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.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Power of Politeness

I feel very strongly that there is great value in propagating the use of social conventions such as using the "magic words". My adherence to the use of these “silly” words is rooted in my belief that words really are magical. Words have power: latent, raw, mystic power. It is this power that fuels self-fulfilling prophecies and predictions (positive as well as negative). When we incorporate these silly words into our everyday vernacular, we improve the chance that their sentiment will be imbued in our daily interpersonal interactions and become a part of our paradigms. Some argue that using these words do give you the power to "manipulate the responses" of people whose values are rooted in the Canadian culture. We are a proudly polite (and some other cultures might argue pretentiously polite) people. We love that about ourselves and I for one hope that we never let this virtue be taken away from us. When you employ these social contrivances you tell other people that you have enough respect for them and empathy for them as fellow human beings to adhere to these somewhat cumbersome conventions. And when my two year old son tells the bakery lady at Safeway "tah tu", he has just manage to earn huge social currency in that interpersonal interaction; social currency that will earn large dividends someday when he interacts with other "more traditional elders" who hold the balance of power in our society. Is this why we do it? Hopefully not. But it sure is a nice perk. In this age of globalization we have to decide which uniquely Canadian qualities we want to keep and defend. I believe that our adherence to this Canadian value is one of our great gifts to the world and all of the other cultures that come to be part of our great experiment. Pleases and thank yous are important. Magic words are magical after all.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why do we continue to make it so hard to become a teacher?

The learning that I have done in this past 12 months eclipses most of the learning that I have done in the preceding 33 years. I learn about my students and my self every day in the classroom but I have been off site many times during the course of this year attending professional development opportunities around mathematics. This has stretched me and challenged me in ways that I had never anticipated. I remember writing down on one of the exit surreys that I wondered if there would be anything left of me mathematically by the time that I felt like a "real" math teacher. I'm not there yet but I can tell you that the old mathematical me would probably feel the need to introduce himself to the new mathematical me.

In the spirit of feeling like you need to know everything about anything as a new teacher, I have continued to seek out new learning and growing opportunities. I am a part of a Professional Development Consortium's Math Cohort for new teachers. As a part of this pilot project I have been experiencing digital learning in the form of webinars.
So far I have been disappointed in the product that has been offered to us and I'm not sure why. For the most part it has been a bunch of open ended questions that people feel silly answering because they really elicit no imagination to answer in the 45 seconds of dead air that is left hanging there. "Now that you have been reminded of Gardner's eight intelligences, how might this help you create a learner profile in your classroom?" Now, I am a graduate of the Master of Education at the University of Calgary so you would think that I should be socialized to this, shall we say, idealistic approach at "inviting" learners to "inquire" into their own constructed knowledge but when the moderator is saying things like "I knew that I could out wait you!" when someone finally answers, this is no longer inviting. It has become something completely different. And does it sound like it is engaging or compelling?

This has been a common theme in teacher education as far as I can tell. I would suggest that it's a problem. I have heard anecdotal reports that in some divisions a new teacher has about a 50% chance of surviving in the business to their fifth year of teaching. That means that a significant portion of the new teachers that graduate from the various universities this year will not be teaching in five years. Is it because these other folks didn't have what it took to be the martyrs that many teachers become? Should that be the main criteria for having the privilege of being a teacher? Here I have to reel myself in a bit because it won't do much good to go into a big philosophical rant about how we are shifting our pedagogical approach for students but not for teachers and how this ritualistic and punctilious thinning of the heard is a vestige of a hierarchical society that treated information and knowledge as a currency and did not truly appreciate the power of collaboration. I know, preaching to the choir won't get any converts.

Now, I don't think that I would be much of a teacher if I just tore this experience to shreds without at least coming up with some suggestions. If I was running a little webinar on creating learner profiles for differentiated learners I would find some way to provide some authentic case studies. We're doing this over the web so it could be done by video of real or acting students, in comic form, or even just boring old typed out narrative but at least now we have something to sink our teeth in to. Next I would give the learners some tools to start to organize their observations and impressions. After we had shared with one another, I would provide the learners with two or three different exemplars of how successful, seasoned veteran teachers would gather, organize and utilize the pertinent and salient information. At the end we would all take turns sharing with the group any "Ah ha!" moments we may of experienced and what we will change in our practice in the future as a result of our newly constructed understanding.

It is this exemplar bit that I really feel is missing for increasing our proficiency and efficacy as teachers. I never have understood why supplying templates and examples to beginning teachers is such a taboo. If you have made it this far then please take the next step and let me know what you think. Why do we continue to make it so hard to become a teacher?

If it was easy everyone would be doing it!

As you can tell, I still have not got the hang of this whole blogging thing yet. Like most of us I'm sure, I do have good intentions but I just have not found a way to make this mode of communication fit into my paradigm. But those paradigms are always a shifting so I am still hopeful.

One thing that still makes me a little leery about this whole process is that I am afraid of the permanency of this artifact of who I was. Probably a year from now I will look back at this and wonder who that dim wit was that was impersonating me on this blog. The real problem is that I really am quite opinionated and when you compound that with the fact that I am quite passionate about my beliefs, you get me traipsing over lines that I only set out to explore the boundaries of. So if you happen to stumble across any of my meandering missives please keep this caveat in mind: I question because I care. It is this quality caring that is the head water from which all of my other worthwhile capacities are derived. These are what I will bring with me to the classroom each and every day.
Oaks, Linda. canada_9.jpg.
Pics4Learning. 8 Apr 2010