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.

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.

Innovative Teaching in Science: The Cognitive Advantage to Doodle Notes

I’m sure you can recall a meeting or professional development where you’ve been without pen or paper and your mind wanders.  This happens to our students too!  How can we engage their brain if it is wandering around during our lesson?  There are benefits to taking notes, but can we make them better?

The solution I’ve found is Doodle Notes!  

I thought in the past my notes were fairly efficient.  Most of my notes are a fill-in-the-blank style where the student will write the key terms, definitions and problem solve alongside with me on the document camera.  Still, their minds would wander and they might check their phones.  

When I came across Doodle Notes I knew this was something that matched with my teaching style and how I wanted to present material.  These are not just colouring pages, they are a way to keep the mind engaged and activate both sides of the brain.  Plenty of research has been done on the benefits of doodling:
The Harvard Health blog reports that doodling: increases memory, stress relief and focus.  
This TIME article states that doodling, “forces your brain to expend just enough energy to stop it from daydreaming but not so much that you don’t pay attention.”  Doesn't that sound perfect for our students? This Wall Street Journal article states that doodling, “provides an alternative route for learning for some people”, helps the brain remain active and helps people focus, retain information and grasp new concepts. Huffington Post reports even further advantages, that doodling helps you concentrate, improves productivity, creativity, helps to generate new ideas and makes you more present (even though you might not look it).

Creating the Doodle Notes required time, research and expertise in the subject matter (as well as an investment in quality images).  I learned a lot about how to optimize the Doodle Notes for learning from the Doodle Note blog and Sunni Brown’s book, The Doodle Revolution.  

In my next post, I’ll describe how I create the Doodle Notes and how I implement them in the classroom.

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

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Planning, Instruction & Assessment considerations for Curricular Designs

Here is a comparison summary of the planning, instruction and assessment considerations for the subject, learner and problem centered curricular designs.  Your feedback is appreciated.  

A PDF version is available to download.

Hayes, D. (2003) Making learning an effect of schooling: aligning curriculum, assessment and pedagogy, Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 24(2), 225-245
McMillan, J. H. (2014).  Classroom assessment: Principles and practice for effective standards-based instruction (6th ed., pp. 1-20,  57-64,74-88). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Ornstein, A. C. (1990/1991). Philosophy as a basis for curriculum decisions. The High School Journal, 74, 102-109.
Shepard, L. A. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4-14. doi:10.3102/0013189X029007004

Monday, 29 January 2018

Connecting Conceptions of Curriculum, Philosophical Foundations & Curriculum Designs

As I was exploring the relationships between the conceptions of curriculum, their philosophical foundations and curricular designs, I was forming this interconnected web of ideas.  In the visual representation, blue represents conceptions of curriculum, purple represents philosophies, and green represents curricular designs.  Pink areas represent the teacher's role.  You may download a larger PDF version here.

Please provide any feedback you have.

Al Mousa, N. (2013). An examination of cad use in two interior design programs from the perspectives of curriculum and instructors, pp. 21-37 (Master’s Thesis). 
Brown, G. T. L. (2006). Conceptions of curriculum: A framework for understanding New Zealand’s Curriculum Framework and teachers’ opinions. Curriculum Matters, 2, 164-181.
Hill, A. M. (1994). Perspectives on philosophical shifts in vocational education: From realism to pragmatism and reconstructionism. Journal of Vocational and Technical Education, 10(2), 37-45.
McNeil, J. D. (2009).  Contemporary curriculum in thought and action (7th ed.).  Hoboken, NJ:  John Wiley.  Pages 1, 3-14, 27-39, 52-60, 71-74.
Ornstein, A. C. (1990/1991). Philosophy as a basis for curriculum decisions. The High School Journal, 74, 102-109.
Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2013). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.  Read Chapter 6, pp. 149-173.
Pratt, D. (1994). Curriculum perspectives. In D. Pratt, Curriculum planning: A handbook for professionals (pp. 8-22). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publisher. 
Sowell, E. J. (2005). Curriculum: An integrative introduction (3rd ed., pp. 37-61, 81-85,103-106). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Conceptions of Curriculum

Through my experiences as a secondary science teacher, and the readings cited below, my understanding of the differing types of curricula has been expanded.  I had previously thought there was just THE curriculum - the standard set by my province that dictates the topics I explore with my students.  This exercise has been eye-opening.  I have enjoyed learning about these curricula and how they connect to my classroom.

I've taken Al Mousa's four recurring conceptions of curricula and summarized them in the images below.  I've ordered them in descending order of frequency in a secondary science classroom.

The Academic curriculum is the oldest form of curriculum, and for good reason.  From an administrative sense, it seems that this would be the easiest curriculum to implement in terms of hiring teachers, meeting specific sets of standards and training educators.  This is how most of use were taught and that makes it easier for us to teach in that way.  The focus on gaining knowledge and skills is easy to market to policy makers because it is logical and unemotional.

The Social Reconstructivist curriculum is one that I particularly enjoy teaching.  It is fulfilling as an educator to promote improvement in the global, national and local sense by inspiring students to address these problems.  This works well in an inquiry-based classroom.  This curriculum would be less mainstream than the Academic curriculum due to political reasons.  It may be viewed that students do not cover as many academic topics, making them less prepared for white-collar jobs (useful for the economy).  Also, the governments may not want their youth to confront these issues (e.g. environmental issues, climate change) because the government's policies are one of the problems. 

The technological curriculum is gaining momentum due to the internet.  Online courses have been increasing in popularity.  At the secondary level, students are opting to take an online course (usually during the summer months) in order to have a spare period or less stressful workload.  This can support a more humanist agenda as well, because it allows the student more time to participate in extracurricular activities focused on the individual.  

Online courses, flipped learning, class websites provide an efficient delivery of content.  The teacher can organize the materials once and then adjust after each semester or term based on student feedback.  The initial input to create the courses online may be more than other curricula, but when considering the number of times the courses are offered this investment is more efficient.  The prevalence of technological curriculum is increasing dramatically beyond secondary school, especially with massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Through my experiences, the humanist curriculum is least prevalent of the major conceptions in secondary science.  I imagine that science teachers would argue that there is great pressure to cover all the topics dictated to us to teach that there is insufficient class time to focus on socialization and building interpersonal relationships.  The focus on the cognitive dimension tends to outweigh the focus on the child.  I have included suggestions for improving the focus on the child above.  Science need not only be taught through an academic lens.

In a similar sense, other non-recurring conceptions of curriculum are not prevalent in secondary science as they are outweighed by the traditional academic, the 

Al Mousa, N. (2013). An examination of cad use in two interior design programs from the perspectives of curriculum and instructors, pp. 21-37 (Master’s Thesis).
Brown, G. T. L. (2006). Conceptions of curriculum: A framework for understanding New Zealand’s Curriculum Framework and teachers’ opinions. Curriculum Matters, 2, 164-181.
McNeil, J. D. (2009).  Contemporary curriculum in thought and action (7th ed.).  Hoboken, NJ:  John Wiley.  Pages 1, 3-14, 27-39, 52-60, 71-74.
Pratt, D. (1994). Curriculum perspectives. In D. Pratt, Curriculum planning: A handbook for professionals(pp. 8-22). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publisher.
Sowell, E. J. (2005). Curriculum: An integrative introduction (3rd ed., pp. 37-51). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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