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Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

fitbit_2776467b

As I walked into our Soccer Academy class, the students were getting ready for their workout and part of that process is to adjust their heart-rate monitors.  The teacher, Jesse Symons, had an iPad to monitor the heart rates of all students in the class.  As he reviewed the live data, it was interesting to see what he was looking for.  As the intensity of the workout increased, he was looking for students who were raising their heart rate to a place where they were pushing themselves.  He could review the data of the entire class and see how much time each student spent in each “zone”.  Based on a colour scheme, red was the optimal zone for high intensity workouts. Also interesting to see was how quickly students’ heart rates would recover to a resting heart rate during breaks. This, as he pointed out, was usually a sign of strong athleticism, of an athlete who could quickly raise and lower their heart rate. Students who struggle to lower their heart rate (as activities slow down) are often not in as strong a condition.

Jesse Symonds reviews the live data

Jesse Symons reviews the live data

Of course, the next step is for students to understand the data.  Students are able to login to see their specific data and, as Jesse joked, the data doesn’t lie. It is early days yet, but there has already been some interesting findings.  For example, with Grade 8, high-level soccer players, there was a gender difference with many of the top female athletes not seeing their heart rates push to optimal levels for extended periods of time.  The fitness monitoring in the soccer academies is part of an Innovation Grant Program through the West Vancouver School District, with similar efforts also being made with Hockey Academy students.

Jesse talks about how heart rate monitors are being sourced with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the National Team. Combined with a GPS, the monitors give a full picture of their activity levels.  It is clearly a growing area in the science of sports and physical activity.

Personally, I’ve become convinced of the power of digital health tracking over the past few months since I started wearing my Fitbit. Actually, four of us have similar devices in our house — my wife and two older kids (ages 12 and 10) are also wearing these devices.  My Fitbit Force tracks my steps, distance, calories burned, minutes of vigorous activity and even my quality of sleep. There are dozens of these type of devices on the market with many more being promised this year. A report last week on wearable tech devices suggests these devices may see a 350 per cent growth in sales in 2014. I also think they have a huge potential to benefit students. For decades we have been encouraging students to keep logs and diaries of their physical activity.

Currently, in BC, through the Daily Physical Activity mandate, students track vigorous and sustained activity.  Anyone who has tried to keep an activity log is aware of its challenges. Logging the physical activity in a log book, or a computer is difficult to do (if not time-consuming) on a regular basis.  On the other hand, if all this data could be automatically collected, synced to our computers, iPhones, etc., we would be able to spend more time analyzing the data, rather than entering it.

In our house, we have become much more aware of our physical activity, how much of it is really vigorous and the role that sleep (or lack of it) is playing in our lives.  These are great conversations to have in our PE classes. Just as we want students to take greater ownership of their learning in Science and English and we see that technology as part of this overall plan, the same should be true for health education and physical activity.  We want students to own their own data, set goals, not in efforts to compete with others, but to better themselves.

There are concerns about wearable technology — that these type of devices, as well as others like Google Glasses and Samsung Smart Watches, are once again pushing technology into all aspects of our life.  I am always interested in technology when it can help do something we have always wanted to do but have not been able to without it.  I see the tracking of our health and physical activity in this category.  We want students to own their own learning and education and this includes owning their own physical activity and health. So, we need to find ways to integrate this emerging technology into our schools.

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pisa

“It is what it is.” That was my first reaction to the PISA 2012 results released last week (Full Canadian Results).  PISA (The Programme for International Student Assessment) is designed to provide indicators of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students across the world (please see here for more backgrounder information on PISA).  While the assessment tool does measure a limited set of skills, there is much PISA doesn’t measure. And, true, PISA continues to tilt toward 20th century over 21st century skills, but it is still  the world’s best, widely used assessment tool on how we are doing in education and on providing guidance for education improvement.

Although much attention is given to the ranking part of the tests, as Yong Zhao points out, even those at the top are wondering about their success:

While the East Asian systems may enjoy being at the top of international tests, they are not happy at all with the outcomes of their education. They have recognized the damages of their education for a long time and have taken actions to reform their systems. Recently, the Chinese government again issued orders to lessen student academic burden by reducing standardized tests and written homework in primary schools. The Singaporeans have been working on reforming its curriculum and examination systems. The Koreans are working on implementing a “free semester” for the secondary students. Eastern Asian parents are willing and working hard to spend their life’s savings finding spots outside these “best” education systems. Thus international schools, schools that follow the less successful Western education model, have been in high demand and continue to grow in East Asia. Tens of thousands of Chinese and Korean parents send their children to study in Australia, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S. It is no exaggeration to say that the majority of the parents in China would send their children to an American school instead of keeping them in the “best performing” Chinese system, if they had the choice.

But, if one does want to buy into the assessment, we need to do more than use the results to search for our flaws or accentuate our ideologies.  It has been disappointing and discouraging to see some of the commentary in British Columbia, and across the country in response to the results.  I suspect most who have commented (for example) on the need to “focus on the basics” to raise scores haven’t looked at the problem-solving questions that PISA asks (not very back-to-basics questions).

So, while acknowledging the limits of using the nation “rankings”,  let me share some of the insights I have gleaned from my first look at the results and some stories you may have not seen:

1)  British Columbia was the highest performing English-speaking jurisdiction in the world

British Columbia is not only the highest performing province in Canada, but ahead of all other English-speaking participating nations including Australia, United States, United Kingdom, and New Zealand (to name a few).  If you look at countries in general, Canada would be first in this category.

2)  British Columbia was the highest performing multicultural jurisdiction in the world

One characteristic that other countries at the top of the charts do not share with British Columbia and Canada is its diversity.  In language and cultural diversity, BC and Canada stand out as the highest performing on the assessments.

3)  British Columbia was the highest-performing province in Canada in science and reading and second to Quebec in Math

British Columbia has typically been among the strongest performing provinces in each area (typically with Alberta, Ontario and Quebec).  The most recent results show BC was first in science, ahead of Alberta and Ontario.  Reading on, the same three provinces performed at the top level in Canada, and again, all near the top of the International charts. In math, Quebec led the way with BC, Alberta and Ontario following.  It is worth noting, of those who completed the digital math assessment, BC was the highest performing province (more on digital below).

4)  There was both excellence and equity in British Columbia’s results

The difference between the high and low achievers in BC (those between the 90th and 10th percentile) is lower than in all of Canada, and the OECD, in all three disciplines. The gap is also lower than that in Finland (often cited for its high level of achievement and equity) in both Reading and Science.

5)  British Columbia’s results have been steady for the last decade

In absolute terms, since 2006, British Columbia’s results have been fairly steady. It is true that in Mathematics in particular, in relative terms BC (and all of Canada) has declined — in part due to more countries participating, and also because of the improvements in several Asian countries.

And then beyond these headlines, there is other interesting data:

There is a lot to analyze and much more that will come out from the OECD over the next year.  One piece of information that was particularly interesting in the first report was how much less the gender gap was in reading when the test was completed on a computer.  For those using print reading, the BC gap in scores (in favour of girls) was 26 points, but when completed digitally, the gap was only 14 points.  Across Canada there was similar data indicating a shrinking of the gender gap when the reading was digital.  This is incredibly interesting given the increase in digital print we currently encounter — and just one of the many pieces of data that is worth taking the time to better understand.

It is also a given that there are many ways in which our system can improve, and those who make the case for more services, new programs and innovative approaches are right. And, yes, socio-economics and issues like poverty matter. It is also true that BC has an amazing education system.  It is interesting to see what a more positive view the British seem to have of our results in Canada — having such a quality teaching force in BC is our huge advantage.

Now, let’s get past the rankings part and focus on the learning part — what we can learn from others about how we can improve the experiences for our students both locally and globally.  And, let’s not spend our time thinking about how we can get better at the tests, but instead focus our attention and system on how it can help our kids for their world today and for tomorrow.

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WILL FERRELL AND ELLIOTT CHO

Some of the same thinking leading education transformation in our schools is also changing the thinking around community and school sports. Debates over keeping score at a soccer game with 10-year-olds are similar to discussions on whether we should be giving Grade 4 students letter grades. And, seemingly, there is a growing movement to move past the era of the uber-zealous sports parent.

A recent column from Lawrie Johns, Sport  Parents Must Have Realistic Expectations is an excellent read.   Of course, Lawrie has a lot of credibility on this topic with me.  Both his boys, now in their early 30s, are very well-adjusted young men, and I had the opportunity to teach and coach a little bit of basketball to his younger son, Brian, who also represented Canada at the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics in swimming.  This dad knows what it is like to raise a child who has become an elite athlete.  Lawrie advises:

Some suggestions for parents: No after practice/game interrogation.  Understand the rules of the sport – leave the officiating to trained officials – better still – become one!  Cheer on efforts BY ALL not just yours.   Learn about sport nutrition and hydration.  Learn about injuries – they are part of sport (unfortunately) but how to support the athlete though an injury is crucial.

Lastly – Have Fun!

It makes sense that parents need to be educated partners in their child’s sports, as in their child’s schooling. Another great source for information along the same theme is the Steve Nash Youth Basketball Coaches Blog.   To quote a recent post:

Those five words – “the courage to be patient” – give a picture of the great potential  . . .  and at the same time highlight the problems that exist in the reality of an ultra-competitive youth sports environment.  More specifically, having the “courage to be patient” seems to involve doing four very difficult things, and the failure to do any one of these four things  (resisting external pressure, controlling internal desire, being a great teacher, maintaining faith) may explain the disconnect between potential and reality.

So,  as families head back to the soccer fields and hockey rinks in the community, to the cross-country races, school volleyball courts and football fields in the fall, hopefully, times are indeed changing.  Competition is awesome! But we know better than even a decade ago about how to ensure our kids have good experiences that will last a lifetime and not be burned out or turned off of sports by age 12. Lawrie’s column offers this  perspective:

There are about 750 NHLers today out of hundreds of thousands boys playing hockey in this country.

There were 31 swimmers on the national team in London – out of over 100,000 who compete through clubs in Canada. There were 12 on the women’s Olympic basketball team – over 150,000 girls play basketball. Eighteen players on our bronze medal women’s soccer team – over 500,000 girls play youth soccer.

In sports, like in the classroom, we want our kids to work toward big dreams, but we also want some perspective.  I have a great passion for sports.  School sports adds richness to the culture of our schools; community sports bring people together and we (parents and kids) learn wonderful lessons through our participation.

We need to ensure that sports are not overrun by a culture of early specialization, private elite programs and self-focused athletes and parents who instill an NHL or Bust attitude in our programs.  We need to reverse the trend of fewer young people participating in organized sports and to also ensure we have opportunities for kids, with varied sport skills, to continue playing. We want our passionate athletic sons and daughters not to lose their passion about their sport as they get older.

There is nothing quite like the fun of sports — that is the whole point of it. As Tim Elmore suggested in a recent post, the most powerful six words we can say to a child involved in sports, ” I love to watch you play.”

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report-card

It is the time of year when many make fearless predictions about the school year ahead.  The news is full of “must have” lists for the fall — from clothing  to technology.  Let me join the chorus of those making grand proclamations and say that this school year is setting up to be “the year of the report card.”

There are many issues to pick from in BC.  It is always easy to say labour issues will dominate the news and education conversations, but we are in the midst of quite a large transformation in BC and it is a moveable feast.  Some of the items that I think will make news this year include:

Curriculum — There will be drafts of a new K-9 curriculum in seven areas:  English Language Arts, Francais Langue, Arts Education, Math, Science, Social Studies and Health and Physical Education.  In the past, curriculum had been on long cycles with one or two new curriculums released each year. This year, we will see drafts of all of these documents in the fall with the promise of other grades to follow.

Provincial Assessment — An advisory group which began their work in spring 2013, led by the Education Deans from SFU and UBC,  will conclude their work this fall.  Their recommendations could lead to changes with long-standing programs including FSAs and the Grade 10-12 government program exams.

Graduation Program — Last year, there was a province-wide consultation regarding the graduation program, which will continue to be refined this fall. By spring 2014, we might see recommendations for changes to the current program.

And those three “meaty” items are just the beginning.  There will be more discussion and piloting of special education innovation projects, on improving Aboriginal education, the ongoing focus on bullying through ERASE, sustained efforts with early reading, and a lot about skills and trades programs.

So with all of that, why “the year of the report card?”

While some of the other topics can quickly become philosophical or “edu-speak”, everyone (students, parents, educators, community) understands report cards. There are few things more core to education than report cards. Report cards are also a symbol of “the system.”  In many ways, report cards have not changed much for our kids than from those their parents received.  Three times a year, a brown envelope goes home with brief comments on a student’s success in prescribed areas; for older students, a series of numbers and letters quantify the most recent term.  Parents read and re-read each comment for insight, meaning, and possibly comparing the letters and numbers to those of the neighbours’ kids as well.

But something is happening . . .

As schools change, and our beliefs about learning evolve, a lot of people are asking about report cards.  In BC, some people are not simply talking about report cards, they’re doing something about them.   In Maple Ridge- Pitt Meadows, for example:

Elementary school teachers  . . . will no longer be required to grade students with an A, C+ or D.  Wednesday, the local school board approved a new elementary reporting alternate option, termed a student-inclusive conferencing model.  It will see teachers meet with students and parents to discuss progress, and an increased emphasis on student self-assessment. . . . Committee members developed a process intended to open dialogue between parent, child and teacher. The conferences celebrate strengths, talk about learning needs, and set future goals. The report is filled out in a more consultative process. The committee members say it has an obvious effect on young learners.  “Even our kindergarten students are setting goals for themselves,” said Vandergugten.  “And not a single parent asked for a letter grade. No longer are they an A, B or C student.”

Maple-Ridge – Pitt Meadows, is not the only place seriously looking at report cards. These conversations are happening in schools across the province, and I am also hearing more questions from our own staff and parents.  And they are good questions — If what we know about assessment has changed, shouldn’t how we report change with it?  As new curriculum is introduced, should we continue to report on the same areas as we have in the past?  With all of our technology, is there not a better way to give timely information than through a paper report card three times a year?

Reports from the schools and districts that have made the change have been very positive; there has been a great response from students, parents and staff.  But then there is the other side of the discussion, like “I did just fine with report cards with letter grades so why change for my kids?”  It is actually an excellent discussion.  As we continue to look at report cards, we talk about what we value, how and what we assess and what content is most important.  We also talk about the balance between some standard benchmarks for students and personalized learning.

I have shared some thinking on this before, in some of my parenting wishes for my child’s schooling.  There is more constructive work we can do, starting at the elementary level, to de-emphasize the ranking and sorting, increase the self-assessment and goal setting, and to find new models that  will make the “reporting” more timely, thoughtful, relevent and learning-focussed.

Talking about report cards is simple, and the reason why I think they will be such a hot topic this year. We have all received them and we all have stories about and experiences with them. But the beauty of the discussion is lying just below the surface of a rich discussion on learning and the school system we want for our kids.

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SoI.indd

Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser have been at the forefront of teaching and learning in British Columbia for decades.  I have written previously about their work with the Network of Performance Based Schools (now the Network of Inquiry and Innovation).  Their latest book Spirals of Inquiry For equity and quality is a welcoming book; it takes us from where we are and invites us on a team journey. Halbert and Kaser have a wonderful way of bringing us aboard and to become part of their team – “We have had the privilege of working together on system transformation for a number of years.  We have experienced the joy of teamwork and the support that comes from facing challenges with a trusted learning partner.  Inquiry is not a solitary pursuit.  Meeting the needs of all learners is simply too big a task for any one leader, teacher, school or district to attempt alone.”

I have taken a stab at defining inquiry in my post All About Inquiry; I referenced the work of the Galileo Educational Network and in reviewing previous posts realize that I have made reference to inquiry in one out of every five posts written.  Inquiry is THE buzz word in education, but while there is opportunity there are also drawbacks that can be attributed to one word used so often, by so many, in so many circumstances.  There is general agreement we want more inquiry (the anti-inquiry movement is quite quiet), but exactly what this is and means is not clear. Although the work  Halbert and Kaser describe is hard work, their approach is straight forward.  I find it far more accessible than other frameworks and they provide structure without recipe.

Halbert and Kaser encourage us to start our investigation into inquiry with four key questions that “help move our thinking from a preoccupation with content coverage, to a focus on what learners are actually experiencing with the learning we are designing for, or with, them”:

  • Can you name two people in this school / setting who believe that you can be a success in life?
  • Where are you going with your learning?
  • How are you doing with your learning?
  • Where are you going next with your learning?

They move into their spiral approach, quoting Madame Gertrude de Stael, “The human mind always makes progress – but it is a progress in spirals.”  Halbert and Kaser focus their spirals around several key questions continually coming back to the first:

  • What is going on for our learners?
  • What does our focus need to be?
  • What is leading to this situation?
  • How and where can we learn more about what to do?
  • What will we do differently?
  • Have we made enough of a difference?

While I researched the book to better understand the process of student inquiry, it reminded me that we, as teachers, need to be committed to the same efforts with our own learning.

Halbert and Kaser have created a book with useful approaches to both student and adult inquiry; more importantly, they validate the work in British Columbia, link the efforts they describe with existing practices in districts across the province, and do not  hit us with a stick if we are not all doing it yet.  I would argue this book should be a must read for all new teachers, and for educators with decades of experience, it is a reminder that we are all part of a big team, who need each other and that our students need us, for as Halbert and Kaser conclude, “Let’s stick together and stick with this work until every BC learner does indeed cross the stage with dignity, purpose and options.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE

Spirals of Inquiry is available through the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association for $20 (all proceeds support innovative and inquiring schools).

Chris Wejr and I are hosting a Twitter conversation on Sunday, May 26th at 8 pm Pacific.  We will be joined by the authors, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, and hopefully many others who would like to explore Spirals of Inquiry.  If you are interested in following along the hashtag will be #inqbc.

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iwonI want to share a struggle.

I have written before about ‘candy for rewards’ in the classroom – A Candy for Your Thoughts?, and my challenge with this is on a couple of levels: first, unhealthy, sugar-filled treats are seen as a reward for doing things correctly, being good, or essentially is giving prizes for (good) behaviour.  I have also written a piece on my struggles with book clubs rewarding students based on the volume of books they read – I Blame You Twitter. I have seen students (and my own children)  intentionally select easy books to ‘win’ and perpetuate the notion that reading is something that needs to be incentivized.  I have been well  indoctrinated by Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink and others who raise the concern flag over rewards, and passionate Canadian edu-bloggers like Joe Bower and Chris Wejr who have regularly challenged the use of rewards in school.

I can remember rewards working for me in school.  I struggled with reading, but I recall a reading-fundraiser to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society where family and friends sponsored me to read books and if I hit a certain number (I think it was 20 books) I got a certificate — I read for those months like I have never read before.  I also can remember engaging in social responsibility initiatives like raising money for prominent and worthy charities, knowing that if I reached a certain level I would get a free Frisbee or Yo-Yo.  But, shouldn’t I have read because of the pleasure of reading? Shouldn’t I have engaged in charity to support the community?  I’m not entirely sure I would have done either with such fervor if it were not for the incentives.  And, I’m also not sure if I would have studied so diligently every Thursday night for the Friday spelling test if I didn’t know a star on the board, at the front of the class, was on the line each week.

I am currently pulling together a presentation for the upcoming TEDxWestVancouverED around my parenting wishes for my own kids’ schooling.  I keep coming back to this idea that I want learning to be the prize for them.

I wish that I could say that I was more intrinsically motivated.  And, keeping the learning as the prize makes perfect sense in theory, and is a worthy goal, but for me it has always been an ongoing struggle.

Are others sharing this same challenge?

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final-exam

Changes in structure gives one an opportunity to step back and take a look at usual practices.  Last year, almost all Grade 12, Provincial Final Exams were eliminated. These exams, which at one point were worth 50 per cent of students’ final marks, were offered in courses from Chemistry to Spanish to Geography. With changing requirements from universities, a government policy decision to make the exams optional (among other reasons) the exams were poorly attended, and then eliminated.  At this point, most students will take five government program exams in their high school career: three in Grade 10 worth 20 per cent of their final grade (English, Science, Math); one in Grade 11 also worth 20 per cent of their final grade (Social Studies), and one in Grade 12 worth 40 per cent of their final grade (English).  There are a few other options for students, but this is a fairly common pattern.

As a History 12 teacher, I regularly complained about the Grade 12, Provincial Final Exams.  The History 12 exam was not a terrible exam. It had some opportunities for students to analyze documents, identify bias and think critically, but it was also quite focussed on content.  With a final exam focussed on coverage and facts, my class was (at least, on some days) a bit of a race to get through all of the required content. I would have liked to go into deeper discussion in some areas and allowing students to explore more areas of interest. So, one day it was Korea, and the next day was Vietnam, and then it was Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

The elimination of these mandatory exams, which so many of us championed, has been met with a variety of responses.  I regularly hear from teachers, who love the new-found “freedom”, who do not feel burdened by the final exam and are creating more inquiry projects, presentations, deep research opportunities they felt were limited with the content-based final exam.  It is not that content is not important, it is just it is not the only thing that is important. In terms of transferable skills for other courses and other life experiences, the skills of being able to analyze a historical document seem to trump the date of the start of the Suez Crisis (before you Google it, it was October 1956).

This said, another reaction has been to replace the ministry exams with school-based exams to “fill the void.”  And with all this as background, we get to the real topic of the post — are we moving to a post-standardized system in education that should lead to the elimination of the traditional “final exam” for most courses in secondary school?

While there are exceptions, in most schools and  in most districts across the province, most academic courses have a summative final exam from grade 8 to 12.

The elimination of the Provincial Final Exam has also brought about some new interchanges  – it has set a new model that final exams may not be the best way to assess performance at the end of the year, and has also led to the scaling back of “exam timetables” — the time required for doing exams is being recaptured by instructional time.  With more days in class and fewer exams at the end of June this leads to a lot of questions about what to do.

Some reasons (I have heard) for the continuation of final exams:

  • they are an important part of many college and university programs; so the practice of exams in high school is important
  • they help to instill good work and study habits in students
  • work authenticity — in an era when cheating (or at least the suspicion of cheating) is high — everyone in the room at one time makes cheating almost impossible
  • exams are a common test that everyone in a class, school, district or province can take to ensure there is a common measure of comparison
  • by having exams at the end of the school year, this ensures students will stay focussed until course end, and not fade out in June
  • their elimination is another example of coddling students and the weakening of standards in our education system
  • they keep teachers honest — ensuring they cover the entire curriculum so students are fully prepared to write their final exams

Some reasons (I have heard) for the elimination of final exams:

  • they often test superficial content and the multiple choice formats lend themselves more to trivia than a reflection of learning
  • there are a number of other more authentic ways to determine what students have learned — such as portfolios
  • those who excel at them are those who are best at memorization and regurgitation — two skills not widely seen as part of 21st century learning
  • if we are truly moving from a “sorting system” to a “learning system” do we need to continue with standardized final exams for students?
  • there is no feedback mechanism for students to understand their mistakes and learn from them
  • they create an amazing level of stress, anxiety, and create a high stakes experience for students not necessary or conducive to learning
  • they are actually very difficult to properly construct; they often don’t allow high-end students to push their thinking and are more about “gotcha” not learning, and there are many examples of poorly-created final exams
  • by removing them, it forces us to have new conversations about learning, about what students know, how we know it, and how to demonstrate it

Just because we “have always done it,” is not a good enough reason to continue.  And when there are external changes that force a second look, it is a great opportunity to see if the reasons bear out.

My general view is there are far richer ways to have students demonstrate their learning than a two-hour, scantron-heavy test. My answer is also slightly nuanced, recognizing that math may lend itself more appropriately to a final exam than English or Social Studies.  If the exam period was to disappear tomorrow, and we were forced to find other ways to account for student learning, we would likely come up with some very powerful and effective models.  I agree with the current BC Teachers Federation advertisement that we should be working towards “more authentic means of assessment.”

I look forward to this discussion.

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