Here are my slides from the short oral presentation.

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As we gear up for the end of the semester, I took time to reflect on “throwing out the grades” with my grade 9 and grade 10 classes. This isn’t new for me, but it was the first time I had the opportunity to try abolishing grades with my Grade 9 Academic class. Recently, more people have asked how it works, how it has been going, and how to get started – so I thought I would write about the Grade 9 class.

I was a bit apprehensive when both spiraling the Grade 9 curriculum and abolishing grades for the term – but I had a supportive and amazing principal and a great teacher team.

The ideas here are not new – and lots of assistance and ideas came from others – such as the “Teachers throwing out grades” Facebook group, following Mark Barnes and Starr Sackstein, and many conversations in the past with David Martin, from Red Deer, Alberta. I am grateful for the sharing.

So how do I assess students in Grade 9? Students do complete various types of assessments – cycle tests, some quizzes, assignments, and projects. No marks are given for any of these – only descriptive and specific feedback. In addition to the written feedback (or on occasion, this may be oral feedback to students) – a mastery sheet is completed for each student that is used to track their level of understanding for different topics throughout the cycles. (Thanks to Marian Small for her help on this.)

For example, the students worked on analytical geometry.

On the mastery sheet, I indicated at each cycle how well the student has demonstrated their knowledge and skills in big ideas and more specific understandings and skills related to the topic. Students can use these sheets to keep track of their outcomes for each assessment and know where they can improve.

This is not an easy transition for students to make. These are academic level students who spend a great deal of time thinking about their marks and judging their progress in a course by these marks. Telling them that they have no marks was not an easy task. The first couple of weeks of semester still surfaced questions such as “Does this count?”, “Will this be on the test?”, “How much is this worth? How many marks will this count for?” and the most common one “Will I lose marks if I do this? if I don’t do this?”

After the first assessment, there were still many questions about marks and how much it was worth. There were questions at my desk, “How am I doing? What mark am I getting in this course?”.

The breakthrough came after about a month of school. A student came up to me (one who has asked me repeatedly what mark she was getting) – and asked me, “Am I getting it? I think I’m really learning math now.” It was at this point that I knew what I was working towards with no grades was the right way to go.

Students gradually stopped asking those questions. My students dove into all of the activities with enthusiasm– not because they were worried about marks or what was on the next unit test – but because they were curious. Math was not a “subject” that meant getting things right or wrong, or tests with numbers inside little boxes – each denoting a section of questions representing knowledge, application, thinking, and communication. What does this really mean? And what does it mean to the student? Has anyone ever asked a student what they thought those boxes and numbers meant – in terms of what they understand, the big ideas, how well they think through a problem?

Midterm marks were due. Report cards. Oh no. The due date was looming and I possessed no grades and no markbook records. What was I going to do? Imagine the look on the faces of my Grade 9 math students – when I told them that *they *would be deciding on their midterm mark. I told them to review all of their work and create a slide deck to explain to me why they thought they should deserve the mark they chose for themselves.

This was a highlight for me. Instead of tests, quizzes and assignments tucked away safely in the back of their binder – never to be seen again – all of their assessments and term work were spread out over the desks. Excited chatter began with their classmates on how they did, what they need to work on still, what were the most important things they learned so far, and how they would justify the mark they chose for themselves.

In the end, the slide decks were shared with me – and I was astounded at the insight some of the students had – and how they could intelligently reflect upon what they have learned and what they still needed to work on. Some literally brought tears to my eyes! The marks they gave themselves were mostly lower than what I would have given them. They were able to articulate clearly what they wanted to learn more about in the upcoming cycles.

Here are some examples of slides from my students:

As the teacher, the semester without grades made me pay closer attention to what they were struggling with and where they needed more support. I felt free from putting a value on right answers, proper procedures and notation – but now I focused on what they put on the paper, what they spoke about in class, and the types of questions they asked me. I was afraid of parent calls and definitely nervous on parent interview night. Surprisingly, parents found it refreshing and were happy that their children were enjoying mathematics – some of them for the first time in their school life. It seems taking grades away removed the pressure of success/failure and more of them were willing to take risks knowing they had chances all semester to improve and to do better.

I don’t expect that every teacher would agree with me and not surprisingly, my teacher team I worked with didn’t follow suit and continued with their own marking schemes and grade books. I guess that’s why I’m writing about it. Maybe if teachers could see how liberating it can be for students to be free of marks during the term – they would be more willing to try it with their classes. I witnessed more risk-taking from my students, more passion for learning, creativity, and a more active math talk community.

When I tell people I teach high school, many of them will bring up the common complaints about teenage behaviour – sullen, rude, self-absorbed, and constantly on their phones. How do you manage to teach this group of teenagers? I look at this time in their lives – where the brain is still growing and developing – as a prime time for me, as a teacher, to provide experiences in which they can learn and be challenged. It’s time to move away from our old routines and to start creating classrooms where we can take advantage of their malleable brains. This semester has shown me how I can empower my students by not making it about the grades but rather how we can challenge their thinking and work towards goals that are about understanding, creativity, and self-regulation.

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I am teaching Grade 10 Applied math and this will be the third time that I have taught this curriculum by spiraling. I have learned and followed Mary Bourassa and Alex Overwijk and I thank them profusely for all of their ideas that have inspired me to work on this during the last two years. I’m pretty confident about spiraling again and I believe the feedback from students have helped me shape this into a solid and great way to teach Grade 10 Applied.

This year I am working on spiraling the Grade 9 Academic math course. I saw so many similarities in this course with the 2P course that I didn’t think it was going to be much of a stretch to work on this curriculum. So it seemed to make sense to talk about how the week went with these two courses and my three classes. I am not math coaching at the school this year and so I will concentrate on creating really great experiences for my students and supporting them every day in their growth and hopefully – their love of math. (yes – even my grade 10 applied students!)

The highlight of my Grade 10 applied class this week was working on 26 squares and the first activity using the squares – perimeter/side length model. They didn’t have any problem coming up with the equation of the line: P = 4L. They also didn’t have any hesitation telling me that if the side length was 50, the perimeter would be 200. There was some hesitation on finding the side length when the perimeter was 248. Then a boy yelled out “Oh, I know – it’s 62 cm!”. I asked him how he knew and he said, “It’s easy – I knew that the perimeter was 200 for a side length of 50. I know that 248 is 48 cm more and that would be a side length of 12. So I added 12 to 50 and got 62.” Cool, don’t you think?

The Grade 9 academic class is a good size – sitting at 33 right now. I love the Grade 9’s at the start of the school year. They are so timid and compliant. I suppose this should last about two weeks. I actually look forward to the kids opening up and being comfortable with talking in class.

We talked about the cycles that we will be working through and I have started talking about how I grade using only feedback and mastery of the learning outcomes and not actual marks. They seemed to be okay with this so far…. I think they understand idea of demonstrating the most recent and most consistent evidence of what they know and that I’m into slow math – not how fast can we learn this stuff.

We started our first class with the Vroom Vroom activity with the pull-back cars. I didn’t give them any directions and only told them about their challenge that would take place near the end of class. I really wanted to see what they would come up with on their own. They seemed to enjoy the challenge and because of the size of the class, we only had time for one distance challenge. They were asked to submit a mini-report for each team. Here are some pictures I took while they were working.

My favourite picture is of the team coming up with a solution to their car always turning after a certain distance. They created a “track” for the car to go along against the wall – problem solvers! I loved that after I announced the distance I would be using for the contest, several teams rushed to the hallway with their cars and metre sticks for trial runs of using their pull-back distance they decided on.

An interesting observation on how conditioned our students are to doing what they hope is “right” and finding the right answers. On every table, I put out lined paper, graph paper, whiteboards, metre sticks and a car. Several of the teams handed in graphs with their report – most of them being bar graphs. Despite being pretty graphs, they did realize that the graph didn’t help them much with their predictions.

Some of the students even admitted that they included a graph because they didn’t want to lose marks. That began my reiteration of how I have no marks, only feedback and so on.…cycling seems to be necessary on more than just curriculum content.

Here are some highlights of the mini-report – remember – this is their first day of math class.

You can already see evidence of some thinking around proportional reasoning and I loved the team who tried to do an average of five trials for each pull back distance!

We finished up the week with more activities that explored relationships between variables. We started the routine of our warm-ups (thanks to Mary Bourassa again!) and introduced them to open ended questions, using the vertical (or horizontal) non-permanent surfaces, and how Kahoot can be their quick route to an overdose of sugar.

It is only the first week – but I am really looking forward to working with this group of Grade 9 students for the rest of this semester. I hope you can also see why.

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Remember: 20 slides, advanced every 15 seconds, 5 minutes long. yikes!

Also – below – the slides used for the talk.

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Presentation Slides: Peel Parent 2015

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We didn’t have as many days dedicated to the performance task – and the Grade 11 teachers wanted to include other assessments on those days. On Day One, we posted three themes to create stations that included four pictures/videos each. Videos could be viewed on our Chrome books. Chart paper was posted on the walls and sticky notes were provided for their questions. The students were paired up and generated questions for each of the pictures/videos for a time period of 10 minutes at each station. They rotated and completed the same time at each station. This prevented from having too many repetitive questions – although we did see some of course.

Instructions can be seen here: Grade 10 Applied – Final Performance Task

When they had returned to their original station, we had them, as a group, decide and sort each suggested question into one of the topics we learned about in the semester. For Grade 9’s we sorted into Proportional Reasoning, Linear Relations, Measurement and Geometry. For Grade 10’s we sorted into Linear Relations, Quadratic Relations, Measurement, Trigonometry and Similar Triangles. This also eliminated the “unrelated” questions that were proposed.

Once this was completed (about 15 minutes), the groups decided on the best five questions placing accompanying reasons why they thought so on smaller sticky notes beside them.

The rotations began again – and students moved to each station to decide, using “dotmocracy” which questions of the best five they preferred to see on their final task on Day 2 and 3. I gave each student 10 dots to vote with.

This was the end of Day 1, which worked out really well – but left a fairly large task for the teachers to sort through and decide on questions for the final two days. We honored their choices and if possible – used the questions they voted on. Some of the questions needed clarification or added parts to it – but most were usable in the form they provided. This was encouraging. We separated questions into “easy”, “medium” and “hard”. Then we provided all the necessary data for the students to complete the questions.

Day 2 and Day 3 were the same – with students completing the questions which we compiled into a number of tasks to choose from. There were three parts – and they had choice within each part. Overall, this went well – with most students performing well in both my Grade 9 and Grade 10 classes.

This type of summative task near the end of the semester allowed for students to tell you what they took away as the most important concepts and ideas from each of the topics they studied. The conversations were rich and some of the arguments over the “best” questions were interesting to listen to.

Here are some of my favourite questions:

**Grade 9 Applied **

*How high did the snowboarder jump? How many stacking dolls fit into this giant stacking doll? How far away did the snowboarder land away from the doll?*

**Usain Bolt video:** *Does his speed increase, decrease or stay the same during the whole race? How much did he win by? Who would win – Bolt or a cheetah?*

*How long would it take to cook this burger? What is the volume of the burger? How many regular burgers would you have to eat to equal this giant burger? How many people can you feed with this burger? How many tomatoes/onions/pickles would you need for this burger?*

*What should be the cost of the size 12 shoes based on how much they weigh? How much would a size 18 shoe weigh? Why are these ugly running shoes cost $100?*

**Grade 10 Applied**

*How many M&M’s do you need to cover this cake? How many packages of M&M’s do you need to buy to make this cake?*

*How much cheese did he eat? What fraction of the cheese did he take? How did he become so good at cooking?*

**Tangled movie trailer**: *How long is Rapunzel’s hair? How heavy is her hair? How does she hold up her head? How long does it take her to grow her hair this long? Is it a happy ending?*

Rocket Boys video (October Sky movie): *What speed is the rocket going? What is the maximum height of the rocket? How long is the rocket in the air for?*

This was just a sampling of the kind of questions my students came up with during the rounds. I also love some of their reasoning behind the questions:

* I think they are good questions because we studied shapes and solids and this question is related to what I learned.*

*This is a visual type question – so I think that’s good.*

*I want to work with graphs to find out this answer.*

*This question will provide an answer that is informative.*

*I’m voting for this one because it would be fun to solve.*

*This is a good question because solving for area is just good math.*

*I think circle math is fun.*

*This is a good question because I was curious about it.*

*I chose this question because it is challenging and I’m good at those typees of questions so I would do a good job on the summative.*

The good: This final performance task allowed students to consider what are good questions and why. They also spent time reflecting on the semester of learning and what they thought were the big ideas and the important mathematics. I really liked how they were able to collaborate with their classmates to come up with questions, and then narrow down to their top five. The variety of questions was astounding to me and with both classes the number of unrelated questions were very low. They were in control and I did not see one student not take part on Day 1.

The bad: There wasn’t really any challenges when it came to the students participation and completing their task – but it was a fair amount of work sorting through their questions and then compiling the questions into a format that was easy for them to access and provide solutions for – all in a small window of time, between days. Necessary data for each question was provided. We decided to divide the questions into three parts so they would answer a few questions that were easier, medium and more challenging.

This is what the some of the final tasks looked like:

CREDITS: Many of the ideas, pictures and videos come from Alex Overwijk, Mary Bourassa, Dan Meyer’s 101questions, and Yummy Math. Thank you!!

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Here are the presentation slides I used on November 6th, 2014 at the OAME Leadership Conference in Toronto.

All videos have been removed from this version.

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