The Fakebook – Social Media for the classroom

I don’t know if other teachers are the same, but I find myself creating mini-lessons and projects based on found resources for courses that I don’t teach. I’ll come across resources for a history lesson and start to develop a project for the subject I don’t teach. I feel that others can agree that you can think bigger and more creatively with something that you aren’t actually going to do than with your own subject.  To have an outlet for these inspirations  I plan to share them here on my blog. Please take what you want and share your experiences. So now on to the resource:

Fakebook: A template to create fake profiles for any topic

I was first introduced to using fakebook as a tool in the classroom a few years ago by reading Richard Bryne’s Free Technology for Teachers Website. The purpose of Fakebook is to allow the students to create their own personal Facebook profile page for an unknown character.

How is could be used:

In any class, Social Studies, English, Science etc. students can be given an individual or thing and create a page on it. This page would need them to explore that individual or things importance, characteristics and relationships with others. It could be done individually or in groups. If in a group of 4, each person would be in charge of a certain element in the periodic table. Between the 4 people they would be in charge of making a page for their own but also to post comments onto the others pages. This could be reflective of the type of interaction those two elements could have. For example, Lithium and Florine could have a great relationship since they “bond well” while Helium is all alone and acts very ‘noble’.  The same idea of interaction could be done with historical characters, characters of a novel or mathematical operations (+, -, x, /).

There is a gallery of examples that you can see and gets ideas from and also a short 90 second video to see how the Fakebook works.



Fakebook: 90 second tutorial from History Teacher on Vimeo.

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Personalization Step 1: Why make a change if nothing is broken?

From my previous post, I have shared that my goal is to create a personalized classroom. One where the students self-assess, set personal goals, work at their own pace and explore the infinite resources available to them both online and in the community at our school and the outside community. This shift comes after reading about the various school districts both in Canada and abroad that are seeking a way to excite students who are finding current methods un-engaging and lacking the platform for them to practice their 21st century skills.  Solutions are varied depending on the needs of the students. Systems have been put in place in the UK in the form of the Studio Schools , British Columbia’s Personalized Learning campaign and others discussed in a recent Forbes article. Each of these organizations have identified the need for a change in current teaching methods and each have selected the method that will work best for their population.

But why am I seeking a change? What have I tried already to know that this will work for me?

As a math teacher, I have always had the challenge of working with a group of students who are all are various levels of understanding based on their abilities but also their past experiences. Some students come into the class with a strong ability to perform calculations but are unable to creatively design an equation for a problem and vice versa. Ensuring that all students are engaged, challenged and moving forward at the right pace is a tough balancing act demanding continuous check-ins with students and ensuring that no one is falling between the cracks.

To do this I have implemented a differentiated approach to each lesson. As students enter the class, the goal of the day is written on the board as well as the schedule. Each day will have a mini lesson or activity that introduces the students to the concept that we will be exploring. After this 15 to 20 minute intro, students take a moment to self-reflect on how comfortable they felt with this new concept asking themselves the following questions:

  • Did they feel they understood the examples?
  • Did they depend on the teacher for the ‘do it on your own’ final example?
  • Is this similar to things learned in the past?

At this point we move into our Challenge by Choice (CBC) levels. Based on a ski hill, students will decide if they want to move into a green, blue or black level of challenge for that specific concept. They will pair up with someone also on their hill and collect the associated work. Those on the Green level will begin with the teacher, providing some more examples and structure that are also reflected on their worksheets. After a period of 10 minutes, the teacher leaves the Green and checks in with the Blue group to see if they have any questions. These students understand that they have each other to work through problems and that they have selected a more independent and challenging level. The black level is even more challenging and there for students who have already mastered the concept. After 5 minutes of work, students of all levels are asked to self-assess their comfort where they are and determine if they need to switch hills for the rest of the period. Each level has different questions that reflect the goal of the day and also the challenge level they are on. Students move down to green or blue or up to black at their own will. At the end of the period, everyone meets at the “chalet” at the bottom of the hills to complete a check out. This quick completion of 2-3 questions ensures that everyone, no matter what hill they took understand the goal for that day.

What are the benefits?

By having the students select their own challenge level after a short lesson, they are also indicating what extra help they need. Those students who need more time are given it, but those that are all ready to move on can do so. Those students on Green will have the opportunity to work through a problem and provide an answer when before they would have let one of the other students do so. Those on the Black level become engaged and challenged to work through something that is different. By the end of the period, students have spent the time being engaged and working with material that they can have success with. Each student has the opportunity to feel success, if by being the one to offer an answer to the group or come up with a creative solution. Each student will be able to do so since they are working at the pace and place that is right for them. At the end of the unit, the final assessment is at a Green level where all students know that they can be prepared and ready to the task.

What are the challenges?

Creating 3 different activities for each lesson is a challenge for me as the teacher. Going to various sources to find questions and challenges that are appropriate for each level takes time. We are still moving through goals each day, meaning that if a student missed a day or didn’t get the concept fully the class is moving on and they will need to attend extra help. Also, even though I have made a black level there are students who are even above that. They are ready to move on and think of creative and current applications of these concepts.

How will Personalization keep the good and help with the challenges?

I am hoping that by giving my students the opportunity to identify what they know, what they need to work on and the resources to do this at their own pace will continue to engage all students and ensure that everyone is attaining the course expectations. I don’t want to loose the ability for the students to select their own challenge levels and have the assistance they need when they are learning each concept. I also want my students to leave my class with the skills to identify what they understand, what they need to improve on, what support they need to ensure their understanding. They will begin to see that I am not the only source of information and challenge, but that there is infinite options online and also how to collaborate with peers in our school and those outside its walls. 

Next Steps:

How is this going to work? That is my goal for the next month is to figure that out. I have some ideas in place, but I hope that you will help me along the way by providing me with suggestions to any dilemmas I may have.

At the end of the day, the system I have in place isn’t broken but it isn’t allowing those who need more time to have it and for those that want to extend and explore an interesting topic to do so. It also isn’t allowing students to see the multitude of resources available to them and determine how they learn best by exploring different methods out there that might not get presented in class. Even though the system isn’t broken, it can always go for a tune up!


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Developing a Globally Aware Student – 5 minutes at a time

The internet and globalization has brought the world to each of our students finger tips through various media sources. However, when speaking with students it becomes very obvious that even though they have numerous international influences through music, media and also through the products they wear and use, they have a poor understanding of the daily lives of those living outside their city or even small community. The two resources shown below, I have used to fill 5 minute periods in transition or homeroom to bring attention to issues or ideas occurring around them. Both sites have brought on conversations and engagement to understand more about the current events and world around them.

BBC News Daily Pictures is a site that provides about 10 images from the previous day, highlighting key news worthy events, celebrations or geographical wonders. A single sentence appears on the bottom when the cursor goes over top. With each picture I ask the students to predict either what they feel is happening, where this picture was taken or why the people are doing what they are doing. They give evidence from the picture and as a class we read the single sentence, creating an uproar of cheers if they had any information correct, but also eliciting questions as to what is actually happening.

Gapminder is an online program that takes valid international data from various sources including the UN, World Bank and government files and visualizes it clearly for the audience to see. Circles representing different countries move around on the graph allowing the viewer to see how the country has changed over time. The beauty of the program is that you can select a wide variety of things to compare from numerous countries. For example, you can see if female literacy has an affect on the number of children per woman. I ask students to make predictions of where they think countries will end up on the graph in the most recent data. Usually starting 30 years ago, the balls move around the diagram leaving a trail to indicate where they started and how they have improved or declined. Also it is interesting to have students see where the “third world countries” lie in comparison to Canada today and in the past. Here is a Ted Talk that I saw and made me love the program even more!

Hans Rosling – Gapminder


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Indi-Personal-Differ “ations” – What works for the 21st Century Learner

When sitting through PD sessions or reading online educational articles, three words appear to come up over and over again. These are Individual, Personalized and Differentiated Learning. Sometimes it can feel that these different methods come in and out of fashion like boy bands and teased hair. However, I have decided to take a closer look at these three methods and think specifically which method I currently employ in my classroom teaching and which method would provide a more beneficial outcome for my students working in the 21st century.

The first step was to become more familiar with the terms. Speaking with my small group at my Cohort 21 session, I became more confused than I was previously trying to identify the specifics of each method. What appeared to be so clear before, became clouded with teaching pedagogical wording. With some guidance from the BC Education website and Personalized vs Individualized vs Differentiation organizational chart I was shown on the Rethinking Learning website. I feel that I have a better grasp of what I am working with now.

To summarize here is what I have determined to be my working definitions for the course of this blog:

Individualization: The student is at the main focus of this method, accommodating the learning needs of the individual but with everyone achieving the same specific objectives. They may work through material at different paces but moving on requires the student to show mastery or understanding. Learners are dependent on the teacher to support their learning by creating individual lessons and learning is assessed in the end with a grade-based test or assignment that confirms what the students knows and doesn’t know.

Differentiation: This method focuses on a group of learners organized based on their needs or interests. Instruction is adapted for each group and is directed by the teacher. Learning objectives are the same for all students, but how they may present their understanding could be different depending on the groups.

Personalized: The focus is on the learner with instruction connected to their interests as well as pace of learning. Each student may have different objectives based on their needs. This could mean displaying an understanding of fractions using a way they feel most comfortable with. Learning is done through a network of peers, teachers and others that the student has decided to make apart of their personal learning team. Students are encouraged to set goal, monitor progress and reflect on learning.

Right now personalized learning is the hot ticket item for 21st century learners by having students able to set their own goals, identify their own learning needs but also see that the teacher is not the only resource to them. These skills are deemed very valuable and necessary for the creative, group oriented and intrinsically motivated professional careers our students will be filling in the future.

As a math teacher, I will be looking to first identify where I am in the spectrum of teaching methods, but then ask other teachers reflect on there they are. By sharing and comparing I hope to gain a better understanding of what I feel these terms mean in practice, but also obtain great resources as to help move towards my goal; a more personalized learning classroom with that uses of 21st century technology and resources.

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The need of a Pivot

I was able to spend some time this week in a PD session with Kate Sharp. During the first few minutes of her speech, she mentioned the need to pivot, to see where the flow is going and try to align your energies with that flow.  Many major companies that we now call successful were at one point struggling small projects that weren’t putting their talents in the right direction with the needs or wants of the population. Here are a few:

  • Paypal was a payment system for PDA’s
  • Flickr started as a massively multi-player online game
  • Groupon launched as, a website which uses your social graph to support causes
  • Youtube was initially designed as a video-dating site (HotOrNot with videos)
  • Intel started as a memory company before seeing the huge growth in processor business
  • HP survived 70 years as a leading high tech company by changing its core business multiple times. All the other companies that failed at pivoting eventually went to dead-pool,

By making a small change, all of these companies found what they were doing well and pivot their business plan to match those ideas and the needs of their consumers. Rather than persevering with that they were doing, these small businesses chose to innovate their ideas and make a small change. Forbes eloquently put it as “when it is said and done, there are two main reasons to pivot: when you’ve built the right product for the wrong market, or when you’ve built the wrong product for the right market”.

In the case of a teacher, the classroom and students are the market. It is important to take a moment to see if what you have built is the right management, routines, structure, assessments and method of communication that fits your students, or are you using those that would work better for another group.

The challenge with teaching is that we have a changing market every year. A new group of students whose needs are different. This means that just as in the business world, teachers are analyzing their product and making changes that will ensure that their product is reaching the right market. Good teachers make the yearly changes to ensure that their students needs are being met, determining the interests, finding new means of technology and creative new projects.

However, I also feel that in many cases the foundations stay the same, unable to pivot. For me these foundations are the expectations of what will be the end product. High achievers that will end up going to university, getting into law or medical school resulting with a highly coveted career. With many schools now pivoting to seeing students as a “whole individual” who have various strengths and abilities is excellent but if at our heart we don’t change the expectations of achievement of perfection, the long term pivot has not occurred. If this fear of failure is present, those teachers guiding the way will feel and react to it by not making the true pivot necessary. Since every change opens the possibility of failure, it makes it challenging to allow a teacher or staff to move from a good idea to a thriving and highly successful group.

However, what I took from Kate Sharp was the notion that the pivot starts with you. With continuous reflecting, assessing and taking in various kinds of data to see where your market is and what their needs are. You can not change the students, but you can change your actions. Making a small pivot can result in a greater product and happier clientele.

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Student Feedback using Poll Everywhere

It is the time of year when both teachers and students hit that lull in the road, at least on my end. With the weather changing and the holidays a month away, I have found that my middle school girls are getting more tired and having shorter attention spans than in September. This is the lull.

To see how we could change things up, and also have the girls take ownership over their actions, I decided to use the service as a warm up for a math class. The goal was to have the girls reflect on the class so far this year, what they enjoy, what they don’t enjoy and also make suggestions to others as how to make things better. This 10 minute activity was very successful and created a revived classroom community that was eager for change and improvement.

Using only their lap tops, the girls were blown away with the instant feedback. They also enjoyed seeing their comments posted where everyone could see. By asking the students for suggestions and improvements, they gained some control of how they like to learn and how they want the class to run. It was also a great opportunity to have the girls reflect upon the behaviours of the class, shouting out, taking too long to transition and not completing homework and how they are affecting others. By using the text input message, the students were able to express anonymously how these actions have impacted their learning, making others aware the affect they have.

I would highly recommend others to take 10 minutes to allow your students to provide feedback to you and also to each other. This process created an “upswing” in attitude at a challenging time of year.

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And so it begins… Cohort 21 Thoughts and Reflections

Riding my bike away from The York School yesterday, I was mulling over exactly what I had signed up to be a part of for the coming school year. A year long PD involving teachers from every department from schools across the CIS is both exciting but also overwhelming at the same time. Coming away from my morning, I realized that I had not experienced a PD morning like this before, because I was not leaving the forum behind at the end of the day, but this was now the start of a continuous and openly reflective year.

One my of PD Cohort 21 pals, Melody Russell from the Bayview Glen School has summarized the new tools that we were introduced to throughout the day. Her blog post here has an explanation for each and the link to the associated sites. One of these tools, twitter, was my hill for the morning. Being apart of the “millennial” generation, I was surprised to feel like my mother on a computer. Overwhelmed with lists, hash-tages and symbols that I thought I knew about. I have now set small goals to open my twitter once a week. This process also made me realize that I can’t assume that my students are any more computer savvy than me. Just because I would rather have ICQ’ed someone than phone them in high school doesn’t mean that I have an innate ability to retweet and cause a trend in the twitter-verse.

Personally, I am very excited about this blog. As a previous international teacher, I became used to scouring the internet to find teachers and blogs that would answer my questions and provide inspiration when I was the only math teacher in the school. I have always wanted to be apart of the conversation, rather than an observer and so I hope that this will be my launching pad to share my ideas, gain peer critique and open my eyes to new possibilities.

So here I am raising my coffee mug to a year of personal growth and learning through technology. I look forward to sharing my ideas here in this medium and hearing any suggestions you may have through the comment boxes or at my twitter account (@mcarthur_r). Now, I’m off to walk a dog and disconnect myself from the online world. No Twitter-verse can beat a fall day and great colours #Sundaymorning.

Nothing beats a fall walk through Toronto.

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