Personalized Learning??

My original action plan (found here) spoke about the differences between the ed tech options of organizing my student materials for our ‘personalized unit’. Since then I’ve had a lot of discoveries, a lot of thoughts, tried A LOT of things, and spoken to a lot of people.

I’ve tried both the google site and the iBook and have some thoughts about both. But there was something else that I tried that I would rather blog about right now. So we’re taking a bit of a detour. 68011_119_w1-15_c_lg

In the grade 10 course, my colleague and I wanted to do something for our upcoming unit on right triangle trigonometry. We came across this chart from twitter describing the differences between personalization, differentiation and individualization. (Click on the picture below to see the article it came from)


We had a realization. What we’ve been doing this entire time was much more differentiation and individualization than it was personalization.

We love the idea of personalization and what it can be for students, and wanted to push ourselves out of our comfort zone to give this to our students if possible. We realized that to push ourselves to the level of personalization, the piece that we could do was give the students personalized feedback that actually meant something.

We were particularly inspired by Ed Hitchcock’s post on standards based grading and went from there.

So here’s what we did:

  1. We created a ‘topic list’ with the learning goals of the unit.
  2. We loved our lessons from last year (and investigations) so we kept them.
  3. We wanted students to have opportunities to use the feedback we gave them, so we created a “math911” wScreen Shot 2016-04-07 at 1.58.48 PMebsite to help them refurbish their skills after a lesson. This was divided up per topic.
  4. We put the topics that were covered on each lesson, so if the students were having trouble, they could know where to go to receive some extra support
  5. On ALL of our formatives (one for each lesson), we created a table very similar to Ed Hitchcock’s for student feedback. This is the piece we were hoping would bring us to real ‘personalization’


All in all, I loved this unit. I think the feedback piece really helped our students know what they didn’t understand. Instead of a student getting a formative back and looking at the questions they got wrong and feeling like they didn’t know anything, we were really able to decipher exactly what they knew and what they didn’t know.

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When we gave quizzes back, the students looked AT THE FEEDBACK instead of just the right/wrong answers!

Here is an example of a quiz and the chart on the back:







This particular student had to revisit topics 4, 6 and 12 on the math911 website. We built in extra days into the unit to make sure the students had time to catch up on their extra support.
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Overall I’m really excited for what this did in this unit and I hope I can use it in my other classes to really elevate the feedback for my students. More to come on my Action plan later!

Less Thinking, More Action (Plan)

Taking the time to sit down and write about my action plan has been a long time coming. I’ve been trying to find a solution to my action plan question…

“How might we promote organization and student ownership while relaying the importance of independence in a personalized framework?”

What I was looking to solve by asking this question was :

“Is there a tool that can help consolidate all of the materials for the personalized units (explained in my last blog post) where students would only have to go to ONE place?”

I’m going to take you through some of my thought process, so bear with me. I promise I’ll get to my action plan!

Some things that my action plan is aiming to fix:

  1. The organization – I want students to have to go to ONE place, not many to go to see and use the materials for the unit that is interactive.
  2. I want to provide timely feedback, with less work from me. Can I leverage technology to help?
  3. I want to make it at least seem like there are multiple entry points (less linear)
  4. Is there a way to make tracking easier for the teacher?routechoice

After some brainstorming at Cohort21 F2F #2, in my mind there were several routes to take:

  1. Create an iBook for the unit.
  2. Create an iTunes U course for the unit.
  3. Create a Google Site to house the information for the unit.
  4. Create a Blackboard site using course sites.
  5. Use Google Slides.
  6. Someone at Cohort21 also suggested Hapara.

So I did what any list-loving person does and created a Pros/Cons list for each:

Tool Pros Cons


  • very user friendly, visually appealing, interactive
  • Can embed Geogebra Applets


  • Students would have to re-download iBook if any changes were made
  • May seem overwhelming for students to have such a large file with entire unit
iTunes U Course


  • Students do not have to download iBooks attached, so I could attach many iBooks (possibly one for each topic)
  • The private course seems like there is teacher tracking embedded
  • Only public courses can be used with MacBooks (all of our grade 9 students use MacBooks)
  • There may not be a quick way to make it public
Google Site


  • Can embed Edpuzzle, Geogebra applets, Google forms etc…
  • Could make visually appealing for students and have everything in one place
  • May seem linear if only on webpage – would have to have many sub pages
  • Not interactive (iBook has hover feature)




  • Has a great way to create quizzes that self-mark
  •  Seems like dated technology
  • Not able to embed the things I would like to
  • Not an immersive experience for students
Google Slides


  • Can link from one slide to another easily
  • Does not have to be set up linearly
  • Not interactive
  • Does not seem as user friendly and immersive for students

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  • Great for Google docs/spreadsheets etc.
  • We may not always use Google docs/spreadsheets. Often they are PDF’s or videos.


After many lists and discussions here are my first choices:

1. My first choice as of right now would be iTunes U because I like the ability to link iBooks. iBooks are great for us, and as far as I understand this would provide an opportunity for students to open the iBooks without having to download them. This means that if we changed anything there would be an update and students would not have to download the newest version. However, there seems to be some technology issues with this, as a course must be public to use it on a MacBook. Because of this, I don’t know if this will be a viable option (as much as I want it to be – Maybe one day!)

2. My second choice would be an iBook that would contain the entire unit. It has all of the user friendliness and interactive nature, and creates an immersive experience for students. There is a problem that if we, as teachers updated it, the students would have to re-download it every time.

3. My third choice would be to create a Google Site. This seems like the most viable option as there are capabilities to embed Edpuzzle (I’ve been wanting to use it for a while), Geogebra applets, and Google Forms as quizzes. I could also have Flubaroo self-mark the Google forms to give instant feedback to the students.

To end my rambling (again), what I’ve decided to do for my action plan is:blog_actionplan_v01

  • Create either a Google Site or an iBook for our linear relationships unit in grade 9 to house our information. I’m still deciding between the two.
  • If possible:Embed Edpuzzle videos, Geogebra Applets and Google forms marked by flubaroo with the results emailed to students.

Some things I’m still wondering:

  • Is there a way to import an image into Google Sites and have multiple parts of the image link to different things?
  • Is there a way to create a bank of questions in Google Forms and have students link to a random set of questions with one click?
  • Which will serve my needs and wants more. An iBook or a Google Site?
  • What else can I incorporate that I haven’t thought about? – I need to be careful about this, since I don’t want technology to lead the way I teach, but I’m curious what’s out there.

Crazy enough to change…

We as educators are at a crossroads of change. We have a vague and blurred vision of where we should head, and a not so clear way to get there. We hear words like ‘personalization’, ‘blended’ and ‘mastery’, but all have our own interpretations of what those mean. The more articles or books I read, the more confusing but exciting it becomes.

Before I even begin to talk about my action plan there needs to be preamble, so here we go…

A really long Preamble:

Over the course of the last three years a few of my colleagues and I have been a part of a large change in the way we teach math. I’m no expert by any means, but just someone who is slowly working to chip away at the shift in math education (at least what I think it looks like). After a lot of research, tons of theoretical conversations with my amazing colleagues about pedagogy, and tons of adjustments along the way, here are some of the changes that we have implemented:

“Mastery Units”

  • Units that have topics that lend themselves to tons and tons of practice, the students are put in charge of their learning where they work towards mastering ‘topics’ that are separated and displayed in the classroom at the beginning of the unit.
  • Students work towards mastery by first watching a video, completing a worksheet to practice, then completing a formative to prove to themselves and to me that they understand it.
  •  Students work at their own pace in their own time, with A LOT of support for me. They have guidance from me, and deadlines along the way. Often these ‘deadlines’ are vague like: “by next class you should have 4 worksheets done”. If I find a group of students are struggling with a concept or question – I use this opportunity to jump in and have a quick full class discussions

They can write tests early in the “Mastery Units” – I.e. We have test deadlines not days! (AH!)

  •  Students can write tests early. This change was terrifying for me. What do we do if they’re done early???? Turns out it doesn’t happen too often, and those students are more than happy to practice some math contest questions, complete an extra activity, or use the time to complete their portfolio – more on this later.


  • We have gone through the curriculum and pinpointed specific or general criteria that meet our need to evaluate the students by a conversation. We do this once per student once per unit. Often there is criteria (even in the math curriculum) that uses words like  should be able to: describe….”. This, in our eyes, lends itself well to a conversation instead of a test question. I really enjoy the conversations and find they are a valuable piece of evaluation for each unit, as I really find out what each student knows, not what they can memorize.

Personalized – When Possible

Overall we’ve found that certain units and content are better taught a certain way. Skill based units generally are best when students are given ample opportunity to practice – this works perfectly with the personalized units. Graphing data and relationships is perfect for projects! Everything we implement includes the thought process of how can we make this as personalized as possible. By personalized we mean that there should be multiple entry points and we’re working on multiple exit opportunities too. We don’t even know what a truly personalized math classroom looks like yet!

I’ve helped to build all of these changes, but now what?

Some challenges we’ve had with the ‘mastery units’:

  • Student organization
    • Students have trouble tracking what they’ve done and where they have to go next. We’ve tried paper tracking sheets as well as digital, but find the students need teacher feedback to really know where they stand.
  • Going many places to work on the same thing
    • From the videos in Google Drive, to the worksheets on paper, to the formatives on paper or online – sometimes I can tell the students are frustrated with the gathering of information and resources to learn.
  • Linear format
    • Although we consider it personalized, because the topics are listed in numerical order I find the students often complete them in the order they are listed. I would like to find a way to make it really seem like there are multiple entry points.
  • A lot of the same – need to switch it up
    • We know that no student learns the same way, so why would we teach every unit the same way? It’s important that we’re always changing, and that includes the structure of personalized ‘mastery’ units.
  • Student/teacher tracking
    • I find myself tracking and marking constantly. This is fine when it sparks discussions between myself and students or students and each other, but can become a lot and would be great if there was a better way to track it.

After consistently researching and trying new things I’m more confused than ever. What really works in the classroom? I find myself searching for an answer, but is there one? Am I really going to find something to help me solve all of my problems? Probably not, but all I can do is chip away at my goals, continue to solve problems along the way and be crazy enough to change my thinking and practice…

The only thing that’s crystal clear to me is…

we want less of this:      

And more of this:


New Ideas, Fresh Ideas and Changed Ideas

c21_logo_medium Like many I’m sure, was nervous for the first day of cohort 21. Almost like those first day of school jitters when you don’t know where you’ll sit, or who you’ll meet. I had no idea what to expect, but it blew my expectations out of the water. Given that I’m a math teacher by trade, lists and organization are the way my mind works, so here we go…

4 reasons that joining cohort 21 was the best decision I’ve made all year.

1. The positive people and environment

We’ve all seen those people, and been those people who have negative thoughts and question things. The ‘buts’, the ‘I don’t knows’, the ‘I already know this’ are frequently heard anywhere, even from our students. This is not what I experienced at cohort. Everyone was keen to learn new things or new features of something they already knew. There was only ‘wows’ and ‘how abouts’. People were willing to share their experiences and their understanding of things, without questioning the use of any of the tech tools. After this realization, I knew it was the right decision.


2. Time to set aside

We as teachers don’t often have time to set aside to reflect on our practice, and just play with new tools that have potential in our classroom. Just time to share with others, see and hear what others are using in their classroom, or to explore. Given that this is a professional development opportunity, I cannot wait to reflect on my practice, gain from others, and they hopefully in turn make me a better educator as we move forward through this year.


3. New Learning – even in the ‘in-betweens’

I, having had twitter for a number of years, was unsure what I could possibly learn from a twitter session. I approached it with an open mind, and who knew that twitter deck existed? Or that twitter chats are actually much more simple than I had anticipated? We got to participate in a twitter chat using Hashtags, something I hadn’t done before. My negative thoughts were quickly thrown out the window when I realized that I, too can learn something.

The ‘in-betweens’ were my favourite though. Amongst all of the learning of the specific tools: Diigo, Twitter, WordPress and Google Hangouts, there was more… as there often is. In passing, Tim Rollwagen mentioned that he had used ThingLink in his classroom (see his blog entry on this here). Given our growth mindsets, and our eagerness to ask questions we were all instantly wondering what it was. After spending my break playing around with it, it is officially my new favourite ‘find’. I quickly thought of how I could use it in the math classroom, and everything it could be used for. More on this later, since I have a feeling I will be incorporating it into my action plan.


4. It is the best part of my day.. All Day long

You know those parts of the days where you say ‘oh cool’ or ‘I wonder how I could use this because it’s super neat’ or ‘I might be able to use this this way’. The entire day was like this. It was overwhelming in the best way possible. It was exciting, scary, and just plain awesome. I loved being able to set aside time in my day to explore and become excited about something new that I thought had potential in my classroom. I can’t wait for more opportunities like this. As someone who has a pretty good handle on the technology and is not really afraid to take risks in the classroom, this is my… shall we say… coolaid. I love new tech pieces that make things better and really enhance what I’m trying to build in my classroom. I also love hearing other ideas and while I’m listening I find myself thinking of how I can improve what I am doing. To me, the most amazing part about this profession is when we share our ideas and our practice with each other.


Looking forward to even more ideas and learning in the coming Face to Face sessions and the ‘in-betweens’.



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Welcome to Cohort 21

c21_logo_mediumWelcome to Cohort 21. This is the first post on your new blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share and collaborate as you move through the C21 learning cycle towards your action plan.

Cohort 21 is a unique professional development opportunity open to CIS Ontario teachers and school leaders who are seeking to explore  what it means to a teacher in the 21st century.