The Girl on the Bus

12967961_0e4a21df7f_mOnce upon a time a small girl sat on a city bus staring out the window. It was a regular day, cars and trucks drove alongside the bus, mothers with babies were out shopping for their families, and the sun shone down on it all.  The little girl looked out the bus window and felt sad. She thought to herself, “Everything in the world that we need to know has been discovered. There is nothing left to learn.” Such a sad thought for a young girl!  Well that little girl was me and I vividly remember the day and the feeling.

My thoughts may have been realistic about school and learning at that time in my young life. Then, we believed that education consisted of pouring knowledge into student’s heads to prepare them for the real world. A set amount of knowledge was all that was needed. No wonder my little girl self felt discouraged!

Preparing students for the real world was discussed during YouTube Live 1 as part of immooc .  It is safe to say that we are beginning to understand that preparing students for the real world means bringing the real world right into our classrooms.

The little girl I was, would be excited about the potential for change and innovation that we have in education today.  We understand so much more about how people learn; we have tools to create and to collaborate; and we are rethinking what ‘schooling’, means.

I’d deeply hopeful and enthusiastic about the new horizons that are opening up before us. I love the opportunities I have as a teacher to be a continual learner, explorer and risk taker. Last year my exploration led to teaching Scratch Coding to a group of grade 4, 5 and 6 students. This naturally evolved into developing a Maker Space in our school this year. This spring I was inspired by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager’s book and two day session in Edmonton called  Invent to Learn and this fall I am anticipating great things from  blendED2016 as well as the community of learners who are part of immooc.

Thankfully the girl on the bus grew up to discover that there are always new things to learn. I can’t think of a more exciting time to be a teacher.

Travel Journal – Stories Everywhere

Every place has a story, sometimes the story is ancient and tied to the land.  When we arrived at our mountain mansion we knew little of the far reaching history of Tateyama and the mountain.

Omachi ShrineTuesday morning we stepped out the door, ready to explore, and our attention was captured by another beautiful shrine. Before us were towering ceders, serene green spaces, and dai-doro stone lanterns lining the path; it’s no wonder we are attracted to these spaces!

Next we came upon the Tateyama Toyama Museum. You may think we had our fill of places like this. Well almost, but we naively thought there was not much else to see in this location, so in we went.  This turned out to be a brilliant move because the museum gave us a framework for understanding more of what we saw the rest of this day and the next.

The first exhibits gave us the usual explanation of the geology of the area, showing how volcanoes occur, and telling that Tateyama is a volcanic mountain. It was after this, that things got interesting, and puzzling too.  We viewed displays with short captions in English and detailed explanations in Japanese. We tried to make sense of the exhibits that explained the faith that had grown and developed around this volcano, a Buddhist faith that included the concepts of heaven and hell. Both concepts were tied to the activity of the mountain, the beautiful green heights on one side of the valley and the sulphurous springs and odors so prominent on the other side.

One gratuitous photograph.*

One gratuitous photograph.*

This painting on silk, striking in its color and detail, is actually a frightening picture, showing people burning in flames trying to get away. And other people or beings in the sky above, whether they had escaped or were there to rescue the others I am not sure.

A carefully constructed diorama of the mountains, the valley, the shrines, and a beautiful red bridge caught our attention and next to it was a video showing a present day ceremony showing women sitting, listening meditativly to a priest performing ceremonies. Then the women dressed in white gowns, with their hands tied together were blindfolded, and walked together at a steady pace over a beautiful red bridge following priests or monks in deep blue gowns. The women were walking 3 by 3 on white cloths that guided them down the hill from the shrine over a red bridge. I found the imagery disturbing, mostly because the women were completely vulnerable and because of  my own lack of understanding about what all this meant.  (A Google search helped: Tateyama UNESCO Ceremony)

imageAfter the museum we continued walking down the forested road when unexpectedly we came upon the very red bridge we viewed in the video and in the diorama! “This is it, the red bridge!”, we exclaimed. All the places we had visited today helped us understand a little more of the faith expression that developed as a result of the volcano and the local religion. This beautiful bridge, over a deep gorge surrounded by green forest, was also part of the religious significance of this area. We were beginning to grasp the story around Mount Tateyama and the surrounding area. Little did we know there was more to discover the next day.

 

*Photography is not allowed in the museum, when I snapped this image I was told – no pictures! I offered to delete the photo but was told that I could keep it, soI felt free to share it here. 

 

 

Travel Journal – Mansion in the Mountains

Posting to Facebook to record events of our trip has its limitations. I have so many thoughts and reflections, more than would fit in a Facebook post. And I risk boring family and friends with events that may only be important to me.

We have been in Japan for one week traveling to Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara.  We have visited temples, shrines, and Japanese gardens.  However the August heat, amplified by pavement and buildings, is overwhelming. So yesterday we decided to head to the mountains.  This is certainly an advantage of having a JR Rail Pass, making impromptu decisions to travel. We took two trains – the Thunderbird (Yes, real name), and the Shinkensen to get to Toyama.

Previously we had looked for a hotel or AirBnB accommodation but did not have luck finding something suitable and in our price range, except for one post on AirBnB that looked like a hostel for 8 people in an out of the way place.  There are disadvantages to traveling with an open itinary and this can be one of them – finding suitable accommodation. To get to this particular spot we needed to take one more train from Toyama on a small railway the Chitetsu-Tateyama line to Chigaki Station, however the lodging was several kilometers from the station. We emailed the owner and he offered to pick us up! So we stopped in Toyma to get groceries… Buying grocieries in Japan when you are not a Japanese speaker is a challenge and it is fun!

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Success meant coming out of the store with 3 bags of grocieries, beer and a bottle of wine.

We were met at Chigaki station by Mitsuru who had 3 umbrellas in hand to save us from getting drenched as we loaded up his car with our luggage and groceries.

Mitsuru and his wife welcomed us warmly as they showed us around our ‘cabin’. The best part was that our son, Jonathan, used Google translate to communicate with him.  We chuckled and shared jokes. Now that we are out of the usual tourist spots Google Translate is just what we needed.

As we were getting settled, Mitsuru came by with spices, soya sauce for cooking and best of all, coffee beans which he ground on the spot for us using this coffee grinder.

Mitsuru grinding coffee beans for us.

Mitsuru grinding coffee beans for us.

Such kindness and consideration. We feel so very blessed by our experiences here.

Whenever we travel I have a mixture of eager anticipation and mild apprehension as we near our accommodation. After all, you never know if the lodging will meet your expectations. Well this time I am sure we have booked ourselves a mansion in the mountains.  It’s even more amazing to think that this is in Japan, a country of 127 million who live and work in compact spaces.

Mansion in the Japanese Mountains

Mansion in the Japanese Mountains

Summer Reading

 

Writing and reading on a summer afternoon.

Writing and reading on a summer afternoon.

As I sit reading and writing on a summer afternoon it’s hard to imagine a prettier spot to reflect on Donalyn Miller‘s two books: The Book Whisperer, and Reading in the Wild. Her clear message is that we go beyond teaching children how to read and comprehend; we are to create life long readers. And she asks the question:  What are the habits of life long readers?

Do you consider yourself a life long reader? Could you identify the reading habits you have developed that ‘fit’, with being a life long reader?

I had to think about this. What makes me a life long reader? My love of books was developed early in life, and I delight in the connections I make as I read, connections that enlarge my view of the world and give me a better understanding of my self, but how does this love of reading translate into guiding students to become life long readers?  What is it that life long readers do?

In Reading in the Wild Donalyn Miller identifies and explains how she promotes these 5 characteristics of life long readers.

Life long readers:

1. Dedicate time to read. –  I am thinking that I need to guide my students to develop reading stamina and learn to read for longer periods of time.  Can students add to their reading time in other ways?  Yes! Donalyn uses the term, reading on the edge, for those small blocks of time through the the day, waiting for an appointment, or riding on the bus when we can capture a few minutes of reading time. Of course, it is helpful to carry a book with you wherever you go in case you have just such a reading emergency. 

2. Self-select reading material. How true this is! Students are keen to read books they choose themselves.

3. Share books and reading with other readers. A classroom community of readers who share and talk about books, sounds inviting. I love talking about books with friends and colleagues and I know that my students would love this too.

4. Have reading plans. I have never thought about explicitly teaching this to students. I can see that this characteristic propels readers onward. The onus is on me to continually increase my knowledge of children’s literature so that I can inspire my students to anticipate the next book they might read. Fortunately this is something I love to do.

5. Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics. In my experience grade threes are beginning to develop preferences and often it is books that are part of a series. There is room to expand their horizons and show them the variety of reading options available.

And so I wondered…  How do I encourage these habits with 8 year olds who are just on the cusp of becoming established readers. And more importantly how do I promote these characteristics with online learners?

The answer just fell into my lap last spring!  Tune in to my next post to learn about my plan.

 

Saturday Morning Reflections from Twitter

My colleagues often hear that one of my best sources for professional learning is Twitter. Well it’s true. Here are some Saturday morning reflections.

When I read this I had an ‘ah ha’ moment about where we have come from and where we are going in education and online learning. Here is a quote from this article, Constructionism vs. Instructionism.  The subject in the quote is mathematics but we could be talking about any subject, the point is the distinction between teaching and learning.

“What I was going to talk about if I had been there, is about how technology can change the way that children learn mathematics. I said how children can learn mathematics differently, not so much how we can teach mathematics differently. This is an important distinction.” Seymour Papert

I think this explains something that’s very helpful.

Many online programs were developed because technology enabled us to teach differently. The focus was on teachers doing things in new ways.  It was exciting and innovative. How do we put ‘curriculum’ online?  It is, was, a lot of work, there is no doubt about that. I recall reading news articles on how technology will change the way we teach.

As teachers we know that our work is really about student learning and we certainly have integrated many effective practices into online courses with that focus. Yet, I think we could reflect on the work we do and see where we got stuck on,  ‘technology changes how we teach’.  We need to ask ourselves have we taken full advantage of how technology changes how students learn?

Technology enables kids to learn differently and that’s the direction we need to go or educators will be left behind by students who are already learning in new ways. Take a look at this TEDxWestVancouverED talk.

There are several articles here  Constructionism vs. Instructionism. All well worth reading.  I also liked this”

So, in a way, the computer becomes invisible. The computer becomes just an instrument. I said if you asked that child making the picture, “What are you doing?” she would have said, “Making a picture, making a bird.” It’s interesting to compare this — imagine going to a poet and saying, “What are you doing?” You’d be very surprised if the poet said, “I’m using a pencil”. The poet would have said, “I’m writing a poem,” or, maybe, “Just leave me alone, I’m busy.” Of course the poet was using a pencil, but that’s not worth mentioning, and the same should be true of computers.” Seymour Papert

That Moment

Jo Boaler’s course titled: How to Learn Math,  inspired me as a math teacher and learner.  This course challenged me to think of ways to include  Number Talks as part of my online course for grade three students.  One way I have done this, is by developing Three Act Math lessons* in the form of videos to promote discussion between my students and their parents.  As I developed these math conversations in my online course, parents have shared the joys and challenges of participating in this new way of thinking.

Yet I wanted to do more. I wanted to get kids talking and showing what they could do with mathematical ideas, and I wanted kids to see and respond to the thinking of their peers.

There’s even more.  I feel strongly about the power of writing and drawing, as a way to explain math thinking, and so I have students use math journals. However enabling students to respond meaningfully in a math journal is a challenge. Students struggle to reveal understanding when writing skills limit the explanation of their math thinking.

 

Student created math videos is an option I’ve long considered.  And so I started to explore options for easy screen screencasting tools for kids.  I started asking students to recored their math thinking using one of three iPad applications:

  1. ScreenChomp
  2. ShowMe
  3. Explain Everything

My students also have the option of using the video recording tool in Moodle, the Learning Management System I use.  Moodle has a video recording plugin called, PoodLL, (Ha ha of course, you say, what better name could there be?) Happily all of these tools were easy to teach my students to use.

I started by creating my own math video as a model for students.  I used ScreenChomp. Mine, was not polished production but a recording of my thinking and drawing.  My purpose was to get students to focus on the math, and enjoy using new tools. We started with the the following math journal questions from our unit of study at the time:

How can you multiply two numbers?

When so you multiply?

How does an array show multiplication?

Do you ever have that moment when you see or experience something and your skin just tingles with excitement? Well that was my experience as I started viewing the videos my students created.  Not only were they revealing their thinking, the whole process of creating a video powerfully strengthened their learning.  It was evident that creating a math video required my students to communicate mathematical ideas as they explained and supported their reasoning.

As we’ve progressed my students are contributing to a bank of wonderful student explanations of math concepts.  Which in turn, is becoming a rich resource for learning.  I am beginning to think of new and creative ways to use these same videos to develop more math conversations. That’s more to tell in a future post.

Let me know what you have tried to do with students screen casting.

*For many of these ideas I am  indebted to Graham Fletcher who shares 3 act math resources. Find him here: Twitter: @gfletchy  and here: 3-Acts Lessons.

One Common Thread

What a week this has been!  So much to think about.

On Monday Martin Brokenleg engaged us all as he spoke about the Circle of Courage: The spirit of Belonging: I am loved, The spirit of Mastery: I can succeed, The Spirit of Independence: I have the power to make decisions, and the Spirit of Generosity: I have a purpose in my life.  Martin’s words of wisdom, stories and insights as a gave us a deeper understanding of how to connect with youth at risk. Not only youth at risk, but every child that comes into a classroom. He reminded me again of how all of us thrive when we have healthy relationships, the ability to succeed, opportunity to make decisions about things that matter to us and a sense of purpose in all we do.

Later in the week there were conversations with colleagues about, Teaching at the Pace of Learning. This phrase is food for thought.  How is it possible to teach beyond or outside of the pace of learning?  Imagine if a student is not yet ready for the new learning or if a student has mastered the concepts we are teaching? Is it really a teaching and learning relationship then? Or are we both filling in time.

Still, I know it is a challenge, how do we enable teaching at the pace of learning?  So many good ideas were shared in our conversation. Ideas put forward included, refreshers for students at any point in a course, ‘Blue Pencil Cafe’ – a meeting where students mentor each other, providing pace support for students, identifying the critical learning so that a student is ready to tackle the next level successfully, and, identifying the real needs of an individual student, which comes back full circle to Martin Brokenleg’s session on Monday.

One last conversation was about assessment.  Of course, what teacher conversation would be complete without a discussion on assessment? Think the words we use. Whenever I am working away at giving students feedback on assignments I consider that what I am doing is this, ‘supporting student success‘.  My colleague uses the following words which resonated with me, ‘assessment embedded instruction’. Yes! instruction is guided by student needs.  And somehow I feel like this brings us back full circle once again.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Student Assessment

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Will this assessment help me to identify student’s needs as learners? Will it help me to guide next steps?  These questions swirl around my brain.  See that determined orange tabby climbing higher to to new levels?  That’s what I want for my students.

Recently this phrase, caught my attention, actionable feedback. Feedback kids know they must act upon, as apposed to feedback that sounds like advice or a mere suggestion. Actionable feedback gives a clear message about the next step or goal.  An example might be asking a student to revise a piece of writing by adding lively action words. It could also be just the right question to push a student’s thinking forward. How will I do this? Specifically identify what was done well, then drive the learning forward with a clear next step or insightful question. This requires mindfulness on my part as I guide students to next steps.

 What about exemplars and rubrics? We have all used exemplars when assessing student work. I have to admit that I sometimes look at a piece of student writing and compare it to exemplars at each level.  Hmmm… is it most like the limited, adequate, proficient or excellent example? I use the exemplars to determine the achievement level.  Now turn this thinking around, the exemplars also clarify the rubric when I assess student work. For example what does ‘descriptive language is simple‘ really mean?  Looking at an exemplar to see how ‘descriptive language is simple‘, is demonstrated, gives me better idea of what that descriptor on the rubric means.  An exemplar should make the meaning of each descriptor on the rubric clear to me and reveal the next step for actionable feedback.

Imagine what this would be like for a student.  How does a rubric and exemplar help a student to self assess? For a student, what does ‘descriptive language is simple’ really mean?  Maybe nothing at all! Exemplars can make next steps clearer for students too; by helping them see what their learning looks like and what is missing in order to move it forward. When a student says my work is like the ‘3’ exemplar, I can ask them why it is not like the’4′ exemplar; this may prompt them to identify a next step and they will be on their way. Actionable feedback once again.

It is about helping students internalize this reflective and iterative process.

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December 2014, Travels to India.

The bridge was a parade of life in Haridwar, Hindu pilgrims, who came to wash in the holy water of the Ganges, priests, holy men, families, and school children. School boys flew kites from the bridge in the cool breezes. They skillfully competed to send the other’s kites into the fast flowing Ganges. Their laughter and enthusiasm filled the air. Younger kids, likely five years old, made their way across the bridge wearing tidy school uniforms, red sweaters, navy pants or skirts with enormous backpacks hanging low on their backs.

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We were not the only observers on the bridge that December afternoon.  We were carefully scrutinized by this little person.

Child on bridge

We wandered the streets for awhile, surprised that the stalls which had been open and busy the night before were closed now. We were pleased at our ability to find our hotel once again, a 100 year old home once owned by a wealthy Indian. His portraits line the walls. The central courtyard has a temple and each morning and afternoon a Hindu priest comes to conduct payers to Vishnu. This hotel also has a Private Ghat or bathing area where anyone can go to bathe in the river Ganges. Haridwar means the footprint of God, or heavens gate. And this will explain the sacred ceremonies performed each day at dusk.  There is more to tell….

View from Haridwar bridge.

View from the Haridwar bridge. December 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mathematical Curiosity

Curiosity –  Can you think of a time when you or your kids were mathematically curious?  When it comes to math it seems that we focus on knowledge not on curiosity.

Jo Boaler’s course interviewed several speakers who have a passion for math, people who have what she calls an ‘inquiry relationship’ with math.

Computer scientist, educator and robotics designer, Sebastian Thrun, spoke about having an intuition. I marvelled when Sebastian Thrun explained how he looks at a math problem and develops an intuitive understanding of the solution. In fact he states that we should not move further with the problem until we have an intuitive understanding.  Then he takes a further two weeks to fully solve the problem mathematically. I marvelled because the intuitive understanding of the solution comes first.

Take a look at the qualities identified in an inquiry relationship:

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 9.00.48 PMImage from How to Learn Math by Jo Boaler.
  • being curious
  • making connections
  • not worrying about uncertainty or making mistakes
  • using intuition
  • exciting inquiry – you can solve any problem

As an educator I can only say:  “Help me develop these qualities in the young learners in my classroom!”  In fact help me live my life that way.  It would be ever engaging.

My question is: “How do I give students who do not have the inquiry relationship  – this curiosity,  sense of intuition, and connection that makes math come alive?”

Today my online grade 3 students shared their solutions and processes for solving a math question related to patterns. Afterwards we talked about the things that we do as mathematicians to solve a problem. As a collaborative group, I was pleased with the ideas these grade threes identified. However I need to go further to guide my students to as they make the inquiry relationship their own.

At first they may not see how all this happens but as parents and teachers, model and talk about curiosity, courage, intuition and connections  – students will see what an inquiry relationship looks like.  By identifying attitudes, thought process, a willingness to take risks, and communicating that math is an engaging challenge and fun, I think we can guide students to develop this passion and connection.

There is more.  Intuition and curiosity are linked to understanding and confidence. Jo Boaler describes these qualities as a double helix.

  Understanding and Intuition

Confidence and Curiosity

These attributes are iterative, a child must develop the understanding to gain intuition and intuition carries understanding further.  Confidence grows as curiosity is satisfied and curiosity depends on the confidence to explore.

 Cultivating those qualities in a math classroom means that as a teacher I  promote, model and identify those qualities as we engage in a mathematical world.