Friday, July 29, 2016

#KTI2016 Reflection

As I made my 2 hour drive home from #KTI2016 summit today, I was surrounded by beauty. The mountains, the valleys, the wildlife, and the clouds. All of these things had me reflecting about one of the most awesomeness weeks I have had in my entire professional career. Here are few of the things I reflected on:
The Mountains that I would eventually climb!
  • The mountain chains came together to make such a beautiful scene, and that made me think that the 100 stars that were present this week and the 22 (or so) lead leaders came together to create something extremely beautiful. Beauty was created because...
    • We created a family that will continue to grow and support each other. 
    • We celebrated so many achievements and encouraged others to do the same.
    • We formed friendships that will last a lifetime.

                   The path ahead of me as I climbed the mountain.
Literally, making an almost 180 degree turn.
  • The view that WAZE (my GPS app) is showing. As Aaron Sams (@chemicalsams) told us, the path of our career is not a straight line. My take-away from that: There are tons of curves and zigzagging happening, and sometimes, you have to make that 180 degree turn and head in a complete different direction. It truly was amazing to me that I wasn't even on the road for 1/2 hour, and this showed up on my screen. I literally had to pull over and save the pictures. My dream is to never leave the classroom. I plan to retire a math teacher. Is that what is in the plans for me?
Bear, Cub, Black, Wildlife, Animal, Nature, Cute, Young
Imagine this cub running really fast!
Permission from to use.
  • The black bear cub that ran across the highway in front of me (I so wished I could have gotten a picture of him) was running full force, with ears back, and with determination in direction. I chuckled, because at that moment, I thought about me as a connected educator, and what I want to do with everything I learned at the summit. I want to run, full force, directly to my administrators and colleagues to share everything I learned. I want to do BreakoutEdu with EVERYONE, and get all of my colleagues using different formative assessments. I want to help all to create a positive learning culture (which is the foundation to everything else in the classroom.)
Cumulus Clouds, Sky, White, Blue, Clouds, Sun
What do you see?
Permission from to use.
  • The clouds made me reflect! How many of you look at the sky, and imagine what shape a cloud makes? I did that quite a few times today on my trip. I saw a crocodile, and a profile of a man with a large chin. I also saw several teddy bears (one lying down), a hand holding a ball, and a squirrel in flight. The clouds made me reflect that there is always a possibility. Nothing is impossible. With every idea thought or proposal, there are always "yes, if..." statements. Toss the "no, but..." statements to the landfills. Imagine the possibilities, and imagine what is needed to help that kindergartener entering this year graduate in 2029 with the ability to interact with her world. 
  • As I traveled today, the sun kept popping in and out, hiding behind clouds, and then being fully exposed.  That reminded me of being flexible, stepping outside my comfort zone, and being a teacher that simply bumps the rudder of her students' boats. Be the flame that all students need!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Virtual Office Hours and Study Sessions

Beside being a flipped educator, where I flip my courses for my students, I have now added virtual office hours and study sessions to the list of things I do for my student. My students are 1-1 this year, so every student has at least a ChromeBook or a MacBook. I have been using virtual office hours and study sessions all year, and a little last year, but I am most excited about them recently. Having discovered the Limnu App, which I will explain about later, I feel that I have taken the office hours and study sessions to a new level. The students really enjoy working with the Limnu App.

The Limnu App is an interactive whiteboard that an unlimited number of people can work on at once. This whiteboard has a vast range of applications where it can be used. I first discovered this app in early February, 2016, and immediately started using it during the weekly study sessions. Pretty soon after, one of the designers of the app, reached out to me, after I tweeted about the 1st time I used it with students, and since then, has had regular communication with me. The developers want to make it the best product they can, and continuously wants feedback from its users. The latest addition is why I write this blog.

Within the last couple of weeks, I received an email from one of the developers of the app, informing me about a new addition to the app. The new addition are called pins. When a student works on the whiteboard, they can pin their name, which allows me to quickly click on the pin (that show on the right) and find that students work. Last Thursday, March 17, was the first time that I was able to use and see the pins in action.

Here is how the study sessions/virtual office hours work. I announce to the my students the date and time that I am available for me to meet with them in the evenings. The time is usually late evening on any given night. My students are in so many other activities, I pick times that are after sports practice, music practice, and family dinner time. The time is usually 8-9 PM, 9-10 PM, or even 8-10 PM.

The students are made aware of the study session times via either a Remind that I send, an email, or/and the agenda in PlanBook. Both of first two include a link to the Today's Meet Session for that evening. Once the students are in the Today's Meet session, I then post the link to the Limnu board that I have opened as well. Not all students do the Limnu board, and not all students do the Today's Meet. The Limnu board has a chat within it as well. Students then have the hour (or 2 hours) to ask me any question that they want. Sometimes, I create a special Study Session Problem Set that students will do on the Limnu Board with me and their peers watching. The students often will correct each other, give feedback, give ideas, give compliments, etc to their peers as they work. Other students ask clarifying questions in the Today's Meet session.

I was so excited about last week's study session because of the pins. I quickly taught my students to put a pin with their name and problem number they were working on. I was able to just click on a name, and it took me right to their work. This is exciting because with the white board having no boundaries, the students would work all over the place and sometimes I couldn't find them. Now the pins ensure that I see every student that is working, and where they are working. When students started a new problem, either one I give them or one they create, and after getting the smiley face from me, they would either, erase their work, and start with a new problem, delete their pin, and start a new pin, or just move elsewhere on the board, leaving the work, and start a new pin with a new number. At one time, I had about 20 students working on the board, so the pins helped greatly.

On my end, I usually have 3 devices going. The Limnu board is on my iPad, my Mac has the Today's Meet Session Chat displayed and on my Chromebook, the Limnu board chat displayed. I have included pictures of all of the above. I always leave the study sessions feeling connected to my students, pleased with being able to help my students, and thrilled that the students take advantage of these situations. The students always comment to me the next day how much the study session helped. Sometimes, when the material is harder, the students ask for additional study sessions. I always oblige them. I love helping and being available this way for my students.

Here are the pictures of that evening:
All three devices and work station!

The Limnu Board with several student pins!

The Today's Meet Session in the beginning.

The Limnu Board Chat Session displayed!

A copy of the Study Session Problem Set!

Since I am blogging about this after the summative assessment was given, I am happy to report that the median score on this assessment was a 35/38. That median score was much higher than I have seen on this assessment since I started flipping this course, 4 years ago. The students really knocked this out of the park. I will be revisiting this assessment to see how I can alter it to make it even more higher order or perhaps an alternate assessment. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Every single person should feel loved.

I am acting as a Virtual Mentor for a student at Grove City College (in Pennsylvania) that is interested in being a math teacher. She is a freshman, and is taking an educational technology class. (#educ204toi) She has to complete projects using different technology avenues. She and I discuss what the technology is, and then I give her ideas of things I would like to have made for my math classes. She designs the projects, and I utilize them in my classroom almost immediately. The projects are then authentic to her, as they are projects that are being used, and aren't just busy work to learn the technology.

It was important to give you the introduction. When Tyla (@tylaraethompson) asked me what she could do for me using Google forms and surveys, at first I wasn't sure. My students are so used to google forms and surveys, that I wanted something different, other than just another boring survey. At the same time, unrelated to this request, I was thinking about how important it is for students to hear kind things about them and to offer kind words to others. Sometimes, our world can be so cruel, that I wanted something happy and positive to happen. So, I asked Tyla to make a google form that included every student's first and last initial. I shared the google form with each of my classes, and asked them to write some kind words about each student. I told them that you can ALWAYS come up with something kind, and needed them to do so. Just in case students didn't remember each others's names, I did one day in class have my students go around and say their names. I was hoping that wouldn't happen, but there are several students with the same first name, and needed to differentiate between those students as well.

What did I do with the completed responses? The students had until today, at 4 PM, to enter their comments. This evening, I used a word cloud app called Tagxedo.  I chose a shape (a heart for the girls, a star for the boys, and an apple for the whole class) and loaded the comments for each student into it. It created a word cloud for each of my 80 students. I saved each word cloud and will print a copy for each student. I am hoping to surprise each student with their own cloud on Tuesday. (For you enjoy, I have attached a copy of each shape below, but not with made up names, in case someone actually reads this blog!)

Why take the time to do this? I want each of my students to understand that there are people that enjoy their company, people that appreciate their humor, students that appreciate their intelligence, and others that appreciate their personalities. Being a teenager can be very lonely, and I hope these word clouds help my students understand that there is always someone that loves them, that respects them, that will help them, and that will advocate for them. I hope my students understand that one of these people will always be me, their math teacher! My students aren't just students. They are MY students! Students that really are part of my family as I teach them.

Monday, January 25, 2016

There once was a boy...

Today started our new semester, and a new semester for me brings a new group of students to my remediation Algebra 1 class. These students are assigned to this class because they were not proficient on the Algebra 1 Keystone Exam (Pennsylvania's state assessment). The law requires us to remediate these students, prior to them taking the test again.

Every one of these students have a 2nd math class. They all have a year long Geometry class. Most of these students are your struggling math students, that simply don't like math. The thought of having 2 math classes in (sometimes) the same 4 block day, is daunting and scary.

My remediation class is a flipped mastery class, where the students do absolutely all work in class. There is no outside homework, and they are always able to improve on any score they receive. It is a standards based graded course as well. Every student has their own individual learning plan, based on their state assessment scores.

So, 2nd block today, while waiting for the students to find the room, and for class to start, the following conversation happens. The boy's name will be John for this conversation, so that his identity is protected.

John: "Are you Mrs. McGowan?"

Me: "I am!"

John: "I just want to tell you I don't want this class. I already have another math class, and I can't simply handle another math class. Can I please be exited from this class?"

Me: "But, John, I was SoooOOOOoooo looking forward to teaching you. I was told that your smile will brighten my day, and that your humor will surely make me smile, regardless of the day that I was having.

John: just looking at me

Me:  "I was told that I you are such a great student, that I will be blessed having you as a student"

John: "You were really told that!"

Me: "Yes! Can you give me a chance?"

I continued with class, where we did absolutely no math. We did a kahoot about me, students answered 10 questions about them, filled out a blog on "I wish my teacher knew...", did a learning style quiz, and played a Socrative space race on pop culture.

While playing Kahoot, the para's name in the room was mentioned. John exclaimed, "I know her! She's in my Geometry class too!" I, then told John, that is who told me all of those nice things about him.

John looked at the para and said "You really said those things! Thank you!"

At the end of the block (90 minutes), John announced to the class:

"I like you, Mrs. McGowan. It's going to be a great semester together!"

Now, I just have to make sure I live up to my end of the bargain. That my friends, is how I hook the students. I learn positive things about them, prior to knowing them, so that I can make sure they know I care.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Why allow redos and late homework?

I just had this conversation with my students last Thursday. "Would you do homework if it wasn't counted for toward your grade," I asked my students. Here were some of the responses:

  • "Wait, we get points for doing homework?"
  • "We have to do your homework. If not, we would be totally lost the next day. Your homework is mandatory to know what the heck we are doing in class."
  • "Only certain subjects. It only counts for 10% of our grade, so not that big of deal. Other classes, it counts for 50% of the grade."
  • "Videos, yes! Worksheets, no!"
I asked this question because it never fails that majority of my students do their homework, and it just seems to be unnecessary for me to walk around and make sure they all really did do it. However, I do, because if I assigned it, then it is important. I don't assign homework just to assign homework. There is always a purpose.

The concept that it is important and it serves a purpose is exactly why I allow late homework. When a student doesn't do a video, he/she is asked to leave the room to watch it, so that he/she can be fully engaged with the activity taking place during class time. I don't deduct points because it wasn't done. Once the video is watched, the student is integrated back into the class activity. Usually it only takes once or twice for a student to realize, 10-15 minutes the night before is worth it. 

As for worksheets or other homework other than video, if a student doesn't have it complete when class starts, I ask the student to please complete it later, and once done, to show it to me for full credit. That usually catches the student off guard. "You will allow it late for full credit?" "I assigned it, right? It's important and you need to do it." 

As for test redos, I allow them. I allow students to retake summative assessments. This retake can't happen until a few things are done. The student must write me a letter (and their parents) as to why they should be allowed to have a retake, they must correct all mistakes on the first test explaining all mistakes, they must complete extra practice problems that I assign, and they must meet with me to go over practice problems. When those events are completed, then a retake is issued. I have very few of these retakes, because students realize the work involved and do well on the first test to begin with. Also, because I give so many different ungraded formative assessments prior to giving the summative test, I often know exactly who is going to do well and who isn't. I try to have the face to face conversations with those that won't do well, to help them do well. 

Some arguments that I hear from colleagues is that I am not teaching the students for real life, for college, for blah blah blah. "Would you want a doctor to work on you that has made mistakes," I am asked? Well, yes, I would because he/she had the opportunity to make the mistake prior to working on me, get it right, and I think I am pretty safe. If I wouldn't have had the chance to take my teacher exams more than once, I wouldn't be teaching. I had a grand-mal seizure during the first round, and the test was marked as a failure since I couldn't complete it. 

Stuff happens. Everyone deserves another chance!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

What is a formative assessment?

I am a firm believer that formative assessments must be part of the teaching and learning process. I tell my students that an FA (formative assessment) allows me to get a pulse on their learning and their understanding, and gives me a direction in the path of teaching. Consider this situation: You are on a path of teaching, and you reach a fork in the road. What path you choose should be based on students' understanding.  Through administering a formative assessment, you have information that helps you decide the right path that is best for the students. In this blog post, I hope to touch on what a formative assessment is, what a formative assessment is not, different types/methods of formative assessments, and different programs/internet sites one might use to administer a formative assessment.

What exactly is a formative assessment?

A formative assessment is a quick assessment that allows a teacher to get a pulse on the students' learning. To me, what is important is that it's quick. FAs can be planned, but the most powerful ones are those that come about by observing the students, and listening for the students' understanding. FAs can also be used to check for common mistakes and used to discern those mistakes. It is not an assessment that checks for mastery of an objective or learning target. Mastery is usually associated with summative assessments.

Furthermore, a formative assessment is not a graded assessment. In my opinion, as soon as you grade a formative assessment, the learning stops. Students view it as a one and done type of assessment. Students also tend to get anxious when grades are assigned, and anxiety often times prevents a teacher from seeing the true understanding. Because you aren't checking for mastery, it is important to allow the students to try and try again if needed. The students are more willing to take risks in their own learning, when they are not being graded.

However, formative assessments do require feedback. It makes no sense to give a formative assessment, if you do nothing with it. As a teacher, after administering a formative assessment, regardless of type, I need to provide feedback to students. Sometimes, the feedback is simply a "High-five, you are on the right track!" but other times, the feedback needs to be a private face to face conversation with the student. This provides for a very powerful teaching opportunity. Those face to face chats can help you learn so much about the confusions a student has.

What are different types of formative assessments?

A formative assessment can be done at the start of the class, some points in the middle, and/or at the end of class. It should be done often.  It can be done gesturally, on paper/pencil, or digitally. All three have pros and cons, and all three can be employed rather quickly. Some ideas for each include the following:

  • Gesturally- Extremely quick, but hard to give feedback. This also requires trust that the student is being honest with their learning since no work can be seen.
    • Thumbs up/down for understanding
    • Cards that indicate where a student is understanding (Got it! Almost Got it! Need Help! Not sure at all!)
    • Fist to five (5 fingers = Understand completely, 4 fingers = Understand mostly, 3 = Understand pretty well, 2 = more practice, please, 1 = need help, fist = No understanding)
  • Paper/Pencil- Not the quickest way to get information, but is important if technology isn't available.
    • Homework practice- since a teacher doesn't expect mastery on every single homework problem, one might look at homework practice as a type of formative assessment. I know that I do when my students have practice problems for homework. 
    • Entrance Tickets or a "Do Now" problem. This can help you decide differentiated groups. 
    • Get the Goof- Teacher solves a problem, but makes an error. The students need to find that error and explain why it is wrong.
    • Quick Pulse- What can the student do at this point, and what needs to be stressed. This can been done a poll, a quick discussion using a back channel, or simply a problem to solve.
    • Exit Ticket- What are students' take away from the class (summarize what they learn, give a quick example of what was taught) what thoughts might a student have, what needs further discussion
  • Digitally - These are software/internet sites that help you "see" the learning and engage using technology. (These are just a few options!)
    • goFormative- My favorite. Only one (that I know of) that gives you live results as your students work. Many different ways to make a FA easily.
    • Today's Meet- A back channel that allows you to gather information/discussion with your students. Can be used as a way to do virtual office hours as well.
    • Kahoot- a site that can create competition with your students
    • Poll Everywhere - allows you ask questions or a series of questions to check for understanding
    • Socrative - a site that allows you to establish a virtual room (no logins needed) with different types of FA (multiple choice, open ended, space races)

Regardless of what you teach and how you teach it (traditional vs flipped classroom), formative assessments have to be an integral part of the teaching process. They show you what your students are learning, and where on the learning path they stand. They are not meant to be used to penalize a student for lack of understanding.  Formative assessments are simply meant to inform you of your teaching, and help you determine what the next best step is for the students.