Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Why it's important to teach diversity and inclusion

I recently heard one of the most deplorable things I have ever heard in my educational career and have really felt the need to blog about my response to this event.

I was talking to a colleague about diversity and teaching the isms and she directed me to an article in lifesite magazine that was recently written about a fellow teacher. The headlines read, "Lesbian Teacher: How I convince kids to accept Gay 'Marriage', starting at 4 years old." I was appalled that this was ever written. I would also recommend that you do not read the article as this sleazy type journalism and to be frank appalling comments is not worth the read.  I also don't want to give more power to the writer through amount of views.  The funny thing was that the presentation had nothing to do about this title and all about teaching children about inclusion and love.

I want to first state that I am proud to teach about all the ism's including hetersexism. I also want to say that I am not Gay and am religious but to me it is about the message of "love", about understanding, about being human. I was raised to love people for who they are inside and not by their skin colour, their thoughts or life choices but for who they are as people. This is the message that I as a teacher preach. This is the message that I as an educator tell my students. This is the message as a human that I tell my own children.

What has gotten me so steamed and upset is that people in this world are allowed to write comments like this. That this type of prejudice is still active in today's so called 21st century world. We don't debate slavery, we don't debate racial slurs, we don't debate making fun of someone for being disable but its okay to say these hateful comments about a community. To me that is the very definition of discrimination. 

So why do I teach diversity because I don't want my children growing up in a world of hate. I don't want my children fearing for their life because of war and rumour or war. Because I want my children to love everyone and to be able to work with everyone. 

In my experience as an educator children do not hate. Yes they question and yes they inquire but they never hate. It is us as adults that show kids how to hate. We are the models that our children follow. We are the examples that they see every day of their life. How do you want your children to act? How do you want them to behave? If the expectation is to love one another, then we need to start leading by example. 

These types of articles, comments and ideas are quite frankly archaic and bigotry. The ignorance that follows is even more disturbing. We have always been told, "Don't judge a book by its cover" or "Treat others as you would want to be treated." So how are these comments and ideas helping? They aren't. 

This world is already a dark and disturbing place. I fear for my own children and those that I teach for what they will have to endure in their life time. Because of these fears I try hard every day to change the future generation. Not to rebel against their parents and religion but to think, to love and to understand. Our children our the future but we are who they look up to. 

How will you make a difference in this world? How will you be the change you want to see in your children? It starts with you. Thank you for listening and reading this post.


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Blog Hop: Digital Learning in Math

Tonight's Blog Hop is about digital learning in Math and I want to share two of my favourite tools.

First I think that with any technology it is not the technology but the teacher that makes the difference. I have seen the exact same tool used in various classrooms with various degrees of success; all depended on how the teacher implemented tools.  It's very important to note that the teacher has the impact to turn any lesson into a great mathematical success or a great failure.  A lot is dependent on how you plan, the thinking and linking to curriculum and big ideas and what questions are being asked in the rich task.

That being said:

The first tool I want to share is an app called explain everything. This app is fantastic to use for explaining students mathematical processes. In my class after students are done their math problem they grab their iPad and then they take a picture of their work and talk over the strategy. They use the laser pointer to describe what they did. You can also have them write on the screen and screencast as you go. This is a great idea for presenting students strategies outside of the classroom. You also have the explanation to go with the written work.

The second tool has been my journey using Minecraft in math.  It has been amazing how this gaming app can be used to explore endless possibilities in mathematics. Take a look at some of the ideas that we have done:








Overall, tech can be used in a variety of ways to enhance the learning of the students. The important part is that as a teacher we bring out the mathematics.  It can be used to engage, promote and discuss math concepts but more importantly it is a way to record and reflect on student thinking.

Don't forget to check out these other amazing peel teachers:

Graham Whisen

Shivonne Lewis-young

Jay Wigmore

Don Campbell

Jason Richea

Tina Zita

Phil Young

Making kids doers of math instead of Doing math!

I have been thinking about this topic for quite some time now and then when asked to do the OAME 2015 ignite I thought this would be an amazing topic to push thinking.

My biggest fear in education right now is that we are having our kids go through the paces of doing school. We our turning our students through the drudgery of school.  Before I started to really question this thinking I saw it in my own class. My students were coming to school going through the paces and then leaving. Sure they enjoyed it but was I really making them think? What type of work was I making them do? Why was I teaching them these skills?

I then came across this statement by fosnot:

The purpose of teaching is to learn, but without learning there is no teaching!

I was shocked. Was she saying that if my students didn't learn then I wasn't being a good teacher. The answer was yes! And the more that I reflected on this the more I agreed with this statement. Over time, i realized that even though I was teaching different kids the common denominator was still me. So when I asked questions like, why don't they get this? The answer was because I am not doing a good enough job. I wasn't making them understand because I was just making them be there instead of embodying the learning.

I see this a lot in math and this is partially because of my lens. In a math class we traditionally stand I front of students, give a lecture, let them work and then test them to see if they understand. B how many of our students are really learning? How many of them become mathmaticians? 

VanDeWalle suggests that The goal is to let all students believe that they are the authors of mathematical ideas and logical arguments.

So then how do we go about doing this?
I would like to propose three key points to this:  Link back to my thesis always link back

1) Role of the teacher
2) Environment of Learning
3) Accountable Kids

Role of the teacher

I want to first preface that teaching to me is about turning my kids into mathematicians through inquiry and exploration but I start with this point because as a teacher we have the most critical role to play.We are not to sit back and allow our students free reign but to ignite (lol) and actually talk about math. I know really insightful!

Researchers have suggested that children should being engaged in problem versus talk procedures. But our role is to bring out the math not by telling students information and expecting them to regurgitate it but by creating contexts for learning asking critical questions and debriefing the math. In my research I found three types of questions that worked the best for creating these conditions:

1) Interrogation: Just like the title suggests → a lot of why’s and how comes2) Going beyond: Pushing the thinking beyond the schema the student has created. These questions include, have you thought? What about this? Can someone else explain3) Comparing: Often I compare strategies together to see if students can move from one to the next. This includes, what are the differences? Similarities

In order for this process to really work "Teachers must have the [student learning] in mind when they plan activities, when they interact, question and facilitate discussions" ~ Fosnot pg. 24

The key to everyone one of these questions is that it was linked to a big mathematical idea. One that was key to the learning of the student. The same goes to the various talk moves that a teacher can make. These should include: Wait time and revoicing. I cannot stress how important these two items are to the success of building mathematicians. To often we don’t give students enough time.

Creating an environment of learning

In a mathematical environment , students feel comfortable trying out ideas, sharing insights, challenging others, seeking advice from other students and the teacher, explaining their thinking and taking risks. ~ VanDeWalle pg 36. When students do mathematics in an environment that encourages risk and expects participation, it becomes an exciting endeavour. Students talk more, share more ideas, offer suggestions, and challenge or defend the solutions of others. When a context is real and meaningful for children, their conversation relates to the context. They mathematize the situation. ~Fosnot

Making kids accountable:

No one is allowed to be a passive observer ~ VanDeWalle pg 36

I love this quote. I think it is exactly the whole idea around accountable talk. Many teachers may think that just because the student is not talking they are not participating but the key is not to be a passive observer, which doesn't always involve talking but listening. However, that has not been the case in school. We have been so use to hearing teachers talk that many of our students are use to being told the answer that they are not use to talking. 

In my thesis research I saw that when I asked an Initiate respond Evaluate types of questions (basically questions I already knew the answers) I got no further discussion happening. My kids just sat there. But when I asked going beyond types or comparing questions, basically critical thinking questions, that was linked to big ideas kids talked about math.  They became active users of the information and doers of math not just following the paces.

So I guess I want to ask: How do you make your students into Doers versus just doing? This question doesn't need to be math as it is a broader problem in education. Love to hear your thoughts and ideas.


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Teaching Diversity

It seems that about this time of year I am always writing a post about diversity but yet here I am again talking about it. Not just because today is the Day of Pink but because I think that this is a very important topic to be discussing. (last years post)

I want to first start out by saying in no means am I trying to offend but to provoke your thinking.  I truly believe that we all have our students learning and feelings at heart. We want what is best, no matter our believes.

As I mentioned above, today is the International Day against Bullying, Discrimination, Homophobia, and Transphobia across the world. Now I know that many of us are very comfortable about teaching or stopping bullying and discrimination; especially when it comes to race. I mean we don't debate slavery anymore do we? We recognize that this is wrong but what about homophobia, and transphobia? Are we just as ready to stand-up for this discrimination?

I already know the answer and for many of us it is no.  I know this because I was there. I wasn't ready to do this. I know that before I learned more about discrimination that was the case. So what changed?

For me it was a realization that what I was doing was wrong. Yes, wrong! If I was prepared to stand up for what was right for other forms of discrimination why not for discrimination against the LGBTQ communities?  I started learning more from a great friend and colleague Alicia Gunn. Along with her wife Shannon (@gunnteach) I learned so much about all social justice ideas and ALL forms of discrimination. I started to change my practise to teach my children how to be the difference in the world. And I slowly learned that its never the kids who have problems with this; its often the adults.

Kids don't see differences. I mean they notice them but they never really care about them. All they really care about is how they are treated. This should be the focus. As one of my students said the other day, "We are all human so let's treat each other that way!"

I totally understand that there is a lot of factors: Religion, personal believes, being uncomfortable, and or not knowing enough. However, as I said before we don't debate slavery so why this? How is this any different then any other form of discrimination? Is it because of religion? Is it because of the backlash?  Discrimination is wrong. Period.  If we as teachers, parents and adults don't start modelling this then we are creating a cycle of hate. We are the ones who are responsible for creating the wars and terrorism that is happening in the world. We are responsible for the violence that we are so ready to shake our heads at. WE, no one else!

WE as teachers need to stand-up for what is right, to be the models that our kids look up to. I don't know about you but I don't want to be the reason for perpetual violence happening in the world. I want to be the difference that makes this stop?

So how do we do this: 

The first step is recognizing that diversity starts with you. We have to put our personal believes and feelings aside and realize that its about love and not hate. It's understanding that I know some parents may be offended because they don't understand but it is my job to educate and make them see this difference. Its not easy but we healthy relationships and if ALL of us are doing it, it makes it a lot easier.

Second step is that this can't just be a one day event. Social diversity needs to be incorporated into our programs whenever we can. To be honest these social justice topics are so easy to incorporate into any subject matter. They also create a real powerful context that our students can latch on to and as we know research shows that when students have powerful contexts to learn with they learn a lot better.

I would love to here from anyone about how they incorporate and celebrate diversity in their classroom. Also if you have any questions please ask away.  Love to hear your comments and ideas.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Role of a Teacher

I have been having a great discussion on the use of coding in the classroom with some amazing g educators (Aviva Dunsiger, Brian Asinall and Enzo Ciardelli  ). The conversation has been about using coding in the classroom and the reasons why and how we use it. You can read some blogs here.

Today Brian posted this

The conversation has been amazing so much so that I cannot keep my thoughts to 70 characters with everyone involved. So I thought I would state them here. 

In this conversation I stated that a teacher can change the outcome of a task. I have also stated in other blog posts that the role of the teacher is critical to the learning of students and the speed of their growth.

I see many things in our education releam as really cool things to do. We have iPads, Minecraft, inquiry, problem based learning and coding. The problem is that these are just cool things, if I can dumb it down to that (and please do not take me for saying that these things are not important. In fact I think they are all highly important).  What I am trying to argue is that without good teaching a task is a task and even if it's the newest thing or an important thing with out good teaching it is useless and can hurt student development.

What is good teaching?

We have numerous ideas as to what that is but for me a good teacher does:

1) Puts students first: I know this is suppose to be obvious but a good teacher knows ther students, is able to understand them and is able to meet their needs.

2) anticipates problems: there is a lot that goes into planning a lesson but one thing is that a good teacher knows how to foresee problems and misconceptions because they have anticipated these problems

3) uses contexts for deep learning: A good teacher is always thinking about the context in which students are learning in and from.

4) able to guide and redirect the learning through questions: A good teacher has a bank of effective questions that will facilitate good rich discussions. They also know how to ask questions that will scaffold student thinking and move them along a continuum of learning.

5) understands both content and curriculum really well.

6) makes mistakes, acknowledges mistakes and is always learning

Now why is this important? Because a good teacher, through these qualities, can turn any task into an engaging, thoughtful and amazing lesson. Because they have a good understanding of student development, content and curriculum they are able to turn a basic plan into one of rich discussion. It is these lessons that we are striving for.

So when we argue that Brian's task may be a task card or a list of checks and skills a good teacher can turn that activity card into an amazing lesson where students are creating, checking, reflecting and then discussing the curriculum links to what is there. Yes you can take it at its face value and see a list of skills but you can also see a lot of learning goals both in curriculum and in soft learning skills. It transcends the application of coding.

I would also suggest that even though coding is not in our curriculum a good teacher recognizes that there are many important skills that students need to learn outside of our stated curriculum. Yes our curriculum is important, yes it must be taught but a good teacher knows how to manipulate it so it's not a series of checks but deep conceptual learning. They know how to incorporate the necessary skills of the future into a lesson not because it says we have to but because kids need to learn it.

To me the curriculum is important but it's not the end all that we make it out to be. Learning is! Now we cannot forget the development of that learning and the curriculum does provide that nicely for us but we should be looking at the learning. Coding provides that opportunity to learn and learn about learning.  Students are engaged in problem solving, rethinking, being creative, being mathematicians, etc. Yes it is not the end all to be all and yes it is something that I wouldn't spend all of my time on but I think it is still something that must be taught and should be taught.

I guess in the end what I am saying is that an effective teacher knows how to manipulate the curriculum so that students are always engaged in rich contextual lessons no matter what that may be. A good teacher can make all the difference to any task.

I am not too sure if I am making a local argue net but I would love to hear your thoughts:

1) what do you think makes a good teacher?
2) what is the role of the curriculum and how should we use it?
3) what of soft skills?
4) what about these "fun" things like coding, minecraft, iPads, etc? what do they have to offer?

Friday, 27 March 2015

Teaching through Inquiry

There has been a lot said about Inquiry in the classroom and you can take whatever side you want. However, for me it is such a fundamental component of any primary classroom.  This is because in my opinion when we are first learning a new skill it is through inquiry that we learn it. Very rarely is it through a lecture. In fact even as an adult when acquiring new skills do we do it through lectures but through mentor-ship and research.

For me teaching is all about the inquiry process. And teaching through inquiry allows you to meet all the minds in the classroom.

Now before I get too far in my post maybe I should articulate what I mean by inquiry, as I know there are many variations of the process out there.

Throughout my teaching career my journey through inquiry has undergone a lot of changes. When I first started teaching I thought what I did was inquiry. I would plan lessons that were hands-on, engaging, thought provoking and had plenty of talk built in. Students would often be engaged with problems, experiments or activities that required them to think, problem solve and then discuss.  Now I know many of you are thinking but isn't that inquiry and you are correct.

According to Google, inquiry is:

in·quir·y
ˈinkwərē,inˈkwī(ə)rē/
noun
  1. an act of asking for information.

However, what I was realizing was that I was the one doing the inquiring. I was the one that set the stage for student learning, I was the one that debriefed and discussed the learning.  I felt that this type if inquiry was more about me and less about the students. So I changed. I changed my thinking to be more student driven. My units often start with provocations, which then lead to questions, which then in turn lead to students recommending further learning. I still insert my thoughts but now they are developed through asking questions and using student talk to deliver the observations and learning.

Now why do I love inquiry so much:

The first is that I love it engages the students in the learning. They feel situated and invested. They want to learn because they like to learn. I even have students going home and asking their parents to go to the library or go and research because they want to find more things out about the topic they learn in school. I don't know about you but this is truly amazing to hear.

Second through inquiry you really understand the nature of your students learning. Because I am not lecturing and then asking students to complete a test where they regurgitate the information I just spewed out at them they have to rely on their own thinking and schemas. You also get to question them and conference more on a regular bases and because of this you see their growth and understanding. Assessment is a breeze because you have almost too many observations and conversations to choose from.

Finally, I look at this world around us and I think that the jobs I am preparing my students for don't even exist yet. Now you are right some jobs will exist put for the most part the skills that these students need will not. However, what will is the ability to problem-solve, be adaptable, creative, and flexible thinkers.

I recently came upon this:


I love the fact that the first three skills are soft skills, one that you really cannot learn from reading a textbook or listening to someone tell you things. They are skills that take time to develop and through multiple experiences and situations. In my opinion inquiry does this. 

Now these are just my opinions but ones that have been grounded in my practise. They are observations of my growth and reflection. Would love to hear your thoughts?

What do you think of inquiry?

Do you like it? If so why?

What are the benefits? Drawbacks?

I would love to hear your opinions.


Saturday, 14 February 2015

Coding and Math



Coding has been a hot topic in education lately and rightly so. It is an important subject. I was recently talking to a friend of mine who has to learn how to code because her job now requires it. More and more coding is becoming essential to any job of the future. The saying is so true we are training students for jobs that don't even exist yet.

Now it has taken me a while to get into the coding wave, per-say. The reason is that I have had a hard time figuring out how to fit coding into the curriculum. You see for me curriculum is and should the foundation for all of our learning and teaching. However, now that I have had some better understanding of coding I think I feel more comfortable incorporating it into my classroom. 

I am writing this post to share some of my learning and to share some of my big ahas.

Why Code?

If you haven't tried coding once then you may not see the potential that coding has for your classroom. Coding is amazing, I have always thought this. Coding is a built in problem. The very essence of coding is creating something from nothing. The Code that you write ends up creating endless possibilities. You are only confined by your imagination. So why code? Because it teaches students to problem solve, to be at a disequilibrium, to be collaborative and engaged with the 21st century learning (yes I know that many of you may not like that term). 






What programs are there for me to play with?

There are a lot of programs to play and learn how to code. First and foremost I would suggest going to code.org as this is an amazing website dedicated to coding.  I would also suggest connecting with Brian Aspinall (@mraspinall) and Lisa Ann Flyod (@lisanneflyod). 

There are also some great iPad apps: 

Lightbot
Hopscotch
Scratch Jr
Code.org has an app too. 

There are also many computer programs out there but one that I love is scratch.

So how did I start?

To be honest I just thought I would jump in but then had to rethink that plan as I really had no idea what I was doing. So the first step was coming up with an idea. At the moment we are studying measurement. I thought this would be a cool way to introduce coding and measuring concepts, especially non-standardize measuring. 

So my assignment was: Measure the span of your hand.

Step 1: I allowed the students to explore the program of scratch. I think that it is important for students to explore the programs they are using, as they will do this anyways may as well give them time to do so. 

Step 2: Gave them a set of challenges:  (import a picture, draw a line, make a scratch move, and add a sprite)

Step 3: Write a program that would measure the span of your hand. (first test) (second attempt)

This process was amazing; however, it wasn't until I tweeted our first program to a friend (Lisa and Brian) of mine that we started to see where we went wrong. This is also where I learned about adding variables to my code would help to improve it. To be honest I had no idea what variables meant.


This is the amazing part of sharing your ideas. Lisa offered us great advice and my students took the learning opportunity. Hear is what they did:

Lisa's 



My Learning:

1) Students can do remarkable things: 

Don't hold back because you don't have a good understanding of coding. You will be surprised at what students can accomplish. 

2) Learn with the students and then share your learning:

Often through this process I was learning and working on the problem along with my students. As the students or I made a finding we stopped the class and talked about it. We even shared the links and had students remix the code. 

3) Plan the curriculum expectations before hand: 

Now make sure you have a plan of the big ideas in your mind. I often hear that these types of plans do not go well because the kids went wild or off task. If you don't have a plan they will. Keep the curriculum in mind.

4) If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again.

Coding is worth it. It is such a rich task with high possibilities. I have made a lot of mistakes with coding in the classroom but to be honest even those mistakes the kids learned a lot both curriculum and with coding. 

Overall, adding coding to my classroom was a lot of fun and so worth the struggles. The students are so engaged in the lesson and learned a lot. In fact without thinking about it my students learned about the relationships between adding and subtracting, coordinate grids, negative numbers, Cartesian planes, what a pixel was, and how to find the distance of a line. AMAZING!!! 

I hope that you attempt some coding in the classroom and if you do I would love to see and hear what you have done. 

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