Sunday, 18 March 2018

Increase Engagement with Pear Deck

As Google Slides became most robust in its ability to compete with PowerPoint, the add-on Pear Deck sealed the deal for me.  I am convert!  All hail Pear Deck!

Pear Deck is an easy add-on to use on Google Slides that allows you to
1) have students follow along with the presentation on their own devices (it's web-based so it works on both smart phones, Chromebooks and laptops).
2) have students answer questions throughout the lesson.

In order to ask a question to the class, it is as easy an adding a new slide and typing your question.  Pear Deck allows you to ask multiple choice, text or number questions.  You can even use the add-on to send students to a website of your choice to research something during the lesson.  There are a couple of premium types of questions (draw and draggables) that require a paid membership.

Here is a great tutorial on how to set up a Pear Deck:

When I create the presentation, I think of what I would normally ask throughout that lesson and add those questions as Pear Deck slides.  I love that students are able to answer by drawing a picture.  This was incredible when we reviewed position-time and velocity-time graphs.  I could even see their responses in real time, and so can the rest of the class.  It was very effective to display the answers and discuss any inaccuracies we saw - all without identifying the student.

I asked my students (as a Pear Deck question, of course) whether they liked this presentation software.  It was an overwhelmingly positive response.  If you already use Google Slides, it will be very quick to add Pear Deck questions to your presentation.  If you are a PowerPoint convert, like me, there is an option to export your PowerPoint slides into Google Slides, but it's not 100% perfect if you have interactive pieces (like animations or transitions).

All in all, here is an innovative technology that will help increase student engagement and improve student learning.

Flexible Seating in High School Science?

When I was on maternity leave I spent far too much time on Pinterest looking into flexible seating.  The premise behind flexible seating is within the classroom there are various different types of student workplaces.  This could mean tables with exercise balls, carpets, pillows, couches, standing desks, etc.  There were not too many examples of high school Science classes that had converted to flexible seating.  My Science classroom seemed perfect for a flexible seating experiment.

[Before and after images coming soon]

My classroom is shaped like a rectangle missing one corner (which is a large closet I affectionately call “Narnia”).  I have 3 windows across from the main door, one blackboard with a pull down screen in front of it.  At the back and one side of the room I have cupboards with counters.  Near the back I have 4 lab benches with sinks.  I also had a large teacher’s desk and 11 wide tables (some in groups, some in rows) for students to sit at.

The greatest challenge I had in my room was the location of the projector.  It was on a cart and needed to be located next to one of the lab benches.  It was blocking both prime lab space and prime seating space in front of the projector screen.  It was also less effective for teaching since I could not face my students - I was behind most of them.  I also did not have a good space to conference with students.  The tables were too bulky and the lab benches were too small.

I typically teach the workplace level courses, so I was excited to make a classroom space that would be inviting, comfortable and safe for their learning.  I wanted to incorporate some flexible seating options that promoted group work.

Safety First...
and Always!  Lab space is the only space for lab work.

The main projector screen must be visible to all students.  Computer screens must be visible to the teacher.  I had a problem with this at one of my counters, which is now a no-Chromebook zone.  Dark areas away from the screen and the windows must have additional lighting.

Other teachers
I am the primary teacher in this room, but this room is the first one scheduled when a teacher needs a room.  I didn’t want to make the space unwelcoming for them if they were not ready to take the plunge into flexible seating.

I needed my classroom to allow for collaborative and individual learning, to be able to be rearranged to accommodate lab experiments, tests and final exams.

What works well?
Horseshoe table - allows for student conferencing, doubles as my teacher’s desk after I got rid of the large, classic version.
Stools of various heights - these are moved around the room as needed
Traditional tables - lots of space for students to spread out their work (I was blessed with small class sizes this year ~20 students per class)
Lab benches - allow for students to sit or stand
Small desks - One student created his own “office” using a small desk and a lab bench
Lamps - provided lighting in the darker areas of the room
Placement of flexible seating area near the Periodic Table of Elements - students congregated to the lounge chairs and carpet whenever they needed a Periodic Table.  Some students opted to use the large classroom Periodic Table over the one provided for them in their notes.

What does not work so well?
Carpets.  I invested a lot in new carpets that even matched the school colours.  I really wanted a carpeted area for students to be able to stretch out on the floor.  I started with a no-shoes on the carpet policy, which kept them clean but also tended to keep students away.  After I dropped that they did get messy.  I brought in a handheld vacuum but it couldn’t keep up. Luckily I work with an amazing custodian who will often vacuum the rugs.  It was also very upsetting the first time a pen exploded on the carpets.  I like an option for students to be on the floor, but perhaps small, individual rugs would work better.

Still Undecided:
I like the IKEA lounge chairs with the senior Physics students, but they didn’t work as well with the students at the workplace level.  I wanted to cater most to those students, but there were days for certain students that this work space did not allow them to learn, it became a distraction.  I now had to manage behaviours because of the flexible seating, when part of the purpose of flexible seating was to avoid those negative behaviours.    
What I wouldn’t even try:
Exercise balls - I have NO interest in bringing in exercise balls into the classroom.  I see these as a huge safety liability in a high school science classroom. 

I definitely prefer this set-up to the large, long, fixed lab counters.  My students and I are enjoying the classroom space more.  I am fortunate that I teach Physics, as I think the flexible seating set up would not work as well in a Chemistry classroom due the amount of space and safety precautions required with their lab experiments.  
Going forward, I recognize that I may not be in this same classroom for my entire teaching career.  If that’s the case, then I would hope that when renovations come about that teachers need to be consulted in the planning phase of renovations.  The big shift I would want to see is less storage space in the classroom (I have two full walls of cupboards).  Instead, all of the materials could be stored in a central location for the department and the regained wall space could be used as whiteboarding area for Physics students to model, graph and solve problems collaboratively.  

Friday, 16 March 2018

Making Connections between Math & Science units in Grade 9 Applied

In my previous posts about this topic, I asked the question "should Math and Science be taught together?" and presented my Experimental Design for how this might look.

Below in an analysis of the connections between the Grade 9 Applied Math Number Sense & Algebra Unit and the 5 units of the Grade 9 Applied Science course:
A - Scientific Investigation and Career Exploration
B - Biology (Ecosystems)
C - Chemistry
D - Earth & Space Science (Astronomy)
E - Physics (Electricity)

Number Sense & Algebra
Solving Problems Involving Proportional Reasoning
Illustrate equivalent ratios using a variety of tools
Represent, using equivalent ratios and proportions, directly proportional relationships arising from realistic situations
Solve for the unknown value in proportion, using a variety of methods
Make comparisons using unit rates
Solve problems involving ratios, rates, and directly proportional relationships in various contexts using a variety of methods
Solve problems requiring the expression of percents, fractions, decimals in their equivalent forms

This is just some of the preliminary work anticipated with this type of interdisciplinary model of teaching Math and Science.  Designing units that connect the courses in a logical manner, as well as designing holistic assessments that are comparable to those in the individual Math and Science courses would be a next step.

I would be really excited to try this!  The Math department at my school had made huge gains and this plan was not enacted.  Another avenue I would be curious to explore is teaching a combined Grade 12 University Physics course with the Advanced Functions and the Calculus and Vectors course.  There are many commonalities between these courses.  I have found many students from my Physics course tell me that their vector work is simple because they have so much experience with vectors in my class. The time savings could be used to delve deeper into concepts, spend more time on difficult concepts and apply these to real-life scenarios.

What do you think of this model?  Do you think students would benefit from Math and Science being taught together?  

[Brain clip art from PhotoClipz]

The Interdisciplinary Math & Science Experimental Design

In my last post I described my reasoning for teaching Math and Science together in secondary school. If I were to take a scientific approach…

The purpose of creating the “Grade 9 Applied STEM” course is to close the gap and improve achievement, especially in the 60% of students not meeting provincial standard on the Grade 9 Applied EQAO Math test.  

Does integrating Math and Science improve achievement in Grade 9 Applied Math?

If the math and science curriculum expectations are integrated and taught together then the overall achievement of the students will improve because students will be have more opportunities to explore mathematical relationships through science and hands-on activities.

Experimental Design:
A sample of Grade 9 Applied students will be enrolled in SNC1P and MFM1P courses that are taught by the same teacher, in the same room in consecutive periods (1-2, or 2-3).  The course codes will remain SNC1P and MFM1P but the delivery will allow for flexibility in timing activities (e.g. conducting an experiment over two periods to determine whether or not a relationship is linear, and allowing for additional, uninterrupted time for students with IEPs to complete tests).  The delivery will be based on the components of focused instruction, project-based learning and the 5E model. 
To assess the effectiveness of the 1P STEM course, a diagnostic assessment will be administered to all 1P Math students at the beginning of the term and results will be recorded.  At the end of the term a common exam will be administered, as well as the EQAO Math test.  The scores from the beginning and end of term assessments will be analysed to determine the resulting difference in achievement.  In addition, a end-of-term survey will be administered to the 1P STEM students to gather feedback on the delivery of the course.   

Student Assessment:
Assessments will be provided throughout the semester from both the SNC1P and the MFM1P courses.  The types of assessments will include those that are strictly math, strictly science and a combination of both.  
Types of Assessment
Assessment FOR and AS Learning
Surveys, quizzes, entrance/exit cards,
worksheets, conversations, observations, puzzles, games, etc.
Surveys, quizzes, entrance/exit cards,
worksheets, conversations, observations, puzzles, games, etc.
Experiments, explorations, Breakout boxes
Assessment OF Learning
Tests, assignments
Tests, assignments (e.g. news report, inquiry projects)
Projects, experiments

The course mark for the math course will be calculated using the math assessments, and the portions of the combined projects and experiments that relate to the math curriculum expectations.  Likewise, the course mark for the science course will be based on the science assessments and the science curriculum expectations in the combined projects and experiments.  The mark breakdown for each course will follow the same guidelines as those set out by the Math and Science departments.  The final exams will be separate (one exam for math and one for science) and common amongst the other 1P Math and Science courses.

Teaching Strategies:
Many students in the applied program benefit from concrete examples and hands-on opportunities.  They may also have a difficult time sitting for long periods of time.  The intent of this course is to provide them an optimal learning experience.  
Opportunities to talk - through academic conversations and cooperative learning
Opportunities to move - through the use of experiments and rotational centers
Opportunities to manipulate - through experiments and physical puzzles
Opportunities for feedback - frequent checks will be embedded into the structure of each lesson.

What do you think of this plan?  Do you think it could work at your school?  Would the time investment be worth the potential benefit to the students?

My next post shows a model for examining connections between Math and Science curriculum expectations.

[Brain clip art from PhotoClipz]

Should Math & Science be Taught Together?

Last year I was reading through my school EQAO scores from the Grade 9 Math test from the previous year.  The Academic students were doing very well, however the Applied students were falling well behind provincial standard.  At the time I had been watching Michael Moore’s documentary Where to Invade Next.  Moore travels the world finding the best systems (education, employee benefits, prison, etc.) and discovers why these work so well.  A common theme was how the decisions seemed illogical at first (like allowing a criminal to live in a house as opposed to a maximum security prison), but upon further investigation these “illogical” decisions produce exceptional results for those countries.  What if we applied the same “illogic” to Math class?   

Math classes in high school have been taught in isolation for… ever?  As I pondered solutions to the underperformance of the students I thought of the root cause.  Were the students engaged? Were the challenged enough?  Did they recognize the value of what they were learning?

I also thought about my own experiences in Science (I am qualified to teach both Math and Science, but have taught mostly Sciences over my career).  I reflected on two key issues: Math and Science were taught separately and at my school they were most often scheduled in opposite semesters as to not overburden the students.  I discovered in my Grade 9 Science classes that I pulled back on the amount of math, including data analysis, because “the students were not there yet” in terms of mathematical capability.  I have my own extensive curriculum standard to cover, and I would have to sacrifice some of my curriculum to covered the Math curriculum.

So here was my “illogical” idea.  Teach Grade 9 Math and Science together.  

Naysayers might argue that this would put too much homework and stress on students at that level.  I would agree that it would be best not to schedule their English course in the same semester, and would be better to schedule them with a non-exam course in the same semester.

Naysayers might argue that this would take a lot of coordination between teachers.  Of course!   Shouldn’t we be working together?  Better yet, utilize the teachers that have both Math and Science teachables to implement this.  These teachers would have a foot in both departments, knowing the challenges of each.  These teachers could bridge the concepts between courses and design lessons, units and assessments the involve both disciplines.  

YAYsayers, like me, would look at this as an opportunity to build deeper relationships with students since the group would be with the teacher for two periods a day instead of one.  Students would have more opportunities to learn and practice concepts, to receive feedback and guidance.  I imagined a classroom that fluidly moved between a science lab, to graphing the data, into a math lesson.  I pictured the two possible paths for these students… I prefered the version of these often disengaged students working collaboratively on more interesting, challenging and relevant problems.

My next posts will explore my Experimental Design for how this might look and a model for examining connections between Math and Science curriculum expectations.

[Brain clip art from PhotoClipz]

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Innovative Teaching in Science: Using Doodle Notes in the Science Classroom

In my last post, I shared how I create Doodle Notes for my Science classes, including some technical and design tips.  

It's such a heartwarming feeling to know that my Doodle Notes have been used with thousands of students.  I have been prioritizing my time to create Doodle Notes for the subjects and topics that I love.  For me it started with the Law of Conservation of Energy and Forces, then an entire unit of Doodle Notes on Nuclear Energy - one of absolute favourite topics!  This led to an entire unit on Astronomy - my other top love, and Climate Change, which I find is crucial that our students have a sound understanding of.  Over the past year I've been also utilizing a whole bunch of Physics Doodle Notes with my senior students.  They love that they can be creative in class, and I love that I get their attention.  Doodle Notes have really enhanced my teaching from back in my early days.  

Here are some tips and tricks I have learned through using A LOT of Doodle Notes in my classes.

Start with WHY?
I begin each new semester with Cognitive Advantages to Doodling.  I use Math Giraffe's "Engage Your Brain" Doodle Notes on the first day of each class.  This sets the tone for my class and how I teach.  I am able to convey to the students that I care about how they learn, I want them to be engaged in my lessons and that this class will offer them a new way of thinking.  I also explain to them that these are not coloring pages, they're actually advanced, brain-based learning materials.  

Provide the tools
In the back of my classroom I have a big sign that reads: NUCLEAR WASTE.  Under that sign I have seven containers of colored pencils and markers (I prefer Crayola's Pipsqueaks).  My instructions are, "grab some colors underneath the nuclear waste for you and your group."  The students may not use the Doodle Notes to their full advantage if they are disadvantaged.  Some students may not think you can use color in your high school notes.  I make sure to have some different tools they can use to utilize the creative side of their brains while learning Science.  

I have read that some teachers leave the Doodle Notes for independent work, and if that works for you, great.  For me, I love the interaction and I love the opportunity to be creative too!  My preference is to always do the Doodle Notes with the students and explicitly state why I chose certain images.  "Since you read the graph to find the position, I chose a book to represent that.  Let's practice reading the graph to find the position at different times, and we'll write down our answers on this stack of books."  This also helps me to set the pace of the note, and stop it to include an anecdote or video where needed.

Mix it up
When I am introducing a topic, I will rarely start with the note.  Usually some sort of phenomenon, or experiment or video is used to pique the students' interest and the note follows.  Even doodling might get boring if that's the only creative aspect to the class. 

The doodle note teaching strategy was developed by Math Giraffe and is trademarked; Please see for more information.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Innovative Teaching in Science: Creating Doodle Notes

In my last post I explored the cognitive advantages to using Doodle Notes in the classroom.  Downsides to providing students with a sheet of blank paper and asking them to copy down your doodles is that you lose the time efficiency of a fill-in-the-blank note and their thought process and creativity might be stifled by your own.  For those reasons I created a scaffolding for the Doodle Notes, so that my class time was being used efficiently, students still had opportunities to infuse their own creativity and I could explain why I chose the images and paths that I did… and maybe part of the reason was that I am too type-A that my own doodles would take forever to draw out.  

For the most part, I create my Doodle Notes in PowerPoint (I am learning Adobe Illustrator but the learning curve is STEEP!)  I’ve found I can perform most tasks in PowerPoint quite well, but Adobe Illustrator has some technical advantages.  

 With PowerPoint, I can create quickly.  It is easy to import clipart and fonts that I have purchased.  I can even create custom shapes by using the “Edit Points” option.  There are limitations, but most of these are visual and do not affect the students’ learning (inability to change the thickness of line art, difficult to “lock” objects in place).

Adobe Illustrator has a huge learning curve.  I'm a Science teacher, not a graphic artist!  I’ve been using tutorials and templates to help me along, but these come with a cost - the most expensive being the time it takes to learn and create.  The biggest advantage to using Adobe Illustrator is the masterpiece that is created once the scaffolded Doodle Note is complete.

Either way, students are more likely to go back and study from their Doodle Notes, compared to their more traditional notes.  

With either program, I begin with determining which orientation I think would work best (portrait or landscape), and create a 8.5”x11” slide or art board.  After reviewing what concepts I want to cover, I write out the content on the page (which I later remove for the students to enter) and search for images that support the content.  I consider what the students can color in addition to what they can draw and write.  I start with the key images - that might be the Sun, Moon and Earth for a Doodle Note about solar and lunar eclipses.  As I proceed, and position the image and text elements, I add connectors like arrows to solidify those connections for the students.  A lot of adjusting happens throughout the process.  It does take a lot of time to create, but students start begging for these notes once they’ve had a taste!

In my next post, I will explore how I teach with Doodle Notes to innovate my Science classroom.


The doodle note teaching strategy was developed by Math Giraffe and is trademarked; Please see for more information.
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