Learning, Mindset, Teaching

All The Single Subjects

IMG_3651
The lone single subject teacher…

The majority of my teaching career, I have been an upper primary classroom teacher. I am always interested in new things so I have also spent time as an Elementary Art teacher, a technology integrator, and now, a Design teacher. I have mad respect for the homeroom teacher in a PYP school – or any school for that matter. Our job is demanding, hectic, consuming, and typically incredibly rewarding to see growth in our students “up close”. I also have the same respect for single subject teachers. In many cases, teaching upwards of 15 different classes across all grade levels is “typical”. Hundreds of kids coming to you for short bursts, with masses of energy.

My last class of the day, today, they were big. They were energetic (loud!). They were that special kind of giddy that kids get at the end of a long day at the beginning of the year in their first class with a new teacher. They didn’t know me. They are trying to impress each other. They are without their homeroom teacher for an hour.  It’s the potential perfect storm.

The class was chatty. The class was jovial. No one was misbehaving but they were definitely searching this new learning space for boundaries. I know how important those first impressions are and I wanted to keep them enthused but also respectful. The class was successful in the Lego Challenge, Round One, and moved into Round Two (groups). This was more challenging. And then time was up. Almost. And things started getting “excitable”. Almost.

So I had the kids return to their spot, and this is what I told them:

I started teaching when I was 21. I taught sixth graders who were closer in age to me than their parents were and I loved it. Most of my time teaching has been as a homeroom teacher and of that time, I have loved grade five the most (true story). I love your independence, I love your excitement, I love your frustrations. I love that it is hard, but funny, exhausting and exciting. I know what it is like to be a fifth grade teacher.

BUT.

I don’t know what it is like to be your fifth grade teacher, yet and I don’t know what you are like as fifth graders, yet. What I do know is that you get a say in that. You, by the way you speak and work and interact with each other and with me, you get to have a say in who you are as a group. When I look at you, I look at each person but you are also a group of people. Your actions help me to form an opinion. I get to see the respect you have for yourselves, your learning space, your classmates.

I look forward to our next lesson and learning more about who you are.

The kids were quiet. I think they were listening.

Single Subjects are an amazing place for students to grow and learn. We often provide an authentic opportunity for ATLs (Approaches to Learning) to be developed and we get to see the kids in, potentially, a whole new light to their homeroom. But how do we really harness the power of specialist teachers? How do we ensure everyone is included?

Classroom Teachers: How do you work with your single subject teachers?

Specialist Teachers: How to you build relationships as a single subject teacher?

 

Today left me wondering…

How might we all move toward a more open system of schooling in which the boundaries and delineations that divide us, did not exist?

Inspiration, Learning, Mindset, Reflection

At Least I Tried….Again.

A year ago, I published a post on this blog titled At Least I Tried.  It referenced a daily cartoon from Gaping Void that was accompanied by this text:

In light of yesterday’s post, this was (again) very timely for me.

But this post is also about the power of our words and how a few thoughtfully chosen ones can really help a person who needs to hear them. Within hours of posting, four different people from different parts of my life reached out with words that I needed to hear. It made me grateful for these people but it also made me think how important timely feedback is.

As educators, how are we supporting our students with our words? 

For EXCELLENT advice about feedback including what it is, what it sounds like, what it isn’t and how to use it effectively, take a look at this 2012 ASCD article by the late Grant Wiggins. His work is an amazing reminder of the talent and wisdom we lost when he died last year. “7 Keys to Effective Feedback” will also give you insight into the difference between feedback and advice, and feedback and grades/evaluation.  It is a great read.

Last year’s post also made me think about Seth Godin’s mantra to “Pick Yourself” – in reference to the idea that waiting for someone else to validate you is nonsensical. Time is precious and your ideas are worthwhile and waiting for someone to ask for them will get you nowhere.

So last night, I reached out to an author I admire with a suggestion for a potential collaboration idea based on a comment she made on Facebook. And I drafted a new book idea for building momentum in schools.

Opportunity is everywhere.  You just have to look – and leap.

pick+yourself+seth+godin
Photo Credit
Change, Mindset, Thinking

(Un)Professional Development

I recently saw this heading somewhere (Facebook? Twitter?) and was naturally intrigued. And then I was in love. Here’s why.  First, take a look at the premise for this organization that offers training for teachers:

OUR BEST TEACHERS INSPIRE STUDENTS
TO BE BRAVE AND THINK DIFFERENTLY.

But professional development rarely acknowledges – or inspires – the courage and curiosity that educators bring to their own classrooms. Unprofessional Development is based on the belief that teachers must be celebrated as professional learners who find truth in discovery and joy in taking bold risks. It is a call to ignite a rigorous and personal creative habit. It is a challenge to resist judgment, perfectionism, discomfort and procrastination, and to put creativity at the root of all learning. Unprofessional Development is a charge to write, weld, cook, construct, jury-rig, sketch, stitch, bend and build both in and out of our classrooms.

Pretty cool, huh?

And then it got better when I scrolled further to their credo:

Credo

So who is behind all this?  Unprofessional Development is an initiative of the non-profit Project H Design and is led by Emily Pilloton and Christina Jenkins. If you live in NYC, Oakland or Berkeley, CA then, lucky you! They have courses in your area that you can sign up for.

But what about those of us in Munich – or elsewhere? (Un)Professional Development offers a tailored service to your school (contact them for further information).

But what if you can’t afford that right now? Well, start with yourself. Take a look again about what they said about traditional professional development and what they do differently.  Ask yourself what it would look like if you were:

  • celebrated as a professional learner
  • finding joy in taking bold risks
  • resisting judgement, procrastination, perfectionism and discomfort
  • putting creativity in the root of all learning

How would you be a different teacher? How would your classroom change? What if you said “yes” more often? What if you disrupted the status quo?

One of my favorite thinkers had this to say about disruption:

The journey to disruption may be lonely but fundamental to our ability to serve and add value.

-Will Northrop

What are you doing to disrupt, to serve, to add value in your classroom?

Innovation, Mindset, Play

Do What You Like, Like What You Do

life-is-good-logo-gray2

I was looking for something and one click led to another, led to this TEDx talk by co-founder of Life Is Good, Bert Jacobs:

Bert’s message is simple:

  • do what you like
  • like what you do
  • be grateful for everything
  • live life with optimism

If you check out the Life is Good website, you will see a section called “Good Vibes” which is a curated mish-mash of inspiration and “a breath of fresh air” for those who also believe that Life is Good.

In trademarking three words, LIFE IS GOOD, Bert and his brother turned $78 into over $3 million dollars. Ten percent of net profits go to charities supporting children, so you are not just buying cute socks or a travel mug, but you are buying hope and possibility for children. Where does the money go?  In part, toward Playmakers:

life-is-good-playmakers

The Playmakers are the people doing the work to make childhood a more playful place for at-risk and underserved children for whom life is not always that good.  The emphasis is on play and using play to bring out positive change in children.

The website has loads of resources including:

Redefining Playfulness – A paper on how play can revolutionize the health, well-being and education of children.

Awareness Building Exercises – A series of 3 activities to help you become more aware of playfulness in and out of work

We Got Game – Three fun games to bring out the playfulness in your kids

The website also led me to this video on the Power of Playfulness which contains the important message that we, as teachers, shouldn’t just get through each day, we should be happy and joyful and promote that amongst and within our students too.

More than a cute t-shirt store, Life Is Good is a great resource to remind us all to play more, love more, and be more joyful.

Mindset

Questioning for A Growth Mindset

I have posted numerous times about the importance of a growth mindset. Today I came across a great infographic that can be shared with students in order to help them take responsibility for their learning and to encourage them to develop their self-questioning skills in order to reflect on who they are as learners.

The author of this infographic is Jackie Gerstein and she developed this checklist in order to help students enhance their mindset through personal accountability. She blogs at UserGeneratedEducation and has loads of great ideas that she graciously shares.

Digging a little deeper, I found a similar checklist for teachers to use to reflect on their own practice and how they are embedding opportunities for a growth mindset to flourish in their classes:

I have a lot of open real estate on my classroom walls.  I would like to engage my kids in helping me design something to help us all remember the goal of a growth mindset in all that we do.

I am also going to go back and take a closer look at Piktochart – because who doesn’t like information to look beautiful?

Mindset

Be Bad…Until You Are Good

I am a bit fan of helping children to establish a Growth Mindset and the idea that #youcandoanything. Sometimes however, I think perhaps teachers can be at fault for overthinking how to go about creating this kind of ‘can do’ attitude in our classes. What really is the best way to instil in our kids the need to push through and keep trying, even when you are not sure if what you are doing is ‘good’ or ‘right’?

Then I saw a shot from one of Ellen’s recent shows, where she was interviewing Jason Segal who had the following to say:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 23.55.24

I think this is really cool advice. And it doesn’t have to only apply to the kids we teach.  When was the last time you were not afraid to be bad at something until you were good at it?

Inspiration, Mindset

#LikeAGirl

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 13.04.50

Since when was doing something “like a girl” an insult?  This is what director Lauren Greenfield set out to discover as she began the social experiment known as  the Always #LikeAGirl campaign. 

 

Watching the video, I think of all the strong, brilliant, talented girls I know (including my firecracker daughter!) and I am thankful for campaigns like this that start to raise awareness of the way we say things. 

In the same way as saying something is “so gay” or “so retarded” is not appropriate, saying you do something “like a girl” should be turned around (as the campaign suggests) to being an expression of strength and downright amazingness.  

How do you use your words to empower your students?

Brain Research, Inquiry, Mindset, Play

Let Them Explore Their Passions!

Passion.  It is one of my favorite topics when it comes to education.  I know that there are people who will say that asking kids about their passion is a fruitless task – they are kids, what do they know about passion?  I tend to move away from those people and ask anyway.  I think kids are DEEPLY passionate about things.  As teachers (and as parents) one of our biggest challenges is to not get in the way and to allow for their passions, their curiosity, their sense of wonder, and their natural inquisitiveness rise to the surface. 

Last year, I worked with a small team at school on exploring the concept of authentic inquiry through Genius Hour.  Ultimately we decided an hour wasn’t enough and as a school, we will be looking into the idea of incorporating Genius Hour into every hour, every unit.  I have no idea how it will work, but I am excited to work with teachers to give it a go and see what we can come up with. 

To that end, I was intrigued when I read an article tonight titled, “Four Skills to Teach Students in the first Five Days of School” via Mind/Shift.  Here is one of the points from the article:

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 21.08.45

 

This is a different take on the idea we grappled with all last year, but I like it.  I think like anything different, it will take some getting used to and some won’t know what to do, where to begin…but they will.  And in doing so, they will learn.  Lots.  About being self motivated, setting their own goals, or even learn how to ask for help when they need it.  

I love structure but I also love the freedom of an idea like this. As I throw around all of my beliefs about the importance of play, of collaborative learning, of cooperative learning, of finding your passion, the more I am becoming convinced that learning comes not as a result of pre-determined criteria and one way of showing what you know via an electronic flip-book or 3D sculpture.  

Learning is messy.  Learning sometimes is when things don’t work.  Learning is hard work. 

Thankfully, we were born to learn. 

Born to Learn

I know some people will argue that putting up posters,  or creating these sorts of posters with kids, or adding self affirming statements to papers or posters, and discussing the idea of a growth mindset with your kids will not do a thing.  Some people will even go so far to say that it feels fake, forced, artificial.  I disagree.  The idea that individuals can shape their destiny and that learning is real work are important things kids need to know to help them through the parts of their passion journey that aren’t so smooth.  

It will be tough.  You may want to quit.  Don’t do that. Today is just the first day….

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 21.35.54

Math, Mindset

More on Mindset

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about developing a growth mindset , in particular in math class.  Engage their Minds chimed in with more great resources for developing a growth mindset.  It’s something that clearly people are thinking about.

One of the ideas I had was to follow in the steps of the Khan Academy and add an inspiring quote or statement to printed papers I gave my students to encourage them as they learned.  I was going over the types of fraction work my kids needed and was about to print some customised worksheets for them to practise from Math-Aids.com when I noticed that at the end of each worksheet is a box for you to add instructions or other text.  What a perfect spot for a growth mindset quote!

And then I thought, why not let the kids create both their own learning pages and add their own words of encouragement?  So I did.  And they were great!

Give it a go!

IMG_9396 IMG_9397 IMG_9399

 

Math, Mindset

Developing Growth Mindset in an Inquiry Based Math Class

I have been researching the use of ‘good’ questions in math via the book Open-Ended Maths Activities by Peter Sullivan and Pat Liburn. This book challenges teachers to think more deeply about math questioning and about providing students with opportunities to show the depth of their thinking.  It places math understanding on a continuum and allows you to really see the thinking process that children go through when solving problems.  The problems differ from ‘regular’ math questions in that the focus in not necessarily on THE right answer, but more on the process of problem solving, predicting, refining thinking, justifying decisions and creating own like problems.

The three main features of a ‘good’ question:

  1. They require more than remembering a fact or reproducing a skill
  2. Students can learn by answering the questions, and the teacher learns about each student from the attempt
  3. There may be several acceptable answers

In partners, we started with this question:

Question One

We will take a look at the different strategies people used and then move on to a more challenging question. As children work, I am looking at the following behaviors (not all at once, but throughout the process):

  • works cooperatively
  • works independently
  • makes a plan
  • keeps trying
  • when stuck, tries something different
  • discusses work with others
  • uses materials when useful
  • draws diagrams when necessary
  • concentrates on the task
  • asks questions
  • organizes information systematically
  • explains and displays ideas clearly
  • looks for all possibilities
  • able to generalize
  • accepts assistance from others
  • is confident
  • uses a range of mathematical strategies

After the kids finished their work, I scanned it and shared my thinking with them as I went through their responses. This was probably the most valuable part of the lesson – and the part where we begin to put into practice the idea of growth mindset. By actively illustrating what I am thinking and where I see the next steps for all groups of children, it promotes the idea of deeper learner for all.  What I like about this approach is that there is feedback that is applicable for all students and everyone can see something that they can look to improve on during the next question. We did this on our smart board with the whole class.  Here are samples of some of the feedback I gave my students:

Feedback 1 Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 8.38.45 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 8.38.56 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 8.39.08 PM

Our next step was to stay in our partnerships (mixed ability) and tackle a few more questions of increasing difficulty.  Each time, I scanned their papers and we discussed and gave feedback as a group.  Toward the end, the students were very adept at indicating the strengths of the teams and offering suggestions for growth.

We have now moved on to applying our problem solving strategies to a weekly math challenge. A math challenge is a problem that is designed to last more than one lesson before a solution is found.  It is a chance to show what you know about math, to make predictions, to create your own problems, and to share your reflections on yourself as a mathematician.

Each week, we will have a new math challenge.  It can be solved independently or in a small group.  It can be done at home or at school.  It has a due date (usually will be on Friday), and it is designed to help students apply what we are working on or skills that have been focused on in class already.

Each math challenge comes with the same list of ten criteria.  Each of these criteria is equally important.  Students are challenged to respond to each of the criteria to the best of your ability. These criteria will be the same each week.

Criteria

Here is our first question:

Challenge One

You might notice the quote at the bottom of the question slip.  After reading the work of Carol Dweck on establishing a growth mindset, I then saw that the Khan Academy have also utilized this research and have found a way to improve student performance via one simple trick: adding a growth mindset inspired quote to their math pages.  This is just one way of reminding students or drawing their attention to the fact their brains are capable of growth and new learning.

We just started this today and worked on it for about fifteen minutes.  The kids were super excited and it was great to see them tackle this problem with such a high degree of independence.

After setting this up, I was reminded of a post I read recently about additive grading.  I am now rethinking how I am going to grade this to some degree. But that’s for another post…