Change the Conversation

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This is today’s gem from Hugh at GapingVoid.  Of this image he says:

“If your company isn’t innovating, it’s likely because no one is facilitating the right conversations.”

So what are the right conversations?

Well, one conversation I would like to be having is with practical innovator, Marc Prensky.  Marc has been an advocate for innovation in education for some time.  His latest conversation embraces the idea of Future Oriented Education. He challenges us to ask ourselves the question: “Is this future-oriented education or is it ‘past-ucation’:

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There is nothing Marc would rather do than change the conversation about the way we educate in schools. His writing on technology, innovation, 21st century learning, digital natives, and the changing teaching paradigm are all priceless – and so worth reading. I started highlighting the points that really resonated with me from the following four articles and was soon swimming in a sea of neon.  It is all worth reading. Check out his Global Future Education Advisory Archive.

His thinking about technology really resonates with me.  Read this excerpt from his third GFEA:

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It’s not about stuff.  It’s not about different ways to do what we do now. Technology is an extension of our brains.  It is a new way of thinking. And it is a conversation worth having if you hope to lead an innovative school.  In the same way that no teacher who dismissed writing or reading or math as “unimportant” or something to be scheduled once a week, would ever get hired, should someone who is not willing to embrace the use of technology as an extension of thinking be given a job as an educator? Is it ok for teachers to say, “That’s not for me”.  “I am not comfortable with that” and continue with their past-ucation ways?

Today in a problem-solving math class I asked the students if they should be allowed to use laptops and calculators when solving the problems.  There was a resounding “No!” and cries of “Cheating!”. Really?  Further discussion led to some children conceding that perhaps it would be ok….sometimes….but only for really hard problems.  I suggested that in using technology to help solve the problem, they would still be required to think like mathematicians and evaluate the reasonableness of their answer before submitting it. Does it look right?  Does it seem possible?  A few more converted.

In thinking about the future of education and where we need to be heading, it is pretty clear that what we do need to keep doing is having conversations that push us closer to innovation. If a one-woman schoolhouse that is actually a boat equipped with solar panels to juice up the internet floating from house to house to pick up students and bobble around teaching them all day on water can move ahead from ‘how things were done’, why can’t we?

For your reading pleasure: Carl Hooker on How Technology Trends Have Influenced the Classroom.

 

 

 

The Value of a Critical Friend

One of the things I have often talked about, is how grateful I have been to work with people whom I could discuss educational ideas with and who would give me thoughtful, honest feedback.  They would provide a different perspective, reinforce my beliefs, or challenge me to think more deeply.  The more I have traveled, the more I have come to realize that these friends are ones to be treasured – and they can’t be found just anywhere.

This week, I had an appraisal visit by our Assistant Principal.  It is my second of the year and it begins with a 10-15 minute discussion about the lesson to be observed.  I sat down with my appraiser two days prior to the lesson and confessed that I had no idea what I was going to be doing.  I am pretty sure that I did most of the talking, punctuated by a few softly spoken but well directed questions that kept making me expand and clarify my thinking. I left that short meeting more inspired and enthusiastic than I had been in a while. The lesson that grew out of that meeting was the one I just posted about on my blog and on a shared blog for inquiry teachers. It was a great lesson and quite honestly I owe most of that to being given the opportunity to sit with someone and share my thoughts knowing that this person wants me to succeed, is interested in ideas about inquiry, and is really listening to me and the needs of my classroom.

Do you have this person (or group of people) at your school?

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One of the things I have always said is that there is a wealth of talent within the faculty of a school.  A lot of important professional development can come from people meeting to discuss ideas. But it has to go deeper than that.  There has to be a level of accountability. There has to be some kind of tangible purpose.  You have to be prepared to have someone hold the mirror up to your teaching practice really closely – and then you have to be prepared to potentially change the way you do what you do.  It is this that motivates me about teaching. The variety.  The opportunity to try new ideas.

Thankfully, it seems that life has a way of connecting such like-minded individuals together.  But what if ‘life’ forgets to connect?  At the beginning of our school year, our Deputy Head of School wanted to initiate a Critical Friends group.  He wanted about 8 or so people who were willing to commit to meeting, discussing, observing, and of coming together with questions about their teaching in order to improve their practice.  For scheduling reasons, this group never took off.  Now, more than ever, I am convinced that this is the type of forum that is beneficial for me as an educator.

One of the key factors that makes a Critical Friends group different from say, a PLN, is that the Critical Friends are all from within your own school. By working collaboratively with the support of the school you are no longer trying out ideas in isolation nor are you swimming alone as you try and navigate new waters of ideas.  In an ASCD article, Deborah Bambino cites four roles of Critical Friends groups:

  • Critical Friends give feedback
  • Critical Friends collaborate
  • Critical Friends find new solutions
  • Critical Friends collaborate

There is a protocol to be followed when being a critical friend.  It can look something like this:

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If you are interested, here is some further reading on the topic of Critical Friends – and not just for teachers!

A Geometry Inquiry with Attitude

One of my concerns is that math in my classroom is not as inquiry based as I would like it to be.  My students and I just began a unit on Geometry.  I gave the pretest and for the most part, students had a spattering of knowledge and the test was completed with much hair pulling and cries of “Man! I KNOW this….but….I forgot!”.  When we went over the paper, I could see a collective “aha” from the majority of the students as they started to dust off the vocabulary sitting at the back of their minds.  So, what to do?

I did some scouring of the internet and came up with a couple of really interesting reads: Angle Measurement – An Opportunity for Equity, and Inquiry Maths: A Parallel Lines Inquiry.

After reading these articles, the next day my students and I sat with the pretest and pulled the vocabulary from it.  They spent the lesson with math dictionaries, math tools, the Khan Academy, and various math text books from the classroom shelves in order to create an understanding of what these terms meant.  They found all these connections that I wanted them to know but didn’t want to just tell them: that perpendicular lines were also intersecting lines but not all intersecting lines are perpendicular.  Same with equilateral triangles and isosceles triangles (all equilateral triangles are isosceles but all isosceles are not equilateral). Some asked if they could work on their “Math Dictionaries” at home.  Others took screen shots of Khan Academy videos and added their own notes.  I told them they were preparing for an inquiry and they needed to be well equipped!

The next day, we discussed the idea of using math as a language. I drew a rectangle on the board in purple marker.  If this were to be described using the English language, I would call it “Purple Box”.  If it were to be described using Math language, I would call it “A rectangular quadrangle with interior angles of 90 degrees each (right angles) formed by a set of horizontal, parallel line segments and a set of vertical, parallel line segments. They got the idea.

I told the class that this was an open, collaborative inquiry. That meant they were free to consult any source they needed in order to extend their inquiry and that the work was collaborative in that I wanted them to build off each others ideas.  I have 18 students (I know, I am blessed!) and so I printed off 9 pictures (3 of each image) so that children had a choice of where to work in the small room.  I also wanted to be able to have them come together with other groups during the next lesson to share and compare their findings. Before I showed them the images, I shared the Success Criteria for the lesson:

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Here are the images I used, the first one from the Parallel Lines inquiry and the second and third from another Inquiry Maths Inquiry:

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My students were shown the pictures, reminded of the Success Criteria for the lesson,  and were off!  It was fascinating.  They partnered up in a similar fashion to the day before when they were creating their vocabulary understandings and quickly started to use their knowledge to describe their image. I “casually” asked if anyone wanted a protractor (YES! YES! YES!).  As I wandered around I saw children reading, questioning, measuring and using their math language to describe the image in front of them.  “Can we draw on it?”  Yes!  For one group who had the star shaped image, this led to some pretty crazy coloring/marking which to my naive eye looked more like silly scribbling than serious math but I let them keep going.  One group started talking about symmetry and I found some mirrors and laid them on their table which started another investigation into where that line of symmetry actually was.

This was supposed to last 15 minutes but it was clear they had more than 15 minutes of math language in them!  As the end of the lesson neared, I asked them to briefly group with the other people who had the same image to get an idea of what others had done. Cries of, “I was going to do that next!”, “I hadn’t thought of that!”, “I forgot to put that, too! ” and  “Where did you get a mirror from?!” were heard around the room.

I have a really great class of kids but like all kids they need to be asked to think about why they do what they do and how they are behaving.  As a PYP school, we offer a values-laden curriculum so teaching about attitudes is part of what we do.  We are currently working on the culminating project of the PYP – the Exhibition.  It requires a lot of group work and one of the things I am noticing is that students need more than to be physically placed in a pod of four students, for group work to be successful.  We have been looking at the type of attitudes we expect to see at our school and I wanted them to see the connection to this in math class so I gave them the following exit slip for the lesson:

Success Criteria

 

Their comments were so insightful:

curiosity…because I wanted to see just how much I could write in math language

confidence…because I knew I knew a lot about this and I knew I could describe the picture in a lot of details

respect…because I listened to the ideas of the person I was working with and also added my ideas

and the student that I thought was goofing off:

creativity…because I was able to add really colorful and interesting designs to our star and it looked really good and then it also helped my group see patterns within the star and we were able to add a lot more information

 

I think the students were not the only ones learning something today!

To download a PDF of the lesson plan and materials used today, click here

 

 

PYP Exhibition – Video Inspiration to take Action Six Different Ways

The following information is a direct cut and paste from my classroom blog.  The blog is used as a communication tool between home and school.  I also post homework, ideas, polls, and all things related to life in 4D. Over the course of the year, we have gone from “What is a blog?” to “Can you please put it on the blog?” and now “I wrote my first blog post last night!” as we start our own journey into blogging in our Exhibition groups.

In the process of unpacking our Central Idea, I shared a number of videos that opened up amazing discussions. Some were oldies but goodies, some were hot off the internet, all of them were inspiring. If you are looking for a longer list than the five I am sharing below, take a look at the playlists created by Terri Eichholz of Engage Their Minds.  They are for students and teachers via Pinterest (which, thankfully is unblocked at my school now!) and I plan on sharing the link with my students to peruse the library of inspiration!

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“Taking Action” is a big part of the PYP and also a big part in our Exhibition.  Before we even began, I was hearing the deafening roar of, “We are going to hold a sale…”.  In reading the idea behind action as a key component of the PYP, I wasn’t getting the connection to the selling of stuff. I reached out to my friend Marina who put me in touch with the work of Richard Black, whom I had visited (virtually) before. He had a great way of explaining a much more fleshed out picture of what action was. I turned his words into cute cards, but they are all his thinking. We have them up as a permanent visual that in reality, we are taking action at all times which I actually think is freeing the kids up from the ‘bake sale’ idea and potentially (I will keep you posted) opening them up to a more diverse path of action.

What inspires your kids?

How do you encourage authentic action?

On to the class blog post….

Today we looked at the central idea for our Exhibition unit:

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We discussed as a class what this meant:

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We then watched some videos to support our understanding of the central idea and the Exhibition process:

Follow the Frog - This video is all about what the Exhibition is NOT about.  It is not about going over the top with wild, crazy expectations.  It is about inquiring into topics that you are passionate about and finding out what action you can take to make an impact.  Take a BIG issue and think about taking action on a SMALL scale. It doesn’t have to stop there, however it is often the smallest of actions that can make the biggest impact. 

Kindness Boomerang - This video highlights how one small action can make an impact that can grow exponentially.  You might not ever know the impact of your actions and one action is never too small in the eyes of the person it impacts. 

Emily’s Hair - Some people say “but I’m just a kid, what can I do to make an impact?”…those people need to hear 3 year old Emily’s story.  She shows that through the simple action of cutting her hair, she is making an impact.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, it matters how much you care. 

The Race - The Exhibition is like this race.  We have been ‘training’ for it all through our years in the Junior School.  We are prepared.  We can do it!  BUT….we might fall.  It doesn’t matter when, where, why, or how hard we fall, what matters is what we do AFTER we fall.  That will be a determining factor in the success of our Exhibition journey. 

Sarah’s Softball Story - This is one of my favorite stories.  To me, it highlights what life is all about – helping others to achieve greatness, doing the right thing, paying it forward, and always choosing kind. The students who helps Sarah, Mallory and Liz embody what it means to a PYP student and to be an inspirational human. 

Tomorrow we will be digging deeper into what it means to take action.  Today we looked briefly at six different ways of taking action (with thanks to Richard Black, PYP teacher in Canberra, Australia – his words, my layout):

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Dear Future…

I am pretty much always looking to connect what I curate to my students in my classroom. I think it opens a window to the bigger picture, brings in different perspectives, and makes us feel – happy, sad, mad, excited, inspired.  I want to spark the possibility that they CAN.  Do more, be more, say more, lead more.

After watching Kid President today I heard a few tentative, “Could we make our ideas into a video?” from a couple of voices.  YES, YES, YES!  I don’t know if they will or not – I will certainly support them – but I love that they are making that connection.

After Skyping with my friend, Erica Lloyd, a humanitarian from the US, living in Haiti and working for SOIL, I noticed one of the kids had drawn a circular diagram in his book that read: THINK – LEARN – DO. He listened to Erica explain that she thought a lot about what she wanted to do, then how she researched, visited, talked with, observed, listened, and asked questions to educate herself, and then put her ideas, knowledge, heart, and soul into action to go out and do something to make a difference.  I loved that she was able to explain this to my kids and that they picked up on it.  Inspired!

I see in my daughter this same kind of thinking.  She is a sponge.  It is staggering the things she can do and how quickly she thinks, learns, does. We offer our support, she eats it up. I think about her when I am offering options to my kids. I want them to be introduced to as much as possible and for them to think, learn, and do at their pace (or maybe with a gentle push?!).

I watched a really beautiful video in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day.  Titled, “Dear Future Mom…” it is an inspired piece of work that challenges stereotypes and celebrates life. I keep watching it because it just seems so hopeful, so strong….and then the moms come into shot to hug their kids and the love is palpable. It is….just watch it, you’ll see for yourself:

We celebrate lots of different days at school so World Down Syndrome day will be shared in my class tomorrow, along with this video. I am curious to see their reaction. As well as thinking about why this video was created, I also want them to think about the idea behind the video: sending a message into the future.

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In his brilliant work, Ship It, a guide to Linchpin, Seth Godin calls you to pause before beginning your big project and asks you to evaluate the outcome now.  To write your feelings down about how you did, how you felt when your work was done, what made you successful, how you feel about yourself, and any other messages of congratulations or support to your future self. It is the epitome of Starting with the end in mind. I love it.  (SIDE NOTE: I often start the PYP Exhibition by using the majority of  pages from SHIP IT to get kids thinking and discussing – it is awesome, try it!).

The past two years, I have done this when starting the PYP Exhibition.  We write letters, we seal them, we put them in a safe place.  We open them after all is said and done and we laugh, share, giggle, hug, and celebrate our victory all over again. That’s on tomorrow’s agenda and I can’t wait.

What does your “Dear Future…” look like?

#thekidsneedtoknow

Everybody knows someone younger than them, and they should be teaching them awesome stuff…..it might sound scary, but it’s true!” – Kid President

Kid President’s Open Letter To Babies On Their First Day On Earth is beautiful. It is what every kid (and adult) needs to listen to. It is a lot to take in and so Kid President kindly reminds us that we don’t have to remember it all at once and that we may need a Pep Talk later on to remind us to be awesome.

I am planning on showing this to my kids tomorrow. We have just started our PYP Exhibition and I want to fill them with that wonder that comes from kids. At the end of the video, Kid President throws down a challenge: “Do you make You Tube videos?”.  I am interested to see who in my class responds to this.  Hopefully someone or a group of someones will add their voice to this conversation.

What do you think kids need to know?

I just had a four minute text chat with a friend in China and I think kids need to know that…

  • you have to surround yourself with people who inspire you
  • you need to trust people enough to unload your frustrations
  • you need to respect those people enough to listen when they ask you to take a second look at your own actions
  • you should marry someone who brings you chocolate :)

What do you think kids need to know?

Using Wikispaces in less than 30 minutes

Do you have a wiki?  Do you hear that work and kind of brush it off? Do you wish you had one but don’t have the time and are not sure you would even use it?

I was you!

My class are knee deep in their How We Express Ourselves unit and we are writing poetry like it is our job. They are loving it and so am I.  But what to do with it all?  We have writing folders for paperwork and we have computer folders for online documents but that just wasn’t enough. I wanted somewhere for the kids to publish their work in a way that worked for them, allowed them to see each others work and be inspired by it, comment on each others work and enter into a real community of poetic learners.  Cue: THE WIKI.

I had never made one. But I found a really cool poetry wiki of a high school class and I knew that is what I wanted. This surprised me because as you will see, the wiki itself is not particularly beautiful – and I like beautiful things.  But it was really, really functional (my husband would be so proud!) and so I knew this was it.

Here’s how simple it is to do:

1. Go to Wikispaces and in the “Join Now” box on the left-middle of the page, click “I’m a Teacher”.

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2. Choose a username (this can be changed once every 30 days if you so choose), a password, and enter your email address.

3. Fill in some biographical information to prove you are using this for educational purposes and name your wiki (this can be changed later if you wish).

4. Your Wiki is ready!

5. Look to the far right/top of the screen for your information:

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I am the Avocado Alligator and my one wiki is called “4Dpoetry”.

6. To add your students, click on your wiki, click on “Settings” (top right) and then click on “User Creator” on the left column:

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7. Here is the thing I really love.  After clicking on ‘User Creator’ you have the option of how you will add your students:

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I chose the second option and a small box opens for you to type in names (one on each line). I made up names by putting together a color and an animal with the same initial letter and then the number 44 just in case someone else was as clever as me!  After typing in the names of all your kids (or enough pen names to be able to match one to each child) hit ‘next’ and you get this screen:

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You can see I added “PolkadotPanda44″ to my list of usernames. I kept it all as one word.  I then kept the first box checked ‘no’. The second box kept as ‘Column 1′, and the third box as ‘These users do not have email addresses’.  I also had Wikispaces generate the passwords for me. Basically, get to the page and just click ‘continue’!  You may find there is a warning if your name is a double-up, so be creative and add perhaps two or three more names than you will need so you can delete any that may not be suitable (already in use).

When you ‘continue’, you have the option of printing a list of usernames and passwords.  We have a studybook with a section for usernames and passwords so these went in there. I allocated usernames with some input from the students.

Finally, create a page for each student by clicking on the + sign next to “Pages and Files”:

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I made a page for each student and the home page explains the purpose of the Wiki. When you add a new page, you do have to put something on the page in order to create it (I just wrote on each page, “This is the poetry page of the Golden Gorilla” etc). The rule for us is that on the wiki, we are always referred to by our Wiki Name. I haven’t investigated the use of the ‘Projects’ feature but my initial look tells me you can create an assignment and assign different students groups to work on tasks together. It looks good but I don’t have a use for it just yet. Check out the Wikispaces Blog for more information on the Projects feature.

Here is what I like about this:

1. It is free

2. You don’t need email addresses for your kids

3. The editing interface is super simple

4. The speech bubbles let you start conversations with other users

5. The clock icon shows when edits have been made and by whom (in case work is “accidently” deleted!).

6. It is really easy to add screenshots, upload photos, or to import images via web addresses.

Most of all, I love that my kids love it!  When we started, I had the homepage as my domain but not my own animal/color name or page.  I changed my name to be like the kids and I created my own page.  I started adding work to my page as a model for what they could add to their page. They were excited that I had gone from ‘sterborg’ to ‘AvocadoAlligator’ and used the message feature to get in touch.  Here is what one student said:

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“Welcome to our Community”. I didn’t need to tell them that this was their special place – they were telling me that it was ours. Perfect!

I saved the best for last, though!  You can go to “settings” and click on “Exports/Backups” and from there, download a PDF of your Wiki. If you have set it up the way I have with a page for each child, these pages become “Chapters” and all their work (including formatting) will be stored in one document:

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At the end of the unit, we can print a copy of our poetry anthology!

If you are more of a visual/auditory learner, check out this video explanation: