Friday, April 27, 2018

Passion Projects 2018 - Year Two is Underway!

Last year, I introduced Passion Projects to my grade 8 students, and it was a huge success overall. Students were engaged in learning something they found personally motivating, organizing their time, reflecting on their progress, and problem solving throughout the whole process.

This year, I am excited to relaunch this project with a new group of students. We are on week 4, and there are some projects that I am really excited to follow. While there are some very strong plans in place, several students are definitely just "going through the motions" rather than really investing their time in something that they find personally rewarding. I am struggling with how to help them realize that their individual interests are valid and deserving of attention.

It's so sad to me that there are students who can't even identify something that makes them feel passionately - or if they have an idea, it is sad that they don't believe that it will be an acceptable one for this project. What is happening that students don't believe their interests and passions are valid? And how can we as teachers address this issue? It's not enough to give them artificial choices within the classroom, we have to help them to invest in learning in ways that will be sustainable outside of the school environment.

Every week, the day before we work on Passion Projects at school, students fill out a check-in page so that I have a sense of who will need support to move forward. Yesterday, four of these pages stood out to me.

This student got a "yellow light" last week because their peers did not think they had a solid enough plan. I'm glad to hear that he feels back on track this week! 

This student arrived this morning and told me they were unhappy with their previous choice of project (learning to play bass guitar) because it had become more of a chore rather than something they really enjoyed. They came prepared with a new plan, and seem very excited!

This student, in contrast to the one above, is stuck on choosing a new project. They have not come up with a new idea on their own, and they are one of the students I was referring to earlier who seems unable to articulate something they are passionate about.

This student received a "yellow light" from their peers last week and has really turned it around. They have come with an idea and a new sense of purpose after a conference with me last week.

I think I made a mistake this year during the roll-out of Passion Projects. Because I had already done a project last year, I had more materials to share with students than I did in Year 1. My project last year was to work at learning Spanish, and I shared that project with my students this year. I now have 4 students (out of 19) who are learning a language as their Passion Project. I'm not certain that it is because I presented them with my project from last year, but I am concerned that I may have inadvertently swayed them in a direction they might not otherwise have take. This is something that I need to consider for next year when I introduce the project again.

Random other thoughts :
We are currently undergoing a curriculum realignment for middle school that will be piloted next year in several schools in Nova Scotia. From what I'm hearing, one of the major components of the realignment is to integrate more project-based learning. Depending on the supports that are put in place, I think this could be a good direction for middle school education, and this model lines up well with what I have been doing in my classroom for years.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Modeling Mathematics With Flipgrid

One of the difficult parts of teaching the grade 8 math curriculum is the requirement for students to show their understanding of certain outcomes "concretely, pictorially, and symbolically." I am not arguing against the benefits of modeling mathematical concepts with concrete materials or manipulatives - however, trying to assess whether they can do so while simultaneously ensuring that the rest of the class is on track can be a challenge.

Today, my grade 8 students used Flipgrid to record a video showing that they could model their solution to an algebraic equation using manipulatives called Alge-Tiles. These are tiles that represent variables and whole numbers, and can be used to show why it is necessary to perform the same operation on both sides of an equation in order to arrive at the correct solution.

The Flipgrid website & app allow teachers to post a prompt, and for students to record a video response to the prompt. Students do not need an account - the teacher can either send them a link, or post a QR code that will take them directly to the prompt. It is extremely user-friendly, and free (with limited features - so far, these have been enough for my purposes) I created two video prompts (2x + 4 = 10 &  3x - 1 = 5) for students in which I modeled the use of Alge-Tiles. I wanted to make sure that students could review the steps, listen to the mathematical language, and access the example more than once. I have found this to be a valuable way of ensuring that all students hear the message as many times as they need to.

Students worked with a partner to practice modeling equations, and then when they were ready they chose one each to model in video form. Using iPads made it easy for students to scan the QR code and begin recording right away. And now that they have submitted their videos, I can assess them outside of class time - which means I can be more available to the class as a whole. I'm always excited when technology makes my teaching more manageable, and this particular app has a lot of potential to do just that.

Examples of student videos. This week, we worked on two-step equations with addition. Next week, I will have students create videos involving subtraction :