March Mammal Madness

Have you heard? Are your kids involved? Do you do March Mammal Madness?

If you are not, that’s OK, I wasn’t either until this year. I found out about March Mammal Madness through a facebook group for teachers I follow that is full of crazy awesome science ideas.  March Mammal Madness, or MMM2019 for short, pits animal against animal in a “who would win” theoretical situation. The results combine careful research by university professors, and weighted probability with a dice roll to keep things random.

You can read up about past years and the ideas behind the bracket here:

Personally, for maximum involvement, I’ve assigned each student in our middle school an animal. They will prepare a 1-minute presentation to convince their peers that their animal should win and then we will follow along, cheering for the animals as they win and crying for those who lose.

Right now, as kids research their animals, they are devoted, excited and happy. There is friendly “smack talk” about whos animal will beat which other animals in the room. It’s a perfect end to our classes before the break starts and it is channelling their energy into something productive.

In March, once we return from break, I expect this to take a few minutes each day out of our class time, but I expect the knowledge of animals and habitats to increase, that we will have a moment to bond over our shared desire to see a particular animal win and I expect for the kids to have a lot of fun.  I’m looking forward to it, and perhaps you will be too once you look into it.

What fun things do you do in your classes that add value and allow you the opportunity to create and develop relationships with your students?


When your cape is in the wash

This week is busy at school, well, really when is an independent school not busy? I’d argue Christmas day. We are 7 school days away from March break and everyone is trying to wrap up units and minimize assessments that need to happen over the holidays.

I feel like I am doing some exciting things in my room, but I have not been great at allowing the process of peer-to-peer feedback this week. #teacherfail

How easy is it for us to get pushed into a time crunch and sacrifice the very thing we have vowed to work towards improving. I know that one week does not mean this is a failed venture, and I know my students are OK not grading each other on appropriate activities this week as I try to increase their resiliency through the giving and receiving of feedback, and some are happy as they see it as one less step before they can submit their own work.

I also know I need to give myself some grace. It’s a new week next week and there is a whole term left once we return from March break. I have big plans for a cell unit where students need to gather clues and prepare a presentation as an end of the unit project. I also have another group using the makeymakey board to create interactive ears and eyes. Both of these projects will need feedback and multiple drafts before students can submit. We can use peer feedback there.

I thought I’d put this out there in the interest of being transparent and as a way to remind each of you, in the crazy lead up to March break to give yourself some grace and kindness. We are all superheroes, but even a superhero needs to wash their cape.


What happens when you just don’t grade it?


This week I had my students present in front of the class and did not grade it – but the students in the audience were required to provide feedback to each other about the presentation. It was amazing. Those kid honestly are starting to get it! #teacherwin

Last week we started our technology unit and as a way to grab their attention, we started with the most common form of handheld technology students use -the phone. #bringbackthepencil

Students had to design a survey by deciding on a population to compare (boys vs girls, day students vs boarders, middle school vs high school etc) and then had to create a few questions to ask them about cell phone use in their lives. This was as varied as using phones before bed, impacts of phones on grades, to the number of hours and the apps students use – all in all not bad for a first attempt at designing our own questions. We discussed being bias and leading questions. We discussed giving people options vs having students openly respond to answers. We then learned how to build Google forms, how to compose an email that was more in-depth than “please fill this out” followed by a link and then we waited.

After a few days we learned about the neat feature to link a google form to a google sheet, we learned how to sort columns and how to create charts in the google sheets. We learned what types of graphs are good for what types of data, how to manipulate the scales on the graph and what that means for the data we are displaying. We reviewed how to properly title our graphs. We then learned how to export graphs to the google slides and then, we started to prepare our presentations.

Students had one slide, in the style of the 3MT (3 minute thesis)This has changed presentations in my classroom. It is not perfect for every presentation, but it was perfect for this one. Students had one slide with one to two graphs on it and 3 minutes to talk to us about what they found out and what they thought it would mean for the bigger population.

Students pushed each other by asking questions about sample size, graph selection (why did you not use this other type), the wording of questions that could have been misleading. My favourite was two back to back presentations that had asked the same questions but had totally different results despite having surveyed the same population. The depth of analysis and discussion was amazing. The students decided, on their own, that it might have to do with when the survey was sent as it was asking students to look at their typical phone use. One was sent on a weekday, early morning and one was sent on a weekend mid-afternoon. We talked a bit about lived experiences and how people answer surveys based on their recent experience and not as much based on their “average” experience. I could not have planned a discussion that rich. It was authentic. It was lived and they understood the limiations of their survey. 

The discussion was rich, the students learned so many valuable skills and the best part, all of the feedback was student-driven and the kids who were presenting towards the end were pointing out their own flaws and how they would fix them should we do this again before opening the floor to the other students to given feedback. I hardly said anything in a feedback way, I mearly moderated to be sure everyone who wanted to voice an idea or suggestion was heard.

The kids all took the feedback graciously, the kids giving feedback were nice, but direct. I wish I had videotaped it so I could share it with you.

My HoD also popped in for a little while and caught up with me later that day and said he could not believe the richness of their discussion and the feedback they were giving each other given that they were grade 8. He was also very excited about how the students could talk about the trends they saw in their graphs.

This has been a long term goal – to use more authentic data and graphs in science and have kids be able to say something about them. It stems from my math teaching days and it was so nice to have that pat on the back that I’m seeing results from my efforts. 

Perhaps you can use the 3MT or only student feedback for your next presentation?


Candy & Innovation

This week, another teacher and I hosted a think tank of sorts modelled off the cohort21 conferences. We started the day with this projected on the board, the Rocky theme song playing as kids entered the room and small candy dishes on each of the tables. There was group work, brainstorming, timers, action plans, ideation, challenges, idea switches, and of course high-level productivity.

Early this fall, we introduced a new internal innovation challenge called the Heads Cup to our students. Any student can participate so long as they present their innovation to a panel of judges later this month. We knew the students were making progress but wanted to really give them time to be creative, have teacher resources available and really push them to the next level with their innovation.

I am happy to report that the sugar bursts as we became brain tired, the excitement when things worked out, the happiness for other teams and the whole group working together to make each presentation the best it could be was amazing. It gave me all the good feelings – the ones you have when you are at F2F with the cohort21. The energy was amazing. The kids were mentally exhausted in a really good way – they were energized about their ideas but needed some time to digest what was happening and how far they had come in one day.

We are going to meet with the kids for an hour next week to run through their presentations again, just before the big reveal and I could not be prouder of how far the kids have come along in terms of exploring their innovation and its impact to society.

I know we are really focused on our own action plans, but being a part of the cohort experience and realizing how awesome it is to focus in on something with no distractions, sugar and positive attitudes gave me the ideal model to use when facilitating this workshop and for that, I would like to thank #cohort21 and the awesome people who make it happen.