Monday, February 20, 2012

A Great Read For Any Math Teacher

Recently, I have been doing some reflecting on the kind of year that my students and I have been having. This is my fourth year teaching and I think that it's vital that things continue to improve as I go along this journey. I am very pleased to report that things continue to move in the right direction. As a matter of fact, I feel as though this has been a period of tremendous growth for both the kids and myself.

For the last couple of years, I have been sporadically checking the dy/dan blog that is put out by the very talented and insightful Dan Meyer.  I hope one day to find enough time left over at the end of the day to crawl out of the Lurker role and insert myself into the active community of learners that this man has perpetuated with his Socratic ponderings of "What if".

Last spring, instead of a invitation to inquiry, I found a recommendation for a required reading. Malcolm Swan has written an outstanding resource for math teachers called Improving learning in mathematics: challenges and strategies. Of course spring time is not a good time for me to start reading anything, so I bookmarked it and held on to it for summer reading. And thank goodness I did wait. There were so many amazing ideas and strategies in this short piece that I did not know where to begin.

In the end I decided to dedicate myself to one strategic change and incorporate it into the daily routine this year. The new practice that I chose to incorporate into our daily routine is the regular use of student whiteboards to develop our mental math skills. At least that is how it started out. I had some games and gimmicks that I had developed a Notebook document around and the kids loved it. I soon realized that I could be having the students show me their current level of understanding at any point in the lesson with these whiteboards. The largest boon to our learning came when I realized that this was the perfect vehicle to throw in random review questions through out the course of the year. This one simple, elegant, powerful idea has been a real game changer for our learning community. I can't wait to read through the resource again to see what strategy we can claim for our own next year! Commit, implement and adapt! Growth will be your reward.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why are we doing this Mr. Carlsen?

As my class and I get further and further into blogging, I find some of my students questioning why we would bother with this whole process. This is a very good sign that they would be asking this sort of question. It's the same question that I ask myself all of the time. Why are we doing this? Is it helping?

Well let me tell you why we are doing this. Often, it seems, many of us in our school struggle with math and science even though we are extremely intelligent and capable. Why is this? It is because we have not developed enough academic language to meaningfully talk about the things that we are learning. In math class you may have an "Ah ha" moment but unless you have the ability to communicate the idea that you just understood, your brain will not hold on to it because you didn't ask your brain to do anything with it.

Make your learning last!
 It's like writing on the sidewalk with chalk. As soon as the rain comes along, your new ideas are lost. But if you take some paint and copy over your chalk, the ideas will stay there longer. If you take a chisel and carve out your sidewalk art, your ideas will stay there for ever. When you do the work in class and figure something out, that is like writing on the sidewalk with chalk. When you explain your ideas to someone else and use the academic words to describe your ideas, that is like painting over your ideas. When you write your new ideas down and create explanations and ways of understanding, that is like taking a chisel to the side walk. I want all of you to take a chisel to the world and make your learning last!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Purpose and Evidence of Learning

I have been trying really hard to get more involved with social media. Hence the effort that I have put into breathing a little life into this blog as well as other less obvious efforts. I have also been making an effort to get my head wrapped around the Twitter phenomenon. Now I am not a person who enjoys (or is even interested in) stalking celebrities or moving my mouth simply to feel like I've been heard and noticed. But I have been trying my very best to find folks with similar interests and are at similar places in their careers. I have been checking the Twitter Stream (sometimes fanatically it seems) and when I find something that interests me, I mark it as a favourite to be followed up in my "spare" time. I must admit that it is eating up a lot more of my time than it should but it has also been paying some dividends. I have been reading a lot of other blogs which have been shouted out via twitter and I have found some fantastic resources.

One instance of synchronicity is the personal crisis of conviction that I have been plagued with over motivation in the last several months. I am a strong proponent of intrinsic motivation yet I have no idea about the best ways to engender it so I end up following the lead of my knowledgeable others and let the carrot and stick maintain status quo. But throughout this year I have been hearing this name over and over again. Daniel Pink. Right brain thinking. Motivation. Innovation. Now believe it or not, I still have not had a chance to read his books yet but they are on my summer reading list. I'm starting to think that if I wait long enough, I will be able to glean all of the salient knowledge that he has to offer from the plethora of people that are bearing his torch these days. Don't worry, I'll read it for myself sooner or later.

As I have been linking about motivation and trying to get on the Twitter train, I found this wonderful video about Daniel Pink and the principles behind his book Drive. Thanks to @TeachaKidd for this gem.

Now I'm thinking "Holy crackers! This guy has got it right on the mark. But what can I do in my classroom that will allow for Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy? What would this look like in my room next year?" So, as with many things in life, an answer that leads to more questions. Wonderful. Now I know that there is a road.

So I let it stew for a few days and I am still trying to be twitterific and along comes this link suggestion for a talk that Helen Barrett gave. I'm so sorry to my tweep that sent me this one but I didn't keep track of this one.

Helen takes her extensive knowledge of e-portfolios (they call her the grandmother of e-portfolios I believe) and applies Daniel's three driving principles behind Drive: Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy. I was like "Yeah!!! Those two things totally go together like peas and carrots. Uh oh. What does an e-portfolio look like? What should be included? Where do we starts?" Again, an answer which leads to more questions but now I'm standing on the road. Which way do I go?

A few more days go by and I am twittering away, much to my wife's chagrin, and I find this little beauty via @ShellTerrell. It is a wonderfully annotated and descriptive road map for everything e-portfolio by a guy named Mike Fisher. His site that he has created for the boon of all of us is Evidence of Learning 2.0. Of course I still have a ton of questions but I have wonderful resources to help me find more answers. One of the things that I am having the most trouble deciding on is which platform, out the dozens that are available, that should I proceed with. I want something that will be under our control rather than some provider. Something that we can decide who we want to share it with. Something that will still be accessible well into the foreseeable future. Something that is not going to cost us anything extra. I like Notebook a lot but I don't know that many people have it downloaded onto their home computers. It might have to be PowerPoint even though I am not a fan of its limited capacity. Please let me know your thoughts and suggestions if you happen to come across this tangent.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Economy of Values

I have been doing some reading at my turtle's pace. I have been doing some thinking as well (at a similar pace it would seem). I've been reading Thomas L. Friedman's most recently updated book Hot, Flat, and Crowded. So far I'm really diggin it. In one part he cited a guy by the name of Dov Seidman who is the CEO of LRN. Dov explains that there are two types of business relationships: situational and sustainable. The difference between the two all come down to values. In a situational relationship you are only concerned with what you can get out of the right here and the right now. In the sustainable relationships you are worried more about your the long term success of your company and your customer and your environments (economic and natural).

Now as I had alluded to before it is all about your values. The reason that I say this is because, as Thomas points out, we could have had all the regulations that the brightest legislators could of ever conceived but it would not have delayed our Great Recession because regulations tell people what they can and can not do. Values tell us what we should do. With out buying into the values of sustainability, all of the people who made decisions that lead us to the current state of affairs would not have asked themselves what they should do but rather a how they could do what they wanted to do with out getting caught overtly transgressing the imposed regulations.

I could not help but draw some parallels between this messy situation and my own little slice of heaven. The demographic of my school is about 90% Low German Mexican Mennonite immigrants with a sprinkling of more "traditional" western Canadian kids. In our school we have tried modeling our values. We have tried enticing the our students. Some of us have even tried legislating crowd sourced regulations (aka classroom rules). Our kids do not share our values (granted, this is a blanket statement that has too many holes to keep me warm at night but I still believe that it holds enough water to be useful diagnostically). I believe that this may be the missing link. We can make all of the rules and regulations that we want but until they buy into our value system they will only have a situational relationship with us and try their best not to get caught overtly transgressing the imposed regulations.

Where does this leave us? Well, I'm lost. But I believe that this is an opportunity for us to find and define ourselves. The first thing that I think that we need to do as a community is to define for ourselves what our core values are. And I'm talking like our top four or five most relevant, significant, overarching values that encompass all of the seemingly silly things that we ask our little angels to do. From there we can move away from our class room regulations and move toward exemplars of how we uphold our shared community values. We can have a Star Value for each month with activities and more incentives and contests. We can make it a regular part of our classroom discourse. We need to overtly identify, advertise and promote these values so that our kids can finally see where we are coming from and why we expect the things of them that we do. My greatest hope is that this will help the next time that they are faced with a choice to ask themselves what they should do instead of what they can get out of the situation in the right here and right now.

Sorry for yet another rant but I was inspired and I had to share it with you. You've probably already considered this stuff. Let me know what you think our values should be.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Bright Idea About my Mobile Pods.

I love pods. I always have. The problem is that I have an odd shaped space to work with making every inch of real estate obscenely valuable. I have two stacks of science benches replete with sinks which is a wonderful curse. Something that has been a pet peeve of mine is the way that my pods seem to spread out and migrate around my limited space. I think that I may have a solution. I intend to strap the desks together in their intended conformation. The down side of this is that it may diminish some to the spontaneity of forming impromptu groups. The up side is that we will not have to waste time straightening out desks so that people can get around the room about four times a day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Daniel Pink on Motivation

I've been thinking a lot about motivation recently. What is motivation? If motivation were a currency, how could you acquire it? Does it come in different denominations like bills? Does it have different values based on where it comes from like dollars and euros? Are some people born rich with motivation while others have to earn it and other may have it given to them? I just don't know. But I have recently watched Dan Pink talk about the gap between what science knows about motivation and what business (and schools for that matter) does to motivate people.

In the past we have relied heavily on rewards and punishments to help us motivate people to do the things that we want and need them to do. Pink argues that this simplistic model only works when the behavior or action that we are trying to elicit is equally simplistic and mundane. Let me tell you, there are very few of these sorts of things that we need done at schools. Our biggest struggle is to get our kids to move past this simplest model and start to stretch themselves to be creative and independent (two things that rewards inhibit covertly). Pink suggests in his talk at TED that people need Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in order to become truly activated and intrinsically motivated. I am totally down with all of that because in my hear I can sense the ring of truth in that. Now all I have to do is have figure out how we can shift our paradigms in schools to match up with this new model and set up the environment where these three guiding principals can be cultivated and then harvested. Now the search will begin to find out if there is anybody out there who can point me down the right path now that I know that there is a path.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A new science gem that I stubbled across.

I just wanted to drop a quick note about a super science resource site that I just found. If you are a new teacher like myself, there is nothing more bothersome than trying to create thoughtful, complete and effective rubrics. It's hard to know what you should be looking for when you really have no idea what you should be looking for. has reams of great science fair information including over 1 000 project ideas but the thing that interests me the most at the moment is their list of wonderful rubrics. Stop by and check it out.