Ed Hitchcock

Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

Ed Hitchcock

Chewing and chewing…

April 17th, 2015 · 4 Comments · Action Plan

When I was little – which I know is hard to ever picture – I was told never to bite off more than I can chew. Probably sage advice, but rather than be overly cautious, I followed the letter of the law – rather than the spirit – and learned to chew more, rather than bite less.

When I was in university, I had a lab report to write on the comparative musculature of mammal and reptile jaws. While the lab itself was fun, the report was rather dry, so I needed something to make it more interesting – mostly for me, but I figured the TA would appreciate it as well. So I spent three times as long as I needed to in order to create diagrams that were layered on acetate, so they could be pealed away like an actual dissection. It was fun, I felt creative and proud of my work, and it was a hit with the TA. Later, as a TA myself in the same lab, I showed it to a colleague – a prof at Vanier College –  who borrowed it, and used it as an exemplar in in his class for two decades.

Because I learned to chew more.

The strange irony I had discovered was that it can sometimes be easier to do more work – because it is easier to do work that is rewarding.

Which brings me to Cohort 21…

My question revolved around making assessment meaningful, and I moved toward adopting a standards/skills based grading (SBG) approach, as I described previously in this video:


But the issue became one of how to manage all the data – how to keep track of all the individual skills for each student. Since I am quite familiar with building database applications in Access, I went that route. I created a set of forms for entering assessments and skills, and reports for showing progress, which look something like this:



Since the whole point is that students should know exactly where they need to improve, I make these forms available by email, and reprint whenever a test or major assessment is completed. But the emailing is time consuming, and the printing is a waste, ideally they should be able to see their progress at any time. There are several online SBG gradebooks available (ActiveGrade, JumpRope, BlueHarvest…), but none quite matched what I was looking for.

You might guess where this is going.

Biting off and chewing, remember?

So for the past few weeks I’ve been teaching myself PHP, and developing a web-enabled version that currently works as a proof of concept on my machine, and will soon (hopefully) migrate it to a server on the school network, and I already have plans for expanding the application to provide students with guidance on how to improve on skills they are struggling with.

This whole process has been one of learning (new techniques and tools), experimentation, iteration, consultation, and, of course, chewing what I bit off.

Action Plan Presentation: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1i0BkAUcP1NKUoKfp8YiT-iv_qeK7viRv9iwhHVHI1NU/edit?usp=sharing


Aaaaaaand we’re off!

January 23rd, 2015 · No Comments · Uncategorized

The third Face2Face session, at MaRS was another intense day of thinking about big and small problems, and strategies for breaking those problems into smaller facets to look at them from different perspectives. We made heavy use of the Design Thinking cycle as a lens to examine our challenges, and realized the significant overlap between my Action Plan and others’.

My immediate next steps are to explore the capabilities of SesameHQ, and how that can be used to gather data for my SBG approach. I am also looking at a variety of SBG gradebooks currently in beta, and reconnect with my Cohort21 colleagues who inspired me today.

My next post will probably be a more detailed, behind the scenes look at what I’ve been doing, and the journey that brought me to this point – and the trials and tribulations. When? Who knows. But until then, happy learning!



My foray into Standards Based Grading

January 22nd, 2015 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

Sometimes it’s easier to show than explain:



Desmos – now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about

November 23rd, 2014 · 8 Comments · EdTechTools, Face 2 Face Sessions


At yesterday’s Cohort 21 Face to Face (F2F) session we learned about different models of how to look at tech integration. Probably the most well known of these is Puentedura’s SAMR model, which identifies a new technology’s utility as Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, or Redefinition. Typical examples given are things like word processors, which can substitute as typewriters, but augment the functionality through the ability to edit, format, spell check etc. It moves into modification and redefinition territory when it allows you to do things you couldn’t imagine doing with the old technology.

But there’s something about those examples that kind of bug me a little. The description of the technologies often starts with how it can be a substitute and builds from there, rather than starting with how it can modify or redefine the task. So let me introduce you to one of my favourite tools: Desmos.

Desmos is a calculator. Well, that’s kind of an understatement. Desmos is a simple, free, online graphing calculator that lets you expeiment and visualize complex math in real time. While you can use it to solve problems for you (quadratic formula anyone?), it’s real power is in visualizing functions. Got a question involving two equations and two unknowns? Through ’em in Desmos and see what the answer means. Want to see how changing a variable changes a graph? Adjust it with a slider. Want to see why two slightly different frequencies produce dissonant beats? Watch an animation (seriously. Open the link, and hit the “play” button beside the k variable). Students have a question about why something happens in math or physics? Have them build the equations and play with them. And I mean play. It’s fun (non-math and science people may just have to trust me on that…).

Although it is a math tool, it can be used to show how math can be used to create simple games and artwork as well as simply presenting math in a very simple and visual way.

Desmos is not just a calculator. You would actually have to try pretty hard to use it just as a calculator. So on the SAMR scale it falls immediately in the Modification/Redefinition end. And with it’s simplicity and flexibility, I’d say it qualifies as an invisible refrigerator.



Blogging a blog about blogging

November 23rd, 2014 · 5 Comments · Face 2 Face Sessions

The face to face sessions of Cohort 21 are great for sparking conversations, and fanning those sparks into open flames. This blog space is one of the tools for connecting educators as part of the Cohort 21, and at yesterday’s session there was much discussion of the how to make good use of the blog. I thought I would share some of my thoughts on why I started a blog, and what I got out of it.

I started Teach Science (.net) four years ago, for a number of reasons. I had ideas I wanted to share, I followed a number of science & education bloggers who I admired (and kind of wanted to emulate), and I kind of just wanted to give it a try. But probably the biggest reason was that I wanted to practice what I preached. My educational philosophy includes the ideas that participation in discussion is a way of self-assessing your own understanding, that failure is a necessary part of learning (in that it identifies the current boundary of knowledge), and that fear of failure should be overcome.  Starting a blog was a perfect opportunity to share in the discussion, test my own ideas, and face my own fear of failing or “looking stupid”. As part of this, I decided up front that I would never sensor myself. Anything I got “wrong” I would leave for the world to see (alongside a correction – hey, I don’t want to spread incorrect information!).

At first I tried to write posts like other bloggers, but quickly realized that it was my blog, my voice, and things would be written my way, for better or for worse. I also originally set myself a goal for how frequently I would post, but again abandoned that for the stress and guilt it induced.

Once I started, I also learned that it felt good to write out my thoughts and share them. And when you get a comment, or a retweet, or spark a discussion – well, there’s that little jolt of dopamine that makes you want to keep doing it. And lastly – though perhaps I shouldn’t mention this – it gave me something to do when I was in a procrastinating mood, but that still felt productive.

I hope this little reflection helps others along their blogging journey.


The Invisible Refrigerator

October 20th, 2014 · 10 Comments · Face 2 Face Sessions

During this morning’s discussion of technology in education at the first face to face session of Cohort 21 (what Garth refers to as season 3, episode 1) we discussed the idea that technology should be transparent, invisible, in the background supporting learning, rather than being the focus. Like a refrigerator – it does an important job, but we don’t focus on refrigerators when preparing dinner, we focus on the food. Since we don’t focus on the refrigerator, it is effectively invisible when cooking.

Digital technology, however, is not. While we really want it to be, we have to spend a fair bit of and energy getting the applications to do what we want, making sure the students know how to use them properly (and actually use them…), and adjusting our methods to fit the paradigm of the software. All of this prevents the software (educational and otherwise) from becoming invisible.

I spend a good deal of time checking out educational apps and software, hoping for new tools that can support my classroom without getting in the way. Most often I find parts of of each of them to be quite desirable, and then other parts that make it almost useless (think smartphone apps for marking MC quizzes, but don’t give any feedback to the students).

Evernote is one application that does an awful lot, and is very flexible for recording observations, note-taking, tracking progress, and really anything else you want to make note of. And it’s shareable. Google Apps is on it’s way, but not there yet (but if Evernote could save to Google Drive, now that would be something!). But I’m having trouble thinking of other software that might fit into this category.

Most Educational software requires us to deliver in a certain way, or assess in a certain way. What we really need in EdTech is more invisible refrigerators.