can you create space when players are side by side/one forward, one back?

We also discussed the types of shots players could use if they were forced out of position by the opposition and they were able to identify using defensive lobs or hitting the ball long and high to give you time to get back in position.

 

All of this was achieved in a 45 minute lesson. It was great to see the players starting to think and then putting the strategies they were developing into action. Make sure you check out the TGfU wiki http://tgfu.wetpaint.com/ . They have many great ideas that you can use in heaps of different sports.

TGFU – Cricket Lesson

Every now and again something on Twitter catches my eye and gets me thinking. A year or two ago, someone shared a link to an article about Teaching Games for Understanding (TFGU) that got me exploring it more and more in my own Physical Education classes. Just recently I found this video about using Teaching Games for Understanding for teaching striking games.  As we are doing striking games with year 8 at the moment (with a focus on Softball and Cricket), I thought I could apply this really well to teaching Cricket and some of the strategies and decision making that takes place. This morning I tried it, and I’m very pleased to say it worked really well and we’ll do it again next week with a added modifications.

Because this video is focused on students who are a little younger, I used a similar set up but changed the rules to be more specific to cricket. I used ropes to set out the four playing fields and had sets of stumps in each one. I used the markers at the end of the ropes for the batters to run around to score runs and, instead of a hula hoop, used a marker to show the bowler where to bowl from.

With 6-8 students in each game it provides greater involvement in the game meaning students practice their skills more which is also a benefit, however the biggest benefit is the way the smaller games, with limitations added allowed for students to think about strategy/tactics and how to use their skills to be successful in the game. It also allowed me to group students together who were of similar skill levels which can be difficult in larger groups.

I used the following rules:

  • Bowlers had to attempt to bowl with a straight arm, but after a few goes could revert to underarm if they wanted to (many didn’t take this choice which surprised me in a co-ed class)
  • Players had to hit the ball so that it stayed in their quadrant. Balls hit outside their quadrant on the full were out.
  • Players could score fours using the normal geographical boundaries of the field.
  • Players had to rotate fielding positions as batters and bowlers changed so they learned the different skills/decision making issues at each spot.

The first time everyone batted, we played hit and run to keep everyone moving through quickly. However, the second time through, the players could choose to run when they felt like it. They had to make decisions on whether they’d hit it far enough to make it around the marker and back, how far it was from a fielder etc. This decision making was much more easily introduced in this form than ‘normal’ cricket because they had a smaller playing field to work in.

Other observations of the lesson today (and in comparison to other cricket lessons):

  • More students were actively engaged than usual.
  • When fielding, players had to think about where to stand to cut off runs or to give themselves the best chance of getting a player out if they wanted to get a bat themselves
  • Batters were actually choosing which balls to hit to avoid hitting it out of their quadrant
  • Bowlers who were able were trying to bowl in areas that would entice batters to hit it out of the quadrant or to where their fielders were.
  • Students were asking and answering their own questions about how to get players out, or how to succeed.

I encourage you to have a crack at using something similar.

Masterchef and the classroom

The third season of Masterchef is about to come to an end here in Australia and its just dawned on me that it provides a great model for teachers to use in their own classrooms.

What we see in Masterchef is home cooks who aren’t trained chefs given a task or challenge to complete but with very little instruction on how to complete the task. They have to create a meal or dish to serve in the specified time frame. Its not totally free play, they are given guidelines for what they can create and often a restricted number of pantry items to cook with but choice as to what they will use and create with them. Classic project based learning tasks.

The contestants demonstrate problem solving skills in deciding what to cook and how to overcome the limits they have to work in. At the end of each episode they present their dish to the judges for feedback on it success (or otherwise). This feedback isn’t only from the head judges, often its front the people they cook for in challenges and gives them a timely insight into what worked and what didn’t, or what tasted good and what didn’t. But the judges don’t just wait until the finished product, they move from bench to bench using their professional experience to guide their ‘students’ when they feel they maybe goin off track.

When they aren’t cooking we are often shown pictures of them reading books to learn new techniques, favours that work well together and about cooking food from other cultures – self directed learning.

This to me, is a great model for classroom learning. Create tasks that will incorporate problem solving, self directed learing, something to create tasks (that hopefully is meaningful), that they can present for feedback – not just for marks but for what they know, have learned or the usefulness of what they’ve created and that allows them to improve what they are doing before they’ve gone too far the wring direction. Scaffold the tasks to in a way to give direction but not to stifle creativity or independent thinking, and that allows students to work to a level they are capable of achieving.

The final piece that I haven’t mentioned is the Friday night ‘master class’. An opportunity for the professionals to demonstrate some techniques or dishes to their pupils. To share with them something they know more about than the students. And, more importantly they bring in other experts to their kitchen to teach the things they don’t know as well as they do.

This is one area that we teachers can really learn from. We shouldn’t be afraid to call on others who know more than we do to teach something. And that digest have to be from outside our school, we could use an IT teacher to demonstrate skills, an art teacher to teach design or even someone from our own faculty will have different expertise in different areas to me. To be honest there are probably students who could give masterclasses on many things to. Off the top of my head, in my year 10 class I currently have students who could give master classes on web design, photoshop.

The challenge now is to learn how to devplop the tasks, how to scaffold, write rubrics, as well as re-educate myself, other staff and most importantly the students on how to work in this environment. Easy right?

Xbox and Road Safety in the classroom

Last week, I had the opportunity to share with 15-20 PDHPE teachers about the way that an Xbox could be used in PDHPE lessons. I must thank Microsoft being generous enough to lend us 2 Xbox 360’s and some mates who lent me the other stuff I needed. While we spent most of the 1 1/2 hr session exploring a range of games – particulalry using Kinect, I was really keen to try an idea for using Xbox for teaching Road Safety. During a discussion with @benpaddlejones  about ways that an Xbox could be used for teaching road safety. The plan we devised was actually quite simple but should be quite effective, and a whole lot more fun and interesting than the way we normally teach it.

So, what will I need and how will it work?

Xbox and Steering Wheel

Obviously, you need an Xbox 360, but you’ll also need a steering wheel with foot pedals (like the one above). Without this, the activity won’t really work. These are a little hard come by at the moment (I have been lucky enough to dig up 2 older ones from friends), however, word on the street is that later in the year Forza 4 (a racing game) will be released with a new steering wheel included, which will be a great bundle to get (now to find the funds!!). You’ll also need to choose a car game – and unless you want a lot of negative parental feedback – make sure you get one that doesn’t have violence or the like in it. I chose to use Project Gotham Racing 4 which is a straight up car racing game.

A lot of people who’ve played racing car games might straight away be thinking that racing car games are all about speed and that’s correct, but for this unit we’ll be using a few restrictions on our the way we play. So, how will it work?

Step 1: Choose a driver. Let them drive two laps of a race track and time how long it takes. Choose a track that isn’t too easy, but at the same time, don’t choose a really hard one because most people in your class probably won’t be too experienced at driving. While they are driving, have one student time them, one to count the number of times they break the speed limit (which I set at 80 m/hr) and a third student who will count the number of crashes they have.

Step 2: Using the same driver, drive another 2 laps of the same course and have the same people gathering the same statistics. The difference this time, is that the driver has to send 1 text/SMS message from their mobile phone per lap.

Step 3: Using the same driver, follow the same procedure as the first two steps. This time, you might like to add different variables such as having passengers sitting “in” their car with them who will provide distraction and/or you could add a stereo and require them to change radio stations/or songs on each lap (if you use speakers you could have them change tracks on their ipods while driving).

When I trialled this, it was clear to everyone that during step 2 and 3, there were more crashes and also a lower speed as they were trying hard to be safe while distracted.

This opens up loads of opportunities for discussion with students over the next few lessons. What I think would be particularly useful, would be to gather statistics in a google form similar to this one HERE. This would allow you to gather all the statistics together from your class and then graph it and analyse it. You could even compare it to statistics gathered by the Road and Traffic Authority.

One of the barriers to overcome, depending on your school’s policy, will be the use of a mobile phone to send SMS/text message and how you will check they sent it. I’m hoping that I can use a school number, otherwise I might just have to get them to type a message into a note on an ipod touch and check it at the end.

Another barrier may be that you will only have one person driving at a time. Thankfully, I had access to 2 steering wheels which made it easier, but with 2 laps per step and 2-3 minutes per lap, it will take a bit of time. Having two consoles makes that a lot easier, but you could also do step 1 over a few lessons leading in. That may help to connect the students with the topic before introducing the other factors.

Anyway, for around $600-700 you could have a really good tool for teaching Road Safety. And while that seems a little expensive, it actually does provide a very realistic view at the dangers of driving while distracted. I think a lot of parents would be happy with a program that keeps their children safer on the roads. I know I would.

The Biggest Loser Challenge: My PBL journey Volume 2

So, it’s been a few weeks since I started my Project Based Learning task investigating the question “How can an individual avoid becoming a biggest loser contestant?”. You can read about the task here. To be honest, the task so far hasn’t been quite what I expected. I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe I thought the students would be so enthused that they’d be really keen to get stuck in to the research, but the initial planning and research has been tough work.

There were a few raised eyebrows when I announced that I’d put the students into groups but they seem to be working ok, I’m not sure that’s the problem. Maybe I needed to give more scaffolding of the steps students needed to complete each lesson, although I thought it was pretty clear. Maybe they need greater direction on what information to include but I don’t really want them to be spoon fed from me. Is it ok to still lecture the students and walk them through what they need to know if the idea is for them to choose their pathway through the task?

We’ve been using Edmodo for the delivery of information and for the students to share with me what they’ve learned each lesson. At the start of each lesson, I’ve allowed 5 minutes or so for students to review what they learned the previous lesson and to plan what they need to do this lesson. We finish each lesson with an opportunity to organise what they’ve been doing, share it with their group and reflect on what they’ve learned and what they still need to do. This part has been the most disappointing. So far only 2/3 of my class have uploaded what they’ve done to edmodo as a record of what they’ve done. Of those 2/3 only two or three have done it in each of the 4 lessons we’ve had so far and almost all of them have been so brief it’s difficult to know exactly what they’ve done and what they actually know.

I’m hoping that once they get through this research phase and onto planning how to present what they know about healthy living and what they can do to help young people live a healthy lifestyle, student engagement and enthusiasm will take off.

I keep wondering, is it normal that a first project task goes like this? Do the students normally enjoy working like this? What could I change to engage them better? to get them reflecting on/recording what they’ve learned more accurately? Have I structured the lessons clearly enough? Hopefully it’s just as the students get used to working working collaboratively and taking responsibility for finding what they need to that this will struggle.

On the positive side, a number of students have taken the step of using edmodo to share information and resources they have found with the whole group and not just their small group. I like to see students who don’t view their learning as a competition but rather a chance for everyone to understand what they are doing.

What are your experiences? Am I being realistic expecting it to be all roses from the very first go? What should I change? I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback.

The Biggest Loser Challenge: My PBL journey Volume 1

Well, I’ve taken the first step in my PBL journey. After toying with it for a while and watching tweets fly between Bianca Hewes and Dean Groom, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge. As I looked at a teaching programme we’ve been using for a few years now with year 9, I realised it was becoming a little tired, I realised it needed to change.

I put a call out to a few of my twitter PLN for a driving question for my project. @BenPaddleJones came up with “How will you ensure you never end up on the biggest loser”. Considering the Australian series has just finished, it struck a chord. The number one issue of faced is time – it’s been hectic to get this thing of the ground because from the time I started planning it, to when I intended to teach it was only 24hrs!! Ridiculous. Anyway, after a quick chat with Bianca only 2 hrs before kick off, I managed to buy myself 48hrs – which brings me to now. What a whirlwind that conversation was! She explained how the hook lesson will work, how to do circle time, how to set up my groups and started me thinking about the possibility of using a narrative and that I could ‘gamify’ my unit. Wow, so much to do but it certainly got me excited at the possibilities starting to build for this unit. (I think I may have frightened my faculty a little with my enthusiasm!)

I went with a narrative that the TV channel that runs the program is after a team of health experts to create a plan for educating school aged children on healthy living. Students will be put into groups to create a research investigation of the syllabus information, create a presentation and will finally present their plan to a panel of experts (their classmates, PE teachers and hopefully a personal trainer or health professional).

Tomorrow is ‘D’ day for delivery and explaining it to the class. BUT, there’s still time to improve. I’d love you to have a look at what I’ve come up with so far and leave me some feedback on ideas that I might be able to implement. You can check out the document below.

I must finish by giving credit to The Molistic View’s willingness to share his experiences and his project through his blog. It’s given me plenty of ideas as well as an idea of what to expect. Thanks.

Minor breakthrough

As I started with a new stage 6 (year 11) PDHPE class last year I was really keen to try and integrate technology into my teaching in a way that helped not just to engage the students but to assist their learning. My aim was to choose tasks that would allow them to find the answers to questions themselves by analyzing information and organizing their work to allow them to use it effectively.

In the start The students thought some of what we were doing was interesting but they found some of it to be ‘too hard’. Through a number of conversations with the students it was communicated that they’d just prefer to have me give them the information – effectively, to stand out the front of the class and lecture. It wasn’t the type of feedback I was hoping for after planing activities that I thought to be engaging, interesting and helpful in developing good learners.

While discouraged, I wanted to make sure I kept on with my plans but I made some modifications and being very careful in what things I chose to do. I’ve continued with that for the past 12 months and the students have come to accept the method allowing me to ‘push’ a little further.

Last night, we had parent-teacher night with the parents (and some students) from that class. It was very encouraging to hear one of the more vocal opponents of technology admit that he can now see the the worth in what we are doing with technology and that he’s finding it helpful. It was quite unexpected, but welcomed.

It’s given me the encouragement to keep pushing ahead with trying to be innovative in my teaching – not just with technology. It might take some time but the changes will be worthwhile.