Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Best Learning Moment this Fall: Peel21st Blog hop

I often wonder why I do the things I do? I know it is a question that many of us teachers ask ourselves. We are often in isolation and we often never get to see the same kids twice in a row. Well today was a validation moment.

One of our teachers came told me today that he had was having a discussion with one of my former students about multiplication.

The discussion went something like this:

Teacher: "multiplication is doing repeated addition."

Students: "That is not what, Mr.So told me."

Teacher: "What do you mean?"

Student: "Multiplication is using groups and when you are doing repeated addition you are not unitizing but adding."

This was in a grade 4 classroom and I taught the student in grade 2 when she was starting to learn multiplication. I have always tried my best to show the mathematics in everything that we teach. I know that many students may not get it right then and there but I expose them to language and big ideas as much as possible. For me it will allow students to understand later on as they develop the skills.

Now as I said before I have always wondered if what I do is correct but when I see that my students retain and then prove their thinking based on what I taught two years later, it does make me feel good, as well as, validate how I teach and why.

This is just one small moment this fall. In fact it was quite hard to think of the BEST learning has this year has been a whirlwind of learning but thought this was just one of those stories that make you smile.

What has been your best moment?

This post is one of many that are participating in Peel21st blog hops. If you want to read more check out these amazing

Are we reluctant to share?

Are we scared to share? Do we often feel like what we have to say isn't worth reading? I know that I do. But we have to remember that what may seem as silly to us is often not for others.

It reminds me of this video that I have seen numerous times: 

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when I reluctantly posted this post on "What does it mean to be a Teacher?"

I say reluctantly because I wasn't too sure about the topic. I mean I loved the idea, it is why I decided to write but I wasn't too sure if anyone else would have cared, or even wanted to read it. It was more of a reflection or response to the comments I was hearing about our profession of teachers. However, I decided to post and the next day a good colleague David Petro posted my blog on his daily Math Reviews (on a side note if you are not following David or reading his weekly blog you are missing out). The funny thing was my post wasn't even about math but on what it means to be a teacher.  It did comment on teaching being more than telling, which I often think this is the preconceived notion of a teacher and why many think they can do our job but I digress.  The fact was that David saw something in my post and then felt the need to share it. Even though I didn't think that the ideas were decent someone else did. 

To be honest I think that as a profession of teachers we all have amazing ideas and need to share them. We only get better by reflecting and learning from one another. So if you ever feel like your ideas don't matter remember that an idea that may seem trivial to you, may not be for someone else. If you don't share that knowledge or thought than you are depriving the profession of some amazing ideas. 

So I encourage you all as teachers, readers, parents get out and blog, Share your amazing ideas and connect with amazing people. And a big thank you to David for reminding me about this.

5 Best Things that I have done this Year

This year I started a new grade and even a new division, grade 6. On top of this I have decided to do a lot of things differently. I have thrown out grades completely, I have no desks, I have gone 95% digital with my classroom, collaborative problem solving and I wanted to turn my grade 6 middle school classroom into a place of inquiry and learning. As the year has progressed I have gained more and more confidence in my decisions.  I am close to my 200 limit here but let me briefly share with you what those decisions have looked like.

1) Throwing out grades: 

In the past I have done this for the most part but this year I have not given one grade to a child. Instead, I have written monthly reports or updates about students strengths and weaknesses. Students have then written down what they think their strengths and weaknesses are and next steps for improvement. This goes home to parents (well actual in their drive). Students are more engaged, they ask questions not about marks but what they can do better. I have students who are now conferencing with me without my prompts. It has been great.

2) I have no desks: 

As part of making my space inquiry driven and "play-based" I have no desks, just work stations. Kids choose where they want to sit. The carpet, desks, under desk, wherever they feel comfortable to work. This has given me more freedom to worry about the learning. Kids have also become more independent as they have learned to move where they will be getting work accomplished not just with their friends.

3) Going Digital: 

I honestly keep forgetting the photocopy code. But having google drive it has allowed me to open the classroom walls and share every file with my students. They want a note or homework taken up its there. Want to share a video with parents, its there. No more paper, no more mess all online.

4) Collaborative Problem Solving: 

I have been blogging about this for quite some time and I am in no way an expert but this has single handily been the best thing that I have done this year. For those that are unfamiliar with CPS, it is basically working together to get our difficult kids to not be difficult. I started it because my daughter is one of those difficult kids. It is not because she wants to be or because we have really bad parenting but because she doesn't know how and needs help to learn it. This year I have done it with certain kids and the whole class and I really don't have problems in the classroom. I don't have to be the mean, strict, yelling teacher but one that can talk to my kids and work through a solution. Just a fair warning CPS like any method is not a immediate fix. It will take time but it is time well worth it.

5) Inquiry in a Middle School

Some may think this isn't possible but again another great moment. My kids are driven to work on projects because they care. I have gotten some of the best writing and learning from them all because of inquiry and allowing them to invest in a big idea versus checking off curriculum. The funny part, all curriculum is done.  Now if you have been reading my blog I absolutely love inquiry but I have often heard that it is hard to do in middle school. I would like to challenge that notion as it has been amazing.
Take a look at these writing samples (please remember that my kids are all ELL): https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_euA7pkOAyXeERZTnMyNjd3ZU0&usp=sharing 

What has been some of your best things that you have done this year?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Can we truly have a student led lesson?

My students hard at work on a class project. Focus: Why do people Come to Canada?

I have heard these terms (student led and Student choice) being used and it has started to make me do some thinking. My biggest problem that I am having is if we as teachers are making detailed and thoughtful lessons, can we truly have student led lessons?

Now I know I may be questioning or going with the flow but, hear me out. I understand that as teachers we need to have the voice and ideas of the students at heart of our lessons. Teaching is no longer about the wise old sage on the stage giving all of their knowledge to their students. but should be more about facilitating the learning that is happening. If that is what you mean by student led then I am all for that. However, let me push some thinking more here.

In the last three years I have been highly influenced by Stein et al. article titled: Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions: Five practices for helping teachers move beyond show and tell.  In this article they showcase five practises that all teachers should be doing.

11: Anticipation (P.322)
The first thing is for the teacher to look and see how students might mathematically solve these types of problems.  In addition, teachers should also solve them for themselves.  Anticipating students’ work involves not only what students may do, but what they may not do.  Teachers must be prepared for incorrect responses as well.

2: Monitoring students' work (P. 326)
While the students are working, it is the responsibility of the teacher to pay close attention to the mathematical thinking that is happening in the classroom.  The goal of monitoring is to identify the mathematical potential of particular strategies and figure out what big ideas are happening in the classroom.  As the teacher is monitoring the students work, they are also selecting who is to present based on the observations that are unfolding in the classroom.

3: Selecting student work (P.327-328)
            Having monitored the students, it is now the role of the teacher to pick strategies that will benefit the class as a whole.  This process is not any different than what most teachers do; however, the emphasis is not on the sharing, but on what the mathematics is that is happening in the strategies that were chosen. 
4: Purposefully sequencing them in discussion (P. 329)
With  the students chosen, it is now up to the teacher to pick the sequence in which the students will present.  What big ideas are unfolding, and how can you sequence them for all to understand?  This sequencing can happen in a couple of ways: 1) most common strategy, 2) stage 1 of a big idea towards a more complex version or 3) contrasting ideas and strategies.

5: Helping students make mathematical sense (P.330-331)
As the students share their strategies, it is the role of the teacher to question and help  them draw connections between the mathematical processes and ideas that are reflected in those strategies.  Stein et. al. suggest that teachers can help students make judgments about the consequences of different approaches. They can also help students see how the strategies are the same even if they are represented differently.  Overall, it is the role of the teacher to bridge the gap between presentations so that students do not see them as separate strategies, but rather as working towards a common understanding or goal of the teacher.

If we follow these practise as teachers we are thinking about good contexts that will create huge discussion in our classrooms. We are anticipating results and answers so that we as teachers can ask the right questions at the right time. We are planning and sequencing work so that the end results end up close to the Big Ideas that we were hoping to accomplish and we as teachers are prodding, questioning and revoicing so that the Big ideas are brought to the students attention. Finally, we then create similar problems so that students have the opportunities to try these ideas out again.

Now I know that this article is a math article but these practises can be and should be for all subjects. So if we follow this line of thinking, who is really leading the lessons? Is it the students? or is it the teacher? If we as teachers are putting in this much thinking and planning do we truly have student led or based lessons? or is it because we have put all of this planning into our lessons that students feel that the lesson is student based and that is really all that matters?

Love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Global Awareness Projects: Grade Six

I have started a new grade this year and moved up to six. Its been a lot of fun. The social studies curriculum in six has the students learning two things: 1) Global Issues and how Canada and other countries deal with them and 2) The Canadian Identity and the various parts that have made it up. 

My teaching partner and I felt that Global Issues might be to big of a topic to start with as many of our students don't really know what happens beyond their neighbourhood. However, we decided to start broad, then go closer to home and eventually go back out to the world. We felt that the students needed to understand various problems that are out in the world to than see how the world has impacted us as Canadians. 

To do this we developed a Global Awareness project. The students had to pick a global issue in the world and research.  They had to figure out what the issue was and why we should care about it. I knew that being August (we are a balance calendar and teach in August) my students wouldn't have a lot of research back ground so we also turned it into a unit to learn how to research and write smaller reports. 

The focus of the centers was on asking critical questions, taking jot notes and writing paragraphs. Students also had to create short movie trailers for their global issues. 

Once this was done students wrote a mini report about their global issue. Here is their writing: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B_euA7pkOAyXeERZTnMyNjd3ZU0. 

It has been amazing because I was able to team up with Peter Cameron from Thunder Bay and Barb VanHatten from Lakehead University. Together the two of them have been giving feedback through the ConnectED project that Peter started. 

My students have loved the impact that their writing has done and they have loved the real feedback, instead of just my thoughts to them. 

We plan to revisit these global issues again at the end of November and revise the learning that has happened from their other units. Please remember that these projects where their first attempts at writing longer report writing pieces and making videos. 

Just thought I would share this project and if you have any thoughts or feedback for my students please message away, they would love it.

Friday, 30 October 2015

My journey with Collaborative Problem Solving

It has been two month since I started my journey with community circles and just over three using it with my own daughter and it has been amazing.

For those that are new to reading this blog post in August I was introduced to Dr Green's book, explosive child and lost at school. His book mentions many strategies to deal with trouble students. He calls for collaborative problem solving model. It is a model that works both on solving the problem but teaching students the skills to change their behaviours. The book predominately deals with those "troubled" students; however the more I read the more I realized that this strategy is best for all students and so my journey began.

At least once a week we as a class have a community circle. In this circle we discuss how the week has gone and if any problems have occurred. At times we have spent more it all depends on what is needed and how severe the problems are.  It has allowed my students to feel like they are a part of the classroom and have a place inside of it. When I say that they are in charge of their learning it is true they are and they know it.

Community circles have also given me a time to voice my concerns in a positive manner. If something was bothering me as a teacher I can address it. Now you may say can't you do that anyways and the answer would be yes but now its not me lecturing and telling them but voicing a concern that I have. Because I have let them tell me their issues, they have more respect for mine. In addition to this we as a class solve them and it isn't just me lecturing them about what I expect.

At home my daughter's episodes have calmed down. She has now been able to communicate her feelings. I get more "Daddy, I am tired and need to rest!" or "Daddy, I am getting hungry can I please have a snack?" At the same time, my partner and I are able to recognize certain situations or her triggers. We avoid those situations so that her episodes don't happen. 

If you haven't read this book or started Community Circles and Collaborative Problem Solving I highly recommend that you too. It will change your practise and your life. 

What does it mean to be a teacher?

In Ontario we are currently in a work to rule situation  we haven't had a contract in over a year and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. 

Whenever we are in contract negotiations it is always lovely to hear how everyone feels about the profession (being sarcastic here). The problem is I am not too sure why? I mean I understand what people see, two months off as kids have breaks in the year, our job is seen as baby sitting and anyone can teach. This is especially true if you follow the saying those that can't do, teach. However, teaching is so much more.

I know that I am preaching to the choir about this as most of my readers here are teachers but it is nice to be reminded about all the great things that we do as professionals.

1) Teachers take their job seriously:

Teachers take their job seriously. I have not met a teacher who does not stay up late marking, is in to school early to plan and stays late for school concerts and meet the parents. I know that many of you may think that this is part of the job description but it is not.  I also know that all teachers are here for students success. This means that we will do whatever it takes to make a student successful.  Buying books, buying school supplies or even supplying lunches from our own money is not out of the possibilities. Many teachers put their own families second behind that of the school and students. Teachers are always the constant learner. They want to do better and will because it makes their students better.

You know this is true because no matter what your story is presently you have had that one teacher who has made a difference in your life.

2) Teachers are more than babysitters:

There is more to my job than babysitting. Yes I watch 25-30 young students but I don't just give them an activity to pass the time. A good teacher motivates, they encourage and they teach. This brings me to my next point.

3) There is more to teaching then tell kids what to do:

Teaching is a gift. As much as we all think we may be able to teach, to truly teach a skill it takes more than telling students information. Real teaching takes planning, understanding what motivates and how students learn. Learning is a developmental process (though I know many may argue with this) but learning takes time. It takes a teacher to know that development so that they move students a long a continuum of learning.  When a student is stuck, it takes a teacher to know where they are stuck and how they can help them. It takes a teacher to know in what way a child may learn best. It takes a teacher to know how to show the information to get the best out of their students.  For example, this year I was able to go to China to help teachers learn about Problem Based Learning. I was given a class of 30 students, who I had never met and spoke little English. We were expected to have them ready to be showcased in 3 days in front of 1000 teachers. If teaching was just about reciting knowledge then I wasn't needed but it took my teaching partner and myself real teaching to get them to understand the physics of flight.

A teacher knows when and how to scaffold information, they know how where a child needs help and when to help.

4) Teaching should be an honoured profession:

I have no idea when teaching became a disdain on society here in North America. I understand that the grass is always greener on the other side and what teachers have as a contract may not be the same as the rest of the world but teaching should be an honoured profession. Teaching is the only profession that trains all other professions. We as a profession see children and raise them the same amount of time as their own parents.

Yes I am a teacher, Yes I have a bias but never have I thought that education, and teachers are not worth the money that we pay them. Teachers have a hard job, they have worked hard for the job they have and deserve the respect for it.

So as labour negotiations head into a critical weekend think about your child's teacher or teachers in general. Thank them for what they do and who they are.

If you are a teacher keep your head up high and remember that you are amazing.