Classroom Reflections

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So it's been quite a while since I posted, and as I had stated before my goal this year was to find ways to keep STEM in the classroom as hands on and messy as possible while learning in this new environment.

This December I was fortunate enough to be sent to the ISTE conference and was blown away by all of the amazing software and ways that people have been able to present information in such cool and engaging ways. I promise I have a post coming for a lot of these resources!

But, as I was looking over all the great resources to share, thoughts kept coming to the back of my mind 'who has time for this? Who really cares about this right now? Is this really the most important thing to be sharing right now? Is content the biggest concern right now?' and though I am excited to share these things and teach people about fun new STEM tools, I think right now it's best if instead, I share things that have been working right now. Things that have made my students smile and stay engaged in our homeroom that haven't been a source of stress for me or my students.

 

  1. Class Jeopardy- A really fun and engaging site, Jeopardy Labs is a website where you can make teams and either play pre-made games or make your own and play with your students. Students can get competitive and have lots of fun. I've used it in homeroom and gotten some really fun responses
  2. Quizlet- This might not be new to some of you but I love this website. It's a way to introduce trivia or review that ensures collaboration. With Quizlet, each team is asked the same question but each student in the team has a different set of answers, this makes it so that students have to talk and share the answers they have and prevents one student from taking charge and answering every question. I highly recommend you check it out if you haven't as it is a wonderful and easy tool. You can check out pre-made quizzes or even make your own.
  3. This last one might be something some of you disagree with as it's not educational, but I will say, I had my students laughing, talking and fully engaged playing the game as a group. I have been playing a free game with my students on Friday mornings called Among Us. Some of you may have heard of this game or seen your students playing but for those of you that don't know, it's basically a murder mystery set in space, where 1 or 2 students is an imposter and the rest of you try to figure out who it is without getting killed by the imposter. During the course of the game we all were talking laughing and making dramatic accusations while working together. Some of my kids might feel like they're drowning when looking at an assignment or when they're sitting alone at home, but at least during this time with me, they are having fun and are still part of a community that can all get together and play. After all, they are still kids, and should have time to be kids.

I realize that some of the things I have shared here are not educational, but all I can say right now is that at this point, content is not king, relationships are. These are 3 ways I've been finding ways to have fun with my students that are light and don't require you to learn or test anything new. I hope you try some of them and share any thoughts or other ways you are having fun with students!

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Welcome back to Messy STEM! This week I will be continuing my coding theme and focusing on designing video games. The software I use for this is called Gamemaker Studio 2. Let me start by saying this is an authentic software. It has been used to create a wide variety of popular video games including Undertale, Hyperlight Drifter, and Forager. This software allows games made with it to be published on every platform including Steam, Nintendo and Playstation. That alone I have found is enough to get kids excited. I have yet to have a student not tell me what they're going to do with their millions of dollars once they upload their games and start selling them.

Whenever I teach this software I am always amazed and motivated by the different and creative things students come up with. They can really dive in to the software and mess around with different coding concepts.

I also want to state that there are a ton of resources for this software made specifically for educators and a lot of great youtube tutorials out there. So, if you finish reading this and want to learn please let me know and I will be happy to share resources I've liked, as I learned the software!

Over the course of this post I will be showing a quick run through of how the software looks and some basic things you can try out yourself. I know that I will be glossing over some steps but my main goal here is to show how the software looks/feels and to present you with a resource you might not have known of before this.

The photo below shows what Gamemaker Studio 2 looks like it when you open it up and sign in. For those of you wondering, the software is the same in Windows and Mac, so though I am showing this through Mac you can still learn and try it through Windows

Once you open up Gamemaker, it gives you the option to create a new project with either drag

and drop code options (similar to those on Scratch for example) or GameMaker Language which involves writing the code. I have always preferred the code! It's what I will be writing about today.

 

Once you start a new project, don't be overwhelmed by what you see! This is a professional software but it is very straightforward! Below is a summary of what you will see.

In the spirit of Halloween I thought I would do some spooky examples!

The main things you will work with initially are Objects, Rooms and Sprites. These are all things you will find in the left sidebar above.

Sprites are where you store your artwork for your game. This can include animations and gifs. It's important to remember that a Sprite is not something you program, it is what you attach to what you have programmed. Below is a photo where I have selected my sprite, a dancing skeleton. In it I have painted a bit over my skeleton's feet. It also shows the series of images that will be played on repeat to animate my character. In Gamemaker Studio 2 you can design and draw characters within the software or import images from your computer. In this case I used free graphics to upload a dancing skeleton gif. To make a new sprite simply click the Sprite category and select add new sprite.

Rooms are essentially your levels, they are your backgrounds. Anytime your character goes to a new place or a new level, they go to a new room.

 

Objects are the parts of your game that you actually program.

These would be your characters, bad guys, walls, etc.                                                        Basically, anything you want to respond in any way, you will make in to an object. In this case I have made an object named Skeleton. Once you make the Object (just double click Objects in the asset bar shown above, click and select make new object) you then can attach the artwork you saved in the sprite section, which was my dancing skeleton gif.

Once you make an object you will then be given the option to select it and begin programming! Above you can see my Skeleton and that I have attached the sprite/artwork to it. The next thing that pops up are Events. Events are essentially where you program coding and reactions of your object. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, computers are not mind readers, when programming you need to consider every aspect of what you want to happen. In this situation I want my character to move to the right when I press the right arrow key. So to do that I clicked Add Event, and Key Press, then Right. After that you will see on the right the place where you can type in your actual code. To keep things simple I wrote in 'speed = 2;'

What I have basically said is, when I press the right key I want my skeleton to move to the right at a speed of 2. If I wanted him to move to the left I would do select left arrow key and have the same code but my speed would be -2.

The next thing I did was work on my room, I decided to create a spooky sprite and select that as the background in my 'Room'. After making my room, the next thing you can do is drag your objects in to your room. You can then press the play button on the top bar to run the software and see what the game looks like!

 

Here is a sample of what our spooky skeleton looks like.

This was just a basic run through of some simple concepts. Often I start this software by teaching students to make a game of tag where characters throw food at each other. In it we can do different things like set up a score and special affects. Here is another silly sample! 

That being said you can easily go much deeper into this software. You can challenge your students to define and set their own variables and even define constants. Below is an example of a more complicated platformer game I have been messing around with based on some online tutorials. I also have a photo of an array I started that will allow my character to have an inventory!

I understand that this was a big post with a lot of information, but if I have interested you at all in this software and you want to try it out in your school please feel free to reach out to me and I will be happy to share resources and ideas. I also highly recommend the educator resources that this software offers.

I really hope you are all having a great week and that you have a great Halloween. My goal this year is to help you all get back into a hands-on STEM class where you can get messy, build things and break them. I believe this software is a great tool for that and I hope that it helps you as well!

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After leaving our first Face to Face meeting last weekend, I took some time to sit down and really reflect on all the 'How Might We's' that I got to consider during our discussions, and I wanted to think about what was really important to me when teaching in this new world. What was really important to me when considering pandemic pedagogy for grades 7-12?

After going through a few bouts of imposter syndrome, and considering what would fill my bucket in a time when it feels like everything is exhausting, I reached a conclusion.

What really fills my bucket every day, is the mess that I can make in my class. I can throw messy, difficult and hands-on problems to my students that they need to solve using Science and Math. We get to break things, and build them again, we get to seek out problems and try to solve them. That's what fills my bucket, and I'm not sure about you, but with current safety protocols and changes to how we teach, I don't feel like I'm able to do that as much this year.

To that end I have decided on a direction. My goal this year is to gather resources that will allow me to still make my messy classroom whether it be virtual, hyflex or in class but distanced. I am going to find these resources, review them and share them out with all of you. I want to take some of the pressure off other teachers who feel like the day itself was too much and they can't think of what to do next. My goal is to show you things that you can use that will helpfully fill your bucket in class.

I'm going to start with a program I tweeted about earlier this week- Polypad by Mathgion

One of the first things I noticed this year was that I could not use any of the math manipulatives I love to show certain concepts in math. To that end I found Polypad, it's an online platform that allows students to mess around with all the different tools I normally have in class.

The general layout looks like this. You will have a list of manipulatives to choose from on the left and a general blank work space that you can place your tools in and manipulate them. You can see me messing around with fraction bars here.

From there you can also try out different things like tangrams, or even visual representations of algebraic concepts. Overall I found the program very easy to use and I firmly believe students from grade 7-12 will find this easy as well.

They can use this to show patterns, to compare fractions, or even represent the multiplication or differences between x and x^2 and other algebra concepts. They even have cool things like Penrose tiles which I am not entirely familiar with yet but may be interesting to others!

This was useful to me for number talks where I could ask students to consider things like finding fractions between 1/2 and 1/3 or explaining why dividing fractions results in a bigger number.

My hope is that his will be helpful to anyone else struggling to let kids mess around with different things in math and that they will still be able to have some trickier, messy math discussions and show their thinking!

Please let me know if this was helpful for you in the comments and if you looked through this and it resonated. Please also comment if you were thinking of anything in your STEM class you might want to know more about and I will be happy to post about it!

I hope you all have a lovely long weekend and I hope you can take some time to fill your bucket!

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It's Friday and I just sent out a tweet on thinking of things I am grateful for. As I hit the button I realized I wanted to talk more about this or just put it out there in the hopes that another teacher will see this and that it might put a smile on their face or remind them we're all in this together.

It's the end of the second week back to school and I am exhausted. There have been so many policies and procedures to learn and it has been really difficult to tell kids to stay 2 metres apart at all times though I know it's what's best for them.

Though it may be easy to become overwhelmed by this I want to remind myself that I need to breath, and to remember a fundamental rule I was told growing up. When you are having a bad day, do something nice for someone else. And though we're not together I think helping shift to a more positive mindset is something nice I can do today. To that end I am considering what I am grateful for in the hopes that you will too.

  1. I am so grateful for the conversations students in Middle School want to have, my lunches have been filled listening to 12 year olds ask each other about religion, politics and social justice. They want to know about each other and they are so concerned for each other. This is so motivating for me and I feel so lucky to be a part of their dialogue.
  2. I am so grateful for my teaching team, I can easily say my coworkers have been keeping me sane and putting a smile on my face.
  3. I am grateful for my network of professionals around me who through all this have been putting forward insightful and motivating ideas to bring to their classroom.
  4. I am grateful for my family and how they have been a great shoulder for me.
  5. I am grateful for my pets, I just got a new kitten and this little ball of fur has been putting a smile on my face on a regular basis

 

I really hope that you have some time to reflect this weekend and to consider things to be grateful for. I hope that you also share some things you're grateful for as well, I want to hear about it.

Please take some time to breathe and I look forward to 'seeing' you all soon!

As we are heading towards March break I wanted to write this to post as a reminder to myself and my Cohort 21 teammates. I was updating my planner and looking at the time left in the year and I don't know about you, but I am preparing myself for Spring Term whiplash.

With that in mind I want to remind everyone how great a job you've done and how much I've enjoyed reading your posts and learning from you.

Now comes one of the hard parts. I need to remind myself to keep staying out of my comfort zone pedagogically. As we start careening towards June it's important to keep using the new tools and skills I have learnt this year and not reverting back to my old habits and comfort zone. Just because I feel rushed and stressed to get all this content done before the end of the year doesn't mean I can't keep doing rich and engaging activities and assessment. Yes it may be easy to go back to old habits but something being easier has never been a good reason.

To that end I am writing this post. I will hold myself accountable and keep pushing myself. I am so excited for our final F2F where I can get re-energized talking about curriculum and assessment practices.

In the meantime however, I will breathe. I will take a step back. I will remind myself that I can do this and do it well in a tight time frame.

If you are reading this and feeling the same then I hope you come see me at our F2F so we can motivate each other and cheer each other on. Keep it up everyone. We got this!

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This was an absolute week of small and big victories in my math class. To start we are going through an Integers unit and as always certain parts of the concepts completely flummox some of my students . To that end I have a silly dance to help my students remember integer rules. After we had explored and discussed the concepts I showed my students the dance. In the past this has always been something funny but since this is now the age of TikTok my students pounced on it and asked if I would make one for the math dance. I told them I don't have an account but they were welcome to. Instead I made a silly dance video and posted it to my twitter account @MsGScience2.  If you want to see it it's on my twitter feed and I have to preface by saying I am not a good dancer.

From there, the energy in math class continued. This week we had a guest from the CEMC come in to visit and because of that my 7's had to move to a different classroom. From some sheer act of luck we were moved to the exact classroom I was able to watch a grade 12 math lesson in that I had reflected on previously. It is chocked full of whiteboards and 'good math energy'. I walked in to the class and looked around and thought, 'I can't waste this opportunity to shake things up'. To that in when my students walked in I informed them we were going to do a surprise thinking task.

I have been keeping my students informed of the professional development I have been working on and told them that this was going to be a fun trial run on what we have been working on as a class. To that end I put up our math response rubric and we looked over it one more time as a class. We discussed if we felt anything should be changed or if our idea of excellence had changed at all. The girls all felt pretty comfortable with the concepts and how they would be assessed. I then paired them up and spread them out throughout the space and presented them with our open ended question.

The girls then dove into the question and used the space to the best of it's ability

While they were doing this I was able to circulate, discuss and take notes on their observations. I noticed that the girls were thoroughly enjoying themselves and even go to witness a few of these moments.

Math Dance

Afterwards, I sent out an anonymous survey to the students. I hadn't planned on doing the thinking task with the students yet, but one of the next steps was to send out a survey to see what I could change or do differently next time. The survey would help me see if my students were seeing the results I was and if I was really on the right track for my How Might We question. I told the students that this was an anonymous exit ticket and that any feedback would be useful to me. Since I am focusing on increasing risk-taking and student buy in in my class, my questions had to do with things we did in that specific class as well as how they felt about the assessment itself and the risks they had to take to answer open-ended questions. The first answer about their comfort made me laugh right out loud.

Most forgot they were even being assessed at all.

From there I asked them if they felt more comfortable with the risks they took to find answers during this assessment and the answers got me so excited..

 

 

I couldn't have asked for better progress and I was thrilled to see this and their reflection.

I then asked them to consider the changes we made to the lesson and how they felt about several things; from the rubric to the way we used the room to go through and explore these questions. Overall the students seemed to really appreciate how we

use the rubric, and that they were given the opportunity to discuss and problem solve together in an open and engaging way.

To sum up this week ended with me seeing some real tangible results and progress towards my HMW question, and I was able to see real growth not only in myself as a teacher but also in the mindset of my students and their overall engagement in my math class. I am so excited to take this to another level. I think my next goal should be as mentioned before, to see how I can take this beyond my assessments and to my lessons as a whole. Each day I feel that I am teaching more and more authentically and bringing more to my students. I can't wait to see where I end up next.

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So a lot has been going on my mind since our last F2F on Friday and have really been thinking about how much I am doing towards my research question and if I am doing enough. This thought was going through my head while looking at the piles of marking I had on my desk and how I found I wasn't having enough time to one on one conference witrh my students about their assignments. You can say that my next move was a slight act of neccesity, mild-panic and desperation but with some forethought I promise! The results made me really happy and I could see that all the work I was doing was making a difference to my students and their mindset about their math abilities. And my coaches will be pleased to hear, on the car ride home all I could think was 'I can't wait to blog about this.'

Basically, today in math class I had both a science and math assignment I wanted to hand back my students and conference about. I announced to the students that this time I would not be calling them up once at a time to show them their work and essentially stare at them while they look over their work, waiting silently while my nervous students reflect and decide how they performed.

Instead, I told my students I was going to hand their work and rubric to them and that I wanted them to take the time to look over my feedback and the rubric. I told them I didn't want to see them until they were confident they could discuss how they thought they did on the assignment and the grade they deserved. Here is what happened.

After about 5 minutes I had students lining up at my desk, what used to be 5 minute conversations turned into 1-2 minute conversations where my students could proudly and assertively say, 'I am here and worked really hard on this', or 'I could have done better on this so I think I'm here.' I felt that this conferencing was much more effective and in less than half the time.

Looking back on it this feels like a 'well duh' situation. My students were given time to reflect at their own pace and not looking to me for hints. They approached me with more confidence and were able to give more reasoning as to why they believed they succeded or where they need to improve. I felt less flustered and was able to enjoy the conversation.

Afterwards I polled the class and asked how they were feeling. I have kept them in the loop on my professional development and they know this is one area I want to work on with them. Compared to our first single-point rubric and math discussion my students said they felt much more confident and aware of what they were doing. There were less questions about 'What was my percentage? Did I get the answer correct?' and more 'I could have expanded on this more to show my thinking'.

To add to this contrast, I have had two new students since December and a lot of this was entirely new to them. Their contrast really demonstrated to me the growth I've seen in my students. I wanted to create a class where students are more confortable taking risks in math and have bought in to the whole learning process. With my new students they had never been asked to reflect on their math responses before. It was entirely new to them.

One student even pointed out, "At my old school they just cared if you got the right answer". I then asked her "What if you got the right answer but don't know why?" she replied with 'That never mattered'.

Basically this to me feels like I'm on the right track and that I can absolutely go deeper. I think this means considering more ways to increase student risk in math that might be outside of assessment. I think I can work more now on discussion prompts or how to incorporate more PBL and open-ended tasks in my day-to-day teaching. A 5 minute conversation with @SirMrMoore on my new unit sparked multiple ideas. I'm excited to see where it will take me.

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Happy New Year to everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful break full of rest and reflections. As the 3rd F2F is coming up I wanted to post about what I have been doing and the anxiety and enjoyment I have been feeling from my process so far.

My current question is 'How might we shift teaching in math class to encourage risk-taking and student buy-in?' Initially my question had also included differentiation in it but the more I've been working on it the more I've been feeling like it's a redundant addition. In order to encourage that student risk-taking and buy-in, differentiation is absolutely necessary. It doesn't work without it so I felt like putting any focus on it distracts from the overall goal and focus.

To that end I wanted to look more into the risk-taking aspect in math, so before the break I was able to go visit one of our math experts in our school and watch her teach a grade 12 math class. I wanted to see how her students handled difficult problems and what the overall atmosphere of her classroom was and I have to say I was blown away. This teacher has done some very cool research on risk-taking and one of her philosophies is to get the kids moving. She has many boards and windows in the classroom and she has the girls working on problems and moving around. While the girls worked on problems I circled around and asked them about how they feel about taking risks in math, what they do when they get stuck and how comfortable they feel when they're unsure in math but moving forward.

The girls then reflected that it was much easier to try things when you could look around the classroom and see that everyone was trying. They said that when they were working on paper at their desk it was hard to tell if people were actually trying or just breezing through and it was only them that was struggling. I then asked the girls when they started feeling comfortable with the idea of taking risks and making mistakes and for the most part the girls agreed that it was a slow transition that came with time and more practice. This is something I think I want to dig deeper into, to see if there was a pivotal time or transition for them in their math journey. I find with my age group they can get paralyzed with math, thinking that either their parents will get mad at them or that they're dumb because they don't understand. I want to look more into how I can encourage those mistakes and make them feel less big. Things feeling big is a huge part of being 12-13.

 

 

 

Another thing I have been doing is introducing the concept of what a good math response looks like and drawing focus away on simply getting the right answer. With my classes we collaboratively made a single point rubric on what a strong math response looks like. The goal of this exercise was to emphasize that in terms of the big picture, the correct answer is only a small part of the math they are working on. This was actually something that happened naturally through conversation. We followed the steps highlighted in my last post and I had the girls define 'what makes a strong math answer' and this was their result

Knowledge and Understanding

  • Answer is checked to ensure it makes sense
  • Answer is underlined
  • Understands and uses formula
  • No errors in calculations

Application

  • Thoughts are organized using the GRASP method
  • Answer is broken down into appropriate GRASP parts to show thinking
  • Answer shows understanding of the concepts presented
  • Answer clearly shows student thinking

Thinking

  • A detailed sketch or diagram about the question is made
  • Student chose an appropriate strategy to solve

Communication

  • Math is written clearly and all work is shown for every step
  • Answer includes a proper conclusion sentence
  • Answer includes a detailed explanation of thinking
  • Writing is organized and steps are easy to follow

This was the list my students generated, and when we finished and organized it I turned to the girls and asked 'how much of this is about having the right answer?' This prompted some really great discussion. Through this activity we got to really bring home the idea that I am not focusing on the mistakes they make but more interested in the process. I want them to take risks and I want to see how they break down a problem and think critically about a solution. We are starting another thinking task this week in which we will come back to this rubric and I'm really excited to see how they approach the next 'stumper' and to see them document their process.