Sunday, October 31, 2010

Toaster Questions: more ways to teach Math

Toaster Question from David Cox on Vimeo.

In another great blog post by Dan Meyer, I found this video by David Cox. Watch it and see if you don't wonder what you should do with it.

In a previous post on Dan's TED talk, I learned that the way we pose math problems to kids can be limiting and convergent. Since viewing his TED talk I have tried to use his strategy in my everday math classes. It has been fun to have such a powerful strategy. I have not created videos for these lessons, I have just been making up examples that are open ended and missing enough information that the kids have to assist in creating the problem.

One simple example of my earliest attempts is this question:

John wants to have a bath and fills the tub partially (a fraction) full with hot water. He soaks for a short time and then decides the water is not hot enough. While he has been soaking his sister has had a long shower and drained most of the hot water. He adds another fraction of a full tub with colder water. How much of a full tub does he have and what is the temperature of the water after the second fill?

Some of the variables the students mentioned and asigned a value were:

  • first fractional fill
  • second fractional fill

  • temperature of the water, first fill, second fill

  • volume of John's body

  • temperature of the room

  • volume of the tub

This is really fun for me and the students look forward to the divergent thinking and creating of the problem.

Back to the toaster problem, it took me a moment to think how this could be used in my class, but it has great potential. How would you use this in your math class?

Metanoia, Ryan Bretag

I have recently added Ryan Bretag's blog to my google reader. He has great posts and I look forward to including him in my learning network. He writies about the recent criticism of American schools on Oprah and "Waiting for Superman". His prescription for American schools includes:

1. We need to address poor teaching and ineffective teachers
2. We need to focus on student achievement
3. We need to create a system that holds schools accountable
4. We need to focus on growing effective educators: teachers and administrators
5. We need to review legacy and archaic concepts that govern too many schools such as the length of the school day, the school calendar, tenure, curriculum, grades, etc.

It is inspiring to me that so many people from all across the world are writing about school reform and coming to many of the same conclusions. I am happy and honored to be in the trenches and in a good position to influence the future of education in my province.

Did You Know 2.0

Pretty sure many of you would have seen this. Have a look if you haven't.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why Wikis Are Beautiful: in case you didn't know

Sharing is beautiful and, according to Dean Shareski, an obligation!

Apple's Challenge Based Curriculum

I stumbled onto Apple's Challenge Based Curriculum in my reading. It's remarkable the resources available on-line. Among other things, the site includes challenges on the topics of:

  • water

  • air

  • food

  • energy

  • resources

  • apathy

  • blindsight

  • diversity

  • individual

  • group

There are great resources, mostly on video, outlining the process, key components and lots more. Check it out!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Interview with Will Richardson

Will Richardson is interviewed about education and how it needs to change to keep pace with the world. As he says in his blog, there is nothing too new here. The interview is worth looking at. My favorite point he makes is that we need to rethink how we learn, not just how we teach. Also included:
  • he talks about that we need to experiment with new ways, but that those experiments had better work or it is unfair to the children.
  • assessment in schools and how it doesn't match 21st century skills.
  • we can't wait for 21st century skills assessment to be developed before we teach the skills.
  • Kids need to learn how to learn from the numerous expert sources of information on-line.
  • He talks about 1:1 computing failing because teachers don't dive deeper into the curriculum.
  • internet safety being embedded in the curriculum
  • cultural diversity can come alive using blogs and collaborative sites
  • some students and parents don't want to change as they have the school system figured out. We need to engage people in the conversation about 21st century skills and schools.

Celebrating Success at Confed: web site design and google readers

Our school is part of a system-wide technology inititative and our school objective is "to have every teacher use technology effectively in two different ways to improve instruction and literacy". Days after getting that objective on the google doc, we are talking about dreaming much bigger. Our new objective may be much broader, describing cultural and structural changes empowering 21st century learners.

Change is fun to watch and it can be infectious. One of our gifted teachers has taken it upon himself to learn how to create a classroom web page. He has chosen wix as the tool. He is beside himself with how easy it is to do and the power to create and communicate. He can hardly wait to show his class and has plans to have his kids all make their own. He will share his success with the staff at this week's staff meeting. I have no doubt that many more teachers will be eager look at what web 2.0 tools mean for their classrooms.

Another classroom is blogging. The goal of which is to read, to communicate in writing and to build a network of learners. To assist them in this we will teach them how to use an RSS feed or google reader. We are very excited to be using a 21st century tool to improve literacy instruction.

It is an honour to work with a team who believe in the potential of each child, able to discuss openly the merits of all ideas, to look towards 21st century innovation and to chart an effective course of learning for each child.

Are You Ready for MOOC Learning?

Would you like to learn in a Massive Open On-line Course (MOOC)? If you are you can do so on the Networks and Knowledge 2010 site here. It's amazing the number of ways there are to learn using the internet. Learning has never been so fun!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Teaching is Sharing

Check out Dean Shareski's K-12 on-line conference keynote. He talks about teaching as sharing, sharing as an obligation. Not just to students in our buildings, but to the world. Works for me! All of us can learn from the top educators in the world! Blogging inspires your teaching.Sharing on-line means that "students are the direct beneficiaries of the work of others".

Teachers who share ideas are inspired by the learning and communicating of ideas. Blogging has certainly inspired my teaching. Try it, you don't have to be the best teacher in the world to share.

As part of a technology committee in Saskatoon, I often talk about the need for teachers to become a community instead of a committee. Teachers have had great ideas in their classrooms for a long time. Too often these ideas are not shared. How hard can it be for us to share our best ideas with each other with today's tools? Dean makes a strong case that sharing is an obligation and not an option!

What is a 21st Century Learner: David Warlick

David Warlick has written a great post about the difference between students and learners. I would recommend that you follow the link and that you talk about it with your class, if you are a teacher. Often, I am faced with having to define what a 21st century learner is. The chart that Warlick has on this post goes a long way to defining it. Have a look!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dan Meyer TED Talks: Math

Dan Meyer talks about how exciting it is to teach math in today's world. I was so taken with the power of his message that I have subscribed to his blog and will begin to change the way I teach math on Monday! I can hardly wait! You really have to check him out.

He begins by listing his students roadblocks to learning math:

1. lack of initiative
2. lack perserverence
3. lack of retention
4. aversion to word problems
5. eagerness for formula

The way most of us teach math now (textbooks and cookie cutter problems) does not lead to mathematical thinking and problem solving. We teach "impatience with irresolution". We (and textbooks) present a compelling question with one answer and congratulate them when they get to the one correct solution.

He quotes Einstein who said, "The formulation of a problem is often more essential than it's solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill."

He gives great video examples of the following techniques in the 21st century math classroom:

1. Use multi-media
2. encourage student intuition
3. ask the shortest question you can
4. let students build the problem
5. be less helpful

Join me in following Dan to have great math minds in our classrooms and share what you learn and create in an on-line community!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Learners in Your School

I have just read David Warlick's blog post, "10+ Ways to Promote a Learning Culture in your School". It contains some great ideas for modelling a learning culture and seems to reflect what Will Richardson told the audience at the IT conference in Saskatoon in 2009. Paraphrased, he said, "If you can't offer your class 21st century learning, the least you can do is to participate as a 21st century learner yourself". Write a blog, make a web page, get a google reader account, collaborate with colleagues on-line, build an on-line network of learners, learn some web 2.0 tools, use social networking, model this for kids!

Warlick's best idea for me is for teachers to reserve a bulletin board or a blog or a wiki that shows the school what they are learning. I have heard so many times the importance of staff being learners themselves. Do your kids teachers qualify as learners, 21st century learners, self-directed, collaborative, creative? Do I? Do you?

ADD and a New Paradigm for Schools: Dr. Ken Robinson

Dr. Ken Robinson talks about a new paradigm for education on this video that is not new to me! As someone who has been trying to change the way my classroom works for the last number of years, I realize the underlying structure of schools needs to change for schools to be modernized. We need to stop teaching subjects as separate entitities, stop teaching students by grade, stop medicating students, stop factory line, stop one-size fits all education, stop education based on age, stop standardization and stop one answer thinking.

Of interest in his presentation is the prevalence of A.D.D. in the U.S. He makes a strong case for A.D.D. being an artificial/fictitious epidemic and a by-product of our education system. Schools are not meeting the needs of our students who are inundated with information from various sources at home and bored at school. He claims these kids are being anaesthesized at school. Intriguing at the least!

He talks about a study of divergent thinking. Kindergarten students tested for divergent thinking scored 98% for genius level at divergent thinking. This is documented in the book "Break Point and Beyond". In this longitudinal study when the kids were retested their divergent thinking ability decreases with time. He claims school is the cause of this decline.

I love his idea of valueing collaborative learning in schools. Makes me think I need to give tests in a different way! Watch the video and see what you think.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Game for Learning Math

Joe Bower posted this math game on his site. The game can be downloaded for the site bigbrainz. There are many more games on this site. Check them out, they look great, maybe not higher level thinking, but engaging games to teach foundational skills. One might argue that these types of games have been around a long time. Would you use them?

Valedictory speech

I was reading a post on the Startl blog site. It contains a valedictory speech from a student named Erica Goldson. In it, she takes some pretty good shots at how schools drum the creativity out of students. She claims that she excelled at school, yet learned very little. She wonders if the students who doodled in class went on to be famous artists, leaving her as an "obedient, non-creative learner" (my words). Excelling for the sake of excelling instead of learning as she writes.
It reminds me a lot of my first year educational philosophy class. We were asked to read papers on the purpose of schools. One paper in particular stated that the purpose of school is to socialize a work force that would work according to an acceptable social structure. I have posted a blog post with a video describing a similar view.

Erica's speech has made me think of my quest to empower creative, self-directed, critical thinkers in my classroom. Is it possible for students to be all of the above without at first developing "educational obedience" and great work habits, reaching superior standards of effort and performance on lower level foundational skills? How much work can be done on collaboration, creativity and critical thinking if the knowledge base and habits of mind are not hammered in first?

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of "The Tipping Point ", talks about the 10000 hour rule. This rule is one that states to reach excellence at any task, you must spend three times a week for a decade honing your skills. Gladwell seems to be supporting the need for schools to be places where much of the time is spent on foundational skills and knowledge.

The other day I was talking to a grade two teacher about how she could use technology to teach higher order thinking. Her first comment was that her class needed to learn how to write a sentence and could use a computer to do that, in the process learning how to save files and to type. Although this hardly seems to justify a tool as powerful as a computer, this seems hard to argue with, in part because I know so little about teaching grade twos.

Of course this story doesn't negate the necessity of teaching higher order thinking, creativity and collaboration to grade twos. It simply reminds me how difficult it is to practice these skills if the student knowledge and skill base is low.

Many, many years ago I went to an inservice put on by a teacher who was visiting from China. At the end of the day, I approached him and asked him if he thought that the North American educational system taught creativity differently than in China. He responded by telling me about how children were taught art in China. They were required to practice writing their characters for literally hours per day, for years. Brush strokes and subtle differences in texture needed years to perfect. His point was much the same as Gladwell's, that great artists spend time on the tedious before they accomplish the glorious.

I wonder sometimes if I get this backwards.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How to Boil a Frog

If you haven't checked out the movie "How to Boil a Frog", have a look. It is very funny and addresses climate change from a unique perspective. More important than that, the founder uses the power of the internet, specifically Youtube, as a social action tool. He calls for people who don't like what they see to video it and send it to him. A very good example of 21st century social action, crowdsourcing, collaboration and creativity.

I believe that we need to teach our students 21st century vocabulary even though they are immersed in social media. They need to be taught how to be creative, collaborative, socially active, critical thinkers and crowdsourcers in a positive and productive way.

How are you teaching these skills in your school?

Give it time, donkey?

I was talking to a colleague of mine who had just read an article in the Globe and Mail about technology and schools. The writer's point was that schools will become 21st century schools in time, no matter what we do to speed it along. Too many people are living with the tools of the 21st century for schools to stay in the dark ages for much longer. Given enough time, schools will adjust accordingly.

This reminds me of a conversation I have had with a friend of mine. I have not seen this friend for a long time and have not asked his permission to use his name, so he will remain nameless. He was a guest presenter at one of my school camps. He was the "traditional knowledge keeper". He was there as an amazingly gifted First Nations teacher. His expertise was based on years of interviewing First Nations elders. I loved his cultural backgound and perspective. He taught us all a lot. We got into a conversation about healing the relationship between First Nations people and non-First Nations people. He told me that he thought that since the wounds in the relationship took two hundred years to acrue, time was the main thing needed for true healing.

Healing for First Nations people will happen. Changing our schools for 21st century learners may well happen if we do nothing but wait for it to evolve. Positive change is coming, perhaps I can hurry it along.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Joe Bower on 21st century education

Joe Bower ususally posts about the evils of grading and testing (I agree with him). He has written a post recently that is about 21st century education. I am convinced that many teachers don't have clue what we are talking about when we say 21st century education. Joe Bower does a great job of reminding us of something I say all the time, "Great teaching is great teaching, always has been always will be!"

He says it in a more eloquent way. The great minds of learning and psychology have framed progressive education years ago. Collecting knowledge and thinking have not been the same thing forever and men like Piaget have described this to us long ago. Arguably, the main difference in 21st century education is that technology alows us to not spend so much time accumulating lower order knowledge and to persue higher order thinking. (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking)

Joe writes:

If we really care about getting school reform right in the 21st Century, then we have to go back to two men from the previous century who have framed how we think of truly progressive education - John Dewey and Jean Piaget.Dewey's message focused on democracy as a way of life, not just a form of government, and that "thinking is something that emerges from our shared experiences and activities."

Piaget taught us that "even very young children play an active role in making sense of things, 'constructing' reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.If we take the work of Dewey and Piaget seriously, we have to acknowledge that the best kind of education we can provide our children has nothing to do with the date on the calendar and more to do with understanding how children learn.In the end, I have one question about the 21st Century: will the politicians and policy makers figure out what Dewey and Piaget figured out in the 20th Century, and will they listen to the modern day education experts such as Linda Darling-Hammond, Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Yong Zhao and Constance Kami."

When you try to convince your staff of the need to be a 21st century school, you can frame it with reference to what Piaget and Dewey have taught us years ago?

Webcasts for Teachers

Curriculum Services Canada has a website that posts webcasts for teachers. This is another great example of the variety of learning resources for teachers on-line. Why not consider making this part of your RSS/google reader feeds. Examples of the available webcasts are:

Engaging boys

Teacher Learning- Critical Pathways

Critical Literacy

School Effectiveness Framework

All Children Can Achieve

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Diana Rhoten: "We are not waiting on superman, we are empowering superheroes"

I have been reading about the movie "Waiting for Superman" which is about schools in the U.S. Although I have not seen it, Diana Rhoten writes about it in one of the most thoughtful posts I've read in a while. I would really urge you to check out her entire post, I have added her blog to my feeds and look forward to more.

According to Rhoten, the main message of the movie is that the education system in the U.S. is failing kids and their families left and right. Furthermore, the movie claims that the adults in the system – particularly, the teachers unions – are responsible for letting the public-school system devolve to the state of crisis it’s in today.

According to Rhoten, all of the recommendations the movie makes for fixing schools have been tried before and they haven't worked.

She says, "I believe we need to reframe the problem and the conversation, from one about re-forming schooling to one about re-thinking education and re-imagining learning." Her plan to re-think involves three assumptions (see her blog for full text).

Assumption 1:

"The future of education is about learning not schooling. If we continue to limit our thinking about education to 28 students,1 teacher,1500 square feet between the hours of 8 to 3, we are condemning today’s fourth graders to exactly the same educational experience that I got in 1976, that my father got in 1946, and that his father got in 1916.

And, as long as we constrain ourselves to thinking about education in terms of these traditional parameters of schooling and not frame the conversation about learning as something that happens anywhere, anytime, by default we limit our ability to imagine alternatives that could actually get us out of the crisis we’re in today."

Many others have said that the same thing.

Assumption 2:

"Technology is not an end in itself but a means to an end, and that end is better learning....

.... to date most of technology applications in the education sector have been about increasing the efficiency of institutional schooling rather than improving the efficacy of individual learning. But, what if we designed new technologies for the learner rather than the school administrator?"

I believe that we are talking about a change in the culture of schools. My own experiences prove that even realizing culture changes within my own classroom are not easy.

Assumption 3:

..."We don’t believe in simply throwing technology over the fence and seeing what happens....

...Our vision of technologically enabled learning is not one of the lone child sitting at her desktop (or laptop) passively consuming PDFs or browsing Web pages. We believe the potential of technology for learning is much greater. We believe its power resides in its ability to deliver active and interactive experiences where a learner participates in the very construction of knowledge by crafting and curating, mixing and re-mixing information with digital tools, a process which can be and should be greatly augmented by online and offline social interactions between friends, in a community of peers, or an extended network of people (both professional and amateur) who share her interests."

She gives her three aspirations.

Aspiration 1:

"We want to be disruptive in our work. Our goal is to “shock the system” by bringing to light concrete, real life, radical examples of what the future of learning could really look like. Both in terms of the technological tools and the social contexts. If we are doing business as usual, we will have failed. "

Aspiration 2:

"We see our work as taking place on the edges....Better to demonstrate what could be than to wait for what might be."

Innovation often means initial failures.

Aspiration 3:

"We want to work with thinkers and doers, makers and movers beyond the “usual suspects.”Our success depends on our ability to recruit talented folks who haven’t necessarily considered themselves stakeholders in the system before and to engaging their expertise, their insights, and their resources to solve this problem."

She goes on to say that people working in the system are needed and important as well. In my opinion, it's about time we listened to and empowered the innovators or our public schools will be the subject of the next high profile movie.

Don't Forget Who We Are Teaching!

This video from Learn Alberta reminds me to see the students as young adults with the potential to do practically anything with their lives, in spite of my teaching. I always try to keep in mind that they will all be adults one day and will have an opinion as to whether or not I did my job well.