In my last post I mentioned that the tool that I'd constructing for walking students through the thinking required to effectively analyse data possibly created more problems than it solved. I'm hoping that I've fixed that by creating this Google Sheet that auto-populates certain cells with required information, rather than relying on students to follow a colour code system. This means they can focus more of their cognitive energy on thinking about the data, rather than the structure of the report. I'm planning to use this as a formative feedback, so I might add some more columns for comments in future, but here is the first draft.
Data Analysis Tool for Students
Something that I've struggled with since teaching the MYP is giving students clear instructions on what they should include on practical reports. As teachers, it can seem straightforward because we have the skills required to write holistically and because we have a deeper understanding of scientific concepts. But to a student that is learning scientific concepts while simultaneously learning a new style of writing the process of completing lab reports can be confusing, frustrating and intimidating. I've tried various tactics to try and ease the cognitive burden for them (links to clarifying documents, checklists, prompting questions, sentence stems) with varying results. I can't claim that this latest effort at scaffolding my student's thinking is any more effective for student learning than any of those other approaches. In fact, at first glance it may seem unnecessarily confusing. But I tried it out with one group of students and found that the process of grading was much simpler when their thoughts were more organised. The next variation on this idea will likely be a spreadsheet that autopopulates cells with the necessary information, rather than relying on the current colour coding system. More to come.
Analysing Data Step By Step
My wife, Jen, is the travel planner of the family. She has a real knack not only for finding the best deals and all of the must-see places, but also for keeping track of a lot of information on flight times, hotel bookings, people to visit etc. I'm not the best at all of that, so when it fell to me to plan our upcoming trip back home to Australia I knew I would need some kind of tool to keep track of everything.
I first tried the online travel planner tools like TripIt and TripCase but found that they weren't designed to show the information as a timeline in the way that I wanted. Next I went to Microsoft Office Timeline, but with the free version you can only input ten events. Lastly I tried the templates available on Microsoft Excel, and while they ultimately proved a little unwieldy overall, they did give me some ideas for how I might design my own timeline tool using a scatter plot.
So I spent a couple of hours last Saturday putting this thing together. The only bug that I haven't been able to fix is the automatic scaling of the x axis when the dates are changed. It's frustrating but not too difficult to fix manually. And as you can see, the trip is coming along nicely!
(The dates have been changed from those of the actual trip for privacy)
Travel Planner Timeline
When I started at my current school the focus of the curriculum was fairly content heavy and was presented to me as a list of knowledge targets for students to hit. This approach to planning didn't sit well with me because I couldn't see the consideration that had gone into choosing those particular outcomes. I wanted to know if they had been chosen because they were a useful thinking skill, knowledge required for completing MYP assessments, because they were scaffolding knowledge required for the DP, or for any other of a multitude of reasons.
So I came up with a plan for categorising the learning outcomes that were listed with the aim of identifying redundancies or areas where the focus had become too specific (one of the units had 30+ outcomes). I realised that once this information was logged, it wouldn't take too much effort to turn the data into a curriculum map that showed where certain skills (thinking, problem solving, ICT etc.) were being taught and where there might be gaps.
The final result of all of this was the three documents below.
The first is a common unit planner that I imagined would be completed by a team. This is where you would input commonalities such as Key Concepts, ATLs and so on. Here is also where you would categorise learning outcomes into types of knowledge or skill, as well as which DP subject area they are related to.
The second is an individual unit planner which, when given the link to the common planner, would import all of the information from the common planner. Individual teachers could then develop their own learning activities while ensuring that they can hit the mutually agreed upon outcomes.
Finally, there is a curriculum overview document that, again when the unit plan links are added, imports the data from all common planners and turns it into a full curriculum map.
Common Unit Planner
Individual Unit Planner
Curriculum Overview Document
Unfortunately the idea was not well received when I presented it to my team. I thought that I was swimming with the tide in taking the documentation that we had and using that as a starting point, but it turned out that there was some disagreement about the idea of using a list of outcomes as the basis for planning a unit. I may have had more success in trying to overhaul the curriculum first.
That said, I do think that there is value in the idea, if not the current product. And I have a couple of thoughts for how it could be improved or re-purposed:
1. In a completely student directed unit, you could have the student list the things that they learned in completing a certain project or investigation. Ticking the boxes will help them reflect on the learning that occurred outside of the content. And if the matching with DP subjects occurred over a number of years, it would help them identify which DP subjects they would be most suited to.
2. I could invert the approach of using the teaching happening in the classroom to create a curriculum map, and instead create a curriculum map that automatically filters down to the unit plans. I'm currently working on an ATL Scope and Sequence that could form the basis of a map along with a set of SOIs and Key Concepts. This would ensure that teams were vertically and horizontally aligned with the things that I personally consider more important and would leave room for flexibility in the knowledge outcomes.
Back in teacher's college one of my professors introduced me to a system for arranging groups of students in a class of 30. It was designed so that each student would have a chance to work with every other student once, but would never work with the same student twice. After the thrill of baring witness to such an elegant system subsided, I decided I could make it a little better. So a few years ago I had a go at applying the same concept to classes of different sizes. More recently I used some recently acquired skills in Sheets to make the system a bit more user friendly. The end result is three separate sheets that can be used for groups of 9-18, 20-24, and 25-28 students.
Here's how to use them for groups of three or more:
How to use it for pairs:
Jumble Chart 9-18 Students
Jumble Chart 20-24 Students
Jumble Chart 25-28 Students
I've been working with the MYP for around a year and a half now and so far I've found that for the most part it aligns very well with my own teaching philosophy. But that's not to say that the process of working within the framework is always straightforward. For me this has been most apparent when designing and grading MYP assessments. I'm completely on board with the philosophy, but often have trouble with the particulars. After finally wrapping my head around Criterion B and C assessments I decided to turn my attention to Criterion A. Like many teachers, I have previously worked in a system where tests were based on percentages and while I would make every effort to include problem solving and information interpretation questions, it was never specifically required. For me this made the process of designing and particularly grading an MYP test quite challenging. After a lot of consideration I decided that the best way to approach writing MYP tests would be to write a test as I normally would, but then have a system set up to track the achievement levels and strands addressed, and subsequently the performance of students on each question. At first I thought about learning to design a program to perform that task, but realised that if I designed it in Google Sheets I could use Google Classroom to distribute copies to students. So after locking myself away for a full Saturday, this is what I've come up with. It's only the first version and may have some bugs, but let me know if you think this could be a useful tool. Just save a copy to your own Google Drive and start planning a test.
MYP Test Planner and Grading Tool
Late last year I stumbled across a room filled with old electrical devices that were now obsolete but the school had yet to throw away. What caught my eye was a pile of old overhead projectors stacked up in the corner. My grade nine students were studying a unit on electricity at the time so I saw an opportunity and jumped on it. The directions were to take the projector apart and reassemble it as a new device, then submit it with a report that explains the purpose of the device as well as how the individual components (lights, fans etc) work. Some students took advantage of being allowed to bring in extra bits and pieces from home but overall the project was pretty successful.
Flying into Shanghai I was greeted with one of the most magical sunsets I've ever seen. I sat and marvelled at the sight for a few moments before a thought struck me - Oh God, is it like that because of the smog?
If I was being generous I'd call myself an optimist, but it would probably be more accurate to say that I'm just easy going and tend to assume that things will work out ok. When I told people about my plan to pack up my life and move to Shanghai for two years the most common reaction I received was a look of surprise and a comment along the lines of 'Wow, you're so brave'. My usual response was a shrug of the shoulders and some kind of explanation that I'd done plenty of traveling before and nothing can really go wrong. I genuinely didn't consider anything about it brave, but to say that I didn't have a few concerns would be a lie.
The plane landed and instantly the seatbelts came off. The flight attendants yelled at the passengers to sit back down until the plane came to a complete stop but their status as authority figures seemed diminished by the fact that they couldn't leave their own seats without themselves breaking the rule they were trying to enforce. Ok, I've been in Asian countries before. I know that rules are sometimes seen as more flexible . That doesn't mean that people are self centred or inconsiderate for trying to be the first off the plane.
As the plane taxied the pilot announced over the PA that we were headed to a satellite terminal instead of the gate where we were supposed to disembark and that a shuttle bus would be waiting outside the plane to take us to the main terminal. I stepped onto the mobile staircase and was nearly floored by the wave of heat that hit me in the face. By the time I reached the shuttle the humidity had already caused sweat patches on my T-shirt and was making it difficult to breathe. You're probably just adjusting from being on the plane. Besides, if this is a normal level of heat there's bound to be air conditioning everywhere.
I reached the terminal and headed towards immigration. At least that's where the signs told me I was heading, I couldn't actually see the gates over the sea of people filtering through the ad hoc corridors. I pulled my carry on bag up to my chest and moved forward half a step at a time with the rest of the crowd. Airports are always crowded. There's no way the rest of the city could be like this.
For the first time in my life I was organised enough to have copies of all my paperwork so getting through passport control was a fairly smooth process. I progressed to baggage claim and waited for the conveyor belt to start up. Thinking I should try to let my mum know that I had arrived safe and sound I took out my phone and connected to the airport Wi-Fi. For one of those mysterious, known-only-to-computers reasons my VPN wasn't working so I had to send an email in lieu of a Facebook post. I'll figure out how to get the internet working properly soon enough. I'm sure that was a one off.
Outside the gate I was met by Don who was the vice principal of the school, and our driver. I did my best to maintain a cheerful disposition as we drove to the staff accommodation, but the ten hour flight from Melbourne was beginning to take its toll.
Don showed me to the apartment that would be home for the next year and introduced me to Nickael, the super, who helped me with my bags and gave me a quick tour of the facilities before leaving me to settle in.
The place was much bigger than I'd expected.
With a sigh of relief I turned the air conditioner up, logged onto the Wi-Fi and stretched out on the couch. After sending a few messages and watching a couple of episodes of Bob's Burgers on Netflix I sat up and glanced at the pile of orientation materials on the coffee table. I picked up one of the magazines and flipped through a couple of the pages, then realised that it was published by the school. Wow, all of this stuff is so well organised and professional. If they're spending this much money on the school they must have high expectations of the staff. I'm sure I'll be able to handle it.
'Silhouetted Commercial Airplane Flying At Sunset Stock Photo' by satit_srihin courtesy of Free Digital Photos available at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/silhouetted-commercial-airplane-flying-at-sunset-photo-p346647
I don't want to speak too soon but I think it's done...almost.
Because of the way I set up the conditional formatting on the achievement level cells they won't highlight properly unless the criteria is worth five points. I tried fixing it but it involves changing formulae for 414 cells on each of 10 sheets in each of 8 files. I figure it's more efficient to just wait until the rubrics have been customised, then fix the cells that haven't been deleted.
Anyway, here they are.
So recently I had an idea to make the process of marking assignments and reporting a simpler and more streamlined process. After a painstaking search to find something on the web that already exists I came to the conclusion that if I wanted it done right I would have to do it myself.
Initially I thought I'd be able to achieve the desired result just using Excel but after writing 20 lines of VBA code for 430 toggle buttons poor old Excel ran out of memory and gave up. A dead end.
So, realising that possibly the only way to get it done would be to create a program myself I decide to learn how to code.
That was the easy part. From there it got much more complicated.
I had no idea that there were different languages and so of course I had less of an idea about which one to use. Not only did I not know which languages were best for web based programming, Windows, MacOS etc. I didn't even know which of those platforms would suit my needs best.
Thankfully being a chemistry teacher I have ready access to some bright young people who know more about computers than I do and one of them pointed me towards Codecademy and EdX.
So for the last couple of days I've been getting to know the basics of Python and C. The only problem now is that something that I initially thought I could achieve with a couple of days work using Excel is probably going to take me at least 12 weeks of training before I even get started on the actual program.
I'm looking at it as a positive. I'll pick up skills that will be valuable not just in my teaching career but in general 21st century life. It's just bloody hard work.
Luke Scholtes is a Science teacher with eleven years experience, currently working at the American International School of Bucharest.