“Test Flashbacks”: Science Lab Safety

This is my third year of teaching. One of the things I’ve neglected to do in the past two years is to to take up tests.

Often, I felt that students didn’t care about correcting their mistakes and/or it would take too long to go through every single question. But was this a projection of my own feelings? It really is the responsibility of the teacher to set the right tone if a task is important; just because I get the impression that they don’t care doesn’t justify not doing it.

And we started with the most important unit: science lab safety. I have an obligation to fix major misconceptions. I cannot afford to have students misunderstand a major safety rule when working with chemicals and dangerous lab equipment.

So today, I told Grade 10s and the 11s that I’d like to improve as a teacher, because having a growth mindset is important. I said that this year, we will always have a “test flashback” to discuss where we went wrong. This is how we learn and this is how I can enhance students’ metacognition.

There are four main purposes to the flashback:

  1. To note major mistakes – Which part did I struggle with?
  2. To learn from our mistakes – How can I improve next time?
  3. To see how the class did as a whole – Did everyone flunk? Did everyone do really well? How did I do?
  4. To review important ideas – What were the “big ideas” in this unit? What should I remember?

I don’t go through every single question. I look at the larger trends and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the group. I take photos of actually answers but never, ever reveal who wrote an incorrect responses; however, I might point out a nice drawing Joe or Sally made.

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I asked students, “How many got at least 8 out of 10 on the lab equipment section?” Nearly everyone raised their hand. I asked them to think, “Why was this an easy section?” We discussed how we had used digital flashcards on Quizlet to play a game and familarize ourselves with the equipment. We had talked and practiced saying words aloud (most of my students are English Language Learners so verbal practice is important).

Then we looked at “My Favourite Mistakes” and discussed the correct answers as a class. This idea comes from “My Favourite No” from the Teaching Channel.

Here’s one example:

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I made a joke out of this one. I held my coffee mug in my hand, turned it upside down and said, would this be a good way of heating my cup over the fire? Everyone laughed. Will they remember it? Of course!  Laughter helps with your memory.

At the end of the Powerpoint presentations, I gave everyone a slip of green paper. They were asked to choose one of the three mistakes and write an explanation of the correct answer. They were given thumbtacks and stuck it up on the bulletin board, which acted as “The Parking Lot”. Students were asked to write their response on the back and others could come and see what other responses were written.

It was a great little lesson and an easy way to give another mark!


Using Investigations

During my summer course, our instructor made us do a few math investigations. This is the idea that students explore a concept on their own and try to come up with a mathematical rule, versus having the teacher prattling on about what one needs to memorize.

It’s easy, as a teacher, to revert back to the good ol’ lecture.

We do it all the time. While it’s necessary once in a while, it’s boring for the kids if it happens day in and day out. Not only that, but engagement often isn’t there. An investigation allows students to develop deeper learning. How often have you learned something in life because you discovered it on your own?

So I have made it a goal this year to trust my students more, and give them the ability to start exploring on their own, rather than delivering a boring lecture and telling them to memorize all the exponent rules. Too often I hear teachers in the north say, “Oh, they’re not capable of it” or “It’ll take too much time.”

Even I’ve said these words myself.

But what does that say about us as instructors, mentors and educators when we’ve simply decided that “they can’t” but that we don’t even provide them the opportunity in the first place?

This morning, I gave it a go. We looked at what happens when exponents of the same base were multiplied together?

And guess what?!

They got it!

That’s really all there is to it. Trust your kids. Let them think on their own. Stop holding their hand. Give them the chance.


Where can you find math investigations? You can look through the resources at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), such as this investigation into the Law of Sines. The Ontario Association of Mathematics Education (OAME) also has an abundance of lesson plans (K-12) that are structured as investigations.

Quotient rule next week!

Class Messenger versus Remind.com

Last year, I used Remind.com to remind kids of upcoming quizzes or tests. It was great and pretty easy to install, as students could sign up with a simple text. The issue, however, was that their phone numbers would change every few months* and then they would no longer be on the update list.

I decided to try Class Messenger this year. It is also another free messaging service for students and teachers to communicate with one another. However, it is far more superior and once you start using it, you can notice the differences and the advantages over Remind.com. And they are major ones!

While Remind.com can be installed as an app, I couldn’t get a lot of kids to install it. It worked well as simple text. However, Class Messenger, as far as I can tell, really only works through an app. Even if you want text updates, you have to go through the site and do full registration. At first, I thought this was a setback, but as I started forcing kids to download and install the app in class**, I’m realizing that this will be beneficial; even if their phone numbers change, they will still be able to get messages me throughout the year! And not only that, the kids who don’t have phones, but are using iPods, will get the updates when they hit their Wi-Fi at home!

Another game changer is that there is actually two-way communication. The Ontario College of Teachers frowns upon using common social media, like Facebook, to contact kids, because the professional and private boundaries can get blurred very easily. However, tools like Remind and CM are more appropriate for use in educational settings and are set up that way. I finally tested it out today and I have to say, it’s great! I can actually see when students have read my message.

Also, the Grade 10s are having their lab safety test tomorrow, so I thought I would give some incentive to actually having the app installed:

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 7.06.34 PMI’m not bashing Remind.com; it’s still an amazing tool and I’m thankful for having used it last year. Remind.com is better used for broadcasting and far easier to use. I would still recommend Remind.com to teachers who are new to BYOD and don’t want to be bothered by messages from students. And if I were doing an LTO, I would prefer Remind.com if I wasn’t around very long. However, I feel that given the factors that I work with where I am, Class Messenger is definitely going to be very popular with my classes this year!

I’m just not looking forward to paying my phone bill this month.

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*There are a number of reasons that this happens. Sometimes kids use more data than they’re suppose to and their parents cut off their plans. Other times, the bill does not get paid on time and the service provider discontinues the service. Needless to say, this happens way more frequently than one would expect.

**For the first two weeks, I allow them to tether and use my data to download. I’ve had many promises that they’ll “do it when they get home”, but I’ve only had a couple of people follow through with this promise.

Digital Lesson Planning

I like my tech toys, so it’s no surprise that I prefer typing out my lesson plans rather than writing them.

Last August, I spent the first couple of weeks testing out several websites, trying to figure out which to use. It’s a tedious process but if you want to find a good tool, you have to take the time to play around and check out all the specs. As I am likely to be teaching the same course for a while, I figured it made sense to find something that allowed me to organize my units and lessons, save them and then upload them again to reuse, rather than writing them out by hand year after year.

The Ontario Teacher’s Federation (OTF) pushes the free Chalk.com, otherwise known as Planboard, but despite bugging the CEO of Chalk, they still have not decided to make the app available offline. This is a major issue when you work in a small town with poor bandwidth. While I love seeing so many cool apps being pumped out of Waterloo, Ontario, I am not impressed considering that I’ve been asking for it and it does not seem to be on their radar at all.

Eventually, I settled on Planbook by Hellmansoft. It is available for both Windows and Mac and costs approximately $30 USD. The iPad version is an additional $6 USD, but is well worth it for me. The mobile version, sadly, is not available offline, but I tether the iPad to my phone for access. Here is a screenshot:

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 7.42.44 PMWhile the hefty price tags might turn a lot of people off, it is probably the best educational planning tool I’ve found so far. It proved itself extremely useful when – VOILA! – I found that I was able to transfer all the lesson plans and documents – linked through Dropobx – onto my planbook this year!!!

No need to retype everything!! OMG!!!!

Isn’t technology amazing?!?!?!

End of First Week!

Just finished my first week of teaching!

It’s true what they say, the first couple of years is always the hardest. Being in my third year now, I feel as if things are coming together. It really helps a lot that the I have been teaching most of the same students for two years and they know what my expectations are. I couldn’t have imagined a better first week with such a smooth running classroom (although once I lost misplaced the photocopies I was going to teach with).

I took some more photos of my class.

Read on!

Below: Took an old cardboard paper sorter that the admin didn’t want anymore. I snatched it up as soon as I saw it! These things are actually quite expensive, often over $50! I covered it with some colourful wrapping paper, but still need to relabel the shelves. The students pick up their daily handouts from here.

Below: The pencil case system is working quite wellI. Pencil cases #1 through 10 are on blue and the others are red. A sign on the wall explains that each case has a calculator, a red pen, a pencil and an eraser; if anything is missing, the teacher should be notified during the same period. It is the first thing students pick up when they come in and they get the pencil case with their “special ninja code”.

About 90% of the students do this on their own; I still have a few stragglers that come in and sit down empty-handed, wondering what to do … I have to gently chide them but I never, ever, EVER help them get their pencil cases.

I have reinforced these expectations with a few resentful rants that “I am not anyone’s waitress.” I really got tired of cleaning up after every period last year. In the last five days, I have had practically no issues.

BelowThe ladder of consequences, which I started today. Each student – in total, I have approximately 44 on paper – have their name written on a clothespin. If there is any misbehaviour, their clip goes on “verbal reminder #1”.

I explained to students that this is how I treat everyone fairly; everyone is given the opportunity to have a couple of warnings. Transparency and consistency reduces escalation as students can clearly see the consequences and where they stand.

Below: One of my favourite posters. I printed this a couple of years ago and found that it was still fairly intact. These posters help students with their metacognitive skills and encourage students to flip from a ‘fixed mindset’ to a ‘growth mindset’.

One of my favourite students, L., was reading this aloud from the bottom to the top and dancing as he read the last sentence! It was pretty funny.

Below: Yesterday, I made a foldable for our INB (interactive notebook) to review the place value system. While this might obvious to a lot of kids, second language learners can struggle with the terms, so it’s imperative to review the basics. This is also an opportune time to do some diagnostics and helps me figure out where each student stands.

Today, we did a lesson on rounding and I encouraged them to review using their foldable; these good habits build independence and gives them a set of tools for them to refer to, when they need it. Better than flash cards and I don’t have to run around the room answer the same question half a dozen times!

Below: A little poetry to help with our rounding lesson! This rhyme comes from Math with Mrs. D.


Below: Our secret math ninja codes on their pencil cases.

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Growth Mindset v. Fixed Mindset

What a rewarding day!

Did a two-day lesson on growth mindset, which I took from Sarah Hagan. We discussed what it meant and how fixed mindsets hinder us. We talked about common put-downs that we hear from ourselves or other students and how we could change those phrases*. We also did a self-assessment* to see how each of us think. We also watched Angela Duckworth’s video on grit** and discussed grit as an acronym* to help us stay “grittier”. The last task of the day was to write down some new personal goals for the upcoming year.


Perfect lesson!

Hmmm, I might just have a teacher workshop on my hands!

*Once again, all of these links are sourced from the ever-lovely Sarah Hagan of Math Equals Love.

**One girl felt so inspired she clapped at the end. She would have stood up, but one leg was in a cast …

Door Decoration

Check out my new door! I have never been exceptionally crafty or good at decoration, but it makes a difference when your room is colourful and welcoming. This door comes from the wonderful Sarah Hagan of Math Equals Love. Check out your blog if you haven’t already. She teaches math in Oklahoma, USA. I will be using a lot of her lessons this year.

As a side note, you can bet there will be a Slope Dude door coming up later this year …


2015-2016 Classroom Set Up

Spent the past week setting up my classroom. This morning, I was in the class working for another 4 hours, making photocopies and preparing for the upcoming week. It isn’t fully done yet, as I haven’t put up posters yet, but I thought I’d post a few pictures for now.

Below: Used patterned masking tape on the chalkboard. I use the blocks to write announcements or goals for each class. I have four classes this year. I also put up my backwards clock, which drives the kids a bit nuts!

Below: Haven’t fully figured out how to set up my shelves yet, but I have put numbers on all the textbooks.In my first year, I found that many students would not put their books away. Last year, each student will have a specific text assigned to him/her. This system meant that each student felt more responsible for the book and would put it back, rather than leaving them on the desks.

Below: Students in the north do not carry their own supplies. Most of them don’t even have backpacks. Therefore, having a full kit helps us get down to work right away. The number on each calculator and pencil case is the same number as the one on the textbook. I have called these numbers “secret math ninja codes.” 

Below: Math ninjas get thirsty too! A glass jug and hockey-themed plastic cup to quench the thirst. 

Below: Supplies! Gluesticks, scissors, highlighters, rulers, pencil crayons, whiteboards with Cartesian planes … all of these are staples in a hands-on math classroom. The black draws on the side hold geoboards, foam tiles for integers, spinning dials for probability and of course, giant foam dice. I also have a giant reknrek. As I’ve not taught primary grades, I still don’t really know how to use this yet …

Below: The shelf behind the teacher’s desk. I misplace my keys a lot, so I like to have a place to hang them. There is a lot of reading I have to catch up on … I haven’t finished my Jo Boaler book yet!

Below: Taylor Mali is well-known for a speech he gave in 2003 called “What Teachers Make” (YouTube). Watch it if you haven’t already. I love the gamut of emotions this sends through my body. Every. Time. I. Watch. It. Thank you, to my wonderful sister, who gifted this to me a couple of years ago. I didn’t have the chance to frame it when I was in Toronto, but wanted to make sure that this sits behind my desk for daily inspiration.

  More to come in upcoming days!

Getting Started with INBs

Been setting up my math interactive notebooks the past week.

Bought a small INB starter package ($4.50 USD) from 4MulaFun off TeachersPayTeachers.com to get started. I actually ended up using $3 worth of credit that I had accumulated over the past two years, so it only cost me $1.50 (I do acknowledge the terrible exchange rate to Canadian dollars). This site has carried me through the weeks where I felt frustrated and didn’t know what to do; it is such a treasure trove of novel and wonderful ideas!

I’m a bit nervous about getting into INBs, but that’s just part of living and learning, you never know what you’re going to expect!