Monday, February 18, 2013

A week without homework. Sort of.

Don't know where I'm going with this, all I know is, I am dazzled by the idea of getting enough real learning to happen in class that there is little to no need for mindless practice questions from the textbook or worksheets. I want as much as possible to happen in the 50 minutes we spend together. All I ask them to do outside of class is a blog post every single day this week. It can be a summary of what we did in class, what they learned in class, or it can be a summary of what they watched in the voicethread. Oh yes, there are also voicethreads BUT they are there mainly as a backup. If I don't get through all the class activities, or if I do but there's someone out there who needs to take another look, or insert a question, it's there for them. Is that cheating? Maybe it is. That's for next time. Baby steps.

Why the daily blog posts?

Three reasons:

First so that they can digest the information, process, and organize it in a way that makes sense to them.

Second, to get them actively learning. They'll be active in class, but I still think they have to do something on their own to pin down the concepts. But this way it's not just busy work, it's actual construction of their own knowledge, and not in a vacuum, because they can all check out each other's blogs. By now, everyone knows whose work to check out first! I'm hoping that the creativity that I experience when I'm writing happens for them, the urge to embed, link, colour, or otherwise clarify an idea takes over.

The third reason is that I want to give everyone another assessment option besides tests. I first tried this a few weeks ago, right after we had finished a unit called Optimization, which is really short, really simple, and in which most kids usually do very well. Some kids were disappointed in their test mark, though, so I gave them the option of doing a blog post on the chapter. The deal was, I'll only record the better of the two marks. I gave them very specific guidelines for it, which I put up on the classblog. and which I used to create this grid:

Seven students did it, and out of those, 5 got a better mark as a result.  Here are five of the posts. The results were pretty encouraging for many reasons, not the least of which was the quality of the work, and the enthusiasm they had for doing this type of assessment over tests. I asked for some informal feedback afterwards, and all those who answered felt that it helped them not only to learn the concepts and get the big picture, but it was a calmer, more authentic way to demonstrate their understanding.

The log blogs that didn't happen:

Well, the next unit was logarithms, which is a bloodbath every year, and as we reached the end, just before the test, I offered the option of blog posting again, but it was way too late. This unit was huge, about 4 or 5 times bigger than optimization, and it's way, way harder. No takers this time. No surprise. But I felt I had really dropped the ball for them. What if I had had them blogging all along?

Enter trigonometric functions:

So for trig, I'm getting them started right now. I'm thinking that if they start now, as the days go on, they will not only keep track of the daily learning, but they will refer to their previous posts, compare their's to other peoples', see connections, and deepen their understanding as they go. Hopefully, by the time I get to the test, those that want to can opt to do a final post that authentically demonstrates their understanding - although I'll have to think about the guidelines for that. It'll have to involve some sort of new problem to be solved, like the optimization one was (which by the way, everyone had a different one to solve). Just got an idea. Involving geogebra. More later.

Day one: Today

Today's activity was about converting between degrees and radians, as well as coterminal angles on the unit circle. I just had them drawing angles on the unit circle, and doing conversions all together. It's Monday, so nothing fancy. Hm, I wonder how many have blogged already....let me check my google reader feed....ooooh three so far - here, here, and here!

Note: I have also posted this at The Flipped Learning Journal!

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