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