Thanks for your uninformed opinion!

I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but the United States has become a country in which those who have actual knowledge and experience in a certain area, we’ll call them experts, have become “tainted” by their expertise.  By virtue of their unique depth of understanding, their motives are quickly challenged and their knowledge is discounted or ignored.

Here’s a quote from former senator and vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman referring to the new secretary of education for the United States of America Betsy DeVos, as he introduced her at her senate confirmation hearing:  “I know that some people are questioning her qualifications to be secretary of education, and too many of those questions seem to me to be based on the fact that she doesn’t come from within the education establishment. But honestly I believe that today, that’s one of the most important qualifications you could have for this job.”  Did you get that?  It’s because she doesn’t have any experience in education that makes her, and hundreds of millions of others I guess, uniquely qualified to run the U.S. Department of Education.  Try highlighting your lack of experience on your next job interview and see how that works for you.

In local school districts, board members who are responsible for running their district, have been upset about texts being recommended by educators that refer to man-made global warming.  They argue that they do not “believe” in this concept and lament that “both sides” of the global warming issue are not presented in textbooks.  This also occurs in relation to evolution.  Somehow, scientists’ views of the facts about man-made global warming, and other topics, are up for debate from people who know nothing about the science.  Uninformed opinion supersedes millions of data points analyzed by tens of thousands of scientists.

Why is it that Americans have elected an alarming number of decision makers to positions of power who are so uninformed?  This is certainly true in education where the secretary of education, right on down to the local school board, is almost always filled with people with no experience in education.  The following comes from a Forbes article about an interview Newt Gingrich did on CNN following a political convention:

“There are three different lines of thinking he explores, and they should all terrify you.

  1. The full suite of facts doesn’t say what you want it to say, so you pick out the few facts that support your non-factual position and talk about them.
  2. The average American doesn’t think that the facts says what they actually say, and that alone should be a basis for both voting and policymaking.
  3. And that what people feel about an issue is more important than what the actual facts behind the issue are.”

I never thought I’d say this, but Newt is correct!  Why else would Americans insist on turning their uninformed opinion into policy?  “Fixing” education has been a topic of debate in our country for many years now.  As usual, those who are uninformed, which includes most of the policy makers, believe the “fix” is easy and revolves around such gems as school competition, breaking unions, getting better teachers while showing a lack of respect for the profession, etc.  Those who are informed know that the problem is complex, demanding a long look at the facts.  Those who are informed know that many school districts in the U.S. perform on par with the top performing countries in the world.  Those who are informed know that “failing” schools are in communities dealing with problems schools couldn’t possibly solve on their own.

But that’s just my uninformed opinion.  What’s yours?

 

 

Thanks for your uninformed opinion!

I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but the United States has become a country in which those who have actual knowledge and experience in a certain area, we’ll call them experts, have become “tainted” by their expertise.  By virtue of their unique depth of understanding, their motives are quickly challenged and their knowledge is discounted or ignored.

Here’s a quote from former senator and vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman referring to the new secretary of education for the United States of America Betsy DeVos, as he introduced her at her senate confirmation hearing:  “I know that some people are questioning her qualifications to be secretary of education, and too many of those questions seem to me to be based on the fact that she doesn’t come from within the education establishment. But honestly I believe that today, that’s one of the most important qualifications you could have for this job.”  Did you get that?  It’s because she doesn’t have any experience in education that makes her, and hundreds of millions of others I guess, uniquely qualified to run the U.S. Department of Education.  Try highlighting your lack of experience on your next job interview and see how that works for you.

In local school districts, board members who are responsible for running their district, have been upset about texts being recommended by educators that refer to man-made global warming.  They argue that they do not “believe” in this concept and lament that “both sides” of the global warming issue are not presented in textbooks.  This also occurs in relation to evolution.  Somehow, scientists’ views of the facts about man-made global warming, and other topics, are up for debate from people who know nothing about the science.  Uninformed opinion supersedes millions of data points analyzed by tens of thousands of scientists.

Why is it that Americans have elected an alarming number of decision makers to positions of power who are so uninformed?  This is certainly true in education where the secretary of education, right on down to the local school board, is almost always filled with people with no experience in education.  The following comes from a Forbes article about an interview Newt Gingrich did on CNN following a political convention:

“There are three different lines of thinking he explores, and they should all terrify you.

  1. The full suite of facts doesn’t say what you want it to say, so you pick out the few facts that support your non-factual position and talk about them.
  2. The average American doesn’t think that the facts says what they actually say, and that alone should be a basis for both voting and policymaking.
  3. And that what people feel about an issue is more important than what the actual facts behind the issue are.”

I never thought I’d say this, but Newt is correct!  Why else would Americans insist on turning their uninformed opinion into policy?  “Fixing” education has been a topic of debate in our country for many years now.  As usual, those who are uninformed, which includes most of the policy makers, believe the “fix” is easy and revolves around such gems as school competition, breaking unions, getting better teachers while showing a lack of respect for the profession, etc.  Those who are informed know that the problem is complex, demanding a long look at the facts.  Those who are informed know that many school districts in the U.S. perform on par with the top performing countries in the world.  Those who are informed know that “failing” schools are in communities dealing with problems schools couldn’t possibly solve on their own.

But that’s just my uninformed opinion.  What’s yours?

 

 

Interest Driven Learning

Throughout the process of working on my inquiry project, I have a daily struggle with how to characterize this journey I am taking with my students.  I’ve referred to the project using the descriptors:  play, project based learning, and inquiry.  While preparing for this entry, I coined a new term, Interest Driven Learning, only to find I’d stolen it from many other sources far more intelligent than I.  From a teacher perspective, this is certainly a constructivist endeavor.  Most of the readings I’ve done on PBL have included examples of projects larger in scope and which required more research than our little project.  I do feel that our game-making unit is a great learning laboratory from which to leap into a truer form of PBL in the future, but for now we’ll characterize it as Interest Driven Learning.

It’s funny.  Weeks ago, as my team and I created the inquiry questions that would help lead us into this unit of study, the questions seemed to be directed at us, the teachers.  Now that our students have begun their work, it seems that the questions apply to them, not the “educators.”

In my class, we finished up the teacher modeling process by creating Excel graphs of individual performance over six “play” sessions.  Student graphs included “trend” lines so it would easily show whether they generally improved over the six sessions.  After modeling, students were able to work independently to create the graphs.  Based on the information provided, I was able to create a “seeding” chart, much like the NCAA March Madness basketball field of 64 teams.  As PSSA testing began, we were able to use “down time” after testing as a space to play “best of five” series based on the seedings, and eventually crown a class champion.  This became a popular spectator event as nearly every child wanted to witness 3-2-1 history!

graph

Throughout the experience, students have been blogging about the game and blogging about ways to persuade teachers to allow their students to play.  These seed ideas are now being used by students to write persuasive essays.

Next . . . to begin the next phase of our journey.  The first question of our inquiry projects was:  How can teachers create a meaningful unit based on play?  The first answer was now clear.  Model the process of taking an idea through to a more refined finished product.  The initial game idea presented to students was bouncing a ball into a cup.  The teachers allowed student experimentation and acquired feedback.  It was determined that average scores were low, so we added ways to facilitate improvement including backboards, practice, and peer feedback on technique.  The result was higher average scores and high student interest and engagement, related to collaboration, social skills, and math computation and analysis.  Additionally, students saw that some decisions, regarding performance and changes to the game, were informed by data.

From the first inquiry question, the word “meaningful” strikes me on two levels.  Anecdotal evidence shows a very high level of student interest and engagement, both in playing and math use.  Additionally, students immediately expressed an interest in being able to create their own games, even after discovering they would have to incorporate math and writing.  All indications are that what we were doing, and about to do, was meaningful to students and created a feeling of shared purpose.

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How can we support the students and facilitate continual improvement?  The teachers on my team agreed that in the next phase the work should be done by small groups, not individuals.  Our first consideration was how to organize students.  We wanted to do better than just randomly assign groups.  Keeping in mind Adam Gates’s idea that brainstorming should first be done individually, we asked students to submit diagrams showing and describing their ideas for arcade style games.  Identifying similar characteristics, we created groups of roughly four students.  In my class, several students created basketball type games, field goal type games, as well as bowling, skeeball, and a maze-like game.  Based on these diagrams, groups were assembled based on common characteristics.  I asked the students to meet their partners, share their original ideas, and identify similarities that would help them see why they were grouped together.  I was initially nervous about this, but they seemed to be able to generally find common ground from which to proceed.

How can we incorporate the use of fourth grade principles of math?  As we wrapped up the teacher-modeling phase, I asked the class to brainstorm all of the math that was used with 3-2-1.  They were easily able to identify statistical landmarks, measurement, and geometry, including the fact that I’d chosen cylinders to receive the ping pong balls.  As students began to collaborate on their game, they included thinking about scoring and making to incorporate mathematical concepts, much like their teacher had.

How can we support the students and facilitate continual improvement?/How can we provide formative feedback?  Before beginning phase two, I was concerned about how much to formalize this portion of the project.  I thought about creating rubrics and session-guiding objectives, because this is how I’ve been trained.  Not knowing how things would proceed, I decided that the only thing I wanted to have some control or influence over would be how they worked with one another.  Working together is not a new concept in my class, and I trusted that this would work well, but I wanted to be sure to encourage a high level of on-task, respectful behavior, so, as a starting point, I wanted to create a basic rubric, mostly as a reminder.  We now begin each working session with a review of this basic rubric to guide their interactions.  As they gain more experience working with each other in the present context, I plan to have them create their own “collaboration rubric.”

As students entered the prototype stage of development, I walked around the room, checking in with groups, answering questions, and sharing ideas.  As facilitator, my goals are to have a presence, make sure I understand the status of each group’s progress, keep their work moving forward, and give support when challenges arrive.  One example of this is the group that is creating a hand-held maze type game, which I discovered from their diagram model.  I wondered if they had considered how to erect the walls out of cardboard.  I demonstrated some ideas for how this could be accomplished.  From their reaction, I don’t believe they realized the challenge they had created for themselves, and I was able to identify and facilitate progress by showing them some ways to approach.

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How can we measure success?  As we consider this question, I acknowledge two perspectives, that of student and educator.  Looking through the lens of “student driven,” we will ask students to consider what it means to be successful in this endeavor.  Doing this will give teachers guidance and information that will help us plan and evaluate in the future, allow students to be reflective and consider how they’ve grown, enable students to explain the math they used to create and play their games, and provide an opportunity for them to write.  From an educator point of view, we will consider all of the above and ask some questions.  What elements of connected learning and equity were achieved?  Was the activity meaningful to students?  Did students collaborate effectively?  Were students able to meet enough curricular objectives to justify the cost in classroom time?

Speaking from the point of view of a teacher who has not formally collected data from students, there is no question that this activity is student driven, interest driven, and creates a condition of shared purpose.  There is no question that students are being creative, collaborative, and communicative.  Doing our work or play sessions, students are highly engaged, on-task, and enthusiastic.  One satisfying moment came during our class “Final Four” when a highly athletic and competitive student, who is often not highly engaged, had just beaten a young female student, who seemed disappointed, and the young man promptly walked over to her and offered a handshake and a, “Good game!”  I noticed he did the same thing with his opponent when, this time, he lost in the final.

As I was rereading excerpts from “Teaching in a Connected Learning Classroom,” and considering how our project connects to Connected Learning, the following quote made an impression on me,

“In their 2013 report, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, Ito et al. write that connected learning is: socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement.”

I feel the bolded words strongly apply to the work in which my grade level partners and I have engaged.  As a teacher, I don’t think I’ve ever attempted a learning activity that is so social.  Students are now making original creations that were born from commonly shared ideas!  I especially love the term “oriented toward educational opportunity” because it allows for so much freedom for teachers to be creative and use their professional judgement, while allowing students to experiment.

As I consider equity, I keep coming back to a resource identified in an earlier post, Shane Safir’s edutopia.org blog entry “Equity v. Equality:  6 Steps Toward Equity,” in which she identifies “6 ways to walk toward equity…”  They are: Know every child, become a warm demander, practice lean-in assessment, flex your routines, make it safe to fail, and view culture as a resource.  Additionally, in my own earlier post I said, “I can create an equitable situation if I can motivate, engage, inspire, and facilitate learning for each student, no matter their present level of development.  If that can be defined as equity, sign me up!”  These points remind me of a small moment I observed this week as the kids began preparing to build their prototypes.  One group, which contains a student with emotional, interpersonal, and many academic needs, was working on a goal post for their paper football type game, which they were able to create.  The problem they were wrestling with was how to get it to stand up on its own.  This student with low confidence and limited academic success suggested sticking the bottom end of the goalpost through the bottom of a cup.  It worked!  His group members were able, even if briefly, to see him as an intelligent, helpful contributor.  His satisfaction was easily visible.

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STUDENT FEEDBACK AND WHERE WE GO FROM HERE

There are many benefits to creating a novel activity and including other educators.  Normally, with a project like this, I’d initially want to keep it to myself in case it failed miserably.  However, when creating a project as a result of taking a course on Connected Learning, you simply have to…connect with others!  As a team, it has been interesting and helpful to be able to share our experiences and find out the subtle differences with which others have approached certain activities.  I’ve marveled at their enthusiasm to tackle something new together.

One of my partners created a survey which has yielded some interesting insights.  In my career, there are not many lessons that have ended with students saying things like,

  • “I enjoy creating things with others.”
  • “I think this project offers collaboration and creativity.”
  • “It helps students be able to challenge themselves in a fun way.”
  • “The students are more engaged in the work and are still having fun.”
  • “It gives you the opportunity to work with other people.”
  • “You can learn about teamwork and learn how to become more creative.”

Most of the student comments focus on collaboration, which has caused me to ask the question:  Is an activity rigorous enough if facilitating successful collaboration is the greatest outcome?  When one considers that this project does that, plus some math, writing, and oral communication practice, I have a hard time saying, “No.”  Additionally, isn’t collaboration considered a 21st century skill?

Currently, students are working diligently, with near 100% engagement, on their prototypes.  Soon, student groups will introduce their game creations to the class, allow others to play, get feedback, analyze, and create final, aesthetically pleasing versions.  Eventually, our three classes will mix so that every student in the grade level will have access to everyone else’s creations.  This “Arcade Day” will allow students to approach each new game as a kind of expert, since they will have done so much work perfecting their own games.  We will discuss how their own experience as game makers impacts the way they look at the arcade games of others.  Additionally, students will complete in persuasive essays associated with game playing/making.

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Would you like fries with your app?

Connected teachers and learners search for any and all means of facilitating learning.  Though I’ve had a smart phone for several years, my app use has centered on global positioning and little else.  Until recently, I never played a game on my phone.  My personal prejudice against apps put them in the category of “time wasting.”  As you might imagine, this is not the first time my ignorance caused a misunderstanding!  A few entries ago, I described my change of attitude toward Twitter and its usefulness in connecting to others for all sorts of things, though I mostly stick to connecting to educational professionals.  I’m now beginning a journey that’s making me realize the utility of the app store!

As many, or all of you, may already know, there are oodles of education related app activities, from learning a new language to math and science games to “brain development” to history, music, and geography.  It really is an enticing array of content related to education.  For older students, I found apps on politics, including the 2016 election, chemistry, biology, geometry, calculus and MUCH, MUCH MORE!  Regarding equity, all of the apps I’ve mentioned are free!

As more educators see the educational benefits of utilizing mobile devices with connectivity, the question is, are we taking full advantage of the availability and the high interest of students in using these resources to improve learning?  One issue in school is sometimes the lack of time to practice the basics and, at a minimum, apps can help with that, especially considering their ease of use for students of all ages.

Similar to Lacey, I set my fourth graders off on the task of inventing a school related app.  @Seecantrill posed some questions regarding student interest this week, and it was…well, interesting how my students incorporated their personal interests into their app ideas.  About 45% of the students created school help or subject specific apps, often incorporating their enjoyment of a sport, such as “Soccer Fun,” which was actually a math practice app.  About 20% incorporated an interest is something specific, beyond a school subject.  For example, two people created apps that allowed them to follow their love of minerals, “Crystal Heaven” and “Mining Minerals.”  Another created a wordy app called, “Get Better at Baseball, NOW!” which combined the coaching of baseball fundamentals and the promotion of learning about the history of baseball.  Another, from a student who enjoys travel with his family, was called “Globe It!!!” and facilitated learning about “anyware in the world and write an awesome story about (fiction or nonfiction) and take a picture from where you are.”  Two other apps helped users learn to play the recorder, a connection to what they are actually doing this year at my school through the music program.  Finally, two more apps turned my inquiry project game, “3-2-1, 1-2-3” into an app.  My ego took this as a great complement!  The apps were called, “3-2-1, FUN!” and 3-2-1, Let’s Have Fun!”

The enthusiasm of the students for their app creation task reminded me, once again, that when they see learning as following their interests or play, students become invested at an incredibly high level.  Combine this with novelty and the energy in the room skyrockets, off-task behavior disappears, and engagement is achieved.

During this political season, and considering voter apathy among young adults, I’ve been thinking of apps that would somehow connect teenagers to local political issues and local politicians at the township and borough levels.  Kids often get passionate about local issues they judge as unfair or ones that will improve their lives.  What if teachers had an easy way to make kids aware of local issues and connected them to local politicians and bureaucrats?  Would this increase young people’s feeling of connectedness?  Would it allow them to access the democratic process in a meaningful way at a young age?  Would this create a situation that resulted in higher voter turnout among the younger demographic?  It’s clear that a high number of young adults, and an alarming number of older adults, don’t participate fully in the democratic process, especially when there is no presidential election.

My personal preference for an app?  The one that will tell me every scheduled live musical performance within 30 miles of Center City Philadelphia.  I always seem to find out about concerts after they’re sold out!

My other idea is an app that creates a cheesesteak out of thin air…

 

3-2-1 Blastoff!!

In my classroom, math is organized into three stations.  Generally, one is captained by me (A) and is the focus lesson for the day, another (B) is based on pencil and paper review/games/problem solving, and the third (C) is computer based using various websites designed for practice or review, such as www.xtramath.org, www.tenmarks.com, and www.everydaymathonline.com.  This week, station “B” centered on the next phase of our inquiry project.  Over the past couple of weeks, students have played the game we “invented,” given me feedback through their performance and conversation, and the game has been modified.  Our conversations centered on making the game more fun, even though they seemed to be having a pretty good time already!  Based on their input, we discussed the attributes of a “good” game.  According to them, games need to seem like a challenge, yet players also need to feel like they can be highly successful.  Based on student feedback, I decided to increase the height of each backboard to allow a greater possibility of success.

Modified game image

Throughout this activity, students have been experimenting with different score sheets.  I asked what math we could practice along with our game that might give us feedback on how each player is performing.  We decided to record each individual score and, from this information, identify the maximum score for each person for each day, along with the minimum, range, median, mode, and mean.  Not surprisingly, these are all math concepts we’ve studied this year!

With the understanding that modifications were made to increase scores, which initially averaged 1.5, I asked students how we would know if their suggestions resulted in greater success.  Table groups agreed that we’d know if average scores increased.  Over several modifications suggested by students, our average scores did increase from 1.5 to 2.5 to 4.4 over several days of testing!

Along the way, I experimented with different versions of score sheets and have settled on this one for the final phase:

Modified score sheet

If you examine this one close enough, you’ll see that the student failed to identify the median score, and for one game the mode should be 7 and 5.  This happened with several students and allowed me to identify a misunderstanding on their part and address.  As you can see, this student is currently scoring above the class average.  I was able to identify several above average players and several below average players.  High scorers were then asked how we could help improve the class average.  They agreed to tutor other students, watch other players play, and give constructive feedback on technique.  Before setting pairs off to work, I coached the high scorers on how they could be “constructive” in their approach to helping others.  Through their dialogue, they realized they needed to point out positive things they saw in the approach of their classmates, and offer gentle suggestions for improvement.

Yesterday, Station A had pairs of students exploring fractional parts using pattern blocks, Station B was electric with kids playing 3-2-1, 1-2-3, and station C featured pairs exploring customary units of measurement as they collaborated on an online activity.  I worked between the three groups, identifying issues, checking in with students who needed support, and monitoring progress online.  I smiled noticing the extreme level of engagement.  After students rotated through all three stations, we had less than five minutes to prepare for Friday dismissal.  As I organized materials and got a final check on their online performance, a hush fell over the room.  I looked over the table groups and noticed children feverishly calculating the statistical landmarks for the day . . . without prompting!  This made me think of Constance Steinkuehler’s “Big Thinkers” video.  In her talk, she mentions the epiphany of realizing games are a “Trojan Horse” for studying interest driven learning.  Her remark that, “In schools, we have the luxury of ignoring interest.  We simply say, ‘you must’” made me realize we should actively avoid this type of thinking.  She discusses the fact that games promote engagement, are captivating, and motivating as a vehicle to advance learning.  “Interest Driven Learning?”  Who’da thought?

Next week, students will finish their final three sessions of playing, record keeping, and calculating.  Each student will graph their results.  We may also configure data to compare the results based on gender, birthdates, etc.  I’ve also invited students to blog about the game on our class blog and I’m looking forward to learning from their conversations in this space.

The next phase will be turning the kids loose to create their own games.  My team and I have some preliminary thoughts, but answers to the following questions will have to be formulated:

* How can we incorporate the use of fourth grade principles of math?  Statistical landmarks are easy and will be expected.  Other concepts in math will be investigated by brainstorming with students and consulting with the other teachers on my team.

* How can we support the students and facilitate continual improvement?  Informal monitoring will occur, but what else?  We anticipate this will be a group project, as opposed to individual.  We need to identify the steps students will follow, with their help, then offer benchmarks and incorporate their ideas on basic rubrics for cooperation, group work, and final products.

* How can we measure success?  See above related to rubrics to guide expectations and achievement.

* How can we provide formative feedback?  See above.

* How can connections to writing, reading, science, or social studies be accomplished?  Students will be expected, at a minimum to write out directions for playing their game.  Other ideas include directions for reproducing their game and/or persuasive or opinion essays related to their game, games in general, or our overall project.

* How can elements of art, music, research, and physical movement be incorporated?  This was always a reach, but if time allows, we’d like to get advice from the art teacher on how to make the games attractive and possibly the music teacher on choosing theme music to go with each game.  We have other ideas, but time will be a factor here.  There’s always next year!

3-2-1, 1-2-3 is in its final version and, after this week, we expect the game to be retired and replaced with student creations.  Outcomes so far:

  1. A very high level of engagement in play, record keeping, work with statistical landmarks, and effort to improve performance.
  2. Lots of conversation about data, performance, and the qualities of games.
  3. Opportunities for leaders to emerge and give feedback to peers.
  4. Teacher modeling of the process students will follow when creating their own games.
  5. Hopefully, the springboard we were hoping for to launch this project into its next phase.
  6. Students are connected with a shared purpose.

I have to say, it feels nice to throw out the playbook and act on an idea that simply begins with high interest as a goal and trust that, as educational professionals, this will act as a catalyst for meaningful learning that we will craft/facilitate along the way.  After all, as stated on http://educatorinnovator.org/lrng2015/, “Connected Learning research and practice has demonstrated that all young people can achieve and learn when given opportunities to follow their interests, support from peers and mentors, and time and space to create work that is meaningful to them.”

We have liftoff!

Shared Purpose=Student Ownership

Shared Purpose is a concept that can have many applications.  It is not meant to be imposed, but must be accepted and/or believed.  My students always make the most of the student government format we set up.  The kids elect officers each marking period which promotes leadership.  We elect a secretary to record the minutes, a president and vice president to run the meetings.  Their teacher tries to stay as quiet as possible and act as facilitator.  The idea is to promote ownership, and it works quite well… (Note:  If the images below lack clarity, just click on the image for enhanced viewing).

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Find 5 Friday, March 25, 2016

  1. “Warning: allowing productive struggle to occur consumes more class time. But retention is undermined when learning is frictionless. Purposeful struggle today means less re-teaching tomorrow.” This is a great post on “transformational teachers.”  It also connects to my inquiry project work.

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/big-things-transformational-teachers-do-todd-finley?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

  1. I loved the Do Now site! I have connected to an e-book that I shared with my fourth graders about clean drinking water.  In science, we study “Watery Earth.”  This e-book connects perfectly with several discussions we’ve had about the cause of much sickness in third world communities.

http://ww2.kqed.org/quest/2015/09/10/e-book-engineering-is-cleaning-poop-from-drinking-water/

  1. Design Thinking and Project Based Learning is a post on edutopia.org that I really connected with as I work through my inquiry project with my students. While reading, I realized it’s often administrators and politicians that are often holding teachers and students back from PBL and making school relevant and interesting.  My school has spent bucket loads of money on resources that are boring, one-dimensional, irrelevant, or just not useful.  Not trusting that kids, following their own interests, supported by teachers and other resources, will accomplish the goals of Common Core is a shame.  Since many goals of Common Core are not developmentally appropriate, too plentiful to be achieved in a single academic year, or boring, let’s design interesting, practical, and engaging ways to meet many or most of the objectives.  As long as administrators see thorough, neatly typed lesson plans as the benchmark of a good teacher, we will not progress as educators of future problem solvers.

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/design-thinking-and-pbl-beth-holland?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

  1. My principal knows my feelings on engagement. Good learning experiences, I don’t like the word “lessons,” have a high level of engagement.    He thought of me when he read a tweet by @JohnWink90 about engagement.  I clicked the link to the tweet and found a study and the following quote:  “The biggest indictment of our schools is not their failure to raise test scores above some politically-determined line of ‘proficiency.’ It’s that – day in and day out – they routinely ignore the fact that our children are bored, disengaged, and disempowered. We’ve known this forever, but we have yet to really care about it in a way that would drive substantive changes in practice. The disenfranchisement of our youth continues to happen in the very institutions that are allegedly preparing them to be ‘life long learners.’”  Politicians, the public, and many administrators seem to think we should just be able to make kids learn, and care.  This has never been the case.

http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2016/03/the-biggest-indictment-of-our-schools-is-not-their-failure-to-raise-test-scores.html

 

  1. As I consider inquiry and shared purpose, the technique of questioning has been in my mind more lately. One reason I haven’t thought about using inquiry is that young kids are not very good at asking good questions.  The old K-W-L comes to mind.  I was always frustrated that almost all of the “What do you want to know?” questions would not be answered in the unit.  Part of the reason was that the unit was predetermined in content, and therefore limited to what the publisher thought was important.  The other reason was that student questions were too general or reflected misconceptions.  The following link reminded me that questioning needs to be taught, especially to kids will little to no background knowledge.  Additionally, the curriculum then needs to be built around answering their questions and not predetermined by a publisher.

http://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/inquiry/5-ways-help-students-ask-better-questions/

Hey, let’s just have fun…

“Perhaps the hallmark of a connected learning experience is the belief that learning happens best when peer networks are harnessed and meaningfully utilized to advance student interest and accomplishments.” Danielle Filipiak, Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom

My team has met and we are ready to launch our first foray into activities that, we are hopeful, will become a unit with elements of play, equity, connection, project based learning, and inquiry!  Modest goals, I know!  All of this and we are beginning without a firm plan as to where this will lead, but with guiding inquiry questions, respect for rigor, formative assessment, collaboration, feedback, and outcomes that students will present and share with their peers and adults.

We have created a simple game using ping-pong balls, plastic cups, cardboard, directions, and score sheets.  Having already piloted a scaled down version of this game with students, I will incorporate their suggested modifications to make success more likely.  This involves adding a small “backboard” to the cup.  Our three classes will begin playing this came, called “3-2-1,1-2-3,” within groups of approximately four students.  Cooperation and accurately recording results will be the initial objectives.  Students will also have time to read directions, study how the game is constructed using measurement, and practice.  Individual score sheets and a “gamekeeper’s” score sheet will be kept.  After playing the games for several sessions, there will be opportunities to calculate individual, as well as group, score maximum, minimum, range, mode, median, and mean.  Next, we will ask groups to give feedback on changes that could be made to the game, directions, and score sheet/scoring system.

cups

We anticipate the activity to be highly engaging, rich in cooperation, collaboration, conversation…and maybe fun!  Students will be given feedback regarding cooperation, collaboration, and the math record keeping and calculations they perform.  During this process, which we anticipate lasting several sessions, rubrics for the above will be developed.  Wherever possible, the teachers will investigate ways for students to be involved in giving each other feedback, as well as overall construction of the unit.  For example, instead of teachers collecting record sheets and recalculating everything, groups can trade results and perform verifying calculations, much like auditors or accountants would do.  Groups can observe others playing the games and give feedback regarding cooperation.  In this way, teachers will be free to act as facilitators and managers, looking to make suggestions when necessary to move student thinking and evaluation forward.

We anticipate the next step will involve groups reflecting on the experience with the goal that they will create their own games.  This will require the use of math, both in creating and playing the game, writing, cooperation, and collaboration.  We also intend to have students present their game and experiences to other teachers with whom they are not familiar.  We believe this will enhance the rigor and seriousness with which students approach their work.

During the initial sessions, we hope to better be able to answer the following:

  • How can teachers create a meaningful unit based on “play?”
  • How can teachers support students and facilitate continual improvement?
  • How can teachers measure success?
  • How can teachers provide formative feedback?

 

Inherent in this process is a rejuvenating sense, among our small team of teachers, of shared purpose.  I bear witness to this as our team discusses the educational possibilities of this project, the excitement of experimentation, and the realization that this novel approach will be accepted by students with enthusiasm.  It’s exciting, as a professional, to take something raw and impose upon it the elements of sound pedagogy.  That is our intention.  Regarding the limited exposure already given students, I’ve enjoyed the sense of shared purpose they’ve exhibited as they played an earlier game, cooperated, and collaborated on how to increase their rate of success, etc.  As a teacher, it is a joy to hear enthusiastic conversation around an academic endeavor, as though the students are oblivious that this could be called “work.”  Hey, is there anything wrong with a little fun?

 

Find 5 Friday, March 18, 2016

  1. I found this article from The New Yorker on Twitter. It’s an article on “writer’s block,” but the following quote by Scott Barry Kaufman connects, in my mind, to my inquiry project a bit:  “I think one must trust the writing process. Understand that creativity requires nonlinearity and unique associative combinations,” he says. “Creative people do a lot of trial and error and rarely know where they are going exactly until they get there.”  This is not supported by most of the teaching done in our schools.  Finding opportunities to allow kids to be creative sounds like a worthwhile pursuit!

http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-to-beat-writers-block?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email

 

  1. I’m sensing a theme developing as I pursue my inquiry project, project based learning, and developing novel approaches to create equity within my classroom. Attached is an article by Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity.  #5 caught my eye…”Frustration is not an interruption of the process, frustration is the process.”  This, of course, connects to education in general, but also what I hope to create for my students as we move forward with the ideas developed from the inquiry project.

http://ideas.ted.com/fear-is-boring-and-other-tips-for-living-a-creative-life/

 

  1. Project Based Learning Teaching Rubric

http://bie.org/object/document/project_based_teaching_rubric

 

  1. Shared Purpose as it relates to “community.” I think this has clear applications in the classroom.  This article made me think of a conversation I had with the parent of a student I taught who also happened to be a principal.  We were talking about the idea of successful teachers having idiosyncrasies that kids found fun and/or engaging.  I believe that these things create a feeling among students that they belong to something unique, which can be the beginnings of creating a community within the classroom.  A sense that what they are doing matters in some way.  Like a similar article we read, it’s from Harvard Business Review.

https://hbr.org/2013/03/purpose-is-good-shared-purpose

  1. This post regarding “Avoiding Learned Helplessness” promotes failure, or at least multiple attempts, and the refining of student work and thinking over time in order to create learning. I connected it to our inquiry project and seeing the teacher as facilitator.

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/avoiding-learned-helplessness-andrew-miller?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

Find 5 Friday, March 4, 2016 and Some Thoughts on How to Proceed

Things that inspire to make and create…  Below are links I plan on spending some time with over the next few weeks.  I’m also sharing some thoughts on where I will be taking my research and practice…

Beginning a project or area of study by generating inquiry questions is an intimidating prospect for me and not the normal way my mind works.  To be honest, I’m not sure how my mind works and I’m a little reluctant to consider it too much!

I really connected with the Susan Lytle reading on “Some Thoughts on Better” and Dr. Baker-Doyle’s chapter 1 from her book “Teaching in a Networked Society”, because the three people on my team have developed a Professional Learning Community.  Both readings helped me connect to how people can use networks to improve practice.  After all, this is mostly what it means to be “professional.”

My teaching team has decided to use the ideas of “Caine’s Arcade” to incorporate “play” into our approach.  As I stated in my Feb. 5 blog entry, my definition of equity, working in a mostly white, middle to upper middle class school, is being able to meet each student’s learning style needs and provide access.  We believe creating a novel approach, using elements of play, is a way to reach a greater number of learning styles and provide for enrichment.  The easy tie-in is math, but we will be looking for other ways to incorporate writing and reading, at a minimum.

With the above in mind, our idea is to embark on developing learning opportunities that provide for rigorous, novel learning experiences that will demand a high level of connection for students, regarding communication and team work, and provide a greater level of equity and engagement than a traditional approach.  Some questions that could guide this work:

  • How can teachers create a meaningful unit based on “play?”
  • How can teachers incorporate the use of fourth grade principles of math?
  • How can teachers support students and facilitate continual improvement?
  • How can teachers measure success?
  • How can teachers provide formative feedback?
  • How can connections to writing, reading, science, or social studies be accomplished?
  • How can elements of art, music, research, and physical movement be incorporated?

To begin, I’ve gone to cainesarcade.com and downloaded a lesson plan and suggestions for how to get started.  The team will review these ideas and develop an approach   I plan to continue to research principles of project based learning and begin a journey with our fourth graders in a few weeks.  I’ve begun by developing a simple “beer pong” type game “just for fun,” and explain the game, the math I used, and show them how to play, using my written directions and score sheets.  This will be used as a way of introducing the topic and eventually to allow students to springboard into their own inventions.

Please find my five finds!

  1. A helpful video on the basics of project based learning (PBL)

http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning

  1. It’s pretty basic, but this is where I’m starting.

http://cainesarcade.com/

  1. Austin’s Butterfly. The benefits on feedback and revision.  While Common Core demands an impossible breadth of knowledge at young ages, this experience highlights the benefits of analysis, feedback, and noticing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZo2PIhnmNY

  1. A Teacher’s Guide to Project Based Learning. While a longer read, this is a topic I have long wanted to dive into.

http://www.innovationunit.org/sites/default/files/Teacher’s%20Guide%20to%20Project-based%20Learning.pdf

  1. I’m still reading about this idea, but I like the bullet points below. Below is text from the website.

Visible Learning is nothing less than a synthesis of more than 50.000 studies covering more than 80 million pupils. Hattie uses the statistical measure effect size to compare the impact of many influences on students’ achievement, e.g. class size, holidays, feedback, and learning strategies.

The following examples may give an impression of the scope of Hattie’s findings:

  • What’s bad? Retention, summer holidays
  • What’s neither bad nor good? Team teaching, open vs. traditional classes
  • What helps a bit? Class size, homework (except in primary school)
  • What helps a bit more? Cooperative learning, direct instruction
  • What helps a lot? Feedback, Student-teacher relationships

http://visible-learning.org/