Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Big Bear and Cultural Responsiveness

I know that I write about educational change and 21st century classrooms. Today I feel like I should give you a book report of sorts. I was excited to get an e-copy of "Big Bear" by Rudy Wiebe for my Sony Reader. I teach in Treaty 6 country and was amazed at the compelling story told about Big Bear, Poundmaker and others. I consider myself well read and culturally responsive and I am excited to have found such a great resource, yet I am embarrassed I have not read more on our history told by it's original peoples. This book is truly one of the best I have read in a while.
Treaty Map
Here a few excerpts:

"The running hooves drummed Big Bear into another country, calling and calling, as the buffalo effortlessly fanned out before him. The gashed wounds left in the animals' flanks by hunters they had once and then again outrun dripped brilliant red in the rhythmic bunch and release of their muscles, and then there was only one great cow running, floating strong, growing large until beside him streamed the tufted stick of her tail, the rolling leap of muscle in her hindquarters, and he felt life surge within her, her heart in that violent, happy thunder as she ran true the great curve of Earth, as he drifted along her flank, and for an instant his arrow pointed at her, one instant and its feathers burst in the course hair behind her shoulder. And her rhythm rippled momentarily, her heart staggered as his arrow feathers flamed into double blossom. Then his horse had to swing sharply aside or he would have pitched her over her, falling.
He stood where her magnificent head furrowed the ground and he prayed, asking forgiveness of the Buffalo Spirit for this death, giving thanks for the life that had thereby been granted. And saw a coyote standing on a rise beyond her, mouth open laughing. And he also saw what Coyote was laughing at: a fountain of blood growing out of the ground like a hideous prairie lily opening upward, and he stretched out his hands to stop that. But it burst between his fingers, higher, he would never be able to squash it back into the earth, while Coyote on another rise now stood laughing, mouth open. As his whole world changed to blood."

I was amazed at the stories shared by descendants of people that were there when the treaties were signed, the buffalo disappeared, the land bought, the battles at Cutknife, Frog Lake, Cypress Hills and Batoche.

One of the most notable things I had to look at from a new perspective was how the treaties promised that the Indians would be looked after when the buffalo were gone. Nothing could be farther from the truth, they could not be expected to become farmers at the drop of a hat. I was not aware of the level of suffering and starvation in the Indian people, most notably the followers of Big Bear who refused to sign the treaty that looked to him like a lie.

The numbers in the book paint a grim picture of Indian assimilation.
  • In 1870, there were 40 000 total Indians in treaty areas.
  • In 1880, there were 32 549
  • In 1885, there were 20 170
If you are a Canadian, you must read this book! You could be like John A. McDonald who never visited the west, saw only a handful of Indian people and made decisions regarding all of these proud people from a distance. None of us should remain distant from our history. To truly understand the plight of First Nation and Metis people all of us need to continue to seek knowledge from one another.

Math for Primates

I had fun listening to a blog called "math for primates" which is a fun series of math podcasts. I found this on a blog called "Great Math Teaching Ideas" that gives a list fo great math blogs. I listened to the one entitled "Infinity and Beyond". It is filled with interesting math philosophical challenges which I am sure would appeal to kids in my class, at least some of them. I would recommend that you preview the podcasts before using them in class.

The first topic deals with infinity and math as a predictive science. The first example is of a person wants to leave his house to go tho the beach. Each time he steps out towards the door he steps half way out. the second time he steps 1/4 of the total way. The next 1/8. Does he ever leave the house?

Another example could be that is that you have a cube shaped container that you pour water into. Each time you fill half the available space. If you continue to do this an infinite amount of times, will the container ever be full?

There are many more interesting podcasts, I can hardly wait to try them on my students. I am also adding this to my feeds and my math wiki. Hope you enjoy it.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Risk of Not Changing

Image from http://imgs/xkcd.com/comics/conditional_risk.png

I got this cartoon and from Great Math Teaching Ideas. William Emery suggests that it be used as a starter for a unit on conditional probability. This is a great idea, I probably will.

The cartoon had another meaning for me. The educational context of this is that we can keep on teaching in the same way as we always have and we could be just fine. The risk of being wrong is just too high for me to make that decision.




Becoming Excellent and School Schedules

Ryan Bretag (Metanoia) has posted a video by about a school where students are given a portfolio at the beginning of their time at a school. The idea is that they learn deeply about a topic over the years and therefore are enthused and creative learners.


I have a class blog where students pick a topic. They are then to read and write extensively on that topic, exploring it in detail. This is the first year I have done this. I think it has been a success in some ways and not in others. I thought I'd show you some of their writing so that you could get the idea and to judge whether or not my idea has been effective.

Carter writes

The current record holder for the most 3-pointers made is Reggie Miller (who is retired). Reggie has made 2,560 3-pointers made in his career. He has attempted 6,486 3-point shots. Reggie's 3-point percentage is .395. Reggie has played 1,389 games.

Ray Allen is 1 three pointer away from tying the record. Ray has made 2,559 3-pointers. He has attempted 6,425. Ray's 3-point percentage is .398 and he has played 1,075 games. Ray has less games played and less shots taken but he has just as many 3- pointers made. This would technically make him a better shooter.

I personaly think Ray Allen is a better shooter because he has less shots taken but more made. I also think this because he is still playing and probably won't be retiring soon. Ray Allen is also playing for argueably the best team in the NBA right now (Boston Celtics). Although the NBA isn't all about shooting threes it is still a big part of the game.

Kayla writes

I know, I've been gone for awhile... Two weeks? Three? Four, even!? I don't know.

Now, lets get down to BUSINESS.

Fruits Bakset, Furutsu Basuketto, Furuba.... This Anime is amazing. <3>

Honda Tohru is 16-year-old orphaned girl who gets invited to live in the house of her classmate, the oh-so-handsome boy Sohma Yuki, and his cousins; 16 year old Kyo and 27 year old Shigure. However, these boys and parts of the rest of their family, both close and distant, hold a curse; if they are hugged by a member of the opposite gender, they transform into animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Everyday is an adventure for Tohru, as she gets to know everyone in the large Sohma family better, such as the mysterious head of the family, Akito, in both common and very wierd situations. But, the Sohma Family curse is certainly no laughing matter… it also holds terrible cruelity and heartbreak.


Hang on... I'm having an emotional moment...

No, I'm kidding.

Fruits Basket, is the second best Anime I've ever seen. Not kidding this time.

Its funny, yet serious. Shocking, yet calm. I like that.


Want some pictures? You know you do ;)


Mackenzie writes


Hey guys and girls. I hope you're doing well, I am. So let's get to it.

If you haven't guessed what I'm talking about this week you make me want to laugh. It's clear as day in the title, "Tyra Banks". She's an amazing and talented woman. What I think makes her talented is the is a model (a VERY good one I might add), she takes great photos and she's gorgeous.

She has a talk show called the Tyra Show. She has done some very funny episodes but she usually likes to touch on very important issues and things we should know. A rather funny one she did was called the "Period Show". Everyone had to wear shirts with a black dot on it and they talked about womens periods. It was quite funny but very usefull.
A serious one was teen mariagge. They had one girl who was still in high school and she was fifteen I believe. But also she was taking fertility drugs to try and get pregnant. She was taking way more than even a grown woman does.


In my eyes Tyra is great. She's 36 years old and she is an African American woman and she's proud of it. She teaches that whoever you are, no matter what color, you're special and you have the right to belong.

and finally Tanner


Today I am going to talk about Excitebike: World Rally. Excitebike: World Rally is a WiiWare game made by Nintendo and released in 2009. Excitebike: World Rally costs 1000 Wii points or $10.00 USD.


For a Wiiware game it actually has very good graphics. The terrain is different depending on what track you are on. You can see the numbers on the fronts of the bikes etc. The design of the main menu is nice it has the modes with little checkered flags. It looks really nice in spite of the cartoonish graphics. The colours of the bikes are unlocked slowly as you gain S Ranked medals. To start out you have two colours red and blue.


Graphics: 7/10


The gameplay consists of racing against the clock with the other racers only there to try and diminish your progress. You have the gas, turbo, and wheelie buttons along with the ability to change lanes. The tracks consist of different locales from Canada to Japan and everywhere inbetween. Each track is different and there are at least 16 tracks. There are many different ramps terrain and competitors on each track. Doing a wheelie right when you hit the top of a ramp you gain extra air, but make sure you steer the bike to a smooth landing or else you will wipe out. Wiping out can occur from landing badly,hitting someone or using the turbo to the point of overheating. The gameplay is very simplistic but very addicting and fun.


Gameplay: 9/10

I agree with Egan about deep learning and excellence. I'm still trying to figure out how best to accomplish it with my students. I'll keep trying!










Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lessons Learned: Adventures in Digital StoryTelling

In the month of February and March my students have been producing digital stories about immigration. This is a very important project for us as it combines what we have learned about writing, critical thinking and digital story telling. You can check out our planning template on our multi-media wiki.

We began by framing our critical question which was, simply put, "Who Should We Let Immigrate to Canada?" They were to research two separate immigrant stories (push/pull factors) and in the end, decide which story was the most compelling and would be first on the list to come to Canada. They would have to create a set of criteria to make their decision.

Here are two examples of our students' work:





This was a very rewarding process that took a lot of class time. I believed the students learned a lot about researching, communicating, critical thinking, writing and digital story telling.

In random order, here's what I learned:

1. Begin with a well-framed critical question. Teach and practice the process of critical thinking throughout the curriculum. The question should be engaging, relevant and realistic.

2. Good writing is the foundation of good digital story telling. Don't let anyone skip the steps of the writing process. Many students find digital story telling more engaging than writing. They are indeed nearly the same process. Good digital stories are structured in much the same way as good writing and they share most of the same elements (suspense, emotion, action, etc.).

3. Some students don't like technology!

4. Don't assume all students have intuition and skills for technology. They will teach one another for the most part, budget time to teach a little bit on the tools.

5. New technology (onetruemedia, jaycut, photostory, windows movie maker) is not that different from old technology (power point).

6. Using voice is a great idea and adds another layer of brain involvement for kids. In addition to that, if students would write it as they would say it, they would communicate more effectively.

7. Each of the media choices has strengths and weaknesses. Onetruemedia costs money to publish to the web, yet it has a library of music and is easier to embed to the web. Photostory doesn't allow inserting video, yet is user friendly. Windows movie doesn't allow voice recording, yet is intuitive and easy to use. Power point is not flashy and 2.0, yet enables you to do most of the same things as the others.

8. Children still need help reading and taking jot notes.

9. Critical thinking is a novel concept to many and needs to be taught and modelled. Occasionally you do hit the jackpot. I had two students not able to decide which group to let immigrate and had an argument on the phone for 45 minutes about it.

10. Spelling matters as much or more in digital story telling as in writing.

11. Storyboarding is a must. Students use their writing as a guide.

12. Looking for images after the story boarding extends learning about the topic and the creating of criteria.

13. Music really does provide 50% of the drama and emotional effect. Spend time choosing music carefully.

14. It is not all that hard to find great copyright free images and music.

15. Google advanced search has an option to search for basic reading level (grade eight).

I would encourage teachers to give digital story telling a whirl!

The Probability of Rolling Up the Rim!




Believe it or not this is part of a formula to calculate the probability of winning in "roll up the rim". For those of you who are non-Canadians this is a promotional campaign for Tim Horton's coffee. Interested?


My point for posting this has nothing to do with coffee, or for that matter probability. I never would have found this if it wasn't for twitter. I have created a math feed on my tweetdeck and I find great stuff on here. Lots of garbage too. The formula above is from a post by AndrewEckford.

Why don't you give twitter and tweetdeck a try if you aren't already? You'll find it doesn't take a lot of time and you'll increase your opportunities to learn.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

59th Minute

I grew up watching the National Film Board short films like every other Canadian of my vintage. I remember them for their short, compelling films; some of them entertaining, others educational. "The Hockey Sweater", "The Cat Came Back" and many others.

My first teachers' convention that I remember was when David Suzuki came and spoke to us. It was there that I first heard the "how to boil a frog" story. I'm not sure it was his analogy, but it had a great deal of influence on my thinking over the years. I gave my first speech at a graduation based on what I heard Suzuki say at that convention.

The NFB and David Suzuki are a natural and winning combination. He has done a short interactive NFB film about exponential growth and the 59th minute. As usual, he says in 2.5 minutes what may take me a much longer time in my classroom.

I plan on using this to teach math and science. I have put the link on our math wiki page along with other great links, many of which are from Dan Meyer's blog. I have also got a cells wiki page and I thought it would be a great way to introduce that whole unit.

Hope you can use it. Thanks David.

Collaborative Inquiry Team Day

I am so proud of the Saskatoon Board of Education (SBE) in their efforts to provide great, relevant professional development opportunities for teachers and to enable community schools to set and achieve high standards. Today I attended a collaborative inquiry team (CIT) expo where we were given the opportunity to share our progress and our goals with other CIT groups and schools.

This type of PD for teachers is state of the art in my opinion. The idea behind it is that teachers get together in groups and determine what they want to learn, how they will learn it, how they will measure it and how they will communicate their learning. I have purposely phrased this in Alfie Kohn's language that he uses for student learning. Why should the principles of great student learning be any different from professional development for teachers?

This type of PD is locally determined, relevant to each teacher and each school, teacher driven, enables deep learning, differentiated learning, collaborative, data driven, is facilitated by administration rather than mandated/authoritative and has led to much rich discussion within and outside of our school.

Specifically, I had the privilege to connect with colleagues Jeff Elliot, Chris Clarke and Bob Shmon. It is always fun for me when I am in a situation to share ideas to improve educational practices with passionate and skilled people. One of the ideas behind this type of learning is that everyone has something to offer and to build on (constructivism at it's best).

I learned about how they were using the SBE virtual classroom, their version of critical thinking, using writing exemplars, co-constructing criteria with students, metacognition in class newsletters, alternate classroom structures, using technology to engage students, video making and reading comprehension strategies. I took a stab at getting them to share their work ideas in an on-line PLC.

My own school CIT group had time to review our progress and to take aim at our next step. This was very rewarding and productive for all involved. Hats off to our board for providing the framework for a great PD day and the promise of more to come!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gelosia Method of Multiplication: mindmaster.org

I stumbled on what I thought was site that had great potential, mathmaster.org. I embedded the video below from mathmaster. Have a look at it.





Usable for your class? OK, here is my take. (my comments are based on this one video) Real gains in understanding math at a higher level or the conceptual level are what we should be teaching kids. Once they are able to multiply from 1 X 1 to 9 X 9 we should encourage them to use a calculator and to process higher level thinking and imaginative real life challenges. This video seems cool at first. Really, it is just more of the same routine computational mathematics which has been emphasized for far too long in our classrooms.


The beauty of blogging, everyone has an opinion. What do you think?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Traditional Math Word Problems

Dan Meyer has written a post including advice from years ago for students who have difficulty solving word problems. Check out his post for details.

Here is the problem from years ago:

Mrs. Mahoney went shopping for some canned goods which were on sale. She bought three times as many cans of tomatoes as cans of peaches. The number of cans of tuna was twice the number of cans of peaches. If Mrs. Mahoney purchased a total of 24 cans, how many of each did she buy?

David responds in the comments:

"My question would be, why would we want students to solve these problems? What would be the purpose?"

I find this an intriguing question.

The other day in my classroom the kids were doing problems from a problem solving workbook. Yes, I still cling to it but am phasing in more of Dan Meyer's kind of "conceptual problem solving". (I have written extensively, much of it based on his ideas, on this kind of problem solving, choose the tag "math" on this blog)

I have talked with my students a lot about the different levels of thinking in math and the importance of conceptualizing, relevance, real-life problems and computation in learning math. One of my best math students came up to me and complained about a problem in the book because it was irrelevant and had no real-life implications. Guess I reap what I sow. I looked again at the problem. Here it is:

"Four men were stranded on a desert island and collected some coconuts and then fell asleep. The first woke up hungry and ate 1/3 of the coconuts. The second woke up and had 1/3, the third woke and had 1/3 as well. The fourth woke and took his share. There were 6 coconuts left at the end. How many coconuts were left?"

My workbook is filled with these questions. How would you respond to this student? What came to mind and how I rationalized it to him was that really smart people like Einstein were famous for thought experiments like "what if we traveled faster than the speed of light", or "what if you were on a train moving 200 km/hr and a light was shined from a stationary source going in the opposite direction". These thought experiments have little relevance to many of us but they "are" useful to improve the reasoning power of our brains. They strengthen synapses which may benefit us in ways not apparent to us at the present time.

I added that by working on such problems in groups I was actually more interested in developing collaboration and communication skills than the answer to a somewhat irrelevant or unrealistic math problem.

As I tell my students, a reflective learner will have more questions than answers. Here are some of mine. It would be fun for you to help me with these!

How do you answer the tough questions about math in your class?

Do your kids ask them?

How do you teach math problem solving in your class?

Are traditional math problems an effective way to teach problem solving skills and strategies?

Do your kids show improvement in problem solving ability and/or computation skills because of traditional math problem solving?

Have you tried the kinds of techniques Dan Meyer writes about?

What kind of balance do you strike between computation/technique based math and conceptual real-life problem solving challenges?

Where do you get your ideas and activities for conceptual real-life, relevant math challenges?
What other methods do you use?


Saturday, March 5, 2011

More great math video from Dan Meyer

Dan Meyer has posted a series of fun and very usable videos on melting cheese and surface area. Here is one of them for you to look at to get the general idea.


If you are a follower of Dan, you can see his blog archive for more great stuff. You can also access a lot of great math resources for framing and conceptualizing real life math challenges on my math wiki.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Personal Learning Networks in my class: an assessment

Will Richardson has written a post on the importance of PLN's in the classroom. This really got my interest as I have a classroom blog and at times, I am very proud of what the kids have accomplished with it. At other times, I am discouraged with it's progress.

Our goals for our blogging are:
  1. to pick a topic which is of interest to them. (they need to have a well developed web of ideas and sub-topics to explore)
  2. to read each day to learn about their topic
  3. to communicate what they have learned by blog writing (we talk a lot about effective writing, not just mechanics but how to write with a point to make and how to attract comments and opinions)
  4. to build a personal learning network on-line
For what it's worth, I thought I would do a mid-year assessment for our blogging. I thought I would try to pick ten things I am happy about and ten challenges for the future of blogging in our class.

Here is what I think we have accomplished:
  1. all but a few have a topic that they are very interested in
  2. all students have commented on others' blogs and have received comments from others
  3. many "non-writers" like blogging more than traditional writing
  4. students have not focused on widgets as much as years past
  5. we have co-generated rubrics which help guide us towards great writing
  6. many have RSS or google reader accounts to keep up to date on their reading
  7. blogging has resulted in more regular writing and many conversations with students about writing
  8. blogging has allowed students to become experts in their field
  9. we have looked at numerous examples of blogs, some "better" than ours, some worse
  10. we realize that our blogging is a work in progress and that we are working towards something better
Here are the challenges:
  1. some students write in one dimension, reluctant to explore a wide range of sub-topics
  2. many comments they make on others' blogs do not invite deeper thought and the development of a PLN
  3. because you blog doesn't make you a writer
  4. many students don't like to plan their posts
  5. shallow or little reading to make the posts interesting
  6. finding time to blog regularly enough to make it fruitful
  7. few blog at home
  8. networks are superficial, don't lead to deeper learning
  9. we don't have a partner class who we blog with regularly
  10. finding people for your PLN who are interested in their topic
I have also given some thought to changing how we blog next year. I might change the focus from becoming an expert and doing deep learning on a topic to "metacognition". (Kim Cofino and others) The way I understand this type of blogging is that the kids describe what they have learned in class and extend that learning within their PLN. Even though this type of blogging would be very effective I believe very strongly that blogging should not be just another assignment and that student choice and differentiated learning is the main advantage.

Another idea I have had is that we need to brainstorm ways to build effective PLN's. From what I've read, once the kids are motivated, they will do this themselves. We need to look at the possibilities of using Twitter and Facebook to build our PLN's. Students should be using their Facebook accounts to direct readers to their blog.

I have thought for a long time of the possibilities of using a different platform for our blogs such as Wordpress. My goal here is to allow them more control over the look and content of their blog. Perhaps a summer project!

After reading his post, I am looking forward to reading Richardson's new book (Personal Learning Networks, coming in May). Many of the founding principles of our blogging are based on his ideas and I could use some help in taking them to the next level.

Of course, I would be happy for you to join my network and comment on this post with your ideas in the meantime!

School of the Future: Questions

Jonathon Martin gives 8 guided questions for conversations about becoming a school of the future. these questions come from "A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future" for more detailed reading. They list skills of the 21st century learner to be:

Critical Thinking and Problem-solving
Collaboration Across Networks and Leading By Influence
Agility and Adaptability
Initiative and Entrepreneurship
Effective Oral andWritten Communication
Accessing and Analyzing Information
Curiosity and Imagination

The questions are so huge that I can only compare them to the big thinking Kim Cofino does at Yokohama International School in Japan. These are definitely worth wrestling with as we continue our journey towards 21st century schools, renewal and engagement.

I have listed some of the questions below. We should all try them out on our staffs and our boards!
  • How has the world changed and what are the implications for education?
  • How are students today the same as their predecessors and how are they different? How do we respond to the differences
  • How must 21st century instruction change and how can we accomplish it?
  • What assessment techniques are needed for 21st century learning?
  • What are the characteristics of a 21st century teacher? What forms of PD are called for?
  • Does 21st century learning demand a renewed attention to inquiry, relevance, and/or project/problem based learning?