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"Examining Student Work" - Part II

As written before, a significant chunk of our PD this year revolves around an "examining student work" framework.

In previous years, we have focused much of our professional energies around what teachers do in the classroom (how we plan, build projects, use technology, etc). However, this year we wanted to look at the work actually being produced by students and examine it for deep understanding of core concepts. While the two are intimately connected (teaching and learning) we believe that the most useful data to inform practice comes from carefully examining the work our students produce.

About a month ago, teachers worked through Part 1 of the framework which involved facilitated discussions with partner teachers. Overall, the discussions were very rich, and a number of common themes emerged from teachers:

• Assessment – our teachers saw a need for greater integration of feedback loops and checkpoints throughout a project. This included a need for more clear learning outcomes, stronger alignment between learning outcomes and assessment rubrics, and more chunking of projects into smaller, more assessable elements

Exemplars – teachers are wondering hjow best to align CSS student work with provincial/grade level standards. How do we know if our students learning lines up with students in the rest of the province?

Direct teaching versus student-driven research – narrowing the focus of large, complex studies so that students don't become overwhelmed with the amount of data available on a topic. How do we manage the tensions between "teacher-centered" and "student-centered" projects?

Content knowledge building versus Performance/Presentation of knowledge – teachers are wondering how to limit the amount of time on presenting knowledge (iMovies, podcasts, etc) versus the development of core, subject-based understanding. While the ability to communicate clearly with a variety of multi-media tools is important for our students, we don't want to over-emphasize this at the loss of core understanding. Teachers are also wondering about the development of a scope and sequence of technology skills across grade levels.

This week we had Part II of the discussions. The goal of this second part is to share the outcomes of the first discussions across grades using "vertical sharing teams." We have arranged groups of teachers from grades 4-9 in one group, and they have a half day release time to work through short sharing sessions.

There are a few goals for these sharing sessions:

1) to celebrate projects across grade levels
2) to share reflections from part I
3) to get feedback, suggestions and support on how teachers can move practice forward
4) to look for common themes across grades

Our first sessions with teachers will be starting this afternoon. We're looking forward to the outcomes!

Below is the documentation created for both Part I and Part II:

The Benefits of an Arts Education

How Do We Know When Students Are Benefitting from the Arts?

A Personal Response Supporting Advancing Arts Programs

Dr. Shelley Robinson

After writing the literature review Promising Practices and Core Learnings in Art Education (Alberta Education, 2008) and then reviewing the K-12 Arts Education Curriculum Framework (Alberta Education, June 2009 Draft), I pose the following question: What is our essential goal as educators when offering the arts in public education? And, how do modular programs compare with advancing programs (that require some pre-requisite skills) in achieving this goal?

Guest Speaker at MRU

This morning one of our staff, Neil Stephenson, was a guest speaker during an Education Course at Mount Royal University. Neil was asked to participate in a course on inquiry-based learning, and he Skyped in to respond to questions generated by the university students.

The students had utilized the Inquiry Rubric developed by the Galileo Educational Network as the framework for discussing Inquiry, and then used Neil's Cigar Box Project as a case study. In groups, the students had used the Rubric to assess Neil's project, and then came to today's discussion with questions about the project and designing inquiry-based learning.

Graph the Olympics!

Our grade 7 and 8 teachers recently finished a graphing and statistical analysis unit that was designed around the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The essential questions for this project were:
  • Can different graphs change the perception of data?
  • Are there data sets that are more appropriate for certain graphs?
  • How do we determine the rankings/seedings for countries/athletes?
You can view the planning document here. This contains the outcomes and descriptions of various parts of the project.

The project involved students moving through a number of different graphing assignments:

1) in groups, students were assigned a participating country in the 2010 games. Students began by collecting data on their country's previous Olympic record, and then chose a method to predict the number of medals that country would win this year. Student graphed a variety of methods before making their choice.

2) student choose a particular Canadian Athlete to follow. Using the "medal potential" data from the International Olympic Committee website, students created a number of probability experiments on the likelihood that their athlete would advance to the final round of their heats.

3) after the olympics, students imagined they were reporters for their country. In this role, students had to choose particular data sets that would make their country appear better in comparison to the 2 countries above and below them.


Much of the classroom discussion centred on the different ways to calculate which country "won" the Olympics. Students first looked at how the IOC organized the data and found that it is based on the number gold medals (and in the event of a tie subsequently looked at silver medals, and then bronze medals). Students then reorganized that data according to 2 alternate methods: by point system (that is, assigning a point for each colour of medal with the most points for gold) and by total medal count (that is, the sum of gold, silver, and bronze). Students then chose which method in their opinion was the "fairest" way of representing the top 20 countries.

Because of varying opinions on the matter, students had some rich, engaging discussions on this topic. A few students (about 8%) agreed with the IOC system of using the gold medal count. They argued that having a gold medal equates with winning an event and that should have more gravity than any silver or bronze medal as those types of medals do not mean that a country has won a competition or an event. Approximately 5% of the students believed that the total medal count should be used as it is often used by the media. They also argued that the type of medal athletes earn should not matter as it is a huge accomplishment to win any medal and so it should be celebrated regardless of the medal colour.

For the most part (about 86%), however, students argued that a point system is the fairest way of ranking. Using a point system seemed like a compromise between the previous systems: it does not ignore all the other medals but at the same time puts more emphasis on the gold as it is, students argued, the most important one to win.

Overall, the teachers were very pleased with the both the engagement and understanding demonstrated by students. They felt this project was a strong example of how to build mathematical understanding around authentic, real-world situations. Throughout the two weeks of the project, students were excited about both the classroom work and their ability to apply their understanding to the Winter Games.

This video is a discussion with two of the grade 7 and grade 8 teachers explaining how the project unfolded, and the impact that they saw on student learning:



This video captures some of the classroom discussions as students worked in groups to determine how to best represent their country's performance during the Olympics:



One of our grade 6 teachers also used parts of this project in her math classroom. This video captures an interview with one of the grade 6 students as he explains how he made his medal predictions for Germany:



This PDF contains the handouts used by teachers, and a collection of SMARTboard slides used throughout:




Grade 8: Renaissance Debates

As described in previous posts, here and here, our grade 8's have been working through a study of the Italian Renaissance, examining the conditions that existed, and then making comparisons with life in contemporary Calgary.

In order to help bridge the gap between the Italian Renaissance and contemporary Calgary, we made use of a number of local experts on various topics including arts, religion, science, technology, education and communication.

Making Sense of Inquiry: Metacognition


Dr. Shelley Robinson, Assistant Principal

An important part of inquiry-based learning is helping students to develop the ability to be metacognitive in their approach to learning. By definition, “cognition refers to the process of knowing. Meta, derived from the Greek, means ‘beyond’ or ‘from’. Metacognition, then, refers to knowing how we learn best and consciously controlling our learning…” (Foster, et al., 2002, p. 5).

Quite commonly, the work of teachers, when grappling with these metacognitive considerations in their school planning, often begins when they consider three guiding questions as a starting point to assist in self-understanding: “1. What do I find easy to learn? 2) What do I find difficult to learn? And 3) What conditions help me to learn challenging materials?”

It is important to think of “meta” being attached to other learning domains, such as the meta-affective (emotions); meta-conative (motivations); meta-kinesthetic (body); and meta-spiritual (inspirations).

Meta-questions or conversations could resemble the following (using fine arts as an example):

1. Metacognitive: What fine art strategy have I used? Is it working? If not, what alternate strategies could I use?
2. Meta-affective: What am I feeling most strongly about in this fine art learning experience? How are my feelings impacting my learning?
3. Meta-conative: What motivates me in the arts? What blocks me? How can I motivate myself?
4. Meta-spiritual: Where did the idea come from? What inspires me?
5. Meta-kinesthetic: Am I tired? How am I breathing? How is my present body experience influencing my learning in the arts? (Robinson, 2007)

Some educators incorporate a series of questions in journaling activities to help students reflexively prepare to create, before, during and after the activity. Inquiry-based learning involves considerable reflexivity, and these metacognitive teaching prompts help students to think about their learning.