Saturday, 5 April 2014

Wow what a great day of learning at the Ontario GAFE Summit

So I just spent the last eight to ten hours getting my mind blown by amazing presenters at the edtech team Ontario Summit.  

Oka, so first I want to say if anyone doubted the dedication of teachers to their students then they are sorely misguided.  All they have to do is look at all of the wonderful teachers who have given up their weekend to enjoy, talk, collaborate and learn this weekend.  I don't know any profession that would do professional development like teachers.

Okay so what did I learn.  The day started off with an amazing key note from Jennie magiera: http://www.teachinglikeits2999.com/ on what is innovation and the idea of transformation.  She asked us why we are here? Of course I said I want to learn about google apps.  The next statement said, why are you here? And the answer should be to be a better educator.  It really hit home.  She's right.  Tech is great but it's not what is driving me to learn, it is the vehicle that I am driving but pedagogy is driving my learning and to be better at teaching is why I am here.  Jennie continued to make us think about this concept. She should us her first use of iPads, and how proud she was that the kids were quiet and on task, but stated is this engagement, is this learning?  Then she showed us true engagement, through creation. Very powerful.

My next session was google forms: there are so many possibilities but the best application was from Scott Monahan who suggested making a form for assessment.  The form has the kid names, the subject and a comment box.  Use your iPad or mobile device to voice record the text.  Wow, amazing.

Some other ideas: 

Reading assessments, exit tickets, student surveys, data collection in math, etc.

My next learning was with Kyle pace on creating a google site. With my myclass site being phased out I needed to learn some new platform to allow my to host all the flip things we have been doing in the classroom. For me this was google sites.  When I first started before the conference I felt a little overwhelmed with it but with Kyle's tutorial is was quite easy to follow.  You can see it here: https://sites.google.com/site/pacehandouts/google-sites.  

My next session was my own. It was great to present on flipping a p/j classroom.  I put my presentation on 21sttechtools.pbworks.com or you can see my slide show at bit.ly/Flip101.

It was also great to hear all of the help from the audience and the engagement in helping eachother.
One thing I stressed with flipping is just have an open mind, possibilities are endless. It also doesn't need to be something with a lot of sparkle, just a simple instructional video can move and meet many.

My final session was with Rolland chidiac, another amazing educator in Kitchener catholic board.  He talk about his journey with chrome books and the possibilities with student creation.  Now he has me wanting some chrome books.

Again what a fabulous day of learning.  Check out my storify here: http://sfy.co/jfXj

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A List of Types of Questions and Talk Moves in the Classroom

My Master's research has been about the types of questions that I ask in my classroom.  I wrote a previous blog post as a chart but I have recently updated the list with definitions.  Thought I would share it.  Would love to also here the types of talk moves and questions that you use in the classroom.


Talk Moves:

Air Misconceptions: airing misconceptions is when the teacher will bring out a misconception in order to get more talk initiated.  It will often be in the form of presenting a wrong strategy or making an incorrect statement.

Answering with another question: a strategy that is often employed by teachers.  It is meant to get the students talk.  By answering their statement with another question teachers are not stating that something is wrong but at the same time that the statement needs further clarification.

Letting students just talk: Often the best talk move is to say nothing and let the students talk it out. 

Monitoring students: The talk move is to see if the students understand what is happening in their strategies or in the congress.  This is often stated as a quick question, "What do you mean?" "Why did you do this?" It is a talk move because it normally is not related to a big idea but more of a diving board to create further and deeper discussion.

No confirmation/ in order to push beyond: Similar to letting students talk, with this talk move the teacher says nothing, which with time, will make the students want to explain more or keep going with the conversation.

Relate back to context: When students are stuck on the problem it is always good to bring them back to the context.

Relate to other problems:  Like above sometimes there is not context, in this situation bring the student back to the problem.

Revoicing: A useful tool to make the students hear back what they have said.  For this talk move all you need to do is state what the student said.  "You are saying..." "Is this what you said...?"  It is important to repeat as best as you can what the student said.

Student revoicing: Same as above but with the students.

Think, Pair, Share: This is good with reluctant talkers or participators in the classroom.  For this move the teacher has the students first thing, then share with a partner and then share with the classroom.

Wait Time: Is exactly what the term says, wait. The more time the better.

Questions:

Building on: This type of questioning is when the teacher tries to build upon what a student has presented.  This type of question looks like: "How is this related? Why did you do this? What big idea are you using? etc."

Compares students work: This type of question often is used to compare two strategies together.  This type of question looks like: "How is this compared to this strategy? How is this similar...? How is this different?"

Direct teaching: This type of questioning is more teaching statements then questions.  Direct teaching is when the teacher tells the students the answers or information.

Go Beyond:  For this type of questioning the teacher is trying to bring the students beyond what they may understand.  For this questioning the teacher may introduce a new strategy by asking students opinions.  They may also ask if they understand a particular term.  The teacher may also try to relate a problem to a term and see if the students understand.

Initiation- response- evaluation: This is traditionally found when the teacher asks a question they already know the answer to the question.  The purpose of this is not to have students talk but to make sure that information is being disseminated.  Once the teacher hears the appropriate response they often move on or ask another question.

Interrogation: This type of question is often used to gain information from the student.  This is normally is in the form of "Why?" or "How come?"

Scaffolding: These type of questions are used when the students may not understand fully the big idea.  Often the teachers will bring the questioning back to where the students are and then build on the knowledge and answers given.  The first questions may be talk moves, relate to the context, or bring it back to the numbers the students are working with.  To scaffold teachers need a good understanding of students progressions of learning.


A Balanced Math Program

There has been a lot of talk about math (at least in the area I am from) lately.  Some talking about going back to basics and others talking about problem solving.  For those that have been reading my blog you know that I tend to lean more to the problem solving approach; however, there is need for fact recall and learning basic arithmetic in a constructive and engaging way.

With this in mind many of us in our board (@mathewolridge, @keriewart) and neighboring areas (@avivaloca @moojean) have been talking a balanced math manifesto (#balancedmathmanifesto).  Thought I would share my thinking in hopes to start the conversation rolling.  Please keep in mind that this is still a work in progress and our only my opinions.  I would love input from any readers.  Hopefully these ideas and all the other collaboration can be added to our Balanced math manifesto.  So please add your voice, would love to hear from you.

Components of a Balanced Mathematics Program



Guided Mathematics: The teacher introduces a selection at the students’ instructional level

  •          Promotes mathematical strategies and offers students the opportunities to practise varying strategies
  •          Links to the problem they will be exploring
  •          Fosnot “String” lessons are great insertion here
  •          Does not need to be a minds-on activity, can be done while other students are solving problem


Contextual/ Rich Task: The teacher introduces an open, or parallel task that encourages thinking of mathematical principals

  •          Rich, truly problematic situation
  •          Authentic to students
  •          Allows students to generate and explore mathematical ideas
  •          Multiple entry points
  •          Supports mathematizing
  •          Important that teachers have anticipated student strategies before students work on a problem


Shared Mathematics: Students work together to “Mathematize”

  •          Students work in homogenously levelled pairs
  •          Allows the teacher to monitor and conference (see the next section)
  •          Provides students opportunities to explore while discussing
  •         Allows for assessment, anecdotal and observations of growth and development
  •          mathematical theories and concepts
  •          Allows students to see themselves as mathematicians.  They feel comfortable and experience fluency when making connections to other problems
  •          Develops fact fluency, patience  problem solving
  •          Students demonstrate their knowledge of mathematical big ideas and concepts
  •          Increase comprehension as students explore related problems


Conferencing/ Monitoring: As students work he teacher is constantly monitoring and conferencing with students

  •         Asking why questions or building varying types of questions
  •          Can sometimes feel like an interrogation
  •          Developing a sense of where the students are mathematically
  •          Comparing student work to learning trajectories or landscapes of development
  •          Planning for “Congress”


Congress: Teachers and students work together to understand the big ideas.

  •          Teachers ask critical thinking questions
  •          3 Types of Questions are: “building upon”, “comparing too” or “going beyond”
  •          Teachers job is to promote thinking and elicit thinking and strategy based mathematics
  •          Students converse and communicate thinking strategies
  •          Solidify understanding


Reflection: Students reflect on the lesson and strategies used. Metacognition in mathematics

Math Games and Math Facts: Student knowledge of basic addition/subtraction/ multiplication/division facts is critical

  •          Teachers give the students a consistent and on-going opportunity to build their knowledge and skills while learning and practising the basic math facts
  •          Math games build communication
  •         Fact recall
  •          Problem solving strategies
  •       Promote further learning of concepts 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Using Google Docs to Translate Work

I just found out a really interesting thing about google docs.  This may not be new to many of you but nonetheless it was quiet interesting.  While researching for the upcoming Ontario Summit conference on Google apps I learned that you can use google docs to translate documents.  Now I find this interesting because I can use it for many different purposes for my ELL classroom and even school.  Before I show you how this is done let me share some of my ideas:

1) Creating instructions for students:

In my classroom we do a lot of inquiry projects and center based learning.  For this to happen instructions have to be written so that students can independently work through the process and if I am not available for conferencing they need them to access what to possibly do. This is sometimes hard when you have a high ELL population in the classroom and you don't speak the language.  Now you can do this with google translate.

2) Creating dual language books.

3) Students can also type in their own language in google docs and then you can translate it back into English

4) Translating notes and other announcements from your classroom or school is easy to do

So how do you do this:

1) Type the document that you wish to type

2) Highlight the selected text you wish to translate.

3. The next step is to click on tools and look through the drop down menu:


4. Click on the translate button and another menu will open in the middle of your screen with more options


5. Click on the language button and choose from a wide range.  Note that not all languages are here, unfortunately.



In the end it will create a whole new document for you to use:


Hope you enjoy this cool tool, like I am.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Math Games

In a previous post I mentioned that I teach many of my fact recall through the use of math games.  Math games have always been a passion of mine.  They have so many possibilities that help with mathematics.  Once a week we have a math game focus.  This is two periods in the week devoted to playing math games.  In addition, students who finish problems faster than others can also play math games.

Why use math games?

Math games not only are fun but they teach the basics of fact recall, WHILE, teaching understanding.  They allow students to practice various strategies in addition, to learning their facts.  This is the main reason why I love them so much.  They teach something that is procedural in a conceptual way.

What do you do while students are playing?

Math game time is not just a time to sit back and relax (not to say that you would).  During this time I am looking at how my students are developing, what strategies are they using, and what games they are playing.  I am also asking questions about why they chose a particular strategy and what they were thinking while playing.

Math games at home:

Math games are also important for home.  They bring the family together and help parents practise facts in a fun environment.  At times my math homework is to play a math game.

Here is my google drive link with the games I have on hand:  Math Games.  You can also watch my youtube channel for explanation of the primary games: Math Game Play List

If you have any games you would like to share please do so, would love to find some new ones.
 


Thursday, 20 March 2014

Why teach social justice?

Before I even write this post I want to stress that these opinions our my own and comments are here to make you think, no offence is intended.

Today I was reminded about why I should and all teachers should be teaching social justice and more importantly all the various isms. Now, When I mention the isms I am talking about racism, sexism, ableism, faith-as-an-ism, classism, and heterosexism.  I understand that this may be touchy subjects for teachers but it is so important to be discussing.  Let me start at the beginning.

I will be honest when I first started teaching, social justice meant nothing to me.  I taught knowledge and concepts. But four years ago, I met an amazing teacher who opened up my eyes.  She showed me the power of social justice and teaching through the isms.  Since then I have had my eyes open up to see that teaching through these topics is about caring for one another, loving eachother for who we are no matter on our beliefs and more importantly it is about accepting each others beliefs.  Unfortunately, these past four years haven't been the easiest. As I and other teachers have taught through social justice we have met many complications and resistance; even to this day.  This resistance has come in the form of ignorance and unwillingness to accept change. Now I know these words may seem harse but it is the only words that come to mind and I say them because before having my mind open it is how I felt. The funny thing is that most of these topics are fine. When we talk about ableism, classism, racism, sexism no one bats an eyelash but when we bring up the topic of heterosexism it becomes controversial. 

Now I understand that this topic brings many different views and view points.  There is religion and culture but if we look back on the other topics this was the same with them too.  We once thought that African American children and adults couldn't sit on the same bus, drink the same water or even have jobs the same as white.  We even had African Americans has slaves.  Those with disabilities both physical and mental were viewed as second class citizens. Now I am in no way saying that these ideas are gone, which is why I believe it's so important to teach about them, what I am saying is why is the topic of heterosexism any different then the other isms? Should it be? When I say hateful comments about the LGBQ community is it not the same has putting a white hood over my face and attacking a bus full of African Americans or allowing the horrors of the holocaust to happen? Is it not the same as saying girls can't be successful because there girls or those with physical and mental disabilities should be second class citizens? I say it isn't, what about you?

This brings me to the reason why I am writing this blog post.  In the past couple of years I have heard many various children, parents and unfortunately teachers saying many hurtful things. These comments are so bad, it makes teachers cry, children want to kill themselves, teachers want to quick teaching. The sad part is there is no defence no aid for these comments. Other comments range from Debating why we should be teaching these isms, that there is a personal agenda, or trying to change children away from their culture or faith.  The reason why it gets me so upset is that the teaching of these topics has nothing to do with personal beliefs but more with accepting one another for who we are, no matter what that is. There is so much fighting, war, arguments over needless things and it needs to stop. Hurt breeds more hurt. Hate breeds hate and if we don't stand up for it then who will.

As a parent, I want my daughter and future child, to love everyone for who they are. I want them to also be accepting of everyone's opinion. I am not saying they have to believe or follow but they must accept and love each person for who they are.  Personally I am a religious man, I have a strong beliefs and because of these beliefs I know where I stand and hate isn't part of it, love is.  When teachers teach through social justice we are teaching our future generation to love one another, to change and be the change we want in this world.  By teaching this way and these topics we are breeding a new society that hopefully may not have any war but peace.

So what needs to happen then.  As teachers we need to incorporate more social justice into our practise. I know some of the topics are hard but start small and build.  We need to stop ALL hateful comments coming from our students, colleagues and all that say them. As administrator, the words of hate should not be allowed or even debated, not matter the topic. Discussion is fine but there must be a stand at hate. There also needs to be a united front that topics of social justice will be taught in the schools and if there are complains or resistance that teachers are supported in their decisions because those decisions will change our world.  Dialogue wis accepted and should be encouraged as long as it's positive and not hateful. Parents need to have an open mind no matter on faith, personal believe or stereotypes. I can't speak for all parents but I know personally I don't want my child to grow up in war and hate, this is the only way to stop this. Students need to stop hateful words like that's retarded, that's gay.  Most importantly we all need to think about what our words may say and do to others, no matter on our personal feelings about the topic. We need to think beyond what we have been told is true and think critically about it.

Now I know as I write this it may not sit well with others but if we really want this world to change, if we really want hate removed then we need to think about acceptance and love for one another. We need to stand up for what is right and not what we have been told is right. So as I end this blog I ask, no implore you to think about your practise, to think about your walk, your life, how are you affecting change? How are you teaching acceptance? How are you being equitable for all? And if you have any stories to share about why social justice is important please share. Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Problem based in learning in the context of math wars. Thoughts are my p.o.v.


I was recently given an article from Suril Shah (@thrilsuril), a colleague of mine in the peel Board, (http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/02/28/does-discovery-learning-prepare-alberta-students-for-the-21st-century-or-will-it-toss-out-a-top-tier-education-system/) and then later on another article from another colleague Aviva Dunsiger, a teacher in the Hamilton School board (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/canadas-math-woes-are-adding-up/article17226537/ ).  Both articles discuss (or rather reprimand) the notion of “Discovery Math” needless to say I had to respond.

As many of you know from my blog posts, math is a very important passion of mine.  I have in a way devoted my educational career to learning about math education and how it can help transform student learning.  This has gone on for me for the last 9 years of my teaching career and five years before volunteering at an amazing school in Peel.  Over the course of these 14 years the arguments in the above articles have always been happening; so I think it is funny that when Ms Wente mentions that this is a “new faddish fuzzy notion.”  Since mathematics was first introduced into the curriculum in the fifteenth century it has always been a debate over skill versus conceptual understanding.  This debate will always be there all I can give you is fact from experience and from the classroom (which I will say many who write articles in the Newspaper or make policy cannot).

Let me first start of with my own evolution.  Like many of you I was taught with very traditional methods.  My father drilled in me from a young age that fact recall was the most important thing.  I still remember practising for hours on hours flash cards and being randomly asked multiplication questions to see if I knew these facts.  I also remember that my Math class was all in a work book and my teacher sat at the front of the room and wrote many things on the board and then we did questions to practise and show what we learned.  This continued all the way through school and as I got into the high school and eventually University this is what I remember of my Math class.  Did it help?  No, I don’t think it did.  Don’t get me wrong, I did learn math.  In fact Math has never been a hard subject for me (except problem solving).  I was able to work through and memorize what was needed and then when the test came I was able to retell those facts and get an A.  My problems never came until University Calculus.  Here I because I didn’t have a good foundation in Calculus I struggled, in fact I failed. 

Sorry I digress here.  This method of teaching stuck with me, more so because this was all I knew.  During University I changed majors and decided to become a teacher.  I was able to volunteer at an Amazing school in Peel and soon learned Reform Mathematics (what discovery math was called at that time).  I was also fortunate enough to have an Amazing principal who let me question her and learn what reform mathematics was all about.  At first I said the same things that many of these article, and our parents say when they see problem based learning. You have probably heard these before (I know they are in the article):

1)      What is wrong with Rote, it worked for me?

2)      What about facts? There not learning them like I did?

3)      I memorized and got good grades?

4)      They can’t possible learn this on their own?

5)      What do you mean discovery? What is your job then?

6)      You’re the teacher so teach?

7)      This look chaotic, there is no order, how can they learn?

8)      What about the language, seems like more reading than math?

I can go on but they start to sound the same.  During this process I was able to see students truly excel and showcase their learning.  In fact, looking at scores (which is not the end all to be all), the school went from 42% to 93% in that first year in mathematics.  I was also able to reflect on my own learning and how I learn.  This started the ball rolling and has helped me to ask questions back.  Here are a few to think about:

1)      How do you truly learn as an adult learner? 

2)      Do you memorize things and then succeed? Or did you have to make mistakes, go back and relearn or have someone help you through it?

3)      When you are learning do you like to ask questions? Or just sit and receive information?

4)      (my favourite one) As a successful adult how did you become successful? What traits do you like in your employers?

Here are my thoughts to these questions:

I personal learn by doing, struggling, asking questions and then going back to relearn it.  True mastery comes from doing something over and over and over again.  Yes I can see how this backs learning facts, and I am not saying facts are not important, but my learning is in context to the concept not in isolation.  Memorization only works with some things but I still make mistakes no matter what I am doing and then I learn from them.  As for success to me I value students who are free thinkers, creative, adaptable and able to see past just simple direction.  This has been the case even when I was managing people in the private sector in my University jobs.  I don’t think the world can evolve from people who can only follow direction and not think beyond what is on the paper.

With this in mind I began my teaching career.  Here I too continued to question but now I also had to field questions from the general population about my style of teaching.  Here are my responses.

Q: Why is this better than traditional learning?

 A: I hope that I may have answered this above but most students, and adults do not learn through traditional learning.  There are a very few who do and we also have to consider that style but many don’t.  Learning is developmental.  It doesn’t happen in a linear fashion and PBL allows for this to happen.  Learning in PBL also doesn’t happen in isolation from the world, or other subjects.  It is always connected to a context, which helps all students to hold on to something and work with it.  Furthermore, all learners can access PBL, whether gifted or with a learning disability all students can do the problem.  Also, personally, it makes the day go by a lot faster, I enjoy it and so do my students.  Check out this video: http://curriculum.org/secretariat/justice/insights.html for student reflection on what context can do.

Q: You know my kids don’t know facts, why aren’t you teaching them?

A: First and foremost, I want this to be said, “FACTS ARE IMPORTANT!” they must be taught and learned; however, how are we learning them.  Let’s go back to my question back to you.  Can you recall something where pure fact learning has help you be successful?  If yes, no think was it just fact memorization or was it in a context?  Fact knowledge is important and needs to be done.  I prefer to do this through games and mini-lessons.  This allows me to talk about a strategy and have students discuss the pros and cons of the strategies.  The talk focuses the learning.  Check on my previous blog post on it.

Q: “Teachers and Students are learning together” Great so now we have the blind leading the blind!

A: This is the one that bothers me the most.  It bothers me because PBL actually takes more understanding, more planning and a lot more patience then traditionally teaching.  I have almost completed my thesis, in where I researched the impact of my questions on students learning of fractions.  It was interesting to see where I had moments of direct teaching that my students stopped talking.  In fact, they just sat there.  Which is exactly what traditional teaching does, students sit and listen then do.  PBL takes planning.  In another of my posts I talk about five practises that teachers should be following for PBL implementation (http://mrsoclassroom.blogspot.ca/2013/11/blog-post.html ).  Teachers actually need to learn the mathematics and it is through critically placed questions that the learning is brought out.  Students develop at a faster rate through this proper questioning style and can achieve a higher level of understanding.  I have grade twos right now who are learning about equivalent fractions, ratios, division and adding three digit numbers in their head.  It is truly amazing to see what they can do.  But this takes planning on my part.  It takes understanding of learning trajectories and  understanding what students are doing (so you can redirect or push beyond) and understanding the math to be effective in PBL.

Q: Test scores are falling?

A: this might be so but I would caution you on this.  First of all tests are a snap shot of learning at a particular moment in time.  They have a place in assessment.  In my personal opinion a very far place but a place nonetheless.  There are many factors to low test scores: 1) poverty, parents education, home life, social problems that day, being sick, stress, reading level, context, etc. The list is endless.  When we put all emphasis on test we are taking away so many other factors of learning.  I know more about a student from a problem that they solve then by what they can retell me on a test, just a matter of fact.

 I am going to stop here for now as I think I have written more than I ever have in a blog.  This topic is very dear to me and I have heard a lot of the questions in this “Math War.” It will not go away but please don’t take this as a discouragement to stop PBL or even start.  To me PBL is the best way for ALL students to learn.  It gives the teacher the most time for true assessment and understanding of their students needs and next steps.  It allows you to meet all levels of students and be able to get to all of them.  I have and will continue to only teach through PBL (problem based learning).  Love to hear your personal stories, questions or answers to this lovely debate.