The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Tag: teaching practices

Moderating external projects

For the past three years, I’ve been an official IB Assistant Examiner.  This means that each May (or November, but I usually don’t sign up for the November sessions, too busy), I get sent a whole bunch of external exams or projects, and I have to grade the assignments.  The money isn’t great, it’s a huge amount of work, but I see it as really valuable.

I had just received yet another package this morning, which one of the administrative staff gave to me, so I felt obligated to explain to her about my role as an assistant examiner for the IB.  Her response was "Wow, that’s cool, it must really give you some perspective into your own students’ work."  

This really is true, I love being able to see what other schools do.  I can’t share it directly with my peers for confidentiality reasons, but certainly I share the principles behind how student work is arranged, and what the expectations are around the world.  I’ve now observed a few dozen different school’s work, which means that I have a few dozen perspectives on what it means to produce a student project.  The best part is, almost all of these projects are based on the same small set of projects, so I can actually control for type of project.

I highly recommend moderating other school’s work, the perspective you gain is totally worth it, even if the money is not.

Do what your students want to do

So something I’ve noticed recently is that my classes have been going really smoothly.  Actually, every class now I have nearly no classroom management problems and every students is engaged for nearly the entire class on their work.  I don’t think I’m doing anything tricky, I’m just doing what the students want to do.

Imagine this box represents all of the possible learning activities you could do in a classroom.

Rectangle

Now imagine that you draw a circle inside the box to represent all of the activities your students want to do.  Note: Diagram not to scale.

Rectangle with one circle

Now we draw a circle which represents the portion of the possible educational activities you want to do and which are relevant for the topic area you are facilitating or teaching.

Rectangle with overlapping circles

All you do is choose a learning activity for class which occurs in the intersection of the two circles shown in red.  In my experience this includes any activity in which all of the following three criterion is met:

  1. The students get to create something or interact with the material more deeply.
  2. The students see the point of the activity.
  3. The students are engaged at a higher level on the pyramid of learning.

Some examples of activities which qualify include, but are not limited to:

  • Students tutoring each other
  • Creating video tutorials or podcast tutorials
  • Projects based on the real world applications of what you are teaching
  • Student led interviews with professionals in the field
  • Student generated quizzes, worksheets, tests, etc…
  • and more….

What I’ve also noticed over time is that the intersection gets a bit larger as the students see a trend: they are doing fun, relevant and engaging activities all the time.  They will tend to more willing to do other activities because they spend most of the time in your class engaged, so they will jump in and focus on activities which they may have otherwise enjoyed less in a non-interactive class.

Using videos in mathematics education

I’m currently enrolled in my Masters in Educational Technology at the University of British Columbia, and it’s a wonderful program, I highly recommend it.  One of the things we are currently looking into is something called the Jasper series, which is essentially a series of videos intended to bring real applications of mathematics into the classroom.

The series has a set up a problem in the real world (like rescuing an injured Eagle, etc…) and students are given a bunch of information in a video format.  They have to decipher the clues in the videos and use them to help construct a mathematical solution to the problem, as well as justifying their final answers.

We’ve researched the videos quite a bit and found a lot of positive responses to the Jasper program.  The videos have tended to motivate and inspire weaker performing students and have been shown to help improve test scores on standardized tests.

Unfortunately the videos are a bit out of date, and the content area of the videos is about 4th or 5th grade level only.  Also the videos are quite expensive, running in at about 250 to 350 dollars EACH.

So I had a brainstorm which I wanted to share.  What if each of us created a single video with one of our classes?  I envision the students as the authors, actors, directors, and editors of their work.

The topics could be varied, certainly this technique is not limited to mathematics, we could do this in any topic area.  We would then <b>share</b> the videos with each other, (plug coming up) on a file sharing site like http://pedagogle.com and then we would all end up with a series of videos.