Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Month: October 2010 (page 2 of 3)

Free Multimedia Resources

I’ve created a list of free multimedia resources for teachers. Some quick research has shown me that there are already some excellent lists of resources out there, but for a variety of topics. This list is intended to compile those lists into one location.

General multimedia:

Here’s a list of open source software some of which is useful for multimedia



Some great examples of free audio to be used within student projects:


Free audio mixers/editors: 



Free image editors: (create a new document => drawing)


Creative commons & free pictures: (advanced settings then "filter by license", change to labelled for reuse)



Online editors:


Video converters:


Video editors: (not all of these are free, but many are)

Looking at the KIPP schools

Here’s the first quote that really grabbed my attention from the study I’m reading on KIPP Schools:

"On average, KIPP middle schools have student bodies characterized by higher concentrations of poverty and racial minorities, but lower concentrations of special education and limited English proficiency LEP) students, than the public schools from which they draw." (Gleason et al. 2010, p14)

This suggests to me that KIPP schools are being selective. As soon as there is a statistically significant disparity in the enrollment policies of a school, one begins to suspect if the students are being chosen. The fact that the student population is poorer and more diverse than the typical public school is good but the fact that the KIPP population has fewer special needs and ESL students is worrisome. Common sense dictates that these students are more expensive to educate and will require more resources.

Here’s another quote which drew my attention because the study fails to draw a really important conclusion from this inference they make.

"By year three, half of the KIPP schools in our sample are producing math impacts of 0.48 standard deviations or more, equivalent to the effect of moving a student from the 30th percentile to the 48th percentile on a typical test distribution. Compared to national norms during this grade span, a 0.48 effect size after three years represents 1.2 years of accumulated extra growth in mathematics over the three year period (Bloom et al. 2008). For comparison, the black-white test core gap in math is typically estimated as approximately one standard deviation at fourth grade and eighth grade. (Bloom et al. 2008)" (Gleason et al. 2010, p17)

What serious omission are they making at this point? Observing that KIPP students spend much more time in school than do their counterparts is pretty important here, particularly when comparing them on scales which are largely dependent on how much time learning the material students spend. In fact, given that the typical KIPP student spends an extra 2 hours in study each day and 1 extra month in school (1600 hours) compared to the typical public school student (1080 hours), we might hope to see a larger improvement than 1.2 times.

The study does point out that most KIPP schools are doing better than their local counterparts. This isn’t too surprising to me if you look at the previous two quotes: they are selective in their choice of students, students spend way more time in their schools.

I wonder how KIPP schools would fare if students spent the same amount of time as a typical school, or if every student was equally likely to be accepted to their programs. I also wonder what would happen if we measured the success of schools on a broader set of standards than just their performance on some standardized test. What would the creativity index of a typical KIPP student be, I wonder? 


Bloom, H., Hill,C., Rebeck Black A., & Lipsey, M., (2008). Performance Trajectories and Performance Gaps as Achievement Effect-Size Benchmarks for Educational Interventions, MDRC Working Papers on Research Methodology.

Gill, B., Gleason, P., Nichols-Barrer, I., Teh, B., Tuttle, C. (2010) Student Characteristics and Achievement in 22 KIPP Middle Schools, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., June 2010, retrieved from on October 17th, 2010

Positive educational experience

Our school has a great program we’ve been working on developing for about 5 years and which finally got off the ground last year. One of our parents was travelling in Kenya and while in Mombassa she met a man who told her she absolutely had to look at this school he was developing. So the story goes, she went to the school he was working on which was in a poor area of town called the Kipevu district, and then she came back to our school and told us we had to help his school.

For five years we raised money, sent letters to and from the school, and worked on planning on a trip to the Kipevu Primary school ourselves. Last year we sent some students, a parent, and two staff members to the school. The experience was amazing! Our students blogged about the experience on our Kipevu website here.

Here’s a video one of our students produced about the experience. You can tell that this was a powerful learning experience for these students; probably the most powerful learning experience of their lives.

Karibu Kipevu.

How do you turn yourself into a 21st century learner?

Article directed at our school’s parent population, reposted with permission from my school’s monthly magazine, The Imprint

Your kids have grown up never knowing a world without personal computers, but most of you can still remember the time you first used a computer. The world is changing rapidly and a huge part of that change is driven by technology. Learning is still the same, but the tools for learning are changing.

Here are some simple tips for improving your personal learning, which I’ve shared with your students and will now share with you.

Currently when you need to know something, you probably start with a Google (or alternate search engine) search for that topic. Maybe you scan through the first 10 to 20 results or so, and develop your opinion from those results. You also ask the people around you what they think the answer to your question is. You might try and find some relevant books from the library, or make a few phone calls. In any case, the flow of information for you probably looks like this:

You are at the center, actively looking for useful sources of information. The problem is, it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of time. Here’s what your information gathering should look like in the 21st century:

Now, information is flowing toward you, instead of you always searching for the information you need. The question is, how do you develop the second method of gathering information?

Here’s some simple tricks to get you started, and if you get stuck at any of the steps you can ask your kids to help you out. They love being able to help adults out; trust me, we ask them for advice on technology all the time as teachers.

Start by signing up for something called an RSS reader; Google reader is a good choice here. If you want to know what an RSS reader is, check out this video available online here:

Next, head to your favourite websites and look for the RSS icon which looks like this (but a lot smaller):

This icon tells you that the website you are looking at publishes something called an RSS feed, which you can click on to subscribe to in Google Reader. Now you can check Google reader on a regular basis instead of all of those websites, and read the updates there instead. If a particular website does not have an RSS icon you can copy the address of the website and subscribe in Google reader anyway; it will still update you whenever there are changes to that website.

Another very useful service is called Google Alerts. If you navigate in a web browser to you can sign up for Google search results, which will be delivered once a day either to your email or to your RSS reader. You can also add multiple alerts for different search terms. Think of it as Google searching the Internet for you each day and sending the top new results to you.

You become the center of the information flowing toward you, instead of the other way around. You will now have more time to do more useful activities, like kicking a ball around with your kids or going for a walk in the park.

Next issue we will talk about the power of social media and how you can leverage it to make your searches for information even more powerful.

I was a bullied teen

I remember growing up in a world where the common wisdom was that if you let kids sort out problems for themselves, it builds character. I remember spending every day after school hiding from bullies who wanted nothing from me except my flesh to beat on. I remember living in fear.

I couldn’t tell anyone. Or if I did tell someone, nothing happened. It was futile to ask for help when there was none available. No one could fight those battles for me, and I felt miserable everyday. I wanted to die. I spent every day at school feeling alone.

I remember being held from behind and kicked in the chest during lunch time inside an unsupervised classroom. I remember being FAST and running across a field with a crowd of boys behind me and then hiding in the woods once I had outpaced my pursuers. I remember having a mountain of boys jump me in the school courtyard and being pinned down. I remember the rage I felt which gave me a surge of adrenaline, and enough strength to stand up and toss them aside like rag-dolls. They were scared of me then, at least for a little while.

I remember telling my crush I liked her and then awful painful next day at school as she told EVERYONE at the school about my crush and how stupid I was to think that anyone could possibly like me back. I remember a middle school dance where a girl came up and ask me to dance, then when I accepted, told me to f**k myself. I didn’t go to many dances after that.

I remember the pity that the nice people felt toward me. How they treated me like some lost puppy they had to take care of, but how they wouldn’t speak up whenever I was bullied. Some of them even danced with me at the middle school dances but never for the right reason, never because they thought I was cool.

I remember having a few friends who were like me. We stayed after school and played Dungeons and Dragons, and I remember that it wasn’t the game so much that I liked, but the feeling that I had some friends. We played a lot and got harassed for it, but what else could we do? The only other activity that wasn’t full of people who wanted to kick the s**t out of us was drama or choir, and most of us did those types of things too. We weren’t all talented people though, and I remember that there were people in our group that even I pitied.

I remember outwitting my bullies. There was one who would challenge me to a fight every day after school and we would establish some place behind the school to fight.  I would wait in the front office until just before my bus came, and then run out to catch it, leaving my bully behind to fume.

I remember taking Tai Kwon Doe for two years so that I could learn to defend myself, and then being told that I wasn’t allowed to use my martial art training in "that way." I remember having to write a long essay after finally snapping and defending myself with a high kick to the face that drew blood. I remember angry parents writing letters to the school saying that I shouldn’t be there, that I was a menace to their kids. I remember a look of hatred from the sister of the boy I kicked and her saying, "You should be in jail!" I remember feeling like s**t and vowing never to use violence again. I remember quitting the martial arts club because of the concern I had I wouldn’t be able control myself in the future, and I didn’t want to know how to seriously injure people.

I remember that when I started high school that it got better. My bullies were small compared to the 12th graders, but active and aggressive and so they became the bullied and I got a reprieve. I remember discovered that there were tonnes of people like me as I was placed in the honours stream at school for the first time. I remember that these people had true compassion and were able to look past the broken exterior of the child in front of them and see an amazing me.

I remember growing in confidence as I sang in the choir and acted in school plays. I remember that before I acted that the only class I had any confidence speaking in was mathematics class. I remember feeling like for the first time that I had a voice. I remember feeling like it was okay to be smart and maybe a little bit weird. I remember that it got better.

I remember going off to university and having the confidence to talk back to the bullies that were there as well. I remember being forced into an all guy dorm and thinking that most of them were pretty okay but some of them were real a******s. I remember living with some stereotypical jocks in a dorm in 3rd year and realizing that I didn’t need to take their bulls**t, I could move on and I did.

I remember discovering the War Gamers club and Safewalk and recognizing that I wasn’t alone, that there were lots of people like me. I remember eventually being one of the cool kids on campus and running the Billiards & Mathematics clubs, and being on the board of the War Gamers club. I remember being recognized for my 9 years of service in Safewalk and knowing that people would actually miss me when I was gone. I remember the first friends I had who actually loved me and respected me and with whom I could share my innermost thoughts and feelings. I remember wondering if everyone had their first deep friendship in university. I remember that it got better.

I remember being depressed for a while and going off track. I remember being pulled back into reality by my aunt, who found me a job in the warehouse in which she worked. I remember hating the work beside the very same kind of person who used to bully me, but I remember becoming powerful and being able to load crates of beer onto pallets at a frightening speed. I remember being respected by the people who were like my bullies and making friends with some of them. I remember being able to forgive my bullies from many years ago. I remember making a decision to go back to school and quitting work the very same day I found out I had been accepted to join the education faculty at UBC.

I remember loving learning how to teach. I remember finding my calling. I remember the first time I stood in front a class full of 8th graders and how nervous I felt. I remember struggling at first but finding the confidence to continue. I remember that I became a teacher not for a love of math, or because I wanted some money, but so that I could help kids like me. I remember the first time I asked for the class’ attention and got it instantly without effort. I remember that this was the first time I really felt like a teacher.

I remember meeting my wife and how much we were in love, and the birth of our son. I remember being really happy all the time. I remember that I never feel lost or lonely, except for a while after my Dad died, and even then being so grateful I had a family. I remember that it got better. I remember waking up everyday and being so grateful that the teenager who was once me lacked the courage to end it all. I remember because I am here to do so, and I remember that I need to do more to stop teenagers from making decisions that will prevent them from being happy people like I now am.

This blog post is inspired by the It Gets Better project which I think is an awesome idea and I wish existed when I was a kid and serves as a reminder for me of why I became an educator.


Booking Parent-Teacher night with


We are running our parent-teacher interview appoints through an online service for the first time. Last year we used a Google spreadsheet for our bookings, but we had problems because of parents over-writing each other’s entries. The parents just found the process a bit difficult. This year we are using to set up our appointments and I just thought I would post a summary of that process here to help myself out next year.

School Bookings is a 3rd party service which looks like it originated out of New Zealand. The service costs money, between $150 and $800 depending on the size of your school. Of course the larger your school, the more complicated setting up parent-teacher interviews will be, and hence more time-consuming for everyone involved. Customer service for this service is terrific. Every time I emailed with a question, I got a response back almost immediately with a solution to whatever issue I was having. Note: I’m not an employee of, I just loved their system.


How it works

Here’s what the process looks like. You sign up with School Bookings and pay your fee. You can trial period their program a bit first if you want, but at some point you have to pay them, and I recommend doing this before you actually use it for an event. You have about a week to play with their system and test it out.

Once you’ve signed up for the service, you need to edit your event settings. If you need multiple events for some reason within a short amount of time, I emailed their customer support and they gave me multiple account codes, all tied to the same school. The events settings page looks like this:

Notice that you can break your event up into multiple time-slots and dates, which is useful if you have a conference lasting over a period of a few days.  There are also some advanced settings which you can use if you want to use this type of booking system for a completely different purpose than parent-teacher interviews (for example: student-led conference, athletics bookings, whatever-you-name-it).

Now that you’ve set up your event, you need to add teachers. Note that from above you can see that you could use this system to book any resource, including rooms, mobile labs, whatever.

The "Add a New Teacher" form is fairly straight forward. You can either add multiple subjects per teacher, or you can as I’ve done below which is to indicate all of the subjects an individual teaches in one line. A very handy feature of this form is the ability to add a location which will eventually show up in the confirmation email the parents receive.

One problem you may encounter is that not every teacher has exactly the same schedule. Someone may be ill, or may have to leave early because of a course they are taking, etc… Happily the School Bookings team has thought of this and allows you to schedule "breaks" for teachers.

Now that you have set up the event, the next thing you have to do is share it with the parents. The parents will need an event code to be able to sign up for events through their website which looks like a combination of 5 letters and numbers. The solution we came up with was to embed the form for parent’s to fill in into a Google Site and then we were able to provide the sign information on the same page as the embedded form. On the left we provided a help video for signing up and a list of courses with the appropriate teacher.

Here’s the training video I created for our parents. You can see from this video that most of the time the process is pretty painless and easy for the parents.


Potential Problems

There were a couple of problems with the way we did this. We embedded the sign-in page into another website which turned out to have problems in Internet Explorer when the parents had their security settings set very high. In this case we had a back-up plan. Any parents which found the form difficult were welcome to call into the school where our school receptionists had been trained to fill in the information into the bookings system for them. I think this handled most problems. Note that this particular problem is because of the way we set up the form, rather than the way the website works. We just thought it would be easier for the parents if the bookings form & the code to enter into the bookings form were on the same page. Maybe a future feature request would be bookings forms that changed depending on the URL entered (so that parents could skip the step of entering the information into the little box if they were provided with a special URL).



The advantages of such a system are enormous. We successfully booked over 150 parents through this system without any help from our front office staff which saved them hours and hours of work. They are already very busy with other tasks so anything we can do to make their lives a bit easier is good for the school in the long run. Feedback from parents has been mostly positive. Our previous system was cumbersome and often meant parents didn’t end up with the exact times they wanted. Now if a parent doesn’t have their appointment of choice, they will know it’s because they didn’t book early enough.

I highly recommend this particular system mostly because of their customer service, the cost is very good for such a system, and it just worked.

A week at my school

Here is a week at my school. This isn’t a typical week, but then no week at my school is. I’m sharing this in the hope that more educators can do the same for their schools.


As we are a Canadian school we celebrate Thanksgiving during the 2nd weekend of October. So today is a holiday, and I’m at home with my family relaxing. Our students are doing the same; we don’t hand out additional homework for our holidays so our students shouldn’t be too overloaded this weekend although some of our diploma program students are going to be very busy because of their extended essays.



Today I got to work early at about 7am but we have a staff meeting every Tuesday at 7:45am and I wanted to get some work done before the meeting. I actually managed to find time to meet with two teachers before our meeting and also do some work on our Model United Nations parent-permission forms. During the meeting I took notes using a shared Google Doc. We discussed our half-day on Friday when we will get to do some collaborative planning and our monthly Senior school staff meeting on Wednesday. We also hammered out some ideas about how to make our lunch-time supervision more effective.

During the morning we worked out the logistics for embedding a student video from our school’s trip to Kenya. I assisted an 8th grade class in their effort to edit their radio play podcasts. They needed some help learning how to use Audacity. I added our teachers to our online parent-teacher conference booking website which we will be using to schedule all of our parent-teacher interviews in a couple of weeks. In the morning I also spent some time talking about how to promote our story in education and we came up with our Youtube project.

During the day I gave various pieces of advice to a few different teachers, mostly on different technology tools they could use, but also questions about my former students, and what curriculum I covered in Science and what worked. At lunch time I supervised a test for two students who were absent Friday, and after lunch we had our weekly advisory session. Today in advisory everyone shared one good thing, one bad thing, and one thing they were looking forward to. 

After lunch I researched resources to use with our Moodle site, graded my student’s exams, trouble-shot a few technology problems people had, and posted a summary of how our school’s booking system will work (mostly so I’ll remember for the next time I have to use it, which could be a while).



I arrived at school early and did some work in the morning. First we had advisory when again I checked in with my students and did an informal poll of how much sleep they are getting. I’ve been doing this almost every day for a while now. It’s been an interesting process; I hope my students are making more of an effort to get some sleep now that someone is keeping track. Some certainly aren’t. 

First period I had a couple of students absent so they worked on their projects while I checked in with each of them to review their progress. I found a couple of students who had made false starts, and another who having difficulty collecting data. I recommended she crowd-source the problem (so expect me to ask for help with that later) and she thought that was sensible. Right away she created a Google Doc which she shared with me and we decided to turn it into a form so that data collection was easier.

During the day I set up a website so our athletics director could share information about sports events happening the year. Next I converted a list of parent emails from Outlook 2010 into a text file for our Directory of Community Development. I scanned a copy of our International Baccalaureate Virtual Community agreement for our school and emailed it back to an administrator for the community. In the late morning we had a crisis and I had to run around the school reseting all of the wireless access points. I also shared some ideas with a new math teacher at our school on a project I had suggested earlier that he do. He was clarifying the project and looking for advice on how to get started with it.

At lunch time I supervised students as they ate and then transported them out to the city park next door where the students in K – 9 spend the second half of their lunches. I was disappointed that the 9th grade students seemed to want to just stand around and didn’t show the same initiative from the previous week when they started their own impromptu soccer game. After my supervision, I sat down with some of the other teachers and chatted about teacher stuff.

In the early afternoon I showed our Director of Community Development how to add her own new content to our website and update news items from before, which she was super excited about. She edited an event I had published for her right away. During the rest of the day I continued my research and work on our athletic event website. I also did a bit of touch-up work on my presentation for next Friday’s CUEBC conference.

After school we had our monthly staff meeting. We mostly ironed out our plans for communication with parents which is an area that generally every school can improve. I also presented on using Smartboards as more than a $2000 white-board since we have another 4 of them coming into the school in the next few weeks. After the meeting I ended up having a 30 minute discussion with another teacher and gave her some simple suggestions about how to use Google Docs to improve the collaboration between her students.



First thing Thursday morning I met with the athletics director and showed him how to add events to the website I set up the day before. We looked at the form carefully and added a bunch of new fields so he could keep track of more information. During the day he ended up thinking of a few more things which would be useful to collect with each event. On the back-burner is the view of the data which I can see will still need some work to make useful for the parents.

We discovered a problem with our process for sending out parent invitations to our parent-teacher interviews next week. We worked out a simple solution and I sent information on that out to the staff. First period I taught my 11th grade class and I introduced them to the major summative project for their course. They spent most of the period researching ideas and I checked in with each of them to help them with that process. I also worked on my own letters home to the parents for our parent-teacher interviews.

After my class, I helped out the same teacher from Tuesday’s podcast session and showed her how to upload her students’ podcasts to our shared podcast stream. We uploaded the first of what will hopefully be many podcasts after ironing out the process of making sure student identities were kept safe. The first thing the students wanted to do was to listen to the podcast online; they were SO excited.

The other building had a crisis after lunch and I ran over to help trouble-shoot. It turned out that a simple reset of the wireless network got them going again, but I volunteered to come back Friday and help make sure there weren’t any problems. The teacher involved was pretty grateful and carefully watched me reset the wireless routers so she could do it herself next time.

After school I worked for a bit and then headed out to the University of British Columbia Science Mentoring event. I was hoping to meet my mentee for the year, but he didn’t show up, so I was "stuck" having a great conversation with a couple of 3rd year students who were interested in becoming teachers. Neither had heard of either behaviourism or constructivism, so I gave them the 30 second definition of each, and made it clear which side of the fence I was on.



Friday morning I arrived at school early to have time to double check that our system for booking parent-teacher interviews was going to work. "This," I thought to myself, "is my summative assessment. If I pass this, I look good, if it flops then I’ll have to make my next new project at the school look really good to keep my professional dignity." I showed my head of school exactly what it would look like and he seemed satisfied. Of course we have our backup plan set-up so everything should run smoothly.

We have kind of an unusual day at school. 30 of our students are off at We day, another 10 are away at a volleyball tournament bringing our total senior school down to a whopping 80 kids and only 1 student in my first class. In the morning I created a shared Google spreadsheet so we could keep track of which students were wearing their civvies early (they aren’t supposed to change until after our 2 class; I’m not sure why). I also prepared my lesson plans but then realized I wouldn’t use them until next week. Finally I supervised my one student while she worked away on her project.

We then all headed out to the park across the road from my school and the students played a quick touch-football tournament. Galiano (the blue team) won the tournament after 2 games as they won both their games. Most of the kids had fun although as usual, some kids feel left out when we do physical activity.

In the afternoon we had our professional development which happens about 4 times a year when we have a half day for the students. We worked in the IB Diploma Program group on deciding on what information about our curriculum units we are going to share. We are starting this year to input all of our curriculum, resources, and in-class assessments for our diploma program having nearly finished this same process for our Middle Years program (MYP).

In our MYP meeting I started a conversation about the use of our 1 to 1 laptop program and some best practices on checking to see if students are on-task while using the laptops. We then worked on grading our 10th grade students’ 2nd phase of their personal projects. Our objective in our assessment of their projects is to look at the process they’ve gone through, rather the final piece themselves. We want the students to recognize that although the final product is important, the underlying process they go through to arrive at that final product is more important.

We would normally go out at the end of the day for our nearly weekly "book club" meeting (of course you know what I mean). However this week I have to rush to catch a ferry so I missed the other staff getting together. It’s always been a good way for them to unwind and relax at the end of what is usually a hectic week at Stratford Hall.

Is Interactivity in Mathematics Important?

I was asked if I thought that including interactivity in a mathematics was important. The answer to me is most definitively YES! In fact, I believe that if your mathematics and science classrooms do not include at least some of the features that I will describe below then you are doing a great disservice to your students. It may not be possible to include all of these examples in every context, but at least some of them are crucial to a deep understanding of mathematics and a recognition of its importance in our lives.



When I attended high school in the early 90s, every graph I had to produce I did by hand. As a result my graphs looked something the following.

The day I realized I could cook bacon whenever I wanted

  image credit:

Now the problem with this of course is that if I want to modify the graph above and compare my modification against my old graph, I need to redraw the entire graph from scratch every single time. While there is some merit in learning the skill of creating a crisp neat graph, it is difficult to progress to more advanced graphing concepts when it takes you 15 minutes a graph to produce something worth reading.

Imagine the situation today where I can produce a graph immediately and then modify it, add an extra graph to compare two graphs, save my graph to look at later, etc… This is what modern graphing software allows us to do. This kind of interactivity allows students to look at much deeper concepts involved with graphing and of functions. Look at this example graph.

Sorry, the GeoGebra Applet could not be started. Please make sure that Java 1.4.2 (or later) is installed and active in your browser (Click here to install Java now)



Imagine you are working on learning how to find the equation of a line from the graph. Which would you rather do; a worksheet with 20 different graphs on it, or would you rather look at a picture like the one below and find 20 lines first, and then find their equations. At least one of these examples involves recognizing that the lines come from nature.

Sailing ship

     image credit: Toomas & Marit Hinnosaar

What if you are looking at the properties of quadratic functions? Do you want to stare at a bunch of graphs of quadratic functions, or do you want to look at video footage you created yourself? Here’s what that looks like. Now the students can collect data about the graph, learn about the relationship between thrown objects in our world and parabolas, and then finally they can analyze their data and come to a conclusion about the motion of thrown objects. Here’s what that kind of video looks like (this was video collected from a webcam,  transparent graph paper over-laid on top of the video and the entire clip slowed down; all in iMovie).

Want students to create their own trigonometry word problems for practice? Maybe you’ve recognized that the best way to understand the formatting of a word problem is to create one for yourself. Instead of having students write out a word problem on paper, look at what happens when you have them create a story-line and video tape themselves performing their word problem.


Other ideas

In probability class you have them running simulations with dice (or even better playing a game involving dice). In calculus, have them compare the instantaneous speed versus the average speed as a homework assignment when they take a drive with their parents. In statistics class have them gather data from their peers and do the statistical analysis of information gathered from class. In geometry, have them prove the Pythagorean theorem by measuring out giant right triangles on a soccer field and compare the known length of the hypotenuse (which they measure) to the expected hypotenuse (which they calculate using the Pythagorean theorem). Use the last idea and talk about experimental error.



There are lots of other types of interactivity in the mathematics classroom that I haven’t shown here. Interactivity doesn’t have to include the use of technology, but at the very least you should have your students doing something each class, rather than sitting there and being passive recipients of the information. 


We don’t give A’s in our school

This entire post is because of a sentence from some student’s work that I overheard a teacher sharing. He said something like, "I was so proud of the A I got on my assignment." Of course I was pretty surprised because as far as I understood our assessment policy, we don’t give A’s in our school. It turns out that this was just a sentence in an English assignment the student had to do.

We are an IB school from kindergarten to grade 12 so we use a completely different system of assessment than the traditional public school. Instead of assigning students a letter grade for their courses, our summative assessment mark is on a scale from 1 to 7, with a 1 representing student who has produced very poor work up to a 7 representing excellent work. Essentially a 1 is considered a fail and a 2 is a minimal pass.

This isn’t the whole picture though. More important than the numbers we assigned to students is the process we go through to determine that number. We use a system where most of the work students produce is formative work which may or not include numbers on itself, but should always include feedback for the students. Once in a while, probably once each major unit, we will assign a piece of summative work for the students to complete. Often with the students help or alone, we produce a number for these assignments which we share with the students along with some feedback about their assessment.

We also provide a lot of formative feedback on a daily basis through assignments which would traditionally be averaged into a mark for the student. So we give quizzes, quick chats about progress, exercises during class, and a whole host of other assessment, but this assessment is treated as formative.

When we provide feedback to the parents and on transcripts for students, we provide what we call a snapshot of the student’s summative grade rather than an average of their grades. We also provide a similar snapshot of the students formative development in the form of comments. Our objective is to answer the question, "where is this student at in terms of their skills?" rather than "what has this student done?"

My head of school likens the distinction between formative and summative assessment to what happens with athletes. They practice a lot (formative assessment) and some athletes are more easily coached and practice more than others (formative assessment). Once the athlete hits the big game (summative assessment) they need to be able to perform.

In a lot of ways this process more closely matches what actually happens in real life once students graduate. Most of what we do is practice for the occasions where it really matters whether or not we are successful. Our objective is not to punish students during a semester with lots of repetitive assessments which do a poor job of measuring their understanding, but instead help them learn by giving them constructive feedback.

For example today I had to provide templates for our commenting system in advance of our parent-teacher interviews (formative assessment) which actually took me three tries to get right. Each time I sent out the templates to our staff, either I realized a mistake in the template, or someone commented back to me that they had spotted an error. Making a mistake in this sense is less important though since I have the opportunity to correct it before it is critical. However I am also in charge of maintaining the system we are going to use this year for our parent-teacher interview bookings. We are taking a bit of a risk and relying on a 3rd party system so that parents can book their appointments online and our administrative staff can do a lot less work. We’ve tested the system, but it has to work when the parents use it (summative assessment).

There are aspects of this system I really like and things about it which I dislike. I’d like to get rid of the numbers and only provide comments. I hate it when parents and students (and other schools) focus on the numbers associated with their grades and forget the story that produced that number. I really think this system is much better than what I used when I started my career, and I want to go back in time and confront myself 8 years ago and give myself a good slap for how foolish my assessment systems were.

Education Documentary Project

We’ve had a lot of discussion recently about how to take the message we have and get it out to the people without a lot. My idea is to create a documentary about the positive things we are accomplishing in education and share it with the world. We have a lot of great stories we could tell which would paint a different story about how successful schools are today. We could also look at the future of education and how it’s being implemented already in some schools around the world.

This documentary would look around the world and find best practices which are occurring and share them. We have a lot of educators so far who are interested in participating, including an Edutopia educator. This is an exciting project to be part of because I think if we are successful we have a real opportunity to share what works in education today.

If you are interested in finding out more or perhaps even sharing your story, please check out our project page, which is in the very early planning stages.