BCAMT Northwest Conference – October 2015

On October 22nd-24th, over 1200 math teachers got together in Whistler, B.C. to share ideas and get inspired… so before I forget all the wonderful moments, I thought I should write a few down and share!  There were far too many moments to list them all, so here are my top 5 (in no particular order):

  • Trevor Brown was FANTASTIC and inspiring.  I had never attended one of his sessions before… and had been clearly missing out!  He reminded us of just a few of the ways that math is all around us and highlighted the many ways in which it can sometimes be “spooky”!  🙂  Whether it was chopping up a Mobius strip or highlighting beautiful patterns that appear around us, I can safely say there wasn’t a person in that room who wasn’t inspired!
  • Andrew Stadel’s session about ways to encourage number sense was one of those sessions that gives you something to do on Monday and to play with forever.  I can’t tell you how many times along the drive home I turned to my husband to ask: “OK now seriously, how long do you think THOSE traffic lines are?!”  🙂
  • Sean Chorney’s session presented engaging problems that got us doodling in our notebooks and dreaming of extensions.  I’m still trying to generalize a rule for organizing n cards after he gave us the following problem:
  • Peter Lilejdahl’s session about conceptualizing and actualizing the new curriculum was a great reminder that the lack of clarity around implementation is an opportunity for teachers rather than an impediment.
  • Robert Kaplinsky‘s 5-minute Ignite presentation about productive struggle echoed my feelings about wanting students to be able to persevere without torturing them.  🙂  I especially appreciated his humour and bike-riding analogy!

These were just 5 of the MANY highlights for me… it was also very fun to get to share about Standards Based Grading (and by far the biggest room I have ever been at the front of)!

Westin - October 2015

That’s ME up there?!? 🙂

Overall, this conference was an opportunity to experiment, puzzle, and to “stop and smell the mathematical roses”… it was wonderful to be around a group of mathematicians and teachers who are passionate about what they do!

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Northwest Math Conference 2015 – Standards Based Grading Session Handouts and Summary #nwmc15 #sbl

On October 23rd, 2015 I got the chance to share what Standards Based Grading looks like in a mathematics classroom!  Standards based grading is an assessment philosophy that encourages a growth mindset by using a continuum of learning rubric rather than a points system.  If you would like to know more or have questions about it, I LOVE to chat about it so feel free to get in touch (mrsawadalla@gmail.com)!

Here is the powerpoint presentation for those that missed it…  I also mentioned that I would share the excel spreadsheet that I currently use.  It takes a basic knowledge of excel (mostly hiding/unhiding cells, and if-then statements).

I’m also excited to share that we will have a user-friendly way to record, track, (and calculate) student’s progress, using a program that’s in development called Qualitative Gradebook.  Stay tuned if you’re interested in using it!  It will be ready in February 2016, and more information will be posted here when it’s ready!

Keep in touch!  I would love your feedback and to hear what Standards Based Grading looks like in your context!  🙂



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Order of Operations (with Integers) Dice Game

My grade 8s were in need of some extra practice with their integer operations and order of operations in general, so I adapted a game for them to play with triple-dice!

Here’s the game board for you to use!

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 2.07.21 PM

The rules of the Order of Operations Integer Dice Game are:

  • Students should get into groups of 2 to 4. Give each student a game board.  Each player rolls a Triple-Dice to create the 3 numbers for their round.
  • The blue dice will represent a positive number, the red dice will represent a negative number, and the white dice is the player’s choice! (It can represent either a positive or negative number.)
  • They need to place the numbers in the boxes in such a way that their final answer is the LARGEST INTEGER ANSWER POSSIBLE. Players will then check their solution with their group. The player with the largest integer answer wins the round. The student with the most points at the end of all ten rounds wins.  Note: In Round 2, 4, and 9, if a situation arises where an integer solution isn’t possible then the player can roll the dice again.

Sample roll of the dice:

The triple dice is rolled and results in a blue 2, a red 1, and a white 6. That means the values we have to use are +2, -1, and we can choose to use either +6 or -6 (depending on what will give the highest value).

For round 1 we could say: 2 + (-1) – (+6) = -5, but we can see we can probably rearrange it and do better than that!  By rearranging the numbers a few different ways, we can see that 2 + (+6) – (-1) = 9 will give us the maximum value.

Some cool conversations I got to have with students while they were playing it:

  • I had students asking questions about which number is larger.  For example, a couple students made a common error when comparing numbers like -12 and -6.  This activity was another reminder about comparing integer values.
  • In rounds 2, 4, and 9, there was a lot of great discussions about which roll would result in an integer solution, and which ones would not.  They were talking about multiples, trying to find scenarios that wouldn’t work… it was AWESOME.
  • I had students trying to find “rules” or strategies for finding the maximum answer.  Many students came up with some really neat observations!

Overall a fun activity to do with an energized group of grade 8s!  Enjoy!

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An Assessment Question for YOU (if you have time)…

I have an assessment question for you if you have some time to give me some feedback!  🙂  I’m wondering what overall mark you would assign to each of the students below, and why.  I’ve got an example using standards-based grading, and another scenario using percentages.  Take your pick on which one to give feedback on!  🙂

Would LOVE to know your thoughts!!  If you are up for giving feedback, feel free to leave a comment here OR you can always email me at kawadalla@sd38.bc.ca.  Thanks a million!

If you are using standards based grading to assess students, here are the scenarios:

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 1.56.59 PM

If you are using percentages to assess students, here are the scenarios:

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 1.56.53 PM

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Why teachers should think the dress debate is the coolest…

This dress debate is getting heated over in Room B202 – and even the shyest of students has made their opinion known!

The best part though: Students are asking WHY people are seeing each colour, and are doing TONS of research into finding out why it’s the case.  They’ve shown me articles; they’ve been talking about rods and cones; they’ve shared their theories about low light and high light, about their eyes being tired or awake.  I’ve even got a group of critical thinkers that claim it’s a conspiracy and that people are just doctoring the photo to prove their point.

As a teacher, I just think that’s the coolest.  That’s what we want our students to be doing about everything they notice and see!  Having a group of inquisitive and critical-thinking students is the end goal and what teachers are always striving for.  I’m so proud of them, even if it just happens to be about a dress!  🙂

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A Day of SBG with Socials, English, and ELL Teachers

On Friday I got the chance to share the principles of standards based grading and show examples of how it could look in a socials, English, or ELL classroom at Richmond High. In the afternoon, we worked on a model that would work (or that they would like to try) in a few classrooms. I really enjoy doing this, so if you’re interested, just shoot me an email!

I created a tracking sheet for teachers to use to keep track of a student’s progress. The idea is that when they are creating assignments, the assignment might only touch on a few learning outcomes, and they could track this on the tracking sheet. At the end of an assessment period, they would then make a decision on how they felt a student did, and enter it into the excel spreadsheet to “get a number”.

The key to this was to very carefully develop the learning outcomes based on what you value, and to decide “how much” you value it by assigning a weight to each learning outcome. The spreadsheet that was created (linked here) assumes that each learning outcome is of equal importance and weighting.

I just wanted to present an example that highlights how different teachers may have different philosophies around assigning a summative grade for each learning outcome.

Ex) On Learning Outcome 1, Bob gets a MM on his first attempt, a FM on his second attempt, and a meeting on his third attempt. At the end of the term (or the year), what grade do you give Bob? What additional information do you need?

Some teachers might feel that the student should get their most recent score. Others might feel as though they should “average” the score, while others might say that their best score is what counts. I love the debates that this question causes… you’ll have to read my blog more closely to find out what my answer would be, but I hope it gives you something to think about! 🙂

Any feedback you have would be great!  Feel free to email me or leave your comments below!

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Chatting about Parent-Teacher Conferences

It’s that time of year – parent-teacher conference time!  Those 15 minute meetings can seem a little overwhelming at first for both parents and teachers, so we decided to plan a get together and share ideas and strategies with the Secondary Mentees in our RSD Secondary Mentorship group.

Here are a few resources that are helpful to frame/shape your conferences:

Here are some strategies I use that include the student in the conference, when they aren’t able to physically attend (or when the parent has chosen not to bring them):

Also, here’s some advice that was provided by our twitter friends:

If you have any other advice to pass along and share, feel free to leave it in the comments!  🙂  Happy Conferencing!  🙂

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Adventures in Standards-based Grading @ the BCAMT Fall Conference 2014

I just finished a great day at the BCAMT Math Conference in Surrey, B.C. – so much fun!  As promised, I said I would share some resources on my website for those that are interested in using standards-based grading in their classroom:

A great big thank you to those who attended my session – it was so nice to hear your ideas and to share my classroom with you.  If you have any questions or would like to see other resources, please don’t hesitate to contact me (kwagner@sd38.bc.ca)!

Also, I’m more than happy to come work with anyone interested in trying to implement standards-based grading in their classroom… keep in touch!

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I love Plicker Cards…

If you haven’t tried out Plicker Cards in your classroom, you are definitely missing out!  They’re great!!!

Plicker cards are unique “QR-code-like” cards that allow students to respond quickly to a multiple choice question (either A/B/C/D, depending on how they hold the card).


Students hold the card up so that you can capture the image with your cell phone.  You use the Plicker App to scan the room, and it gathers data quickly and accurately.  You can show students the results by showing them the live results through the Plicker website, or you can quickly look at the results on your phone.  Here’s an example of what it looks like through the app:


Not only does it track the overall class result, it tells you how each student responded.  I definitely wouldn’t show that to students, but it’s great for checking in and getting feedback about particular students.

I have been using it to do a quick homework check*, workhabits check*, or to do a quick check-in on the material we’re learning in class.  I definitely prefer this to Socrative because it’s very low-tech for students and super low cost… I’m the only one that needs to have my cell phone out to use it!

So far the student feedback has been all positive, and we’ll be using it throughout the year!  Hope you get to try it too!  🙂

(*When I do those checks, I always randomly pick 5 students for an “honesty check” to make sure they are self-reporting accurately…  There are so many websites online that will randomly generate 5 names for you!  Here’s the link to the one I’m using now.)

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Goals for the 2014-15 Year

This year has definitely had an interesting start.  I am so happy to be back at work and doing what I love… I am hopeful that we truly did make a difference for public education and the classroom conditions for our students.  Only time will tell!

With the unusual start, I didn’t get the chance to blog as much as I would like, but I’m now feeling like things are mostly settled and I’m able to sit down and think about the year ahead and my practice.

Every year I try and pick a few goals or big ideas to focus on for the year.  I find it helps when everything gets busy and hectic to remember if it’s something I am passionate about or not, and whether or not it fits in with my goals for the year.

For the 2014-2015 school year, I would like to…

1)  … Remember my love for the job and for helping students.

I am putting this first and foremost because of an amazingly serendipitous meeting with a former student.  This student is an incredible woman, and has just finished her practicum to be an elementary school teacher.  (She is an amazing one – if you or your child ever meets her you’ll be so lucky! 🙂 )  She came to visit on the picket line in September.  It was so nice to chat with her, but in addition to her being so generous with her time, she also brought me a fantastic pin and a card.

The card said so many sweet things, but what struck me most is when she said she “learned from (me) that teaching can be tons of fun, hard work, but fun.”  I want my students to know how much fun it is to work with them and to be a part of their high school experiences.  I hope they know how much I want them to succeed, and I hope they know that I will work as hard as I can to make this happen.  I am so thankful for the beautiful reminder that it does make a difference.

2) … Continue my goal of being deliberate and attentive to my assessment practices.

I have enjoyed the gains I have seen in student learning since we have implemented standards based grading, and I would like to continue exploring how to improve my assessment practices.  This year, I am really interested in delving into intervention strategies for students who are struggling.  Finding strategies to change a student’s trajectory when they are not feeling successful will definitely be a focus.  (If you have ideas, books to read, people to talk to – contact me PLEASE!)  🙂

3)  … Continue to find ways to use technology to help student learning.

This one is just a passion of mine.  I love trying to find new ways to use technology in a smart way (and not just for the sake of technology).  I will continue with my vimeo videos and a few other tools, but I’m always looking for other ways to simplify or solve particular classroom problems that we face.

With all that said, this year is going to be a BIG year – I’m getting married in March 2015!!!  🙂  Not only that, but this math teacher is getting married on PI DAY –  3 14 15!  (Can’t really get much better than that… we figure since the next digits after 3.1415 are 926, maybe we’ll have pie for dessert at that time…)  🙂

Looking forward to the year…


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