Sunday, November 16, 2014

Quarter One Reflections

After a quarter into the school year, I have a solid grasp of the effects of the changes I've made. Here are the chief thoughts I have about quarter one.

Standards Based Grading
The transition to standards based grading has been mostly smooth. This year, I have a much better handle of what my students know and do not know. The SBG Grade book on Haiku is easy to use. The color codes make it easy to see which standards each student or class section is still working on. This has helped me identify which students need targeted intervention.

Standards Based Gradebook on Haiku

At first, it took students some time to understand the concept of "I can" statements and my particular system for showing learning. They seem to have figured out the system. 

The most noticeable difference is the quality of my reports. I've always struggled with writing first quarter reports because I barely feel like I know my students well enough by that time in the school year. This time around, I had plenty to say. Rather than including the general fluff, my reports focused on what my students knew and were able to do and the ideas and skills they still found troubling. Adding this component to my comments about performance on major assignments, my general impressions and suggestions moving forward, the reports are much more informative. 

Haiku LMS
The new learning management system is quite effective. The layout is beautiful and the interface is intuitive. I have consolidated many of my online tasks within Haiku - recording and sharing grades, assigning and collecting student work, repository of resources and interactive components like polls, practice quizzes and discussions. In the past, many of these roles would have been offloaded to separate resources. I'd like to move my actual quizzes to Haiku but it does not support randomized questions from a test bank, so I still need Moodle for that purpose. 

Haiku can be a bit buggy though. There is a limit to how many objects can be embedded on one page. Some students complained of notoriously long loading times. A student suggested that I make more usage of subpages. Now each step of the learning cycle is housed on its own page. This has significantly increased loading speeds.

Subpages on Haiku

Asynchronous learning
As mentioned in a previous blog post,  asynchronous learning continues to allow students to submit their best work and internalize a growth mindset. Most students are keeping to a reasonable rate, even though there are students who I believe can work faster. I've made some changes this year, which hopefully will help students adjust to the responsibility of setting their own pace. The most important change, at the request of a student, was allowing students to create their own weekly plans.

A student's week plan

Creating the plans take a lot of time so I've been trying to encourage students to send their plans to me during the weekend - with varying degrees of success. At the very least, students are using less class time to create their plans and becoming better at working while waiting for my indication that their plans are satisfactory. For students who show difficulty with this task, I've started to collaborate with them to create pacing calendars for a few weeks, rather than letting them work alone on their weekly plans. 

Mastery projects
A handful of students have elected to complete the mastery projects. In most cases, these projects have been good enough to help other students learn the content. My library of student made teaching materials is growing and some students have already taken advantage of this library to prep for a quiz. I recently added a leader-board to acknowledge students who have completed mastery projects- in hopes of motivating a few more projects.

Mastery Project Leader-board

Quiz retakes 
This year, I have a better handle on whether students are ready to take quizzes or retake quizzes. The hot seats have been a nice addition. The only problem I've seen with the hot seats is when students opt to take the quiz a few days after completing the hot seat discussion. 

After the first batch of quizzes, I've added a few layers of permissions for quiz retakes. In addition to submitting quiz corrections and explainations of the mistakes, students have to do one more thing for permission for a retake. Making the students go through a few obstacles seems to help students take each attempt more seriously. 

The switch to inquiry based labs has proved to be most effective with asynchronous learning. Last year, I tried a combination of inquiry and full class labs. I struggled with students who got to the labs first and figuring out whether they should use last year's data. It became confusing for students to know whether they were using this year's or last year's data sets. This also prevented me from adjusting procedures. 

For the full class synchronous labs, students working at a slower pace had to rush through content or temporarily skip steps in order to be "ready" for labs. Now that students design most of their own labs, there is no confusion about what data to use and no need to worry about skipping or rushing through steps - students do labs when they are ready.

So far, I've managed to keep up with the demand for lab materials. I place small lab kits around the edge of the counter space on labeled lunch trays. Since different students perform different labs, I only need to make a small amount of materials available for one particular lab. The trick is to have several labs prepared simultaneously and to anticipate when students will be ready for future labs. Below you can see how I organize lab materials.

DNA extraction lab materials
UV bacteria lab materials
Protein Synthesis model exploration materials

Upcoming changes
In the upcoming quarters, I'd like to incorporate some synchronous projects to help me experiment and think through PBL and 20Time in future years. I also want to offer optional content and let students who work ahead design their own parts of the course.