Saturday, 1 September 2018

Quick Look - Important Dates and Info

Ms. Groeller's grade 9 blog

First day of classes - August 21, 2017

Last day of classes - June 29, 2017

Journal Entry 26 - June 12 (time in class)

Map of Myself Capstone - June 26 (final project)

No homework, but your parents want you to do some? Looking for something to do? Reading is always great! Reviewing your notes (if you have any) from the day is another idea. Practicing your typing skills is a third option! Fourth: expand your vocabulary and do some good on

Friday, 12 May 2017

Isolation and Adaptation - Edo and Meiji Japan



Why would a country/group choose a policy of isolation? Why would a country/group choose a policy of adaptation?
Our final case study for social studies has been an investigation into the ideas isolation and adaptation in Japan from the Edo period to the Meiji period. We started this unit by exploring the big ideas through an investigation into certain indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest, using our worldview paradigm to understand the choices these peoples have made, and have been forced to make.
"Survival International estimates that there are over 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide, and says that uncontacted tribes in the region are under increasing threat from illegal logging over the border in Peru." (REUTERS)
Our next step was to deepen our understanding of this process of isolation and adaptation through a detailed look at historical Japan. We used a PBS documentary and the textbook to gather the information we needed. Embedded in this content was a skills unit focused on effective note-taking, studying, and test-taking. We have been working on these skills throughout the year in grade 8, but more focused work was needed. Many students' skills in these areas grew throughout this unit, and these skills are very transferable to future levels of school. Essential in this process was the reflecting on the tasks. Specifically, students were asked to informally reflect on how effective one's study approach was based on confidence in the test, and success on the test. Completing corrections on the test itself and ensuring the reflection included the correct answer as well as an idea as to why the answer was incorrect was also important.
Empty binders work as privacy screens.
Taking a test, using their laptops for privacy!
Test-taking strategies front and centre.
We ended our examination of isolation and adaptation this week with a focused look at a current example of isolation, North Korea. Students were tasked with using their knowledge of what isolation and adaptation looked like in Japan to come up with a blueprint for adaptation if North Korea were to move away from their current policy. This required some focused research into North Korea's current society and worldview, which we did through a National Geographic documentary and a variety of other sources such as newspaper articles and Ted Talks. In the end, students made suggestions, although it was important that they ensured they were making the suggestions not out of hatred or ethnocentrism, but based on their knowledge of what it could look like for a country to successfully adapt.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Debate #2 - Technological Advancement and Humanity



The Scorpion Project Culminating Activity: Debate
After preparing for this demonstration of learning for the week before the break, and the first two days once we returned, students successfully debated the following assertion:

Drawing on their learning in science about simple machines and the role these machines have played in human society, and inspired by the two texts they examined (the novel The House of the Scorpion and the film Gattaca), 8.1 teams took the proposition (in support of the debate assertion) while 8.2 teams argued the opposition. We were lucky to have members from our school community judge these debates. Thank you so much to these judges who took time out of their busy days to help us out by providing feedback to the students: Ms. Saadeh, Ms. Davis, Ms. James, Mr. Petronech, Dr. Butterfield, Ms. Chomistek, Ms. Burlett, Ms. Santos, and Ms. Veteikis. 

While watching the short video (below) you will see students demonstrating a variety of skills:
  • reading from their scripts
    • created after collecting ideas and research as a team
    • written with special attention paid to engaging and persuading the audience, keeping in mind Aristotle's model of persuasion 
    • co-written and co-edited by the teams
  • taking notes
    • listening to their peers and opponents and recording important ideas, and often rebuttals
  • discussing as a team how to effectively respond and rebut
  • re-writing speeches
    • responding to what their opponents said by re-writing parts of speeches
  • engaging in respectful, open debate (speaking "off the cuff," and doing it quite effectively)
After debating, students were asked to reflect individually on the process of preparing and debating in their journals, as well as to consider the feedback provided by the judges.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Litspiration 2: The Scorpion Project - Debate


UP NEXT: Litspiration: The Scorpion Project + Film Study + Debate PREP!

The Scorpion Project Culminating Activity: Debate

This week, we began working towards our final activity for The Scorpion Project, a debate. The students will be debating the following assertion:

Be it resolved that technological advancement will enhance our society's future.

If you have read The House of the Scorpion, or watched our related film study movie Gattaca, you will see the possibilities for a robust debate on this topic. By the way, if you haven't explored either of these texts, check out the students' latest blog posts (posted by Monday morning) where they compare and contrast the protagonists of these stories in order to start exploring the big ideas related to our debate. (To explore student posts, click here for 8.1 and here for 8.2.) 

Students will also have an opportunity to deepen their understanding of genetics and advancements in genetics during EXPO week when a scientist from the University of Calgary comes in for a guest speaking engagement. Additionally, students will be asked to do their own research on this topic when developing their arguments, but to also use the two texts to assist in deep exploration and consider multiple perspectives. 

The debate itself will happen after the break on Wednesday, April 12.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Litspiration 2: The Scorpion Project - Connections and Theme


UP NEXT: Litspiration: The Scorpion Project + Film Study

This image and article stick with me when I think about asking students to make connections between what they are reading and everything else. 
Making Connections
This week, students were asked to focus on making connections between the novel and the "real world." (I use quotation marks to indicate this term for me is problematic, as when we are in school, I maintain that IS the real world, but this phrase is common, and so easily understood. What I try to focus on is encouraging students to think of how what they are reading lives in the world, whether that includes events geographically close or far away, or events philosophically close or far away.) Two of the big ideas Farmer touches on in the novel and that we explored were child labour and immigration, specifically "illegal" immigration. For the former, students completed and individual blog post, and for the latter, a Harkness discussion with their team.

Go to the main site to check out the team blogs (links on the right hand side of the website) and explore some of their ideas in their latest Harkness discussions. You can also read their individual blog posts by exploring the two classes' individual litspiration blogsAll teams and students are looking for some readers, so please leave a supportive comment for them on any of their posts so far!

Theme in literature is a complicated concept, and is determined by exploring the novel's separate parts (events, characterization, setting, etc.) and weaving them together in an attempt to create a phrase or statement that encompasses it all. Image borrowed from here.
Litspiration Challenge 3: Theme
Students have started their final litspiration challenge for The House of the Scorpion, an exploration of the theme of the novel. I challenged students to start off by creating a theme statement for the novel, another concept we explored at the beginning of the year. Just this act alone has netted some evidence of their learning through my observations of their great discussions. I heard students talking about details of the novel, demonstrating their close reading abilities, with some students even grabbing their book and searching for the sticky note they just knew they wrote about this detail, exhibiting their use of Talking to the Text reading strategies. The teams of 4 were collaborating well, discussing, deciding, and at times commiserating if I had sent them back to refine their statement. The outcome of all this great work will be finished next week, and I am really looking forward to the variety of ways students are exploring the theme.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Litspiration 2: The Scorpion Project - Characterization


UP NEXT: Litspiration: The Scorpion Project + Empathy vs. Sympathy and Child Labour
What to look for when exploring author's choices related to character development.
Litspiration Challenge 2: Characterization
On Thursday, all teams posted their completed second litspiration challenge on their team blogs. Students were asked to explore a character in the first 200 pages of the novel, working to understand how the choices regarding character development made by the author help to drive the narrative. Click here for details on the challenge, and go to the main site to check out the team blogs (links on the right hand side of the website) and explore some of the challenges. All teams are looking for some readers, so please leave a supportive comment for them on any of their 5 posts so far!

Taking Risks...bye bye comfort zone!
We ask our students to take risks quite often, at least I do, and I know many of my colleagues here do, too. It is hard to step outside the comfort zone for many people, and a lot of adults resist change because of the risks involved: failure, loss of <insert many things here>, extra/new work, etc. This litspiration challenge presented an opportunity for me to take a risk, and I said yes, and it really paid off for me and the students!

When I presented this challenge, one of the options was to create an Instagram feed for a character. I assumed students would create "fake" Instagram posts for their characters, deciding what they would post and say based on the close reading students have been doing of the novel. The other options were to create a Twitter feed or a playlist. When one of the students (H. G.) excitedly said "We should create REAL Instagram accounts and follow each other," and then another student (S.G.) got this look of absolute joy on her face, I had a small internal (hopefully) panic attack. My initial reaction was "Nope. Can't take that risk." but the students were so excited by the prospect of interacting with each other that I pushed down my slight panic and said "Fantastic idea." Then I ran down to the principal's office to make sure he was okay with it, sent a warning email home to parents, and embarked on what turned out to be an engaging, entertaining, and educational experience! Not all groups chose to use Instagram, but the majority did in each class. The students supported me (probably without knowing it) all week with their enthusiasm and their clear engagement with the learning outcomes, and we did do some laughing along the way! Looking through their posts for which they chose the best Instagramming from the week to examine certain aspects of the character they chose, I see some deep thinking about author's choices and motivation supported by close reading and consideration of the text. Literary analysis!

I wanted to know how the students felt about this challenge, so I had them complete a quick survey. Here are the results:

responses from students who chose either a fake Twitter or created a character playlist

Friday, 24 February 2017

Litspiration 2: The Scorpion Project - Setting & Harkness Tables


UP NEXT: Litspiration: The Scorpion Project & Characterization

Litspiration Challenge 1: Setting
On Wednesday, all teams posted their completed first litspiration challenge on their team blogs. Students were asked to explore the setting in the first 100 pages of the novel, working to understand how the choices made by the author help to drive the narrative. Click here for details on the setting challenge, and go to the main site to check out the team blogs (links on the right hand side of the website) and explore some of the challenges. All teams are looking for some readers, so please leave a supportive comment for them on any of their 3 posts so far!

Harkness Discussions

The other two posts on the team blogs are of their team discussions on the first 2 sections of the novel. Harkness 2 and Harkness 3 were general discussions on the students' thoughts so far on the novel and with this novel, there is rarely nothing to talk about! Two teams join together and then are assigned a space to meet up and discuss the topic presented to them. This discussion is recorded, and teams are responsible for posting their discussions via Soundcloud or Youtube or Vimeo to their team blogs, along with their discussion map and their answers to some reflection questions.

During the discussion, students need to fill certain roles:

  • The moderator will ensure that the discussion stays focused, and can use the discussion questions he/she created.
  • The cartographer will map the discussion using the provided form. This map should be posted along with the discussion (take a picture!)
  • The recorder will use his/her computer (or an appropriate device of his/her choice) to record the discussion for the group. The  recorder is also responsible for uploading the discussion to Soundcloud AND posting on the blog.
This modified version of the Harkness Table gives some structure to the discussions, and responsibilities to the students. The general topics and dates of these discussions are known to the students as they are posted on the timeline. More details are included in specific posts on the project blog.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Litspiration 2: The Scorpion Project - Let's begin...


UP NEXT: Litspiration: The Scorpion Project

We are working with three different editions of this novel, and this provides a great opportunity to talk about author's choices, and the business side of books. 

A whole-grade novel study in the age of student choice
Student choice is, for many teachers and schools, becoming a cornerstone of literature study in schools. Student choice and voice are essential components to our curriculum at Connect, and it is something I value very highly. There are articles galore extolling the virtues of involving students by giving them a level of choice/voice in their studies, and from my experience, the positive outcomes of this approach are many and powerful. For example, almost every single student in 8.1 and 8.2 stated that having "free choice" for their project format and guiding question for the final Renaissance project was their favourite aspect of the inquiry. Choice, unsurprisingly, often leads to a higher level of engagement. So that begs the question: why have I chosen to have every student read the same book for this literature inquiry?

In short, using the same book gives us common ground on which to build and solidify students' literary analysis skills. This novel has a lot to explore and is accessible to all grade 8 readers; it introduces some interesting ideas that really allow students to consider the author's choices and intentions. The House of the Scorpion has proven to be an engaging read that leads to some interesting discussions about science and technology, social issues, and even current events.

This week, students recorded their first team Harkness discussion and started on their first team litspiration challenge, an exploration of the setting in the novel so far.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Final Update - Stories of Worldview Case Study: Intercultural Contact Between the Spanish and Aztec Empires of the 16th Century


UP NEXT: Litspiration: The Scorpion Project

Step 4: Peer Feedback & Revision
On Monday, all groups were expected to come to class with a completed project in order to participate in the peer feedback opportunity. As a large group, we talked about the difference between feedback and judgement, ensuring we all focused our efforts on providing specific, action-oriented ideas to our peers, as well as support. I encouraged students to approach this in conversation form: instead of abandoning your own work in order to view someone else's, two groups were instructed to sit together and discuss each others' projects. We used this small, two-sided form to help us and to record our big ideas:

I took a page out of the elementary handbook with the "stars" and "wishes" approach. 
Talking about "stars" and "wishes" for each group's project.

The peer feedback process took almost an entire double period (80 minutes) as I encouraged students to seek feedback from at least two other groups. Some got up to 3, and all ended up with some clear advice which they then used to improve their final product to have it ready for Wednesday's gallery walk.

The process of peer feedback is also a way for me to assess how students enhance and support our learning community. As you can see from the supportive, specific feedback, that is going pretty well in our classes!

Step 5: Reflection
On Wednesday afternoon, students set up their projects in the Collaboratorium so that both classes could see each others' work. They then chose their top 2 projects, and told me why. This tells me a lot about what they value in projects such as this, and how they understand the learning outcomes. This also allows students to reflect on the project in full, considering how others have taken up the learning outcomes differently than they did.

Students received feedback from me on their final product as well (already! I know - I really committed to getting this done quickly!), and have completed individual reflections in their journals which I will look at asap.

The Scorpion Project
Friday morning we started on our second litspiration inquiry of the year, a full grade novel study! This novel study will allow students to dig into the process of literary analysis, as well as solidify their skills of reading closely, Talking to the Text, effective discussion, and writing well (i.e., engagingly, concisely, precisely, and clearly).

There is a reading schedule that students must follow closely; the request has been made for students NOT to read ahead! We will be moving quickly through this inquiry in order to complete as much as possible before Spring Break. Of course, we are often met with challenges in the form of schedule changes (field trips, assemblies, etc.) that we cannot always control, but it is my hope that we can stick to this timeline as closely as possible.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Stories of Worldview Case Study: Intercultural Contact Between the Spanish and Aztec Empires of the 16th Century


UP NEXT: Reflection and Litspiration 2: The Scorpion Project

Step 2: Proposal
At the beginning of this week, all groups had to put together a proposal for me to approve. They needed to include some very specific details:
Some found this process quick and easy, while others were asked to re-think some details. It is always amazing how willing students are to think more deeply when given some advice, and the chance to do so.

Step along the way: Assessment
I liked this image as a visual metaphor for assessment; essentially, the components are the same for each student and each project, but the small details can, and should, vary. When searching for an image, I first Googled "messy" then "complicated" and finally found this when I searched "multi-faceted."

Interspersed amongst the steps is assessment. By creating multiple opportunities for students and teachers to assess the work, assessment becomes a conversation, and moves away from something that is done TO students, and towards an activity that allows the assessment itself to be part of the learning. ("eduspeak" catchphrase: assessment for, of, by, as learning...)  This can take many forms, some of which might include:

  • Intra-group check-ins - Groups work together to accumulate and record evidence of how they are meeting expectations for specific assessment categories; students used their own copies of the assessment tool to do this.
  • Group - Teacher check-ins - Feedback loops are built into the work as students are required to have conversations with the teacher at various points along the way (e.g., the proposal approval process). I like to record specific notes from these check-ins in a Google doc for future reference.
  • Collaboration check-ins - Each student individually completes a quick overview of their understanding of how the collaborative process is going up to that point in the project using a pie chart and/or percentages. After many years of learning HOW to collaborate, and reinforcement of those skills in grade 8, students can be very astute in understanding the nuances of effective, or ineffective, collaboration.
  • Peer feedback - Students are asked to view other projects, often with a specific task to complete. The focus in my class is to ensure students are providing feedback, not judging/ranking/summatively assessing. As with my check-ins, the goal is to provide action-oriented advice, a skill we continue to work on.

Step 3: Create
Once a group's proposal was approved, they were in the homestretch...really! The creation of the actual artifact of learning is like icing on the cake in some ways - the ingredients were purchased, the cake was mixed, baked, and cooled, and now for the finishing touches. In other words, a lot of the work was already completed in terms of inquiry and knowledge/skill development. Often, in our assessment scheme, communication is a very important aspect that is demonstrated through the final artifact as students carry out their planned intentional choices to engage their audience in their thinking and convey their knowledge.

Projects are due in full by this Wednesday, with an opportunity for peer feedback tomorrow, and revisions on Tuesday. All students will then get a chance to view each others' work in a "gallery walk" event Wednesday afternoon.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Stories of Worldview Case Study: Intercultural Contact Between the Spanish and Aztec Empires of the 16th Century


UP NEXT: After research comes creation

Step 1: Research
After critically examining the Age of Exploration, we have started digging into a case study of intercultural contact from that time, the empires of the Spanish and the Aztecs. Our goal is to create some kind of artifact that visually demonstrates the worldviews of both of these great empires, as well as includes examples of their intercultural contact, be that conflict or merely contact. In order to tell this story, we needed to find out some details in order to develop an understanding of these events. The resources we used to start our research were predetermined, with extra research limited to specifics, not just random Google searches. <skills!>

Students also considered with their groups how best to organize their research Google docs, after some suggestions and feedback from me; this is part of the assessment of this project.

The next step is for students to put together a proposal for me to help ensure they start off on the right foot, and once approved, students will create their artifacts. Next week will be a flurry of creativity: I can't wait!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Age of Exploration continued


We really dug into the Age of Exploration, formerly known as the Age of Discovery, working to answer the question that came up during a class discussion a few weeks ago: why was it the Europeans doing all the exploring? We explored a possible answer to this by watching parts 1  & 2 of the documentary based on Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs, & Steel. Students were asked to develop an understanding of Diamond's theory of "geographic luck" and consider if it holds up. Most thought it did, but a few had some concerns centred around problems with deterministic theories such as this not taking into account individual actions and decisions, an issue echoed by some in critique of this theory. (Good job, grade 8s!)

We will now keep this theory in mind as we move into a case study of the Age of Discovery/ Exploration/Expansion, the intercultural contact between the Aztec and Spanish Empire of the 16th century.

Next Level Writing

We started last week exploring the five-paragraph essay as a model of "academic" writing, examining its pros, and its cons. Some specifics include:

  • introductions (hook, general to specific, thesis)
  • body paragraphs
  • conclusions (touch back, hit the heart, look to the future, and zinger)
  • topic sentences
  • just write it
    • This refers to novice writers' use of superfluous phrases such as "In this essay I am going to" or "I believe that." While there may be a place for phrases like this in certain types of communication, I am encouraging students to avoid telling me what they are going to write, and to just write it!

Now, students are re-writing their Renaissance test long answer responses (I am referring to them as a mini-essay) and working to utilize the positive aspects of the form we have examined. I have purposely organized this in a way that students are forced to work in drafts, returning to their revisions with fresh eyes every day or so. Through an informal poll, all students are making changes, and most are making significant changes to format, and some even to content.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Age of Discovery? Exploration?


UP NEXT: Why were the Europeans the ones doing the "exploring?"

Renaissance Projects Showcase
We finally had our Renaissance showcase on Monday. I divided the students from both classes into four groups based on topic and/or format in the hope that each group had 12 projects to explore that would expand their thinking on the topic, and maybe even inspire them to try something new themselves next time. They were asked to complete a guide as they did so, eventually determining which projects demonstrated the best outcome in each of our four assessment categories. Due to the weather and lots of late busses, the showcase was a little messier than planned. Now, I start the task of reviewing each student's work, using their reflections and completed assessment tools to help me.

The Bridge Between Then and Now: The Age of Exploration
My approach this year with this curriculum is to really focus on our place in history, and ensure students are aware that history is not just dead people and events, and that there are always multiple narratives and perspectives to consider.

Is this a more accurate image of history?
And so, with that in mind, we started on the Age of Exploration with a  lecture and class discussion, that included another Crash Course History video!

We need to critically consider the Age of Exploration, and our guiding question will help us:

Why were the Europeans the ones doing the "exploring?"

The Crash Course video already has us critically considering this through its exploration of Zheng He and Vasco de Gama alongside Columbus. By the end of next week, students will have a possible answer to this question!

We are also using the textbook (pp. 94-115, 120) for this portion of our study, and we talked this morning about how to take good notes. Some pointers are:
  • Write as little as possible, but include as much information as possible (we did an example of this).
  • Consider the Talking to the Text strategies.
  • Create a vocabulary section.
  • Pay close attention to any lists you encounter as lists usually break down big ideas, and also, teachers often use those for test questions. ;)
  • Use the tools available to you: bulleted/numbered lists, fonts, colours, size, underlining/bold/ italic text to organize your notes. Your brain does not easily process large chunks of unbroken text.
Students will finish their notes in Monday's class.

Writing Skills
In last week's post, I mentioned that we would do some targeted work on writing this week and next. Students wrote a long answer question on their Renaissance exams, and as I read through them, I thought they would benefit from some lessons on organization. We are starting at rock bottom with the much-maligned 5-paragraph essay; the only way from here is up!
Intro Paragraphs from Jaime Groeller on Vimeo.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

A test, by any other name...


UP NEXT: the European Renaissance Inquiry Showcase 

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to do a test. 

The twist: we try to make this test work for us. 

Quizzes/tests/exams are a source of great anxiety, and even fear, for many students. By de-mystifying and de-stressing the process to some extent, I wanted to allow students to work on some skills through this process, rather than just existing in a state doubt and fear before, during, and after. The right amount of stress, and a little uncomfortableness, is what I was aiming for.

At the beginning of this short week, I told the students we would have a test on the Renaissance on Friday, and that they would get time in class to prepare for it. This was their first test of the year in my class. Here is how we prepared:

Step 1 - Effective Studying
Partial review for most students, we had a mini-lecture and class discussion on HOW to study. We talked about a few things that the students can elaborate on:

  1. Environment - where, when, who, mindset, comfort, breaks
  2. How - passive versus active studying
The students took advantage of class time to try a variety of study skills. Most of them chose to study collaboratively to some extent, but all avoided "just reading over my notes" and worked to actively engage their brain as much as possible. 

Step 2 - Effective Test Taking
We did another mini-lecture and discussion on the best ways to take a test. We discussed strategies for all kinds of questions including multiple choice, short answer, and long answer/essay, all of which would appear on the test. 

Step 3 - Take the Test, Round 1
Friday morning, students individually took the test, many obviously employing the strategies we had talked about in class. (Reflection on this for students to come next week...)

Step 4 - Take the Test, Round 2
In the afternoon periods, students took the test again, but this time worked through it in small groups, discussing the answers and working to create the best test paper.

Step 5 - Reflection (coming up)
Next week, I will ask the students to reflect on the process of taking the test, asking them to identify what worked and what didn't, and engage in some meta-cognition.

Image from here.

I also do a lot of reflection with a test, using the answers to determine what went well and what didn't go well, and where I need to focus my efforts and attention (which is really what a test should be for both student and teacher). Which brings me to...

Step 6 - Diving Board
After a quick review of the long answer/short essay responses, I have decided to use this as a jumping off point to teach some pointers on writing essays, trying to navigate through the rough rapids of writing, versus writing for school.